There is always a someone talking about how SEO is a dead industry, and more often than not the doomsayers used a very specific type of optimization methods.
When the online marketing game started it was a fairly simple matter to get almost any website listed. You didn’t even really need to have any content of merit or even any kind of following to your website. You didn’t even need to have an okay website never mind a high quality one and as for any kind of best practice guide it didn’t really exist in the beginning. There were no pure white hat methods, although there were many black hat methods and it took a while before the search engines even began to lay penalties to some of the worst offenders. This all started with real gusto across the web in the mid to late 90s.
As the web grew and expanded and as the search engine bots, crawlers and tech got better, the types of things that you should do and shouldn’t do began to become clearer. After a few years of clean up, the search engines and their algorithms fell almost into a routine. You could build a site, create or scrape some content, point any kind of a backlink at it and make a site start to show up in the results pages. It was at this point that the terms ‘search engine optimization’ really started to become widespread and the notion that you could make money from SEO started to become an avenue for people who frequented blogs and discussion forums about the quickest and easiest way to make a dollar online. This was in around 2005-2010 era of SEO, when the industry became suddenly inundated with experts in the field. It really shouldn’t be that much of a surprise, that these are the same folk who are calling SEO a dead industry these days.
In the last few years SEO has had some major shifts with the algorithm much the same as the industry saw in 2003 with the Florida update which cleaned up a great deal of the spam across the web. Penguin and Panda were the most recent additions to the Google algorithm which changed the world of SEO enough that the prior blogged about methods of spammy content and tons of anchor text and backlinks disappeared as a viable strategy. They were very simple methods, easy to implement and even easier to spam multiple sites to help drive a target to the top of the results pages. But since the means and the methods became unusable as a reliable way to rank a site, it is suddenly the end of SEO as a viable means of marketing. So the next time you’re approached by an agency who tells you that ‘SEO is dead’ take a moment and remember that the industry is far from dead – if anything it’s growing. It’s only the that the wheat has finally been separated from the chaff.
There aren’t any magic tricks you can do to make your site rise in the search rankings. You could spend the rest of your life reading detailed guides to SEO and meticulously cramming keywords into every possible tag on your website. But for companies with limited resources, it’s critical to focus on the SEO strategies that yield the best results.
For those with absolutely no resources to build and develop a website, WordPress offers you a great option. The use is free, learning to develop the software and build a website only takes a week, maybe two weeks at the most. And with a host of plugins available to help with optimization, WordPress has made the basics as simple as they could have.
You can use Google to tell you what people are searching for. Load up Google and start searching what you *think* is relevant to your business niche. Do you come up in search? If not, visit the top 10 websites as they’ve been deemed more relevant than your own site. You won’t be able to discern 100% of a companies SEO campaign by visiting their website, but you may be able to pinpoint why they’re placed higher than you are.
Keywords are the bread and butter of search, the search indexes out there are founded on them. However, shorter keywords are significantly more competitive than, what you’ll find referred to as, long tail keywords. Using long tail searches like search engine optimization in winnipeg is often a simpler approach into a market as opposed to trying to balance a site around a more competitive keyword like seo, or seo winnipeg.
If all you have is time to invest into performing optimization on your businesses website, I’m sorry to say you’re likely not going to rank in the top 5 for your niche business model. However, that does not mean that you should just give up or ignore the best practices and basics of optimization. Create a solid website, fill it with quality content and promote yourself to your clients. In time, you absolutely carve out your own little corner of the web.
There are a lot of tips out there online about search engine optimization and the methods you can put to use to rank higher in the Google/Bing/Yahoo SERPs. You can find some of the same type of posts on our blog here as well. You’ll find discussion of white hat techniques, black hat techniques, the common steps known as well as some of the not so obvious ones.
What you don’t find very often however, are posts about what not to do, or what to look out for when you’re looking at contracting a company to perform SEO on your website. While the search engines are somewhat flexible in what you’re allowed to do, there are most definately some tricks which can get you black marked, all the way to completely kicked from the SERPs.
So, when you’re looking for a company to perform optimization on your site, keep your ears open for any of the below terms. If there is mention of using any of these practices, it’s time to run for the hills.
Using Cloaked content
This is one of the most common, and most likely to get your company banned, practices out there. For the most part, when you create content for your site you’re telling the search engines what your site is for. Google/Bing/Yahoo then lists the website under the titles and keywords that is found in that content. Cloaking content is when a company shows Google content, and then shows viewers different content such as ads or links to malware infected sites. This is what is cloaking and will get a site removed from Google in very short order.
A lot of blogs talk about how the meta data for keywords and description are defunct, but Google often looks to these as indicators of keywords that make up a site. For example a site about water softeners will often contain content relevant to that industry. Some companies, however, try to gain new content by what is known as “keyword stuffing”. Mainly this involves hiding keywords with single pixel sized font or camouflaging text the same as the background color to try and get listed more often, for more terms. It may seem to work short term, but it will get a site removed from the SERPs.
Duplicate content Websites
Some novice SEOs and SEO companies try to increase rankings by putting the exact same content on different pages on multiple sites. Typically they also use a scraper tool to gather quality content from websites for their own. Search engines have gotten adept at catching this and will happily penalize, a website that has too much duplicate content.
Auto Generating Content
Another poor technique is to use a program to write content for your website. This is exactly as it sounds, taking one article and then having a program rewrite the article by changing a few sentences and keywords over and over again.
Those are only a few of the terms you need to be aware of when speaking with an SEO company. Absolutely stressing the point that if any of the above techniques are mentioned as a tool they use, avoid them at all costs. There is no shortcut to success in online marketing, real SEO takes time and the more time and effort you can put into it, the bigger return on investment you can expect.
There’s a new Google search results page being tested out in the wilds of the internet. Varying reports have been given at present, but there seems to be a central theme to the different layouts discussed. The most consistent trend that is being reported in the new pages is.. more white space in the results.
It doesn’t sound like a search game changing shift, but in reality it very much is. There are millions of people using the internet every day do a myriad of things. Searching, playing games, writing stories and blogs or researching who knows what. Almost all users use a 17 inch monitor or larger and the resolution to match. As strange as it may seem, monitor size and resolution also play into the new search results page and how it may affect your search ranking.
Simply defined, white space is literally just the amount of blank space between elements on a web page. By adding more white space to the search results pages, Google has effectively lengthened the page, meaning to get to number 10 of the top 10 results, you have to scroll down on the page. Just as in the real world, location is everything when it comes to search results. If you’re not in the top 10, you’re not betting the views you need to be competitive as a very high percentage of search users don’t click on page 2 let alone page 5 of their search results. It’s been seen in demographics as well, most users don’t even scroll down to the bottom of the top 10 of their searches!
At present most users see the top 5 or 6 on their search results page. If Google were to decide to go live with this change of adding more white space, you would only see the top 4, or 3 even depending on your monitor and resolution. If you were happy and content seeing that you were sitting at number 5 or 6 in your niche, it may be time to take a long hard look at your current site to see if you can kick start some forward gains. The top 3 when it comes to being found is becoming more and more important.
Search Engine Optimization, we’re in the business of driving your website to the top of the search results relevant to your industry. A lot of the time, it sounds too good to be true, that when reaching this position you can literally count yourself as a leader. So you sit back, relax and watch as the visitors pour in. And then you start to notice something you didn’t prepare yourself for, your visitors start dropping off.
Where you once were receiving hundreds of qualified visitors to your site, you’ve watched it drop off to a trickle of where you were at your peak. So what happened? Did your SEO expert fail you? Possibly, we do make mistakes from time to time. But the first rule of SEO is KISS it; Keep It Simple Stupid. With that in mind, grab your pencils and paper and let’s take a look at what are the contributing factors to dropped traffic.
First and foremost, check your content. Have you been creating fresh and compelling content for your site? Have you allowed your SEO to read it before you upload it to your site or did you just toss up what ever jargon you happened to jot down in a hurry? The search engines have always proclaimed that content is king and when your content doesn’t measure up anymore, you’re going to lose your crown. That means when you’re being creative, you need to bear in mind your visitor base. Do they understand industry terms? Or do you need to use generic terms. Will they be able to handle acronyms and specific statements about your products and services? Being hasty in the creation process can be a huge contributor to losing traffic to your site. Properly spelled, grammatically correct and most of all relevant to your site content, can drive you to the top of the mountain and keep you there like an anchor.
Another avenue to explore for you, have you done any massive changes to your website either functionality or design? If you’ve changed the way your navigation works on your site and didn’t properly relay that information to the search engines, you’ll likely slip off of search until the spiders find all of your content again.
Have you kept an open and consistent dialogue with your SEO expert? When a change is requested that needs to be completed, you need to bear in mind that the internet doesn’t stop. It doesn’t sleep, rest, eat or use the washroom. The bots are always out there, always searching, parsing and indexing. A requested change needs to happen as soon as possible. Lost time when making changes can make a huge impact on your search position.
The marketing game has changed significantly in the last 10 years with the growth of the search engines. Gone are the days of dumping a quarter of a million dollars into an ad campaign and waiting for the kick back from it. International marketing superstardom can be had with a well coded website with strong quality content created by one person sitting behind a keyboard.
Since it’s all over the news and has been talked about since word broke, here ‘s just another take on the J.C. Penney search gaff. The NYTimes did a piece titled “The dirty little secrets of search” and in it was outlined how J.C. Penney gamed Google into listing them for all sorts of terms, applicable to their stores, but always listing at the top irregardless of the search.
The chief way this occurred was through the value of backlinks coming into a site. When your search engine optimization expert does their work properly, the value of the backlinks coming into your site will be categorically relative to your site. J.C. Penney however had links for all sorts of things on what seemed like any kind of website. When it comes to broad analysis of buying links to link back to your site, Google frowns heavily on the practice and often the links are devalued, or even negatively valued, and your site can be negatively effected in such cases. Matt Cutts was questioned on the occurrence and admitted that although JCP.com was already dealt with three times previous, the most recent and wide reaching offence hadn’t been noted.
Some have said it’s because JCP spends so much money on AdWords, others have said it’s sloppy policing on Googles part. One thing that the NYTimes piece did however, was contact a black hat SEO marketer directly and asked their opinion on the matter, and I believe they hit it on the head the best. Think of search not as a one type tool (search) but as a dual purpose technology; informational and commercial. And while the black hat lauded the strength of Googles informational capabilities, he readily admitted that commercially the results were lack luster, a cess pool was the term used. The Google team has admitted fully that there’s a relevance problem as of late, which has become more pronounced with the advent of both Caffeine and Instant technologies into the Google search algorithm. It also needs to be noted however, that spammers didn’t all of a sudden triple their output, the right set of adjustments just haven’t been found yet to exclude them from the relevant results. Additionally since no one has thought to bring it up, the same (gamed) results would have shown up in Bing or Yahoo as well as they did in Google.
JCP is about to go through some growing pains, and will most likely learn a valuable lesson in search; always make a point to be aware of your hired SEOs track record . You may find yourself on the receiving end of a swat on the nose from the Google team.
In a bit of a change of pace, just a reminder that there are a few key points which need to be considered when working online whether as a new website owner just getting into the search marketing side of business. Or a long trusted brand both on and offline, that’s looking to stake a claim, or reinforce a position online.
K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple Silly) – Keep your website simple in appearance, construction and use. That doesn’t mean like a printed sheet of paper, but flashy ads, a video clogged front page or fancy fly away graphical menus don’t help your position in the search world. All of the above technologies, without a lot of back work, can actually hurt your online marketing performance.
Relevant Content – Keep your copy relevant and consistent to what you want to be known for. If you’re a plumber, write about plumbing trends, technologies and concerns. If you’re a tailor, writing about style trends, materials and new patterns is helpful. As a carpenter you wouldn’t want to write about small engine repair or microwave ovens, it’s simply not pertinent to your business or your website.
Budget – Ahh money, the one aspect of the business that always seems to surprise people. The thing about advertising, is that advertising in earnest, with the idea to make contact with your customers or clients to earn a living, will cost you money. In North America, Canada especially, online marketing budgets are significantly below what they need to be to see the real rewards capable from high quality, skilled search optimization. It still makes no business sense how a company can have no problem throwing away thousands of dollars per month on a marketing metric which is untrackable (newspapers/radio), versus a significantly lower cost for a completely trackable one (SEO).
A Call to Action – Often the missed point of a newer website owner, a call to action for your visitors is a required point of your website. A qualified and capable search engine optimization expert can bring you traffic, but if your website doesn’t direct your visitors what to do, they will leave until they find a site that does. If the point of your website is to sell, ensure you have a way to sell to your visitors with a Buy Now button, or a catalogue to order. If your desire is to attract people to sign up for your newsletter, make sure it’s prominently displayed as such.
Time – One of the most important requirements for SEO is time. Time for your website to be crawled and indexed, time for Google, Bing and Yahoo to place you within their index and the time it takes to balance your website versus the millions upon millions of pages also within your sector. It all takes time in the end, and if you try to circumvent the time component and go quick and dirty like J.C. Penney did? You’ll get caught, maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but you’ll be caught.
There’s a massive amount of information on the Internet on absolutely everything, the downside of this of course is the (seemingly) even larger amounts of mis-information. This holds true in any industry, but when it comes to the topic of search engine optimization, it often seems that it’s not so much the fact and fiction mixed up. It’s more akin to the information being tossed in a blender and spread in a mess.
The most antagonizing part of all of the information out there, is that people who partake of what makes the most sense to them, claims to make them experts in the field. It’s from these same sources that the newest experts don’t even learn how to properly 301 a website, or are unable to tell the difference between paid links and paid advertisements. Some of the latest crop have seemed to be of the belief that building websites to rank for obscure long tail terms, is the same skill as being able to rank a client for their desired and preferred terms.
The whole idea about marketing your business is about driving qualified visitors to your website, where hopefully your SEO company has advised you on how to build your site to facilitate conversions. Whether it’s convincing visitors to sign up for your news letter, or to buy your product, or sign up for your discussion forums, the idea of pushing and marketing your site is to increase your bottom line, what ever it may be. Say for example your business is in making shoes, and your website has a built in shopping cart so your customers can buy custom footwear direct. Along comes the newest ‘expert’ in SEO and builds your site around a long tail search along the lines of ‘custom designed walking equipment’. You may shake your head an scoff at the idea, but it happens, and happens far too often.
No, this doesn’t mean that long tail searches are dead in any way, there are users out there who don’t use the Google Instant feature, or simply type out their entire query. But the point of my description was to drive home the idea that search engine optimization isn’t about tricking the search engines, isn’t about spamming on blog comments and posts and it isn’t about tricking visitors into visiting your website. It’s about driving qualified traffic to your site with the decision to purchase your product, or sign up for your newsletter or become involved in your community. Real SEO performed by the real SEO experts drives measurable, qualified traffic to your website to make your bottom line better.
When discussing with clients, both current and prospective, about the costs entailed with their SEO campaign, there’s almost always a measure of shock and or disbelief at the bottom line. Being that it’s a marketing industry at it’s base, and other marketing campaigns yield little to no tangible results, SEO offers a break down that can be examined.
You can determine if you’re attracting the proper type of visitor. Are your keywords effective, is your content driving your search rankings to help you climb to, and maintain a commanding position on the SERPs? Or are you only receiving immediate bounces to your site because you’re appearing on the wrong results pages? SEO when performed properly, and maintained rigorously on an ongoing basis, can give you these answers.
As for the costs associated to get the results you want, just like in any industry you get what you pay for. There are bucketfuls of “experts” out there who will do your websites SEO for you for $200-$400, but what will that really get you? Just like when you need maintenance done on your car or home, if you’re not a qualified professional to do the work, you pay for the services you require. Now say for instance, instead of having a contractor repair your basement foundation, you get your neighbor who you’ve seen mix concrete help you, imagine the recourse you have available when your basement walls begin to crack, leak and sag again.
Just as it is with the “experts” out there, when you’ve noticed that the $200 you’ve paid doesn’t deliver you any measurable, or quality results, there’s only one person to blame. Nickle and dime spending when it comes to your online branding and marketing has to leave the train of thought, you get what you pay for.
What is the greatest guessing game you ask? It’s the game which has made Google, Microsoft and Yahoo, as well as other search engine start ups and even failures, piles of money just by mention of the word. Search, is the greatest guessing game.
What happened when Google took the game and applied it’s own rules, was dominate the online community as it propelled itself forward, clawing and fighting for all of the infomation it could find. There are various illustrations of the web which come to mind when it’s pictured. Firstly as a web of course, of interconnecting websites and pages, all of which the search bots, spiders naturally, navigate their way around and build up this interconnectability between them. I’ve seen pictures of the internet visualized as planets in galaxies and solar systems, as continents on a map and even as a DNA strand at one point. The best visualization I can come up with is that of an ocean, and all of the websites and pages of the internet are just kind of floating around. People are like little fish, darting around from point to point, sometimes finding what they want, sometimes not. But it’s a fluid environment, never the same from day to day and always on the move.
An article written about which search engine is better at delivering relevant results was the inspiration for today. It tried to demonstrate that by using identical results in different search engines, that one could clearly deliver better and more relevant results than the other. The reality is I believe, much murkier than that. Google is absolutely a brand name, and used extensively in all walks of life. Bing is working hard on branding itself as a decision engine and not a search engine, but in the end both algorithms do primarily the same thing. They guess at what you’re looking for, they guess that they’re delivering you what you want to see and they guess mostly correct only because you’ve already told them what you want to see. Whether it’s via your search history, cookies saved on your computer or even your directly typed search query. Search is still just a game, and for now Google still plays it best. The internet and online technology being what it is, we’ll revisit the topic in a year and everything may be upside down.
At what lengths do you go, to save yourself or your business some cash? Where do you decide to trim your budget. Production? Acquisition? Marketing? Development? Depending on your niche and business model there are many more to add to the list I’d wager. So when it comes right down to it and you need to find some money, where do you trim, all too often the budget cuts fall on the marketing angle. And the first place that gets the shaft, is online marketing more than not.
The argument usually heard is that it’s not tangible, you can’t track any results or gains with it. The internet is a virtual world of switches, capacitors and electrical connections, so in a touchable tangible sense it’s not “real”. The numbers however, the web is full of numbers which are very easily countable. That machine you use on your desk at the office and at home everyday is, at it’s core, an overgrown calculator. Traffic, sales, visitors and unique first time viewers are all metrics easily tracked by the software that expert SEOs use to demonstrate to clients that what we do works like gang busters.
And a question that we are asked time and time again is: “Why should I retain you on a contract if the guy down the street says he can do the same for me for only $300?” And since people keep asking, the simplest and honest to god answer is maintenance. See, the internet never sleeps, never rests and is always changing. Google, the king of search and search marketing is the same. Always changing the algorithm, making it faster, smarter and it can throw the entire results page into disarray when they make a number of changes at once. Retaining your position on the SERPs in the midst of these changes is why we’re the best. And it’s why we can command the costs required for the care we give to your online marketplace. Now, if you’re still unsatisfied that this is the case, a simple analogy for you in easy to understand terms.
Your website is a car and Google is it’s engine. The internet are the roads you travel endlessly. Knowing you need a tune up (SEO) you look for a mechanic to tend to your car, and decide to settle for the budget variety to save a few dollars and settle in for a rest. Waking up, you find out that your Google engine has decided that it doesn’t like unleaded fuel anymore and instead wants diesel. So back to your mechanic who tells you ‘Sorry, I don’t know what I need to do to work with diesel’. And instead of driving your way to the top, you’re stuck, stranded on the side of the road with a stalled site (car), and work done on your engine that no longer works.
If you need to save some budget dollars and decide to focus on marketing, then trim your budget in the old, untraceable metrics like television, radio, newspapers and billboards. Playing catch up on the web is an exponentially more difficult game the longer you wait Winnipeg, time to get a move on.