One of the greatest advantages of the Internet and search engines like Google is that you can find almost anything about almost anything or anyone. This is particularly true following the advent of web 2.0 technologies and increasingly sophisticated websites indexing everything from video to audio – we’ve come a long way from text rich sites with just an image or two to mix things up.
Of course, this information superhighway is also incredibly bad news if you’re unfortunate enough to find yourself or your company on the wrong end of some bad press. Unlike the newspapers of yesteryear that were discarded after reading, online publications are indexed indefinitely, giving bad press an infinite shelf life
If your company is poorly represented on a site with a good PageRank, a respectable number of links and good rankings, chances are it will turn up near the top of the SERPs for searches on that company name. Not only does this mean the story will live on long after the facts may have changed, it’s also galling to discover that the old mantra of bad news selling translates equally aptly online. Say the bad press takes the form of a harsh critique of your restaurant. Upon seeing the piece, you take action and work solidly for six months to turn your eatery around. You change the menu, source new suppliers, opt for a complete revamp of the décor and hire a new head chef and sous chef. After all your hard work, you log back on and discover the bad review is still prominently positioned in a search for your business name. All because the review ran in an influential food mag or national newspaper.
How do you fight this and regain credibility? Most bad press relates to a particular service area or product, rather than attacking the entire business model. This, while unfortunate for the product being bad mouthed, is actually good news when it comes to rectifying the situation as it gives you a very specific plan of attack.
Even in SEO, the best defense is a good offense and there are several options available to you to replace the negative with the positive. The most effective way, is to focus on how the changes have been brought about and drown out the bad with good. That means developing a groundswell of support for the keyword or keywords being black balled. When attempting this, you must apply the fundamental rules of organic optimization while embracing the usefulness and grassroots potency of social media activity and multi-media content.
Research is always the first stage so ascertain which keywords trigger the bad press. Create a list so the whole set of phrases can be included in the image overhaul. This is also a good opportunity to re-assess any existing organic activity. Ask yourself if variations of these keywords such as location specific versions are now appropriate to your optimization. If you’ve grown as a company while making some fundamental changes to the business offering, chances are you will be able to add more words to the list.
The second stage is to understand why the negative press is gaining such prominent positions. Obviously if the site is well established and a respected resource, your situation isn’t helped. However, you can take advantage of their stronghold by running link reports and then sifting through the returned results. Pick out referrers with a good PageRank, domains that are particularly relevant to your own site and make a note of any social networking sites that you haven’t yet heard of or haven’t yet had the opportunity to use. This will form a fundamental part of your positivity drive.
Having developed an initial list of sites to target for linkbacks in order to negate the advantage of the bad publicity, you need to approach each of those sites and barter for a link. The most effective way to do this is to provide unique content. For newspaper sites, specialist portals and the like, why not create a press release announcing your re-launch, outlining all of the positive differences that have been made? Consider a launch party or opening night in order to get local press involved and then send out the PR to all of those sites on the original link back list. If you’re feeling brave, you can even send the piece to the author of the bad press you’re trying to sink. Invite them to come and review your product offering again, suggest a formal meeting or collaborate on a competition, pushing any newly gained sales tools such as client testimonials. The creation of new jobs if you’ve taken on new members of staff as part of the restructuring or even a great offer on the original product can pique the interest of the newshound who first slammed your offering.
With your PR campaign launched, you need to find other ways to build links and positive opinion about your brand or company. To do this, remember that the results pages of major engines like Google or no longer simply about text based content. Video, audio and images all play their part. Creating interesting and useful multi-media content makes a great addition to any traditional SEO campaign and is a useful part of the armor when driving out bad press. Create video content that is going to be of interest to others and make sure that it is easily shared. Video sharing typically takes place around sites like YouTube so incorporate this facility to get others to link back to it.
Social media sites like YouTube, Twitter, Squidoo, Sphin and Digg are all powerful tools and an extension of the content diversity you’ll need to push unfavorable listings off the front page. Any social media campaign activity should be thought of as a chance to communicate with the consumer, not sell to them. Create content specifically for this purpose, invite their feedback and provide a space for conversation and the links and client goodwill you seek will follow. This same approach can also be used for forum activity. Rather than jumping in with any excuse to link back to your site, watch first, participate second. Take time to understand the forum profile and then introduce relevant content and responses. Ask probing questions and give answers that inform and watch the links flood in. Content creation managed this way often grows organically, being picked up by blogs or industry commentators to create yet more links and more goodwill.
As with a full-on SEO campaign, attempt to turn around a poor online reputation need to be sustained if they are to succeed. If you don’t have time to dedicate yourself, consider hiring an SEO company or external consultant on a short term basis to carry out your brief
If the headlines threatening a global economic meltdown are causing you to rethink your search marketing strategy, you’ll probably have considered taking your paid search campaigns back in house, shelving your PPC campaigns entirely or turning your hand to organic optimization in a bid to reduce marketing costs.
However you’re cutting costs, organic search shouldn’t be the area in which you skimp. Organic traffic is often more qualified, more interested and less expensive than traffic accrued in any other way, making it a safe bet when times are lean. Unfortunately, a good SEO campaign can also cost serious bucks so it’s important to spend dollars wisely when all the indicators point to a nationwide financial slump.
There are several ways to make an SEO campaign a good investment during an economic downturn. One option is to focus on a single core area, giving you a performance focused optimization strategy based on tried and tested market share. Good SEO during a bad economy should never be a dressed up attempt to crack a new market – if the bottom line is being closely scrutinized, it’s not the time for experiments. Instead, efforts should be built around increasing the online presence of one best selling product or service with its own proven track record.
All search engine optimization activity needs clearly defined objectives and if the main thrust is to increase inbound leads or actual sales figures, targeting an individual business area makes the end result much more attainable. The example I often give here is to think of a house in need of decoration. Problem is you only have one can of paint. Do you choose to spread the can thinly around the whole house and do a mediocre job in every room or do you focus on just one room and do a proper job? When cash is short this mindset can be successfully applied to SEO. Choosing a product that has performed well previously also means you have historic data to base marketing decisions on. There’s also the confidence borne of a previous warm reception that ensures the new optimisation campaign is not wasted as an R and D exercise.
It goes without saying that a carefully constructed plan of attack is an intrinsic part of successful search marketing activity. Remembering this basic missive will provide structure and symmetry, especially if money worries have resulted in an in-house campaign. Like going into battle, each detail must be meticulously planned. Roles must be assigned and understood if a pared down campaign is to be successful. Just because you’re operating on a budget and targeting wary consumers is not an excuse for poor performance. Turning good into great means spending extra time on the details; you can’t just write off missed opportunities and forgotten deadlines in a fiercely competitive, recession-fearing market. To minimise this risk, gather a small, well drilled team who can each carry out a specific task. Giving others responsibilities maximises effectiveness as each person can play to their own strengths. Doubling the workforce also means twice as many hours can go into optimisation
At this stage of recession time SEO, you can tick off the usual starting points such as deciding on keywords, assessing the site for content changes and identifying link partners. Most importantly if your campaign is to bear fruit, decide on and implement reporting structures. Good SEO is accountable and measurable. If you can’t envisage using the data your reporting systems provide to write a performance testimony at monthly intervals, your SEO is not sufficient to survive economic turmoil. In order to justify SEO spend when times are hard, the number of sales, revenue generated, value of web presence secured and brand penetration of the campaign must all be available as real time metrics. If you can go into a meeting and say this piece of content resulted in 10 new customers, or traffic from this inbound link led to 15 referrals, you can be confident your optimisation activity is overcoming economic hurdles and adding value to your bottom line. If your reporting doesn’t give you this luxury, it will be difficult to justify ongoing spend on search marketing.
Use Social Media
Social networks provide an incredibly useful word of mouth buzz at a fraction of the cost of expensive pay per click and banner campaigns if done correctly. If you’ve only so far used sites like Squidoo and Blogger to build links, shame on you. These social media sites are a hot bed of peer to peer recommendation and consumer review. Now more than ever, a good social media campaign can build brand loyalty, secure new business and propel more relevant traffic than ever before. The key to incorporating social media in organic search marketing activity is to recognise it for what it is; not a place to preach ad messages but an interactive arena and space for conversation. Embrace this grassroots environment, provide content that respects and adds value to the conversation and your SEO will shine despite the gloom of financial forecasts.
Small firms urged to consider search engine marketing
Small businesses could do more to take advantage of the benefits of search engine marketing.
This is according to Microsoft, which has released the findings of a new survey suggesting that six in ten US small businesses with a website currently do not make use of search marketing services.
The study also found that 86 per cent of the 400 small business owners surveyed were fearful they may be missing out on ways to grow their operations, with three-quarters of respondents saying it was likely that consumers search online for their offerings.
A quarter of firms said they felt search advertising was too complicated for them, while 35 per cent admitted that they would require the services of a search engine marketing agency to help them with such campaigns.
“By investing in paid search marketing, small businesses can track online sales and determine the return on investment for their campaigns, while at the same time boosting traffic and visibility for their websites,” Brian Boland, director of adCenter at Microsoft Advertising, commented.
Recent research by the Federation of Small Businesses showed that 70 per cent of small firms in the UK currently have their own website.
Almost all of us use search engines, but most Britons “either have no idea or an inaccurate view of how online search results are determined,” according to the Online Search Matters Survey produced for FastHosts, the Web hosting company. The main findings are:
Nearly 1 in 4 Britons (24%) believe that the order of the search listings they use cannot be influenced by the publishers of websites listed, whilst a similar proportion (22%) suspect that results are ordered entirely according to how much has been paid by the websites listed. 1 in 5 consumers (19%) have no idea at all how results are compiled, and 5% believe that search listings are arranged completely at random like a lottery.
To be clear: the major search engines do not charge for listings, but their results are influenced by Web site publishers, partly through the use of SEO (search engine optimisation) techniques.
Men (33%) understand how search engines work a little better than women (26%).
Britons also trust organic results more than the “sponsored listings” that often appear above or alongside them. Fasthosts says:
1 in 3 (33%) believe these listings to be ‘less worthy’ and ‘less useful’ than main search results. Two thirds of web users (66%) report that they always pay attention first to main results, and some 40% of women and 34% of men will consciously ignore sponsored links whenever they appear.
The survey is based on 1,636 UK adults interviewed by Tickbox.net in November 2008 via electronic feedback forms.
Of course, if you started compiling a list of things that lots of Brits don’t understand, you’d be busy for some time. It’s also not clear that understanding how search engines work has much practical value if you just want to find sites, rather than promote them. However, if I ran a search engine, I’d be looking for ways to make it clearer that organic results, unlike sponsored links, are not paid for.
The online marketing strategy of search engine optimization [SEO] could prove to be an asset for those working in nonprofit organisations,according to researchers.
A team working at Pepperdine University’s Graziadio School of Business and Management discovered that search marketing can prove to be a cost-effective strategy and therefore useful for non-profit groups.
It also suggested that using keywords to boost SEO could attract the attention of potential benefactors, which could provide a welcome boost during the economic downturn.
The researchers stated in their report: “The compilation, selection, and evaluation of search engine keywords are vitally important to any Search Engine Marketing campaign.”
Last week, ITV released the results of a poll, which discovered that respondents claim prefer overlay advertisements to pre-roll advertisements.
1. Under-monetize to buy mindshare. (almost every category Google is in)
2. Offer a free version to make sure everyone who may want to has a chance to experience your product and/or service. (almost every category Google is in)
3. Offer something that forces people to keep coming back to your website. Alternatively, bundle your stuff into the browser. (the Google Toolbar is huge.)
4. Invest heavily in distribution deals and public relations. Keep making small changes and talking about how important they are so you stay in the media. Maintain that your success is because superior products even while you are buying marketshare.
5. If a business model competes with your model, try to guide the conversation and get market participants to attack each other to your own benefit (this, above all other reasons, is why it is not smart for “professional” SEOs to publicly endorse outing each other…nobody wins but Google).
6. Offer free or low cost versions of cash cows of competing services to distract them and/or force change upon them. (Google Docs)
7. Even when you have a market leading position, keep investing heavily in complimentary markets to reinforce your position as the default. Become ubiquitous. Become a verb. (mobile operating system)
8. When you tap out the potential of your product or service look for ways to make it deeper is select high value verticals. (onebox, universal search, site search)
9. When you have enough leverage and a large enough lead, change the market to put yourself at the center of it. (the Omnibox in Google Chrome)
So, the time has come for you to consider, or more likely than not, to reconsider your SEO strategy. Perhaps you’re new to the game, and don’t even know what SEO is. Don’t worry, we’ll explain it. We’ll also explain some tactics that seem at first glance to be good ideas, but really aren’t. Best of all, we’ll show you how to spot these bad ideas so your site doesn’t pay the consequences.
For those of you who have been living on an isolated tropical island paradise, or have been in prison, for the last few years and do not know, SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. This term is a kind of a rubric, that rather than referring to one or two things that you can do to improve your listing, covers a wide range of possible actions and behaviors that can help you to grow your site in popularity and make you untold amounts of money. Essentially these are the actions that a site takes to cater to the searching algorithms that search engines use to determine which sites get a high ranking, and which ones land on the bottom of page 17 in the listings.
These tools can be a great thing. They can help you get your site straight to the top and bring you scores of readers, and if they are done well you can get the site to the top of the search engine results pages for several sets of related keywords, and not just one set. The name of the game here is popularity, and despite the fact that we had all hoped to get away from that when the senior prom was over, being popular still matters when you are online. The bottom line is popularity means ad revenues and that means power.
Since the world of search engines depends on algorithms, some of which, despite sounding very vague, are actually quite advanced, you have to be very careful what you do when you play with SEO tricks. Sure, some of them can raise your site up to the top spot, but others can drag you down without so much as a second thought. Choosing not just the right principles, but the right way to execute them, becomes the chief task of those people who choose to practice SEO.
That is right, you understood me just fine. You can use the right principles and still find yourself with a bad idea on your hands. This, in addition to being quite maddening if you think about it for too long, also means that you have to be extremely careful when you screen your ideas. Something that sounds like a great idea to begin with and is even based on a sound principle, can be a big no-no if you want to keep your site’s rankings up. That careful consideration is, of course, a sound practice in most areas of your life, but you should be sure that you don’t get suckered in.
That is not to say that I expect you to become an expert in the field overnight; even a seasoned professional would have to take a look at the details of the execution before deciding if this is a good plan or a bad plan. To help you get some judgment under your belt, we will talk about some of the techniques that have already been identified as a bad idea, despite the good principles that are behind them. Then we will talk a little about how to identify a bad idea on your own, because the bad ideas will always pop up in new forms now and again. So you will have to be ever vigilant before you try out anything new.
Link Building Via Service
When done in a genuine way, building links between sites is a great way to raise your listings. When you hire a service to do it, you have a problem, because you lose control. Unless the service that you use is extremely professional, very discrete and amazingly well connected, it is an absolute certainty that you should pass it by without a second glance.
When you give up control, especially to a service, you run the very serious risk of finding yourself linked with a site that is considered to be in a “Bad Neighborhood,” which means that being linked to them will actually lower your rankings seriously. If you want to build links, you should do so in a controlled environment, and with sites that are relevant to your site’s content. Don’t go crazy and don’t get lazy.
When you ad a keyword to your site, whether it be in the META tags or, if you own a blog, in the visible tags, then those tags should always be relevant to your content, and never be just a random listing of words that you think will send search engines to your site. To be honest, you always want to keep these words short, sweet and non-repetitive; while many of the search engines have stopped using these words to place sites into the top section of the results, they have not stopped using them to rule sites out.
If your site’s META tag list seems like it came from the dictionary, then you will find your brilliant strategy to increase your rankings has lowered them instead. A similar trick is done with titles on a site. This technique, more commonly known as “Title Stacking,” is another way of adding more keywords for the search engines to index, and they have caught on. Avoid both of these like the black plague.
This one sounds like it may be a good idea. You can make a lot of sub pages that direct to the information that your user wants to know, they get the information, and you get a lot of pages that can help to increase your rankings on a multitude of sets of key words. But this technique just makes most search engines upset, because these gateway sites have very little content on them, and their primary goal is to re-direct. I would suggest that you avoid this at all costs.
If you own content from another, similar site, or you are just getting content for the site from an article bank, you can run into these serious problems. Sites that are deemed to be using nothing but copy and paste content will run into problems with the engines right away, so if you are going to re-use content it should only be a small percentage of your site, and never on the main page. Also, as a side note, if you steal someone else’s content, you can end up getting your site removed wholesale. You also run the risk of getting sued.
Now that you have an inkling of some of the bad ideas, founded on good principles, it is time to talk about how you are going to learn to spot these ideas as they come up in the world of online content promotions.
To do this, you need to open up the hood and poke around at the idea’s mechanics to see if everything is in order, by asking some questions.
Question 1. Does this topic sound like any known bad practices?
Remember how I introduced title stacking as a sub-set of META tag abuse? That is because they have a set of similarities which make them sibling ideas. If you run across a sibling idea to one of the ones that you already know is a bad plan, then you should pass it by. No hesitation and no further questions needed.
Question 2. How does this serve the readers or the searchers?
If the only benefit is to the site, then the odds are that it will get you lowered. Search engines and sites are supposed to exist for end users. If the tactic causes an impairment to their finding what they want, then it will be used as a reason to knock you down. Search engines know where their money comes from, and it is not from you.
Question 3. Does this seem like spam?
If it is the kind of tactic that you would be annoyed to encounter, either while searching or in an e-mail, then you should probably skip it. No one likes a spammer, and the search engines are no exception to that statement. So if you have the distinct odor of spam in your nostrils, you should pass up this idea and go on to the next one.
Question 4. Does it just feel wrong?
Even if you can’t quantify the why of it, if an idea feels wrong for your site or for your conscience, then you should not use it, wither or not it will be treated negatively by
the search engines. You have to trust you instincts and err on the side of caution.
Now that you know, you can be vigilant to keep your site from having its rankings lowered by an honest mistake that makes you seem like you are trying to do something that is evil — even though we both know that you would never, ever do a thing like that.
The central focus of many SEO efforts is reaching the right people with the right information at the right time. Third-party search engine marketing firms, many of whom work tirelessly helping clients consume information in the highly dynamic world of SEO, face many challenges.
Third-party vendors or agencies are often forced into difficult situations in helping disjointed entities, such as design and programming departments, communicate effectively and achieve compromise to procreate sound discipline and ultimately achieve victory over hypocrisy.
What if you were the one on the inside, making the moves? I talked to in-house SEO folks about their daily frustrations in order to come up with a few best practices and identify problematic personalities. Here’s a discussion mash of that dialogue.
Megalomaniac Entitlement Syndrome (MES)
The MES (pronounced “mess”) brand of evil is easily identified as the “noob” with a passion for screwing up otherwise well-intentioned plans. The “noob” is not to be confused with the other form of new player, “newb,” in a particular arena who actually has intentions of getting better in a particular discipline.
A “noob” is just in the game to create chaos for the sake of his or her ego. The megalomaniac usually carries a senior management title (hence the entitlement) and can be identified by making unusually arrogant requests of the in-house search specialist.
Such requests can be identified very easily and will include irrational, ego-driven demands. For example, having just received one’s massage license, MES afflicted will demand to be number one in search results for said term and feel entitled to that position. The problem here: someone may actually promise the MES afflicted said position.
In-house SEO folks say the best way to counteract the effects of MES is to identify it early and treat it with a barrage of rational ideas. Sadly, many of the untreated MES afflicted end up either driving themselves or their staffs into a padded room.
Ill-informed Executive Decision Maker (IEDM)
Similar to the MES entry, the IEDM (pronounced “I-idiom”) is identified by making nutty decisions armed with enough information to be dangerous. For example, the IEDM may say something like, “My brother-in-law knows all about that search stuff, and I hired him to help you.”
According to many of the experts I spoke with, said brother-in-law is so poorly equipped to handle anything search related, he often causes nearly irreparable damage with his “advice,” and the in-house SEO practitioner spends more time doing damage control than achieving results.
The IEDM is a massive delegator that has yet to learn the delicate art of delegating to competence, as opposed to incompetence.
Counteracting the effects on an IEDM can be pretty simple. Many accept the nepotism or favoritism as a part of doing business and simply ignore the advice of said consultant while implementing their own strategic plan.
Screwball Consultant Meltdown (SCM)
The SCM (pronounced “scum”) is an affliction of the highest order that affects many in-house SEO folks who are either duped by consultants with a great sales pitch or have consultants forced upon them by IEDM’s.
SCM is a progressive disorder that usually can’t be treated with early detection. Those affected by the SCM often don’t see it coming. The consultants often bypass the in-house SEO practitioner and consistently attempt to undermine their efforts by abandoning contact protocols. They reach out to senior management directly and pile on unrealistic expectations, armed with misinformation.
There are few effective treatments for SCM, though the disorder has been linked to causative factors associated with the creation of IEDMs. Many have applied the IEDM treatment to SCM, though once meltdown has been realized, some never return from the abyss.
Matt Cutts Hater/Manipulator (MCHMr)
The MCHMr (pronounced M-C-hammer) spends all of his time reading Matt Cutts’ blog and attempts to counter-engineer or circumvent the efforts of Googlers everywhere. The MCHMr views everything Google does as evil, and this psychosis has bled into other areas of his or her life.
You can identify the MCHMr by intermittent but consistent negative references to either Matt Cutts or other Google representatives. They will attempt to dissuade senior management from listening to logic and reason by suggesting that Google is simply furthering its own evil agenda.
To date, the best way to counter the MCHMr is to stay on top of the information produced by the Google team, cross referencing the information with your own logical conclusions, and citing that information in each tactical execution.
And Yet, It Still Happens
The world is changing, but not as quickly as we’d like it to. Believe it or not, I still get calls from brand marketers and site owners (names withheld to protect the desperately naive) asking for advice on the best “SEO software.”
“SEO software?” Nice one. While I’m at it, I usually also pass along Batman’s phone number and contact information for the Green Lantern, just in case.
At the end of the day, whether you’re in the house or outside it, fighting the good fight is never easy. Though we don’t do it enough, hat’s off to the in-house SEO practitioners everywhere.
The Fresh Traffic Group’s Jerry Booth was recognized at a Chamber luncheon on Monday 29th as the city’s 2008th member.
He was welcomed in by the organizations president & CEO Dave Angus.
The days event was a who’s who in Winnipeg Business Circles with guest speaker Gail Asper presiding.
Jerry says the Fresh Traffic Group is hoping to get involved with all the new and exciting things happening in the city by bringing the online marketing skills required to new projects like the airport expansion, tourism and the human rights museum.
With all of the Search Engine Optimization information out on the web, there tends to be a lot of chaff needing to seperated from the wheat. Time and time again there is a key point which needs to be retold to clients it seems endlessly in the “quick-fix” world we’re in. So then, here it is, one more time for (hopefully) everyone to see!
When your SEO campaign is underway, don’t become impatient with the results! Truly organic SEO takes time, it can be as long as 3-6 months before any significant gain is noticed in your traffic. It’s like planting a garden, when all of the SEO has been finished on your pages (those are the seeds by the way), it’s then time to get to work on the linking strategy (water!). This is where the patience comes in. You wouldn’t pick corn or potatoes which haven’t fully grown, and the same needs to be said of SEO. By changing your pages, altering code, or uploading pages which haven’t been properly worked over, you tear at all of the work that’s been done (the roots).
With this simple SEO tip in mind, happy gardening!