Search engine optimization, internet marketing, online branding, being able to rank a website in the organic listings of the search engine results page has a handful of different monikers. The industry itself is as nearly as old as the web and its search engines, although the methods have drastically changed.
At the beginning of the commercial web, it was essentially no holds barred. Flash ads, pop ups, pop unders, hidden text, all of the things you’re not supposed to do to your website now, was fair game 20 years ago. If you tried any of the above methods however, you’ll not only be creating a poor user experience, but you’ll likely run onto the bad side of the search engines and likely end up with a lost position in the index. At Freshtraffic we’re very big proponents of everyone doing the job they’re supposed to be doing, horses for courses. Everyone has a skillset, whether it’s been taught, learned, or they have an inate talent for a job, we all have different ones. As for myself, I’ve been working and learning in the realm of on site optimization for the last 5 years. I’ve been poked, prodded and (although less now!) often told to stop trying to complicate the job and just do it.
Yes there is a point to the rant by the way, just bear with me a tad longer!
Groupon and sites like them were designed with the idea of bringing deals to the masses, and for the most part it works brilliantly. A business comes up with an idea, say a store has bought too many duvets so the offer a cover and a duvet at a great discount, but only for a limited time and in a limited amount. They create the deal, list it on Groupon and let the web do the rest of the work, simple, beneficial for all parties involved. I’ve never purchased anything through the service as nothing has really stood out to me, but there was this one offer that showed up that I had to take a closer look at. It was for what was titled as a web-master training package for what was listed as 90% savings over the actual cost, amazing deal! Working online for the last 5 years has shown me that there are clear lines that need to be drawn for designers, developers, marketers etc, just that there isn’t any confusion with a website. And basically what the program broke down into was a bunch of 30 day trial materials, and an instructional document, likely a pdf, with which you are supposed to teach yourself how to use more than a dozen different programs. The programs that you were learning to use comprised of everything from Flash, to Photoshop, to Dreamweaver and dozens of other web design and development programs. In the end, while reading the list of over 30 programs you were supposed to learn (many of them doubles of each other), the portion that genuinely made me angry was the 6 hour section dedicated to what they called internet marketing, both e-commerce and SEO.
That entire offer is in a nutshell, what is going wrong with the internet marketing world today. That individuals who finish this course, then turn around and try to bill themselves out as a search expert in a field after 6 hours of training. I’ve been at this for more than 5 years now, and I still have years of work and training to do, to think I could have learned everything for $150 and a handful of hours of reading! I fear for my profession at times, more and more when I see information spread around the web in this fashion. As an example, if you needed to completely renovate your house, would you hire a proper plumber, electrician and carpenter who has taken years of training and expertise to build their skillset? Or someone who took an online course for a few hours to do all of your work?
While Google is undoubtedly the largest search engine on the web with its trillion pages indexed, they are not the only tool out there with which to make your way around the web. But while there are hundreds of millions of web users out there, there is only a handful of search engines that really garner any real use.
Google, as mentioned previously clearly holds the dominant spot online and has for a number of years. With more than 2/3rds of the market share in search, it has an massive presence on the web. With the clout that they have with the worldwide market any business that has a website is keen to try and make a place for themselves on the front page. And the bigger the target, the more detractors one is bound to have, and Google definitely has the majority share. Privacy issues, a social platform that (at first) floundered and has grown somewhat stale, and a long list of competitors claiming anti-competitive behaviour it seems amazing that they could still be in business, but while they haven’t made friends with every user on the web, 66% is more than enough.
The second most widely used search engine is really two, as it delivers results for both bots, Bing and Yahoo gobble up the majority of the remaining search activity. The Yahoo results pages for more than a year so far have been provided by a Bing search bot, as opposed to running their own bot, and building their own index of websites on the web. And while this still allows the adopters of the Yahoo portal a way to browse the web, they’re not being delivered their own true results. The new CEO at Yahoo however, seeks to change all of that, hopefully 2013 has some shaking up in the search world. Bing as a search service has been trying hard for a couple of years to break into the market that Google dominates. With some clever ideas with image search, flyout snippets of search pages and sometimes widely differing results at times from Google, Bing has a share of the market that hasn’t shifted much in a number of years. Perhaps they can rekindle their search agreement with Facebook and together they can develop a full fledged social search service, only time will tell.
In the last little bit of the search world, you have some of the little guys who are trying to shake up the web. Blekko, one of the more interesting search services out there is a great way to pick your way through a search results page that bills itself as being spam free. Your experiences will vary wildly based on what, and how you search, but with their usage of what they describe as slashtag which allows you to greatly fine tune your search parameters. It’s an interesting technology and definitely gives a differing view of the web and it’s offerings. Another small fry in the search landscape, but one which can cater to those concerned with privacy is Duckduckgo. It has the same clean search ui as the others with a basic text input box, but it delivers you results from “outside the search bubble” they describe that other search engines put you in. It is a great option to have a look at what the web might look like with no search history to go on, the results can be interesting to say the least.
There are a lot of misconceptions about how the web works, about how search works and that some people think there is a different set of rules if you have a large wallet you can spread around. What seems to escape a lot of users memory or knowledge however, is just how different the web would be if search engines of any kind didn’t exist.
The rules that govern the online world are still very fluid as they’re always being re-evaluated, by the users of the web and government bodies across the globe. Google is often used as the target in any change or suggestion to the activity online, and with good reason. When Google made their place on the web, they changed the way everyone uses the web from that day forward, as up until that point there hadn’t been a full indexing of the web by anyone, the idea was ludicrous. They changed the way the web was used from that day forward, and they were very aware of the ramifications of their new position on the internet. There have been a few in the course of their lifetime that have run afoul of the rules which Google uses to build their results pages, and contrary to some of the noise found on the web, you can’t buy your way out of breaking the rules.
Six or so years ago Google came out and said plainly that selling links will damage your rankings in the results pages, and began by hitting some of the largest businesses on the web, Forbes, Sun Times, BMW at one point and many others through out the years. Just in case you were wondering if they had gotten lazy in recent years, the search engine has recently killed the page rank on more than 150 UK news sites for selling links, and it wasn’t just a small drop either, they lost all of their Page Rank. So in case you were wondering, yes they still pay attention, no it doesn’t matter who you are or what you have, and yes they will still penalize you if you break the rules.
There are a number of ways to market your business online, the two more prevalent methods are search engine optimization, and using social media to help you garner attention and traffic. Although it’s a little a lesser known method to use to help bolster your online visibility, AdWords, or search engine marketing is a very powerful tool which when used properly can definitely attract highly qualified customers to your website.
Typically the paid results show to the side, or sometimes above the results page after performing a search. The links are often on a different color background and their formatting is different. And if all of those were not strong enough indicators that they’re different than the organic results you’ve received, in the corner of that different colored box you’ll find a small snippet of text that says ‘Sponsored Links’. Think of it as paid advertisement that is trying to capture those impulse buyers out there, the people who buy a package of gum or a magazine in the check out line at the grocery store. If your ad copy is well written, your bid is high enough and you’re trying to build a brand for yourself, AdWords is a medium you definitely need to explore.
The point of the short explanation of adwords and their use, has to do with a court case that was recently settled in the US. It was between two rival companies, and one took the other to court because of their questionable use of adwords marketing. Referring to them as Company A and Company B, it went something like this: Company A wanted to try and garner traffic from searches completed using Company B’s name, so Company A used the AdWords platform so they would also appear on the results page. The judge in the case cleared Company A of any wrong doing, even though Company B argued that it was a breach of privacy, when in fact it was clever, albeit shady, marketing. If Company B had done their job marketing themselves correctly, and had used AdWords as well to ensure they capitalized on searches using their name, then there wouldn’t have been a case to begin with. From now on I’m sure they’ll be more likely to consult with those who know what they’re doing, in order to protect their online brand.
One of the more mundane tasks of the day in the life of an internet marketer has to revolve around sifting through the stats that we compile for our clients. Keywords, click throughs, exit pages, visitor pathing, all of it a jumbled mess until we can take the time to work our way down to the core answer we’ve been looking for – did our campaign work? Not to toot our own horn too loudly, but we must be doing something right, our clients keep extending their contracts.
The stats that we compile during our time with a client serves two clear measures of success on the surface. The first data point we make sure to keep in view is the day we started working with a client, we can then pinpoint that day and going forward determine if our campaigns have met our expectations. It does neither us, nor our client a lick of good if we can’t work your site and content to the best of it’s ability. The second data point we use to begin measuring any success, is the new visitors/new page loads (different metric depending on the tool), and dissecting the information from this point we can start to see trends and patterns to the visitors to your website. After we’ve worked out where you have trends forming, we can start to capitalize on them and bring you an even higher conversion rate.
Despite all of the stats we can show you, and despite all of the visitors we can bring to your website, if you don’t have a clear call to action then it is almost like your website is working against you in some ways. A clearly defined and consistent call to action that can be seen through out your website is one of the key ingredients needed for online success. Without it, it’s like going to an automobile dealership to buy a car, and there not being any cars, merely brochures with descriptions. If you are building an e-commerce site, then make sure to push your sales or your online deals options, if it is emails you’re after, make sure that sign up box is extremely prominent. As internet marketers we have a proven track record of developing, and delivering qualified traffic to your website, just make sure you listen closely when we start helping you develop your call to action as well, it’s in all our best interests that you wildly succeed.
So you’ve started your business, you’ve built your website, and you think your designer followed all of the basics where the web is concerned. You have a little left in the marketing budget and you’ve decided to make your play on the web, the largest marketplace in existence, so where do you start. Search engine optimization is a jungle of misinformation, bad ideas, poor advice, and is full of fly by night operations across the globe. In order to protect yourself and your business, we’ll provide you with some basic information that everyone should have where web marketing is concerned.
A quick read of any SEO related material will tell you that the process relies on your content and the keywords contained within. Those keywords, or keyterms, are the first stop for the search engine spiders when they get to your site, they try to discern what your website about. Once you have identified your target audience, whether it’s specific to an industry or a customer type, you can work with your content, and your keywords serve you best when they reflect your target. If you are a manufacturer of a product for example that can be used by a wider audience, then you need to be aiming for an industry sector, if you make a unique plumbing tool then you want to target plumbers as an example, not home owners doing their own repair work. Knowing which terms to use for which audience can make or break your business, because while any traffic is good, qualified traffic is obviously preferable.
And while it may seem obvious when you say it, sometimes a website doesn’t completely leave development with all of the right settings. You should ensure when your website is live, that it can be completely crawled and indexed by the search engines. There are a number of free services out there that allow you to crawl your site as if you were a bot yourself, and if you find that you can’t access your site you need to correct the issue as soon as possible. Lost traction today, is a lost sale tomorrow, and when you’re dealing with a store front that never closes every second counts. Make sure that your developer knows the steps to keep your site available to the spiders, and has built your site in such a fashion that allows for quick spidering.
Here at Freshtraffic, when we take on a new client we have not only taken on a new goal in search, we have also taken on the challenge of their website. We do get asked from time to time just what it is that we do as a company, and while I won’t get into the specifics of it, I’ll go over just a little of what has to happen in order for us to begin the process of improving your position on the results pages.
We have 3 basic needs when it comes to taking on a new client, and based on the answers we receive when we pose the request for them, can greatly impact our effectiveness. The primary need we have is to be in contact with the person or persons who are making the decisions for the company. Not just the lackey who sold the company on the idea of using search engine optimization to boost their web position, but the person who actually makes the final yes or no call. The reason we need this contact is often times we need to make recommendations for changes to a website, and it saves everyone precious time, and resources, to be able to directly contact the right person. There are times of course, when a company is large enough it is easiest for us to deal directly with a marketing manager for example, but that again is the person who makes the call for us to completely do our work.
We sometimes run into an issue with our second request, simply because our new clients run into the problem of trying to be smarter than their customers. We ask everyone for their wish list of key terms that they would like to rank for. It is at that point that we begin to break down the website, it’s content, and it’s structure to decide if it is even a possibility to use the terms that have been chosen. It is not unusual for us to have to go back to a client and tell them that they either need to supply us with better content, updated content, or a revision in order to fit their desired terms, or to change their terms. The biggest fault with clients trying to be smarter than their customers, is you can end up alienating your target demographic. Keep it simple absolutely applies when trying to work out your key terms, keep in mind your target, and adjust accordingly.
The final major request we make of all of our clients, is really just one of access. Either access to their website, ftp access so we can make sure we can make adjustments on the fly, or management software access, as the majority of new websites coming online are often built with WordPress, Joomla, or a variation there of. The reason we ask for this level of access is simple, often we’ll be discussing a project and make a decision about a new, or refined target. Having the login credentials necessary allows us to make the adjustments needed, whether it is to address a new goal, or to anticipate a market change. Of the team here at Fresh we tend to spend the majority of our time online just reading trends and gathering information about everything that interests us. It isn’t unusual to find us working over a weekend or through the evenings to ensure that you have the greatest possible chance of attaining that number 1, 2, or 3 position in search. It is in both our best interest, and yours, for you to rank as high as possible as relevant as possible, and we don’t call ourselves the best in town because it sounds good, we have the numbers, and the history to back it up.
Quickly, what’s the difference between internet marketing, and online branding? Depending on who you talk to, and from what marketing background they come from, they are completely different. What is actually much closer to the truth though, is they should be regarded as one and the same.
Internet marketing, the process by which you work on your website to try and make your site relevant and prevalent in the search engine ranking pages is often a misunderstood process. There are tons of terms which are often thrown around when you start talking about internet marketing, white hat, black hat, backlinks, content, keywords, and that is only the tip of the iceberg. What is almost always missed however, is the discussion about how increasing your web presence affects your brand as a whole. One of the biggest benefits of the internet and using the power of the web to brand or rebrand your business is the captive audience that is already qualified as a customer. And since you’ve taken that time to ensure your internet marketing is being successful and driving visitors to your website, you should have already taken the steps to make your brand clear and visible. Whether it’s a logo, a statement, or a combination of the two, you need to realize that marketing is branding is marketing.
On another side of the discussion, it is absolutely possible to have your offline brand, drive traffic to your site, especially if you’re widely known either locally or nationally. While you need to use internet marketing to build a brand online if you’re a new comer, if your business is already well known you can use your branding offline to influence your internet marketing campaigns. I do realize that may sound like common sense, but it often eludes people that search users don’t always browse the web the way you think. Just because you’re the most well known plumber in town, and everyone can spot your vans from a mile away doesn’t mean they know how to find you online properly. And if you skimp on your marketing, you’ll soon feel that pain as people will occasionally slip through your fingers.
Once you’ve realized just how much potential sales, traffic, or attention you’re missing out on by focusing on only one type of marketing, feel free to contact us here at Freshtraffic. We have always worked with the goal to improve your online branding image while working on your internet marketing campaign simultaneously. With more than 30 years of varied marketing experience in our team, we will absolutely find the right course of action for you and your business.
Every now and then you need to stop and take a look at your website, how it’s performing and make a decision based on your findings. Is your traffic up? Have you made any major revisions in the last year? Conversions, are the up or down? Whether you’ve engaged an SEO company or are managing your stats yourself, with a little invested time you can discover the answers to these questions, and any others you might have, without too much trouble. But once you have your answers, what is your next step? Just remember your grade school English class, and the rule of the 5 W’s, who, what, where, when, and why.
Your number one questions, whether you have a new site, an old site or even if you’re thinking about making some updates, is who am I targeting, and what am I after from them. Are you after industry specific targets who are going to use specific terms, or are you after more general users and have to be more in sync with your industries trends and changes. This is paramount, because if you don’t know who you’re aiming for, you’re definitely going to miss; step 1 complete! Take a good look at what you have to offer your audience, whether it’s content, connections, a product or even a service that you provide. Sell yourself quickly and simply and you’ll find that your returns will compound on themselves. Continually delivering on your products or services and being a professional in your space is the quickest way to boost your bottom line. Examine the potential costs you may incur when you’re trying to boost your position and website, do you have the time, money, and manpower to properly execute your plan? There’s nothing worse than setting a lofty goal and falling short due to underestimating any of those costs.
You’ve taken care of who your audience is and what it’s going to take to get them onto your website and after your product, and it may sound like a strange question but when do you want your traffic and visitors. Take Valentines Day as an example, if you’re in the business of replacing roofing, you’re likely not going to be sinking a lot of time and money into attracting people to your website at the moment. At least here in Winnipeg, we have a few more weeks of winter to look forward to. Timing is a very important factor to bringing traffic to your site, you need to focus your time and resources to acquiring the right traffic at the right time. A little more obscure question to answer, is the why side of the equation. Why are you promoting your site at the moment, why are you making content changes, why are you adding new images etc. If at any point you find yourself saying “..because these guys did it” then it’s likely the wrong move for you. Your end goal should always be your customers, gaining them, engaging them and delivering on what they’re expecting. Because if you fail on properly executing your customers/clients needs and wants, you’re in the wrong business to begin with.
One of the worst things about the internet is actually it’s greatest strength, how quickly and easily it can be to find information. It really only becomes a negative when you have your industry is full of people who know everything about it, usually because they read a few blogs, took an online test or quiz and received a virtual diploma or certificate. The reality though, especially where search engine optimization is concerned, is you can’t just pick it up and list a site with no skill set. Being able to properly build a site, tweak the on page so it works in conjunction with your off page optimization and then to keep on top the news, isn’t a three day course in a convention room.
The problems have arisen even more frequently lately, as more and more myths and misconception about the industry is being passed around the web. And while some are much more worse than others, even the smallest one does harm to the industry. One of the points which still makes me curious as to what it actually means, is when you come across an SEO detailing how they’re going to help a website list by submitting it’s url to search engines and domain directories. Now right off the hop our first reply when someone has asked that question of us, is you don’t need to submit your site to anything, the search engines are big enough, and smart enough to find your website. The only other thing I can think of when someone tells us that their previous SEO submitted their site to directories, is they did some shady link building and possibly got your site red flagged at best, kicked from the results at worst.
I think that the largest stain on the search industry, is the trend of writers and bloggers out there, typically in the main stream media like newspapers, television and radio, who bring up SEO as spam and manipulating the search engines. Just like there are more than 2 colors in the rainbow, there are a seemingly unending list of methods you can use to help your websites visibility, so it is understandable that some of them can be seen as spam or tricks. Proper white hat search engine optimization is a process which you can use to tell the search engines what your website is about, no more, no less. There’s no magic, no underhanded methods, and no sending checks to Google or Bing to magically push your website to the top of the results page. If your website is better than the other guys, you’ll rank above them, it’s survival of the fittest on the results pages.