Ever since Google has passed it’s most recent milestone of 15 years of age, they have begun a new wave of algorithm changes. And true to the nature of the marketing world in general, SEO is once again dead as an industry.
I would like to get one point out of the way before we get too far into this, and that point is that search engine optimization is not going to die because of the recent changes. That’s a load off of my mind, now to address the most recent changes in the search world, and why the internet marketing world has changed, but only for the better.
Addressing the most recent update that Google acknowledged, one which they’ve nicknamed Hummingbird, has made a big splash on the scene over the weekend. The purpose of the change to the algorithm was to introduce more semantics into the search world, and is designed primarily to bring the user more relevant results, faster than before. It’s a great idea in the long run for search and for users, as the whole idea is to deliver highly relevant results to get you to your destination faster. But this change, regardless of how much it has changed the search algorithm is still not the end of SEO. The semantic addition to the algorithm for the first part, only makes highly relevant and optimized content be more friendly to the search engines. And the chief reason I know it isn’t the end of search is the algorithm was updated over a month ago. If search engine optimization was going to die due to the Hummingbird inclusion, it would already be dead and buried.
The other major addition to the search world has been the shift by Google in particular, to encrypt all of the search terms used when performing any search. I have already dissected why the encrypted searches aren’t a factor to any real online branding agency, so I don’t need to go into great depth. But just like the Hummingbird update isn’t going to end the search game, neither will the encrpyted search terms.
What these updates will do however is change the game enough that the posers won’t be able to swim in the deep end of the search pool anymore. Time is up kiddies, shuffle off to the shallow end or leave all together, it’s time for the big people to have a swim.
One of the most important steps in any endeavour regarding your businesses website is having a consistent point of contact between the client and the agency. With how easy it is to dig up information on anything you like on the internet however, this point of contact can quickly turn into a road block to moving ahead with a project.
There is absolutely no shortage of information online regarding search engine optimization and about it takes only a simple search to find millions of pages on the topic. A growing problem as of late that seems to be plaguing the industry is the increasingly rapid growth of poor information surrounding the subject. The inclusion of all of the searches being returned via Google turning into a value in your analytics hasn’t been helping the cause either, there has already been a handful of knee jerk reactions across the web and cries of “The end is near!” Here is the thing though, nothing has changed in the SEO world, only in the world of analytics. So before you subscribe to the theory of doom and gloom that the online marketing world is dead, call Freshtraffic, a real online branding agency and speak with someone that has a clue before you tank your website and it’s rankings.
Not to be left out, even the world of web development and design can be brought to it’s knees by an.. overly attentive client. When you’re having a website designed and developed to fit all of your wants and needs for your online presence, there is really only one major point to keep in mind – when your designer/developer strongly advises you use a certain method, you should probably pay attention as they have spent more time with your website than anyone else at that point. Depending on the software being used to develop with, and what your website needs are there are certain steps which need to be adhered to in order to maintain good web design practices all around. Where we run into some of the more egregarious problems again, comes from the prevalence of information on the web. It can be a daunting task in itself just to keep a design on track, and not end up with an example like below. Just remember we’re all in this together and are all working to achieve the same goal.
CLIENT: This red is terrible! Why did you pick this red!?
ME: It’s the red from your logo. I can change it to the blue if you would prefer.
CLIENT: No, no, no… I’m sending you a word doc right now. It’s perfect. Use that!
Only then opening the file to find text with a rainbow gradient and neon pink shadow.
With the big changes over the last couple of months with the search engines it really shouldn’t be any surprise to hear, but for the tail end of 2013 heading into 2014, you will have to boost your online marketing budgets.
To start with the most recent change to always on secure search, Google has decided that it’s more important to encrypt all keyword data when someone is using their search service. Not a bad step to tell the truth, and they like to wave around the flag of ‘this is us protecting your privacy’. But it isn’t the encrypted key terms that brings cause to take a close look at the change, it’s more the fact that the AdWords players aren’t receiving the same list of hidden keywords. It has been known that using the AdWords platform is a great way to gain immediate traction in a new market you may be trying to break into, or a way to test marketing ideas, but in the end the keyword data analysis for paid vs organic were able to draw parallels. Now, it seems that the (much) deeper your pocket book is for paid search, the better sheaf of keyword analysis you’ll be able to receive for your efforts. Not the nicest of changes if you want to test a marketing idea to it’s fullest extent, but it’s all in the name of your privacy, right?
A little while back there was a rather large shake up with how the search engines also indexed your site and it’s backlink profile, and it caught some webmasters with the addition of some rules into the guidelines. Even little issues like ensuring that your own properties were correctly using the ‘no-follow’ attribute to link around the web became very time intensive projects, and who knows what’s to come as the online holiday shopping is about to commence. It seems that every year some company out there is made an example of due to nefarious backlink practices, the only real problem for them this time around is that the algorithms are much quicker at detecting, and doling out punishment for shady practices. If you are unsure if your agency is following the rules for backlinking, you need to check your webmaster tools and check the ‘Linked Pages’ section and you can peruse what you’re known for yourself.
The biggest change of the online marketing game however it seems has begun to show itself, and that’s the online branding image that your business and website need to project to the search engines. Having a strong, relevant brand online can highly influence your rankings dependant on your competitors. The shift towards brand bias has always been viewable in the search results, but it was always for the larger, more competitive terms out there. Brand bias has caught on however in most niches, large and small and who ever can step up to the plate first will have a decided advantage going forward into the holidays and into 2014.
With our highly successful online branding campaigns we have been able to ensure our clients positions for their niche targets, and have been able to grow their presence into unknown territory for the past few years. It’s time for the rest of the Winnipeg business class to realize that the way forward is online and when you call, Freshtraffic will be ready.
There are always changes in the search game, but with some of the recent changes is Google trying to change the rules enough so that they’re the only player in the game? Perhaps a little bit of a backstory is in order, I’ll aim to keep it as streamlined as possible.
A couple of years back Google introduced the newest addition to their search tool, if you wre signed into your account you could visit the secure version of Google.com to perform your searches. The end result of using the secure site was your keywords were not passed through to the website you eventually landed on, guaranteeing you some level of privacy – this was in 2010. This primary iteration of the search term accounted for maybe 10% in your analytics software. In 2011 they took it a step further and removed the need to use the secure site of Google.com, and instead pushed the privacy settings on to anyone who was signed into their account. In 2011 this translated to be the constant 25%-35% amount that search agencies grew accustomed to seeing in their analytics software when poring through a clients analytics. This was pushed slowly down the line and was added to the omnibar search in the Google Chrome browser and the search team mentioned they were working to make it a full time feature.
The most recent, and most drastic change has come about resulting in a full time secure search experience for any user, regardless of browser, being logged in or even having a Google account. The result from an analytics stand point? The result in analytics software jumped from a normal 25% to nearly 75% of the searches for a single day. Over the long term this would make any search agencies job more difficult to be sure. The thoughts are maybe this swift, unannounced change is due to the NSA spying scandal that has been making rounds in the news, another more lurid idea is that it has been done to boost ad sales in the Google AdWords platform.
The idea that Google would use the encrypted search results to push more businesses into using AdWords may sound outlandish, but over the last couple of years Google has made some interesting acquisitions. Between 2010 and 2013 Google purchased ownership, or partnership in strategic ad companies. One handles ad exchanges, another handles SEM and crowd sourced funding, and another goes even further to promote full advertising and ad handling services within Google. All of their purchases combined puts Google in display media advertising, social media agency growth, and has ownership and partnerships in different AdWords agencies.
So a quick recap takes us to where Google has picked up a handful of new advertising and ad delivery systems, as well as having implemented an entirely secure search environment. How these two systems work together is why it may be seen that Google made the drastic shift for their gain. Although the encrypted search returns a value of where organic search is concerned, paid search analytics are unaffected. Back to the original thought then, has Google changed the game enough that they’re trying to make themselves the only game on the web?
When you have your business online and are marketing towards a certain niche market, the more consistent and relevant you can make that marketing the greater your chances of success.
Consistency, and relevance are two of the more important factors that affect your online visibility, and surprisingly one of the most damaging things that you can do to a successful campaign is to rebuild your website. That’s not to say that a facelift to your website is always a bad thing, but you need to keep your audience in focus. Are you after general traffic as an informational site, or are you after qualified leads in order to make on site conversions and boost your bottom line.
Significant issues can arise with launching an updated version of your website not only from a search engine bot perspective, but even from your users end. While the web is always in a fluid state, if you suddenly revamp your website without notice to your end users you will experience a sudden, and likely slight, drop off in traffic and page loads. To handle any user experience loss one of the simplest measures you should take is to use a post or a banner with the note “We’re updating!” or something to that effect. What this does is it puts the comfort into their minds that there is a reason that the site looks different, and it’s not the end of the world if I can’t find something right away. Use a feedback form for returning and new visitors to gauge how well your new site is being taken, and also as a notice if there is something missing or not functioning correctly on the site.
From a search engine spider perspective, you need to be careful of how you build your new site. In a perfect world you can keep everything exactly the same as it was structurally, with the same urls and everything that goes with it. But since that’s probably very far from the truth, you need to apprise your SEO team of all changes, not just some of them. If you change a url for example from home.html to home.php, that needs to be communicated as search engines do not view them as the same page. I won’t even begin to get into the 301s that need to be considered, the idea is your online marketing team works through the entire site before it gets turned live to the world.
Professionals are contracted in all manner of business whether it is plumbers, carpenters, coders or marketers – the idea is they’re being paid for the knowledge that you do not possess. The first rule of thumb should always be when you’re given instructions to complete, it’s a good idea to listen as there is a reason they’re advising you.
Do you happen to know where the foundation of the search engine results pages came from, which element was it that determined where your website sits in the grand search scheme.
For a long time it was thought that in Googles case that a high Pagerank was the pinnacle goal for any website to rank well in their SERPs, but that is no longer, nor ever was, the case. Before Google came along and completely changed the search scene, there was no real index for the internet. Yahoo was one of the first to start building an index for the web, and it was more of a directory listing than an index that brought you results pages. The real foundation of the web index as known today was built on the backlinks which pull the web together, any high profile website on the front page for the most competitive terms has an extensive, relevant backlink profile.
Any marketing campaign taken on by a qualified SEO will include a backlink building program, but even if you don’t have the means to hire an agency to do the work for you, you can still take a small part of the work on for yourself. Backlinks clearly matter to results pages ranking, but there is a right way to go about building them, and a wrong way.
To begin with, if you’re stuck trying to build your own backlinks don’t start spamming emails all over the web asking people to provide links to your website. That’s akin to telemarketers calling your house to try and sell you an upgraded cable package, it’s abrupt and an unwelcome approach to any webmaster new or old. If you’ve taken the time to find a website in a similar space that is relevant to your website, be up front and reciprocal with your link request, offering a link back to them is more an exchange of services as opposed to demanding one. And as a rule of thumb, if you don’t get a reply email, a phone call or a link to your website then it is safe to assume the answer is no – don’t push what can’t be changed.
Another method which used to be all the rage for building your own backlink profile on the cheap was to post guest blogs or in blog comments related to your niche market. With some of the recent changes to the webmaster guidelines those links and posts are almost entirely no-follow tagged, meaning that on the positive side your time is wasted in using these measures. The downside would be if the blog, forum or guest post domain has a bad rep with the search engines and you end up impacting your site negatively as a consequence of using those methods. If you’re choosing to go down the route of using a blog to try and build backlinks, create one for yourself and devote your time to creating relevant and interesting content for yourself. Cross promote yourself on your own social media pages and slowly and steadily the backlinks will naturally build themselves up.
When you’re designing a website for your business, you need to make sure that you’re making the correct decisions, and not putting yourself in the realm of always playing catch up with the search engine guidelines.
One of the biggest issues that we run into with new businesses and their websites is the content that they use, or the lack of it. It’s one of the most unpopular conversations to have with a client, but your content and the keywords you use within it can be the first, largest hole to help your site sink or swim. There is a fuzzy number out there, by that I mean there is no real concrete answer – only best guesses, and as to the proper amount, the search engines aren’t talking. On average, you should be delivering your site message and it’s keyterms somewhere in the range of 3-5% of your total content density. Quick and dirty explanation would be if you write a page about the color blue that is 100 words, you’ll want the word blue in there 3-5 times – sounds simple right? It really is, the problem is the other 95 words, they still have to fit the theme of the site/page and can’t just be gibberish, so try not to focus on numbers and shoot for well written, easy to read content for your site.
There are two other points dealing with content that we stress when speaking with our clients, one is the always growing social aspect of the web, and the other is spam, or the appearance of spam.
Where the social web is concerned, having your site and your PR people active on Twitter and Facebook is a good thing, as the jury is still out on just how much this benefits your SEO campaign. But you need to bear in mind that those efforts alone will not drive you up the search results pages. When you boil it all down to the roots, it’s your website content that will drive your site up the SERPs and brand your small business online. Social media leverage is great, but your content is paramount, don’t miss the forest for the trees so to speak.
One more point about your content, and it has some to do with the nature of keywords and the language you use when you put it all together. It’s an unfortunately common occurrence to find out that the reason your site has never done well with results is because with the way you’ve written your content it comes across as spam. It’s the difference between being spammy and readable that plays to your favor with the results pages. A quick and simple test to find out if your content is on the wrong side of that line, is have someone read it out loud to you. Trust your instincts about it, if it sounds funny you’re much further ahead rewriting your content instead of being caught on the wrong side of the search engines wrath. Don’t worry about the numbers and the figures about your content, make it readable, make it relevant, and the web will do the rest of the work.
Are you ready for the Christmas holidays yet?
I know it may seem early to start talking about bringing traffic and visitors to your site when we’re more than 3 months out from Christmas yet, but if you want to get really technical, you’re almost late to the party. There is a timeline which use with any client, and depending on your current online situation that time frame can be adjustable. We normally tell a new client to stick with a primary campaign for at least 3 months just to start appearing consistently for the majority of their keyterms. The reality that we share and make readily known is in order to start making consistent conversions on your site it’s actually closer to 6 months. Does Christmas seem so far away with those time frames in mind?
While the internet has gotten much quicker and more efficient at sharing information, it still takes time for your name and branding to work its way through the web. There isn’t a straight pipe directly to the customers you’re after and only them through the organic listings, you’ll have to leverage a pay per click campaign to potentially accomplish those goals. The positive side of a PPC campaign is instant visibility with your ads and keyterms, with the downsides being that most people know they are ads, there is a monetary cost to each click, and you’re limited by your budget for those terms. If you have a very limited budget, and we’re only 3 months out from Christmas you don’t need to throw in the towel just yet.
You’re likely in business to get ahead for yourself, and sometimes with being a fledgling business you don’t have the thousands of dollars that it can potentially cost to go up against the big players in your marketplace. If you find yourself in that position, you need to adjust your sights and realize that a page one top 5 placement before the online shopping season hits is mostly impossible, but that doesn’t mean you have to lose out on everything. You should still start that organic marketing process, and I hate to say it, because Valentine’s Day is only 5 months away. So what to do? Leverage social media and get your name out there, all it takes is your time – there is no outright financial cost to social media.. Post your sales on your Facebook page and cross post them to your Twitter account. Engage your current customers with minor discounts to bring in a friend to purchase items and get your name and business to spread through the social web. The social web is a more convoluted path to getting your message out there, but word passes much quicker than with the organic web. You may not be able to harness the conversion power of thousands of visitors a day, but that does not mean you should give up on the handful that are already part of your existing client base.
How much branding is too much?
Every time we meet with a client whether they are new or old, we always discuss their keyword targets and their online branding as it exists. The error that seems to consistently crop up is when you try and be to precise with your targets. Branding is a great marketing tool and to be easily and quickly recognizable is great, but there is such a thing as going too far. I’m going to use a tire shop as an example of how branding, while great, can quickly go bad as well.
As the shop owner of ABC Tires you need customers to keep your doors open and you need to market yourself to get those customers. You could go with print, radio, television or online, but you need to pick one. Having the specialty line 123-Z, is a great way to help pull in organic traffic online, as you can build pages and content and optimize them so that they can climb the results pages until you’re at the top. When you start to see that increased attention from a brand, and you push all of your focus into it is where you’ll actually find your shop starting to flounder in it’s use. At the core you are not a 123-Z sales outlet, you’re a tire shop and that is the marketing and branding image that needs to be stressed, not a single inventory item.
We have had clients see growth and traction on a specific set of keywords, and have tried to push hard into marketing onto those specific terms. Having a target to aim for is great for our use, because it allows us to tailor your online marketing campaign for your goals. But it can quickly get out of hand if all of the content and design starts to reflect only a single term. Diversity in your keyterms and in your marketing is vastly important, as you can actually lose traffic and conversions by being to exacting. You can’t see the forest through the trees if you focus only on your branded terms because they get the most conversions. While you want to be the first site that shows up for your company’s names in Google SERPs, you also want to be present for other search queries. Don’t be afraid to diversify your keyword strategy – you might find that with a few tweaks to your keyword strategy that a whole new world of customers lies just beyond the search engines, looking for you and what you have to offer.
Search engine marketing is a difficult market to thrive in , and it makes things more difficult for a business with sometimes a brand new site, or even with a site which isn’t been built to be search friendly – yes that is a legitimate problem to this day. In order to help our clients understand some of the issues with the search world, we often relate to them information regarding the following points.
One of the most important things to understanding search and where your website appears in the results is that on any given day, depending on how the search company feels, they can change their algorithm and the entire results page will change. Typically you’re not going to see a complete upending of the results unless there have been significant changes in the algorithm, but a shift of 5-6 spots isn’t unusual to see. The search engine results pages are an ever changing portrayal of the web, so if you’re looking for your position on page one that was there the day before, don’t automatically die a little death if you’re suddenly on page 2. To think of it another way – shift happens.
Going hand in hand with the fluidity of the results pages, before you get knee deep into building your online brand you need to realize your market is not a static one either. A simple way to explain this is with an inside joke about search engine optimization:
An SEO walks into a bar, pub, inn, restaurant, club..
When you’ve contracted a search expert to work with you and your website, you need to pay close attention when we require you to re-evaluate your search targets. On a typical day we will spend a few hours going over your terms and evaluate those against the current search trends. Sometimes being able to think outside the box for your own market can bring you some of your highest conversion rates, and keeping things as simple as possible can also lead to the same end result.
And lastly, one of the more important points that you need to bear in mind during a search campaign is in the online world, there are no quick fixes. Short term SEO, or band aid fixes for website problems aren’t the correct way to deal with any ranking issues you have, and if your SEO is pitching them to you it’s time to start looking for a new provider. With some of the changes in the webmaster guidelines some of the methods you previously could use to give a bump of visibility can even turn around to bite you and end up driving you down the results pages instead of up.