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.
Out of all of the problems that can arise with a search campaign, one of the largest is often the client themselves. Whether it’s knowingly or unknowingly the client who is asking for help, often is the one who gets in the way the most. How you may ask? Lets discuss some of the worst examples of how a client can cause issues for their SEO.
Being Uninvolved – Being aware that you need to leverage a search campaign in order to bring growth to your website is great, but when you’re unable to be reached it causes major issues for us as a marketing agency. You need to be involved when you sign on with any SEO, whether it’s an agency or a contracted professional to work for you, when we ask you for material – text, image or otherwise, we need it to be delivered. We can’t help you if you can’t, or won’t provide us with the updated content material we require to fit your branding objective.
Being Too Involved – We always tell our clients that should they have any questions they can call and talk to any one of us about their concerns. What does happen sometimes, albeit rarely, is we end up with a client who needs constant updates on the work that we’re doing. While we are happy to provide monthly updates about your position changes and about how your branding campaign is evolving, when you call 3-4 times per week regarding every little snippet of information you read on the web it impedes our work that we are trying to do for you. Being too involved is a rare issue, but it does cause significant problems for us as search professionals. Could you imagine trying to climb into your engine compartment when your mechanic is trying to replace your head gasket?
Being Too Curious – This can often be the result when a client who is interested in what we do at a technical level, starts trying to play with the changes we’ve made to their website. The problems start appearing when our work is unraveled by a client who often does all of their own website work, typically it begins when a site owner is a technically minded person themselves. It’s great that you know how to work on your website, but when you make sweeping changes to your layout or to the site and it’s pages after we’ve gone over them, all you do is ruin any efforts we have worked out for you. Search engine optimization is as much a technical exercise as it is marketing, creative, and is such a nuanced market that the real pros are easily distinguishable among the rest.
These examples are only the tip of the iceberg, and there are a slew of variations that occur in every client. Every SEO professional dreams of that perfect client, which does occur every now and then. Delivers content when asked, sets up access required and pays their invoice on time. And relating to the last point especially, leaves our work alone to do what it’s meant to do, there is nothing worse that working up a campaign for weeks only to find that the site has been changed and all of the off site work is now irrelevant.
Every now and then when taking an inquiry on the phone, we get asked what it is that we do. Turns out that when you tell people that we deal with online branding and internet marketing, they manage to disconnect those terms with SEO, and instead assume that our focus is on pay per click rankings and such. The truth of those terms however, is that they’re all related, and all different from each other.
Search engine optimization – This is most likely the term you searched for when landing on our website. SEO has been a big buzz word in marketing circles the last few years especially, with the explosion of consultants appearing on the scene. There’s millions and millions of pages online to find information about SEO, and it’s extremely easy to read a forum or two and suddenly decide you know what you’re doing with search. The quick and easy test to discover if the person who is helping you is good at their job? Search for them, if they can’t appear in search for their industry terms, how can they realistically help you?
Online Branding – Online branding is a different goal for your website, and it’s as simple as defining the term. Anyone with a website and a business will only benefit from branding themselves and then growing that brand on the web to suit their offline image. It’s done with the idea that just by the mention of your business name, it conjours up your logo, slogan, and/or design scheme associated with your products or services. The way this plays out online for you is two fold, as you’ll be recognized as an authority in your market by the search engines, and your website (if your developer has done to the SEOs specifications) will be highly relevant as well.
Pay Per Click – This goes by a couple of industry wide terms, AdWords is more revolving around Google with their sponsored ads campaign and search engine marketing as a more all encompassing term when you’re talking about paid advertisements around the web. The paid advertisements often catch a lot of unreasonable criticism from some search users as they can tend to show up in some inconvenient places. While there is some truth to an ads location sometimes impeding on the organic results listings, it’s simple to discern which results are which as the paid ads will say they’re paid ads. The paid results are often on a different colored background, and will say something to the effect of “Ads related to – ” or “Sponsored Listings”. A key point to think about, and consider when you’re first building your own search campaign, is to weigh the return on investment if you were to use PPC as part of your strategy. A simple way to explain how ads are chosen to be displayed are by relevance to the search term, is the bid for the term meet the cost (the ads are based around an auction – high bidder wins in most cases), and is the text of the ad appropriate to the search query. This is a quick way to gain some visibility if you’re trying to rebrand your business, or if you have a brand new website and want to try and gain some quick traction. In then end for things like big money terms, like “hotel rental” it will likely be the company with the deepest pockets who commands the top of the paid results, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have a shot at the most important organic results that make up the meat of the page.
Internet Marketing – It’s just an all encompassing term to wrap up all aspects of online marketing. Whether it’s SEO, PPC, branding for your business, when you hear the term internet marketing you just need to keep in mind that it’s a general term, not a specific one.
There’s a lot of scary terms in the the SEO world, and if you’ve been reading about the benefits that you can gain from a properly executed search campaign, you’ve undoubtedly run across some of them. Usually they include things like Google bans, black hat tactics, spam penalty, any or all of which can effectively lead to your website being dropped from the search engine results pages. So here are a couple of tips that you can focus on improving your website, instead of thinking about the unlikely doom and gloom that awaits those who try and trick the search gods.
Now these won’t make you immune to any radical changes that Google or Bing introduce, but those types of updates are infrequent, and while can be devastating if you’ve been doing the wrong things for some time, don’t automatically end your online marketing campaign.
One of the first things you need to realize about search, is that you need to make your business a brand, regardless of which results page you’re trying to crack. When you conduct a search the most frequent returned results in the top spots are always major brand names. Especially if you’re searching for things like electronics, sporting goods, hotel bookings, most likely all will be major brand names. First instinct may be to think that they pay Google and Bing directly to perch their business and website at the top of the results page, but the realistic truth is they’ve built their brand. When you think of a company like Coke or Pepsi, you get the image of a soft drink in mind, Mercedes and Porsche brings up vehicles, and so on. You need to think of your company as a brand and what type of image you want to build for yourself online, then when you come to us with your goal in mind we can help you mold and craft your website to suit that image. Build your brand offline, and that traction and attention will follow to your online presence as well.
And when it comes to your website, forget about the search engine bots that crawl your pages and your content. You need to build your site for your users, not for the algorithms. While your end goal may be a sale to a visitor, you still want their interaction with your website to be so good, that they bookmark your site and even refer others too it. Create a high quality website with a positive user experience and you’ll find your internet marketing campaigns become doubly as effective.
A strong, positive user experience coupled with a clear and consistent branding campaign will boost any company in the search results, regardless of the size of their bank accounts. And as an added bonus to all of the effort in providing such a clear message online, as I stated in the beginning, you’re positioning your website to be almost entirely update proof.
The Federal Trade Commission recently issued a warning to the major search engines requesting that they more clearly distinguish between the organic results and paid ads. This applies not only to traditional search engines, but also social media outlets, such as Twitter and Facebook, as well as mobile apps.
The FTC’s warning to search engines should be a wake-up call to the search marketing industry. The days of playing fast and loose with mixed paid and organic search results on search engine results pages (SERPs) appears to be coming to an end. In its place will be more stringent oversight of how search engines display paid search results and, as a result, more cumbersome and potentially onerous restrictions on what search marketing can and cannot do with their campaigns.
What are the potential implications for marketers of this new guidance? What do search marketers need to do now to begin adjusting for these changes?
It is unclear at this point the extent that each search engine will address this request, but it is expected that minor changes to the way paid ads are identified will ensue to avoid possible FTC action.
These changes, however, can impact the efforts of search engine marketers, as they will potentially need to make more drastic modifications to their search engine marketing efforts.
Here are some potential effects that the FTC’s warning will have on marketers:
Further Real-Estate Limitations
Clarifying the difference between paid and organic search listings can potentially limit the space available to both organic and paid listings. This means that either fewer results will be able to display “above the fold” without scrolling, or the character limits within each result will be reduced.
If the number of results above the fold is decreased, achieving an above-the-fold listing will be even more competitive. Businesses will be competing heavily for top placement and more of an investment will be needed to generate current levels of volume.
In the case of character limits being reduced within each result, businesses will need to update their online messaging to get their point across in less space. Paid ad titles and ad copy will likely have to be updated to fit within new limits and titles, and meta descriptions of organic mobile pages will need to be shortened to avoid being truncated when listed.
More Strategic Mobile Targeting
Paid search targeted to mobile devices is one of the fastest-growing digital marketing channels and is playing a bigger role in how consumers find products and services. The implications of the FTC warning on mobile paid search could have a big impact on how these ads are displayed. Mobile search real estate, because of the size of mobile browsers, is already very limited.
What marketers will need to pay close attention to is how they segment their mobile targeting by device type. For example, the difference in the amount of SERP real estate between tablets and smartphones is likely to increase. Targeting and bidding strategies will need to vary per device to be most efficient.
Changes to Voice-Activated Search Services
Another implication specific to mobile search is brought on by the request relating to voice-activated search results. The FTC’s warning extends to services such as Apple’s Siri and Samsung’s S-Voice. The FTC has requested that when a voice search is executed, an audio disclosure should be made to identify paid advertising. This could potentially deter users from those paid ads, making the organic listings more valuable.
Marketers must keep a close eye on search engine results and take note of any changes that occur. When used correctly and responsibly, paid search marketing can provide a tremendous benefit to brands’ online marketing and customer acquisition strategies. But in light of the FTC’s letter, the days of deceptive paid search tactics are coming to an end. That will benefit both consumers and marketers in the long run.
There are a handful of helpful tips to keep in mind when building your website for your business, and about how you should go about marketing it online. There are a couple of misconceptions in particular that plague small and large businesses alike where their internet marketing is concerned. Namely the fallacy that you don’t need a website or an online branding vision, and that Google is the only search game in town.
First and foremost, search is not just for online retailers like Amazon or Ebay, it’s for everyone with a website. To put it simply – online research influences offline purchases. Forrester Research estimates that more than $1 trillion of sales generated in 2011 were influenced by online research versus $173 billion of online sales. This is almost doubly true for purchases such as autos, financial services, education, and furniture. If you have a product or service, and you have a website, you need to be marketing it and branding it in order to capitalize on that potential revenue. If you’re not at the top of your niche for search, all of those dollars are going to a competitor.
Now that you know that you need to think about your online presence, you need to remember this very important point – search means more than Google. There is no such thing as a one trick pony for all of your search engine optimization needs, and while Google attracts the majority of paid search (PPC), Bing and Yahoo are slowly gaining share. Then you have the social networks trying to get in on the act, Facebook appears intent on getting into the search market. Your online branding campaign will only see real search success when you contract an agency with the ability to manage all of the major platforms successfully. Those would include organic search, paid search, social media branding, and local marketing just to begin with.
So in short, in order to maximize your search engine optimization campaign you need to first realize that your business and website need to have an internet marketing goal in mind. Once you’ve come to that realization, the next most important step is to ensure that you find the right company which can help guide you along the correct path for you to exceed your return on investment goals.
The nature of the SEO industry is different than any other advertising method. Where other forms of marketing are concerned, it’s fairly simple to find a college or university course to enroll in, and there you can learn some of the beginnings to print, radio, and even television marketing methods. But search engine optimization is a different sort altogether than the others, it’s not something that can be readily taught, and it isn’t a field that just anyone can work in.
A big reason that the very idea of teaching someone how to work in the SEO field is folly, is the same reason the market exists in the first place, the search industry on the internet. The methods that you can learn at any time from anyone working online are already past their primary use, and while they may still work on some level they’re out dated. The way that Google and Bing have their algorithms running and autonomous for the most part, means that you just can’t be ahead of the curve in the ethical SEO world. This is the primary reason that the black hat world and SEOs exist, and while the methods will work for a day or two, in the end the spiders will spot you, and the site will disappear from search. It should be common knowledge that if it seems too good to be true then it probably is, but it is always good to remember that point, if an agency approaches you promising the world on a platter, look twice and ask for examples before jumping onto what could be a sinking ship.
Going back to the way that Google, Bing and Yahoo work online, it should also be kept in mind that over the course of a year the search engines are updated 200+ times. So any course that is being taught about search engine optimization, that information is outdated after the first week of class. Think about that point from an old media perspective, television, radio and print advertising hasn’t changed much, if at all, in the last 50 years. Yet advertising and marketing on the web is in a constant state of change, how would it be possible to teach a course about something that is entirely different month to month?
Be wary of an individual or an agency who approaches you with claims of having gone to school to learn all there is about search engine optimization, because what you learn in a book, is already out of date on the web. Ask for examples of their work, see if they can provide a list of websites or perhaps a past client whom they were able to successfully build their online presence and improve their position within the results pages.
While there are a number of services that we offer to our clients here at Freshtraffic, we have always made sure that the delivered service is above par for the cost applied. Online branding, search engine optimization, sometimes it’s a social media campaign and a pay per click blitz that clients are looking for, but we always go above and beyond to deliver for our clients. Our experience and skill set come at a premium, and while it seems to be an insurmountable amount, for the value added to your business it does get paid back in spades.
Over the last 12 months especially there has been a dumbing down of the internet marketing world. I don’t mean dumbing down as in it has gotten easier, if anything it has actually gotten more difficult, but dumbing down as in the market is saturated with people selling themselves and their “services” for greatly reduced rates. Some of the more frequent occurrences we hear about from clients are being approached via email or phone that they guarantee to rank their website number 1 in Google for only $200 and so on. There are two extremely large issues with this scenario, and while most people know that if it sounds too good to be true it probably is, there are still business owners out there who fall for this kind of blast marketing.
The first major issue with these types of claims is you can’t guarantee a rank within the results pages. It’s even difficult to pinpoint placement with Adwords let alone in the organic listings, so if you have someone approach you offering to push you to number 1 on Google, the next words from you should be “no thank you” and hanging up. The organic listings that are derived from the Google algorithm aren’t something to be trifled with, and if someone is offering to drive your site up they’re running a scam of varying severity, and should your site and business get caught up in it, you’ll feel the effects for years online.
The second issue that I have with this type of approach is if you could legitimately rank a website at number 1 on Google consistently and within the guidelines, why would you charge next to nothing for that one of a kind skill? There is a reason that the average monthly charge for an SEO contract is in the $2,000 range, and it’s not because carve a monthly report into marble and hand deliver it to you. Making your site rank in the organic listings takes time, a good deal of effort into learning your brand and niche, and into working with your website to optimize it to it’s greatest potential.
It’s frustrating sometimes to hear from clients that they are the targets of these types of marketers, but we know that with the value and skill set we bring to them they’re more than satisfied with their results. What is even more frustrating however, is when businesses look to hire someone on a contract basis to provide services like social media optimization, SEO, manage a PPC campaign, develop and deliver an email campaign as well as rebuild their website, all for the grand price of $9 per hour. There is an understanding that is missing here on the business owners end, and it’s that no one with the skill set to deliver what they’re asking for will get out of bed to help them for $20 per hour, let alone what they are offering.