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.
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.