Every now and then there is a whipped up frenzy on the web and blogs about the dangers of SEO agencies and experts, and that the game is rigged so that unless you pay for advertising you may as well be lost on the web. While there is always someone out there trying to make a quick buck, even just a little bit of research can help clear your conscience.
When you are approached by an agency to help your company with SEO, there are a handful of basic checks and balances you can use to decide whether or not it is worth your time, and your money, to accept their services. One of the first things you can, and should do when contacted by someone professing to be SEO experts, is to find out what their website address is. Seek them out and have a look at their website for yourself, does it look like the type of website that search professionals would use? Their message should be clear on their site, and their skills in online marketing should be obvious. Ideally you should be able to perform a search for the terms you find on their site, and find them listed in the top of page one, for most if not all of them. After all, if they are experts at SEO, it should be a simple affair to find them in search.
If they are not apparent on their website, you should be able to also ask for a list of referrals from existing clients of theirs. If they have done their job well enough, there should be no problems with providing a list of clients or testimonials, that are able to confirm their skills as an online marketing firm. Search engine optimization is much more than just being able to get your site listed in organic or paid search listings, they should also have been able to demonstrate they can also assist with improving conversions on their clients websites.
A very telling point as to the type of SEO you’re dealing with as well, is unfortunately one of cost. Real website optimization is a time intensive project, and not one that is a short term solution. It takes its time to work, and if done properly can help position your site with a positive gain in ranking. To have an SEO agency properly help your rankings, it will not come at a small cost. If the price seems to be too good to be true for improved search positions, then it likely is. So if someone has approached you and offered a one shot at being able to improve your ranks for only a minimal cost be very wary of their services.
Your website is your storefront on the internet, and if you engage the wrong agency or expert to try and improve your listings, you may end up where you least want it – removed from the index.
Google is the biggest fish in the pond, of that there is no doubt as they retain somewhere north of 65% of all online search activity. There are others in the search game, Bing, Yahoo, Baidu, Blekko, all of which have their own little piece of the pie and serve their own version of the internet they have indexed. It has never been a surprise to see Google the target of anti-trust suits, targeted negative ads, and lawsuits over some really silly topics, and yet despite all of those things it is still the most widely used search engine on the web.
One of the major issues that competitors and detractors of the search engine enjoy bringing up, is the level of spam and even malware that searchers can sometimes find in the search results delivered by Google. A recent survey however, has turned up with some interesting results regarding the malware side of the equation at least. The most often touted second most used search engine out there, Bing, has come up on the wrong side of the malware results side. While it’s entirely true that Google delivers a great deal more search results in total, it is the Bing results which have the higher rate of dangerous links attributed to them. How bad can it really be though? Bing was recorded at having nearly five times as many malware links as compared to the results pages that Google delivers, and Yandex, which is the Russian equivalent of Google, gives up 10 times the bad links.
All of the search engines that were tested were found to consistently removing malware from their results pages, it just turns out that Google is doing something just that much better than everyone else. It came up that every search engine was doing all that it could to handle the malware pointed at it, but because each search engine is targeted in different ways, then the levels of malware will differ. The process of detecting websites serving malware hasn’t changed so much as the process for delivering them has. Malware programmers aren’t typically the most rules abiding bunch to begin with, so they are always looking for ways to circumvent the safe guards put in place by the search engines. As always, practice safe search and if a link seems too good to be true in the search results, it very likely is.
As an online business, you need to work hard at getting your position cemented within the SERPs, hopefully with the end goal hopefully that you’re a recognizable brand both online and offline. It is a long road to work at gaining a high position within your relevant ranks, but it’s also not impossible to completely own the results pages for your brand, and with a lot of hard work and a little luck, you can easily dominate branded search.
Your first stop, as it should always be with branding, is with a strong AdWords campaign. There are a number of reasons you need to take the step to owning your own brand with AdWords, one of the main points being, it’s your brand. Any ads that are on that page should all be sent back to your website and no one elses. You’ll want to focus your campaign with exact match keywords and phrases so you can keep the costs down, and while their may be some competition initially you’ll push out the interlopers purely by being more relevant to the exact match settings of your branding campaign. Over time your costs to maintain a branded AdWords campaign will drop, and it will cost you a fraction of what it took to initially build up your position. What you’ll earn by owning your brand in AdWords is a higher than expected conversion rate from your PPC campaign, especially if you make sure to have your landing pages ready to make that conversion possible once the visitor arrives.
The bigger trick, and a more difficult one to earn, is owning the organic listings for your brand. Again though, just like with AdWords just because it’s difficult does not mean that it’s impossible. But just like with building your relevancy and authority with any organic search, focusing on a branded term will eventually pay off. Having the AdWords positioned and fully owned by your brand will help with your organic positions, as you’ve already had to develop the content and relevance to list in paid search. Expanding on your overall site will help your case with organic, and if you keep your quality of content as high as you needed initially over time you’ll soon have an entire branded results page, dedicated wholly to you and your business.
Whether you’re going for a pay per click campaign to get your branding started, or you want to invest the time into building a strong organic position you need to identify what your goal is from the beginning. One of the most common mistakes you can make when you have your business online is to not have a clear, defined goal or purpose. This leads the search engines to try and figure out what it is you do and who you are, and all the while you should be doing it yourself.
When we engage a new client in SEO, we always expect to be asked a number of questions, all of them of varying importance. We’ve been asked the practical things like “can you guarantee results” and we’ve been asked some that come off the wrong way like “can you make my site take over -competitors- results”. Search engine optimization is a process, it is also a skill set that takes years to properly develop, and there are some very important questions that you should be asking yourself when you approach an SEO company, or are approached by one.
One of the basic questions to ask should be of their awareness to the Penguin and Panda updates and how their penalties can affect a website. Within those two major updates, there are all of the smaller ones which have happened, most in the last year or so and you should have warning bells going off in your head if the agency you’re speaking with has no knowledge of them. Things like the exact match domain update, or the changing sizes of the results pages from 10 down to as little as 6 or 7 on a page, any SEO worth their chops will be able to answer those questions, and others you may have without any issue. Search optimization is a bit of a jack of all trades type job, where you need to have at least a grasp of web coding practices. Knowing how to properly fix code errors within a web page can actually help rank a website, just because you’ve taken the time to correct a potential spidering error, allowing the bots to access your entire site. Your SEO company should also be able to handle properly redirecting pages or an entire site if necessary, and where and when to use 301, 302, and even 404 codes to shape the user experience, and the bot interaction on your site.
Social media optimization is one of the newest buzz words in marketing, and while it is an increasingly more important factor to your optimization efforts. It actually has less to do with the actual act of search engine optimization, and more to do with the interaction with your clients and visitors. By having an active conversation with your customers and visitors, it indirectly shows the search engines that your site has activity on it, and it lends to the authority of your website. It’s the relationship with your visitor base that can allow you to garner legitimate, high quality backlinks which all give benefits to your positioning in the results pages.
And one of the most important questions you need to ask any agency, whether you’ve contacted them or they have contacted you, is how involved you will be in the optimization process. The answer should always be something along the lines “entirely” or “every step of the way” because it’s your brand, your website, and your online image. When we pick up a new client, we make it abundantly clear that while we will not creat your content, we will help you mold and shape your content to deliver your brand and message properly – with the end goal of ranking your site higher in the search engines.
It is no shock that the internet has been a massive attraction for businesses to sell their products and services online, there are even the mega sites like Amazon who made it their business to sell other peoples stuff. E-commerce is a multi-billion dollar industry, that depending on how you handle your customer interaction can either positively, or negatively affect your sales figures.
In what could be described as an average online shopping experience, it would follow a few basic steps. First off, you are clearly looking to purchase an item for yourself or as a gift, I’ll use a tablet as an example. The first inclination of most people would be to just go purchase an iPad or an iPad mini, but even at that micro of a level there are a dozen different configuration options ranging from memory size to even color choice. Let alone the other dozen major companies that also sell tablets like Samsung, Microsoft or even a Google product. After that item has been decided on, that’s usually where the research starts, and where your SEO should have been mindful of. One of the most neglected areas I’ve found in the online retail space, is the review space for a clients product. Tablets can range in price from $200 to $500 and up, so they’re not small purchase, and a little due diligence and customer interaction can actually increase your sales.
Take for instance, you’ve started a new company to sell the aforementioned gift, named Tablets4U and you have a unique product that is just as good as everyone elses on the market. This is an avenue where marketing and SEO should be working together, marketers sending out the product to review sites and your SEOs to build up quality content for them to link back too. Your web design in a best case scenario would have the option for people to leave reviews on your own website where you can address any questions or concerns, and you should have your SEO actively monitoring social media channels to catch any buzz about the product. As a consumer, one of the first things I look for on the web when I want to research a purchase, are for customer reviews. I don’t need to know technical specs, and I’m not concerned with colors at this point, I want to know what other users experienced with the product. If your SEOs and other marketers have done their jobs correctly, even a negative review can be turned into a positive experience by handling it correctly. Brand management is a very serious concern, especially with more and more shoppers heading online every year, don’t forget about the end user of your products and services as it may lose you sales in the long run if you neglect them.
There are a good deal of different steps involved in properly optimizing a website. On site factors and changes, the time it takes to build a proper backlink profile, and making sure your website is properly built is a weighty deciding factor with the search engines.
On page, on site optimization is a time intensive project. Your content needs to be broken down, weighed and evaluated against your competitors as well as against the search engine guidelines. Your entire website needs to be taken down to its base components, the text, images and navigation all need to be optimized to ensure you have the best chance to rank your site. Some of the larger concerns you have with your on site work are avoiding being spammy with your content, avoiding using any tricky pieces of code to hide text or images – even if these are done by accident they have very real consequences for your website. Avoiding on site optimization issues are basic affairs however, and you can use your gut for the most part to avoid them.
All of the on page work that is done, and for all of the time that it takes to do properly, the off site optimization is just as intensive. There is no real handbook on how to properly perform off site optimization, but there are a couple of key points you can keep an eye on. While you have no real control over who, or what links to your website initially, you do have the ability to manage those back links pointing to your website via Google Webmaster tools. There is thankfully some reprieve where your back link profile is concerned, as the search engines are pretty good at picking out which websites aren’t on the up and up. One of the largest concerns that website owners seem to get worked up about are having links from websites that are obviously selling links to anyone that will pay. Well thankfully, the short story is that it’s highly likely that Google knows they’re not playing by the rules and any links that may be pointing at your site won’t be a problem for you. Matt Cutts, Google’s head of spam gave a brief answer to this concern, the main points to keep in mind:
Websites that sell links will see their toolbar PageRank downgraded by 30, 40 or 50%.
The site will no longer continue to be able to pass PageRank.
Sites they link to will no longer benefit from those links.
Where advertising is concerned for your business, you always like to know that you’re getting what you’ve paid for. There are multiple ways for you to get your name out there, and there are some which are much better than others, it doesn’t really matter which method you use, but in the end it’s always about the numbers. How many visitors, how many conversions, how many sales have been made etc.
Organic search engine optimization is one of the most cost effective means to advertise your business old or new. And unlike more traditional advertising methods, like television or print media, it is fairly simple to use analytics software to track your website. Television and print media can offer you metrics of a fashion, they can offer you market saturation numbers, but actual return on your advertising investment is questionable at best. The metrics that you can gather from an online campaign, are much more comprehensive when you compare them to traditional media. Not only can you track how many people have seen your website, you can see what those visitors have done on your website. And one of the greatest aspects of being able to track your online campaign with analytics software is it gets more accurate over time, so you can really begin to determine where your conversions are and fine tune your marketing goals.
By comparison, the Adwords platform has a great suite of analytics software. It lets you track every aspect from impression, to saturation, to conversion rate. Unlike using organic SEO however, you can begin to make changes to your campaigns and start to see results almost immediately. Paid online advertising is a great avenue for newer businesses to explore, as well as successful online businesses to test other avenues for new products or services for your marketplace.
Both organic search optimization and Adwords have their place in an online marketing scheme, and the strength of the data you have available make them the clear cut choice for your business. That is assuming of course that you would like to have information like visitors, keyword activity and conversion rates so you can make your business even more successful.
Before exploring the latest trends in local mobile engagement specifically, it’s valuable to recognize the rapid growth of mobile and other connected devices and their impact on how consumers are accessing the Internet. Within the U.S. smartphone market, Google and Apple solidified their market dominance, with Android owning 53% of the market, and Apple’s piece being 36%, totaling nearly nine out of 10 smartphones in use at the end of the year.
The most important piece of the puzzle of users who own mobile phones though, is they’re also likely to own other mobile devices, and at the end of 2012 that number was beginning to get up to around 40% share. Between all of the smart phones and other connected devices, it all adds up to multiple ways for people to access the web in varying formats. Rapid growth of mobile connected devices drastically changed how consumers accessed the Internet as PC use appears to have peaked. Growth in the number of PC users accessing the Internet flat-lined for the first time last year.
An important factor of mobile internet users to keep in mind, is their much higher than average engagement rate. If your website is mobile friendly, and locally optimized, you already have two steps forward in the right direction to increased business. Take this last Christmas shopping season, nearly 50% of all mobile owners used their devices to search locally, and that number is expected to grow over the next year again.
Local businesses should be introducing advertising strategies and mobile and tablet-friendly websites to attract consumers increasingly accessing the Web from their handheld devices. Over 60% of smartphone consumers are now accessing local content on their devices; and, while consumers prefer apps to search for local content, use of browsers is also strong. Local businesses should ensure their mobile efforts include both apps and browsers.
Search engine optimization is a buzz term that makes a lot of marketers out there wince when used in their presence. It isn’t a wonder why, as there seems to be an expert around every corner, and at times it can be a dicey proposition to engage someone to represent you. The dangers associated in a virtual world can have some real world implications if you aren’t mindful of the work being performed on, and off of your site.
Whether you have a website with only a couple of pages or a website with thousands of pages, you need to have an aim with your optimization efforts. You need to decide from the get go, are you going after a site wide optimization or are you going to start with a page or two to try and work your way to the top of your niche. You can optimize your site and pages for single or long tail terms, but you need to have the focus to not push forward on more fronts than you can handle. Once you’ve either paid for the keyword research, or taken the time to do the work yourself, you’ll discover that the vast majority of your traffic will result from only a handful of terms. With that in mind, make the decision to focus on your primary target, and not get distracted by your campaign.
Once you have that target and the primary pages that you’d like to optimize, there’s only one major area to worry about regarding your optimization efforts, and that’s really to not go too far with your optimization. As strange as it might sound, over optimization is a legitimate concern for a website. Being caught over optimizing your website isn’t the end of the world though, and it’s one of the easiest errors to recover from. While we always welcome an open dialogue with our clients, we have had a handful of occasions where we’ve actually had to use the phrase “We’ve taken the steps necessary, but we didn’t want to risk over optimize your pages.”
With the growth of web technology as the internet develops as a marketing tool, there are some incredible effects you can achieve when you design with the new technologies in mind. There are however, a handful of issues that you need to keep in mind when designing your website with them in mind. The main use, and priority of your website should primarily be client interaction, but marketing also needs to weigh heavily with your decisions.
It is an older technology when speaking about the web, but Flash is still widely used to create and display multimedia websites. Flash allows you to create a visually striking website, complete with sounds and animations if you would like, and allows you to have a great client experience. A great idea for websites that have an established visitor base, or is shared directly to users, as it still isn’t easily crawled or indexed by the search engines as of yet.
Some of the newer tricks on the web involve the use of updated slider coding, allowing you to overlay text and images, and the increasing popularity of Ajax code. The slider bits are getting more friendly in terms of search engine optimization, as you can designate an area for an image, and place text over top of it which can then be indexed by the search engines. A less friendly, but most often seen use of sliders is using images that have the text embedded within it, and while this still gets the message across to visitors, it is not going to be indexed. Ajax is a great new technology in the life of the web, and allows you to construct highly interactive websites. You need to ensure that you follow your optimization steps however, because there are variants of Ajax out there which don’t get properly indexed at the moment. A popular use of Ajax coding at the moment is to create dynamic menus and content, which can make your site look and act very compact, and as it is an active element works well to keep visitors engaged with your site.
I’ll write another shortly about some of the other tech out there which is providing client interaction and a great visual display for visitors at a later date. I’ll have a focus on jQuery and HTML5, the latter of which is one of the more impressive bits of technology out there.