There is occasionally a great discussion to be had on the topic of search engine optimization, and this passed week was no different. There was a discussion started about how SEO isn’t the same game as when it all started some 15+ years ago, and all I could really chime in on that note with would be – of course it has.
In the beginning, search engine optimization wasn’t comprised of more than a handful of tactics really, as the web hadn’t really started it’s cycle of rapid evolution that we see today. The tactics to rank in the beginning weren’t even that difficult to pick up on, a few links from sites, some keyword spammy content and a decently built site and you could push it up the search results in fairly short order. To be fair, those base elements of the SEO world really haven’t change all that much, it’s just the importance of each factor has changed over time, and continues to change. Your content is your most important factor on your site, it always has been and likely always will be, as it determines your message to the search engines. You need to tell the spiders who you are and what you do, in such a way that your message is heard loud and clear. Your site architecture and design is important as well, but it’s as much from a user interaction stand point as it is a search metric these days, as the spiders are pretty good at discovering your site and it’s pages with even a rudimentary navigation setup.
Being an SEO company we’re often met some criticisms when we’re engaging a new client, as it is unfortunately likely that they have been burned by someone calling themselves an SEO, especially in the last couple of years. And the optimization world has changed so much in the last 5 years or so, especially when you start throwing in the rapidly expanding social web and the signals that tie them all together. Having a responsive web design which can detect whether your visitor is on a PC, tablet or even a cell phone these days is also a contributing factor to the marketing decision as you can immediately turn down a highly qualified visitor just by making your site unfriendly to a mobile audience. Search engines measure your value to the results pages on so many additional metrics now, that it’s important to keep them all in balance with your brand image in mind. It is understandably difficult as a business owner to let loose the reins a little and allow a company like Freshtraffic to do what we do best, but your increased online presence is our job. All of the points I’ve mentioned that affect your marketing online are all the important factors we weigh and measure to ensure you’ve exceeded the recommendations for the search engines. Because increased traffic, means increased conversions, which means more business for you and your employees, and we’re in business to bring you business.
For all of the bonuses of having an online presence, occasionally there is going to be a hiccup. The best you will find a host promise you is to have 99.99% up time, because there will be the occasional circumstances beyond their control. It’s an unfortunate discussion that we have sometimes with clients when they try explaining to us that Sally from Edmonton is having difficulty navigating the website because it isn’t loading properly. All we can do is ensure that the site is up, that it’s operating properly and that the connectivity is fine. Everything beyond those few points, is unfortunately beyond our control.
There are however, some very real consequences if your website does happen to come down due to a coding error, or a database retrieval problem.
For example, in the event that your website goes down, and it could happen for any one of a thousand reasons, you need to be aware that first and foremost that visitors can not currently reach your website. So that means no sales for your products, no emails for your newsletters and no exposure to the social market as well. No website online means you can’t work with your content, and it means that you can’t operate your business at 100% capability. Most hosts only have downtime issues that average, at most, only 20 minutes or so at a time over the course of a year. And in the big picture, that may not seem like a whole lot, but the web isn’t a market that forgives easily or quickly.
Say for instance that your website crashed this moment, and that it was down for only a few minutes while your host plugged your server back in, you wouldn’t think too much of it. But just to play devils advocate, if during that window that your website was down the search engine bots came by, they would see that your website was not only gone, but the entire address is invalid. The next step? Regardless of your position on the web, you would be dropped from the results pages because, well you need a website to be on the results pages and you didn’t have one at the moment it visited. Don’t worry though, because this is an outlier situation and anytime a search engine bot encounters a dead url where there was previously a website, it’ll continue to try until it receives a definitive response.
While we work very closely with our clients, we make it part of our routine to ensure your website has as close to 100% uptime as absolutely possible. We’re always watching your address to make sure that everything is ticking along as it should, because your improved position in search is our primary goal. And you’re not going to get there if we be lazy and allow your website to go offline for an extended period of time.
There are a great deal of rules that determine how to conduct yourself and your business online, and make no mistake, the rules for SEO are some of the least flexible of the bunch. Due to the nature of the web being so flexible as a whole, it’s common to see new Search Experts crop up and whither away in a very short time. There are a lot of myths, misconceptions, and just plain bad advice out there online about search engine optimization, and with that in mind allow me to offer just a little bit of insight.
For all you internet beginners out there, you need to realize that just because you can find a template and put it online, it doesn’t mean you’ve optimized a site for search, let alone basic web use. You need to start with the basics of building and designing a website, clean coding with a navigation menu that is simple to use and crawl-able by bots. One of the more simple methods we use to get across to a new client when we tell them they need a new website, is when we show them the output of a basic spider and it returns a blank page regarding their website. If you don’t make it visible, don’t expect it to rank, regardless of how much time and effort you spend on optimizing it.
One of the necessary components to being able to rank online is by having quality content on your pages. Well written and keyword rich for both the search engines and for your visitors which come to your site, you need to be able to quickly and clearly deliver your message and call to action. This is where some of the time intensive processes come into play, because our goal as SEO’s is to deliver visitors to your site primarily, if you’re unable to convert those visitors however it’s irrelevant how much traffic you get. Your call to action needs to be obvious on your landing pages so that when someone arrives at your site, they know precisely what you want them to do. If you’re into selling merchandise, make your sales or features prominent for example, with contrasting text or images so it stands out to your viewer. You only have around 3-5 seconds to get your message across to the user, so you need to do it quick and clean.
The one last thing you need to remember as a new denizen of the web, is that just because there is the world at your fingertips and the code can do wild and incredible things, doesn’t mean you should use it. The more complicated you make your site, the more you invite something to go wrong, whether it’s with search or with conversions, and when things go wrong online it can be a game stopper for a business. Keep your site simple, and keep your message simple, and you will begin converting your new visitors almost as fast as they’re coming in.
Winnipeg I need your help, I wanting to know if the above title has any merit? I suppose I’m looking for some clarification or answers to the following questions, and before someone mentions the need to employ a consultant to help, forget it, I seem to be living in the land where it seems every other person is in that profession.
I’d like to paint the picture from an outsider looking in, since moving to the city six years ago and setting up office from the US & UK I have had a few problems trying to comprehend local business thinking and decision making.
Let me try and explain, 99% of consultants I have met in my six years in Winnipeg have either had their own business and failed, worked for a company that failed, got fired, came out of a local college, were unemployed so it seemed like a good idea, did a 2 day course or there a part-time stay at home mum. Most work out of a home office or basement and like to charge what we call New York prices for their work. I’ve seen life & business coaches charging $500-$1000 for a few hour course or speech who drive around in a 10 year old rusty Chevvy but get employed by local business & marketing associations to advise members. Does this not set alarm bells ringing to these people?
These people who consult don’t have any more experience than you do. They are typically young, but not necessarily. They can certainly “talk the talk” but have never “walked the walk”. In other words they are big on theory, some have lots of qualifications but very little real-life experience to match. In many instances, as a hands-on business manager, you may well have already exceeded their ability to help you advance your enterprise any further.
Then there is the dangerous kind – the dodgy consultant. You often can’t really determine whether these people are good, bad or indifferent until it is too late. They often originate from outside of the city or are returning Winnipeggers with seemingly immense international experience. Their objective is clearly to impress.
They will blind you with tales of their achievements and impressive examples of their triumphs in the markets you are trying to enter. Unfortunately, if it sounds too good to be true, and often it is.
In reality if the same consultant fronted for a corporate job his ability and track record would be quickly found out. How? Well corporates approach employing senior executives quite differently to the way most of us employ a consultant. Not only do the businesses undertake verbal reference tests but they have extensive international networks of contacts to tap into and a range of psychological and other testing at their fingertips. Too many of us approach employing a consultant as you would select any other service provider — as opposed to a critical member of your team.
This is not a new story but I feel it is worth repeating because I have recently been running into cases where a fledgling company (and sometimes not so fledgling) has engaged with someone, or some firm, and suffered badly from false expectations. A person (or firm) can appear to have an impressive track record, look very smooth and professional and have money to invest, but this doesn’t mean they are not the consulting equivalent of Typhoid Mary.
When considering using a consultant I make three key recommendations:
1. Look closely at their track record. You are looking for tangible results and an understatement of their ability as opposed to “talking the talk”. Contact the companies they say they have worked for and/or helped.
2. Try to check out their ex-partners/employers. You are looking for someone with whom you can form a close relationship. Look for past examples of the same thing. You want to establish that the consultant has personal attributes that you can work with. It doesn’t matter how long they have been consulting — check.
3. Use your own networks. Guys like me who have been in the game a long time hear the same names circulating time and time again with question marks over their performance. Often it is more critical to listen to what is not said about a person, than what is said. You don’t need the most professional consultant – you need the most effective. I’m just saying.
We get some fairly interesting calls at times here regarding optimization, and every now and then it can make us shake our heads here in the office. We’ve had some site owners contact us for help, detailing to us how they responded to an online ad to help improve their position for as little as $25 – and when we take a look at their history we find thousands of links pointed at their site that have nothing to do with their market. One of the interesting calls we’ve received involved a business who had questions about their on page optimization strategy. They wanted to make sure that they had done everything correctly, and wanted us to check the site over before it went live – note that there is no site yet, the url lands on a generic coming soon page. Once I went about describing how we handle all aspects of the online marketing strategy, I was told one of the strangest things, the site wasn’t online as of yet, but they already had their off site marketing setup with thousands of links pointed at the address. I just succinctly advised them to check into the Google and Bing best practices guides and follow them to the letter – what I didn’t include was that they needed all the help they could get if they were already pushing links at a non-existent site.
We won’t even get started about the calls from agencies offering to help us with our SEO strategy – we usually follow their first sentence with “Do you know what we do?” and from there they excuse themselves from the call.
It’s a wonder sometimes that anyone out there could possibly trust someone who sells themselves as an SEO, and it gets even harder at times when we come along with our skills and services and people balk at the idea of our contractual cost. There are thousands of pages and sites out there who are ready and willing to sell you an optimization package for the low price of only $150, but what will that really get you? In our experience it will get you a basic Adwords account with a single running ad (see you’re on page one for your terms!), a report which was generated by a free online tool that checks for basic website design, and a few hundred, or thousand links pointing to your site that have little or nothing to do with your marketplace. In return you’ll end up with a very temporary rise in placement, followed with a crash back down, hopefully not further than you were previously.
Search engine optimization isn’t the type of game you get into with the search engines where you can just saunter your way to the top and cement yourself there. It’s a constant battle uphill to get you to your desired position, and an even longer one to keep you there. Because you see, when you finally reach the top of your market, and you have no where left to go, remember where you came from and realize, everyone is going to try and catch you. Just a funny side note I just saw, Bing comes up as a misspelled word, while Google does not. Guess there is still some work for them to do there.
There is a huge list of the things to do, and the things you don’t do when you’re working on online marketing. As an example, you don’t send out thousands of spam emails everyday just to try and get your web address out there, it’s a good way to quickly make a terrible name for your business. I’ve written a number of blogs about the steps to follow in order to meet the quality guidelines that the search engines advise you on. I have also written about what not to do to your website, as there are many mistakes that you can make to run on the wrong side of search, some of which can be entirely accidental.
Every time we get a phone call from someone asking about our SEO services it is a unique conversation and experience. Every person and website needs a different approach when it comes to improving their presence and conversions. We’ve had the occasional conversation with someone on the phone for example who has no need of our long term organic services once we’ve learned their goal. Sometimes it has been a problem of cost with a small or very new business, and there have even been times where we can’t accept someone as a client due to already having one in their niche market. That is one of the points which we don’t waver on here at Freshtraffic, we will only take on a single client per niche, because otherwise we would end up working against ourselves. We have a long list of clients who have been with us for a few years, all of whom retain our services because we’re the best in town.
Due to the way that we operate ourselves here, we have a handful of requirements which if they are unable to be met, can make our job difficult, or depending on the severity, impossible. As an example, we require either the FTP access of the CMS access to be able to process on site changes in order to make sure you’ve got the basics covered on your site. Very brief example would be if you sell widgets, and all of your content talks about cogs and widgets working together, we would need to help you recreate your content so you become more relevant to your market and target audience. All of the changes that we come up with are brought to you, and together we decide on the best course of implementation. Once we have the basics covered and your content tweaked, then we start to watch your traffic flow and your conversions. Based on how visitors conduct themselves on your site, we can begin to determine where your problem areas may lie, and then take the steps to correct those issues as well as continually working on your sites message and delivery.
Building up your website to make sure you’re capturing and retaining your visitors attention is only the beginning of your online branding journey. After all of the on site work is completed, we begin the long process of off site work, and from there your rise to the top.
Unfortunately from time to time, we are all fallible. You make a mistake at times, sometimes you burn your dinner, or stub your toe, there is always the chance for something to go wrong; even in the SEO world. Thankfully we are always monitoring your site to make sure to remedy anything if a shift happens in the search algorithms, but what happens if you’re not with us as a client? If you’ve taken your optimization work to someone else, who may not be as diligent as we are, who do you speak to when things go wrong?
Failure in an SEO campaign can come from only a couple of different places, either there was a mistake on the clients end, or the agents end. Contrary to popular belief, it’s somewhat rare that the mistakes come direct from the search engines themselves, but we’ll talk about that another time. So how can you fail your SEO as a client, especially when you’ve hired someone else to do the job for you? It’s not common, but there have been occasions where we’ve requested access either via FTP or CMS so that we may be able to make the changes required for on page SEO, and to be able to react to changes coming from the search algorithms, and we’ve had the occasional client who either can’t, or won’t give us the access we require. In this case we need to rely on you to make any and all changes we need to make, and if you fail to make the changes correctly, or even sometimes quickly enough, you can lose rankings and authority on your site. Making constant content tweaks or changes as well, without letting us know about it also hampers our SEO efforts, and as a net result can drive you down the list instead of up. Those are really the two major instances where you can cause your own demise.
It isn’t all roses and sunshine for the SEOs though, and just because we’re the best in town doesn’t mean that there aren’t snake oil salesmen out there. There are still emails which are sent out actually, which are promising #1 positions in Google in only a few days, and for as little as $200 to boot. First rule of life, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is greatly applies in this case. If someone has contacted you to work on your SEO promising those kinds of returns, then you need to realize that first off, they’re not playing by the rules of the search engines, and if they insist they are they’re probably trying to sell you an Adwords campaign and not an SEO campaign. It is absolutely true that you can rank immediately on page one for your search terms with an Adwords campaign, and you can likely do it for only $200 as well, but pay per click advertising is not organic advertising, and once your money runs out, your ad stops running until you refill the tank. In all honesty there are many more ways that a search engine optimization company or agent can ruin your search positions, but if they have any interest in remaining in business then they’ll do their best they possibly can for you at all times. A little knowledge however is a dangerous thing, and in the case of SEO there are little bits of knowledge scattered about the web, so be sure to ask the questions you need to before you engage a company, lest you have to deal with the consequences later.
When you’ve taken the time and put the cost out to have a website built for your business there are a ton of variables to consider and decisions to be made. I’ve covered a number of those multiple times through our blog, but as I looked back over some of the material I’d written I realized I hadn’t really made clear a certain point, the point of how important the time factor is.
I’ve discussed a number of times how important it is to trust in your online campaigns and realize that web traffic doesn’t just magically appear over night. It is a process to get your site listed legitimately in organic search without trying to find or exploit a viral niche, and it takes time for the bots to properly scour your content and make a decision at that point where you should list. Those few points are deliverables that are the responsibility of your in house SEO or your contracted SEO agency. A very major deliverable on your end as a client however, is a matter of time as well, as in the longer you take to deliver the harder our life gets as search engine optimization experts.
As an example, if you’re working your way into a competitive market and your SEO is asking for content, it’s extremely important that you do not sit on your hands for this. You need to get that content created and delivered as soon as absolutely possible so we can dig into it and make sure it fits in with the rest of the scope of your campaign. The longer you sit on a request for content, the longer and more difficult our job will become, especially in highly competitive niche markets, and what makes our job harder takes longer for your site to climb the ranks. The point of being on the ball when asked for new or updated content is only the tip of the iceberg, though it goes without saying that you should also make sure that your other contract obligations are upheld in a timely manner. The search engines throw out hundreds of optimization tweaks within a year, and it would be an utter loss to both of our businesses if a request goes unfulfilled. Here at Fresh we’re constantly watching your site, for any crawl errors from Webmaster tools for example, and we always make a point of monitoring the news just in case something slips into the algorithm late in the day. We do everything we can to make sure that you’re ranking as high as possible based on your current website and it’s content, just make sure that you deliver on what we need when we ask for it. Lost time can never be found again, and a day on the internet is a year on the street.
Every now and then I try and make it a point to go over the major talking points which seem to come up when we hammer out a contract with a new client. There are some very specific points which usually are the conversation starters, and the biggest issue that often comes up is the monthly cost associated with an SEO contract.
There are some important facts to keep in mind where optimization is concerned, it is a time intensive project which requires constant tweaking, updating and monitoring. Once we’ve performed your on page changes, we need to begin work on your off page campaign where we scour the web looking for highly relevant websites to try and work out backlinks for your site. And for every link that we can build for your site, it adds another factor that we need to keep tabs on. Off site issues include managing Adwords, your social pages and efforts and working on protecting your brand. Your name is everything in business, and if your brand becomes tarnished, you either dig your way out, rename your business and start over, or you can give in. If you’re genuinely great at your job, then none of these points should be a concern to you, as your client interaction and the brand monitoring can help you identify any issues and do some damage control.
That’s only a snapshot of the always on SEO management that we as an agency need to keep in our cross hairs for every single client that we have. As far as on site needs and changes are concerned, we always have to keep watch on your positions and the way that the search game is always changing. The way that the search engines are constantly shifting means that we need to keep tabs on the news and the way that the algorithm shifts, and make sure that we adjust your site to make sure you don’t mysteriously disappear from the results.
And to be perfectly blunt, one of the main reasons we tie a monthly cost to our services, is because of who we are, and who the man behind the company is. You pay to have the ability to pick up the phone and talk, one on one with a team who has a former Google exec at the helm. Our time is valuable, and if you like the idea of being able to pick up the phone and go over your analytics and site traffic with the leading search experts in Winnipeg, we’re gonna charge you. Don’t be bothered about the total cost at the end, concentrate on your sales and conversions and before you know it, you’ll have more business than you know what to do with.
There have been many changes with the Google search engine, and all of them have their fans and their enemies. One of the most polarizing updates that happened to the search provider however hasn’t been Panda or Penguin, it’s likely the autocomplete feature. Autocomplete if you’re unaware, is a feature somewhat like instant where the engine tries to guess what you’re searching for, by offering you some potential searches you can perform.
The feature has picked up a few enemies on how it guesses what you’re searching for. Autocomplete uses the trending terms to build it’s list of terms which it then plugs into the search bar for you as you continue to type. Not only are the trending terms used to build the potential terms, but the search engine also takes your local area into consideration as well. For example, using Google.ca and being in Winnipeg, if I type the letters ‘bl’ into the search box, my personal autocomplete options are blackberry, blue cross, and blue bombers not necessarily in that order. The issues which surround autocomplete typically involve individuals or businesses who have had unfavorable news generated about them. Articles get written, opinions are formed and shared, and before long a local trend suddenly shows up in the autocomplete field. There have been lawsuits, threatening letters and court action filed against the search engine because of these occurrences, and so far in every case the search engine has won. The reason was always the same – they have no control over what people write and share on the internet, they only index it.
Autocomplete is just as important a search feature as any other out there, and it is invaluable where branding is concerned. As a business, your brand is everything, whether you are new or 50+ years old. Your name alone can help guarantee sales, new clients and a high quality referral trend if you play your cards right. You can use the social networking tools at your disposal to generate news and cull testimonials from your clients and customer base. Taking the time to manage your brand by creating your own news, your own trends can help the autocomplete feature to generate a positive spin on your name, and business. First impressions are everything, and where the internet is concerned a first impression lasts only a few seconds at best, so you need to make the best of it.