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.
When you’re doing any kind of advertising and marketing, you need to eventually work out the numbers and decide whether or not it has been a worthwhile investment. Thankfully, that time frame for Microsoft has been a scant 4 months, during which they spent who knows how much money on their largely failed “Scroogled” advertising campaign.
It wasn’t pushed terribly hard over all advertising channels, but occasionally you would catch one of their ads, whether it was print, television or online. And the general premise was “Google isn’t playing by the rules, so come and use Bing!”. In a completely unsurprising event, the internet didn’t really notice that MS was stomping their feet and throwing a tantrum, except to maybe pat them on the head occasionally and have a chuckle at some of the videos they made. A link to my absolute favorite one of the handful I saw:
I’m guessing by the way they scripted the ad, Bing would have told you that if you use a pan on too high a heat you would start a fire?? Also, it’s somewhat cringe worthy that the way Bing has decided to upload their videos was to use Youtube, a wholly owned Google web property.
With their Scroogled campaign Microsoft was aiming to make it appear as if Google was infringing on every possible piece of private information, and while Google did start serving ads in Gmail over the past year, most Gmail users have reported that the ads aren’t an issue for them. And Microsofts new webmail service that has been relaunched from Live mail to Outlook.com now, even had the same type of ad service running once you’ve signed in. At least someone in the Bing world decided to actually watch one of the ads or read some of the print they put out, because their content is silly at best, an insult to general intelligence at the worst, and cancelled the entire campaign. Who knows what’s next on the Bing advertising plate for taking a crack at Googles share of the web, they’ve tried positive advertising, and negative attack ads, maybe some day someone will actually decide to take a look at their search tech and make some upgrades there, here’s hoping!
One of the major sticking points we have when engaging a new client, is when we begin to get into the optimization process and we begin discussing our process more in depth. Usually by this point the new client has had some time to browse the web a bit and unfortunately, read some of the information out there regarding SEO and AdWords.
This isn’t inherently a bad thing, as it leads to further understanding of why we perform some of the changes we do, but what inevitably happens is being pressed on topics which don’t have any bearing on their contract or campaign. I’ve mentioned this topic more than once, but it continually crops up from time to time, so I guess it’s time to discuss it briefly again. Starting with the short explanation regarding any information you read on a blog, message board, or forum regarding search marketing and the like: forget what you’ve read.
Now that the blunt answer is out of the way, a little more in depth reasoning as to why. The primary reasoning to stay away from the majority of the information available out there is that best case scenario – it will illicit more questions than answers. Worst case, it is just bad information, that has a nasty habit of cavorting about the web as real information. While a basic understanding of your campaign is important, we also always make sure to share with you what we are doing, and why we are doing it. A little bit of information can be a scary thing, but what is even more terrifying for SEO experts, is when that little bit of information, is bad information. While we are happy to answer your questions and concerns about your website and our process, sometimes the best thing you can do as a client is to let us do is to do our work. When you have a question, when you have a concern, absolutely call and ask our thoughts, but trust in the fact that we are extremely great at our job. We enjoy a contract renewal rate somewhere in the 90% range and many of our long term clients have been with us from the beginning in Winnipeg. Let us worry about the web, while you worry about your storefront.
Search engine optimization, internet marketing, online branding, being able to rank a website in the organic listings of the search engine results page has a handful of different monikers. The industry itself is as nearly as old as the web and its search engines, although the methods have drastically changed.
At the beginning of the commercial web, it was essentially no holds barred. Flash ads, pop ups, pop unders, hidden text, all of the things you’re not supposed to do to your website now, was fair game 20 years ago. If you tried any of the above methods however, you’ll not only be creating a poor user experience, but you’ll likely run onto the bad side of the search engines and likely end up with a lost position in the index. At Freshtraffic we’re very big proponents of everyone doing the job they’re supposed to be doing, horses for courses. Everyone has a skillset, whether it’s been taught, learned, or they have an inate talent for a job, we all have different ones. As for myself, I’ve been working and learning in the realm of on site optimization for the last 5 years. I’ve been poked, prodded and (although less now!) often told to stop trying to complicate the job and just do it.
Yes there is a point to the rant by the way, just bear with me a tad longer!
Groupon and sites like them were designed with the idea of bringing deals to the masses, and for the most part it works brilliantly. A business comes up with an idea, say a store has bought too many duvets so the offer a cover and a duvet at a great discount, but only for a limited time and in a limited amount. They create the deal, list it on Groupon and let the web do the rest of the work, simple, beneficial for all parties involved. I’ve never purchased anything through the service as nothing has really stood out to me, but there was this one offer that showed up that I had to take a closer look at. It was for what was titled as a web-master training package for what was listed as 90% savings over the actual cost, amazing deal! Working online for the last 5 years has shown me that there are clear lines that need to be drawn for designers, developers, marketers etc, just that there isn’t any confusion with a website. And basically what the program broke down into was a bunch of 30 day trial materials, and an instructional document, likely a pdf, with which you are supposed to teach yourself how to use more than a dozen different programs. The programs that you were learning to use comprised of everything from Flash, to Photoshop, to Dreamweaver and dozens of other web design and development programs. In the end, while reading the list of over 30 programs you were supposed to learn (many of them doubles of each other), the portion that genuinely made me angry was the 6 hour section dedicated to what they called internet marketing, both e-commerce and SEO.
That entire offer is in a nutshell, what is going wrong with the internet marketing world today. That individuals who finish this course, then turn around and try to bill themselves out as a search expert in a field after 6 hours of training. I’ve been at this for more than 5 years now, and I still have years of work and training to do, to think I could have learned everything for $150 and a handful of hours of reading! I fear for my profession at times, more and more when I see information spread around the web in this fashion. As an example, if you needed to completely renovate your house, would you hire a proper plumber, electrician and carpenter who has taken years of training and expertise to build their skillset? Or someone who took an online course for a few hours to do all of your work?
While Google is undoubtedly the largest search engine on the web with its trillion pages indexed, they are not the only tool out there with which to make your way around the web. But while there are hundreds of millions of web users out there, there is only a handful of search engines that really garner any real use.
Google, as mentioned previously clearly holds the dominant spot online and has for a number of years. With more than 2/3rds of the market share in search, it has an massive presence on the web. With the clout that they have with the worldwide market any business that has a website is keen to try and make a place for themselves on the front page. And the bigger the target, the more detractors one is bound to have, and Google definitely has the majority share. Privacy issues, a social platform that (at first) floundered and has grown somewhat stale, and a long list of competitors claiming anti-competitive behaviour it seems amazing that they could still be in business, but while they haven’t made friends with every user on the web, 66% is more than enough.
The second most widely used search engine is really two, as it delivers results for both bots, Bing and Yahoo gobble up the majority of the remaining search activity. The Yahoo results pages for more than a year so far have been provided by a Bing search bot, as opposed to running their own bot, and building their own index of websites on the web. And while this still allows the adopters of the Yahoo portal a way to browse the web, they’re not being delivered their own true results. The new CEO at Yahoo however, seeks to change all of that, hopefully 2013 has some shaking up in the search world. Bing as a search service has been trying hard for a couple of years to break into the market that Google dominates. With some clever ideas with image search, flyout snippets of search pages and sometimes widely differing results at times from Google, Bing has a share of the market that hasn’t shifted much in a number of years. Perhaps they can rekindle their search agreement with Facebook and together they can develop a full fledged social search service, only time will tell.
In the last little bit of the search world, you have some of the little guys who are trying to shake up the web. Blekko, one of the more interesting search services out there is a great way to pick your way through a search results page that bills itself as being spam free. Your experiences will vary wildly based on what, and how you search, but with their usage of what they describe as slashtag which allows you to greatly fine tune your search parameters. It’s an interesting technology and definitely gives a differing view of the web and it’s offerings. Another small fry in the search landscape, but one which can cater to those concerned with privacy is Duckduckgo. It has the same clean search ui as the others with a basic text input box, but it delivers you results from “outside the search bubble” they describe that other search engines put you in. It is a great option to have a look at what the web might look like with no search history to go on, the results can be interesting to say the least.
There are a lot of misconceptions about how the web works, about how search works and that some people think there is a different set of rules if you have a large wallet you can spread around. What seems to escape a lot of users memory or knowledge however, is just how different the web would be if search engines of any kind didn’t exist.
The rules that govern the online world are still very fluid as they’re always being re-evaluated, by the users of the web and government bodies across the globe. Google is often used as the target in any change or suggestion to the activity online, and with good reason. When Google made their place on the web, they changed the way everyone uses the web from that day forward, as up until that point there hadn’t been a full indexing of the web by anyone, the idea was ludicrous. They changed the way the web was used from that day forward, and they were very aware of the ramifications of their new position on the internet. There have been a few in the course of their lifetime that have run afoul of the rules which Google uses to build their results pages, and contrary to some of the noise found on the web, you can’t buy your way out of breaking the rules.
Six or so years ago Google came out and said plainly that selling links will damage your rankings in the results pages, and began by hitting some of the largest businesses on the web, Forbes, Sun Times, BMW at one point and many others through out the years. Just in case you were wondering if they had gotten lazy in recent years, the search engine has recently killed the page rank on more than 150 UK news sites for selling links, and it wasn’t just a small drop either, they lost all of their Page Rank. So in case you were wondering, yes they still pay attention, no it doesn’t matter who you are or what you have, and yes they will still penalize you if you break the rules.
There are a number of ways to market your business online, the two more prevalent methods are search engine optimization, and using social media to help you garner attention and traffic. Although it’s a little a lesser known method to use to help bolster your online visibility, AdWords, or search engine marketing is a very powerful tool which when used properly can definitely attract highly qualified customers to your website.
Typically the paid results show to the side, or sometimes above the results page after performing a search. The links are often on a different color background and their formatting is different. And if all of those were not strong enough indicators that they’re different than the organic results you’ve received, in the corner of that different colored box you’ll find a small snippet of text that says ‘Sponsored Links’. Think of it as paid advertisement that is trying to capture those impulse buyers out there, the people who buy a package of gum or a magazine in the check out line at the grocery store. If your ad copy is well written, your bid is high enough and you’re trying to build a brand for yourself, AdWords is a medium you definitely need to explore.
The point of the short explanation of adwords and their use, has to do with a court case that was recently settled in the US. It was between two rival companies, and one took the other to court because of their questionable use of adwords marketing. Referring to them as Company A and Company B, it went something like this: Company A wanted to try and garner traffic from searches completed using Company B’s name, so Company A used the AdWords platform so they would also appear on the results page. The judge in the case cleared Company A of any wrong doing, even though Company B argued that it was a breach of privacy, when in fact it was clever, albeit shady, marketing. If Company B had done their job marketing themselves correctly, and had used AdWords as well to ensure they capitalized on searches using their name, then there wouldn’t have been a case to begin with. From now on I’m sure they’ll be more likely to consult with those who know what they’re doing, in order to protect their online brand.
One of the more mundane tasks of the day in the life of an internet marketer has to revolve around sifting through the stats that we compile for our clients. Keywords, click throughs, exit pages, visitor pathing, all of it a jumbled mess until we can take the time to work our way down to the core answer we’ve been looking for – did our campaign work? Not to toot our own horn too loudly, but we must be doing something right, our clients keep extending their contracts.
The stats that we compile during our time with a client serves two clear measures of success on the surface. The first data point we make sure to keep in view is the day we started working with a client, we can then pinpoint that day and going forward determine if our campaigns have met our expectations. It does neither us, nor our client a lick of good if we can’t work your site and content to the best of it’s ability. The second data point we use to begin measuring any success, is the new visitors/new page loads (different metric depending on the tool), and dissecting the information from this point we can start to see trends and patterns to the visitors to your website. After we’ve worked out where you have trends forming, we can start to capitalize on them and bring you an even higher conversion rate.
Despite all of the stats we can show you, and despite all of the visitors we can bring to your website, if you don’t have a clear call to action then it is almost like your website is working against you in some ways. A clearly defined and consistent call to action that can be seen through out your website is one of the key ingredients needed for online success. Without it, it’s like going to an automobile dealership to buy a car, and there not being any cars, merely brochures with descriptions. If you are building an e-commerce site, then make sure to push your sales or your online deals options, if it is emails you’re after, make sure that sign up box is extremely prominent. As internet marketers we have a proven track record of developing, and delivering qualified traffic to your website, just make sure you listen closely when we start helping you develop your call to action as well, it’s in all our best interests that you wildly succeed.
Quickly, what’s the difference between internet marketing, and online branding? Depending on who you talk to, and from what marketing background they come from, they are completely different. What is actually much closer to the truth though, is they should be regarded as one and the same.
Internet marketing, the process by which you work on your website to try and make your site relevant and prevalent in the search engine ranking pages is often a misunderstood process. There are tons of terms which are often thrown around when you start talking about internet marketing, white hat, black hat, backlinks, content, keywords, and that is only the tip of the iceberg. What is almost always missed however, is the discussion about how increasing your web presence affects your brand as a whole. One of the biggest benefits of the internet and using the power of the web to brand or rebrand your business is the captive audience that is already qualified as a customer. And since you’ve taken that time to ensure your internet marketing is being successful and driving visitors to your website, you should have already taken the steps to make your brand clear and visible. Whether it’s a logo, a statement, or a combination of the two, you need to realize that marketing is branding is marketing.
On another side of the discussion, it is absolutely possible to have your offline brand, drive traffic to your site, especially if you’re widely known either locally or nationally. While you need to use internet marketing to build a brand online if you’re a new comer, if your business is already well known you can use your branding offline to influence your internet marketing campaigns. I do realize that may sound like common sense, but it often eludes people that search users don’t always browse the web the way you think. Just because you’re the most well known plumber in town, and everyone can spot your vans from a mile away doesn’t mean they know how to find you online properly. And if you skimp on your marketing, you’ll soon feel that pain as people will occasionally slip through your fingers.
Once you’ve realized just how much potential sales, traffic, or attention you’re missing out on by focusing on only one type of marketing, feel free to contact us here at Freshtraffic. We have always worked with the goal to improve your online branding image while working on your internet marketing campaign simultaneously. With more than 30 years of varied marketing experience in our team, we will absolutely find the right course of action for you and your business.
Of all of the elements that are required to be in place for a website to serve its purpose, there is one above all, that has to have a clear and present place. It needs to be prominent, attracting to the eye, and clear in its message, because you only get a fraction of the time you have in other advertising markets to make your mark.
Unlike radio, where you have a captive audience, and unlike newspapers where you have a subscribed, reliable audience in the manner of subscription service, your online marketing efforts have the be razor sharp. Today we had a discussion with the encompassing message being to hone your call to action. If you are in the business of sales online, make sure to have a badge showing as much, if you need newsletter sign ups, make sure it is clear and evident on the page what you’re looking for. Because unlike radio, newspapers and television, you have somewhere between 3 and 8 seconds to capture your audience before they click that back button and they never see your site again.
As much as I’ve used and seen the web these last 5 years working with Fresh, I still don’t see it quite the same way as the boss. Often times I need to repeat to myself that same mantra of keep it simple, keep it simple, and while I have few issues with it now, early days I would complicate things too much. Even after staring at a clients site and trying to help them work out a stronger call to action/higher rate of conversion it was (unsurprisingly) the mentor who finally just told him if you want to make more sales, show you’re having a sale. Successful ecommerce sites plaster the front page and landing pages with keywords yes, but also the most important stop words. Stop words are terms which don’t make search engines take notice, but your visitors. He doesn’t like to admit that he’s a salesman, but he can definitely sell, and made the point that people buy benefits more than they buy an item. Extended warranties, free shipping, no taxes, reduced price, all direct benefits to the consumer. And all strong stop words to keep visitors on your site and punching that purchase button over and over again.