Search engine optimization, it’s the big marketing buzz word of the last 5 years or so. And what was once known as a highly technical, and relatively unknown business tactic has become a medium embraced by the masses. So well embraced in fact, that it’s become more and more populated by people who barely understand what the term means, let alone how to properly implement it on a clients site.
It’s becoming ever more obvious when we speak with prospective clients, that their first introduction to the world of SEO wasn’t all it is cracked up to be. The most common way to be taken in is usually with your webhost, offering what seems to be an amazing suite with submissions to directories and search engines. What these small, and sometimes large companies don’t seem to realize, is that directories don’t carry much influence with the search engines, and as for being submitted to them, well it’s not a process that exists in so many words. This scenario, as bleak as it may seem, is the best case scenario unfortunately.
The worst case scenario, and we’ve run into it a few times, is a client who’s been attracted to the false promises, and ‘darker’ side of SEO. The black hat entrpreneurs, if you can call them that, lure in their clients with promises of page 1, top 10 positions and quick return on their investment. The problem here, is the tactics that employed often destroy the online reputation of the company, and lead to the website often being removed from the index. When we’re engaged with a client in such a predicament, we’ve actually had them start over entirely, new url, new website, the works.
Key points to remember about legitimate search engine optimization are: It is not a one shot deal that will place you in the top rankings
It is a long term, high ROI solution
It is the highest ROI marketing solution when the costs and gains are weighed
And a real SEO expert will engage you as a client, to help you create content, and create an online experience to help bring qualified visitors consistently to your site.
Don’t be fooled by get rich quick schemes where SEO is concerned, it doesn’t work, it doesn’t exist and anyone who is trying to sell it to you should be black listed in your contact book.
With all of their updates that have been applied in the last while, Penguins, Pandas and who knows what else is coming, it’s becoming fairly common to read the occasional article on how poorly Google is faring as a search company. The news headlines are even beginning to creep into mainstream media more and more often, especially with Google+ trying to creep into Facebook territory.
But when you start to look at the numbers, year over year, nobody is really going anywhere. Where online search is concerned, just over 2/3 of the users choose to use Google as their search engine when looking for information online. The Bing/Yahoo machine (since Bing provides all of the results for Yahoo) stayed at a near 30% search share for the month of May, overall a loss of search share for the duo. Bing remained constant from April, and gained from a year ago, but since they’re filling the role of search engine for Yahoo, it is only logical to lump the pair together. The remainder of the search market is taken up by everyone else, Ask, AOL, and all of the other smaller engines out there like DuckDuckGo. These numbers are relevant to the desktop search market.
The mobile search market is much different than the desktop variant. While there maybe a much more varied platform base in the mobile market, it is absolutely dominated by Google, taking up the monster share of 95% of the US market. It seems that regardless of how much some SEOs decree the death of Google as a search engine, that the general user disagrees. At this point in the life of the web, the original search engine, is still the best search engine, going by the numbers. Your personal use and interpretations will vary somewhat from the general public.
Google, the Government, and you
Going over the search share numbers, it’s very plain to see that Google is sitting on the largest share of the pie, by a very clear margin. Being a company of such a huge size, with such a massive market share, makes you an impressively large target to take aim at. A couple of years back, in order to make information more available for view, Google began a new feature they dubbed as a transparency report. The introduction of the information was to give the general public an idea as to the types of removal requests the company faces on an ongoing basis. They’ve released their fifth data set, which gives a fairly clear timeline of events and online postings, and in their blog post from yesterday, Google has noticed a disturbing trend.
“We noticed that government agencies from different countries would sometimes ask us to remove political content that our users had posted on our services. We hoped this was an aberration. But now we know it’s not.”
It should be no surprise that governments are keenly interested with online activity and online content, it was only a short time ago that portions of the internet went black in opposition of the proposed SOPA bill. But even though governments have been requesting blog posts, videos, and sometimes even entire websites to be removed from the index, in the end they are just that; requests. And with the nature of requests, can come denial, which is what Google has been doing with most of the requests they’ve received. You can delve deeper into the report by following this link and it’s safe to assume that other search engines often receive the same requests to remove content from their index as well.
We’ve been over the steps of what you need to do when you’ve been penalized and dropped from the index, but once you’ve followed all of those steps, you might be wondering just what’s next? To recap quickly what you should do, first go over your email (which you most undoubtedly have) and follow their major points of issue. If it’s bad backlinks, do your best to have the removed. Spammy content? Get a handle on it and rewrite it. Found out your SEO is playing the black hat game of gaming the engines instead of working with them? It’s time to drop them and call the real experts in search. After all of those steps, you resubmit your site for inclusion.
But once you’ve done all of that, it’s in the hands of the search gods. It’s where you need to sit on your hands, and wait for them to decide if you’ve done enough, to be reindexed and included back into the search rankings. What some people don’t realize though, is sometimes the search engines don’t fully clean your record, it may only be a partial pardon, incentive really to clean the rest of your act up. Just like search engine optimization isn’t just a black and white industry, neither is directing traffic at Google or Bing.
So, just how relevant is too relevant? It’s a question being asked lately as more and more often, the results page tends to be over taken by the same website. There was a short video put out by Matt Cutts and the Google team, trying to describe just what’s going on.
The method for displaying these newer results however, have been getting under users skin however. How diverse do the search results really look, or seem, when the top three or four, and sometimes the entire page, is taken up with a single result? Relevance to the search query is obviously which drives Google and other search engines to deliver their results, and the better refined they the better it is for the end user. Have you had any instances recently where the search results page has been dominated by a single result?
The web is a huge place, full of anything you can think of at any given time, because chances are if you can think of it, someone has made a website or web page for it somewhere. It could be as common as people writing about the latest movie or song, or it could be as low key as a new local band for instance, but if you were to hit up a search engine you will almost always find at least a webpage about it.
And with all of the billions and billions of web page and websites out there, it creates a market, and with any market comes the marketers. Search engine optimization, adwords, white hat, black hat, when you start reading about the industry you will find yourself running into terms which become more and more unfamiliar as you go. It’s no wonder that when you start having the conversation with a prospective, or sometimes even existing client, that the question comes up “Do you know how Google/Bing/Yahoo works? Can you promise me number 1?” Now the polite, short answer to that question is “No” and the long version is “No, we can’t promise number 1″. And then the inevitable happens, they utter the beginning of the worst phrase you can hear as an SEO “But I read/heard/was told that..”
Here’s the short reason why we can’t guarantee you number 1 in search for your business: the web and the search algorithms are always changing. When Sergei and Larry initially created the Google algorithm to run around and start indexing the web, it wouldn’t be a surprise to hear they never imagined it would get so massive. It’s rumored that the algorithm that runs now has somewhere between 250 and 300 ranking factors in it as it parses your website. And some of the confusion for those on the outside of the market, is when they read an article about how someone has cracked the algorithm to always rank on the top. I apologize for being up front, but anyone who tries to tell their clients that is a conman. At this stage of the search game, with as long as the algorithms have been changing and adapting, I doubt there is any one person employed by Google or Bing, who can sit down and tell you just how it works. Because at this point, they are just too big, too complex, and take into account so many different points that it’s mind boggling.
So your best course of action, is to adhere to the KISS principle, Keep It Simple Stupid. Don’t get crazy with your site, don’t get too smart with your content and follow the best practice guidelines; and you’ll be okay.
With Google commanding somewhere around 2/3′s of the internet search market, it’s important to remember the basic steps we’ve discussed here. Simple navigation, a solid website built as simple as possible, while maintaining an aesthetic that you enjoy and solid content with which to bait and capture the bots, and your target audience.
Of these items, it’s content which can actually make or break your online presence. Your content is the meat of your website, it’s what captures the search engines attention and is what makes you relevant to your target market. If you’ve written it well, made sure that it’s relevant to the theme of your business then you’ve started yourself on the road to the top. When it does come to your content though, you need to also keep in mind the people that you want to read your information. Most visitors to a website, if they can’t find their information quickly and easily, will just as soon click that back button if they can’t find their way to the content they desire. It’s a great idea therefore, to break up the monotony of your website and have snippets of highly relevant information, stand out on your pages. Bolded text, italicized, and placed high in your pages helps deliver a message quickly and clearly to visitors to your site.
On the other hand of the spectrum, you have your entire articles placed within your pages for the audience you wanted to have continually return to your site. This is for that captivated visitor, whom you’ve already sold your business or website to. To a reader, all information is generally good information. The more they know about the product, your company and anything else that increases your credibility will help them feel secure in doing business with you instead of a competitor. Text is an important part of the decision-making process. From the homepage to categories and sub-categories to the actual product page, the reader is intensely interested in what you have to say, as it will be the determining factor in whether you get a conversion or not.
Good website marketing isn’t about building a site for any one type of visitor, it’s about building a site that speaks to as many different visitor types as possible without alienating any. You must have the right pieces in the right places in the right way. Skimmable content allows you to target all types of readers and give them even more than they want. That way, everyone has a positive experience.
When you’re looking at building a website, there are the fundamentals you need to take care of. Do you have your content ready for the site? Basically, have you written more than just a few lines of your idea, have you actually fleshed it out, to make it meaningful both to your target audience, and to your ideal theme. Once you have the words, you need to take the time to get together the visual aspect, do you have your images? Are they clear and easily display what point you’re trying to get across? Or do they clash against your written content by not clearly showing what you’re trying to convey.
Once you have those two very basic points together, you need to then consult a web designer to help bring your dream to life. And it’s at this stage, that it seems that there is a general unknown aspect to the process. It’s not enough to have an amazing idea, product, or service anymore, you also need to consider two more, somewhat major, components which will make up your online persona. The first you need to consider, is your website address, or URL. Ideally, in a perfect world you could create your address (domain name) out of a keyword or perhaps two, which is simple to remember, and relevant to your business. The odds of this happening however, get slimmer each and every day with the ability of anyone to purchase any domain name, provided it hasn’t already been scooped up.
But lets pretend that you had no problems snatching up your domain, and now you’re ready to build. This is the key point where even a little knowledge can help your cause greatly. You have your content and pictures, you’ve managed to snag the perfect domain name, now you need somewhere to park yourself. Your own little corner of the internet where you can upload everything and make it accessible to the world. You need a web host, and as simple a step as that may seem, there are some points you can cover which will make your online life immeasurably simpler. Procuring a web host isn’t an insurmountable obstacle, and if you take the time to look around you can very easily recoup the costs of having a quality host. Web hosting works very similar to SEO on the cost to quality scale. If you cheap out on picking up a host, chances are pretty good you’re going to have issues with them. It can be anything from slow website performance, to improperly configured servers. Spending a few extra dollars on a web host can net you a fully accessible, fully configurable host with unlimited bandwidth, extremely flexible architecture to build your website with, and nearly 100% uptime for your site. Nothing is more embarrassing than directing someone to your website as your primary contact point, and having to explain to them that your site performs poorly, just so you could save a couple of dollars.
An interesting blog post from Bing has been gaining steam in discussion forums, and unsurprisingly, it pokes fun at Google and the recent Penguin update. A little poem of sorts has been made up, and it goes something like this:
Animal kingdom hurting ROI?
Pandas and penguins, oh my!
Take control and tell the fauna “Bye Bye”,
With these helpful suggestions to diversify!
It’s a silly little rhyme, but it has great sense in it; diversify. They go on to explain that by diversifying your websites optimization techniques, you can soften, or even eliminate the blow felt across the web with algorithm changes. If your organic optimization is flowing strong and healthy, focus on a weaker area, perhaps pay per click optimization and help to boost it’s output. Organic results are typically the hardest hit in search when there is an algorithm update or a sweeping change made ala Panda or Penguin. By having your additional channels of traffic performing at their peak, you can protect your position online and react if there is a drastic change occuring.
The Bing post went on to make great points as well, diversification aside, about how to manage your presence on the web. Keep an ear to the ground for any new and trending websites or aggregators, like Pinterest just a couple of months ago. It went from a simple board where people can share interests quickly and easily, to having a Pin button begin popping up on almost every major site out there. Pinterest had some key factors which helped make it incredibly relevant, strong, rapid growth, easily adopted technology, the media got on board quickly which spread the word and add in the interaction of friends and family and it took off like a rocket. Keeping your eyes on the horizon and watching for a trend can be an extremely helpful safety net.
There were a few great other points that were covered in the post, a lot of them were really just basics that cover some of the most basic SEO skillset. Like taking care of your sitemaps, are all of the links relevant and none broken. Same with your robots file, when was the last time you had a look at it’s contents to ensure it was still correctly configured? Do you have social sharing on the pages you want to have sharing on, and have you managed to keep any duplicate content issues down to nothing. Very, very basic work, not even necessarily from a search engine optimization stand point, but just from a webmaster stand point. Keep it clean, keep it basic, follow the news and trends, and you’ll be ready for the algorithm shifts across nearly all search engines.
Since we covered the very basics of how web developers, designers, business owners and SEOs could work together a little better yesterday, lets get into a tad more detail. Taking it a little slower, we’ll just discuss a handful of some of the terms you’re going to run into when working with a search engine optimization firm.
Once we’ve had the chance to take a good hard look at your website, one of the first few things you’ll find us talking about is about conducting keyword research. Basically all this means to you as a website owner, is we need to know what terms you’re interested in ranking with, and we’ll break down your content to see if those keywords exist in a workable combination. It’s also a step taken when we search for your current listings, and breaking down how you stack up versus your competitors. It’s a simple step, one which gets abused at times unfortunately when some believe that spamming their keyword as many times as possible is a good thing. Also tieing into your website and it’s current performance, is Page Rank. It’s actually not as huge a metric as it once was, but it’s a ranking system created by Google’s Larry Page which gives your site a number based on a number of factors. Authority of incoming links, the quality of your content and website, and this rank is passed on through out your site. It used to seem that the higher your page rank, the higher you sit in the SERPs, but Google hasn’t been as diligent in up keeping their system, with Panda and Penguin being introduced in the last couple of years.
Once we’ve determined what you want to rank for, how you stack up currently in your niche market and where to focus our efforts, you’re going to start hearing terms like geo-targeting, and click through rate a whole lot. Geo-targeting is the process of constructing your website and it’s pages, to be specifically relevant to certain areas. You can easily work in city geo-targeting into your site with adjustments to content, and you can even drill down into neighborhoods if you begin to use tools like AdWords etc. With targeting your website, you ensure that you’re working at capturing your target market, and increasing your over all click through rate. Click through rate, loosely defined, is the percentage of searchers who click on your link after performing a search. It’s a great metric to keep measurement of, as it can fairly quickly outline for you if a new campaign, or advertising strategy has had a positive or negative effect on your brand and business.
There is a huge amount of information and due diligence that needs to be done when you’re working on your companies website. You need to consider the technical, and aesthetic aspects of your site. Is it appealing to look at, or is it full of uncoordinated colors and themes. On the technical side of your site, does it load quickly, or have you filled it with pictures, videos, and sounds and it takes more than a few seconds to load? The internet doesn’t work around minutes, if you do not capture your audience in the first 3-5 seconds of being on your site that impression is lost. Take a good hard look at your navigation, your menu structure on your site. Is it written with clean code, easily crawlable and indexible or have you built it with scripts and images which have no relevance with search engines.
Have someone outside your business take a read of the content on your website, are they able to work out what it is that you do with just a quick glance? Often times, when a company is building a new site for themselves they can get carried away with their content, and they begin to create content which is too niche specific, resulting in lost visitors and relevance. Once you’ve gotten all of your content squared away, you can create proper links to your other web pages you’ve built, to try and help the bots to get at all of your available content and help push you that much further up the ranks. Think of your website like a sail boat, and your additional pages and content as added sails. The better job you do building them, the more power you’ll have behind you.
We’ve always maintained that those with certain skill sets should do certain jobs and stick to those jobs. Web designers should design, coders stick to coding, SEO’s stick to SEO and so on and so forth. There is however, one book that everyone should read and keep handy when building, repairing, or working on a website. Go hit up the Google Webmaster Guidelines for best practices for websites. It’s the best stepping stone you can use to begin to have a chance online, and while it won’t help you rank #1 for all of your niche terms, it will keep you from being targetted by their biggest updates; ala Panda and Penguin.
The goals of SEO are relatively simple, to make your site rank as highly as possible within the search pages for your niche. Whether you build houses, write stories, or draw pictures, search engine optimization is applicable for any website online. What a lot of smaller business owners can also use SEO for, is to knock the big players down a peg or two.
It’s an important step for all parties to consider SEO as a great equalizer online, you do however have to remember to stay within the rules. There are billions of web pages online, and yet with that daunting number in mind it’s still a relatively simple process to stay within the sights of the search engines. All you really need to keep in mind are the basics, even just following the best practices guidelines gives your website a shot at being picked up and indexed. But you need to also remember, the internet isn’t exactly a friendly place yet, a great deal of the web is free and wild. As a small example, you can’t control what websites choose to link to you if they choose too. This can be a difficult hurdle to overcome as well, as irrelevant, or inappropriate back links leading to your website can seriously hamper any SEO efforts you may have in place. This is only a single element of what’s known as negative SEO.
The larger, more established and authoritative sites such as Amazon are somewhat safer in this regards, however no one is completely immune to negative SEO. Negative search engine optimization can be defined as spammy links, blatant keyword stuffing, duplicate content or anything that isn’t considered white hat SEO by the search engines. Smaller, newer sites unfortunately are more susceptible to negative optimization problems. In the beginnings of a sites growth, it may not have much content or links pointing to it. If you’re not careful with how you craft your content or structure your links and navigation, you may even get dinged as having duplicate or irrelevant content in your niche. The number one point however that you need to keep in the forefront of your mind though, because the internet is still wildly untamed, the playing field is actually relatively plain and simple. Follow the rules, manage your website and monitor your content to make sure it doesn’t get scraped or that it has been copied from another resource. Even the big hitters can be taken down online, no target is too big or too relevant on the web.