SEO: Needle in a Haystack

SEO 2013: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

SEO is DEAD… pffft!

It’s early 2013, Google announces a new “Panda” algorithm update is coming this weekend…and…BAM! We get smacked upside the face by the next wave of “SEO is DEAD” banter, comments, articles and what not. BTW, Google also announced a MAJOR Penguin update is coming by year’s end. Blah, blah, blah…gak!

Listen, friends: Nearly every one of us uses a major search engine to find things, services, products, etc. When you do a search on Google, those links that show up to websites, social pages, videos and blog articles (to name a few) do not make it to the front page out of happenstance — it’s not a random coincidence that links to any site or internet channel hit the front page because it was “lucky lottery winner day”. Those page links make the front page because they were optimized for search. If you don’t believe that, you are only fooling yourself. Now, whether they were optimized intentionally or not is another story.

So, here’s some background on the “SEO is DEAD” phenomenon: In the late 90’s (a millennia ago, in internet years) folks realized that some creative content, along with some choice keywords and a few backlinks from forums and message boards would improve their ranking on this slick database thingy, website finder, Googly-Doo-Hickey. They show up on the first page of Google, get more traffic to their site and all is peachy. That is, until Joe Competitor decides he wants some of that front page traffic… why shouldn’t he, right?

Well, time goes by and website owners discover how to make the front page of Google. Then, more and more businesses (millions) discover the benefit of having a website on the internet. They here about optimizing their website for search and the flood of SEO begins. It has to — nobody wants their website listed on page 4,780. It won’t get any traffic. No traffic means no new audience, no new followers, clients conversions and so on.

Things Get Ugly for SEO

With all the these new websites clamoring for the front page of Google and thousands of new websites coming online every day, getting to the front page became increasingly difficult. So, Joe Competitor figured if he put more of his keywords on his website and got more of those backlinks, his site would rank better than the rest. Of course this snowballed into what is now referred to as “keyword stuffing” and “link spamming”.

Joe Competitor’s intentions were well, he just wanted to grow his business, but the end result was a website lacking clear content and true value to Google users. That is, just because Joe’s website was on the first page of Google it didn’t mean he provided a better solution than his competitors. So, Google made changes in the way its search engine ranked websites. Google started to penalize websites that were getting carried away with, and abusing certain SEO techniques for the sole purpose of increasing their search placement . By 1999, the first rumblings of SEO is DEAD began, mostly by those negatively impacted by Google’s algorithm updates. Here we are in 2013, many years later, and every time Google launches an algorithm update to combat gaming of the system, the SEO-is-DEAD chants fire up and can be heard far and wide.

In the years between 1997 and now, many SEO professionals (and amateurs) looked for (and discovered) the key SEO techniques that have a major impact on search rankings. Of course, the techniques get abused and become known to many. When these discoveries are made, and ultimately abused, Google puts forth an update to minimize the technique’s impact on rankings, further continuing their efforts to provide users with a reliable, untampered with search engine. This is the way it is, this is the way it will always be.

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SEO for 2013

No matter what you may have heard, Google is not trying to kill SEO. Instead, they are trying to provide a valuable service to their users. In doing so they will make sure that the system is not easily manipulated by those looking to game the system. As always, Google provides guides and best practices for getting the best out of the their search engine… we call it the SEO basics.

SEO: Getting to the Top

The problem is, some folks will always try and cheat their way to the top. These people have little interest in following established guidelines and putting in the hard work required for thorough search optimization. Typically, they are discovered and their sites get penalized — hence, SEO is Dead.

These days, and moving forward, SEO is no longer about techniques — it’s about STRATEGY. The search engines want you to provide great content that is useful to their users. Developing and implementing a great strategy is much more difficult than utilizing a few core SEO techniques. Nowadays, you have to have a multi-channel internet presence with great content and a natural flow, a personalized identity present in all channels, interactivity, and some form of value to the end user. Honestly, this is the way it should be. Why should anyone expect to get a flood of web traffic just because they have website?

STRATEGIES THAT WILL HELP YOU RANK BETTER IN 2013

  • Multi-Channel Web Presence: A website, social media channels, videos, blogs, etc. — you need it all. They should all be connected as well as focused on a common brand, product or service.
  • Identity | Uniqueness: Stop trying to be like your competition. Establish what makes you, or your business better than the competition, then share it with the world.
  • Authorship Markup: Utilize Google+ and the authorship markup. This is especially useful for those blogging. The practice links content on the web to its creator — helpful for keeping scrapers from taking credit for your hard work. More importantly, authorship provides for an image, backlink and more to be displayed along with your standard link when you show up on Google’s search results. The image and extra info enhances trust with the Googler and increases your chances of getting the click.
  • Natural Link Building: Vary your link building strategies to naturally build up your backlinks. Don’t focus on one tactic, instead use a number of different strategies to help increase backlink worthiness.
  • Optimize for Mobile: It is believed by many that mobile search is set to surpass desktop search sometime next year. Unfortunately,  less than 10% of websites are optimized for smartphones and tablets.  Modern search rankings will take into consideration your site’s performance on mobile devices, so make sure your site is mobile friendly. Currently, Responsive Web Design is the front-runner for mobile optimization — Learn more about Responsive Web Design Here.
  • SEO for Locals: 4 in 10 individuals initiate a local search each day. Two-thirds use local search at least 3-4 times per week. With more and more users performing local searches while on the move, failure to optimize for local search will send your would-be-customers right next door to Joe Competitor.

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Give it a New Name and Carry On

Let me wrap this up by circling back to “SEO is DEAD”.  Search that phrase — guess what you find? As of this posting: 11,300,000 search results on Google. Kind of puts in perspective how prevalent the myth is, but the irony of it all is that only the most relevant, interesting and comprehensive articles made it to the front page. Go figure.

Lastly, if you are buying the hype and just want to believe that SEO is now a negative term, fine. Just make like the rest of us and call it something else — Content Marketing, Online PR, Web Channels Optimization, Web Personalization, Digital Marketing, etc. It’s okay, just don’t forget that in the end they are all focused on increasing web traffic by means of better visibility… ummmm, search optimization?

Google Panda algorithm update | 2013

Google Panda Update Coming This Friday, Massive Penguin Update by End of Year

Google’s Matt Cutts confirms that a Panda algorithm update will take place this Friday, or Monday at the latest.

Cutts also said that they are in a heated battle with spam, trying to take down spammers and people trying to abuse the system. In an effort to decrease web spam Google said there would be one VERY large Penguin update before the end of the year.

Basically, if you are still trying to spam your way to the top of the search rankings, Google is going to find you and put the smack down.

Source: Search Engine Journal

Sitelinks: AdWords Enhanced Campaigns

Google AdWords Tips 2013: Utilizing the Enhanced SiteLinks Extension

AdWords Sitelinks are easy to implement, cost no additional money and can have an enormous impact on CTR’s

The sitelinks ad extension lets you show links to other pages on your website, just below the text of your ads. This is in addition to the main landing page link.

With the recent rollout of Google’s Enhanced Campaigns, AdWords sitelinks can now be set at the ad group level. This allows for better efficiency and fine tuning of keywords within an ad group. Also, a big advantage of Enhanced Campaigns is the availability of individual sitelink level reporting. Performance metrics will no longer be aggregated for only the sitelink group. Individual link performance is now available — advertisers can now optimize individual sitelinks. Historically, it was not easy to track down which particular link was negatively impacting performance.

Optimizing for Enhanced AdWords Sitelinks:

  • In order to take advantage of enhanced site links, (assuming you have the budget/bid to rank in the top) make sure your titles and/or descriptions have specific text related to your sitelinks as well as content relevant to the keywords in your sitelinks.
  • Make sure that both your ad titles and descriptions are optimized for the ad group they represent.
  • If you want your ad description to show up as an enhanced sitelink, make sure you have the sitelink content, or something very similar, in the ad title or ad description of the ad you would like to display as an enhanced  sitelink.

Enhanced AdWords Sitelinks can grab valuable real estate and be a powerful tool to increase clicks and conversions. However, it does complicate things for the pool of Text Ads that are not in the top 3 positions. Google’s states that in order to be eligible, the Ad with sitelinks must show above Google search results and contain active ads that are highly relevant to the sitelinks in the campaign. That said, it’s time to crank out the ads and begin the test, evaluate, update, rinse and repeat phase of AdWords campaign management… It’s worth the effort :-)

Improve AdWords Conversion Rate

Tips To Improve Your AdWords Conversion Rate

AdWords Conversion Tracking

Conversion tracking is a tool within the AdWords platform that allows you to measure leads, sales, form submissions, or other actions on your website. Conversion tracking data can be utilized to help make more profitable advertising decisions. By presenting a clearer picture of the keywords and campaigns, and how they are contributing to your online marketing ROI, bid adjustments and targeting can be quickly manipulated to positively impact your advertising goals.

An AdWords conversion occurs when a user clicks on your AdWords ad, then performs a particular action on your website. Conversions can include an online sale, a visitor requesting a quotation (via web form) , a document download (e.g. white-papers, technical specification), and many other actions that you predefine.

Improving Your Conversion Rate

  • Landing Page Optimization | Focus on User Experience:  In order to improve your conversion rates in 2013, you need to provide an engaging experience for website visitors. Everything from content to navigation and color scheme should be designed and developed with your visitors in mind. This includes understanding what your potential customers are looking for as well as providing a landing page that is informative, simple, convenient and attractive to your web visitors.
  • Call-to-Action Optimization: Your call-to-action represents the fine line between bounce and conversion. Regardless of whether you’re asking a user is to download a PDF, buy a product or service, fill out a form, or simply click through to another page — the call-to-action should be clearly visible and worded well. Note that even one word can have a big impact on your AdWords conversion, i.e. “Get Information Now” will likely perform much better than “Order Information Now”.
  • Prominent Display of Phone Number: Occasionally, an end user will be just about ready to convert, but may have a simple question that is not answered in your content. I know I’ve been in that situation plenty of times. Having your business number readily available provides the user with the option of getting a quick answer via the phone.
  • Minimalism | Avoid Excessive Distractions:  Banners, outbound links, recent tweets, animations and the like should not be over abundant on your website, and definitely not crowding your call-to-action. Bells and whistles have there place, but too many of them become a distraction likely to cost you conversions.
  • Offer Incentives to Convert: Upgrades, instant discounts, free shipping, extra service hours, etc. “Online Only” specials have proven time and time again to increase AdWords conversions. Use them well.
  • Provide a Reason to Return: Give your web visitors something useful and worthy of a return visit. Daily or weekly specials, industry news, tips and strategies ( hey, this seems relevant somehow :-), popular items, popular blog posts or comments… you get the picture. The main goal here is to make sure you are providing fresh, valuable information for each visit.

In the end, higher conversion rates leave more of your dollars for additional clicks. More click-through traffic and conversions lead to an increase in profits. So make the time and effort to improve your AdWords conversion rates, you won’t be disappointed.

Key on the SEO Puzzle

5 Major SEO Tips and Strategies for 2013

So we thought we had SEO down to a science. Yeah, right. The Google smack down of 2012 will be legendary… and rightfully so. Too many SEOs were trying to backlink and keyword cram their clients to the front page (in an unnatural way). Google didn’t like it, they punished — with too many algorithm updates to mention.

I’m not going to entertain the “Google wants everyone on AdWords” debate… I get it. I’m just saying, “many SEOs, including myself, got overly concerned with technical elements and neglected the organic nature of promotion”. Some things just can’t be forced. Either you have something good to offer or you don’t — a quality representation of a strong offering will make its way to the top via the people, not necessarily the tactics.

For SEO in 2013, strategies need to be less focused on one or two major factors and spread across a larger pool of minor contributors that create a nice web of quality information about brand, products and services.

  1. Emphasize Your Uniqueness ~ If you are not ready to compete with the global leaders in your industry, then stop trying. Quit scraping their keywords and regurgitating their worn out catch phrases, and focus on what makes your brand unique. Does your service cater to certain age group? Is your product color purple when all others are black. Their is something special about your brand, or you wouldn’t be in business. So, stop comparing your brand to the leaders and start sharing the qualities that make it better.
  2. Diversify, Then Diversify Some More ~ As the folks at SEOmoz emphasize, diversify your anchor text, your links, your traffic sources, your marketing and more! It is not natural for multiple pages on your site to be focused on the same topic. Same goes for links, images and marketing plans as well.
  3. Content Always Has Been, Always Will Be King ~ Fresh and unique content is what everyone is looking for, including the search engines. Simply, give them what they want, but avoid duplicate content. Focus on creating  content that provides the information, solutions and value  your users need. Use keywords, but provide the content in a natural way that is easy to read, comprehend and visualize.
  4. Optimize For Mobile Users ~ This one is a no-brainer. Smartphone sales have skyrocketed and everyone is surfing the mobile web. If you don’t have a mobile version of your website, or a new, fancy responsive website, then get one. Today!
  5. Optimize For Local Search ~ Do you think all those mobile users above are on their phones searching for a hardware store in the next county? If you have a local outlet for your product or service, get its web page optimized for specific local searches including city, street, landmarks, and adjacent businesses (e.g. right next to Joe’s Chicken Hut).

SEO in 2013 is all about fresh perspective. Don’t convince yourself that you know what the end user is looking for, get a new perspective — theirs :-) They want details, value and customer focused service. The modern internet is overrun with SEOs clamoring for mountains of new website visitors. We’ve become cold and focused on only the numbers — get’em in, get’em out — one and done — quantity over quality, etc. It’s time to refocus on providing quality, informative solutions that users are seeking.

Remember, on a day not so long ago, the number one business motto was, “The best client is a happy client”. Yeah, it still sounds cheezy as ever, but you know what? — I’ll take that happy client (end user) and his/her repeat business anytime.

AdWords Search Funnels

AdWords Search Funnels: Learn The Value of Every Click

The Skinny

In Google AdWords, search funnels were originally launched (in beta) in 2010. Since then it’s been available, somewhat hidden, in the conversion section for users with conversion tracking enabled.

Along with Google’s new Enhanced Campaigns, functionality updates address integrating search funnels into the campaigns dashboard. It is now possible to add search funnel information as additional columns in your dashboard, right there with the rest of your data. As long as you have conversion tracking enabled, you can add search funnel columns to get even more insight to how your ads are affecting end-users. More valuable data and metrics to better optimize your AdWords campaigns.

What Makes Search Funnels So Valuable?

Online advertisers know that multiple searches occur before a user finally converts. Search funnels show more detail behind the series of clicks users take before completing a conversion. They give you the ability to see what ads were clicked, or even viewed, on a user’s path to becoming a sale or lead.

Metrics such as “Assist Clicks” (the total number of clicks a keyword received prior to a conversion — excluding the last click) and “Click Assisted Conversions” quickly make the value of search funnels apparent. The metric “Timing” contributes by showing how much time was involved in the process leading up to the conversion, and how many touches occurred beforehand. Good stuff!

Seeing the number of conversions an ad assisted with can help give a better view on the value of its targeting strategy. At first glance, the ads effectiveness may seem of little value — e.g. numerous impressions, high click through rates, but few or no resulting conversions. However, by measuring assisted conversions through clicks and impressions, it becomes easier to see what value the ad may play in your overall strategy.

This new data provides plenty to experiment with, so dig in and see which search funnel metrics will work best for you. Needless to say, search funnels are a great tool to help you get an in-depth look at how your keywords, ads and campaigns all work together. Fire up your AdWords account and have at it.

SEO vs AdWords

They Fell In Love With AdWords, But Neglected SEO: A True Story

No Hard Feelings

We had a great relationship! Four years worth of mutual respect, growth and rewards for both parties. But like many other couples, our time together came to an end. You see, there was another. Another digital marketing and SEO professional with great promise and stories of much bigger waves…

Don’t think of me as the jilted lover. Oh, far from it — four years is a great run and I appreciated every minute of it. I offered my help for a smooth transition, wished my client well and carried on.

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AdWords Superstar

I was told that my replacement was a real AdWords pro, having utilized the pay-per-click (PPC) platform with great skill and insight that helped generate millions in revenue for an existing client. Millions? Who am I to get in the way — hell, I was getting excited just listening to my former client  describe “John Doe’s” talents and was hoping to get some good juice. Something like a deep bench player hoping for a little insiders magic just from being on the same team as LeBron James. That said, I did have one minor issue — a nagging, if you will.

I heard my former client repeat one sentence several times, “John Doe is really going to turn up the volume on this campaign”.  This was bothersome because the AdWords campaign management services I was providing the former client were doing quite well — a 3.5 CTR | high quality scores | low bounce rate for the industry (45%) | low cost per click ($1.50 avg). More importantly, my client’s website was dominating the front page of Google on fifteen different key phrases, Google ads as well as organically (the natural search results). On top of that, we had another 60+ key phrases that were generating decent ad clicks. Keep in mind, this is a very niche market — and we had it cornered.

What does “turn up the volume” mean? Well, in this case it meant buying a lot more keywords and a very large increase in ad budget for their PPC campaign. I’m not talking about doubling the budget here, I’m talking about increasing the ad spend budget eight fold. Yep, 8 times the original budget — and that’s where it sits today, some many months later.

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Organic SEO | Backlinks Matter

Let’s change gears here and talk about organic SEO. During my four years with the former client, one of my biggest contributions was the depth of SEO I had provided and the major successes we had achieved with their online presence and incoming web traffic. In fact, my SEO efforts with this client gained me some much desired attention and numerous new contracts and clients. It was a labor of love that paid off in big ways for both of us — everything from video promotions and social media management to deep on-site and off-site search optimization. No content, meta data, image, video or link was left unoptimized. Soon the backlinks started kicking in and the rest was gravy… We went from 30,000 hits per month to 150,000 hits per month right smack in the middle of the “Great Recession”. They were happy, I was happy and I was picking up new clients left and right.

Mistakes were made: Okay, enough back story! So what went wrong? A new website — the new digital marketing team decided to put up a new website for my former client. Actually, the client needed a new website — I had suggested an update as the website was growing very large and needed to be on a robust CMS as well as needing a facelift. Unfortunately, that new facelift came with a price.

What were they thinking?  (No. 1):  No 301’s. The new team put up a new website, but kept most of the content I had created. Fair enough, the content was working well so don’t change it. What they did change were the file paths — new file names, new subdirectories, etc.

Let’s pause right here. I know many of you long-time SEOs and Web Developers are saying to yourselves, “Oh, no they didn’t!”. Ugh, yes they did — the new team did not put in place any 301 redirects for the new website .

What is a 301 Redirect?

In the simplest of “technical definitions”, a 301 redirect is a permanent redirect from one URL to the other. In other words, if you update to a new website and change filenames and destinations, a 301 redirect is something that your website utilizes to let previous visitors know where the original content is now stored on the new site. Think of it as a “change of address” form that you would submit to the post office upon moving to a new home.

So, what happened? Hundreds and hundreds of broken backlinks, that’s what happened. You see, backlinks are the magic juice of SEO, and now hundreds of backlinks to this website did not work. Backlinks from external web pages (other sites) are a signal to the search engines that your website is, or is not, popular. The more backlinks you have (from quality websites), the more worthy you are in the eyes of Google, Yahoo and Bing. Thusly, your rankings increase for related keywords. Making the front page gets you considerably more web traffic

Sadly, to this day, my former client’s website is sitting on the internet with hundreds of broken backlinks, signaling to Google and the others that they aren’t so popular any more (broken backlinks = no backlinks). The effect is a diminishing rank in the search engine results pages.

Fresh, Quality Content. Always.

What were they thinking?  (No. 2): No content or social media updates. I can only assume that the new digital marketing team was/is so confident in marketing through a single channel, Google AdWords, that they feel SEO is somewhat of a nuisance  that does not require their attention. Either that, or they simply do not understand the value of, or how to implement modern SEO practices. Why? Because there have been little-to-no content updates to their website, social media accounts, and YouTube channel in months. It’s as if they have completely written off the value of quality content, all in the favor of a single digital marketing channel. Any SEO newcomer can tell you the value of fresh, quality content. Right?

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The Aftermath

As a result of the new team’s lack of interest (or know-how) in SEO, and of more focus — failure to incorporate simple updates, the following has occurred for my once “internet dominating” partner:

  • First page rankings for 12 different key phrases have dropped to the second page or beyond. Two of the formerly tracked key-phrases have plummeted 20 pages or more.
  • Organic search traffic to the website has plunged to lows not seen in 5 years.
  • A once active social presence now sits lifeless, useless.
  • A boom in online video views has come to a screeching halt, and so has the resulting incoming traffic.
  • Hungry competitors are noticing a chink in the armor and aggressively attacking. Several competitors now out-rank my former client in AdWords placement as well as organic search placement.

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Separate Ways

In the months since our break-up, three of my former client’s competitors have come to me seeking service. As flattering as it should seem, I feel uneasy taking these phone calls. I can’t quite explain it — at first, it was some kind of  loyalty thing. I mean, c’mon, four years is a long time. I can’t just jump in bed with the next pretty face that comes along (although, some colleagues have criticized my lack of “whore ethics”). Today, it is something different though. It’s confidence, It’s the knowing that I no longer need that arm candy. Whether it’s the former client or someone that looks similar, I no longer require that familiar face in my world … I’ve moved on, and so have they. That’s not to say I won’t date a girl with similar features, I just have no interest in doing it to make my ex look foolish.

Moral of the Story: It’s two-fold —

No. 1)  As the old and worn out cliche goes, “Never, ever put all of your eggs in one basket”. Digital marketing is not a one channel thing. The goal is to drive as much web traffic as possible, from multiple internet channels.

AdWords is not the magic bullet. It is merely one of several, great digital marketing platforms you should include in your online growth plans and strategies.

No. 2) Understand the value, reach and NEED for solid SEO planning, execution and updating. One simple, overlooked task can decrease web hits by  tens of thousands — how would that affect your online sales leads?

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AdWords Enhanced: Hands-On Review

AdWords Enhanced: A Hands-On Review

Google has already started to roll out the newly announced AdWords enhanced campaigns to select accounts…  | Source: searchenginewatch.com

HIGHLIGHTS:

  1. R.I.P. Mobile Specific Campaigns
  2. Extensions Set at the Ad Group Level
  3. Free Phone Calls
  4. Location Targeting
  5. Scheduling

[button size=”small” text=”Read More” link=”http://searchenginewatch.com/article/2243708/AdWords-Enhanced-Campaigns-Hands-On” window=”true” fullwidth=”false”]Example[/button]