Category Archives: SEO

SEO Has Tilted on Its Axis

There has been much talk in the last couple of years about the “death of SEO”. Such words are dramatic and catch your attention, but I never believed, not for an instant, that SEO would die. If you’re a professional in the SEM space you come to understand that the world is constantly shifting, changing, and evolving – not dying. And like any smart species – you adapt to the changes – or you die.

The world of SEO has absolutely shifted on its axis. SEO has suffered some serious earthquakes in the last few years. And in researching some facts for this post I found it kind of creepy that those higher Richter scale quakes started at the same time as the 8.0 earthquake that shook Japan to its foundation in March 2011 and created a catastrophic 30 foot tsunami. That earthquake moved Japan’s coastline by 8 feet and it shifted the Earth on its axis by 4 inches. Incredible.

The same sort of shakeup has been happening in SEO. Google has been telling people for years that “the big one” was coming and they’ve been preaching the decline of the power of the keyword and the increase in importance of outstanding content that is useful to the visitor as well as social presence and activity.

In February 2011 Google released “Panda”, a fairly small SEO earthquake. I bet the tea cups on your website shelf rattled. Panda was an effort to penalize websites whose web copy was not original, i.e. the same copy lives on other websites. Panda also penalized sites that had duplicate or repetitive copy on their pages. Google has made it clear that keyword stuffing on pages no longer games the system and creating a large number of pages just for the sake of trying to get more pages indexed no longer works.

In April of 2012 another SEO earthquake hit. And Google named this one “Penguin”. Penguin was all about untrustworthy and spammy backlinks. Now gone were the days where you would purchase 1,000 links for $100 with the goal of flooding the internet with links back to your site. Google’s algorithms now pick up low-quality, spammy links with the scent of a bloodhound.

And in August 2013 the SEO world experienced a Richter 8.0 earthquake called “Hummingbird” (funny how Google’s animals get smaller as the algorithm changes get bigger…). An article I read on Search Engine Journal likened Panda and Penguin to car maintenance. These two changes were like changing out the spark plugs and replacing the battery. Hummingbird was like replacing the whole engine. All the chirping about Hummingbird has to do with Google introducing “contextual search”. That is, Google wanted to look beyond the base nature of keyword usage and really dive into the INTENT of the user’s search. You can just imagine how this approach takes the conventional keyword, in and of itself, and nearly makes it meaningless. For example, let’s take the keyword phrase “best restaurants san diego”. What is the searcher’s intent here? Do they simply want a list of the best restaurants? Do they want to eat at one and they need directions? Are they just interested in where Guy Fieri, of Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives, showed up? Google’s mission with Hummingbird is to, as best as it can, match search results with what the most logical user intent is. Quite a feat. It seems to me that Google’s efforts are akin to making a sentient robot.

So….the days of using keyword tricks, meaningless backlinks, and meaningless content are gone. Long gone.

Not only has the META “keywords” tag been useless for nearly 5 years, last year Google switched to secure search and essentially removed organic keyword data from Analytics. Bing/Yahoo followed suit. Their message is quite clear.

SEO professionals and their clients need to understand how this has changed. Websites still need to be optimized, and when that happens, SEO professionals still do keyword research to try and find the higher volume phrases that searchers use. And they’ll take care of all the little SEO tactics; like ensuring that each page has a unique and properly formatted title and description; creating a valid XML sitemap and robots.txt file; ensure that domain names properly redirect for the “www” and non-www variations, etc. But there is no longer any haggling with keywords.

Clients need to understand that their SEO person cannot guarantee that they will rank highly for any keyword. Because ranking algorithms today pay very little attention to the keywords you’ve chosen. They look at how well your site is designed, how well the copy is written, how often you are contributing copy, how many errors your web code contains, what web server you are hosted on, how active you are with social media, how many likes and +1’s and comments you get, how often the content of your site is shared, the age of your domain name, and 100’s of other factors.

How well a website ranks in the search engines has become a very multi-faceted thing that focuses on quality content, social activity, referrals, and relevancy as determined by visitor interaction with the site. Creating a website that ranks well has become a cross-function team effort between web development, social media, internet marketing and the marketing efforts and involvement of the company itself. It’s all pieces working together that ultimately impresses your visitors – and Google.

So… SEO’s and Clients – start focusing on gaining rank by providing quality content that helps your visitors and gets shared and referenced in the social space. Write content that answers your visitors questions – that teaches, guides, informs. Establish better search engine presence by showing Google and others that your website is a valuable “go to” resource such that your content gets linked to frequently and it encourages traffic to your site. Accept the fact that good search engine ranking now take a hell of a lot of effort, on the part of everyone involved.

SEO/SEM’s – start selling your services in this new reality and take time to explain to your customers how things have changed. An internet marketing program cannot be successful if your client thinks one thing and you another.

And Clients – stop yelling at your SEO person about why you aren’t #1 for some obsequious keyword that you and you alone feels is critical for your business. Stop expecting that placing a keyword on your page will get you on the first page of Google. Stop expecting that your marketing person is soley in charge of making things happen and that you and others in your company have nothing to do with it. Start being an involved member. It’s your company, They are your business goals, and you need to be in the driver’s seat.

New world. New rules. New opportunities. And hang tight. The SEO World isn’t done rattling and shaking.

Search Engine Optimization & Physical Therapy

In late January of this year I had a bunionectomy performed on my left foot to get rid of a very big, painful, and walking-inhibiting bunion. It’s right-footed partner will have the same surgery performed around May 2012. The doctor who performed the surgery is excellent and he told me that recovery would take 6-8 weeks. I said to myself: “Oh good, so at a maximum I should be back to ‘normal’ in 8 weeks!”

I am just now “on my feet” and we’re closing in on week 9. It’s not that anything is wrong, it’s just that the doctor’s 6-8 week prognosis meant something different in his frame of reference compared to what I heard and inferred when he said it. I was wanting to hear that results would be more immediate. He was saying that in 8 weeks, I’d be allowed to put my foot on the floor for the first time. Big difference there!

For the next 4 weeks, I’ll be in aggressive physical therapy (3-4 days of sessions per week). After 13 weeks (not 8), I’ll be able to resume a fairly normal amount of activity, but it can (and probably will) take up to 6 months for “full recovery”, and because it is a surgical site, I will always need to do some level of exercise maintenance and stretching to keep my foot (and leg and hip and lower back) is good working order.

As I sat there listening to my doctor provide this forecast, I thought, “Holy Cow, insert some words and phrases and I could be talking to any one of my search engine optimization patients – er, ummm, customers.”

And today, I had my 3rd “pre-aggressive” therapy session, and what the physical therapist asked and explained to me today, just about 1.5 hours ago, resulted in this blog posting.

Cathy asked me: “Have you done your homework?” (meaning exercises).

Type A, stubborn and determined personality that I am, I answered firmly “Oh, yes.” I am determined to get back on my feet as soon as is reasonably possible. She had me run through 15 minutes of the exercises they had assigned me and she could clearly see that I had done my “homework”.

“Good for you!” Cathy said, “You don’t know how many patients I see who say they’re doing their exercises, and then come to me and complain that physical therapy just isn’t working and why should they have to pay for it? And when I ask them: Did you do your exercises? Have you been stretching? Did you do the water bath treatment we recommended? And always, the answer is no, no, and no. These patients think they have absolutely no responsibility to make themselves better and that our 1-hour sessions 3 days a week are completely responsible for getting them back to 100% mobility.”

I sat there stunned. Then I said a silent “Amen, sister! I know exactly how you feel! Many of my “patients” follow the same path!”

So what do search engine optimization and physical therapy have in common and why did I feel a moment of professional bonding with my medical comrade?

Most customers who come to me for search engine optimization are in a state of pain. Their website doesn’t get enough traffic. Their sales are down. They are paying money for “services” to get them more visible, but it hurts because they aren’t seeing the results they heard about or expected. They want results almost overnight – and – they often feel that if they hire an internet marketing professional, that he or she is 100% responsible for making it “work”. And why should they have to keep paying? If the internet marketer knows what he or she is doing, they’ll just “fix it”, right? Wrong, wrong, and wrong.

Reality Set #1: Good search engine optimization, meaning for organic (non-paid) listings, takes time, effort, repetition and there are no guarantees.

  • Good ranking doesn’t happen overnight. It takes weeks to months.
  • Good ranking doesn’t occur because of a single activity (like optimizing a page and submitting it to the engines) – there are many factors involved with ranking algorithms.
  • Search engine optimization is not a “set it and forget it” item. After an initial “aggressive optimization”, small efforts need to be made routinely to maintain good ranking
  • Anyone who tells you they can guarantee you a #1 listing, or first page results, is not a professional internet marketer. Google changes its ranking algorithms an average of 1.5 times a week. They don’t warn marketers. They don’t offer explanations unless it’s a “big change”. The Google system cannot be “gamed”.
  • Good rankings come from repetitive, ethical, and variable efforts, and as with good physical therapy, strength (or rank) continues to build over time.

Reality Set #2: You, the customer, are responsible for participating in the improved visibility of your site.

  • Your internet marketer is not a mind reader and doesn’t have “historical knowledge” of your business. They don’t just “know” what to do. Success depends on business strategy, goals, and what you’re feeling the most “pain” in. You need to communicate with your marketer so they understand your mission, your products or service, your goals, and where things “hurt the most” so they can be effective in helping you. Your internet marketer is your cooperative business partner.
  • Only doing SEO, and nothing else, will not result in long-term success, though it may seem to result in short-term success. Search engines looks for actively updated, relevant, and sufficient content. This means that you must be actively contributing fresh content for spiders to index. A blog, a forum, email archives, postings of articles, adding pages, updating existing pages with current information, all of this matters for search engine ranking – and your internet marketer is not responsible for doing this – your company is. You wouldn’t have surgery by a doctor who isn’t knowledgeable of current methods and procedures. Search engines will not pick up your site if it sees that it has nothing to “add” to the internet or hasn’t been updated in months (or years).
  • You need to build link relationships with other quality sites. You could hire the best search engine marketer in the world to optimize your pages, but search engines will not index your site if no one “out there” links to you. And it’s not just quantity that matters, it’s also quality. Links from industry associations, your chamber of commerce, membership listings, complementary product or service sites, internet directories (Yahoo Directory, Open directory), affiliate marketing sites, FaceBook, YouTube, LinkedIn, people who are passionate fans of your product or service and have a list of links page, etc. are important to build over time. The more sites “out there” that link back to your site and the better the quality of the site, the more relevant Google will consider you, and the greater this factor plays in your rank.

Reality Set #3: You’re investing money, make sure you’re investing wisely. You have every right to question whether or not you should be paying for a service. And you generally want to pay for things that will eventually pay for themselves (within a reasonable amount of time, of course). Internet marketing encompasses many activities, from SEO and SEM, to email marketing, to social media and affiliate programs, and more. You may be one of the few that knows exactly where and when to spend your marketing dollars at all times. Or you may be like the majority who test different channels and efforts until they find a mix that works, and the mix changes over time. The way to know if your investment is worth it is to implement some system for tracking leads, conversions, and sales and understanding what the value of each of those is to your company. When you have the revenue generated and the advertising expense, you can calculate an ROI. As before, this is a cooperative effort. Your internet marketer can track some things by themselves, but if you define success by increased phone calls or emails, they’ll need this data from you to generate an ROI for you.

Internet marketing is usually very successful when everyone is on the same page of understanding and has realistic expectations of inputs and outcomes. Goals, metrics, and values are defined. A plan of execution is made. Results are tracked, analyzed, and reported on. That information is then used to refine ongoing efforts. Internet marketing is a very iterative process that requires thought, time, and investment. It is never a solo-flying quick fix.

So be a good patient. When you consult with your doctor, provide history and perspective, listen to the available alternatives, devise a plan for recovery together, communicate clearly and well, and make sure you do your homework!