Of snake oil and SEO…

July 30, 2010 at 4:29 pm 1 comment

By Sally Saville Hodge

The client was happy. Very happy. He’d just hired an SEO expert to help boost the search profile of his Web-based business.

“Yeah, the guy’s going to do a blog for us. He’s going to get us in all the directories. He signed us up for a service called INeedHits.com. And he’s doing it really cheap!”

The red flags were being hoisted with the word “blog” and reached the top of the pole when we got to “cheap.” It wasn’t an issue that we were the “experts” (because we’re not) and I was being territorial. It was more that these activities were a) not very strategic; b) time consuming (if done right); and c) more appropriate for a broad-based e-commerce concern than a Web-based business with a very narrow audience.

I’m not sure if it all was being undertaken to boost traffic or to improve search rankings or both. I didn’t think the client understood SEO. I wasn’t sure the “expert” did, either – at least according to my understanding of it.

As Mark O’Brien, president of Newfangled, a Web development firm, says, “There is no element of Web strategy that is more replete with misinformation than SEO. SEO is actually quite basic, but a lot of SEO professionals make it more
complicated than it needs to be to stay in business.”

The goal of an effective SEO program is less one of driving visitors to a website, and more one of creating traffic that actually converts, whether into actual business or as a contact that has given you “permission” to reach out regularly (via newsletters, special offers, etc.).

And these days, that’s tied to two things, according to Ryan Evans, whose Rand Media Group specializes in SEO and Web marketing activities. “One is the content on the page. The second is the number of links to that page. So if you’re not generating content that’s generating interest from relevant websites, then you’re not doing SEO.”

The thing is that Google is smart. “It’s searching for the best content to match the search query,” explains Evans. “It’s all about making the search experience excellent. If your SEO program doesn’t contribute to that, then it’s not working.”

A quick look at the specific strategies that the client was so excited about:

  • Blogs. Yes, blogs are a great SEO tool, but only if “they contain original content based on your expertise, what you know, and what your clients and prospects care about,” says O’Brien. In this instance, the blog was aggregating content – credited reposts from experts in aligned fields. Google understands and only indexes the original source of the content. So an aggregator blog is not likely to boost search rankings or meaningful traffic.
  • Directories. “Getting listed on 10,000 directories was an SEO strategy a few years ago, but it really doesn’t do any good,” says Evans. It goes back to the content issue, and is an obvious ploy that Google recognizes as such. A further concern is relevance – if visitors do click through from all those directories, will they convert or bounce?
  • “Hit” sites. “Ineedhits.com? How about Ineedabrain.com?” O’Brien queries a tad sarcastically. “For most websites, unless they’re making money off ad revenue, visitor count is meaningless if it’s not the right sort of visitor. You measure efficacy not by traffic, but by how you engage visitors once they get on your site.”

As in any business, there are SEO practitioners who don’t stay on top of changing best practices and cling to tactics that worked five years ago, but not so well today. Neither they nor many clients understand that, especially in a highly fragmented media world, effective SEO can’t be done in a silo. It requires forging partnerships with PR and marketing experts who can ensure strategies and tactics are in service to the brand.

In this client’s case, Google Analytics showed exactly how well this SEO strategy wasn’t working. Traffic shot up enormously, but in keeping with the scattershot approach, so did the bounce rate (the number of visitors who clicked through and departed the site immediately because it was irrelevant to their needs). The bounce rate actually jumped from a respectable 30 percent to over 80 percent. At that pace, it’s doubtful that many conversions took place – not that I’m convinced that was a goal to begin with.

Our business is very consultative. We can’t be experts in everything, but we make it our business to learn and stay on top of best practices in fields that are aligned to what we do. That way, we know enough to ask the right questions and to try to guide our clients in their thinking and decisions. When you can’t get together on expectations, though, that’s when you part company, as we did with this client, with a Godspeed and good luck.

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Entry filed under: Expertise Marketing, Marketing Strategy, Missteps, SEO, Web Development. Tags: , , , , , , , , , .

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Leanne Hoagland-Smith  |  September 2, 2010 at 11:28 am

    Sally – Very right on. I cannot tell you how many websites lack even the basics to be search engine friendly such as a key word rich title bar, meta tags and congruency between key words and content. Some very minor changes can increase SEO. This discrepancy comes up within the discussion of the effectiveness of their overall marketing and how that relates to actual sales earned.

    I use a series of free tools to monitor trends in my traffic and then use my CPanel to document actual unique visitors. My blog on business and sales has secured additional traffic and this has taken several months to build ongoing and increasing traffic (approximately 10% increase per month).

    Reply

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