We direct all our SEO prospects to our online material, which we candidly post on the website (go to our homepage and click the tour button for an example). We don’t have fancy leave-behind decks, or spend hours sweating over pitches like some agencies I’ve worked with. I’ve seen much less time (and cost) succeed with the right kind of catered communication, especially in the SEO industry alone. Our services are specific – SEO consulting with a lower emphasis on labor. In our online tour, we share our history, our beliefs, our differentiators, and our price. We have found that this helps qualify the next conversation. Some prospects read this and never return, presumably looking for another type of SEO service. While others only feel more confident about partnering with us. Through this second conversation, our conversion rate is very high.
We keep it simple, and respectful of everyone’s time. We’re all busy in business.
But our system isn’t flawless. We had a client last for only two months. We both agreed to part ways. It’s sounds funny in hindsight – how could two months determine a relationship that couldn’t be saved? From the start everything was cordial. We asked them to review our tour, and assumed they had. We had a 20 minute conversation following their internal review. We won the business without asking the right questions.
In our postmortem we realized we assumed too much. We assumed they read – and understood – our services as well as we did. 20 minutes isn’t anywhere close the the amount of time we should have spent qualifying them. We were a little too foolhardy with our gut. From the first deliverables, where we had some great ideas to really break the website out of its template, everything was rejected. We dove into their competitors to see what they were doing, and suggested rivaling big ideas. We were shot down again with concerns of time and little faith. We believed in our ideas, and fought for them. “They’re working very well for other clients, and here’s examples of them in the wild,” I shared. We were feeling pushed into old-school SEO services, something we could do, but just don’t believe in.
As the dust started to settle, it turned out when they said they wanted quick results, they meant very, very quick – what we considered unrealistic. But for a hot minute, I bent. I instructed our team to pivot and try to deliver – a poor decision, and something very out of character. Not poor because I don’t put clients first, but poor because we weren’t in any position to meet that goal with this particular website. They had a long road ahead. Luckily, a candid discussion with the company’s CEO soon followed, and it was clear we were not on the same page. My initial emotion was, “what did you guys hire us for?” But later a clearer head asked, “why didn’t we qualify them better?” We wouldn’t have believed what they wanted was realistic.
This was a valuable wake up call to help us (re)focus on the path we spent so many months creating with the launch of our business.
They were a great company with good people and cool products – we were just on completely different sides of the fence. They knew enough SEO to have their spot, and we were trying to pull them to our side of the yard; all along not seeing the giant brick wall that divided us. Could it have been saved? Yes. But I don’t think it was worth it for either party. They’re better off with a company more in sync, as are we. Both our businesses got a pretty good education outside of SEO in my opinion.
You should be standing next to your client. Not across from them. You should be able to have open conversations. You certainly should have the grounds to disagree. If you only want to make money, being a yes-man will only get you so far.
Client: Can you get me to rank #1 for grilled cheese?
Client: Can you guarantee me a 800% ROI?
Client: Where do I sign?
Six months later when you’re making no money off the term grilled cheese, “yes” doesn’t have any power. Now you have contention, burnout, and praying your client services team has another client waiting in the wings when this current client goes supernova.
Sure, you made your money, but unless you own the company, don’t care about your reputation, and don’t have to face the clients after you sign them, you’re setting yourself up for a world of hurt.
Here’s how I might answer those questions:
Client: Can you get me to rank #1 for grilled cheese?
Bill: Probably not without a major commitment from your team, a larger budget than you have, and the ability to make changes quickly.
Client: Can you guarantee me a 800% ROI?
Bill: No, but I can make it my goal to influence Google to see you as the authority on Grilled Cheese and related cheesy sandwiches.
Client: Why should I sign you?
Bill: Because I’m not afraid to tell you how it really works in SEO, and I can teach you a lot about the additional opportunities you have in natural search based on our experiences.
I recently had a conversation with a prospect who said (paraphrasing), “I spoke with [big name SEO] who said we’d use [semi-popular blog network] for my link building if I went with them. They said it was white-hat, but it sounds like a blog network to me.”
That really depressed me. I was more than happy to inform this nice guy that the network in question was anything but white hat. Is the sale of service so important that you would intentionally mislead your prospects? Won’t that set you up for failure when you get hit with a penalty? Is the hit-and-run model the best you can scale? Is your own reputation in the SEO space not valuable? If this SEO had said, “so, yeah, we’re totally black hat… you down?” that would be respectable.
I quit consulting and agency life for a few years because I didn’t like (what I thought) was #thegame. But starting a company, and creating our own rules, built a new version of the game which I’m enjoying to death. Settling in with clients (which we call partners as an homage to a lesson learned years ago) and really respecting the values each other bring to the table has been great. Sometimes completely different business models and philosophies can work great together. Just like in love (and comic books), opposites can attract. It’s a great feeling waking up knowing you’re doing good work. When a partner will decide to leave us, I truly hope they can say, “you taught us some great stuff – I’m going to recommend you anywhere I can. Thanks for sharing your experience. We had a great adventure.”
That’s what a consultant does.
What do you want your clients’ parting statement to be?
My TL:DR tips for creating the best SEO:client relationship, and setting yourself up to do the best work of your life:
I’d love your comments below!
My fiancé loves shoes. Like the stereotype, she has a closet full. I don’t get it. I own three pair, and one pair are flip-flops. One afternoon she came into my office and said, “you’re the Google geek, find me these shoes.” She had a pair of Candie’s that broke right in the middle of the sole. I found out she searched for about 45 minutes looking for these shoes, to no avail – I suspect much longer than the average person.
Challenge accepted – I’m supposed to be good at this, but within 30 minutes I couldn’t find anything either. I used everything from reverse image search to the most descriptive keywords I could image. I looked in CSE’s, Pinterest, Amazon, and a few major shoe retailers. I went deep into supplemental pages of smaller retail sites (which is a very scary place).
The entire internet could not find a pair of these shoes. It’s like they never existed.
If you’re a retailer in this day and age, and you’re making your loyal customers work this hard, you’re doing something seriously wrong. Let’s review some of the areas Candie’s could improve, and maybe relate this to your own business. All along think about the post-sale customer journey as well (which is the category we fit in, where my fiancé started out with brand loyalty, and slowly lost it by the end of the event).
Candie’s is a brand started in the 1980′s. Kohl’s has exclusive rights to all their different product lines except shoes. Thank you Wikipedia.
A quick browse of results in Google’s blog search shows a brand that’s interested in being associated with celebrity. They pursue (and promote) famous spokeswomen. So far this doesn’t bring much topical diversity. Every headline I found features a blurb about Hayden Panettiere or Britney Spears, etc. Candie’s got a link from USA today (sort of), but the only thing the piece spoke about is how Vanessa Hudgens is the new face of Candie’s. Too bad the link only went to Kohls.com, and didn’t mention anything related to the value of the products or this could have been a much more valuable link.
Why didn’t the post say more? If what’s existing on the web is a clue, it might be because there’s no content strategy helping out the cause. For all I know, USA Today got a press release about the Vanessa Hudgens news, and with a quick Google search, couldn’t find anything else to say either. Yes – news outlets do work like that. They use Google too. Poor Candies.com got the shaft.
I checked forums and Twitter chatter (using Candie’s related keywords) – but didn’t find much. With all these endorsements I assumed there’d be more fan chatter. Do the customers really have nothing to pine about?
So let’s try Facebook. Candie’s has 669,000 likes. This looks promising. Lots of likes, and, well… little comments. One post asked the question “what do you love most about fall?” There were only 14 comments. 952 likes, but 14 comments. A low engagement rate even for a blasé, phoned-in question.
There are more celebrities on the Facebook page, and a few links, but most go to Kohl’s shopping pages or other Facebook pages. This looks like an intentional closed loop which doesn’t seem to be generating any critical mass whatsoever. I have to think those celebrities weren’t cheap, and underused.
How about Twitter? They have the obligatory Twitter account. However, tweets are quite busy being promotional like the Facebook page (not a best practice these days) with some additional use of cutesy Instagram pictures.
During our scavenger hunt, we wanted to see if their social team would handle a request:
Amy (my fiancé) even jumped in. Neither of us got a reply. It doesn’t look like they use Twitter for customer service, which is really pretty disappointing. The web – and your customers – expect this of you. It’s 2013.
If I were working with Candie’s, I’d be all over engagement and content creation. I’d want more out there than just what celebrity we have in our campaigns. I’d want people to start associating my products with quality, design, or trendsetting. I’d want to start showing off how well my shoes work with day and night outfits. I’d want a resource center for my shoppers to see how shoes look with certain styles. I’d want my shoes to rank for something more than just the product description of an ecommerce site. Hell, I’d even be pleased to see an outdated infographic at this point. I’m sure in the c-suite of Candie’s have plenty of adjectives and analogies for their shoes they toss out in the board room, as well as qualities they boast and want to represent. I certainly couldn’t figure it out from their online output.
To do more than rank for the brand name, Candie’s needs a voice. Candie’s needs topics and expertise. There’s certainly not much now to pull in any long-tail search traffic. There’s brand authority and the likelihood to rank for shoe related queries, but they just don’t have the context. Checking out a tool like BuzzSumo, it’s pretty clear there are people sharing articles they could have been writing – but haven’t tried.
Content marketing would only grow their share. It would make the consumer persona(s) much more valuable.
Ok, so Candie’s doesn’t succeed on the content or social front in my opinion. How about good old traditional SEO? How are the rankings? Not good according to SEMrush. A total of 7 keywords in their database, and all brand terms (save one).
Take a look at the homepage.
Right off the bat, they hide the shoes section (took me past my 3 second “catch me” time frame), but let’s just look at the basic SEO.
Now take a look at the homepage naked (CSS off):
This could very well be the least SEO friendly homepage of a major brand I have ever seen.
In fact, the whole website is really just a couple hero graphics after another, ultimately funneling traffic back into Kohl’s. Is this mandated by the Kohl’s ecommerce agreement? Maybe, but if Wikipedia is right, that doesn’t apply to shoes – the hidden category. Once I got to http://www.candies.com/spring2012/weHeart.asp, I couldn’t even find my way back to shoes.
I found 16 title tags. All but three said nothing more than “Candie’s”. Virtually no spiderable text anywhere. This site just isn’t trying. The competitors must be loving that!
What about backlinks? 263 linking root domains, and no real footprints of SEO work here.
I’m starting to wonder if a heads-down presence is intentional. Since they’re not an ecommerce store (and divert most their retail traffic to http://www.kohls.com/feature/candies.jsp), maybe they’re afraid to rank to well, as it may take away from a shopping page. That would be “tinfoil hat” behavior in which I’ve never seen the likes before.
The landing page on the Kohl’s site isn’t much better (cached here for posterity). Look at the adorable SEO copy under the 70% graphic spots. At least the anchor text matches the destination pages’ title tags.
But I can’t wrap my head around the hero spot video. At this stage in the game, does Kohl’s really want to be doing the branding for Candie’s? Hit play, and prepare to be distracted from your purchase for 60 seconds watching behind the scenes footage of a photo shoot. Kohl’s makes no other attempt to build the brand or tie this video to products. I stick by my ecommerce rule of thumb – if the graphics/video take up 75% of your real estate, they better be prepared to drive 75% of your page sales.
With precious time to encourage the interest of a searcher, where the back button is ingrained in every shoppers brain, I would be promoting more shopping funnels. Not distractions.
If we were hired to do Candie’s SEO, while assuming probable bureaucracy and politics the brand may have with their ecommerce agreement, I would certainly work to fix the items I cried about above. That’s a no-brainer. But that would only get them to the stadium. If they wanted to compete, they’d have to keep swinging.
They need some big ideas and quick.
This post assumes the Candie’s brand actually wants to be bigger online than they currently are. That may be erroneous. Also take into consideration, this is not an exhaustive audit by any means (I run an SEO company but Candie’s is not a client). If I’m wrong on this audit, then enjoy the lessons anyway. The truth is, from only a few hours of scanning, the opportunities for SEO leap out at you.
Amy (my fiancé) never did hear from Candie’s. She never did find a single instance of the shoe, but her diligent searching led her to discover another brand who had similar shoes. They got the sale. If this is happening on a large scale, it’s scary to think how many lost sales Candie’s has had in the last decade.
On the contextual front, SEO is more than just keyword-level stuff (where Hummingbird reminded some of us with a baseball bat). While brands may have a certain upper-hand, they still need to do search marketing. Candie’s is an example of a brand that’s getting buried for anything but their own brand terms. With great power comes great responsibility – aid your customers post-sale, and they’ll reward you. There must be other customers (in addition to my fiancé) who love Candie’s shoes. I struggle to believe all the followers they have are there for Carly Rae Jepsen pictures. In terms of topics, there’s not much to read, so they don’t have much to release virally. If I were a brand advocate, I’d be pretty hungry for something more from the website. I’d be flatly disappointed.
The truth is, Candie’s is not alone. I’ve done a lot of big brand work, and while they usually have a big backlink portfolio due to being top of mind for a lot of bloggers, there are many instances where the content output is very low. Attempts were never made to be more than a couple marketing campaigns or a logo. While Candie’s certainly works with ad agencies, a company or specialist who knows search would be an amazing addition to their arsenal.
By the way, Amy also recently found the box. For any women wondering what shoes these are, or if they were actually real (as I began to question), here you go. Dazz black, baby. I’m probably going to get in trouble for showing her shoe size.
I’ve had my share of SEO predictions fall flat on their face. But I remember distinctly sitting in the office of a VP in my former ‘big agency’ life (guessing around 2009), talking about how Google will have to move into identifying, comprehending, and processing intent, while finding new ways to judge popularity. PageRank was a great start, but it can’t scale. Our culture is completely online now – the Google algorithms, relativity speaking, can’t keep up. It’s easy to forget Google isn’t magical. They’re still a powerful but limited machine.
I would postulate on Google eventually looking at more abstract factors where good old fashioned online marketing campaigns could get recognized. Where pieces and results of campaigns become crumbs that make up influence in aggregate. Truth was, I was seeking internal support for expanding the SEO group’s output, instead of mild data crunching and producing thin, quick-and-dirty recommendations. In 2009 it seemed obvious that Google would eventually shut down “gaming the system” schemes – of which they recently did a reasonably good job (with some causalities). It seemed to me that if anyone could understand programs to scale and distort, it’s Google. It also felt like the routine tactics of SEO couldn’t last forever. It felt like time to start getting creative.
I wanted to believe in the power of marketing effecting SEO. Not just because that was my college background and interest, but because it seemed logical. Marketing has shaped our culture. Our culture is online. Thus, Google needs to continue understanding the culture’s role and response in marketing. In there lies understanding of the queries.
I didn’t (and still don’t) think all SEOs need to be marketers. Digital PR? Not all SEOs use the same side of their brain but still remain pertinent. It’s sensational to say, “the SEO industry must adapt to *THIS* or die!” Like anything in any marketing channel, that’s awfully limiting. Defining rules and standards? Not for me, I shake that kind of stuff off. No person (or concept) is going to be able to drive the SEO bus alone. The Magical Mystery Bus drives itself.
Let’s think about the clues we have at hand, which to me suggest a path towards SEO marketing.
Here’s the definition of marketing from the AMA. “Marketing is the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.”
I really wish PPC didn’t get the label of search engine marketing (SEM). It doesn’t seem to fit today. It’s like when alternative music became mainstream – it became the alternative to what? I would like to use the term search engine marketing for the concept of big ideas that Google notices, appreciates, rewards, and shares. I want to impress Google by impressing their users first. I’m not going to try to make up a new term (I have shame), but we refer to it at Greenlane as SEO marketing; a non-creative name for creative campaigns. It’s what I couldn’t convince a big agency of doing.
Here’s a couple very recent things we know:
They took away all our keyword-level data
This is a raw nerve. [not provided] is a jerk, but not that significant a change in my book. Lazy SEOs can now fully hide behind this when they tell their clients, “sorry – I can’t prove how awesome we are without keyword level data.” Or, they can promote themselves to the client when total organic data is on the rise (even if it’s branded terms from some other online marketing channel in the other side of the house, where the SEO had no influence). There’s lots of posts floating around basically admonishing you from caring about this total loss since the “representational sample” we’ve been playing with was already soiled since October 2011. On that I totally agree. When Annie Cushing called these keyword data remnants “junk data,” it’s not just because she’s proven, but because it’s common sense. I do however disagree with the posts that scold you for ever caring about keyword data in the first place. That’s got to be tweetbait!
For me, I did like the remaining organic keyword data in at least one of the ways I liked all the organic keyword data. I liked it as a unique source of inspiration and guidance. Those weird keywords you found that you wanted to immediately discount. I got into the habit of analyzing them hoping to find a wormhole to another universe. I loved the, “why the hell did Google think I was relevant to that, and why did people come to my site for it,” moments. This keyword data led to topic creations that flourished for not only my own site, but my clients as well. However, this was quite limited – it was only important for the handful of possible topics you were already somehow relevant for in Google’s eyes, not the myriad of topics you could be relevant for in the demands of searchers. You need to think the other possible topic universes are even richer in opportunity.
The keyword data was great to have, but it was a small sample of your actual opportunity. We have to adapt.
Google wants to be better an answering questions. We assume it’s more than turning Google into what Ask.com was supposed to be. Every query is a question, so Hummingbird presumably is a good old fashioned Google engine update. If Hummingbird’s value is to understand the meaning of the words, ” communicating, delivering….” for the value of “customers, clients, partners, and society at large” seems to be more important in my book. This suggests to me SEO is more about communication than ever before. Content, as a general artifact, isn’t the king it used to be. The topic that answers presumed query intent may be more valuable, and that takes some iteration to get right. That’s certainly a content marketing principal.
Why does Google care about site speed? Why do they care where ads are located? DOM, bounce, hierarchy – whether Google infers or uses GA data is debatable (either Google is lying, or they’re not). The bottom line is these are things I believe they should be looking at, but won’t make too prominent because they’re all game-able direct signals. Until they can weed out bots artificially crawling a site and leaving footprints to emulate a visitor’s “happy, successful site session,” we might as well (at the minimum) look at these items as a usability feature to improve the visitors experience aside from Google. As an SEO, we did a good job getting the traffic, but why should we stop there? Why not make sure the material the searcher receives is indeed inline with their query.
Not all direct signals are cut and dry. So maybe Google plusses don’t help you rank. They sure help you figure out what your community likes; that could help you rank.
We’ve seen Google overcome a lot of garbage the last few years. Sure, they blew up a few innocent communities bombing the bad guys, but they’re not afraid to make changes. They’re wise to pull back on things that can backfire. So with some technical site characteristics being a factor, it’s safe to think there will be more, no? Help the conversation continue by helping the site improve. In the meantime, take advantage of everything else and produce good communication that will maybe have its day in the sun when the algorithm catches up.
The (re)launch of our agency came with many changes from my original launch as a sole proprietor in 2005. From a partner, to employees, to 15 clients – it all brings different responsibilities. Some Keith and I still need to learn. Case in point – this week we lost our first client. It was mutual. We weren’t on the same page, and as part of our postmortem, I see why. Where we are promoting the big picture ideas above, they were looking for the type of work I was doing in 2009 at the big agency. Strictly keyword focused stuff. I don’t want to say we evolved, because I don’t want it to downplay the significance of other SEO approaches, but we have organically morphed into something shaped by our personal 13 year SEO experience. We are looking for clients that have morphed the same way we have.
We do creative things. We consult with companies – hand in hand – to create and drag the right campaigns to the ground. It’s all very much based in SEO, but in thinking of all the strategies and projects we have going on across our portfolio, I’m pretty excited to see where SEO goes. I feel like we’re seated well. I’m banking on it, so to speak. I think this is one prediction that shows no sign of falling on its face, and something I hope all SEOs are taking a good hard look at from time to time.
The first thing I do when I wake up is grab my iPhone and delete about 40 junk emails that come in overnight. I do this while eating my Cheerios. No matter how many times I unsubscribe, the trash keeps coming.
This morning I received this subject line: “Regarding Guest Post Opportunity On Your Blog.” I’m sure you’ve all gotten these. I’m sure some of us have sent our share of these. So why did I stop to read this one? Why didn’t it get deleted with my other morning garbage? Not because it was good, but because I was drawn to it (though not for the right reasons).
I’m not against guest posting. I do, however, wince a little when I see the tactic poorly executed in 2013. This is an old tactic now, and I like to think it’s matured.
This type of prospecting email may work fine when you’re pitching a site who’s model is to publish guest posts. They’d snap up this type of opportunity faster than me with a plate of hot wings. But for my site, I don’t usually have much guest posting here. It’s not because of any reason besides pickiness. Anthony Pensabene is the only one so far, and that’s because it was unique, he knew my blog’s tone, he’s a known entity, and he’s a very clever writer.
See, I knew as much about him as he knew about me and my site.
In the case of the guest post pitch, I didn’t get the feeling this author took the time to review my site at all. The three titles he pitched didn’t really fit my style of writing or my subject matter. The truth is, I’m actually open to guest posting pitches. I would have been excited if this were a thorough pitch. I really could have taken it (or at least gotten to know the writer and worked with him in some capacity going further).
I would have started with some research. I would have spent some time on the Greenlane blog to see what kind of posts have been done to date. The titles sent over, while I censored them above, were akin to “top 5 ways to do something that’s been rehashed a million times in the SEO blogosphere.” I don’t really have much content like that anymore. Frankly, it’s rare when I read that kind of article now and it doesn’t come off as lazy. I would have thought up some ideas that flow with my blog. How about a take on something I’ve written about before? I’d much rather you come me with the concept of something unique, than a backlog of generic, homogenized, no-frills copy.
I would have written a better subject line. The subject was confusing. Regarding what guest post opportunity? I haven’t actually posted, tweeted, or facebooked any defined opportunity. This subject was about as spammy as it gets for me, and looks a lot like the ones I now have a habit of deleting without a thought. If it were me, I would have been more open to “An idea for a guest post,” or “Question for you.” These are subjects suggesting a visitor wants to engage with me, not pitch me. Or, just like the concept of “the neon resume gets remembered,” maybe a subject line of “Hey jerk, your opinion is wrong, and I have a counterpoint article to prove it.” I would love that. That would be speaking my language!
I get pitched all day long from vendors. I welcome an opportunity that doesn’t feel like a hard sell. I believe most business owners and webmasters agree. We want to be pitched on really awesome ideas. It makes us look better to our bosses and employees when those ideas come to life.
I would have used my real name. The author’s name in this email was different than the name he used in his Search Engine Journal example. Someone is getting duped. See, I do my homework. I suspect many others do as well. Granted, I’m in the industry so I care about things like authorship and the writer’s reputation. But if you use your real name, and have created a cache of great material, that’s a selling point. Show me what you’ve written, and show me some kind of biography. Show me that when you say you live in Montana, you don’t really live in Tibet.
I know you’re busy… That line was the closer. “Don’t worry, I’ll make it easy for you.” I bet that sounds great to a lot of busy affiliates who run thousands of sites, especially if they don’t care about what gets published on their site. But as a business owner, or even a webmaster looking out for the integrity of their site, I’d like to have some control on what I get and post. I’d rather hear, “I’d love to work on some ideas with you. I can send you over a draft.”
I would have customized the email. I can still smell the cntrl-V in this email. At least it was specifically sent to me (instead of being in the BCC field with 10,000 other recipients). Still, I’m sure this was an attempt to be scalable. All good, but again, this type of email isn’t going to win a site like mine. I have personality all over my blog, all over my Twitter, etc. If the guy wrote, “hey man, I love your band,” that would have probably worked – I’m a sucker for egobait. The truth is, a site like mine may not have a huge PageRank or DA (whatever you prefer), but I do have a big mouth. I do have followers who would have seen this post. I think I’m worth the little bit of extra attention.
Where do these opinions come from? Experience. I’ve tried – and failed – at good guest posting opportunities, and digital PR opportunities, because I was lazy. I am lazy no more.
Our blog isn’t like Problogger, Ezine Articles, or even Search Engine Journal or Search Engine Watch. We’re not a depository. We have our own distinct voice (hopefully). In my case, communication matters.
In my experience, most websites, media outlets, and companies want to be engaged. If you think I’m a diva, I promise that some of the big, jucier prospects are even worse. If you’re looking for quality over quantity in your links/citations/brand mentions, then you must be careful when you reach for your prospecting weapon of choice. If you’re aiming for a cat, and you pull out a machine gun, you’re only going to make a mess.
Just to get ahead of any nasty comments or tweets – I am NOT against scalable or automated link building. I’d be an awfully big hypocrite. While I’m certainly not great at it, I’m always impressed by those who do it well. By well, I mean smart. Those who can do good marketing with scalable (or automated – I’m aware they aren’t the same thing per se) techniques are brilliant. It certainly has its place. But trying to win over a guy like me, that certainly isn’t its place.
No cats were harmed in this blog post.
Let’s face it – the SEO industry has a tendency to stomp a tactic into the ground. Some of us even get lazy (pleny of this kind of junk around).
Directory submissions were once wildly valuable, then SEOs started creating directories by the thousands thanks easy-to-install directory scripts. Some SEOs / webmasters blatantly charged a fee for the “SEO value”. Additionally, cheap directory submission tools popped up like Directory Maximizer. Back then there wasn’t as much fear of Google making sweeping changes; thus, the tactic was pushed hard for years. Eventually Google sussed out the tactic - directory links aren’t even close to what they were.
Article marketing worked for a while as well. The same suit followed. Article sites and tools like Unique Article Wizard and Article Marketing Robot came and left a huge footprint. Originally some article marketing was even editorial when the webmasters scrutinized each article before publishing, but it was quickly outshadowed by services and bloggers that would take (and publish) any crap.
Next came blog networks. ALN and Build My Rank (now redirects to www.hpbacklinks.com) were among the first to get a real Penguin beat down. Spinning tools (that literally “spun” your content to look unique, but rarely made articles that users could understand) became popular as content for these blog networks. These illegible articles were pumped out by the thousands. For some SEOs this (somewhat) resembles what we think of today with the guest post tactic.
Now SEOs are waiting for the guest blogging [filter|penalty|panda|penguin] update.
As far as I know, Google doesn’t hate guest posting, at least according to this video 2012 video. Things may have changed, but I don’t think so.
Google has made some illogical decisions. Really, obvious mistakes. I’ve given them the benefit of the doubt and been wrong before.
Dumb Bill Sebald quotes:
“Negative SEO can’t exist. Google knows how easy it is to blast a bazillion garbage links at a website. They’ll figure out the fraud!”
“Google doesn’t need help with duplicate content. They told us so!” (Next day they came out with the canonical tag).
The truth is, at the risk of putting my foot in my mouth again, I really don’t want to jump onto the guest post scaremongering band wagon. As I said with the great Anthony Pensabene, I think we’re reading too deeply into things:
But aside from a few a lot of bad eggs, why would Google hate guest posting? This can be amazing, user-loved content!
This is what Google’s infamously vague Google Guidelines say:
Additionally, creating links that weren’t editorially placed or vouched for by the site’s owner on a page, otherwise known as unnatural links, can be considered a violation of our guidelines.
An editorial piece of text is an unpaid, opinion piece. It is a piece placed by an editor to give value to the reader. In newspapers (for example) editorials have often been the opinions of authors who may not have been associated with the publisher. Google might be powerful, but I don’t see them having the power to change a definition.
We live with a noisy web, where soundbites are everything. Tweets are our headlines. Sometimes newsreaders and social bookmark sites give us the news with a short 70 character headline. Sometimes it’s even exploitative. This leads to major misinterpretation and FUD.
While Google’s done a great job in the last year of pruning gamed results out of their index (I actually found it quite difficult to find some truly “bad” examples using Google), they could still possibly monitor heavier for footprints. For example, they may be able to tune up their recognition of certain footprints left in the byline. SEOs will adapt, and maybe start seeding their backlink elsewhere in the text other than the byline, and vary up their bylines more frequently, but the lazier SEOs could probably get swept up. Have you created a sea of trash guest posts? You might need to worry, but you couldn’t have thought your thin content was a long term play.
Authorship may come into play more, and either highlight good authors or flag spam authors. I just don’t think Google will be able to get too liberal here. They’re the best search engine we have, but they’re still not talented enough to truly understand the intent of any content online. They’re just not that good. They have to know that.
Famous last words.
Sites like Moz, major tech sites, recipe sharing sites, entertainment sites, countless online newspapers,etc., would likely get swept up if Google pushed this update. We’ve seen so many babies get thrown out with the bathwater just with Panda and Penguin alone. For me, I’m going to sit back, have a homebrew, and keep on recommending guest posting where it makes sense and proves out to be a real marketing opportunity.
Related: Why I Will Continue With Guest Blogging As Part Of My Strategy! SEtalks.com
Nobody loves Google+ as much as Google. So much so, they’re using Google+ Pages as the destination URLs in the packs now. Looks like you don’t even need a website anymore.
What do you notice from this screenshot? First, I apparently need Google’s help spelling collision. Second, if you click the blue link or the Google+ page link, they both go to the same place – a very thin Google+ business listing:
This may not have been claimed. No reviews. And Google thinks this is a better result than the other fleshed out Google+ local and direct websites? Google doesn’t even have any entities showing for this listing.
This isn’t the first time SEOs have seen this.
Google has a lot of products. I can only imagine how difficult it is to manage them all internally. I have no idea how big their local team is (likely less than the “web” team, which is already surprisingly small), or what their company goals are with this product, but this is a vital vertical to many small businesses that just doesn’t seem to have the love. This whole integration feels like web search from 2002 – very little made sense there either.
Since Google+ and Google Places merged, forming this mess called Google+ Local, every SEO has been recommending you flesh out a Google+ business page. Our recommendations were for you to flesh out your Google+ and places page, even if you’re already having trouble finding time to tend to your Facebook page. We said, “don’t complain, just do it – Google needs your information to rank you in the packs.”
From the looks of these screenshots, it doesn’t look like we were necessarily right, eh? If Google does indeed have an algorithm biased to any Google+ site, then maybe you don’t need to do the work? Read on…
I don’t really try. I’m not sure Google really can understand it either. I suspect their hands are full trying to tame the jungle. For almost a decade I’ve described the “Google (web) algorithm” as a rope. A rope has hundreds of threads woven in (all algorithms working together to make the big algorithm). Google Local seems more like a bag of hair. But to be fair, Google web turned into a bag of hair in the early 2000′s as well. They’re only now starting to braid it.
With local and Google+, we have a business page, a local page, maps, and pack listings. They just all don’t tie together nearly as well as they should.
SEO is still marketing. I’m frustrated to see Google+ being so awful, but I believe it will get better. I have local clients I adore, and seeing things like this makes me mental. Google doesn’t always reward content, Google doesn’t always reward your support. Google has made many local business owners I speak to feel jaded by “failed” SEO. To be honest, sometimes an SEO can’t hit a specific goal if Google simply doesn’t want it to be so. You have to give it months – sometimes years – to see. If you want the internet to work for you, you have to accept it could take a long time.
But if and when Google does shift in your favor, your customers will benefit from your hard work. When you’re doing SEO (or having a firm do it for you), make sure you’re doing marketing too.
Despite the bag of hair algorithm throwing a few freebies away to local companies who didn’t do any real marketing, there’s a lot of gold for the business owners who did find time in their busy day to keep the content river flowing through their Google+ account.
Michele H, local wedding photographer (asked to be private, apparently a competitive field).
Goal is to fill up the fall with jobs, with no expenses.
I have a friend in the local photography space. Her name is Michele. She moved to Philadelphia suburbs right before Christmas 2012 to stay with her sick mother, and wasn’t really set up financially. As a wedding photographer, she didn’t have a strong ‘word of mouth’ network in Philly, something many local services rely heavily upon.
In such a short window, I figured a social content strategy and local search was the way to go (forgoing general web SEO). I helped her get her photography service up and running with a quick, clean SEO friendly platform (simply WordPress), and pushed Google+ on her hard (as an experiment on my end). She spends most her day retouching photos, and naturally didn”t want to do any more on a computer than she had too. Still, we created a balanced plan to create engagement with only a few hours a month. This included:
All the authorship stuff was also put in place. In took about 3 weeks in May to start showing her photo in the search engine result pages.
For months nothing came of it. I was rarely involved, assuming she was following the steps. I didn’t do any other SEO work for her.
The content she created sat around on Google+. She wasn’t getting into the packs, and more importantly, she wasn’t getting any pack traffic or Google+ referrals. Everything she did on Google+ she mirrored on Facebook, which was semi-active (helped mitigate any feeling of it being a huge waste of time), but let’s just keep this mini case study on Google+ and related website content.
She was a worried and a little stressed.
Then suddenly she got a few followers in April who started sharing her stuff. More saw it and circled her. In March, 29 had her in their circles. In July, two thousand. By checking out the most shared stuff in Analytics, we knew what flavor of content she needed to continue writing in (in her case it was about what wedding photographers can use to differentiate themselves, and unique wedding photo ideas). She was becoming a brand on Google+.
She started taking small jobs when weddings weren’t happening, and asked them to consider reviewing on her places page. Happily for her, they were all favorable.
She also got a few organic links and upward trending traffic to her blog (located on a folder off the root domain). Things were starting to happen slowly. 10 more visits here, 20 more visits there, with a low bounce rate. Not big numbers, but to a local wedding photographer, this was helpful. 45% of her closed leads came from this traffic from April to July.
In her vertical, her Google+ may not have been ranking well at first, but it was a vital social component and cause of the informational searches she was now receiving. Attribution reports showed some decent interplay. Impressions and actions started to go up. It’s all connected.
She had one goal: fill up the fall with wedding shoots in a new town. She succeeded last week. Added benefit: zero cost. All really minor effort leading to a big win for a minor business.
The opportunity is there for the small business of any size – the bigger you are, the more work you need to put into it. In this day of big brands getting the lionshare of the rankings and traffic, the small business can still rock in long-tail and local search. It’s not hard or expensive – just awkward and confusing… but completely valid.
Protip: Click the sleestack.
I definitely expected more from Authorship by now. For me it’s kind of a let down. So far, it’s akin to the flying cars we were expecting. We were under the impression Authorship would bring AuthorRank, and it would do all these wonderful things. But like the flying car, this was never specifically promised (that I know of).
I’m a little tired of telling clients, “put this and this on your pages, force yourself to use Google+, and get your whole content team to adopt it,” without a better reason.
“Because one day this might really matter!” doesn’t really cut it for me anymore. I’ve become skeptical since this.
While the common expectation of Authorship was that it will become a ranking factor is exciting, Google has shown us that our expectations don’t always come true, despite even obtaining patents.
Case in point: social signals. I was told by someone at Google over 4 years ago that +1 buttons were going to improve rankings. Rarely do they come out and tell you that. He was a rarely loose-lipped project manager probably in violation. By now there should be some majority proof that these buttons work, if they truly did.
Still, while exciting, it’s also scary. If I wrote the definitive post on a particular SEO strategy, and Danny Sullivan wrote a half-assed or inaccurate similar piece (not likely!), would Authorship favor him?
There’s no doubt Google is into taking Authorship further. They created triggered emails to give particular “authors” more context when needed. They added it to their rich snippet testing tool. They’ve even tried to make it happen when it wasn’t properly implemented (suggesting the developers are hard at work). It’s got to mean more than just a photo in the SERPs. Don’t get me wrong, I know the value of the rich snippets in click-throughs (I worked very closely with a usability lab in a past life), and can’t imagine a face shot would turn anyone away from an informational search. Even someone really ugly. I don’t sweat over the studies.
On their Authorship page, Google says, “Make your content feel personal.” I think that’s just a quick and safe banner. They’ve told us they may use the data they collect as a ranking factor. What are they waiting for? It’s safe to assume they’ve been collecting since well before August of 2011, when this rel=author standard was highlighted in a video. Rel=author is not a Google invention.
I was talking to my business partner Keith, and we were having the usual water cooler conversation about Authorship. Then he says, “maybe it’s more of a defensive play?”
I hadn’t heard anyone really suggest that before. We’ve been expecting it as a ranking signal. But what if rel=author went the way of the +1 as a ranking factor, and is now more of a validator of editorial, non-spammy links? After all, when’s the last time you saw spam or unnatural backlinks come from an author-verified page?
I could see Google ultimately determining that’s as far as it should go for now, with their current infrastructure. Since they’re probably wrestling with how game-able Authorship really is, I could see them defaulting on it being a signal of trust which doesn’t push rankings, instead defends the link graph. Until (or unless) spammers were to figure it out and start adopting it of course. Maybe Google is thinking most spammers are too lazy, and using this now as a pluggable cog.
I don’t have the answer, but it’s an interesting thought. Would love your thoughts. Are we looking into Authorship incorrectly?
I enjoy footprints, advanced operators, and link building with content. I like the personalized, conversational nature of the link building I do. Though not fast, it’s fun and very impactful. It’s like a cannon versus an AK47.
Naturally I was drawn to broken link building. Garret French’s ridiculously cool Broken Link Building tool is a great resource. While some are great at this, my success rate is unfortunately low with this tactic. My assumption is that the resources are usually so old (hence, the link breaks because it’s abandoned) that the webmaster doesn’t even care that it’s broken. Thus, no response from the webmaster following my inquiries.
But they do seem to respond more often when they have wrong information on their site.
I’ve always been able to use the Broken Link Building tool to get content ideas and find good blogs, but thought, “instead of fixing the link by suggesting my own content, why not produce content that fixes a bloggers on-page content.”
In time, things become outdated. Data refreshes. Ideas expire. Studies prove other studies wrong. Trends, interests, and feelings change. The problem with the web is that you’re hard-pressed to keep your website 100% current. How often have you searched for the answer to a question to find a 4 year old, out-dated article? Google does a poor job with QDF, and simply needs help with detecting the latest, most accurate information.
That’s where this tactic kicks in.
Each of my clients (or past employers) is an expert in something. Once I figure out what these strengths are, and identify who can write the content, I search for sites that have wrong information.
Here’s a couple opportunities I was able to “refresh” with this tactic:
Each new article we placed had a link to our site either in the byline or in the body itself. This tactic works great with a content strategy. Throw the results into Buzzstream and you’re on your way.
I like this idea so much I wanted a tool that could quickly find these opportunities. I asked Mike Angstadt, a great Philadelphia developer and SEO, if he thought he could help me build it. In 24 hours, the Outdated Content Finder was born. Mike is the man, so hit him up on Twitter.
Give it a spin. Click the logo below:
It’s still in beta, and will grow to include more features. I’d love your feedback in the comments below.
Friday was the last day of my security. Today, I’m a full-time business owner. I’m completely out of in-house, and 100% dedicated to Greenlane Search Marketing, LLC.
I’ve been doing work through Greenlane since 2005. Most of the time it was split between other internal roles with agencies or in-house. I went 100% solo once, and failed. Naturally, I was a little gun shy about trying this again. But I’ve realized things truly are different (if not evolved).
“Do not be embarrassed by your failures, learn from them and start again.”
Richard Branson and other off-beat CEOs have been the subject of a lot of my latest readings. Clearly, I’m getting the bug again. I’ve sat in rooms with some incredible CEOs and CMO’s – some well-known, some not. My father is very successful in a large company in Philadelphia, and an influence. I like the way many of them look at running a business as an art form, where there is no real playbook. I like that many successful CEOs aren’t the serial-killer personality types that we’ve come to expect. I’m not smart enough to compete on an intellectual level with most Wharton grads, but I started to get confidence that reminded me I didn’t need to.
Then again, I’ve run important marketing departments. I ran SEO relationships with companies like GNC, Petsmart, Calvin Klein, Levi’s, and Mattel. So I do have some experience. The only thing that was holding me back was the risk of security and the memory of past mistakes.
“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.”
I have that quote from TS Elliot on my wall. I’m not a big risk taker, but I do want to explore as much of life as I can. This quote was strong for me. A motivator.
I used the excuse, “the timing is bad,” when thinking about going on on my own. But when is it ever good? I have a lot of expenses (an ex-wife, a wedding coming up), my fiance is on disability for a few months from a necessary surgery, and there’s some other potentially expensive things going on. Plus I have an 8 year old son. I’m sure I’m going to rack up some credit card bills, but I’ll be able to see my son and fiance more, while finding happiness in (re)building a business.
This was also a motivator.
I had the fear of failure, but a lot of thoughts on how to learn from my past mistakes. I weighed it out, and made some adjustments. I suck with accounting and bookkeeping, so this time I partnered with an accountant. I was not disciplined enough to work from home, so this time I got an office. I didn’t enjoy being a one-man show, so this time I teamed with consultants, and built with a partner who is much smarter than me (more on that later, but it’s someone I know and trust, and is more of the straight man to my shenanigans).
So now I have a team. I already had great clients, and was forced to turn some good ones down. That pained me. I had the same business plan, just more robust now. I had a defined, reachable business goal. Based on the skills of our team, we even had some stronger differentiators now. What I didn’t have were core values. We looked into what we believed in, based on what we’ve seen from other agencies (including SEO), and pulled heavily on our past experience. We realize we’re altruistic people angry at the game. So, we built something around that.
Let the past feed the future.
Not a quote, just common sense. From fear of more mistakes, and the time clinging on to a security blanket, I did make some good choices. I’ve done B2C agency work for over 10 years, but had little experience doing in-house B2B. I took a position in a growing, well-funded company. This was a conscious decision to learn something new, and hopefully have a long stay. I had some serious on-the-job training by a company of seasoned businessmen. I’m quite proud of that decision, and struggled with leaving a good company two years later. I simply found myself always returning to Greenlane.
Working in-house was an amazing eye-opener. I recommend all agency folk try it at least once in their life. Want to really understand the game? Put on the client’s shoes.
The biggest motivator – Inspiration.
If this industry should be remembered for anything (in my opinion), it’s the warmth and openness of the people. What is it about SEO and digital marketing where so many of us want to be writers and confess honestly the issues of running a business? Wil Reynolds is a friend and early influence. It blew my mind how much he gave away to an industry full of people who would use the info to win business against him. In my first agency run, I was forced to be closed to the blogosphere. I was asked to present (being with GSI Commerce/eBay), but I couldn’t do the SEO presentation I wanted to do. Julie Joyce was more than happy to share her heart and soul with me, and gave me incredible motivation (even if she didn’t know it). AJ Kohn, James Agate, Dan Shure, Rhea Drysdale, and Mackenzie Fogelson are all people I met in person only a year ago, and I thought about them often when designing my second run. They’re very inspirational. Nick Eubanks, Eppie Vojt, John-Henry Scherck, Mark Kennedy, David Cohen, Anthony Pensabene, Justin Freid, and all my Philly SEO friends have been incredibly valuable. It’s inspiring to be surrounded with a great support system. And of course, my original SEO rock band of Ian Howells, Bill Rowland and Anthony Moore. The most influential team of my life.
Thanks to everyone in this industry for helping me realize my dreams, and giving me the courage to make them a reality (and ultimately push me into the pool).
If you’re looking for Philadelphia SEO services, talk to us!
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In summary, it was a well-deserved, opinionated rhapsody on one SEO link building tactic. SEOs only need to read an excerpt from a link builder, which the author published, to get the gist of this article:
“Unfortunately we have had new guidelines introduced that state we can’t place any more articles that are labelled as sponsored as they highlight the link has been paid for. Not great in the eyes of Google.
If that’s the case that you definitely have to state ‘sponsored’, then I won’t be able to go ahead I’m afraid.
I don’t suppose offering you a bit more money would sway the decision would it?”
As you can imagine, this sparked debate in SEO on what is, and what should never be.
I’m a realist. Some parts of SEO (as an industry) are eccentric. It always was, it probably always will be. We were born in forums, so conversations can get kind of bizarre, off-topic, chatty, etc. But, as long as there are SEOs who define search optimization as motions to improve rankings, there will be tacticians like this, and their defenders. The problem for SEOs, who define search optimization as a more holistic marketing channel, is this grants a negative context by which they don’t want to be known by. The antics continue online, and the machine starts spinning again.
But negative or not, it’s one half of what SEO is. Other SEOs, and Google, may want to change that. I think it’s a lost cause. It’s complete chaos. Sometimes we ourselves fall into our own vortex. Sometimes we drink our own (and each other’s) Kool-Aid. Some of the “personalities” we promote and the content we praise makes it feel more like a popularity contest. Sometimes we act less than classy. Alternatively, sometimes we fight each other. We trash what the other side of SEO does. The whole things starts to feel like playground fights.
It’s like republicans vs. democrats. One party can tell another group (of any political persuasion) what code they should live by, but banking on a sweeping change is a fool’s bet. Like anyone, I’d love to convince all our industry peers to see it my way (don’t try to lie and manipulate a blogger, don’t be a lazy link builder, etc.), but I don’t waste the bandwidth on the unachievable. Instead, I’d rather focus on sending the message I stand by, to the clients I pitch, the people who read my stuff, and the people I meet at networking events. I fully acknowledge what we REALLY are. It helps me define what I am.
I’m Bill. I do online marketing and strategy. The way I go about it, SEO is a big fiber in the whole canvas I create on.
As an aside, I find myself more and more distancing from SEO as a label in conversations, and instead embracing all of online marketing. When people ask me what I do, I used to say “SEO,” now I’m noticing I don’t. It’s not because of any negative industry connotation, but because I feel like I’m expanding into something more. The acronym isn’t the big picture anymore. I don’t agree with those who try to pack a multi-channel definition into such this three-letter word.
It started a year ago. At Mozcon 2012, there were a couple presentations about “SEO needs to grow up”. We need to get more into digital PR, content marketing, etc. I completely disagreed (it took a few weeks to sink in). If you want to get more into those channels – and why not, it’s an asset – I think you stop labeling everything as SEO, and start considering yourself bigger than SEO. Should an SEO be an expert at usability, graphic design, content marketing, analytics, and social media? No, you should be an expert in what they do for improvement in SERPs and better conversion rates through search traffic. However, if you want to be an expert in those things, strive to be a digital marketer (or inbound marketer, if that’s what you prefer to call it). SEO doesn’t need blurrier definitions or an obtuse label.
I simply don’t spend time defending, labeling, or being a criticizer of SEO tactics that I personally don’t employ, though I do feel defensive whenever the other side of a story is absent. It’s valueless, and a cheap headline grabber. I don’t pitch or “negative sell” to clients on the scary SEO monsters out there. Instead, I talk about the incredible value SEO and digital marketing can have for a company.
I suggest you stop fighting about SEO definitions; accept what it is, while taking inspiration from its marketing potential, and start branching into other digital marketing channels. I believe that’s the best next step you can make to further your expertise.
Now… read this: Why I’m Quitting SEO by Martin McDonald