Dispelling the Myth of SEO
Like in any industry, SEO has its own our clowns and self-proclaimed gurus who take people’s money and do nothing. This, is surprisingly, not the worst-case scenario. Some “experts” will actually damage your website’s reputation with search engines by taking risky shortcuts which may show only temporary results.
It’s not surprising that many agencies, marketing and web professionals see SEO as black art surrounded by mystery, smoke and mirrors. Some claim that there is no such thing as “SEO”. If you write good content and structure your website well rankings will follow.
“Build it and they will come?”
Here’s one such example which made me laugh, not because the author is wrong but because it reveals a simplistic, child-like view, to something as complex as search engine marketing:
“If your site has been built properly, then there is no need for additional optimization.”
If you share the views of the author of above article then you’ve already lost touch. Read on however, and regain your faith in once strange and esoteric world of SEO. This time, however, with tangible facts and data. Yes, hard, factual, objective data and some pretty damn good ideas too.
Let me start with website re-design. This is where things go wrong all the time.
A website with great organic traffic and search engine performance may go through re-design for any number of reasons:
- Change in management (something to prove)
- Periodic design refresh (keeping up with the times)
- Kitty see. Kitty do. (keeping up with the Joneses)
- Company structure or branding change
- Customer feedback and user experience
- Adding new functionality
That’s great but did you remember some of these things?
- Has URL structure changed?
- Have you 301’ed your old pages?
- Can you still reach the old version of the website creating duplicate content?
- Are there many links now pointing to non-existent content (404 pages)?
- What’s in your title tags? Why?
- Are words people expect to find you for part of your website copy?
- Do you have too few pages? Too many?
- Have you changed your robots.txt to allow indexing of the live site?
The above are not trivial issues and can seriously harm website’s performance in search engines if misconfigured or ignored. OK, so we fix all this and more so does that mean that we’re done?
WHAT GOES WHERE AND WHY?
Many agencies are capable of handling these appropriately, but fail to think strategically prior to website re-design. I’ll illustrate in the next few examples. Let’s take a look at this search result snippet:
Now compare it with Sony Australia:
As you can see one is treated as a local business and the other as a brand with fully expanded sitelinks. One has well-written description, the other shows random boilerplate content. This not only reflects the professionalism of the company but also aids with conversions through impact on click-through rate (CTR).
SO WHAT CAN BE DONE?
- Optimise Title
- Add Custom Description
- Manage Locations
- Prioritise Sitelinks
All this and you still won’t get the desired results. Why? Because somebody made a decision to set up the site on various sub domains such as http://www.lighting.philips.com.au/ so search engines may treat each one as a separate website.
Ignoring the sub domain issue related to this specific case, things look fairly straightforward so far. Change the titles, descriptions and all the other elements and you’ll be fine. Once you start doing it, however, you realise that the website may have 12,000 pages. Should it? Recently I proposed a contemporary framework for handling enterprise SEO and I highly recommend you read it if you are involved in large-scale projects.
To decide what will be the focus of each page could take an enormous amount of time. To add to the problem, in order to come up with a really good title tag and meta description it can take an hour or more of brainstorming, especially for high value pages. It’s kind of like writing ad copy for AdWords. Suddenly you realise this is a monumental task. What can you do?
MEASURING DATE & ESSENTIAL TOOLS
In order to decide what goes where you need to dive into data and do a lot of drilling, filtering, selection and elimination. With data you derive you have a task of allocation. What goes to what page and are there any competing pages and resources that could be and should be merged. It’s time to turn to tools. Here are two bare essentials:
Taking a traffic and performance snapshot when starting SEO will not only help you benchmark later on but will also give you a solid starting point for moving forward and leaning from existing data.
Here are a few examples of items/metrics you want to measure:
Organic Traffic (Create your own or use existing advanced segment in Analytics)
- Landing Pages
- Exit Pages
- Top referrers
- Pages with referrers
- eCommerce (where applicable)
Remember to annotate your timeline if you make any significant changes so you can link it with any consequent impact on traffic.In Google Webmaster Tools observe the following:
Search Queries Phrases
- Average Position
- Trend metrics
Remember to filter the data to your desired platform and geographic location. Also retrieve the following data:
- Crawl errors
- Index status
- Links to your site
- HTML improvements
- Social metrics (+1)
If applicable consider applying:
These are all measurable metrics which can be tied in with the performance of your SEO campaign. Remember there is no such thing as an absolute ranking position anymore. Users will see different results based on many different factors including:
- Device / Platform
- Geographic Location
- Result Personalisation
- Social Activity & Connections
Ultimate gauge for the effectiveness of any marketing activity is naturally the return on investment. Do not treat “SEO” in simplistic terms, however, as well-optimised websites contribute to a multitude of channels and aid conversion.The best thing you can do is set up tight attribution models in order to understand what contributed to what extend in the purchase/signup cycle of your customers.
PREDICTING RETURN ON INVESTMENT
Most of your clients want to see the following scenario:
X goes in, Y comes out.
You need to have an answer ready for them. This is generally not a problem when it comes to your PPC campaigns or affiliate marketing. What about SEO and organic traffic?We battled this problem for a while and finally developed a type of keyword targeting methodology which is capable of producing traffic impact and financial scenarios by observing the existing data available for the website.
Here’s what we’ve come up with:
As you can see, this is a heatmap indicating click-through rates based on ranking of phrases. What’s special about it though is that it was not based on hundreds nor thousands of general websites. We based this calculation on data available from a single website. This means the calculation is highly accurate to their own specific circumstances.
With this knowledge we can then start modelling and predict the traffic impact of each phrase based on its movement in results.
Next step is to assign financial gain with each phrase forming the final step in your ROI calculation. After this step you can prioritise work and set targets in line with the highest return and most immediate results.
To ensure the targets are realistic query qualitative parameters such as PageRank, MozRank or Flow Metrics to ascertain whether you’re going against a target too difficult to beat (e.g. trying to beat Amazon for books).
This type of report can really make a difference not only to the business itself, but can also make your life a whole lot easier when pitching to your management. Your client, COO or marketing director are more likely to understand the plain numbers and graphs instead of the usual SEO jargon.
We only just scratched the surface of what SEO has truly become, but hopefully this post opens up doors to more strategic thinking and new creative approaches to search engine marketing. Remember this – search engines are constantly evolving and new features are always on the horizont. In the last two years Google has integrated new layers into their search algorithm. The major search engine now features their own social network and a knowledge graph.
The key question is: Are you seeing the opportunities?
Written by: Dan Petrovic, Dejan SEO