Category Archives for "SEO"

PPC, SEO and Bisexuality

The other day I came across yet another sensationalistic article pitting PPC against SEO.

The article, and particularly the comment section, was chock full o’ SEO experts bashing PPC as expensive, complicated and ineffective. And PPC experts bashing SEO as expensive, complicated and ineffective.

It’s garbage – on both sides.

Why? Well, to get to the heart of why I’m gonna use a quote from Woody Allen…

“Bisexuality immediately doubles your chances for a date on Saturday night.”

Listen, I’m certainly not qualified to dispense dating advice here. But I think I’m certainly well qualified to give out marketing advice – especially when it comes to SEO and PPC. So, here goes…

SEO vs PPC is NOT an either / or choice. And, for many businesses, if you’re doing one and then add the other, you immediately increase your chances of getting qualified prospects to your website.

There’s a misconception out there that if you have high organic rankings, you don’t need PPC. Or, conversely, if you’re killing it with PPC, you don’t need SEO.

The issue with this thinking is that the results you get with one doesn’t erode the results you can get with the other.  The reality is you’re reaching DIFFERENT prospects with each.

And studies have found if you have top organic rankings and add PPC to the mix, you’ll get a lot MORE LEADS that you wouldn’t have gotten from just your organic rankings alone.

Now, unlike what Allen says about bisexuality, doing SEO and PPC probably won’t DOUBLE your pool of prospects, but still, doing both will drive more prospects to your site than just doing one or the other.

SEO vs PPC is the WRONG question.

The right question is… can you do both SEO and PPC profitably? Cuz if so, by just sticking with one and ignoring the other, you’re  missing out on revenue that could be yours and you’re giving your competitors a bigger opening to steal prospects away from you.

If you own a local service business and would like to see if your business may be a good fit for our unique ROI-driven PPC and SEO programs, either fill out the Contact form on our site or call us at 314-329-1422.

How the SEO Industry Is Failing Its Clients

Have you hired an SEO firm to try to help your website climb the rankings?

How’d that work out for you?

For some of you, it may have worked out pretty well.

If you’re like MOST people, however, you’re probably more than a little frustrated with SEO and those you’ve hired to do it.

Truth is I’ve been frustrated with SEO too. In fact, that’s part of the reason I’ve primarily focused on PPC over the years.

The issues outlined below have been weighing on me for a while and the time has come to get them out in the open.

So sit down and buckle up cuz this IS gonna be a bumpy ride! Okay, here goes…

  • Maybe you’ve been promised page 1 rankings that never materialized.
  • Maybe you’ve tasted the sweetness of TOP rankings on Google only to have them heartlessly ripped away from you due to the Penguin and/or Panda algorithm updates Google’s unleashed on us over the past few years.
  • Or maybe you’ve paid A LOT of money to different SEO firms over the years and never really seen your rankings move all that much one way or the other.

Now, as you may have suspected from the title of this article, I’m about to go on a rant on the SEO industry. And I’m going to expose why much of what SEO firms are selling these days isn’t in the best interest of clients.

(And I’m not even talking about the self-described “reputable” firms whose daily emails tell you how badly your site sucks when it comes to rankings and promise you a spot on Page 1 for $99. Those emails are complete crap and I hope everyone reading this knows that!)

Here’s the thing though… even many of the SEOs around who truly have their clients’ best interests at heart are failing their clients. And I’ll reveal why in a minute.

Before I do, however, I must point out that you, dear SEO consumer, are NOT faultless in this mess. So I’m calling YOU out in this article as well, so be forewarned cuz you may not like what you hear! 😉

Okay, let’s start at the beginning.

First Things First – What The Heck is SEO Anyway?

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the art and science of trying to get a web page ranked HIGHLY in the organic search engines.

(These are also referred to as the “FREE” listings (compared to PPC where you pay to show up in the rankings). That said, all website owners with high rankings for any sort of competitive term in the organic search results know getting there is ANYTHING but free!)

Where a web page ranks on Google (and other search engines too, but let’s get real here – most people do SEO to get their site ranked on GOOGLE!) is determined by a complex algorithm that gets updated on a regular basis. So things that may have worked well 6 months ago may get your site tanked today.

No one knows exactly how the algorithm works though those who do SEO for a living have a decent idea (or at least should) of what moves the needle when it comes to getting web pages ranked highly.

Why SEO Isn’t For Those Looking For a Sure Thing

But here’s the deal – it’s an inexact science and there are no guarantees when it comes to SEO. And since every web page can’t be on the TOP of Page 1, there are only gonna be a few winners (and A LOT of losers) in the SEO sweepstakes.

That’s just the nature of the beast and you, as an SEO consumer, have to understand this going in and have realistic expectations.

  • If you want a GUARANTEED spot on Page 1 of Google for competitive keywords, SEO isn’t for you.
  • If you want results QUICKLY and don’t have the patience to wait at least 3-4 months for an SEO program to kick in, SEO isn’t for you.
  • You want quick results? You want to pretty much guarantee a spot on Page 1 of Google? GREAT! Try Google AdWords cuz SEO isn’t for you.

Now, that said, SEO can and does work and has the potential (depending on the niche you’re in) to drive a lot more traffic than PPC and do it at a lower cost per lead than PPC.

However, there are some problems with the way the SEO industry operates that stacks the decks against website owners.

4 Reasons Why The SEO Deck Is Stacked Against You

1. Bogus Reporting

What REALLY matters when it comes to measuring the effectiveness of SEO?

A lot of you probably answered high rankings. And that makes sense, right? If the goal of SEO is to move your website higher up the search results, it’s the RANKINGS that matter.

And that’s exactly what most SEO firms report on. They send their clients pretty charts that show where your website ranks for a bunch of keywords and if rankings are moving up – great! If not, well, let’s see what happens next month.

But here’s the thing – rankings are a RED HERRING.

Because at the end of the day, you don’t do SEO to rank higher on Google. You do it to get MORE TRAFFIC to your site. But even that’s not the ultimate goal here.

You do SEO to get more LEADS and business!

Right?!

Yes, there are some business owners out there (and you know who you are!) who just want to see their website ranked #1 on Google. (I call this “ego-marketing”.) And there are plenty of SEO firms around who’re happy to charge a lot of money to get their clients ranked #1 for crappy keywords that don’t have a shot at driving quality leads.

But most of you only want high rankings because you think they’ll bring MORE leads and business your way. And while they very well may, you really have no clue whether they do or not.

So really, any reporting that doesn’t clearly show how many leads SEO is producing for your business is garbage!

And to get that kind of reporting means…

  • Having forms on your site for people to fill out
  • It often means using a call tracking service (which should NOT be optional if you get leads by phone!)
  • It means setting up Goals in Google Analytics

Yes, it requires more work but that’s the only way you can accurately measure the results of your SEO campaigns.

However, many SEO firms aren’t willing or able to do that for their clients so clients can’t really judge if SEO is paying for itself or not (and many times this is done VERY much on purpose because they’re charging you an arm and a leg and you’re getting squat in return).

Not to say reports that include ranking information are worthless. But if you’re not ALSO getting information about the number of leads SEO is producing for you, the reports ain’t worth much.

2. The Challenges With Changing a Client’s Website

Back in the good ol’ Wild West days for SEO links made the world go round. Send a bunch of links to a website and, no matter how crummy the site, you could send it shooting up the rankings.

SEOs didn’t have to lay a finger on their clients’ websites to get good results.

NO MORE.

The content on your web site is more important now than it’s ever been!

  • That means having content that’s 100{a950ddf0e7a23367a7e0f17377d3737fa8b8b1820bab9af7071f88951eb5d84e} unique.
  • That means having “meaty” content on every page of your site you want to get ranked (300 word blog posts ain’t gonna cut it).

And pages with duplicate or thin content don’t just affect those pages… they can bring down your ENTIRE website and keep it from ranking well.

So to do SEO properly these days, being able to make the necessary changes to a client’s website is a MUST. But that’s not always easy to do.

There are any number of reasons why…

  • Some clients just like their website the way it is and aren’t willing to make any changes. (If that’s you, save your money and just avoid SEO completely cuz no SEO professional, no matter how talented, will be able to overcome your stubbornness.)
  • Some clients hired unscrupulous web designers and can’t get access to their site and/or domain name so no one can make changes even if they want to.
  • Some SEO firms require their clients to create all the new content that’s required. And since most clients are busy running their businesses and don’t have the internal capabilities to do that, the content never gets created well (if at all).
  • Plus, you have to be careful about the content changes you make because while they may improve rankings… they may kill conversion rates so you end up with more traffic but fewer leads (which gets back to problem #1 in this article – because if you’re not tracking leads you’ll never know if this is the case or not).

Oh, and then there’s the issue that a website can be penalized by Google for bad SEO that was done years ago. Figuring if past issues continue to plague a website in the rankings can be difficult to do. And, even when detected, the site may be in a hole that’s really difficult to dig out of.

So as you can see, depending on the situation, doing SEO on a client’s existing website may not be practical because ANY or ALL of the above can sabotage SEO efforts before they even get a chance of working.

3. Focusing On Only 1 Website

Okay, stick with me on this one because it’s a biggie that almost NO ONE is talking about!

The firepower of most SEO campaigns are 100{a950ddf0e7a23367a7e0f17377d3737fa8b8b1820bab9af7071f88951eb5d84e} focused on the client’s one and ONLY website.

And that seems to make perfect sense… I mean, what else would you do SEO for a client on besides their website, right?!

Well, not so fast. Think about it this way…

It’s kind of like you’re fishing with ONE line in the water. Even if you’ve got multiple hooks on that line, there’s still a limit to how many fish you can catch.

(And if your line gets tangled or cut, you’re done fishing!)

But what if at the same time you:

  • Dropped multiple fishing lines in the water (with different baits on each)
  • Threw a few nets in the water, and…
  • Had a few buddies in the water spear fishing?

Well, you’d significantly IMPROVE your chances of catching A LOT more fish, right?!

And if you had a glitch with any one of those things, you’re not done fishing! You’d still have OTHER lines, nets and spears in the water ready to catch any fish that come by.

See what I’m getting at here?

Why limit yourself to just ONE website?!!!

The MORE web properties (think mini-websites, YouTube videos, Press Releases, Web2.0 sites, etc.) you have out there, the MORE web pages you can rank… the MORE spots you can take up in the search engine rankings… the MORE you can dominate the search results… the MORE leads you’ve got coming into your sales funnel!!!

In fact, this approach to SEO may make ranking easier. Why?

Because it’s often easier to get YouTube videos, mini-websites targeting specific keywords, Web2.0 properties, press releases, etc. to rank than your main website!

So not only can you potentially dominate more of the search engine rankings by trying to rank multiple properties (ie. SQUEEZE out the competition), but the easier it may be to get your properties ranked!

So, again I ask… why limit yourself to just 1 website?

Well, because building more web properties is too much work for most businesses and SEO firms. Yet, as you can see, it’s TOTALLY worth it because of how much it can potentially amplify your results.

Oh, and there’s another big advantage to building and ranking multiple web properties which I’ll share in a just a minute. But first, you have to understand the 4th problem with SEO…

4. What Google Tells SEOs Not To Do Actually Works (And Works Well!)

SEO has largely become a defensive industry these days.

After watching website after website tumble in the rankings due to Google’s algorithm updates, a lot of SEOs are operating under the “DO NO HARM” mentality.

They don’t want to risk doing anything that could potentially tank their client’s websites. And who can blame them?

The problem though is that when you’re operating from this sort of defensive posture, it makes it more difficult to get results.

And that leads us to a dark secret about SEO… a lot of the things that Google tells you NOT to do when it comes to SEO actually work.

In fact, some of them work REALLY well!

They can get your site ranked higher and quicker than just sticking to the strategies Google tells you to.

However, they come at a risk because if Google notices you’re doing them, they could penalize your site and send you skidding back down the rankings.

Now here’s where things get interesting.

Remember that OTHER advantage of building and ranking multiple web properties I mentioned a minute ago?

Well, if you successfully build and rank multiple web properties, then having one site crash and burn in the rankings from time to time ain’t no big thing!

Which means you can take advantage of those riskier strategies to get sites ranked higher AND quicker!

The Bottom Line

So here’s where we are…

  • We have companies paying SEO firms big money to battle over precious few spots at the top of the search engine results… using a strategy that’s not guaranteed to work.
  • Most of these companies are putting all their eggs in one basket (and likely a badly damaged basket at that) and don’t have the right tools to fix things.
  • AND because they’re not measuring the things that really matter (ie. LEADS), no one really knows the most important piece of information… are they making or losing money on the whole deal?!

If all that sounds ridiculous to you, it’s cuz it is!

Now, I’ve never liked people who complain all the time but never have a solution.

So, I’m actually going to put forward a solution here…

A Proposed Alternative

This solution won’t work for everyone. It works BEST for businesses to which a new client is worth 4 or 5 figures or more. (So, if you’re selling magazines or T-shirts, sorry… this isn’t really for you.)

But if a new client is worth 4 or 5 figures to your business and – especially if you own a local service business (ie. attorneys, chiropractors, kitchen/bath remodelers, roofers, etc.) – LISTEN UP!

We’ve started implementing a new business model for SEO that works like this…

We start with a clean slate and set up a series of web properties that we own. All the sites have form and call tracking so EVERY lead each property generates is tracked.

Now what I just described is short and sweet but DON’T underestimate it’s importance. Because setting things up this way allows us to get around the 4 problems we just covered…

  1. We avoid any and all issues associated with working on a client’s existing website.
  2. ALL leads from all the properties are tracked so reporting is based on what matters most – leads!
  3. We have MULTIPLE web properties which increases our chances of taking up a bigger percentage of the search results with multiple Page 1 rankings.
  4. And, because we have multiple properties ranking, we can be more aggressive with our ranking strategy because if one property falls in the search results, we’ve got others that are still producing leads.

Not only that but, because the properties are ours, we assume a lot of the risk associated with SEO – it’s not all on your shoulders.

And, perhaps most important, is the pricing structure we use. It’s not based on rankings but on the actual LEADS our web properties generate.

Even more than that, we build protections into our contracts with clients so you’re protected against any drop off in lead flow. So essentially you’re pretty much guaranteed an ROI!

(Oh, and no battling it out with your competitors for these leads… we only work with a single, exclusive partner in each niche we’re in.)

After largely being out of the SEO business for a number of years, discovering this model has us back in the game because we feel this model is just a better, fairer way of doing SEO.

This Is NOT For Everyone

So if you’re fed up with SEO and are ready to try something different, a few things first…

  1. We’re not looking to work with just any business on this. Because we assume a lot of risk here, we’re VERY careful about the niches we enter and companies we partner with.
  1. We want to work with businesses that have a strong front-end sales and support system in place so that prospects are getting phone calls & emails returned right away. That’s essential to getting the best ROI from our services… and we sincerely want our clients to get as strong an ROI as possible. (Trust me – everyone’s SO much happier that way!)
  1. We want to partner with businesses that have the ability (and DESIRE!) to grow their operations. Because when we find businesses that are a good fit, we can really scale things up!

So, with all that said, if you think this may be a good fit for your business, we’d be happy to talk to see if it makes sense for us to partner together or not.

The first step in that process is to fill out a short questionnaire. Once you do, we’ll get back to you within 2 business days to let you know whether partnering together makes sense. If so, we’ll schedule a call to discuss the details.

SEO is a dog fight these days. And the strategy most SEO firms are using doesn’t do their clients any favors.

If you’re looking to get a fresh start and try another strategy to get search engine LEADS (not rankings) – fill out this form and we’ll see if we can help!

When Will SEO Become a Losing Proposition?

Got a really interesting question from an AdWords client of mine recently. This client is extremely online marketing savvy (he used to work for an SEO firm) so knows the Internet landscape better than most.

For the last few years, he’s been using a very large company to manage SEO for his business. Initially they had some good success. Post Penguin/Panda, however, has been a different story and the client is very frustrated and looking to make change.

In fact, he’s contemplating giving up SEO completely. Here’s his email…

“Frankly, one of the questions I’m going to ask you (and some of my other online marketing geeks) is when will SEO become a losing proposition for everyone (website owners, SEO companies, etc.)?  It seems that as Google (and everyone else) gets smarter and smarter, each algorithm change eliminates more and more variables once relied upon by SEO companies to game the system.

And if we do all our on-page correctly at some point should we just pull the plug on SEO, let the search engines do their thing and reinvest those dollars into PPC?”

Here’s my reply…

“My short answer is that I don’t have any idea when/if off-site SEO will become a losing proposition. I’ll leave that for others to debate.

What I do know is that, when done correctly, it still works now (though it takes much greater skill to pull off effectively than it did even just a year or two ago). Over the last 6 months I don’t think there’s been a month where our SEO clients haven’t had a net improvement in their rankings.

I’d love to expand what we’re doing together on the PPC side of things. I think there’s a great opportunity for remarketing, potentially Display Network campaigns and an expansion/change in direction in the keywords we’re focusing on in Search.

But SEO can still send a TON of highly targeted traffic to your site and I don’t think it can be ignored.

And, quite frankly, I don’t ever see on-site factors being all it takes to get good rankings. The search engines tried that experiment years ago and it didn’t work.

They simply have to use outside factors in some way to deliver relevant results. Whether those factors are backlinks, social media signals, authorship markup, what Matt Cutts has for breakfast on any given day, etc., who knows.

But whatever the mix of factors), off-site factors HAVE to play a major role in determining where a site ranks in the search engine results.

If there were ever to come a day when it looks like SEO truly doesn’t pay, we’d be the first to tell you (and, believe me, as a company that makes most of its money from PPC, I’d LOVE for that day to come because people would flock to PPC is greater numbers! 😉

But for now, I can’t in good conscious recommend ditching SEO. There’s too much potential business to be won in the organic results to ignore it.”

Now it’s your turn to weigh in…are the days of SEO numbered or is it still a winning proposition? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

 

Why You Don’t Really Want To Rank on Page 1 of Google

The other day I got an email from a dentist in a major city.

Here’s what he said…

“I’m a dentist in (major city).

I don’t have a website and I need a new website, pay per click and search engine optimization.

I want to be on the first page of Google for dentist and dental office in (the major city I live near).

Please respond to me by email please.

Thanks

Dr. Dentist in Major City”

I’m sure it comes as no surprise to you, but EVERYBODY wants to be on Page 1 of Google.

At least, that’s what they say they want.

But, in reality, most people aren’t really looking to be on Page 1 at all. Here’s my email reply to the dentist that outlines what people really want…

“Hi Dr. Dentist in Major City

Thanks for the email. Your project sounds like an interesting one… I don’t often get the opportunity to work with a totally blank canvas when it comes to online marketing.

A lot of people come to me wanting Page 1 rankings on Google for specific keywords. After talking things over with them, however, I often find that what they’re really interested in is growing their businesses and getting more perspective clients/patients coming to their websites. Exactly how we do that, what keywords we target, etc. is less important.

Do you have a specific goal in mind about how you’d measure the success of this online marketing campaign?

Is it the number of new leads you get per month, a specific ROI you’d like to achieve with your online marketing project, or is there a reason ranking on the first page of Google is important to you and is your main goal?

Especially for a big city like (city name) and competitive keywords like “dentist” and “dental office”, rankings are going to be difficult… especially with a brand new website. If we’re not targeting specific keywords and have the flexibility to build a campaign that’s focused on the bigger picture of getting perspective patients to the site, the chances for success are much higher.”

I go on a little from there, but you get the point.

Being on Page 1 is great. And it’s a nice thing to shoot for.

What You’re Really After

But most of the time that’s not really what you’re after (though there are people out there who do “ego marketing” and just like to see themselves in the limelight).

You’re after more leads. More qualified prospects. More sales.

Certainly a Page 1 ranking on Google can lead to those things but, as the saying goes, there’s more than one way to skin a cat.

In this dentist’s case, it’s going to take a long time for him to have a brand new website and get on Page 1 of Google for the hyper-competitive terms he wants.

The better approach is…

  • Start by focusing on long tail keywords that he’s much more likely to rank for quickly.
  • Use Pay Per Click to not only drive traffic, but as a research tool to see which keywords are driving the most traffic and leads.
  • And work on improving the conversion funnel on his website to make the most of the traffic that he does get (because, in most cases, it’s not a lack of traffic that’s the problem, it’s a lack of conversions).

My team has all sorts of strategies we can use to get traffic to a website from organic SEO to Local SEO to Pay Per Click and others.

But one thing we don’t do is guarantee specific rankings or rankings for specific keywords.

The campaigns that work the best are the ones where we set an objective with the business owner on the number of leads they want to generate, a cost per lead, and other key metrics we can use to measure progress.

Then we have the flexibility to go out and use the tools and strategies at our disposal to get them there.

Getting on Page 1 of Google is not a goal that’ll lead to long term success in Internet marketing. Setting specific business objectives and using online marketing tools and strategies to support those objectives is.

If you’d like help planning and/or executing an online marketing strategy that’s aimed at achieving your long term business goals, email us or call 314-329-1422.

Start Paying Attention to Google Now, Well, Now!

Ed Dale is an Internet marketing guru from Down Under with a great sense of humor and an uncanny ability to spot the next Big Thing before most people do.

I’ve followed him for a long time and have found that, through his 30 Day Challenge and other offerings, he consistently puts out genuinely high quality content.

I wanted to share one of his latest articles here which anyone who relies on Google for traffic (especially local businesses!) needs to pay close attention to.

It’s about Google+ and Google Now which is Google’s answer to Siri (but arguably waay cooler!).

There are two reasons Google Now is so important (or, as Ed labels it, a “Game Changer”).

1. The rise of smartphones.

It’s estimated that over half of all web searches are going to be done on smartphones in the near future. Most of us carry our smartphones with us wherever we go. You can’t go out in public anymore without seeing people texting, talking, surfing, taking pictures or otherwise have their head buried in their smartphone.

Google Now makes smartphones even cooler than Siri. With Siri, you have to talk to ask it questions about the information you’re looking for. With Google Now, you don’t have to even do that. Google Now anticipates what you need based on your habits and information Google can get from your phone, email, Google Maps, Calendar, Reader, etc.

2. The changing face of search.

Links have been the driving force behind the way sites rank on Google for a very long time now (and, at least for now, still are). But Ed and others argue that links are going to start decreasing in importance and that social signals such as +1’s on Google, Facebook shares, Twitter tweets, etc. are going to become the main driving force behind getting your business’ site online (though I’d add that this makes Google AdWords even more important than it already is).

Put those two together and you have the new face of marketing…context marketing. Ed’s article gets into what this is and why it’s the wave of the future for online marketing. The article is called “A Pig Just Flew By And He’s Belting Out Hollywood Nights” and you can check it out here.

Have You Been Hoodwinked By This Advice From the “Experts”?

They should know better.

Recently I was reading one of the more popular, well respected online marketing blogs and came across this paragraph…

“You know what Google likes? Relevant, accurate, informative content that is better than what the competitor has to offer. That’s how you rise in the rankings and that’s how you stay on top the next time Google makes another update.”

What a load of crap!

The sad thing is a lot of “experts” parrot this garbage giving business owners bad information and false hope.

Now before I go any further, I need to make one thing perfectly clear…

I’m completely in favor of creating relevant, accurate, informative content that’s better than what your competitors put out there.

Producing great content is an excellent marketing strategy. It can be leveraged in a number of ways to position you and your company as a trusted authority and can help drive more traffic to your site.

But…if you’re in any sort of competitive niche, just creating great content alone is not going to get your site ranked on Page 1 of Google.

Let me give you an example…

A few months ago, I was brought in to consult with a large firm operating in a fiercely competitive market.

Their 12 year old site was a content lover’s dream. They had 100+ highly skilled professional employees creating high quality, unique content for their site each month. There were articles, videos, podcasts, a forum, resource guides, etc. From a content perspective, in terms of both quantity and quality of information, this site clobbered the competition.

Yet, for any of the most relevant keywords to their business, they were ranked no higher than Page 3 on Google.

Why?

Well, during our initial meeting I asked the owner what their backlinking strategy was.

His reply…“What’s backlinking?”

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Quick mini-lesson 1: Backlinks are links from other websites to pages on your site and are the major component that determines where a site ranks in the search engine results. They’re kind of like a “vote” for your website in the eyes of the search engines. The more backlinks you have, and the higher the quality of the backlinks, the more authoritative your site is perceived as being and you’ll often be rewarded with higher rankings.

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The Lowdown on Backlinks

The big issue for business owners is that Google doesn’t want you building backlinks to your site to try to improve site rankings. They want you to create relevant, accurate, informative content and just let the backlinks happen naturally.

Now if you’re running a website for a big brand or are in a web savvy niche, that strategy may work. But if you’re running a small e-commerce site, are a local chiropractor/plumber/florist or you’re the small manufacturer trying to compete in any sort of competitive niche, don’t expect naturally occurring backlinks alone to get high rankings.

And this puts business owners in a dilemma. Do you just roll over and let the big brands win or do you try to level the playing field and fight for one of the coveted top rankings?

If you chose the latter, that means you have to build backlinks.

Now there are legitimate ways to build links (known as White Hat strategies) and there are ways to build links that violate Google’s rules and policies (known as Black Hat strategies). Then there’s a whole “Grey” area in between.

One example of this is article marketing.

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Quick mini-lesson 2: Article marketing for SEO works like this: You write articles (or pay someone to do it), and submit them to article directories around the web. In each article you get an “author box” which is basically a few sentence bio about the author. In that author box you can put 1 or 2 links pointing to your site to try to give the site a boost in the rankings.

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Article marketing is a great way to generate hundreds or thousands of links to your site, it’s relatively easy to do and it’s (still) a pretty effective component of a site’s overall SEO strategy.

But Google doesn’t particularly like article marketing. In fact their official SEO spokesperson said in early 2011 he’d advise people to “lean away” from article marketing.

Though, again, article marketing still works well. So as a business owner, do you steer clear of article marketing for fear that Google may penalize sites that use it or do you stick with it because it works and using it to help get higher rankings puts more money in the coffers?

Another example in the Grey area is buying links. Buying links is a big no-no in Google’s book.

Now, I wouldn’t advise you go out and buy 1000 links for $5 on Fiverr.com or hire one of the “SEO” firms out of India that pummel you with SPAM about their link building capabilities.

But, what about buying a listing on Business.com or the Yahoo! directory or the Best of the Web directory or paying for inclusion in a local business directory? Links from sites like those can often help give your site a nice bump. So do you pay for inclusion there or avoid them for fear they’ll be counted as a paid link?

These are two examples of the dilemma that business owners face when it comes to their SEO efforts…

Option 1: Listen to Google and the “experts” and just rely on great content alone hoping that, eventually, you’ll be rewarded with Page 1 rankings (understanding it’s probably not going to get you very far in the rankings, ie. there’s no guarantee of success).

Option 2: Or, do what works and try to stack the deck in your favor by (smartly and strategically) building links with the understanding that it’s possible you could get penalized at some point down the road (ie. there’s no guarantee of success).

After trying Option 1 for 12 years with little to show for it, the firm I mentioned earlier decided to try Option 2 and started a strategically executed SEO backlinking campaign to compliment their killer content. Within 3 months their site ranked #1 on Google for 5 of their top keywords.

No one knows what will happen to that site in a month, 6 months or a year down the line.

But I do know that 12 years of relying solely on great content and naturally occurring links didn’t work for them and probably won’t work for you either.

And the so-called “experts” should know better.

Chaos on Google and the 1 Word That’s Key To Your Survival

If a Google algorithm change makes the Wall Street Journal, you know it’s a big deal.

Google’s been on a tear lately. And what they’re up to affects businesses just like yours that rely on Google traffic for lead generation (or want to).

Let’s talk about what’s going on, the 2 big reasons why it’s going on and, most importantly, what you need to do to protect your business.

Beware the Penguin

The algorithm Google uses to determine where sites rank in the organic search results is always changing. Recently, however, the changes are coming faster and furiouser (if that’s not a word, it should be!) than ever.

The biggest of the changes, dubbed the Penguin Update, has especially been a whopper.

The WSJ’s article about Penguin focused on small business owners who’ve been affected by it (mostly for the worse). One of the owners saw sales fall from $68K to $25K in just one month. Unfortunately, stories like this are not uncommon in the wake of Penguin.

Over the past year or so Google’s algorithm changes have been focused on three main areas:

  1. Penalizing low quality sites that have unoriginal, spammy content and/or have lots of ads on them.
  2. Increasing the importance of “social signals” (ie. sharing and mentions of websites in social media) in determining how a site ranks
  3. Penalizing sites that have been “over-optimized” (ie. Google thinks the site owners have been trying to artificially boost their rankings). This is largely what the Penguin update is all about.

What’s Google Really Up To?

There are two things (which are closely linked) I believe to be at the heart of these changes.

One, Google is trying very hard to compete with (become?) Facebook. By integrating social signals (led by their Google+ social platform) into the search algorithm, they seem to be trying to turn into a social media company instead of keeping the focus on what they’ve always done really well…search. Time will tell whether that’s a smart move or not.

Second is money. The Penguin update has been a doozy. There’s pandemonium in the search engine results now. Business owners who’ve relied on their top Google rankings to pay the mortgage suddenly find their income has dried up overnight and they’re understandably panicking.

It’d be one thing if this change has improved the search engine results on Google. However, it’s not clear that’s the case.

Lots of post-Penguin searches are pulling up spammy sites that have no place on Page 1 of Google. At the same time, there have been established sites with lots of authoritative, unique, quality content that have been torpedoed.

It’s chaos.

There’s more uncertainty and volatility in the organic search results right now then I’ve ever seen. And that uncertainty and volatility serves Google very well.

Why?

Because it makes their paid advertising programs (which accounted for 96{a950ddf0e7a23367a7e0f17377d3737fa8b8b1820bab9af7071f88951eb5d84e} of their $39.7 Billion in revenue last year) a lot more appealing.

If you’ve been living the high life at the top of Page 1 of Google’s organic search results and your site suddenly disappears, where’s the first place you turn?

For a lot of people that’s going to be AdWords, Google’s paid advertising program. (Though, as we’ll get to in a minute, there’s plenty of other options.)

Not only that, but with social signals playing a larger role in the rankings, more people will have to pay attention to Google+ which Google’s pushing like crazy.

I don’t fault Google for any of this. They’re a public company, accountable to shareholders, and it’s their job to get people to use their services and, ultimately, make money.

And while I feel bad for those who’ve been negatively affected by the recent changes, they knew the risks involved with Search Engine Optimization (or at least they should have).

SEO has always been an ever-changing game and never had any guarantees.  No one knows when or how Google will change things next week, next month or next year. The only guarantee is things will change. Those changes will help some business owners and hurt others.

(By the way, this is not a knock against SEO which remains a very viable and very important online marketing strategy…you just have to be smarter about it these days.)

The bigger point is if your leads mostly come from just SEO or just PPC or just Facebook or any other form of lead generation, you’re playing with fire. One algorithm change, policy change, cost increase, etc. and that could be it for your business.

The One Word That’s Key to Your Survival Online

The lesson here is you have to protect yourself and your business. And the way to do that comes down to just one word…DIVERSITY.

This means getting traffic from a lot of different sources which could include:

PPC, SEO, Local Search, Bing, Yahoo!, Email Marketing, Blogging, Display advertising, Direct Mail (yes, I’m mainly an online marketing guy but direct mail, done right, does work!), Social Media (including YouTube, Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook), Video Marketing, Article Marketing

And that’s just a starter list of broad categories. Even within each of the above there’s no shortage of options available.

The strongest businesses get leads from a variety of sources. Sure, if you have strong 1st page rankings on Google and your site suddenly takes a nose dive because of an algorithm change, that’s gonna hurt. But if you’re diversified, that drop won’t be the difference between making payroll or not.

And, by the way, diversity is also the key to successful SEO.

Getting backlinks (these are links from other websites to yours and are the single most important factor that determines how well your site ranks) from a variety of different sources has always been important. One thing that’s clear from the Penguin update is having variation in the anchor text of your backlinks is also very important.

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Quick Mini-Lesson: Anchor text is the actual text you click on a web page that takes you to another web page or website. It’s usually blue text and is often underlined. The words used for anchor text matter because they help tell the search engines what the page the anchor text links to is about. “Click Here” is horrible anchor text for SEO purposes because it doesn’t provide any useful description. However, if you want to rank well for the term “flowers st louis” then having backlinks from other sites that point to yours with the anchor text “flowers st louis” can help you rank better for that term. However, with the Penguin update, having one keyword make up too high a percentage of your anchor text will likely hurt your rankings. So, again, diversity is key.

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While my site hasn’t taken a hit because of Penguin, watching these changes and others unfold has been a big wake up call.

  • It’s part of the reason why I started a newsletter and am blogging again.
  • It’s part of the reason why I’m having more conversations with clients and prospects about paid advertising on LinkedIn and Facebook and Bing.
  • It’s part of the reason I’m working with clients more closely on the messaging on their sites in order to boost conversions so they make the most of the traffic they’re getting.

If you’ve been relying on one source of traffic for lead generation, I challenge you to add just one more source to the mix over the next 14 days. It’s not that hard to do and will put your business on more solid footing no matter what changes Google has in store for us!

Not sure what sources of traffic make the most sense for your business? Sign up for our 30 minute Post-Penguin consultation where we’ll analyze your business and traffic sources and come up with a game plan for adding more sources of traffic to help you Google-proof your business.

The Most Important Local Business Owners Should Know About Google’s New +1 Button

Google officially announced its answer to the Facebook Like button yesterday, the +1 button.

This button will appear next to the organic search listings, next to the pay per click ads as well as on websites that choose to add the +1 button to them.

Here are a few screenshots from Google that show what it will look like in the organic rankings (notice the +1 button next to the listing’s title and then, under the listing, how many people +1′d the site and/or specific people in your social network who +1′d it)…

Why should you care?

Because +1 can affect where you rank in the search engines.

How big an effect, time will only tell. (It will likely make only a very small difference in the short term, but become much more of a factor in the future.)

This +1 button seems ripe for abuse (how many people can you find in India, the Philippines, on even on Craigslist, etc. to click on your site’s +1 button for a few cents each?) and it will be interesting to see how it evolves over time.

For now, it’s just important to understand that it’s out there and that social media is becoming more and more of a factor in where your business ranks on Google.

Oh, and when you start seeing the +1 button pop up the next time you’re on Google, be sure to click it for your website (and it probably wouldn’t hurt to have your clients and friends do the same thing!)