Archive for the ‘SEO’ Category

11 steps to boost your search visibility

July 2, 2008

iMedia Connection

If your company’s organic search results aren’t what you wish they were, check out these key tricks to know and implement.

When it comes to search engine optimization (SEO), there is no magic bullet. Effective SEO boils down to doing a lot of little things well. Imagine building a house — each brick that goes into the foundation plays a vital role in creating a solid structure. A website is similarly comprised of a large number of building blocks, each of which needs to be given a proper level of attention to maximize your site’s visibility. Following are 11 steps marketers can take to get more out of organic search.

1. Optimize your title tags: The title tag is the most important tag on a page. It’s like the title of a book in that it should tell the search engine spiders exactly what the page is about. Also, bear in mind that the title tag forms the link in the search engine results page (SERP), so think about giving it a keyword-rich call to action to help it stand out from the crowd.

2. Add a robots.txt file: This is a simple file that sits in the root of the website. It’s one of the first files a search spider will look for as it begins a site crawl, so make sure you have one — it helps to control where the spider can and cannot go and hence what it can and cannot see.

3. Include sitemaps (HTML and XML): Google doesn’t share much in the way of how to optimize for its algorithms, but the search giant does recommend that you add an HTML sitemap, and when Google talks, you should listen. Make sure you include the entire site, break it into multiple pages (no more than 100 links per page) and update it regularly so it accurately reflects the structure of the site. Add an XML sitemap designed specifically for search engines. This is particularly important for large sites that spiders are having trouble indexing. Verify the sitemap with the Google webmaster console and receive useful data back about your site.

4. Write high-quality, unique content: After all these years, content still rules. Good quality content will help attract links to your site as people refer to it and that same content will work to keep them on your site after they arrive. From a search engine perspective, spiders love content, so the more you can provide them, the better. And don’t limit yourself to text — images and video can help to showcase additional brand messages and attributes. But whatever content you do serve up, just make sure it is in an accessible format.

5. Insert meta-tags for top-level pages: While not nearly as important as they used to be, optimized meta-descriptions are still worth adding to your key landing and top-level pages. Well-wrought meta-tags will help entice users to your site from a SERP.

6. Conduct keyword research: There’s no point in ranking for keywords that your target audience is not using, so make sure you know what your customers are searching for and the terms they’re using to find you. To improve your chances of connecting with interested users, structure your site around keywords and themes that reflect their vernacular, not your internal marketing-speak. Remember that you want to help both visitors and search engines build a complete picture of your site.

7. Don’t neglect your internal link structure: There’s more to SEO and boosting your search rankings than getting links from other sites. Devote some attention to your internal link structure. Embed your target keywords into the internal links and help reinforce the key landing pages to the spiders; don’t just use “click here,” “next” and “more.”

8. Think about pages you want to rank and those you don’t: This is something that’s closely tied to the internal link structure. For brand searches (typically the most significant source of traffic for any site), the home page often ranks first, followed by privacy policies, contact us and terms and conditions pages. The home page is a good destination to steer interested visitors, but the privacy policy and T&C pages generally are not the places you want your users to hit first, so try to sculpt the flow of page rank to the key site landing pages instead.

9. Get more from analytics: Make sure you set up your analytics package correctly so it separates the sources of your traffic. There’s no point spending a lot of time and effort on search engine marketing only to find that your analytics software was not configured to separate the paid search traffic from the organic traffic.

10. Submit to the main directories: Make sure your site is listed in all of the main directories, such as Yahoo!, DMOZ, Business.com, JoeAnt, etc.

11. Emphasize internal education: Everyone within your company can make a difference, particularly when it comes to a natural search campaign. Make sure all departments, from marketing to IT to PR to product development, know why the company is undertaking an SEO program and how they can contribute. Run regular sessions to update staff and inform them about how the campaign is progressing.

Last, but certainly not least, remember that SEO is not a set-and-forget process, but rather, one of ongoing improvement. Anytime you make changes to the structure of or content on your site, review the relevant steps in the optimization process to make sure you get the maximum benefit from these changes. Search can help you connect with your customers, but you have to make sure you’re supplying the search engines with the right connective tissue.

5 Common Crawlability Mistakes That Kill Your SEO Success

July 2, 2008

Small Business Search Marketing


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SEO Success PyramidIn my opinion, the nuts-and-bolts of SEO can generally be boiled down to three primary parts: Crawlability, Content, and Links. These three things make up the middle row of the SEO Success Pyramid, and they’re an absolute must as you work your way up the pyramid to becoming a trusted site.

Search engine spiders/bots aren’t all that intelligent. If a spider can’t find content (because of a broken link, for example), it’s not programmed to stop what it’s doing and go looking around for that great article you wrote. It’s going to move on to the next link and keep crawling, crawling, and crawling. That’s what it does.

It’s common sense: If a spider can’t access your content, your content won’t be indexed and will never be found in search engines. That’s why crawlability is a foundational element of SEO and the SEO Success Pyramid.

5 Common Crawlability Barriers

1.) You screwed up the robots.txt file.

If you’re like me, you roll your eyes every time you hear or read someone talking about this, right? I mean, really, who still screws up their robots.txt file? Search marketers and others have been banging this drum so long, you’d think it doesn’t need to be said anymore.

Well, well, well … have a look at what I found last week on Yahoo Answers:

robots.txt question on Yahoo Answers

Apparently, we do still need to bang the drum: Be careful with your robots.txt files. It’s the first thing to check when you think you have crawlability issues. You can learn everything you need to know at www.robotstxt.org.

2.) Too many variables/parameters in your URLs

Search engines are getting better at crawling long, ugly links — but they still don’t like them. Google’s webmaster guidelines explain it in plain English:

If you decide to use dynamic pages (i.e., the URL contains a “?” character), be aware that not every search engine spider crawls dynamic pages as well as static pages. It helps to keep the parameters short and the number of them few.

(Bonus: Short URLs also get clicked on more often in the SERPs. They’re good for crawlability and clickability.)

3.) Session IDs in your URLs

Search engine spiders flat-out do not like to see session IDs in your URLs. If you’re using session IDs on your site, be sure to store them in cookies (which spiders don’t accept) instead of including them as part of your URLs. Session IDs can cause a single page of content to be visible at multiple URLs, and that would just clog up the SERPs. So, search engines don’t like to crawl URLs with session IDs.

4.) Your site suffers from code bloat.

Code bloat is one of those things that isn’t really a problem … until it’s a Big Problem. Spiders are generally good at separating code from content, but that doesn’t mean you should make it more difficult by having so much code that the content is hard to find. If you look at the source code of your web pages, and finding the content is like looking for the proverbial needle-in-a-haystack, you may have crawlability problems. As Stoney deGeyter recently said on Search Engine Guide, “I do believe that if you have so much code on your pages that it makes it hard to dig out the content, then you might have some issues.” I agree.

5.) Your navigation and internal linking is coded poorly.

Designers and developers can be pretty creative when building a web site. Sometimes that creativity comes out in the form of site navigation that’s built in complicated DHTML or javascript code. Sometimes that creativity comes out in the form of a Flash- or Ajax-based navigation, where what we think of as web pages aren’t really web pages at all. This kind of design and implementation can stop a crawler in its tracks. Google talked about crawlability problems with flash, ajax, and javascript in late 2007:

“One of the main issues with Ajax sites is that while Googlebot is great at following and understanding the structure of HTML links, it can have a difficult time finding its way around sites which use JavaScript for navigation. While we are working to better understand JavaScript, your best bet for creating a site that’s crawlable by Google and other search engines is to provide HTML links to your content.”

Conclusion

Crawlability is often overlooked in the name of creativity and coding, but it’s as important to your SEO efforts as content development, link building, and any other element of the SEO Success Pyramid. Ignore it at your own risk.

Gain the competitive edge with SEO

May 31, 2008

iMedia Connection

 

Leaving organic search results to chance can be costly for your brand. Here’s a strategic, scalable system for success.

 

How much is the word “cheap airfare” worth in the United States? The answer is about $8 million, according to comScore Marketer Search Data, December 2007. A word like “laptop” is worth about $35 to 40 million. “Car insurance” is estimated to be worth more than $50 million per year. And this is just the conversion value of the top organic listings.

Organic listings continue to account for the majority of the clicks, with between 75 and 85 percent of all clicks going to organic results depending on which study you read. Add in the PPC results, and these figures can be adjusted up by another 15 to 25 percent.

The value of search is rarely questioned nowadays. So as more and more consumers go to Google and Yahoo to research everything they do — from restaurants where they eat to the houses they buy — the option to invest heavily in search engine optimization (SEO) is no longer a choice; it is a necessity. Not focusing on building processes to dominate organic rankings is a very costly brand management error in every market. 

The challenge, particularly for larger brands, is how to build a scalable and predictable approach for managing organic rankings — how to raise awareness, how to leverage the opportunity, how to instill the key processes and how to execute the work.

The focus of this article is the best practices in building out scalable SEO processes. The information below is based on the experience of some of the largest global brand managers in the market. Also discussed below are results attained by these major brands and how what they learned can be used to predict future outcomes from SEO.

The complexity of building SEO for large brands
Excelling at SEO involves both good news and bad news for a large company with its many brands, websites and locations in multiple countries. The good news is that a large brand site, with its linking and content, has every right to be at the top of the organic listings based on the way the search engine algorithms work.

The bad news is that exposing that content to the engines usually requires close coordination between personnel in the organization’s IT and marketing departments as well as the agencies being used. With worldwide offices, this gets complicated.

Also, the engines are increasing the sophistication and complexity of what SEO means. SEO is no longer just based on text analysis. In the age of universal search, SEO-based brand promotion has to include the way images, videos and text are added to the site to ensure visibility and relevance to key search terms used by consumers.

In addition, there are ever increasing ways that the engines are returning relevant information to end users through specialized return results such as News, Travel and Maps. Each category has unique ways to determine which organic ads are shown and therefore command the lion’s share of the consumer’s attention. 

A common response from large organizations is to hire an SEO expert to act as an internal advocate and consultant to the brands on SEO-related issues. Given the size of these organizations, the number of parts of the organization that require communication and the complexity of the problem, this approach is rarely effective or efficient.

SEO requires a holistic approach — one no different from the management of traditional corporate processes like customer relationship management (CRM). It would be unthinkable in this day and age to “hire someone to do CRM” as organizations have a healthy respect for the fact that CRM is a process and a way of thinking. CRM is a way of life for large enterprises. SEO should be the same. 

Here’s a way to manage it.

Building a Center of Excellence
A successful approach is the concept of driving SEO-best practices around technical construction, content management and link strategy into the brand management function itself at both the product and geo-marketing levels in large companies. Essentially, this requires anyone who touches the site — marketing and web management — to be held accountable for SEO-related results. This is very similar to the “Center of Excellence” concept used to drive CRM best practices.

What is involved? Most Center of Excellence initiatives start with a preliminary 90- to 180-day project. With respect to SEO, the purpose of this is to:

  • Select a section of the website and execute the initial optimization of that site section.
  • Document the process from keyword research, keyword selection, site design, etc., and make the information on the implemented processes available to others in the organization through a knowledge-sharing system like a wiki.
  • Develop a certification program for those who go through the process that can be used to certify other knowledge workers for future projects.
  • Identify key metrics of success and document achievement toward those metrics for the initial project (basic improvements to “crawl-ability,” content, link strategy on the site, rank changes on the engines, increase in traffic, increase in conversions, etc.).
  • Pinpoint the technologies necessary to deploy the program at scale across the organization, and identify changes that need to be made to existing technologies (usually the web analytics systems) to track results from organic in the context of the program.

Once the initial project is completed, two important outcomes have to occur. First, the program has to be sanctified by the senior marketing leadership as a priority and as something other brands need to embrace. The metrics from the initial project (e.g., indicators of SEO-health for the site, rank analysis and conversion analysis) need to be benchmarked for other sites and goals for improvement set systematically. Brand and geo-marketing managers need to be held accountable for improvements once the initial benchmarking is completed and for getting their groups certified on best practices.  

Second, the work on the initial site needs to be expanded to continue improvements. Most organizations experience degradation in SEO performance after about 90 to 120 days. This is why SEO is most effective as an ongoing process. Degradation is usually the result of competitive action. Search marketing is a zero sum game: There is a finite amount of inventory available and being successful at SEO comes at the expense of a less able competitor. Competitors will notice improvements and respond. 

The Center of Excellence concept is designed to be scalable as it is viral. It builds the best practices into the daily processes of the employees working on the site and ensures they are educated, motivated and measured to excel at SEO. 

Let’s see how it works.

Studying the Center of Excellence approach
To determine the effectiveness of this approach, Covario conducted a study between March 1 and October 15, 2007 with approximately 300 global brands to measure how leveraging the Center of Excellence concept improves performance. More than 85 percent of the brands involved in the study belong to Fortune 500 companies with their websites operating in multiple languages and on many search engines.

The goal of the study was to assess whether the metrics that had been built to measure SEO health of the websites could be used to predict results in rank improvement on the major U.S. search engines (Google, Yahoo, and MSN). The study used changes in rank for the participating Fortune 500 brands as the metric of success. 

The results were impressive. To help educate the SEO knowledge workers in the brand and geo-marketing divisions, a proprietary technology titled Covario Organic Search Insight developed by my company, Covario, Inc., was used to identify what aspects of the sites were well optimized on 48 different criteria. 

Changes to these site factors were then statistically measured against changes to rank on the engines. During this study period, the average brand experienced an improvement in its average rank position for the keyword it was trying to optimize by 4.5 rankings.

To put this into context, on “cheap airfares,” moving from position five to position one on the engines means a difference of $2.5 million in commerce per year, based on analysis of data from comScore Marketer Search Data.

Most importantly, the relationship between the changes made to the websites during the test period had a very strong statistical relationship to changes in rank on the search engines. This means that the statistical links discovered by Covario can be used to predict improvements that other sites may experience given similar changes. This is key as ROI on SEO for these organizations can be reasonably estimated, helping to justify the expense of the programs. 

What is more, the reactions of the engines were very different. Google was 15 times as sensitive to technical issues as Yahoo, and twice as sensitive as compared to MSN. Specifically, Google was far more reactive to link improvement strategies than Yahoo or Microsoft — by eight to 10 times. Yahoo was much more reactive to changes in content than Google or MSN — up to 50 percent more reactive than Google.

The reactions are part of the complexity that many large advertisers find hard to corral. However, with the right processes in place, insights like these can be used to determine which aspects of the site will provide the best ROI for brands and geo’s by engine, by product, by site, etc. This is a great example of the development of the science of SEO, which presents large advertisers (and their vast, complicated web properties) a process-driven, data-based method to manage their brands’ presence on the organic side of search engine marketing, and do so in a scalable and efficient way.

So how do this information and the Center of Excellence for SEO concept get actualized in a large company? Let’s see.

Putting SEO into practice
SEO daunts many organizations because they get paralyzed by the number of things they could do, and do not know which two to three things they should do to drive the best results per engine. This is the big challenge organizations have — the prioritization of the work and building that prioritization into the web management process. 

The study above suggests a solution to this problem. With empirical evidence on what drives SEO ranking results and understanding the differentiation by engine from operational website changes, large companies can ensure that results can be driven in the short term while their long-term continued improvement is also scheduled and managed.

Take “cheap airfare” again. For a travel company or an airline looking to optimize on this word, here is what the study would suggest for prioritization.

Focus first on content issues, meaning the usage of the word in the text on the pages in the site. These can be changed most rapidly by the agency or content managers and have a very significant effect on rank improvements. The study suggested the following:

  • Adding the words “cheap airfare” to the URL of the page being ranked will have the most significant effect on driving Google ranking — i.e., something like: http://www.companyname.com/cheapairfare.html.
  • However, the study also showed that changes to the URL will have minimal effect on Yahoo ranking improvements. 
  • On the other hand, Yahoo reacted very strongly to the emphasis of words like “cheap airfare” in the content text on the site — i.e, when the word is displayed as cheap airfare, CHEAP AIRFARE or cheap airfare. This had a smaller effect on driving Google rankings.

Content issues are also relatively easy to syndicate across a large site, particularly when the issues are made available to content managers. A best practice can be given to always emphasize the usage of “cheap airfare” in text, and to design URLs with the most important keyword that will drive traffic conversions.

The second area of focus should be on the link strategy; however, this is less simple to execute en masse across a large site. It is the quality, not the quantity, of links that matters.

What is a “quality link?” It is a link from a site or page that has a Page Rank (a statistical measure of relevancy that is available from Google on various pages) greater than three. So the question becomes: How does an organization drive multiple web managers to build a small number of links from pages with Page Ranks greater than three and distribute this information efficiently? 

This is an area of intense study. There are very sophisticated ways to implement link building and a number of companies that specialize in this, both agencies and specialty consultants. For a large site, deploying these solutions can be cost prohibitive.

The above study suggests that building links from a series of authoritative sources such as .gov or .edu. for “cheap airfare” in order to get a link from the FAA would be highly valuable but very difficult. A link from .edu would be easier. Also, Technorati and del.icio.us sites are good places to start. In the study, Google reacted very significantly to sites with links from these sources, as did MSN, so this is a straightforward way to get sites started in an efficient way to build links. Again, one to two high quality links are better than 1,000 poor quality links, and Covario’s study results strongly support this assertion. 

The final step is to address the technical structure. This is listed last because technical issues usually deal with fundamental technical construction issues around site design. Changing these in large organizations is highly non-trivial and takes time and planning.

Technical issues can also be the most egregious as they may fundamentally prevent the mechanisms used by the engines to organize information from working. However, the above study provides guidelines on efforts that can be prioritized for the IT department or the web management team on how to deal with site issues and drive better rankings. There are essentially two major issues:

  • The first of these technical issues is URL structure. One of the components that the Center of Excellence must develop is a best practice on site URL structure. The Covario study showed that long URLs and URLs that use mechanisms to track visitors to the site (called dynamic parameters) confuse the engines and drive significant rank decreases on Google and MSN. Yahoo seems better able to deal with dynamic URLs.
  • The second of these issues is how the navigation is constructed, as the search engines use this to figure out how to find content on the site. Use of Java or Flash for the navigation prevents search engines from finding content. This was completely consistent across all engines in the study and is binary, so it’s either a catastrophic failure or it works. 

The technical issues are not term-specific. If there are technical issues, it will impact any keywords that an organization is trying to optimize, not just “cheap airfare.”

What is important for a large organization is making sure that the business case for determining whether or not making changes to site structure is worthwhile, and that the right process can be developed by the SEO Center of Excellence. This is a change and very valuable in getting the appropriate attention and results from, what are usually, overburdened IT teams.

Conclusion
The rewards of building these processes are vast as more consumers use search engines to find information about their brands and services. A brand that does not do this can be assured its competitors will, thereby influencing consumers on brand choice through one of the fastest growing, most effective advertising media available. Establishing competitive advantage through SEO is no longer a luxury — it has shifted from avant-garde to de rigueur.  

Google’s Paid-Search Performance Metrics Improve in Q1

May 2, 2008

Marketing VOX

http://www.marketingvox.com/googles-paid-search-performance-metrics-improve-in-q1-038102/?camp=newsletter&src=mv&type=textlink

Google accounted for 77% of total search spend in the first quarter of 2008, up 3.3 percentage points from 1Q07 in search spending share, according to the “Search Engine Performance Report: Q1 2008” by Efficient Frontier, MarketingCharts reports.

Compared with 1Q07, in 1Q08 Google registered gains in all of the metrics analyzed in the report:

  • Return on investment (ROI) on Google improved 24%.
  • Click-through rates (CTRs) improved 19%.
  • Cost per click (CPC) rates increased 11% in the period between.

Those result suggest that large-scale advertisers are benefiting from Google’s quality updates and can continue to afford its higher cost-per-clicks (CPCs), particularly given the increase in ROI, Efficient Frontier said.

Average CPCs on Google for non-financial services advertisers were up 11.2% in 1Q08 over 1Q07, while CPCs on Yahoo and MSN fell 5.8% and 7.0%, respectively, for their advertisers:

efficient-frontier-search-engine-average-cpc-q1-2007-2008.jpg

Among other findings:

  • Advertisers on Yahoo Search and MSN adCenter experienced year-over-year ROI improvements of 33% and 29% respectively – but no increases in CTR or CPC.
  • Yahoo captured 18% share of total search spending in 1Q08, losing 3.2 percentage points from 1Q07, and MSN its  5% share of search spend.
  • Amid recessionary fears and the mortgage fallout, search advertisers in the travel, retail and automotive verticals increased their search budgets:
    • Travel search spending was up 23% in 1Q08 versus 1Q07.
    • Automotive and retail increased spending 10% and 6%, respectively.

About the data: Efficient Frontier analyzed nearly 18 billion impressions and more than 310 million clicks to determine how shifts in the search marketplaces affected overall spending and campaign effectiveness.

The “Search Engine Performance Report: Q1 2008” was completed based on data from a fixed sample of Efficient Frontier’s US clients from 1Q07 through 1Q08 and includes data from large search engine advertisers across multiple verticals as well as findings on search engine spend, CTRs, CPC and ROI.

The New SEO: Organic Search

May 2, 2008
iMedia Connection

Search engine optimization has been growing up and dragging online marketers along with it. Lately, in order to be successful, an SEO campaign needs to focus on more than just page optimization. With a finite amount of search engine traffic everyday, there is a limit to how many people can be reached and how high a site can rank. To increase their share of this traffic, search marketers are starting to explore alternative ways to get their clients more involved in the online mix. In short, SEO practitioners are stepping up their game, and I predict a trend of search marketing departments evolving to keep up.

In some industries, paid search is becoming increasingly expensive and competitive. With so many clients vying for the same coveted keywords, pay-per-click costs are rising. In search of a cost-effective method to reach online users, clients are starting to request additional services to drive traffic to their site. In response, SEO practitioners are starting to expand their scope of expertise to keep their clients at the top of search results pages.

Why SEO needs to continue to expand
As the internet continues to evolve and additional platforms are created, SEO departments will begin to follow suit. It is extremely important and effective for SEO strategies to start where the online conversation originates. Right now a large amount of people still have search engines as their homepages, but users are in the process of shifting gears. More and more people are accessing the internet through social networking sites because that is a key component of their web experience. The industry has already seen the change from browser-based to search engine-focused usage when people started logging online to do more than just check email. Google has recognized this trend with its incorporation of tools like Gmail, Google Calendar and Google Photo. Yahoo continues to embrace its origin as a portal, but it has increased Web 2.0 offerings with tools like Yahoo Buzz and Pulse, a social shopping platform. With this current transition, “SEOers” are joining in and adding a social, user-generated content (UGC) and Web 2.0 focus to their optimizing efforts.

Blended search and subject matter experts
With the advent of blended search, search engine marketers are starting to look beyond the text of a website to images, video and audio content. A side effect of expanding their definition of content is that search engine marketers are becoming more active participants in the online conversation on behalf of their clients. By moving beyond pull marketing strategies to interactive branding initiatives on social networking and bookmarking platforms, a number of SEOers inadvertently ended up on the cutting edge of emerging Web 2.0 trends.

Link building has gotten harder as site owners have gotten savvy and stingy with their linking, and as a result, search marketers had to resort to other tactics in search of links (blogging, blended content efforts and maybe even begging). Another byproduct of this expanded purview is that SEO practitioners have become subject matter experts on an extremely wide array of interactive topics. To create inbound links, search marketers are creating link-worthy content on blogs, UGC sites and video aggregators all in the hopes of generating interest and links. By spreading viral videos and Digg’ing like there is no tomorrow, SEO professionals are creating organic traffic for clients. That is traffic stemming from an aggregator, social site or blog, as opposed to paid efforts like pay-per-click or banner advertisements.

New SEO, success and a new approach!

New SEO
Becoming subject matter experts on such a wide array of topics, platforms and software applications has significantly raised the bar of aggressive SEO campaigns. Clients are looking to SEO departments to drive traffic to their sites from a variety of search engines as well as referral domains while continuing to increase and maintain their search engine ranking. However, the two go hand in hand because generating traffic from a number of sources will aid rankings through link-building, which will in turn stimulate traffic.

This new SEO focus is more aligned with the way search engines want to rank websites. For them, if you have a great site with impressive content, users will visit it, search for it and talk about it. While not perfect, this is one step closer to truly organic search engine optimization.

Measuring success
This growing scope also means that the way to gauge the success of an SEO campaign will change. It is no longer only about rankings and search engine referrals. Brand exposure, increased branded search queries and referrals from search marketing targeted domains are possible key indicators of how well an organic media campaign fares.

I would like to caution that this all-encompassing SEO strategy is not suitable for every client. Expanding beyond “traditional SEO” — if there is such a thing — to this progressive, pervasive organic medium should be executed after clients have solid SEO fundamentals in place. Once rankings are solidified and clients are ready to do more, they can begin to look at their SEO efforts through a broader lens. As with any SEO campaign, it is hard to guarantee results, but if successful, the rankings are definitely invaluable.

Another point worth mentioning is that clients should be prepared for failure with this kind of organic campaign. Since there are no standard metrics yet established, if an organic campaign fails to materialize, clients will have little insight into what went wrong. It is not right for everyone, but there is an increasing need for organic media campaigns.

Our approach
After so many clients requested to increase SEO efforts and diversify their scope of referral sites, at Geary, we reorganized our search marketing department to better distinguish between organic and paid media. Previously, there was a media department and search marketing department that executed both paid and organic search campaigns. Now, under the umbrella of a “Reach Department,” Geary’s organic and paid media teams work for the combined goal of increasing the reach of our clients’ brand and content on the internet.

The change is to better align the thought processes and reporting of our search and media departments. Our paid media team (pay-per-click, banner ads, sponsorships, etc.) report and track the number of impressions, clicks and conversions; whereas our organic media team tracks rankings, ratings and brand exposure along with conversions. Research and data from paid media helps the organic team plan their online campaigns, but there is no direct correlation between paid efforts and SEO rankings. So with this change, all service offerings that produce SEO benefits are in the same sub-department.

This way, we are better able to define and distribute organic budgets across a broader spectrum of platforms, which will ultimately generate traction on search engines. The organic media team will also be able to create high-quality content on multiple referral domains to allow for maximum visibility of the content.

We are not steering away from standard search engine optimization by any means, but we are trying to position ourselves to service the changing needs of our clients. Things are always changing around here, and the best way to put is that organic media is the new SEO.

Andrew Rodrigues is SEO manager for Geary Interactive.

Jump-Starting Keyword Demand

April 2, 2008

 By Erik Dafforn, The ClickZ Network,

Get Your Foot in the Door

Paid ads such as Google AdWords are one of the most effective ways of interjecting your perspective into an existing online conversation. For example, if you have a new sort of high-definition television technology, you could buy ads focusing on existing high-def, LCD, and plasma terms: “Confused About High Definition? Discover Why SarahVision Is the Answer.”

Even if you don’t get clicks right away, you get visibility. When enough people associate SarahVision with plasma and LCD TV confusion, having seen it for multiple queries on multiple engines, they’ll begin to wonder what the fuss is all about.

Similarly, become a reliable, authoritative part of one or more online communities. I spend time in the Audio Visual Science Forum and constantly see users recommending vendors to each other because of how helpful the vendor has been in answering specific technical questions. Remember, this has nothing to do with whether the vendor’s signature link passes juice or whether it has a “nofollow” attached. The most successful vendors don’t say, “You need cable X; come visit my site.” Instead they say, “You need cable X,” and their affiliation is noted in their signature.

Get Offline and Head Outdoors

The birth of online marketing initially made a lot of people sigh with relief because it appeared that such annoying activities as getting dressed and talking to people on the telephone would no longer be necessary.

While it’s possible to conduct a successful marketing initiative on the Web only, it’s foolish to ignore other media when they can bolster your online presence and the interest in your project.

Television is a natural complement to online advertising. But not all of us can afford 30 seconds during act two of “The Office.”

My friend and outdoor advertising expert Brent Bolick pointed me to a fantastic study performed by Reagan Outdoor. It showed that in a telephone poll, only 1 percent of the greater Austin, TX, market knew that Calvin Coolidge was the 30th U.S. president. After a 60-day outdoor saturation campaign (billboards said simply “Calvin Coolidge was the 30th President” and showed a URL), that number rose to 24 percent of the market. As a control group, 30 percent of the market also knew that Rick Perry was the state’s lieutenant governor before the campaign ran. After the campaign, those numbers had not changed.

The traffic numbers were impressive, too. The site logged over 36,000 unique visits, with 5,400 people visiting the registration page. And 2,500 of the registration page’s visitors actually registered, getting a chance to win a T-shirt and a personal billboard run.

Bolick also shared some interesting data regarding the overlap between heavy commuters and search engine use. Using Arbitron data, he looked specifically at people in his market (metro Jacksonville, FL) who regularly use search engines. Nearly half of search engine users (46 percent) are considered “heavy” users of outdoor advertising as well, due to their commuting distances. So before you look askance at offline advertising, you’d be smart to figure out how it can help you.

Conclusion

Before you spawn massive amounts of search demand for new query phrases, be completely sure you’re ready for the traffic. I don’t mean your server; I mean your message. When your coverage starts to reach a tipping point and consumers start looking for your words in droves, what’s your organic search visibility like? Do you answer all the questions they have? Are your corporate blog, Web site, press releases, and social media assets properly organized, crawled, and indexed so that when the queries start, you control the message? Or are you leaving gaps in your message that an eager blogger or competitor will jump on?

What’s your paid search visibility like? People lie in wait to jump on a keyword bandwagon (remember the Pontiac “Google us” campaign?), so make sure you continue your paid ad campaign even after natural search takes off. After all, someone else might want to offer users an alternative to SarahVision.

 

Slow-Loading Landing Pages Get Slapped by Google

April 2, 2008

Marketing VOX

Google will begin penalizing advertisers whose landing pages take a long time to load, reports CNET.

A post on its AdWords Blog reports Google will start looking at the length of time it takes for a landing page to load. Loading speed will contribute to an advertiser’s ultimate ad position and bid price on the Adwords platform.

The inclusion of pageload time into price and position determination follows findings that slow-loading pages are more likely to be abandoned by people who click on ads. Re-directs, slow servers and other barriers to instant gratification lead to a poor user experience.

Pageload time will be reviewed over the next few weeks, at which point advertisers with slow pages will be notified so they can make changes.

30 days following notification, load times will become an official part of their ad positioning.

3 keys to unleashing your website’s potential

April 2, 2008

iMedia Connection

By Dan Naden

Let’s face it: customers will leave your website. But what pages they leave from — and why — will tell you volumes. Here are some essential pointers.

I am a big golfer. I love playing a game that requires mental patience, flexibility, resolve and dedication.

Like anything, the game of golf requires consistent practice. The best-of-the-best embody a “test and learn” approach to his or her continuous improvement.

The master of golf in the last 10 years (and probably the next 10) has been Tiger Woods. Tiger took the golf world by storm, and his dominance has shown no signs of slowing. Why? He’s never satisfied with his current position, and he continues to “test and learn” his way to the top.

So let’s be realistic. You probably can’t test and learn your way to golf’s nirvana, but a few simple tips can improve your website’s performance.

1) Key entry points
Have you dissected how people are getting to your site? The most basic web metrics solutions (Google Analytics or WebTrends, for example) can inform you about entry pages emanating from direct traffic, SEO campaign pages and search keywords.

Perhaps certain pages are better optimized for search engines than others. If so, you should really implement a site-wide optimization project to get your pages in a better position to be properly spidered by the engines. As you dig into this analysis, you may also be shocked at the pages through which consumers are entering your site.

Once you’ve isolated the key landing pages/entry points for your site, put yourself in the mind of your consumer and try to answer these questions: 

  • What will make me continue “down the path” with this site?
  • Is the consumer closer to achieving his/her goal?
  • Am I overwhelming the consumer with too many choices?

By reviewing path analysis, you may uncover that consumers are clicking on buttons or links that you never designed as critically important to solving their goal (buying a computer, finding out more information about a house, generating a credit report).

Don’t be afraid to A/B test a number of different versions of key entry pages, like the homepage and landing pages. You may be surprised by the up-front costs of implementing an effective A/B process, but the results you glean from these tests will make that money back in the long run.

2) Key exit points
Let’s face it: customers will leave your website. But what pages they leave from will tell you volumes about what is working and not working with your site.

If consumers are leaving your search results before browsing through product details, perhaps your ads are too intrusive, the result links are not clear or a Flash movie/tour provides distraction rather than information or guidance.

If your homepage turns out to be a big exit page for your site, take an outsider perspective and consider what may be deterring the customer from moving forward. Here are a few things to consider:

  • If search is your main activity to push from your homepage, are you making this clear? Are other things too actively drawing consumer attention?
  • Does a consumer clearly understand through pictures, video or short, bulleted text the reason for your website’s existence? Don’t be surprised by the number of consumers that ask: Why am I at this website?
  • Are you clearly catering to your most profitable customers right from the start? If your site caters to a wide variety of demographics, the Baby Boomers may need different visual cues than the Generation-X set.

The ways your customers exit your site may also tell you just as much, or even more, than their entry path. Take this data seriously and you will do wonders in converting more browsers to buyers.

3) Key conversion points
Think about Tiger Woods practicing and perfecting his golf game with all of the clubs except the putter. Wouldn’t it be hard for him to finish tournaments?

All of the slick, effective work that you’ve done up until this point is obliterated if you can’t get the consumer beyond your key conversion points.
 
Key conversion points for most sites include: 

  • Lead submission
  • Checkout
  • Register

(Not to mention the many micro-conversion points that all lead up to that pivotal moment. Is your site ready for your moment in the sun?)

It may seem obvious, but freely test different layouts and call-to-actions on your lead pages. 

  • Are you using “action” buttons or links? Test to see which are most effective on your site.
  • Is your verbiage persuasive and benefits-focused? Don’t lull your customers into lethargy with passive language like “Request” or “Submit.” Talk to your customers about solving their problems, not about meeting your goals.
  • Are you removing any possible points of confusion for the consumer to continue with your offer? Will your information be sold to a third party? Do I know exactly what the next step is after I fill out this form? Uncertainty is not your friend when your customer is ready to buy, checkout or become a lead.

Tiger will keep hoisting trophies; he’ll continue to modify his putting, short game or long game to stay at the top. His belief and implementation of a “test and learn” methodology may solidify him as the best golfer ever.

Utilizing these three simple tips may very well escalate your site’s performance to the top of your industry. Stay true to the metrics, never give up and always believe you can test and learn a better way to design a page, implement a campaign or persuade an audience to act.

Form + Function

April 2, 2008

AdWeek

-By Brian Morrissey

NEW YORK It isn’t a viral hit like Subservient Chicken, but Domino’s pizza builder might be equally important. The application, built by Crispin Porter + Bogusky, lets users craft their own pizza online, name it, then have it delivered to their door.

For Jeff Benjamin, interactive cd at Crispin, the Web application that debuted early this year is a sign of where digital design is headed. Rather than craft a one-off Web site, he said, advertisers want to build brand loyalty by providing utilities that both improve people’s lives in some small way — even if it’s simply a tool for customizing pizza — and directly pad corporate bottom lines.

“The new ‘viral’ is going to be a business solution for clients,” Benjamin said.

Funny microsites are giving way to useful, sometimes entertaining applications; the showing off of flashy technology is yielding to design geared towards generating sales; and crafting for social interaction is replacing one-way experiences. Now that digital points exist far outside the browser, designing for the Web is passe, with digital design chasing the elusive goal of designing experiences that wrap all of the above together.

“When you create a utility, you’re creating something that gives people time back,” said Nick Law, CCO for North America at R/GA. “It becomes less about information as pollution and more about information to help people get through life.”

Interactive design used to be synonymous with Web site design. The objective was crafting a Web experience that reflected the overall brand message. Although brand consistency is a laudable goal, many interactive designers chafed at the role of “matching luggage” to offline campaigns, often resulting in shallow microsites that mimicked TV campaigns.

Even experts in those sites are rethinking their approach. Barbarian Group, which worked with Crispin to develop Subservient Chicken, is now concentrating more on useful, content-rich sites. That means starting the design practice with the customer in mind, helping them navigate quickly through an experience or to worthwhile content, said Benjamin Palmer, CEO of Barbarian.

“Five years ago, people would muck through a site with non-standard navigation that was confusing because the whole Internet was confusing,” he said. “Now the Internet is so big you can’t do anything that’s annoying anymore.”

Often that means scaling back the special effects, like Flash sites, which take a long time to load. For Kashi, Barbarian Group built a product site last summer that centered around community and included tools for visitors to improve their lives and encourage others. For instance, tools that let users participate in daily health challenges, such as taking 30-minute walks or skipping coffee, while interacting with each other. Product information is secondary to content about a healthy lifestyle and community interaction, a leap, Palmer said, from earlier Internet design.

“The thing that’s more in the forefront is designing the experience of how people are going to interact with your content,” he said.

 Advertisers also see the opportunity to build brand applications that allow people to do everything from customizing pizza and matching their personality with products to the planning of trips.

“The days of making funny things that may or may not have an effect on the client’s business are ending,” Crispin’s Benjamin said.

Epson took a new design approach with “Epsonality” last fall. In the past, the Web portion of the Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners campaign would have been a microsite with a few pages of content. Instead, Butler, Shine’s experiential design team melded broadband video with a personality quiz to match users with the right Epson printer for their needs.

The creative approach is admittedly tongue-in-cheek, said David Blum, executive director of interactive services at Butler, Shine. But underneath the surface is a sales generator, built by interaction designers, information architects and decision trees. A lot of thinking went into getting people “through this experience [to purchase] without just being entertained by a bunch of videos,” he explained.

Application design is also driving efforts to tap into the social Web, with utilities holding the promise of being able to build communities around brands. Take “My Vegas” from Critical Mass, part of the “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” campaign. On the surface, the social networking tool seems like another attempt by a brand to draw people away from more natural social environments into artificial ones created by advertisers. But “My Vegas” actually provides a useful tool for visitors who want to get the most out of their trips, thanks to Critical Mass bringing the “stays in Vegas” promise to life with social functionality. Users can build profiles, upload photos, manage trip details, compare attractions and schedule events with friends (their “entourage,” in “My Vegas” lingo). It’s geared to typical Vegas vacationers, such as college buddies scattered in different cities who converge in Sin City for a weekend during March Madness.

“There’s a big possibility to deliver on your brand through the tools or functionality you can give people that are positive,” said David Armano, vp of creative at Critical Mass.

The next step: free the application from the confines of the site. The old build-it-and-make-them-come design strategy is being replaced by a fish-where-the-fish-are mind-set that’s leading advertisers to not view their brand sites as the be-all and end-all. Garrick Schmidt, vp of user experience at Avenue A/Razorfish, part of Microsoft, said in building RedBull.com, the shop made sure to make site features like videos, games and social-networking skins work elsewhere.

“No digital property is an island anymore,” said Schmidt. “Everything can be connected to everyone. You have to design for that. We think about how we can chunk up content, and make it viral and distributable.”

It’s not just sexy brands that need to design for distribution. Bank of America launched a site for its “No Fee Mortgage Plus” product in the fall that included useful applications like a mortgage calculator and a mortgage comparison tool. From the beginning, Bank of America agency Organic considered how the applications can be not just on the bank’s microsite, but detach to live where consumers want. “We’re trying to think from the beginning of how to syndicate them out to other platforms,” said Conor Brady, ecd at Organic. “That’s been a mind shift for us because a year and a half ago there wasn’t that expectation.”

The next stop for digital design is not just out of the site, but onto other screens and into real life. Firstborn Interactive, a shop that in the past has concentrated mostly on Web projects and is moving into out-of-home design, worked with Digital Kitchen last November to build a platform to promote Windows Live where visitors to a Microsoft event in New York City could upload photos that were then beamed onto a gigantic sphere in South Street Seaport. It’s now looking to use information like body heat and speed to create real-life interactive installations.

 “If you think we’re just going to be making Web sites in the next five years, anyone with that business model isn’t going to be a business,” said Dan LaCivita, executive director at Firstborn.

Digital shops like R/GA are busy honing their skills in out-of-home venues. Last year, R/GA started a retail practice for its work in designing in-store experiences for Verizon and other clients. Law sees interactive design moving front-and-center in new areas because a brand like Apple has shown the power of the interface in influencing consumer perceptions. His guidepost to good design: the Apple operating system.

“The functionality is apparent immediately,” Law said. “It’s a different way of approaching marketing. The creative has always been about telling stories. It’s obscuring a truth until a punch line. It’s linear. Designers want to make the message or functionality apparent immediately. It’s fundamental to what we’re doing in marketing.”

Balancing Aesthetics, SEO in Web Site Development

March 19, 2008

Recently I came across an all-too familiar scenario. Our firm developed a fabulous new design for a client’s site and it had been fully approved. Suddenly, the client demanded significant changes to the site’s layout to fit in keywords. This client had a previously established relationship with an SEO (define) vendor, which was giving such direction.

The design folks pushed back. They contended these additional keywords and content would negatively affect the site’s look and feel. Not to mention the copy flow, much to the copywriter’s dismay.

I’ve seen this struggle between two opposing forces time and again. The creative team wants the site to look and sound as compelling as possible, and the marketing team wants the site perfectly search-engine-friendly and keyword-rich. The inevitable outcome is a continuous flow of changes to the site such that by the end, both sides lose sight of the redesign’s objectives.

Is there a way to make peace between these two groups? Failing peace, is there a way to at least compromise?

Each side can and should take steps to avoid such a scenario in the first place. Each plays a role to help foster a harmonious environment in which to build a stellar Web site that’s search-engine-friendly, functional, and visually enticing.

The SEO Expert’s Role

First, SEO experts should insist on being involved in the site design and development process from the very beginning. Supplying SEO best practices or wish lists to the information architect and design folks can help them incorporate the requirements into the initial wireframes (define). Same goes for the dev team.

Further, you should be able to prioritize your requirements, ranging from must-haves (e.g., at least 200 words on each page) to nice-to-haves (e.g., HTML navigation). A well-trained SEO expert will understand that less is more when it comes to keyword selection. Trying to cram 10 different keywords into the home page won’t do your optimization efforts any favors. Be selective in your keywords. By choosing narrowly focused terms, you shouldn’t need to request many tweaks to the design or structure to fit stuff in.

Finally, keep in mind that off-site factors, such as the number and quality of inbound links, are just as important as on-site factors. Instead of spending your time berating the designer for using images for headers instead of header tags, why not develop innovative strategies to get more relevant links pointing to your site?

The Design and Development Team’s Role

Whether you’re an information architect, designer, or developer, you must be as conscious as possible about your work’s impact on the site’s ability to be found in the search engines. Basically that means consulting the SEO expert well before the site is ready to launch and being flexible with your approach to ensure the site is search-engine-friendly. As a designer, you might love flashy splash pages. As a developer, you might loath designing in CSS (define). But if doing these things could threaten the site’s SEO potential, are you sure they’re essential?

Your vested interest in making the right choices is fairly obvious: While you may end up with a beautiful, user-friendly site at the end, if no one actually visits it, what’s the point?

Actually reading and understanding the SEO design and development best practices (hopefully) supplied by the SEO expert will give you a frame of reference for how to approach the site build. With every template or page you create, look for ways to increase opportunities for keyword placement, internal linking, and text-based navigation. With every page you program, consider how you can keep the code cleaner, make the text on the page higher, or better utilize markup.

Creating Web Site Harmony

A great Web site needs to do many different things. It needs to be user-friendly, aesthetically pleasing, and easy to find. Focusing too closely on just one aspect will inevitably create a less-than-desirable site. A site that overemphasizes SEO will likely lack design flair and have poor copy flow. Conversely, a site designed purely for aesthetics will be a feast for the eyes but won’t likely satisfy the needs of the users or the search engines.

Whatever your role is in developing a Web site, be sure to work with all stakeholders as a cohesive and collaborative team to ensure the finished product serves all its varied objectives.

Join us for SES London February 19-21 and for training classes on February 22.

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