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In the Internet marketing world, we manage a lot of clients, but every client is different and each account requires specific techniques in order to maximize their ROI. In many cases, this means running a number of campaigns using methods in Pay Per Click, Search Engine and Social Media Optimization, Competitive Intelligence, and so on. Still, for some clients (and their budget),  just an SEO campaign can greatly increase their presence on the Internet, and is perhaps one of the strongest ways to market a website.

It is reported that Google changed their algorithm once a day on average during the past year. There are a lot of reasons for each of those changes, but all of those changes were made (and will continue to be made) for one reason – to match search queries with the most relevant content. While the history of SEO has had its dark moments, and its share of misconceptions and rumors, the current state of SEO is always changing and therefore, the methods we use to improve a websites visibility in search results must adapt. Search Engine Optimization is both a science and an art, and although it has become a bigger challenge over the years, the goal for everyone is to provide users with the best content for their searches.

The general idea behind SEO is not to “trick” search engines into believing your site is better than others, and it’s not necessary about getting that number one spot at the top of search results. And SEO’s aim should never be general rank, but appropriate on-site optimization and a network of  relevant links. There is a difference between link building and SEO, and I must clarify that although proper link building can be an invaluable part of SEO, simply linking to a website from wherever can not only be useless, but get your site penalized. SEO has not only evolved, it has developed a sense of right and wrong, and you do not want to get on its bad side.

It is always better to play it safe with your on-site structure, which is what search engines will look at when they follow those links to your site. Keyword stuffing, metatags, and link farms are a thing of the past, and can only do your website harm. SEO is not about presenting your site as something it is not, it’s about giving the search engines what they want, to which your site will be rewarded with targeted traffic.

Remember, focusing on pagerank is a pitfall for many. A lot of people assume that a page with a rank of 7 will be given priority over a page with a rank of 5, but this is not always the case. The algorithms that search engines use to determine ranking are based on a nearly infinite number of factors, including onsite content, external linking, keyword ranking, etc. Each factor has its own factors, and those factors have factors as well. At the end of the day, no one Internet Marketing firm can guarantee specific results because no one knows exactly how search engines will read them each day.

One thing we all know for sure is that these search engines are all aiming for the same goal – to provide relevant returns for the keywords that users are searching on, so the one method that we know will always be consistant is to keep things clean, manage a good site, and to never stop improving.

Many companies find out too late that the firm they hired to preform Search Engine Optimization for their site has been using unethical practices. Usually, they discover this when their website is penalized, or worse, banned from a certain search engine. From the mouth of Google itself, here are the top warning signs that an SEO firm you are about to hire is no good:

  • Be wary of SEO firms and web consultants or agencies that send you email out of the blue.
  • No one can guarantee a #1 ranking on Google.
  • Be careful if a company is secretive or won’t clearly explain what they intend to do.
  • You should never have to link to an SEO.
  • Be sure to understand where the money goes.
  • Choose wisely.

While Google gives general guidelines in an explaination of each warning sign, knowledgable and ethical SEO’s will have their own gems to offer on the topic. From the experience of working for an experienced, reputable form like Reciprocal Consulting, I offer our own gems.

  • Be wary of SEO firms and web consultants or agencies that send you email out of the blue. If you’re not expecting an e-mail from a business, or you’ve never done business with them before, chances are good that you don’t need to read it. Think about it like this: if an Internet Marketing Firm needs to send out e-mails to get business, they’re probably not good at their job. You’ll find many reputable SEO’s by searching on various engines, since chances are these firms have performed SEO for their own site.
  • No one can guarantee a #1 ranking on Google. Even Google doesn’t show up #1 for all keywords relevant to their site. If Google is subject to their own methods, certainly everyone else is. The problem is that everyone would like to be #1 and when a firm guarantees a specific position in results, you’d like to believe the. A lot of firms also offer a money-back guarantee, but don’t let this sucker you in, as they have ways of fulfilling these promises in ways that don’t help you show up for your relevant keywords. These tactics will also drive a lot of non-targeted traffic to your site, which is worse than no traffic. 
  • Be careful if a company is secretive or won’t clearly explain what they intend to do. No Internet Marketing firm, whether SEO or other, knows secrets that the rest of us don’t. If they are reluctant to share information with their client, they probably have something to hide, like unethical practices. A Reputable SEO will provide ranking reports, analytics information, and just about anything you ask for that is related to your performance in search engines. You should always feel comfortable asking questions of your SEO.
  • You should never have to link to an SEO. This is a cheap trick black hat SEO’s may try to implement to get you a lot of useless links. Although sometimes these linking strategies will have an effect – a negative one.
  • Be sure to understand where the money goes. Any reputable SEO will be able to account for every penny you spend, and be able to show you what that money is being used for. Any firm that avoids providing their clients with a detailed breakdown of expenses is probably not spending all of the money, or spending less than they claim they are spending, on lower quality link building techniques.
  • Choose wisely. Shop around, compare prices, and get a feel for how it will be to work with various firms. You should feel comfortable with anyone who is performing SEO services for your business.

It used to be that Internet marketing in general, but more specifically Search Engine Optimization, was more difficult for small businesses, mainly due to the competition. Based on the particular niche, one might have to spend more money on quality linking for their SEO campaign, simply because it was more competitive, and smaller business were less able to afford the volume and quality of links needed to build a competing SEO campaign.

However, in recent years, search engines have been weighing locality more into the equation. Basically, what this means, is for small businesses, which would more than likely only be serving a small area around their physical location, searches in their area would be more likely to return a result leading potential leads to their site. While it may not be as difficult to acheive an effective SEO campaign there is, however, a need for careful optimization. Here are a few tips for small and medium sized businesses for utilizing this search engine feature.

  • Localize On-Site Content – For a search engine to display your site in returns, it must first index/crawl it, and therefore, information on your site will play a large factor in helping search engines determine if and when to display your site in results for your strong(er) keywords. It would only make sense then that advertising your location on-site would be one of the best ways to tell a search engine which areas to be more likely to display results for your site. Most businesses have a contact page with an address and phone number, but it is important to also include this information on the home page, and any other page possible. Don’t overdo it, as abusing tags and mindless repetition of  information has never proven to encourage search engines to give any extra weight; not since the days of meta-tag SEO.
  • Claim What Is Your’s In Social Media – Beyond just your own website, it is important to claim your name wherever else you can. This includes listings, review sites, and sites like Twitter, Myspace, LinkedIn, etc. Depending on your business, you may be able to sign up for more social media sites, but the idea behind this arduous task is to: a) Give potential visitors more ways to reach your site, and b) Prevent your competition from claiming these for you, which has been known to happen. While the time spent optimizing social media profiles may not be the most effective SEO strategy, your reputation will thank you.
  • Focus On The Local Mentions – Now that you have your bases covered in the Social Media world, check out the listing sites close to you. Your specific town may very well have a site which lists businesses, and if it’s on a listing site like CitySearch.com, make sure you’re on there as well. The basic idea is to plant flags wherever you can, but more importantly, where potential local visitors are more likely to see it. Networking is key to accomplishing this, so utilize those social media sites you signed up for and find local blogs that deal in your niche. Make some friends, get some links – not everything can be bought!

There is always more you can do to help your own business – don’t forget that those big businesses don’t have the time to marlet their site as well as you in your own town. Let them focus on the nationwide efforts while you dominate your own local search, and let an Internet marketing firm like Reciprocal Consulting help!

Within the Social Media sphere there are plenty of tools and methods that one can use to promote themself or their business, or someone else’s business. While each method may have its particular advantages, no single one of these can have the full effect without the others. Generally speaking, these types of effective SMO can be categorized as such:

  • Authority
  • Networking
  • Content Creation
  • People Skills
  • Technical

This is in no way an official list that SMO’s go by, but a general illustration of the breakdown of different ways one can use Social Media for marketing purposes.

  1. Authority – While this is not the easiest way to accomplish one’s marketing goals, being or utilizing a voice of authority on a given topic or within your niche can be a key player in directing users to your site. Whether it be an actor, musician, artist, someone within their 15 minutes of fame, or a silly teenager dancing to techno, these people have one thing in common – when users see mention of their name or work, they will flock to any content including them. If one is able to properly utilize this type of draw, it can do wonders for a website looking for traffic, as long as that traffic is targeted.
  2. Networking – It might seem redundant to insist that the “Social” Media community should interact and communicate with one-another but believe it or not, a lot of people forget that Social Media was created for this purpose. A key factor in the success of a Social Media campaign is the ability of you and/or your site to network with users. On-site interaction doesn’t hurt, and actually being a face in the community when representing said site is important as well.
  3. Content Creation – While a “celebrity” status or a good group of contacts might reel people in, without rich on-site content, your visitors may not stay for long, and with attention spans the way they are these days (thank you “here and now” technology!), it is vital to hold the attention of your viewers. This sort of Social Media Optimization isn’t as much of the “hunt and gather” type, but more the homemaker in the grand scheme of things. Invites may have been answered but if the house is a mess and entertainment is lacking, people will find another party to attend.
  4. People Skills – This end of the spectrum is less focused on the technical aspects of SMO, but important nonetheless. There are plenty of people (many of whom are likely bloggers) that create quite the draw to their writing, photography, art, or whatever, simply because they entice visitors to come to their site. A daily joke, a “what makes me mad” sort of daily report, or a fine piece of poetry – these things aren’t about content so much as how they make visitors feel. Good content and informative reading can keep a user around, but those who crave some sort of satisfaction from their visit might feel unrewarded for clicking that link that led to your page. Of course, this brand of people skills extends into the networking end of things as well. You can know every member on MyBlogLog, Twitter or Digg, but if you never have anything wonderful to say, these contacts of yours will likely ignore your shouts, tweets and updates.
  5. Technical – At the end of the day, all the well wishes, clever stories and funny pictures won’t do any good if people don’t get exposed to you and all your hard work. Knowing which tools to use, and when, may very well be the make-or-break for you. Sure, you might get lucky by submitting a good article to a news site, but having the knowledge of just a few of the available tools is far better than a few shots at the “big time”.

For anyone interested in utilizing the Social Media spectrum, let it be known that this is no easy task. Months of preperation can go into properly organizing a SMO campaign, and it is a daily chore to keep up with the methods involved. On top of all that, there are always changes being made to the sites used, and just as quickly as a site can rise, it can fall if not properly monitored. It is probably best to let an Internet marketing firm such as Reciprocal Consulting assist you in such an endeavor.