Every once in a while someone jumps up and asks the question, “Are Bing and Yahoo! still relevant?” The short answer is, yes, of course they are still relevant. The long answer is a little more involved, but it goes something like this.
Google enjoys a huge share of the search market. More than 60%. The rest is divided among Bing, Yahoo!, and the various search engines below that (Ask, Mahalo, and even YouTube). While it’s important to make sure your website meets Google’s guidelines so you can rank your website well in its index, it’s equally important to ensure that you diversify your traffic sources.
Those of you who have been around for five years or more may remember MySpace. At one time, it was the No. 1 social network. Now, hardly anyone thinks about it.
Why is MySpace important? Because it should serve as a lesson. Obscurity is just one competitor away no matter who you are – even Google.
Google may be top dog in search today, but that doesn’t mean that Web users won’t find something to replace them next year. It could be Facebook or it could be something else. If you rely entirely on Google and Google starts sending you less traffic (even if they don’t fade into obscurity), then your business is shot. Traffic diversity is one of the most important things for anyone running a business online.
For that reason, Bing and Yahoo! are still relevant. Diversify your website traffic.
If you hear an SEO firm promise you permanent search engine rankings, you’d better run. Fast. And not look back. It’s impossible to achieve permanent search engine rankings.
Why is that?
First, because search engines don’t promise anyone a ranking. They certainly don’t promise good rankings. You must earn them.
Secondly, no one else can guarantee you a top spot in the search engines. SEOs can give their best effort to get your site ranked, but they can’t guarantee you a position because they don’t control the search engines.
Thirdly, ALL search engine rankings are temporary. The truth is, search engine rankings change constantly. You could be No. 1 this morning and drop to No. 9 this afternoon for the same search query. You might be No. 1 for a particular search query right now in Minnesota and be on page 2 for the same search query right now in California.
Not only can you rank differently in different places at the same time, or in the same place at different times, but you could also rank differently for different searchers at the same time – even if those searchers are in the same city.
Search engine optimization is no longer about achieving the highest rankings possible for the keywords you are targeting. It’s about maximizing your traffic from the search engines, and that requires more than throwing keywords at algorithms.
If you use WordPress as a content management system or use it for blogging on your business website, you might be wondering whether you need all those plugins that Internet marketers keep recommending, particularly the SEO plugins. Let me just say that SEO is different for every website, so any recommendation for a cookie-cutter SEO plan is a bad recommendation.
That said, there are a few SEO plugins that are good to have, but I’ve seen websites succeed without them. Here’s what I’d suggest to you if you are starting a new website today.
First, build your site and set up your blog. Make sure you employ traditional SEO tactics that are known to still work. These include optimizing your title tags, ensuring your website navigation is pure and easy to use, and managing your keywords effectively. Promote your website using social media, but be careful that you don’t become a social media and/or link spammer. Before you start adding SEO plugins, wait 30 to 60 days. Meanwhile, blog every day using your keyword list as a checklist for topics to write about.
During that 30-60 trial period, monitor your search engine rankings, traffic, and keyword referrer list. Are people finding your website for the keywords you want to be found for? Is your site indexed?
If your site does well without the SEO plugins, you may not need them. But if your site isn’t doing well after 60 days and isn’t gaining in search engine visibility, then add one plugin. Don’t add any more. Test that plugin to see if it improves your search engine visibility. If not, try another. Stop testing plugins when you see improvement. Test each one for 30 days before switching it with another plugin. If you see no improvement at all after 6 months, get rid of all SEO plugins and see how you rank for your keywords now. Chances are, you can get by without the plugins, but it’s nice to have them if you need them.
I’ve always been a big proponent of on-site SEO. Even when link building was at its zenith in popularity, I believed that on-site SEO was very important. I still do.
SEO principles have gone in waves. In some years, on-site SEO factors outweighed off-site factors. In other years, the reverse has been true. But I think that on-site factors have outweighed off-site factors for most of the history of search engine optimization, dating back to 1995.
Why do I say that?
There’s a little phrase that has become a bit of a cliche for online marketers: “Content is king.” Its origins go way back to the very beginning of the Web. On-site content has always been very important for a number of reasons. One of those reasons is for ranking in the search engines, or achieving respectable search engine ranking results. Without on-site content, nothing else really matters.
In a word, content is SEO. On-site content equates to SEO to some degree. Likewise with off-site content. It equals SEO.
To what extent your content is optimized for search engine rankings, to that extent you are building your brand and marketing your business.
Both off-site and on-site content/SEO are important. But if can only do one and not the other, you are better off building your on-site content and improving your on-site SEO. Otherwise, you could find yourself promoting website content that doesn’t exist or that shouldn’t be found.
Every now and then a customer notices a fall in search engine rankings and wonders if maybe they’ve been hit with negative SEO. It happens, I won’t say it doesn’t. But the chances that it has happened to you are pretty slim.
Drops in search engine rankings happen for a number of reasons, most of them more common than negative SEO attacks. If you’ve seen your website’s search engine rankings fall recently, it could for any of these reasons before negative SEO.
- Search engine algorithm change
- Your own faulty SEO campaign
- A link building firm you hired
The Search Ranking Dance
Search engine rankings rise and fall daily. That’s the first thing you should know about SEO. The search engines make over 200 ranking algorithm changes every day. Sometimes those changes are minor and other times they are sweeping. They often cause huge ranking shifts that cause websites to rise and fall sharply in the search engine rankings before settling in at a natural position within the rankings.
If you see your website fall in the search rankings and you can’t finger a reason why, it’s a good bet that the search engines have tweaked their algorithms. Wait a few days and see if you rise back to your normal ranking level. Do nothing. Yet.
Your Own Faulty SEO Campaign
Most likely, you wanted to try a new SEO tactic or implement something you read about in a book, heard about in a forum, etc. That may have caused your rankings to fall. Think back to what you did, why you did it, and how you did it. It’s possible that you can reverse the effects by undoing it. Or you might just have to live with the results and carry on with positive SEO going forward.
Who Did You Hire?
This happens more often than businesses would like to admit. Sometimes a business owner wants to beat the competition so badly that they hire an SEO firm to conduct a link building campaign. That SEO firm goes out and buys links or engages in a low quality link spam campaign that ends up hurting the business.
If you’ve recently hired an outside SEO firm, contact them and ask for a list of things they’ve done for you. Get a list of links they’ve built for you. If they refuse to give you the list, fire them. They’re no good.
Once you identify the cause of your fall in the rankings, then you can go about fixing it. It may or may not have anything to do with negative SEO.
Since the Panda and Penguin updates, SEOs and Internet marketers have come out of the woodwork to tell us all how to survive the updates, how to recover from the updates, and how to ensure the next update doesn’t kill our rankings. Quite frankly, I think it’s unnecessary. If webmasters had been focused on delivering good content all along, then the discussion would be moot.
“But I followed Google’s guidelines!”
It doesn’t matter. Following the guidelines is one thing. Providing excellent content that readers want to read is another.
We’ve entered the age of content marketing, like it or not.
What Is Content Marketing?
Content marketing is the process of writing content for your website and elsewhere that promotes your brand, improves your reputation, and drives traffic back to your website. You are looking at driving traffic, not improving rankings.
Don’t know the difference? Try achieving a No. 1 ranking on any search engine that doesn’t deliver traffic to your website. It happens. Believe me, it happens.
Here’s a question: Would you rather have a page 2 ranking that sends you 10 unique visitors per month or a No. 1 ranking that doesn’t send you any? Now see my point?
The purpose of content marketing is to drive traffic to your landing pages and convert that traffic into sales. It doesn’t really matter where your traffic comes from. That’s irrelevant. You want as much traffic as you can get and you want it to be targeted traffic. Pursuing search engine rankings is the old way of marketing online. Delivering fresh, original and unique content is the way it should be done now. In fact, it’s the way it should always have been done. And when you do it that way, you’ll get the traffic you want and the traffic you deserve.
Search engine optimizers are a strange lot. Once we get an idea in our heads about how SEO ought to be done, it can take an act of Congress to have that idea removed. And I’m not being cryptic.
Most SEOs today will swear by the practice of link building, but there’s little evidence that an abundance of links will put your website at the top of the search engine results while a lack of links will keep your competition at the bottom. In fact, there are plenty of webmasters and Internet marketers who have risen to the top of the search engines doing very little in the way of link building.
That’s not to say that links aren’t important. But if you spend all of your time doing link acquisition the way it is taught in the popular SEO books of our day, then you will likely fail long term.
But link building is just one technique among many. Which SEO tactics you employ are not as important as the effectiveness of the SEO tactics that you do employ. If you want your SEO to push you up to the top of the SERPS, start by researching the keywords that your target audience is likely to use to make a search. Then write your content using those keywords without overdoing it.
Many SEOs fail because they think they have to target the most popular keywords in every niche. If all you want to do is rank, sure. But if you want to get your target audience to convert, then there’s a lot more to SEO than high search engine rankings.
An SEO company conducted an experiment with a well done control test that sheds some light on the connection between organic search rankings and social media promotion. The conclusion is that Google+ promotion increases search rankings. I think there may be some nuances this test doesn’t touch on, but it looks pretty reasonable to me that they’ve drawn the right conclusion.
I have noticed that Google+ is a good reputation management tool.
If you look at the results of the study, they seem to indicate that acquiring new Google+ followers is the best activity for increasing one’s search engine rankings, but that could be misleading. The results are based on gaining just 100 new followers. Would the results be the same if the number of new followers were 1,000? How about 5,000?
Next in line for increasing search engine rankings is getting +1s. It actually makes sense that getting more +1s would increase search engine rankings. This doesn’t surprise me at all.
That Facebook promotion actually does increase Google rankings does surprise me a little bit. But I’m glad to see that it happens. Facebook has done a lot to make itself a walled garden so a lot of your activity isn’t measured by Google. Evidently, Likes and shares are.
Tweets and retweets can also increase search engine rankings, but only by a smidgen. The only thing that surprises me about this is that the results are much lower than expected. I’d have thought that Twitter promotion would do more to increase search engine rankings.
Finally, simply acquiring new Twitter followers not only doesn’t help, but there was a slight decrease in search engine rankings. That’s another surprise. But this might not have anything to do with Twitter. If no other social media activity took place, then the slight decrease in search engine rankings might have been as a result of that lack of activity.
Given these results, it seems to reason that if you engaged in Google+, Facebook, and Twitter promotions simultaneously, then your search engine rankings should improve relative to the amount of activity engaged by your competition. Nice test. I’m glad someone undertook it.
Broken links can kill a website if allowed to go on for too long. That’s why you should identify them quickly and get them taken care of.
So what happens when your website has broken links?
If allowed to linger for too long, broken links can be a ding against your website’s SEO ranking. In other words, they can count against you. One or two might not hurt, but hundreds will. And many webmasters will allow their broken links to continue because they don’t monitor them.
A simple diagnostic tool will tell you if you have broken links on your website. Google Webmaster Tools is free and does the job for you. Google will tell you if your site has broken links.
After you have determined that you have broken links, go to the pages where those links exist and analyze your content. Can you find another source to link to? If so, then replace the broken link with a link to a resource that is just as helpful, or more, to your website visitors. If you can’t find one, then consider revising your content so that the link isn’t necessary.
When you revise your content you invite the search engines back to re-crawl your pages. They will then re-index your pages based on the latest crawl and re-rank them. Some webmasters have seen increased page rankings based on fixing broken links.
If you are looking for more opportunities to increase your website’s search engine optimization, find and fix your broken outbound links. It’s a small thing, but it can matter.
I love this quote from SEO Theory’s rant on search engine rankings.
We need to stop thinking and talking about “the ranking algorithm” and start thinking about “the ranking system”. The search engines are bringing field artillery to the gunfight and you’re standing there with a water pistol. You have to scale up your metaphorical landscape so that you’re talking about the same level of complexity they are.
I agree that it’s silly to talk about a ranking algorithm. It should really be called a ranking system. It’s so complex that no one can dissect it and come up with answers, though many SEOs have claimed to do so. What we can do is test our web pages and see if we have some understanding of what is working.
Are you testing your SEO tactics? Do you know if it works when you add a link from a particular types of website? Do you know if using one keyword phrase makes a difference over another?
Search engine rankings are some of the most complex systems known or devised by man. You can’t second guess them. You can’t predict. And you can’t really reverse engineer them. But you can observe them.
Is it possible to improve search engine rankings overnight? Let’s say you have a few keywords that are attracting search engine traffic, but you know that you rank at the bottom of page one or on page two for those keywords. What should you do?
Consider that about 90% of searchers click on page one results. Also consider that more than 80% of searchers click on one of the top three listings on page one. It makes sense to try to increase your rankings for those keywords that are moderately successful.
What you want to do is identify those keywords that are sending you traffic but whose search engine rankings are below the top three positions on page one yet not further down than page three. Got that list? Now, start a link building campaign that focuses on building solid anchor text links for those specific keywords.
This process should take no more than a month or two. If you build good links – that is, focus on links from high authority web pages, use specific anchor text, stay away from spam in any form, and stay consistent and steady – then you can increase your search engine rankings in just a short time.
Link building is a time consuming process, but it is well worth the effort for the pay load on the back end. It won’t happen overnight, but it can happen.
Google Analytics is now tracking page load time. This is significant for a number of reasons.
First, conversion rate. It is now widely believed that page load time affects conversion rates. After all, site visitors will not wait long for your page to load. You have about eight seconds to capture their attention. Anything beyond that and they’re off to some place else. This is true whether they arrive on your landing page from an organic search engine listing or a pay-per-click ad.
Secondly, page load speed affects your pay-per-click quality score. There is no doubt about it. If a competitor’s website loads faster than yours and you are both bidding on the same keywords, the slower loading landing page will likely rank lower in the ad placement resulting in fewer clicks.
Thirdly, you will likely lose organic search rankings too. The jury is still out on whether Google uses page load time to determine search engine rankings, but I’m betting that they do. If that is the case, then you will see fewer click-throughs in addition to a lower conversion rate.
What all this boils down to is less traffic to your sub-par pages, and fewer conversions on the traffic you do get.
If you haven’t paid attention to your page load times until now, you should start thinking about it right away. Track and measure those page load times and fix your deficiencies – before they fix you.
Internet marketers don’t talk about web citations very often. But there is such a thing as a Web citation that doesn’t involve a link. It can be helpful in obtaining decent local search engine rankings.
If you look at your Google Place page as well as your Yahoo! Local and Bing Local listings, then you’ll notice that your business address and phone number are included in those listings. As they should be. But what if your business name, address, and phone number appear on other pages around the Web without a link pointing back to your website. Would that help you?
I believe these types of Web citations do, in fact, help you if you are a local business seeking local search rankings. It means that local businesses do not necessarily have to have a load of inbound links in order to rank for local search terms.
So where can you find these Web citations?
First and foremost, you should have your contact information on your website. Secondly, industry or niche business directories, as well as local community directories, can be a big help. Your local Chamber of Commerce website can also provide a link. If you are a travel-related business, then the local visitor’s information center could list you as a resource. General directories like YellowPages.com and Superpages can also provide the information.
In those listings, of course, a link can help you – it will never hurt. I am simply saying it isn’t necessary to give you a respectable local search ranking. However, you still want to be competitive.
Here are two scenarios to illustrate how links and Web citations work together to improve your local search visibility.
- You have 100 Web citations of equal relevance to your closest competitor’s 50 Web citations. All other search criteria data are equal. You will likely rank higher than your competition.
- Both you and your closest competitor have 100 Web citations of equal relevance. You have 100 inbound links of high quality and relevance while your competition has only 50 inbound links of equal quality and relevance. All other factors are equal. You will likely rank higher than your competition.
So, as you can see, Web citations are important for local search positioning, but so are links. If you have both, then you are going somewhere.
Adding a blog to your small business website can increase your SEO benefits tremendously. There are a number of benefits you can receive from a company blog, but these three SEO benefits are very distinct benefits you receive if you blog often and blog using the right strategy.
- Increased search engine rankings – Every blog post is treated like its own web page. That means every blog post has the potential to rank for your keywords on its own merit.
- More opportunities to rank – Every blog post you write invites the search engines back to your website to recrawl it. They will not come back to your site again until it is updated. Because your static site gets updated less often, you should have a blog that you update on a regular basis so that you can have your website crawled often.
- More navigational links – Because you can link from your blog to your main website, you can build more links. Those links will serve as important navigational tools for your visitors, but the search engines like links too. The anchor text you use for those links can push your web pages up further in the search engines in addition to the SEO benefits you get from the content.
A blog is one of the best SEO tools available for your website. If you don’t have one yet, now is the time to consider one.
Do you have a difficult time keeping up with Google’s algorithm? Do you try to follow it and make changes to your site every time a new algorithm change is announced, hoping that your changes are going to improve your search engine rankings? Here’s a word of advice: Stop doing that.
It’s a good thing that you are watching the search engines and seeing what they are doing. Keeping up with changes in the search engines and search technology is an important part of SEO and keeping your sites geared for search engine traffic, but that doesn’t mean you have to make changes to your website every time a new algorithm change is introduced.
In fact, most algorithm changes don’t require any changes at all. Instead, keep your eyes on the basics of SEO and let the search engines take care of the rest.
The search engines change their algorithms for different reasons. Sometimes they are correcting or compensating for other factors in the algorithm in order to balance out the importance of the factors being considered for ranking purposes. Other times, they are combating spam or addressing negative issues that affect the entire search community. Instead of guessing at what the algorithm means and how you should respond, focus on the basics and doing what is right.
A Rank Report is a report you receive that details how search engine optimization efforts have affected your keyword rankings. It is generally composed of your list of keywords and how they rank at the top search engines, including Google, Bing, and Yahoo!
The keyword ranking report has a start date and an end date for comparison purposes. If you know, for instance, that your most important keyword was ranked at No. 10 in Google, No. 5 in Bing, and No. 20 in Yahoo! on such-and-such date then you can judge your progress on another date three or six months later. That’s the benefit of a Rank Report.
The Rank Report tells you your current position for each keyword in each of the search engines, the previous ranking, the difference in the change, what page of the search results for each search engine the landing page for that keyword appears on, and your best ranking during the report period. That’s a lot of information, but all of it is necessary in order to judge your SEOs effectiveness.
Click the following link to see a sample Rank Report in PDF format. To learn more about how search engine optimization can improve your online marketing efforts, visit Reciprocal Consulting’s main website.
Search engine marketing is the practice of influencing a website’s rankings by increasing their visibility in the search engines. It is generally thought of as existing in two branches: Paid search and organic search.
Link building falls into the organic search model, which generally is defined as the process of building web pages with search engine optimization in mind and increasing a page’s chances of ranking higher in the search engine results. On-page factors alone generally are not enough to hold search engine rankings long term. Hence, the reason for link building.
Link building seldom does well by itself, however. A poorly defined website with poorly written content will not be made better with great link building. If your link building succeeds you will only be successful at driving traffic to poor websites.
But if your website is well written, has a great design, and your on-page SEO is excellent then great link building can give your site a real boost in the search engine rankings. And if you do any paid search marketing, your paid ads existing alongside your organic search listings will be much more effective. That’s when you know that your search engine marketing efforts are really paying off.
I was speaking with a small business owner a few months back about a Search Engine Optimization firm he wanted to hire. His budget was small, his expectations were high, and he wanted my opinion on the matter. The first question he asked me was “Is it worth it?”, to which I had to ask, “What guarantees did they make?”
Think of an SEO firm as a retail store that sells handmade items. This shop will likely state that their inventory is subject to change, and that they cannot guarantee a particular item to be in stock. This is due to the nature of their product, and the fact that the supplier of a particular product may decide to stop making them. The problem here is that some potential customers might view this as unreliability on the seller’s part, and decide to take their business to a larger chain store which can make a guarantee like that, since their items are mass produced, and there will always be a model by which to make more. So would it be ethical for the smaller shop to make the same guarantee as the chain store in order to prevent customers from shopping elsewhere? No. Such a claim would be misleading, as the small store has no control over the claim they would be making.
However, there are no large chain stores in the Internet marketing world, and search engine results conditions apply to all firms, big or small. Because of this, every SEO service that a firm offers is subject to some change, and no firm can make a guarantee on your rankings, results, etc. This is just the way it is.
So going back to the initial question: “Is it worth it?” Well, that all depends on the firm with which you are dealing. Here are some things to look for in a prospective firm:
- First and foremost, any firm that guarantees specific results or ranking is most likely uninformed, unethical, or about to take your money and run. This is a clear sign that a firm doesn’t know what they are doing, or their guarantee on said promised results are misleading, and they will not help your business at all.
- A guarantee for rankings might be fulfilled, however, the keywords for which your site will rank will likely be irrelevant to your business and of little or no worth. A SEO firm cannot guarantee rankings on specific keywords, especially those applicable to a given niche, which is what SEO is all about in the first place.
- A guarantee for results on specific search engines can be achieved, but don’t expect to show up in 94% of the results in the U.S., as this percentage makes up all search results on Google, Yahoo and MSN. That other 6% makes up the many smaller search engines, which are rarely used, and even showing up for the number one result on any of these engines will amount to nothing in terms of conversions.
- Ask a lot of questions about their plans concerning your SEO campaign. Any firm that makes guarantees but wont let the client in on what they plan to do is likely going to drive non-targeted traffic to the site.
However, there are guarantees that can be made. While firms may not be able to promise a number one spot on Google or a ranking position on a certain number of search engines, there are guarantees that you should expect from an Internet marketing firm.
- The client will always be informed of what strategies are being implemented within an SEO campaign, including what links we are getting for them, and from which sites these links are coming.
- The client knows how much of their budget is being spent on link building and how much is being spent elsewhere.
- The client is given monthly reports containing all links aquired, including all details about those links.
- Generally speaking, a firm can guarantee an increase in ranking. Effective SEO strategies are proven methods, and therefore, certain results should be expected. While a firm cannot guarantee a specific ranking, they should be able to guarantee an increase in ranking.
- A firm must perform an analysis of the client’s website in order to determine the best strategy for the SEO campaign – this generally entails on-site optimization, which may involve additions, or subtractions, from on-site content.
If you’d like to speak with an Internet marketing firm that specializes in SEO and is open to all questions concerning your campaign, don’t hesitate to contact Reciprocal Consulting.