Do SEO projects fail?

Answer to the question Do SEO-projects fail is quite simple: yes, sometimes. But why, that is another question.

I read recently an article by Michael Martinez in SEO Theory and Analyses Blog where he was analyzing the question Why SEO Projects Fail. There is no real correct answer, but some reasons can be identified, and I will talk about those reasons in this article.

Poor Execution

The SEO plan needs to be followed properly, other why it will fail. After a first sign of trouble you need to back up and investigate what went wrong. If you are e.g. handling a complex SEO plan, you should probably review your procedures and include metrics for success for each step. Otherwise you will be going towards failure.

Don’t focus on your rankings, focus rather on your analytics. If you are told to build more links, you should have a criteria to measure the links and have some kind of metric that tracks the quality of the links. If you are told to change all meta descriptions and titles, you should know what is the payoff you are looking for.

An SEO cannot promise any specific rankings or traffic, but you should be looking for to improve search referrals for specific keywords.

Misplaced ambitions

If the client demands the moon it doesn’t mean that you should be able to deliver it. So if an SEO plan you have created fails because the goal is unrealistic, it is your failure, not clients.

The fact is that many clients have unreasonable expectations, but you need to present the client what goals are achievable and what what are the right tools measuring success.

Set realistic goals for the kinds of resources that will be put into the website. Walk away from a client that ignores the risks, and be sure that the contract includes all the risks, obligations, and liabilities.

Unreliable resources

What does “risk” mean for an SEO specialist? Let’s look at this by link building point-of-view.

The risk is not only a question about how likely it is to get penalized but also question about what is the likelihood of a resource to get penalized, ignored by search engines, or to vanish.

The risk of search engine optimization can be defined as the potential negative value associated with any given practice. The bigger the potential for negative value, the bigger the risk, because negative value is essentially that which hurts your site either by wasting your time or money, getting you penalized, providing only short-term results, or requiring lots of maintenance and support.

The more time and effort you are putting into your link building, the more money and resources you need to devote to your link building. This means that your search engine optimization becomes less efficient and riskier. If you can use more self-sustaining resources, the less risk and the more efficient your efforts become. But these “self-sustaining resources” don’t mean autopilot blogs fed by RSS feeds!

Another example of unreliable resources include writers and tools producing content for you. Spam works, but not long enough period of time to be worthwhile.

Stupidity

Question everything you read. There are loads of crap advice that popular SEO blogs can give you, but it actually just generates immediate value for the crap advice giver. Not always though.

Those really good SEO people usually write about basic and fundamental stuff quite a lot.

Some of these really smart people can give you good advice, but it’s not just working for you. That can be due to a fact that you are using the wrong advice for your specific need. You cannot use the same idea for every project, and the smart people are sharing ideas that should be used sensibly.

SEO projects can also fail because…

The times are changing. The search engine is changing and new algorithms are coming. People are changing.

Even the good SEO projects have time limits, or may just be running up against unforeseen circumstances. It doesn’t mean that every SEO project violates a search engine’s guidelines, attempts to achieve too much, relies on low quality resources, or glibly tries to replicate someone’s success without considering all the variables.

Unfortunately, you cannot guarantee success. But you can guarantee the quality of your work, and you can learn from the mistakes and success of other people as you go along.

How to make your website convert

How to make your website converting better is a difficult question which most of the companies are facing in some point. First things first, need to increase the traffic to the site.

SEO is a tool for improving your rankings and in that way increasing the traffic to your site. The point is not to just get whatever traffic to your site, you should target to increase the converting traffic, people who are actually interested in buying your product/service.

Proper keyword research is in place to figure out what are the most converting keywords, and then optimizing the website for those keywords. As I mentioned before in the article SEO for small businesses, don’t be too eager and try to rank for a large number of keywords, unless you have an unlimited marketing budget.

But how to make that traffic to do something – buy, or sign up, or call – when they are finally in your wesbite?

I saw a good presentation from Phyllis Nichols of Sound Advice Sales about How to Improve Your Website Conversion Rates and decided to lift up some points from her presentation.

(You can see the full presentation video and read the article from here)

According to Phyllis, conversion is really helping your visitors to take the appropriate next step.

First of all, you need to know your audience. What appeals to your audience? What kind of images, vocabulary and terminology you are using, images, colours… All of these has an important role. It certainly makes a difference in your terminology if you are trying to sell for a 15-year-old or 40-year-old.

What about if a person comes to your website in the middle of the night when you are most likely sleeping? Is he/she able to interact with your website? Can he/she learn something? What keeps him/her thinking about your site still the next day?

When a person lands on your page you want him/her to feel that he/she has come to a right place. The first seconds are important, because the person is most likely to do either conscious or subconscious decision within the first 3-4 seconds if he/she came to the right place. So make sure your headline is appealing, also the first sub-headline and the following first sentences.

You shouldn’t have too much text on your homepage. The rule of thumb could be 2 paragraphs with 3-4 sentences on each paragraph.

Don’t put all the information to a one place. It is common that if people see a lot of text on one page they don’t bother to read it, they rather move forward. In worst case, to another website. Try to divide the text between different pages so your visitors will actually move around in your site and stay longer there.

Some more things you should avoid are bad contrast or too small font size, confusing or irritating elements and failure in navigation.

What is great content then?

It is a content that is solving your clients’ problems and matching expectations, updated often so it stays current, and it is giving a reason for a visitor to come back. Remember that people often want to get evidence that the information is credible, they want to know who is behind the website, and they want to make a connection.

Using Social Media for promoting small business

I wrote quite recently an article about the importance of SEO for small business. Today, I saw a related article in Forbes, How To Use Social Media To Promote Your Small Business, and I thought it would be a good subject to write about.

Where to start your social media marketing practice?

1. What and who?

Start buy asking yourself three questions: what are you trying to promote, what are your assets, who are your target customers?

2. Sign up!

If you are not yet in Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn, it is time to sign up. Facebook allows you to create a page for your business, wither an own account or through your personal account. Twitter is a good place for sharing your possible blog posts, or your thought, and in Google+ you can build your own circles. LinkedIn is the most professional of these different channels, and who could be better advocate than your customers.

3. Use a Social Media Manager

It can be hard to manage several different social media accounts, and it can be confusing. Before you start requesting friends, posting content and adding followers, you should sign-up for a social media manager like Ping.fm or HootSuite. This makes it possible to manage all the accounts from the same place and review the success of the tweets real-time with click-through statistics. In addition to this, the social media manager allows you to gather all the mentions of your brand, industry or search terms on Twitter. This is for free version. If you want to extend, you can start using SproutSocial.com, it has even more features but it is not free.

4. Update, update, update

You need to remember to post updates and have some content on your social media pages before starting to add friends. You need to give reason for people to start following you. Provide valuable information about the industry and post pictures of your business or people enjoying your business. Post videos.

5. Find friends and followers

Twitter and Google+ are easiest to find followers, just search keywords to find them. Also for searching your town and surrounding areas is good way to find key influencers, news outlets, city officials and bloggers. Search for large players in the market. It is good to add only few people at a time, and on Google+, comment on one of their posts immediately; on Twitter, mention them in a post immediately. For finding fans on Facebook, start with your friends and family.

6. Engage friends and followers

Your first priority should be to build a relationship with people, not promote your brand or product. Give them leads and stories that have nothing to do with the business. On Facebook you should share links on your wall and comment on them, and always acknowledge birthdays. On Twitter you should retweet their stories and comment on them. Remember to reply each and every message and keep the conversation going. In LinkedIn the best way to engage with potential customers is by joining industry groups and starting group discussions.

7. Stay current

Check your social media accounts often and regularly, preferably get alerts sent to your phone when folks engage with you via your social networking channels. This at least in the beginning so that you will respond quickly.

 

SEO Malta, or Malta SEO?

This blog post is about SEO in Malta. The title illustrates the first question I confronted when I started writing the blog post: should I use “SEO Malta” or “Malta SEO”. (the answer would be “SEO Malta”, because it has more search volume)

The most natural would have been to choose “SEO in Malta”, but that phrase doesn’t have any search volume in Google. Tricky.

The purpose of this article is not to compare different keywords or -phrases, it is rather to talk a bit about the current situation regarding SEO in Malta, or lack of that. The fact is that this is not unique for Malta, in the Nordic countries SEO consultancy companies have the same problem with uneducated customers, and here we are supposed to be frontline in regards to Internet adaption and SEO skills.

Maltese companies understand the importance of internet and they are willing to create very nice websites. The problem is that once the website is created and live, it will be “left alone” just hoping and trusting that people will find it. Other option is that they believe the web developers can handle the optimization of the site, and the result is keyword-stuffed titles that are too long and similar for each page, too long meta descriptions, also keyword stuffed, and all the main keywords placed in the meta data for competitors to benchmark.

Many of the Maltese companies love flash, and unfortunately often their site navigation is built by using Flash. No good nor search engine friendly.

There are a number of web development companies in Malta that are offering also SEO services. These companies usually don’t have much clue about SEO but the fact that they can offer everything (design, development and SEO) from one company gives them a unique selling point.

The problem with poorly optimized websites in Malta is not only bad thing for the companies, it is also a bit annoying for people who live in or come to visit Malta. It is very hard to find information from Internet, whether it is regarding ferry or bus schedules, beauty salons, or online shops.

One would think that Malta is an ideal place for SEO companies: a lot of work to be done and not that much competition. The problem is to make the local companies to understand what SEO really is and the importance of it.

 

SEO for small businesses

SEO is definitely not overrated even though some say it is “dead”. There are many people who don’t really understand how essential part SEO is of an online marketing strategy. It is one of the most affordable, easy and powerful ways to market your business in Internet. It is an investment in time and resources that will continue to return results to your business over time and at a price that fits everyone’s budget.

The fact is that 60 % of marketers don’t invest in SEO and only 15 % see SEO as an important part of their marketing strategy. There is a good chance that your most important competitor is not doing SEO at all.

There are many reasons why SEO is important for small businesses, and also things to pay attention to. I will address some of those in this article.

Keywords don’t look at the size of the business

When people want to find a certain product or service, they go to Google (or some other search engine) and type in the keywords that best describe what they are looking for. Google will dig into its archives and fetch the results that are most relevant for that search and organize the results according to their relevancy. Search engines won’t look at the size of your business when they are organizing the data, so if you have been practicing SEO well, there is a big likelihood that your website will pop up in the search results.

Good SEO demands high quality content

To be able to rank well in Google, the content of your website should be of high quality. You shouldn’t just stuff the content full of keywords, keep in mind that you are writing the content for humans, not for robots. If you are a small business, your trustworthiness will increase together with high quality content that people like to read and they actually find some information from it.

Don’t be too eager

Often the case is that a website owner wants to target with as many keywords as possible. If you are a small business, your marketing budget is not probably the biggest. If you are trying to target with several keywords and your budget is small, it will take very long time before you are able to see results and the effect won’t be as strong. It is better to focus on just some of the most important keywords and trying to geo-target those. This is a powerful tool for small businesses and will make return on investment.

Don’t choose the most competitive keywords

If you choose the keywords to target that are most competitive, it will cost you more and take more time to see results. The highly competitive keywords can provide a lot of traffic to your site, but in the same time it will be very hard to achieve good rankings with these keywords. Again, it will demand a big budget and longer time. Geo-targeting is a great option in this case as well.

Some more facts still about how important SEO is for all, weather you have a small or bigger business.

  • 91 % of Internet users use search engines.
  • Over 70 % of Google’s users choose natural search results as the most relevant and trustworthy.
  • Over 70 % of all online transactions start with search engines.

 

How to recognize a paid link from a natural link

I wrote earlier about link building, how to find and train link builders. I think now it is time to write about trying to recognize paid links from natural links.

When you are doing link building, you should avoid getting links from websites that are obviously selling links (no, I don’t mean Google’s sponsored links or similar). That is bad SEO and against Google’s rules. You shouldn’t pay for links, but you can send content to the website or just ask the webmaster to place a link to his website. Links should look natural and fit into the content.

Sometimes it can be difficult to draw a line between paid link and natural link. There are anyway some general patterns that you can recognize.

1. Links are hidden among the text

You don’t really see any outgoing links from the normal page view, but if you take the text only -version, you will notice all the links hidden in the footer or somewhere else in the text.

2. Lots of outgoing links from the site, especially to commercial sites

A website has lots of outgoing links without any reference to this other websites. As an example could be a page explaining about cardiovascular training and then linking with an anchor text “weight loss” to a website that is promoting weight loss pills.

3. Outgoing links in an unnatural way from each blog post

A blog has outgoing links from every blog post without the blogger to refer to these other sites he is linking to. Quite common is to have 2-3 links from each blog post to the same website, using keywords as anchor texts.

4. Unrelated links

A website has unrelated links in the content. With unrelated link I mean a link that is not related to the content of the page. An example could be a website about health and suddenly there is a link to casino site.

I know it is very hard to get links from websites without any incentives, I have bumped into the problem several times at my work. You just need to be creative and try to come up with ideas how to get links without needing to pay for those.

Infographics

Data-visualization is a great way to deliver a message in a short and attention-grabbing manner. “A picture is worth 1000 words.”

An infographic is a graphical representation of an idea or a concept and can often tell a message more effectively than you can with words. It’s a good way to represent information in an interesting and high-impact way, and it can be much easier and faster to digest than a text-only version of the same information.

You have probably seen some infographics before, but here is one example that I very much like:

http://degreesearch.org/blog/infographics/valentines_day_spending/



As you can see from that infographics, an infographic packages graphs, charts, other images and text into one image file. It makes the information easier to syndicate to other websites while maintaining the formatting.

An infographic is easy to embed on other websites so is is an attractive option for site owners using the content as well. And there is no risk for duplicate content because the image is not crawlable by the search engines.

An infographic that is visually appealing and attention-catching will have a high chance of being shared with friends online. A successful infographic is a great tool for link building and it will also increase traffic to the website and improve brand awareness.

Infographics in link building

An infographic is a great tool to be used in link building because of its ability to grab people’s attention and their willingness to share them via social media and blogs. A catchy infographic with the embed code provided immediately under it is easy to embed and share.

But how is it possible to use infographics successfully in link building if there is a lack of crawlability?

The key is to include a brief text under the image in the embed code that you provide to other site owners. A few different texts can be written, each using different keywords as the link text when linking back to your site.

Of course, the more interesting the infographic is, the greater the likelihood that people will want to share it with others either via social media or on their own sites.

What is a good infographic?



A good infographic should consist of data that is reliable and fresh. It should be gathered intelligently and represented in a surprising way giving information.

The design should be reader-friendly and you should pay attention to the users of your data. It is always good to have some professionals involved. Things to consider in the design are e.g. colours, font and images.

If the infographic doesn’t make you say “Wow” when you look at it, it’s not probably attractive enough.

It is important to review data and compile a design with a distinct point of view. An infographic should persuade and educate the viewer, without forgetting the quality design.

The URL where the infographic is hosted is equally important as the infographic.
 Know who your targets are and make sure that as many people as possible are exposed to the infographic.

Link building – how to find and train link builders

Link building is very basis of SEO, but it is time consuming, it requires hard work and patience. It is always an advantage if you can hire someone to do link building for yourself rather than do it yourself. But, to find and educate one can be tricky and there is always a risk that your site gets banned from Google if link building is done by suspicious way (black hat SEO).

Petter Attia published an article last week about How to Train a Link Builder. In the article he assumed that the person to be trained didn’t know anything about SEO. I have trained several link builders in my previous job and I can relate to the article he wrote. Some differences in the order how to start and proceed with the training there are though.

1. Finding an appropriate person to do link building.

This can be difficult because often the candidates don’t really know what the work is about. It is important to make it clear already in the first interviews that there will be no misunderstandings and then huge disappointments when the work starts. Being unmotivated is one of the worst things and it will definitely kill all the creativity.

Maybe the most important qualities that the potential candidate has is being street smart, creative and ambitious. They don’t need to know anything about SEO, but they should be familiar with surfing in Internet and interested in it.

You can find more ideas from Justin Briggs’s article What Makes an Effective Link Builder.

2. Educating the link builder with the basics in SEO

Comprehensive training in link building is the key. Even though a link builder don’t need to know much about SEO, it is still good to teach him the basics of SEO and how search engines work, what is the difference between anchor text and keyword, etc.

4. What kind of sites to contact

This is critical and apparently so hard for some link builders to know. What kind of sites are ok to contact? They cannot be too spammy, they can’t be selling links or have suspicious incoming/outgoing links, and the content of the site shouldn’t be copied, especially of there is no reference to the original content. There is always a risk that your site gets banned from Google if you do suspicious link building.

What is a good website then? This is about analyzing the websites where you need to use some SEO tools (e.g. SEO toolbar, Quirk search status, etc.) and know some important parameters: age, overall link profile, Google cache date, how many indexed pages the website has, how is the content quality…. The list is quite long but the link builder have to know the list and keep in mind the important parameters.

There are not clear answers to all questions about the parameters, so common sense and ability to be street smart are important.

3. What is a good link and link placement

Where in the website to place the link? Preferably not in the footer, header or marginal, too close to other outgoing links, etc), what keywords to use and to what landing page to link, etc. The links built should be registered and marked down somewhere, and you should (or some of the SEOs) check the links built and give feedback on those. These kind of quality controls are important in the learning perspective and to be able to increase the quality of the links.

4. Emailing and negotiating

How to start sending out emails and make sure that they won’t go to spam filters? What words should be avoided in the email, and what is a good subject. How to structure the email.

What if the link builder don’t get any replies? Have to send reminders. How many, how often?

The link builder gets a negative reply. What to answer, or should he answer? What about answering to a positive email, how to get forward in negotiations?

Michael King wrote a great article about sending emails, Throw Away Your Form Letters (or Five Principles to Better Outreach Link Building. It is worth reading.

Conclusion

This article was just to show how it is to actually educate link builders what things are worth to take into consideration. Of course it always depends on your site and what kind of industry you are working with, how careful you need to be.

What is important it’s to follow up and monitor the link built and what effects it has on your rankings. Quality controls, constant feedback and encouraging the link builders to ask lots of questions is vital.

 

Google Panda update launches internationally

Probably most of you already know what Google Panda is? Google made two major changes to its algorithm earlier this year, and this Panda Update was rolled out earlier this year. This time the update wasn’t targeted only to spammy or scraper websites but also low quality websites that are doing shady linking practices. The purpose of the Panda Update is remove all the low quality websites from the rankings.

The Panda Update was first launched in US in late February this year, and in April to all the English language indices internationally. Now recently Google announced, that the Panda update has been rolled out internationally in all languages (except Chinese, Korean and Japanese).

I read a good article written by Vanessa Fox and published in Search Engine Land. Vanessa wrote in the article how Panda has seemed to focuse on unique value and user experience:

  • How is the content quality of the site compared to other webpages with similar content?
  • Is there more than one page focusing on the same thing?
  • Is most of the content original or copied?
  • If the content is unique, is it credible and covering the topic completely, or is it only a superficial scratch?
  • Is the website user friendly and easy to navigate?
  • Are the design and goals of the website user-focused or revenue-focused?

Because Panda is now international, webmasters and site owners internationally have to take actions in trying to prevent the update to affect their sites. Good starting point is to make sure that your site is not having these 5 deadly content sins that Cyrus Shepard mentioned in his article about beating Google’s Panda Update:

  • Heavy template footprint: Template footprint creates a low ratio of original content.
  • Empty content: Is there pages that exist only to link to other pages? Eliminate these or add some good quality content on these pages.
  • Overlapping and redundant articles: Each page of a site should talk about a specific topic, not just writing about the same topic with slightly different keywords.
  • High ad ratio: Even though it would be about Google AdWords…
  • Affiliate links and auto-generated content: Build your website and add the content yourself, don’t use automated content. Human touch is important.

If your site has suffered from lost traffic and rankings due to Panda Update, and you do the changes mentioned and avoid the 5 deadly content sins, your rankings will probably get better, but don’t expect it to happen very fast.