Companies invest thousands and sometimes tens of thousands of dollars per month into improving their natural search engine visibility. At times, certain influences or perspectives occasionally evolve to work directly against the efforts of the professional SEO consultant. Here I’ll describe three scenarios and hopefully help companies avoid the unfortunate expense of sabotaging their own SEO investment.
1. Redesigning web sites or changing content management systems without a SEO migration plan. At a recent conference I met a web design type who asked what I do. I replied that I own a SEO consulting company. His reply, “Ah, keyword stuffing”. While this was most likely an attempt at humor, my reply was more typical: “Thanks to web designers/developers, SEOs are busier than ever.” “Do you do web design?” says the humorist. My reply was common for most SEO agencies: “It’s not our focus, but I have web dev talent on staff to fix issues caused by design agencies that make client web sites nearly invisible to search engines.”
Most web design or redesign projects are executed on specifications. In many cases, those specifications emphasize front end design and user experience elements as well as back end content management and administration features. What most web design specifications do not include is attention to how search engines will interact with the web site or how a re-design will impact current search engine visibility.
The result for a web site redesign or change in content management system that does not consider implications for search engines can be disastrous. When changes are made to a web site, it can affect overall content organization, navigation, past SEO efforts of content, syntax of file names and a host of other web page elements.
When search engines crawl web sites, they make copies of web pages and links. Changing web pages and links without redirecting in the right way can be confusing to search engines.
When the search engine revisits a web site expecting to find pages and links where there are none (because file names have changed) the resulting “404 Not Found” errors send a signal to the engines that the content no longer exists. That means the pages can be removed from the index and become no longer available to people searching for your products and services.
Time and time again, when I explain the consequences of making major changes to a web site design and/or content management system, web designers and site owners alike respond with, “I never thought about that”. The consequences of having significant portions of a web site unavailable in the search engines can mean a drop in visitors and sales – a potentially expensive situation.
The solution to this unintentional sabotage is to implement a SEO migration plan that will help mitigate any negative effects of a major site change. If a web site and the links from other sites pointing to that web site have been known to a search engine for any notable amount of time, then there is a certain equity that has been built up. Changing content and links essentially sabotages that equity and can result in plummeting search visibility.
2. Focusing SEO efforts on keyword phrases based on marketing materials. As companies become increasingly aware of the value from being easily found on major search engines, they being to incorporate the advice so easily available online, in books and at conferences.
Keywords are the core of how search marketing works since they are what consumers search for and use to discover content. Keyword phrases are also how search engines understand content for indexing and sorting search results.
A common self-sabotage related to keywords is when companies focus their web site’s keyword optimization on phrases derived from marketing materials, product data sheets and from internal staff and not based on the search phrases potential customers actually use when searching.
Why is optimizing content with keywords from marketing materials, executives or employees, sabotage? Just because words are an accurate description of a company’s products and services, doesn’t mean those words are used by prospects when searching a search engine.
A simple survey of sales people or customer service employees can identify whether customers use different language to describe a company’s products’ features, benefits and problems they solve.
Brainstorming keywords from existing marketing materials, executives, brand and product managers, customers and even competitor web sites is a great starting point. However, the resulting keyword phrases represent speculation about what it is that people actually type into a search box when they’re looking for what the company offers.
Keyword research is a critical part of getting results from search engine optimization of a company web site. Leaving keyword generation up to such speculation is a crap shoot. It’s important to leverage keyword research tools that harvest the searches or queries that people make when they use search engines. The results can be very enlightening.
One company that I worked with a while back thought “telemarketing outsourcing” was their money phrase. The executives were set on that phrase because it’s what people in their company and industry used to describe the solutions the company specialized in. However, “telemarketing outsourcing” wasn’t the phrase that buying customers were searching on most often.
After doing keyword research and testing, it was determined that “call center outsourcing” was higher in demand and more relevant to what the company offered. As such, the ability for this phrase to generate revenue was much higher than the first phrase used so often by industry insiders.
Don’t leave keyword research to chance. Follow a keyword strategy when keyword glossaries are developed and as part of the ongoing content marketing efforts. Be optimized and found for phrases that are important to your customers. Spend time monitoring web analytics data for keyword based conversions and make changes with on-page optimization accordingly.
3. Approaching SEO exclusively as a web development task and not a marketing effort. When I started doing SEO in the late nineties, it was the IT or webmasters of the world that implemented site optimization efforts.
Because many web sites did not use content management systems, adding content or making any changes to company web sites was up to IT staff. Also, links were not as important as a signal influencing rankings. As a result, companies perceived Search Engine Optimization as a web development “fix”.
While conducting code and server side optimization efforts along with on-page keyword optimization is definitely a starting point in using SEO to improve a web site’s performance in search engines, it’s just that – a start.
Search engines respond favorably to web sites that publish new content and acquire new links on an ongoing basis. And here’s a secret, wink wink: People do too. Adding new content gives both customers and search engine bots a reason to come back. Promoting new content on the social web and through other traditional online marketing channels like Email, RSS, Forums and advertising creates awareness, which can attract links. Links can drive traffic and serve as a signal to search engines which can result in increased search engine visibility.
“Tuning up” a web site by making it more search engine friendly technically and with keywords in content is absolutely helpful and important. Stopping there is sabotaging the web site’s ability to maintain results and continue to improve any competitive advantage.
Billions of documents are indexed and who knows how many are served as search results every day. Search results are not limited to web pages either, including blog posts, images, video, news and other types of content. The competition for those top 10 organic positions isn’t getting less.
It’s like losing weight and staying fit. Of course you amp things up to lose pounds but you don’t stop there. As diet and exercise are important to get and stay healthy, so are new content and links to stay healthy in the search results. The mixture of each can vary by person for weight loss and by web site for SEO.
Are all or most web design agencies guilty of creating or re-designing non-search friendly web sites? I’d say in this day in age, no. Awareness levels have increased substantially in the past 10 years, but new web sites are launched every day causing business owners to scratch their heads after a few months and wonder where the search traffic is.
The key is to get tuned up and then continue a program of new content creation, optimization and promotion using web analytics to measure effectiveness and make recommendations for continuous refinement.
Don’t sabotage your web site’s search engine marketing performance by focusing solely on the web design/development aspects of web site optimization. Factor in the need to create and promote content, measuring results and scaling up what’s working and phasing out what doesn’t. Marketing on an ongoing basis essential for effective SEO results. That’s what the competition is doing and to be competitive, ongoing content creation, promotion and search analytics are a must for most web sites.
Are you a business or web design agency that unknowingly sabotaged your SEO opportunity? Please share your experiences in the comments.