Search Engine Optimization • January 11th, 2015
IIn our years of doing marketing, branding, web design, and search engine optimization we have seen quite a few major shifts in the way that consumers interact with brands. Of all of these changes very few have impacted businesses as much as the way that prospective clients find what they are looking for via search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo. With Google being the largest search engine on the planet, even minor changes to their algorithm have the ability to completely change incoming prospects for entire business categories overnight.
This was recently the case and it lead many businesses worldwide to call us all saying the same thing, “I can’t find my website“.
The story was always the same, the business had their phones ringing consistently because they were ranked among the top 10 websites within Google for their business offerings in their geographic location. Then, overnight the phone stopped ringing and incoming leads dried up. After a few days of the phones not ringing the business owner would go to their computer or mobile device, look for their business in the search engine of their choice, and after going 5-10 pages into the search results would panic as they couldn’t find their business listed anywhere. Then would come the panicked phone call proclaiming “I can’t find my website“.
The reason for this major shift in search results is an algorithm update, or should I say a series of algorithm updates by Google to help improve search results and sort our spammy websites that used SEO tricks to gain rankings (never a good idea). These algorithm changes had cute names like Penguin, Panda, and some other cuddly animals but their negative impact on many businesses would have better been served by names like Rank Rattle Snake or Business-Based Black Widow. While these algorithm changes were overall a good thing because they decreased rankings for many sites that truly did not deserve the rankings they had achieved, there was another group of individuals who did nothing wrong but still felt the full impact of these changes.
Most businesses that were impacted by these algorithm changes fell into three distinct categories.
– The first is the company who hired a professional SEO (Search Engine Optimization) Firm to help achieve higher rankings. These firms many times opt to take the quick and easy way of gaining higher rankings for clients which usually means “tricking” search engines by using less than scrupulous tactics. When search engines see these tactics being used they immediately implement countermeasures meaning that all of the temporary gains in rank and traffic soon give way to long-term site damage.
– The second type of company hit by these changes were those with sites that had done nothing wrong, but lack new and original content. You see, search engines make their money by selling ads to businesses who want to rank for a particular product or service. If you can get your website to rank on your own, search engines would not make money selling ads. This being the case most search engines try to weed out sites that are strictly promotional. These sites usually can be easily spotted because the have a homepage, about us page, services page, and contact page. This clearly indicates that the site is promotional and therefor the search engines want you to pay to play. Recent changes have targeted self-promotional sites in order to get businesses to purchase ads.
– The third type of company that took a significant hit had domain names and or business names that matched the type of search queries they wanted to come up for. For instance, lets say that the name of your business was Redlands Running Shoes, the term you wanted to come up for was Redlands Running Shoes, and your domain name was redlandsrunningshoes.com. In this instance your site may have ranked for years based on the domain name alone indicating to search engines that your business is the most relevant based on the domain name (not content). This indicator usually would make sense, but of course a few SEO (Search Engine Optimization) companies decided to purchase domain names that had nothing to do with the business in order to take advantage of the ranking based solely on the domain alone. This is why you see domains with highly profitable search queries being sold for $10,000-$50,000 at auction. When search engines saw this trend they removed the additional points given based on domain names, and overnight many sites that ranked on the first page were now not even in the first 50 pages.
Okay, so now that we have described the water that so many businesses are drowning in it is time for the good news. Search engines gain marketshare by delivering great content to those utilizing their search engine, and this means that they are always looking to offer great content to please their users. This means that no matter which category your company may or may not fall into as listed above, you can benefit greatly when it comes to inbound lead generation by creating great content for search engines to index and serve up to their users.
Have you ever noticed that most of the search engine queries you initiate come back with a webpage not a website, what I mean by this is you get something like www.example.com/123?=2837 instead of just www.example.com. The reason for this is that search engines are trying to direct you to the best page for your query to make your life easier not just dump you on the homepage of a website to fend for yourself. It’s just like when you are looking for a product online and you get www.amazon.com/that_product as a result. The reason for this is that Amazon was brilliant in adding images of each product, reviews of each product, descriptions of each product, etc. for everything they carry. By doing so they became the most relevant page for millions of products in a very short period of time, even beating the manufacturer of those products for top rankings. We can all learn from this and earn rankings in top search engines by creating great content related to what products and services we offer.
If you are one of those businesses that woke up recently saying “I Can’t Find My Website” we have a few tips that can get you back on track:
1) Never try to gain rankings by tricking search engines. They are actively looking to mitigate rankings earned by traditional SEO (Search Engine Optimization), so look to earn rankings by creating great content. Tricks may work for a short period of time but the long-term damage they can have on your business should never be underestimated.
2) Learn from Doogie Howser. At the end of every episode Doogie would sit down and type a journal entry of lessons he learned on the job that day, although it was years before blogging became popular that is exactly what he was doing. If you are an industry leader that can write about changes in your industry, do it, post it to your website, and watch search engines take notice of the great content they can use to deliver great search results to the masses.
3) Update your website regularly. Many leaders in the technology industry marvel at the fact that search engines can index every website on the planet roughly every 72 hours. While this is an amazing stat, it simply isn’t completely true. The truth is search engines are selectively even faster than that. Think about it, if an earthquake hit now, you could Google it 30 seconds from now and find information on it. How could this be if search engines take 72 hours to crawl the web. The answer is that most search engines crawl websites based on how regularly the content is updated, and they give preference to those updated regularly.
News sites get preference because they are current, informative, and offer relevant content based on the search query. Compare this to a corporate site that is only updated once or twice a year and it becomes easy for search engines to ignore. So use your industry knowledge and expertise to become a resource and watch how search engines and prospective clients react and interact with your brand. If you can answer questions that people have about your product or service, you can write a blog about it, post it to your site, and become an industry leader that earned their place at the table. Remember never try to get search rankings, try to earn them.
Daniel Hickey is director of creative advertising at Hickey Marketing Group, based in Prescott, Arizona and Redlands, California.