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Getting up to speed with search engines25th of November 2011
In the first article of a new series written exclusively for ECJ, Amy Munice of Global B2B Communications in the USA offers advice for businesses on making the most of their internet activity. Here, she focuses on marketing and search engine optimisation.
You own or manage a business devoted to cleaning or cleaning supplies. Your task list to manage the business is already miles long. Do you really need to think about web marketing? After all, it’s not your area of expertise and your business success has been largely based in hiring reliable staff and/or outside consultants who do know what they are doing. Why wouldn’t web marketing be in the same category?
Don’t kill the messenger, but the sad news I have to deliver is that web marketing is in a different category for two main reasons.
•Businesses - all businesses - now will live and die in large part by how well they tame the internet to their business needs. In the old days, poor decisions on where you placed advertising would impact your bottom line, but rarely did they deal a death knell. In contrast, web advertising done the wrong way can quickly bankrupt your company. Similarly, search engine optimisation and website development pursued blindly or worse can be an enormous drain on
time resources - above and beyond the financial toll.
•Sourcing web marketing talent has become more difficult because there is a lot of hot air posing as know-how. And if you choose to go down the route of building in-house web marketing staff you need to know that the universe of information and best practices they need to remain current in is constantly growing and changing. This usually means that it is only the largest companies that can afford to keep such an in-house team of web 'experts' up-to-date as required.
Actually this brings up what could be called the third 'reason' on why you need to know a bit about the web so you can hire and manage talent wisely. First and foremost you need to know enough about the web and how it works today to also know what it cannot do for your type of business—a subject that web marketing experts rarely bring to the table.
Source up-to-date talent
For the lion’s share of companies in the cleaning industry, the answer is to invest in bringing the internet knowledge base of those sourcing talent up-to-date so they can not only source intelligently but manage the team they have enlisted with the modicum of web knowledge required.
Without doubt, the single largest problem when it comes to search engine optimisation is that out of date search engine optimisation (SEO) practices are widespread and accepted as conventional wisdom.
Let’s take the example of the subject line of most of what I call 'SEO spam'. Because I am on the other side of the pond where online marketing had become a major factor a bit earlier and because I sign up for web marketing courses, etc to keep in the loop, I probably receive more of such SEO email spam than you or most. But perhaps you too have received an email with a subject line (and usually the body of the email itself) that promises you, as it does me, 'top search engine rankings'.
“What’s wrong with that?” you say. “That’s exactly what we want, isn’t it?”
The problem is that 'top search engine ranking' is more or less fiction. The way today’s internet works (to use the geeky terms - 'personalised search algorithms', 'local search algorithms', weight of social media rankings, etc) means that the search results your universe of prospects will see when they 'Google' (or whatever search engine they use) will vary. What one prospect’s search page number one returns to them will predictably vary from what another prospect’s results will return.
Let’s call that example red flag number one of out-of-date search engine knowledge.
Red flag number two of out-of-date SEO is probably 'keyword metatags'. Take a look at the page source of your company web site and that of all your top-of-mind competitors. (Email me: email@example.com if you want to know how - it is easy to do in seconds and available to everyone.)
Whenever I do sampling, at least at the time of this writing, my sampling shows me again and again that more than half go to great pains to list 'keyword metatags'.
"What’s wrong with that?" you ask, as I was recently by a highly paid SEO advisor. Firstly, Google’s official spokesperson, Matt Cutts, tells you not to use keyword metatags. He did so in 2009 - and those who watch Google closely will tell you that when such announcements are made the changes have been in existence for quite some time.
Then I ask: what’s with the laundry lists of unrelated keyword metatags - all the same on every web page - with few of them having anything to do or being mentioned once in the body of the web page? You find words like 'sale' or 'service' or 'reliable'. These are tell-tale signs that understanding is lacking - even pre-2009 - on what keywords were and are. Did somebody really think that a person would go to his or her search bar and type in 'service' to find their company’s offerings? That is what a 'keyword' is - the word or phrase you expect someone to type into their search bar to find you.
The bigger problem - and a topic to be elaborated on in great detail in a later article - is that these listings of keyword metatags, while at best doing nothing for your search engine optimisation efforts, are like a poker player showing their hand to all opponents at the table.
While keyword metatags do not 'count' in helping your site be found on search engines they do tell a savvy competitor a lot about what your business is up to. Doing anything that aids your competitors’ abilities in web competitive analysis are the absolute last things you want to do because web competitive analysis is the main thing that does matter on today’s web.
Some other tell-tale giveaways of out-of-date knowledge on search engine optimisation to be heeded by those sourcing SEO help…
•Continuing with keywords. What does it mean when your SEO consultant tells you, rightfully so, that keywords and key phrases are very important? Then they politely ask you what your keywords are without suggesting that they will do keyword research to augment and strategise your site’s keywords throughout the site.
To me it means that they have absolutely no idea that choosing the best keywords today depends on having the best maths-based search engine optimisation tools at your disposal that will identify these best keywords.
A variant of this problem is that your SEO expert presents you with a list of keywords culled from free Google data. Why is that a problem? Where is the competitive advantage in using data freely available to you and all your competitors?
Fresh content critical
Call it out of date, call it clueless - it will not help your business get ahead.
Red flag number three - your web designer presents you with a turnkey site that he or she has created and declared as 'optimised for search engines'. Then they give you no means to add to or change the site.
It is true now and has been true for quite some time that adding fresh content and having the means to do so is critical to any search engine optimisation strategy. Giving you a static non-expandable website is delivering to you a product that is obsolete upon the day of delivery.
Red flag number four - when you ask your SEO consultant what their support will include, they show you the free Google reports that are readily available, perhaps packaged with their SEO company’s logo. Then, they put a high price tag on what are essentially one-click reports.
You can pay them to do so, but why? As a business person, do you think it is a sign of integrity to take advantage of someone’s ignorance by giving them an item freely available and charging them a small fortune for it? This is obviously a rhetorical question but I believe it's a very necessary one.
Red flag number five - when you ask, the SEO consultant cannot tell you how the local search algorithm, personalised search, social media, or mobile devices should figure into your website design or verbiage, and they more or less avoid the question. And in fact, the usual way to avoid this question is to give blanket assurances that they will get you 'ranked number one'.
There are many more red flags of out-of -date SEO knowledge. Knowing what not to purchase does not tell you what to look for. That will be the subject of the next article in this series.
•Amy Munice is the founder of Global B2B Communications and ALM Communications. Contact her at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Tel: +1 +872 222 7361.