We Live in a Fast and Furious World

Using performance tricks to fool search engines for a while until they slap you and send you back in the queue or ban you for life.

Instant Gratification...the evil genie in the bottle

With every passing day I realize more and more that we live in a fast and furious world with instant gratification being the roaring engine under the hood. From the obsession of Google Rankings to the demand for lightning speed internet and smartphones that sing, dance, pay our bills and do our groceries and tell the world what we’re doing, at what time and….where, the warp speed of instant gratification is on a collision course with the physical limitation of time AND the negative impacts we may suffer as a result.

Last Sunday afternoon, while Dave and I were practicing for another revival of the music duo Evolution, the conversation turned to the song ” A Man of Constant Sorrow” from the 2001 movie “Brother where are thou”. I had never seen this apparent classic with George Clooney, so while we were practicing, TJ tried to somehow get her hands on it for evening watching. This turned out to be an increasingly difficult task with all video stores on island now closed up. Friends were called, Redbox and Blockbuster Dispenser were checked to no avail, so in the end it became a rent and download from Netflix. And that’s when TJ’s patience was severely put to the test, as the download onto her laptop was going to take about 60 minutes.
Several years ago, this service was simply unknown of, yet today we get impatient if it takes more than a minute or seconds when it comes to a website visit.

And as my mind wandered, I got to think about how people come to us with the request to build websites if we can guarantee first page ranking on Google, in the process deeply exposing themselves as “followers of fashion” on the topic of internet technology and marketing. What they actually ask is: “Can you get me a first page Google ranking for my preferred keywords.” And our answer to that question is these days: “show me your keywords and maybe if we work hard on it, over time you may”.

With 13 billion webpages floating around in cyberspace, first page ranking obviously requires knowledge, hard work and intelligent devotion, rather than performance tricks to fool search engines for a while until they slap you and send you back in the queue, the sandbox or ban your site for life. Oh yeah that happens more often than you think.

What we can do however in the meantime is work on optimizing the conversion. Conversion comes from building a relationship with customers based on quality and/or a can’t refuse “call to action”. Quality in this day and age still answers to the same principles of trust and quality. And that’s what so funny about TJ’s impatience on the download of the Netflix movie and how it contradicts her own meticulous approach to Online Business.
Almost 6 years ago she started to get serious with eBay and make it a weekly/daily time investment. She took time to learn and practice, crossing the T’s and dotting the j’s so to speak. Now six years later she is a powerhouse in global redistribution of “one person’s trash is another person’s treasure”; trusted, knowledgeable and with many thousands of transactions under her belt, she has a 100% positive feedback. That did not come overnight or certainly not by giving in to the demand for instant gratification.

The other day I read a story about air cargo skyrocketing in spite of a recessionary economy. As a result of that rapid growth, smaller airports are now trying to attract cargo jets beyond their airport’s handling capacity. People around these smaller airports now are getting in uproar, because of the potential of noise pollution, conveniently forgetting that there is a causal relationship between the demand for instant gratification and the things we have to put up with in order to accomplish  or enjoy that. We’re living fast and furious.
I can go on and on about writing up examples of this gratification anxiety and the fact that is has consequences we may not be willing to accept, but this story is about our passion: Internet Presence.

Stop Obsessing about Ranking

To all our customers….I love you. I really do! But please, for the love of all that is good and holy, will you stop obsessing over search engine rankings?
I get it, you hired us to build and perform Search Engine Optimization on your website. Why do we optimize for search engines? For rankings, right? Well, no, not anymore. It’s been almost a decade since the SEO industry began its turn toward a fuller website marking experience, looking beyond search engine rankings as a metric of success, and instead looking at business growth, conversion rates, and return on investment. Rankings are a traffic delivery mechanism. Traffic can be hit or miss. Not all traffic is targeted. A lot of traffic bounces. We see it all the time, clients like you are looking for rankings for your industry terms. But, quite often the time and effort needed to rank these favorite phrases holds no value compared to the conversions it delivers. That means, the ROI just isn’t there.

Instead of focusing on these “pet” terms, and potentially wasting thousands of dollars in the process, I could be focused on building exposure through some other relevant terms that have a better conversion rate and give you a much higher return on investment.
I understand where you’re coming from: You need rankings to get traffic, and you need traffic to get conversions. But, would you be happy if I could help you get more traffic and conversions, even if your favorite keywords were not ranking? Would you trust me if I told you that not all the keywords you care about are valuable and many of them are prohibitively expensive?
I hope you hear what I’m saying. I totally understand that you need exposure on the search engines to get the traffic and the conversions you need. But, rankings for certain high-traffic, low value keywords isn’t going to give you both. Oh, you’ll get traffic, but you’ll see your conversion rates plummet.

My question to you is, who will you blame when you see conversion rates go down? Is it the design team, the usability team, the marketing team, the SEO team? It may not be anybody’s fault, except that you’re ranking well for very poor converting keywords.

Finding Keywords that Deliver

In an ideal world, EVERY industry related keyword would bring you quality, converting traffic. But, a few minutes looking at the keyword research data will tell you otherwise. Every industry has thousands of terms that are not relevant for any particular site within that very industry. It’s true for your competitors, just as it’s true for you.
Good optimization is all about finding the right keywords. Not just industry terms, but terms which match the searcher’s intent for the product, service, or information you offer. Sometimes the searcher’s intent is clear in the search phrase. Many times, it’s not. If the intent isn’t clear, you can do two things: Guess or test.

Guessing at the intent means you either assume it is a valuable keyword or it isn’t. In SEO, this can be a huge gamble. Guess wrong, either way, and you are either potentially wasting a ton of time, or you’re losing out on a lot of potential conversions.
The better option is to test. The best way to do that is via PPC. Throw up some ads using your testing keywords, and see what happens. If the keyword converts at a rate comparable to other keywords, then you have yourself a winner. If not, you just saved yourself from wasting a bunch of resources on optimizing a loser.

Rankings Don’t Always Matter

If you know all your keywords are winners, you still have to be careful about measuring rankings over results. There is a lot more to a good conversion than ranking for your best terms.
Did you know that in some circumstances you can actually get more traffic by ranking lower in the results? It happens all the time. Why? Because your title and description tag are written to drive the click and conversion more so than to get rankings.
You can tweak your title to improve clicks and conversions, and that may cost yourself some ranking positions. But, if you tweak it for rankings, you may lose both clicks and conversions. It’s not always win/lose, sometimes you can win-win, but the better win is the conversion.

Yes, We Know a Thing or Three About Conversions

Searcher expectations play a significant role in the ability of your site to convert visitors to customers. Quite frequently, you, dear client, have rejected our usability recommendations. I know, you just want rankings, what do we know about usability? Well, quite a bit, actually.
Remember earlier when I said SEO has moved into online marketing rather than just rankings? Well, this is what we mean. We understand that, for what you’re paying us, if you have a bunch of top rankings and no business, we’d lose you as a client. You can’t sustain a business that doesn’t grow. So it’s in our best interest to help you grow your business.

That means, we have to look beyond search engine rankings. Our goal is to help you deliver the most qualified traffic, and make sure that it isn’t wasted. If you have a qualified lead, your ability to convert that lead is only as good as how good your sales person (or website) is. Well, we don’t just bring people to your door, we want to help you sell them as well.
That means we have to know a thing or two about website usability. This goes hand-in-hand with SEO. We can optimize a page for certain keywords, and we can get that page to rank, but we also have to make sure that the page delivers the message required for that visitor. Put simply, we have to make sure the optimization meets the visitor’s expectations!

Did you know that the search engines know when someone spends time on your site or quickly exits and goes back to the search pages? You can bet that this data is important to them. If too many people are “bouncing” off your site and choosing another in the search results, this is an indicator that the site did not meet their expectations. This means, no matter how well optimized and ranked, the page is a dud and will be very difficult to rank.
Not only did the visitor not find what they wanted on that page, but they weren’t even interested in looking further on your site. That’s bad news.

We Want You To Succeed

It all comes down to this: Why pay us to drive 50,000 visitors to your site if you are only able to convert .01%? Wouldn’t it be more lucrative to drive only 5,000 visitors while improving your conversion rate to 3%?
The goal is to increase conversion rates AND traffic. But, more often than not, improving your conversion rates will produce the better ROI. That doesn’t mean you ignore search engine rankings, but it does mean that you make sure that you’re not just looking at rankings as the end game result.
Rankings are a great way to generate traffic, and they should not be ignored. But, they also should not be obsessed over. The new Internet is different. It’s time to start looking at the bigger picture. Look beyond which keyword is ranking where and dive into your analytics to find out where your conversions are coming from and what you can do to improve those. Use your Social Media such as Facebook, youTube, Twitter, LinkedIn daily to increase exposure. And yes that may mean focusing on some new keywords. That may mean increasing rankings for others. That also may mean ignoring the very keywords that you’re obsessing over.

I was surprised a couple of days ago to see that on One Day I received messages in SearchAmelia emails that ABC, CNN and Megan Fox had started following us on Twitter. I even have a Megan Fox befriend request on Facebook that I haven’t validated yet. But via the Social Media they go to our website. As a matter of fact 41% of our daily traffic comes via Facebook and 21% via Twitter. Linkedin, youTube, Reddit, Technorati and a handful of others smaller media, account for 11%, which leaves “only” 27% for the Search Engines Google, Yahoo, Bing, Chrome, Safari, Opera and About.

Search engine rankings are, and always will be, important. Though, with social, local, and personalized results being mixed in, the value of a ranking has been greatly diminished. Just because you see a keyword ranking great, doesn’t mean your audience is. Which is just yet another reason why you should stop obsessing over rankings and start obsessing with us over your business’ online success!
The core of a solid online marketing strategy should include:
• A website that has been optimized for search traffic and designed for usability and easy navigation towards your main product/service pages
• An on-site blog (attached to your main domain, as opposed to on a separate URL) that is frequently updated with valuable content reflecting your brand’s area of expertise
• A target to continuously increase the fraction of organic search traffic over pay-per-click traffic, gradually tapering PPC off towards your niche product areas
• Use a web analytics tool to constantly review your traffic sources and the volume of leads they bring your business, and revise your priorities as required
• A very regular check of your social media profiles, review websites, industry forums, etc. to respond and engage with any comments related to your brand.

And believe me, instant gratification does not play a function in this process. Even though we treat it as the key to happiness these days, instant gratification is nothing more than a very short term emotion that dies the moment it is accomplished.

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