Online marketing myths busted

No explosivesInspired by the Mythbusters TV show which I regularly watch with my son, I thought I’d bust a few search engine optimisation (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM) myths myself (although it won’t be quite as entertaining as the real Mythbusters, nor will it feature any explosives).

Myth number 1: There are companies that can submit a website to 10,000 search engines (and it only costs a few pounds)
Lets start with some facts (dated May 2012). 66.5% of people use Google to search the web. 15.5% use Bing. 13.5% use Yahoo. A further 4.5% use Ask and AOL. Even if there are 10,000 search engines out there, what is the point in paying good money to be submitted to them when 100% of internet users search using just five search engines? Myth busted.

Myth number 2: It’s possible to make money by selling links placed within your website content
Technically yes, but (and it’s a dam big but) it violates Google’s webmaster guidelines and can result in your website Page Rank being penalised and a decrease in the level of trust placed in your site. With 66.5% of web surfers using Google for organic search it’s way too much of a risk. Myth busted.

Myth number 3: Submitting a website to tens of thousands of directories is good value for money
Search engine guidelines are quite clear: links should occur naturally and spamming or attempts to manipulate Page Rank (or to attempt better placement in search results) violates Google’s webmaster guidelines and can result in your website being penalised. If you have a webmaster account with Google watch out for manual link warnings and penalties (particularly so since the Penguin update). Dodgy tactics include buying links, bulk network links, bulk directory links, masses of links on completely unrelated websites and directories, as well as keyword heavy anchor text and regular anchor text manipulation. Myth busted.

Myth number 4: It’s possible to buy a link from a website with a Page Rank of 9
As mentioned in myth numbers 2 and 3, this violates Google’s webmaster guidelines, but even if it was acceptable why would you do it? Think about the person selling the PR9 link; do you think that they will accept one link on the PR9 website then stop? Or is it more realistic to assume that the PR9 link placement will be offered to all and sundry resulting in the site in question having tens of thousands of outbound links which completely degrade any authority and trust the site may have had? Page Rank can be faked, buying links violates Google’s webmaster guidelines, selling links violates Google’s webmaster guidelines, and if those three things don’t persuade you to avoid this action, ask how many other outbound links appear on this magical PR9 website that can retain high PR whilst openly violating Google’s webmaster guidelines. Myth busted.

Myth number 5: It’s possible to offer something for free on my website in return for an inbound link
I do hope that this isn’t getting repetitive, but there are only so many ways you can say “this violates Google’s webmaster guidelines“. If you offer some sort of free service, advertising opportunity, a free download, directory placement or registration and request an inbound link in return, then your website will probably be penalised by Google and you will suffer a decrease in Page Rank and consequential loss of traffic.

Ultimately building up a presence, reputation and authority online can’t be bought or achieved instantly; so if you see a cheap service that looks too good to be true then it probably is. Although I’ve mentioned Google numerous times above, the guidelines of other search engines aren’t that different. Also, there are some websites out there that do make use of some of the dubious marketing tools detailed in this post, but if you go down this route you are gambling with your website and run the risk of being penalised (and losing Page Rank, traffic, leads and/or commission) or worse still, being removed from the Google index.

Palmer Campbell website design

Palmer Campbell website design

Palmer Campbell, Melrose
Scottish Borders Website Design started this project with the design of a new logo for the newly formed property and renovation specialists. “Crisp, clear and refined” was the brief for the logo, and that needed to carry through to the new site design too. The photos of the recently renovated properties clearly showed the style, finesse, elegance and attention to detail inherent in the work of Palmer Campbell. As a result, photos of the range of renovation work and property types feature across the whole site, instantly showcasing the level of service and skill provided.

In layman’s terms: Search engine optimisation, marketing and Google Panda

When I meet with prospective new clients, or existing clients interested in making more of their website’s marketing potential, I’m often asked about SEO/SEM (search engine optimisation/search engine marketing) and inevitably I mention the Google Panda update. If you can put up with some technical jargon, this video is a very helpful and detailed explanation of just what the Panda update is, why it was put in place, and what it means for anyone who wants to promote their business effectively online.

As I’ve said before (and I’m sure to time and time again) business websites must be viewed as an investment, not just financially, but with regards the thought and time that goes into them. Anyone can bash together a cheap website and submit it to a few search engines – but in a month or years time what will that cheap website have achieved? Nothing. Nichts. Nada. Jordan’s IQ. The reason for this is simple. Leading search engines (Google, Yahoo, Bing) are only interested in showing their users good quality content. If every time you used Google you had to trawl through unrelated sites, websites that didn’t format correctly, or duplicate websites all with the same content you’d get pretty miffed. Search engines use mathematical computations, or algorithms, to work out how effective any given website is. In a nutshell they look at the following:

  • The quality of coding behind the site
  • Page load time and server response time
  • Originality and depth of content
  • Quality, range and number of inbound links
  • Numerous other things I won’t mention in case I do myself out of a job

By analyzing sites in such a way, search engines can begin to place all websites in an order for any given search term, so if you search for “blue paint” the best website selling “blue paint” will appear top. Why? Because it will feature good quality code (preferably validated and accessible), will be hosted on a quick reliable server (costs a little more but is worth it), the site will be filled with original and helpful content (which requires time and thought) and will inevitably have hundreds if not thousands of inbound links from other websites, directories and blogs (which can only be acquired with a bit of good old fashioned elbow grease after the site has launched). For this reason, you will never see a cheap website that’s been bashed together on the first page of Google. Fact.

What does it matter if a website isn’t on the first or second page of Google? Everything. Approximately 94% of Google users find what they want on the first page of results, with only 6% venturing onto page two, and around 80% of users only click on the first three results. Why just references to Google? Because the vast majority of people use Google for search, so if you don’t get it right with Google then you won’t have much luck with Bing and Yahoo.

Google Panda?What about the bamboo munching ball of fur?
What does Panda have to do with this? Well, it basically makes it even harder to get your website on the first page of Google’s results. If search engine optimisation and ongoing website marketing wasn’t already a hard enough sell, Panda just made things ten times more difficult. The Panda update (named after the guy that created it, not China’s most endangered bear) added a whole load of extra requirements on top of traditional SEO techniques, as well as re-ordering many existing results (to the extent that entire businesses were wiped out overnight by a catastrophic drop in traffic, and in turn, turnover from advertising commission and/or bookings). As the video detailed above points out, the growing number of websites now in existence means that search engines really have to work hard to sort the wheat from the chaff and ensure they provide the best results for your search.

In addition to traditional SEO techniques, businesses need to further invest in their website marketing to ensure the following:

  • None of your website content should be duplicated (across your own web pages or any other websites), and it must be as original and enticing as humanly possible. Using management speak you may need to do “blue sky thinking outside the box”. If you have access to a unique video clip that relates to your business, photos of your work or services that show something special, the ability to write a blog or produce informative articles, you should get these things on your website to show Google that you have something special, and that your site is worth making note of by visitors.
  • Your visitors metrics (behaviour or analytics) must be positive with a low bounce rate, so the design and content arrangement ensures site visitors stay on your pages and engage in your website. If visitors to your site leave shortly after arriving, only look at one page, or look at a few pages but are gone within seconds, your metrics will suggest that people don’t like your website. If you get your content right (first point made above) you should naturally retain visitors longer and you will end up with much improved metrics.
  • Your website must feature references on a range of different media platforms, so instead of just inbound links from other sites, blogs and directories, you have a presence on social media as well. When Google initially developed its algorithm to work out how to gauge the usefulness of websites and where to rank them for search requests, it needed to work out how popular a website was. For this it looked at the overall number of inbound links, working on the basis that a website with 100,000 inbound links must be more popular than a similar website with just one inbound link. That worked well for ages, but along came social media. The web is now littered with people tweeting about websites on Twitter, liking websites on Facebook, and chatting and commenting on numerous other social media platforms. In addition to inbound links to your website, the Panda update now means that Google also takes into account links, comments and the overall number of references to your website in the world of social media. You may not have time to do it, you may not have any interest in getting involved, but getting your business and website involved with social media is now a key part of online promotion and is heavily interlinked with SEO/SEM.

The Panda update goes way beyond what I have time to mention here, but if you’ve reached this far into the article without falling asleep and stotting your head off the keyboard, you will have realised the importance of continued search engine optimisation, website promotion and online marketing. Now, more than ever, business websites must be viewed as an ongoing investment if they are expected to succeed as a useful marketing tool.