Once these are installed, you initiate the campaign, submitting the site to various search engines and directories and/or ensuring the site is already listed in the top search engines and directories. After a couple of months pass by, you run a ranking report and discover a definite increase in the positioning of the web site. The traffic to the web site has also increased. The company generates more sales and customer acquisitions. Everything is going as planned. The client is pleased.
Then one day while performing maintenance on this campaign, you notice a rapid drop in rankings. Traffic has decreased as well. You wonder why and begin to investigate. To your horror you discover that they have completely redesigned the web site and in the process, removed all of the optimization you developed. All your work has been flushed right down the drain!
Does this really happen? Will a company hire a SEO firm, spend thousands of dollars to optimize their site for better positioning in the SERPs (search engine result pages) and then sabotage themselves? You bet it does, unfortunately all the time.
Don't Forget About Your SEO
Any company that hires a SEO firm must understand that you have not only hired a professional to make sure you are well positioned in the search engines but that you have hired another web site team member. If your SEO is a team member, then they are part of the overall success (or failure) of your Internet marketing strategy.
Let's consider the game of football. How many field goal punters can you name right now? Sure we recognize names like John Elway, Walter Payton, Marcus Allen and others but what about Jan Stenerud? Who is this individual you ask? He is in fact the only place-kicker on the NFL's Hall of Fame list. We don't think much about place-kickers or punters and even special team players but many a time a field goal or an onside kick has been the winning factor in a game.
Unfortunately SEOs are forgotten a lot of the time just like place-kickers. They are left out of marketing strategy, site updates and even redesigns and yet they are the first to hear complaints like, "I can't find myself on Google anymore!" - "How come we went from 1st place to 100th place?" - "Why has our web site traffic dropped, you're not doing your job!" These usually come after some kind of change or move has been made without first consulting the SEO company.
To have a successful Internet marketing strategy, one has to consider all members of the team and how anything one member does might affect the other for the entire good of the web site. Otherwise it is like trying to win a football game but you left your offense at home. Sure you have the best defense in the league but without an offense, how are you going to score any touchdowns?
Real Life Nightmares
Case Study 1 - Imagine hiring a SEO and paying thousands of dollars to initially optimize your site but you lay out strict restrictions. Don't alter any pages - instead create new ones (otherwise known as useless doorways). You can add meta tags but for heaven's sake, don't mess with any title tags. You can only modify text on a page if our lawyers approve it first. Sound crazy? It has been a real life experience of this author.
At any rate we worked with these stipulations and limitations. We decided to see how the campaign initially performed and then modify things later. So we created several "informational" pages and made sure they were linked into the site so they were not merely orphan pages. Normally we would optimize "existing" pages. We optimized the meta description tag of the home page and were even allowed to add optimized alt attributes to a couple of images but were not allowed to modify the title tag or html text. We submitted site to top directories and other relevant vertical sites to boost the link popularity of the site. The campaign did okay, but just okay. We put together suggestion after suggestion over a period of a year to improve results but not one of them was ever implemented. After a year, the company, a large telecom, cancelled their contract because it wasn't working for them. Its funny that there are several SEO firms that claim this particular telecom as a client, probably because the telecom goes from SEO to SEO, handcuffing each and every one of them before they fire them and move on to the next.
Case Study 2 - You have an all Flash web site. In other words, the entire web site is done in Flash so that there is no actual html text for a search engine to index. You recommend that they create a separate html version of the site as they have tons and tons of great content but it is essentially invisible to search engines. They reply that this is not an option so you go with the strategy once again of creating additional information pages that are linked into the site.
Because the site deals with regional tourist information, the campaign does pretty well despite the fact that once again the SEO is somewhat handcuffed. You continue on your soapbox that everything could be much better if the client created a html version of the site, not only for the search engines' sakes but for end users as well who do not have Flash plug-ins. Your pleas fall on deaf ears. You have to be content with an okay campaign that brings decent but not great results.
Then someone decides that they are going to require one to accept cookies to even view site. If one does not accept cookies, they are sent to a default page that simply says, "You must enable cookies to view this site." They are locked out, no if, ands of buts!
There are two problems with this. First there are a lot of people who disable cookies due to privacy concerns. Therefore, the client has essentially locked them out. Secondly search engines do not accept cookies. They are like old browsers before the "cookie" days. Therefore they too are locked out.
We have literally seen this client's rankings drop off the chart and their search engine saturation all but diminish to nothing and yet despite repeated suggestions to dismantle this strategy, they continue on, all while paying us to maintain their search engine marketing campaign.
We took on another client who also used cookies to track session IDs but did not require them, thus making an exception for end users who disable cookies and search engines who want to index their site. Their campaign is doing great!
Case Study 3 - This study involves a site that was doing very well and then they went and redesigned their entire site, employing a content management system that included the opening and closing 'head' tags in one single include file. Therefore every page of their site had the same title tag and meta description tag. Of course all of the optimization that had been developed for numerous pages was removed as well as the file structure of the site was completely changed. The result? Major drop in rankings.
We informed this client about this as we discovered the change after the fact but our warnings were ignored until they noticed a significant decrease in traffic. Then they listened. Fortunately for them in this particular case, they are now working with us to remedy the situation and should very soon experience the great positioning they formerly had. However, had they worked with us on the redesign, they would not have had to hit this "bump" in the road.
Play and Win As a Team!
Time and space constrains me from telling every horror story I have experienced in my SEO life as there have been many. The bottom line is that if you are not going to include your SEO as a team player, then save your money! If you are not going to let them in on every major change or revision you make to your site, then don't hire them. Sure it is your site and not theirs, but you are hiring them to help you obtain visibility in front of millions of people who use search engines daily. Their work is going to involve making changes to your site, not only initially but continually. Therefore if you exclude them from your overall strategy, many a times your marketing efforts can hit a big fat road block.
Be sure to communicate every significant change and modification you make. Even modifying the text on a page that is targeted towards a particular set of keywords can have a negative impact on your marketing efforts. Allow the SEO firm to look over any changes you make and add their input if necessary to ensure they will have a positive impact on your campaign and not a negative one.
As an SEO, make sure that you monitor your clients so that they do not make the same mistakes that these other companies I mentioned beforehand did. Explain your position up front, that SEO is an ongoing process and that they will have to treat you as a team member rather than just another outside vendor. Most importantly - make sure you have a backup copy of all your work. You may wake up one day to find that it had disappeared and having a back up will save you a untold number of man hours to restore it.
As both client and SEO are careful to work efficiently with one another, they will avoid the nightmares that can befall a great search engine marketing campaign.
January 6, 2004
David Wallace is CEO and founder of SearchRank, an original search engine optimization and marketing firm based in Phoenix, Arizona. He is experienced in search engine optimization and marketing, pay per click and pay for inclusion management, directory submissions and web site design usability. David is a frequent contributor to various search engine related forums, an active editor of popular directories such as GoGuides.org, Joe Ant and Zeal and has had several articles published on industry related sites. Since 1997, David along with his company have helped hundreds of businesses both large and small increase their search engine visibility and customer acquisitions.
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