A website is much like a home. In order for it to function as intended it has to be built to be structurally sound from top to bottom. On the web you can think of search engine spiders as the building inspector who come by from time to time making sure that all areas of your site can be properly access. This isn't a perfect analogy, of course, because the search engines don't issue citations if your site has blocked access to a bedroom. That, and the search engines are also taking stock of the valuables within your home, something that we probably wouldn't appreciate any home inspector to do!
But you can also think of your human visitors as friends that you invite over. Not only do they admire the contents and aesthetics of your home but they also want to make sure they can find certain, ah, facilities, should the need arise.
A properly built web site will ensure that the search engine spiders are able to access all pages of your site with more importance placed on the more important pages. It will also insure that the human visitors are able to accomplish their goals, either finding the information they came for and/or purchasing your product or service.
When optimizing a website we are often faced with tough decisions. What changes should we make? What will be the effect of those decisions? Ideally you want to make changes that only enhance the search engine and user experience. In the last installment I looked at three paths of SEO that quite simply are not your best options. When updating or changing your website any recommended change that falls into any of those three categories should simply be avoided. Today I'm going to discuss three more paths. While none of these are ideal options they do present better choices than the paths addressed previously.
Path 4: Bad for spiders, indifferent for people
Some changes we make really don't have a significant effect on your site visitors, but they can greatly effect what the search engines do. Such changes are usually architectural rather than visual. When making these changes that are not meant for the visitor, be absolutely sure you're not doing anything that will ultimately screw up the search engine's ability to spider and index your site.
A while back we started working on a new client and we had created a robots.txt file and uploaded it to their server. This file really has no purpose for the human visitor but it does tell the search engines which pages or directories should not be indexed. When we created the file we inadvertently excluded the entire site. A few weeks later we were scratching our heads as to why the site wasn't being indexed. This is an extreme example but it exemplifies they types of changes that you must be careful of. A move that is bad for search engine spiders that provides no benefit to your visitors simply isn't going to help you in your optimization efforts.
Path 5: Indifferent to spiders, indifferent for people
With these kinds of changes there is no net gain and no net loss. If a change falls into this category you simply have to ask yourself, "why?" What's the point of making this change? Your human visitors won't care, it won't improve conversion rates and it won't improve search engine spidering. It's a change for the sake of change.
Granted, making a change with no negative effect is a far cry better than any of the changes mentioned previously. Those changes you simply don't want to make at all. Here, there is just no need to make the change. At the same time, if its something that makes a webmaster or boss feel better about the site then by all means make the change. But also measure just to see if any ill or positive effect was made after the fact. You never know, it could ultimately turn out to be a change for the better (or worse!)
Path 6: Bad for spiders, good for people
This is where we start getting into changes that can actually be a tough call to make. And ultimately, the decision to move forward with such changes is a matter of degrees. How bad vs. how good?
Sometimes you absolutely have to make a change that is going to benefit your human visitors that will have a negative effect on search engine performance. Is it worth it to lose that number one ranking in order go increase your conversion rates? Maybe. That question can be answered by asking if any increase in conversion rates will more than make up for the total loss in conversions. But a simple no doesn't automatically make this a bad choice.
Perhaps the change will reduce the total number of conversions from search engines but improve the total number of conversions from other forms of advertising. While your ROI in one area goes down it can go up substantially in another area. All of this has to be factored into any decision you make.
Let's say a change causes your cost per conversion on your SEO efforts to go from $25 to $50. But your radio and TV ads that deliver traffic to your website saw a drop in cost per conversion from $100 to $75. We can't yet tell if this is a good decision or not. We also need to factor in the number of conversions that each form of advertising deliver. Let's say that both methods deliver 100 sales. The cost of the change on the SEO side went from $2,500 to $5,000. On the other hand the cost on the radio and TV side went from $10,000 to $7,500. That's a draw, no savings and no loss. But if just one more sale was made each month on the TV and radio side then you see that the change, while being negative for SEO actually improves your return on investment.
These numbers, of course, are very simplistic and the value changes considerably if the radio and TV cost per conversions drop from $100 to, say, $70. But the point is you have to weigh to total effects of these kinds of changes. Sometimes a simply change to a title tag can cause a considerable drop in rankings but produce more sales than before. That alone can make a change that is a net negative for spiders a big positive for your business.
Deciding what changes to make and when is never easy. But more importantly is understanding why and looking forward to seeing what the end result might be. The thing to remember is that we don't always get these things right. Sometimes we think a change will help but it doesn't. But the great thing about the web is that all changes can be undone quickly. No matter how confident you are about the effect of any change always be sure to measure and track the true results after the fact to make sure your suppositions were correct. If not, you can always reverse course and try something else.
In the next installment I'll discuss the final three paths which are the most beneficial of them all.
Stoney deGeyter is the President of Pole Position Marketing, a leading search engine optimization and marketing firm helping businesses grow since 1998. Stoney is a frequent speaker at website marketing conferences and has published hundreds of helpful SEO, SEM and small business articles.
If you'd like Stoney deGeyter to speak at your conference, seminar, workshop or provide in-house training to your team, contact him via his site or by phone at 866-685-3374.
Stoney pioneered the concept of Destination Search Engine Marketing which is the driving philosophy of how Pole Position Marketing helps clients expand their online presence and grow their businesses. Stoney is Associate Editor at Search Engine Guide and has written several SEO and SEM e-books including E-Marketing Performance; The Best Damn Web Marketing Checklist, Period!; Keyword Research and Selection, Destination Search Engine Marketing, and more.
Stoney has five wonderful children and spends his free time reviewing restaurants and other things to do in Canton, Ohio.
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