The Sweet Sound of Success

8 04 2014

It was the fall of 1993 when an acquaintance approached me about the possibility of joining him in a start-up.  His plan was to create sales campaigns for businesses, complete with text and images.  He uploaded them onto CD’s that the companies could then send to sales prospects.  It was only a short time later that we became aware of the World Wide Web, that portion of the Internet where graphics could be used to enhance text, where images could be included, and where addresses were given names instead of a series of numerals separated by dots.

 Websites had to be built to 640 x 480 resolution in order to fit the tiny monitors of the time.  A balance between appearance and speed was necessary because 9600 baud phone modems were the standard.  Access to the World Wide Web could only be gained through providers like Prodigy and CompuServe and America OnLine.

 Twenty years later, a close friend and business customer called to announce that he had just landed the largest service contract in the history of his company.  The company had researched potential suppliers on the Internet, read the reviews, and studied their websites.  Upon completion of the research, the company called and offered a contract.

 “Walter, I never would have done this if it wasn’t for you,” he said.  “I’ve always believed that the success stories were all smoke and mirrors.  I trust you.  That’s the only reason why I moved forward with ‘the plan.’  Now, I see for myself what can happen.”

 “The plan” is a sophisticated digital marketing campaign that presents the business’ impeccable reputation to the public through a variety of channels with emphasis upon the quality products provided, the experience of service personnel, the geographic area the business covers, and the level of customer satisfaction the business has earned.

 Buyers have become very sophisticated over the past 20 years as they have grown more comfortable with online shopping.  There was a time when the largest Yellow Pages ad garnered the most business.  Most of the population eventually saw through that ruse.  Flashy, animated, hi-tech websites with bold colors and striking images are slowly being passed by for websites with meaningful, relevant (not boiler plate) content.





It’s The Little Things That Count!

3 04 2012

The Shaw-Walker Company was a manufacturer of high quality office equipment.  Their motto, “Built Like A Skyscraper,” and their logo showing a filing cabinet standing next to the Empire State Building with a man jumping in the bottom drawer made a powerful statement about the durability of their products.

I had the opportunity to land a national standardization contract that would have been the largest sale in the company’s history.  Prudential Insurance Co. agreed to consider a new source for their office furniture and equipment as they updated all their offices in the USA.   We were leading the competition for the lucrative contract until a team from Prudential visited our manufacturing facility in Muskegon, MI.

Although our product was by far the best in the industry, the factory was antiquated.  Bare light bulbs hanging from the ceiling barely pushed back the gloom.  The team saw a foreman walk over and unlock the single Coke machine at precisely 10:00AM.  He stood next to it with watch in hand as employees lined up to make their purchase.  At precisely 10:10AM, he locked the machine.  Other out-of-date processes offended the Prudential team.  Subsequently, they decided to contract with the fledgling Steelcase Company for their furniture needs, an agreement that remains in place to this day.

The Shaw-Walker Company that was founded in 1899 failed to reach its centennial celebration.  The factory has “gone condo.”  Although its products can be found in offices throughout the country, the company simply “withered on the vine.”

Frequently, we focus so much of our attention upon our products and services that we neglect our infrastructure.  While we make vague references to the time in the future when we can focus upon our own needs, prospective clients select competitors who apply state-of-the-art techniques and procedures for their own benefit.

The company that charges thousands of dollars to create sophisticated interactive websites yet applies dated, ineffective SEO techniques to their own website is “shooting itself in the foot.”  Sophisticated buyers can easily check meta tags in website source code.  They know that “Flash” presentations cannot be viewed on iPads and iPhones.  They have read about the challenges of optimizing “Flash” websites, about ColdFusion.

Search Engine Optimization is a particularly critical element in website development.  Website structure and content must be carefully researched and planned in order to have an effective SEO strategy.  Creation of a website with a plan to optimize it after the fact or to leave optimization to a third party is a costly error that will affect the level of website activity.

This website, http://www.mollyshouse.org, was created on the basis of an SEO plan.  Twelve out of fifteen key words provide placement in the top 10 search results of all major search engines.  If you’re not delivering similar results, your competition will eat your lunch.

Start the process with meta tags. While they are a relatively small portion of the process, they are highly visible.  Their quality can raise a red flag when not used properly.  The rules regarding content and length are easy to find, and implementation is easy.  Do it right, and you will generate more website activity while demonstrating the depth and breadth of your skillsets to prospective clients.





What is the future of Search Engine Optimization (SEO)?

26 05 2011

The following was my final post at:  http://www.thecottonsolution.com/blog on May 9, 2011

A mistake was made long ago when someone decided that the skill-sets used to generate website traffic should be named, “Search Engine Optimization.” That shortsighted, naïve individual failed to consider the numerous elements that play an important role in the traffic-building process. Even the term “traffic-building” is a misnomer.

Few website owners would be satisfied with huge increases in website traffic. That, alone, has little value beyond bragging rights (My website had 15 million visitors last year!).

When the sales manager encouraged his sales team to make more calls each day, one man took it to heart. Bedraggled and worn to a frazzle, he stood tall and thrust his chest out as he reported on Friday afternoon that he had made 150 sales calls that week. His ego quickly deflated when he had no response to the manager’s query, “What did you sell?”

Web traffic must be qualified. The purpose of the visit must correlate with the focus of the website. Far too frequently people visit websites because they want to see what a $15,000,000 condo looks like or they want to watch the latest “Flash” presentation.

The SEO specialist is expected to bring the website message to the forefront, to identify, locate, and approach the target market. Once he has gathered their attention, he is expected to draw them into the website and lead them down the path to conversion, whether that be a sale, a registration, or some other predefined action.

At one time, search engines were the most important tool for building a successful website. The internet in general and website owners in particular are becoming more selective. You wouldn’t search for a brain surgeon in the Yellow Pages. Fewer and fewer internet surfers are satisfied with going through thousands of search results to find the business or product that will fill their need. Certainly, searching for a commodity where price, convenience, and availability are the buying criteria, can be best done using search engines. When the buying decision addresses quality, service, and support, search engines fail miserably.

The same person who was called upon to get search engines to index hundreds of keywords is now expected to use blog content, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube in a coordinated effort to demonstrate a product’s value, reliability, and performance. Success is now measured in conversions vs. visitor count.  John Q. Public has been deceived once too often by three lines of text in a search result.

The relevance of search engine result content is being challenged on many levels:

  • A recent television ad for Bing hit right at the heart of the matter. A comment about Salsa quickly evolves into a food fight.
  • Google has started requiring content approval for all pay-per-click ads.
  • The growth of image ad placements on the Google Network is outpacing the growth of text ads placed on search results pages.
  • The #2 search engine in the world is YouTube.
  • Organic results on Google are being forced down the page as Google Places, Google Images and Google News take precedence.

The SEO specialist who focuses only on Titles, Descriptions, H1 and Alt tags is being swept aside in a massive rush to relevance.





Is there more to the story?

16 02 2011

The recent New York Times article (The Dirty Little Secrets of Search, 2/12/11 by David Segal) is an entertaining, well-written exposé of the black-hat side of internet search.  If the 160 comments are an accurate measure, then the topic is “au courant.”  It is unfortunate, however, that important points were overlooked.

For those who have been involved in the internet since the inception of the World Wide Web, the act of manipulating search engine results is the foundation upon which all growth was built.  The opportunity and the challenge of achieving a #1 placement in organic search results are the cornerstones of evolution in our industry.  From our first crude attempts at keyword stuffing to these more sophisticated paid link techniques, the competition for top placement is responsible for a myriad of advances in website development.  Initially, a tiny group of developers monitored each others’ work and shared successes/failures.  Collaboration was the key.  Our “team” had no quarterback, no leader.

The original search engines were the competition.  As on any playing field, when one team found an advantage, the other team quickly developed a countermeasure.  Through the ebb and flow, more sophisticated algorithms were created, and more advanced websites came into existence.  Page Rank, Latent Semantic Indexing, and much more would not exist were it not for the constant battle to outsmart the competition.

Now, a new element has been added to the game:  Punishment!  Rather than focus on the flaw that allowed JC Penney’s brief flirt with search success, Google has laid claim to the role of referee.  It is not only a competitor on the field of internet search.  It is also the referee that selects the penalty when there is a perception of a misdeed having occurred.  When was the last time you played in a game where the other team provided the referee?  Who won that game?

Ram Samudrala of Seattle, WA, expressed it thus:

Something about this article is off, perhaps the part that Google “punishes” someone. They shouldn’t do that. If they find an offense, they should fix it and leave it at that instead of penalising people. It is THEIR fault for having an algorithm that isn’t perfect (yes, perhaps it will never be, but still, it’s their job to get it right). When they screw up, and then penalise someone else for their mistake, I think it reeks of despotism.

I couldn’t agree more.  When Google takes on the mantle of “internet authority,” we all lose a little.  Just how far will they/can they go?  There is no authority that will determine when Google or any other entity has overstepped its bounds.  Let us be diligent and monitor this latest step in the evolutionary process.  There is a lot at stake.





What Next?

12 10 2010

When a new website is created, the first goal is to squeeze it into a place among all the other similar websites in the search engine indexes.  The next goal is to attain the highest position possible within the ranks of similar websites.  In each case the mere presence of a new website causes others to lose their position as they drop to make room.  At least some, if not all the displaced sites will strive to make up lost ground.  Therefore, SEO becomes an ongoing requirement.  As soon as the effort is diminished, competitive forces will cause an unattended website to lose its standing in the search results.  The key to success is to find ways to increase the frequency of search engine robot visits.

Hypothetically speaking, if a search engine visits a website and finds no changes in content from the previous visit, it will return in 30 days.  If it finds content changes, it will return in 15 days. If it finds changes after 15 days, it will return in 7 days, and so on and so on.  The frequency of robot visits might be greater or less than described, but the concept is essentially the same.

The ongoing SEO effort includes the following:

  • Test website performance to confirm all files are loading properly
  • Revision of seen and unseen content (meta tags, alt tags, H1 tags, etc.)
  • Monitoring of competition – Are potential visitors being hijacked?
  • Statistical analysis of website traffic data – recommend/make changes where appropriate
    1. Dramatic changes in the # of visitors
    2. Bounce Rate
    3. Time on site
    4. Pages per visit
    5. % of visitors to registration page
    6. % of reg. page visitors that convert (submit registration)
    7. Direct vs. search engine vs. referral traffic
  • Solicit voluntary (non-paid) links from other websites
  • Post blog entries with website links
  • Compare performance between similar client websites.
  • Identify and respond to inconsistencies.
  • Observe and adjust to changes in the Google search algorithm.
  • Follow SEO blogs and act on new techniques.




Description tags

5 10 2010

Matt Cutts vaguely referenced description tags back in the dark ages:  http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com/2009/09/google-does-not-use-keywords-meta-tag.html, and left the impression that their content was of little SEO value.  The time has come to define the purpose of SEO and our true objective as specialists in the field.  SEO is a misnomer that frequently leads talented, motivated people in the wrong direction.  While much of our efforts seem to be directed at appeasing the search engines, in reality we should be focused upon the target market. While the search engines (and W3c) specify the structure, content is a market issue.

At every opportunity presented to us, we need to offer content that will generate an action.  Description tags clearly present that opportunity regardless whether the individual words are indexed for search purposes.  My experience confirms my conviction that description tags are an intrinsic element in enhanced website performance.





Google Instant

22 09 2010

There are many ways to motivate people. When you search for “ways to motivate,” more than 10,000,000 results are made available. One of the more popular tools is fear:

If you don’t lose 80 pounds, you will die! That’s pretty powerful.

Legions of so-called experts have been claiming that SEO is dead for more than 13 years. Google’s press conference about Google Instant on 9/8, became the current tool for inciting fear and confusion throughout the internet industry. When the world wide web evolved in 1993 with the introduction of the Mosaic integrated multimedia browser, there were only a handful of people who had any interest in that technology. As the industry has expanded and contracted, millions of people have entered and left the internet industry. The original internet “pioneers” were committed to improving the performance and value of the medium. They collaborated freely with their peers and shared their accomplishments openly. Through this process, the internet expanded. Websites and applications proliferated. Above all, it was a shared experience.

Naturally, the rapid growth attracted the interest of people who were seeking business opportunities, wealth, or notoriety. They gravitated to the industry with little, if any, appreciation for the core values that had propelled its early evolution. When they discovered that they lacked the expertise of the real “players,” they sought other means to capitalize on the long string of successes. They became the “talkers,” while others were “walking” and doing the “heavy lifting.” Through webinars and trade show presentations, these “talkers” disseminate information that may/may not have been generated by experience, first-hand knowledge, or extensive research. That information may/may not be accurate.

Danny Sullivan has been an integral member of the industry since its inception. First, with his SearchEngineWatch forum, and since 2006 under the name SearchEngineLand, he and a staff of highly respected experts have been chronicling changes in the world of search. Professionals recognize Danny as the leading authority on search. Here are some of his thoughts regarding Google Instant:

“In terms of keyword research, Google Instant means the need to look even more closely a(t) some of the suggestions that Google provides in the search box. But that’s not new. We’ve had Google Suggest (the suggestion part of Google Instant) since August 2008. As soon as it appeared, it warranted a closer look by search marketers. And that’s been happening more and more since the launch.”

“Google Instant reemphasizes the need to do keyword research by examining suggestions, but that was already part of the SEO landscape for ages — not just from the introduction of Google Suggest but going back to suggestions that many search engines have shown within actual results as part of query refinement features.”

“We’ve had predictions that SEO is dead going back as far as 1997. I covered many of these in my Is SEO Dead? 1997 Prediction, Meet 2009 Reality article from last year. If I’m wrong, and SEO is dying, it’s sure taking its sweet time.”

“I don’t think SEO is dying. I do think SEO has changed and will continue to change as search itself changes. That’s what makes it an exciting industry.”

Although the changes/enhancements to the internet are more finite now, they occur with the same frequency that has existed for the past 17 years. Professionals continue to closely monitor those changes and adapt accordingly. Google Instant is just another step on a long path.