SEO Buzz Kill and the Effect of Branding on Google Ranking

What your mother-in-law can tell you about getting hot ranks in 2012

img via glenngould on Flickr

  • Stop buying links!
  • Stop getting those poorly written article links!
  • Blog networks and a million directory links don’t work!
  • Stop using the same anchor text over and over!
  • Cut the crap with the spammy overuse of keywords in your pages!
  • Now go become a publisher and a national brand sensation overnight!

Okay, so the easy ride is over. This ranking stuff used to be easy. The good news is that there is something you can do about it, but it’s going to be harder than ever before, especially for the little guy.

What is amazing to me is that saying things like “content is king” is more potent than it was when we said it in 1995. And on top of that, look at how what is happening now is not that dissimilar to the 2003 Florida Google update (the last time before Panda and Penguin that we had such a big seismic shift). Below are bullets I grabbed from Aaron Wall’s amazing from an article in 2010 where he talked about how the search engines where giving preference toward ranking brands.

Aaron says the Florida algorithm update targeted such things as:

  • repetitive inbound anchor text with little diversity
  • heavy repetition of the keyword phrase in the page title and on the page
  • words in a phrase exhibiting close proximity with few occurrences of the keywords spread apart
  • a lack of related/supporting vocabulary in the page copy

And he references how Eric Schmidt of Google said, “Brands are how you sort out the cesspool,” “where false information thrives.”

So what strikes me is that the same general thread of parameters is persisting – it is just that Google is getting MUCH better at enforcing it. Though not without flaws like inadvertently hurting some good sites, but they can’t please everyone when tweaking a complex system and maybe encouraging paid spends lol. Big surprise. Sites that are from a brand that is recognized and that have good content do better than smaller sites that often use gimmicky techniques to game their way in. Not that big ones don’t also, but a large site and link profile sometimes buffers a bit of spam. Back in in the 90s and early 2000s you could easily get ranked using a modicum of low quality links with good anchor text and by building some super basic pages around keyword themes, even if the pages were buried on the site and had no engagement. These days Google is a fair amount smarter, especially if that is all your site has going for it.

Panda unleashed a whirlwind on sites that had lots of low quality content and Penguin crushed those with excessively spammy links and over-optimization. At first most of our clients got a nice boost from all the super spammy sites being crushed, making our ranks better. What is scary now is that the trend continues and the people who are not adding fresh content in a steady flow and getting better links fast are starting to tank. We’re starting to take a hard look at our client list and decide on who we can realistically keep working for. If sites are small and the clients are complaining about our suggestions to add multiple forms of fresh new content, we may no longer be able to help them in the way we used to way back in early April of 2012. So it is much more preferable for us or any SEO company to now work only with larger companies because they already have a lot of things going for them, unless you are an open minded and adaptive smaller business.

Madmen and brands are back: What big brands do well that the little guy had better replicate

Generally a larger brand has these attributes

  • A fairly large site and established URL
  • In the news regularly
  • Reasonably well linked naturally
  • Have some corporate video, whitepapers
  • Get mentioned frequently in social media
  • Lots of direct traffic partially due to their customer base
  • Higher time on site and engagement due to more content
  • Sizable budget and team –  variety of tactics and content
  • Thrived when Google Panda came along

Small companies face a bigger hurdle than ever

Generally a smaller brand has these attributes

  • Small site, weak links, and a newer URL
  • Limited marketing budget
  • Limited marketing knowledge
  • Sometimes spend more time complaining than helping
  • Limited natural social buzz if any
  • Limited natural / direct site traffic
  • Low engagement from poor copywriting
  • Infrequently or never in the news
  • Wear too many hats
  • Was dinged by Google Panda

So how can you compete?

Outpublish the big dogs and grow your brand specifically in a way that Google can see.

  • Make a new better website, logo, and user experience
  • Blog your butt off for real (at least a post per day)
  • Blog other people’s butt off. Write guest blog posts weekly if not daily.
  • Reach out to bloggers using the Wordtracker Linkbuilder tool and offer them articles, mini videos, podcasts, infographics, widgets, etc.
  • Partner with larger blogs or even the NY Times to get your co-created content in front of their audience
  • Comment on blogs and forums frequently but do it for real, not by hiring an Indian forum link building company
  • Pay for Facebook ads to get people to your Facebook page where they can share the amazing content you have there
  • Tweet your wings off and retweet other people (encourage them to retweet your helpful content)
  • Generate controversial or funny content about your industry
  • Interviews peers and industry experts
  • Start a section on your blog for industry news that you comment on
  • Build in content that extends the user’s time on your site
  • Add calls to action all along the new content paths
  • Don’t let users get bored on your site and hit the back button
  • Generate enticing keyword-rich title and meta descriptions, not just keyword rich ones
  • Get your butt on Google+ fast and point all authors with Google+ pages to their bios on your site so that their faces show up next to your URL in the search results pages and pass trust to your pages/site.

It’s all about the brand now. How much people like and engage with your site and its content/blog/social channels.

Are you going to jump off of the yet?

Before you do, let me introduce you to a new concept called the Marketipus. He represents your team and has at least eight hands and wears more than eight hats.

Build a team because no one person can do everything well

  1. Branding experts and strategic marketing planners
  2. Content developers: writers, video, image, audio
  3. Technical SEOs on top of the latest crazy algo changes
  4. Social butterflies who know your business inside and out
  5. Technical social media experts
  6. Graphic designers
  7. Web developers who actually “get” SEO
  8. Conversion optimization experts
  9. Link building / PR experts
  10. Analytics experts to tie it all together and track ROI
  11. Mobile / local strategists

The new Google changes mean you now not only have to pay attention to all of these tactics but you have to do them well. Should you give up despite the fact that Google has one BILLION unique visitors a month and generates more conversions than Facebook? Let’s consider the alternatives:

Traditional Marketing

Many newspapers and magazines are going online only or out of business. Seriously. Check out TV and Radio are less effective than in the good old days and all traditional media costs more and is less trackable. Traditional media drives traffic to your site, so you need analytics anyway to make sense of it and to see what customers are doing after a tradeshow when kicking your sites tires.

Social Media Only

Forrester research predicts that even by 2016, social will still be a small fraction of the spend on PPC and SEO. Why? It can drive ROI for many but is often about branding and sharing and building loyal customers.

Paid Search Only

As prices skyrocket, you likely can’t afford to do paid search only. Since most people know the ads are paid, not having organic ranks devalues your brand. Having both is known to dramatically increase conversions.

So a symbiotic strategy is always best, especially now that Google Panda has come along. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket and don’t give up on SEO even though it requires more hands, hats, and intelligence than an octopus.

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