For the Love of SEO

For the Love of SEO

Fulfilling the potential of your website demands that you listen, maintain and constantly optimize, just as in any other successful relationship, argues Media Skunk Works consultant Elinor Cohen.

Published 6th March 2015

During the weekend of the recent London Affiliate Conference, I attended a lecture at the Kabbalah Centre. While I am not a dutiful follower of this school of thought, a mystical interpretation of the Bible that teaches about receiving fulfillment in our lives, I was captivated by the lecture. It was given by this couple that had been married for 17 years, who shared their ‘secret’ to a life of fulfillment and growing love for one another. Strangely enough I also recently read Daniel Negreanu’s blog post on Mindfulness in Poker1 , and it set off an entire conversation around how this all relates to customer acquisition and SEO; how the universal laws of fulfillment and mindfulness are not restricted to relationships with other people, but can also be applied when promoting our online business in search.

What’s in it for me?

When we begin the SEO process, we do not really know how involved it will be on our part. Just like when we meet a potential partner, we do not know the “ins and outs” of how the relationship will play out. There are so many intricate levels of emotions involved, and I remember distinctly feeling the same way when I started my journey with SEO. Having worked at a few agencies, I was recruited to 888 Holdings. Once I had a solid understanding of the SEO process there, I went to my team leader and said with conviction: “You know…SEO is NOT link building..”. My thought process immediately changed when I conducted a small experiment – I generated three external links targeting the keyword ‘casinos’ for one of the company’s 1,000 + websites (note: this was in 2009 and the site was not ranking in the top 30 results for this keyword). I was completely stunned when I noticed the following week that the website ranked at No 1 for the same keyword. I immediately felt a rush of adrenaline and pleasure - my experiment had succeeded! Not only did the site rank at No 1 on Google UK, but also I was responsible for an increase in traffic and a ridiculous amount of FTDs in just over a week. Quickly, I started calculating my earnings for the upcoming quarterly bonus. So, is this link-building methodology what the website really needed? Not really. Did I use it to fulfill my own needs? Yes. Selfish? Definitely.

  • The takeaway? Write down your main intention and how you plan to achieve it, ensuring it is NOT centered on you and will serve the purpose of your business as a whole. Stick to this plan.

No pain, no gain.

I believe hard work and focus can ultimately help you achieve anything you want. Anything. My love for search began in 2006, and it is still going strong. I have been through so many ups and downs in this arena, but I still remember every instance of success and failure. The key is to always keep the goal of what you are trying to achieve in mind, whether writing content, copying/pasting in Excel, building links or sending outreach emails, to always remember the higher purpose to what you are doing. You have a business for which you want to generate revenue. So many details and impeccable execution count towards doing this successfully. For example, when was the last time you checked your link profile? Really checked your links, one by one? This takes a long time and a lot of focus. It is not the most immediately fulfilling task, but it will make a world of difference for your website. You have to do this, in order to maintain your rankings, as one link may be offline, while another set of site-wide links may have slipped into your portfolio without your knowledge, all of which can adversely affect rankings and traffic, so ensure you are always maintaining your link portfolio. In any relationship, there are always two sides. I believe that if you want to have and sustain a great relationship, you have to learn what the other side needs and work hard to fulfill it, even if doing so goes against your instinct or intuition. The same goes for your website – you have to constantly keep at it, in order to make sure it is in a ‘naturally happy’ state for Google. Whether you will do it on your own or hire an external consultant, the maintenance of your link portfolio will always affect your business’ sustainability, so do not forget to give it a lot of attention.

  • The takeaway? For a happy, healthy revenue stream, maintain your website religiously. Make sure you check your rankings daily and your link portfolio monthly.

Figure 1, showing ranking over time for keyword “online casino” for a big brand, Ladbrokes Casino, provides an illustrative example of what can happen when you do not monitor your rankings and lose sight of the overall needs of your website. This brand’s homepage has been ranking at #6 for quite a while in Google UK.

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Figure 1: Ladbrokes Casino’s ranking over time for keyword “online casino”

However, Note the sudden appearance of the bluegreen bars on the right side of the graph (indicated by orange arrows on top half of the chart), the link profile’s distribution of exact match anchor texts increased from 0% to 33% in just one month – this is a very big, red flag for Google. Further, the red bars (noted by the orange arrows on the bottom half of the chart) indicate that Google is confused as to which pages on the site should be indexed for ‘online casino’. All of these raise red flags, and in my opinion Ladbrokes will soon disappear from search results for this keyword. It is a shame, as these rankings could have been maintained by simply integrating this kind of analysis into the SEO process. Paying attention to rankings over time and your anchor text distribution will make a world of difference to the revenue you drive from this marketing channel. Nobody is a mind reader. Don’t give up. Use your intuition, but do not rely only on that. Our intuition is clouded by external noise, and can be unreliable at times. We are constantly being bombarded with so many confusing messages, anything from Google guidelines to what other people in the industry are saying –it’s damn difficult to filter out the truth from all this noise. Where does the truth lie? How do you really know what your website really needs? Analytics - plain and simple. Do not simply rely on messages such as “content is king”, “don’t generate links to your site in 2015” or “guest blogging is a thing of the past”. Most of the time, relying on and developing only content will generate traffic, but this traffic will not transact. When Google says that link building is “black hat”, they mean to say that you should focus more on advertising, because they generate revenue from paid ads, not organic search. So, filter out the noise, understand what your website needs by reading its analytics. Dive deep into the numbers and analyze the following:

  1. Which keywords are generating least traffic and what can you do to increase your pages’ rankings
  2. Are guest blog posts generating citations and traffic? Are you guest blogging too much or not enough?
  3. What is the referring domain/external backlink ratio of links pointing to your site? Where is this ratio benchmarked against your competitors’?
  4. How do you measure up against your competitors in rankings, backlink portfolios, indexed pages and movements in search results?

Again, all of this should be an ongoing effort and form part of the day-to-day marketing operations of your online business. The key is to diversify your activities/promotions as much as possible, and I cannot tell you how important it is to continually monitor your competitors’ performances versus your website. The insight you will gain from doing this will be priceless. This operational work can be tedious, but don’t give up. Even if you are a new player in a seemingly saturated market, there is always room for one more. The reward (and there will be a reward) will outweigh the sacrifice.

● The takeaway? Ensure an integral part of your operational process is understanding what your website really needs. Let the numbers tell the story, and invest in high-end analytics platforms that measure your on-page performance, off-page performance and how you measure up against your competitors. Figure 2 provides an example of an affiliate site that ranks at #1 for its core keyword: ‘casino sites’.

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Figure 2 - - #1 ‘Casino Sites’

Note the differences in link profiles between itself and the mega brand Paddy Power, featured in Figure 3. Both these sites have been ‘battling’ each other for position #1 since at least February 2014. They switch between #1 position and #2 position every now and then, and both survived and emerged strongly from Google’s latest Penguin update. In order to compete with such a strong brand as Paddy Power, this affiliate was clever enough to brand itself with its core keywords – “casino sites” - in the domain name, and it actually does offer what he promises – a comprehensive list of top casino sites.

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Figure 3 - - #2 ‘Casino Sites’

So, while Paddy Power’s link profile is comprised of more than 50% brand terms (its link profile looks very natural), from first glance it appears that has also generated a ‘natural’ footprint (it can get away easily with focusing more on phrase match distribution because of the keywords in its brand). However, having taken a closer look at this website’s link profile, it is quite obvious that it has not been maintained properly and will cause damage to the site in the long run. Why? The site has over 1,200 directory links from almost 300 referring domains, sitting on same C class subnets with one anchor text: “top 10 casino sites list of best casino sites for 2015”. Hopefully these links will be removed, because this is not a promising way to sustain a revenue stream over the long term. If they are not removed, this site will be another recipient of the wrath of Google in the coming months.

In summary

SEO should be approached holistically. You should never focus on one type of activity, and you should focus on off page and on page efforts equally. Most importantly, however, you must listen, maintain and constantly optimize – just as you would with a significant other. If you separate your personal desires from your business and become a vessel through which your website’s potential can be fulfilled, you will generate high revenues with long-term growth. That is a promise! 

“When Googlesays that link building is ‘black hat’, they mean to say that you should focus more on advertising, because they generate revenue from paid ads, not organic search.”

“Paying attention to rankings over time and your anchor text distribution will make a world of difference to the revenue you drive from this marketing channel.”