It’s been a little over a month since the Google Penguin update shook the SEO world. We’re seeing both service providers and agencies (as well as businesses!) either step their game up or pack their bags and move onto something else. As mentioned in our previous post, we’d be elaborating on the methods shared to recover from the Penguin Update.
It’s time to start running promoted sites like a real business.
We could give you more stats about the sites that were negatively hit by the Penguin Update, but it’s more valuable to look at the sites that were on the opposite side of the fence. What are the winners doing? What are they not doing? Let’s find out!
Passive Marketing Only Goes So Far
Even when it was “easy” to rank for competitive keywords with a link building strategy that worked before the Google Penguin update, the mindset of many SEOers (and web savvy business owners) was to rank as high as possible for targeted keywords. While this seems logical in theory, that methodology doesn’t always take into consideration on-page elements which permit converting traffic or enhancing the value of the business or user experience.
There’s no doubt SEO practices have changed this year. It’s time to work hard, get creative, and go back to the most basic methods to gain exposure. It’s time to start ACTIVELY MARKETING again.
Real Businesses Focus On Conversions
If you’re building your business to rank well on search engines as a primary way of generating revenue, your business will be as strong as a house of cards. You’re not building a business, you’re creating a hustle. Build a strong brand first and the rankings will usually follow.
To demonstrate the points we’re making, it would only be fair to use our business as an example. In the chart above, you’ll notice that only 13.43% of our traffic comes from search queries.
While some may think that number is low in comparison to both referral and direct traffic, it’s an indicator that we’re not just relying on “ranking well”. Our brand is recognized and shared by others. We’ve created a business, not a passive income stream based on high SERP positioning.
More importantly, the stats above don’t take into account paid search marketing because we haven’t had the time to building out the campaign as we’re focused on scaling “what’s working”.
Let’s take it one step further and analyze the organic traffic we’re receiving. While we’re obsessively tracking our rankings for both branded queries and keywords we’re targeting, it’s interesting to see the distribution percentages shared in the chart below.
We know what terms we’d like to rank for, we know what terms bring in qualified traffic, and we know that building a strong brand (in our case and the same for many businesses) is more important than anything. We’d rather 77% of queries be derived from our brand name (Microsite Masters) over ranking for the term “rank tracker”. Let’s now focus on Target KW Queries!
As a result of publishing compelling content in our last post, we were able to improve our ranking (“naturally”) for one of the keywords we’re targeting. It wasn’t difficult, it didn’t involve intentional link building or thinking about “anchor text variations”, and it didn’t cost anything but our time.
Ranking well for the term rank tracker is a reward for doing “exactly what we’re supposed to be doing”. If we lost our rankings for that term, we’d survive. We’re not reliant on search engines as a primary traffic source. This is a concept that more SEOers need to come to terms with.
The most important aspect of ranking / search engine visibility should always come down to traffic and conversions. Post Penguin, sites ranking for competitively (commercial/buying terms) typically have business models that are thought-out and do more than just relying on rankings.
SEOers Create and Kill Businesses
Unless you’re a service provider offering a self-serve package where buyers provide the details of exactly what they want promoted, most SEOers lack the necessary business fundamentals to properly service the Internet marketing needs of a typical business owner in today’s market.
Most SEOers are sales professionals that know enough about the benefits of search engine optimization to sell a business owner on why it’s necessary. Before the Penguin update it wasn’t difficult to rank a site using just off-page link building tactics. Everyone went home a winner!
In the past few years, thousands of businesses emerged and thrived by “working with SEOers” that passively marketed their websites by building links using anchors matching target keyword sets.
Some business owners used it to compliment other marketing efforts, some relied exclusively on SEO, and some business owners chose to do nothing relating to Internet marketing whatsoever.
Leveling The Playing Field
Some business owners lost entire businesses as a result of the Google Penguin update. There are also business owners that were positively affected or didn’t notice any difference at all in the SERPs.
Some business owners are blaming SEOers for “killing their business“, while at one time they were responsible for enhancing their business and creating new revenue generating opportunities.
Business owners affected by the update with diversified marketing strategies or a positive outlook on the future of organic promotion are actively taking matters into their own hands as a result of SEOers not providing a solution or not having the confidence to suggest one moving forward.
What are Smart Business Owners and SEOers Doing to Survive?
Method #1: Understanding Real User Queries
Stop thinking about the associated search volumes on targeted keywords and start thinking about real user queries. The mindset of many SEOers before the Penguin Update was to create traffic acquisition opportunities based on ranking terms with statistically significant search volumes.
While this may have worked previously, smart business owners often analyze how new users arrive to their sites based on entered queries. Even if you don’t have access to a sites analytics account using tools like Ubersuggest.org to search brand names, competitor brand names, and partially matched keywords provides a competitive advantage when applied accordingly.
Google’s Autocomplete algorithm should be used more to gather insights on real user queries, attitudes, behaviors, and search tendencies when compared to brands and specific keyword sets.
Method #2: Finding New Promotional Channels
Finding promotional channels (or “footprints” if you’re an SEOer) is different today when the focus on content quality and relevancy is valued higher than ever before. Reverse image searching is a different approach to finding link building targets as well as ways to enhance social outreach.
Step One: Find a widely used image that’s relevant to your brand or industry. Starting with Google Image Search to gather ideas can make the process easier. Select an image or two to start.
Step Two: Go to TinEye.com and enter the image URL you’ve selected to begin your search.
Step Three: Find link building, visibility, and relationship building opportunities. TinEye’s index is growing rapidly each month so the ability to reverse engineer image search using their technology can make any business owner or SEOer a force to be reckoned with. And the best part of all, it’s free!
Business owners take a similar approach to “finding footprints” but the intentions are different than the typical SEOer (or link building bandit in this example). Smart business owners often reverse engineer ways to obtain branding opportunities so their message is in front of the right audience.
Often times they’re not even thinking about the SEO benefits as the effort is done purely to enhance the bottom line of the business. Moving forward, SEOers should explore social outreach opportunities, become active members on relevant forums to gain credibility, and reverse engineer for legitimate marketing purposes instead of finding new sites to post links on.
Method #3: Guest Blogging Vs. Blogger Outreach
There’s a difference between “guest blogging” to gain visibility, traffic, and exposure and “blogger outreach” where e-mailing random blogs that are niche relevant offering content in exchange for links is the focus. Before blogging and online publishing was an option many business owners created content to be featured within industry publications, local newspapers, and magazines. It was done to gain credibility, provide value to readers, and of course to attain new business.
When SEOers take the approach of scaling SEO campaigns for the purposes of posting links with the bi-product being increased SERP visibility, content quality often suffers which diminishes business credibility, provides little to no value to readers, or doesn’t generate measurable traffic.
If you’re not willing to put your brands logo, your real name, or cite your brands name within outreach content you should think twice about pointing links direct to site via blogger outreach.
Guest blogging for business owners will never die when the “SEO benefits” are a secondary focus.
Method #4: Treat All Traffic As If You’re Paying For It
Smart business owners realize there’s a real cost in both time and money for attaining traffic. Prior to the Penguin Update when it was “easier” to rank for competitive terms, the traffic generated from those queries wasn’t free, it was just cheap in comparison to relative CPC prices on search.
Business owners that used link building for ranking organically in addition to paid traffic and conversion optimization strategies are far ahead of the average SEOer for the following reasons:
1) It’s faster and easier to tell how a site initially converts when using paid traffic sources.
2) The mindset of marketers using paid traffic is to refine and optimize traffic and spends over time.
3) It’s absolutely necessary to split test and focus on conversion and user retention elements.
4) Paid traffic marketers utilize all data. Re-targeting and list building should go without saying.
SEOers focusing exclusively on generating organic traffic through link building with the intentions of increasing SERP visibility felt the wrath of the Penguin update more so than business owners and marketers using natural search visibility as a way to compliment their other marketing efforts.
Lessons Learned: Maximize return on all traffic generated. Never take a traffic source for granted.
Method #5: Become Ruthless In Business
Most successful (and experienced!) business owners are ruthless with their time and how they run their business. They’re usually passionate about what they do, always looking for ways to improve or grow, and aware of things happening within their respective industries.
SEOers can apply similar business strategies to gain a competitive edge. See below:
1) Form strong alliances with brand advocates. These relationships are the lifeblood of your business. Position your sites, offers, and web properties to thrive as if every conventional traffic source were to evaporate tomorrow. Communicate regularly and return favors when asked.
2) Obsess over the image of your brand. We’re absolutely ruthless when it comes to our public image. Web copy, use of images, phrasing, colors, etc. Extreme care needs to go into everything you do. Be deliberate. Be conscious. Be accountable. Make no exceptions. Strive for excellence!
3) Create phenomenal content. It works for all types of businesses. Just do it. Successful business owners don’t take shortcuts. They find solutions when faced with challenges and embrace change.
4) Start acting like a leader. Your target market and competitors will realize the value of your business when you position your brand accordingly. Influence the SERPs by taking pride in your business. Don’t rely on the SERPs to influence your audience. Respect and trust is given when it’s earned. Fabricating credibility isn’t sustainable, it’s not a long-term business model, think ahead!
5) Embrace your competitors. It’s short-sighted not to respect and value perceived competitors. Successful business owners understand that competition is a key element of creating a market.
We’re often asked by our brand advocates and the SEO community if we view SEOMoz as a direct competitor. While we’re competing in the same market (SEO Monitoring Industry) we’re offering two completely different services to our users. Yes, we’re overlapping with respect to rank tracking but it really comes down to the requirements of users to decide which toolset is best for their SEO needs.
We’re competing in the same market, but we choose to compete against ourselves.
More SEOers need to start embracing competitors in overlapping keyword markets and find more ways to demonstrate their value while not being overly concerned with what everyone else is doing.
Successful businesses challenge themselves as an organization and realize there are strategies and business fundamentals from other industries that can be applied.
It’s sometimes hard for SEOers to reach a level of business maturity where the realization of the “big picture” is apparent as the mindset before the Penguin update was to outrank all competitors in the SERPs and take no prisoners. Additional reasons to embrace “perceived competitors”:
1) You may be doing business in the future. API access can be granted or utilized by either party.
2) Big achievements in business (i.e. 18mm in funding) is great for the health of an entire industry.
3) Business owners with stand-up reputations are recognized by competitors. Why be mysterious?
4) Exit strategies are necessary. Can you buy a competitors business? Know what yours is worth?
5) You meet the same people on the way up as you do on the way down. Reputations are everything.
What Can SEOers Do Moving Forward?
Try things you haven’t done before! Intentionally link to competitors, promote their content through social channels, and focus on building a strong reputation in business first. (SERPs come second) Give everything you have to offer and you shall receive more than you can ever imagine in return.