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Winning Strategies For The New Algorithm By David Leonhardt The Happy Guy Marketing Inc. http://www.seo-writer.com
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TABLE OF CONTENTS
INTRODUCTION ............................................................................................................................................. 1 A SHORT HISTORY OF SEARCH ENGINES ....................................................................................................... 3 THE USEFULNESS ALGORITHM ..................................................................................................................... 5 . QUALITY WEB DESIGN .................................................................................................................................. 7 . ENGAGING WEB CONTENT ......................................................................................................................... 10 IGNORE NOBODY ........................................................................................................................................ 13 SEGMENT YOUR MARKET ........................................................................................................................... 16 COVER ALL PERSONALITY TYPES ................................................................................................................. 17 BE THEIR NEXT SEARCH ............................................................................................................................... 19 CONCLUSION ............................................................................................................................................... 20 ABOUT THE AUTHOR .................................................................................................................................. 21 . ENDNOTES .................................................................................................................................................. 22 .
Remember when the holy grail of a website was “stickiness”? Back in the 1990s? Yes, in Internet terms, that is ancient history. Well, it turns out that we are headed for a whole new era of sticky. History is about to repeat itself and take the virtual world by storm. Search engine algorithms have been constantly evolving, ever since they first emerged in 1993. And search engines will continue to evolve. For those of us who rely on search engines to run their businesses, we feel the vibrations shake us like driving across a washboard dirt road to a remote mountain cottage. Success depends on being prepared for the changes ahead. If you’ve been paying any attention to the latest word on the future of Search, you might jump to the conclusion that this book is about personal search. It is not. Personal search will indeed rock the SEO business, and much of what is in this book will help webmasters excel in the fractured post-rankings world of personal search. But this book was written to help webmasters, website owners and SEO specialists prepare for a different and more fundamental bump in the washboard - introduction of user behavior metrics into the big search engine algorithms. I call this the “Usefulness Algorithm”, and the strategies required to survive – and even to thrive – in the new order are what I call “Sticky SEO”. As you might have guessed by its title, that’s what this book is all about. By the way, personal search is just one aspect of this Usefulness Algorithm – or perhaps better said, it is an additional layer to be superimposed on the new algorithm. In my opinion, the Usefulness Algorithm will make it harder (but not impossible) for you and I to manipulate rankings without making our websites better, and therefore deserving those better rankings. Yes, the search engines are about to make the Web a better place, trucking those horrid Bouncy websites safely away from our aching eyes. Bouncy? I’ll explain later. User behavior will unquestionably provide a more accurate means of judging which sites are deemed most useful by search engine users. In other words, the search engines can organize its content based on customer satisfaction. What a novel concept! In this book, I start by providing a very brief history of search engines. I make no pretense that it follows an exact linear timeline, which would be incredibly complex, but rather a general trend of how algorithms have changed over time. There certainly exist more detailed histories of search engines. i I should also remind people that, this being a book about SEO (search engine optimization), there are no truly white gloves. The sport of SEO is at its base about
manipulating the content on one website (a search engine interface) without its owners’ consent for the benefit of someone else’s website. I will let you decide where to draw the line between good and evil, but don’t expect me to be too sanctimonious. If I can summarize the effect on SEO of introducing usefulness as a part of search engine algorithms, it is that SEO specialists will have to become more holistic in their skills and approach. Most of the really, really good ones already are, but with the heavy emphasis on link-building, the majority of “SEO specialists” have no experience in issues related to usability, design, conversions...stickiness! The Usefulness Algorithm will rock the SEO boat.
A SHORT HISTORY OF SEARCH ENGINES
The Usefulness Algorithm did not always exist. In the beginning, search engines were well-calibrated to report accurately on the subject matter of each web page. It was simple. Authors of web pages would tell the search engines what the pages were about by what they included in their meta tags. In a fairly academic environment with little competition, this made sense. Who better to define what a web page is about than its own author, right? Search engines could easily rank the relevancy of web pages to a particular query based on the honest declaration of the pages’ authors. But competition inevitably arose, partly because there were more documents being added to the Web (no longer was there just a single page about neo-thermal induction theory) and partly because commercial interests with a stronger motivation to draw “traffic” started creating web pages. With competition, web page authors started trying to increase their traffic by doctoring the meta tags. Search engines could no longer trust web page authors to accurately describe their content. The poor search engines had to start reading the pages for themselves to determine what each one was really about. It wasn’t long before people began doctoring their pages to give them the edge in the rankings. Keyword stuffing, invisible text and a number of other shady tactics still around today, as well as the more acceptable SEO copywriting, were born. Relevance still ruled the rankings; it was simply determined in a different manner. As the number of web pages that were all extremely relevant for any particular search continued to grow, the search engines needed to distinguish between those that were highly relevant and highly important on the one hand, and those that were highly relevant and pretty unimportant on the other hand. Thus were born two distinct but related approaches that are still very much part of modern search engine algorithms: link popularity and PageRank. (By the time you finish reading this book, these will sound archaic, but they will likely remain part of the algorithms for some time yet.) Link popularity is a very straightforward accounting of how many links are pointing toward a specific web page. The premise is that the more links pointing to the page, the more important it is. After all, not many people would point links to unimportant websites, but lots of people would point links to important websites. Each link would be like a vote for the webpage it points to. Democracy in action…gotta love the Web. PageRank, a Google invention, works a lot like link popularity, except that it tries to determine which links are more important. It works on the premise that two doctors recommending a headache medication are probably more reliable than two
lemon pickers. It knows this to be true, because more people have recommended the doctors to their friends and fewer people have recommended the lemon pickers. Less democratic than link-popularity, more accurate a measure of importance (like the U.S. electoral college), not encumbered by any constitutional protection of universal suffrage or mediocrity. These days, importance and relevance share a somewhat balanced role in search engine rankings (a topic that fuels countless debates amongst SEO specialists), and link-building has become an increasingly important aspect of SEO. A new dimension of relevance was added as the anchor text of a link and the topic of a linking page was considered, something along the premise that a pharmacist saying “Take this headache medication.” carries more weight for buying headache medication than a “This is a purple pill.” from that same pharmacist. In addition to relevance and importance, the search engines do try to determine credibility or trustworthiness of a web page through a number of means, which may include age of the domain, date of most recent update, TLD (top level domain – for instance, they might consider a .edu or .gov domain more credible), etc.
THE USEFULNESS ALGORITHM
But what about usefulness? If you have been around the Web a while, you will surely have heard your share of grumbling about how Google or Yahoo or [insert your favorite search engine to grumble about here] offers up totally useless results. Of course, like most complaining, it is greatly a matter of perception, but would you like to run a search engine perceived to deliver not-useful results? In other words, a useless search engine? Each time you click on a search result and then hit the “back” button quickly, you are saying, “Hey Yahoo (or whichever search engine you are using), you gave me a useless page. You suck.” Of course, the folks at Yahoo et al. don’t like to suck – who does? – so they don’t like to see their visitors bouncing back. Therefore, they would busily work to try to make their results even more relevant, or at least that was the lingo used in the search/webmastering world. See the disconnect? Result is useless, create more relevance. Well, search engineers are actually pretty smart folk, and they have been working to reframe this equation to “Result is useless, create more usefulness”. Back in 2006, I first advised a client on how to prepare for the usefulness algorithm. I told them their website was too bouncy, and that the redesign they were contemplating should make it stickier. In practical terms, I defined it this way: you want to reduce the number of people bouncing back to the search engines, at least those coming from any search relevant to your bottom line, and you want to increase the time it takes for those who do bounce back. (I will return to that example later in this book). In 2008, Microsoft announced that it had been working on a BrowseRank algorithm that would measure user behavior, including how long users spend on a given page or website. The concept would be to let web users themselves vote on the usefulness of a page, with no self interest other than using more the pages they find most useful. ii Yes, dear reader, it seems Microsoft wants to champion a return to democracy on the Internet, only this time a more useful democracy that actually asks the customers what they want. This will strike some jaded Digg regulars as somewhat ironic. It’s a clever move. Let’s not forget that search engines are themselves websites striving to be more useful to their users. Back in 2007, Michel Fortin (who just might be the Web’s best sales copywriter) gave us new criteria for how to approach our visitors in the world of Web 2.0 (the interactive Internet): “…it’s about what someone wants when they visit your website (judging by what they say or do), rather than it is about what we think they want (judging by what pages they visit or what links they click on).” It looks like the search engines might just be listening to Michel.
In the pages that follow, I am going to share with you some strategies and even a number of specific tactics that you can employ to master the search engine algorithm of the future. On the surface, this sounds easy as pie. If the search engines are going to rank sites by customer satisfaction, just satisfy your customers. If only it was that simple. Search engines cannot tell how satisfied your customers are with you. They can only measure how satisfied they are with them. Your job is to make sure that your visitors show how satisfied they are with the search results that brought them to your door. I call this Sticky SEO, because the key metrics are all about making your site sticky – helping people who arrive on your website to stick around. But first a couple caveats. While I am convinced that my definition from 2006 is still a solid prediction, the specifics of such an algorithm are obviously a matter of speculation. I must also say that all those clever folks at the search engines might just come up with some ideas I have not thought of, believe it or not…so this guide should be considered an advance starters guide of a search engine revolution still in the making. An early warning system for a monumental work in progress. And let us also keep in mind that we are addressing a moving target. Don’t expect the washboard to suddenly give way to freshly paved asphalt. Some of the measurements that the search engines might include in their new algorithms include: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. Click-thru rates from the search results. Number of people who bounce back to the search page. Time passing before a person bounces back. Number of pages a user visits on a domain before bouncing back. Time spent on the specific page clicked. Whether the person bothers to scroll down on the page.
In the foreseeable future, we should see measurements like these integrated with current measurements of relevance, importance and credibility. If I might be so bold as to make a prediction, link-building will most likely become much less important as Sticky SEO becomes increasingly crucial, although I suspect that link-building will still have its place. But bouncy websites will become like lepers on the Internet. Nobody will want to link to them.
STICKY SEO STRATEGY 1
QUALITY WEB DESIGN
The look of a website is unlikely to result in conversions, or even to keep visitors wandering about your website for long. I am sure you wander onto plenty of beautifully designed websites that don’t hold your attention. On the other hand, I come across dozens of websites every day that say “Amateur” or “Crap”, and those sites surely suffer from back-button leakage…even those whose content should hold our attention. Bouncy websites. I think you know what I mean. The look, or at least the quality of the look, is vital to keep people from leaving before even giving your website a chance. I do not pretend to be an expert in design and what look is most professional or credible. Furthermore, the look you need will depend both on the demographics of your target market and the type of product or service you are selling. For that reason, the following design tactics are of a fairly general nature and are offered strictly from a Sticky SEO perspective.
1. Get a professional design that looks at least somewhat modern, using common design conventions, and in a style that suits your products and target audience. This is the basic focus of all marketing design, web or otherwise. 2. Make sure your website is not designed around square corners. Some corners are OK, but if your design is based on boxes, it looks like a basement job, since that is what basic HTML delivers. It’s nice that your 12-year-old nephew wants to help, but it won’t close a sale. 3. No Adsense-type ads. Yuck! Honestly, that is the biggest sign of a low-quality website. In fact, “made-for-Adsense” has entered the lexicon to mean poorquality. Some directories specify “No made-for-Adsense websites”. A run of these text-style ads across the bottom is not bad, but the more prominent the PPC ads are on your page the cheaper the site appears. I can’t tell you what it is. It’s like walking into somebody’s house and something just smells out of place. You can’t quite place your finger on what the odor is, but it feels uncomfortable and you just want to leave. By the way, just like odors, some ads are OK. I have nothing against advertising. The more the ads look like content or like part of the website, the better. Adsense-style ads just look cheap. They smell. They are Bouncy. 4. Keep it clean. Like any marketing material, if it is too cluttered, people feel overwhelmed and lost. I was at a hardware store not long ago, and I was trying to find a very simple mouse trap. I felt totally lost when pet supplies and gardening tools and metal bolts and …well, let’s just say everything was jumbled
together on the first shelf I looked at. And I left without digging through the “rubble” to find what I needed. Just as in a retail store, your website has to look organized and welcoming. The difference is that once you arrive at a messy store, people make a much larger commitment to walk in and are less likely to walk right back out, even if it looks cluttered. You can’t just hit a “back” button and show up in another store. Your visitors will have no trouble hitting the “back” button if your site looks like a jumble, and Google and Yahoo will know right away to stop sending you visitors until you quite literally tidy up you act. 5. Make sure your web pages look good in various browsers and in various screen resolutions. If 70% of people see a superb website and the other 30% see garbled images and text, that means one in three visitors will bounce back to the search engine … telling the engine that your website is not very useful (and it isn’t if it can’t easily be read by 30% of searchers). 6. If the page is extremely code-heavy and image-heavy and takes too long to download on a significant number of computers, you will have the same problem. This might not be an issue if your target audience is web designers; they all have plenty powerful computers. But if your target audience is farmers, your page better be slim and quick-loading, or they’ll just bounce back to the search engine they came from. 7. Make sure your website is available, which means good hosting. If your page is unavailable, 100% of visitors will bounce back across a wide variety of search terms. If your page is unavailable too often, you can kiss your rankings goodbye…at least once usefulness is fully integrated into the search engine algorithms. 8. Make sure your code is working properly. Seeing a PHP error makes the site look broken. I don’t buy from someone who might be selling me broken goods. Subconsciously, anything that appears not to function acts like a big do-not-enter sign, and will increase your bounce-backs to the search engines. 9. Make sure your design is good, but not over the top. If your visuals call attention to themselves and distract from your message, you will lose people. Notice how many of the most used websites have the simplest designs? Clean. Professional. Simple. 10. Give people the option of viewing larger photos of the products or usages. This creates time engaging them in the sales process rather than in the bouncing process. 11. Font size…need I say that it should be big enough for all your readers? 12. For bigger websites, breadcrumb navigation is key. When someone lands on an interior page, it’s like being transported into the middle of a dark cave. Breadcrumbs show people where they are and how to get out, giving them an alternative to “Beam me up, Scotty.”
13. Avoid automatic audio playing. I can guarantee you that 99% of people browsing from a cubicle, as well as others in shared space, will zip back to the search engine in no time flat. That sends a pretty bad signal to the search engines. Audio is good. Audio is useful. Let users have control over when and whether to play any audio message. 14. Nix the cover page, especially one that shows a slide show on start-up. This is a major barrier for the search engines, since the cover page does not have lots of relevant, juicy content, and to people, who are forced to click an extra time. And if you think people can easily scroll to the bottom to click the “skip intro” on a flash presentation, consider how much easier it is to click the “back” button and choose a new website that does not place a needless barrier to its visitors. 15. Add “trust logos” such as the Better Business Bureau or an industry standards association. People will stick around longer in a place that feels safe and secure. Yeah, I know…but people are like that. The look of your website and the elements you choose to enhance that look all affect how your site is perceived. Perception will drive your visitors’ actions. Based on what they experience in the first few seconds, visitors will decide whether to bounce or stick around long enough to delve into your content. Ah…content. That’s what really makes people stay.
STICKY SEO STRATEGY 2
ENGAGING WEB CONTENT
People stay on websites that engage them. The longer they stay on your website, the more likely they will find something they want to buy from you and the more likely they will be to trust in your services. Sticky content has always been good. Coincidentally, the longer they stay on your website, the more impressed the search engines measuring such things will be. Sticky content is about to get even better. For that reason, most of the tactics to implement this strategy are time-honored conversion techniques, although many will be new to a number of readers who have been too focused on “SEO” to worry about content. 1. Make sure the content on your website is relevant. Stay on theme. Most corporate websites are already good at this. But there are still some websites run by individuals that mix professional and personal interests. There might be valid reasons for this, but there is also the risk of losing a confused audience. Information should be organized so that somebody seeking your professional tips does not have to pass through pages about your dog’s flea problems. And if your website must be about several things, make sure the information is grouped so that people can easily navigate through one theme without having to swerve around unrelated items. 2. Check and double-check your grammar and spelling. This is crucial, because if people see an obvious error in your copy, they will assume, even subconsciously, that you do not take care with your products and services. And they might bounce back to the search engine to conduct a new search. Just before finalizing this book, I was canoeing with a nurse who rhymed off the things she had to do, including iron her uniform. A third canoeist wondered how that really mattered, “Does anybody really care if the uniform is tidy?” Being the expert on nurses’ uniforms that I clearly am, I piped up, “If the image a nurse leaves is that of being sloppy or careless, would you take the chance that she wasn’t also sloppy or careless with your medications?” 3. Use small paragraphs. This is actually a smart move anywhere, but particularly on the Internet. Huge chunks of text are bouncy. They make people’s eyes gloss over and their fingers subconsciously reach for the “back” button. Don’t do what I did in the paragraph above. Do what I do in the following paragraph. 4. Bullet points. Need I say more? 5. Use easy language, avoiding jargon and sesquipedalian articulations. Need to look that one up? That’s my point. Make it at least as easy for people to read your text as it is to read “back”. “Use” is a good word. “Utilize” is not. 6. Make sure the content is useful. We run a freelance writer’s service, and you would be amazed (or maybe not) at how many website owners come looking for optimized website content. Quality? Well, the writing has to be good (see tip #1
above), but it really doesn’t matter what we write, what message we offer, what information we include. They want optimized content at the lowest price to attract the search engines. At best, it’s pretty useless; why drag all these people to your website if what they see there repels them? Pull, bounce. Pull, bounce. Pull, bounce. Loading up with poor quality content will cost much more once the search engines start measuring usefulness. More pages will no longer be better. More will just be, well, more. Only better will actually be better. 7. Answer all your visitor questions. This is something that takes a little more thought. First, you have to understand what questions your visitors are asking. Questions could be about you, about your policies, pricing and shipping, and about what you offer. Those are obvious. But what about how to use your products? Where they can be found? Can they be used in cold Canada or hot Mexico? What if a person is older, younger, thinner, wider, a newbie, a pro…what about all the possible questions that every niche or subniche of your customers might have? Having a “live chat” box prominent on your website helps ensure that people can easily ask those questions without having to search for them. It also keeps them engaged on your website longer. It is no coincidence that social networking websites score highest in the BrowseRank algorithm proposed in the Microsoft white paper. People spend time – lots of it – chatting on these interactive websites. 8. Expanding on #7, can people easily find shipping info? For instance, do you ship to Canada? If I can’t find that out quickly, I won’t stick around. Is pricing easy to find? If I am already at the stage where I might be ready to buy, I look for pricing almost immediately. If I can’t find it, I’ll search somewhere else, because I don’t want to invest 15 minutes of my time filling in forms only to hit a stickershock dead-end. Can I even pay at all? That depends on the payment options, so make sure that those are easy to find. For online payments, make sure the visitor knows that it is secure. What’s your guarantee? Inquiring visitors want to know. In short, any content that your audience is likely to be searching for needs to be obvious and easy to find. 9. If your website is an ecommerce site, do you have plenty of descriptions and suggestions of how to use each product? I mean on each page for each product? This is smart anyway for current SEO needs, because having plenty of content shows the search engines that you have more information for visitors than your competition. With the Usefulness Algorithm, more good quality content, gives visitors a reason to spend more time and more opportunity to say, “Yes, I want to buy.”
10. New and unique non-commercial content is also ideal, because that also engages a visitor. Just make sure to read tip #1 above before creating an entertaining video or interactive game or photo gallery or top-ten list. We recently redesigned the website of a steel bending client, and tracked the click locations. An amazing number of clicks were on a “samples of our work” link that is just a souped-up, funky slide show we created for them. Yes, even an industrial website can be cool! In many ways, this is a lot like viral marketing, in that you have to develop the kind of content that fascinates people. Most people in SEO today don’t bother, but the Usefulness Algorithm will make it very hard to ignore. Sticky SEO will require creativity and strategy. 11. Do you offer your services in Spanish or French or some other language? If so, make it easy for people to find the content in their own language. A person might have searched in English or followed a link from an English site, but if they see that they can get the information in their native tongue (easier, more clear, less uncertainty about details) they will go deeper into your site and spend more time, and they will be less likely to give up and more likely become customers. 12. Try to avoid special characters that might show up as garbled doodles on some computers. This is easier said than done when writing in languages with accents, of course. If you are as tired as I am of hearing the worn out “content is king” line (You know how it is when a phrase gets over-worn -- do most people even know what they mean by either “content” or “king”?) get ready to hear a whole lot more about it. The ultimate delivery of usefulness is in a website’s content. Lots of weak content, and you just have lots of weakness, and that is a royal waste of time. It’s not useful. But useful is not an objective measurement. One person’s junk is another person’s treasure. This becomes tricky with the Usefulness Algorithm. It’s a royal pain in the %*!#* What content is in fact king? Whose definition of “useful” matters?
STICKY SEO STRATEGY 3
Everybody gets to define useful when usefulness rules your rankings. At least, you ignore somebody’s definition at your peril. Business-as-usual SEO looks at search rankings for general or generic terms as a good thing. Not always worth the effort or price, but a good thing nevertheless. For instance, if your website sells home inspections services in Chicago, you might want to rank well for the following local searches: • • • Home inspection Chicago House inspection Chicago Chicago home inspector
You might also suspect that some of your target market would search for: • • • Home inspection Illinois House inspection Illinois Illinois home inspector
And it is fair to say that some will start off by just typing into their favorite search engine:
• • •
Home inspection House inspection Home inspector
When pursuing such general searches, without the location or other qualifiers, you most likely will weigh the cost of optimizing for them versus the return. After all, only a very small percentage of people searching for “home inspection” are even in your market, but you would have to compete against all the similar services in every market, as well as general informational websites on home inspection. If your website does rank incredibly high for “home inspection”, and you happen to attract visitors from Los Angeles and Toronto and London and a thousand other places, who cares? As long as your target market sticks around, you are smiling all the way to the bank. The Usefulness Algorithm adds a whole new wrinkle to this calculation. Suddenly all these ignorable visits are a liability that can actually hurt your rankings. They will hit the “back” button and your website will develop a bouncy reputation with the search engines. By the way, this is good for the Web. It means that a local website will have a harder time ranking for a general search. More general websites will rank better for general searches. This is exactly how it should be. It’s Mother Nature at work. However, if you own a local business, you might not care what’s good for the Web. You might want to rank well for general searches.
But all those pesky visitors from Houston and San Diego and East Pleasant Plain (that’s in Iowa, you know) who keep bouncing back. What to do? What to do? Return to the basic premise of a website under the Usefulness Algorithm – make your site useful to all visitors. The more general the searches you want to capture, the more careful you have to be to provide something for everyone in the category. In 2006, I first recognized that the Usefulness Algorithm was on its way. I mentioned this earlier. A fitness equipment manufacturer client of mine was planning a website redesign. This company sold only commercial fitness equipment, a small niche for the total fitness equipment market, but a very profitable one. The majority of its target market does not use the word “commercial” when searching; they search using simply “fitness equipment”, just as do so many more people looking for home fitness equipment. I advised this company that it would not look good to the search engines if 90% of traffic they were sending this site bounced right back – those searching for home gyms. I suggested making a very prominent link near the top of the home page: “Click here for home gyms.” “But we don’t sell home gyms,” the confused client protested. “That’s OK,” I said. “You have some options.” • • The easiest option would be to just pick a manufacturer who really focuses on home gyms, and link to their website. An option to keep visitors on the site longer and increase page views would be to link to a page on the site that reviews a dozen different home gym manufacturers, with links to their websites. An option I did not come up with at the time, but here it is now, would be to link to a contest page, where you give away a free home gym. Once agreeing to the terms, visitors would be sent to a third page (longer on the site, more page views) and they would submit their name and contact info, which would go to the supplier of the prize. My preferred option, although it does not add to page views as much, nor to longevity on the site, would be to link to a pre-sell page on the site, that in turn links to a home gym supplier using an affiliate link. In other words, if you don’t sell directly to this audience, monetize them while at the same time making sure they do not bounce back to the search engine. A variation of this would be to find a home gym supplier that does not sell commercial equipment and simply swap links. Both of you end up with a bigger customer base in your target market. And links will still count in the algorithms of the future.
This process works in almost every niche. You might have a site in a niche and sell only high-end or low-end…convert the other end by linking out. You might ship only to certain countries…convert visitors from other places by linking out. You might target only certain age ranges…convert the other folks. You might operate only in Ontario, drawing traffic for Cornwall and London, Ontario…convert the traffic from Cornwall and London, England.
With the Usefulness Algorithm, every visitor is golden, because every visitor tells the search engines how to rank you. So make sure to please every visitor. You must be sticky to all and bouncy to none.
STICKY SEO STRATEGY 4
SEGMENT YOUR MARKET
Chances are you service more than one niche. I have yet to see a website so narrowfocused that the niche cannot be broken down into several distinct markets. For instance, if you are promoting a food industry, you might want to clearly indicate where various audiences should click: • • • • • • Producers Wholesalers Retailers Educators General public Suppliers
This is critical, even if the information you deliver to each is very similar. The acronyms that are common and expected among industry insiders would totally lose members of the public and educators. The type of information and resources each audience segment seeks is also quite different. Suppliers don’t want to have to wade through coloring pages and grower application forms to find out how they can reach more of their clients in the sector. Even if your markets seem similar, it is worth segmenting them. Consider a service you provide to private medical practices. Chances are there will be small differences between how you service a dental office, a medical clinic, a chiropractor, etc. Even if the services are the same, it is worth speaking to each in his own language, drawing examples from his own niche. It builds trust and credibility and sends the clear message that if they have some special request or some problem later on, you will understand them specifically and be able to help. Plus, a link on the home page for “Chiropractors click here” or “Landscape architects click here” increases the number of visitors in those niches who go deeper into the site. They are more likely to stick. More likely to buy. Less likely to bounce.
STICKY SEO STRATEGY 5
COVER ALL PERSONALITY TYPES
Different people process information in different ways, even if they share common professional or demographic characteristics. For that reason, presenting information in different ways increases the number of people likely to dive deeper into your website. It’s a buy or bounce world. Consider the different ways people might want to find a movie… • Some people like to search for a specific movie or a specific category of movie. Let them search by keyword, which means they can type in the name, the year, the actor, the director…assuming you’ve included all these elements as searchable (hint, hint). Others like to choose by year, so link by year to pages with lists for each year. Some prefer to go straight to their favorite genre, so provide a list of genres to pick from. Others like to see “What’s new” or “New releases”. That is pretty universal, regardless of your niche. People like to be on top of the latest trends. Some people like to see “What’s popular”, which is also pretty universal. Otherwise all those celebrity magazines would go out of business. Some prefer to see “featured selection”. Yes, on the surface that seems silly, but there is a reason that almost every waiter around the world recites “today’s specials”. For whatever reason that I will never understand, people like to be harassed by somebody else’s recommendation of what they should like. Go figure.
• • • • •
In other sectors people might like to move into your site by geography (especially for local services or travel-related themes), by manufacturer (especially for machines or machine parts), by type of item (such as different tools, accessories, etc.), by size or color (especially for apparel), by month or by holiday, or by any number of other subcategories. Keep in mind that people arrive at your website at various stages in the buying cycle. Personalities change, depending on where in the process they are when they arrive. Some visitors arrive cash in hand and ready to buy. They know what they want and they want to find it fast. You want to make it easy for them to find what they are looking for and buy it.
Others are not sure what they want and might be just window shopping. You have to make it easy for them to browse and plant ideas in their heads along the way, and hopefully they will buy. Still others know they are not ready and are just at the research stage. You have the opportunity to demonstrate your expertise and to make sure they return when it is time to buy. Make sure to leave them with some means of hanging on to your URL, so that when they are ready to buy, they don’t end up on the competitor’s website You know your products and your audience best. Slice them, dice them, and let them go directly to what they are looking for.
STICKY SEO STRATEGY 6
BE THEIR NEXT SEARCH
Once your visitors are done with you (sorry, nothing lasts forever) where will they go? Ideally, you don’t want them to bounce back to the search engines. Even if they have spent several minutes on your website and booked a room at the vacation home of their choice, best practices would keep them from bouncing back at all. You can be their next search. Offer them options for searching for complementary services. In the vacation home example, those might include flight booking, car rental, travel insurance, luggage purchase, etc. Help them find whatever else they might be looking for and you have also increased your value to them and the likelihood that they will be your word-of-mouth advertisers, too. Another option is to have a general web search field that they can use to find something else they want that might not even be related to your website or your services. Depending on how the search engines track things, you might prefer to add a search powered by a lesser known engine so that it is not counted as a bounce-back.
As search engines approach their 20th birthday, reaching an age of maturity, they will have passed through the following process 1. Ranking web pages based on what the authors say 2. Ranking pages based on what other web authors say 3. Ranking pages based on what users do (coming soon!) Now it’s up to you to influence what your users do, which means that the best way to manipulate the volume of traffic, even the volume of targeted traffic, you crave is to give that traffic what they want, what they need, what they can use. The strategies and tips in this book will go a long way toward doing just that. But don’t take my word for it. Everything here is just a generalization that applies whether you sell pickles, legal opinions, fertilizer spreading services or home lobotomy kits. The only way to know what works for you and your website is to test, test, test. Find a good analytics program that shows how long people stay on each page, where they click and where the go from each page and where they leave your website. Then make changes and test. Make more changes and test. Keep improving. Get some friends, preferably in your target market to navigate your website. Don’t prompt them, just watch. Find out what they find confusing or what stops them. Find out what seems to be working. This is not precision engineering, but observations can be as valuable as statistics. The age of usefulness will finally reach the search engine industry and we will all be affected. The Web as a whole should be a better place for it, as website owners scramble to make their websites better. Less bouncy. More sticky. More useful. Yes! Welcome to the age of Sticky SEO.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Unlike most SEO specialists, David Leonhardt did not embrace SEO from the world of web design or IT. He came from the world of issues management and public relations. Prior to SEO and online marketing, he was possibly Canada’s most-quoted consumer advocate, often conducting over 500 media interviews per year. As spokesperson for CAA Ontario, he helped to change legislation and regulations on behalf of motorists, leaving behind a legacy of increased safety, better mobility and lower emissions. And since he wrote this page, he obviously feels free to do a little bragging. David Leonhardt first made his mark in SEO with a widely published article entitled “Google’s Next Big Move” in late 2003. This article is still available for viewing unedited at http://www.seo-writer.com/reprint/seo-google.html and it certainly appears that a number of the predictions have come to pass. Now, as President of The Happy Guy Marketing, he is making another bold prediction of an even greater consequence that will give birth to Sticky SEO and (hopefully) make the Web a better place.
History of Search Engines: From 1945 to Google 2007 http://www.searchenginehistory.com/
BrowseRank: Letting Web Users Vote for Page Importance http://research.microsoft.com/users/tyliu/files/fp032-Liu.pdf