For as long as I can remember, the dreams of making fortunes on the web date back to the rudimentary days of the mid 90’s. At that time, no one really had a good idea of what the opportunities were, but the promises for fame and fortune were plentful and for the adventurous, it paid off. The web became the all inclusive shopping destination, fueled by millions of websites, billions of pages and countless products. Service oriented businesses took advantage of the inexpensive visibility that the web offered. Search engines started to pop up everywhere, helping consumers find their way around a staggering maze of products and services in a database of options that hasn’t stopped growing from the day it started.
Fast forward a few years, and I still remember the days when all you had to do in order to rank high on search results was to stuff your page with “keywords” and have some bogus links pointing to your “content” and voila! You were at the top. It was fun while it lasted and some people made fortunes as they took advantage of what was and still is the most targeted traffic a marketer could ever wish to reach. Search engines became more sophisticated, more discerning of devious practices and eventually, less forgiving of such offenders.
After 16 years and counting, we have seen the rise and fall of many. Some have recovered from the purging strikes of search giants, and others have died a quiet and painful death. What amazes me time and again, however, is the fact that some people just don’t learn their lesson. I guess the old adage is true: “old habits die hard”. Businesses around the world, still holding on to the dream of fame and fortune, seek to gain visibility through means that were considered shady ten algorithm updates ago. $99 SEO solutions, promises of first page ranking apart from sponsored advertising, guarantees of visibility through secret strategies that simply can’t be disclosed…the list goes on.
While links are still considered to be the currency of the web and the ticket to the top, search engines have devised exceptional ways to filter the spam and keep everyone honest in their quest for visibility. If you are engaged with what is called “link building campaigns”, I would strongly encourage you to move away from it at once. We’ve seen it done, we’ve seen it crash, we’ve seen it burn. I am not saying that you won’t need them. You do. It just became altogether more complex and time consuming, not to mention expensive to obtain them. Valuable links still count for your website as a vote of confidence in your content and will get you the visibility you crave, but don’t think that you can trick the system, at least, in the long term, before you will fall from grace.
Search engine optimization can be divided into two groups of tasks: on-page optimization and off-page optimization. Let’s look at each one in more detail.
On-page optimization has always been an important factor for visibility. A well optimized web page will have its proper meta descriptions, title tags, alt tags, keyword density and focus. Additionally, factors that favor a well optimized page or website will include load speed, indexability through dynamic site maps, depth of content and the HTML that holds it all together. Speaking of HTML…Unlike what some may believe, not all sites are made the same. It is true that end-users only get to see the visual interface of a website, which may be quite gorgeous, while the code beneath it might be so bad that search engines will simply not index them.
Ready-made off the shelf template websites are notorious for their poor code standards. These sites are aimed toward people who are willing to spend no more than a few hundred dollars on their site and as the old saying goes, you get what you pay for. Surprisingly, though, is to see that sometimes enterprise level clients suffer from similar crippling shortcomings. We are currently working with a publicly traded company whose market cap sits north of the 8 figures. Yet, the coding standards used for their corporate website were so poor that nothing would do but a complete overhaul of their entire web property. We’ve launched the American portion of the site and we’re now working on their overseas affiliates. Great on-page optimization apart from clean, functional and cutting edge code will leave you wondering what has gone wrong.
This facet of search engine optimization is what has most everyone confused. If linking campaigns are bad, guest blogging is out, paid links are from hell and any other artificial means of attaining these juicy links is frowned upon, what’s left? Well, what is left is a lot of hard work. While your competitors still struggle with notions of getting to the top through questionable means of optimization (spam), you should focus on an aggressive public relations campaign, where people will naturally link to you because you fell on their good graces. Here are a few ideas for you to think about:
Run a benefit event on behalf of a non-profit.
It doesn’t have to be expensive. Set aside a few hundred dollars and tell your followers on social media channels that for every like on your Facebook page you will match with a dollar in benefit of a non-profit organization. Steer clear of polarizing causes (any politically charged cause). This will start building good will toward your brand and will do the community some good at the same time.
Offer a scholarship.
Create a contest in a school where students will have to tell you why you should give them the scholarship instead of someone else. Have them post their story on their personal blog and ask their friends come and share their story. The story with the most shares gets the award.
Sponsor a luncheon
Find a cause that is near and dear to you and something you’d like your business to be associated with. Sponsor a luncheon where a speaker promotes their cause while acknowledging your generosity in sponsoring the event. Make sure you get a link to your site on the non-profit site and encourage them to share the invite with others, thereby spreading your link with many.
Like these examples, there are countless other means of attaining legitimate links pointing to your website. It just takes a lot more work, a lot more time and, you guessed it, a lot more money.
Don’t kid yourself thinking that there’s an easy out. Sustainable strategies are the ones that remain and if you’re serious about what you do, you should think long term. Call us if you’d like to discuss opportunities for your business and whatever you do, don’t jeopardize your brand and risk falling from grace…There’s a change you’ll be found beyond the point of redemption.