Monday, February 8, 2010

Applying "Who Moved my Cheese" to Search Engine Marketing

7 Reasons Why You Need to Deal With Search Engine Marketing Change
Around 5 years ago I read the book Who Moved my Cheese. It’s a very simple, short story about the different methods of dealing with change. I’ve recently re-read this, (it only takes about an hour so I’d definitely recommend reading if you haven’t already) – but I realised that there’s a lot which can be applied to day-to-day life in search marketing.

Image Credit: Flickr

They say an internet year is the equalivent to 7 normal years, I’m sure a search engine marketing year may be more! So basically if you don’t like change – you’re probably in the wrong job!

1) Don’t rest on your laurels
Paid links, keyword stuffing, meta keywords optimisation etc are normally all methods of tricking the search engines into thinking your webpage is more relevant/important to a set of keywords that it actually is!
Back in the late 90’s and early 2000’s (I’m not calling it noughties!) this worked very well, so why wouldn’t you do it? You wouldn’t just let your competitors outrank you without competing on a level playing field. But at the same time the search engines (Google especially) are quickly evolving and tweaking their algorithms – one day the tactics which are working may change and turn a very profitable online business by wiping everything out overnight.

Also, just because your successful tactics from 2-3 years ago worked back then, it doesn’t mean you can just continue applying the same tactics in the future and get the same levels of success.

2) Be aware of competitors
Being on the internet means that you may wake up one morning to find a new, very powerful competitor.

Recently in the UK the online department store (backed by Littlewoods) has began heavily advertising on TV and using pay-per-click advertising to promote themselves. I’m sure if Debenhams had a new competitor on the high-street, for example, they would be aware of this well in advance and be able to react in time to this. However, online these things can change very quickly and catching them out just before the Christmas shopping period is more likely when you can move much quicker.
Also, as above don’t rest on your laurels. Just because your at #1 in Google for your most important keyword today, this doesn’t mean that your competitors aren’t working on an SEO strategy which may knock you off the top in the future. Plus no website is ever performing at its full potential in the search engines and there is always room for improvement in the form of more traffic (whether competitive or long-tail) and overall conversions. Even Wikipedia aren’t number one for every term and even then it’s normally only a single listing out of the top ten!

3) Make and learn from your mistakes
It’s estimated that it takes 6-10 years to become amazingly great at something, so you’re not going to get everything right first time! Having now been involved in SEO for 7 years, there’s still a lot I’m continually learning and I’d be the first to admit that I made lots of mistakes in the past when optimising websites (luckily these were usually my own). But in my opinion this is the best way of actually learning what works, or in many cases what doesn’t.

I mentioned in my SEO copywriting post that there is a lot of trial and error work involved in optimising a website. This is true, but based on experience you get a feel of what does or doesn’t work well – and each time your judgement improves and the likelihood of making a right decision under a given circumstances is greater.

Just make sure you’ve got the majority of your mistakes out of the way or have some test projects available - so that when working on an important project you can make the right choices when it matters.

4) Try to prevent knee-jerk reactions
One thing I’ve found to be true in SEO is that you often need to have a clear strategy and stick to it. Sometimes you optimise a website and surprise yourself with incredibly quick results, other times you may done everything right but it takes a little time to pay off. You may even have to take one step back before going two forward, but one thing I have learnt is that stability, more often than not, far outweighs knee-jerk reactions and chopping and changing.

If you give your ideas time and attention to pay-off, it’s more likely to be a better option than trying to start from scratch again on something new. There’s a great quote from Glen Allsopp on Search Engine People which says the first hurdle is often the hardest to achieve, this is very true – so stick to it!

5) Review performance over a sensible period of time
Continuing from the above point about needing stability, you do also need to review your search marketing activity at regular intervals. But this should be reviewed over a sensible period of time. From a business perspective, it can sometimes be very easy to over-analyse short terms successes or failures – looking at a longer period of time often gives you a clearer focus over performance and makes the bigger picture appear more obvious.

For example, for a highly seasonal campaign it can be unfair/misleading to review the traffic volumes or online revenue on a month-to-month basis. But a comprehsive review on a quarterly or even annual basis – comparing with performance from previous similar periods – may be extremely valuable.
This is something we’ve recently done with a client, around 12 months after originally optimising their site we now have enough traffic and performance stats to review the success of this and also look at the areas which haven’t worked so well, or where the market may have changed, revisiting these with new ideas. We’re not assuming that everything we did was perfect first time around and even if it was it still needs to be checked. But if we had done this after 3-6 months, it wouldn’t have told us too much and we may have changed something too quickly before it had a chance to fufil its potential.

6) Don’t put all your eggs in one basket
This is a very common mistake, if your PPC campaign is performing very well you obviously want to maximise this and it’s very easy to throw extra budget at this because you can quickly see if your return on investment is paying off.

But what happens when the latest PPC quality score update means your campaign isn’t as profitable as it once was and you have no additional revenue streams and advertising channels to fall back on?
Internet marketing isn’t about finding the best tactic and just focusing on that one thing. Most campaigns work best when they are integrated together – so yes advertise using paid search, but use that keyword and conversion data to implement into your SEO strategy. The main goal of most online marketing campaigns is to convert a sale or lead, but what about the potential customers who are at an early stage of the buying cycle and not quite ready to purchase. Think about other methods of getting these visitors back to your site, get them to signup for your newsletter (email marketing) and subscribe to your blog (social media marketing).

7) Look at what’s in store for the future
It can be easy to pay too much attention to what’s going on in the search world sometimes, there are frequently changes, news and ideas on a daily basis, but you really need to try and filter out the ones which affect you and how you do things.

These are the actionable ideas which you do need to be aware of in order to make sure you are doing your job as effectively as possible.

Here’s a quick list of a few things which you may have considered or need to be aware of in the future:
  • Bing UK – you may have focused solely on Google for SEO and PPC in the past – but there’s a good chance Bing may become a more serious competitor in the future. This means you may have to dedicate more of your SEO effort and PPC budget towards Bing and Microsoft adCenter.
  • What are the most popular social media sites and where is this heading? For example, are you still working on your MySpace marketing strategy? Or are you using Twitter effectively and ready for what Google Wave has to offer?
  • Google page speed – Google’s algorithm changes normally aim to improve the overall user experience for visitors. So improving your page speed and making sure your site is browser compatible is something you should be doing anyway, but now it’s even more important as an SEO activity.
  • Google algorithm updates – if your website dropped in Google UK six months ago only to be replaced by a US or Australian site, it’s probably because of the #ukserps issue which has been a common talking point. Being aware of updates such as Vince and Caffeine helps you to make more insightful decisions based on all of information you have available.
So those are my thoughts on why you shouldn’t let the search world pass you by. Most people who work in the search industry like it so much because it’s kept exciting by never being constant and always having new ideas and opinions available, so change has to be a good thing! :D


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