Past Performance Is No Guarantee Of Future Success in SEO

I tend to deal with the new business enquiries here at Marketing Signals. I am also the managing director and see the whole picture from start to finish.

One recurring theme with our clients (present and new) is that SEO is getting too expensive these days and it is taking too long to rank and the most common – why am I having to pay for you to audit and probably remove / disavow some of our link profile when we paid another agency / you to build these links in the first place.

These people are stuck in the past and are dreaming of days gone by when cheap and fast SEO worked and carried a low risk/reward ratio meaning excellent rankings could be achieved with relatively little effort using blatant and spammy link building techniques.

I try to rebut this with a realistic view of where organic search marketing is today and what you and your business need to do to succeed. Some listen, others don’t. You cannot win them all!

I wanted to write this post to hopefully help out other people having the same issues and also to show you how you can very quickly grab enough stats to hopefully make them understand their current position and risk within it.

Google’s Penguin Updates

Google PenguinSo Google penguin has sure taught us a few lessons about Google and manipulating it for organic search success. Many posts have covered what penguin is and why it came about – I will leave you to read these 2 posts for further penguin reading – SELand and Wikipedia.

No longer can we easily brute force our way to the top – or not for any meaningful amount of time anyway. Churn and burn sites that used to last 9-12 months are now disappearing sub 3 months.

Direct match anchor text is dead – The footprint was far too obvious – It took this long for Google to get their game in order and when they finally did, they sure swung the axe far and wide.

In our previous incarnation, we would ask for 10 anchor text titles and landing pages and off we went – what links stuck worked, and if they did not work, Google ignored them – or may not – we never knew really.

Now we have much more clarity on what Google does and doesn’t like, we have to change the way we link and think about the links currently coming into our site.

SEO Baggage – “Made for SEO, It has to go”

Most established websites have had some SEO done at some point in their lifetime. Whether it was done using clean brand signals or via some of the older style link techniques that many of us used to use (and some still do), you need to know what links you have coming into the site prior to agreeing any commercial arrangements.

Who did the SEO previously? What techniques were used? Do you have access to any old agency reports? These are all questions I ask for so that I have as complete a picture as possible as to what has been previously and to gain an understanding of the marketing contact / business owners level of knowledge with digital marketing.

How do we tell what we are inheriting?

When we get a new business enquiry we have a few checks we use to see what position the website is in. The first things I look at are: –

  • What is the current and historic search visibility and rankings
  • What type of inbound links does the domain have

Whilst this does not give me the whole picture, at this stage it is enough to get a few questions together and strike up a conversation with the prospect.

The 2 places I would go to find out this data are SEMRush and LinkRisk.

SEMRush

SEMRush is a really useful tool for quickly viewing top 20 rankings and organic site visibility. It offers so much more than this and there is no better comprehensive SEMRush review than this one written by my good friend Rishi

The output I am looking for from this tool is simply –

An XLS of their current rankings

I would use 1 tab per country for International clients

Here is a link to the data for marketingignals.com in the UK and US – https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1WGzL6CNzF-h3mye3qKC08mKs1423OfGbHMyaSDqZ3ZI/

An overview of the sites visibility in the SERPs

The graphs SEMRush provide make it very easy to see how the overall visibility has changed over a defined period of time

We would also screenshot and export ranking data for reporting and / or presentations

SEMrush-images

LinkRisk

LinkRisk is a tool that I am one of the founders of and is designed to help you calculate where the risk is within your backlink profile. I often talk about LinkRisk in my blog posts – This is not to try and push sales to the tool – It is because it is my tool of choice for link profile analysis and management.

The first thing we need to do with LinkRisk is to gather as much link data as possible. A previous post covers this in details so please read this for why we need as much data as we can find. LinkRisk will take all reports and de-duplicate and re-crawl all your links before analysing using the LinkRisk algorithm to give us an indication of where the risk lies within the profile.

I look at the following parameters –

Look at overall LinkRisk score
Check the worst links in the dataCheck the best links in the data
Check PageRankCheck Site wides
Check LinksToCheck HTTP status codes

Whilst my operations team would not thank me for making a decision based on a 5 minute review, I feel this is sufficient for me at this stage of the sales funnel.

We would also screenshot and export ranking data for reporting and / or presentations

LinkRisk-images

And that is it – Put that together as a PDF with a paragraph or 2 for each section relating to the data you are seeing and you have very quickly gathered and analysed a lot of data to help inform your decisions when pricing and planning the marketing plan.

Timescales and Costs

Brand building takes time and that is the way Google is forcing us to go. It was way back in 2008 when Google’s Eric Schmidt stated that brand will sort the cesspool that the Internet is becoming. And to a certain degree he is right – as brands give off trust signals. If you think building an online brand is expensive, maybe you should try doing it offline – it is significantly harder!

SEO is a liquid marketing strategy that never really ends – You focus on industry trends, you broaden your reach by entering new markets and you expand your product range and services as your business grows. We used to see results in 3-6 months of blatant SEO. Now it is more likely to take 9-12 months with a much more fluid approach to campaign strategy.

Sure in local you can get quicker results – and using exact match domain microsites you will get a bonus still but that scenario is not available for many these days. Domainers and spammers have taken and burnt the majority of decent volume EMD’s.

If all this sounds far too expensive or hard work

Maybe SEO in 2014 and beyond is not for you anyway.

Why not think about where your customer base hang out online? Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Second Life? We have seen great success for our client base using highly targeted social media marketing and you can, in theory, more accurately target your audience within this strand of digital marketing.

A well planned and executed organic search campaign often proves to be the most efficient and cost effective route to customer acquisition and should give you the social exposure to your community you will be getting with social media marketing. You just need to be aware just how much the game has changed and how much your mindset also needs to change.

As our financial advisors so often tell us – Past Performance Is No Guarantee Of Future Success – and never has that been more true than in SEO in 2014.

Feel free to get in touch and see how we can help you scale your agency’s sales with our data services, search and social signals.

Gareth Hoyle

Gareth Hoyle

Let’s kick this section off with a sound-bite: I graduated in 2006, finishing top of my year in e-Business. As good as that sounds, book smarts doesn’t always translate into business acumen - what people really want to know is how I went from ‘fresh faced uni graduate’ to establishing my own highly successful international digital marketing agency. It wasn’t easy.

Here’s my advice. The formula to success comes down to one word. Leadership. The difference between book smarts and leadership is that even the strongest university degree in the world will only teach you the way, but a leader is able to take that knowledge and combine it with instinct and honesty to show the way. I may not always lead my staff and clients in the direction they want, but I always take them where they need to be.

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