It’s that time of year again. First off – since I’m a bit late here after all the family festivities: happy New Year and Merry Christmas. (Wow that was late. Better late than never I hope?)
If you celebrate another series of holidays, I hope your celebrations were memorable and you’re ready to charge into 2013 with guns blazing. But before you charge off into the sunset, let’s pull on those reins a bit and look back over some important lessons 2012 left with us.
How Online Marketing Changed Drastically
I can’t believe it’s been nearly a year, but time flies that way – remember back when SEO was “easy” – too easy? You know what I wrote about before, in regards to the changes in SEO (if not, take the time to freshen up) – one of the biggest changes happened in 2011.
Code name: the Panda Update to the Google algorithm. That’s pretty old news at this point (though those changes are still with us: on-page quality according to Google, Inc. is a fickle business and shifting target)…on those heels, before many websites could recover lost rankings, came the Penguin Update.
Many marketers in various forums (cough! Warrior…Digital Point… cough!) have tried to down-play the severity of these changes to sell over-simplified models of using “diversified anchor text” for backlinks (as if using synonyms of your main money keywords for anchor text is really what the brain trust at the Mothership was trying to encourage), or continue to sell packages of various link-building services using the same tired spun content submitted amongst the Internet’s cheapest grottoes.
Here’s a fair warning if you’re slow to pick up what I’m saying between the lines: don’t fall for last year’s cheap bag of tricks. The writing is no longer on the wall here – it’s written more or less in the headstones of formerly successful businesses.
Just to play it safe here, hear me on this:
Stop trying cheap SEO tricks and expecting anything less than lost money and rankings.
Do not pass Go, do not collect your $200.
In fact – save your money and get rid of your article spinners, your link submitting tools, your Rolodex of SEO’s in low places (cough! Fiverr what? cough!). Hire a professional.
Start paying the $300 a month for Aaron Wall’s SEOBook.com membership, or the $97 or so a month to become a member at SEOMoz.org (if you really want to learn from the best in the business)…or at the very least develop a B.S. meter so you don’t keep buying the $7 bottom-rung “coaching” being offered up in cheap e-books and video series…I won’t say where…
What Penguin is About, and What Next?
If you want to cut to the quick about Penguin: over-optimized anchor text using money keywords is a bad idea. That’s a very simplified, dumbed-down look at a complex update to Google’s algorithm. It gets more complex than that.
For instance: Penguin should force you to reconsider the relevance and quality of your backlink resources. Are you only getting links from the “free for all” types of websites?
Does your backlink profile have “automated” stamped all over it?
Do you use link submission tools and services?
Do you trust the source of your links pointing to your sites (think about it: would you send your would-be customers to visit the backlinks pointing to your site, or are they something you want to sweep under the rug, just a “secret” thing between you and the googlebot)?
Since it’s that time of year…Have you audited your link profile lately?
I wrote about a service that allows you to do that here, called cognitiveSEO – though there are others available.
Point being: audit your link profile, especially if you’re out-sourcing it to someone or to a few someones.
Ask the hard questions – especially the one I listed above: would you want potential clients/customers visiting your backlinks? If not, why not?
Naturally you might have some links that you wouldn’t call “award winners” – maybe directory links for instance – but are you hiding links in shady places?
If you are – you might want to jettison those links before they become detrimental to your rankings. Just do so after careful consideration. You can use this tool if you have a list of links to drop – after you request the webmasters to take them down.
So Wait – Bad Links Hurt Rankings?
Um, yeah – that was a bit of a surprise for Google to officially launch an update (Penguin) that essentially drove home the fact that a bad link profile can hurt your rankings. Up to that point, Google insisted in various ways that “links can’t hurt, we only ignore questionable links.”
Otherwise, of course – there would be the ability for negative SEO to take place. (Where a competitor could pollute your link profile by purchasing junk backlinks to point to your site, using keywords you’re targeting for obvious spam…then naturally reporting the links to Google. Presto! You just lost rankings.)
Of course, Google insists they do a great job detecting negative SEO – so “don’t worry too much about it” is the message – but welcome to enterprise search marketing: it’s dog-eat-dog. Companies fight dirty when profits are involved.
Which brings me to one of the main points here, one of the big lessons from 2012: watch your
back backlink profile. Again: if you haven’t done so yet, audit your link profile. Ross (or I) can help in that regard.
Google Can Hurt Your Business – What’s Your Backup Plan?
Call it a “contingency plan” for your web traffic and customer flow – what would you do if all your search traffic dried up? Buy AdWords and pay Google for customers?
That’s a viable option, naturally one to consider – but what if your PPC efforts and AdWords account were all shut down? What if there was a problem with one of your websites and today’s “whitehat” practices became tomorrow’s “blackhat” policy violations?
Or do one better and ensure SEO or advertising giants only command a minority of your traffic, by slowly building up other traffic resources and relying less and less on one traffic monolith. My recommendation is to rely on organic traffic for no more than 30% of your total inbound traffic, at least shoot for that as a goal.
Specifically, I’d recommend building up social media and referral traffic through a social media and rigorous guest posting campaign – but that’s just for starters.
My traffic plan was personally written about in a short series of “traffic guides” I published under the name Tidal Wave Traffic, but again that’s just food for thought. What’s your backup traffic plan?
Is Google organic search dominating your traffic stats? How do you plan on changing that?
(Because let’s be honest: if you haven’t learned it yet, that’s one incredible liability just waiting to happen.)
The Rise of Social Media
Personally I’m sick and tired of hearing about Pinterest, or about Facebook fan pages, or Twitter power users…or whatever the flavor-of-the-month in traffic is. What is clear from 2012 in particular is that social media is either hot, or intimidating.
It’s “hot” if you learn to be social in your niche and become a resource that gains in popularity…it’s intimidating if you realize social media is nothing more than a popularity contest for those of us fighting for customers online.
And frankly, social media for anti-social types is downright frightening…but if you’ve heard anything this last year, you heard how optimizing for social media (especially how it influences search results in Google’s new search economy) is going to pay off dividends for your business – or has the potential to do so if harnessed properly.
Search Isn’t Easy…But It’s Not The End of SEO
SEO became much more difficult in 2012, IMHO, but it also became more common sense. Naturally, abusing webspam is begging for penalties from Google and Bing.
But webspam never was “SEO” proper. Search optimization can pretty complex (from schema.org markup to rel=”author” tags, to filtering out dupe content and managing your backlink profile) or fairly simple. It really depends on how much your business is designed to depend on organic traffic from the major search engines to begin with, and how successful your overall traffic plan turns out to be.
So long as there are major search engines delivering targeted, converting traffic (as they do), online entrepreneurs need to harness that flow of traffic as part of an overall traffic strategy.
2012 isn’t the year SEO died – but it should have been the year your business decided to stop relying on Google for the majority of its traffic. That again is my own experience and preference, but the lesson was hard-won. I personally don’t recommend relying on just one major source of traffic unless it’s simply brand recognition (i.e.: crazy good word of mouth) at play in various media.
Apart from that – the biggest lesson is traffic diversification and successfully gaining market share through the best means possible. (And that “best means possible” sure isn’t a monopolistic and power-hungry carnivore that’s hungry for my lunch.)
What about you?