All posts by Searchology

SEO Extortion is a Real Thing…Here is How to Prevent It

Don’t become a victim of SEO extortion

Clients get extorted all of the time in the digital marketing and advertising realm, they simply may not call it ‘extortion.’ It is a hard topic to discuss for some, but paramount for all of us to have a ‘come to Moses’ moment. If you fall out of favor with your digital marketing company for some reason, be prepared for the possibility of becoming a victim of extortion. If you fail to pay your invoice…be prepared for the potentiality of becoming a victim. If you decide to switch vendors, get ready for a possible hijacking of your company’s digital assets.

What is digital hijacking or SEO extortion?

First, let us understand why this happens and what you can do to protect yourself. While the vast majority of digital marketing companies are very fair and honest…there are those who will take your entire website into the deep bowels of hell if you mess with them. Why does this happen?

  1. Late invoice payment
  2. Late or no final invoice payment
  3. You’ve decided to change vendors
  4. Or in this SEO extortion case, a simple threat of creating negative off-page SEO was enough for some companies to pay hefty sums just to keep a really bad SEO out of the search engine results pages [SERPS]. But Stanley didn’t stop there. Apparently, he created entire websites and potentially damaging content and threaten to let loose the SEO Kracken if GE didn’t pay up.
  5. Blackhat SEO practices used against you – I’ll address this in a future post.

Numbers 1 through 3 are very easy to prevent but may be a little complicated at first. Simply put, you must own the keys to your own kingdom. Know your passwords, login credentials, and location for signing in. Yes, it’s really that simple. Make sure you are in the loop and have final control of all services, portals, for social media, tracking, and advertising. This will help ensure that some nefarious digital marketing company can’t hold you hostage due to any of the aforementioned.

Is it really that simple? Yes, yes, it is. There are some settings that may be a little difficult to deal with at first. You need to learn the difference between administrative access and other access levels. That should be the worst of it. Imagine something so simple that can prevent a full-blown shutdown of your digital presence. Make sure you have the same access level or higher than your digital agency. I think the real challenge is making sure you have this at the beginning of your vendor/client relationship not at the end.

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The SEO Evolution

Search engine optimization has evolved…and quickly

Search engine optimization used to be a pretty easy process. Write killer content, ensure website use-ability, check your meta data, build links and the rest should come naturally. This of course is the very simple version of old school SEO. Times have changed and they have changed forever.

I’ve long said that search engine optimization is NOT about attaining top position for desired keywords but how well your website does it’s job. Top ranking and higher keyword rank will come as a result. From a client perspective this idea helped to manage expectation and from the Searchology perspective this helped to downplay the importance of ‘first place always wins’.

Roughly 70% of all visitors click on natural search results and 25% click on paid search adverts. The remainder click on other opportunities. However, search engines are no longer the only place to find what you are looking for.

Facebook now has over 800 million users…Twitter recently hit over 500 million users. Social media is on the tip of every online marketer and every company is attempting to get in the arena.

The SEO Evolution

SEO is no longer about the best practices…it is no longer about on-page efforts alone. The advent of social media has changed everything for better or worse. SEO professionals must know more, track more and understand more than ever before. SEO experts must embrace social media but need to understand some psychology and communication tactics as well.

It is hard to say when social media became important…I would venture to say it would be the first forum, first blog and the ability to communicate with the publisher of such content. SEO is about communication now and how well you listen to what is going on with your visitors, audience and how well you respond.

Social media optimization is now a critical component to all SEO efforts. Social profiles, communication channels and  their translation into loyal visitors and brand advocates. SEO and social media is now SEO-social.

Social media is not about ROI as much as SEO is…but now that the two are inexorably combined at the hip…it is no longer just about the money. It is about relationships and how well you can develop those relationships online. With 203 million Americans online…you have a choice. Evolve your SEO to jive with your social media optimization or perish.

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Online Privacy & Freedom – Now At Risk

Most of us are aware of the Occupy Wall Street [OWS] protests and their message of raising awareness of the vast chasm between the rich and poor. The 1% get all of the breaks and the 99% get the boot. I am not one to argue their point. I am not one to say that there isn’t something truly amiss with the disparity between the very wealthy in this country and those less fortunate. There is…and it is systemic, ongoing and desperately needs to be addressed at the highest levels.

While most of us may believe that the aforementioned is a major issue…there is a bigger issue that is NOT being covered by the mainstream media and issues that are much closer the the very core and fabric of our nation. Our very freedoms are under direct assault by those who hold political office.

What I find interesting and a little frightening is this: the Occupy movement has awakened sleeping giants. The giants – those who seek to stop any type of protest in its tracks. The Bill of Rights allows freedom of speech, freedom to peaceably protest, right to petition our government and freedom of the press. These are the rights of Americans and this is not up for debate…until now.

Over the course of 2011, there were hundreds of protests in the Middle East which toppled governments and dethroned dictators. It was called the Arab Spring…and it’s primary communication tool was the Internet. Demonstrators and protesters used texts, social networks and Twitter to topple oppressive regimes. On one hand it was a true force of democratic will, propelled by well oiled and socially connected people. On the other was the most basic desire for freedom of oppression.

Simple desire created massive change and the vehicle that helped the people do it was social media.

When the Occupy Wall Street started to pick up steam…those in power in the U.S. started to get a little unhinged and are now pulling the plug on freedom, privacy, the press and you. Politicians [left and right] and corporate America do not want to change how we do business nor do they want to change that was once promised.

Don’t believe me…take a look at some recent stories –

  1. Freedom Index for the United States [now ranked 47th].
  2. Drones patrolling New York
  3. Homeland Security can now keep track of those “reporters” using social networks and social media outlets
  4. The new National Defense Authorization Act which allows the president to kill American citizens and indefinitely detain them with out trial or council.
  5. Failed attempt at full blow Internet censorship via SOPA.
  6. Failed attempt at additional Internet censorship with the Protect IP Act.
  7. Chicago’s mayor added on higher fees and stiffer penalties for the G8 summit.

The good news is items 5 and 6 failed. The bad news is we are teetering very close to a point of no return. Every move we make…as a reporter, blogger, or social media hipster or college student may be watched, monitored, collected and used against us in a court of law [if we are lucky]. In addition, you may end up held without trial, without legal council, without even being told why.

All of this seems like it has been specifically created and designed to curb, stop or totally shut down any unrest the current political and socioeconomic climate may bring about. By any means necessary. By all powers available. All in the name of security.

Social media and social communication has provided people around the world with a new voice and new tools to cause change. These new communication tools are extremely potent and to those in power…may be deemed dangerous. The status quo types don’t like change. They are making way too much just the way things are…thank you.

As Americans may agree, terrorism is a real threat. The individuals who darkened our skies on 9-11 are not unique…they succeeded. There are others that wish to do the U.S. it and its people harm. That is beyond tragic, sick and inhumane. However, as Americans…our parents, grandparents and millions before our time, bled to provide us the very freedoms we enjoy today. Online and offline. In private, on our person and within our own homes.

Freedom is that warm blanket of security we have all enjoyed for so long but have continually failed protect ourselves from ourselves. We are the government [as they are elected by us] and now they are digging into everything we hold dear in the name of security.

Let’s be honest. Osama Bin Laden is dead. Many of the top Al-Qaeda rank and file are dead or in GitMo. Many of the treats we once faced are now the size of a small kitten. Sure, there are more bad guys…there always will be. But what are we willing to give up for JUST A LITTLE MORE SAFETY?

I am not writing this post out of fear or conspiracy or hysteria. No. I am writing to sound the alarm that something is coming and it will be a fight for our online and offline privacy and freedom. Lets hope we as Americans are up for the fight. Paying attention is the very first step.

In closing, New Hampshire’s licence plate reads – Live Free or Die. I don’t think it will ever come to that again. The American Revolution ended in 1783…and if we continue to ignore the signs…we may not be able to stand up at all – as we will all be in Internet shackles with no one on the other side to hear our message or help.

 

 

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Where to spend marketing budgets online – Big Questions

At the start of the Internet revolution there were limited choices for website surfers. Yahoo, Netscape and in 2004…Google peaked with 84.7% of all search engine requests. How times have changed.Facebook now claims 800 million users with 50% checking in every day. Recent reports from Pew show that 83% of all Americans own a cell phone and 51% use their phones to gain instant information. By 2012 one out of every two cell phones will be a smartphone. A recent study by Webtrends suggests:

 
…social and mobile networks will dominate the online traffic landscape in a big way…The game is no longer about the comforts of your website’s ‘Walled Garden’, but about the risks and rewards of arriving on the social network.” Webtrends -article.
So what does this mean for your website presence? Where do you allocate your budget and resources? How is it possible to have a share of voice in social media, mobile, search engine optimization and paid search at the same time? 

As the Internet continues to explode and fragment, it is more important than ever before to ensure your company has a solid footing in all of the channels [as mentioned above] or risk loosing branded website traffic and new visitor website traffic. It is not just traffic you stand to loose…it is sales, conversions, leads and return on your online marketing investment. How can you gain footing in all of these spots without taking away from others? The simple answer is you cannot. 

Budgets need to be reallocated to target the online markets. Your target market is already online by means of cell phones, tablets, portables and yes, desktops. Where is your budget? Take a look at your traditional media spend and revise your plan to include more online opportunities versus less track-able forms of branding and advertising. 

There is no perfect solution to finding your audience and converting them into a sale, lead or other metric. But the fact is the Internet is where the money, people and opportunities are. If your site, company and brand are not online in mobile, social, SEO and other forms of paid advertising…you simply do not exist. If the current trends continue it is very possible that your company may cannibalize itself into nonexistence. Why would this happen? By not paying attention to what and where your audience is…the chance of eating yourself from within due to inaction increases exponentially. 

So what can you do to work within these spaces and attract your audience? Allocate the resources or perish. Find someone within your company who can work on your social media and communicate with fans and followers. Work on your website with new and fresh content [no excuses] by way of blog entries and new articles. Use paid search and “click to call” to target both search engine results and the mobile audience. Of course all of this depends on what your key performance indicators, goals and company objectives are.

I’ve long said, “Situation dictates situation.” Deep analysis, accurate tracking and resources all play a major role in how you attack the ongoing shift in the online realm. The fact is you can no longer ignore the online space and allocate less to these online channels. More than 10% of big brand budgets are now allocated to online marketing efforts. I would recommend more than 20% to 40% should be dedicated to Internet efforts. Again, situation dictates situation. The facts are clear ~ take on the online space, measure, improve and succeed or risk being eaten up internally and by your competition. 

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Ethical SEO & Ethical Standards

I’ve recently heard a pretty nasty horror story about how a local Chicago online marketing firm treated their client. Unfortunately I cannot disclose the details but the situation prompted me to point out some issues regarding ethical SEO practices, ethical treatment as it pertains to clients and Internet marketing in general.

Let all of us in any business remember that without our clients and consumers we have nothing. No business, no revenue, and zero credibility and no pot to cook in. How we treat those that spend their hard earned money and revenue on our products and services is critical to longevity and long term success. Respect, honesty, transparency should run both ways in any healthy relationship. Is it time for the ethics lesson? Yes, it is.

There are certain industries that rank at the bottom of the barrel on the respect meter. Lawyers and car dealers are the first to my mind. Coming up fast behind are the Internet marketing outfits. Over my nine years in the industry I continue to hear stories of how clients are being held hostage and treated terribly throughout the business relationship and ending contracts by such firms.

There are certain things that your SEO agency and Internet marketing firm should NEVER do to their clients.

  1. Withhold important information regarding account access.
  2. Falsify data as it pertains to reporting [of any nature].
  3. Use trickery and nefarious tactics to gain the upper hand on a client.
  4. Over charge for services that they do not deliver on.
  5. Over charge for services as a general rule.
  6. Fail to divulge strategy for SEO and online marketing.
  7. Treat clients with disrespect.
  8. Arrive late for meetings [this happens more often than you may think].
  9. Claim ethical “white hat” SEO practices when in reality they use “gray hat” or “black hat” strategies.
  10. Fail to provide transparency regarding SEO and online marketing methodologies.

I can continue building out this list…but this is a pretty solid start. As a business owner or company agent, you should treat your clients as you would like to be treated. If the current practices continue by SEO and Internet marketing companies continue, I promise you the digital industry will end up as bottom feeders.

So what can you do as a potential client for one of these companies? READ YOUR CONTRACT! Don’t read it once…read it several times. Grill your potential account managers, sales people, and the executives of the company. Yes, the executives. They are the individuals who set the standards for all to follow. If you smell any shady business…RUN and do not look back.
It is important to note that clients are responsible for WHAT they know…and those that serve their clients are responsible for providing the information needed to have a successful relationship. I can only hope for more transparency, honest, and integrity from all SEO and search marketing firms as time rolls on.
Unfortunately, not all companies are equal and not all companies set fourth a set of ethics and standards. Make sure you thoroughly review and dive into the company you trust your marketing to. Some care more about their bottom lines than they do for the service of the clients they serve. 

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Time to Unplug: 9-11 & Being Human

9 |11 | 2001 was the worst day in my personal record. I was not in New York but hundreds of miles away in Chicago. I remember the call while I was getting ready for work. My dear friend in Colorado called me and said, “Al, turn on the t.v.” Nothing for me or our country has been the same since. I saw the second plane crash into the Twin Towers live as it happened and my shock and terror was beyond my own personal experience or comprehension. As I drove into work I was caught at a stop light. As I slowly crossed the street, a woman passing in the opposite direction looked at me and I looked at her.

Both of us were in tears as we acknowledge one another, sharing a tragic moment. In one fleeting moment we gave each other a nod which spoke volumes of understanding, sorrow, fear, love, and support. We both knew that it would have been okay to pull over and comfort one another while America was in the throws of a full terror attack. We didn’t have any other form of communication available to us but our eyes and deep understanding of being human…and being in solidarity with one another. As we passed I shot her the peace sign (a ridiculous thing to do in retrospect) in hope she would know that we were…in that moment…together. Two people who would never meet or speak or share anything ever…but that brief moment on the morning of 9-11. 

I started teaching a class on E-Business at Columbia College recently…and one of the topics was how their lives have been changed by the Internet, Tweets, Facebook, texting, and the world of wide webs. It dawned on me during discussion that we are all so plugged in that it is very possible that we can’t unplug long enough to enjoy or pay attention to anything long enough to make a positive change or a real connection with life, friends, family, politics, or the real reality of living.

During and the days following 9-11 there was a collective mind think in America. We were going to get through this attack as a nation. We were going to support one another from now until the end of our days…because that is what America is made of and that is what we do. America [good and bad] is built on survival, being good neighbors, integrity, sweat, hard work, and the ability to build anything we wish based on designs created when our eyes were closed. Now we are plugged in. Internet, t.v., video, magazines, crappy reality shows, and more. A constant bombardment for our attention…just another bright shiny object to take us away from long work hours, a box full of bills, and good government gone bad.

In 2001 America had optimism, belief in our future, and paid a whole lot more attention to things we really should  pay attention too. We were not as plugged in during 2001 as we are now, ten years on. We, as a nation, were more aware of one another as human beings and more aware of others as our fellow men and women. We still made eye contact when in passing, slight smile, or even a full blown “hello” or “nice day isn’t it?”.

We have somehow become so detached, so distracted, with every little electronic message, advertisement, and t.v. episode featuring the rich, the stupid, the narcissistic, and the depraved we may be slowly loosing our own humanity. I hope I am wrong…I hope that we come to the realization that while the Internet the one of the most important inventions in human history it should not rule our ability to be human.

Words like respect, humility, courtesy, and kindness should not be reserved for holidays and days of collective remembrance. Maybe we should unplug a little more and a little longer in order to reflect on our own mortality, humanity, and wonderment that is life. 9-11 reminds me of the very best in human nature and the very worst. September 11th is a day that we will always know where we were and exactly what we were doing that day. For those who raced toward the burning wreckage, and for those who protected America from a hijacked jet let – they are the constant reminders for me…of what truly being human can mean.

I hope we don’t loose ourselves completely and hold onto the greatness of life. It is short and fleeting for certain. Back in the 1960’s Timothy Leary said, “Tune out, tune in, drop out.” His meaning of this was to be aware of your own biological self, engage with the world around you, and commit to self-reliance, acquire sense of self self, and commit to change.

I live and breathe the world of search and I take great strides to tune out as it is one of the great gifts of being human. During this day of remembrance we should all take stock of what we have. And moving forward from this day always remember your own humanity.

 

 

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10 Commandments of SEO

Top 10 Commandments of Search Engine Optimization [Part 1]

And the Cheif Searchologist spoke saying, “I search therefore I am. And being of, for, about, and that I do live by the search…I put fourth to you these 10 Search Engine Commandments to pull you from the hands of insanity and perpetual aggrivation.

  1. You shall not trust any SEO firm which guarantees top placement for thy keywords.
  2. Thou shall not create duplicate content.
  3. Thou shall not steal content and spinneth said content for your own site or purpose.
  4. Thou shall not buyest links for the Google gods will surly punish thee.
  5. You shall not Google-Bomb thy neighbor.
  6. Thou shall not write false reviews to improveth thy reputation.
  7. Thou shall not believeth that social media is thy savior nor that social media can be totally controlled or contained from the occasional bad review.
  8. Thou shall holdeth thy search engine optimization firm accountable for deliverables and results.
  9. Thou must takest great efforts to be proactive in all search marketing efforts.
  10. Thou shall not fail to address all Meta Data, internal links, and URL structure.”
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Top Ten SEO Tips – Post Panda Update

The new Google Panda updates are offering up new challenges for SEO professionals and for business owners. One of the old rules of SEO was supporting all on-page SEO with excellent link building. As usual, many Internet marketing companies and SEO pros abused links to game the algorithms of Google, BING, and Yahoo. Google rightfully so, decided enough was enough. Links are not the way to achieve top search results any more.

Quality links are still needed but quality content is need even more. Ask yourself how many times you have clicked on a search result only to find that the contents of the site you land on are not what you were looking for in the first place. How did that happen? Links. Thousands of links point to websites with low quality content but have been rewarded for years based on how many links point to the site.

There is a reason why Google is the dominant player in the U.S. search market…they provide the best results and they intend to keep it that way. Below are the top 10 things you need to consider with your SEO efforts.

  1. Content is King [again] – Google, just like visitors, want useful and excellent content. Create great content and your website will be rewarded with “likes”, new links, and social mentions.
  2. Build Links – While Google has downgraded hundreds of website because of poor quality links…you still need to link build. As you proceed with your link building seek quality over quantity.
  3. Drive Quality Traffic – you can gain quality traffic with well written and informational content.
  4. Meta Data – make sure you use your meta data to alert the search engines about page content and provide visitors with a good reasons to visit your site. Meta data is one of the primary communication tools you have at your disposal to provide brief descriptions of the contents of your website.
  5. Get Tools For Sharing – Use social sharing tools like “Share This” to allow visitors to spread your site, content, and message around the Internet.
  6. Keep up Engagement – make sure to continually create unique content which will keep your visitors coming back again and again. If you don’t have a blog associated with your site…get one. If you do have a blog…use it.
  7. Convert Visitors – You may have a ton of traffic but the visitors may not do what you want them to do. If you want new leads or sales provide the types of incentives to get these visitors to convert. Calls to action, discounts, white papers, and unique offerings can dramatically improve conversion rates.
  8. Speak Their Language – The words and content you have developed may be the same language but if you are not speaking in terms your visitors are searching for they will not find you. Make sure you run keyword research [a few times] to find keywords that your target audience are using.
  9. Know Your Audience – Create visitor profiles for the visitors you want to find your website. The better you know you audience the better equipped you will be to speak with them with your on-site content.
  10. Internet Reputation – Pay attention to what others are saying about your company and brand online. As social media continues to dominate the online marketing landscape…user generated content [U.G.C.] will become a major aspect of how your website is ranked and how it gains authority.
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Google’s Panda Algorithm Update – Steps to help your site now

Google recently announced a major change in their search engine algorithm dubbed the “Farmer” update. In short, Google is targeting content farms that host and hold massive amounts of articles and various content collection sites. These websites provide little to the searching individuals in way of content and relevancy.  Think of massive dumpsters collecting crap and said crap is served up (based on search queries] as high quality content.

Google does not like this nor do we, the searching public. Google wants high quality content which is the main reason they currently own 70% [or better] of the U.S. search market. Recent stories have gained high publicity and could tarnish Google’s squeaky clean reputation for serving up only the very best results. What Google does not like…Google changes…and fast.

JC Penny was called out by the New York Times for building links [without relevant and corresponding content] and Google took action ASAP. JC Penny’s rankings have tanked.  More companies are getting the SEO axe for paying for links and I fully suspect that many jobs will be lost, agency contracts broken, and more heads will roll. This could be the biggest change to the Google algorithm in its history.

Check out these recent stories [below] which led to the Enron-like [smartest guys in the room] crash of multiple online sites based on very bad SEO practices.

Bing Business getting punished by Google

Eyeglasses and bad reviews

Link building and the pet rock . Fist mentioned by Searchology last year.

So what does this mean for you? Why should you care? And is there anything you need to do?

First of all, do not panic. If you have been working with a reputable SEO firm you should be okay. Google claims that the new changes will affect about 11.8% of the current search results. It could be much more by the time the full impact of these changes comes full circle. Second, you need to care because it is all about quality content or as I stated in 2006…content is king. Google simply got gamed by the SEO “experts”.  Now, here is what you can do and need to do moving forward.

  1. Provide useful and unique website content for your visitors.
  2. Give your website visitors a reason[s] to come back to your site.
  3. Give your visitors a good reason to share your website with others via email and social media.
  4. Take over all of your social media profiles. Google and Bing have both suggested that social media “likes”, reviews, and fans may become a new metric for measuring websites and ranking websites. I believe this is the future of SEO. The Searchology SEO formula and methodology may look something like this; quality content [see 1 through 3] + likes + fans + reviews + universal search + links = killer search engine rank.

One thing has always been a constant. Don’t game Google or you will pay for it big time. Don’t buy links, don’t create subpar content, and always be creative with your content. The good news in all of this is companies and websites with good relevant content now have a golden opportunity to make positive changes which will impact their site ranking. As Google continues to lop off the heads of very big websites…they are going back to their roots of website content and said content ruling their SERPS.

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Pay Per Click Does What it Can Not What it Must

Over the years I’ve been asked over and over again which is better…pay per click or search engine optimization. I’ve never really had a definitive answer for this question. It really depends on what your company objectives are and how quickly you would like to reach these goals. It is very important to note that pay per click is not what it once was; less populated, easier to use, and much easier to gain higher pay per click rank.

It is equally important to note that pay per click can be just as costly as search engine optimization. Here are a few things that you should know before starting any pay per click campaign.

  1. Your entire marketing budget should not be throw into any one marketing channel. A good mixture of advertising is the best if you have the ability to do so. Many avenues which allow your company to reach out to potential buyers and customers is always recommended. However, if you are limited with your budget, pay per click is fast and delivers good results.
  2. Be patient with pay per click results. With any marketing effort, things take time. Pay per click is not magic and is the fist step in reaching out to potential customers to engage in the sales process. It may take several touch points before anyone turns into a customer or buyer.
  3. Ensure you are using all of the new Google features to reach out to your prospective visitors. Mobile ads, Click to call, Google Boost, and additional deep links.
  4. If you are using a search firm to run your pay per click campaigns let them do their job. The majority of PPC firms and management companies know what they are doing and will produce results. The more you interfere…the more difficult their job becomes. Work with your firm not against it.
  5. The problem with online marketing is…online marketing. With proper analytics measurements, ppc campaigns, and other forms of online marketing you can really make a new site or current site hum. The problem is this; online marketing has more accountability than any form of marketing.  Because every click and visitor can be tracked advertisers expect much more than what can be possible with this form of advertising. Keep it real and make sure to remember pay per click is not the solution to all of your visitor desires.
  6. If you are willing to pay for your traffic while your search engine optimization takes root…it is a good way to go. In fact, it is better to hold two number one spots or more than one spot for any keyword which is important to your business objectives. IE ~ If you are targeting a specific keyword…it is better to hold to positions on page one which in turn will double the opportunity to be found and add in two touch points.
  7. 4 out of 5 web visitors ignore the paid search results and pay per click [depending on what vertical you are in] can be very expensive.
  8. PPC is a excellent way to augment any marketing effort and works very well. Just keep your expectations based in reality.
  9. Pay per click is here to stay and is evolving rapidly. The more changes that come…the better the results.
  10. Most importantly, you will not be the only one targeting your keywords. Remember the 80 | 20 rule. When competition is thick in your industry be prepared to fight harder for your results.
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