I’d guess that for many companies, not appearing in Google search results would hit their sales leads very hard. For around 75% of the AdWords accounts we manage, their website’s traffic sources chart has ‘natural’ Google search results in first place, and the Google AdWords campaign in second. In addition, most of the people who want to visit a company’s website (perhaps after reading about it, or meeting someone from the business) will just type the company’s name into Google. So you need to be there, it goes without saying really.
A lot of companies have been alarmed, therefore, by recent announcements from Google and Bing that they are actively working on an “over-optimisation penalty” which will penalise websites in the search engine results if they’re clearly engaging in behaviour designed to manipulate those results. I can’t really see what’s new here; the search engines have always done this, but perhaps they’re gearing up to expand the signals which they see as being worthy of penalising.
Should you be worried? I doubt it, unless you’ve been spending money with a low-cost, poor “search engine optimisation” (SEO) consultancy for a while. One of the main tricks these people use is to set up tens of thousands of junk links from low-quality blogs which Google can spot a mile off, and although these can eventually push you up the rankings a little way by sheer weight of numbers, the worst that’s been likely to happen in the past is that Google eventually catches up and starts to ignore those links. Now, it’s possible that the consequences could be worse. Seriously, do not waste your money with these people. There’s nothing wrong with SEO, as the search engines have acknowledged – it’s just a way of ensuring that what your site and its pages are all about is clearly flagged up. But a quality, reliable SEO company will need to charge several thousand pounds a year, and have full access to make changes to your website. If they claim to be able to help you for a fraction of that amount, without touching your website, run for your life.
More reading: Seven Over-Optimization Penalty What-Ifs. Are You Ready for These? on E-Marketing Performance.
Domain names are really cheap, in marketing terms. This morning I registered a “dot co dot uk” for two years for less than ten pounds, and I’m sure there are even cheaper places if you shop around. It was for a domain name I don’t need at the moment, but I expect to find a good use for it quite soon. The main reason to get it, however, was to ensure nobody else did.
Have you got domain names registered for all of your main product lines? You should. If you’re thinking “but it’s a pretty obscure name and product, we’ll register it if we ever need it, nobody else will be interested in it”, you’re taking a gamble. Read Why, Oh Why Didn’t I Buy That Domain Name? on E-Marketing Performance for a tale of woe.
There are regular independent updates on each search engine’s share of use, such as June 2008 Search Engine Market Share | Nielsen // NetRatings in E-Marketing Performance, but you need to be careful with these statistics and read the small print. Firstly, they’re usually from the US, and things are different here in Europe. Secondly, they cover all web users, and search engine use may be (and indeed, is) different amongst professional users.
In fact, Google is even more prevalent than its competitors in Europe, and the lead is extended even further in trade and techinical markets. So if your site analytics are showing that 90% of search engine traffic comes from Google, don’t be too concerned that you’re underperforming in Yahoo! and MSN/Live Search. It’s probably about right.
Is one “good” link from an important site worth ten links from lesser sites? Ah, if it were only that quantifiable. In Garbage SEO. Just What the Doctor Ordered!, a short tale from the E-Marketing Performance blog, the author reports some unexpected benefits from seemingly lower quality links. Which just goes to show the danger of trusting in perceived wisdom.
Here’s a reference to something every site should have: a custom error page. If someone mistypes a URL on your domain, what do they see? That little bit of standard “page not found” text? They wanted to be on your site, so you should be giving them more than that. In An Absolute Pointless Custom 404-Error Page, the E-Marketing Performance blog shows how someone has gone to the effort of creating their own error page, then wasted that effort. Don’t do the same.
If your site doesn’t have a custom error page (type in some garbage after your domain name to see) then it’s time to get one set up.