The Search Gods Must Be Crazy – An SEO Story

One of my projects is a content site, supported by various forms of advertising. The business model is simple – use SEO to rank in search, serve up an online calculator to our visitors, and show ads to our guest while they use it. A fairly high percentage of visitors return to the site for additional visits, so we have built the site up to the point where it is self supporting. Calculating the expected value of an inbound click for a particular keyword is a function of the revisit rate, # revisits/user, and page RPM.

During a little brainstorming, I realized one of our core products was potentially relevant to a new audience. Same basic need but they called it by another name. And there was a ton of searches occuring under these keywords – we could double the number of impressions we were getting in our current market space. Popped up the SERPS for those keywords and they were a total mess – Google was trying real hard but couldn’t seem to figure out exactly what content was best suited for that search. Ding, Ding, Ding…we have a winner – time for test…

The next stage was simple – I selected my primary keywords (about a dozen phrases), prepped three landing pages for that audience, and tweaked my tracking system so we would be able to understand performance. The launch was simple and drama free – add the relevant links to the home page to flow some juice to the new pages, write a little blog post, and toss a mention out on twitter. [Mock whistle] Here Googlebot, cm’on boy…read those pages…

We ranked quickly, boosting our daily search impressions by about 50% and moving into the bottom of the first page in about three days. Not bad for a medium sized search. And we started getting clicks – low CTR since we were on the bottom of the page, but a decent sample size. So far, so good. In fact, so far, so great!

After we got several hundred clicks, I went ahead and used Google Analytics to evaluate their performance – not a perfect sample size but certainly a solid directional read about the quality of the traffic. Rut-roh. Bounce rate was good and visitors tended to remain on the site for a decently long session, but revisit rates were very low (1/10th the revisit rate of our best product). And worse, we saw a very low CTR and RPM on our advertising placements. Ok..thank you for playing… I understand why nobody decided to grab this traffic!

In the mean time, we were closing in on a first page slot for a large “high value” search related to our core product. The one with a great revisit rate, high # revisits/user, and solid RPM for that URL from our advertising program. The decision was a no-brainer.

I killed most of the links to the new page, which had already achieved #8 position in it’s primary SERP and three smaller searches, and made a series of internal link structure modifications to flow more juice to the URL for the core product. And went to bed…

Several later, I pop up my Google Analytics client on my Android phone and notice that we are having a good day. Hmm…wonder which of the keywords is driving it. Run the second report and find out the search I just pulled my link juice away from is now the #2 source of new visitors to the site. Oh.. and we’re now #7 in the primary SERP.

The Search Gods must be crazy…

Respecting Your Affiliates – Because We Are Watching You…

I was browsing an affiliate marketing board recently and came across a comment from an affiliate manager who I’ve had some dealings with. We’ve done ok thus far and their firm’s junior staff is pretty good, so I’m going to refrain from calling them out by name.

The post was about the unrealistic expectations of people new to internet marketing – asking for crazy stuff and being a general annoyance to experienced marketers. Fair enough and a valid point. Newbies tend to be difficult to manage in almost any space.

But the tone of the comment was disturbing – after agreeing with the poster (heck, I agree with the poster) the manager exhorted his colleague to stay strong and “help me keep them in line”…

Huh? I would get my hearing checked but you were dumb enough to put it in writing.

Who the heck do you think you are? Moreover, who the heck do you think we are?

Pimps, prison guards, and slavemasters “keep people in line”, as if they are cattle to be herded. What are we in your mind, streetwalking prostitutes for you to slap around and “keep us in line”? A bunch of rioting ex-cons for you to wade in and suppress?

This is not the image that makes me want to work with you. I have always run a high quality program (day job or otherwise), built on long term relationships and very high amount of repeat business. No churn and burn in this shop. I was attracted to working with your firm since it seemed like you were knowledgable and “had a clue” about how to intelligently market to your customers. Now…I’m not so sure…

I already have a corporate boss, who I respect and have chosen to work for because they treat me well and respect my opinion. I’m doing online marketing on my own time  because I genuinely enjoy the direct marketing process (one area my current employer isn’t really active in – otherwise I would do it for them).  I’m not looking for another boss – particularly one who can’t respect their partners.

I know the internet is overrun with flaky newbies, that the affiliate programs probably get more than their share of these folks, and that can be annoying. But have a little respect please – some of us are actually real marketers, who have run real brands / programs, and know how to get stuff done right. And – quite frankly – aren’t terribly inclined to take much abuse from a self appointed pimp. Particularly on a pay-for-performance basis.

So where does that leave you? With the flakes. Who can’t get results and pretty much need to be “kept in line”. Sounds like a self fulfilling prophecy to me…. Have fun!

The Most Frustrating Position in Search

This article is posted as a public service to the spouses and significant others of SEO practitioners and online marketers.

Most of us actually have to run a search to see how highly something ranks in Google. As the spouse/significant other of an SEO, you have an easy way to read this!

Is Your Partner:

Apathetic, Resigned: Welcome to page 3. You may rank for that term and I may get a check from Publisher’s Clearing House. Not sure which will happen first – anyone got the number for that truck driving school? This is an ideal day to propose cleaning the garage.

Smiling Expansively, Optimistic: We just moved above the fold, baby! Suggestion: This is the ideal time to propose an expensive vacation or home improvement project, while they are distracted by dreams of massive affiliate commission checks. This feeling repeats for each additional notch you climb. Be sure to move fast, so you can close the deal before your partner learns that the traffic for that keyword has a 90% bounce rate and is a bunch of looky-loos who never buy.

Nervous, Fidgety: Are they checking Google every couple of hours? Making obsessive small tweaks in their site design every evening? Sending out backlink requests and dropping blog comments like an overcaffinated ferret? Welcome to slot 11 on a major search – where you are so close to that flood of free traffic but continue to slump along with the leftovers. Take your SEO on a walk or go do a spin class together.

Paranoid, Jumpy: Ahh….welcome to positions 9 and 10 on a major search. Now that you have successfully guided your little website out of the back page wilderness, you need to hold onto your little beachhead. Which is tough when you’re rockin a .01% CTR at the bottom of the page. Don’t even look at that webpage funny! Suggestion: Relax, Nothing you do will actually help here. It’s five o’clock somewhere….