Content Creation & Organizational Empowerment Key To Search Success

The SEO industry has undergone significant changes in the last 12+ months. Search has gained greater legitimacy as a marketing channel as budget holders increase head count and invest in advanced technology. And, the SERPs themselves have undergone changes that have had many implications, including adjustments to the underlying algorithms that surface content.

Here at Conductor, our Customer Success Team works closely with many of the world’s largest and most successful brands on their search efforts. They are therefore uniquely positioned to comment on the trends taking place in the world of SEO.

We surveyed the Customer Success Team to find out their perspective on the most important steps brands and agencies can take to drive long-term natural search success.
Content Creation & Organizational Empowerment Top Steps

First, we asked the Customer Success Team to choose the top three activities they think SEO professionals should focus on:

Based on your experience working with enterprise SEO customers, what would you say are the top three steps they should be taking to achieve long term natural search success? [Select top three]

Looking at the results, we see that the industry-wide shift toward quality content is reflected in the responses. According to the Customer Success Team, content creation should be the number one priority for SEOs.

In close second, behind content creation, is the empowerment of others in the organization to drive SEO. “The biggest impact I can make to my company’s natural search success is ensuring others are pulling in the same direction,” said an SEO Manager at a Global Fortune 500 to their Customer Success Manager.

This suggests that organizational empowerment creates an ecosystem in which others in the organization can drive natural search success to give SEO the best chance to grow and succeed.


Empowering SEO Organizations: Content Creation Using SEO Best Practices

Digging deeper into the ways in which SEOs are empowering others in their organization, we can see the top response was ‘enabling content creators to apply SEO best practices to content creation.’ Anecdotally, the Customer Success Team told us that the earlier in the content creation process SEO is involved, the greater the chance for far reaching success in SEO.

In fact, one SEO at a large brand commented, “The more success I have embedding SEO in the content creation process, the more it translates to results in the SERPs.”

Following this, the second most important way to empower others to drive SEO success was by ‘tying natural search metrics to business metrics’. “It’s critical that search metrics be translated to metrics the C-suite and other stakeholders speak”, said another SEO at a large online retailer.


Conclusion: Take Steps To Ensure Long-Term Success

SEO as an industry has experienced significant change in the last 12+ months. Today, a team of Customer Success Managers that help many of the world’s largest and most successful brands in natural search remind us how to achieve search success.

Brands, regardless of their size, will need to get SEO involved in content creation early on in the process and subsequently tie natural search metrics to business metrics if they want to achieve this long-term natural search success.

Global Site Infrastructure Plan Essential For Effective SEO & Usability

Targeting the world with a website is a huge opportunity for today’s marketers — but very few businesses start out with that goal. The vast majority target a particular nation first, prove the business model, grow their business’ success, and then consider rolling out globally.

What this actually means is that most Web projects which target international customers started out as domestic projects which have since been “converted.” These multinational websites were usually conceived and built for a domestic audience, then adapted in some way for new customers speaking different languages, in different parts of the world, with different issues. It’s not difficult to see why many such projects run into trouble.
Plan Infrastructure As Early In The Process As Possible

There are two possible approaches which may help avoid the challenges that “conversion” of a website may cause. One is to plan the site with an international structure before you launch locally. Realistically, there will only be a few of you who take up this suggestion, as there are so many issues to manage upon first launch that they overwhelm any kind of “investment” in the project which is looking a year or two ahead of time.

Analysing Your Strategic Plan Has A Significant Impact On Infrastructure

Analysing Your Strategic Plan Has A Significant Impact On Infrastructure. Source: Webcertain

Mapping your plans — as shown above — so you can identify the most important strategic target markets means you can draw up better SEO and SEM plans!

The second and more likely option is to begin planning your site’s needed structural changes just at the point where the plans are drawn to go global. At this stage, the team and senior management all have high motivation and a vested interest in making this happen!

Unfortunately, most do not formally plan for a revision of the original site’s architecture or consider how the content will be delivered globally — which is the reason for this post. That is to say, I’m not here to criticise, but to raise awareness of the fact that even before you launch into your full-blown international SEO efforts, you should really spend some time drawing up a plan of the necessary changes to your current website infrastructure.
Brainstorming The Plan To Make The Key Strategic Points Visible

So, what questions does a plan like this need to deal with? Here’s a sample list — but remember, it’s best to brainstorm this with your particular organisation’s needs in mind:

Which countries or regions will be targeted? (The country plus each of its languages is sometimes divided into regions which may be called geos or locales.)
How many currencies will the website deliver?
How many languages will be available in total?
How will language content be updated? XML?
How many delivery points will be used?
Will time zones be a factor we need to consider?
Which regions will be benefiting from customer support?
When will that customer support be available?
Will customer support be delivered by phone or email? Or both?
Can we group countries into priority, secondary and insignificant target markets?
What specific changes are required to forms to accommodate different regions? Which drop downs and mandatories need to be updated?
Which phone numbers are linked to which regions?

This might seem like an unusual list, but let me explain how this plays out. When I’m asked that question about whether to use local domains, sub-domains, or folders to globalize a site, my answer these days is almost always that the final result is most likely a hybrid. This is because there are many business strategy factors which need to be included in the consideration of that question.

For instance, the most important target markets — where you plan to attract the greatest business growth — should ideally be at the heart of your infrastructure. This means they should probably have local domains and high-quality translation investments.

The lesser important markets which are grabbing the language content from another region (e.g., Spanish) may use Google’s geographic setting in webmaster tools.

The remaining locations you may well want to block out from search engines using the robots.txt file — they probably don’t warrant having their own search engine presence because of the harm they may do to your mainstream sites. (Note: Users in those “blocked” countries will still be able to navigate to their respective pages. You can safely use IP address sniffing in these locations, as well, if you wish to, as this won’t do any damage to your mainstream sites — however you need to make it conditional on IP addresses coming from non-target countries rather than from those which count!)

Even knowing which currency you will be using and where can have a significant impact on your planning!

The point I am making here is not to try to implement your SEO after you’ve made all the important strategic decisions, but rather to plan your infrastructure right at the outset with SEO advice alongside. Even the most basic of business decisions affect the SEO approach internationally going forward!

You’re Dead… If You Don’t Integrate Social Media & PR Into Your Local SEO Strategy

The peppered moth (Biston betularia), once white with black spots, faced a strange challenge in London during the Industrial Revolution. Buildings and trees, stained with soot, turned black. The light colored moths could no longer hide against this backdrop, and were eaten up by birds.

But some peppered moths survived – by turning black themselves!

To survive, you must adapt and change with your environment. Otherwise, you’re dead. That’s the powerful lesson business owners, marketers and entrepreneurs can learn from a humble moth.
The Times, They Are A-Changin’

A major shift has taken place that alters the way you’re doing business online — and offline. It has to do with social media, SEO and public relations (PR). Ignoring their impact on your marketing is suicidal. Weaving them into your strategy can be transformational.

Let’s talk about why you mustn’t merely include social media, SEO and PR in your existing business and marketing, but intelligently integrate them in a manner that lets you dominate your niche. With the right approach, you can create and reap synergies that will deliver long-lasting effects at a high ROI.
The Shift In Emphasis Toward Trust

Tactical SEO games are about to end. Google will no longer ignore manipulative SEO tricks based on fake check-ins and false reviews. Tactics like that could destroy trust in Local Search, and Google doesn’t want that to happen. Thus, there’s a concerted effort on Google’s part to determine identity and assign trustworthiness based on it.

Then we have Google+. Did you believe it’s just another social network for folks to meet, greet, and share information? No, it’s much more — it’s a far-reaching effort to establish user trust levels.

Trust has become Google’s financial lifeline. With the majority of the search giant’s $50.2 billion revenue in 2012 coming from ads, Google wants people to keep coming back. And they are coming back — because they trust Google’s search results. Once they stop finding relevant and reliable answers, they’ll abandon the big G.

To prevent this, Google must:

Correctly uncover searcher intent and understand their problems, mining data from the knowledge graph.
Provide local ads and search results relevant to people, wherever they happen to be at the moment.
Identify real people and assign them a trust score, using signals that are tough to game or cheat.

This means SEO suddenly has grown very complex. Isolated on-page and off-page SEO tactics are no longer enough. SEO is now true marketing. It’s also about social media and PR.
Where Are You Investing Your Marketing Budget?

Blindly throwing cash at outdated techniques is a road to slow, sure death. To succeed today, your approach must change. You must evolve to survive.

According to Google, 97% of customers search for local businesses and offers online. If they can’t find you, they’ll go to your competition. Optimizing for local and mobile search is therefore critical.

Google CEO, Larry Page, has said that the knowledge graph is only 1% of where they want it to be. They want to know more about their users, and this includes you. They seek to judge whether or not your content, your website, your offer — your business — are worth sharing in their search results.

It’s a long journey, and there won’t be any quick fixes. There are 3 key factors at play in this dynamic marketplace:

Technological advancements
Human behavioral and attitudinal changes
The digital ecosystem

Google needs to keep pace with all of them. If you’re worried about how challenging this all seems for your business, just think about how much harder it must be for Google!
Google Knows Where Your Customers Are

Google Knowledge Graph Carousel For Local Search

The search giant recently launched a knowledge graph carousel for local search, which means that local search results are now displayed higher on the SERPs. The carousel is populated dynamically based on the searcher’s location, so the geographic location of a business or outlet will impact which search results users will see first.

Social signals and PR also play a greater role. People come ahead of links.

Until now, the focus on links was like the proverbial Achilles heel. Google relied primarily upon links, which were easy to manipulate. Google has to find a way around this — not to replace the value of links, but to gain a greater perspective by considering them in context.

While SEO in general is still the same, local SEO is influenced by 2 unique factors:

The citations your business has received
The number and tone of reviews from local customers (tone being positive, negative or neutral)

Guess which carries the highest weighting? That’s right — the one associated with social signals. In other words, positive reviews. Convincing your satisfied customers to post stellar reviews of your business can have a dramatic impact on your local search rankings.
Why Should You Care About What Google Thinks/Likes?

Google has wedged itself firmly into the modern online economy. You and I use it, businesses use it and our clients use it.

Google is the world’s most popular search engine, with 67% market share. There were 1.2 trillion searches on Google in 2012. Search users find information, do research, and make buying decisions. Google is a goldmine for businesses looking for ready-to-buy customers.

But, recent changes impact your search rankings. Social media marketing, SEO and PR were previously treated as separate, watertight compartments. Businesses bought these services independently of other marketing activities. The different consultants rarely collaborated, leading to many missed opportunities.

In a modern economy, this must change. It doesn’t matter if you’re IBM or a mom-and-pop local business, a neighborhood eatery or the niche store around the corner. You’ll have to seize these opportunities to make more money and grow your business in a cost-effective way.
How Social Media Impacts SEO

Social media, with its billions of active users, includes Facebook, Google+, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, blogs and various discussion forums where you can meet existing customers and new prospects. It’s a great medium to build fans and followers.

Social content ranks well on search engines. What happens on TripAdvisor (a social review site) and Yelp (a business directory) stays on Google (a search engine). What people say about your business — their feedback, the ratings they leave — everything — is publicly accessible to your prospective buyers. And this, of course, impacts the research/purchase cycle.

Overlooking social media can harm your brand and reputation, lower your revenue, and hurt not just your SEO, but your entire business. Adapting your strategy to include social networking can present a huge, untapped opportunity. Consider the following:

Social media can multiply your SEO impact. Spreading virally by online word-of-mouth, news about your business can reach far and wide, creating ripples that self-perpetuate and strengthen your brand. While the actual spreading of your content is free, there is an upfront cost to produce it.
Social media drives offline sales. Many search users research online, but make their purchases offline. Google presents these searchers with locally relevant results. Local business review sites rank well in specific geographic areas, and can drive more people into stores.
Social media is constantly evolving. Working with a social media consultant can help you prioritize tasks and devise a tactical plan to utilize the medium to maximum effect. That alone will make the difference between achieving mediocre results and delivering outstanding value to dominate your niche for years to come.
Social media creates long-lasting synergy. Ripples set off by social media interactions can create positive (or negative) perceptions far afield — and the impact will linger long after the initial event or action has ended.

Intelligent Integration Can Multiply Impact

Imagine you’re a hotel or restaurant owner with many bad reviews (1/5 stars) and a general negative tone to client feedback on your TripAdvisor and Yelp listings. What can you do to attract new local customers?

First, you’ll need your satisfied customers to write great reviews and leave 5/5 star ratings on your TripAdvisor page. That will show up as a rich snippet on Google’s SERPs, which can positively impact the click-through rate (and thus the number of visitors who arrive at your website). Some of them will become customers. The upward spiral begins.

What can you do to encourage people to review your business? You can inform your users on arrival or check-in. You can place a sign at the entrance or in the bar. There are many ways to do this, but do read and follow the rules for each different service.

What if you do nothing at all? The bad reviews will scare away new customers. You’ll lose business. Remember this: your customers are now in control. Anyone can create a profile for your business on a social review site, check in at the location, and share their experiences with the world. The bus will leave the station — with or without you aboard!

And, Google is always watching.

What you must understand is that whatever goes on in social media affects how Google regards your business (as relevant and trustworthy, or not) — and, in turn, affects your rankings in local search results.
How Social Media Merges With SEO

People no longer blindly trust everything they see or hear. They want “social proof” and validation of their choices.

When you synchronize your social marketing campaigns with your most important keywords, your audience will use those words to research your business, find you on the top of Google, see other social signals (like PR articles, news stories, social media profiles, ratings and more)… and begin to trust you.

It’s an SEO + Social Media + PR win.
Evolution Just Sped Up

Not only do you have to evolve and adapt, you’ve got to do it quickly. The way people communicate, socialize, discover and purchase has changed dramatically. The ability to solve problems and enrich lives is now within the reach of any business who cares to grab this chance…and they will also make a lot of money in the process.

But you need to be aware of the ways in which social signals can influence search engine rankings. While no one but Google’s programmers knows for sure, we can state with reasonable certainty that there’s a strong link between the two.

Google serves a huge client base successfully because they have gained trust and maintained it over the years. People come back to Google because they find answers to their questions. For free.

The minute people lose trust in Google and find another, more trusted search engine, Google’s financial backbone will be broken. That’s why Google’s management team is obsessed with one thing above all else: users’ ability to find what they came for, regardless of where they are or how they access the Web.

That’s a complex task. How do they manage it? Relevancy.

Google listens carefully to users. Observes what they do. Learns from their interactions and conversations on social sites. By understanding user intent, they can serve up the most relevant solutions.

Keywords in text can be indicators of relevancy. Links to a page can be signs of popularity. But the signals that emanate from social media interactions allow Google to understand relevancy and popularity on a whole new level.
Takeaways for Social Media Marketers

“Today’s approach must change to survive tomorrows major economic changes.”

So what’s a business owner or marketer to do?

Build trust with your customers and offer a quality service.
Focus on “people building.” Develop a network of fans who are active on social media and spread word about you and your brand.
Make your content fascinating to your audience. Being mediocre will get you no where.
Get people to engage and share (recommend) you. That provides links and will be a better long term strategy because of the social signals generated.
Appeal to logic. Draw upon statistics, credible sources, reasonable arguments and inherent rationale of a situation to get more people to buy in.
Go viral. Get many shares on social media. Make news about your brand spread — fast.

One of the biggest imperatives for business owners is to evolve our way of doing business to fit tomorrow’s altered digital ecosystem. Offering a better service and content, integrating your online and offline strategy, and harnessing the power of social media and PR to the tested and proven power of SEO can bring the best results.

This applies equally to large and small businesses. In the long run, how big you are will not matter as much as how rapidly you can evolve.

A key element of evolution within a digital ecosystem like ours is building rich, vibrant networks of friends, fans and followers.

Sharing valuable or important information is one way to grow your network. Encourage your clients and others to read this article. And share your thoughts, opinions and feedback with others who can gain from your insights, by leaving a comment below.

The Challenges Of Bringing Search Marketing In-House

Many organizations are making the transition from using an agency for search marketing to bringing it in-house and along with this transition comes many challenges. To find out how organizations cope with the transition, we posed the following question to some of the top in-house SEO analysts:

What is the biggest challenge in accomplishing a transformation to In-house SEO?

Our panel consisted of individuals who have been successful in leading their in-house teams at organizations such as, ResortQuest, Yahoo!, Time Inc., and Here are their thoughts on the challenges with bringing SEO in-house:

John Ellis, ResortQuest: “Because of the lack of knowledge at the executive-level, a vast majority of an in-house team’s job consist of educating the company. There is often a struggle not only at the high level, but also at the IT level. However, lessons learned from these hurdles make a stronger well-rounded Search Engine expert. Thus, these growing pains make him/her more marketable when the time comes.”

Rudy DeDominicis, Time Inc.: “I think the biggest challenge is finding that perfect balance of SEO expert and affinity for your business. You need to truly know about the business you are performing SEO for to offer the best advice. You need to truly live in that world and become that business. Finding that individual to bring both business experience and proper enterprise SEO experience will be the toughest challenge.”

Chris Smith, NetConcepts: “The biggest challenge in attaining in-house management and development of SEO is in terms of politics. Not only must an organization have search channel managers, but those managers must also have support and prioritization of their projects at the executive level, along with the cooperation of the IT department to make it happen. As a best-practice, an organization should also build-in some sort of process management to insure that their in-house team will not become too incestuous or myopic. In-house projects should have some amount of auditing, either from outside agency experts, or from a peer review of practices and plans if a company has multiple internal experts. As a further indication of the political support for the search marketing program, there needs to be some amount of budget set aside for it. Not only could tools be purchased to assist with the program, but agency consulting could be available to be brought in for special projects, and the internal staff need! to be able to attend a couple of search marketing conferences every year in order to keep their education up-to-date.”

Jenn Mathews Somogyi, formerly with “The first challenge as an in house person is brought in is lobbying the buy in from others within the corporation itself. Executives tend to believe in SEO and see what it has to offer, but don’t always understand it. Those in Management and lower level positions tend to be more skeptical and therefore can be a bit more difficult in gaining the support needed to get initiatives moving. The key role of an in house SEO is to get the support needed from others within the company which will help in getting work completed for SEO (whether it be a change in URL structure, change in content to include key terms, etc).”

Aidan Beanland, Yahoo: “I would suggest communication is one of the biggest challenges. Effecting change in a large company requires diplomacy, clear processes, patience and strong communication skills. The in-house SEO manager must be able to clearly illustrate success that’s closely aligned to the true business goals – it’s all very well ranking highly for a specific keyword phrase, is it meeting the right targets? You need to show how your efforts and advice have made a difference. Use whatever reporting tools you have available to track performance over time, and if possible, translate this into financial terms.”

Jessica Bowman,”The biggest challenge with bringing SEO in-house varies by company. The other in-house experts in this series have mentioned the biggest challenges, but to give a different perspective, I’ll talk about challenge that I see many in-house teams face – obtaining and maintaining advanced SEO knowledge. Many in-house teams are formed from existing employees that dabble in SEO and/or get training from a consultant. If the in-house SEO is lucky, they will attend one or two conferences a year. This will get you through the basics, but not the advanced challenges related to search engine optimization. To get around this, I encourage in-house SEOs to have outside council. Corporate attorneys have an outside council to assist with questions, accountants have auditors and SEOs need an SEO consultant that they can reach to with questions, concerns, unique situations and the “what happened” emergencies that pop up every now and again.”

The bottom line

The insight that we received from these experts tells us that one of the most glaring challenges with transitioning to in-house SEO is education. Education consists of communicating the benefits of SEO to the rest of the organization (esp. upper level management) as well as showing the potential ROI by using SEO. Secondly, education consists of properly training team members who will form the in-house SEO team and as Jessica Bowman pointed out, it’s wise for them to tap into outside council. Hopefully the thoughts and suggestions of our experts will make your company’s transition go a little smoother or at least get you thinking of the challenges that lay ahead.

For the full transcripts of my interviews with these SEO experts, please see this post on my blog.

Building An Enterprise-Level Search Marketing Team

Several years ago, I was tasked with building an enterprise-level search marketing team for a top online retailer. Because of the lessons learned and results achieved, I want to pass this intel on to those tasked with creating a search marketing team from scratch.
Your Foundation: The Search Guru

My first recommendation is to start out with an organic search guru, an experienced person specializing in organic search.

Search gurus are those with a long-standing history of getting results and making good things happen. You’re going for a knowledge-transfer expert, not a permanent employee. The guru may cost 4x the salary of an employee, but s/he can earn you 150% YoY increase in revenue.

You can potentially receive a 600:1 ROI on your guru — that is, for each $1 you spend, you’ll bring in $600 — so don’t worry about the cost. It’s trivial in the long run.

Pay the guru half in salary and half in performance-based bonus. Give them top-down support and tell your executive staff to back off, listen to the guru, do what the guru says and leave their egos at the door.

This isn’t about threatening anyone’s career or compensation. Hopefully, the guru will be making more than most of the executive staff. But that should only happen due to performance bonuses — those based on significantly increased revenue, which means you and others will look like rock stars.

Make sure you have a real organic search guru and not a fake. Real gurus use their network of connections to get things done, and they will admit to you upfront that they don’t know it all. But they know what needs to be done and who to ask. They don’t do the actual work — they guide and direct.

Gurus guide other experts in their field to do the work. A real guru is humble and knows how to “get-along and go-along.” Give your guru full access to everyone in the organization; don’t isolate or limit your guru to certain segments of the business. Let the guru lurk and browse wherever he or she wants. Plan on keeping your guru for at least 2-5 years.
Assign A Director Of Search

Next, pick a good Director of Search — preferably a person from within the organization who intimately understands the business model and is coachable. This person should be capable of managing people in all three segments of Search: SEO, Paid Search and Social Media. Yes, Social Media.

Pick or hire a Director who works well with other departments such as Rich Media, Website, IT, Branding, Analytics, and Reporting, as well as the Marketing VPs and the CTO. This person should also have a good sense of humor — they’ll need it!
Department Hierarchy

Set up your guru to work under a Marketing SVP, the decision maker who signs the vendor checks. Make sure this SVP can leave his or her ego at the door and is fully capable of supporting the guru.

Put the Director of Search under the same Marketing SVP and ask the guru to work directly with the Director and SVP — it’s a threesome that’s hard to beat. These three people will move the Search and SEO revenue needle month-over-month and year-over-year.
Get Reporting Down

First things first: get your reporting down. Make sure you have branded and non-branded organic search revenue separated in your reporting. Obviously, Paid Search and Social Media will be in separate columns, too.

Set your guru’s bonuses and expectations on non-branded organic search revenue (SEO revenue). Provide everyone with daily numbers and results for the previous 24-hour period. Also weekly, monthly, quarterly and annual results.

Everyone needs to see the big picture as well as the day-to-day ups and downs. Don’t hide your data — open it up for everyone in-house to see every day. This is what will keep them moving forward and accountable.
Get Your Departments In Sync With Search

With your core management-level leaders in place — the guru, the SVP and the Director of Search — you’re ready to link together with all your various departments. Department structures may differ somewhat from company to company; however, it boils down to a few basics in any organization. Someone is in charge of the following segments of the business, and they all need to be in sync with Search:

Network Operations Center
Rich Media
Public Relations
Physical storefront counterparts, if any

Everyone in the organization must be aware of your Search Department and what Search does.

With core management, reporting and Search in sync with everyone in the organization, you’re ready to begin building your team of managers and analysts.
Your Managers Are The Workhorses

Hire your managers; you’ll want one each for SEO, Paid Search and Social Media. Managers will report to the Director of Search and be directly responsible for all the analysts on their team. Managers are multitaskers; they both manage their team and do the day-to-day tactical work.

Your managers must be veterans at planning and executing online marketing campaigns; they should possess a strong working knowledge of best practices and good people skills.

Theses are very important people in the organization. Pay them well and reward them with acknowledgement and kudos every time you can. Your managers are the workhorses — they get the job done.
Rounding Out The Department

Depending on the depth and breadth of the organization, it’s possible each manager may need up to five analysts working under them to accomplish goals on a day-to-day basis. In addition, one Intern for each SEO, Paid Search and Social Media section is a good idea.

Interns can move up the ladder as those above them move up or leave. Interns allow for the quick replacement of the skills needed to fulfill tactical goals and objectives. Always keep a few good interns employed to become your next up-and-coming analyst or manager.

Obviously, the number of personnel mentioned above is flexible, depending on the size of the organization. However, with a similar structure in place you’ll have all the essentials covered to manage even the largest of enterprise search departments.
Digging Deeper: Essentials For The SEO Team

The above covers all the basics for putting together your online marketing department. Now, we’ll take a closer look at each team within the department (SEO, Social and Paid Search).


Image via Shutterstock

The essentials for SEO include all the technical and editorial factors that can hinder your website’s rankings in the search engines. This includes but is not limited to the following list of SEO best practices:

Link audits and development
Keyword discovery/paid search testing/optimization
Title elements, meta data
Semantic markup, RDFa, microdata
Hostname DNS, site and page load speed
Internal linking and redirects
URI structure, broken links and dead-end pages
Anchor text, image optimization
Duplicate content, low word count
Robots.txt, session IDs, server and crawl errors
Local, mobile and social best practices
Store locator conversion tools, functionality
Social/SEO integration

Part I: Recap

To summarize, if you want to put together a first class, in-house SEO team, you can do it quickly by hiring an SEO guru who understands the big picture.

With his or her track record, this search expert will not only hire and organize your search team for you, but will increase revenue and ROI with a team that can function optimally and interact smoothly with top level management. Not to worry about the cost of these services as they will pay for themselves — organic search is a highly profitable source of relevant traffic.

In my next column, I’ll continue this series by covering the essentials for paid search and social media, as well as guidelines for hiring third-party vendors.

The Perils Of Parallax Design For SEO

First it was Flash, then AJAX, and now…. parallax design. As SEOs, we often find ourselves butting heads with Web designers over website design and usability. Certain design approaches and techniques, while helpful for usability, may not be ideal for SEO purposes. But that doesn’t mean we have to sacrifice good design for solid SEO — we just have to be creative and find solutions that marry design with SEO.
What Is Parallax Design?

Parallax design is a website design approach that’s been used for several years now and takes its name from the concept of parallax movement. Instead of linking from one entire webpage to another, the visitor moves up and down on the same webpage.

The Spotify home page is a great example of a parallax design — the site essentially displays layers as a visitor scrolls down the page:

One of the main benefits of using parallax design is that it allows the website to essentially walk a visitor through a story just by scrolling down the page. A good demonstration of this storytelling technique is found in Google’s “How Search Works” site, where Google explains in very basic terms how the Google search engine works.

Parallax can go a long way in helping guide a visitor through a story or goal. Rather than expecting the visitor to click through a series of pages, parallax makes the experience easier and provides a cleaner flow overall.
How Does Parallax Design Affect SEO?

Similar to Flash and AJAX, parallax design presents unique challenges for SEO. Most of these challenges stem from the fact that all of the content is housed on a single page, essentially giving you a one-page website.

A single-page website design makes it difficult to optimize the site for a wide variety of search terms. All of your target keywords must be concentrated on one page rather than spread out over many, leading to keyword dilution. Additionally, inbound links can only link to your site’s single page and not to specific page content.
Another Challenge: Analytics

It can be difficult to truly measure engagement on a single-page website with today’s analytics tools. While time on site might be an indicator, it’s not a very accurate form of measurement. As Avinash Kaushik mentions in a blog post, tabbed browsing has really mucked up time on site metrics in analytics, so they aren’t always the most accurate measurements.

In fact, while many claim that parallax design increases engagement, I failed to find any studies or A/B tests that supported this claim. I suspect that is because the measurement for engagement would likely need to be time on site, and given that this particular measurement isn’t exactly accurate, a true study on parallax versus non-parallax engagement on the site would be difficult to perform.
What About Mobile?

A recent report from Walker Sands indicated that mobile traffic to websites has increased 78% year-over-year, now accounting for 24% of website traffic on average. But parallax, unfortunately, does not work well on mobile devices. This means that webmasters have to create a second version of the site specifically for mobile devices (as Google did with its “How Search Works” site, creating a series of pages to tell the same story).

Aren’t There Workarounds?

If organic search engine visibility is a priority for your website, then ideally you should avoid solely parallax design. While there are creative workarounds for SEO, many may be in conflict with Google’s webmaster guidelines.

In one case, I saw a site essentially using doorway pages to attract search engines, using javascript redirects to redirect human visitors (with javascript enabled) to the parallax design site. Search engine bots, on the other hand, are not redirected — they are meant to index the “doorway page,” which clearly is against Google’s webmaster guidelines:

It’s a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines to use JavaScript, a meta refresh, or other technologies to redirect a user to a different page with the intent to show the user a different page than a search engine crawler sees.

That’s where this becomes a sticky wicket when optimizing for purely parallax sites. While a redirect workaround for parallax sites may seem pretty smart, it’s in violation of Google’s guidelines and thus puts sites at a penalty risk.

So inevitably, there is a trade off. Is the SEO or the user experience more important?
Best Approach: The “Combo” Approach

A better approach might be to combine a parallax home page with accompanying sub-pages. Spotify takes this approach — while the home page is a parallax design, some of the content links go to separate, static pages that explore a particular topic in greater depth. This approach helps ensure that a) there’s a separate page URL for each unique topic and b) each unique topic has a dedicated page to house its related keywords, all while respecting Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.

The result for Spotify? Its US-based site has over 3,400 pages indexed by Google. Compare this to a parallax-only site, like this Victoria Beckham edition of the Range Rover which only has one page indexed in Google for its US site.
What To Ponder When Considering Parallax

Parallax isn’t all bad, but it’s not ideal, either. The main questions to ask yourself when considering parallax as an option are:

Will parallax help tell the story more effectively?
Do I (or will I) rely heavily on SEO to drive traffic to my website?
Is a parallax page married with other associated webpages (the combo approach) an option?

If you do decide on the combo approach, the next thing to consider is what information is most appropriate on the parallax page versus the other supporting pages of the site. Some key things to remember about how to divide up the information (which goes beyond just SEO) are listed below:

Keywords: remember that the parallax page will likely only be able to be optimized for one keyword (or a small amount of highly related keywords). Given that, plan out your sitemap to allow for supporting pages to have deeper content around most of the keywords.
Deep Content: map out the parallax page and its sections. How can you segment the story, providing some level of information on the parallax page but offering more details on deeper HTML pages? The New Zealand Tourism site provides a great example of this, painting a picture as the visitor scrolls down the home page while also offering more specific content that is linked to from each area of the parallax home page.
Mobile Visitors: consider how the site will look in mobile environments and reference analytics to understand your mobile audience. You may have much more mobile traffic today than you realize. Don’t leave those visitors out by creating a parallax page they can’t navigate. Consider a plan for how you’ll handle these visitors.
Analytics: what do you want to know about your visitors? What actions do you want to measure? Take those goals into account when considering what information should be on the parallax page versus supporting webpages. Do you want to know how many people start the sign-up process but don’t complete it? Having a separate sign-up page could be helpful for measuring these types of actions. Perhaps you want to see what offering or product a visitor is most interested in or what type of content resonates best with your audience. Consider having this type of content on deeper site pages and not the parallax page to ensure that you can collect the data you want to make informed decisions.
Visitor Demographics: additionally, be sure to consider your other goals, like advertising. What do you want to know about the visitors to the site? For instance, if you want to retarget to visitors based on certain interests, you may need them to visit a certain website page to be entered into a retargeting group. For instance, if you wanted to retarget site visitors who visited the sign-up page but didn’t complete the process, it would be important to have the sign-up page/form on a separate webpage.