April 24th 2012 is a day that will be remembered as the launch of one of the biggest attacks against Webspam by Google’s Search Quality Team: the Penguin Update. Although Google claims that only 3.1% of the search queries were affected, many webmasters believe that this update has caused more damage than the Panda update (which allegedly affected 12% of search queries). With the Penguin Update, Google’s message is clear: it will not tolerate any form of SEO that is not 100% Whitehat. Call it black, grey, blue or pink hat; it all comes down to the same thing for Google: manipulation.
Many small business owners that were hit by this update are now asking: “I lost all my traffic! What now? Is my business ruined?” . The short answer is: not necessarily! Fix your issues, “whiten your hat” and most importantly diversify your sources of traffic. As Matt Cutts stated, Google penalties are NOT forever. If you fix the underlying issues that are causing problems, there is a good chance that your website will pop back into the rankings when the next update is rolled out.
Let’s talk about traffic diversification for a minute here… if you’re relying entirely on Google to provide you traffic, you have a flawed business model. It’s that simple. Putting all your eggs in the same basket can be a costly business mistake. Depending on your niche, there are several sources of traffic that you can take advantage of; Email Marketing is one of them. Social Media is another one. Do your diligent research and figure out where your potential customers are hanging out. Anyways, that shall be the topic of a whole new blog post!
I decided to write this article to provide some key online marketing tips to the small businesses out there that have been hit by the Penguin Update. If you include these 3 elements in your SEO strategy this year (while avoiding any shady link building in the process), you will not only increase your overall web traffic but ensure that future Google updates are rewarding, not penalizing. Here they are…
Tip #1: Improve your UX
UX stands for User Experience. When you put so many efforts in attracting visitors to your website, the last thing you want is them leaving your site prematurely, either because they didn’t like your content, layout/design or simply because they were confused with your navigation.
Both Google Panda and Penguin updates have been cracking down on websites offering a poor user experience. Remember: with every update, Google’s #1 goal is to please the search users. Google considers that a web page with high bounce rates is not answering the user’s search queries, so it will eventually push it down the rankings!
I recommend you take a look at your Web Analytics stats for the past 2 or 3 months. If you notice high bounce rates on specific pages or a low “pageviews per visitor” ratio, consider revising your content. In some cases, going as far as re-structuring or re-designing your site might be the best option. You want to make sure your website is not dull and boring. Consider including some multimedia content such as videos or infographics.
In the end, you want your bounce rate to be as low as possible and your pageviews per visit to be as high as possible. If you lack ideas on how to improve your UX, you can always take a look at what your Top-10 competitors are doing for some inspiration. Brainstorming with your partners/colleagues is also a great way to ignite the creative fire.
Tip #2: Develop a Long-Term Content Strategy
When it comes to online marketing, your website WILL fail if you’re not providing valuable content on a regular basis. It’s really that simple. Both the Penguin and Panda updates rewarded websites that produced high quality content for their users. You simply cannot go wrong when providing useful content.
Blogging is a must! However, I have seen too many companies that did have a blog page on their site but when you clicked on it you realized that their latest article is over 6 months old. Not good. Not good at all! At the very minimum, you should be blogging once a week. If your traffic grows and your audience is receptive to your content, consider increasing the frequency to a couple times a week or even daily. There is no secret formula when it comes to blogging frequency; it’s all about A/B testing. Analyze the numbers and adjust accordingly.
Outsourcing your content creation to India for $10 an article is not a good solution either and can actually hurt your company’s reputation. If it was really possible to get quality content for that cheap, everyone would be doing it! It takes time and effort to produce quality articles, but it’s all worth it in the end. Quality articles get Liked, Tweeted and +1’d, giving you extended visibility and SEO benefits. (Social signals are now a big part of search engine ranking algorithms)
Depending on the type of business you’re in, I would also highly recommend creating short videos to support your blog. It can be in the form of short tips, howto’s, product reviews or client testimonials. Make sure you publish your videos on major video social networks like YouTube and Vimeo for additional exposure. People are more likely to consume videos than plain textual content.
Tip #3: Get Social. More Social!
Have you noticed the amount of changes & updates that Google+ has undergone in the past couple of months? This alone should have given you the hint that Social is a big part of Google’s future plans.
How much does it cost to set up a Google+ business page, a Facebook fan page and a Twitter account? Nothing. That’s the beauty of social media marketing. You can start it all off with zero dollars. However, let’s be honest: if you do want to take it to the next level, you will most likely have to put your hand in your pocket.
Depending on the nature of your business (B2B or B2C) and your target audience, you should be present on at least 2-3 major networks (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or LinkedIn).
Getting social doesn’t just mean opening accounts. It means putting up the efforts to grow and engage a fanbase over the long term. Here are a few SMM tips that can help you build traction:
- Consider Social Advertising: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and LinkedIn all have their self-serve advertising platforms. The beauty of their advertising models is that you have a variety of targeting options. On Facebook Ads, for instance, you can target users by location, age, sex, marital status, interests and more! This helps you pinpoint your target audience and make sure that every click you’re paying for is coming from a potential customer. I highly recommend launching an ad that is tied to your fan page instead of your website. This will help you increase your fan count. More fans = more likes/shares = more SEO benefits.
- Launch Contests/Giveaways: it’s no secret that people love contests and freebies. If you want to make your fans feel special and appreciated, consider launching some contests, quizzes or giveaways every once in a while. This not only increases your engagement rate, but it also helps you retain your fans and minimize “Unlikes”. Twitter retweet & hashtag contests, for instance, are a great way to generate tons of natural inbound links.
- Share Useful Content Daily: It’s nice to share your blog posts, articles and company updates, but your shared content doesn’t always have to be your own! In fact, it will eventually hurt you to be too self-promotional. If you come across a fun video or picture that relates to your audience or industry, by all means go ahead and share it! It will generate Likes, +1’s, Shares, Retweets and help you spread your brand name across tons of profiles through the “viral effect”.
Finally, I would like to say that online marketing is no rocket science. It is all about trial & error. Don’t be afraid to try new things (legal things! J). If you fail, learn from your mistakes and try again. If you put in the right amount of effort, you will succeed.