Just because someone with a huge following claims this or that, isn’t good enough for me when it comes to knowing whether to implement some SEO strategies or not. I’m not a sheep to slaughter. No matter how many other sheep are around me, nor how “trusted” the sheep-herder. I want to find out for myself. So I did. In a BIG way!
To Sitemap Or Not?
One thing that some SEO people say is “You don’t need a sitemap.xml file.” Eventually the GoogleBot will find your pages and index them. According to this theory, sitemaps belong in the “boondoggle” category. But do they really? What about a site that has poor internal linking? How well do sitemaps do at overcoming that issue?
What About Internal Links?
Can a site with tens of thousands of pages be properly indexed without full HTML navigation? And when it comes to linking, is having a “funnel” really as important as has been billed in our community? Or do your really important links have to be at the top of pages? Or can they be in the footer?
The Client and the Scope
Late last year, one of my web development clients, WebSight Design, got a gig building out a directory of storage facilities across the United States. The site is StorageSeeker.com. As a directory with listings in tens of thousands of locations across the country, this particular site would need to compete on so many levels it could make your head spin.
National, regional, and multiple types of local search aspects all come into play. Because this site is an aggregate data site, and does not itself have local addresses in every location, any typical local search optimization methods would not be able to be fully implemented here. Some other method would be called for at the local level.
From the Top – Competitive Analysis
When I got this assignment, one of my first tasks was to do a detailed review of the competition. And let me tell you – in the self storage market, the competition is ugly. There’s two very important factors – site depth and back links.
From the chart above, you can see what the competition is like in this field. The very high page count is due to the fact that every storage facility has it’s own page, or at the very least, every city in a database has it’s own page. And for the competitors with many less pages, they’ve spent a lot of time getting links back. (The really high link counts usually come from a partnership with a complimentary site that also has city based listings.)
Bigger Competitive Base
Some of the competition in this market is bleed-through, because some sites that come up are actually large moving companies, offering both moving and storage solutions. That’s a funny thing about the nature of our industry. Explaining why a client’s competition is more often bigger than they think.
You’re Also Competiting Against Google
Where it gets even more challenging is when you do a search and include a city name. Not only do you get all of the usual suspects in the competitive arena, you’re also now competing directly with Google’s Local listings.
Now, I understand why Google would want to present these results to someone doing a search. But it means there’s a much bigger problem for some companies trying to compete for the first page of Google results.
To business directory owners in markets like the storage comparison service, Google is now a direct competitor. I’ll leave it to you to decide whether that fits with the whole “Google is Evil” mantra or not. Instead, it just becomes one more factor for me to work into my analysis and action plan.
I don’t LIKE the fact that I have to work it into my analysis, but heck that’s what I get paid for. And as much as it pained me when I first realized this was an issue, I thought it would be exponentially more painful to the client. And it was. He was shell-shocked, because he never previously thought he’d be going up against Google, of all entities…
He’s getting into an arena that is about as entrenched as it gets. So even if he could match his top competitors page for page, he’d be in for a heck of a ride given the volume of back-links. And the potential for his site’s pages to be viewed as duplicate content because all those other sites have been around a lot longer…
But Wait – There’s More!
Not only are you competing against Google at the Local level, for some phrases, you’re even competing against Google on the national level!
That’s right – thanks to the fact that Google wants to provide what THEY consider the most relevant content to a search, for some keywords that you enter, even when you DON’T enter a geographic location, they ASSUME you may want to see that information.
In the screen shot, notice how there are three organic listings above Google’s Local results. Yet that means you HAVE to be in the top three now, to be sure you’re both seen above the fold, and before mass confusion sets in for the person doing the search when they get that map and all those local links thrown into that eye space.
I’m sure many of you reading this article already knew this stuff. I’m just mentioning it here though because some readers may not have considered the implication or ramifications of this before.
And when as it relates to my client’s site and what has to be done to overcome such insanity it’s completely relevant.
As you can see in the above screen-shot, my client is already in the top three for this particular search.
They’re not in such a stellar position for every non-city related phrase yet. But they are for a few. And they’re in the top five results for a few phrases targeting their prospective customers, the facility owners.
At the City Level
At the City level, for “find storage facilities Tucson”, they’re the first organic result that shows up just below the map and individual facilities that come from Google Local. That’s crucial, because if I were doing a search, and saw all those choices, I would surely get really annoyed really fast at having to click on every one of them to do a comparison on my own. Having an alternative to compare results would be really helpful.
A Word About Best Practices Page Titles
Note how my client site’s Title in this Tucson screeencap doesn’t say “find storage facilities Tuscson”. Instead, it says “Compare Self Storage Tucson”…
That’s magic when it comes to helping an end user who wants a quick way to compare all those results. Most of the time, we shoot for having an exact match in a page title so the person using Google sees the same phrase repeated, and bold.
In this case, it’s actually better having what I consider a more appropriate title given the need to differentiate from the Google Local listings confusion.
So what’s the key to my initial modest success?
Back Links – It’s Back Links I Tell You!
It’s actually not back -links. The site currently has about 200 links coming back, mostly low level stuff so far. Compared to the tens of thousands of back links the competition has, that’s peanuts.
No, back links are not what’s done it. Sure, the next level of success will require acquiring more back links – but that’s chicken feed compared to what’s been accomplished already without giving a second’s thought to obtaining more links. And I’ve saved all that time and effort in quality back-link hunting…