SEO and Elephant Traps

SEO and Elephant Traps

I have been interested in SEO for almost a decade now, and online marketing even longer.  In internet years that is a long time.  Way back when I was learning how to do  SEO  – and DSL was amazingly fast, I was always amused by the get rich quick charlatans of old (think 2002,2003,2004… era).  They always had the next new thing,  only to be replaced by the next new thing in a few weeks or months, depending on the niche and their target audience. Now that still happens today, but it was much more pervasive back then.

I studied them from a marketing perspective. Unethical as some were, they were still amazing at getting folks to part with their $17, $19, $49 etc. for the chance to get rich by pushing a button or following a proven ‘system’.  I delighted in learning the angle, finding the up-sell and down-sell paths and watching their back-end marketing funnels.  I confess I even bought a few trinkets just to see what they were peddling and to get on their buyers’ list.  It was downright fascinating.  Sadly for me, I never hit that elusive $50M / year while working 4 hours a week lifestyle…

When old-school SEO became all the rage, one of the party tricks these guys and gals did was to do ‘live’ SEO during a webinar or a live event.  They would pick some term, do a search and prove their target site did not rank for it, and then amazingly in a few short minutes to an hour they were ‘ranking #1 on Google’ for an amazing keyword like “purple elephant bait in downtown Philadelphia PA 19103″… Whhhhhooaa, cool, aaah…  The crowd was amazed!

They would be demonstrating how their software or secret SEO skills could achieve these amazing ranking results so quickly.   The hook was something like, see how easy it is?  Now imagine if you followed my system / used my software and you ranked a site for “gourmet coffee online”, or the top-selling product on eBay or Amazon and put an affiliate link on your site.  Now for only $29 I’ll give you my hard-learned secret sauce system…

As funny as that seems to me today, these same folks still exist today, but they have changed up their act.  Now they call and offer unsuspecting businesses too good to be true SEO programs with some sort of guarantee to “get on the front page of Google” or your money back or some sort of similar click bait or phone scam.

Here is the interesting part of this scam. They absolutely can say this and not ever be called to task for a refund, because many of these type of churn and burn firms will indeed get their clients on the front page of Google, just not for any keyword terms that are of any value.  The other problem is these types of offers usually involve old techniques that can do more harm than good over the medium to long run.

So where am I going with this walk down memory lane?  Shortcuts and ranking terms just to rank terms rarely work out well for business owners.  Here is a completely made up example.  Full Disclosure: no elephants were hurt in the writing of this article.

Let’s pretend you we were hired by a company in East Asia that manufacturers humane elephant traps.  This company, for reasons not fully understood, wants to rank #1 on Google for “elephant traps” in the USA and Internationally.  Based on this information and assuming you know how to do SEO, there are two very different approaches you would take from this point in the project.

Project Approach #1:

We know our customer wants to rank for “Elephant Traps” in the USA and Internationally.  We take them at their word and sign them up for an SEO program.  Then we do some keyword metrics research, see who also ranks for “elephant traps” and realize that the first few positions are very competitive with strong sites.

We inform our client that the competition is very difficult and it may take a lot of time and effort to rank them on the front page of the SERPs for their chosen keyword target.  They are well funded and tell us they do not care about price, they just want to sell more elephant traps and ranking #1 is their goal.

We mutually agree to move forward with the uphill battle, and since our company is very good at SEO, we are certain that with the correct budget and timeline we can win this battle.

For those following along at home: what was the critical step missing above?

Flash forward 18 months: our SEO heroes ranked their client #3 and are closing in on #2, intent that #1 is possible and the only acceptable outcome.  Unfortunately, despite a great job at ranking their site, the companies sales have not increased measurably, and their bounce rates coming from the search term “elephant traps” is over 90%.  They have a nice looking site, good landing page etc.

What went wrong?  Read on to approach #2 to find out.

Approach #2

Elephant Trap Chess Move

Similar to our first group of unlikely SEO heroes, we do a high-level review of the desired search term and determine as our first group did, that competition is very high. However, we know that many times the keyword(s) a client thinks they want to rank for are not always the ones they should rank for.

What you say?  Well, once we realized the competition was difficult, we then started to evaluate the competitors’ sites for SEO metrics etc.  As we were doing this, we noticed that a lot of our competitors’ sites were linking to and being linked to from chess related sites.  Chess, as in the game.  As we researched further we realized that in fact the first 20 SERP results (pages 1 and 2) were all taken by chess and sales related articles and sites.

It turns out that the term “elephant trap” is a specific reference to a chess move in which a pawn sacrifice is turned down.  We will not go further as chess is not the focus of this article, but it was interesting to read up on.

It also turns out that the term is used as a way of saying don’t miss the obvious dangers, risks etc. in whatever endeavor someone is talking about.

So it turns out that even if we succeed in ranking the client on the first page or even #1 in Googles SERPs, we failed them at being an ethical SEO and marketing company and making sure it made sense to rank for what they asked for.

If you are interested in having an SEO evaluation of your site and want to know if we can help you attract more qualified visitors to your site, please get in touch with us.

Can You Stop a Phishing Attempt?

Can You Stop a Phishing Attempt?

I had the opportunity to go camping with my family this past summer.  It was a great little adventure, and when I asked my 6-year-old son what his favorite part of the trip was, he said fishing.

It got me thinking that as business owners, managers, employees, and individuals we are subject to phishing attempts multiple times a day.  My son was so excited that he caught his first fish on our trip.  I’ll always remember the excitement in his eyes as we reeled in that little 4 inch sunny (that we released).  He then proceeded to catch about 5 more, and much to me and my wife’s amusement, one was deemed big enough to keep and take back for dinner!  Imagine how excited scammers are when they get a few nibbles and eventually hook a phish!

With ubiquitous wifi at every coffee shop, airport, and even many downtown areas, there are an unlimited number of hackers and scammers out there phishing for your corporate, personal, and employee information.  Some of these attempts are geared to get very small pieces of information, seemingly not too important.  They allow a scammer to understand how a company “talks” internally, including names and emails of key department heads. They are able to build a corporate profile and can impersonate an internal employee.

Other cyber threats are more obvious if you know what to look for.  Sadly though, some of these phishing ploys are well thought out and many unsuspecting users fall for them.  One popular phishing scam is a fake email from a big bank saying your account was compromised and you need to login in through this special link to update all your information and confirm your personal details.  Many of these are very well thought out and catch some big fish!

And of course, we have ransomware (crypto viruses), malware, advertising bots etc. that can get onto our laptops and tablets and then find their way into company servers where they cost businesses millions of dollars a year in lost data, paid ransoms and time to rebuild systems.

And to clear up a few scams, Microsoft or the IRS will NEVER call you asking for your personal information or to login into your PC to do a free update to Windows or your processor.  Never!  Ever!  Not happening!

Imagine if there were a super smart fish (some really are).  This fish learned that hooks and plastic lures and glowing colored fake salmon egg balls are bad.  This fish learned to avoid such lures and bait.  Compared to other fish that did not know what this fish did, who would have the best chance of not falling for a fishing lure?  Obviously, the fish that learned a bit about the lures and traps used by those trying to catch it.

The same goes for us.  Many phishing ploys are reasonably easy to identify and avoid if you learn what to look for, and learn the common lures and bait used to trick unsuspecting users.  Hackers and Phishers go for volume, don’t do what the masses do and learn to protect yourself and your organization.

Some of the well-known email scams have even made it into pop culture and are the butt of comedians jokes like a rich prince/businessman in the middle east or Africa needs you to help him get their funds into the USA and if you share your bank info, he will share his wealth with you.  You just need to fund the account with $X and confirm your brokerage account info and you will be rewarded handsomely. As crazy as this sounds to most people reading this, I have a very good friend who’s father fell for one of these and it wiped out most of his retirement.

To see some recent cybersecurity hacking successes that compromised surprisingly large organizations, you can check out our previous post from a few months ago about recent cyber attacks.  There are many more since that list was published not that long ago.

By learning what to avoid, you can save yourself and your company a lot of money, time and lost data. 

Remember that not all data security threats are external.  Some threats are internal, and some are intentional.  A business needs to think proactively about protecting their data.  If sensitive data is successfully breached, fines and lawsuits are getting increasingly more expensive.

Website Security For Small Business

Website Security For Small Business

In general, my experience has been that most of the small businesses and non-profit organizations I have worked with over the years have one of two approaches to Web Security.

Approach A goes something like… “…well, you know, we’re a pretty small company and we don’t have to worry about all that security like bigger companies.”

Approach B is along the lines of… “doesn’t GoDaddy / Blue Host / Host Gator etc. (or some other low-cost provider) take care of all that technical stuff? “

The reality is that even the smallest of websites and companies are now targets. Size or lack of it no longer will protect your site. And if you have a breach that causes customer data to get out you just may find yourself out of business!

If you do not have the time or expertise to secure your website with at least the minimum standards then you owe it to yourself, your employees, your customers, and even potential targets to seek out the help of someone who does know the ins and outs of website security.

If you are not sure where to turn to, get in touch with us and we can give you some tips on initial steps you can take, we can also do the work for you, and if you need more help than basic website security we can help refer you to the right people to make sure you are well protected.

Don’t wait until you have a security breach or lose your site – it is often too late unless you have off-site automated backups – which if you have read this far, you probably do not…

Marketing Automation is the Key to Greater Conversions

Marketing Automation is the Key to Greater Conversions

Getting targetted traffic is just the start.

Before starting an SEO or Social Media advertising campaign, you need to be ready to handle the new traffic.  Having traffic is great, however, you need to be sending it to a site or landing page that is designed to convert.  That could be an opt-in form for lead generation, a sale for your online store, or a request to set up a Discovery Call.

What Does Online Marketing and Coffee Have in Common?

What Does Online Marketing and Coffee Have in Common?

For anyone who knows me even a little bit, you may be tempted to say the answer is Mike loves Coffee, SEO and Online Marketing.  That is certainly true.  Ironically, my passion for good coffee was the driving reason that I took my product management and development skills to the next level and learned eCommerce, SEO and web development.  But that is too long of a story to tell in this post.

So here is how I see things regarding the state of coffee in and around Philadelphia

There are many varieties of coffee grown in many parts of the world.  Each has their own distinct characteristics and nuances.  Some very noticeable, and some more subtle.  And as far as quality and preparation of the end product – that ranges from a cup of brewed joe at the local diner (sitting for way too long on a warmer), or espresso or Americano or sadly one of those sweet coffee-based drinks that taste more like a milkshake or smoothie than coffee.

There are many varieties of coffee grown in many parts of the world.  Each has their own distinct characteristics and nuances.  Some very noticeable, and some more subtle.  And as far as quality and preparation of the end product – that ranges from not drinkable coffee at an interstate gas station at 2:00 a.m. to that perfect freshly roasted coffee, brewed to order, at a local organic coffee shop.

Quality and style are all over the board.  Mostly it is somewhere in between, more towards the gas station variety in my experience.

So here is how I see things regarding the state of Online Marketing

There are many varieties of online marketing and SEO experts in many parts of the world.  Each has their own distinct characteristics and nuances.  Some very noticeable, and some more subtle.  And as far as the quality of the end product – there are several major categories of people who profess to know online marketing, some good, and some not so good.

Three Types of Marketers

The part-time novice
 “I am a marketer now because I signed up for a guru’s course” type (you probably have a
relative or two in this category)

 who know how to do specific things like setting up email auto-responders, managing social media accounts, set up awesome looking and SEO friendly social media profiles, and all flavors of specialized SEO practitioners.  Often time you can find these types working freelance or as part of an agency, many times being the SME (subject matter expert) in their particular skill set.

Marketing Consultant – a good marketing consultant is going to have an upfront conversation with you and your key stakeholders to make sure you are on the same page, find out what you are trying to accomplish (now the tactical how you are going to do it), make suggestions about the correct order of things to maximize results and dollars, and then oversee the implementation of the plan and most likely they have an area of expertise they like to focus on as well.

There are many varieties of marketing tactics and channels

Online Marketing and SEO Plan image

Each has their own distinct characteristics and uses and some are more appropriate for a specific company or product or promotion than others.  And as far as quality of the end product – that ranges from virtually useless like advertising a new flavor of soda on a health and nutrition show geared towards weight loss, to a home run like a well-orchestrated SEO or PPC campaign that effectively targets the correct target market due to extremely accurate keyword research and has a ROI triple the industry average.

Success is measured by goal attainment (opt-in, click-through, purchase etc. as defined at the start of the campaign).  In my experience, it is usually somewhere in between.  Part of the disappointment I have heard of is usually related to a lack of defining realistic expectations and correct goals for the project.  Reality-based expectations for a particular marketing medium are often not properly communicated or defined.  In many cases, there is a miscommunication between clients and more tactical based marketers.  (this does not mean they are not good at what they do.  We all have our strengths and weaknesses.  Personally,  I love working with that rare individual who thinks that quantitative analysis is the cat’s meow but could care less about conversion of prospects into customers).

For example, we had a recent client that was interested in increasing their online visibility through SEO.  When we talked about their goals, the message they wanted to convey, and their experience with their site to date, there was clearly some work to do.

If we would have run an SEO or some sort of traffic/advertising campaign to their site, it would most likely not have been very effective.  The site had a very low conversion for new traffic (as measured by their goals of new prospects calling in or filling in a contact form) and their current site did not clearly define what they did to their main target audience.

In this case, updating their site look and content to better communicate what they were about, and the advantages of working with them to their target customer was the first step in increasing the effective use of their site.  If SEO was the first step, and we ranked the existing site, they would certainly have gained more visits (raw traffic), but based on existing conversion metrics, very little of that new traffic would have converted into a new potential prospect for their service.  In the end, we would have just increased their bounce rate and provided very little value in the form of new prospects and clients.

Final thoughts

My final thoughts on coffee and marketing are this:

defining success first image

When it comes to coffee, knowing what you want is most of the battle.  If you just need a quick morning pick me up and routinely pour 10 packs of sugar and creamer in your coffee anyway, probably the local diner or gas station is going to work for you (defining your goal as I need caffeine).  If on the other hand, if you are looking for a freshly roasted dark brew with a hint of acidity and smokiness, but not too heavy, then may I suggest that a French or Italian roast Costa Rican Tarrazu or Brazilian Santos single-origin bean freshly roasted this morning in a micro-roaster at a local gourmet coffee shop is going to be to your liking? (defining a heavenly cup of stress reducing aromatic cup of coffee as the goal).

When it comes to marketing, and specifically online marketing, knowing and defining the goal upfront is going to go a long way to knowing what type of marketing or SEO program your firm should invest in.  Knowing the in-house expertise and knowing what skills your in-house team lacks will also let you know the resources to utilize to attain your goal.

To help you with the process, or get an outside opinion, may I suggest a brief 30-minute conversation with an experienced online marketer and SEO consultant over a great cup of coffee (or beverage of your choice)?

If you already know your goals and are now searching for the right team to put your plan in action,  we have skilled experts in Marketing Consulting, SEO, Web Design, Custom Web Development and more.

You can contact me here with any questions or schedule a brief intro call to see if we may be a good fit to work together.

Best of success in your marketing efforts!


Google’s Chrome 68 Browser Update and Your Website

Website Security Alert: Your Site Might Display A Scary Looking Warning Starting July 2018

According to Google, starting sometime in July 2018, they will unleash Chrome 68 – their pending web browser update.  Updating Chrome is not that newsworthy, except this update ups the ante for websites that have not yet added an SSL certificate to all their web pages.  As you may know, Google has been pushing strong (and others) to have SSL on all websites.  At first, they only wanted SSL on pages that shared information that was sensitive.  Then they wanted all info shared on SSL pages, and now, they are upping the ante.

In everyday terms, if you see then you are fine.  If you do not see the ‘s’ in instead see, then starting in July Google will show a very in your face warning to users that this site may not be secure and your personal data may be at risk.  Any page that is not SSL compliant, will now show a scary warning like the one below.

Chrome 68 insecure site warning

Image Source: Google Security Blog

In everyday terms, if you see then you are fine…

I am sure you can guess that this is not ideal for websites that are not secure, and even though the site pages will load, many users will most likely be scared off.  Some longtime users or customers may even be worried that such a site was hacked.

Compared to past release updates to Chrome, this version will shout out “Danger Will Robinson, Danger… Do Not Proceed To This Website…”  It does not take a space-traveling robot to recognize that this will most likely result in users leaving your site, and will put your company’s reputation into question.

“Danger Will Robinson, Danger… Do Not Proceed To This Website…”

Chrome 68 includes a more detailed security check to detect whether your entire website is encrypted. If it is not, Chrome will immediately display a security warning indicating that your site is not secure.

As an example, imagine after this update, a customer goes to your website to look up your phone number, and instead, the first thing they see if a rather obnoxious security alert.  They may think that your company was compromised by a hacker, and worry that their private client information was stolen as part of a security breach.

Similarly, if you sell products or are driving marketing efforts to landing pages and contact forms, visitors who are looking to fill out your contact form, or buy something online could very well be inclined to leave your site.

How Do I Test a Site for SSL Encryption?

You can tell whether your site (or any site) is encrypted quite easily. As mentioned prior, your web browser will either display http: or https: in front of a sites url (web address) to indicate a secured or unsecured website.

Chrome also provides a visual indicator:  if there is a green lock next to a website address, the site is encrypted.

ALternately, a visitor can click the information button next to a websites address.  This displays a message stating that a site is or is not secure. Currently, Chrome’s security warning is somewhat hidden (unless the page collects passwords or credit card information).

Starting in July, if any page on your site is not encrypted, your visitors will see a red triangle with the words “not secure” warning visitors about your site.  As mentioned earlier, this warning can cause your website traffic to decrease and cause customers and clients some concern.

How Do You Encrypt Your Website?

In everyday terms, you need to apply an SSL Security Certificate on your web server.  This is not as hard as it may seem but does need to be done correctly, and there are important SEO considerations such as mixed content and website versioning to be considered .  It will not affect your SEO if done correctly, and in fact, it may help.

If you have not already secured your website, the good news is that it is normally under 20 minutes of work for a web developer to do, sometimes much less.  Even better, for those with basic web hosting knowledge and are on a host that uses cPanel, you can probably do the basics on your own in under 30 minutes for free (depending on your host it may be as little as 5 to 10 minutes).  Just remember to fix mixed media errors as well as set your version to load only the https:// version if the site.  I did a quick study the other week and some surprisingly big companies got this wrong.

Click the link to the right to learn –> how to set up auto SSL in cPanel 

Do not ignore this, you still have plenty of time to avoid a bad situation.  If you are not comfortable doing this internally, contact your current web host or webmaster and ask them to do it for you.  If you prefer, you can also contact us and we can help as well.

Keeping All Your Company Data Safe

If a hacker discovers that your website is not secured, they may use that as an indication that your company has other vulnerabilities that they can exploit. Computers and servers that do not have the latest security patches or modern software can be penetrated using malicious code that can cripple your business.

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