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.

The Premature Death of SEO

The Premature Death of SEO

This is from a post I wrote a few years back. It is as relevant today as it was back in 2016. Some of the references may be dated, but the general theme and concepts hold true. Enjoy a blast from my past!

Is SEO is dead and on the decline? SEO is an ever-changing field.  If you go on to some of the forums or internet marketing networking events, you hear everywhere that SEO does not work, it’s all about quality content, it is impossible for the little guy or small business to rank for competitive keywords anymore.

Google this, Google that… the end is near…

Well, I tend to agree and disagree.  Yes, old-style SEO does not work anymore.  For example, creating thousands and thousands of crappy spammy links using forum profile links, or using crappy articles with 20 keyword links back to your site per article and posting them on an x rated forum.  And, thankfully, they do not work anymore!

This article is not about getting down to the techhical of the what’s and why’s, but rather a 1000 foot view of why things changed, what works now, and where things seem to be heading.  Now I certainly do not have a crystal ball that tells me exactly what will happen over the years regarding SEO, but I can see the trends like anyone else who is paying attention.  The trends are clear that Google does not like spam and stupidity and aggressively punishes both.

I often hear very strong opinions about Google, Matt Cuts and the like.  Most marketers I know endure vs. embrace Google.  I understand the sentiment.  Personally, I do not love, nor do I hate Google.  Google is not good and it is not evil.  Although it is a love-hate relationship at times.

It is a business.  It owns its search engine algorithm, and it has the right to set the rules as it sees fit (unless an overreaching government agency tells it otherwise, but that is for another time)!  It has won the search engine wars.  Bing and Yahoo are still there and still drive traffic, but a pittance compared to Google.

Google’s overall goal is to have a utopian web directory that has webmasters creating awesome relevant content that users like, share with friends on social sites, by email, and on YouTube.  Google hates spammers (don’t we all)  and what it calls black hat SEO.  It wants users to have a great experience and to trust it’s search engine results.  If you trust Google, you will come back and use it again, you will see its adds, you will click on them once in a while.  Google makes money.  All is well with the web inverse.

Companies Goals Differ from Google’s

As great as all that sounds, companies, and individual entrepreneurs have a different view of what Google can do and should do for them.  After all, posting, designing sites, creating engaging videos and content takes time, money or knowledge, and a reason for doing so.  The reason for any company website is to make a profit.  It seems like the idea of someone profiting from their website is heretical to Google.  Is it?

No, not really.  Google is a business.  Google is a profitable business.  How does Google make money?  Right now mainly through selling advertising.  That advertising ends up on YouTube, Google search pages, and… wait for it… individual websites through its Ad Sense program (revenue sharing).  What websites make the most money from Google?  The ones on page 1 for a high-value search (keyword).

There is an inherent disconnect between Google’s goal to make money through advertising, having only quality sites with pure of heart intention, and website owners goal of making money through advertising, affiliate programs, and in the case of a real company, through driving traffic to their products and inner pages.  A website that is seen by many is infinitely more valuable, or potentially more valuable in the right hands than a website that ends up on page 27 of a search.

SEO is Not Dead

So,  SEO is not dead. In fact, Matt himself tells us that SEO is not a bad word around Google.  They just do not like what they call bad SEO.  So, the white hat SEO practices as defined by Google, in the right ratio’s, pointing to the right sights, with amazing content will do just fine over the long run so says, Matt.  But…. and there is always a big but in the way of many things….

The but is what if you are brand spanking new to having a website.  You have a great company service and are counting on the web to bring you, new customers.  You need to do SEO – Search Engine Optimization.  Simply put, getting your site to the first page of Google so people can see it when they are searching for what your company does.  We could spend days writing about the how’s to do this…

Now, you as a business owner have a choice.  Do you do things according to Google’s approved methods?  Do you make sure to follow every recommendation to the letter and hope that the Google gods will shine down upon you and your website and drive more customers to your company than your sales force can handle?  Well, that is certainly possible, but also highly unlikely.

Or… do you hire someone or some company or marketing agency to help you design your site and stack the odds in your favor, help you get noticed by Google, and help you climb the rankings with the techniques that are working today?  It is true that Google is always trying to make things hard to rank a site quickly.  They do not care about you or your site.  They are not out to get you personally either.

Is SEO Dead?

You Want To Rank For What?

What does my website rank for

We often have clients and friends ask us how to get their website to rank on the first page of Google.  When I hear this question, I take a deep breath, smile, and ask a simple question…  Well, what to you want your website to rank for?  Sometimes I get a dumbfounded blank stare, other times I get a laundry list of things that are barely if at all related to the content of the actual site.

If a person knows what they want to rank for and are certain, the next question I ask is… why do you want to rank for that?

Ranking a website is often called SEO or Search Engine Optimization.  It is part science and part art and always changing.  Many terms come to mind like white hat, black hat, Matt Cutts, Article Writing etc.  The bottom link is to rank a website, the very first think a business owner or manager need to decide is what is the desired outcome of ranking my site?

In most cases, there are several desired outcomes, which require different tactics and different pages on the site.  For example, once goal may be to get new customers.  Another may be to make the CEO feel good that his website ranks #1 for his industry in his home town or even across the country or world. Another goal may be to grow a marketing email list….

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