quick but useful checklist for web developers of SEO items to keep in mind when building out a website for a client.
Every website owner eyes the same exact thing: the number one spot in search engine results. There are right ways to achieve this goal, and there are wrong ways. If Google’s algorithms catch you practicing the wrong SEO tactics, it could get you in big trouble.
What Is Black Hat SEO?
When most people hear the term black hat SEO, they know that the name has a negative connotation. Black hat SEO involves the use of unethical SEO practices that fail to honor search engines’ guidelines.
In the past, SEO professionals leveraged black hat SEO to manipulate the algorithms in their favor. Search engines have since cracked down on what they consider to be bad SEO. It also caused Google to release two algorithm updates that punish those who practice it: Panda and Penguin.
Why It’s Risky
Search engines discourage the practice of black hat SEO, simply because it can get your site penalized. It can even get you excluded from search rankings. Imagine having to lose out on all that free traffic!
Strategies to Steer Clear From
If you choose to go down the rabbit hole of black hat SEO, it will only lead you to a dead-end road. Don’t make this mistake. You’ll have a better chance of success if you apply the right SEO strategies the first time. Some website owners don’t even realize that they’re practicing bad SEO. While they may not mean any harm, there’s no guarantee that the search engines show mercy for not knowing the rules.
Google’s algorithms get smarter as the days go by. They make algorithm updates between 500-600 times per year to keep up with new black hat SEO tactics.
Think of it this way: before you try a new SEO strategy, make sure that it provides value to your visitors. Try not to spam them with content that doesn’t help them find what they’re looking for. Cater to the searcher’s interests, not the search engines. This helps you determine if your strategies align with search engines’ best practices.
Common SEO tactics include:
Focusing on quantity – No matter how many blog posts you publish per month, you’re wasting your time if the level of quality isn’t there. Google’s algorithms now prioritize quality over quantity when determining a site’s domain authority. If you want to see results through your SEO efforts, keep this in the back of your mind.
- Automatically generated content – A method of content creation that involves the use of an automated content generator.
- Keyword stuffing – Repeatedly using the same keywords on your website to increase your ranking authority for those keywords.
- Exact match domain names – The use of a domain that matches a keyword you want to rank for.
- Automatically generated content – A method of content creation that involves the use of an automated content generator.
- Copied content – The act of pulling content from another website and using it as if it were your own.
- Link directories – When a website owner adds a directory on their site to direct more traffic to certain pages, they’re using a link directory.
- Automated links – If it’s one thing that Google doesn’t take lightly, it’s spam. Repercussions can be detrimental when they catch a website with spammy links. Automated link building platforms only triple the number of spammy links built. Whatever you do, don’t go this route.
- Doorway pages – A series of website pages that each has different keywords they’re ranking for, but they all link back to one single page.
- Sneaky redirects – A link that redirects you to a completely different page than the page you expected to land on.
- Paid links – A shady link building tactic used to manipulate a site’s search engine rankings. Instead of earning links the organic way, some instead try to buy their way to the number one spot.
Don’t Self-Sabotage Yourself
You don’t want to get into hot water with the search engines. There are millions of online users who depend on them to find places and things. As I mentioned before, I would hate for you to miss out on all that traffic. Although black hat SEO has its small wins, the long-term consequences aren’t worth it. Opt for white hat SEO techniques instead.
Have you been doing SEO wrong this whole time? Consult with me for SEO strategies that won’t penalize you.
As someone who’s worked with many developers over the years it’s very common for me to see how SEO to easily forgotten. Developers are great at developing sites to your requirements. Their job is to follow your direction. If you list out a ton of new functionality, remove key navigational pieces, requests pages with tons of images and little content – that’s what you will get. In many cases whatever the customer wants is what they will get, most of the time. The impact on SEO will fall on you the client as you requested these few features and pages that aren’t SEO friendly.
You can’t really blame developers – I mean you could; but it’s up to you to do your research and to ask the right questions so that you can work with a developer who will help maintain your hard SEO work.
Why am I writing this article?
Unfortunately, sites can be redesigned without much thought on how the new changes will impact the web sites rankings. Many assume that changing a site has little impact on search results and that couldn’t be farther from the truth.
A good majority of inquires that come to me are from clients had recently gone through a redesign and are confused by the loss in traffic. While a small loss and fluctuations are expected – a 40%+ drop is not.
It’s also discouraging for someone who has spent a substantial amount of money on a redesign to now have to pay an expert to solve issues that could have been prevented. Plus, the client may also need to pay to have the same developer implement these changes. My hope is that I can educate buyers on what they need to ask before they start spending money.
Ask the right questions!
Before you start to work with a development company, individual or agency that you know as much as you can about their SEO knowledge and ability. I’ve laid out the top 5 issues I’ve seen over the years that have “killed” a site SEO.
Does the agency have a dedicate SEO Expert?
If your development company doesn’t have a dedicated SEO expert on staff, hire your own. When hiring a company look past industry words such as “SEO friendly” and “SEO best practices”. These terms are vague and is no guarantee that SEO expertise will be involved in your project. The following points will outline why this is important.
Do you understand how Google crawls websites?
The short answer is through links of the site. The ideal number of clicks is 3. It should take no more than 3 clicks to navigate through your entire site. If your home page is a box search box, guess what? Google’s won’t be crawling your site. If you have pages with only one way to get to them, Google won’t rank those pages.
Do you keep track of changes made on the site?
This next one is more for ongoing site changes, unless your redesign is going on in stages (I hope for your sake it’s not) on a live site. This is also a good tip whenever you’re having work done on your site.
This question is very important. If a change is made to your site constantly and rankings drop, what do you do? Freak out? Call your web developer and ask them what’s going on? Pay a third party to investigate? Well, if your agency is tracking changes they can easily go back to a few days before traffic dropped and easily identify what changes were made to the site.
This saves you, the client a lot of stress. The best-case scenario is that the changes can be reversed and traffic be restored. Even, if that doesn’t help and SEO expert can still use this data to help solve the problem.
Are you familiar with canonicalization and how to prevent issues?
Canonicalization is a very serious and real issue I see way too often. It’s typical to see after a site’s been upgraded to a secure url structure. However, it’s not uncommon to see after a redesign or new site build. All of these versions of your site to search engines are different:
You get the point. All of these should resolve to one final url. If you can type any of these variations and they don’t resolve to the final url (that you or your development choose as the final url) or the redirects are not set up properly, you have issues that should be addressed ASAP.
How do you handle 404 pages?
Broken pages (404 status) are okay to have. You don’t want them in large numbers, but having them won’t hurt you. Ask your developer how they typically handle broken pages. If your developer automatically redirects broken pages to the home page. These will trigger softy 404 issues which over time can impact your SEO. This produces and result Google and other search engines frown upon. If you sold woman’s clothing and you discontinued a particular shoe, the expected result is that the page is not found. You could redirect users to a similar shoe made by the same designer or a similar type.
You don’t want to send users to the home page as the user is expecting to see shoes and Google knows this because Google has crawled the page before and knows what it is about.
You can set up reports in Google analytics to report on pages marked “not found” and you can then manually review them to find the most relevant replacement if one exists. It’s also a good idea to create this report monthly to catch any potential issues such as pages accidentally being deleted or pages that were mistyped sending traffic to pages that don’t exist.
What if I’m already in the middle of my project?
If you’re already working with a developer and don’t like the answers you’re getting to these questions then it’s time to hire an expert like me!
Online Reputation Management for Local Businesses
I’m willing to bet that word-of-mouth is how you get most of your business. With unlimited access to the internet, your customers can publicly share their experiences with your business in an instant. It’s no secret, however, that not all publicity is good publicity.
A one-star rating on Google or Yelp could tarnish your business’ name for years and years to come. That’s why you need an online reputation management for your local business, as it will lay the framework on what it will take to protect your brand’s image.
What It Takes to Protect Your Online Reputation
Reputation management isn’t something you can avoid, especially as a local business owner. Your business can have the number one spot on Google for an SEO keyword, but that serves you no value if you have a poor online presence.
One bad review (or even two) won’t hurt your business, but that’s only if you have a plan for handling the flak. With a well-thought-out online reputation management strategy, you can detract attention from negative reviews and prepare effective response tactics to refute them. Doing so can also reduce monetary consequences.
Online Reputation Management Tips for Local Businesses
Have a website. Let’s create a worst case scenario. Say you have an angry customer who one day decides to publicize a social media smear campaign about your business. They even had a website published to attack you even further.
Without a website of your own, or some trace of an online footprint, that customer’s website might be the first search engine result that users see when they look for your business online. What’s worst? You can’t get the website taken down unless the creator agrees to it. Needless to say, you don’t want this happening to you.
Establish an active online presence.
There are also industry-specific directories that you should set up for your business if it fits the niche. For instance, many companies in the home service niche have active presences on Houzz, Porch, and Angie’s List. Lawyers and law firms will oftentimes list themselves on Avvo, HG.org, Lawyer Central, and FindLaw.
Before you set up any profiles for your business, perform a brief online investigation to see if any profiles were already created. If you find any profiles during your search, check to see if they are claimed or unclaimed.
You can easily gain ownership of an unclaimed profile by registering with the designated online platform. Keep in mind
that sites like Yelp and YellowPages require an extra step to claim their profiles: a phone verification.
If you find profile for your business that are already claimed, check with your employees, and your digital marketing company if you have one, to see if they created profiles for the business in the past.
If they are also unsure of who set the profiles up for you, there are other ways that you can gain access to them. Many directories and social media profiles have support lines that you can contact in the event that you need to recover a login this way.
Protect your brand’s good name.
If you have a business that’s been around for a while, and it also has quite a bit of online traction, your increased visibility will only magnify negative reviews. Bad reviews that are associated with a branded search term are more impactful than bad reviews with a generic one, as the focus is mainly on your business rather than you and your competitors.
Keep tabs on company staff.
There are some business founders and executives who have their own online presences. Commonly referred to as practitioner listings, these individual profiles should also be taken into account when developing your local business’ online reputation management strategy.
Do the work, or hire someone to do it for you. Think of online reputation management as an investment. The more time you put into it now, the less damage control you’ll have to do later. Doing the opposite might result in costly repercussions, from profit loss to more time required to clean up your online presence.
Neglectful mismanagement of your online presence could jeopardize your business in more ways than you can imagine. You can cause more harm than anyone else to your online reputation, especially without the proper knowledge and resources. If you need professional assistance building a solid online reputation management strategy for your local business, schedule a consultation.
I recently received an email newsletter from a design agency that was touting their recent clients. One of them being a law firm. This of course peaked my interest since I have had a ton of experience working with lawyers and law firms.
I clicked over to the design agencies website and read the case study. The site looked great, so I clicked over to view the live site. That’s where my excitement ended. (more…)
SEO Franchise Case Study – Improving Organic Rankings
Local SEO is a more involved when it comes to franchise search optimization. It has it’s own challenges that other single locations based businesses face. I should know, I’ve worked with some of the largest franchise brands in the business.
When I was the head of SEO at yodle’s YBN department, I worked with brands such as Maaco, Miracle-Era, Hand & Stone and many others. This is a case study about some of the common issues I saw while there and other companies since then. Hopefully, you’re not making the same mistakes.
One major benefit of being a large national chain is that many of these websites carry a fair amount of authority. The longer a franchise has been around the more trust they have, typically. However, the longer they’ve been around the more likely they are in using old and outdated SEO methods.
One Site Per Location
One of the most common strategies I’ve seen with franchise locations is the method of building individual sites for each location. This becomes problematic because many of these sites are littered with duplicated content. The location sites are built with the same template and they use the same content with just the location(city+state) swapped out. Why is this a problem?
Google will typically only rank one site for the content that is duplicated. If many sites have the exact same or nearly identical content – Google can penalize some or all of these sites as it violates their terms of service.
Another Reason This Method Fails
If you want to rank organically and not just in the map listings, you’ll need incoming links. Imagine working on link building on a hundred websites. In my experience, it’s rare that anyone links to these local sites. In most cases when a franchise is mentioned even if it’s from a local source the link will point to the corporate main site.
Now, I’ve seen some attempts at workarounds such as a directory on the corporate site that links to these individual sites in order to pass some “link equity” to the smaller sites, but it rarely helps boost rankings.
Why Was This Method The Method Of Choice?
There are several reasons, the first being that some companies felt that since each franchisee was its own business it should have its own site. Other franchisees didn’t offer websites to their business owners and so they had to go out and create their own.
Another reason is that franchisee’s wanted to be able to customize their site and offers. The best way to do that was to allow owners to manage their own site.
What Needed To Happen?
Google didn’t like these micro sites and hit them with a penalty as they were made up of mostly duplicated content. Even after writing unique content, rankings improved very little. In very competitive markets these micro-sites also lacked authority, age and links.
The best option was to consolidate sites into a single page on the corporation’s main website. This was a bit more difficult than you would think. You have to build these locations into the site. You would need to build state pages which then would link to city pages and then list out the locations in each city.
I’ve seen brands that just added the pages on the backend and have people search to find these locations. However, Google doesn’t use a search function. Also, for the user’s sake, if the search function is broken – how does one find a location? Create a way for people to navigate locations that make sense if search is broken and the search engines will be able to crawl it as well.
Another not so great idea was that a franchise wanted to just upload new locations through a xml sitemap directly through Google’s search console. Not all of the locations were a part of the site navigation. Those that were – ranked far better than those that just had a link in a sitemap. Why? Well, if Google is the only source that can navigate to these pages because you “fed” them the pages then there is no way for a user to find them. Showing Google pages users can’t find won’t help your SEO.
The Ultimate Fix?
Adding locations to the main website and tying them together with a sitemap, using breadcrumbs (marked-up with schema) and placing a link in the main navigation to the “location’s” sitemap improved rankings in those locations drastically.
There were many other scenarios I came across. If you have a problem with your locations ranking or need help with franchise SEO contact me. I’d be happy to speak with you.