SEO – the end of free and easy traffic?

Aug 29

Below is a letter I wrote to a couple of clients who have just launched, or were just about to launch new websites in the summer of 2012. I had been planning to help them get traffic to their sites through a variety of “traditional” SEO techniques. Techniques that, although constantly changing, have worked well over the years.

Coming home to roostAlthough you might not have realised, I’ve been working on your site since we last met up, to see how we can get customers flooding in.

You probably won’t follow any of the changes going on in the world of search, but if you use Google you may have noticed some differences recently. Over the last 18 months, and specifically over the last 3 months or so, Google have made it very difficult / impossible, to take shortcuts to promote your site. It used to be (and the way I used to do it), that you could simply do a few things over a period of weeks and you would rank nicely in the search engines.

Not any more.

And they are in fact penalising you for trying, so you sink even further.

For the average user of Google, this is great news. For sites like yours, it’s not.

What it means is that “free” traffic, the type it used to be easyish to get, has become a whole lot harder to get.

You now have to treat it like a more traditional marketing plan and invest (expert) time and money into it. And I don’t mean into search engine optimisation (SEO), I mean into creating quality content and a great user experience – more akin to a traditional business than what we could get away with online previously.

Free traffic has gone and is very unlikely to come back.

What is needed now is the ability to generate an audience either by creating fantastic content that people want to consume, share, like,+plus, tweet etc, or for ecommerce sites where content isn’t always applicable, paying for advertising to buy qualified visitors.

The cynics here might suggest that Google are doing this to encourage more people to purchase advertising, which may be true, but they are also tidying up their search garden too – as I say, for the average user this a great thing.

So, what to do for a small ecommerce site?

In the short term the only answer (assuming you want to continue in this area) is to pay for advertising. Now, if you are selling a decent product (which you are right?), this simply becomes a cost of sale, which every other business model has – it just has to be factored in.

Obviously, advertising does not automatically bring sales, but it will bring qualified traffic. It can be measured, tested, and the website adjusted and the budget limited. Hopefully with a great product you will be able to minimise the cost per sale to make a decent profit, but unlike the previous “free” traffic, there will now be a cost to the sale.

Over time, your products will hopefully become the “content” that visitors and customers want to promote on your behalf (through tweets, likes and shares etc), so the reliance on advertising should diminish.

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news. I have been holding off for a few weeks now to see how this will settle, but the signs and Google’s updates are relentlessly going in the same direction, with no sign of them ever coming back to the old ways.

 

 

 

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Overhauling a UI Without Upsetting Current Users

Jul 07

Great article for anyone looking to improve their design and ux of their website. And a key paragraph below – users often only think they know what they want, so don't blindly just give them want they want, base decisions on evidence and testing from a range of users and prioritise changes based on a variety of factors including impact, cost/benefit.
The key take away for me is that the we should always be looking to improve the solution. Improve, not just change.

Redesign Based on Evidence

In order to make functional (not just aesthetic) improvements, product managers and design teams need to perform research with real-world users. Most people already agree with this in principle, but vary wildly in how well they execute on it.

One of the most common mistakes companies make is to implement UI changes based on what users saythey want. Unfortunately, experience shows that what people say they will or won’t like doesn’t always match reality. Moreover, a user’s suggestion on how to solve a UI problem may be unworkable, unreasonable, or both.

While it’s important to solicit and listen to user feedback, users aren’t designers or usability experts so their complaints and suggestions should not be taken at face value. Don’t confuse a design suggestion with a design solution. To identify the real UI problems and solutions, careful UX research must take into account facts, not just opinions.

Overhauling a UI Without Upsetting Current Users
http://uxmag.com/articles/overhauling-a-ui-without-upsetting-current-users

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Why digital Free samples are a good thing

May 12

People unfamiliar with the digital world often baulk at the idea of giving bits and bytes away for free. They see it in the same way as giving real world stuff away. Big difference though. Most digital assets have no cost when given away.
What they do give you is trust, exposure and a try before you buy experience for the many customers who may not have a clue who you are before hand and certainly wouldn't spend money on your product. Giving them a free taster though allows you to build up that trust. If they like it they may buy. If they don't, then you have lost nothing.

Another great article by Seth Godin about 
Free samples
http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2012/05/free-samples.html

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Do you have a people strategy?

May 04

Another great article from Seth Godin. I often have a similar discussion with clients. We need to be on Facebook, We need a twitter strategy, We should be on tumblr etc and replace those names with whatever trend is out this week.

What they should be saying is we need a digital strategy to help us interactive with our customers and prospects.

The digital strategy will then help determine where our customers and prospects (people) are in the digital landscape so you can work out how best to interact with them.
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Low price often means no creativity

May 04

It might be that low prices are the final refuge of the mar­keter who has run out of ideas and is left with noth­ing but a com­mod­i­ty.

How many times have you seen your competitor drop the price or give stuff away for free when you know there is no need to? They simply haven't got the creativity to maintain its value.

Think about it. If the service or solution you are selling was easy to do and everyone was doing it, then yes, maybe it is a simple commodity and you have to slash prices ( probably after slashing costs and perhaps quality too but thats a different story). But if the solution / product is high quality or no one else is doing it, then it will have value. Stop and think about how to maintain that value, before you destroy it.

Low prices
http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2012/04/low-prices.html

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#greenpeace says my iPhone is powered by a lump of coal

Apr 18

And dirty cola at that. I don't think it is. I'm sure I would've noticed. We used to have a coal fire at home and you have to empty the ash and I've not had to do that with my phone yet.

On a serious note, it is interesting to see some companies like Google, spending an awful lot more time and money pushing cleaner energy and other of the larger companies not seeing this as much as a priority. Is it purely financial? Or just that the leaders are not thinking that way?

Would you be more likely to buy an Apple device if they were greener and had an environmentally friendly sticker on the box?
Apple defends green credentials of cloud computing services
http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/apr/17/apple-cloud-computing-coal-greenpeace?CMP=twt_fd

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Netflix allows unlimited holidays

Apr 13

What a fantastic idea. More companies should do this and see how their productivity rises.
Netflix's Unlimited Employee Vacation Policy; Why It Works
http://mashable.com/2012/04/13/netflix-unlimited-vacation/

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