The top online faux pas

May 01, 2009 9:30 PM  By

Make no mistake, Web marketing is, well, a tangled web. Designing a site that serves business needs and customer needs, and converts and drives, revenue is challenging enough. But mastering the online channels that drive customers to a site is a monumental undertaking.

The different disciplines of e-commerce are related and intertwined, and they should work together to send consistent messages. But each contains unique elements that make managing them all according to best practices even more challenging.

These are just a few of our favorite faux pas that Web marketers make.

SEO SLIP-UPS

Search engine optimization requires thinking about the structural and content signals that a site sends in a way very different from what marketers and designers are used to thinking. If a site can’t speak to search engines in a way that the engines understand and value, they won’t refer human searchers to the site.

  1. Designing uncrawlable navigation

    PAID SEARCH SPOILERS

    Search engine spiders don’t navigate like humans. They don’t use JavaScript, cookies, forms, filtering drop downs or CSS. They can’t “see” content in images, video and Flash.

    Today’s crawlers exist in a world of plain text and HTML. Try turning off your JavaScript, cookies, images and CSS. If you can’t understand what’s on the page or how to navigate around the site, neither can search engines. No crawl = no indexation = no rankings = no natural search-referred traffic = no natural search-referred sales.

  2. Thinking Google can’t see what you’re hiding

    SOCIAL MEDIA MISTAKES

    Search engines have access to a wealth of information, from every piece of crawlable content on every Website to the registration and hosting information for every site on the planet. If a company owns 300 domains and they all link to one another, search engines can see that.

    Know that if a site uses CSS to hide “keyword-rich SEO content” from humans 999 pixels off the visible page, or to render the visibility as “hidden” on the page, search engines are beginning to identify and use this information as well. Sites that think they’re hiding secret tactics will eventually be unpleasantly surprised.

  3. Offering undifferentiated content

    BLOGGING BLUNDERS

    Every unique page of content has a chance to rank for a unique keyword or phrase, if that unique page sends keyword signals for that unique keyword or phrase. Without significant differentiation from page to page, you’re likely to get caught up in Google’s duplicate content filter.

    Title tags are the most frequent offenders. Many sites have the same title tag on every page of the site, or on every page in a category. The title tag sends the strongest on-page keyword signal to the search engines; if the page has a unique reason to exist, then the title tag needs to send that unique keyword signal.

    If the page doesn’t have a unique reason to exist, its probably duplicate content — the same content at a different URL. Sites have a better chance of ranking well when they send one unique keyword signal for every one unique page of content, residing at one unique URL.

  4. Failing to speak the searchers’ language

    Each site has a style and a brand that it wants to represent, a way of talking about the products or content it offers. When this language is different from a searcher’s language, engines can’t match up the searcher with that site’s product.

    For example, a designer clothing site may offer a product called a “maxi cardi.” Jane Searcher wants a “long gray cashmere cardigan sweater.” Unless the clothing site adds descriptive language to its nomenclature, Jane Searcher is not likely to find or purchase the “maxi cardi,” even though it is exactly what would fulfill her search for a long, gray cashmere cardigan sweater.

  5. Wasting link popularity from discontinued products

    Every merchant has products that cycle on and off the site. More popular products have likely naturally gained some links from bloggers and media sites over their lifespans.

    Most merchants replace discontinued product content with a message stating that the product is no longer offered, but the URL returns a 404 File Not Found server status. Or it continues to return a 200 OK server status. That link popularity could be harnessed and channeled back to a major category or the home page simply through a permanent redirect from the discontinued URLs. The discontinued URLs would be cleared from the engines’ indexes, with the PageRank being passed to current products.

Marketers love paid search because it’s easy to budget for and the return on investment is easy to track. But you can’t simply “set it and forget it.” Just as you need to continually optimize for natural search, you must continually optimize your PPC campaigns — the keywords, the ads, the landing pages, and more.

  1. Targeting overly broad keywords

    Broad match provides an easy way to get started with PPC advertising, but will generally result in high impressions, low conversions and significant expense. Focusing on the right “long tail” keywords will lower the spend while increasing conversion.

    You can find long tail keywords — assuming you are doing conversion tracking — in many places, including search engine referrals and internal search logs.

    For instance, use a search analytics package such as Enquisite to identify terms that are high performing on one engine (e.g.,Yahoo), but are nonexistent on the other (e.g. Google). Then buy those keywords on the nonperforming engine.

    Also, be sure to define as comprehensive a list of “negative keywords” as possible. These are terms that don’t convert — perhaps “free” or “stock.” Google allows you to define up to 10,000 of them in an ad group. You won’t be able to make use of all 10,000 unless you use automation, such as a system from Epiar.

  2. Killing off your nonbrand keywords

    Marketers may be tempted to stop buying generic unbranded keywords because the branded keywords seem to perform so much better — in terms of bringing in highly converting traffic. This is a mistake, however.

    Bear in mind that customers may have clicked through on the first visit on a competitive, nonbrand search, then left to research other options, and finally returned on a navigational search to complete their purchases. If full credit is given to the final, brand keyword, you won’t understand — or appreciate — which nonbrand keywords do the business for you.

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  1. Not geotargeting and dayparting

    If the business has specific geographic limitations due to shipping or legal restrictions, running untargeted PPC ads globally wastes budget. “Dayparting” can also be used to optimize campaigns. Are there hours in the day where the ads convert better than at other times? If so, bid during those hours and leave your competitors to buy the low-quality traffic during the off-hours.

  2. Disregarding your Google Quality Score

    Google’s Quality Score affects your minimum cost per click, your position in the paid results, and even whether an ad will appear at all. If your landing pages are not highly relevant to the ad copy, you will get dinged for it — this costs you money.

    Ensure keywords (or synonyms) in the ad copy are present in places like the title tag, the H1 headline and the body copy to convey high relevance to the Quality Score algorithm.

  3. Being in denial about click fraud

    Click fraud happens. Accept it and continually scan for those inevitable fraudulent clicks. Humans are certainly capable of pouring over the server logs for anomalies if the PPC program is small, but automated systems like PPC Assurance are a lot more scalable.

    Look for abnormal repeat clicks from specific IP addresses, spikes in frequency within short timeframes, and high search frequency from obscure locations and for expensive keywords.

SOCIAL MEDIA MISTAKES

Social media is of the people, by the people and for the people. If being authentic and transparent, or accepting that the community controls the conversation and not you, is an issue, the world of social media is probably not the place for you. Businesses are viewed with skepticism and suspicion by social media devotees — and for good reason. So be ready to prove yourself.

  1. Fishing without a hook

    Successful social media campaigns have a hook, something that makes the campaign irresistible for individuals to share within their social networks. That viral reaction tends to revolve around sensationalism.

    The hook must be specific to the attitudes, needs and demographics of the users within that social network, while also meshing with the brand behind the campaign. Missing the mark will elicit either indifference or scorn from the targeted community.

  2. Being an unknown

    In many social venues, your reputation and contribution history play a big role in the success of a submission. In some, such as Digg, submitters wishing their items to reach the front page are at a severe disadvantage without sufficient reputation and friendships.

    In others, like Wikipedia, a submitter with an unknown reputation is far more likely to have his or her content distrusted and removed without justification. The key is either to start building a presence in the community long before you plan to use it, or to work with someone who already has that reputation established.

  3. Placing content in the wrong home

    If the site a campaign or submission links to appears too commercial, the campaign will likely be treated as just another attempt to sell something. The campaign needs to be exciting, useful or sensational to overcome this hurdle.

    The hook has to be strong. But that’s not enough. The home this content lives in must resonate with the social community you are targeting.

    For instance, Digg users are turned off by any page that seems even remotely commercial. So consider hosting the viral content on a blog or noncommercial microsite.

    Sure, this lowers the likelihood of purchase. But frankly, visitors from social media have a low propensity to buy. What you’re aiming for is the links with which they will adorn you — which will prop up your search rankings, which will bring in those qualified visitors.

BLOGGING BLUNDERS

Done well, blogging is an opportunity to develop a real rapport with the online community, increasing loyalty and strengthening commitment to a brand. On the other hand, done poorly, blogging can have little to no positive impact, or even generate a negative public response.

  1. Talking at the community, not with them

    The biggest blunder a company blog can make is blathering on and on about itself, linking only to its own products, and thinking only about company gain. Blogs and bloggers are all about conversations and community.

    Give the blog a personality and voice that customers will respond to and that mirrors the brand. Reach out to engage customers — ask their opinions, ask for their comments, and ask what they want to hear about. And then respond.

  2. Focusing only on the blog

    Many company bloggers are reluctant to reach out and make friends in the community. Half of the time allocated to blogging should be spent on writing for the blog, and the other half on reading and commenting on other related blogs.

    Make blog friends. Comment just to share opinions and pats on the back, rather than touting the content on your own blog. Engaging selflessly in the blog community results in inclusion, positive interactions and links back to the company’s site and blog.

  3. Forgetting to optimize the blog

    Blogging platforms tend to be more SEO friendly than e-commerce platforms, but applying SEO principles to blogs can increase their visibility and rankings.

    For example, the WordPress plugin called SEO Title Tag (http://www.netconcepts.com/seo-title-tag-plugin/) allows bloggers to optimize the title tags instead of using the suboptimal platform default. Another easy tactic is using keyword-rich anchor text when creating links to the company’s products or other posts on the blog, rather than using “click here” or “read more.”

Jill Kocher is manager of natural search consulting at Netconcepts. Stephan Spencer is founder/president of Netconcepts, inventor of GravityStream, and co-author of the new book The Art of SEO.