A General in the trenches, cut off from his sources of intelligence and reconnaissance, is in the same predicament as the grunt soldier, a grueling and grinding psychological torment with no assurance of victory and a likelihood of defeat. A General with full scope of the battlefield, a spy plane gathering intel on enemy position in relation to his own troops and a strategy to identify weaknesses and strengths, once again in relation to his own troops, is a General about to win the war.
Last year, with several updates, including the now infamous Penguin, many sites that previously enjoyed top organic rankings on Google suddenly found themselves so far behind enemy lines that they were inconsequential. I’m pretty sure there are business owners out there who still cannot watch Happy Feet without a sense of foreboding.
It used to be so simple, black text on a black background repeating your desired keywords, buy a whole heap of links to dangerous sites, write posts on questionable sites, comment spam, paid text links… Come to think of it, that doesn’t sound simple at all, it actually sounds like a lot of time wasted. Time that could have been spent on building a usable strategy and refining your online marketing approach.
Now, I’m not going to proselytize to you and attempt to convert you to the ‘Google way’, we all know the stats, we all know that Google is the world’s premier search engine, we all know they want to remain there and they are constantly finding ways to make it a better experience for the user to do just that. We can all agree that in order to stay as the top search engine in the world they need to make sure that the sites it presents as results for the user’s search terms are top quality sites and highly relevant to the user’s needs. So when Google’s algorithms change in order to make sure that the user experience is paramount, we have to understand that it isn’t Google punishing websites for shoddy practices, but rewarding websites for abiding by policy and providing Google users with the best opportunity to have their query resolved.
“But Sam,” I hear you ask, telepathically, “how does this reflect in the battlefield analogy?”
I’m glad you asked . . . Sun Tzu’s The Art Of War is a book renowned in the business world, read and held in high regard among many of the CEOs of the Fortune 500. I’m sure you’ve heard of it, being the savvy business owner that I know you are, considering you have made it this far reading my article.
In the past, many owners of businesses, the Generals, were lobbing grenades from the trenches hoping they would hit the target. In some cases the grenade worked, in most cases it didn’t. In the case of SEO and AdWords, grenade lobbing meant spending thousands of dollars in the hope that the keywords would convert. It turns out that they weren’t a very efficient weapon.
We are exceptionally lucky in this day and age, in that we have tools at our disposal that our predecessors didn’t have, or didn’t have the know how to implement. Take Google Analytics, for example. No, seriously, take it, put it on your website – NOW! You need it. Analytics is like a Spy Plane while also being a study in humanity – a kind of Internet anthropology, that will give you greater insights into the strengths and weaknesses of your main weapon; your website.
AdWords are your ground troops. Think about your keywords as your reconnaissance team, gathering intel on the ground, figuring out where your targets are, what they’re reacting to and when to attack. Utilising technological superiority such as Conversion Tracking and Analytics, you can see what is converting, when it is converting, if it is converting, and even if it is anywhere near converting. In the beginning, you will lose troops, some that you assumed were keywords destined to convert but didn’t, and some who rose to the occasion when you were sure they were only vaguely and peripherally connected to your product. You will find over the course of several months, that a small portion of the keywords you send to fight are the ones that come out with the win. So you focus on these and bid more aggressively, work out the times of day they are most effective, and if there are days where they seem to convert the best – send them to battle at peak strength. There are options to target people who once visited your site, as well as targeting people who are on sites that are relevant to your product.
Here is where it gets interesting – do you continue to show for keywords that aren’t performing? Continue to spend money on clicks that just don’t seem to be pushing anyone to contact you, let alone buy. Some of these you may be vehemently sure are so relevant to your business that it seems like you’d be losing business not to show for them but that isn’t the case. They could be expensive and are take up a lot of your budget. These keywords are your Army Reserves; they’re prepared for the battle, but have taken a back seat to the keywords which are converting at the moment. Keep them up your sleeve, because the online offensive has just begun.
Now we have converting keywords, ones that we know result in the sale of your product and/or service, we need to bolster their efficacy. The front page of Google is a constant skirmish with the intention of firmly planting your flag while your enemies, sorry, competitors, are trying to do the same. In order to relegate yet another competitor to the second, third and those other pages that you’ve heard about but never ventured to, we need to occupy as much territory as possible. Google Plus (including Places, Maps, etc) allows us to occupy space, as does AdWords. But without unlimited attention and budget, these may only occupy territory for certain periods of time they are absolutely imperative in the offensive – the superior Citadel is organically ranked keywords.
Think of organically ranking keywords as a fortress on the front page. Would you build a fortress on sand using balsawood, wherever you thought a battle might happen? No, you would create a foundation made of the hardest and heaviest steel reinforced concrete; thick walls designed to withstand the harshest of attacks and ensure that the location is strategically valuable. Yes, a fortress made of balsawood and sitting on sand would be a quick build, you might even have some success in defending your position for a while, but eventually it will collapse and in terms of Google, collapsing means an adventure into the ether of ‘the pages beyond’. In other cases the fortress would be built on solid ground, with enviable protection, on keywords that have never converted, and probably never will. There’s no use in building a fortress in the Northern Territory when the war is in New South Wales. To clarify this analogy, you need time and patience with SEO, a complete understanding of your converting keywords and knowledge of Google Policy so as not to fall on your own sword.
There are many websites out there that implement SEO strategies based off the promise of quick turn-around with as many keywords as desired – this is the lobbing of a grenade. As witnessed last year in the Great Penguin Assault, it was quickly learned that defying Google policy through exploiting undetected loopholes is not as cunning a plan as many thought. While I am assured that I am a genius, I am also assured by my genius that there are genii out there with considerably higher IQs, many of which work for Google. And they are rapidly closing those loopholes. No matter how smart we think we are there is always someone smarter out there.
Think of Google Policy as ‘Rules Of Engagement’, the law of war. The Rules rarely change, the lawbreakers are simply caught out by updates to algorithms created by people who understand the digital world in a way both different and deeper than you or I ever will. We live in the real world and as I have been, hopefully effectively, analogising business as war, we know that there are unscrupulous people willing to offer services for results that they know will be shattered as soon as someone identifies they are exploiting a loophole. Sticking to the Rules and creating a fortress on solid ground, using sound strategy, solid research and quality leadership will cement your position on the front page well in to the future.
This way the skirmishes of AdWords and Google Plus will be bolstered by the ever-presence of the ‘Organic Fortress,’ while occupying as much territory on the front page as possible, relegating competitors to an arena of solitude. When your business is thriving on converting keywords, both in AdWords and through the organic rankings you can begin to bid more conservatively on them because people are likely to trust you now they can see you occupy more front-page space than your competitors, so it doesn’t matter that you are in a lower ad position. Deploy your Army Reserves now! The War Chest is full!
While Google may be The ‘Combat Zone’, there are other areas of interest in the online offensive, especially for companies targeting the general public. Brand awareness through a variety of social media channels has slowly evolved to a viable strategy for the protection of your legacy. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and more are encouraging engagement with your target audience – what is known in times of war as ‘the winning of hearts and minds’. Your Social Networks are your Allies, nurture this market, provide entertainment, the food of the Internet, create competitions, have fun. You will cultivate not only brand awareness, but brand loyalty, and this fortifies your position on a completely separate front.
There is no short cut to a solid online offensive. As in war, there are casualties. However, by using the gifts (Analytics, AdWords, SEO, Tag Manager, etc.), ideas and strategies from the experts, what previously felt like an unwinnable war of attrition will begin to feel like embarking on the conquering of the world.
This article was recently featured in Optimise Magazine – a specialist industry publication packed full of online marketing tips and tricks for business owners and entrepreneurs. Order your free copy here.