May 17, 2017

Since Google released the Penguin algorithm update and stepped up other anti-webspam efforts, I have been hearing from a lot of website owners who say they have lost all or most of their traffic because they no longer rank for two or three main keywords. Now of course the usual “don’t trick Google” lectures apply, but losing all of your website’s traffic and possibly your business when you lose one source of visitors calls to attention a much larger pitfall that any business should avoid:

Don’t Put All of Your Online Marketing Eggs in One Basket

What happens when you drop that basket?

eggs in one basketOn various SEO and Google Webmaster forums, you will find what seems like a high number of people saying how Google killed their business with the Panda and Penguin algorithm updates. I admit I was quick to write most of them off as people who either knowingly or unknowingly broke some rules and are now furious at having to deal with the consequences. Mistakes happen, especially in do it yourself SEO. But the bigger mistake is relying solely on SEO driven organic search results while dabbling in things that can destroy that revenue stream.

Basket: All or Most Traffic is from Google Search
Other Places to Put the Eggs: A strong social media presence, PPC (pay per click) ads, email list, blog/newsletter subscribers, referrals from other sites, etc.

The Safety Net: If your whole site or just your main keywords disappear from the first few pages of search results, you can still get a decent amount of indirect search traffic if you have been building up a strong social media presence. A well-liked and followed Facebook or LinkedIn page will often outrank several websites for a given keyword. Good videos still rank pretty high in search results, so you could put a top-notch video on YouTube with a link to your site in the description or at least on your channel’s sidebar so people can find you in the event of a search engine blackout of your main website. Your website is useful for things you can’t do on Facebook or other social media (which isn’t that much anymore), and should continue to be the hub of your online activity. But consider making your best social property a bigger part of your internet marketing strategy. That way you will be developing a trusted online presence, which is another thing that Google and Bing are looking for. So that’s “good SEO“, too.

For some sites, organic search may not be the only source of traffic, but it is the only one worth pursuing. Still, diversification within the marketing plan could prevent a severe loss from an algorithm update – even if SEO is your main form of marketing.

The old saying about the eggs applies within your SEO strategy, too.

Basket: Focused only on a few keywords
Other Places to Put the Eggs: Broader keyword targeting on the page – or no keyword targeting at all.
What?! “No keywords”?! Yes. Stop thinking about keywords when writing your content. Instead, think about topics or themes. Say you have come up with a handful of keywords that cover your products and services in a general way. You then wrote a page for each, and periodically write blog posts on each one. OK, so far so good. But did you change up the usage of your keywords, or did you just repeat them exactly the same way a bunch of times? Are there not a number of other good ways to say the same thing? People search for those too! Google is pretty good at figuring out when synonyms are appropriate, but giving Google a little hint in your content by actually using a few synonyms is a good idea. A good writer should be able to write well enough about your key topics in a way that will cover much more than just that one keyword per article. Some refer to “longtail keywords”, but that is really over-thinking it and attaching another confusing buzzword to what is simply “writing sensibly”.

Diversify Keywords Throughout the Website

 A real estate example: A real estate agent wants to sell houses in Pittsburgh. So they fill their home page up with “A1 Real Estate Agency – your Pittsburgh real estate source. If you are looking for Pittsburgh real estate, look no further. We have the most Pittsburgh real estate listings… bla bla bla Pittsburgh real estate bla bla bla…” You get the idea.

What about people who search for “homes for sale in Pittsburgh”, or “buy a house in Pittsburgh”? A1 will probably get a little traffic from those, but not as much as if they had diversified their keywords on the page and throughout the site.

Let’s say A1 Realty did a good job of mixing up different ways to say “real estate”, but then they joined some spam blog network or hired a shady link builder and ended up with lots of incoming links that all used either “Pittsburgh real estate” or “Pittsburgh homes for sale” as the anchor text in the links. Google’s Penguin noticed this and A1 no longer ranks for either one. Now they have to work on fixing a Google penalty, but what could have prevented this (aside from being more careful with link building)? By using broader topics instead of keywords throughout the site. For real estate, this might be types of homes (luxury, condos, rehabs, foreclosures, etc) or neighborhoods. Each one would have its own page about nothing but that type of home, or homes in that particular neighborhood. A1 may not get much traffic from the main keywords since they spammed themselves out of the search results, but they can still get significant traffic from “Southside real estate”, “homes for sale in Oakland” or “Pittsburgh foreclosures”; assuming they didn’t over use anchor texts for those, too.

This isn’t just for websites that already have a problem with not ranking for their main keywords. You can prevent future problems by diversifying your SEO keywords subjects, or your entire internet marketing strategy. Explore other sources of traffic. While few are more productive or offer a better return on investment than SEO, it is still good to have something else just in case.
In your SEO plan, broaden your scope to cover a range of related concepts, not just hyper-focused keywords. That way, when you make a “mistake” that destroys your organic search traffic for a couple of keywords or Google releases an algorithm update that goes a little too far, it won’t be the end of the world.