Turning 2015’s Frustrations Into 2016 Opportunities

2015 was a tough year for me in terms of my love/hate relationship in my career as a Search Marketing Consultant. At least once a month I was so frustrated with either a client or our industry that I wanted to move on to something more rewarding. That being said, it was also an amazing year. I received both the Search Consultant of the Year as well as a Lifetime Achievement award which was a tremendous honor. It is also the reason I plan to start writing again and try to give back to the industry that has allowed me to have a great living over the past 20 years.

Over the holiday break I had time to relax and to think about those things that really pissed me off and what I planned to do about fixing them, avoiding them and more importantly, making money from them.  I also found nearly 100 articles in various degrees of completion that I will try to finish and get posted.

In a typical year, I work on 2 or 3 large scale projects and another 2 to 3 “crisis” projects where I am called to solve problems that are either large scale or unique.  It gives me insight into a number of areas from agency relations, best practices, workflow etc.

#1 Frustration – Lack of Appreciation for Keywords and Keyword Modeling

For the past 5 years I have been working on various tools to aggregate and model keywords and mine them for opportunities.   My tool, which I now call DataPrizm, allows you to store and mine keywords any numbers of ways.   I have had a lot of success using it in my consulting practice but have not had much adoption from companies and especially not agencies.

Ironically, every test and pilot of the tool has resulted in some amazing findings and incremental opportunities.

Unfortunately, this also scared the crap out of a lot of people.  I had a couple that actually told me using the tool would cost them their job.  The vast majority told me that they either did not have time to use it or it did not match their workflow.   For all the talk about content marketing and data mining I am amazed at how few people actually look at the gold mine they have.  I have written a number of articles on this and have a few clients that use the tool to maximize opportunities but the few are even willing to try.

Most people store words in Excel or some small internal database of in their SEO tool like Bright Edge or Conductor. Few actually mine the data and even fewer look at paid and organic together.

Up until this year I just got frustrated and did not push the issues but in 2016 I will be much more vocal on this wasted opportunity and do more to showcase some of the amazing findings we have had in the tools.

#2 Frustration – “Dynamic and Hip Websites and Content Marketing Mumbo Jumbo”

2015 was the year of the Content Marketing hype and move to infinite scroll and other non-functional web designs. Based on cook frameworks like AngularJS.   They make the developers life easier but without prior thought are deadly to your SEO performance.

One of the frustrating things I encounter a lot from creative agencies is building sites because they were “cool” and “hip and modern” or another is :it s like AirBNB” and a s far from search friendly as you can get. Once I get called in to do the review before launch I point out simple things like robots.txt blocking the site, no titles tags or a single page infinite scroll with no workaround for search.   When we bring it up to the agency the first answer is “SEO Friendly was not in scope” or “Getting the site launched was critical” or other bullshit.

I had one project that was going to be the poster child of SEO integrated design. The agency met 98% of the criteria for SEO. However, the Friday before launch, the compliant site was swapped out for one the creative director thought was “more cool and hip” that was a single page inflate scroll.   The brand team accepted it. Within a week 100% of the rankings and organic traffic disappeared. A month later we went back to the original design trying to recover traffic.

I am dealing with a case now where a top tier creative agency with a large search agency build the client a new online store and built it in AngularJS. The store launched and everyone was telling them it would take time for Google to reindex the site. There were no provisions for redirects, resubmission or monitoring indexing just a simple statement – it will take time. A few months passed and no traffic from SEO, only 10 pages indexed and millions in lost revenue. Since the site was built in AngularJS it was 100% invisible to search engines. Ironic that this framework was developed at Google! Once I explained the problem to them they did not want to double the overhead using a rendering service as it would “double the server load” and are now rolling back the previous build of the site.

First, I have added to my review of potential clients their willingness to comply with SEO best practices.   In addition, I hope to prevent this in 2016 by rolling out a set of comprehensive SEO rebuild/relaunch requirements that I developed for one company.   These requirements must be accepted by the development team or agency during the pitch briefing process, in the final contract, during the kick off meetings and then again as part of the final site acceptance testing checklist. While we have had a bit of success for this client, there are still a few agencies developing sites for the portfolio that were far from search friendly.

#3 Frustration – SEO is Critical for Traffic but….

This frustration drives me insane. Following the ecommerce store and AngularJS fiasco, companies that live primarily off of search traffic need to have better controls.

I had one client that gets 88% of all traffic from organic search and yet the Web Development team and Creative Agency do everything humanly possible to prevent organic search traffic. The SEO Manager tried to get another resource and was told there was no budget.   They came back from vacation to be introduced to 15 new social media team members. Social Media contributes less than 1% of the traffic and zero direct revenue. I was asked to help build a business case to justify the cost for a single headcount for SEO team.

I has another project I turned down from a global company wanting help setting up redirects from some of their campaigns sites to Facebook.  They were going to do a major effort there and wanted the current web traffic to go to Facebook as well.  I tried to explain that it was the web content that was bringing the traffic and if that moved to Facebook that would all go away.  They were convinced by their agency that the paid media they would get from Facebook would outweigh that loss.

#4 Frustration – Paid Search Waste

I will say it again, Paid Search is the single greatest advertising tactic available to brands today. There is nothing that matches the laser precision it offers to target consumers at the very moment of interest.   However the way many of these programs are managed is criminal.

I often get access to paid campaign when I import the data into my DataPrizm Keyword Management tool. As I have written before, the paid search teams are the #1 reason companies do not adopt my tool.

In the past year I have not seen a single paid search campaign that was remotely managed to its potential.   These range from budgets of $5,000 to over $100 million and a gamete of agencies and they are all horribly wasteful and no one really cares.

In mid-November I was asked to review a couple of holiday or year end paid search projects for one of the brands where we had a strong repository of historical information. I was asked to give my recommendations on how they were structured and confirm all the information shared was leveraged by the new agency. Nearly all were set to broad match, one or two pieces of creative and one with 10,000 words had only 5 ad groups. When challenged the agency said they would optimize over time. I am all for test and learn approach but when you have 4 years of historical data and best practices from the 6 previous agencies test and learn there are some things you don’t need to test.

Some of the worst findings are campaigns that are not updated. I had one F100 company that was spending upwards of $50 million with a large agency. I looked at the campaign history and they had not made a single change for 5 months. They tried to convince the client that their bid management tool did all the changes and based on their “financial model based algorithms” did not require human intervention. They had changed a single creative or added any negatives. They were fired that week. Unfortunately the new agency is not much better.

The opportunity for 2016 is to refine my audit program and expand my agency scorecards but find a way to get clients to actually use them! Also, to further expand the use of negative and underperforming word detection in DataPrizm to help flag these words quicker.

#5 Frustration – Clients Demanding to Rank for Something Not Relevant

Following up on my recent rant about the silliness around content marketing and especially those clients that want to leverage lifestyle marketing for traffic. One brand wanted to rank #1 for Coachella. They only have 2 articles on the topic that are a year old. As one of the event sponsors, they assumed that that would get them top rankings.

Just like companies wanting to rank for something they should not, I have others that only want to perform for branded phases.   In September I turned down a six figure-consulting project for a large luxury brand company. The brief sounded like a dream project. – to mine keyword opportunities and help them find niche content targets and mine search data for incremental gains. A former client suggested me to them that I had completed a similar project last year. Soon after sending my initial questions to the client the agency lead told me that all future questions would be to them and that I would not have any direct access to the client.

They went on to tell me that while there was a scope of work I was only participating due to the client’s mandate.     Most of the brief was smoke and mirrors. Apparently the plan was to only have them perform for the brand + product category words.   It was such a wasted opportunity.

#6 Frustration – Celebrity SEO Said….

I could go on for days about this one. I attend a lot of conferences and hear a lot of search experts speak. There are a number that I call “Celebrity SEO’s as they have a huge base of followers that follow every word they utter and their job is to write and drive awareness of themselves or their agency.   People follow them blindly no matter what they say even if it is wrong, or misinterpreted.  I have to spend more time than I want debunking some of their nonsense to clients.

One of the big ones was a person in their keynote told the audience that the H1 tag is dead. They referenced various “ranking factors studies” that showed it was no longer working. We had a web team in India that removed the H1 from the pages.  First, if is not “being scored” there is no reason you would be penalized so why remove it until a future build? The developers assumed since it is not working it should not be in the page. Within a few weeks rankings tanked they had lost nearly $15 million in revenue. Below I describe how we found the problem but we immediately rolled back the change, got the rankings back and recovered the loss revenue.  Just because it was said at a conference or maybe works on small sites does not mean you should implement without discussing with your own team or testing it on a sample.

Another keynote recently told the audience that keywords were dead. That you need to focus on content marketing and create content people want. Ironically in every case where he used examples of content marketing he used a keyword phrase to trigger the content. When challenged about his statement of keywords being dead he implied that individual words are dead and we need to think of clusters of words. Not to split hairs but are “clusters of words” a list of related phrases? I guess it did not sound as cool and I had 2 prospects for my tool decide not to use it since the “keynote” said it was no longer important.

In 2016 the opportunity will be to try to debunk some of these statements and try to be more vocal on some of the basics of search and data mining.

#7 Frustration – Still Optimizing Pages and Not Templates

It is now 2016 yet some SEO’s still do audits and optimization by the page or phrase.   I just had a friend ask me if $10k was a fair price for an audit of 50 of there words and pages. I was shocked that people still pitched it that way. I asked him how many page templates he had – did not know but we identified 5 core templates. The goal would be to optimize a template then all word types for that template would perform better. Yes, you may need to look at links etc. for specific words and pages but to many companies give me the same list of problems 20 times.

As I mentioned above with the loss due to removing the H1. We found this problem because we focus on templates. We looked at all the words that dropped in rank. We then pulled a PLP report from DataPrizm for those words and loaded them into Screaming Frog and looked for the template ID.   We found 2 pages – category page and the product page were 100% of the pages that had words drop in rankings. We reviewed the page and the only thing that changed was the removal of the H1. We rolled the pages back and in less than 10 days the rank was back as was the traffic.   It took less than 30 minutes to identify the core problem.

I see this problem a lot globally where agencies audit all the different country versions we end up with 10 to 20 of the exact same report.   For 2016 I will try to detail and global site audit process that will help reduce this waste.

I will try to rant less and put out some quality content so that I don’t piss off the readers.  Let me know what you would like to write about and I will try to dust off some of the half completed articles and get them posted.

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  • It sounds like there are a lot of fools in the agency business … sounds like some of the people I’ve met, but not others… perhaps the fools are better at landing enterprise clients, or when you’re an enterprise wih 10 agencies, some of them are gonna be fools…

  • Great post Bill and congrats on all of your accolades.

    I definitely feel all of your pains, having been in the industry for over 11 years. And having worked in large agencies in the past. I know of the inefficiencies and politicking that goes on. I had to constantly fight for SEO budget.

    I’m interested to find out more about DataPrizm and exactly what it does. It wasn’t clear on the website.