With more people online (mobile, tablet & computer), companies are finally paying more attention to their websites. That also means branding, PR, C level executives and others who are not familiar with the digital landscape are making the decisions that are smart for traditional business, but have unforseen consequences with online and websites.
Below you’ll find a few recent examples about companies that made or are making these same types of mistakes and how they could avoid, fix and prevent them. If they don’t and you want to compete, you’ll also find how to jump in and take some of the traffic they would have had.
As a heads up, all of the external links in this post are ads (affiliate links) and if any aren’t I will change them out for these ads (affiliate links) if I find out they have a program.
Unforseen Consequences That Kill SEO
Note – If you’re an executive or decision maker in your company, do not just consult your CFO or high level executives…get the SEO and people working under the Marketing Manager to give a 2 sentence statement on if these decisions will impact their channels. They have no reason to lie and it is them who will be fired if you tank their channels. They are the ones in the trenches who deal with your actual sales numbers daily and can give the honest feedback you need. If you don’t, well you’ve been warned.
PhotoBucket Charging For Image Hosting
I came across this article last week and had a mouth drop moment. I also read this one which has an important statement about bloggers. Then there’s this one which I didn’t read but the title is pretty clear. I did a quick Google search and from what I understand it looks like they’ve blocked access to load images to third party sites unless the person upgrades to a paid account.
As far as charging for your services, I’m 100% on board. They’re showing ads over their own site to monetize that part of their free tools, but how do you make money from hosting images for other sites to use? Charge them. It’s really simple. But it is also potentially very harmful.
Image companies like PhotoBucket have a serious advantage in organic search. They have images that people want and references which leads to an incredible amount of backlinks (note the bloggers mention in the Denver Post article). This becomes very clear in the screenshots below.
People use PhotoBucket images across multiple forms of content and source/reference them which provides what looks like a good chunk of their backlinks. By killing off the images loading to third party websites, website owners, news sites and others will start to remove and replace these images and links for other image hosting companies. These links are the backbone of SEO (combined with on site experience (load times, internal links, clean code) and content) in general and should not be messed with, especially the hard to get and good ones.
By removing the images from being publicly available they are potentially removing their links and giving their competition room to come in and destroy them. It’s not hard to crawl a site for broken images or images from a site/server and then sending an email to the webmaster letting them know. If I was in competition with them, I would start that campaign immediately and without hesitation.
Here’s a screen shot of the links I found using ahrefs.com which I would use both if I worked with them and if I was a competitor to them. Right now I’m neither. There’s an explanation of how to use the screen shots below them.
In this first image we see they have 1.25 million referring domains. 85% of them are do follow. There’s 805.2 Million referring pages with 87% of them having do follow links. This would be a huge warning for any site to have this high of a ratio, except that in this case images aren’t always no followed since they’re being sourced so it is normally a legit and earned link. This is also the first signal that their SEO is primarily based on their images being publicly available, with news and articles about their services being the next level of backlinks. The next section in the screen shot proves this assumption.
We see 804 Million text links with 562 Million being images. A fairly safe assumption to make is that they are being sourced in articles, under images or being referenced in footers, image notes and across a site. These are the backbone of their company’s SEO based on this report. This is public information you can find with tools like I just did. Your own SEO or agency should have this information on your competitors if you ask them for it. It only takes a second to put together.
If I was their in house SEO or agency, I would take these steps immediately:
- Pull a list of the top referring domains (maybe top 2,000)
- Segment them by:
- niche (industry and content relevant sites)
- major news outlets
- and extra focus if the site is in Google news
- Blogs with authority
- Now add in conversion data from these referrals
- Create a pitch to go upwards on giving these sites free accounts because:
- they provide traffic (include conversion numbers)
- their references and links keep our organic rankings strong
- if they’re relevant, we get a bit of consumer trust by having them use and reference us
- If you’re a competitor, you do the same but you reach out to the site and pitch them to replace the PhotoBucket links with your own. If you have an affiliate program, invite them in and offer to pay them commissions in addition to them having the images free. It’s a double win for them and you’ll be helping to create less competition in the space organically for your own products and services.
WSJ Charging for Subscriptions
This is a beautiful one with lots of advice that should give bloggers and smaller news organizations a huge advantage and room to grow. I found the article here.
WSJ decided they didn’t want people to find their content through Google without paying for a subscription first. That’s completely understandable based on their industry of providing high quality content created by staff writers. Its the same as the newspaper boxes outside of metro stations where some are pay and some are free. There are different business models that work for everyone and with WSJ you’re paying for serious quality. So whats troubling about this?
The first thing is that Google expects people to be able to access content for free. That’s why people use Google. You search for something and then you get an answer. Paying to get an answer or having to jump through hoops creates a bad experience and defeats the purpose so Google has less of an incentive to display the content. The article above references their traffic plummeted by 44%. That was something that was expected to happen so lets move onto something that is actually interesting.
The article talks about a skyrocketing subscription increase rate. Without any inside knowledge and a bit of basic common sense, wow is that a bad number. If you decrease your free traffic, all paid users are going to increase. Less traffic and the same subscription rate means higher conversion rates…duh!!! The increase was substantial so I thought there could be more to this.
I decided to plug them into another tool I use which I personally feel is more accurate for large sites traffic numbers and that is when I discovered something else interesting.
It looks like they did in fact drop substantially as you can see 10M to the 6Mish mark in the last 6 months which matches up to the reference in the post about organic traffic. What’s interesting is that you also see a huge increase in paid traffic. The paid traffic is what we should be thinking about.
They could be using it to bring people to content that has a higher conversion rate into subscribers. They can also target those people who are more likely to convert based on query and competitors. This could lead to a higher increase in conversions for subscribers. That is what we may not have known about the increase in subscriptions in the article I referenced above.
If WSJ’s analytics and search teams are savvy, they are tracking how many sales they make per topic, by article type and by author. As new stories that fall in this category break, they can increase the keywords for people looking for that topic and start bringing this type of high converting traffic to it. Since it may be higher converting and there is less free traffic, this would in theory also impact their subscriber rate above the obvious numbers. The downside to this is they’re paying for a lot more traffic instead of getting it free. Not everyone has the luxury of a larger budget like WSJ and may not be able to make up the difference or scale.
If WSJ doesn’t want the additional millions of impressions and revenue from CPM ads, etc… then no worries. Tons of other websites would love to have it and will. If I was on their SEO or monetization team I would try to find a happy medium where after a certain amount of time they let articles be free and keep the newest and most in demand blocked for subscribers only. This would help them to continue to be referenced and linked to as well as get people to subscribe if they want the newest content first. But that’s just me and I have no relationship with them.
Branding Teams Changing The “Feel” of the Site
This one I’m not going to show examples of, you can find a ton of them easily on your own. As companies grow they hire branding experts who know about what is important for your digital persona. In a traditional sense it makes sense to have them involved. For ecommerce, they’re one of the biggest causes of companies tanking in the search engines, at least from my personal experience.
Branding experts talk about the look and feel of a site and why it should balance, how this wording is wrong and why we need to modify our language including product and service names. We should think about where and how we send people through a sales funnel to keep the emotional attachment and colors we want to associate with alive. That’s awesome for offline, for TV commercials (think of state farm being about family and having a friend or the Nationwide on Your Side jingle) and even for packaging and logos. When it comes to a company’s website there is a lot more that goes into this.
Instead of ranting I’m doing bullet points on the errors and severe damage branding departments do to companies on a regular basis. I’d like to point out that it’s great to have branding, but your company makes money from sales. If the “branding” disrupts or decreases your sales, you may not have a company left to keep “branding”.
- Word removal or changing – the wording on your site can be directly correlated to your ability to rank. If you sell blue widgets, but you don’t say it anywhere, or you remove all occurrences of it, you may start to slip and fall for these terms in the search engines. It doesn’t mean the volume changed or more people are in the market, it means you lost your exposure to them. A blue widget is a blue widget and if you want traffic for it, you pretty much have to use it and feature it to make sure search engines (and your potential customers) know you have them or offer them. If your rankings dropped, start by checking where you removed the wording from in your:
- Title tags
- H1 tags
- H2 tags
- Navigation – main, sub and footer
- Alt tags and image names
- Subheaders and bolded content
- Internal links from body copy and blog posts
- Colors to match the brand – When your colors change, your site experience changes. Even if they match what the brand should be, users may no longer engage with them or convert as well. This can be proven time and time again. Here’s where to check color changes first if your conversions decreased:
- Contact us spaces
- Navigation areas or places people click to find more information
- Background colors and images
- CTAs – If the branding team said to remove CTAs or move them so we don’t take away from the feel of the page, or to change the color, this almost always has a direct impact on leads and sales. You have to exclude traffic from other pages to see this properly. Be cautious and make sure you have the right data before addressing this one. I’ve seen it go bad many times.
- Extra images – more images can mean longer load times and less attention to the message. People are there for a reason, do not distract them with fancy decorations, video, flash and features like high res images that may not load or slow down your site. This is a very common thing branding teams do that aren’t meant to be problematic, but ultimately cause damage to a company.
To prove the damage or the need to reverse the decision, use heatmapping tools to track the actual UX and who is clicking what on your site. Then get the conversion data for the actual keywords from your PPC campaigns that show the traffic levels and revenue from them. Now compare those to the amount that your company has dropped in organic search and they should add up to about the same if there wasn’t an outlier.
This is the solid numbers based case for why you need to restore certain things regardless of branding. Without money there is no brand and if the executives don’t want to listen, it was a fun ride to get to that point and hopefully they change their mind before its too late. If you show them that this branding and wording is causing financial damage and they insist it isn’t, it may be too late for that company. I’ve seen this happen as a consultant, in house employee and unfortunately I’ll see it again in the future. It’s something that will continue to happen as traditional business morphs into a web and app atmosphere.
This post is already a bit long so I’m going to stop here, but the big take away is that if you’re an executive, things that don’t seem to matter or not getting feedback from people doing the actual work can and will hurt your company. The above examples are extremely common, especially for companies who are just starting out, got a lot of VC funding, have excessive amounts of free users they can’t monetize or are experiencing quick growth and forget about business basics.
Remember, everything from a line of code to the wording in a tag can impact your business and how people find it. Once they find you its about converting them into a customer by showing them what they’re looking for and how you’ll help them with their problem. Once they’re a happy customer, bring in branding for the existing ones and have them work on keeping your customers with you…after that is done you can then worry about everything else. The bottom line is that without money and sales, you don’t have a company.