My dad just emailed me as he is helping a friend who had a website that was ranking for a given keyword, but the friend’s sketchy web host is now holding the domain hostage. I imagine this is not the first time this has happened to someone, which is a shame. I thought it would be worthwhile to share my response, hoping it will benefit another person or two in a similar situation. I’ve left out a name or two, and also added a few sentences to my response versus what I sent via email, but its pretty much the same deal.

Question:

…Helping out a friend with a problem. Her website was suspended by an unethical webhost and they are holding her domain name for ransom. (name removed – google them, lots of issues) I set her up with .info and .org and we are going to try and work with ICAAN to get .net back.

She was well ranked in a google search on her name. Are there any [tactics] I can employ to get a search on her name to quickly offer up the .info and .org (points to .info) web pages?

Thanks for any advice you can offer.

My Response:

The domain is everything. If the web host is holding her domain for ransom than that tells me they probably technically own the domain, which means they have all the power unless she has something that can legally dispute that. ICANN is probably who you’d need to go through.

The only way to “get your rankings back” completely is to 301 redirect the old domain to the new domain. You’d need either be able to log in to the registrar or access the website via FTP (using the .htaccess file) to implement this. If they have the hosting account and domain on lockdown then you are basically helpless. Technically they control (own) the website… or at least the domain which is what Google uses as your unique ID.

Think of it as your website’s Social Security Number. You can dye your hair, buy new clothes, get a tan and change your accent to make yourself appear different – but you are still the same person with the same SSN. Once you change your SSN then you have no credit history, etc. You are basically a new person and start again from scratch. Such it is with domains.

How competitive of a search was she ranking for? If its just her name or her company’s name than its probably not very hard to rank for that search phrase even with a brand new site. I would definitely go with a .com, .net or .org version of the domain and avoid using a .info like the plague. .info is often associated with spam, and those domains fight an uphill battle in Google. This won’t help you rank for all sorts of other keywords, but the company or personal name shouldn’t be that tough. You can also try creating accounts on some other sites such as LinkedIn to get rankings for your name fairly quickly.

Example – Google search on “jon payne“. I am the guy featured on sites ranking #1, 3, 6, 7, 10, 11, 12, and 15 out of the top 20. That changes all the time just a bit, in fact most days I have 3 or 4 in the top 5. My associate “tim staines” has sites 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, and 8 from the top 10. I’m bitter about that, so I’ll argue that his name is a bit less common and there isn’t a PhD at Stanford sharing his name.

Note: there are a few “black hat” types of tactics that could be implemented here, such as 302 domain hijacking. I’m a little too “white hat” in my approach to actually recommend that, and probably couldn’t even provide details on how to successfully execute that if I wanted to since I never have (I swear!). In this case though, if the objective is ranking for a person’s name that isn’t terribly common I think some basic white hat SEO techniques on a handful of sites should be able to meet the objective here without much difficulty. If the friend’s name happens to be something like “Sarah Palin” or “Britney Spears” or something than this could prove more difficult.

So this is pretty cool. My internet marketing firm’s website is ranking # 3 for “marketing” in Google India. Go check it out. Its not even for the “pages from India” selection but just from the entire web, when searched through Google India.

Google India SERPs

Yeah pretty cool… I didn’t even really target that one-word keyword, although it is in our name (Ephricon Web Marketing) and naturally its completely intertwined with all of our services… but I have to think that is also true for every other online marketing and SEO firm out there, right?

The funny thing is that we’ve been there for at least a few weeks, maybe months. I’m too lazy to dig through the analytics right now to check. I actually noticed a ton of traffic for this keyword in our Google Analytics account, but then I checked and right now we’re ranked #199 in “regular” Google. I assumed maybe something funny was going on with the tracking, or perhaps it was some crazy bot traffic… didn’t really give it much thought.

It wasn’t until I logged into my HitsLink account (which I haven’t done for months) that I noticed it. By default, HitsLink shows you micro-level data like each visitor to the site… it shows the last 50 visitors and what they searched on, where they came from etc and I noticed a ton were “marketing” and from Google.co.in. I then logged back into Google Analytics and clicked on traffic sources > keywords > “marketing” (my kw) and then selected “country / territory” from the “dimension” dropdown.

I had 94 visits from people searching on “marketing” using a Google property in the last 30 days. 93 of them used Google India.

So wow, pretty cool. But on second thought, why only 93 visitors? That’s only 3 people a day from a pretty popular 1-word keyword phrase. Sure, Google.co.in is not the default Google… but I have to think it has a pretty good volume. I believe its not drawing more traffic for a number of reasons:

  1. My title and description both specify that we’re in “Baltimore, MD”. If I’m a guy in India, I’m not nearly as likely to click on this site in the SERPs.
  2. Google.co.in gets only a small slice of Google’s total search volume. I have no data to back this up. I’m guessing.
  3. Like reason #1 above, my title and description both refer to internet marketing and SEO. If you are searching on marketing you are likely searching for something more broad or strategic, and thus not as likely to click on my site.

There are probably many more reasons too. If you can think of any, please share them with me.

So of those 3 items above, I can change #1 and #3, but cannot change #2. Here’s a case study – should I change the title and description to tweak it to bring in a higher clickthrough rate for a generic term like “marketing”? I could do this to see what effect it would have on clickthroughs and traffic for this keyword. Might be a cool mini-case-study of sorts.

If I did that, I’d probably change it back before too long. Truth is that the lower volumes of more highly qualified traffic is what produces my conversions and business objectives… so that generic traffic is pretty useless to me.

I’m not really sure why Google.co.in likes the site so much more than the rest of Google, perhaps there are a bunch of SEO companies in India linking to my site? Even if that’s the case, again I can’t see how that would be stronger for us than say any other internet marketing or SEO firm out there.

Any other thoughts, ideas, comments? Has anyone seen something like this for other country-specific Google domains?

“Meet the Baltimore Internet Marketers” was the theme of last night’s Meetup event held at the ETC in Canton, thanks the kind donation of space from R2i (thanks Page!).

This is the first event I’ve organized in roughly six months for this group, which was way overdue (I’ve been busy) but better late than never, right? Anyhow, we should get that back on track now.

We had a great turnout. I didn’t count exactly, but we were in the 25 to 30 attendee range. I think it was 3 ladies and the rest were a bunch of scruffly guys (myself included)… which was actually more gender-diverse than previous meetups. Poor Lori and Kathleen.

Read the rest of this entry »

So I just did a Google search on “lead generation” and noticed my lead-gen firm is ranking #16 and this blog is floating towards the top of page 5…  anyhow somewhere on page 7 I saw a firm called Admire Group and the approach their site takes really intrigued me.  First of all, its nice and simple, which I love.  Secondly, they really presented “lead generation” as the clear service they are selling… and SEO is merely the way they generate traffic and interested prospects.

I’ve been running an SEO agency for 5 years now, and I’ve just realized in the past 6 months that what I’m really selling is lead generation, not SEO.  Sure I always knew that the leads (results) were what kept my clients – as opposed to rankings (the means to the ends or results)… but I’ve always thought of my firm as an SEO agency.  Well screw that.  We’re now a lead generation firm.  Now someone just needs to find some time redo the website a bit…  Perhaps I’ll use my backup instead?

So back to Admire Group.  I love their approach.  They basically boil their service offering down to four simple steps, and walk you through the process.  They are:

  1. Hi, we’re a lead generation firm.
  2. We use “search engine maximization” so that the prospects find you, not visa versa
  3. We then optimize the landing pages to produce better conversion rates
  4. We do this by building “microsites” …that presumably saves them time and trouble versus overhauling a client’s main website.

I love how this isn’t overcrowded.

So this appears to be a relatively new phenomenon, as many firms that may have thought of themselves as SEO firms are now viewing themselves as either e-commerce consultants or lead generation specialists today.  Count me in.

Why the change?

Several reasons, as I see it

1) SEO has negative connotations. Sure, most of us are good (most?)… but search engines tolerate SEOs at best, and there are so many snakeoil salesmen out there that give the industry a bad rap.  Check out Aaron Wall’s post about this:

Pick a Smart Professional Label

Google can not keep growing their revenues at an acceptable rate without beating the value out of others. If you are new to the SEO field and want to excel online, call yourself something other than an SEO. Using the label SEO invites arbitrary monitoring and punishment, and there are too many plastic personalities in this field willing to dime out a friend in exchange for a wooden nickel.
from: http://www.seobook.com/to-google-you-are-a-spammer

2) Clients have evolved. While hopefully most SEOs worth their salt have long since realized rankings for specific keywords are virtually meaningless – since they fluctuate so often and are now subject to personalized and geo-based algorithm variations – and that traffic and conversions are what really matter… well truth is most buyers are just starting to get this.  SEO is still a nice buzzword, but its allure as “cool” is wearing off as businesses start to look at the real ROI, which is most easily measured in the contribution of search traffic to the top and bottom lines.

Still Not Perfect…

While SEO has negative connotations, so does “Lead Generation”.  In fact, the word “lead” means dramatically different things to different people.  To me, its an opt-in, “they contacted us” type of inquiry where all we are doing is giving a price to someone who specifically wants to work with us.  That sort of lead can convert at 20-50%.  To others, a “lead” is a name and phone number on a list of 50,000 others that is five years old and consists of people who are no more targeted for a given offering than the general public.  I hate this word “lead”, as I have to explain how our leads are actually good things and not what others might associate the word with.

Anyhow, perhaps its not so much SEO firms switching over to lead generation, as it is lead-gen firms realizing the power and effectiveness of SEO?

Okay I’m about to call it quits here as this is a terribly incoherent post and its 11:00pm and I need to go home…  I’ll leave you though with one other link, here is another firm’s presentation of SEO-based lead generation program.  Again, I like the simplicity… I just get a slight uneasy “infomercial product” vibe… maybe b/c of the single-page approach.

I just posted this over as a comment on the blog of a colleague…  He mentioned how many people consider SEO to be deceitful, and then went on to compare it to a deceitful piece of direct mail he recently received.  I think Black Hat SEO in many cases is “deceitful”, but white hat SEO for the most part isn’t.  I think its just more putting your best foot forward.  In that case, its once again more like traditional PR.

I don’t share the thought though of those who say SEM/SEO is deceitful.  I view it as simply understanding what the search engines want and giving it to them… Its sort of like wearing a nice outfit to a big interview.  Its not outright lying or intentionally deceiving, but rather just putting your best foot forward.  The interviewer knows you don’t wear suits everywhere you go :)

Nowadays I think everyone must consider the source in all things.  That’s a skill that is much needed in this age of multitudes of media outlets across different mediums.  All information is biased, in some way.

Deceiving is having a client who sells one product and optimizing for an unrelated or very loosely related keyword.  Who has time for that?  Way too inefficient.  Instead, most of the “SEO” that I see is instead simply elaborating a bit more than what might be appropriate or deserving if there weren’t search engines to consider.  Maybe without SEO I would write 3 paragraphs of text about an accounting firm’s year-end tax preparation services, whereas with search engines to consider I write 5 and include a more to-the-point TITLE tag and H1, and then work a little harder to make sure other sites know about it.  That’s not deceiving.  That’s just doing a better job, doing more than otherwise is “necessary”, and perhaps trying harder.

Thoughts in agreement?  Thoughts to the contrary?

How money is this guy?  So money.  His employer should just pay this guy to rap around their client’s topics as linkbait.  CHUCK, IF YOU READ THIS send me a note.  I need someone to rap about tax debt resolution services as some linkbait for a client :)

Video immediately below and then my “lessons learned” to paraphrase it (his rhyming skills are too fast to catch everything the first time).

  1. Your campaign is not working if you aren’t generating leads. Okay that one is easy.
  2. Don’t waste money bidding on vague keywords.
  3. While fixing your conversion rates, considering pausing your campaign.
    (Mo Says: First pause your ads, no more hits on your card. Money don’t grow on trees, at least not in my yard.)
  4. Make sure to include some adjectives in your PPC ad text.
  5. Understand your competitive position online
  6. - Is your site complete?
    - Is your deal sweet?
    - Competitive industry… can you compete?

  7. Start with yo’ meat. Talkin’ bout your content.
  8. Make sure your text is right for your audience, not just search engines.  Don’t forget you want conversions, not just higher quality scores (on the PPC end) or rankings (on the organic end).
    (Mo Says: After all, they the ones that grab the phone and call.  The search engines won’t do anything but crawl.
  9. There are two steps to conversion.  The first is online conversion – from visitor to lead.  The second is generally offline (reminder we’re talking lead generation here) – call your leads promptly.  Be cordial and charismatic.  Don’t be satisfied in doing a great job with online conversions if you are dropping the ball in converting those inquiries to new customers.

Moral of the story:
With lead-generation conversions are all that should matter to you.  To quote Mo again “I’d rather get 100 clicks and close 35, than get 1,000 clicks and only close 9.

Earlier today I ran across a blog with a blogname.wordpress.com URL. I noticed it was ranking for a number of keywords that one of my sites ranks for. Its a lead generation niche that targets homeowners. Anyhow, the blog titles were blatant spam – all lower case, just random words that don’t make a sentence or phrase, etc. The body had just a list of keywords, and so on. Blatant blog spam.

The intent was to rank in Google’s blog search through keyword relevance and frequency. That is, they didn’t try to be the most trusted blog or blog post in order to rank, but rather they just posted 10 times a day so they would always be one of the 3 or 4 most recent posts for their chosen keywords. Some cheap auto-posting script could probably accomplish this.

This is nothing terribly new… But here is what was different – they had some very nice, reasonably professional videos in each post. They were their videos too, not just something generic scraped off of YouTube.

I had to think – why such a low-end method (spammy auto-posting blog entries) that delivered such a high-end (nicely done videos) form of content? It seemed clear that the intent was for the content to be the video. By not really having any text they just wanted you to find their site via search and then watch the video. In this sense, while its search engine spam using WordPress, it was still a “relevant” result. Usually when this is done its crap on both ends.

I wonder how well the video converts traffic? Do users overlook the spammy headings and text? Do they even notice it?

Anyhow, I was logged in to WordPress at the time, so I had that little blue bar that lets your report a WP blog as spam. I clicked it. The form asked me why it was spam, and I basically said what I’ve typed earlier in this post (10 times per day, just a bunch of keywords and no actual thoughts, etc.).  About 6 hours later I got an email from a guy at WordPress saying the suspended the blog.  The email address it was sent from has “TOS” in it so I’m guessing their decision is based on whether or not it violates the WordPress.com Terms of Service… which I suppose would make rather obvious sense.

I’m now thinking about how much time the videos must have taken to make. They were clearly relevant, decent content. Perhaps I jumped the gun in reporting them? I don’t think so, it was still abusing the WordPress system. I admittedly don’t know (or care) about the letter of the law, but I’m guessing the WP guy that decided to ban them was the real judge here. You can just call me the whistle blower.

Anyhow have any thoughts or experiences with how well video helps convert traffic? How about when the content and rest of the site are low-end? I would think pairing high-end video with high-end layout/content would be best, but perhaps the other method steers eyeballs to the video which (using multimedia) can make a stronger impression.

A colleague referred me to this page offering some SEO Whitepapers. I haven’t read any of them. I’m sure they are very good though.

But once you are involved in the SEO industry for a while, the whitepapers – much like SEO conferences – begin to all say the same thing. The truth is SEO itself is not rocket science. Its simple.

  1. Create really great, unique, valueable content about all the various aspects of your topic.
  2. Code your site with a good understanding on on-page SEO, CSS, information architecture, conversion and usability.
  3. Get a lot of other really great websites in your topical area to link to your site.

Note that I said SEO is simple, not easy. It can be damn hard.

Content - The challenge here is creating “really great content” if you are an SEO person or SEO agency. You likely know nothing about the topic. Thus, you must rely on a copywriter. That copywriter likely knows nothing about SEO. Now in a perfect world the copywriter understand the value of SEO, and you work together peacefully and harmoniously. In reality, you are too damn busy and so are they – so it doesn’t work out as nicely as you’d each like, and someone often ends up compromising. That aside, I’ve yet to find a copywriter than can provide me with the quantity and quality of copy I want, at a price I can afford. Truth is there is no shot – I have a never-ending appetite for content.

Coding - This one ain’t too rough. Brush up on HTML and CSS standards, on-page optimization fundamentals and conversion/usability topics and generally this is the one I find most firms can really rock. That’s the problem though, rocking this is simply the admission fee – it won’t differentiate you or set your site apart from the crowd with respect to search rankings. Everyone else is doing it too.

Great Links – Simple in concept. And sure, if you have a cool tech site about Steve Jobs or something you’ll be in good shape. All the techie kids at Digg love that stuff. Sphinn too – funny stuff about SEO or the internet is great link bait. As is anything fun, entertaining or controversial is easy. Try getting links for something boring. A nice boring accounting firm. Give that a shot. And no, you can’t change the firm’s entire offering or marketing strategy – nice thought in principal though, but good luck getting someone to buy into that on Day 1 of your campaign!

Admittedly I’m taking a negative tone here. That’s really not me. I’m just trying to illustrate the point though that anyone with more than a reasonable amount of experience with SEO will often agree that what to do is not their problem. How to do it within the business confines that exist is the real challenge.

How do we make a regular, ordinary accounting firm interesting enough that other sites link to them? How do we do so while still keeping with the scope of a realistic campaign (you can’t hire a guy from Enron to join the accounting firm!). How do you apply the principles of SEO that are fairly simple, and implement those items in such a way that is better than your competition, thus setting you apart? That is the real challenge.

That is SEO.

Anyone can write TITLE tags.

Gavin Ingham recently posted 98 lead generation strategies. He says most businesses he consults with only use a few, and simply aren’t implementing as many different tactics as they could be. I agree, but 98 is a huge number. Admittedly, I could only bring myself to quickly scan his list.

While the general topic of this blog is lead generation via search engine optimization (SEO), I’ll take a slightly more broad approach than just SEO, but probably much more narrow than Gavin’s take – let’s just focus on online methods…

…by Building Customer Relationships

  1. Blogging: goes along with “expert branding” below, helps build credibility and exposure
  2. E-Newsletters: once a month or so, stay top-of-mind
  3. Personal Emails: stay in contact, but don’t think mass-emails or automation
  4. News Aggregation: be a source/resource for your customers

…by Reaching New Prospects

  1. Natural SEO
  2. Sponsored PPC
  3. CPM Banner Ads
  4. CPM Video Ads
  5. Vertical Search Engines (B2B)
  6. Online PR
  7. Brand Yourself as an Expert

SEO for Web 3.0

April 10, 2008

Peter Ehat at SEO.com wrote a post entitled “Does SEO Die on Web 3.0?“. I say yes, most definitely it will die. Without a doubt. Hopefully I will be retired by then, but if not I’m sure I could find a nice stable career as a mortgage salesperson.

Search in Web 3.0:

You don’t search on Google. Instead, Google searches you. They have enough data, can’t they just figure out what I need before I realize the need to search for it?

Here is how it would work:

  1. Larry Page brings me a glass of water.
  2. I say “Thanks Larry, what’s this for?”
  3. I begin to feel a parched throat coming on and suddenly feel better about my use of Google Desktop.
  4. I notice that my television suddenly starts showing ads that offer me a snack to go with my water.
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