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Don’t get blacklisted by Google

December 3rd, 2009
Google has become so massive and so powerful that it can’t help but be dangerous to the small guys if not approached and treated with the most extreme of respect and caution.”

Yesterday Dan Macsai over at Fast Company posted, G-Railed: Why Did Google Bury the Web’s Oldest Entertainment Publication?, which was a timely underscore for two strategic principles that we’ve been passionately advocating for some time:

1. Placing too much weight on search engine marketing creates a high-risk business plan

Counting on Google for demand generation is extremely risky because it places the life of your business completely out of your direct control. You’re creating a system with a single point of failure and giving a kill switch to a capricious third-party who may not be “evil” but by the nature of its massiveness has become indifferent to the particular wants, needs and even justice afforded to the insignificant speck your business represents. I believe strongly that Google’s approach to search engine ranking was founded on truly noble principles; namely that the Internet community be the ultimate authority as to the value of a particular site. However, as a wise Englishman once said, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Google has become so massive and so powerful that it can’t help but be dangerous to the small guys if not approached and treated with the most extreme of respect and caution.

To hear more ranting on this topic, please review the post I made just a few days ago entitled The Danger of Relying on Search Engines for Your Business in which I advocate a strategy of building a business plan which does not rely on search engines to exist, but which absolutely still takes advantage of the marketing opportunities they offer.

2.Play SEO by the book (the Google book that is)

We’ve pontificated on this topic ad nauseam in the past all of which might be summed up with the statement:

  • Do not under any circumstances engage in any SEO practices that might be regarded as unfavorable by Google.

In other words, don’t fall for the scams of those SEO firms that keep spamming you. Great ignorance has persisted in this area giving rise to myriads of carpetbagger “SEO” firms from whom you’ve likely received an email from this type recently implying some proprietary approach to SEO and implying they posses secrets that will somehow fool Google into granting you a high search engine page placement. Not only are these types of approaches scams, in the long run they are more likely to damage your standing with Google.

There is no secret to SEO, in fact Google tells us plainly how to make your site Google friendly.  Even cheating a little is not safe anymore. Google’s algorithms are continually evolving and improving, much as anti-virus software does, and may at some point recognize and penalize even your smaller infractions and indiscretions (how many domains do you have auto forwarding to your main site for example?). Don’t be left like Studio Briefing was, scratching your head and looking on in despair as Google shutters your cyberdoors.

Conclusion

Google’s unrivaled power and indifference to your particular business is not a bad thing, but it is a fact that you have to embrace. For those who grant Google the respect and caution it demands, its power can be channeled towards your significant benefit. To play Google’s game right, here’s where to start:

  • Build using a smart business plan that mitigates potential risk from Google while maximizing the potential for benefit. Put simply don’t rely on Google for demand generation but take all you can legitimately get from them. Understand that (unless you intentionally are developing a high-risk/high-reward business plan) search engines should not be a foundational element of your comprehensive strategic business plan.
  • Religiously adhere to Search Engine Optimization and Search Engine tactics as guide lined by Google.
  • Be extremely wary of “SEO” solicitors.

Comments and questions are welcome.

The Danger of Relying on Search Engines for Your Business

November 30th, 2009
Your business plan needs to rely on demand generation from a source other than organic Internet search engines—a source over which you have more direct control.”

I ran across a great article by Darren Rowse over at ProBlogger entitled, “What to Do When Your Search Rankings Drop.” In it he recounts a time when his site’s traffic dropped a dramatic 70% suddenly and for no apparent reason. He relied on Google to bring in most of his site visitors and some unknown change in their algorithms resulted in this costly (for him) change of fortune. While not the point of his article, this example underscores a principle that we’ve been emphasizing for years—it’s very risky to rely on awareness and demand generation being driven primarily by high search engine result page placement (please note my emphasis of the words rely and primarily).

I’m not suggesting at all that search engine optimization efforts are not important, but rather that your business plan needs to rely on demand generation from a source other than organic Internet search engines—a source over which you have more direct control. The risk of building your business with a single point of failure over which you have no direct control whatsoever is prohibitively risky in almost all business scenarios.

It’s for this reason that we typically advise our clients to build a business plan without consideration for demand generation via search engines (referral marketing is always the most desirable and secure foundation for demand generation) and then go ahead and implement a best practice SEO strategy. If your business plan is solid and your unique value proposition legitimate a by-the-book (Google’s book that is) SEO campaign will generate demand over time; all of which should be treated like “gravy” until significant enough to begin including in your sales forecast. This strategy then mitigates the high-risk of relying on search engines for your business while at the same time taking advantage of the great high ROI opportunity that organic search engine marketing offers.

Don’t write like an advertising writer

November 13th, 2009

I’m currently reading a book from 1938 entitled, “If You Want to Write” by Brenda Ueland. I was struck by how applicable her observation of business communication still is 70 years later; she writes:

Don’t write like an advertising writer . . . if you feel a thing the more simply you say it the better

Don’t write like an advertising writer…advertising companies hire the very brightest, wittiest young people to write for them. Not one single sentence of it is worth repeating. Why? Because it wasn’t meant. It was all written, not because the writer felt something and then said it (if you feel a thing the more simply you say it the better, the more effective), but because he tried to impress and inveigle people, convince them something is very fine about which he himself does not really care… (p 115)

I sense the anxiety many clients have when they put together the content for their Websites . . . they put themselves under some unrealistic expectation that their writing needs to sound “businesslike.” The problem with business sounding content is that it sounds way too much like a billion other Websites, brochures and magazine ads and is tuned out by the reader.

More than any other medium, the modern interactive Webpage is fertile ground for communication that is authentic. Most business owners and executives are typically much better qualified to provide this type of writing than anyone else . . . the most important to effective content writing is authenticity and passion.

How to Have a Successful Web Design Project (Part 2)

September 8th, 2009

What determines the success (or failure) of a Web development project?

While there are many important factors (both on the client and developer side) there are two all-powerful prime lynchpins that will make or break even the most qualified participants: Perspective and expectations. Some time ago I made a blog post on perspective, in this second of two posts I’ll discuss expectations.

Expectations

Without . . . a set of shared exceptions we risk orchestrating an iPod dance party”

Success in almost any transaction or relationship is determined by establishing and meeting a set of shared expectations between parties. A $3 meal at a McDonalds can be just as successful as a $200 meal at a Smith & Wollensky Steakhouse. The same degree of success can be realized at both regardless of the vast difference between a dedicated waiter serving dry-aged prime beef and a mass produced sandwich handed to us in a crumpled paper bag. It’s all about us getting what we expect.

When a client and developer view a project from a shared perspective, setting expectations is the natural progress of collaboration. Without the collaborative systematic development of a set of shared exceptions we risk orchestrating an iPod dance party. Both parties may participate but they’ll each be in their own world and when the music stops they will have completely different perspectives from which to determine success.

Developing a shared perspective is the responsibility of the developer and starts with listening, interrogating really (in a nice way, without the light), to the client and extracting the core business goals of a project, the details of the client’s unique value proposition, the needs and profile of their customers and other such vital information.

Provocative and challenging questions should be presented to the client in this stage to help them gain an outside perspective and the developer needs to be willing to adjust their biases so that in the end there is an unambiguous meeting of the minds about the project goals. In addition to the primary goals, there are many technical parameters that need to be discussed and agreed upon including development environments, creative parameters, branding continuity, etc.

After goals and requirements have been collaboratively determined, the developer is responsible for drafting a formal systematic development process that articulates the specific developer tasks that will be provided to meet those goals, and establishes a work-flow time frame for project completion.

All of this is not that profound or new. It’s really just common sense. But from my observation, the temptation is often great to gloss over a formal development of a shared perspective and expectations. It’s usually in the context where the client and developer develop good initial rapport and feel confident that they’re “on the same page.” Feelings are great but Web development projects are too complex and expensive to rely on luck for success.

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