Even if Google didn’t regularly change its algorithm that determines which organizations’ listings it serves up on the first two pages of search results, and even if new competitors haven’t entered your marketplace or existing competitors haven’t up’d their SEO game, your organization still needs to regularly revisit your SEO strategy and tactics. By regularly, I mean, at least quarterly.
My digital marketing agency is often engaged to implement activities related to keyword research and planning (such as employment of appropriate keywords in website content and behind-the-scenes website tags). While keyword research and planning is a large, complex, and time-consuming activity that doesn’t need to be revisited monthly or quarterly, there are a number of SEO review and audit type activities that should. I won’t repeat those activities in this post because I’ve already outlined them in the recent blog posts shared below, but I hope you’ll take the time to read or re-read these past posts. They outline easy tasks you can and should complete to make sure you are up-to-SEO-speed and that potential issues with your website aren’t impacting your SEO, or that tactics that you are or aren’t employing related to your social media presence, aren’t harming how your organization ranks in search engine results in some way.
Don’t have the time or capacity to complete the above monthly or quarterly SEO activities? My team is always here to help! E-mail or call us for information about the services we can provide related to quarterly SEO reviews.
To conduct a really thorough SEO audit, i.e., to determine if your website and other digital/online properties are optimized to rank high in search engine results listings for terms relevant to the products and services you offer, there are a whole host of items you should investigate and consider. But, our aim with this blog post is to address the simplest and most frequent SEO audit marketers and business owners tend to conduct, and that is — entering the search terms (keywords) they want their digital properties to “rank for” into a search engine, such as Google and Bing.
Unfortunately, conducting the above actively can lead to a false sense of security related to how the organization in-question ranks. Why? Because Google and other search engines have great memories. They know what websites you visit frequently and/or have visited recently, and what links in search results listings you’ve clicked on. Let’s face it, particularly when we are in a marketing or business owner role, we’re constantly visiting the websites of our organizations, or clicking on links to them that appear in search engine results.
The unfortunate outcome of the above is that search engines are more likely to serve your website listing up high in search results to you than they are to serve it up high in results listings to individuals not affiliated with your organization. But, you may believe that all individuals are seeing the same search engine results you are. You may be seeing a listing for your organization on the 1st page of search results, while target audiences may not see it until page 3 (and they likely won’t make it that far!)
Another key reason testing to see where your organization’s listing appears in search engine results can lead to a wrong SEO perception is because search engines take into consider your location — where you physically are when searching and/or your device’s IP address. So, let’s say I want to see where my firm appears in search engine results pages (SERP) for the term “SEO strategist MA”, a results listing for my organization, Results Communications and Research, might be presented to me at or near the top of the SERP simply because I’m searching from a computer with an IP address that is associated with the town where my business is located, i.e., Braintree, MA.
When a client engages my firm to help with technical/organic SEO activities, I always like to conduct an audit of where they rank for agreed-upon keywords/search terms, so that 3, 6, and/or 9 months down the road, we can see if the SEO tactics we’ve implemented have moved the SEO needle. Because I always visit prospective and new clients’ sites countless times in the initial days of discussions or working with them, I know it doesn’t make sense for me to conduct the simple audit activity described above on their behalf. I subcontract such work to a fellow marketing professional who has no association with the organization, and I specifically request that she doesn’t visit the client in-question’s site before she conducts the audit. Although, this doesn’t completely remove the “location bias” described above. I provide a variety of geographic and location triggers to include in her search to minimize “location bias”. Therefore, I instruct her to include certain towns, cities, and states, in the search phrase itself, such as “general contractors Boston MA” or “window cleaners Providence RI.”
Tactics to employ to avoid getting “misleading” results in response to the simple audit activity featured in this blog include:
Use the “private” or “incognito” sessions/search capabilities associated with your browser, so that search engines won’t associate your past website visit history with you.
Clear your cookies, cache, and browsing history.
Ask an individual, such as a friend or family member, who hasn’t visited your site at all, or hasn’t visited frequently or recently, to conduct this audit for you.
Through Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Google Analytics work I recently completed for a client, I was reminded, and prompted to share via this blog post, that all backlinks (links to your website from another website or blog) aren’t created equal when it comes to SEO. For years, I and most fellow marketers, have known that having links to one’s website on the websites of other creditable, highly regarded websites was a good thing as far as Google’s SEO algorithm goes. Such backlinks cause Google to view your site as also being creditable and trustworthy, and therefore, improves where your website appears in Google search engine results for search terms relevant to your organization’s products and services. But, many marketers lose sight of or are not aware of the fact that all backlinks are not “good.”
Like Anyone Else, Google Judges You By the Company You Keep
The bad backlink news is that if your website is receiving a lot of referral traffic from non-creditable and “spammy” websites, i,e., “bad” sites, it can really harm how Google treats your site from an SEO standpoint. As it should, Google has never been one to reward websites and their owners for trying to “play” or “game” them. They recognize spammy backlinks for what they often are, an attempt to improve SEO by purchasing or placing links to one’s website on low-quality sites, and Google will be less likely vs. more likely to present listings with a link to your website in its search engine results for your desired search terms. (A quick, but relevant digression: A past blog post called out how Google is more likely to reward authentic sites, and that includes sites that have “mutual admiration” relationships with organizations who respect their work, products, and services, and are willing to share links to their website.)
Based on my review of many clients’ Google Analytics data, it’s not uncommon to have a few “spammy” sites referring traffic to your website, and it’s unlikely that having a half dozen or less such sites driving traffic will cause Google to ding you significantly related to where you appear in search engine results. Of course, the aforementioned assumes that your website is reputable and relevant and meets other SEO best practices and standards, not just backlink ones.
While the purpose of this post is really to alert readers of this potential SEO danger and to explain how you can identify if your backlinks may be hurting vs. helping you, at the end of my post, I will share some experts’ thoughts on how to fix this bad SEO equation. If your site has close to 10, or many more than 10, “bad” sites referring traffic, you should take immediate steps to remedy this.
A Google Analytics data review allows you to see how visitors are finding your website. Once logged into your Google Analytics account, you can view this data by accessing the “Channels” report under the “Acquisition” left-hand menu tab as shown below.
direct = someone entered your website’s domain/URL directly into their browser or they had your website bookmarked
organicsearch = someone entered relevant terms in a search engine and then clicked on a link included in a search results listing
paid search = someone clicked on an online ad as part of a online advertising campaign you ran on a search engine advertising platform, like Google Ads
social = someone clicked on a link to a page on your website included in a social media post on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.
referral = someone clicked on a link to your site found on a website or blog
An immediate red flag — one I saw with the client that I referenced at the top of this post — is, in most cases, when too large of a percentage of your website traffic is “referral” traffic. Ideally, your two largest traffic channels would be “direct” and “organic search.” If the percentage of traffic associated with these two latter channels, individually, is lower than the % of traffic from “referrals”, that’s an indication that you could be driving a lot of traffic to your website from “spammy” sites. Let’s face it, the folks you most want visiting your site are quality visitors, i.e., current/returning customers and individuals who have found your site because of a relevant search engine search.
Your next step in assessing whether your SEO is likely being negatively impacted by “bad” backlinks is to click on “Referral” where it is listed under the “Default Channel Grouping” in Google Analytics, as shown in the image above. A list will immediately be generated showing you the various websites and blogs that are referring traffic to your site. It should be pretty obvious to you by the names of the referral sources which ones aren’t reputable blogs and websites with which you want your own website and your organization to be associated.
Bottom line is this — whether you intentionally had an organization who claimed they could improve your SEO purchase/provide/set up such backlinks on your behalf, or such backlinks were established by someone your organization did not engage for SEO help or who is not affiliated with your organization and who was/is looking to negatively impact your organization and SEO results, you’ll want to eliminate spammy backlinks since they’ll harm you in the long run.
Learn more from experts, including Google themselves, about backlinks and get advice on how to resolve “bad” backlink scenarios, or reach out to us for assistance.