3 Questions To Ask Your B2B SEO Expert

Whether you’ve hired a search marketing agency or are using in-house resources, how do you know if your B2B SEO expert is doing a great job? Three simple questions that all business marketers should ask about their B2B SEO program are:

  1. How does our SEO plan differ from a consumer-oriented (B2C) SEO program?
  2. Specifically what B2B SEO methodologies are you implementing?
  3. How does the SEO program directly contribute to my business goals and marketing objectives?

1.  Unique Aspects Of Your B2B SEO Plan

Evaluate your expert’s understanding of your specific B2B market. Ensure that you are not getting a one-size-fits-all solution. While many fundamental elements of SEO implementation remain the same for B2B and B2C websites, make sure your SEO partner understands the ways in which you want to engage your business audience.

Specifically, do they understand your customers’ research and buying process? Ask your expert about how your SEO Plan and Keyword Map addresses searcher behavior at each phase of the buying cycle.

Typical B2B Buying Cycle Process

Is your SEO expert optimizing for the following types of search phrases:

  • General market research terms
  • Product/service evaluation phrases
  • Purchase-ready queries

Here is a sampling of keywords from a SEO Plan that spans all buying cycle steps for an ERP software company:

General Market Research Terms Product Evaluation Terms Purchase-Ready Terms
ERP softwareERP software whitepaper ERP product comparison chart  ERP software pricingERP service agreement

2.  Review Specific Methodologies

While this may seem like a basic question, it is important to remain well informed as to specifically what your B2B SEO expert is doing on your behalf. Is their SEO implementation plan in line with the guidelines set forth by the search engines? Does the plan focus on the tasks which are most impactful to your business? Also known as “white hat”, strategies that do not violate these guidelines can be very effective.

Things like improving the quality of your site’s content, removing any road blocks to search engine access, ensuring appropriate page load speeds, creating compelling Title tags (note I use the word compelling – not “full of keywords”) all fall within the scope of acceptable practices. If your SEO professional is not willing to share their methodologies, that should be a major red flag.

In particular, you should ask about any link-building efforts they have underway. The search engines, especially Google, have taken steps in the last year to weed out sites that have used unfavorable methods for link-building.

I recommend that you ask your SEO expert these 4 specific link-related questions:

  1. Specifically where are the links being placed?  Can they provide a list of URLs?
  2. Why are those websites/blogs/forums placing a link to your website?
  3. Is the content on the website directly related to the link?
  4. Does the link have marketing value or is it only there for a potential impact on rankings?

It is essential to know that you are in complete compliance with the search engine guidelines, specifically where links are concerned. Links should be on credible websites that are topically related to your own website.

Links should not be purchased (this is not the same as advertising on a website, which is fine as long as it is clearly defined as an advertisement). And a link from any website should provide assistance to marketing and branding efforts – not just to help boost rankings.

Search Engines take offense to anyone trying to “game the system” by violating their guidelines. Even Google had to penalize itself when a vendor violated quality guidelines to promote Google Chrome.

In order to protect your brand, reputation and organic traffic, it is imperative to have full disclosure from your SEO expert on their efforts. If they are unwilling to comply with this request, it is probably time to part ways.

3.  Measurable Impact On Business Goals & Marketing Objectives

It can be easy to get side tracked by ranking for your “money phrase” and lose sight of the things that directly impact the success of your SEO efforts. While rankings are the means to an end (increased rankings should lead to increased traffic), the more important factor is whether or not the organic traffic is qualified.

Are they engaging with your website? Is your lead generation improving? It is essential to keep your “eye on the ball” by clearly defining what success looks like to your B2B company.

For example, user engagement on your website is likely a Key Performance Indicator (KPI). The amount of time a user spends learning about your company can directly impact their next steps in your buying cycle.

Here are some important B2B SEO metrics to consider:

  • Amount of time organic visitors spend on the site when searching with branded vs. non-branded keywords/phrases.
  • Volume of returning visitors using branded phrases in their search queries.
  • Critical engagement steps such as viewing a case study or downloading a whitepaper.
  • Organic conversion funnels, events and goals.

Due to the complexity of the sales process generally associated with many B2B websites, calculating ROI on a SEO program is far more difficult than with an ecommerce site with clear revenue tracking.

Businesses generally do not make “impulse buys”; therefore, they spend a lot of time understanding their needs, assessing possible solutions, and comparing options before engaging/purchasing.

By understanding the goals of your SEO program and clearly communicating what you consider to be the KPIs of your website in relation to the buying cycle of your service or product, your SEO partner should be able to demonstrate their success (or failure). If your SEO expert is a true pro, they will also constantly suggest ways to improve upon your KPIs.

Ensure B2B SEO Success

If your SEO professional can answer these questions to your satisfaction, you can be comfortable that you are in good hands. You are holding them accountable, understanding their practices for SEO implementation, and ensuring they are focused on the goals and objectives of your company. I recommend that you ask these questions of your SEO expert on at least a quarterly basis to confirm that your SEO program stays on track and is successfully meeting your business goals.

Google Penguin Crashes Wedding Site’s Shady Link Building Strategy

The past month has been a painful one for thousands of webmasters hit by the Google Penguin update. If your rankings dipped, no doubt you’ve been faced with a bunch of questions regarding the future of your site and any potential recovery methods that might be available.

After any Google update, be it Panda, Penguin, or any other one, you can fit in one of the following category profiles:

Positive Impact

  • You played by Google’s rules and your rankings increased.
  • You did some shady link building and got away with it.

Negative Impact

  • You played by Google rules and you still got hit … “collateral damage”.
  • You did some shady link building.
  • You had no idea what link building strategies were used because you outsourced it.
  • You are confused by how Google might treat SEO or you might have received bad advice and thought you were playing by Google’s rules … but you weren’t.

No Impact

  • Your rankings weren’t affected.

For those who have been negatively impacted, what follows are details about one site that has been hit by the Google Penguin update. This site was guilty of doing some shady link building and had no idea what link building strategies were used due to outsourcing.

I won’t disclose the name of this high profile site in the wedding niche. Also, I’m not affiliated with this site in any way. The data was tracked and benchmarked through cognitiveSEO (disclaimer: I work for cognitiveSEO) to present the case, as a demo, to show how their link building tactics affected their rankings.

It all began with their shady link building campaign – one which resulted in:

  • Around 60 percent of their links coming from a set of “link networks” and a high range of low quality articles.
  • Over optimized “money keywords” anchor text distribution.
  • Big discrepancy in “link profile” comparison among all the major competitors in the same niche.

Eventually, a tweak to Google’s algorithm caught them:

  • March 25, 2012: Their rankings dipped. (This is prior to the official Google Penguin date … but, in my point of view, Google had been working on this algorithm update since the beginning of this year. You can read on the Google Webmaster Forums a lot of people that complain about the unnatural links warning and rankings dip from the beginning of 2012.)
  • April 25, 2012: Their rankings took another dip. (Corresponding with the official “Penguin” update release.)

As of this writing, the website in question isn’t receiving much organic traffic from Google.

Link Building Tactic Dissection

This wedding website used a set of link networks, where low quality content posts were added. The majority of the posts contained one or two links with “money keywords” pointing to their site only. No other external links were found in these articles. These posts were added gradually with a rather normal link velocity.

The second type of low quality and unnatural links were found in weak content articles posted on all kind of sites. They respect the same pattern as the link network blog posts presented before.

The major identifiable pattern is the type of written articles/blog posts and money keywords used. All anchor text was “unnatural” with the sole purpose of driving link juice to the main site and rank it higher. The link building strategy was SEO focused rather than human focused. You can clearly see this in their anchor text distribution:

We can see a totally unnatural brand anchor text distribution. Almost no brand keywords, mistypes navigational keywords, mix of brand and money keywords. It is all optimized for the money keywords.

By the way, this site had a pretty high ratio of the “wedding rings” keyword on its main page that might look like the keyword was over stuffed. The rest of the pages on the site had a pretty natural keyword distribution.

A natural anchor text profile will normally look like this.

When comparing the link profile of this wedding site to their major competitors (major players in the same niche that weren’t affected by the Penguin update) this site had a major discrepancy in their link profile. They were the only one with ~60 percent links coming from low quality blogs. The rest had a similar distribution of links by the site type profiling.

How easy it is to Google to find these kind of anomalies in link profiles? Rather easy it seems, compared to other things they do, that are way more complicated to implement.

Penguin Recovery Methodology

What should this website do to recover?

To begin, they should remove all those “link network” backlinks and low quality article links. While doing this, they should start developing and implementing a creative viral campaign (infographics, videos, etc.) to attract natural links to the site.

Forget traditional SEO for a while. Don’t focus on any “money SEO” at this point – just do it for the sake of visibility and increasing site authority. After building back the lost site authority is when they can focus on the “money keywords” and more traditional SEO.

Removing the majority of their link profile is going to be a really tough task, unless they have direct control over the link networks or can communicate with the owners of the link networks to ask them to remove the links.

Google’s Penguin update was a real hit for thousands of shady SEOs, because removing a link can be even harder than acquiring that link in the first place. It is a concept that could be called “link demolition.

At least one Penguin recovery has been reported, at the time Penguin 1.1 rolled out late last month. The only difference is that the presented site apparently played by Google rules and still got hit as “collateral damage”. A big piece of their recovery came from removing unnatural links.

Conclusions

Identify Penguin

To do this, you first need to find the anomalies in your link profile compared to your still ranking competitors. After you did this you need to identify low quality links that might have caused the unnatural link update trigger. If you were able to find all these than you have the “cause”. Now you need to find the “recovery method”.

Penguin Recovery

The main recovery methodology (not exactly 100 percent proven yet) is to remove the “unnatural links” and rebuild your authority by building “quality links” (you could go the viral link building way for example – infographics, etc.). After all Penguin might be just an “authority slap”. Rebuild that and remove the links that drag that authority down might be the way to recovery.

If too many “unnatural links” or impossible to remove them … start with a totally new domain and re-build everything. That is the worst case scenario. Either way, it’s going to be a tough job. Even Google’s Distinguished Engineer Matt Cutts said that a domain could be totally dipped by Penguin and a recovery could not be possible in certain situations.

Tell Google About it

Ask (and pray) for a site review from Google, after your unnatural link removal is done. You might even have to wait for the next Penguin update to come in effect to see any improvements.

Future Link Building Strategies

If you’re seeking a medium- to long-term “relationship with Google”, start to think more creatively and forget about the old link building tricks that worked for years. Google is smarter than that. If they still work, it will likely only be for a limited period of time.

Google’s classification algorithms will catch the majority of these tricks. Still, there are some major gaps in their algorithms that can be exploited (you can see some of the most spammed keywords still contain spam pages in the top 10 results).

These pages got here by using the oldest tricks in the SEO industry (just applied with a different flavor):

  • Cloaking
  • Google bombs (but with a distributed link velocity, and a distribution of low quality links combined with high authority links)
  • Hacked sites
  • Advanced link networks (that are harder to spot by Google at this point in time … their owners just need to be paranoid enough so that they don’t leave any traces around)
  • And other tricks …

Google is always moving forward and advancing, focusing on their own interests and not the interests of the webmasters. They will finally catch these “Made for SEO” sites.

 Link Building Help

Webmasters Feel Hurt By Google Shopping Move To Paid Placement

Google announced big news, they are doing away with Google Product Search and replacing it with Google Shopping. The name change isn’t a big deal but the model is, they are going from a free product search engine to a paid one!

Danny Sullivan said this is the first time Google is removing a free product to a paid product. And it is upsetting webmasters and SEOs in the forums. I recommend you read Danny’s article for perspective before I share the response by SEOs and webmasters in the forums.

Before I do that, so you know, this feature was first named Froogle, then named Google Products, then named Google Base, then Google Merchants, then Google Product Search and now Google Shopping (although it might have been named shopping also for a period of time).

 Anyway, here is some of the reaction from WebmasterWorld and Cre8asite Forums.

Great, now they’re going to charge for something that has been free for a very long time. Not that it really performed that well anyway.

Now remind me, why do we all just give Google our content to monetize for free? Google has no content without ours.

Google has, for years now, been consistently developing and promoting their own services to the frequent detriment of prior service partners and query return breadth. This is another logical revenue step… albeit one that Google, also for years, was at pains to label ‘evil’. The humourous part of this are Google’s attempts to deflect, even redefine, pay for inclusion: such behaviour simply underlines that they know they have finally closed the door on their business ‘otherness’. The emperor has no clothes. The sooner Google-centric webdevs acknowledge this and undertake a realistic reassessment of their business model the longer they may stay in business.

My favorite, well, I’ll embed it as an image:

For more on how this will work and what it will look like see Danny’s article and Google’s blog.

Forum discussion at WebmasterWorld and Cre8asite Forums.