Are You on Santa’s SEO Naughty List?

It’s nearly Christmas and with the recent Michael Bell One Christmas drinks and meal celebration over we’re all looking forward to spending time with our friends and family, and of course we’re excited to see what jolly old Saint Nic’ will be bringing down the chimney. We’re all pretty certain that we’ll be on the nice list, but the festive season has got us thinking about all of those marketing pitfalls that are easy to fall into, so in this extra festive Blackboard Monday we’ve put together this simple guide to figure out if you’ve been running your Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) campaign like a true bastion of ethical marketing, or if you’ll be receiving a lump of coal in your stocking on the 25th.

Don’t be a Dick Unethical

Ethics
We’ve covered the idea of white hat, grey hat and black hat SEO in the past, and while we’ve made it clear that at Michael Bell One we only employ methods that prove us to be true paragons of marketing virtue, we feel that it would be beneficial to define what these different SEO wizard hats actually entail. We’ll begin with our personal preference:

White Hat SEO

White Hat SEO
White hat techniques require employing a range of onsite and offsite optimisation techniques that are focussed on natural, long term and sustainable results which are achieved through methods that adhere to the rules and policies of search engines and social media sites. We also refer to white hat SEO as ethical SEO, meaning that this is a type of SEO that Father Christmas really digs and rewards with the best toys on Christmas Day.

Black Hat SEO

Black Hat SEO
Also known as the dark side; black hat SEO techniques are generally considered to be quite unethical and are the diametric counterpart to white hat methods. Black hat still requires the use of onsite and offsite techniques, but they’re usually solely focussed on gaming search engines without a considering how real people will interact with a website. While black hat methods can be successful, getting caught out can be disastrous and result in search engines such as Google banishing listings of your website into oblivion. Generally the gains from black hat SEO campaigns can be quite rocky, with keyword positions going on a rollercoaster through Search Engine Results Page (SERP) rankings and sustainable results being much harder to achieve. If Santa catches you practising black hat SEO, expect a lump of coal and potentially a permanent position on the naughty list.

Grey Hat SEO

Grey Hat SEO
Grey hat techniques borrow a bit from the dark side and the light side of the SEO force. If you’re picturing Luke Skywalker in Return of the Jedi, you’re on track for understanding how grey hat SEO works. Grey hat is generally considered to be a riskier take on white hat SEO, and requires bending the rules somewhat to achieve results through a less ethical approach. While as with black hat techniques grey hat methods can achieve results, the same penalties can be felt if you get caught out.

How to stay off the Naughty List

Santa Naughty List
If you regularly read our Blackboard Monday articles or any of our other blog posts, you’ll have gained a decent idea of what constitutes acceptable web marketing practices, but if you need a quick crib sheet for how to stay off of the naughty list, the following are basics that everyone who provides SEO should know, so keep in mind that this isn’t an all-encompassing “how to SEO” list, and more of a beginners guide.

Don’t Stuff Keywords into Your Content

Keyword Stuffing
This is SEO 101, but you don’t have to look far to find people who still practice keyword stuffing. While keyword stuffing can generate some short term results, in the long term you’ll likely cause more problems for your website than it’s worth. Of course keyword placement is still important, and while ensuring that keywords appear in the title, heading and opening paragraph of your landing pages is important, it’s vital to not go overboard. Some common sense is the key here, and even though your content may be exceptionally natural and written without the goal of gaming Google, if you have over 40 mentions of a keyword in a 300 word landing page, you may want to consider scaling that back quite a bit.

Don’t use Shady Links

Shady Images
The internet is built on links. That fact is inescapable and while Google doesn’t like to admit it, its algorithm is still firmly rooted in this principle as is evident in research done into the changes recently brought in by Penguin, just not so much in the way that it was at the turn of the millennium. There was a time that buying up as many links as your budget would allow on as many directories or link circle communities as possible was a justifiable and successful tactic, but for the last few years this practice has been frowned upon. While quantity is unarguably still a factor, quality carries a lot of weight and receiving links from shady or weak sources can be detrimental to your campaign. However links from sites with a high domain authority can be highly beneficial, and of course natural links tend to be the most beneficial. While we wouldn’t say that the practice of purchasing links is entirely out of the question, you do need to be well informed and very careful in where you purchase links from. External links are also important and linking through to relevant web pages adds validity to your website and essentially acts as a form of referencing. For instance in this article we could link to Moz’s SEO Beginners Guide to demonstrate that what we are saying is backed by a website with higher domain authority.

Don’t Mess Up Your Onsite Optimisation

Mistake
This is another SEO 101 tip, but again this is an area that many people still get wrong. Onsite optimisation incorporates a few of the other points that we’re covering here, but mainly we’re referring to content and how content is laid out on any given page of your website. The most obvious elements that you need to have in place on every page of your website is to have your meta titles and descriptions relevant to your landing page, but you also want clear and concise heading tags that follow the standard format of h1>h2>h3 and so on. You also want to ensure that all of your content is visible and that the majority isn’t hidden behind drop down menus, or in a font or font colour that makes text unreadable. Google is particularly hot on this issue, and in some case having hidden content that aims to game Google can lead to a hard to recover from manual penalty.

Make Sure Your Content is Amazing

Content
If there’s one thing that both Santa and Google both like, it’s fresh, unique and engaging content. Google’s Panda algorithm has a real focus on the quality of content, and if your copy is thin or doesn’t engage your audience you’ll find that those pages are going to struggle and prove to be a bit of a dead weight. Every piece of content on your website should provide something new or give a fresh take on something old, so if you have a resident wordsmith put their talents to good use and make sure that you have some stellar content that keeps your visitors reading and completing your call to action.

Forget about Paid Reviews

Chocolate Money
The title sums this one up, but if you need clarity; don’t consider paying a third party to post reviews about your website or company to another website or social media channel. Don’t even consider offering to post them yourself. We’ve discussed this issue previously, and there can be repercussions for doing so, offering rewards to people who complete reviews isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but you need to be conscious of how ethical you are during this process. We recommend reading more about this topic in the article we wrote about Why User Reviews Matter.

Don’t Copy the Cool Kid

Cool Kid
It can be tempting to “borrow” content from other sources, but this will get picked up by Google’s Panda algorithm and can cause issues for your rankings. Curated content can be an angle to take if you’re adamant about using other previously published content, but in these instances you will need to provide your own angle on the subject matter rather than just saying “website x posted this content and we think it’s great, here’s the content” because you’ll fall into the same pitfall that you would have done had you just stolen the content, however use of canonical tags can help to alleviate the issue of duplicate content alarms going off.

Choose a Great CMS

CMS
There are a myriad of choices for Content Management Systems (CMS) out there, and choosing the right one can be make or break for your webs marketing campaign. Some key things to look out for is the level of control that a CMS will allow you over your website; you want to be able to edit a lot of the elements that we’ve discussed in this article, as well an easy way to implement a responsive design (which we’ll come to shortly), and you want to make sure that security is a top concern for your CMS provider. At present WordPress powers around a quarter of all web pages, and as a CMS it has moved on considerably from the humble blogging platform that it once was, but for many ecommerce websites it’s not the best solution. We recommend researching your options to find out which CMS will work best for you, or alternatively talk to people in the know, such as the team at Michael Bell One who will help you in choosing a suitable CMS for your new website, just be wary of companies who offer a proprietary CMS as their motivations will be to get you to use their own system.

Use Responsive Design

Santa Mobile
(so Kris Kringle can check your website on his sleigh)

Google has been very clear about how important having a responsive web design is for the success of your website on their SERP. Ensuring that all of the content on your website is visible and easy to navigate, no matter what device it’s viewed on, will go a long way towards securing a position for you on Santa’s nice list. Making sure that navigation menus and embedded links can be accessed on a desktop as well as an iPhone will aid your user experience, something which Google is placing a lot of importance on at the moment, speaking of which be wary of interstitials on mobile devices.

Don’t Underestimate the Power of UX

UX
Any web design agency worth their salt will tell you about the importance of user experience to the success of your website. Going forwards into the New Year it appears to be clear that Google is going to be placing even more emphasis on the importance of user experience, meaning that when visitors come to your website you want to ensure that they have a good time. Google can measure the quality of your user experience through a number of methods, but the most obvious one is your bounce rate. If a visitor comes to your website and only spends a few seconds before realising that what you’re offering isn’t for them and returning to Google just as quickly, your bounce rate will increase, and Google can include this as a factor in ranking your website. The trick is to ensure that as many people as possible will enjoy visiting your website, or at the very least find it an informative experience that provides information that is relative to the search enquiry that brought them to you in the first place. Make sure that you stand out as offering something special; you’ll make Father Christmas and Google very happy.

Talk to Naughty and Nice List Experts

Ask an Expert
At Michael Bell One we have a wealth of experience in designing and developing exceptionally high quality websites that stand out from the crowd, utilise powerful CMS and ecommerce solutions and are SEO ready. We also have a team of talented SEO experts who will make sure that your web marketing campaign will make your website shine and turn those clicks into clients. If you want to find out how we can help your website stay on Santa’s nice list, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us and we’ll be happy to discuss a strategy that will fulfil the needs of your business. You can contact James Golding by completing our online contact form, by sending an email to hello@juddassoc.com or by calling our Lewes office on 01273 478822 to speak to a friendly member of the team.

From the whole team at Michael Bell One we hope that you have a memorable Christmas full of festive joy and cheer, and a prosperous 2016.