SEO: One size doesn’t fit all
We happened across a hotel in the North East that had bought some very, very expensive sitewide anchor text links from a network of newspaper sites. They were certainly paying many thousands of pounds a month for these links, and while they were undoubtedly helping the rankings it’s doubtful whether the market for hotels in that region would ever be enough to return the money they were investing.
SEO is all about content and links supporting a well optimised and architected site. That’s a given in 2010. But because the techniques are the same doesn’t mean that the strategy is the same at all times. Consider this typical diagram of how markets can be broken down.
At one end of the scale you have low value products that not many people want (like seaweed and couscous pasties) and at the other you have high value products that lots of people want (like Leeds United Strips). When you step back from the nuts and bolts of an SEO campaign, you should be able to formulate a strategy in order to bring your products to market most effectively through search.
Where many people get it wrong it by having the wrong strategy for the wrong market sector.
Low value, small audience
If you have a low value product that not many people want, then you might think that perhaps SEO isn’t really for you and you might have better luck on eBay. Or perhaps you’d be better off getting out of bed and going for your dole cheque. But there are plenty of people hawking round £10 ebooks on how to hypnotise your hamster and certainly some of them are making enough money to make it worthwhile.
If you are selling something like that then your SEO strategy is about getting traffic in as cheaply as possible. Even on a good conversion rate, the small margins won’t allow you to spend much on your site or on acquiring links. Your options are therefore to get the cheapest available hosting and basically linkspam and scrape content to live off the long tail.
Mass-buying low value links or using automation can make your site rank in Bing and Yahoo much more easily than in Google and you can supplement your income by loading your sites with AdSense (in fact, AdSense might even be your revenue stream). As your potential audience for any one niche is small and low value, you should probably operate in several niches if you actually want to make any money.
Low value, big audience
Perhaps the most common set of market circumstances is some kind of every day item that is pretty cheap but that everyone wants or needs. Tins of beans, for example, or razor blades. Margins might still be pretty thin but there is a lot of search volume out there that you can tap into.
This is easier to pull off if you are selling such products within a bigger product portfolio where you can offer upsells or cross-sells. People buying beans might want bread to make toast, or forks to eat them with. And you might be able to tempt them with tins of ravioli. If all you’ve got is beans, it’s going to be very difficult to make sufficient money from that alone.
You’ll need a logistical set-up to support a big inventory of products and know how to channel your equity most effectively. You’ll want to build a lot of promotional/brand links to your homepage and a mix of internal architecture and deep linking to get the most out of your domain power in your core markets.
High value, small audience
This tends to be kinds of specialist, big-ticket items. Perhaps you’re selling high-end software or expensive medical equipment. Not many people are going to buy, but there’s plenty of money involved.
Selling to such an audience means putting your keyword choice and content strategy right at the heart of what you do. Your content should offer as much information as humanly possible about your product or service. With big value items, the research stage is necessarily longer and more detailed and the sites that do well will work hard at the convincing stage – where the long tail effect can be at it’s most powerful. In fact, in a lot of cases people will begin their searching without even knowing the ‘right’ term for the thing they’re looking for.
That means heavily investing in content and sourcing links that are not merely about passing equity but also from sites in the right market sector in order to get direct customer engagement on click throughs.
High value, big audience
Anything that falls into this category is likely to be fiercely competitive and it is no suprise that the companies that operate in such markets – such as insurance, loans or cars – must deploy a lot of resources to craft a winning SEO strategy.
You can probably guess where most of that goes: links.
But with so much at stake commercially, these sectors are perhaps more prone than others to marketing-led site changes with negative SEO effects. We often find that a promotional drive will lead a client to inadvertently cloak their site to meet some promotional criteria at the behest of marketing and similar SEO gaffs. Your strategy must therefore include SEO as part of your broader marketing efforts in a holistic way, with close co-operation between developers, SEO and marketing departments.
In a lot of cases that means keeping a team in-house or a very clued-in central point of contact with your agency.
Conclusion: horses for courses
Like I said at the top of this post, there’s a tonne of overspill between these kind-of-arbitrary market sectors – and links, site architecture and content are integral in all markets. Nontheless, if you’re trying to make a living out of AdSense then it’s senseless pursuing high-authority link buys. And if you’re trying to sell insurance then running off a scraper engine is just silly.
We take the view that every market has different needs which is why we don’t bother with a one-size-fits-all approach. If all you’ve got is one approach, then eventually you’ll come a cropper.