Inside the industry and inside the agency
As Wickedweb’s Senior Search Manager, Richard Lyne is well placed to discuss developments, changes and updates from the world of SEO. Below, Richard has outlined just how mainstream SEO has become and how some companies are still making fundamental mistakes…Over to you Richard:
I had a conversation with a couple friends the other day about the Penguin update. That’s not that unusual when you’re speaking to people who work in web, but when you’re talking to a Kent-based wedding photographer and an instructor from a dance school in Tunbridge Wells, you realise that something’s amiss. Or not.
I must admit, I didn’t expect the conversation and I certainly didn’t start it. But there I was, on a Sunday afternoon, talking SEO with non-SEO’ers and explaining what I do for a living to people who didn’t respond with “que”?!
“Link base needs improving…”
“We can see from Google Analytics…”
I didn’t make any of these comments and it’s great to see that SEO has now infiltrated the mindset of all aspiring business people.
SEO is no longer a dark art; a niche field where SEO’ers are treated like wizards. SEO has passed the introduction phase, is racing through growth and heading towards the maturity phase of the product lifecycle. More people know about SEO and more people know how to do it, sort of.
However, whilst SEO has become mainstream and at the forefront of the marketing mix, so many businesses get carried away talking about pandas and penguins and forget to pay attention to the basics (sadly no animal references here). We often see fundamental mistakes made by large organisations that have had SEO Strategies in place from day 1. So, our biggest piece of advice is to get the fundamentals right first.
At Wickedweb we are lucky enough to meet and work with some great clients and we love showing how and where we can add value. Other agencies feel that it’s more important to discuss “the latest algo update” and whilst we bring up-to-date best practice into the project, we have spent years on what we feel makes the biggest impact. SEO is the starting point for 99% of projects at Wickedweb and we have had it installed as a core part of our process flow for a long time. We’ve seen the results of this, measured the impact of Panda and Penguin and are pleased to see that algorithm updates improve our clients’ SEO. So don’t chase the tail of the latest update (yes an animal reference!), focus on what has always been important in SEO and you’ll reap the rewards.
Stuart Wells, Managing Director at agency Wickedweb talks to Figaro Digital about best practice within design and build - Article by Jon Fortgang - Figaro Digital
"If you build it," runs the line in baseball drama Field of Dreams, "they will come."
That was back in 1989, but until comparatively recently the same theory underpinned plenty of design and build projects. Now that Google decides on ranking, campaigns are seeded on social and the mobile frontier opens up, brand managers and marketers need to approach the planning and construction of their sites – and in particular SEO - with scientific precision.
Wickedweb are a full service digital agency who specialise in this field. Established in 2002, the company's work with a range of clients over the last decade has provided them with a clear perspective on some of the most persistent challenges – as well as the greatest opportunities – open to digital marketers seeking to optimise their presence across all channels.
"We speak to some new clients now," says Stuart Wells, Managing Director at Wickwedweb, "who've been through maybe two or three versions of a design and build project, and they're a bit nervous at the start. They're saying to us, 'we've made these mistakes in the past, we've seen these errors crop up. How can we mitigate the risk and improve our top level approach to a design and build project?'"
For Wells and the team at Wickedweb, the answer to that has involved establishing a clear best practice procedure which, they believe, helps brands refine their objectives and focus on achievable goals with measurable value. So what, for Wells, does best practice within design and build actually entail?
"Most projects start with a client saying, 'I want to deliver this'," he explains. "'I want to do it in three months and this is how much I've got to spend.' But the reality is, at that point, nine out of 10 clients don't know what it is they're looking to achieve, they don't know how long it's going to take and they don't know how much it's going to cost. And the agencies tendering for the job don't know either, because until you get into those detailed workshops and discussions, you simply don't."
Wells uses a three-part model to describe the approach best suited to streamlining and unifying that process. "There's the budget," he says, "There's the deadline, and there's the delivery. The methodology by which a large scale design and build project is delivered is all-important. In years gone by you'd see the 'waterfall' methodology, where you do one stage of the project, agree it with the client, sign off and then move to the next stage."
The problem with that approach, explains Wells, is an inherent lack of flexibility. Budgets change, deadlines shift and objectives are reconceived. "A lot of times that ends in disappointment. We inherit a lot of clients who've been through that relationship. What we're looking at now is a more agile way of working, where we'll ask the client not necessarily to commit to a definite budget but a budget range, not to commit to an absolute deliverable, but to a deliverable range. And not to set their heart on an absolute deadline but to a range of dates. That way you can enter the project and be far more open and pragmatic and say, 'What is actually achievable here? What are you looking to do as a business and what can we do to give you as much value as possible?'
Given his experience, what, for Wells are some of the most persistent challenges facing brands and agencies as they embark on a project together? Though brand managers may imagine the tighter a brief the better, that isn't always the case.
"Eighty per cent of briefs are actually too specific," he explains. That might sound counter-intuitive in a field where clarity of purpose is key, but more information, it transpires, doesn't always mean better information.
"Most brand and marketing managers will have a good idea of what they want to achieve. Let's say it's an integrated campaign – they'll be aware of some of the things they can do in social media, some of the things you can do with a CMS. But they may not know the best things that can be achieved at that point in time. Often agencies will respond to those client requirements because the clients have been very prescriptive. But that may not be the best way to achieve a client's underlying objectives, because there are new methods or more technically advanced ways of doing things." As an example, Wells cites advances in browser-technology versus Flash. But the point, he says, is that agencies should be able to analyse a client's top-level objectives and then present that client with the best routes to achieving those aims, rather than having to stick to a rigid, pre-ordained road map.
Starting with SEO
Key to any design and build project is SEO. For Wells and the Wickedweb team, it's the foundation on which everything else rests. So how does best practice apply here?
"To get the best results in SEO," says Wells, "you have to be there right at the beginning. Your organic search strategy has to be considered right at the start of the project. And that search strategy needs to filter through to the content audit – understanding where content is going to be placed. It needs to filter through to the information architecture stage, ensuring that the structure is correct around the content and search strategy. And on the back of that it should fall into design and build in a way that's fairly straightforward. You're then at the point where you've got the right foundations for search."
Dealing with data
Though the focus is inevitably on the launch of any campaign, when it comes to looking at data, this is the beginning rather than the end of the story.
"The brands that we see doing best in digital are the ones who understand their data best," says Wells. In the past this meant relying on disparate methods of analysis. "Now, with newer platforms and technology – Sitecore for example - we're able to work with customers, look at the data, look at the audience and actually prescribe the user-journey we want people to go down as we engage with them. That strategy can be put in place right at the beginning of the project and be constantly checked and progressed throughout."
While agility and flexibility are key, Wells acknowledges that the speed with which digital technology moves means specific strategies must themselves remain fluid. What works this year may need revising next. But remaining nimble, adaptable and open to change is a surefire way for brands to protect – and see measurable returns on – the investments they make in digital.
Best Practice in Practice – 10 Tips For Design & Build
- Choose you partner agency on who they are – as people!
- Get the background on senior figureheads leading all key roles within the agency
- Ask about their internal project management processes and methodology, status updates and meetings
- Ensure you know your SLA, response times, maintenance and support retainers
- Ensure you know how they and you will measure the ongoing success of the project
- Ensure you have portability
- Ensure you have performance
- Ensure you have scalability
- Ensure you have targeted content
- Ensure you have data and information
Wickedweb has had a successful year managing the digital strategy for Ella’s Kitchen, the leading global organic baby food company. Wickedweb has been working with Ella’s Kitchen for over 2 years, and during this period have delivered a suite of global websites with locales, and digital marketing activity to support the overall annual brand plan. Ella’s Kitchen has an exciting and ambitious brand vision, and Wickedweb’s digital activity supports key marketing objectives.
Wickedweb has released a case study for the ‘Ella’s Friends conversion strategy’ which involves harnessing digital techniques to grow the database of Friends to the target level. This database is then used to build engaging relationships on a sensorial level, which ultimately feeds into Ella’s Kitchen’s core objectives.
Wickedweb were responsible for conceiving and implementing a strategy that encompasses:
- Website evolution to support the mechanics of the campaigns
- Consumer engagement via campaigns
- Data capture and acquisition
- Online marketing tactics such as PPC and SEO
The overall Friends acquisition results superseded expectations as we hit 150.5% of the target. Organic search traffic has increased by a marked 56% with a strong conversion rate, with Ella’s Kitchen’s key search term achieving and maintaining 1st place in Google rankings.
For the detail on how Wickedweb achieved this for Ella’s Kitchen, please view our case study.
“Wickedweb have a very strategic approach. They understand our business, and more specifically how to activate our overall strategy to our consumers through digital channels. I am delighted that the results of our Friends conversion strategy has surpassed our targets, and we owe much of this success to Wickedweb and the effective digital strategies they have executed for Ella’s Kitchen”.
Samantha Crossley – ‘Makes Friends’ – Ella’s Kitchen
Wickedweb are the lead digital marketing agency for The Lifehouse spa, and we have had an exciting time working on their website launch and full technical systems integration.
The Lifehouse case study focuses on an interesting challenge: the marriage of brand positioning, technical consultancy and creative execution. There were a range of objectives that needed to be considered as part of the brief spanning functional, business and creative requirements. The solution executed by Wickedweb weaves these together. In addition, The Lifehouse spa was not visible online. At the start of our work there were no keyword listings and little brand awareness beyond their name. Therefore, an SEO strategy was implemented to turn this around.
This has been a successful case study and the results showcase the impact of the website and the SEO strategy. Want to find out more? Read on to discover how we did it…
Stacey Hedges, Marketing Manager at Lifehouse comments:
"Wickedweb have provided us with invaluable support, guidance and creatively in launching the website. The team have been a true extension to the marketing department and play an integral role in the development and evolvement of the site. It’s been an absolute pleasure to work with them and we look forward to continue to drive traffic to the site and future developments"
Schülke are the international specialists in infection control products, hygiene, disinfection and preservation, and are a long standing client of Wickedweb. The UK website was over - hauled by us a year ago and Wickedweb manage ongoing developments to the site and the digital strategy. One of schülke’s key objectives is to maintain their leading position in the market by ensuring the brand engages with its audience in an innovative way.
Following the website re-brand, schülke were keen to enforce this re-positioning, increase traffic to the site and encourage repeat visits. It was also paramount that we worked on raising awareness for the brand. Wickedweb advised creating a members area for the main schülke website as part of the content strategy, in order to bring engagement with the audience to the fore. In addition, a dedicated microsite for the dental portfolio was created to support a key campaign.
Our recommendation also included launching social media activity for the first time, which underpinned their data acquisition objectives. Furthermore, Wickedweb rolled out an SEO strategy.
Find out more about the overall strategy Wickedweb implemented for schülke and how this met the client’s objectives.
Nicola Furniss, Senior Product Manager for schülke comments:
“Wickedweb were integral to the launch of our re designed site which was intended to make us and our products and services more accessible to our customers. Wickedweb continue to support us both creatively and technically in our online activity as pioneers of infection prevention.”
Wickedweb’s SEO team continue to grow – welcome Darryl Kearvell.
SEO is one of our busiest departments here at Wickedweb, and our team is constantly growing. We are delighted to welcome Darryl, who has a strong programming and SEO background. Having worked for one of the largest digital media agencies previously, Darryl has experience with clients such Proctor & Gamble.
With a degree in Computer Science, Darryl has been building websites for 10 years. However he has a specific passion for SEO and pays particular attention to usability and engagement.
Outside of work, Darryl is a massive video games enthusiast and has worked in the industry for the last couple of years. Darryl joined Wickedweb having achieved all he wanted to in the video games industry and was keen to return to SEO.
We know he will be a hit with our clients....
Wickedweb are excited to share the details of a website we have recently launched for Cosmetics à la Carte, a complex eCommerce solution delivered on the award-winning WickedwebCMS.
Cosmetics à la Carte are a premium, multinational brand and have enjoyed customers such as the late Elizabeth Taylor and Princess Diana to Blondie, Kylie, Kate Moss and Lady Gaga. Conceived in 1973, Cosmetics à la Carte pioneered the concept of 'made to measure' make up, and have been pushing the boundaries ever since for innovation. With the desire to overhaul their image and launch the brand online, Cosmetics à la Carte approached Wickedweb for an exceptionally stylised e-commerce solution.
Our brief was quite simple - to create the most interactive and personalised experience possible for a cosmetic brand online, and to replicate the 'human' element usually experienced in the stores. Wickedweb were tasked with elevating the existing Cosmetics à la Carte brand, and rolling this out across the website.
In terms of reporting, it is early days. However, Google Analytics already shows conversion to be anything between 2.9% and 5.9% which is well above average.
Goal conversions are strong at 6%, indicating that key junctures of the user journey are robust and intuitive.
The email campaign that followed the launch of the site is extremely encouraging, with click through rates at 30%. We look forward to building on this as we work further with Cosmetics à la Carte’s e-marketing strategy going forward.
Google have recently rolled out a new update which they are calling Panda. The update aims to tackle, in Google’s own words, “sites which are low-value add for users, copy content from other websites or sites that are just not very useful”. So what constitutes a low-value site? Well here are some examples:
• Sites that mass produce content, sometimes even copying text from external sites or using computers to auto generate it (know as content farming – hence the ‘farmer’ update). These sites offer little in the way of value or authority on a subject and make a profit from small amounts of revenue from a vast array of pages and subjects. Examples include about.com or mahalo.com.
• Sites that have lots of ads. Adverts are a natural part of the web but Google is trying to de-value those sites that just bombard you with ads rather than providing a useful and informative browsing experience.
• Sites that users don’t like to visit. This is a hard one to track but Google doesn’t want to show sites that users just don’t want to spend time on, which points to the fact that the site is low-quality.
So what happens if a site is deemed low-value by Google? Well any sites ‘caught’ will simply drop down in the search results for the queries it ranked for. Below is a chart created by Sistrix based on mahalo.com’s rankings before and after the update.
There is a clear shift in rankings from a fairly even spread of rankings across pages 1 – 10 pre Panda, to post Panda where the majority of rankings are on page 7 – 10.
Naturally the next questions you will have are will I be affected and what can I do to avoid being de-valued? Even though this is a relatively large update, unless you are copying content, spamming users with ads or have thousands of pages with no one visiting them, then you probably won’t be affected. That said there are stories of legitimate sites loosing rankings as a result of the update so it’s a good idea to take precautions.
Content is King – This one may be slightly obvious, but if Google is de-valuing sites that copy or auto generates content then write unique, useful and valuable content. Be a source of information about the subject you want to rank for, this has always been a primary SEO tactic and one that Google’s Matt Cutts has always recommended. Not only will it avoid your site falling in the low-value category but it will help your rankings and attract visits.
Ads Come Second – In line with content is king, make your adverts secondary to the content of the page whether it be the amount of ads, positioning or size. It is easy to improve ad revenue by making ads bigger, more central or simply by increasing the number of ads on a page but users come to the site for the content not to browse the ads. Make your content the primary feature of each page, whether is text content, a video or images.
Interaction – Get your visitors interacting with the site; make it easy to use and nice to look at. Allow for user generated content such as comments on blog posts. Link up with Facebook and Twitter and interact via social media to get a community feel to your site. Let Google see that users like to spend time on the site and are willing to interact via comments or Facebook. Below is a screenshot from an SEOMoz blog post, SEOMoz are excellent at user interaction and building community.
The recurring theme is to simply make your site better. Give it more value, make it easier to use, be a source of information, a community and an authority within your industry. These are the qualities Google are looking to reward with premium positions.
Personally I think the update is a step in the right direction for Google, it was becoming too easy for websites that had no real user value to rank competitively. Sites that where genuinely useful and informative were being out ranked and this update has addressed that issue. I have no doubt that there will be a new and inventive way to pollute search results but Google will of course complete the cycle by bringing out another update to tackle whatever that might be.
With more and more businesses discovering the value of Social Media, it truly has become child's play!
Mattel are marking the 50th anniversary of their Barbie 'accessory' Ken, with a new social media campaign, titled - "Should Barbie take Ken back?"
Now for those unaware of the turbulent relationship between the couple, it seems a new lover Blaine challenged for Barbie's affections seven years ago, causing the couple to split after 43 years. However, following the filming of Toy Story 3, Ken is determined to win her back and is using a combination of Facebook and Twitter to send her messages and aim to win her heart.
But as silly as this may all sound, it appears to be a stroke of genius from the doll manufacturer.
For all those who grew up with Barbie and Ken as the perfect couple, the campaign seems set to pull on those nostalgic heartstrings and get you involved.
Ken has his own Facebook page and Twitter account which he regularly updates with statuses, photos, videos and more; encouraging users to offer advice on what he can do to 'woo' back Barbie and most importantly - creating discussion.
With over 25,000 'Likes' and already more than 4,500 followers on Twitter - it certainly seems that Mattel have found a hook and just goes to show how powerful a tool social media can be with a little creative thinking.
And should Barbie take Ken back? Well, it's up to you to decide!
Simply go to www.barbieandken.com to cast your vote (Voting now closed)
Facebook | www.facebook.com/officialken Twitter | @OfficialKen
Wickedweb has been working with Bluefin Solutions, a global SAP consultancy, over the last four months to fully understand their audience, design and develop their new website and integrate with Alterian's new Content Management System, ACM-p.
Bluefin Solutions works with clients to improve their business performance, including the BBC, Barclays, Royal Mail and Shell, to name a few, and the website was tasked with reflecting the organisation's premium position, and service, to present a more credible online solution and powerful tool for growth.
Objectives included awareness building, lead generation and improved communication of the company's focus on delivering better outcomes for clients through a higher level of expertise, versus key competitors.
Our strategy included user research, with consultants and clients, to fully understand the website's audience. Conducting one-to-one interviews provided invaluable insights and shaped the user experience strategy. Personas focused the creative rationale and the concept, which considers the end user throughout, answers both business and target audience requirements.
The website is dynamic and engaging, with unique and compelling creative and photography taken with the Bluefin Solutions team, at their new Chiswick Park address, portrays the approachable personalities and people-focus at the heart of the consultancy.
Using a different design template for the careers section, the website caters for both clients, existing and prospective, and employees, as the very best candidates are encouraged to apply by the high level presentation and confident, professional approach.
Optimising the website from the ground, up, means that it is set to excel from an SEO perspective too.
We are closely monitoring the website's performance to ensure it delivers against key targets, and will work with Bluefin Solutions to continually enhance the website and grow ROI long-term.
Wickedweb is delighted to be working with Beachcomber Tours, based in Guildford, managing their ongoing search engine optimisation (SEO).
The decision was based on Wickedweb's expertise in online marketing, especially SEO, with the added value of experience working with high-end luxury travel clients.
Beachcomber Tours are a specialist travel company and are one of the leading companies in the UK for Mauritius holidays. The brief for Wickedweb is to achieve page 1 results in Google for the sector’s major search terms; whilst this is a big undertaking, Wickedweb are excited by the challenge and are confident that we can exceed Beachcomber’s expectations.
The first step in the project is keyword research and defining the Keyword Strategy. This will help to ensure the right phrases are targeted and maximum traffic can be achieved.
On March 23rd Google’s Matt Cutts gave an interview that highlighted a few areas Google look at when ranking and indexing a website. It’s not every day that Google offers an insight into how its algorithm works, so I thought I’d share a few gems with you today. Of course, most of this isn’t new to the SEO community, but it forms the next part of Google’s drip by drip strategy, dangling the carrot in front of Webmasters and SEO enthusiasts alike!
Recently, Google introduced “Site Performance” to their Webmaster Tools platform. It therefore comes as no surprise that Google consider page download speed in their indexing criteria. However, the interesting point here is that if sites have a slow server (typically caused by cheap shared hosting), Google may cap the total number of pages it will index at any one time, limiting your site’s ability to rank better and quicker. This reinforces the view of our own Head of Development who recently published a blog about the importance of good web hosting and follows our best practice recommendations too. Well done Ian!
The number of quality inbound links to your site has always been important in terms of improving Page Rank and keyword positions. However, Google also state that the number of pages they will index is proportional to the number/quality of inbound links. So, developing content is one thing, but if you want it indexed you must develop links.
Duplicate content causes problems. Again, nothing new here. However, Matt Cutts indicated that if you link from one page to a duplicated page, this may affect your page rank. Therefore, it’s very important that if your site does contain a lot of similar content, you should limit the number of links pointing to it to avoid loss of Page Rank.
The final pearl of wisdom relates to site architecture, navigation and how best to influence the flow of Page Rank. In this instance, Matt Cutts said that the best way to flow Page Rank is to link to related and similar content wherever possible. In other words, make important content accessible at all times and recommend relevant content through good navigation structure and links. Again, this sits nicely in line with Wickedweb’s practices of accessibility and usability testing.
Who has broken into 2010 with the biggest numbers online? No prizes for guessing that Google are number 1 for Search and Facebook are number 1 for Social Networks, but do you know the figures? In a recent report published by the Nielsen company I learnt that an astounding 8,169,550,654 searches were made using the Google search engine in January 2010: that’s 3,050 searches per second! Let’s not forget Google’s recent acquisition of YouTube; at number 6 in the list with 1,261,959,101 visits in January 2010, YouTube remains the market leader for online video sharing, and with Google’s backing I can’t imagine this will be changing anytime soon.
Nielsen’s report lists the top 100 websites visited in January 2010, of which the BBC has then defined into categories. An interactive treemap of these figures can be viewed here. Most of the figures don’t seem to come as much of a surprise, and I’m glad to see that the big internet players of the 90’s are still going strong (e.g. AOL, Amazon and Yahoo!). However what did come as surprise to me was not finding MySpace in the list. Perhaps the social networking site has finally run its course? Or is being phased out by stronger competition?
It would appear out of all of the different sectors, Social Media is the fastest evolving and it will be interesting to see where everyone is positioned and how the numbers will change in next year’s report!
The search engine landscape is changing and digital marketing strategies with it. How results are generated is going beyond algorithmic data generated from indexing of the World Wide Web. Firstly, the introduction of real-time/live search has seen greater emphasis placed on news results; and more recently tweets have been taking a high profile on many page 1 results. Whilst some would argue that Google have introduced the latter too soon and without enough relevancy/authority on the tweets, the additional challenges posed to search engine optimisation lie elsewhere.
Good SEO companies have always adapted their practices and rolled with the Google punches, but effective SEM is going to require businesses to re-evaluate their online strategy.
So what is changing? How you use the internet, what search terms you typically use and what websites you visit are all adding up to a wealth of non-web metric data that will contribute to what you see in your search results. Therefore, Google’s ambition to improve relevance in their results has led to “customised search” right down to the individual’s historic web activity.
This doesn’t spell the end for search engine optimisation. Far from it; it actually puts an even greater emphasis on tying together SEO with social media marketing, pay per click advertising and other SEM techniques. OK, there’s nothing new with this, but for a while many companies have been able to focus purely on SEO for their search engine strategy.
So how can businesses respond? Setting up geo-targeted PPC campaigns could be a good starting point. If historic visits will really contribute to organic search engine positions, then PPC may help you to give your SEO activity a boost.
Visitor loyalty and user experience will also become a factor. Every SEO expert will need to review the Analytics of their site to make ongoing changes to improve the user experience and lower bounce rates as much as possible. Usability testing before website development will be crucial and web designs need to engage visitors at every level.
Search engine optimisation is definitely changing, but realistically, strategies need to be about refinement as much as realignment.
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