Penguins & Pandas Poetry

By Duane Forrester Senior Product Manager with Bing’s Webmaster Program
Animal kingdom hurting ROI?

Pandas and penguins, oh my!
Take control and tell the fauna “Bye Bye”,
With these helpful suggestions to diversify!

In short, it’s time to fear nothing when building your website.  Every business has decisions to make, and adding more to the mix never makes life easier.  But what are you to do?  You cannot control when a search engine makes an update, or what that update will impact.  That much is obvious.  But what many websites fail to take action on is forecasting change, preventative work and exercises in the obvious.

Reality Check

Algorithms change.  Rankings change.  Competition happens.  The fact is, you need to be prepared.  So, when your single biggest source of traffic sudden loses steam, what do you do?  If your plan was to make sure your content ranked well across all the major engines, then your plan of action would already be in effect, protecting you from the loss in one area.  True, its not an offset that matches what could potentially be lost at the same level, but the option is losing everything and having nothing suddenly.

And while you’re thinking of diversification as a way to protect your website from future changes, ask yourself this: is search, all up, my primary traffic source?  What other sources of traffic should you be cultivating?  Social traffic, direct traffic, affiliate driven traffic?  Search will, for the foreseeable future, continue to be the major driver of traffic to most websites, but this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be looking to other avenues as a way to augment your traffic from search…and potentially protect yourself should a future change upset the balance of rankings in some way. 

And just to be clear folks, we’re all in the same boat.  Change happens at all the major engines, and from time to time, those changes don’t work well with individual websites, so let’s take a look at ways to protect yourself and your business from change.  Think of it as future proofing.

Forecasting change

Yes, it’s hard to gaze into the crystal ball and see where things are heading, but if you look back a bit, you often see clues.  Search is influenced by social today.  Who didn’t see that coming 3+ years ago?  Similarly, what’s a best practice in SEO today, could end up a tarnished relic tomorrow.  We all remember when the <meta description> tag was the be-all-to-end-all.  Today…ah, no.
The point here is it pays to spend some time thinking about these things.  Are you employing any tactics today that could become the next big spam tactic tomorrow?  Worse, maybe they’ve already become the next big spam tactic and you’re simply unaware.

As an SEO, your job is to dig through the details to find incremental gains.  To help fix fundamental problems that block success.  And not we’re not taking anything away from the importance of that focus, but you cannot forget to stick your head up and look around every now and then.  Sure, this should be done by the Director or VP in your group, but if they lack your level of SEO savvy, they may not make the connections you would.  So, as an SEO, it pays to stay on top of the latest trends and watch for broad signals of adoption around new things to help you forecast where to invest next.

Preventative work

This section encompasses all of those projects you know should be done, yet linger unfinished.  It even includes things that are less a project and more and ethos for your organization.  Sure, your company prides itself on its content, but do they have the skill son hand to truly produce quality content?  I don’t mean the ability to make that content appear online, I mean people who know how to write, people who know how to segment an audience to understand what motivates each segment, people who understand the concept of building authority.  Building authority is not a passive task that catches up with you, it’s an active process which leads to results.

Add to this focusing on the user experience and you have to ask how you’re stocked for usability talent/skills.  The technical side cannot be overlooked either, so you’re going to need people covering page load times, integrating new features and so on.

The bottom line on this is to be successful in search today, we’re so beyond just SEO that most businesses don’t even realize it.  They are standing on the dock wondering when the ship will arrive.  They don’t realize it left ages ago and is already over the horizon.  Their next best hope to reach the promised land of search/social success is continental drift.  Hardly a solid plan.

Exercises in the obvious

Pinterest.  It didn’t take long for the Pin It button to start popping up on websites.  And it didn’t take a passing grade on the MENSA quiz to see it coming, did it?  Rapid growth, huge adoption, media buzz, your friends recommending it, and so it goes.  An exercise in obviousness that you’d better pay attention to this little gem.  So what else is obvious?

Take a look at your analytics and see where people are entering and leaving your site.  Anything you can do to improve retention or page volume consumption?  Look through the data and try to spot the trends, because I guarantee you the trends are in the data.

Some other obvious stuff stands out, too:

  • Do you have a webmaster account activated at the engines?
  • How’s your robots.txt file doing?  Blocking the right stuff?
  • Got clean sitemaps?
  • Still have duplicate content issues?
  • Have you integrated social sharing features across your site?
  • Got the best practices of SEO covered (remember, we like SEO…)
  • …and the list goes on.

Seriously folks, if you want to lay a smack down on the animal kingdom that’s taken over your life, you can do it.  Get the basics covered, leverage your unique strengths (or create new ones) and focus, like a laser, on the single thing that matters most: your visitors.  Get religion on this point and never let go.  The engines are very focused on those visitors:  what they like, what they dislike, what they click on and what they avoid.  We’re watching them closely so we can learn what they want and bring exactly that to them every time.  You should be, too.

As your portfolio manager tells you, diversify, diversify, diversify

If your business suffers when an algo gets tweaked, insulate yourself from that.  Any first year marketing student will tell you this: having all your business in one basket is bad news.  You need to diversify.  When things are ticking along well in one area, start ramping up efforts in another channel.  Over time you’ll see metrics increase from all inbound channels, insulating your from dips and spikes in other channels and allowing you time to react, adjust and test ways to rebound.

Here’s a great two-part article (part 1 & part 2) I recently came across.  They are a bit long, but it’s worth reading them.  Yes, there’s a less-than-positive slant against the #1 engine, but she’s very constructive in helping you understand what she did and why she did it.  She’s not a nutter who simply blocked an engine to “prove a point”.  Oh no, this was a much more savvy, long term approach to ensuring her business remains successful.  Bottom line, this is smart business planning and its planning like this that could help protect you from the next critter to crawl your way.


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