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I have never been to this part of Webmaster World and I am not sure this is the appropriate place for this post. Sorry if it isn't, but I couldn't decide on whether it should go here or in the Search Engine Promotion and Marketing Issues forum... so here goes...
I have been doing SEO for a long time. I don't have a large client base in SEO. Most of my clients are straight development and e-commerce. But a few have hired my services for SEO. I have around 10 sites that rank quite well for some pretty tough keywords and phrases. I also have a portfolio of these clients along with real examples of what to search for and where they actually rank. In the portfolio, I give around 50 good examples, and of these examples, all return in the top 3 in G, MSN and Yahoo. I always tout that "...the proof is in the pudding" and this has worked well for me. Now I don't want a thousand sites to work on, I couldn't handle the load, so I don't really advertise my services. All the sites I get are from referrals only and when it comes to SEO, I only add maybe one a year. Some of my sites I have been working for well over ten years.
I just got a new client that was referred to me and we got off to a great start in a couple of introductory meetings. They have a site that was usually in the top 4 for a very competative keyword. They also rank quite well on a variety of (manufacturer) widgets type of phrases. In the last month, their money keyword and some of the phrases have been dropping in the SERPs. Hence they were looking for someone to help them out. They hired me at an hourly rate.
They had many questions about SEO, what they should do, how would I go about it, etc. I evaluated their site and found a bunch of things that I would change. Most notably is the fact that they are obviously keyword stuffing on all of their pages. In the title, meta data, alt tags, anchor text, regular text... all over the place. I found some pages that had their money keyword over 130 times along with a minimum of no less then 8 links to the same page all with this keyword. I also found the titles were all similar, they weren't using any <h> tags, all sorts of stuff. Their menu is repeated in the body, at the bottom of each page and on the left. Whew :-0 And then I found that they have been registering other domain names and using the same product titles, descriptions and a host of other things on several other web sites. :-/ I find it hard to believe that they ranked anywhere at all with all the problems I found. Their saving grace is that I found about 3,000 IBLs, though many of these are from fairly low quality sites and they have around 33,000 pages indexed in G. They have no outgoing links at all. My first thought when I found all this is... "Where do I start?"
Anyway, I told them we were going to have to start slow. They are in panic mode because they depend quite a bit on Internet sales but they do have a brick and mortar store. I started out by writing a series of reports, trying to be as complete as I possibly could. Not only was I giving them what I thought was sound advice, I would try to explain my reasoning to the best of my ability. I told them they wouldn't have to take my advice (I don't have actual access to the site) but I would highly recommend they follow my suggestions. I told them we should do a few changes, sit back and see if we get a positive result, and then continue. Pretty much the way I have been doing it for other sites.
My first suggestion was to change some titles on a couple of their pages. You know... the let's-try-this-and-see-if-we-can-get-a-positive-result type of thing. I wrote a report on what they should change the titles to along with examples that they could pull from their database. They have yet to implement this. Next I wrote a report on the value of using different meta keywords and descriptions for each page, even though it doesn't improve ranking, but I did explain the value of this too. They have yet to implement this. I then wrote a report on the value of natural readable text on each page and gave them some good examples on how to do this. They have yet to implement this. Next was a report on the value of building a site for users and the whole user experience thing and how search engines actually rank these types of sites better (at least in theory) and showed them examples of sites that I have along with some of their competitors that are ranking better then they are. They have yet to implement this. Next was a report on authority sites and the value of sending users to sites that they would find useful. I wrote about forums, informational pages, adding more content, linking to external resources, the whole shabang. They have yet to implement this.
So yesterday I get a call from my main contact in this company. They are freaked out. Their keyword has dropped from 22 to 24 in G. He wanted to know what immediate action they could take to try to stem this tide of downturns they have been experiencing. I spoke with him on the phone for at least an hour. One of his questions was... "Do you think having all that text at the bottom of each page is hurting us?" I said that it probably was. You see, this text is nothing but links to specific product categories that they list by manufacturer... in other words, something like... "We handle widgets (linked) from Company1 widgets (linked), Company2 widgets (linked), Company3 widgets (linked), Company4 widgets (linked), Company5 widgets (linked), Company6 widgets (linked), Company7 widgets (linked), Company8 widgets (linked), Company9 widgets (linked), Company10 widgets (linked), Company11 widgets (linked), Company12 widgets (linked), etc." All linked to lists of products they sell by any given company (not links to the companies themselves). And then the text goes on with something like... "For more widgets (linked), we have pink widgets (linked), red widgets (linked), blue widgets (linked), green widgets (linked), big widgets (linked), small widgets (linked), tall widgets (linked), short widgets (linked), etc." All linked to other pages that list these products in these categories. I gotta tell you, I think there is a problem with that and I told him so. Not only that, but they will have these exact same links in the left-hand menu and in the body text too.
Anyway, I wrote up another report today about keyword stuffing in anchor text, in the body, touched a bit on keyword proximity, more on creating some sort of navigation that makes more sense for the user, I even threw in that not all SEO types are convinced there really is a keyword density penalty, but what they are doing looks so obviously like spam that it's a wonder they rank at all. I touched some more on writing good content and even more on not placing 8 links on a page all with the same anchor all pointed to the same page. And last, but not least, I told them that they should try to implement some of my changes on just one page and then let's sit back for a week and see what happens. I left it at that and went home.
So here I am at home, it's late and I am thinking of going to bed. I decided to take a look at this site to see if anything at all has been tweaked... just a bit. Some minor change that maybe they might have implemented. Some positive step to get them rolling in the right direction.
First I checked their ranking in G for their keyword. Well look at that! They actually went from 24 back up to 22! Of course as you all know, the SERPs on G have been all out of wack the last couple of weeks. This probably means nothing.
So I go to the site and start poking around. Nothing looks different. All the titles are the same. Same massive links all over the place. No new meta tags. No new text. nothing as far as I can see... but wait... what's this? Something new at the bottom of each page? Could it be. Is it really? On every page?
You are not going to believe this... on the bottom of every page in bold is a new string of linked text. And what is that text?
widgets pink widgets red widgets blue widgets green widgets big widgets small widgets tall widgets short widgets
all linked to the home page :-/
Thanks for letting me vent...
[edited by: webdude at 3:48 am (utc) on April 17, 2008]
I think for you to be heard you need to come between them and their great affection towards keywords :)
They have yet to implement this.
I assume that you have been paid for what you have done? If so then forget about them.
This is bit like a double glazing company getting complaints about water ingress from clients who refuse to close their windows when it's raining!
When I do websites I normally include the initial optimisation. I also provide my clients with a document I wrote about ongoing site promotion and mainly off site promotion. I stress how important it is for them to get inbound links, etc, then I stress it again and then I stress it again.
Quite often a get a call about a year later and they want to know why they are not getting any traffic. I ask them if they did what I told them to do in the document and they say, "What document?"
I am afraid that some people just cannot accept good advice. If it is coming from two sources they will generally favour one against the other. Is there anyone else advising them?
I suggest that you obtain access to the site and make the changes
I will offer a contrary opinion on this. If you get the access and god forbid their rankings slip by even one space you know they will blame you and wonder what you did to their site. Probably no amount of talking on your part will ever convince them that you just adjusted a title or something like that. They will want to know what "really" did that screwed this up so bad. I think with a client like you are describing having actual access to the site might be a dangerous spot to be in.
Writing the reports is a safe place to be because if they change something and it doesn't work they know what they did to undo it. You always have some protection because you never actually touched the site. They can say your advice was bad, but they can't say you logged in and broke something and they don't know what it was or how to fix it. That is the position I would personally want to make sure I am never in.
Now you may say they would never drop in rankings if you managed the site and that may be so, but what if it does happen? I always try to imagine myself in the worst possible circumstance for a position and if I decide I can live with that outcome I do it, but if I can't live with it I will not put myself in that position to even be possibly exposed to this risk.
I am sure you could help them, but it sounds like they are not really ready to listen so it seems to me that you are just wasting your time with them. I have had clients like this and I simply walk away after I have been paid. I give them the information, cash the check, and move on. If they follow it great, if not, the money helps me sleep well at night.
If your client does not understand that rankings can go down as well as up in response to SEO work there's more serious issues you need to discuss I believe.
I don't disagree with that at all, but it sounds like the description of the customer means there are already serious issues present that will cause problems. Rankings that slip would probably just exacerbate them.
I guess I am just going to have to get paid for writing papers... reminds me of college, but the money is finally going the right way, eh?
Webdude, in my line of work I have seen deliverables from dozens of SEO companies. They range from free-form recommendations to structured documents with clear recommendations in a consistent sequence. I like the ones (where the client has to make the changes) where the advice is in the form of a checklist and sign-off by the client after the work has been completed. Certain types of changes have to be mentioned to the SEO or else the SEO is to be held blameless for any later drop in ranking. This process is in the contract and explained at the beginning of the engagement, so there are no surprises if the client is paying attention.