We've been rather quiet the last month, hands full with a number of prototyping projects, a redesign, work on one of our own products and a startup launch. Despite that, we found time to get involved with a few other dramas.
Whilst we're no SEO experts, we'd remarked to one of our clients about some parts of their site, suggesting that they might fall foul of some of Google's natural search guidelines. Their SEO agency was duly brought in and questioned, and reassured our client that keyword stuffing was fair game and unlikely to lead to problems.
What a surprise then, that within the month we got a panicked call from the CEO. Google had sent him a short note through Google Webmaster, banned the site from their search index, and in a stroke killed off a good £30,000 per day worth of site's traffic. It read:
Dear site owner or webmaster of ourclient's.com, While we were indexing your webpages, we detected that some of your pages were using techniques that are outside our quality guidelines, which can be found here: http://www.google.com/support/webmasters/bin/answer.py?answer=35769&hl=en. Specifically, we detected keyword stuffing on your site. For example at http://www. ourclient's.com/guilty we found: Blatant keyword stuffing For more information about what keyword stuffing is, visit http://www.google.com/support/webmasters/bin/answer.py?answer=66358&hl=en. In order to preserve the quality of our search engine, pages from ourclient's.com are scheduled to be removed temporarily from our search results for at least 30 days. We would prefer to keep your pages in Google's index. If you wish to be reconsidered, please correct or remove all pages (may not be limited to the examples provided) that are outside our quality guidelines. When such changes have been made, please visit https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/reconsideration?hl=en to learn more and submit your site for reconsideration. Sincerely, Google Search Quality Team Note: if you have an account in Google's Webmaster Tools, you can verify the authenticity of this message by logging into https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/siteoverview?hl=en and going to the Message Center.
30 days? That was nearly £1M in revenue to our client. There's not a lot of information online on what do to in the event of a delisting. We got in touch with a pair of SEO companies that we'd worked with before, but neither of them had had to deal with a delisting.
In the very short term, we pushed up PPC activity to cover the shortfall from SEO / natural search. It appears that only repeat offenders might have their PPC affected by delisting, and our client had never been in trouble before.
Noticing that the GoogleBot was still crawling the site heavily, we got our client's developers to do an immediate take-down of the offending content, made sure the Google Webmaster account was in order, and submitted a very simple reinclusion request. We cut the out the fluff and made it as brief as possible. On behalf of the client we established in as few words as possible the key things: 1. they're sorry, 2. it was fixed immediately, 3. it won't happen again, and 4. thanks.
Would you know it, but they were back in the search results by the next morning. We have a few tips for working with SEO agencies:
Working with an SEO agency can feel like an unnecessary expense, and often it is. Getting advice from a third party can help keep your agency in check. Even better, getting other agencies to pitch for the business and critique the current agency's performance is a good way to keep them on their toes. This requires not signing any long contracts with your agency (you shouldn't, anyway), and should prevent what usually happens: the agency assigning you some of their sharper staff for the first four months, and then doing little else for their fees for the rest of the time.
Where possible, pay based on performance and ensure that -- right from the start -- you have a strong framework by which to assess and compare performance. Don't tolerate meaningless reports, or irrelevant data: the agency need to be conversant in the conversions or goals that are most important to you. If you end up repeating yourself it's time to find a new agency.
Don't be afraid of switching. In our experience, the vast majority -- big and small -- perform poorly. Larger agencies find it hard to recruit and retain strong staff, as they have little incentive not to start their own agencies, or move out of what is quite monotonous work. Smaller agencies are often fly-by-nights, although their killer staff, working all hours that can really make the most positive difference. However, just like development agencies, as their companies grow they'll experience growing pains which can sorely effect their clients.
Be prepared for your developers to conflict with your SEO agency. Quite reasonably, the agency will be held back most by the speed with which your team can change the site to suit them, unless you're able to give the agency control access to alter the site. The agency, being under pressure from you, will invariable apply that pressure to the developers, and resentment will build. This needs careful management.
If you don't manage PPC internally, keeping it separate from SEO can be a good idea. If you sack your agency for mismanaging one or the other, you'll have less to worry about. Also, most agencies usually do both, so your PPC agency can often give you tips on where the SEO team can improve, and vica versa.
Keep a careful eye on any work labelled "link-building" or "directory submission". It's important to know your site is being linked to from, and submission to inappropriate sites or membership of link-swapping schemes is another way to get delisted by Google.
Use agencies wisely. An SEO agency can really help if your team isn't up to scratch with search engine optimisation, or if you're making major alterations to the site. If the site is well-established and your team knows what they're doing, an agency might not be the most effective way to drive performance.
Finally, if you have a real challenge, contact us. We love rescues.