Search Engine Supplement Case Study: From Blacklist to Best Practices

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What happens when you observe that your total sessions from natural search have plummeted 12 percent a month in the past three months? Your anxiety goes up even more, because a significant percentage of your revenue is generated from search engine marketing.


Pure trepidation sets in as you look at the calendar and forecast the effect this will have if you can't fix this problem by the key selling season. Finally, a mental alarm goes off: Have we been blacklisted?


This happened at GiftCertificates.com last year. We provide results-based incentive solutions for businesses. The company also offers a central resource for consumers to buy gift certificates from hundreds of national and local merchants, including department stores, airlines, hotels, theaters, restaurants, services and more. Clients can purchase, send and redeem certificates directly from the company's Web site at www.giftcertificates.com.


Most marketers know that elusive blacklists exist. Hopefully, few have experienced the frustration of the "silent killer" to online businesses. No clear-cut signs verify that a company has been blacklisted. If you inquire about a company being blacklisted, there will be no response. The cyber world of algorithms and spiders is voiceless.


Companies can experience horrific challenges and take up to two years or more and hundreds of thousands of dollars in consulting fees to find the root causes and correct potential problems. We were one of the fortunate ones.


Of course, GiftCertificates.com cannot even confirm that it ever was blacklisted. We developed a plan to evaluate our practices and implemented changes in high-risk areas. The series of incremental changes paid off. Eight months into our search engine optimization project, we realized positive results. In a single day, GiftCertificates.com experienced a jump that catapulted its search results to the top of the rankings again.


So if we were on the "big bad blacklist," what specifically did the company do? Our situation is probably universal to companies that suffer the symptoms of blacklisting. Though you may be unable to confirm being listed, you should immediately apply as many changes to your operations and systems that align with best practices because any effort toward optimization is well worth it. Since the changes we made were numerous and incremental, we cannot identify the culprit that may have put us on a blacklist or the action that may have cleared us.


Here are some of the items that we evaluated and adjusted to comply with best practices:


Doorway pages. GiftCertificates.com previously used many similar landing pages to track promotions. This process has been replaced by the use of various embedded promo codes in links.


Text color. Inconsistencies could have been interpreted as invisible text, so consistent style sheets were applied to improve contrast.


Keyword phrase density. The business objective for each Web page was reviewed. Content was modified to reduce repeating keyword phrases.


Our steps were conservative, but the results were significant. GiftCertificates.com maintains a 20 percent increase in sessions year-to-date and enjoys a 344 percent boost in ROI.


If you have been blacklisted, ensure you have strong search engine optimization strategies in place. If you don't, your execution may fall short or your results will be temporary. It's never too late to incorporate a great SEO strategy that will underpin your tactics. Here are some strategies:


· Champion the measurement of campaign ROI within your organization to support your ability to fund and/or apply resources to the initiative.


· Foster cross-functional integration for search engine optimization work within your organization.


· Embrace the dynamic nature of search. Commit to internal and/or external resources to stay up to date and invest in change. External resources could consist of SEO consultants, industry associations and thought leaders.


· Integrate your search activities since the power of search engine marketing can be seen with a combination of natural, pay-per-click and paid inclusion.


For more articles from The Direct Marketer's Essential Guide to Search Engine Marketing, visit http://www.dmnews.com/cgi-bin/artcategory.cgi?category_id=22


A PDF of the guide is available at: http://www.dmnews.com/pdffiles/semguide.pdf


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