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The Ghosts of SEO Past and Future

Mark Jackson
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This month, we celebrate the 14th anniversary of banner ads being sold in commercial volume. I was fortunate enough to work for the company that launched the first "true" commercial banner offering on a mass scale (HotWired; Wired/Digital which was later purchased by Lycos).

Rick Boyce, the gentleman who headed up sales at Wired, told me the story of how the first commercial banner came to be, and the results that were achieved (40 percent CTR). You might recall how many businesses back then had "selling advertising on our Web site" as their business model. Obviously, these sites needed traffic to make any money: so they either came up with really cool (and free) giveaway technology or they bought traffic from Lycos and others. More often than not, the traffic they bought was in the form of banner ads on search; inventory was hard to come by.

The banner became slightly less popular around early 2000, when the average banner CTR was sitting around 0.3 percent on average (higher for search banners). More people moved toward performance-based search advertising (GoTo/Overture) and the game changed.

Later, some banner ads started selling on a CPC basis, but it was too late. Search was more relevant. Would you rather advertise to someone passively on a brand Web site, or market your business to them while they're actively searching for your products or services?

SEO 12 years ago consisted of adding keywords to the meta keywords tag, adding a bunch of text on the page, and stuffing keywords in just about every area of a Web page that we could think of. In the beginning, link popularity wasn't what it is today. Then, with the advent of Google, link popularity became a major factor and we started exchanging links and buying directory listings.

Certainly, SEO has changed, too. Or has it?

A few days ago, I received an inquiry from a company hoping to exchange links with me. First off, my company doesn't have a links page. We have several resources pages, which are exactly that: resources. We haven't exchanged links in about three years.

Why hasn't this spammy practice ended? Is it not talked about often enough? Or are there still people who believe trading links is still "new age" optimization?

Don't do this. There are better ways to generate links for today's SEO environment. Just ask Google.

In their Webmaster Help Center, Google talks about link schemes. They specifically state that "However, some webmasters engage in link exchange schemes and build partner pages exclusively for the sake of cross-linking, disregarding the quality of the links, the sources, and the long-term impact it will have on their sites. This is in violation of Google's webmaster guidelines and can negatively impact your site's ranking in search results."

Google goes on to say, "The best way to get other sites to create relevant links to yours is to create unique, relevant content that can quickly gain popularity in the Internet community. The more useful content you have, the greater the chances someone else will find that content valuable to their readers and link to it." So, how do we do that?

Better Methods of Link Generation

Focus on your site's content. Update your content on a regular basis. If there's breaking news in your industry, then post it on your site (consider adding a blog).

Once you have content your visitors will want to see, consider using social media promotion, press releases, and other forms of online advertising to help get that content noticed. Consider adding "link bait" to your site, such as content with:

  • Informational hooks: Provide information that a reader may find useful -- some rare tips and tricks or any personal experience through which readers can benefit.
  • News hooks: Provide fresh information and obtain citations and links as the news spreads.
  • Humor hooks: Tell a funny story or a joke. A bizarre picture of your subject or mocking cartoons can also prove to be link bait.
  • Evil hooks: Saying something unpopular or mean may also yield a lot of attention. Write about something that isn't appealing about a product or a popular blogger. Provide strong reasons for it.
  • Tool hooks: Create some sort of useful tool that people will link to.
  • Widget hooks: A badge or tool that can be placed or embedded on other Web sites, with a link included.

Once you've created the content, feature it on your site's home page. Make sure that your site's visitors can get to it. Other ways of promoting that content on your site include a PPC campaign or social media marketing campaign.

More Ways to Gain Links

Most businesses have relationships with vendors or partners who would be happy to link to your Web site. Chances are, because these are partners or vendors, their Web sites are relevant to your business and would qualify as "relevant" to link to your Web site.

Also, distributing press releases in a search engine friendly manner can effectively generate links. There are many methods to doing this, and a multitude of distribution partners to choose from.

Sending press releases is also a good way to promote your business. And, many times, these press releases can show up in Google's universal search results. If the press release gets picked up by the media or a blogger, you will benefit from the additional news coverage and potentially get some links.

Many Web sites would be happy to link to your (or your client's) Web site if they knew about it. Send them an e-mail letting them know that you would appreciate their consideration of a link. Make sure to request the link on a very relevant page, and request a link only when a true case could be made that the link would add value to their user experience. You'll be surprised how well this can work.

Join us for a Search Engine Marketing Training in Boston, November 6 at the Hilton Boston Back Bay. Not only will you walk away with the knowledge and skills to be a successful search engine marketer, you'll also jumpstart your career and enhance your professional know-how.


SES LondonOptimising Digital Marketing Campaigns with Search, Social and Analytics
At SES London (9-11 Feb) you'll get an overview of the latest tools, tips, and tactics in Paid, Owned, Earned, Integrated Media and Business Intelligence to streamline your marketing campaigns in 2015. Register by 5 December to take advantage of Early Bird Rates.

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