Last-Minute SEO - Here Come the Holidays!

Unless their business is summer-related, summer is the time of year where many website owners (and managers) slow down, kick back, grab a beer, and enjoy those long, hot, sunny days! As long as Google doesn’t release an update or manually devalue your site, it is the time of year where you feel most able to take the time to relax a bit. You tell yourself, "Labor Day…Labor Day," then you will kick it back into high gear! Surely you deserve that time - well, unless you are in charge of site traffic for a website that relies on the holiday season to pay the bills. Then you might have been relaxing just when you should have been prepping for the end of year.

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When Labor Day comes, you get back to work relaxed and ready to start working on your site visibility plan for the holidays. But then the bad news: your in-house SEO team or online marketing agency tells you it’s too late - maybe they can get some results, but highly competitive and valued terms cannot be reached without the risk of incurring Google’s wrath or at least directed irritation. Suddenly you realize you just missed your holiday window and there is no time to fully implement a proper SEO strategy. Now what? Don’t panic. There are things you can do.

Last-Minute SEO

Summer is always a fairly slow time of year in the land of search engine optimization, but like those annoying Santa Claus displays that hit your stores by October, when is it too early to start your holiday planning? (Well, never.) When is it too late? (Now.) And if you missed your window, what can you do?

Labor Day

Most holiday markets are very competitive. Since most companies don’t start making the majority of their money until Q4 (the term "Black Friday" came from the idea that most companies don’t turn a profit until that day of the year), website visibility during this time of year is often very important to an online company’s yearly financials and its successful bottom line. But what if you waited and now you won’t have the website visibility needed to reach your goals?

Website visibility used to be called just SEM (search engine marketing) and SEO (search engine optimization). The thing is, today there are so many different strategies you can use to bring clients and users to your site that we need a broader definition, so let’s call it "Website Visibility."

What Is Website Visibility?

Website visibility is basically anything you do to bring your site to the eyes of potential users and/or customers. These methods typically fall under organic and paid umbrellas.

Organic

Organic search is generally used to refer to how well your site factors against that search engine’s organic algorithm and then how well that engine positions you in the search engine result pages (or SERPs) as a result.

Not that many years ago we had quite a few of these things called search engines, but today we are primarily referring to the "Big 3": Google, Bing, and Yahoo in that order, with a small, but growing percentage beginning to use Duck, Duck, Go. Mostly, though, people optimize their sites to Google’s algorithm first, then Bing and that is about it.

There are some other methods that some might call organic, such as interviews, article writing (for legitimate zines), events, and most forms of social media. However, the term "organic" is typically paired with the term "search" for practical purposes.

Paid

Paid has been typically any method other than organic that you paid for to bring your site traffic.

Paid methods are items such as Google AdWords (the sections of the search engine that you pay to be in), or ads from advertising networks. They could also be press releases, syndication, blog outreach, affiliates, or even AdSense. There are many roads leading to a paid visit.

Paid methods enhance website visibility. Since organic generally converts better than paid, these techniques are typically used as a complement to and/or replacement for your organic efforts. However, due to recent Google algorithm changes, if you are using any of these techniques, including advertisements, be sure to know the proper method for implementation or you could wind up in the land of Google hurt and sorrow.

So back to what to you do if you waited too long. What can you do to help yourself, not wreck yourself, and get eyes on your page?

Organic and Non-Paid (or Low-Investment, Not "Paid") Models

First let’s look at the organic boat - did you miss it completely? Or can you just play catch-up? Well, that depends on when you read this, but let’s say it is just after Labor Day and your target is the Christmas holiday season. While the organic boat has left the building, there are still some waves you can ride to help your site gain that much necessary visibility. Not all of it is search.

Organic Search

OK, so now since it is after Labor Day you likely have missed the opportunity to fully implement an organic "White Hat" or "Gray Hat" strategy. Missed it? What do you mean missed it?

By saying missed your window, it means that you cannot safely do enough organic optimization to get your site to the top of more competitive SERPs.

Safely? I Am Not Running With Scissors, What Do You Mean Safely?

Safely refers to the methods that you can use to increase visibility without negatively attracting Google’s attention either algorithmically or manually.

Aggressive visibility methods, which would need to be implemented, are very likely to draw your site unwanted search engine attention and you could spend your last quarter cleaning up from a penalty instead of achieving site goals.

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So What Do You Do?

Note that we will not be going over every way to make your site more visible. That would take a book and this article is limited to about 2,500 words. However, if you need some starter ideas, this can get you on your way.

Organic

Year-Round Visibility Plan. Never Stop.

Do you have a year-round visibility plan you can just tweak for changes in seasonal search terms? Do you start working this year for your holiday season next year, building up branding, authority, reputation, and technical purity? If you don’t, you should start now.

Why? You never stop working on your organic strategy just because you might have missed a target window. Start thinking what you can to build for next year that will bring some gains now and larger returns then, now. You will definitely reap some results from this strategy in the short term and next year be stronger than ever, so maybe you can take a little bit of that summer off.

Site Audit.

Get a site health audit. Do you know the state of your site? Do you know what you can do to best and most quickly improve your positioning and visibility? What about algorithm shifts from updates such as Panda, Penguin, and PayDay? Do you know if these have affected you? Site audits are valuable ways to quickly understand how to best mobilize your efforts to achieve maximum gains.

Why? It is always good to know where your starting point is so you know the effort required to get where you want to go. If you have not had a site health audit in the past year, get one. You might find easy improvements that will give you a quick boost from page two to page one on key phrases.

Long Tail and Low-Hanging Fruit.

Low-hanging fruit is often a maligned term in the marketing industry, but it really is best descriptor for search terms that can bring you some fairly immediate returns. Low-hanging = in reach.

Why? Low-hanging fruit are the terms you know you can get easily and that bring you money. Because they are less competitive and require less effort, you can target more of them. Though the actual click-through numbers might be smaller in number, the return on investment (ROI) on these terms is typically higher due to the user intent and specificity.

So maybe you will miss the visibility needed for "Blue Widgets," but you might find your best seller in Blue Widgets is your "Organic Non-GMO Big Blue Widgets." Optimize for these terms across the board. In the end you will spend less and gain measurable and sustainable ROI.

*Long Tail generally refers to those with four or more keywords in the search term.

NOTE: This is actually a strategy employed by large companies like Amazon. Long tail can be a huge winner because people use so many different types of phrases to find the items they are looking for and Google’s Hummingbird update rewards these types of searches.

Outreach

This can mean almost anything where you find someone who will (without pay) allow you to hawk your latest and greatest in a contextually meaningful way.

Find an e-zine where you can write an article, go to networking events in your community, do something good like raise money for charity - whatever avenues you have to reach out to your users in the same space where they might be paying attention, go for it! This is where guerilla and viral marketing work very well as well. Remember YouTube is the second largest search engine. Make something worth sharing.

Buyer Beware: Outreach is not buying press releases and guest blog posts on blog networks. It does not mean hawking your wares without regard for contextualizing the conversation and making it meaningful to the people with whom you talk. Fail to offer value and you might come off like a salesman. Do this and risk turning off users, and potential customers, completely. It means offering something of value, whether spoken, written, or personal, and being the face behind that value.

Paid

Paid is often the best option to turn to when you have an immediate need or the algorithm gets you, but this should not be the main part of your strategy? Why? Because though it has immediate return, you never stop paying for paid visibility.

Bought that ad on Google? Great! You leased a visit. It may convert. It may lead to a return customer. Generally, though, your rates of paid conversion and return are lower than with organic. Get your site in the top positions for a highly trafficked phrase and unless you find yourself at the end of an algorithmic update or greatly increased competition in your vertical, you will usually get a multi-fold return on that investment (as long as you are targeting what people are searching).

Now, does this mean you shouldn’t have a paid strategy just like you have an organic strategy? No. You should absolutely without question have a paid strategy. Just note that it should be a strategy and not throwing spaghetti at the wall with a bazooka hoping to catch as many people as possible. Paid users have different intent than your organic. Plan accordingly.

So What Are a Few Good Paid Strategies?

Disclaimer: It is a good idea to at least get guidance from an expert in paid visibility strategies or you could wind up spending a lot of money for nothing. Educate yourself and manage it if you financially you must, but at the very least have a professional review your efforts.

Paid Search Ads

Google is the big daddy of paid search ads. For those who might not know what those little "ad" symbols indicate on your search results, these are ads in Google’s AdWords program. (It does get confused with AdSense sometimes and those are two different animals.)

These paid ads can be very beneficial in terms of relevant traffic and branding. In fact, your organic search showing up with a paid ad can indicate to users YOU are the authority, resulting in higher click-through rates. Also don’t forget about Bing - while traffic can be lower simply because they have less of the search space, they often convert at a higher rate.

Don’t Forget: YouTube is also a search engine. The second largest in the world. Ads there are also valuable.

Buyer Beware: Google offers its own automatic campaign manager. If you cannot afford a CERTIFIED AdWords expert, then you can use this service. However, no company that can afford a proper SEM should turn over their campaign keys to Google.

If you can pay for a proper manager, they are worth their weight in saved money. If you can’t afford one, make sure not to set it and forget it. Have an expert review your account once a month or so and see where you are losing money. Optimized campaigns are great for visibility needs.

Social Media Ads

The effectiveness of social media ads is wide and varied - excellent for some, useless for others. Before you put in any large sums of money into a campaign, test and see if these ads convert for you. If cash-strapped, the best place to try is Facebook, where you can highly target your campaigns, spend small amounts of money, and focus your efforts. If truly strapped, Facebook post boosts are very inexpensive and might get you just the traffic you need. Just make sure you are offering something of value or you might just wind up with a lot of likes and no conversions.

Buyer Beware: Just as in paid ads, a proper social media ads manager can be worth their weight in gold. If you cannot afford one, there are many books written on the subject by industry titans such as Marty Weintraub of Aimclear. Whatever you decide, if you go it on your own, educate yourself (or your staff) and start small. This might be a great opportunity for someone on your staff to really shine.

Affiliates

Affiliates can be a great way to attract new visitors to your site. Use their promotional efforts to bring in your traffic by paying them a cut of your sales or with an affiliate offer. These can be done through networks or even direct relationships with the affiliate themselves.

Buyer Beware: Make sure you research the network or individual you will be working with and that the traffic is legit and their tactics cannot harm your site. To be extra secure, if this is your first foray into affiliate programs, build a smaller "burner" site that will allow them to send traffic to your engine, but NOT to your main domain. Therefore, if the network is a bad one or the affiliate marketer uses "black-hat techniques," you will not risk your main domain i.e. your cash register should never be at risk.

Black-Hat Techniques

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Matt Cutts is on vacation, so let’s just put this out there. If you really, really need traffic and you know there is no way you can get it to your site in time for the holiday seasons you can employ blackhat techniques to bring that traffic to A SECONDARY SITE (NEVER YOUR MAIN DOMAIN OR YOUR SUBDOMAIN).

Warning: Black hat means using techniques that game the search engine algorithm. It is not inherently a "bad" thing except to Google and in some cases Bing. However, when it is done poorly, someone loses a site, so this is not to be taken on lightly. Ethically it is a non-issue; it is only unethical if someone practices black-hat techniques without the site owner knowing those techniques were used.

Buyer Beware: Do KNOW you will most likely burn the domains you use when you use black-hat methods. If the black-hat visibility specialist is really good, it may take a long time for that burn to happen; if not it could be in weeks. However, if you need traffic and you are looking at pink slips or worse, this is a technique that you can utilize. Noting of course you are working on your white-hat/gray-hat main domain SEO at the same time, so these are not needed long term.

Disclaimer: DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME. This is not as simple as buying some links (due to the disavow, most networks are burned now anyway). Google is a domainer and registrar, which means they know things you won’t think about hiding. Those things you didn’t think about could get you burned in more than one place i.e. your main domain. You MUST protect your main domain as though you were protecting your own wallet in the middle of an open market in one of those far away places only spy novels write about.

If you are at this point you MUST, MUST hire an expert in black-hat techniques. How do you do this? Best way it to look for their talks at major SEO and affiliate conferences and start there. If unknown (not a good idea) NEVER hire one off a freelance or site or without personal reference unless going out of business is a future goal of yours.

The Silver Lining - Diversification!

So summer is over. The holidays are right around the corner. Don’t waste another day waiting to get started - every day you delay is one more day lost. You need at least six to eight weeks to get a campaign going well; you need months to go after highly competitive terms and get those to the top. So, if you did not start a couple of months ago, you probably will need to use some of these alternate strategies to reach your expected goals. The good news is you will be well diversified. Why does that matter? When Google comes through and hits you with an update that takes away your major search terms or even most of your site, you will be able to strengthen your other channels to help keep you sailing along while you repair the damage.

Remember to never have your eggs in one basket. Website visibility is becoming more and more complex with every update. While you might have missed the holiday boat, you have the opportunity to truly employ diversification techniques, which can be your shelter on a rainy day.

Oh, and if it hasn’t come through by the time this article goes live, an update is coming. It is probably going to be a big one. Good luck!