Mindful of the Medium

Anyone who’s been in the SEO (define) business for a few years knows at least one business that took a stupid pill to cure its search-referred traffic maladies.

Such activities cause those who are more ethically oriented — at least those who are respectful of search engines’ Webmaster guidelines and understand a bit about how search engines work — to scratch their heads and wonder what made a good business make such a bad decision.

The answers might surprise you.

More Is Not Better

One business I know of had a big message it needed to get out on the Web — fast. This communication was so important, the business rushed to register 30 potential domain names for a would-be site and immediately started creating content while it mulled over which domain name would work best to promote search-referred visitors. In the rush to get the message out, the business ignored the medium.

The Flash programmer wasn’t asked to create a search-engine-friendly site for the significant business message. When the site was ready to launch, the business didn’t issue any press releases relevant to the all-important message. And it didn’t promote that critical business message on its popular corporate site. As a result, the site and its message languished, failing to reach the intended audience.

The business would have been better served if it had just created a new sub-domain within its successful corporate site to address the topic. It could have avoided overusing Flash, instead pursuing a link-building campaign relevant to the message.

Instead, someone, somewhere, decided the best way to promote the vital business message was to replicate it. After all, the company had purchased 30 domain names. It may as well use them, right?

Wrong. Or should we say, wrong times 29?

Nearly a year after the site replications were eliminated and excess domain names were parked at a third-party server, the original site rebounded with regular content updates and a minor redesign. But since the message failed to be delivered in a timely manner, the damage was already done.

Bad Neighborhood

We can’t always pick our neighbors on the Web. If a business opts to have its site hosted by a third party, it usually doesn’t know what entities share its server space. Unless, of course, the business opted to shell out for a dedicated server.

Cost-effectiveness remains a primary reason so many businesses host their own sites, in addition to having complete control over what goes into the server and where. So why would any legitimate online business park itself next to a popular yet iffy business venture? To save money? To save server space?

Class-C IP blocks (define) don’t grow on trees. In this chicken-or-the-egg scenario, a legitimate business suffered when it nested with another. Could one pornography site really damage a non-porn neighbor on the Web?

Probably not. But a couple porn sites that also spammed the search engines could wreak havoc. At least, that’s what happened when another company acquired the legitimate online business venture that was not -quite -banned by the search engines.

“Not quite banned” means the site was regularly crawled, but only the home page was indexed by the search engines. This results in a link-dampening of the entire site because links into other pages within the site are ignored. Certainly, bad navigation or poor site architecture can produce similar results in the search engines, but that wasn’t the case for this particular business. The site was user-friendly and pretty well optimized.

All it took to rescue the Web-worn legitimate online business in the search engines was moving the site to a server outside the tainted IP range. Once the content was relocated to a good neighborhood, the site rebounded to top positioning in all the major search engines in about 90 days.

Bad Company

What appears to be a good business decision at face value can end up being disastrous for search-referred traffic to a site. Neither of these businesses was a bad company. These businesses were run by smart, ambitious people who strove to operate successful online organizations in highly competitive industries.

The problem with search engine spam and enterprises that attempt to game search engine algorithms is such activities can make good companies appear to be bad, at least to search engines.

One false step can produce grievous results in today’s competitive online environment. Even though search engines can be relatively forgiving of missteps, getting algorithms to recognize and acknowledge valuable content and topical intent can take time.

If time is money, Internet time is a fluid currency of choices that are best made mindful of the medium.

Meet P.J. at Search Engine Strategies in Toronto, April 25-26, 2006.

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