Brutal Reality: SEO is a Process that Guarantees Frustration

I think Search Engine Optimization is in its own category for plans that don’t seem to work out right.

SEO is About More than Ranking High on Google

SEO stands for “Search Engine” Optimization. It’s Understandable People Get Confused.

Almost every day I delete an email from some “SEO” company, often written in broken English, telling me that they can guarantee a high ranking on Google. In the first place, such claims are always bogus (yes, I said “always” not “almost always”). In the second place, so what?

Ranking high is nice, it’s desirable, it stokes our egos, but ultimately, most business people realize that a high ranking, even a number ranking, can be completely meaningless. Of course once you think only in terms of “Search Engine” optimization, you might miss that the point of having a website probably is probably not achieved by a person searching on Google or Bing and finding your website.

picture of children having search engine success

Hurray! They found you! … Now what?

An SEO company owes it to their clients to focus, not on rankings, but on business success. Even Google drives this point, as mentioned by former Googler Maile Ohye

“A successful SEO also looks to improve the entire searcher experience, from search results to clicking on your website and potentially converting”

Not only does this make business sense, it’s absolutely critical from Google’s perspective. Think about it, Google is like a tour guide. If a tour guide keeps dropping the tourists off at destinations that bore them, that they can’t wait to leave, where they find nothing of interest that they’d like to take home, that tour guide will not get tips and eventually will lose customers.

Google has a vested interest in having people arrive at a website that they’ve “recommended” and say, “wow, this is just what I was searching for!”

When you become a client with Horizon Web Marketing, we view it an essential component of our program to analyze the type of website experience your customers will enjoy (or hate) when they land on your website. We’d like to offer some of the methods we use to understand and improve visitor experience on our clients’ websites.

3 Easy Ways to Understand Searcher Experience on Your Website

  • The best tool is still the easiest. Visit your own site and try to experience it through the eyes of someone who has never been there. This can be hard at first, but the longer and slower you browse, the more you can get a feel for that first-timer.
  • What good are friends if you don’t use them? Actually we’re talking about using them as unofficial testers. For example, if your site is an Ecommerce site, as a friend to buy one of your products (you might want to give them a substantial discount, say, 100%). Here’s the key, watch them do it. This is an occasionally painful, always useful experience.
  • Check your analytics. Google Analytics will show you on a page by page basis how long the average viewer will stay on a page (behavior > all pages > average time on page), how many of them leave without going deeper into your site ( > bounce rate).

Of course there are more sophisticated ways to measure searcher experience, but the priority remains the same, don’t get distracted chasing rankings or be satisfied when you’ve achieve them. As Maile Ohye said, “improve the entire searcher experience.”

Using Google’s Search Location Setting. Buyer Beware!

Personalization and Localization of Search

Location marker illustrating local searchOver the years we’ve noticed increasing personalization of search. This is the practice followed by search engines of providing one set of search results to one searcher and a different set to another searcher even though they are entering the exact same search query.

Related to personalization is localization. I normally lump localization of search and personalization of search in the same category because they both do the same thing: customize search results to better fit the intent of the individual searcher.

Whenever you perform a search, you are connecting to the Internet using an I.P. Address, or number. This is a unique number that identifies your Internet connection. I.P. numbers are typically identifiable in general geographic locales. For example if I connect to the Internet here in my office in Grand Junction, Colorado and do a search on Google, even though Google can’t see who I am, they can see that my I.P. number is based in Grand Junction.  This allows Google to display search results that take into account my searching location. Google will favor, sometimes strongly, Grand Junction business websites based on my location.

This presents a bit of a challenge for an Internet professional such as myself, since I work with businesses all over the country and I need to see how well they rank for a Google search.

In the past the Google search location settings have come to my rescue. I can conduct a search, click on “Search Tools,” and set my location to “Las Vegas NV,” for example. (See screen capture below)

screen shot example of using search tools for location override

Search Location Override Isn’t What it Used to Be

But this method is no longer effective for me, because it appears that Google is displaying a different set of results based on whether I specify my search location or let them determine it automatically from my i.p. number.

This creates a problem for a business owner or marketing professional who is wondering just how visible their company website is on a Google search within a particular geographic region, especially if they are not physically in the area they are checking.

Let’s look at the following example, based on one of our own clients. The client in question is the dominant mover in the Las Vegas market, Move 4 Less. Move 4 Less is a local Las Vegas company that regularly beats out national competitors in search results. If I run a search for “Moving Companies” from my Western Colorado location with my search tools set to “Las Vegas Nevada,” here’s what I will see:

Example of search on Google from Grand Junction

Our client shows below the 7-pack, way below the fold in my Colorado search, even thought I’ve specified a location of Las Vegas NV.


A Physical Search in Las Vegas is Dramatically Different

Here’s the same search conducted by my colleague Matt from his desktop in Las Vegas.  Note how our client is showing up smack in the middle of the local results (the so-called 7-pack), which is far higher on the page:



What Takes Priority in Google’s World?

The physical location is not trumping the location setting in Google Search tools, it appears to be the other way around.  The Search tools setting is actually over-riding the results given by a plain-vanilla search conducted in the physical region.  How do I know?  Note this last screen shot.  It is the same search done from the Las Vegas location, but with the Search tools setting set to “Las Vegas.”  Here the geographic data is trumped and distorted in a very unpredictable way, showing a set of results identical to those I got in Colorado:



screen capture showing Google search with location hard coded

Search setting trumps physical location. But why it produces the results it does is anyone’s guess.


The take away from all of this is simple: don’t trust your own searches – or even your own eyeballs – when it comes to evaluating how visible your Website is in Google searches.  Many businesses obsess over “Googling” their “money” keyword terms, but this is such an imperfect way to measure it’s becoming almost useless.  There are better ways to determine visibility in Google search results, but I’ll leave those for another post.

(Or, if you can’t wait for that future post, either hire Horizon Web Marketing to do some consulting for you, or sign up for one of the SEO workshops that I’ll be teaching in Las Vegas this year.)

Internet Marketing and the Sleazy SEO Guarantee


Can Any Internet Marketing Professional Guarantee a Number One Ranking in Google?

You’ve received the emails, right?  The ones that claim to guarantee you a top ranking in Google for a bargain-discount, super-special, today-only, limited-time price?

“For $99.95 a month we’ll give your our honest John SEO guarantee that you will rank #1 on Google.”

And if you’re honest you’ve asked yourself…”Maybe it’s true?”

Well, boys and girls, I’m here to tell you that sometimes it is true.

What?!  You exclaim (or mumble, or just think it in your befuddled, pre-coffee, morning haze).

I’ll bet you expected me to debunk that claim.  Sorry to throw you a curve ball, but it is possible to guarantee a number one spot in Google.

Let’s test it out right now.  I’m going to tell you that this blog post is about Internet marketing razzmatazz in Las Vegas.  Now, give it a try.  Go to another window and search on the phrase “internet marketing razzmatazz in las vegas.”  Unless you’re reading this 5 minutes after I publish (and maybe even then) I can “guarantee” that we will get a good ranking in Google for “internet marketing razzmatazz las vegas.”

Ok, now someone needs to pay me $99.95.  That was the guarantee, right?  I’ll get you top ranking on Google for only $99.95 per month?  Well, fork it over…

(Note: Here’s an update from 24 hours later.)

Where’s the rather obvious deficiency in my number one ranking strategy?

Who searches for Internet Marketing Razzmatazz Las Vegas?

Answer: No one.  (Ok, well, you just did, but other than you…)

This is something of a follow-up post to what I wrote (see SEO Experts: Look in the Bag Before You Buy) about, er, let’s say, overly optimistic Internet Marketing companies that brag about their ranking “success” stories.

The moral of this story is simple.  If any SEO/SEM marketing company offers you a ranking guarantee, ask them the hard question:

Do I Get to Pick the Search Keyword?

This question will cut through any bull, er, shot, guarantees.  If they say yes, come to us for 1 hour of almost complementary keyword research.  We’ll pick a keyword term that is relevant to your business and gets lots of search traffic.  After all, rankings for anything “razzmatazz” are pretty meaningless, aren’t they.

Now here’s the second part of this.  As you noticed above, I said the keyword research was “almost” complementary.  Here’s the catch.  After you give them the keyword term that we helped you pick, and after that company fails miserably to deliver on their guarantee (and oh yes, unless they’re charging you a lot more than $99.95 a month, they will), please promise to come back to us and we’ll explain what real Internet Marketing means and why we’re the best company in Las Vegas to help you with yours.

We won’t even say “we told you so.”  Not even once.  We guarantee it.