The Changing Game of SEO
When I look back at the last six years Iâ€™ve spent in the Internet marketing world, itâ€™s amazing to see how much SEO has changed since I first started. Back in 2006, you could buy an exact match domain, throw up some average content, hit it with loads of site wide sidebar or footer links, and be in the top three in a few months.
Since then, Googleâ€™s algorithm, filters, and spam detection strategies have changed significantly, and nowadays I donâ€™t think the aforementioned strategy is even a viable option.
This article is going to cover three topics that I think are changing as well as important for affiliates and SEOs in 2012:
- Ranking an affiliate site for commercial terms like â€œbuy (product) onlineâ€.
- My updated thoughts on exact match domains.
- How news/local/social injections are changing keyword strategy.
Before starting, I want to mention that everything below is simply my opinion. I try to back up my thoughts with examples, but Iâ€™m in no way an absolute authority on any of this.
Ranking Affiliate Sites for Commercial Terms
One of the most affective strategies as an eCommerce affiliate is to rank your website in Google for commercial terms related to the products you promote, such as â€œbuy (whatever product) onlineâ€. Users searching this term are looking to buy now, and are highly likely to click through your affiliate link and make a purchase.
The only problem with this strategy is that itâ€™s gotten a lot harder to actually rank an affiliate website for these sorts of terms. I attribute this to Googleâ€™s preference for brands over affiliates, in combination with how easy it is to differentiate between actual brands/retailers and affiliates. For example:
- An actual retailer will almost always have a mailing address and phone number somewhere on the website, while an affiliate usually wonâ€™t.
- An actual retailer will have links/pages like Cart, My Account, Checkout, Track My Order, Contact Us, Testimonials, FAQ, etc, while an affiliate usually wonâ€™t.
- An actual retailer will often have customer reviews/feedback pages elsewhere on the Internet, like on the BBB website, at Epinions.com, or on industry-specific forums/chat rooms, while an affiliate usually wonâ€™t.
In my opinion, Google factors these sorts of indicators into their algorithm, especially for commercial terms, as people searching commercial terms are looking to buy, not land on an affiliate page then have to either back out or click through the â€œBuyâ€ link to land on another landing page at the actual retailerâ€™s website.
Assuming this is correct, affiliates are already at a big disadvantage to retail sites when it comes to ranking for commercial terms, simply because Google is aware that they donâ€™t actually sell the product the searchers are looking for. However, I think there are a few things you can do to increase your chances at reaching the top:
If your affiliate site is a simple collection of product pages with standard product images, specifications, and a â€œBuy Nowâ€ affiliate link, in my opinion you donâ€™t have a chance. The affiliates who are ranking for valuable commercial terms go above and beyond to ensure they provide actual value to their visitors.
For example, my friend Kevin runs a website about supplements at BuySupplementsOnline.org. He makes money by referring customers through his affiliate links to supplement retail websites like BodyBuilding.com, but that is not the primary focus of the site.
I personally am into working out, and occasionally try out new supplements to break through plateaus. Whenever Iâ€™m thinking about trying a new class of supplement, the first thing I do is go to Kevinâ€™s website to read about that type of supplement, as well as see what exact products he recommends in that category.
The reason I visit his site first is because someone who has actually taken the product and knows what he or she is talking about writes every supplement review on the site. Kevin didnâ€™t hire some $10/article writer to regurgitate the standard information about each of these products; he (or his authors) actually took the supplement while working out, and wrote an in-depth summary of their thoughts on the productâ€™s effectiveness, value, and taste.
Besides being an extremely useful resource, his website also has a real about us page that offers information about the writers on the site, contact information, and a disclaimer â€“ all of which probably help his TrustRank. When you combine all of these factors together, it doesnâ€™t surprise me at all that his site does well in the search engines.
If you have an affiliate site that youâ€™re struggling to rank for a commercial term, take an unbiased look at the website from a user perspective and ask yourself â€œIf I am looking to buy Product X, why would I want to visit my affiliate website first instead of going straight to the retailer?â€ If you canâ€™t come up with a concrete answer, you have some serious work to do.
Exact Match Domains in 2012
The next topic I want to touch on is the effectiveness of exact match domains in 2012. Most Internet marketers know that using exact match domains was an extremely effective SEO strategy over the past five years or so, but I am not sure itâ€™s such a good idea nowadays.
(Before explaining why, I want to specify that Iâ€™m talking about extremely top-tier domains â€“ ones that you might spend five figures or even six figures on. If you can get a good domain cheap I think it still provides some value.)
When you buy an expensive exact match domain, you are tying your site pretty closely to one â€œtrophy termâ€. If you fail to rank for that term, you probably end up with an enormous sunk cost, and even if you do achieve a top ranking, it might not be as valuable as you think (I expand on this later in the article).
Also, it seems to me that ranking EMDs isnâ€™t nearly as easy as it used to be, and itâ€™s also easier to get filtered/penalized than ever before. I personally have one very expensive two word .org domain that I have put an enormous amount of effort into over the past 14 months, only to see it stuck at #30-#40 in Google due to some sort of filter or penalty. In my experience, this website should be ranking at least top five in Google for its main term, but due to whatever filter Iâ€™ve tripped (probably over-optimization), the site has very little revenue and Iâ€™m basically stumped.
If you do decide to buy and go all out with an exact match domain trying to rank for a super competitive term, Iâ€™d recommend you take it extremely slow at the start, and focus all your efforts on building a useful resource and creating brand power. Iâ€™d also be very careful with anchor text, even on your own internal links (for example, I would internally link to my homepage as â€œHomeâ€ as opposed to â€œKeywordâ€).
I wouldnâ€™t pronounce exact match domains as â€œdeadâ€, but as my finance friends would say, Iâ€™m pretty â€œbearishâ€ on them nowadays.
The Lessened Value of Ranking for Top Terms
As I mentioned above, even if you do reach the top of the organic SERPs for a â€œtrophy termâ€, it wonâ€™t be nearly as valuable as it would have been several years ago.
Assuming youâ€™re #1 in the organic rankings for a major term, you still have to potentially compete for clicks with:
- Up to three PPC listings above you in the search results page.
- Up to eight PPC listings on the side of the search results page.
- News injections that might end up above you in the organic listings.
- Local injections that will probably end up above you in the organic listings, pushing you below the fold (with a #1 ranking!).
- Social injections that will probably end up above you in the organic listings.
- Image injections that might end up above you in the organic listings.
There are some niches (like gambling) where the PPC/injections arenâ€™t nearly as bad, but most mainstream commercial searches will produce tons of ads and injections, significantly lessening the value of an organic ranking for the term.
Soâ€¦ Now What?
With all the doom and gloom Iâ€™ve spoken of in this article, what is an Internet marketer to do in 2012 and beyond?
Well, Iâ€™d recommend focusing on three things:
- Provide value. No matter what niche you are in, take a long look at your website vs. your competitorsâ€™ sites and figure out why youâ€™d visit your site instead of theirsâ€™. If your only focus is pure SEO, and you forget about the user, you are in trouble.
- Build a real brand. If people arenâ€™t searching your domain name or brand name in Google right now, you need to increase your siteâ€™s value and brand awareness so that starts happening. Also, you can do this as an affiliate or as a retailer â€“ this isnâ€™t limited to big retail brands.
- Get the long tail. This isnâ€™t a new strategy, but I think itâ€™s going to become more important than ever before. With all of the injections and ads showing up for the big, one/two word terms, you need to focus on ranking for the longer, more specific key phrases with less injections to maximize your ROI on your SEO campaign.
By focusing on creating an extremely valuable Internet resource/company, not just a gimmicky SEO-driven site, you can be confident that Google will rank you where you belong as their algorithm continues to change in 2012 and beyond.
This guest article was provided by Michael Wittmeyer – a longtime Internet marketer and co-founder of JMBullion.com.
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