Darren Woolley discussed recently on the TrinityP3 Blog the poor digital efforts of Strategic Marketing Consultants.

And agencies are as guilty as these consultants with their poor online performance.

It never ceases to amaze me when I am creating keyword competitive analysis projects the woeful Search Optimisation execution of many large advertising agencies.

These same agencies are advising on digital strategy for some of the largest brands in the world yet they consistently fail in SEO basics for their own sites.

Search engine optimisation is no longer simply a technical exercise. It is definitely not an IT task and Design and Development are usually pretty lost as SEO is much more about marketing than code.

There have been some major shifts in the world of search recently.

Google has been extremely aggressive with a number of major updates to its algorithm in 2012. It is critical that any online strategies take into account the intent of updates such as the Panda Update, which is a monthly refresh, and the Penguin update which has had two roll-outs thus far.

Panda targets a number of content based techniques whereas Penguin is related to link profiles and the quality and natural appearance of back-links.

Without going into too much technical detail, Google is indicating what they see as being their core business value proposition. This is to deliver the best possible search results for their customers by eliminating spam or any borderline manipulative techniques including some strategies which were seen to be compliant in the not too distant past. And the jury is out on whether they have improved results or not.

So how do you achieve high page results without resorting to risky strategies?

  • Create great content – content that will be shared, linked to as a reference, newsworthy content that will inspire discussion and inspire further new content
  • Get social – social signals offer proof of brand authority and popularity and are factored into ranking algorithms. The more active you are socially, the better your SEO results
  • Ensure technical compliance – get familiar with Google’s Webmaster Guidelines or at least ensure your digital team have a comprehensive understanding. Conduct a site SEO audit to eliminate any potential search penalties

There seems to be a lot of talk about the value of search strategy, social media implementation and content marketing yet many of the same agencies which are doing the talking are falling down badly when it comes to their own efforts.

Here are some of the most prevalent SEO mistakes agencies are currently making:

  1. Aesthetics over function. The web designer has done a fantastic job! Wow! Images move, music plays, buttons on the website make noises when you hover over them and the large scale images really show how creative you are. Unfortunately your website is built in Flash. Flash is invisible to search engines (as well as on most Apple products) so all Google sees is a page with a handful (if you’re lucky) of phrases to read which more often than not relate to what colour is used and where your navigation buttons are placed on the page. You will never rank for any industry related keywords so you are doomed to only ever rank for your company name. Websites have to be rich in keyword optimised, text based content and you have to assist the search engines in finding your content with good site architecture and internal linking strategies.
  2. Website not optimised. You would think this one would be a no-brainer wouldn’t you? The number of times I come across an agency site with a Home Page Title Tag that says “Home” or the company name and nothing else continually surprises. Meta Data is a large part of how search engines understand what your site is about and if you are not bothering to take advantage of this simple opportunity you will not rank well in search. Most web developers have at best a rudimentary understanding of SEO and this is made obvious with the amount of duplication of Meta Data, over or under use of keywords, missing Tags and other entry level SEO mistakes I see.
  3. Technical SEO fails. Google, Bing and Yahoo (and most of the other search engines) expect a minimum standard of technical SEO on a site. Does your site suffer from slow page load speed, broken links and crawl errors, server connectivity and DNS failures, unfriendly navigation, deeply nested pages, overly complex URLs, accidental duplication across the site or security issues? If you answered “yes” or “don’t know” then you can join the majority of other agency sites in the technical SEO fail club.
  4. Lack of keyword research. When building a keyword targeting campaign across a site it is essential that you know what sort of “exact match” traffic various phrases are getting and how these relate to specific geographic areas. You also need to align keyword strategy with on-site content and PR. And you must understand your online competition for each of these targets. Who is currently ranking and what are your chances of out-ranking them in the short, medium and long term based on their authority signals? What is the potential conversion rate for a particular keyword and does your company and website offer a viable solution to the search query? Unfortunately I see almost zero keyword strategy on agency sites.
  5. Content marketing strategy. Yes, it is easy to talk about the new content paradigm and how storytelling creates powerful brand connections with your target market. But what exactly is your content strategy? How often does your agency publish on the agency blog? (If you answer less than twice a week you are wasting your time) How well optimised is each post for keywords, Meta Data and deep links? What is your blog promotion strategy – publish and hope people will read it? Or do you have a content production calendar with multiple contributors who must hit deadlines? Do you have a range of RSS syndication, social bookmarking, pinging services, direct marketing promotion, social media scheduling and online PR strategies which get utilised every time you publish?
  6. Social Media integration. Be honest, how happy are you with your agency social media efforts? How many followers/fans/subscribers do you have? What is the level of interaction with these people? Is your content getting shared and commented on? Are your social media actions generating leads? Are your social media interactions managed by a relatively junior member of the team or does social business have buy-in and management from the executive level? Another of the big mistakes I often see are when an agency has social media managed by someone at head office (I’ll use New York as an example) – there are a large number of Twitter followers or Facebook fans but they are only talking to the New York manager of the account. These social accounts have no connection with your market so face it, you do not have a social strategy (New York office does). The second big mistake is when a large agency has a social following that is out of step with their offline reputation. How does it look for one of the biggest agencies in the world who also happen to have a digital/social media division, to have only 500 people following them on Twitter or a couple of hundred Facebook fans? Wouldn’t exactly fill me with confidence…
  7. International SEO mistakes. Time and time again I see hugely damaging mistakes with international SEO. Even the search engine guidelines are a little vague about compliance when you have multiple territories so this can be a challenging area. Large brands often play it safe when it comes to possible duplication penalties by developing completely unique websites for every territory. This can be hugely expensive but it is the only sure way to avoid Panda duplication penalties. Making the mistake of creating the same site for different countries can have devastating results in search. I have seen sites completely wiped from results because their site is too similar to a more authoritative site in another territory from the same company. You need expertise for these situations if you wish to avoid possible disasters.

The benefits of a powerful presence in search will bring rewards on many more levels than just keyword based website traffic (as valuable as this is). Building the trust factor, creating a social brand and improving brand recognition through organic exposure are also important. The key benefit however, is a platform where you can demonstrate a highly evolved understanding of digital strategy and implementation with tangible results that are impossible to fake!

How impressive is it to dominate the upper reaches of search for many of your desirable industry keywords – in the organic results, not the paid Ads?

What is holding agencies back? Is it a lack of understanding of SEO? Is it the low allocation of budget or priority to search and content strategies?

Your website, organic search visibility and social media presence is your digital shop front window…

Are you Fifth Avenue or are you Backstreet?