Goodbye Rank Write, Hello TagLine issue 001

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TagLine Case Study #001

SEO case studies, resources and solutions for your business' online marketing success
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Surprise: Even limited SEO works!

By Heather Lloyd-Martin

The case study from the well-known SEO was impressive - on paper.

Originally, we planned to run a killer case study for our initial issue. The case study white paper we received (and subsequent interview we conducted) had it all. The SEO edited for keyphrases. They changed the code. They submitted to directories (getting a #5 Yahoo! ranking at that!). We even had a quote from the client (let's call them SecretClient.com) exclaiming how the SEO campaign resulted in a 500% sales increase. The trappings were marvelous.

And then, we dug a little deeper. And we didn't like what we saw.

Rather than applauding this SEO (who will remain nameless for obvious reasons) for its positioning prowess, we're deconstructing their case study and examining their results. Yes, their client did see a 500% increase in sales, and that is a commendable achievement. But how did SecretClient.com grab such great results when we, during a Wordtracker search for a main keyphrase, learned that no one had searched upon that phrase in the last 60 days. Zero. Zip. No one.

We'll examine two common areas where this campaign, as with many others like it, broke down and lost its steam. After that, we'll hypothesize why this bad SEO campaign made good - and why SecretClient is a still satisfied customer.

  1. Poor keyphrase choices sabotaged SecretClient.com's spidering search engine campaign

Our first step was reviewing SecretClient.com's site for keyphrase usage. Unfortunately, the copy wasn't written well for the search engines (more on that later), and the main keyphrases weren't obvious from the text. So we checked out their Title tag and determined their main keyphrase choices. From there, we did a little Wordtracker research, just to see how competitive those keyphrase choices were.

Competitive? Hardly.

When we typed the first keyphrase into the Wordtracker database, I received the error message we all hate to read:

"Sorry, no results found. To appear here, your keyword needs at least three appearances in the last 318 million searches."

No one was searching on this phrase, yet the SEO still optimized for it.

So we kept researching. The second keyphrase had five searches within a 60-day period. The third keyphrase had 11 hits. And no, these keyphrases weren't so industry-specific that those 11 hits could be *extremely* targeted and profitable.

What does this mean to SecretClient.com? Prospects will not be able to locate SecretClient.com in the spidering search engines. It's like the business doesn't even exist - and that's bad news.

  1. A bad content strategy resulted in nonexistent rankings

Next, we decided to see how well the client's site did in the search engines. After all, we reasoned, the SEO optimized for two noncompetitive keyphrases (there were no Wordtracker searches for the third phrase.) So SecretClient.com should have top rankings across the board.

The first red flag flew when we read the home page. The body copy text was just a bit over 100 words, which is not enough text to promote three keyphrases and still keep a coherent marketing flow. Strong search engine optimized copy tends to run about 250 words per optimized page, so we were concerned

Then, we reviewed the copy for keyphrases. Amazingly, the body copy didn't include any of them. SecretClient.com had keyphrases in their tags that were completely absent from their text. No wonder their rankings were hurting - the search engines had no content on which to base relevancy.

What's worse, when we did a Google search, the client didn't even rank high for their ineffective keyphrases. So in effect, the SEO badly optimized for phrases nobody types into a search box. And if a prospect were to stumble upon one of their keyphrases, SecretClient.com didn't even rank high. What's the use in that?

The secret to the site's SEO success

"But SecretClient.com loved the results and said it was successful," you're screaming. How did it happen? Here's why we think SuperClient.com is a satisfied client:

Success hypothesis #1

The first reason is obvious: Even limited SEO works. As long as you're not spamming the engines, and you know enough to not do anything that would actually harm your rankings (like considering link farms as a viable SEO technique), doing something is better than nothing.

Sure, their link campaign isn't great - but at least the SEO put one in place. And no, their copy isn't search engine perfect - but they don't have a swirling Flash page. SecretClient.com isn't getting top rankings, yet their SEO efforts still provided a positive ROI.

Success hypothesis #2 - That #5 Yahoo! listing

Good Yahoo! listings are heavily valued properties. According to Jupiter Media Metrix, one-third of Internet users surfed Yahoo during March 2002. Smart Yahoo! strategizing and a good description can drive tons of targeted traffic.

Creating a strong Yahoo! description was the best thing the SEO firm could have done. The SEO obviously took time to research the categories, and found one that was laser-targeted for the client's service. Then, the SEO chose a *specific*, relevant keyphrase (rather than the bad ones chosen for the spidering search engines) and submitted their description. How much of that 500% sales increase came directly from Yahoo!, we don't know. But, it definitely saved this SEO campaign.

Was this SEO campaign a true success? We say no.

How successful was this campaign for SecretClient.com? Bottom line, they are realizing a positive ROI. However, they also paid for a spidering search engine optimization campaign that was flawed from the beginning. With savvy keyphrase research and better copy, their initial 500% sales increase could be but a mere drop in their online profit-making bucket - and SecretClient.com could enjoy an even greater ROI.

We welcome your successful case studies ! If you're an SEO or a site owner, please send us your specifics to casestudy@ascendant-group.com. We may feature you in a future TagLine.

A special thanks to the SEO company who provided us the original case study, listened to our concerns when we showed them the unfavorable data, and still let us run this story.

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Heather Lloyd-Martin is the Managing Director of The Ascendant Group (formerly SuccessWorks) and considered the leading expert in search engine optimization writing. She can be reached at heather@ascendant-group.com. The Ascendant Group is a search engine optimization consultancy specializing in in-house SEO training, development and project management.

© Copyright 2002, Heather Lloyd-Martin.

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