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As the political parties proudly launch their manifestos, outlining their principles, aspirations and plans should they win power, I've decided to write an SEO manifesto for long-term website success.
If you want your business to do well online, there are a number of principles you should stick to. Unlike some politicians, you also need to stick to them in the long term.
So, whether you're working on your website's visibility already or are just starting out, try to adhere to the pledges laid out in this manifesto and you should do alright.
I will remember my human visitors
In the race to reach the top of the search engine results pages (SERPs), it's all too easy to forget why you're doing it. Remember that the only reason to spend money and effort ranking highly is to attract and convert human visitors. That makes it essential that your website is attractive and useful to the real people who then stumble across it, not just the search engines' crawlers.
At the start of your campaign, make a pledge that nothing you will do will make it harder for your visitor to use and navigate around your site - your sales figures will suffer if you don't, believe me.
I will consider long-term growth
Politicians know that economic growth is good but entrepreneurs like me know that's not strictly true - it's sustainable growth we want. There's no point booming if you're going to suffer a bust. Likewise, there's no point ploughing all your budget into short-term measures such as paid search, although they are useful.
You need to secure long-term visibility too, and that means investing in organic search tactics to optimise your website. That way, if you suddenly had a spending crisis and couldn't put any money in pay-per-click (PPC), your online traffic wouldn't immediately stop.
It's vital to plan for the future as well as the short-term (maybe SEO agencies should be signed up for four years at a time too!)
I will spread the budget effectively
There's no point having the best-trained soldiers in the world if they don't have the right equipment or any helicopters - and this is a lesson that spills into every industry. If you don't spend the budget appropriately, you undermine the areas you are spending money in.
When it comes to SEO, the most common mistake I see is people bidding on the most competitive keywords - pouring vast sums of money into just a few clicks. Sure, you may want to put some money into the more expensive keywords - but your paid search budget needs to be spread intelligently if it's to be as effective as possible.
So, buy placement on more specific searches - you'll spend less and benefit from more relevant traffic (assuming, of course, that you're researching your keywords intelligently. If you lack experience, it may be worth bringing in an agency or reading some of the many online guides to keyword research).
The example I always give is 'car insurance'. Every click for that search will cost you a small fortune as all the larger insurance providers bid for it. However, terms like 'women's car insurance' or 'overseas car insurance' will cost less and allow you to attract the customers you really want.
Of course, it isn't just PPC where this is relevant. There's no point spending a fortune on getting visitors to your site if it's weak when they get there, there's no point buying a load of contacts if you're going to send them useless spam... Spread your budget wisely and your returns will grow.
I will not nick other people's ideas
The political parties are constantly accusing each other of stealing their policies and ideas, and this can be pretty annoying for voters - they just want to hear about some good ideas.
Well, the same is true for the online audience and the search engines. I hate to see stolen copy duplicated on a website, but Google hates it even more. Don't waste time stealing other people's words - it won't work.
But I will learn from other's success
Lots of our politicians are keen to talk to Ireland about how it's bringing down its deficit - and there's no reason not to learn from what others are doing. If you can find out what other businesses like yours are doing to achieve success then this can help direct your campaign. Your SEO agency, if you have one, should be able to carry out some competitor analysis but you can do a lot yourself.
Look at what they're doing on their website, sign up for any email marketing they routinely send out and then assess it, chat to your peers at conferences and events and find out what strategies they're using.
This could help prevent you from making mistakes that have already been made elsewhere and give you some pointers as to what works.
I will not break or bend the rules
You might think the public is unforgiving over the expenses scandal but that's nothing to the search engines if they catch you trying to trick them. So-called unethical or 'black hat' SEO upsets Google more than a publicly-funded duck house distresses a socialist.
Unless you are actually cleverer than several hundred PhDs, there's no point trying to fool the search engines into ranking you more highly. Even if you get away with it in the short term, in the long run you will be caught and your site will be penalised.
For me, one of the worst parts of my job is consulting with a new client whose former SEO agency got them penalised by Google - it really is the kind of thing that can break a new business (particularly if their unfairly-gained high ranking prompted loads of traffic and therefore growth - when the visitor numbers drop off a cliff, it can be simply devastating).
Don't break the rules, it isn't sustainable (see pledge two).
I will keep my spending within reason
If your campaign isn't cost effective or isn't working then stop doing it. This might sound ludicrously basic but so many firms (and politicians) seem to believe a bad idea will become better if they just throw enough funding at it.
The great thing about online marketing is that you can see what's working, you can measure your success. If your SEO agency proudly tells you it delivered 40,000 visitors to your site in a day, but they cost you £1.20 each and you only made 40p from each of them - then that's a loss. Don't be bamboozled by the visitor numbers, look at the cost and look at the return - these should always be your guide.
Once you've launched an SEO campaign, you should be constantly analysing it, comparing the success of different tactics and re-routing budget to more effective strategies when you see waste. Your campaign should be efficient - that way, there will never be any need for cuts because you'll have demonstrable returns on everything you spend.