seo-white-witchIn SEO, serving up “authentic” and usable content designed to demystify product offerings, remove conversion barriers, and support customer needs is most important.

We encourage our clients to represent their products’ true value with honesty, well branded style and important keywords. We try to keep our hands-off the integrity of the messaging as much as possible. However, here’s a sordid tale of happy, holistic and hands-off SEO gone to hell on a broomstick.

Our magical mystery client has been SO successful at organic conversion over the years that, in order to conserve their resources, we’ve moved to quarterly SEO/organic conversion audits. PPC and Social PPC campaigns are incredibly successful and our daily role has become about monitoring PPC expenditures, lead-count and cost per lead.

Costs are down, leads are up, revenue is through the roof and everyone’s mighty happy. The only problem is that, with our blessing, the internally generated honest-content fairies are now in fully charge of on-page copy. What’s wrong with this picture? Organic prominence has completely tanked-and I mean completely.

The SEO Black Witch Years
In the early days (circa 2002), we dirty SEOs generated most of this client’s content and had a lot to learn about usability and staying true to a product’s integrity. We laced on-page copy with tiny hidden links 70 carriage returns below the main content, spit out thousands of artificially generated crap pages, employed single-framed gateways, spammed meta tags, and wrote nearly incoherent optimized dribble based on Overture keyword research. Life was good. We would later learn we were wrong in crafting content solely for search engines.

Becoming a White Witch
We figured it out and focused more on offering a SEO friendly user experience. That was appropriate because the industry was changing algorithmically. Fortunately old tricks didn’t work anymore, as the engines grew the ability to filter junk. We adapted along with our SEM peers and rigorously challenged the client to always base content on best-of-the-day keyword research while adhering to essential product truth, usability, and not spamming…well not enough to get caught or screw up the experience.

The client sometimes argued about the keywords we wanted them to use in copy, protesting that the words were not the product’s actual vernacular. We jumped up and down, had tantrums, insisted, they used our nasty keywords, and things worked wonderfully. Our client made tens of millions and thought SEO supernatural stuff. The content was authentic, advised by research, and the site quite usable. We had become “SEO White Witches” and the balance was highly effective.

Banishing the Witch
However, as our client grew, it was a burr in the product manager’s butt that content was not always completely true-sometimes even bordering on violation of industry regulations. So, over time, we fully transitioned content creation to the client’s internal team and took a happily willing hands-off approach. Wrong! The first post-white-witch quarterly audit revealed an SEO disaster of biblical proportions. All is not well in Oz.

The most profitable keywords (that continue to convert in PPC arenas) are gone from the site and organic SERPs. Competitors are running roughshod. There‘s no anchor text on literal keywords anywhere. Internal linking is based solely on usability and not at all on basic SEO principles.

The site is no longer advised by what people actually search for, rather on how the Product Manger’s team sees things. While the HTML title and description tags are still intact, they have little contextual relevance to what’s on the page. Woops. SOMEHOW excellence in proffering total adherence to indigenous messaging (without SEO input) destroyed a previously effective organic strategy.

Put the White Witch Hat Back On
Jill Whalen, an SEM industry thought leader, recently published an excellent post titled The Dirty Little Secret of the SEO Industry. Her premise, that some bogus SEO firms claim”that your search engine rankings will tank as soon as you stop paying them their monthly fee,” is completely true. You don’t need to pay a monthly SEO fee if you don’t change the copy much and conduct periodic audits.

That said, classic organic optimization, though wicked basic, is frighteningly easy to destroy-even as motivated by holistic honesty in content creation. This is the pissy conundrum: SEO still has to be a functional blend of authentic content and an ongoing commitment to savvy keyword research-motivated copy, period.

I’m revving up my trusty broomstick and diving back into this client’s content and keyword research with PPC conversion metrics in hand. Soon enough the organic SERPs will rebound as the Product Manager, once again, yields (just enough) to the SEO White witch.

  • Jill

    Marty, I’m a little confused by your article. In general, I agree with it, but I’m confused over the part where your SEO work is more for search engines than users.

    That should never be something an SEO does or requests from their client. If what you’re doing on the page isn’t making the site better for both users and search engines, then it shouldn’t be done.

    That’s been the problem with SEO for years. Some seem to think that they have to put words on their pages that don’t actually describe what the company does or sells. But they don’t. That’s not what SEO is about, nor should it ever be about.

    The words you’re putting on the page should perfectly match what the company offers, and in working that way, the company, the search engines and the potential customers are all happy.

  • Marty Weintraub

    @ Jill: You misunderstand because the post was a little confusing. I’ve changed it to be more clear. This post about the consequences of totally IGNORING keyword research in favor of usability.There are ALWAYS keywords that do both-answer the questions embodied in users queries AND are true to the site’s usability and product’s integrity.

    This post is about what happens when we TOTALLY took our hands off. It would happen in many cases if there were never SEOs involved. Without seeking to thread the needle (honesty, usability, AND SEO), none of us would have jobs. 🙂

  • Ad Tracker

    What I find most disturbing is, I am beginning to understand more and more of what you write about in your articles ;P

  • Scott Clark

    Damn Marty – home run.

  • Marty Weintraub

    @Ad Tracker: You understand a LOT more than you let on.
    @Scott: Thank you friend. I’m so glad you’re are part of mutual communities.

  • Minnesota SEO Marketing

    Love the article Marty! Straight and to the point on the subject. Great use of a personal experience situation that you guys have seen. This is the kind of thing that we have been talking about in the SEO industry for a while but have a hard time demonstrating to clients. I’m glad you took the time to put it in print and confirm that the rest of us aren’t just blowing smoke.