Saturday, July 28, 2007

SEO Case Study: What can go wrong when you don't SEO product announcements

This is a cautionary tale of what can go wrong if you don't pay attention to search engine optimization (SEO). Because of a business relationship with the company in this story the name of the company has been changed to "Company" and the name of their product has been changed to "Product" (even in the screenshots).

Company has a long standing business producing, marketing and distributing broadcast quality video. Over the past couple of years they've tried their hand at video for the Internet and they're now in the process of enhancing and repackaging their broadband offerings and branding those offerings as Product.

Company sees itself as a B2B company, and Product as a B2B offering. As a result, direct contact with the industry is the primary focus of their efforts - which is appropriate given their business. Because SEO is focused on public-facing web sites and they see themselves as a B2B company, SEO is not one of their priorities.

Company's first mistake was to not realize that even B2B products have a public image that needs to be managed online. SEO is important even for B2B products and companies.

Product was announced just over two weeks ago, and searching for Product on Google results in the following SERP:

Example of not managing the online reputation of a new product

Position #1 - Held by Someone Else

What you can see in the SERP above is that the number one position is held by product.org with a placeholder page owned by someone else. Nothing's actually happening on the page - but since the domain has been the only thing ranking for that keyword for years now, it comes in on top - above pages from much more important domains.

It would have been a good idea for Company to pay a few thousand dollars and purchase the domain prior to announcing their product - that way they would have controlled the message of the #1 ranking page for their product.

Positions #2 & #4 - Lukewarm Reviews

The second and fourth slots are held by a lukewarm review of the product announcement. "Product may help..." is far from a ringing endorsement.

Company's Press Release is #3, When it Could Have Been #1

Company's primary web site - www.company.com is an old domain with a solid history. It hasn't been doing all that well lately falling 1,000 fold from a PR8 to a PR5 in the past 7 months, but it's still a reputable domain with a long, solid history.

Company chose to put their press release on product.tv - a completely untrusted site because it has no track record with the search engines. As a result, the press release comes in third in the SERPs.

Had they put the press release on www.company.com they almost certainly would have come in #1 in the SERPs - even in decline, company.com is far stronger than product.tv or product.org. Their choice put two problem pages above their press release.

Can't Tell Press Release Is Important

On top of everything else, the press release doesn't even stand out in the SERPs. It just says Product.tv and the text that's pulled out doesn't say much of anything. Imagine if it had said
Company Announces Product - An exciting new video distribution service
Product will offer a host of services for companies wanting to succeed in distributing their message on the web via video.
OK, that's not the best copy (intentionally, since I'm not trying to disclose too much about Company or Product), but the point is they could have had a strong, upbeat message that really stood out in the SERPs - all they had to do was SEO the press release page.

The Most Effective Presentation is Nowhere to be Found

Company put together a Flash-based sales presentation which was pretty effective in explaining Product in an engaging manner. It wasn't perfect, but it was a lot better than a boring press release. The problem is that presentation is nowhere to be seen in the SERPs, because it wasn't properly promoted or implemented on the web.

The page with the Flash presentation (the home page of product.tv) doesn't have the product name in the <title> tag, or in a description meta tag, and barely mentions it in the text of the page. The Flash presentation was put up without any alternate content that could be read by search engine spiders. Because they couldn't understand the Flash movie, they don't know how to index the page, and as a result the page doesn't show up in searches for any key terms.

Duplicate Content Issues

They also have duplicate content issues since the text of the press release is identical to the text on other sites - even their own sites (product.tv, www.product.tv, product.com, and www.product.com all return exactly the same page).

The fifth slot is held by the press release on the news page of one of Company's other divisions. Again, there's a duplicate content problem since the search engines will penalize pages for having the same content as other pages.

Irrelevant Pages, So-So Reviews

With the exception of a page on domaintools.com about product.com that came in #7, the remaining pages on page one of the SERPs are reviews of the product announcement - none of which sound like ringing endorsements.

Conclusion - SEO is important even for B2B

Bottom line - pay attention to your online reputation - even if you're a B2B company. Your customers will google your name and the name of your products and you should work hard to dominate the results and ensure that your customer sees positive messages about you before lukewarm or negative messages.

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