Is SEO dead for companies in Pakistan

Some years back (2005 to be exact) I joined a UK based web design agency and got my first hand experience of seeing websites optimized for keywords requested by clients and those keywords then achieving page 1 positions on Google and other search engines. I was quite fascinated by this as must be the clients paying for the optimization of their websites.

The modus operandi was that clients would send an enquiry or contact our office and request that their website be reviewed for SEO. We requested clients to provide us a list of 10-20 keywords which they wanted to target to improve their rankings on Google. Our SEO team would then review the client’s website and compile an Excel sheet outlining the current rankings of the client’s website on those keywords. They would also check if the client’s website was optimized for on-page SEO such as option to add/edit meta tags and search engine friendly URLs. If the keywords provided by the client were too generic or too competitive our SEO team would provide alternative keywords which they believed had a better chance to succeed. The client then selected the final 10-20 keywords for his website and our company would start work on them.

If the website needed some on-page optimizations such as adding and editing meta tags, URL rewriting and option of providing H1, H2 headings the work would come to my development department and we would add those features as requested by our SEO team and hand it back to them. Our work was usually finished in a couple of days.

Our SEO team then started the on-page SEO of the website and it usually took them 7 to 10 days of the first month to complete the process. During this process they would use the keywords from the approved keyword list provided by the client and embed them in the meta titles, headings, content and page URLs of the website. They created an account on Google Analytics if the client had not created one and generated the sitemap XML and submitted to Google Webmaster Tools. They checked for any 404 pages (broken URLs) in GWT and have them resolved by us if they existed.

The next step was to build back links to the website to increase the importance of the website in Google’s eyes (Remember PageRank :)). This was the time of link directories and link exchange programs. The client’s website link was submitted on high page rank link directories. The anchor text contained the actual keyword from the client’s approved list. Emails were exchanged with other website owners to place our client’s link on their website and in return our SEO team would place their link on the client’s website.

This process went for another month and a half and if all went well the rankings started to improve from the 3rd month onwards. Most of the times the client himself would contact us and express his gratitude on improving his website rankings. Some of them would be so happy that they would extend their contract for another 6 months to 1 year. Our SEO team was the darling of the company and at one time they were managing more than 30 projects which earned big moolah for the company.

I was just as much fascinated by their success but sometimes I felt that if this process was so easy then any Tom and Harry could get their websites optimized using these techniques and Google always prided itself on providing quality search results for its visitors.

Well it looked like Google was not happy that people were taking it for a ride. When Google introduced Panda and Penguin algorithms to fight web spam nearly all our client websites took a hit. Our clients started complaining of loss in traffic and that their website was nowhere to be found. Even though our SEO team made quickfire changes to offset the damage caused they were not able to recover the pre-Panda and pre-Penguin rankings of our clients and gradually our clients started to bid adieu and look elsewhere for a solution. Some were understanding and continued with the company but they had to start investing in Google Adwords to receive traffic and customers and that took a big hit on their profit margins.

The company eventually moved total SEO and internet marketing from Pakistan to the UK and the SEO department was eventually closed by the end of 2012.

This was not the story of one company but a lot of companies have closed down their SEO departments totally or scaled down operations to the bare minimum over the past couple of years. SEO related jobs have nearly stopped coming up on job portals and newspapers. Companies no longer see profit in SEO as people cannot get you results like they used to some 4-5 years back. As one senior SEO from a Dubai based media and SEO agency says

Managing a team of SEO’s to achieve organic results is much expensive than running PPC and Ad campaigns on Google and elsewhere

If you are a SEO or want to optimize your website then do read the Google Webmaster Guidelines.

Word of advice:

  1. Improve user experience on your website
  2. Stop keyword stuffing
  3. Start your own website blog
  4. Improve your social profile on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest etc.
  5. Do not buy or exchange links from anyone. Encourage natural back links

Tips to improve your email delivery rate

After writing doing email marketing the right way, I thought of giving some more tips on improving your email delivery rate as well as increasing chances of your email being read by the end user. After all it won’t do you any good if the people you are sending the emails to aren’t receiving them in the first place.

Email subject should be mixed case

Many email marketers think that if they send the email with subject in upper case characters then the user would be forced to open the email and read it. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Mail servers using anti spam software send these type of emails to the junk mail/spam folder. Your target user would not receive it at all unless he checks his junk on a regular basis.

Email message should be normal font

You should use normal font size (10-12)  to write your email message. Avoid using bold font and using upper case words in your message. If you need to highlight something then make sure it is your offer such as the price, bulk discount etc.

Use as less images as possible

If you are promoting a product then make sure to use 1-3 good quality pictures in your email and try not to go above this. If you do then anti spam software may mark your email as spam and send it to the junk mail folder. Some people fill their whole email with pictures of their products thinking that it would bring a positive response from the recipient in terms of conversion. They forget that if the recipient does not receive the email in the first place then all their hard work would go to waste.

Personalize your email messages

Using the full name or the first name of the recipient when starting your email is a good way to personalize your message and give the recipient a feeling of 1 to 1 between you and him. Start your email with Dear <recipient name>, or if you know the appropriate salutation you can use Dear Mr./Mrs./Dr./Miss <recipient name> which would be more proper.

Doing email marketing the right way

Email marketing is the most direct method of marketing and allows you to target your customers and/or subscribers in the shortest time possible. You are able to advertise your products/services to them and they have the chance to be the first set of people who buy from you. Even then there are some set of rules which you must follow so that you don’t end up spamming your customers and blacklisting your mail server.

1. Newsletter subscribe option

First you need to have a newsletter subscribe option on your website. Please bear in mind that email marketing is ethical and legal only if you are sending email to customers/subscribers who have explicitly expressed their intent of joining your newsletter. If you don’t have a newsletter subscribe option and you really want to send email to your users then you can place a newsletter opt-in option on your registration/sign up forms however you need to mention this on your website so that your customers know what they are getting into.

2. From: address

When sending emails to your subscribers make sure that the From: address in your email is that of your domain and not of any other website or email provider (like GMail, Hotmail, Yahoo etc). It would look highly unprofessional if you use another email address other than the one for your domain to send emails and it could get you blocked by your subscribers. Not only that this would be seen as attempts to spam your subscribers.

3. Contact information

If you are a legitimate business offering information about your products/services then you should mention your complete contact details in your newsletter so that people know who they are dealing with. They can use the contact details of your company to contact you and you may ultimately achieve a sale.

4. Unsubscribe option

The option to unsubscribe must always be available to your subscribers. It should be clearly visible on your email and the link should work i.e. if some one clicks the link then it should unsubscribe the user easily.  It would be preferable to have an unsubscribe option on your website as well. If you don’t have this option on your outgoing email then people can report you for sending out spam and your mail server may be blacklisted.

5. Plain text format

Most companies send out a very fancy and attractive newsletter template to their users. While this may all be good as it helps subscribers to view the offer in one go it may not help those who view their email in plain text. Some subscribers do not want to view graphics in their email and if you don’t send your email in plain text then you will simply lose out on a sizable number of subscribers.

6. Avoid BCC

Never enter and send emails to your subscriber from the BCC of your email. The technique of this method is put your email address in the From and To section and pack the BCC section with all your subscriber emails. Sending emails via this method is very dangerous as mail servers have become very intelligent and you may see some of your emails not being delivered to the recipient.

Last but not least check the USA CAN SPAM law of 2003 for more details on what you should not do when email marketing.

Hope the above helped.

Mobile website can lower your bounce rate and increase conversions

Mobile phones or more appropriately smartphones have become an integral part of our lives but now they are creating an impact on your website conversion and bounce rate as well. People now use their smartphones to browse websites online and this trend is increasing very rapidly especially in Asia and Africa. In the words of my boss

Every man may not have a computer but nearly every man has a mobile phone

Due to this, website owners may have to revisit the design of their websites and check their websites on mobile website simulators available online to see how their websites look on a smartphone device. I use following simulators to check how websites I develop look on smartphones.

http://mobile-website-simulator.com/

http://transmog.net

http://iphone4simulator.com/

If you see that your website is not loading properly or you are having trouble finding your way on the website then it’s time you ask your web designer to design a mobile friendly version of your website which loads quickly on smartphones. If your visitors cannot find what they are looking for quickly believe me they will not wait another second and close their browser or worse visit another website (maybe your competitor). This in turn will increase the bounce rate of your website which is an indicator of how meaningful your website is to the visitor. Remember,

The higher the bounce rate the lesser the conversions.

You have two options for designing your mobile website.

  1. Responsive design
    Responsive as the name suggests makes use of CSS media queries to render your webs page according to the device the visitor is using to browse your website. This means that your website will appear different on a mobile phone and tablet than on a desktop. The best thing about this option is that the URL of your website will be same. As an example check out my website on one of the above mentiond simulators and you will see what I mean. Google also strongly recommends that website owners use responsive design on their websites for better results.
  2. Design a separate mobile website
    The first option is usually the best option however in cases where the website is huge or there is not enough time/resources or you don’t have the budget for a responsive design you can go and have a separate mobile website designed for yourself. There are only 2 issues with this option.

    • Your mobile website will need to be run on a separate URL (sub-domain or some other address). Most people run their website on http://m.yourwebsite.com but this is not mandatory and you can use any address for this purpose.
    • You need to check whether the visitor is browsing on a desktop or a mobile phone/tablet and redirect the visitor appropriately to the correct website so if a visitor is on a mobile phone then you need to redirect him to the mobile website.

Just to show how much an impact a mobile website can make in lowering your bounce rate check the graphic below. I implemented a mobile website for my client based in the UK. As you can see the bounce rate for mobile phones and tablets has gone down by 39% and 24% respectively.

mobile_website_lowers_bounce_rate
UPDATE Dec 2013:

The bounce rate has gone down further and now the bounce rate is 20% for mobile phones and 22% for tablets which is less than half of what was originally and the overall goal completions have risen by 35%

Why having a postcode lookup on your e-commerce website is a smart idea

If you are a store owner living in the UK and if you are not using postcode lookup on your website then it’s time you seriously considered it.

Why?

Postcode lookup will help your customers to complete their checkout process much quickly than writing their address details on your website. If you consider your registration form at the moment it will be most probably be like the following.

Standard e-commerce website registration form without postcode lookup

If you minus the email address, password, first name and last name fields then there are still 5-6 fields which your customer will need to enter to complete the registration.

Hey! Its just 5 fields. What harm will that do?

It may not do that much for an unsuspecting customer but these days customers are quite intelligent and they compare a lot of websites before placing an order on your website. Unless you are a huge brand name that people can’t think to live without you should try to make life as much easier as possible for your customers because that will help your website with more conversions and orders. People usually send out gifts to their loved ones and friends via websites and they can lookup their whole address if they just know the postcode.

What about the costs involved?

It would seem like that there would be huge costs in going this route but if you do a search for postcode lookup on Google UK and check the costs involved it would come down to some where around 1 pence – 1.35 pence for one lookup. Not only that, there are several other payment options available offered by these websites which would help you to put this up on your website and start using it from the word go.

How will this look on my website?

It’s upto you really on how you want  it to look on your website. You could get in touch with your web developer  and talk it over with him and give him your ideas. Standard look and feel for this type of lookup would be as follows.

Step 1: Customers sees a form asking him to enter the postcode

E-commerce website registration with post code lookup - Step 1

Step 2: Customer enters his postcode and the system searches for addresses on that postcode

E-commerce website registration form with postcode lookup - Step 2

Step 3: Customer selects an address from the list of addresses which is his desired address.

snap_shot_with_uk_postcode_search_3

And that’s it.

The customer needed to enter the postcode and with 2 clicks he was able to pre-fill his address thus saving his time and giving you a chance to convert one more prospective to a sale.

If you have any comments/questions then please do let me know.

Increase sales conversion with relevant product search results

Website conversion has always been important for website owners as they look for ROI on their investment. Rightly so as they spend thousands on developing a website and they expect a financial return so they could cover up their costs. They invest on a slick design, catchy graphics and nice behaviors which should attract any visitor who visits their website. Most of the time this logic works and it does keep the visitor on the website and the longer the visitor is on the website the more chances of conversion.

This logic however fails if the visitor is not able to find what he is looking for. Why?

If you have a website which sells products or in other words an e-commerce website then it is very important that your Site search (this is the search box on your website) facility provides targeted results. Most websites are being developed on some type of framework these days and due to this the problem is wide spread. Website owners have come across comments from several potential customers complaining that they were not able to find a specific product on the website even though that product existed on the website.

After investigation it was found that:

  1. Site search provided results which were not entirely related to the product that was actually being searched for by the visitor.
  2. Actual product searched was found to be way down in the search results where in fact it should have been at the top.
  3. In some cases even entering the actual product name did not provide any result and visitor was asked to search again for that product.

One can see how frustrating this can be to the visitor. You can liken the above to the following example

Suppose you need to buy a pair of jeans. You go to a departmental store. You give your query to the sales representative and expect him to show you the products you are interested in. If the sales representative starts to show you shirts or trousers instead of jeans would you not be frustrated? How about you ask for a specific brand jeans and he instead shows you jeans of some other brands? How would you feel if you ask for your favorite jeans and he says that they don’t have it even though you can see that they do?

You would most probably think that the store doesn’t want to make money and you would most probably not return to that store in the near future.

Seeing how important search is website owners need to check the site search results to make sure that they don’t lose a customer.

If you are owner of a website where the site search is not giving the right results then let me know and I can help you to sort it out.