Slow & steady wins the race

It has been a very frustrating couple of months for me as a web designer. The recession is obviously causing many website owners to re-evaluate their poorly performing websites and is also causing them to become more aware of their site’s lack of visibility in Google. For me this has meant an increase in clients requesting website reviews and organic search engine optimization services.

While I am very excited about the opportunities, the influx of new business means that I am also, by necessity, explaining the time and dedication involved in creating a website that ranks high and wide in Google more often. I have been surprised by how resistant many of these perspective clients are to the idea that high search engine rankings require a lot of work. I actually think I have scared a couple of prospects off and they are out now looking for a designer/seo who can put them on the front page of Google quicker! Sigh. Unfortunately there is an abundance of blackhat SEO’s out there that will guarantee to do just that and feed them the lie they want to hear.

When putting together a website review I include recommendations for on-site search engine optimization, locate and point out usability and accessibility problems, critique the site’s content and appearance, research the effectiveness of the keywords they are using and also gauge their competition. The outcome of a website review is a clear, concise list of the problems found on the website and recommended solutions to those problems. When implemented, the solutions are geared to increase the sites performance (conversions) and search engine rankings. To put together a report like this, I spend days pouring through the site itself, reviewing web logs and other analytical statistics. Since I am driven by a desire to see my clients do well, I put a lot of thought and effort into the recommendations. You would think that if a website owner paid someone to thoroughly dissect their site and tell them “what is wrong”, that the resulting recommendations would be good news and welcome information. This is not always the case.

What I am finding is that many clients do not want to hear the truth about Google – that it takes a lot of work to rank well. Their prior blackhat SEO’s have harnessed the power of the Vulcan mind-meld and brainwashed them into believing that high ranking is “actually pretty easy”, all you have to do is stick this exact sentence here and repeat these words 200 times at the bottom of your page.

Here’s a great example if this cheap and easy advice taken from a forum I participate in:

“Optimization is simple. Make a check list of things you want to control and follow those. No worries at all. Metatags, Title, Bold, H1 tag, alt and the list goes on and on.”

See! All you have to do is fill out a couple of meta tags, bold your text, and you now have the ability to control your rankings. Who would have thought it was so easy!

** Note:  There is an extremely funny list of SEO myths over at the High Rankings Forum. It is best read when drinking wine, eating chocolate and possibly wearing your depends!

For some, once this type of “easy” mentality kicks in, it seems impossible to convince them otherwise. Recommendations for improving their site (if it involves extensive work and the setting of long-term goals and expectations) is not only NOT welcome, it is resented.

Unfortunately, I am finding that resistance to hard work and refusal to believe that good rankings take time goes hand-in-hand with another “syndrome” I fondly call the Google entitlement mentality.

Out of curiosity, and feeling compelled to blog my experience; I did a search on Google to see if anyone else had experienced this phenomenon. I found an excellent “rant” written by Jennifer Laycock, Editor of Search Engine Guide.  The content of the article itself didn’t surprise me as much as the date… 2006. Not only is Google entitlement mentality alive and kicking today, it seems to be getting worse!

I recently conducted a site review for a perspective client whose website was failing miserably in Google. There were so many things wrong with the website that it was almost overwhelming, but the biggest problem was evident immediately upon visiting the homepage. There was a spam-filled block of nearly invisible text at the bottom of the page. The site had also participated in a link-exchange program and owned a duplicate website; all big Google no-no’s. One day the site had good rankings, the next day it was gone and it never came back. P-e-n-a-l-t-y!

I completed the review and provided the client with a report (over 50 pages of data pointing out specific problem areas and providing solutions for each), including of course the removal of the blackhat areas. What do you think his response was? Anger at the SEO company that should have known better then to use these techniques in the first place? Anger at himself for not doing more research into the background of the SEO company before hiring them? A fresh determination to clean up his website so visits would begin converting to sales and hopefully his ranking would be restored?

No. He was ANGRY at Google. Why had they not been warned? The nerve! And, he was not very happy with me because I did not provide him with the “exact words for the home page” or the two keywords he should use. The website owner had already hired one SEO to perform “magical tricks” that would get his site to the top of Google, how’d that go for him? Now, he is looking for another.

I’m not sure where this entitlement attitude comes from. People who have not invested any money in a listing, put any thought or work into their site, and have actually gone against Google policy and tried to manipulate their way to the top should not expect anything. Most of these people believe Google is out to get them, when actually Google simply doesn’t want anything to do with them at all. Why would they?

To bring this mentality into better perspective, let’s use another scenario. What if a local visitor’s guide was trying to get off the ground and offered a business a free listing for a while to help them get launched. The magazine did very well in the first year and brought a substantial amount of traffic to the business. If after a year a representative from the guide explained to the business owner that they would have to begin paying for an ad, would the business owner get angry? Would the owner feel that the guide owed them a free ad (indefinitely) and be ungrateful for all the past business they had reaped for nothing? I think not.

Google entitlement mentality almost always leads to an ineffective website. When a client feels his site is entitled to top rankings not based on merit, but simply “because”, he does not value and is not motivated to implement solid recommendations. Why should he have to take time out of his busy schedule or hire someone to write content that makes sense and contains useful information? For that matter, why should he have to make sure his keywords are on his website, or that he is targeting the right keywords at all? He’s not particularly worried that his site does not look professional, or is confusing, or not converting visits to sales? He just wants his site on the first page of Google… and now!  The fact that 70% of his current visitors are leaving in between 0 – 30 seconds after landing on the site does not even factor into the equation. What to do?

For me, attitude after review is becoming the litmus test for which jobs I accept and which I do not. If the attitude reflects that of a “hare”, focused on short cuts and a resistance to hard work, and an underlying attitude of entitlement, I’m not going anywhere near it. Clients with this type of attitude are actually working against you (and themselves) and will ultimately end up with a website that bomb. They will never be happy, and who wants an unhappy client!

On the other hand, I am very excited when I meet a “turtle”! A client that is not only interested in an honest assessment of their website, but embraces the recommendations and looks forward to improvement has so much potential. Turtles can see the big picture and understand that high rankings are not everything. Not even close. Converting visits to sales, that is the ultimate goal. They understand that “slow and steady” wins the search engine race and ultimately leads to higher, targeted traffic and sales. With a turtle on your team (not unlike a tiger in your tank) you can build a great website. That leads to a happy client, and everyone wants a happy client!

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