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Torpedo & Sink the Ship “SS Search Engine Rankings”

I was recently contacted by one of my best clients who asked me what I thought of his decision to make a major change to one of his highly ranked pages. His initial concern was that visitor sales conversion ratio was low. At almost one percent, it was just below normal, but I’m always happy when a client wants to improve. Conversion and rankings though, are very different beasts and his concern was overly focused on the former to the total exclusion of the latter.

As his SEO I should have realized that the top rankings of this already optimized page were in danger when his first sentence referred to the existing “Dusty, tired old page, that just isn’t getting enough sales.” That page had just been optimized for search engines about 6 months previously, and went from page 10 (invisible) or so of the Search Engine Results Pages (SERP’s) to the top three on the first pages of all three major search engines virtually overnight after a few tweaks to gain traction from a popular movie reference to his product.

The page had been up for several years before the movie release without gaining substantial web sales of that same product, but our optimization six months ago lead to a leap in sales and consistently improving page visits after that theatrical release. But sales plateaued over time and slowly decreased after the movie which had mentioned his product transitioned to DVD sales. Somehow he hadn’t forseen that decrease and wanted to continue the level of sales he had enjoyed while the movie mention was fresh.

To achieve the continued sales though, he wanted to completely replace the page text with new material he’d been given by the manufacturer of the product. As is the case with marketing material provided by many companies, keyword density was non-existent with emphasis was on slick new photos, covered with stylized, graphical text. Text with keywords that couldn’t be repeated in any page text since they had already been embedded in the image graphics several times.

What to do? I suggested creating an entirely NEW page with the manufacturer provided information linked within his site menu links on each page and from the sitemap. While maintaining the old page for it’s top rankings in the search engines we could simply use internal linking to keep the search engines crawling that (old dusty) fully optimized page. That way we would still rank in the top 5 for that page and it’s coveted keywords and provide the new conversion focused page to site visitors from the menu links.

For some reason though, the client insisted on using the existing filename for the new content and moving the old content to a NEW filename! Why? Because he wouldn’t have to have his programmer change a script which loaded a rotating banner to a select few highly trafficked pages. The programmer costs too much to change a few lines of code for a profitable product page?

This tactic meant that we would completely lose the existing rank on the next visit of the search engine crawlers after the new page was posted. I was convinced that we could gain the rank back, but only over time and with substantial extra work. The cost to the client to get a new page into the top five on SERP’s was going to exceed the cost of programming updates of banner rotation scripts. But he insisted we use the new manufacturer provided (image only) content on the old filename. OK, I relent.

The web designer wanted to use the new manufacturer provided page in an iframe and embed the old page text in noframes tags – making it visible to search engines, but not visitors. Silly idea and borderline spam technique that may drop our top five rankings off the charts. I dug my heals in and refused that idea.

The client suggested simply keeping previous metatags and title tag to maintain ranking. Sorry, that simply won’t work. If it did, we’d return to the bad old days of simplistic keyword stuffing in those (no longer) magical metatags. I started to wonder … “Am I here as an SEO only to stop designers from using SE spamming techniques, programmers from having to write new code and clients from doing absurd keyword stuffing in metatags?”

No you actually have to use carefully crafted keyword rich text on the visible page – and NOT embedded in graphics files as text painted across photos with photoshop and illustrator software. Search engines can’t read text on images and that image “Alt” text in the HTML is no longer useful in SEO since it has been so badly abused by simplistic optimizers for ranking gains before the search engines began to ignore it in their ranking algorithm.

The new page may initially see sales increases due to the pretty new photos (there is zero text on that new page) but after a long series of email exchanges with this client and a final phone discussion over ranking issues, he proceeded with this change anyway. I normally don’t hope for poor rankings on client pages, but since this one runs counter to every fiber of my SEO being, I’m actually looking forward to that torpedo striking and the ranking to sink off the charts and the client to pay attention to his SEO’s advice.

The old page is still showing up in cached pages at the search engines, so they haven’t yet crawled the new version. I will dutifully point out the sinking of the venerable “SS Search Engine Ranking” ship next week when Googlebot revisits this client site and finds all that text has disappeared from his previously #1 ranked page and suggest to him that he review his WebTrends traffic reports to see that it has settled to the bottom of the ocean.

I guess I better get busy finding a way to rank the previous (old optimized) page on the brand new shiny filename. Won’t he be surprised to learn that most of his sales come from that (newly named) “old dusty page” within a few weeks?

Have you done anything to torpedo and sink your ship “SS Search Engine Rankings” lately? Call me at 562-572-9702 if you need a salvage operation to raise that venerable ship from the bottom of the vast search engine rankings ocean. Mike Banks Valentine – SEO Contact Form