Naughty Or Nice: Which List Is Your SEO On?

According to a recent infographic, my native homeland, New Jersey, is the state which hates Christmas the most. I think I enjoyed Christmas as a kid, but after terrible experiences in airports since leaving the native lands,and my family still not understanding that digital marketing is a real career, I’m not quite the fan of Christmas that I once was. However, there is one thing I do enjoy, in the way that suburban soccer moms enjoy packing into big box chains at 1 AM after Thanksgiving for discounted TVs. And that’s making sure my clients are on SEO Santa’s Nice list.

Rumor has it that if you’ve been a good webmaster or business owner all year- doing your chores like writing original, high quality content that benefits your audience- jolly ol’ Matt Cutts and his magic self-driving Google reindeer will sneak into your house, eat all your cookies, and reward you with high search result visibility and quality traffic. Now, if you’ve been a bad webmaster out there- building manipulative links and skipping class on Whiteboard Friday- expect Saint Google to leave you a big fat pile of nothing. That’s right. You don’t even get coal. Google doesn’t have time to deal with naughty websites like yours. It’ll simply pretend you don’t exist. With Christmas around the corner, you’re probably wondering what list your website is on this year. Here are some of the things that you might have (or not have) done this year to land you on either list.


No Security

You might not remember the past- instead focusing on the cutting edge of digital marketing- but Google’s self-driving reindeer do. Back in late April, the ‘Heartbleed’ security bug caused a bit of an uproar with the security of over half a million websites compromised. Some of the sites made vulnerable by Heartbleed included Facebook, TurboTax, and OkCupid – meaning that everything from your social security number to the number of that failed date who smelled like kale has been made open for the world to potentially access. Right after the Heartbleed incident, Google announced it would begin the process of giving preference to sites which take appropriate security measures. And in August, this became official, with Search Engine Land reporting that sites which had implemented HTTPS protocol 2048-bit SSL would receive a ‘minor ranking boost.’ This doesn’t matter as much as say, quality content or a great link profile; but the issue of security isn’t going to go away anytime soon. There’s so much valuable information out there on the Internet, of course someone is going to try to steal that again. Someone is going to try to pull off Heartbleed 2.0. If they succeed will depend on how seriously we take security. This becomes even more critical if you’re running an e-commerce site, or any site where customers enter financial information, medical information, or personal information such as social security numbers. While it’s embarrassing for someone to be able to see your potential dates in OkCupid, it’s downright dangerous for someone to get access to things like credit card numbers and medical records. At Digital Third Coast, we’ve begun the process of moving our clients towards full HTTPS implementation, and you should do the same with your website. Security will only become more of a concern going forward, and not having the right security protocols, particularly if you’re handling sensitive information, is a great way to end up on the naughty list.

Crummy Content & Lazy Links

We’ve covered this about a million different times, including our lovely comprehensive summary on what Panda and Penguin mean and how to recover from them. You’ve heard this from everyone. Rand Fishkin. Matt Cutts. That weird dude that hangs out at the train station. “CONTENT IS KING!” they say. “NEVER BUY LINKS! QUALITY LINKS ONLY! NATURAL ANCHOR TEXT!” And yet, some naughty webmasters and SEOs do this anyway. “Maybe this time Santa WON’T catch me.” “Maybe if I put all these links I bought from some shady guy over here, behind the good ones, Saint Cutts won’t notice!” “Maybe my dad won’t tell Santa that I spent five minutes on the content for my landing page!” You’re gonna get caught. With every Penguin and Panda update, more and more people get added to the naughty list. Maybe not right now, but next Christmas, you’re gonna get double the coal.

Page Sloths

Slow page loading speeds as a ranking signal in Google

Nobody likes sloths. Except for two people I know in Texas who are kind of weirdos to begin with. Plus, this guy, how can you not love him? Both site speed and responsive design have become increasingly more important factors both from a search engine and user experience perspective. And all your old, sloth-ey pages that don’t resize to mobile and take forever to load are going to get you a giant lump of coal. While responsive design for different devices and site speed are well-documented as having an influence on search engine visibility, now mobile experience is becoming a bigger factor with Google claiming that they’re “aiming to provide a great user experience on any device, and making a big push to ensure the search results we deliver reflect that.” Meaning the division between desktop and mobile ranking factors will be shrinking and the two will have more influence on each other. Guess what the biggest factors of mobile experience are? If you guessed “responsive design so I can actually use the page” and “improving load time with smaller files and optimization to make the site load quickly over a mobile connection,” you WIN! The prize is a high-five from me.* (*Must be in Chicago to collect prize) Google already penalizes sites which don’t work on mobile, it already penalizes sites with long load times… and now, the complete mobile experience is being taken into account. Globally, 30% of internet traffic is mobile and that number is increasing every single year. So, be a good webmaster and make sure your pages are fast and friendly with mobile devices, and you’ll avoid the naughty list this year.


Repenting For Your Wrongs & Start Doing Goods

We all do wrong sometimes. One time as a kid, for Lent, I gave up cookies. And three days later I ate an entire box of Girl Scout cookies within five minutes on a dare. There are so many businesses which have built low-quality, automated links with exact match-anchor text because that what worked in the past. You should take a thorough look at your backlink profile, be it in exported from Google Webmaster Tools or in a tool like Open Site Explorer, and begin asking webmasters to take down your links before moving on to submitting a disavowment. But admitting you were wrong isn’t enough. You have to start doing good and make up for your sins. Removing bad links only stops the bleeding – it doesn’t improve your position. Follow the light to better links, and you can expect a nicely wrapped present of traffic and rankings under your tree.

Diversifying Your Tactics

Much like humans, orges or onions, internet marketing has many layers. There’s even layers within the layers – for example, SEO is only one discipline of online marketing, and within that you have written content (like product descriptions), graphical content like infographics and videos, inbound links, online press coverage, site speed, local SEO…..the list goes on. For a lot of business owners and digital marketers, we tend to have our expertise in one area and focus our efforts there – be it in organic search, paid search, social, design, and so on. But it’s too often we forget that all of these things are important. While one channel might be more valuable, you can’t abandon all the other aspects of marketing to focus on it. There’s a great MozCon talk from Dana DiTomaso of Kick Point which quotes “reporting on last-click attribution is like having a football team and only paying the players who score.” Sure, you probably have a rockstar player, like a PPC campaign that produces huge results or amazing rankings in organic search. But those other players are still critical to your success, since they still contribute to the sales funnel. Organic is always changing – Panda, Penguin and Hummingbird updates roll out on a consistent basis. And what if those updates affect your SEO efforts, and SEO is the only thing you’ve invested in? Similarly, if you have all your money and effort in PPC, and suddenly your cost-per-bid goes way up….well, what now? And what if all of this traffic is being driven to a site that doesn’t convert visitors into customers because it’s slow, buggy, and ugly as Scrooge? No team that consistently wins championships is solely run by one player. If you’re a sports fan like me, look at the San Antonio Spurs, the Chicago Blackhawks, the New England Patriots – they might have star players, sure, but they have a supporting cast that steps up when needed. And your online marketing efforts should emulate this, making sure you spend time working with each faucet of your online presence. Santa will reward you with a consistent stream of business for your efforts.

Test, Study, Implement

Test for SEO success

One of my clients here at DTC is a technology company. Some of their blog content is really deep, long-form technical stuff – and some of it is simple, friendly, easy to digest. And they asked, which type of content should we be doing? To which I say: To go along with my point on diversifying tactics, the only way you’re going to know what works and what doesn’t is by doing all of it. If you only have short-form content, you don’t really know how much better long-form content could be performing. If you only have one type of landing page, there’s no basis of comparison to see what’s the most effective. If you say, “we’re only going to target these keywords and these pages”….well, how do you know these other keywords won’t work better? The best businesses are always testing new products, changing the lineup, moving things around. Google changes their algorithm twice a day with bigger updates every three months, all in the pursuit of improving their process. Stores bring in new products they think will appeal to customers and drop ones that don’t sell. Teams drop players that don’t perform and sign better replacements. Change can be a scary thing, but testing different methods alongside what you currently do is a minimal risk with the potential for huge upsides. With the power of Google Analytics to see which content brings in visitors and conversions, and tools like Optimizely to make A/B testing simple, you can run tests of different pages, analyze your content, and use the data to make actionable changes which improve your online business. And if great, data-driven decisions aren’t enough to be on the “nice list” of SEO, then nothing is.


Your spot on the Naughty or Nice list isn’t determined in one day – if you’ve been bad all year, it’s too late to repent. But if you make an effort to be good – like implementing the right security measures, diversifying your marketing efforts, and begin making positive link building efforts in addition to repenting for your link sins – you might be able to make the “Nice” list. And much like the Grinch’s heart, your traffic will grow three sizes this Christmas season!