Five Reasons Why the Search Engines Hate You
And what you can do to make them stop it!
I’m often amused by just how much flak the search engines get. After all, they provide users with a valuable free service and, in my opinion, they serve up solid results the majority of the time.
But for the most part, the engines continue to take heat from users, site owners, marketers and advertisers. These people never seem to be short on criticism, as folks always are more than willing to gripe about what they don’t like. But rarely, if ever, do the engines fire back.
Now, I’m not saying that search engines are perfect — far from it — but I do think they deserve a pat on the back for continuing to innovate with the goal of providing a better user experience. So instead of telling you how to optimize your site for the engines, I thought it would be fun to turn the tables, and let you know what annoys the search engines, and how you can remedy the situation.
Below are five things that site owners/marketers frequently do that drive the engines crazy.
1. Provide generic or useless content
By and large, search engines have the same goal: They want to provide users with the most relevant content possible. How-ever, a large number of sites have content that provides little value to users and does nothing to help the engines meet their goal. This can be a problem — for you.
If your exact content can be found on another site, then you shouldn’t have it. If you receive syndicated content, you need to put your own twist on it to add value. But keep in mind that simply changing images, wrapping content in a frame and changing the color palate does not constitute adding value.
I suggest that you go through your site and audit your content. If you find that your content is unique and provides value to users, then — congratulations — you are one-fifth of the way toward garnering approval of the engines. However, if you have a significant amount of generic content, you need to devise a way to differentiate it.
One of the most common objections I hear on this topic comes from retailers who, along with all of their competitors, display manufacturers’ specs and product description verbatim. A great strategy to combat this problem is to add user reviews or editorial snippets to your product pages. Doing so not only will serve to differentiate your content, but also the engines and users will appreciate the fact that your content provides value.
2. Implement redirects, confusing code and more
Crawling the Web and indexing its content is no small feat; clearly, search engines have a huge job. In fact, when you think about the sheer number of pages they have indexed, and that they continue to update on a regular basis, their task is nothing short of daunting.
So how do some marketers repay them for their efforts? Perhaps a box of fine chocolates? Ummm … no. Maybe a handwritten note? Nope. Perhaps a good bottle of wine? Ah, that would be … another no. Instead, they actually make the process of crawling and indexing their content more difficult. How so? They implement items such as a series of redirects and cumbersome code, they don’t return 404 errors, and — most annoyingly — they serve spiders the same page over and over again because of unique session IDs.
None of these items are terribly difficult to fix in order to present a clean site to the engines. Do yourself — and the engines — a favor by taking the time to make sure your site follows the guidelines posted by the engines.
3. Don’t use what the engines give you
The search engines deserve kudos for stepping up to the plate and delivering some pretty cool and useful tools. One of my personal favorites is the recently rolled out Sitemaps functionality. It allows users to specify which pages they want crawled, report how frequently they update them, assign priority status and log in to view stats about their site. I also like Google’s Webmaster Central and the Site Explorer from Yahoo!.
Yet for some reason, few marketers utilize these innovative tools. Not surprisingly, I imagine the meager volume of usage these tools receive is not making anyone at the engines particularly happy. Moreover, I consistently hear from marketers who are annoyed because their information is not accurate.
Folks, the engines are trying to make it easier for you to market your site. It’s time you started to leverage what they offer. Allow them to help, and you’ll see better results.
4. Play the blame game
Let me be clear about this: Search engines don’t convert traffic; it’s not their job. Yet despite the validity of that statement, I cannot tell you the number of times I’ve heard marketers say they stopped a search initiative because an engine didn’t convert for them.
Sure, search engines send traffic to your site, but converting users is your job, not theirs. To be effective, you must do a solid job of picking the correct keywords for organic and pay-per-click optimization, and drive users to relevant pages where the call to action is well-defined.
If your traffic doesn’t convert, don’t blame the engine. Rather, take action to remedy the situation. First, take a long look at your keywords and pages, then make adjustments to send users to the page most relevant to their query (not always the homepage), make sure your content offers value and that you have a clear call to action. Lastly, make sure you test to see which changes are working and which ones need to be refined.
5. Don’t branch out
The content returned by search engines has come such a long way in the last few years. Now Google Universal has raised the bar for the other engines. With one search you can find everything from Web pages and PDFs to press releases and airlines flights, and everything in between.
This new functionality has made search engines much more useful and increased the number of ways marketers can connect with potential customers. In short, it has created new touchpoints.
However, many marketers are failing to create the necessary diverse digital assets needed to take advantage of this development. Not everyone will be ready to jump into all of these touchpoints, but smart marketers will think about their customers and at least test a few of them.
Are the search engines perfect? Hardly. But are they working to provide for a better user experience? Absolutely, and they deserve credit for doing so. But more importantly, what they really need is your cooperation. Smart marketers will realize that success is a two-way street and that the solution lies in working together. Instead of sounding off on the search engines, perhaps it’s time to assess your role in the equation. Avoid the pitfalls above and you will reap the benefits the engines have to offer.
Got something to say about search engines? E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org