Involving your support team in your SEO efforts

SEO is somewhat of an arms race. Organizations that are reasonably successful at it  follow best practices for on-page SEO, have great internal linking structure, and run inbound linking campaigns (great content, link bait, etc.). At the end of the day, however, what often separates good rankings from great rankings is the sheer amount of useful content that your organization can generate on a regular basis.

Right now you are thinking, “Great. It’s not enough that I have good content, I have to have a lot of it and update it regularly.” Unfortunately, if you want to be competitive, you’re right. We marketers at B2B organizations today are an overtaxed bunch. We’re often asked to do more now with less resources than we might have enjoyed a few years ago. Fortunately, if your organization is a products company, you probably have a wealth of content that is not currently helping your rankings, but could if you allow it.

Most companies keep their knowledge bases, customer communities, and forums under lock and key, afraid that competitors or prospects may see their warts or proprietary information. The reality is that your documentation and community sites likely contain a tremendous amount of content that can and should be indexable by search engines. Assuming your documentation is complete and your community is well taken care of, you have nothing to hide. Competitors likely already know more about you than you can imagine and prospects will likely be encouraged by having access to your community during the sales process.

Anytime one of your support reps answers a question via email but does not have relevant documentation to link to, he/she should write up an answer, post it to the site, and send the URL to the client. Of course it helps if you have a simple content management system, community management system, or forum so that your reps can do this with zero IT involvement. This allows your support team and also your user community to become content creators for you. You will find that the number of pages indexed on your documentation or community site quickly outstrips your corporate site and that you start to rank well for many long tail keywords. Who wouldn’t want double or triple their number of quality pages in Google or Bing’s indexes?

What can you start making available to the search engines?

  • product documentation
  • FAQs
  • forums
  • idea exchanges

When was the last time you thought of a support ticket as an opportunity for SEO-boosting content?

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Is your vendor bleeding your page rank?

Just a word of warning to marketers: I have seen a distubring resurgence of SEO black hat chicanery by agencies and software vendors that I thought died out a few days ago. In the past week I have seen websites where either a design firm or a web analytics company put a hidden link back to its home page on each and ever single one of its clients’ pages. 

There are a couple of reasons why companies should be wary of this: 

  • Links out to third party sites send page rink (i.e. “link juice”) to other sites. This is fine when you intend to link somewhere, but less so when every one of your pages has a hidden outbound link. 
  •  Google warns not to do anything with your site that is explicitly meant for bots or to try to game page rank. Hidden links in noscript tags certainly fall into this category. 
  • If you vendor is doing this, what else are they doing that you should know about. I’d head for the door at the first sign of this sort of practice.

Not all web analytics code is created equal. Be sure to take a look at it and understand what it means. If there is a link to your agency or vendor’s homepage buried into it somewhere (especially with alt text in it) there is like no reason for it other than to game the search engines. 

Granted in the recent cases I saw, this was done by smaller vendors, perhaps looking to get a leg up on their competitors in the SEO game, but I have to believe that black hat tricks like this will ultimately penalize them.

Google Is a Harsh Mistress

SEM is immediate and SEO is gradual right? That’s what I used to think. I’ve been spending the last month really optimizing our site for a specific keyword, expecting the return on the time investment to pay off 6-12 months down the road. I was quite surprised to see today that we were in fact listed on Google’s first page — an improvement from page three just a month or so ago.

Sure enough, four hours later, we were on page two. It was fun while it lasted. 

It is amazing how easy it is to become oddly obsessed with Google’s results for your industry keyword(s). When you launch your corporate site, you are happy to rank anywhere. Then you aim for the first page. Then you shoot to be in the first five results. When will I start getting some sleep?

The experience described above does tell me that we are on the right track though. I have been using a few very good SEO resources that I would recommend:

SEOmoz Blog

The SEOmozBlog posts meaningful SEO tips every few days. It is quite widely read and the comments after each post can be insightful as well. I also follow them on Twitter @SEOmoz

HubSpot Blog

The HubSpot Blog provides great thought leadership for SMB marketing. HubSpot demystifies SEO and social media for smaller companies. I follow HubSpot on Twitter @HubSpot

Google Webmaster Tools

Google Webmaster Tools is vital for anyone serious about mainting good SEO practices on his or her site. You can see which, if any of your pages, have duplicate content and which Google has trouble indexing. Combining this with 301 redirects and custom 404 pages really helps change the way visitors and search engines see your website.