SEO in the New Age

So.  I launched Starlit Citadel in 2007.  At that time, I was fairly confident I could take on and beat most of the (existing) game store webstores out there at the SEO game.  It looked like that most of the other store owners did not have a background or knowledge to do it properly and as such were not taking full advantage of the gifts afforded to them as existing businesses.

I was right for the most part – we rank quite well for many of the search terms I targeted and we continue to do well.   That was 2007.

Here & Now

So when I say that things have changed significantly, you can understand that I speak from a place of knowledge.  I’m trying to replicate much of what I did in 2007 for Fortress Geek and finding it much more difficult to do so.  Many of what was considered ‘good’ tactics or at least, vaguely viable are no longer considered ‘correct’.  In fact, Google can and will penalise you for taking may of the shortcuts that I took back in 2007 today.

Link building which is still one of the major forms of gaining authority has become significantly harder.  Blog owners, especially those with decent websites all know better than to give out links willy nilly.  You can’t purchase links anymore, not with any level of confidence that they won’t be found and penalised by Google.  And even press-releases are considered ‘Spam’ by Google these days and discounted.

Not having to create a website from scratch; I hadn’t realised how hard things had actually gotten.  With Starlit Citadel, we’ve already got a good base and some great customers who are happy to help promote us.  The things we do now just add-on to a great base, a cycle of virtue.  If you’re starting new though, you have nothing to work from and have to build it all up…

What’s A Boy To Do?

The big change in the last 6 years has got to be social media.  Oh, it was around in 2007 but it wasn’t as important.  In the last 3 / 4 years though the importance of social media as both a start-up boost and as a major form of marketing has increased significantly.  With Google making it harder and harder for new sites to showcase themselves, you have to get around them and work on secondary ‘signals’ on importance.  Things like Facebook Business Pages, Yelp listings (if you’re a physical store), Google+ pages, Twitter followers, etc.

It’s all a slow grind to get these customers, followers, etc. but at least there’s a new way to do so.  It’s not perfect, and building up your search engine presence now takes even longer than before and is even harder than it was before.

Option 2

Of course, there’s a cheat option and one were using a bit.  If you have an existing property of some form, one with a decent amount of authority as it stands, you can ‘borrow’ some of that authority and pass it along to your new property.  This is something that is helping a lot of existing brands to dominate in niches that they newly moved into (see Amazon) over and above their existing advantages of a large bankroll.

If you don’t have an existing property, there is a possibility of contracting with a SEO professional who does.  Many of these professionals have created a wide slew of websites for just such an eventuality and can ‘push’ some of their authority to you.  And even if they don’t, they can proceed to create websites with authority quicker than you can because that their job – while you have to handle a slew of other things.

The Silver Lining

If it’s hard for me, guess how hard it is for everyone else? Just as hard…. so if you have an existing business, Google is helping protect it.  Sort of.

 

The Big Boys Have Come to Play

One of the more interesting aspects about e-commerce is traffic generation, specifically search engine traffic generation.  There are basically two ways to gain traffic from a search engine:

  • Paid Listings
  • Organic Listings

Paid Listings

Paid listings are simple – you pay the search engine, they stick you in the search engine.  Most search engines use a blind auction method of placement – that is; you put in a bid maximum and the search engine decides who is on top / 2nd / 3rd.  There are additional complexities like page quality and the like, but at the end of the day, it’s all about who has the deeper pockets / is willing to take a higher loss.

Organic (Unpaid) Listings

Organic listings on the other hand are all driven by algorithms (with some manual updating).  There is an entire industry based on beating the system, pushing a particular website / page to the top of a search listing.  The individuals who are good at it make a lot of money doing this.

Over the last few years (most apparently in the last 3 years), there has been a trend by the search engines (Google in particular) to provide additional ‘weight’ to larger retailers.  As if they didn’t have enough of a headstart on us smaller retailers, many of these sites need only toss a product up on their site for it to list in the top page.

We’ve seen this in particular with Settlers of Catan.  We’ve gone from having a relatively high position for the keyword name (at least in Canada) to being dropped down and down and down.  It’s also reflect somewhat in our sales – we used to sell a ton of the game during Christmas, now we move a couple of copies a month.  It’s not a matter of price here – it’s a matter of position / visibility and with the big boys all beginning to stock the game, it’s become a not so great bestseller for us.

The Big Boys

This entire issue is compounded by the fact that attracting the general public to an online store is more difficult with other ‘generic’ advertising methods.  Newspaper advertising, banner advertising and the like is very expensive and generally not effective at all in our experience.  The cost for customer acquisition in this manner is prohibitive.  So, SEO worked for us but with the changes in the algorithm it’s become more and more difficult to achieve any form of ranking in the gateway products.

I guess it says something about the entire industry that what we used to consider ‘our’ games have now gone mass market, such that major retailers have started stocking these games.

Of course, some of this plays into the search engine’s overall plan.  If we can’t achieve rankings organically, we might have to advertise (paid listings) which obviously helps their bottomline, if not ours.

SEO – What Doesn’t Work Anymore

For those of you who don’t know – Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is the term used when a website attempts to list themselves on the front page of the Search Engines for certain keywords.  There’s a lot that goes into SEO and because it is based on the ranking algorithms of the search engines, it’s constantly changing.  What you knew to work a year ago might not actually be valid anymore.

I’m going to discuss what isn’t valid any longer, in hopes of getting less spam:

1) Blog Commenting

This hasn’t been valid in about 2 years. Ever since the  ‘nofollow’ attribute was added, most blogs automatically ‘nofollow’ all blog comment links.  So stop sending out your spambots. It doesn’t work

2) Reciprocal Links

No, I don’t want to exchange links with your random site on porn / casino games / celebrities.  No, really.  I don’t care – reciprocal links haven’t worked in… what? 5 years?

3) Directory / Search Engine Submissions

No, I don’t care or want to submit to 50,000 directories.  The vast majority of those directories are junk and certainly not worth paying you to submit my site to.  Worst case scenario – you could actually hurt me.

4) Page Rank

I don’t care what your Page Rank is.  It’s nice you’re at 5. So what? The data is inaccurate and out-dated by at least 6 months.

 

 

5 SEO Myths explained in Gaming Terms

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is the process of improving the organic(non-paid) ranking of a website, thereby improving it’s overall visibility.  There’s a lot of mis-information and myths out there about this arcane art.  So here’s 5 myths I run across all the time.  Oh, and I’m no expert; I’m just a guy who has to do it to keep his company afloat. 🙂

1. SEO is an Arcane Art which requires induction into its Seven Halls of Mystery and Wonder

Sort of.  There’s quite a few good primer books out there (the equivalent of your Pathfinder Beginner Box) that will get you started in this game.  However, depending on what realm you are in; you might need to start buying the supplements and expansions ASAP; or else you’ll be beaten down fast.

2. By doing SEO, you’re gaming the system

Well, yes.  There’s nothing wrong with using the system to create the character or website you wish.  If you want to buy animals, you better start fencing up enclosures.  If you have a fighter, you put his highest stat as strength.  Same with SEO – you choose what terms to describe your site based on what you want it to be.  Of course, there’s a difference between playing within a system and min-maxing.  The first is acceptable, the second has the DM (Google) smack you around the head.

3. You should trade links to gain better position

Yeah, the Game Designers figured this one out a long time ago and released a rules update.  Trading links hasn’t been a valid form of SEO for years.

4. SEO is a one and done thing

Nope.  The designers keep releasing new expansions, changing the FAQs and adding ever more content.  You don’t want to buy? Tough.  Then your deck stops being competitive, you fall behind and you just aren’t in the game anymore.  D&D Basic might be cool; but it sure ain’t something you can talk to most gamers about either.

5. Content is King

Really? How many great games have we seen go out of print and only get the buzz they deserve afterwards? How many great designs are out there that never even make it to print? Yeah, exactly – good content is good; but it takes more than just content to make SEO work.