All posts by Magnus Bråth

SEO is not Soft Science

A very common misconception that drives me nuts is the notion of Guruness and Ninja-qualities in SEO. Dealing with an algorithm is not meditation, it’s not throwing shurikens and it’s not even slightly wizard-related. No wands or staves are ever used.

I honestly didn’t learn much at the science engineering program I attended back in the university days but I did learn one thing. How to cheat in computer games. Or at least exploit them. Every opponent in all the computer games were AI (I still have a hard time accepting that term for something so stupid). Google is the same kind of opponent and will react in the same way every time if given the same stimuli. That’s just the way it is!

How many times have you been visiting a conference and heard some Guru-ninja-anarchist go on and on about the next shiny thing, using midwife stories and stuff they heard from the guy reading the electricity meter? I’ve had to listen to this more times than not and it goes a little something like this:

Make great content and it will get the positon it deserves in the search engines or social media is the most important factor in SEO or Google bombs are impossible now.

Where do all the myths come from? I’m aware Google start a lot of rumors themselves but come on people, don’t you ever test anything? True, it’s hard to test anything properly in an ever changing enviroment but you can’t just pull crap out of the backside and pretend it’s how it’s done.

IDN – Internationalized domain names and SEO

If you’ve ever done SEO outside the English speaking part of the world you’ve ran into Internationalized Domain Names for sure. It might not be 100% clear how the get handled by Google though so I thought I’d sort things out for you.

IDN:s didn’t work out very good in the beginning when they were launched. Most browsers couldn’t handle them well for a long time and Google didn’t really treat them with respect. Having the exact domain – as in the case with my name magnusbråth.se didn’t actually give you any benefits over the more international magnusbrath (As you can see I’m gifted with the Swedish letter Å in my name). Google treated the domain as: xn--magnusbrth-85a.se

This is all rather reasonable, we had gotten used to exchanging the Swedish letters Å, Ä and Ö for A, A and O back when we first found out about the internet.

IDN today

This has changed today. Google nowadays give you the full benefit of having the exact match domain, even though they have lowered the impact of EMD:s. This actually means that Google opened up for a whole new range of EMD:s, a large chunk of all Scandinavian words use these special characters. I’m not sure how large the part is in other languages but in Sweden this meant a whole lot of brand new EMD:s.

When doing keyword research

I know about the pains doing keyword research in a language you don’t fully master and doing it with characters you can’t even type on your keyboard is even worse. If you do it though, do check for exact match internationalized domains. More than you think are still available to register.

Website mindmap on a blackboard

Don’t Implement SEO After You Have Built Your Site!

Many people believe that SEO is something that you add to the site once it is ready. And yes, there are many cases when SEO is implemented after you’ve started, but if you’re about to switch platforms, then it is a really good idea to bring your search engine optimizer on board.

There have been many occasions during my career when I have been contacted by someone who needs help fixing the search engine optimization on a site that has lost all or some of its organic traffic when replaced by a new one. To me it is obvious that it is better to contact the search engine optimizer before you rebuild, rather than after you have lost your positions.

It is not that difficult, from an SEO perspective, to lead a migration even if there are many aspects to keep track of. However, you need to have solid experience, and a good foundation of SEO knowledge. By setting the requirements and strategy right as you migrate to a new platform, it is possible to gain positions rather than lose them. Losing is pretty common and it is not always easy to find out the root causes (it sometimes takes a very long time until the results of the work are visible).

Talk to someone about search engine optimization before you build a new site. There is much to gain from it, since all major changes pose risk to SEO.

Index cards

Google Won’t Index My Site

One of the most basic parts about SEO is indexing. If Google can’t, or won’t, save your site documents in their index, no other actions will make any difference, they still don’t have anything to show.

In this blog post I will discuss indexing and solutions to when Google won’t index anything at all on a site, and when they don’t index parts of a site. Since this is a general text it’s not guaranteed that this advice will solve your specific problem, but hopefully it will point you in the right direction and give you an idea of where it might be reasonable to start looking for the problems at hand.

Find Out If A Page Is Indexed

It’s pretty easy to find out if Google has indexed your site. Go to Google and type site:domainname.com in the search bar. That will give you all the pages that Google has in its index. Above the results you will find how many pages are indexed in total.

In our case, there are 279 pages indexed, a reasonable number considering the fact that we have approximately 170 blog entries, around 50 different kinds of pages and about 30 tags and categories, some with several pages. On a site as big as ours most pages should be indexed, if not there is strong indication that something is not right. When the sites grow (think huge web shops or newspaper sites) it is common that not all pages are indexed. That’s OK as long as most pages are. A similar search will also give an indication of how important Google finds your site’s pages, sorted by the order of which they are displayed in the results. Normally the index page should be the first one in the list. If not, it may indicate that there are some problems with your site.

If you have a lot of pages on your site and you want to know if a specific page has been indexed, it is possible to search in the same way as above, but type the whole URL:

No Pages on the Site Are Indexed

If Google hasn’t been able to index any page at all on your site you have either an easily fixed problem at hand, or a pretty tough job to deal with.

The most common cause for this issue is that you somehow have blocked Google from visiting the site. Start by opening the source code on a page (right click and choose “Show source code”, “Show page source” or similar) and see if you can find a “robot tag” that includes “noindex”.

If you find such a tag, that is most likely the problem and you simply need to remove it. How to do that, depends on the CMS you are using.

If you can’t find that tag anywhere, the next step is to check your robots.txt-file. That you can find by typing your domain name into the address bar of your browser and adding /robots.txt. Now you want to find a line with the text: “Disallow: /”. If you find that, it means that you’re not allowing Google or other bots to visit your site. Remove “/” and the problem will be solved!

Unfortunately, if you don’t find a noindex tag or that / in robots.txt, it will get a bit more complicated. Then the issue is most probably that Google can’t find your site, or that they really don’t like it. Check that you have at least some external links to the site, or make sure to get a few so that Google can find it. Go to the Google Search Console (previously called Google Webmaster Tools) and check the manual actions report to make sure you don’t have any manual actions issued against the site. Also check that Google doesn’t indicate that they have a hard time reading your documents, and make sure you have a sitemap uploaded. If none of this helps, it might be in your best interest to get in touch with a professional search engine optimizer who can take a look at your site.

Part of the Site Is Not Indexed

Now we’re getting to the difficult part when it comes to finding and solving the problems. When part of a site is not indexed, or when seemingly random pages won’t get picked up by Google, it could indicate almost anything. Therefore, I will address a few common reasons why Google chooses not to save a number of pages.

Bad structure

One of the most common problems is that the site structure, the internal links and menus, are poorly built. Either due to there being so many links in the menus that Google can’t spider them all, or due to there being important parts of the main menus missing, so the robot has to enter through back doors. Make sure you have a clear and hierarchical structure for your content. This becomes more important the bigger your site gets.

Internal duplicate content

Having several pages with the same or similar content is something Google does not like. This problem may be due to having many similar products, or to a technical error creating copies of pages by, for example, adding parameters or session IDs. The solution to this is to create unique pages, or to use canonical tags if it is due to a technical problem.

External duplicate content

If much of your content also can be found on other sites (you might use the same supplier, or perhaps someone has copied your content) it is common for Google to choose to only index pages belonging to one site. In this case the solution is to create content that only can be found on your site.

Thin content

When Google comes across a site with many pages, but with not much good information, it sometimes chooses to skip that site. In that case, create more interesting content.

Not enough links

If your site doesn’t have enough links, there is a possibility that Google won’t find your site interesting enough to spider through all pages. That can be solved by getting more relevant links.

Too many/spammy links

If you have a lot of bad links, Google might see that as a negative signal, therefore choosing not to show these pages. Solve this by removing bad links, or worst-case scenario – use the Disavow Tool.

Too many ads

If Google comes across a site that has a lot of ads, especially if it is placed “above the fold”, there is the possibility that they will remove those kinds of pages from their index. Make sure that it is your own unique content that takes up the most space on the page, not ads.

There are several other things that can cause

Do Not Focus Unduly on Individual Keywords

Search engine optimization has changed in recent years, as has our view of how to work with it. An important factor is that you no longer need to attach as much importance to specific pages and keywords in order to take positions with them.

In the past, search engine optimization was much more straightforward: you built a landing page for your site; you made certain that it was optimized; and then you made sure that it received links. After a while, you would start to show up in the search results due to the keywords you had in the heading and title. Things are not that simple today.

Google has frequently re-evaluated its view on links. Anchor text and PageRank used to be of the utmost importance, and pointing the links to the page you wanted to rank would make it climb. Today, however, you need a much broader perspective to succeed. Links that aggressively target a specific site usually cause more problems than they solve. They can be useful, but the algorithm and the filters are often in conflict over a lot of the links out there. A lot of people still work according to the somewhat outdated model of using lots of anchor links leading to selected landing pages. It certainly still has some effect, but far from the maximum.

The most important consideration is to look at how a site naturally gets links. A web shop rarely gets that many links to a category page, even though it might be the most relevant page in a search result. If you are searching for nuts, you want to get more nuts to choose from, rather than just a specific nut. But that does not mean that people often link to these pages.

Our Recommendations

The best way to proceed, and what we always recommend today, is to build a site that is strong in itself; an authoritative site with natural links to a number of different pages. Then you have to build that site in a way that allocates internal power to maximum effect – something that, unfortunately, most search engine optimizers in Sweden have not really mastered. By building this authority and letting the link juice flow through the site in a good way, rather than pointing links to a specific page, you will be able to improve your ranking.

It will take a little longer, and it will be a bit harder to estimate in advance exactly how things will turn out, but it will yield results and it will provide many more benefits than if you had just focused on a single keyword. You just need to accept the fact that you have less control over progress, as Google has taken a firmer grip on its own search results. This might also be a more complex situation to handle for the inexperienced search engine optimizer.

You should not, of course, stop measuring positions or quit doing keyword analysis. You just shouldn’t be too aggressive using links, and you should stop filling the text with too many keywords.

Sweden in the winter

Why the Swedish SEO is so competitive

Sweden is a small country with about nine million swedes. When comparing SEO competitiveness with the US we’ve found that the US market has 7-9 times tougher competitors. However, compared to the more than 30 times bigger market, Sweden is a lot more competitive.

Why did Swedish SEO become such a tough industry? What is it with the cold country in the north of Europe that breeds companies and individuals to fight so hard for the top positions in the search results? The answer is Poker, or was poker at least.

The European poker boom had it’s focal points in two countries, Sweden and Malta. Malta because it was one of few places in Europe that would give a license for arranging games online. Sweden because so many of the bigger poker companies first saw daylight in the land of the midnight sun. Poker rooms and affiliates alike started out in Sweden early and at a high pace and there was no other way to do marketing than via the organic search.

Being barred from almost all marketing channels the poker rooms turned to SEO to reach new players. Soon affiliates started doing the same and the whole affiliate marketing scene started growing at unseen velocities. There was a constant need for skilled SEO specialists. The handful of us or so that was around when SEO for igaming started taking off in Sweden, and that managed to get good results, should thank our lucky stars. A bright career for everyone was the result, from the mediocre to the really skilled SEO’s, everyone was treated like Gods gift to online gambling.

Going international was a natural path for the poker businesses, and SEO had to be part of it. The US before the crackdown, Germany, France and Latin America were all full of Swedish founded companies competing for the top spots. When it came to SEO it was just a matter of getting good or getting out of the market, nobody cares about the 11th best when that means second page.

Of course all of these SEO agencies and individuals still had this knowledge when turning to the home market. Skills does not disappear just because you chose to help your friends market their laundry business, it just pushes the laundry business to being tougher online. This resulting in some of the worlds best competing for the crumbs that is the Swedish market.

Fast road

A Truly International SEO Agency

This is our first step to becoming a truly international SEO agency. Brath was always meant to be an agency with worldwide search rankings and this is also how the company was born. We started out working in a large number of countries but for a while we scaled back. Now it’s time to go out in the world for real.

Our first clients were all igaming companies, we were already well known in the most competitive industry of them all when we opened the doors to our first office. These clients are by nature international and we’ve done SEO in the gaming segment in more than 20 countries. To scale our business faster we started closer to home and focused more or less only on the Nordics for a number of years. This is about to change.

We are now ready to go global

We can now offer SEO in a large number of countries, probably more than any other agency in the Nordics. We’re not talking about just changing a few titles and headlines, but doing the actual gritty SEO that is necessary to grow the search traffic properly.

If you are already active internationally or if you want help to take launch doesn’t matter, our team of specialists is ready to help in the following markets:

  • USA
  • UK
  • Canada
  • Australia and all other English speaking markets
  • Spain
  • Latin America and all other Spanish speaking markets
  • Italy
  • France
  • Norway
  • Finland
  • Sweden

The markets above are the ones were we can offer our complete service, in other countries we can still advice and get you started with our partners. Don’t hesitate to ask if you want to go for a country not mentioned here.

Old tech

Five Signs That You Have A Technical Debt to Pay

Sites that have been active for a long time often have a technical debt to pay before they can rank high in the search engines. This is often due to old ‘inheritances’ which might be difficult for a new webmaster to know about. Here are five signs that you have a technical debt to pay.

A lot of your traffic goes to 404-pages

Some sites have a lot of traffic being directed to non-existent pages. This is a clear sign that something has been overlooked at some point. There might be a number of reasons for this, but usually it is the result of having migrated the site without doing proper redirects. What you have to do is to make sure that all pages that have inlinks or have traffic, are redirected to the right place.

If you add new content, it ranks better than the old

If you publish new content, for example news or blog posts, and these automatically take good positions while your landing pages never really make an impact in the search results you have a problem. Most likely your site already has the inherent authority Google requires, but your technology is not up to date. In this case, you need to do serious on page work to find out what is wrong with your platform.

The home page drives an unusually large amount of traffic

It is common that a home page drives more traffic than other pages on a site, both from search engines and from other places. However, if the proportion is surprisingly large, it may imply that the site does not work as it should in the search results. A healthy site gets a lot of traffic straight to the subpages, if the authority is spread properly across the site, and if Google can index it in a good way. Taking care of this problem might generate a huge increase in traffic.

Google Ads is much more profitable than organic traffic

Advertising in search results and search engine optimization has about the same audience, you show up in the same search results. It’s reasonable to expect that they should offer roughly the same level of profitability. There might be some slight differences, the competition might not be the same and Google Ads has the ability to be much more targeted. If the difference is significant, however, that indicates that there is something wrong with your site.

Google Search Console gives an information overload

When you open Google Search Console, does the amount of information make you panic? In that case, that might indicate that you have a technical debt to pay. Search Console more or less just shows different kinds of errors. The more information you find there, the more errors there are on your site. This might be a bit of an exaggeration, but it is not far from the truth. Sometimes it is a sign that you are about to face a massive amount of work, but other times it doesn’t have to be that bad.

What should you do if you have a technical debt to pay?

An old site that has gone through a few platform changes might need some heavy duty organizing before you can start working on the search engine optimization. This can sometimes feel like an insurmountable amount of work, but there is light at the end of the tunnel. An important thing to keep in mind is that you are in control of the technology, therefore you can actively affect your search results, this is a positive thing. It might be that you don’t have to build authority from scratch. Simply correcting the errors on your site might fix most of the problems. It is almost always worthwhile to make that effort.

When good SEO can’t be implemented

I usually say that search engine optimization is relatively simple. It’s not that hard knowing what’s best in a lot of situations, because the basics of SEO are simple. It might become more complex when you face choices, such as is this kind of navigation better than that? But there is one occasion when it is nearly impossible.

I have been wanting to write this article for quite some time now and have made the assessment that now is the time. This is about a previous client, who, despite huge investments, never managed to resolve their issues. This story is partly about bureaucracy and backstabbing, but it is also about the need to pass on your knowledge in the right Way, or at least being able to perform the work yourself.

Our task was to serve in an advisory role. There was an in-house SEO department, but they were lacking in experience. This is a not an unusual situation, and our task was to guide the search engine optimizers onto the right path.

The company had made it public that they were doing a major investment in search engine optimization and that this channel should be prioritized above all other channels. The search engine optimizers at the company were, of course, extremely happy about it, since it previously had not been regarded as very important within the organization. Since SEO was what delivered most of the revenue, the SEO department got a lot of internal praise. This was a huge improvement in comparison to when the project started, and when no one in the company wanted to give any credit at all to SEO.

Here Is Where the Problems Start

However, this company is, as I see it, incredibly mismanaged, and that is an important aspect of the background. The reasons for its success are strong founders and a great product. But on all other levels in the company, when recruitment was necessary, all positions were filled with people who literally could have been picked up at the closest bus stop. So, it was not only the SEO department that lacked experience, most of the people I was in contact with at the company, were either completely new to the job or old chair warmers who could only thrive in a hierarchical and bureaucratic environment.

If it was envy towards the SEO department and its new successes or plain old incompetence that was the root of the problem, that I do not know. But what happened was that every change that the company’s search engine optimizers tried to implement, was either only half-heartedly added to the site, or altogether blocked. ‘The developer didn’t find this important…’ was a commonly used phrase when it came to SEO. The marketing department (search engine optimization was not a part of that) prioritized a specific font, which meant that text had to be published as an image when you couldn’t get it exactly as they wanted it, and so on.

This, is in combination with the fact that the senior SEO specialist in charge of the SEO work was a pretty weak leader, led to a situation where not only did not much happen SEO-wise, but the site actually got worse and worse with each passing day. In my view as an observer, the SEO department finally gave up their efforts to implement any changes on the site. We started to get more and more strange requests of help for different projects and answered as we always do: Sure, we can help you. But that is not good search engine optimization.

A Number of Different Solutions

I am convinced that there were a number of different solutions to this problem. The simplest would have been to hire an experienced SEO specialist, who actually knew what he/she was doing and was confident in what to do. It was too easy for others at the company to bypass the senior specialist, as he often took shots in the dark and missed a lot of things. We did our best to give him what he needed the but the competence just wasn’t there (and as an agency it was really not our position to steamroll our client). Since he didn’t have the guts to stand up for himself or have the knowledge to put force behind his words, that meant that suggested changes were never implemented.

Another possibility would have been to be a healthier and more well-functioning corporation. When internal politics and personal career motives overshadow the company’s objectives you have reached a point from which it is difficult to escape. It was more important to the marketing department to get credit for success rather than actually achieving success (this was most likely an aspect that was true for the SEO department as well).

They could also have based their actions more on measurable differences. Already from the start, they put themselves in an awkward position where the search engine optimization was valued based on how much traffic was driven by search engines. That meant that the brand searches were highly valued, since a huge part of the traffic came that way. This produced a strange situation since they were of course number one when people searched for their brand, and then evaluated their SEO based on how many such searches were made. That is a number that should have been attributed to the marketing department, since they are the ones that drive demand.

What Ever Happened to Their SEO?

Truth to be told, this was a long time ago and I’m not really certain how they’re working nowadays. They do not appear on any of the bigger keywords in the segment, but it may be that they have found other ways. It may also be that they never developed anything else other than a cautionary tale that others can learn from.

Digital marketing

Digital Marketing – What Actually Works?

It’s time to talk about online marketing. Many people still seem to believe that it’s possible to create digital marketing by taking a print ad and digitalising it. If your primary goal is to spend a lot of money, this might be the model for you, but if you’re interested in getting the maximum effect of your advertising, you’ll want to choose another strategy for your marketing.

For a long time, Email, Pay Per Click and SEO have been the holy trinity of online marketing. It has been these three that have led to purchases, nothing else has done that to any greater extent. I would also like to highlight two other methods: social media advertising and affiliate marketing. This survey is rather old by now and the situation has somewhat changed. Still, we can see that the three big methods – Email, PPC and SEO – generate revenue on a scale that other channels simply don’t come close to. That doesn’t mean you should ignore other efforts, but it does mean that you should have these three in place before you do anything else.

SEO – The Organic Results

If you look at the survey above, or any other decent survey, you’ll see that the organic results always generate the most purchases. (Paid results, Ads and similar are getting closer). SEO has increasingly become less of an investment and more of the equivalent of making sure you’re wearing clean underwear. If your search engine optimization doesn’t work, your online marketing doesn’t work.

What is SEO?

SEO, Search Engine Optimization, is the practice of increasing the visibility of a website in the ‘regular’ search results. You can’t buy your visibility here, you have to earn it. That means, among other things, making sure your products and product categories are visible. For example, if someone searches for “soft shell jacket fjällräven” or “jacket” you want your shop to appear in the search results if you sell these products. That includes ensuring your visibility for the brands you carry, as well as protecting your other campaigns. For instance, if you run a TV ad with a fun slogan such as ‘Come and buy a funny slogan’, you need to ensure you’re visible also on searches for this slogan – otherwise your competitors might devour the customers you’ve created.

PPC – The Paid Results

When talking about Pay Per Click, what’s implied is almost always paying per click in the search results. At Brath we often choose to call this SEM, Search Engine Marketing, since there are also other forms of PPC. You can pay per click in places other than search engines as well. A well-executed SEM can quickly grow your business.

What is PPC?

Using the above definition, PPC is about paying Google or some other search engine for ad clicks. Google Ads is the largest marketplace for this kind of advertising, constantly running keyword auctions. You bid with money, but also with relevance and if the multiplication of those two factors results in a higher bid than those of your competitors, you’ll end up on top. SEM requires careful crafting of ad texts and bids – since you’re paying per click, you need to work continuously with these two factors in order to prevent competitors from decreasing your margins. You can find more information about other forms of pay per click advertising a bit further down.

Email – The Original Digital Marketing?

Email marketing is an incredibly efficient and cost-effective method to activate and re-activate customers. Note that there is a clear difference between sending an email to someone who didn’t ask for it, and to someone who did ask for it. A lot of times it might seem like the same thing, but it’s the latter approach we’re talking about here.

What is Email Marketing?

We’re mainly talking about certain types of marketing via email and in these cases, email marketing is a very effective channel. Newsletters are the most common type: these you fill with news, discounts or similar things. Of course, a longer list of interested readers is both about retention (to retain your customers) and a way of generating extra income.

Another method is to use different forms of email automation. A large part of Marketing Automation relates to email, although there are other types as well. One is the Abandoned Cart Email, that is, sending an email to a person who placed items from your shop in the shopping cart, but who didn’t buy them. Another one can be, for example, to get people to sign up for a newsletter by offering reports, courses or similar via email. Our SEO Academy is one example of a completely automated email sequence.

Affiliate Marketing

Affiliate marketing quickly became a big thing and, together with emailing, it was the kind of marketing you could do in the early days of the internet. Today, there are certain segments where affiliate marketing is an incredibly strong type of digital marketing, but it doesn’t work for all segments – at least not without a considerable effort. It works best in segments where there are already plenty of skilled affiliates, but that also comes with problems. By creating an affiliate market in your segment, you also create competition in both SEO and SEM, since these are the main methods that affiliates use in order to acquire customers. You can also end up in a situation where you’re decreasing or even eliminating your margins – good affiliates know how to charge for their services.

What is Affiliate Marketing?

In affiliate marketing, you pay web masters per click, per customer, or similar in order for them to drive visitors and sales to your site. You can either use your own system for this or go to any of the large affiliate networks that connect advertisers and publicists.

Social Media Advertising

If you remember the boom in social media marketers a few years back, you probably also remember that many of us were sceptical of their effect. Nowadays, however, there are parts of social media marketing that are effective and profitable, and not just in exceptional cases. If we just look at advertising, the advertising platforms have become much better, and therefore more efficient – especially in the case of Facebook. They have gone the same way as Google Ads by talking about conversion instead of reach, which means this is a quickly growing channel for online marketing.

What is Social Media Advertising?

Social media advertising really took off once Facebook managed to make it possible to get a good return on investment on ads, while at the same time throttling the organic reach for companies. If you share information from a business page, only a small amount of people will see the post in their feeds, compared to how many that saw it before. However, targeted advertising can yield good results. If you put together the right type of offer and put an effort into your images and message, social media advertising can work well and be profitable.

Final Words

To summarize, make sure you’ve got SEO, SEM and Email marketing in order before you try less profitable or least less critical forms of online marketing. Otherwise you risk losing a lot of customers along the way. And if you’re thinking about running a print ad, consider whether that’s really the most effective use of your money.