April 22nd, 2012 | 4 MIN READ

Google Says Don’t Make this SEO Mistake

Written by author_profile_images Linda Bustos

Linda is an ecommerce industry analyst and consultant specializing in conversion optimization and digital transformation.

You may have heard rumors about an impending "over-optimization penalty" by Google towards sites that engage in blatant SEO tactics like keyword stuffing and irrelevant link trading, as alluded to in a SXSW panel last month by Google webspam demi-god Matt Cutts.

How this is different than every other search engine update intended to do the same thing, I'm not sure. But it's got the SEO community buzzing, as anything that proceeds from Cutts' lips will do, because we should be grabbing on to any hints the search engines give us about how they score and reward web content.

They told us not to buy links, how to speed up our sites, and hinted that bounce rates can influence SEO (also reiterated in the SXSW session).

Recently, Google's Webmaster Central Blog posted a video containing 5 common SEO mistakes.


Mistake #1: No Value Prop

I want to hone in on the first mistake: "no value prop." For years on Get Elastic, we've talked about the need for solid value propositions, not just on your home page and landing pages, but all the way to (and especially on) to your shopping cart, subscription and registration pages.

But value props belong off your site as well -- in email marketing, paid search and even organic search.

Google gives the following examples as value propositions in search (to attract higher click through, a ranking factor):

But are these examples of great value propositions?

Taking your value propositions from good to great

  • You're not the best. Claiming you are the top, best, number one, greatest, most efficient, fastest, favorite or any other glowing adjective could actually hurt your persuasion if it's not backed up by real support. Everyone says they are the best. Like too many antibiotics, today's post-modern customer has become immune to the effects of puffery. Only toot your own horn if you can provide references.

  • Numbers help. Numbers have a psychological impact. They draw the eye and suggest something quantifiable.

It's unclear if CanadaFlowers is Canada's "top" florist because of selection, sales or customer satisfaction, but "1000+ flowers" may be the reason. Supporting your claim with numbers strengthens the credibility and impact of your value prop. (Keep in mind large selection is not necessarily a strong motivator, as more choice means more difficulty making a choice).

  • Free [blank]? Free bicycle repair estimate, free quote, free demo, free consultation, free trial etc. are not necessarily strong value props. Unless you're in a complex B2B sales situation involving millions of dollars, who expects to pay for an estimate? These free activities are table stakes for most customers, and it's very easy for competitors to offer the same. PPC ads and search engine snippets are short - fill the space with something more compelling.

This doesn't mean you can't promote "free." If you offer a longer-than-usual trial period, or can attach a dollar value to the free service/trial, you strengthen the value proposition. Or, if you offer something for free that most of the competition charges for (or at least, isn't claiming is free in ads), go ahead and use it.

But consider what you offer for free against what competing ads / search results do. When you're head to head with completely free products, claiming a free demo or trial only reinforces that you are a paid product. Rather than highlight a free trial, bring the best reason to buy your premium product rather than the freebie.

Showing your pricing can also prevent free-seekers from clicking your ads and burning through your ad budget.

  • Address the FUDD.

FUDD = fears, uncertainties, doubts and dealbreakers. Guarantees, free 2-way shipping, no contract, warranty, etc. are all elements that may reduce this anxiety. What's on your FAQ page? What do customers want to know about the product or your service experience? Know what it is that runs through your customer's mind during the purchase decision and address that in the copy.

  • Make it unique. What do you do better than your competition? If you don't offer anything unique, what value prop can you communicate that is more compelling than your competitors' messaging? (Hint: use your search engine to review their ads and snippets, and view their landing pages.) Many of your competitors are already doing a poor job of communicating their value props. Take advantage of that.

Testing messaging

Use your PPC ads to test click through for various value props. Use the winners in your search snippet (meta description) and on your landing page, as search engines may substitute page text for your meta description. Test longer copy in A/B tests on your landing page.

Value props are not just about converting visitors, they're also useful in driving traffic. Are you using them effectively in search?

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