Google’s SEO Darlings – A Current Case Study with Actual Results

spn_exclusive1Fed up with his webmaster and an ongoing list of SEO excuses, a new prospective client asked me advice on what to do about his lack of presence in Google search results.

A little research was in order. Using the usual terms for his industry, I found him nowhere on Google, just as he had said. Next I viewed the coding on his web pages and found that his webmaster had neglected to address many issues pertaining to SEO, such as adequate title and description, as well as providing minimal page content from which to extract keywords. In addition, he duplicated a single page over and over with one minor difference, adding the name of each local town in our region in the title as an attempt to capture geographic search terms.

The Client’s Dilemma and Our Plan of Action

Since this client’s financial arrangement set up a year ago involved a monthly payment for which he received the above website, as well as hosting and domain registration through the contractor, I asked whether he thought the contractor would allow us to “point” any traffic from the original domain to a new domain I could register in the meantime. If so, I could develop a new website for him to address these concerns. If the relationship was a lost cause, however, I told the client that it would probably not amount to a loss of much business since no one could find him in web searches anyway. He agreed we should just start all over again from scratch.

Great. Now I would be faced with establishing page one SEO for him with a brand new domain name and an even newer website. All with no seniority, backlinks, or history of any kind to which Google could relate. Having never had such a set of circumstances previously, this was a scary proposition. But the client said that if I could get him to show up among his competition in search results within a few months’ time, he could live with that. I said it was definitely a possibility. So we began our project.

A Step-By-Step Strategy

First I chose to register a domain very close to his original, using his company name, but adding “NY” at the end to include his location. As I frequently do, I chose PowWeb for hosting which allowed me a free domain registration and a deep discount on the annual hosting fee. I also received a bonus for one of my other websites so my total cost was a lot less than GoDaddy who usually comes in at the bare minimum. When it’s time to renew next year at full rate, I can negotiate with PowWeb for a renewal that matches their reduced bulk rates or just transfer the whole thing over to GoDaddy who will give me a year’s free domain extension as a bonus for the transfer.

With my only project expense little more than pocket change, I was free to devote my total attention to creating a website that would outshine the competition in every way. My only trepidation was how long Google would make me wait before seeing any results in searches. I was prepared for the typical six to eight weeks.

Painstakingly writing extensive, interesting and creative text which differed on every page to complement excellent visuals, I included detailed “image alt,” “link alt,” and “title” coding everywhere I could. I added his industry membership, certification and service expertise logos, as well as many satisfied customer reviews with detailed project descriptions and mentioned specific locations.

I set up links to his Google+, LinkedIn and Facebook pages, in addition to adding social endorsement buttons for each. I listed his many services individually on every page with links to his comprehensive service page, anchored directly to the appropriate elaborate explanations clients would need to judge his full value.

I wrote a different title and description for every page to represent as many probable keywords potential customers might use to search for his services. Then I created and uploaded a sitemap page in a format both Google and Bing would accept so they would have all pages ready to index.

Once the site was ready, I registered it with Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools so I could use these diagnostics to further refine my work. I also registered the site with Bing Webmaster, a new effort on my part, which I found impressive and consistent with Google in its many reports and statistics.

How The New Website Ranked in Searches

The client’s review was a rave and I advised that we go live right away so Google would have adequate time to get to know us. Two days passed when my searches returned no results, even those specifically aimed at the exact domain name. On day three, one of my generic searches brought his site up on page two in the midst of competition with years of seniority on the Internet.

A second search landed him on page one, among his biggest competitors, one for whom I had won numerous marketing and design awards years ago and with whom I continue business relations today. This competitor had also purchased adwords from Google which I noticed kept his organic search results quite prominent during my many search experiments. Yet, my client’s new website beat out his ranking on page one in an important search!

This was unbelievable to me. His site has no backlinks whatsoever. His seniority is nonexistent since we wiped out his history on the Internet. And his traffic is virtually zero because it is a brand new website. Yet, with use of various keywords and search phrases, his website appeared in the competitive mix on pages one through five only three days into its life.

On both Google and Bing webmaster diagnostics, I can see exactly what searches have brought him up. On Google’s actual search page preview which appears to the right of search results, I can see what text is targeted. In some cases, the word “company” was linked to some of the industry logos I had added, which is an ironic, inadvertent and unexpected twist. The Google preview highlights text used both on the home page as well as other pages as the specific source of its keyword matches.

Only when I repeated the five exact words in the exact order of the home page title did his website appear on page one, though, which proves the overwhelming power of that component in SEO.

The more terms I used in my searches, the more his search ranking improved. Using just a 2-word search relegated his website to a much poorer ranking on Google, but he retained a good showing (page 3) on Bing.

An Astonishing Discovery!

Webmaster Tools has also given me a list of website keywords in order of priority based on the number of times each term appears.

This is a most startling set of statistics. As I often have done in recent years because of proven success, I had added a block of small text at the foot of each page specifying the name of every town he would service. Instead of working to my advantage, these town names were dominating his keywords, yet were not appearing in search results when targeted. As a consequence, when other keywords were used in search experiments, these town names may have been responsible for crowding out the prevalence of more valid terms needed to bolster his rankings. I have removed those blocks of text from every page and hopefully his rankings will improve soon.

Google Has A New Darling in Organic Search Results

I also noticed that Google is now featuring its Google+ pages for many companies in search results at the top of its organic listings. Although my client had set up his page, he has been remiss in adding any content which could explain why he is not included in those results. If he had agreed to pay me for the effort, I would have gladly uploaded plenty of worthwhile content to his Google+ site about whose critical importance I had advised him early on!

This case study provides ample insight that parameters for Google’s algorithm have drastically changed over the past few years, giving businesses without an established Internet presence a chance at search success if SEO is managed carefully. It also shows that you are never locked into using a domain or contractor you do not like. Finally, it is a glimpse into the future of SEO as an everchanging, evolving science about which we can never be too sure.

Marilyn Bontempo, president of Mid-Hudson Marketing, based in Holmes, New York, has been developing strategies for business success for more than 36 years. A professional writer and graduate of Bard College, she has won numerous awards for excellence in marketing, photography, graphics, writing and web design. As a specialist in branding, she assists many of her clients with management of their social media and public relations initiatives. In addition, she handles e-commerce for a number of online merchants not only on their own websites but also through eBay, Amazon and others. View her work at http://www.midhudsonmarketing.com.

Connect with Marilyn Bontempo on Google+.

About the author


Marilyn Bontempo

Marilyn Bontempo, president of Mid-Hudson Marketing, based in Holmes, New York, has been developing strategies for business success for more than 45 years. A professional writer and graduate of Bard College, she has won numerous awards for excellence in marketing, photography, graphics, writing and web design. As a specialist in branding, she assists many of her clients with management of their social media and public relations initiatives. In addition, she handles e-commerce for a number of online merchants not only on their own websites but through eBay, Amazon and others. View her work at https://www.midhudsonmarketing.com


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  • Good work Marilyn. I recently went through the same experience except I had 0 previous engagement in design(CMS makes that easy to sort) or SEO. Nothing 15 hours a day of work can’t fix right? So I spent a ton of time reading blogs and books as well as deciding which were the G rumors or the facts, and data. Now after 2 months for some keywords I am getting ranked on page 1 even first on page one depending on the device and even what time of day it is so it seems. There is still so much optimizing to do for more keywords and improving the ranks of keywords I have from webmaster tools.
    Still working with text on the footer, I am not real sure how to refine this for the best SEO atm. Also, I see those G+ profiles coming up in search; I wonder does google decide when to show these. I have put the code into my header.php as advised from G but still no luck. I think I might change it to my actual profile, but maybe I should just wait. There is no actual profile picture just my logo on my G+ business page, so that might be what is keeping G from listing it in search.
    Thanks for your article!

    • G+ is Turbo boost for SEO. some of my clients sites outrank bigger endeavors because they have more Google+s. Make the G+ prominent and get every gmail addy on your list to +1 you (then everybody else)

    • Thanks your information is really true and it impacts the seo ranking of course. I always insist on these practices but not emphasizing on Google+, now I shall focus this as well. Thanks again.

  • Google algorithm is very unpredictable. But I think it is not difficult to make a site on first page of google. The big problem is how to maintain the position. It was happened to my site that Initially present on the page one but later lost some where.

  • Interesting article.

    I’d be interested to know whether your client retains his rankings consistently over the next few months though as we’ve noticed an occasioanl trend of a web site appearing very high initially (in the first couple of weeks) but then rankings tailing off a lot over the next few months.

    • I agree, I always called it part of the “Google Dance” and it has been around for years. Brand new domains/sites ranking very well initially for a few weeks, then sinking down. If it’s a good site, they tend to get those ranking back within a few months. I know of a product site that launched around 2 years ago. In it’s first two months it got 200k visits from Google organic, then it trailed down to almost nothing a couple months later. All the initial with zero SEO or link building. Then it took about a year of working on the site, optimizing & building up their brand, to get it back up to the numbers it had the first month.

    • Yes I noticed the same. G seems to rank new content very well. Almost as if it is breaking news or something, but then sorts through it again and again and changes relevance. At first I had one of my worst pages on page one but now more relevant pages show up there. I still have much to learn on SEO.

  • Truly interesting article and it shows what can be done with websites that are hard to find in google. SEO has to be completed correctly for any website to be successful, and achieve good results for business owners and sole individuals alike.

  • Wow, what a great article. Chasing Google is like trying to hit a moving target. Thanks for letting us see what is working now. I was interrupted halfway through the article, and found myself almost breathlessly wanting to get back to it. I plan to keep it handy, since there is so much great info here!

  • Yes google does love great seo I have done my own seo on my website recently and noticed that I have moved up from nowhere to page 1 and 2 on google. Could not afford the expensive $199.00 per month for seo monthly plan did a lot of research over the past 8 months and was able to administerde my own seo.

  • The key is whether the rankings are holding up. Its very common for new websites to rank high initially and then fade away. Only after a while say a month or so you can see the finally settled ranking. I would keep my fingers crossed for a month at least with Google. Thanks for sharing.

  • (sorry for dupe. just fixed link)Content is STILL king! That’s been my MO ever since I committed to going pro exactly 3 years ago. Make a brand new website for local small biz w no backlinks, domain age, none of the “off-page” seo stuff, just write killer content and do everything the Google SEO Starter Guide said to do, then boom! they outrank established websites (and currently, some of my own, even w monthlies!). That’s how I get business, when folks see their competition (or my website) at the top of SERPs, they call me. Google has made so many changes, the “cities and zip” list box is def over. I also found it ironic that one of my client’s sites ranks at or near the top of SERP for seriously competitive auto dealer (los angeles!)search with a minimum of on-page seo and no monthly maintenance, backlinks or socials over mammoth marketing efforts. Took almost a year to get there but now you can’t get him off! All I can figure is that the website has what other sites don’t have and that’s a killer use of headings. I use the webdev tool bar for firefox, under “information” click “view doc outline” to see heading structure.
    I would love a more experienced viewpoint of why Gossler Cash For Cars is as high as it is and why sellmycarla.com is nowhere to be found for “sell my car los angeles”.
    same recipe, different results.
    What do you think??

    • Nick,

      Thanks for your comments.
      I have taken a quick look at the coding for both of the websites you mention (yours and your competition’s) and I see one major difference right off the bat: Your competition is using the town/zip code content and you are not…something which was mentioned as no longer viable in someone else’s comments today. Apparently it is still working for your competition.
      I don’t have enough time now to really analyze all differences but that’s a start.

  • Interesting post. I have a question. You wrote: “among his biggest competitors, one for whom I had won numerous marketing and design awards years ago and with whom I continue business relations today.”

    How did you convince your existing client(s), both who are clearly competing with each other, that your consulting for them both isn’t a conflict of interest?

    • Dana,

      Thanks for your comment. The client for whom I had won awards is not currently working with me although we continue to email each other and share knowledge. It’s been a long relationship and he expressed interests in using me for public relations recently. As a result, there is no conflict of interest presently. Both are in the landscaping business. However, I have many lawyers as clients who do not pay for exclusivity and do not consider my services a conflict of interest.

  • Hi! Nice study. These tips on optimization I can use myself. I too use my website’s visibility in Google+ as an advantage in keyword rankings. The more you use Google’s social network for optimization, the more you’ll be getting points for your SEO score.

  • One thing I do not understand: G with the new caffeine update increased the importance of domain age. I really think they should factor in if that website has been updated at all in the past 5-10 years as well. Maybe it is just me but those old HTML sites just do not look good anymore.

  • Marilyn, I look forward to your articles, since I need some sanity as the Data Clouds get BIGGER each year and the work more persevering with SEO. With all the data recorded on the Internet and SEO growing Exponentially , the experiences that you give with specific details to perform optimally with a Website are a godsend to me. Just keeping up with SEO adjustments is intuition gained from expertise. Your work is Science and Art working together symbiotically. I have been gaining your knowledge but realize that I probably need your help. Your insight is rewarding to read and know.

  • SEO can really be a trial and error process. Just look at how your strategy worked. Now that algorithm is changing from time to time, we can try different strategies and see if it works. Thanks for sharing! πŸ™‚

  • Great article Marilyn. Your case study proves yet again that good old fashion “white hat” SEO and content creation have always been and will likely always be the keys to web marketing success.

    Regarding the issue of conflict of interest mentioned by Dana Tan. Anyone who has been around SEO for any length of time knows every business has a different USP (Unique Selling Proposition). In most cases it is really, really hard to find two businesses in the same industry who are direct 100% competitors. Conversely, there are lots of cross-industry overlaps between businesses.

    Just as an example, I have worked with lots of landscaping companies yet from my perspective, none of them offered the same exact services in the same geographic areas. Each business was unique. Was there overlap? Sure. But I have also worked with garden shops, general contractors and other businesses who also do one form of landscaping or another.

    I agree, working with direct competitors could be seen as a conflict of interest but most SEO firms I know do not sell their services exclusively to only one business in each industry and ones that do would likely charge much higher prices to compensate for for the exclusivity.

  • This is a very basic article covering a not too fantastic set of overused content. Reads more like a blatent article self marketing strategy than illuminating seo content. Did it really take to 2013 to discover google+ pages being prominent over SERPS and the fact that the google dance was a suprise?
    Unfortunately, what Google is effectively teaching us is you can spend a lot of time and money SEO`ing without ever being sure of the results from the next algo update. Google is biased towards corperates and one levelling factor is knowing how to use Adwords effectively to your advantage. Did you really expect a free internet to last forever? In the days before the internet companies had to have a budget for advertising. Now we have a bunch of cheepskate small business owners wanting to make a million from a $500 website.

    • I agree Chriss. Google is so biased toward small business, but you could still rank with could content and original text. I’ve started to build a website with a good friend of mines and we really worked hard at making sure that all the keywords that are relevant to the site were used properly and not redundant. Valley cash for cars is showing up on the first page in Los Angeles searches only after a couple of months for sell my car Los Angeles and Fast Cash For Cars. But like I always say, there is nothing like hard work to get to the result that you want.

  • Started a web site with a ‘mate’ and had a falling out with him. Created a new site and it ranked even better for waterproofing than the original did. Even though the original was 6 years old!

    Love it…

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