Great SEO vs. Really Bad Design

Bad design trumps everything, even great SEO

Great SEO by sem[c]

Huge problems arose the first day of sem[c]’s engagement. The previous SEO provider had also served as the web developer (Developer #1). He had been tasked to move the WordPress site into Visual Composer but instead used a little-known page builder from the UK without notifying the client. He also hadn’t mentioned that the page builder was reliant on the developer’s paid subscription. The result wasn’t pretty. The site instantly slowed to a crawl but sem[c] was able to replace most of the proprietary and paid plugins with free alternatives and restored performance by putting in many hours within one day of switchover.

There’s nothing that even great SEO (as done by sem[c]) can do to remedy a really bad design. Good business results depend on an effective team effort. Without that no amount of increased search traffic with get those results, as this tale of woe shows.

There remained problems in support and backup because there was no evidence available that a backup had ever been performed. Even if it had, the developer hadn’t been able to demonstrate a restore from backup. He only provided techno-babble excuses. He was unable to provide access to a development environment. The only thing he had delivered competently was the graphic design.

Working with a new developer (Developer #2), sem[c] recommended that a very inexpensive support subscription be purchased and that a working development environment be deployed retaining the graphic design. Before that could happen Developer #2 was fired. The next developer (Developer #3), had a condescending attitude that was worsened by his complete ignorance of SEO backed with very strong but wrong opinions. He was released within two days after his engagement for insulting the client. Not quite soon enough.

The next developer (Developer #4), was gung-ho for doing a complete (expensive) redesign and, consequently, was adamantly against spending $50 for the support option. The redesign was unnecessary and sem[c] continued to recommend retaining and improving the then-current design. This recommendation was ignored by the client. Nothing happened for the next four months except that sem[c] doubled search traffic to the old website. There was little evidence that any SEO had been done previously. There was no indication why the redesign was taking so long.

Without notification the new design launched badly. The front page took nearly 20 seconds to load. There were no calls to action. Functionality was spotty. Page URLs were changed without any need to do so. The new graphic design relied on the technique of cognitive dissonance. However, rather than using the technique correctly, Developer #4 never mentioned or illustrated what the client actually did. Nothing about the business’ expertise or benefits that a visitor might expect were mentioned. At all. On the technical side, there was still no relevant development environment. All in all it was awful.

This nonsense had a devastating effect on search performance. The site dropped from the first page for critical search terms to the third page. This forced sem[c] to completely redo everything that it had done over the previous five months.

After several more months of half-hearted attempts by this incompetent supplier to improve the horrible site performance a talented web developer (Developer #5) was brought in to assist sem[c] in correcting the mess made by Developer #4.

Unfortunately, the self-referential and client-adverse graphic design of the site itself remained. The Bounce Rate had skyrocketed due to the miserable site performance and, if that weren’t bad enough, the design had little to offer anyone to stay. They didn’t. Nearly 95% of visitors left after viewing just one page. It took months for all the corrections that were necessary to lower the Bounce Rate “down” to 80%.

SEO is not sales. There’s nothing that SEO, even when done by sem[c], can do to remedy really bad graphic and technical design. Good business results depend on an effective team effort. Without that unity of purpose no amount of increased search traffic with get the results that every business needs.

What do you know about the SEO of page builders for WordPress?

WordPress is an option when building a new website


Recently, the ‘next big thing’ in web development has been a graphic design layer that enables drag’n’drop editing to your new WordPress site. These software layers or ‘page builders’ go by a lot of different names: Visual Composer, Divi and many more.

Visual Composer

What does this all mean to you?

  • Everyone wants a great looking site. But the reality is that if the pages take too long to load prospects will leave without seeing anything. Google has a tool that will estimate what percentage will leave based on their test of the performance of your site. Achieving a great looking site that is slow will cost you prospects (and your SEO).
  • The developer that builds your site will not be around forever. You, as the owner of your site, should have everything documented so that any transition for any reason will be straightforward. Page builder setups can be very complex.
  • Your developer is responsible for demonstrating the ability to restore your site from the regular backups that he or she is making. Something is very wrong otherwise.
  • One of WordPress’ great strengths is the ability to update its look while keeping all of your content completely intact. If a developer says that they need to start completely over it will damage your SEO. This is only necessary if the previous developer damaged your site or that the new developer is not sufficiently trained.

sem[c] has been asked to optimize a number of different varieties of page builders recently and they all had speed-of-performance issues that needed to be addressed. More specifically, we were engaged to work on a site that we found to be using a suite of plug-ins called Pagelines. Like each of the other page builders it has its adherents but the sheer number of plugins that it uses sent up a red flag from our SEO point of view. The unfortunate part of this story is that the developer was tasked by the client to move this WordPress website into the Visual Composer page builder. Without saying why, this developer used Pagelines instead but didn’t inform the client. In addition, the developer used paid licenses that belonged to his company NOT the client’s. This meant that when he was removed as the administrator the site stopped working. Completely.

It’s not feasible or cost-effective for most business owners to study web development to the level of detail that has been discussed above. That fact should suggest that having a separate SEO consultant on board in conjunction with site development is a good idea. It is.

For more good ideas contact us or call 773.769.7362.

It’s “your” website… really?

homepageWhat do you mean by “your” website? A typical website consists of files on a server that can be reached on the Internet by means of a domain name. Unless you own the webserver you can only edit “your” files by using the correct username and password to access your website’s hosting provider. You may not even know in which country the server is located.

asf_logoAnother thing that you might not know about your website is the type of server software that’s making it appear on the Internet. You might not know software named Apache and IIS.  There are even smaller divisions of specialties in this area. One of our clients got hacked because their (former) web hosting provider had not updated it’s PHP software. You have likely been licensed to use this software under your terms of agreement with your hosting provider.

Without a properly configured domain name your website’s address will be a string of numbers. This may require another username and password depending on your domain name registrar. We have had clients that only think they know who might know these usernames and passwords. We have had clients whose names are not part of their domain name registration.

Screenshot 2016-04-27 09.39.35Like many websites, yours might use a content management system (CMS) for convenience and ease of use. A typical CMS like WordPress supports plugins to offer specialized functionality. Both the CMS and the plugins are software written by someone (usually not you) and your use of them is under the terms of a license agreement about which you may know nothing. One of our clients licensed a proprietary CMS but didn’t receive the source code.  This resulted in there being no way to change anything about the front page of the website without paying the developer to make the change.

Other websites might think so highly of your website that they “borrow” from it without crediting you.  There are tools like Grammerly and CopyScape that can help you find your content if it gets expropriated.

You should also have information about usernames and passwords should anything happen to you so that whomever is entitled can access the website when you no longer can.

All of these items will be very helpful to know in case a problem arises. For example, if your website gets hacked someone will need to know everything above to find a solution. When this happens it’s very difficult to claim ownership of “your” website since someone else has proven himself to be in control. Having quick access will help minimize the duration of the problem. We have helped clients recover from hacks and Google provides us with a number of resources that are useful in crafting a solution.
Contact us for more information from sem[c] 

SEO and other online channels: different parts of the buying process

SEO Marketing and sales expectations


Google has created a map of the buying process that positions each type of online channel in relation to a purchase:

SEO and the buying process graphic
Google shows where the influence of various channels is closest to the sale in the buying process.

You can click on the graphic to adjust the display to show how this relationship varies from industry to industry.

This quantifies the delay in time between marketing and sales. The effects of SEO take months to realize but its value is seen by its proximity to an actual sale in the chart. The only channel that is closer is a direct click which means the prospect can go to the URL of the item of interest directly.

We have seen a lot of consternation about the direct effect one can expect from social media marketing.  The chart proposes that it and display advertising are at the far end of assisting interaction whereas successful SEO and its benefit to organic results are closest to the last interaction or sale.

For a search friendly website which comes first: What or Software?

The Argonne National Lab in collaboration with the Chicago Institute of Art has conclusively proved that Pablo Picasso painted masterpieces using common housepaint:

This supports a more general idea that if you know what you are doing it doesn’t necessarily require any special tools or supplies to get it done. Picasso thought the type of paint he used to be so unimportant that he never discussed it. He didn’t decide that he wanted to do something with housepaint and wound up with “Guernica”. Quite the opposite.

We consulted on a project recently on which a particular platform for e-commerce was of interest to the client.  There are several businesses under the same ownership and this platform was used for e-commerce on one of their websites. We have developed using this platform and our clients have found it to be a very good approach to e-commerce. The project overview was to refresh a legacy website that wasn’t working. The website had ineffective navigation and, as a result, a visitor had little chance of discovering much.

We prepared a proposal based on reskinning the content after using the sem[c] process to discover how best to optimize it. We included an innovative approach to utilizing an advanced search function of the e-commerce platform they had not used in their previous project. Our proposal was accepted.

The kickoff meeting revealed a very large amount of previously undisclosed information pertinent to how the businesses worked and their very different audiences. That is to say that is became very clear that part of the difficulty with the legacy website is that it really needed to be two. It also became clear that neither of these two websites would be doing e-commerce. Another surprise was that one of the websites needed to access information that the company was contractually prevented from showing on the Internet. Most importantly there was internal disagreement about all of those points.

The next day our client terminated us.  The reason given was that we were not exclusive specialists in the e-commerce platform that was used for their e-commerce site. The only thing clear about what they needed to do with “our” project meant (to us) the platform was not a good fit to best fulfill their needs. Perversely, doing the project with that platform had become their only requirement despite their lack of clarity about what to do.

Your online presence needs to make it clear to your audience what you offer of value to them. The software you use is only a means to that end. It can help or hinder your goals. It’s very unlikely that a visitor will be so impressed with your unusual use of a serverside technology that they buy muffins from you.

Redirects, soft 404s and their effect on SEO

Redirects are what happens when you try to go to a page and you go somewhere else or are “redirected” to a different page.  There are a lot of reasons that this might occur.  The page may have been removed.  It could have been incorporated into a different page.  The domain name might have changed. There’s a long list of legitimate things cause this. Most web servers will redirect to a “Page Not Found” or a “404”. This happens and doesn’t have major SEO consequences although it’s not the best for user experience.

The dark of side of redirect is why it is of concern to search engines and can have a negative effect on your SEO. Spammers took advantage of a type of redirect that used javascript to send a visitor from one site to another (and either spam or malware ridden) site. This type of redirect was inadvertently added into one of our client’s site by a graphic designer for what he thought was a great idea but it wasn’t.  Google delisted the site entirely for all of the search terms that they had previously been on the first page in first position for.

According to Wikipedia: “The practice of employing fake 404 errors as a means to conceal censorship has also been reported in Thailand[11] and Tunisia.[12] In Tunisia, where censorship is reportedly severe, people have become aware of the nature of the fake 404 errors and have created an imaginary character named “Ammar 404” who represents “the invisible censor”.[13] “

Another type of redirect that has negative consequences is a “soft 404”. This can happen when the web server doesn’t send you to the page you requested and sends you not to the designated 404 page but to some other page which still isn’t what you requested. Our client’s custom ecommerce storefront created nearly 500 of these “soft 404” errors that Google reported.  Needless to say their movement towards optimization was slowed until this problem was solved.

The latest and greatest?

Groupon has become a huge phenomenon for B2C businesses. By combining old-fashioned coupons with social networking, Groupon has created a new genre by offering these businesses some great benefits: a very large audience, qualified offer recipients and a fast infusion of cash shortly after the offer runs. This doesn’t sound like it has a lot of downside, does it?
The problem can occur when all those happy Groupon customers want what they have paid for in advance all at the same time. The flood of requests can overwhelm most small to medium sized businesses. If the business can’t deliver their new Groupon customers what they’ve already bought when they want them these new customers are going to be disappointed.  Disappointed customers are not inclined to continue using a vendor who has disappointed them.

What this scenario reveals is a risk of providing a lot of goods or, more likely, services at a deep discount with a lessened possibility of a significant lifetime value that repeat customers offer a business.

The point of all this is not to avoid new opportunities like Groupon or other social networking approaches but to understand the risks so that a proper strategy that benefits your business is developed and implemented properly.

sem[c] works with its clients to harness their internal strengths to make this aspect of Internet marketing work to the business’ best advantage.

To find out more about how we work for your business, visit our website, email us, call us and tell your friends!

How important is an SEO-friendly website for your business?

Business owner are realizing how important their website is in producing leads. Our clients have found that a significant percentage of their new business comes from search engine traffic from companies like Google and Bing as well as social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.

What we’ve found is that existing websites frequently need to be re-built by us to correct the common search-unfriendly mistakes that many website developers inadvertently build into their designs.

If you are in the process of shopping for a new website please give us a call at 773-769-SEMC to discuss building a search-friendly website right from the start. We have the expertise to produce effective websites from small business card sites to elaborate content management systems (CMS) or ecommerce sites to sell thousands of products online.

If you have us build your website you will be assured that it will be the effective business tool that you need in order to compete in today’s tough economic climate.


Did you know that there is a very important relationship between Internet marketing and website Content Management Systems (CMS)?  Many people don’t.
It has become very popular in the last few years for businesses to choose to develop their websites with a Content Management System (CMS). The benefit is that a CMS gives a business the ability to add and change content on their website without special software.Unfortunately there is frequently a hidden cost to deploying a CMS: a search-unfriendly website. The consequence of a search-unfriendly site is that search engine optimization (SEO) becomes much more difficult. This, in turn, means that the marketing project will take longer, cost more and have a reduced potential for success depending on the competition.

There are many possible indications of such a website: a “?” in the page addresses, javascript statement in links, addresses that read like gobbledygook rather than clear statements of what is on the page and so on. Clarity and relevance are what leads Google to see a site as worthy of a high search engine return placement (SERP).  A search-unfriendly CMS reduces both clarity and relevance which means it will be less likely to achieve a desirable SERP.

This has been a known issue for years now but there are still developers that are either ignorant or so vested in the system that they developed that they deny this very important point. Many of the popular open source CMS have made quite a bit of progress in becoming search engine friendly. Any site that we develop at sem[c] will be created to be optimized from the onset whether or not it uses a CMS.

If you have any question about your CMS or Internet marketing please feel free to contact me for a quick analysis.  Remember, we’re Internet magicians and will make your search-invisible website appear dramatically in Google and other search engines.