giddy up! how to ride the bull and help clients with google penalties

For a time, I wanted to be a professional bull rider. Infatuation could be linked to one bull in particular whose name alone was brassy as all could be: Bodacious. He was one of the most fear-inducing bulls, known as ‘the greatest bull to ever buck,’ allowing very few cowboys the safety of an eight-second ride. Most rides ended after Bodacious performed his signature move – a one-two combination that started with a jump of the rear-end and ended with a swift swing of Bodacious’ massive (and very hard) head into the rider’s face.

These days, I sometimes feel like I realized my dream of bull riding.  As a Penguin-wrangling SEO ‘cowboy,’ I often feel like I’m in the starting chute, preparing for the ride and not really knowing what way the ‘bull’ is going to shimmy and shake. While the SEO Bull rider’s eight-second ride doesn’t end with physical harm, each ride is just as exciting as the last, leading to the growth in a diverse skills set that can apply to the next ride.

Client Guidance Under Penalty

Bodacious the Bull photo credit:

When Penguin hits a client, it hurts more than just visitors and traffic; it guts a website of its ability to achieve its purpose and often quite a bit of income along with it. Take away revenue and website owners understandably can get a little edgy. It is likely that the Penguin penalty isn’t a result of the work that you did, but rather the work from a previous SEO or agency. The previous practices are what they’ve been taught to rely on and are now being unraveled along with other quantities of work. This is going to bring some trepidation when the client is not sure what way is up and who should be trusted. I’ve found that this predicament is the cause of some wild swings in emotions, but understanding this has allowed me to anticipate needs before they are first encountered.

The set-up before you’re even out of the gate is important. Early in the process – before the project is kicked off and is still in the sales stages – its important to stand firm in your beliefs, your knowledge and how that will be applied to their website or project when it differs from the client’s point of view. This is hard to do while trying to earn their trust and business but it will get the relationship moving in the right direction. In bull riding, it’s called a ‘turn back’ and is used to describe a bull that displays a bucking pattern which heads one direction but then makes a sharp move in the opposite direction. No matter how strong the relationship is with a client, there will always be a turn back moment. I’ve been on the receiving end of:

  • Rage, disgust grief and disapproval
  • Terror and fear
  • Remorse, acceptance and amazement

When the turn back comes, however it is displayed, empathizing and sharing in the client’s worry while understanding where they’ve been, what they’ve been taught and how what you’re recommending goes against this grain can help the SEO cowboy stay on the bull. Keeping an eye on the long-term results can be a lonely uphill battle but keeping firm with what you know and hold true is important to demonstrate early so that you always have the ability to do what is right vs. what the client believes is right.

Beat Penguin with Data Not Feelings

Bull riders do their homework. They may not know which bull they’ll draw so they have to be ready to ride any of the bulls at the event. They study each of the bulls on tour relentlessly to understand their tenancies, which way they cut out of the gate, what signature moves the bull  has and how that can be exploited to earn the points of an eight second ride. The tools and skills that the cowboy has are the same, but the application of those skills will be different every ride. Emotions will get a cowboy hurt but using senses and data to make smart decisions will keep them in the rodeo.
conversion rise from organic traffic due to testing while website was under penalty
I’ve learned that the clients who are hardest hit with a penalty often don’t think like a cowboy and make judgments based on their feelings and not the data available to them. The DragonSearch team that works with clients affected by a search penalty are spreadsheet freaks who dig through the data to understand how the penalty is behaving website to website and what they can do to get a website back on top. They know that the secrets are found in the data, not in feelings.  They are able to tie together the hard facts found within the endless spreadsheets, deep dives into Analytics and during conversations with the client, to complete the story and educate the client with facts. Feelings can be misleading and they’re believers in our process because the small wins found in the data will help the client survive and turn into bigger wins as the stakes rise.
With an understanding of what is working and what’s not, its important to consider anything and fix everything. Penalties are not about just the cause of the ills. Everything relating to the website is important from Social Media to Pay-Per-Click to Email Marketing and beyond. Even under a search penalty, the rules are still the same – relentlessly test, analyze, retool and do it again because, even with bad traffic, you can do more with what you have when you dig. Relying on feelings doesn’t give you the ability to make good decisions that move the needle the way that actionable data does.

Desperate SEOs Will do Desperate Things; Not Always at Fault

roll stuffed with dollars to make the point that its not the cost of something, its about the qualityI spent an enjoyable portion of my younger years employed at one of Boston’s best bicycle shops. The shop was on the higher end, selling bikes that were at the pinnacle of the sport, made with exotic and rare materials that came with the appropriate price tag to reflect their space-age construction. My employer would often exclaim to clients and visitors who remarked at the prices: “You can pay a dollar for a hamburger but you still have to eat it.” It’s a clever remake of an old adage that still drives the point – you can buy really cheap food, but is it really something that you’d enjoy and want to eat? I see a lot of the same rational with clients – counting the nickels and dimes and expecting supreme performance from them. You can buy large quantities of cheap links or have content created by people who charge pennies per word but, is that something that you want to have related to your website? Would you be proud to show what your digital marketing team is doing to someone you’re trying to impress or would you have to backtrack and explain why something is sub par? The SEO’s that have to work under these constraints make bad decisions not because they’re bad SEO’s, but because they’re under the pressure to produce under unrealistic expectations and haven’t properly communicated this with the client. Expecting magic to happen without any money to do so, or placing value on tactics that don’t provide the right kind of value to the client will enviably take them right back to where they came from. I don’t blame these SEO’s for doing these things, but I do blame them for not having the client’s best interest at heart and discussing with them why bad tactics are going to hurt them.
Search Engine penalties are a wild ride that requires an attack from many different angles. After each ride, I’m always just as excited to get back in the starting shoot, climb aboard the bull and see if I can hit the right combination on the eight-second ride of success. What have Search Engine penalties taught you?
Just FYI if you’re interested in seeing the bull Bodacious in action, don’t do a search for him without safe search turned on! 

Connected TV vs. Over the Top: What’s the Difference?

New Year, New Strategy: 3 Elements for Digital Strategy Success in 2022

Meet Elizabeth Banks, Archer Roose’s “Uninvited Guest”

Marketing in the Time of Coronavirus