Prepare for Website Marketing Missteps

Here in Florida, we’ve learned to prepare for the worst. Hurricane season trained us to stock up before June and double check our disaster supplies whenever we hear about a tropical storm gaining strength. Putting a plan in place in case the worst happens can also help you when you plan your website marketing campaign.

Say you’ve heard about a new website marketing tactic from someone who got good results with it. You’re thinking about trying it. Before you even put it into action, whatever it is, first ask yourself, “What’s the worst that can happen?” Julie Joyce, writing about this topic for Search Engine Journal, came up with three possibilities, only slightly tongue-in-cheek. First, the site you’re working on loses all rankings and gets banned by Google. Second, the client fires you and denies all knowledge of what you were doing, sort of like JC Penney did with their SEO company recently. This of course trashes your reputation, forcing you to take a job at Starbucks because no one wants to work with you.

Obviously, Joyce has a real talent for envisioning the worst, but in this case it’s more than just an exercise in paranoia. If you can envision the worst, that means you can see it coming – and, as we like to say in Florida, if you can see it coming, you can prepare for it. So how do you prepare for the worst?

You can start by using if/then thinking. For a hurricane, you’d think about what happens if the storm takes down power lines. You’d lose electricity, possibly for several days (or even weeks in some places). You plan for that by having food on hand that doesn’t require refrigeration, extra batteries for radios and flashlights, books and magazines and other non-electrical entertainment, and so on. See where I’m going with this?

Say you try this new technique on a few of the pages on your website. If it works well, you can gradually roll it out to more pages. If you find yourself losing rankings and/or traffic on the pages with the new tactic, what will you do? You need to have a plan in place. You may need to roll back the changes or do something else; the point of your plan should be to undo any damage and put you in a position to move forward. The kind of plan you come up with will depend on the tactic you’re trying and the nature of your website. In any case, you should probably consider more than two scenarios as you make your plans.

When a hurricane hits, it’s pretty obvious that the worst has happened. But it’s not so obvious in the case of a website if you’ve rolled out a change all at once. How do you know your web pages wouldn’t have fallen even worse in the rankings if you hadn’t made that change? Well, if you have other pages on your site to compare it to, on which you didn’t make the changes for your marketing campaign, you’ll clearly see the difference (if there is one).

Let’s look at Google AdWords for a better example. Say you’re contemplating some new keywords. You want to use them in a landing page because you think they’ll work better. By all means do so, but keep some of your old keywords and your old landing page so you can compare the results. The new keywords and landing page may not convert as well…or they may convert better. You won’t know if you don’t use both at the same time, since the time of year can strongly affect searches for certain terms. You can think of this as having a control group – or, if you’re fond of the hurricane metaphor, having somewhere to run that’s outside of the storm’s path.

So, what if the worst does happen and you lose your rankings? That’s what backups are for. Undo whatever you did and go back to the old versions. As Joyce explains, “Pause your existing paid ads before doing completely new ones in case you need to go back to them. Back up your old code in case you need to slap it back in again.” Here in the hurricane belt, we call that having an insurance policy. 
Finally, if something bad does happen, don’t let it keep you from trying new things in the future. As Joyce points out, “What if the next thing you try skyrockets your site into the top 3 positions in Google, brings you loads of traffic, and gives you a ton of new conversions?” Would you really want to miss out on that? Of course you wouldn’t…any more than Florida residents would want to miss out on the gorgeous weather we get most of the year.

So you should keep trying new things. Just avoid doing anything obviously stupid, like keyword stuffing, black hat tactics, or breaking Google’s guidelines. (In Florida, that would be like living in a mobile home in a flood-prone area and not evacuating when a hurricane is coming). With the right plan, you can be ready for almost anything. Good luck!

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