Your business isn’t getting traction online, what do you do? Get the opinion of an experienced SEO consultant? Hire new marketing staff? Or, maybe you contact The New York Times to get the opinion of their readers?
Well, as unlikely as it may sound, that’s exactly what Colorado Mountain Coffee did. Featuring in the Times’ ‘You’re the Boss’ section, there was a tale of online woe from the specialist coffee seller. Who, despite concerted efforts, simply weren’t getting the traffic or conversions that they had envisaged. So what is the problem?
Against my better judgement, I thought I’d take a look at the site – see if I could shed some light on the issue. Alarm bells were already ringing having read the following:
“We have asked site owners for links/exchanges, offered coffee for review”
Nevertheless, I thought it must be worth a look. On first sight, it’s a decent homepage. Evocative imagery, reasonably straightforward navigation although a far from ideal font (I don’t know why, but I just can’t read it properly). There’s not a great deal of (search engine readable) original content, with the bulk consigned to a couple of lines towards the middle of the page.
More content would water down the high density usage of the word “coffee”. Whilst Google doesn’t necessarily penalise sites for keyword stuffing, they need more context and a clearer indication that you’re not attempting to game the system – remember, the search engines can’t see your pretty mountain-scape images.
Dig a bit deeper and you can see that it is a relatively new domain, created in August last year. This means that it hasn’t had the time to really mature and establish itself in the eyes of the search engines. Again, this is a factor that can only be remedied over time. As your domain ages and links grow, so your rankings will develop.
There are two H1 headings too. This won’t instantly demolish your ranking opportunities, but it’s better to just have one to give search engines the clearest indication of the keywords you’re targeting. This is particularly true when one of the H1 headings is “Check out our Organic Coffee selection” and the other is the company name. Never mind, not a massive issue, that’s next up unfortunately.
Link Profile Fail
As a curious so and so, I thought I would take a look at their link profile on Yahoo Site Explorer. It’s not the best tool for the job, but it gives a pretty fair indication of where links are coming from. The news, though, wasn’t good.
Apart from the New York Times, which is an amazing link to get, the vast majority of inbound links appear to be from a single site. At this point, I want to reaffirm that Colorado Mountain Coffee are looking for advice on why they can’t get rankings, this isn’t a random outing. However, it would be appear that these are, to be kind, less than natural links.
First of all, the source site offers car parts for performance vehicles. The relevance is therefore absolutely zero. In fact, I would be surprised if Google hadn’t already flagged it up as highly suspicious. Secondly, the link to our coffee friends is in the header of every page, creating over 2,000 links (which probably all appeared at the same time). That’s like a massive neon arrow for the search engines, with “this is a paid link” written in bold – even if it isn’t.
A Warning for All Online Businesses
This is a mistake that a lot of people make, and therefore I don’t blame Colorado Mountain Coffee at all. Businesses know that they need links and they want to get rankings quickly, therefore they sometimes take shortcuts. Unfortunately though, the all seeing eye of Google isn’t particularly forgiving. Without any link value and a potential penalty on top for good measure, it is perhaps unsurprising that the site has struggled to gain rankings.
Why the New York Times decided not to check this before publishing online is beyond me, particularly in light of their recent hard work in uncovering JC Penney. Hopefully this will be a mistake that the coffee company can recover from. After all, the site itself is pretty decent. Add a little content (a Copywriter is always going to suggest that), dump the bad links and start again.
However there are more universal lessons here for all websites. If I can see dodgy links, then you can be pretty sure that Google can too. By all means ask for help too, but perhaps a more subtle approach might be better too. It’s great to get a link from the New York Times, but sometimes is best not to shine a light on certain things.
So whilst it’s a bizarre and unfortunate tale of SEO angst, it’s perhaps the best indication that businesses and newspapers simply aren’t getting the basics right. Search Engine Optimisation practitioners aren’t the enemy, they are there to help you to avoid these very mistakes. If Colorado Mountain Coffee or the New York Times had consulted any half decent agency or individual, they would have spotted this issue and offered the same simple advice – remove the links.
Even if they were to follow all of the advice on writing new content and building links, it wouldn’t make any difference. The existing links would still be dragging the site down, as we’ve seen time and time again. A penalty isn’t a life sentence, but it does have to be taken seriously and the issue resolved swiftly.