SEO For A Clients Expensive But Poorly Optimized Site

By | April 17, 2013

Dealing with bricks and mortar clients seems to be the way many SEO pro’s are moving these days, but it can have pitfalls of its own. In my experience in dealing with real life local clients, this is particularly true if they already have a pre-built website and you are unable to form a decent working relationship with whoever built the website for them.

You can double your trouble if the website itself is what Is perhaps best described as a “brochure” style with many images and little else.

Offline SEO managing a clients expectationsLet’s get our definitions out of the way first. A “brochure” site is one that is basically a replacement for a printed document, sales booklet or brochure. Back in the days before the Internet the client would have handed out glossy printed booklets to prospective customers. Hi gloss and full of pictures – and probably quite expensive to print. The majority of these types of brochure – along with the websites that have replaced them – tend to be image heavy and often have very little in the way of written content.

A “content” site is, as the name suggests, full of articles, pictures and perhaps videos. It may be one that is added to regularly.

The video below shows two actual clients of mine and the sites that they have built.

Expensive site with poor onsite SEO against a cheap and cheerful user friendly site

The cheap and cheerful WordPress theme site, with a few dozen articles that took barely half a day to put together ranked very easily and very quickly with a minimal need for on-going linking.

But the fancy all singing all dancing “sliders and images” site?

Your Site Looks Great. But In SERPS It Floats Like A Rock

Hmm, honesty like this is not always the best policy.

The very expensive and image heavy custom-built site, which I am told set the client back the best part of £6000 [$9000] and is incredibly hard to rank. This is despite the competition levels being pretty similar in terms of the number of competing sites at a regional level. In short the effort required to even break into the top 50 in Google between the 2 was at a difficulty ratio of about 30-1, and most of that is down to the nature of the sites being promoted.

The common issues I find when promoting a brochure style site seem to be:

  • Many similarly named images
  • Little written content
  • No updates
  • No site-map
  • Poor or none existent use of alt tags
  • Meta data is keyword spammed
  • Large number of un-optimized images causes site to load slowly

All this leads to a poor user experience and a badly optimized onsite SEO effort.

So what content there was was certainly over optimised in terms of keyword spamming. Every product description was six or seven words and contained the main keyword the client wished to rank for, this was often repeated 15 or 20 times on a page was also in the page title, a H1 header and in the meta data for every individual URL.

Keyword density of close to 20% !!

That’s spam in anyone’s books. An over optimization slap is just around the corner

Compare that with the cheap and cheerful WordPress site. This had:

  • Unique and individual images
  • Content heavy
  • Regular updates
  • Site-map correctly registered with GWMT
  • Correct and varied use of Alt tags
  • Descriptive and none spammy meta data
  • Co-citation links to relevant authority sites

This website cost £200 ($300) and was built in under a day. It was ranking page 1 inside 72 hours and had effectively paid for itself (according to my client) within a week.

So how should you approach a proposition to promote a brochure style site?

Is it even worthwhile starting?

Well, yes, it can be. As long as you and your client know exactly what you are getting yourself in to, and understand the issues involved. Better still if they agree to allow you to make some subtle changes to mitigate the problems you face as an SEO professional before getting started

First things first. It’s important to be realistic. The client is not going to tear down their very expensive website and allow you to put up a WordPress theme in its place.

In this case (in the video) the products really do require all of those images.

There are literally thousands of variations of product being sold, and every one of them needs to be visualised to the potential customer.

OK, let’s cut to the chase, there are five Golden Rules that you should be well aware of before you sign any agreement to promote a site like this. More importantly, you should make the client fully aware of the ramifications for themselves in terms of the length of time it may take to effectively promote the site and the overall cost of SEO.

  1. Be Transparent. Explain clearly that they have a brochure site. The client needs to be under no illusions that the job of promoting a website of this type will be harder based on the lack of written and updated content. Get this out of the way first. Mention that you have some ideas to get around these issues if the client is willing to make a few small changes that will not affect the general look and feel of their expensive website.Be under no illusion. The client needs to understand this. Managing expectations is one of the most important parts of an effective service client relationship. Don’t sound defeatist however, you’re unlikely to be hired in that case.
  2. Clear Up Technical Issues. Without getting too technical explain the importance of the technical issues that can be quite simply resolved. How they would benefit from varied product descriptions, or meta data and an up-to-date site map registered with Google Web-master tools.It may be possible to correct all of these issues without making any changes whatsoever to the look or feel of the website. It will probably require that the original individual or company that built the site be involved.You may be tempted offer to do the work yourself, but if the website is non-standard and has been built bespoke from the client you may get yourself into trouble messing around with somebody else’s code and design. If you are asked to make the changes ensure you have all the necessary skills and of course the details and do not undervalue your time and effort in this regard – such as the FTP login and password. Also, quote a realistic price for making the changes. Although they will not be visible they are absolutely vital to success.
  3. Add content. Would it be possible to attach a blog in a sub-domain? This may well depend on the type of hosting the client has. It would then be possible for the client to regularly update the blog and link directly to particular products or ranges using short informative posts that could more easily benefit from off-site search engine optimisation. I have seen people attach forums to their main site as well, but this relies on third-party input and some of it may not be suitable to base effective link building campaigns on.
  4. Start Small. Localise your efforts. Is even if the client is looking for international recognition and explain to them that starting at a regional level online and then gradually expanding first nationally and internationally over a period of time will bring them results more quickly.Get registered with Google businesses and places and make use of social media to attract local customers. Very often this will have a real added benefit of attracting natural links to be built pointing to your site if the products you are promoting are worth talking about.The same is true with starting with long tail keywords rather than the more “on the nose” product names and buying imperatives. If the long tail includes within it quite often, then all the better. This will help when the time comes to switch to the more competitive phrases.
  5. Link Varied – Link Deep. A common issue with brochure style sites is the sheer number of URLs involved remembering that every image will have its own web address. Whereas up until 2011 concentrating on the domain and a narrow set of keywords was the way forward, more recently spreading the links through as many effective landing pages as possible, not forgetting to also post the images on sites such as “Pintrest” is a far more effective strategy. Authority now appears to transfer within a domain from individual URLs.Links and authority added to secondary pages and images – when added over time – will form the rising tide which will lift both the search engine ranking and the Page rank of the root domain itself.That’s not to say that the single biggest promotional effort should be towards the main landing page or root of the site, but it is increasingly important to present a realistic and varied number of link targets.

At the end of your meeting the client should be fully aware of these factors.

If, after you have spent time explaining the issues and offering the above as possible solutions, the client is not receptive to making any changes or accommodating the real need for on-site SEO improvement, you may be off better shaking hands and walking away. Remember, this isn’t a site you built. You have no moral responsibility to fix someone’s poorly optimized site if they are determined they don’t want to change it.

It will be incredibly difficult to effectively promote a site that does not allow these basic changes to be made, not only will that prove frustrating for the client but it may also damage your reputation as an effective search engine professional.

5 thoughts on “SEO For A Clients Expensive But Poorly Optimized Site

    1. admin

      Glad you found it useful This post was actually syndicated on Forbes of all places – so I guess it resonates with SE professionals

  1. SEO in Greenwich

    So many clients fall into this category…they’ve got sites with lots of ‘presence’ designed by a prestigious agency, but with thin pages, no interlinking, missing alt-tags, etc. You couldn’t be more on the money here; nobody is going to switch out to a $35 WP template (even though it would be far better in most cases, and working with the designer (on their schedule) complicates the seo process immensely.

    I do like your blog on a subdomain idea…so for readers who might want to give that a try, how would you propose to the design firm that this could be accomplished? The ideal solution would offer a private dashboard for the seo and the client to use.

  2. Beej

    Thanks very much for this Scritty, really enjoyed reading through, I have MANY clients in the Birmingham area who have all got “brochure” sites and I can confirm its a total pain having to do work with them all.

    I would like a private chat with you for just 5 mins of your time if possible on a site I have which is seriously brochure 🙂



    1. admin

      Send me your details via the contact page and we can sort this out. I don’t tend to take on new clients any more – I do transparent marketing mostly – but I do still service about 15 different companies who have been with me for years. I outsource 95% of the work for them and the margins are getting tighter by the month.



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