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So What Can JonERP Do For SAP Solutions and Services Firms?

We get the question all the time: "Your web site is excellent/nifty/fun, but what can you do for clients?" So, we decided to address this with our SAP Services Blog, where you can read about what Jon Reed and the JonERP team do for clients in our typical frank language. For a broad overview of all our SAP client services, go here. Otherwise, scroll down for specifics on how Jon brings together SAP media, business strategy and Web 2.0 techniques to help his clients stay one step ahead. Also: there is plenty of bonus content here to apply to your current SAP business and marketing strategy.
A Defiant Guide to Search Engine Optimization for SAP Web Sites Print E-mail
(Why “SEO Gurus” are Overrated, and What to do About It)

This is a shorter version of a piece on SEO for SAP web sites I provide to new JonERP clients. The goal is to reclaim a ridiculously common sense approach to building effective web sites: better content leads to greater visibility. Too often, companies waste excessive money on "SEO experts" when their real problem is an absence of thought leadership and the content to back it up. There is also the problem of over-relying on quickly dated blog content when search thrives on deeper reference materials. The most basic concept for SEO in the SAP world is effort. There is such a huge amount of SAP content out there - you are not going to get search attention without originality and dedicated effort.

Note that as you read this piece, search is evolving. Many companies are now getting significant traffic from "social" sites such as Twitter and Facebook. We are starting to see a convergence where the social Internet is being integrated with the text-based search Internet. Unfortunately, the reality of social search is prompting too many companies to make a critical mistake: ignore the hard work of creating meaningful content in favor of hopping onto social sites and broadcasting marketing messages. That's another recipe for fail.

The advice in this piece can be used to formulate a web-centric content strategy. It's simple, really: share what you know and care about. Be accessible. Be original. Invest in content that matters. Pursue thought leadership and community interaction, and the need for SEO diminishes to a very small factor - even smaller when you consider that the main content management platforms (like Wordpress) have most of the SEO components you need built right in.

For years, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) "gurus" have made thousands of dollars "teaching" businesses how to manipulate their web sites to appear prominently in search engines. But the algorithms of modern search engines have simplified organic search to basic principles that anyone in the SAP world who is willing to roll up their sleeves can follow. It's amazingly simple when you come down to it: people like edgy, original, authorative content from industry specialists who know what the heck they are talking about.

Amazingly, very few companies in the SAP ecosystem (outside of SAP itself) take advantage of these powerful techniques which can result in increased visibility in search and affordable lead generation. Not to mention increased value to social media, because you actually have things you can link to that people will want to read.

SEO matters because organic search results matter. If your web site doesn't do well with organic search for SAP-related search phrases, you may be compelled to overspend on other forms of web advertising. Sometimes called "inbound marketing," organic SAP search results matter because search delivers fresh visitors to your site -  meaning new folks to click on demos, purchase products, or register for SAP webinars.

An under-discussed industry shocker: many prominent bloggers with ultra high page ranks (a Google page rank of 6 on a home page these days is pretty high) don't actually get that much useful (monetizable) traffic. Because their numbers are often skewed by repeat visitors and home page linkage from other bloggers, seemingly popular bloggers who extol the virtues of SEO don't get the kind of strong search results and passive revenue streams that are possible with an effective organic search strategy.

In this no-frills article, I will allot myself 100 percentile points, which I will allocate to the different aspects of a web page that are essential for prominent search results within Google in the SAP marketplace. You will be surprised how simply this all breaks down. Of course, reducing this analysis to one web page doesn't mean we should stop at one page -  the best SAP sites have a series of related content-rich pages that educate readers on their niche in the SAP industry. It's important to claim a vital niche rather than casting too wide a net. And remember, for organic search, "how to" and informational posts have much greater impact than opinion-laden rants.

80 percent: Inbound links from well-regarded web sites in the SAP field. People make a big fuss over getting a link from "Google authority" sites like CNN or the Washington Post, but what matters most is receiving inbound links from other sites in your own "SAP industry neighborhood" -  sites that are also well-regarded by Google. Google judges you and figures out what kind of traffic to send your way based on who in our industry "confers status" on you - based on their linked recognition of your content. But here's the rub: you don't get links by asking for them, at least not the kind you want. You get the really good links by creating content people find compelling enough to share with their own readership.

If they don't like it, they won't link to it. If it spurs their thinking or helps their business, they will. Those are the links that impact how search engines regard your site. Kickass original content gets good links. It's that simple. And of course you can share that content on your various platforms (Twitter, email, LinkedIn, etc.) to make sure that those who might share your content with their readers are aware that it's out there.

Google PageRank is overrated as a means to understand this, but as a general rule, getting links from sites with a page rank of "3" (out of 10) or higher is ideal, though remember that you want links from high traffic web pages if at all possible, and sometimes high traffic and a high Google page rank are not closely connected. Being buried deep in a lost directory on a big page rank site doesn't matter that much. (You can download a Google PageRank toolbar for Explorer, Firefox and Chrome that allows you to see the page rank of the sites you visit).

The best links you can possibly receive are "contextual" links related to content on particular pages. So, if we were to place this article on a web page, I'd much rather have a link from a high traffic web site in the SAP industry that leads to my site. Ideally, the link will say something like "keys to SEO for SAP shops" and point directly to this page. This is far preferable to a "click here" or "check out this JonERP article" link.

"Deep linking" of contextual SAP industry links to relevant pages in your own site navigation (as opposed to a bunch of links that all point to your home page) is the true "secret sauce" of SEO relevance in SAP or any other community. ("SEO relevance" means you appear on the first page of Google listings for many commonly-used phrases in your field, often appearing in the top three). Note that asking for such links in exchange for a link in return is an overrated strategy. Reciprocal links are not that well regarded by Google, especially in excess, as it gives the appearance of trying to "juke the system" and implies that your content is not worthy of being linked without sweet talking in exchange for a link back.

The fact that I've awarded this first item 80 percent of the total shows how important unsolicited contextual inbound links are, compared to all the "sexy" factors that SEO gurus emphasize, from meta tags to meta descriptions. Perhaps this is because creating reference-worthy informational and/or "how to" content relevant to your role in the SAP industry (the content that attracts such deep linking) is extremely hard work that no SEO firm can do for you, as they don't know your business.

I have had Google success with JonERP.com because of the many content pages I have developed here that focus on areas in SAP that people search on, such as SAP certification. I do have opinionated blog posts on this site, but there is also plenty of how-to content and reference pieces that attract inbound links. As you add more content-rich pages, you develop more SAP-specific lingo in various areas, such as CRM or Solution Manager, and that will help you capture more "long tail" search results of keyword combinations once you have Google's attention with deep inbound linking. Note that by giving inbound linking 80 percent of our total here, it goes without saying that you are placing quality, text-rich content pertaining to your SAP focus on these pages. Without that, you would not be receiving inbound links.

10 percent:  An appropriate browser title that contains a keyword-rich phrase that matches well with the content featured on the page. This item is self-explanatory, but a well-titled page with the most important SAP-related keywords used in context on the page does have an impact on search results, especially if you have contextual inbound links pointing to the same page on your site that features the same phrases as used in your title and article content. Some content management systems (CMS) do not offer complete control of your browser page title, but most do. This isn't a gaming technique, it's simply about creating quality SAP content, titling it appropriately, sharing it with interested readers (that's where social media can come in), and then getting increased search visibility as more and more folks link to your material. Titling your pages correctly helps Google to know how your page content is relevant to searchers.

2.5 percent: URLs that contain the relevant keywords from your content. Some SEO types overrate the URL keyword aspects of a site. URL keywords matter, but they aren't the crucial thing. Some sites simply don't allow keyword-based URLs due to their structure, though most of the major content management systems do offer this now. This Wikipedia entry on Search Engine Optimization is a good example of what we're going for here, where the key "Search Engine Optimization" phrase appears in the title. The keywords in the URL must match article title and article "context" in order to be effective.

2.5 percent: Appropriate use of "H" tags in an article, particularly the use of H1 and H2. Yes, Google still takes H1 and H2 tags into account; it's all part of how the relevancy of a page's content is established. Useful H1 and H2 tags help Google verify what your page's contents are about and direct people there. As with URLs, not all content management systems provide control over H1 and H2 tags, but for those that do, it's good to make sure you are using headings and subheadings appropriately. Here's an overview of how to use H tags on web sites. In terms of SEO, I wouldn't worry much beyond H1 and H2.

2.5 percent Ensuring that most of your content is not buried too deeply in subdirectories or in a proprietary framework that Google can't understand. Most modern CMS systems (Joomla, Wordpress, Drupal), especially their most recent versions, don't offend Google with their proprietary structure and don't penalize you much, if at all, compared to a basic single directory format. However, there are clunky older site managers that do hurt you in SEO. The simpler the directory structure, the better, though you have to strike a balance there to make sure that you have a sensible navigation structure for readers.

2.5 percent: Site meta descriptions. Meta descriptions are sentences on the HTML headers of each page that describe the page's contents. Google won't always list these in the page results; for example, the Google result in question may require them to excerpt a different part of the page's contents, but you can submit a meta description that will help to draw your readers into your page and will show up in many instances. For example, if you type "JonERP" into Google, you'll see this sentence: "SAP consultant and author Jon Reed provides career and market trends advice and commentary on the SAP industry in free mp3 podcasts and also answers ..." That's the original meta description my site designer Kimo Lee of Azurelink did for JonERP.com. We could probably come up with an even better one, but the point is that it is an intentional phrase. If you don't create one, Google will pull the most relevant page text for you, and it might not have the same "click through" appeal.

That's it! If it's not on this list, it really doesn't matter to modern organic search. No fancy tricks, no meta tags jammed up with keywords, no black hat gimmicks, no thousands of dollars in SEO. Just hard work developing a site packed with useful, content rich resources, preferably including proprietary data, charts and surveys. Videos or podcasts should be accompanied with text-rich content.

One factor I did not mention is having keywords in the domain itself. It's true that keywords in a domain can have an impact. For example, do a keyword search for "sap podcasts" in Google (just the words "sap" and "podcasts," not a full phrase search); the first site on the results is sappodcasts.com even though they haven't ever uploaded a podcast to the site since it was launched in 2007. But you'll notice that my site, JonERP.com, has listing number two, and I can live with that. The difference, of course, is that sappodcasts.com is only a factor in that one search. It doesn't come up prominently on searches for any other SAP or podcast-related terms. So having an important keyword in your domain name can be helpful, but it's not so important that you should be buying up domains for all kinds of possible search terms and directing them all to your site.

I will concede that in some cases, additional tactics will help search results. The sum of all those neato tricks and metataggery might get an additional percentage point or two, but sometimes the tricks backfire, and you end up on Google's dreaded "naughty" list. Keeping a strong content focus (and figuring out the best ways of making those in your industry aware of your content via email subscriptions, RSS, Twitter, LinkedIn Groups, Facebook et al), is the way to go.

And yes, there are plenty of complexities to SEO that are worth fussing over as web sites get more sophisticated (such as the proper use of "no follow" tags, and not linking to sites that are poorly regarded by Google), but companies can pick up bits and pieces of that as they go. Other considerations to pay attention to down the road: making sure your best content is not solely in PDF format; developing proper landing pages for important keywords where you have deep content and want to conduct promotional campaigns. Making sure that some of your best stuff is not behind a firewall is a given. And yes, there may be a time and a place for some quality SEO discussions around site structure. SEO is not a sham, but it can be a hype balloon. Hopefully this article punctured it.

Here's a radical idea: companies should take the money they were going to pay an SEO person, and hire a hugely talented journalist, recently laid off from a dying newspaper, to create some excellent content for your industry (note: I have successfully trained such individuals in creating high quality ERP market content in the past). A choice between paying for incredible content and paying an incredible SEO person to optimize horrible content seems like a trick question, but you'd be shocked how many people opt for the latter. And why pay an SEO person who doesn't know your industry a bunch of money when a talented writer could do it ten times better?

As a final aside, it may have appeared that I am down on blogging. That is not totally the case. What I am down on is overestimating the power of blogging for featuring long-term reference and how-to content. A much better approach is to build a content library and then blog alongside it. Done properly, blogging can elevate your reference content and provide a more human, interactive face for your business. Both are important!  Blogging about your content, and what you are learning from customers that plays into that content, while linking to it for those who want more details, can be very effective. SEO gurus often idealize blogs because you have to start somewhere, and setting up a blog is often a much faster deal for a non-techie than building the architecture of a reference-oriented site.

I tell my clients: if a blog gets you started generating meaningful content, by all means go for it, but don't get lost in the blogger hype. Remember that people are more likely to "deep link" reference material than opinions. Opinions are usually cheap and too often transitory. Individual blog posts often take on a dated quality. For example, I have an "SAP hot skills " resource section on my JonERP.com site. If I had written about the same topic as a series of blog entries, it would not have the same perceived level of authority as definitive reference pages.

And no, aesthetics don't matter much. In some cases, they can work against you when fancy graphic displays that search engines can't spider are prioritized over text-based content. Here's what I tell my clients: you can take a portion of that designer budget, and invest that in your aspiring journalist also. Before you know it, you'll be an SEO expert as well, but instead of trying to trick people to visit your site with endless keyword maneuvering, you'll be constructing juicy content that impacts people's lives and you'll have the links to show for it.

 

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