Will Critchlow, Distilled
A lot of the most challenging problems I am personally working on at the moment are actually organisational rather than technical. Often we know *what* we want to do, but we don't know *how* to get the client do execute on our ideas.
I have been having some luck recently pushing further up the food-chain on the client side and getting into senior management or even board meetings. At that level, what I've found is that it's all about the preparation. Not in the sense of practising a presentation, but in the sense of preparing the ground with key stakeholders and making sure you have the people you need on-side with your ideas before you even walk into the room.
On the technical side, a challenging issue recently came to us in the form of a website penalised by Google for a variety of doorway page and shady link tactics. A little tip of something that we believed helped us in getting their reinclusion request processed successfully was a shared Google Docs spreadsheet of the progress in removing links. Showing evidence of ongoing effort to clean things up appeared to go down well.
Steve Lock, Analyticsseo (iseo)
I have spent some time working in pharmaceutical markets, which are highly challenging due to legal, regulatory and approval processes. For these reasons, a common issue was dealing with disclaimers; this often stopped the search engines from being able to access or index pages through common issues such as redirects or content locked behind logins.
Adam Melson, SEER Interactive
We've had the fortune & misfortune of working with clients who have had their sites hacked before. Automating as much items as possible helps us getting a head start on major issues. Some examples could be:
When I receive an alert that client traffic has dropped a certain percentage (15-25 is usually my threshold) day to day, it's a red flag there could be a large issue.
When I receive a site:clientname.com sex OR porn email from Google alerts, it's a red flag that there are either really spammy comments OR the site may have been hacked. (if you don't have these set up, I'd stop & take the 42 seconds it takes & do it)
When Bing webmaster tools sends automated email updates about malware, that's a BIG indicator that the site could be hacked. When aremysitesup.com send me a message that a site is down, there's a red flag that something is not right. It's not a happy message to send, but I like being the one to tell a client their site is down before they know.
When the first thing I do at work is check client conversions & traffic and see that these are both zero, that is certain indicator that the site is down or the site has received a significant adjustment from the engines.
The hacking issue was resolved after only being down for just under 2 days. As soon as the site was squeaky clean, we submitted a reinclusion request, resubmitted sitemaps & sent a few tweets out, everything was back to normal.
Neil Walker, SEO Mad
We had great rankings for one of our sites under the term “SEO”, it was a little over optimised under the term “SEO” but did rank no.2 in Google UK for 6 years.
However 18-24 Months ago Google became far more strict on anchor variations and this in essence gave a filter to the site where we didn’t rank above page 2. The slow route was to initially alter the anchor text on a number of sites we could control and at the same time build press releases etc. to expand our branded profile in more depth, this worked initially but then 3 months later we again felt the same issues, we continued to dilute the link profile but ended up carrying out a 301 redirect to a brand new domain, this had 1st page rankings for the term “SEO” within days however 4 months later we found the same issue despite continuing to dilute the profile, we have ended up 301 to a new domain again where we sit position 4 in Google UK for the term “SEO” for the past 9 months.
Dixon Jones, Majestic SEO
We once found a problem with a blog owned by a national paper where the posts were not getting indexed. This problem COULD NOT be pinponted from the HTML or within Robots.txt code alone. We therefore requested the raw logs and were able to deduce that Googlebot was being blocked at the firewall level.
Jane Copland, Ayima
Not being able to change URLs on pre-packed ecommerce sites bothers a lot of SEOs. We’ve gotten creative with canonicalisation to get around some of these problems.
The canonical tag must be handled with care, however, to avoid de-indexing large chunks of a website by accident. You have to make sure developers know what they’re putting on a page and are aware of its specific purpose.
Tom Critchlow, Distilled
My biggest SEO problems have come from sites where their business model was set up to create sites that manipulated Google. Trying to work within those constraints when several of their sites are already penalized to get them results is hard.
Ultimately I ended up pitching to their CEO that they needed a new business model and business strategy online. I made the pitch about 6 months before Panda hit and by that time they were already turning the ship around. If they’d started work on cleaning up their sites post-panda the damage would have been much worse for them.
Grant Whiteside, Amber Green
We had a political client that had a reputation management problem with some very active and prominent competition. This involved promoting 13 other websites sitting under the offending page to ensure when this world leaders name was queried, all of the front page showed positive results. We used a lot of prominent bloggers in the political and economic arena to get involved.
Neil Pursey, Web Growth
We were using far too many tools 2 years ago and it was becoming counter productive, so we've had to bring all task management and reporting into one tool. This has streamlined our business processes immensely.
Usually I keep this for myself;-) Challenging problems are hard do describe in short and even harder to describe when it comes to the solution. But if you only want success stories, then its easier.
I had a client who once had a portfolio of only one product. This product was was marketed only towards women. But we found in the buyers logs that 1/3 of the buyers were men who found that the product (a farmaceutical) was actually helping them. They had found us when they where actually searching for womens products, but inspite of the focus on womens needs they still bought the product and became satisfied users.
Inspired by this we got the idea that we could sell even more towards this group if we also targeted our marketing torwards men with special needs. Then we changed the packaging and gave new names to the same products, but with different advice on the package slip. And included the frase: “for men” in the product description. Then we could use this frase with relevant keywords for long tail marketing both for SEO and SEM campaigns.
This resulted in a boost and gave us a competetive advantage in the competition. No one else did this so we were the only ones buying keywords on google adwords related to men and farmaceuticals.
Paddy Moogan, Distilled
We often hit the problem of getting sign off for content that is produced for link building, for example guest blogging. The problem being that if the approval process is quite long, we can often miss deadlines that bloggers have set for us, particularly if they are a larger site with editorial calendars. The way to overcome this is often different for different clients. For some, getting closer to the technical people and experts at the client has helped, for example interviewing them and getting the words straight from them rather than trying to produce technical content ourselves.
For another client, we used their own Customer Service Team to write content for us. They have staff who work through the night who are not always busy, so we got them working on video content and gave them briefs for blog content we wanted to be produced.
Peter Handley, The Media Flow
One prospect I worked with had issues with a site having gone live and having paid another SEO agency to get the website visible, launched a brand new website with some major issues. Miss-implementation of the canonical tag, robots tag and robots.txt’ing the entire website, not employing proper 301 redirections, no custom error 404 page – these all caused a nightmare for the websites online visibility and reputation with their existing clients who were not able to get to the website effectively through their normal channels and bookmarked pages.
Paul Rogers, GPMD
A while ago, I was working on for a client who were in an extremely competitive and spam-driven industry and I found it really difficult to generate new links. The industry was very technical and had little consumer interest – meaning a lack of blogs and related media websites.
The main issue that I faced was that a company had identified the challenge and had launched a network of websites which they were using to sell links and advertising for astronomical amounts of money.
I got around this issue by leveraging the work that the client was doing within the educational space, getting into a few journals and also utilising the people within the company – getting them writing lots of interesting content and case studies.
Shaun Anderson, Hobo-web
I think 'problem' should be 'challenge'. Deploying SEO is pretty formulaic. If search engines use 200+ factors to rank pages, it could be as simple as 1 page and 199 of the right links. In fact, I'd take that, every time, instead of knowing the 200+ factors.
A consistent 'challenge' for me is getting new (smaller) clients to be newsworthy and so link worthy . The easiest way to do so is usually a competition of some sort with a partnership with a bigger site. Getting quality links for small businesses is and always will be challenging.