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Top 5 Ways American Express is Losing Money on SEO

So before I slam American Express today for being clueless (stay tuned), let me recap my awesome weekend. Although I couldn’t play flag football this last weekend because of my elbow injury, I coached our squad (The Vultures) to an opening day 29 – 6 throttling of team Havoc. We are now 1 – 0 in our second season in A League of the San Diego Men’s Flag Football League 🙂

Additionally, my band Dive Bomber won our first round of the Emergenza Battle of the Bands and we are moving on to round 2. Not bad for a band that doesn’t have a vocalist, although we did finally find one, but he hasn’t performed with us yet.

Ok, so now that I have bragged a little about how cool my weekend was, let’s look at the ridiculous SEO advice that American Express (who last I checked was a credit card is distributing to people. Today I was doing a little reading at WebProNews and I read this story about American Express and their small business handbook in which they claim:

“Finally, don’t waste money on so-called Search Engine Optimization (S.E.O.) specialists. Search engines are very quick to penalize sites that try to trick their filtering techniques, and once your site has been put on Google’s blacklist, it will take forever to get off.”

Well since I am a search engine specialist myself who typically deals with companies of this magnitude, I thought I would evaluate their laughable and myopic advice by looking at their site and pointing out how they could greatly increase their organic traffic by adhering to search engine best practices, which clearly they do not. The funniest thing about this exercise is to see all the money that they are losing by turning a blind eye to SEO. I wonder if their shareholders would be impressed.

Anyway, here are the top 5 ways they are blowing it. If anyone from AMEX is reading this, you gotta pay for the rest of my observations if ya want em…lol. So without further ado:

1) Really lame page titles.

Page titles are extremely important in organic search. Probably the most heavily weighted on page factor in my opinion. Lets take a look and see how AMEX is doing with Page Titles:

“American Express Credit Cards, Business Services, and Travel Services”

Not bad really. Top 10 in Google for Travel Services. Nowhere to be found on Business Services. Pretty generic keywords really and not very strong calls to action but overall, I could live with this title. Not having “credit cards” in the Meta description though is a boo boo 🙂

Travel Page:
“American Express – Travel”

You’re joking right? LOL. I mean, at LEAST include the word services. There is so much lost opportunity here its amazing. I would be really surprised if being on Page 8 in Google get you any traffic for the word “travel”. Furthermore, there are so many other permutations that are more targeted that would be easier to get:

travel resources
travel packages
travel deals
business travel (** they are #8 for this term on a PR5 page, not the main travel URL which is a PR8. How high could they rank if they added this phrase into their main travel page? It’s prolly a waste of money to find out).

I could do this same exercise on many of their pages with the same result. Too much opportunity left on the table because of poor page titles.

2) Bad URLs (and Javascript links)

Click on the “Car Rental Insurance” link on the left navigation and you will be taken to a URL that looks like this:

Ok first of all, this URL is never gonna get indexed consistently because it is WAY too long with too many parameters. It currently doesn’t exist in Google. Second, even if the URL was clean, the link is made in javascript so the engines can’t see it which means no Page Rank gets to the page from that link. Essentially, this content has no opportunity to get ranked in search engines. I wonder how much money it would be worth to AMEX to get listed for the term “car rental insurance”…….

3) This one is my favorite: (from the source code of the personal cards page)

As if replacing an image with text is going to “optimize search engine results”. Nice use of the comment tag

This isn’t one of their bigger issues, I just found it REALLY amusing.

4) Flash. Same page. It was hard to look at the text cache of this page because the text version calls some other URL that Google doesn’t have indexed which means you have about 1 sec to look at the cache before the redirect to the Google error page. However, thanks to my quick guitar playing fingers, I was able to get a screen shot of the page:


Compare this with the content appears on the page in the normal browser window courtesy of the FLASH, and you can see a big difference. There are a lot of places on this site where content is hidden from search engines in Flash. It makes you wonder how much organic traffic this issue is taking away from AMEX (and how much that traffic might be worth).

5) ALT Tags. A link is a vote. Its a vote from Page A (the page with the link) that Page B (the page being linked to) is relevant for whatever keywords appear in the anchor text. When an image is a link, ALT text is used to convey keyword relevancy instead of anchor text. When there is no ALT tag, no keyword relevancy is conveyed and therefore there is lost opportunity. One of the most important ALT tags is the one that appears on your homepage logo because it serves as a vote for your homepage from EVERY page on your site. Therefore, it’s crucial to have a good ALT tag. A good general rule of thumb is to make it roughly equivalent to your homepage title. If we look at that same personal cards page, we can see that the ALT tag reads “American Express Home”. Think about what that ALT tag could do for the keywords “credit card”, “business services” and “travel services” if those phrases had been included in the homepage ALT tag. I wonder how much money that is…..

And that’s just the top 5. One of the biggest problems with SEO is the amount of bad information that is being thrown around by unqualified “experts”. Both in and outside the industry. The truth is, there are good SEO companies and bad ones. The bad ones try to use algorithmic loopholes to trick search engines into ranking a site higher than it should. The good ones have an understanding of search engine best practices and try to maximize a site’s inherent values while offering a strategic vision on how to improve those values through better usability, better content and better design. Not understanding the difference between the two shows a lack of knowledge on the subject. And that’s exactly what AMEX is doing with their recommendations.

That’s all for today. Hopefully someone over at AMEX will get a clue and offer a more sophisticated approach to SEO for their Business Gold Rewards Card program. Because being ignorant is not much of a reward 😉