If one believes that in life nothing is permanent, then the constant changes in the science of SEO are just a fact of life. But for those who tend to get uncomfortable with things arcane, it's good to refresh yourself now and then. Managing your website's SEO in 2014 looks a little different than it did in 2004.
Let's quickly trace how SEO has evolved. SEO has been traditionally broken down into on-page SEO (keywords) and off-page SEO (links). The more keywords and links, the better the search. I've had many discussions with people who wanted to permeate their websites with search terms and links, which at times challenged principles of grammar or the creation of a natural "voice." And with everyone adapting this attitude, one's Google ranking constantly fluctuated as competitors outworded or outlinked one another.
Audience Focus - What people often overlooked was "their audience," i.e., providing full pages of content tailored to their audience's needs, and associating this content with compelling offers that would motivate visitors to register or in the case of a blog, share your content.
Relevant Content - As the arbiter of value in today's websites, Google rates "relevancy" more than quantity of links or keywords. By making repeated, incremental modifications to your website over time, Google views these steady additions as relevant, hence your rank begins to rise.
The use of Buyer Personas - Branding and marketing professionals have used "buyer personas" for some time and these are becoming more important for the creation of the more personalized web content your web visitors expect and which Google rewards.
The value of a keyword
- "Are keywords still relevant?" I can hear you ask. The answer is a qualified yes, because it is now a quality rather than a quantity game. The value is in picking the right keywords. How do you judge the value of a keyword? Moz
has a simple, 5-step process, which I will summarize here:
- Relevancy: Will searchers find what they need on your site based on the keyword?
- Do your own Google search: Seeing who already ranks for your keyword will suggest how difficult it will be for you to rank. The presence of paid search that appears at top or right side of the page indicates the presence of a conversion-prone keyword.
- Consider a Google Adwords test: Test traffic by buying the keyword so that it appears on the first page of Google, and track impressions.
- Use the data collected to determine the value of each keyword.
Additionally, HubSpot provides these keyword research tips for marketers:
- Understand "transactional" vs. "informational“ keywords.
- Use alternative tools like www.similarsites.com ormarketing.grader.com for competitor research.
- Google’s keyword tool is now “Keyword Planner”
- Use AdWords auction insights.
- Look at data from Webmaster tools.
Google Changes - Digging in a little deeper in his excellent Forbes article, "4 Changes Google Is Making And How They Affect Content Creation," John Hall explains the busy year Google had, trying to make Search more relevant. Foremost of the Google algorithm changes is "that you can no longer mine Google Analytics for keyword data, leaving website owners in the dark about what word searches were used to find or stumble upon their site." Google has done this to discourage those who keyword loaded their sites but were not necessarily the most authoritative resource on a subject.
"Ultimately, the key to Google’s algorithm changes lies in its guidelines for content creation:
- Content is key. Good content — clear, concise, informative — is better than bad content.
- Use plain English. Write for real people.
- Keep links to a reasonable number. Make your content readable.
- Really, it all goes back to one idea: Create quality content, and you won’t have to worry about it riding the Google update rollercoaster.
Key SEO Takeaways - In conclusion, 5 key high-level, takeaways for SEO optimized content are:
- Tailor more unique content to your audience (personas).
- Create more educational content. The blog is most useful for this and social media for sharing.
- Make meaningful, incremental content updates, don't add content to "bulk-up" your site.
- Google ranks for relevancy to human beings, so go for quality, not quantity.
- Have clearly defined business goals greater than ranking for Google.
HubSpot has additional resources; some of my content here is distilled from their e-book, "SEO- Past, Present and Future."
I've never written an annual "State of the Website" blog and endeavor for it to be more relevant than the State of the Union speeches have become. As the leader of a company that has been designing websites for 20 years, a recent blogpost by Michael Brenner, titled "Is the corporate Website Dead?" certainly caught my eye.
Dire prognostications are standard operating procedure in the blogoshphere. Example: a few years ago I read that Search, which is more relevant than ever, was dead. Americans need to be always onto the next great wave, whatever that is, lest we be left behind or be perceived as yesterday's news. We're all journalists now so I salute a good headline when I see one — hyperbole aside — so let's see what's behind this one.
Mr. Brenner sites research like:
- According to Webtrends, nearly 70% of Fortune 100 corporate websites experienced declines in traffic, with an average drop of 23%.
- 90% of website traffic comes from just 10% of the content and more than 50% of the traffic is from just 0.5% of the content. ~ InboundWriter
- 60-70% of B2B marketing content goes unused. ~ Sirius Decision
- 60% of the buyer journey is complete before prospects reach out to vendors. ~ CEB
These statistics, which seem to focus on the largest companies, which is not where most of us work, don't suggest the death of the website so much as the need for better understanding of and focus on audience needs and providing content that is reflective of that. Audience focus, or the creating of more personalized experiences is the future of the website. Big companies like Boeing, Siemens and Coca-Cola are now actively seeking audience participation to improve their website's relevance. They are also leading with highly produced customer story videos and prominent links to their well-staffed social channels to enable ubiquitous sharing.
My own experience is that most B2B companies are still quite enamored of their products, want them emphasized on the website, feel that education, while important, is a distant second on their websites, to lead generation. So, in 2014, we still need to lead discussions about the importance of focusing on the audience, addressing their pain points and providing relevant customer anecdotes.
While it is imperative for B2B companies to continually look at the B2C world and the Fortune 100, which is where marketing trends often originate, there is usually several years lag time before B2C or big company trends are absorbed and reflected in B2B websites. Compounding this is the generational reality that many individuals in B2B leadership positions today are not digital natives and have not yet really become comfortable with the notion that the website is becoming "A desination" within a network of customer channels, rather than "THE destination."
We are believers in multi-channel marketing, personalized web experiences and the website as a continual process rather than an one time event. RainCastle is often invited to bid on redesigning a B2B website and often a B2B brand in which the client presents the website as a finite project to be completed in a specific timeframe. The assumption is that we will create a better user experience with better content, navigation, design and content management capabilities. What it fails to acknowlege is that in order to stay relevant to their audiences and to Google, maintaining a relevant website is a constant process of creating new content, measuring its effectiveness and creating additional content based on analysis, to nurture prospects through a sales process, or others through an education process, and to connect with them in meaningful ways, across channels. This work is never "complete." In the B2C world, the website is becoming the most ubiquitous entry point rather than the final destination in many cases. This will be true for B2B as well, over time; change will be an evolution not a revolution, at least for the next several years.
2014 and beyond are looking pretty good for the website. We look forward to creating more and more personalized experiences across channels, over time.
Far from dead, the website is only now really coming to life.
This is kind of a mini-post. I'd like to reference an important post I saw on HubSpot's blog indicating the rise in importance of branding to SEO, in the aftermath of Google's Penguin 2.0 release. While we have always stressed the relevance of branding to user experience, it is good to know that Google is recognizing the validity of branding in the realm of Search. I recommend you read the post but here is what I see as the key takeaway:
Content Variety and distribution: Google places a premium on authenticity. Search engine crawlers are evaluating everything they can find about your brand, i.e., press releases, website content, pdfs, blogs, videos, articles, etc. The more variety the crawlers see of your content and the more they verify it as relevant to your target market, thus the more authentic and established they deem your brand to be. And defining your brand as an industry leader will result in better rankings.
So, rather than focusing too much on creating tons of back links to your site, your time is more wisely spent building your online brand, by producing and widely distributing relevant content on a regular basis.
It's 2013 – do you know where your marketing is? The thought should scare you, a bit. Or at least scare you into action. Chances are, your prospects are online, and if they're not, they will be soon. In the meantime, there are still people online talking about your brand, services, successes, and shortcomings. Why risk your reputation by ignoring this community or by alienating them with outdated marketing techniques?
Inbound marketing gives you all of the tools necessary to move your company forward in harnessing this opportunity. But first, you need to assess where you could be falling short in your current marketing strategy.
Outdated: You're stuck on communicating “How good we are”
Modern: You help your prospects determine “What’s the right solution for you?”
Put quite simply: the internet has created empowered consumers. They now have the time, ability, resources, and interest in researching every option before making a decision – it's all at the tip of their tablet-driven fingers. With this shift in perception, site visitors are now looking at your company with one goal in mind: determining if you have the right product or solution to meet their needs.
Despite this, too many businesses are still approaching their marketing strategy with the old mentality of "we need to showcase just how good our product is." And while in the time of baby boomer marketing a flashy "come see how shiny this is" strategy was enough to sway your audience, today, it will only alienate them. Because today, deciding on a product or service is no longer about choosing the one you've seen the most commercials for, but is rather about choosing the one that best meets your needs.
This decision is hardly made solely on outbound marketing anymore; it has shifted to organic search, online reviews and recommendations, active social relationships, and valuable content that shapes the purchasing decision. Your website messaging, social media participation, SEO, and content marketing strategies should all be founded on a new goal of informing the visitor. Because in the end, an informed prospect is going to a smart prospect, and will lead to high quality retainer relationships for your business.
You want the consumer who wants you, not the one that is unsure.
Outdated: You employ keyword stuffing and empty link building
Modern: You understand the importance of creating relevant content
Things that Google does not factor into its algorithm: overdone on-page keyword copy, keywords in meta descriptions
Things that Google flags as negative or punishes in its algorithm: keyword stuffing, faulty or spam link building, non-relevant page copy, pages with too many ads, content farms
Things that Google awards in its algorithm: page freshness, specific, targeted URLs and page titles, human-like copy, relevant content, social media sharing
As a search engine, Google's #1 prioirity continues to be rewarding content that is written for the reader and not for the ranking. It is always crucial to set your site up properly for SEO and to maintain important keywords to inform messaging and traffic patterns. But these SEO tactics must be used in tandem with original, fresh content creation that benefits the searcher, not to trick him or her into visiting your site. And certainly not to trick Google into ranking your site higher.
These outdated SEO are no longer sneaky enough to outsmart the system. They are also a waste of any good marketer's time or effort. Instead of compiling your Black Hat SEO Playbook, concentrate on creating the kind of content that will be naturally rewarded for its successes, and that will maintain the reader's interest because it (point #1) gives them a solution, or at least a little education.
3. Awareness and Retention
Outdated: You rely on push marketing techniques alone (ads, direct mail, cold calling)
Modern: You embrace online engagement
Billboards, magazine ads, commercials, radio jingles, brochures, telemarketing – all push marketing techniques, all things that are hard to measure, show little ROI, and can be an annoyance or turn off. And through it all, have you actually ever spoken to a prospect?
Great marketing (and new business development) only grow from facilitating relationships online. Top companies use social media to pose questions, share knowledge, create discussion, and provide human resource support. They blog often, provide personalization, and use marketing automation or actual sales and marketing team members to communicate with prospects, leads, and customers, pinpointing exactly what kind of resource is needed at each turn.
Once a potential client is familiar with your brand and willing to purchase your product or service, social engagement must continue to be a main point of communication, and especially reflect the previous points of providing the right content and value. It's also about continued listening: 70% of brands ignore complaints on Twitter, and yet 83% of socially savvy consumers have walked away from a purchase in the past year after a negative customer service experience – compared with 49% of everyone else (The Social Skinny). And while the risk factor is great, the reward is even higher: according to the same source, 55% of people share their purchases socially on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and other social sites, essentially, doing your marketing for you.
Outdated: You count too much on your CEO's gut feeling
Modern: You actively harness critical behavioral data
The emergence of website analytics does not mean creativity in marketing has died; it means it has been validated. A/B testing, page performance, sharing statistics, conversion rates – all of these available analytics serve to prove all that your creative (visual or content-based) can accomplish. They also serve to make it better.
Human intuition, humor, and the creative process are brilliant things to bring to the table, and should never be taken for granted. But now, when it comes to creating effective marketing campaigns, the behavioral data available today is one of the most powerful tools you can use to build upon these initial intuitive ideas.
Now it's possible to improve campaigns continiously, to funnel leads and grow sales, to fine-tune your website and branding according to user interaction, and to show proven results at the end of the day. It's no longer about basing your marketing entirely (and blindly, I might add) on your CEO's gut feeling of what works from his or her perspective, but rather about considerately tapping into the analytics at hand to build a comprehensive and successful marketing program.
We like to say that your website is a living, growing thing; it's not static, but rather constantly changing. Many people believe that maintaining a website is a lot of unnecessary work, so we've brainstormed six quick ways to revitalize your website that will improve your design, marketing, and visitor engagement.
1. Update your SEO
If you’ve got your company name in every page title on your website, you’ve got a problem. Take a look at your organic search and see what opportunities you’re missing. Revitalizing your website SEO can help bring in new traffic and potential customers, and strengthen your existing site in the eyes of Google.
2. Create simple calls-to-action
Adding calls-to-action on your homepage and select secondary pages is a great way to reflow traffic, bring in new leads, and spice up your current design with minimal effort. It shows that your business is on top of modern marketing practices and draws the eye in a distinctly visual way. Our blog post on what makes an effective call-to-action is a good place for inspiration.
3. Make sure latest content is highlighted on the homepage
Haven’t updated the “news and events” or “articles” section on your homepage in months? Yeah, your visitors have noticed. It’s a good bet that your homepage is the most viewed page on your site. Instead of thinking of it as a welcome mat, think of it as a welcome center – a place where visitors can come for the most up-to-date information about your business, employees, and industry. Engaging visitors here means higher site engagement and a lower bounce rate.
4. Add current case studies and client projects
Chances are, potential customers are visiting your website to see your portfolio and examples of past projects. Seeing success stories from a couple years ago won’t inspire confidence in your current offerings. Updating your case studies with stories, findings, and photos is a simple way to generate more interest and remain current.
5. Revise the copy on secondary detail pages
Things change, and if you’re in an industry that is constantly developing, revising copy on your important secondary pages is a great way to stay fresh for your visitors and for Google. It’s also a great opportunity to update your internal links to other pages on your website or to your partners and clients.
6. Update your website images
Do your website images look like this?
Or worse, like this?
Old images, bad stock images, or a lack of images can all hurt your website. They instantly make a site look outdated and unprofessional. Changing up your images with professionally photographed company events or well-chosen stock photography gives the appearance of a redesign without any of the work.
Once you have a plan for all of these elements in place – fresh content, calls-to-action, improved SEO, and quality images – you can easily maintain the habit of updating your website and keeping it current, engaging, and interesting for your audience.
Last week, we attended the New England Direct Marketing Association’s Marketing Technology Summit, and were treated to presenters from Google, Overdrive Interactive, HubSpot, Eloqua, and more. The conference centered on ways to utilize marketing technology to promote your brand, engage visitors, and create strong online relationships with future and current consumers.
We came out with great ideas for marketing campaigns, technology integration, and the future of mobile and online ads, but also with a long list of interesting marketing facts and statistics.
- The average American spends two months of his/her waking year online
- The 4 major screens that occupy our time: laptop, TV, smartphone, tablet
- Consumers spend 36% of time online – more than with any other media format
- Where B2B buyers get their information: 71% internet, 37% catalogs, 41% trade groups, 39% trade shows, 35% seminars
- People on average use 10 different sources of information before they make a purchase
- 16% of searches everyday on Google have never been searched before: that’s 160,000,000 new searches a day
- 1 out of every 5 searches has local intent
Video and Ads
- 1 in 3 Google advertisers are using video platforms for ads
- Soon, over 50% of ads will be opt-in – consumers will choose to engage with them
- In a Google study, 9 out of 10 viewers prefer TrueView Ads – the ad platform that allows them to opt-in to viewing video ads
- By the end of 2011, over half of Americans had a smartphone
- 1 in 8 requests to visit a site are mobile
- Almost half of Americans are on their phones or laptops engaged with mobile content while watching TV
- 79% of people with a smartphone use their smartphones to help with shopping
- Mobile queries have grown 500% in the past year
- 1 in 3 smartphone owners prefer using their mobile phone for web browsing or email – even if there’s a PC right next to them!
- 79% of large online advertisers do not have a mobile optimized landing page
- 40% of people turn to a competitor for a mobile experience that gives them a good user experience
- 11% of people yell at their phone if they are on a slow-loading site
- 1 out of every 3 mobile searches has local intent
- Over 50% of searches on Google Maps happen on mobile devices
- There were 18 billion downloads of mobile apps last year.
- By 2015, it is predicted there will be 182 billion downloads of mobile apps
- 15,000 new apps are released every week
- 294 billion emails are sent each day – that’s about 43 emails sent per person in the world
- 90% of email sent out every day is classified as spam
- It’s no longer 6 degrees of separation: you need to be connected to 4.6 people on social media to be connected with the world
- Levi's had 40% growth in Facebook likes by adding individual like buttons to their products on their website
In the next blog post, we’ll discuss what these statistics mean for your B2B company and ways you can implement supporting campaigns.
Are you looking for advice on how to enhance your internet marketing and don’t know where to start? Contact RainCastle for more information.
Google announced yesterday that in the coming years the company will overhaul its search algorithm and results to incorporate “semantic search,” according to an article from the Wall Street Journal.
Using semantic search, a process aimed at determining the actual meaning of words, Google will change the top search results to display answers to search queries rather than links to websites. In doing so, Google would provide faster, real-time answers to search queries as opposed to providing the most valuable resource to find said answer at the top of the page.
This change will enable users to have better access to a “knowledge graph” of database information that connects different entities to one another; instead of different pages in the results, the information comes together in Google to form an answer, rather than just a list of resources. According to the article,
“If someone searched for an author like Ernest Hemingway, they might get detailed information about him at the top of the search results, including his date of birth and death, the best-selling books he wrote and where he lived, among other things. Google users might then be able to click to get more information about his books, such as ‘The Sun Also Rises’ or ‘A Farewell to Arms.’”
As the article states, Google is not currently advising webmasters in any direction. However, you can get a jump-start on following open standard semantic web practices with resources like the W3C Semantic Web and SemanticWeb.org.
However, other publications suggest that Google is constantly changing its algorithm, and that semantic search is nothing new, nor will it drastically alter search for users.
TechCrunch maintains that this announcement is merely a distraction from Google’s failing “Search Plus Your World” campaign, which favors Google+ updates over more qualified search results from webpages and social media sites:
“Bottom line here with the big, major, OMG GOOGLE SEARCH IS CHANGING news: Google Search is always changing. The company is constantly tweaking the signals it uses to rank webpages across the internet. Sometimes, enough of these signals are tweaked in a short enough period of time that Google gives the rollout of the new algorithms a name, like Google Panda, for example.”
What’s your take on the Google changes? Is it a pivotal moment for search or a distraction tactic?
Search… or do you mean SEO? SEM? S.O.S?
Many people instinctually use the words "search" and "search engine optimization" interchangeably. This isn't wrong, necessarily, but it doesn't allow for the wider range of meanings within the ever-expanding world of search.
SEO and SEM are fundamentally different marketing tools, and serve to organize, characterize, and make website content more easily found. Inbound marketing has opened a new door into the world of search that builds on the foundation these tools lay; content creation, link building, and social media are all now tangible aspects of search that can work in union with SEO and SEM to build your reputation online. However, when discussing search, the two biggest contenders are still SEO and SEM thanks to Google. Let me shed some light on the differences.
Search Engine Optimization
SEO is the most common buzzword in search and refers only to "organic search" efforts; that is, not pay-per-click (PPC). SEO means optimizing your website to make it "stronger." Strength is determined by keyword prevalence and relevance, and the optimization of on- and off-page elements. Best practices involve creating valuable website content, matching appropriate keywords to your topics, and assuring that you focus your efforts on the most relevant topics.
Accenture, a management consulting and technology
company, has their website organized into individual
pages that are each well-optimized for a specific keyword
related to a product or service.
SEO is also not a short-term campaign, as SEM sometimes is. SEO campaigns start with initial foundation work – doing keyword research and optimizing your pages – but also requires on-going work that includes continuous research, measurement, analytics, and tweaks to constantly improve your site's relevance and thus strength.
For startups or new websites, SEO takes time to be recognized by Google and other search engines. The length of time a website is live, as well as the number of pages of keyword optimized content influence how you are ranked. In these cases, it can take a while for Google to consider your website strong enough to be ranked along your potential competitors.
The most important aspect of SEO is: Ensuring your website optimizes valuable content to strengthen your site and improve the quality and frequency of traffic.
Search Engine Marketing (SEM)
SEM refers to paid search: PPC campaigns through Google AdWords, and social media advertising through Facebook and LinkedIn. These campaigns are often segmented and differentiated, meaning that each keyword will engender a specific set of ads that are served up each time someone does a search query for that keyword, or a similar keyword, in Google. These ad groups target a certain keyword or placement that triggers the appearance of your ad.
A Google search for "rain boots" reveals the PPC campaigns
for that keyword of several large shoe companies,
including Zappos and DSW
SEM is advertising using keywords; it works to promote companies and products on search engine result pages (SERPS). SEM incorporates all of the keyword research and optimization done to improve your website in SEO and combines these elements with paid placement and inclusion.
The most important aspect of SEM is: Targeting appropriate keywords to find the best places on SERPS and sponsored Google pages to place advertisements, and to use these advertisements in conjunction with SEO campaigns.
These days, the race for the #1 spot on Google is tougher than the Tour de France. I've blogged in the past about the dangers of approaching SEO with the expectation of being #1, but that doesn't mean companies aren't any less hungry for a decent ranking.
Enter Google's new +1 button. Basically, it's Google's response to a "like" button on Facebook. Not only does it allow sharing between friends (think StumbleUpon or Digg), it can also boost your site's position in the search engine's results.
Slow your horses. Google's +1 may seem like a free ride to the top, but before you call in the cavalry, here are some facts about what it actually does.
A website visitor can click the +1 button so that your website URL then appears on the +1 tab of the user's profile on Google.
Where do the +1's go?
People who are connected to an individual's Google account will see his or her +1's. Similarly, when logged in, you can view a certain page's number of +1's.
In terms of search results?
Google has announced that the button will influence search rankings – the number of +1 clicks and the person who clicks it might be influential factors. The number of +1 clicks can also influence the ranking of an AdWords ad.
What about the inevitable spammers?
Google has said they will perform tests on the +1 button before it has any major influence on search result rankings.
So, while the +1 button is a good way for visitors to promote their favorite websites and articles, it doesn't yet have a strong direct result on boosting a site's ranking.
If you want to learn how to best utilize Google's many add-ons in B2C marketing, you can sign up for HubSpot's webinar on "How to Promote Your Products on Google."
Many technical innovations come out of San Francisco, but today may mark a different type of technological milestone. San Francisco's mayor, Ed Lee, today signed a law banning the unsolicited distribution of Yellow Pages
in the city of San Francisco. While this seems to be the first actual law in the U.S. regarding unwanted phonebook distribution, there have been many grassroots movements in communities around the country requesting that local governments limit the number of phone books that are produced and distributed, including one in nearby Brookline, MA
In short, we may be witnessing the beginning of the end of the printed phone book. At the very least phone books are moving from the realm of the simply unnecessary to being perceived as actually wasteful and damaging. The demise of phone books may not be big news to anyone, but it's an interesting time to think about your business and how well you have been adapting to the times:
- Does your website do a good job reflecting and enhancing your offline brand?
- Is your site search engine optimized so that people can find you online?
- Are you networking in online groups and forums relevant to your industry?
- Are you embracing new technologies and channels such as social media?
The demise of the phone book has taken approximately 15 years. What will be the next big shift? It's hard to say for sure. However, a recent ComScore study indicates that email use has been declining in every age category under 55, with an incredible 59% decrease in email usage among teens. Not surprisingly, texting and social media messaging have increased over the same period. How would such a shift affect your marketing? Remember, today's seemingly fickle college student could be running a company or division in a few short years. Will your marketing be ready?