Archive for the ‘Web Presence Optimization’ Category
If your responsibilities including managing and optimizing website results for a small to midsized organization, chances are you’re using Google Analytics to track website traffic. Google Analytics is used on more than half of all websites. And if it’s not installed, it should be: the Google Analytics (GA) tool is free, powerful, and easy to set up.
For many small to midsized businesses (SMBs), the biggest problem with GA is that it provides too much information. There are a dozen reports under the “Audience” tab alone (not counting “custom” reports). Every report means something to someone, but which are most important from a small business perspective?The long answer to that question could fill an ebook. The short answer? One of the most actionable reports for SMBs is the All Traffic report. To access it within GA, click on Acquisition > All Traffic in the left sidebar menu, then choose Medium as your Primary Dimension. You should see something like this:
Although the figures will vary from site to site, all sites include at least these three Google traffic categories: direct (none), referral and search (organic) visits. Which sources of traffic should you work to increase? All of them!
And although you can adopt a number of strategies to boost your site’s traffic, a proven approach is web presence optimization (WPO): the art and science of being found.
As you study your All Traffic report, it helps to understand each type of web traffic, which also helps you learn more about your audience—and in turn, you can make improvements to your site that better serve visitors, thereby boosting your traffic. Let’s take a look at the three traffic sources and how you can improve them:
Direct (“none”) Traffic
Direct traffic primarily comes from two sources: visitors typing in a site URL directly into their browser, or clicking on a stored bookmark. The first group is likely to contain more prospective customers and others new to your site, while the latter is more often existing customers and partners.
To drive more repeat (bookmarked) direct visits, offer resources, additional products/services, support and other reasons, including regularly updated content, for customers to keep returning to your site.
New direct visits result from both offline and online branding activities. Offline tactics include trade shows and other events, business cards, direct mail, printed brochures, signage and print advertising.
Online branding tactics include media mentions, building links by writing guest posts and articles, product reviews, social media, and industry activities like high-quality directory listings and trade association membership. Note that, as part of an effective WPO strategy, these activities also drive more referral visits and create valuable backlinks that help attract more visits from search.
Referral traffic results from visitors clicking links on other websites that lead to your website—think of it as following a trail of digital breadcrumbs directly to your online hub. Possible sources of referral traffic links include:
- • News articles in trade, local or business publications
- • Coverage by industry or financial analysts
- • Product reviews
- • Blogs (guest posts, comments or blogroll links)
- • Industry and local business directories
- • Partner websites (e.g., retailers, resellers, technology partners, affiliates or vendors)
- • Social media sites (e.g., YouTube, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, SlideShare, Scoop.it)
- • Online forums and discussion boards
- • Trade show and event websites
- • Other company or product websites or microsites (mostly for large organizations)
In many cases, your company may attract such links over time simply through normal business activities. A more proactive (and effective) approach, however, is to help build links through a combined digital marketing strategy that includes PR, social, content marketing, and SEO. As you use each of these components to build links and boost your visibility, keep a close eye on your referral traffic. What types of sites send the most traffic your way? That data is a clear signal to continue using those sources in order to keep your referral traffic at optimal levels. Additionally, a robust set of WPO metrics can help in evaluating the value of traffic from each referral source as well as identify competitor links and tactics to emulate.
Search (Organic) Traffic
As you can probably guess, search traffic is comprised of visits from Google, Yahoo!, Bing and a host of smaller search engines. To increase search traffic, your site needs to be optimized to rank highly in the search engines for the types of phrases that buyers use when searching for the types of products and/or services you offer.
Rankings are determined by a combination of relevance (how well does the content on your site align with the search query) and authority (the number and quality of backlinks to your website).
Backlinks, as noted above, can be generated through PR, social, SEO, and other marketing tactics. Links are most valuable when they appear on sites that are highly relevant to your business, i.e., other websites that your prospective customers would be likely to visit for information. Links from low-quality, general purpose directories were helpful for ranking at one time, but are now essentially worthless (and can even be harmful to rankings if your site has too many such links).
The best type of content is that which educates your buyers or helps them solve problems, and only indirectly promotes your products or services. After all, your customers don’t necessarily want to hear how great you are—they want help solving their problems as quickly and cost-effectively as possible. And many times, some of the most valuable backlinks to your site will be those that are created voluntarily and spontaneously by others—bloggers, site owners, social media users—based on the quality and usefulness of your content.
Given the near ubiquitous use of the web for researching product and services prior to buying, optimizing all of your potential sources of site traffic gives you the best chance to be found when your prospective customers are looking. And as you continue to analyze your site’s traffic, be aware that website marketing and traffic building are ongoing processes.
It’s critical to regularly examine your data so that you can spot potential problems and fix them before your site’s visibility and traffic is further compromised. On the flip side, your customers will tell you what you’re doing right—you simply have to pay attention to the data and understand that it not only tells you a powerful story about your customers, but also helps you make key decisions.
Are you listening?
If your website traffic from organic search has fallen over the past year, take some small solace in knowing you’re not alone—in fact, you’re in good (if not happy) company.
According to research from BuzzFeed, “Search traffic to publishers has taken a dive in the last eight months, with traffic from Google dropping more than 30%…While Google makes up the bulk of search traffic to publishers, traffic from all search engines has dropped by 20% in the same period.” Organic search visits have fallen significantly to A-list publishers like Time, Sports Illustrated, Us Weekly and Rolling Stone.
It’s not quite clear why this is happening. BuzzFeed mentions changes in behavior, greater use of social networks for content discovery, and a 52% increase in traffic from “‘Dark social,’ that netherland of direct traffic” (i.e., unknown sources), and concludes “We can draw a lot of assumptions but few conclusions from the drop in search traffic.”
The Tutorspree blog offers another possible answer: Google is intentionally de-emphasizing organic results (free clicks) in favor of search advertising results (for which it gets paid). While there’s no before and after (which would have been very helpful) and results will vary, obviously, based on the nature of the search, this example shows how organic results can comprise only a quarter or less of total screen real estate on a commercial search, with paid results accounting 60% of the visible display, and other results like maps or images taking up the remaining screen area.
And it’s not only Google. Both Google and Bing are now displaying fewer than ten organic search results on certain queries: eight, seven, even as few as four in some cases. That means organic results which used to appear in the middle or lower half of page one in search results are now banished to page two, significantly reducing the likelihood of attracting the click.
Finally, algorithmic changes implemented by Google (and subsequently mimicked by other search engines) over the past 18 months have impacted traffic to b2c and b2b websites. Much has been written about how Panda and Penguin may negatively impact rankings of commercial websites in search results.
Given that b2b websites attract, on average, more than 40% of all traffic from organic search (and close to 90% of that from Google), the results above are clearly of great concern. But what does it mean?
Albert Einstein famously defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” What’s happening today, however, is that many b2b vendors, news publishers and other commercial website owners are doing the same things in the same way and actually getting different (worse) results—because the environment has changed.
So in order to maintain and grow website traffic, online marketing practices have to change as well. Companies need to take a broader view of their overall online visibility and embrace a web presence optimization (WPO) approach.
Why the WPO Model is Important
With potentially less future traffic available from search, given changes in both technology and user behavior, the WPO model is valuable because:
- • WPO is about total online visibility—not just search. Yes, SEO (which increases website visibility) is a key component of WPO, but it’s only one component. WPO is about creating valuable, highly relevant content and then leveraging across multiple channels. So if your prospective buyers are relying less on search but more on social media, or established industry news sources, or on expert “influencers,” or even on advertising, WPO is about making sure your brand is visible in all of those places.
- • WPO is about helping, not manipulating. Google wants (or at least claims to want) to provide searchers with the most relevant results for their queries. Searchers want to find the most relevant results. The WPO model is about creating the most relevant results for buyers looking for what you are offering, but also about being linked from, quoted in, recommended by, or sponsoring other relevant results.
- • WPO is Google-proof. Because it’s designed to help and not manipulate, the concepts of WPO should (theoretically at least) never run counter to Google algorithm changes. And if your prospective buyers are using Google less, WPO maximizes your brand’s visibility in whatever channels, media or sources they are using in its place.
How to Get Your Traffic Back
Here are a few concrete steps for using WPO principles to adapt to and counteract declining search traffic.
- • Figure out where your prospective buys are looking, and be there. Use social media and news monitoring tools to identify the online venues where your prospective buyers are hanging out, discussing your company, your industry, and your competitors.For many b2b companies, LinkedIn Groups are a rich environment for discovering and participating in these conversations. If your buyers are highly technical however, they may be more likely to hang at sites like Stack Overflow, CodeGuru or Spiceworks.
- • Experiment. Go beyond the “big three” social networks (LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter) and check out avenues for sharing like exploreB2B, Quora, Scoop.It, and for blogs specifically, Triberr.
- • In terms of generating “social shares,” either correlation doesn’t equal causation or Matt Cutts is being…at best misleading, at worst duplicitous. While social signals are a factor in search rankings, it’s much less clear how important they are.But in the end, it doesn’t matter—garnering social shares is valuable for web traffic and credibility-building regardless. What matters is knowing how to drive more traffic to your content from social networks and how to drive direct and search visits through social media optimization.
- • Use news releases for exposure, not backlinks. Until fairly recently, common SEO guidance was to “Create backlinks from (press releases) to…supporting pages on your website. Make sure the anchor text of the hyperlink is the keyword phrase you are optimizing for.” But Google now frowns on anchor text links in news releases.That doesn’t mean that news releases now have no value in driving site traffic, but it does change the strategy.First, make sure your news releases are truly newswortthy, and worth sharing. Second, optimize news releases themselves for search. Third, use news releases as part of an overall strategy to build and develop relationships with journalists, which over time can lead to citations and even backlinks which actually are valuable for driving direct and search visits to your website.
- • Use directories based on their relevance and value, but as with news releases—not just for backlinks. In early 2013, Google devalued general directory links for search rankings. That is, the old SEO strategy of improving search ranking simply by building or buying lots of links from broad-topic web directories is no longer effective. That does not mean, however, that all directories are worthless.
- • It’s still worthwhile to seek out backlinks from quality, human-edited, industry-specific online directories, such as vendor directories published by trade publications and industry associations. The two key questions to ask are 1) would your prospective buyers actually be likely to find my site and visit it from this directory? And 2), do you feel good about your company being listed in this directory (or does it feel a bit sleazy to be listed alongside online casinos, web pharmacies, miracle weight loss, make-big-money-now schemes and the like)?
- • Use guest blog posts for exposure (and if you get a backlink–that’s a bonus). Guest-posting is still a viable SEO practice, for the moment at least. But it is commonly abused through poor approaches. Best practice is to develop a relationship with the blogger before asking for the guest post opportunity; asking for the opportunity with a personal note; understanding their audience and proposing a topic that is suitable; and not requesting (or worse, requiring) any specific quid pro quo.
- • Finally, don’t over-rely on paid advertising but do make it part of your online marketing mix. Experiment with AdWords, social network advertising, Bizo, and other ad networks. Many offer pay-per-click or even pay-per-conversion options, so costs and results are controllable. While paid advertising has no effect on SEO, it does increase your brand’s online exposure and drives traffic to specific landing pages and offers.
In the end, no one knows whether the broad drop in search traffic is a temporary aberration or a long-term trend. But utilizing WPO tactics to broaden your brand’s online exposure and potential sources of web traffic is a winning strategy either way.
With more than 90% of companies now doing some form of content marketing, the logical question is: how do you know if you’re doing it well?
In terms of “what” to measure, this infographic from Brandpoint recommends three broad areas to assess:
- • Awareness (e.g., search engine rank for target keywords, social metrics such as likes and followers);
- • Consideration (longer average visit duration, social shares); and
- • Conversion (increased conversion rate, growth in newsletter subscriptions).
In terms of “how” to measure success, CMOs utilizing a sophisticated web presence optimization framework for maximizing content marketing results will likely embrace tools for measuring competitive multi-channel marketing metrics—not just “are we making progress?” but also “how are we doing compared to our competitors?”
Among the other interesting statistics from the infographic:
- • 93% of “online experiences” (e.g., “considered purchases”) begin with search.
- • 75% of searchers won’t look beyond the first page of results.
- • Nearly two-thirds (65%) of prospective buyers learn about new products and services through social media.
- • 61% of people say they trust companies that deliver custom content.
- v39% of all customers come from search.
- • 77% of b2c companies have acquired a customer through Facebook (not surprising) as have 41% of all b2b companies (very surprising).
What are your takeaways?
Editor’s note: a version of this post originally appeared on ChamberofCommerce.com in January 2013.
With more and more purchases, for business-to-business (b2b) and high-value consumer goods, now starting with online research, it’s imperative to make your business ubiquitous when potential buyers are searching for what you sell.
It starts with a well-optimized website of course, but there’s much more to it than that; a website isn’t the only way to show up in a search, and traditional search engines aren’t the only online tools that buyers are using to learn about products and services.
- Social media sites: these include social networks (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn), social content sharing sites (YouTube, Flickr, SlideShare) and social bookmarking sites (Reddit, StumbleUpon, Diigo).
- News sites: depending on the type of business and the market you serve, this may include local news sites (newspapers, TV stations, online magazines), trade publications, and business news sites (like the Business Journal, Forbes, or ChamberofCommerce.com).
- Industry sites: these can include financial or technology analyst websites, trade show and event sites, and trade association sites.
Coordinating the manner in which your presence (whether owned, earned or paid) on these different categories of sites ultimately drives traffic and conversions on your website is accomplished through a web presence optimization (WPO) strategy. This strategy is based on the WPO framework and supported by metrics that inform decisions about budget allocation and tactics.
Each type of site requires its own strategy and offers its own unique value, but in general, a presence on these types of websites provides three unique benefits:
- Gets more brand exposure in the market, increasing brand awareness and credibility.
- Provides referral visits to your website.
- Creates backlinks (at least in the case of do-follow sites) that help your website rank more highly in the search engines.
Of course, what your prospective buyers find is just as important as where they find you. Social media sites provide the opportunity to demonstrate expertise in your field and engage with peers, influencers and potential customers.
News sites offer the opportunity to share customer success stories, what’s new with your product or service, even what actions your organization is taking to move your industry forward.
Industry sites showcase your firm’s involvement in leadership in your field, and facilitate connections.
Capitalizing on the unique strengths and benefits of these different types of sites requires strategic and tactical planning, supported by multi-channel marketing metrics that enable data-driven decision making about tactical efforts and resource allocations. It’s work, but well worthwhile. The more places that prospective buyers find you, along with content relevant to the problems they are trying to solve or the benefits they are seeking, the greater the number of opportunities for your organization to win the business.
Anyone who’s been in the corporate world within the past decade-and-a-half has likely been exposed at some point to Who Moved My Cheese?: An Amazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and in Your Life, a slender allegory by Spencer Johnson about dealing with change, summarized by Wikipedia as a tale featuring:
“Four characters: two mice, ‘Sniff’ and ‘Scurry,’ and two littlepeople, miniature humans in essence, ‘Hem’ and ‘Haw.’ They live in a maze, a representation of one’s environment, and look for cheese, representative of happiness and success. Initially without cheese, each group, the mice and humans, paired off and traveled the lengthy corridors searching for cheese. One day both groups happen upon a cheese-filled corridor at ‘Cheese Station C.’ Content with their find, the humans establish routines around their daily intake of cheese, slowly becoming arrogant in the process.”
When the cheese eventually runs out, the mice and the miniature human characters deal with their new cheese-less situation in different ways. The mice, “Noticing the cheese supply dwindling… have mentally prepared beforehand for the arduous but inevitable task of finding more cheese.” The humans struggle more with their reality: “Angered and annoyed, Hem demands, ‘Who moved my cheese?’…Starting to realize the situation at hand, Haw thinks of a search for new cheese. But Hem is dead set in his victimized mindset and dismisses the proposal.” The point of the tale is to promote productive approaches to dealing with change.
With its Panda and Penguin algorithm updates over the past couple of years, and most notably the recent Penguin 2.0 update, Google has been busy moving the cheese for many marketers, webmasters and SEO professionals.
SEO practitioners who cling to outmoded tactics like keyword stuffing and link buying are likely to react like Hem, feeling victimized by their loss of cheese. Same goes for those SEO software and service providers still tout their ability to help create thousands of links through link exchange partners.
On the other hand, SEO pros who’ve always practiced white hat tactics are like the mice in the story; though they may still have a lot of work to do, they are well prepared to find new cheese. For the many who have seen their rankings and traffic devoured by Penguin, here are three places to look for new cheese.
Content marketing. This is where Matt Cutts officially says you should look for new SEO cheese. Produce great content, it will attract “natural” links, and your site will end up on page one of Google. The problem, of course, is that in highly competitive search term markets—like marketing automation, real estate, auto repair, social media monitoring, or SEO services—no matter how compelling or unique your content is, it’s unlikely to be seen (and therefore to attract links) if it doesn’t rank on page one of Google, and it’s unlikely to rank highly if it doesn’t have a lot of relevant, high-quality inbound links. Call this Catch-22 cheese.
The point isn’t that producing helpful content isn’t a fantastic idea, only that content marketing is not enough. In this way, Penguin seems to favor the same publications, A-list blogs, and name-brand websites that already dominate most searches.
AdWords. This is where Google would really like you to go, because it’s how the company makes money. There’s no question AdWords can be an effective component of online strategy—it’s controllable, immediate and finely measurable. But it’s also expensive. Call this gourmet cheese.
Web presence optimization. A web presence optimization (WPO) approach may be the most effective way to tame Penguin and Panda. By incorporating owned, earned and paid media, WPO optimizes your overall web presence, not just your website (though that remains the ultimate target destination). Cross-channel marketing metrics in WPO help to optimally allocate marketing and PR resources.
This is akin to the way grocery stores usually sell cheese: standard cheese varieties in the dairy aisle, exotic cheeses in the deli, organic cheese in the all-natural foods section, etc. Call this a distributed cheese strategy. Grocers do it because they sell more cheese by offering different varieties in multiple locations throughout the store than they would by stacking all of it in one area. The same approach can be effective in optimizing your company’s overall web visibility, regardless of Google’s ongoing algorithmic attacks on traditional SEO.