Posts Tagged ‘SEO’
The old days when SEO meant writing key-stuffed copy and then begging for or buying as many links as possible, from any willing website, are long gone. That’s clearly good for searchers, as search engine results have become more relevant and useful. But it’s also good for marketers, as it forces a focus on understanding buyers and providing them with value rather than manipulative gaming of search algorithms.
In Optimize: How to Attract and Engage More Customers by Integrating SEO, Social Media, and Content Marketing, Lee Odden provides the definitive guide to SEO and its extension into social and content marketing for the new, more sophisticated world of search and web presence optimization.
Divided into three sections—Planning (tactics, audience research, content), Implementation (persona development, keyword research, content optimization, measurement) and Scale—the book provides a comprehensive roadmap for using integrated digital marketing tactics to drive business results.
Among the specific pieces of wisdom Lee shares in the book are:
- • Search is a moving target. “Search results have evolved from 10 blue links to situationally dependent mixed-media results that vary according to your geographic location, web history, social influence and social ratings…at any given time, there are from 50 to 200 different versions of Google’s core algorithm in the wild, so the notion of optimizing for a consistently predictable direct cause and effect is long gone.”
- • You need to know where you are before you can know where you’re going. “Audits are a key part of search engine optimization, allowing marketers to access the current state of the website in ways that identify any conflicts or inefficiencies for search engines.” Audits also help establish baselines—the starting points from which progress can be measured.
- • Five different types of SEO audits are vital for establishing baselines: keyword research, content audit (“a website must be the best resource for a topic, and content optimization takes inventory of all content and digital assets that could be a potential entry point vis search and recommends SEO copywriting tactics to showcase those pages as most relevant”), technical SEO audit (making sure the site is easy for search engines to crawl), link footprint and social SEO audit.
- • PR is now a vital component of SEO. “The public relations function within a company often produces nearly as much content as marketing in the form of a corporate newsroom with media coverage, press releases, images, video, case studies, white papers, and other resources…Each of those assets is an opportunity for journalists to discover the brand story through search engines or social referrals…Companies that optimize and socialize their press releases give new life and extended reach to their news by making it easy for bloggers and end consumers to find and share press release content.”
- • Content isn’t just the job of marketing and PR. It’s also crucial to optimize content produced by customer service (FAQ’s, common how-to guides), HR, and subject matter experts in field consulting, engineering and sales for search. Marketing may have to scrub and polish some of this content for public consumption, but it’s vital to tap expertise across the organization.
- • Your online competitors aren’t always your real-life competitors. “In the search and social media marketing world, the competition isn’t always who you think. Companies need to understand that online competition isn’t just made up of companies competing for market share in the business world, but also information and content published from a variety of sources that compete for search engine and social media users’ attention.” It’s not unusual for university websites, government agency sites, and reference sites like Wikipedia to “compete” with a company in search.
- • Monitor search results to spot new opportunities. “A trending story may cause news or blog results to appear high on the page, which might prompt you to comment on a high-ranking story or reach out to a journalist or blogger to offer your point of view…When you notice that the search engine tends to favor certain media, such as video, for one of your target keyword phrases, it may prompt you to focus on video content and optimization for a particular target keyword phrase.”
- • It’s vital for a business to “be seen” in different places. “48% of consumers are led to make a purchase through a combination of search and social media influences.”
- • Search visibility isn’t important only for prospective customers. “95% of journalists use search engines…89% of journalists use blogs and 65% use social networks for story research.”
- • Develop content for your prospects, not for search engines. “Write down some of the high-level characteristics of your best customers. What motivates them? What do they care about?” I would add “what keeps them awake at night?” and “what will compel them to take action” to this list. The answers to those questions will be crucial in developing your content strategy.
- • Make fact-based, data-driven decisions. “Keyword research tools are designed to override the false assumptions often provided by the two most flawed tools that you can access—your gut and your brain.” It isn’t that you aren’t smart, but rather the words used inside of your company and those that your prospective customers use to describe the same product or service are often very different.
- • Think about blog post topics from a variety of angles to keep it interesting. “Typical categories for an editorial calendar can include breaking headlines, industry news, ongoing series, feature stories, in-depth product or service reports, polls, special promotions, events, tips, lists…the important thing is to be relevant: to your customers, your brand, and to search engines and social communities.”
- • You don’t have to do it all yourself; content curation is as important as creation. “Pure creation is demanding. Pure automation doesn’t engage. Curating content can provide the best of both.”
And there’s much more, including several useful lists such as analytics tools, “20 different content types” and “sources of news to curate.”
Even in books I really find valuable, I usually find at least a few points of contention, or things the author just plain got wrong. But even though I wore out a red pen highlighting passages in this book, I didn’t find a single point where I think Lee missed the mark.
The only thing I would add is an over-arching framework to fit all of this into. “SEO, social media and content marketing” is descriptive, but a mouthful. Add PR and online advertising to the mix, and it gets really awkward without that model. Optimize fundamentally provides an excellent how-to primer for utilizing the web presence optimization framework. As Lee notes:
“If a company doesn’t see the bigger-picture synergy of how to break social media, content, and SEO efforts out of departmental silos and approach Internet marketing and public relations holistically, how can they grow and remain competitive?…Integrating social media marketing and engagement with search, content marketing, email, and other types of online marketing tactics can results in substantial benefits.” But “For many companies, it can be very difficult and complex to implement a holistic content marketing and search optimization program.”
Marketers often seek out benchmarks by which to measure the effectiveness of various marketing programs as well as their performance vs. industry competitors. In some cases, this information can be quite useful and enlightening, for example, when looking at average email open rates by industry.
In other situations, however—such as when looking at what percentage of total website traffic should be driven by organic search—the answer is a clear but not helpful “it depends.”
Looking at the same sample of 40+ b2b technology websites used in the recent b2b mobile website strategy post here, the average for the first quarter of 2012 was about 39%. But the range of results was wide, from less than a quarter of total website visits to almost two-thirds.
Even that doesn’t tell the full story. When it comes to share of traffic driven by search, few websites are “average.” Instead, most fall into either a low range (generating a quarter to just over a third of all traffic from search) or a high range (with organic search accounting for half to two-thirds of total visits).
Having an ongoing SEO program (including a blog). It’s hardly surprising, but maintaining regular SEO efforts, even if only a few hours per month, has a strong positive correlation with increased organic search results.
Virtually all of the websites in the group saw an increase in the percentage of traffic driven by search in the first quarter of 2012 vs 1Q2011, indicating that b2b tech buyers are relying more on search. But the difference in the increase between sites with active SEO programs (18% average increase) and those without (5% average growth) was significant.
Even more noteworthy, sites with active content and SEO programs increased their total website traffic, on average, by 25% in the past year. Those who neglected SEO (either never did it or did SEO only as a one-time effort at site launch) experienced an average 15% decline in overall visits.
Website age. In general, the longer a site has been active, the higher the percentage of traffic it generates from organic search. There is a limit to this of course, and it’s only a general trend; there are exceptions, including a one-year old site (with an active SEO program) in this data set that generated 65% of traffic from a search while another, much more mature site (without ongoing SEO) generated only 26% of all visits via search.
Also, the positive trust effect built up over time with the search engines can eventually be overwhelmed by the impact of brand strength. Sites with strong, established, well-known brands tend to generate a higher percentage of traffic from direct visits and a lower percentage from search, especially from non-brand search phrases.
A fourth factor is the level of PR or media relations activity undertaken by the company. An ongoing, active PR program has a number of impacts: it creates links which are valuable for non-brand organic search, and it drives referral traffic from blogs and news sites. The largest impact though seems to be on direct visits and branded search, both of which have a significant positive correlation with the regularity and frequency of PR and media relations activities.
A final factor is social sharing. Again, this has mixed results in terms of traffic proportions, as it increases referral traffic (specifically from social networking and social bookmarking sites). However, the biggest effect of social sharing appears to be on organic search traffic due to the value the search engines place on these links.
The takeaway is that a number of factors can affect the percentage of total website traffic generated by organic search, so there is no clear target. But doing the right things—ongoing SEO, blogging and PR programs, plus being active in social media—drives increased overall site traffic (and leads), which is the most important metric after all.
Sales leads generated through inbound marketing–the combination of content marketing, blogging, social media, website chat and SEM–cost 61% less than those produced through traditional demand generation techniques (e.g., online or print advertising, trade shows, telemarketing, direct mail) according to research from HubSpot.
But as compelling as those cost savings are, the arguably larger financial impact is that social and content strategies change much of what marketing does from an expense (an expenditure tied to immediate consumption) to an investment (an allocation with a long-term payback). Buying a bag of apples at the grocery store is an expense; planting an apple tree is an investment.
While some aspects of inbound marketing (SEM, email marketing, webinars) clearly remain in the expense column, three of its key components clearly should be classified as investments, as long-term appreciating assets.
Blogging: for any new business blog, traffic typically starts out modest but grows over time. One reason is that reader subscriptions (when via email or RSS feed) tend to grow over time as the blog establishes its voice and readership. But the larger factor is SEO: the longer a blog is actively contributed to, the more content there will be for search engines to index, the more links it will attract, and hence the more search-driven traffic it will enjoy.
The major search engines also seem to give blogs more respect over time. Newly-launched blogs typically generate a very small share of total traffic from organic search, but the proportion builds over time. It’s not unusual to see clear upward inflection points in search traffic after the first six and 12 months a blog is active.
Social Networking: whether on an individual or corporate account basis, a social network grows over time as credibility is established. It’s difficult to build a large social following on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Google+ or any other such site right out of the gate. But if the user is consistent, helpful, and engaging, it’s virtually inevitable that the following will grow over time. Like a blog, each social media account is an appreciating asset.
Content Marketing: while some content is designed for short-term needs, much of it has long-term value. Blog posts, videos posted to YouTube or Vimeo, presentations on SlideShare–all can continue to attract new viewers years after they are first created. Well-written white papers can also serve as effective long-term lead-generation assets.
Inbound marketing therefore not only makes marketing more efficient, but also more strategically valuable to the organization. It’s no longer just about spending money to generate leads this month or this quarter, but about developing content and connections that increase in value and continue to pay off over the long term.
Despite the many business benefits of blogging, it remains an underutilized tactic. Recent research shows that only 37% of the Inc. 500 fastest-growing companies and just 35% of the Fortune 100 enterprises maintain blogs. While blog adoption is actually slightly higher among small to midsized businesses (SMBs), roughly half are still not taking advantage of this medium.
Here are six compelling reasons for organizations of all sizes to make blogging the center of their social media and content marketing efforts.
Search engine optimization (SEO). Blogs are naturally great for search because they enable a company to rank for a much higher number of keywords, they can organically attract diverse high-quality links, and blog posts are far more likely to be shared in social media than standard website content. And presuming that blog is hosted on your company domain (e.g. blog.company.com or company.com/blog), the benefit of all of that link and social signal authority also accrues to your corporate website.
Fresh content. A blog is one of the best ways to continually produce fresh content for your website. Search engines love fresh content, and a steady stream of new information is what keeps visitors coming back to your site.
Flexibility. Every other type of social venue imposes limits on the length, format or type of content you can post. Twitter gives you only 140 characters, LinkedIn limits you to a corporate profile and product descriptions, Facebook limits you to whatever Mark Zuckerberg decided this morning. But blog posts can be short or long, visual or text-heavy, and incorporate virtually any type of media. You can post a video on YouTube, pin an infographic on Pinterest, upload a presentation to SlideShare, and embed any of these in a blog post.
Ownership. On social networking sites, you give up significant control over your information. There’s no easy way to find or search old tweets. Facebook changes its layout with annoying frequency. Smaller social networks have been know to disappear entirely, taking your content with them into the ether. With a blog, you own the content, control the platform, and decide on the format.
Leads. According to research from HubSpot, “Businesses with websites that have 401-1000 web pages get six times more leads than those with 51-100 pages. By creating more offers and blog articles, you create more opportunities to rank in search engines.” Unless your company or product line is very large, blogging is the most practical and valuable way to expand your website content.
Content that makes all other tactics more effective. Integrating a blog makes a static corporate LinkedIn profile into a dynamic company information page. A blog provides content for Facebook postings. And blogging makes Twitter use much more successful. Another HubSpot study found that “”companies that blog have 79% more Twitter followers than those that don’t…The relationship between blogging and Twitter followers is particularly strong for small businesses…small businesses that blog on average have 102% more Twitter followers than those who don’t.”
Given all of the benefits, why have so many firms still not embraced blogging? Many will cite the ongoing cost and effort required. But using figures from Mack Collier on the cost of blogging, a typical setup cost is $3,000 or less, and common ongoing cost is $3,000 or less per month for 1-2 blog posts per week. Those costs assume using an external writing resource, but the internal cost equivalents of using your own staff are likely close.
That works out to an ongoing cost of $36,000 per year for an appreciating asset (blog traffic builds over time as more content is added and authority is built). Considering the average cost to exhibit at a single trade show is around $25,000, blogging seems like a no-brainer bargain.
SEO remains the most cost-effective way to drive website traffic. B2B websites often receive anywhere from 30%-60% from organic search, with 50% or more sometimes coming from Google alone.
But SEO is changing. Directory links are worth less, social links worth more, site performance is increasing in importance, site age is decreasing…how is a digital marketer to keep up?
Discover how to use Google Analytics data, technical tweaks, website audits, keyword research, fresh content, social media activities and more for SEO success here in 20 more of the best SEO guides of 2011, a follow-up to 40 of the Best SEO Guides, Tips and Insights of 2011 (So Far) published last November.
7 Sure-Fire Signs Your SEO Sucks by HubSpot Blog
Corey Eridon presents signs that your SEO efforts may be headed down the wrong path, along with guidance for fixing each issue. Example: “2.) Content sounds like it was written by an SEO expert from 1999. There are lots of things from the 90s that are still quite magical in 2011: alternative music, Fresh Prince of Bel Air, boy band choreography. 90s SEO is not on that list.”
Using Data to Drive SEO Results by Search Engine Watch
Ray “Catfish” Comstock explains how to divide the SEO data analytics process into three main phases–performance reporting, opportunity identification (e.g., identifying new keywords, internal and external linking opportunities) and prioritization–what data to consider in each phase, and what actions to take based on this analysis.
18 things you need to know about SEO by Bing Webmaster Center Blog
Duane Forrester steps through the major search factors for Bing (though most apply more broadly), including crawlability (e.g., use a simple URL structure, avoid session variables or docIDs, include an XML sitemap and a robots.txt file), content hierarchy and on-page factors, as well as “black hat” tactics to avoid.
301 Redirects: Implementing Your SEO ‘Change of Address’ Card by MediaPost Search Insider
Explaining that “301 redirects are like a ‘change of address’ card for the search engines — they indicate that an existing page URL has moved and where the search engine can find it,” Janet Driscoll Miller shows how to create these vital page redirects on Linux and IIS servers.
10 Concepts Critical for Aligning SEO to B2B Marketing Strategy by Search Engine Watch
Derek Edmond asks 10 B2B marketers—including Dianna Huff, Stephanie Tilton, Elizabeth Sosnow (“SEOs have an opportunity to become better storytellers, instead of appearing to be simply ‘link-builders’ in the eyes of some of their clients”), and HubSpot’s Kipp Bodnar—for their thoughts on how “SEOs can better align with strategic marketing.”
Understanding Google’s new sitelinks by Pure Visibility
Eric Wortman explains what Google sitelinks are, how they work, when Google displays them, what this means for your company website, and what you can do to take advantage of this expanded real estate now available on page one of Google results.
Understanding key search engine ranking factors is vital for SEO success, and Google keeps this challenge interesting with its continual algorithm changes. Rather than focus on the current top ranking factors here though, Dan Deceuster speculates about the future and divides what he believes will become more critical ranking factors into six “v” categories: value, validity, variety, vision, volume and visitors.
The First 7 Items On Your SEO Audit To-Do List by Search Engine Watch
Frequent best-of honoree Eric Enge steps through the seven most important tasks for a one-day SEO site audit, starting with looking at Google Webmaster Tools information for the site and working through site stats, crawl issues and competitive backlink comparisons.
HOW TO: Guide to Performing Website Audits by Techipedia
Harrison Jones walks through a mix of art (content optimization, meta tags, website design) and science (canonicalization, microdata, website architecture, and use of the insidious nofollow tag) techniques for auditing and optimizing a website.
Bringing Down the House: How SEO is Like Blackjack by Content Marketing Institute
Brendan Cournoyer compares SEO to blackjack, with Google as the dealer (the “house”) and SEO practitioners as the various players at the table, some relying on skill and others trying less savory tactics to win the game—tactics that sometimes produce short-term wins but at the risk large losses in the end.
10 SEO Metrics you can’t live without by SEO Takeaways
In solid thought though slightly broken English, Himanshu Sharma details the three most important dimensions and ten most critical metrics to track within Google Analytics for SEO purposes, concluding that “These are the only 10 metrics you need to quickly and accurately track the performance of any traffic source or dimension.”
An SEO Checklist for New Sites – Whiteboard Friday by The Daily SEO Blog
Frequent best-of honoree Rand Fishkin steps through his recommended SEO checklist for optimizing new websites, beginning with accessibility and keyword targeting and progressing through considerations like content quality, design, usability and link building.
8 Durable SEO Elements by Search Engine Watch
How should SEOs cope with Google’s constantly changing algorithms, which can cause wild short-term gyrations in rankings? (Other than with alcohol?) Erez Barak believes that these eight elements remain durable through the Google chaos, including basic on-page optimization, quality inbound links, positive user experience (e.g. page load speed) and content freshness.
Ten things you didn’t know about SEO by The Globe and Mail
Noting that SEO is more difficult to control than email marketing or paid search because “Tracking, measuring and reporting results has become increasingly complicated, especially since factors affecting SEO change on a daily basis,” Krista LaRiviere of gShift Labs identifies 10 key concepts to understand for SEO success, among them keyword research, legitimate backlinks, quality content and social signals.
Are you placing too big of a bet on social media’s direct impact on SEO rankings? by ZDNet Whistleblower Blog
Stephen Chapman contends that social signals don’t play as large a role in Google rankings many people believe they do, as they should, and as they likely eventually will. Using data on several well-regarded and unknown SEO companies, he shows that keyword links, even as part of an unnatural link profile, still play an outsized role in rankings.
The 10 Google Panda ranking factors by The Web Citizen
Ilias Chelidonis presents an infographic showing the key ranking factors post-Panda, such as overall website quality and trust, brand indicators and social signals, as well as a timeline of the Panda rollout and updates.
How to Optimize PDFs and Documents for Search by Link-Assistant.com
PDFs are a challenge for SEO: they are the ideal method to present certain types of content (e.g. long reports), but offer few options for optimization. Olga Gabdulkhakova identifies five tactics that can be used to improve search rankings for PDF documents, such as including keywords in titles, making sure the text is indexed, and building links just as one would to HTML content.
Beyond SEO: Retaining the Visitor by Search Engine Land
Josh McCoy advises focusing on the user experience as much as SEO; it’s not enough just to get visitors to your site, what adds value is keeping them there and, ultimately, getting them to convert. Among his recommendations: quit using (or minimize the use of) PDFs; make sure links to external sites (e.g. your social profiles) open in a new window so you aren’t sending visitors away; and my favorite, “provide me with a main navigation that gives me a roadmap to an end goal that makes us both happy. There is nothing interesting about navigation queues like Home, Services, Careers, and About Us.”
Introducing the Controversial Theory of “Peak SEO” by Coconut Headphones
***** 5 STARS
Ted Ives compares keywords to crude oil, an analogy that makes some sense as the supply of both is fixed. Beginning with “Each keyword is like a tiny oil well, that will always give up some oil, but only with increasing effort over time. Eventually the keyword becomes too expensive to bother with, so you must move on. But what happens when there are no more keywords to move on to?” he notes that the situation is actually worse than that, as SERPS become increasingly cluttered with maps and the like, and more people try to get into the search field. Fortunately, Ted also notes several potential paths out of this conundrum.
Preparing For A New Era Of B2B SEO by Search Engine Land
***** 5 STARS
Writing that “as we move into 2012 and beyond, quality SEO is about having your marketing assets findable when customers are searching across the dimensions of the pre-, present, and future stages of the purchase cycle,” Brad Neelan outlines SEO strategy and execution for B2B marketers, including an outstanding B2B SEO Framework diagram suitable for presentations and posting on cubicle walls.