Posts Tagged ‘Web Presence Optimization’

Search Traffic Declining? You’re Not Alone (and What to Do About It)

Monday, September 9th, 2013

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.

Lost Search Trafifc

Image credit: Young Digital Lab

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.

Web Presence Optimization Model

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.

 

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How to Get Found Where Your Buyers are Looking: Web Presence Optimization

Tuesday, June 11th, 2013

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.

Web Presence Optimization ModelTo expand your online footprint within your market, think about three types of sites where you want a presence:

  • 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:

  1. Gets more brand exposure in the market, increasing brand awareness and credibility.
  2. Provides referral visits to your website.
  3. 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.

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Where Google Moved Your Digital Cheese

Tuesday, May 28th, 2013

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:

Who-Moved-My-Cheese“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.

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Lessons from HubSpot’s State of Inbound Marketing Report

Monday, April 29th, 2013

HubSpot last week released its 2013 State of Inbound Marketing report,  this year weighing in at a massive 175 pages. But as always, the report is crammed with useful facts, interesting stats, and vital tips, tools and techniques for inbound marketing success.

Given the report’s heft, no blog post (of any reasonable length) could it justice as a summary, but here are a sampling of the highlights. To get the full story, download the HubSpot report here.

HubSpot-2013-Inbound-MarketInbound marketing (a subset of though not to be confused with web presence optimization) is big, and growing.

  • • 60% of companies will execute some form of inbound marketing strategies in 2013 (and that’s likely understated; another 19% of marketers weren’t sure if certain tactics they use qualify as “inbound”).
  • • Companies spend, on average, about a third of overall marketing budgets on inbound tactics.
  • • For the third straight year, nearly half of marketers plan to increase spending on inbound marketing activities in the coming 12 months.

And it works:

  • • According to the report, “inbound delivers 54% more leads into the marketing funnel than traditional outbound leads.”
  • • 82% of marketers who blog see positive ROI for their inbound marketing.
  • • Inbound marketers double the average site conversion rate of non-inbound marketers, from 6% to 12% total.

Inbound marketing teams tend to be small—but realize the need to grow in order to scale.

  • • Even at the enterprise level, 31% of marketing teams contain five or fewer full-time employees.
  • • While marketing teams will begin 2013 with an average five or fewer people, most will at least double by the end of the year.
  • • Inbound marketers plan to hire an average of 9.3 people this year, which is 125% more growth than teams not executing inbound marketing.

The report is careful in how it defines “inbound marketing,” noting that “Inbound marketing is not a channel or a technology, it’s a strategy” (much like web presence optimization, or WPO)  and further stating that:

“While it’s easy to explain why direct mail and PPC banner ads are ‘outbound,’ it is more complicated to define more flexible online strategies as purely inbound versus outbound. At HubSpot, we see the distinguishing factor as how people are using a specific channel more than the definition of the channel itself.”

This further distinguishes WPO from inbound marketing, as tactics like media relations, SEM and banner ads are elements of the WPO framework (because they are key elements of overall online brand visibility) but would not be considered part of inbound marketing.

But the report also notes that despite its widespread and increasing adoption, “Executives and sales functions not quite buying in to inbound marketing…only 17% of sales teams and 11% of company executives lend their full support to inbound marketing efforts.” If inbound marketing truly is a “customer-centric” approach to the market as the report also contends,  one would expect these numbers to increase in coming years. To encourage this shift, marketers will need to be able to tie their efforts to strategic business objectives (like market share and brand loyalty) beyond just lead generation.

There more—much more—in the report,  covering topics ranging from ROI, metrics, and testing, to inbound marketing tools and tactics. The new HubSpot report is must-reading for anyone who needs to justify market-driven digital strategies, understand what competitors and peers are doing, and gain insights on how to generate more leads, of higher quality, at least cost than with traditional interruptive marketing methods.

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How to Tame Panda and Penguin with WPO

Wednesday, April 17th, 2013

Google’s Panda and Penguin updates have irreversibly changed the practice of SEO. Contrary to the most dire conclusions of some, these nasty-though-harmless-sounding pair of algorithmic updates named for monochromatic fauna have not “killed” SEO—but they have, rather, forced an evolution in thinking about web visibility.

At a high level, both updates are designed to clamp down on “artificially optimized” web pages (e.g., those with over-optimized content [written for search engines rather than humans], paid links, too many links from low-quality sources, too many links with the same anchor text, etc.) and reward pages with a more “natural” profile (relevant and high-quality links, fresh content, social signals, natural and well written content).

The effect of these changes is that it may be more difficult for commercial websites to rank highly for specific keyword phrases. Difficulty ranking does not mean, however, difficulty in being visible. Which is why SEO will evolve into the framework of web presence optimization (WPO).

Competitive WPO Benchmarks ChartWPO is about maximizing your brand’s visibility when people are searching for what you have to offer—no matter where they are searching. It’s broader than SEO because “being found” doesn’t necessarily mean that searchers find your website (at least not directly); they may find an article about your company, a product review, a guest post you’ve written for an industry blog, a tweet, a pin, your Facebook page, or something else; but the point is, they’ve found content that is about your brand and that (ultimately) leads back to your website.

WPO is fundamentally friendly to Google’s zoological algorithm collection, because it’s entirely “white hat.” It encompasses paid, owned and earned content, but there is no effort to deceive or to manipulate search results (which is fundamentally what the search engines are trying to penalize).

In a WPO strategy, different disciplines like public relations (PR), SEO, social media, content development, online advertising, analyst relations, and even trade show marketing are managed in a coordinated manner to maximize the total online visibility of a brand for key phrases. It uses high-level WPO metrics to guide overall strategy and continually improve results, while benchmarking activities against top competitors.

WPO Tactics for Panda and Penguin

Here are five WPO tactics that help improve online brand visibility in the Panda and Penguin era:

Blogging. An informative and consistently updated company blog serves as the core of a social media strategy, provides a natural outlet for keyword-rich fresh content, attracts links from diverse but relevant sources, and will likely rank well on its own as well as contributing “link juice” to your top-level domain. Blogging well is hard work; it requires originality, persistence and discipline. The content has to be seen as helpful, compelling and share-worthy, not just rehashed news releases or marketing brochures. But done well, a blog fosters social engagement, improves organic search results and generates leads.

Guest blogging. Writing thought-provoking or informative content for other industry blogs is one of the few ways to directly generate specific keyword links back to your own site that remains acceptable to Google. Beyond the SEO benefit, gust posting also increases brand recognition, helps you reach a new audience, and enhances your brand image and credibility in the market.

Industry marketing. Being active in your industry raises your brand’s online (and often offline) visibility as well as well as creating valuable backlinks for SEO, and includes activities ranging from analyst relations to association memberships to sponsoring and exhibiting at trade shows.

Public Relations. PR isn’t just “press releases” (and anyway, you should actually be writing optimized news releases, worthy of the attention of prospective buyers as well as journalists); it also includes citations and quotes in industry news stories, bylined articles, formal product reviews, customer stories, and speaking opportunities. Such content can and should also be shared socially, reprinted (where allowed and with permission), and repurposed in other formats such as white papers, blog posts, and online presentations.

Backlink categorization. Understanding your website’s backlink profile helps guide your overall WPO strategy and allocation of dollars and efforts. Are you maintaining momentum in press coverage? Gaining traction in social media engagement? Lagging in industry marketing efforts? Even more important, understanding the backlink profiles of competitors enables you to benchmark your performance and look for new opportunities–or just validate your current strategic direction. Success in the Panda/Penguin world isn’t about raw quantity of backlinks, but about diversity (links from a variety of top-level domains, not just lots of links from a single domain), quality,  and relevance.

General SEO Tips for Panda and Penguin

Here are three more SEO best practices for maintaining and improving rankings as search engine algorithms continue to evolve.

Avoid duplicate content. Having the same content on two or more pages of your website causes those pages to “compete” with each other in search, with the result that both (or all) pages lose. If you must have duplicate content on your site for structural or navigation reasons, use the rel=canonical tag to tell the search engines which page is the “original” or most useful to searchers.

Be careful with anchor text links. In the old days (e.g. prior to 2012), exact match anchor text ruled, and the more exact match anchor links you had pointing at a page the better. For example, if you wanted to rank for on-page SEO tips, you worked at getting as many links s possible which used that exact phrase. But now, if Google sees too many exact-match keyword links pointed as a page, it may actually penalize the page with lower ranking—for having an “unnatural” link profile. Google won’t specify what qualifies as “too many” of such links, but the point is to diversify anchor text in order to reduce the appearance of artificiality.

Set up Google+ authorship. You can set up Google+ authorship on single and multi-author blogs, and establish authority and validity with Google. Benefits include more visual results that stand out in search, and (potentially at least) higher search rankings.

Pandas and penguins aren’t generally viewed as terrifying creatures in the natural world, and they don’t have to be frightening online either. With a few SEO best practices and implementation of a WPO strategy, you can tame these Google beasts and maximize online visibility for your brand.

 

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