Online marketing has changed significantly over the course of just the last few years.
The industry is moving in a clear direction: user experience matters more than anything.
But what constitutes a great user experience?
If you’d asked any online marketing professional this question 5 years ago, their answer would be markedly different from that of today. This eBook is designed to give you an overview of current best practices by retracing the steps the industry has taken over the last several years, while looking ahead to predict the future trends of the industry.
You’ll notice that this guide focuses heavily on SEO (search engine optimization) and essentially ignores paid advertising. Online marketing is certainly more than one SEO service, and certainly includes paid advertising, but I chose to focus on SEO because every element of online marketing (aside from paid advertising) affects SEO. Paid advertising, meanwhile, is more of a science than an art; there’s a definite relationship between advertising dollars spent and ROI. There is skill, strategy, and nuance required to manage an effective PPC (pay-per-click) campaign, but those details are well-defined and easily available for any business owner who chooses to learn them. Furthermore, paid advertising has nothing to do with user experience; it’s just a transaction between you and the ad inventory vendor.
Organic (non-paid) advertising, on the other hand, requires strategy that isn’t well-defined. It requires a deep knowledge of your target market, educated guessing, and a fair amount of luck. Most importantly, it’s entirely reliant on user experience. But, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible for smaller website to compete with massive online brands in SEO. That’s why I wrote this eBook; business owners deserve an easy-to-read, simplified breakdown of organic online marketing with clear tactics they can implement on their own.
Without further ado, venture forth and start learning how to market your business online.
SEO, or search engine optimization, is important to every business. It doesn’t matter if you run a small, local mom-n-pop business or a large corporation. But what exactly is it? SEO is simply the process of setting up and optimizing your site so that it’s easily found (and favored) by search engines like Google, Yahoo and Bing.
Most people, today, aren’t going to pick up a phone book when they need something. Instead, they’ll go online to search for it. If your business isn’t showing up in search results, you’re almost certainly losing valuable business to your competitors that do. Furthermore, users that find your website via organic search tend to be highly targeted, making them more likely to convert to customers.
Most businesses realize they should have a website, but simply having a website is only the first step, and doesn’t guarantee that you’ll receive any significant traffic. Building an effective website that will provide a strong, consistent flow of leads or sales requires marketing.
For the purpose of online marketing, the phrase “if you build it, they will come” does not apply. Building a website without marketing it is akin to building a brick-and-mortar store in the middle of the Sahara desert. There are no roads that lead to it, no traffic driving by and seeing it. Even people who need your products or services can’t buy from you because they’ll never know about you.
That’s where SEO improvements come in. SEO is like transplanting your brick-and-mortar store from the Sahara desert to a busy street in downtown New York. SEO makes your website visible to potential customers so that you can make sales.
Take a moment to think about what someone might search for when looking for your business. If you’re a dentist that specializes in sedation dentistry, possibilities could include:
Now, search Google for those terms. Does your business show up? If not, an SEO campaign, including multiple SEO hacks, is how you get there. Think about it… if you have a website and it’s not showing up in search results, it’s just the same as having customers drive right by your business while looking for what you offer, and not even know you’re there.
Just as building a beautiful storefront isn’t the only factor that will result in sales, online marketing isn’t as simple as building a beautiful website. Sure, having a well-designed site is important for SEO; If visitors to your website don’t feel comfortable (perhaps, for instance, because there are too many ads), get frustrated trying to find what they need (due to a poor navigation structure) or any number of other factors that drive visitors away, then you probably won’t make the sale.
But design is only the beginning. There are hundreds of factors that can affect your search rank, generally categorized as “on-site” factors (like design, UX, and content), and “off-site” factors (like external links, brand mentions, and social signals).
In order for your website to be effective from an SEO perspective, both on-site and off-site SEO factors have to be included in your strategy. Ready to learn more? Read on.
SEO is divided into two main categories: On-site and off-site. On-site SEO consists of the elements (such as text and meta data) that exist on your website, and in your website’s HTML code, over which you have control. Here are the three main things that this consists of:
The structure of your website is very important, not just from an SEO perspective, but also a user experience perspective. When building your website, ensure that your web designer is knowledgeable in SEO best practices or works in conjunction with an SEO professional. Structure includes:
The code, the backbone of your website, needs to be clean and efficient. Messy code will bring your website’s rankings down and result in slower load times for your visitors. Usually, your website visitors won’t see the code, but it’s the only thing search engine crawlers will see. So, don’t cut corners with messy code. Ensure the code is up to date, and includes proper meta tags, headers, and descriptions.
Using a template website, such as through the WordPress CMS, can almost guarantee that your code will be clean and efficient. However, you’ll still need to make occasional tweaks and conduct periodic audits to ensure your site is running smoothly. Such tasks may include deleting old content, updating your plugins, and optimizing images.
This is what your customers will see; the front-end text copy, images, and videos that are on your website. The content of your website is the most important part of proper SEO, because search engines are constantly tweaking their algorithms to ensure they’re delivering search results with the most helpful and accurate content.
Your content should be fresh and engaging. Don’t make the mistake of writing purely “for the search engines” by stuffing unnatural keywords into the content and other old tricks that no longer work.
Content should target topics you want to rank for, but it needs to be natural and fresh. Furthermore, it needs to be original, detailed, and useful. Algorithms are so advanced now that they’re able to analyze a user’s intention with a search query and produce the results that will most closely meet his/her needs. If your content is hastily written, poorly structured, or lacking in detail, you won’t be considered helpful, and you won’t be visible in search results.
Of course, content has a variety of other uses, but we’ll be digging deeper into this in Chapter 3.
Once your website is structured and coded correctly and contains excellent content, it’s time to develop and execute a solid off-site SEO strategy. Offsite SEO consists of factors that affect your search engine rankings which are not on your website itself. Here’s a quick look at the main factors of off-site SEO.
Links from other sites on the Internet come in many different shapes and sizes. A link is simply a clickable word, phrase, image, or button that directs you to another URL. Think of each link as a vote for your website’s credibility, vouching for your website’s worthiness to rank highly in search results.
But not all links are created equal. Just as you’d trust your best friend’s opinion about something more than you’d trust a random stranger’s, links from well-known and highly trusted, authoritative websites count for much more than links from unknown or untrusted websites. Google is also getting better at detecting “natural” links from those built purely to increase search rankings—so much so that the entire process of link building has changed. Quantity matters little; instead, it’s the quality of links that matter, and attaining those high-quality links is a time-consuming process. I’ll dig deeper into this idea in Chapter 4.
Besides giving you ‘votes’ to help your site rank better, good inbound links will also drive free, high-quality referral traffic to your website. A link to your website that’s created today, if on a relevant site with the right audience, will still be delivering you targeted customers well into the future without any work or effort on your part. It doesn’t get any better than that!
Brand mentions are simply mentions of your brand – linked or unlinked – that appear in published articles or other content across the web. The sophistication of Google’s algorithm has advanced such that even un-linked mentions of a brand name are now counted, much like links, as a ranking factor in the algorithm. This evolution of the algorithm has shown that Google is moving toward identifying and rewarding “brand signals” in the rankings. Strong, recognizable brands will, as a result, have an easier time ranking in organic search results. This means that an SEO campaign isn’t just about traditional SEO tactics – it’s truly about building your brand.
Engagements on social media have increased in importance as signals of authority, and with every year, they seem to increase further. Google and other search engines take into account (pretty highly) your social media influence. Not only does your activity in social media improve your search engine rankings, but social media itself can be an excellent way to build your brand, reach new audiences, and drive potential customers.
Google and Bing both look for what we call social media signals, which are user-initiated actions like Twitter retweets, Facebook likes and shares, social bookmarks, and much more. Each signal is an indication to search engines that your content is high-quality and deserves to appear highly in search results.
Let’s take an example. If you publish an exceptionally well-designed infographic highlighting some interesting data, you want people to know about it, and you want search engines to think that they should rank it highly in search results. If you tweet a link to it from your company Twitter account, and 100 of your followers retweet it, then 100 of each of their followers retweet the link, you have a wave of retweets that search engines notice. All those retweets are signals (social signals) that your infographic must be exceptionally awesome, or else all these people wouldn’t be tweeting about it. It’s “social proof” that your infographic is helpful and useful, and search engines only want to display really great pages in their search results. This social proof is a reassurance to the search engines that your infographic will deliver a positive user experience.
Reviews of your business will affect your search engine rankings, particularly reviews on Yelp and other third-party local directories. Good reviews will affect your rankings positively, and bad reviews will affect them negatively. It’s important to note that reviews only affect your rankings in local search results. We’ll get more into this in Chapter 6, but suffice it to say that if you want to rank well in local search results, you should do your best to ask your clients for positive reviews on off-site authorities.
With the introduction out of the way, let’s take a deeper look at some of the strategies that can increase your search rankings (and simultaneously bring advantages to your general online presence).
As I mentioned in the preceding chapter, structural on-site SEO is one of the most important on-site factors for attaining a high domain authority, and therefore a higher search rank. Understanding the core elements of a solid on-site program is essential to building the foundation of your SEO campaign.
On-site SEO isn’t just about the cleanliness of your code (which should be addressed during the development process). There are also user experience factors, and because Google wants its users to have the best possible online experience, these factors play a major role in determining your rankings.
Site speed isn’t going to make or break your search visibility, but it is an important factor worth optimizing. The speed at which your page loads plays a significant role in whether or not a user feels satisfied with his/her chosen search result, so Google takes it seriously. Because the majority of searches are now performed on mobile devices, site speed is even more important; mobile devices tend to be slower than their desktop counterparts, so every second counts. Take the time to regularly clean up your site and run speed tests to make sure nothing is interfering with your load times. Install a good caching plugin, make sure your hosting is in order, delete any old unused drafts or images, and compress the images you do have to take up as little space as possible.
The security of your site is also important. When people think of site security, they usually think of e-commerce platforms, which regularly collect credit card and payment information from their users, but this isn’t the only type of site that needs some level of security. In fact, Google currently gives a small ranking boost to sites with SSL encryption, denoted by that “S” in “https” URLs. If you want to get the most visibility for your site, it’s an easy, one-time change that can help you ensure the greatest possible domain authority.
The navigation of your site also matters. Every page in your site should be easily accessible through an intelligently structured system of menus and submenus. In your main nav, you should have four to six different main categories, including a contact page so people can get ahold of you, each broken down into submenus or subpages as appropriate. These should all be logically organized in a way that any unfamiliar user should immediately know where to go for his/her needs. Google analyzes the organization of your site and tracks user activity to determine how easy your site is to use. The easier it is to navigate your site, the better, so run user experience tests to improve your structure and provide the best layout for your visitors.
In Google’s eyes, the fewer number of clicks it takes for a user to get to any page on your site, the better. If there’s any page that requires more than three clicks to navigate to it, it could be a strike against your user experience, or simply a designation that the page isn’t important to you, and thus doesn’t deserve exposure in Google search results. This is because users need freedom and intuitive navigation to have a good experience, and Google is committed to providing those. The best way to ensure your site is tightly interlinked is to use internal links in your own articles and pages. Whenever you post a new article or create a new page, consider it an opportunity to fortify your existing interlinking strategy.
Mobile optimization can be considered a part of your user experience, though at this point, it’s a bare-minimum quality your site needs to have if you want any chance of ranking significantly in mobile searches. Because mobile searches are so popular, Google has now made it mandatory for sites to be mobile-friendly—any site that isn’t has already been hit by the nicknamed “Mobilegeddon” update which occurred on April 21, 2015. Hopefully by now, every page on your site is optimized for mobile—if not, now is the time to take action. Whether you use a responsive design or a separate mobile domain is up to you, but your site must be compatible with mobile devices. I’ll touch on this more in the next section.
And while you’re at it, make sure your site is optimized for all web browsers, as well.
Finally, remember that bounce rates are taken into consideration for your search visibility as well. If a user comes to your site through Google and leaves right away (such as by clicking the “back” button), Google knows about it and takes it as a subjective sign that your site didn’t offer the user what they were looking for, or a good user experience. It’s a way for the search giant to measure the factors of your site that Googlebot can’t see—for example, is your site entertaining? Is your site well-designed? Do you let your users know who you are and what you do immediately in a pleasing or intriguing way? These qualities can’t be objectively measured, but they can be optimized to ensure the greatest possible user experience, and they can play a role in determining your rank.
User experience should be your top priority, and not just for SEO. Yes, implementing new designs, features, and structures that give your users a great experience will help your site rank higher—but more importantly, it will make sure the users that do come to your site have the highest likelihood of converting or otherwise engaging with your brand. Ultimately, you want to build long-lasting relationships with your potential customers, and providing a great online experience will do just that.
First, you need to make sure that the pages of your site can be seen by search engine crawlers and accessed by individual users. Otherwise, you won’t rank highly, and you won’t be getting any organic search traffic.
Next, look at the smaller factors that influence whether Google sees your site as authoritative or not authoritative.
Finally, you’ll want to ensure that your current onsite content is executed properly. We’ll dig deeper into the content side of things in Chapter 3.
This checklist should get you going in the right direction when you’re initiating or rebooting an SEO campaign for your business. Just remember that while the onsite audit is a one-time process, SEO requires months of ongoing commitment to be successful. Cleaning up these on-site errors won’t immediately send you to a higher position in search engines, but it will make it easier for you to do so once you implement a long-term strategy of recurring content, off-site links, and social media activity; which we’ll now start to explore.
A quality content marketing strategy is at the heart of SEO; it results in inbound links, social signals, and brand trust, and provides fuel to search engines in the form of organized, informative material. But how do you know where to start? How do you create and publish content that will result in positive ROI?
To start, you need to have a good understanding of who your target market is, what they like, and what they tend to share. This will give you the insight you need to create the most effective and engaging content.
Begin by taking some time to look at what’s working for your competitors. Take note of what your customers and target audience tend to share the most. What gets the most tweets, likes, and shares within your industry? Is it breaking news? How-to guides? Industry expertise? Simple little tips?
Now that your website is set up and you’re publishing amazing content, it’s time to start using it to generate more business; this is called content marketing. Content marketing accomplishes several things:
Every link pointing to your website does more than just improve your search engine rankings; they can also become a free, long-term, passive source of highly targeted referral traffic– the best kind.
Before you can get started with content marketing, you need a plan, and before you can create a plan you need to understand your audience. Here are a few things to ask yourself when beginning your content marketing strategy:
How dedicated are you going to be to content marketing? Some companies prefer to do a few in-depth, industry-leading white papers each year and focus all their efforts on them. Other companies will choose an ongoing flow of consistent content marketing in the form of videos, blog posts, infographics and more. The more the merrier, so long as the quality of the content doesn’t suffer.
If you’re going to focus on white papers, articles, blog posts and other types of content that are text-based, you’ll need a strong writer on your team with subject matter expertise.
If you’d like to focus your effort on videos, do you have professional recording equipment or someone who can create professional animations?
If not, please realize that sub-par content will do you no good. In fact, it will reflect poorly on your company, potentially harming your brand and conversion rates.
Creativity: Create content that’s unique and memorable, and you’ll receive more recognition. Be creative and leave room for flexibility. You never know when something might come up in the news you could put a spin on or a new trend might emerge. One of my favorite ways to be creative is to tie in popular holiday themes with content when those holidays are near.
Consistency: If you want your content marketing strategy to yield maximum benefit, it’s important to be consistent. Whether you maintain 4 blog posts per month or 4 blog posts per week, stay consistent so customers and followers learn what they can expect.
Capturing: I’m not sure why this term has been coined, as I would have called it ‘optimization’. ‘Capturing’ simply refers to measuring and understanding information with regard to how well your content is performing. Measuring allows you to track which efforts tend to drive the most traffic, and attract the most interest, leads, and sales. As you start to narrow down the best-performing content types, then you’ll know where to focus for future content to achieve the best ROI.
In some ways, content always stays the same; users will seek information and entertainment from authoritative sources, and the most successful sources will be rewarded with more visibility (and probably more revenue). This hallmark will ensure that content marketing continues to be a worthwhile and sought-after strategy for businesses well into the next decade.
But the applications and vehicles through which this content is developed, syndicated, and consumed are always changing, and as a result, users today have different demands than the users of, say, 2012. In the span of a year, the emergence of new technologies and obsolescence of old ones can completely change the average user’s expectations for a given institution.
In order to maintain relevance in the content world, brands will have to anticipate these changes in user expectations. While it’s impossible to predict any technological or cultural shifts with complete accuracy, I do believe there are at least a handful of changes that will inevitably take hold in the coming years.
This might go without saying since it applies to all products and services in all industries, but consumers are always after things that are bigger, better, and faster. Content is no exception. In the coming years, user appetites for content will be more discerning, and users will demand information that is provided to them in more concise, accessible, high-quality ways. That means general listicle-style articles and clickbait articles will start to disappear entirely.
Publishers aren’t the only ones supporting this shift toward better content. Social media platforms and search engines, too, are getting better at identifying low-quality content, and are doing a better job at filtering that content out. Soon, in order to survive in the already saturated world of content marketing, you’ll need to constantly write and syndicate some of the best material on the web.
Following this demand, users will require more instant updates when it comes to news and current events. Gone are the days where you’d first hear about a news event several hours after it first occurred. Thanks to social media, users can instantly inform other users of what’s happening, rendering any “official” report as delayed information. This demand will only increase as social platforms introduce more ways to connect users instantaneously to unfolding events—for example, take Twitter’s Project Lightning (Moments), which gathers information from millions of users to create a cloud-like newsfeed that captures a news event as it develops from user images, videos, and tweets.
In 2016, if you want to report on new or emerging information, you’ll have to do so instantaneously. Use short snippets of social updates, live feeds like Periscope, or similar tech developments to connect your users instantly to real-time events.
Every time our technology gets a little better, users get a little lazier. Individual apps are favored over browser-based apps because they require only one click to access instead of three or four. But there’s often still a problem when users attempt to access content that’s hosted outside of the app—they’re forced to leave, and possibly enter a separate app. In a few years, users will have lost all tolerance for this, and social media apps will have paved the way for a much more integrated experience. Users will be able to read content exclusively within their social apps of choice, and may even be able to search the web and perform other functions without ever leaving.
Take, for example, Facebook’s Instant Articles, which allows publishers to release work on Facebook (rather than their external sites), and Facebook’s in-app search engine. This is only the beginning, so expect more changes in the coming years.
We live in a highly customizable world already, but the next year is going to amp it up to the next level. Social media apps and publishers alike are going to great lengths to ensure that users have full control over the types of content they see every day, from granting them advanced newsfeed filters to developing algorithms that can learn from repeated user behaviors. In the years to come, users will become so accustomed to this individualized treatment, they’ll seldom venture outside their designated domes of personal experience, and content marketers will have to cater to them directly by learning user behavior patterns.
Last but not least, the mediums people use to consume content are changing. By 2011, people were so used to images being associated with content that image-less content received almost no clicks by comparison. Today, users are accustomed to seeing embedded short videos, live video feeds, and multiple forms of the same content piece (i.e., article, infographic, video, etc.). In the next few years, the average user will demand more diverse and more flexible media experiences from every angle, requiring multiple formats before clicking or even excluding some mediums entirely.
Plan for these user experience changes to become the new norm by the middle of next year, and of course, always keep your eyes and ears open for emerging technologies and other disruptors that could change the course of content development. The further ahead you plan, and the more flexibly you adapt to changing circumstances, the better you’ll fare—at least compared to your competitors, and that’s what really counts, right?
Email marketing complements a content marketing campaign by allowing you to develop a relationship with your prospects right in their inbox. Email list subscribers are much more likely to convert, review your company, and recommend you via word of mouth to their friends, so it’s extremely valuable to build and nurture your email list.
If you haven’t yet started building an email list (but know you need to), this article is for you. You may have heard that a strong email list is one of the most valuable assets you can have, but when you’re starting from scratch, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. This is partly because many business owners have a hard time envisioning the long-term payoff for the hard work they need to do now.
If you’re serious about growing your business, building a healthy email list should be one of your top priorities. When it comes down to it, your list is one of the only online assets that you have 100% control over. Having a solid social media presence is absolutely essential, but you’ll always be at the mercy of new and changing algorithms. And achieving high search engine rankings is great too, but again, you’re at the mercy of changing algorithms and updates.
Your email list, on the other hand, is yours, free and clear. Using your website and social media to attract visitors and followers, and then encouraging them to sign up for your email list gives you the opportunity to contact your prospects at any point in the future, with any kind of messaging you want; and you’re not bound by search engine rankings or social media algorithms.
Since we’re starting at the beginning, I’m going to assume you haven’t yet chosen an email service provider (ESP). An ESP will provide you with all the tools, templates and services you need to get subscribers, test your campaigns, and manage the day-to-day requirements of your list.
Different email services will use different pricing models, so be sure to choose the one that best suits your list size and expectations for growth. Some ESP’s will charge a flat monthly fee based on list size, while others will charge per number of emails sent.
Before people hand over their email address, you’re going to have to offer them something enticing in exchange. This could be a free eBook, access to a Webinar, or the promise of discounts or deals exclusively for your subscribers. You could even repurpose some of your existing blog content and turn it into a guide or resource list. Whatever you decide to offer, just make sure it’s something people will recognize as holding true value!
Every ESP will give you the tools to create an opt-in form for your site. Generally speaking, the less information you ask for (at this initial stage, at least), the better. The more information you ask for, the less likely your prospect is to complete the process. You’ll obviously need to ask for an email address, and I also highly recommended that you ask for a first name so you can personalize your emails. However, asking for any information beyond these two fields can decrease conversion rates significantly without adding much valuable data.
Placing your form on your site is usually as easy as copying and pasting a snippet of code provided by your email marketing service. Most website owners put their form in their right sidebar, which has been shown as one of the highest-converting locations. However, this certainly isn’t the only option.
According to Derek Halpern of Social Triggers, there are 7 high-converting places you should consider putting it:
Each placement will perform differently depending on your site, niche and audience, so be sure to test out various locations as you go along.
You’ll also want to make sure you’re giving your new subscribers easy access to that compelling offer you created in #2 above. Typically, this is done by including a download link on the page that subscribers are directed to after confirming their email.
I’ve spent the last two chapters talking about on-site SEO factors and things that are under your direct control (such as your content marketing strategy). Now it’s time to dig deeper into the off-site side of things. I’m calling this “ authority building” instead of “ link building” because links aren’t the only way to build authority these days. In fact, some people have referred to link building as a “dead” strategy, but this is more of a result of terminological semantics than any real shift in the SEO paradigm.
In a recent Google live hangout, Google’s webmaster trends analyst, John Mueller, answered a common question: “Is link building in any way good?”
His answer was somewhat surprising.
Mueller elaborated on his answer, saying that Google does take links into consideration as part of its ranking algorithm, but that building links directly isn’t the right way to go about it. He stated that your goal should be to make sure your content “stands on its own” and easy for your users to share on their own blogs and websites.
He also downplayed the importance of links, insisting that the ranking algorithm takes many factors into consideration, and building links might ultimately do more harm than good for your site.
The short version of Mueller’s response is only somewhat surprising. Google, as a whole, has long viewed link building as a form of soft link manipulation.
Google’s job is to find the most relevant pages on the web for a user query and rank them based on quality and authority. Any inorganically gained signals of quality/authority (including links) could interfere with the accuracy of those rankings. For Mueller to dismiss link building is in line with that position.
Google has addressed this via Google Penguin, an update to its ranking algorithm which discounts what it considers to be spammy or low-quality links. Acquiring too many “spammy” or “manipulative” links, or too many of the same kind of link, or links on irrelevant or low-quality sources, can all potentially lead to an algorithmic or manual penalty — so it’s no wonder why Mueller says that link building can do more harm than good!
However, the fact that link building can be dangerous doesn’t mean it always is. If you approach link building carefully–preferably with a link building agency expert–with an understanding of the factors that will lead you to success instead of penalty, you should be able to avoid any resulting unpleasantness.
This is the mindset of pragmatic SEO professionals. We know that links are one of the most significant factors in the ranking algorithm, so making no effort to acquire them isn’t a good strategy — especially when it’s a safe bet that your competitors are building links.
What John Mueller describes as the right (natural) way to build links actually is the right way. It’s the best, most efficient method you have of building links, but it takes some extra time and money to get the job done.
Google considers links valuable in its ranking algorithm because they’re an indication of trust, credibility, and authority. When another website links to yours, it means they found something valuable on your site, and that makes you more valuable by proxy.
Building links on your own mimics this status, but doesn’t convey any actual credibility because you’re the one building them — and Google doesn’t want you to be able to vote for yourself. Instead, work on developing high-quality content that is valuable and likely to be shared.
Very detailed blog posts, infographics, and videos are among some of the most shared types of content. Take your time, and don’t be afraid to use extra money or resources to get the job done — the higher your content quality is, the more links it’ll naturally attract or earn.
Syndicate your content through social media, and hopefully, the rest will take care of itself — the highest quality content can earn thousands of new links on its own, and none of those links will be at risk of earning a penalty. Executing and syndicating this type of content on a consistent basis can be tough since you need to produce original, entertaining, informative material every time, but it’s worth it if higher authority is your ultimate goal.
There’s another, arguably more powerful way to build links without being entirely passive about outreach efforts, though: guest blogging.
Guest blogging is the process of establishing relationships with other blog owners, editors, and journalists in order to earn the right to contribute to their publications. Anything you contribute will have editorial approval because it generally must be approved by the owner of the publication.
Link building is a highly important online marketing strategy because search engines place very high value on external links. However, you might want to consider modernizing your strategy to also include internal links.
Hedging your bets with a bit of traditional link building (such as through guest blogging, broken link building, and competitor link acquisition) and a focus on earning links through quality content published on your own website (essentially attracting inbound links like a magnet through the merits of its quality) can get you the best of both worlds — you’ll get the value and low risk of content-based links, along with the stability and predictability of lower-cost traditional links.
With that blend, you can stay comfortably within budget while incrementally and reliably building your authority and trust in search engines.
Press releases yield many benefits for businesses:
Some marketers try to abuse press release distribution as a link building tactic, and as a result, many online publishers have gotten pickier about what types of topics they accept.
Matt Cutts, Google’s former head of the webspam team, once commented in a forum discussion that people shouldn’t expect links from press releases to help with rankings. Shortly thereafter, several case studies were released by independent bloggers that suggested Cutts was wrong. In the end, it just doesn’t really matter whether he’s right or not; press releases yield benefits in many ways other than just inbound links.
A well-written press release that announces something interesting and news-worthy can do wonders. If interesting enough, it could even get picked up by mainstream media and news publishers. The brand mentions, inbound links, and social buzz this would generate could be valuable for your business.
“Links” used to mean explicitly posted URLs that lead back to a page on your website. They could be posted in full, like https://www.google.com/, or be embedded as hyperlink anchor text, like Google. Either way, a link was a link, and the more links you had, the better. As you can imagine, this led to a lot of people spamming links to their own pages with reckless abandon, polluting the web with self-serving fluff and compromising the entire authority system used by Google’s algorithm.
Now, Google is differentiating between what it identifies as “express links,” or conventional links, and “implied links.” Implied links are references or mentions of a brand and/or website without an explicit link. These references could be in the body of a blog post, citing out another brand’s expertise on a specific subject, in a comment referring to another brand’s coverage of a topic, or in some other form so long as the site’s name is specifically mentioned.
Implied links, also called “brand mentions” or simply “mentions,” are becoming relevant to brand authority in new ways, calling the entire link building system into question and demonstrating another major technological breakthrough in the sophistication of Google’s measurement of authority.
Adding to this complexity in calculating authority, Google appears to also be placing a higher emphasis on what it identifies as “reference queries.” Reference queries are historical instances of individuals using a specific query and ending up in a specific location—giving Google some indication of whether a given site offers what a user is searching for. Reference queries help build an understanding of a site’s popularity (or authority) compared to similar results for a given query. In other words, the better your site is at giving people what they’re looking for, the better you’ll rank for relevant searches.
It’s clear that brand mentions are becoming very important to a site’s authority, but it appears as though traditional links are not obsolete. Both express links and implied links are now used to calculate authority, so it’s important to include both in your link building strategy. Even though, as of now, there is no precise ratio of links to mentions that has been demonstrated to be ideal for building your authority, here are a few thoughts to consider as you split your link building strategy between express links and implied links:
While it would be easy to purchase brand mentions the same way many companies purchase external links now, the better long-term strategy looks to be producing high-quality blog writing that can facilitate both links and mentions on its own. But a solid content strategy has far more long-term potential and immediate value than any gimmick that relies on taking advantage of a perceived hole in the system.
Now that you have a good understanding of the basics of SEO, website structure and design, let’s discuss one of the newer institutions of the online marketing world: Social media.
Modern entrepreneurs are scrambling to get involved with social media marketing—it’s a buzzworthy topic that’s captivated the business world since the explosive popularity of Facebook and Twitter first caught international attention. But before you can take advantage of the huge benefits of social media marketing, you have to understand the basics. Social media marketing, at its core, is the process of building your brand equity and awareness via social media channels, including (but not limited to):
Social media marketing isn’t a magical remedy for your marketing woes, nor is it an overblown sensation. It is a real, measurable solution that, if executed properly, will:
Let’s explore each goal in detail.
The goal should be for your readers, fans and customers to be able to easily share your content, and interact with you in social media channels. To achieve this, include social “follow us” icons to allow your visitors to easily connect with your brand. Ideally, these icons should be displayed on every page of your website, and they are commonly found in the upper right sidebar or header.
Additionally, include “share” buttons on your blog posts to allow readers to easily and instantly share your content with others.
No company is 100% safe from being attacked in social media channels, so prepare for it before it happens. Whether it’s a customer complaint or someone making false claims about your company, there should be a plan for how to handle it. Who will be the voice for your company? Make sure they understand how to handle such situations professionally. Poor, unprofessional responses in social media can lead to huge damage to your brand image.
Before interacting in social media, do your homework. What do I mean by that? Find some authority figures in your industry on the social sites you’re going to use. Who are the influencers in your industry? Who has the most reach? Who are the thought leaders?
Here are a few free tools to help you figure out the answers to these questions:
FollowerWonk – Allows you to analyze your own Twitter account and find detailed information on potential influencers
TweetReach – Enter a Twitter name, URL or hashtag and get information about their reach on Twitter
SocialMention – Get regular updates when a person, company or topic is mentioned
Ok, so why are you gathering this information? Using tools like the ones above can help you get off the ground with your strategy. By monitoring what they do, when they do it, and what gets the most response or attention, you’ll be able to model some of your social media action plan after their example. Obviously what they’re doing is working!
If your business services a local area with a physical (brick and mortar) address, then you’ll need to understand local SEO and how it’s unique from national SEO.
Local SEO is different from national SEO; search engines even display search results differently based on whether they consider the query to be local or not. Most of the time, Google will auto-detect your location (even if you don’t have one set by default) and will automatically display local results relevant to your query.
How Google displays these “local” results changes often—in fact, they’ve been tinkering around with these displays several times a year for the past few years. Currently, most results are accompanied by an interactive map with three to five entries for the most relevant suppliers or businesses, with clickable “website” and “directions” buttons, and a “call” button if you’re searching using a mobile phone.
Local search results are automatically triggered when a geographic region is included in the search query, but local keywords don’t have to be a part of the query to generate local results.
Local SEO has a number of advantages, especially for small businesses, because it holds lower levels of competition, faster paths to the top of the results, and of course, more locally relevant traffic. This rule may not be true across all sectors as some local SEO is brutal. Take law firm SEO, for instance. Competition is fierce and some guerrilla tactics may be required to make headway.
In addition to traditional on-site and off-site SEO tactics, local SEO requires a few additional points of attention. Thanks to Google’s Pigeon algorithm update, the algorithm now uses third party directories as a major source of information (and authority) for local businesses. Basically, the more consistently you’re listed and mentioned in local directories, and the greater number of positive reviews your company earns, the higher you’ll rank in local results.
The right SEO tools (like a good backlink checker or automated SEO site audit tool) can be helpful to get a very basic idea of your website’s optimization level, along with a quick overview of any easy-to-fix problems. For instance, they’ll usually give you a warning or caution (or suggestion) if you aren’t using h1, h2 and h3 tags. But there’s much more to a professional SEO audit than what these tools will normally tell you. Ask us at SEO.co.com if your website needs a full, professional audit.
I hope you’ve found this information helpful, and given you the tools and knowledge necessary to optimize your website, design a strategic online marketing campaign, and grow your business’ visibility online. If you need help or would like to discuss how our SEO company can help you in your business. If you’re in digital marketing and looking start your own SEO agency, our white label SEO services can help, contact us today!