+ Introduction to Online Marketing & SEO
+ Structural On-site SEO
+ Content Marketing for Online Marketing
+ Off-site Authority Building
+ Social Media Marketing
+ Local SEO for Enhanced Online Marketing
+ Google Updates
+ Your Online Marketing “Getting Started” Checklist
If you’re reading this, you’re probably looking for ideas, tactics, and strategies for marketing your business online. While 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 SEO, 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. 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.
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 comes 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 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.
Content 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.
Now that you’re all set up to starting collecting emails, the fun part begins (when I say ‘fun’, I actually mean ‘hard’). If your site receives a good amount of traffic and you have a truly compelling offer, this shouldn’t be too difficult. However, if you’re like most business owners, you’ll need to look outside your own audience to start building your list.
That’s the topic of the next section.
Email marketing has undergone many shifts in the past two decades. It exploded onto the scene when email started becoming a more popular medium, and businesses everywhere scrambled to send, seemingly, as many emails as possible to their audience. Then, spam filters and legal email regulations started throttling back the “quantity over quality” mentality, and email marketers were forced to use more creative, appealing tactics in their campaigns.
The arrival of social media marketing and mobile smart devices changed the landscape of email marketing once again. People started using social platforms like Facebook and Twitter to do the majority of their communicating, leaving email as a backup or as a reserve for only business communications. They also started relying on their mobile devices more and more, working on the go with a small screen size instead of using the more convenient desktop setup. Many marketers projected this to be the end of email marketing altogether; since people were using email less often and email marketing tactics were beginning to wear thin on an uninterested audience, it seemed reasonable to think that the medium was a dry well.
However, the numbers are indicating that email marketing is alive and well, and companies are seeing substantial returns on their investment in the marketing medium. Almost any business in any industry can reap the benefits of a strong email marketing campaign. Consider the following reasons you should engage in email marketing as part of your online marketing campaign:
Remember that email marketing is about more than just sending as many emails as you can. You need to find an audience and get to know that audience first. Only then will you be able to anticipate your audience’s needs and create emails that actually have value to them. Modern email marketing isn’t about making a sales pitch or attracting as many clicks as possible; it’s about providing value to your users, and you’ll have to work hard to hold up your end of the bargain.
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.
“In general, I’d try to avoid that,” he said, indicating that link building, long believed to be an essential process in SEO, is no longer advisable.
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.
Let’s get into some more detail here about guest blogging. It’s a somewhat straightforward process, but you need to know what you’re getting into before you begin:
Step 1. First, you need to find blogs and publishers that have an audience and following that would be interested in your product/service. For example, let’s say your business sells lawn mowers. Sure, online publications related to lawn mowers would be great. But you have to think vertically, horizontally and every other way but straight forward.
A homeowners’ blog might be a good fit; wouldn’t homeowners be interested in purchasing a lawn mower? Your guest blog post could be “6 Reasons Your Lawn Looks Like Crap” – gasp. That’s okay. It gets your attention, right? Most homeowners are very proud of their land and their lawn. They will likely want to know!
Think about the categories of publishers that would fit with your audience. Home & Garden, Home Improvement, and even Real Estate might be good fits. After all, in order to make the sale, that real estate agent is going to need the lawn looking spiffy.
Step 2. Go to Google and start searching for blogs related to these categories. You could try searching for “home improvement blog” as a good starting point. The search results will likely be a mix of actual home improvement blogs, and lists of the top home improvement blogs. Visit all of these and make a list of the ones you think would be most appropriate.
Step 3. Find the contact information for each blog. You can usually do this by visiting the “contact us” page on the blog, or by doing a “Whois” lookup on the domain to view the domain registry information. To perform a “Whois” lookup, simply visit Google and search for “whois lookup” and you’ll find plenty of websites that will facilitate the process for you.
Step 4. Contact each blog owner and politely introduce yourself, explain why you’re reaching out, and request the opportunity to contribute to their blog as a guest contributor.
Here’s a sample email template you can use for this process:
Subject: You should blog about [insert your guest blog post topic]
[Insert their first name], as an avid reader of [insert their site name], I would love to read about [insert guest blog post topic], and I think your other readers would as well.
Your articles on [insert existing post from their website #1, insert existing post from their website #2, and insert existing post from their website #3] are great, but I think you can tie it all together by blogging on [insert guest blog post topic].
I know you are probably busy and won’t have time to write about it, so I’m going to make you an offer you can’t refuse. 😉 How about I write it for you? Don’t worry, I’m a great blogger and have had my posts featured on [insert previous guest post URL #1] and [insert previous guest post URL #2].
Let me know if you are interested! I already know your blogging style, plus I understand what your readers love… as I am one. 😉
Look forward to hearing from you,
[Insert your name]
Step 5. Hopefully, you’ll get some positive replies from website owners or editors. When you do, start writing a super-awesome, insightful, helpful article. Once you’re finished and proud of it, send it to the publisher for review and approval.
Depending on the publisher, they will allow you to include a link to your website in your author bio (sometimes called a resource box) either at the end or beginning of the article. It’s also usually acceptable to link to your website from the body of your article if it’s contextually relevant and useful, which is ideal, as this type of link carries more weight than an author bio link.
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.
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 content 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.
When you enter social media channels, your brand will appear in search results across the Web, not just in search engines. Many social media channels, such as Facebook and LinkedIn, feature “group” functionality which allows users to search for topics in which they are interested and opt-in to updates for those topics. Furthermore, social media channels facilitate the process of instantly sharing information with a large number of contacts. If a reader finds your content useful or interesting, they can share it with their contacts quickly and easily, creating organic exposure for your brand.
Participating in social media channels brings your brand closer to your customers and potential customers. Your social media “voice” defines your brand image and separates it from a distant entity to a hip, trendy, “in-the-know” brand. Think about what Apple did with its famous “I’m a Mac, I’m a PC” commercials.
You may not know it, but your customers are saying lots of things about your brand. But do you know what they’re saying? Social media channels like Twitter and Facebook make that sort of “brand buzz” readily available. If you’re not tuned in, you could be missing out on crucial information about your target market.
There’s no stronger marketing message than an endorsement from a friend. Social media facilitates word-of-mouth marketing by making it quick and easy to tell your friends about your positive experience with a brand. But social media doesn’t just make it easy to tell a single friend; it’s just as easy to tell all your friends what’s on your mind.
Twitter and Facebook have become the default customer service media for many companies, and more companies are hopping on the bandwagon each day. By using these channels to communicate with your customers, you project a transparent, trustworthy image which also shows that not only do you listen, but you care.
One independent study, which appeared in the March 2010 issue of Harvard Business Review found that Facebook pages can increase customer loyalty by 36%. The study also found that customers connected with the brand’s Facebook page had higher emotional attachment and greater psychological loyalty toward the brand.
Build Customer Trust
The transparency inherent in social media builds trust with potential consumers. People want to deal with people, not with corporations, and communicating through social media builds that level of personal trust.
It’s a fact: your social media marketing strategy is only as good as the work you put into it. If you set up profiles on a handful of channels months ago and haven’t done much since to increase your followers, you can’t expect to drive much traffic back to your site or find leads for your business. Many business owners do exactly that, then assume that social media doesn’t work to increase sales.
That’s simply not the case. A successful social media campaign requires constant nurturing and patience. And as I outlined in chapter one, even businesses in “unsexy” industries can achieve positive ROI from social media marketing. A strategic plan of attack is the key to growing your follower base, which tends to snowball over time. Here are 10 ways to grow your following on social media channels.
How many followers would you like to have in the next six months? Pick a number and then work backwards to figure out how much effort you need to put in to achieve that goal. If you don’t have many followers currently, simply following people in your target audience is a great way to accrue new followers. Many people automatically follow-back anyone who follows them, and many others will receive a notification that you’ve followed them, which can be a great way to raise awareness and attract the attention of people who you’d like to follow you.
There’s no sense reinventing the wheel to find followers. Tools like TweetAdder, which helps you find people to follow based on keywords and search criteria can automate some of the process of following people, which in turn will bump up your follower numbers. Social Buzz Club lets you post updates for others to share in exchange for points. Find tools that make it easier to connect with others, then maximize them to grow your network.
Be sure not to abuse this tactic, though. Doing it too much could get your account suspended or banned if moderators deem you’re being spammy. Most social media channels have a daily limit of people you can follow within their terms of service; be mindful of these limits and respect them.
Over time as you build your reputation as a thought leader within your industry, more people will naturally follow you, as well as follow you back.
This works on pretty much every social platform: when you start to share others’ content, they start paying attention to you. Put more attention on the smaller players; you’re more likely to get reciprocal attention if you share another small business owner’s content than a high-profile influencer who already has tons of people sharing their content.
When it comes to social media marketing, you must first give before you receive. Build a reputation for generosity and you’ll see reciprocation by other players in your industry.
If someone were to look at your Google+, LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter profile, would they see a theme in the content you share? Or is it all over the place? The more you zero-in on a subject, the more target followers you’ll attract. If you run a SaaS company for the HR industry, your content should focus on topics HR managers and small business owners care about. Write about hiring, management, scheduling, and training.
There are a few reasons to do this:
Google is a behemoth when it comes to social media. It’s even surpassed Twitter’s average monthly users (255 million) by about 45 million. One reason for this is that marketers realize that they get better exposure in Google search results by participating in Google+ and implementing Google Authorship.
Google Authorship can not only boost your presence in search results, but also builds your personal brand and makes it easy for people to add you to their circles from search results. Just make sure that for any site you to which you contribute content, you link to it from your Google+ profile so your avatar and link to your profile appear next to your content in search results. This helps boost search visibility by expanding the vertical space of your search result, and also adding your Google+ avatar next to your content in search results, drawing the user’s eye and attracting more clicks.
The more frequently you update your social channels, the more people will see your content and follow you. You never know what will catch people’s eye in their streams, so it’s imperative that you’re consistently delivering valuable content and links so that you not only land in their stream but they also want to follow you to get more.
More social media updates will help you get more exposure in people’s social media streams, which will also help increase the number of shares you get, further broadening your reach. Just make sure you don’t sacrifice quality for quantity; useless or boring updates will get your brand ignored or blocked eventually.
Facebook’s tricky in that you can add friends through your personal profile, but not to your business page. So you can use your profile as a sort of funnel to get people to Like your page. Friend people that fit your target demographic, just like you would on any other channel. Then after you’ve built up a relationship with them, invite them to Like your page.
This is the simplest way to get more followers, and yet so many business owners overlook it. People expect to see those social icons at the top of a website page, so make sure yours are obvious and that the links work. There’s nothing worse than when people click on icons with dead links.
Another way to make it easy for anyone who emails you to connect socially is to include the links to each of your social channels right in your email. Also include them in your company newsletter.
Groups help people with common interests gather together. Find the ones your target audience spends time in, and start contributing valuable insight and content there. You can link to other members, and will likely see others do the same to you if you’re truly providing valuable information.
Finding and building relationships with industry influencers is an excellent way to quickly expand your reach, brand awareness, and audience. Tools like WeFollow are great for helping your identify key influencers by keywords.
Follow these influencers and interact with them; build a relationship and soon they’ll start helping you achieve your social media goals. Remember, social media is all about being social; don’t be afraid to reach out and build relationships!
There are many social media sites, including the ones you likely already know about: Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Before you start creating content for your content marketing strategy to syndicate across social media channels, you should identify which social media channels will be most appropriate for your product or service.
For example, consider Pinterest, on which the demographics are mostly women. Half of them are moms. If your business is in tailor-made tuxedos and sports jackets, Pinterest probably doesn’t contain the right demographic for you.
Sure, there’s always a way to make it work, if you plan your strategy just right. Women might fall all over your amazing threads and order for their husbands, sons, dads, brothers and friends. But you’d probably have to get lucky for that to happen.
A better option might be to find a social network that fits your demographic. So, start by selecting a few appropriate social media sites. Almost all businesses should have a Facebook and Twitter account, but don’t forget about Instagram, Youtube, Pinterest, and LinkedIn (especially if you have a B2B business).
Grow and develop those first, then you can start including others. Don’t overdo it, either; you should have the resources in place to manage the accounts. Social profiles for your business that aren’t fully set up, don’t interact and engage, or just sit idly can reflect poorly on your business. In short, it’s better to have a strong presence on a few platforms than a weak presence on many.
If you truly don’t have the time or budget for some solid demographic research, then at least try to get feedback from your current customers as to which social media sites they often use.
A brief look at demographics on social media (http://www.pewinternet.org/2015/01/09/demographics-of-key-social-networking-platforms-2/ )
Please see the charts in the link provided—we can possibly update these with design elements to replace the old graphics
After you’ve chosen which social media channels you’re going to use, you need to create accounts on them. One of the first things you should do is go to Knowem.com and input a username you’d like to use on your social profiles. Ideally, this should be your brand or company name. Knowem will then search over 500 different social sites, checking if that username is available on each one. Why is this important?
Well, you don’t want to become known as StevesAutoRepair on several sites, only to have to use AutoRepairBySteve on others. A consistent username helps you achieve brand consistency, so that you’re easily recognizable and findable—plus, any hiccup in consistency in your name could trigger a dip in domain authority that could lead to lower search ranks (but I’ll touch on this more in Chapter 6).
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.
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.
There’s one big problem that most local businesses face in the local scene, especially when first starting out. Google likes to see information accuracy and consistency; if it’s going to give its users the best possible results, it wants to have a clear picture of the businesses it indexes in its search. For local information, Google scours the web looking for clues to a business’s NAP—name, address, and phone number information. It checks your site, naturally, but it also checks third party apps and local directories like Yelp across the web for their most recent company information.
If any pieces of this information are inaccurate, even if it’s only a small discrepancy like the spelling of your road or the formatting of your address, it could wreak havoc on your local authority and compromise the results of your campaign.
Because of this, the first step for any successful local SEO campaign is to clean up your local citations. Under this process, you’ll be hunting down every instance of your business’s NAP information on the web, ensuring its accuracy, and making corrections wherever possible. Because this process is long, tedious, and difficult, there are many companies who offer to do it automatically for a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. Not every entrepreneur has the budget to afford this kind of service, but everyone needs to ensure the accuracy of their business information on the web.
Fortunately, it’s possible to clean up all your local citations for free. Here’s how:
There are dozens of services willing to list all the places where your local information is listed—in fact, it’s a sales tool for companies offering to fix your discrepancies for a fee. But you can use these tools without necessarily paying for the service.
For example, Moz will show you how your business appears in Bing, Google, and 15 other popular local citation sources. Yext offers a tool to check even more well-known directories. Many of these citation locations are interdependent, meaning if you update your information in the most significant sources, eventually the stragglers will find their discrepancies and update themselves accordingly. If you’re in a hurry or you have a bigger budget, it’s probably worth looking at every citation location you can. Otherwise, look at the top sources.
As part of this step, be sure to check your own website. It’s generally considered best practice to include your NAP information in the footer of each page of your website, as well as on your contact page.
First, make a firm decision about the formatting of your NAP information, and how you want your company to be categorized. The more specific you are with this category, the better—it will eliminate a lot of the competition. If you aren’t sure how to go about this, just pick the format that’s currently listed on your site and run with that. Make sure everyone in your company is using that format when presenting or using information on your company, and use that information in your citation audit moving forward.
Check your results listings and separate out any entries where you see a piece of conflicting information. The rest of the entries belong in a separate pile.
For each major entry in both piles, you’ll want to set up a profile (if possible, and if you haven’t already). Most of these third party information apps allow you to create a profile for your business so you can update your information and respond to local reviews at your discretion.
For any entries with conflicting information, simply create your profile and correct any errors you find. Other sources require a more intensive process; for example, you might have to draft a letter explaining the discrepancy and personally requesting the removal or update of the entry.
Keep in mind that Google, along with most third-party apps, does not act quickly. Once you’ve updated your information or made a request, it could still take several weeks before action is taken on your behalf. Be patient and set a date to follow up in the future—in my experience, six weeks is enough time to see consistent results. When that time comes, run another citation audit and see where you stand. Follow up on any sources that haven’t already updated your information.
Most of these strategies are based around your business’s specific location. For example, one step of the process is ensuring that your name and address are appearing accurately and consistently across the web, and one ongoing strategy is to use your city and state in the context of your written content. This presents a major problem for businesses with multiple locations: how do you locally optimize your site?
It may be tempting to split your locations up into multiple domains, and some businesses have tried this as an ongoing strategy. On one hand, it makes logical sense—if each location is different, why not try to rank on each site individually?
However, in practice, this segmented strategy is ineffective. Google’s search bots and individual users may be confused when they see multiple domains for what appears to be one master brand. Even if you need separate information, like different menus, using a single root domain to consolidate all that information still gives you the chance to present those in a segmented format. Using one domain gathers all the authority you would have built in your individual presences and places it into one master hub. Otherwise, you’ll be forced to split your domain authority; for example, if you have five locations, each location would only get 20 percent of its potential visibility if you split them into separate domains.
Even though you’ve consolidated all your locations under one domain, it’s important to differentiate between your locations. Otherwise, Google won’t know that you have multiple locations and your users might have a hard time figuring out the nearest one to them.
The best way to do this is to create a separate page for each of your locations, usually listed in the navigation under “Locations” or something similar. Create a page title that includes each city or neighborhood (as relevant), and write a full body of content that elaborates on the unique features of each location. Be sure to also include the address and phone number of each location on these individual pages. This will clearly demonstrate to Google how your locations are set up, and how they all relate to your master brand.
It’s also important to list all of your locations on your “Contact” page, with the address and phone number for each reiterated.
This can be tricky, especially if you’re consolidating everything into one master blog, but it’s important to include content based around each of your individual locations. That means featuring the city or neighborhood of the location in the title and body of each relevant piece.
If you’re having trouble generating topic ideas, look to each location’s recent events. Have they celebrated an anniversary? Have they made new hires? Have they hit a new landmark achievement? Obviously, your content marketing campaign can’t solely focus on your office, but posting these kinds of topics occasionally can seriously help your local ranks when you have multiple locations.
Reviews are critically important for local businesses—the more you have and the more positive they are, the higher you’re going to rank. And, since each of your locations is going to be listed separately on review sites, it’s up to your individual locations to actively cultivate and manage those online reviews. Make sure each of your employees know to encourage your customers to post reviews about their experience. Then, designate a contact at each of your locations to take point on actively monitoring and responding to those reviews. Commenting on positive reviews is a show of customer appreciation, while proactively responding to negative reviews (which will come up from time to time) can help mitigate the situation and show you’re willing to step in and make things right.
Like with any optimization strategy, the setup phase is important but it’s the ongoing work that will make or break your campaign. Make sure you implement a plan that allows for each of your locations to actively encourage and respond to online reviews, and keep your content strategy as present and relevant as possible. Over time, each of your individual locations will rise through local-specific searches, and the authority of your master domain will skyrocket as your individual locations all feed into it.
Conduct ongoing local SEO optimization by encouraging your own customers to post reviews when they can, write about local information and local events, and get yourself some press in local online newspapers. Your goals should revolve around making your local presence known and keeping your customers happy. If you can do that with a clean NAP profile online, your local rankings will come naturally in time.
Think you don’t need to be actively encouraging online reviews for your business? Then picture this far-too-common situation: You’re plugging along in your business, and have just happened to have accumulated a handful of positive or neutral reviews from past customers on Yelp and Angie’s List. Smooth sailing, right?
Now imagine that a disgruntled customer posts a scathing review on Google+ – a review site you haven’t focused on – and one on which you have very few reviews. That single negative review now shows up at the top of the search rankings for your business name, and gives your business an overall rating of 1 star out of 5. Had you taken steps to encourage reviews, a single negative review wouldn’t have jeopardized the online reputation of your brand. But as it stands, you’re now left scurrying to encourage positive reviews to dilute the impact of that single negative one.
This is why it’s so important to be proactive when it comes to online reputation management. Encouraging customers to leave reviews on popular online review sites can not only improve your reputation online, it can help buffer your business from the occasional negative review. Furthermore, one Harvard Business School study found that “a restaurant that boosts its Yelp score by one full star can see revenues increase 5 to 9 percent.” Clearly, online reviews can make a big impact on a business’s profit.
In this article, we’ll consider three of the most popular online review sites, as well as which types of businesses should be using each. I’ll conclude each section with an overview of strategies you can use to get customers to leave reviews on each site.
With 135 million unique monthly visitors and more than 71 million reviews, Yelp is the largest review site for local businesses.
Who Should Use Yelp: Pretty much every local, service-based business, but particularly those targeting consumers in the 25-34 age category. A significant percentage of Yelp users are college-educated (71.8%), and over half (54.5%) have a household income of $75,000 or more; so businesses targeting a middle-upper class demographic should have a strong presence on the platform.
How to Get Yelp Reviews: While some review sites encourage businesses to ask their customers to leave reviews, Yelp discourages this practice. They believe that providing excellent customer service is a better strategy than asking for reviews. They write: “[M]ost business owners are only going to ask for reviews from their happy customers, not the unhappy ones. Over time, these self-selected reviews create bias in the business listing — a bias that savvy consumers can smell from a mile away.”
Business owners may be tempted to offer discounts for customers that prove they wrote a review on Yelp, but according to this blog post by Yelp, “this isn’t a great idea,” and “As a general rule, Yelp has advised business owners not to offer incentives for reviews.”
Yelp does, however, encourage business owners to let their customers know they can be found on the site. While Yelp discourages business from soliciting reviews, Yelp advises several ways to direct your customers to the site:
Angie’s List is a user-pay review service, but is free for businesses. At a cost of up to $40/year just to access the reviews, Angie’s List has come under fire over the past couple of years. In fact, listed businesses can even pay to receive prominent placement on the site; obviously many critics find this seriously comprises the site’s claim of providing unbiased reviews.
Who should use Angie’s List: Angie’s List accepts reviews for service-based businesses such as plumbers, realtors and mechanics, as well as health care professionals like massage therapists, doctors and physiotherapists. What sets Angie’s List apart from some other review sites is the lack of anonymity; because users must pay to leave a review, the occurrence of fake accounts or fixed reviews is likely to be far lower than on free sites.
How to get Angie’s List Reviews: The first time a customer leaves a review for you on Angie’s List, the site will automatically generate a page for your business. If you’d like your business to receive prominent placement in the listings and you’ve achieved an ‘A’ or ‘B’ rating on the site, you may choose to pay to offer discounts to Angie’s List users.
Angie’s List encourages businesses to ask customers to leave reviews on the site. The site also offers the Fetch program as a way to collect reviews from your customers. After submitting your customer list, the Angie’s List team will phone those who are also Angie’s List users to request feedback on your business.
As with most other review sites, you can request reviews via email, your website or social media. Angie’s List also gives businesses the option to print out hard copy review forms to hand out to customers.
It goes without saying that providing outstanding customer service is the #1 way to get great online reviews. However, a little extra legwork to encourage positive reviews can go a long way to protecting your brand’s reputation online.
In the online marketing world, things change constantly. SEO professionals have to be on their toes 24/7, always watching, listening, reading, and preparing for potential changes that could occur.
The past decade has been a roller coaster ride for SEO professionals, but over the last year or two, things have finally leveled off. Some were ready for the algorithm changes that occurred over that timespan which changed the industry, while many were completely caught off guard.
While the sudden apocalyptic updates are all but over with, it’s still important to make time to keep up with changes in the industry, or hire someone who specializes in it. Here, I briefly recount some of the massive algorithm changes that have shaken the industry in the past:
Google’s “Panda” algorithm update (from 2011, but still occasionally refreshing) targeted sites with low quality on-site content; even huge sites with thousands of pages that long enjoyed top rankings were severely affected.
Business sites weren’t exempt, either. In fact, there was one furniture store that offered a $25,000 reward for anyone who could recover their site’s rankings and traffic to their pre-Panda levels.
Since Panda’s original launch in February of 2011, there have been numerous updates to the algorithm. The most recent update as of the writing of this book was Panda 4.2 on July 17, 2015. As the years have passed, the updates have made smaller ripples, and have rolled out with greater distances between iterations.
Google doesn’t give definite answers very often; as a result, much of what an SEO professional does is research and testing. This is the only way to get real answers. With that said, here are some tips that will help you stay out of Panda’s way:
While Panda focused more on on-site factors and content, the Penguin algorithm was designed to look for unnatural manipulation of search engine rankings occurring offsite.
This algorithm was released in April of 2012, and significantly affected hundreds of thousands of websites. Inbound links used to play an even greater role in search engine rankings than they do now. This fact was abused and manipulated to the point that Google had to figure out a way to fix it. Penguin was Google’s answer that tried to fix it.
There have been a handful of other landmark Google updates that have redefined how search marketers optimize their sites, but none as significant as Penguin or Panda. Here are a few of them:
SEO used to be a race between Google and search marketers. Search marketers would come up with some new quick trick to rank higher and, invariably, Google would come up with a new update that prevented quick, manipulative tactics from working, while changing the landscape of search rankings from the ground up. As I just explained, Panda and Penguin led the way for these changes and for years, this almost rapid-fire series of algorithm shifts made search marketers paranoid.
SEO experts were constantly hypothesizing and predicting which updates would come next, and when, though Google never offered up any clues as to what was coming down the pipeline. Even today, in the wake of sensationalized updates like the “Mobilegeddon” change, search marketers are on edge about the next update that will throw the search world into chaos.
However, there’s been a critical development. You may never have to worry about another Google update again.
When Google first released Panda, it viewed its main search algorithm as an inferior product, or as one that needed substantial improvements. Because it used many quantifiable ranking factors, it was open to manipulation and was subject to a number of ranking inconsistencies and hiccups. But after Penguin and Panda, the core evaluation system of the algorithm was firmly in place. Sites with high-quality content, great user experience records, and a great reputation in the online community reliably rank higher than others.
This fundamental quality standard has not changed in the past four years. Google still ranks companies based on how well they treat their users and how much respect they command from other online sources. As a result, there haven’t been any major algorithm shifts. Google is satisfied with the current state of its algorithm, and most subsequent updates have been aimed at tweaking existing features or adding small new ones.
As evidence of this approach, we can turn to the type of updates that have rolled out since 2012. There was the Hummingbird update of 2013, which introduced “semantic search” functionality to Google. Through semantic search, Google became better able to interpret the intent behind a user’s query, rather than the keywords of the query itself. Nevertheless, the fundamental ranking factors—quality of content, etc.—didn’t change, so the update didn’t affect many queries.
Similarly, the Pigeon update (which is the unofficial name for it) of 2014 didn’t shake things up much. It introduced a handful of new ranking factors—such as reviews on Yelp and other third party directory sites—but the core ranking factors remained unaffected. Even Mobilegeddon, which was largely hyped and overblown by the paranoid search marketing community, ended up falling flat—only a handful of sites were affected because Google was already using mobile optimization as a ranking signal.
Each of these updates bore some significant change to Google’s ranking process, but none of them overhauled the algorithm the way Panda and Penguin did. Only a tiny fraction of business owners saw any movement at all because of these updates.
It’s also worth noting that the way Google iterates its landmark algorithm changes has evolved over the past few years. Both Panda and Penguin were followed up with 2.0 updates, which carried almost as much weight as the original. A 3.0 and 4.0 update came after Panda, and for some time, monthly refreshes were the norm—once a month, a significant yet barely noticeable jolt in rankings would indicate that Google was pushing some new data through its system.
These days, Google is still pushing regular data refreshes and algorithm tweaks, but you won’t notice them. That’s because they are gradually rolled out, on an almost constant basis, so there’s almost no visible volatility in rank (unless you’re specifically hunting for it).
There are three factors to consider here. First, Google isn’t going to change its core values anytime soon. The fundamentals that make a “good” website are likely to remain consistent for the foreseeable future, and the search algorithm as it exists today does a great job of evaluating this. Second, updates are getting smaller and less impactful. The few “major” updates that have rolled out in recent years have had almost no impact on preexisting rankings that were already abiding by Google’s quality guidelines, while those that were gaming the system through manipulative tactics saw their rankings fall. Finally, Google is trying to push updates and data refreshes in new, more subtle ways, which barely affect search rankings in the short term.
The conclusion I’ve reached from these facts is that the era of scary Google updates is over. You no longer have to worry about being blindsided by some strange revolutionary algorithm change; as long as you continue to follow best practices and keep your users happy, you can rest easy knowing your search visibility is safe.
As user search behavior changes, companies and organizations will have to update their marketing and customer service strategies accordingly. SEO may not fade away entirely, but if you want to stay relevant in digital assistant-based search results, you’ll have to do more to cater toward user preferences.
Tools like QuickSprout 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 SEO.co can help you in your business, contact us today!