Friday, December 27, 2013

Duplicate Content & SEO: What are You Adding to the Conversation?

What is the Internet? Of the infinitely possible definitions, we prefer a meaning that speaks to connectivity and sharing. For The Organic SEO Blog, the Internet is a conversation. Within this conversation, relationships often blossom between people as well as people and businesses. The best online businesses understand this simple fact: communicate with your customer like a respected friend and you will have a customer for life.

The online men's clothing company, Bonobos, understands this simple fact. If you own an online business, you'd do well to take a few tips from Bonobos for transforming customers to "brand promoters." Of course, many online companies excel at customer service. Amazon.com comes to mind. And Nordstroms. We mention Bonobos here because they also provide a good example of carefully-executed differentiation. Beyond its great-fitting pants, Bonobos has created a steady market for its clothing by selling its own unique, and often quirky, brand.

Most online businesses fail at differentiation. Some businesses sell truly unique products, but  fail at marketing the product's uniqueness. Many businesses, of course, sell similar products, but fail at differentiating other important factors, like cost or service. A failure of differentiation is a communication failure. If the Internet is a conversation, the businesses that fail are like boring people who avoid conversation, or worse, people who drone incessantly about "the seven things you're not supposed to talk about," like how you've slept, or your day-to-day health. Ho hum!

If you own an online business, and you're trying hard to create a market for your product, you might begin by asking yourself a simple question: what am I adding to the conversation? The answer to this question just might be the make or break factor for your business.

As our sponsor, Alex Stepman of Stepman's PC says, "If you're not adding something new to the conversation, after all, why are you talking?"

As we've written before on this blog, fresh, relevant content is the key to success. In the world of SEO, one of the most egregious conversation failures is duplicate content--content copied and pasted from other sites without attribution. Now, many sites necessarily use duplicate content as a matter of business. As Google's head of webspam, Matt Cutts explains, a lot of duplicate content is often benign:

"We do understand that lots of different places across the web do need to have various disclaimers, legal information, terms and conditions, that sort of stuff, and so it’s the sort of thing where if we were to not rank that stuff well, then that would probably hurt our overall search quality..."

So not all duplicate content is bad. It's the online business that simply copy and paste product information or, worse, entire chunks of text, from other sites--it's these businesses that crowd the space, and make the Internet conversation boring. This sort of duplicate content is everywhere. We often discover it when searching for health supplements. So many sites sell the exact same supplements with the exact same product descriptions without offering any additional helpful information that might actually inspire a sale.

Take the example of a popular probiotic from Garden of Life, Primal Defense. Take a look at how Vitacost and Vitamin Shoppe essentially offer the exact same information. Yet Vitamin Shoppe differentiates itself by adding product reviews. Differentiators are key--especially if you're an affiliate. As Google's Cutts explains:

"Hopefully you’ve got a different page from all the other affiliates in the world, and hopefully you have some original content – something that distinguishes you from the fly-by-night sites that just say, ‘Okay, here’s a product. I got the feed and I’m gonna put these two paragraphs of text that everybody else has.’ If that’s the only value add you have then you should ask yourself, ‘Why should my site rank higher than all these hundreds of other sites when they have the exact same content as well?'"

We mentioned Bonobos before because they do a good job of differentiating their own brand and their own products as well as other brand's products. Bonobos sells the popular boat shoe, Sebago. Notice how Bonobos uses Sebago's description for the Docksides--"The handsewn boat shoe that started it all"--but then adds its own unique paragraph about the company: "The Sebago-Moc Company was founded in 1946 by three New England natives..."

Incidentally, if you google that last sentence from Bonobo's site, you'll see many imitators who've duplicated the text without attribution.  From Google's perspective this is the bad kind of duplicate content--the kind you should avoid, at least if you want to place high on Google's search results.

The lesson? As always, keep your content fresh, relevant, and original.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Google is Encrypting Nearly All Searches: What You Need to Know

Earlier this fall, in September, just before announcing its new algorithm, Google slipped a little bit of SEO-relevant news under the radar: the search engine would begin encrypting all search activity not explicitly associated with ads. We've been following this development with keen interest, and we can now report with certainty that the change has, indeed, effected the SEO landscape. Today we'll discuss what the news means for you and your SEO marketing campaign.

First, to be clear, this near-total encryption means that websites will no longer have access to information about the specific keywords browsers used to find their website. A a website owner, you may or may not have dealt specifically with this information, but if you employ an Internet marketing firm or SEO specialist, this information has almost certainly been used for your website's benefit.

If this information benefits websites, why would Google limit your access to it?

Google had already taken steps to limit this information. In 2011, the search engine encrypted all searches for those signed in with Google accounts. Now, however, Google has extended this "service" to all browsers. We put that word--"service"--in quotes because it is not exactly clear why Google is making this change now.

Is this change a "service" to browsers? For those who value privacy above all else, yes, the change might be beneficial. After all, some have speculated that the search engine is trying to burnish its image after its association with the NSA spying scandal this summer.

Or perhaps Google is trying to drive traffic to its ads. As Search Engine Land notes:

"The easiest ways for publishers to see the actual terms that have been withheld over time is through the Google AdWords system. See, apparently search terms aren’t so private that Google withholds them entirely. Rather, it withholds them from being transmitted in the clear across the Internet. Publishers can still see these terms by going into the Google Webmaster Tools area.."

In any case, it is clear that this change is meant to benefit browsers, and not websites. So what does this change mean for you?

If you're a regular reader of this blog, you know that we've often discussed how keywords can form a central part of an SEO marketing campaign. We've even urged our clients to think about their product or service in terms of highly-specific keywords.

Please read: "How SEO Can You Clarify Your Business Offering."

However, although we believe keywords can help refine a website's business model, we've also urged website owners to use keywords judiciously. Instead, we've urged websites to focus on quality, relevant content.

After all, we truly believe the over-use and misuse of keywords has been a scourge of the Internet.  Unfortunately, too often wayward SEO specialists have depended entirely on keywords, and have even resorted to the egregious practice of keyword stuffing. As we noted before:

"Keyword stuffing might be one reason Google has decided to update the algorithm. As we learn more about the new algorithm, we see that specific keywords might be losing precedence to more generally informative content. After all, by evolving to answer more complex questions, Google seems to be acknowledging that people no longer search by keywords alone."

Now, with this recent change, we've seen that the available information on keywords has dramatically reduced. For a dramatic presentation of how this change had already begun to effect websites in September, read this fascinating HubSpot article. Since then, our own examination has proved the HubSpot article correct: nearly all Google searches are now encrypted.

So, again, how will this change effect your website?

If you're working with a top-of-the-line SEO specialist, this change will actually help you! Why? Well, this is just one more Google update that separates the wheat from the chaff. If you share Google's goal, to deliver the most relevant, well-written, and truly informative content to your browsers, than your website will now perform even better.

If, however, you or your SEO specialist have been too dependent on this information, your website will likely suffer. Why? Well, your website has probably been "optimized" in a narrow way by a sub-par SEO specialist. Ask your SEO specialist how he/she is responding to this change. If he/she doesn't have a good answer (and answer that emphasizes quality content), then run for the hills.

Finally, if you're looking for an SEO marketing company that maintains a laser-focus on Google's changes, and understands how to respond the evolving dynamics of the search engines, we suggest our sponsor, Stepmans PC. As Alex Stepman, the owner of Stepmans PC says, "We optimize for the entire industry and not particular keywords." And you should too.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

How to Trump the Competition in Your Industry (And a Simple SEO Tip for Thrifty Website Owners)

The creation of a well-designed website with relevant and quality content can transform a traditional brick-and-mortar business's earning power. Unfortunately, many business owners create websites that ignite earnings and then quickly lose steam. Website owners might blame this misfortune on the changing economy or marketplace, or increased online competition. Of course, all of these factors can influence the earnings of an online business.

But why do certain websites in specific industries succeed while others fail? Many industry-specific websites, after all, look and feel similar. And many industry-specific websites have been optimized by SEO specialists to perform for a certain customer-base. If two optimized websites look and feel similar, and sell similar products to similar customers, shouldn't both enjoy an equal share of the online marketplace?

In theory, yes, both websites should perform equally well. But let's take a closer look at our two theoretical websites. Like snowflakes, no two websites are alike, and even the subtle differences can have a profound influence on website performance. Now, to the trained eye, the reasons for success or failure are quite evident. But for casual browsers, the difference might seem elusive. So what's going on?

In the experience of Alex Stepman, owner of Stepmans PC, and experienced organic SEO specialist, the number one reason optimized websites fail is that the website owner abandoned SEO after the website's launch. And websites that have abandoned SEO share a similar deficiency: over time, they have remained static while other websites in the same industry have evolved.

Now, this evolution can be subtle, but it is the benchmark of success. SO what does this evolution look like? Well, the very definition of "evolution" is "the gradual development of something", and we're not talking about titanic shifts. Rather, it's the small changes that make a big difference.

The best SEO specialists know this simple fact: a well-optimized website is a frequently-updated website. Search engine's algorithms place a precedence on new, relevant content. The consistent updating of a website's content is really the only way to maintain a competitive edge if you're competing in an industry-specific marketplace.

If your website is maintained by an SEO specialist, he or she will continually update your website's content. Keep in mind, content is not limited to the written word; it can include graphics, like a new "About Me" tab, or relevant product videos. Of course, though, relevant and well-written content is the cornerstone of a website's success. A good SEO specialist will ensure that your content is always fresh and relevant--and preferably written by a professional writer.

So what do you do if you do not have an SEO specialist. Well, I think you can guess our first suggestion. Call our sponsor, Alex Stepman, of Stepmans PC! Most business owners are simply too busy to perform the tedious work of organic SEO. Why not outsource this crucial aspect of your business?

However, if you do not have the budget for an SEO specialist right now, do not despair. You might not know how to change the look and feel of your website (the graphics and navigability) but you might have the capability to make exactly the type of small changes that can keep a website relevant: you can write a daily blog!

Most websites today are equipped with easy-to-use blog platform like WordPress (Blogger is often associated with stand-alone blogs). If you're a website owner, your daily blog might just be the easiest and most cost-effective way to optimize your website with relevant content. All you need is a good idea and a good writer (if you don't have one on staff, you can certainly hire a professional copywriter for a reasonable fee). Your blog does not have to be lengthy--the point is to update daily with fresh content.

And that's the point. To maintain a competitive edge, keep it fresh!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

A Thank You to Our Sponsor, Stepmans PC

The Organic SEO blog is proud to send a warm holiday thank you to our sponsor, Alex Stepman of the dynamic Internet marketing company, Stepmans PC. Utilizing a variety of proven and effective marketing techniques, Stepmans PC promotes websites across the Internet. Their specialty is natural website optimization, a powerful tool that can place your website on the first page of major search engine results. Alex offers one-on-one attention to each customer—and guarantees 100% satisfaction.

As you might know from previous posts, the best SEO specialists hire professional copywriters to create unique and engaging content for their clients. But Alex's passion for quality content transcends his client's needs. He sponsors The Organic SEO blog because he truly believes that knowledge is power, and that all website owners should have access to simple, yet elegant writing about SEO.

On this blog, we've shared tricks of the trade that you might otherwise pay handsomely for. Our four part series for new website owners, for example, shares essential information that is often very hard to find. If you're new to SEO, we suggest reading this series first:

1. Website Design
2. Website Development
3. Content Creation
4. Conversion

Simply put, without Alex's passion, knowledge, and financing, The Organic SEO Blog would not exist. After working for Alex for some time, we can vouch for his integrity and honestly. If you're looking for an SEO specialist, we highly recommend Stepmans PC. To get started now, please call Stepmans PC: (215) 900-9398.