Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Content Marketing is Useless Without Organic SEO

Is 2015 the year of "content marketing"? Judging by the press (here, here, and here, too), content marketing is the hot new trend. This might strike some as a bit ridiculous. In one sense, content marketing is as old as marketing itself. What is marketing if not, well, the marketing of some form of content? After all, in traditional marketing, the product itself--its packaging, its suggested use, its name--can be viewed as content.

Andy Warhol understood that the product is the content. [Source]
However, the term "content marketing" refers more explicitly to sharing content independent of the product. And despite its recent popularity, the term has a lineage (according to Wikipedia), dating back at least to 1996:

"The phrase 'content marketing' was used as early as 1996, when John F. Oppedahl led a roundtable for journalists at the American Society for Newspaper Editors. In 1998, Jerrell Jimerson held the title of 'director of online and content marketing' at Netscape. In 1999, author Jeff Cannon wrote, 'In content marketing, content is created to provide consumers with the information they seek.'"

Today, if you Google the definition, you'll likely see the term defined by the lofty-sounding Content Marketing Institute:

"Content marketing is the marketing and business process for creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action."

With all the talk of content marketing, not to mention the social media admonitions so familiar to small business owners--"You're not on Facebook? You have to get on Facebook!"--you can't blame a small business owner for thinking that content marketing is the key to success.

The problem, however, is that too many small business owners are focusing exclusively on "content" to the detriment of "marketing." As Jayson DeMers recently wrote at Forbes:

"If you’re a savvy marketer, you’re already actively engaging in content marketing. Unfortunately, many business owners are so focused on the creation of their content that they’re forgetting the marketing component of the equation. After all, what good is amazing content if nobody knows about it?"

We applaud the recent emphasis on content, yet like Mr. DeMers, we worry that too much content is being created and shared in a vacuum. What good is your website's content, for example, if the site itself has not been optimized for search engines?

As our sponsor, Alex Stepman, said last August:

"About ninety percent of...websites [are] not optimized for the major search engines. Typical problems included design and development flaws that could have easily been avoided when the website was built."

At the time, we noted that nearly 100% of these same website owners assumed that their websites were optimized for search engines:

"Many seemed to think that a beautiful website translated to an effective website," we wrote. "In one sense this is true: a beautiful website, if optimized, will likely perform better than an ugly website."

In another sense, however, this is a false (and costly) assumption. Online, beauty does not necessarily translate for success. Unfortunately, this view is often propagated by the very website designers who create the beauty. To be frank, most website designers do not know the first thing about search engine optimization. 

It's important to remember: when ranking a site, Google evaluates many elements--from content to design. In fact, Google famously uses over 200 signals to rank a website. Yet despite the increasing relevance of content marketing, many small business owners view search engine optimization as an incidental process--one that, by nature, comes gift-wrapped with each new website.

"Oh," we've heard countless times, "my website designer is taking care of that."

In fact, that "that" is not necessarily "taken care of" by your website designer. A website designer should be literate in SEO, but this is not always the case.

It's not, in fact, as simple as James Earl Jones would have it in his famous line from Field of Dreams.

If you build it, he will come.
Put another way, the content marketing proselytizers might say: "If you create it, he will come."

We say: Not so fast. As Alex Stepman said last summer:

"Not all website developers build search engine-friendly sites, and if a site cannot be easily discovered by search engines, it is invisible, a high-priced business card."

Before content marketing, then, think organic SEO. Make sure your site is optimized for the major search engines. Make sure you're not merely creating a high-priced business card.

Content Marketing with Stepman's PC 

If you're looking for an SEO company that understands how to effectively build and promote websites, we suggest contacting our sponsor, Stepman's PC: 215-900-9398 Stepmans PC combines traditional marketing methods and organic SEO--with an emphasis on natural website optimization--to design thoughtful, inspiring, and effective content marketing campaigns. 

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Mobile SEO: Browsing vs. Buying: When Will Mobile Become the De-Facto Purchasing Tool?

Do you shop with your mobile device? If you're like me, you might, say, casually browse for a nice dress shirt on your mobile phone, but when it comes time for some serious shopping, you switch to another device: your iPad, your laptop.

The switch has little to do with safety. For many sites, the mobile shopping experience simply does not match the experience offered by larger devices. Mobile scrolling on even the larger shopping sites--like, say, Bonobos or J. Crew--is dreadfully slow.

As of now, it is clear that (for many users) mobile phones provide a valuable shopping tool, yet the device itself is not necessarily viewed as the best platform to purchase. The distinction is subtle, yet important.

Over a year ago, in a misleadingly titled article--"It’s official: Mobile devices surpass PCs in online retail"--the e-commerce news site, Internet Retailer, revealed this distinction between browsing and buying. Citing statistics from comScore, Bill Siwicki, noted that "55% of all time spent with online retail in June 2013 occurred on a mobile device" and "45% occurred on desktops and laptops." And yet, "When it comes to making purchases online, 69% of desktop shoppers, 34% of tablet shoppers and 21% of smartphone shoppers made at least one purchase online in Q2 2013."

Current statistics on the distinction between mobile browsing and purchasing are not yet available--if you find some, please let us know--yet we believe it's safe to assume that, even as mobile browsing increases, actual purchases will often be left to the desktop or tablet--or brick and mortar store. As Google itself reported in May, 2013, "84% of smartphone shoppers use their phones while in a physical store."

Now, it seems, Google is doing its best to change this equation. As Search Engine Land reported last week:

"Google is sending mass notifications to webmasters who has [sic] websites that are not mobile-friendly. These notifications contain the subject 'fix mobile usability issues found on…' It then goes on to explain that these sites have critical mobile usability errors on 100% of the pages on the site and thus the pages will be “displayed and ranked appropriately for smartphone users.”

Here's what the email looks like:

[Source]

Clearly, Google is throwing down the gauntlet--and for a good reason. The search engine wants to make the mobile browsing experience better for users. And ideally, a better overall browsing environment, with faster loading speeds, fasting scrolling, and easy purchasing will make the purchasing experience more enticing for users.

Why does this matter? Why is it important for Google (and you) that more mobile users actually use the phone to purchase? Well, as far back as 2013 (so long ago!), our time spent on mobile devices surpassed our time spent on other devices. As eMarketer reported then:

"Mobile has become so key to consumers’ lives that for the first time this year, time spent on nonvoice mobile activities will surpass time spent online on desktop and laptop computers...

 US adults will spend 43.6% of their overall media time with digital this year, including 19.4% on mobile—compared to 19.2% on laptops and PCs."

The opportunity here is clear: As the mobile experience improves, more consumers will become comfortable purchasing on mobile devices, and the sites with the best mobile experience will attract a larger share of the purchasing audience.

I don't think we're offering a groundbreaking assessment here, and really the idea that all sites should improve the mobile experience is, by now, old news. At the very least, however, this view should inspire online retailers, both small and large, to try to get ahead of the curve.

How can you improve your site's shopping experience so that consumers will be motivated to buy on a mobile device? The answer, simply, is speed and reliability.

The race is on. Are you running?

Need Mobile SEO Help? Call Stepmans PC!

We believe that ecommerce is now a mobile game! To navigate the new rules of mobile SEO, you might need to hire an SEO specialist like Stepmans PC. If you sell a high-quality product that deserves customers, you also deserve a well-optimized mobile website.

Do not let the changing search landscape compromise your sales. Now, more than ever, you need the astute wisdom of a professional search engine optimization professional.

Stepmans PC is now offering a free mobile website audit. Contact Stepmans PC today to learn how you can improve your website's mobile performance: 215-900-9398.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Comment: Facebook Knows Best. The Pervasive Influence of Algorithms

Facebook's algorithm just might know you better than your friends and close relatives--better than everybody, really, except your spouse. At least this is the finding of a new study bluntly titled, "Computer-based personality judgments are more accurate than those made by humans."

The word "accurate" is suspect here, but at the very least the study, from researchers at Cambridge and Stanford, reveals that, with enough Likes to generate a model, Facebook predicted a person’s personality better than the person's human companions.

The researchers asked 86,220 Facebook users to complete a 100-question survey to determine their relative levels of openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. These answers were compared to a model that compared Likes to certain personality traits.

Neurotic? Did somebody say neurotic? (Jack Nicholson in The Shining)

As TIME reports:

"Likers of meditation, TED talks and Salvador Dali, for example, tended to score higher on openness, while those who liked reality star Snookie, dancing and partying were more extroverted. On average, people on Facebook had 227 Likes, and this was enough information for the computer to be a better predictor of personality than an average human judge (in other words, a friend), and almost as good as a spouse."

The shallowness of these findings cannot be understated. As TIME notes, people are "notoriously dynamic," and no doubt this Like-generated model offers a mere surface view of "personality."

Yet, the fact that the study was conducted, and that the results display a match between Likes and certain personality traits, reveals an intriguing view of how we interact with technology. More to the point, it reveals the pervasive influence of algorithms. We now deem algorithms worthy of social experimentation. And, fascinatingly, algorithms are now proving to be better at "knowing" us (even if in trivial ways) than actual human beings.

This begs the question: Are we becoming more like computers or are computers becoming more like us?

Likely, neither is true. The simple truth, in our opinion, is that we spend so much time online that our personality cannot help but be influenced by our engagement with social media. In this way, it's natural for our personality to align with our "Likes". And yet, there's a dispiriting flip side to this view: All that time we spend on "social" media comes as a detriment to our real life relationships. As Facebook knows us more, our friends know us less.

At the Organic SEO Blog, however, we're not the types to be dispirited. As algorithms continue to inform, and even guide, our "personalities," it's important to remember that our online experience does not have to determine who we are.

We can, in fact, wrest control of our lives back from our Likes. We can tune out, for example.

We're still trying to figure out how liking Dalí (left, with Man Ray) equates to openness. Frankly, Dalí and his art are pinnacles of 20th-century neuroticism

For those in the SEO world, this type of news simply reinforces a core belief: In order to thrive in the online world, one must understand the evolving nature of algorithms.

For an SEO specialist, this is the day-to-day work of organic search engine optimization. In fact, this study reveals a hard truth about SEO that we've tried to express here on this blog for two years: Without search engine optimization, you will likely miss the very customers you hope to attract.

Why? Quite simply, when you do not apply the principles of SEO you work against the algorithm. Why not work with the algorithm?

Understanding algorithms, a site owner (or personal browser) can use his or her knowledge to his own advantage. In essence, this is what SEO is about: understanding the search engine's algorithms in order to attract people to your brand. A site like Facebook and the SEO specialist share the exact same goal. Both try to connect users with their Likes.

At the Organic SEO Blog we discuss algorithms not only as functions but ideas. 

For a more philosophical view of algorithms, please read: "A Frank Look at Algorithms."

For a more topical view of algorithms, try: "Algorithms Have Consequences."

And, of course, if you'd like to speak directly to an SEO specialist who understands the complexity of algorithms, we suggest calling our sponsor, Alex Stepman, of Stepmans PC: 215-900-9398.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Diverse Content & the Power of Pinterest

Last week we identified our top SEO trend for 2015: diverse content. This year, more than ever before, brands have the opportunity to express their vision with unique, inventive content. It is clear that search engines are prioritizing sites that share a variety of content: not simply writing, but photography, digital art, infographs, cartoons, emojis, and much more.

In 2015, to be optimized, we believe each new page should contain two or more types of content. At the very least, for example, you should strive to create companionable imagery for your writing.

This trend has implications for social media, too. In the past, we've reported how the most popular type of Facebook post is the simple text status update:

"If you run your own Facebook Page for your company, you might've even noticed that your text-only posts receive more views ("total reach") than your updates that include links or pictures. Facebook is evolving to favor photos, too, but for now, the best way to attract an audience is the text-only status update."

We wrote that post, "SEO for Facebook," in March 2014, at a time when, by its own admission, Facebook seemed to be shifting its algorithm. As Facebook wrote at the time:

“Through testing, we have found that when people see more text status updates on Facebook they write more status updates themselves. … Because of this, we showed people more text status updates in their News Feed.”

Unfortunately, this emphasis on text had backfired: Facebook realized that pages were sharing too much text--and not too many pictures. News Feeds were not as dynamic as Facebook might've liked to see.

Since then, we've seen a shift in the type of posts Facebook prefers. Now, according to Reach Insights, brands are seeing exposure for all types of content: text-only status updates, yes, but also images and links.

This is the evolution of content as we see it: diversity is key.

Facebook's shift, too, inadvertently revealed a weakness of the News Feed. It also seemed to admit the evolving power of Facebook's biggest competitor: Pinterest.

Do you Pinterest? If not, you might be missing a huge opportunity to attract customers. As we reported in November, according to a Shareaholic report, Facebook drives the most traffic of any social media network, but Pinterest is a strong alternative.

We were surprised to see the relative dominance of Pinterest compared to, say, Twitter

Please read: "SEO News: Pinterest Refers 5X More Traffic than Twitter"

In 2015, we see Pinterest evolving into an even stronger platform. Pinterest has revealed big ambitions: the site hopes to compete not only against Facebook but the search giant, Google! Pinterest hopes to do so by offering a "personalized search engine."

As Search Engine Land reported last Fall:

 "Much more than a 'scrap-booking' site (its origins) or even a product discovery or shopping site, Pinterest sees itself now as a kind of personalized search site that can blend search and discovery in new and compelling ways...Pinterest thinks it can do a better job meeting certain kinds of needs and answering user questions than a traditional search engine (read: Google)."

Here's how Pinterest hopes to answer search queries: by inspiring users to seek new ideas

If Google is the search engine for those who know what they're looking for, Pinterest just might be the search engine for those seeking an adventure into the unknown.

Quite simply, Pinterest hopes to inspire users by revealing new content in surprising ways.

The reason we believe Pinterest can be successful is the beauty of the site, which is very appealing to women (who make up 80% of the Pinterest audience). Of all social media sites, Pinterest offers the most attractive view of content. This is not an arbitrary point at all: attractive content is the best content.

If you've avoided Pinterest in the past, 2015 just might be the year to give the platform a little bit of respect. If you're spending time on Twitter, Pinterest just might offer more bang for your buck. Unlike most other social media networks, too, Pinterest offers the opportunity to set up a specific "business account." Similar to a Facebook "Page", your business account will look more credible than a personal account.

In the next weeks, we will explore the inner-workings of Pinterest, which are decidedly different than Facebook and Twitter. For now, we mention the site simply to illustrate a simple point: diverse content rules the day!

Social Media Marketing with Stepman's PC 

 If you're looking for an SEO company that understands how to effectively promote websites on all social media channels, we suggest contacting our sponsor, Stepman's PC: 215-900-9398 Stepmans PC combines traditional marketing methods and organic SEO--with an emphasis on natural website optimization--to design thoughtful, inspiring, and effective social media marketing campaigns.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

The Top SEO Trend of 2015: Diverse Content

Our top SEO trend for 2015 is Diverse Content. Yes, the oldest adage of the SEO world is still the most relevant: content is king. In its Webmaster Tools, for example, Google offers the following advice:

"Provide high-quality content on your pages, especially your homepage. This is the single most important thing to do. If your pages contain useful information, their content will attract many visitors and entice webmasters to link to your site. In creating a helpful, information-rich site, write pages that clearly and accurately describe your topic. Think about the words users would type to find your pages and include those words on your site."

Please read: "For SEO, Content is King."

Yet this year, more than ever before, brands will have the opportunity to express their unique vision in unique ways. Our advice: play to your strengths.

At the Organic SEO Blog, our strength is the written word, and we have always believed that great writing is the cornerstone of a successful organic SEO campaign. However, we also see that content need not be limited to the written word.

The success of Pinterest, for example, proves the point: a quality image can serve the same purpose as quality writing, and often in a better way. We will explore Pinterest in the following weeks in a unique post. For now, let's take a look at an article over on Search Engine Journal by Jean Dion: "3 Reasons to Use Pinterest in 2015." As Dion so adroitly notes, Pinterest is "a better tool to reach the female audience" and a weekend-accessible site, and all you need, really, is a "nice photo":

"You could chat up almost anything on Pinterest. As long as you have an image, your post is more than halfway complete."

Of course, Dion goes on to make the point that your image must be accompanied by a good keyword, preferably related to, say, food, drinks, or crafts. But once you're located on the Pinterest map, so to speak, your image does the talking.

Dion's advice struck us as particularly prescient, in light of the recent news that, next to Facebook, Pinterest drives the most traffic. In fact, "Pinterest refers 5X more traffic than Twitter."

Pinterest's popularity points to a simple fact: images are beginning to dominate the Internet. As Doreen Bloch (also over at Search Engine Journal) notes:

"In 2015, content will become more visual and interactive. Infographics, for example, are both informative and beautifully designed. Images that captivate the audience and share relevant information will continue to gain traction in content marketing next year."

We do not believe the emphasis on visual content will diminish the value of good writing. Rather, the two will be seen as necessary components of a robust marketing campaign.

What's your strength? Are you currently using the best content to express your brand's unique vision?

Social Media Marketing with Stepman's PC 

If you're looking for an SEO company that understands how to effectively promote websites on all social media channels, including Pinterest, we suggest contacting our sponsor, Stepman's PC: 215-900-9398 Stepmans PC combines traditional marketing methods and organic SEO--with an emphasis on natural website optimization--to design thoughtful, inspiring, and effective social media marketing campaigns.