Tuesday, March 31, 2015

You Don't Need SEO (Or Do You?)

Last week we confronted the frankly laughable idea put forth in an article by "Internet psychologist," Graham Jones, that "SEO is a myth." The effectiveness of SEO, we argued, is clear and demonstrable. In fact, we were quite surprised that Jones' article was even written. It lacked a clear purpose--and it certainly lacked any evidence whatsoever to back its claims.

In light of Graham's article, however, we wondered if other writers had perhaps offered more articulate arguments against the effectiveness of SEO--against organic SEO, specifically,  practiced with talent and integrity.

We qualify "organic" and "talent and integrity" here simply to set the ground rules for a reasonable search. Plenty of articulate articles have been written against SEO--what might be called "bad" SEO, to be precise, negative, Black Hat, or otherwise.

For instance, a Google search for "Is SEO bad?" will yield plenty of results--yet all of the top results are condemnations of bad SEO practices and endorsements of good SEO practices.

A more nuanced search might be "Is SEO necessary?" Here, the first result, from Entrepreneur, asks, "Is SEO a Necessary and Measurable Investment?" The answer is unequivocal:
"SEO is, in fact, necessary in today’s marketplace."

How about "Why You Don't Need SEO?" Now here we have something! The first result, for example, is an article from a content marketing company, SPRK, which argues "You Don't Need SEO. You Need Inbound Marketing!"

Wait, isn't "inbound marketing" a part of SEO? Maybe we don't have something. SPRK writes, "The SEO tricks of yesterday no longer work and finally consistent, quality content most often wins out."

Nonsense. As any person even slightly familiar with SEO knows: consistent, quality content is the cornerstone of all good SEO campaigns. For more on the relationship between organic SEO and content, read any number of our many, many articles on content.

This article is typical of most articles that argue against SEO: like Graham's article, it does not even understand the very practice it attempts to undermine.

What else? The second result under our Google search for "Why you don't need SEO?" is the bluntly-titled, "You Don't Need SEO," from the web marketing company, FINE (formerly known as BIG DAYLIGHT). It's actually an argument for SEO. Here's two reasons why they wrote the article:

"1. One of the top referring keywords for Big Daylight is, hilariously, “You Don’t Need SEO”. This is because a previous post I wrote talked about how You Don’t Need SEO Domain Names, but it ended up also positioning for “You Don’t Need SEO”.

2. A lot of people are searching on this, so obviously there is a burning need out there for people to either prove or be reassured that They Don’t Need SEO."

Frankly, a Google search does not yield too many articles against organic SEO. This reason is simple: there is no solid argument against the practice. It's usefulness is self-evident.

That said, if you do come across arguments against SEO, you should take them seriously--serious enough to answer the following questions:

1. Does the article understand SEO? For example, SPRK (which may or may not be defunct; the site is very glitchy) misunderstands the most basic component of any good SEO campaign: content.

2. Is the article actually against organic SEO? As we noted above, most anti-SEO article are actually against bad SEO--and for organic SEO.

3. What is the article's intention? Is it fair? Nuanced? Does the article's author have a vested interest in denying the effectiveness of SEO?

***

Have you found any articulate articles against organic SEO? If so, we'd love to read them. Please let us know in the comments.

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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Is the Effectiveness of SEO a Mere Belief? (Hint: No)

Organic SEO can be one of the most effective marketing tools available to the modern business. This is not merely a "belief." It is a fact backed by evidence easily available to any person with an Internet connection. If you're looking for a few examples, read SwellPath's SEO case study for Nike Golf.  Or: Wpromote's Case Study For TOMS (the shoe company).

Now, you might notice that we use equivocal language to state our case: "Organic SEO can be one of the most effective marketing tools" and "the potential effectiveness of organic SEO is a fact." The reason is simple: to be effective, organic SEO must be applicable to a site's needs; also, of course, organic SEO must be performed correctly. 

This should be obvious to any website owner--or, really, anyone.

SEO is not a magical solution--as some might have it. Organic SEO requires time and effort--and, often, money. 

There is no way around this last point. To build an effective organic SEO marketing campaign, you need to spend money. This expense might be for an SEO specialist, or content writers, or an SEO-savvy web designer. Or perhaps the expense might be simply your own time. As any website owner knows, time is money.

Incidentally, this is why we so often suggest the help of a good SEO specialist. The work of an SEO specialist can be a full-time occupation. A great deal of this work is about keeping up-to-date with the changes in search engine algorithms--especially Google's algorithm.

For some reason, many people continue to believe that search engine rankings just happen. So why pay for SEO?

Perhaps this is why the practice of SEO is resisted by so many people--even now, when the potential value of SEO is nearly universally accepted, even by the likes of Google.

Yes, Google. Cyrus Shepard recently tackled the myth that "Google Hates SEO" on the Moz blog. "Some days it feels this way," Shepard jokes. But, he adds, "In truth, Google's relationship with SEO is much more nuanced:

1. Google readily states that SEO can "potentially improve your site and save time" and that many SEO agencies "provide useful services." Google even advises "If you're thinking about hiring an SEO, the earlier the better."

2. Google published their own SEO Starter Guide. While a bit out of date, it certainly encourages people to take advantage of SEO techniques to improve search visibility.

3. Google Analytics offers a series of SEO Reports."

SEO is not magic. It's hard work. Unfortunately, we continue to see resistance to what is, in reality, a benign practice. Beyond the expense, this resistance is likely due to a bad reputation. The manipulative practices of Black Hat SEO have plagued the good name of SEO specialists for years.

When we talk about SEO, we are not talking about Black Hat SEO.

We are talking abut organic SEO.

If you're a website owner, we suggest learning about the difference between Black Hat SEO and organic SEO. Only then can you begin to answer the question: Is SEO worth the money? The answer is likely "yes," especially if you own a small business. But the answer is not always "yes."

Please read: "The Death of SEO?" 

Or: "Quality vs. Quantity: A Different View of SEO Marketing."

***

We felt obliged to write this "defense" of organic SEO after reading a recent article by the "Internet Psychologist," Graham Jones. In "Is SEO a Myth?" Graham argues:

"Like it or not, SEO is a belief system. There are many people convinced by its power, whereas other people manage to thrive online without giving it a second thought."

Nonsense. This is so clearly an example of a logical fallacy that it is hardly worth entertaining.
Just because "some people manage to thrive online without" SEO does not mean that the practice itself is merely belief.

The effectiveness of SEO--if used correctly for the right website--is indisputable. Not all websites need SEO--but most do.

Weirdly, Jones uses the example of Google itself to "prove" that some websites perform well without SEO:

"Google itself produced its own “report card” showing that its own SEO was, frankly, poor. They are not doing too badly in spite of some pretty shabby search engine optimization of their own."

This report card actually refers to Google's products pages--and not Google itself, which Graham infers--which clearly could benefit from SEO. Google admits as much. Even then, this example is yet another logical fallacy. How does it follow that SEO is merely "belief" simply because Google does not need SEO?

Graham writes: "Perhaps what the Google report card demonstrates is that branding is more important than SEO."

We couldn't agree more. (Branding can be a part of a good SEO campaign). For websites without any "branding" to stand on, however, SEO can be the quickest route to success.

What do you think? Is the effectiveness of SEO a mere belief? Or can we prove categorically that SEO is an effective marketing tool--for many (if not all) websites?


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Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Google is Making "Mobile-Friendliness" a Ranking Signal: Are You Optimized?

Earlier this year, Google sent an email to many webmasters warning about "critical mobile usability errors." Google's intention was to prepare webmasters for a likely upcoming algorithm change. At the time, we noted, "The race is on," and asked, "Are you running?"

Hopefully, you answered affirmatively. Otherwise, you might now lose traffic--and sales. In a recent post on its Webmaster Blog, Google announced an upcoming algorithm update that will significantly impact mobile rankings:

"Starting April 21, we will be expanding our use of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal. This change will affect mobile searches in all languages worldwide and will have a significant impact in our search results. Consequently, users will find it easier to get relevant, high quality search results that are optimized for their devices."

So is your site mobile-friendly?

If you're not sure, take Google's "Mobile-Friendly Test" here. You might also Google your website name from a mobile phone. Since November, Google has distinguished mobile-friendly sites with a "Mobile-Friendly" tag in search results. A sample search for, say, "summer blazer" reveals two mobile-friendly sites and one not-so-mobile-friendly sites.

The first two sites here, Brooks Brothers and Pinterest, have received the Mobile-Friendly tag (noted below the address before the description). The third result, Lifestyle Mirror, has not received the tag.

A closer look at the search above reveals why the first two sites receive the Mobile-Friendly tag and the third site does not. To be mobile-friendly a site should, above all else, load quickly with mobile-appropriate-sized text and graphics. Take a look at the streamlined, and (perhaps most importantly) easy-to-read appearance of Brooks Brothers' mobile-friendly page.

Brooks Brothers' Mobile-Friendly page for "Summer Blazer." The screen is uncluttered and the text is easy-to-read. 

This Brooks Brothers page invites the mobile user. Simply put, to use the words of Google, the page is "viewable on a modern device."

On the other hand, a not-so-mobile-friendly website will repel the user experience. We all know the hassle of pinching and zooming a page to find what you need. Check out the appearance of this Lifestyle Mirror page, which obviously has not been optimized for mobile.

Lifestyle Mirror's not-so-mobile-friendly page for "Summer Blazer."

It's mystifying that a site that ranks so highly has not yet been optimized for mobile. As Google itself states here:

"Making websites that work on all modern devices is not that hard: websites can use HTML5 since it is universally supported, sometimes exclusively, by all devices."

What's more mystifying, though, is that the site continues to rank so highly on a mobile device. Why has it taken Google this long to use mobile-friendliness as a definitive ranking signal?

After all, we've been exposed to unfriendly mobile pages like Lifestyle Mirror's for far too long. The page itself might reveal valuable information, but the experience essentially makes the information useless. What good is text if you cannot comfortably read it? Better to wait for the laptop or tablet. But that's not the nature of mobile search. You perform a mobile search because you need the information now.

Thankfully (finally), Google rankings will reflect mobile-friendliness. There's no way to tell specifically how the new algorithm will influence rankings, but likely the Lifestyle Mirror page--and others like it--will be replaced by other relevant pages that have been optimized for mobile.

Thankfully--for Lifestyle Mirror, at least--Google will evaluate sites "page-by-page," which means that an entire site will not be penalized, only those specific pages that have not been optimized for the mobile experience. On the other hand, if an entire site shares similar pages that have not been optimized, the site itself could see a major traffic reduction.

Remember, mobile search now accounts for up to 60% of all online traffic. If you site is not optimized for mobile, you could miss this 60% entirely. As Jill Kocher writes over at Practical Ecommerce:

"The worst-case scenario is that all of the sales-driven organic search traffic via a mobile device disappears instantly when the change happens. That’s the worst case. It can’t get worse than losing it all. In all likelihood, the worst case won’t actually occur, and the decrease would be more like 80 percent, or 50 percent. But measuring the worst case helps you decide if the issue really is significant enough to act on immediately."

In our opinion, the issue is certainly significant enough to act on immediately. What are you doing now to optimize your site for mobile?


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Tuesday, March 10, 2015

How the Apple Watch will Change SEO

Last September when Apple announced its new iPhone 6, the company also revealed the design of its new Apple Watch with the promise that the watch will hit stores in "early 2015." Yesterday, after months of anticipation, Apple announced a specific date: April 24.

Obviously, the hoopla around the Apple Watch cannot be overstated. In February, JP Morgan revised its estimates for the Apple stock performance to accommodate the April release of the watch. As AppleInsider reports:

"Analyst Rod Hall issued a note to investors...in which he moved his December 2015 price target up $5 to $145. The increase comes alongside J.P. Morgan's first forecast for the Apple Watch, in which its 'central case' sees the company selling 26.3 million units in calendar 2015."

With that many devices out in the wild, the Apple Watch--like the iPhone--will likely change the cultural landscape. Of course, too, the device will influence the nature of SEO.

In September, for example, we reported that the Apple Watch might have a dramatic effect on local SEO. As Jayson DeMers wrote over at Forbes:

"Apple’s foray into wearable smart technology could mark the beginning of a new tech era—and some radical changes for the world of local SEO."

DeMers is one of our favorite SEO writers, and he's been spot-on in his writing about the evolving nature of SEO. We were happy to see, then, that he wrote an another article on the Apple Watch in February for the Huffington Post: "What will the Apple Watch Mean for Local Businesses."

With the Apple Watch announcement trending, and inspired by DeMers' latest thoughts on how the device might change SEO, we thought we'd revisit the topic.

First, it's important to note, wearable technology is not necessarily new or groundbreaking. Google glass, for example, the hideous glasses "that would project information in a heads-up display over a real-world environment" has already tried and failed.

As DeMers notes, "Google Glass failed to meet expectations, and production of the initial prototype has since been called to a halt."

Gary Shteyngart, explored Google Glass for the New Yorker. This picture alone should have presaged the device's eventual failure.

The Apple Watch, however, seems destined for success. Unlike Google Glass, the watch itself actually looks quite attractive. For fans of the sleek, minimalist iPhone, the Apple Watch just might be a necessary evolution--another "cool" gadget to add to one's style.

"Think different." Apple markets itself as the "cool"brand for the unique and stylish.

The style of the Apple Watch will likely ensure its success, but the functionality just might, in the words of DeMers, "cause massive changes in the dynamics of technology availability and function."

To envision these changes--and how your SEO campaign might respond to them--think about the experience of looking at a watch. As DeMers' astutely notes, the Apple Watch will have an "impossibly" small screen--at least when compared to other platforms for SEO, like phone and laptop screens. This is a simple fact, yet its implications are quite important.

First, the limits of the screen size will necessarily limit the way information, like a search result, is displayed. Until now, the search results we see on our laptops and desk tops have simply been miniaturized for our tablets and phones. The size of the watch screen makes this impossible. With millions of people now looking to increasingly smaller screens for information, the very nature of search is due to change.

As DeMers writes:

"It will no longer be feasible to list 10 web page results per page, complete with titles, descriptions, and links. Instead, Google and Bing will likely compose new styles of SERPs completely for smart watch users, preserving some elements of traditional SERPs but catering to a brand-new audience. This could change the benefits of ranking entirely, making it more beneficial to rank at #1 for one keyword rather than #8-10 for several keywords. It could also change the onsite factors Google pulls in for search results, limiting the display of meta data or eliminating it altogether."

The screen size will also inspire another change--in line with the evolution of Google's algorithm. In September, 2013, the Hummingbird algorithm revealed a new preference for lengthy queries. This change was a response to the increasing length of web queries as well as the prevalence of voice queries, which by nature tend to be more complex. These voice queries are precisely the type of search that Apple Watch users will use.

Again, DeMers writes:

"This could have a substantial impact on search volume for traditional keyword-based searches, and might eliminate keyword-based strategies as a feasible option altogether as long-tail phrases and semantic search clues take precedence."

That, indeed, is a major change. Obviously, following the Hummingbird algorithm, SEO has already been evolving to meet the demands of a  new type of search. This evolution makes sense across the board--not simply as a response to the Apple Watch.

In DeMers' article, he goes on to talk about how the Apple Watch will change the landscape for local search, a topic we discussed back in September. Please Read: "The Apple Watch: Style, Functionality, and Local SEO."

The upshot? As with Mobile SEO, the prizes will go to the businesses that adapt most quickly to the changing nature of SEO and marketing. We can't recommend the DeMers' article enough. More than simply reading articles, though, now is the time to act on your SEO campaign!

Evolve with the Times! Call Stepmans PC!

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 website that can compete on multiple platforms.

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.

Contact Stepmans PC today to learn how you can improve your website's performance: 215-900-9398.