Tuesday, June 23, 2015

To Compete, Discover Your Niche

A few weeks ago we wrote a post about creating attention-worthy content with reference to Rand Fishkin, of the Moz Blog, and his idea of "10x content." Fishkin's premise is that simply creating "good, unique content" is not enough to rank. In order for new or smaller to medium-sized websites to rank, Fishkin believes, they must create 10x content:

"Really, where I want folks to go..is 10x, 10 times better than anything I can find in the search results today."

Fishkin gives an outline for creating this sort of content, which is at best, nebulous, but still helpful for beginners. He asks, for example:

"What questions are being asked and answered by these search results?

What sort of user experience is provided? I look at this in terms of speed, in terms of mobile friendliness, in terms of rendering, in terms of layout and design quality, in terms of what's required from the user to be able to get the information? Is it all right there, or do I need to click? Am I having trouble finding things?"

Answering these sorts of questions will give you an idea of why a piece of content is successful (or not), but it might not necessarily help you create great content. In any case, we simplified Fishkin's recommendations to two simple questions.

Read: "Two Questions to Inspire New Content."

Still, the question remains: Is the creation of superlative, outstanding, 10x, or whatever you want to call it, content really enough for a new or small or medium-sized website to compete in the rankings?

This is the question Adam Stetzer asks on Search Engine Watch, and his answer is definitive:
"The Google mantra: 'Create great content and it will earn links,' works for big business, but not for small ones."

Read: "Come on, Google. Let the Little Guy Earn a Link."

Stetzer focuses his discussion specifically on high-quality, relevant links, which work as editorial votes, and are supposed to boost a website's ranking. The problem, Stetzer asserts, is that "small businesses are not going to get links just by virtue of having good content."

This assertion, of course, is in contrast to Fishkin's claim about 10x content. As Fishkin writes,
"If you use this process or a process like this and you do this type of content auditing and you achieve this level of content quality, you have a real shot at rankings."

Not really, Stetzer says: "Google policies are seemingly oblivious to this reality: without links, small businesses get no traffic and without traffic, they get no links."

In our view, both are right (and wrong). We happen to agree with Fishkin's assertion that outstanding content can boost rankings and attract traffic. But Fishkin himself makes a key point that Stetzer overlooks:

"Really, where I want folks to go...is 10x, 10 times better than anything I can find in the search results today. If I don't think I can do that, then I'm not going to try and rank for those keywords. I'm just not going to pursue it. I'm going to pursue content in areas where I believe I can create something 10 times better than the best result out there."

And this is a reality of a small business, which by nature is not trying to compete with a large business.

A small bookseller, for example, will not try to compete head-to-head with, say, Amazon, the behemoth of online book sales. But a smaller bookseller, like Powell's Books, which originated as a neighborhood bookseller in Portland, Oregon, can certainly discover success.

Powell's Book City in Portland, Oregon
Powell's ingenious way of marketing itself is "The World's Neighborhood Bookseller." If you Google "books," the number-one result is, of course, Amazon, followed by Barnes and Noble and Google Books. Powell's is not even on the first page. Yet Powell's has earned a durable success with unique branding--and, ironically, by selling its books on Amazon.

The point is that to compete you have to discover your niche.

Stetzer's assertion, then is not entirely true. To be fair, Stetzer seems to imply that a smaller bookstore like Powell's should be able to compete with Amazon. He begins with an ideal scenario:

"Some would say that the Internet is the great equalizer, that every business, large and small, has an equal shot at page one rankings and with that, web traffic, leads, sales, and growth."

But this is simply not true. And that's OK. As we've written before, "To Compete You Must Evolve." And for a new or smaller business this means answering the questions that have not yet been answered. Create your own rankings. Be unique--and specific about your offering:

"By paying attention to the unique specificity of your product or service, you can dramatically improve your visibility on Google. Instead of thinking about keywords, however, think about questions. What question(s) does your product or service answer? Once you've answered these questions (for yourself), you can begin to compose your answers."

For more, read our posts about content.

Natural Website Optimization with Stepman's PC

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

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Google Algorithm News: Changes to the Core Algorithm & a Panda Refresh

The SEO world is once again abuzz with talk of Google algorithm updates. In early June, Gary Illyes of Google announced that a Panda update will occur in the following weeks. And earlier this week, Barry Schwartz reported that chatter in the SEO community about a possible algorithm change had "spiked significantly."

Would it be the announced Panda update? Or something else?

"Some are saying Panda," Schwartz reported, "but others are saying not so. Some are seeing ranking changes, some are seeing huge shifts in crawl rates."

Just yesterday, Schwartz reported a clarification straight from the source: Yes, Google had confirmed an algorithm update--to the core algorithm, however, and not Panda. Here is Google's statement:

"This is not a Panda update. As you know, we’re always making improvements to our search algorithms and the web is constantly evolving. We’re going to continue to work on improvements across the board."

Of course, the changes (and the talk of changes) have the SEO community in a tizzy--and for a good reason. Even minor algorithm changes can create significant changes in rankings for certain websites.

Yet if you're not necessarily versed in SEO-speak, you might be wondering what all of this means? What is the "core algorithm", let alone the "crawl rates."

We write the Organic SEO Blog for the layperson who wants to learn more about website optimization. We hope to reach small to medium-sized online businesses who stand to see vast improvements in rankings (and, as a result, profits) from utilizing the principles of organic SEO. For these people, then, the news of a possible Panda update is quite significant, indeed.

But first, let us clarify a simple point. As a young company, Google's mission was to provide the best search results. It's first algorithm, the "core algorithm", governed the basics of search, and was made available to browsers over fifteen years ago, with the introduction of the "plug-in" Google toolbar. As Google announced then:

"Google Inc., developer of the award-winning Google search engine, today announced the immediate availability of the Google Toolbar(TM). This free browser plug-in enables Internet users to search for information with Google’s fast, highly relevant search technology, from any web page on the Internet."

The "core algorithm" is often referred to as Google PageRank.

Since then, Google has created what it has called "algorithm updates" to deal with specific issues, such as hidden text and links, keyword stuffing, and spam. These updates were named: Boston, Cassandra, Florida...and more.

For a detailed and fascinating history of Google algorithm updates, Check out the "Google Algorithm Change History" from Moz.

It is helpful to understand how different updates govern different search elements, and how each update is intended to improve the quality of search results for browsers. By doing so, you will see precisely what Google is looking for--and how to improve your website.

Now, we're especially fond of the Panda update, first introduced in 2011, because it governs the quality of content. As Marcus Tober, of Search Metrics, reported around the time of the most recent Panda update (in September, 2014):

"Panda Updates focus on content quality. They are supposed to remove redundant, irrelevant content and spam from Google’s index...The interesting thing about the current Panda generation is the fact that apparently smaller and medium high-quality websites are supposed to benefit from the update."

Hopefully this upcoming refresh will continue to benefit the same website. Originally, Google created Panda to distinguish sites with original, high-quality, and relevant content. Part of the original algorithm, however, used "authority" (a loaded term), to identify the best content. Unfortunately, as we've reported before:

"...in trying to separate the wheat from the chaff--perhaps the most relevant metaphor for Google's mission--Panda penalized small and medium-sized sites in favor of brand names with more "authority." Smaller sites just couldn't compete with the likes of Amazon, even if they offered equal/or better products at equal/or better prices--which they often do."

Our hope is that Google will continue to redress this imbalance with each Panda update. The upshot? If you're a small to medium-sized business you can compete with the big boys--if you're willing to create great content, what Rand Fishkin calls 10x content.

Read: "Two Simple Questions to Inspire New Content." 

Organic SEO with Stepman's PC 

If you're looking for an SEO company that understands how to effectively promote websites with 10x content, 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.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Two Simple Questions to Inspire New Content

A few weeks ago, Rand Fishkin wrote an intriguing post on the Moz Blog: "Why Good Unique Content Needs to Die." The initial theme of the article, that "good, unique content" is simply not enough to achieve a high ranking, that it is "not the bar for entry into SEO" might seem discouraging:

"You're not going to have an opportunity to rank," he writes. "It's much, much harder to get into those top 10 positions...than it was in the past because there are so many ranking signals that so many of these websites have already built up over the last 5, 10, 15 years..."

Yet Fishkin's astute presentation of his "content quality scale" offers a new hope: the creation of what Fishkin calls "10x content":
.
"Really, where I want folks to go..is 10x, 10 times better than anything I can find in the search results today. If I don't think I can do that, then I'm not going to try and rank for those keywords. I'm just not going to pursue it. I'm going to pursue content in areas where I believe I can create something 10 times better than the best result out there."

The key to creating this sort of content, Fishkin believes, is studious research of the existing search landscape. Google a specific keyword for the content you plan to write about and ask yourself, "What makes this great?" Fishkin suggests looking at many factors: not only the quality of the writing, but the user experience, the details, the content's sources, and the visuals. He also asks an important question, "What's missing?"

We state this question a bit differently. We believe a productive way to think about a potential piece of content is to simply ask, "What question am I answering?"

We know that people search to find answers. Can you answer a specific question in a unique way? Researching the current results, per Fishkin's recommendation, will give you a good view of how the question has been answered before. Can you answer the question with new information?

This is, by the way, a great way to think about your business offering. As we've noted before:

"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!"

So the challenge is to add something to the evolving conversation. Do not simply re-hash what has come before. If you own an online business, and you want to create a market for your product, ask yourself: what am I adding to the conversation?

Two simple questions, then, to inspire new content:

1. "What question am I answering?"

2. "What am I adding to the conversation?"

But there's something else, of course. There's a bit more to creating "10x content."

Pablo Neruda, poet: Believe it or not: the talent of the writer matters, too

Fishkin believes the ability to perform research and to write content that exceeds the top results, is a "super power." His formula for success is, well, a bit formulaic. It is helpful--to a point especially in his assertion that many competitors do not have the resources to "scale content quality." If you can figure out a way to produce 10x content, you will beat your competitors.

Really, though, Fishkin's article only briefly mentions the true super power: "quality writing." The article itself, presumably transcribed from the video, is not an example of "quality writing," per say. Although the information is useful, the writing itself abounds with strange grammatical constructions and run-on sentences.

When you talk about "quality writing," remember, it is not simply what is being conveyed, but how. Despite the abundance of bad writing, essentially practiced by everyone, most of today's readers can discern the true mark of quality writing. This is why the true "super power" will always be the writer's talent.

An astute business owner understands his/her talents and limitations. If the creation of 10x content is crucial to your business success, and you do not currently have a great writer on staff, then we suggest hiring one. Great information poorly conveyed, or even competently conveyed, is not enough. You're seeking greatness.

We'll discuss how to find great writers in a future post. For now, you might try reading any of our articles on "content" or: "Three Keys to Writing SEO Content That Inspires People to Share."

Content Marketing with Stepman's PC 

If you're looking for an SEO company that understands how to effectively promote websites with 10x content, 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.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

The State of Your Website: Do You Even Know What You Don't Know?

Last week we presented a simple formula to help you decide if SEO is the right choice for your website. Ask yourself the following questions:

1. Do you expect to profit from your website?

2. If so, do you know how much traffic you receive on a daily/monthly basis?

3. Would an increase in traffic increase your profits?

If you answered "yes" to these questions, your website is likely a good candidate for SEO. As we noted last week, the traffic drop-off between the first, second, and third result on a Google search is quite significant: from 33% of the traffic, to 18%, and 11%, respectively.

If you're currently the third result or lower, what stands between you and first place (and a significant increase in traffic) is some form of website optimization.

We say website optimization here, instead of SEO specifically, because for many industries the top result is achieved simply with good design and development. Design and development are part of a good SEO campaign, but not all websites with good design and development employ SEO.

And believe it or not, many top-ranked websites do not even have good design and development. They receive their ranking by happenstance or good fortune. This is especially true for local businesses.

This might seem to be a case against SEO. If an industry-specific local business can achieve the top Google result--and a majority of the traffic--by happenstance, what good is SEO?

The truth is simple: for many industry-specific searches, no website is employing good design and development, and no single website is employing good SEO. In this case, Google is left to chose the best sites based on whatever ranking signal is relevant. If one site has more content than the next--even if the content is sub-par--well, than, all else been equally bad, the site with more content will likely prevail.

If you own a local business--and this is the majority of all businesses, from hair salons to law firms--we hope you see the possibilities here. A simple re-design of your website, with good design and development could easily land you the top spot. A good SEO campaign can keep you there.

This is why our sponsor, Stepman's PC, often promises quick results--in a month or less. Depending on your industry, you could stand to gain significant ground with a few simple changes. The challenge is when the top sites are well designed and developed, and employing SEO. Then you simply need to do better.

The problem for many website owners, frankly, is that they don't even know what they don't know. Honestly, though, this is not a problem specific to website owners. As Art Markman writes for Harvard Business School:

"You probably don’t know as much as you think you do. When put to the test, most people find they can’t explain the workings of everyday things they think they understand.

Don’t believe me? Find an object you use daily (a zipper, a toilet, a stereo speaker) and try to describe the particulars of how it works. You’re likely to discover unexpected gaps in your knowledge. In psychology, we call this cognitive barrier the illusion of explanatory depth. It means you think you fully understand something that you actually don’t."

If this is the case for a zipper, it's certainly the case for website design and development, and of course, SEO.

Recently, Alex Stepman, of Stepman's PC shared a simple case of this principle.

A local business wants to compete in an industry-specific field, yet it's website is woefully lacking. In terms of ranking, it doesn't even appear on the first page for an industry-specific search. However, the business considered their own website to be "beautiful" and "informative." When asked about their development, the owners responded, "Top notch."

The owners were certainly surprised, then, to learn that one of the most basic components of the site, the page headers (represented in code by <h1> , <h2>, <h3>, etc.) were not adequately promoting the site. The <h1> header simply named the company without noting the industry. Unless someone already knows the name of the company, this information is worthless. A better <h1> header would've been specific to the industry--in this case "Philadelphia hair salon." Furthermore, the website was lacking description tags for each page.

This is just the beginning of the website's problems--yet it was all news to the website owners. As we noted above, this situation is not unique at all. For some industries, it's closer to the norm.

So, again, do you see the possibilities? If this is what you're competing against, you can easily trump the competition. The key is first accepting that you do not even know what you don't know. The next step is learning about website design and development. Finally, to truly compete and stay on top of the rankings, you must learn about and employ SEO.

To get you started, we suggest reading our series on building a website:

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

Beyond this, we suggest browsing our articles to learn more about the possibilities of organic SEO.

***

If you sell a high-quality product that deserves customers, you also deserve a well-optimized 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.