Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Importance of Reviews for Local Businesses

The Organic SEO Blog has just returned from several weeks of vacation. Upon returning home, one of my first duties was to get an oil change for my old, dinky Saturn XL. We've owned the Saturn now for fifteen years, and like a spouse, I've come to understand the Saturn's needs, even when these needs are presented passive-aggressively, say with an odd clicking sound that otherwise seems to announce, "I am dying."

"You're not dying," I say, patting the dashboard. "You just need an oil change." 

Unfortunately, my local car repair guy, Craig of Doc Watson's, was not easily available. I needed an immediate solution: a local express oil change place, like Jiffy Lube or Midas. 

In the past, say even six or seven years ago, I would've simply looked for the closest place. Now, however, I did what I always do whenever I'm about to make any purchase, small or large: I checked the online ratings. 

The importance of online reviews, especially for local businesses, cannot be overstated. 

In my case, I Googled first, "Pep Boys," and discovered the closest location had a two-star Yelp rating. I disqualified the place out-of-hand. I didn't even read one review. 

Next, I Googled "Midas," which proved to be a bit better: the closest location had a three-star rating. Again, without reading a single review, I simply took the three-stars at face value: I cached the place, just in case I couldn't find a better option. 

Finally, I Googled "Jiffy Lube," which had a three-and-a-half-star rating. Without looking further, or reading one actual review, I chose this Jiffy Lube, purely based on the Yelp rating.

Car repair shops have always survived by the word-of-mouth of locals; today, the word-of-mouth is online, and accessible to the world.
My experience here is not unique, at least according to a recent survey by BrightLocal, a local search marketing firm.

BrightLocal recently published its annual "Local Consumer Review Survey." Here, in BrightLocal's words, are the key findings from the survey:
  • 92% of consumers now read online reviews (vs. 88% in 2014) 
  • 40% of consumers form an opinion by reading just 1-3 reviews (vs. 29% in 2014) 
  • Star rating is #1 factor used by consumers to judge a business 
  • 44% say a review must be written within 1 month to be relevant 
  • Only 13% of consumers consider using a business that has a 1 or 2 star rating 
  • 68% say positive reviews make them trust a local business more (vs. 72% in 2014)
  • Consumers are becoming more concerned about fake reviews
To us, the key takeaway here, obviously, is that online reviews can make or brake (pun intended) a businesses online marketing efforts.

You can perform all the website optimization you like, but if you're local reviews do not reflect a good customer experience--well, then, your optimization efforts will be for naught.

This is a key lesson that many of our local clients fail to grasp--at first.

SEO can only take a business so far. Yes, you heard that right. Of course, optimization can increase traffic to your website--and to your actual brick-and-mortar business. But it is up to you, the business owner, to ensure a quality customer service experience.

This is why a good SEO specialist will ask several key questions when speaking to potential clients--especially local clients. If you sell a high-quality product at the right price, you deserve customers. If you perform excellent customer service, you deserve repeat customers. However, you, the business owner, must honestly asses your business before choosing to optimize your website. Ask yourself these two key questions:
  1. Do you really sell a high quality product at the right price?
  2. Do you excel in customer service?
If not, now might not be the best time to perform website optimization.

It is a simple equation: SEO drives traffic, and potential customers, to your site. Why drive more potential customers to your site, if you're bound to disappoint the customers?

Do you love your customers? If so, treat them like you do! [Photo Source]
If you do sell a high quality product at the right price, and you do have a few bad online reviews, do not despair.

As the survey above notes, "44% say a review must be written within 1 month to be relevant." Most bad reviews are customer service-related. 

If you currently have a one- or two-star review, you can improve your online reputation by improving your customer service.

The first, obvious step: treat people kindly; treat each customer as if he/she were your most valuable customer. After all, you never know who might write your next review. 

A Unique Internet Marketing Company: Stepman's PC 

The information offered in this post (and elsewhere on this blog) is not typical of most Internet marketing companies. What separates Stepman's PC from its competitors is a focus on human beings. Alex Stepman, the owner of Stepman's PC, and the sponsor of The Organic SEO Blog, understands that website optimization is not simply about websites and codes and content--it is about understanding the motivations of real, actual people. If you want to speak to an SEO company with intelligence and empathy, call Stepman's PC now: 215-900-9398.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Is SEO a Dark Art?

A few years ago, Paul Boag wrote a widely-shared article for Smashing Magazine, "The Inconvenient Truth," that many believed called for "an end to the SEO sector."

His argument was that the fundamental purpose of SEO, to achieve higher rankings, was the wrong approach:

"If you hire a SEO company to improve your placement and you measure their worth on the basis of how high they get you in the rankings," he wrote, "then you are out of line with what Google is trying to achieve."

Instead, Mr. Boag suggested a strategy readers of this blog might find familiar: "your primary objective should be better content, not higher rankings."

We mention this article now, nearly two and a half years after its publication, because its assumptions about SEO are still prevalent in the greater online community today. Frankly, as Boag himself noted back then:

"Most website owners perceive SEO as a dark art, shrouded in mystery. They have heard phrases like 'gateway pages' and 'keyword density' or have been bamboozled by technobabble about the way websites should be built. All of this has left them feeling that SEO is the purview of experts. This is a misconception reinforced by certain segments of the SEO community."

Do you view SEO as a "dark art"? [Photo source]

Boag was right, of course. The fact the "SEO is the purview of experts" is a misconception. Yet Boag's article itself seems to lapse into the same misconception.

By pigeon-holing the practice of SEO--the relentless pursuit of "higher rankings"--he misconstrues the evolution of the SEO community; he neglects just how this community has adapted to the diverse demands of Internet marketing.

True, many specialists are still mired in the single-purpose pursuit, via design and development "tricks"--of higher ranking, but any SEO specialist worth his salt understands that the key to performance is quality, relevant content.

The "tricks" are often necessary, but as Benji Arriola was quoted in Forbes, predicting the future of SEO, earlier this year:

"SEO & social media will further merge with traditional PR & marketing practices."

As Brent Gleeson wrote (quoting Arriola):

"Old SEO tricks at the code level and spammy link building will continue to decrease. SEO will focus on the production of great content that can come in a number of mediums: textual, images, videos, interactive apps, and more. This is what traditional advertising experts excel at; they just have to adjust it for the user behavior on the web. Link building will involve content promotion, influencer outreach, and relationship building. All the same tactics used in traditional marketing, but powered by new tools and social media. SEOs that do not evolve and understand the fundamentals of traditional marketing and storytelling will become obsolete."

This has been happening for years. Unfortunately, like Boag, many continue to view SEO as "a dark art." For his part, Boag suggests performing the work of online marketing in-house:

"Ultimately organizations need to change so that online marketing is a more distributed role with everybody taking responsibility for aspects of it."

Where we fundamentally differ from Boag is our belief that a good SEO specialist can be an integral part of this team--even if he or she is hired from outside the company.

It is truism of business consulting that an outside force is best suited to view the dynamics of a company in a new way--to help the company break habit patterns and mechanical ways of being.

In many ways, a good SEO specialist plays this same part for a company's marketing: he or she observes, reports, and catalyzes a new approach. If he or she is proficient in design and development, all the better.

The face of SEO is not dark; it's humble, approachable, and keen to help.

Alex Stepman, our blog's sponsor: a humble and approachable SEO specialist who understands the diverse demands of Internet marketing. 

If you're prone to think of SEO as  the "purview of experts," we invite you to read the Organic SEO Blog. This blog is decidedly not written by experts; our writers aim, simply, to learn and to share this learning in an accessible way. Once you get past the misconceptions, you discover real human beings.

Internet 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.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

New Search Ranking Factors Study from Moz Confirms the Importance of Quality Links

Moz, the SEO software company, recently published its biannual study on search: The 2015 Search Ranking Factors.

The study rates over 90 Google search ranking factors. It is based on two resources:

1. The opinions of industry experts--over 150, according to Moz.

2. And an "extensive correlation study" to determine the website elements most often associated with high rankings.

To "enhance the study" with even more data, Moz partnered with SimilarWeb, DomainTools, and Ahrefs.

The study provides a helpful tool for SEO specialists and online business owners alike--if only to reinforce the information we've expressed over the years here on the Organic SEO Blog.

Unfortunately, Moz offers tons of data to scrutinize--much of it replete with SEO jargon. For the layman, the study itself might seem inscrutable.

The simple interpretation of the data is that inbound links are the primary ranking determinant for Google. But remember, "link building," as Google has said before, might not be the best way to "earn" links. As we've said before, "Don't just build links--inspire links."

How do you earn links? Take the "natural" approach of organic SEO.

Build an appealing website with engaging content. Of course, remember the distinction between good and bad links. And definitely do not focus on link building to the detriment of creating great content.

Beyond links, keywords still play an important role, helping the Google discover, as Moz puts it, "content relevance" and "on-page optimization of keyword usage." The key to keywords, so to speak, is using them judiciously with a focus on poignancy. Keywords count--but only when they're used in the right way.

We're reminded of the famous quote of Raymond Carver:

"That's all we have, finally, the words, and they had better be the right ones, with the punctuation in the right places so that they can best say what they are meant to say."

Raymond Carver: his quote is a good lesson for any writer, and especially those writing content for websites.
A surprise from the Moz study is the relatively low value of "social metrics" although it is important to remember just how many links social media generate.

For more, check out the study itself. If you have any questions, please feel free to comment below. And here is the infographic summary of the results:



SEO 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.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Are Keywords Dead?

Are keywords dead? Back in January, Jayson DeMers, writing for Search Engine Watch, announced "the focus on keyword-based search engine optimization is dying quickly."

His point was similar to a point we've have made on this blog many times--at least since the inception of Google's Hummingbird algorithm, in October, 2013. With this new algorithm, Google seemed to acknowledge that browsers, especially mobile browsers, were using longer, more complex search queries--what DeMers calls "long tail keywords."

This is how DeMers defines long tail keywords:

"Essentially, long-tail keywords are less popular keywords because they have less search volume and less competition to rank for. Consider the following two examples: 'home remedies for bed bugs' or 'how to get rid of depression.' These are each considered long-tail keywords as compared to trying to rank for the much more competitive search terms 'bed bugs' or 'depression.'"

A founder of a Seattle-based SEO agency, DeMers speaks the language of the trade. For him, keywords are about "trying to rank."

We agree, although we believe keywords are also a useful way to clarify your offering. We believe keywords should also serve as the germ for good content. No doubt, a rigorous SEO campaign must now compete not merely by keywords, but by information, too--the sort of information that answers questions.

As we noted before:

"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."

Please Read: "SEO 101: To Compete, You Must Evolve"



Keywords can help you rank. [Photo source]

So are keywords dead?

Not by a long shot. Alex Stepman of Stepman's PC (our blog's sponsor) recently had occasion to discuss the importance of single-word keywords--and how a new business should use simple, inventive keywords to compete.

Quality content is a must, yet before you start writing, you would do well to choose a few, succinct keywords to populate your site.

"After all," as DeMers notes, "Google still needs some kind of text to figure out what it is your company actually does."

You can view keywords as guideposts for Google. The search engine uses your keywords to classify your business.

DeMers' article has a lot of great information about how to use keywords to your benefit. For more, read "Are Keywords Relevant to SEO in 2015?"

Alex recently told us about a client who wished to compete based on his own, carefully chosen keywords--keywords, in Alex's estimation, that had already seen a massive amount of competition. For this reason, Alex offered the client (and this blog) a different view of choosing keywords.

In fact, Alex believes, it is often best if the client does not choose specific keywords. In Alex's view, the SEO company is better positioned to choose keywords.

"Technically," Alex said, "a customer will not really know the competitive keywords. Additionally, he or she will not know what it takes to promote any specific keyword, or if it even makes sense to compete for a specific keyword."

Often, it turns out, it does not make sense to compete for certain keywords. Why? Many new businesses choose obvious keywords--keywords that are dominated by industry leaders with extensive visibility and standing. To compete for these keywords, then, a new business would have to battle for months, even years, without any guarantee of success.

As an SEO specialist, Alex believes, "it is my duty to do the keyword research, to define the most popular keywords for any given industry, to study how search landscape and the demographics for a given keywords--per day, month, or years. Only then, based on this report, should a website owner decide to compete or not."

The key, Alex believes, is to compete where you can, and to create inventive new content for new keywords that have yet to see much competition.

This thought echoes a similar thought by Rand Fishkin, of the Moz blog.

"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...

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."

Keywords are not dead. You just need to know what keywords to use--and how to use them.

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.