Tuesday, September 22, 2015

How Voice-Based Technology Will Change SEO

This month's iPhone event was headlined by some intriguing new features, most notably 3D Touch, which uses multi-touch technology to sense how hard you press on the screen. As USA TODAY wrote today, 3D Touch will, at the very least, improve the speed of the iPhone user's experience, and potentially make life a little easier:

"For instance, gently pressing against the Camera app icon summons a shortcut menu for taking selfies, recording video or capturing a regular photo. A light press against the Reminders app lets you quickly add items to your to-do lists. Or by pressing against Maps you might mark your location or seek directions."

In a way, all updates to the iPhone attempt to accomplish this goal: making life easier. This is certainly the goal of Siri, the voice control assistant. Siri was originally met with contempt when it was introduced to the iPhone, in September, 2012.

In the intervening years, however, Siri (and other voice control technologies, like Amazon's Echo) have become more intuitive, easier to use, and more helpful. Now, with the latest iPhone software update (iOS 9), Siri seems poised to become a crucial part of our everyday lives.

As the New York Times writes today, too:

"The new Siri is paving the way to what you might call 'ambient computing' — a future in which robotic assistants are always on hand to answer questions, take notes, take orders or otherwise function as auxiliary brains to whom you might offload many of your chores."

To facilitate this form of "assistance," the new Siri will now be able to respond to commands voiced from several feet away. The Times notes that this "hands free" technology is not new, yet with Siri, Apple has improved its potential resourcefulness:

"In iOS 9...Siri also has more powers to connect to deeper parts of your phone. It can control devices compatible with Apple’s home-automation system, called HomeKit — you can tell it to turn down the lights, for example. Siri also controls Apple Music, the company’s new streaming service. In the car, say, 'Hey, Siri, play Dylan,' and up comes 'Subterranean Homesick Blues'."

The times they are a-changing -Bob Dylan

These changes have been predicted for years (first, of course, in science fiction), and recently in a major algorithm update from Google, which was made, in part, to accommodate the increase in voice-based searches, which tend to be longer and more complex.

This new algorithm was also a nod to the ubiquity of mobile phones. Increasingly, we know, most the worldwide online experience is conducted on mobile devices, a fact we've covered exhaustively in the past two years.

As the mobile experience changes, the nature of search--how and why--changes. Good SEO specialists maintain pace with the changes, adapting websites as needed to ensure optimum rankings. For example, earlier this year we beseeched website owners to optimize for mobile devices or suffer the consequences of what was called Mobilegeddon.

Keeping pace with the changing search landscape is an SEO specialist's job. Yet the best SEO minds attempt to do more--to keep ahead of the pace. Practically speaking, this means watching the news, reading articles, and making informed predictions.

Even then, it is not hard to see how the increasing prevalence of voice-based technology will change SEO. Single word keywords will become irrelevant as searchers voice precisely what they want with longer, more complex demands. As the Times notes:

"A host of start-ups are entering the game, too. One, called SoundHound, offers a taste of the possibilities of talking to machines: Rather than going through several sites to make a hotel reservation, you can ask, “Find me a three- or four-star hotel in New York next Friday for less than $300,” and off it goes."

The vital challenge for any website is clear; more than ever, a website must fulfill a specific need. A simple way to think about a marketing campaign, then, is to ask: What need does your website fulfill?

Instead of defining your product with a few keywords, you must now work hard to anticipate your potential customer's questions--and to answer them with good content. To create new content, start with a question in mind--and then answer that question precisely. Anticipate the voice-based search that makes your website relevant.

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Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Does Your Content Count?

Earlier this year, we wrote about the new content marketing rage, which we deemed to be ridiculous. As we noted then, what is marketing if not the projection of content? In traditional marketing, for example, the product itself--the packaging, suggested use, and name--is all content. We must admit, however, our post was a bit disingenuous.

Content marketing, at least as its understood today, refers to writing--or more explicitly, to writing that is intended to engage an audience with the objective of "driving profitable action." (That last quote, from the Content Marketing Institute, obscures the point; the objective, obviously, is to sell). This definition does sound an awful lot like a traditional definition of marketing. So why the emphasis on this new phrase--"content" marketing.

The best we can tell is that, in today's environment, the written word is the best way to increase your authority--and your search rankings. Perhaps this is why content marketing is so popular among the SEO community. So popular, in fact, that content marketing is already experiencing a backlash.

Analysts are predicting "content shock," a glut of content that will repel readers.

Here's a handy graphic from Mark Schaefer:

Oh no, it's coming! CONTENT SHOCK!

Eric Enge, over at Moz, summarized Schaefer's view--as well as the opposition to his view--in a recent post: "A Clear Path for Marketers to Surviving Content Shock."

We believe the hubbub is much ado about nothing. What is the Internet, after all, but an endless glut of content? We all have our ways of sorting through this glut; of discovering our preferred content. And, of course, the best content will always be a viable means to "driving profitable action."

Our advice: do not pay a lick of attention to articles extolling the popularity or the demise of content marketing. Far more important, we believe, are the few statistics Enge shares from a recent Moz study: "Content, Shares, and Links: Insights from Analyzing 1 Million Articles."

The study shows that most content receives little attention. As Enge notes, of the one million articles analyzed, "75% showed no external links" and "over 50% had 2 or fewer Facebook interactions (shares, likes, or comments)."

To summarize: Content can be valuable for marketing--if the content drives profitable action. Yet this is clearly not the case for a majority of the writing on the Internet. So should you spend your time creating content?

Yes, of course. But with this advice, we add a strong caveat: make the content count. If you're creating content with the explicit purpose of selling something (anything) and the content is not doing so--well, you're wasting time and money. So you have a simple choice:

1. Stop creating content (a terrible choice)
2. Create better content (a spectacular choice)

Of course, creating better content is easier said than done.

Before you even attempt to create content that works, for example, make sure you write well. If you do not write well, hire someone to write well. Otherwise, forget about it.

If you do write well (or have the means to hire someone who writes well), start thinking about how to write content that works. From the Organic SEO Blog, please read:

1. Three Keys to Writing SEO-Friendly Content That Inspires People to Share

2. Two Simple Questions to Inspire New Content

And for a different perspective, read this recent article from Jayson Demers:

7 Reasons Your Content Isn't Getting Shared

Questions? Comments? Please drop a line below...

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Tuesday, September 1, 2015

When a Top Google Ranking is Not Helpful

We've written before about the value of a top Google ranking. In a way, this blog is devoted to exploring this value--and how you can benefit from it. But how do you determine the value of a top ranking for your website, specifically?

It's no big secret that the top Google result for any given query receives most of Google's traffic. According to a 2013 study from Chitika, a top ranking receives 33% of all traffic. After that, the drop-off is steep. The second result receives about 18% of all traffic. The third result receives 11%. If you're not on the first page, you're missing 92% of all traffic.

Even then, for certain businesses, a top ranking for might not be all that helpful.

You might be thinking, "WHAT?!"

[Photo Source]
Well, in the SEO world we talk so much about the value of a top ranking, we often neglect to explore the value of a specific ranking.

Do you have a top ranking? If so, it's value may be variable. And it is certainly not so simple as stating, "A top ranking receives 33% of all traffic."

The key, of course, is the profitability of any specific top ranking. Unfortunately, many websites achieve top rankings for keywords that do not necessarily attract business.

Is your website the top result for a certain keyword? If so, what is the value of that top result to your business? To estimate the value, ask yourself, "Is my website driving profits?" If not, you might want to think about ranking for other, potentially more profitable keywords.

For example, we recently spoke to a local purveyor of handmade vegan products. He had been in business for seven years, and he was happy to report that his site ranked first for a Philadelphia-specific search.

However, he lamented, he did not believe his website had increased his profitability at all. He was performing well in the Philadelphia-area, yet he wanted to expand his reach, to other metro areas in the Mid-Atlantic region. He also wanted his customers to order directly from his website online.

Upon reviewing the website, we learned that the interface was outdated, the content weak, and the functionality serviceable at best. We tried a variety of other searches, yet the website did not even appear on the first page for any other search.

In reality, his top ranking for the Philadelphia-specific search was mostly due to his physical presence in the area--he's the only local purveyor of his unique vegan food. To truly expand his business, we told him, he needed to rank for more general searches--beyond the Philly area.

Before then, however, we stressed the importance of a clean website experience. As currently constructed, the website of this local purveyor of handmade vegan products was terrible. In fact, we wondered whether the current traffic he received might actually be hurting his business.

In last week's post, we wrote about the importance of high quality products and customer service:

"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: Do you really sell a high quality product at the right price? Do you excel in customer service?"

Now let us hasten to add: Is your website an actual asset to your business? 

The value of a good SEO specialist is his/her knowledge. A good SEO specialist should be able to assess the value of your website quickly (without charging you). A good SEO specialist should also be able to tell you--and not the other way around--the most profitable keywords for your industry.

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