Saturday, May 28, 2016

SEO 101: Keywords

It's 90 degrees in Philadelphia today--the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend. For weeks on the East Coast, throughout April and May, we've endured cool (at times cold) dreary weather. We've longed for heat. Earlier this week, on Monday, the temperatures hardly hit 60. Then, Wednesday, out of the blue...

What words conjure summer for you? Water? Heat? Fun?

The iconography of summer is rich and evocative. A single summery word can illicit a singular emotion. Say the word "beach" and we all have a distinctive feeling.

 [Photo Source: Secret Forts]

The best brands understand how to evoke a singular emotion with a simple word or phrase. Think of Nike's "Just do it." Or Apple's "Think Different." The slogans are famous.

More famous, however, are the brand names: Nike and Apple. When you Google "Apple" for example, Google understands you're looking for the company--not the fruit. The brand has become so noteworthy its fame exceeds the world's most famous fruit. (You won't even find mention of the fruit on the first SERP).

We're noting these examples to illustrate a simple point: the power of simple words--or, in SEO parlance, keywords.

The SEO world has been speaking about the "death of keywords" for years. For many, the word  conjures negative associations. It is true, in the early days of SEO, certain Black Hat specialists practiced keyword stuffing, excessively adding specific words or phrases into a site’s content--and more sinister, into a site's development.

This practice was unethical--yet effective, for a time. Today, however, search engines can easily spot keyword stuffing. The practice is entirely ineffective.

And yet, the judicious use of keywords is still the best way to promote a brand online.

Long Tail Keywords

Today, many in the SEO world speak of the importance of long-tail keywords--not words, but phrases or sentences that more specifically match the queries of today's browsers.

As Jayson DeMers wrote over at Search Engine Land last year: "The focus on keyword-based search engine optimization is dying quickly." DeMers believes long-tail keywords signal the new, easier way to rank:

"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.'"

We agree with DeMer's assessment, but we also have to say: "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet."

Keywords

Call it what you will, a keyword or a long-tail keyword, the essence is the same.

A "keyword" is the word or words that most precisely conjure the image of your brand. For brands like Nike and Apple, the work is done. We merely need to say "Apple" to conjure a host of products--many of which we likely own: iPhones, iPads. MacBooks, etc.

When building a brand, the goal is to illicit a similar response in your customers. You want your brand to be known by name and product name. When beginning to market your brand, you must choose the right words for each.

Keywords are not dead--not by a long shot. A recent article on SEO by Entrepreneur, proves the point. Of nine SEO tips, four reference keywords specifically, including the first, most essential tip: "Pick a good Keyword to Focus on."

"The first step" Brandon Turner writes, "is to simply pick the search term or phrase you want the post to show up for."

Simple? Perhaps. Brandon suggests using Google Keyword Planner to learn more about any potential keyword you might wish to use.

These 9 SEO Tips Are All You'll Ever Need to Rank in Google

Brandon is speaking specifically about content. Yet keywords serve a more elemental purpose. Your brand name and your product names--these are your most important keywords. Naming a brand is not an arbitrary exercise.

Imagine your ideal customers searching for your product or service. What keywords best describe your product or service? How do you want people to find you? Can you create a marketing campaign around your keywords?

These are fundamental questions for any online business. The point, of course, is to choose wisely. For today's search engines, keywords still run the show.

Organic SEO with Stepman's PC 

If you're looking for an SEO company that understands how to effectively promote websites with carefully chosen keywords, 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, May 19, 2016

Visitors vs Conversions: How SEO and Conversion Rate Optimization Work Together to Inspire Sales

How do you define the success of on online marketing campaign? For many, especially in the SEO world, success if defined by ranking.

To rank at the top of the SERP (search engine results page)--this is the presumed goal of a good online marketing campaign. Or so you would think, form the marketing of any number of so-called SEO firms.

A good ranking means increased traffic, higher visibility, and a feather in your brand's cap. This is all good.

But if your true goal is sales, a good ranking is not the first measure of success. As we noted before:

"A poor website ranking is not the reason your website is not successful, but because you were promised a high ranking within a short period of time, you feel lost. Whom can you trust, after all, if your SEO professional does not even know what he/she is talking about?"

Please Read: "The Difference Between Website Ranking and Website Optimization"

Increased traffic is great, but success requires the right type of traffic: precisely targeted visitors who are truly interested in your product or service. These visitors might only represent a fraction of your real traffic. However small, though, attracting this group should be the ultimate goal of your online marketing campaign.

A still from Wedding Crashers:
The wrong type of visitor will have no connection to your product or service--or, in the case of  Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson, to your wedding! [Source]
Believe it or not, SEO (search engine optimization) is not the true goal of online marketing. SEO is simply the simply a catch-all phrase; an easy way to express the work of creating a successful website online. You optimize to perform well on search engines.

But performance is often more precisely defined by "conversions," or what many in the SEO world call CRO--"conversion rate optimization."

A visitor to your site is simply that, a visitor. A visitor might click on your site, browse a few pages, then leave. A site with a high ranking might attract many visitors who browse a few pages, then leave.

The whole notion of ranking begs a question: What is the point of attracting visitors?

The point is conversion. A conversion is a visitor who performs an action on your site, like buying your product or service, or sharing your content, or signing up for your newsletter. Different sites have different ways of defining a successful conversion, yet the essence is the same: A "converted" visitor is a customer.

A simple example reveals the difference between a good ranking and a successful online marketing campaign.

Say one site attracts 100 people and converts 10--for a 10% conversion rate.

Another site attracts 75 visitors but convert 15--for a 20% conversion rate.

The site that attracts 100 people might rank better, but if your goal is a sale (or however you define a conversion), the performance of the second site is more appealing.

Before you downplay the importance of SEO, though, remember: SEO and CRO work in concert to create a successful online marketing campaign. One cannot exist with the other.

The point of organic SEO, by nature, is to attract a precisely targeted audience. The point of CRO is to make sure that targeted visitor performs the desired action.

 In the end, the optimization for both SEO and CRO looks similar. Quality content, for example, is the hallmark of both SEO and CRO.

A good online marketing company, however, understands the subtle differences between SEO and CRO and works to optimize both in subtly unique ways. Much of this blog is devoted to the art of SEO--however, conversion, is always our implicit goal.

How to Think About Conversions: The Art of Sales

When optimizing for conversions for our own clients, we define three things:

1. What is the desired conversion action?

2. What sort of action is most likely to inspire a conversion? (For example: Instead of directly attempting to sell, some firms try, first, to convert visitors to a newsletter with the hope that the newsletter will convert readers to customers).

3. What is the best way to inspire a visitor to convert?

Like most business, conversion comes down to the art of sales.

At the lower levels of salesmanship, a salesperson simply attempts to pressure someone to buy something they might not need or want.

If you understand SEO, you know: This type of pressure is opposed to the goal of organic optimization, which defines success by attracting people who really do want or need your product.

In low-level sales, the pitch is bombastic, of the sort that says, "Buy this, or else." That "or else" is a threat, of course. You might attract and convert a certain amount of people this way, but not enough to sustain a long-term, profitable business.

True conversion is not at all about persuasion or pressure; it is about reassuring your organically-attracted visitors that they have come to the right place; that they've found what they were looking for. This sort of conversion requires lucid content that clearly and simply explains your product or service.

Conversion Optimization Marketing with Stepman's PC 

If you're looking for an SEO company that understands how to effectively promote websites with good content that converts visitors, 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, May 12, 2016

Google Confirms: Deceptive and Harmful = Spam

What is spam? We all know spam when we see it--and because of its ubiquity, we've all seen it. Spam is ugly, incongruous, often nonsensical. The writer, Colin Dickey, slyly pointed to the nonsense in a recent tweet:

The true riddle is inadvertent. Like so much Twitter spam, this bot's attempt to communicate makes little sense. This is the spam we're all familiar with. We see it, prolifically, in our spam folders, in emails making absurd promises:

"The sum of USD$25.7M only will be transfer into your account after the processing of all relevant legal documents with your name as the bonafide beneficiary..."

This line arrived today, in my email, from a certain "Dr. Chiunadue Eze" of the "Central Bank of Nigeria." Spam of this kind has become a white noise, a necessary evil of the Internet, largely ignored but still annoying.

It's hard to believe this sort of spam is effective at all. Yet as we noted before:

"A spammer works on the principle of nearly 100% quantity. Blasting emails to millions, regardless of the recipient's preferences, spammers care little about the quality of their image. Instead, spammers play a numbers game, hoping for bare minimum conversions: 1% or less. Sounds inefficient? Well, it is, in a sense. Yet a 1% conversion for one million emails is still 10,000."

Please Read: Quality or Quantity: A Different View of SEO Marketing

Of course, any business would take 10,000 customers--but at what cost?

For a sustainable business, spam is not the answer. Spam degrades your brand image: You attract 10,000 customers, repel 990,000 others. And, of course, that 1% conversion is likely generous. Does anyone really fall for emails of the sort Dr. Eze sent me?

The true riddle of Colin Dickey's spam, and all such spam? What's the point?

Unfortunately, not all spam is of the puzzlingly pointless variety. In fact, the spam industry has evolved. Today's spam is more tricky; and very often, frankly, today's spam successfully masquerades as a legitimate business. Many businesses--from J. Crew to any matter of Internet marketers--practice some form of spam.

Even then, it is a terrible association--to be linked with spam. So how do you avoid it?

Google might have something to say about this. Just yesterday, the search giant decided to ban ads for "payday loans"--the sort of loans, as Forbes reports, "that are due within 60 days and...have an annual percentage rate of 36% or higher."

Forbes quotes a Google blog post on the loans, citing David Graff, director of global product policy at Googles, who says “This change is designed to protect our users from deceptive or harmful financial products."

In the past, Google has done its best to limit deceptive or harmful products, banning, as Forbes notes, "weight loss scams, counterfeit goods and phishing sites." Google also "prohibits ads for illegal goods and services like guns and drugs."

These bans are largely due to the Penguin algorithm, which was introduced on April 24, 2012, to limit the rankings of Black Hat websites that violate Google's Webmaster Guidelines. With Penguin, Google proved, more then ever before, that its main objective was to offer its users only high-quality content.

To put it another way, reversing Google's characterization of payday loan ads as "deceptive or harmful," the search engine is looking for two key assets: honesty and helpfulness.

Does this describe your site? You might believe your product is helpful, but do you market honestly? If you blanket users with information they do not want or need; if you offer your products out of context (or: in any context), you are practicing a form of spam.

The value of organic SEO is precisely in targeting your core audience. Unlike spam, organic SEO is not senseless, random marketing. Organic SEO works to deliver the most relevant and high-quality results to your unique customers. In this way, Google's algorithm update and bans are not meant to stymie SEO. The changes dissuade spam and encourage organic SEO.

Content Marketing with Stepman's PC 

If you're looking for an SEO company that understands how to effectively promote websites with good 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, May 6, 2016

Outbound Links: Good SEO

Last week we spoke about the popular SEO belief that "backlinks"--links from another website to your website--boost search rankings. Though this practice is generally accepted as bullet-proof in many SEO circles, Google has warned that deliberately trying to "acquire" backlinks can "do more hard than good."

As we noted, Google's Webmaster Trends Analyst, John Mueller, advises websites to avoid link-building.

"We do use links as part of our algorithm," Mueller states, "but we use lots and lots of other factors as well. So only focusing on links is probably going to cause more problems for your web site than it actually helps."

That said, Google rarely distinguishes parts of its algorithm, so Mueller's admission that the search engine does "use links as part of the algorithm" was telling. His quote, after all, inferred that links are good, but only as part of a well-balanced website. This should not surprise anyone in the SEO community.

Photo Source: credible journalists cite sources--a "best practice," and natural form of outbound linking (more below).

However, Mueller's quote also pointed to a far more contentious notion. By not qualifying the nature of "links," he left his meaning open to interpretation. Did he mean inbound (backlinks) or outbound links? Mueller very likely did mean inbound links--but what of outbound links?

Can links to other sites increase your own site's rankings?

As we noted, this is a contentious topic in the SEO world. Writing over at KoMarketing, an online marketing firm, Derick Edmond answers with an emphatic "no" before making a distinction between the direct and indirect benefits of outbound links, which, he notes are evident.

(Edmond also added an "Author's Note," which links to an interesting, albeit complex, article on "short clicks" vs. "long clicks," and how Google doe not penalize sites for short clicks that result in a link to another site).

On the other hand, Edmond himself links to two articles by respected SEO writers who believe outbound links can have a direct benefit on rankings.

On Quick Sprout, the omnipresent SEO writer Neil Patel asks: "Did you know that an external link going out to these high authority sites can boost your SEO?"

"When search engines crawl your site, see a link and follow it to CNN or Huffington Post," Patel writes, "they weigh it as a positive. The trick is to find organic ways to link to these sites."

And on his blog, Michael Gray of SEO fame, wrote an article advocating outbound links: "By changing the outbound link policy," Gray writes, "I have been able to help many sites boost their rankings."

Our view dovetails with all three writers--at the very least, outbound links won't hurt your rankings. That is, if your outbound links are "organic," as Patel notes above, and not arbitrary.

This premise, of course, is at the heart of most SEO advice: Make it organic or "natural." As we advised last week, do not attempt any trick to acquire an audience; instead, create the best possible website, with the best possible information.

As Alex Stepman noted on LinkedIn this week:

"The goal of a good SEO firm is to deliver an optimized website with content tailored to a specific audience. When the two disciplines come together, all stakeholders benefit: the search engine, the website, and the user."

If your goal is to optimize user experience, and an outbound link will do so, then by all means create an outbound link. You only need to visit any number of respected sites, like The New York Times or The New Yorker, to see respected journalists linking to other sites.

Why do these journalists link out? Journalists often link out to cite sources; or to somehow improve the quality of information--in short, to create the most authentic experience possible.

To not link out, in fact, may be the very definition of an unnatural practice.

As Gray notes:

"Many of the poorly ranking websites that I am asked to fix share a common problem – they do not link out to any websites. Apparently, some people still think this is a terrible idea and go to extremes to never link out to anyone. Taking any idea to an extreme is generally never a good plan."

Should you create outbound links?

Yes, if you're discussing another's work. Yes, if the link is a natural part of your content. And yes, if you believe the link enhances the experience of your content.

Content Marketing with Stepman's PC 

If you're looking for an SEO company that understands how to effectively promote websites with good 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.