Saturday, June 24, 2017

SEO for Amazon: Three Simple Tips

The recent news of Amazon's $13.7 billion bid to buy Whole Foods has amplified online speculation that the cyber behemoth is taking over the world. We write this tongue in cheek, of course, but a search for "Is Amazon Taking Over the World?" does yield about thirty millions results and a first SERP of articles affirming, essentially, "Yes."

The first result, from Motley Fool, "3 Reasons Amazon.com Is Taking Over the World," predicts that Amazon
"will become the most valuable company in the world in the next decade."

The fourth result, from Newsweek, "How Jeff Bezos is Hurtling Toward World Domination" wonders whether we can survive without Amazon.

At the very least, Amazon's competitors in Silicon Valley and elsewhere seem sufficiently spooked, and the company is even beginning to see a backlash.

Recently, USA Today, quoting Jim Cramer, reported "Oracle co-founder Larry Ellison told investors on an earnings call that their cloud is cheaper than Amazon. And Walmart has reportedly told vendors to stop using Amazon's cloud service."

Walmart may even pose a counter bid to buy Whole Foods, which will raise the ultimate price for Whole Foods.

"Amazon better not get cocky," Cramer said.

Yet Amazon and Jeff Bezos have good reason to be cocky: "With Amazon’s stock surge in the wake of the Amazon and Whole Foods acquisition," Market Watch reports, "Bezos became a whopping $1.88 billion richer." Amazon's stock has recently crept to the $1,000 mark. And Amazon may even become the first company worth $1 trillion.
Will Amazon become the first company worth $1 trillion?

That's a whole lot of money, of course, yet it's helpful to remember that a great deal of Amazon's profits are generated by other companies, specifically third party sellers. As Amazon itself says:

"Since 2000, Selling on Amazon has been helping individuals and businesses increase sales and reach new customers. Today, more than 40% of Amazon's total unit sales come from third-party selection."

If you're a small business, we hope this is not news to you. After all, it would be foolish to ignore a marketplace with this sort of sales potential. The key, of course, is not to simply sell on Amazon, but to sell well on Amazon. To do that, you need to rank well in Amazon's search results.

Yes, like Google, Amazon is essentially a search engine; yet unlike Google, Amazon's search engine is focused solely on products. So yes, you can perform SEO for Amazon products--in fact, you must, if you want to share in the success. The optimization process, however, must be focused solely on sales--or, in SEO speak, "conversions."

Over at Moz, Nathan Grimm, who has produced a studious, comprehensive analysis of "How to Rank Well in Amazon," discusses the difference between Google and Amazon:

"Because the two search engines measure success differently, the metrics you analyze to predict rankings success change. When optimizing for Google you focus on improving user engagement metrics and building external trust factors, because those factors tell Google that the users it sends to your website will be happy. Happy users equals more money for Google. When optimizing for Amazon, focus on improving conversion rates. More conversions equals more money for Amazon."

Essentially, Amazon ranks products that sell well and products that sell well rank higher and higher with each sale.

If you want a lengthy outline of optimization for Amazon, check out Grimm's post. If you want the gist of optimization for Amazon, in plain language, read our three simple tips below.

Use Precise Keywords for Your Product Title

When you sell on Amazon, you must create a Product Detail Page. As Amazon notes:

"Detail pages become a permanent part of the Amazon catalog, and you - along with other sellers - can create listings for these products on Amazon.com. Customers can find the pages and listings you create through search and browse, and add them to their Amazon shopping cart or Wish Lists."

To attract these browsers, of course, you want to detail your page with the most explicit information possible. Your "Product Title" is the most important detail. You have a 500 character limit to describe your product in detail. Some SEO experts advocate a form of Amazon keyword stuffing. As Search Engine Journal notes:

"Here is the key to ranking on Amazon. You only need your keyword to appear once. If you can get that keyword into the title, you do not have to worry about including it anywhere else. With 500 characters, you can pretty much include every possible keyword in the title."

However, 500 characters is a lot, and stuffing a title with keywords is antithetical to today's SEO practices. Even if keyword stuffing is not penalized explicitly by Amazon, customers are inherently distrustful of the practice. As Grimm notes in his Amazon SEO review: "Since sales factor prominently in ranking, keyword-stuffed titles that discourage users from clicking will ultimately harm your rankings."

Write Clear Bullet Points and a Descriptive Product Description

Bullet points appear under the title and can be as simple or complex as you prefer. Just remember, here too, you have the opportunity to add keywords that might help your product rank better on Amazon

Simple Bullet Points for Vans Authentic Sneakers: Canvas, Rubber sole, Metal eyelets--all viable keywords. If you prefer, you can be more descriptive.

The "Product Description" is important for both SEO and conversion. By writing a precise product description, you give Amazon more to work with--ditto the search engines, like Google, who might use text from the product description to rank your product.

By telling the story of your product here, however, you also give potential customers who happened to have reached your page (presumably because of your product title), an inducement to buy. .

The product description here tells a intriguing story: 
"Vans' storied history, and our connection with skate and surf culture, began in 1966 Southern California with the rolling out of a single pair of shoes."

Get Product Reviews from Your Current Customers 

Reviews are important for both SEO and conversion. First, a review, by nature, is the exact sort of unique content that SEO loves. The more reviews you have, the more your product will be revealed in search results by both Amazon and Google. Second, the more reviews the more trusted your product will be with consumers. So once you've attracted a potential customer, the reviews will help convert that customer.

To get reviews, ask your customers! You might do what many Amazon sellers do: send an automated email to those who have recently purchased your product. And, of course, if you have a list of loyal or repeat customers, reach out to them for reviews.

Just remember, don't write bogus reviews for your own product. This is unethical and rarely effective.

SEO For Amazon with Stepman's SEO

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

Thursday, June 15, 2017

How (and Why) to Refresh Old Content

Content is the most important part of a digital marketing campaign. This simple truth has guided online marketing for years, yet the digital marketing community's recent emphasis on content marketing highlights another simple truth: to compete, a brand must match the content-production of its competitors, word-by-word, post-by-post.

As Simon Penson of Moz noted in a review of  a recent content marketing survey: "No content plan is complete unless it's based around delivering content consistently."

Penson's implication, of course, is that the production of fresh, relevant content, preferably as often as possible, is at the core of any content marketing campaign.

However, fresh content is not the only way to compete.

As Erin Everhart of Search Engine Land noted in 2015: "New content is necessary, but it takes far more time to create something new than it does to update and optimize something old."

Refreshing old content is partly about taking advantage of your established page authority. Even then, refreshed content can work as well as new content, and is often a viable way to attract new visitors to your site.

Page Authority: The Key to Optimizing Old Content 

Before we offer a few tips for refreshing old content, let's talk about page authority.

Well-established websites with good "domain authority" often enjoy many pages with good "page authority." Both types of  authority are recognized by the SEO community as Google ranking factors. Google likely defines authority in different ways, yet the SEO community recognizes age as a key aspect.

If you have an older page that has generated traffic, ranks well on Google, and inspires external links, you have good page authority. But over time even authoritative pages may suffer from a decrease in the factors that had once inspired good rankings.

As Everhart notes: "That old content is probably still ranking well, but it’s outdated--technology has changed, new information has been presented, or there’s a better way to accomplish the same task."

The key, then, is to find pages that are already ranking well, or had once ranked well, and refresh the content in a way that increase the page's current relevance.

For most websites, the majority of traffic only comes from a few pages, like home pages, landing pages, or pages with well-optimized keywords. Even as you write new content, it makes sense, of course, to make sure your most authoritative pages continue to perform well.

"New content" can be fresh or re-freshed content. [Photo Source]

Optimize for New Keywords 

Over time, browser's habits change or evolve. Your old posts might still contain relevant information, but people are searching for that information in news ways--with new keywords.

If you discover new keywords, which may already be driving some traffic to your site, you can easily optimize your content for a new audience--and drive even more traffic.

If you do add new keywords, make sure you place them in the appropriate context. A new keyword only works if it makes sense.

Another way to optimize old keywords is to think about Google's new semantic search, which became a major factor with the Hummingbird algorithm, in 2013. If your content is older than this algorithm, think about how you can fulfill the mandate of semantic search: to pay more attention to each word in a specific query; to try to discover the intent of each search.

Think about your audience's needs or specific questions.

Does your content answer those questions? If not, refresh to provide specific answers, preferably using "long tail keywords," which more precisely answer today's more complicated search queries.

Be a Part of the Current Conversation

In the SEO community, relevance can mean many things. Google's definition refers specifically to keywords. In its page warning about "little or no original content," Google advises "relevant keywords":

"One of the most important steps in improving your site's ranking in Google search results is to ensure that it contains plenty of rich information that includes relevant keywords, used appropriately, that indicate the subject matter of your content."

Yet relevance is not simply about keywords. When refreshing old content, especially, you want to make sure your content is still relevant in terms of the current cultural conversation. Part of the job of refreshing is re-contextualizing old content in terms of your browser's current interests.

Although a certain topic or trend was popular a few years ago, for example, a website may have no use for content that advocates outdated tastes, opinions, or ideas.

Perhaps you have some old content that, with a few tweaks, could participate in the current conversation. Perhaps your old content could benefit from new information or new links. If warranted, create links from your older content to your new content. And, of course, create links to external pages with good authority.

Promote on Social Media 

A great deal of old content has never been optimized for social media. No matter the age of your pages, or authority, you should make sure that each page is easily shared and easily discovered.

When you refresh your old content, make sure each page is optimized with buttons for social media sharing. And after your refresh, of course, share your own content on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, even Reddit.

Stepman's SEO: Content Marketing 

If you're looking for an SEO company that understands how to effectively promote websites with new and refreshed content, we suggest contacting our sponsor, Stepman's SEO: 215-900-9398.

Stepman's SEO combines traditional marketing methods and organic SEO--with an emphasis on natural website optimization--to design thoughtful, inspiring, and effective content marketing campaigns.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

SEO 101: On-Site and Off-Site Optimization

Search engine optimization can be divided in two categories: technical SEO and content marketing. Different people will use different terms to describe these two categories, but the essence is the same.

Technical SEO governs the "behind the scenes" aspects of a website, including (but not limited to) website structure, tags, and image optimization. Perfecting technical SEO assures that visitors can easily navigate your site, that each page loads quickly, and perhaps most importantly, that search engine spiders can "crawl" and index your site.

Read:  Do Not Fear the Code: Is a Tech-Centric View of SEO Holding You Back?

Technical SEO is not simply about logic and coding; many aspects of technical SEO, like composing language for tags, are essentially creative. For this reason, we prefer not to divide SEO into technical and creative categories.

Our second category, content marketing, is essentially governed by creative practices, like content creation and social media marketing. Like technical SEO, however, content marketing is not simply about this primary characteristic. To be effective, content marketing, must pay heed to technical aspects of SEO, like keyword research and analytics.

In essence, the best SEO minds combine technical knowledge and creative intuition to sculpt compelling websites that please the search engine algorithms.

A man like Einstein embodies the SEO ethic of combining technical and creative skills
to produce a unique result.
[Photo Source]

On-Site and Off-Site Optimization

Another view of SEO divides the practice into two more categories: on-site and off-site optimization.

These two terms are relatively straightforward, yet the SEO community sometimes confuses the definitions by creating needless distinctions.

A top result, for example, from Betaout, an agency that offers ecommerce marketing software, implies that the SEO community is somehow undecided about the nature or value of the two: "Though the on-page vs off-page debate is as old as Google, it is still an area of constant debate."

It is hard to say, exactly, what the point is here, yet we note this quote just to say: There is little debate about on-page and off-page optimization. The definitions of the two are generally accepted; and the practices are generally accepted as viable and important.

On-page optimization is the direct application of SEO techniques to your website, including both technical aspects, like title tags and structure, and creative aspects, like content creation.

Most websites, old and new, can be optimized for major search engines like Google, Yahoo, or Bing--most, but not all. So it is crucial for website owners to understand exactly how they can (or cannot) apply on-site optimization  strategies to their existing sites.
 
Of course, the optimal strategy is to design and develop a website with organic SEO in mind, and then create engaging, optimized content. In this best-case scenario, you can easily create on-site optimization.

Off-site optimization focuses on attracting attention from other sites, primarily through in-bound links, in hopes of increasing your website's authority. Off-site optimization, which is fundamentally creative, focuses on communication and marketing--with an emphasis, in today's world, on social media.

Off-site optimization may be the best option for an existing website that was not built with organic SEO in mind. Certain design and development mistakes, for example, may inadvertently limit a website's capability to be optimized with on-page techniques. In certain cases, a website will not be able to optimized because the designer included unworkable elements. Web crawlers, for example, may not be able to index Flash technology.  If you're website cannot be easily optimized, off-site optimization is the most viable means of attracting attention.

A tip: If you're guiding the design and development process, make sure your designer creates a site that can be easily optimized from the beginning. If your existing website cannot be easily optimized, however, do not lost hope: you can still perform off-site optimization.

***

Technical vs. creative. On-page vs. Off-page. The SEO world is fond of distinctions. Neil Patel, for example, on his popular Quick Sprout blog makes a three-way distinction between technical, off-page, and on-page optimization:

Yet another SEO distinction from Neil Patel. [Source]

No matter the distinctions, or the way any given SEO writer presents the distinctions, the fundamental definition of SEO, as part technical, part creative is stable. Do not let the jargon dissuade you from learning more about a straightforward practice, which engages your whole mind.

Honest SEO with Stepman's SEO

It is important to understand the work your SEO firm performs for you. You want to hire a real professional who will not waste your time and money. If you want to speak to a reliable SEO professional, please consider the Organic SEO Blog's sponsor, Stepman's SEO.

Just like this blog, the professional SEO specialists at Stepman's SEO strive to educate you about what we do and how we do it. After all, you should know exactly what to expect from your SEO professional's work.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Alex Stepman: How I Learned SEO

Early Career: Computer Repairs and Maintenance

In my early twenties, as a younger man working in the computer repair and maintenance industry, I solved a mind-boggling array of hardware and software problems for my clients. At the time, computers were not simply my job—they were my life. My friends and family complained: All I talked about was computers--and I often spent sixteen to eighteen hours every day repairing or studying computers.

I devoted most of this time to computer viruses and how to prevent a virus infection. At the time, only a few companies offered data recovery for new computers, yet I attempted to discover my own method, an exercise that taught me, among other things, the all-embracing importance of personal data--or, in today's parlance, "content," like Word and Excel documents, but also pictures, videos, and music.

So I worked--day after day, repairing files, saving data, and studying, sixteen to eighteen hours every day. For my friends and family the situation became untenable--until they discovered the usefulness of my obsession. I soon found myself fixing more and more friend’s and family’s computers.

I enjoyed this work. However, I worked for free, and I soon realized I could not spend so much time repairing computers without compensation. In January, 2006, I started my own little computer repair and maintenance company, Stepman's PC.

A grainy photo from the early 2000s: a rare moment of leisure at the lake.
From Computer Repairs to Website Development

At the beginning, most of my clients were individuals or small companies with no more than three workstations. To survive, I knew I needed to earn a reliable monthly income. So I offered subscription services, such as a monthly “Computer Clean-up.” For the length of the subscription, I promised customers that their computers would never be infected, and that their computer’s performance would exceed the performance of an out-of-the-box computer.

I kept my promise, and my clients praised my integrity. Promoting integrity, I sold myself to new clients.

One day, I received a phone call from one of my customers. “Alex,” he said. “We want to create a website, and we want you to do it.”

I was flattered—and shocked.

“I am really sorry,” I told my client, the owner of a local kitchen and bathroom remodeling company. “I’m not a web developer, let alone designer, and I’m not at all qualified to do that type of work.”

“But you are the best at solving computer problems!”

“Computers, yes,” I said.“But not development.”

I tried to explain that computer repair and web development require entirely different skill-sets, but my customer didn’t seem to care: “Alex,” he said. “We will wait until you create a website for us.”

It was hard to resist my customer’s persistence, but I experienced a moral dilemma—a dilemma that, in the past, had made me pause before I agreed to do work: I did not want payment for a job that did not satisfy my customer.

My solution was simple. I said to my customer: “I will create a website for myself, and if you like the website I will create something similar for your company.”

The customer agreed, and, in the end, I did create a website for them, a site I maintain to this day.

From Web Development to SEO 

Not long after we launched his website, my client called and asked: “Why is our website not found on Google?”

Like most web developers, I did not know the answer. The website was 100% functional but essentially invisible to search engines. Why?

At the time, SEO was a relatively new phenomena, not only to Internet browsers but to search engines themselves, so there was little one could learn about the practice. As search evolved, however, search engines like Google began to implement logic to many on-page elements which impacted website's visibility in search results.

I learned how to comply, to make my client's site visible, yet whenever a new logic was implemented, I noticed, my client's website vanished from search results. To make my client's website visible and viable, I had to track the various search engine's "logic," and make changes, when necessary.

Today this "logic" is known as search engine algorithms and the practice of tracking the algorithm and making changes to websites, when necessary, is known as search engine optimization, or SEO.

Like computer repair and web development, web development and SEO require different skill-sets. I tried my best to adapt to the new practice. Still, my client's website, although now visible to search engines, did not rank on the first search engine results page (SERP).

I felt bad: I had delivered a product that did not satisfy my customer! I did not see a solution, either, but I was intrigued by a question: How does one make a website appear on the first page of major search engines?

To my customer, I offered a compromise. I assumed the price for SEO was equal to the price of virus removal, so I would simply refund the cost for my customer to hire their own optimization specialist. Unfortunately, we soon learned that the cost for an optimization specialist could be ten times more than virus removal.

So I had no choice: I had to learn SEO in-and-out.

SEO: My Ongoing Journey

In those early days, it was relatively easy to learn SEO. After all, I had to learn only one piece of "logic" at a time. Today search engine algorithms contain at least 200 different ranking factors, some on-page and some off-page. So the learning process never ends.

Learning SEO, I eventually helped my client’s website appear on Google’s first page—but only for a short time. I have now maintained this website, and many other websites, for a decade or more, and I have confirmed this simple fact: SEO is an ongoing process.

Without ongoing optimization, even the best websites will inevitably slip in the rankings. In fact, a website can never be fully optimized because Google, and other search engines, constantly change their algorithms.

But I have learned the most crucial aspects of website optimization. Today, I am proud to say that all of my clients are visible on the first page of Google at most times. SEO has become my prime talent. I love helping clients optimize their websites. Unlike computer repair and maintenance, the world of SEO is dynamic, constantly evolving. The desire to confront the SEO challenge has transformed me. Each day, I wake inspired to develop new marketing strategies for my clients.

My Current Role in the SEO World

Recently, as Director of SEO for a local Philadelphia-area company, Renaissance, I have applied my techniques to numerous sites; I have also learned the value of sharing my knowledge with fellow team members.

I believe Renaissance is one of the best digital marketing firms in the entire country.

Today, my goal as an SEO is to help others understand the nuanced applications of website optimization. By sponsoring this blog, too, I hope to demystify SEO for beginners and advanced practitioners alike. I welcome all comments and questions here on this blog, or at the home offices of Stepman's PC. Give us a call: 215-900-9398.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

SEO 101: Short-Tail and Long-Tail Keywords

It's 54 degrees in Philadelphia today--the Thursday before Memorial Day weekend. For the last few weeks on the East Coast, we have endured cool (at times cold) dreary weather. Last Friday, we experienced a rare preview: temperatures hit 90 degrees. Yet this week, the temperatures have scarcely hit 60.

Now, with Memorial Day upon us, we're longing for the summer Karl Ove Knausgård describes in My Struggle Book One: "Blue sky, boiling hot sun, dusty streets."

What words conjure summer for you? Knausgård also writes a lovely portrait of summer rain:

"Oh, the raindrops that fall on the dry, hot pavement, and then evaporate, or are absorbed by the dust, yet still perform their part of the job, for when the next drop falls the pavement is cooler, the dust damper, and so dark patches spread, and join, and the pavement is wet and black."

Photo Source: Secret Forts "Full on Summer"
We all have different associations with summer--and often these associations can be defined in a few key words. After all, summer iconography is rich and evocative. A single word can illicit a distinctive feeling.  Say the word "beach" and we all have a distinctive feeling.

Photo Source: Secret Forts "Full on Summer"
The best brands understand how to evoke a singular feeling with a simple word or phrase.

Think of Nike's "Just do it." Or Apple's "Think Different." Certain slogans are famous.

More famous, however, are the brand names: Nike and Apple. When you Google "Apple" for example, Google offers the company first--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).

"Think Different"--the famous marketing campaign from Apple--the company, not the fruit.

SEO 101: Keywords

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

Certain SEO observers have predicted the "death of keywords" for years. For many, the word conjures negative associations. It is true, in the early days of SEO, Black Hat SEOs practiced keyword stuffing, excessively adding specific words or phrases into a site’s content--and more sinister, into a site's hidden development.

This practice was unethical--yet effective, for a time.

Today, however, search engines easily spot keyword stuffing. The practice is ineffective. The judicious use of keywords--especially long-tail keywords--is still the best way to promote a brand online.

Long Tail Keywords

Today, most SEO firms focus on the importance of long-tail keywords--short phrases or sentences that specifically match the queries of today's browsers. Long-tail keywords are important today for two fundamental reasons:
  1. Today's browsers often use voice search to ask longer more complicated questions, which require longer more complicated answers--not single words, but phrases or sentences. 
  2. Today's browsers are more savvy; many understand how to search for precise information, which requires more precise answers--again, not single words, but phrases or sentences.

As Jayson DeMers wrote over at Search Engine Land in 2015: "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. As we noted in a post from 2016:

"Although shorter keywords will drive more traffic to your site, long-tail queries account for more total impressions. Simply put, people are using long-tail keywords more often."

Read: Long-Tail Keywords & Short-Tail Keywords: Why You Need Both

Short-Tail Keywords

A short-tail keyword is the word 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 illicit a host of products--many of which we likely own: iPhones, iPads. MacBooks.

When building a brand, the goal is to illicit a similar response in your customers. Your brand should be known by name and product name. So, 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.

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

Brandon is speaking specifically about content. Yet keywords serve an 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 keywords?

As we noted before:

"Short-tail keywords can work in concert with long-tail keywords. Short-tail keywords will increase your traffic while more precisely-targeted long-tail keywords will encourage your ideal customers to stick around."

What Are 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.

In the meantime, we hope you enjoy summer--rain or shine. And just remember, the rain can be enjoyable, too. As Knausgård writes:

"Oh, the hot summer air that is suddenly cooled, making the rain that falls on your face warmer than your face itself, and you lean back to enjoy the feeling it gives you."

Organic SEO & Keyword Research with Stepman's SEO

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 SEO: 215-900-9398 Stepman's SEO 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 19, 2017

Does SEO Need Online Reputation Management?

In last week's post, we asked a simple question: Do you need Online Reputation Management? As we noted, the ORM industry "promises to monitor and improve (or repair, when needed) the reputation of individuals and businesses online."

Unfairly (or not), many individuals and businesses suffer from poor online reputations. For an individual, a poor online reputation can translate to a lost job interview (or worse, a lost job). For a business, a poor reputation (like a series of bad Yelp reviews) can translate to profit-loss or even closure.

But what of an entire industry that requires ORM? We often hear, for example, that the SEO industry suffers from a bad online reputation.

How is this possible? The very point of SEO, after all, is to improve a site's visibility by optimizing carefully crafted content. ORM works hand-in-hand with SEO (as part of a comprehensive digital marketing campaign) to improve businesses reputations.

Well, like many online industries, SEO is unregulated by any ethical body, and many so-called SEOs use optimization to negative ends.

We reported, for example, on the case of a Dallas firm who had hired a certain William Stanley "to improve its online reputation." Stanley is one of many who work under the pretense of SEO, yet practice something closer to "negative SEO," or as Stanley admitted in his plea deal, "illegitimate SEO."

In his plea, Stanley admitted to threatening his clients by "posting fraudulent comments and creating negative reviews online if the victim did not pay him a certain amount of money."

Negative SEO, which attempts to deliberately harm another site's reputation, is as old as SEO itself. Stanley admitted he "created websites that had the ability to damage GE’s reputation by associating GE with a scam."

Stanley was likely referring to "bad links," one of the earliest weapons in the Black Hat SEO arsenal.

Read: "Organic Website Optimization & Negative SEO: The Battle Between Good and Bad"

We also reported on e-Ventures Worldwide, who had 213 sites de-indexed by Google after the search engine determined the sites were pure spam. Defending the company, Dan Blacharski, "a thought leader, adviser, and industry observer," asked "Is Google Trying to Kill SEO?"

Blacharski's hackneyed understanding of the elements of this case pointed to yet another problem that has dogged SEO's reputation: Even well-meaning industry observers misunderstand SEO, and many, like Blarchaski defend the wrong type of practices--in this case spammy practices, which have little to do with true, organic SEO.

Read: "Google is Not Trying to Kill SEO"

Frank Sinatra was arrested in 1938, after two women fought over him, arguably improving his reputation. Unfortunately, most individuals and businesses are not so lucky. [Photo Source]

Does SEO Deserve the Bad Reputation? 

The SEO reputation problem was cited by Tony Wright, an SEO veteran, in a recent article for Search Engine Journal.

"There are still uneducated, unethical people claiming to be SEOs," Wright says, "and our industry still has less respect than used car dealers."

For Wright, the problem is essentially about communication. "Its incredibly easy to find SEO information online," Wright notes, but the "amount of bad SEO information online is staggering."

Unfortunately, Wright believes, the SEO industry deserves this fate.

After all, "four years ago, as a newly elected board member of SEMPO, [Wright] embarked on an ambitious endeavor to create a 'search congress.'" It was a "noble idea" that "failed miserably." Over the years, Wright notes, only four people filled out the form on the search congress site to solicit more information.

The problem, Wright says, is indifference: even the good SEOs don't care enough to fight the bad.

With all do respect to Wright, we disagree. This blog, as well as many reputable SEO publications (the sites that often hit the top of the SERP) go to great pains to distinguish poor SEO practices, like negative SEO and bad links, from good practices, like those advocated by organic SEO.

To distinguish between the two, consumers must perform their own research before blindly accepting the advice of a spammy SEOs--like those who flood inboxes with innocuous greetings--"Greetings of the day!"--that quickly turn scary.

"Many business owners and unsophisticated webmasters (and even some who think they are sophisticated) don’t see these solicitations as spam," Wright says. "They fear that something is wrong with their sites."

So how do perform your own research? If you're considering SEO for your website, we suggest reading our post on finding a reputable firm: Five Questions for Your SEO Company. Otherwise, browse the articles on sites like Search Engine Journal, Moz, or Search Engine Land--or of course, The Organic SEO Blog.

Honest SEO with Stepman's SEO

It is important to understand the work your SEO firm performs for you. You want to hire a real professional who will not waste your time and money. If you want to speak to a reliable SEO professional, please consider the Organic SEO Blog's sponsor, Stepman's SEO.

Just like this blog, the professional SEO specialists at Stepman's SEO strive to educate you about what we do and how we do it. After all, you should know exactly what to expect from your SEO professional's work.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Do You Need Online Reputation Management?

Earlier this week, NPR cited an on-going study from the Harvard Business School, which is researching the effects of minimum wage increases on San Francisco area restaurants. Preliminary data suggests that higher minimum wages increases the possibility of restaurant closure, with a caveat: "Restaurants with low or middling Yelp reviews have become more likely to go out of business. Places with high reviews have been unaffected."

At the mention of Yelp reviews, our ears perked. When we recently wrote about local SEO and how online reviews effect businesses, our blog's sponsor, Alex Stepman, of Stepman's SEO, told us about a local client who had closed shop and rebranded to escape the impact of several bad online reviews.

The client, Stepman said, sold a quality product at a good price, but was compromised by bad hires--employees, since terminated, who had offered poor customer service. Despite generally positive comments on the product, the Yelp reviews cited poor customer service as justification for the poor reviews--several of three stars and less.

As the NPR segment noted:

"Places with three and a half stars, about average, were 14 percent more likely to close after a minimum wage increase of one dollar. But restaurants with five stars, a perfect rating, weren't affected at all."

Obviously, poor customer service was likely not the only determinant factor in the closure of a majority of these San Francisco restaurants. The food was important too. But as Bon Appétit writes:

"Some diners would argue the best food in the world won't make up for lousy service...A good dining experience is built on trust. It's the server's or host's responsibility to initiate that trust; they're the first point of contact a diner has. Conversely, great service can be enough to make up for things that go wrong in the kitchen."

What amplifies mistakes in today's business environment, of course, is the easy availability of online reviews, like Yelp's--the "novel dataset," as NPR reported, that has "economists excited about" the Harvard Business School's study.

Read: Restaurants With Low Yelp Ratings Suffer Under Higher Minimum Wages

In the restaurant industry, as many other industries, customer service and product are equally important.
[Photo Source]

Do You Need Online Reputation Management?

As we noted in our prior post on local SEO and online reviews, bad reviews must be managed, first, offline--in the day-to-day operations of a business. The three key elements of success have never changed. You must offer a quality product at a competitive price with superior customer service.

Beyond your offline performance, however, your online reputation definitely matters. The key is guaranteeing that your good performance offline matches your reputation online. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. However unfair or biased, a single bad review can have consequences.

In response to such slights, the online reputation management (ORM) promises to monitor and improve (or repair, when needed) the reputation of individuals and businesses online. 

There is not much data about the current size of the ORM industry. In 2013, Forbes (without citing any specific evidence) pegged the worth at $5 billion.

Meanwhile, Vendasta, which bills itself as the #1 platform for selling business solutions to local businesses, has produced a juicy infographic, "50 Shocking Stats About Online Reputation Management." Oddly, Vendasta offers no background to support its infographic (where and how the data was compiled)--a practice that seems at odds with building trust, a key factor in ORM.

Are you now worried about your own online reputation? Should you be "shocked" by ORM? More to the point, do you need a firm like Vendasta to manage your ORM?

Probably not. As MarketingLand notes, "You don’t have to break the bank to correct a reputation situation for yourself or a business. It can even be a DIY project — it isn’t rocket science!"

MarketingLand's approach is similar to the approach of Stepman's SEO, which advocates simple, timeless SEO techniques to improve (or repair) your brand's image. After all, what is SEO if not a form of reputation management.

Among MarketingLand's "9 Key Points for Cleaning Up Your Online Reputation Nightmare Via SEO," you will find the same SEO techniques advocated on this blog, too, including positive content, title tag optimization, and url optimization.

Read more: Good ContentTitle Tags and Meta Descriptions, and Search Engine Friendly URLs. 

Assuming you sell a good product at the right price with excellent customer service, the key of ORM is to replace any negative impressions with uniformly positive impressions via carefully crafted and optimized content.

SEO That Improves your Online Reputation with Stepman's SEO 

Stepman's SEO understands how to effectively promote websites to manage your ORM. To learn more about how Stepman's SEO combines traditional marketing methods and organic SEO--with an emphasis on natural website optimization--to design thoughtful, inspiring, and effective marketing campaigns, call: 215-900-9398.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Will You Survive the Contentpocalypse?

Content marketing intends to engage an audience with the objective of "driving profitable action." This definition, from the Content Marketing Institute, sounds like a traditional definition of marketing. So why the emphasis on this new phrase--content?

In 2017, more than ever, brands can market their products or services with unique, inventive content. And clearly, search engines prioritize sites that share a variety of content: not simply writing, but photography, digital art, infographs, cartoons, emojis, and much more. However, in today's online environment, the written word is still perceived to be the best way to increase your authority--and your search rankings.

Perhaps this is why content marketing is so popular with digital writers. As we noted in a recent post: Content Marketing has been deemed a hot trend by many writers, at least judging by the press (here, here, and here, too).

And yet, this popularity may prove to be the downfall of the content marketing craze.

In 2014, a full three years before the current content marketing craze, Mark Schaefer, a marketing consultant, writer, and teacher, wrote of content supply exceeding demand: "This intersection of finite content consumption and rising content availability will create a tremor I call The Content Shock."

Oh no, it's coming! CONTENT SHOCK!
At the time, Eric Enge, over at Moz, summarized Schaefer's view--as well as the opposition to his view--in his post: "A Clear Path for Marketers to Surviving Content Shock."

Citing a study that Moz performed with BuzzSumo, Enge noted "the great majority of content gets little material response: 75% showed no external links. Over 50% had 2 or fewer Facebook interactions (shares, likes, or comments)."

On the other hand, Enge wasn't ready to declare a "contentpocalypse."

"Content marketing is here to stay for one basic reason," Enge wrote. "It provides a way for business to connect and build trust with their prospective customers. In a world that is becoming increasingly digital, people still need and want a relationship with the businesses from which they buy products and services."

Enge's path dovetailed with some of Schaefer's advice at the time, yet Enge's view was decidedly more rosy--and hopeful for smaller websites, whom Schaefer believed would be priced out of the equation. Over the past few years, however, Schaefer has come to believe (and promote) a certain notion of hope.

In a recent post revisiting his first content shock post, Schaefer affirmed the existence of content shock while defending his original position as relatively uncontroversial.

"My thinking on this topic was rational," Schaefer writes, "based on simple economics — supply and demand. Economic models aren’t controversial. They’re math. They just are. Economics only becomes controversial when it runs against the prevailing wisdom that more content is the answer, that the best content will always rise to the top, that the key to business profitability is the arc of your story."

Will You Survive the Contentpocalypse? 

Schaefer's point here is that the prevailing wisdom about the value of content is false. Content is only as valuable as its readership. The problem, or the challenge, as Schaefer attempts to re-frame--is not content creation but content distribution: "the economic value of content that is not seen and shared is zero."

This view dovetails with Jayson Demers, who wrote about content marketing for Forbes.

"If you’re a savvy marketer," DeMers writes, "you’re already actively engaging in content marketing. Unfortunately, many business owners are so focused on the creation of their content that they’re forgetting the marketing component of the equation. After all, what good is amazing content if nobody knows about it?"

The upshot? The contentpocalypse may be real, but you can survive the effects with a dynamic plan for creating and distributing your content.

Make Your Content Count

No doubt, the Internet offers a glut of content. We all have our ways of sorting through this glut--of discovering our preferred content. And, of course, the best content should be a viable means to "driving profitable action."

Content can be valuable--if the content drives profitable action. Yet this is clearly not the case for a majority of the writing on the Internet. The statistics noted by Enge above are discouraging. Frankly, most content receives little attention. Again: "75% showed no external links" and "over 50% had 2 or fewer Facebook interactions (shares, likes, or comments)."

Read: "Content, Shares, and Links: Insights from Analyzing 1 Million Articles."

So should you spend your time creating content?

Yes, of course. But with this advice, we add a strong caveat: Make your content count. 

If you're creating content with the explicit purpose of selling something (anything) and the content is not inspiring conversions, you're wasting time and money. You have a simple choice:

1. Stop creating content (a terrible choice)
2. Evolve to meet the demands of today's market (a spectacular choice)

Evolution requires amazing content and amazing marketing. Before you attempt to create content, make sure you write well. If you do not write well, hire someone to write well. If you do write well (or have the means to hire someone who writes well), start thinking about how to write content that counts. As Schaefer notes: "Consider the dramatic changes in content forms, distribution, and evolving roles of the social media platforms."

START HERE: 

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

2. Two Simple Questions to Inspire New Content

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...

Content Marketing with Stepman's SEO 

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

Thursday, April 27, 2017

The SEO Writer: Five Key Skills

What is the difference between a good copywriter and a good SEO writer?

A good copywriter possesses writing talent and marketing expertise. A good copywriter creates succinct, error-free content that broadcasts a specific message to a general audience.

A good SEO writer also possesses writing talent and marketing expertise. Yet the SEO writer's marketing expertise includes a knowledge of search engine algorithms. A good SEO writer creates succinct, error-free content that broadcasts a specific message to a specific online audience. Specificity is key--as we discus below.

The distinction is akin to the distinction between traditional marketing and digital marketing. Both aim to attract a specific audience. Traditional marketing, however, is at least one step removed from the audience. To attract a specific audience, traditional marketing broadcasts to a general audience.

Think billboards, radio ads, or newspaper circulars. Traditional marketing casts a wide net to amplify a message. Success is defined in several ways: by increasing brand awareness; improving brand image; or attracting a percentage of viewers to a certain product, service, or promotion.

Apple's famous "Think Different" campaign, which some credit with saving the company from financial ruin, is a perfect example of how traditional marketing, when performed correctly, can make a brand "deeply recognizably."

Apple's "Think Different" campaign [Photo Source]
Traditional marketing, then, focuses on macro-audiences (although the goal may be to engage only a percentage of that audience). Digital marketing, on the other hand, focuses on micro-audiences. The success of any digital marketing campaign is contingent on defining the best keywords for the given micro-audience, and creating relevant, engaging content for that audience.

More on keywords: How to Perform Keyword Research

More on good content: How to Write Good Content: What is Your Point?

Of course, when speaking about the quality of content, the distinctions between traditional marketing and digital marketing is unimportant.  The term "digital content," is a misnomer: The best content--in traditional and digital marketing--is defined by the quality of the writing itself.

However, successful online writing requires a distinctive set of knowledge and skills. A copywriter may or may not understand how to effectively attract an online audience. To attract a specific audience online, you need the talents of an SEO writer.

The SEO Writer: Five Key Skills 

A Good SEO Writer Will Research & Effectively Use Keywords

A good SEO writer can help you research and choose the best keywords for your product or service. If you are not certain how to define your product or service, keyword research can help you clarify your offering: Imagine you are Googling your product or service. What keywords would you type?

A good SEO writer will then use these keywords resourcefully to attract targeted attention to your site--attention that will lead to conversions. A copywriter may overlook the details that make a piece of content work for a search engine. A SEO writer, however, writes with a keen eye on attracting on online audience. By nature, this sort of work is succinct and precise--to the point.

More on conversions: How SEO and Conversion Rate Optimization Work Together to Inspire Sales

A Good SEO Writer Crafts Search Engine Friendly URLs and Title Tags and Meta Descriptions 

A page's URL (uniform resource locator) is it's web address. A fully-optimized web page will include a coherent, simple URL that can easily be identified by humans and search engines alike. Crafting a good URL is a deceptively simple practice perfected by the best SEO writers.

A title tag is displayed in search results as the title of a web page. Once you click on the page, the title tag may or may not be displayed at the top of the browser (Firefox does; Chrome does not). Title tags should be hyper-specific and relevant, yet not spammy--keywords must be used judiciously.

Meta tags are inserted into the “head” area of your web pages, and are used by search engines to accurately list your site in their indexes. Every page of your website must have unique meta tags. A good SEO writer optimizes your meta tags to accurately describe the content of your page.


A Good SEO Writer Uses Structure to His/Her Advantage 

Many writers are enamored with their own work--to the detriment of the writing. A good SEO writer is a great writer, first, but he or she also understands that SEO requires structure.

Good SEO writers get finicky about details that other writers overlook--details that might supersede the writer's natural inclinations. A good SEO writer, for example, understands the importance of the appropriate number of words, keywords, and links as well as paragraph and article length.

For a view into the finicky side of SEO writing, read Neil Patel's article How Long Should Each Blog Post Be? A Data Driven Answer.

For more on content length and "content density": SEO Content Density: How to Write Like a Pro

A Good SEO Writer Composes Effective Links

The link above (for Neil Patel's article) precisely describes the nature of the link. Many copywriters create articles with arbitrary links ("click here") that have little to do with the actual content of the link.

To optimize a link, a good SEO writer creates a precise description of the link's contents. Just like URLs, title tags, and meta tags, this precise description allows the search engine to understand and "index" the link.

Again, an effective link description is a deceptively simple task, yet the best SEO writers have learned the value of outbound links, and how to effectively maximize this value.

A Good SEO Writer Chooses Relevant Images and Composes Effective Image Tags 

By now, you might have noticed several themes. First, every aspect of a page needs to be optimized, from the text to the tags. Second, SEO writers are not simply adept at writing--the best SEO writers perfect writing as well the technical and design aspects of SEO, including keyword research, URL and tag composition, and structure.

Choosing the perfect image for your content requires an eye for design; writing the perfect description requires SEO knowledge and writing chops. In a way, image optimization synthesizes the skills of a good SEO writer.

For more on image optimization: How to Optimize Images for Search Engines

This photograph of a person wearing a Cookie Monster costume, by Klaus Pichler, is an all-time favorite. To optimize this image, offer the most salient details: Klaus Pichler, Cookie Monster 
SEO Writing with Stepman's SEO 

Stepman's SEO understands how to effectively promote websites with good content. To learn more about how Stepman's SEO combines traditional marketing methods and organic SEO--with an emphasis on natural website optimization--to design thoughtful, inspiring, and effective content marketing campaigns, call: 215-900-9398.

Friday, April 21, 2017

What is Content Marketing?

In a recent survey of senior UK marketers, 92% admitted to not knowing how to run a content marketing campaign. Only 6% felt "definitely clear" about content marketing practices. The grandly titled "The State of Content Marketing Survey," which Moz cited earlier this month, nevertheless noted that 70% of the same respondents plan to increase content marketing spending in 2017.

These varying numbers obviously reveal a colossal disconnect between content marketing knowledge and spending. The rest of the survey substantiates this view, which is mind-boggling considering the recent popularity of content marketing.

"Incredible, isn't it?" asks Simon Penson on Moz, who called the numbers "eye-popping."

Content Marketing has been a hot trend since 2015, at least judging by the press (here, here, and here, too). This recent popularity, however, smacks of The Emperor's New Clothes: So many believe in the importance of content marketing yet so few understand what content marketing means.

This misunderstanding is likely due, in part, to jargon; too often so-called experts confuse new marketing tools, whether content marketing or long-tail keyword research, with esoteric explanations. Moz is a prime culprit of jargon, though Penson's article is articulate and straightforward.

So what is content marketing? In reality, content marketing is as old as marketing itself. What is marketing if not the marketing of some form of content? In traditional marketing, the product itself--its packaging, its suggested use, its name--is the content. What makes content marketing new, if anything, is an emphasis on content that is independent from the product.

Andy Warhol understood that product is content. [Source]
Content marketing is most readily seen today in brands who write blogs. Penson points to Scotts Menswear as "one of the best blog strategies." Recently, we've enjoyed the blog of the direct-to-consumer clothing brand, Grana, which writes thoughtful posts about fabrics, style, and even the gender pay gap, an important issue for Grana's core customers, who value fair wages.

Another post attempts to explain why most brands t-shirts are a "Lying Sack of Price Tags": "Sometimes, you can find t-shirts for less than a slice of pizza and in other times you can find t-shirts that cost more than your monthly car loan."
For us, Grana's content marketing was convincing: We purchased a few t-shirts for a modest sum, $15, and we love them!

From fabric to pricing, Grana attempts to tell the story of its t-shirts with strategic content marketing.
Looking to brands like Scotts and Grana offers a perfect view of how to perform content marketing. Grana, especially, follows the advice of Penson to offer constant content: "No content plan is complete unless it's based around delivering content consistently."

Really, it's that simple. This is why the stats from "The State of Content Marketing Survey" seem so eye-popping. What's not to understand?

Content Marketing: A Brief History

Despite its recent popularity, Content Marketing has a lineage (according to Wikipedia), dating back at least to 1996:

"The phrase 'content marketing' was used as early as 1996, when John F. Oppedahl led a roundtable for journalists at the American Society for Newspaper Editors. In 1998, Jerrell Jimerson held the title of 'director of online and content marketing' at Netscape. In 1999, author Jeff Cannon wrote, 'In content marketing, content is created to provide consumers with the information they seek.'"

Today, if you Google the definition, you'll likely see the term defined by the lofty-sounding Content Marketing Institute: "Content marketing is the marketing and business process for creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action."

Content Marketing & SEO

With all the talk of content marketing, not to mention the social media admonitions so familiar to small business owners--"You're not on Facebook? You have to get on Facebook!"--you can't blame a small business owner for thinking content marketing is the key to success. In fact, many brands do create constant content.

The problem, however, is that too many brands focus exclusively on "content" to the detriment of "marketing."

As Jayson DeMers wrote at Forbes:

"If you’re a savvy marketer, you’re already actively engaging in content marketing. Unfortunately, many business owners are so focused on the creation of their content that they’re forgetting the marketing component of the equation. After all, what good is amazing content if nobody knows about it?"

We applaud the recent emphasis on content, yet like Mr. DeMers, we worry too much content is created and shared in a vacuum. What good is your website's content, for example, if the site itself has not been optimized for search engines?

When ranking a site, Google evaluates many elements--from content to design. In fact, some speculate that Google uses over 200 signals to rank a website. Yet despite the increasing relevance of content marketing, many small business owners view search engine optimization as an incidental process--one that, by nature, comes gift-wrapped with each piece of content.

"Oh," we've heard countless times, "my website designer is taking care of that." In fact, that "that" is not necessarily "taken care of" by your website designer. A website designer should be literate in SEO, but this is not always the case.

It's not, in fact, as simple as James Earl Jones would have it in his famous line from Field of Dreams.

If you build it, he will come.
Put another way, the content marketing proselytizers might say: "If you create it, he will come."

Not so fast. Not all website developers build search engine-friendly sites, and if a site cannot be easily discovered by search engines, it is invisible, a high-priced business card.

Before content marketing, then, think organic SEO. Make sure your site is optimized for the major search engines. And then optimize each new piece of content to match.

Content 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. 

Friday, April 14, 2017

Local SEO: Why Online Reviews Matter

Moz recently released the 2017 Local Search Rankings Factors Survey, a review of the opinions of 40 local SEO experts. Since its inception, in 1998, the survey has been a go-to resource for local SEO campaigns--and now, after a year off, the survey offers fresh opinions on the state of local search and local SEO.

That said, the #1 local ranking factor, according to this year's survey, has seemingly little to do with SEO efforts: Proximity of Address to the Point of Search.

In one sense, the prominence of this factor makes perfect sense. Imagine you're driving through an unfamiliar town, and you need a gas station. Your search for "gas station" will reveal the closest station in proximity to your current location. That's helpful.

In another sense, the prominence of this factor seems misguided, especially considering Google's perennial emphasis on quality and relevance. Proximity "leads to poor results in most categories," the survey's author, Darren Shaw notes. "I’m looking for the best lawyer in town, not the closest one."

In reality, most people don't care about the best gas station in town. When you need gas, you need gas. But for most other local businesses, like lawyers, car repair shops, and hair salons, people do want the best in town. Proximity is negligible when the difference between a sub-par shop and an excellent shop is a few miles.

So Shaw argues for a concerted local SEO effort, and for good reason:

"While Proximity of Address to the Point of Search is playing a stronger role than ever in the rankings, it’s certainly not the only factor impacting rankings. Businesses with higher relevancy and prominence will rank in a wider radius around their business and take a larger percentage of the local search pie. There’s still plenty to be gained from investing in local search strategies."

Among these strategies, the survey lists some clear SEO winners. As Search Engine Land notes in its review of the survey: "links and reviews are hot."

Of course, we know that links are one of Google's top three ranking factors, so your local SEO link-building efforts may not differ from the efforts of a national or international marketing campaign. The key for all websites is links from other, reputable websites: "Don't Build Links--Inspire Links."

As Joshua Steimle wrote in Forbes:

"The right way to build high quality links is to not build them at all, but instead, earn them naturally. Natural links are earned by creating great content that people want to link to."

Beyond links, however, customer reviews are more specific to local SEO, and can be influenced by a concerted marketing campaign.

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.
Good Online Reviews: Local SEO Gold

BrightLocal recently published its annual "Local Consumer Review Survey."

Here, in BrightLocal's words, are the key findings from the survey:
  • 84% of people trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation 
  • 7 out of 10 consumers will leave a review for a business if they're asked to 
  • 90% of consumers read less than 10 reviews before forming an opinion about a business 
  • 54% of people will visit the website after reading positive reviews 
  • 73% of consumers think that reviews older than 3 months are no longer relevant 
  • 74% of consumers say that positive reviews make them trust a local business more 
  • 58% of consumers say that the star rating of a business is most important
To us, the key takeaway here, obviously, is that for local businesses (like car repair shops) online reviews can make or brake (pun intended) local marketing efforts.You can boost your website with SEO, but if your local reviews do not reflect a good customer experience--well, your SEO efforts may be a waste of time.

This is a key lesson many local websites fail to grasp--at first.

SEO can only take a local business so far. Optimization can increase traffic to a website--and to a brick-and-mortar business. But it is up to the business to ensure a quality customer service experience.

If you sell a 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 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, "73% of consumers think that reviews older than 3 months are no longer 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.

***

Beyond reviews, for more information on how to improve your local SEO, read: "Local SEO: Tips for Online and Brick and Mortar Success."

A Unique Internet Marketing Company: Stepman's SEO
 
The information offered in this post is not typical of most Internet marketing companies. What separates Stepman's SEO from its competitors is a focus on human beings. Website optimization is not simply about codes and content--it is about understanding the motivations of actual people. If you want to speak to an SEO company with intelligence and empathy, call Stepman's SEO now: 215-900-9398.