Friday, August 18, 2017

Three SEO Myths: Fact or Fiction?

The website Moz has a page devoted to Google's Algorithm Change History, which cites a popular SEO statistic: "Each year, Google changes its search algorithm around 500–600 times."

SEO firms often cite this statistic to affirm the value of SEO: No business has the knowledge to track Google's changes; only a professional can track and react to the algorithm.

This is not true. Yes, SEO does require specialized knowledge--yet this knowledge is readily accessible online, from a diversity of sources, including Moz and Search Engine Land--and, ahem, The Organic SEO Blog.

The problem for most SEO newcomers (especially small business owners) is, simply, time.

SEO is not for professionals only. This is one of many myths that obscure SEO. Below we take a look at three more SEO myths and answer the question: fact or fiction?

Photo Source
Google and SEO are Enemies: FICTION

Yes, Google changes its algorithm frequently. The 500-600 number is an estimate; in reality, the number could be more or less. Even then, most of these changes are minor. Google only occasionally introduces a "major" algorithm update that changes search results in a fundamental way.

Google's major updates often present headaches for even the most knowledgeable and successful SEOs. And yet, website optimization, by nature, is a collaborative effort.

With each algorithm update, Google creates new guidelines for webmasters. Some complain about the hassle of adapting to these ever-changing guidelines, but any webmaster worth his or her salt understands that Google's purpose aligns with SEO's purpose: to deliver relevant information.

The best SEOs work together with search engines to create clean websites with searchable content that is relevant, error-free, and truly informative. From Google's point of view, this is precisely how the Internet improves. This is why the Google is often transparent about its algorithm updates.

Please read: "Google & SEO: Dynamic Partners"

Algorithms Changes "Punish" Websites: FICTION

A major element of the Penguin algorithm is its focus on bad links. In the past, some websites have been damaged by the way Google has defined bad links. And yet, as Search Engine Land reported in anticipation of a recent Penguin update, Google does its best to allow these sites to recover:

"Google could have done a Penguin update more frequently, but they want to push out an update that makes both webmasters and users happy. So they are working hard on making both happy. [Google] also said that if you disavow bad links now or as of about two weeks ago, it will likely be too late for this next Penguin refresh. But [Google] added that the Penguin refreshes will be more frequent because of the new algorithm in place."

Our obligatory penguin picture [Source]
It is a popular misconception, even in the SEO world, that the algorithm updates are a form of punishment. This "myth" is patently false. The updates are a form of tutelage: Google is trying to teach webmasters how to improve the Internet.

As we wrote before:

"With each update, Google explains precisely why the new algorithm is necessary, what will happen if you don’t follow the rules, and how to update your website to meet the new SEO standards. Yes, Google reveals this information. You might not know where to find it, but it certainly exists. A well-trained SEO professional will always stay up-to-date with all the major SEO techniques and updates."

Please read: "Bad Links? Bad News!"

SEO is Technocentric: Part, FACT, Mostly FICTION 

To understand SEO, many newcomers believe, one must adapt to the language, which is so often dismissed as technobabble. Keyword density. Title tags. Gateway pages.

For many, even the language, as obscure as it might seem, is not as inscrutable as SEO itself. Many website owners see SEO as technocentric, an esoteric art practiced only by development experts.

SEO does require technical knowledge (which is easily accessible, as noted above), but the cornerstone of SEO is not development. Most SEO campaigns are based on the simplest, most straightforward element of marketing: content.

With appropriate keywords, SEO attempts to create dynamic content.

In the SEO world, if anything, writing is key.

Read: The SEO Writer: Five Key Skills

Separate Fact from Fiction with an Honest SEO Firm: Stepman's SEO

At the Organic SEO Blog, we pride ourselves on the simplicity of our style. We hope to democratize the practice of SEO by explaining its elements in clear and precise terms. When we use jargon, we strive to explain its meaning. If you ever have questions about our posts, please leave a comment. Or better yet, call our blog's, Alex Stepman, of Stepman's SEO: 215-900-9398.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

There are No SEO Secrets

The SEO community offers an abundance of common-sense tutorials (like our SEO 101 series or Moz's Whiteboard Fridays). Despite the abundance of information, however, "most website owners perceive SEO as a dark art, shrouded in mystery."

This quote, from Paul Boag, identifies a core problem for most digital marketing firms: Website owners do not trust SEO. Unfortunately, many SEO firms unwittingly contribute to this problem by posting content that promises to reveal SEO "tricks" or "secrets."

Most of this content follows a familiar outline, emphasizing the view that SEO is misunderstood and then attempting to reveal the truth.

Writing for Forbes, for example, Edmund Ingham, a freelance journalist, writes "Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is one of the most misunderstood marketing mediums out there."

And yet, Ingham's article, a run-of-the-mill SEO piece, most notable for the mistake-ridden writing and the wisdom of Ken Laing an SEO "freelancer," promises to reveal "The SEO Secrets Every Business Should Know." These secrets should be evident to readers of The Organic SEO Blog--or, really, to readers of any SEO publication:
  1. Write content for your users
  2. Focus on the right keywords
  3. Have the right mindset for long-term benefits
  4. Make sure your website is free of technical issues
  5. Get links from a wide range of websites
These are standard SEO tropes. For an SEO newcomer, Laing's information is helpful.

However, calling this information "secrets" is a bit far-fetched. The article itself, in fact, begs the question, "Do SEO secrets actually exist?"

As Laing notes, "so much of the non-technical side of SEO marketing is plain common sense, and this is something that Google desperately wants us to understand. There are no shortcuts; high quality content, updated regularly, is the best way to gain traffic without going 'under the hood'."

By "under the hood," Laing means to refer to the arcane technical side of SEO, "drilling down into the website and studying the code behind it."

SEO Secrets?

We do agree with Laing's assertion that this work can be "pretty overwhelming" for novices, yet we disagree with the premise--or, at least, the title--of the piece: there are no SEO secrets.

From common sense to "under the hood details," every and any SEO "secret" is widely available online. Google itself endorses ethical SEO, and works hard to make sure people understand SEO.

The Google Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide, for example, is an incredibly helpful read for first-timers. In that guide, you will find plenty of helpful common sense and under the hood advice--enough, really, to optimize your own website.

Another helpful tool is a list of Google's ranking factors. We prefer Backlinko's list, for its clarity and thoroughness. In concert with Google's starter guide, the information available will provide you with the same level of basic knowledge, if not experience, of most SEO specialists.

Of course, the word "specialist" here is operative. True SEO specialists have studied the field for years, and have a keen knowledge of how to apply the knowledge behind the SEO "secrets" efficiently and expeditiously.

Please read: "Organic SEO is a Specialized Talent." 

Calling SEO a "secret" is both untrue and counter-productive. Saying so shrouds SEO in an esoteric veil that obscures its basic utility.

Is the work of a car mechanic a secret? Of course not. You can admit this while still admitting the value of a car mechanic: He/she has learned the trade, and has developed the skills to efficiently and expeditiously fix your car.

Paul Newman, fixing a car. You can, in fact, specialize in two or more disciplines, like, say, acting and car repair. By the same token, business owners can easily learn how to optimize a website. [Photo Source]

We repeat this phrase, efficiently and expeditiously, because it describes the value of any specialist--from a car mechanic to an SEO: You could do the work yourself, no doubt, but how long would it take you?

Do not let the seemingly "secretive" nature of SEO dissuade you from learning more about the practice. Only by learning about SEO, will you begin to see its value.

And once you have seen what SEO requires, decide for yourself: Do you want to perform SEO on your own or outsource the work to a digital marketing firm?

Digital Marketing with Stepman's SEO 

Yes, SEO is based on timeless marketing strategies, but the execution of SEO is a cutting-edge science, promoted by many but mastered by only a few. Once you have a vision for exactly how your product should be presented, you must convey that vision to your website designer and/or SEO firm. Take care to choose professionals who have created naturally-optimized websites that you find visually attractive.

If you're looking for an SEO company that understands how to effectively promote emotionally accessible websites with specific keywords and intriguing content, contact 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, August 3, 2017

Before You Jump on the Social Media Bandwagon: Three Key Questions

Many so-called digital marketing "experts" presume that social media is a must for all brands, including small businesses.

Citing a host of statistics, for example, David Cueva of InTouch Marketing, writes "The free lunch is over, and social media marketing is now becoming a necessity for most businesses."

It's not clear what Cueva's "free lunch" metaphor means, yet his statistics seem to prove a point: "84% of B2B marketers use social media in some form."

And: "83% of marketers indicate that social media is important for their business."

But what point do these statistics prove?

On Fortune, Ryan Holmes writes, "For businesses today, the best way to keep your company successful, in my estimation, is to fully embrace social media."

"In my estimation," indeed. Holmes, The CEO of Hootsuite, a platform for managing social media campaigns, is inherently biased. Like Cueva, however, he cites statistics to prove his view:

"Three-quarters of online adults in the U.S. now use social media sites...If we’re talking just about m illennials and young people -- i.e. tomorrow’s consumers -- that number gets dramatically higher." .

And: "Facebook's 1.4 billion monthly active users around the world spend an average of 20-plus minutes a day, everyday, 365 days a year, on the network. (Little wonder that social media now drives more traffic to websites than search engines.)"

Of course, there is no denying the prominence of social media usage, which both authors needlessly prove. Yet the actual benefit of social media use (for businesses across the board, especially small businesses) is hard to quantify. According to a 2015 survey by Manta, for example, 59% of respondents saw no ROI on social media and only half of respondents were willing to spend money on social media.

Source: Manta's Small Business Insights: Social Media
Still, reading articles like Cueva's and Holmes' you can't blame small business owners for believing the hype.

Recent social media failures offer a different view: In 2014, for example, the NYPD learned the hard way how NOT to do Twitter. And yet, despite the backlash, the New York Times reported that the NYPD planned to expand its social media efforts. The police commissioner, William Bratton, announced that:

"New recruits would be better trained in community relations; that the police would be more 'collaborative,' an oft-heard new buzzword; and, as he told a closed-door meeting of chiefs and supervisors in January, that his administration would use social media to bring positive police stories directly to the public."

What the NYPD, and many other brands (like McDonald's), fail to realize, is that social media users do not want to be fed a line. Both brands tried to tell followers to tweet great stories about the brand. And both brands failed because they misunderstood the nature of "social networking."

Thankfully, these failures can be instructive to businesses and organizations who hope to profit from social media. Despite our misgivings here, we do believe social media can be a key element of a digital marketing campaign. By crafting a thoughtful social media identity, you can increase your brand's presence across the Internet.

However, before you jump on the social media bandwagon assess your brand's ability to turn all that social media work into a ROI. Ask yourself three key questions...

Small business social media requires a serious time investment--but to what benefit? [Source]

Do You Have the Time?


As the image above reveals, social media requires a serious time investment. If you do not have the time--or conscientiousness--to truly engage with social media, you might do better with no social media presence.

Far too many brand's flounder simply because they mistakenly believe all brands must have a social media presence. To succeed on social, however, you need engaging content, unique images, and a consistent presence. Do you have the time to create great content and maintain a presence?

Lackluster content can harm your brand's image. And if you do not stay current with your pages, your image will suffer online. Worse, if you do not engage with your followers (a day-to-day task), you risk alienating potential customers.

Do You Have the Money?

Beyond the time expense, which obviously incurs a tangible labor cost, social media may require a significant out-of-pocket investment in advertising. As Jordan Kasteler writes for MarketingLand,

"The undeniable truth is that without spending some money on advertising with Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and others, you are just not going to be effective on social media."

Kasteler pins a good social media budget at $200-$300 per day. Though we believe you can succeed with a more streamlined budget, the fact remains: social media requires advertising dollars. Without a serious investment, any brand's social media presence is bound to fail.

Do You Know Your Audience?

Before using any social media, you must first understand the dynamics of the audience. Twitter is an expansive, yet unique, community: of all social media platforms, for example, Twitter is by far the most activist community.

The NYPD failed to acknowledge this simple fact. Assuming that the Twitter population would cherish the opportunity to tell great stories about a notoriously racist police force, the NYPD instead opened the door for a public relations nightmare.

The NYPD's decision-making implies colossal ineptitude. Do not fall into this trap. Try to understand the network audience before you begin any social media campaign. Each network is different--and each requires a different form of engagement. If you think cross-posting to multiple platforms is acceptable, for example, you're on the wrong track.

Read: The Single Worse Social Media Mistake

As we've said before: "Each platform is unique and should be respected as such. Respect each individual audience for what it is, and remember: be an active member of the community."

People are attracted to social media because it promises engagement. The best brands understand that customers can be friends, too. That means that you must respond to all inquiries with sincerity and timeliness. Talk to your "followers"--and don't treat them like followers; treat them like friends.

If you misunderstand these dynamics, you may alienate the very customers you wish to attract.

Social Media Marketing with Stepman's SEO

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

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Good SEO News: Flash is Dead

This Tuesday Adobe announced the end of Flash. By 2020, the company will completely stop "updating and distributing," the once famed, and now notorious, freeware software.

The end of Flash will come as no surprise to many in the tech industry. The writing has been on the wall since at least 2010, when Apple eliminated Flash from the iPhone.

"It was too insecure," Wired recently wrote, referring to Steve Job's assessment of the technology, "too proprietary, too resource-intensive, too unaccommodating."

This has been the assessment of developers (and savvy end-users) for years; yet all of these factors had other, indirect effects on website performance--and, consequently, website SEO.

Looking at the history of Flash and it's demise, in fact, is perfect way to explore some key SEO themes.

Read Wired's Article: Adobe Finally Kills Flash 

Flash: A Brief History

In the early 2000s, at the dawn of the Internet, most websites relied on simple codes to produce simple designs. Both HTML and CSS, the most popular early coding languages, produced workable sites without much, well, flash.

When Flash was introduced, around this time, designers had access to a new range of content, including the animated graphics many associate with Flash (in positive and negative ways). Soon Flash was installed on most desktop computers. People used the software to access online games, videos, and audio. YouTube, which was founded in 2005, initially used Flash to display its videos.

The problems with Flash, however, which Steve Jobs noted in his "Thoughts on Flash," and which included the fact that the software was not open-source, nor reliable or secure, soon outweighed the benefits. Websites with Flash often took forever to load; and many crashed routinely.

Over time, better codes offered better means of presenting dynamic content. The prominence of touch screens and mobile phones, too, highlighted a crucial Flash flaw, which Jobs noted in 2010:

"Flash was designed for PCs using mice, not for touch screens using fingers."

The development of HTML5, a coding language that supports the same dynamic content as Flash, made Flash essentially useless. In 2011, even Adobe announced it would stop developing Flash to meet touch screen standards--and would, instead, develop HTML5-based products.

Flash and SEO: Website Usability 


The reason Flash is so bad for SEO is partly about usability. Flash makes websites run slower; it also makes sites harder to navigate. Slow, hard to navigate sites do not impress the search engines.

Usability may be of a "second order influence," as Moz notes, but it certainly effects how browsers perceive a site--and consequently, how search engines interpret a site's popularity:

"Usability and user experience are second order influences on search engine ranking success,"  Moz notes. "They provide an indirect but measurable benefit to a site's external popularity, which the engines can then interpret as a signal of higher quality. This is called the 'no one likes to link to a crummy site' phenomenon."

Read: "How Usability, User Experience, and Content Effect Search Engine Rankings"

Flash and SEO: Website Visibility 

Another reason Flash is so bad for SEO with Flash is website visibility. Writing for the online marketing firm, Custard, Sam Allock itemizes the reasons Flash is essentially incognito to search engines like Google:

"Since Flash content doesn’t have any URLs, isn’t able to be searched or indexed, uses unreadable text content and doesn’t provide any way of monitoring outbound links, it’s a nightmare for Google’s search bots."

A nightmare indeed. We know URL optimization helps a search engine find a specific page. We also know content is the cornerstone of any digital marketing campaign. And, of course, we know that backlinks are one of Google's top three "ranking factors." For Flash pages, however, these elements are invisible to search engines.

Read: SEO 101: How to Optimize URLs

Read: What is Content Marketing

Read: Google's Top Three Ranking Factors

No wonder Google warns mobile users about Flash websites.

Flash Website? What Can You Do?

As Allock notes, the best way to optimize a site with Flash is to "make sure the Flash content is not critical." The best option, however, is to hire a design and development firm who understands SEO to refresh your website--or, if needed, to build a new website.

An SEO Company That Understands Website Design: Stempan's SEO

To build an effective, fully-optimized website, you need a web design and development company that understands SEO. Stepman's PC is the rare company that offers a host of SEO and marketing professionals to optimize your website. Contact Stepman's PC today to learn how you can improve your website's performance: 215-900-9398.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

SEO 101: Two More Timeless Strategies

Last week we discussed how SEO has evolved with the Internet to help online businesses deal with the byzantine challenge of marketing to a global audience. And yet, SEO is relevant today because it relies on timeless marketing strategies. Marketing is about communication, and from the beginning of commerce the art of attracting customers has relied on the same principles.

The content of your message, for example, including the specific words, phrases, and design elements you use to express your message, must be specific and accessible; at the same time, your content must create a sense of intrigue.

Read: Organic SEO: Three Timeless Strategies

Specificity, accessibility, and intrigue will help you attract potential customers. But attracting attention is only part of the equation.

You also must inspire potential customers to become actual customers--to purchase your product or service. And, of course, you must inspire your customers to return.

Of course, this is also a timeless view of marketing. In today's SEO parlance, a purchase is called a "conversion." And return customers are frequently referred to, simply, as "return visitors."

Below we discuss these two essential principles and how they apply to today's SEO--or more specifically, today's "organic" SEO.

This photo, from last week's post, offers a perfect illustration of the elegant simplicity of organic SEO, which is based on timeless marketing principles. [Photo Source]

Conversion Rate Optimization 

Many website owners (and certain SEO firms) portray success in rankings and traffic, but ranking, which is partly often based on traffic, is meaningless without conversions.

Successful traffic obviously implies multiple visitors, but it's important to remember: a visitor is simply that--a visitor. A visitor may click on your page, browse a bit, then leave. A high ranking site may attract many visitors who browse a bit, then leave.

In this case, a visitor is essentially worthless. The key to online success is converting visitors to customers.

A conversion is a visitor who performs a desired act, like purchasing your product or service, sharing your content, or signing up for daily emails..A "converted" visitor is a customer.

Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) is a simple measurement of the percentage of visitors who perform a desired action on a website. The higher your CRO the more successful your site.

Read: SEO and Conversion Rate Optimization 

The wrong type of visitor will have no connection to your product or service--or, in the case of  Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson in Wedding Crashers, to your wedding! [Source]

Return Visitors  

One-time visitors might be incidental or accidental; many visitors may have been looking for something else. But returns indicate well-informed visitors—visitors who may become actual customers; or better yet, actual repeat customers.

The pursuit of repeat customers is, perhaps, the oldest marketing challenge. How do you engage your visitor's imagination, inspiring return visits? When a visitor first views your site, he or she will experience an emotional reaction--for better or worse. Your job is to guarantee a uniformly positive reaction.

In organic SEO, this reaction is often determined by your website's design and layout.

Read: SEO 101: Website Design

Beyond the specificity, accessibility, and intrigue, you must design a simple, streamlined site which delivers the design goods:
  • Is your website user-friendly? 
  • Do your visual elements immediately inspire confidence in your customer? 
  • Is your language enthusiastic, positive, and evocative?
  • Are your promises about customer service sincere? 
  • Are you conveying the benefits of your product or service? 
Consider the first question: Is the website user-friendly? Speed and reliability are crucial website features. For most websites, speed and reliability is as important as the actual product or service.

If your website loads quickly, visitors will easily navigate between pages, and there will be no need to visit any other website for the same product or service.

Search engines also investigate this type of website performance; even if your website has been optimized for content, you might be penalized for slow loading times.

When you deliver the goods, however, you create confidence in Google and your customers--the type of confidence that inspires repeat customers.

An SEO firm can achieve some of this work for you, but to truly inspire your customer you, the website owner, need to cultivate a well-honed aesthetic sensibility.

To do so, you might browse websites that you find visually appealing. Look at these websites with a keen eye, and try to answer the questions above.

Digital Marketing with Stepman's SEO 

Yes, SEO is based on timeless marketing strategies, but the execution of SEO is a cutting-edge science, promoted by many but mastered by only a few. Once you have a vision for exactly how your product should be presented, you must convey that vision to your website designer and/or SEO firm. Take care to choose professionals who have created naturally-optimized websites that you find visually attractive.

If you're looking for an SEO company that understands how to effectively promote emotionally accessible websites with specific keywords and intriguing content, contact 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, July 13, 2017

Organic SEO: Three Timeless Strategies

Webmasters have practiced some form of SEO (search engine optimization) since the mid-1990s, when the first search engines cataloged the web. Since then, of course, the web has changed the world, escorting society into a Brave New World of inventiveness and social transformation. SEO has evolved, too, to help websites market to a global audience.

Today, SEO is often associated with cutting edge digital marketing, but it's important to remember: SEO is based on timeless marketing strategies.

From the beginning of commerce, of course, marketing has been about communication.

Below we discuss three means of effective communication and how they apply to today's SEO--or more specifically, today's "organic" SEO.

Read: What is Organic SEO?

At heart, SEO is a simple marketing strategy based on timeless principles. [Photo Source]

Specificity  

SEO essentially governs the keywords and website design elements you employ to market your business online. If you can identify your potential visitors, or if you want to build a website for a specific visitor, you must include specific words and design details that will appeal to your audience. This idea, like most marketing principles, is self evident, yet too many designers build websites for a general--and not specific audience.

For online marketing success, specificity is key.

Read: SEO 101: Industry-Specific Keywords

Accessibility 

Remember, no one understands your product like you do. You are the expert. Your challenge is to convey your expertise in a way that inspires confidence in search engines and browsers.

When you use jargon that may not be familiar to your customer, he or she may lose interest—and like that, you’ve lost a sale! If you understand your customer, adapt your text and design elements to suit his or her needs--and avoid jargon!

Unfortunately, the SEO industry itself is plagued by jargon; and the industry could do a much better job making the essential tenants of SEO accessible to more people.

Do not let the jargon, or any other obscure SEO association, discourage you from learning more.

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

Intrigue 

Relevant content may attract browsers, but a website should strive to not merely attract browsers—a good website must sustain a browser's interest.

The marketing goal, of course, is to cultivate informed and involved browsers who convert to actual customers. A precise and accessible description of your offering is necessary. But you must do more than describe your product--however precisely. You must intrigue browser to purchase your product.

One of the best ways to create intrigue online is to teach your customer something new—and possibly include him/her in the learning process.

Dr. Mercola has built a successful online business by making his supplements feel like necessary by-products of his health tutelage. To read Mercola's article on astaxanthin, for example, is to want to purchase his astaxanthin: "Hailed as One of the Most Powerful Antioxidants Ever Discovered," he announces. "Are You Missing Out?"

Among Mercola's many intriguing claims here is that flamingos "only obtain their pink color once they eat food that is loaded with astaxanthin."

Mercola creates intrigue by inspiring emotional connections to his products. You can do the same.

Read: SEO and the Power of Emotions

Flamingos get their pink skin from astaxanthin--an intriguing fact that helps to sell a product. [Photo Source]

Digital Marketing with Stepman's SEO 

If you're looking for an SEO company that understands how to effectively promote emotionally accessible websites with specific keywords and intriguing content, contact 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.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

SEO 101: Industry-Specific Keywords

Precision is the core of SEO. We research and utilize precise keywords to attract a specific audience to a specific product or service. This is SEO. It really is that simple.

This simple view of SEO, however, is often confounded by SEO experts. A few years ago, Paul Boag wrote an articulate analysis of the problem from Smashing Magazine:

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

Read: "The Inconvenient Truth"

Of course, SEO is not a dark art. Yet misconceptions about SEO endure. The misconceptions, however, do not necessarily hurt digital marketing firms; they hurt, instead, the people who stand to benefit the most from SEO: small and local websites.

In every town in America, any number of small businesses avoid SEO as a matter-of-fact. Inevitably, these businesses lose profits to other local competitors who do use SEO. Businesses who use SEO effectively come from different industry sectors, yet all share a common marketing strategy: The strategic use of keywords.

Industry-Specific Keywords = SEO Success

Another way to state our earlier, simple definition of SEO is to focus on audience: SEO is about defining a target audience and then striving to meet that audience's needs.

Part of the confusion around SEO is the counterintuitive notion of refinement, which is implicit in defining a precise target audience. When you engage in SEO, you limit your audience, in a way, to the browsers most likely to purchase your product or service. In the SEO world, traffic is secondary to conversions.

The Wall Street Journal recently published an article about real estate firms who use SEO. The article is instructive for any local business who hopes to stand apart from the competition by emphasizing precise, industry-specific keywords:

"Luxury real-estate firms are increasingly hiring specialists in search-engine optimization, or SEO," Emily Nonko writes, "to ensure that keywords used in online descriptions give their listings highest visibility and maximum reach."


Mary Tyler March writes for Construction Dive: "While certain keywords can help give a listing more online exposure to potential buyers, better SEO can also help move homes at a higher price."
In her article, Nonko quotes Christian Mezzina, a senior product-marketing manager at a New York-based brokerage firm, who clarifies why precision is key:

"You might see that a lot of people search for 'most expensive apartments in Tribeca' but those are unlikely to be your actual buyers. When you look to optimize a listing for SEO, you have to think about not what just gets eyeballs, but what will convert."

Read: When Traffic Helps Sell Homes

The first and most important job of an SEO practitioner, then, is discovering which keywords are more likely to lead to conversions. In this scenario, traffic is not as important as the right type of traffic--a mantra we repeat quite often on this blog.

Nonko notes that Mezzina "develops variations of popular keywords (luxury, penthouse and brownstone are among the firm’s most-searched terms) and analyzes which ones are most likely to generate leads rather than just page views."

This is, of course, keyword research, a simple practice that can be utilized by any number of local businesses, not simply real estate offices but any number of professional services, home repair shops, hair salons, restaurants, bars--the list is endless.

Are you using SEO to stand apart from local competition? If not, why?

Keyword Research with Stepman's SEO

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

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Google's Antitrust Problems & the Future of Organic SEO

Most reports of the European Commission's decision to fine Google €2.4 billion ($2.7 billion) for alleged abuse of its search results have focused on the details of the case, including the fine--the largest ever. So far, no major SEO publications have attempted to predict how the case may effect search home and abroad.

This lack of insight for an industry famous for "trends" and predictions is unusual, but not surprising. The media coverage about the case has not been uniformly clarifying. Most readers could be excused for experiencing a certain confusion about the details. So what's going on, exactly?

First, most outlets, including Business Insider and the BBC have presented the case as about Google Shopping, "the graphical bar," Shona Gosh reports, "that shows up any time you search for a product."

In her article for Business Insider, Gosh offers the example of a search for "frocks," which yields, first, the Google Shopping bar for frocks. Many similar product searches (but not all searches, as Gosh states) yield the same Google Shopping bar. Here's an example for "green pants."


This bar at the top of the page occupies a fair amount of real estate, especially on mobile devices, where the results take up most of the space "above the fold." The problem, as the European Commission believes, is that this shopping bar is unfair to other comparison shopping sites (not Amazon, as seen above, but other unnamed sites) who are placed below Google's branded shopping service.

Since Google's shopping service is, in fact, a different product from search, Margrethe Vestager, the EU commissioner in charge of competition policy, believes "Google abused its market dominance as a search engine by promoting its own comparison shopping service in its search results, and demoting those of competitors."

Margrethe Vestager, the EU commissioner in charge of competition policy, said Google is "not allowed to abuse their power in one market to give themselves an advantage in another market ... Our investigation has proved Google has done exactly that." [Photo source]

Another report, from The New Yorker, incidentally, does not mention Google Shopping at all. "Google’s case shows that the antitrust battle is much more confusing in a digital world," writes Adam Davidson. Indeed. Davidson states the simplest of explanations, that "the commission said that Google unfairly preferred its own services to those of competitors," yet then cites an entirely different reason for the case: reviews.

"When people searched for local restaurants, mechanics, or other services," Davidson writes, "the search engine placed its own Google-branded ratings far above those of competitors such as TripAdvisor and Yelp. In other cases, Google would put, on its own pages, quotes from places like TripAdvisor and Yelp, decreasing the motivation of searchers to go visit those other sites and depriving them of audience and advertising revenue."

In Davidson's article, there is nary a mention of the words emblazoned behind Vestager's image above: Google Shopping.

The point of Davidson's article, however, that "Google was, essentially, absorbing their entire business model into itself, and taking all of the ad money that went along with it," is in line with the general premise of the EU's antitrust case. It's just the specifics of the case--they're entirely different from most other publications.

How Will the Case Effect SEO?

As we noted, no SEO experts (as of post time) have ventured a guess about how this ruling will change search and SEO. Google must make changes within 90 days, however, or face a fine of 5% of its worldwide daily turnover.

So there will be changes. Google will likely change the SERP (search engine results page) in Europe, and the changes may influence worldwide SEO efforts, forcing some businesses who have paid for promoted ads to seek promotion elsewhere or double down on organic SEO

Obviously, organic SEO is the approach preferred by this blog. In contrast to the paid results of Google Shopping, organic results appear as a result of a website's relevance to any given search. The search engine industry uses the term "organic" to make a distinction between results that satisfy the search engine's algorithm and paid results.

Google calls an organic result a "free listing," whereas "non-organic search results are paid advertisements."

This is the standard definition However, in the world of search engine optimization (SEO), the meaning of "organic" is more nuanced.

Learn more about organic search: "What is Organic Search?"

Organic SEO with Stepman's SEO

The Organic SEO Blog is sponsored by Alex Stepman, of Stepman's SEO. If you're serious about website performance we suggest calling Alex: 215-900-9398. We list this number, of course, to promote Alex, but also to offer a resource for any questions you might have about organic SEO and the evolving nature of search at home and abroad.

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 million 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.

"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. A review, by nature, is the sort of unique content SEO loves. The more you have, the more your product will be revealed in search results by Amazon and Google. Also, the more reviews the more trusted your product. Once you've attracted a potential customer, reviews will help to inspire a conversion.

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 products on Amazon, we suggest contacting our sponsor, Stepman's SEO: 215-900-9398. Stepman's SEO combines traditional marketing methods and organic SEO to design thoughtful, inspiring, and effective Amazon 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."

Short-tail Keywords

A short-tail keyword is the word that most precisely conjures 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.