Wednesday, December 13, 2017

SEO and Net Neutrality

Tomorrow the commissioners of the F.C.C will vote on regulations about "net neutrality," a principle that has existed since the beginning of the web. In short, net neutrality means Internet service providers (I.S.P.s) can not change data speeds to favor certain websites; nor can I.S.P.s charge variable rates to access to different content.

Without net neutrality, I.S.P.s, like Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon could change data speeds to favor their own content. (In 2015, in fact, AT&T and Verizon were found to be favoring their own content, defying net neutrality rules).

Without net neutrality, too, your web experience may look like your cable television experience: You may have to pay more for access to certain websites or content--like, say, your cable company charges more for ESPN or TNT.

Most websites, including Facebook, Google, and Amazon, favor net neutrality. Most consumers favor net neutrality. Yet, a majority of the F.C.C. commissioners are poised to repeal net neutrality. The repeal could bring major changes to all aspects of the world's online community. Today we discuss the possible implications for organic SEO.

Without net neutrality consumers may have to pay more for access to certain websites--or risk being locked out.

Net Neutrality and SEO: "Definite Losers"-- Smaller Websites

In an article published recently about net neutrality, Aaron Pressman, writing for Fortune, named the "winners and losers" of the potential change. Of course, the "huge winners" are the I.S.P.'s, a fact few have attempted to deny.

The losers, on the other hand, include large Internet companies, like Facebook, Google, and Amazon, who may face extra fees from the I.S.P.'s. Also, of course, these large companies depend on traffic. Browsers currently have equal access to websites like Facebook, Google, and Amazon, but some browsers may have limited access in the future.

Without net neutrality will traffic to the large sites diminish? The answer is hard to predict. Much easier to foresee, however, is the effect on our blog's primary readers: small websites.

Smaller websites, or "content providers," as Aaron Pressman calls them, are the "definite losers." Pressman's article focuses on new fees and restrictions, and how smaller sites may not have the money or the clout to protest these new fees and restrictions.

More fundamental to organic SEO, however, is the new potential disadvantages for smaller websites. Without net neutrality smaller websites face greater barriers to entry. Additionally, the web may see decreased competition overall, a factor that will inevitably hurt smaller websites.

Greater Barriers to Entry

On today's web, anyone can register a website, and with the help of digital marketing services like organic SEO, compete against any other website--including big players, like Amazon.

Read: How to Use SEO to Compete Against Online Giants

Currently, all websites have equal access to ISP services--Amazon is not preferred over your local hair salon. In the current paradigm, smaller websites truly can enter the crowded marketplace and distinguish themselves with great digital marketing.

The changes to net neutrality could increase fees and regulations for smaller websites--barriers to entry that could stop an enterprising small websites in its tracks.

Decreased Competition 

The nature of organic SEO (and the goal of all search engines) is to connect websites with consumers who are looking for their products. Ideally, a browser's simple search leads to a well-optimized website that offers precisely what the browser is looking for.

Without net neutrality, this paradigm may shift: Depending on how the I.S.P.'s charge for different types of content, or for different "tiers" of websites, smaller websites may lose access to the rewards of organic search.

Simply put, if a smaller website is not included in a browser's I.S.P. package (like ESPN is not provided in many cable packages) the browser will never find the website by organic means.

***

Whatever the F.C.C.'s decision tomorrow, smaller websites need to continue to compete to the best of their abilities--or risk failure. Now more than ever you need the guidance of a reliable SEO or digital marketing firm.

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.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

SEO 101: Rich Snippets and Structured Data

The recent news that Google has increased the length of "rich snippets," from 160 to 240 characters on average, inspired a few questions from our social media followers:

1. What is a rich snippet?

2. What is structured data?

Both of these terms, which refer to the what and how, respectively, of search results, should be self evident to SEOs and digital marketers. However, when researching the topic, beginners must content with complex definitions.

One of the top results for  the search "what is structured data SEO", a Moz article by Bridget Randolph, admits its own complexity five paragraphs in, urging readers to click to a cheat sheet:

"This all gets pretty confusing, so if you’re feeling less-than-crystal-clear right now, you might want to check out this great glossary cheat sheet from Aaron Bradley."

When researching SEO terms, it's important to discover the best explanation for your knowledge level. Most top results refer to articles written for SEOs. This is certainly the case when Moz appears on the SERP. We think Moz is a wonderful resource. However, the Organic SEO Blog is a good alternative for SEO beginners.

So here is our latest SEO 101, a streamlined definition of rich snippets and structured data.

Structured data helps search engines understand your website's content

What is a Rich Snippet? 

A "snippet" is the part of a search result the describes the content of a page. In the result below,  the "title" of the web page is blue and the "page address" is green. The snippet is the date, "Jun 28, 2017" and the simple description: "Not sure what a rich snippet is? We'll explain it to you in plain English..."

A "snippet" is, simply" a brief description of a web page

The result above, from Yoast, is not an example of a rich snippet--even though the article is about rich snippets!

A "rich snippet" is an enhanced search engine result; a rich snippet provides more information or context than a simple snippet. Rich snippets are a common for e-commerce sites. In the result below, one of the season's hottest toys from Target (L.O.L. Surprise Dolls), the "enhanced" features include the rating and extra characters:

The advantage of of these "enhanced" features is obvious. On a SERP (search engine results page), rich snippets stand out from regular snippets, and may attract more clicks.

So how do you make sure your website's pages reveal "rich snippets"? You must "mark up" your site with "structured data."

What is Structured Data?

Structured data is a type of code applied to your website that enables search engines to provide a richer representation of your content in search results.

"When you use structured data to mark up content," Google says, "you help Google better understand its context for display in Search, and you achieve better distribution of your content to users from Search."

The "mark up" Google refers to here is a standardized code "vocabulary" developed by the major search engines, including Google, Yahoo, and Bing, to enable a website to add structured data to its pages. All of the structured data vocabulary supported by the major search engines can be found on a joint project called Schema.org.

The benefit of this project is the variety of "content types" supported by the vocabulary. For each type, a webmaster uses a specific mark up to enhance  search results. As Google notes:

"A variety of content types qualify to appear in rich results. CreativeWork is a schema.org type definition that applies to qualifying content produced for reading, viewing, listening or other consumption, such as news articles, recipes, and videos. Other content types, such as products and local business listings, belong to the commerce category, which is a custom category we use to describe schema.org types generally intended for retail purposes."

To keep this SEO 101 simple we will end our explanation here. However, as we noted, the web certainly offers a host of more complex articles on structured data. For a more complex take, try Moz. For a streamlined take, similar to our own (with a bit more context), try Yoast.

Structured Data Mark Ups 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. Our SEOs understand how to use structured data to benefit your specific content type. For more information, call today: 215-900-9398.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Organic SEO is the Opposite of Spam

A recent headline from The Outline strikes an ominous tone: "Spam is Back!" As the article notes, efforts in the early years of the 2000s reduced "the proportion of all emails that are spam...to a low of about 50 percent in recent years," but "spam has clawed itself back from the grave."

The most notable recent example may be the "poltical bots" that influenced the American election. However, this new spam, which is largely motivated by crime, has inundated our lives, and this time spam may be here to stay.

The Outline quotes Finn Brunton, an assistant professor at NYU  and the author of Spam: A Shadow History of the Internet, who says“I think we had a really unique set of circumstances that created this temporary window where spam was in remission, and now we’re on the other side of that, with no end in sight.”

No end in sight? That's bad news for anyone with an Internet connection. The resurgence of spam, of course, has many implications for SEO too. First, unfortunately, a great deal of spam can be linked to so-called SEO firms. This association between spam and SEO, however misguided, is a serious problem for SEO. In a recent article for Search Engine Journal, Tony Wright, an SEO veteran wrote:

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

Read: Does SEO Have a Reputation Problem?

These "unethical people claiming to be SEOs" abuse black hat tactics long ago penalized by Google and abandoned by true SEOs, but we see SEO on social media and in our inboxes everyday.

Read: SEO Spam Emails: Bad News for Your and SEO 

In reality, SEO, if practiced ethically, is the exact opposite of spam. In fact, comparing organic SEO to spam is the best way to illustrate the true value of SEO. Today's post, then, is a battle cry against the zombie that won't die: SPAM.

Like zombies (and zombie movies), spam JUST WON'T DIE!

Digital Marketing: Spam is Not the Answer

Digital marketing is about the projection of images. The best digital marketing campaigns strike a balance between the quality and quantity of images. In this view, quality and quantity exist on a spectrum from efficiency to inefficiency. At a certain point, increasing the effectiveness of one decreases the effectiveness of the other.

Blasting emails to millions, regardless of the recipient's preferences, spammers utilize quantity alone. Quality is not even a consideration. Instead, spammers play a numbers game, striving for bare minimum conversions: 1% or less. Sound inefficient? It is, in one sense. Yet a 1% conversion for one million emails is still 10,000.

Would you like 10,000 customers? Perhaps. But if you're goal is a sustainable business, spam is not the answer.

Spam comes at a cost: When you spam, your image is degraded. You might attract 10,000 customers, but you repel 990,000 potential customers. This applies to all forms of spam--not merely emails (see below: keyword stuffing, link schemes, and duplicate content are all forms of spam).

Without a focus on quality, spam eventually repels all customers.

This is why spam is the lowest level of digital marketing, and why it is inefficient.

Additionally, as we noted above, spam is a black hat technique: a set of duplicitous practices exploited to manipulate search engines. Black hat SEO is largely irrelevant, but practices like keyword stuffing, link schemes, and duplicate content continue to haunt browsers.

If you've searched for a legitimate product and landed on a spammer's site, you've been victimized by black hat SEO.

Like zombies, spam will not die, but you do not have to use spam to succeed online.

Organic SEO: The Exact Opposite of Spam

Opposed to spam, Organic SEO focuses on quality. The saying quality trumps quantity is accepted as doctrine across the world. Yet focusing on quality to the exclusion of quantity can be inefficient, too.

Imagine a single human being: a CEO or brand spokesperson. This person may have enormous persuasive power. Yet, this person is necessarily limited in the quantity of potential customers he/she can reach. His/her conversion might be 100%, but if he/she only speaks to 10,000 people in a given year, the result is the same as spam: 10,000.

The best digital marketing campaign strikes a perfect balance between quality and quantity.

So how do you balance the quantity and quality of your marketing without sacrificing either?

Organic SEO connects customers to products or services. For organic SEO, the first step in striking a balanced digital marketing campaign is understanding the customer.

Understanding your product or service is crucial, but understanding who needs/wants your product or service is more important. By understanding precisely who you want to market to, you reduce the quantity of the people you market to. You ignore disinterested people who are likely to ignore your digital marketing; at the same time, you increase the effectiveness of each piece of marketing--each "image."

When you understand your ideal customer, you can create images uniquely suited to convert that customer. This is all about quality: creating the best vision for your customer. This level of precision, which is about quality, also utilizes quantity to reach people who want to be reached. This is Organic SEO--and in this way, Organic SEO is the opposite of spam, which works on quantity alone.

How do you fight the zombie that never dies: SPAM? Organic SEO.

Striking the Perfect Balance Between Quality and Quantity: Stepman's SEO 

Organic SEO strives for quality to the extent that the time and money expense does not compromise customer service. If a brand spends too much time perfecting its image, it might sacrifice customer service.

Ideally, with the help of a digital marketing firm, a brand can outsource Organic SEO to professionals who understand how to balance quality and quantity. 

In part, the success of an SEO campaign depends on complex search engine algorithms—and the search engines change their algorithms about 500-700 times a year. The work of understanding and utilizing these ever-evolving algorithms is time-consuming. A high-quality SEO company understands how to do this work without wasting time.

Do not trust an SEO firm that spams your inbox. The nature of organic SEO is to attract customers organically. If you've found this blog, Organic SEO works.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Facebook Local: Good News For Local Shops?

Facebook is a tricky marketing platform for local businesses. Most local business owners have a sense they should be on Facebook, but many do not have the knowledge or resources to succeed on Facebook.

Facebook is not a must for all brands. When clients come to Alex Stepman, of Stepman's SEO, for social media advice, he asks two simple questions: Do you have the time? Do you have the money?

A lapse in  time or money can compromise any brand's social media. In fact, any social media campaign, if not optimized for success, can harm a business.

Simply put, many local businesses do not have realistic social media expectations. Social media takes time. Yet money is the most significant barrier to social media success.

Writing for MarketingLand, Jordan Kasteler reveals the "undeniable truth" about social media: "that without spending some money on advertising...you are just not going to be effective."

Kasteler suggests a $200-$300 budget per day. You can certainly succeed with a streamlined budget, but the fact remains: Without a serious investment, a social media campaign will fail.

Over the years, Facebook has courted brands small and large with its free service while simultaneously making it harder for brands to succeed (without paying).  In June, 2016, for example, Facebook diminished content from brands in favor of content from friends. As Facebook announced on its blog:

"Facebook was built on the idea of connecting people with their friends and family. That is still the driving principle of News Feed today. Our top priority is keeping you connected to the people, places and things you want to be connected to — starting with the people you are friends with on Facebook."

At the time, Search Engine Journal noted that these changes may spell the end for the organic reach of brand Pages: "Organic reach was already on decline over the past few years," the site wrote, "and even before the latest algorithm change, SocialFlow observed a drop of 42% from January to May."

At the time, too, we asked: Is Facebook Still a Viable Marketing Tool? 

Of course, Facebook does not want to discourage brands. Facebook needs brands to believe the site is a viable marketing tool. From Facebook's perspective, the goal is to entice brands to join--and then pay.

However, Facebook's new mission, to "Bring the world closer together" may be at odds with this money-making agenda. Browser's trust Google, for example, because of its organic results, and as we recently noted:

"Paid advertising helps a search engine like Google make money. But Google's reputation depends on the quality of its 'organic' results. So unpaid marketing, or organic SEO, satisfies the true goal of search engines: to offer the most relevant, unbiased results for any given search."

Read: What is Natural Website Optimzation

Does Facebook understand this lesson? the platform's latest update, Facebook Local, may be good news for the organic reach of brands. So what is Facebook Local? And what are the implications for small brands?

Is Facebook Local good news for local businesses?
Facebook Local: Good News for Local Businesses?

Facebook Local, a "stab at Yelp and FourSquare," is a rebrand of Facebook Events, which had offered users a tidy space to view user-generated local events. The new application is more robust, offering events and local attractions, like bars and restaurants.

As Tech Crunch noted: "Facebook Local combines events and permanent places to a single search engine powered by Facebook’s 70 million business pages plus reviews and friends’ checkins."

So yes, a stab at Yelp and FourSquare (and Google).

The new app will help you discover nearby attractions as well as the places your friends go. A calendar and a "Trending Events" feed can organize and even guide your leisure decisions.

So what does this mean for local brands?

As of now, it is unclear whether Facebook Local will feature ads. Marketing Land asked this question in an email but received no response.

As of now, it appears results are delivered organically, dependent on the user's location. If your local business is on Facebook, then, you will be included in local results. However, of course, local businesses already optimized for Facebook will fare better.

Optimize for Facebook Local 

Make sure your business is optimized for Facebook Local by following these (very) simple tips:

1. Make sure your business information is accurate and up-to-date. This includes your About Us section, category page, and contact information.

2. Optimize your URL. (Read: SEO 101: How to Optimize URLS)

3. Set up Place Tips for visiting customers.

4. Make sure your page links to your actual website.

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.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Google's Dominance: Two Key SEO Lessons

The recent news that Mozilla dropped Yahoo in favor of Google (as its default search provider) might read like non-news to many readers. "Why did Mozilla use Yahoo in the first place?" one reader emailed this week.

Good question. Google is so dominant other search engines--like Yahoo or Bing--can seem unnecessary or redundant.

Google now enjoys over 80% of all global search engine traffic (Source: Net Market Share). Bing is a very distant second with 7.51%. And Yahoo, once a leader in search, enjoys only 4.51% of global search engine traffic.

So how did Google become so dominant? In its statement about the change, Mozilla said: "As part of our focus on user experience and performance in Firefox Quantum, Google will...become our new default search provider."

Not surprisingly, Google's success offers two key SEO lessons for websites, and Mozilla hits the nail on the head: It's about user experience and performance.

A Google "doodle" honoring the Mexican wrestling legend, El Santo: How did the search engine pile drive the competition? User experience and performance. (Photo Source).

Google SEO Lesson I: User Experience

Early search engines, like Yahoo, once charged websites for inclusion in search engine directories, and websites that paid more enjoyed higher placement in results.

We know from experience that paid advertisements do not always deliver the most relevant results. The essence of organic search, which Google pioneered, is an emphasis on unpaid, natural results. As we noted last week:

"Paid advertising helps a search engine like Google make money. But Google's reputation depends on the quality of its 'organic' results. So unpaid marketing, or organic SEO, satisfies the true goal of search engines: to offer the most relevant, unbiased results for any given search."

Read: What is Natural Website Optimization?

Google changed search, then, by shifting the focus from paid results to organic results.

Writing for Forbes, Adam Heitzman noted how this shift emphasized user experience:

"Google’s entire business model focused on providing a better user experience. Its algorithm accounted for multiple factors, such as page quality, number of links and relevance to a user’s search in addition to how much advertisers pay, thus improving Yahoo’s original model. Because Google provided the best product, everyone wanted to use it."

The SEO takeaway is simple: browsers prefer websites that optimize user experience. Practically speaking, this means  a streamlined site with an easy-to-navigate structure (website structure) that satisfies users expectations (website content).

Read: SEO 101: Website Structure &  Is Your Content Relevant? 

Google SEO Lesson II: Performance

Google's search engine is prized for its instantaneous results--often millions in a fraction of a second. This speed was a major factor in its early success and continues to wow browsers. The key to this speed is Google's vast index:

"The first thing we have to understand is that Google does not search the Internet when you submit a query...Google searches its index of the internet. This might seem trivial but it’s an important distinction because it makes the search infinitely faster" (Source).

Though different in kind, Google's index is analogous to a website's "back-of-the-house" design, which governs website speed, and website speed is an important factor for Google:

"Websites with servers and back-end infrastructure that...quickly deliver web content [have] a higher search ranking than those that were slower." (Source).

The SEO takeaway here is simple, too: For Google and websites performance means speed, and speed always wins the day.

Read: SEO 101: Website Design

A Digital Marketing Company That Understands Website Design & SEO: Stepman's SEO

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

Friday, November 10, 2017

What is Natural Website Optimization?

Last week we wrote about how search engines evolve to match technology and user behavior by changing ranking factors. With these ranking factors in mind, SEOs attempt to design and develop websites that match search engine preferences.

Beyond design and development, content decides the fate of any website. Google's top three ranking factors, Content, Links, and RankBrain, all refer (directly or indirectly) to a website's content. 

In several important ways, then, SEO is content. Most website owners understand this simple point. However, content is not necessarily the foundation of SEO. 

Before design and development, before even content, great SEO begins with the simplest of premises: natural website optimization.

To understand natural website optimization, one must first understand what "organic" SEO means.

Organic SEO vs. Paid Advertising 

Organic SEO can be described in many ways, yet most SEO websites attempt to articulate it with reference to paid vs. unpaid (or "free") online marketing. 

Paid online marketing, which is often referred to as Pay-Per-Click (PPC) or Search Engine Marketing (SEM), is a viable way to attract customers to a website.

Of course, paid advertising helps a search engine like Google make money. But Google's reputation depends on the quality of its "organic" results. So unpaid marketing, or organic SEO, satisfies the true goal of search engines: to offer the most relevant, unbiased results for any given search. 


Organic SEO is governed by a simple philosophy: natural website optimzation [Photo Source]

What is Natural Website Optimization?

If organic SEO is defined, simply, as any technique that helps a website appear in "free" search results, natural website optimization is the philosophy that governs these techniques.

This philosophy is important because it applies to any marketing decision. The question, "Is this natural?" is the starting point for organic marketing. 

What is this question really asking? The answer, we've learned, is not necessarily intuitive. In fact, one of the best ways to view the question is to first recognize the opposite of natural. 

The opposite of natural website optimization implies coercion or manipulation. Most website owners scoff at coercive or manipulative tactics, but many use these tactics every day. Whether intentional or not, so much of digital marketing, even so-called organic SEO, is unnatural.

Online Reputation Management is rife with unnatural tactics. Search Engine Land recently reported on Yelp's "crack-down" on solicited reviews. On the surface, soliciting reviews from customers (who may, indeed, love your product) seems like an innocuous practice. But many companies offer incentives for customers to give positive reviews.

Our favorite local yoga studio, for example, offers a 20% discount on any purchase with proof of a five-star Yelp review. Many customers would undoubtedly give the studio a five-star review without this incentive. By offering the 20% discount the studio offers cost-savings in exchange for good reviews The reviews, then, are biased, and can only be defined as "unnatural."

Google's policy on reviews (quoted in the Search Engine Land article) clarifies what makes a review "natural":

"Reviews are most valuable when they are honest and unbiased."

Simple, right?

But even our local yoga studio, a space of peace and health, is guilty of unnatural online practices. After all, Yelp's policy, which is essentially "don't ask for reviews at all," would certainly forbid the type of solicitation practiced by our local yoga studio.

Read: SEO Hallmarks: Quality Links, Honesty, and Unique Content

Natural website optimization emphasizes honest techniques that lead to unbiased attention. Keeping this goal in mind, organic SEO only applies natural techniques to attract attention. Each  design element, each development element, and every piece of content should "work" on its own merit. You must earn customers (or five-star reviews) with honesty and integrity. This is natural website optimization.

This is what Yelp wants. This is what Google wants. Most importantly, this is what users want.

So before you apply any optimization technique to your website, ask yourself this simple question: "Is this natural?"

Organic SEO with Stepman's SEO

The Organic SEO Blog is sponsored by an SEO firm that practices only natural website optimization: Stepman's SEO. Alex Stepman, of Stepman's SEO is the epitome of the white knight SEO.

We believe this blog is a testament to Alex's integrity. After all, our mission is to offer knowledge, with a studious attention to detail. This work, of course, takes time, but we believe we're fighting a good fight.

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 SEO.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

SEO Ranking Factors in 2017: What You Need to Know

In the last few years, Google has been surprisingly forthright about the search engines' "ranking factors, the "200 unique signals or 'clues' that make it possible to surface what you might be looking for" (Quote source: Google).

As we noted last October, Google has clarified their top three ranking factors: links, content, and RankBrain.

Read: Google's Top Three Ranking Factors: Links, Content, and RankBrain

However, these "top three" ranking factors likely contain many nuances. We know, too, what was once relevant may no longer be relevant: Google's algorithm evolves to match technology as well as user behavior.

A.I., for example, is the latest technologies to take search by storm. A few years ago Google’s Chief Executive Officer, Sundar Pichai, was giddy about the possibilities: “Machine learning is a core transformative way by which we are rethinking everything we are doing."

Since then, Google has used the technology to discover "new signals and new signal aggregations," which help the search engine improve the quality of results (Quote source: Search Engine Land).

Read: RankBrain and the Future of SEO

User behavior, on the other hand, may have a more direct influence on ranking factors. Since 2015, mobile has accounted for a majority of all daily searches. Google's latest major algorithm change, Hummingbird, was developed, in part, to accommodate longer, more complex questions--the sort of questions typical of mobile users, who use voice commands often.

As technology and user behavior change, then, the search engines change to keep pace. At Search Engine Land's recent SEO event, SMX East, a panel discussed ranking factors. What did the experts have to say? We discuss the key findings below...

SEO ranking factors change over time to match technology and user behavior [Photo Source]

The Top Sites Are All Optimized

SEMRush, a digital marketing firm that sells a "powerful and versatile competitive intelligence suite," analyzed the top 100 positions for 600,000 keywords. The findings included notable stats on links, keywords, and content, the three key concentrations for most SEO firms.

According to SEMRush, links are still "super-important," yet some evidence suggests that the importance of certain keyword usages may be declining: "35 percent of domains ranking for high-volume keywords don’t have the keyword in the title" and "very few links contain a keyword in the anchor text."

Essentially, as Search Engine Land suggests, these numbers point to the search engine's evolving ability to determine the context of a page without relying upon keywords.

Coupled with another finding from SEMRush, that content length had a positive correlation with rankings, one can deduce that keywords matter less than relevance.

Finally, SEMRush's "most important" ranking factors, user signals and direct website traffic, emphasize user behavior, which led the firm's representative, Olga Andrienko, to speculate that  "top-ranking sites...are all doing on-page optimization well, meaning that Google needs new criteria to differentiate among these sites."

In other words, all successful sites are doing optimization; without SEO a website has little chance to compete. But you know that, right?

Read: Is Indecisiveness About SEO Costing You Money?

Optimize For Your Niche Audience 

Searchmetrics did agree with some of SEMRush's findings, but the Enterprise SEO company performed a different sort of analysis, focusing on general trends verse niche (industry specific trends).

Like SEMRush, Searchmetrics found that keywords were not essential in page titles, and that content length matters: "word count correlates with rankings."

Yet Searchmetrics additional findings, about industry-specific trends, offered more nuance. Searchmetrics found that ranking factors differ for each niche industry and/or niche website:

"HTTPS is a bigger deal for finance sites, as those require more user trust; however, it does not seem to be as heavily weighted for travel sites. Usage of images, on the other hand, was not so important for finance websites but had a larger impact for travel sites."

The lesson here, obviously, is that you have to build your website with your end-user in mind. What is important yo your idea customer?

Read: SEO 101: Industry-Specific Keywords

***

Search Engine Land offers a few more tips for putting these findings into action.

For more information: SEO Ranking Factors in 2017: What’s Important and What’s Not

Optimize For the Top Ranking Factors with Stepman's SEO 

If you're looking for an SEO company that understands how to effectively promote websites with specific keywords and intriguing content that satisfies search engine ranking factors, 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, October 26, 2017

Is Your Content Relevant?

Earlier this week, while researching "the smell of lemons," we came across an intriguing post at the bottom of the first result page (SERP), "Use Lemons to Make Your Home Smell Incredible."

The post did not satisfy our initial query, about the actual smell of lemons, but it did offer some interesting ancillary content about using lemon to freshen the home. The content was interesting enough, in fact, to pause our research for a moment and read the first of five "surprisingly simple and fun DIY solutions."

To "cover up unwanted smells and keep your house feeling clean" the post suggests simmering on the stovetop a combination of lemon, rosemary, and vanilla. Interesting enough. We would have clicked away at that moment, in pursuit of our actual query, if we hadn't noticed the following line, which appeared to be an advertisement:

"If you’re concerned about leaving a pot on the stove, you can simmer your scents worry-free with a Fisher & Paykel cooktop, a revolutionary stovetop with a timer for maximum efficiency, and low heat settings for pitch-perfect execution."

Until now, we had assumed the site was a housekeeping site, or perhaps a mommy blog. In fact, the post was from The Boston Appliance Company, a New England-area appliance store.

Why did an appliance company show up on the first page results for "the smell of lemons"?

The answer likely has something to with SEO. The site is clearly optimized, with a streamlined design, an abundance of content, and plenty of calls to action. The company likely hired a copywriter to create optimized content to attract visitors.

Unfortunately, this content, about lemons, did not answer my query at all. And the attendant website, which was about appliances, did not at all apply to my search for the smell of lemons. In the end, I clicked away, in search of a more apt and authoritative source.

This was only one of many failed clicks that the typical browser experiences every day. However, the fact that Boston Appliance Company actually attracted my click begs the question: Is this content serving a beneficial purpose?

More to the point: Is it beneficial for a niche e-commerce site to write articles not necessarily relevant to the purpose of the site, if the articles attract clicks?

Below we discuss the question from two points of view...

What do lemons have to do with appliances? [Source]

The Value of  Diverse Content

Last week, we discussed the value of diverse content, specifically noting images, which must be optimized just like the written word. By diversity, however, we inferred that any single website must create diverse content that is relevant to the site.

Read: SEO 101: How to Optimize Images

What about a website that creates a  diversity of content about different topics?

This sort of website, of course, exists across the web. News sites and blogs promote a diversity of topics. However, e-commerce sites usually stick to their niche. So is it possible for a niche e-commerce website to effectively promote content about a diversity of topics?

In theory, yes. The Boston Appliance Company is not breaking any rules by posting about lemons. The content is well-written, presumably original, and presumably not farmed. In essence, the content is "quality." And seemingly, the content served its purpose: it attracted a click.

If we had been interested in appliances, beyond the scope of our lemon research, and we lived in the New England area, the click may have been beneficial for both parties.

The Value of Relevant Content

In the end, however, we were not looking for information about appliances; and we certainly do not live in the New England area. The Boston Appliance Company's content may have been optimized to rank well for "the smell of lemons" but the content is not serving the essential purpose of true optimized content: conversions--when a visitor performs a desired action--like following a call to action.

Read: Crafting Effective Calls to Action: Three Simple Steps

Most visitors to this page will be searching for information about lemons--and not about an appliance company, let alone an appliance company promoting to a local population.

The content, then, is not relevant.

"Relevant content," we've noted before, "is the cornerstone of a good content marketing campaign. Beyond a site's functionality (usability), relevant content is also the most important factor in a good SEO campaign. In both cases, the purpose of relevant content is clear: to attract a specific audience."

Read: Relevant Content: How to Satisfy and Delight Browsers

Obviously, The Boston Appliance Company's content is attracting a specific audience--for people seeking information about lemons. Since these browsers may or may not have any interest in appliances, though, the content serves little purpose (in terms of conversion and business profitability) beyond the meaningless click.

Do Not Settle For Irrelevant Content

If you outsource digital marketing and content creation, make sure your firm is actually helping you to sell your product. Increased traffic is meaningless without conversions.

Actionable Content Marketing with Stepman's SEO 

If you're looking for an SEO company that understands how to effectively promote websites with actionable content that converts visitors, we suggest contacting our sponsor, Stepman's PC: 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.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

SEO 101: How to Optimize Images

Search engines love words. Expressed clearly and concisely, the written word is the best path to online success. Of all forms of content--including images, videos, music, and even emojis--words are the easiest for web crawlers to identify and parse for relevancy. Also, a text-based site is easiest to optimize.

Other content forms may create complications. Flash, for example, is notoriously bad for SEO--despite Google's efforts to index it. As we wrote last July, when we celebrated the demise of Flash:

"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..."

This is only the beginning of the problems: Flash does not have URLs, cannot be searched or indexed, and uses content that those web crawlers cannot identify or parse.

Read: Good SEO News: Flash is Dead

Unfortunately, the problems with Flash may also apply to other forms of content, which have not been optimized for search engines. Without proper optimization, for example, your websites images may be as worthless as Flash.

Image content should add visual appeal to a website without harming SEO efforts. In fact, if optimized correctly, the right image will boost performance. The key, of course, is the proper optimization of each and every image. Below we discuss five rules for optimizing your images.


A picture is worth a thousand words. Just ask Klaus Pichler, who photographed people in cosplay for
his series of images, "Just the Two of Us." Of course, online a picture is only worth a thousand words when it's optimized for search engines.
SEO 101: Five Rules for Optimizing Images for Search Engines

1. Your Image Must be Relevant

We used the image from Klaus Pichler above to illustrate a point: Your image should be relevant to your topic; if not, the image must provide some illustrative purpose.

This image of a robot warrior in his living room is not necessarily  relevant to SEO. However, it is relevant to a blog post about images. If properly optimized, this image might help attract an audience--just not the right audience. After all, the audience of an SEO blog is not the same as the audience for a robot warrior picture.

This picture's value, then, is visual intrigue. This is great, of course, for blog readers. Yet the image itself, even when optimized, does little to attract new readers.

Sadly, this is the case with many online images: most images are not relevant to the topic; they only function as visual intrigue, and they add little to nothing to relevancy of the text.

Before you optimize an image, then, you must make sure the image is relevant to your topic.

2. Your Image Must Be Unique

A relevant image is a good start; a unique image is even better.

The best websites include images created explicitly for the website. If you spend time creating text for your site; why not create images, too? An image created for a specific page can be optimized for an additional attraction--beyond the text itself.

Most people can spot a stock image from a mile away. Stock photos smack of generic content. Avoid stock photos, whenever possible. If you do not have the time or resources to create your own images, consider a site that offers "creative commons" images, like Flickr.

3. You Must Choose a Descriptive Title for Your Image

If you take your own pictures, your camera assigns each image a name: IMAGE1.jpg, for example. Many images downloaded from the web share a similarly arbitrary name. To optimize your images, make sure you name each with a keyword-rich description.

The warrior image above, for example, could be named Cosplay-Warrior-Klaus-Pichler.jpg.

Note the dashes between each word.  A search engine will not easily recognize CosplayWarriorKlausPichler.jpg. This is a common, yet easily avoided, mistake.

The dashes separate the words for the crawlers, who can then properly index the image.

4. You Must Create Alt Tags for Each Image

An alt tag is a text-alternative for an image.

Sometimes your image will not be properly loaded by a browser. When this happens, if you have an "alt" tag for your image, your visitor can hover over the image to see the text.

This is valuable for this unique situation, yet it is also another way to associate text with your images. Here is an example of an alt tag for the picture above:

"src="Cosplay-Warrior-Klaus-Pichler.jpg." "alt="Cosplay Warrior by Klaus Pichler"

5. You Must Scale Images Appropriately 

As a rule, you should scale images to the smallest possible size without compromising quality. The smaller the image, the faster the loading time. The free tool, image optimizer, can perform this function for you.


Another image from Klaus Pichler's image project, "Just the Two of Us."

SEO Image Optimization 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 content marketing campaigns.

Stepman's SEO effectively promotes websites with text and images. To learn more about Stepman's SEO unique approach to website optimization, call today: 215-900-9398.



Friday, October 13, 2017

Fight Content Glut: Promote Content the Right Way

Content creation is no small task. Many of the best writers spend hours, days, and weeks laboring over a single article or post. Unfortunately, the effort is often wasted. Most online content, even great content, attracts no organic audience.

The simple truth hurts: The day-to-day online experience offers too much relevant, engaging, and truly informative content. And this so-called "content glut" is destroying engagement.

Our blog's sponsor, Alex Stepman, of Stepman's SEO, works with local website owners; earlier this week, Stepman told us about the "number one" anxiety currently plaguing local websites: Content glut.

"For new website owners, especially," Stepman said, "content creation and publication often feels like shouting into the void. They write great content--I've seen it myself. It's good. Yet when they press the 'publish' button nothing happens. And, of course, nothing will happen, until they discover a viable promotion strategy."

As Stepman implies, the problem is not the writing itself. The problem is promotion.

Why Do We Hate Self-Promotion? 

Before we speak about content promotion, it may be helpful to explore the psychology behind self-promotion.

Why do we hate self promotion so much?

On Forbes, Bonnie Marcus states the questions another: "What about self-promotion is so difficult?"

"It’s the 'self' part," she answers, "the egocentric nature and seemingly aggressive pushiness that makes us cringe not only when we attempt it for ourselves, but when we observe others bragging in a self-centered manner."

Of course, the challenge of self promotion is nothing new. As The New York Times notes:

"In 440 B.C. or so, a first-time Greek author named Herodotus paid for his own book tour around the Aegean. His big break came during the Olympic Games, when he stood up in the temple of Zeus and declaimed his 'Histories' to the wealthy, influential crowd."

Read: "How Writers Build the Brand"


Herodotus: The father of history--and famed self-promoter
If Herodotus promoted his brand, in front of Zeus, no less, why can't we do it?

It is a simple fact of modern life: Most great writers fail miserably at promotion. In fact, on social media--at least in our circles--it is nearly axiomatic: The best writers abhor self-promotion. It is accepted, of course, that a writer has to self-promote, yet many good writers feel the need to apologize.

So many self-promoting posts begin, "Sorry for the self-promotion..."

Of course, as Herodotus reveals, the two talents, good writing and self-promotion, are not mutually dependent.

Walt Whitman, for example, practiced an inventive (and deceptive) means of self-promotion. After the publication in 1855 of his book of poems, Leaves of Grass, Whitman wrote "anonymous" reviews praising (and sometimes criticizing) his work.

"An American Bard at last," he wrote in The American Review, later declaring himself  "the largest lover and sympathizer that has appeared in literature"--a true statement, in our estimation, but still.

Whitman's "anonymous" review [Photo Source]
"I celebrate myself," Whitman famously begins his poem, "Song of Myself," a sentiment--in literature, life, and self-promotion--that has since rarely been matched.

Whitman's unique brand of self-promotion might seem outrageous today, but his impulse, in the end, is instructive. He wrote an amazing book. He believed the book deserved attention. So he engaged in relentless (shameless) self-promotion.

Of course, self-promotion need not be shameless. Plenty of authors practice self-promotion with humility and panache. So how can you promote your website's content with humility and panache?

Below we offer the three essential steps for attracting an organic audience.

Promote Your Content the Right Way: Three Simple Steps

Contact Well-Known Writers in Your Niche 

Walt Whitman famously sent his first edition of Leaves of Grass to the most famous writer in American, Ralph Waldo Emerson. Emerson wrote back, "I am not blind to the worth of the wonderful gift of 'Leaves of Grass.' I find it the most extraordinary piece of wit and wisdom that America has yet contributed."

Don't expect this sort of response to your own content--but do reach out to others--especially well-known writers. By contacting a well-known writer in your niche, who might be willing to share your article, or offer a quote for your article, you might gain access to a new, colossal audience.

KissMetrics suggests contacting influencers at scale by using BuzzStream. This is a terrible idea. If you're going to contact a well-known writer, write a personal, genuine note. As with your writing itself, the quality of this form of self-promotion is much more important than the quantity.

The key, of course, is humility: When asking another writer or influencer to share your work, be courteous and respectful. It's good to have wild ambitions, as long as ambition does not translate to undue expectations.

You do not deserve attention--you must earn it, like everyone else.

Contact Your Immediate Social Circle

When contacting others, do not limit yourself to "influencers." Your article might be of special interest to certain friends in your social network. Again, though, do not follow the terrible advice of KissMetrics: do not "scale" your contacts with a mass message. Make it personal.

Take the time to reach out to a few key friends via private messages. Let them know that you've written a piece that might interest them. In this way, you cultivate a devoted (and personal) readership--a group of core readers who are more likely to share your content.

Sound time-consuming? Remember, one well-promoted piece of content is worth more than ten pieces of content that no one reads.

Scale with Humility and Tact--and Persistence 

"The public is a thick skinned beast," Whitman wrote, "and you have to keep whacking away at its hide to let it know you’re there."

In his quest to "sound [his] barbaric yawp," Whitman might've neglected humility and tact, but he certainly understood the value of persistence.The key to successfully promoting your work at scale, however, is humility and tact.

Read this simply-stated, genuine tweet from the writer, Dominic Smith, whose novel, The Last Painting of Sara De Vos, was released last year:
Simply put, without fuss. When sharing, there is no need to apologize. Just share your stuff without pretense: Here it is. I hope you have the time to read.

Of course, for beginning writers, especially, persistence is important. Make sure you're not overloading anyone's feed with relentless self promotion. Remember, humility governs not only how you share your stuff, but how often. There is no golden rule here. Only this: Share enough to attract attention, but not enough to annoy others.

Content Marketing with Stepman's SEO 

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

Friday, October 6, 2017

What is the Purpose of Your Website?

The sponsor of the SEO blog, Alex Stepman, of Stepman's SEO, often refers to websites as "high-priced business cards." Of course, a website should function as a business card, of sorts, by establishing credentials and revealing important information, like the business name, address, or phone number.

In Stepman's view, however, a "high priced business card" is not a good purpose for a website. In fact, far too many website function like a business card, yet serve no other purpose.

A concise purpose should be the starting point for any website. So Stepman asks all potential new clients the same question: "What is the purpose of your website?"

If clients cannot answer this question with pinpoint clarity, Stepman believes, they are likely wasting money on domain and hosting fees, not to mention any money spent designing and developing the site.

A beautiful 19th century business card, which shares the relevant information for James M. Vance & Co; unfortunately, too many websites serve the same purpose--yet offer browsers nothing else [Source].

What is the Purpose of Your Website? 


What is your answer to this question? Perhaps you have a well-defined purpose. If so, your website is likely a profitable venture for you.

Or perhaps your answer does amount to "a business card"--in essence, you did build your website merely to establish credentials, or to offer a accessible venue for your business information. And perhaps you have done little to update your site since its inception.

If this describes your website, you should know two important facts:

1. Google My Business Is Better Than Your Website

A neglected website, while offering valuable information to your consumer, may do more harm than good. At the very least, your hosting fees may be unnecessary. Why share your own information, after all, on a neglected site, when Google can do the job for you?

A Google My Business account offers any business the free opportunity to share business info, with special attention to details like your business category. This information is used to populate the local map in search results as well as the knowledge graph, two powerful SEO tools.

A Google My Business account is mandatory for any business, especially local businesses, but many website owners do not even know this tool exists. Yet for most websites, a Google My Business account will likely offer the most visible presence on the web. It is a powerful adjunct to a good website and a good replacement for a neglected website.

Simply put, a Google My Business account is more accessible than a neglected website. Your neglected website is likely lost on the third or fourth pages of the results. A Google My Business account, however, will often help your business appear on the first page, connecting you to browsers who are looking for your type of product or service.

2. Your Site Can Do More

Some businesses may do better abandoning a neglected website altogether and opting for a visible web presence through Google My Business and social media sites, like Facebook or Twitter.

However, a far better option, for any website, is to update the existing website or build a new website to reflect a clear purpose. Essentially, a website with a purpose (beyond establishing credentials and offering basic information), will do one of two things:
  1. Sell products or services online
  2. Generate business leads
Both of these purposes require clear-sighted marketing strategies that utilize site-wide "calls to action."

A call-to-action, as we noted in a recent post, "is related to the digital marketing concept of 'conversion,' when a visitor actually performs a desired action--like clicking that link or button, or signing up for a newsletter. To attract conversions, of course, a website must offer effective calls to action--enticements that make the 'action' both simple and desirable."

Read: Crafting Effective Calls to Action: Three Simple Tips

This is a simple fact too many website owners miss: The best possible use of a website is to entice existing customers and attract new customers. So Alex Stepman often asks his clients to think about the purpose of a website in terms of both conversions and calls to action.

Yes, a high-priced business card may offer a information portal for browsers who already know your business, but a website that focuses on conversions and calls to action (and is, by nature, performing digital marketing and SEO) will offer something tangible and beneficial for customers new and old.

When thinking about the purpose of your website, then, you attune your thinking to business growth. And isn't that the point, after all?

Grow Your Business with Stepman's SEO

Digital marketing and SEO are powerful engines to new customers, profit, and success. If you sell a high-quality product at a good price, a well-executed marketing campaign will deliver success. Search engine optimization (SEO) should be an essential part of every website marketing campaign. An optimized website will create new opportunities for any business, making it easy to find new customers at any time. To start, call today: 215-900-9398.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

SEO Spam Emails: Bad News for You and SEO

According to the most recent "Email Statistics Report" from the Radicati Group, a technology market research firm, the number of emails sent each day worldwide is 269 billion. Unfortunately, according to other reports, nearly half of these daily emails are spam.

Spam is often associated with crazy requests for bank transfers from Nigeria or China, or nonsense English, but most spam emails are generated in the United States (Belarus leads spammers, per capita).

Too often, too, spam emails arrive from so-called "SEO experts" promising higher rankings and increased online traffic--the same promises you might hear from reputable online experts. These emails may even seem tailored to your site, with warnings of "errors" that harm your site's performance.

Most of these emails can be dismissed, point blank, without a second thought. However, even reputable SEO firms send unsolicited emails, which can be harder to identify as spam and dismiss as nonsense. A local friend, a partner at a law firm, recently received the following email from a digital marketing firm in New York. The friend forwarded the email to me with a simple question: "What do you think?"

***

I do NOT need legal help - I am calling for a different reason.
             
I work for 130 different attorneys throughout
The United States, and I have a simple proposition
that will benefit your website and ours.

One of my attorney clients would like to
Place a link from his website to your website,
Which will elevate you in Google’s eyes and help
You get higher up in Google results.

In return, we ask for a link from your website to
A different attorney client of ours.

No money exchanges hands, the links are not
Reciprocal, and both parties benefit.

This is NOT a ‘black hat’ technique, or anything
That violates Googles’ terms of service.

100% straight up, legitimate, tit for tat.

Are you open to this simple arrangement?

Please reply regardless...

***

The email is articulate and sensible--and it is clearly written by a well-meaning human being, and not a spam bot. So should it be dismissed like any one of other hundreds of spam emails?

In our estimation, yes. It should be dismissed--point blank. Below we discuss the problems with SEO spam emails--and why this email meets the criteria of spam.
Most unsolicited emails can be dismissed as spam--including emails from so-called SEO experts. [Photo source].

Unsolicited Email = Spam


Not every unsolicited email qualifies as spam, per say, but an unsolicited email from a so-called "SEO firm" (or any other iteration of digital marketing) is usually spam.

Any reputable firm that associates itself with SEO and/or digital marketing should abhor unsolicited marketing emails. It is not precise, as an analytics-driven digital marketing campaign should be, but scattershot.

As we've noted before, spam works not on a premise of quality but quantity:

"Blasting emails to millions, regardless of the recipient's preferences, spammers care little about the quality of their image. Instead, spammers play a numbers game, hoping for bare minimum conversions: 1% or less. Sounds inefficient? Well, it is, in a sense. Yet a 1% conversion for one million emails is still 10,000. Would you like 10,000 customers? Perhaps. But if you're goal is a sustainable business, of course, spam is not the answer."

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

Now, the email quoted above, although unsolicited, still seems relevant to my friend's business. The sender even included a legitimate name and website. So should it sill be dismissed out of hand?

Black Hat Practices

What is so egregious about the email above--and most spam emails--is that it presents a questionable act, a link exchange, as "100% straight-up, legitimate."

Strictly speaking, link exchanges do not violate Google's terms of service, yet Google does clearly advise against "excessive link-exchanges ('link to me and I'll link to you') or partner pages exclusively for the sake of cross-linking."

Read: Google's Advice on Link Schemes

The problems with the request for a link exchange above is not the excessive nature of the request itself but the fact that the request comes from a total stranger.

Google always preferences a natural, "organic" approach to search engine optimization. Requesting a link exchange from a site that may or may not have anything to do with another site is decidedly not natural.

My friend, an attorney, may or may not have any relation to the "130 different attorneys throughout the United States."

Again, SEO is about precision; the category "lawyers" is not inclusive: lawyers specialize in any number of niche areas. A link between two disparate firms, say an employment and immigration firm, operating in two distinct parts of the United States, does not make sense.

The link's purpose, in fact, is only to boost rankings; it is manipulative, then, a direct violation of Google's guidelines:
Any links intended to manipulate PageRank or a site's ranking in Google search results may be considered part of a link scheme and a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines:

"Any links intended to manipulate PageRank or a site's ranking in Google search results may be considered part of a link scheme and a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines."

This is a black hat practice.

The Real Problem with SEO Spam Emails

No doubt SEO has a reputation problem, and emails like this only serve to exacerbate the problem. As the web marketing firm VITAL says:

"Not only are such offers not worth investigating, they actually serve to undermine the credibility of legitimate SEO service providers – fueling broader skepticism about search practices in general and sowing confusion about the difference between trustworthy SEO providers and fast-buck scammers."

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, September 14, 2017

Crafting Effective Calls to Action: Three Simple Tips

Many people associate the phrase "call to action" with political activism or military readiness. In the wake of the recent presidential election, for example, many protest groups (on the left and right) viewed Donald Trump's victory as a catalyzing event--a call to action.

And in recent months, as the Trump administration (and the world) has faced increasing military threats from North Korea, many governments worldwide have issued calls-to-action.

The phrase "call to action" likely evolved from "call to arms," which was first recorded in the mid 19th century (source). Today, however, "call to action" is most commonly understand as a marketing term. In digital marketing, specifically, a "call to action" is any on-page element that solicits a desired action--like a link or button.

This definition is related to the digital marketing concept of "conversion," when a visitor actually performs a desired action--like clicking that link or button, or signing up for a newsletter.

To attract conversions, of course, a website must offer effective calls to action--enticements that make the "action" both simple and desirable.

So how do you create an effective call to action on your most important pages? Below we offer three simple tips.
Uncle Sam: In World War II, America's most famous "call to action."  [Source]
Design: Make Your Call to Action Stand Out

The Uncle Sam poster above illustrates perhaps the most important element of creating an effective call to action: Your call to action must be front and center, as easy to identify as any other element on the page--and, perhaps, easier to identify.

Our blog's sponsor, the SEO expert Alex Stepman, notes that many websites fail to perform this one simple task: "Too often," Stepman says, "calls to action are hidden at the bottom of a page, or elsewhere--even visitors who may want to click can be discouraged by too much scrolling."

You do not need to bludgeon your visitors with your call to action. Instead, create an actionable button or link THAT STANDS OUT from the rest of your content. Many websites use pop-ups or overlays--but beware, you need to be careful about your use and placement of these elements, lest you alienate your visitors.

As the SEO expert, Rand Fishkin, of Moz, notes: "I would strongly urge you to avoid elements that are significantly harming [user experience]."

A better option: Blend your call to action buttons or links seamlessly into your content.

Content: Short and Sweet

Calls to action necessarily made of content--most often words. So the best calls-to-action include short and sweet words, phrases, or sentences. Simple declarative language catches the eye and simplifies the message.

HubSpot collected 31 Call-to-Action Examples You Can't Help But Click." From Evernote's "remember everything" to Netflix's "cancel anytime," which appears above the "Join Free for a Month" button, the most prominent connection between each, by far, is simple, declarative phrases:

So when writing a call to action leave passive voice behind--and strive for active voice with active verbs.

Netflix's call-to-action button is emphasized by simple, declarative phrases. [Photo Source]
Content Conversion: What's the Payoff for Your Visitor?

Your call to action must offer your visitor a sense of worth. Many brands ask visitors to sign up for newsletters; the most effective brands, however, include the enticement of savings: 15% OFF. Examples of other incentives may include free e-books, a free product sample, or a free trial of your product--like Netflix offers above.

In its article about calls to action, HubSpot speaks about the potential effectiveness of an "exit CTA," which
"detect your users' behavior and only appear when it seems as though they're about to leave your site."

Hubspot uses the example of a clothing brand, Ugmonk, which offers an exit call to action with an incentive.

"By intervening in a timely way," HubSpot notes, "these pop-ups serve as a fantastic way of getting your reader’s attention while offering them a reason to stay." [Source]
Actionable Content Marketing with Stepman's SEO 

If you're looking for an SEO company that understands how to effectively promote websites with actionable content that converts visitors, we suggest contacting our sponsor, Stepman's PC: 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.