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.