Sunday, August 13, 2017

There are No SEO Secrets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SEO Secrets?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Digital Marketing with Stepman's SEO 

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

If you're looking for an SEO company that understands how to effectively promote emotionally accessible websites with specific keywords and intriguing content, contact our sponsor, Stepman's SEO: 215-900-9398.

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

Thursday, August 3, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

But what point do these statistics prove?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do You Have the Time?

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

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

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

Do You Have the Money?

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

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

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

Do You Know Your Audience?

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

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

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

Read: The Single Worse Social Media Mistake

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

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

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

Social Media Marketing with Stepman's SEO

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