Saturday, March 18, 2017

SEO 101: Consumer Email Guide

How do you connect with your customers? Social media? Content marketing? E-newsletters? A successful digital marketing campaign attempts to connect with customers across multiple platforms--ideally with unique content for each.

On this blog, you will find articles about building effective social media campaigns on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest as well as "Five Simple Steps for the Social Media Newbie."

We've also written about the value of great content, the centerpiece of any content marketing campaign: "Two Simple Questions to Inspire New Content" and "Content Marketing is Useless Without SEO." 

Both social media and content marketing attempt to accomplish the timeless goal of all marketing campaigns: to attract and engage a targeted audience.

But what if you already have an audience? Call it what you will, audience, target list, or followers, a succinctly defined (and refined) audience is marketing gold.

Consumer Emails: One of 88

The trick to leveraging your audience is much the same as attracting new customers: unique and effective content. Unfortunately, quality content creation is a shortcoming for many--or, really, most--established businesses. Many businesses, in fact, own impressive contact lists to absolutely no avail.

Many businesses send mass emails and newsletters without a great deal of intention--let alone editing or revision, the hallmarks of good writing.

Yet, for some reason, these businesses expect sub-par content to work like magic: to inspire some sort of conversion, like a click through.

A recent Email Statistics Report by The Radicati Group, estimated the average number of consumer emails sent and received each day to be about 88. The average office worker, incidentally, receives 121 emails each day. An impressive targeted list can not change this simple fact: Your email is one of 88--or, perhaps, 121.

So how do you stand out from the crowd? How do you inspire a click through?

Great content is a must. If you're writing emails or e-newsletters to your target list, however, you can improve your conversions by following three simple tips.

This image, from an article entitled "Please Unsubscribe Me: How Many Emails Are Too Many?", makes a strong case for testing the frequency of your emails. Yet most brands face a more elemental question: 
How do you craft a single effective email?

Write a Captivating Title

Obviously, you want your recipients to open your emails. Considering the deluge each person receives each day (88 emails!), you must attract attention from the get-go.

Without a captivating title, that speaks specifically to your target audience's needs or desires, your email will likely never see the light of day.

Writing for HubSpot, Ginny Mineo collected 18 of the Best Email Subject Lines You've Ever Read, from Barack Obama's "Hey" to this humdinger from Thrillist: "DO NOT Commit These Instagram Atrocities."

"I always ask myself one question before opening an email," writes Mineo. "Will opening this email be a waste of time? Typically, the answer to this question is based entirely on the effectiveness of the subject line."

Mineo's article offers helpful insight on how to craft an effective, captivating title. As Obama's "Hey" proves, it's not all about surprising your audience. The key is enticement. When writing a title, you have one goal--to inspire a click.

Design a Succesful Template

Many businesses spend hours creating consumer email content only to waste the content on a poorly-designed layout. The way your email looks is important. Chunky blocks of text, for example, might repel readers. Some experts even advise abandoning paragraphs altogether for lists or bullet points.

Remember, even when your email is opened, your readers are likely pressed for time. Pay attention to font, font size, and paragraph length. Attract readership with a clean, simple presentation.

Salesforce's Pardot, which offers B2B marketing automation, collected 7 Examples of Succesful Email Templates with some helpful tips:

"Research has shown that people scan emails in an “F” shaped pattern," Jenn Hannington writes for Pardot. "Keep this in mind when creating your templates. Important information should be at the top, including your company logo, your call to action, and any key points that you’d like readers to take away from your email."

Beyond the necessity of designing a good template, however, remember: Your actual content is the most important element of a consumer email. We especially like this tip from Hannington, which speaks to a core organic SEO practice:

"If you know your readers’ interests, send them content that’s specifically related to those interests. Add value by including additional content that your recipients might find useful."

Optimize for Mobile

Remember, most of your consumer will be reading emails on mobile devices. As with websites, no one wants to read an email that is not optimized for a mobile device. Make sure your template translates well to email, lest your consumers suffer the indignity of pinching and zooming.

Writing for Marketing Land, Chad White created an insightful guide for optimizing consumer emails for the mobile experience: The Five Levels of Mobile-Friendly Emails.

"What’s certain is that with the majority of B2C brands using mobile-friendly email design," Write writes, "consumer expectations are rising. Increasingly, they’ll be expecting an email and Web experience that works on smartphones and tablets. That also means that if you’re not being mobile-friendly, the risks to your brand image and to subscriber engagement are rising, too."

The word "risk" here is apropos: By neglecting the quality of your consumer emails you do your customers and your brand a disservice--in short, you may do more harm than good.

Content Marketing with Stepman's PC 

If you're looking for an SEO company that understands how to effectively promote websites with 10x content, we suggest contacting our sponsor, Stepman's PC: 215-900-9398 Stepmans PC combines traditional marketing methods and organic SEO--with an emphasis on natural website optimization--to design thoughtful, inspiring, and effective content marketing campaigns.

Friday, March 10, 2017

SEO vs. Spam: New Google Algorithm Update (Fred), Same Old Story

If spam is the plague of the Internet, organic SEO, if performed correctly and with integrity, is the white knight. Unfortunately, many people associate SEO with spam--a link that likely dates to the mid-1990s, when the first search engines began cataloging and ranking websites.

At the time, many keen entrepreneurs recognized the value of digital marketing. Compared to traditional marketing--on radio and TV, or in the pages of local newspapers or magazines--digital marketing was convenient, effective, and much less costly.

The new market for digital marketing created opportunities for webmasters who understood how to increase website visibility by working with--or often against--the algorithms.

Those working with the algorithms, so-called White Hat SEOs, attempted to make their sites easier for the search engines to "crawl," by creating streamlined pages with precise HTML language. The search engines crawled these websites then returned information, such as relevant keywords and links, to an "index." Once stored in the index, the websites could be retrieved for any number of relevant browser searches.

Those working against the algorithm, so-called Black Hat SEOs, recognized the early emphasis on keywords and links, and attempted to manipulate the algorithms by manipulating code, chiefly placing excessive keywords in each page; and by creating artificial websites, ten, twenty, or more, owned by a single website, and built for the purpose of creating links to the original website.

What distinguished the White Hat from Back Hat at the time was an emphasis on quality over quantity.

Even then, as the effectiveness of SEO, both White Hat and Back Hat, became more apparent, search engines developed new algorithms to curtail keyword abuse and "bad links."

The latter changes were seemingly intended to combat the spammy practices of Black Hat SEO. Yet search engines also developed a paid alternative, Pay Per Click (PPC), which now offered a viable alternative to organic ranking--and the practices of White Hat SEO.

With PPC, website owners pay for each click delivered to their website by a search engine's own advertising. PPC created a new environment online, and may have inadvertently increased spam.

With PPC, most websites, regardless of quality, could now pay for clicks. At the same time, PPC made the challenge of White Hat SEO all the more apparent. Yes, compared to PPC, organic SEO was free, but the practice required knowledge and a studious devotion to detail.

Today, of course, organic SEO is the exact opposite of spam. Spam requires no knowledge, is inattentive to detail, and requires no time commitment.

Unfortunately, early Black Hat practitioners defined SEO for a generation or more.

"Thankfully," as we've noted before, "this practice is increasingly irrelevant, but Black Hat SEO has proved effective in the past. Techniques such as keyword stuffing, link schemes, and the creation of duplicate content continue to haunt the Internet, compromising businesses and personal users alike"

New Google Algorithm Update: Fred

For this reason, Google (and other search engines) continue to perfect the algorithm, and ever so often the SEO world is abuzz with news of a major change. Today, for example, Search Engine Land reported that a "New, unconfirmed Google ranking update [has] shake[d] the SEO world":

"Since yesterday morning," Barry Schwartz writes, "the SEO industry has been watching an unconfirmed Google ranking update that seems to target more of the link quality aspects of the overall algorithm."

The same industry, noting Google's recent step away from reporting on algorithm updates, is calling this update Fred.

Not that Fred.
Does this recent update matter for your site? Hopefully not--hopefully you won't need to give it a second thought. Just like SEO trend articles, we believe you can safely ignore most news about Google's algorithm changes.

What is important, of course, is understanding the difference between practices that may get your site penalized by new algorithm updates and truly organic and timeless practices--in other words, the difference between Black Hat and White Hat SEO.

SEO vs. Spam

Only recently, with the help of Google, has true, organic SEO emerged from the shadow of the Black Hats. Today, organic SEO is a valued practice, which stands in contrast to spam. On its Webmaster Tools "help" page entitled "Do You Need an SEO?", Google cites an email from a spammer that is just plain ridiculous (and funny):

"Dear, I visited your website and noticed that you are not listed in most of the major search engines and directories..."

"Be wary of SEO firms and web consultants or agencies that send you email out of the blue," Google warns. "Amazingly, we get these spam emails too. Reserve the same skepticism for unsolicited email about search engines as you do for 'burn fat at night' diet pills or requests to help transfer funds from deposed dictators."

No one takes spam seriously. Unfortunately, since spam is so often associated with SEO, many website owners do not take SEO seriously. However, to use the hyperbolic language of spam to prove a point: If you're a website owner, this simple mistake could doom your business.

If performed correctly and with integrity, SEO is, indeed, serious business.

A good SEO campaign means the difference between success and failure.

So how do you find a good search engine optimization specialist. Why not trust Google? We suggest asking any potential specialist the following questions from Google:
  • Can you show me examples of your previous work and share some success stories? 
  • Do you follow the Google Webmaster Guidelines? 
  • Do you offer any online marketing services or advice to complement your organic search business? 
  • What kind of results do you expect to see, and in what timeframe? 
  • How do you measure your success? 
  • What's your experience in my industry? 
  • What's your experience in my country/city? 
  • What's your experience developing international sites? 
  • What are your most important SEO techniques? 
  • How long have you been in business? 
  • How can I expect to communicate with you? 
  • Will you share with me all the changes you make to my site, and provide detailed information about your recommendations and the reasoning behind them?
Organic SEO with Stepman's PC

The Organic SEO Blog is sponsored by an SEO specialist who will happily answer each of these questions for you. Alex Stepman, of Stepmans PC 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 against dark practices like spam.

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.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

How Does Google Rank Websites and Keywords?

Online success is often based on a simple measurement: popularity, evident in search engine results. For most search engines, this measurement is based on several criteria or "ranking factors," including website content and the number and quality of incoming links to a website from other sites.

The digital marketing world is crowded with "ranking" resources. By measuring the popularity of keywords, web pages, and websites, these resources claim to help digital marketers improve ranking.

SEMrush offers a ranking tool as part of its "All-in-one Marketing Toolkit," which claims to "boost digital marketing efforts."

Moz Pro's Rank Tracker, billed as "Your Search Engine Rank Tracking Tool," claims "to save time and improve your SERP rankings."

Many digital marketing websites offer similar ranking services, each providing unique scores based on unique parameters.

No doubt, these tools can be helpful, especially for enterprising website owners. In essence, however, these tools replicate the work of search engines

As Moz Pro notes, "Moz Pro’s powerful rank tracking software tool retrieves search engine rankings for pages and keywords, and stores them for easy comparison later. No need to manually check daily."

This "manual check," of course, refers to a daily search. For many websites, in fact, Google is the only necessary tool to measure the ranking of different websites, pages, and keywords. The "tools" offered by Moz and others are helpful for some, but not helpful for all. For many websites, entry into the digital marketing world relies on a streamlined view--and no tool offers the ease and accessibility of Google.

Why Google? If a digital marketing firm uses the term "website ranking," and promises a "high" website ranking, they are likely talking about Google ranking, and nothing else.

To check a "ranking," a simple search is often all you need.

So How Does Google Rank Websites?

In a recent announcement about its core algorithm, Google referred to "200 unique signals or 'clues' that make it possible to surface what you might be looking for." These signals, often referred to as "ranking factors," are a popular source of speculation for SEO experts. In the end, though, much of the speculation is exactly--mere speculation.

The top ranking page (on Google) for "Google's Ranking factors" is Backlinko's "complete list" of 200 ranking factors. However, Brian Dean, Backlinko's founder, admits upfront: "Some are proven. Some are controversial. Others are SEO nerd speculation."

As we noted above, though, the important ranking factors are obvious.

In the recent algorithm announcement, Google clarified some important factors: "These signals include things like the specific words that appear on websites, the freshness of content, your region and PageRank."

PageRank, incidentally, is generally believed to be a measure of the quality of incoming links. PageRank is not to be confused with RankBrain, another component of Google's algorithm, which uses machine learning to gather information about websites, and which was confirmed by Google to be the "third most important factor."

Google has also seemingly confirmed the top two ranking factors. As Search Engine Land reported last year, "In a Q&A with Google, Andrey Lipattsev, a Search Quality Senior Strategist at Google, said the other two factors were links and content."

 "I can tell you what they are," Lippattsev said. "It is content. And it’s links pointing to your site."

Inbound links--"links pointing to your site"--can come from anywhere: blog, forums, personal websites, corporate websites. Google treats each incoming link as a "vote," although some votes count more than others. A link from The New York Times, for example is more important than a link from your mother's blog. Still, every link counts: When another website creates a link to your website, they are saying to Google, and the rest of the web, "This is a good website."

This vote, of course, is about your content. The best content is relevant to your audience, yet also relevant to another website's readers. 

So Google uses RankBrain and PageRank, two algorithm tools, to measure the quality of your content and links. Based on these measurements, your website is compared to other websites and ranked.

Of course, each ranking is relevant only to a specific keyword search? For this reason, most digital marketing and SEO campaigns try, first, to achieve a high ranking for several keywords.

What is Keyword Ranking? 

Most successful websites are optimized for specific keywords. (Please read our post on the difference between optimizing for keywords alone and quality content). So what does keyword ranking mean? 

A keyword is the word or phrase you type into a browser. When you perform a search for any given keyword, Google scours its database to find examples of websites that match your query. Imagine all of these websites are well-optimized; all deserve to be on the Google’s first page results. However, there are only twelve available spots per page. So who will occupy the top spots? To deliver the best results, Google compares websites by rank. Let's say out of thirty well-optimized websites eight have high rankings--only these websites will appear on the first page results. All other websites will be placed on the second and third page results.

This is, in essence, the definition of a high ranking as well as"keyword" ranking: a website that beats other well-optimized sites because it has received many clicks, or many incoming links, based on a certain keywords. 

How Important is Ranking?

For most websites, a first page ranking is a perennial, yet often elusive goal. However, a first-page ranking does not necessarily equate to increased profits. As Josh Stelmle notes in Forbes: "Search engine rank is the metric focused on more widely than any other, and yet in only rare cases is it the metric that matters most."

What matters more than ranking? Well, a ranking is only as important relative to the amount of traffic your website can convert into profits. Too often websites focus on ranking, but neglect this crucial point:

Increasing traffic to your site is a pivotal goal, but true success requires the right traffic: targeted visitors, interested in your product or service. SEO is about refining a website's content and design to attract this targeted audience, the sort of audience most likely to lead to conversions--when a visitor performs a desired action, like purchasing a product or clicking a link.

So don't worry too much about ranking. Instead, focus on satisfying the needs and desires of your ideal customer. If you do this, the top ranking will come, but it won't matter--you'll already be profitable. 

Digital Marketing & Website SEO with Stempan's PC!

To build an effective, fully-optimized website, you'll need the help of many experienced professionals to perform different tasks. Or you can call one multifaceted company. Stepman's PC is the rare company that offers a host of SEO and marketing professionals to optimize your website. Contact Stepman's PC today to learn how you can improve your website's performance: 215-900-9398.