Saturday, November 29, 2014

It's Small Business Saturday: Do You Know Where Your Customers Are?

Today is Small Business Saturday, a national "shopping holiday" conceived in 2010 by American Express to promote local brick and mortar businesses. Despite the heavy-hitting financial power of its founder, the holiday stands in contrast to Black Friday and Cyber Monday, two more "shopping holidays" that promote big guns retailers like Best Buy and Amazon, respectively.

Will you be shopping local businesses today? We hope so. There are many, many reasons to go local. Shopping a local business will benefit your community. Local businesses offer unparalleled customer experience as well as unique goods and services. And there's still something to say about a face-to-face transaction--it's humanizing touch in a world otherwise dominated by screens.

Unfortunately, many people will not shop local businesses today for a very simple reason: marketing. Despite increasing awareness, many consumers do not even know about Small Business Saturday. As ABC News reports today:

"Small Business Saturday is still very much in the shadow of Black Friday, according to small-business owners.

The Saturday after Thanksgiving is meant to boost sales and customers far away from the big-box stores. But some owners say the day doesn't rake in nearly as much sales and traffic as Black Friday.

Black Friday is 'more known,' said Darrell Kingston, the owner of the footwear retailer Vamps in New York City."

We have to agree with Mr. Kingston, yet we'd also venture to say that it's not simply the event itself that pales in comparison to Black Friday. Many consumers do not know about Small Business Saturday; yet many more consumers do not even know about local businesses in their own town!

Why? Well, part of the problem is sociological. People are spending more and more time and money online--to the detriment of brick and mortar stores. But this very point clarifies precisely why local businesses fail to attract attention: most local businesses do not have a solid web presence. In the end, for brick and mortar businesses it really is about marketing--online marketing.

With the support of our sponsor, Alex Stepman, (a small business owner himself), The Organic SEO Blog is dedicated to helping small and medium-sized business owners compete on a level playing field with the big box retailers. We truly believe that a quality organic SEO campaign can elevate any business, small or large, to the top of the search page rankings.

For more on how SEO favors or disfavors certain businesses, please read: "What is Google Looking For?"

However, the experience of writing this blog has taught us exactly why it is so hard for small and medium-sized businesses to compete against the big guns. For most local business owners, for example, the work of running the day-to-day business supersedes all other activities. Day-to-day, many small business owners rarely have time to eat a proper meal!

Now, most small businesses understand the need to create some sort of online presence, yet many merely create a website without performing any marketing for the website. The experience of writing this blog has taught us that many small business owners simply do not know the first thing about on-line marketing or organic SEO. And who can blame them? As we've said before (again and again), the work of organic search engine optimization is tedious and time-consuming.

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

Even then, many small business would benefit from the simplest of SEO campaigns. It's important to remember that website optimization does not have to be a tedious affair. For a local brick and mortar, especially, just creating a reliable presence on Google might be enough to elevate sales. Many local websites, for example, do not even claim a local listing with consistent information: phone numbers, hour of operation, etc!

Beyond this, a few changes can make the difference between visibility and invisibility. An easy way to think about building a successful local website is to consider the SEO basics:

1. Website Design
2. Website Development
3. Content Creation
4. Conversion

If you're one of the small business owners who make up our small (but growing) audience on The Organic SEO Blog, we wish you success today and throughout the holiday season. And just remember, a little SEO know-how can go a long way.


Small Business Marketing with Stepman's PC 

If you're looking for an SEO company that understands how to effectively promote websites for specific local areas 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 SEO campaigns that can attract your ideal local customer. 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Organic SEO: Five More Tips for a Successful Cyber Monday & Beyond

Last year we wrote our Cyber Monday post on Saturday--merely two days before the event! In that post, we offered five simple tips for a successful Cyber Monday and beyond: perform a website audit, create a unique Cyber Monday landing page, increase your speed, perform a language audit, and monitor your performance and analyze your competitors.

All of this is standard SEO fare--the sort of strategy that (as we noted last year) will help you succeed on any given day. In reality, to create successful one-day SEO campaigns, like Cyber Monday, most websites start planning months in advance. As we've also noted before: The success of organic SEO  depends on complex search engine algorithms—and the world’s largest search engines, like Google, Yahoo, and Bing, change their algorithms frequently. The work of understanding and utilizing these ever-evolving algorithms is time-consuming and tedious.

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

Last year's post, then, was simply a play on our part to attract some Cyber Monday attention. And that it did: last year's Cyber Monday post attracted our largest one-day readership! Notwithstanding our intentions, the fact that last year's post attracted so much attention is a perfect illustration of SEO content in action: the most successful content is the most relevant content. If you want to attract attention, follow the zeitgeist--and soon, hours after Thanksgiving dinner, the holiday shopping zeitgeist will be here.

So in the spirit of the times, we'd like to offer five more tips for a successful Cyber Monday. Just remember: these tips are really about creating a successful and enduring SEO campaign that will produce results on any given day.

1. Optimize for Mobile

Mobile SEO just might be the hottest SEO trend of 2014. As Search Engine Journal reported earlier this year: "By 2015, mobile marketing in the U.S. will generate $400 billion, compared to $139 billion in 2012." And last year, mobile was cited as a strong factor in a Cyber Monday sales record. As Mashable reported:

"Online sales for Cyber Monday increased by more than 20% from a year earlier, helped by strong growth in mobile sale."

There's little doubt that this year's Cyber Monday sales will break last year's record, and mobile will certainly play an even larger role. So now is a good time to revisit your mobile SEO strategy!

Please read: "Don't Lose Sales: Optimize Your Website for Mobile Search Now!"

2. Create Cyber Monday-specific Keywords

Once a staple of SEO practice, the use of keywords has lost some luster in the face of increasingly complicated searches. Still, the judicious use of carefully targeted words and phrases can certainly increase traffic on any given day--especially on a day like Cyber Monday, which itself is a powerful keyword. For Cyber Monday, then, you would do well to add some specifically-targeted keywords to your current pages--or possibly create new pages with targeted keywords.

Of course, as the holiday shopping season nears, you'll want to think about the use of common keywords like "deals", "gift guide", "top gifts for men", "top gifts for women", "holiday shopping"--you get the point! But more importantly, you'll want to think about keywords specific to your industry.

The "Holiday Shopping" Season is Almost Here! [Source]

For more info on keywords, try Google's Keyword Tool.

3. Create Cyber Monday-specific Content

Adding precisely targeted keywords to your website can drive traffic, but to really compete you need to create content that complements your keywords. In a sense, keywords can help you clarify your Cyber Monday offering. As we've noted before:

"You can clarify your offering, first, by thinking about keywords. Imagine you are an Internet user searching for your product or service. What keywords would you use to search for your product or service? Think precisely about the exact keywords that best describe your product or service."

Once you've clarified your offering, however, your success will be largely defined by the content you create to support that offering. The easiest way to create content quickly is to write a blog or to create new articles for your website. And just remember: quality is crucial.

Please read: "Quality over Quantity: A Different View of SEO Marketing."

4. Get Shopping with Google Shopping

Google Shopping allows users to search for products and compare prices between different vendors. If your products are already well-optimized on Google, you might not need this service. However, if your products do not enjoy first page rankings, the service can offer you a chance to compete against those that do. For pricing and information, visit Google Shopping.

5. Don't Wait Until the Last Minute!

We write this today with irony--ideally, you should've started planning your Cyber Monday campaign weeks or months ago. That said, you can use some of the tips here to immediately boost traffic. More importantly, however, is how you can use these tips to boost traffic today and tomorrow. SEO is a strategy ideally suited for the long-run. To create a truly effective campaign, one must display patience and resolve!

Cyber Monday Marketing with Stepman's PC 

If you're looking for an SEO company that understands how to effectively promote websites for specific seasonal shopping days--such as Cyber Monday, Christmas, or Valentines'--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 SEO campaigns that can attract your ideal customer.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

SEO News: Pinterest Refers 5X More Traffic than Twitter

A few weeks ago Shareaholic released a "quarterly report" (for Q3 of 2014) detailing how much traffic the eight largest social media sites drive to other sites. I happened to discover the report in my research for a previous blog about the diversity of SEO content. I was not surprised to see that Facebook drives the most traffic--and, at 22% of all traffic, by a large margin. I was surprised, however, to see that Pinterest is Facebook's closest contender.

If someone had asked me before I read the report, "Who is second behind Facebook?" I honestly would've answered, "Twitter." I would've been wrong, of course--but more wrong than I would've imagined.

Among the eight largest social media sites, Twitter ranks close to StumbleUpon in referrals. StumbleUpon? Yes. In fact, despite its apparent influence, Twitter is a relatively insular site, driving less than one percent of the"big eight" referrals.

Of the eight top social media sites, Facebook and Pinterest have seen up and down referral percentages, but Twitter's referrals have been declining steadily...

News of Twitter's decline has been in the air at least since this summer, when its positive quarterly earnings report was belied by its drop in monthly active users. As Digiday reported in late July:

"Twitter’s growth rate may have exceeded Wall Street’s expectations on Tuesday, but its year-to-year growth in monthly active users continued to decline, from 25 percent in the first quarter to 24 percent in the second quarter...With this trend expected to continue, eMarketer predicts Twitter’s user growth will continue to plateau through 2018 in all regions worldwide..."

More recently, NPR's Marketplace has asked, "How long does Twitter have to not become Myspace?"

For an avid Twitter user, this possibility feels impossible, but who knows: I was also an avid Myspace user! The upshot for the SEO savvy business owner? Twitter is not the best place to drive traffic. Facebook is, of course, the best. But just as surprising (to me, at least) as Twitter's relative lack of referral power is the notable influence of Pinterest, which drives about 5X as much traffic as Twitter and really all the other social media sites combined.

This is a visual representation of Facebook's absolute dominance, yes, but it's also a telling indication of the influence of Pinterest.

Perhaps this is why Pinterest believes it can evolve into a personalized search engine. As Search Engine Land reported yesterday:

"Much more than a 'scrap-booking' site (its origins) or even a product discovery or shopping site, Pinterest sees itself now as a kind of personalized search site that can blend search and discovery in new and compelling ways...Pinterest thinks it can do a better job meeting certain kinds of needs and answering user questions than a traditional search engine (read: Google)."

Search Engine Land included a nifty graphic from Pinterest, too--a graphic that suggests that Pinterest can yield results that surpass even traditional search engines:

Note how Pinterest believes it can offer valuable content to both the "general" and "specific" browser. The "specific" browser is the domain of Google, but Pinterest hopes to break ground by inspiring the "general" browser with beautifully illustrated pictures, photos, etc.  

So, as always, we ask our SEO-centric question: What does this mean for you, the website owner, who is striving to optimize your website naturally. First, if you're spending time on Twitter to the detriment of Pinterest (or worse, Facebook), you might want to reconsider your strategy. But more to the point: Pinterest is decidedly different than both Facebook and Twitter. While the latter sites are heavy on the written word, Pinterest is all about imagery. 

This is good for image-centric sites. If you already have a host of high-quality and unique images, we suggest trying your hand at Pinterest now. As we wrote in our post about the diversity of SEO content:

"Play to your strengths. If you create lovely images, then by all means you should be populating your site with images. The key to proper use of these 'alternative' forms of content is proper optimization. If used correctly, all types of content can contribute to a positive ranking."

The lesson here, however, is that you shouldn't limit your images simply to populating your site--populate Pinterest, too, and see if you can utilize the site's increasing influence to drive more traffic to your site.

Social Media Marketing with Stepman's PC 

If you're looking for an SEO company that understands how to effectively promote websites on all social media channels, 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 social media marketing campaigns.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

What is Google Looking For?

What is Google looking for? To many in the SEO community, the answer is defined by the algorithms. The algorithms do tell us what Google is looking for--but only in one sense. The evolution of the algorithms reveals that each update is the best Google can do now; implicit in this evolution, is the admission that the Google can do better and better.

So yes, the algorithms can tell us what Google is looking for today, but perhaps not tomorrow.

So how can a business create a sustainable website that attracts visitors year after year even as the algorithms change? We believe the answer to this question is startlingly simple.

Before we answer this question, however, let's take a look at our premise. Is it true, in fact, that Google can do better and better? Or perhaps more to the point, does Google want to do better?

Algorithms, of course, are imperfect. Some feel that this imperfection is, in part, intentional. Last spring, Eric Lonstein, writing for The Harvard Business Review, stated the case plainly:

"Although industry leading and innovative, Google’s organic search algorithm is inefficient and imperfect because it creates large barriers to entry and incumbency advantages. Google likely recognizes these inefficiencies, but chooses not to significantly alter its technological approach due to legacy processes and economic motivations."

Lonstein's intriguing article, "The imperfection and Injustice of Google Organic Search," claims that the reason that Google will not change (appreciably) for the better is PageRank™, a system that defines ranking by counting inbound and outbound links to a website. Lonstein seems to have neglected Google's evolving thinking about links, yet he does make a good point about Google's reasons for staying the PageRank™ course--essentially because of Google's own corporate culture as well as its willingness to appease its biggest customers.

Lonstein on Google's corporate culture: "Google is slow to significantly alter its algorithms due to deeply embedded processes and perverse customer incentives. Google’ highly complex algorithmic systems are heavily dependent on PageRank technology. Moreover, when a system is highly successful, a corporate culture evolves with distinct processes and priorities that shape approaches to problems and reinforce the existing systems."

Lonstein on Google's willingness to appease its big customers: "Google’s largest advertising partners, such as Amazon and Overstock, will likely oppose significant changes to Google’s organic search engine. These companies have invested hundreds of millions of dollars on SEO optimization by generating thousands of inbound links to their sites. As compensation for these investments, Google’s large advertisers expect Google to keep its organic search algorithm consistent so that the companies can continue to achieve favorable ROI for their advertisements."

One can debate whether Lonstein's premises are true. We've written here before about the problems with algorithms--most recently about how the algorithms seemed to filter information about Ferguson: "Algorithms Have Consequences: #Ferguson, Facebook, and Algorithm Bias."

On the other hand, many in the SEO community might be quick to add that Google's recent refinements, specifically the Penguin algorithm, which targets bad links, has changed the nature and purpose of links, and that the importance of links has been devalued. Last month on the Moz blog, Paddy Moogan predicted, for example, that deep links will matter less and less. Even then, Moogan writes, "Google is always looking for more data, more signals, more indicators of whether or not a certain page is a good result for a user at a certain moment in time."

So, again, how can a business create a sustainable website that attracts visitors year after year even as the algorithms change? The reason we've so extensively quoted thoughts on algorithms here is to illustrate a point: algorithms change, people change, and thinking about algorithms change. How can you maintain a viable offering in the face of this change?

For the answer, you might look to the successful companies of the present and future: Apple, for example, or GE. Both companies have offered exceptional products backed by exceptional marketing campaigns. Our startlingly simple answer, then, is this: make a great product and create a great marketing campaign.

To this point, we believe Moogan offers a helpful marketing template:

"Marketing is hard. If you or your client wants to compete and win customers, then you need to be prepared to ask really hard questions about the company. Here are just a few that I've found difficult when talking to clients:

Why does the company exist? (The answer has nothing to do with making money)
Why do you deserve to rank well in Google?
What makes you different to your competitors?
If you disappeared from Google tomorrow, would anyone notice?
Why do you deserve to be linked to?
What value do you provide for users?"

By answering these simple questions, you can develop a campaign that will ensure success--independent of the algorithms.

Online Marketing with Stepman's PC

If you're looking for an SEO company that understands the nuances of the algorithms as well as traditional marketing, 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 online marketing campaigns.