Saturday, March 26, 2016

Social Engagement: Ask Not What Your Customers Can Do for You, But What You Can Do for Your Customers

What does the word "engagement" mean to you? Well, a simple Google search yields pages of the obvious: talk of rings and love. Of course, in the context of SEO, engagement has a different meaning altogether, though the root definition is similar. In marriage as in SEO, engagement is about agreement, involvement, and commitment.

Unfortunately, the SEO world often misrepresents the term itself--and, in doing so, fails to understand its simple power. A quick Google search of  "SEO engagement" yields some surprisingly jargon-filled articles.

Here's a quote from Search Engine Watch, the second organic result for "SEO engagement":

"Marketing is about addressing intent and influencing the choice of brand to satisfy that intent. In the stimulus phase of a purchase funnel, brands have the opportunity to engage with users, creating awareness through visibility created from SEO outreach, content promotion, and associations with third-party sites."

Stimulus phase? Purchase funnel?

Here's a quote from Marketing Land, the fourth organic result:

"Today, the C-level management team is slow to embrace the structure and strategic use of social properties (Social Media) to enhance their findability when a potential customer seeks the products and services the organization offers."


To be fair, that last article, from Marketing Land, speaks about engagement in a sensible, practical way:

"The key to old-school, word-of-mouth marketing is simple. If someone asks you to recommend a vendor for something, you give them the name of someone that you were happy with or warn them of someone who you were unhappy with.

This is what search engines started replacing (word-of-mouth marketing) in the late 90’s. Two decades later, search engines are being replaced and influenced by online social engagement, which is basically electronic word-of-mouth marketing."

Then again, that same article, in the next breath, steers the conversation away from people (all those "someones") to customers whose experience needs to be "optimized" to "maximize sales and profits":

"Corporations and their executive teams need to think about how they are going to use social properties to engage with both current and potential customers and then how to optimize their experience to maximize sales and profits."

A crowd of human beings [Getty Images]

Here's a parable of engagement, from a previous blog, referencing an online marketer who seems to have little sense of marketing:

"Misty McPadden's Twitter account...shows surprisingly little engagement for an account with 44.2K followers. Perhaps this is because McPadden follows 41.7K people--or, really, no one. Just take a look at her "Tweet's and Replies." There's little to no conversation happening--none at all. One could be excused for believing the account was actually a spam bot."

What makes engagement unique--in any sense? Engagement is an agreement, involvement, or commitment between two human beings. It doesn't matter if you're a brand or a Facebook friend from high school, to truly engage you most communicate on a person-to-person level.

Marketing, of course, is about scaling communication to an audience. A marketing campaign depends on both the quality and quantity of its images.

In one sense, if you have thousands of "followers," you can attract attention merely by playing the number game--creating content with well-chosen keyword and titles. Quality hardly matters when you're dealing with that sort of quantity--although engagement does, as Misty McPadden's Twitter account proves.

But what if you're a small business owner?

Or what if you prefer to attract attention with quality? (Not to say quantity and quality are distinct; yet so often, on social media, at least, the two seem to be at odds).

Engagement is not necessarily traditional marketing--at least not in the sense of scaling communication. Engagement is about communicating with people, treating your "customers" as human beings, with unique needs. When you address a human's needs on a person-to-person level you create a durable bond--you create a relationship.

In our view, true "social engagement," then is about micro-communication--all the replies, messages, and interactions that reveal your own agreement, involvement, or commitment with other human beings. In the end, you and your company are not a brand--you're people talking to people.

In this context, even the first organic result from "SEO engagement," a good article by Phil Singleton, misses the point:

"When your target audience receives a Google +1, or a Facebook like, or a LinkedIn like, you are getting a vote of quality from your audience. While liking your content is a form of content engagement, getting your content shared is even more valuable since your audience is rewarding you with exposure in their social networks."

Of course, traditional marketing requires this sort of engagement, but the engagement we're talking about is magnanimous. To borrow the axiom of JFK: "Ask not what your customers can do for you, but what you can do for your customers."

Our mantra? Be real: Engage.

Social Marketing with Stepman's PC

If you're looking for a small SEO company that takes the time to communicate one-on-one with each client, 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 marketing campaigns.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Mobilegeddon Part Two? Google to Boost the Effectiveness of The Mobile-Friendly Signal

Google made an interesting announcement yesterday on its Webmaster blog: Beginning in May, the search engine will start increasing the effect of its mobile-friendly ranking factor.

If you remember, Google made a flurry of announcements last year about this mobile-friendly ranking signal, warning about "critical mobile usability errors," and urging sites to optimize for mobile. Some in the SEO industry even predicted a Mobilegeddon--a dramatic shift in rankings that would all but destroy any site not optimized for mobile.

In the end, the calamity was a "non event," at least according to Mark Munroe, who wrote an analysis of the numbers of Marketing Land:

"I have direct access to several sites that are extremely mobile unfriendly to the point of being mobile-nasty," Munroe wrote. "And yet … I can barely discern a difference."

Still, Munroe did not rule out the possibility of a future significant changes: "I do expect more mobile updates — and perhaps they’ll have a far more significant impact."

So are we now viewing the real Mobilegeddon? Likely not. Google seems to admit as much in its announcement:

"And remember, the intent of the search query is still a very strong signal — so even if a page with high quality content is not mobile-friendly, it could still rank well if it has great, relevant content."

In other words: If your site fulfills a browser's needs (in relation, of course, to his or her specific search query), you will still enjoy a good ranking.

On the other hand, if you're not mobile-friendly, and you're competing to fulfill a browser's needs with several or many other sites, each with "great, relevant content," you will likely lose traffic--and potentially business.

Listen, if you hope to attract business with your website, and you are not optimized for mobile, you are actively harming your business.

We know that mobile usage now outpaces desktop usage. This "Mobile Tipping Point" had been predicted for years; as of 2014, however, the change was official. As Tech Crunch reported that year (citing a comScore study): "Combined with mobile web, mobile usage as a whole accounts for 60% of time spent, while desktop-based digital media consumption makes up the remaining 40%."

At the time, comScore attributed a majority of mobile usage to apps--not search. Last year, however, Google confirmed that "more Google searches take place on mobile devices than on computers in 10 countries including the US and Japan."

More recently, Cisco released a report that detailed the growth of mobile. The first two stats alone reveal an astonishing change:

"Global mobile data traffic grew 74 percent in 2015."

"Mobile data traffic has grown 4,000-fold over the past 10 years and almost 400-million-fold over the past 15 years."

So is your site mobile-friendly?

If you don't know, take Google's "Mobile-Friendly Test" here.

Or you could simply Google your website from your smart phone. Since last year, Google has distinguished mobile-friendly sites with a "Mobile-Friendly" tag in search results. Last year, you were likely to find sites with and without the designation--as in this search for "summer blazer."

The first two sites here, Brooks Brothers and Pinterest, have received the Mobile-Friendly tag (noted below the address before the description). The third result, Lifestyle Mirror, has not received the tag.
The same search today reveals an entirely different view:

Note: The top results now reflect sites with more "great, relevant content." The previous number one result, Brooks Brother, has dropped to the fourth result today (not pictured). More importantly, however, Lifestyle Mirror (the third result above) has dropped completely off the first page, which is completely filled with mobile-friendly sites.

The two dramatically different results above might not be reflective of a "mobilegeddon," but they do represent a dramatic shift in rankings. For sites that have not optimized for mobile, the news is bad--and likely getting worse. 

Need Mobile SEO Help? Call Stepmans PC!

We believe that ecommerce is now a mobile game! To navigate the new rules of mobile SEO, you might need to hire an SEO specialist like Stepmans PC. If you sell a high-quality product that deserves customers, you also deserve a well-optimized mobile website.

Do not let the changing search landscape compromise your sales. Now, more than ever, you need the astute wisdom of a professional search engine optimization professional.

Stepmans PC is now offering a free mobile website audit. Contact Stepmans PC today to learn how you can improve your website's mobile performance: 215-900-9398.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

SEO News: Yet Another "Study" Proves What We Already Know

TrackMaven recently released a study that explores the "content marketing paradox"--the idea that we're "generating more content with less return." The study analyzed 50 millions pieces of content, from 22,957 brands, shared in the last twelve months on six marketing platforms: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and blogs.

The upshot of the study? Despite publishing increasing amounts of content, brands are actually generating less engagement among followers, suggesting, as Search Engine Watch seems to think--we've hit "peak content." Consumers simply do not have the time to click, read, and like the flood of content. Instead of reading more, we're tuning out.

Brands must now compete even more heatedly for an increasingly limited share of our time--and money. In its report on the study, "The Content Marketing Paradox Revisited," TrackMaven argues that two trends have made this work even harder: "The rise in mobile content consumption and the monetization of social networks."

TrackMaven believes that mobile phones engender a "grazer" mentality not attuned to engaging with content; instead of reading, we're increasingly distracted by "frequent, frenetic" trips to social media networks.

The social media networks, on the other hand, have become increasingly adept at monetizing our engagement with ads.

To reach this frenzied audience, TrackMaven suggests, we may need to invest in ads: "Soaring ad revenue may well be the Grim Reaper of organic reach, but if brands are forced to pay to play, it better be worth their while."

However, TrackMaven suggests one organic mean for beating "the content marketing paradox,": "raising the bar" for in-platform content--essentially creating hyper-specific campaigns designed for each specific platform.

Incidentally, we have sounded this horn before--here and here.

As we noted last July:

"A common social media faux pas is posting to several social media outlets at once--so that, for example, when you post to Twitter the tweet automatically shows up on Facebook as a status update. This is a terrible idea. 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."

We have mixed feelings about TrackMaven's analysis of its own numbers. Indeed, we're producing more content than ever; and perhaps this content is inspiring less engagement. But does that really translate to a "grazer" mentality--a browser that is less likely to alight on any particular piece of content?

In truth, as Trackmaven suggests, "as more content floods social networks, the slice of engagement for the average brand shrinks."

This is not exactly an earth-shattering finding. Likewise, TrackMaven;s suggestion to "raise the bar," which mimes, say, the advice of Rand Fishkin, who promoted his idea of 10X content last year.

Fishkin believes that merely creating "good, unique content" is no longer enough to rank. For new or smaller to medium-sized websites to rank, Fishkin believes, they must create 10x content: "Really, where I want folks to 10x, 10 times better than anything I can find in the search results today."

In the end, TrackMaven's fancy "study," offers nothing new. Any content marketing company worth its salt will tell you: to compete, you must, as TrackMaven says, "distinguishing content." If that sounds vague too, you're likely not alone. Fishkin's advice was only nominally more specific. 

The problem, as we've noted before, is that many online marketing companies don't know the first thing about writing:

"It is an irony of SEO writing (that is, writing about SEO) that most of it is not exactly engaging. Despite the frequent admonitions to create 'high-quality' content most SEO writers do not follow their own advice."

Good writing, honestly expressed, should attract an audience. To stand above the "noise," however, you must reverse the paradigm: Instead of merely publishing content with the hope of inspiring engagement, engage and publish content.

So many brands miss this essential point: consumers do not want to be talked to; we want to be talked with.  Engage with your followers by commenting and liking, and you will receive more contents and likes.

Talk with your followers, not to them.

Content Marketing with Stepman's PC 

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

Sunday, March 6, 2016

SEO in Real Life: The Search for a Good Local Company

The Organic SEO Blog is once again on the road this week--in Brigantine, New Jersey, for a trip away from home. The trip was inspired by a broken steam boiler--and a terribly cold house. Yes, two weeks ago our steam boiler effectively said, "Goodbye", after thirty years of service!

To find a new boiler, we spent a great deal of two (chilly) weeks researching heating companies and steam boilers. Most of this research was performed online. By late last week, we had found our company and boiler--but not without confronting a few snags. Happily, though, our knowledge of SEO guided us to the best company for our needs.

Without this knowledge, we would have likely paid double the price for essentially the same service--and a similar boiler. Our experience might be instructive for browsers, yet the prime lesson, we believe, is for smaller and medium-sizes local businesses--businesses who do not use SEO.

Here's a brief recap of our experience--plus a few SEO lessons along the way.

A Tale of Two Companies: Emergency Maintenance Company 

After our boiler broke, we were introduced to two heating companies. First, our home warranty company sent Emergency Maintenance Company to our house to diagnose the problem. A cheery fellow, Constantine, inspected and clanged the boiler for about fifteen minutes before stating the verdict in a rich, Ukrainian accent: "You need a new boiler."

Without any knowledge of the costs, we were somewhat stunned by Emergency Maintenance's estimate to replace the boiler. Nevertheless, the home warranty company accepted the diagnosis, offered a certain amount of coverage, and suggested working with their vendor, Emergency Maintenance.

The advantage of working with Emergency Maintenance, we were told, was that the home warranty company could reimburse the vendor directly. If we chose our own company, however, we would have to pay for the entire project out-of-pocket--and then get reimbursed a month later from the home warranty company.

We were inclined to go with Emergency Maintenance, but first we decided to perform our due diligence online. The SERPs for Emergency Maintenance Company paint a grim picture. The website itself is basic--clearly not optimized. No big deal. Worse, however, is the Yelp reviews, the second result, which include two blistering one-star reviews.

Now, we've written before of the importance of reviews for local businesses:

"The key that online reviews can make or brake...a business' online marketing efforts. You can perform all the website optimization you like, but if you're local reviews do not reflect a good customer experience--well, then, your optimization efforts will be for naught."

The problem for Emergency Maintenance was two-fold:

1. The website had clearly not been optimized for content, so there was not enough valuable information to counter the perception made by other online outlets.

2. The other online outlet(s), mainly Yelp, painted a bad picture of the company.

The diagnosis for Emergency Maintenance? The company was not controlling its online image, so the negative Yelp reviews were standing as the central portrait of the company's services.

The solution: A comprehensive SEO campaign that would improve the company's website with informative content, inspiring browsers to trust the company. And, of course: to perform good customer service to inspire more (better) reviews.

An antique steam boiler pressure gauge--ours burned itself out.

A Tale of Two Companies: Marshall Home Comfort

A friend, the owner of a local heating and air company (that does not service steam boilers) recommended another company: Marshall Home Comfort.

Marshall's online reputation exceeds Emergency Maintenance Company's reputation in every way: The website has been optimized for content and the Yelp reviews are (generally) good. However, we balked at Marshall's price: double the price of Emergency Maintenance.

We were baffled, unsure who to trust: Was Marshall's price exorbitantly high or was Emergency Maintenance's price to low? In search of answers, we called both companies.

To Marshall's we asked, "Why is your price double the other quote?"

To Emergency Maintenance, we asked, "Why is your price half the other quote."

The answers were illuminating. Emergency Maintenance is an immigrant-run and owned company that does not perform any marketing at all. They receive most of their business through home warranty referrals.

Marshall's, on the other hand, is quick to tell you that they're an American-owned company, in business for over 65-years. A service manager detailed their experience as the main factor in price.

We spoke to both companies extensively. In the end, we discovered, their was not much difference  between the two in terms of expertise or experience. Marshall's was essentially asking us to pay double the price for their reputation--and we were inclined to believe them.

The takeaway: Online reputation matters. To justify your costs, you must present a good image online. By optimizing its site's content and inspiring good Yelp reviews, Marshall's clearly presented a better picture.

The Final Decision

You might be surprised to hear our choice--not necessarily based on price alone: Emergency Maintenance Company.

In the end, the company proved to be much better than its online image. Our knowledge of SEO pointed us to the best company.

The problem with Emergency Maintenance, we learned was not the company itself, but its online reputation. They installed the boiler on Friday--the work and the workers was excellent. Our dealings with George, the Service Manager, were also excellent.

The tale of Emergency Maintenance, however, is a cautionary tale: most browsers would've dismissed the company out-of-hand.

Stepmans SEO: Optimize Your Company's Reputation Now!

A good SEO specialist will ask several key questions when speaking to potential clients--especially local clients. If you sell a high-quality product at the right price, you deserve customers. If you perform excellent customer service, you deserve repeat customers.

However, you, the business owner, must honestly asses your business before choosing to optimize your website. Ask yourself these two key questions:

Do you really sell a high quality product at the right price? Do you excel in customer service? If not, now might not be the best time to perform website optimization.

The information offered in this post (and elsewhere on this blog) is not typical of most Internet marketing companies. What separates Stepman's PC from its competitors is a focus on human beings. Alex Stepman, the owner of Stepman's PC, and the sponsor of The Organic SEO Blog, understands that website optimization is not simply about websites and codes and content--it is about understanding the motivations of real, actual people. If you want to speak to an SEO company with intelligence and empathy, call Stepman's PC now: 215-900-9398.