Saturday, November 26, 2016

Local SEO: Tips for Online and Brick and Mortar Success

Today is Small Business Saturday, the second of three "shopping holidays" in the long Thanksgiving-weekend that includes Black Friday and Cyber Monday (or Cyber Sunday, if you will).

We first wrote about Small Business Saturday, in 2014, when ABC News reported that the holiday was "still very much in the shadow of Black Friday," at least according to some small-business owners, who felt Black Friday continued to be the dominant sales day for all businesses.

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

Yet American Express, who sponsors the day, has reported steady sales growth for small businesses: "$16.2 billion in 2015," NBC News reports, "up from $14.5 billion the year prior, with 95 million customers reporting shopping small at local retailers, salons, restaurants and more.

Perhaps you've even seen the "Shop Small" logo, a ubiquitous feature at brick and mortar shops across the nation.

The Small Business Saturday Logo

Despite the folksy intimations of the logo, Small Business Saturday is actually a slick promotion, first marketed by AMEX in 2010, as a way to "show your love at a small business near you."

This year, AMEX created a short jaunty video; we were sad to see, though, that the video misses the folk appeal from last year's video, when one shop owner excitedly said, "We had a line for the first time ever!"

Another (anonymous voice) said, "It's not just a shopping experience; it's really more of a social experience. It makes the neighborhood more vibrant."

Of course, shopping local benefits your community financially and culturally. You meet the people who produce your goods; you put a face to your purchases. Also, most local businesses offer unparalleled customer service and unique goods and services.

Despite the emphasis on local, though, we know a majority of this weekend's sales will actually occur online. As NBC News reported today:

"Online sales on Friday hit $1.70 billion as of 3 p.m. EDT, according to Adobe Digital Index, after reaching $1.13 billion for the day on Thursday, up almost 14 percent from a year ago.

The National Retail Federation has said it expects total sales this holiday season to increase by 3.6 percent to $655.8 billion, mainly due to the rise in online shopping."

Small, local shops may read this as bad news: more online shopping = less brick and mortar shopping.

But this does not have to be the case.

To a degree, the Internet equalizes the competition, giving even the smallest shops a fighting chance against, say, Amazon, who led the pack this year with the deepest average discounts at 42%. (Source: NBC News).

The greatest tool in any business arsenal is online marketing. As we wrote last year, small businesses can use SEO to compete against Amazon, Target, and Walmart. Of course, not all businesses have the facility to sell products online. For these businesses, however, local SEO is the best way to attract business to brick and mortar locations.

So how can a small business use SEO to compete locally and nationally?

Tell Your Unique Story

Organic SEO is a natural fit for a small business. Most brick and mortars attempt to limit prices by limit marketing costs, and by definition, organic SEO is free.

The key for any small business is to use organic SEO to tell a unique story that differentiates itself from bigger retailers. For a a local brand, quality content is crucial. And, of course, a local brand must emphasize service and experience in all content.

If your content can inspire an emotional response, you're doing the right thing.

Read: SEO & the Power of Emotions

Find Your Niche Market Online

A small business will not compete against the outstanding variety of products offered by Amazon. A small business can, however, offer well-curated products that exceed the quality and value of Amazon's products.

It can be hard for a smaller business to compete for a variety of products--in SEO parlance, keywords. For most smaller businesses, a better option (by far) is to specialize in a few key products--and a few keywords.

The more effort you put into promoting a smaller amount of keywords, the more likely you will attract specific visitors that will be interested in your product.

Read: To Compete, Discover Your Niche

Stay Local

The essence of Small Business Saturday is local shopping. As a small business, you can leverage your accessibility to locals by optimizing your website for this specific audience. Instead of competing against a national audience--and all the big retailers--you compete against local companies.

To optimize for a local audience, create hyper-specific content for your local town or audience and seek local reviews. As we wrote before:

"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."

Read: The Importance of Reviews for Local Business

Of course, too, you can take specific steps to optimize your brick and mortar location. Google My Business, for example, is an easy step. As we discussed last week:

"Essentially, Google My Business asks you to fill out your business info, paying special attention to details like your business category, so that Google can connect you to browsers who are looking for your type of product or service. The information you give to Google My Business is used to populate the local map as well as the knowledge graph, two powerful SEO tools."

Read: SEO 101: How to Partner with Google

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.

Friday, November 18, 2016

SEO 101: How to Partner with Google

We write a lot about Google here, and for good reason. Google is doubtlessly the most popular search engine. In October, 2016, for example, Google accounted for 75% of the total search engine market share.

This colossal market share, of course, translates to tremendous profits. As eMarketer reported earlier this year, in 2016, "Google will generate $57.80 billion in total digital ad revenue worldwide, an increase of 9.0% over last year [and] 30.9% of the total worldwide digital ad market."

To survive (and thrive) online a website must play the Google game. Fortunately, Google is fairly transparent about its expectations for websites. Success on Google, we know, requires the same time-tested, straight-forward marketing techniques that have propelled the world's best companies to success.

More to the point, success is defined by your ability to tell your story in an engaging, unique way. What purpose does your company serve? What distinguishes you from your competitors. Why do you deserve a top Google ranking? What value do you provide to Google's users?

The role of organic SEO is simple: To ensure your answers are noticed--by Google and its browsers. Despite rumors to the contrary, SEO is not a way to game the system. In fact, Google endorses ethical SEO:

"Deciding to hire an SEO is a big decision that can potentially improve your site and save time, but you can also risk damage to your site and reputation. Make sure to research the potential advantages as well as the damage that an irresponsible SEO can do to your site."

As we've noted before, Google and organic SEO are dynamic partners.

So how do you partner with Google? On this blog, we've written page after page about optimizing your website for Google. However, before you perform the most intricate details of website optimization, you can easily partner with Google in simple ways. Below we list three actionable steps to TAKE NOW.

Of all your business relationships, your partnership with Google might be the most important. [Photo Source]

Sign up for a Google My Business Account

A Google My Business account is mandatory for any business, especially local businesses, yet many website owners do not even know this tool exists.

Essentially, Google My Business asks you to fill out your business info, paying special attention to details like your business category, so that Google can connect you to browsers who are looking for your type of product or service.
The information you give to Google My Business is used to populate the local map as well as the knowledge graph, two powerful SEO tools.

Beyond your website, your Google My Business account will likely offer your most visible presence on the web. So make sure you keep your information current: phone numbers, images, and hours should all be updated frequently.

Sign Up for a Google+ Account

All Google+ business pages are now managed by Google My Business. If you have a Google My Business account you will also have access to a Google+ business account. However, a well-maintained Google+ page is a necessary compliment to any Google My Business account.

Google+ offers exposure opportunities not available via Google My Business. By maintaining a Google+ page, your business feeds the search engine more information--essentially the content you choose to post on the platform.

You can also control your "connections" on Google+. by segmenting different types of audiences and sharing relevant content to each. As Hootsuite notes: "A study conducted by Hubspot showed that sites using the +1 button get 3.5 times more visits on Google Plus. This is a great opportunity for you to join the discussion or get engagement on your own content."

Sign up For a YouTube Account

You might know, Google owns YouTube, the worlds second largest search engine. The website receives 350,000 new video uploads a day, so standing out is tough.

Yet, by downloading videos to YouTube with unique video keywords you necessarily optimize for Google's search engine, too. Essentially, YouTube, like Google+, offers another means of feeding the search engine information about your company.

Stepman's SEO Can Help You Optimize Your Relationship with Google 

If you're looking for an SEO company that understands how to effectively partner with the world's biggest search engine, 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 marketing campaigns.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

How to Find a Reliable and Reputable Online Marketing Firm: Four Simple Questions

Last week we discussed a simple, yet crucial question for a website owner: Do you need SEO?

Although SEO can benefit any site, not every site requires professional website optimization. Unfortunately, of the many websites that do require website optimization, many fail to seek professional help.

As we noted last week: "Our experience...reveals that a majority of online businesses...looking for new customers, profits, and success, are not performing website optimization--are not, in fact, engaging in any Internet marketing whatsoever."

Internet marketing. Website marketing. Digital marketing. Whatever the name, marketing is a necessity for any business that hopes to profit online. If your website promotes a good product, and your price is right, you deserve a well-executed marketing campaign.

So why do so many businesses fail to seek professional help? The problem is partly about indecisiveness. The inability to make a decision plagues even the most successful business leaders.

Read: Is Indecisiveness Costing You Money?

But indecisiveness is merely a symptom of a more insidious problem: many online business owners do not understand the value or purpose of digital marketing. Worse, many online business owners are suspicious of online marketing strategies, like PPC or SEO.

We write this blog, in part, to dispel misguided ideas about organic website optimization--organic SEO--and Internet marketing. We understand, though, that the best way to ease suspicion is to guide online business owners to honest, reliable, and skillful online marketing professionals.

If you've decided you do need website optimization, or any form of online marketing, but have not yet found the right firm, this post is for you. How do you find the best firm for your business? The devil, as they say, is in the details.

Digital marketing can be an engine to profits--if you partner with the right firm. [Photo Source]

Define Your Goals

The goal of any online marketing campaign is a conversion.

Of course, in a sense, all online marketing is about attracting visitors to your site. More important than any number of visitors, however, is a single conversion--when a visitor performs an action, like buying your product, sharing your content, or signing up for your newsletter.

To define your goal precisely, then, answer this question: How do I define a successful conversion? Your answer will help guide you to the most appropriate online marketing options. Remember, though: be specific.

The chart below (from the Content Marketing Institute) shows organizational goals for companies who engage in content marketing. The problem with this chart, however, is that goals like "brand awareness" and "engagement" are not specific enough.

Instead, define a precise conversion, then find the best options to fulfill that conversion.

Know Your Options

As we noted above, online marketing firms go by many names, and many offer a variety of diverse services, including SEO, link building, content marketing, website audits, reputation management, and PPC management.

By defining a successful conversion, you hone your strategy. Now ask yourself: What is the best online marketing strategy to achieve my conversion goals? 

Most firms use a combination of strategies to achieve multiple goals. To discover the best strategy for your conversion goals, you might have to perform some research.  Learn about SEO and PPC and other strategies--at least enough to understand how each inspire conversions.

Find a Firm That Specializes in Your Chosen Marketing Options

Online marketing firms are a dime a dozen. One way to limit your choices is to find industry leaders for specific marketing strategies. If, for example, you've decided you want to generate leads with a robust content marketing campaign, you should find five of the best content marketing firms.

If you want to increase brand awareness with SEO, find five of the best SEO firms.

What does "the best" mean? In a sense, the answer is arbitrary. Again, you must research different firms. Look at reviews and portfolios. Ask yourself: Which firms offer the best services for my conversion strategy?

Once you've answered this question, you should narrow your list of options to three to five firms. Speak to each firm. Your consultations should be free and informative. If an SEO firm tries to charge you for a consultation, run for the hills.

Find a Firm You Trust

Like any business relationship, you want to work with an online marketing firm you can trust. If a firm cannot communicate clearly, you should try another firm.

In the online marketing world, trust can be defined, simply, by communication. A trustworthy firm will explain its process lucidly. A trustworthy firm help you hone your specific conversion goals and strategy.

Of course, too, once you have interviewed a few firms, ask for references. A trustworthy firm will supply references on demand. Experience is important. Finally, ask yourself: Can I trust this firm? 

If you have any reservations, you should continue your search. Don't give up! The right online marketing firm is out there waiting for you.

Is Online Marketing Worth Your Money?

To navigate the complicated challenge of digital marketing, you might need to hire an marketing firm like Stepman's PC. Do not let the changing search engine algorithms compromise your sales. You need the astute wisdom of a professional who can help you answer the question honestly: Is online marketing worth your money?

Contact Stepman's PC today to learn how you can improve your website's performance: 215-900-9398.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Are You a Part of the $65 Billion SEO Economy? Should You Be?

Earlier this year, we cited a report by  Borrell Associates, a local media forecaster, that estimated SEO spending for 2016 to be just over $65 billion; by 2020, the report said, SEO spending will grow to $80 billion. The report--which must be accessed with a subscription--argued "the two categories that businesses spend the most on--web hosting and design--are switching positions with SEO and social media management."

The Internet, Borrell argued, has entered a new phase: "advertisers have finished the basic structure of their digital storefronts and are venturing out into their SIMS-like communities to find virtual customers."

As Search Engine Land noted at the time, the report may cause skepticism, and we tended to agree. True SEO spending numbers, we believe, are nearly impossible to quantify. The industry is simply too complex to define, let alone measure. Borrell's $65 billion estimate for 2016 may exaggerate or underestimate "total SEO spending."

The second part of Borrell's assertion quoted here, that most websites have moved beyond design and development and are now investing in SEO and social media management, also may or may not be true. On the one hand, new website growth has definitely slowed. Although the web welcomes new websites every day, the overall number of websites remains relatively stable at one billion. On the other hand, many of these websites never progress beyond design and development.

A chart from Internet Live Stats,
which says that the number of websites seems to have stabilized at one billion--for now.
It's no secret, of course, that in today's local, national, or global markets a a good website is standard operating procedure. But, as our blog's sponsor, Alex Stepman, often says, "Most of these websites are nothing but high-priced business cards." Stepman's implication is that many websites do not perform  marketing or optimization. These websites are often hard to find without a direct address. Like a business card, the website address must be revealed prior to discovery.

With good optimization, the opposite is true: a website is revealed after a relevant search--preferably on Google's first SERP (search engine results page). Of course, optimization cannot guarantee a first page result. If you're engaged in the $65 billion SEO economy, though, your website should be outperforming competitor's websites.

Unfortunately, this is rarely the case, even with SEO. Too often, SEO expenses are wasted on bad firms.

This was, essentially, Mike Templeman's assertion in his Entrepreneur article, which also cited the Borrell report.

Read: "Companies Will Spend $65 Billion on SEO in 2016, Much of it Will Be Wasted."

First, we must say, Templeman seemingly takes Borrell's finding as a matter of fact--odd, we thought, for an article that attempts to derail the SEO industry as "snake oil salesmen."

"I believe that the SEO industry, and the digital marketing industry in general is full of snake oil salespeople," Templeman wrote.

"I run a marketing agency," he added. "I have to hear dozens of horror stories every week about wasted budgets, sites damaged beyond repair, digital campaigns that produce zero results and everything else business owners and marketers are terrified of."

We agree with Templeman's sentiment here, although we have to say, his article is short on specifics, draws sweeping conclusions from singular examples, and fails to note a single example of an honest, hardworking SEO firm that utilizes budgets effectively, improves sites, and produces real results.

Actually, that's not entirely true. Templeman's implication is that his marketing agency, Foxtail Marketing, which he links to quickly, is the example of an honest, hardworking SEO firm; "much" of the other agencies however will "waste" your money.

In a way, we agree with this assessment, too. Too many SEO firms peddle in snake oil, making false claims in a spammy way. Yet a reputable SEO firm is not entirely rare. As Templeman implies, you need a process for finding a good match.

SEO is a straight-forward process. You don't want to waste your money on "snake oil salesmen."
Instead, find a firm that can explain SEO to you in a straightforward way
. [Photo Source].
Whatever the true SEO spending number, we know for certain one simple fact: Website optimization is an engine to new customers, profits, and success. If you sell a high-quality product, with a good price, a well-planned and well-executed online marketing campaign, which includes organic SEO, will deliver success.

However, we understand, not every website is necessarily looking for new customers, profits, and success. Of the billion or so websites, in fact, most are not looking for customers, profits, and success.

Unfortunately, our experience also reveals that a majority of online businesses that are looking for new customers, profits, and success, are not performing website optimization--are not, in fact, engaging in any Internet marketing whatsoever.

Borrell estimates the total number of digital marketing spending to be close to $613 billion.

Should you be a part of this digital marketing economy? Should you hire an SEO firm to perform website optimization? The answer is dependent on your goals.

Many businesses really do use websites as business cards. Brick and mortars, especially, use websites as simple information portals.

Of course, even if your website is not a storefront, you can profit from your online presence.

How do you drive customers to your brick and mortar? Traditional advertising? Today, online advertisement is much more effective than traditional advertisements--especially for local brick and mortars.

The problem, we understand, is simple: Many business owners are dissuaded by the cost of  digital marketing. For many businesses, though, the costs of doing nothing exceed the expense of marketing.

And perhaps this is the ultimate qualification for any website. Do you need marketing to survive? Do you need new customers? If so, you need digital marketing. You need SEO.

Is your indecisiveness costing you money? Call Stepman's PC!

If you sell a high-quality product that deserves customers, you also deserve a well-optimized website. Do not let the changing search landscape compromise your sales. And do not fall for the charms of SEO snake oil salesmen. Find a firm that can speak to you about SEO in simple, precise terms.

Now, more than ever, you need the astute wisdom of a professional search engine optimization professional. You need Stepman's PC.