Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Mobile SEO in 2017: Six Key Questions

In March, 2014, we posted our first full report on Mobile SEO, the "new" SEO strategy set to "upend conventional notions of traditional SEO." Our report was based on a Search Engine Journal infographic, "The 2014 Mobile Landscape: 25 Statistics That Will Drive The Future of Mobile Marketing," as well as Google's recent major algorithm update, Hummingbird, which was made, in part, to accommodate the voice-based searches common on mobile devices.

Since 2014, of course, mobile has dominated search news, and more digital marketing agencies have promoted the value of "Mobile SEO." In 2015, the SEO world was abuzz with talk of "Mobilegeddon," a dramatic shift in Google's algorithm that would destroy any site not optimized for mobile. As we reported earlier this year, Mobilegeddon was a non-event, at least according to Mark Munroe, who wrote an analysis of the numbers for 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."

However, Munroe did admit the chance of future changes: "I do expect more mobile updates — and perhaps they’ll have a far more significant impact."

Perhaps this is why some in the SEO world predicted a new Mobilegeddon in 2016, when Google announced that it would begin to increase the effectiveness of its mobile-friendly ranking factor.

Of course, Google was calm 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."

Even then, the new Mobilegeddon was soon eclipsed by another big mobile development. In October, 2016, Google announced that its primary index, traditionally based on desktop websites, would now be based on mobile websites.

These changes, especially the recent "mobile-first" announcement, have inspired a flurry of questions from concerned website owners. We've compiled six of the most common--and pressing--questions below.

Mobilegeddon did not significantly change rankings, but it did force many websites to optimize for mobile devices. This infographic from Smash Magazine shows the uptick in optimized sites.

What is Mobile SEO? 

Traditionally, SEO firms optimized websites based on a desktop layout. Obviously, websites look (and work) differently on mobile devices, so mobile SEO is the process of optimizing your mobile website for mobile devices.

Why Optimize for Mobile? 

In a word, user experience. Without mobile optimization, a website will appear on mobile devices, but it may look and perform poorly.

When we first wrote about Google's mobile friendly ranking signal, before the signal significantly effected rankings, we performed a basic search for summer blazer. Among the results, we noted, the first two had the "mobile-friendly" designation and the third did not:

The first two sites here, Brooks Brothers and Pinterest, received the Mobile-Friendly tag (noted below the address before the description). The third result, Lifestyle Mirror, had not received the tag.

The third site, Lifestyle Mirror, which had not yet been optimized for mobile offered a poor mobile experience. In the screen grab below, you'll notice the tiny print and poor scrolling options: hallmarks of a website not optimized for mobile.

Lifestyle Mirror's not-so-mobile-friendly page for "Summer Blazer."

Of all the disadvantages of such a site, the prime problem was likely poor user experience. This is no longer an acceptable mobile experience; most users would simply navigate to another site. In early 2015, Google recognized this problem and acted accordingly, preferring sites with mobile-friendly designs.

In 2016, this type of mobile experience is exceedingly rare, but some websites--especially local websites--continue to display desktop designs for mobile devices.

Is Your Website Mobile-Friendly?

The simplest way to tell if your website is optimized for mobile is to Google your site from a mobile device. Does it look like the Lifestyle Mirror site above? If so, you are not optimized for mobile.

Google also offers a Mobile-Friendly Test.

What is the Mobile-First Index?

Traditionally, Google looked to desktop sites to determine search results. Now when crawling the web Google will look to mobile websites to answer queries.

Google has said the new mobile-index will not significantly effect rankings. However, this could change. And, of course, as we noted above, mobile-friendly is not simply about rankings--it's about user experience.

My Website is not Optimized for Mobile: Will it be Included in the Index?

Even websites that have not been optimized for mobile will be crawled: “If you only have a desktop site," Google writes, "we’ll continue to index your desktop site just fine, even if we’re using a mobile user agent to view your site.”

What if My Mobile and Desktop Sites Are Different?

Of course, websites appear different on each device, so the nature of the information may differ slightly. For example, mobile sites often offer less content. This could be a potential problem for a website if the desktop site offers more possibilities for a customer to make a conversion.

The solution is a "responsive design," which simply formats a website's content for any device.

Need Mobile SEO Help? Call Stepman's SEO!

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.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

The Organic SEO Blog: Top Posts: 2016

Forecasting is a major part of an SEO firm's work. On any given day, a good SEO asks himself: How will search change in the coming months and years--and how can I help my clients evolve and compete?

Another major part of an SEO firm's work, however, is about perfecting the work of the past. What have we done and how can we make it better?

In the spirit of perfecting past work, we offer our top posts of 2016--all SEO tutorials. Our SEO tutorial posts offer fundamental SEO lessons for newbies and pros alike. It's no surprise, then, that our SEO 101 posts attract the most readers. People want to know how to perform SEO.

SEO 101: The Importance of Website Structure 

Learning about website structure is a great way to sharpen your SEO skills. This post offered a basic view of website structure, with helpful definitions...

A good website is not simply a series of pages, but a carefully-plotted structure that describes, identifies, and classifies pages by topics and sub-topics.

 The word "taxonomy," often associated with biology, is also often used to describe website structure; to better visualize a good website, then, we suggest viewing an actual biological taxonomy.

A simple biological taxonomy [Source]

Perhaps the most basic and useful method for optimizing any page is to write keyword-specific title tags and meta descriptions. This post offers simple tips for optimizing both...

SEO is part technical, part creative. When optimizing a website, we focus on technical aspects first, but the real the work of SEO is in content marketing--creating and sharing your message. Even then, however, the technical work of SEO never really ends.

Each piece of content stands to benefit from SEO technical know-how. Without this technical know-how, in fact, any new content--no matter the quality--will likely fail to rank.

 Today we will speak about two crucial technical strategies for optimizing each and every page on your website. Before you publish any new page to your website, make sure you optimize your title tags and meta-descriptions.

SEO 101: Keywords

There are hundreds of guides of keywords. We take a creative view of the most popular SEO topic...

The best brands understand how to evoke a singular emotion with a simple word or phrase. Think of Nike's "Just do it." Or Apple's "Think Different." The slogans are famous. More famous, however, are the brand names: Nike and Apple.

When you Google "Apple" for example, Google understands you're looking for the company--not the fruit. The brand has become so noteworthy its fame exceeds the world's most famous fruit. (You won't even find mention of the fruit on the first SERP).

We're noting these examples to illustrate a simple point: the power of simple words--or, in SEO parlance, keywords.  

Organic SEO with Stepman's PC 

If you're looking for an SEO company that understands how to effectively promote websites with carefully chosen keywords, 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.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Relevant Content: How to Satisfy and Delight Browsers

Relevant content is the cornerstone of a good content marketing campaign. Beyond a site's functionality (usability), relevant content is also the most important factor in a good SEO campaign. In both cases, the purpose of relevant content is clear: to attract a specific audience.

Naturally, search engines prefer relevant content. In a page warning webmasters about "little or no original content," Google advises "relevant keywords":

"One of the most important steps in improving your site's ranking in Google search results is to ensure that it contains plenty of rich information that includes relevant keywords, used appropriately, that indicate the subject matter of your content."

Relevant content satisfies a browser's keyword search. For each query, Google's goal is to produce only relevant results. Yet relevant content is much more than keywords.

To think of relevant content strictly in terms of keywords--as many SEO specialists do--is to limit what the best content can do. Yes, relevant content should "satisfy a browser's query," but the best content--to borrow a phrase from America's favorite "organic" grocery store, Whole Foods Market--satisfies and delights.

Whole Foods Market aims to not only satisfy, but delight, customers. [Photo source].

How to Satisfy a Browser's Query

The SEO world offers many guides on creating "relevant content," and many suggest optimizing the technical aspects of your content, such as the meta tagsalt tags, and the heading.

Keyword research is also crucial. Before researching keywords, however, SEO guru Neil Patel suggests discovering your ideal user's "intent": user's goal when performing a query. This goal can be defined, as Patel suggests, in three ways:

  • Do something – commercial queries: “Buy a lawn mower online” 
  • Know something – informational queries: “2015 gas lawnmower customer reviews” 
  • Go somewhere – navigational queries: “Craftsman website”

What does your ideal customer want to do? And how will your content meet this desire? When writing content, the goal for a good website is to produce content relevant to an specific audience. What is "relevant" for one brand's audience is necessarily irrelevant for another. Specificity is key.

After discovering user intent, keyword research is a relatively straightforward process that begins with common sense and ends with strategic thinking.

The point is to position your new content to compete against the current top ranking content. To do so, we suggest starting with a few working keywords, Googling the competition, using a keyword research tool, refining your keywords, and finally, Googling the competition for your new, refined keywords.

For more, read: SEO 101: How to Perform Keyword Research

How to Delight a Browser: Purpose

It is important to match browsers with accurate queries--to give them what they're looking for. Yet, most people in the SEO community are merely focused on satisfying a browser's query.

To delight a browser is the true purpose of content. Delightful content speaks precisely to a brand's core audience, defining, explaining, or meeting the audience's needs and desires. Relevant content is purposeful.

To create relevant content think about the element of the content itself: language, video, or pictures.

Think about content that performs several functions at once.Very good content might convey information about a product and make a connection to the reader.

Take a look at this deceptively simply copy from the clothing retailer, Bonobos: "Premium selvage denim with a touch of stretch so you don’t have to break them in."

This line tells us something unique about the product (makes us see): it's  premium selvage denim. Yet it also invites the reader to feel a connection to the product: you won't have to break them in!

To create relevant content, make sure each and every piece of content serves a purpose--or, better yet, multiple purposes.

How to Delight a Browser: Surprise

Relevant content feels necessary--content that stays with the browser after the experience. While being timely, relevant content aims to make an impression. To stand out from a surplus of timely content, offer meaning.

To do so, we believe, you must give the browser more then what they're looking for. Delight, like the best comedy, is a surprise. While satisfying, and even delighting, great content can also transcend, or even upend, user's expectations.

You can, obviously, tick all the SEO boxes--the tags and headers and keywords--while also offering an element of surprise. But here's the thing: Surprise should not be some artificial gesture; surprise can come from the content itself. The key is to be one-of-a-kind. Offer a fresh take on a common theme. Say something new. Or, if you can, say it in a new way.

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, December 9, 2016

SEO Content Density: How to Write Like a Pro

In last week's post, urging readers to ignore SEO "trend" articles, we noted an egregious example of the genre: 3 Unstoppable SEO Trends To Look Out For In 2017.

The article, written by Sam Oh for Entrepreneur, cloaked three familiar SEO tactics--quality content, personal branding, and user experience--in the esoteric language of "trends."

Like many SEO trend writers, Oh failed to explain how or why familiar SEO tactics have become trends. To prove his points, Oh used bogus claims that defy conventional SEO wisdom. Writing on the "trend" of "increased quality content" and a new term, "content density," for example, Oh lies: "Every major SEO authority agrees that 2017 will be the year where we see the rise of content density across the board."

Oh defines "content density" obliquely, so it is hard to understand what he's talking about:

"Content density can be described plainly," he writes "as content’s 'per word value.' So for example, even though you might write a 3,000 word article that explains all the nuances of Snapchat marketing, the actual amount of value you deliver per-word might be very low. However, by providing denser content that is focused more on function than form, you can deliver the same value in only 300 words."

Is he suggesting that a 300-word article can replace the "function" of a 3,000-word article?

If so, he seems to misunderstand the functions of shorter and longer content. Both serve specific functions. To  conflate short content with long content is to miss this point entirely.

Even then, we can't find one "SEO authority" that agrees with Oh's assessment that "2017 will be the year when we see the rise of content density." This statement is pure flim-flam.

In fact, most SEO authorities believe the opposite to be true. For 2017, the prevailing SEO wisdom is the same: Longer pieces provide the most value and offer the best opportunity to attract clicks. The top result for "best content length 2017," from Snap Agency, confirms this wisdom:

"Regular content strategy: 1,000 word general blog posts. Heavy hitters, high competition, definite opportunities: 2,500 word blog posts."

The top result is presumably a major SEO authority, right? So does Snap Agency agree with Oh's idea?

Well, maybe. Snap Agency might agree with Oh's idea--but not as Oh has presented it in his article. Note the top of the Snap Agency post on content length for 2017:

"Size does matter, but quality matters more. When you’re writing a blog post, remember that length is secondary to the quality of your post, the structure of the article, its readability, and its engagement level. In other words, focus on how long people actually spend on your post checking out images, video, or eye-catching lists and stats."

Quality is more important than quantity. Perhaps this is Oh's point. After all, "per word value" is essential in any writing. Raymond Carver famously offered this writer's credo in The New York Times:

"That's all we have, finally, the words, and they had better be the right ones, with the punctuation in the right places so that they can best say what they are meant to say."

So Oh's idea, at root, is gold. Yet he fails to explain the idea in a convincing way. Since "content density" is such a crucial idea, though, we thought perform Oh's work for him.

How do you create impeccable "per word value"? What does content density actually look like?

Raymond Carver. As his quote implies, "per word value" is an essential writer's credo. [Image Credit]

Write a Succinct, Precise Title 

Clickbait rules the Internet because people follow enticing titles. To keep your audience's attention after the click, though, you need to answer the promise of your title. Clickbait titles are often misleading, yet some are clever.

Learn from click bait's successes and failures: Write a precise title--around seven words--that describes exactly what your article is about; if possible, be clever.

Don't Bury the Lede

In journalism the "lede" is simply the lead part of a story. The famous advice, "Don't bury the lede" describes a failure of many online articles: the tendency to offer secondary details first, delaying the point. Human attention spans are declining. After the click, you have a short amount of time to hook your reader. Dispense with the unnecessary preamble. Get to your point.

Cite Your Sources Clearly

Readers want to trust content. If Sam Oh had cited some source proving "every SEO authority agrees" we might feel differently about his article. As it is, his claim is dubious conjecture.

Citations--often in the form of links--trace your claims back to authoritative sources. The more you cite your claims, the more your reader will trust you.

Write Active Prose

Passive voice is the hallmark of bad writing. In a passive sentence, the object of the sentence becomes the subject.

Remember: The subject of a sentence is the noun or pronoun doing something. The subject is the noun or pronoun having something done to it. We like Grammar Girl's easy explanation:

"Just remember the sentence I love you. I is the subject of the sentence. You is the object of the sentence and also the object of my affection. How’s that? You are the object of my affection and the object of my sentence. It’s like a Valentine’s Day card and grammar trick all rolled into one."

Two more examples:

Passive Sentence: The article was written by Sam Oh.

Active Sentence: Sam Oh wrote the article.

Passive voice can lead to awkward sentence structures and excessive words. Remember, as Sam Oh writes, the key is "per word value."

Choose Your Adverbs Wisely

Adverbs modify verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs--as in "Please run quickly," where "quickly" modifies the verb "run." In many cases, adverbs can seem redundant: "Please hurry quickly" is fairly ridiculous. That said, adverbs can spice up your prose. I'm seriously not joking! The key is to choose wisely. Too many adverbs and your writing feels awkward, even laborious.

The Hemingway App is a good tool for catching excessive adverbs and passive sentence constructions. 

For more simple writing tips, read: "How to Write Good Content"

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.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Why You Should Ignore SEO "Trend" Articles

A Google search for "2017 SEO Trends" yields an embarrassment of click-bait, including relatively innocuous titles like Top 5 SEO trends for 2017 from Google and the experts and 39 Experts Share Their Top 3 SEO Trends for 2017 and Beyond as well as a few titles that veer to pomp, 7 SEO Trends That Will Dominate 2017, and 3 Unstoppable SEO Trends To Look Out For In 2017.

Dominate. Unstoppable. To be sure, these articles offer valuable insights. Yet the click-bait nature of the headlines--and much of the content--is antithetical to organic SEO, which requires patience and clear-sighted, evidence-based strategizing.

Most of the trends discussed in these articles are not trends at all, but different ways of interpreting timeless SEO principles. The "unstoppable" article, for example, offers three "trends" that sound suspiciously familiar: "quality content," "personal branding," and "user experience," all long-time SEO staples.

To be fair, the author of this article, Sam Oh, tries to put a new spin on each. But his spin is misguided.

Speaking of "quality content," for example, Oh asks, "Have you ever noticed how in a given day, you can go to a dozen different websites and read the same content over and over with slightly different wording?"

Oh's question is anecdotal, of course, so we'll offer an anecdotal response: We have not noticed.

Yes, many sites write about similar topics, but the sites that rank write uniquely different content. Even then, Oh's point is well taken. So much content is similar enough. In response to this similarity, Oh believes, we've seen "the meteoric rise of long-form, detailed 'uber-guides' that cover topics in extensive (borderline excruciating) detail."

To explain "uber-guides," Oh links to an article by Neil Patel: "Why 3000+ Word Blog Posts Get More Traffic (A Data Driven Answer)."

Patel is one of the most prominent advocates of longform posts, generally considered by the SEO community to be the best way to attract traffic for any given keyword.

This was not always the case. In 2012, SERPIQ performed a much-quoted analysis that seemed to upend the conventional wisdom. As the Columbia Journalism Review noted in 2013:

"When readers started moving to the internet, media analysts thought longform journalism was in trouble. Attention spans were going to shrivel. Readers wanted short, they wanted snappy, they wanted 140 characters and not much more (though a listicle on the side couldn’t hurt). Who would want to scroll through an 8,000-word article on an iPhone screen?"

SERPIQ and others, like Moz, proved the opposite to be true: posts averaging 1,500 words (in Moz's estimates) and 2000+ words (in SERPIQ's estimates) performed best.

Since 2012, then, the SEO world has put much more emphasis on longform posts. Is longform a trend itself? Sam Oh seems to believe so. He sees today's content as a choice between two bad options.

"People are either subjected to bite sized remakes of the same boring filler that you have seen plastered across websites for the past several years," Oh writes, "or they are forced to endure guides and articles that are so long and drawn out that they make Tolstoy’s War and Peace look like a children’s bedtime story."

The solution, Oh believes, is "content density", which can be described as "per word value."

Like content length, keyword density is another hotly-debated SEO principle. How many keywords (compared to the total number of words) should you use for any given piece? Currently, the vogue is a relatively low density: maybe 1-3%. But keyword density is not what Oh is talking about. He's seemingly inventing a new term, "content density," to describe a meaningless concept.

"Even though you might write a 3,000 word article that explains all the nuances of Snapchat marketing," Oh writes, "the actual amount of value you deliver per-word might be very low. However, by providing denser content that is focused more on function than form, you can deliver the same value in only 300 words. Every major SEO authority agrees that 2017 will be the year where we see the rise of content density across the board. And this is a good thing. The world of content marketing is adapting its standards to the decreasing attention spans of the American populace, meaning that you get to spend less time writing and your audience gets to receive more value."

Nonsense. This is pure conjecture fueled by flim-flam. For example, what does Oh mean by "more function than form?" And how does this translate to delivering "the same value in only 300 words"?

And who are these "SEO authorities" Oh speaks of?

A quick Google search for "SEO content density" reveals a SERP full of articles on keyword density with one mention of "content density" from 2012. This is a far cry from "every major SEO authority." Surely Patel--the SEO authority--is not one of these authorities.

And can we please dispense with the myth of the "decreasing attention spans" of Americans? There is no verifiable proof this is the case.

Next week, we will provide an in-dept overview of what real "content density" might look like. Essentially, we'll take Oh's bait, and do his work for him. For now, though, we use his example here to illustrate the inanity of trend-based SEO click bait.

Our advice? Ignore it--all of it. Yes, there can be real value in these articles, but for the most part all SEO prognostications belie the true purpose of organic SEO: To be natural.

Ignore Trends: Embrace Timeless Organic SEO with Stepman's SEO 

If you're looking for an SEO company that understands how to effectively promote websites with timeless and durable SEO strategies, 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.