Thursday, April 27, 2017

The SEO Writer: Five Key Skills

What is the difference between a good copywriter and a good SEO writer?

A good copywriter possesses writing talent and marketing expertise. A good copywriter creates succinct, error-free content that broadcasts a specific message to a general audience.

A good SEO writer also possesses writing talent and marketing expertise. Yet the SEO writer's marketing expertise includes a knowledge of search engine algorithms. A good SEO writer creates succinct, error-free content that broadcasts a specific message to a specific online audience. Specificity is key--as we discus below.

The distinction is akin to the distinction between traditional marketing and digital marketing. Both aim to attract a specific audience. Traditional marketing, however, is at least one step removed from the audience. To attract a specific audience, traditional marketing broadcasts to a general audience.

Think billboards, radio ads, or newspaper circulars. Traditional marketing casts a wide net to amplify a message. Success is defined in several ways: by increasing brand awareness; improving brand image; or attracting a percentage of viewers to a certain product, service, or promotion.

Apple's famous "Think Different" campaign, which some credit with saving the company from financial ruin, is a perfect example of how traditional marketing, when performed correctly, can make a brand "deeply recognizably."

Apple's "Think Different" campaign [Photo Source]
Traditional marketing, then, focuses on macro-audiences (although the goal may be to engage only a percentage of that audience). Digital marketing, on the other hand, focuses on micro-audiences. The success of any digital marketing campaign is contingent on defining the best keywords for the given micro-audience, and creating relevant, engaging content for that audience.

More on keywords: How to Perform Keyword Research

More on good content: How to Write Good Content: What is Your Point?

Of course, when speaking about the quality of content, the distinctions between traditional marketing and digital marketing is unimportant.  The term "digital content," is a misnomer: The best content--in traditional and digital marketing--is defined by the quality of the writing itself.

However, successful online writing requires a distinctive set of knowledge and skills. A copywriter may or may not understand how to effectively attract an online audience. To attract a specific audience online, you need the talents of an SEO writer.

The SEO Writer: Five Key Skills 

A Good SEO Writer Will Research & Effectively Use Keywords

A good SEO writer can help you research and choose the best keywords for your product or service. If you are not certain how to define your product or service, keyword research can help you clarify your offering: Imagine you are Googling your product or service. What keywords would you type?

A good SEO writer will then use these keywords resourcefully to attract targeted attention to your site--attention that will lead to conversions. A copywriter may overlook the details that make a piece of content work for a search engine. A SEO writer, however, writes with a keen eye on attracting on online audience. By nature, this sort of work is succinct and precise--to the point.

More on conversions: How SEO and Conversion Rate Optimization Work Together to Inspire Sales

A Good SEO Writer Crafts Search Engine Friendly URLs and Title Tags and Meta Descriptions 

A page's URL (uniform resource locator) is it's web address. A fully-optimized web page will include a coherent, simple URL that can easily be identified by humans and search engines alike. Crafting a good URL is a deceptively simple practice perfected by the best SEO writers.

A title tag is displayed in search results as the title of a web page. Once you click on the page, the title tag may or may not be displayed at the top of the browser (Firefox does; Chrome does not). Title tags should be hyper-specific and relevant, yet not spammy--keywords must be used judiciously.

Meta tags are inserted into the “head” area of your web pages, and are used by search engines to accurately list your site in their indexes. Every page of your website must have unique meta tags. A good SEO writer optimizes your meta tags to accurately describe the content of your page.

A Good SEO Writer Uses Structure to His/Her Advantage 

Many writers are enamored with their own work--to the detriment of the writing. A good SEO writer is a great writer, first, but he or she also understands that SEO requires structure.

Good SEO writers get finicky about details that other writers overlook--details that might supersede the writer's natural inclinations. A good SEO writer, for example, understands the importance of the appropriate number of words, keywords, and links as well as paragraph and article length.

For a view into the finicky side of SEO writing, read Neil Patel's article How Long Should Each Blog Post Be? A Data Driven Answer.

For more on content length and "content density": SEO Content Density: How to Write Like a Pro

A Good SEO Writer Composes Effective Links

The link above (for Neil Patel's article) precisely describes the nature of the link. Many copywriters create articles with arbitrary links ("click here") that have little to do with the actual content of the link.

To optimize a link, a good SEO writer creates a precise description of the link's contents. Just like URLs, title tags, and meta tags, this precise description allows the search engine to understand and "index" the link.

Again, an effective link description is a deceptively simple task, yet the best SEO writers have learned the value of outbound links, and how to effectively maximize this value.

A Good SEO Writer Chooses Relevant Images and Composes Effective Image Tags 

By now, you might have noticed several themes. First, every aspect of a page needs to be optimized, from the text to the tags. Second, SEO writers are not simply adept at writing--the best SEO writers perfect writing as well as the technical and design aspects of SEO, including keyword research, URL and tag composition, and structure.

Choosing the perfect image for your content requires an eye for design; writing the perfect description requires SEO knowledge and writing chops. In a way, image optimization synthesizes the skills of a good SEO writer.

For more on image optimization: How to Optimize Images for Search Engines

This photograph of a person wearing a Cookie Monster costume, by Klaus Pichler, is an all-time favorite. To optimize this image, offer the most salient details: Klaus Pichler, Cookie Monster 
SEO Writing with Stepman's SEO 

Stepman's SEO understands how to effectively promote websites with good content. To learn more about how 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, call: 215-900-9398.

Friday, April 21, 2017

What is Content Marketing?

In a recent survey of senior UK marketers, 92% admitted to not knowing how to run a content marketing campaign. Only 6% felt "definitely clear" about content marketing practices. The grandly titled "The State of Content Marketing Survey," which Moz cited earlier this month, nevertheless noted that 70% of the same respondents plan to increase content marketing spending in 2017.

These varying numbers obviously reveal a colossal disconnect between content marketing knowledge and spending. The rest of the survey substantiates this view, which is mind-boggling considering the recent popularity of content marketing.

"Incredible, isn't it?" asks Simon Penson on Moz, who called the numbers "eye-popping."

Content Marketing has been a hot trend since 2015, at least judging by the press (here, here, and here, too). This recent popularity, however, smacks of The Emperor's New Clothes: So many believe in the importance of content marketing yet so few understand what content marketing means.

This misunderstanding is likely due, in part, to jargon; too often so-called experts confuse new marketing tools, whether content marketing or long-tail keyword research, with esoteric explanations. Moz is a prime culprit of jargon, though Penson's article is articulate and straightforward.

So what is content marketing? In reality, content marketing is as old as marketing itself. What is marketing if not the marketing of some form of content? In traditional marketing, the product itself--its packaging, its suggested use, its name--is the content. What makes content marketing new, if anything, is an emphasis on content that is independent from the product.

Andy Warhol understood that product is content. [Source]
Content marketing is most readily seen today in brands who write blogs. Penson points to Scotts Menswear as "one of the best blog strategies." Recently, we've enjoyed the blog of the direct-to-consumer clothing brand, Grana, which writes thoughtful posts about fabrics, style, and even the gender pay gap, an important issue for Grana's core customers, who value fair wages.

Another post attempts to explain why most brands t-shirts are a "Lying Sack of Price Tags": "Sometimes, you can find t-shirts for less than a slice of pizza and in other times you can find t-shirts that cost more than your monthly car loan."
For us, Grana's content marketing was convincing: We purchased a few t-shirts for a modest sum, $15, and we love them!

From fabric to pricing, Grana attempts to tell the story of its t-shirts with strategic content marketing.
Looking to brands like Scotts and Grana offers a perfect view of how to perform content marketing. Grana, especially, follows the advice of Penson to offer constant content: "No content plan is complete unless it's based around delivering content consistently."

Really, it's that simple. This is why the stats from "The State of Content Marketing Survey" seem so eye-popping. What's not to understand?

Content Marketing: A Brief History

Despite its recent popularity, Content Marketing has a lineage (according to Wikipedia), dating back at least to 1996:

"The phrase 'content marketing' was used as early as 1996, when John F. Oppedahl led a roundtable for journalists at the American Society for Newspaper Editors. In 1998, Jerrell Jimerson held the title of 'director of online and content marketing' at Netscape. In 1999, author Jeff Cannon wrote, 'In content marketing, content is created to provide consumers with the information they seek.'"

Today, if you Google the definition, you'll likely see the term defined by the lofty-sounding Content Marketing Institute: "Content marketing is the marketing and business process for creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action."

Content Marketing & SEO

With all the talk of content marketing, not to mention the social media admonitions so familiar to small business owners--"You're not on Facebook? You have to get on Facebook!"--you can't blame a small business owner for thinking content marketing is the key to success. In fact, many brands do create constant content.

The problem, however, is that too many brands focus exclusively on "content" to the detriment of "marketing."

As Jayson DeMers wrote at Forbes:

"If you’re a savvy marketer, you’re already actively engaging in content marketing. Unfortunately, many business owners are so focused on the creation of their content that they’re forgetting the marketing component of the equation. After all, what good is amazing content if nobody knows about it?"

We applaud the recent emphasis on content, yet like Mr. DeMers, we worry too much content is created and shared in a vacuum. What good is your website's content, for example, if the site itself has not been optimized for search engines?

When ranking a site, Google evaluates many elements--from content to design. In fact, some speculate that Google uses over 200 signals to rank a website. Yet despite the increasing relevance of content marketing, many small business owners view search engine optimization as an incidental process--one that, by nature, comes gift-wrapped with each piece of content.

"Oh," we've heard countless times, "my website designer is taking care of that." In fact, that "that" is not necessarily "taken care of" by your website designer. A website designer should be literate in SEO, but this is not always the case.

It's not, in fact, as simple as James Earl Jones would have it in his famous line from Field of Dreams.

If you build it, he will come.
Put another way, the content marketing proselytizers might say: "If you create it, he will come."

Not so fast. Not all website developers build search engine-friendly sites, and if a site cannot be easily discovered by search engines, it is invisible, a high-priced business card.

Before content marketing, then, think organic SEO. Make sure your site is optimized for the major search engines. And then optimize each new piece of content to match.

Content Marketing with Stepman's PC 

If you're looking for an SEO company that understands how to effectively build and promote websites, 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, April 14, 2017

Local SEO: Why Online Reviews Matter

Moz recently released the 2017 Local Search Rankings Factors Survey, a review of the opinions of 40 local SEO experts. Since its inception, in 1998, the survey has been a go-to resource for local SEO campaigns--and now, after a year off, the survey offers fresh opinions on the state of local search and local SEO.

That said, the #1 local ranking factor, according to this year's survey, has seemingly little to do with SEO efforts: Proximity of Address to the Point of Search.

In one sense, the prominence of this factor makes perfect sense. Imagine you're driving through an unfamiliar town, and you need a gas station. Your search for "gas station" will reveal the closest station in proximity to your current location. That's helpful.

In another sense, the prominence of this factor seems misguided, especially considering Google's perennial emphasis on quality and relevance. Proximity "leads to poor results in most categories," the survey's author, Darren Shaw notes. "I’m looking for the best lawyer in town, not the closest one."

In reality, most people don't care about the best gas station in town. When you need gas, you need gas. But for most other local businesses, like lawyers, car repair shops, and hair salons, people do want the best in town. Proximity is negligible when the difference between a sub-par shop and an excellent shop is a few miles.

So Shaw argues for a concerted local SEO effort, and for good reason:

"While Proximity of Address to the Point of Search is playing a stronger role than ever in the rankings, it’s certainly not the only factor impacting rankings. Businesses with higher relevancy and prominence will rank in a wider radius around their business and take a larger percentage of the local search pie. There’s still plenty to be gained from investing in local search strategies."

Among these strategies, the survey lists some clear SEO winners. As Search Engine Land notes in its review of the survey: "links and reviews are hot."

Of course, we know that links are one of Google's top three ranking factors, so your local SEO link-building efforts may not differ from the efforts of a national or international marketing campaign. The key for all websites is links from other, reputable websites: "Don't Build Links--Inspire Links."

As Joshua Steimle wrote in Forbes:

"The right way to build high quality links is to not build them at all, but instead, earn them naturally. Natural links are earned by creating great content that people want to link to."

Beyond links, however, customer reviews are more specific to local SEO, and can be influenced by a concerted marketing campaign.

Car repair shops have always survived by the word-of-mouth of locals; today, the word-of-mouth is online, and accessible to the world.
Good Online Reviews: Local SEO Gold

BrightLocal recently published its annual "Local Consumer Review Survey."

Here, in BrightLocal's words, are the key findings from the survey:
  • 84% of people trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation 
  • 7 out of 10 consumers will leave a review for a business if they're asked to 
  • 90% of consumers read less than 10 reviews before forming an opinion about a business 
  • 54% of people will visit the website after reading positive reviews 
  • 73% of consumers think that reviews older than 3 months are no longer relevant 
  • 74% of consumers say that positive reviews make them trust a local business more 
  • 58% of consumers say that the star rating of a business is most important
To us, the key takeaway here, obviously, is that for local businesses (like car repair shops) online reviews can make or brake (pun intended) local marketing efforts.You can boost your website with SEO, but if your local reviews do not reflect a good customer experience--well, your SEO efforts may be a waste of time.

This is a key lesson many local websites fail to grasp--at first.

SEO can only take a local business so far. Optimization can increase traffic to a website--and to a brick-and-mortar business. But it is up to the business to ensure a quality customer service experience.

If you sell a 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:
  1. Do you really sell a quality product at the right price?
  2. Do you excel in customer service?
If not, now might not be the best time to perform website optimization. It is a simple equation: SEO drives traffic, and potential customers, to your site. Why drive more potential customers to your site, if you're bound to disappoint the customers?

Do you love your customers? If so, treat them like you do! [Photo Source]
If you do sell a high quality product at the right price, and you do have a few bad online reviews, do not despair.

As the survey above notes, "73% of consumers think that reviews older than 3 months are no longer relevant." Most bad reviews are customer service-related.  If you currently have a one- or two-star review, you can improve your online reputation by improving your customer service.

The first, obvious step: Treat people kindly. Treat each customer as if he/she were your most valuable customer. After all, you never know who might write your next review.


Beyond reviews, for more information on how to improve your local SEO, read: "Local SEO: Tips for Online and Brick and Mortar Success."

A Unique Internet Marketing Company: Stepman's SEO
The information offered in this post is not typical of most Internet marketing companies. What separates Stepman's SEO from its competitors is a focus on human beings. Website optimization is not simply about codes and content--it is about understanding the motivations of actual people. If you want to speak to an SEO company with intelligence and empathy, call Stepman's SEO now: 215-900-9398.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Voice-Based Technology: How to Adapt Your SEO Efforts to Digital Assistants

Siri was met with contempt when she was introduced to the iPhone, in 2011. Don't believe the Wikipedia article, which falsely claims, without any attributions, "Siri was met with critical acclaim for its ease of use and practicality, as well as its apparent 'personality.'"

In fact, as Jay Yarow wrote for Business Insider in September 2012, "Apple's voice-activated personal assistant Siri has been trashed pretty thoroughly since its arrival last year."

In another article about Siri, Yarow refers to a Fortune article about Tim Cook, which cites an employee, who said, "People are embarrassed by Siri ... Steve [Jobs] would have lost his mind over Siri."

Meanwhile, writing for The New York Times, tech writer, Nick Bilton, famously ended his romance with Siri, citing her inability to answer questions--a supposed core functions. Even then, in his article Bilton embraced Google's Voice Search, which was available on Android phones, and according to Bilton, was "a much better listener."

Like Siri at the time, Google Voice was in an "upstart" phase--and Amazon's now-famous Alexa was still a few years from a release date. However, since 2012, Siri voice-based technologies have become more intuitive, easier to use, and more helpful.

In 2015, The Times called the latest iPhone software update (iOS 9), which included a hands-free Siri, "An Omen of the Future," and Farhad Manjoo argued that Siri was poised to become a crucial part of our everyday lives:

"The new Siri is paving the way to what you might call 'ambient computing' — a future in which robotic assistants are always on hand to answer questions, take notes, take orders or otherwise function as auxiliary brains to whom you might offload many of your chores."

To facilitate this form of "assistance," the new Siri was able to respond to commands voiced from several feet away. The Times noted that this "hands free" technology was not new, yet with Siri, Apple improved its potential resourcefulness:

"In iOS 9...Siri also has more powers to connect to deeper parts of your phone. It can control devices compatible with Apple’s home-automation system, called HomeKit — you can tell it to turn down the lights, for example. Siri also controls Apple Music, the company’s new streaming service. In the car, say, 'Hey, Siri, play Dylan,' and up comes 'Subterranean Homesick Blues'."

The times they are a-changing -Bob Dylan
Of course, since then, Amazon's Alexa, has dominated the voice-based marketplace, and digital home assistants are now the rage--effectively leaving Siri in the dust. As Brian Deagon recently reported for, Amazon's Alexa and Google's home assistant, Google Home, are in a "race for dominance" in this hot consumer category:

"Both devices are voice-activated speaker systems connected to the internet that can answer a multitude of questions, play music on request, read books, tell jokes, provide weather and traffic information, and much more."

Why have digital home assistants succeeded even as the first wave of phone-based assistants seemingly failed? Perhaps it's context. Business Insider cited a study last year that found most people "feel uncomfortable talking to their tech in public."

Voice-Based Technology and SEO

The emergence of voice-based technology has been predicted for years (first, of course, in science fiction), and recently in a major algorithm update from Google, which was made, in part, to accommodate the increase in voice-based searches, which tend to be longer and more complex.

This new algorithm was a nod to the ubiquity of mobile phones. Increasingly, we know, most of the worldwide online experience is conducted on mobile devices, a fact we've covered exhaustively in the past.

As the experience of search changes, at home and on the streets, the nature of search--how and why--changes. Good SEO specialists maintain pace with the changes, adapting websites as needed to ensure optimum rankings. Keeping pace is an SEO specialist's job. Yet the best SEO minds attempt to do more--to keep ahead of the pace. Practically speaking, this means watching the news, reading articles, and making informed predictions.

Even then, it is not hard to see how the prevalence of voice-based technology will change SEO. Single word keywords will become irrelevant as searchers voice precisely what they want with longer, more complex demands.

Again, from The Times:

"A host of start-ups are entering the game, too. One, called SoundHound, offers a taste of the possibilities of talking to machines: Rather than going through several sites to make a hotel reservation, you can ask, “Find me a three- or four-star hotel in New York next Friday for less than $300,” and off it goes."

The vital challenge for any website is clear: More than ever, a website must fulfill a specific need. A simple way to think about a marketing campaign, then, is to ask: What need does your website fulfill?

Instead of defining your product with a few keywords, you must now work hard to anticipate your potential customer's questions--and to answer them with good content. To create new content, start with a question in mind--and then answer that question precisely. Anticipate the voice-based search that makes your website relevant.

Long-Tail Keywords: The New Search Paradigm

The sort of queries we're referring to here are "long tail keywords."

Although short keywords drive traffic to your site, long-tail queries account for more total impressions. Simply put, with the emergence of voice-based technology, people are using long-tail keywords more often.

Yet since long-tail searches are so specific, you may have a harder time discovering the best long-tail keywords for your content. But long-tail keywords must be a part of your optimization campaign. Why?
  1. Ad campaigns for long-tail keywords have less competition so they cost less.
  2. Long-tail keywords increase conversion rates by attracting real customers to your precise product or service. 
  3. Long-tail keywords are a by-product of good content; if you write excellent content, you will not have a hard time discovering the best long-tail keywords; your content will do the work for you.
As we note above, long-tail keywords attempt to answer browser's specific questions--the type often asked of digital assistants like Siri, Alexa, and Google Home.

So ask yourself: What is my ideal customer looking for? Or: What question does my product or service answer?

This information on long-tail keywords is adapted from our keyword post, which discusses both short and long-tail keywords.

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