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How to Market to Gen Z Without Social Media

For years, social media has been a critical communication channel. While many marketers believe they’d never see the day, the reality is that social media use is on the decline. Teens and young adults have been on social media since the advent of Facebook, the beginning of Twitter, and the invention of several other channels including Pinterest and Snapchat… so it stands to reason they’d stay there, right? Wrong.

The day has come. Social media usage is down.

What the Numbers Say

Convince & Convert recently analyzed findings from The Social Habit study which is a yearly report from Edison Research and Triton Digital. When you compare data from the 2017 study to data from the 2019 study, the findings are quite shocking.

The study found that Americans aged 12 to 34 have changed the way they’re using social media:

  • Facebook usage dropped from 79% to 62% between 2017 and 2019.
  • Twitter usage dropped from 36% to 29%
  • Pinterest usage dropped from 36% to 31%
  • LinkedIn usage dropped from 23% to 21%
  • Snapchat is the only social network with stable usage which neither grew and are declined between 2017 and 2019
  • Instagram is the only Social Network that has registered growth within the demographic. Usage has increased from 64% in 2017 to 66% in 2019

With social media usage falling among Millennials and Generation Z, marketers are faced with challenges.

How do marketers keep the attention of this major consumer group without using social media as a crutch? How do marketers continue to earn loyalty when more and more of them are pulling away from the major channels used for valuable interactions?

Keeping Loyalty from Young Customers Without Social Media

Ads are Irrelevant. Pushy Sales Pitches are Done

Imagine for a second that social media doesn’t exist at all. There are still plenty of ways to attract young consumers and engage them while pulling them into you are devoted audience. Sales isn’t one of them. Millennials are a tough crowd to entice with sale and if you push for a sale you’re likely not to get it because most Millennials are immune to ads and traditional sales.

A study from eMarketer shows that 66% of Millennials prefer shopping online compared to buying in store. The digital shopping experience is independent self-directed and much less straightforward than buying in store but both Millennials and Generation Z prefer it. Their preferred buying journey is wildly unpredictable. They ignore sales pitches and traditional ads and seek companies that authentic and actively engage with them.

So if you’re thinking of using a traditional marketing strategy with ads to get young consumers think again.

Keep it Mobile-Friendly

According to Think with Google, two-thirds of customers are more likely to make a purchase when visiting a mobile-friendly site. Considering 61% of them will leave a site if it’s not responsive, making sure your website is mobile-friendly is critical to keeping the younger generations’ attention.

If your site is not mobile friendly, you will automatically lose with the younger generation regardless of how great your content, offers, or products are. Help keep them engaged with a great user experience, design and mobile responsiveness as the base of your strategy.

Remain Transparent and Authentic

Millennials and Generation Z expect the brands they support to be transparent, honest, and authentic. A recent study found that authenticity is what matters most to Generation Z. Two-thirds of them said being true to their values and beliefs is what makes a brand or person stand out.

Building that trust and authenticity into your brand persona and reputation means you must create great content based on the human’s you hire and serve.

Focus on Building Trust and Loyalty

Offering stellar content is one thing but a one-off piece every so often isn’t enough to prove your worth. You must also tie that great content to user intent and produce a consistently. That’s the only way to build your reputation as trustworthy.

Answer the questions your buyer asks at every stage of the marketing lifecycle. Do it with expertise and excellence.

The marketing lifecycle is based on four stages. Each stage connect to different types of content that will help build trust and loyalty at that particular stage.

  1. Awareness is the first stage. It includes the informational search intent where the buyer is aware of their problem and searching for answers. at this stage, you need to focus on creating inbound SEO content and guides that are packed with information as well as leave magnets.
  2. The second stage is interest and intent. This is associated with  investigative search intent. At this point, the buyer understands the information and solution they need and they are looking for the right option. For this stage, you need a website with clear navigation and calls to actions, leave magnets that are centered on your core mission, ebooks that demonstrate your expertise, and case studies or white papers that show your client success stories.
  3. The third stage is where the customer makes their decision. This is transactional search intent where buyers know exactly what they want and are ready to commit. You need user or customer generated content in the stage in the form of testimonials and reviews. You may also need work samples or demonstration depending on your company.
  4. The final stage is loyalty. This is associated with mainly navigational search intense because the buyer knows you, likes you, and is looking for your brand online. But it can also be associated with other kinds of intent. At this stage, you need to create new product announcements, content with high informational value, and content than maintains your high standards.

Email Marketing is Still Effective

Despite the fact that we’ve been hearing for many years that email marketing is dead, it is very much alive and remains one of the most effective ways to reach your audience regardless of age. Millennials especially rely on email as a pillar for communication.

A recent study indicates that 73% of Millennials and 68% of Generation Z prefer to hear from brands through their email boxes. The key is to create engaging emails that are creative. make it authentic, fun, and upfront. Don’t rely on fancy and flashy designs so you can use them. Focus on your voice, style, and the information you offer.

Ultimately, it is the value you provide at all touch-points that determines whether or not you earn and keep your audience’s attention. As long as you are being real, staying mobile-friendly, and providing consistent value without falling into the pushy sales trap, you will be able to win over today’s Young Generation of customers with or without the use of social media.

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Bad for Business: Canonical Negative SEO Attacks

Settle in and get ready to take notes – this is important information for every digital marketer and online business. There may be a new negative SEO attack in town, and this time, it has the ability to seriously hamper SEO campaigns for even the most upstanding website owners. Known informally as “canonical negative SEO,” what makes the exploit so concerning is its near-impossibility to detect.

I expect that Google will eventually close this loophole. In the meantime, here’s what you need to know to keep yourself protected.

Canonical Basics From Google

Before we get into the how’s and why’s of canonical negative SEO attacks, it’s important to understand exactly what “canonical” means and how it applies to you. If you’re an SEO expert or marketer, you may already understand the basics; if so, feel free to skip ahead to the next section.

If you aren’t, or if you’re just getting started as a layperson, here’s what canonical is (and what it is does). “Canonical” is an HTML tag used by webmasters to tell search engines, like Google and Bing, that the content they’ve crawled is identical to other pages on or off the site. It essentially prevents web crawlers from double-indexing the same page multiple times, which can be interpreted as duplicate content even if the duplicate pages have a real purpose and use.

Webmasters must first choose the preferred page and then insert a link that looks like this into the header:

<link rel=”canonical” href=”http://example.com/blog/your-blog/”>

The link, of course, is the main page you want to indicate is “preferred” for crawlers.

Rel=canonical does not apply to visitors, so you don’t need to worry about your visitors needing to choose a preferred version. If you do choose to provide access to multiple versions (such as languages), there are other much clearer ways to provide access. This tag is specifically targeted to search engines.

When Should You Use Rel=Canonical?

There are a few very specific reasons webmasters would use rel=canonical, and moreover, would have duplicate pages on a website or network in the first place. The most common use here is on websites that allow pages to render under both www.example.com and http://example.com. The first gives a bit more DNS flexibility, while the second doesn’t carry advantage, but many webmasters allow both just in case visitors type in the wrong link.

Other instances when you might (or should) use rel=canonical include:

  1. When your content is syndicated over your network
  2. When you have pages in more than one language
  3. When multiple pages display the same content (e.g., product search)
  4. When you have a specific print-friendly or PDF downloadable page
  5. When two or more subdomains lead to the same content (e.g., webshops)
  6. Any other time two pages are identical, yet one should be the main focus

 

When you use rel=canonical, it essentially tells google the page you link to is the only page that matters. This influences rank by weakening the influence of non-canonical pages.

Which brings us to how people may be using this trend in negative SEO…

How Marketers Abuse Canonical Links

So, how exactly can unscrupulous marketers abuse canonical links? After all, if they could use them in such a way, wouldn’t Google have locked down this decades-old loophole long ago?

The theory here is that another webmaster can essentially just copy the entire header, including the rel=canonical tag itself, and paste it into a self-generated spam website page. Because rel=canonical combines rank scores for multiple pages, the search engine may count the spam page as a qualifier, dropping rank scores for the attacked page.

Even more frighteningly, there’s virtually no way to find pages using the same header or rel=canonical tag as yourself. So, if someone were to utilize this concept, you would most likely only find out once you see your scores dropping.

Wait – Are Canonical Attacks Real?

There are two schools of thought in this answer: yes, they’re real, and more people are using them than we think, and yes, they’re real, but it’s a weak tactic few webmasters would use. Either way, the potential for rel=canonical to be abused does exist, and that means you should protect yourself from it whenever you can.

As for Google, they spoke out about this specific issue – and unfortunately, they’re refusing to acknowledge it thus far. Most of their response seems to be that if it was going to happen, it would have happened already. But this hasn’t stopped webmasters from abusing other older strategies in the past, like XML.

The Problem With Cross-Site Negative SEO

Cross-site negative SEO does happen. While this specific strategy isn’t the most common, the potential for how it might be used is concerning enough that you should consider it if you can’t figure out why your rank is dropping. Unfortunately, it’s far from the only cross-site negative SEO attack out there.

The biggest problem in negative SEO attacks is malicious link-building at the hands of competitors. Black hat SEOs will take a website’s url and manually list it on known link building scheme networks, directories, and other websites on Google’s list of “known manipulation tactics.” That’s why Google created their disavow links tool.

Theoretically, if someone was abusing rel=canonical to attack you, and you identified the site, you could simply disavow it. What isn’t yet clear is how you should identify it or even if it’s enough of a problem to really even be concerned.

In terms of “negative SEO,” the much bigger concern for today’s businesses isn’t linkbuilding schemes or even rel=canonical; it’s hacking and/or reputation destruction. It takes only a single insecure, out-of-date WordPress plugin or weak FTP password to lead to a deleted site (or worse, adult content all over your PG pages). And a competitor can easily file fake reviews slamming you anywhere from YELP to Google Reviews.

The biggest takeaway from all this is what SEO needs to be wholistic, meaning you shouldn’t over-focus on any one aspect of your campaign. And you shouldn’t even really over-focus on negative attacks; instead, strive to engage in positive, honest strategies that foster real, organic relationships with your audience. Not only will you improve your growth, but that growth will endure over time, too, unlike other unscrupulous tactics.

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News Feeds vs. Stories: What Marketers and Business Owners Should Focus On

When it comes to marketing, the only thing that’s certain is that the future waits for no one. Just when you were starting to get used to the status quo, something comes along that completely uproots all your established tactics and techniques.

If you’ve been a part of the marketing world for any amount of time, you’ve probably noticed just how quickly the rules of engagement can change. Evolution is the name of the game, and the argument could be made that your ability to update your marketing strategies will directly correlate to how successful your marketing efforts will be in the long run.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the world of social media. Despite social media’s status as one of the pillars of most small business marketing strategies, there’s no getting around the fact that the social media landscape is still shifting every day.

Case and point: the relationship between users, News Feeds and Stories. The way your audience is consuming information is changing as we speak. And the longer you wait to recognize this shift in culture, the more money you and your business are leaving on the table.

News Feeds

Before we decide whether or not the News Feed is still worth investing time and money into in 2017, it’s important that we understand exactly what role the News Feed plays in our current social media ecosystem.

Right off the bat, it’s important to recognize that the News Feed wasn’t built for the mobile. The News Feed was originally designed for the desktop, and its inspiration can be seen in every manifestation.

As a desktop experience, the News Feed was designed as a place where users could share text-oriented statuses, links to other websites and even entire photo albums. As far as it pertains to social media, it’s no wonder that this was such a success. Having unprecedented access to an ever-expanding central hub like this sounds pretty appealing.

No matter what you’re building content for, the strategy ends up being pretty simple. Anticipate how users are used to consuming content on a particular platform. Then, figure out how much time the user will be willing to dedicate to the consumption of your content. The arena in which you’re marketing matters just as much as what kind of content you’re promoting.

If you were building content for a News Feed, you had quite a bit of freedom. Visual media was always an option, with both photos and videos performing well, but you could just as easily dive into text-based marketing. Platforms like Facebook and Twitter were built with this in mind, and the right text-based content could perform even better than visual media, depending on your audience.

But that was then. Now, the social media industry has taken a turn. For example, Facebook counts 1.28 billion daily users, with over 1 billion of those users on mobile. Guided by the changing needs of the average user, social media has embraced the mobile movement and has redefined what it means to operate via social.

The mobile generation has taken over. And with that change in regime comes a new focus for social media users. Text-based sharing is still being used, but the mobile user seems to have a different set of priorities.

But don’t take our word for it. All you have to do is consider the trends in UGC (user-generated content) and you’ll notice a pretty obvious pattern. Platforms like Facebook? They’ve noticed a significant drop in UGC, likely due to the fact that their entire platform was initially designed with a desktop (and text) in mind.

The future is here, whether we like it or not. Acknowledging this shift in culture is likely to be the only way that platforms like Facebook can get back on track with users, something that Facebook themselves clearly noticed. With the launch of Facebook Stories, it became clear that no platform was safe from this inevitable shift.

None of this is to say that the beloved News Feed has become obsolete. The vertical feed is how most people are used to consuming content, and Instagram certainly hasn’t strayed too far from that. When it comes to long form, in-depth content, vertical feeds are still dominating. It’s just that Stories give social a new dimension that doesn’t just feel fresh – it feels truly engaging.

Stories

At this point, some of you might be looking at this and thinking that the popularity of stories has been greatly exaggerated. Sure, some people are using stories now, but it’s hardly a ‘shift in culture’, right?

The reality of the situation is that this shift isn’t just going to happen down the line. Stories are becoming some of the most impactful forms of content out today. Remember how we said that Facebook’s UGC had dropped in the last year? Well, platforms like Instagram and Snapchat, which focus on visual media (and more specifically, stories) are experiencing growth in that same sector. Why do you think Facebook created Facebook Stories in the first place?

And it makes sense that platforms choosing to focus on visual media experience the growth in UGC. Visual content simplifies the consumption process for users in a massive way. Consider what users have to do to consume and create content through a News Feed. Creating the content is easy enough, but consumption? That’s much less engaging.

The content they’re after has to be hunted down. Finding content you like means scrolling down into the unknown. Which would be great if every single piece of content was engaging, but that’s not the case. Users usually have to plow through quite a posts to get what they’re after. Plus, the experience rarely feels ‘integrated’. Having to double tap or visit another page slows down the consumption process, something that most consumers don’t want to deal with 24/7.

Stories bring something new to the social media experience. For starters, they make visual media the priority. The camera is a long way away from replacing keyboards (something that’s unlikely to ever happen), but stories ensure that content will always be easy to consume. Photos and videos take seconds to witness, and yet they can tell our followers everything they need to know. Sometimes even more effectively than a text-based post can.

And that’s where the real appeal of stories lies. Creation and consumption have never been easier. Within seconds, you can document anything from a major event to the behind-the-scenes of your business. Followers don’t have to sift through hours of content to find yours either. They can scroll over and find you within seconds. But it get’s better. Checking out stories is the equivalent of users clicking on your profile. They’ll have access to everything you’ve posted that day and be able to consume it instantly.

Of course, all of this presents a glaring issue: if you’ve struggled to produce regular content before, how are you supposed to create brand new, engaging content every single day? Plus, now you have to deal with it disappearing afterward?

Forget about the fact that the 24 hour time limit is likely helping your content by giving it a sense of urgency that it’s never had before. There’s actually a simple solution to the issue of creating new content, all it demands a bit of guess-and-check.

Let’s consider Instagram, for now. The most important thing to keep in mind is that stories give you the freedom to be more candid with your marketing efforts. Authenticity is a valuable commodity here, and shouldn’t be something you shy away from. Use this time to experiment with different ideas and see what people are responding to.

If you’re still not excited about the prospect of disposable content, here’s a quick fix. Essentially, you save every piece of content you create for your story. Then anything that performs exceptionally well (or you deem worth saving) gets reposted on the actual profile, where everyone can enjoy it forever.

Stories aren’t the end of new feeds… they’re the beginning of the mobile-social revolution.

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What Your Competitors Can Teach You About SEO

The competition isn’t all bad. Of course you want to do better than they are doing, but the competition is a wealth of valuable information. When you know what to do with it, you can get your business started off on the right foot. And even if you’ve been in business for a long time, keeping an eye on what the competition is doing is necessary to ensure you don’t lose your edge. New businesses pop up all the time, and any of of them could be either a direct or indirect competitor for you.

Finding Your Real Competition

Your competition includes any website or organization that you’re competing with for traffic and visibility. It doesn’t necessarily mean your products and services are exactly the same, or even similar.

I know you’ve got at least one competitor you can name right now off the top of your head, but ideally your list should contain five to 10. They should be in your industry and serve the same geographical rea.

A great place to start is Google itself. Search using the keywords you’re hoping to rank for, and see which results come up on the first page. Then, do it again in other major search engines like Yahoo and Bing. Compare the results.

Setup Google Alerts to get updates on any competing products and services, and get notifications when people are mentioning your business online. They can also help you keep up with industry news.

Turn to industry association directories to find other businesses in your niche.

Once you have your list of competitors, it’s time to dig in. If you really want to go into detail, you could perform an in-depth competitive analysis.

Which Websites to Target for Backlinks

Search engines pay attention to which sites are linking to yours – and the more high quality relevant sites you have linking to yours, the better your rank tends to be. When you’re just starting out, it can be hard to know where to go for the right links to really boost your ranking, right? Wrong. With a backlink analysis, you can find out exactly which sites are linking to your competition. If you can get links from those sites, too, you’ll stand a better chance competing against them. Though having links from the same sites as your competitor is a good place to start, it won’t always be enough to outrank them, since several other factors are part of where a site ranks in Google. That means you’ll have to develop a plan to get more backlinks than the competition.

Start by running a report on each of the competitors you want to learn from. Ahrefs is a good backlink checker, but it’s not the only one out there. Other options include: SEMRush, Majestic, and Open Site Explorer.

When you run your competitor’s domain through any of these tools, you’ll get a list of the domains that are linking to them. Save the list, so you can approach each website with a request for a backlink. A word of caution, however. If you want them to link to you – you need to be sure you have quality content for them to link to.

The Kind of Content That’s Resonating with Your Audience

This of course only works if you’re targeting the same audience, but chances are you will be. Reading your competition’s website and blog can be a wonderful way to see what the audience is responding to.

What topics are they writing about that are getting them engagement? Look at the number of likes and comments – because people are taking the time to say or do something in response to the content.

Though it is never a guarantee that taking what you learn from your competition will be effective with your approach, it is better than starting from nowhere. Learning from their mistakes can help make your website more successful from the start.

You can also use a tool like BuzzSumo to see the most popular content on any domain – or in any niche. Search the competition, one URL at a time, to see what is doing well with their readership. You can also search the niche to get some new topic ideas to cover on your own blog.

Which Keywords are Working

Once you’ve determined the keywords that are most relevant to your business, you can start looking at who else is ranking for those terms. Use SEMRush to see which keywords your competition’s website is ranking for organically.

Compare this to your list of keywords you want to try to target, because you may find other opportunities you weren’t aware of before. Knowing which keywords are bringing in the traffic help you know which ones you need to go after first. Sometimes, you’ll find the competition is so stiff on a phrase that you need to shift your efforts

How Large Your Website Needs to Be

The size of your website matters. The more pages you have with useful content, the more there is to earn links to, and the more chances you have to end up in the search results. Typically, the larger a website is, the better, but of course this only holds true if your pages are providing some kind of value to the audience. If you don’t really need the pages, don’t add them simply for the sake of inflating the size of your website.

But, think about the size of your website relative to the size of your competition. If your site is much smaller than your competitors, you will have trouble ranking as well as they do. So, take time to look at their sitemaps and learn about the total number of pages they have, so you can get an idea of how large your site needs to be.

Keep in mind, if they’ve been up and running longer and posting on their blog regularly, they’ll naturally have a larger site because each post is its own page. This means you’ll need to come up with a plan to do the same.

What Your Blog Strategy Should Be

Does the competition have a blog? How often are they posting? How long has it been since they published the last time? You’ll want to craft a strategy that gives your audience a steady flow of useful content, but that your business can sustain.

How to Compete Against Their Social Strategy

It’s tough work to create an effective social media strategy, especially if you’re brand new and the competition’s been busy at work for a while. That’s exactly why you have to stalk them to see what they’ve been doing, and learn what works for them. They at least share one common goal with you – driving traffic from their social activity to their website.

Pay attention to what they are doing and learn from their mistakes as you build your strategy. As long as you’re not copying their strategy and content, you can mimic their behaviors to improve your own social signals, and by extension, your SEO efforts.

How Much Attention to Pay to Your Website

Okay so, maybe they can’t teach you exactly how often you should be checking on your website, but they can at least give you an idea of how long its been since they’ve done something to theirs. Google is in the business of pleasing their users (searchers) so they’re always looking for the freshest (newest) and most relevant content for any phrase. If your competition hasn’t posted to their blog in six months, or has a slew of broken links, then they’re obviously not paying as much attention to their website as they need to be.

But if you notice your competition doesn’t have a single broken link, and has routinely posted on their blog at least once a week for the last year, you know you’ll need to do a bit more to stay on top of your website. You’ll need to factor regularly posting on your blog (which you should be doing anyway!) into your strategy, because if your competition is blogging all the time and you’re not – they’re ahead of you in the game.

This doesn’t mean if they’re posting three times a week you have to post five, necessarily. You can, of course, if you want, but if you’re posting stuff that your audience won’t find valuable, or just churning out content for the sake of content, that’s not going to get the job done. You must make your content better than what the competition has to offer in some shape or form, if you truly want to compete.

Take a subject and go into more detail. Add more visuals. Offer the information in multiple formats. Take one of those in-depth blog posts and convert into an eBook with even more detail. If you’re not sure about how to do this – I’ve written about how you can repurpose content so you’re not working yourself to death all the time.

Research and Learn – Don’t Be Afraid

Yes, you’re working against the competition, hoping to entice their customers over to you. Yes, there’s a chance they will out do you. But, that’s no reason to be afraid of your competition. They are a wealth of information about what to do and what not to do, and you should use it to your advantage.

As long as you’re making an effort to keep things different somehow – as in not stealing their assets to run the same campaigns – you’ll be okay, and with time, be able to put yourself in a truly competitive position.

What has your competition taught you about your current SEO strategy? Tell me in the comments!

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A Complete Guide to Google’s SEO Updates From 2016

In the early days, Google wasn’t as robust or accurate as it we know it to be today. It was incredibly easy to rank for anything – whether contextually related to the actual content of your website or not – with keyword stuffing and other shady practices. Ranking for just about anything was as simple as using the keywords you wanted to rank for in the meta keyword section of your code – a practice that doesn’t do anything today.

Today, Google processes at least2trillion searches per year, and has grown from a simplistic search engine into an extensive network of products and services. Beyond things like YouTube, AdWords, AdSense, Drive, and Analytics, Google is changing the way we live, work, and play. With products such as Android OS, Chromecast, Google Assistant, Google Home, and Pixel – and services like Google Play Music, and Google Play Movies and TV, you can’t go far or do much without something Google related in your life.

Even though Google is rapidly growing their business outside of the search engine, there’s been no shortage of work on it. First and foremost, Google is a business, with customers to keep happy – and one of the ways they can do that is to improve the user experience one search at a time.  This translates to working to better understand the user’s query,improving the quality of results, the speed at which the results are delivered, and creating a seamless transition between desktop and mobile devices.

Over the years, we’ve seen Google rock the internet marketing and SEO world with major updates like Penguin and Panda – aimed at penalizing sites with low quality content not really helping the audiences they were intended for, and penalizing sites that were engaging in spammy link practices to try to rank higher.

As Google cracked down on those sites – millions saw changes in ranking. Some were able to change strategies and recover, while others never quite made the cut. That brings us a bit closer to the Google we see today, which is still making changes for the better.

The infographic below highlights the algorithm changes seen in 2016. Though the actual algorithm is under lock and key, through information from Google itself, and other research and analysis, we do know a fairly decent amount about what factors are the most important in terms of SEO. While guaranteeing a number one rank in Google will always be impossible, we do know what it takes to get there, and can develop strategies to support that goal.

By understanding what changes occurred over the last calendar year, we can make sure our strategies are aligned with what both Google and users want… and Google wants you to put the users and their experience first, because it makes their job easier, too.

Did you experience any shifts in ranking because of the changes Google made last year? What kinds of changes are you expecting to see in 2017?

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28 Free SEO Tools to Get You Started on the Right Path

Want to see how your search engine optimization (SEO) efforts are coming along? Not sure where to start with optimizing your website? Take a look at these tools, which will help address everything from keyword research to how the search engines see your site, link building, and more.

1. Google Search Console

Though Google Search Console, formerly known as Google Webmaster Tools will require a bit of installation to make it work on your site – there are plugins available if you use WordPress – this can help you see what Google thinks of your website. It’s also possible to see any issues with bugs and indexing. They’ll send you alerts whenever they think something may be wrong with your website. Bing has a similar platform, aptly named Bing Webmaster Tools, so between the two, you can see what the top search engines think of your site.

2. Google Trends

Google Trends is an excellent tool to help you see how the interest in particular topics or search terms has changed over time. We see this happen a lot – around celebrities and events. If you notice the search volume is on the decline, it may be time to switch to another phrase or topic with more interest.

3. Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool

Structured data helps Google get the context of the information on your page, which helps ensure it gets ranked on the queries where it makes the most sense. The tool is designed to help you validate the structured data code for any page. All you have to do is copy and paste the code from your website to test it.

4. Google Analytics Referrer Spam Killer

Though this is not an official Google tool, the Referrer Spam Killer from AdWords Robot can be helpful from keeping your Google Analytics data from getting skewed. Referrer spam is a pain, and hard to stop, but with this, you can stop it from showing up in your Analytics data.

5. Google Mobile-Friendly Test

When Mobilegeddon hit, and websites without a mobile-friendly version were hit, Google released the Mobile-Friend Test to help web designers and developers determine whether or not there was a mobile version of the site available. Whether you use a responsive design, a WordPress plugin, or a completely separate mobile site, all you have to do is enter the URL. It’ll tell you whether or not Google sees a mobile-friendly version of your site.

6. Google Correlate

Google Correlate is a keyword tool from Google, that works a bit differently from the Keyword Planner tool. It provides a list of keywords that are searched for together. If you search for “dairy free” in the tool, you’ll find that people are also searching for “gluten free dairy” “gluten free dairy free” and “gluten and dairy free”. This approach can help you include more related keywords in your content, and help you generate ideas for more content.

7. KeywordTool.io

If you want a quick and easy keyword research tool, KeywordTool.io is the answer. It can help you see what people are searching for, so you can develop your content calendar. Plus, if you find more fitting keywords for previously published content, you can go back in and edit everything accordingly. This is an excellent tool for finding long-tail keyword phrases, and everything is organized in alphabetical order.

8. Schema Creator

The Schema Creator tool allows you to create custom code so you can display certain things the way you want to on the SERPS. You can code your reviews, organizations, people, events, recipes, and more to display accordingly.

9. Open Site Explorer

The free version of Open Site Explorer provides a link analyzer, so you can see which links are making the most impact, and which pages are most often linked to.

10. LinkMiner

LinkMiner is a Chrome extension that checks for broken links on a page. This will also show you how many links are pointing to each broken link. Plus, it shows you how many outbound links a page shows right on the Google search engine results page (SERP). This way you can focus your efforts on the pages with the most broken link building opportunities.

11. Domain Hunter Plus

Domain Hunter Plus is a Chrome extension that checks any site to see there are broken links, but goes one step further. It also checks to see if the broken link’s domain is available for registration. It’s hard to find authoritative domains since they are snatched up pretty quick, but it’s helpful for broken link building.

12. QuickSprout Website Analyzer

QuickSprout Website Analyzer is a comprehensive tool that allows you to see everything from optimization, speed, tags, social activity, links, and even comparisons to your competitors.

13. HubSpot Website Grader

HubSpot’s Website Grader will give you a grade based on what your website looks like, along with suggestions about how to improve the grade.

14. LSI Graph

LSI Graph is a latent semantic indexing keyword generator, so you can sprinkle various related and common phrases throughout your content to ensure it is as natural as possible.

15. SEOBook Tools

SEOBook is home to a number of free and paid SEO tools. You can find free Firefox extensions for checking rank and getting competitive data. Other tools also include a keyword suggestion tool, a keyword list generator, a keyword list cleaner, a server header checker, a meta tag generator, a robot.txt tool, a typo generator, an ad group generator, a spider test tool, a link suggestion tool, a page comparison tool, and a keyword wrapper.

16. XML Sitemaps

XML Sitemaps is a website that allows you to create an XML sitemap for your website. All you have to enter the URL to your website, and wait. With this tool, a maximum of 500 pages will be indexed. If you have more than that, check out the Google Sitemap Generator, because it indexes an unlimited number of pages. When you’re finished, you can upload the sitemap into Google Search Console.

17. Ahrefs’ Site Explorer

The Site Explorer Tool from Ahrefs’ is a free version of the premium Ahrefs tool. You can see dashboards for referring pages, as well as information about the inbound links to your page.

18. Copyscape

If you’re worried about duplicate content or content theft, you can use Copyscape to check for it. All you have to do is enter the URL for your website or blog post, and it will tell you whether or not content already exists online. This is also a useful tool to make sure your content creators are not accidentally producing content that could be considered duplicate.

19. Gogretel

Gogretel is an on-page SEO analysis tool. It looks at everything from your content to page load speed.

20. Soovle

Soovle is a keyword autocomplete tool that goes beyond Google searches to also include YouTube, Amazon, and even Wikipedia. It’s useful for keyword research and content brainstorming.

21. Robots.txt Generator

If you want to keep the search engine bots from indexing certain pages on your website, such as content you’d like to keep gated, then you need a robots.txt file. This robots.txt generator makes it easy for you dictate what you want to block – just by entering your URL, along with the directories and pages you want to exclude.

22. Mozbar

This is a toolbar from Moz that allows you to create custom searches. It gives you valuable metrics right on the SERP with an on-page highlighter. You can export the data to a CSV file, so you can compare data overtime.

23. Check My Links

Checks My Links is a Chrome extension that checks any webpage for broken links. This is an excellent tool if you use broken link building in your strategy.

24. Disavow.it

If you’re dealing with a lot of spam backlinks and you want to improve your rankings – you can use Disavow.it to create a clean disavow file to upload into the Google Search Console. This lets Google know you don’t want them to count those backlinks.

25. Similar Content Prospecting Tool

The Similar Content Prospecting Tool provides you with a list of 120 pages that have already linked out to content on your topic. This makes it easier to find out who you should reach out to when prospecting for links.

26. Microdata Generator

The Microdata Generator makes it easy for you to create local SEO scheme. All you have to do is enter the basic business information, such as address, phone number, and operating hours. Then you’re good to go.

27. Search Latte

Search Latte lets you see the search results for more than 150 international versions of Google. All you have to do is choose your keyword, then select your international version of Google. This is a time saver because it requires no virtual private network (VPN) or proxy server.

28. Bonus: Search Google in Incognito

If you open an incognito window – to remove any customized search data Google has stored – and begin to search Google, for anything, you can get a list of autofill options. This can help you with keyword research, because these are commonly searched long-tail keyword phases.

Plus, if you really want to see where you’re ranking on a phrase, using the incognito window can help you see where you actually rank. Typically, you’ll rank higher if you search outside of that incognito window because of the stored data.

Everything You Need to Get Started

Sure, these free tools may have some limitations, and there are a number of premium tools available to help you out. But, for the company on a budget who can’t afford to hire an official team of SEO experts, these tools are better than nothing. Your SEO matters – because it’s what helps customers find you. Ignoring it completely isn’t good business sense.

Did I miss any awesome tools? Which ones are your favorites? Do you like web-based tools, or browser plugins the best? Let me know in the comments.

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The Right Way to Conduct a Competitive Analysis

A competitive analysis is an important part of your marketing plan. It helps you find how you’re going to achieve a competitive advantage when it comes to your target market. Taking the time to research your competition will provide you with an understanding of how your potential and existing customers look at the competition, as well as an overview of your competitions the strengths and weaknesses. This allows you to develop a plan to position your brand as the better alternative to serve your customers.

But, a competitive analysis does more than look at a few of the companies you will be competing against. It’s more than simply saying okay companies A, B, and C compete against me and they are better because of this reason, this reason and this reason. We are better because of this reason, this reason and this reason. The more in-depth you go, the more information and insight you will have to guide your business.

One competitive analysis isn’t enough. It’s a good idea to revisit competitive analysis on a regular basis because you never know when new players are entering the market. If you want to seize your market share and maintain it, watching for new competition is essential. If you’re unaware of what companies are coming in and what they are doing, you could easily lose a portion of your customer base to the new guy in town.

Here’s the step-by-step process to conducting a competitive analysis for your business.

 

Identify Your Competition

Begin by finding businesses in competition with yours. Your direct competition is any business that sells a product like yours, or a substitute for your product, selling in the same geographic area.

Your indirect competition is any business that offers a dissimilar, or substitute product in relation to yours, selling in the same geographic area. Butter and margarine manufacturers are indirect competition to one another. Contact lens and glasses manufacturers are indirect competition… But businesses that sell both to customers in the same area are direct competition.

Why it is important to take the time to consider indirect competition? Because they are in similar markets, it could make sense for them to move into yours at any given time, thus becoming direct competition. That’s why you want to keep an eye on them, and check from time to time to see where you stand against them. Just as they can decide to move into your market, you can decide to move into theirs.

Do you need to analyze all of your competitors? It depends on the industry you are in. Some markets, such as the automobile industry and the steel industry, have only a limited number of businesses – and thus competitors. In these cases, where you can quickly and easily name all the market players, go ahead and analyze all of them.

If you are entering a market where there are many competitors, analyzing the competition becomes a bit more difficult. It is not realistic to collect and maintain information on all of them, or even a fraction of them. Instead, use the 80/20 rule. Basically, you’re counting on the fact that 80% of the total market revenue comes from roughly 20% of the competition. You’ll focus your time effort on the 20% that brings in the revenue.

When you use this approach, stay on top of your market for any new and upcoming players. Though some may come into play, stay awhile without any real threat to your business, then fade away, it’s possible for any of the new companies to become a dominant market force.

Begin with a list of about 10 of your competitors. If you’re struggling to see who they are, rely on search engines to do the job for you. Search the type of product o service you offer – and pay attention to the results.

Organize the information in a format that works best for you – an excel spreadsheet with a worksheet for each company is a good place to start.

 

Analyze the Content

After you’ve located your competition, it’s time to start researching. You should aim to answer these questions.

  • Who are my top three competitors? Focus most of your effort on these, but don’t neglect others.
  • How long has the company been in business? Longevity matters to customers, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t compete. Older businesses don’t always do their best to keep up with changing customer demands.
  • How am I able to compete? Think about the differences between your company and the competition, and how these can set you up to compete with them.
  • How can I distinguish my company from my competitors? Again, think about the ways you’re different and how you can position yourself as the better option.
  • Do they have a competitive advantage; if so, what is it? How can you overcome it? Do you have a competitive advantage of your own?
  • What products and services do they offer? How are they similar to yours? Different? Do you need to expand your offerings?
  • Are they focused on similar target markets? Are they going after the same consumers? If not, they probably aren’t direct competition.
  • Are they profitable? If they’re not making a profit – why? Are you making a profit?
  • Are they expanding? Scaling down? Is the business doing well enough to be growing? If they’re shrinking, is it because they grew too fast, or the market is not doing well?
  • What do customers see about them that’s positive? Whatever these things may be – think about what you can do to make them see you that way, too.
  • What do customers see about them that’s negative? Whatever these things may be – think about what you can do to ensure they don’t see that about you, too.
  • How do our customers see us compared to the competition? Make a list of things you’ll need to work to change.
  • What does their marketing strategy look like? Provide as many details as you can, so you can use it to help shape your own.
  • What does their promotional strategy look like? Include as many details as you can, so you can use it to adjust your own.
  • What does their pricing structure look like? How does it compare to yours? You don’t have to undercut the competition – just make sure you’re proving value.
  • Are they operating in the same geographic area? If not, they may not be direct competition.
  • Have they ever changed their target market segments?If so, was it a response to a change in the market, or in an effort to better position themselves?
  • How big is the company? What are their revenues?This lets you know what you’re dealing with in terms of size and budget.
  • What is their percentage of market share? This lets you know how much of a competitor they are. How much of the market share do you have in comparison?
  • What is their total sales volume? How does it compare to yours?
  • What is their growth rate? How fast is their company growing? How does the growth compare to you?

Look at the kind of content they’re publishing, because this can help you find opportunities to out perform them. Look at the types of content they focus on, and what you can do better. Compare the content to yours, and you’ll soon determine what kind of effort you need to put into being able to compete with them.

Common types of content are:

  • Blog posts
  • Ebooks
  • White Papers
  • Case studies
  • Buyer guides
  • Videos
  • Infographics
  • Press releases
  • FAQs
  • Podcasts
  • Webinars
  • News
  • Articles

If your competition is blogging three times a week, and you’re lucky to publish twice a month – there’s somewhere to focus your efforts. Each blog post has the potential to drive more traffic to you, and thus away from the competition.

 

Look at Their SEO Structure

Okay, so what do you do if you find the competition has the same kind of content you do, and updates with the same frequency as you do? It could be how they’ve structured their SEO. Look at how they’re using keywords – and what keywords they’re using. Are they the same or similar as yours?

Key places they should be used are:

  • Page title
  • URL
  • Heading tags
  • Within the content
  • In internal link anchors
  • Image alt text

When aiming to rank for certain keywords, look for keywords with lower search volumes – less competition and long-tail options mean they’re more specific (targeted to your audience). You should use your competitors’ keywords as a basis for additional keywords you should be targeting.

 

Look at Their Social Media

Social media plays a role in marketing success for a number of reasons. First, search engines do pay attention to the social signals from those websites – though simply having a profile isn’t enough. Second, these platforms give you a way to engage directly with your customers and prospects. You can share your content, of course, but it’s about more than self-promotion.

Look at each one of your competitors’ social media profiles. How are they using them? How are the platforms integrated into their overall marketing strategy?

Are they using their profiles effectively? If not, that gives you an edge.

What types of things are they posting? Are they posting at all? Are people following them? Are their profiles filled out completely, with cover photos and profile photos? Simply having a profile doesn’t mean they’re updating the pages with new content, so pay attention to the last time they posted.

If they are rocking social media – don’t get discouraged. Instead of leaving the page quickly, take time to learn from what they’re doing, and come up with some ideas that can help you establish your own presence.

 

Find Areas for Improvement

Whew, that’s a lot of work, right? But at this stage, your competitive analysis is complete. Now, it’s time to get to work on using what you’ve learned about the competition to make your own brand better.

Take all the information you collected about each one of your competitors and look for areas of improvement. I bet you’ll find at least one, if not several things you could stand to improve. If you don’t – you’re fooling yourself. There’s always something that can be done better, whether it’s your content, your SEO, your social media, or something else entirely.

 

Setting Yourself Up for Success

A competitive analysis will require a relatively significant time investment. It may even reach the point where you’re frustrated with the amount of tine you’ve spent collecting and analyzing the data, but the more groundwork you lie in the beginning, the better off you’ll be in the end.

How has competitive analysis helped your business? Share your stories with me below.

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Employee Engagement: Why Failing Can Hurt Your Business

When’s the last time you talked to your employees about how they feel about working for you? If you answered “Never” or “I can’t remember”, this is for you. I want you to think about how happy your team is to be working with you, and how their general attitude affects your business – profit margins and otherwise.

 

What is Employee Engagement?

Employee engagement isn’t a measure of satisfaction, which only tells you how content your employees are. Engagement on the other hand, is a measure of their emotional commitment, their motivation, and their level of involvement in their position with your company. Gallup reports that in 2015, only 32% of employees in the U.S. are engaged, a number that has stayed relatively consistent since 2000. Half of employees were “not engaged” and 17.2% were “actively disengaged.”

What’s the difference between someone who is “not engaged” and someone who is “actively disengaged”?

The “not engaged” staff members are the ones who are basically checked out from their jobs. They’re getting through their workday, putting in their time, but not their passion or their energy. The “actively disengaged” are more than just unhappy at work. They’re the ones who are actively acting out of unhappiness – undermining the efforts their engaged counterparts are working to achieve every day.

 

Signs of Engaged Employees

Engaged employees show enthusiasm, motivation, and confidence. They are inspired by their managers and empowered to do their work in the way that works best for them. They are willing to work together to get the job done, no matter what it is – helping each other as necessary for the greater goal, and they do it without gossiping, making excuses, lying, or complaining, you’ve got one heck of a team!

 

Signs of Disengagement

Not sure whether your staff is engaged or disengaged? There are lots of signs your team isn’t as engaged as they could be, though some are subtler than others. If you notice there’s a lot of complaining and gossip, or there’s one employee in particular who always seems less than enthused when there’s a new task or project, that’s definitely a disengaged employee. If the team member doesn’t want to help anyone else on their team, or insists upon working alone, then this is a problem. Ultimately, they do not support a healthy, good, company culture.

 

Causes of Disengagement

Many things can cause an employee to disengage from their job, and unfortunately, all it takes is a single incident. Some of the issues contributing to disengagement include:

  • Unhappy with the relationship with direct management – this is the number one reported cause of employee disengagement with 75% of employees saying the worst part of their job is their boss. 33% of employees are willing to skip a pay raise if it meant their boss were to be fired.
  • Lack of confidence in senior management
  • Being overworked
  • Being underpaid
  • Work keeps them stressed – 83% employees report being stressed at work.

 

How Disengaged Employees Hurt Your Business

Disengaged workers are more likely to call in sick and to quit their job. In fact, statistics show companies lose $11 billion a year as a result of employee turnover. Not only this, but when they are working for you, they’re not productive. They’re likely getting the absolute bare minimum done, costing you more money than just payroll expenses. Overall, that lost productivity costs the U.S. economy between $450 and $550 billion a year.

If you’ve got disengaged employees directly interfacing with your customers, your customer service is suffering, too. More than half of consumers (60%) say they haven’t completed an intended purchase as a result of a poor customer service experience, costing businesses $83 billion in lost sales. It takes 12 positive customer experience experiences to negate the effects of that single poor customer service experience. And 52% of customers say they have switched companies over the past 12 months because of poor customer service.

Even a single disengaged employee is costing your business money in multiple ways. And chances are, unless you’re working with a small team, there’s more than one disengaged person working with you.

It’s important to keep an eye on engagement because it’s possible an employee who was once engaged and becomes disengaged, can cause more damage to your company than a staff member who was never engaged at all.

 

How Engaged Employees Help Your Business

Companies with engaged employees outperform those without by up to 204%. They’re productive. They help keep your customers happy. They share their ideas with you, which can help your company reach new levels of efficiency and profit.

 

Fostering Employee Engagement

If you’ve discovered your team isn’t as engaged as you’d hoped they would be, don’t panic. There are plenty of things you can do to try to bring those employees back to a higher level of engagement. Beware, however, that just as engagement didn’t decline overnight, you won’t be able to restore it overnight. Give it time, and remain consistent.

  • Be transparent. Share crucial company information, to prevent employees from jumping to their own conclusions. Keep your team updated on financial performance, both long-term and short-term goals, and let them know what it means for them and their jobs. Involving them in this aspect of your company helps them feel more connected to the company.
  • Keep high-level employees visible and accessible to others. Employees shouldn’t only be able to talk to each other and their direct manager. All high-level employees should be visible throughout the company. If an employee wants to speak to the CEO about an idea he has to save money or promote the business, he shouldn’t have to go through a lot of obstacles to be able to arrange a meeting.
  • Start at the top and let it trickle down. Work to make sure the employees at the top are engaged. It will trickle down to the people their managing, and so on. Build that strong, transparent bond with the people you’re managing, and the trend will catch on.
  • Thank your employees. Taking the time to thank your team for their hard work and recognize their accomplishments can do a great deal in keeping your team engaged. When someone feels valued and appreciated, it helps them build an emotional connection to the company, and you as their management.
  • Build genuine relationships.
  • Remain flexible. Yes, you should hold your employees accountable for their performance, but it’s also important to give them the flexibility they need. No one likes a micromanager, and how are you supposed to get things done yourself if you’re busy looking over what everyone else is doing all the time? Consider giving the option to work from home, or take a personal day. As long as they get their work done, and they do it well, not much else should matter.
  • Focus on behaviors and traits, rather than experience and education. Great experience can, but doesn’t always mean, a great employee. Focusing on the applicant’s behaviors and traits before anything else will help you see how they will fit into the company culture, and give you an idea of how the other employees will respond to the new hire. Those that are most likely to be engaged workers will show enthusiasm and excitement during the interview. They are also personable, and not afraid to speak up. Sure, a resume will tell you about their experience, but those aren’t necessarily all true.
  • Welcome and implement their input. Make sure to actively seek feedback from everyone. Institute an open-door policy so it’s easy for everyone to come to you. Some team members may not be comfortable reaching out to you to share their thoughts and feelings, so make sure you reach out to them directly to make sure they’re feeling heard.
  • Promote from within. If your staff thinks they are stuck in the same position and unable to advance their career, they’ll lose their motivation to do well for you. Whenever possible, promote form within to demonstrate that you are committed to helping your staff climb the ranks. They’ll work harder for you. Of course, the possibility remains that you’ll need to hire outsiders from time to time to fill vacancies, but doing what you can to promote someone who already works for you can greatly boost employee morale.
  • Make sure they’re taking breaks. Promote good work/life balance. No matter what needs to be done, and how long it will take, make sure your team is taking at least one 15-minute break other than their lunch break during an eight hours shift. Encourage people getting up and away from their desks during lunch. Encourage them to stop answering company email outside of their normal working hours, and especially when on vacation. Working too much or too often can lead to stress, which leads to burn out, which leads to disengagement. Managing work and life is hard – but there is a lot you can do as the employer to discourage, and even prevent it.
  • Use meetings sparingly. Many businesses seem to do nothing but hold meetings. If your team is always in a meeting, they won’t be able to get anything done. If they can’t get things done anyway, it will be much easier for them to disengage. Keep them meetings to a minimum, short, and to the point, to get the best results.
  • Get out of the office. Go have a brainstorming session at lunch away from the office. Go work outside. Sometimes feeling like you’re stuck in those same four walls at the time can cause stress and lead to burn out. Plus, brainstorming together helps everyone feel involved, and gives a chance to strengthen team building skills.
  • Reward creativity. Let support staff know it’s okay to come up with new ideas and implement them. When they know this is okay, they’ll understand how much you value their opinion. But, be careful when using rewards as an incentive to do a good job. If you reward everything all the time, it’s easy for the team to get comfortable and expect a reward, thus becoming complacent about the quality of work they’re doing.
  • Encourage health and wellness. No matter your profession, investing in keeping yourself and your team healthy is a good idea. Stress is bad for mental and physical health, so it pays to do what you can to keep everyone as healthy as possible. It doesn’t have to be a difficult task- it can be as simple as offering a free gym membership, or something like bringing massage therapists to the office once a week or once a month. Keep the break room stocked with healthy snacks. Every little bit helps.
  • Encourage team members to get to know one another better. Play games. Host parties and events outside of work, that take place somewhere other than the office. Plan a happy hour at the end of the week to let everyone relax and unwind.

 

Engagement is a Process

Start small and work gradually toward higher engagement. Watch for changes in how the employees interact with you, and one another. When you bring on new staff, either to replace someone who quits or gets promoted, or to expand operations to keep the current staff from being overworked, start the engagement process from day one.

Always keep the lines of communication open with your team, and encourage your management staff to do the same. Think before you invest in an employ engagement program. Get feedback from everyone and implement the changes you think will be most effective based on how they feel.

Do you feel your employees are engaged working with you? Share your experiences with me.

Photo credit: iStock

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Decoding Search Engine Speak: Friendly vs. Optimized

This post was originally published on Sachs Marketing Group.

In online marketing, a lot of terms are thrown around. Some are easier to understand than others, and some are used interchangeably, when they don’t mean the same thing. In search engine optimization (SEO), there are two common phrases – search engine friendly and search engine optimized – that are often used in place of each other, but have two similar, yet different meanings.

Whether you’re hiring an agency like Sachs Marketing Group, or looking to handle your SEO efforts on your own – it’s important you understand what both of these terms mean, and how to make both of them work as part of your strategy.

 

What is Search Engine Friendly?

Search engine friendly, or SEF, refers to building your website on a solid foundation that makes it easy for the search engines to read the code and crawl it for optimal indexing. It focuses on:

Website construction: Today, many content management systems (CMS), including WordPress, are built as search engine friendly solutions. This keeps your most important elements in HTML format, and avoids using Flash, Java applets, and other non-text elements. Non-text elements are generally either devalued, or worse, ignored completely, by the robot crawlers in charge of discovering and indexing your website.

Each page having unique content: This focuses on keeping all pages uniquely named, and structured, to avoid potentially confusing search engines. Each page will have unique content, whether it’s a just a paragraph or two, or thousands of words, depending on the needs and context of the page.

Title and description tags: SEF makes sure that unique title and description tags are used on each page, relevant to the content on each of those pages.

Readable URLs: The search engines clearly need to see the content to list the pages in their database, but they must also be able to see the links to find the content to begin with. That’s why a crawlable link structure is vital. Many websites structure their navigation in way that the bots cannot access, thus making it harder for those pages to be listed in the index.

What kinds of things can stop the search engines from being able to read a link?

  • Submission-required forms: If users must complete an online form before getting access to certain content, then the search engines are likely never see those pages. For some purposes, this is okay, because you don’t necessarily want those pages indexed.
  • Unparsable JavaScript: If you’re using JavaScript for your links, the search engines will either give them little weight, or ignore them all together. If you want them to be crawled, replace the JavaScript links with a standard HTML structure.
  • txt: This file allows you to restrict the files on your website you want the crawlers to access. If there are pages on your website that link to pages that are blocked by either the robots.txt or meta robots tag, those links won’t be counted, since the robots stop their crawl when they reach the information.
  • Relying on search boxes: While you should have a search box on your website to make it easier for your users to find information they’re looking for, you cannot assume the search engine bots will use it to find everything on your site.
  • Links embedded in plug-ins: The bots focus on text, so any links that are embedded within Java, Flash, or other plugins won’t get seen, crawled, and indexed, thus never allowing users to find them with a query.
  • Links on pages with hundreds (or more) links: The search engine bots will only crawl so many links on a page. They do this to avoid spam and keep rankings as user-friendly as possible. If you have a page with hundreds or thousands of links, you likely won’t see all of them crawled and indexed.
  • Frames/iFrames: Links in both are crawable, but the structure makes it difficult for the bots to organize and follow. Unless you’re a highly skilled developer who understands how the bots index and follow links embedded in frames, avoid them.

Canonical tags: Canonical tags are similar to a 301 redirect, but rather than actually redirecting visitors to a new URL, you’re just telling the search engines that multiple pages should be considered one. The 301 redirect sends all traffic, whether humans or bots, to the unique URL, and offers a much stronger signal that multiple pages have a single source, and can be used across domains, whereas the canonical tag cannot.

Current algorithm guidelines: SEF platforms should adhere to most of the currently published search engine algorithms. Many of the guidelines in use today were established years ago and are easily implemented at the code base.

SEF is a one-time process, done when a website is first setup. Of course, there are hundreds of elements involved, but once you’ve built a search engine friendly website, there is not much more for you to do. There’s always a chance that you’ll have to do something later, if there’s some kind of forced change to the system you’re using, but after you’re done, you’re pretty much done for good.

If you want to get an idea of how Google’s indexing bots see your website – look at the cached version of your website using a tool like Cached View. Compare that view to how your website looks in the browser, and you’ll see what is indexable. The Google bots crawl the web and take snapshots of each page to store for backup purposes, should a page not be available. If your site ever goes down temporarily, you can still access it with the cache. However, the cache may take a few days to update. It depends on how often your website is updated.

 

What is Search Engine Optimized?

Search engine optimized (SEO) is an ongoing process, as more content gets added to your site on a regular basis. There will always be more keywords to rank for, additional content to create, more links to go after and get, better rankings to achieve, more traffic to bring in, more conversions to get. It will never be done. It focuses on:

  • Site messaging: Rather than treating text as a placeholder on each page, optimization focuses on using keywords appropriately to signal to the search engines the page is on topic, but also on delivering the right message to the audience.
  • Optimizing content for rankings and conversions: This includes the use of keywords, but also calls to action, and ultimately relevant creating content that site visitors find useful and helpful.
  • Optimizing title and descriptions to drive clickthroughs: This process uses keywords appropriately to encourage users to click through the link to the actual page. These are built to match the users need and intent.
  • Eliminating issues with duplicate content: Optimized sites go beyond the bandaid fixes of simply directing the search engines to the correct content. It will, with the help of the CMS and as far as it will allow it to go, completely eliminate duplicate content issues all together, rather than sending the signals you have to hope the bots will follow.
  • Future algorithm guidelines: An optimized site, on the other hand, will consider more than what the search engines are looking at today. By focusing on the future, staying ahead of things like the spam filters, and providing real valuable content for visitors, optimized sites go beyond quick-fix loophole solutions designed to earn rankings. Any time there is a major algorithm change, we see a number of sites get hit hard, that spend months, if not years, recovering to build them again. If your site survives a major algorithm change like Panda, with little to no negative change in ranking, then you know you’re on the right track.

Because your website is never completely and fully optimized, there are a number of tools available to help you see how you’re doing in terms of ranking for keywords and the number of backlinks you have.

 

Using Both to Create a Stellar Web Experience

You can’t have SEO without SEF. If the foundation of your website isn’t built with the search engines in mind, there’s zero sense in optimizing your content for them. Start with a basic structure like something you’d find in WordPress, that’s built to be SEF. Then, move on to the various stages of optimization, according to the needs of your website.

If you’ve already established a website, and you’re not sure how well it fits the definition of friendly, or optimized, it’s time to do an audit. It will help you see the changes you need to make to improve your website, and then guide you through the process.

Begin defining goals. Check your Google Analytics and look at what the data has to offer. If you haven’t already, sign up for Webmaster Tools to get additional data Analytics doesn’t offer.

After this – it’s time to start the audit process:

  • Website crawl: Check in Google to see what they see compared to what’s actually on your website. In the Google search box, type: “site:http://www.yourdomain.com”. You can use a tool like Screaming Frog to get a deeper crawl and export everything into a spreadsheet so you can analyze your website’s current state. From there, you’ll see more information about page errors, links, and more.
  • Site Speed: Use the Google PageSpeed Insights tool to see how quickly your website loads on mobile and desktop. Pingdom can also help you see where the issues with site speed are, and how to fix them.
  • Domain: Checking both the www. and non www. versions of the domain in tools like org and whois.com can give you an idea of what the site used to look like, whether or not there were subdomains, and more, to help you see the kind of domain authority you’ve built up, based on what it was used for in the past.
  • Website information: Check the site with BuiltWith to learn more about what the site was built with, if you don’t already know for sure. This lets you know whether you’re on the right track with the platform you’ve built the site on.
  • Site structure/architecture: How many clicks does it take the user to get to where they need to go? Is there anything you can do to improve the process, thus improving usability? Is everything logically organized? If not, take steps to organize it accordingly.
  • File and URL names: Is everything readable for the visitor? Everything after the # in a URL Google ignores, so keep this in mind.
  • Key performance indicators (KPIs): Are there KPIs in place? Goals, engagement, sales, ranking, domain authority – whatever they may be, these are vital to know so you can work on making improvements in the order of priority.
  • Keywords: What keywords are you targeting? Which keywords are you ranking for? Use tools like SEM Rush to get some keyword insight. You may discover keywords that are easier to rank for because there are fewer overall results and less competition. With the keyword information in mind, move onto content adjustments.
  • Content: Adjust if necessary to be sure the keywords are used appropriately in the tags, on-page content. If written for the search engines rather than visitors, look for ways you can edit the content to provide real value to your reader.
  • Duplicate Content: Copyscape is a great tool for finding variations of your website’s content. Though you can also search for your content with quotes around it in Google, it’s a bit more of a painstaking process. When you find it, use canonical tags or 301 redirects to fix the issue as necessary.
  • Meta: Check meta tags and descriptions, for character length and proper descriptions. Keep titles limited to 70 characters, and descriptions limited to 160.
  • Images: Check to make sure there are no broken links to the actual image files. Check to make sure all images are properly compressed. If not, use tools like PicResize and TinyJPG to compress them for faster load time. Check ALT tags for optimal descriptions. Check image links – WordPress automatically links to the image file – and you may or may not want this based on whether or not the images will be useful in the search results.
  • Forms: Are your forms properly setup and operational? These are often necessary for conversion rates.
  • Links: Check all links on the site – internally and externally. Check for optimal structure, and make sure none are broken.
  • Social Signals: Do you have social profiles attached to the website? If not, get to work. Social signals play a role in overall ranking, so it’s critical to develop a social presence in the places where your audience is active.
  • Citations: If you’re a local business, citations in reviews and directories are important. Check for and claim listings in Google My Business, Yelp. TripAdvisor, and more.

 

SEF and SEO Create Magic

When you start with an SEF website structure, then build and optimize everything else, you’ll be well on your way to great rankings.

Have something else to add? Share it in the comments.

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