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Category Archive: SEO

  1. The Pros and Cons of DIY SEO in 2016

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    SEO can be complicated, but it’s not impenetrable. Given enough time, resources, and willingness to learn, almost anyone can become adept at SEO in the span of a few months to a few years—then again, the same could be said of most professions, and few of us take the time to learn trades that we could simply hire someone else to take care of for us.

    SEO experts—in the form of agencies, consultants, full-time employees, and even freelancers—can help direct your campaign, monitor and improve your tactics, and eventually earn you the results you want for your business. The problem for most people is cost—these professionals need to be paid for services you could feasibly handle yourself. But at the same time, SEO is always changing, throwing even seasoned professionals off their game if they aren’t prepared for the changes.

    With that said, where does do-it-yourself SEO stand in 2016? What’s changed? What are the pros and cons?

    Pros

    articleimage1785 pro

    The benefits are universal, though your personal preferences may make some of these more appealing than others:

    • Cost Savings. The first benefit you’ll likely notice is the money you’ll save by doing things yourself. Agencies and consultants often charge monthly and demand minimum terms, eating up a chunk of your overall marketing budget. Employees are even more expensive, especially when you consider full-time benefits. Even freelancers can cost a pretty penny, depending on the level of skill and experience you go with. Doing SEO yourself demands only an investment of time—almost everything you need to learn the fundamentals is available online, and you can improve your skills with experience. Still, time is money, and you may find that it’s just as efficient to pay someone else to take on the effort for you.
    • Complete Control. For some business owners, it’s tough to surrender control of your online marketing presence to an outside party like an agency or a consultant. This outside authority will be responsible for writing your content, speaking as your brand, and building links and connections all over the web. Even if you know this outside agent has your best interests in mind, it can be intimidating and nerve-wracking to think about. Doing SEO allows you to retain complete control over your campaign and all your online actions. Just be aware that this isn’t always a benefit—more on that in the cons list.
    • Instant Flexibility. Most agencies demand a minimum term for new contracts—this is actually a good thing, because it takes time for results to develop, and a minimum contract duration prevents premature departures. However, it still restricts your flexibility, especially over the long-term. You may find yourself wanting to switch directions, adopt new strategies, or simply try out a new provider. Doing SEO yourself gives you all this flexibility.

    Cons

    articleimage1785 cons

    Despite the advantages that DIY SEO offers, there are some major drawbacks—even for experienced marketers:

    • Limited Expertise. Even if you’ve been learning for a few months, you won’t have the same amount of experience or familiarity with SEO that seasoned experts do. You won’t be as good of a writer as someone who’s practiced the art for many years. You won’t be as plugged-in to changes in the industry as a professional networker with close ties to SEO influencers. You won’t have the same abilities as anyone who’s been doing this professionally for years. Obviously, this can harm you in many ways, giving you limited options in terms of tactics and results.
    • Stifled Growth Potential. No matter how much of a workaholic you are, there’s an upper limit to how much time you’ll be able to put into your strategy. Doing SEO yourself means you’re the only person who can invest more time into your campaign, and as you scale up, you’ll eventually find yourself unable to continue further. Compare this to an agency, which has extensive connections and resources to scale your campaign as far as your budget will allow. This isn’t a major concern for the first few months of your campaign, but is something to consider if you’re interested in long-term results.
    • Little Accountability. You can hold yourself accountable to get results when doing SEO yourself, but what does that accountability translate to? What would you do if you found your campaign stagnating? You couldn’t force yourself to be better. You wouldn’t be able to allocate new resources to your campaign. You would even find it difficult to identify the source of the issue. An agency or consultant, on the other hand, could take it upon themselves to guarantee you better results—their contracts would depend on it.
    • Unknown Unknowns. Lastly, your lack of experience and familiarity will result in there being more unknown unknowns. There are things you know you don’t know about SEO (strategies above your paygrade, areas outside your experience, etc.), and these are the known unknowns. But there are also things you don’t know that you don’t know—the unknown unknowns. These factors are especially dangerous because you won’t be able to prevent them from affecting your campaign, and you might not even recognize them when they arise.

    Should You Attempt DIY SEO?

    articleimage1785 Should You Attempt DIY SEO

    It’s definitely feasible to attempt DIY SEO in 2016, but that doesn’t mean it’s efficient, and it doesn’t mean it’s always the right choice. Your choice of whether to enlist the help of an agency or go your own way should depend upon your budget, your pre-existing familiarity with SEO, your willingness and ability to learn, and your own gut. Ask yourself if you’re comfortable taking full accountability for the day-to-day actions of and accountability for your campaign. If you are, consider trying it—you can always get outside help if it proves too difficult.

  2. How to Tell if an SEO Agency Is Trustworthy in 5 Steps

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    The term “SEO agency” can’t tell you much. I’ve seen all kinds of operations refer to themselves this way, from one-man operations to firms with thousands of workers and contractors, and including both groups of talented professionals and glorified extortionists peddling false promises and bad strategies. With SEO, it’s not just your money at stake—it’s your reputation. Going with the wrong agency won’t just waste your money; it could potentially harm your domain authority in the long-term, sabotaging your visibility and status for months and years to come.

    The good SEO agencies out there can do amazing things for you, building your reputation, changing with the times, and keeping your audience loyal and interested, all at a fraction of what it would cost to hire someone full time. But how can you know if your prospective SEO agency is worthy of your trust (and your money)?

    Use this five step process to tell for sure.

    Step One: Search for Them

    articleimage1771 step 1

    No matter where you heard about the agency in question, run a few quick searches for them—not just for their brand name, but also for their line of work and geographic location. This will tell you two important details. The first is the self-service capacity of the agency. Most SEO agencies take care of their own needs first, maximizing their own visibility before trying to use the same tactics for their clients. If you can’t find their site or an info page with a simple search, it could be a bad sign.

    This test is more than just an evaluation of skill, however. Run some brand name searches alongside your organic searches, and see what people are saying about the agency. If you run into a particularly bad agency, like a low-quality link builder, you’ll likely find plenty of complaints to confirm your suspicions.

    Step Two: Look at Their Promises

    articleimage1771 step two

    Head to their website and look at what they’re promising their clients. The goal here is to look for indications of unnatural sounding or too-good-to-be-true kinds of promises. There’s a big difference between promising “increased organic traffic in the first few months” and “a number one ranking guaranteed by the end of the week.” It’s impossible, even for the best and most experienced SEO providers, to concretely predict results within a specific timeframe or achieving a certain number. There are too many variables in play.

    Generally, the more outlandish the promise, the less likely the agency will be able to fulfill it. Or, if they can fulfill it, it’s probably through illegitimate means. For example, if an agency promises 100 new links to your site in a week, you can bet those links won’t be good for your site.

    Step Three: Start a Conversation

    articleimage1771 step three

    If your prospective SEO agency passes the first two steps, your next step should be to get in contact with a representative. Send an email or make a phone call, and prepare to make a number of judgments based on your experience. First, see how long it takes to get back to you. If you receive a response quickly or get in contact with a person immediately, take it as a good sign. Have a natural conversation about your needs and the SEO agency’s capabilities, and trust your instincts.

    Bad signs to watch for are: long delays to get in contact with you, hasty pushes toward closing a sale, promising whatever you ask for, difficulty communicating, egregious spelling and grammatical errors, and frequent subject changes. Again, trust your gut here; are these people you want to deal with long-term?

    Step Four: Scrutinize Their Strategies

    articleimage1771 step four

    In the conversation or shortly thereafter, find out what types of strategies they use. If they refuse to tell you, you know you’ve stumbled on a questionable agency. Listen for a combination of many different strategies, like onsite optimization, content creation and syndication, high-quality link building, social media marketing, and other peripheral services. If you hear anything about excessive manual link building, the use of a content farm, or anything else that sounds like it might be a scheme, abandon ship. Bad tactics aren’t just risky shortcuts—they’ll compromise the integrity of your entire strategy.

    Step Five: Ask for References

    You never can be too careful. If your agency has passed steps one through four above, it’s almost certain that they’re a reputable, white hat organization and you can trust them with your domain. But sometimes it pays to do that one final check. Ask your agency contact for a handful of references—unless they’ve just started up, they should have at least a handful of noteworthy clients. Follow up with each of these references and ask about their experiences with the agency. If all of them have positive things to say, both in terms of performance and customer service, there should be nothing else to hold you back.

    By the time you’ve completed all five steps, it should be painfully obvious to you whether your SEO agency is trustworthy. A schemer, or an agency not worth its salt, would have made itself perfectly evident at some point during the process. If you’re worried about pulling the trigger, remember—you can always change your mind later. It’s your SEO agency’s job to prove their value to you, and if you’ve found a good one, they’ll work their hardest to do so.

  3. Are Search Rankings Less Volatile Than They Used to Be?

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    articleimage1744 Are Search Rankings Less Volatile Than They Used to Be

    The most stressful part of SEO is dealing with the sudden, unexpected fluctuations of search ranks that have, for the past 15 years or so, been inevitable. Google will push a new update to its algorithm, and millions of business owners will watch as their ranks inexplicably skyrocket or plummet. What’s maddening isn’t that a change was made, but that it was made without warning; major updates like Panda and Penguin instigated much hair-pulling and scary conference calls, followed by months of desperate recovery, but neither came with a warning.

    Thanks to these iterative pushes, search rankings were once held with a grain of salt—even the most experienced search marketers knew that their hard-earned number one rank might disappear tomorrow. But what about today? Just how volatile are SERPs today compared to Google’s older days of massive revisions, and how ready do you need to be for a sudden, inexplicable change in rank?

    Google’s Recent Update Pattern

    articleimage1744 Google’s Recent Update Pattern

    Panda was the first major shakeup in the modern age of SEO. In 2011, it affected millions of search queries, rewarding sites with awesome content and punishing those with thin or keyword-stuffed content (which, until that point, was a passable strategy). Penguin followed a similar pattern in 2012, leading many to believe that every year, Google would find some new, major way to update its algorithm and send SEO experts scrambling.

    However, this hasn’t been the case. Google’s made some big pushes and some big improvements to its algorithm since—just look at Hummingbird, Pigeon, or the Mobilegeddon update—but none of these have had as substantial an impact on search queries as Panda or Penguin. Google took care of the two biggest problems with its algorithm already: vulnerability to link spam and inefficient graders of content quality. As a result, its newer updates are smaller, focused on specific niches, and generate less of an impact.

    Micro-Updates and Refreshes

    articleimage1744 Micro-Updates and Refreshes

    Don’t mistake the presence of small updates for a lack of effort or improvement on Google’s part. In fact, Google updates its algorithm almost constantly by pushing forward new micro-updates and data refreshes, which tweak existing algorithms and provide new data with which to rank sites. For example, Panda’s been updating on a monthly basis for the past three years, but you probably haven’t noticed it affecting your ranks—that’s because these micro-updates only affect a small percentage of queries. Slowly but surely, Google is improving, but the volatility factor is nearly gone.

    I also want to mention RankBrain here, Google’s latest machine learning algorithm centered on Hummingbird, as I believe it’s the future Google wants to pursue. RankBrain collects data on its own and uses it to, essentially, update itself. As a result, the updates it pushes are tiny, almost to the query level—and it was able to exist for months without people noticing it. Inherently, this system is simultaneously more volatile and less volatile, depending on how you use the word. It processes and pushes far more changes and changes far more ranks per day than anything before it, but these changes are much smaller and less noticeable.

    Fair Warnings and Common Sense

    articleimage1744 Fair Warnings and Common Sense

    Google’s also done a much better job of being transparent with business owners and search marketers as of late. With the Mobilegeddon update earlier this year, webmasters had months of advance notice to take action and correct their mobile issues—even after several years of cautioning the importance of mobile-friendliness for modern sites. Similarly, Google was relatively forthcoming about the nature and extent of RankBrain, and even published its full search quality raters guide earlier this year. These don’t affect volatility directly, but do show that Google isn’t trying to surprise webmasters the way it has in the past with sudden, massive, unexplained changes.

    The Individual Factor

    articleimage1744 The Individual Factor

    If you do notice search volatility, there’s one factor you might be neglecting: the individual factor. Google relies on tons of data to formulate search results, including a user’s previous history, a device’s geographic location, and even the nature of the device. As a result, unless you can copy a search “situation” exactly, it’s likely you’ll find some major differences between accounts, locations, and devices. Don’t mistake this for search volatility; Google isn’t changing the ranks on you, you’re just giving it a different set of commands.

    The Bottom Line

    Search volatility is always going to exist, but it’s different today than it was a decade ago. Rather than occasional periods of massive volatility, today’s shakeups are more frequent and much, much less noticeable. You might change one position overnight, and then change back again before you notice, or over the course of a few months, steadily drop in ranks. But these changes can hardly be expressed as “volatility,” at least not anymore. Google’s updates are faster, smaller, less impactful, and are more about fine-tuning than overhauling.

    What should you take away from this article? The main point I want to get across is that Google’s pretty happy with its search algorithm, and they’re comfortable keeping it relatively stable. Data refreshes, micro-changes, and machine learning-based updates are still constantly rolling out, so you’ll never be fully safe from unexpected changes, but for the most part, you don’t need to be constantly watching over your shoulder. Just keep making the best content you can, listen to Google when they warn you, and stay up-to-date on the latest best practices.

  4. The 7 Biggest Misconceptions About Local SEO

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    SEO tends to attract a lot of myths and misconceptions, and I think it’s due to the nature of the strategy. Google (and other search engines) don’t explicitly publish their search criteria or algorithm functionality, leading to ambiguity and questionable evidence when trying to pinpoint exactly what causes something to rank. Anecdotal evidence almost always reigns supreme, and unfortunately, some bits of anecdotal evidence are untrue, or are just random flukes, and end up getting blown out of proportion and syndicated to a wide audience.

    Local SEO is no exception to this trend associated with its national cousin. But before you make any immediate judgments or think you know local SEO inside and out, check out these all-too-common misconceptions about the strategy:

    1. It’s just national SEO with local terms.

    articleimage1723 It’s just national SEO with local terms

    This is somewhat true to the user, but even then it’s a bit of a stretch. Local SEO actually functions with a separate algorithm from Google’s national SEO foundation. It uses a separate series of ranking criteria, and formulates different sets of results based on the circumstances. When a user includes a geographic indicator (like a city or region), or if location data is automatically shared, a local “3-pack” appears at the top of the search results. These three top positions are coveted, as they get tons of visibility and traffic, but you can’t necessarily achieve them with a traditional national SEO campaign and a couple of extra keywords.

    2. It’s only important for “mom and pop” shops and local attractions.

    This is a misconception that spread thanks to the terminology of “local SEO.” The thinking is: local SEO must be for local businesses, so if I’m not a locally exclusive business, local SEO isn’t for me. This isn’t the case. Local SEO can (and should) be used by any business with a location in a specific city or state, even if it operates nationally, and even if it doesn’t have a physical location (operating only digitally). Local SEO doesn’t take much effort, yet has a much lower pool of competition than national SEO. With a few hours of extra work a week, you could easily pick up a new wing of search visibility—so what does it matter if your business isn’t a mom and pop shop?

    3. Link building isn’t necessary for local SEO.

    articleimage1723 Link building isn’t necessary for local SEO

    After reading the first myth about national and local SEO being separate, you might fall for this misconception: that link building is only important for national optimization, and isn’t necessary for local SEO. Though it might have been a load off your mind, this isn’t true. Domain authority does play into local SEO ranks, and that means the quality, context, and quantity of links you have pointing back to your domain does come into play when Google calculates your local position.

    4. Local citations are all that matter.

    Local citations are extremely important for local SEO—these are mentions or profiles of your business on third-party directories and review sites (such as Yelp, TripAdvisor, or UrbanSpoon). Google crawls these massive sites to learn more about businesses on the web, and the wider and more consistently accurate your presence is, the more likely you are to rank. However, these citations aren’t the only factors that matter in getting your site to rank, so don’t neglect the other necessities of your strategy to pursue them.

    5. Local reviews are all that matter.

    articleimage1723 Local reviews are all that matter

    Similarly, local reviews are important but aren’t the only thing that matter. Google scopes out the quantity, quality, and context of local reviews written by users about your brand, and aggregates them to form a conclusion about how authoritative your business is. Getting more positive reviews can help you, while getting bad or zero reviews can bring you down. Still, if you only focus on reviews you’ll miss out on content, link building, citation building, and other strategies that can help your business claim a spot in that all-important 3-pack.

    6. Social media can’t help local SEO.

    articleimage1723 Social media can’t help local SEO

    Social media can help local SEO. However, social media can’t directly increase your local SEO rank. Think these are contradictory statements? They aren’t. Being active on social media helps you in a few ways—it gives third-party directory sites more information to pull when coming up with your profile, gives you a syndication outlet for your content (which can then earn you more links), and even generate more consumer reviews. There’s no direct benefit for posting on social media, but the indirect benefits are enormous.

    7. It’s too late to get started with local SEO.

    articleimage1723 It’s too late to get started with local SEO

    National SEO is super competitive, but even there, it’s never too late to break into the game. Just because your business is new or because you’ve waited a long time to get involved  in local SEO doesn’t mean you can’t start building a presence. Depending on how much time and resources you can commit, you could start seeing results as early as a few months after getting started—and you might even have a competitive advantage that makes this time period even shorter.

    Most of these misconceptions won’t hurt you too bad, but some can compromise the potential success of your strategy before it even begins. Do your research before making any flash judgments, and stay up-to-date on the latest information, as local SEO today isn’t anything like it was just a few years ago. If all else fails, you can use your own data as your guide—if you make a change and it increases your visibility, keep it. If it doesn’t, throw it out. What really matters is results, but don’t be surprised if you have a hard time getting them if you continue to buy into these myths.

  5. The Ultimate Checklist for Your Year End SEO Audit

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    articleimage1724 The Ultimate Checklist for Your Year End SEO Audit

    With 2015 almost behind us and 2016 already offering some interesting twists and turns in the content marketing game, now’s the perfect time to run a content audit and see where your brand stacks up. Even the best-laid content plans can go awry, especially if you haven’t touched base with your original vision from the beginning of the year, but it’s not a problem unless you allow it to keep getting worse. This is your chance to evaluate your performance, take note of possibilities for improvement, and start the new year off with a bold new approach.

    The problem for most people is scale—“content marketing” refers to a lot of different moving parts, so how can you run an audit of everything all at once? That’s why I came up with this checklist. It’s not perfect, but it will help you touch on the most important points of your campaign and figure out exactly what you need to do to improve in the coming year:

    Recall the Big Picture

    articleimage1724 Recall the Big Picture

    First, you’ll want to get a good idea of where you were at the start of the year, as a basis for comparison.

    • What were your main goals? Were you trying to build more traffic alone or were you hoping for more engagements onsite?
    • What were your secondary goals? Were you interested in building more relationships with influencers? Achieving a higher ranking in search engines? The more specific you are here, the better, but if your goals started vague, they’ll have to remain vague.
    • What changed this year over last year? Where were you at the end of last year, and what made you choose those goals? What strategic changes did you make?

    Evaluate Your Overall Efforts

    articleimage1724 Evaluate Your Overall Efforts

    Next, take a look at the efforts you made to achieve those goals.

    • How often did you publish content?
    • What types of content did you publish? For most goals, the more variety you have the better.
    • Where did you publish content? Make a list of your primary and secondary syndication channels, and whether you syndicated older material in addition to new features.
    • Were there any gaps or missteps in your strategy?
    • Did your strategy align with your objectives?
    • Did you adjust your strategy throughout the year? This is crucial; if your strategy remained stagnant, you could have missed out on some serious opportunities for growth.
    • What could you have done better? This is a broad question, and one we’ll answer in more detail with the other sections, but make a preliminary list.

    Evaluate Your Overall Performance

    articleimage1724 Evaluate Your Overall Performance

    With the efforts behind you, take a look at how well your campaign performed overall.

    • How did traffic change over the course of the last year? Look at organic, social, and even direct traffic. Obviously, more is better, regardless of your other goals.
    • How did engagement change over the course of the last year? Consider comments, user behavior, social shares, links, and meaningful site engagements.
    • How did conversions change over the course of the last year? Again, more is always better, and can be a good indication of how much users trust your brand.
    • Did you meet your main goals? Why or why not?
    • Did you meet your secondary goals? Why or why not?

    Evaluate a Sample

    Now, take out the microscope. Take a piece—or several pieces—of content you’ve written recently, and evaluate them for quality.

    • Is your content useful? All your content should be valuable, if not practical, to your audience.
    • Is your content unique? Do a quick search—did anyone do this before you did?
    • Is your content timely? Evergreen content is always good, but what about your news articles?
    • Is your content accurate and well-researched? How many sources do you cite? Can you verify every fact you claim?
    • Is your content logically organized and coherent?
    • Is your content supplemented with visual material? Visuals are becoming more important than ever. Images and video can make any piece of content more engaging.
    • Does your content feature any filler? These include “fluff” content or unnecessary tangents.
    • Is your content written for people or search engines? This is subjective, but you should be able to tell almost immediately.
    • Does your content adhere to a consistent brand voice? You’ll have to look at multiple pieces to determine the answer.
    • Does your content sell too hard, not at all, or a respectable amount? This is somewhat subjective, but it should stand out to you if you have no calls to action of if you’re too salesy.
    • Is your content scannable? Readers should be able to get the gist of your content at a glance.

    Redefine Your Goals

    articleimage1724 Redefine Your Goals

    You now have a solid understanding of what you wanted to do, the effort you put forth, and the results of those efforts. Hopefully, you’ve uncovered some weaknesses to improve and some successful areas to replicate, so let’s formalize those with some questions:

    • What new main goals do you want to achieve? Are you updating your older goals or heading in a new direction?
    • What new secondary goals do you want to achieve? What short-term and lower-priority goals are going to lead you to your main vision?
    • How are you going to do it? Think about all the strategic changes you’ll need to make to produce better content and achieve your goals.

    Now that you’ve answered every question in this list and come up with at least a few new conclusions about your content marketing campaign, you should be in a good position to start the new year off right. Remember, year-end audits are nice, but if you want to enjoy continually growing success in any way, you’ll need to monitor your performance and make adjustments throughout the year. Trends, technologies, and user behaviors change too quickly to be ignored, so prioritize your attention to detail and flexibility.

  6. How to Get Positive ROI with Your Social Media Marketing Campaign (And How to Measure It)

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    By this point, almost every business owner in the country has at least considered the idea of social media marketing. Most have followed through with some social action, even if it’s just claiming a Facebook page or seeing what LinkedIn’s all about, but there’s still a minority who stays away from social altogether because they believe it to be a fad or a useless strategy. In both camps are people who insist that social media can’t have a positive ROI—or that positive ROI all comes down to luck.

    It’s easy to think that. Unless you’re selling something with a paid ad, there’s no transaction on social media, and the most successful content and accounts are ones with astounding viral success—which one could partially attribute to luck. Still, with the right strategy, it’s possible to achieve a consistent and positive ROI in social media, and measure it with a degree of confidence.

    Step One: Forget the Fluff Metrics

    articleimage1722 Step One - Forget the Fluff Metrics

    Your first step is the easiest, because it’s all about setting the right frame of mind. Forget about all the fluff metrics that people commonly associate with social media success—including follower counts and likes. These are nice to have, but they won’t bring you revenue. Don’t get lost chasing after them.

    Step Two: Build a Foundation

    articleimage1722 Step Two - Build a Foundation

    Next, start building a foundation for your social campaign. This means claiming your profiles on the platforms you believe will be most valuable to your brand, filling them out completely, and posting on a regular basis. Your posts should include informative, entertaining, or enlightening content, and links to content on your main site. Between this regular syndication and engagement with the community, you’ll soon start attracting more people to your profiles and building a regular audience.

    Step Three: Find a Target Source of Revenue

    articleimage1722 Step Three - Find a Target Source of Revenue

    Next, you’ll need some means of acquiring revenue from your social media followers. If you have an e-commerce platform or if you sell a single product online, you can set up a Goal (or multiple Goals) in Google Analytics to track conversions. If you’re more service-based or a B2B business, you can consider setting up a specific landing page with a form for your users to fill out. The source of revenue is up to you, but it must be measurable—otherwise you won’t be able to calculate your ROI with any degree of accuracy.

    Step Four: Connect the Foundation to the Revenue Source

    articleimage1722 Step Four - Connect the Foundation to the Revenue Source

    Your last step is to bring your foundation—your loyal audience—to your source of revenue. The best way to do this is through a link or a promotion, but be careful not to alienate your audience with too much advertising. Your first and most important goal is to keep them informed and entertained, so keep any self-promotional material to 20 percent or less of your total posts. If your followers are loyal enough, you should see some traction almost immediately.

    Step Five: Measure Your Results

    articleimage1722 Step Five - Measure Your Results

    This is the most difficult step (and the reason why ROI is so complicated in the first place), but we’ll start simple and get into all the ambiguous, imprecise variables later on. First, calculate everything you’ve spent on social media; if you’re working with an agency or a freelancer, the costs should be easy to uncover and total. If you’re doing things yourself or one of your salaried workers is handling the responsibilities, you’ll have to track your time and figure out the costs that way. Do this for a set period—most people choose a month.

    Next, you’ll need to calculate the total amount of people who have taken your desired action after following you on social media. For example, if you have a dedicated landing page with a form to fill out, specifically set up for social users, how many users eventually filled out that form? If you have a product you’re selling, evaluate your Goal in Google Analytics and drill down to find which segment of the audience came from social media channels. Eventually, you’ll arrive at a specific number of people who took your desired action because of your social media efforts.

    From there, all you need to do is figure out the “value” of the action, and compare the value of all social media actions taken against your cost basis. If you see more value than cost, you have a positive ROI—but there are a few complicating factors to consider:

    • ROI in social media tends to compound upward, so almost every account begins with a negative or neutral ROI.
    • User actions aren’t the only measure of success. You may earn a greater reputation on social media, resulting in higher conversion rates and new brand followers in other areas.
    • Google Analytics can’t track social users who eventually come to your site through other channels—such as a new social media follower who eventually visits you directly to buy.

    Step Six: Make Adjustments, and Continue

    If your results are positive, keep finding ways to improve what you’re doing. If your results are negative, you’ll have to scrap something and try something new. There’s no hard science to succeed in social media beyond basic best practices, so it will take some time to experiment and figure out what’s right for your brand. Remain patient, and know that the early stages of your social media campaign are the hardest.

  7. Dropped From the Local 3-Pack? Here’s What Could Have Happened

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    The local 3-pack is a highly sought-after group of positions “above the fold” of a local search. Drawing from factors established by Google’s local search algorithm, the search engine populates the three most relevant, helpful, or significant businesses in your geographic area above the typical results. Alongside your business name will be mobile-friendly buttons for directions, a website, (and if viewed on a smartphone), and option to call.

    Getting your business into one of these three positions can give you tons of visibility and traffic, so when you get there, you’ll probably be ecstatic. Unfortunately, all that can change dramatically and without warning, leaving you right back where you started despite no clear motivation for the trend. So what could have happened? What caused you to drop from the local 3-pack?

    You Built a Bad Link

    articleimage1721 You Built a Bad Link

    You probably didn’t mean to, but you did. It happens to the best of us. You might have been moving quickly between sources, or you might have made an error in judging the quality of a specific source. Someone else on your team might have built the link, or the webmaster of the domain might have built it him/herself for any number of reasons. The point is, there’s a new link pointing to your domain that’s hosted on a low-authority, spammy, or otherwise irrelevant source for your brand, and it’s bringing your domain authority down. The unfortunate reality is that even one of these links can play a role in ranking volatility, so be sure to scrub your backlink sources thoroughly.

    You Lost a Great Link

    articleimage1721 You Lost a Great Link

    Just like one bad link can sabotage your domain authority, the sudden absence of an exceptionally good one holding your authority up can do a similar amount of damage. Let’s say you earned a link on the homepage of a prestigious university site. It’s reasonable to expect an almost sudden boost in rank—possibly one that took you all the way to the local 3-pack. If that link disappears, the foundation for that authority boost crumbles, leaving you right back where you started. Try to see if you’ve lost any high-profile links lately, and if there’s a chance you can earn them back.

    You Got Some Negative Reviews

    articleimage1721 You Got Some Negative Reviews

    Reviews play a major role in your local ranks—the more you have, and the more positive they are, the higher you’re going to rank. If there’s a sudden influx of bad reviews that brings your aggregated ratings down, it could drive you from the top three positions. This could result from a singular incident that affected multiple customers, or could be the result of random chance. Either way, see what you can do to resolve the inciting factors and encourage more positive reviews to make up for them. The more reviews you get, the harder it will be for a random influx of negative reviews to bring you down.

    You Lost a Major Citation

    articleimage1721 You Lost a Major Citation

    Much like how the disappearance of a major anchoring link can bring down your authority, the disappearance of your brand from a major local citation source like Yelp could also serve as a negative trigger. This is extremely rare, and usually only happens if you’ve deliberately and repeatedly infringed on the source’s terms of service, but it’s worth checking out on multiple sources in case someone removed it by mistake (on your team or theirs).

    A New Competitor Emerged

    This one’s pretty simple, and arguably the easiest to catch. New businesses emerge all the time, and many of them will be competing for the same positions you currently hold. If one of them comes out guns blazing, they could easily overtake your position, even if you’ve been there a while. It just means you have to fight harder to win it back.

    Your Content Has Changed (or Dropped Off)

    Take a look at your content strategy over the past few weeks and months. Has it changed significantly? Are you posting only one type of content now? Have you stopped posting altogether? A big change in the quality or frequency of your content could signal a drop in your domain authority, so run a content audit to see if anything might be wrong.

    User Behavior Factors Made Your Site Appear Unhelpful or Not Ideal

    User behavior isn’t the most important consideration for a 3-pack ranking, but it can have an effect on your search positions. For example, if the majority of users who click through to your site end up bouncing after having zero interactions with your content, it could signal that your site isn’t useful or isn’t relevant. After all, Google wants to make users happy. If your site isn’t doing the job, it will cycle in a site that might.

    Your Site Was Reevaluated With New Criteria

    It’s a bit of an oversimplification to say a fluke kicked you out of the 3-pack, but that’s pretty close to the truth here. Google constantly refines the factors it uses to rank websites, sometimes subtly, and sometimes in a major way. Even a small, hardly noticeable update could reevaluate the authoritativeness of your site overnight and drop you from the 3-pack—especially if you and a competitor were pretty close to begin with.

    The local 3-pack is important, but temporarily dropping off the radar isn’t going to kill you. In the same way you worked to earn your position in the first place, you can work to overcome whatever obstacle brought you back down. In the SEO world, there are very few setbacks that can’t be overcome in the span of a few weeks or months (and they’re usually the result of a deliberate and egregious offense), so try not to get too worked up over volatility or unexplained changes.

  8. 5 Considerations Before Hiring a Full-Time SEO Pro

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    You’ve decided to start an SEO campaign, or you’re planning to increase the efforts of your current strategy. Either way, you’re going to need some help. It’s difficult, and nearly impossible, for a single untrained individual to master all the knowledge and work necessary to promote and nurture an SEO campaign—even a relatively small one.

    There are three main options that can help you achieve your goals of a more prominent (or introductory) SEO campaign—hire an agency, hire a full-time person, or work with a network of part-timers and independent contractors to keep all the moving parts of your campaign in working order. In my experience, entrepreneurs and marketing managers tend to lean toward the full-time expert, especially in the early stages of consideration.

    I suspect this is in large part because of the human advantages an in-house expert can provide: control and personality. An in-house, dedicated worker might be more loyal and more malleable than an external agency, and he/she can at least bring a new friendly face into the office. To be sure, in-house SEO experts have a lot of advantages and are the right decision for some businesses, but before you pull the trigger, remember these considerations:

    1. Price.

    articleimage1717 price

    Price is always a hard consideration, because it varies for every level and every application. There are expensive agencies, cheap agencies, and everything in between, and each agency offers different packages and price levels, so how can you compare that to the projected monthly salary of your prospective full-time employee?

    The short answer is, you can’t, but you can compare a handful of select packages from some professional agencies against what your candidates would potentially offer. You could even bring this up in the interview process—assuming you’ll pay the same monthly rate for an agency or a full-time employee, ask the prospective employee if he/she will be able to match or improve upon all the services offered by the agency. Of course, raw task completion doesn’t tell you much about work quality, but you’ll have to rely on your instincts for that one.

    2.Expertise.

    articleimage1717 expertise

    As you review your candidates for the full-time position, pay close attention to where their expertise lies. For example, do you have one who specializes in content and another who specializes in web coding and onsite optimization? Do you have one who claims to be a “general” expert?

    One of the major drawbacks of a single full-time SEO pro is the narrow range of expertise the position can offer. It’s nearly impossible to be a true “expert” in all areas of SEO, so no matter who you hire, you’re going to have a handful of key weaknesses. This won’t kill your campaign, especially if you have someone familiar or well-versed in most areas, but an agency or a fleet of freelancers might be able to give you more pointed expertise in each significant area.

    3. Accountability.

    articleimage1717 accountability

    Let’s play with a hypothetical situation here: you’ve hired a full-time SEO expert, and the first few months have gone well. You’re seeing more traffic and your ranks are objectively increasing. But then your ranks take a tumble and the drop remains consistent for another two months. What do you do?

    The options here are pretty limited. You can hold your expert accountable, requesting more effort in certain areas or a change in strategy, but the expert may only be familiar with a handful of recovery options. Full-time agencies usually offer more accountability, with a range of different options in the event of a setback, and sometimes a formal guarantee on results.

    4. Flexibility.

    articleimage1717 flexibility

    SEO is a team sport, even if you only hire one person for the full-time position. Your web developers need to be aware of SEO best practices and respond quickly to new changes that Google might require. Your writers should know what keywords and topics you’re targeting. Your social media team needs to promote content in a way that generates more interest in your content and your site. Your full-time SEO manager can’t work in a vacuum—he/she needs to work with the other members of your team if you want to succeed as a group.

    5. Adaptability.

    articleimage1717 adaptability

     

    The SEO world changes all the time. There are new updates that roll out, new technologies that develop, and even new search trends that need to be taken into consideration when updating or auditing a current strategy. Is your new hire going to be proactive in scouting for these changes and responding to them?

    This is, of course, possible, but as a single SEO rep for a company, it’s easy to fall into a groove or a rut that prevents you from changing your approach. Agencies have to adapt to stay competitive and keep their clients seeing results, and freelancers know they’ll be out of a job if they don’t keep up with the latest trends.

    There’s no right way or wrong way to manage your SEO campaign—just like there’s no right or wrong way to build a brand, what truly matters is that your efforts match your company’s core identity and your goals. If you’re having trouble making the final decision, remember this: it’s never too late to switch things up, and there’s no rule against hybridizing different approaches. If you end up hiring an in-house expert and you’re not satisfied with the results, consider bringing in some supplementary freelancers, or switch to working with a full-time agency. SEO is a long-term strategy, so there’s always time to change paths.

  9. The 3 Types of SEOs You’ll Meet (and Who Can Get You the Best Results)

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    Search engine marketers are a unique bunch. While there are a set of standard best practices that can help your site get ranked, not every SEO applies the same techniques or the same philosophy to account management. Some favor a more conservative, long-term approach, while others strive for fast results. Some rely entirely on the power of content marketing, while others aim for a balanced blend of different approaches.

    When you’re in the market for an in-house SEO expert or an outside consultant to help you build momentum for your site’s organic visibility, this can be frustrating. SEO is a complicated, multifaceted strategy, and the fact that so many SEOs have different methods makes your decision even more complicated.

    When you get down to it, there are three main types of SEOs out there, each with advantages and disadvantages. Knowing these types can help you better understand your options and ultimately make the right decision:

    1. The Strategic Evangelist.

    articleimage1674 The Strategic

    The strategic evangelist is an SEO with a penchant for one particular strategy in the SEO world. It might be a specialty in link building, a focus in content marketing, a knack for building up massive followings on social media, or something else entirely. This SEO usually has expertise in multiple areas, but there’s one core specialty he likes to use for his clients, and he doesn’t spend as much time on other approaches.

    The usefulness of a strategic evangelist depends on your situation and your goals, but there are clear advantages and disadvantages in any scenario. If you’re piecing together a team of multiple SEOs, either by outsourcing various elements of your campaign to different contractors or building a full in-house team, strategic evangelists are perfect. Each one will have a unique and powerful area of expertise they can deliver on, and you can find complementary partners to maximize your overall potential (assuming you can afford them).

    The big drawback here is flexibility. If you’re only working with one evangelist, let’s say a content marketing specialist, you might have a hard time adjusting when you need help in another area, such as the technical performance of your site.

    2. The Number Worshiper.

    articleimage1674 2The Number Worshiper

    The number worshiper has a laser focus like the strategic evangelist, but rather than being focused on one strategy, she’s focused on the numbers of your campaign. She’s made it her sworn duty to get you results by any means necessary, and that means meticulously crunching numbers and creating reports to show you all the good news.

    The number worshiper might incorporate a number of different strategies in her approach, but at the end of the day, all she cares about is looking good on paper. If you’re focused on a specific goal, like getting more traffic or earning more conversions, she could be a perfect fit. If she isn’t seeing results, she’ll take it upon herself to change strategies or do more until she is.

    There are two weaknesses of a number worshiper. First, she’s so obsessed with numbers that she can lose sight of other important aspects of your campaign, such as your brand reputation. She might publish a piece quickly to get more content online, but neglect to consider how it affects your readers. Second, she may choose to engage in risky strategies, such as excessive manual link building, in order to get you results. This might look good in the short term, but could have long-term consequences.

    3. The Relationship Manager.

    articleimage1674 The Relationship Manager

    The relationship manager’s focus is on keeping you happy, no matter what. Usually, this SEO is more of an account manager than he is an actual practitioner, but he still takes responsibility for whatever decisions are made throughout the campaign.

    The relationship manager might use many different strategies to help you get results, but he’ll always check in with you before making any decisions. Typically, he’s focused on making changes that benefit you in the long term, but if you have a specific request, such as getting a short-term boost in traffic, he’ll probably try to accommodate it. This gives you more control over the process, more flexibility, and generally, an easier time managing the campaign overall.

    The drawback of the relationship manager is that he’s not as focused on the work as he is the relationship. He might agree with your suggestions to save face and keep you happy, rather than running with a strategy you’re uncomfortable with that he knows will get better results.

    Which of these is going to get you the best results? That depends on your definition of results, and your current needs. For example, if your only interest is seeing tangible, measurable returns on your investment, the number worshiper is the most likely candidate to get them for you. If you know a lot about SEO and can handle everything yourself except for one key area, a strategic evangelist can help you plug that gap. If you’re interested in a balanced, long-term approach, a relationship manager might be right for you.

    The only wrong choice in an SEO partner is a black hat practitioner—someone who uses link schemes, spammy content, or other questionable tactics to propel a site upward in rank. Do your background research and ask for references if necessary—black hat tactics are rare these days, but they still exist. Otherwise, choose the partner who can help you most.

  10. The 5 Big SEO Problems You’ll Face in 2016

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    With 2015 nearly over, it’s time to look back on all the changes, successes, and failures you’ve faced in your SEO strategy and prepare for what’s coming in the future. It’s hard to say exactly what Google, Bing, and other search providers have in store for 2016, but if recent trends and budding technologies are any indication, next year could be a rough one if you aren’t prepared for it.

    Fortunately, you’ve found this article and you’re thinking ahead. You’re anticipating these problems before they occur, and you’re readying yourself for what lies ahead. As you ramp up your strategy for 2016 and beyond, keep your focus on these five likely SEO problems to crop up:

    1. In-app content will start messing with your content strategy.

    articleimage1675 In-app content will start messing with your content strategy

    Facebook’s Instant Articles are just the beginning of the trend. Two things are happening that exacerbate it; first, users are becoming more reliant on apps than webpages in browsers, and second, app platforms are doing more to keep users in-app for as long as possible. Accordingly, more apps are going to work harder to embed content and keep users occupied as long as possible.

    For some publishers, this is a great opportunity—you can provide content where your users consume it easiest or most often. For the average search marketer, however, this presents a confusing conundrum—do you seek new in-app publishing opportunities, or stick with what you know will be indexed properly? As usual, the best course of action is to hedge your bets. Keep as much onsite content as you can, and dabble in the new medium of in-app content until the trend settles and you can identify which is objectively more favorable for your brand.

    2. Content quality stratification.

    articleimage1675 Content quality stratification

    After Moz and BuzzSumo released their million-piece analysis earlier this year, it became clear that the gap between “good” content and “bad” content is only becoming wider. In their survey, 75 percent of all content on the web got zero links and zero shares, leaving only 25 percent of all content having any significant effect for a company’s rank. If your content is “average,” therefore, you can only expect a return on 25 percent of your investment.

    User tastes are growing more sophisticated—they’re expecting more from their online content. If you want to survive, you need to step your content up to the next level. All of your pieces need to fall within that 25 percent of quality, and that means investing more time and more effort into your content campaign. It won’t be easy, but it will be necessary if you want to remain effective.

    3. Reduced organic social reach.

    articleimage1675 Reduced organic social reach

    Social media doesn’t affect your search rankings directly, but it does hold a lot of power over the potential of your strategy. Many of us rely on social media as a free way to reach thousands of new readers with our content, but thanks to some recent changes by Facebook and Twitter, all that could change in the next few years. Facebook is slowly reducing the organic visibility of corporate posts, and Twitter is reducing the amount of information available to businesses, all presumed to be efforts to increase company spend with each respective platforms. That means all that extra visibility you count on could dwindle or disappear—unless you’re willing to start paying for it.

    4. Know and know simple queries will poach your traffic.

    articleimage1675 Know and know simple queries will poach your traffic

    Google’s recent search rater’s guideline document detailed the importance of know queries and know simple queries, which can be answered with a few short snippets of text. Working from the Knowledge Graph, these rich answers are becoming more and more popular. By next year, they could start poaching some of the organic traffic you receive, as users will get their answers directly. The old saying “if you can’t beat them, join them” applies here—instead of finding ways to work around rich answers, make sure it’s your content that gets featured. Answer potential user queries succinctly and accurately in the body of your content (you can always elaborate later)—this will get your answers more visibility for know queries, and get your brand more exposure to compensate for the loss in organic traffic.

    5. Machine learning will throw your rankings for a loop.

    articleimage1675 Machine learning will throw your rankings for a loop

    RankBrain is Google’s latest update, pairing with Hummingbird to better understand the semantic function of user queries. It’s a machine learning algorithm, which means it can update itself as it learns more about what users do and don’t need for specific queries. My guess is Google’s long-term plan is to introduce more of these machine learning algorithms so it can do away with the massive manual updates of yesteryear. This is good, because it means fewer major shakeups, but it also means you’ll likely be subject to sudden, unexplained, unpredictable jostles in your rankings. Because these algorithms update themselves constantly and indefinitely, you won’t be able to get used to a ranking for long.

    It’s impossible to predict with absolute certainty how SEO will develop in the coming years. All we can do is look at the trends of the past few years, combine them with the emerging technologies of tomorrow, and make reasonable assumptions about what’s coming down the line. Prepare for these problems in advance—at worst, they won’t come to fruition and you’ll end up wasting a few hours of effort, but at best, you’ll overcome these challenges far faster and more efficiently than your competitors, putting you in a key strategic position.

    Above all, it’s in your best interest to remain flexible. The more adaptable you’re willing to be, and the more changes you anticipate, the better you’ll be able to respond to the inevitable market fluctuations to come.

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