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Category Archive: SEO

  1. 5 Things Most People Don’t Know About Negative SEO

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    Negative SEO is an unethical strategy that takes advantage of black hat practices to earn penalties for a competing site. Since Google lowers the ranks of sites who have duplicate content, poorly written content, or irrelevant backlinks, some webmasters have intentionally masqueraded under the guise of competing domains in order to lower their competitors’ ranks and boost their own performance for certain keywords.

    Since negative SEO started getting noticed, many webmasters have grown paranoid about the possibility of losing ranks due to the uncontrollable efforts of a malicious competitor. However, there are a number of public misconceptions and misunderstandings about the nature of negative SEO and how it can actually affect your site.

    Take a look at these five facts about negative SEO you might not have known:

    1. It’s Not Just About Sabotaging Links.

    articleimage555It’s Not Just About Sabotaging Links

    When most people think of SEO, they think about irrelevant or intentionally over-optimized backlinks pointing back to the victim’s domain, which in turn, would lower the victim’s page rank via a Google penalty. It makes sense, and negative link building is by far the most common type of negative SEO. They’re easy to build because they usually require no verification of site ownership, and virtually anyone can make the attempt. They can also be difficult to remove, making them an even stronger negative strategy.

    However, these types of sabotaging links aren’t the only strategy associated with negative SEO. The motivated webmaster could attempt to hack into your site in an effort to sabotage your onsite efforts. They could go the obvious route by posting spammy content, wrecking your title tags and meta data, and so on, but these are unrefined and easily noticeable tactics. It’s more likely that they would use coding tricks, like including a robots.txt file that blocks search engines from crawling your content, or eliminating your microdata structures so they can’t be deciphered by Google.

    These types of sophisticated hacking assaults are much rarer than negative link building, but they are possible, and have been known to occur. You can protect yourself against this type of attack by keeping your servers up-to-date and secure.

    2. Not All Unfamiliar Links Are Bad Links.

    articleimage555ot All Unfamiliar Links Are Bad Links

    Paranoid webmasters often assume the worst about backlinks that show up mysteriously, but not all strange links are a sign of negative SEO. There are many reasons why a link from an unfamiliar domain could turn up, and even if that domain is of a low authority, the link itself might not be hurting your authority—at least not much.

    For example, there are countless sites that exist to analyze domain information, or sites that scrape the web, and it’s not uncommon to have several links from these sources. Similarly, it’s possible that a major site like yellowpages.com is linking to your site regularly—maybe even thousands of times. If you see this type of data in your Webmaster Tools account, don’t panic. Google does a great job of determining what constitutes a sitewide link, and you generally don’t have to worry about the negative repercussions of such an event. You certainly don’t have to worry about it being some kind of attack.

    There’s also a chance that these unfamiliar links are ones you’ve built yourself, without remembering—have you ever paid for link building services, maybe a long time ago? Are any of your friends or employees building these links with good intentions? There are a lot of possible origins for these strange links that have nothing to do with negative SEO, so avoid making snap assumptions.

    3. Effective Negative SEO Is Incredibly Rare.

    articleimage555Effective Negative SEO Is Incredibly Rare

    Back in 2007, Google announced that there was “nothing a competitor can do to harm your ranking or have your site removed from our index.” Shortly thereafter, they changed this statement to the slightly more open “there is almost nothing a competitor can do to harm your ranking or have your site removed from our index.” This change indicates that Google recognizes the possibility for negative SEO to exist, but also believes that such instances are incredibly rare.

    Today, Google’s statement reads “Google works hard to prevent other webmasters from being able to harm your ranking or have your site removed from our index. If you’re concerned about another site linking to yours, we suggest contacting the webmaster of the site in question. Google aggregates and organizes information published on the web; we don’t control the content of these pages.” This indicates that Google understands that negative SEO is a realistic possibility, but still not something that most webmasters need to worry about. In the event that a negative link is posted or a negative SEO attack is carried out, Google can probably recognize it, making negative SEO attacks rare and effective negative SEO attacks even rarer.

    4. It’s Relatively Easy to Recover if You Are Attacked.

    In the event that you are suffering from a real negative SEO attack, there are many strategies you can use to mitigate the effects. First, if your site has been hacked and your code has been sabotaged, you can easily reverse the changes they made—as long as you have backups of your site. In order to prevent future attacks from occurring, you can change all your passwords and increase the levels of protection you use to ward off would-be attackers.

    There are also many tools you can use to monitor the types of links that are pointing back to your site, such as Webmaster Tools or Open Site Explorer. You can use these immediately to determine whether any backlinks have been posted without your consent, and check them on a regular basis to scout for negative SEO and eliminate it before it takes effect. You can generally remove negative links just by asking a webmaster, but if that doesn’t work out, you can always use Google’s Disavowal Tool to request that those links be ignored.

    5. No Amount of Negative SEO Can Undo a Great Strategy.

    This is critical. People often overestimate the amount of damage a handful of bad links can do; if the vast majority of your onsite content and offsite links are of high quality, even a well-executed negative SEO attack can’t do much to hurt you. At most, you’ll lose a couple of ranks for short period of time, and in the grand scheme of things, that isn’t very significant. Lately, a lot of search marketers have warned about the dangers of negative SEO—but there aren’t many real examples of significant or irreversible damage. Keep in mind that negative SEO is real and something you should watch for, but it isn’t something that’s going to undermine or overturn an otherwise powerful strategy.

    Educating yourself is the best defense against a possible negative SEO attack. Hopefully, after understanding the limits and scope of negative SEO, you’re no longer worried about the possibility of seeing all your hard work go down the drain because of one rogue webmaster’s hateful efforts. Keep up a solid content marketing and link building strategy and regularly audit your backlink profile. As long as you’re paying close attention to suspicious activity and protecting your domain with consistent best practices, you have nothing to worry about.

  2. 3 of The Easiest Tricks to Increase Your Google Rankings

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    Boosting your page rank in Google is—let’s face it—a pain. If you’re just starting out, it takes days to get your onsite structure in proper order even if you know what you’re doing. After that, you have to constantly update your onsite content, social media syndication, and all your external links. Depending on the size of your company, it could be much more than one full time job’s worth of responsibilities, and it needs to be performed consistently.

    It’s certainly overwhelming, even to the seasoned pros. These are the fundamentals of search engine optimization, and even with them, it can take months or even years to see the results you want. Fortunately, there are a handful of shortcuts out there; they won’t get you to a number one position overnight, but they are incredibly easy and can help you get to the next level in search.

    1. Spread Local Hype.

    articleimage554Spread Local Hype

    You’ll notice that two of these three tricks rely on a principle that removes you from the equation: getting others to do your work for you. In this case, you’ll be creating an environment in which your users can spread the word about your company, and give you a higher rank as a result.

    Let’s take a look at the world of local SEO. Even if your business doesn’t rely on local foot traffic, you can still build a valuable buzz around your company in your local community, and take advantage of the benefits of being associated with geographic terms in major search engines. In order to do that, you need to start claiming all your local profiles—which is a bit of a headache, but you only have to do it once. Claim your Google Places page, your Yelp profile, and any other local directories you can think of.

    From there, make sure your local information is accurate and consistent across the board, then do everything you can to get local citizens to talk about your business. Encourage positive reviews (but don’t compensate people for them—that’s a major no-no that could get you penalized). The more positive reviews you have on local directories like Yelp and similar services, the higher you’ll rank, both with and without associated geographical terms. Plus, when people check you out on those local directories, you’ll have a much better chance of winning the favor of those potential new customers.

    Another way to spread local hype and get the corresponding SEO value is to get attention through local events. Attend local gatherings and spread the word about your business, or post on social media about the event. You could even publish a press release about your attendance for the extra link juice. It doesn’t take much time, and it has a killer impact on your domain authority and local relevance.

    2. Get Your Content Shared By Influencers.

    articleimage554 Get Your Content Shared By Influencers

    This trick is even easier, and it relies on others to do the real work. Even if you’re just starting out, you should have a solid content marketing strategy in place—one that includes the creation of highly informative or highly shareable material. You’ll need at least one of those pieces for this trick, and a presence on either Twitter or LinkedIn, but the rest is pretty straightforward.

    Facebook marketing gets a lot of hype, but when it comes to personal sharing, networking, and sharing content with a huge audience, Twitter and LinkedIn are superior. Their user bases are more public, making it easier to reach a wide audience, and their most prolific users are able to connect with thousands of people at a moment’s notice, either by tweeting directly or by posting in a LinkedIn Group.

    Don’t spam your material, but don’t be shy either. On Twitter especially, there’s usually no problem with introducing yourself to an influencer in your industry and simply asking them to share your content with their followers. If your content is interesting, they’ll probably post it—it’s a win-win situation for both of you. If you don’t hear back, follow up once. Any more than that, and you’ll be an annoyance.

    Influencers can be your shortcut to a huge new audience. Most influencers are already connected to thousands of people who see them as an authority, meaning your content is instantly imbued with a level of authority. That means your content is far more likely to be picked up, shared, and linked to—and your domain will see all the benefits in the form of increased rank. If it works out well, you can continue the relationship by providing regular pieces of shareable content for them to distribute. You might even get direct leads from the experience!

    3. Start Using Google+.

    articleimage554Start Using Google+

    Google has taken a number of recent steps to reduce the power and ubiquity of their Google+ platform, but don’t let the hype or fears dissuade you. Google+ is still a highly powerful social platform, and you can take advantage of it to see search benefits almost immediately.

    There are still signs that Google favors its own platform above others; content posted on Google+ seems to rank slightly higher than other similar forms of social content. That means anything you post or syndicate on Google+ automatically gets a bit of a boost.

    It’s better to use Google+ as an individual though, integrating your personal brand with your corporate brand. By doing so, you’ll build a level of “authorship” authority that will transfer to any articles you write throughout the web. While the power of authorship has been reduced, it’s still highly valuable, especially for articles you’ve written and distributed through the Google+ platform. Any articles you post on Google+ will show your headshot and bylines as an author, embedded in your search results, which makes your link immediately more clickable and gives you greater search visibility without necessarily increasing your rank.

    Plus, any recurring social presence you have is good for your SEO. Odds are, you’ve already created and started updating your Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn profiles, but the more platforms you’re on, the better. It isn’t entirely clear which elements of a social presence trigger a ranking signal to Google, but the more visibility you have for your brand, the better.

    It’s also worthwhile to build a company page for your business on Google+. That way, you’ll get twice as many opportunities to post content and gain visibility for your brand in Google.

    Put these easy tricks to good use, either as a short-term shortcut to your target results or as a long-term addition to your otherwise solid strategy. Each of these mini-strategies can be implemented as a one-time callout, or pursued as a regular campaign.

    Whatever you do, keep in mind that search engine optimization must be treated as a long-term strategy, and that your primary focus should be on improving your users’ experience rather than solely increasing your rank. These tricks can add some momentum to your campaign, but they won’t necessarily improve your core web presence. If you want to stick around as an authority for any lasting period of time, you’ll need to make a major commitment to regularly updating your website and giving your users everything they need.

  3. How to Improve The Lead Quality from Your Website

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    articleimage537How to Improve The Lead Quality from Your Website

    For most online marketers, success boils down to how much revenue your campaign generates. That revenue is tied to paying customers, and paying customers are just leads who made it through the sales process. Accordingly, many online marketers measure their success in terms of how many leads they were able to generate. It’s a good number to know, for sure, but there’s one major problem with it: it doesn’t tell you how good those leads are.

    Working with five great leads is better, and will result in more revenue, than 100 irrelevant or uninterested leads. That 100 number is flashy and looks great, but without substantive lead quality, it’s essentially useless.

    If you’re not seeing the increased revenue you want or expect out of your campaign, try implementing one of these strategies to improve your lead quality:

    Target Your Content and Social Strategies

    articleimage537arget Your Content and Social Strategies

    Your content marketing strategy, if executed with care, can be your greatest source of incoming leads. Writing regular high-quality content and using the power of social media channels to syndicate that content will naturally attract dozens, and in time, hundreds of leads to your website. In order to maximize the conversion potential for those leads, and ensure that those leads are as qualified as possible, you need to adjust your content strategy accordingly.

    For example, if you own a repair company, but you only do work for small- to medium-sized businesses, writing content about home repairs would attract a large number of people to your blog—but those people wouldn’t belong to your key demographic, and your lead quality would correspondingly go down. It’s better to write and publish content that caters to a highly specific type of person—the kind of person you’d love to come in as a lead.

    Additionally, you can spend more time on social media, reaching out to individuals you know would make good leads and following them. This will get their attention and gradually shift your following to be mostly comprised of prequalified leads.

    Create a Killer Landing Page

    articleimage537createrkillerlandingpage

    Another option is to set up one or more highly specific landing pages for your users. For example, instead of vaguely leading people to your website and a generic contact form, you can create a specific landing page for each of your products or services (depending on how many you have). These specific landing pages will explain exactly what the product is, and speak directly to whichever demographic you’re targeting.

    The downside to this strategy is you will likely see fewer conversions. Not everybody visiting a car dealership is going to be interested in buying a new, red sports car, and not everybody visiting your landing page is going to be interested in what you’re selling. But by sacrificing the sheer volume of leads, you’ll be effectively narrowing your lead pool to only the most interested and qualified candidates. You’ll have sacrificed a flashy number in exchange for a faster, more valuable lead pool.

    You can direct users to these specific landing pages using whatever marketing channels you want; for example, you could tie different landing pages into different blog categories or link them to specific groups of PPC ads.

    Select Targeted Demographics in Advertising

     

    Speaking of advertising, selective demographic targeting is possible with many types of paid online advertising. For example, Facebook ads allow you to get incredibly specific with the types of users you advertise to. You can select an ideal gender, age range, selection of interests, and geographic location, and the social network will only display your ads to people meeting those requirements. The keys to harnessing this to its maximum potential are knowing which demographics make for the best leads, and engaging those demographics with compelling design and copy.

    Start by categorizing your incoming leads in terms of their identifiable demographic qualities, and measuring how successful each follow-up is. When you aggregate your data, you should be able to identify which qualities result in the most successful opportunities, and you’ll be able to favor those qualities in your advertising from there on out. Incorporate multiple designs and different lines of copy to run A/B tests once you roll out your ads. That way, you can determine the best type of messaging to use for your future campaigns.

    Use Multi-Step User Paths to Pre-Qualify Leads

    This strategy is especially useful for filtering leads that must meet a series of different requirements. Essentially, you’ll be creating a workflow for your users to follow, from initial entry to point of contact. You can structure this however you’d like; as an example, you could have a social media post that introduces an article by saying “Are you a small business owner? You’ll want to read up on these energy tips” and filter your audience to only small business owners interested in saving energy. Then, your article could focus exclusively on electricity, filtering out any small business owners who want to save on gas or other forms of energy. Finally, you can end your article with a link to a landing page by asking “Do you use more than X kW of electricity a year?” and filter out low-energy businesses. The landing page could filter out even more unqualified leads.

    Including multiple steps like this will lower your conversion rates and through-traffic, but it will increase the quality of your leads. Your goal should be filtering out as many bad fits as possible in the least amount of steps.

    Measure Lead Quality in Multiple Channels

    This is by far the best long-term strategy you can incorporate in order to maximize the quality of your online leads. Start by defining all available marketing channels that eventually lead to a contact. This could mean setting up a different landing page for each medium, tracking user behavior based on points of initial entry, or simply asking “how did you hear about us?” on a contact form. Run your marketing campaigns as you normally would, and sort those leads into different categories based on how they initially found you.

    Once you’ve done that, measure the quality of each lead in terms of two characteristics: the lead’s level of interest, and the quality of the fit. You can measure the interest level by gauging how enthusiastic the lead is about your company, and you can determine the quality of the fit based on how neatly the lead fits into your model of the “perfect” customer. Find a way to aggregate those measurements, and compare the averages of each category. By the end of your analysis, you should have a very clear idea of which advertising or marketing channel generates the highest quality leads. Knowing this, you can cut some of the lower-quality channels, and focus more on your efforts toward the more successful medium.

    Truly successful lead generation strategies are ones that give you the best opportunities, not the most opportunities. Setting up a system that feeds you only the most qualified leads will eventually save you time, money, and stress.

    If you don’t want to build new landing pages or new user workflows, you can at least get started with understanding and catering to your ideal customer demographics. Every action you take counts toward refining your lead pool and perfecting your lead generation strategy.

  4. How to Acquire Legitimate Anchor Text Rich Backlinks

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    Anchor text, the portion of text that contains a hyperlink, has been a controversial element of offsite optimization for the past several years, especially after Google’s Penguin update in 2012 ushered in a major overhaul of what constituted a “good” backlink. Back in the early days of SEO, anchor text was a search engine optimizer’s best friend; you could easily anchor any link you wanted with the keyword or phrase you wanted to rank for, and instantly get more relevance for that keyword or phrase.

    Today, things aren’t so simple. The Penguin update scours the web for links that appear to be solely intended to boost page rank and penalizes them. To most search marketers, that spelled the end of using keyword-rich anchor text for links. If you were caught trying to optimize for a specific phrase using offsite links, you’d be begging for a penalty.

    But new evidence suggests that might have been an overreaction, and that it is not only possible, but advisable, to build at least some links with rich anchor text. This article explores the process of scouting and building anchor text-rich backlinks without infuriating the Google robots.

    Anchor Text Rich Backlinks: Spammy or Safe?

    articleimage536Anchor Text Rich Backlinks

    Why have anchor text-rooted links been treated as such an imprudent strategy in recent years? It’s because heavily keyword-dense backlinks truly are a spammy tactic. Building dozens of links with identical keyword anchors is a sure recipe to earn a penalty from Google. However, according to recent tests from search engine authority Moz, links with specific anchor text still carry a significant chunk of authority.

    Here’s what that means for the average search marketer: stuffing keywords into your anchor text is still a bad idea. But if you diversify your strategy, use appropriate keywords, and temper your link building with natural sources, including relevant, targeted anchor text can be a valuable strategy.

    Abandoning Control

    articleimage536Abandoning Control

    Most link building strategies at least partially rely on outside sources constructing links. For example, if a news publication runs a story that references one of your recent blog posts, they’ll be in charge of posting the link to it. This relieves you of some level of work, but on the other hand, it presents a problem if you’re thinking of including more anchor text. Allowing outsiders to build links to your site means abandoning some level of control. Your links, in terms of their destination, framing, and anchor text, are essentially at the mercy of whoever posts them.

    Don’t worry. This is actually a good quality, and a necessary quality if you want to ensure that your anchor text linking strategy remains in the good graces of Google. Google expects to see a certain amount of “natural” links, and while some search marketers have been wracking their brains to try and build links that “seem” natural, the best strategy to build natural links is to let those links be naturally built. If the vast majority of your inbound links are out of your control, they’ll likely be seen as natural, while the remaining minority—your anchor text-rich hidden weapons—won’t register as spam.

    The bottom line is, don’t be afraid to relinquish control of the majority of your link building strategy. Allow the majority of your outside sources to link to your site however they want, and only take control over the portion of link building that remains.

    Choosing Appropriate Anchor Text

    articleimage536Choosing Appropriate Anchor Text

    When starting your anchor text-rich link building strategy, your first step is going to be choosing the right anchor text. In older SEO strategies, you would research keywords with the most traffic, and post them like there was no tomorrow.

    Today, you need a more refined, less spammy type of anchor text. In fact, you should avoid thinking about it in terms of “keywords” at all. Instead, you should choose highly relevant, easily repeatable text that makes sense in natural usage; for example, the phrase “cheap batteries in Minnesota” doesn’t naturally come up very often, so if it’s used as anchor text, it will trigger a red flag. But there are types of anchor text that are natural, and can be used in your strategy.

    Harnessing the Power of a Brand

    Your brand is your identity, and if your branding strategy is in line with best practices, you’re doing everything you can to make sure it stays consistent in every possible iteration. For example, it’s always “Coca-Cola” and never “Coke-a-Cola” or “Co-ca-Co-la.” Brand names are repeatable—almost mandatorily repeatable—and unique to you, which makes them perfect elements of any anchor text strategy.

    Use brand names as part of your link building strategy. That consistent use will appear natural, limiting the risk of getting penalized, and increase your brand’s authority in the eyes of major search engines. Keep in mind you can use this not only for your company name, but for your product names as well—this is especially useful for e-commerce sites.

    Linking to Relevant Pages

    It’s also completely natural and acceptable to include an accurate description of the page you’re linking to as the anchor text of the given link. For example, if your company sells paint and paint thinner, and you have an onsite page explicitly titled “Paint Removal Services,” feel free to link to that specific page with anchor text containing “paint removal services.” It’s accurate, it’s appropriate, and it’s going to give you a sizeable boost in relevance for paint removal keyword phrases. The key here is to link to a variety of internal pages, to avoid spamming one deep linked page over and over again. Eventually, you’ll build consistency and relevance for each internal page that’s a part of your campaign.

    Making a Textual Request

    If you want to strengthen your anchor text rich link building efforts, it is possible to get others on board with your formatting. For example, on your blog, you could make a request to all linkers by saying “please cite this article as…” followed by instructions that clarify your intentions. This isn’t always the best strategy, especially since part of your penalty-protection efforts are dependent on others linking however they want to link, but if you want an extra boost for a specific phrase, you can try this trick. Ensure the anchor text is appropriate, no matter what.

    Changing Things Up

    Finally, I want to remind you of an important aspect of your link building efforts: variability. If you use the same collection of exact phrases over and over, you will be penalized. I can almost guarantee it. If you want to protect yourself against such an eventuality without sacrificing the benefits of link building with a repeated phrase, change up your anchor text selections on a regular basis, such as monthly or quarterly. Don’t be afraid to rotate them back in eventually, but keep in mind that diversifying your strategy is the best way to keep yourself from getting penalized.

    Rich anchor text is not a dead strategy, as some search marketers might have you believe. The difference today is that you have to allow more links to be built naturally, giving your external sources more textual freedom, and you have to diversify your link strategy with appropriate, repeatable choices.

  5. How Many Words Should I Have on My Homepage?

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    Content length is a matter of concern for both SEO and user experience. You need enough content to register in major search engines, but not so much that you alienate your users or appear to be overoptimizing your pages. Writing too much is a pitfall of some search marketers obsessed with achieving a higher rank; they believe that more content is always better, when in reality, that’s hardly ever the case. While certain best practices should be followed to maximize SEO potential, quality is always better than quantity.

    The home page is a unique animal for two reasons: first, because it carries the most weight in representing your site to major search engines, and second, because it’s usually the first and only chance you have to capture your users’ attentions long enough to lead them to conversion. With that being said, let’s explore why word count is important for your home page, and what number of words strikes the right balance between user-friendly and SEO-optimized.

    General Guidelines for SEO

    articleimage535General Guidelines for SEO

    First, it’s important to establish a baseline for SEO. Your homepage text needs to be optimized for search engines if you want to stand a chance of ranking high for relevant keywords. However, the requirements for search engines are less strict and less demanding than you might think. In terms of onsite text, there are only a handful of guidelines you’ll need to follow in order to get the best results. Aside from your title tags, meta descriptions, and physical site structure, you’ll only need to pay attention to these features in your home page content:

    Crawlable Text

    In order to be seen as existing by the robots of major search engines like Google, you will need a minimum amount of “crawlable” text. Robots will scour your site, including your company name, title tag, meta information, and of course, onsite content. In the old days of SEO, that meant including keyword-rich content, so Google would be able to understand what your site is about. Today, Google’s robots are highly advanced, and can detect the meaning and intent of your site without you spoon-feeding it content. So, aside from optimized meta data, you only need to include enough text to convey the main purpose and category of your website to a search engine crawler.

    Logical, Semantically Appropriate Text

    It’s also important to structure your home page content appropriately for search engine robots. It’s not enough to simply list a series of words that describe your business; you need to write in a natural, logical, and appropriate form. That means your content needs to be error-free, straightforward, and written clearly. Google can detect not only grammatical and semantic errors, but also unnatural instances of language that could indicate a non-native speaker or an intention of keyword stuffing. If you write in a natural voice, you have nothing to worry about, but extending your onsite content for the sole purpose of hitting a word count could lead you to write unnatural sentences.

    A Word Against Keyword Stuffing

    Even if you have a few hundred words of sufficient content that is suitable for Google crawlers and appears to be naturally written, you can still face a penalty if you are keyword stuffing. Do not artificially implant keywords into your text for the purpose of increasing your rank; at this stage of evolution in SEO, it will only work against you. Write truthfully about your company, and convey the core strengths and qualities of your business.

    Your home page word count for SEO shouldn’t matter too much, aside from meeting the above requirements. As such, your word count could range from 100 to about 1,000 words.

    Best Practices for Conversion

    articleimage535Bestpracticeofconversion

    That 100 to 1,000 word range is only for search engines’ benefits; remember that your home page is also the first impression most visitors will have of your company. Your word count also needs to cater to your users’ expectations and desires. Your onsite content will need to immediately convey your company’s description to your users, and also catch their attention long enough for them to want to venture deeper into the site. It isn’t the place for longwinded elaborations, nor is it the place for vague descriptions.

    Concise, Readable Text

    Instead of focusing on how much text you have on the page, focus on what messages and ideas you want to convey to your visitor. Then, find a way to convey that information to your visitor in the most concise way possible. Don’t truncate or compromise your message, but cut out any unnecessary or “fluffy” content. Your users don’t want to read excessive material that has no relevance; they want the shortest path available. In most cases, that means decreasing your word count to avoid tiring your audience.

    You’ll also want to make sure your content is easily readable, with a clear font and appealing design that complements the content’s form. That means it’s not enough to have a paragraph of excellent content squished together in a lump on your page—your words need to be spaced enough to engage your readers.

    Direction to Fuller Pages

    Remember that your home page alone isn’t going to convert readers, and therefore, you don’t need to cram information on it. Let your interior pages do the bulk of the work. You can have as much content as you want on your About page, your Services page, and of course, your blog and news pages. Keep your word count on the home page appropriate for its primary purpose: capturing immediate attention and directing users to relevant interior pages for further brand engagement.

    It’s hard to boil all this information into a one-size-fits-all word count recommendation, but for most sites, creating a great user experience means falling on the shorter end of that 100-1,000 word spectrum.

    Test, Test, Test!

    articleimage535 testtesttest

    Every brand and every website is unique, so unfortunately, it’s impossible to calculate an exact word count that achieves the “best of both worlds” for search engine and user experience optimization. There’s no number I could write here that would solve every webmaster’s problems. However, you can figure out the perfect word count for your specific brand by experimenting with A/B tests.

    Design your home page in two iterations: make the first a shorter version, closer to the 100-word range of the spectrum, and geared toward giving your users the best experience. Set it up for a week (or longer), and measure the results in terms of your organic traffic, and your bounce rates on the homepage. Then, mock up a version of your homepage with bulkier content—something closer to 1,000 words, and run it for a week to see how it impacts your search relevance and user behavior.

    It might take some trial and error before you find the perfect word count for your home page, but that’s the way it should be. In online marketing, there’s no one simple answer for anything because every brand is unique and every demographic has different preferences. In time, you’ll be able to determine what balance of SEO structuring and user catering is right for your company, and your traffic and conversion rates will reflect that.

  6. Create SEO Friendly Affiliate Links in Three Steps

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    Affiliate links are a useful tool for online advertisers looking to gain a little extra traffic. Essentially, you’ll be putting a link to your website, or a landing page, on an affiliate’s website or domain. You’ll receive the benefit of extra traffic in exchange for a small fee, usually a fixed amount per click-through. If you’re familiar with Google’s Pay-Per-Click (PPC) advertising, you already know what affiliate marketing is like—traditional affiliate links work the same way, but with a site other than a major search engine.

    Affiliate links can be tricky, however. Google is able to identify which links are designed for affiliate marketing, and traditionally, the search engine giant has held a firm stance that affiliate links do not pass authority on to the destination site. Affiliate links can be seen as endorsements, like a traditional backlink that offers a citation or a reference to an outside source, or advertisements, which are purchased and therefore do not pass any kind of authority. Google views links as respectable, but they also see them as a form of advertising—so the rules of linking through affiliates are different if you’re trying to get the most out of your SEO campaign.

    It’s impossible to get any authority to pass through your affiliate links directly, but there are a handful of techniques you can use to optimize new content and build more authority for your domain in general. There are three steps to this process.

    Step One: Find Relevant Affiliates

    articleimage531Find Relevant Affiliates

    Depending on your budget, you may have a limited range of options for potential affiliates. There are many popular options available, but if you’re interested in getting the most for your time and effort, it’s better to find one with relevance to your industry, or one with a high level of authority. Working with webmasters of low-authority article directories or similar shady schemes could cause your affiliate links to be seen as unscrupulous, or otherwise irrelevant. It’s true that these affiliate links do not pass authority, but if your webmaster posts the link incorrectly or if your link appears too frequently on the site, you could incur a penalty on your domain.

    Secondly, you’ll want to find a webmaster who is easy to work with. Should anything change with your link or your campaign, you need to have a line of flexibility. Most respectable online domains will pose no problem for you, but run through your long-term options before finalizing any affiliate in your program.

    Once you’ve found a suitable affiliate, you can start brainstorming about your links. Ideally, you’ll have a handful of different links to post for each affiliate site, so they can cycle through or add some diversity to the program. If you’re an e-commerce site, you can create different links for different products. Otherwise, you can create different naming conventions or different destinations based on your service offerings.

    Step Two: Create a Landing Page

    articleimage531createlandingpage

    Next, you’ll want to create a unique landing page for each domain you have in your network of affiliates. For example, if you’re only working with one affiliate, you’ll only need to set up a landing page for that one, but if you’re working with three different webmasters, you’ll need three separate landing pages. This isn’t a requirement of affiliate marketing; instead, it’s a key opportunity to optimize your site for SEO, and improve your ability to track traffic and conversions.

    The landing pages don’t need to be anything fancy, but they will need to be designed in a way that captures your inbound lead’s interest and gives them a chance to convert—whether that means purchasing a product or filling out a form. You’ll also need to make sure each landing page is set up under your core domain, with a unique and relevant URL associated with it. For example, if your domain is audiencebloom.com, you could set up a trio of landing pages such as audiencebloom.com/affiliate/affiliate-name-1, audiencebloom.com/affiliate/affiliate-name-2, and audiencebloom.com/affiliate/affiliate-name-3. Doing so will instantly give you three new pages of content on your domain, which will assist your onsite SEO efforts if you write them in line with SEO best practices.

    As what might be an obvious piece of advice, make sure your landing pages are all uniquely written. Don’t simply change a handful of words around and hope that Google doesn’t catch you cutting corners; take the time to write each page from scratch if you want to avoid getting noticed for posting duplicate content. You could also use these landing pages to post inward links to your interior pages, giving you a tighter network of in-linking to enhance your navigation simplicity in the eyes of Google’s robots.

    As an added bonus to the separate landing page structure, you’ll be able to set up individual goals in Google Analytics and attain valuable data about the nature of each inbound stream of traffic. If you’re dealing with multiple different affiliates, you probably already have an easy way to determine which is bringing you the most traffic—but with Goals, you’ll be able to see exactly how your users behave once they arrive to the landing pages, and which types of users are the most qualified as potential leads.

    Step Three: Add Value to the Affiliate’s Site

    articleimage531Add Value to the Affiliate’s Site

    Now that you’ve got your affiliates chosen and you have your landing pages set up, it’s time for the final step of the process: adding more value to your affiliate’s site. This is where the flexible relationship with your webmasters will come in handy.

    If your webmaster is open to the option, offer additional content for them to post around your link. There’s a chance you’ll have to pay for this extra service, but in most cases, webmasters will appreciate the opportunity to feature extra content onsite. One of the best ways to do this is to feature an embedded video, showcasing your brand or the product you’re going to be selling through the affiliate link, near the source of the link. For webmasters, it serves as a bonus piece of content. For users, it serves as an interactive preview before they ever have to click a link. For you, it’s a key opportunity to improve your offsite SEO. Anybody sharing or linking to your embedded video will pass link juice all the way back to your original domain, giving you one extra push for search optimization.

    Other options include posting similarly engaging pieces of visual content, such as infographics, or using short clips of copy to optimize for a product name or brand name. As with any SEO-related copy, you’ll want to take efforts to avoid over-optimizing with irrelevant or spammy keyword choices.

    Affiliate links aren’t a great SEO strategy by themselves, since they pass no authority onto your site, but they can be useful in terms of generating raw traffic to your pages. If you’re going to use affiliate links as part of your overall lead generation strategy, applying these steps can help you make the most of them. You generally don’t have to worry about the threat of a penalty, since Google understands and condones the use of affiliate links, but don’t pass up the opportunity for a little extra SEO power.

  7. 3 Ways to Acquire Links from Large News Websites

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    Link building has come a long way since the early days of posting links pointing to your site like they were flyers for a lost cat. Successful offsite SEO is no longer a matter of quantity (though, quantity and regularly still play a role) so much as it is a matter of quality. In order to build the authority of your own site, you must leverage the authority of existing sites, and construct links that are meaningful in the eyes of users as well as search engine robots.

    So what constitutes an “authoritative” site? Two of the most valuable options, .gov government official sites, and .edu educational sites, are rare to find and hard to build links on—it’s no simple matter of making a simple request or doing the posting yourself. The next best thing is getting your link on a major news website, like CNN or MSNBC, but that must be just as hard, right?

    Actually, building links on major news sites isn’t as difficult as you might imagine. It’s true that it will take significantly more time and effort to build these links, and you may never be guaranteed a spot at the end of it, but these links are far more valuable than ones you build on traditional forums or blog spaces.

    Try any or all of these three significant ways you can earn valuable backlinks from major news sites:

    1. Take Advantage of Google News.

    articleimage529Take Advantage of Google News

    Your first option is one of the easiest. In order to get a link on a major news site, you have to get noticed. And getting noticed isn’t just a matter of making an introduction. In order to get seen and appreciated by a major news site, you have to have information that is truly newsworthy; these outlets have a reputation because they’re committed to publishing only the most significant material.

    Google News is a publication outlet that can help you achieve that visibility and credibility. If you’re new to Google News, think of it as a gigantic, constantly updated database with news stories from around the world. Google takes this aggregated cache of news and then displays it to users using sophisticated algorithms that show content appropriate for each user’s interests, history, and geographic location.

    Google News allows almost anyone to post credible news articles for consideration to be included in this database. If you have a “news” or “press” section of your website (and you actually use it to publish newsworthy information), this option is perfect for you. You can set your site up within the Publisher Center, and submit content regularly for consideration. You can also submit individual articles or press releases.

    If you’re lucky, another major news publication will take notice of your Google-published news entries, and will either reference it in a link out to your site, or follow up with you for more information. It’s a roundabout way of getting attention from news sites, but if your content is worth their attention, they will take notice.

    The worst-case scenario here is that no major news sites pick up your link—if that’s the case, you can still enjoy the benefits of having your articles listed on Google News. It may not increase your domain authority as much as a pack of high-authority links, but it will send a significant flow of new traffic to your site.

    2. Distribute Your Own Press Releases.

    articleimage529ownpressrelease

    The principle behind this tactic is the same as the previous entry: in order to earn a link on a major news site, you have to get their attention with a major news article. Google News is incredibly useful for sites with regular news releases, but it only increases the visibility of content in one channel: Google search results. If you’re interested in submitting your article to major news sites directly for consideration, you can distribute your own individual press releases with a service like PRWeb.

    Through PRWeb, you’ll be able to publish your press release and syndicate it—depending on the service you use, you should be able to submit it to tens of thousands of different news outlets, differentiating them according to their geographic location or industry niche. This distribution usually includes some of the biggest names in national news, but you will have a higher chance of getting picked up in low- to medium-authority news sites.

    If your press release is highly significant, well-written, and timely, you do stand a decent chance of getting picked up by a major news outlet, featuring a link pointing back to your site as a reward for your efforts. However, even if your article falls through the cracks of the highest-tier publications, the links you earn on lesser-known publications will still be highly valuable. This is especially true for local news sites, which will earn you backlinks anchored with a specific location, enhancing your relevance in local SEO.

    Temper your expectations by remembering that submitting a press release is no guarantee of publication on a major news channel, but distributed press releases are still one of the best shots you have. Submit newsworthy press releases regularly for the best SEO benefit.

    3. Get Involved in the Community with Comments.

    articleimage529Get Involved in the Community with Comments

    Comments are always a decent option for link building, and major news sites are no exception. You’ll certainly get more visibility and credibility if a news site publishes one of your articles, but if you’re looking to get some high-authority link juice, posting something relevant in the comments section is a great alternative.

    Your best bet is to find an article that has something to do with your industry. For example, if you work with new technology, find something in the “Technology” section that is related to a product you’ve produced. If you work in financial services, something in the “Money” section might be better. You can also use a search function to find a highly specific article, but do your best to select articles with a recent publication date in order to stay relevant.

    As with any link building exercise, take caution to ensure your link appears natural. Any indication that could give a webmaster the impression that you are only posting a link for the page rank boost will immediately get your comment flagged as spam and removed. Make sure your link is to a specific, relevant page on your site, and introduce the link by explaining why you’re posting it and why it’s relevant to the article. Get involved with the discussion, and you might earn a handful of new web visitors in addition to improving your SEO.

    Getting links from major news sources is neither stable nor easy enough to be a reliable, independent link building strategy. However, when executed as part of a broader, multifaceted offsite SEO campaign, news-related link building can be an enormous assist to your efforts. Be patient with news sites and stay consistent in your efforts even if you don’t get a bite right away. Emphasize the quality and relevance of your news items, and diversify your strategy whenever possible to cover the most ground. Eventually, you’ll find a rhythm for your news, and your SEO strategy will succeed because of it.

  8. Your Guide to Building a Consistent Brand Voice for Content Marketing

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    By this point, you’ve heard about brand voice and the role it plays in content marketing campaigns. When most people think of a brand, they think of it in visual terms; they think of a logo, a color scheme, a mascot, a font, and other visual cues that represent a company’s identity. But brand voice, the tonal and linguistic choices of a brand’s copy and content, is just as important. Throughout this guide, I’ll explain the mechanics of why brand voice is important, and I’ll show you how you can create your own brand voice—and keep it consistent across every platform.

    Why Is Brand Voice Important?

    articleimage520brandvoice

    A consistent brand voice accomplishes several goals simultaneously:

    • It solidifies your brand identity. By aligning your tone of voice and verbiage with the “personality” of your brand, you’ll strengthen the image people have of your company. In the same way that a logo can give someone an immediate good (or bad) impression, your choice of words can convey a style and set of characteristics that leaves people with a specific feeling.
    • It makes your content more relatable. People want to read content that speaks to them. Consider the lines “Homework is the worst—and this study proves it!” and “New study finds homework inhibits learning potential in adolescents.” These lines could be introducing the exact same article, but one speaks to an adolescent audience, while the other speaks to older, more scientific minds. How you say things matters more than what you say, and with the right brand voice, you can make almost anything work for your target audience.
    • It builds familiarity and encourages repeat readership. Readers are far more likely to return to blogs they feel are familiar. If a reader is introduced to a new voice, or an inconsistent voice, each time they access a blog, they’ll have no familiar foundation and they’ll be less likely to continue reading. A consistent voice keeps them coming back for more.

    Four Questions to Ask

    articleimage520Four Questions to Ask

    Before you can enjoy the benefits of a consistent brand voice, you have to construct one that’s appropriate and valuable for your brand. It’s a tough task, especially for those unacquainted with brand voice or new to the world of writing, so to get you started, consider these questions:

    Who Is Your Target Audience?

    Start by defining your readership. Who is going to be reading your blog? Think of your readers’ personalities and characteristics—are they old or young? Male or female? Highly educated or average? Think about what these types of readers appreciate in their lives. Are they the type of people who prefer complex, professional vocabulary, or the type who prefer simplistic, easy-to-understand language? Would they prefer an emotional draw-in or a logical one? You can get a better idea for this question by reading up on blogs that are also targeted toward your audience, and shaping your voice against theirs.

    What Makes Your Brand Unique Among the Competition?

    This is a critical question that will define your brand as a distinguished enterprise in the landscape of your industry. Take a look at the blogs and social media posts of all your competitors. What characteristics do you see in their brand voices? What makes your brand unique among them? You can certainly draw inspiration from the style of your competitors’ brand voices, but if you want to stand out and win the loyalty of your readers, you’ll need at least a few differentiating factors. Are you more casual? More refined? More personal?

    If Your Brand Was a Person, What Would He/She Be Like?

    This is the key question in determining the shape of your tone, and it’s extremely helpful for new writers who are unfamiliar with creating a brand voice from scratch. Rather than trying to sort out which words to use or what types of phrases to try, put yourself in the mindset of your brand. Your brand should function as your company’s personality and identity, so it’s helpful to imagine what your company would be like if it actually was a person. Is your company male or female? Is he/she relaxed or disciplined? Sharp-dressed or casual? Friendly or formal?

    Why Do People Want to Read Your Material?

    Finally, you’ll want to ask yourself why people want to read your material. You probably already have an idea about the topics you want to cover, but why do people want to read those topics? Are they attracted to the informational element of it, or would they rather be entertained? Are they coming to you because they’re distressed and in need of help, or because they’re bored and need something to occupy their attention? Understanding your readers’ main motivations can help you shape a voice that responds to those needs.

    The answers to these questions should be helpful in establishing the core values and characteristics of your brand voice. But that alone isn’t enough to get you started. Try these exercises to take your new brand voice for a test drive, and start working out the kinks:

    Exercise: Imagine a Conversation

    For the first exercise, you’re going to utilize the characters you invented with the preceding questions. Imagine your brand as a person, leading a conversation, and your ideal customer as another person, responding or listening to the conversation. If you have multiple demographics for your brand, simply choose the one with the most relevance.

    Think of something you’d like to say; it can be the relation of a news item, a how-to explanation, or anything else that could eventually transform into a blog post format. Imagine how your character, the personified version of your brand, would relay that information to your target audience member. Write up a paragraph while thinking in this mindset, as if your character is having his/her words directly transferred to the page. Later, re-read the paragraph, and imagine your “brand” character speaking the words aloud. Does anything seem strange or out of character? Make adjustments accordingly.

    Exercise: A, B, and C Take

    This second exercise is designed to illustrate the differences between different tones of voice. It should help you find the distinguishing factors that make your voice unique, and give insight into how different voices can be constructed.

    Consider our “homework” example earlier. You’re going to build a similar model. Take an idea: it can be the headline for a news story, a sample statistic, a random fact about your industry—anything that can be summarized in one or two sentences. Then, you’ll spin it like an actor, with an “A” take, a “B” take, and a “C” take. Find three different ways to convey the same information: one in line with your brand’s voice, and two that are in line with a different voice. With practice, you’ll become a master at reshaping core content into a brand-appropriate tone.

    Following Up

    articleimage520followup

    Remember that while your brand’s voice should remain relatively consistent from post to post, it’s also going to change as your business grows. Over the course of months and years, you’ll need to update your brand voice to reflect changes to your company’s offerings, core values, leadership, and target audience. Consistency is important to build familiarity, but brand voices cannot remain stagnant when businesses evolve over time.

    Different mediums do require slight alterations to your formatting, but for the most part, your brand’s voice should remain consistent across all platforms. It will take time and practice to master writing in your brand’s style, but in time, you’ll have something recognizable, valuable, and endearing for your brand.

  9. How to Turn a PR Disaster Into an SEO Benefit

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    It doesn’t matter how hard you try to avoid one or mitigate the effects of a questionable incident. Eventually, your company will likely face some type of public relations disaster.

    It could be something monumental, like a major product defect that’s caused significant accidents and damages, or something almost innocent, like a misquote on social media. PR disasters are rarely predictable and often destructive, but the way you respond to a disaster can completely mold its eventual outcome. Depending on the severity of the event, there may be irreparable lasting damage to your brand, but if you treat it cautiously and view it as an opportunity, you can harness it for its potential benefits.

    PR disasters generate lots of negative attention, which isn’t ideal, but it’s still a lot of attention. If you can use that influx of attention to improve your company’s relevance, you could potentially neutralize the brand-damaging effects of the situation with a significant ranking boost.

    The Digital Social World

    articleimage519digitalworld

    First, I want to set the context for the modern world of public relations. There was a time when PR disasters were best addressed by limiting their range of influence. Withholding details, speaking ambiguously, and decreasing the number of publications covering the story were all important strategies that could limit the number of eyes and ears on the incident in question.

    Today, everything is immediately and easily available. Even if you take an article off the web within minutes of its publication, there’s a chance it could have already been shared and re-shared by a thousand online readers. There is a perpetual nature to everything posted online, and since almost everything is posted online, there is virtually nothing you can effectively silence. Companies that try to hide facts or delete posts are often called out on their secretive efforts, generating more negative attention and an even harsher blow to their brand’s reputation.

    Knowing this, it’s almost always better to openly acknowledge a company mistake. People are going to learn about it no matter what, so they might as well hear it from you. If you take the time to address the problem and have the courtesy to allow the inevitable negative comments to exist, you’ll be seen as more trustworthy and more human than if you simply try to cover up everything.

    That being said, there are a handful of strategies you can use to boost your SEO ranks while the PR disaster hits.

    Soak Up the Links and Brand Mentions

    It’s unfortunate, but more people want to read about disasters than positive announcements. It’s a natural, yet morbid, human curiosity. Think about that in terms of your press release potential during a PR disaster. If you publish a piece of content announcing or responding to some negative event, it’s incredibly likely you’ll be picked up by a variety of syndication channels. Once published on those channels, you’ll get ample attention (even if it’s negative attention), which will only lead to more web traffic and more links.

    The negative public reaction to the event will eventually fade, as long as you handle it properly, but the backlinks you generate from the newsworthy announcement are permanent. You may not like the fact that the information will remain on the web forever, but it’s probably going to be there no matter what, so you might as well enjoy the boost in domain authority you get from all the extra links.

    Linkless brand mentions will also be prevalent during the incident, especially in the form of user comments to press releases or references on external blogs. These brand mentions are also valuable for building your authority, and serve as a complement to traditional backlinks.

    Submitting a press release about the event also gives you an opportunity to proactively and publicly respond. Your readers will see that you acknowledge and care about the event, and depending on what you say, you could easily turn their opinions around. Simply admitting an error and apologizing for it is sometimes enough to make up for whatever happened. Plus, whenever someone searches for the incident, it’s better to see a title like “X Corporation Apologies for Grievous Error” rather than something like “X Corporation Has Yet to Respond to Grievous Error,” especially early on in the response cycle.

    You can make a handful of onsite posts about the event as well. Doing so will give you the opportunity to address the incident directly, and since you’ll be seen as the primary authority on the subject, you’ll naturally attract dozens (if not hundreds) of new backlinks to those onsite posts. It’s a free opportunity to create more, relevant, newsworthy content, and at the same time, you’ll have an easy link magnet that can boost your domain authority even more.

    Post on Social Media Like Crazy

    articleimage519Post on Social Media Like Crazy

    PR disasters are the perfect chance to show your true colors on social media. Some disasters have gotten worse when companies try to delete social media posts from other users, or respond in a robotic and formulaic way. On the other hand, some disasters have gotten better when companies acknowledge each responder personally, and do what they can to explain the situation and make it better.

    Depending on the severity of your disaster and the size of your company, you may benefit from having a dedicated employee monitoring your social media profiles on a near-constant basis, responding to every comment that comes up and posting updates as appropriate. The extra social media juice won’t just improve your reputation in the eyes of your current followers; it will also make you seem more authoritative and more conversational in the eyes of Google. It’s not entirely clear how social media activity is measured or incorporated into Google rankings, but more followers and more activity are definitely a plus.

    Encourage Responses

    articleimage519encourageresponse

    It may seem like a risky move, but if you encourage people to respond to your disaster, you’ll get a lot more attention on the web. In your onsite content, press releases, and social media posts, ask your readers to tell you how they feel about the incident, and ask what you can do to make it up to them. It will show that you care about your audience enough to value their opinions, and it might give you the chance to learn how to ameliorate the situation. Plus, depending on how they choose to respond, the additional responses will serve as additional content for your SEO campaign.

    PR disasters are something every company dreads, and by all means, you should avoid them whenever possible. But not everything is preventable or predictable, so when disaster does hit, it pays to be prepared with a secondary strategy that can make the most of a bad situation. Undoubtedly, you’ll lose a percentage of your customers as a result, but if you can spin the situation in your favor, you’ll increase the loyalty of the customers who remain, and you’ll make your brand more visible to an audience of potential new followers. If you use your PR disaster to improve your SEO standings, you’ll be poised to benefit from the incident once the initial blowback begins to die down.

  10. How One Company Committed Ranking Suicide for Positive PR

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    SEO is a strategy founded on logic; give your customers a great experience and comply with a handful of best practices, and you’ll rank higher in search engine results pages (SERPs). Rank higher, and you’ll be easier to find when people search for a term related to your business, giving you more web traffic, more brand visibility, more customers, and more revenue.

    But sometimes, logical strategies aren’t the only option. If a company deliberately disobeys best practices for ranking, you would expect it to tank, suffering fewer customers and search engine oblivion. That wasn’t the case for the owners of Botto Italian Pizza. Throughout 2014, they’ve been specifically asking their customers to give them negative reviews on local directory service Yelp, in a public attempt to become the world’s worst-reviewed restaurant. As a result, they’ve been counterintuitively enjoying a surge of new business and attention from all corners of the Internet.

    Yelp’s Role in SEO

    articleimage514Yelp’s Role in SEO

    Yelp reviews weren’t always a big deal for SEO, but in the modern context of local SEO, Yelp reviews mean everything. Thanks to Google’s recent Pigeon update, the number and quality of Yelp reviews written about a given local business are largely responsible for constituting that business’s authority and rank. The update came as a response to recent criticism from Yelp and other business review outlets that claimed Google didn’t give enough weight to online reviews for local businesses. Now, some Yelp business entries are ranking higher than the official pages of those businesses, and businesses are scrambling to get their customers to write more positive reviews.

    So why would a company actively encourage negative reviews? And why is it resulting in a higher volume of traffic?

    Botto’s Negative Campaign

    articleimage514Botto’s Negative Campaign

    Botto’s managers, David Cerretini and Michele Massimo, have been critics of Yelp for some time. They argue that Yelp has never existed in Italy, one of the most sought-after culinary destinations in the world, and that Yelp should have no bearing on the quality and success of any restaurant. Mocking the existence of the review aggregator, the two have even criticized restaurant patrons who form their opinions based on what they read on a digital screen.

    To prove their point that Yelp reviews shouldn’t—and don’t—have a lasting impact on restaurant success, the managers of Botto started a campaign to offer a 25 percent discount to any customer who leaves a negative review on Yelp. They’re also outspoken about their beliefs, encouraging all their customers to make their own opinions and not take online reviews too seriously.

    Despite intentionally going against the grain of best practices, the managers claim that business is better than ever. And with over 1300 live reviews (and growing), it’s clear that their criticism and promotion has attracted an inordinate amount of attention. Many of the reviews are clearly fake, especially the ones written from international “patrons,” but that doesn’t seem to matter. The reviews remain, Botto’s ranking sits firmly at one star, and new guests are pouring into the Italian pizzeria.

    Yelp’s Stance on the Matter

    articleimage514 Yelp’s Stance on the Matter

    So how does Yelp fit in to this? For starters, Yelp is a firm believer that star ratings on their site directly correlate with eventual revenue, citing a popular Harvard Business School study that suggests that restaurants can suffer from a 5-9 percent drop in revenue with each star lost in rating. They also believe that small businesses like Botto’s have far more to gain than chain restaurants, since local restaurant patrons are more open to new possibilities and are excited to look for hidden gems.

    Yelp clearly has a bias for their own service, and who can blame them? They believe in their platform the same way any entrepreneur believes in his company. Accordingly, Yelp tries to help out businesses with low ratings through their advertising platform—a purchasable program that gives businesses the chance to improve their reviews and generate more attention.

    This program isn’t always well-received, however. Botto managers Cerretini and Massimo revealed that after the negative reviews started pouring in, they were harassed by Yelp representatives who aggressively pressured them to pursue paid advertising on the platform. This only added to their frustration with Yelp, and motivated them to continue their pursuit. Of note, Yelp does maintain an internal “do not call” list, which business owners can elect to join at any time.

    Yelp does have an official rule that could land Botto in hot water, however. It is explicitly stated in Yelp’s policy that business owners are not allowed to offer any form of compensation in exchange for reviews. Botto’s 25 percent discount for negative reviews, while unconventional, is a technical violation of that policy. Accordingly, Yelp has sent multiple warnings to Botto about their practice in incentivizing reviews, but as you might expect, Botto has only come back with mocking responses.

    Yelp has also threatened to put a banner on Botto’s official Yelp page, warning all reviewers that the businesses offers incentives for reviews, but at this point, any potential reviewer or restaurant patron could easily determine the disingenuousness of the reviews. Not to mention, they’ve received so much publicity already that a simple warning banner couldn’t possibly override that wave of success.

    Botto as an Outlier

    Botto isn’t getting all this attention simply because it has a low rating, or because they are outspoken critics of Yelp. They are getting coverage because they are outliers, going against the grain by doing something they aren’t supposed to be doing. If several businesses start taking this approach, it will become a repetitive, mainstream option, and none of those businesses will be considered “outliers” any longer. Essentially, Botto’s freak success is a one-time result that cannot be replicated, but is interesting to consider.

    What’s the Point?

    So how can we learn from this instance as search marketers? For one, it’s important to realize that despite all the “best practices” out there, you can still generate just as much attention by doing something interesting and unusual instead of playing by the rules. Thinking outside the box can give you a bolder reputation, and increased traffic as a result.

    Likewise, it’s time to question all the significant ranking factors that Google has spoon fed us for decades. Sure, if you follow them precisely, you’ll probably rank higher and see the rewards of that higher rank. But are they truly the most important factors for your customers’ experience?

    Instead of blindly following the rules of engagement that Google has set forth for businesses, it’s better to think about your customers and what features and practices they value above all others. In Botto’s case, their customers cared more about good food and “sticking it to the man” than they did basing their opinions off one consolidated star rating. For your business, your customers might care more about having a great dashboard than having a great blog. Or they might care more about getting a personal phone call than seeing a regularly updated Facebook page.

    The bottom line is that best practices—while still enormously beneficial—aren’t the only way to generate more business. Coming up with an idiosyncratic strategy that pleases your customers could be the offbeat tactic you need to move past the superficial measurements of star ratings and search engine ranks.

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