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  1. How to Create a Content Series that Keeps Your Readers Hooked

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    Content creation requires consistent development of interesting content, which can be overwhelming for some content marketers. Coming up with ideas that are unique and executing them in a way that is familiar to your users is a difficult combination of tasks to pull off. Creating a content series (or mini-series) is a strategic way to build reader interest while resolving some of the difficulties in generating consistent new ideas.

    Advantages of a Series

    A dedicated series of content posts has a natural advantage over the one-by-one strategy that most content marketers incorporate. Content series give users a set of consistent expectations, immediately if the content is announced as being part of a series. It lets users know that each installment in the series will be of a similar caliber in a related topic, and makes it easier for content marketers to gradually build an audience. Interested readers will naturally continue to read the series, while new readers can pick up in the middle and, if interested, return to earlier posts.

    Content series also allow content marketers to take an idea and delve deeply into it without alienating readers with an exceptionally long post. By breaking that uber-post down into smaller segments, content marketers are able to make the idea more digestible, and slightly improve their page rank because of the quantity of posts.

    Still, many content marketers are unfamiliar with how to create and frame a strong content series. This guide exists to show you how.

    Step One: Identify a Major Problem

    articleimage452Step One

    Before you get too far ahead of yourself, you need to spend time brainstorming to come up with a solid idea. This idea needs to have the potential to be the subject of a series of posts, and also captivating enough to attract an initial audience.

    The best way to find this type of idea is to consider a major problem. It could be a problem in the world, a problem in your industry, a problem in your department, or some other type of problem. If you’re looking for inspiration, think back to the last major obstacle you overcame in your career. Why was it an obstacle? What did you do to correct it? Is the source of that obstacle a big enough problem to warrant multiple articles of development?

    You can also look for inspiration in existing content. Do some research to see what types of problems have been explored in your competitors’ content marketing strategies. Are any of them insufficiently covered? Can any of them be applied to a different set of circumstances? Once you have a major problem, you can move to the next step.

    Step Two: Find a Way to Explore that Problem

    articleimage452step2

    This problem shouldn’t be solvable over the course of a single article. It needs to be dissected, examined, broken down, or otherwise explored. In order to support your content series, you are going to be the explorer, and you need to find a way to either split your problem into multiple posts or use your problem to produce multiple posts. There are many ways to do this.

    First, you could explore that problem by breaking it down into a series of smaller problems. For example, if the problem is something broad like “there aren’t enough people buying ice cream,” you could break it down into several distinct sections such as the origins of the problem, the current state of the problem, the major factors responsible for continuing to make it a problem, and potential solutions to the problem. Each of these is substantive enough to merit its own article, but they all tie back to the common overarching theme.

    Second, you could look at the problem from a series of different perspectives. For example, you could look at the ice cream epidemic from the farmers’ perspectives, the brands’ perspectives, the customers’ perspectives, and the perspective of the greater economy. Explore each angle of the problem until your series reaches some kind of conclusion, or if your problem is big enough, continue finding new ways to look at it.

    Finally, you could examine the problem in real-life applications and analyze each situation. We’ll have to depart from our ice cream example and look at something like “Brands don’t care enough about their communities.” You could use each article as an independent case study, looking at brands who are irresponsible in their communities and brands who make an active effort to improve theirs.

    Whichever method you choose to explore that problem, it’s time to create your first post.

    Step Three: Make the First Post and Start a Discussion

    articleimage452step3

    Writing the first post should be relatively easy. You can introduce the series at the beginning, or simply write the article and include something in the footer or the title that brands the series: it’s your choice. No matter what you choose, it’s important to make your first post memorable. It’s the best way to start the snowballing readership effect that content series are frequently able to support.

    The best way to do this is to start a discussion surrounding your first post. You can do this by posing a question at the end of your first article, sharing it on social media with a question about your readers’ opinions, or simply by taking a controversial stand in the article and opening it up to comments. Whatever you do, find a way to get your readers deeply involved in your narrative, and start planning for the next post.

    Step Four: Ask for Feedback

    This can be integrated into your discussion, but it’s vital to ask for feedback as you continue to develop and refine your content series. Ask your readers what they liked and did not like about your first article, and what they would like to see in the next installment. This may require you to make adjustments to your current plan for the series, but it will put you in a much better position to sustain and grow your readership.

    As the series continues to move forward, keep the discussions and requests for feedback as an integral part of your process. As your readership grows, you may find new perspectives and desires that weren’t brought up in the beginning of your series. Do whatever it takes to keep your readers happy!

    Step Five: Build Suspense

    Once you’ve built a reliable readership, including readers who keep up with every post, start building suspense around the series on social media. Announce the title of your next post at least a week in advance, with an excerpt or a summary of what you plan to cover. You can even get a discussion building before you post if you really want your readers to get fired up. Eventually, you’ll build your content series into a cultural fixation that will get your readers excited on a regular basis.

    Content series aren’t for every business, but if you’re interested in building an increasingly loyal audience by exploring a complicated problem, it’s worth pursuing. Start out with an idea with a high potential for expansion, and make sure to keep your readers as involved in the creation as possible. The end result is a new, more loyal audience, and if you’re lucky, a lot more social shares.

  2. Why Site Navigation Matters for SEO

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    Site navigation seems like something you shouldn’t have to think about, but its importance to search engine optimization (SEO) is often underestimated. Your main goal is to present certain information to your customers, so it’s easy to get lost in thinking that it doesn’t matter how you structure that information. However, your site navigation plays a number of different roles in providing data to search engine crawlers and ensuring usability, therefore making it a crucial element for development in your SEO strategy.

    The term “site navigation” can actually refer to multiple components of a site. First, it usually refers to the main navigation bar on a given website, often found running across the top of the screen. It can also refer to the overall sitemap of the domain, including links not found in that header bar. Confusing things even further, “site navigation” can even refer to how easily a user can travel throughout your site and find the information he/she is seeking.

    To simplify things, in this article we’ll refer to site navigation as the overall structure and navigability of your website.

    The Importance of Sitemaps and Crawlers

    articleimage444The Importance of Sitemaps and Crawlers

    To understand the mechanics that dictate why site navigation is important, we first have to understand crawlers. If you’ve been working in SEO for more than a month, you’re probably at least fleetingly aware that crawlers are automated indexing units that scour the web for data. Google, in particular, has several invisible crawlers constantly discovering new information on the Internet.

    In order to generate the most relevant search results, search engines need to have a vast store of accurate, up-to-date information about the pages on the web. Crawlers ensure the legitimacy of this data, so if you stop crawlers from being able to do their job, you run the risk of having your pages left out of this massive store of information. On the other hand, if you can help crawlers do their job, you’ll maximize the number of pages they’re able to see on your site, and will thus maximize your presence in search engine indexes.

    To maximize crawler efficiency, first you need to make sure your website is free from Flash and JavaScript. These are old-style web formats that were once popular due to their flashy appearances, but their structure makes it almost impossible for crawlers to digest. It’s better to use more modern, crawlable schemes using XHTML and CSS.

    Building an XML sitemap is a must if you want crawlers to read your site in full. There are many free tools available that can help you build an XML sitemap, such as XML-Sitemaps.com, but it’s better if you put it in the hands of an experienced web developer. Once complete, you can upload your sitemap to Google Webmaster Tools and place the file on your site, directly off the root. Having a properly formatted XML sitemap, in addition to maintaining a crawlable site, will ensure your pages are fully indexed.

    Site Depth

    The depth of your site is also an important factor for navigation. If you’re engaging in a content marketing strategy, “depth” might seem like a good thing. After all, the deeper your content goes, the more likely it is that you will be seen as an expert and that you’ll attract a wider audience as a result. However, “depth,” as it applies to websites, is actually a bad thing.

    The depth of a website is related to the complexity of links that lead to a certain point. For example, let’s say your website has 50 pages. The home page and nine other pages are immediately available on the top header. However, in order to access the remaining 40 pages, you need to click into one of those initial 10. Some of those pages actually require a specific clicking order (such as Home > Products > Tables > Wooden Tables) in order to be reached. This is considered a “deep” site.

    Shallow sites, on the other hand, offer multiple pathways to each page. Instead of mandating a directional flow like the example above, a shallow site would have many pages pointing to each page in the hierarchy (Products, Wooden Tables, etc.). Shallow sites make it easier for users to find what they are looking for, and as a result, shallow sites get a small boost in page rank. Restructuring your site to avoid unnecessary depth can give you more authority and more ranking power.

    Structuring Your URLs

    articleimage444Structuring Your URLs

    The structure of each individual URL in your website is also important for SEO. While most modern SEO strategies steer away from optimizing for specific keywords in the body content of web pages, including pages with relevant keywords in the URL is a sound strategy that won’t run the risk of being flagged for keyword stuffing. Make sure your pages are specifically described in your URLs (such as “marketing services” instead of just “services”) to maximize your searchability. As a rule of thumb, the more descriptive and accurate your URL is, the better.

    Structuring your URLs in a way that caters to search engines is relatively easy, especially if your website is built in a content management system (CMS) like WordPress. WordPress and other major platforms have special settings that keep your URLs optimized automatically. For example, under Settings > Permalinks, you’ll be able to automatically include your post titles as the URL of the post. Otherwise, your URL might come out as a series of random numbers and letters.

    Site Speed

    articleimage444Site Speed

    Site speed is another important factor that affects your rank. While it currently affects only one percent of all search queries, it is likely that Google will place a heavier emphasis on this quality in the future. The faster a site is able to download, the faster the user can acquire information and navigate to other pages within the site. There are many ways to improve the speed of your site, including building your site in an acceptable modern format, reducing the size of your images, and adjusting your caching settings.

    Overall Usability

    The bottom line for your site navigation is this: your users need to be able to easily and quickly find whatever it is they are looking for. Optimizing your site for this will help you improve in search engine rankings, because Google’s primary objective is to improve the overall web experience of its users.

    I mentioned a lot of backend structural changes that are necessary for SEO, but the aesthetics are just as important for user experience. Organize your information as logically as possible by breaking things out into intuitive categories and sub-categories. Make sure your navigation bar is prominent and easy to use. Make it easy for users to find what they’re looking for—whether that means adding a search bar or helping to point users in the right direction with an interactive feature. Whatever you do, your first goal should be making your users happy.

    If your users are happy navigating your site, they’re going to stick around. You’ll have lower bounce rates, which will be a ranking signal to Google, and they’ll be more likely to tell their friends about the site. After all, getting more interested buyers to your site is the most important goal for your bottom line, and improving your site navigation can do that.

  3. Think Outside the Rank: 5 Metrics That Truly Matter to Your SEO Campaign

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    It’s impossible to determine whether or not a marketing campaign is effective unless you measure the results and experiment. Search engine optimization (SEO) has always been somewhat elusive in terms of measurability because Google is highly restrictive about the types of information it’s willing to give to its users. Its motivation is to keep marketers focused on giving users a quality online experience instead of clamoring over page rank, and it’s worked well over the past several years.

    Google’s Panda and Penguin updates have made its search engine algorithms even more extraordinarily complex, putting the last nail in the coffin of old-school optimization strategies like keyword stuffing and traditional link building. These updates also marked the beginning of a new SEO philosophy: user experience is what matters most.

    Older SEO strategies were focused on one thing: page rank. The higher you ranked in search engine results for a given keyword, the more traffic you would get. But now that search engine algorithms are so complex and Google is masking much of the data available, page rank is no longer a valuable measure of the health of your campaign.

    Instead of obsessing over your ranks, use these important metrics to chart the growth and effectiveness of your SEO campaign:

    1.  Organic Visits.

    Imagine you own a fast food restaurant. Visibility is important: if you can raise your restaurant’s sign up 200 feet in the air, more people will be able to see it. But that visibility doesn’t necessarily matter if there isn’t anybody around to see it. It’s more important to have a steady stream of traffic driving by your restaurant, and eventually into your parking lot. Having a highly raised sign might increase that traffic, but there’s no guarantee of that.

    In this overly simplistic illustration, the height of the sign represents page rank and the traffic represents organic visits. The higher you rank for a specific keyword, the more people will see your brand, but there are too many other factors that can affect traffic. At the end of the day, organic visits are the truest measure of how successful your SEO campaign is at bringing people to your site; you may be on page one for several search terms but you’re only getting a few dozen hits, or you may have hardly any significant ranks while getting several thousand.

    In Google Analytics, you can find your organic search traffic under Acquisition > Overview or Acquisition > Channels. There, you’ll be able to see how many users found your site after performing a natural search, as opposed to visiting directly, visiting from referral sites, or visiting from social media links. If you execute quality work consistently, you can expect this number to grow.

    2. Bounce Rate.

    articleimage443bouncerate

    If we extend our fast food illustration from above, your “bounce rate” is essentially the number of people who pull into your restaurant to look at your menu, but leave before getting anything. Bouncing is bad for your site, but you’re always going to have some people bounce. You can view Bounce rate in several areas of Google Analytics, including Acquisition > Channels.

    Bounce rate is important for two reasons. First, from a pure ranking perspective, Google tends to favor sites in its search results that have lower bounce rates. Accordingly, if you decrease your bounce rate over time, you’ll have an easier time ranking (even though ranking shouldn’t be your top priority). Second, bounce rate is a good indication of how much your new visitors like your site. If your bounce rate is bad, you might want to improve the design or layout of your site, or offer more engaging content to keep users around longer.

    You’ll never get your bounce rate to zero, but if you continue to work to improve your users’ experience, your bounce rate should correspondingly decrease over time.

    3. Social Shares.

    articleimage443Social Shares

    Social shares are a good measure of how successful your content is. If your site offers a way for users to share your articles on social media, track which articles tend to attract the most number of shares. Alternatively, when you syndicate your content on social channels, monitor how many likes, shares, and re-tweets your articles generate.

    Pay attention to the types of titles and subject matter that generate the biggest response. Then, adjust your content strategy to favor the creation and syndication of those types. Over time, you’ll build a more loyal, engaged audience, and you’ll be able to measure the fruits of your efforts by seeing those “share” numbers gradually grow.

    4. Behavior and Page Popularity.

    Page popularity can also give you insight into which areas of your site attract the most traffic. Check out Behavior > Overview in Google Analytics, and view the full report to see which sections of your site are the most successful at attracting and retaining users. You can measure the bounce rate of each page as well. Here, you’ll be able to determine which pages of your site need the most work in order to keep people interested as well as which pages grow the most as a result of your campaign.

    5. Conversion Rate.

    articleimage443 Conversion Rate

    The conversion rate of your website is probably the most important factor for your bottom line as a company. Conversions can be defined in different ways (for example, e-commerce sites would define a conversion as a user making a purchase and completing checkout, while a simple information-based landing page would define a conversion as a user filling out a form), but a conversion is always an indication of a user getting closer to the final stage of the buying cycle.

    There are many factors that determine whether a user is willing to convert; the design, call to action, and usability of the site are all important. But in order to see that conversion rate rise, you need to have a high stream of users coming to your site and sticking around long enough to see what you’re selling.

    Tracking your conversion rate gives you two immediate insights. First, it shows you the appropriateness and engagement level of your website. A low conversion rate could be an indicator of an irrelevant audience or a failure to generate interest. Second, it shows you the return on your investment. If you see your conversion rate growing from organic traffic, you know your efforts are truly paying off. You can set up Goals in the Admin panel of Google Analytics to track your progress.

    With any metrics you track for your SEO campaign, what matters isn’t necessarily where you stand with them now—it’s more about how those numbers change over time. Take a snapshot of your current standings, and check in on at least a monthly basis to compare your new numbers against your long-term goals. Once you’ve spent a few months digging into the data and understanding how it is calculated, you can start running experiments to determine what strategies work best for your brand and your industry; remember, no two companies are the same, and it takes consistent attention and effort to make an organic search strategy successful in the long term.

  4. 15 Actionable Ideas to Improve Your Local SEO

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    Local SEO is a confusing topic for many local business owners. While certain SEO fundamentals, like maintaining a regular and high-quality content strategy, still apply to local businesses, entrepreneurs also need to take measures to optimize their online presence for a local community. If you’re looking for simple ways to get involved and strengthen your local relevance online, try some or all of these 15 actionable ideas:

    1. Optimize your site with location-based keywords.

    articleimage440 Optimize your site with location-based keywords

    First and foremost, use onsite title tags and metadescriptions to maximize your geographical relevance. For example, if your homepage’s title tag currently reads “Unique coffee shop,” change it to read “City, State unique coffee shop” or something similar. Use variations of your location, such as Seattle, Seattle Washington, and Seattle WA to avoid duplication and optimize for multiple potential queries.

    2. Create location-relevant blog posts.

    This is a long-term strategy that will improve your ranking in local search results and win you more local customers as well. Blog about things that are currently happening in your city that might have to do with your business or industry. For example, if you own a coffee shop and the city is making renovations to a park down the street, talk about how it’s going to benefit your community! And of course, use lots of location-specific keywords.

    3. Make sure your contact info is consistent, everywhere.

    Sometimes referred to as “NAP” (standing for name, address, and phone number), your onsite contact info is vitally important for SEO. If Google detects even the slightest formatting inconsistency, such as displaying “Rd” in one area and “Road” in another, it could penalize you with a lower ranking. Ensure its consistency across all your pages, and on your offsite profiles as well.

    4. Create a specific location page.

    articleimage440articleimage440Create a specific location page

    Google will penalize you if you have too many pages that only exist to boost page rank, but it’s a good idea to have one page that details your physical location. You can include this on a contact page, but it’s better if you title your page in line with your physical location. Include map integration, and multiple ways to contact your business.

    5. Set up all your social media profiles (if you haven’t yet).

    You probably already have a Facebook page, but you need to go the extra mile. Even if you don’t plan on updating every profile regularly, it’s important to claim as many profiles as you can. Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn are the power players in social media, but don’t neglect your other options. Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, and Snapchat can all help improve your local authority.

    6. Ensure your listing with Google Local.

    articleimage440Ensure your listing with Google Local

    Google Local Businesses recently combined with Google+, so if you already have a Google+ profile, you’re halfway there. Fill out your profile completely—Google is a stickler for details. Make sure your name, address, and phone number are all consistent, and post your business hours so your potential customers can easily see them when they search for you.

    7. Create local listings wherever you can.

    After Google’s recent so-called “Pigeon update,” the importance of local directories has significantly risen. In fact, some directory pages on Yelp! are actually outranking company pages in branded search results. Check out every local directory that’s relevant to your business, such as Yelp!,Urbanspoon, and TripAdvisor, and make sure your business has a presence there. It’s also a good idea to make sure your information is up-to-date.

    8. Ask your customers to review your site on local directories.

    First, make sure you do not pay for reviews or force your customers to write them up. It’s quite evident which reviews are natural and which reviews have been purchased—make sure yours are natural. But it is perfectly acceptable to encourage your customers to write up reviews about you on these sites. Include links to your specific profile in your physical establishment as well as on your social media profiles to attract more potential reviewers.

    9. Ask your customers for video reviews and testimonials.

    Similarly, you can ask that your patrons submit reviews for direct use on your site. Video reviews and testimonials are great ways to spice up your website and include more visual content to be crawled by Google. You can also share them on social media and use that as a platform to encourage more reviews.

    10 . Distribute press releases locally to attract local links.

    Writing high-quality press releases is a great strategy to build links quickly and get some extra public attention for your business. When you go to distribute a new press release, make sure you’re targeting all the local channels. You can even submit directly to local news stations and other local websites for consideration. Just make sure your release is newsworthy.

    11. Browse local forums and communities for link building opportunities.

    There’s no shortage of community pages and forums. Find one that’s relevant to you, such as a neighborhood association page or a group of small business owners, and utilize it. Contribute relevant links pointing back to your site on an occasional basis. You can even post promotions and coupons to the group, as long as the community allows it.

    12. Woo the blogging community.

    There’s no shortage of bloggers in the world today. Look for popular bloggers in your area, and write to them. Ask them to consider writing up a review of your establishment, or to at least mention you in the body of their blog. Be friendly and cast a wide net—the worst they can do is turn you down.

    13. Take steps to optimize your site for mobile.

    If your site isn’t optimized for mobile yet, you need to take steps to optimize it. You do have a couple of options; you could either redesign your website to be responsive (so it automatically resizes based on the device accessing it) or you could develop a specific mobile version of your webpage.

    14. Attend local events and use a specific hashtag.

    One of the easiest ways to attract local attention, and thus valuable backlinks, is to make your presence known at popular local events. Attend such an event and post pictures and updates on your social media profiles—it’s even better if you can use a hashtag associated with the event itself.

    15. Cater to your community.

    Do everything you can to get involved in the community. Find out what your neighborhood values, and cater to its residents. Make an appearance at every local event you can, offer free giveaways and promotions at community gatherings, and get to know your community leaders individually. They’ll take care of the rest—posting, sharing, and talking about your site online and building your authority collectively.

    You don’t have to be a technical genius to get the most out of your local SEO strategy. What it really takes is a commitment to your local community and a commitment to regularly updating your online presence. Through relevant link building, relationship building, and community involvement, you can gradually build an online and offline local empire, winning the loyalty of your current customers and positioning yourself for new traffic with a higher search engine rank.

  5. Are Bing and Yahoo Worth Considering for Organic Search Traffic?

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    When you start talking about SEO, most people naturally assume you are talking about Google. Google dictates the major changes in the industry with its algorithm updates, and commands the attention of search marketers due to its ubiquity and high search volume. For more than a decade, Google has been the clear winner of the search engine landscape, but now that less popular search engines like Yahoo! and Bing are working to improve, are they worth considering for organic search traffic?

    The Bing and Yahoo! Alliance

    articleimage441The Bing and Yahoo

    If you don’t know much about competing search engines Bing and Yahoo!, you aren’t alone. Even professionals in the search marketing community often overlook the moves of these major players, and for good reason—after all, Google is so significantly ingrained in our collective minds that we can’t even refer to online search without using the word “Google” as a verb.

    Bing first launched in May of 2009 by Microsoft, as a replacement for its antiquated and much-hated search options, such as MSN Search. Bing wasn’t taken seriously at first, taking only a small fraction of all search queries, but Bing traffic has more than doubled since its inception.

    Yahoo! came on the scene much earlier, back in 1995, and was a major search competitor for some time. But after a series of bad decisions and lacking updates to its core algorithms, Yahoo! fell off the face of the Earth. Until 2012, few people took the search engine seriously, but in July 2012, new CEO Marissa Meyer took over and started making drastic changes to the company—for the better.

    Recently, Microsoft and Yahoo! joined forces for the betterment of both enterprises’ search engines. Bing now powers Yahoo!’s search; while each engine is independently accessible, it’s the same algorithm dictating the results of both. Paid search campaigns for both search engines can also be managed by a single account.

    The Current Statistics

    articleimage441The Current Statistics

    The most straightforward and logical way to determine whether search engines other than Google are worth considering is to look at each enterprise’s market share. According to research from April 2014, Google was responsible for 67.5 percent of all search queries, with Bing generating 18.6 percent, and Yahoo! generating 10.1 percent. Google is still the clear winner, but the numbers suggest that Bing and Yahoo are potentially more formidable than most people think. Together, Bing and Yahoo! are responsible for 28.7 percent of all search queries—that’s nearly a third. A high site ranking in Bing or Yahoo! may be significant in terms of traffic.

    But raw traffic isn’t everything. We also have to understand how Bing and Yahoo! differ from Google in terms of algorithms and demographics.

    The Bing and Yahoo! Crowd

    The demographic makeup of Bing and Yahoo! users is the main factor you should consider before adjusting your strategy to improve your position in either search engine.

    What browser are you using right now? Chances are, you’re using Firefox, Chrome, Safari, or some other advanced third party browser. Nobody with technical proficiency or skills in Internet browsing uses Internet Explorer anymore. It’s the subject of ridicule for its poor design, lack of functionality, slow speed, and general annoyingness. But still, there is one demographic that continues to use Internet Explorer, mostly because it is a default browser for Microsoft products: adults over the age of 45. And you know what the default search engine is on Internet Explorer? Another Microsoft product: Bing.

    As of July 2014, only 8.5 percent of all Internet users held Internet Explorer as their browser of choice, with more than 53 percent of Internet Explorer users being over the age of 45. It’s an interesting, but unsurprising, detail about browser preference. It’s a stereotype that older adults are less capable of using advanced technology, but the data seems to indicate that Bing traffic is largely associated with older users.

    What does this mean for your search strategy? It depends on your core demographic. If you sell a product that specifically caters to an older demographic, ranking on Bing is likely a good strategy. Don’t get too carried away, however; while Bing traffic is mostly comprised of older adults, it still only accounts for 18.6 percent of all traffic.

    On the other hand, if your key demographic is teenagers or young adults, Bing and Yahoo! (by association) aren’t really worth your time. Together, they do account for almost 29 percent of all traffic, but most of that traffic will be completely irrelevant for your business.

    Algorithm Wars

    If you’re interested in trying to rank for Bing and Yahoo!, it’s important to understand how these search engines differ from Google. Like Google, Bing keeps the details of its advanced search engine algorithm a secret—and for good reason. Releasing the details of this code could result in more people taking advantage of the system, resulting in worse search results and a worse web experience for everyone involved.

    Still, there is much that we do know about Bing’s algorithm (which is used for both Bing and Yahoo!). For the most part, ranking criteria for Bing and Google are the same; both sites favor regular quantities of relevant, high-quality content, a high number of naturally built external links pointing back to the core site, and a website structure that is proficient and valuable to users. Still, the exact process that calculates rank based on these factors is different than the one Google uses; this is evident for anyone performing an identical search in both places.

    Bing does place a higher emphasis on local data, such as information in local directories. But it appears that Google is matching this emphasis, especially with its latest Pigeon update. Google also carries some natural favoritism toward its own products, such as Google+, meaning it rewards businesses with a Google+ account, resulting in a different approach to ranking based on social media data.

    Overall, if you’re trying to rank for Bing and Yahoo!, it’s best to maintain a similar strategy. Keep writing high quality content, keep building relevant links, and attract more people to your website. If you want a little extra push, make sure to spend extra time building out your local listing profiles and encouraging users to review your business.

    A Note on Paid Search

    articleimage441A Note on Paid Search

    One of the few major advantages that Bing has over Google is its paid search marketing (Pay-per-click) campaigns. Bing Ads allows users to easily manage paid advertisements similar to the PPC ads at Google, but for a much lower cost. Obviously, search ads on Bing or Yahoo! won’t get the same volume of traffic as comparable ads in Google, but they are much less competitive and cheaper to place. If you’re looking for a budget-friendly way to get a boost in traffic to your site, especially if you cater to an older demographic, Bing Ads could be a great strategy.

    For the average search marketer, Bing and Yahoo! aren’t worth considering. They offer a much lower percentage of search queries, an uncommon target demographic, and to top it off—you can probably rank for them without even trying. Still, if your key audience is older adults, or if you’re looking to get started with paid ads with a low budget, it’s worth taking a look at Bing and Yahoo!.

  6. Why Modern SEO is More About Building a Brand

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    The old methods of search engine optimization (SEO) are practically dead. SEO was once a game of numbers and regular tasks that culminated in a predictable rise to the top, butthat strategy relied on manipulation and structure. Today, the complexity of search engine algorithms is such that manipulation and structure are secondary to quality and relevance—factors that are almost intangible.

    What does that mean for modern search marketers? It means the old strategies of quantitative task execution are disappearing in favor of qualitative brand building. If you’re trying to rank in today’s search landscape, you need to spend more time designing and supporting your company’s brand.

    The Death of Old SEO

    articleimage433The Death of Old SEO

    There was never a single point where SEO ceased to be one thing and started to be another. Instead, over the course of dozens of algorithm changes, SEO has slowly evolved. In the early 2000s, Google began rolling out regular changes that prevented online marketers from abusing loopholes in its algorithms, penalizing domains that engaged in spamming tactics or other schemes.

    The biggest changes for modern search marketers came in the form of Google Panda and Google Penguin, from 2011 and 2012, respectively. Google Panda penalized sites with minimal or low-quality content, while Google Penguin penalized sites with poor-quality backlinks. The combination of these effects put the last nail in the coffin of keyword stuffing, backlink spamming, and content spinning—the signature tools of old SEO.

    What Matters Now

    articleimage433What Matters Now

    It’s still entirely possible to climb the ranks in search engines, but you need more finesse in order to do it successfully. When producing results for a given query, there are several key indicators that are considered. Above all, Google wants to give users relevant results and a great overall online experience, so these criteria reflect that primary goal.

    Quality Content

    First and foremost, quality content matters. Google shows heavy favoritism toward sites with a regularly updated blog, and peruses that content when trying to find relevant sites for a given query. Specific keywords are no longer a factor; instead, search algorithms review content from a higher-level topical perspective, and weed out pieces of content that appear to be written by a non-native speaker or copies of content elsewhere on the web. Unique, high quality content is important because it gives a user valuable information. In order to keep your readers coming back for more, you need to sustain a consistent voice—but we’ll touch on that later.

    Natural, Quality Backlinks

    Backlinks are still important, but not in the way they used to be. Instead of looking at the number of external links you build, Google pays more attention to the quality of those links. For example, if your links appear to be built using a link scheme designed specifically to build your rank, you could be penalized as a result. Instead, your links should be posted on sites that have relevance for your industry and should point to pages that are relevant to the conversation. Brand mentions, even without a link, are also becoming important.

    Visible Presence on Social Sites

    It’s also important to have a strong social presence. While it’s not clear exactly how much weight this carries in the ranking algorithm, sites with an official presence on major social media platforms tend to rank higher than sites that do not. Additionally, local businesses with detailed profiles on social directory sites like Yelp and Urbanspoon also tend to rank higher than businesses that lack them. What’s important here is social context; a signal that many people recognize and engage with your brand in the real world. The stronger that signal is, the more “authority” you have.

    The Role of Core Branding

    articleimage433The Role of Core Branding

    So why is brand building so important to this process?

    Your core brand is your business’s identity. Without a consistent set of standards for your image and voice, there’s nothing distinguishing you from your competitors. Building a brand means earning the interest and loyalty of your potential customers and giving them a repeatable, familiar, and positive experience.

    Your branding is a central element of your business that makes all your other elements stronger. It makes your content more recognizable and enjoyable because it lends a consistent, familiar voice. It makes your social media engagements more personal and engaging because you can use your brand’s personality. Solid branding helps you give your users a better overall experience—and quality user experience is exactly what Google is trying to achieve. Let’s take a look at exactly how great branding can improve your modern search efforts:

    The Role of Content Marketing

    Content marketing involves both written content and visual content like images and videos. Of course, many people use content marketing as a tool to improve search engine ranks, but more importantly, it’s a strategy that builds your authority and creates trust between you and your readers.

    When you adopt a content marketing strategy with solid branding backing it, you’re far more likely to get returning visitors. But more importantly, it’s easier for your brand to be recognized by those visitors. You can post a new article written in your brand’s unique voice, or an infographic decorated with your branding, and people will instantly recognize it as one of yours. If your content is valuable or surprising, people will share it on their own sites with a link or a brand mention pointing back to you.

    Without that brand recognition and perceived authority, you would be stuck building links on your own, putting your site in danger of getting penalized. Instead, with a strong brand, you can let your users do the work for you.

    The Role of Social Media

    Similarly, social media plays a significant role in both brand awareness and search engine ranking. Social media is your opportunity to distribute your content and build an audience, thereby attracting new people to your brand and keeping your current fans engaged at the same time. Keeping your brand consistent across your website and multiple social media platforms allows people to seamlessly engage with you across multiple mediums, increasing your digital presence and rewarding you with more backlinks and brand mentions.

    The Role of Customer Service

    Finally, building a powerful brand can be great for customer service and your presence on third party social directories. For example, if you give a new customer a memorable brand experience, he/she will be more likely to write up a positive review about your business on an external review site. The more positive reviews and positive experiences are associated with your company, the more likely you are to achieve a high ranking in Google (and it independently attracts new customers to your brand). If your brand is consistent and rewarding, eventually you’ll establish an online presence that extends far beyond the boundaries of your own individual efforts.

    Steps to Take

    Ultimately, modern SEO comes down to building a brand so powerful that all your users do the legwork for you. It is a natural, organic process that supports you with more links, more content, and more digital authority, thereby increasing both your ranks and your direct traffic.

    If you haven’t yet established a brand with clear standards for your company or your search marketing strategy, it’s time to get started. Otherwise, perform a brand audit and note key areas for improvement. From there, it’s a matter of consistently executing the basics of reputation building:

    • Content marketing
    • Social media marketing
    • Customer outreach and engagement

    It’s a long-term strategy, but if you remain committed to it, the results can be phenomenal.

  7. 15 SEO Over-Optimization Mistakes Webmasters Make

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    Search engine optimization is so named because it requires specific efforts from webmasters—in the form of onsite and offsite “optimization”—that foster an authoritative web presence that Google favors in its search rankings. However, effective SEO requires a delicate balance between implementing these optimization tactics and improving online user experience, and many webmasters make the mistake of over-optimizing their sites.

    Avoid these over-optimization mistakes to keep your users—and Google—happy:

    1. Using too many keywords on a page.

    articleimage428Using too many keywords on a page

    It’s an easy mistake to make if you’re focused on specific keywords. In the early days of the search engine age, keyword frequency was straightforward; the more keywords you had on a given page, the more likely it was you would rank for those keywords. Then, it was deemed that keywords should only represent three to five percent of your total content. Now, any unnatural use of keywords can be detected—so keep your selected keywords to a minimum and focus on quality content.

    2. Using more than one keyword in a title tag.

    articleimage428Using more than one keyword in a title tag

    Along similar lines, don’t try and artificially stuff keywords into your title tags. At most, a title tag should have one strong keyword, and that keyword should be the one most relevant to your business, not the one with the highest competitive advantage. Describe your company in less than five words, and use that as your primary keyword phrase. Any other keywords you try to shoehorn in will be irrelevant or counterproductive.

    3. Focusing on specific keywords, rather than a topic, for a blog post.

    Blog strategies used to be solely dependent on keyword strategy. You would select a handful of keywords, and write a blog post around each of them. Nowadays, specific keyword frequency is antiquated and unnecessary. Instead, focus on writing high-quality content about a specific topic. That will give you the highest chance of ranking for keywords relevant to that topic because they appear naturally in the body of your blogs.

    4. Writing thin content for the sake of content production.

    articleimage428Writing thin content for the sake of content product

    Too many webmasters focus on writing a specific number of blog posts or a specific number of new pages on a regular basis in order to maintain a high authority with search engines. It’s not a viable strategy. Posting great content on a regular basis is important, but remember, it’s better to have a smaller number of better blogs than a larger number of weak ones.

    5. Creating new pages specifically for SEO purposes.

    Old search engine marketers used new page creation as an easy way to build traffic for a specific keyword. For example, if the keyword in question was “strawberry ice cream,” they would create a page called “strawberry ice cream” with “strawberry ice cream” in the title tag and in the body of the page several times. Today, it’s a form of over-optimization, and should be avoided unless it truly adds value to the user.

    6. Duplicating (or nearly duplicating) a page.

    Google hates to see duplicate content on the Internet. Even if you take a piece of content and spin a few words so it’s not an exact copy, Google can still take notice. Too many webmasters think they can get away with this kind of content spinning, but it’s an unnatural form of over-optimization, and if Google catches you doing it, you could be penalized.

    7 .Including unnatural keywords.

    Some keyword phrases are simply unnatural in any context. For example, try working the phrase “beaches Cleveland oh” into a natural sentences. It’s practically impossible. Google can detect the unnatural use of language, so if you attempt to slip these into a blog post, you’ll be noticed as an over-optimizer. Instead, focus on the topic of the keyword phrase and write naturally.

    8. Stuffing guest posts with backlinks.

    Guest blogging is still a great strategy for SEO and for brand building, but you need to be careful with the backlinks you include in the body of the post. If you over-optimize the text with too many links pointing back to your site, you could get penalized for over-optimization; to avoid this, use the rel=nofollow tag to mask the existence of your links to search engine algorithms while preserving them for your readers to click.

    9. Building too many backlinks on one source.

    It’s hard to find great sources to use for backlink building, so when you do find a source that works, it’s tempting to rely on it for your strategy. However, building too many backlinks on one source can be considered over-optimization, and can get you negative attention from Google. Instead, diversify your sources and spread your links throughout them.

    10. Building too many backlinks in one day.

    Backlinks need to appear natural, and if you build too many in one day, there’s no way they’ll look natural. There’s no specific number that warrants a red flag of over-optimization, but don’t make it point to hit a certain number every day. If you’re running a small site and building more than 20 backlinks in one day, you might want to consider scaling back your strategy.

    11. Building only backlinks, and no brand mentions.

    Backlinks aren’t the only factor that Google considers when evaluating a site’s authority. Brand mentions, with or without a link, are becoming increasingly important as well. Use a combination of pure backlinks, brand mentions with backlinks, and brand mentions without backlinks as equal parts of your overall strategy. Otherwise, you could be penalized for over-optimizing offsite.

    12. Using only one type of backlink.

    Similarly, if you only link back to your homepage, you’re asking for trouble. Google wants online users to have a great, relevant online experience, and that means your links need to be valuable and appropriate for the average web user. Direct users to specific pages within your site that are relevant to the conversation instead of funneling all your traffic to the homepage.

    13. Reusing repetitive anchor text.

    Anchor text is the content that supports your link. If you use a specific keyword phrase as your anchor text in the hopes of increasing your rank for that keyword, be careful. Using the same anchor text multiple times is a form of offsite over-optimization, and can earn you a penalty.

    14. Failing to establish backlink context.

    We all know Google is well on its way to becoming omnipotent, but even now it can tell when your links are relevant to their environment and when they are not. If you post a link in a forum thread that has nothing to do with your industry, you’ll be considered an over-optimizer, and you could be penalized accordingly. Make sure your links are all appropriate by naturally replying to the conversation and establishing a context for your link.

    15. Focusing on quantitative tasks instead of qualitative experience.

    The biggest mistake is one that applies to both offsite and onsite optimization, and every webmaster is guilty of this at one point or another. If you focus on quantitative tasks and efforts, such as hitting a certain number of blog posts or external links, instead of the qualitative experience of your readers and followers, eventually you’ll over-optimize.

    The best way to avoid over-optimizing your site is to focus on giving your users the best possible online experience, and forget about the numbers. After all, high-quality online experience is Google’s ultimate goal. The better experience you give your users, both onsite and offsite, the more likely they are to come back and the more likely Google will be to favor you in its ranks.

  8. How to Optimize Your Website’s Images for Speed

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    Most people realize the importance of optimizing a site in terms of design, structure, and content in order to give users the best possible experience and increase rankings in search engines. However, there are tricky technical factors that also have an impact on your position, such as site load time, and optimizing your images for speed can improve them.

    Why Site Load Time Is Important for SEO

    articleimage424 Why Site Load Time Is Important for SEO

    Site load time wasn’t always a big deal, but Google has made their mission clear: they want the best possible online experience for its users, and that means favoring sites that maximize user experience. For the past several years, site load time has been a significant ranking factor—meaning sites with faster load times rank higher than sites with slower ones.

    If you want to improve your ranks in search engines and give your users an all-around better experience, you need to do everything you can to minimize the load time of your site. The best way to do that, and the first place to start, is to optimize your website’s images for load speed.

    Resizing Your Images

    articleimage424Resizing Your Images

    There are two ways to think about the “size” of an image, and both can have an impact on loading times. First, “size” can refer to the amount of data contained in an image, expressed as Kilobytes (Kb) or Megabytes (Mb). Second, it can refer to the physical dimensions of the image when viewed at 100 percent.

    The amount of data contained in an image is the most important factors that influences load time. The more data an image has, the longer it takes for a browser to receive and process that data from a server. While the difference between a 1 Mb image and a 200 Kb image may not seem like much, if all of your images are oversized, the impact on your users’ load times could be enormous.

    Images with extra-large physical dimensions are the ones with higher amounts of data. Even disregarding the resolution (PPI and DPI), images with larger dimensions have a higher file size than their physically smaller counterparts. In addition to slowing down from the sheer amount of data that needs transferred, your load times can be impacted by the process your website takes to scale your images down.

    Therefore, it’s important to size your images more efficiently. There are several easy ways to resize your images, both in terms of physical dimensions and in terms of file size:

    • Use Adobe Photoshop, Microsoft Paint, or any image editing software to decrease the physical dimensions of your image. Keep the width to height ratio the same, but decrease both qualities.
    • Upload your image to a free online image resizer, such as Picresize.com, and download a smaller version of your image to use.
    • Use an automated tool to resize all of your images at once, such as by writing an image processing script in Photoshop.

    There is no single “ideal” size for images, since many images on your site serve different purposes, but generally, you’ll want to pay attention to the following best practices:

    • Blog images should not be wider than the width of your blog (so if your blog is 700 pixels wide, your images should be 700 pixels wide or less, keeping the same proportions).
    • While everyone has different preferences, the 60-70 percent quality range seems appropriate for most blogs.
    • Never increase the file size of an image. It leads to blurriness and graininess.
    • Keep a copy of the original. That way, you still have it if you need to make edits.

    Why size matters even if your CMS automatically resizes images

    When an Internet browser reaches a site that contains an image, it first loads the full-size image you uploaded. Then, it processes the fact that it must reduce the image’s size to fit on the page, so it reloads the image as part of the page. Instead of saving time by loading only the processed version of the image, your user’s browser actually loads the image twice—once for the full-sized version and once for the fitting version. Therefore, it’s important to upload properly sized images to your website no matter what.

    Using Proper Formats

    articleimage424usingproperformat

    The type of format you use for your images is also important. Most people are familiar with the JPG file format for images because it is one of the highest quality and most relevant formats. It also tends to have the highest file size because it’s made for big, high-quality images, so if you can get away with using a smaller file format for your website, you can decrease your load times.

    For example, the GIF file format supports transparency and can be animated, but it only supports 256 colors. Because of its color and definition limitations, it is a naturally smaller format. You wouldn’t want to use a GIF for a product image or for a flagship piece of photography, but you should definitely consider it for small icons or badges on your site. It won’t save you a ton of data, but every little bit counts.

    PNG is typically a larger format than JPG because it features a lossless compression system—meaning, it never loses data integrity no matter how many times it is saved. JPGs do lose data integrity with each save, but because they are much smaller in file size, they are still the preferred file format for high quality images. Still, PNGs can be useful for smaller images, such as menu images.

    Other image formats do exist, but these are the key players you need to understand to make sure your website loads as fast as possible.

    Get Rid of the Meta Data

    It bears repeating: data is the most important factor for determining image load times. However, photos generally contain more data than just what reflects the actual image. Meta data, such as the date and time the picture was taken and editing history, is also stored on the image and can interfere with your loading times.

    Keep in mind this data can be useful to you, especially if you’re a professional photographer, but if you’re trying to make your site’s images as lean as possible, you should remove this extraneous meta data.

    There are a few ways to do this. The most straightforward is to right-click the image in question, click “Properties,” then click on the “Remove Properties and Personal Information” button toward the bottom:

    Untitled

     

    You can also download an automatic tool, such as QuickFix, which does everything for you. There are also WordPress plugins and other web-based tools that can strip the meta data from all the images on your existing site, such as Image Metadata Cruncher.

    Keep It Consistent

    Once you’ve optimized your current site’s images for speed, you’ll be in a much better position—but you’re still not in the clear. You need to implement and execute a repeatable process to ensure that all new images uploaded to your site meet your speed criteria. For every image you upload, make sure you run through the checklist:

    • Does your image have proper dimensions?
    • Is it in an appropriate format?
    • Have you stripped all irrelevant meta data?

    Keeping your images consistent and fast is the best way to keep your site load time down and give your users the best possible experience.

  9. How to Build a Long-Term Backlink Building Campaign

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    If Google has taught us anything, it’s that things change. We’ve been watching Google update its search algorithms regularly for more than a decade, and there are no signs that the online juggernaut has any intentions of stopping.

    On one hand, it’s a good thing; Google is dedicated to giving users the best possible online experience, and that means continuously refining the way search results are found and displayed. On the other hand, for marketers, the constant updates are a nightmare. We’re forced to stay on our toes, constantly switching up our tactics in response to the latest changes.

    Backlinks have always been an important part of Google’s ranking algorithm, but the specifics behind their inclusion have changed dramatically. Originally, search marketers could post links wherever and however they wanted, but because that led to spam and unethical link building processes, Google has redefined the way they see and consider backlinks. Building a backlink profile is crucially important for any long-term SEO strategy, but in order to avoid a future Google penalty, you have to create and maintain a high-quality strategy that will keep you safe from Google’s updates for years to come.

    Find Quality Sources

    articleimage423Find Quality Sources

    The best way to avoid a Google penalty (in the present or the future) is to focus on quality and user experience above anything else. That means you need to find high quality sources for your backlinks, and prioritize the relevance and value of your links over the quantity and frequency of your links.

    Therefore, the first step to building a long-term backlink campaign is to search for and identify key sources for your backlink building efforts. Diversity is essential, so be sure to identify several different sources from each category of sources and regularly refresh your working list with new opportunities.

    Guest Posting Opportunities

    Guest posting is not as powerful as it used to be, but it’s still a valuable way to build backlinks and promote your content to a new audience. By building a network of guest posting opportunities, you’ll gain access to new readerships and gradually grow external familiarity with your content and writing style. Include links and brand mentions that point back to your site, but don’t go overboard with this; if Google detects you posting the same links to the same site too often, it could be registered as spam. Instead, make sure you use a diversity of links to various internal pages of your site, and if you want to play it safe, use Nofollow links to promote traffic without sending any red flags to Google’s bots. As long as you keep writing good content without looking like spam, guest posting is a great long-term strategy.

    Blog Comments and Forums

    Another major source for a long-term link building campaign is commenting opportunities on blogs and forums. Obviously, the higher the authority of the site you comment on, the more authority your link will contain. A forum on a university’s .edu site is far more valuable than a blog that just started. When building links through comments, make sure your post and your link are both relevant to the conversation and valuable to the person clicking it—otherwise you could get your comment deleted or get penalized for spam. Incorporate a range of different blogs and forums into your long-term strategy, but make sure all of them are in some way related to your industry.

    Niche Industry Directories

    The word “directory” causes most search engine marketers to shudder, and for good reason. Most traditional directories, like old-school article directories, are gimmicks used to fool Google and boost page rank—and they’ve been all but eliminated in the modern era. However, there are a small number of highly focused niche directories you can leverage as part of your strategy. The more specific the focus of the directory, the better—you need your links to fit smoothly into the context of these directories, or else you’ll be hurting your authority instead of helping it. Don’t rely on these sources too much, but they can be useful as a complementary or occasional strategy. Like with blog comments, you need to take steps to ensure your links are both relevant and valuable to the community.

    Testimonials and Reviews

    Another easy source for building backlinks over the long term comes in the form of testimonials and reviews. Any site that offers a product or service would love to get a new review or testimonial from a customer that they can post—and you can take advantage of this. Record a video review or write a testimonial about a product or service you actually use in your business. Then, submit it to the site in question and ask them to post it alongside a link pointing back to your site. When done sparingly and across a wide variety of different sites, this is an excellent strategy to build your links and authority without worrying about getting penalized by Google.

    Create Shareable Content

    articleimage423Create Shareable Content

    Google frowns upon links that are posted with the intention of building authority. Therefore, the best way to build credible long-lasting links that point back to your site is to let your readership build those links for you. Shareable content is the best way to do that.

    Shareable content is any form of content—words, images, videos—that strikes a chord with a small group of users, who then feel inspired to share that content with their own readers. Their readers have a high likelihood of sharing it with their readers, and before you know it, your content has spread throughout the web. It’s easier said than done, but it is possible if you focus on creating content with the key qualities of “shareability”: high quality, surprising, valuable, and funny.

    Shareable content is especially valuable as a long-term link building strategy because everybody who shares it will post a link back to your site (or at least give you a brand mention). If you can create an infographic that a thousand people want to share, you’ve instantly generated a thousand new backlinks—and all of them are 100 percent natural, which means Google loves them and they’re safe for any long-term strategy.

    Build a Routine

    Your long-term link building campaign requires a routine, but don’t let the term fool you: too much consistency can be considered spam. Don’t post the same link on the same source on the same day, but do create a repeatable series of tasks. For example, instead of posting a link on a specific forum every Monday, set regular reminders and then determine your source and link from a rotating pool of contenders, or from a random number generator. Executing a long-term link building strategy means committing to regular work but balancing that regularity with a diversity of sources.

    Look to the Future

    articleimage423Look to the Future

    Successful link building isn’t something that happens overnight. Anybody claiming they’re able to quickly boost your ranks with a plethora of backlinks is lying. Instead, the keys to a worthwhile long-term link building strategy are patience, regularity, and diversity. The more you enrich your campaign with natural opportunities for others to link to you—such as with shareable content—the better positioned you will be for long-term penalty-free gains in site authority and page rank.

  10. Are Unique Images Better Than Public Images?

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    Images have always been a valuable part of content marketing, and they’re becoming even more important due to the importance of shareability in your blog posts and social media updates. When your material is shared, you exponentially increase your potential audience, earn more backlinks, and get a boost in authority that can make it easier for you to rank in search engines. Since a visual element instantly makes content more shareable, images are a necessity for the savvy digital marketer.

    Images can be used in a number of different ways. For example, most images in content marketing are used as accompaniments to a written blog (or similar piece of content), used to catch the eye and provide a visual anchor for use when sharing the link on social media. Other images become the content themselves, such as infographics that present statistics in an interactive, visual way.

    No matter how you choose to use images in your content marketing strategy, you essentially have two options for finding them: locating and using free-to-use “public” images, or using unique images that you created or bought from an artist. Both options are reasonable and can enhance your content marketing strategy, but each has its own advantages and disadvantages.

    Where to Find Public Images

    articleimage417Where to Find Public Images

    The first question most people ask about public images is “where can I find them?” The prospect of free-to-use images is certainly appealing, but that means nothing to someone who doesn’t know where to look. Finding high quality public images can be challenging, but the extra effort you put into finding perfect specimens is typically worthwhile.

    One of my personal favorite sources for free public images is Photo Pin, a search resource that scours Creative Commons photos from Flickr and similar image hosting sites. If you’re looking for something specific—like a penguin for your post about Google’s Penguin update—one search can give you dozens of options. However, when you find the image you need, make sure to check its licensing. Some images cannot be used commercially.

    Some other sources for free public images include:

    No matter where you find your public images, you’ll also have to give proper attribution to the original owner. Different sources have different requirements for the type of language you need to include, but in general, you’ll need to say something along the lines of “Image courtesy of ____,” calling out the name of the photographer or creator and including a link back to his/her original site. Some sources include a convenient code for you to copy and paste into your document, but if they do not, it’s still important to provide attribution. It is sometimes a legal requirement and always a polite gesture.

    How to Take Unique Images

    articleimage417 How to Take Unique Images

    Unique images don’t require you to search through hundreds of pre-existing options, but they can be harder and more expensive to acquire. In order to make sure you’re using high-quality, aesthetically pleasing images, it’s a good idea to enlist the help of a photographer or a designer, whether you hire one in-house or outsource the work to one. You should take photos of non-branded objects and environments or draw your own images in order to create final products that are wholly unique. It’s also possible to pay for unique images through a stock image resource, but be aware that sometimes these images can be used by several purchasers simultaneously.

    Advantages of Public Images

    There are also a handful of downsides to using public images. You’ll have to spend extra time searching through hundreds of options to find an appropriate image for your post that also has a compliant licensing agreement. You also run the risk of using the same images as someone else. Still, they do offer some key strengths:

    Cost

    Obviously, if you can get something good for free, you might as well take it. Paying for stock photos regularly or paying a freelance photographer can get expensive over time, but if your strategy revolves around obtaining and using free images, you’ll have no major financial obstacle over the long term. The extra time it takes to find the perfect free image is often worth it, since spending 15 minutes is preferable to spending $50 (at least for most of us). Since most content marketing campaigns take months to years of effort, your savings become even more significant over time.

    Practicality

    Once you develop a good rhythm with a handful of sources, you’ll find there are ample options for free images available. Instead of trying to come up with a specific and perfect-fit idea for a new image every time you post a blog, you can browse through the options you have and find one that stands out to you. In some ways, it simplifies the decision-making process, so if you don’t want or need to have the best images in your industry, you’ll save yourself a lot of stress by sticking with public images.

    Advantages of Unique Images

    The biggest downside to unique images is the cost, but for some applications, unique images are the only option. For example, it’s easy to use public images to accompany a new blog post, but if you want a powerful infographic, your only choice is to start from scratch. Nevertheless, using unique images for any application has a number of advantages:

    Individuality

    If you’re creating your own images, you can rest assured that nobody else in your industry will be using them. You’ll stand out in the crowd and people will pick up on your commitment to quality and individuality, even if it’s only on a subtle level. Some public images have become so common that they have become “white noise” to people, but unique images will always offer something new to the viewer. This is especially important if you’re trying to distinguish yourself as a leader in your industry.

    Control

    Producing your own images gives you more control and creative direction in the image sourcing process. Rather than being forced to select an image from a common pool of options, you’ll be able to turn any vision you have into a reality. That means you’re guaranteed to have an image that perfectly fits the rest of your content, no matter what. This is especially true if your photographer or designer is working in house, or if you’re producing the images yourself.

    Which Is Better: Public Images or Unique Images?

    articleimage417Which Is BetterPublic Images or Unique Images

    The question of whether public images or unique images are the better strategic choice has no straightforward answer. There are clear advantages and disadvantages to each choice, and you might find use for both of them over the course of your content marketing campaign.

    If you’re trying to make unique image-based content, such as an infographics, unique images are definitely your best choice. The same is true if you’re trying to present yourself as an unmatched leader in your industry. However, if your main focus is written content and you’relooking for a cheaper way to support your strategy with a visual element, public images are the way to go.

    There’s room for both public images and unique images in your content marketing strategy. Use both to their fullest potential in order to get the best results for your brand.

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