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Category Archive: SEO

  1. How to Use Trending Topics in Your Search Campaign

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    articleimage781How to Use Trending Topics in Your Search Campaign

    Most companies incorporate strategies to improve their visibility online, most notably through social channels and search engine optimization (SEO). Through conventional, self-sufficient strategies, it’s possible to garner attention for yourself by building something out of nothing—reaching out to new contacts, writing about original topics, and making a brand that’s wholly your own.

    However, there’s a complementary route that can improve your visibility, and in most cases, it’s easier and more effective. Certain topics and ideas achieve great visibility on their own, such as breaking news stories and viral content, due to word-of-mouth spreading and a natural affinity for keeping people interested. If you can leverage the power of these trending topics in the context of your own campaign, you can take advantage of their substantial visibility and earn more attention than you could possibly get with a topic you invented independently. The key is to find these topics and harness them effectively.

    How to Find Trending Topics

    articleimage781 How to Find Trending Topics

    There are two major components to a strategy involving trending topics; finding appropriate topics and putting them to good use.Finding trending topics might seem tough—after all, defining which topics are trending and which ones are not involves walking a very fine line. Still, if you monitor an adequate number of sources and keep your eyes peeled for pertinent news and content pieces, you’ll have no trouble finding ample trending topics for your campaign.

    Social Listening

    Social listening is one of the best ways to scout for trending topics, since you’ll be plugged into thousands of conversations simultaneously and you’ll be able to easily determine the amount of social impact a given topic has. Many software platforms, such as Sprout Social, offer social listening as a feature. You can set one or a series of different keywords to receive alerts on, such as industry-related terms, subjects, or brand mentions, and watch for automated pings whenever those topics are mentioned in the context of a selected audience. If you see frequent mentions, or mentions that frequently get liked, favorited, or shared, you know you’ve found a winner.

    You could also perform occasional manual searches on Twitter and other public social media platforms, looking for mentions of specific topics, though the process is not as time-efficient. A better strategy is to review trending hashtags, and examine each of them to determine who seems to be using them and why. Doing so can plug you into the day’s most important developments and focal points, giving you a platform for execution.

    The biggest problem with this strategy is the time it takes to execute. While reviewing the trending topics section is relatively easy, finding industry-related developments requires a manual hunt-and-peck approach, which might ultimately be fruitless even after significant effort.

    Aggregated News Feeds

    There are hundreds of news aggregators available, each with their own advantages and disadvantages, so take the time to find the one that’s best for your needs. You can select one with pre-loaded aggregations, such as readers with sub-topics related to specific industries, or simply customize your own from scratch.

    No matter how you start your aggregated news feed approach, do some initial research to build the most appropriate selection of news sites. Include major news outlets, which will bring you news worthy of national attention, local news outlets (when possible), which will plug you into your local community, and industry sites, which will give you the rundown on developments in your industry. As you continue your strategy, you’ll have to do some regular housekeeping, weeding out any sites that don’t provide you with adequate trending topics to harvest.

    In many cases, just glancing at your news feed will be enough to spark the inspiration for a new idea to harness. In other cases, you’ll have to do some deeper digging to find the right fit. Either way, a few minutes a day can really add up to a great value for your overall strategy.

    Competitors and Industry Sites

    Of course, rather than relying on the snippets of an aggregated reader feed, you can go to the sources themselves. Keep a running list of the most important news sites relevant to your industry, as well as your closest competitors in the market. Visit them on an occasional basis (daily if your industry is fast-paced, weekly if it’s slower), and get a feel for what they’re writing about. Even if you don’t uncover a great trending topic, you can at least draw inspiration for your general content strategy.

    Implementing Trending Topics in Your SEO Campaign

    articleimage781mplementing Trending Topics in Your SEO Campaign

    Now that you’ve uncovered a gem—a topic that’s currently in high demand within your industry or amongst your key demographics—and all you have to do is take advantage of it to increase your brand’s visibility. Fortunately, you have several options to do this, and many of them are quite simple.

    Newsjacking Content

    Your first and easiest option is to “newsjack” the content. The term newsjacking was coined specifically for news articles which were used as a content platform, but can be applied to almost any type of trending content. The process of newsjacking involves taking a piece of pre-existing content, presenting elements of that piece (reworded and cited properly so you aren’t plagiarizing) and framing those elements in a context that’s unique to you.

    For example, if there’s a news story about a recent technological development that’s going to impact your industry, you can summarize the facts of the article and then write a short opinion about why it’s going to be a positive or negative thing for the industry. Essentially, you’ll be taking the trending topic and finding a way to present it as your own. Then, all you’ll have to do is syndicate it on social channels, and you’ll get a strong portion of new readers interested in the rising trend.

    Timing Your Posts

    Depending on the nature of the trend, you can forgo the option of writing up an entire piece. Instead, you can simply make a short social media post or two acknowledging the trend and putting your company’s name in the ring. A great example of this is using a trending hashtag—so long as it’s relevant—in a post you tweet to the masses.

    You could also write a custom message to appeal to participants in a given trend, which is particularly effective if timed correctly. For example, during the massive power outage of the 2013 Super Bowl, Oreo tweeted a picture of an Oreo on a dark background with the message “You can still dunk in the dark.” They took advantage of a trending situation and turned it in favor of the brand—and they did it while the event was still unfolding.

    Capitalizing on Discussions

    Last but not least, you can simply participate in discussions surrounding a given topic. If you found your topic on a particular blog, post a comment or respond to other commenters as your brand. If you found your topic on a social media channel, you can look for followers engaging in a related discussion and simply jump into it with your own opinion. You’ll not only increase the visibility of your brand, you’ll also build your perceived authority in the space.

    Capitalizing on trending topics sounds a lot more complicated than it is. Once you’ve adopted the process into your strategy and you’ve practiced it enough times, it will become second nature to you, and you’ll be able to harness the full power of the most popular, timely topics available.  Your potential visibility is practically limitless under these conditions.

  2. How an Outdated Sitemap Can Seriously Throttle Your Rankings

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    Sitemaps are a critical and often overlooked element of your site structure, and they play a crucial role for search engines looking to index information about your site. If your sitemap falls out of date and you don’t take measures to correct it, you could pay the price with reduced search visibility and therefore, less traffic to your site.

    Why Sitemaps Are Beneficial

    articleimage780Why Sitemaps Are Beneficial

    Onsite sitemaps are a link on your main site that contain a structured layout of all your existing pages. They’re crawled by Google and inform the search engine about the remainder of your onsite pages.

    XML Sitemaps are files that you can build and submit to Google directly. Essentially, these files are a condensed map that lays out the structure and hierarchy of your site. By submitting a sitemap to Google, you’re telling the search engine to review and index the pages of your site—and this is a critical first step when you’re launching something new.

    Sitemaps are basically instructions that allow search engines to find your pages faster and more accurately. Keeping them updated ensures that Google has the best understanding of your overall website, and the greatest number of your pages are showing up for the appropriate searches.

    The Dangers of an Outdated Sitemap

    articleimage780The Dangers of an Outdated Sitemap

    If your sitemap isn’t up-to-date, you could be providing inaccurate data to search engines. Depending on the severity of your inaccuracies, this could have major consequences or minimal impact. For example, if one of your hundred product pages drops off, you won’t see much of an impact. However, if you’ve restructured your entire navigation, search engines could be confused when they attempt to crawl your site, and you may lose indexed pages as a result. In addition to having a smaller number of indexed, searchable pages, your domain authority could even take a hit.

    The bottom line here is that an outdated sitemap will send outdated information to Google—and while Google, in some cases, is smart enough to make sense of these discrepancies on its own, the safer play is to ensure your sitemaps are always up-to-date.

    How Your Sitemap Can Become Outdated

    articleimage780How Your Sitemap Can Become Outdated

    Sitemaps don’t become obsolete on their own. Only through a deliberate change in your site, usually an increase or decrease in the number of pages, can make your previously submitted sitemap outdated. Keep a close eye on the changes you make to your site, and if you do make a significant change, take efforts to keep your sitemap updated accordingly.

    Adding and Removing Pages

    By far the most common reason for a sitemap becoming outdated is the addition or removal of a core page. Even traditional, static websites experience the need for change from time to time—whether that’s the addition of a new service page or the removal of a special offers page that’s no longer relevant. While some regularly updated sections of your website (such as a blog or press page) will be routinely scanned by Google, any major page changes will need to be reflected in an updated sitemap.

    Redesigning the Site or Navigation

    Restructuring your site will also require an update to your sitemap. In addition to simply listing out the pages of your site, the sitemap is responsible for showcasing the hierarchy of your web presence, outlining the most important pages in a very specific order. If you make major changes to your navigation or restructure your page-based priorities, you’ll need to update your sitemap.

    Adding or Removing Products or Listings

    E-commerce sites and sites with classified-style postings (like job opportunities) tend to be the most vulnerable to sitemaps falling into obsolescence. Since most of these sites have large volumes of products and listings, sometimes numbering in the thousands, it’s common for new postings to be added and old postings to be taken down. Fortunately, a dynamic sitemap can spare you the pain of manually updating a sitemap every time you make a minor change, but you will have to routinely check to ensure your sitemap is accurate and up-to-date.

    Determining Whether Your Sitemap Is Outdated

    The easiest way to test whether your sitemap is current or outdated is to check it using Google Webmaster Tools. If you haven’t yet uploaded a sitemap here, you can start from scratch. If you need help creating your sitemap from scratch, be sure to read up on Google’s guidelines for building a sitemap.

    Once submitted, you might encounter errors during the upload process:

    • If you see a Compression Error, Empty Sitemap, HTTP Error (specific code), Incorrect Namespace, or Incorrect Sitemap Index Format, there is likely a problem with the format of the sitemap you submitted. These problems are generally easily fixed, and do not necessarily indicate a problem with the links and structure included in your map.
    • If you see Invalid or Missing errors, a Parsing Error, or a Path mismatch, it generally means there is a formatting error in the body of your sitemap that needs to be corrected.

    And once the sitemap is accepted, you may find errors with your sitemap. Perform a test by clicking on your intended sitemap, and clicking Test Sitemap in the top right corner. From there, you’ll be able to Open Test Results and view the results of the test.

    The test will tell you what type of content was submitted, in a quantifiable data table, including the number of web pages and videos that were submitted in the test. Any errors that Google encountered, which prevented it from indexing a page that was submitted, will be displayed. Some errors arise when there isn’t a page present where one should be according to the sitemap. Others are based on outside factors, such as server-related problems, or the presence of a robots.txt file blocking Google crawlers from discovering it.

    If you notice any of these errors preventing your sitemap from being accurate or up-to-date, take a closer look at the breakdown in Google Webmaster Tools, make a list of any corrections you need to make, and start making them.

    Submitting a New Sitemap

    Once ready with your new sitemap, head to the Webmaster Tools homepage and enter through the site you wish to submit the sitemap for. Under the Crawl header, click on Sitemaps, select the sitemap you wish to resubmit, and click the Resubmit Sitemap button. Once resubmitted successfully, you’ll be able to re-run the test you used to find the errors in the first place. Hopefully, all of these errors have been corrected in your revision. If not, you’ll have another opportunity to make corrections and resubmit a new sitemap.

    If you’re using static XML sitemaps and you run an e-commerce site or another type of site where pages come and go regularly, you’re in for a lot of work. With a static XML sitemap, you’ll have to manually change and resubmit your work with every change. Instead, you can build a dynamic sitemap and setup automated “pings” to notify the search engine whenever there is a major change.

    No matter how you look at it, sitemaps are an important piece of the puzzle when it comes to making sure Google has the right information about your website. Take measures to ensure your sitemap is up-to-date at all times, and you’ll be rewarded with more indexed pages, and more search traffic as a result.

  3. 3 SEO Strategies to Abandon in 2015

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    2014 was a volatile year for search engine optimization. It bore witness to the release of the Pigeon Update, which almost completely overhauled Google’s local ranking structure, as well as major updates to both Panda and Penguin, the commanding powerhouses in terms of algorithm packages. Steady rollouts, including the Google Knowledge Graph, and upcoming technological and cultural developments like wearable devices will dictate the course of events in 2015 and beyond.

    If you’re going to survive in the radically changing landscape of SEO, both in response to the massive updates that came in 2014 and in anticipation of the updates to come in the future, you’ll need to do some tweaking to your existing set of strategies. Notably, there are three popular strategies you’ll have to part with as soon as possible:

    1. Keyword-Based Optimization.

    articleimage773Keyword-Based Optimization

    Most optimizers already have a shaky, love-hate relationship with keywords; they love it when they can dominate the rank for a given keyword phrase, but loathe the futility of chasing after those high-competition phrases. Still, up until the last couple of years, most optimizers believed that keywords would always be one of the most important components of an SEO strategy—after all, you can’t perform a search without keywords, and you can’t rank unless you’re ranking for a specifically entered phrase, right?

    2014 continued a trend of sophistication in Google’s algorithm, perhaps most importantly centered on an element known as “semantic search,” which was first introduced to the search world via the Hummingbird Update of 2013. Semantic search is a new algorithmic process that supersedes the traditional keyword-based approach. While an older search query would simply be disassembled into its keyword and keyword phrase components in order to find those components as they read verbatim on the web, semantic search offers a more complex and more precise methodology. User queries are analyzed in terms of their intent, rather than their content, and Google scours the web interpreting the function of different websites to find the most appropriate results, rather than the most mathematically correct ones.

    Since the shift toward semantic search is only going to grow in prevalence and sophistication, that means only one thing for traditional keyword-based optimization strategies: certain death. The process of writing title tags and meta tags with carefully selected keywords and stuffing your articles full of just the right number of keyword phrases you want to optimize for is already dying, and will probably be long gone by the end of the year.

    Instead of focusing on keyword research and keyword-based optimization strategies, shift your focus to topics. Use research to find out what topics people are talking about, and what topics your audience might be interested in reading. Write articles about those topics, and be as detailed as possible so Google robots can learn the purpose of your article and fetch it for appropriate inbound queries. Your goal here is to present your company—and your content—as accurately and as detailed as possible, without getting lost in a strategy that’s too focused on keyword inclusion.

    2. General or Overview Content.

    articleimage773General or Overview Content

    Speaking of content, moving into 2015, you’ll want to abandon any tenets of your content strategy that focus on providing general information on broad topics, or overviews on subjects that have existed for years. Instead, you’ll want to focus on niche topics and highly specific topics that people will want to read about. There are several reasons for this.

    The first reason is likely obvious. The Internet has been around for a long time, and people have been writing material on general topics for just as long. There are hundreds, if not thousands of sites, who have covered your topic of choice in far greater detail, and they likely carry more authority than your site will ever could. It’s an unfortunate fact in the SEO world, but for some, highly generalized topics, the competition is simply too dense to challenge.

    The second reason is attributable to a budding Google product known as the Knowledge Graph. In an effort to improve the ease and convenience of finding information online, Google is now attempting to forgo the old process of performing a search in order to find a site that can provide that information in favor of providing that information directly. The company is doing this by providing a helpful summary of certain broad topics (such as people, places, and things) in a box to the right of the screen for certain queries. The Knowledge Graph advanced significantly in 2014, and 2015 will likely see further expansion. Because of this, even if you do somehow manage to rank for a generalized topic, you might get significantly less traffic because users are getting their answers immediately upon searching.

     As a result, your best bet is to write content that’s as specialized and focused as possible, such as advanced how-to topics or focused opinion articles. These types of content will have a lower search volume, but you’ll have a much easier time getting visibility for them—and the Knowledge Graph can’t threaten to steal away any of your traffic, either.

     3. Direct Link Building.

    articleimage773 Directlink

    Stick with us on this one. Google still uses external links as a major indication of web authority, and link building itself is still a relevant practice. But the process of manually going out solely to build links pointing back to your site is not just outdated—it’s downright dangerous thanks to the new Penguin updates, which can now detect “manipulative link building” in more sophisticated ways than ever.

    Instead of trying to weasel your way into conversations or systematically meet link quantity quotas on external sites, accept a more natural approach. Your first key is to start generating the types of content that tend to naturally attract hundreds—if not thousands—of links, all on their own. These pieces, like whitepapers, infographics, and entertaining videos can virally spread on their own, giving you a bit of upfront work but automatic benefits as soon as they’re syndicated. These links are all-natural, and Google can’t possibly touch you for getting them.

    Beyond that, use more natural means of attracting and supplying links to your site. Link building should no longer be your main priority in any action. For example, you can post an external guest blog with a link pointing back to your site—the main goal here is getting additional brand exposure and authority building, not providing a link. Or, you can provide advice to a requester in a forum and provide a link that’s genuinely valuable—here your main goal is helping someone out, not simply throwing your link into the mix. Opportunities for link building should be circumstantial—any links determined to be built with the sole intention of increasing rank could earn you a penalty.

    The fundamental basis of quality SEO is still the same as it’s always been: the sites that provide the best user experience will always rank toward the top. What constitutes a great user experience and what Google is able to analyze are the elements that are always changing. If you can provide your users an ideal experience, and offer them the information they seek, you should have no trouble achieving visibility through search—keep that in mind as you refine your strategies for the coming year and beyond.

  4. The Penalty-Proof Way to Build Backlinks

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    Ranking penalties, as the result of Google algorithm updates, have plagued search marketers and webmasters since the search engine got serious about defeating spam back in the late 2000s. The Penguin update of 2012 and its subsequent iterations were responsible for most of the link-related ranking volatility of recent years, distributing penalties to sites with irregular, irrelevant, or otherwise non-valuable backlink, leaving many to abandon or dramatically overhaul their offsite SEO strategies.

    Today, backlink building is still an integral part of any SEO strategy, as a means of increasing your site’s domain authority and making it easier to rank for almost any phrase. While there are modern tactics to build a high quantity of links without earning a penalty from Google, the safer approach is to incorporate a long-term, penalty-proof system of link building, which will keep you safe in the short-term and protect you against any future Google updates.

    Step One: Choose Your Sources Wisely

    articleimage772Choose Your Sources Wisely

    Your first step is to build and maintain and inventory of quality external sources where you can build links. Consulting and abiding by this list will protect you against penalties based on the type of sources you use, and help boost your domain authority even further by increasing your relevance and building meaningful associations.

    As a general rule, you should scout for sites that are authoritative (meaning they’ve been around for a while, they have value for their users, and a respectable amount of traffic), and sites that are directly related to your industry. You can find these sites by performing regular Google searches, using an aggregated news feed, or by examining the link profiles of your competitors using a free tool like Open Site Explorer. Collect a long list of these possible sources and begin making requests for your links on a rotating basis.

    Be sure to avoid the following types of non-authoritative sources:

    • Article directories. Article directories exist for the sole purpose of publishing random articles for the sake of building backlinks. Such sites are few and far between since Google began their crackdown, but stay far away from them regardless.
    • Link farms. Link farms, much like article directories, exist solely to help other sites build backlinks. They publish hundreds of links pointing back to your domain, but all of them are very low quality and will likely result in a penalty.
    • Payment-based sources. Google has an explicit policy against paid link building, which means that any links you pay for (other than advertising or affiliate links) can earn you a harsh penalty.
    • Irrelevant blogs or forums. Forums, blogs, and directories can all be quality sources for backlinks—but only if they are relevant to your specific field. Posting a link on an irrelevant forum, or in an irrelevant conversation, can do more harm than good.

    Step Two: Post Like a Person

    articleimage772 Post Like a Person

    If the search engine giant suspects that your link was built through automation or by a scheme to improve your rank, it will penalize you. So if you post like an ordinary, unbiased user with no ulterior agenda, you’ll be in the clear.

    There’s no “trick” to getting past these evaluations of Google’s algorithms. Instead of trying to make your post look like it was posted to improve user experience, bypass that step and post content that is actually valuable.

    The biggest key here is relevance. When you find a thread on an industry forum that seems like it might be a good fit for a link, read through it before you post. If your company doesn’t have anything to do with the topic, move on. If there’s a blog post that elaborates on a topic mentioned or substantiates a claim made in the thread, post a link to it! And don’t just post the link and be done with it; take the time to write up an explanation of why you’re posting the link, and why you think it would be helpful to the conversation.

    Similarly, you’ll need to ensure that all your guest blogs and offsite content align with the expectations and standards of your offsite sources, and of course, ensure that they are well-written. Keep your hyperlinks to only what’s necessary or what’s helpful in understanding the article.

    Step Three: Diversify

    Another key in making sure you avoid any penalties in the future is to diversify your entire strategy. You’ll want to include as much variation as possible in every step of the process if you want to hedge your bets against the search engine’s next moves and stay ahead of the game no matter what.

    First, you’ll need to diversify your sources. Hopefully, you’ve got a fairly long list of potential sources to draw from; take advantage of its entirety. Rotate your sources regularly, and never post too many links on any one source.

    Second, you’ll need to diversify your timing. Don’t post all of your links on one day of the week or even worse, one day of the month. Spread your links out at random times over random days in an irregular pattern. Links look more natural that way.

    Finally, it’s a good idea to diversify your link structure. Avoid posting the same link to your homepage over and over again. Instead, use deep links from your interior pages and blog posts to vary your external posts—it will also help ensure that your posts are specifically relevant to the conversation at hand. For good measure, be sure to build a significant number of linkless brand mentions as well. Brand mentions pass authority without garnering the negative attention of excessive backlinks.

    Step Four: Audit Regularly

    articleimage772 Audit Regularly

    Unfortunately, maintaining solid best practices throughout your implementation isn’t enough to fully protect you against the possibility of a penalty, or even against the possibility of error in your own work. If you want to maintain the quality of your strategy and catch potential problems early on, the best course of action is to audit your backlink profile on a regular basis.

    There are a few ways to do this, but the easiest is to consult a link-based search tool like Open Site Explorer, which we mentioned above. Here, you’ll be able to review all the links on the web that are pointing back to your site, and evaluate them for diversity, appropriateness, and authority. If you find any links that are irrelevant or questionable, you can easily get rid of them by asking the webmaster to remove them. If you find that your strategy doesn’t include as much diversity as you’d like, or if you spot too many patterns in your posts, you can adjust your process accordingly.

    Plan on implementing a full backlink profile audit at least once a month, possibly more often if you have an aggressive link building strategy in place.

    Put these steps into action for your entire offsite SEO strategy, and you’ll protect yourself against whatever new algorithm updates Google throws at you. Google’s entire motivation in rolling out updates is to make the web a better place with more relevant, accurate content—so if you focus on creating the best possible online experience for your visitors and modern searchers, there will be nothing for the search engine to penalize.

  5. The Beginner’s Guide to Google Webmaster Tools

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    Google Webmaster Tools is one of the most useful services on the web for any webmaster, and it’s completely free to use and access. The problem is, many inexperienced users are unfamiliar with the service, and are intimidated by the options and tools available. Fortunately, the basics of Google Webmaster Tools (GWT) are more approachable than you might think, and throughout this “Beginner’s Guide,” we’ll introduce you to the highlights of the service.

    What Is Webmaster Tools?

    Before we get started detailing the most useful features available, you’ll need to have an understanding of what GWT is used for, and why it’s important. GWT is a free selection of tools and features designed to help webmasters and entrepreneurs better understand the ins and outs of their website. Many of these tools are designed to help webmasters understand how and why their site ranks in Google, but there are several other tools available.

    Getting Started

    Signing up for Webmaster Tools is a snap—all you’ll need is a functioning Google account. Hopefully, you’ve already got a Google Analytics login. You can use this account for Webmaster Tools as well.

    Verifying Your Site

    Once you’ve got your login setup, you can add your site (or your first site, if you’re managing multiple domains). To verify a site, you’ll need to enter the URL of your chosen domain. From here, there are a few different ways you can verify your ownership over that domain—the easiest way is to upload the custom HTML file that Google generates for you. Once your domain is verified, you’ll be able to start pulling information and making positive changes.

    Viewing the Dashboard

    Your Dashboard is going to provide a great snapshot of where things stand with your selected domain. The default selections for your introductory dashboard are:

    • New notifications, which will appear if there are any new or attention-worthy developments on your site
    • Crawl errors, which can occur from time to time and interfere with your site’s visibility and presence on SERPs
    • A graph of inbound search queries, including how many impressions and clicks those queries generated, and
    • A list of your current sitemaps, which you can manage

    You can view all of these pieces of information in more detail on other areas of GWT. For the purposes of this guide, we’ll be introducing you only to the basics of each section.

    Site Messages

    The Site Messages section, which you can find on the left-hand index of GWT, is essentially an inbox that Google will use to communicate with you. Generally, these messages are few and far between, but you’ll want to check back periodically to see if there have been any significant developments that warrant your attention. For example, Google may send you a message if it detects that your site has been the victim of a hack attempt.

    Search Appearance

    articleimage765 Search Appearance

    The Search Appearance section is your gateway to understanding and customizing how your site appears in the context of external searches. If you’re currently using structured data on your site (which you should be), you’ll be able to test and see how Google views this structured data, and how that translates to live search results. If you aren’t happy with how your site or site links appear, you’ll be able to control those qualities by adjusting the structured data on your site. In order to do this, you’ll need a bit of HTML knowledge.

    Data Highlighter

    The Data Highlighter is a tool anyone can use to help Google understand the most important information on your site. Using this tool, you can explore, tag, and categorize certain pieces of information as they appear on your site and customize how that data appears in searches. For example, you can highlight a series of upcoming events to have them stand out under specific search queries.

    HTML Improvements

    While Google usually fights back against search engine optimizers, the HTML Improvements section is designed almost exclusively to help webmasters rank better for search queries. Here, you’ll be able to view any recommendations Google has about the HTML of your site. For example, it may list any missing or duplicate title tags, and any meta descriptions that are too long or too short. This is an extremely useful tool for search engine optimizers trying to maximize the visibility of their site.

    Site Links

    The Site Links section is designed to help you customize the sub-links that appear under your homepage link for some queries. Google generally selects these sub-links for you, but if you have a different preference, you can change them up here.

    Search Traffic

    articleimage765Search Traffic

    The Search Traffic section of GWT is one of the most useful for SEO:

    • Under Search Queries, you’ll be able to view a list of specific user search queries that led to your site. You’ll find information such as impressions, clicks, CTR, and average position for each query over a given period of time.
    • Under Links to Your Site, you’ll be able to take a look at all your backlinks and determine whether there are any problems or improvements to be made in your backlink building strategy.
    • Under Internal Links, you can explore your onsite navigation and find areas for potential improvement.
    • Under Manual Actions, you can review any potential penalties that Google might have given you. Fortunately, these types of penalties are quite rare, but keep an eye out for them, just in case. Many can be appealed.
    • Under International Targeting, you can explore how your site appears in international searches.
    • Under Mobile Usability, you can review and analyze any potential errors your site contains when displaying on a mobile device.

    Google Index

    articleimage765googleindex

    The Google Index section helps you understand how your site appears in Google’s massive search index:

    • Under Index Status, you’ll see the total number of URLs under your domain that are being indexed. If you see any major spikes or drops, it could be an indication of a problem.
    • Under Content Keywords, you’ll be able to view a list of what Google interprets are the most important keywords used throughout your site.
    • Under Remove URLs, you can specifically request some of your URLs to be hidden from Google search bots—this can be extremely useful if you have duplicate pages or other irrelevant content that should not be indexed.

    Crawl

    The Crawl section is the perfect place to see how Google is crawling your site, and proactively detect if there are any problems:

    • Under Crawl Errors, you’ll see notifications for any pages of your site that cause problems for Google’s crawlers.
    • Under Crawl Stats, you’ll see specific information about how these bots crawl your site.
    • Under Fetch as Google and robots.txt Tester, you can view your own pages exactly how Google views them—which is useful for troubleshooting specific crawl issues.
    • Under Sitemaps, you can view and manage the sitemaps you’ve submitted for your site.
    • Under URL Parameters, you can correct any problems with your URLs that have caused indexing issues. You generally don’t need to use this unless you’ve encountered a problem.

    Security Issues

    Security Issues is another section where Google will update you if it detects something is wrong. If, for any reason, the security of your site has been compromised, this is where you’ll hear about it first.

    Other Resources

    Google has a variety of other resources available in GWT, including a Structured Data Testing Tool that can help you test your structured data, a Google Places integration which is extremely valuable for local businesses, and PageSpeed Insights, which can help you make all your pages load faster on all browsers and devices. Most of these are advanced features that may not be helpful for all users, but definitely feel free to explore them once you’ve mastered the basics.

    It will take some time before you’re formally acquainted with GWT. Google has gone to great lengths to make such a useful, massive tool available for webmasters around the world—you might as well take advantage of it. As you become more seasoned, you’ll learn more tips and tricks on how to make GWT work for you, but for now, focus on becoming familiar with the basic layout.

  6. The Definitive Guide to Mobile SEO

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    As mobile devices like tablets, smartphones, and (now) smart watches start to overtake home computers in popularity, optimizing your site for mobile searches is becoming more important than ever. For years, optimizing the layout and presentation of your site for mobile devices has been an important factor in determining your domain authority and rank for specific queries, but now, “mobile SEO” is transforming into its own set of unique strategies.

    Throughout this guide, we’ll cover the basics of mobile SEO and how you can maximize the visibility and appeal of your site on mobile devices everywhere.

    Ensuring Google Approves of Your Mobile Site

    articleimage766 Ensuring Google Approves of Your Mobile Site

    Before you start trying to optimize specifically for a mobile experience, you have to ensure that Google approves of your mobile site. That means having your website perfectly capable of loading when accessed by mobile devices.

    There are three types of mobile layouts that are considered the standard for modern websites: responsive designs, dynamic content, and mobile URLs. All three are viewed equally by Google, but some webmasters may have a preference for one over the others.

    Responsive Design

    A responsive design is one that automatically detects the type of device being used to access it, and adjusts the layout of the site accordingly. For example, if your site is being accessed from a desktop machine, it may display traditionally, but if it’s being accessed from a smaller, vertical smartphone screen, it might “stack” some of the horizontal features to maximize the user experience.

    Responsive designs use one URL and one design, which makes it very convenient and efficient for developers. It’s relatively easy to incorporate, and it consolidates an otherwise multifaceted development effort. The only potential drawback of the responsive web design is loading time—since mobile users will technically be loading the entire site, it may take longer to download than a specific mobile landing page. Still, responsive design is the most popular mobile option today.

    Dynamic Content

    Dynamic serving content is similar to a responsive design, since only one URL is used no matter what type of device is accessing the content. However, under dynamic content, you’ll actually be serving up totally different versions of your website. For example, you’ll have a “desktop” version of your site loaded up and a “mobile” version of your site loaded up, and you’ll serve the version that corresponds with the device trying to access it.

    This allows you to serve each device more specifically. However, it takes much more work to develop, implement, and manage since you’ll need to create a version for almost every type of device that could access your page.

    Mobile URLs

    Mobile URLs are an old-fashioned way of getting your site optimized for mobile, but they still work fine for some businesses. Rather than trying to adapt on the fly the way responsive designs do, with mobile URLs, you’ll essentially be building a separate, mobile version of your site on a different URL. When a user access your site from a mobile device, you’ll automatically redirect them to the proper URL, usually a variant of your primary URL.

    Mobile URLs are typically more difficult to manage. You’ll have to ensure that your desktop and mobile versions redirect appropriately, which can be difficult. Otherwise, your users will view an inappropriate version of your website, and they may be left with a terrible first impression.

    Optimizing for Mobile-Specific Searches

    articleimage766Optimizing for Mobile-Specific Searches

    Users searching on mobile devices, like smartphones, are searching using the same index as desktop or home searchers. That means, as long as your site is present on that index, both desktop and mobile users will be able to see you. However, there are a handful of specific ranking signals on mobile devices that will interfere with your rank:

    • Desktop and Mobile Presence. Google tends to favor sites with both a desktop and a mobile presence. If you only have a mobile site, you aren’t going to rank as high, even if the majority of your searches are on mobile. Make sure your links are suitable for both desktop and mobile loading.
    • Page Loading Times. Page loading times have always mattered—the faster your site’s pages load, the higher your site is going to rank. But on mobile, the preference for fast-loading web pages is even more extreme. Google recommends loading above-the-fold content in under one second. Optimize your loading speed for mobile as much as possible.
    • URL Redirects. Redirects are an important part of many sites, and an unavoidable one in many circumstances. However, adding a redirect essentially adds more time to load the destination page, which means a lagging user experience, and a lower rank as a result. Avoid redirects as much as you can.
    • Annoying Popups. It’s tempting to include an overlay page or a popup ad on your mobile site, especially if you’re trying to get users to download your mobile app, but Google has a firm belief that such advertising efforts are damaging to overall user experience, and as a result, you could rank lower if you feature one. You’ll have to make the call as to whether the increased conversion rate from the popup ad or the increased traffic from the higher rank is more important.
    • Full Content. Your webpages can’t just be partially optimized for mobile. If there are any areas of your page that aren’t optimized for mobile—such as flash animations or a video that won’t play—your ranking for mobile searches could drop as a result. Be sure to check every nook and cranny of your pages for potential non-optimized content.

    How to Adjust Your Current SEO Strategy

    articleimage766How to Adjust Your Current SEO Strategy

    For the most part, mobile SEO is going to function the same as traditional SEO. You’re still going to function on user experience, onsite content, offsite backlinks, and the same navigational improvements that lead to higher ranks. In terms of your ongoing strategy, there isn’t much you’ll need to improve on as long as your strategy is currently in order.

    To start things off, you’ll need to optimize your site for a mobile layout. The specifics are up to you, but you’ll need to ensure that your site loads appropriately and quickly—perform multiple tests on multiple devices to ensure that your site is loading the way it should, and don’t hesitate to consult Google Webmaster Tools to see if your site is registering as optimized for mobile. From there, you’ll need to do periodic tests for your page loading times and to ensure that the full content of your site is available on all mobile devices.

    Mobile SEO is a big deal, and will only grow in importance over the next few years. The sooner you address any mobile issues with your current website, the sooner you’ll reap the benefits of ranking higher for mobile searches. Thankfully, mobile SEO is more about building and maintaining an active, mobile-optimized website than it is performing a series of ongoing changes and adjustments, but you’ll still need to keep an eye on your site to ensure it’s operating at its best. The faster it loads, and the easier it is for the user to view your content, the more likely you’ll be to show up above the fold in mobile searches.

  7. How Poor SEO Can Contribute to Lost Sales

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    Search engine optimization (SEO) isn’t all the same. There are a set of simple strategies, which, when executed together, can result in your website ranking higher for appropriate search queries. Ranking higher for various keywords usually results in much higher traffic volumes coming to your website, which in turn increases the total number of sales that are generated by your online marketing efforts.

    However, some business owners execute SEO strategies that are questionable, in an effort to increase their rank, and as a result, some of their site visitors become disinterested, rather than engaged. In effect, these poor SEO strategies do end up bringing more people to the website, but because of their low quality, they only end up in lost sales.

    Examples of Poor SEO

    There are many types of poor-quality SEO strategies, but all of them are rooted in the same mentality. Focusing only on the end result of SEO, increasing ranks in SERPs, instead of focusing on user experience, leads to robotic, mathematical designs and copy, which alienates users rather than welcoming them. In effect, poor SEO is the process of writing and designing for a machine (Google’s bots) rather than writing and designing for humans.

    These are just some of the ways that poor SEO can manifest itself in a typical site:

    • Robotic, flat copy that sounds unnatural or is stuffed with keywords.
    • Pages that exist solely to anchor a specific keyword, and serve no real purpose for the site.
    • Meta titles and descriptions that aren’t appealing or compelling.
    • Irrelevant or off-topic keyword phrases appearing out of context on the site.
    • Irrelevant or non-valuable links posted on external sites.

    Any of these results of poor SEO can ultimately lead to lost sales opportunities.

    Human Robot Detectors

    articleimage761 Human Robot Detectors

    The most notorious symptom of poor SEO is robot-sounding page copy, which can alienate users and result in a bad experience. This usually comes as a result of writing copy for the sole purpose of filling up web space, such as creating a new page in your navigation just to rank for a specific keyword, or stuffing copy so full of keywords that it no longer makes any logical sense. A new visitor coming to your site will see this kind of material and immediately get a bad impression. They may not know your material was written specifically for SEO, but they’ll know it wasn’t written for them because it doesn’t sound like a human. You have to write like a human if you’re going to appeal to a human.

    Endless Navigation

    Adding pages to your navigation for the sole purpose of increasing rank is also a bad idea. While it’s true that having a dedicated page for a product or service will increase your rank for that product or service, adding a page simply for the sake of adding a page is only going to leave you with extra fluff. It tends to fill up your navigation bar or your site map, which can be confusing to inbound users (especially if they’re new to your business). And if a user spends too much time trying to figure out what’s a real page on your site and what’s just fluff, they’re going to leave before they have the chance to convert.

    Minimal On-Page Value

    When a user comes to your site, it’s your job to make sure they stay there. A high bounce rate means that the majority of users who come to your site leave before taking any further actions, and that’s a direct result of having minimal on-page value. Practitioners of poor SEO only look at how their site layout and design function for search engines instead of how they engage with incoming visitors. If you want to keep your visitors on your site and increase the likelihood of conversions, you’ll need to add more value to your individual pages, such as unique content, embedded videos, infographics, or other informative or entertaining materials.

    Unanswered Questions

    Your site also needs to answer your users’ questions, and if you’re busy stuffing keywords into flat, uninteresting content, you’ll never have the chance. Use FAQ sections, contact us pages, and your blog to write up and answer all the common questions that your users have. Remember, your goal is to inform your users and make your company seem like an approachable, trustworthy source. Otherwise, you can abandon any hope of achieving conversions.

    Irrelevant Traffic

    articleimage761Irrelevant Traffic

    Poor SEO can also lead to irrelevant traffic. Even if you’re optimizing for a keyword that seems relevant to your industry, it may not generate a segment of your demographics with a high tendency to convert. For example, stuffing your pages with the term “how to prepare a steak” will attract people who may already have steaks and aren’t interested in purchasing them. Instead of focusing on specific keywords, just write valuable content that highlights your business. Google will be able to interpret the rest and present you when relevant user queries arise.

    Poor Link Posting

    Posting external links that aren’t grounded in value can also lead to lost interest and lost sales. For example, if you just post backlinks randomly, not only will you probably get a penalty from Google, you might also dissuade potential customers due to your spamming them. Make sure all your links are relevant to the blog or forum, relevant to the conversation, and valuable for anyone who might stumble across it.

    How to Prevent Poor SEO

    articleimage761 How to Prevent Poor SEO

    Rather than actively trying to avoid mistakenly using poor SEO in your marketing strategy, all you have to do is adjust your mentality. True, SEO is all about trying to improve your rank in search engines, but your primary focus needs to be on your user base. Rather than implementing new pages or new copy that you think will make Google happy, make changes that you think will make your users happy. Look at everything from a user experience perspective rather than a search engine bot perspective, and the rest should happen naturally.

    If you’re worried about optimizing for humans and losing the favor of search engines, don’t be. Google cares about getting the best, most relevant results for its users and giving them the best possible online experience. In fact, it doesn’t even use keywords as its fundamental basis for searches anymore. Instead, it uses a concept known as semantic search, which analyzes the intent behind a user query and finds the appropriate materials based on how it understands each site to function. In effect, keywords aren’t as important as they used to be—you just have to be the most relevant, valuable answer on the web to incoming user queries. That means providing the best user experience. In short, as long as you’re making your users happy, you’re making Google happy, and the rest will happen naturally.

    While it’s tempting to do anything and everything you can to increase your rank in major search engines, think twice before committing your strategies. Over-optimizing your website and offsite strategies can ultimately lead to poor SEO, which can compromise any increase in rank you might experience and result in hundreds of lost leads. Remember, no matter how badly you want to increase your traffic and please search engine robots, your users have to come first.

  8. How Effective Is Yext for Local SEO Campaigns?

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    Local SEO is a strategy ripe with opportunities, but for many local business owners, it is a challenging and confusing set of tactics. In order to establish your local presence online, you need to be tuned into all the local directories where your business is or could be listed, and constantly monitor these locations for new updates.

    Several companies, most notably Yext, have taken it upon themselves to make the process of submitting local citations easier for business owners. However, while Yext’s services are valuable, they may not be right for every business owner or every local SEO campaign.

    What Is Yext?

    articleimage760 yext

    Yext is a local listing tool that is purported to boost companies’ ranks for local searches by submitting accurate local citations, which either replace inaccurate existing information or fill a void where no information was before. Yext also offers an integrated dashboard, which displays updated analytics for your local SEO campaign, including detailed local listings, updates on changes, and profile views and clicks for each business listing.

    Key Advantages

    Yext is a tool that consolidates and makes easier the otherwise manual processes of submitting and managing local listings. Local listings, of course, are essential for SEO, but many business owners don’t have the time or patience to do it manually.

    Automatic Distribution

    Yext is able to scour the web for all the possible locations your business could be listed—instantaneously. It also searches for any instances of your business where the information (such as your name, address, or phone number) are inaccurate or in an inconsistent format. This can save business owners hours of time, though there are alternative means of finding such information. Still, using Yext allows business owners to generate a solid list of places where their information needs to be updated—making the process that much easier.

    Instant Distribution

    One major problem with citation submission and distribution is the timing. Never mind the time it takes to find local directories—once you submit your changes or additions, it usually takes a period of days or weeks before the directory adopts your changes, and another several weeks before those changes are incorporated into search engine indexes.

    Through Yext’s proprietary data distribution system, it’s possible to submit this information almost instantly. In a matter of days, your listings can be updated and live.

    Integrated Dashboard

    The integrated dashboard that comes with your Yext account is also beneficial, especially for business owners new to the world of local SEO. While the dashboard is relatively simple, it does give business owners great insights into the amount of traffic generated by local listings and how different listings compare to one another in terms of overall value.

    Key Disadvantages

    Even though Yext does have a host of benefits, there are also a handful of major disadvantages.

    Minimal Ongoing Value

    Yext is extremely useful when it comes to tracking down local directories where your information is inaccurate or absent, but once that information is updated, there isn’t much you’ll need Yext for. It’s a valuable system to learn when your profiles are updated (usually with user ratings and reviews), but you don’t need a proprietary system in order to manage this portion. As such, the ongoing value of Yext is questionable, especially compared to its price.

    Expense

    The cost of Yext is somewhat variable, depending on the size of your business and how many local listings you need to correct, but a one-time update can run in the neighborhood of $500 or more. If you need the local SEO boost and you don’t want to spend the time updating things yourself, that $500 might be worth it. Otherwise, it’s an expensive addition to your strategy that isn’t completely necessary.

    Is It Worth It?

    articleimage760Is It Worth It

    Unfortunately, this is a bit of a non-answer, but it comes down to your business and your specific needs. Every business is going to need something different out of this service, if they need it at all. If you can afford the one-time update, and you have several local listings that need to be submitted, Yext could be a great one-time service to boost your local SEO relevance. Otherwise, as an ongoing service, Yext doesn’t have anything special that you can’t get for free and with a little extra work.

    Alternatives to Boost Local Search Rankings

    articleimage760 Alternatives to Boost Local Search Rankings

    If you’re looking to get some of the value that Yext offers without paying for the service, there are plenty of free and easy-to-use resources that can help you make the updates necessary to boost your local search rankings.

    Google Tools

    Google Alerts is a perfect tool for building awareness of your business’s mentions on local directories, and it’s completely free to use. You can set an alert to be sent to you whenever a specific keyword is mentioned (such as your brand) on a specific site or collection of sites (such as Yelp). By using this tool, you can plug into hundreds of conversations and keep tabs on all your local directories all in one place. It’s very convenient, and much cheaper than it would be to subscribe to a similar ongoing service.

    In addition, Google Webmaster Tools and Google Analytics are great tools that can help you measure the impact of your strategy. Using Google Analytics, you can filter your audience until only locals are present to determine your overall impact, or check out the Audience Acquisition breakdown to see which of your external local listings are generating the greatest amount of traffic.

    In Webmaster Tools, you can head to Google Places and, by association, Google My Business, which will allow you to submit all your business information to Google. Most local directories, if they do not already have your information, will use this data to accurately present your business’s information. It’s not as fast or as thorough as Yext’s tool, but it serves as an informal way to update your business information all across the web.

    Social Media

    While local directories are rising in popularity as options for users looking for specific business information, social media profiles are still extremely important—and best of all, they’re still completely free. Make sure you claim your company’s social profile on as many different social media platforms as you can. Not only will this help your local SEO directly by giving search engines more context about your business, but it will also help prevent any inaccuracies or absences of your business information in local directories across the web.

    Social media is also a valuable opportunity to post regular, local-specific updates about your company in an effort to gain visibility and association with your geographic region.

    All in all, Yext is a good tool to aid in your local SEO proceedings. It’s not going to instantly raise you to the top of the SERPs, nor is it going to do much for you on an ongoing basis (especially compared to your traditional local SEO strategy), but in updating and distributing your local business information, it is fairly valuable. Since it is not a necessary tool for a successful local SEO campaign, your budget and your willingness to complete the manual actions of updating your business information should be the key factors in your decision on whether or not to proceed with the service.

  9. The 5 Most Valuable Types of Content for Local SEO

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    Local SEO is a frequently overlooked strategy for many businesses due to a misconception that it can only be useful for small, mom-and-pop style local businesses. In reality, local SEO is significant for practically any business with a physical location, and it’s becoming more important to get involved with it. The strategy is relatively easy and straightforward to adopt—especially if you’re already familiar with the basics of national SEO—so there’s no reason why you shouldn’t start immediately if you haven’t already.

    Why Local SEO Has Exploded in Importance

    Local SEO is just like traditional, national SEO, except your focus shifts to optimizing your site for local-specific keywords. For example, if you operate a café in Sacramento, you would focus on optimizing for search terms related to California, Sacramento, or other neighborhood-specific terms. This is advantageous for a number of reasons, each of which has heightened in importance over the past few years:

    • The competition for national keywords is intense, and it grows more intense by the year. Every major business in the country is online, and the competition going after your target keywords is constantly on the rise. However, with local keywords, that competition level is radically reduced—giving more businesses the opportunity to attain a meaningful rank.
    • Google is putting more emphasis on local SEO. Since the percentage of searches performed on mobile devices and the frequency of geographic-specific searches are both on the rise, Google is stepping up its efforts to provide the greatest local-specific results. That means you’ll have a better opportunity to stand out, and you won’t get left behind as search and technology trends start to shift toward local exclusivity.
    • Local SEO is getting easier. It was once a tangled process of manual submissions to search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo!, but now, the power to optimize your site for local keywords is at your fingertips.

    With that understanding, there are five types of content you’ll need in order to rank for your local keywords effectively:

    1. Press Releases.

    articleimage750pressrelease
    Press releases are one of the most powerful forms of content available, and if done right, they can be powerhouses for your local SEO campaign. When you draft a press release with local SEO in mind, make sure your topic is in line with the geographic specificity required of a local campaign—while all press releases typically feature the city and state where the news is taking place, if your event is related to a community development, you’ll stand to benefit that much more.

    For example, let’s say your business is attending a major trade show in your area. You’ll be able to throw in as many geographic variations as you like in the body of the article, and they’ll all be completely in context. Plus, you’ll stand to gain some peripheral traffic from people searching for the official name of the event.

    With most press release distribution systems, you’ll have the ability to select geo-targeted publication outlets. If you’re not using such a system, it’s wise to manually focus on the publications within your city, county, and possibly your state. Getting external links from such sources will do wonders for your local optimization campaign—far more than just stuffing the name of your city into your meta tags.

    2. City Information Articles.

    These types of articles can typically be posted on your blog, as long as they don’t interfere with your main line of content marketing. Essentially, they are informational posts designed to cover a specific topic of interest within your city. For example, a bed and breakfast in Sacramento could cover “the best bed and breakfast locations in Sacramento” or something similar, and list out the 10 most popular destinations in the area.

    Of course, many entrepreneurs are reluctant to write such an article because they fear naming or acknowledging their competition. As a result, many articles are clearly written as sales pieces, briefly acknowledging their competitors, then explaining how clearly superior they are. Instead, focus on the informative quality of your piece—showcase your own advantages, but be honest and give each entry equal weight. If your content skews too heavily toward yourself, you won’t gain much authority, but if you write the best informational piece on this topic on the web (which is possible, considering the limited competition in local search), you’ll stand to gain enormous traffic.

    3. Social Media Updates.

    articleimage750socialmediaupdates
    Your social updates are also going to play a heavy role in how your business is seen by search engines. It’s not entirely clear which social signals trigger what conclusions in Google’s algorithm, but it is clear that posting frequency, audience size, and user engagement are all important determining factors in calculating rank.

    Take advantage of your social platforms whenever you do something specific to your community—such as attending a fair or having your employees volunteer for a local charity. Tag other local businesses in the body of your social posts, and of course make sure those posts are optimized with local-specific tags and keywords. By getting other local businesses involved with your social activities, you’ll establish yourself in a network of local businesses, and it will be that much easier for you to rank locally.

    4. Forum Posts.

    Local forums can be hard to find at times, but they’re definitely out there. You may not be able to find a geographically relevant forum in your specific industry, but you’ll easily be able to find general forums about the state of your town or the progress of your community.

    Get involved on these forums as much as possible, making posts of your own and engaging with your fellow citizens. Not only with the external links and frequent brand mentions establish you as a greater local authority in the eyes of Google, you’ll also stand to gain additional traffic from locals who have grown to respect you as a contributor. Just be sure your posts remain focused on bringing value to the community rather than solely increasing your rank.

    5.Interviews.

    articleimage750interview

    Interviews are great pieces of content in general, but especially when performed in a local context. Find a local personality to interview—it could be a politician, a business owner, or anyone else in some kind of position of status—and make a video or audio recording with an accompanying written transcript. The interview should catch the attention of local publications and local citizens. Plus, your interviewee will likely link to and share the interview, thereby doubling your potential audience.

    Throughout your interview, be sure to include specific questions about your neighborhood or area in general—it’s a perfect opportunity to optimize your content for your geographic area and simultaneously build yourself as a leading authority in the community.

    Just like traditional SEO, local SEO takes time. You can’t expect to implement these content types and see a drastic change overnight. In addition to writing and publishing locally-optimized content, it’s important to stay involved with your community by engaging in conversations on your social media pages and local directory profiles. The more attention your business gets in the local community, the more you’ll show up in search results.

  10. 8 Golden Rules for Penalty-Free SEO

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    Search engine optimization (SEO) is always evolving, ironically because of efforts imposed by Google to stop people from trying to artificially improve their ranks. A number of sophisticated advancements to Google’s algorithms have radically transformed SEO, as a whole, from a series of mathematical adjustments designed to fool Google’s algorithms to a system of strategies designed to improve overall user experience.

    Today, if you’re going to be successful in ranking for a series of keywords and keyword phrases, you’ll need to make sure your strategy avoids triggering any Google penalties. The best way to do that is to implement tactics that actively improve user experience, and these eight golden rules will help keep you on track:

    1. Write content that answers questions.

    articleimage749 Write content that answers questions

    The real rule here is to write content that your users will actually want to read, but since it’s sometimes hard to predict what your readers will want to read and what they won’t, this is the easier rule to follow. For the most part, if you write content that directly answers a common user question, you’ll have written content valuable enough to be deemed “authoritative.”

    In addition, you’ll naturally rank better for search queries that are looking for answers to those specific questions. The more of these you write, the more you’ll build your reputation as an authority, and you’ll never have to worry about getting a penalty for writing fluffy or unnecessary content.

    2. Forget about keywords.

    articleimage749 Forget about keywords

    Stuffing your content full of keywords is a surefire way to get a penalty. Just a few years ago, keeping the percentage of keywords in your content down to two to five percent was enough of an effort to prevent an incoming penalty. Today, however, Google’s search algorithm is much more sophisticated.

    After the Hummingbird update of 2013, Google has been implementing and building a process known as semantic search, which assesses the intent behind user queries rather than mathematically breaking them down into keyword components. What that means for webmasters is that focusing on keywords is no longer a relevant strategy. If you’re looking to avoid a penalty, forget about keyword frequencies entirely and instead focus on writing articles around a certain group of topics. As long as you write clearly, Google will be able to decipher the meaning of your content and pair it with appropriate search queries.

    3. Keep your site operating smoothly.

    There are a hundred ways you can optimize your site for SEO by making minor structural tweaks or rebuilding certain areas. But the most important idea to keep in mind for penalty-free SEO is that user experience means everything—as long as your user can traverse your site easily, you’ll be able to stay in Google’s good graces.

    There are several components to this. First, you’ll need to make sure your site loads quickly—if it doesn’t, it could be a problem with caching, having too many add-ons, or a problem with your server. Next, you’ll need to make sure your site is secure with SSL encryption, especially if you run a retail site. You’ll also need to make sure that your site navigation is easy to find and follow, and that your site map and contact information are clearly visible. Interlinking between your onsite pages helps, too. Make it easy for your users to find exactly what they’re looking for, and you’ll avoid losing any ranks.

    4. Write uniquely and regularly.

    Unfortunately, it’s not enough to adopt a Q&A format to your blog—you’ll need to write unique content, and you’ll need to write regularly if you want to avoid the possibility of an eventual penalty.

    Duplicate content is the biggest offender here—if you ever republish or reproduce a blog from your past, you can bet that Google will notice and take immediate action. You also can’t rewrite or steal and tweak someone else’s work. Google’s robots are too advanced for those types of techniques to slip by unnoticed. Going too long without making an update can work against you too. Your best bet is to make updates on a weekly basis (at least), and ensure all your material is 100 percent original.

    5. Post links on relevant sources.

    When it comes to offsite optimization, you’ll need to make sure that all your links are posted on relevant sources. While there is some wiggle room here when it comes to high-authority general sources like news websites and sites for colleges and universities, for the most part you should stick with sites within your industry.

    For example, if a metal manufacturer posts a link on a forum for veterinary technicians, Google could easily detect something is amiss and distribute a penalty as a result. Keep your links on sources that are relevant to your business, and you won’t have to worry about that eventuality.

    6. Ensure your links are valuable.

    This is a bit tricky, since “valuable” is a word with subjective meaning. What could be valuable to you might not be perceived as valuable by Google, but for the most part, common sense rules out.

    Here’s what I mean by valuable; when someone comes across your link in its natural format, that link should add to the overall value of the conversation. For example, if your link elaborates on a point made earlier in the conversation, or if it supplies a fact that your comment makes reference to, your link enhances the value and flow of the conversation. Otherwise, if your link has no real function in context, it could be perceived as spam and you could earn a penalty as a result.

    7. Diversify your profiles and backlinks.

    If you’re looking to avoid penalties at all costs, it’s also essential that you diversify all your offsite optimization efforts. That means ensuring you have a number of backlink sources at your disposal—not just one that you use over and over. It also means you take advantage of those sources on a rotating basis, so you don’t favor any of them too heavily.

    Similarly, it’s vital that your URLs are varied. Don’t always post a link back to your homepage—spice things up with links to your internal pages, or to individual blog posts. Also consider using linkless brand mentions to round out your strategy.

    8. Keep your social and local profiles in line.

    articleimage749Keep your social and local profiles in line

    Since offsite optimization is no longer just about link building, it pays to keep an occasional eye on your social media profiles, and your profiles on major local directories like Yelp. First, you’ll want to make sure all your company information is accurate and up-to-date—even minor discrepancies between profiles could earn you a ranking penalty. Next, you’ll want to follow up regularly to engage your users in conversation, and scout for any negative references that you might be able to address. Too many bad reviews or negative mentions, and you could suffer a penalty as a result.

    These eight golden rules should serve as your foundation to a penalty-free SEO campaign.If you step too far outside the boundaries that Google sets for you, you could suffer a penalty as a result. Remember, Google wants online users to have the best possible experience. If you give your users a great experience, you’ll make Google happy, and if Google is happy, you’ll be rewarded with more perceived authority and higher ranks.

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