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  1. How SERPs Will Evolve in the Next Decade

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    articleimage1088 How SERPs Will Evolve in the Next Decade

    Search engine results pages (SERPs) have driven much of our goals and understanding of SEO. Because the general structure of SERPs have remained relatively consistent, we take for granted the idea that this format will remain unchanged. The original SERP contained 10 blue links for any given query, with short descriptions following, and the SERP of today realistically isn’t much different. As a result, it’s still the goal of most search marketers to gain visibility and traffic by ascending to this top rank.

    In the short term, there’s nothing wrong with this. Over the next year or two, adjustments to SERP layouts will still be gradual, and any business that can consistently remain in the top few positions will earn a ton of extra traffic. However, Google’s trajectory gives us an indication that the fundamental structure and functionality of the SERP we’ve come to expect are about to change in a big way.

    Over the course of the next decade, you can expect to see SERPs evolve radically, beginning with minor, hardly noticeable changes, and eventually changing the scope of online search altogether.

    Welcome to the Knowledge Graph

    articleimage1088 welcome to the Knowledge Graph

    The Knowledge Graph has been around for years, but only now is it beginning to make a substantial impact on user behavior. Currently, the Knowledge Graph exists as a small box off to the right of traditional search result entries, listing various important facts and dates related to the user’s query. For now, the Knowledge Graph exists only for a few dozen subcategories of information, including movies, politicians, famous events, and geographical landmarks, among others.

    Over the course of the next decade, the Knowledge Graph will grow in both size and scope. It’s reasonable to expect that the number of categories added to the Knowledge Graph will expand, possibly reaching to more general topics, like informational how-to’s for simple tasks like changing a tire or replacing an air filter. The Knowledge Graph will also take up more physical space in the average SERP, further displacing traditional list-based entries, and halting possible incoming traffic for any company accustomed to occupying a top position. The result will be a gradual, yet fundamental shift in how people view SERPs and use search engines in general—they’ll start looking for direct information, rather than links to other authorities.

    Social Integrations Will Start Taking Over

    articleimage1088 Social Integrations Will Start Taking Over

    Google has already shown interest in incorporating the worlds of social media and traditional search. The entire motivation for the creation of Google+–which is now being done away with—was to combine these two realms. Now, Google has bowed out in favor of more prominent social platforms like Facebook and Twitter. In fact, Google recently formed a new partnership that will allow the search algorithm to index and possibly display top tweets for a given subject.

    As time rolls on, these integrations will grow to be more powerful, more prominent, and more useful. Soon, trending social posts may become immediately more visible than any other entry for a given query. At this point, it will become more important than ever for companies to post frequently and engage regularly on social platforms.

    Third Party Functionality Will Bleed Into Results

    articleimage1088 Third Party Functionality Will Bleed Into Results

    Currently, there are a handful of basic functions that are rolled into traditional SERPs. For example, if you type in a phrase like “1 cup in tablespoons,” Google will automatically display a functional conversion table or calculator. Local searches will automatically populate a map from Google Maps on the right-hand side or at the very top of results, ready to be interacted with.

    Since Google is also incorporating the functionality of other third party applications in its own products, such as including an Uber trip estimator and OpenTable reservation functionality into Google Maps, it’s likely that these functional inclusions will grow over the course of the next decade. In a matter of years, a wide variety of interactive functions will take precedence for any relevant queries, and users will rely on Google not just for information, but also for specific purposes.

    Apps Will Take Prominence Over Traditional Listings

    articleimage1088 Apps will take prominence over traditional listing

    Apps are starting to become more widely used than traditional websites. Because mobile devices and upcoming wearable devices are small and difficult to navigate, users are starting to prefer the simplistic, immediate functionality of apps. In response, Google is indexing apps much in the same way that it currently indexes websites. Soon, it’s likely that apps will have their own place in SERPs, ranking higher and more visibly than traditional websites, especially when searches are performed on a mobile device.

    The List Will Disappear

    With the Knowledge Graph, social posts, apps, and third party functionality all competing for users’ attention, it’s unlikely that the traditional list of links will remain for much longer. That all-too-familiar list of blue-linked entries we’ve all taken for granted will eventually disappear altogether, replaced by new functions, new layouts, and a new presentation.

    Because Google likes to keep most of its updates and plans a mystery, it’s hard to say exactly how or when these updates might take place—or if they’ll even take place at all. But with the rapid evolution of Internet-enabled technological devices and the increasing consumer demand for bigger, better products, it’s unlikely that SERPs as we know them today will remain unchanged for much longer. The most prudent strategy is to start preparing now, by getting involved on multiple different platforms and weaning yourself off the traditional SEO rank-based goals.

  2. How Risky Is Your Backlink Profile?

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    articleimage1063 How Risky Is Your Backlink Profile

    The strength of your backlink profile is going to dictate the eventual success or failure of your overall link building campaign. With a strong, diversified portfolio of sites linking to yours, your domain authority will skyrocket, but if even a handful of your sources are low-quality or are considered spam, it could compromise the results of your entire SEO campaign—even if your other strategies are in perfect order.

    Occasionally, it’s a good idea to take a snapshot of your backlink profile and audit your current status. Take note of your profile’s current quality, and take action accordingly.

    Where to Find Your Backlink Profile

    articleimage1063  Where to Find Your Backlink Profile

    There are a variety of free tools available to monitor and track the number and position of your current backlinks. One of the most useful and easiest to learn I’ve found is Moz’sOpen Site Explorer, appropriately nicknamed the “search engine for links.” Here, you’ll be able to plug in your site’s URL and instantly generate a list of all the sources on the web that are currently pointing back to your domain.

    Unfortunately, at this point you’ll have to manually go through each source and determine how you stand—there is no automated tool that can accurately tell you how risky or safe your backlink profile is, though there are a handful of existing and upcoming tools that can evaluate the strength of a given source.

    Overall Factors

    articleimage1063 Overall Factors

    For now, let’s take a look at the overall nature of your backlink profile. You should have no problem forming these types of conclusions at a simple glance, without digging into each source individually.

    Source Diversity

    First, take a look at all the different sources you have currently pointing to your site. As you might already be aware, Google takes source diversity very seriously—if it looks like a vast majority of your links are coming from one or two sources, there’s a good chance your rankings will suffer. If, however, you have a large number of different external sites pointing to yours, you’ll be in good standing.

    Page Diversity

    Source diversity isn’t the only type of diversity that matters. You’ll also have to make sure that the links pointing to your site aren’t all pointing to the same page or same group of pages. For example, you probably have several hundred pages on your site. If you notice the majority of your inbound links going to your home page, that makes your link profile more risky. If most of your links go deep into your site, connecting to specific and unique pages, your backlink profile is much more secure.

    Frequency and Volume

    You’ll also want to get a feel for the volume and frequency of your link postings. In some ways, having more links is a good thing, but if you find your link volume is overwhelming compared to the current size of your business, it might be a red flag (especially if your diversity is low in either of the above areas). If the bulk of your links are created in large-volume chunks, that could also be a bad sign. Work to improve your volume of links, but only on a consistent and gradual basis.

    Source-Level Factors

    articleimage1063 Source-Level Factors

    Once you’ve analyzed the overarching themes of your backlink profile, you can dig a little deeper into the strengths and weaknesses of the individual sources comprising it.

    Relevance to Your Industry

    First, take note of any sources that appear to be totally unrelated to your industry. These tend to be red flags for Google. For example, if you’re in veterinary medicine and a bolt manufacturer is linking to you, there’s probably no valid reason for that link to exist. If there are lots of pet-related and medicine-related pages linking to you, however, that’s a good thing. Evaluate the relevance of each source as you work your way down.

    Authoritative Strength

    The strength of each source also matters; if a spammy site links to yours, it could bog down the relative authority of your site. Don’t let this happen. If you see a site with particularly low authority (anything that appears spammy or annoying when you visit it), try to get rid of the link. Any sites with major brand recognition or cemented authorities will drastically improve your overall profile strength.

    Context

    articleimage1063 Context

    While going through your individual entries, take a look at the context of the links that have been posted. If they’re floating in the middle of nowhere with no grounding content and no apparent reason for existing, they will likely be considered spam links. Instead, make sure the majority of your links are practical to other users and relevant to the conversation at hand.

    If you notice that your backlink profile is exceptionally risky, take this time to take action. Work to actively remove any backlinks that are particularly risky or are posted on a harmful source. Then, revise your entire link building strategy to ensure that your backlink profile never sinks back to the level of risk it once was. On the other hand, if your backlink profile appears to be in order, simply keep executing your strategy the way you have been and create a follow-up task to re-audit your profile after another month of work.

    By taking initiative and keeping a constant eye on the state of your backlink profile, you’ll avoid the possibility of getting penalized out of the blue for your link building practices. Instead, you’ll forge a clear path toward consistent, measurable organic growth.

  3. How to Use Moz’s Spam Analysis to Test Your Links

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    articleimage1065 ow to Use Moz's Spam Analysis to Test Your Links

    Anyone who’s engaged in link building for SEO in the past few years can tell you the biggest—and most important—concern of the strategy: getting penalized for posting spammy links. The era of quantity-based link evaluation has gone away completely thanks to revisions of Google’s Penguin update. The search engine giant can now tell easily whether your link is built “naturally,” with the intention to increase value to web users, or “unnaturally,” with the sole intention of increasing your rank.

    Up until this point, determining whether your link is “natural” or “unnatural” has been grounded in solid evidence, but it’s mostly come down to a guessing game. If you choose a reputable source and post a link you genuinely think is helpful to the conversation, then in theory, it should be considered a high-quality link. Still, it’s easy to doubt yourself and worry about whether or not Google is picking up on your link building attempts and considering them to be unnatural.

    Fortunately, Moz just released a new tool that might help put an end to those speculative worries. Operating under the Open Site Explorer tool you’ve probably used to map out your backlink profile in the past, the new “Spam Score” is designed to objectively measure how natural or unnatural your link appears.

    How the System Works

    articleimage1065 How the System Works

    After a few thorough rounds of research, Moz data scientist Dr. Matt Peters eventually boiled down the deterministic qualities of an unnatural link to 17 factors, which he called “spam flags.” The more of these spam flags a link has, the more likely it is to be penalized and the less authority it’s going to pass.

    Spam Score, the name for Moz’s objective measurement, is a calculation of how many spam flags a subdomain shows. At this time, it does not function at a page level, nor does it function at an overall root domain level, but this shouldn’t stop you from gaining some key insights into whether or not your link has been posted on a high-quality site. You can find the Spam Analysis tab under Open Site Explorer—right now, it’s only available for subscribers, but you can sign up for a free trail to access the feature or wait until Moz inevitably rolls out the feature for free to all users.

    Once you’ve selected a specific subdomain, the system will evaluate it based on those 17 spam flags, and tell you how many of those spam flags it is demonstrating. Between zero and four flags means the site is low risk, between five and seven flags means it is a medium risk, and eight or more flags means it is a high risk. The 17 flags are as follows:

    • Low MozTrust or MozRank Score—this is a calculation of overall domain authority.
    • Low site link diversity—this means the types of links pointing out isn’t diversified and seems unnatural.
    • Abnormal ratio of followed to nofollowed domains—high or low ratios make Google suspicious.
    • Low-quality content—if the content is thin or low-quality, it signifies a low-quality site.
    • Excessive external links—too many links pointing out mean it could qualify as a link directory.

    articleimage1065 Excessive external link

    • High ratios of anchor text—improper anchor text use triggers a red flag.
    • Lack of contact information—without a phone number, address, or email address, the site could register as spammy.
    • Top level domain is associated with spam—if a subdomain is linked to a low-quality TLD, the subdomain becomes low quality by extension.

    articleimage1065 Top level domain is associated with spam

    • Numeral-containing subdomain—numerals are a bad idea for inclusion in a URL.
    • Few inbound links—if the site is large but contains few inbound links, its authority is weakened.
    • Abnormal ratio of followed to nofollowedsubdomains. The rule about domains applies to subdomains as well.
    • Few branded links. A lack of branded anchor text in inbound links triggers a red flag.
    • Minimal site markup. If there is too much text in comparison to HTML and JavaScript, it looks bad.
    • Few internal links. Without internal links, the quality of a site comes into question.
    • External links in main navigation. Hosting external links in a main navigation or sidebar makes a site appear less authoritative.
    • Few pages. The number of pages on a subdomain plays into how authoritative it is.
    • Excessive length. If a subdomain’s length is higher than average, it appears as a red flag.

    Even if you don’t use Moz’s automated tool, you can use these 17 spam factors to evaluate whether you should post links on a particular domain.

    Other Factors for Consideration

    articleimage1065 Other factors for consideration

    Remember, this tool is designed only to determine how spammy a given subdomain is. There are other factors you’ll need to consider when performing your ongoing link building. For example, even if a subdomain has zero red flags, it could be dangerous to use it as a link building opportunity if it has nothing to do with your line of business. And if you post an inappropriate link to the conversation, you could ruin your chances at gaining authority from the encounter.

    Link building is still an evolving art, and you’ll have to pay close attention to the effects of your strategy if you want to improve over time. However, this new tool and the spam flags Moz uncovered should be very useful in helping marketers understand which subdomains are most valuable and which ones should be avoided at all costs.

  4. The Pros and Cons of PPC Marketing in 2015

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    articleimage790Cost of PPC

    Pay-per-click advertising has been a staple of the digital marketing world for a number of years, but as a medium, it’s changed significantly in the past few. Because PPC ads operate on a relatively straightforward basis (you pay a fixed amount for each person who clicks on your ad), they can be simple to pick up as a peripheral marketing and advertising strategy. However, the hidden complexities of the strategy can be problematic for businesses new to the medium or anyone unwilling to devote time to learning its best practices.

    In 2015, the scope of PPC is more advanced than ever, but there are clear advantages and disadvantages that you’ll need to consider before engaging in the strategy.

    Pros

    You’ll have your pick of the litter

    articleimage1048 You’ll have your pick of the litter

    Back in the day, Google was practically the only worthwhile provider of PPC ads. Through Google AdWords, you could quickly and easily get started with a campaign and be assured that your ads would get substantial visibility. Today, Google AdWords is still the preeminent force in the industry, but there are several other viable options vying for the competitive edge. Bing, Yahoo, and Facebook are just a handful of modern options available to you, and theoretically you can put a PPC display ad on any external site. More options means you’ll have a higher likelihood of finding exactly the service you need.

    Big data is big—and getting bigger

    articleimage1048 Big data is big

    Tech companies crave user data, and they have access to a lot of it. With a PPC campaign, you have access to that data, and you can use it to make your campaigns even better. For example, Facebook allows you to use data to target very specific niches of your audience, down to specific age, genders, and interests of your ideal customers, and Google provides extensive data on search trends and user behavior.

    You’ll have complete control of your budget

    With PPC, you’ll never have to worry about going over your budget—as long as you set your restrictions properly. With Google, Facebook, Bing, and most other PPC providers, you’ll be able to set a firm upper limit for your campaign. Once the number of clicks your ad receives crosses that barrier, your ad will disappear and you won’t be charged further.

    You’ll get immediate traffic

    articleimage1057 You’ll get immediate traffic

    You don’t have to wait for a PPC campaign to ramp up like you do with a content, SEO, or social campaign. While you can make adjustments over time to improve the results of your PPC campaign, one of its major draws is that once you implement it, you’ll start seeing traffic almost immediately. This is useful for new domains and startups that need traffic quickly to start building revenue.

    You can guarantee some level of traffic

    Since you’re only paying for people who click on the ads, you’ll guarantee some level of traffic with a PPC campaign. You can pay to place a traditional ad, but there’s no guarantee of the level of traffic or visibility you’ll get from it. In a PPC campaign, if you get 500 visits, you’ll pay for 500 visits. If you get 0 visits (which won’t happen), you’ll pay nothing.

    Cons

    Clicks don’t equal conversions

    articleimage1048 Clicks don’t equal conversions

    Unfortunately, no matter how much traffic you receive, there’s no guarantee that any of those visitors will buy something from you or become customers. You might pay for 500 new leads to come to your site, but if those leads aren’t interested in what you’re selling, you’ll be out that money with nothing significant to show for it. Conversion optimization is a second process, and PPC is dependent on it for success.

    The cost of PPC is increasing

    Google has grown in popularity, both for searchers and for advertisers. As a result, its prices have skyrocketed in recent years. In 2015, it’s simply not cost effective to proceed with a Google AdWords campaign unless you have a significant budget to put forth. Even lower-budget options like Bing and Facebook have prices slowly on the rise, making PPC tighter than ever and more difficult to achieve a positive ROI.

    The benefits of PPC do not improve over time

    Making tweaks to your wording, your keywords, and your ad placements can gradually increase the quality of the audience you bring in. However, other than that, PPC ad benefits do not increase over time. Two years into a campaign, you’ll still be paying a fixed amount for every person who clicks on your ad, and you’ll only see better results if you increase your spending. Other strategies, like SEO, tend to grow exponentially over time with consistent effort.

    Optimizing ads takes time and research

    There’s a hidden cost for PPC that may compromise your ROI entirely: the amount of time you’ll invest in learning your audience and best practices for PPC placement. Without this research and effort, your ads will be rendered ineffective, and your audience won’t be likely to convert.

    The process can be complex

    PPC isn’t for everybody. While Google offers some great resources for improving your PPC campaigns, PPC can be intimidatingly complex. Many companies simply can’t afford to hire or train an expert in the PPC field, and that means they can’t be nearly as effective as they could be.

    Whether or not you choose to pick up a PPC campaign is up to you. If you have the budget for it and you’re already pushing for a full-scale content marketing, SEO, and social campaign, PPC might be a nice peripheral addition. However, if you’re new to the marketing world and you’re counting on PPC ads being a major money-maker for you right away, you might want to consider warming up to the strategy first or at least hedging your bets with other channels.

  5. 7 Tips for Building a Personal Brand on LinkedIn

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    Personal branding is becoming more important for practically every digital marketing channel, from SEO to social media marketing. People are constantly bombarded with advertising, leading to a white noise effect that makes them filter out most of what they encounter. Add that to the fact that modern consumers are distrustful of corporations, and you have corporate brands struggling to effectively communicate to wide audiences.

    For many brands, personal branding is the solution to this problem. By leveraging the power of individuals, corporate brands can earn more trust from their followers and get more visibility for their content. The trick is to develop real, personal identities that gain authority over time in your industry on multiple platforms.

    One of the best platforms to use for this personal brand building is LinkedIn. Because LinkedIn is based around individual professionals, it has some of the best opportunities to build your authority. Here’s how to do it:

    1. Optimize Your Profile.

    articleimage1022 Optimize Your Profile

    First, you’ll have to optimize your profile for a personal brand. Be honest as you fill out your individual details, listing past experiences and current skills, but be sure to include keywords that are relevant to your industry, and pack as much detail as you can into as little space as possible. Write like a human being—don’t just stuff your profile full of different keywords—but do make sure it’s obvious what your relationship to the industry is. Also make sure your profile image is a professional, friendly headshot, and try not to leave any fields blank.

    2. Engage in Groups.

    articleimage1022 Engage in Groups

    Groups on LinkedIn are the best places to make new connections and learn new information. Use LinkedIn’s intuitive search function to find Groups that are relevant to your industry or your specific realm of expertise. Here, you’ll be able to start and participate in discussions and learn from other experts in your industry. Over time, as you engage in more and more discussions, you’ll become recognized as an authority in your space. The more authority you have, the more influential you’ll become, and the more people you’ll be able to reach when you post content or links back to your site.

    3. Syndicate Your Content.

    articleimage1022 Syndicate Your Content

    LinkedIn should be a machine for you to publish and syndicate the core content related to your brand. On a personal profile, you’ll be able to post individual stories or links to articles, but if you want to make a greater impact, you can go beyond those means. Get involved with posting content in your LinkedIn Groups. Remember, there’s a separate section designated specifically for promotions, so make sure all your posted content is both relevant and informative. Plus, the more often you syndicate your content and get it shared on LinkedIn, the more SEO benefits your domain will receive.

    4. Reach Out to Influencers.

    articleimage1055 reach out influencers

    Influencers are the gatekeepers of the social world. They have the greatest number of connections, the most authority in each group, and the greatest capacity for getting new visibility for both your individual profile and your corporate brand. Forging connections with these social mavericks is the key to jumpstarting your own range of influence, particularly in the beginning of your campaign. Look for influencers in your Groups—they’ll be the ones frequently starting conversations and the ones who seem to have the most authority. Check out their individual profiles—they’ll also likely have a large number of existing connections. Share their content, and they’ll likely share yours, bringing new attention to your information, and in the meantime, just engage them in conversation! They’re great contacts to have.

    5. Connect With Everyone You Can.

    articleimage1055 connect With Everyone You Can

    Influencers aren’t the only people worth connecting with on LinkedIn. While the sheer number of connections you have doesn’t correspond to your overall impact, having a greater number of connections can do wonders for building your authority. As such, reach out to everyone you can as a potential connection, including your current coworkers, anyone you meet in person, and anyone you engage in the context of LinkedIn Groups. Just be aware that some people like to remain private and do not take kindly to random connection requests. Remain courteous and do not spam your connections.

    6. Direct Back to Your Site Often.

    Whether you’re posting a guest article or starting a new conversation, take every opportunity you can to call back to your site. Post links when you can, as long as they’re directly relevant and helpful to the conversation thread, and don’t be afraid to throw around extra brand mentions. Whatever you can do to shift attention to your corporate brand will be helpful as long as you aren’t spamming the other users.

    7. Make Adjustments.

    Like with any marketing strategy, personal branding requires adjustment in order to be successful. Experiment with your current tactics for a few weeks and measure the results. Then, make a few small tweaks and measure the next round of results. If they’ve improved, make further changes. If they haven’t, revert back to normal and try a few different changes. Continue with this procedure, making slight adjustments in small batches, until you eventually reach a nice stasis point of continuous growth. Try new things often, and learn from any mistakes or hiccups you experience along the way.

    LinkedIn isn’t the only platform you should be using to build your brand, but it is one of the most effective ones you can start with. Be sure to get your Facebook and Twitter profile in order as well, and set up an independent outside blog to create and host your ongoing content. Within a few months, you’ll be well on your way to being an established authority in the area.

  6. How to Get Great Reviews Without Violating Yelp Terms of Service

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    articleimage1007How to Get Great Reviews Without Violating Yelp Ter

    Local SEO is a big deal these days. There’s less competition on a local level than on a national level, which means it’s easier for you to gain rank. You’ll be dealing with local publishers and other local businesses, which means it’s easier to get visibility and gain traction. And you’ll be tied to local searches, which are becoming more popular, so you’ll appear more often for people nearby or locals who are looking for a business like yours.

    Most conventional national SEO strategies—like content marketing, social media involvement, and PR—can and should be used to boost a local SEO campaign. However, there’s one more strategy that can seal the deal for your local ranks: getting better reviews on Yelp and other local directories.

    This somewhat recently developed benefit is the result of Google’s Pigeon update, which factors in the quantity and quality of reviews posted about businesses on third party platforms. Essentially, if more people give your company great reviews on Yelp, you’ll rise in the ranks higher and faster. There’s only one problem: Yelp’s terms of service make it impossible for you to buy or directly influence the posting of any kind of review, positive or negative.

    Why Yelp’s Terms of Service Are Prohibitive

    articleimage1007 Why Yelp’s Terms of Service Are Prohibitive

    Yelp’s desire is to become a trusted third party for user reviews. When a user consults Yelp, Yelp wants that consumer to feel assured that the reviews he/she encounters are true, unfiltered, and are motivated by no intentions other than helping other consumers make purchasing decisions. If a company were to pay for good reviews, that trust would be damaged, and that consumer would be unlikely to rely on Yelp in the future.

    Therefore, it makes sense that Yelp wants to preserve the unbiased nature of its platform. By outlawing and actively preventing companies from manipulating their user reviews in any way, Yelp maintains a better platform for their consumers.

    Alternative Strategies to Foster Great Reviews

    articleimage1007 Alternative Strategies to Foster Great Reviews

    Your first instinct to getting great reviews may be to ask for them flat-out, or to post some yourself under different aliases. However, I must caution you against this. These practices are in direct violation of Yelp’s terms of service, and if you’re caught using them, you could get yourself permanently banned from the platform. Instead, try one or more of these alternative, yet highly effective strategies.

    Post Yelp Information Everywhere

    Yelp offers some free swag for businesses—and even more for companies who win certain awards on their platform. You can start out by ordering some stickers and posting them all over your place of business. Typically, these are shipped out quarterly, so you’ll always have more chances to decorate your offices or your materials with Yelp’s logo. The key to getting people to review your company is making them aware that it’s possible to review you; customers who are likely to post reviews on Yelp will see these materials, and should be prompted to take action as a result.

    Casually Mention Your Encouragement of Reviews

    Yelp’s terms of service forbid you from telling people to post reviews. However, it doesn’t say anything about saying how much you value customer feedback. Reach out to some of your longest-running and most valuable customers and mention to them that you’ve recently included your business on Yelp, and that you’re looking to get more feedback from your existing customers. You can also mention to new customers how much you would value one of their reviews, and encourage them to express their opinions honestly. Never pressure your customers to post reviews, but do feel free to mention your presence and your openness to hear them.

    Listen to Your Existing Reviews and Take Action

    Yelp allows businesses to log into its platform and take a look at the reviews that are posted by customers. Log in and read these reviews as often as you can, preferably daily. Take a look at the positive reviews and which experiences seem to resonate the most with your customers. Also take a look at the negative reviews and try to learn which areas you can improve upon. Finding and incorporating feedback from your customers will allow you to perfect your business from the ground up. If done regularly, eventually your business will naturally attract much more positive reviews.

    Respond Often

    As much as you read your own reviews, make a habit of responding to them. You may find that some negative reviews are unfounded; casually respond to these with an explanation. You may also have an opportunity to make up for any mistakes you made to prompt the negative review. Simultaneously, you can thank your positive reviewers by inviting them to come back and explaining how much you care about their feedback. Not only will this encourage your reviewers to become long-term customers, it will also encourage more visitors to become reviewers.

    Don’t think of the review portion of your local SEO campaign as a series of tasks, or even as a means of increasing your search rank. Instead, remember the fundamental principle underlying your review cultivation; you want to provide your customers with a great overall experience. As long as you do that, the good reviews will come naturally, and once those reviews start flowing, the rest will come in time. Your customers are the heart of your business, and now they’re at the heart of your SEO campaign.

  7. How to Find Great Press Release Topics Every Week

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    Writing regular press releases is a valuable strategy. Because you’ll be mentioning your company news, you’ll get more brand visibility and more attention. Because you’ll be writing great content, you’ll earn a stronger reputation in your industry. And because you’ll be earning brand mentions and links from news publishers and other high-quality sites, your domain authority and SEO ranks are going to significantly improve.

    If it sounds like a pretty sweet deal, it’s because it is. There’s only one downside: press releases aren’t easy. Just paying to push your press release to various publishers can be expensive, and perhaps more importantly, getting your press release published is tough. Most publishers have incredibly strict standards and only let the most newsworthy posts onto their sites. That means you can’t just write about anything and submit it to the press—you have to have deep, meaningful, or otherwise newsworthy material to submit.

    If you’re trying to submit a press release on a regular schedule, perhaps weekly, this poses a critical problem. How do you go about finding topics for press releases on a weekly and consistent basis without compromising the quality of your final product?

    Responding to a Crisis

    articleimage996 Responding to a Crisis

    This should be your first line for a press release, as it is the most urgent. However, this type of topic rarely, if ever, needs to be searched for. Crises appear randomly and without warning, but sending a press release off preemptively or in response to a crisis can be very helpful. For example, if one of your products is found to be defective, sending a press release is a perfect opportunity to explain the situation, clear your name, and get in front of the inevitable wave of negative attention that will come as a result.

    Legal Shifts and Public Information

    articleimage996 Legal Shifts and Public Information

    Also consider what legal shifts have occurred in the past week, or if any new information that’s publicly interesting has been revealed. For example, has your company experienced a transfer in ownership? Have you filed a lawsuit? Are you about to initially offer your stock to the public, or are you announcing any dividends? Any financial or legal information that you’re willing to publicly disclose could serve as a newsworthy press release, as long as you frame it in a way that emphasizes why it is valuable for the public to know about it.

    Upcoming Events

    articleimage996 upcoming events

    If there are no crises or legal shifts in your company, consider what upcoming events your company will be participating in or hosting. For example, does your company have any seminars coming up? Are you going to be appearing at a tradeshow? Will you be sponsoring an upcoming event? Keep in mind that these events don’t have to be large in scale, and they don’t even have to be in person. You could even write a press release about an upcoming webinar or online class series.

    Charity or Community Involvements

    These types of press releases are great because they’re about a local newsworthy event and they also portray your company in a very positive light. Take the opportunity to write a press release if your company makes a substantial charitable donation, or if your team is getting involved with some kind of charitable event. You could also write a press release if you sponsor a local event or team, or if you have any inspirational stories related to your brand that you could mention.

    Products, Promotions, or Contests

    Failing any charitable or community topics, you could move on to newsworthy events related to your products or offerings. Generally, these types of press releases are low on the totem pole; if you have something better to write about, write about it, and don’t just write about one of your existing products or your release is bound to be rejected. Instead, focus on brand new products coming out, major promotions you’re announcing, or a contest that needs a little help getting initial attention.

    Company Milestones

    Major milestones for your company are another potential press release topic, so long as the milestone is actually newsworthy. For example, have you reached an anniversary for your company? Have you recently revised your brand or updated your website significantly? Have you hit a specific revenue figure or made significant personnel changes? Have you won any awards or public recognition for your efforts? Any milestone like these could be turned into a valuable press release.

    New Market Trends or Other Thought Leadership Material

    If you’re still hard-pressed for a press release topic after considering all of the options above, you can write a release on new trends in your industry, or any new information you’ve uncovered in the course of doing business. New market research, studies, or polls work great here, as well as any events or situations that illustrate your personnel as authoritative in the industry.

    Press releases may seem intimidating at first, and there’s no question that they’re difficult to take on. But with a little experience and a lot of patience, you can start collecting more, better ideas for your press releases and write them with expert proficiency. Don’t be intimidated if many of your early press releases fail to make it to publication; it’s just the nature of the business. All you can do is write the best, most consistent material you can, submit it to the most relevant publication sources, and hope for the best. Even a handful of press links will make all your efforts worth it.

  8. How to Improve Your Onsite Search Functionality

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    Onsite searches can be highly valuable for improving your user experience, helping you understand user needs and behavior, and ultimately facilitating conversions on your site. While potential customers may be able to find your site easily, if they can’t find what they’re looking for on your site quickly, they may leave before they have a chance to interact with you.

    Setting up an onsite search is relatively simple, and you might already have one prepared. However, perfecting your onsite search approach is a different, more intensive issue. Like with any marketing or user experience initiative, there is always room for improvement, and improving your onsite search function could significantly increase your onsite conversions.

    Types of Onsite Searches

    articleimage780The Dangers of an Outdated Sitemap

    The central premise is identical—to use an onsite search function to find something—but there are actually three different types of onsite search. Each one caters to a different type of user with a different intention, and you’ll have to change your search function to best suit its ideal type.

    Destination-Oriented

    Destination-oriented searches are all about getting somewhere. It could be a returning user looking for a specific page, or a social follower looking for a recent post. In any case, this search function needs to display the most relevant result as quickly as possible.

    Information-Oriented

    Information-oriented searches don’t have a destination in mind. Instead, they’re focused on getting to a page that discusses a certain subject. These types of searches require a function that displays lots of results throughout your site, starting with the most relevant to the user’s query. Finding the “perfect” match isn’t the primary goal; finding multiple viable options is.

    Product-Oriented

    Product-oriented searches are exclusive to e-commerce platforms, and incidentally, e-commerce platforms have the most to gain from improving their onsite search functionality. These searches involve a customer searching for a specific product or service, and the type of search results you display in response could dictate whether or not the customer eventually purchases from you.

    Where to Place Your Search Bar

    articleimage765 Search Appearance

    The placement of your search bar will dictate how many people use it, and how easy it is for them to find it. The ideal user will want to use your search bar, look for it, find it immediately, use it, and get to their intended destination. Any break in this cycle could compromise your ability to ultimately convert that user. To make sure your search bar can be found easily, place it somewhere in the upper-right hand corner of your site; this is where most users initially look. Also be sure that the search function shows up on every page of your site.

    Predictive Search Functions

    Predictive search features aid the functionality of your search bar considerably. If a user isn’t sure what he/she is searching for, or if he/she only knows a piece of the information necessary to perform a search, a predictive search populating function can fill in the rest of the puzzle. This can also be extremely useful in helping users with typos or misspellings. If a user returns no results for a mistyped query, he/she may leave, but if your search bar corrects the query, you can avoid the problem altogether.

    Adding Filters

    Filters are great for product-oriented searches, but you may not find it useful for other types of onsite search. Filters are essentially options that your users can toggle on and off when searching for a product. For example, if a user searches for “shirts,” pop-up filters can allow the user to refine that search based on shirt size, price range, gender, style, and color. The type of filters you include will vary based on your industry and the types of products that are most popular on your site.

    Using Breadcrumbs to Simplify Navigation

    This is especially useful for product-oriented searches, but any search that features pages or products in categories and subcategories can benefit from it. For example, if a user starts by searching for a category of products, then drills down into a subcategory, a breadcrumbs-style mini navigation at the top of the search results page can help the user get back to the beginning of the process easily. It can decrease bounce rates and recover possible sales when the user doesn’t immediately find what he/she is looking for.

    Using Semantic Search

    Semantic search is a sophisticated search function that analyzes the intent behind a user query rather than analyzing the keywords they input at face value. This is becoming increasingly important as fewer people rely on keyword-based searches and more users rely on full phrases. If you can develop a semantic search functionality into your onsite search function, you’ll be able to give more accurate, relevant results for long-tail user queries.

    Reviewing Your Success in Analytics

    articleimage643 Left Data

     

    Once you’ve got your search functionality near-perfected, you can start reviewing the fruits of your labor. In Google Analytics, you can easily set up monitoring for your onsite search history. Once that’s in place, you can review onsite search trends including popular user queries, bounce rates post-search, and how many people ended up converting after finding what they were looking for. You can use this data to further enhance your search features.

    Your onsite search function is more important than you might have realized, especially if you’re running an e-commerce platform. Make whatever improvements you can, whenever you can, and keep a close eye on your data to determine what changes you’ll need to make in the future.

  9. 10 Ingredients of a Great Subject Line for Email Marketing

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    Email marketing is alive and well. In fact, 59 percent of B2B marketers assert that email marketing is the most effective medium for generating revenue available. Despite critics insisting that the rise of mobile devices and social media are stifling the potential reach of email campaigns, a creatively and thoughtfully structure email blast can still reach thousands of people and generate tons of new leads for your business.

    The biggest problem facing email marketing today is not in new technologies or new formats (though a responsive email design is a necessity). Instead, the biggest challenge today is the same biggest challenge it faced a decade ago: getting people to open the email. And in order to get people to open your email, you need an awesome, captivating subject line.

    These ingredients combine to make a fantastic subject line your email recipients can’t help but want to open:

    1. Conciseness.

    articleimage948 Conciseness

    Subject lines aren’t the place to get long-winded. You might be tempted to talk about the benefits your brand has to offer, or the special deals that await your users inside, but you only have about ten words, so you can’t afford to do anything but convince your reader to open the email. Buzzwords and fluff content have no place here; instead, use simple, meaningful words to convey a single idea. If you’re struggling, go ahead and draft out a long version of your subject line, then cut it down word by word, focusing on eliminating anything that isn’t absolutely necessary for your message.

    2. Personalization.

    articleimage948 personalization

    Nobody wants to open an email that was obviously sent to everyone under the sun. If there’s no personalization factor, there’s no individual incentive to open the email. Some companies use personalized subject lines to feature each recipient’s name. Other companies work to become familiar with their demographics and include something that’s very important to that portion of the population. Whatever you do, don’t make your subject line generic. Make it as personal as you can.

    3. A Tease.

    Don’t give everything away up front. If users can get everything they need out of a subject line, they have no reason to open the email. Use a tease to draw users into your material, along the lines of “discover the long-held secret…” This implies that there’s something very significant on the other side of the email without telling your reader exactly what it is. It’s a powerful tool that leads to many more opens.

    4. Time Sensitivity.

    Emails also tend to receive more opens when the subject line indicates some level of urgency. Don’t overly pressure your readers, but do subtly imply that your deal or offer is time sensitive. For example, you could use the phrase “today only” or “24-hour sale” to make users react quickly and open your email. Otherwise, they could postpone opening the email and never get to it.

    5. Authority.

    Though email subject lines don’t allow you much space to accomplish the feat, it’s important to distinguish your brand as an authority in the space. For some businesses, that means unveiling unique information by using words like “the latest data.” For other businesses, that means outpacing the competition by using phrases like “prices you’ll never see elsewhere.” The key is to make your brand (and therefore your email) stand out.

    6. Humor.

    A little bit of humor goes a long way. Giving your readers something unexpected will make your subject line pop out in an oversaturated email inbox, and making them laugh will endear them to your brand. Take, for example, Groupon’s now-famous email subject line: “Best of Groupon: The Deals That Make Us Proud (Unlike Our Nephew, Steve).” It was original, unexpected, and funny, and it got Groupon a lot of email opens and clicks.

    7. Originality.

    articleimage948 orignality

    People get dozens, if not hundreds of emails every day. If you want to get past the clutter, your subject line really needs to stand out. No more “try now” messages, or clichéd phrases that readers are sick of seeing piling up in their inboxes. Write something you know you’ve never seen in your own inbox before.

    8. A Question.

    Questions tend to lead to more opens, especially if the question is one the user has had before. Recently, real estate platform Zillow distributed an email with the simple subject line “What Can You Afford?” The subject line conjures plenty of emotions and thoughts without bogging the user down with special offers or special values. Instead, it simply invites the user in to find out more.

    9. Action-Based Language.

    People tend to remain idle unless prompted to do something. Using action words in your subject line is a perfect strategy to get people to take action and open your email. Of course, you don’t have to rely on the straightforward action words like “open” or “read;” you can use almost any command verb as long as it is somehow related to your purpose or your brand.

    10. Value.

    Finally, your email subject line should convey some kind of value to the user. In the simplest sense, you can mention a freebie coming out for your subscribers, but try to go beyond the conventional. Use concise words to effectively demonstrate how users will feel or how their lives will improve after opening the email—even if you only imply it.

    You don’t necessarily need to include all of these ingredients in your subject line, but it is important to include at least a few. You only have a few words to capture your audience’s attention, so make them count! Spend at least as much time writing your subject line as you do the rest of your email’s body.

  10. How Super Bowl Searches Revealed Bing’s Knowledge Graph Rival

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    Bing has been closing the gap between its search engine’s capabilities and those of its dominant rival, Google, for the past several years, and the biggest sporting event of the year just gave them the opportunity to show off some of the things they’ve been cooking up to close that gap even further. For years, Bing has struggled to achieve the same level of visibility and reputation as the undisputed powerhouse of the search world, Google, but they went all-out for their Super Bowl search results, and for search marketers everywhere, it’s intriguing—if not exciting.

    Mirroring the layout of the popular Google search feature known as the “Knowledge Graph,” Bing offered a detailed breakdown of Super Bowl XLIX in the days and hours leading up to the big game for any queries related to the event. While this functionality appeared to be a standalone development, it does give us a strong indication of Bing’s goals and potential future as a formidable search competitor.

    How the Knowledge Graph Is Changing Search

    articleimage848 How the Knowledge Graph Is Changing Search

    To understand the potential impact of Bing’s new developments, you first need to understand what Google’s Knowledge Graph is, and how it’s changing the search world. Debuting back in 2012, the Knowledge Graph has been slowly growing and expanding to cover more ground as an instant source of information. In traditional Google searches, users would input a query, view a series of links with information related to the query, and peruse them until they found what they were looking for. The Knowledge Graph essentially cuts out that middle step, attempting to provide direct information to users without the need to peruse a list of links.

    Visually, the Knowledge Graph appears on the right-hand side of the search results page, providing consolidated information on the subject that has been searched for. Currently, the Knowledge Graph offers structured data on specific types of searches, such as searches for politicians, movies, or physical locations, giving a general overview of the subject with a handful of specific dates, facts, and related terms. This information is pulled in from authoritative websites, who provide the information to Google in a specific Schema.org markup.

    The Knowledge Graph is an important development in the search world. For users, it’s an incredibly handy tool, cutting out an entire step of the traditional search process. But for search marketers, it’s a game-changer. If users can get information instantly without visiting a site, the entire purpose of information-based content marketing is jeopardized, and all websites will see slightly less organic traffic as a result.

    Bing’s Encroaching Rivalry

    articleimage848Bing’s Encroaching Rivalry

    Bing’s revelation of a Knowledge Graph competitor is just the latest in a series of one-ups and imitations that have allowed Bing to improve its structure and offer stronger competition to their main rival. Mirroring Google’s Panda and Penguin updates, Bing released updates refining its processes for determining site authority and search rank. Responding to Google’s constant refinement of its search display, Bing updated its overall design multiple times over the past several years.

    The impact is making a difference. Already, third competitor Yahoo decided to start using Bing’s back-end engine to fuel its own searches, effectively increasing the amount of reach Bing’s search engine has. Yahoo itself has been growing in total search volume, in addition to Bing, furthering Bing’s status as a major competitor. All the while, Google has remained a dominant force in search, with nearly two-thirds of all searches falling to it, but that dominance is slowly ebbing away. It’s unlikely that Bing will overtake Google anytime soon, but they are getting closer in both functionality and reputation.

    Super Bowl Search Results

    articleimage848Super Bowl Search Results

    Bing’s results for “super bowl” and related queries made their intentions very clear; Bing wants to offer even more information and a better user experience than Google’s Knowledge Graph can offer. Near the top of the screen, Bing offered some basic information about the game, including the Super Bowl number and the teams involved (along with their associated records). But Bing went a step further, detailing a specialized “Bing Predicts” entry that predicted a 51 percent chance of the Patriots winning, as well as a section of “Predicted Game Changers,” “Passing Leaders,” and profiles of other significant members of each team. The information included players’ names, faces, and historical averages.

    As if that information wasn’t enough, Bing also included a separate column that compiled information from Wikipedia and ESPN, analyzing the game. For each team in the game, the search engine featured a “How they can win” section, a big question, and an “X factor” that could shake up the game.

    What This Could Mean for the Future

    It seems unlikely that one major move could finally put Bing on the same level as Google, but nevertheless, it appears that Bing is slowly inching closer. If Bing keeps up this pace and continues to innovate and refine its approach to online search, in the next few years, it could truly even the playing field. It also seems strange that Bing’s massive Knowledge Graph interface was demonstrated for only one major event; it remains to be seen whether Bing will attempt to offer detailed information on this scale for other sporting or similar events, or whether this was just an isolated incident in an effort to gain more visibility.

    Even if Bing doesn’t grow to compete with Google on a one-to-one level, its Knowledge Graph developments will push the technology forward and increase its influence on the development of search. Be prepared for the Knowledge Graph on both platforms to become more advanced, offering more detailed information on more abstract concepts in an effort to provide users with the best possible search experience.

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