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  1. What Online Marketing Strategies Are Most Effective for SaaS Companies?

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    SaaS companies have their work cut out for them. In theory, the SaaS model is one of the most profitable and scalable types of businesses in the modern world. Assuming you have a good idea and a reasonable profitability basis, there’s nothing stopping you from scaling up a business to the point where your incoming revenue is practically limitless.

    However, most SaaS companies rely on large-scale user bases in order to achieve that level of profitability. When you get to the order of thousands of users, your app is stable enough and your reputation is strong enough that retention and acquisition become child’s play. But every business starts with zero customers, and something needs to close the gap.

    That “something” is marketing, but not all marketing strategies are equally effective, or equally appropriate for a SaaS brand.

    Defining an “effective” marketing strategy

    First, it’s important to understand what makes for an “effective” marketing strategy to begin with. There are many considerations for this, as the process for any given customer to make a purchase and remain a subscriber is fairly complex, and marketing strategies can operate at multiple levels.

    marketing strategy

    (Image Source: Content Marketing Institute)

    The chart above neglects the “retention” phase, after purchase, which is another important consideration for SaaS marketing strategies.

    Your goal, ultimately, is to earn a customer-related benefit that monetarily outweighs the capital you’ve poured into the strategy. This can happen at multiple levels, including:

    • Raising brand awareness.
    • Building a brand reputation.
    • Attracting visitors to your site.
    • Converting visitors to customers.
    • Retaining customers for the long-term.

    Some strategies target all of these goals, while others specialize on one or two. Marketing strategies also range in cost and in time investment. Ultimately, this guide will consider strategies that accomplish as many of these goals as possible, as consistently as possible, for the least amount of total investment (and therefore, highest ROI).

    Key considerations for SaaS companies

    There are some special considerations for marketing in a SaaS business, however.

    • Fast sales cycle. First, most SaaS companies have lightning-fast sales cycles. SaaS subscriptions aren’t necessarily an impulse buy, but they certainly don’t rely on the long back-and-forth exchanges that most B2B operations do. Most rely on immediate conversions, usually with the offer of a free trial (as in the example below). This means marketing needs to have an immediate draw and reach a wide number of users to be effective.

    Fast Sales Cycle Saas Companies

    (Image Source: Zendesk)

    • Customer retention. Customer acquisition is important, but retention is far more valuable. If your churn rate is too high, even a marketing strategy with a high propensity to generate new traffic and customers will fail. An ideal SaaS marketing strategy reaps the best of both worlds.
    • Brand differentiation. There are tons of SaaS companies out there, partially because everyone else has realized what a valuable model SaaS can be. Just take a look at this random sampling of specialized CRM SaaS platforms:

    Brand Differentiation

    (Image Source: Software Advice)

    Your marketing needs to have some mechanism for strongly differentiating your brand.

    • Long-term yield. Remember, SaaS is dependent on long-term gains and profitability over the course of years, not months or weeks. There are many marketing strategies that promise fast, short-term returns, but it’s better to invest in a strategy with a similarly long-term payoff.
    • The fast scalability of SaaS companies means you need to find strategies that can function feasibly well at multiple stages of your growth. Ideally, you’ll be able to adopt them at launch and grow them with your company to the final stages of your growth.
    • Niche specialization. Since there are many niches available for SaaS companies, there are some variations in which marketing strategies are effective for individual companies. However, this guide will focus mostly on strategies that can be useful for any specialized niche.

    With these considerations in mind, let’s explore some of the best all-around strategies a SaaS company can adopt.

    Content Marketing

    I’ve listed content marketing as the first and most effective marketing strategy a SaaS company can adopt. It’s difficult to prove this with numbers, since every campaign is different, but for your investment, content marketing is the strategy that offers the best long-term return in the greatest number of different areas. It operates on every level of customer acquisition—from raising brand awareness to converting visitors and even retaining your existing customer base—and it’s relatively cheap, since it doesn’t require much overhead or specialized technology. Best of all, it’s scalable—meaning it’s effective at every stage of your growth—and it’s perfectly positioned for long-term gains. In fact, the return you see on content marketing should increase exponentially as you invest more and more effort into it.

    Let’s take a look at some of the individual applications content marketing can offer. Keep in mind that some pieces of content will be able to fulfill multiple roles in this list.

    Inbound-focused content

    Inbound-focused content is geared toward getting the greatest number of users to your site. This happens in many contexts, such as building awareness and visibility of your brand, sparking the interest of potential visitors, and clinching the deal by earning an inbound click.

    Accordingly, there are some main considerations your inbound content should focus on:

    • Standing out from the white noise. Your first job is simply getting noticed. You can maximize your chances here by making your content visible in as many places as possible, and by coming up with truly original content topics.
    • Appealing to your target demographics. And your target demographics can’t be “everyone.” Find the target market most likely to buy your product, and gear all your content to them. Otherwise, you’ll attract lots of visitors, but only a fraction of them will be interested in making a purchase.
    • Offering some valuable, practical information. This will ensure that your users’ needs are met adequately, possibly driving them to that fast next step of actually converting.
    • Suggesting your product as a solution. Your content should be geared, in some way, to a problem that your target market faces. If your product is a solution to that problem, you can bet your content will be effective in driving a portion of your readers to a purchase.

    product as solution

    (Image Source: AudienceBloom)

    AudienceBloom is a proud user of inbound-focused content. In fact, you’re reading a piece of it right now! With unique content, focused on providing valuable information and making your readers’ lives easier, you’ll have no trouble attracting more people to your brand. From there, if your solution is valuable enough, the conversion and customer flow will be natural.

    Retention-focused content

    Content is also effective because of its potential to retain audience members who have already become customers. For this, you’ll have a similar but distinct set of priorities. Since you’ve already gotten these visitors to become active subscribers, you need to give them some kind of recurring value with content that features the following qualities:

    • Covering news and presenting new information. If you provide your customers with a stream of updates related to your niche, you’ll accomplish a few key goals in achieving higher retention. First, you’ll give them a value, which will keep them around longer. Second, you’ll showcase your position as a thought leader in the industry.
    • Encouraging further use of the software. Any article that implies, subtly or overtly, that users should keep using your software is a bonus. For example, if your company provides time-tracking software, you could cover topics that suggest the efficiency and value of time-tracking software use.
    • Showcasing share-worthy stories. You can also aim to spark a combination of customer loyalty and the attraction of new customers by posting share-worthy stories, like case studies of real users or some benevolent act your company has made.

    As I mentioned, there can certainly be overlap between these different content functions. I’ve only listed them separately to illustrate the different applications and benefits of content marketing.

    Help and support content

    As a completely separate section of content, your help and support documents will be imperative to keeping your customers around for a longer period of time. If implemented properly as part of your content marketing strategy, it makes your campaign even more effective by simultaneously giving existing customers the resources they need to continue using your software and showing potential new customers your commitment to user experience and customer service.

    SalesForce Support

    (Image Source: SalesForce)

    How you set up your help and support content section is up to you, but the goals are simple:

    • Give users exhaustive resources to navigate your software. Leave no stone unturned here; solve as many problems as you can.
    • Help users by providing multiple routes to solutions. One article hidden away isn’t good enough; feature search options, forums, and FAQ sections to supplement your work and make it as easy as possible to find a satisfactory answer.
    • Make your content visible to both existing and prospective users. This is necessary if you want to build both retention and acquisition.

    Every document you produce here is a permanent addition that bolsters both your acquisition and retention rates.

    SEO-focused content

    I’ll explore SEO a bit more in the next section, but I wanted to mention it in the context of your content marketing strategy, since it’s responsible for a significant chunk of content marketing’s value. If you optimize your onsite content pieces for SEO, with proper protocols for title tags, meta descriptions, headers, body content, etc., you’ll earn greater domain authority, you’ll rank higher for search terms related to your business, and you’ll earn more search traffic as a result.

    Overall return

    With all these angles, the power of content marketing should be clear. Requiring a minimum investment, lasting forever, and offering a compounding return as you grow your content marketing strategy, content marketing meets all the goals and accounts for nearly all the challenges I mentioned in the introduction. In the long term, it offers the highest ROI of any marketing strategy for SaaS companies.

    SEO

    SEO makes the list for many of the same reasons that content marketing did, and that’s no coincidence; the two strategies are fundamentally related. Content marketing serves as fuel for an SEO campaign, so with only a handful of additional strategies, you can earn powerful results on both fronts. Like content marketing, SEO is relatively inexpensive to execute, straightforward in its concept, and it offers compounding returns over time.

    The main idea here is to increase your domain authority so you achieve higher visibility in search engines. That higher visibility will lead to more search traffic, which will give your site more visitors. And since it mostly relies on digital constructs, these position changes are semi-permanent, and you’ll continue reaping the rewards indefinitely. Let’s take a look at the main points of the strategy.

    Onsite optimization

    Onsite optimization is all about making sure the main content and structure of your site meets certain thresholds and standards set by search engines. Doing this not only makes sure your site is seen and “indexed” by search engines, but also maximizes your chances of search engines “understanding” what your site is about, correlating it with appropriate keywords and topics.

    I’ve written about onsite optimization extensively before, so I won’t dig into the details, but know that with a handful of basic changes and some ongoing upkeep work, you can position your site to rank higher for relevant search terms.

    onsite optimization factors

    (Image Source: AudienceBloom)

    Ongoing onsite content

    Google likes to see sites with ongoing streams of content; it shows they care about their users. Not to mention it adds more pages of your site that Google can index, maximizing the spread of your potential search visibility, and it allows you to target specific keywords and keyword phrases that might be relevant to your audience. I already wrote about different goals your content has from a user experience perspective; here, your goals with content are earning prime search ranking opportunities, which could potentially send thousands of visitors per month your way.

    Offsite content and link building

    The third, and arguably most powerful element of an SEO strategy is offsite content and link building. I’ve written about link building extensively as well, but I want to touch on the value of the strategy as it relates to SaaS companies. The idea here is to guest post content on high-authority external sites. These links serve as third-party indicators that your site is authoritative, and help your site rank higher in searches. And, on a secondary level, they can send direct referral traffic from these high-authority sources to your site. As most of these links are permanent, you’ll reap these benefits continuously for several months (at a minimum) for every new offsite post you publish.

    Overall return

    Conciseness prohibits me from exploring the true value of SEO as a strategy, with all its complexities and variables you may encounter. But on a surface level, the takeaway for SaaS companies is this: with a relatively small investment, you can earn thousands of new visitors per month (and possibly build your reputation in the process, especially with high-authority external sources vouching for you).

    Social Media Marketing

    Social media marketing is another marketing strategy especially valuable for SaaS companies. It’s completely free to establish an organic presence on the vast majority of social media platforms, and there’s no limits or boundaries for the type of communication you can facilitate in the strategy. You can use social media to gain more brand visibility, cement relationships with your existing clients, build your reputation, and even provide support to your current customer base. It’s scalable, focuses on both acquisition and retention, and provides accumulated benefits over time—making it ideal as a SaaS-focused strategy.

    Even better, social media marketing exists in a complementary harmony with both SEO and content marketing. As you’ll see (and have seen), these three strategies complement and enhance each other. Separately, they’re incredibly valuable opportunities for acquisition and retention, and together, their effects multiply even further.

    Brand awareness

    One of the most important factors driven by social media is brand awareness. When you post actively and work to establish your presence in outside areas, you’ll start gradually attracting new followers to your brand. People who have never seen it before will start to become familiar with it at a distance, and the followers you do acquire will learn more about what makes your brand unique.

    unique brand value

    (Image Source: Twitter)

    It’s hard to get to 15,000 followers (or more) in a short timeframe, so instead try to focus on incremental goals. Set up an active, consistent posting schedule, then begin an outreach program. You’ll want to participate in conversations related to your area of expertise, work with influencers in your industry to achieve a higher level of visibility, and even engage with targeted individuals who might be a good fit for your brand. You can also use hashtags, contests, and viral content to earn more shares and become visible in alternative ways.

    The ultimate goal of visibility is to inch people down the stages of the buying cycle. Awareness gets them closer to a visit, which gets them closer to a conversion. Feel free to engage in tactics that push for these stages—such as calls-to-action that request user signups—but be wary not to overload your campaign with advertising, or your users will begin to distrust you.

    Content and SEO benefits

    Social media is also valuable as a tool to boost the effectiveness of both your content marketing and SEO strategies. First, let’s take a look at how it makes content marketing more effective. Your primary goal here is to use social media as an amplification outlet for your work; people won’t naturally stumble across your blog, so whenever you publish a new post, make the announcement on social media. You can also syndicate previous works in the future, maximizing their visibility and possible return. If your work is good, you’ll facilitate more social shares, which will amplify the reach of your content even further.

    The SEO benefits of social media marketing function along similar lines, capitalizing on this ability to make content more visible. Social shares of your content function as secondary signals to Google’s algorithm, but the real power here is the propensity for link building. The more high-authority links you have pointing to your domain, the higher your authority will grow, but it’s hard to earn those links naturally. Through social media syndication, you can maximize your chances of a piece of content on your site “going viral,” achieving thousands of shares and possibly millions of newsfeed impressions. In that pool of potential visitors, it’s inevitable that you’ll earn at least a few strong, natural links—as long as your content is link worthy.

    Customer service

    Many SaaS brands also user social media as a customer service tool, providing a convenient and functional alternative mode of support (and a proactive way to announce service schedules, downtime, and other proactive measures). Some have even created a separate, dedicated account for this purpose.

    The advantages of social media customer service are powerful:

    • You can be where your customers want to be. Your customers are already on social media, so adding a support channel means extra convenience for them.
    • You can address many concerns at once. By posting regular FAQs, helpful articles, facts, announcements, and other information, you can keep your audience in the know and update the majority of your users at once, helping you maximize user retention.
    • All your work is publicly visible. This is key, especially with marketing as our primary consideration here. Any time you work with a customer on social media to resolve an issue, every other social media user—even non-subscribers—can see it. Positive customer service interactions could be the tipping point in landing a final user decision.
    • You can get ahead of potential disasters. Things aren’t always going to go smoothly or perfect, but social media gives you an outlet to get ahead of those disasters by announcing what’s going on, answering user questions, and sometimes, just apologizing.

    Though veering slightly from the strict definition of “marketing,” customer service is a powerful angle to use in your social media strategy that lends strength to the overall approach.

    Community building

    SaaS communities are powerful for both customer retention and acquisition. When a user feels as though he “belongs” with your brand, he’ll never want to stop subscribing—giving him a sense of community facilitates the development of those feelings of belonging. An outside user looking in will see the comfort and advantages of the community (and at later stages, its sheer size), and may be persuaded to subscribe on that basis alone.

    You’ll see this as a common tactic in many SaaS companies, some of whom have created onsite forums and engagement platforms to encourage intra-community discussion.

    community building

    (Image Source: SalesForce)

    Still, the best way to develop a thriving community is through social media. Make people feel like they belong to your brand by engaging them one-on-one; respond to their comments, ask them questions, and personally thank them for their contributions. They’ll remember you, and other users will see your interactions. Over time, you’ll recruit more and more followers, all of whom can converse with each other as much as they converse with you, and your community will start to take shape.

    Overall return

    In the early stages, much like content marketing and SEO, you’ll be hard-pressed to turn a meaningful profit. However, if you remain consistent and focused in your strategy, there’s no reason why you can’t cultivate a community of thousands to engage with your brand. The enhancement benefits to your content and SEO strategies alone make social media worth the effort—but add in the customer service angle and the community building power, and you’ll calculate that even a few hours of work per day can be enough to earn you thousands of new visitors per month (and strengthened relationships with your existing subscriber base).

    Paid Advertising

    Paid advertising is a popular online marketing channel, so I wanted to address it and its possible advantages for SaaS companies. In paid advertising, you’ll select a medium (usually something like Google or Facebook, with prominent visibility and targeting options), they’ll post an ad, and you’ll pay a fixed price for every click you receive.

    This is a cool strategy, and one that can earn you a decent ROI, but there are a handful of disadvantages for SaaS companies that make it less than ideal as a long-term marketing solution:

    Competition.

    Most other SaaS companies are already doing this. Try to get involved, and you’ll have a hard time standing out in the crowd.

    Saas Competition Research

    (Image Source: Google)

    • Cost. Thanks in part to competition and in part to rising overall PPC costs, you’ll end up paying a hefty monthly fee to support your advertising.
    • Linear growth. No matter how much you scale, your investment will always return the same amount; you aren’t investing in long-term growth with PPC the way you can with the aforementioned strategies, because as soon as you stop paying, the ads are taken down.

    For these reasons, I don’t recommend paid advertising as a long-term marketing strategy in SaaS. However, it does have some powerful advantages at the start of a SaaS company’s growth, including giving you the ability to target a specific audience and ensuring a positive ROI early on in your campaign. It’s definitely worth considering as a short-term addition to your growth strategy.

    Conclusion

    There are a number of strategies I haven’t mentioned that can be valuable for SaaS companies, including email marketing and affiliate marketing, but the ones I outlined above are bigger and more important as overall constructs. Together, content marketing, SEO, and social media form a powerful, interrelated, complementary package of marketing tactics that provide the best long-term returns in both customer acquisition and customer retention. And while paid advertising often yields a positive ROI, it pales in comparison to inbound strategies when looking at the long term.

  2. Everything a Blog Post Needs for Ideal SEO

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    You’ve got your blogging strategy in place, but are you doing everything you need to do for SEO?

    SEO doesn’t just “happen.” Yes, it’s true that having a content marketing strategy in place already puts you in a better position to gain rank for keywords relevant to your industry, as long as you stay consistent with your posting strategy. However, you can’t just write “any” type of content and throw it onto the web haphazardly. There’s an important series of steps and considerations you’ll need to take if you want to ensure your blogging strategy is doing everything it can for your SEO campaign.

    The purpose of this guide is to look at all of these “optimization elements” on a per-post level, guiding you in crafting perfectly optimized web posts every time you’re ready to publish a new article.

    Elements of an SEO Strategy

    First, let me take a step back and explain that SEO is a complicated, multifaceted strategy that unfolds over a number of different channels and tactics. Search Engine Land recently tried to condense this broad spectrum of factors to a single infographic:

    SEO Strategy Elements

    (Image Source: Search Engine Land)

    Ultimately, your onsite optimization, your onsite content, your offsite content, and your peripheral strategies (like link building and local SEO) will all factor into how you rank for keyword phrases relevant to your brand. That means your content is only responsible for a fraction of your overall results—a significant fraction, but a fraction nonetheless.

    Similarly, there are overall strategic factors that will come into play in your content strategy that aren’t covered here, such as where you publish your content, how you set up your blog, how you syndicate your posts, and so on. This guide will tell you how to optimize your individual posts to maximize their success—but that alone is only one part of your overall SEO strategy.

    With that in mind, let’s start digging into what is it that makes any given blog post “optimized.”

    Basic Strategy

    Before I start looking at the individual content and technical factors that make an individual piece optimized, we need to know what we’re optimizing for, specifically. A handful of optimization factors are standard best practices you can apply to any post exactly the same way, but the majority of them are dependent on your specific targets. Accordingly, you’ll need to outline what it is you’re trying to achieve before you start trying to achieve it.

    • Choose the right keywords. Your first job is to target the right keywords. Now, keyword strategy has changed significantly in the past several years, so don’t jump into this with an old-school SEO approach. Your goal here isn’t to choose a specific keyword target, stuff that keyword into your articles with reckless abandon, and stop at nothing until you rank for that keyword. Instead, thanks to Hummingbird and semantic search, you’ll need to take your keyword targets with a grain of salt. Hummingbird interprets the intention behind a user query, rather than looking for an exact match keyword, so you can’t rely on one-to-one matches and repetition to earn you a keyword rank. Instead, you’ll use keyword research to identify areas of high search volume and low competition that present valuable ranking opportunities. Then, you’ll integrate those keywords (along with synonyms and related terms) into your articles—which I’ll cover in more detail later. Google’s Keyword Planner is great for this.

    Google Keyword Planner

    (Image Source: Shout Me Loud)

     

    • Choose the right topic. Because semantic search makes long-tail keyword phrases and user interests more important than individual keyword mapping, you’ll also have to take a step back and consider what topics you want to write. Take a look at your competitors, industry publications, and your newsfeeds overall. What are people talking about? What aren’t people talking about that they should be? Are there any topics that seem especially popular and ripe for coverage? Are there any alternative angles you can take or new data you can present? The main question in the back of your mind should be, “what would I want to search for if I was in their position?” The best topic ideas tend to be ones that are original (so there’s low competition), valuable/practical (so it appeals to a wide audience), and topical (so there’s lots of people searching for it, or something similar).
    • Write for your audience. Finally, remember that you shouldn’t write primarily for search engines. As much as it’s valuable to find keywords and topics with a high potential return and frame your posts in a way that maximizes their visibility in search engines, your users still need to be your first priority—or you’ll turn them off of your brand and all your efforts will be for naught. When you’re shaping your lists of keywords and topics to explore, keep this in mind, and be sure to make changes as appropriate. During the course of writing, editing, and publishing, you’ll also want to strike a balance here—don’t get too carried away by focusing exclusively on search optimization.

    At this point, you should have a good idea what keywords, topics, and demographics you want to target, and we can start looking at how to optimize for them.

    Content Features

    First, let’s look at the content features of your post. These are somewhat more approachable for novices, as they can be controlled during the writing and production process, and require virtually no technical expertise.

    Write a concise, powerful headline

    Your headline is going to serve a number of important functions, so you need to nail it. It’s one of the first things Google looks at when evaluating the topic of your piece, but even more importantly, it’s what most users will see when they encounter your article for the first time. In search engines, you’ll have more control over this “first impression” with title tags (which I’ll get into in the technical section), but don’t forget, users will be encountering your blog post on your actual blog, and on social media as well.

    Generally, you’ll want a headline that:

    • Is unlike any other headline out there. Otherwise, it won’t stand out.
    • Accurately describes your content. Otherwise, Google won’t index it properly and users will be disappointed.
    • Features one or more of your target keywords. This helps you rank for your targets.
    • Imply some value. Users only click on content that appears valuable in some way.
    • Conveys a sense of urgency. Get users to click immediately, or you’ll lose them forever.

    Powerful Headline

    (Image Source: AudienceBloom)

    Take a look at the headline I’ve cited above; it’s unique, offers a concise description (with a target keyword phrase), a value (for agencies), and urgency due to its importance.

    Include headers and sub-sections

    Your content should be broken down into sub-sections, no matter what your primary focus is. Even a short-form post should have at least a few paragraphs, and those paragraphs should be marked by headers. These headers and subsections help users visually identify how your article is organized, and help them skim your content; skimming isn’t ideal, but they’re going to do it anyway, so you might as well help them out. Your headers will also come in handy for helping Google to understand what your content is and how it’s organized—more on this when I touch on H1 header tags in the technical section.

    Prioritize introductory sentences                      

    The first sentences of your paragraphs and sub-sections get extra priority when Google crawls your content, so make them count. Take the one in this sub-section as an example; it clearly describes the main point without giving everything away up front. Include a keyword or two if you can, but focus most of your attention on setting up the sentences that follow. This is also important for users who are trying to speed read your article to get the gist of what you’re saying.

    Include images and videos

    Visual content is a major trend in the content marketing world, and for good reason. Posts with images and videos get far more shares and click-throughs than posts without them, users are increasingly spending time seeking images and videos rather than written content, and since visual content is harder to produce, there’s still a competitive advantage in being one of the few companies in your niche to pursue them. Having visuals in your content will make your piece bigger, better, more visible, and with a higher potential for going viral. Try to include at least one visual element in every piece you publish, preferably something original.

    Include your keyword phrase and conversational variations throughout your text

    This is a bit tricky, since there’s no “golden rule” for keyword inclusion. Generally, you’ll want to include your target keyword phrases at least a handful of times throughout the course of your document, but you also don’t want to run the risk of keyword stuffing. To avoid this risk, please your users, and make the most of the Hummingbird algorithm all at the same time, rely on conversational variations of your keyword phrases instead. Try to incorporate general terms for your target keywords, and talk about them in natural ways. Think of it like a date. Don’t try so hard to impress Google that you end up seeming awkward; just be yourself.

    Aim for long-form content when you can

    There’s no single rule that dictates the “ideal” length of a blog post, though we’ve taken a stab at trying to figure this out before. The truth is, both long-form and short-form content have advantages in SEO. On average, standout short-form pieces are more likely to earn links and shares. However, standout long-form pieces are more likely to, when they earn links and shares, earn far more links and shares. That’s a mouthful, but the takeaway is this—each has unique advantages and disadvantages, but if you do the work necessary to make a long-form piece successful, long-form has higher payoffs. Strive for length, as long as you can make that length valuable (no fluff).

    Proofread

    This is such a basic step I shouldn’t have to mention it. But the sad fact is, I do have to mention it. Though Google doesn’t penalize things like grammatical inconsistencies and poor spelling, these errors can have an indirect effect on your rank. Plus, if you’re suspected of using unnatural language, you could earn a direct penalty, and that’s not even mentioning the poor user experience effects it can have.

    Meta Data and Technical Factors

    Now, let’s look at some of the more technical factors of post optimization. These aren’t as technical as, say, creating a new navigation, or trying to optimize your site for mobile devices, but they have more to do with how the post is structured and interpreted by search crawlers than they do with your actual content.

    Write a catchy title tag

    Your title tag is what appears in Google search results as the blue hyperlinked text in every entry. Here’s a perfect example:

    Title Tag

    (Image Source: Google)

    As a general rule, as long as you have a good headline, you can use your headline as a double for the title tag. You might also want to include some text at the end, the way the example uses “REI expert advice” to optimize for a brand term and some peripheral keywords after the relatively short title. Feel free to include an addition keyword here, but be mindful that you aren’t over-optimizing.

    Generally, your title tag should be 50-60 characters. Any more than that, and Google will cut you off. Remember, you’ll also want to optimize your title tag for inbound users, making your title as appealing as possible to maximize click throughs.

    Write an accurate, descriptive meta tag

    Your meta description is a tag-team partner for your title tag. Here, you’ll have 150-160 characters to work with, so you get more breathing room and more opportunities to naturally include some of your target keyword phrases. This is the written text that appears under the title and link (see the example in the preceding section), so it’s another opportunity to capitalize on user interests on SERPs. It’s not as important as a title tag, for search engines or for users, but don’t neglect it.

    Include H1, H2, H3, etc. tags

    In my section on content considerations, I outlined the importance of including sub-sections with clearly marked headers. There’s also a technical component to this—you’ll need to include these bits of information with header tags for search engines to index and understand your content properly. Include an H1 tag for your first header, an H2 tag for your second, and so on, and remember to be as descriptive as possible.

    Header Tags

    (Image Source: Hobo)

    Ensure your URL is appropriate

    Most modern platforms will take the title of your article and make that the URL; this is good enough for most SEO strategies. There are just a handful of bad practices you’ll want to avoid to ensure your URLs are optimized for search engines and for users. For example, you’ll want to avoid excessive numbers and characters at the end of your URL string; these are incoherent and make it hard for users to share or remember links. You’ll need to include a breadcrumbs trail (though this is usually not an issue), and you’ll want to include at least one strong keyword in a useful description at the end of your URL.

    URL Rewrite

    (Image Source: Moz)

    Optimize your visual elements

    You know you need to include images and videos for SEO, but you also have to optimize them so search engines can understand them. These optimization tactics won’t increase the rank of your page directly, but will help your images and videos achieve higher visibility, which will indirectly drive more traffic to your page (and site).

    For images, this means giving the image an accurate title, resizing it so it can load quickly and properly, using alt tags to describe the image, and including a caption so your users know why you’ve chosen the image in the first place. It also helps to align your images with the edges of your piece.

    For video, this can be more complicated or less complicated depending on your goals. For example, if you’re merely embedding another person’s YouTube video, you don’t really have to do anything other than embedding it. However, if you’re running your own video content marketing strategy, you should engage in separate best practices for optimizing video so they can be found through search.

    Interlink your piece with other content you’ve written

    This is a seemingly minor step, but it’s an important one. Reference other posts you’ve written and other pages of your site in the body of each blog post you publish (within reason; usually three to five is plenty). Google favors sites whose pages are easy to get to; as a general rule, no page should ever be further than three clicks away from any other page. Interlinking helps strengthen the navigational “tightness” of your site, and furthermore, encourages users to spend more time on your site by leading them to different areas.

    Ensure your content is compatible and loads quickly on all devices and browsers

    This is another basic step, but you’d be surprised how many people miss it. Especially with embedded images and videos, you’ll want to do a “dry run” of your content and make sure it loads correctly on all types of devices and browsers. There are many tools for this, such as BrowserStack, so there’s no excuse not to investigate before finalizing your publication.

    Encourage subscriptions and comments

    The more your users engage with your piece, the more they’ll be willing to share it, the longer they’ll spend reading it, and the more authority you’ll earn for your efforts. Encourage your users to engage with your material by making it easy for people to leave comments (and by writing material that facilitates discussion in the first place).

    comment box

    (Image Source: AudienceBloom)

    You’ll also want to encourage your users to subscribe, to build your recurring readership and give a visibility boost to any pieces you write in the future. These can be RSS feeds or email newsletter subscriptions—anything that keeps your users coming back for more.

    Include share buttons

    Contrary to popular belief, social shares don’t pass authority the way that backlinks do. There’s some evidence to suggest that social signals are correlated with higher ranks, but it’s more likely that social shares are an indirect ranking signal. The more users share your piece, the more visible it becomes, and the more links it’s liable to earn. Those links are what are actually passing the authority. Because of this, social shares are important for SEO, just not in a direct way. It’s still in your best interest to capitalize on this correlational phenomenon, so make it easier for your users to share your content by including social share prompts at the bottom of every post.

    social media share buttons

    (Image Source: AudienceBloom)

    Offsite Content Considerations

    Up to this point, we’ve been examining considerations for onsite posts, but don’t forget that onsite content should only be one part of your SEO and content strategy. You also need to focus on optimizing your offsite content if you want to be successful.

    Fortunately, the same rules I’ve extensively outlined above are going to apply here (for the most part). For example, you’ll still need a good topic, a catchy headline, proper formatting, etc., but many of the technical factors are going to be out of your control. If you’re working with a high authority publisher, you can pretty much rest assured that these technical fixtures will be taken care of for you. However, there are a handful of special considerations you’ll need to bear in mind when producing and submitting offsite content:

    • Choose topics relevant for your publisher. When you choose topics, you’ll have to bear your audience, your goals, and your brand in mind, but when publishing offsite, there’s another variable you’ll have to consider—the publisher. During the early stages, this isn’t much of an issue; you’ll be primarily focusing on lower-authority publishers who won’t be picky about the types of content you submit and publishers well-aligned with your industry. But as you gain more experience and start working with publishers who have audiences in the hundreds of thousands or more, be prepared for some pushback and a delicate balancing act in optimizing a post that will still be accepted.
    • Include one strong link back to your domain. For the most part, one link is plenty. Google judges backlinks from any given domain on kind of a sliding scale; the first link from one source passes a ton of new authority, but any subsequent links on that same source will pass lower amounts of authority. Even worse, if you try to deliberately stuff your article with backlinks, you’ll either be rejected by the publisher outright or you’ll be penalized by Google for spamming links—not a pretty picture. Instead, make sure your link is valuable and relevant for your audience.
    • Optimize your link’s anchor text. You’ll also need to optimize the anchor text for your link—the text in which your link is embedded. Old-school SEO practices dictate that you should include your keyword phrase here, but this practice is somewhat obsolete. Instead, your text should be optimized to describe what it is your link is pointing to. For example, I could introduce another blog by saying, “I discuss more about content marketing in my recent blog post on finding competitive advantages with content.” Notice how the hyperlinked text is overtly and sensibly descriptive, and naturally contains a couple of keywords that could be associated with the piece.
    • Be aware of special meta data considerations. Your source of choice may have certain preferences or certain systems that prevent you from creating your own meta data or otherwise have strict standards on what data can be created. For example, they may mandate you create a tagline, but take charge of providing all titles and descriptions themselves. This isn’t as important as you might think, since this is an article on their site, not yours, and they have a vested interest in getting as much traffic as possible. Don’t be afraid to relinquish some control here.

    You’ll also need to be aware that different publishers will have different systems, processes, and standards. You’ll have to adapt if you want to make the most of all of them.

    Consistency and Adaptation

    Now that you know the ins and outs of how to optimize a blog post for SEO, there are just two more general rules you’ll need to follow to be successful. The first is a rule of consistency. You can’t pick and choose when you follow these best practices, or only follow some of them, if you want to succeed in the long run. You need to apply these optimization tactics to every piece you publish, no matter what. Overall, these tactics will help you write better, more valuable user-focused content, and the few technical tweaks you need to make should only take you a few minutes each to complete. It’s well worth the extra investment, but only if you do so consistently.

    The other rule is one of adaptation. People don’t produce perfect content on the first try, ever. You won’t write perfect titles or meta descriptions, and you won’t target the “perfect” set of keywords in your first run. Give your strategy some time to marinate and prove its worth, but if something’s not working, you can’t be afraid to change it. Pick a variable, make an adjustment, and see if things approve. Repeat as necessary until you start seeing the results you want.

    With all these practices in place, you should have complete control over your blog optimization strategy. Though it’s only one piece of the SEO puzzle, it’s a powerful one, and you should start to reap the rewards in mere weeks.

  3. Are All Links Good or Bad? Or Somewhere in Between?

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    There are a number of ongoing, raging debates about link building in the SEO community, from whether manual link building is acceptable to best practices for a dofollow/nofollow ratio, but there are a few things we all can agree on. First, links definitely have a major influence on your ranks. Without backlinks, it’s virtually impossible to get any domain significantly ranked. Second, some links are better than others, and there are clear, objective traits that make those links better or worse than one another. Links from higher-authority domains are worth more than those from low-authority domains, and so on. Finally, “bad” links can hurt your domain authority, causing your rankings to tumble and possibly (though rarely) earning you a full-blown Google penalty.

    All this leads to a deceptively simple question about the nature of links in general. If there are “bad” links, does that mean any non-“bad” links are good links? Are there only two categories of links (“good” and “bad”), or are most links somewhere in the middle?

    To answer this question, I’m going to look at the most significant factors that go into determining a link’s quality.

    Domain Strength

    articleimage1652 Domain Strength

    One of the most important considering factors for a link’s quality is the root domain it’s being linked from. If there’s a link pointing to your site from a scam site, it could compromise your authority. If you have a link from a major university, on the other hand, you’ll stand to benefit greatly. Domain authority doesn’t function in a pass/fail scale—as you’ve no doubt experienced, it’s much more of a sliding scale. There are good sites, bad sites, okay sites, and everything in between out there, so the domain strength can’t necessitate the creation of a good or bad link, exclusively. Imagine a link on an “okay” site, in the middle—could you consider that a good link or a bad link? The answer is “neither” for this factor alone.

    Page Strength

    articleimage1652 Page Strength

    Along with domain strength, Google also considers the page strength of the link in question’s source. For example, a link from a Home page or Contact page is automatically given more authoritative strength than a link on a blog, or buried in some far-off hole of your site. Again, this doesn’t necessitate a pass or fail—page authority functions on a sliding scale, and there are no pages that could immediately turn a link into a “bad” link. You could make the semantic argument that if no links can be “bad” links in this factor alone, all other links must be “good”—but do acknowledge there’s a sliding scale of quality.

    Anchor Text

    Anchor text has less middle ground to play with. The text in which your link is embedded speaks volumes about the quality of your link. If you have no anchor text and the link is free floating, the quality of the link dips. If you have irrelevant or spammy anchor text like “BUY NOW!!!” the quality of the link dips. Other than that, as long as your text is relevant to the link and the conversation, you’ll be good to go—keywords in anchor text aren’t as important as they used to be. For this factor, there are definitely “good” links and “bad” links.

    Context

    articleimage1652 Context

    Google is sophisticated enough to understand the context of your link. The nature of the site, the nature of the page, the topic, the conversation, and the use of your link are all taken into consideration. If it looks out of place, its authority dips. If it looks helpful and appropriate, its authority rises. As you can imagine, there are very few instances of flat-out “right” and “wrong” here—so this factor functions on a sliding scale.

    Diversity

    articleimage1652 Diversity

    The diversity of your link profile also comes into consideration, though this doesn’t affect any one link. More links on a wider range of sources is always a good thing, while piling all your links on one source can actually hurt you. Even if that one source has a high authority, participating in a link exchange or funneling all your links to one source can degrade the overall authority of those links.

    Truly “Bad” Links

    articleimage1652 Truly “Bad” Links

    Forget about the strength of the domain, the anchor text, and other “soft” factors for a link’s quality. There are some links that are truly, objectively, and inarguably bad. Google doesn’t hide this—in fact, it does a pretty good job of explaining exactly what constitutes this level of bad link, and exactly what kind of repercussions you can expect to face from trying to build one. Its short version describes any link deliberately intended to manipulate your PageRank, but really what it’s referring to are links you’ve spammed, stuffed, bought, or schemed into existence. This is a major black hat practice, and one you probably (hopefully) aren’t participating in, so these are the most egregious offenders. Chances are, they’re going to earn you a harsh penalty from Google itself.

    The Short Answer

    The short answer, which you’ve probably figured out if you’ve read any of the other sections, is that links can’t be separated into “good” or “bad” categories. Link quality functions on a sliding scale, much like the quality of content, or food, or movies, or anything else in life. Some links are objectively more valuable than others, but these broad categories are ambiguous and undescriptive. The only exception to this analysis are deliberate spam links, scheme links, or paid links, all of which blatantly and recklessly violate Google’s official policy and can earn you a manual penalty. Stay clear of those types, and aim to build the best possible links you can.

  4. Why Clickbait Is Dying and How to Take Advantage of It

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    articleimage1288 Why Clickbait Is Dying and How to Take Advantage of it

    “This Cute Puppy Shows This Homeless Veteran One Weird Trick for Weight Loss—and You Won’t Believe What Happens Next!”

    This is the type of headline that’s dominated social media feeds for the past few years. It’s called clickbait, and while some have heralded it as a useful engagement style, most have harshly and vocally criticized it as tabloid-style sensationalism. Criticisms range from calling it gimmicky to insinuating that it’s responsible for the death of journalism, but no matter where you stand on the clickbait issue, the entire spectrum might become irrelevant—it looks like clickbait is about to die.

    How Clickbait Evolved

    articleimage1288 How Clickbait Evolved

    Sensationalist headlines have always been around in some form—most notably on the cover of supermarket tabloid magazines—but it’s only within the past few years that they truly rose to prominence on the Internet. To understand how the phenomenon came to be, we must look at the two signature qualities that allow it to exist: the motivation to earn clicks by any means necessary, and the social element of viral ideas.

    The key motivation in most Internet-based schemes and gimmicks is to make money. So if clickbait is a way of making money, why has it only risen to prominence recently? Money-making schemes used to be all about getting money directly from web users, such as the infamous Nigerian prince scheme or weight loss pills. When the web was fairly new, these spam emails and flashing advertisements were everywhere—and they worked—but users and web authorities quickly became aware of the schemes. Spam filters and ad flags quickly got rid of the majority of these attempts, and user savvy avoided the rest of them.

    Today, it’s almost impossible to get direct money with these schemes. In order to make money, you have to get people to your site, and get them clicking as much as possible. “Clicks” are the new cash, so instead of doing whatever it takes to get your money, companies are doing whatever it takes to get your clicks.

    Clickbait evolved naturally. Consider the case of Upworthy, which has become one of the most notorious propagators of clickbait on the web. Their editors didn’t intentionally create gimmicky articles—instead, they used a straightforward mathematically testing process to figure out which type of headlines worked best for their shared material. It probably won’t shock you to learn that clickbait-style headlines just happened to perform the best, so they stuck.

    The second key environmental quality of clickbait is its propensity to be shared socially. The rise of social media encouraged the growth of this industry. Rather than having these articles naturally found by searchers or web browsers, companies could use similar tactics to get them shared thousands of times across the web, drastically increasing their reach.

    Facebook and Google United

    articleimage1288 Facebook and Google United

    Recognizing clickbait as a new form of spam, both Google and Facebook (two of the web’s biggest authorities) have begun taking measures against it. Starting in 2011 with the Panda update, Google has gradually refined its ability to detect “high quality” content, eliminating any duplicate or unoriginal content (which is common in clickbait) and learning to recognize gimmicky headlines designed only to attract clicks. Now in the era of Panda 4.1, Google has all but eliminated the worst clickbait offenders from its search results.

    Facebook is more of a recent development. Back in 2014, it began cleaning up its newsfeeds, eliminating both organic posts and advertisements that were deemed to be “spammy” and allowing users more control over the types of posts they see. While the exact specifications of its quality analyses are not made public, there has been a significant decline in clickbait-style articles in most users’ newsfeeds.

    The combination of these efforts has led to a decline in the social shareability and overall visibility of these articles, throttling their potential impact. However, the association that clicks = money still remains.

    The Shift FromUpworthy

    articleimage1288 The Shift From Upworthy

    Marking a major shift in the clickbait trend, Upworthy recently hired a new editorial director to take over the company’s content operations. In a startling move, she immediately laid off several content “curators” responsible for generating this type of material, and hired replacements who serve as quality, talented writers. As one of the biggest clickbait authorities on the web, this could be a major sign that the combination of Google’s and Facebook’s efforts have finally convinced clickbait artists that it’s time to step up the quality of their work.

    How Long Does Clickbait Have Left?

    articleimage1288 How Long Does Clickbait Have Left

    As with any major change in trend, it won’t happen all at once. You can expect to see clickbait articles (or “soft” clickbait) in your news feeds for several years to come. However, as Google and Facebook become even more adept at filtering out “bad” content and users become wise to clickbait schemes the same way they did Nigerian prince schemes, it’s only a matter of time before they’re gone for good. If I had to guess, I would suppose 2020 to be the last year of clickbait relevance (though a new form of “baiting” may emerge by that time).

    How to Take Advantage of the Shift

    Not much in the content world has changed. Clicks are still important, and good content will always be rewarded. However, if you’ve been using any type of clickbait tactic to improve your click-through rates, it’s time to stop. If you continue to use gimmicky, superficial tactics to attract new visitors, it’s only a matter of time before it catches up with you. Take Upworthy’s move as an inspirational example—reset your focus to center on the development of original, strong material that actually matters to people and does more than trick people into clicking on your links.

  5. 7 Essential Qualities for an SEO Provider

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    For most business owners, SEO is overwhelming. Rather than existing as an independent strategy, proper SEO campaigns integrate dozens of separate, interrelated strategies that work together to yield a meaningful result. That means onsite development, branding, design, onsite content, social media marketing, offsite content, link building, and countless other factors must all be considered as part of a unified whole, and finding one person (or even a team) with the expertise to handle all of them is virtually impossible.

    SEO agencies provide the full suite of services necessary to reliably build search ranks, and because they exist as specialists, they tend to run cheaper than a full-time hire offering those same services would. Still, there are a lot of SEO agencies out there, and not all of them are worth doing business with. Some don’t have your best interests at heart, some are ridiculously expensive, and some simply don’t know what they’re doing.

    When searching for an SEO provider, be sure to prioritize these seven qualities:

    1. Credentials.

    articleimage1222credentials

    First, look to see what kind of credentials the agency has, particularly at the top. If the agency boasts the reputation of its CEO, who has been featured in multiple SEO-related industry publications, you can rest assured that the company probably knows what it’s doing. On the other hand, if you visit the site and it’s not clear who is behind the company, it may not be worth the risk in finding out whether they’re actual authorities or not. One wrong move in the SEO world could land you in serious hot water with Google, so don’t take the risk. When in doubt, ask.

    2. Results.

    articleimage1222 results

    Any SEO agency worth its salt should have client results to show you that prove its ability to improve rank. Case studies showcasing the company’s past triumphs should be a given, along with statistics on increases in organic traffic and ranking for various keyword phrases. If those case studies are not available, the company should at least be doing SEO for itself—take a look at where the company is ranking and find out. If you’re in any doubt, ask for a handful of client references. Make a few phone calls and see what previous clients have thought of the service.

    3. Range.

    articleimage1222 range

    Be careful of niche specialists in the SEO world, such as link builders who promise to increase your ranks practically overnight. Generally, these segmented approaches are highly risky and unpredictable. Instead, look for an agency that’s capable of executing multiple individual strategies in the context of the broader campaign. For example, if torn between a company that only writes content and a company that writes, publishes, and syndicates content along with doing onsite SEO updates and social media management, go with the latter. These are not bells and whistles—SEO is a collection of different important elements.

    4. Creativity.

    articleimage1222creativity

    While there is certainly a science to SEO, there is also an art, and you’ll need an SEO agency with a degree of creativity if you want to be successful. Samples of the content written by the agency should have a personal, warm feeling to them—if they come across as flat or clearly written for search engines, you should move along to a different candidate. Creativity is also important in SEO troubleshooting and problem solving—there’s almost always more than one way to address a problem, and outside-the-box thinking is a requirement for getting the job done.

    5. Adaptability.

    he SEO world is always changing. Google releases a new algorithm or data refresh on an almost-monthly basis, sometimes completely negating the effectiveness of certain strategy elements and introducing new ranking factors to consider. New technologies constantly emerge on the scene to disrupt the old way of doing things. In order to be successful, you need an SEO provider who stays abreast of these rapid changes and adapts quickly in response to them. It’s simply not possible to be successful following the strategies of yesteryear.

    6. Reporting.

    Before you sign on with an SEO agency, take a look at a sample of their metrics reporting. How many different factors do they consider? How often do they report? What factors do they use to determine when a change needs to be made, and how ready are they to make those changes? These are important questions to ask because measuring performance and making corresponding improvements is the most important part of any SEO campaign.

    7. Communication.

    You’ll be going back and forth with your SEO agency often, exchanging new ideas, making updates, and swapping information. You want a provider you can work with easily, and who will keep you in constant communication no matter what. Your point of contact should be easily available during standard work hours and then some, and you should feel comfortable throughout each of your conversations. Without a fluid and reliable system of communication, your SEO strategy could crumble. Get to know your eventual account manager before committing to any term of service.

    If you’re considering an SEO provider that’s missing one or more of these qualities, you might want to move on to your next candidate. If you want your SEO strategy to be a valuable investment, and not just another monthly fee, it’s worth the extra effort it takes to find a great partner. If you’re interested in seeing how AudienceBloom can help your business succeed, contact us!

  6. Why Digital Assistants May Soon Replace Search Engines

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    articleimage1161 Why Digital Assistants May Soon Replace Search Engin

    There was a time when a “personal digital assistant” referred to a now-obsolete mobile device that served as a precursor to the modern smartphone. Today, our digital assistants have a much more literal—though still incorporeal—form. Apple’s Siri and Google Now are just two popular examples of how voice recognition software have been applied to meaningful, functional systems. Rather than typing in a prompt or using an interface to perform a function or find answers, these digital assistants live up to their namesakes by performing these tasks instead.

    For now, these digital assistants are novelties to most users, but they are growing in popularity, and one day soon they may completely replace search engines—institutions we assumed would be around forever.

    Increasing Search Sophistication

    articleimage1161 Increasing Search Sophistication

    Part of the motivation for this gradual shift is the raw increase in search sophistication. The original Google search algorithm, while sophisticated in its own right, only used a handful of basic determinations to qualify incoming queries. Keywords were mapped against keywords as they stood on the web, and links were simply counted and mixed into the formula used to calculate rank. Today, searches are far more sophisticated—they use a process called semantic search to analyze the intent behind a user’s query and find the most appropriate results to appease that intention throughout the web.

    Digital assistants, too, are growing more sophisticated by the day. Early versions of Siri were clunky and unpredictable, mistaking spoken words for nonsense and generating unreliable answers. Today, most digital assistants function well in even intentionally challenging situations, and companies like Google and Apple are constantly upgrading them to new levels of intricacy.

    The Integration of the Internet

    articleimage1161 the Integration of the Internet

    While the evolving sophistication of search explains why digital assistants might be used more often, it doesn’t explain why they might be used instead of conventional searches. To explain that, we must look at how closely the Internet has become interwoven with our technologies of choice. Little more than a decade ago, the Internet was a separate function on a computer—you’d have to dial in to connect your computer, and fire up a browser to find what you were looking for. Today, most of our devices connect automatically to the Internet, whether through 4G or Wifi, and the majority of our apps and services rely on it for base functionality. The Internet is no longer a separate place that needs scanned for information, like trying to find a book in a library, but instead is all around us and in varying forms. When we search for something, a browser-based website may no longer be the best place to find it.

    Wearable Technology

    articleimage1161 wearable technology

    The dawn of wearable devices—namely the popularly rising smart watch—is also spurring the gradual transition from typical online search to digital assistant-based search. Wearable devices have smaller screens, more functionality, and are poised to help people who are constantly on-the-go. Because of this, they are naturally prone to more verbal queries and immediate needs—which the old style of browser-based searching cannot easily accommodate. As more users adopt wearable technology, it’s highly likely that assistant-based searches will rise accordingly.

    The Impact on SEO

    articleimage1161 The Impact on SEO

    Obviously, if digital assistant searches take over traditional online searches, the entire scope of SEO will change. Some benefits of SEO will disappear entirely, and some tactics will become obsolete in favor of newer, more refined approaches.

    Voice-Based Search Queries

    First, the quantity of voice-based search queries will greatly increase. Digital assistants rely on spoken commands, and as a result, queries will become longer and more conversational. That means you’ll have to update your own content to be more conversational and more colloquial to serve as an ideal match. It also means generalizing your optimization strategy so you don’t become beholden to keywords or short phrases.

    Provision of Instant Answers

    You’ve already seen the beginning of the instant-answer phenomenon with the release of the Google Knowledge Graph, which provides answers to questions and common queries without forcing users to find them on individual websites. Digital assistants will take this technology a step further, giving users short, concise answers whenever possible rather than just referring them to another source, like a website. This will mean reduced traffic and visibility for traditional websites, but could mean an increased importance on functional apps over informational webpages.

    Geographic Relevance

    Since wearable devices and digital assistants will start being consulted on-the-go, rather than in a home or office environment, local businesses can benefit by offering more geographically relevant content and more incentives for physical visits. This may mean integrating new technologies into a physical location to accommodate early adopters, or simply optimizing in a way that gets you mentioned by digital assistants more often when your potential customers are nearing your location.

    Immediacy of Needs

    Finally, people will be consulting their digital assistants for more immediate, detailed needs. This demands longer-form, more tutorial-like pieces of content, and may mean publishing that content in new, more wearable-friendly forms like videos or audio streams.

    It’s uncertain exactly when or how digital assistants would begin phasing out the traditional forms of search engines, but you can bet it will be a gradual process. While technology develops quickly, nothing happens overnight. Pay close attention to these trends as they evolve, and try to stay a step or two ahead of your competition in adopting new strategies to suit them.

  7. How to Increase Reader Loyalty Through Simple Content Changes

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    Reader loyalty is a big deal. Without it, you may have short spikes of incoming traffic and brief periods of increased readership, but your traffic will be inconsistent and you won’t see overall progress over time. On the other hand, if you manage to increase reader loyalty, each new reader you acquire will be likely to stay with you, reading more of your work, seeing more of your brand, and ultimately buying more of your product.

    There are a variety of strategies you can use to increase reader loyalty, each with its own applications and varying degrees of potential success. But if you’re interested in increasing reader loyalty as quickly as possible with only a handful of simple content changes, these strategies are ideal for you.

    Add Images Throughout Your Copy

    articleimage1121 Add Images Throughout Your Copy

    Visual elements can make your piece much more appealing and much more engaging, and it doesn’t take much to add them. This is especially useful for instructional or how-to articles; you can take pictures of the process happening in real time, and use the images to illustrate what you’re describing in text. But in-text images aren’t limited to only tutorial use. You can also use memes or reaction images as an amusing way to illustrate your sentiments and points throughout the article—as long as your brand voice allows that degree of casualness. Doing this makes you more approachable and makes your content more memorable, which will keep your readers coming back for more.

    Get Conversational

    articleimage1121 Get Conversational

    If you write all your pieces in the tone of a Wikipedia article, people aren’t going to remember you. They might remember the information they read, and they might be genuinely pleased with how you answered their questions, but you won’t have left a lasting impression, and because of that, they’re unlikely to revisit you. If you want to engage your audience more directly, adopt a more conversational tone throughout your piece. Use sentences of varying length, use colloquialisms, and talk to your readers as if they are your friends. Doing so will create a sense of welcoming, and will invite your readers to return to your site in the future.

    Cite Other Influencers

    articleimage1121 Cite Other Influencers

    There’s nothing wrong with borrowing from the authority of others. In fact, if you never cite external sources, it might look like you’re inventing everything off the top of your head or that you don’t read any other material. If you demonstrate your own authority by showing that you’ve read other works, your readers will be more likely to consult with you in the future. In fact, citing other works gives you a slight suggestion of superiority, indicating that you’re adding to an existing conversation and building on existing value rather than simply regurgitating it.

    Interlink Often

    articleimage1121 interlink often

    When you write an article, be on the lookout for opportunities to link to other articles you’ve written. This process is known as interlinking, and it’s incredibly useful in building reader loyalty—plus it has the added benefit of increasing your domain authority. You can introduce another article using a phrase like “I talk about this in more detail in a previous post titled…” or simply add an embedded hyperlink to text relevant to whichever article you’re showcasing. However you choose to do it, do it regularly and help your readers venture deeper into your brand presence.

    Ask Your Readers’ Opinions

    articleimage1121 Ask Your Readers’ Opinions

    This is a simple addition you can include at the end of your article, but it goes a long way in building your readers’ loyalty. For example, if you ask your readers, “do you believe this is true?” you’ll spark a conversation, which will keep your users on your page longer and give them more exposure to your brand. Plus, when readers engage directly with the material, they’ll be more likely to feel a sense of camaraderie, and they’ll be more likely to return to your site in the future.

    Add an Interactive Element

    You could qualify asking your readers’ opinions as an interactive element, but there are many other options to be had. Getting your users to directly engage with your material is a pivotal step in getting them to bond with your brand. It can take whatever form you like, as long as it gets users to take an action—for example, you could include a reader survey or a quiz that readers can take.

    Create an Ongoing Series

    If you have an original idea or a lot to say about a given topic, make an ongoing series out of it. Create a multi-part miniseries or simply make it a weekly institution for your blog—whatever you do, make sure your readers know there is always more to the story. Use compelling headlines with “part 1,” “part 2,” and so on, and allude to the other posts in the body of each article. Knowing there’s an ongoing series will keep your readers hungry for new material—your material, specifically.

    These strategies are neither intensive nor complicated, so don’t waste any time in applying them to your existing content strategy. The sooner you can start building customer loyalty, the more time you’ll have to reap the benefits, and the more those benefits will compound. Be sure to revisit your content strategy on a recurring basis to evaluate it in terms of its impact as well as its adherence to your brand standards—you will have to make occasional adjustments to keep things fresh

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

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