Social Media “Experts”: Please stop ruining social media.

It begins so seductively…“GAIN NEW FOLLOWERS AND DRIVE TRAFFIC TODAY!” (OK, that may not be seductive to everyone, but when you’re a small business or startup looking for exactly those things, it’s terribly seductive). So, you browse their profile, and “Holy crap, this dude/dudette has over a million followers, it must be legit!” And suddenly, you’re sucked in. You’re putting your name in the social media equivalent of chain letters, and employing terribly hacky methods attempting to artificially inflate your growth. Hey, it worked for the guru, it must work for you too! And at first, it does!

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SEO is NOT Marketing: It’s time we dispelled some myths about website traffic

I hear from clients all the time that they’re looking for other ways to improve their SEO, and that’s a laudable goal. However, in many instances, the question they’re actually asking is “How do I improve the traffic to my site?”. While making sure that your site conforms to the appropriate schema and markup for search engines is definitely a necessity, SEO is not in itself a traffic funnel. It’s a crucial aspect of your site’s overall marketing strategy, but with fifty thousand other sites in your space all optimizing their SEO as well, clearly there can only be so many winners, and so many ways to divide the eyeballs. At the end of the day, your web marketing strategy has to be comprehensive to stand out from the crowd.

With that in mind, let’s examine some myths about SEO, and shed a little light on them:

Continue reading SEO is NOT Marketing: It’s time we dispelled some myths about website traffic

The latest Google search algorithm updates that matter to you.

If you follow any of Google’s blogs, you know that they’re very much about full disclosure when it comes to changes to their search algorithm. Between August and September this year, they completed 65 adjustments to their Penguin and Panda algos that fine tuned many of those functions. Here are five changes that will be of particular interest to the average website owner:

1. Imadex. [project “Freshness”] This change updated handling of stale content and applies a more granular function based on document age.

Google has strongly weighted relevance based on freshness, and this change further enhances that. Your content will be strongest when it is fresh, and your overall site is judged on how often you put out fresh content.

2. nearby. [project “User Context”] We improved the precision and coverage of our system to help you find more relevant local web results. Now we’re better able to identify web results that are local to the user, and rank them appropriately.

Google has provided a substantial number of tools to identify yourself as a local business, with local relevance. From the integration of Google Local and Places to the addition of authorship verification, they want to know where your business is, and they’re enhancing their local contextualization in search results.

3. #83901. [project “Synonyms”] This change improved the use of synonyms for search terms to more often return results that are relevant to the user’s intention.

While keyword stuffing will risk the wrath of the Penguin, the English language is rich with synonyms, and Google is looking for all of them. Don’t repeat yourself in your content; say the same thing in different ways.

4. #83613. [project “Universal Search”] This change added the ability to show a more appropriately sized video thumbnail on mobile when the user clearly expresses intent for a video and #83406. [project “Query Understanding”] We improved our ability to show relevant Universal Search results by better understanding when a search has strong image intent, local intent, video intent, etc.

Google has always shown a strong preference for original video content, and their Query Understanding project is about determining a user’s intent with regard to content type. The new enhancements do a better job at predicting when a user is looking for multimedia content, and includes improvements to how video content is displayed as part of Universal Search.

5. Improvements to the Knowledge Graph

Google launched their Knowledge Graph project back in May, and made a substantial number of improvements in the last couple of months, including adding lists and collections, and an improved carousel display. Larry Page’s mission with the Knowledge Graph is to build the search engine of the future, which is capable of returning relevant results from all public and private data you have access to. Some of the new features present a radical change to search which is much more driven by social context and shared user experiences. A search for “fun things to do in Denver” pull not only traditional web results, but also social media created results relevant to the search, and presents them in a rich way.

There’s a reason that Google owns the lion’s share of the search market, and their constant forward looking approach to development will only increase their importance to website owners. Make sure you’re following their official blogs to stay on top of opportunities to improve your results with early adoption of upcoming search tech.

SEO silliness for fun and profit

This post doesn’t have anything at all to do with hot chocolate recipes. Nor does it cover Quickbooks tax secrets or Hulk Hogan’s sex tape. However, at some point in time, some person who has searched for one of those things is going be reading this and wondering how they got here.

It’s a remarkable fact that while Google’s algorithms are smart enough to determine relevancy, and skew the odds against cheating, they still don’t have Turing like contextual awareness, and because of this, your content can end up linked in some surprising searches, simply because of a one off line or creative metaphor. While the odds of this being quality traffic that leads to a sale is pretty low, there’s a long tail effect to getting a greater amount of traffic just for traffic’s sake, because it ups the odds that one of those folks will be an interested party.

I learned about this unexpected effect when I was running a web magazine a couple years back. I had included a quote in a parody article from a made up Finnish ambassador, and closed out his quote by noting a Finnish dish: “…and try our delicious Kaalikääryleet!” Within a couple of days, I had a spike in traffic from Scandinavia, as people who were searching for recipes found the humorous post, and many of them commented or Liked it.

I started playing with including strange or unique phrases that didn’t seem to have a whole lot of search results, just to see if I could divert some traffic, and sure enough, it worked. Who knew that so many folks actually searched for “french fried pickle jam”?

That’s not to suggest that one should go about filling up a post with hackneyed phrases in bold; Google’s Penguin is getting pretty darn smart about what over optimization looks like, and, your readers will have a near zero percent conversion rate on pages that are so SEO stoked that it affects usability. It IS to suggest that your ongoing content should include liberal use of literary devices (what’s a metaphor for, anyways?), and if you have the ability to include a reference (even off-handed) to a current topical event, then do so. It’s a fun exercise, it brightens up your post, and it might just have a huge effect on your overall traffic.

 

OSEO Boot Camp, pt. 6: The Wrap-up.

This week, I’ll be doing a six part series on Organic SEO, and how to apply best practices to your web content. Read part 1part 2part 3,  part 4, part 5 and part 6.

I have a confession to make. Over the course of this series, I’ve taken you far away from the traditional definition of “Organic SEO”, and into something much more accurately defined as creating an organic user experience; an engaging and interactive environment which garners good search engine placement because it meets the user need, and accurately identifies that to the search engines. I’ve guided you down a path where you create not just a website, but a vibrant online personality for your brand, that both speaks and listens to its users. I did so because I believe when you make delivering value to your users your first priority, you naturally deliver better on the core Google values than you would if you simply focused on SEO. Doing so results in more people spreading your link because it is the relevant answer, which results in higher PageRank.

It took remarkably little searching to find this image on Google.Whether your brand is revolutionizing software interfaces as we know them, or providing custom clothing accessories for mid-sized rodents, it will benefit from a user focused approach to your web content and marketing. THIS is true organic marketing. If you want to convert those visits to sales, they have to have come there because your site was the right answer. Optimizing your site for search engines is not enough; you have to optimize your strategy.

I hope you’ve enjoyed and learned from the series, and please feel free to post any questions to the comments!

OSEO Boot Camp, pt. 5: Speed

This week, I’ll be doing a six part series on Organic SEO, and how to apply best practices to your web content. Read part 1part 2part 3,  part 4part 5 and part 6.

Today’s post is about your website speed. Ironically, it’s being posted two days late. Although I enjoy posting here, and hope that you find these posts helpful and instructive, my first priority is always as the web guy, and duty called. Now that the fires have been put out, let’s get back to making sure your site gets the traffic you need to grow your business.

As one of their four core values, Google practices what they preach by making sure their service runs at lightning speed. When you search for something, your results are near instantaneous. Their recommendation to you to do the same should be taken to heart:

“Speeding up websites is important — not just to site owners, but to all Internet users. Faster sites create happy users and we’ve seen in our internal studies that when a site responds slowly, visitors spend less time there. But faster sites don’t just improve user experience; recent data shows that improving site speed also reduces operating costs. Like us, our users place a lot of value in speed — that’s why we’ve decided to take site speed into account in our search rankings. We use a variety of sources to determine the speed of a site relative to other sites.”

Your website needs more hare, less tortoise.Understanding how Google values your site response time, open your web site, and use a stop watch to time each page load. If that number goes over 5, your site is losing both visitors and PageRank.

So, how do we get our load time down? Let’s start with the basics:

1. Optimize your images.

Photos, as a rule, should be in jpeg format, and unless there is a prevailing need for high resolution, should be compressed to ‘High’ (60%) quality. Non-photo graphics should generally be saved as pngs or gifs. Make sure that empty space around the image has been cropped, and that you have sized the image to the dimensions you want it to appear on screen. Many web content systems, including WordPress and Zen-Cart, create thumbnail or preview images by loading the full size photo, and displaying it with a width setting which makes it appear smaller. This slows your load time, so make sure you have already correctly sized your images before uploading.

2. Forget the Flash.

This is not a greater statement about whether Flash is a good method for providing rich content for your site visitors. I love to see a well designed and executed Flash site, since they can be very entertaining. I am saying, however, that Flash is not for you.

The uncomfortable fact is, 99% of sites using Flash do it wrong. They have lengthy Flash intros that delay users from getting to the content they need, including making them sit through loading screens. They encapsulate all the site content into a single Flash file, which looks pretty, but slows the delivery of the actual site value users are looking for, and hides its content from the search engines. Flash is generally inaccessible to mobile devices (Android has a slow and buggy implementation of Flash, and Apple famously rejects it entirely), so you are unnecessarily immediately cutting out a large chunk of internet visits. From start to finish, incorporating Flash in your website is almost guaranteed to have exactly the opposite effect you were looking for; it will hamper both your site usage and your search engine placement. Unless your site is a non-commercial art site which specifically requires Flash to execute some advanced artistic function, leave it out.

3. Streamline your landing pages.

With the prevalence of web widgets, it’s easy to place related content in your site sidebars, and there is a tendency to try to fit it all in on every page. Embedded tweets, Facebook posts, revolving galleries, book lists, recent links, recent comments, recent posts, recent bowel movements…while this level of available functions works (arguably) well for social networking and other community type sites, it is overwhelming and counterproductive to marketing driven pages, and creates a substantial and unneeded lag to your page loads.

Compare the overwhelming visual clutter of the landing page for HandMadeCraftShow.com (and the associated load time…I have it at about 10-12 seconds), with the clean and fast landing page of CupidsBowBook.com (which loads in just a couple of seconds, even including the non-recommended Flash!).

It’s a common mistake of new webmasters to try and wedge everything into the front page, but stop and consider all of the elements you’re including, and if they’re really necessary. The old adage “less is more” is particularly true when it comes to load times on your site page. If providing real time embedded social media updates is slowing your page load time down, all the work you’ve done to make that page a relevant response to your visitors’ needs are for nothing.

4. Break it up, already!

If you have a personal blog with a faithful readership, by all means, have all of your posts appear in their entirety on the front page of your site. However, if you’re a commercial enterprise, a leading paragraph with an interesting and inviting title and a ‘Read more’ link is all that needs to appear. Your goal is to entice the visitors to explore, not to hit them over the head with every bit of content you can slam them with the second they get to your site. MarketitWrite has this to say about your marketing text:

  • The role of the headline is to encourage the recipient to read the lead paragraph.
  • The goal of the lead paragraph? To invite the recipient to read the next paragraph.

If your landing page covers more than one topic, you don’t need to include more than a catchy headline and a well written paragraph for each topic introducing the content, and enticing the reader to click through for more. In fact, this simple change in approach not only decreases your load time, it begins the sales process by encouraging a “yes action” on the part of the visitor. Click for more info, click to customize, click to buy.

With speed, as with the other three points we’ve covered, the best practice approach is double sided; it not only enhances your search engine placement, it delivers a better user experience on your site, which leads to a feedback circle driving even BETTER search engine placement. If your site makes your users wait, unless you’re Reddit, don’t expect them to stick around until the hourglass disappears.

Check back tomorrow for our Boot Camp wrap up, and some Q&A with your questions and comments! Feel free to add your questions by commenting below.

OSEO Boot Camp, pt. 4: Freshness

This week, I’ll be doing a six part series on Organic SEO, and how to apply best practices to your web content. Read part 1part 2part 3,  part 4part 5 and part 6.

Now that we’re beginning the second half of our boot camp, let’s review what we’ve learned so far:

  • Organic SEO means achieving your search engine placement by providing relevant content instead of paying for sponsored links or third party SEO services.
  • Keywords are not as important as search contexts, and you should incorporate as many of those contexts as possible in your site.
  • Greater relevance is achieved by having a growth plan for your site based on dynamic content, and slowly building your site to include thousands of possible search contexts.

See that “slowly” in the third point up there? There’s a reason for that. Today we talk about the importance of Freshness in your site, and how it can literally mean the difference between life or death for your online presence.

Bakery bread. See, cuz it's "fresh" baked, get it? "Fresh". OK, sorry, you got it, right.The single greatest appeal of online content is not the vast collections of cataloged data, although many appreciate those resources.  It’s one word: “New“. New email, new tweets, new Facebook posts, new blog posts, new NEWS! The more the medium matures, the more it is organizing into a system by which new data is created, filtered and delivered based on the user interest, as opposed to simply a library of virtual books. Web users don’t open a browser everyday and begin re-reading your clever marketing copy; they open social networking and social news sites, and peruse aggregated lists of linked information sorted by either friend network (Facebook), or topic and popularity (Reddit, StumbleUpon).

Given how people actually use the internet, it’s difficult at BEST to achieve online relevance with a static catalog or reference book gathering dust in that virtual library. Your content is not going to be continually linked and spread if it’s already been seen, which leads to a peak of traffic, and then stagnation. Except for compulsive hoarders, not many people are going to keep flipping through that 1952 Sears and Roebuck catalog.

So, we understand now that Freshness is key when building a robust online presence. How, then do we come up with “fresh” content all the time, to  keep our relevance high? Fortunately for you, you built a Comprehensiveness plan in the last section.

Pictured: Fresh dance moves. Also pictured: NOT fresh clothing.Remember when I said having that plan would help you maintain Freshness? Now is when that comes into play. You should have a large list of search contexts that you need to incorporate in your site. Your freshness goal is to update a minimum of 2-3 times per week, so pace yourself as you work through your list. That update doesn’t have to be anything more than a new photo, a new product, a blog post, a new topic in your forum, or the addition of any kind of informational page.  Each time you do, recompile your XML sitemap, and notify Google.

What? You don’t have an XML sitemap, and don’t know how to notify Google? Read this immediately. All of your efforts to create fresh content are for naught if the search engines aren’t getting notified every time you update.

Divide your context list into items which are date sensitive (promotional events, scheduled product releases or revisions, company announcements) with items that are not (general informational content, how to guides, history, etc.). At any point in time, you can create large chunks of the non-date sensitive content, and break it up into reasonable pieces to be published over time. Remember: Division is NOT Addition. Don’t turn what should be a single post on a topic into ten pages of one paragraph each. No one likes excessive pagination. (No one likes excessive perspiration either, which coincidentally, is not fresh).

Now you have filler content, which can be disseminated over time (according to your freshness goals) on the days or weeks you don’t have date sensitive content. You consistently have fresh fodder for the social media platforms, and your sitemap freshness rating (“changefreq“) is legitimately high (e.g. “hourly”, “daily”, or “weekly”). All of these factors will contribute to an overall Freshness which will be reflected in your search engine positioning.

In summary:

  • Use your Comprehensiveness plan to figure out content that can be created in bulk, and disseminated over time.
  • Aim for 2-3 site updates per week, minimum.
  • Use Google’s Webmaster Tools and an XML sitemap to report those updates every time you publish.

Remember, Google places a lot of weight in measuring relevance on third parties linking to your site content. By making site freshness a priority, you create frequent opportunities for that to happen in a consistent way over time, resulting in a naturally stronger PageRank. You also feed your users’ insatiable hunger for “New”.