The Big Top: A New Model for SEO-Driven Content

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For over a decade now, the fundamental unit of content marketing has been the blog post. Your post may be a block of text, an infographic, or a listicle about memes, but the underlying structure is the same. A regular cadence of posts to the company blog is the foundation of most content marketing strategies.

The problem is, each individual blog post has only a small window of effectiveness for SEO. A post might go viral, get hundreds of shares, and then sit in your archives for eternity. Identifying and promoting evergreen content can get more mileage out of a good post. But by nature and design, these posts aren’t built to be an enduring SEO resource. Think about it: When was the last time you clicked through on a blog post that was over a year old?

That’s not to say you should stop blogging altogether, of course. Blogs generate subscribers, help promote gated assets, contribute to thought leadership—all worthwhile goals for content marketers. But as SEO continues to evolve, it’s time for new models of SEO-driven content.

At TopRank Marketing, we’ve been working on a new way to integrate SEO and content to build longer-lasting, more valuable resources. Essentially, it’s reverse-engineering evergreen content, purposefully building well-supported “tentpole” content with SEO baked in.

Here’s how to design a content strategy I’m calling the “Big Top” model.

#1: Create Your Tentpole(s)

The tentpole content is the big asset that the rest of your strategy will be supporting. It should be a comprehensive take on a single topic relevant to your business and your audience, one with plenty of opportunities to crosslink with supporting content.

Research topics and keywords for your tentpole the way you would any best answer content: listen to customers, evaluate competing content, and use tools like Bloomberry and UberSuggest.

What will make your content into a tentpole instead of a blog post are a few distinguishing features:

  • A tentpole should be between 1500 and 3000 words.
  • Your tentpole will cover multiple aspects of your topic, divided into 250-300 word sections, each section based on long-tail keywords.
  • This last one is key. Your tentpole will not live on your blog. It should have a permanent place of pride, preferably not more than two clicks deep into your site, with a short URL. A “Resources” section is the ideal place.

You can break up the sections in your tentpole with eye-catching visuals, embedded SlideShare or video content, even CTAs to gated content.

Your tentpole is a prime location or influencer engagement as well. Curate quotes from influencers to highlight in the text—or, better yet, reach out to influencers to co-create and cross-promote the content.

Here’s a good example of a tentpole piece our client LinkedIn Marketing Solutions published earlier this year: How to Advertise on LinkedIn. Notice it’s not a post on their blog; it’s a standalone resource. This piece is currently ranking at the top of the SERP for “How to advertise on LinkedIn.”

You don’t have to limit your strategy to a single tentpole, either. If you have multiple topics that you can cover in depth and at length, create a pole for each one.

#2: Create Your Stakes

Your “stakes” are blog posts that will connect to the tentpole, driving traffic to it from your blog and boosting the blog’s SEO as well. There are several ways to create a supporting stake:

  • Take one 200-300 word section and expand it with supplemental material to 750 words or so, as the content requires
  • Cover a related topic that naturally links to your tentpole
  • Create an announcement post for the tentpole launch
  • Do an influencer roundup on a topic related to your tentpole

Each stake should have a CTA to the tentpole. If you have anchor links for navigation, as in our example above, you can also link to specific subsections that are relevant to the post.

#3: Connect Your Guylines

Guylines connect the stakes to the tentpole, providing stability and structure. In content terms, that means creating links from your supporting content to the tentpole and vice versa. The goal is to create a destination that users can explore, following their interest through multiple pieces of content, back and forth from the pole. This kind of structuring provides value for your readers, and increases positive search engine signals like time-on-site and session length.

As you develop more tentpoles, look for opportunities to link them together. Make sure each link is a logical next step for your reader. Over time, your “content big top” can become a full-fledged three-ring circus.

#4: Say, “Come One! Come All!”

Support your tentpole launch with all the amplifying force you have:

  • Use stats or quotes to make social media ads
  • Publish excerpts (or one of your stakes in its entirety) on sites like LinkedIn and Medium
  • Encourage influencer amplification
  • Seek out guest posting opportunities

These promotional efforts will build on your tentpole’s native SEO value, giving it some momentum that will help build external links and bring in organic results.

Make Your Content the Greatest Show on Earth

The Ringling Brothers have put up their big top for the last time, but your big top content can last for years to come. Just remember to keep it relevant; plan for regular updates and revisions (which are a great opportunity to re-promote the content).

The humble blog post is still a fundamental unit of content marketing. But when you supplement the blog with SEO-optimized tentpole content, the results can be… in tents.

Want to learn more about best answer content? Check out these 6 inspiring examples.


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June 8th 2017 SEO

6 Ways Nonprofits Should Be Using SEO

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by Jayson DeMers

Nonprofit organizations need to raise awareness of their brands just like ordinary corporations, but they face unique challenges in the marketing world. For example, nonprofits rely on donations to keep their organizations alive, and that often creates a catch-22: relying on donations limits the budget, which means you’ll have less available to fund your marketing strategies, but without marketing strategies in place, you’ll have a harder time getting those donations.

It may also be difficult to recruit volunteers, or put together a cohesive brand “voice” that summarizes the mission of the organization while characterizing it for the purposes of raising brand awareness.

How Nonprofits Can Take Advantage of SEO

Fortunately, SEO is a good fit for nonprofits as a cost-efficient, scalable way to reach almost any target audience. If you’re working for a nonprofit and you’re trying to build a search presence, use these tips and strategies to get an edge:

1. Recruit volunteers to write content for your site.

Arguably, the most important ingredient in any SEO campaign is a wealth of high-quality, diversified content. But you’re so busy and short-staffed, it’s nearly impossible to find time to write all the posts you want. Instead of trying to do everything yourself, rely on volunteer authors to populate your blog on your behalf. Recruiting guest authors is easier than most people think–even for for-profit industries–so it shouldn’t be hard to find a handful of people passionate about your cause who also want to establish themselves as online authorities.

2. Reach out to companies for linking opportunities.

Companies usually like the idea of associating themselves with nonprofits. It’s a way to give back to the community and engage in corporate social responsibility, and it also makes them look good to their customers. Reach out to businesses in your area, and ask if they’d be interested in partnering with you; you could ask for donations of money, supplies, or even just visibility opportunities. In any case, the partnership, no matter how small, will serve as an excuse for your sites to link to each other. You should be able to generate significant authority by attracting these links.

3. Boost blog posts through social syndication.

Your blog posts aren’t going to generate attention all on their own; you need some kind of catalyzing action to attract more eyes to your work. The best way for nonprofits to do this is through social syndication, and potentially boosted social media posts. Connect with as many people as you can, and distribute your work regularly to make sure it gets in front of as many people as possible.

4. Rely on original research.

As a nonprofit, there’s likely one cause at the center of your organization; for example, you might be trying to provide resources to local families, or raise awareness and research funds for a specific disease. In any case, one of the best ways to convince new donors is by illustrating the problem you’re trying to solve with numbers. Incidentally, that’s also one of the best ways to create original content. Do as much original research as you can on the problem you’re trying to solve, and weave your findings into your best blog posts, whitepapers, and eBooks.

5. Take images and videos of your nonprofit in action.

You can also motivate more people to follow and engage with your brand by including more images and video of your organization in action, both in your regular content and throughout your social media presence. This helps people understand what it is you do, and humanizes your brand. It also encourages the individuals in those pictures to take action by sharing it further with their social circles.

6. Take advantage of social influencers.

Finally, take advantage of the potential of social media influencers, who are already connected to tens of thousands of followers (or more). The idea here is to work with influencers on collaborative content, or through one-off engagements, and get your nonprofit exposed to an enormous new swath of followers, who can then share and link to your best content. Because influencers want to be seen as benefitting good causes, they’ll be more likely to work with you.

Getting Started

With these strategies in place, even nonprofit organizations with strictly limited budgets can achieve growth in SEO. The trick is to get started with enough momentum to generate early results; SEO is a long-term strategy, and it can sometimes take months before your tactics start paying off.

Obviously, you’ll need to invest in it as a long-term strategy, but early boosts from influencers and linking partners can help you get the early momentum you need to establish your web presence. Just make sure you have a strong homepage–with convincing calls-to-action–to make all that inbound traffic worth it.

Be sure and visit our small business news site.

How Social Media Marketing Improves Your Google Rank

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In boosting your search engine ranking, it’s almost criminal to exclude social media marketing, especially given its pervasive presence online.

Last year, nearly 70% of people worldwide used social media in one form or another. Also in 2016, 2.34 billion people had a social media presence, and stats predict that this will increase to 2.67 billion by next year.

Number of social media users worldwide from 2010 to 2020 (in billions)

It’s not clear how Google really gauges social media when it comes to ranking websites. That’s understandable, considering the search engine has always been very secretive about its algorithms. What’s clear at this point, however, is that social media does help in driving traffic to your site, albeit indirectly.

The correlation can be found in the top ranking websites, which also have very strong social media signals. So even if Google says that social media shares don’t really count as one link, a large volume should account for something.

Below are just some of the ways social media marketing can boost rankings:

Cultivates Relationships With Customers

Social media provides an easy platform where businesses can directly interact with their customers. More than superficial interaction, it actually allows you to develop a relationship with your clientele. Successful use of social media even gives the power to the consumers to dictate how product value is offered. It’s not just about numbers, but rather making them feel that they have a stake in the company. Cultivating your customers through social media will drive more traffic to your site, resulting in a better ranking on Google.

Links to Your Website

The main purpose of social media is to raise awareness of your product or service. The main goal of Google, meanwhile, is to give the most relevant result when users submit a query. Posting your web address on your social media page—and asking your customers to share it—will also drive traffic to your website.

Businesses are always trying to figure out where their customers are, especially if their websites fail to get traffic even when they have existed for quite some time. Social media offers a ready customer base, with its almost three billion population. The trick is how to harness it.

Means to an End

You should keep in mind that social media is just a means to an end, as Google doesn’t really recognize any of it in its search engine results page (SERP). Knowing this, it’s important for you to make great content that can possibly go viral. YouTube, in fact, has become the battleground for marketers to create the next viral video. It may not directly lead traffic to your website, but it does make for perfect brand recall. Of course, knowing the attention span of Millennials, you’ll need to routinely churn out great content to be effective.

In sum, just remember these simple steps to boost your Google rank with social media.

  • First, create an account on social media—particularly the big four of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube—which can help drive traffic to your website.
  • Second, fill your social media account with great content, with proper search engine optimization techniques, to make sure Google crawls through the page and indexes it in their search engine results page.
  • Third, make sure that the viewers or readers can see the share button to make it easy for them to post your content on their own social media accounts. Afterward, just wash, rinse, and repeat.

Customers, however, are not as keen to forgive on social media, as compared to websites, when the company fails to respond immediately. As such, it’s best to appoint an administrator tasked to respond to queries or complaints on your social media page so your customers walk away happy. This increases the chances of visitors recommending your business to their families and friends.

The post How Social Media Marketing Improves Your Google Rank appeared first on WebProNews.

June 8th 2017 SEO, Social Media

Q&A: TopRank Marketing’s SEO Experts Share Tips for Creating Better Content

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As a member of TopRank Marketing’s (epic) content team, it’s certainly no surprise that I spend much of my day developing and executing content strategies for the wide array of client programs I work on.

And as I settle in for a content extravaganza each day, my work is guided by an important agency principle: Create content that allows our clients to be the best answer for their audience.

Lucky for me—and perhaps unlucky for them—my work station is strategically placed within staring and shouting distance of every one of our SEO experts. As seasoned marketers know, quality and strategic SEO is absolutely key to crafting content that helps you satisfy your audience’s quest for answers. So, I’m often picking the brains of my neighbors to help me create content that will get results.

Today, I summoned insights  from three members of our SEO team to share with you. Below you’ll find some helpful tips and insights for better leveraging SEO within your content planning and creation efforts.

What does the “perfect balance” between SEO and user experience look like?

User experience should have the “perfect balance” of SEO without anyone realizing that it’s been optimized already. The SEO aspect of content or user experience should be baked into the process early so that the optimization is as natural as possible.

The Takeaway: Make SEO an intricate part of your content planning and creation process, rather than an afterthought.

Kevin Cotch, SEO Analyst

 

How can marketers leverage existing content to take advantage of SEO opportunities?

I have two favorite ways to use existing content to take advantage of SEO opportunities. The first one is to look for evergreen content that doesn’t really move KPIs. For example, I love to find a blog post that drives thousands of visits and doesn’t really drive many leads. Chances are that post does a great job answering a searcher’s question and that’s why it is receiving loads of organic traffic. I like to try and figure out what question the searcher will ask next. Once you’ve figured that out you can add a call to action that offers an opt in to an email campaign or offer the visitor a downloadable asset.

You can also leverage existing content by identifying what Google doesn’t like. Many companies have multiple blog posts about ancient holiday parties, volunteer events, etc. Google will spend time and resources adding that content to their index and then never let it see the light of day. I like to look for pages and posts that are indexable and don’t receive organic traffic. Then I do one of two things. I either tell Google to ignore it or I try to improve the content so it is of value to searchers.

The Takeaway: Your work doesn’t end when your content is published. Take the time to analyze how your content is performing, and take advantage of opportunities to make it better for the user and search engines.

Steve Slater, Digital Advertising & SEO Manager

What are some key characteristics of “good” SEO content?

Overall, I think that the most important factors that make a piece of content good for SEO (i.e. robots) are the same as those that make content good for users (i.e. humans).

The best content:

  • Is targeted towards a specific niche
  • Is built upon an understanding of which questions and pain points are relevant to said niche
  • Delivers value to readers by answering questions or helping to address pain points

The Takeaway: When you understand what your audience is searching for you can create amazing content that delivers value to people and search engines.

Evan Prokop, Senior Analytics Manager

 

Bonus: What’s one of the quickest ways to evaluate a piece of content’s SEO value or opportunities?

Kevin: One of the quickest ways to evaluate a piece of content’s SEO value or opportunities would be seeing how many organic conversions it drives. Organic conversions can range from actual purchases to subscribing to an email list. Marketers should put less emphasis on keyword rankings for SEO value as there are more than just one keyword that drives people (organically) to a website or conversion.

Steve: One of the quickest ways to evaluate a piece of content’s SEO value is to look at the Organic Landing Page report in Google Analytics. This report tells you the pages that searchers land on right after they see search results. This means that the pages in this report are the pages that come up in search results. When you are looking through this report you can identify pages that drive conversions and you can also identify pages that drive searchers back to Google to look for a better answer.

Evan: Put yourself in your reader’s shoes by doing a search using a phrase that you think your content is most relevant for (i.e. should rank for) and honestly ask yourself, or a friend, if it delivers a satisfying answer to what you searched for. If it doesn’t for you, you can bet it won’t for your readers either.

Next, compare your content to what’s already ranking. Is your title at least as compelling as the competition? Are you covering the topic as well? Does the page load fast and look nice on either desktop or mobile? If the answer to any of these questions is no, there’s your opportunity.

What are your burning SEO and content questions? Ask them in the comments section below.


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June 1st 2017 SEO

How to Onboard Your Selected Search Agency [Checklist]

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How to Onboard Your Selected Search Agency [Checklist] was originally published on BruceClay.com, home of expert search engine optimization tips.

Whether for the first time or the tenth, reducing the ramp up period when onboarding a new SEO agency is going to save you time and money. Plus, an effective onboard process lays the path to a productive partnership.

There are two parts to effectively onboarding a selected new agency:

1. Educating your agency about your business, and
2. Understanding their process, workflow and digital strategy for your business.

Here you’ll find a checklist and expanded description of the checklist items for both steps.

Search Agency Onboarding Checklist

1. Educating Your New Agency

At my agency, we use a new-client questionnaire to build a brand brief for each of our clients. Whether you or your agency compiles the brief, the end product should provide clear answers on your audience, marketplace, competitors, marketing strategy and history, unique differentiators, and success metrics.

To work well together, you and the agency need to get to know one another. You’ll want to share how you work and learn everything you can about your new agency’s processes. Even before your first meeting, put together a brand brief about your business to give to your agency.

Here’s your checklist for educating your new agency about your business:

✓ Company overview
✓ Value proposition
✓ Competition and positioning
✓ Goals and KPIs for digital marketing
Analytics setup and KPI tracking
✓ Website hosting and CMS
✓ History of marketing campaign service providers
✓ Audience
✓ Brand voice and messaging
✓ Writing style and tone
✓ Types of content
✓ Any other context

Company overview: Along the way from interviewing the prospective agency to inking the deal, you’ve given the 30-second elevator pitch of your business to people at your new agency, for example, their sales team. This brief introduction is a great way to assure communication of your company’s background to your new agency’s operations team.

Value proposition: What sets you apart from anyone else in your industry selling a similar product or service? What values do your customers hold when they align themselves with your business?

Competition and positioning: Who are your main competitors that court the same audience as you do? How do you position yourself as distinct within your industry?

Goals and KPIs for your digital marketing: What concrete and defined goals would you like accomplished through your SEO and digital marketing activities? What will you use to measure project success?

Analytics setup and KPI tracking: What analytics software is in place to track the accomplishment of your goals and KPIs? What formal conversions and microconversions are being tracked in your analytics setup?

Website hosting and CMS: How and where are your website hosted and content managed? Will your SEO agency have access to the system?

History of marketing campaign service providers: Who have you worked with before — agencies and vendors — for content, SEO, SEM, web development, design and other digital marketing work? Can you summarize the projects and what worked and didn’t work about them? Be sure to explain if you’ve ever suffered a traffic loss.

Audience: Describe everything you know about your customers — demographics, what they value, what they need and want. Of course there could be a few different types of customers to talk about.

Brand and messaging: What exercises have you performed to clearly state what your brand stands for, and what voice and messaging do you use to convey it in graphics and text?

Writing style and tone: Speak to humor, authority, stories, complexity of language — what guidelines can you convey to your SEO agency that communicate the tone of the brand? Inform them of any words that are taboo.

Types of content: What do you want your agency to know about the content you’ve created in the past? What do you want them to understand about competitors’ content you’d like to either emulate or avoid?

Any other context: If there’s anything else of note to convey to your agency, this is the place to include it.

2. Understanding Process, Workflow and Strategy

Step 2 of onboarding a new agency is finding out their process and workflow in order to create an expectation for receiving deliverables and responses for requests. You’ll need to get a concrete outline of the search strategy they will be using for your site.

Soon after selection of your agency, you want to become familiar with the inner workings and processes of the analysts and others assigned to your production team. Expand your knowledge of the selected agency beyond the salespeople you’ve been speaking to up till now.

Here’s your checklist for understanding the agency’s process, workflow and strategy that will be driving your search campaigns.

✓ What is the timeline of deliverables?
✓ How often is the project plan updated?
✓ How often will they be in communication?
✓ What processes do they have for editing your website?
✓ What schedules and forms do they have for reviewing new content and design changes?
✓ How do their capabilities for implementing recommendations align with your needs?
✓ What commitment to service do they make?
✓ Is your SEO a senior or a junior analyst?

What is the timeline of deliverables? When can you expect to see the project plan, have scheduled calls, and receive audits and reports? Do they run in sprints? You want to understand their tactical scheduling.

How often is the project plan updated? As a living and evolving document, at what interval will the project plan be updated? This is strategic in nature and will be key to accomplishing your project goals and KPIs.

How often will they be in communication? What is the communication cadence of your agency team members? How often can you expect to hear from them? How quickly can you expect to get responses from them when needed? Is there a dedicated point of contact for your project?

What processes do they have for editing your website? Do they work through your staff to avoid errors? By a similar turn, what do their processes look like for evaluating links, server performance and other SEO levers?

What schedules and forms do they have for reviewing new content and design changes? In what format can you expect to receive new content or site edits? How are recommended changes tracked as the document passes hands?

How do their capabilities for implementing recommendations align with your needs? Who and what is available to provide labor and resources regarding education, mentoring, development, content and so on?

What commitment to service do they make? What assurances do they give about your dedicated staff and about meeting your KPIs?

Is your SEO a senior or a junior analyst? How many years of experience do members of your team have? As a point of context, Malcolm Gladwell famously said it takes ten thousand hours of practice to become an expert.

Keys to a Good Partnership

It’s been said before, but the key to a lasting relationship is communication. Ensure you’re communicating with your partner and they with you, and come prepared to do the work to see the gains you want.

Other resources:


We can help your team as an invested partner in your SEO success. Our services are tailor-made to match your goals and audience. For results-driven digital marketing, let’s talk.

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May 24th 2017 SEO

DIY SEO for Time-Poor Business Owners

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No business owner has the time to do a lot of SEO, but you can delegate the SEO basics to an employee or freelancer. Even doing basic SEO tasks can make a difference to what page of Google’s results you appear on.  Take control and prioritize.

Your Top Priorities

  • SEO Basics
  • Content
  • UX
  • Links
  • Promotion

DIY SEO comes down to proper site management, fresh content and making your site attractive to users.

SEO Basics

SEO is too important to leave to chance. Neil Patel puts it very clearly in his SEO guide,

“If you ever need to hide a dead body, you should place it on the second page of Google search results.”

You MUST do everything in your power to improve your search engine results pages (SERPS) ranking, or no-one is going to find you.

Good site management is a part of SEO that can be outsourced, or delegated to a trusted employee. This SEO Chat article runs you through the basics of SEO and can form the basis of your employees’ training.

The most time-consuming aspect is keyword research using the free Google Adwords tool, but even this is not a task you need to do yourself. With basic training and the right tools, your content team can identify keyword phrases to target.

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Installing the free Yoast SEO plugin on your blog will ensure writers’ awareness of the importance of correct keyword density.

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Yoast also checks for paragraph length, sentence length and other readability factors that will affect your user time-on-page and bounce rate statistics.

Content

Yeah, yeah. We all know content is king, but it takes time!

There is no way to avoid it. Regular fresh and insightful content is part of what will rank your site higher in search engine results pages (SERPS). There will be nobody else who understands your business as well as you, but you need to change that. If you don’t educate writers into how your business works, you will be stuck writing everything yourself, other important tasks will crop up, and the writing won’t happen.

Even the best writer works better with input from you regarding your services and clients.

Take the time to explain your business and how it works to your content production team. Educate your writers about your customer persona, his needs and how your company solves them. Make your business values clear, have a content production plan and feed your writers plenty of ideas for articles.

User Experience (UX)

The most important person in your organization is imaginary. Your customer persona should be writ large in every office, and room in your premises. Use an image of this imaginary persona as a screensaver on all your computers, put posters featuring his image on the backs of all the doors ion the washrooms and in the staff canteen.

If your users dislike your website, you are doomed.

Your site has to look good, use colors users like and that will elicit the emotions related to your business objectives. Minimize clutter, maximize contrast and ensure everything shown on a page is the optimum size, color, and shape. Negative space is every bit as valuable as page components, so avoid trying to do too much on any one web page.

Each page should have one purpose and one purpose only. The rationale behind a web page’s existence should be obvious. Navigation through your site should be simple and easy to use, regardless of the screen size someone is using.

Links

Building links to your website is essential, but if you build them in the wrong way, Google will bury you on page 200 of its SERPS.

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Safe link-building activities:

  • Learn what links point to you by installing the free Incoming Links plugin
  • Provide high-quality and insightful resources people in your niche value and will link to without any prompting
  • Build your reputation by sharing everything you know without asking for payment
  • Design infographics that link back to you when others install them on their sites

Promotion

It is well-nigh impossible to do even basic promotion without a large team.

Be selective.

If you only focus on one promotion channel, let it be YouTube.

Forget videos about your business; they won’t show in Google and no-one is interested. But, videos that show how to solve problems are another matter.

Screenshot source

Ryan Stuart from Webris says Youtube video promotion is vital as part of your top-of-funnel marketing and engaging customers.

Your Takeaways

Much SEO can be done in-house using basic training and free WordPress plugins to help inform decisions. You must delegate content production, but feed writers with ideas and company information frequently. Concentrate your social media presence on producing How-To videos on YouTube.

The post DIY SEO for Time-Poor Business Owners appeared first on SEO Chat.

May 22nd 2017 SEO

How to Know If You’re at Risk When Google Switches to a Mobile-First Index (Flowchart)

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How to Know If You’re at Risk When Google Switches to a Mobile-First Index (Flowchart) was originally published on BruceClay.com, home of expert search engine optimization tips.

I’d like to put your minds at ease. Or alert you to an upcoming risk. I guess we’ll see which camp you’re in.

Over the course of the year, Google is going to turn up the dial on its mobile-first index. What’s that? Google is moving toward analyzing and ranking the mobile version of websites and not the desktop version, as they do now.

Exactly when the switch will be 100% is a mystery. Gary Illyes suggested it could be in 2018. Yet we know that Google rolls out algorithm and infrastructure changes gradually and with plenty of testing. We are likely witnessing mobile-first SERPs today to some degree.

With the switch to a mobile-first index, you’ll either be in good shape or you’re going to feel the pain of a major loss in organic search traffic.

As an SEO services company we are busy doing risk assessments for clients, identifying exactly how ready a website is for the mobile-first index.

To help you get a sense of how prepared you are for a Google index that’s focused on the mobile website experience, we created a decision tree to assess a website as low risk or high risk. For a refresher on how to satisfy a mobile searcher, take a look at our SEO Tutorial step on Mobile SEO and UX Optimization.

What does your path to mobile-first index readiness look like? Here’s what we look for when we do a mobile-first readiness analysis of a client’s site.

Google Mobile-First Index SEO Risk Assessment Flowchart

Click image to enlarge. Click this text to view as PDF.

Assessing Your Risk in Google’s Mobile-First Index

This agency signed on to the mission of helping businesses succeed online, but when more and more factors are rapidly changing, our ability to institute timely change diminishes. So we want everyone to know what’s at stake if every action isn’t taken to be mobile-friendly.

If a client’s site does not perform well on a mobile browser, this is a problem. The mobile experience is how we serve connected consumers. If there is any issue, then it’s our job as the SEO expert to discuss this risk with our clients.

If a client has a mobile-friendly site, it’s our job to evaluate if the mobile site contains the same content as served on the desktop. If the content is different, then the client is at risk.

If a client is unable to optimize for site speed or for conversions, or if they are not working on a solution to a mobile-friendly site, then this client should acknowledge the risk of losing rankings.

How do we check if a client site is going to suffer a drop in rankings and traffic when the mobile-first index goes live?

Right at this moment we can look in Google Search Console to compare mobile and desktop rankings. You can too.

How to Compare Your Mobile Rankings and Desktop Rankings in Google Search Console

  1. Go to your site in Google Search Console.
  2. Go to Search Traffic > Search Analytics.
  3. Select “Position” and “Devices”.
  4. Select the filter to compare mobile vs. desktop.
  5. Is your average position for mobile higher or lower than for desktop?

If your average mobile rankings are worse than your average desktop rankings, you’re at risk when the mobile-first index switch occurs.

mobile and desktop ranking comparison in gsc

Click to enlarge.

Calculating the Impact on Your Business

If I could stress three things, consider this.

  1. To be mobile-friendly goes beyond having a responsive website. It’s critical to match the content on the desktop site to the mobile user experience. A mobile-friendly website doesn’t merely mimic the desktop. In fact, a responsive site can have lower conversion rates if the mobile UX isn’t optimized. What value does your mobile experience provide to help the consumer want to do business with you?
  2. If you don’t have a mobile-friendly site, get started on your update now. Some content management systems (CMSes) don’t produce mobile experiences. Do you have a solution in place? What is it? How fast can you implement? You may already be late to the party.
  3. Please understand that “mobile first” relates to the Google index being based upon the mobile displayed content. It does not mean that desktop is dead. There are many reasons that in your business that “desktop first” may apply. For whether or not this applies to you, you may want to consult with an expert mobile SEO agency.

I’m not trying to create fear, but I am hoping to convey a risk.

What else can you do to make sure your business is well positioned when Google flips the switch and turns on its mobile-first index?

People generally understand how much traffic they’re getting from Google in the desktop-focused index environment. Meanwhile, we have no idea how much traffic will be affected after the switch to a mobile-focused index. We want you in the best possible position when the change to a mobile-first index rolls out.

We are convinced that mobile readiness is vital to the future of your business. To help you, we have created a service offering insights into your mobile readiness with our Mobile-First Readiness Report. Ensure your mobile-first SEO strategy is on track with a second pair of expert eyes on your site.

A typical report may include assessment of the following:

  • Mobile friendliness
  • Page speed
  • Content matching
  • Mobile navigation
  • Mobile interstitials
  • Security issues
  • Indexing and robots directives
  • Schema markup

mobile-first readiness report
Order a mobile-first focused audit of your site for just $995 and we’ll have it back to you in about a week.

Or give us a call at 866-517-1900 during business hours Pacific time and our team will be happy to answer any questions you have about the mobile-first index shift and developing your mobile SEO strategy.

May 2nd 2017 SEO

Why Thin Content Still Ranks as a Top SEO Issue to Solve

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Why Thin Content Still Ranks as a Top SEO Issue to Solve was originally published on BruceClay.com, home of expert search engine optimization tips.

It struck me the other day, while I was reviewing a client project with one of our SEO analysts, that the old problem of thin content is still an insidious revenue killer for many websites.

Or put another way, until you have content worth ranking, do not be surprised if you don’t rank well.

By way of example, the client, a B2B lead gen site for industrial parts, is receiving 150% more traffic this year compared to last and getting a record number of inquiries. We’re seeing these stellar results after many months of work that focused heavily on fixing thin content — until content was improved, the traffic suffered!

Fixing thin content improved search traffic 150% YoY

By focusing on improving content quality, our client is seeing 150% more traffic this year compared to last and getting a record number of inquiries. (click to enlarge)

Then looking at some mobile and newer sites reminded me that low-quality or “thin” content remains a serious problem for many websites, whether they know it or not. A majority of sales inquiries are sites with this problem.


“What a powerful weapon we wield as SEOs when we help a site raise content quality.” Bruce Clay
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SEO changes set the right course for a site, but content improvements give it long-term lift.

Why We’re Still Concerned with Thin Content Long After the 2011 Panda Update

Thin content is not a new search engine optimization issue.

It was February 2011 when Google introduced the first Panda update, which targeted low-quality sites and lowered their rankings. In addition to the algorithmic hits from Panda, countless sites have received manual actions penalizing them for having “Thin content with little or no added value.”

Google has only elevated the importance of quality content since then.

An unconfirmed update in early February and the Google Fred Update on March 7 both targeted low-quality content.

Sites that got hit by Fred included content-driven sites with heavy placement of ads, according to reporting by Barry Schwartz. These sites “saw 50% or higher drops in Google organic traffic overnight.”

Besides the algorithms, Google has an army of people reviewing sites manually for signs of quality. Periodically, Google releases its Quality Rater Guidelines, a document used to train these quality raters to spot low- vs. high-quality content. I unconditionally recommend that you read this entire document from Google!

The search engines clearly intend to keep ratcheting down their quality tolerance. The recent updates and penalties further stress the need for websites to fix thin content without delay.


“You cannot afford to ignore thin content on your site and expect to survive.” -Bruce Clay
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Solutions for Thin Content

Identifying thin content on a site is crucial to SEO health, yet it’s only the first step.

Once thin content is diagnosed on your site (whether by a Google manual action notice or through an SEO audit), you need a strategic plan for fixing it. And if you’re uncertain, then your content is probably low quality, too terse, or likely both.

The trick is knowing WHICH strategy is right to fix your unique situation.

The solution has to address your site’s situation uniquely, taking into consideration the scope of the problem AND the resources available to you to do the work.

Remove or Improve?

Site owners often react to the news that their sites have many thin content pages with a surgical approach: Cut it all out!

Removing or no-indexing low-value pages can fix thin content problems some of the time, enabling a site to get back on its feet and start regaining lost rankings with minimal time and effort. For instance, Marie Haynes cites one Panda-penalized site that recovered by removing a forum it had hosted, accounting for several thousand low-quality posts that were separate enough from the main site content to be easily detached.

However, removing content can have a negative SEO effect instead. Cutting off whole sections of a site at once could amputate the legs the website needs to stand on, from an SEO perspective.

Another approach is to simply elevate the quality and depth of the content. It is hard to be a “subject matter expert” in only a few words. And if your content is written poorly, then you gain no love from others — the kiss of death for content.

We prefer this latter approach (as does Google, per Gary Illyes’s tweet below), but we use both at the same time quite often.

If the pages hurting your search engine rankings (for being low quality) are also the ones supporting your keyword relevance (for having keyword-containing bulk content), then you’re stuck. You have little choice but to keep the content, improve its quality, and perhaps add more content readers will appreciate.

Finding a Way to Improve Thin Content — Affordably

For this client’s site, we took the content-improvement approach.

The types of thin content we found on their website included:

  • Product pages with minimal text (just one or two sentences with a few bullets)
  • Pages whose content had been scraped and indexed on many third-party sites
  • Image alt attributes lacking text and/or keywords
  • Autogenerated title and meta description tags that often lacked targeted keywords

Your site may have similar issues, or may contain other types of thin content. Google’s support topic on thin content lists these common forms:

  • Automatically generated content
  • Thin affiliate pages
  • Content from other sources (example: scraped content or low-quality guest blog posts)
  • Doorway pages

Fixing these content problems may involve any or all of the following:

  • Removing pages or no-indexing them
  • Reducing the number of ads
  • Adding at least a few sentences of original text (on filter-category pages, for example)
  • Inserting relevant content from a database (in small doses)
  • Revising title and meta tags to be unique and contain appropriate page keywords
  • Adding original text in image alt attributes and captions
  • Rewriting the page entirely

Our client’s site contained a manageable number of pages (less than 500), so we started chipping away.

The SEO analyst first clarified the silo structure of the site, and then prioritized pages for revision starting with the top-level pages for each silo. In batches of 10 or so at a time, pages were rewritten and reviewed, passing back and forth between the client and the BCI analyst. Important products got brand-new full-page descriptions. Information pages were rewritten with thorough explanations. In all, we fattened up about half of the site’s pages.

The strategy worked. Among the SEO services we provided to this client, by far the higher quality content is yielding the biggest wins. The search engines and site visitors are eating it up, with vastly improved rankings, traffic and leads.

Content improvements give a site lift

Why Your Thin Content Solution Must Be Your Own

If you have an enterprise site with millions of pages, or an ecommerce site with thousands of products, you might be thinking this approach would never work for you.

And you’d be right!

It’s often simply impossible to rewrite each individual page manually on a large website. Yet quality content is a non-negotiable for SEO. Even large sites have to find a way to fatten up or remove their thin content.

Maintaining quality content requires an ongoing investment to maintain rankings — but each site’s specific strategy has to be practical and affordable to implement.

A Prioritized Approach

First, we look for what’s causing the thin content. A template might be producing non-unique meta tags, for instance. The business may be duplicating pages on other domains. A CMS might be building empty or duplicate pages. Whatever the issues are, we try to identify them early and stop the bleeding.

Next, we prioritize which pages to tackle first. It’s worth the effort to hand-edit content on the most important pages of even the largest sites. This priority list should include the home page, the top-level landing page(s) per silo, as well as the most trafficked and highest-ROI product pages. Putting creative energy into making these pages unique and high quality will pay huge SEO dividends.

It’s also crucial to look at competitors’ sites. Even if your content is technically clean and unique, is it as high quality as theirs? Remember that “thin content” can be a relative term, since Google is going to choose the highest quality results to present to a searcher.

More and more often, we include some sort of content development along with our SEO services. As we found with the industrial parts site, fixing thin content can make a long-term difference.

A parting comment: If nobody would share your content, then it is not good enough.

If your site has thin content or other SEO issues, contact us online or give us a call at 1-866-517-1900.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that Google quality raters assign manual actions, which is not accurate. Thanks to Barry Schwartz for reporting the error.

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April 25th 2017 SEO

Is Keyword Cannibalization Hurting your SEO Performance?

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Is Keyword Cannibalization Hurting your SEO Performance?

Keyword cannibalization is a common issue that applies to all types of websites. To make matters worse, some marketers are not aware that their website might be facing this issue. Instead, marketers often look at a website on a page-by-page basis instead of the whole website when it comes to targeting keywords.

In fact, many websites face a this issue because of historic content or a lack of a clear search strategy. It is important to identify and address a major search engine optimization issue to maximize your search visibility and plan your future content creation.

Before explaining what keyword cannibalization is, it’s important to understand why this issue is relevant in the digital marketing industry. In today’s world, many websites are faced with historic content that still ranks for target terms. What is often forgotten is that that historic content can compete with new content being created, which leads to cannibalizing traffic or the keyword topics.

What is Keyword Cannibalization?

Keyword cannibalization is when your website has multiple pages that are mainly targeting the same core keyword and/or keyword topic. This situation often occurs due to CMS issues related to parameter pages, as well as, when the same keyword is intentionally used on multiple pages.

Unfortunately, this SEO issue is still occurring on multiple websites which can impact your search engine optimization (SEO) results as each page might compete with each other in search engine results pages (SERPs). There are multiple reasons why you would want to fix a cannibalization issue including:

  • Diluting authority between pages: multiple pages with the same primary keyword topic can will make it more difficult for search engines to understand what the authoritative page is.
  • Inefficient crawling and indexing of pages: Having multiple pages that are competing with each other makes search engines crawl pages that are not needed.

One of the biggest issues that it causes is that search engines need to pick what the best page is for that keyword topic. In other words, that means that you are competing with yourself.

Hypothetical Example

To help explain how a website might face a cannibalization issue, let’s walk through a hypothetical example. This example will focus on the lack of a website’s internal structure and overall keyword targeting strategy.  

For example, let’s say you have an eCommerce website that sells lacrosse equipment (selfish plug, as I coach lacrosse and the season just started). Most eCommerce websites use parameters to filter/sort products. For this example, our lacrosse store has a page for “lacrosse heads” that shows all the lacrosse heads that we sell. We might run into a issue if we have multiple parameter pages for each manufacturer of “lacrosse heads.”

In this example, our store might have a “lacrosse heads” page with the URL of www.lacrossestore.com/lacrosse-heads. Then on the page we options to select the manufacturer, which results in a new parameter page of www.lacrossestore.com/lacrosse-heads?brand=1. Essentially, that page would have the same title tag and keyword topic that could compete with the main www.lacrossestore.com/lacrosse-heads page. A search engine would have a difficult time understanding what page is the authoritative source for “lacrosse heads.” We also will be missing out on opportunities to rank for individual manufacturer pages related to the product.

How to Avoid Keyword Cannibalization

The first step to avoiding cannibalizing your keyword strategy is to use the map or audit the correct keywords to individual pages. You should have a general idea of what keywords are being targeted on each page of your website either when creating a website or auditing the existing pages. You can use Google Sheets or Excel to document the keyword strategy for each page to avoid targeting the same keyword on multiple pages.

The second step to avoiding cannibalizing your strategy is to use the right tools. You can use tools like Screaming Frog to analyze your website structure and any keyword commonalities in title tags, meta descriptions, heading tags, alt text, and other areas. When analyzing website structure, Screaming Frog can help visualize it with the “Tree” view (shown below). This view can make your life easier when seeing how your website is structured much more efficiently than looking at URLs.

Screaming Frog Tree View

You can also use the inlinks report within Screaming Frog to analyze your internal anchor text to target pages. By analyzing your anchor text to pages, you can make sure that you are using the correct keywords for each link to signal to search engines what the destination page is about.

Another helpful tool for avoiding keyword cannibalization is Siteliner. Siteliner is a fairly affordable option that checks your website for internal duplicate content. Internal duplicate content can be result in search engines not completely understanding what the page is actually about. Instead, focus on having one authoritative page for each keyword topic.

As we covered earlier, duplicate content can also result from content management system (CMS) issues. A CMS might use parameters to change the content for users, but the title tag and heading tags remain the same. When faced with a parameter issue, you have a couple options to resolve the issue.

The first option is to create static pages for parameter pages that have keyword topics with a good amount of search visibility. A static page will be easier to optimize for a specific keyword topic. Other options to resolve a parameter issue is to use Google Search Console to exclude the URL variations or use a canonical tag pointing to the original page.

Time to Improve Your SEO Strategy

It is time to audit your website to make sure you avoid cannibalizing your search traffic. Not only does auditing your website for keyword cannibalization help avoid performance issues, but it can lead to discovering more opportunities for expanding your search footprint.

Let us know if you think your website is facing this issue so we can help you
get the most search traffic as possible. We can help you leverage your analytical data to discover SEO opportunities for your website.


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April 19th 2017 SEO

How to Optimize Your Online Product Catalog for Search

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by Jayson DeMers

Consumers have increasingly turned to online stores to do their shopping, but with so much competition in play, it’s hard for ecommerce business owners to remain competitive. Your online catalog exists to showcase your products to an interested audience, but if that audience never gets their eyes on your offers, it won’t matter how good your deals or products are.

One solution is to optimize your online product catalog for search engines, which will help you rank higher, achieve more brand visibility, and get more traffic to your pages. So how can you do this without spending a fortune?

Strategies for Catalog Optimization

These strategies will help you build a bigger online audience:

1. Use printed and online catalogs together.

If you’re used to operating exclusively online, using a printed catalog may seem foreign to you, but catalog printing is relatively inexpensive through sites like Printing Center USA. It’s a good way to quickly advertise the existence of your online catalog to an audience who may otherwise miss it (demographics who rely on printed advertisements and news), and start directing traffic to your site. This, in turn, creates a synergy between your digital and physical campaigns and jumpstarts your SEO efforts with new traffic, shares, and social media buzz.

2. Use specific product names in your page titles.

Your page titles and descriptions will be the main sources of information that search crawlers use to judge the relevance of your page. Including the specific name of your product will ensure that your page is considered when consumers search for that name; for example, you’ll want to include the brand, the model, the model number, and the variation (if applicable). You’ll also want to briefly describe the product in the meta description.

3. Include at least two paragraphs of descriptive text for each product.

You’ll also want to include lots of descriptive text–at least two paragraphs’ worth–for each of your product pages. According to Spotify’s guide, this not only gives more content for search crawlers to consider and index, it also helps consumers by giving them more information to make a final decision.

4. Optimize your images and videos.

Including images and videos on your product pages is a good way to secure more customer engagement, and you’ll likely earn more backlinks, which are vital if you want to build your authority over time. You can optimize images and video by giving them a descriptive name, including alt text (for images), and including a meta description that describes what’s happening (in the video). You may also consider hosting your videos on YouTube and embedding them on your pages, giving you another outlet of optimization; Backlinko has an excellent guide on YouTube optimization if you’re interested in more information.

5. Include reviews and testimonials.

Reviews and testimonials will make your site seem more authoritative, and as an added bonus, they’ll help push consumers to make a decision. In fact, 88 percent of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations, so the more reviews you’re able to collect, the better.

6. Answer common consumer questions on-site.

You should also include a brief Q&A section on each of your product pages. Here, you’ll list at least a handful of common consumer questions with common phrasing, alongside detailed answers that address those concerns. Again, the information may help consumers make a decision, but they’ll also optimize your pages for long-tail keyword searches, making you more likely to rank when customers submit those queries.

7. Employ Schema.org microformatting.

Microformatting, sometimes called “structured markup,” is a way to format your backend code in a way that allows Google to better understand and categorize it. For example, you can point out what portion of your page is a collection of reviews, and feed information like star ratings and review text to search engine crawlers. This makes it more likely that these features will show up as “rich answers” or “rich snippets,” the sampled bits of onsite content that sometimes appear above regular search results in SERPs. Schema.org is still the best name in microformatting, and they have an excellent guide on how to get started.

Investing in SEO

SEO is a complex strategy, and if you want to get serious with it, you’ll need to hire an expert or start educating yourself in more advanced technical areas. As you can see, however, you don’t need to be an expert to get started. These strategies should be able to help you refine the audience you’re targeting, differentiate yourself from your competitors, and start building the authority you need to outrank them. Remember, this is a long-term strategy, so don’t be frustrated if you don’t see results right away.

Stick with it, and eventually you’ll see your traffic rise.

Be sure and visit our small business news site.

April 12th 2017 Search Engine Optimization, SEO