Tuesday, August 14, 2018

The difference between on-site blog content and off-site content

Google recently updated its search quality rating guidelines, which has had a profound impact on the way that content is created. Publishing a revised 164-page document, the leading search engine is now paying greater attention on what users are searching for and what information they end up reading.

The tech giant has not been afraid to say that it has a focus on enhancing the user experience across the platform, and the changes that have been introduced for content creators reinforce this statement for marketers around the world.

While well-crafted onsite content can help strengthen your brand’s message and highlight your industry expertise, you’ll also need to produce creative offsite content that will help your business secure the best online coverage across a range of publications to increase rankings while amplifying your brand.

On-site content

There are multiple elements that cover on-site content, and when done correctly, effective on-site content can help increase your website’s search rankings. If you’re looking to become the go-to brand/service for your prospective customers, it’s crucial that you appear at the top of the results page.

Ultimately, blog content on your business website is there to support the user’s journey while providing them with the most insightful information that they need during their visit. This could also support them when making a purchase, as they see you as a more trustworthy figure. There are a few techniques you can use to make sure that your on-site blog content performs exceptionally well.

The first step to creating blog content is to understand who is reading it — usually this will be your main demographic who already have an interest in your products or services. Although you’ve positioned yourself as an authoritative figure, you need to speak to your website visitors as if they’re on your level for both acquisition and retention purposes.

You also want to avoid any industry jargon, as this can be an instant turn off for a reader. It’s important to be transparent with your audience and tell them the information that they need in a concise way that still delivers the same level of information.

You also need to use your blog content as a way to tell your audience that you’re better than your competitors. This can be achieved through showing off your USPs — whether these include next-day delivery or a lengthy warranty on products. If you’re creating an article on your site that drives information to the reader, they won’t mind you being slightly advertorial, as this can also be beneficial to them.

Internal links are a must in your blog post, but only if they are relevant. If you’re discussing a certain product or service that you offer, you should be linking to the relevant page to help improve the overall page authority.

It’s essential that you end your blog post with a call to action, because if a reader has made it all the way through your article, they’re already invested in your business and are more likely to perform an action.

Off-site content

Creating off-site content is completely different from making blog posts for your business website. This time, you’re not trying to appeal to your customers but to journalists and major publications that will drive authority to your website while having the ability to increase brand visibility.

It requires a full team of innovative and creative people to come up with outreach ideas that can support an SEO campaign. You should have an aim to create pieces of content that can be outreached to different publications that cover various niches. For example, an article that discusses how technology has improved health and safety in the workplace would appeal to technology, business and HR websites, all of which can improve your link building strategy for your online marketing campaigns.

This also means that you must carry out extensive research into what is relevant in the news. From an outreach perspective, this can allow you to see what type of content journalists are looking for and what is currently working well in terms of online coverage.

As well as this, you should also be looking at creating content around national or international events or celebrations — as editors are more likely to pick up this type of content because it will appeal to a wide audience and generate an overall buzz. Recently, we saw this with the World Cup and will soon see the same with the upcoming Christmas period.

Publications and journalists will not take content pieces that are too advertorial, as they want to provide readers with content that is informative and unbiased — but that is not to say they won’t credit you with either a brand mention or a link to one of your target pages.

Although content creation for both on-site and off-site may look similar, they can be very different in tone, format and objective.

 

 

Monday, August 13, 2018

How to optimize your Google My Business listing

We all know the immense importance of local search. It’s about dominating the SERPs for search queries which are closely tied to the user’s location, therefore driving customers to your business with a user intent that is very tangible and very immediate.

In terms of local searches, Google will rank your business based on relevance, distance and prominence. Your Google My Business listing plays a vital part in boosting your rankings for local search, as well as cementing your online presence outside of your website.

From our experience, Google My Business listings are definitely not leveraged enough. There is a tendency to set up a listing, verify it and then forget about it. Yet there are so many reasons to ensure you have a fully optimized listing and one that you update regularly. First and foremost, Google My Business profiles are still the most influential factor in local search results.

As if that wasn’t enough, it has never been more important to bolster your presence in the SERPs. SEOs are increasingly facing the woes of the ‘walled garden’, where users are no longer needing to click-through to websites. More often than not, all the information they could possibly need is available in the various features of the SERPs. Although this may be having a detrimental effect on website traffic, it doesn’t mean you can’t leverage the situation. It’s only increased the importance of having a fully optimized GMB profile that will rank highly and generate business.

With a top-notch GMB listing, you can rank highly in local packs, significantly boosting visibility and therefore engagement. It will also help bolster your appearance in Google Maps results, plus you can take advantage of Google reviews.  And just in case you need another reason, the service is free. There are not many marketing tools quite as powerful as your Google My Business listing that are also completely free of charge. You’d be mad not to take advantage of this.

Set up and basics

Before we get onto the really juicy stuff, it’s worth covering the basics. Some of these may seem obvious but you would not believe how many times we see the same simple mistakes over and over.

Claim and verify

The first step is to figure out whether or not you already have a GMB listing. This is important because duplicated listings can occur and are just confusing for everyone involved. Even if you don’t recall having created one, a loving customer may have done it for you, or a rogue colleague being far too efficient. Simply do a quick Google search of your business (also try this in Google Maps) and see whether a profile pops up for your business. If so, you’ll need to claim it as your business. If not, you’ll need to create a new one. Once done, you’ll need to verify your ownership – Google will send a friendly postcard to your business address with a code. You’ll then need to enter the code to verify it. It’s all very MI5.

Fill out information

Once verified, don’t just stop there. Fill out all relevant information and ensure it is accurate and kept up to date. There is nothing more frustrating than a GMB listing with the wrong opening times: cue angry customers who could have had an extra hour in bed. Also, remember to add any special hours or holiday times.

Be sure to keep the business name as the business name – don’t go shoehorning any sneaky keywords in or you’ll be at risk of violating Google’s guidelines. Write an accurate and enticing description in line with Google’s guidelines and choose a relevant category. This can be a sticking point for many businesses who feel that none of the categories accurately describe the business. It can be very frustrating. Luckily, there’s a relatively new feature called ‘Services’ where you can add products and services to your business, which will help with the categorization process both from a search engine and user perspective.

Make sure you pay attention to NAP consistency – in other words, that your name, address and phone number, as well as any other information, are all consistent throughout the web. Check other directories and also your own website. It’s a simple concept but mistakes are surprisingly common and it can make a big difference to your local rankings.

Photos

Again, an often overlooked aspect of your GMB listing and one that can make a very noticeable difference to click-through rates. People are visual beings and some snazzy photos will help build an overall positive image of your business. Include a logo, a shot of your premises if applicable and any other photos which you think will help to effectively promote your business. Ensure they are professional, appealing and kept up to date. Think about what might help push a customer to a buying decision.

Be sure to follow Google’s best practices in terms of formatting; the recommended specifications are as follows:

  • Format: JPG or PNG
  • Size: Between 10 KB and 5 MB
  • Minimum resolution: 720 px tall, 720 px wide
  • Quality: The photo should be in focus and well lit, and have no significant alterations or excessive use of filters. In other words, the image should represent reality.

You’ll see throughout your Dashboard that Google makes a point of reminding you about photos: “Businesses with recent photos typically receive more clicks to their websites.” They couldn’t make it much clearer than that – if Google says it, then do it.

As of January 2018, you can now add videos to a listing. It’s not something we’ve seen many businesses take advantage of, yet we all know how popular video content is. Any videos you add will appear within the photos section. Just be sure to follow Google’s video guidelines.

Reviews

Google reviews have been around for a long time and it’s no secret how influential they are. In fact, positive reviews make 68% of consumers trust a local business more. Don’t just sit back and wait for the reviews to pour in. Even if you’ve got the most earth-shatteringly awesome business, people still need a gentle nudge towards the review section. Actively encourage reviews because if you don’t ask, you don’t get.

Raking in those positive reviews isn’t enough. It’s also good practice to respond to reviews, especially negative ones. Even if a review seems unfounded or overly rude, be sure to keep your cool and respond in a calm and collected manner.

Google Posts

A heavily underused feature of Google My Business profiles is the Google Posts section and it works in a similar way to posting on social media. Posts are displayed as mini updates in a carousel as part of your knowledge panel, although they expire after seven days. As with a standard social media post, you can add media, some copy and a link to a website. It’s always a good idea to include an image but be careful of them being cropped within Google Maps. It’s therefore worth checking how the image formats on both desktop and mobile.

You can use Google Posts for a range of different functions, but it may be helpful to use the four official post types as a guide: What’s New, Events, Offers, Products. The ‘What’s New’ post type could be populated with exciting announcements, general updates and your latest articles. Don’t forget to add a CTA to your posts to encourage engagement and conversions.

Google posts are very prominent in Google Search so if you’ve got something important to say, then say it!

Monitor

Did you know that anyone can suggest an edit to your profile? That includes your worst enemy trying to sabotage your business. It’s therefore essential that you keep an eye on your profile and monitor any suggested changes, even if you don’t have any enemies. It could be a well-meaning customer who just doesn’t have a clue. Or it could be an internet troll. Either way, business owners are not always notified.

Users can also answer questions about your business, which may be a scary prospect for some. Google likes user-generated content as it’s all part of building a user-centric community. Just make sure that you’re keeping a wary eye out.

Insights

This is one of the most important sections of your GMB listing. It’s all very well having an all singing and all dancing listing, but the fun starts when you see how many conversions it’s generating. It’s pretty standard practice to track all key events and conversions on a website itself, but the conversions generated by the GMB listing are so frequently overlooked. Yet your GMB listing is often the first port of call for customers looking for a phone number to get in touch.

And you know the best bit about Insights? You can even find out whether customers found you via a direct brand search or via a ‘discovery’ search. This information is vital in terms of reporting, as it allows you to see how successful your SEO work has been in terms of propelling your GMB profile to the top of that local pack for key search terms.

Find out handy information like whether your GMB profile was viewed on Search or Maps, as well as customer actions, such as website visits, direction requests and phone calls. You can also see how successful your photos have been in comparison to other businesses like yours. These comparison graphs are great for pitting yourself against competitors to see where you may be falling behind on the optimization front. It also enables you to do a bit of testing with which photos work best for views and click-throughs. The Insights section is a treasure trove of information, so pay lots of attention to it.

Optimizing your Google My Business listing is not rocket science. It’s very straightforward and simple changes can have a profoundly positive effect on your SEO. Given it’s an area so often overlooked by other businesses, there really is a whole wealth of ranking opportunity up for grabs.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Search trends 2018: what can marketers learn?

Google’s continued dominance as a search giant was evident in its third quarter earnings call, as it grew advertising revenue 18% year over year to $19.8 billion (Alphabet, as a total company, wasn’t too bad either, up 20% in total). Total paid clicks grew 33% year over year, while the cost per click dropped 11%.

So, what does this all mean? Simply put, Google is still a dominating force for both consumers, and therefore advertisers. This is an undeniable fact, but what is up for debate is how consumers and brands interact with the results Google returns to consumers.

Paid and organic increase

There have been significant updates over time in an effort to keep up with changing consumer and advertiser demands. This year so far, voice search, local listings, and mobile indexing have been big topics.

In an effort to monitor these changes, I have been tracking the search results activity for a number of brands over the past 9 years. I took 50 terms across five verticals to see how many times the same brand appears in paid and organic listings. The findings this year are very interesting.

Overall, it is clear that between Google’s changes (both algorithmically and an increasing number of paid listings), as well as each brand’s growing focus on search engine marketing, the amount of companies that appeared in both paid and organic listings reached its highest point in 9 years at 27%.

This was driven by the offset in categories going in two separate directions. Retail has gone down the last two consecutive years; I believe this is owing to an increase in Google shopping results, non-branded paid search, ROI challenges, retailers’ experiences, and of course, Amazon.

While retail is at a low, travel has increased consistently over time. I believe this category is growing as a result of direct booking on travel sites that comes with price guarantees.

The tech category also saw a spike. A big contributor to this trend is the branding that is occurring in the industry. Consumers aren’t just searching for smart speakers, they are specifically searching for Alexa and Google Home, for example.

These companies have done a good job circumventing shopping at the category level, and have jumped directly to branded terms. We’ve never seen a category have greater than 50% overlap of paid and organic brands listed. Given this trend, this year technology spiked to 68%.

Appearance in search results

In addition to brands balancing their paid and organic results, I also wanted to start watching how often four paid search ads, shopping listings and local listings appear in search results. Google has been offering these different ‘sections’ of the search results page in an effort to answer a consumer’s query with the information they might be looking for.

 

I’ve identified two major takeaways from this. First is the decrease of listings with four paid search ads. Year-over-year, every category is down, with the exception of the financial services industry, which makes sense given the competitive nature of this category and the high value of the products. These keywords have the highest CPCs of any category. So naturally, brands are willing to pay and Google is willing to take their money.

Shopping ads are fairly flat across these categories. They are prevalent for verticals where products can be purchased, and are not displayed in the other categories. Shopping is incredibly important for the retail vertical and I expect this trend to stay the same as the retail war with Amazon and consumers wages on.

 

The second trend is one that is not a surprise for BrandMuscle given our focus on local, but might be for many who are catching on to the importance of local in the mobile world. Local listings are now shown across all verticals and growing in key sectors like retail. This is extremely important to pay attention to for two reasons:

  1. As consumers shift to mobile, they expect their devices to know where they are and show relevant local listings
  2. These listings offer the opportunity for brands to see free traffic.

What can brands take from this?

So what are the key items brands need to think about with these trends?

Local listings are growing and demand attention. Do some searches for your category terms. Are local listings being shown? If so, are you included in those listings? These are ranked in two ways:

  1. The distance of the location to the searcher
  2. The validity of data across platforms – this is the one you can control.

Are your locations name, address, and phone number accurate across Google, Facebook, Yelp, and others? You’d be surprised how often these are incorrect. Spend some time focusing on cleaning up this data and monitor your results – I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

It’s important to consider your integrated strategy for both paid and organic search. Brands are owning more and more of the search real estate. It is vital that you have a strategy that does not give up ground to these brands, but focuses on your core strengths and differentiators. For example, perhaps you can’t afford to buy the keyword ‘car insurance’, but you can own ‘SR-22 insurance’ as a term, given your company’s key strengths.

Keep a close eye on Google’s changes. Google has been very active in staying ahead of consumer expectations and technology. This includes switching to mobile indexing and launching new tools for Google My Business, among other items. This requires focus and planning for businesses to adopt these changes and stay best-in-class.

Search is one of the most important tools in a marketer’s toolbox. These trends and feature changes make it an exciting place to work and spend time. I look forward to watching how brands react to these trends and monitoring more changes in the future.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Three ways to maximize the SEO impact of user-generated content

SEO and user-generated content have a complicated relationship. On the one hand, user-generated content can give search engines more information to work with, improve your rankings for long tail search traffic, and encourage community activity that generates links and other positive off-site signals. On the other hand, user-generated content can be low quality, redundant, spammy, it can dilute authority, and sometimes it can even earn you a manual action from Google.

Here are three ways how to best to leverage your user-generated content for positive results.

1. Consolidate your user-generated content

It’s well known in the SEO industry that pages with more words tend to rank better, while it’s also typically acknowledged that this isn’t always the case, since a page with a higher word count isn’t always the most useful page for a user based on their query.

The correlations are quite clear, however. Backlinko found that the average word count of a Google first page result was 1,890 words:

 

There are many potential reasons for this correlation. The one I find most convincing is by way of a related correlation. According to a study by Ahrefs, top ranking pages in Google typically tend to also rank for thousands of other related keywords:

Pages that users seem to enjoy for multiple related queries give Google more data to work with than pages that only do well for a handful of queries. Search engines have a more convincing reason to rank pages these. Since pages with long-form content generally go more in depth and approach a topic from more angles, they also tend to reference a wider number of queries. This creates a snowball effect whereby Google ranks the page for more and more keywords until it becomes a central hub for a topic.

One potential issue with user-generated content is that its comprehensiveness can be hit or miss. Some users may write 10,000 word essays, while others might write a dozen words or less. A good solution to this is to pool together user-generated content, consolidating related content onto a single page.

Consider what Patrick Curtis of Wall Street Oasis had to say about how they achieved a 32% boost in search traffic. A full 99% of the content on their site was user-generated, with the obvious issue of creating inconsistent quality and depth. A primary goal of reworking the site was “merge and purge,” consolidating the content from multiple discussions about the same topic into only the two or three URLs that were performing the best.

To accomplish this, they migrated the user-generated content from the lower-performing pages into the higher-performing pages, unpublished the low-performing pages, and set up 301 redirects from the low-performing pages to the high-performing ones.

Using statistical analysis, they found that consolidating pages resulted in an average boost of 14%, while updating the title and H1 tags boosted them by 9%. This got them out of a five-year “plateau of pain”:

To consolidate content, we recommend the following:

  • Identify URLs that are ranking for related queries, or that use similar words in the title tag.
  • Migrate all of the related user content into a consolidated page. The consolidated page should be an existing URL, the URL of the highest performing one of these pages.
  • If, for UX reasons, it still makes sense to keep up the lower performing pages, breadcrumb link them to the consolidated page as a “parent” or “category” page. Either canonicalize them to the consolidated page or noindex them (but never both).
  • If it doesn’t make sense to keep the “child” pages for UX purposes, take them down, 301 redirect them to the consolidated page, and update any internal links to the old pages so that they point to the new page.
  • Moderate user discussions and remove content that doesn’t meet community standards to keep your quality score high.

2. Enable user reviews

If you are running a marketplace or selling products, you should strongly consider incorporating user reviews into your product pages or otherwise on your site. Like consolidation, user-reviews boost the word count on your pages and give the search engines more information to work with.

User-reviews also align very well with Google’s quality rater guidelines. Aside from directly mentioning reviews as a way of judging the reputation of a site, Google’s quality rater guidelines are driven in large part by how well the purpose of the page aligns with the purpose the searcher is seeking with their query, and how well the content meets that purpose.

On-page user reviews, so long as they aren’t suspect, help users evaluate the quality of the product in a more trustworthy fashion than anything you can provide alone. In fact, 84% of users trust online reviews as much as they trust their friends.

If you’re concerned that anything less than a perfect five-star rating is going to hurt sales, this fear is unfounded. Surprisingly, product purchases are most positively influenced by reviews with an average star rating between 4.2 and 4.5, presumably because excessively high ratings are seen as suspicious.

Various studies tell us that user reviews on average boost sales by 18%, that 63% of users are more likely to buy from a site with user reviews, that visitors who interact with reviews are 105% more likely to make a purchase, and that 50 or more reviews can lift conversions by an additional 4.6%.

When it comes to a boost in search engine traffic, the data shows the correlation as well. A study by Yotpo found that search traffic for 30,000 businesses improved quite dramatically over a nine-month period:

To incorporate user reviews, we recommend the following:

  • Use a platform like Trustpilot (whose own reviews are incidentally within that2 to 4.5 range) to implement user reviews on your site.
  • Whatever platform you use, it should be easy to verify that the reviews are created by users and not hand selected by your company. This is why third-party platforms are preferred to in-house solutions that users may be suspicious of.
  • It should be easy for users to leave a review on your site (provided they are verified purchasers).
  • Features such as being able to sort reviews are recommended.
  • Allow users to rate the usefulness of reviews.

3. Content curation

Related to the idea of consolidating your user-generated content is the idea of curating your user-generated content.

Curated content is content that you create by collecting, organizing, reworking, and republishing content created by others. This is often thought of in terms of curating content created by other publishers, such as when a blog posts a monthly list of editorially selected top blog posts in the industry.

But content curation is by no means limited to repackaging content created by other professionals. You can also curate content created by your own audience and obtain positive SEO results in response.

CognitiveSEO lists National Geographic’s “YourShot” as a great example of this. They ask their audience to send them photographs as part of a contest, and publish the best photos to their YourShot subdomain. CognitiveSEO notes that this strategy has worked very well for National Geographic, earning them 649 referring domains, nearly 190k backlinks, and high page and domain influence.

Strategies like this require an audience, but not necessarily one as large as National Geographic’s. The University of Missouri Alumni Association, for example, was able to achieve a 15% lift in site traffic by leveraging image galleries. To do so, they:

  • They reworked an existing image gallery to make it easier for users to upload their photos to the site, and used a system that would allow them to host the images on their own site instead of a third party platform.
  • A system was set up to pull images from social media with University hashtags and host them in the image gallery.
  • They leveraged contests, including a Halloween costume contest, to encourage image sharing.
  • Ideas for new contests were regularly brainstormed.

The reason content curation like this works so well for attracting links is because it puts the users in the spotlight. Since a large number of users could potentially see their photographs published in YourShot, they get excited about the project and share the site on their platforms.

This creates buzz that earns natural links from users as well as from the press.

Meanwhile, curating the content editorially ensures that it is of high quality, resulting in a positive impact on how search engines interpret your site content.

Here are some pointers regarding curating user-generated content:

  • The link-earning potential is highest if the curation is something users are expecting, which is why contests or something similar are usually the best way to go. They build buzz and attract attention from the largest user base.
  • The goal is to make the user the star. Do not place too much emphasis on branding, at least not in the traditional sense of making sure your logo is facing the camera. Focus on lifestyle marketing instead.
  • The contest should be entertaining or interesting enough to override any cynicism people may have about working with a brand. Contributors should feel like they are taking part in something fun and interesting rather than contributing to soulless corporate exploitation.

Conclusion

Properly deployed, user-generated content can be a massive benefit for your site.

User reviews can bump up your uniqueness score and help you rank for a wider variety of queries. Consolidating and moderating user discussions produces in-depth, comprehensive pages that pull in long tail. User contests and curation lead to link earning and other positive off-site signals.

Take advantage of these opportunities and make the most of your audience.

 

 

Manish Dudharejia is the president and founder of E2M Solutions Inc, a San Diego based digital agency that specializes in website design & development and ecommerce SEO. Follow him on Twitter.

 

 

The rise of the modern B2B marketer

The rise of the modern B2B marketer is changing the way marketing and sales teams work together to generate new business and deliver ROI. 

New research from Contentive, a global B2B marketing and events company, found that the role of the modern B2B marketing professional is rapidly shifting owing to the explosion of data, analytics and automation tools.

Contentive surveyed its trusted community of B2B marketing professionals to learn more about their key challenges and for a glimpse for what the future holds for B2B marketing.

The top three trends that are influencing emerging strategies are personalization, artificial intelligence and influencer marketing. The survey found that 57% of B2B marketers consider personalization as the key trend that will influence their marketing strategy for the next 12 months. With an increasing focus on using data and technology to craft personalized, tailored messages, the modern B2B marketer is constantly testing, iterating and optimizing different marketing channels to analyse the success of their marketing campaigns.

As a result, marketing budgets are no longer fixed, with 48% of marketers allocating budgets on an ongoing basis to effective channels. In many cases, this means marketing budgets are increasing, with 66% of respondents expecting their marketing budget to increase for the year.

Collaboration between sales and marketing is also increasingly important, with ever stronger focus on new business conversion as well as ROI from existing customers and website traffic. Top of the funnel leads are no longer the preferred campaign outcome. Marketers are increasingly challenged to deliver nurtured, or even sales qualified leads.

Key findings from the survey were:

  • 57% of B2B marketers think personalization is the key trend influence over the next 12 months
  • 50% of B2B marketers are now demanding leads that are fed into the middle and bottom – not just the top – of the funnel
  • ROI priorities are clear, with conversation rates, yield growth and site traffic top of mind
  • Collaboration with colleagues is more critical than ever. As marketing becomes more visibly integral to business success, five colleagues now typically have input on investment decisions
  • Content marketing is here to stay. Like social media and email marketing, these channels remain critical to delivering on ROI goals.

To download the key findings from the 2018 B2B Marketing Survey, click here.