Tag Archives: search engine optimization

Feeding The Spiders

As happens from time to time in this space, today’s post might seem a little geeky. Please bear with me – there is a broader business point that emerges from the somewhat technical premise! 

I was discussing Search Engine Optimization with a prospective client the other day. For those of you who don’t know what that is, you can think of it as the process through which web pages are optimized to rank highly in search for particular terms. As you know from your own use of a search engine, ranking on the first page of results tends to get you more clicks than being on page 3. It used to be a highly technical process, and while there are still some fairly technical pieces to it, the best practice I follow when working on it with clients is pretty simple: create a great user experience.

Oddly, it helps to think of the search engine spiders (the robots that comb the web for pages and organize them) as people. If you create a great user experience for a person, odds are that the spider will find it attractive too and ingest the information properly. What do I mean? Great content is a great user experience. So is a site that’s easy to navigate with clear buttons and no broken links. Content that has been proofread and is error free makes a great user experience. While there are some technical things – title tags and back links to name two – that require attention, it’s the user experience that it driving SEO these days.

We can say that about any aspect of business, I think. A great user experience – a pleasant, functioning environment married to great customer service – is the most basic requirement. Solving a customer’s problem and providing great value while doing so (notice I didn’t say at a low-cost!) is the recipe for success.  Thinking about how best to feed the search spiders can help create a better business experience overall. Does that make sense?

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Getting Found

Perhaps the biggest challenge in business is “discoverability.”  That’s just a fancy term for your business getting found.  If you’re a bricks and mortar operation, it might mean an eye-catching sign.  If you’re a digital business or a business that has a digital presence (are there any businesses that don’t?), it means doing the work needed so that when customers are using the web they can find your site.

That concern is something I get asked about by clients all the time.  They hear about Search Engine Optimization but don’t understand what it is or how to do it.  I’ll preface this by saying I don’t profess to be an SEO expert.  I can, however, get clients through the rudiments, take care of the technical basics, and, if our work shows results, bring in a resource to do the advanced stuff.  So with that in mind, let’s spend a minute on how your business can be more discoverable.

You might find this odd, but the answer is simpler now than it was a few years ago.  Many of the technical parts of SEO are no longer as important as they once were.  What’s important is a recurring theme here in the screed: focus on your customers or prospects.  Making your site content useful to a shopper will have the effect, in most cases, of being great SEO.  What do I mean?

People search either to buy something, to find a place and get there, or to find information.  The latter is why you do informational content (like this blog), the former are product pages, etc.  Making every page of your site clear with respect to what question you’re answering or problem you’re solving with probably mean you’re using the words people (not robots) use to find answers.  That’s good SEO because it is focused on user experience.

Yes, there are a couple of technical things you should do (good title tags is the main one) and you need to hope that people build links to your content (they will if it’s great!).  But the most important thing you can do in order to enhance discoverability is to be useful and clear.  For those of you who are hearing from SEO experts that want to charge you a fortune, you’re welcome (mail me – I’ll tell you where to send the check).  For all of you, I hope that helped.  Did it?

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Evil?

I’ll admit that today’s screed is a bit more narrowly focused than it is on some days. That said, it’s about a business that touches us all and a business practice that might serve as an example.

English: Google Logo officially released on Ma...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You might know that one of Google’s informal mottos is “don’t be evil.” More formally stated (as it is in their business code) it’s:

Do the right thing: don’t be evil. Honesty and Integrity in all we do. Our business practices are beyond reproach. We make money by doing good things

It also made their IPO documents:

Don’t be evil. We believe strongly that in the long-term, we will be better served — as shareholders and in all other ways — by a company that does good things for the world even if we forgo some short-term gains.

So far, so good.  What’s bugging me and many others today is Google’s announcement that they’re going to be encrypting all search data.  They started doing that on a smaller scale almost two years ago (you can read my post on it here).  For those of us who are in the business of helping companies understand how and why people come to their digital businesses, it made life difficult.  If you’re engaged in search engine optimization, it put a dent in your abilities as well.  However, at the time, Google said it was a measure taken to protect user privacy (for users signed into a Google account) and it wouldn’t affect much of the data.

Fast forward.  It HAS affected a lot of the data and yesterday’s announcement means ALL the data about how people were searching and found your site is gone.  Some are calling it the day SEO died.  I think it’s evil.  Why?  Because you CAN get the data – you just need to pay Google for it.  Their idea of privacy is bullcrap. You can’t offer privacy, but still SELL the data to AdWords advertisers.   There’s also some rumblings that they’re doing this to protect against the NSA program but if the data is still available I can’t see how that would work.  Business practices beyond reproach?  I think a neutral party might say not so fast.

I respect that Google offers a lot of free services, most of which are among the best offered anywhere.  But dumbing down how businesses can make the web a better, more usable place hurts everyone.  Part of why Google and other search engines work is that many of us work hard to be sure our content is discoverable by and clear to the search engines.  This could make search results less accurate.  It also means the ads Google serves will be less well-targeted.  It also means that while big companies will continue to pay for expensive services that offer workarounds, start-ups and smaller businesses will suffer.

I come down on the side of this being evil.  You?

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Want Them To Shop? Get Social.

I spoke the other day at a meeting on the topic of search engine optimization.

Empty Store Front (Dixon, IL)

(Photo credit: wayne’s eye view)

The folks in the audience were neither SEO professionals nor particularly interested in the field.  They were, however, smart enough to recognize that good SEO, particularly local SEO, can be a huge boost to their clients.  Like all good salespeople, they knew that if something mattered to their clients it needs to matter to them.

It turns out that their focus on becoming more visible in local search is a critical element in retail success.  I’ve come across a couple of things that demonstrate it.  The first is a KPMG study:

Asked which technology-related trends are having a significant impact on their business, a leading 71% of retailers pointed to social media, with a majority also citing mobile/online shopping (52%) and mobile/online promotions and coupons (51%) as significant influences, per results[pdf] from a KPMG survey. The researchers note that “brick and mortar stores are now viewed with newfound potential,” largely as a result of new social and mobile technologies.

This is reinforced by research conducted by comScore for UPS:

Mobile and social channels continue to change the way consumers shop – 46 percent said they are less likely to comparison shop when using a retailer’s mobile app, and 47 percent said they want a retailer to send a coupon to their smartphone when they are in-store or nearby. Not surprisingly, 84 percent of online shoppers use at least one social media site. Among Facebook users – the most popular channel – 60 percent “like” a brand to receive an incentive or promotion.

Obviously, being discoverable, particularly in mobile search is important.  However, if retailers – especially small businesses – aren’t actively working to boost their social presence, which is a factor in local SEO along with reviews and listings, they’re missing a huge opportunity.  As I’ve written before, actively supporting social and doing it well can be a huge time suck for a small business (or any other business for that matter).  These businesses are unlikely to use an automated product (which is probably a good choice anyway).  I’d think of it as spending an hour doing customer service, even if that hour is spread out over a few 15 minute sessions.  It’s too good and important an opportunity to ignore, both for SEO reasons and for the opportunity to stay front and center with your customer base.

Any local businesses you know doing a good job on this front?  Does it make a difference to you?

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Ghost Writers In The Sky

OK, first off, I know that the title of the screed today is NOT the name of the song – as you’ll see it’s an attempt at humor.  Second, it really isn’t “in the sky” – more like “in the cloud” given the subject today, which is content creation.

Words have a power all their own

(Photo credit: Lynne Hand)

When you spend a minute or two here on the screed, you’re getting something produced by me.  I write every word (OK, other than those I grab from press releases but I usually let you know when I’m doing that).  That hands-on approach isn’t necessarily the norm, and as the strategy of content marketing has become a bigger deal, ghost writing – specifically ghost blogging – has grown with it.

You might think that as someone who spends some time each work day trying to produce content that I might have an issue with those folks who hire ghost bloggers.  You’d be wrong if you thought that – I believe it’s an excellent thing for many companies to do.  I can spend a few hundred words here writing about content marketing but if you really want an explanation contact me and I’m happy to spend a few minutes explaining it.  Better yet –  hire me to do it for you! In any event, not everyone can write well and very few can create content on a regular basis (try to blog 300-500 words every day for a few weeks and let me know if you can).  Along with it being great content the piece needs to be written in a way that’s SEO-friendly so it’s discoverable by the audience you’re trying to reach.

Here is the caveat – you can’t lose authenticity   When I do content for someone, I have  a conversation with them about the topic we’re trying to cover.  That topic can be generated by something going on at the company – a new product, for example – or it can be based on a discovery in the web analytics – the brand is getting a lot of traffic from people searching for “X” so let’s write about that.  It’s their thinking and their ideas – I’m just putting their words down on paper.  That’s why I don’t really have an issue with ghost writers – the good ones are doing transcription more than they’re putting words into people’s (or brands’) mouths.  Besides, how many books written by CEOs, sports figures, or politicians are ghost written?  Nearly all.

What do you think?  Let me know – or hire someone to write the comment for you!

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What Are You Going To Do About It?

I’m thinking about going into the life-preserver business because every day I become more aware of how many people are drowning.  Then again, I might already be in that business since part of what I do as a consultant (or am I a lifeguard?) is to help my clients break free of the ocean of data that surrounds them.

English: A life preserver icon.

Image via Wikipedia

Maybe you or someone you know is caught up in the same rip-tide – the one where you know more and more each day about your customers, your business, and how they interact and yet you struggle to use that information to advance your goals.  The good news is you’re not alone.  The bad news is you’re not alone. Continue reading

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How Many Doors In Your House?

I know very little about Feng Shui and I’m not sure how I ended up looking at this statement on a web page but as I found out:

In feng shui, the main door to your home is very important. A house with many doors can create chaos with too much chi energy entering and leaving the home. This can impact various areas of your life, including finances, health, career and especially your relationships.

Feng shui symbol

Image via Wikipedia

Naturally, this said a lot to me about what’s going on with a number of the web sites on which I work.  Does it say the same to you?  Let me explain. Continue reading

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