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Local Search for SMB and B2B Lead Generation

June 5th, 2013 by

It’s no secret that I have a special love for local SEO.  It’s a field that is ever changing, often frustrating, but in the end can be very rewarding for small businesses and that, is rewarding to me.  Over the years I’ve written about, spoke about, and ranted about this crazy niche of SEO I love so much.  So a few weeks back when Terry Van Horne of SEOPros hit me up to do a Google+ Hangout on local SEO I of course said yes.

The Hangout featured myself, Adam Steele and Darren Shaw, who I’ve been fortunate enough to be a guest with previously on a local SEO edition of Search Geeks Speak a couple of years back, discussing all things local SEO.  The Hangout had some solid advice from everyone involved and did a great job at suggesting best practices and what local businesses should be paying attention to in today’s local search space.  As such I thought I would share the Hangout with my readers that may have missed the event.

So for now, take a load off, kick your feet up and if you have any follow up questions following the Hangout feel free to comment below or give me a shout out on one of the many social media channels I frequent.

Posted in Local Search having no comments »

Why Google’s Data Highlighter Shouldn’t Be Used As a Replacement For Structured Markup

June 3rd, 2013 by

Schema structured markup

Last December Google released Data Highlighter.  The tool was designed to allow webmasters a means of easily letting Google know about structured data on a page, without having to add any additional code to their website.  In its initial launch it was only available for events, however last week Google announced updates to the tool that expanded its use to products, local businesses, articles, software applications, movies, restaurants, and TV episodes.  But as I pointed out in my post last week, SEO tools can be dangerous, and Google’s data highlighter is no exception.

Google’s Data Highlighter is a great tool, in fact I used it to teach Google about the content in the event calendar on my hyperlocal blog Life In Corona because the event calendar plugin I was using didn’t provide a means for me to hard code it myself.  However, what I have seen many SEO’s and even small business owners do with the tool is use is as a shortcut to get their structured markup in front of Google.  And while this is definitely a quick point-and-click solution for teaching Google about structured data on your website, it’s perhaps a bit short sided.

While the Data Highlighter can quickly communicate to Google about patterns of structured data on a website, the problem lies in the fact that it only communicates with Google.  By using Data Highlighter you are only helping Google understand the context of your content and not other search engines or machines accessing your content.

The tool was designed to help website owners who may not be able to implement structured data on their site, but want to benefit from the enhanced search results Google is providing for certain queries.  Like in the case of my blog, I had exhausted all means available to me to code the structured data myself, and in the end I couldn’t.  The Data Highlighter was the only way I could provide Google with structured data recommendations for my website.  Sadly, many SEO’s and small businesses aren’t using it this way.  Instead they are using it as a replacement for applying structured markup to their website, ignoring the other engines and other machines accessing their website.

Making Structured Data Implementation Easier

For many, the reason to rely so heavily on the Data Highlighter tool lies in the fact that structured markup may just be too to implement.  Fortunately, along with the Data Highlighter updates, Google launched another tool to help you in the process.  Along with support for new structured data types, Google launched the Structured Data Markup Helper.

Like Data Highlighter, Structured Data Markup Helper is a point-and-click tool that allows you to highlight to key properties of the relevant data type, but in the end Google provides you with an HTML output that includes the microdata markup.  This code can be downloaded and used as a guide as you implement structured data on your website.

As search engines and the web continues to evolve, the use of structured data will grow in importance. Even Pinterest is enhancing its experience with the help of structured data as a means of providing more useful pins.  Appeasing Google is great, but why stop there?  Do the work and ensure that your content is found and understood by anyone who wants to better understand it.

Posted in SEO having 7 comments »

Why I Hate SEO Tools

May 30th, 2013 by

I hate SEO tools, and yes that’s a double entendre.  It seems harsh, but I do.  Tools make many SEO’s lazy.  Tools make many SEO’s look better than they are.  Tools, are just that. Tools.

In truth, I don’t hate SEO tools.  After all, I am the self proclaimed biggest fanboy of Raven Tools.  That said, SEO tools have really been getting under my skin as of late.  Or to be fair, SEO’s and their poor use of tools have been getting under my skin as of late.  SEO tools, when used properly, can help save people and businesses a lot of time and money.  They can help you to be more organized.  They can help you to collect large sets of data, and most of all they can make you more efficient.  But in the wrong hands, SEO tools can be dangerous.  Unchecked or left in the hands of someone who doesn’t fully understand them can lead to misinterpreted data and major mistakes in an SEO strategy.

The Keyword Research Tool

In the nearly six years I have been doing SEO and internet marketing I have done my fair share of keyword research, and in that time I have used a vast array of keyword tools.  Each tool uses their own data set and each tool offers its own set of strengths and weaknesses, but at the end of the day it is the responsibility of the user to take the keywords provided by the tool and identify if they are a proper fit for the website they are working on and ultimately the business they are doing work for.

I recently ran into some issues with another SEO, in which I was provided a rather extensive keyword list, clearly generated by an automated tool somewhere that took every possible related keyword under the sun and jammed it into a spreadsheet.  To the untrained eye it looked impressive, it would lead many to believe a ton of work went into it, but as you dove deeper into the list you could tell it was nothing more than the output of a tool with no rhyme or reason to the provided list.  The list featured terms blatantly unrelated to the business we were optimizing for, and worse yet it included fragmented keywords like, “Blue widgets for.”  Blue widgets for what?

In this case the tool made the SEO more efficient. They were able to quickly compile a list of related keywords based off of initial topics or products from the client, but they failed to dissect the list further to ensure that a) the keywords in the list were relevant and b) the keywords in the list made sense for the content we were optimizing, or better yet were going to create.

The “We’ll Tell You If You’re Doing SEO Right” Tool

There are a billion of these out there.  In the early days the one that always plagued me was Hubspot’s website grader.  Snake oil SEO salesmen would always run these reports and hand them to clients and try and sell them on the fact that their site wasn’t W3C compliant or similar nonsense.  But more recently I’ve run into issues with tools like Screaming Frog, or Yoast’s SEO for WordPress (both tools I use personally I might add.)

In the case of Screaming Frog I had a major content marketing company try and sell a client on all the SEO “problems” their site had.  Using just the data from Screaming Frog and no further analysis they tried to report numerous website errors, duplicate content, duplicate meta tags and the like.  However, upon further analysis many of the page errors were either temporary or an error of the tool.  When we went back and spot checked many of the URL’s in question, they were working fine.  The duplicate content and duplicate meta data was limited to category and tag pages on the blog, which had been properly optimized so as not to be indexed or a problem for SEO.  In the end, the data from the tool painted a very negative picture for those less trained in SEO, but with a closer look it was easy to identify the what and why and realize things weren’t as dire as the tool made them out to be.

With Yoast’s SEO for WordPress, the most common problem I see is what I call “green light panic.”  Over the years clients and other marketing people have tried to use the infamous “optimized” green dot as a means of saying if SEO is being done properly, but again without interpretation or understanding of the overall strategy there is no way for the tool to know if what you are doing is truly right for SEO.

For those of you unfamiliar with the plugin, Yoast has a feature that displays a little red, yellow, or green dot to designate how “optimized” a post is from an SEO standpoint.  It’s a nice little guide if you want to get a general understanding of best practices and the like, but where it gets dangerous is in instances where you might want to deviate from those a bit.  Let’s say for instance your title element uses one keyword and then you want to use a synonym as the H1, SEO for WordPress won’t see a keyword match for the “target” keyword and then may deliver a yellow dot instead of green.  For some, this is so absolute that it leads them to believe that content isn’t being SEO’d and in most cases that simply isn’t the case.  Again, these are used as guidelines, but nothing in SEO is absolute.

The Disavow Tool & “Bad Link” Tools

One Does Not Simply Disavow A LinkI’ve grouped these together because they have been partners in crime as of late thanks to Penguin paranoia.  The disavow tool, which is available from both Google and Bing is a webmaster tools feature that allows webmasters to notify the search engines of links they wish to disavow, or not receive credit for because they may be of poor quality or may have been obtained in ways that are against the search engine’s quality guidelines.  At face value it seems like a great tool, but thanks to strict link updates like Google’s Penguin many SEO’s are using this tool improperly, or worse yet using it as a threat against webmasters.

The disavow tool is great in instances where webmasters know they engaged in spammy link tactics and have either been penalized, or are looking to be proactive in their efforts to disavow links they know were obtained using spammy practices.  Unfortunately, the tool is now being used by many SEO’s to simply disavow any and every link that looks like it may be of lower quality, which brings us to our next set of tools.

Following Google’s Penguin update a number of new tools hit the market to help webmasters and SEO’s identify “bad” or “toxic” links in their backlink profiles.  I had a recent run in with such a tool, again with another SEO, and again the end result was a report of nothing but output with not other thought to what might be included in this list of “bad links.”

As I looked a bit closer at the report I began to pick out a number of links that were being deemed as low quality, but were of high value.  In this particular case they were high value because of their significance from a local SEO standpoint.  The links were directory links, however they happened to be within a directory on a local newspaper website and also included valuable local citation data along with the link.  Had this gone unchecked the client would have gone out to do link cleanup and may have inadvertently had a negative impact on their local SEO.

Ultimately the “bad link” tools and disavow tools have great uses, but its important to be mindful of what you are doing with the tools.  If your site has not been penalized or received a warning for unnatural links and you haven’t engaged in spammy link building practices in the past, how do you know that any of the “bad links” in your backlink profile are actually worth stressing over?  Chances are most of your low quality links in your profile are already being dampened by the search algorithms, but unfortunately many SEO’s and webmasters are being told by tools that they need to go out and remove all their backlinks or disavow them or Google is going to get them.

As Rae Hoffman so elegantly put it in a similar piece in her recent newsletter, “Calculators are nice, but they shouldn’t be depended on in place of actually learning how to do math. Especially when this game that we all love to play relies heavily on being able to discern connections, relationships, intent and the correlation between data.”

By all means, use tools, that’s what they are there for.  But don’t stop at the output of a tool.  Take what the tool has given you and then apply your knowledge, expertise, and analysis and make sure that what you are getting is relevant and accurate based on the variables that a tool will not have access to.  In the end it will make you a better SEO and lead to better decision making.

Posted in SEO having 9 comments »

Why Social Can’t Be Your Only Online Strategy

May 20th, 2013 by

The other day a longtime friend of mine tweeted, “LIKES are the New Links.”  As an SEO, I cringed a little.  It’s statements like these I see coming from a lot of folks these days, the rise in social media popularity and the use of social media influence in both Google and Bing’s search results have lead many to claim, or even believe that social is all you need.  Thankfully my friend doesn’t come from this school of thought, but her tweet got me thinking a lot about why social media as a sole online strategy falls so short of what a business, big or small, can achieve online.

The Appeal of a Social Only Effort

There is a lot of appeal to social only strategies, especially for small businesses.  Social only strategies tend to:

  • Tailor to smaller budgets
  • Require less effort to gain momentum
  • Require fewer resources
  • Utilize existing social media understanding of staff, or office members

It’s easy to understand why so many businesses are drawn to social media.  They hear all the buzz around social media, they see big corporations using social media in major ad campaigns and it leads them to believe that social is where its at.  And in a lot of ways, they’re right.

Social media is a great way for brands big or small to increase visibility and create engagement among existing customers, but in comparison to SEO, social media has a hard time driving leads and delivering high ROI from a dollars and cents perspective. People use social media to socialize, but they use search to find solutions to their needs.

As a recent Search Engine Watch article pointed out, recent studies from both Adobe and Conductor find that when it comes to online queries, most consumers are still turning to their favorite search engines before their favorite social network.

A graph showing where users go to find information.

Why You Need More Than Just Social Media

You need more than just a social media strategy, just like you need more than just an SEO strategy, or just a paid search strategy.  At the end of the day digital marketing delivers numerous channels for businesses to pull from.  And with anything, its never a good idea to put all of your eggs in one basket.

It Doesn’t Lend Itself to Discovery

Unless you’re running paid advertising on sites like Facebook, Twitter, and the like, chances are you aren’t going to generate a lot of new discoveries for your brand or your business.  SEO is great as a foundational element for building your online presence.  It helps people who aren’t familiar with your brand find you and discover what you or your business has to offer.

SEO Can Strengthen Social Engagement

When you think of the core of SEO you think of on page factors such as Titles, Descriptions, and the like.  Optimizing your website for discovery lends itself nicely to social media in that when people share your content on sites like Facebook, Twitter, or Google+ they won’t just see words like “Home” or “Products” in the title of the links shared from your site.  Instead they will be keyword rich titles and descriptions optimized for encouraging people to click through to your website and describing exactly what it is the page is about.

Social Can Increase SEO Visibility

When you look at the adoption of social results in both Bing and Google, you recognize there is a huge opportunity for businesses not only to use SEO to show up in the search results, but to take it a step further by having relevant content that has also been shared or liked by social media users who influence the person searching.

Search and Social Are Stronger Together

There’s no question that social media has become valuable tool, but as it grows in popularity and is analyzed by the search engines and how they rank content it will only increase in its value.  However the value will only be there if you have a strong foundation within your website to fuel it.  Without the proper SEO foundations in place, there is no way to guarantee your content is going to show up in front of the right audience.

I would never recommend a solely social strategy to a client, just as I would never recommend a SEO only strategy to a client.  Fueling your business from a single channel is dangerous no matter what that channel is.  If Facebook, Twitter, or any of the other social channels you’re using shut down tomorrow where would you earn your business online?

Posted in SEO, Social Media having 1 comment »

Why Giving Some Direction Might Help Your Local SEO and Your Customers

April 8th, 2013 by

GPS, Smart Phones, Google Maps…its hard to believe that we needed a map or a Thomas Guide to get from point A to point B not too long ago.  But unfortunately we’ve become too reliant on the digital age, so much so that our dependence on new technology to navigate us can hurt not only consumers, but also the businesses that serve them.

This past weekend my family and I headed out to the Louis Rubidoux Nature Center for the annual butterfly festival.  We’ve been to the nature center in the past, but its been about a year and so our directions were fuzzy at best.  So we did what most people do and turned to the center’s website for some direction.

When we reached the site they had both an address, and what was supposed to be directions.  Unfortunately the directions widget on the site wasn’t working so we had to rely solely on the address provided and Google Maps on our phones.

We plugged the address in and when we “arrived” at our location we were actually in the middle of a nearby residential neighborhood.  Needless to say, Google Maps didn’t get it right.

Where Google thought our destination was and where our actual destination was.

The Benefits of Providing General Directions On Your Website

Getting us to where we needed to be proved to be a bit difficult.  Google struggled to find the address and it was really hard to navigate from satellite imagery on our phones. Ultimately I had to try and remember roughly where the Nature Center was located in order to get us there.

There’s benefits to including general directions to your location within your website.  First, it helps lost visitors like my family and I find your location in the event our means of navigation fail us.  Additionally it can generate some additional localized content for your website.

By including directions from different regions in the area you can help to build local content around other areas you may be interested in targeting, as Doug Antkowiak of Portent suggested in his Local Business SEO Q & A late last year.

Riley's Farm DirectionsA great example of this is the directions page from a seasonal favorite of mine, Riley’s Farm.  While the site itself is a bit dated, and they lack the latest mapping technology to help you find your way, they do an awesome job at explaining how to get to their location from nearly anywhere here in Southern California.

As you can see in the image from the site, Riley’s Farm does a stellar job calling out major cities in the surrounding areas and calls out specific landmarks and street names in its directions.  This helps build additional local relevance by referencing locations located in and around the location.

Takeaways

  1. If you use a Google Map on your website for the purpose of directions, make sure the widget works.
  2. If its working, make sure that it is giving people accurate directions to your location
  3. In addition to giving people a means of getting directions from Google on your site consider adding additional written directions to help grow local content and help visitors in the event their means of navigation fails them.

Posted in Local Search having 2 comments »