Being Transparent – Why SEO Firms Shouldn't Try to Hide Behind Fancy Words and Long Reports

SEO Knowledge is power   When I tell family and friends that I work for an SEO firm, I get a lot of smile-and-nod responses from people who don’t want to admit that they have no idea what I’m talking about. Or occasionally I’ll get the “you’re doing what?” responses from people who are honest and not afraid to ask. Knowledge is power, as they say.  And let’s be honest, in this day and age there is pretty minimal knowledge in the greater population about what SEO really is, or even what it stands for. So that means that most, if not all, of the power lies within the SEO firm that is hired for its expertise. But, dare I make another annoying cliché? Yes, just one more. With great power comes great responsibility. Not only do firms have the responsibility to do their job to the best of their ability and not scam their clients, but they also have the responsibility to teach their clients as they go. But, wait a minute. If clients understand the process then they won’t need an SEO firm anymore, right? Wrong.  Just because a client has a better understanding of SEO tactics does not mean they are ready to start implementing these ideas themselves, and it certainly does not mean that they have the time, resources, and desire to do it. Transparency checklistIn fact, in my experience working at SEO firms, what this tactic really does is keep current clients happy and coming back, and it can even cause clients to recommend that company to their friends who are looking for similar services. It’s funny what good, honest practices can accomplish. With that being said, here is a short “Transparency Checklist” that will give a good hint as to whether or not a firm is transparent. If you are looking to hire an SEO firm, here are some things you should be expecting to find (if not, our door is always open). 1.    Report Summaries SEO firms should summarize their plan of action, their keyword research, their reports, and all of their subsequent strategies. A client should have the option of reading through every inch of text in their on-site analysis, but they should also have the option not to. Potentially, a client should be able to spend 5 minutes looking through an executive summary and a conclusion and be able to gather enough information to know what their next steps should look like, or at least the strategy behind those next steps. If there are sample reports on a firm’s websites, take a look.  See if you can quickly gather useful information or if you are lost among confusing lines of text. 2.    Customer Service Yes, you read that right. Even though our world is fast-paced and many people have grown accustomed to being pushed back on the schedule, SEO firms should still be available to actually listen to their customers and answer questions.  And no, this is not just when they are signing someone on as a new client. This should be the case through every step of the process. Look at it this way, if an agency is too busy to be available to answer questions, then it is too busy to be trusted with someone’s online reputation. See if an SEO firm’s contact information is readily available and that someone is actually there to answer phone calls, or at least to return emails in a timely manner. SEO education3.    Teaching Tools If an SEO firm really wants to go above and beyond to help their clients understand SEO, it will provide customers (and the general public) with teaching tools.  Whether it is a simple infographic, flow chart, or a beginner’s guide, it should help explain what that company does in easy-to-understand terms. If a company doesn’t have original teaching tools of their own, they should at least be pointing to other resources on the web that explain SEO processes and best practices. 4.    Professional SEO Network This one may be harder to find than simply scrolling through a company’s website, but a little more in-depth research should start showing connections with other companies in the SEO realm. Chances are that if an SEO firm is well connected within the SEO community they are transparent not only with clients, but also their competitors. Just like Rob Toledo from Distilled pointed out in his article about the SEO community, there should be an open and transparent relationship between SEO firms. If an SEO firm does not have connections with other similar agencies, it could mean one of two things.

  • It is not well known within its community.  Therefore it is not impressive enough for other firms to notice, or it is not utilizing the knowledge that the SEO community offers.
  • It is shady and other companies want nothing to do with it.

5.    Selective Client Process Transparent SEO firms will be honest with potential clients if they don’t feel that they can help them.  Not every SEO firm-client relationship is mutually beneficial. If an SEO firm is honest, it will not try to take a client’s money when its services do not match the client’s needs. Ask a firm if it has ever turned down a client and why.  If the answer is no, maybe they are just awesome and can do it all for everyone.  Or, more likely, they are taking everyone’s business regardless of whether it is a good fit. You wouldn’t just hand your money over to an investor who told you he or she couldn’t really explain what they were doing with it, would you? I sure wouldn’t.  The same rule should apply to SEO firms. Donat be afraid to ask questions and look for signs to find out whether a firm is transparent. If they know what they are doing, they will let their customers know what they are doing, too. Written by Kristy Kuntz, the SEO Manager at Evolve. Find her on Twitter!

Penguin-Approved Link Building

Google's PenguinWe’re more than a month into seeing the effects of Google’s Penguin Update. Hopefully you’re one of the many webmasters who have breathed a sigh of relief with each Google Analytics log-in. But if you’re not, you should have started the humbling journey to recovery by now. Of the many on-site black hat activities that can trigger a punch from the Penguin, we’ve observed that unnatural links are fairly high up there. Google makes it very clear that link quantity and quality play a major role in how a particular website ranks in its search engine results pages. When obtained naturally, a website’s inbound links will vary in anchor text and time of acquisition. When this isn’t the case, Google raises a giant eyebrow and begins to further investigate the legitimacy of a website’s link profile. Link building can sometimes get a bum rap because it is a proactive approach of acquiring links. Google never intended for the “Linkerati” to divide and conquer as it has a but the link building techniques we recommend involve no monetary incentives; rather, we suggest offering up an informative white paper or an original guest post that displays your expertise and serves a purpose.

Penguin’s link building pet peeves:

It shouldn’t be too difficult to tell whether or not your link building tactics are penalty-worthy or not, but below we have listed out a few examples in case you have been previously misled by black or gray hat SEOs. Link buying: When companies want to rank for a specific term, they might pay sites to link to their site using that keyword or phrase as anchor text. This qualifies as search engine manipulation and can result in major punishment, even de-indexation, from the Goog. Links from content farms: If your website is receiving inbound links from article-dominant sites like About.com or eHow.com, Google will probably suspect fishy activity. The majority of the pages on these sites consist of weak, unhelpful content that is primarily composed for the purpose of linking. Guest posts on low-quality sites: Guest posting is a fantastic way to volunteer your brand’s expertise to a relevant site’s blog. More often than not, you’ll get a link back to a certain page on your site in return for the favor. That’s how it works. Comment spamming: It’s difficult for us to fathom that this even exists still a and yet, it most absolutely does. Google really doesn’t like you to self promote your own website via the comment section of another’s blog. That’s just not cool. It’s frustrating to other users and especially to said site’s webmaster(s). If you or a past SEO have pursued this tactic, you should strongly consider changing your game plan. Link-saturated footers: This is often a resourceful location to insert links back to the main navigation points on your site (Home, About Us, Careers, etc.). When you start to stuff it with keyword-heavy links that are rarely clicked, it becomes apparent to Google that you are trying to manipulate its algorithm.

So what is good link building again?

Here’s our basic rule of thumb: if link building is easy, you’re doing it wrong. So what’s the right way? Start by solving a problem. Then reach out to authoritative websites with the solution. They’ll be glad they heard from you. Make it as easy as possible for them to showcase your white paper, infographic, etc. by asking them to add your content to their resource section. Write a press release and distribute it! Sharing company news through trusted sources is a great way to potentially reap high quality links and rank for terms. Just make sure you limit the links and anchor text. Always, always vary the wording so that it sounds natural. Spread your expertise. Guest posting is good. It is encouraged. It allows webmasters to upload fresh content that they didn’t have to write. It shows readers that a website’s blog is interesting enough to attract guest writers, and that additional perspective adds value to the blog.

But wait… there’s more!

Before you dive too deeply into a link building project, you should get into the habit of reaching out only to websites that will truly benefit yours. Do this by using software like SEOmoz Open Site Explorer to verify the Domain or Page Authority of a particular site, as well as which domains it links to. If it has an unsettling amount of outbound links, that’s a bad sign, as the link juice will be diluted (and not be a very strong signal to the search engines). Check for duplicate content by quickly searching exact sentences in quotations. If multiple pages or websites appear in the SERPs for identical content, you should move on to the next contender. Link building, while it may not be the most exciting SEO tactic we know of, can certainly be the most rewarding. It forces you to critically assess your own site, work to make it better, reach out to form relationships, and reap the benefits in the form of tasty link juice. Are you as pumped up as I am? On the count of three, let’s all throw our white hats into the sky and shout “huzzah!”  

Introducing Kristy Kuntz

Image of our new SEO Manager, KristyWe are beyond excited to introduce our newest member of Team Evolve, Kristy Kuntz. A recent graduate of the University of Missouri, Kristy is no stranger to Search Engine Optimization. Her recent experiences include working as a Brand Analyst at Digital Talent Agents in Columbia, MO, where she compiled and presented SEO reports for clients on a monthly basis. Additionally, she interned at Lift Development, where she used SEO tactics like link building and keyword research to increase traffic to clients’ websites. Read more

The Value of Keyword Segmentation & Expansion

A Look into the Overreliance on Broad Match

So you’ve started your Paid Search campaigns, and you are seeing acceptable performance results. You have diligently created your campaigns and ad groups with both general and specific keywords and are driving consumers to targeted pages within your website. What is the next step in improving your campaign?

Broad keyword matching is an effective means of traffic generation, but it is not the most effective at generating qualified traffic at profitable levels. When utilizing broad match you are effectively relinquishing control of your campaign to the search engine, while degrading the overall efficiency of your campaign. First, broad match allows the search engine to both determine what search queries to serve your ads on and what your click cost will be. Second, your keywords quality score is determined by the relevancy of your keyword to the SERPs and the CTR your term is achieving. Third, your bid is determined by the broad match term, which is likely matching to both highly qualified and unqualified keywords. Reliance on broad match allows the unqualified traffic to continue and prevents your ability to bid more aggressively on qualified terms. Wouldn’t you prefer to take that control back from the search engine?

By taking advantage of the wealth of information that your analytics reporting and the search engines offer, you have everything you need to regain control over your account. Both Google Adwords and Microsoft Adcenter offer reports and tools that will assist you in taking back control of your PPC campaigns. Formerly referred to as the “Search Query Report,” this information shows the advertiser the keyword phrases entering in the search engine on which your ads are being served. Recently, this optimization approach was applied to a client’s existing Paid Search account. For our purposes, let’s call them Acme Solutions. Acme had an established account ($500K/yr. spend) which initially existed as roughly 4,000 keywords, with the campaign being primarily reliant on broad match terms for traffic generation. Through extensive keyword expansion (see example below), the results effectively removed the need for use of broad match by incorporating those SERPs as keywords within the account. Although keyword expansion is a never ending process, the account currently stands at 80,000 keywords, and not a single broad match term. The results speak for themselves:

  • Impression Volume: -9%
  • Click Volume: +46%
  • CTR: +61%
  • Avg. CPC: -17%
  • Avg. Position: -12% (3.3 to 2.9)
  • Impression Share: +5%
  • Lost IS (Rank): -18%
  • Lost IS (Budget): -91%
  • Invalid Click Rate: -15%
  • CPT: -25%

These results were achieved based upon one primary premise: Broad match is the enemy. Profitability in Paid Search does not permit laziness, and laziness is exactly what broad match permits. Utilize the tools the engines give you, and take your campaign back from the search engine!  

Example image of how keyword segmentation looks

Other articles you may be interested in: Optimize press releases for search engines New SEO Audit for Penguin Update Victims Landing pages lowdown  

Optimize press releases for search engines

Press releases are extraordinary tools for showcasing company news, whether it is a shiny new product/service, community involvement, or company accomplishments. To make the most of them, however, press releases must be strategically optimized for search engines.

Choose a distribution site

First of all, you must choose at least one distribution site for your press release. There are plenty of websites that allow you to submit press releases for free, but those do not always have a very high page rank and can consequently lower your own site’s authority. For that reason, we recommend turning to more qualified distribution sites, such as Business Wire, PR Newswire, and Market Wire. Don’t take our word for it, though! Do your research. Quick example: This website claims OnlinePRMedia to be the highest rated PR distribution site. Perhaps it is a favorite among SEOs, but a quick site search in Google News showed us that it hasn’t picked up any articles as of late (click on the image to enlarge). PR Newswire, on the other hand, clearly has much greater success getting picked up by search engines, as you can see in the second image that Google News has more than 15,000 results. While this doesn’t necessarily reflect the holistic success of the distribution site, it is still a good way to gauge how often articles are picked up by search engines. PR distribution fail PR Distribution Site for SEO      

 Use those keywords

When it comes to writing a press release, make sure to have a list of relevant keywords handy. It’s important to optimize the title with a keyword or phrase because the title often becomes the title tag of the page the distribution sites host it on. The following snippet ranks on Googleas first page for the term “SEO audit St. Louis.”

Because the title is optimized with those keywords, anyone searching for a local agency to perform a site audit will stumble upon this press release on Market Watch. If they like what they read, they will head over to the Evolve site and slide right on down the sales funnel. We like that.

But don’t overstuff!

Use keywords naturally. The search engine algorithms place higher value on copy that sounds as if it were written for humans, not search engines. Place one keyword/phrase in the first paragraph (first 80-100 words) but do not cram them in the remaining body copy unless they make sense. Strive to vary the wording.

Link it, but be delicate

Use anchor text links, but do not overuse them. Much like how content should be written for humans, links should also be created for humans. The anchor text should direct the reader to next steps, preferably a landing page on the InteliSpend website or perhaps a case study. There should be at least one but no more than three links.

Write for a human audience

Write so that people will actually want to read it. Asking “why?” before you begin to divulge the news will help you keep the reader in mind while writing. Additionally, search engines prefer this kind of jargon-free, informative readability.

Include a visual

Include an image if possible, as they have been proven to increase click-through rates and interest. Optimize the image by adding a keyword to the file name and in the alt text, which can help it rank in engines’ image searches.

Miscellaneous tips:

If it’s not time sensitive, consider omitting the date from your press release. Not doing this can cause your press release to seem outdated, even if the content remains relevant. Also, upload a slightly altered version (to avoid duplicate content) to your own site so that other domains can link to the article that is housed on your website. Then share the news story via social media profiles. Don’t be afraid to self promote a especially if a major news source picks up your press release.

the Penguin Update. As an attempt to further advance the search engine's efficiency, the Penguin Update primarily affects those websites that have been treading shady waters, such as keyword stuffing, mass link exchanging, cloaking, and just about any activity that is intended to trick the search engines into thinking that a site deserves to rank higher than it actually does.

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New SEO Audit for Victims of Google’s Penguin Update

Penguin You’ve likely been hearing a lot about Google’s latest algorithm change, the Penguin Update. As an attempt to further advance the search engine’s efficiency, the Penguin Update primarily affects those websites that have been treading shady waters, such as keyword stuffing, mass link exchanging, cloaking, and just about any activity that is intended to trick the search engines into thinking that a site deserves to rank higher than it actually does. Unfortunately there are plenty of SEOs out there who still work this way. Maybe they are too lazy to organize a strategic content plan (as in, creating content that people will actually want to read). Maybe they’re just unflinchingly rigid in their old ways and refuse to adapt. Regardless of their intentions or reasoning, they can be very persuasive, promising higher rankings at low costs. You may want to pay attention to this post if one of these “experts” has  whispered sweet nothings into your ear and swayed you to climb aboard the Black Hat Express. Brace yourself: The Penguin Update is going to hurt a little.

What will happen?

Short term strategies will yield short term success. If you knowingly moved forward with the aforementioned SEO tricks, or even if you signed checks for someone to do it for you, your site is going to take a blow. Signals such as repeated copy, link-saturated footers, or hidden keywords will alert Google of your website’s inadequacy, or as Google puts it, “a negative user experience.”  Keep in mind that Google isn’t an inclusive list of every website. It’s an index of pages that are believed to contain relevance to certain queries. If you prove to Google that your site is a piece of crap-ola, you’re going to be bumped back, whether 10 positions, 10 pages, or simply wiped from the index entirely.

Our best advice: avoid it.

If it’s been a while since you’ve had a look under the hood, you should really consider getting a new site audit. Last week we listed a few simple steps that you can perform to find out how well your website is performing in the search engines. Google, of course, doesn’t reveal which specific signals are the cause for sites’ visibility demise a but by understanding Google’s interpretation of spam, which they are always trying to remove from their indexes, you can understand which Penguin-specific triggers to clean up. These include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Keyword stuffing – overusing keywords in the titles, URLs, and anchor text
  • Duplicate content – identical blocks of copy on various pages of your site. Here’s a good article on how to fix this.
  • Hidden text  – making the copy the same color as the background so it is only visible by search engines.
  • Cloaking – essentially, this is disguising links or copy so that they appear to Google differently than they do to users.

If you’re not much of a DIY-er, you should consider investing in a blown-out audit and SEO consultation. The black hat tricks that worked several years ago don’t work as well as they once did – and for all you know, your past SEO or website developer relied heavily on those tactics. Instead of working for you, black hat SEO can cause radical harm, to which Derek referred in his post from a while back which explained the differences between Manual and Algorithmic penalties. Anyone burned by the Penguin Update has officially suffered an Algorithmic Penalty, and unfortunately the situation is not likely to be resolved with a reconsideration letter to Google. Rather, the search engine is making is very clear that it wants sites to clean up their acts. If that includes you, we suggest you hop to it! Start with a new audit that is up-to-date on current algorithm trends and signals.