Miscellaneous Content | Evolve Digital Labs

Although we love digital marketing and strategy, some content doesn’t quite fit into a nice little package.

How can hospitals use social media?

On Tuesday, Tabitha and I attended a half-day social media workshop. The speaker, Michael Brito, presented the concept of a Social Business Strategy, which is a communications model that relies on both internal (employees, partners) and external (customers, partners, media) to receive maximum value. Regardless of the size of a company, it can be extremely difficult to rationalize investing time and money in social media a especially when it can be equally difficult to know how to measure the efforts.

 

Frantically recording notes on my Macbook, I tried to see Michael’s presentation through the lens of health care. While many influential healthcare organizations (Mayo Clinic, Hopkins Medicine) are thriving online in social media networks, the reality is many smaller hospitals aren’t sure how they can contribute. Marketers have concerns about using their integrated hospital marketing communications plan and leveraging social streams without the guidance, budget, or understanding of how to effectively communicate to an audience through social media strategy.

Patients are empowered.

Though it may pain some doctors to realize it, people are trying to diagnose their symptoms online. Every year, more people turn to Google to research common symptoms, physician ratings, recovery information, and healthcare organizations. And whether or not the information gathered is completely valid, patients base next steps on their findings. The great news is social media sites can position you as an influencer if used the right way. Health care brands, physicians, and staff members can use resources available to them to educate current and future patients on social media platforms.

1. The health care brand

When hospitals are present and active on social media outlets, patients perceive them as cutting-edge. The problem is that too many organizations find a hard time identifying how to support marketing efforts with social media a there is no strategy fueling a return on the investment.

Be Purposefully Present: Being “present” online is an excellent start, but in order to make the effort worthwhile, the brand needs to tactfully drive leads. Hopefully, the healthcare organization already understands the importance of generating content that will resonate with patients (current and potential) searching for a health care solution. From promoting patient videos to participating in health chats, there are countless ways available to jump into a conversation and engage an audience. Social media activity should advance the efforts of a pre-existing goal of a priority service line a for example, to increase email addresses through a form on a Cardiology landing page.

Be Transparently Positive: It’s incredible to recognize the extent that some health care brands are reaching out to people who may never set foot in their facilities. I subscribe to Cleveland Clinic’s Be Well newsletter a and it’s an incredible source of health information spanning a huge array of topics. Yesterday’s newsletter featured a “supercharged oatmeal” recipe, an article about heart attack prevention, several infographics, and some advice regarding “text neck,” (which Iam probably suffering from).

Cleveland_Clinic_Shows_How_Healthcare_Organizations_Can_Use_Social_Media

 

My point is: I wouldn’t have subscribed if the brand hadn’t tweeted about it. Will I ever go to that specific hospital for a procedure? Maybe not, because it’s a couple states away. But imagine the effect this quality of information can have on someone who is considering Cleveland Clinic for its services. Another brand I admire for its social media engagement is Seattle Children’s Hospital. Positivity radiates from this brandas Facebook page. The timeline is packed with encouraging stories of patients, and it truly reflects the brand’s mission to Hope. Care. Cure.

Social_Media_and_Health_Care_Organizations

 

 

2. The individual doctors

Physicians are generally hesitant to create a professional social media profile and invest time in sharing their expertise. Why is this? A few reasons:

  • My schedule does not allow for social media
  • I donat see the point in giving away information for free
  • I donat want to push doctor-patient boundaries

Those all seem like valid points a after all, doctors are paid to treat patients in person. But after a lot of research, I’m more convinced than ever that it is in doctors’ (and patients’) best interests for physicians to be actively communicating online.

“My schedule doesn’t allow it.”

Being active online doesn’t mean you have to de-evolve into a SnapChat-ing tween. For many people, social media is one giant distraction a but for you, it is a portal into the needs of patients. Start with the platforms that fit your schedule and comfort level. That might mean tweeting links to health-related articles you have read. Even if you didn’t write the content, you can at least steer patients toward medical sources you trust.

 

Doctor-on-Twitter

“I don’t see the point in giving away information for free.”

No one expects a physician to provide a digital diagnosis over Facebook. But general health practices? Definitely. The value of your online presence is largely graded by the quality of info you share a but value also stems from the act of listening to and engaging with patients. Caring enough about patients to share new articles (including your own, which can drive traffic to your site) is a great way to establish trust and ultimately increase patient enrollment. Discuss and share topics you’re passionate about; it will keep your patients engaged and position you as a thought leader.

“I donat want to push doctor-patient boundaries.”

Roughly 20% of physicians consider online interaction with patients to be inappropriate behavior, according to a 2011 report by Quantia. However, that perception is outdated and will not be one that carries over into the future of health care. Doctors need to make it a point to bridge medical breakthroughs or stories in the media with how patients are affected. When translating your expertise online, speak to a collective audience, not one-on-one. Itas possible to expose your personality while still acting professional; just take a tip from Dr. Neal Barnard, who is constantly sharing tweets relating to his passion for healthy eating.

 

As for situations involving patients who feel entitled to privately contact a physician for medical advice or a diagnosis a simply deliver a canned message that asks them to contact their own provider or 911. (Hopefully that wonat happen often.) In alignment with the new expectations outlined in the Affordable Care Act, being present and active on social media will allow your brand to provide a higher level of care to your patients. Each social media channel has a specific purpose a which you can use to advance your personal image.

3. The hospital staff

The message I most appreciated at the workshop on Tuesday was the idea of training employees to become brand ambassadors. This is critical for two main reasons:

  1. Employees need to understand the power of their reach. At Evolve Digital Labs, we have in place a social media policy. I signed one as soon as I started here two years ago, when there were only a handful of employees on board. There are very few restrictions a and honestly, the rules forbid actions I would avoid even without signing the contract (e.g., talking negatively about clients, other employees, and the Evolve brand itself). Still, people everywhere are terminated from their jobs because they underestimate the effect of their Tweets and Facebook posts.
  2. Employees should take the initiative to promote their brand. Just as staff members can negatively impact the perception of the hospital for which they work, they also have the opportunity to positively spread brand awareness. This can be as simple as following their employer on Twitter and retweeting posts. Or promoting brand events through their personal profiles. Even scanning the social channels to find inspiration for new digital marketing initiatives can play a huge role in giving your brand an edge over competitors. Michaelas point about making employees brand ambassadors was inspiring, to say the least. Itas a notion that challenges employees to see themselves as an extension of the brand voice. It’s an empowering concept: by communicating to employees that their involvement is encouraged, brands (and not just health care brands) can expect to see a higher volume of reach.

Conclusion

The more I research how the big hospital brands are using social media channels to transfer trust, educate patients, and build a community, it’s pretty exciting to see how local hospitals can implement similar efforts on a smaller scale. Social media allows for two-way communication online, which allows for a degree of transparency that appeals to patients. Hopefully weall see more brands investing time and effort into reaching patients online.

Introducing the SEO Guide 2.0

As one of the main content contributors at Evolve, I learned pretty quickly that visitors to the site aren’t going to fill out a contact form just because Derek has created a cool company culture. The Evolve culture isn’t for our visitors; it’s for us. Visitors to the site care about the value we can give them, whether that’s a blog post about using Google+ or a detailed explanation of a website audit. Visitors want to know:

  • Why should I spend my valuable time on your site?
  • What can I get out of this relationship?

That’s really what it comes down to. No one cares if our only advantage over other search marketing companies is that we drink craft beer like water. Or even that we love what we do. They just want a fair exchange a whether a social share for new insight or a check for consultation.

SEO 101: Give ’em a reason to visit your site

Nearly two years ago we released the first edition of our SEO Guide for Beginners. Unlike other similar resources, it was written by someone who was new to the intimidating world of SEO a and that gave us an advantage because not everyone reaching our site is familiar with the phrase “anchor text” or the difference between organic and paid results. So earlier this year Derek gave me the go to revamp the guide. I wanted a more appealing presentation and an easier way to share specific chapters. And I wanted to explain SEO in a big-picture way a because thatas exactly how we see it, as just one piece of a deeper digital strategy. If you’re looking for an all-inclusive list of steps you can take to rank higher, you won’t find that here.

Old and New SEO Guide

Things Change. But we cope.

Search engine marketers tend to dwell on the perpetual fluctuation of SEO effectiveness a and we’ve been guilty of that, too. Just this week, we found out Google is going to start encrypting keyword information from website marketers. Weave known it was bound to happen eventually; Google has been hiding keyword data of users signed in to Google products (Gmail, Youtube) for nearly a couple years now. But over the next several months, anyone who reaches your site through organic search results will be “protected.” Weare not going to know which search queries were directing consumers to your website. Itas frustrating because Google is essentially forcing digital marketers to invest in Paid Search a which still provides lists of keywords that yielded clicks. But it’s okay. We will cope! The good folks at Moz have already released a video that shares some suggested ways we try to bridge the gaps by looking at other data.

Big Picture: It’s still about quality

Still, while specific tactics dwindle in effectiveness as Google tweaks its algorithm, we’ve noticed one overarching reality of digital marketing that doesn’t change: quality converts. Google has invested in developing technology that measures user behavior and draws conclusions from that data. Keywords and links arenat sole indications of why a website ranks favorably in search engine results pages. Do they reflect the quality of a website? Do they convey the subject matter of a web page? Absolutely. And of course we recommend completing technical SEO tasks:

  • Assigning a unique title tag to each page
  • Fixing duplicate content issues
  • Updating your sitemap
  • Improving URL structure

These Google-recommended tactics, explained in the SEO Basics chapter of our guide, help search bots understand what your site is about so search engines can more effectively provide solutions to queries. But you have to remember that Google is a business, too. And the only way it has accomplished such exceptional brand awareness (the company name is a verb, for crying out loud) is by consistently churning out valid recommendations for search queries. Google wants to only feature websites that 1) are paying for placement or 2) are providing consumers with a pleasant online experience.

Wrap-up

The keyword encryption news is disheartening for sure. We have processes in place that relied on keyword data to identify needs of consumers and improve on-site content. But you can’t expect to thrive in this industry if you’re not willing to adapt and understand how these changes can play a positive role in the bigger picture. Evolve’s story of adaptation started before I joined the team in 2011. And it continues to unfold as we find new ways to connect with consumers, ours and our clients’, and ultimately discover new ways to increase revenue through a website.

 

Check out the new SEO Guide!

Characteristics of a Healthcare Marketing Team in 2013

According to a Gartner study on digital marketing, many industries are increasing their marketing budgets this year. However, some industries, Healthcare included, are continuing to dump significantly higher funds into traditional marketing methods, which can’t be measured as effectively as digital efforts. In a world where consumers are increasingly transitioning their news and research mediums from television and radio to online sources, a lack of digital marketing is a gross misstep by any industry, especially healthcare.

Marketing budget growth for healthcare

Along with adhering to the growing trend of researching healthcare information online, the benefit of digital marketing is the ability to track potential and current patients’ behavior and conversions, illuminating which format and tone of messaging is effective. Three-quarters of U.S. citizens prefer researching topics regarding their personal health before seeking professional, in-person medical advice. In order to capture the attention of this burgeoning self-searching consumer, it is vital for pharmaceutical and healthcare providers to invest not simply in digital marketing, but also in a great digital marketing team.

patient search for healthcare

Effective healthcare marketing teams will develop and implement a plan that educates and engages current or potential patients in a cost-effective, measurable way. To build a great digital marketing team for your healthcare brand, focus on developing the following characteristics:

1. Able to plan in months, not just years

A hospital’s digital marketing team needs to begin with a solid plan that addresses short and long-term goals. Because data is available to us online instantly, there is no reason to not generate monthly or quarterly plans in lieu of locked-in, stagnant annual plans. This opportunity for frequent measuring and flexibility is vital to capitalize on new opportunities and react to market performance changes. If a paid search campaign isn’t delivering leads, there is no need to wait several months to make adjustments: that’s the beauty of search. And that’s just one way healthcare brands can ensure their budgeting dollars are being spent wisely.

2.  Cognizent of multiple marketing channels

A sufficient digital team features members who have experience marketing through multiple channels, such as email marketing, paid advertising, mobile apps, and local search. Often this means using a CRM (customer relationship management) tool. In healthcare, a CRM tool allows hospitals to comply with critical healthcare reform demands, such as sending appointment follow-ups and delivering literature for procedure preparation or recovery.

3. Proficient in social media

Healthcare marketing teams need to have a thorough understanding of how to use social media for the overall brand development. Along with allowing brands to reach new patients, social channels provide a way to signal to Google that a brand is relevant and committed to its audience. We especially want to emphasize the importance of using Google+ as a hub for sharing news, engaging in conversation, and encouraging online reviews.

4. Willing to rely on analytical thinking

From email marketing to website behavior, every aspect of an online business can be tracked. Team members who understand the digital trends and can draw insights from analytics will be able to communicate what impacts sales and why a web page sees an increase (or lack thereof) in traffic. Effective digital healthcare marketers will then be able to incorporate the data into creating even more successful marketing strategies, starting with sharing digital wins across all service lines. This application takes practice, and in many instances, training from outside resources, but the investment will change the way your organization measures success.

5. Eager to invest in content creation

Digital marketing hinges on website content, but this doesn’t just refer to an influx of words on new pages. Rather, this strategy refers to the creation of engaging, educational content that transforms the visitor into a patient and inspires him or her to share content across social networks, further expanding the potential audience. By referring to keyword research as an indication of what questions your organization can answer for patients, as well as what topics have significant search volume and opportunity for patient acquisition, a content strategy will enhance the quality of your hospital’s website while simultaneously catering to potential patients.

Conclusion

Times have changed for the healthcare industry. Now it is the patient who is in charge. This awareness should fuel all marketing efforts, especially inbound. It is critical to realize that a website without sufficient content will struggle to retain, much less convert, traffic coming in from paid ads, organic search rankings, or social media avenues. A digital marketing team must not only understand the evolving online marketplace, but also be able to educate, engage, and empower the audience with quality content and task-oriented websites.

Actions for Effective Healthcare Marketing Strategy

It’s growing more common for people in need of healthcare to explore their options online before making an appointment. With search engines making it so simple to compare and contrast brands and provide answers to questions, why wouldn’t someone start their treatment from the comfort of their home?

SERP

Because people search for solutions online, digital campaigns are an unavoidable aspect of an effective marketing strategy for healthcare brands. But even the face of digital marketing changes as new mediums and opportunities for engagement gain traction. Blog posts, white papers, and email newsletters still play a viable role in online healthcare marketing strategy, but they alone are not enough to thrive, especially when lead generation and conversion rates are the lifeblood of an organization. So where do you start?

Healthcare Marketing Scorecard

Determining your audience is a two-fold process, but the steps coincide with keyword research. The first challenge is understanding how your solutions can fulfill needs for your consumer base. Most companies have this figured out early in the product development phase or through keyword research, which should illuminate gaps in on-site content. The second aspect is defining the audience you are targeting; this becomes more evident as you organize the volume of traffic for different keywords. However, itas not enough to define them as the parties needing your solution or service. Effective healthcare marketing strategy will seek a comprehensive view of these individuals. By taking stock of your audience’s demographics: age, income, gender, and other details, you can combine your observations with existing research to determine effective marketing approaches.

Invest in a social presence

Some healthcare companies, particularly those focused on older demographics, are inclined to ignore social media and leave that medium to younger generations. We do not recommend this. According to a 2010 Pew International report, the number of social network users among the 50-and-older crowd increased by 88 percent over the past year. Among the 65-and-older crowd, social media use doubled. Today, three years later, we can only imagine how many more older adults are active online. Developing and monitoring social media profiles is a time-consuming process, but the resulting digital presence has potential to be one of the most valuable aspects of your healthcare marketing strategy. Additionally, because Generation Y expects brands to be active on social media channels, ignoring the need to communicate via Facebook or Twitter may portray the brand as unwilling to adapt.

Optimize your website

Most businesses recognize the need to have a company website, but in today’s market, that’s not enough to draw an audience. A well optimized, user-friendly website is a foundational piece of healthcare marketing strategy. 1. Organize the site effectively The first step in optimization is building a website that is clean, clear and easy to use. Navigation must be user-friendly, for both visitors and search bots that crawl the website. Standard rules to follow include:

  • Make sure each page title, title tag, and meta description is unique and relevant
  • Eliminate all issues related to duplicate content
  • Organize URLs to be brief and inclusive of keywords
  • Descriptively name image files
  • Make sure the sitemap is updated

Additionally, lead generation resources, such as a newsletter sign-up or a preventative care worksheet a should be prominently displayed to maximize leads and conversion opportunities. 2. Update content Content also needs to be consistently updated and directly related to the terms your brand is targeting. Use basic SEO principles to outfit your website’s content with keywords that will appeal to online search queries. Online search traffic can provide a valuable stream of promising leads when this optimization is properly done. 3. Enable mobility Websites should also be mobile-optimized. This includes working location-specific keywords into your content and facilitating tasks for visitors. For example, enabling phone numbers to automatically prompt a call when clicked will allow visitors to seamlessly schedule an appointment. Forward-thinking healthcare marketing strategy will develop mobile-optimized lead generation and contact forms that can be easily filled out on a mobile device, making your company more accessible and creating a new stream of leads.

Pay for Visibility

Search engine optimization is difficult. Achieving favorable positions organically in the search engine results pages does not happen overnight. Fortunately, there is still a way to score a position at the top of a page, thus capturing the attention of potential patients. Paid Search is an advanced form of advertising that displays sponsored messages to searches containing specific keywords. Sponsors only have to pay when the ad is clicked, making this advertising channel more budget-friendly than traditional methods. Just make sure you are sending visitors to strategically-designed, relevant landing pages.

digital health of hospitals preview

Revise and refine using analytics

Between Google Analytics, social metrics, and strategy insights developed in-house, digital marketing delivers critical information that helps you understand how campaigns are performing, particularly in relation to lead generation and conversions. By reviewing this data consistently, marketers can identify areas for improvement and other campaigns that might benefit from a greater investment. Ultimately, these changes should help boost conversion rates and improve the ROI from your healthcare marketing strategy. In an industry growing more competitive and saturated with options, healthcare marketing strategy professionals must discover new ways to set their brand apart. Be mindful of the opportunity existing on the digital front, and be willing to invest in the creation of content, on-site optimization, and paid search.

Necessary Actions for Effective Healthcare Marketing Strategy

It’s growing more common for people in need of healthcare to explore their options online before making an appointment. With search engines making it so simple to compare and contrast brands and provide answers to questions, why wouldn’t someone start their treatment from the comfort of their home?

healthcare marketing essentials

Because people search for solutions online, digital campaigns are an unavoidable aspect of an effective marketing strategy for healthcare brands. But even the face of digital marketing changes as new mediums and opportunities for engagement gain traction. Blog posts, white papers, and email newsletters still play a viable role in online healthcare marketing strategy, but they alone are not enough to thrive, especially when lead generation and conversion rates are the lifeblood of an organization. So where do you start?

Healthcare Marketing Scorecard

Determining your audience is a two-fold process, but the steps coincide with keyword research. The first challenge is understanding how your solutions can fulfill needs for your consumer base. Most companies have this figured out early in the product development phase or through keyword research, which should illuminate gaps in on-site content. The second aspect is defining the audience you are targeting; this becomes more evident as you organize the volume of traffic for different keywords. However, itas not enough to define them as the parties needing your solution or service. Effective healthcare marketing strategy will seek a comprehensive view of these individuals. By taking stock of your audience’s demographics: age, income, gender, and other details, you can combine your observations with existing research to determine effective marketing approaches.

Invest in a social presence

Some healthcare companies, particularly those focused on older demographics, are inclined to ignore social media and leave that medium to younger generations. We do not recommend this. According to a 2010 Pew International report, the number of social network users among the 50-and-older crowd increased by 88 percent over the past year. Among the 65-and-older crowd, social media use doubled. Today, three years later, we can only imagine how many more older adults are active online. Developing and monitoring social media profiles is a time-consuming process, but the resulting digital presence has potential to be one of the most valuable aspects of your healthcare marketing strategy. Additionally, because Generation Y expects brands to be active on social media channels, ignoring the need to communicate via Facebook or Twitter may portray the brand as unwilling to adapt.

Optimize your website

Most businesses recognize the need to have a company website, but in today’s market, that’s not enough to draw an audience. A well optimized, user-friendly website is a foundational piece of healthcare marketing strategy. 1. Organize the site effectively The first step in optimization is building a website that is clean, clear and easy to use. Navigation must be user-friendly, for both visitors and search bots that crawl the website. Standard rules to follow include:

  • Make sure each page title, title tag, and meta description is unique and relevant
  • Eliminate all issues related to duplicate content
  • Organize URLs to be brief and inclusive of keywords
  • Descriptively name image files
  • Make sure the sitemap is updated

Additionally, lead generation resources, such as a newsletter sign-up or a preventative care worksheet a should be prominently displayed to maximize leads and conversion opportunities. 2. Update content Content also needs to be consistently updated and directly related to the terms your brand is targeting. Use basic SEO principles to outfit your website’s content with keywords that will appeal to online search queries. Online search traffic can provide a valuable stream of promising leads when this optimization is properly done. 3. Enable mobility Websites should also be mobile-optimized. This includes working location-specific keywords into your content and facilitating tasks for visitors. For example, enabling phone numbers to automatically prompt a call when clicked will allow visitors to seamlessly schedule an appointment. Forward-thinking healthcare marketing strategy will develop mobile-optimized lead generation and contact forms that can be easily filled out on a mobile device, making your company more accessible and creating a new stream of leads.

Pay for Visibility

Search engine optimization is difficult. Achieving favorable positions organically in the search engine results pages does not happen overnight. Fortunately, there is still a way to score a position at the top of a page, thus capturing the attention of potential patients. Paid Search is an advanced form of advertising that displays sponsored messages to searches containing specific keywords. Sponsors only have to pay when the ad is clicked, making this advertising channel more budget-friendly than traditional methods. Just make sure you are sending visitors to strategically-designed, relevant landing pages.

hospital website marketing

Revise and refine using analytics

Between Google Analytics, social metrics, and strategy insights developed in-house, digital marketing delivers critical information that helps you understand how campaigns are performing, particularly in relation to lead generation and conversions. By reviewing this data consistently, marketers can identify areas for improvement and other campaigns that might benefit from a greater investment. Ultimately, these changes should help boost conversion rates and improve the ROI from your healthcare marketing strategy. In an industry growing more competitive and saturated with options, healthcare marketing strategy professionals must discover new ways to set their brand apart. Be mindful of the opportunity existing on the digital front, and be willing to invest in the creation of content, on-site optimization, and paid search.

Simple .htaccess Tricks for On-Site Optimization

This post goes out to all the site owners/developers out there who are running a site using the Apache server. You want to optimize your site for search results, but the whole task seems rather daunting. We’ll be honest, it can be. But before doing keyword research, building landing pages, and perfecting your internal linking structure, there are some basic on-site modifications you can make first. This list represents some of the most common on-site mistakes SEOs encounter. Luckily, they are also some of the easiest to repair. All of these changes can be implemented by simply adding a few basic lines of code to the site’s .htaccess file.

How to Edit the .htaccess

Accessing the .htaccess:

Using an FTP client, you can log in to your domain and edit the .htaccess file from there. (My preferred FTP client is Filezilla.) Your FTP login should be available from whatever host you are using (e.g., GoDaddy, Bluehost). For those of you who have access to a cpanel (control panel), the .htaccess file will be available from your File Manager. If unable to find it immediately, make sure you display hidden files, as sometimes it is hidden by default. In most cases, you should already have an .htaccess file available to select from the existing files; otherwise you will need to create one.

Creating an .htaccess file:

If there is no sign of a .htaccess file, you can create one. (You’ll want to double or triple check this and cross-source with some other resources before reaching this conclusion, to make sure you are not creating a duplicate.) Open a text editor program (Notepad for PCs or TextEdit for Macs). Make sure to name the file exactly “.htaccess,” not “htaccess.txt” or any other file extension. Only use lowercase letters and make sure a dot precedes the “htaccess.”

Simple Tricks for SEO

Once you have created or opened the .htaccess file, you are ready to make some edits. Each of these simple lines of code make a BIG difference as far as overall site health and performance. If you are unsure whether or not your site includes these directives, it is worth checking. We generally recommend that every site have these included in the .htaccess file.

1. Disallow index files.

Every site is built in terms of directories, which are essentially folders. Each of these directories contains files that represent individual web pages or pieces of media. However, in many instances, a particular file within the directory is not called out in the URL. So for example: yourdomain.com/test/. Thus, each directory should include an index page (e.g., index.html). These index pages essentially tell the server to display this page by default if a specific file is not requested. When a server is told to look up a directory that does not contain an index file, all of the files in that folder will be displayed instead (see image below). In other words, if the server is not directed on which file to display by default, it displays a list of all of them.

Website directory that does not contain an index file

Why should you care? For one, there are potential security issues that come along with this. It’s not enough to be a major security problem on its own, but if someone is already looking to breach your security, it’s effectively giving them a tall glass of lemonade. aHere you go Mr. Hacker, thanks for all of your hard work. Enjoy!a Another, possibly more important, issue is bad user experience. This page is ugly to say the least. It’s definitely not helpful to the user. If you’ve ever stumbled upon one of these pages yourself, I can imagine you didn’t stay for long trying to figure it out. How To: Disallowing index files prevents servers from producing directory listings for anyone to see. Insert the following code into the root folder of the .htaccess file:

Options -Indexes

Now, if someone enters a directory name that is missing an index file, they will be shown a 403 Forbidden Error. As discussed later in this post, this page can be easily customized in order to give the user instructions on what to do next.

2. Redirect www to non-www (or vice versa).

Google treats www.domain.com and domain.com as completely different pages from one another. Without redirecting one page to the other, most sites have identical pages located on both versions. Why Should You Care? If there are links to both the www and non-www versions of pages within a domain, this can lead to what is known in the SEO world as “duplicate content.” It’s bad because it splits up the authority of these pages among the different versions, which have acquired links. It can also, in rare instances, lead to penalties. Therefore, it is important to set a preferred version for every website and redirect all URLs within the domain to that version. Whether you prefer the dub or non-dub is totally up to you, search engines do not have a preference. How To: Using 301 Permanent Redirects, all of the authority of the non-preferred pages will be moved to the canonical (preferred) version. To redirect to the www version of the site, insert the following code into the .htaccess file:

RewriteEngine On
RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} ^example.com
RewriteRule (.*) http://www.example.com/$1 [R=301,L]

To redirect to the non-www version of the site, insert this code:

RewriteEngine On
RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} ^www.example.com
RewriteRule (.*) http://example.com/$1 [R=301,L]

(Remember to insert your domain name where it says “example.”)

3. Remove Directory Indexes from the URLs

We already discussed how directory indexes (i.e. “index.html”) are important. We want these to exist, definitely. But we donat necessarily want them to appear at the end of the URL. Why Should You Care? While these pages are helpful to the server, the directory index does not help the user. In fact, it is just one more parameter for them to type into their browser, or to copy and paste, or what have you. Also, this can be another big contributor to duplicate content, as discussed earlier in this post. If the same page exists at “yourdomain.com” and “yourdomain.com/index.html”, this is no good for SEO. One way to clean up a site’s URL structure is to remove extra directory indexes from the URL. How To: Add a rewrite rule that instructs the server to redirect all pages with that ending parameter to a URL without it. Insert the following code to the .htaccess file:

RewriteCond %{THE_REQUEST} /index.html HTTP [NC]
RewriteRule (.*)index.html$ /$1 [R=301,L]
4. Create Custom Error Pages

Even the healthiest sites have errors every now and then. These most commonly include 404 Not Found errors, for pages that have been deleted or moved. This also includes things such as 500 Server Errors, 403 Forbidden Errors, etc. The causes for these vary, and there are different ways to fix them based on SEO best practices depending on the cause. But that’s a topic for another day. Create custom error pages The first, and easiest step, is to create custom error pages. This ensures that if a visitor does encounter one of these errors, they will be less likely to abandon ship. Why Should You Care? From a user experience perspective, errors can be detrimental. If you’ve ever seen an ugly error page like the one above, I’ll take a wild guess that you didn’t stay on that site very long. Errors are still a big problem and should be a priority to fix. However, the process can be a long one. In the mean time, you have the opportunity to salvage some of the potentially lost revenue and bad user experience by creating a custom page. Custom pages can include an apology for any inconvenience and direct instructions on what the user should do next. How To: In order to do this, you just need to reference custom pages in your .htaccess file. Add the following lines to your .htaccess, one for each custom error page you’ve created:

Error Document NUM /folder/name.extension

Some examples:

ErrorDocument 404 /errors/not-found.html
ErrorDocument 500 /errors/server.html

Back Up and Test!

Please remember to:

1. Back up your .htaccess file. Before you make any of these changes, save a copy of your .htaccess file! If something does go wrong for whatever reason, you will be able to re-upload the original .htaccess, preventing you from going in to panic mode. 2. Test your site. After making any change to the .htaccess file, make sure to test out the site to make sure it’s working. Checking after each update will help determine where/if a problem arises.

Summary

As SEOs, we hate to see an awesome site with simple errors holding it back. Many site owners donat realize that these issues exist and how easily they can be repaired. We encourage you, as a site owner, to ensure that these errors are avoided/corrected as much as possible. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist, or even a development background, to fix some core issues that could be preventing a site from performing in search.

Fundamentals of a solid company blog

Most of the websites I scour on a daily basis are other marketing sites, and for the most part, they have it together. The blogs of other industries, however, are a different story; the brands don’t always see the value. I’m so used to stumbling upon a company’s blog that hasn’t been updated since its “Welcome to our blog!” post circa 2007, it often takes me by surprise to see a non-marketing company investing time and effort into its web log (a little trivia for you there). This post features three seemingly dull industries that are actually doing a great job with content creation.

Blogging Fundamentals

Niche 1: Air Conditioning Blog

When I googled “air conditioning blog,” the first result to populate was a company called A #1 Air. Unlike the days of yore in which brands could “rank” first in the yellow pages, a name like A#1 isn’t going to increase a website’s visibility in the search engines. Google doesn’t exactly deliver results alphabetically.

Air Conditioning Blog in Google screenshot

Adaptation is essential

What stood out to me more than anything was this brand’s willingness to adapt to the requirements of the digital age. It takes years to build a blog that can rank well in search engines (not to mention first position for “air conditioning blog”). A#1 obviously jumped ship upon realizing no one really uses YellowBook anymore, except as a makeshift booster seat or a doorstopper.

Don’t forget local terms

The blog’s content is pretty solid for the most part. As someone who isn’t a homeowner, it’s hard for me to gauge whether the posts are super helpful or not. I applaud this brand’s use of local terms in addition to industry keywords; companies that serve a restricted geographic area are dependent upon ranking for local terms. However, I would warn against using them too often, as it tends to deflate the authenticity of the posts.

Local Keywords in blog

Organization is important

User experience is a significant deciding factor for whether or not a visitor to a blog stays or leaves. This blog makes it possible to search and browse for past posts in a myriad of ways, including a search bar at the top, a list of archives organized by month, categories, and tags. It’s probably not necessary to employ all of these options, but doing so doesn’t hurt.

What I want to see:

While this blog is updated pretty consistently and does a great job of targeting keywords, it would be nice to include a more tangible post. By this, I mean visualizing a problem (even a small one) with photos and then including a step-by-step explanation of how to fix it. The posts often ask readers to contact A#1 for their air conditioning needs, but I think a tactical post would help. It’s okay to give away secrets or a process because most visitors in need of a service aren’t going to do it themselves anyway. Rather, they appreciate the brand’s willingness to share information. It instills a sense of trust.

Niche 2: Logistics Blog

Whatever the industry, there are people searching for answers. A blog provides the perfect platform for answering these questions. Besides shedding light on the industry as a whole or how a particular brand’s process works, brands can use their blog as a place for sharing news. Burris Logistics does exactly that.

Showing brand involvement

One way to showcase expertise is to document and share industry involvement. In this case, Burris Logistics frequents conferences and workshops to collaborate, network, and learn about the latest industry news and trends. As a visitor to the blog, I appreciate Burris Logisticsa dedication to investing in education for both the brand and its employees.

Logistics blog showing involvement

Transparency: a sweet PR move

B2B brands often struggle to generate unique content in an interesting way. In between technical or informative posts, it’s refreshing to feature articles that serve as PR-esque buffers. This blog, for example, dedicates an entire post to employees celebrating an anniversary with the company. Through the employee interviews, readers learn a lot about the brand’s devotion to employees’ growth and well-being, as well as the kind of culture this brand provides.

Logistics blog showing employees

What I want to see:

I wish the employees in attendance to the logistics conferences had been able to share some of the information they learned. Doing so could spark a conversation with other professionals in the industry. More than anything, it would prove that the employees of Burris Logistics truly benefited from the experience. Even though the blog’s general audience may not fully understand or appreciate the content, it would recognize the brand’s interest in transferring trust and information.

Niche 3: Insurance Blog

The third and final industry I explored was insurance. The big names have a reputation for investing very heavily on television ads. Often times, the purpose of the spot isn’t even related to insurance, but to drill the brand name into the viewers’ psyche. What about those of us who are more inclined to search for insurance companies based on needs, not brand names? And those of us who don’t have a TV (looks around hopefully)? There is hope yet; Home Insurance, a mid-sized insurance company, is whipping up some pretty great, totally realistic posts on its blog.

Information is always a good start

Home Insurance impressed me with the overall quality of its posts. The latest article, for example, dives into extreme detail on the subject of water damage, including how homes become damaged in the first place (who knew clogged gutters could cause it?).

Insurance blog informational

Try harder to be interesting

I know how difficult it can be to put a new spin on a subject. What’s important to realize, though, is that even a slight variation or perception of a subject can resonate with completely different audiences. One blog post, for example, could have been one inclusive article about insuring personal items, but instead it focused on record collections specifically. While my humble assortment of Pixies and Pavement vinyl may not be anything worth insuring, the post title caught my eye immediately and heightened my respect for the brand.

Think beyond your realm of expertise.

One thing I love about this blog is that it seems legitimately devoted to benefiting its readers. For example, it recently reached out to professional bloggers to assemble a list of handy money-saving tips. Is insurance mentioned anywhere? Not that I can tell a all I see are an armful of tips from normal people about saving a few bucks. These practical snippets convey to me that the brand is committed to its consumers enough to invest in a project that really has nothing to do with insurance. Home Insurance wasnat afraid to seek advice from others a and the end result is a super robust, sharable, helpful infographic.

Insurance company infographic

 

Flash that Authorship

People generally want to know who has written the post. It’s just comforting to be able to associate a name with the words you’re reading. Sometimes brands will accrue a following due to a specific member on the blog. Donat inhibit this by keeping blog posts anonymous (of course there are exceptions). I appreciate the latest post linking to the author’s Google+ page; it makes stalking way easier.

Allow for a response

The most effective content evokes a desire to chime in. Whether by sharing with Twitter followers or replying to the article in the comment section, a reader should be able to effortlessly take action. A proper blog should be enhanced with social share buttons and commenting capabilities. This blog gets a thumbs-up for accomplishing both a as well as a high five for adding embedding instructions to its recent infographic.

Insurance company social buttons

What I want to see:

Honestly, there’s not much I can really add to this one. This particular brand impressed me the most with its ability to provide industry information without trying too hard for the sale. There’s even a sweet poll that allows visitors to vote on the type of post subject they are most interested in. Wow. Well done. I suppose the one bit of advice I could dish out is to remove the dates from the post URLs; keeping keywords close to the root domain is the best approach.

Conclusion

Blogs are critical elements of a website. They allow brands to share their expertise to an audience that’s actually interested. How companies still see the value in expensive TV ads more than their personal domain is hard (for me) to understand. When a content strategy meets implementation, a company can experience a serious spike in authority and traffic. And let’s not forget that consistently updating a website with fresh content is a major indication to search engines of a caring website. If you’ve been struggling to understand how a brand can constantly generate content that will actually target keywords and help an audience, hopefully this post has reminded you that it is possible, despite your industry.

The Penguin Update

Assessing Google’s Penalties

A few times a year in the SEO industry, the sky falls, just after the rankings do. In the Year of the Panda, many SEOs and online marketers felt the wrath of Google like never before. Many sites lost their rankings in 2011 (and not due to competition pushing them out), some sites lost their revenue and a few sites lost everything. Many agencies and so-called experts were forced to explain to their clients “why the site isn’t getting traffic any longer.”

In the book SEO SecretsDanny Dover breaks penalties into two broad categories. By labeling the penalties Algorithmic and Manual, I believe he makes penalties easy to understand. Just remember:

Algorithmic Penalty = Panda

Manual Review Penalty = Message from a member of Google’s spam team in your Webmaster account

An Algorithmic Penalty is generally an effort to make the search results more accurate and effective, while minimizing user manipulation opportunities. So when one of the search engines experts has determined a way to lighten the impact of dishonest tactics, that ranking signal is added to the equation and essentially acts as a penalty for shady behavior. So what are the indications of new signals being added? Simple: losing rankings and traffic. In the case of Panda, it was entire industries.

As a result, links have lost their juice. One of the most common practices for manipulating search engines rankings using content farms to provide massive amounts of inbound links. For years companies would invest in building low-quality content sites with the intention of providing inbound links for clients. These inbound links would increase rankings for many clients with little effort. Throughout the Panda updates, article submission sites and other forms of user-generated content sites were losing value due to an overall low quality of content.

The silver lining is this: you can get your site out of this googleplex by improving your “quality score.” Become trustworthy through links from more authoritative, trusted websites than your own.

A Manual Penalty, however, generally means your site or specific pages of your site have been put in a holding cell. The repercussions are worse, and it takes a lot of due diligence to correct. Sometimes a domain has to go the graveyard. So what are the signs? Well, of course, traffic and rankings.

To be more specific, Google will play Houdini.
Top pages (sometimes the home page) which previously ranked will be buried. When Google assesses a penalty like that, it is usually in response to cloaking, keyword stuffing, and link selling or buying. In really bad scenarios, Google will remove domains. In that case, just pack it up.

What are the steps to correcting?

Having a search audit performed by experts is an obvious place to start, but if your “experts” got you into this digital pickle, you might look elsewhere for the audit.

The primary functions to execute in search of the problem:

  1.  Examine Link Profile. Why? Because this is where most things go wrong. Links are where Google spends most of its resources (remember: how Google views links is what makes the engine unique).
  2.  On-Site Analysis. Checking for duplicate issues that could be perceived as spam, canonicalization, and robot files. Yes, robot files. Your CMS is capable of doing crazy things from time to time, as are humans. Occasionally that results in mistyping and misclicking.

More Resources:

Googleas Webmaster Blog
Googleas Webmaster Malware & Spam Forum

 

New SEO Audit for Victims of Googleas Penguin Update

Youave likely been hearing a lot about Googleas latest algorithm change, the Penguin Update. As an attempt to further advance the search engineas 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 theyare 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 aexpertsa 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 websiteas inadequacy, or as Google puts it, aa negative user experience.a  Keep in mind that Google isnat an inclusive list of every website. Itas 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, youare going to be bumped back, whether 10 positions, 10 pages, or simply wiped from the index entirely.

Our best advice: avoid it.

If itas been a while since youave 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, doesnat reveal which specific signals are the cause for sitesa visibility demise a but by understanding Googleas 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 arenat limited to:

  • Keyword stuffing a overusing keywords in the titles, URLs, and anchor text
  • Duplicate content a identical blocks of copy on various pages of your site. Hereas 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 a essentially, this is disguising links or copy so that they appear to Google differently than they do to users.

If youare 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 donat work as well as they once did a 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.

 

Penguin-approved link building

Weare more than a month into seeing the effects of Googleas Penguin Update. Hopefully youare one of the many webmasters who have breathed a sigh of relief with each Google Analytics log-in. But if youare 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, weave observed that unnatural links are fairly high up there. Google makes it very clear that link quantityand quality play a major role in how a particular website ranks in its search engine results pages. When obtained naturally, a websiteas inbound links will vary in anchor text and time of acquisition. When this isnat the case, Google raises a giant eyebrow and begins to further investigate the legitimacy of a websiteas link profile.

Link building can sometimes get a bum rap because it is a proactive approach of acquiring links. Google never intended for the aLinkeratia 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.

Penguinas link building pet peeves:

It shouldnat 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 punishmenta even de-indexationa 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 brandas expertise to a relevant siteas blog. More often than not, youall get a link back to a certain page on your site in return for the favor. Thatas how it works.

Comment spamming: Itas difficult for us to fathom that this even exists still a and yet, it most absolutely does. Google really doesnat like you to self promote your own website via the comment section of anotheras blog. Thatas just not cool. Itas frustrating to other users and especially to said siteas 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?

Hereas our basic rule of thumb: if link building is easy, youare doing it wrong. So whatas the right way?

Start by solving a problem. Then reach out to authoritative websites with the solution. Theyall 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 didnat have to write. It shows readers that a websiteas blog is interesting enough to attract guest writers a and that additional perspective adds value to the blog.

But waita| thereas 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, thatas a bad sign a 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, letas all throw our white hats into the sky and shout ahuzzah!a

 

Fix your on-site errors

Start on your own site. Fix the things that are in your control, such as weak content, duplicate content, and missing Meta data. We recommend knowing exactly which pages are sending red flags to search engines; an SEO Audit that is specific to Googleas Penguin update can provide a much-needed baseline. You will know exactly how bad the damage, but more importantly, you will know what actions to take in order to get back on track.

Get rid of poor backlinks

Remember that time you paid a company or person fifty bucks for 10,000 inbound links? Sounded like a great deal at the time, but you know the saying: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. So how do you get rid of links from other sites to yours? Contact the owners of those sites and ask for them to remove the link?

Precisely. Itas not a fun job. It may not be an easy job. But with the right tools, you can slowly clean up the mess you have made.

  1. We first recommend calling up the SEO aexperta who sold you on the idea in the first place (assuming you are innocent here). This person might have an easy fix for you, especially if the purchasing process was a simple overnight  that can be reversed just as easily. If not, you might have to start with one site at a time.
  2. Use sites like Open Site Explorer, Majestic SEO, and of course, the Backlink Report from Google Webmaster Tools. These tools will inform you of the quality of your backlinks. Filter the results to show only followed links (meaning the search engines understand to pass the authority of a site on to the domain to which it links). Any incoming links that seem unnatural will need to be removed.
  3. Visit the websites that are harming your authority and search for contact information. I find the Tout extension for Chrome to be extremely useful in that it scrapes email addresses; this can save a lot of time.

If youare up for it, we recommend tackling an SEO Audit on your own; the process is not easy, but we have compiled a checklist of the steps we go through here at Evolve. Otherwise, feel free to give us a call; we can tell you if a sudden drop in traffic is due to Googleas Penguin update, a personal penalty to your site, or something else.

 

Penguin 2.0

Penguin 2.0 rolled out at then end of May 2013 and below we list out the additions to how it affected millions of websites.

For those of you who prefer reading to video viewing, here is a summary of my interpretation of things to come:

1. Stricter Policy on Advertorials

There is nothing wrong with a pay for inclusion link in the form of an advertorial. But Mr. Cutts says that these links need to:

a. Not flow link juice, and
b. Provide clear disclosure that they are in fact ads and not organic links

Sites that do not adhere to these guidelines may be penalized for poor link tactics, even if it was not intentionally deceptive. If you are paying for a link, make sure you are getting a true ROI by requesting that these guidelines are in place. Otherwise, that link may do your site more harm than good.

2. More Sophisticated Link Analysis

Some factors that will be evaluated will include:

– The use of exact match anchor text
– Links coming from sites that solely offer aSEOa for your website
– Footer links

3. Webmaster Tools Improvements

Matt mentioned that there will be better detection and notifications for webmasters when a site has been hacked. As more and more sites continue to be targeted by hackers, this is definitely a positive.

Better communication to webmasters through Googleas Webmaster Tools has been a trend in recent months, and it sounds like this will continue to be the case. Any information about how a site is appearing to Google is extremely valuable, so this is one thing Iam excited about.

4. Rewarding Brands for Authority

Brands that are aan authoritya in a space will be rewarded with extra weight in search results. Exactly how this will be determined was not said, but I would imagine that social interaction, reviews, and link profile will all contribute to aauthority.a

5. More Diversification in the first page of results

Google, in an attempt to keep results as helpful and relevant as possible, is cutting down on clusters of pages from a single domain appearing on the first page of results. However, this doesnat mean that deeper results pages will not include some of these clusters. In fact, Cutts implies that these might actually be more common on the second page of results.

Reading Between the Lines?

I donat claim to be a mind reader, but my hunch is that we can expect the following as well:

1. Engagement metrics will increase in importance.

Matt opened the video with saying that if webmasters continue to build sites that are engaging to users and include quality content, they are doing what they should be. Weave always known that social interaction and things such as click through rate are important. But there has been some debate about how important some other metrics, such as time on site and bounce rate, really are. I have a hunch that Google might examine these things a bit more closely in the future.

2. Google+ reviews will matter even more.

Similarly to on-site engagement metrics, I think that social engagement and reviews on Google+ will grow in significance.

Why? The content on Google+ is all crawlable, and I would imagine that is no accident. Plus, we all know that Google likes it when people use their products, (hence why so many YouTube videos show in Google mixed results). Also, the fact that Google just rolled out a whole new layout for Google+ means that their developers are hard at work to make this platform optimal for users. I would suggest any brand to jump on the Google+ bandwagon and quick.

What does this mean for brands?

If you are aware of any spammy link tactics that a not-so-great search team has done for your website in the past, it might be time to clean up some of those links. Regardless, I would suggest taking a hard look at your siteas link profile and look for anything unnatural or of very low quality.

The penalties for link spammers are only going to become more and more strict. Since theaBackruba planning stages, links have been considered extremely important for giving a site legitimacy. So it makes sense that they would also be weighed heavily when deciding if a site has used manipulative tactics.

What does this mean for SEOs?

If SEOs are doing their job the right way, they shouldnat have too much to worry about. There is always a risk that client sites will get dinged, even if you are following guidelines, but Google is fairly good at updating and correcting these imperfections in algorithm updates.

One thing though, that Iam excited about at least, is a promise for more Webmaster reporting. Google has been really stepping up its game lately as far as providing us with more data in its free tools. With the new social measuring capabilities in Analytics, and more and more upgrades in Webmaster Tools, they seem to be working on improving these tools significantly. Now if only they would get rid of akeyword (not provided)aa|

Raven SERP Tracking Gone, What’s An SEO To Do?

Written by Kristy Kuntz, the SEO Manager at Evolve. Find her on Twitter!

Google’s Laying Down the Law!

Google has recently been enforcing some pretty strict terms and conditions in relation to its AdWords API. It has decided to restrict access to many paying subscribers who were deemed unable to pass the test. Long story short, Google has limited the use of its AdWords API access in co-existence with other scraped Google data. In this recent blog post, Jon Henshaw, the founder of Raven Tools, discusses how this recent change will affect the Raven Toolset, specifically the SERP Tracker tool and SEMRush data.  Starting on January 2nd, this data will be removed entirely. Another big player, SEOmoz, has had some issues with API data as well. But the latest updates encourage us that SEOmoz has no plans to shut down their rank tracking. According to Rand Fishkin’s words in this discussion on SEOmozas Q&A forum, everything will be back up and running with ranking data soon:

SEOmoz screenshot ranking data

However, the current state of the Rank Tracker tells a different story:

Screenshot of SEOmoz Rank Tracker update

If (and how) SEOmoz is getting around this, remains a mystery for now. However, it does seem pretty clear that Google intends to enforce strict policies relating to the use of its data, just as it always has. This means the future of the Rank Tracker remains unstable. I think Mr. Henshaw summarizes the situation in this snippet from his earlier mentioned article. When referring to the loss of scraped Google data, and what it will mean for SEO, he says:

Raven tools Jon Henshaw statement

Hmm… mysterious and slightly horrifying. Do I think he’s referring to the end of SEO altogether? No. But I think he is hinting at the fact that there may be a hard road ahead.

What We Lose

This is bad news for SEO as an industry, as it means that Google is, once again, choosing to limit our access to its data. What’s even more disappointing is Google’s lack of response to requests to create a similar tool set. In the best-case scenario we lose:

  • Raven SERP Tracker Data

In the worst-case scenario we ALSO lose:

  • SEOmoz Rank Tracker Data
  • All ranking data from reputable SEO resources
  • Whatever else Google decides to take away from us

How We Can Replace this Data?

Unfortunately, we are at Google’s mercy when it comes to its data. However, at the time being, there are still some other options out there for keeping track of the SERPs. SERP Tracking Replacement Tools Here is a brief list of some other sites offering similar rank tracking data:

Webmaster Tools Although Webmaster Tools will not tell you the exact rank for any term you would like, it does give information about the keywords people are searching to find your site and its approximate position in the SERPs for that term. To find this take a look at:

  • Queries and Impressions
  • Position in Search Results by Query

Google Analytics Google Analytics provides us with a vague picture relating to keyword rankings. We can, however, use it to see which pages are driving the most traffic and which of those are being clicked directly from the SERPs. We can also see which keywords are driving traffic to those pages. To find this look at the following data after segmenting by non-paid search:

  • Pageviews by Page
  • Top Landing Pages
  • Traffic Keywords

These tools may not be a perfect replacement for Raven Tools, but it’s somewhere to start.

A Novel Idea

It’s clear that the SEO industry is changing, like it always has. As SEOs, we have a difficult job that involves keeping up with trends and adapting to change. True, we could sit back and complain, blame Raven Tools for its decision and pretend we could have made a better one. Or as an even less productive alternative, we could use words like “evil” or “Satan,” to describe a major search engine, without which (let’s face it) we would all be pretty lost. But, here’s one novel idea. Why don’t we work toward developing new tools that will measure client ROI, not just specific keyword performance? Sure, ranking data is valuable, but it’s just ONE small way to measure online search success. If we can’t get creative and think of a better way to track site performance, we really have no right to be criticizing influential online brands, do we?

Segment Organic Traffic with Landing Pages

You probably associate the term “landing pages” primarily with pay-per-click advertising (PPC). Landing pages are critical to a successful PPC campaign because they segment visitors, thus yielding keyword-relevant results pages, increasing conversion rates, and lowering the cost-per-click (CPC) of the ad. Each ad campaign corresponds with its own unique landing page that is relevant to the ad and stripped of any distracting links or messaging. Landing pages aren’t just for PPC, though, which is why this post is entirely about using landing pages for organic SEO segmentation. Here are a few tips for building some bomb-ass organic landing pages:

Step 1. Create Keyword-Targeted Detail Pages

The most important concept to grasp is creating keyword-targeted detail pages with ranking potential for mid- to long-tail keyword phrases. These pages should target 1-5 keywords, and like other well-built landing pages, should link back to relevant pages within the site that yield conversions. One of the most common mistakes we encounter when conducting a site audit is a lack of detail pages. Websites often attempt to stuff too much information into one category-level page, and each page is expected to rank for a myriad of terms. That’s not gonna happen. Making over-stuffed pages is a mistake for a few reasons:

  1. It ignores the fact that people SCAN web pages. Think about how you navigate a website; most look for specific information quickly by scanning. (Let’s face it: you’re not reading this post word-for-word.) What does catch your eye is price, client testimonials, headlines, and buttons. If you have to dig through mountains of text on a single web page, you will miss important information or a crucial call to action. On the contrary, if there are individual pages dedicated to “pricing,” or “our services,” ranking in the SERPs, this speeds up the process and makes it much more likely that these pages will be visited and the information will be absorbed.
  2. It also ignores the fact that people already know exactly what they are looking for. There are definite exceptions to this. But most people have a pretty good idea of what they are searching for before they reach a website. If they have trouble finding it, they tend to go to a different site. It’s really that simple.
  3. It neglects passing link juice to deep pages. Link juice is the equity that passes through pages on a site from internal and external linking. Think of a link as a pipeline for passing this juice. The homepage tends to receive a ton of this liquid equity from external sites, but the difficulty lies in then passing it to other pages deep within the site. If a site succeeds in bringing links exclusively to the top-level pages, the bottom-level pages will be left dry and unable to rank, even though they hold valuable information about products/services.Therefore, detailed landing pages that bring in traffic for long-tail keywords are critical for passing link juice through a site.
  4. Over-crowded pages increase bounce rates. Even if people are finding what they are looking for on one over-stuffed page (unlikely), this has the potential of increasing your site’s bounce rate. Granted, you might not care about your bounce rate. But, call me paranoid, I have a theory that search engines do.
  5. Detail pages have higher potential to be ranking for the right terms. Search engines do a pretty good job of understanding what pages in a site are about, but they don’t always get it right. Pages dedicated to one topic have a greater opportunity to portray that topic using a few keywords. A few permutations of one core idea is much more simple to manage than a few permutations of quite a few core ideas.

So, SEO landing pages NEED to be keyword-rich and centered on a specific detail of your products or services. This brings me to my next point:

Step 2. Forget Conversions, Think Substance.

A landing page not centered on conversions? Blasphemy! Ok fine, don’t forget conversions entirely. But don’t concentrate on them solely. It’s true that landing pages are usually created to yield conversions. But so often, landing pages turn into only a contact form and a call to action and nothing more. Yes, these should probably be included somewhere on your landing page, but what it really needs is substance. This substance should correspond with keywords each page is meant to target, as discussed above. So, if you are following Step 1 and creating keyword-rich detail pages, this shouldn’t be a problem.

Step 3. Segment based on Persona and Stage in Conversion Funnel

Each site has visitors in all three stages of the conversion funnel: awareness, consideration, and purchase. In addition, each website has visitors from different demo- and psycho- graphics. So, for example, Evolve’s website has visitors in their mid-30s who are in the awareness stage. They may be building their own website and have heard of SEO and need more information. But Evolve also has visitors in their mid 50s in the purchase stage. These visitors may be the head of the marketing department at an agency looking for an SEO firm to hire. The list goes on. Once you have tapped in to who exactly is visiting your site and what they are looking for, you will be able to create landing pages for each one based on the keywords that they are likely to be searching. Make sense?

Summary:

Detailed landing pages are crucial for segmenting audiences in the SERPs, for both paid and organic listings. Organic landing pages should be specific and should target keywords that each segment of your audience is likely to be searching. As the search engines continue to change algorithms and re-evaluate relevant search results, I imagine that having segmented organic landing pages will continue to be increasingly important.