Miscellaneous Content | Evolve Digital Labs

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

404 Errors: What do they mean for SEO?

A 404 Not Found error can be a terrible disruption to user experience, particularly when it is not customized to reflect the brand of the website you are trying to navigate. Because visitors are forced to backtrack and reassess which page to visit next. Often, users simply leave.

Google's Penguin Update Still Hurts

 

Google’s brutal Penguin update is officially old news to anyone who stays informed of algorithm changes. When it launched back in April, a great deal of webmasters breathed sighs of relief while the not-so-lucky ones finally paid the penguin piper.

photo of penguin

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Get on the Map with Geotargeting

Buy local! Support local shops! Boost the economy; shop locally! Not so long ago, it became trendy to give business to local brands, and it’s a progression that we should be proud of. Even the search engines start pulling for the “little guys.” Okay, so maybe their intentions aren’t necessarily to boost business for the mom-and-pop shops, but at least Google makes it easier for them to rank on the first page. It requires some effort, yes,  but with a little on-site proactivity known as geotargeting, you can be owning the map in no time. This blog post covers the importance of geotargeting, as well as the actionable steps you can take to dominate the local search field for your industry. Yeah, we said dominate.

1. Include tons of location-rich content Location-rich content, as you might have guessed, relates to physical location. This includes maps, images, driving directions, reviews, etc. Not only do these elements provide tons of useful information at a glance, they also make a web page more aesthetically pleasing and trustworthy, and send a statement to search engines that reads, “Look at me, I’m local.” Although some of these elements might be image files, and therefore not crawlable, this can be accounted for by using relevant alt tags that include local terms. Alt tags are the text that appears when an image cannot be seen. They give the search engines a pretty good clue about what images are about, when they are keyword relevant of course. 2. Own long-tail keywords Geotargeting is all about just owning relevant long-tail keywords in the SERPs. Locational modifiers put any keyword phrase into the long-tail category, meaning that they are more specific phrases with generally less traffic than their generic counterparts. Owning the results for these phrases isn’t as hard as you might think because keyword difficulty and competition is generally much lower. This is a good thing, as it helps businesses quickly dominate the local atmosphere and bring in more qualified traffic.  Think about it: the more specific a term is that brings traffic to your site, the further down the conversion tunnel they are when they get there. We like that. How long tail you want to get depends on a few different factors. One example is how crowded your industry’s market is at your location. If ranking for your industry in your city is too difficult, either make your location more specific (like to your neighborhood), or be more descriptive about your products/services (e.g. instead of “seo company” try “local seo company”). So here’s how to rank. Use these long-tail keywords throughout your site’s content, especially in important areas like title tags, URLs, and Meta Descriptions. Keep reading friend; we’ll get there. 3. Localize Title Tags Title tags are one of the most important tools that the engines use to determine content relevancy.  Be sure to include the location name in title tags, and put it as close to the first 4 words as possible, because this is where Google puts the most weight. Include product/service keywords next, so that Google ties together your location and your expertise. For example, Evolve’s title tag for our homepage could be something like this: St. Louis - SEO Experts | Evolve Digital Labs. For specific service pages, title tags should be something like: St. Louis a Search Services | Evolve Digital Labs.  Or if we want to get more specific to our area, we could have something like: Downtown St. Louis a Search Services | Evolve Digital Labs. Keep in mind that your primary keyword should be first, so if your company is found more frequently through service queries, switch the keyword phrases around. 4. Localize URLs Search engines also use URL names to determine relevancy. Be sure to include your location somewhere within the URLs of the pages that you are optimizing for local search. As a side note, best practice is to separate words using dashes (-) so that search engines can pull out these useful keywords. This will be demonstrated in the examples below. If you have multiple locations that you are promoting, start with the most general terms for the locations homepage and get more specific to each neighborhood as you go to each location page. For example, let’s say Evolve had multiple locations in St. Louis. The locations homepage URL might be: evolvedigitallabs.com/st-louis-locations. Then for the downtown location, the URL would be: evolvedigitallabs.com/st-louis-locations/downtown-st-louis. For this, it is important to do some keyword research and figure out what people are searching for. You might be surprised what your neighborhood is being called in search queries. 5. Include Local Terms in Meta Descriptions Meta Descriptions might not directly influence rankings, but they definitely have an impact on click-throughs. The words used in the Meta Description that match the words used in search queries are bolded. So, if someone searched “St. Louis SEO” and Evolve used this phrase in our Meta tag, it would stand out and most likely increase clicks.  6. Have a Local Address and Phone Number on Every Page Make sure that every single location page has a local address, city, state, zip code, and phone number, and make sure that this information is crawlable. This effectively shows search engines that any keywords on that page should also be associated with your physical location.  So not only would Evolve likely rank for SEO in St. Louis, but also for reputation management terms, etc. In other words, this is a quick way to improve local rankings for every page.  7. Create, Claim and Optimize Google+ Local Listings In case you haven’t heard, Google Places pages are no more; they have been replaced by Google+ Local pages.  This is a change for sure, but it gives businesses more room to optimize pages (and also more room for failure). If your business had a Google Places page, all the information has just been transferred over.  If you didn’t have a Google Places page, get with it and go make your Google+ Local page! In either case, be sure that you have actually claimed the page so that only you have access and you can make sure all the information is correct. The next step is optimization.  Do this by making sure that your name, address, and phone number are exact copies of how they are listed on your website.  Make sure that relevant keywords are included in your descriptions. Most importantly, make sure that your reviews and Zagat rating on your Google+ page are up to par. If not, get cracking on getting customers to give your positive reviews and rankings. We’ll talk about this a bit later.  8. Add “+1″ Buttons If you haven’t added a Google+ “+1” button to your social media buttons collection, be sure that you do. Obviously, this will help with your social media interaction. But what does this have to do with local search? One reason is that when people conduct searches while logged on to their Google+ accounts, Google ranks pages that have been +1ed by people in their circles at the top. So let’s say you are a St. Louis resident searching arestaurants in St. Louis. If someone in your Google+ network has +1ed a St. Louis restaurant, this will show up at the top of your results. From a company standpoint, you want to be that business that is +1ed by the most local customers. 9. Take Advantage of Local Business Directories Business directories such as Yelp and CitySearch are great resources for bringing in local traffic.  These sites automatically sort results by the searcher’s physical location, another important reason to make sure that your location is readily established. If you are not listed in a business directory and you would like to be, reach out to them and ask; most directories will get back to you because they want to have a thorough list. Be sure to also alert these directories if you are moving locations, or if their information is incorrect. 10. Encourage User Reviews User reviews really do have a big impact not only on brand reputation. More recently, they have started to influence search rankings. In fact, Google+ Local pages give a Zagat rating with each result, which gives you a clue that yes, Google does care what people have to say. Search
engines do not want a badly reviewed site coming up at the top of results. Sure, bad reviews happen, but try to balance them out by requesting reviews from happy customers too. There are lots of ways to do this, whether this is through email, direct mail, or something you personally hand to people when they are leaving your office or location. Give specific directions on which sites you would like them to put their review, which will generally be the ones that could use the most improvement. 11. Be Aware of IP Location, Hosting Location and Top-Level Domain The website’s IP address, hosting location and top-level domain are other areas that give clues to search engines about where a business is located. Make sure that your top-level domain and your hosting locations are both set to the United States. Most always this will already be the case, but if not, you could be ranking in Germany and not the U.S. and you would have no idea. Also, if possible, make sure the site’s IP location matches with the city and state where you are located or where you get the most business. Search engines can see your IP address, and they generally put this into consideration when placing your business in local search. Whew! Did you catch all of that? Geotargeting your website sounds daunting, but by following these steps, you’ll be that much closer to showing up on the map. Try them out and you might be surprised at how easy it can be.

SEO Audit Checklist

SEO audit checklist

Performing a site audit is a tedious job, at least if you do it right. Sure, there is software that alerts you of errors and warnings when you punch in a URL, but those tools can only take you so far. It requires a human eye to critique the layout, richness of content, and elements of a website that just aren’t cutting it. Additionally, you must compare the site you’re auditing to its competitors in order to gauge, well, how it compares. All of that is time consuming – but absolutely essential.

Because the auditing process can be exhausting, we’ve found it helpful – nay, crucial – to follow an outline of the entire shebang. You know how good it feels to cross something off your to-do list? It’s those little victories that propel us forward. We recently dazzled our checklist into an aesthetically pleasing printable tool, one that we hope you will print out and reference often. After all, this isn’t a set-it-and-forget-it kind of industry. Our site audit covers three main components: the On-site Analysis, Competitive Analysis, and Keyword Research. Within this checklist, we’ve broken down how we approach each section so you can get a feel for the thoroughness of Evolve’s Site Audit. Brace yourself; this is not for the faint of heart.

Download the SEO Audit Checklist

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!

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.

Seeking SEO Success? Start with an Audit.

Many of our clients come to us at their wits’ end. Why is my site not ranking well? I know I have visitors, so why aren’t the conversion levels increasing? Unfortunately, the on-site problems are quiet little buggers, comfortably lurking beneath the surface. Before you can start making relevant changes to pages and content, you must be able to identify the exact issues that are getting in the way of your website reaching its full potential. The SEO Audit that Evolve performs consists of a thorough On-Site Analysis, a detailed Competitive Analysis, and valuable Keyword Research insight that can be used for tactical next steps. While the term “audit,” isn’t typically well-received, our SEO audit is an essential first step for anyone who wants to see some ROI online. The initial results may not be pretty, but it will be refreshing to know for certain what actions you need to take in order to transform your website into a thriving online destination. Ignorance may be bliss, but it won’t result in conversions. Our On-site Analysis breaks down your website’s effectiveness (or lack thereof). It’s a critical starting point; without one, any on-site adjustments will be in vain. An SEO Audit clearly defines for you which aspects of your site are problematic. This will be in the form of errors, duplicate content, improper URL structure, and much more. It points out which parts of your site need work. Beyond the On-Site Analysis, our SEO Audit also compares your website to your top three competitors. In this section, the Competitor Analysis, we uncover the strengths of their online strategies, which keywords they are using to attract traffic, the number of outside links they accrue, and other information that is beneficial to know. You are most likely aware of which brands your customers choose over you; now you’ll be able to know why. Even better, you’ll be able to understand how you can work to attain the position you deserve in the search engine results pages. Finally, our SEO Audit discloses the keyword terms or phrases whose use and implementation will benefit your brand’s online visibility. Within our Keyword Research Matrix, you’ll discover the terms we have graded according to relevance, volume, commerciality, and competition. Evolve provides short-to-mid, and long terms with usage recommendations so you can maximize your organic SEO and paid Search efforts. How does this fit into the big picture? Simply put, it is the start to your online success. On the flip side, your online success can’t truly start without it. The SEO Audit puts your website into perspective. You can’t possibly know which parts to tweak or what features to add if you donat understand which areas are working and which aren’t. Without an SEO Audit, you are pouring money into a domain that isn’t yielding a return on investment. Every success story needs a starting point. This can be yours.