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

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.

Prioritize Healthcare Service Lines for SEO

Healthcare brands, do your SEO efforts align with service line prioritization?

Whether you’re a large healthcare system, a rural hospital, or a specialized physician, it is critical to develop an SEO strategy that first approaches service lines that are business opportunities, represented by keywords. This process would include rethinking the dynamic between a patient’s keyword search behavior and your existing service lines in order to adequately respond to the needs of this demographic.

In this digital age, people use the Internet as a resource for identifying ailments and exploring treatment options. According to the Pew Internet and Life Project, 77 percent of Internet users said they began their search for health information at a search site such as Google or Bing.

Healthcare trends

Another trend that reinforces the importance of optimizing healthcare service lines is the use of smartphones and tablets instead of computers to find health information.

According to the same Pew Internet study, 52 percent of smartphone owners have used their mobile device to find health information; 19 percent have downloaded an app to manage their health. This recent development of self-care for patients increases the importance of prioritizing service lines.

For example, someone may wake up one morning with a terribly painful throat. Swallowing is unbearable. Lymph nodes are swollen. Could it be Strep? Stumbling to the bathroom, this person sticks his or her tongue out, and checks for the dreaded red bumps on the back of the throat. So what next? Most likely, this person will search “sore throat” or “strep throat” in Google or Bing to double check the symptoms of Strep Throat, as well as what steps are necessary for recovery. The final step is to search the Internet for solutions, whether a physician or healthcare facility.

A healthcare SEO strategy that identifies your top-priority service lines allows for brand awareness via search engines. Of course, first the keywords and phrases discovered through research must inspire the strategic development of content and user tools. Letas dig in a bit more.

What are the best practices?

From an SEO perspective, keywords used to express a healthcare brand’s core competencies must resonate with patients; they need to reflect search terms the patient is actually going to use.

The purpose of researching keywords is to match your institution’s top performing service lines with people searching for that service. Therefore, you start to have a healthcare SEO plan that drives the growth of your top service lines. Additionally, you will become aware of long-tail searches that potential patients are performing, which leads us to our next topic: the power of content.

Best practices in healthcare SEO donat rely on keywords themselves. Quality content is the key factor that directs the searcher to your website. When you create dynamite content that draws a patient to one of your five top-priority service lines, you’ll bear the fruits of enhanced domain authority and ranking.

A list of keywords is just the beginning; what you do with the list will reflect your brand’s ability and motivation to facilitate healthcare for a potential or current patient. Exploring specific queries relating to keywords on your list will uncover exact searches in Google. Strep throat search results

Here you can see the instant results that populate for the query “strep throat.” Adding a letter to the end (in this case, the letter “g,”) presents a list of suggested searches. In other words, these are topics that are repeatedly searched, and are therefore worth addressing on your healthcare website.

What are the benefits?

Prioritizing service lines yields many benefits, starting with the obvious: Optimizing your website for keywords that will pay off in the biggest way.

In the world of SEO ,this means targeting keywords that are less competitive in terms of ranking. Additionally, you’ll be able to hold each keyword accountable for its performance. Once healthcare SEO is implemented, it takes constant monitoring of the target pages to see whether they effectively propel visitors through the funnel.

Proactively studying the traffic flow of visitors will illuminate which page of content for which service line is the most effective (or least effective).


A successful healthcare SEO plan is essential for delivering visitors to a website, but killer content will generate leads and physician referrals. In order to know where to start with keyword research and content creation, a healthcare organization has to first prioritize its line of services.

For information regarding your healthcare digital marketing plan, contact Evolve by calling us at 844-GO-EVOLVE or visit us here to learn more about Working with Us.

Stop what you're doing and meet the interns

This is going to be an awesome summer. Evolve Digital Labs is turning four years old, we’re churning out a few stellar resources for the SEO and healthcare community, and we are really excited to welcome a couple interns to the team. Michelle Reed, who attends the Missouri School of Journalism at Mizzou, will be tackling a summer-long research project that examines major hospitals and medical centers to find their online marketing needs and help them better serve patients. Pretty sweet, huh? Ryan McNorton, a soon-to-be senior Strategic Communications major at Maryville University, will have his hands full building outreach lists and conducting outreach for clients and our own brand once we finish the shiny new SEO Guide.

Let’s get to know these cats. Ladies first:

So Michelle, what have you been doing with your life?

I taught high school English for a couple of years after completing my BA from Vanderbilt in Nashville. I quickly discovered it was not what I was passionate about so I decided to go back to school.

Michelle Reed the intern at Evolve

What about this internship is most exciting to you?

I’m most excited about working with a digital company and the fact that the office is smaller so I have the opportunity to be more involved with the day-to-day operations. And I also get a chance to learn the ins and outs of SEO.

What are you hoping to learn this summer?

This summer I’m hoping to learn more about digital and its impact on the industry and where I fit in.

What is your career plan post-graduation?

Post-graduation I plan to run a lab conducting primary consumer behavior research.

What’s your favorite website and why?

Don’t judge me but I like Failblog. These websites make me laugh, contribute to my procrastination and make me feel better about any crappy day I might be having.

What’s the last book you enjoyed?

The last book I read and enjoyed was Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones. The story is about a girl coming in 2nd to her father’s other family/daughter.

Let’s say we assign you Office DJ duty. What 3 artists (or songs if you want to get specific) would you play first?

Anything Burno Mars; I LOVE Bruno. (He’s coming to St. Louis August 8th, want to go?) Next I would play “Work Hard Play Hard” by Wiz Khalifa. It gets me focused. And when I need a pick-me-up I would play the new Daft Punk and Pharrell “Get Lucky.” It just makes me happy and want to dance. (It also was the song playing when I walked into Evolve for the first time. I’m going to take that as a good sign.) httpv://

Is there anything else you’d like the world to know about you?

I’m really into mud races right now. I’ve done Warrior Dash and Mud Crusade so far. The next race on my list and the most daunting by far is Tough Mudder. It’s coming to the St. Louis area in September. Want to join my team?

Next we have Ryan. He’s already been with us for a couple weeks, but there is a lot more in store for his journey at Evolve:

Hey Ryan, what have you been doing with your life?

I am currently in school still and playing roller hockey for Maryville. I am preparing for a few hockey tournaments planned this summer and enjoying my internship at Evolve Digital Labs.

Ryan McNorton interning at Evolve Digital Labs

What about this internship is most exciting to you?

Coming in each day and wanting to learn something new and how I will be able to use this information in the business world as well in my communication classes.

What are you hoping to learn this summer?

To learn more about Digital marketing and as well as SEO.

What is your career plan post-graduation?

After graduation I plan to find a job where I enjoy going to everyday. My second option would be to do a little traveling to experience the different cultures and possibly play hockey there.

What’s your favorite website and why?

My favorite website would be Twitter because its simple and straight to the point.

What’s the last book you enjoyed?

Russell Simmons’ Do You: 12 Laws to Access the Power in you to Achieve Happiness and Success.

Let’s say we assign you Office DJ duty. What 3 artists (or songs if you want to get specific) would you play first?

1. Jay-Z, 2. Lupe Fiasco, 3. Avicii (Very upbeat music which livens the mood around the office)


That concludes our introduction of the interns. We’re glad Michelle and Ryan are up for doing some real work this summer, because we’re not the kind of agency that brings interns on board to simply regulate the coffee supply. (Though you’d better believe we’re going to send them on a beer run or two. #ClassicEvolve) It’s truly our hope that these guys will leave Evolve feeling more confident in their understanding of digital marketing and proud of the work they have contributed. Stay tuned for updates on their progress here. If you want to connect with our beloved interns, give’em a follow on Twitter. Michelle Reed: @Michelle_Reed3 Ryan McNorton: @RyanMcNorton

Coming Soon: Penguin 2.0

httpv:// Matt Cutts announced on Monday that there are some pretty big changes in the Google algorithm coming down the pipes, as Cutts calls it: Penguin 2.0. Exact release date is TBA, but it sounds like it will be coming in the summer months. In the past, algorithm updates have only been revealed when they are significant. This one was announced ahead of time and labeled with a 2.0, not a 1.6,7,etc., so we can expect that the SERPs will be shifting indefinitely pretty soon. Some brands will likely see improvements in their search performance, while others less fortunate may fall off the radar completely. Penguin Update from Google 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

Although he doesn’t delve too much into what this means, Matt says that the Goog is continuing to try to deny link spammers with any value. He doesn’t say that Google will de-index link spammers, but he does mention that he does not want shady links to provide sites with value in search. Maybe this means that some links will pass more “link juice” than others, based on legitimacy? Or maybe some links will essentially be labeled “nofollow” based on an analysis of factors that only Google knows? No one can know for sure, but based on the previous generation of Penguin, I would assume that some factors that will be evaluated will include: – The use of exact match anchor text – Links coming from sites that solely offer “SEOa 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 Google’s 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 I’m excited about.

4. Rewarding Brands for Authority

Brands that are “an authority” 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 ”authority.”

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 doesn’t 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 don’t 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. We’ve 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 site’s 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 the “Backrub” 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 shouldn’t 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 I’m 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 “keyword (not provided)”.

St. Louis Shout-out: Content Marketing

Saint Louis is a pretty remarkable city. We all know how its residents unabashedly love Cardinals baseball and consuming craft beer in ungodly quantities, but there’s more to The Lou than that. From budding Internet-savvy start-ups, to the Fortune 1000 companies that have adopted new digital modus operandi, St. Louis is home to a myriad of brands doing incredible things in the WWW. We even joined the ranks of the fastest growing cities for tech jobs (according to Fortune). Watch your back, Seattle. Jon Hamm St Louis

Local Showcase: Content Marketing

The inspiration for this post might have stemmed from the long-awaited spring weather, but Derek asked me to break from our clients and own brand agenda to recognize the solid work a couple local agencies are doing, specifically in content marketing. Atomicdust and Gorilla 76 stand out as two shops that excel at producing great work and sharing their achievements with the digital realm. No agency is an island; without the inspiration and support from these guys across town, we wouldn’t be where we are today. Even though our specialty is Search and PPC, rather than branding and design, we really appreciate learning from these brands’ published work and sharing methods. The truth is, digital marketing requires strategy from all angles in order to build a powerhouse domain, one that acts as an extension of your brand. And one that is available 24/7 to provide a solution for searchers online.

Why Does Content Marketing Matter?

Although many of us are bored with the constant cries to “create content!” there is an undeniable advantage given to brands that can pull it off smoothly. When the contents of a website, such as blog posts, resources, videos, or case studies, enhance the site’s value without trying to oversell the brand, the domain will much easier recruit and retain visitors. Rather than becoming a hub of self-promotion, an ideal website focuses on the needs or interests of its audience. You want real examples? Let’s do this.

1. Get Ranked

It’s pretty sweet how natural it can be to optimize your website for search engine efficiency. Google’s algorithm continues to reject manipulative, low quality websites from its results pages, simultaneously rewarding legit sites for creating and sharing information that supports visitors’ searches. It makes complete sense; consistently publishing your brand’s work and insight is a solid way to communicate to The Goog that your site is a worthy destination for marketing solutions. Gorilla 76 is a team of guys that does an exceptional job of writing content for its targeted demographic. Take its piece, Web Marketing Guide for B2B Industrial Companies: this resource was crafted for a very particular audience with particular goals. It’s not going to rank for terms that receive super high search volume, but that’s perfectly fine because the B2B industrial companies that are in need of web marketing will find extreme value in the content on Gorilla 76’s site. I looked for keyword data on SEOmoz and discovered the targeted term to be highly competitive.

Gorilla 76 targeted keyword

This was no surprise, as the powerhouse domains competing with our friends include,, and Still, Gorilla 76 was able to score an impressive spot at the top of the second results page, ideal real estate for attracting CMOs of industry companies. Well done, dudes.

2. Entertain and Engage

Atomicdust impresses me with its ability to attract an audience. It says a lot about a brand when followers on Twitter and Facebook click links simply because the brand’s track record reassures the read will be worth their time. That’s sort of a complicated way of me saying if Atomicdust tweets about a recently dropped post, I’m more than likely going to check it out. I find the content interesting and valid; it’s really that simple. I’m particularly fond of Atomicdust’s ability to fuse its edgy culture and sleek design into the core messaging (e.g., photographing team members to showcase new content). It strengthens the brand’s unique vibe and initiates all sorts of friend crushes.

Atomicdust team photos

Atomicdust releases monthly wallpapers that correlate to the season or upcoming events. A quick summary and invitation to download the attached wallpapers rounds out the content. While this initiative may not directly result in signing a new client (who knows, though – that may very well have happened), its distilled purpose is much more lax: to highlight the team’s creativity, the team’s skills, and the desire to share both characteristics with its online community.

Atomicdust wallpapers

Finally, I dig the monthly events posts; by taking the time to consistently curate a list of the month’s creative events (as well as linking to corresponding external pages for more details), Atomicdust provides a really useful, appreciated service that sets it apart.

3. Share Some Secrets

A company blog is pretty useless if it doesn’t dish out tips and hints, either to educate it readers or reaffirm what they already know. Otherwise, think about it, the content would just be dancing around the problems without actually addressing how to fix them. As a brand, you can’t be afraid to explain a process or share your expertise; there will always be clients willing to pay you for services that are beyond their comfort zone and capabilities. Referring back to Gorilla 76’s content, the industrial-relevant web marketing guide is a seriously robust document that offers valuable tips for CMOs in all industries, really a though as mentioned, it’s smartly targeted for the construction biz. Throughout the guide, Gorilla 76 has sprinkled helpful visuals and resource links into the rich content, further validating the brand’s desire to share its know-how with an interested audience.

Gorilla 76 industry guide

4. Show Success, Duh

Atomicdust is super great at promoting client work as well as the awards or recognition the brand receives. It’s inspiring to read about (or in the case below, view) the different companies with which this brand works, the thought process(es) that spur projects along, and the dazzling end results.


It’s worth noting that blogs fare best when the content type is varied. My favorite company blogs successfully balance education, culture, and proof of success. Any blog that is weighed down by just one of these three attributes will have a difficult time resonating. Too many education posts (sans culture and proof) will leave readers asking “Who are you? And why are we supposed to take your word for it?” Then again, an excess of posts that offer proof come across as self-promotional. Readers are definitely interested in hearing about the recent projects a brand has worked on, but if the string of posts only scream “look at what we did!” it might be difficult to connect with an overwhelmed audience. I (and everyone at Team Evolve) feel fortunate to have these other agencies to learn from, even though our day-to-day responsibilities are often radically different. Thanks for checking out our local showcase and thanks to Atomicdust and Gorilla 76 for being excellent influences. High fives all around.

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: 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 and 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} ^
RewriteRule (.*)$1 [R=301,L]

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

RewriteEngine On
RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} ^
RewriteRule (.*)$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 “” and “”, 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.


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.

Digital Passive Aggression: A (Silly) Guide to Negative SEO

Your gym charged double for last month’s membership. The site from which you bought textbooks never shipped them, nor refunded you. Whatever the reason, you’re mad. But as you know, it’s 2013. And if there’s one way we love to lash out, it’s passively, dammit. Iam here today to present a list of ways you can do so without having to actually confront anyone. Disclaimer: I don’t condone sabotaging a brand’s reputation or success online. These are merely hypothetical, highly passive aggressive scenarios that you could feasibly carry out if you were burning with an undying passion and needed to do something about it before you snap (by the way, try yoga first). Anyway, this is simply a lighthearted post about reverse-SEO tactics. Why so serious?

Fair, but firm:

Forget the customer service line. Passive aggression is about attempting to teach a lesson without actually having to talk to anyone about it. Here’s where you can start:

Robin Hood Prince of Thieves

Giving bad reviews

The digital manifestation of feedback is the best and worst thing to happen to local institutions. I know I’m not the only one who religiously refers to Yelp or Google+ Local when scoping out a new Thai joint or choosing a daycare center for my kid (okay, my dog). On the flip side, as a consumer, it’s empowering to be able to amplify my feedback for others to digest. Personally, I often hold my breath unless I’m desperate to shout from the mountaintops how much I freaking love a local brand’s service or product. Why take the time to write a review? Google is a business, too. When someone is searching for “eye doctor maplewood,” Google wants to deliver a list of the best optometrists it can find in order to retain that person’s trust. A huge indication to Google of the quality of a business is the number of positive reviews. Likewise, a boatload of single-star ratings attached to a brand is going to hurt its visibility in Local Search. So go ahead: tell that brand what you think, especially if your feedback will allow the company to grow and learn from your experience. Or heck, do it just to spite them.

Make the site your default startup page on your browser

Depending upon the extent of your aggression (and especially the extent of your passiveness), you might be interested in spanning your efforts over a long period of time. If that’s the case, bless you, and listen closely. Go to your browser’s preference settings and change the start-up page to be the dumb website of the brand you hate. At the very least, add it to your list of “favorites” so you can easily access it. Now every day, make sure to visit the homepage, but leave before clicking through to secondary pages. Why take the time to visit the site? You may be just one person, but to that site, you can be a passive aggressive pain in the digital arse. By refusing to explore additional pages, you’ll help increase that site’s bounce rate (depending, of course, on the amount of traffic it receives). Will this matter to them? Probably not, actually. But you can laugh quietly, maniacally, to yourself at night, and imagine the Bounce Rate swelling in Analytics. You cunning sonofagun.

Evil, but I get it:

If you’re wanting it to hurt a little more, you fit into this category.

Villain from Unbreakable

Clicking PPC ads

Maybe it makes me evil. Maybe it makes me genius. Regardless, I never hesitate to alleviate my rage for a certain student loan lender after flushing a solid chunk of my budget down the pipes every month. How do I do it? Easy. I search a broad term (in my case, it’s usually “student loans”) and click away on the highest-position ad belonging to the brand I want to ruin. I immediately return to the search page and repeat the process.

PPC ads in Google Search screenshot


Why take the time to click ads? The broader the term, the most competitive and expensive the cost. Brands don’t have to pay for the ad to show up; they only have to fork over money if someone clicks through. And that’s where you come in, assuming the company you want destroyed is running PPC campaigns. Search. Click. Smile.


Linking from your lame personal site

If you have your own website, you’re in luck a especially if its Domain Authority is hovering at a 14 like mine is. So I’ve never actually used my blog for bad, but if I were desperate enough to evoke some pain, I might try leveraging my crappy website for evil. Why take the time to link from my site? Links from shotty domains can often weaken the backlink profile of a brand (especially if its portfolio of inbound links is already thin). You could also trash talk the brand in your posts and hope that Google starts associating the company with certain negative keywords, which would then populate in Google Instant results. This tactic isn’t very practical or measurable a and honestly, it will probably make you look like a Bitter Betty. But that’s what passive aggression is all about, I guess.

Psychotic, also, you should see someone:

I’m not going into extreme detail about these because I have zero experience performing any of these extracurricular activities. I solemnly swear. But it’s interesting to think that there are people out there who actually do “negative SEO.” These efforts are not okay. Probably not even legal. And the people who do them are clinically insane. 

Joker of SEO

Scraping content

Duplicate content can harm a website’s ability to rank and thrive because it harms the user experience. If your site is guilty of possessing multiple pages (different URLs) that have identical or nearly-identical content, you’re probably pissing off the search bots and your customers. (There are exceptions.) So what Negative SEOs do is scrape content from sites they want to bring down and replicate that information on random sites. This positions them as guilty of pursuing shady duplicate content strategies. It’s awful.

Hacking FTP and editing robots.txt

I especially don’t know how to do this, but I guess all you need to do is hack a site’s FTP and add a few key URLs into the robots.txt, a file that specifies to bots which pages are OFF LIMITS. So yes, assuming you decided to slip some important pages into the robots.txt file inconspicuously, you could cause serious damage and possibly bump pages from Google’s index.

Buy some links, ruin some lives

Last year, Googleas Penguin update cracked down on websites that engaged in manipulative tactics to rank higher. One huge red flag was (and still is) a shady backlink profile. For instance, a website that attracts thousands of really low quality links from sites that aren’t even related to the brand is likely purchasing them in order to appear as more valuable than it is. As a fellow agency showed in its Negative SEO case study, this tactic works against websites today. And at bargain price.


Before you go on a digital killing spree, remember to take this post not at all seriously. Instead, I hope you realize how many components are taken into consideration for Google to determine the quality of a site. You have the ability to influence the rise or demise of a website’s visibility in search engines. Isn’t it empowering? I know this isn’t an exclusive list; what did I miss here? Leave a comment below!

Keyword Research for the Novice

Our job as SEOs is to teach our clients how to be experts in online marketing. We know we have done our job when our clients no longer need us; we like that. (Even though we hate to see them go.) Hence the purpose of this post: to show non-experts how to fake it until they make it with keyword research. Keyword research is an important concept for SEO, arguably the most important. It ultimately serves as the basis for all online strategies that follow. But it is a pretty daunting task for some of us non-keyword research experts, including me. For some of us, navigating Excel or drawing takeaways from data are not easy tasks, much less getting into the mind of consumers in search. This post shares tips for other keyword research novices. Like any skill worth learning, keyword research requires practice. So let’s find out where to start when generating a keyword list.

Why Should I Care?

Keywords = People Keywords are not about manipulating search engines (or at least they shouldn’t be), and they aren’t industry garble. Behind keyword data are literal people conducting searches for products and services like yours.

Vector of person searching in Google

Making a website search friendly means making it available to those people who need it. The way we do that is to look at company goals and align those goals with keywords that are actually being searched.

But How to Find Keywords?

Keyword research is neither a quick nor easy process. But it’s also not rocket science (agencies that say so might need a humility check). By following the steps below, anyone can establish some basic keyword research to use as a foundation for website content.

1. Start with a few core terms.

Core terms are words that describe your services. These don’t have to be perfect a you can modify them and find the most searched versions of them later. However, take a few minutes to think about the most important services for which your company (or client’s company) is trying to rank in search. Think broad and high level terms, as these will serve as the basis for keyword campaigns. Put these initial ideas down in a spreadsheet and keep them in mind.

2. Compare that with the data.

Take a look at Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools and compare the data with these core terms. In Google Analytics, look at the organic search keywords driving traffic to your website. In Webmaster Tools, look for terms that are getting the most impressions and highest click through rate to your site. *Side note: You will notice a little thing called “(Not Provided)”. This represents data that Google is withholding because the user was logged into a Google account when conducting the search. You will also probably notice that it represents a large number of your visits. Unfortunately, Google still owns the rights to its data, and can continue to limit access to it, so this chunk cannot be seen in Analytics.* Not finding your core terms in GA or WMT? Translation: You are not showing up in search results for core product/service terms. This means your website might need a major rehaul in terms of content. If most of the terms people search to reach your site are your brand name or branded services, this means a couple of things. First, the traffic coming to your site is already aware of your brand, and interested. Second, by not targeting service keywords, you’re missing out on the opportunity of reaching everyone who DOESN’T know your brand. Finding your core terms? Great! But you aren’t finished yet. In many instances, the terms that people think they should be ranking for either: 1. Have little to no search volume,  meaning that people aren’t searching the same way you are talking on your website, or 2. Are super competitive,  meaning you have little chance to rank in search engines for these terms without dishing out serious cash for a paid search campaign. In order to reach a wider range of potential audience members, you will need to rank for terms that you may not have thought of initially, potentially a lot of them. The next steps will lay out the process of finding more terms relating to these core terms.

3. Analyze Competitor Sites.

A competitor in this instance refers to another website ranking for your key service terms. Conduct a Google search for some of the terms established in steps 1 and 2. Look for repetition in search results. The websites ranking for a few of your core services are your competitors. Granted, you may not have heard of them, but in the online realm, they are grabbing your potential organic search traffic, which translates to your potential customers. Once you have established 3-5 competitors, use the Keyword Tool in Google Adwords.

Google Adwords Free Keyword Tool

This is a free tool that anyone with a Gmail or Google account can use. Type the URLs of competitors into the section labeled “Website.”

Google Keyword Tool URL Scraper

This will populate keyword terms that are used throughout the site. Make sure that you select the “Keyword Ideas” tab and all three match types (seen below) in order to populate the most results.

Screenshot of Free Google Keyword Tool Match Types

Download these results in a CSV file, and scrape the terms to get rid of any that do not apply. Rinse and repeat for other competitors, combining each into one giant spreadsheet and getting rid of duplicates.

4. Back to the Keyword Tool

For any given category of terms that you discover, circle directly back to the keyword tool. This time, enter a handful of these terms into the box that says “Word or Phrase.” Separate them by one keyword per line.

Google Keyword Tool

This will populate related search terms that your competitors may not have targets on their sites. Add these results to your existing spreadsheet, de-dup, and scrub for irrelevant terms.

5. Use Google Instant (Don’t Press Enter!)

Go to Google, start entering a key term, but donat press enter. The results that show up in that drop down menu are called aGoogle Instanta results and represent the most searched variations of the term which you have started to enter. This will show you tons of variations of this term, usually all with significant search volume.

Google Instant Search Keywords

Rinse and repeat with these results until you are no longer getting new search terms. Once again, circle back to the keyword tool and add your new terms to the mix. Expand that spreadsheet and scrub samore.

6. Try “Related Searches.”

When you conduct a Google search for a key term, scroll all the way to the bottom of the page. Here you will see a list of related search terms (seen below). Related searches to find keywords

Start from scratch with each of these that apply. Enter them into Google for Instant results, and dump into the keyword tool with related terms. Continue to combine these with your existing keyword spreadsheet.

7. Use Free Keyword Research Sites like is another free tool that allows you to expand on existing keywords and see related terms with significant search volume.

Ubersuggest Keyword Research Tool

Ubersuggest Keyword Lists for SEO Guide

One handy feature with UberSuggest is the ability to select a group of keywords, click aGeta and copy and paste into the Keyword Tool. This helps you easily pick out the terms that are searched often each month but are also not too competitive.

UberSuggest Keyword Lists

These are all free keyword tools anyone can use to understand their target audience and develop a content strategy. Keyword research is the core of Search success because everything is (should be) developed only after this critical step is completed. Then you can work generating content that will truly fill a need for your consumers. After that, you can leverage it for outreach, drawing more traffic and authority to your website.

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.


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.

Are your link building efforts outdated?

Last week we mentioned how to use keyword research organically. While it may seem elementary to some, the reality is Google’s algorithm has changed in the past couple years, forcing some brands to think twice about the way they are using (and sometimes abusing) SEO elements like keywords. (If this is you, be sure to check out the post so you know where you can safely use keywords on your site.) Today we’re going to dig into link building, or outreach, as it’s often referred to in 2013. Even if you haven’t purchased links for your site, there’s a pretty good chance your old methods are quickly fading into oblivion. So let’s look at a brief overview of which tactics are losing their relevancy and what you can do to get back into the game.

1. Put away the credit card.

This is probably obvious, but if you arenat completely convinced, it’s only a matter of time before The Goog catches you red-handed and makes you suffer the consequences. Don’t buy links. Don’t let anyone convince you it’s a good idea.

2. Stop posting links in comments.

Most blogs (especially those that have high authority) automatically assign “nofollow” attributes to any links in the comments section. So go ahead, spam the comment sections of blogs that attract the audience you wish you could have. Not only will you annoy everyone reading the post, but you’ll also waste your time on a totally futile venture.

3. Back off the directories.

There was a time when it was really beneficial to be included in directories because it made the crawling/indexing process easier for search engines. Nowadays, some directories still hold value, but there are plenty that will end up hurting your reputation more than helping it. We recommend pursuing more relevant measures.

4. Bring something to the table.

Link building bad time meme

If your link building strategy has always consisted of contacting webmasters for a link, just because, well, you’ve probably noticed that it’s not working anymore. And that’s because while it used to be flattering to be asked for a link, it is now aggravating for webmasters. Why should they share the authority they’ve worked hard to build? Unless you have something to give them in exchange (i.e., content their audience will appreciate), donat waste your time. Or theirs. This brings us to the core of outreach strategy: content! Yes, we know you’re sick of hearing about it, but try to put on your grown-up pants and realize that you’re going to have to do things the hard way from here on out. Content generation is not easy, but it starts with keywords. This is because keywords are essentially real queries from real customers, so you can understand what kinds of questions you should be answering. (That’s the aha moment.) We’ve recently written several posts about content, so if you’re stuck in a rut, and let’s face it, this happens to everyone, you can hopefully gain some inspiration. First figure out what purpose your content should serve; there are eight purposes we came up with. Keep in mind that while content can sell for you, it doesn’t always have to be overly promotional.

Outreach strategy documents

Outreach is still a very difficult, time-consuming process, so we took the time to outline our method. It’s literally a step-by-step instructional guide for conducting outreach. We’ve actually assembled a couple of versions, one that is geared toward tech-savvy folks who have access to the kind of software we use at Evolve Digital Labs. The other is for non-nerds, so it’s a bit easier to digest. Whether you’re a fellow SEO, marketing director, or student, we invite you to download these outreach documents and get started.