Tag Archive | "Actually"

What’s Actually Stunting Your Productivity (It’s Not Multitasking)

Lately, a common theme in productivity advice is bashing multitasking. “You suck at multitasking!” shrieks one headline. “Multitasking: the most dangerous productivity killer” hisses another. And they aren’t wrong. Studies have shown that trying to tackle different tasks simultaneously greatly reduces our cognitive abilities. But what if I told you there’s another type of multitasking
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How to Create (and Sell) Products People Actually Want to Buy

This week offers a mix of inspiration, clarity, purpose … and some good, old-fashioned results-oriented copywriting. On Monday, I shared some of the practical, repeatable steps you can use to create an online course that people actually want to buy. (That’s a fun thing to do, by the way, and I totally recommend it.) Brian
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Why All 4 of Google’s Micro-Moments Are Actually Local

Posted by MiriamEllis

localmicromoments.jpg

When America’s first star TV chef, Julia Child, demonstrated the use of a wire whisk on her 1960’s cooking show, the city of Pittsburgh sold out of them. Pennsylvanians may well have owned a few of these implements prior to the show’s air date, but probably didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about them. After the show, however, wire whisks were on everyone’s mind and they simply had to have one. Call it a retro micro-moment, and imagine consumers jamming the lines of rotary phones or hoofing it around town in quest of this gleaming gadget … then zoom up to the present and see us all on our mobile devices.

I like this anecdote from the pages of culinary history because it encapsulates all four of Google’s stated core micro-moments:

I want to know - Consumers were watching a local broadcast of this show in Pittsburgh because they wanted to know how to make an omelet.

I want to go - Consumers then scoured the city in search of the proper whisk.

I want to buy – Consumers then purchased the implement at a chosen retailer.

I want to do - And finally, consumers either referred to the notes they had taken during the show (no DVRs back then) or might have turned to Julia Child’s cookbook to actually beat up their first-ever omelet.

Not only does the wire whisk story foreshadow the modern micro-moment, it also provides a roadmap for tying each of the 4 stages to local SEO via current technology. I’ve seen other bloggers pointing to the ‘I want to go’ phase as inherently local, but in this post, I want to demonstrate how your local business can decisively claim all four of these micro-moments as your own, and claim the desirable transactions resulting thereby!

Understanding Google’s definition of micro-moments

Google whisked up some excitement of their own with the publication of Micro-Moments: Your Guide to Winning the Shift to Mobile. Some of the statistics in the piece are stunning:

  • 65% of smartphone users look for the most relevant information on their devices regardless of what company provides that information,
  • 90% of them aren’t certain what brand they want to purchase when they begin their Internet search,
  • 82% consult their smartphones even after they are inside a chosen store,
  • and ‘how-to’ searches on YouTube are growing 70% year-over-year.

Google defines micro-moments as “critical touch points within today’s consumer journey, and when added together, they ultimately determine how that journey ends,” and goes on to identify mobile as the great facilitator of all this activity. It’s simple to think of micro-moments as a series of points in time that culminate in a consumer arriving at a transactional decision. For local business owners and their marketers, the goal is to ‘be there’ for the consumer at each of these critical points with the resources you have developed on the web.

Let’s reverse-engineer the famous tale of the wire whisk and put it into a modern technological context, demonstrating how a hypothetical cooking supply store in Pittsburgh, PA could become a major micro-moments winner in 2017.

A variable recipe for local micro-moments success

I want to be sure to preface this with one very important proviso about the order in which micro-moments happen: it varies.

For example, a consumer might decide she wants to patch cracks in her ceiling so she watches a video on YouTube demoing this >>> looks up the name of the putty the YouTube personality was using >>> looks up where to buy that putty locally >>> buys it. Or, the consumer could already be inside a home improvement store, see putty, realize she’d like to patch cracks, then look up reviews of various putty brands, look at a video to see how difficult the task is, and finally, purchase.

There is no set order in which micro-moments occur, and though there may be patterns specific to auto body shops or insurance firms, the idea is to be present at every possible moment in time so that the consumer is assisted, regardless of the order in which they discover and act. What I’m presenting here is just one possible path.

In quest of the fluffier omelet

Image courtesy of Prayitno on Flickr

Our consumer is a 30-year-old man named Walter who loves the fluffy omelets served at a fancy bistro in Pittsburgh. One morning while at the restaurant, Walter asks himself,

“I wonder why I can’t make omelets as fluffy as these at home. I’m not a bad cook. There must be some secret to it. Hey — I challenge myself to find out what that secret is!”

I want to know

While walking back to his car, Walter pulls out his smartphone and begins his micro-moment journey with his I-want-to-know query: how to make a fluffier omelet.

Across town, Patricia, the owner of a franchise location of Soup’s On Cooking Supply has anticipated Walter’s defining moment because she has been studying her website analytics, studying question research tools like Answer The Public, watching Google Trends, and looking at Q&A sites like this one where people are already searching for answers to the secret of fluffy omelets. She also has her staff actively cataloging common in-store questions. The data gathered has convinced her to make these efforts:

  1. Film a non-salesy 1.16-minute video in the store’s test kitchen demonstrating the use of a quality wire whisk and a quality pan (both of which her store carries) for ideal omelet results.
  2. Write an article/blog post on the website with great photos, a recipe, and instructions revealing the secrets of fluffy omelets.
  3. Include the video in the article. Share both the article and video socially, including publishing the video on the company’s YouTube channel (*interesting fact, it might one day show up inside the company’s Google Knowledge Panel).
  4. Answer some questions (electric vs. balloon whisk, cast iron vs. non-stick pan for omelet success) that are coming up for this query on popular Q&A-style sites.
  5. Try to capture a Google Answer Box or two.

Walking down the street, Walter discovers and watches the video on YouTube. He notices the Soup’s On Cooking Supply branding on the video, even though there was no hard-sell in its content — just really good tips for omelet fluffiness.

I want to go

“Soup’s On near me,” Walter asks his mobile phone, not 100% sure this chain has an outlet in Pittsburgh. He’s having his I-Want-To-Go moment.

Again, Patricia has anticipated this need and prevented customer loss by:

  1. Ensuring the company website clearly lists out the name, address, and phone number of her franchise location.
  2. Providing excellent driving directions for getting there from all points of origin.
  3. Either using a free tool like Moz Check Listing to get a health check on the accuracy of her citations on the most important local business listing platforms, or complying with the top-down directive for all 550 of the brand’s locations to be actively managed via a paid service like Moz Local.

Walter keys the ignition.

I want to buy

Walter arrives safely at the retail location. You’d think he might put his phone away, but being like 87% of millennials, he keeps it at his side day and night and, like 91% of his compadres, he turns it on mid-task. The store clerk has shown him where the wire whisks and pans are stocked, but Walter is not convinced that he can trust what the video claimed about their quality. He’d like to see a comparison.

Fortunately, Patricia is a Moz Whiteboard Friday fan and took Rand’s advice about comprehensive content and 10x content to heart. Her website’s product comparison charts go to great lengths, weighing USA-made kitchen products against German ones, Lodgeware vs. Le Creuset, in terms of price, performance for specific cooking tasks, and quality. They’re ranking very well.

Walter is feeling more informed now, while being kept inside of the company’s own website, but the I-Want-To-Buy micro-moment is cemented when he sees:

  1. A unique page on the site for each product sold
  2. Consumer reviews on each of these pages, providing unbiased opinion
  3. Clearly delineated purchasing and payment options, including support of digital wallets, Bitcoin, and any available alternatives like home delivery or curbside pickup. Walter may be in the store right now, but he’s glad to learn that, should he branch out into soup kettles in future, he has a variety of ways to purchase and receive merchandise.

I want to do

The next day, Walter is ready to make his first fluffier omelet. Because he’s already been exposed to Patricia’s article on the Soup’s On Cooking Supply website, he can easily return to it now to re-watch the video and follow the recipe provided. Even in the I-want-to-do phase, Walter is being assisted by the brand, and this multi-part experience he’s now had with the company should go far towards cementing it in his memory as a go-to resource for all of his future culinary needs.

It would be excellent if the website’s page on fluffy omelets also challenged Walter to use his new whisk for creating other dishes — perhaps soufflés (for which he’ll need a ceramic ramekin) or chantilly cream (a nice glass bowl set over ice water helps). Walter may find himself wanting to do all kinds of new things, and he now knows exactly where he can find helpful tutorials and purchase the necessary equipment.

More micro-moment variables

As we’ve seen, it’s completely possible for a local business to own all four of Google’s attested micro-moments. What I can’t cover with a single scenario is all of the variables that might apply to a given geography or industry, but I do want to at least make mention of these three points that should be applicable to most local businesses:

1. Understanding how Micro-Moments Begin

The origins of both I-want-to-do and I-want-to-know moments are incredibly varied. A consumer need can arise from something really practical, as in, it’s winter again and I need to buy snow tires. Or, there can be public/cultural happenings (like Julia Child’s cooking program) to which consumers’ ultimate transactions can be directly traced. To discover the sparks that ignite your specific customers’ micro-moments fires, I recommend delving further into the topic of barnacle local SEO — the process of latching onto existing influences in your community in order to speak to existing wishes and needs.

2. Investing in mobile UX

Google states that 29% of smartphone users will immediately navigate away from any website or app that doesn’t satisfy them. 70% of these cite slow loading and 67% cite too many steps to reach information or purchase as reasons for dissatisfaction. On November 4, 2016, Google announced its major shift toward mobile-first indexing, signaling to all website publishers that Google sees mobile, rather than desktop, as the primary platform now.

Google’s statistics and policies make it irrefutable that every competitive local business which hasn’t yet done so must now devote appropriate funds to creating the best possible mobile user experience. Failure to do so risks reputation, rankings, and revenue.

3. Investing in in-store UX

Though my story of Walter touches briefly on the resources Patricia had built for his in-store experience, I didn’t delve into the skyrocketing technology constantly being pioneered around this micro-moment phase. This would include beacons, though they have so far failed to live up to earlier hype in some ways. It could involve the development of in-store apps. And, at the highest echelons of commerce, it could include kiosks, augmented, and virtual reality.

From shoestring to big-time, micro-moments aren’t so new

Image courtesy of Glenn Dettwiler on Flickr

KFC may strive to master I-want-to-buy moments with chicken-serving robots, Amazon Go may see micro-moments in checkout-free shopping, and Google Home’s giant, listening ear may be turning whole lives into a series of documented micro-moments, but what makes sense for your local business?

The answer to this is going to be dictated by the competitiveness of your industry and the needs of your consumer base. Does a rural, independently owned hardware store really need a 6-foot-high in-store touch screen enabling customers to virtually paint their houses? Probably not, but a well-written comparison of non-toxic paint brands the shop carries and why they’re desirable for health reasons could transform a small town’s decorating habits. Meanwhile, in more competitive markets, each local brand would be wise to invest in new technology only where it really makes proven sense, and not just because it’s the next big thing.

Our industry loves new technology to a degree that can verge on the overwhelming for striving local business owners, and while it can genuinely be a bit daunting to sink your teeth into all of the variables of winning the micro-moment journey, take heart. Julia Child sold Pittsburgh out of wire whisks with a shoestring, black-and-white PBS program on which she frequently dropped implements on the floor and sent egg beaters flying across rooms.

With our modern capabilities of surveying and mining consumers needs and presenting useful solutions via the instant medium of the web, what can’t you do? The steps in the micro-moments funnel are as old as commerce itself. Simply seize the current available technology … and get cooking!

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What Types of Sites Actually Remove Links?

Since the disavow tool has come out SEOs are sending thousands of “remove my link” requests daily. Some of them come off as polite, some lie & claim that the person linking is at huge risk of their own rankings tank, some lie with faux legal risks, some come with “extortionisty” threats that if they don’t do it the sender will report the site to Google or try to get the web host to take down the site, and some come with payment/bribery offers.

If you want results from Google’s jackassery game you either pay heavily with your time, pay with cash, or risk your reputation by threatening or lying broadly to others.

At the same time, Google has suggested that anyone who would want payment to remove links is operating below board. But if you receive these inbound emails (often from anonymous Gmail accounts) you not only have to account for the time it would take to find the links & edit your HTML, but you also have to determine if the person sending the link removal request represents the actual site, or if it is someone trying to screw over one of their competitors. Then, if you confirm that the request is legitimate, you either need to further expand your page’s content to make up for the loss of that resource or find a suitable replacement for the link that was removed. All this takes time. And if that time is from an employee that means money.

There have been hints that if a website is disavowed some number of times that data can be used to further go out & manually penalize more websites, or create link classifications for spam.

… oh no …

Social engineering is the most profitable form of engineering going on in the ‘Plex.

The last rub is this: if you do value your own life at nothing in a misguided effort to help third parties (who may have spammed up your site for links & then often follow it up with lying to you to achieve their own selfish goals), how does that reflect on your priorities and the (lack of) quality in your website?

If you contacted the large branded websites that Google is biasing their algorithms toward promoting, do you think those websites would actually waste their time & resources removing links to third party websites? For free?

Color me skeptical.

As a thought experiment, look through your backlinks for a few spam links that you know are hosted by Google (eg: Google Groups, YouTube, Blogspot, etc.) and try to get Google’s webmaster to help remove those links for you & let us know how well that works out for you.

Some of the larger monopoly & oligopolies don’t offer particularly useful customer service to their paying customers. For example, track how long it takes you to get a person on the other end of the phone with a telecom giant, a cable company, or a mega bank. Better yet, look at how long it took AdWords to openly offer phone support & the non-support they offer AdSense publishers (remember the bit about Larry Page believing that “the whole idea of customer support was ridiculous?”)

For the non-customer Google may simply recommend that the best strategy is to “start over.”

When Google aggregates Webmaster Tools link data from penalized websites they can easily make 2 lists:

  • sites frequently disavowed
  • sites with links frequently removed

If both lists are equally bad, then you are best off ignoring the removal requests & spending your time & resources improving your site.

If I had to guess, I would imagine that being on the list of “these are the spam links I was able to remove” is worse than being on the list of “these are the links I am unsure about & want to disavow just in case.”

What say you?

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Restaurant.com Requires Diners to Actually Eat Before Reviewing

A recent study by Gartner concluded that by 2014, 10 to 15% of all online reviews would be fake. That’s a crime, because a large portion of consumers use online reviews to help them make decisions about where to shop, who to hire and where to eat.

Restaurant.com is taking care of that last part with their Verified Review program. Before anyone can leave a review on the site, they have to purchase and redeem a restaurant voucher. Once their redemption has been verified, they get a link inviting them to leave a review.

To assure the best possible quality, reviewers must also complete a short survey and assign star ratings. They’re also required to comment only on the restaurant experience; the food, the service, the ambiance. They may not use the review to talk abut a bad experience with the deal or their own personal disaster. (My boyfriend broke up with me at dinner! I hate this restaurant.)

As intuitive as this all sounds, it’s not a system we commonly find in regard to online reviews. The only other place I’ve ever seen a verified review is on iTunes. If you don’t buy an app through them, you can’t review it. They even block reviews from folks who received a free gift code for an app. Like Restaurant.com, they’re determined to keep the reviews as unbiased and honest as possible.

But then there’s the case of Amazon. Anyone can leave a review of an item, even if you didn’t buy the item from them. On the upside, I can give you a free copy of my book in return for a glowing review on Amazon. But you can also go on Amazon and leave a bad review on my book just to make trouble. No reading necessary.

It’s a tricky spot. There’s no question that Amazon benefits from having 1,000′s of reviews on their site. If they only allowed buyers to write reviews, that number would probably drop by at least a quarter if not more. The question is, which is more valuable, a large number of questionable reviews or a small number of guaranteed honest reviews.

Which would you choose if this was your site?



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How Many SEO Consultants Actually Know What They’re Talking About?

Posted by Ashley Tate

As an industry, SEO has struggled with setting standards of quality from day one. Even with countless professional SEOs doing best-in-class work, the industry as a whole is constantly battling the bad rap of being tactless, unethical, and sometimes even "dead."

Black-hat or black cat?

At SEOmoz, we find ourselves pleasantly surprised day after day by the array of high-quality SEOs that make our industry such a wonderful place to be. Unfortunately, the time finally came where we had to ask ourselves the nagging questions looming over our industry: where was all this negative noise coming from? Had we been missing a widely accepted fact in the SEO world? And, most importantly, was the current state of SEO really as awful as some were making it seem?

There was only one way to find out.

Inspired by a post highlighting the "sad state" of today's SEO consultants, we decided to conduct a survey of our own to determine the true, calculated quality of SEOs in 2012. Similar to the Webmaster World member whose less-than-awesome exchange with various SEO consultants sparked this hot debate, we chose to reach out to real, third-party SEO companies for advice on how to improve rankings to collect our data. But we wanted to do it bigger.

Enter: The PEPS Project

To collect data in the most neutral way possible, we knew we wouldn’t be able to use our own name for fear of skewing responses (i.e. if SEOmoz emailed you, asking for beginner-level SEO advice, would you believe us? No? That's ok, we probably wouldn't, either.). We decided to partner with the charitable organization and long-time friend of SEOmoz, Program for Early Parent Support (PEPS), to help us out. PEPS is a great organization that we'd been wanting to get some SEO help for for quite some time. In return for allowing us to go "undercover" as a PEPS employee when reaching out to SEO consultants for advice, SEOmoz would foot the bill for a complete site audit for PEPS. The consulting agency to conduct the site audit would be the best SEO selected from our study, and everyone involved would win!

The project design

After setting a Moz employee up with a PEPS account, it was time to get to work. We compiled a list of general, broad questions that a site owner new to SEO might ask in reaching out for SEO advice, all the while making sure that the questions would be solid indicators of an agency’s level of ethical or unethical SEO knowledge. Once we selected the top few benchmarks that should be hit, we pulled together an email including these four questions:

  1. Do you see any quick areas for improvement? Are we doing anything really wrong or dangerous?
  2. We've been hearing a lot of talk about the "Panda"and "Penguin" penalties from Google. Can you explain what these are? Are we at risk for these penalties? How can we tell if we've been hit?
  3. We have the opportunity to buy some domains that relate to our services, like ParentSupport.com. We were thinking of building a second version of our site on a .com site that is more related to our services. Is it better to have a.com or a .org domain? How can we leverage buying other domains that have to do with our services to help get more SEO traffic?
  4. We get lots of emails from people wanting to trade or exchange links with us. Should we be saying yes? Will this help with SEO?

With our questions ready to be answered, it was now time to select our SEO agencies. To keep the selection as neutral as possible, we ran three search queries for the terms "SEO Firm," "SEO Services," and "SEO Company" for the following locations:

  1. New York, NY
  2. Los Angeles, CA
  3. Chicago, IL
  4. Houston, TX
  5. Philadelphia, PA
  6. Jackson, MI
  7. Chattanooga, TN
  8. Overland Park, KS
  9. Temecula, CA
  10. South Bend, IN
  11. No location specified

We then took the top five organic and top two paid results for each location under each search query and added them to our list of companies to reach out to. After eliminating companies that didn't provide SEO consulting, we were left with 86 different SEO agencies to contact for the case study. The emails went out, and we waited anxiously for the *hopefully positive* responses to start flowing in.

Case study overview

Of the 86 agencies asked, 28 responded to our outreach with full answers to all four questions. Three clever dudes (Mark Kennedy from SEOM Interactive,  Larry Chrzan from Blue Horseradish, and Brady Ware from Softway Solutions) quickly figured out SEOmoz was behind the project, and the remaining 55 declined answering through email. The two most common reasons for not answering the questions were:

"In order to help you out I would need to speak with you on the phone." – Anonymous

and

"You ask many very good questions below, and if you were a client I’d be happy to answer all of them. Some of the questions you ask require a fair bit of research and analysis to answer correctly and I do not provide free consulting based on an email inquiry. Please go ahead and get all the free advice you can stand, but when you're ready to commit to a paid SEO engagement, do keep us in mind." - Anonymous

The initial responses included an array of answers with an overwhelmingly high amount of white-hat, helpful SEO feedback. Ruth Burr, the lead SEO at SEOmoz, provided answers to use as a benchmark to guage responses. It was a pleasant surprise when the majority of responding agencies offered advice similar to Ruth's initial answers. Because our questions were asked on a broad scale, we categorized the answers as best we could. Here’s a breakdown of the responses per question with sample answers from various SEO agencies:

Question #1: Do you see any quick areas for improvement? Are we doing anything really wrong or dangerous?

It's interesting to note that over half (55.6%) of our respondents stated that they didn’t see anything wrong or dangerous right off the bat, with a high percentage of those respondents requesting more information before giving a complete answer. A whopping 11.1% decided that they needed a more in-depth view before giving any answer at all, and the remaining 33.3% gave helpful, more specific advice.

Sample answer:

"Without looking under the hood of the website, it doesn't appear you are doing anything wrong or dangerous. For the most part, unless websites are either really old and out of date or people are using bad techniques, most people aren't doing anything dangerous. In terms of quick improvement:

  1. You should put your social media channels on your homepage so people can follow you. It was hard to find your Facebook page and I couldn't find you on Twitter.
  2. You should make your content shareable by including the like and tweet buttons so people can share it via social networks. Google does take these into account in its search ranking as it considers a tweet or like to be a good reference
  3. You have 13 web pages that return a 404 error meaning a link is broken so it goes nowhere. This doesn't hurt you, but it won't let those pages be indexed by Google.
  4. You use your name way too much on your site. This means that Google will index your page as Program for early parent support over and over again, which you rank number one for by a mile. One of the best things to do is remove that name off each page and replace it with more detailed keywords about the web page so Google know exactly what the page is about. This goes to the heart of SEO which is the keyword. We always start with a goal…what do you want to do with the website? Sell stuff? inform people? Make ad revenue? Once the goal is determined we start looking for keywords via Google's keyword tool that already have a lot of searches and low amount of competition meaning there aren't a lot of websites with that information. We then swap out the keywords and have Google recrawl your site so you can get indexed for those searches as well."

​ - John Cashman from Digital Firefly Marketing

Question #2: We've been hearing a lot of talk about the "Panda"and "Penguin" penalties from Google. Can you explain what these are? Are we at risk for these penalties? How can we tell if we've been hit?

An overwhelming 88.9% of respondents gave the answer we were looking for in regards to the Panda and Penguin updates! We didn’t see any shocking or fully incorrect answers out of the remaining 11.1%, but they were a bit broader than we preferred.

Sample answer:

"Panda: Google Panda updates are designed to target pages that aren’t necessarily spam but also don't offer great quality. In other words, sites with 'thin' content – really designed to do nothing more than hold ads and make money.

(Side note: it's important to follow this one rule that we always adhere to when building content for sites: Google is in the business of producing the absolute best result for any given search query. The best sites are built around this concept. Build using quality content and your rankings will follow. Of course SEO isn't really that simple – it's complex. But, that principle is where all good SEO begins.)

Panda really hit sites that were designed for ads only and offered no real content. Things like page layout and quality content have a lot to do with this. Panda was also designed to stop 'scrappers.' (Sites republishing other company's content.) I don't think you have an issue here, just browsing over your home page.

Penguin: According to Google, Penguin is an 'important algorithm change targeted at webspam.' And that is the very, very short explanation.

Penguin was designed to further cut rankings back on spam-related sites and push up quality sites that are offering regularly-updated and useful content and showing quality incoming links, articles and other content. People seeing problems from Penguin are using techniques like aggressive, exact-match anchor text, exact-match domains (overuse of these) poor quality blog posts and keyword stuffing, to name a few. In other words, spammy-style techniques designed to 'trick' the search engines into a ranking. 

Again, we tell our clients is to always focus on quality content and don't try any 'tricks' to achieve rankings. This is always bad policy.” 

- Kirk Bates from Market 248

Question #3: We have the opportunity to buy some domains that relate to our services, like ParentSupport.com. We were thinking of building a second version of our site on a .com site that is more related to our services. Is it better to have a .com or a .org domain? How can we leverage buying other domains that have to do with our services to help get more SEO traffic?

Although all four of the above categories are “correct” in one way or another (dependent on preference), 66.7% of respondents gave the answer we were hoping to see. The remaining 33.3% of answers were spread across the multiple categories, but there were no shocking or fully incorrect answers provided.

Sample answer:

“It doesn’t really matter if you get a .com or a .org- whichever one you want is fine. If you wanted to have a separate site for a specific area of your industry, then you can do that as well, but you don’t need a bunch of URLs all pointing to one website in order to rank in the search engines.” 

- Owen York from Stellar e-Marketing

Question #4: We get lots of emails from people wanting to trade or exchange links with us. Should we be saying yes? Will this help with SEO?

This question served as the most interesting indicator of SEO knowledge in our survey. We were pleased to see that 48.1% of respondents advised strongly against trading links with any other site based solely on email solicitation. 44.4% responded “yes” or “maybe” while cautioning PEPS to be selective on sites to trade links with. Unfortunately, 7.4% of respondents encouraged PEPS to exchange links with other sites that ranked well.

Sample Answer:

“NO! Do not buy or exchange link with anyone who contacts you. This is completely against Google's policies and if they were to find out, you could be penalized."

- Brad Frank from IT Chair

The (SEO) Fab Five

After comparing answers from all 28 responding agencies, there were five in particular that stood out above the rest. The top five consultants and agencies (in no particular order) were:

  1. John Cashman from Digital Firefly Marketing
  2. Dave Davies from Beanstalk SEO
  3. Kirk Bates from Market 248
  4. Brad Frank from IT Chair
  5. Owen York from Stellar e-Marketing

The answers we received from these five agencies included actionable, ethical SEO advice. (You may have noticed a few of their responses as our “Sample Answers” under the above charts – if not, check them out!) Each response went into great detail to provide the foundation and reasoning behind the piece of advice. Despite the topics being at a high-level of SEO knowledge, the responses were explained in a way that could be easily understood by a website owner new to SEO. We would recommend any of these five companies as an agency worth working with :)

And the winner is…

After a neck-and-neck race to finish between our top five SEO agencies, we decided to select Dave Davies from Beanstalk SEO as our case study winner of the PEPS site audit. Dave's company Beanstalk SEO showed up as the second result in our "no location specified" organic search. (They are based out of Victoria, BC.)

Dave was a front-runner from the beginning. His answers were lengthy, helpful, and provided a fantastic example of how an SEO can explain their work and its tremendous necessity to a potential, first-time client. When we let Dave know that he was on “SEOmoz candid camera” and had been selected to complete the audit, he was thrilled to have the opportunity to not only complete an audit for a charitable company, but to help show the current industry just how sustainable and ethical SEO truly is.

Beanstalk SEO, Inc. is a search engine optimization agency based in Victoria, BC. The Beanstalk SEO website even addresses their stance on unethical black-hat tactics in their “About” section. Beanstalk SEO follows guiding principles similar to SEOmoz’s TAGFEE mission, which made them a perfect fit for the PEPS site audit!

The current state of SEO consultants

When we started this project a few months back, we had high hopes for the responses. The project was driven by the opportunity to display irrefutable data whatever the outcome, but there was definitely some *selfishly-inspired* desire that the answers would help support our initial hypothesis. I’m happy to report that the outcome of our case study exceeded every expectation we set!

Out of our 28 respondents surveyed, well over 50% of surveyed agencies provided ethically sound answers for all four questions. Although we did receive a few responses that didn’t fall exactly in line with our expected answers, we did not see one shockingly black-hat response. If’s that’s not a true indicator of an industry with ethically-driven motivations from the majority, I’m not sure what is.

Although the experience documented on Search Engine Roundtable that inspired this project wasn’t pleasant, I have to argue that it is absolutely not indicative of the current state of the SEO industry. After analyzing the results of our study, it was clear that an overwhelming majority of respondents are practicing white-hat, sustainable tactics. There are SEOs who can be tactless and unethical in their work, and there will always be haters who claim the industry is “dead.” However, after our data assessment and analysis (coupled with our love of this wonderful industry), we couldn’t disagree more.

I want to give a big thanks to all of the agencies that participated in our study, Ruth Burr and Kurtis Bohrnstedt for gathering data, and PEPS for allowing us to go undercover. The faces we know – and plenty of faces we haven’t met yet – are a breath of fresh air who make this industry so vibrant, ever-changing, and full of possibility. There’s never been a better time to be involved in SEO, and we thank our lucky stars to work with you all every day.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the current state of the SEO industry. How do you think the industry as a whole is doing? What direction do you think we’re headed in over the next few years? What sustainable, ethical practices do you wish more agencies and consultants practiced?

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Removal Requests Actually Down, Following Google Algorithm Change

On August 10, Google announced that it would be updating its algorithm the following week to include a new ranking signal for the number of “valid copyright removal notices” it receives for a given site.

“Sites with high numbers of removal notices may appear lower in our results,” said Google SVP, Engineering, Amit Singhal, at the time. “This ranking change should help users find legitimate, quality sources of content more easily—whether it’s a song previewed on NPR’s music website, a TV show on Hulu or new music streamed from Spotify.”

One might have expected the removal request floodgates to have been opened upon this news, but that does not appear to be the case. In fact, interestingly, it has been kind of the opposite, according to Google’s Transparency Report.

Barry Schwartz at Search Engine Roundtable points out that from August 13 to August 20, the number of URLs requested to be removed from Google search per week, actually decreased, going from 1,496,220 to 1,427369. It’s only a slight decrease, but the fact that it decreased at all, following this news, is noteworthy.

URLs requested to be removed

August 20 is the latest date Google has data available for, so we’ll see what the following week looked like soon enough. As you can see from the graph, the number has been trending upward, and has jumped quite significantly over the course of this summer.

For the past month, Google says 5,680,830 URLs have been requested to be removed from 31,677 domains by 1,833 and 1,372 reporting organizations. The top copyright owners in the past month have been Froytal Services, RIAA member companies, Microsoft, NBCUniversal and BPI. The top specified domains have been filestube.com, torrenthound.com, isohunt.com, downloads.nl and filesonicsearch.com.


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10 Examples of Facebook Ads That Actually Work (And Why)

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Facebook ads. Facebook ads are what bring us here today.

While there has been quite a bit of controversy surrounding the effectiveness of Facebook ads lately (you remember the whole GM thing, right?), Ford and Coke recently gave their seal of approval in a Wall Street Journal article about Facebook ads, with both saying they were finding value in Facebook ads, and with Ford planning to expand its use of Facebook’s advertising platform.

Read the full story

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7 Customer Loyalty Programs That Actually Add Value

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According to Inc., it costs a business about 5-10 times more to acquire a new customer than it does to sell to an existing one — and on average those current customers of yours spend 67% more than a new one. So, what are you doing to keep your customers coming back to your business? If you’re like 65% of marketers, your company has implemented a loyalty program. Read the full story

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8 Quick Tips for Writing Bullet Points People Actually Want to Read

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It’s a Twitterized world, we’re just living in it.

Blog posts, Tweets, quick videos, Google+, the Facebook Timeline, and tens of thousands of images pinned to digital boards are flying past us faster than we can read them.

Faster than we can even scan them, depending on the time of day.

What does this mean for writers trying to cut through it all? At least two things that I can think of:

  1. You’d better know how to write a compelling headline
  2. You’d better know how to write bullet points that grab (and keep) your reader

We’re not telling you to keep your copy short. We’re telling you to keep your copy readable.

Why bullet points? Like it or not, they keep people reading your blog posts, pages, articles, and copy like nothing else…

But lame bullet points won’t take you where you want to go. So let’s take a quick look at how to get this done, and get it done well:

The basics of writing bullet points that work

The essence of a great bullet is brevity + promise.

Brevity has been a hallmark of good writing since writing began, but every one of us living in the Twitter Age possesses an acute awareness of just how important brevity is right now.

Long, complex bullet points would defeat the purpose of writing bullets at all — to keep your reader moving through your copy.

Promise is the element that hooks your reader like a fish. You’re making a plain and legitimate claim that your product/idea/service will give them what they’ve been looking for.

Goes without saying (but of course I’m going to say it anyway), you absolutely must deliver on the promise you make. There are probably faster ways of ruining your credibility and career, but not giving your reader what you promised is definitely in the top three.

Brian Clark wrote the definitive “Bullet Points 101″ post more than five years ago. Go ahead and read that through at your earliest convenience.

Seriously, here’s that link again — click it and read that post about 10 times.

And, since I’d rather straight up steal from Clark than try to outwrite him, here’s his summary of what an effective bullet point is and does:

  1. A bullet expresses a clear benefit and promise to the reader. That’s right… they’re mini-headlines. Bullets encourage the scanning reader to go back into the real meat of your content, or go forward with your call to action.
  2. Keep your bullet points symmetrical if possible; meaning, one line each, two lines each, etc. It’s easier on the eyes and therefore easier on the reader.
  3. Avoid bullet clutter at all costs. Do not get into a detailed outline jumble of subtitles, bullets and sub-bullets. Bullets are designed for clarity, not confusion.
  4. Practice parallelism. Keep your bullet groups thematically related, begin each bullet with the same part of speech, and maintain the same grammatical form.
  5. Remember that bullets (like headlines) are not necessarily sentences. If you want to write complete sentences, stick with a paragraph or a numbered list.

Now that we’re standing on a firm foundation, let’s move into how to actually write these bullets …

8 ways to write bullet points that work

You might have seen bloggers complain about the proliferation of list posts and “27 Ways to …” articles.

The thing is, the elitists don’t know what they’re talking about. Again, in this fast, short, and constantly evolving digital world, she who makes sense first, wins.

And one of the best ways to make sense of an idea — especially online — is not to dumb it down, it’s to break it up into digestible chunks.

Bullet points can be a great way to do that — but don’t just rely on the stale, simplistic bullet point types you’re using now. Expand your range and add these fascinating bullet point types.

  1. External Fascinations: These types of fascinating bullet points are usually found in sales copy. They create curiosity and work like headlines to prompt a purchase or other action.
  2. Internal Fascinations: Internal fascinations are pretty much identical to external, except they’re designed to persuade people to continue reading the post they’re already reading.
  3. Bullet Chunking: Extracting bullets out of compound sentences helps you drive home a point while also increasing the usability of your content.
  4. Authority Bullets: Authority bullets are used to recite the data and proof that support your argument. As with all persuasive writing, turn dry factual information into interesting reading any time you can.
  5. Cliffhanger Bullets: Cliffhanger bullets tease and foreshadow what’s coming up next or in the near future. You can also use cliffhanger bullets to lay the groundwork for an upcoming promotion, launch, or special content event.

    If you want to know more specifics about how to write those (including examples), check out this classic Copyblogger post on useful bullet point types.

    And — as a little bonus — our pal Ben Settle expanded on Brian’s post with a few more bullet types of his own.

    Here’s a few of Ben’s favorite bullet point secrets:

    1. Give-Away Bullets: These are sort of like the lady who hands out cheese cubes at the grocery store. She gives people a little “taste” of food that keeps them alert and shopping — and many times they end up with the thing they tasted in the shopping cart.
    2. Expansion Bullets: These bullets break up the “sameness” of the page (when you have several pages of bullets), and they add more tease, demonstration and curiosity. Plus, they give a nice little “loop” effect to your ad that keeps sucking the reader back in.
    3. “Can’t Be Done” Bullets: Basically, this is where you say something that is almost unbelievable. Something 100% true, but that is so wacky and “out there” it makes you say, “How in the heck can you do that?”

    Congratulations, you now know more about bullet points than most working writers.

    And here’s the simplest shortcut to jump start you in the art of the bullet …

    A simple shortcut to writing bullet points that work

    Craft each bullet as if it were to serve as your your headline.

    The goal here is to achieve, uh, headlineability with each bullet.

    You probably won’t quite achieve headline perfection with each and every bullet, but if you stick to this principle generally, writing bullets gets much easier.

    And, more important, those beautiful little bulleted lines will keep your readers running down your page like water on a slide…

    Want the whole enchilada?

    These Quick Copy Tips are meant to get you started on (and thinking about) very specific copywriting principles and tactics.

    If you want the entire picture of the “Copyblogger Philosophy” — including strategic teaching on content marketing, email marketing, social media, and more — go ahead and sign up for our free Internet Marketing for Smart People course.

    Do you love bullet points or loathe them? What’s your favorite way to use them in your content? Let us know in the comments …

    About the Author: Robert Bruce is Copyblogger Media’s copywriter and resident recluse.

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