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SEO Tactics Chart: Creating content is the most-effective tactic — here’s how to get started

July 12th, 2011 14 comments

I’ve been thumbing through the just-published MarketingSherpa 2012 Search Marketing Benchmark Report – SEO Edition. This thing is so hot-off-the-press that my fingers hurt.

There is a massive amount of analysis in this book, but one theme immediately jumped out at me: SEO thrives on content, and content does not come easily.

Below we have some great advice for jump-starting your content creation, but first let’s look at a chart ranking the top SEO tactics used today.

Most effective SEO tactics chart 1

As you can see, content creation sits comfortably on the top with 92% of SEO marketers saying it is at least somewhat effective and 50% saying it is very effective. Keyword research comes in second with 87% saying it’s at least somewhat effective.

The other side of the content-coin is that it is also one of the most difficult tactics to execute. Here (pulled from another chart in the report) are the three most-difficult SEO tactics:
1. External link building
2. Content creation
3. BloggingDNA 2

These three tactics are as intertwined as DNA. Nothing I know of will generate more high-quality links on a consistent basis than good content that is published regularly. And more than 50% of SEO marketers use blogs to create content, according to the report.

Blogging results in six months

Even though creating content is the most effective SEO tactic, it comes in sixth in terms of popularity with 60% of marketers using it. This disconnection could be due to the difficulty of creating content, and I recently heard a great example of how to simplify the process and get started.

Marcus Sheridan, Co-Owner at River Pools & Spas, had some great advice at our recent Optimization Summit on how to dive into content creation (Dive! Get it?). Sheridan outlined the simple tactics he used to blog his company’s website into the world’s most popular swimming pool site in terms of traffic.

Here are tactics he suggested for establishing a traffic-building blog:

Tactic #1. Answer prospects’ questions

First, gather everyone in your company and ask them to list the top questions they’ve received from prospective customers. Write down a list of 50. Those questions are the titles of your first 50 blog posts.

“As a pool guy, as soon as someone calls us on the phone, what do they ask? What do they ask in every industry? — How much does it cost? That’s the first question all the time,” Sheridan said.

So Sheridan’s first blog read: “How Much Does a Fiberglass Pool Cost?“.

Tactic #2. No, really answer their questions

Some companies are afraid to answer questions about price or to directly compare their products to alternatives (which is another popular question). Sheridan urged companies to overcome their discomfort. Prospective customers are asking these questions, regardless. Who would you rather have answering them?

“We can’t be afraid to talk about anything that the customer wants to talk about; the good, the bad and the ugly,” he said.

Tactic #3. Two posts per week for six months

Once you gather questions from your team — keep everyone involved. Get them excited about writing a blog post to answer a question. Divide the work across the company and set a strict schedule.

“If you set 50 titles and you do two per week, then you have 25 weeks’ worth of blog content. Within that six months time, everything will start to change for that company and that business and the traffic they’re starting to get on their website,” Sheridan said.

Related resources

MarketingSherpa 2012 Search Marketing Benchmark Report – SEO Edition

Optimization Summit: Tests with poor results can improve your marketing

Members Library – Optimization Summit 2011 Wrap-up: 6 takeaways to improve your tests and results

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Search Marketing: The importance of an SEO Process

April 5th, 2011 12 comments

I know those three buzz letters in the headline – S, E, and O – likely grabbed your attention and are the reason you’re reading this blog post. But I want to tell you why you should focus more on the last, and perhaps least buzzy, word in that headline – process. First of all, put a mirror up to your current search-engine optimization activities for just a moment and ask yourself…

  • Do I have a well-developed strategy for my SEO program?
  • Do I have an action plan for achieving my goals?
  • Do I have a process that enables me to concentrate my organization’s limited resources on the greatest opportunities?

Well, do you? Or do you jump straight into execution, pulling tactics together in what you hope will be the right mix?

If you nodded yes to that last question, you’re not alone. In the 2011 MarketingSherpa Search Marketing Benchmark Report – SEO Edition, we learned that 46% of marketers have an informal process they randomly perform for their SEO programs and 20% are basically flying by the seat of their pants.

Chart: SEO maturity

Q. Please select the statement below that best describes the process your organization uses to perform search engine optimization (SEO) practices.

Click to enlarge

Keeping track is not the same as forethought

Some organizations know that they have no process. Others, however, may think they have a process because they document their plans. But does that documentation look anything like this “process” I followed in a past work life?

4:53 PM – Frantic phone call informing me that next quarter’s plan and budget projections are needed by COB. Of course, this is the first any of us are hearing of this.

4:54 PM – Pull up the most recent plan. Change the dates.

4:55 PM – Google the latest and greatest tactics. Replace what we had been doing with these. (Since newer is always better, right?)

4:57 PM – Adjust the budget ask by 50%. Double the ROI projection. (Rationale: if I had twice the money, I am sure I could produce twice the return on investment. Fuzzy math, but who’s paying attention.)

4:58 PM – Email it, marked URGENT

5:00 PM – Sign off, and call it a day

Obviously, I am being facetious with this example. But, there is still an element of truth to it. These exercises were often needlessly rushed, leaving us with the feeling that we were throwing money at the market instead of spending money to market. We often recycled the same set of tactics out of habit. But, we were equally guilty of trying something new because it was new – and not because we determined it was a more efficient or effective way to reach our objectives.

Action is nothing without direction

Now, if my earlier example sounded too contrived, consider some of these responses from marketers, collected during last year’s Search Marketing survey, when asked how they plan their SEO strategy:

  • Identify opportunity keywords, optimize, sit back and watch the love roll in.
  • Every quarter we “guesstimate” how much to invest in strategy.
  • No strategy. We just repeat key phrases.
  • We have no true strategy. We look at traffic and sales, try to figure out what areas need help, and focus on those.
  • We have no real plan, just routine efforts to improve page content and keywords as well as tie in social media efforts.
  • We do a lot of planning to optimize for search, but, once done, we have no on-going strategy except to monitor performance.
  • We are actually working on putting in place a real process for SEO, because, in the past, some actions have been done at random, like: put a title on some pages, a description on others…
  • HIPPO (Highest Paid Person’s Opinion). That would be me. It is all done by gut and needs to be revised.

At first glance, these comments may not seem too alarming. Most are actively doing something. So what’s the concern?

The issue is this: Organizations that adopt a strategic approach to SEO management by formalizing their SEO processes receive the greatest benefits from their SEO tactics almost across the board, as indicated in this chart:

Chart: Very effective SEO tactics by SEO maturity

Click to enlarge

As if that were not enough, strategic organizations are also able to more effectively use SEO to achieve their marketing objectives, as the next chart reveals.  For example, 52% of marketers in the strategic phase, or those with formalized processes, said that SEO is very effective at increasing lead generation, but only 28% of marketers in the trial phase, or those with no SEO process, could say this. Similar performance gaps exist for other standard objectives.

Chart: very effective SEO objectives by SEO maturity

Click to enlarge

Elements of a successful SEO process

Unfortunately, it becomes difficult to know whether you are really getting the most for your money without a process in place. While the most effective process varies by industry and company, the system you develop should ensure that you consistently:

  • scan the marketplace
  • review your capabilities
  • define objectives
  • assess alternative courses of action
  • measure progress
  • and make adjustments based on all of this business intelligence.

If you have not developed a systematic process for the development and management of your SEO programs, I encourage you to take the time to do so. It may be the best SEO investment you make this year.

This week marks the opening of MarketingSherpa’s Eighth Annual Search Engine Marketing Benchmark Survey. If you’re involved in search marketing, please take the next 5 to 15 minutes to provide data and insights.

As a thank you for your time, we are offering a complimentary report titled “Research on Integrating Social Media with SEO.” This report provides data aggregated from more than 2,000 marketers on their goals for search and social integration and the platforms used for achieving them.

Please help us spread the word by tweeting or posting the following invitation too: Search marketers share your insights. Take the Search Engine Marketing Benchmark Survey at http://bit.ly/hi19OQ

Related Resources

Search Marketing: Three questions to help you think like your potential customers

Search Marketing: Tips on mastering the latest innovations in this mature category

Search Marketing: How to avoid and remove Google penalties (Members’ Library)

Search Engine Optimization: The SEO value (or lack thereof) of domain name keywords



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Search Engine Optimization: The SEO value (or lack thereof) of domain name keywords

March 25th, 2011 6 comments

Search engines rank websites by attempting to determine their relevancy to the searched keyword phrase. It makes sense for a search engine to consider the keywords in a domain name as part of the equation to determine relevancy.

That said, the search engines place less weight on internal factors that can be influenced by the webmaster, and more weight on external factors such as links, authority, etc. So, while having the keyword present in the domain name is helpful, it is just one piece of the puzzle and there are many other elements to search engine optimization (SEO).

Read more…

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On-site Search: How to help your customers find what they want (to buy)

January 7th, 2011 3 comments

“And I still…haven’t found…what I’m looking for.” Hopefully Bono wasn’t talking about your website.

According to the MarketingSherpa Ecommerce Benchmark Report, customers who use the search box on ecommerce sites convert at nearly three times the rate of general browsers. Yet, 52% of marketers graded their internal search a ‘D’ or  ‘F.’

On Monday, I’ll be presenting on the “Exploring On-site Search with eTail, BabyAge.com and MarketingSherpa” webinar with Jack Kiefer, Founder and CEO, BabyAge.com, and Kelly Hushin, Editor, the eTail Blog.

But before we share some of our research and case studies about on-site search, we wanted to hear what you had to say…


Four major points

1. Understanding of misspellings and synonyms

Search today must tolerate typing errors, spelling mistakes, and other altered forms, without requiring a preset dictionary. We use our patented algorithm(FACT) to first of all understand what visitors are looking for in a shop. Phonetic is king.

On BabyAge.com when you search for “armchair” instead of “arm chair” you get no results. It looks like BabyAge.com is trying to maintain search by manual optimization because “sleighbed” works!

So you can point out the long tail of search again. Same for fischer-price instead of fisher-price or “chocolat” instead of “chocolate” or “sumer” instead of “summer”.

What about “schanon” instead of “shannon”? It doesn’t work. In Europe, we deal with many languages and understanding the phonetic is really important. Even spaces matter – “infantseat” (21 results) instead of “infant seat” (1000 results).

2. Relevance

The order of the right products that are displayed on the result page is vital.

Top-sellers and revenue boosters should always be placed on top, while sale items and bad sellers should be placed below the fold or on the next page.

Make sure to show only deliverable products, because nothing is more frustrating for a customer than finding out that the just-found-present takes 5 weeks to deliver.

Use an intelligent result system that incorporates information like relevance, top sellers and availability status, to avoid frustration and to turn more visitors into buyers.

3. Speed and filter

A survey of 600 Internet users showed that more than half felt that a “suggest” feature is “important” to “very important.” An additional 25% found the feature to be “rather important.”

When online retailers provide such a suggest feature, the drop-down menu should note the number of matches for each of the terms listed.

General search terms (such as “shirt” for an online clothing retailer) normally produce a very large number of results. The right filter navigation prepares the list for the user, permits sorting and selections to be made, and displays appropriate navigation tools. The user can now quickly narrow down the results according to brand, price, size or other attributes.

4. Merchandizing and optimization

Today on-site search is one key factor to understand the customer in your online shop. But you should also be able to generate insights from this data and use on-site information to generate AdWord campaigns and optimize, test and configure your shop for a higher conversion rate.

– Mathias Duda, Head of Sales, FACT-Finder


Simple things

There are many simple things companies can do to improve performance of their site search to deliver a more user-friendly experience, and potentially result in higher conversions (for e-commerce sites, in particular). Here are a few of them:

1.  Incorporate rich auto complete

This feature significantly enhances the usability of your site, by not only suggesting possible terms when visitors start typing the first letters of a keyword (like most search engines do today), but also showing images, start reviews, price, discount info, short product description, and even a “buy now” or “check availability button,” without the need to press the search button and wait for the results page to appear. This powerful feature gives people an easier way to click through to the items they’re searching for and typically results in higher conversions.

2.  Test different positions for the search box, and not which positions generate the most search traffic

One online retailer – Black Forest Decor – took this approach, moving its search box from the right-hand upper corner of its site to the center. The company made other changes at the same time, including increasing the size of the search box. The company found that site search revenue per customer increased 84% and the conversion rate increased 34%.

3.  Offer “add to cart/buy now” options directly from the site search results page

Smart e-commerce companies create as few steps as possible from search to checkout. When you allow visitors to add products to shopping carts or to go to checkout directly from search results, they’re more likely to complete the purchase – particularly if they know exactly what they want and they see it in the results at a price they’re comfortable with.

4.  Show ratings and reviews in search results

Site visitors place high value on the opinions and feedback of other people who’ve shopped for similar products or services, and showing the average rating in search results helps them better determine what they want to click on. You should allow visitors to further refine or reorder their search results based on ratings. You should also show, in the search results, the number of reviews that a product has.

5. Be sure to include refinement options that are relevant to the search query

Refinements are a useful way for visitors to narrow down results by certain criteria – for example, brand, gender, price range, etc. Refinements should be relevant to the search term, so will vary from one search to another.

For example, if a visitor to your site has searched for “camera,” it may be useful to have refinement options for the number of megapixels and the screen size. If someone searches for “TV,” then you may want to offer screen size and resolution refinement options. Apparel retailers can offer refinements for men’s and women’s items, as well as size, color, or other relevant attributes.

The trick with refinements is to keep them relevant and useful. This can be done by tracking the most popular and related search terms for each product category, and dynamically creating the refinements based on the keywords that people have entered.

Shaun Ryan, CEO, SLI Systems


The new slang

Know your audience’s slang. Aside from plain old keywords, there’s going to be all sorts of wacky short-hand terms, acronyms and inside jokes you ought to be aware of. You can nab your market from folks inside the bubble already that way.

Erica Friedman, President, Yurikon



Related Resources

Internal Search Data Inspires Store Page Re-Designs: 4 steps to boost revenue 50% – Members’ Library

Four Simple Steps to Tweak Site Search Box & Lift Conversions 20% – Members’ Library

How Eretailer Tripled Conversions with Internal Search Changes – Members’ Library

How to Improve Your Company’s Internal Search and Lift ROI – 9 strategies and tips – Members’ Library

How to Use Internal Site Search Data to Revamp Your Home Page: People’s Bank – Members’ Library

photo by WellspringCS
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SEO: Is an obscure product name hurting your organic traffic?

November 16th, 2010 1 comment

Product naming and branding can get out of hand. Sure, it’s important to differentiate your product names — but you can differentiate yourself right into obscurity.

Technology products seem susceptible to this. The “XQ330 Plus” is a completely plausible name for a phone, camera, latte machine, or some type of hybrid. Other than being original, the name does not offer any marketing benefit.

This is a problem for SEO marketers. The XQ330 may be able to capture traffic for branded search terms, particularly if the company has a strong advertising budget. But it is vulnerable to a complete lack of non-branded organic traffic — and non-branded traffic is SEO’s money maker.

“Many times a marketer will come up with a name or way to describe a product in a vacuum, and that doesn’t always translate well to the Web — especially in search,” says Brad Beiter, Account Director, SEO, Performics.

I recently interviewed Beiter and Performics SEO Account Manager Matthew Holly about some work they’ve done for retail marketers. The methods they use offer good insight into what marketers can do when — for whatever reason — they’re stuck with obscure product names.

When you’re stuck with an obscure product name

If you can’t change a product’s name, one good method is to change its description. Say, for example, your company sells socks. On your website, socks are referred to as “shoe liners” and one in particular is called the “white fuzzy warmer.”

Due to the inflexibility of your website or some other factor, you cannot change these terms. But what you can do is change your product descriptions. Re-rewrite them to emphasize high-traffic, non-branded keywords. For example:

“These soft white cotton socks keep you warm whether you need a boot, athletic or dress pair.”

You can also optimize other on-site factors for non-branded terms, including:
o Internal links
o Image and video metadata
o Sub-headlines

Do not let cumbersome product names hold your SEO hostage. There are many on-site factors you can optimize to pull in more traffic. And from now on, when your team is naming products, make sure you’re at that meeting.

Related resources

MarketingSherpa 2011 Search Marketing Benchmark Report

New Chart: SEO Tactics for the B2B Marketer

MarketingExperiments: Use Social Media and Quality Content to Get a Jolt for Your Site

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Instant Speculation on New Google

September 13th, 2010 2 comments

Google rocked the search world last week by introducing a new feature that automatically predicts and displays search results as users type their queries.

Google Instant met with a swarm of speculation, including predictions that it would kill SEO, change SEO, and not change SEO.

All commentary is speculation at this point. Google Instant’s impact on search marketing will not likely be clear for another 30 to 60 days. The change will likely affect some marketers more than others, depending on search’s role in your marketing.

The folks at search agency and software provider Covario sent me a seven-page brief on the topic they wrote for their clients. Three highlights from their analysis and predictions:

1. Top organic positions are more important than ever
Google Instant pushes down organic results
As users type search queries using the new feature, a drop-down “suggestion box” appears, pushing down paid and organic search results, and pushing some organic results below the fold.

Results pages with three or four ads in the top position sometimes only list one organic link above the fold (see image). The links pushed below the fold will likely experience a drop in traffic.

2. More ‘broad matching’ in PPC

Since users see results as they type, marketers will migrate toward strategies that use broad matching on the first keywords of popular multi-keyword queries.

In the short term, CPCs will increase and advertisers will have to budget more toward Google to drive similar volume, according Covario’s brief.

3. Not all searches are “Instant”

Google’s new feature is designed to work in the following browsers:
o Internet Explorer v8
o Safari for Mac v5
o Firefox v3
o Chrome v5, v6

Users running other browsers will perform traditional Google searches. Filtering your website analytics to track visitors by browser will help your team better understand how Google Instant changes your visitors’ behavior.

Please note: Covario’s brief emphasized that its analysis is strictly speculation. Only time and rigorous testing can determine what impact Google’s latest feature will have on your marketing and the marketing community as a whole.

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Social Marketing Lifts Organic Conversions

August 6th, 2010 4 comments

I’ve been digging through MarketingSherpa’s new 2011 Search Marketing Benchmark Report: SEO Edition and finding very interesting data describing social media’s impact on SEO performance.

The most interested stat I came across noted that marketers working in social media reported an average 27% conversion rate for organic search traffic. Those not working in social media reported 17%. That is a 58.8% difference — which is huge.

What could cause this disparity?

Possible explanations are found in a second chart. Marketers were asked whether social media or SEO were effective marketing tactics for achieving a list of objectives.

More marketers said SEO, rather than social media, was a “very effective” way to:
o Increase brand or product awareness (42% vs. 37%)
o Increase website traffic (57% vs. 33%)
o Increase lead generation (35% vs. 18%)
o Increase offline sales revenue (17% vs. 10%)
o Increase online sales revenue (26% vs. 9%)

On the flipside, more marketers said social media was a “very effective” way to:
o Improve brand or product reputation (37% vs. 29%)
o Improve public relations (36% vs. 27%)

Clearly, SEO is more effective at attracting attention and ultimately converting people. However, social media is more likely to increase positive thinking around a product and brand.

This leads me to a hypothesis: marketers who engage in SEO and social media have 58.8% higher conversion rates for organic traffic because their social media work has increased trust in their brands and products.

But that might not be the whole story.

As pointed out in the benchmark report’s analysis, working in social media provides additional benefits. Social profiles and content are indexed by search engines and added to results pages. These additional results can push down a brand’s competition, increasing its organic conversion rates. Also, the social results can broaden the variety of content on a SERP and help brands appeal to more people.

The data are very interesting. If your team has well established SEO and social media strategies, take a look at your stats and look for similar trends. It just might make you smile.

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More Organic Conversions from Social

June 30th, 2010 No comments

Today’s the publishing date for MarketingSherpa’s 2011 Search Marketing Benchmark Report – SEO Edition, and the report has shaped up to be a valuable tool for strategic planning.

One chart I found particularly interesting (out of the 160 in the book) compares the conversion rates for organic traffic between organizations that incorporate social media into their search campaigns and those that do not. You can see the chart in the free executive summary.

Marketers who mix social and search report a 27% conversion rate for organic search traffic, while those who do not report a 17% rate. This disparity is likely due to several factors:

- First, social media marketing is known to improve brands’ reputations online, and a brand with a stronger reputation is more likely to convert visitors.

- Second, a brand’s social media profiles often appear in searches for the brand, which adds to its number of search engine results and increases the brand’s perceived credibility.

- Finally, additional links on the SERPs push down relevant competitors, making the searcher more likely to engage with the brand.

The first point is further supported by additional data in the Benchmark Report. Marketers more often reported social media than SEO as being very effective at improving reputation and public relations.

SEO, however, was more often reported as being very effective at increasing:
o Awareness
o Website traffic
o Lead generation
o Offline revenue
o Online revenue

Reviewing all of these facts reveals SEO as a much stronger contributor than social media to the bottom line — but it also shows social media can dramatically improve SEO’s impact by boosting its conversion rates.

Is your company seeing similar trends? Or something different? We welcome your comments…

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Slow Converting PPC Clicks

April 23rd, 2010 5 comments

I spoke with several paid search experts over the last two weeks for an article about timing PPC ads to optimize performance, and an interesting side-topic came up.

Seeing which PPC clicks are helping your bottom line is not always crystal clear. For example, a consumer may click an ad on Saturday and purchase the advertised item on Tuesday. These slow-converting, or latent clicks help drive sales. But by how much?

One way you can help figure this out is by looking to see whether an ad’s search phrase contains branded terms. Branded searches are likely driven by another marketing channel — because the consumer knew your brand name. Conversions on generic, non-branded search terms signal that your PPC ad had a much stronger influence on the sale.

You can track these slow-converting clicks using cookies — but even that can be challenging. Consumers often search the Web at work on one computer, and surf at home on another. Unless you’re able to connect those two machines, you’ll likely be missing some clicks that later become sales.

The lesson here is you should track the behavior of consumers who click your ads as well as you can. Doing so will give you a better idea of which clicks are driving delayed sales, and that information can help you better allocate your spending.

Have you found a good way to uncover slow-converting clicks? Has it helped you much? Let us know in the comments…

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Twitter’s Social Search Ads

April 14th, 2010 2 comments

Marketers wanting to be heard over the over the rabble in social media may soon have a new tool to capture more attention. On Tuesday, Twitter announced the launch of its first ever advertising program, Promoted Tweets.

The micro-blogging network will show promoted tweets at the top of some Twitter.com search results pages, essentially making the tweets a form of paid search advertising. The tweets look and act as normal tweets, but are clearly labeled as promoted by an advertiser.

This “first phase” of the ad platform is only open to a handful of advertisers, such as Best Buy and Starbucks, and is helping Twitter “get a better understanding of the resonance of Promoted Tweets, user experience and advertiser value,” according to the announcement’s blog post (linked above).

I personally assume a self-service, keyword-targeting ad platform will eventually be offered to a broad range of advertisers–but time will tell. For now, Twitter says they hope to later expand Promoted Tweets beyond their search tool, bring them to other partners’ spaces and into Twitter users’ tweet timelines.

This is yet another case of social media and search engine marketing finding common ground, this time in the area of paid search. Yesterday, we published part one of our two-part social media and SEO special report, which outlined five key trends in social and SEO marketing integration. Stay tuned for part two next week which will feature specific tactics.

Hopefully this announcement will be the first of many which help Twitter grow as a powerful marketing channel. My head is already spinning with different ways sponsored tweets can be tested to increase clickthrough rates and response.

What does this announcement mean to you? What else do you think is on the way?

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