Search Engine Optimization: Are you being seen as a Trusted Resource or an Intrusion

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Back in the days when Madison Avenue reigned supreme, intrusive advertising was the way in which companies communicated with their existing and potential customers. These one way conversations were generally designed in one of two ways; as branding pieces that showed how a product could enhance the life of the person who bought the product or as overt attempts at making a sale. In this paradigm the company would develop a campaign, often through the use of focus groups, and then communicate the messaging through traditional media channels. After receiving the messaging via advertisements on TV, radio, or print, consumers either made purchases or they didn’t and, regardless of the decision, rarely provided feedback to the sponsoring company.

 

Today, intrusive one-way advertising through traditional channels is waning, as evidenced by ever skimpier daily newspapers and magazines, as well as a growing number of devices (ex. DVRs) and subscription services, such as premium TV channels, that allow consumers to either filter advertisements out or avoid them completely. In this changing landscape, when consumers seek information on product/services, they now head to the internet where they can use search engines to go from the beginning to the end of the buying cycle.

In this process, the value of intrusive advertising is greatly diminished, as consumers first seek content that serves as the foundation of their research and get progressively more specific with their inquiries as they move through the buying cycle. It is during this process in which an SEO campaign that has been created with materials designed to deliver informative content can start building trust with potential customers. This type of content can have four different purposes:

 

The provision of general information – This type of content may address the product category in total with description of what the products do, buying the right size, and how to make comparisons that may help with the final purchasing decision.

  Assisting with comparisons in greater detail – This type of content would include information that describes an efficient way to compare energy consumption between similar refrigerators, for example.

 “How to” information – Content pieces that provide instructions on how to operate the product can be done in written form, but are often more powerful when offered in a video format.

  End of buying cycle information – This content answers questions about specific issues, such as detailed information on features and/or warranty coverage, which are commonly posed just before a purchase.

 

A consumer who views these content pieces will have a solid foundation of resources and knowledge on which to base a purchase. Additionally, by creating content that specific targets end of buying cycle issues, you can attract consumers who are just about to pull their credit cards out to make a purchase.    

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  • User Experience and SEO

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    Prior to Google’s implementation of the Hummingbird algorithm in the second half of 2013, search engine optimization and delivering a positive user experience with published content were distinctly different practices. Despite Google’s mission to surface high value content, its algorithms were easily manipulated with SEO tricks that didn’t necessarily deliver the information that the search engine users were looking for. At the same time, content that delivered relevant information often earned lower rankings than poorly written articles that prioritized packing in keywords over adding value.

     

    Hand it to Google, the search engine has stayed true to its commitment to deliver improved user experiences and is now far less vulnerable to manipulative practices. Its ranking algorithm now factors a variety of signals that result from positive user experiences, including:        

            

            Links from authority sites – Content that contains valuable source material, topic-relevant information or delivers a positive user experience in general can earn links from authority sites to provide additional information or to be cited as a reference. These links carry an increasing amount of weight in the ranking algorithms due to the quasi-vetting process from originating authority sites. This is a completely different ranking methodology than the one which rewarded web pages that had thousands of spammy backlinks purchased for a few pennies each.       

            Social actions – When content is posted to social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, user can elect to share that material with their friends and/or followers. Sharing or liking posted content is referred to as a social action, which is an indication that the content delivers a positive user experience, whether it’s entertaining, informative or a combination of the two. Steady and/or increasing social actions with specific web pages can then boost rankings due to the implied legitimacy of independent referrals.    

             Active and positive comment threads – Quality content draws engagement in the form of active commentary threads. Content that is generating shares and likes will also elicit commentary, with the actions reinforcing each other when being weighed by search algorithms. While these reinforcing actions are great for SEO campaigns, they are equally capable of driving higher rankings for negative content, such as news stories.    

     

    In today’s SEO campaigns, manipulating the algorithms has become increasingly difficult. This is due in part to the growing sophistication in algorithm methodology that can detect spammy links and content. It is also due to the evolution in the way people communicate and share information on the web. The paradigm change now forces SEO and content distribution campaigns to focus on the same primary goal; delivering a positive user experience. 

  • One SEO Change to Implement Now

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    As the sophistication of search algorithms continues to increase, search engines are improving their understanding of what their users are looking for with their inquiries. Prior to replacing its search methodology with the Hummingbird algorithm in 2013, search results typically showed results that had a high percentage of the same keywords included in users’ inquiries. While the pages that were returned based on keyword matches generally reflected some relevance to the search, there were also results that had nothing to do with the nature of the inquiry.

     

    Two of the primary reasons for these unrelated results were black hat techniques that were used to trick the early algorithms into granting high ratings, as well as words that were spelled the same but had different meanings, known as homonyms. An example of a homonym is the word “lead”, which can either be a noun as in the metal or a verb as in “to guide”. An inquiry such as “lead dog” could list sculptures of dogs made of the metal as well as dog teams in the Iditarod race. Refining the search to “what is a lead dog Iditarod” could still return mixed results. With the implementation of the Hummingbird algorithm, searches provided results based on the context of the inquiry, rather than trying to find pages with identical keywords.

     

    The change to contextual search, in addition to providing a higher percentage of relevant results for all users, was also influenced by the more conversational nature of inquiries from mobile device users. When voice commands are used, it’s more natural to ask a question than limiting inquiries to a few key words. As the search phrases became longer, keyword-based algorithms struggled to return listings that answered the questions that were being posed, which required follow-on searches and lead to a less than optimal user experience.

     

    For businesses that have not changed the foundation of their SEO initiatives to the new search methodology, previously high rankings are likely to start falling, if they haven’t already. The key to success in context-based search is to modify content so that it answers the questions posed verbally by mobile users. As a simple example, a searcher may pose the question “Where is a pizza place in Anytown?” Content that answers that question, which would earn a higher search listing, would include something like “Jack’s Pizza is located at 123 Main Street in Anytown.”

     

    As Google and the rest of the search engines try to deliver the best user experience possible, the focus is on eliminating listings that don’t deliver the answers sought by searchers. To that end, the listings that are presented will increasingly address the full context of inquiries with the delivery of specific answers. In this environment the SEO campaigns that are modified to answer questions, rather than match keywords to searches, will deliver website and storefront visits which will drive revenues.  

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