Why Net Neutrality Matters for SEO and Web Marketing – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by randfish

Net neutrality is a hot-button issue lately, and whether it’s upheld or not could have real ramifications for the online marketing industry. In this Whiteboard Friday, Rand covers the potential consequences and fallout of losing net neutrality. Be sure to join the ensuing discussion in the comments!

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Why net neutrality matter for SEO and web marketing

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Video Transcription

Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week, we’re taking a departure from our usual SEO tactics and marketing tactics to talk for a minute about net neutrality. Net neutrality is actually something that is hugely critical and massively important to web marketers, especially those of us who help small and medium businesses, local businesses, and websites that aren’t in the top 100 most popular sites and wealthiest sites on the web.

The reason that we’re going to talk net neutrality is because, for the first time in a while, it’s actually at high risk and there are some things that we might be able to do about it. By protecting net neutrality, especially here in the United States, although this is true all over the world, wherever you might be, we can actually help to preserve our jobs and our roles as marketers. I’ll talk you through it in just a sec.

What is net neutrality?

So, to start off, you might be asking yourself, “Okay, Rand, I might have heard of net neutrality, but explain to me what it is.” I’m going to give you a very basic introduction, and then I’ll invite you to dig deeper into it.

But essentially, net neutrality is this idea that as a user of the Internet, through my Internet service provider — that might be through my cellphone network, that might be through my home Internet provider, through my Internet provider at work, these ISPs, a Verizon or a Comcast or a Cox or a T-Mobile or AT&T, those are all here in the United States and there are plenty of others overseas — you essentially can get access to the whole web equally, meaning that these ISPs are not regulating download speed based on someone paying them more or less or based on a website being favored by them or owned by them or invested in by them. Essentially, when you get access to the web, you get access to it equally. There’s equality and neutrality for the entire Internet.

Non-neutrality

In a non-neutrality scenario, you can see my little fellow here is very unhappy, because his ISP is essentially regulating and saying, “Hey, if you want to pay us $50 a month, you can have access to Google, Facebook, Twitter, and MSN. Then if you want to pay a little bit more, $100 a month, you can get access to all these second-tier sites, and we’ll let you visit those and use those services. If you want to pay us $150 a month, you can get access to all websites.”

This is just one model of how a non-neutrality situation might work. There are a bunch of other ones. This is probably not the most realistic one, and it might be slightly hyperbolic, but the idea behind it is always the same — that essentially the ISP can work however they’d like. They are not bound by government rules and regulations requiring them to serve the entire web equally.

Now, if you’re an ISP, you can imagine that this is a wonderful scenario. If I’m AT&T or I’m Verizon, I might be maxing out how much money I can make from consumers, and I’m constantly having to be competitive against other ISPs. But if I can do this, I can then have a bunch more vectors (a) to get money from all these different websites and web services, and (b) to charge consumers much more based on tiering their access.

So this is wonderful for me, which is why ISPs like Comcast and Verizon and AT&T and Cox and all these others have put a lot of money towards lobbyists to try and change the opinions of the federal government, and that’s mostly, well, in the United States right now, it’s the Republican administration and the folks in Congress and the Federal Communications Chair, who is Ajit Pai, recently selected by Trump as the new FCC Chair.

Why should marketers care?

Reasons that you should care about this as a web market are:

1. Equal footing for web access creates a more even playing field.

  • Greater competition. It allows websites to compete with each other without having to pay and without having to only serve different consumers who may be paying different rates to their ISPs.
  • It also means more players, because anyone can enter the field. Simply by registering a website and hosting it, you’re now on an even playing field technically with everyone, with Google, with Facebook, with Microsoft, with Amazon. You get the same access, at least at the fundamental ISP level, with everyone else on the Internet. That means there’s a lot more demand for competitive web marketing services, because there are many more businesses who need to compete and who can compete.
  • Also much less of an inherent advantage for these big, established, rich players. If you’re a very, very rich website, you have tons of money, you have tons of resources, lots of influence, it’s easy to say, “Hey, I’m not going to worry about this because I know I can always be in this lowest tier or whatever they’re providing for free because I can pay the ISP, and I can influence government rules and regulations, and I can connect with all the different ISPs out there and make sure I’m always accessible.” But for a small website, that’s a nightmare scenario, incredibly hard, and it makes a huge competitive advantage by being big and established already, which means it’s much tougher to get started.

2. The costs of getting started online are much lower under net neutrality.

Currently, if you register your website and you start doing your hosting:

  • You don’t need to pay off any ISPs. You don’t need to go approach Comcast or Verizon or AT&T or Cox or anybody like this and say, “Hey, we would like to get on to your high-speed, fastest-tier, best-access plan.” You don’t have to do that, because net neutrality, the law of the land means that you are automatically guaranteed that.
  • There’s also no separate process. So it’s not just the cost, it’s also the work involved to go to these ISPs. There are several hundred ISPs with hundreds of thousands of active customers in the United States today. That number has generally been shrinking as that industry has been consolidating a little bit more. But still, that’s a very, very challenging thing to have to do. If you are a big insurance provider, it’s one thing to have someone go manage that task, but if you’re a brand-new startup website, that’s entirely another to try and do that.

3. The talent, the strategy, the quality of product and services and marketing that a new company, a new website has are going to create winners and losers in their field today versus this potential non-neutrality situation, where it’s not quite a rigged system, but I’m calling it a rigged system a little bit because of this built-in advantage that you have for money and influence.

I think we would all generally agree that, in 2017, in late-stage capitalist societies, that, generally speaking, there’s already a huge advantage by having a lot of money and influence. I’m not sure those with money and influence necessarily need another leg up on entrepreneurs and startups and folks who are trying to compete on the web.

What might happen?

Now, maybe you’ll disagree, but I think that these together make a very compelling case scenario. Here’s what might actually happen.

  • “Fast lanes” for some sites – Most observers of the space think that fast lanes would become a default. So fast lanes, meaning that certain tiers, certain parts of the web, certain web services and companies would get fast access. Others would be slower or potentially even disallowed on certain ISPs. That would create some real challenges.
  • Free vs. paid access by some ISPs – There would probably be some free and some paid services. You can see T-Mobile actually tried to do this recently, where they basically said, “Hey, if you are on a T-Mobile device, even if you’re paying us the smallest amount, we’re going to allow you to access these certain things.” I think it was a video service for free. Essentially, that currently is against the rules.

You might say, “Rand, that seems unfair. Why shouldn’t T-Mobile be able to offer some access to the web for free and then you just have to pay for the rest of it?” I hear you. I think unfortunately that’s a bit of a red herring, because that particular implementation of a non-neutral situation is not that bad. It’s not particularly bad for consumers. It’s not particularly bad for businesses.

If T-Mobile just charged their normal rate, and then they happen to have this, “Oh, by the way, here you get this little portion of the web for free,” no one’s going to complain about that. It’s not particularly terrible. But it does violate net neutrality, and it is a very slippery slope to a world like this, a very painful world for a lot of people. That’s why we’re willing to sort of take the sacrifices of saying, “Hey, we don’t want to allow this because it violates the principle and the law of net neutrality.”

  • Payoffs required for access or speed – Then the third thing that would almost certainly happen is that there would be payoffs. There would be payoffs on both sides. You have to pay more as a consumer, to your ISP, in order to access the web in the way that you do today, and as a website, in order to reach consumers who maybe can’t afford or choose not to pay more, you have to pay off the ISP to get that full access.

What’s the risk?

Why am I bringing this up now?

  • Higher than ever… Why is the risk so high? Well, it turns out the new American administration has basically come out against net neutrality in a very aggressive fashion.
  • The new FCC Chair, Ajit Pai, has been fighting this pretty hard. He’s made a bunch of statements just in the last few days. He actually overturned some rulings from years past that asked smaller ISPs to be transparent about their net neutrality practices, and that’s been overturned. He’s arguing this basically under what I’m going to call a guise of free markets and competitive marketplaces. I think that is a total misnomer.

This creates a truly equal marketplace for everyone. While it is somewhat restrictive, I think one of the most interesting things to observe about this is that this is a non-political issue or at least not a very politicized issue for most of American voters. Actually, 81% of Democrats in a Gallup survey said that they support net neutrality, and an even greater percent of Republicans, 85%, said they support net neutrality.* So, really, you have virtually an overwhelming swath of voters in the United States who are saying this should be the law of the land.

The reason that this is generally being fought against by both Congress and the FCC is because these big ISPs have a lot of money, and they’ve paid a lot of lobbying dollars to try and influence politics. For those of you outside the United States, I know that sounds like it should be illegal. It’s not in our country. I know it’s illegal in most democracies, but it’s sort of how democracy in the United States works.

*Editor’s note: This poll was conducted by the University of Delaware.

What can we do?

If you want to take some action on this and fight back and tell your Congress person, your senator, your representatives locally and federally that you are against this, I would check out SaveTheInternet.com for those folks who are in the United States. For whatever country you’re in, I would urge you to search for “support net neutrality” and check out the initiatives that may be available in your country or your geography locally so that you can take some action.

This is something that we’ve fought against as Internet users in the past and as businesses on the web before, and I think we’re going to have to renew that fight in order to maintain the status quo and keep equal footing with each other. This will help us preserve our careers in web marketing, but it will also help preserve an open, free, competitive Internet. I think that’s something we can all agree is very important.

All right. Thanks, everyone. Look forward to your comments. Certainly open to your critiques. Please try and keep them as kosher and as kind as you can. I know when it gets into political territory, it can be a little frustrating. And we will see you again next week for another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Take care.

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How Purging Our Subscriber List Increased our CTR 183.5%

We used to advertise on our site that we had over 75,000 subscribers on our email list. While that was true, we had a nagging deliverability issue where we were getting stuck in spam folders a lot. While 75,000 subscribers look great when you’re seeking email sponsors, it’s absolutely terrible when email professionals let you know they weren’t getting your email because it was getting stuck in the junk folder.

It’s a weird spot to be in and I hated it. Not to mention the fact that we have two different email experts as sponsors – 250ok and Neverbounce. I even took some ribbing from expert Greg Kraios in a recent interview where he called me out as a spammer.

Core at my dilemma was the fact that advertisers look for big lists. Email lists sponsors don’t pay by click-through-rate, they pay by list size. As a result, I knew that if I purged my list, I was going to take a bath on advertising revenue. At the same time, while promoting a big list would attract advertisers, it wasn’t keeping advertisers who expected more engagement.

If I wished to be a good marketer and example for my audience, it was time to do some cleanup on our daily and weekly newsletter lists:

  1. I removed all email addresses from my lists that had been on the list for greater than one year but never opened nor clicked on the email. I selected one year as the test in the event that there was some seasonality where folks may stay subscribed, but were waiting for their season to monitor the newsletter for relevant articles.
  2. I ran the remaining list through Neverbounce to remove problematic email addresses from my lists – bounces, disposables, and catchall email addresses.

Knowing that I was going to knock my subscriber count down significantly was scary, but resulted in some tremendous results after 2 weeks of sending our newsletters:

  • We removed over 43,000 email subscribers that we had accumulated over the last decade and we’re now left with a list of 32,000.
  • Our inbox placement rate increased by a whopping 25.3%! I would never have imagined how much dead email addresses were dragging us down – I’m glad that Greg clubbed me over the head in that interview.
  • Because we were now in the inbox, the open rate increased by 163.2% and our click-through rate by 183.5%!

Now, before you say… well, Douglas you just divided by the new denominator and that’s why you got that increase. Nope. This was the delta between my old open rate and new open rate, and old CTR versus new CTR.

We still have a couple of problematic ISPs that aren’t putting us in the Inbox, but it’s light years ahead of where we once were! We’re now contemplating building a rule in our email service that automatically does this purge on a nightly basis. We also added an optional flag for our seed lists to ensure they never get purged, since they never actually open or click on an email.

Disclosure: 250ok and Neverbounce are both sponsors of our Martech publication.


© 2016 DK New Media.

Large Site SEO Basics: Faceted Navigation

Posted by sergeystefoglo

If you work on an enterprise site — particularly in e-commerce or listings (such as a job board site) — you probably use some sort of faceted navigation structure. Why wouldn’t you? It helps users filter down to their desired set of results fairly painlessly.

While helpful to users, it’s no secret that faceted navigation can be a nightmare for SEO. At Distilled, it’s not uncommon for us to get a client that has tens of millions of URLs that are live and indexable when they shouldn’t be. More often than not, this is due to their faceted nav setup.

There are a number of great posts out there that discuss what faceted navigation is and why it can be a problem for search engines, so I won’t go into much detail on this. A great place to start is this post from 2011.

What I want to focus on instead is narrowing this problem down to a simple question, and then provide the possible solutions to that question. The question we need to answer is, “What options do we have to decide what Google crawls/indexes, and what are their pros/cons?”

Brief overview of faceted navigation

As a quick refresher, we can define faceted navigation as any way to filter and/or sort results on a webpage by specific attributes that aren’t necessarily related. For example, the color, processor type, and screen resolution of a laptop. Here is an example:

Because every possible combination of facets is typically (at least one) unique URL, faceted navigation can create a few problems for SEO:

  1. It creates a lot of duplicate content, which is bad for various reasons.
  2. It eats up valuable crawl budget and can send Google incorrect signals.
  3. It dilutes link equity and passes equity to pages that we don’t even want indexed.

But first… some quick examples

It’s worth taking a few minutes and looking at some examples of faceted navigation that are probably hurting SEO. These are simple examples that illustrate how faceted navigation can (and usually does) become an issue.

Macy’s

First up, we have Macy’s. I’ve done a simple site:search for the domain and added “black dresses” as a keyword to see what would appear. At the time of writing this post, Macy’s has 1,991 products that fit under “black dresses” — so why are over 12,000 pages indexed for this keyword? The answer could have something to do with how their faceted navigation is set up. As SEOs, we can remedy this.

Home Depot

Let’s take Home Depot as another example. Again, doing a simple site:search we find 8,930 pages on left-hand/inswing front exterior doors. Is there a reason to have that many pages in the index targeting similar products? Probably not. The good news is this can be fixed with the proper combinations of tags (which we’ll explore below).

I’ll leave the examples at that. You can go on most large-scale e-commerce websites and find issues with their navigation. The points is, many large websites that use faceted navigation could be doing better for SEO purposes.

Faceted navigation solutions

When deciding a faceted navigation solution, you will have to decide what you want in the index, what can go, and then how to make that happen. Let’s take a look at what the options are.

“Noindex, follow”

Probably the first solution that comes to mind would be using noindex tags. A noindex tag is used for the sole purpose of letting bots know to not include a specific page in the index. So, if we just wanted to remove pages from the index, this solution would make a lot of sense.

The issue here is that while you can reduce the amount of duplicate content that’s in the index, you will still be wasting crawl budget on pages. Also, these pages are receiving link equity, which is a waste (since it doesn’t benefit any indexed page).

Example: If we wanted to include our page for “black dresses” in the index, but we didn’t want to have “black dresses under $100” in the index, adding a noindex tag to the latter would exclude it. However, bots would still be coming to the page (which wastes crawl budget), and the page(s) would still be receiving link equity (which would be a waste).

Canonicalization

Many sites approach this issue by using canonical tags. With a canonical tag, you can let Google know that in a collection of similar pages, you have a preferred version that should get credit. Since canonical tags were designed as a solution to duplicate content, it would seem that this is a reasonable solution. Additionally, link equity will be consolidated to the canonical page (the one you deem most important).

However, Google will still be wasting crawl budget on pages.

Example: /black-dresses?under-100/ would have the canonical URL set to /black-dresses/. In this instance, Google would give the canonical page the authority and link equity. Additionally, Google wouldn’t see the “under $100” page as a duplicate of the canonical version.

Disallow via robots.txt

Disallowing sections of the site (such as certain parameters) could be a great solution. It’s quick, easy, and is customizable. But, it does come with some downsides. Namely, link equity will be trapped and unable to move anywhere on your website (even if it’s coming from an external source). Another downside here is even if you tell Google not to visit a certain page (or section) on your site, Google can still index it.

Example: We could disallow *?under-100* in our robots.txt file. This would tell Google to not visit any page with that parameter. However, if there were any “follow” links pointing to any URL with that parameter in it, Google could still index it.

“Nofollow” internal links to undesirable facets

An option for solving the crawl budget issue is to “nofollow” all internal links to facets that aren’t important for bots to crawl. Unfortunately, “nofollow” tags don’t solve the issue entirely. Duplicate content can still be indexed, and link equity will still get trapped.

Example: If we didn’t want Google to visit any page that had two or more facets indexed, adding a “nofollow” tag to all internal links pointing to those pages would help us get there.

Avoiding the issue altogether

Obviously, if we could avoid this issue altogether, we should just do that. If you are currently in the process of building or rebuilding your navigation or website, I would highly recommend considering building your faceted navigation in a way that limits the URL being changed (this is commonly done with JavaScript). The reason is simple: it provides the ease of browsing and filtering products, while potentially only generating a single URL. However, this can go too far in the opposite direction — you will need to manually ensure that you have indexable landing pages for key facet combinations (e.g. black dresses).

Here’s a table outlining what I wrote above in a more digestible way.

Options:

Solves duplicate content?

Solves crawl budget?

Recycles link equity?

Passes equity from external links?

Allows internal link equity flow?

Other notes

“Noindex, follow”

Yes

No

No

Yes

Yes

Canonicalization

Yes

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

Can only be used on pages that are similar.

Robots.txt

Yes

Yes

No

No

No

Technically, pages that are blocked in robots.txt can still be indexed.

Nofollow internal links to undesirable facets

No

Yes

No

Yes

No

JavaScript setup

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Requires more work to set up in most cases.

But what’s the ideal setup?

First off, it’s important to understand there is no “one-size-fits-all solution.” In order to get to your ideal setup, you will most likely need to use a combination of the above options. I’m going to highlight an example fix below that should work for most sites, but it’s important to understand that your solution might vary based on how your site is built, how your URLs are structured, etc.

Fortunately, we can break down how we get to an ideal solution by asking ourselves one question. “Do we care more about our crawl budget, or our link equity?” By answering this question, we’re able to get closer to an ideal solution.

Consider this: You have a website that has a faceted navigation that allows the indexation and discovery of every single facet and facet combination. You aren’t concerned about link equity, but clearly Google is spending valuable time crawling millions of pages that don’t need to be crawled. What we care about in this scenario is crawl budget.

In this specific scenario, I would recommend the following solution.

  1. Category, subcategory, and sub-subcategory pages should remain discoverable and indexable. (e.g. /clothing/, /clothing/womens/, /clothing/womens/dresses/)
  2. For each category page, only allow versions with 1 facet selected to be indexed.
    1. On pages that have one or more facets selected, all facet links become “nofollow” links (e.g. /clothing/womens/dresses?color=black/)
    2. On pages that have two or more facets selected, a “noindex” tag is added as well (e.g. /clothing/womens/dresses?color=black?brand=express?/)
  3. Determine which facets could have an SEO benefit (for example, “color” and “brand”) and whitelist them. Essentially, throw them back in the index for SEO purposes.
  4. Ensure your canonical tags and rel=prev/next tags are setup appropriately.

This solution will (in time) start to solve our issues with unnecessary pages being in the index due to the navigation of the site. Also, notice how in this scenario we used a combination of the possible solutions. We used “nofollow,” “noindex, nofollow,” and proper canonicalization to achieve a more desirable result.

Other things to consider

There are many more variables to consider on this topic — I want to address two that I believe are the most important.

Breadcrumbs (and markup) helps a lot

If you don’t have breadcrumbs on each category/subcategory page on your website, you’re doing yourself a disservice. Please go implement them! Furthermore, if you have breadcrumbs on your website but aren’t marking them up with microdata, you’re missing out on a huge win.

The reason why is simple: You have a complicated site navigation, and bots that visit your site might not be reading the hierarchy correctly. By adding accurate breadcrumbs (and marking them up), we’re effectively telling Google, “Hey, I know this navigation is confusing, but please consider crawling our site in this manner.”

Enforcing a URL order for facet combinations

In extreme situations, you can come across a site that has a unique URL for every facet combination. For example, if you are on a laptop page and choose “red” and “SSD” (in that order) from the filters, the URL could be /laptops?color=red?SSD/. Now imagine if you chose the filters in the opposite order (first “SSD” then “red”) and the URL that’s generated is /laptops?SSD?color=red/.

This is really bad because it exponentially increases the amount of URLs you have. Avoid this by enforcing a specific order for URLs!

Conclusions

My hope is that you feel more equipped (and have some ideas) on how to tackle controlling your faceted navigation in a way that benefits your search presence.

To summarize, here are the main takeaways:

  1. Faceted navigation can be great for users, but is usually setup in a way that negatively impacts SEO.
  2. There are many reasons why faceted navigation can negatively impact SEO, but the top three are:
    1. Duplicate content
    2. Crawl budget being wasted
    3. Link equity not being used as effectively as it should be
  3. Boiled down further, the question we want to answer to begin approaching a solution is, “What are the ways we can control what Google crawls and indexes?”
  4. When it comes to a solution, there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution. There are numerous fixes (and combinations) that can be used. Most commonly:
    1. Noindex, follow
    2. Canonicalization
    3. Robots.txt
    4. Nofollow internal links to undesirable facets
    5. Avoiding the problem with an AJAX/JavaScript solution
  5. When trying to think of an ideal solution, the most important question you can ask yourself is, “What’s more important to our website: link equity, or crawl budget?” This can help focus your possible solutions.

I would love to hear any example setups. What have you found that’s worked well? Anything you’ve tried that has impacted your site negatively? Let’s discuss in the comments or feel free to shoot me a tweet.

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7 Lessons For Retail In The Age of E-Commerce

E-Commerce is taking over the retail industry by the minute. It’s making it all the more difficult to keep brick and mortar stores afloat.

For brick-and-mortar stores, it isn’t about stocking up inventory and managing accounts and sales. If you’re running a physical store, then you need to move to the next level. Give the shoppers a compelling reason to spend their time to come down to your store.

1. Provide Experience, Not Just Products

There’s a lot more to a brick and mortar store than just having the physical products on sale. Give them an experience and a reason to come back to your store. That’s why more and more concept stores are getting traction and building a niche for themselves.

Away is one such concept store in Soho. Here you can shop for travel products. The store’s two opposite entrances feel like two different shops that flow into one another.

Change For The Better

Your physical store can’t afford to look the same for years, or even months. Shoppers are being offered a tremendous amount of spontaneous data online. Changing the look and feel of your store periodically gives a good push in footfalls and ultimately sales.

Work on the store’s design and layout, and the products you sell. Your physical store can benefit from a strategy similar to content calendars for digital marketing.

Story is a store based in New York. The store renovates itself and looks new almost every month. A new theme every other month communicates design and brand value. It also lets the customer know what’s on sale and informs about events being held that month. Their sales have increased twofold over the past 2 years.

2. Bring People Together

Organizing events is another way to attract customers. Fitness classes, courses, workshops, book launches and other interactive activities are excellent ways to stir interest.

Chamber is a new boutique in New York that provides exclusive limited editions and unique works of art and design. They hosted a dinner reception in collaboration with PIN-UP magazine during Design Miami.  This helps build a community and leads to customers becoming loyal customers.

3. Creative Teams Are A Must

To provide an experience and not just products takes creativity. Give higher importance to the creative and marketing team. Make sure that you have appealing content. Ensure it’s being harnessed to increase sales. This keeps your brand fresh.

Be Bold And Try New Stuff

Introducing new concepts, and installing creative in-store articles are overhead. Take a calculated risk and make predictions on researched data.

4. Focus On Customer Relations

A unique aspect of brick-n-mortar stores is the advantage to meet and influence the customers directly. What a website struggles to do, with super creative graphics and persuasive writing, can be done with a pleasant smile and helping hand at your store. Training your staff to make the shopping experience very friendly and cheerful for the customer can leverage your sales in a big way. Once you have repetitive customers you could find their preferences and work accordingly.

5. Omnichannel Retail Does The Trick

E-commerce is getting more intense with cutthroat competition. From giants like amazon, eBay, and Alibaba to start-ups like Boxed, Checkr, and Slack, it’s a tough market to compete in.

Retail e-commerce sales in the U.S. are predicted to grow from 396.7 billion U.S. dollars in 2016 to over 684 billion US dollars in 2020. Although online sales still represent only a small share of all retail sales—about 8.4%. 42% of Internet users in the USA have purchased items online at least once a month.

Books and electronics are the favorites for online shoppers. E-commerce is at a stage where a singular approach doesn’t work. Omnichannel retail is the best approach for it.

Learn To Expand

Mobile shopping is the next trend in e-commerce. In 2016, it’s estimated that around 136 million users bought at least once from their mobile devices. This number is projected to reach 162.8 million by 2019. If you are an e-commerce retailer, get an app soon.

6. Use Your Advantages

Unlike a physical store, e-commerce isn’t restricted by floor-space. So make use of the dynamic and virtual nature of this business model.

The advent of data analytics is a boon to the e-commerce that does wonders to a business in many ways. Data Analytics could propel E-commerce retail in the following domains:

  1. Supply Chain Management: data for products starting from warehouse to the customer.
  2. Merchant/Customer Fraud Detection: There are algorithms that let merchants predict fraud and avoid them.
  3. Merchant Analytics: Online retailers constantly need new avenues to expand. To set the right price in comparison to the market value, this comes in handy.
  4. Price Optimization: Implement price recommendations across multiple online retail platforms. It does this through an automated process that reacts to market and competitor movements with minimal human intervention. Companies like Intelligence Node have developed a technology using big data related to competitive intelligence and price tracking with machine learning and artificial intelligence.
  5. Recommended Systems: Navigating through the store in a virtual environment requires good architecture. Recommended Systems act as the blueprint for that.
  6. Product Specific Analytics: Finding patterns among buying and browsing habits is valuable for e-commerce to improve product catalogs and user experience.
  7. Online Marketing Analytics: This works on bidding for ads on Google. They lead optimization and increase the click-through-rates and conversion rates.

7. Don’t Underestimate Word Of Mouth

Having your customers say good things about you to their friends is incredibly powerful. Ensure that you don’t underestimate it. Give them a good experience and find ways to ensure you keep their opinions about you as positive as possible.

Influencers bloggers and affiliate marketing

Content marketing is the current trend in advertising. Expand your brand through content or it can fall behind.

Using influencers and bloggers is a great way to reach your target audience. It grabs attention without sounding like a sales pitch. Affiliate marketing is another approach to spreading your influence online.

Social Media Marketing

Having an online presence is a necessity if you want to stay ahead in e-commerce. Companies now generate roughly $2.4 million every minute through e-commerce. Out of that, more than $40,000 funnels in from Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Millennials are at the top when it comes to age demographics when it comes to online shopping. Look and sound appealing to your target audience on social media

There are many methods you can follow for effective social media marketing. Find out what are the options and what works for you. That’s the best way to get your business flourishing.


© 2016 DK New Media.

[Case Study] How We Ranked #1 for a High-Volume Keyword in Under 3 Months

Posted by DmitryDragilev

This blog post was co-written with Brad Zomick, the former Director of Content Marketing at Pipedrive, where this case study took place.

It’s tough out there for SEOs and content marketers. With the sheer amount of quality content being produced, it has become nearly impossible to stand out in most industries.

Recently we were running content marketing for Pipedrive, a sales CRM. We created a content strategy that used educational sales content to educate and build trust with our target audience.

This was a great idea, in theory — we’d educate readers, establish trust, and turn some of our readers into customers.

The problem is that there are already countless others producing similar sales-focused content. We weren’t just competing against other startups for readers; we also had to contend with established companies, sales trainers, strategists, bloggers and large business sites.

The good news is that ranking a strategic keyword is still very much possible. It’s certainly not easy, but with the right process, anyone can rank for their target keyword.

Below, we’re going to show you the process we used to rank on page one for a high-volume keyword.

If you’re not sure about reading ahead, here is a quick summary:

We were able to rank #1 for a high-volume keyword: “sales management” (9,900 search volume). We outranked established sites including SalesManagement.org, Apptus, InsightSquared, Docurated, and even US News, Wikipedia, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. We managed this through good old-fashioned content creation + outreach + guest posting, aka the “Skyscraper Technique.”

Here are the eight steps we took to reach our goal (click on a step to jump straight to that section):

  1. Select the right topic
  2. Create bad-ass content for our own blog
  3. Optimize on-page SEO & engagement metrics
  4. Build internal links
  5. Find people who would link to this content
  6. Ask people to link to our content
  7. Write guest posts on leading blogs
  8. Fine-tuning content with TF * IDF

Before we start, understand that this is a labor-intensive process. Winning a top SERP spot required the focus of a 3-person team for the better part of 3 months.

If you’re willing to invest a similar amount of time and effort, read on!


Step 1: Finding a good topic

We wanted three things from our target keyword:

1. Significant keyword volume

If you’re going to spend months ranking for a single keyword, you need to pick something big enough to justify the effort.

In our case, we settled on a keyword with 9,900 searches each month as per the Keyword Planner (1k–10k range after the last update).

That same keyword registered a search volume of 1.7–2.9k in Moz Keyword Explorer, so take AdWords’ estimates with a grain of salt.

One way to settle on a target volume is to see it in terms of your conversion rate and buyer’s journey:

  • Buyer’s journey: Search volume decreases as customers move further along the buyer’s journey. Fewer searches are okay if you’re targeting Decision-stage keywords.
  • Conversion rate: The stronger your conversion rate for each stage of the buyer’s journey, the more you can get away with by targeting a low search volume keyword.

Also consider the actual traffic from the keyword, not just search volume.

For instance, we knew from Moz’s research that the first result gets about 30% of all clicks.

For a keyword with 9,900 search volume, this would translate into over 3,000 visitors/month for a top position.

If we could convert even 5% of these into leads, we’d net over 1,800 leads each year, which makes it worth our time.

2. Pick a winnable topic

Some SERPs are incredibly competitive. For instance, if you’re trying to rank for “content marketing,” you’ll find that the first page is dominated by CMI (DA 84):

You might be able to fight out a first-page rank, but it’s really not worth the effort in 99% of cases.

So our second requirement was to see if we could actually rank for our shortlisted keywords.

This can be done in one of two ways:

Informal method

The old-fashioned way to gauge keyword difficulty is to simply eyeball SERPs for your selected keywords.

If you see a lot of older articles, web 1.0 pages, unrecognizable brands, and generic content sites, the keyword should be solid.

On the other hand, if the first page is dominated by big niche brands with in-depth articles, you’ll have a hard time ranking well.

I also recommend using the MozBar to check metrics on the fly. If you see a ton of high DA/PA pages, move on to another keyword.

In our case, the top results mostly comprised of generic content sites or newish domains.

Moz Keyword Explorer

Moz’s Keyword Explorer gives you a more quantifiable way to gauge keyword difficulty. You’ll get actual difficulty vs. potential scores.

Aim for a competitiveness score under 50 and opportunity/potential scores above 50. If you get scores beyond this threshold, keep looking.

Of course, if you have an established domain, you can target more difficult keywords.

Following this step, we had a shortlist of four keywords:

  1. sales techniques (8100)
  2. sales process (8100)
  3. sales management (9900)
  4. sales forecast (4400)

We could have honestly picked anything from this list, but for added impact, we decided to add another filter.

3. Strategic relevance

If you’re going to turn visitors into leads, it’s important to focus on keywords that are strategically relevant to your conversion goals.

In our case, we chose “sales management” as the target keyword.

We did this because Pipedrive is a sales management tool, so the keyword describes us perfectly.

Additionally, a small business owner searching for “sales management” has likely moved from Awareness to Consideration and thus, is one step closer to buying.

In contrast, “sales techniques” and “sales forecast” are keywords a sales person would search for, not a sales leader or small business owner (decision-makers).


Step 2: Writing a bad-ass piece of content

Content might not be king anymore, but it is still the foundation of good SEO. We wanted to get this part absolutely right.

Here’s the process we followed to create our content:

1. Extremely thorough research

We had a simple goal from the start: create something substantially better than anything in the top SERPs.

To get there, we started by reviewing every article ranking for “sales management,” noting what we liked and what we didn’t.

For instance, we liked how InsightSquared started the article with a substantive quote. We didn’t like how Apptus went overboard with headers.

We also looked for anomalies. One thing that caught our attention was that two of the top 10 results were dedicated to the keyword “sales manager.”

We took note of this and made sure to talk about “sales managers” in our article.

We also looked at related searches at the bottom of the page:

We also scoured more than 50 sales-related books for chapters about sales management.

Finally, we also talked to some real salespeople. This step helped us add expert insight that outsourced article writers just don’t have.

At the end, we had a superior outline of what we were going to write.

2. Content creation

You don’t need to be a subject matter expert to create an excellent piece of content.

What you do need is good writing skills… and the discipline to actually finish an article.

Adopt a journalistic style where you report insight from experts. This gives you a better end-product since you’re curating insight and writing it far better than subject matter experts.

Unfortunately, there is no magic bullet to speed up the writing part — you’ll just have to grind it out. Set aside a few days at least to write anything substantive.

There are a few things we learned through the content creation experience:

  1. Don’t multi-task. Go all-in on writing and don’t stop until it’s done.
  2. Work alone. Writing is a solitary endeavor. Work in a place where you won’t be bothered by coworkers.
  3. Listen to ambient music. Search “homework edit” on YouTube for some ambient tracks, or use a site like Noisli.com

Take tip #1 as non-negotiable. We tried to juggle a couple of projects and finishing the article ended up taking two weeks. Learn from our mistake — focus on writing alone!

Before you hit publish, make sure to get some editorial feedback from someone on your team, or if possible, a professional editor.

We also added a note at the end of the article where we solicit feedback for future revisions.

If you can’t get access to editors, at the very least put your article through Grammarly.

3. Add lots of visuals and make content more readable

Getting visuals in B2B content can be surprisingly challenging. This is mostly due to the fact that there are a lot of abstract, hard-to-visualize concepts in B2B writing.

This is why we found a lot of blog posts like this with meaningless stock images:

To avoid this, we decided to use four custom images spread throughout the article.

We wanted to use visuals to:

  • Illustrate abstract concepts and ideas
  • Break up the content into more readable chunks.
  • Emphasize key takeaways in a readily digestible format

We could have done even more — prolific content creators like Neil Patel often use images every 200–300 words.

Aside from imagery, there are a few other ways to break up and highlight text to make your content more readable.

  • Section headers
  • Bullets and numbered lists
  • Small paragraphs
  • Highlighted text
  • Blockquotes
  • Use simple words

We used most of these tactics, especially blockquotes to create sub-sections.

Given our audience — sales leaders and managers — we didn’t have to bother with dumbing down our writing. But if you’re worried that your writing is too complex, try using an app like Hemingway to edit your draft.


Step 3: Optimize on-page SEO and engagement metrics

Here’s what we did to optimize on-page SEO:

1. Fix title

We wanted traffic from people searching for keywords related to “sales management,” such as:

  • “Sales management definition” (currently #2)
  • “Sales management process” (currently #1)
  • “Sales management strategies” (currently #4)
  • “Sales management resources” (currently #3)

To make sure we tapped all these keywords, we changed our main H1 header tag to include the words definition, process, strategies, and resources.

These are called “modifiers” in SEO terms.

Google is now smart enough to know that a single article can cover multiple related keywords. Adding such modifiers helped us increase our potential traffic.

2. Fix section headers

Next, we used the right headers for each section:

Instead of writing “sales management definition,” we used an actual question a reader might ask.

Here’s why:

  • It makes the article easier to read
  • It’s a natural question, which makes it more likely to rank for voice searches and Google’s “answers”

We also peppered related keywords in headers throughout the article. Note how we used the keyword at the beginning of the header, not at the end:

We didn’t want to go overboard with the keywords. Our goal was to give readers something they’d actually want to read.

This is why our <h2> tag headers did not have any obvious keywords:

This helps the article read naturally while still using our target keywords.

3. Improve content engagement

Notice the colon and the line break at the very start of the article:

This is a “bucket brigade”: an old copywriting trick to grab a reader’s attention.

We used it at the beginning of the article to stop readers from hitting the back button and going back to Google (i.e. increase our dwell time).

We also added outgoing and internal links to the article.

4. Fix URL

According to research, shorter URLs tend to rank better than longer ones.

We didn’t pay a lot of attention to the URL length when we first started blogging.

Here’s one of our blog post URLs from 2013:

Not very nice, right?

For this post, we used a simple, keyword-rich URL:

Ideally, we wouldn’t have the /2016/05/ bit, but by now, it’s too late to change.

5. Improve keyword density

One common piece of on-page SEO advice is to add your keywords to the first 100 words of your content.

If you search for “sales management” on our site, this is what you’ll see:

If you’re Googlebot, you’d have no confusion what this article was about: sales management.

We also wanted to use related keywords in the article without it sounding over-optimized. Gaetano DiNardi, our SEO manager at the time, came up with a great solution to fix this:

We created a “resources” or “glossary” section to hit a number of related keywords while still being useful. Here’s an example:

It’s important to make these keyword mentions as organic as possible.

As a result of this on-page keyword optimization, traffic increased sharply.

We over-optimized keyword density in the beginning, which likely hurt rankings. Once we spotted this, we changed things around and saw an immediate improvement (more on this below).


Step 4: Build internal links to article

Building internal links to your new content can be surprisingly effective when promoting content.

As Moz has already written before:

“Internal links are most useful for establishing site architecture and spreading link juice.”

Essentially, these links:

  • Help Googlebot discover your content
  • Tell Google that a particular page is “important” on your site since a lot of pages point to it

Our approach to internal linking was highly strategic. We picked two kinds of pages:

1. Pages that had high traffic and PA. You can find these in Google Analytics under Behavior –> Site Content.

2. Pages where the keyword already existed unlinked. You can use this query to find such pages:

Site:[yoursite.com] “your keyword”

In our case, searching for “sales management” showed us a number of mentions:

After making a list of these pages, we dove into our CMS and added internal links by hand.

These new links from established posts showed Google that we thought of this page as “important.”


Step 5: Finding link targets

This is where things become more fun. In this step, we used our detective SEO skills to find targets for our outreach campaign.

There are multiple ways to approach this process, but the easiest — and the one we followed — is to simply find sites that had linked to our top competitors.

We used Open Site Explorer to crawl the top ten results for backlinks.

By digging beyond the first page, we managed to build up a list of hundreds of prospects, which we exported to Excel.

This was still a very “raw” list. To maximize our outreach efficiency, we filtered out the following from our list:

  • Sites with DA under 30.
  • Sites on free blog hosts like Blogspot.com, WordPress.com, etc.

This gave us a highly targeted list of hundreds of prospects.

Here’s how we organized our Excel file:

Finding email addresses

Next step: find email addresses.

This has become much easier than it used to be thanks to a bunch of new tools. We used EmailHunter (Hunter.io) but you can also use VoilaNorbert, Email Finder, etc.

EmailHunter works by finding the pattern people use for emails on a domain name, like this:

To use this tool, you will need either the author’s name or the editor/webmaster’s name.

In some cases, the author of the article is clearly displayed.

In case you can’t find the author’s name (happens in case of guest posts), you’ll want to find the site’s editor or content manager.

LinkedIn is very helpful here.

Try a query like this:

site:linkedin.com “Editor/Blog Editor” at “[SiteName]”.

Once you have a name, plug the domain name into Hunter.io to get an email address guess of important contacts.


Step 6: Outreach like crazy

After all the data retrieval, prioritization, deduping, and clean up, we were left with hundreds of contacts to reach out to.

To make things easier, we segmented our list into two categories:

  • Category 1: Low-quality, generic sites with poor domain authority. You can send email templates to them without any problems.
  • Category 2: Up-and-coming bloggers/authoritative sites we wanted to build relationships with. To these sites, we sent personalized emails by hand.

With the first category of sites, our goal was volume instead of accuracy.

For the second category, our objective was to get a response. It didn’t matter whether we got a backlink or not — we wanted to start a conversation which could yield a link or, better, a relationship.

You can use a number of tools to make outreach easier. Here are a few of these tools:

  1. JustReachOut
  2. MixMax
  3. LeadIQ
  4. Toutapp
  5. Prospectify

We loved using a sales tool called MixMax. Its ability to mail merge outreach templates and track open rates works wonderfully well for SEO outreach.

If you’re looking for templates, here’s one email we sent out:

Let’s break it down:

  1. Curiosity-evoking headline: Small caps in the subject line makes the email look authentic. The “something missing” part evokes curiosity.
  2. Name drop familiar brands: Name dropping your relationship to familiar brands is another good way to show your legitimacy. It’s also a good idea to include a link to their article to jog their memory.
  3. What’s missing: The meat of the email. Make sure that you’re specific here.
  4. The “why”: Your prospects need a “because” to link to you. Give actual details as to what makes it great — in-depth research, new data, or maybe a quote or two from Rand Fishkin.
  5. Never demand a link: Asking for feedback first is a good way to show that you want a genuine conversation, not just a link.

This is just one example. We tested 3 different emails initially and used the best one for the rest of the campaign. Our response rate for the whole campaign was 42%.


Step 7: Be prepared to guest post

Does guest blogging still work?

If you’re doing it for traffic and authority, I say: go ahead. You are likely putting your best work out there on industry-leading blogs. Neither your readers nor Google will mind that.

In our case, guest blogging was already a part of our long-term content marketing strategy. The only thing we changed was adding links to our sales management post within guest posts.

Your guest post links should have contextual reference, i.e. the post topic and link content should match. Otherwise, Google might discount the link, even if it is dofollow.

Keep this in mind when you start a guest blogging campaign. Getting links isn’t enough; you need contextually relevant links.

Here are some of the guest posts we published:

  • 7 Keys to Scaling a Startup Globally [INC]
  • An Introduction to Activity-Based Selling [LinkedIn]
  • 7 Tips for MBAs Entering Sales Management Careers [TopMBA]

We weren’t exclusively promoting our sales management post in any of these guest posts. The sales management post just fit naturally into the context, so we linked to it.

If you’re guest blogging in 2017, this is the approach you need to adopt.


Step 8: Fine-tuning content with TF * IDF

After the article went live, we realized that we had heavily over-optimized it for the term “sales management.” It occurred 48 times throughout the article, too much for a 2,500 word piece.

Moreover, we hadn’t always used the term naturally in the article.

To solve this problem, we turned to TF-IDF.

Recognizing TF-IDF as a ranking factor

TF-IDF (Term Frequency-Inverse Document Frequency) is a way to figure out how important a word is in a document based on how frequently it appears in it.

This is a pretty standard statistical process in information retrieval. It is also one of the oldest ranking factors in Google’s algorithms.

Hypothesis: We hypothesized that dropping the number of “sales management” occurrences from 48 to 20 and replacing it with terms that have high lexical relevance would improve rankings.

Were we right?

See for yourself:

Our organic pageviews increased from nearly 0 to over 5,000 in just over 8 months.

Note that no new links or link acquisition initiatives were actively in-progress during the time of this mini-experiment.

Experiment timeline:

  • July 18th – Over-optimized keyword recognized.
  • July 25th – Content team finished updating body copy, H2s with relevant topics/synonyms.
  • July 26th – Updated internal anchor text to include relevant terms.
  • July 27th – Flushed cache & re-submitted to Search Console.
  • August 4th – Improved from #4 to #2 for “Sales Management”
  • August 17 – Improved from #2 to #1 for “Sales Management”

The results were fast. We were able to normalize our content and see results within weeks.

We’ll show you our exact process below.

Normalization process — How did we do it?

The normalization process focused on identifying over-optimized terms, replacing them with related words and submitting the new page to search engines.

Here’s how we did it:

1. Identifying over-optimized term(s)

We started off using Moz’s on-page optimization tool to scan our page.

According to Moz, we shouldn’t have used the target term — “sales management” — more than 15 times. This means we had to drop 33 occurrences.

2. Finding synonymous terms with high lexical relevance

Next, we had to replace our 28+ mentions with synonyms that wouldn’t feel out of place.

We used Moz’s Keyword Explorer to get some ideas.

3. Removed “sales management” from H2 headings

Initially, we had the keyword in both H1 and H2 headings, which was just overkill.

We removed it from H2 headings and used lexically similar variants instead for better flow.

4. Diluted “sales management” from body copy

We used our list of lexically relevant words to bring down the number of “sales management” occurrences to under 20. This was perfect for 2,500+ word article.

5. Diversify internal anchors

While we were changing our body copy, we realized that we also needed more anchor text diversity for our internal links.

Our anchors cloud was mostly “sales management” links:

We diversified this list by adding links to related terms like “sales manager,” “sales process,” etc.

6. Social amplification

We ramped up our activity on LinkedIn and Facebook to get the ball rolling on social shares.

The end result of this experimentation was an over 100% increase in traffic between August ‘16 to January ‘17.

The lesson?

Don’t just build backlinks — optimize your on-page content as well!


Conclusion

There’s a lot to learn from this case study. Some findings were surprising for us as well, particularly the impact of keyword density normalization.

While there are a lot of tricks and tactics detailed here, you’ll find that the fundamentals are essentially the same as what Rand and team have been preaching here for years. Create good content, reach out to link prospects, and use strategic guest posts to get your page to rank.

This might sound like a lot of work, but the results are worth it. Big industry players like Salesforce and Oracle actually advertise on AdWords for this term. While they have to pay for every single click, Pipedrive gets its clicks for free.

Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!

What is Good SEO? Here’s Our Case Study

Over the last few years, I’ve been quite vocal about how so many consultants and agencies in the organic search industry refuse to change. It’s unfortunate as they continue to leave a trail of clients that have invested a lot but actually destroyed their ability to acquire organic authority, ranking, and traffic.

Good SEO: A Case Study

The following is a chart of one of our recent customers’ keyword rankings over time using SEMRush:

  • A – This is the launch of the client’s website under the previous agency. It was a brand new domain with no authority.
  • B – After a period of no growth, the agency decided to kick off an outdated strategy of creating multiple domains, automating the population of dozens of internal keyword-rich pages, and aggressive backlinking.
  • C – The site rose dramatically in rankings and organic traffic; however, it didn’t take long for Google algorithms to nullify the backlinking scheme and drop the site back to its previous non-authority.
  • D – The agency was fired and we were hired to assume the site and the organic search ranking. Over the next six months, we rebuilt the site, disavowed toxic backlinks, redirected all domains to a single domain, redirected the multitude of keyword pages to central, single-topic pages, produced rich content, and an infographic. We pursued zero backlinking with no paid promotion whatsoever. None. Nada.
  • E – The results continue to drive sharing, engagement, and conversions. Over the peak of cycles between last year and this year, sessions are up 210%, users are up 291%, pageviews are up 165%, bounce rate is down 16%, new sessions are up 32%, returning visitors is up 322%. This particular client utilizes phone calls for business, so we don’t have exact conversion data outside of call surveys where they’re asked how they were found. Google continues to lead the way.

I continue to warn companies who hire search consultants who never research the audience, the competition, or their behavior on the site. Backlinking without the production of relevant, valuable, and highly-optimized digital media is going to get you in trouble. We continue to drive our clients’ organic results via earned authority rather than authority that’s manipulated or paid for.

Deep learning and artificial intelligence continue to drive Google’s Rankbrain algorithm. Larry Kim noted:

Google will continue auditioning your page for relevant queries… for a time. But if it fails to attract engagement, it will continue to die a slow death. It could lose 3 percent of traffic per month — so small you don’t even notice it until it’s too late. Eventually, your page will simply fall out of ranking contention.

Until it’s too late.

Today’s organic search strategies don’t require yesterday’s search consultants. Today’s organic search strategies require great brand and content marketers who understand how to research and tailor your digital efforts to your audience then provide them optimized paths to conversion.

If your organic search consultant isn’t constantly researching, providing input on your content strategies, and optimizing your site, it’s time to look for a new organic search partner. In fact, we’d love to assist – especially if you’re a very large publisher. Our experience there is unmatched in the industry.

Request a Consultation


© 2016 DK New Media.

The Best Types of Content for Local Businesses: Building Geo-Topical Authority

Posted by MiriamEllis

bestcontentlocalbusiness.jpg

Q: What kind of content should a local business develop?

A: The kind that converts!

Okay, you could have hit on that answer yourself, but as this post aims to demonstrate:

  1. There are almost as many user paths to conversion as there are customers in your city, and
  2. Your long-term goal is to become the authority in your industry and geography that consumers and search engines turn to.

Google’s widely publicized concept of micro-moments has been questioned by some local SEOs for its possible oversimplification of consumer behavior. Nevertheless, I think it serves as a good, basic model for understanding how a variety of human needs (I want to do, know, buy something, or go somewhere) leads people onto the web. When a local business manages to become a visible solution to any of these needs, the rewards can include:

  • Online traffic
  • In-store traffic
  • Transactions
  • Reviews/testimonials
  • Clicks-for-directions
  • Clicks-to-call
  • Clicks-to-website
  • Social sharing
  • Offline word-of-mouth
  • Good user metrics like time-on-page, low bounce rate, etc.

Takeaway: Consumers have a variety of needs and can bestow a variety of rewards that directly or indirectly impact local business reputation, rankings and revenue when these needs are well-met.

No surprise: it will take a variety of types of content publication to enjoy the full rewards it can bring.

Proviso: There will be nuances to the best types of content for each local business based on geo-industry and average consumer. Understandably, a cupcake bakery has a more inviting topic for photographic content than does a septic services company, but the latter shouldn’t rule out the power of an image of tree roots breaking into a septic line as a scary and effective way to convert property owners into customers. Point being, you’ll be applying your own flavor to becoming a geo-topical authority as you undertake the following content development work:

Foundational local business content development

These are the basics almost every local business will need to publish.

Customer service policy

Every single staff member who interacts with your public must be given a copy of your complete customer service policy. Why? A 2016 survey by the review software company GetFiveStars demonstrated that 57% of consumer complaints revolve around customer service and employee behavior. To protect your local business’ reputation and revenue, the first content you create should be internal and should instruct all forward-facing employees in approved basic store policies, dress, cleanliness, language, company culture, and allowable behaviors. Be thorough! Yes, you may wear a t-shirt. No, you may not text your friends while waiting on tables.

Customer rights guarantee

On your website, publish a customer-focused version of your policy. The Vermont Country Store calls this a Customer Bill of Rights which clearly outlines the quality of service consumers should expect to experience, the guarantees that protect them, and the way the business expects to be treated, as well.

NAP

Don’t overlook the three most important pieces of content you need to publish on your website: your company name, address, and phone number. Make sure they are in crawlable HTML (not couched in an image or a problematic format like Flash). Put your NAP at the top of your Contact Us page and in the site-wide masthead or footer so that humans and bots can immediately and clearly identify these key features of your business. Be sure your NAP is consistent across all pages for your site (not Green Tree Consulting on one page and Green Tree Marketing on another, or wrong digits in a phone number or street address on some pages). And, ideally, mark up your NAP with Schema to further assist search engine comprehension of your data.

Reviews/testimonials page

On your website, your reviews/testimonials page can profoundly impact consumer trust, comprising a combination of unique customer sentiment you’ve gathered via a form/software (or even from handwritten customer notes) and featured reviews from third-party review platforms (Google, Yelp). Why make this effort? As many as 92% of consumers now read online reviews and Google specifically cites testimonials as a vehicle for boosting your website’s trustworthiness and reputation.

Reviews/testimonials policy

Either on your Reviews/Testimonials page or on a second page of your website, clearly outline your terms of service for reviewers. Just like Yelp, you need to protect the quality of the sentiment-oriented content you publish and should let consumers know what you permit/forbid. Here’s a real-world example of a local business review TOS page I really like, at Barbara Oliver Jewelry.

Homepage

Apart from serving up some of the most fundamental content about your business to search engines, your homepage should serve two local consumer groups: those in a rush and those in research mode.

Pro tip: Don’t think of your homepage as static. Change up your content regularly there and track how this impacts traffic/conversions.

Contact Us page

On this incredibly vital website page, your content should include:

  • Complete NAP
  • All supported contact methods (forms, email, fax, live chat, after-hours hotline, etc.),
  • Thorough driving directions from all entry points, including pointers for what to look for on the street (big blue sign, next to red church, across the street from swim center, etc.)
  • A map
  • Exterior images of your business
  • Attributes like parking availability and wheelchair accessibility
  • Hours of operation
  • Social media links
  • Payment forms accepted (cash only, BitCoin, etc.)
  • Mention of proximity to major nearby points of interest (national parks, monuments, etc.)
  • Brief summary of services with a nod to attributes (“Stop by the Starlight tonight for late-night food that satisfies!”)
  • A fresh call-to-action (like visiting the business for a Memorial Day sale)

Store locator pages

For a multi-location businesses (like a restaurant chain), you’ll be creating content for a set of landing pages to represent each of your physical locations, accessed via a top-level menu if you have a few locations, or via a store locator widget if you have many. These should feature the same types of content a Contact Us page would for a single-location business, and can also include:

  • Reviews/testimonials for that location
  • Location-specific special offers
  • Social media links specific to that location
  • Proofs of that location’s local community involvement
  • Highlights of staff at that location
  • Education about availability of in-store beacons or apps for that location
  • Interior photos specific to that location
  • A key call-to-action

For help formatting all of this great content sensibly, please read Overcoming Your Fear of Local Landing Pages.

City landing pages

Similar to the multi-location business, the service area business (like a plumber) can also develop a set of customer-centric landing pages. These pages will represent each of the major towns or cities the business serves, and while they won’t contain a street address if the company lacks a physical location in a given area, they can contain almost everything else a Contact Us page or Store Locator page would, plus:

  • Documentation of projects completed in that city (text, photos, video)
  • Expert advice specific to consumers in that city, based on characteristics like local laws, weather, terrain, events, or customs
  • Showcasing of services provided to recognized brands in that city (“we wash windows at the Marriott Hotel,” etc.)
  • Reviews/testimonials from customers in that city
  • Proofs of community involvement in that city (events, sponsorships, etc.)
  • A key call-to-action

Product/service descriptions

Regardless of business model, all local businesses should devote a unique page of content to each major product or service they offer. These pages can include:

  • A thorough text description
  • Images
  • Answers to documented FAQs
  • Price/time quotes
  • Technical specs
  • Reviews of the service or product
  • Videos
  • Guarantees
  • Differentiation from competitors (awards won, lowest price, environmental standards, lifetime support, etc.)

For inspiration, I recommend looking at SolarCity’s page on solar roofing. Beautiful and informative.

Images

For many industries, image content truly sells. Are you “wowed” looking at the first image you see of this B&B in Albuquerque, the view from this restaurant in San Diego, or the scope of this international architectural firm’s projects? But even if your industry doesn’t automatically lend itself to wow-factor visuals, cleaning dirty carpets can be presented with high class and even so-called “boring” industries can take a visual approach to data that yields interesting and share-worthy/link-worthy graphics.

While you’re snapping photos, don’t neglect uploading them to your Google My Business listings and other major citations. Google data suggests that listing images influence click-through rates!

FAQ

The content of your FAQ page serves multiple purposes. Obviously, it should answer the questions your local business has documented as being asked by your real customers, but it can also be a keyword-rich page if you have taken the time to reflect the documented natural language of your consumers. If you’re just starting out and aren’t sure what types of questions your customers will ask, try AnswerThePublic and Q&A crowdsourcing sites to brainstorm common queries.

Be sure your FAQ page contains a vehicle for consumers to ask a question so that you can continuously document their inquiries, determine new topics to cover on the FAQ page, and even find inspiration for additional content development on your website or blog for highly popular questions.

About page

For the local customer in research mode, your About page can seal the deal if you have a story to tell that proves you are in the best possible alignment with their specific needs and desires. Yes, the About Us page can tell the story of your business or your team, but it can also tell the story of why your consumers choose you.

Take a look at this About page for a natural foods store in California and break it down into elements:

  • Reason for founding company
  • Difference-makers (95% organic groceries, building powered by 100% renewable energy)
  • Targeted consumer alignment (support local alternative to major brand, business inspired by major figure in environmental movement)
  • Awards and recognition from government officials and organizations
  • Special offer (5-cent rebate if you bring your own bag)
  • Timeline of business history
  • Video of the business story
  • Proofs of community involvement (organic school lunch program)
  • Links to more information

If the ideal consumer for this company is an eco-conscious shopper who wants to support a local business that will, in turn, support the city in which they live, this About page is extremely persuasive. Your local business can take cues from this real-world example, determining what motivates and moves your consumer base and then demonstrating how your values and practices align.

Calls to action

CTAs are critical local business content, and any website page which lacks one represents a wasted opportunity. Entrepreneur states that the 3 effective principles of calls to action are visibility, clear/compelling messaging, and careful choice of supporting elements. For a local business, calls to action on various pages of your website might direct consumers to:

  • Come into your location
  • Call
  • Fill out a form
  • Ask a question/make a comment or complaint
  • Livechat with a rep
  • Sign up for emails/texts or access to offers
  • Follow you on social media
  • Attend an in-store event/local event
  • Leave a review
  • Fill out a survey/participate in a poll

Ideally, CTAs should assist users in doing what they want to do in alignment with the actions the business hopes the consumer will take. Audit your website and implement a targeted CTA on any page currently lacking one. Need inspiration? This Hubspot article showcases mainly virtual companies, but the magic of some of the examples should get your brain humming.

Local business listings

Some of the most vital content being published about your business won’t exist on your website — it will reside on your local business listings on the major local business data platforms. Think Google My Business, Facebook, Acxiom, Infogroup, Factual, YP, Apple Maps, and Yelp. While each platform differs in the types of data they accept from you for publication, the majority of local business listings support the following content:

  • NAP
  • Website address
  • Business categories
  • Business description
  • Hours of operation
  • Images
  • Marker on a map
  • Additional phone numbers/fax numbers
  • Links to social, video, and other forms of media
  • Attributes (payments accepted, parking, wheelchair accessibility, kid-friendly, etc.)
  • Reviews/owner responses

The most important components of your business are all contained within a thorough local business listing. These listings will commonly appear in the search engine results when users look up your brand, and they may also appear for your most important keyword searches, profoundly impacting how consumers discover and choose your business.

Your objective is to ensure that your data is accurate and complete on the major platforms and you can quickly assess this via a free tool like Moz Check Listing. By ensuring that the content of your listings is error-free, thorough, and consistent across the web, you are protecting the rankings, reputation, and revenue of your local business. This is a very big deal!

Third-party review profiles

While major local business listing platforms (Google My Business, Facebook, Yelp) are simultaneously review platforms, you may need to seek inclusion on review sites that are specific to your industry or geography. For example, doctors may want to manage a review profile on HealthGrades and ZocDoc, while lawyers may want to be sure they are included on Avvo.

Whether your consumers are reviewing you on general or specialized platforms, know that the content they are creating may be more persuasive than anything your local business can publish on its own. According to one respected survey, 84% of consumers trust online reviews as much as they trust personal recommendations and 90% of consumers read less than 10 reviews to form a distinct impression of your business.

How can local businesses manage this content which so deeply impacts their reputation, rankings, and revenue? The answer is twofold:

  1. First, refer back to the beginning of this article to the item I cited as the first document you must create for your business: your customer service policy. You can most powerfully influence the reviews you receive via the excellence of your staff education and training.
  2. Master catching verbal and social complaints before they turn into permanent negative reviews by making your business complaint-friendly. And then move onto the next section of this article.

Owner responses

Even with the most consumer-centric customer service policies and the most detailed staff training, you will not be able to fully manage all aspects of a customer’s experience with your business. A product may break, a project be delayed, or a customer may have a challenging personality. Because these realities are bound to surface in reviews, you must take advantage of the best opportunity you have to manage sentiment after it has become a written review: the owner response.

You are not a silent bystander, sitting wordless on the sidelines while the public discusses your business. The owner response function provided by many review sites gives you a voice. This form of local business content, when properly utilized, can:

  • Save you money by winning back a dissatisfied existing customer instead of having to invest a great deal more in winning an entirely new one;
  • Inspire an unhappy customer to update a negative review with improved sentiment, including a higher star rating; and
  • Prove to all other potential customers who encounter your response that you will take excellent care of them.

You’ll want to respond to both positive and negative reviews. They are free Internet real estate on highly visible websites and an ideal platform for showcasing the professionalism, transparency, accountability, empathy, and excellence of your company. For more on this topic, please read Mastering the Owner Response to the Quintet of Google My Business Reviews.

Once you have developed and are managing all of the above content, your local business has created a strong foundation on the web. Depending on the competitiveness of your geo-industry, the above work will have won you a certain amount of local and organic visibility. Need better or broader rankings and more customers? It’s time to grow with:

Structural local business content development

These are options for creating a bigger structure for your local business on the web, expanding the terms you rank for and creating multiple paths for consumer discovery. We’ll use Google’s 4 micro-moment terms as a general guide + real-world examples for inspiration.

I want to do

  1. A homeowner wants to get her house in Colorado Springs ready to sell. In her search for tips, she encounters this Ultimate Home Seller’s To-Do Checklist & Infographic. Having been helped by the graphic, she may turn to the realty firm that created it for professional assistance.
  2. A dad wants to save money by making homemade veggie chips for his children. He’s impressed with the variety of applicable root vegetables featured in this 52-second video tutorial from Whole Foods. And now he’s also been shown where he can buy that selection of produce.
  3. A youth in California wants to become a mountain climber. He discovers this website page describing guided hikes up nearby Mount Whitney, but it isn’t the text that really gets him — it’s the image gallery. He can share those exciting photos with his grandmother on Facebook to persuade her to chaperone him on an adventure together.

I want to know

  1. A tech worker anywhere in America wants to know how to deal with digital eye strain and she encounters this video from Kaiser Permanente, which gives tips and also recommends getting an eye exam every 1–2 years. The worker now knows where she could go locally for such an exam and other health care needs.
  2. A homeowner in the SF Bay Area wants to know how to make his place more energy efficient to save on his bills. He finds this solar company’s video on YouTube with a ton of easy tips. They’ve just made a very good brand impression on the homeowner, and this company serves locally. Should he decide at some point to go the whole nine yards and install solar panels, this brand’s name is now connected in his mind with that service.
  3. A gardener wants to know how to install a drip irrigation system in her yard and she encounters this major hardware store brand’s video tutorial. There’s a branch of this store in town, and now she knows where she can find all of the components that will go into this project.

I want to go

  1. While it’s true that most I-want-to-go searches will likely lead to local pack results, additional website content like this special gluten-free menu an independently owned pizza place in Houston has taken the time to publish should seal the deal for anyone in the area who wants to go out for pizza while adhering to their dietary requirements.
  2. A busy Silicon Valley professional is searching Google because they want to go to a “quiet resort in California.” The lodgings, which have been lucky enough to be included on this best-of list from TripAdvisor, didn’t have to create this content — their guests have done it for them by mentioning phrases like “quiet place” and “quiet location” repeatedly in their reviews. The business just has to provide the experience, and, perhaps promote this preferred language in their own marketing. Winning inclusion on major platforms’ best-of lists for key attributes of your business can be very persuasive for consumers who want to go somewhere specific.
  3. An ornithologist is going to speak at a conference in Medford, OR. As he always does when he goes on a trip, he looks for a bird list for the area and encounters this list of local bird walks published by a Medford nature store. He’s delighted to discover that one of the walks corresponds with his travel dates, and he’s also just found a place to do a little shopping during his stay.

I want to buy

  1. Two cousins in Atlanta want to buy their uncle dinner for his birthday, but they’re on a budget. One sees this 600+ location restaurant chain’s tweet about how dumb it is to pay for chips and salsa. Check this out @cousin, he tweets, and they agree their wallets can stretch for the birthday dinner.
  2. An off-road vehicle enthusiast in Lake Geneva, WI wants to buy insurance for his ride, but who offers this kind of coverage? A local insurance agent posts his video on this topic on his Facebook page. Connection!
  3. A family in Hoboken, NJ wants to buy a very special cake for an anniversary party. A daughter finds these mouth-watering photos on Pinterest while a son finds others on Instagram, and all roads lead to the enterprising Carlo’s Bakery.

In sum, great local business content can encompass:

  • Website/blog content
  • Image content including infographics and photos
  • Social content
  • Video content
  • Inclusion in best-of type lists on prominent publications

Some of these content forms (like professional video or photography creation) represent a significant financial investment that may be most appropriate for businesses in highly competitive markets. The creation of tools and apps can also be smart (but potentially costly) undertakings. Others (like the creation of a tweet or a Facebook post) can be almost free, requiring only an investment of time that can be made by local businesses at all levels of commerce.

Becoming a geo-topical authority

Your keyword and consumer research are going to inform the particular content that would best serve the needs of your specific customers. Rand Fishkin recently highlighted here on the Moz Blog that in order to stop doing SEO like it’s 2012, you must aim to become an entity that Google associates with a particular topic.

For local business owners, the path would look something like when anyone in my area searches for any topic that relates to our company, we want to appear in:

  • local pack rankings with our Google My Business listing
  • major local data platforms with our other listings
  • major review sites with our profiles and owner responses
  • organic results with our website’s pages and posts
  • social platforms our customers use with our contributions
  • video results with our videos
  • image search results with our images
  • content of important third-party websites that are relevant either to our industry or to our geography

Basically, every time Google or a consumer reaches for an answer to a need that relates to your topic and city, you should be there offering up the very best content you can produce. Over time, over years of publication of content that consistently applies to a given theme, you will be taking the right steps to become an authority in Google’s eyes, and a household brand in the lives of your consumers.

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