Local SEO Tips & Tricks

Whenever I need a service or a product, the first thing I do is an online search. And I’m not alone – according to Google, 97% of consumers now search for businesses online. Most people searching for a service or product in their local area are ready to buy, which means local search is one of the best opportunities for business owners to capture highly qualified leads. Here’s how to optimize your website for that valuable local traffic:

Set Up a Google Places/Google+ Page

Since most people use Google as their primary search engine, it’s a good idea to begin your local SEO efforts by optimizing your Google Places/Google+ profile. Better yet, setting up a Google Places account is free! It’s also quite simple to set up a profile. Just follow Google’s quality guidelines and you’ll be good to go. Here are some tips:

  • Only business owners or authorized representatives can verify their business listings
  • Use a shared business email account, preferably under your business domain (this is especially helpful if more than one person will be making updates to your profile)
  • Use your actual company name and don’t include anything extra in the name such as taglines or keywords you’re trying to rank for
  • Use an accurate physical address for your business location (don’t use a P.O. box)
  • Local phone numbers are best to use for your phone listing
  • Choose the most accurate category for your business from the provided category list

Keep in mind, most Google Places profiles will be upgraded to a Google+ page once the listing is verified. You can also use analytics in Google+ to check on the performance of your page and make improvements in the future.

Optimize For Local Search

Provide Accurate Information

I can’t stress enough how important it is to make sure your business information is accurate and consistent across all local listings. Research compiled by HubShout, an online marketing company, showed that 43% of business listings have an incorrect or missing address. Having the correct information on every site your business is listed on will improve your credibility. More credibility and a higher level of professionalism will also make your site more favorable to search engines (and customers, too).

Have a Fully Completed Profile

It’s also important to fully complete your local business profiles. Huffington Post contributor Jonathan Long states business’s should not leave any sections of their profiles blank. Including videos, photos, contact information and detailed business descriptions will have positive effects on the long-term search performance for your website. Including keywords you want to rank for in your business descriptions is another way to fully optimize your local business profiles. On-page optimization is also extremely important when it comes to local search. To learn more tips about on-page optimization, check out my blog post on the topic.

Get Listed on Multiple Local Sites

Being included on local listing sites can also improve your local search rankings. Search Engine Land states your business should be listed on as many local listings websites as possible. Of course, it’s important to make sure the sites are high quality. Listings on spammy or thin directory sites should be avoided. It’s also a great strategy to form relationships with influential media sources, bloggers and/or customers. This will pay off in news articles, blog posts and positive reviews of your business. Online reviews can help differentiate your business from local competitors in search. See my guide to getting and keeping on-line reviews for more tips on this subject.

Be Seen in the Google Carousel

Google recently made changes to its local search. Local availability and local storefront features have been added to Product Listing Ads, making information about local stores more easily available to searchers. Read more about the changes in this article from Search Engine Watch.

One newer feature of local search is the Google Carousel. The Google Carousel is a black box including a marquee of listings that appears at the top of local search results. The listings include pictures and ratings for each local search result. Clicking on one of the pictures leads to a new search based on the business whose image was clicked.  As of right now, the carousel appears mainly for searches related to travel, hospitality and restaurants. Search Engine Watch predicts Google may be expanding the carousel into more categories soon. See a screenshot of the carousel below for a search on “gourmet food shops tampa”:

localsearch

The Google Carousel is yet another tool local businesses would be wise to utilize to its fullest potential. The carousel already puts your business at the top of the search, which is a great advantage. However, your business will be more visible if you follow these optimization tips (from Search Engine Watch):

  • Optimize your Google+ Local Business Page
  • Make sure your Google product feed is up to date through regular audits – accuracy and relevancy is key
  • Include professional, high resolution business images in your profile to be used in the carousel and put them in order of priority
  • Ensure business contact information is accurate and consistent across all your listings and social profiles (Google+, Yahoo Local, Bing Places, etc.)
  • Have a strategy for acquiring online reviews

Implementing Local SEO Strategy

Optimizing for local search can seem like a daunting task. The company Hallam created an infographic guide to prioritizing your time and accomplishing your local SEO goals. View it here.

Just remember to perform these top five tasks (from Moz) and your business will be in good shape:

  1. Choose the most accurate business category for your Google Places profile.
  2. Use a correct, consistent company name, address and phone number across all your local business listings.
  3. Claim listings on important sites other than Google (Yelp, City Search, Yellow Pages, etc.) and other high quality local listing sites. Services such as Localeze and Axiom can help.
  4. Optimize your website by including your address and phone number on your web pages.
  5. Follow through on your natural link building strategy to continually acquire high quality links to your site.

Summary

Including helpful details about your business, such as photos and a description, in your local profiles and listings helps provide more value to potential customers. If the user has a seamless experience when searching for your site (i.e. they find the correct contact information on each page), they will be more likely to trust your business. Keep the user in mind and try to understand what they’re looking for when they search for your company, then optimize your profiles, listings and site accordingly for the best results.

5 Essentials For An Effective Email Campaign

ImageCustomers Still Want To Be Emailed

There are so many channels marketers can use to communicate a company’s message. Some may argue that email marketing is becoming outdated and will soon fall by the wayside. However, forecasts from the Radicati Group show that email marketing is going to continue to grow, with the number of worldwide email users predicted to reach over 2.7 billion by the end of 2017, and email market revenue to reach $20.4 billion.

Email is still the preferred marketing channel for users as well.  Research from Host Papa and ExactTarget has shown approximately 75% of users prefer email marketing over other methods of marketing.  Also, according to Salesforce blog contributor Chad White, return on investment is much higher for email marketing than for search, social media, mobile and many other marketing channels.

As the preferred method of customers and with high return on investment, it’s obvious that email is still a relevant marketing tool that companies should be taking advantage of. Here are five tips on to optimize your email marketing campaigns for customer engagement, conversions, and positive ROI:

1) Segmentation Is Key

Unlike social media where your message is widely broadcasted, email marketing offers the opportunity to share personalized content meant for a specific group. According to the Grasshopper marketing blog,  segmenting your email messages can lead to about 15% more clicks on links than non-segmented emails. There are many ways to segment your contact lists. For example, if you’re an ecommerce company, you can segment by frequent purchasers vs. customers who only purchase once in awhile. Then you’ll be able to customize your offers to better satisfy each group. For example, you could send frequent purchasers an email highlighting new products or offering free shipping. Then you could send less frequent customers a discount code to encourage them to come back to your site.

2) Shine In The Subject Line

Use the subject line to your advantage by creating something that will compel the customer to open your email and read on. Writing a spectacular subject line is something that will take time and effort, but the effort will pay off significantly. MailChimp reported open rates up to 93% when their clients really put in the effort to make a subject line that would appeal to their customers. Analytics and A/B testing can be your friends when determining what subject lines your audience responds to most. There are also lots of studies that can help you determine what words may send your email to the spam filter or what could lead to more or less opens. MailChimp conducted a study that broke down subject lines by words and determined the effects these words had on open rates overall and by industry. Read it here.

3) Be Purposeful, Consistent and Error-Free

We hate pointless emails at work and in life, so we definitely don’t want to receive an email with no clear purpose or intent from the brands we subscribe to either. A great email tip from The NextWeb contributor Abhimanyu Ghoshal is to always have a clear message and help the users accomplish some kind of goal, such as providing access to new features or details about an upcoming event. It’s also important to maintain consistency with all your communications so users will easily be able to associate your emails with your brand. Errors can have a negative impact on your brand, so don’t negate the importance of passing your email onto multiple sets of proof-reading eyes before you hit send. Always check for typos, incorrect dates, broken links or anything else that could hinder user experience or potentially communicate the incorrect information or message to users.

4) Optimize The Design

People are suffering from email overload every day. Therefore, email design is more important than ever. Effective design techniques and best practices should be used to highlight the most relevant information and so the call-to-action clearly stands out. Also, it’s no secret that most people check email on mobile devices now, so it’s no longer optional to design your emails for mobile. Use responsive design on your emails to be optimized for any screen size. Users should be able to perform any desired action from your email easily from a phone or tablet as well as a laptop. Luckily, most email marketing software products offer responsive email templates. Use them to your advantage!

5) Leverage Email Analytics

One of my favorite companies I receive emails from is HauteLook, a fashion flash-sale site. Their sales begin every day at 11 AM, and I receive their email at about 10:55 AM. It is a great reminder that the sale is about to start. Even if your company doesn’t have a time-specific offer, it is still a great practice to create a regular distribution schedule for your emails.  You can use email analytics to determine the day of the month, week, or even specific time of day when your customers are most likely to open your emails. MailChimp has also compiled data about the best times to schedule your emails. You can read the report here.

Analytics can also help you determine what works best for your email campaigns as well as which offers or subjects didn’t receive as much traction. This in-depth knowledge will help you make better-informed decisions about future campaigns and allow you to effectively measure each email campaign’s success. Email analytics can also help you to further segment your customers and create campaigns that are truly tailored to your customer’s specific wants and needs.

Summary

While marketers have an arsenal of communication channels to choose from when attempting to engage and interact with customers, email is still the channel most customers prefer. When creating an email campaign, it is important to follow a strategy for each communication. Every email should have a clear purpose and benefit for the customer, as well as provide a fantastic user experience. The high level of data available for each email campaign can also make it much easier for marketers to understand what kinds of emails provide the most value for customers. Use email marketing to the fullest by going back to the data to measure each email’s success.

What is your strategy for a successful email campaign? Leave your comments below.

On-Page SEO Tips From The Experts

Search algorithm updates that focus on content and user experience have brought along with them new on-page SEO strategies. While keywords still play an important role, relevancy and user experience are taking center stage in all SEO efforts. Rand Fishkin from Moz states that effective on-page optimization should:

A) Have the best opportunity to rank highly in Google and Bing

B) Earn traffic from social networks like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, etc.

C) Be worthy of links and shares from across the web

D) Build your brand’s perception, trust, and potential to convert visitors

Here’s what Rand and many other influential SEO’s consider to be the most important elements of on-page SEO:

Provide Content That Makes A Difference

When content truly makes a difference, it provides unique value to the user. It can help to solve a problem or improve a process, for example. Adding interesting visual elements to your content is one easy way to add more value for users. If the content is useful and valuable to the user, it is much more likely that the content will be shared. We’ll talk more about why social sharing is so important later.

Create A Flawless User Experience

As noted by Brian Dean of Backlinko, Google has made no secret of the fact that page loading time is an important SEO ranking factor. A MunchWeb study found that 75% of users won’t return to a site that takes longer than four seconds to load, so it’s important that your pages load in under four seconds. Dean states the easiest way to reduce page loading time is to invest in a quality web hosting service.

Internal linking is important to user experience as well. From my own experience, I find internal links extremely helpful. I enjoy being directed to related content on a website and relevant, well-placed internal links do help keep me on a website longer. Dean states it’s a good practice to include internal links towards the beginning of your content because users tend to be more “click happy” when they enter your page. Again, from my own browsing habits I also find this to be true.

Clear, clean design and navigation are also an important elements of user experience. The number of steps it takes for a user to complete any action on the site should be as minimal as possible.  It’s now becoming clear that mobile-friendliness is no longer optional. Mobile-friendly design and fast loading time are both necessary for SEO. We’ll talk more about that later on as well.

Put Keywords Where They Belong

Keyword targeting is here to stay, but the way to do it for SEO has evolved. Here is what is still considered important when it comes to keywords (I used a mash-up of data from Moz, Whole Brain Marketing and Backlinko for this section):

Page Title

The page title is extremely important. A user wants to see the keyword they’ve searched for in your page title so they’ll know it’s worth a click. The primary keyword should be used at least once, preferably at the beginning of the title. Read more about writing great titles here.

Page/Meta Description

The meta description of your page is another place the primary keyword should appear. Don’t stuff the description with as many keywords as possible. Two to three keywords is a good limit. The goal of the meta description should be to compel the user to click on the link, so be specific and explain how the page creates value. Search terms are also bolded in the page description which can help increase your page’s visibility to the user. Remember, the page description will be cut off after 155 characters on the search results page.

Body Headlines

Much like the page title, including the targeted keyword in the headlines of the page is a way to let the user and search engines know your content is relevant to the search.

Body Copy

Get right to the point in your content by including your keyword within at least the first 150 words. This not only helps SEO but your reader as well (we have short attention spans). And again, don’t stuff your content with tons of keywords. Follow the two to three keyword strategy from the description for your copy as well.

Page URL

Most content management systems today will generate a URL for the page based on its title. If your title is already optimized with a keyword, the URL will be optimized as well. Also, URLs will serve as anchor text around the web when people share your content, so they should fully optimized.

Images

Images are often forgotten because they’re not known for high traffic or conversions. However, images should be optimized for at least one keyword. If anything, it will help emphasize the topic of your content and improve your search rankings. Besides including the primary keyword in the title of the saved image file and alt text for your code, adding a title or caption for the image in the text with the keyword can be helpful as well. Also, when an image is linked, the alt attribute is viewed like anchor text by search engines.

Outbound & Inbound Links

Using outbound link keywords to authoritative sites has been shown to increase page rank. Linking to relevant sites with high page ranks helps Google better understand what your site is all about. Additionally, users find value in being directed to related content and this added value can contribute to return visits. As for internal linking, a user should be able to find a page in no more than four clicks or three clicks if the site is smaller. It’s also always a good idea to link to relevant pages on your site within the content or post, as we talked about in the User Experience section.

Meta Keywords

Meta keywords are so yesterday. Google announced way back in 2009 that meta keywords are no longer used to determine rankings. Therefore, you can forget about using meta keywords in your on-page SEO strategy forever.

Make Content Easy to Share

Social sharing buttons are key for this component of on-page SEO. There’s no need to include a social sharing button for every social network on the web though. Just focus on the networks your target audience uses most. Social proof is extremely important for any business because it helps instill customer trust. Google also takes social proof into account for search rankings as it helps determine how relevant users found the site’s content. A study by BrightEdge found that making social sharing buttons easy to see and use can increase social sharing by 700%. Obviously, the use of social sharing buttons is an on-page SEO opportunity that shouldn’t be missed.

Design For Use On Any Device

Web traffic is becoming increasingly mobile. Is your site responsive (meaning the design of your site is optimized for all screen sizes)? According to Frank Isca of The Weidert Group, Google prefers responsive sites over ones that have a separate sites for desktop and mobile. Leverage responsive web design to provide a better user experience and to prevent double SEO work for two sites (one on the m. domain and one on your regular domain). Also, as Rand from Moz says,

If you’re not optimized for all devices, you’re missing critical opportunities for amplification to a broader audience.

Let The Crawlers/Bots Find You

Making sure your pages can be found by the search engines is another critical piece of on-page SEO. Follow these guidelines from Moz when it comes to being crawler/bot accessible:

  • Avoid duplicate content: If you have identical content on two different URLs of your pages, use the rel=canonical tag to direct the bots to the original page
  • Follow best practices for URLS: They shouldn’t be too long, should be static instead of dynamic and should be included in the correct RSS feeds or XML sitemaps
  • Don’t make the mistake of blocking bots: While it’s ok to block bots from certain content, be extremely careful that you don’t stop them from indexing your important pages
  • Use the proper redirects: Make sure you are using the right codes and protocol when you have to redirect your content (read this article on best practices for SEO redirection)

Take Advantage of Additional Markup (Authorship, Rich Snippets, Etc.)

There are many new ways to include additional markup for your content in search engine listings, such as Google Authorship and Rich Snippets. Rand from Moz suggests identifying the markup that will  provide the most value to your potential customers. Avoid using every additional markup that’s out there because it could be damaging to your online reputation. Learn more about rich snippets here.

Conclusion

While on-page SEO is needed to achieve higher rankings in search results, content is truly the key. When the content provides unique value to the audience, many of the other on-page SEO elements, such as social sharing, will naturally take place. Following the key practices of on-page SEO will help your content perform at its best and help make the most of your content marketing efforts.

Why Bad Headlines Kill Content Marketing Efforts

A great headline can generate new traffic for your website over time, so spending the time to craft an amazing headline is like investing in the future of your business.  On the other hand, a bad headline can drive traffic away.

I found some surprising headline stats on the PR Genie blog.  Headlines follow the classic “80/20” rule which dictates that if 100 people read your headline, only 20 of them will go on to read the rest of the story. Most surprising is how many people share links without ever clicking through. Bit.ly, the online short link generation company, found using tracking data that 90% of people who share your content do so based only on the headline and never actually read the article.

In this post I will go over some tips on how to write a headline that your readers will want to click on, share, and hopefully go on to read your content.

Start With the Headline

Most writers leave writing their headline until after they’ve finished writing the content. However, it’s a better practice to start by writing your headline first, even if it’s just a working title that can change later. Jeff Goins says it best:

Too often the headline is the most neglected part of writing an article. People just gloss over it without taking much time to consider it. In their minds, it’s the cherry on top.

No, friends; it’s not. The headline is the sundae

Another great practice in headline-writing is to write as many as you can think of and then narrow it down. You can also try some A/B testing once you have your headlines narrowed down to two or three.

What Should Be In the Headline

Include Benefits

Just as you have a target market for your products and services, you should have a target audience for each blog post or article you create. Leevi Romanik from the Entrepreneur’s Journey states the goal of your headline is not to appeal to everyone on the Internet. The goal is to get as much of your target audience as possible to read your article.

The benefits of reading your article should be outlined clearly in the headline. The benefits should also be specific. For example, here’s an example headline from Forbes contributor Jason DeMers:

“How to Write for Social Media and Double Your Click-Through Rates in Thirty Days”

When someone reads this title, they will know exactly what to expect from reading the article so they will be more drawn to click and read through.

Be Emotional/Tell a Story

DeMers also points out that creating a headline that resonates emotionally with readers will help increase effectiveness.  One way to do this is to use your headline to tell a story.  If you can create a unique story that explains your business, it can be what sets you apart from your competition.  Also, your story can help you create that special element, or “hook” as DeMers calls it, for your headline.

Choosing the Headline Length

A rule of thumb for headlines is they should only be about 70 characters.  However, headlines with 60 characters or less are best for search engine optimization because headlines longer than that will be cut off in search results.  To optimize for search engines, headlines should also include at least one keyword.

Trying to cram all the elements of an effective headline into 60 or 70 characters can really inhibit your creativity.  An Outbrain study on headlines actually showed that headlines around 100 characters in length got the highest click-through rates, whereas headlines with less than 60 characters performed worse.  A good strategy to follow for your own headlines can be found in your site’s analytics.  Find out the headline length on your most popular posts to determine the character limit for your headlines.

Avoid Pushy Headlines

It’s a good idea to write posts for your audience to give them advice and help them solve their problems.  However, be very careful when you write your headlines that you’re not coming off as “pushy” to your readers.  Studies have shown that “pushy” headlines receive up to 20% less clicks than “non-pushy” headlines.  A headline is typically considered pushy if it includes words like “you” or “your” and tells readers what to do by saying things like “must” or “should.”

People Are Drawn To the Negative

Another study by Outbrain found that readers really like negative superlatives.  Headlines with negative superlatives like “worst” received 63% higher click-through rates compared to titles using positive superlatives like “best.”  With this in mind, you can think about retooling some of your content to fit into an article with a negative headline.  For example, instead of writing a how-to guide on best practices, you could write about the worst practices instead.  You could counter each point with the best practice and still get your message across, but you’ll have content and a headline that is more compelling to readers.

Conclusion

The main goal for your headline is to entice your reader to find out what comes next. Thanks to a number of studies, we have a much better understanding of the types of headlines readers respond to the most. There are even headline formulas available online. The best way to write headlines for your specific audience is to have a deep understanding of their needs and wants. More importantly, you should be able to explain how you can help your customer in a unique and compelling way. Once you have this figured out, try out lots of headlines and measure the results. In no time at all, you’ll understand the types of headlines your customers respond to most and you can use this knowledge to drive your content and maybe even your business offerings.

Do I Really Need to Bid on Branded Keywords?

brandedkeywordIf someone is already searching for your brand online, do you really need to bid on your branded keywords?  I did some research on this question and found the answer to be a resounding, “yes.”  In this post I share why you need to bid on your branded keywords and how you can measure the effectiveness of your branded PPC campaigns. And I also share a little news about Google currently testing branded banner ads for search. Here we go!

Why You Should Bid on Branded Keywords

According to Ben Lloyd of Amplify Interactive, click through rates are higher for brands that have both an organic and a paid presence on the web. Putting effort into your organic SEO and your PPC will help your brand own more space on the search engine results page, which is extremely helpful in getting more clicks and traffic for your site. Conversion rates for keywords that show both an organic and paid result are higher as well. Lloyd suggests that the dual results can create more credibility for your brand in the eyes of the user.

It’s also important to control what shows on the search engine results page for your branded keywords because you want to make sure the searcher is receiving the right message and the right link for a given keyword. You can use your PPC campaign to better direct traffic for those keywords because you can target your ad copy and use ad extensions to provide even more information if needed. It’s simply not possible to have this level of control over your search results by using organic SEO alone.

Another important factor to think about with regards to the search engine results page is browser size. If you don’t own the top ad slot for your branded keywords, your competitors will end up pushing your organic result way down the page. Lloyd gives great visual examples of this on his blog post. He has also published some extremely useful graphs that show the differences in conversions and click through rates between PPC & organic vs. organic only campaigns. You can see the full post here:  http://www.amplify-interactive.com/blog/ppc/6-reasons-to-bid-on-branded-ppc-keywords/

Measuring the Effectiveness of Branded Campaigns

It might be a good strategy to separate the goals you have for your branded vs. non-branded campaigns. Branded keywords and non-branded keywords most likely have different objectives, so you may have different ways of measuring whether or not they are successful. For example, you may use branded keywords to encourage specific action from users, such as clicks and conversions, so you’d want to measure those. On the other hand, you may use non-branded keywords to try to get your company in front of users searching for those terms to generate brand awareness. In this case, you’d want to measure the number of impressions instead of clicks and conversions.

A great way to find out if your branded PPC campaign is effective or not is to do a before and after test and then compare the total traffic. According to Craig Galyon of SwellPath, you should choose a period of time to run your PPC campaigns without the branded keywords and again with branded keywords. Of course, there will be some variance because your test will be over two different date ranges, so you will want to make sure that you have chosen a time period for your business that has the lowest amount of fluctuation (no major events or seasonality factors involved).  Galyon also created an excellent step-by-step guide of how to measure the effectiveness of your branded keywords. You can find it here: http://www.swellpath.com/2013/10/ppc-cannibalization/

New Branded Banner Ads Test on Google

Bidding on your branded keywords may become even more important in the future. Search Engine Land reported that Google is experimenting with branded banner ads attached to branded keywords. It’s being called “the brand image experiment” and approximately 30 advertisers are participating, including Crate & Barrel and Virgin America. @SynrgyHQ provided Search Engine Land a screenshot of Virgin’s banner ad. Have a look at it here: http://searchengineland.com/faq-all-about-the-banner-ad-test-in-googles-search-results-175045.

The banner ad is paired with organic search results for Virgin, making it appear to be one large ad. If these new branded display ads are fully rolled out, branded keywords will become even more important for any business. If your competitor has a branded banner ad, it will take up the majority of the real estate on the first page of search results, and therefore, the majority of clicks and traffic. Since we can already see Google putting more emphasis on branded search, it’s probably a good strategy to keep up your efforts regarding your own branded search.

Conclusion

Branded keywords are highly relevant to the searcher. If someone is searching directly for your brand, they know exactly what they’re looking for. In turn, your branded keywords will also end up being your highest-converting keywords because of how relevant they are to the user. However, don’t fall into the trap that customers who search for your brand will find you whether or not you bid on your branded keywords. If you aren’t bidding on your branded keywords, you will become an open target for your competitors. Don’t forget, relevant keywords cost less so it will be less expensive for you to take the top paid spot for your brand. And now with Google testing large branded banner ads,  it is probably a good time to take control of your brand and make sure that you are in the top paid spot for all your branded search terms.

How To Naturally Build Links Without Guest Blogging

LinkWhen I was a digital marketing intern over the summer, I spent weeks sorting through client link profiles trying to rid them of “bad links.”  Many of the sites I looked into barely had any “good links” to speak of.  This experience made me realize how important it is for companies to take control of their link profiles.  However, “link building” can be a touchy subject in SEO as it is often associated with less-than-honest marketing tactics.  Marketers have taken to calling it “natural link building” to avoid being associated with pre-Penguin link spammers.  Although “link building” carries a stigma to some extent, it is still an extremely important part of successful digital marketing strategy.

In this post, I share some creative ways to gain more “good” links for your website (without being shady, of course).  And in case you’re wondering about the title, guest blogging is not on the list because everyone is already doing it.

How Does Hummingbird Affect Link Building

Before we talk about how to naturally build links, we of course need to discuss Google.  As we know, Google is constantly changing its algorithm to make search results more relevant for the end user.  According to Nate Dame at Search Engine Land, the Hummingbird update is a new search engine rather than just an algorithm update that is forcing marketers to focus even more on linking to quality content.  Read more about the update in Dame’s Hummingbird article.

Make a Consistent Effort

It is important to make natural link building a constant part of your strategy instead of a sporadic effort for two reasons.  First, you want to make sure that your company stays relevant.  To do this, you should be putting effort into your content strategy and providing value to your customers on a regular basis so they will return to your site.  Second, you will set off red flags if you have sudden spikes in linking activity with long periods of nothing in between.  That will make it more likely that your link building efforts will end up being penalized and hurt you in the long run instead of help you.

Have a Presence on Google+

It’s becoming more and more apparent that Google+ is an important factor in search rankings.  And now Google+ posts are even showing up in search results, which means it’s absolutely necessary for your company to post content on Google+.  Get more tips on getting Google+ shares and other scalable link building tactics from Jason Acidre on the Moz Blog.

Reclaim Links

According to Acidre, reclaiming links is “probably the oldest trick in the book of white-hat link building.”   You can reclaim links by using tools like Open Site Explorer to locate all the links to your site that are no longer working or are linking to the wrong version of your page.  Some of your broken links may just require a simple fix.  Other links might need a 301 redirect, which is a bit more time consuming but doing this will not only improve your link profile, it will also improve the user experience on your site.  (No one likes being directed to a page that no longer exists.)

Another way to reclaim your links is to find out who is talking about you on the web by using tools like Google Trends or browser alerts.  Search for reputable sites with strong PageRank that are mentioning you.  If these sites aren’t already linking to you in their content, you can get in touch with the site to ask them to kindly link back to you in the content.  Emma North wrote a great post on how to reclaim links and more creative link building techniques for the Koozai blog that you should check out.

User-Generated Content Sites

The method I came across in my research that I liked best is utilizing user-generated content sites.  These sites rank highly in search results, especially for long-tail keywords.  My favorite UGC site is SlideShare, but Pinterest and YouTube are also up there.  What I like best about SlideShare is that it’s a great forum for you to be able to repurpose your content and get more use out of it.  You can easily make a SlideShare presentation out of a popular blog post or video you have created, for example.  The goal of using UGC sites in your natural link building strategy is to provide something that is useful to your audience and matches the long-tail keywords they search for.

You might also take a popular news story and figure out a way to relate it to your industry.  For example, digital strategists Kristian Henschel and Julian Cole used Lindsay Lohan, a very popular figure in the tabloids, as inspiration for a SlideShare presentation.  They created “A Digital Strategy for Lindsay Lohan,” which to date has received 71,792 total views, 131 embeds and 24,626 embedded views.  Finding a fun and creative way to demonstrate their knowledge of digital strategy really excited Henschel and Cole’s audience and inspired them to share and link back to the content.  This also brings up the importance of linking to your website through all your UGC site efforts so you receive the full benefits for your link profile.

Conclusion

Natural link building can sound like an intimidating and complicated process.  However, the more I read about “natural link building,” the more I see that it is simply content marketing with an emphasis on promoting your content and building relationships.  Create great content that your customers and others in your industry find useful, make sure to place it where they can find it, and they will naturally want to link and share.

If you have more natural link building tips, share your comments below.

How To Analyze Your Competition’s Social Media

SocialMediaCompetitive analysis is a necessary component of any marketing plan. If your brand has a presence on social media, which it most likely does, you can benefit from analyzing your competitors on social media as well. Gaining insight into your competitors’ social media strategies can help you create benchmarks to guide and measure your social media strategy. This knowledge will allow you to do a number of things, such as choose the right social networks for your audience and use social media more effectively to enhance your brand. Also, a social media competitive analysis can help you find opportunities your competitors may have missed which will enable you to create a loyal community for your brand online.

Here’s how you can conduct a social media competitive analysis in six steps:

1. Identify competitors

As you probably already know, the first step of your competitive analysis is to identify who your competitors are. At this point, compile a list of your competitors but don’t start searching for their social pages yet. You’ll want complete Step 2 before you delve into the details of their social media strategies

2. Determine what you want to find out

Before you begin, you should first determine a specific objective or question you want answered for your competitive analysis. Some examples of objectives are:

  • Should our company use Pinterest?
  • Do we need to grow our social following?
  • How are we performing compared to our competitors on our social media sites?

Setting an objective will help guide your competitive analysis and keep you focused as you gather information.

3. Start a spreadsheet and identify networks

Take your list of competitors and place them on a spreadsheet. For a comprehensive analysis, go through each competitor one by one and find all of their social media profiles. Or if only one or a few social media sites are relevant to your objective, search for your competitors only on those sites. Indicate on your spreadsheet whether or not your competitors have a presence on each of the sites you want to analyze.

4. Determine what you will analyze and for how long

Once you have your objective set and have found where your competitors have profiles, you can determine what aspects you want to analyze for each specific site. Also, you will save yourself a lot of headaches by determining the length of time you’ll use as you perform your analysis. For example, instead of just tracking posts, you’ll want to track posts per week or posts per month.

5. Gather data

The specific data you track will vary from site to site. It will also depend on the objectives you’ve set. Included below are some areas you’ll most likely want to focus on, but this is not a comprehensive list. I have broken down the type of data you’ll be looking at into two parts: Followers/engagement and Content.

Followers/engagement:

Track followers

One of the first aspects you’ll most likely want to find out is the number of fans and followers your competitors have for each network. Finding the number of fans and followers is a quick way to see an overall snapshot of your competitors’ popularity on social media. Remember to also track their fan to follower ratios (# of people they follow/# of people who follow them).

Track engagement

To get an idea of how engaged your competition’s followers are, see how many reposts, shares, likes and comments each of their posts receive. Again, you should use the timeframe you’ve determined to compile this data. Divide the number of posts by the number of shares, etc. for that timeframe to determine the average engagement per post for that specific timeframe.

Track growth

If possible, gather data on your competitors for the previous timeframe. For example, if you’re analyzing comments/shares per month, look at the previous month’s data. Then find the percentage change month over month to determine the growth rate of your competitors. This will help you create a benchmark for your own social media campaigns.

Content:

Track posts

Find out how active your competitors are on social media by tracking the number of posts they make in your specified timeframe. Be sure to break the posts down into categories. For example, on Twitter you would want to separately track tweets, retweets, replies and favorites. It’s also important to record what types of content they are posting. Are they using a lot of photo or video content? Do they ask lots of questions? Do they do contents and giveaways?

Analyze blog & website

Remember that blogs and websites are also pieces of overall social media strategy. You’ll want to find out if your competitors have blogs. You should also take a deeper look into their blogs to see if they’re using Google Authorship on their posts. Are your competitors using FASS (fast action social sharing) Buttons in their posts? How many comments do their posts receive on average in your given timeframe and how many posts are made? Do your competitors link to their social media profiles from their website? How many of their web pages have links to their social media profiles? As you can see, there is a ton of information you can learn about your competitors’ social media efforts from their website and blog, so don’t skip this step.

Analyze paid media

Even though you most likely won’t be able to find out how much your competitors are paying for social media ads, you should include paid social media efforts in your analysis. Finding out whether or not your competitors are using paid advertisements on social media will give you a good understanding on whether or not paying for social media would be a good fit for your brand.

Analyze brand

Have a look at the images and logos used across each of your competitors’ social media profiles. How are they branding themselves? Is the look and feel of each site consistent? Can you see differences in each site that hint at how it is being used by the brand? What is the voice of the brand? Is it the company’s voice or a specific person?

6. Analyze overall efforts

Now that you’ve thoroughly analyzed your competitors’ followers, engagement, content and brand on social media, you should add a component to your spreadsheet where you can reflect on your findings of each competitor’s overall efforts on social media. What do they do really well? What are they doing differently? Or what are they doing really poorly? You should also determine how your brand compares to your competition on each individual component and overall. Once you’ve completed all of these steps, you should be able to go back to your original objective and reevaluate your own social media strategy.

Conclusion

Understanding how your competition is utilizing social media is an extremely effective way for you to position your brand to stand out. You won’t attract a loyal following by simply maintaining the status quo on social media and following along with what everyone else is doing. Having a thorough understanding of your competition will enable you to brainstorm new ideas to improve on the things they are doing well and to keep your fans engaged. You’ll also be able to more accurately benchmark and measure your campaigns. If you continually follow up on your competitive analysis about once a month, you’ll be able to stay ahead of your competition and make the most of your social media efforts.

Read more

I used these articles as references to write this post. Give them a read to learn more about how you can conduct a social media competitive analysis.

Step-By-Step: How to Do a Competitive Analysis on Social Media – Christopher Tompkins

How to Conduct a Social Media Competitive Analysis – Ashley Stuart

How to Do a Social Media Competitive Analysis – John Cade

Do you have any tips on how to conduct a social media competitive analysis?  Leave your comments below.