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.

Want to Design an SEO-Friendly Website? Be User-Friendly Instead.

Web DesignWhen you think about design for your website, you’re not only going to be determining the layout, colors and font. The most important thing for you to consider is the overall user experience. A good user experience will make customers more likely to stay on your site and perform the actions your site is intended for, like make a purchase or request more information. Thoughtful design will also make your site easier for search engines to crawl, which will improve your ranking in the search results, and in turn, revenue or conversions for your site.

Here are some tips on how to design a user-friendly and SEO-friendly website:

1) Pick One Target Audience

It’s not a good idea to try to create a website design meant to appeal to more than one target audience. If you try to satisfy everyone, you’ll end up satisfying no one. Find out which customer segment most frequently visits your website and tailor your website to that one segment.

Now that you know your target audience, you need to do lots of research to truly understand your customer. You need to know how they browse the web (mobile? desktop?) and what they want to find on your site. What keywords do they search for? What stage of the buying process are they in – research or purchase? You should also establish how your customer likes to be communicated with. Does your product or service require a more formal tone or can you be more laid-back? Choose your voice and be consistent throughout your site.

Along with researching your target customer, you need to analyze your competitor’s sites. Find out what methods they’re using to accomplish their goals and whether or not those methods are successful. See what they are offering customers and find a way to offer something better with your site that will set you apart. Also, learn what keywords your competitors are targeting. You can use tools such as Moz’s Open Site Explorer to gain insight into your competitors.

2) Architecture

When you begin constructing the architecture of your site, your business’s mission should be the foundation. As you design each page, you should be able to determine how the page will impact your mission so you can create a structure and user experience that will bring the best possible results.

Websites that are architected correctly organize content into related categories that use intelligent internal linking. Check out this infographic of a silo structure from Trond Lyngbø at Search Engine Land. Using a silo structure of Home – Category- Sub-Category – Topic – Content makes it easy for customers to find exactly what they’re looking for and navigate quickly through many different pages on your site.

3) Design

Appearance

As I mentioned earlier, design encompasses much more than just the appearance of your site. However, the appearance is still extremely important. You don’t want to over-design your site. If a user can’t find what they’re looking for in as little as three seconds, they’re going to leave. You want your website design to facilitate your customer’s course of action, not inhibit it. Think about if there are any extra, unnecessary steps that are blocking your customer from their ultimate goal. For example, years ago it was trendy to have a fancy introduction page for your site. Today, if users are blocked from the content they want by some useless, minute-long introduction, they’re definitely going to leave.

When you’re choosing your web designer or agency, research your needs and determine a realistic budget. Then find a web designer or agency who can deliver what you need. If you’re a small company, you probably don’t need a huge, super-expensive agency. But you shouldn’t just hire the cheapest designer you can find either. You’ll get what you pay for in terms of design quality.

Content

Your content should be designed around a call to action. Don’t leave your customer wondering what they should do next on your page. Have a clear call to action that will help your customer get exactly what your content has been guiding them towards. If they’re in the research stage, you can offer a free white paper download. If they’re ready to purchase, get them to your shopping cart in one click.

Having great content is important, and continuously updating your content goes hand-in-hand with that. New, fresh content has a number of benefits for your site including showing your customers that you are a thought leader in your industry as well as causing your site to be crawled more often by search engines.

The keywords you choose are also an important part of your site design. You should include relevant keywords in your titles, urls and categories. Good titles will help draw users to your site much like an enticing news headline. Including keywords in your page titles will also improve your page rank for those terms. By including keywords in your urls and categories, you help improve the ease of navigating your site, not to mention SEO. There are a number of keyword research tools available you can use for free, like the Google AdWords Keyword Planner.

4) Maintenance

One thing you should avoid is taking all the time and effort needed to create a flawless experience for your users only to never check on your site’s performance again. Just like you want to test your site before you make changes, you should continuously check your site to make sure it is still working as it should. Put systems in place to make sure your links are still functioning. Do continuous competitive analysis, keyword research and usability testing. Monitor your site analytics to see what works and what doesn’t so you can keep evolving your content to fit customer needs. User experience and design is not a one-time endeavor but a continuous process that your organization will need to commit to in order to stay ahead of the competition and keep users engaged with your site.

What do you think is the best way to make your site more user-friendly? How can you use web design to improve SEO? Leave your comments below.

More Reading

I referenced these articles to create this post. Check them out!

The Pillars Of Strategic SEO & A Primer On Website Design – Trond Lyngbø

SEO Web Design Methodology – Bruce Clay, Inc.

8 Web Design Mistakes Small Businesses Make – Illya Pozin