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How to Free Your E-Commerce Site from Google’s Panda

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On Feb. 25, 2011, Google released Panda to wreak havoc on the web. While it may have been designed to take out content farms, it also took out scores of quality e-commerce sites. What do content farms and e-commerce sites have in common? Lots of pages. Many with zero or very few links. And on e-commerce sites with hundreds or thousands of products, the product pages may have a low quantity of content, making them appear as duplicate, low quality, or shallow to the Panda, thus a target for massive devaluation.

My e-commerce site was hit by Panda, causing a 60% drop in traffic overnight. But I was able to escape after many months of testing content and design changes. In this post, I’ll explain how we beat the Panda, and what you can do to get your site out if you’ve been hit.

The key to freeing your e-commerce site from Panda lies at the bottom of a post Google provided as guidance to Pandalized sites:

One other specific piece of guidance we’ve offered is that low-quality content on some parts of a website can impact the whole site’s rankings, and thus removing low quality pages, merging or improving the content of individual shallow pages into more useful pages, or moving low quality pages to a different domain could eventually help the rankings of your higher-quality content.

Panda doesn’t like what it thinks are “low quality” pages, and that includes “shallow pages”. Many larger e-commerce sites, and likely all of those that were hit by Panda, have a high number of product pages with either duplicate bits of descriptions or short descriptions, leading to the shallow pages label. In order to escape from the Panda devaluation, you’ll need to do something about that. Here are a few possible solutions:

Adding Content To Product Pages

If your site has a relatively small number of products, or if each product is unique enough to support entirely different descriptions and information, you may be able to thicken up the pages with unique, useful information. Product reviews can also serve the same purpose, but if your site is already hit by Panda you may not have the customers to leave enough reviews to make a difference. Additionally, some product types are such that customers are unlikely to leave reviews.

If you can add unique and useful information to each of your product pages, you should do so both to satisfy the Panda and your customers. It’s a win-win.

Using Variations To Decrease Product Pages

Some e-commerce sites have large numbers of products with slight variations. For example, if you’re selling t-shirts you may have one design in 5 different sizes and 10 different colors. If you’ve got 20 designs, you’ve got 1,000 unique products. However, it would be impossible to write 1,000 unique descriptions. At best, you’ll be able to write one for each design, or a total of 20. If your e-commerce site is set up so that each of the product variations has a single page, Panda isn’t going to like that. You’ve either got near 1,000 pages that look like duplicates, or you’ve got near 1,000 pages that look VERY shallow.

Many shopping carts allow for products to have variations, such that in the above situation you can have 20 product pages where a user can select size and color variations for each design. Switching to such a structure will probably cause the Panda to leave you alone and make shopping easier for your customers.

Removing Poor Performing Products

If your products aren’t sufficiently unique to add substantial content to each one, and they also don’t lend themselves to consolidation through selectable variations, you might consider deleting any that haven’t sold well historically. Panda doesn’t like too many pages. So if you’ve got pages that have never produced income, it’s time to remove them from your site.

Getting Rid of All Product Pages

This is a bold step, but the one we were forced to take in order to recover. A great many of our products are very similar. They’re variations of each other. But due to the limitations of our shopping cart combined with shipping issues, where each variation had different shipping costs that couldn’t be programed into the variations, it was the only viable choice we were left with.

In this option, you redesign your site so that products displayed on category pages are no longer clickable, removing links to all product pages. The information that was displayed on product pages gets moved to your category pages. Not only does this eliminate your product pages, which make up the vast majority of your site, but it also adds content to your category pages. Rather than having an “add to cart” or “buy now” button on the product page, it’s integrated into the category page right next to the product.

Making this move reduced our page count by nearly 90%. Our category pages became thicker, and we no longer had any shallow pages. A side benefit of this method is that customers have to make fewer clicks to purchase a product. And if your customers tend to purchase multiple products with each order, they avoid having to go from category page to product page, back to the category page, and into another product page. They can simply purchase a number of products with single clicks.

Noindexing Product Pages

If you do get rid of all links to your product pages but your cart is still generating them, you’ll want to add a “noindex, follow” tag to each of them. This can also be a solution for e-commerce sites where all traffic enters on category level pages rather than product pages. If you know your customers are searching for phrases that you target on your category pages, and not specifically searching for the products you sell, you can simply noindex all of your product pages with no loss in traffic.

If all of your products are in a specific folder, I’d recommend also disallowing that folder from Googlebot in your robots.txt file, and filing a removal request in Google Webmaster Tools, in order to make sure the pages are taken out of the index.

Other Considerations: Pagination & Search Results Pages

In addition to issues with singular product pages, your e-commerce site may have duplicate content issues or a very large number of similar pages in the index due to your on-site search and sorting features. Googlebot will fill in your search form and index your search results pages, potentially leading to thousands of similar pages in the index. Make sure your search results pages have a rel=”noindex, follow” tag or a rel=”canonical” tag to take care of this. Similarly, if your product pages have a variety of sorting options (price, best selling, etc.), you should make sure the rel=”canonical” tag points to the default page as the canonical version. Otherwise, each product page may exist in Google’s index in each variation.


Maxmoritz, a long time member of our SEO Community, has been working in SEO full time since 2005. He runs a variety of sites, including Hungry Piranha, where he blogs regularly.

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SEO Book.com

Do You Trust Me?

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Well, you might – if you knew what a trustworthy guy I am 🙂

But I know that’s nowhere good enough. I know I would need to earn it.

“Do I trust you?” is a question your web visitors are probably asking themselves right now.

Do they trust your title tag description and snippet enough to click the link? If they click the link, and land on your site, do the trust you enough to stay? Do they trust you enough to click deeper into your site? Do they trust you enough to hand over their e-mail address, or their credit card details?

If your site ranks well, but visitors don’t trust it, is your search marketing campaign broken? Blowing an opportunity to form a trust relationship, which can be broken in less than a few seconds online, earns nothing but a click-back.

Webmasters need to establish trust quickly in order to get people to take the next step.

I’m Trustworthy!

All webmasters look to establish trust. We intuitively know that in order to convince someone else of something, they first need to trust us. No webmaster would want to project an air of untrustworthiness, although some mistakenly do, by overlooking a few simple steps.

If you have an existing site, or you are planning a new one, consider undertaking an audit of trust factors.

Your visitors will want to know….

1. Who Am I Dealing With?

This is especially important online, because there is little context to our interaction.

If we walk into a doctors office, we may see medical equipment, and nurses, and qualifications on the wall. It provides us with sufficient context to establish a level of trust that this person is likely a qualified doctor who knows what she is doing. The environment gives us a pretty good idea of who we are dealing with.

Not so online.

A web site, especially a website that is previously unknown to us, provides little in the way of context. Anonymity can lend an air of the mysterious, but it doesn’t do much to help establish trust.

Let visitors know who they are dealing with. This doesn’t necessarily involve telling them your life story, or showing them a photo of you and the kids, although that can work well for personalized forms of marketing.

If you don’t already have them, consider adding staff photos and position details, detailed company description and history, and ensure address and contact details are prominently displayed. If you have a physical location, show it. Provide a map. The tech-savvy will likely want to see you on social networks, such as Facebook and Twitter, too.

This point is obvious, I know. Most webmasters do it. Audit your site to see if you provides visitors a clear idea of who they are dealing with.

2. Overcome Fear

There is fear in new engagements.

Not spine tingling fear. Just a low level fear of the new. Your visitors may fear your site is wasting their time. They may fear they might be ripped off. They may fear you won’t deliver on the promise made explicit in your title tag and heading.

Look at ways to counter fear of the new.

The familiar carries less fear than the unfamiliar. Obviously, if you’ve already established a reputation, then you will already be familiar to your visitors, and therefore likely appear more trustworthy that someone a visitor doesn’t know.

But search marketing is often focused on attracting the new visitor, so an established reputation may not be something we can rely on. This is why it can be good idea to leverage reputation from elsewhere.

For example, a commonly used tactic is the “As Seen In…” references used by sites such as ForSaleByOwner.com. Whilst also providing credibility by association, it is also a means of leveraging the trust in those brands with which the visitor is already familiar.

3. Will This Work For Me?

There’s more to relevance than matching a keyword. How will your solution work for your visitor? How do you know what is really relevant to them when all you have for a clue is a keyword phrase?

This is easier said than done. You need to get inside their head. You need to know their questions and objections and be able to answer them. If people feel you care about solving their problems, they are more likely to trust you.

But how?

Listening. Being clear about what problem you’re going to solve. Is it a real problem, or an imagined one? Look for opportunities to have your visitor define their problem in their own terms, using surveys, visitor tracking, market research (i.e. the language they use in forums, on blogs, Facebook, Twitter, et al)

The best sites seem to know exactly what you are thinking. They reflect you, back at you.

This can be underlined with your copy. Use “you” as opposed to “I”. Look how many times “you” has been used in this copy. This is a very effective selling technique, because your visitors really don’t care about you, they care about them.

4. Deliver

We’ve dealt with superficial areas, most of which can just as easily be abused by the manipulative and deceitful as used properly by the honest and trustworthy.

Trust also a process. People will judge you by your actions.

  • Tell them what you’ll do.
  • Do it.
  • Tell them you’ve done it.

Does your website demonstrate this? One good way to show process is by using a case study. You outline the problem. Show how you planned to solve it. Then you show that you solved it. For extra points, show how happy people were with the outcome.

Offer free trials, where possible. Offer free downloads. Look for tangible ways to prove you do what you say you do.

Once a visitor has engaged your services, ensure your process is transparent, communicated and you do what you said you’d do.

5. What Will Everyone Else Think?

This is related to fear.

Will I be ridiculed for choosing your service? Made to feel stupid? There was a saying in the IT industry that “no one got fired for buying IBM”. It wasn’t that IBM was necessarily a better provider, it was that many people used them, so there was perceived strength in numbers of the tried and true.
People tend to go where other people are. Can you provide similar social validation?

Customer references are a great way to provide social validation. If the customers are from companies with which your visitor is already familiar, all the better. Faces. Lot’s of happy faces provide social validation.

Also include the number of people who use, or have used, your service.

In summary:

  • Have you let people know who they are dealing with?
  • Have you made reference to the familiar?
  • Have you addressed their needs in their own terms?
  • Have you included references and case studies?
  • Have you done what you’d said you’d do?

PS: Thanks to Seth Godin for the inspiration, off whos’ post I’m riffing 🙂

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SEO Book.com

Getting Your Pricing Right

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How do you best determine the price to charge customers?

Do you look at the competition and price the same as they do? Undercut them a little? What happens if you do undercut them, then the customer still demands further discounts?

Pricing can be difficult to get right. We don’t know exactly how much the other party is prepared to pay, but we need customers in order to sustain and grow our businesses. So how do we ensure money is not left on the table, yet we still make the sale?

This guide looks at a few fundamental pricing techniques, ideas and strategies. We’ll look at how to avoid getting caught in the “race to the bottom” scenario of endless price cutting.

Market Price

Many people believe that when the buyer and seller agree on a price, then the market has arrived at the optimal price.

This is not strictly true.

What it means is the buyer and seller agreed on a price at a point in time. The seller might be desperate to land the next deal simply to make payroll for one more month. He almost feels sick when he accepted such a low offer, but he’ll worry about the fact he’s running into the red next month. Things will be better by then. Hopefully.

Meanwhile, the buyer now has an expectation she can always get discounts if she pushes hard enough. She makes a note to go even harder on price next month. After all, she got the distinct impression the seller had even more room to move.

Getting pricing right is about more than two parties agreeing on a price at a point in time. Pricing is also strategic. Pricing is about the long-term sustainability of a company.

But ultimately, pricing is about value.

What Do Your Customers Value?

Business is about providing and creating value.

You provide a valuable service or product the buyer can’t provide themselves. They then use your product or service, from which they derive, or add, value, and on-sell that value to their customers.

In order to set appropriate prices, you need to understand what your customers value.

How does one restaurant charge more than another in the same area? Why is that one restaurant always packed? It’s probably because they understand what people value. It might be the type of food they serve, or how they serve it, or they have a great view of the sea. Perhaps they do all three well. Their competitors do not.

They probably couldn’t charge what they do if they were two blocks back and overlooked a parking lot. The restaurant that is two blocks back with a view of the parking lot better figure out something else customers will value, or they are out of business.

The first step in determining pricing is to find out what your customers value, then adjust your service, where necessary, to provide that value. In this way, pricing can be seen as intrinsically linked to your positioning strategy. Perhaps customers value a free and easy returns policy (convenience) over price. Perhaps they want individual items packaged together (individual commodity tools packaged together in a stylish box becomes a toolbox gift idea). Perhaps they didn’t want to buy a handbag at all, they just wanted to rent one (bagborroworsteal.com).

The aim of value based pricing is to shift the focus from price to questions of value.

Move To Value Based Pricing

Value based pricing means pricing based on the value you deliver to a customer.

You figure out the value of your product to to the customer, then take a slice of that value to arrive at your price. Your production cost might be $ 10 per unit, but if each unit provides $ 1000 worth of value to your customer, then $ 500 might be a fair price to charge.

In order to price based on value, you need to understand exactly what your customer values and your point of differentiation to your competitors. Your value proposition combined with your price point must be differentiated. After all, it would be difficult to price at $ 500 if your competitors were pricing at $ 300, and both provide the same value to the customer.

The Problem With Cost-Plus Pricing

Cost-plus pricing is when you figure out your total costs, then add a percentage, which is your profit.

It may cost you $ X to produce and sell a service and make a profit, but if buyers don’t value what you offer, then your price will always be too high. Also, if you use cost-plus pricing and your customer derives considerable value from what you offer, then the customer may love you, but you’re leaving a lot of money on the table. You could be making more profit and using that to invest in your business.

Commodity

But what if you’re selling the same stuff as everyone else?

The internet can be a hostile place for commodity sellers as price comparisons are only a click away. This type of environment works well for big players who can compete on price when selling commodity items, yet still make money off thin margins and fat volume.

Low-volume competitors would be wise to consider a shift of focus to value-added services, such as higher service levels, if they can’t compete on price.

Best Interests Of The Customer

It might be in the best interests of your customer to pay higher prices if this means the value they seek can be reliably delivered on an on-going basis. If an industry is run into the ground due to price cutting, then where will the customers get the services they really do value in future?

Part of the process of getting pricing right is customer education i.e. ensure they can see the value. Demonstrate what is involved in arriving at your price points. For example, who pays $ 70 for an ipad cover when you can get them for $ 10?

People do if it’s a DODOcase.

DODOcase demonstrate what goes into producing their cases. They’re selling the experience and craft values as much as they are selling the product itself, so this is also a way to differentiate the product. Their customers value the idea of supporting artisan crafts, which is part of the value they’re paying for, but this wouldn’t be obvious if their customers were comparing one case against another on price alone. DodoCase have shifted the debate away from price and made it about value. Well, values.

So, customers like to see what goes into the product. It helps them determine value. Transparency is a big part of pricing, particularly high-end pricing. To be credible and survive scrutiny, high end pricing has to to be accountable and make sense.

Knowing what price to set is knowing what the customer values, or can be made to see value where previously they saw none. Always ask questions and refine your offer based on the answers. Do you need to change how you present your existing offers in order to demonstrate value? Do you need to change your offerings to meet the market?

Pricing Strategies

Let’s look at three of the most common pricing strategies.

Skim Pricing

Skim pricing is when you set a higher price than your competitors.

In order to set pricing in this way, your customers need to perceive that your offer provides them with greater benefits than they will find elsewhere. Apple use skim pricing.

Customers perceive that Apple products are superior to the competitors, so it is therefore worth paying a premium. Whether this is objectively true or not is irrelevant – so long as the customers perceive that value, then it exists. This justifies the higher price. It could be argued the customer also gains social value by paying a high price, as they have something exclusive.

In order to skim price, you need to offer something the customer can’t easily get elsewhere. The customer must place a high value upon your service.

Consultants with proven reputations can use skim pricing, although maintaining a reputation over and above everyone else in crowded, maturing markets can be difficult. Where there are high margins, competitors will soon enter the space offering similar value.

The benefit of skim pricing is that you get to pick off the price-insensitive top-of-the-market clients. Who wouldn’t want this situation?

The downside is that other competitors can move into the price gap, slightly beneath the skim level, then bump up the value they offer in order to challenge the skim price competitor. They may create greater efficiencies, which means their profit margins are the same, if not higher. The value proposition to the customer remains strong, yet they undercut the leader on price.

It is only so long before the leader is forced to drop prices, refine their value proposition, or collapse. Skim market pricing can lead to a rapid erosion of market share if the leader does not stay well ahead of the market in terms of providing value. This happened to Apple in the 1980’s, and we might be seeing this again on tablet devices.

Analysts expressed concerns that Apple risked losing ground to Nokia smartphones in China, while failing to keep pace with Google in the tablets market…..Traders were also spooked by a report from research firm IDC forecasting that Apple’s share of the tablet market will slip to 53.8pc this year from 56.3pc in 2011, while Google’s share will increase to 42.7pc from 39.8pc.
It added that Apple’s tablet share will slip below 50pc by 2016, as total global tablet sales more than double to nearly 283m units in four years as consumers increasingly opt for them rather than personal computers

Apple could skim price when they were early to market with a product no one else had i.e. iphones and iPads. However, as competitors catch up, and make similar products at lower prices, then Apple’s current pricing strategy may hit problems. Apple get around this, to some extent, by using versioning.

Neutral Pricing

Neutral pricing is when you set your pricing at a comparable level to your competitors.

You’d use this pricing method if you want customers to consider other aspects, besides price, when they contemplate a purchase i.e. they can get SEO software tools from company X, but compay Y offers the same tools but with extra support. Neither company wants to engage in a price war, so they will keep layering on more value in order to make their offer more compelling.

If these companies started cutting prices in order to compete, then they’ve got a “race to the bottom” problem. If customers don’t want to pay for the services they provide, that’s fine, but the customer is unlikely to get them somewhere else, so long as these services cost a certain amount to provide. In so doing, this market sector retains value for all players, so long as they deliver genuine value to customers.

This is an especially good pricing model to use if you want your customers to focus on the features of the offer. If you offer more features for the same price, you will likely win.

Penetration Pricing

Penetration pricing is when you set a relatively low initial entry price, hoping people will switch from a higher priced vendor.

Companies looking to gain market share tend to use penetration pricing. Penetration pricing has been a popular pricing model for internet companies, reasoning if they build the audience, they’ll figure out how to make money later. So long as customers place some value on the service, then the company should build their customer base quickly.

There are obvious problems with acquiring customers on a low-price basis. The customers you land are price-sensitive and will likely become non-customers the minute someone else lowers their price, or you increase your price.

You’re still vulnerable to competitors who offer something better, who are more efficient, or have more venture capital to blow through. Even if you set a low price, they can still undercut you.

There’s More To Price Than Price

Some buyers accept that buying on price alone may be a poor strategy.

In the example I gave earlier, the buyer is screwing down the vulnerable vendor to the point where he may go out of business. Let’s say she derives significant value from his company that she can’t readily get somewhere else. Perhaps he’s been a supplier to the firm at which she works for a few years and he really knows their systems. Any new supplier will have to spend time coming up to speed, and this could affect the productivity of our buyer.

The buyer likely has a switching cost.

As a seller, he should have made more effort to understand his value to the buyer, and be able to articulate it in such a way that she saw it, too. A buyer who understands long-term value is less likely to focus exclusively on price. It is to their advantage to nurture the relationship for mutual benefit.

Many buyers crave highly functional partnerships with vendors. If a search marketing vendor invests significant effort to add value to the company to which they supply services, then it is less likely they’ll be replaced on price alone. The longer the vendor works with the company, and the more success they bring to that company, the less likely they are to be replaced.

Sometimes, these customers will still try to play you. They will try to get a lower price. They know they need what you’ve got, they’re happy with the relationship, but they still want to see if they can get you to move on price. They may say they are reviewing arrangements. They may put you up against other suppliers in the form of a, RFP. Some of those suppliers will bid low amounts, which the buyer will then put pressure on you to match.

The way to counter this is to know your value relative to the competition. You can always match with a lower price, just so long as the customer accepts that you will be reducing your features to match those on offer from your competitors. The buyer will either go for it it, meaning price really was an issue, or accept your higher price, meaning value was the main issue. More on this shortly.

You must also understand your bottom line and stick to it. Some customers simply aren’t worth having. If you land them, and make little money or even a loss, with hopes you’ll raise prices later – what happens? The minute you raise prices they go back out to tender again. They’ll just find another low-priced bid.

This is what happens to vendors who can’t differentiate on value.

Make Your Offering More Flexible

If we don’t offer what the market values, then pricing strategies won’t help much.

Businesses must innovate in order to capture new markets and meet demand. Create new products and services. Relying on price increases alone to drive growth is unlikely to work unless people can’t get what you offer anywhere else, and what you’re offering remains in high demand.

One solution is to provide multiple products or service levels. If some buyers are genuinely price oriented, that’s fine, but they get the lower service level. Contrary to popular opinion, most buyers are actually value oriented, and will choose higher value services, so long as they perceive genuine value, or can be shown that by using you then profitability will be increased.

The “Choice Of Three” Strategy

One price methodology involves creating three levels. One low priced offer, one mid priced offer, and one high priced offer. Many buyers, when faced with the “choice of three” will pick the middle offer.

Appliance stores often price this way. They’ll stock two or three very high end, expensive refrigerators. They’ll also stock some basic, cheap refrigerators. Most customers will use those two points as price guides, and buy somewhere in the middle. If the store didn’t carry the high end refrigerators for the purposes of comparison, then the mid-range refrigerators become the highest price offering, and people’s price expectations will adjust – downwards – accordingly. The middle is seen as the “sensible” choice.

So, try pricing your top level offering at skim pricing levels. Include all the bells-and-whistles. Most people won’t pay this price, but between this and the lowest price offer, it helps set buyer expectations. The middle bundle is actually your full price offering, possibly neutrally priced vs competitors, but buyers may see it as the sensible middle ground compromise. Funnily enough, you’ll be surprised at how many people still go for the bells-and-whistle option!

Getting Differentiation Right

Differentiation between bundles (product or service levels) also helps you identify price buyers and value buyers. For this to work, you need to create clear and logical demarcation between offerings, otherwise customers may try to pay the low price, but get you to include high price features.

In service businesses, one way of preventing a customer from trying to get the expensive bundle for the low-cost price is to be transparent about your pricing. Yes, they can have the extras, but they involve X more hours. How many of those hours do they wish to purchase? This is transparent. It makes logical sense. There is no arguing with this position, as everyone understands that time is money.

However you do it, ensure that the transition between price points makes sense. The transition can’t appear arbitrary. The more expensive bundle is more expensive because it has more input costs, demonstrably delivers more value, or both.

Companies who get this wrong typically create arbitrary price settings between bundles. There isn’t a lot of distinction in terms of value between the jumps, or the core offering is not included at the low level.

Companies typically put their core offerings in every package, and add “nice-to-have” features at higher price levels. All customers will want the core offering. Price sensitive customers will settle for the core offering and nothing else. Value customers will likely add the nice-to-haves so long as these extras provide the value they seek.

Once a customer is on board at the low-value level, then they may wish to add extras later, once value has been demonstrated. Many software-as-a-service companies use this pricing strategy. The core product, if it is commodity, is often free. This hooks you into using it, but doesn’t cost the company much to deliver. It’s a loss leader sales-tool.

If you want to use it more – say, add more people or use advanced features – then you move up the scale to higher price points. It’s very difficult for competitors to compete with this strategy, because the core offering is free and the switching cost, whilst possibly not high, still exists. In order to compete, competitors must offer better services or more features, and probably lower prices. This is also the reason the first-mover needs to constantly innovate i.e. add and enhance services in order to stay ahead of the game.

One way to make the middle tier offering even more compelling is to load it with features vs the entry-price option.

The low price offering provides the core product and nothing else. The mid-priced offering, however, is packed full of features. The buyer may not even use many of the features, but they reason that there appears to be a lot more value at that level than the entry level, so opt for the higher price. This is most effective when the low-price option and mid-price option are reasonably close. You often see this approach used with “but wait, there’s more!” offers. They keep loading on the features, so the buyer perceives more and more value.

Pricing Strategies For Software & Information Products

The very first copy of a Windows release costs billions. The customer pays around $ 40 for that first copy.

Most of the costs in software development and information products are upfront, but the advantage of these types of businesses is that the cost of producing each additional copy is marginal. Microsoft can produce many millions of copies for a few cents each. How does a software business, or information product, go about pricing a product?

Typically, these companies set a low price in order to build momentum, thus adopting a penetration approach. Once the user is hooked in, they then add additional higher value services on top. A good example of this type of strategy is used by the likes of WordPress and Silverstripe. The core product is free, but if customers want enterprise hosting, support of custom development, then they pay a fee.

Negotiating

It can be pretty difficult to stick to your guns, especially if you really need the business.

However, pricing is really a question of value. So long as you’re certain you provide the customer with value they can’t get elsewhere, then you’re in a strong negotiating position.

Know what the customer values. If the customer values the same things from another competitor, and you can provide no added value, then you are vulnerable on price. However, if you can identify something you have the buyer values over the others, then that is your trump card.

You demonstrate your value to the customer. If the customer still refuses to see it, and still screws you down on price, then you can play your trump card. Sure, they can have the lower price, but they can’t have the high value aspects of your service. They can have the basic core service. You could still make the sale, but you should remove valuable features.

For example, service level agreements tend to be structured at various levels and price points. If the customer wants immediate attention 24/7, then they pay top dollar. If they don’t care about receiving immediate attention, that’s fine – they pay the lower price. Give the customer options, demarcated by obvious value, and they can decide for themselves. If you know they really need high value service X, and can’t get it from somewhere else, then you’ll force them to buy on value and drop their low price demand.

As customers, we value sellers differently, unless we’re buying pure commodity. Yet your customers might try to convey the idea that sellers are all the same to them, it’s only about price.

It seldom is. Find out what they value most.

Be Flexible

If your primary purpose is to gain exposure in a market, it will be useful to acquire customers who can help spread your message. I know of one SEO service provider who started out by providing five large companies free search marketing services for a year simply so the SEO service provider could be associated with those companies, thereby gaining credibility in the market as a “leading supplier”. They then skim priced for 2-nd tier companies, which were their real targets. The twist here is that the seller places a value on the buyer.

Pricing changes can depend on where in the product life-cycle you are, and what your competitors are doing. If you are the market leader, and using skim pricing, but you competitors overtake you, and offer more value, then it might be time to rethink your pricing. A shift to neutral pricing might be in order, as well as a revision of the offer to match competitors.

If new entrants move into the market and offer low prices, then adopting a penetration strategy might be useful in order to get rid of them i.e. make part of your offering low cost or free. This is a strategy that has been used by airlines facing threats from low-cost competitors. They start up their own subsidiaries and use these to starve the competitors out of the market as a rear-guard pricing strategy.

Know Your Relative Value

Ensure you’re differentiated. List all the products, services and activities you offer. Make a note of what your value is to the customer next to each product or service.

Next, identify your competitors. Identify those who are similar, those who are better and those who are worse. Evaluate their offerings. What are their value propositions? If you can, find out their price points. Where would a customer see value in their offering?

List your offerings in terms of value i.e. High value, medium, and low value. Then grade the level of differentiation when compared with your competitors. i.e. high differentiated, similar, or weaker. Anything high value and differentiated can likely be skim priced, anything similar can be neutrally priced, and anything low consider penetration pricing, or dropping.

Review your margins. Is it even worth offering low priced services? Should you be focusing on delivering more features at a higher pricing level? Should you be moving to a highly differentiated offering? Only you know the answer to these questions, but it’s a quick strategic pricing assessment well worth doing.

But what, after all is said and done, the customer still wants a lower price?

Fire Customers

But what if the customer still wants to pay the lowest price, even after you’ve made certain they value what you provide?

Some customers simply aren’t profitable. What is worse, they take up your time, meaning you’ve got less time to dedicate to your profitable customers.

So cut them loose.

There is a rule called the 20-255 rule. It’s a revision of the 80-20 rule, and it goes like this:

In an article published in the Harvard Business Review, Cooper and Kaplan reported the astonishing case of a heating wire company which analyzed its customer profitability and discovered that the famous 20 – 80 rule, which would suggest that 80% of profits came from 20% of customers, had to be revised: “A 20 – 225 rule was actually operating: 20% of customers were generating 225% of profits. The middle 70% of customers were hovering around the break-even point, and 10% of customers were losing 125% of profits

Make a list of your customers from most profitable to least. Contact the least profitable clients and try to renegotiate terms. Some will agree to this, others won’t.

Cut those who don’t. This instantly increases your profits and serves as a reminder not to sell to people in future who don’t adequately value what you do.

I hope this article has provided some food for thought on pricing strategy. Pricing is a huge topic, so can’t be covered in one article, so if you’ve got some pricing strategies and philosophies you’ve found useful, please add them to the comments!

Categories: 

SEO Book.com

10 Predictions for Inbound Marketing in 2013

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Posted by randfish

As is tradition here at Moz, I'm conducting my annual analysis of my predictions from 2012, and if I score high enough, predicting what will happen in 2013. I like to use this process because it keeps me honest – if I suck at predicting what will happen in a 12-month span, should you really listen to me for the next 12 months?

This year, I'm also broadening my focus beyond just SEO to all of inbound marketing – search, social, content, PR, CRO, and email. Hence, if my predictions from last year do well, I'll be making a few more guesses about the year to come than usual.

Here's how scoring works:

  • Spot On (+2) – when a prediction hits the nail on the head and the primary criteria are fulfilled
  • Partially Accurate (+1) – predictions that are in the area, but are somewhat different than reality
  • Not Completely Wrong (-1) – those that landed near the truth, but couldn't be called "correct" in any real sense
  • Off the Mark (-2) – guesses which didn't come close

The rules state that if the score is lower than +1, I'm not allowed to make predictions for the coming year. Here's to hoping!

In 2012, I made 8 predictions:

  1. Bing will have a slight increase in US marketshare, but remain <20% to Google's 80%+: This one is spot on if you use real numbers like those from Statcounter (which makes way more sense than using Comscore). Here's the graph for 2012:
    _
    Statcounter US Search Market Share
    _
    It's showing almost exactly what I predicted. Bing has gained very slightly in the US (while Yahoo! shrunk a tiny bit), but the two combined remains at 18.2% while Google hovers at 80.68% (GG+AOL). That's worthy of +2 points.
  2. SEO without social media will become a relic of the past: I'm struggling with exactly how to rate this one. One the one hand, there are certainly forms of SEO that can exist independent of social media, and some practitioners still don't combine the two. On the other hand, that number has drifted to a very small percent of the SEO world, and the use of social, especially in link building, outreach, PR, research, and networking is nearly universal. This one comes down to opinion, but I think few would say it's off the mark, so I'll give a +1.
  3. Google will finally take stronger, Panda-style action against manipulative link spam: This one was a slam dunk. The "Penguin Update" is not only focused specifically on link spam, but it's also similar to Panda's style of updating and, many suspect, uses much of the frameworks that Google's Search Quality team built with Panda. +2 points on this prediction.
  4. Pinterest will break into the mainstream: To be fair, this was one of the easiest predictions to make for 2012, given how Pinterest was exploding at the end of 2011. And while growth the first half of the year was exceptional, it slowed in the 2nd half (as seen below in this chart from Nielsen's excellent Social Media Report 2012):
    _
    Spotlight on Pinterest via Nielsen
    _
    I'll only give myself a +1 despite the fact that Pinterest was the web's fastest growing social network in 2012, due to that slowing second-half growth, and the fact that from a media, investor, and market standpoint, Pinterest still isn't mentioned alongside Twitter & Facebook.
  5. Overly aggressive search ads will result in mainstream backlash against Google: Given how Google ads and Google properties are appearing in verticals like travel, autos, mortgages, and credit cards, I'm surprised we haven't seen more of a backlash.
    _
    Compare Credit Cards
    _
    Certainly, we've seen some activity like EU regulators cracking down on some potentially monopolistic practices, but the outrage for Google's ad practices are miniscule compared to, say, the TOS changes by Instagram. I suspect the search giant is still benefiting from the positive reputation it's built over the past decade. We'll see if they can maintain that long term. All in all, I'm giving myself a -1 on this prediction. There's been some backlash and we may see some legal consequences, but they're pretty small.
  6. Keyword (not provided) will rise to 25%+ of web searches: I'm sad to be right on this one. I believe Google is destroying value on the web and hurting the ability of site owners and content creators to better serve searchers, and doing so only in the interests of protecting their own revenue opportunities (since keyword data is still provided to any paying AdWords customers).
    _
    NotProvidedCount Project
    _
    The above chart comes from the excellent (Not Provided) Count project which tracks referral data across a large number of sites in a variety of verticals to show the average impact. Given that this number hit just over 25% at the end of the year, I'm giving myself a +2. Predictions that accurate don't come along often – I only wish it was a less negative one. 
  7. We'll see the rise of a serious certification program: Tragically, this still hasn't happened. Distilled U is certainly a great resource, and Market Motive, Search Engine College and free programs like Hubspot's Inbound University continue to do well, but there's no true standard (or even a combination of standards). I'm giving this one a -2 as the trend just hasn't materialized in a mainstream enough way to deserve more.
  8. Google will make it very hard to do great SEO without using Google+: this one's tough. It's mostly true for local business SEO, where Google Local Pages now require a Google+ account. And certainly Google's authorship program, which leverages Plus, is a powerful tool for content publishers (and has some hidden benefits, too). However, Google+ signals like shares and +1s don't appear to be a big part of the ranking algorithm. Thus, I'm giving myself a -1.

Taken together, the total score is a surprisingly good +4. That means it's time for another set of annual predictions!

#1: None of the potential threats to Google's domination of search will make even a tiny dent

I've heard all the theories – Apple is getting into search, Facebook is getting into search, DuckDuckGo will take market share, Amazon will restart their old A9 project and take share, Bing will take share as Google loses consumer trust, Yandex & Baidu will expand to other markets and slowly peel away users, and all the rest. I don't buy any of them. Google is a "default behavior" for the world's Internet users, and it's going to take massive, repeated failures on their part or a complete shift in the way the web is used before Google will feel even a sliver of pain.

My prediction is that Google's market share at the end of 2013 will remain at least steady, and possibly gain in the US, and its global domination will continue unabated.

BTW – If I had to place a bet on which of these would have the best chance, it would probably be Amazon (mostly because search is a behavior we're used to on Amazon and their brand already serves as a destination in lots of commerce-focused verticals). But, I still think it wouldn't work.

#2: "Inbound marketing" will be in more titles & job profiles as "SEO" becomes too limiting for many professionals

Searching LinkedIn today, I can see that "SEO" far, far outnumbers "inbound marketing" on job profiles.

LinkedIn Searches

The same holds true for job postings on aggregator sites like SimplyHired:

But, I think there's already a trend among early adopters to expand their job descriptions and earn more responsibility and influence in areas that have a significant impact on SEO – social media, PR, content, etc.

The only term I've seen that potentially rivals "inbound marketing" is "growth hacker," but that's confined to only the most hardcore Silicon Valley cultures and companies, and the definition seems far less clear. Still, it''s my guess that either or both of these terms will make a more serious showing in job profiles and listings in 2013.

#3: More websites will move away from Google Analytics as the only provider of web visitor tracking

I read Russ Jones' post on Dropping Google Analytics for Piwik and it struck a chord. I think we're going to see more of this as marketers grow more suspicious of Google and less happy with relying on what the search giant does or doesn't grant. I do expect this trend to be small, but measurable, in 2013.

Benefcators will include folks like Piwik, but also potentially Omniture and Webtrends on the enterprise side (though both have UX and usability work to do to catch u with GA), and Clicky, Statcounter, Mint, Mixpanel, KISSMetrics, Hubspot, and others on the SMB end.

#4: Google+ will continue to grow in 2013, but much more slowly than in 2012

At last report (Dec. 6th via TNW), Google+ had 135mm active users viewing their streams on the service in a 30-day period, and 500mm total users. The total users number was only 90mm according to Google in January of 2012, meaning the service grew nearly 5X (unfortunately, we don't have earlier numbers on monthly actives).

In 2013, I'm predicting both numbers to grow 1.5-2X at maximum, and I'll be shocked if Google can reach more than 300mm active monthly users.

#5: App store search will remain largely ignored by marketers (for lots of defensible reasons)

Apple's App Store and Google's Play Store attracted a lot of attention over the last 2 years, but not much serious effort from marketers (with some notable exceptions), particularly on the SEO side. The reason's fairly clear – search on the app store isn't anything like web search. Brand searches are probably 80%+ of that market (I'd actually guess they're well over 90%), and the algorithm used to rank apps is based on basic keyword use and metrics like downloads and ratings, hence the rich get richer.

I thought Vibhu Norby's post Why We're Pivoting from Mobile-First to Web-First made a tremendous amount of sense, and while I respect and admire those who disagree (like USV's Fred Wilson), I think marketers as a whole and certainly a lot of startups, too, are going to come back to the web as the way to build a brand and mobile as a way to extend it when and where a device-specific format makes sense.

#6: Facebook (and maybe Twitter, too) will make substantive efforts to expose new, meaningful data to brands that let them better track the ROI of both advertising and organic participation

Both social media services are woefully underserving their advertisers and marketers today, and I predict that for paying customers as well as account administrators, more substantial and robust options will be available on the data side. A great match for marketers would be tracking via the Facebook share / Twitter tweet buttons that maps to account info in the platform's dashboard, e.g. 7,514 logged-in Twitter users visited this blog post of which 72 tweeted it. More data like sources of shares and click-tracking could add even more utility.

A good example might be what FourSquare's doing with their dashboards for businesses (though I think both need to go further on the data they provide):

FourSquare Dashboard

Twitter in particular could benefit hugely from this, while Facebook is already close(ish) with their admin portal. That said, I think it's unlikely we'll see Facebook fo as FourSquare has and share full names of users who visit.

#7: Google will introduce more protocols like the meta keywords for Google News, rel author for publishers, etc.

Google continues to keep SEO for their engine a complex, nuanced, and fast-changing practice through the launch of dramatic numbers of updates and introduction of new optimization protocols and opportunities. I don't see this slowing down anytime soon. 2012 saw the launch of the Google News Meta Keywords tag, the expansion of the Rel=Author/AuthorRank program, and the new Google+ for Local Business pages, among others.

In 2013, expect a few more of these to keep SEOs, publishers, and web businesses of all kinds on their toes. There's no rest for the optimization weary.

#8: The social media tool market will continue a trend of consolidation and shrinkage

I haven't seen this trend widely reported, but as we studied the social media tools market in 2011 and 2012 from a potential acquisitions perspective, we observed a surprising amount of tools and services shuttering (many of which, to be fair, were "features" not fully-baked products that could support and justify companies). We also noticed that 2012 in particular had far fewer wholly new social media monitoring/management/reporting/scheduling/analytics tools that the three prior years.

I'm guessing that 2013 will be the year this comes to a head, and the few dozen social tool companies who have substantive, loyal users will gobble up or copy the key features of their smaller, less-well-suited-for-long-term-survival competitors. 

#9: Co-occurrence of brands/websites and keyword terms/phrases will be proven to have an impact on search engine rankings through correlation data, specific experiments, and/or both

The idea of co-occurrence as a ranking factor is by no means new, but it got a lot more attention in 2012 thanks to a number of SEO industry folks discussing it on blogs, forums, and at conferences. One of Moz's most popular WB Fridays this year was on the subject: Anchor Text is Weakening… And May Be Replaced by Co-Occurrence. Bill Slawski wrote an excellent follow-on: Not All Anchor Text is Equal And Other Co-Citation Observations, and Joshua Giardino followed him with another good piece: It's Not Co-Citation, But It's Still Awesome.

#10: We'll witness a major transaction (or two) in the inbound marketing field, potentially rivaling the iCrossing acquisition in size and scope

Acquisitions and IPOs make headlines and they make the market's movers & shakers (and investors) stand up and take note. In 2010, iCrossing's $ 325mm acquisition by Hearst Media dominated headlines and got a lot of organic search-focused agencies (and big advertising/publishing brands) taking note. That acquisition marked one of the few massive exits in the SEO/inbound space and remains the largest transaction I'm aware of outside the email world (e.g. ConstantContact, iContact, etc). Eloqua's public offering in 2012 was a bright spot, too, and I think we're in for one or two more of those in 2013.

My money would be on the tools/software market (companies like Marketo, Hubspot, SearchMetrics, Conductor, Brightedge, Covario, Raven, Act-On, SproutSocial, Hootsuite, Ginza Metrics, etc) but I'm not confident enough to limit my prediction to the software space exclusively. Agencies may still be in the picture, and the big four advertising firms still have opportunity in the inbound realm, IMO.


2013 is going to move fast in our space. The relentless pace of innovation, change, and opportunity have little chance of slowing down, and that's a wonderful thing for all us in the marketing world. Hopefully, these predictions will provide some value to you – whether they do or not, I'd love to hear some of the expectations you have for what the world has in store for us in 2013.

Happy New Year and best wishes for a fantastic 2013!

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SEOmoz Daily SEO Blog

The Search Power Of Brand

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In that past, we’ve talked a lot about Google’s brand bias, but no matter how a brand is defined in technical terms, the reality is that Google cannot leave popular brand sites out of the search results.

If a person searches for, say, AVIS, and doesn’t see AVIS in the top spot, then as far as the searcher is concerned, Google is broken. If a person searches for various car rental terms and does not see AVIS somewhere, then it’s also likely they’ll expect Google is broken.

Google isn’t perceived as broken, however, if car-rental-cars-online.com is nowhere to be seen. Some might argue Google is doing the searcher a favour by ignoring such a site.

Crowded Planet

There was a time on the web when relevant information was harder to come by. Not so now. Now, we have too much information. We don’t even know how big the internet is. They’re guessing two trillion pages. And counting.

So, the real competition is clutter.

The real opportunity is to find clear space amongst the throng.

One way to do that is by developing a clear brand identity.

What Is A Brand

A logo? A set of graphics? A catchy name?

Not really.

Plenty of companies have logos, graphics and a catchy name but they do not have strong brand identities. A brand is largely about how other people define you. They define you based on the experience they have when engaging with you.

For example, take Apple. How would you define their brand? The logo? The shops? The fonts they use in their advertising?

These aspects are not Apple’s brand. Apple’s brand is in the way Apple’s customers feel about Apple. It’s a feeling tied up with concepts such fashion, design, innovation and quality – and unique to Apple.

This feeling creates a clear identity in the mind of the customer.

Having a clear identity makes you memorable. People will remember your site name. People will search for your site name. And when enough people do that, then there is little chance Google can ever drop you below number #1 for brand searches. If you get it right, Google will even rank you against relevant related keywords you aren’t targeting.

Because Google would look broken if it didn’t feature you.

Tooting our own horn here, but if you typed “seo book” into Google, and didn’t see this site, you’d think Google was broken. There are plenty of books on SEO, but only one “seo book” that owns a clear brand identity in this space. And SEO Book gets plenty of traffic from other search search related terms that it does not target, because Google associates the site so strongly with the “SEO education” niche. The people who search on SEO queries click on this site, and once they arrive, they don’t click back too often.

Own Your Space

Any company, no matter how small, can develop unique brands and build their own brand related search stream, and associated searches, over time.

If you run a small company, do you occupy clear space? By clear space, think focused, unique selling proposition. What is the thing you offer that others do not? If other people offer what you do, then what is the thing you do better? How do people describe you? Can they reduce it to an elevator pitch? Is what you offer focused, or confused?

It’s about more than providing something a bit unique. In a cluttered environment, like the web, it’s about creating something genuinely different. Probably radically different, given the high level of noise in the search results.

Once you have your differentiation down you can then advertise it, which creates further brand awareness: “High dwell campaigns are three times more efficient at stimulating branded search.”

This makes for a more defensible search marketing strategy, because it’s difficult for generic competition to emulate you once you’ve carved out a clear identity. It’s not about offering more features. Or a lower price. Those things are details. It’s about crafting a unique identity that others will know you by. Focus on the parts of your business that really make the money, and considering orienting your entire identity around that one aspect.

The problem with not having a clear identity and point of difference, when it comes to SEO, is that it is a constant battle to maintain position. Google can easily flush all the me-too sites that chase generic keywords and Google’s users aren’t going to complain. The sites with unique identities don’t have to spend near as much time, energy and money maintaining rank.

But hang on, doesn’t this go against everything SEO is about?

There’s nothing wrong with chasing generic terms. It’s a completely valid strategy. However, if we’re in it for the long haul, we should also make an effort to develop a clear, differentiated brand. It means we can own our space in the search results, no matter how Google changes in future.

Look at Trip Advisor. Google may be gunning for the travel space with their own content acquisitions, but they’re going to look deficient if they don’t display TripAdvisor. They are going to look deficient if they don’t show Trip Advisor when people are looking for just about any travel review queries, whether Trip Advisor is targeting them or not, because Trip Advisor are synonymous with travel reviews. By not featuring Trip Advisor, Google would merely encourage more people to by-pass Google and search Trip Advisor directly.

That’s a powerful place to be.

Not everyone can dominate the travel space like Trip Advisor, of course. But it is worth noting that Trip Advisor started small & the principle is the same, no matter what the niche. It’s about becoming the most memorable site in your niche. No matter if it’s poggo sticks for one legged dogs, then be the go-to site for poggo sticks for one legged dogs. Eventually, word gets around, and such a site become synonymous with poggo sticks for one legged dogs, and associated terms, whether they optimize for related terms, or not.

Google will associate keywords with this site in order to deliver a relevant result, and if this site owns the “poggo sticks for one legged dogs” niche, then their SEO workload is greatly reduced.

Are They Talking About You?

Your brand should be something people will talk about. Where are all the links coming from these days? Social networks. Google pays attention to social signals – tweets, Facebook, Google+ and other social links – because that is the way many links occur. They are markers of attention, and Google will always look for markers of attention.

And as their audiences click through to you, Google gets valuable signals about your relevance to entire groups of people. You can be sure Google is grouping these people by interest – creating demographic profiles – and if your site interests a certain group, then this will flow through into searches made by these groups. Google can also tie many of these users back to their identities by using persistent cookies & Google+.

That’s the way it’s going. SEO, and wider marketing and brand strategy, will all meld together.

Categories: 

SEO Book.com

What Happened on December 13th?

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Posted by Dr. Pete

On the morning of December 14th, MozCast registered the largest 24-hour Google ranking flux on record since we started tracking data in early April. The temperature for Thursday, December 13th was 102.2° F (for reference, the original Penguin update was 93.1°):

102 degrees

This was especially striking since I had just rolled out a small fix in our computations for a problem that was slightly overestimating temperatures on some days since the rollout of 7-result SERPs.  SERPmetrics confirmed substantial levels of 24-hour flux, and webmaster chatter suggested that people were seeing major ranking and organic traffic changes.

Unfortunately, Google was unable to confirm an algorithm update. So, where does that leave us? It turns out that it’s not an easy question.

The Big Signals

A while back we launched a set of five top-view metrics to help provide an at-a-glance view of patterns across the entire set of rankings MozCast tracks.  Only one of those metrics moved noticeably between December 13th and 14th – PMD Influence suffered a sizeable one-day drop. PMD Influence is the percentage of Top 10 results occupied my partial-match domains (PMDs). This includes hyphenated and non-hyphenated domains that contain the keyword phrase but are not an exact match. Here’s the 30-day view:

PMD Influence (30-day)

PMD Influence dropped from 3.73% on 12/13 to 3.54% on 12/14 (about a 5.1% drop in 24 hours). While my gut says that drop wasn’t the full picture, it’s a good place to start. So, which sites lost out in this change?

Across the 1,000 SERPs tracked, this PMD drop represents a change of only 18 partial-match domains that fell out of the top ten. It’s a bit more complicated than that, though. There were actually 36 PMDs that fell out of the top ten, and 18 new PMDs that entered the top ten, for a net difference of 18. Analyzing these domains one-by-one can turn into a wild goose chase pretty quickly, so let’s look at a couple of situations where a keyword lost multiple PMDs.

One query that lost two PMDs was “barbeque”. On 12/13 the following PMDs ranked in the top ten:

  1. www.springcreekbarbeque.com
  2. www.qbarbeque.com
  3. www.barbequeman.com
  4. scbarbeque.com
  5. www.waltsbarbeque.com

The next day, domains (4) and (5) fell out of the top ten. Domain (5) had been floating near the #10 spot, so that may be a fluke. Interestingly, for just one day, Wikipedia’s barbecue page fell completely out of the top ten, after ranking in the #1 position consistently. We’ll explore that in the next section.

Here’s another example with multiple PMD losses – the keyword “joannes" had three PMDs ranking on 12/13:

  • www.joannesbedandback.com
  • www.joannesbb.com
  • www.joannesgourmetpizza.com

The next day, only (1) remained. Again, (2) and (3) were taking up the tail end of the top ten, and in this case were bumped out by Yelp and Urban Spoon, so this change may be smaller than it initially looks.

One PMD that lost ranking caught my eye – a query for “gmaps”. On 12/13, the domain [www.mgmaps.com] fell out of the top ten. This turns out to be a shift from a 10-result SERP to a 7-result SERP, and the PMD was sitting at #8 prior to the shift. Interestingly, though, Google Maps, which had been sitting at #2, took the #1 spot and got site-links and a 7-result SERP. We’ll come back to this one.

Sorry – we’re not exactly making the situation clearer, are we? I want to illustrate just how complex the situation really is. I’ve come to believe that not even Google fully understands the dynamic system they’ve created. Ultimately, there were no clear patterns across the PMD changes, so let’s dive into a couple of specific situations.

A Wiki Situation

Wikipedia suffered a rare (albeit temporary) loss of their coveted #1 position for the query “barbeque”. Since Wikipedia holds the largest share of top-ten real estate in our data set, a major change to the site (such as a technical problem that caused temporary de-indexation) could cause very large-scale flux in the rankings. Luckily, we can run these numbers.

On 12/13, Wikipedia had a 4.56% top-ten share in our data set, which dropped to 4.41%, for a net loss of 14 rankings. This may not sound like much, until you recall that that change is on par with the 18 ranking PMD shift (and Wikipedia is just one site). In some ways, this seems to be an anomaly of 12/13 more than 12/14, as Wikipedia held a 4.46% share on 12/12. Historically, the 12/14 numbers aren’t unheard of – Wikipedia had a 4.82% share back in June, for example.

I should also note that the Wikipedia page in question for the query “barbeque” was actually the “/Barbecue” (alternate spelling) page. It’s possible that a spell-check adjustment or other very minor code tweak could have had unexpected repercussions.

This does go to show, though, how a site as powerful as Wikipedia can definitely have an impact on the overall SERP landscape. Like the PMDs, I don’t think it’s the entire picture, but it is a piece of the puzzle.

The Curious Case

Let’s go back to another oddity in the PMD analysis – the query for “gmaps”. On the morning of 12/14, the official Google Maps site not only jumped from #2 to #1, but it got site-links and a 7-result SERP, pushing out three domains. It’s easy to jump to conclusions and assume Google is favoring their own products, except that two pieces of data make that unlikely here.

The first clue is that Google Maps returned to the #2 position on 12/15 (and a 10-result SERP). The second is that we know that something big happened on 12/13 – Google Maps finally re-launched on Apple’s iOS6. Here’s a headline and time-stamp from Forbes:

Forbes headline for 12/13

Obviously, this story had a ripple effect across 12/13, and probably had a huge impact on metrics (CTR, dwell time, etc.) related to Google Maps and the official site. While this doesn’t help our quest to find the source of the update, it is interesting to note that a major news item could not only change a ranking, but cause a 7/10 shift in results. My ongoing investigations indicate that 7-result SERPs are highly dynamic and automatically change based on factors that may include user metrics and QDF (“freshness”).

The Big Movers

Everything to this point came out of just one data point – the PMD shift. Let’s go back to the beginning and ask the other obvious question – which queries changed the most from 12/13 to 12/14? This turns out to be a tricky question, because some queries are just naturally higher-flux than others. Typically, I compare the 24-hour “temperature” for any given query to the 7-day average for that query, to get a ratio. This helps indicate which queries are unusually high-flux. For 12/14, here are ten unusually high-flux queries (with temperatures):

  1. “knockout roses” (181°)
  2. “condo rentals” (168°)
  3. “rosatis pizza” (161°)
  4. “aerosoles store locator” (158°)
  5. “bj wholesale hours” (151°)
  6. “party stores” (143°)
  7. “kitchen sinks” (137°)
  8. “millionaire matchmaker” (125°)
  9. “celiac disease diet” (119°)
  10. “garnishment” (115°)

Any one query is an anecdote – the web changes. What we’re looking for in the data is a calling card of sorts – a story that ties these queries together. Unfortunately, the patterns are all over the place. Our top mover (1) was just a case of an eHow page jumping up the rankings. Two of these queries (6 and 10) have no clear explanation other than multi-spot shifts. Query (8) seems to be a case of QDF and has high volatility outside of the 7-day window.

Four queries (2, 4, 5, and 9) showed shifts in domain diversity. For three of them, one domain went from a single spot in the top ten to multiple spots. For query (5), though, one domain lost spots (diversity increased). Our top-view metrics aren’t showing any big overall shifts in domain diversity, but there are always winners and losers day-to-day.

Query (3) was another case where Wikipedia dropped out of the top ten, and (7) saw an Amazon product page fall from #1 to #10. In the case of (3), Yelp moved up and went from one ranking in the top ten to two. In both cases, the big sites regained their positions on 12/15, which is certainly interesting. If we look at the MozCast “Big 10” data, though, Wikipedia was still #1 and Amazon #2 on 12/14, and the overall SERP share of the Big 10 didn’t move much.

The Bigger Mystery

So, where does all of this leave us? A handful of people were kind enough to send me evidence of search traffic losses on 12/14, but it’s very difficult to reconcile these specific cases against MozCast’s sampling of top ten SERPs. I can’t pinpoint any single factor here, but it seems clear that the amount of change was unusual, and it can’t be simply explained by any single event (this data was all recorded prior to the tragic events in Connecticut, for example).

It’s possible that Google made a small change – so small that they didn’t even consider it an “update” – that had unexpected repercussions. It’s possible that something non-algorithmic but still under Google’s control happened, such as processing a large chunk of disavow requests (we have no evidence of this – just covering the bases). It could be that a small set of highly influential sites, like Wikipedia, made large-scale changes. Or it could just be a massive coincidence (although my gut still says no on this one).

I’d welcome further data and discussion. We’re actively working to expand the MozCast data set, and the next version of it will include some enhancements, including a keyword set that’s cleanly divided across some major categories/verticals. We’ll also be working in the new year to automate some of the analysis tools, so that we can process large numbers of SERPs more quickly. We’re learning as we go, and I hope the exploration is useful.

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SEOmoz Daily SEO Blog

Introducing New Followerwonk Engagement Metrics for Twitter

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Posted by @petebray

At Followerwonk, we're all about helping our customers find, engage, and optimize their Twitter audience. We're relentlessly focused on letting you dig into your followers, do advanced searches to help plumb the depths of Twitter, track your social graph, and more.

We're excited for you to explore some of the new metrics we've rolled out today! This new data goes beyond "simple" (yet useful!) items like follower count, friend count, and so on (things that are easily available for our app to process). Our new metrics require us to deeply crawl Twitter users' timelines (that is, their actual tweets and retweets). With this, we're able to surface data that offers new ways for you to better understand your audience, competitors, and prospects.
 
So, without further ado, let's go to the screenshot…
 
 
As you can see, we now tell you an overall engagement percentage for users. Essentially, this tells you how much that user interacts with others on Twitter. For example, users with 82% engagement means that 82% of sampled items from their timeline are @mentions or retweets of other people.
 
Indeed, this engagement metric is composed of two underlying scores that we also surface for you. @Contact is the percentage of a user's timeline that consists of tweets that directly mention another person (you know, a tweet that begins with @name). And Retweets is the percentage of retweets in their timeline.
Finally, in the Tweets with URLs metric, we'll tell you how often their tweets contain links.
 
There are a lot of different actionable strategies you can use this data for, and I want to walk you through a few different scenarios that'll also show you where we're surfacing this data right now. (We plan for more exhaustive ways to bubble this data up to you in the new year.)
 
A few caveats before I begin: this data is "expensive." It requires a lot of API calls, storage, and analysis. As such, we currently only provide these metrics on select Twitter users: namely, those with more than 2,500 followers and, of course, all our Pro members' Twitter accounts. (We do plan to continually expand these metrics to more and more of the Twittersphere.) We also feel that this data is valuable, and so it's exclusively available to PRO users. (If you aren't already a subscriber, this might be just the reason to bring you into the fold!)
 
Listeners vs Broadcasters
 
The bottom-line is that you ideally want to find people who will be receptive to @mentions, and who, if they follow you, are consuming your tweets. There's nothing necessarily wrong with "broadcasters" (those who never engage, and simply tweet URLs and observations). In fact, these accounts are often extremely popular simply because they've honed a particular message strategy that works for them.
 
But the real gold in terms of social media is to find an audience who listens to you: that is, they're likely to engage with you, consume your tweets, and retweet your message to their audience. Ultimately, the real sweet spot is to find this receptive audience among highly influential users (those who, when they retweet you, echo your message far and wide).
 
 
With this in mind, we can use Followerwonk's bio search to search for users with, say, "SEO" in their bio. The results come back sorted by follower count (a good proxy for influence, but we can also order by influence), and we can then rollover each user to find their engagement rate to better understand their likelihood of returning an @mention of them.
 
 
By looking at the percentage of their tweets that contain URLs, we can also find those accounts that may have limited value (and who may be spammers).
 
 
Finding your most receptive followers
 
Of course, while trawling through random Twitter users may be useful, it is perhaps less productive than digging into who follows you right now. There are several ways to do that. For example, in the advanced search options in bio search, you can limit results to just your followers. This will let you search for "SEO" users among only those who follow  you.
 
Of course, we already have special features to more capably examine all of your followers. That's the Analyze feature.
 
And we've now included a few new graphs that surface these new metrics for you.
 
 
Here, examining @followerwonk's followers, we can view a breakdown of our followers by their engagement. You can run these reports for your own account (or on competitors, friends, customers, and so on). That way, you can click on any of the segments and receive overlays of users in that segment. And, on mouseover, we tell you more details on their engagement:
 
 
Of course, you're not limited to this interface. Click the download button and you'll have an Excel (or CSV) report of all of your followers on your desktop in minutes. With that, you can do all sorts of goodness.
 
 
Here, I can sort this data to find all those users who tweet 100% URLs. This is a strong spam signal (but not always, of course). There's some thinking that followers of yours who are "spammy" might decrease your overall influence or network reach. In some ways, this is similar to incoming links to your Web site from "bad neighborhood" sites. What to do? Here's where you can possibly optimize your followers (admit you thought that was a strange expression when I said it above!). Use these spreadsheets to assemble a list of possible spam accounts, do further diligence on them (looking at their actual tweets, for example), and consider forcing them to unfollow you. How? Block 'em.
 
Finding a competitive sweet spot
 
Let's say you're an startup soda company. (Is there such a thing anymore?)
 
You want to aggressively court those customers who are going to really take your message of corn syrupy goodness far and wide. Here's how you can use Followerwonk to help. In this example, we're analyzing 3 of the big boys among soda companies:
 
 
Note that we can compare these companies' engagement. This helps us plan our social media strategy: it might be useful to match their engagement level  Or, maybe not: you might want to run a bit of a contrary course.
 
Since we've done a deep analysis of these accounts social graphs, we can dig deeper:
 
 
You can probably assume that those people who follow all 3 of these soda companies are serious soda-heads. (Is that a thing?) A quick click, and we have another overlay of these users, and a mouseover will tell us all about them, in terms of those most likely to be receptive to our great new soda.
 
And, yes, you can download these reports into Excel/CSV, too.
 
Laying the groundwork
 
As I mentioned, we're expanding these stats across a wider swath of Twitter users, and we're working on other ways to surface them to you.
 
These new engagement stats are the start of a lot of great new features we have in store for you. In fact, the reason we have these metrics at all is because we need them for something even cooler! You'll just have to wait and see what we've got in store for you…
 
Meanwhile, please do let us know what you think. Don't forget to find me on Twitter and say hello!

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SEOmoz Daily SEO Blog

A Web Marketing Consultant’s New Year’s Resolutions

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Posted by Mike Pantoliano

Ah, the "year-end," "best-of," and "what-to-look-forward-to" posts. Love it or hate it, it's a great time to both reflect on 2012 and glimpse into the New Year for what possible stories will dominate our industry. I'm never one to dwell in the past, so I'd like to focus on 2013.

Instead of a simple 2013 predictions list, I'd like to frame this discussion as a New Year's resolution list. What are the things that we should focus on improving? Some of this is based on where things are trending, while others are based on areas where I personally feel like a lot of us could make improvements.

Mostly, I'd just like to spark some discussion about what may be important in 2013.

We will continue to think of the big picture

Most of the time I blog or speak at conferences, I talk about SEO's bordering disciplines – analytics, content strategy, marketing campaigns, PPC, conversion rate optimization, etc. I've done this intentionally because it forces me to dwell on a specific subset of the whole web marketer.

With these new tools in our web marketer's tool kit, we're (hopefully) able to think bigger and ask better questions.

  • Do I really want to be building links to these pages at this time when I know they'll never convert? Perhaps a portion of my budget should be spent on CRO.
  • Should this "link bait" campaign be supplemented with some social paid advertising? What might that look like in terms of expected cost and ROI?
  • How does this content strategy I've developed fit with my clients' company-wide goals and prioritizations? Perhaps I could fast-track my strategy's implementation by more closely aligning it with a broader marketing campaign that's already in process?

One of my goals in the early months of 2013 is to develop a full marketing plan for one of my clients. A marketing plan in which nothing is off the table – video, mobile, display advertising, and even more traditional offline advertising. How are you planning to keep the big picture in mind?

We will learn more about Mobile/Video/Schema/Local/SOMETHING

There are a million things in web marketing that can be learnt. Time isn't unlimited though, so sometimes you have to pick your battles. Most of my career, the things I've learned about have been dictated by my (sometimes potential) clients' needs. For choosing a battle, you can make a case for leveling up in mobile, video, schema, local, and a lot more.

My personal choice is mobile. To this point, I've not yet been solely responsible for work on a mobile SEO audit, mobile strategy, or otherwise. Based on the undeniable shift in importance of mobile, I want to preempt clients' needs. There are two aspects of mobile that I'm most interested in:

Mobile Search

iphone mobile search

Maybe 2013 is the "Year of Mobile Search." These sorts of things don't happen in a single year, though. More than likely 2012-2015 will be the years of mobile search, much like 2009-2012 were the years of social.

Now would be a great time to dive in, develop an understanding, and maybe get some ROI benchmarks for the future – especially when it comes to paid mobile advertising (as CPMs will likely never be lower).

Mobile App Analytics

mobile app tracking

Google Analytics has clearly been hard at work on improving their mobile app tracking. With apps becoming an increasingly common piece of any brand's content strategy, the need for engagement measurement will only grow.

What do you think about this one? Which aspect of web marketing should we be focusing if we want to stay ahead of the curve?

We will read MORE/LESS industry blogs and publications

rss banner

Three years ago or so, I began to cull my SEO-related Google Reader. Just give me the essentials! This eventually culminated in the complete abandonment of RSS about a year later. The thought was that anything super important would surely come across my eyes and ears via Twitter, email, or real life discussions.

This was largely a success; I've spent much more time doing, and less time consuming others' work. Still, I think the pendulum has swung a bit too far to the other side.

This one's a really personal one, so I won't dwell on it, but I think the overall idea applies to everyone: I want to read just enough to keep me informed, but not too much that distracts me from what's important; the work.

We will accept (not provided) and adapt as necessary

not provided increasing
What's that orange line? A successful link building project? Sadly, it's not (provided).

(not provided) really does suck. Whatever methodology we've chosen for overcoming the increasingly frustrating loss of our keyword data, it will never quite be as nice as it was before October 2011. 100% keywords are a luxury we no longer have, and by the end of 2013 we might be lucky to be working with 20%.

Adaptation is our only option. I've chosen to spend more time in my landing page reports. Some may choose to work on extrapolating known data. It's up to you. The worst choice is to do nothing at all.

We will continue to closely watch G+ and its effect on search

google plus banner
Oh Hai. To ignore me is futile! 🙂

Love or hate G+, the search engine that commands ~75% of the search market share has thrown a colossal amount of weight behind their social network. That's reason enough to listen.

What are your New Year's Resolutions?

Everyone is at different stages of their web marketing careers, so I don't want to pretend that all of my resolutions apply to everyone.

What are you expecting from 2013? What areas are you looking to improve the most?

Happy New Year!!

Lastly, on behalf of all of the Moz bloggers I want to wish you all the best in 2013!

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SEOmoz Daily SEO Blog

Laying the Groundwork for a Local SEO Campaign

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Local SEO has the undeserved reputation of being “easy” and “not a lot of work”. The competitiveness of keywords might be less competitive than broader keywords but there still is a fair amount of work that goes into getting the campaign off and running properly.

On the whole, keywords targeted in local SEO campaigns are less competitive than their broader counterparts but there are also mitigating factors to consider when determining the overall difficulty of the campaign.

Consideration also needs to be given to how the following factors will effect the overall difficulty of producing a successful campaign:

  • relationship between keyword volume, difficulty, and conversion ROI for the client on both Google and Bing
  • prevalence of Google/Bing local inserts (need to factor in the wonkiness of these ranking algorithms as well)
  • appropriateness and value of setting up and running social media profiles for the client
  • link difficulty (depending on the client’s niche)
  • availability of other online traffic generation options (buying exposure on other sites where the target market is)
  • the client’s desire to engage in pre-campaign PPC to more accurately determine search volume for a more accurate setting of expectations
  • client’s budget
  • your margins

Some of what I mentioned above doesn’t really fall into the “difficulty” of ranking for keywords, but ranking is only a piece of the overall puzzle. You should have an idea of how difficult the entire process will be, because it’s more than just rankings at this stage (and has been for awhile).

Building the Campaign Framework

There are a number of pre-campaign, post-campaign, during-campaign tools you can use for these kinds of campaigns but you don’t have to go nuts. Local search stats can be small enough to make extrapolation without PPC or historical analytics data fruitless with respect to actionable date

When you begin to layout your campaign process you could follow a broader roadmap and adjust as necessary. For example, your specifics might change if you are working with an existing site rather than a new one (no historical data, no initial on-site reviews to do, etc).

While links are still and will continue to be uber-important for the foreseeable future, it is wise to consider the rise of site engagement, social signals, and online PR. This is why when we talk about “local SEO” we talk about things like strategic ad buys, social media plays, and PPC for research purposes.

Local SEO can be a lead-in to an entire marketing campaign as we discussed here, so we’ll leave ongoing PPC, email marketing, offline ad integration, etc for those kinds of discussions but just know that once you get your foot in the door the door can open pretty wide. The more you can do and the better you do it the better your retention rate will be.

Keyword Research

The biggest thing to do is set expectations. If you come running in with unqualified keyword volume reports you are really starting from a level of distrust, even if the client doesn’t know it yet. If the client isn’t interested in some initial PPC then it’s in your best interest to clue them in on the potential inaccuracy of various keyword tools.

For an existing site you can pull keyword search data from whatever analytics package the client has as well as from both sets of webmaster tools (Bing and Google). You can cross reference that with current rankings to see where you might be able to score some quick wins.

For a new site, set up accounts on Google’s Webmaster Tools as well as Bing’s. These will come in handy down the road for more keyword data, link data, and site health reviews.

We’ve talked about local SEO keyword research via PPC before and on top of that, or in lieu of that if the client isn’t interested, you can get some local and a bunch of broader keywords from tools like:

In addition to keyword research tools, you can you a couple of free tools to help generate and populate local keywords:

The second tool combines search terms with local modifiers in a given radius of the area you select.

If you find local volume lacking I suggest the following steps:

  • Start with the targeted town’s (or towns) name and/or zip code(s) as modifiers
  • Move up to a bigger nearby town or county if needed
  • If volume is still sparse, move up to state level keyword modifiers
  • Couple those bits of research with what the non-locally modified results show to see if you can find overlapping relationships between core keywords (medical insurance versus health insurance, or car insurance versus auto insurance, etc)
  • Move into Google Trends and Insights to further qualify the broader keywords by region and state
  • If no clear winner emerges, err on the side of where the broader volume is

Site Architecture and Content

Quite a few local sites are going to be your brochure-style sites. Site structure can vary quite a bit depending on the size and scope of the site. Since most local sites focus on a particular product or service (rather than being Amazon.Com) it is wise to keep the following in mind:

  • stay far, far away from duplicate and NEAR duplicate content (if the client is an insurance agent don’t have similar pages like acmeinsurance.com/car-insurance, /auto-insurance, /vehicle insurance)
  • also, avoid using the town/city names as the only modifiers where no difference exists between services or products (acmeinsurance.com/town1-auto-insurance, /town2-autoinsurance, /town3 autoinsurance)
  • get the client involved in the content writing, they generally have lots of marketing or product material that you can pull from and give to a writer for topical ideas and industry jargon
  • consider hiring on a well-respected job board like problogger.net for specific content needs (finance, home/garden, food, etc)
  • don’t overdo internal linking with keyword rich anchors, especially on navigation (try to keep it broad from a keyword standpoint…Car Insurance vs Providence Car Insurance as an example)
  • use tools like screaming frog and xenu to assess overall on-page health, structural integrity, and internal linking stats
  • microsoft also has an on-page assessment tool available on windows
  • write your page titles and meta descriptions with click-thru’s in mind while mixing in broad and local keyword variations to help describe the site rather than simply to keyword stuff

Tools like Google’s Page Speed and Yslow can provide you with detailed analysis on potential site loading issues prior to launch. I have found that printing these out before/after is a good way to show the client, who typically is a novice, some of the stuff that is going on behind the scense. Clients like before and afters (when the after is more favorable than the before of course).

Tracking

Tracking is key, naturally, so you’ll need to pick an analytics package. There are some decent Google Analytics alternatives, if you aren’t interested in dealing with the borg. That said, you can choose from some fairly full-featured packages

For ease of use and feature sets I tend to either go with Clicky, Mint or Google Analytics. I haven’t spent much time with Woopra and I find Piwik to not be as intiuitive or as user friendly as the other 3 I mentioned (which is even more important when the client wants/needs access.)

Speaking of tracking, you should consider getting familiar with a cheap virtual phone number vendor (I would recommend phone.com) as well as Google’s URL builder for tracking potential adverts and media buys down the road (as well as offline adverts if you end up servicing that aspect of the client’s marketing campaign). If you use Google Analytics, another cool tool to use is Raven’s Google Analytics configuration tool

I generally recommend staying away from tracking numbers because it can screw up your Google Places rankings and trust but when I use them I typically just make them images on whatever page they are being listed on and I never use them for IYP citations (listings on sites like Yelp, Yellowpages, Merchant Circle, etc).

Planning Out Link Building

For local sites, you’ll want to attack link building on two fronts: 1. External links 2. Citations.

Before you get into any of the link planning, you should get the client set up in KnowEm. KnowEm will help get the client on all the relevant social networks and goes a long way in establishing the base for the client to control it’s branded searches and branded SERPs.

You can choose from a variety of packages from basic registration to complete profile set up (bio’s, pictures, descriptions, etc). Once these profiles are built, you can begin building links to them (and link to them from the client’s site) to further the client’s domination of their own branded SERPs.

For citations, I would recommend using Whitespark (we reviewed it here). Whitespark really is an essential tool in building citations, tracking citations, and doing competitive citation research. Speaking of citations, each year David Mihm releases the Local Search Ranking Factors and I would highly recommend saving each year’s version and refer back to it when designing your citation building plan(s).

As for traditional link building, it’s fairly similar to non-local link building with respect to the broader overview of link outreach but can be niched down to focus on locality for both link equity and qualified traffic.

Some of the things you can do at the beginning of the link planning process would be:

  • make a list of the vendors you use, find out if they have a site and would be willing to link to you
  • local papers tend to have really favorable online advertising rates, exposure runs a close second to links and part of how I like to approach the link building process is to be everywhere (online) locally; play hardball for a bit on the rates and you’ll be surprised about the relatively cheap, local exposure you can buy
  • set up google alerts for your client’s brand and for local topics relevant to their product/service
  • talk to other local businesses about co-promotions on both your site, their site, and your social networks (if available)
  • if you offer coupons and discounts to certain groups or demographics, get those posted on local sites as well; many local sites do not have sophisticated ad serving technology so you often get a nice, relevant, clean link back to your client’s site
  • in addition to competitive link research you can pull the backlinks of local chambers of commerce and local travel/tourist sites to find potential link opportunities
  • run a broken link checker on local resource sites, specifically ones that deal with local events, news, tourism and see if there are link opportunities for your client

Infographic ideas for local clients, depending on the niche, can be found fairly easily and can bring in lots and lots of local links and exposure. Every state and many towns/cities have Wikipedia pages which link out to demographic statistics. There is a trove of data available and if you can be creative with the data + your client’s niche there are lots of opportunities for you.

For instance, in Rhode Island insurance rates are typically higher than neighboring states (Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, etc). The reasons generally are things like exposure to coastal regions, proximity of towns to city center, accident history, etc. You could easily make a decent infographic about this. Local news and resource sites would probably be willing to gobble it up. If you were able to interview insurance company spokespeople you could find yourself with some pretty good exposure and some pretty solid links.

Expectations and Budget

The reality is that if you do not properly set expectations (maybe think about showing the client how the sausage is made pre-campaign) and you take whatever budget comes your way you will not be able to provide quality service for very long, the campaign will not succeed, and you may do irreparable harm to your brand in your local market.

If you have other results and testimonials to fall back on, as well as a solid plan mapped out (that can be explained to the client), then you’ve held up your end of the bargain with respect to providing a fair proposal for your time and effort. Sometimes the initial planning is the most time-intensive part of a local campaign.

Plan it out correctly from the beginning and you should be able to produce the results required to keep the client and build up your brand in your local market.

SEO Book.com

8 Copy Editing Tricks to Make You Look Professional – Whiteboard Friday

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Posted by Erica McGillivray

Top secret: editing your own writing is the worst part of writing. We all hate it, whether we label ourselves writers, SEOs, Doctor Who fans, and/or magical princesses. Stepping back from your own writing to give it polish is hard. Typos, badly constructed paragraphs, awkward phrases, or just general poor writing jump out when someone else writes it. But moi? I would never do that. And neither would you.

However, reality is that today no matter our titles, most of us are required to write, and we need editing help. I hope you'll be able to find some tips to help you in what can sometimes be an arduous process. But maybe you'll find a little love, a little magic, and transform your writing into something beautiful.

P.S. Advanced grammar students: go forth with the diagramming of sentences.

"I really do not know that anything has ever been more exciting than diagramming sentences." — Gertrude Stein
 

Video Transcription

"Howdy SEOmoz fans. It's Whiteboard Friday. I'm Erica, and I'm the Community Attachè here at SEOmoz. Today we're going to talk about copy editing and things you can do to make yourself look more professional.

I realize many of you, we started out as SEOs. A couple of years ago, in the industry, it was like keyword research. Where am I ranking? The most copy you ever wrote was like a meta description, maybe a product description.

But today, the world of SEO, as we know, is drastically changing. We're doing all sorts of copywriting these days. Content marketing is huge. You've got guest blogging. We're all over, and a lot of you are really frustrated because you're like, "Man, I wish my writing was better. I wish I had a writer on my staff to help me out." But sometimes you are that person who is doing a little bit of everything. I've totally been there.

So today we're just going to talk about how to make your copy editing magical and make you look a little more professional. People will be like, "Wow, I knew you were an amazing SEO. I didn't know what a great writer you were too."

So these are some little handy-dandy tricks I try to remember any time I am writing.

So the first thing you want to do is you want to identify your why. Why are you writing this piece? What are you trying to accomplish by going out there and talking about it? Like when I sat down to outline my Whiteboard Friday, I said, "I have this knowledge about copy editing. I want to share it with SEOmoz's audience because I know you'll find it valuable, especially if you're going to write a YouMoz or something.

So if you can focus really on your piece and figure out that why it is so important with you, that's really going to make sure that your piece, that your writing comes together. If you're writing about kittens or unicorns or if you're writing a serious piece about using Google Analytics, importing into Excel, and doing all the crazy, amazing SEO things I know all of you know how to do.

So the second thing that you want to focus on is finding your voice. Every writer writes a little bit differently, just as every person is a little different. As you continue to write and continue to practice, there will be certain words you use. There will be certain ways you phrase things that really identify who you are.

One of the funnest things I like to play with is using styles or voices from other people. So, for instance, I've totally written a blog post as Rand, and it was kind of funny. Can I sound like Rand? Where can I go? Or I used to – and now Ashley our content specialist has taken this over – write the SEOmoz newsletter. One time I wrote as Roger, but as Captain Kirk doing a little captain's log. So you can have a lot of fun with your voice and your style. Don't be afraid to be a little kooky. Give it a little personality. Show who you are. Show what you're interested in.

The third tip, which is going more, once you've written your piece, you're kind of pulling back into the finer editing stage. Read your work aloud. Just do it. Sit there and go slowly. If you have to print it out, do it old school, and just read every word you've written.

When I was a kid, I had this problem where I would always skip over the little words like the, a and. My teachers would just paper full of red. Like what happened? I finally broke that habit when I went to college, and I started printing out my essays and reading them slowly aloud. I'm sure my dorm mate was like super thrilled to hear my essays about ancient Celtic languages, for instance.

But it will so much improve your writing, because you'll notice things. You'll read it and you'll like, "Wow, this doesn't make any sense. What was I even thinking?"

It helps with some of those more embarrassing typos or confusion if your sentences are getting really long and complicated, especially as you're diving into more advanced topics.

So my fourth tip is put your writing aside. I'm sure many of you have suffered from writer's block or just frustrations when you get to the editing part. You just don't want to let it go. Writers often call this killing your babies, which is kind of vulgar maybe. But we get really attached to what we've written, and we can't always see how to edit it and how to bring it back in and really refine our piece.

Maybe you start a draft and you set it aside and maybe you come back to it tomorrow. Maybe you come back to it six months to a year from now. You never know when it's . . . if it's something you love and it's something you're passionate about, maybe you can't push it. But sometimes maybe it's just that 24 hours, because I realize a lot of you are also out there writing things that are super time sensitive that you have to get out right away, which brings me to the next point.

Ask a friend to edit. If you're doing something really time sensitive, this is extremely helpful. If your friend has any editing experience, it's even better. You never know what crazy typos you're going to send out into the world or what crazy communication flubs, or maybe your piece just needed like five paragraphs cut out of it. Having someone you trust and someone who you can respect their opinion goes even further.

You definitely don't want to do things like I've done where I was sending out an email about fly fishing clothing and in the subject line I put,
"Flying fishing clothing sale today" or something like that. It just really helps you from making that mistake and then going, "Oh, what did I do? Oh no."

Friends can also be great at telling you what's good about your writing and encouraging, bringing those themes out. I just wrote an essay about Dr. Who. My editor came back to me, and she was like, "You know, you've been doing too much recapping. Cut this, cut this, cut this." I was kind of sitting there like, oh my gosh, wilting flower. I don't want to kill my babies. But what my editor was great about was she said, "You know, I really love what you're doing here and here and here. Let's bring that out." So at the end of the day, I had to do a super bunch of editing, but it helped me to know what the best things were out of that piece too. So criticism is both a negative and a positive.

Getting a little more into the technical, a lot of you out there are like, "How can I be better with my grammar?" I get a lot of questions from people at SEOmoz about grammar things, like, "Should I put a comma here? What the hay. Where do I go? How can I improve my grammar stuff?"

The first thing, which I suggest, is looking at what's called active versus passive voice. Active means exactly what you all know the word means. Active means that you're out and about. Your language is springy versus passive it's just kind of in the corner. It's like the wallflower at the party. You don't really care.

So, for instance, if you had the sentence, "The dog was jumping on the bed." You're dog is bad. Your dog is jumping on your bed. But it's just kind of boring. If you're like, "The dog jumps on the bed," it's much more active. It tells you what the dog is doing. It brings that sentence to life. Often it's just a simple switch of moving what you're talking about at the end to the beginning.

You can look up more about active versus passive voice online. It's known to be verbs are passive.

The next thing you want to do is look at your sentence lengths. You want to vary them. A lot of people get really long winded when they're writing because they're trying to cram everything in. You get these super long sentences that are all the way to the ground. If you just step back and look and be like, "Oh, I can put periods here. I can shorten it." You can have a short sentence and a long sentence. It's a littlie advanced, but it will make your writing much more snappy and sound like people actually converse.

For those of you who are really, really advanced in your grammar, here's my last tip. Learn to diagram sentences. I'm sure my 7th and 8th grade English teachers are very happy that I'm recommending this to you. But if you really want to know grammar and if you really struggle with it, learn how to diagram sentences so you can identify the subject of your sentence, the verb of your sentence the object, and any sort of clauses or anything. Then you can figure out, if people come to you and say like, "You always have run-on sentences, you always have incomplete sentences," these are the type of things that if you can identify the parts of the sentence, you can say,
"Oh, I know exactly why this sentence isn't working. Or I know why it's not communicating clearly to my audience." But that's just your advanced homework.

So I hope that all of you will learn these magical tips and transform your writing. You can now go from just an ordinary SEO to something more magical."

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