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How To Analyze An Industry

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Are you planning on starting a new website but want to gauge how profitable the industry sector is before you do? Are you optimizing a site for a client but want to gain a better understanding of the industry in which they operate? Conducting an industry analysis will help identify advantages and any weaknesses a business may have in that industry, and clarify the forces that shape that industry. The better we understand the industry, the more likely we are to grasp the opportunities others may miss.

If a business has a weak position relative to their competitors then optimization efforts might be ineffective as customers will simply click a few different search results and compare offerings.

Then again, a business may enjoy advantages in areas that aren’t currently being exploited. Focusing your optimization and positioning efforts in these areas will likely pay higher dividends than optimizing in areas where competitors are strongest. Understanding the forces at work in the industry will help reveal these areas.

I like to analyze industries prior to the optimization process as I find I get a lot of ideas just by breaking the industry down into component parts. Where is the profit in this industry? Is this industry growing quickly? If so, should the emphasis be on acquiring new customers? Or is it stagnant, in which case should the emphasis be on taking market share from competitors? What areas do competitors focus on? What areas do they miss? Where are competitors most vulnerable?

There are various frameworks for conducting an industry analysis. You may have heard of a SWOT analysis, but today we’ll take a look at Porter’s Five Forces analysis.

Why Industry Analysis Is Useful

If you were examining the web design industry, you’d soon come across crowdsourcing sites, such as 99designs.

The existence of these types of sites signal a power imbalance in the design industry. The customer has significant power in that they can request that professional designers submit near-finished work in order to compete for their business.

Some may argue that this is a marketing cost for designers – a way to advertise and get in front of people, but however we look at it, it soon becomes clear the profitability of the web design industry is constrained by two forces: the power of buyers and the low barrier to entry to new competitors. Just about anyone can set-up shop as a web designer. Since suppliers are plentiful, the buyers can easily play the suppliers off against one another – quite literally, in the case of 99designs!

Once we understand these industry forces, we could alter our plan of attack if we were marketing a web design agency. One possible approach would be to focus on geographical advantages. If you’re a web designer based in New York, you’re probably going to get more work out of New York based firms than if you lived in Oklahoma. A marketing campaign that emphasizes the unique selling point of physical location might work well in that it mitigates a force that is strong and operates against them i.e. the number of competitors. If they focus on local, they’ll be competing with local designers, not designers from all over the country, or around the world. Such a business might make a big deal of the fact they’ll come and see their clients face-to-face, their centrally located offices, their geographic location, and the fact they have local knowledge and contacts.

That unique selling point is determined once we’ve made an effort to understand the forces at work in the industry.

The Five Forces

The five forces are:

  • The Power Of Suppliers
  • The Power Of Buyers
  • Barriers To Entry
  • Competitive Rivalry
  • The Availability Of Substitutes

If there are unfavourable power imbalances in a few of those forces, then the industry as a whole is likely to have profitability problems that need to be countered. Here is a further breakdown of these areas, as well as a five forces worksheet.

Let’s compare our web design agency against those five forces.

Power Of Suppliers? Suppliers being people who supply the web businesses with anything they need to produce their output. Suppliers, such as graphics software vendors, have virtually no power in the web design industry. A web designer needs a computer, office space and software, all of which are commodity items. Supply risk is therefore not a significant threat to the profitability of web designer businesses.

The Power Of Buyers? High. Buyers have a lot of choice as the industry is saturated with suppliers.

Barriers To Entry? Low. Anyone with a computer, design skills, and an internet connection can compete.

Competitive Rivalry? Medium/High. There are a lot of agencies chasing prestige work and may take a loss to land work from name companies. This gives them bragging rights and the association may help future marketing efforts.

The Availability Of Substitutes? Medium. A website is a marketing channel. A company could decide to spend money on other channels. They could substitute web design spend for some other marketing spend.

This industry clearly has profitability challenges. By emphasizing local, and a high touch service, a design firm could counter the competitive rivalry force and the barrier to entry force to some degree, and thus limit the power of buyers by focusing on buyers who place high value on face-to-face meetings. That’s just one idea, I’m sure you can think of a few more, but notice how easily these ideas spring to mind once you have a good idea of the forces at work in the industry.

How To Make A Five Forces Analysis

Define The Industry:

  • What are the geographic boundaries of this industry?
  • What products and/or services are in this industry?

Define The Players:

  • Who are the buyers?
  • Who are the suppliers?
  • Who are the competitors?
  • What are the substitutes?
  • Who are the potential entrants?

What are the drivers of each competitive force? Grade them on relative weakness vs strength. Make a note of why they are either weak or strong.

Determine Industry Structure

  • Why is this industry profitable?
  • What forces make it profitable?
  • Are some competitors better positioned in terms of the five forces than others?

Analyze Changes

  • Which forces are changing now, or likely to change in future? Can your business bring about any of these changes? Can your competitors?

Digging Deeper

A common mistake when undertaking this analysis is to define competition too narrowly. Competition is often deemed to be “the other guy who offers the same service”, and that’s the end of it.

By examining each force, we gain a more thorough understanding of how competition works in the industry. This can be useful when constructing an seo/sem campaign, as you may be able to find weak forces in one or more areas that you can exploit. For example, one opportunity might be substitute products. What is your clients product or service a substitute for? You could then target the existing customers of another substitute product or service and encourage them to switch.

Why Five?

The five forces help determine the potential of an industry as they keep us from focusing on any one element. We need to consider all elements in order to get a better idea of industry profitability.

For example, we may note that an industry is growing quickly, but if we disregard the fact there is no barrier to entry, we might overestimate the profit potential. The search marketing industry has been growing quickly, but there are no barriers to entry, so this shifts a lot of power to the buyer and away from suppliers. It’s also an industry where numerous substitution options exist i.e. there are numerous internet marketing channels, and it’s possible some customers will get more bang for their buck using other channels.

The five factors strategy helps us see how much profit is bargained away to customers and suppliers. We focus on structural considerations as a whole, as opposed to isolated factors.

Defining The Industry

It can often be difficult to determine the industry boundaries.

An industry can be defined too broadly or too narrowly. For example, an analysis of the web marketing industry may determine it is global, however marketing is often highly dependent on cultural aspects. A more narrow industry definition, including regionality and geographical factors, might be more applicable when it comes to quantifying the level of competition. The marketing industry in the USA is a different “industry” from the marketing industry in France as most marketing activity undertaken in the US is conducted by US based marketing companies, and very little by suppliers from France. Therefore, the supplier in France and the supplier in the US are in “different” industries from a competitive standpoint. One does not compete directly with the other as their focus is likely to be on their own geographic markets.

There are two main factors in deciding industry boundaries:

  • Scope of the products or services
  • Geographical boundaries. Does competition take place globally, or is it regional?

You can use the five forces to help determine the industry boundaries. If the industry structure is the same i.e. same buyers, same suppliers, barriers to entry, and so on, then treat it as the same industry. If the industry forces are different, then treat it as a separate industry for the purposes of this analysis.

Are soft drinks for the home and soft drinks for corporate buyers – such as McDonalds – the same industry for the purposes of analysis? Possibly not. Soft drinks to consumers are heavily marketed on b2c channels and packaged in small, individual containers. Distribution needs to be very wide to get each of these small containers physically close to the consumers. Into vending machines, for example. Sales of soft drinks to corporate buyers, however, are likely to occur via b2b channels, where purchasing is done strategically and delivery is in the form of bulk syrup. The forces are quite different, even though product is exactly the same.

Barrier To Entry

When the barrier to entry is low, incumbents must hold down their prices or boost investment to deter new entrants. The way to counter a low barrier to entry force is attempt to raise it.

Anyone can make a burger, and anyone can get into the burger making business, but few could compete with McDonalds. McDonalds counter the low barrier to entry force by buying up well-positioned locations, operating at significant scale to keep prices low, and investing heavily in brand awareness. This raises the barrier to entry for anyone trying to offer something similar to McDonalds.

Many SEO companies spend a lot of time at conferences and keeping their names “out there”, which goes some way to counter the low barrier to entry in a business where just about anyone can call themselves an SEO. Software companies will likely invest heavily in features, R&D or service levels to ensure new entrants have a steep hill to climb in order to compete.

If the barriers to entry are low, then the threat of entry is high, which in turn limits profitability unless demand in the industry is growing faster than supply. Some businesses, like McDonalds, will counter this force with sheer scale, driving down the cost per unit. You can only compete with McDonalds pricing and convenience advantages if you do so at scale, and that scale is expensive. New entrant competitors in the burger business often position in areas where McDonalds are weakest i.e. offering gourmet burgers that that might cost more, but aren’t generic. Competitors could make a big deal about being small.

The advantages of economies of scale can be found throughout the value chain and the reason why companies tend to get bigger – they have to – else they put themselves at ongoing risk from new entrants.

The downside risk for these companies is that they can’t change and adapt quickly. It’s like trying to maneuver a container ship, whilst the small business can change direction on a whim. The small business is like the speedboat, the big business is like a container ship. This is the reason small companies tend to focus on new, innovative areas of the market. The big companies may not be able to make money out of these areas (yet) due to company cost structures and/or they can’t adapt quickly enough to seize these opportunities.

Another benefit of scale that we see often on the web is demand-side economies of scale, otherwise known as network effects. Anyone can start a social network, but few can compete with Facebook. Their competitive advantage is largely due to network effects – the more people on a social network, the more value it has, and the more people will be willing to join. These demand side economies of scale erect a barrier to entry, thus retaining and increasing profitability, because customers are unwilling to sign up to smaller networks. This demand side barrier has been so effective for Facebook that even the likes of Google have trouble countering it.

We could even apply this type of analysis to the search results. If some serps are “easy” to get, then you may experience profitability issues. If they are easy for you to get, they are easy for some new entrant to get, too. As Google raises the bar, and makes it more expensive to compete, the threat from new entrants and/or those with less funding diminishes. Those who have more to spend, and/or are bigger businesses will likely find the serps more profitable than in the past as they no longer suffer the structural problem of a low barrier to entry. If you have the funds, then Google making it harder to optimize actually works in your favour.

Switching Costs

Almost everything has a switching cost whereby it costs a customer to change services. The more entrenched a product or service, the higher the switching cost, and therefore the higher the barrier to competitors. Microsoft Office has hung around in the enterprise, despite being less than ideal, because the switching cost – involving staff training and industry document standards – is high.

Capital Requirements

If you want to run a search engine to rival Google, then the capital requirements are significant.
However, if the return is there, capital is typically available, especially if the capital can be turned back into cash if the business doesn’t work out.

For example, the bank might be happy to lend on a hotel as they can still convert their capital back into cash by selling the asset. If a business relies on a large advertising spend, however, then capital may be more difficult to come by as it can’t be converted back into cash if things go badly. Capital alone is not a significant barrier to entry.

Incumbency

Incumbency can counter low barriers to entry. It’s easy to start a search blog, but difficult to draw attention away from the incumbents in this space. The established sites have built up loyal audiences over time. To beat incumbents, you’ve usually got to do something remarkably superior, complementary, or be prepared for a long battle.

Application Of Five Forces Theory

Start by evaluating your position against the five main criteria and identify where forces are strong and where they are weak.

If the buyer is in a powerful position, and switching costs are low, then sending them to a landing page where your prices are high but your features are the same as the competition is unlikely to work. The buyer will likely click back and compare. In order for a conversion to take place in this scenario, the business would need to justify the higher prices by, say, focusing on the additional value offered.

If your prospective customers do face switching costs, then perhaps the copy could focus on how the business will help the customer absorb this cost. For example, a landing page could highlight trial offers and special deals if the buyer is switching from a competitors product.

Keep in mind that buyers are less price sensitive if your pricing represents a fraction of their total spend, but very price sensitive if you supply them with something that makes up a lot of their operating cost. If you offer an SEO service and you target small companies or individuals, then obviously the price structure needs to reflect this. Likewise, if you’re pitching to a company that spends millions on marketing a month, you’re more likely to focus on the value proposition as they are unlikely to care about a few thousand here and there as search marketing isn’t a large part of their operating cost.

Could your service make a major difference to your buyers costs? Can you lower the cost of their supply chain? If so, then the buyer will be less sensitive to price and more interested in value. If all your competitors are focusing their efforts at one step in the supply chain, could your advertising be directed a different step in the chain?

Drug companies now advertise their product to the end consumer when previously the advertising has been directed at the decision maker – their doctor. “Ask your doctor if (product) is right for you!”. Pressure is then put on the doctor to prescribe that brand over others because the patient is specifically requesting it.

Rivalry

Rivalry will likely be strongest when there isn’t one clear market leader, competitors are similar in size, and they make similar offers. It’s also likely to be strong if the industry is low growth as one competitor will likely try and grab another competitors share, whereas if the industry is growing quickly, this isn’t so much of a problem.

Try to ascertain the character of the rivalry. Is ego and empire building a major factor? Consider the flagship Apple stores. It’s possible these shops run at a loss in terms of their retail offering, but are valuable in terms of brand awareness and recognition. This can be difficult to determine, of course. Any industry where there is intense rivalry bound up with ego will face profitability issues, at least in the short term, as one competitor might be trying to run another out of business as they are engaged in a loss making war of attrition.

One of the easiest comparisons to make is price. Price wars often happen when there is low switching cost and sellers are offering generic product. Rental cars fall into this category. Any industry battling fiercely on price will have structural limits to profitability as margins are cut to the bone and passed onto customers in the form of low prices.

If a product is perishable, it will be vulnerable to price cutting. We often think of perishability in terms of food use-by dates, but many industries suffer perishability problems. Mobile phones can become obsolete, information can become outdated and hotel rooms can’t be sold once the clock ticks over to a new day. Products and services will be vulnerable on price if they are ending their useful life. Brand, image, service levels, and features are a lot less vulnerable to price as they aren’t perishable.

Dull established industries with high barriers to entry and high switching costs, such as big business software systems like SAP are likely to be profitable compared to most Silicon Valley internet startups where the dead body count is high. Are these two really in the same industry? It doesn’t help that we only tend to hear about the outliers, such as Instagram, that make the high-tech industry sound like a certified gold mine. The internet industry has significant structural problems affecting profitability, typically in terms of the level of competition, low barriers to entry and access to capital.

Also consider the role of complements. Complements are products used to help provide a service. For example, Adwords is a complement to a PPC marketing campaign. Without Google, a PPC campaign is significantly diminished in terms of reach. So, Google has considerable clout in this space as they have few competitors. There is supplier risk because Google may stop campaigns and/or suspend accounts.

Another way of looking at complements is the sum value is greater than the parts. For example, a smartphone is near useless without software, but with software, it transforms from being a phone to being a computer in your pocket. Complements may affect demand for your product or service. If you produce iphone apps, then your future is linked to that of Apple and their market penetration. Apple also owns the supply chain. Apple, therefore, can exert a lot of control and this has an impact of potential profitability for vendors. It’s best for mobile apps publishers, from a profitability point of view, when there are multiple providers of smartphones and market share is split between them. The likes of Apple would have less power to demand high fees from software vendors and would more likely incentivise production by passing on more profit to the application developer.

Shifts Over Time

This analysis is done at a fixed point in time, but as we all know, industry is fluid.

In the case of the online industry, significant changes can occur quickly. Take, for example, the rise of mobile computing. More tablets and mobile phones are being sold than laptops and desktop computers, therefore the entire paradigm is changing.

Makers of hardware are on notice. Anyone who depends on that hardware is on notice. Software vendors who don’t adapt to mobile computing risk competitors jumping into that market and eating their market share.

As far as search marketing goes, just what is the optimal marketing channel on mobile? Do people really sift through large lists of search results on their tiny screens? Perhaps other forms of pay-per-click will rise and SEO will diminish?

Buyer and supplier power can also change. At present, the power of internet content suppliers is rock bottom. Technology in general, and the search engines in particular, have played a part in devaluing content and shifting revenue to themselves. One consequence is that a lot of quality content is disappearing behind paywalls and into Amazon publishing. As Amazon makes it easier to publish and monetarize written content, and as more people take up tablets and mobile computing, then the utility of search engines may start to dwindle as content producers focus on other channels.

Being aware of the five forces helps us size up profitability and potential for opportunity. It is particularly valuable if the industry is on the verge of strategic change in one or more areas as this presents new opportunity to gain strategic advantage against incumbents.

Using Strategy Analysis For Positioning

Look for areas in an industry where forces are weakest and position accordingly.

In Competitive Strategy: Techniques for Analyzing Industries and Competitors by Micheal Porter, outlines a great example of positioning in the trucking industry.

Using the Five Forces analysis framework, he determined the trucking industry is characterized by operators who run large fleets. They have an incentive to drive down the price of trucks as trucks are a major part of their costs.

Most truck suppliers built near identical trucks to a set of industry standards, so pricing is fierce. This is a very capital intensive business. So how has one supplier managed to charge a 10% premium for their trucks and maintain 20% market share for decades?

Paccar, a truck manufacturer based in Washington, focus on one group of customers: owner-operators. Owner-operators buy their own trucks and contract directly with suppliers. Because these buyers aren’t buying fleets, they don’t have much leverage when it comes to price, and as it turns out, aren’t as price sensitive as we’d expect.

These buyers take a lot of pride in their trucks, so choose to spend money on customization. The trucks are made-to-order and include sleek exteriors, plush seating, noise insulation, high end stereo systems, and other enhancements. They’re aerodynamic, which reduces fuel consumption, they maintain re-sale value, they have a roadside assistance program, a high-tech spare parts system – all key considerations for lone owner-operators.

By focusing on one sector of the market where price forces are weakest (lone operators), Paccar have side-stepped a sector where price forces are strongest (fleet buyers). Their entire value chain is aligned with the owner-operator sector of the market.

Companies can influence competitive forces. They can address supplier power by making generic parts and inputs, thus making it easy for them to switch suppliers and thus negate the power of unique suppliers. To counter price cutting rivals, companies can offer more unique and valuable services. To limit new competitors, companies can heavily invest in R&D and sophisticated systems.

Industry Analysis Is Always Changing

I hope this article has given you food for thought. I find this type of analysis useful for search marketing indirectly. It gets me thinking – broadly – about where the untapped opportunities in an industry might lay, and where the competition is likely to be strong and difficult to counter.

This article makes a good point that industry analysis is getting even more challenging as industries fracture and fragment:

Among the paradoxes they observe is that market segments in many industries are fragmenting, even as global firms require increasingly large markets to drive growth and profitability. Combining those “profit pools” is like trying to combine the water in thousands of bathtubs — there are profits to be had, but how do you combine them so that they become material?

But as they also point out, the most important competition for many organizations today comes from firms who aren’t even technically competing in the same business. Netflix going into the production of its own proprietary TV programs? Best Buy doing sophisticated analysis for health care providers to see how well their cardiac treatment projects are going? Who would have predicted those shifts?”

Great opportunities are discovered using “out of the box” thinking 🙂

Further Reading & References:

In conducting research for this article, I have used three main sources: Competitive Strategy: Techniques for Analyzing Industries and Competitors, by Michael E Porter, Business and Competitive Analysis: Effective Application of New and Classic Methods, by Craig S Fleisher and Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works by A.G. Lafley. Also, here’s a presentation that provides a good overview:

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SEO Book.com

Beyond Link Building – Using Links and Content to Hit Business Goals

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Posted by Paddy_Moogan

Few would argue that 2012 changed the SEO industry. In April, we saw the release of Penguin and, for the first time, aggressive penalization of low-quality link building tactics at a huge scale by Google. As an industry, we needed this. We were on borrowed time with these tactics and, let's be honest, they shouldn't have worked in the first place.

I know a lot of SEOs who add huge amounts of value to the businesses they work with through quality, creative online marketing. This is what we should be recognised for rather than using low-quality tactics and tricks that have been labelled by others as a "dark art." Link building certainly fits into this bucket because it is one of the areas where low-quality tactics worked for a long time (some still do) and were far from creative. The 5,000 article syndation links and 10,000 directory submissions you've done was hardly us at our best.

I want to share some thoughts on how we can transition link building from a numbers game into genuine online marketing that adds value to a business, beyond increasing their link counts.

Start with why

Last year, I read a book by Simon Sinek called Start with Why. If you haven't read the book, here is a video of a talk he did at Ted:

The basic message is that successful companies know why they exist, and they use this to guide the decisions they make. They also focus on why they exist when marketing themselves and selling to customers. Rather than getting customers to buy into the what, they get them to buy into the why.

The reason I mention this in the context of link building is because I don't think we ask this question enough. The temptation when a client asks for our help is to dive in and start building links as quickly as we can, but why are we doing it? Are they the right types of links? Are they going to make a difference to the business? Is an infographic really going to help bring more customers?

Instead of this approach, I believe we should be a bit smarter and far more strategic with our recommendations. Yes, links help rankings and infographics (as an example) help get links. But is that the best we can come up with? Can't we build links that not only help with rankings, but also drive real customers to the website?

There is already talk of Google reducing the effectiveness of links built via infographics and guest blogging. Wouldn't it be nice to not have to worry about whatever update Google comes out with next?

Why does this business exist?

Whether a client comes to you for link building or not, I think this should be the starting point for an online marketing campaign. To work with a client long-term, you need to really dive into their business and understand it as much as you can. I'm not saying that you necessarily need to become an expert on their products or their market, but getting a deep understanding of how they work and why they do what they do is important.

If you can do this, it will make your job much easier with the following:

  • Understanding their industry and what makes this business different
  • Knowing how to get things done internally by understanding what matters to the company
  • Defining a strategy that is in line with their business goals
  • You can talk the same language and they will trust you because of that – once you have trust, it's a lot harder to fire you, too 🙂

There is another subtle benefit here, too – if you're pitching to win their business, you're far more likely to win if you show a genuine understanding of their business.

Why do they need SEO?

There are a few answers to this question that I would not be happy with, and would push for a further explanation:

  • More links
  • More traffic
  • More content

These are all good things to have, don't get me wrong. But in isolation, they don't mean much. If you hear this as an answer, you need to ask – why?

  • Why do you need more links?
  • Why do you need more traffic?
  • Why do you need more content?

These will get you closer to the answer you want to hear. Or you can rephrase to be something like this:

  • What matters to your business?
  • How do you make money?
  • What drives your profits every year?

The answer you're looking for is the one that makes the business survive, and the answer will be in line with why the company exists. This is the starting point that we need because from here, every decision we make is driven by it. This is why it is important to start with these questions. Once you've got this clear, you're in a much better position to start defining a strategy that will not only deliver links, but links that will help the business hit its goals.

Don't measure success by links built

Some may not agree, but this is what I feel about link building right now:

The deliverable of a project isn't links; the deliverable is a clear improvement in what matters to the client – revenue.

I'm not keen on working on the basis of building x number of links per month, with little or no thought as to why. Why do you need 50 links each and every month? What type of links are they? If you build them every month, will you improve revenue for your client?

Let's look at a quick example. You're hired by the Head of SEO at a mid-level company and you agree a target of 50 links per month to be built and a three month contract. At the end of three months, you've built 150 links, so you go in for another meeting to discuss the project and declare it a success.

At this meeting is the CEO of the company who hears that you've hit your target. They ask how much extra revenue you've generated as a result of these links. The Head of SEO doesn't know, and neither do you. The CEO then asks how your work has helped improve the brand image of their company. You look at the list of 150 guest posts on unrelated blogs and stay quiet.

See the problem?

If we want to be taken more seriously as an industry, we need to be able to confidently deliver results that the CEOs of large companies will relate to and understand.

The CEO doesn't care if Open Site Explorer or Majestic SEO shows an improvement in your backlink profile. They care about paying the salaries of their employees on time, paying the office rent, and making a profit. Links alone, with no thought or strategy behind them, will not do this. They used to work when link building was a commodity and less risky, but no longer can we think like this.

We're hired to make more revenue for the company, if we can do this by building 50 links a month and it happens, that's great. But we start with why we're doing what we're doing – not starting with links as the default answer.

It may not always be as straight forward as though and I know that it isn't simple to get to this point. So here are a few ways to take steps towards it.

Focus on the metrics that matter to your client

If your client doesn't make direct revenue from their website, you need to find an alternative. Imagine you're working with a B2B website who doesn't sell online. In this case, your work should be measured on leads/inquiries which lead to revenue.

The bottom line is that your deliverables should make a difference to the business you're working for. Figure out the key metric, then figure out how to improve it.

Real example: I used to work with a SaaS client in the UK who were B2B. A single sale of their service could give them £100k+ revenue a year, but a conversion would take many months to complete. I could track enquiries from organic search, but I wouldn't necessarily know if they converted into a customer, so I made a point of having face-to-face meetings with the Marketing Manager each month to see how good those leads were. She was able to tell me if they were on the way to converting into real customers or not. This communication let me see that we were adding huge amounts of value to their business through search.

Try not to sell short-term projects

To be able to focus on this as a metric that you're measured by, you need to agree on being given enough time to make it happen. Doing a one-off piece of link bait that lasts four weeks is probably not going to help, whereas agreeing a contract for at least six months of activity is much more likely to lead to you having the chance to improve the bottom line.

The only time I think that a short-term project can work is when you're working on a very specific problem, such as lifting a penalty or training an intenral team. I don't think it is a good idea to take on very short-term link building projects because it encourages short-term thinking.

Choose a strategy that helps you improve the bottom line

This is where it all comes together. By this point, you may decide that to improve revenue for your client, you need to come up with a good link building strategy. You then choose the tactics that fit into this strategy.

You should see the clear difference between this approach and just saying, "We need links," within a few minutes of talking to your client.

When we pick the link building tactics in this way, we're choosing ones that will help us improve revenue for the client – not ones that will just let us deliver 50 links per month. If we're driven by pure number of links, our standards naturally drop, and we will be happy to get any types of links we can just to hit the target we've been set.

Examples of getting it right

Let me give you a direct example of a smarter approach: Turning Link Building into Audience Profiling by Richard Baxter. This is link building, but it is driven by a smart strategy that means the links built will mean much more to the company they point to. They will hit that sweet spot where the potential customers of a business hangout and absorb content online.

What about guest blogging? There has been lots of talk about this as a tactic, and it can be a great tactic. But it is also easy to scale, which naturally reduces the quality of the output. Instead of scaling guest blogging, what about doing something like this. This was a guest post that drove more sales of a book than TV and newspaper coverage.

Infographics that matter

No, they're not dead, but they will become less effective if they're not good quality and worth sharing. Rather than creating a regular tower graphic and visualizing things that should never be made into an image, why not create something relevant and helpful to your customers? Like this:

What about content marketing for consumers?

The new SEO buzzword that has actually been around for years and years. Instead of producing a piece of content where the goal is just to get links, what about producing a piece of content that is useful to your real customers? I have a great example here from Swissotel, hat tip to the guys at SEOgadget for showing me this one: 

 

What about content marketing in B2B markets?

I have two great examples here, starting with American Express who work with a lot of small businesses. They have the Open Forum that publishes content that small businesses will find useful:

Simply Business have done the same with their guides for small business owners:

Both of these companies are creating content that fits with why they exist – to service small businesses. This is smarter than creating an infographic on a random topic just to get a few links that month.

The CEO test

Next time you build a piece of content, ask yourself, "What would the CEO think of this?"

This can be a good way to sense check what you're doing and to make sure that it is in-line with the business and will help them hit their goals. Will the CEO be proud of seeing the content on their website? Will they be proud to see the external websites where they're mentioned?

Conclusion

Yes, links matter – a lot. This isn't changing anytime soon and our clients need links more than ever. But I'd love to see our industry step up and build links that stand the test of time, and not waste time being worried about Google updates.

This isn't easy to do – I'm not 100% there yet myself. It involves quite a big change in thinking for a lot of people. But I firmly believe that if we can alter our approach so that we become focused on the goals of a business rather than purely looking at links, the following will happen:

  • You will win more business because the clients will see that you focus on what matters to them
  • You will be forced to use the tactics that really make a difference to the bottom line
  • You will be able to demonstrate that you've increased a key metric for a business, not just number of links or rankings which most CEOs don't worry about

Overall, SEOs will start to be taken seriously as we're being measured on the right business metrics – not pure rankings or number of links we manage to build.

On a related note, I've just released an eBook focused 100% on building links. At 65,000 words, it covers the whole link building process (including a fair amount of information on this topic) and discusses kicking projects off on the right foot to establish business goals early.

I hope you enjoyed this post – please leave your thoughts in the comments below!

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5 Ways to Improve Blog Visibility ASAP

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5 Ways to Improve Blog Visibility ASAP was originally published on BruceClay.com, home of expert search engine optimization tips.

Clients often ask us about blogging best practices, and how to increase the visibility and quality of content on their blog. This is a big question to answer, and an even bigger answer to give. True, a blog is an extension of your site (in some cases, a blog is the entire site). So you need to apply SEO best practices to your blog as a foundation. But blogging is also a social activity rooted in publishing.

Yes, blogging is part of your company’s social activities. It’s the content that’s fed through the social sphere. Without content, social media would not exist. It’s that stuff people share and connect through. And your blog needs to become a part of that.

So today, I’m going to share with you some small tweaks you can make to your blogging activity that will help strengthen the relationship between your community and the social networks.

While there is a much larger holistic strategy at the heart of a thriving blog, we’re going to discuss a few action items that’ll help make your content more targeted:

  1. Know who your community is.
  2. Know where your community is.
  3. Build and strengthen your community.
  4. Make it easy for people to share in the community.
  5. Get in on Google Authorship for increased visibility.

1. Know Who Your Community Is

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Not knowing who the heck you’re talking to in your blog is a problem. As a business owner, you may have a good idea of your primary customer, and often, this is a perfect place to start when thinking about personas for your blog (the people you are talking to).

In the post: “3 Ways to Align Your Blog Content with Your Target Audience,” I talked about that all-important starting point. If you have products and services, who buys them? If your product is blog content — what types of people read it and for what purpose? There’s a story behind why your audience engages with you. Dig in and let that be your guide for the content you create.

2. Know Where Your Community Is

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You may already have social communities established, but do you know which social communities are more geared towards your target audience? Do you also know how those channels interact with your blog and its content?

Guesses and intuition can only get you so far. You need to have some data to help you make informed decision. In Google Analytics, there are several reports connected to social media that can offer very telling data about what social channels people are coming from to your blog and what content they’re sharing.

The great thing about Google Analytics is that it’s free data, just waiting for you. But that doesn’t mean it’s the best data right out of the box. Remember that Google Analytics comes with default settings and reports, so areas will need to be customized to extract the data you need.

Here’s some articles that can help you better understand the Google Analytics social reports:

Remember, a blog is a social networking activity, and the channels the content is shared through (Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus) is essential to keeping it alive. Without your community sharing content that’s relevant to them, blog efforts can sometimes fall short.

3. Build and Strengthen Your Community

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As the hub of your community, your blog should make it very simple for readers to discover the social networks you’re in. And your social networks should be cross-promoted so that your community can discover new content from your brand in other areas.

That means having your social icons set up in a way that’s easy to find on the blog, preferably above the fold. And you can use the data you discover in Google Analytics to better understand what social communities are worth investing more resources in (where the traffic is coming from; where content is being shared). And here’s some information on choosing social plugins for your site.

Think about the social plugins that are going to make it easy for your community to engage, while at the same time considering things that may impact the performance of your site (like page load times). And different buttons offer different functionality. Some offer easy access to join a brand’s social network with one click, some show the user how many people in their network are also a part of that community. Decide what’s best for what you are trying to accomplish.

A Note on Optimizing Your Social Presence

Making sure your social presence is cohesive is an exercise in branding and marketing. Ensure your messaging is consistent across all your “about” sections in all your social networks (that doesn’t mean “exactly the same,” but it means cohesiveness). Make sure your about sections offer useful information about the brand while at the same time alerting the community of the other ways people can connect — be it your YouTube account, your LinkedIn and yes, the blog!

Consider also using the keywords that are important to your business in your descriptions, for example, keywords from your SEO campaign. This post by AJ Kohn goes into detail about the things you can do to optimize your Google Plus profile specifically.

And don’t forget to take advantage of all the features that are available to you to make a robust social media profile. This three-part series on optimizing your brand’s LinkedIn profile offers tidbits on how to do so.

4. Make It Easy for People to Share in the Community

h

Have you ever been to a site and been accosted with a million buttons to share the content you’re reading? Sometimes blog owners worry that if they don’t offer every possible way to share, they’ll miss out. But here’s the thing: your target audience isn’t everywhere.

Usually, brands have a few core social media networks that actually matter to them, because that’s where their community is engaging. So you can ditch that massive share button widget and just hone in on giving your regular readers a simple way to share content.

This point goes along with what we discussed in an earlier section: know where your community is, and cater to them. There’s social plugin tracking in the Google Analytics reports we talked about that helps you find out which buttons are being used most to share content. This is one way to aid in your decision-making.

But don’t forget to take into account all factors and metrics available to you. Another way to decide if the social share button is right for your blog is more of a common-sense approach. If you don’t have any images on your blog ever that are worthy of people sharing on Pinterest, for example, don’t have a button for that. For more help on choosing social media share buttons, check out this post.

5. Get in on Google Authorship for Increased Visibility

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Of all the recommendations here, as a blogger, Google Authorship is a must. It first starts with Google Plus, Google’s social community. Anyone who has any Google account already has a Google Plus profile by default (Gmail is one example of a Google account, but there are other commonly used Google product lines).

Many of these default profiles go untouched by users, but it offers a great opportunity for added visibility of content in the search results and among users of Google Plus, and is essential for bloggers.

See, Google Plus ties in with Google Authorship. Google Authorship is a process by which you link a blog’s (or site’s) content to the author who created it using a Google Plus profile. Authorship allows a brand and an author to claim ownership of content on the Web. And it’s essentially a trust signal by Google, saying this person on this site creates acceptable content.

And Google rewards this by giving the content another opportunity to be found in the search results. The “snippet” the Authorship program renders in the search results has been known to increase click-through rates to the content (you know what I’m referring to, right? That thumbnail of the author’s face next to the content).

And we are now seeing multiple pieces of content in the search results tied to an author. Plus, being a part of the Authorship program offers an additional data point about the performance of the content from that author.

So How Do You Get Authorship?

The way to implement Authorship can sometimes be a laborious process, made even more complicated if you have multiple authors on a blog. But it seems as though Google is making it easier to do so as time goes on. Here’s a great list of authorship resources by Raven.

I’ll offer a general overview of how to get Authorship going (at the time of this writing, results may vary based on your site):

  1. If you don’t already have it, add a plugin for author bios on the blog that renders at the end of each post.
  2. Have contributors set up their Google Plus profile, making sure there is a recognizable head shot for the main profile pic (260 x 260 size), and any relevant information about them in the About section.
  3. If the regular contributors have an email at your company domain, this is the easiest way to link up the site’s blog with the Google Plus page (by adding that email to the “work” section of the Google Plus profile). Otherwise, add the blog domain in the “contributor to” section of the Google Plus profile.
  4. On the blog side, make sure that all the articles have the byline: “By [NAME],” and each contributing author will need a short bio for the bio plugin we talked about in Step 1. To manually add the rel=author markup in the bio section for each author, you can write a sentence that connects the Google Plus profile with a bit of code. (Note that this is what works for our particular situation in WordPress, but it could vary, and in some cases, the Yoast plugin makes it even easier). So the sentence could read something like:

Connect with [NAME HERE] on <a href=”https://plus.google.com/[INSERT GOOGLE PLUS PROFILE LINK HERE]?rel=author”>Google+</a>

You can retrieve the Google Plus profile link for each individual author by going to their Google Plus profile and copying the unique URL for that profile. Please note that you can take the “/posts” off the end of the URL before copying into the code below.

Once the link between the blog and the Google Plus profiles has been made for all regular contributing authors, we can then request to add them to the Google Authorship program for consideration (note: this can take several weeks to be approved). Logged into Google Plus, you can follow the instructions here to add the blogger to the program.

Hopefully the steps laid out in this post get you on a path where you have better understanding of who your audience is, what blog content is working for you and how to gain more visibility of that content. Remember, a blog is a social hub and a social marketing activity. So take advantage of all the social tools that help your blog thrive!

Let us know if you have any questions or comments in the field below!

Bruce Clay Blog

How to Win a Content Arms Race – Whiteboard Friday

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Posted by randfish

Ever feel like you're neck and neck with your competitors in the mad dash to produce exciting, unique content? The push for content generation has taken off across all industries lately, and it's not surprising that content strategy feels like it's turning into an arms race.

In this week's Whiteboard Friday, Rand shares his tips on entering the content arms race and what you can do to come out victorious in your space. Content marketers, to your battle stations!

Video Transcription

"Howdy, SEOmoz fans, and welcome to this edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week, I wanted to talk a little bit about content strategy, specifically as it relates to content arms races. I've been noticing that many folks in our community and the marketing community overall have said, "Boy, it's not just me anymore who's investing in content, trying to share that content through search and through social networks. It's all my competitors too."

So we're almost getting into this like content arms race type of environment, which is tough. I recognize that. I also recognize that I do a terrible job drawing a guy with a knife and another guy with what looks like a shower head. They both have guns and shower heads. I don't know why, but they're in an arms race for content, because content marketing is becoming so popular. Because of that, you need to take extra steps to go above and beyond what your competitors do in order to win in this space.

So first thing I'm recommending is choose some creative content formats. A lot of folks, when they get into content marketing, they think, "Oh, we're going to have a blog. Maybe we're going to have a forum. Maybe we're going to have some articles and some white papers we put out." Those are fine, but you should think beyond that.

So in the SaaS world and the enterprise world, a lot of people extend immediately into webinars. Some people get into slide shows. I would also urge you to think about video. Whiteboard Friday itself, a very effective content marketing tool. I think we started Whiteboard Friday long before we knew what content marketing really was or content strategy.

Conversations. You can see a lot of people using conversations, Q & A types of formats, forums, using their communities to build conversations, and even the blog comments becoming conversations.

Comics. Comics have been really huge on the Web. You can see people like XKCD having a ton of success, and lots of folks in the marketing world and in the B2B world even trying to leverage some comical stuff.

Graphics. Certainly if you can produce high quality graphics, photos, imagery, whatever you're capturing.

Graph and charts. If you can assemble data, even if you don't create the data yourself or you're not responsible for the data, if you build the charts yourself, wow, you can really win with that.

Interactive tools. These ones are extremely hard to replicate. If you are the source, the resource, in your industry for that particular type of tool, man, no one is going to take you. You've got a win.

Next step, share what others are unwilling or unable to share, and this can be highly valuable. So when I say "unwilling," what I'm really talking about is some people aren't willing to go to the length of transparency to share data from their own campaigns or data from their networks, or they don't have a large enough community to be able to survey, or they don't have a network where they can reach out to folks who have that type of information or can make those kinds of contributions. Maybe they don't have the financial resources to bring in expertise or to commission a public study or whatever it is that you have an advantage on. That could be your size, your nimbleness, your community, your creativity. Do those things that you're competitors cannot or will not do, and that includes data from your contacts, but also investing beyond what is reasonable.

So I like to think of this as the quality sort of beats quantity approach. Now, this is true for two things. The first one I'd say is that it's not always the case that quality wins out, but if you do these couple of things right, it can. Number one is being able to create resources that no one can do a better job of. What's great about that is it means you can actually steal ideas from your competitors, from the rest of the marketplace, from the media, reproduce them yourselves in a better way, do an even better job. "Oh, there was this study, and we decided to replicate the results, and we have an even larger audience for it, and so we've got even more data. We asked a few questions that were really missing in the first one. We used an even better method." Blah, blah, blah, blah.

You should go for consistency here. So consistency and quantity are often tied together in people's minds. This is not actually the case. Just because you're consistent doesn't necessarily mean that you have to produce a huge volume. Two times a month in terms of a great piece of content, even once a month can work out just fine. Think of one of our favorite content marketing examples in the inbound marketing world has been, for the last few years, OkTrends, the OkCupid blog, and they were literally producing sometimes a blog post only once every two or three months, but it was fairly consistent. Now it's dropped off after the acquisition, but still very exciting stuff.

I would urge you, if you haven't already, to think about how you can build a community. A community for marketing content is invaluable because it means that the amplification of your message and of the content that you share is so much broader than what you could get otherwise. If you don't have a community, your competitors almost certainly can win by building up one.

If you don't have one, there are a few things you can do to leverage some. Number one, bring in people who have communities of their own and ask them for contributions. Sometimes you may need to pay them. Sometimes you can offer them exposure, an audience, something else, a high quality speaker, a great resource that you bring into your site. Sometimes you can even go as far as to say, "Hey, you know what, we're the New York Times, and we really love these Freakonomics guys, and we'd like them to blog for us." There you go. Now the Freakonomics blog exists on the New York Times itself. Same thing with 538, the popular political science blog from Nate Silver.

My last recommendation here, in terms of investing in places where your competitors aren't, is to hit the long tail. By long tail what I mean is if there's a direct funnel, if you think about consumers coming to your site and content marketing sort of being at the top of that funnel, it's going to bring people in who are potentially interested in your product. You can think about that funnel as getting deeper and deeper, and a lot of folks focus on the deeper parts of the funnel. That's where a lot of content marketing happens because they want people in the buying cycle, down and engaged in the buying cycle. What I'd urge you to do, think about it even higher up. Those long tail searches that people are performing, the videos and content and interactive tools and stuff that they are using long before they're even potentially interested in your product, and then you can reach people and brand them and have content marketing success where your competitors aren't even trying to compete with you. They're not even investing.

All right, everyone. I hope you've enjoyed this edition of Whiteboard Friday, and we'll see you again next week. Take care."

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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Using Google Analytics to Power an Effective Q&A Strategy

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Posted by junseth

Alarm Grid's Executive Team - from L to R: Eric, Sterling, Joshua (me)When we started Alarm Grid we struggled with how we were going to stand out in a world of like a trillion other security companies. We were late to the game, no doubt, and in a world with as much competition as there is in an old industry like home security, it seems like there isn't much you could do to compete with the million minds that have come before you. Since then, we've done a lot of fun things that have helped us to gain traction, but my favorite strategy we've executed on thus far is our security FAQs strategy. We have built an amazingly large database of super relevant Questions and Answers, and our users love them. Before we begin, let me introduce you to our executive team: Eric is on the left, Sterling is in the middle and I'm the guy on the right.

Like anything done in marketing, there aren't a whole lot of "new" ideas per se. But the question needs to be how to execute it based on what's available to you. As I've seen Q&A strategies executed previously, I think there are two main ways to put them together. The first is the way companies like SEOmoz or Trulia have done it. Both use their base of strong, engaged communities to answer questions. Trulia relies on users looking for homes to ask, and realtors looking for business to answer. SEOmoz is generally relying on its community members who are interested in seeking experts or being experts to answer and ask questions. This model works really really well. I can't tell you how many times I've had an SEO question or an analytics question and ended up on one of the SEOmoz pages with a good answer from some person I've never heard of or met. Very helpful, extremely engaging. The other method is what sites without much of a community do: a bunch of old guys who know their product too well get together in a room and think of 100 questions about their products. Then they answer the questions in 30 words or less, brush off their hands, and call it a day.

When you know too much about your product, you can't know what questions users will ACTUALLY find useful

So we needed a method that sat between the community approach and the stodgy old-men-in-a-room approach. Since we don't have an engaged set of users and we're not that old, we needed to figure out a method of populating the database that sat in between the two approaches, and I'm proud to say, I think we figured out a great way to accomplish this.

If you're a business owner, you're probably wondering if this FAQ business is a good idea for you. When we gave the strategy a try on Alarm Grid, we had the same question. I poured through Google Analytics (GA) data and saw that users had already started coming into the site with questions. They weren't getting them answered, but they were asking them.

So, what I did was I used GA to power our entire Q&A engine. When we started, we honestly thought we'd be able to keep up with the questions that came in. We now have a backlog of over 10,000 questions we want to get to… and that's with just Honeywell products in our catalog. Our goal is to get 80% of these questions answered before we add more brands to the catalog. Wish us luck.

I'm presuming that you already have GA installed on your site, and that you know anything about how to log in to your account… so here we go:

1) Click on Advanced Segments in the standard reporting section of your Google Analytics.

Click on Advanced Segments

2) Select the button on the bottom right side of the drop down entitled "New Custom Segment"

This button unveils a glorious land of powerful analytics possibilities wherein you can create enormous value. The first thing you're going to want to do here is to make sure that you select "include" on the rule.

Click on Include under Advanced Segments

3) Select Keyword from the list of variable segment.

Select Keyword from the list of variables

4) Then select "Matching RegExp"

Select Matching Regexp

5) Put this cute little chunk of code into the text box

(It's different looking than it is in the pictures above because I cleaned it up for this post so I didn't have to be so embarrassed about posting it).

\b(adding|does|do|who|what|where|when|why|how|will|can|\?|am|is|are|was|were|be|being|been|versus|vs|vs\.|best)\b

Now I ain't no RegExpert. I am terrible at Regex. And most of you probably don't even know what Regex is, so I'm sure there are more efficient ways to write this. But so you understand what you've done, let me clue you in. You're filtering for anyone who comes to your site using the keywords within the parentheses including any query that a user makes that contains a question mark. The regex idiot proofs it so that you anyone can add weird capitalizations and still have their search filtered (at least that's supposed to be how it works). If you want to clean up the regex, feel free. I would love to see it done, it just doesn't matter that much since this works pretty darn well.

6) Give your filter a cute name. We call ours "Add to FAQ" since that's what is supposed to happen.

Give your filter a cute name

7) Save your segment and turn it on.

8) In the left-hand column click on "traffic sources" then "sources" then "search" then "organic".

Select Traffic Sources, Sources, Search, Organic

8) Now, set the date range to show only one day – yesterday.

Select Yesterday in the calendar

9) Scroll to the very bottom of the page and select the dropdown next to the words "Show rows" and select 500.

Select Show Rows

Now this is a bit optimistic. You really only need the maximum possible number of results from each day. The number starts small, but if you execute this strategy correctly, you may be seeing 500+ visitors each day asking questions and getting to your site.

10) Go back to the top of the page, and select "Email," and fill the email(s) you want the daily spreadsheet to go to in the pop-up.

Click on Email

Also make sure to change the "Frequency" to "Daily." You can actually make it as frequent or infrequent as you want. I recommend daily, because, particularly when you are only seeing a few FAQs a day, it's better that everyone gets a few FAQs in the morning before things get hopping. Think about it, if you have two employees pumping out two FAQs every morning, first thing, you will have 1460 FAQs in by the end of the year. The average FAQ, in our case, bumps our average daily uniques by 1/3 of an user. Each FAQ takes an average of 15 minutes to write. At the end of the year, we'll have used about 730 hours of our employees' time to grab an extra 5,000 unique visitors each and every month. That's a huge boon for an ecommerce site.

Set frequency to Daily

And that's that.

What I like to do is once a month, dump the spreadsheets into a big, master list. Then I can filter on the spreadsheet by keywords within the questions, which allows us to manage our more than 10,0000 outstanding questions. We generally attack them by subject. So, for example, we do a week of Vista 20P (which is a Honeywell product we carry) questions only or some weeks we answer all the questions people have asked about Alarm Grid's alarm monitoring. This is the most effective kind of inter-linking we could possibly put together. The Q&As are relevant, and the anchor texts are surrounded by perfect semantically relevant writing. We require all articles contain 300 to 500 words, even if it's just a simple answer. We also find that it's best not to bury the lead. So when a user lands on a page, start by answering the question, then put more text below it that will expound and further explain why the answer is "yes" or "no."

You can do a lot of other fun stuff as well with this strategy. For example, to root out duplicates, you could only have questions where the user doesn't land on a URL with /faq in it. Our system is accurate up to about 87% when we do this, meaning this uproots 87% of all duplicates. There are a ton of other fun ways you could run this engine, but there isn't enough time in a day. If you do something fun that is hugely helpful for you, I'd love to know about it.

So give this all a try! And then report back, Let me know and the rest of the Alarm Grid team know how it works for you!

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PPC Drafting: Coining a Term for a Competitive PPC Maneuver

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PPC Drafting: Coining a Term for a Competitive PPC Maneuver was originally published on BruceClay.com, home of expert search engine optimization tips.

Hello, my name is Todd Mintz (Twitter), and I will be your guest blogger for today.  In this post, I’m going to try something I’ve never done before — attempt to coin a new paid search phrase (PPC Drafting) for an event that’s commonly seen by paid search managers who manage the accounts of strong business brands.

To introduce the term, I’ll need to talk about another topic not frequently mentioned in search marketing industry blog posts: NASCAR.

Drafting

Please examine the above picture and notice that one car has driven up to the back bumper of another car.  The driver is doing this because (due to some physics law that I never studied) there is less air resistance on the rear car, meaning the rear car can travel faster with the same effort (or the same speed with less effort).  Drivers “draft” off of other cars either to stay in position and conserve fuel or to save up energy for a potential passing maneuver via breaking the draft and using their reserve energy to try to pass the lead car.

In my tenure at PPC Associates, I’ve worked with a couple of clients that are more than just huge brand names; their brand actually defines the business category in which they reside, and few if any of y’all (I can say “y’all” because this is a NASCAR-themed post) reading these words would recognize the names of any of their direct competitors.  Both of these clients get massive amounts of branded search traffic (in fact, the volume of branded traffic dwarfs the volume of non-branded traffic), and their competitors know that the maximum chance of getting visibility is to bid on my client’s brand terms.

After all, it’s pretty easy for my client’s competitors to “draft” off my client’s brand.  While it’s nearly impossible for their competitors to rank ahead of my clients due to quality score, visibility in secondary positions (especially top of page) is still pretty prime placement and, depending on the circumstances, that secondary placement could be quite an excellent value for the competitor with a solid ROI.
Dale Earnhardt and Ron Hornaday: NASCAR Photography By Darryl Moran
To extend the NASCAR analogy further, my category-leading clients have the top cars in the race.  With quality score in play, the only way for a competitor to pass my client on the track (or in the auction) for a brand term would be either an accidental keyword omission/super-low bid or as part of a deliberate strategy.  However, I’ve seen the competitors try to get my clients to spend more per click by bidding my client’s brand higher, increasing the cost of the auction (which the competitor still loses).  The downside to this strategy is that the CPCs of the competitor clicks will also rise, threatening the favorable ROI of being in a “safe” second position.

What I’ve also done in response to competitor branded bid pressure is cut my CPCs a few percentage points below the average CPC for the keyword(s) in play during the branded bid run-up, which, in effect, concedes first position to the competitor for a small percentage of the auctions. This tactic doesn’t really save my client too much money, but exposes the competitor to even more additional cost. Furthermore, we know from experience (bidding on other competitor terms) that it can be quite challenging to ROI on a competitor’s brand when the CPCs are high…since the intent of the searcher was to visit another site, not yours, and that’s a tall order to overcome for getting conversions.

To sum up, PPC drafting is an excellent technique for a competitor to get easily noticed in an auction for a very visible branded term. So long as the competitor keeps their secondary position, it’s a pretty painless state of affairs for both companies in the draft. When the competitor gets out of line, that’s when the real racing begins, and like in NASCAR, the branded website in the lead has almost all the advantages in their favor.

Bruce Clay Blog

40 Important Local Search Questions Answered

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Posted by NiftyMarketing

Disclaimer: This post is a follow-up to the recent Mozinar "Be Where Local is Going" by Mike Ramsey. You can check out the full recorded Mozinar here!

Local has officially grown up. It's arrived and has become a major force to be reckoned with because of things like this…

Recently, companies that have ignored local found themselves apologizing for how they behaved in the good ol' days, and are trying to learn as much as possible to catch up. We have seen a HUGE growing interest in the Local University Conference Series over this past year (especially our advanced conferences, like the one coming up in Baltimore) and it seems like all of the major SEO hubs have really started to embrace local with more vigor and passion than in times past. With that in mind, Moz asked if I would do a Mozinar on the topic of local. I was amazed at the audience response that came from it. I received over 80 questions asked throughout the Mozinar and around 30 emails with longer-winded questions after the fact.

That is when I realized that even though local has arrived, it's still a mess.

There are a ton questions and confusing aspects of local search, and I thought the best way that I could help would simply be to create a post answering as many questions as I could until my carpel tunnel kicks in and I couldn't type anymore. So here it goes. The questions are organized by topics within local. If you have more questions, please feel free to post them in the comments below and I (or hopefully some of the other local search peeps) can answer them for you. Remember, the only foolish question is the one that doesn't get asked. 

Here are the sections:

Warning: I don't recommend reading this all in one sitting. It's over 6,000 words. Try to digest it one section at a time. 

Local Strategy and Tactics

1. Any suggestions to take advantage of local search for multiple states rather than cities?

In some cases, states will show map results. This changes constantly, though, so I wouldn't count on it, or even focus on ranking in maps for a state search. Instead, think of it from an organic perspective. What would people want to see based a search phrase like "Salt lake City Plummer" compared to "Utah Plummer"? Here are a couple thoughts:

  • Testimonials would be different. I want the Utah Plummer to show me testimonials for a ton of cities in that State. 
  • Multiple office locations on a state page (found on your website) would be useful in understanding how big the company is and if they can truly service state wide.
  • As for the Google+ local page, when they rank for a state, it still represents a single physical address in a single city. Because of this, you would want to add that you service statewide in your business description area. You can also set a service area on your google+ listing that would show a state wide reach. 
  • Show state certifications compared to city Chamber of Commerce trust symbols. 

2. If you are a local company with one location that services people at their home, how do you rank for all the cities in your area?

You don’t rank in the maps section. Google will generally only let you rank in the city your address is located. There are exceptions, so don’t plan on being one. You can build out content on your website to rank organically for the other cities (where you don’t have an address) and in a lot of cases today, if your organic page has stronger singles than the listings found in the map results you can actually rank above the maps like this. 

You can also get a real address in the cities that you want to rank in. Fake address and UPS boxes have been popular for some businesses to use, but they carry a huge risk. My advice is to play it safe and go with real locations where you can conduct face to face business, or try to rank organically. 

3. Where in G+ were you saying to add links to help you rank twice (in blend and organic)?

Once you list a URL with your Google+ local listing, that URL (home page or local landing page) will not rank both in maps and organically. In the Mozinar, I explained that if you are a single-business location, use your home page as the URL on the Google+ local listing and then build a sub page for the service (explaining it further) so that both could potentially rank. This works way better for long-tail terms or custom Google Places category choices. Outcome looks something like this:  (Ehline ranks with his home page in maps, and a sub page on Torrance Personal Injury Lawyer.)

4. What is the best way for a retail store to rank in a city that they aren't located in?

Organically, as you can't in maps. However, you need to ask yourself why you would want to do this. It's really not best for the searcher. If I am looking for "Burley Idaho shoes," would I really want to see a list of "Twin Falls shoe stores"? Google will always be fighting you on this and trying to ensure you don’t rank. So, you could open a new location to rank in maps, or use paid ads and possibly even an article that says something like, "Burley shoe stores suck and here's why, come to Twin Falls for awesome shoes." However, my advice is to stay local.

5. Do you know if optimizing for local negatively affects online national organic search results, if you have both a local presence and national online eCommerce site?

It doesn't. Mainly because, if done properly, you would have pages that represent your national search ranking ambitions and you would have completely different pages for local stores. Take Walmart, for instance. They need to rank with local store information, but also want to be able to show up for product or category searches for eCommerce. They have a location finder that leads to individual pages that provide store hours, local coupons, and directions. Here is my local Walmart page. The thing that they do well (and I see this is a future must) is being able to show your local store inventory while browsing products. I have worked with brands that have a decentralized approach to local. The eCommerce team does everything they can to ensure that no one goes to the location to buy anything because they are rewarded for eCommerce sales, not store sales. This is wrong. You shouldn't care if a customer buys something online or in a store front as long as the item is purchased. Give customers the choice, and you will always win. This is also the best way to compete against Amazon, in my opinion. They can't (yet) get me an item within an hour of my decision to purchase it.

6. Why in your opinion do you find different Google + Local search rankings for keyword phrases with words ordered differently for example "Atlanta handyman" vs. "handyman Atlanta" and then without geographical modifiers? I've got clients where these ranking very greatly.

This is just my opinion, but I think each word in a query carries a certain weight based off positioning, regional vs global data, or a bazillion other factors that Google could take into account. A website would have a different relevance score for all three of the examples you showed above. Maybe one site is well optimized for Seattle and partly optimized for Pizza. They rank better on "Seattle pizza" than "pizza Seattle" because the weight is on the first word searched. If just "pizza" is typed, Seattle wasn't in the search query, and Google determines there is local intent, then they might use a precise location of the search compared to the exact center of Seattle. This would change the results yet again. 

7. I've had a couple of clients who don't live in the city but live in a rural area outside of the city. They are a service business and had a UPS address with a suite # they recently got booted from maps and Google + local. Any work around for businesses outside the service area to show up?

No. I hate this about Google Maps, actually. When you're a service business, I don’t see the importance of your location compared to the location you service. But, for the time being, the best advice I can give is if it means that much to your business, get a legitimate address in the city service area. Pay rent on a building you can meet clients at and answer the phone at. Then you are on Google’s nice list. It's not fun being on the naughty side. 

8. Due to the constant algorithm changes, is it now more cost effective for local companies to use PPC campaign versus trying to rank locally?

I would say no, in most cases. It completely depends on your business model and industry and the currently level of competition. Google just launched Adwords Express+ and this will drive everyone’s cost even higher over time in local ads. So, if you have a solid organic strategy in place compared to churn and burn, I think your organic side exponentially grows where as the only way to grow PPC is to spend more.

The key is to stop looking at rankings as the purpose of your SEO work and just expect it as an outcome of good outreach. If you do a guest post, it's not just a link; it could be reaching a community of potential customers that aren't searching for you yet, but will become a brand search later. Referral traffic goes up, you get some great links, and the outcome is better long-term rankings. But the point was to reach the audience on the site and the link is just a bonus. When done properly in a local market, this approach will be the trump card.

9. I wonder how I should handle the listings for a local business with two physical places in the same city?

Google is fine with every physical location having a listing. So, if you have two locations in a city or 100 locations in a city, you can have a listing for each. The key is ensuring that whatever page you point searchers to on your site gives a unique experience with the content you provide. Talk about directions to the location, points of interest next to each location, and reviews for the specific location. I run across results like this often (Jack In The Box ranks twice):

Reviews

10. Have any strategies to get lost Google+ local reviews come back to a local business that changed its location?

There have been so many issues with reviews since Google+ Local was rolled out, I decided to make this Comigraphic. Really, if the reviews being lost aren’t spam, then it comes down to the way business information is stored in Google's system. Your business Name, Address, and Phone number make up your online identity to Google. When one of these things changes then what can happen is Google starts thinking that there are two identities and sometimes your data (reviews or citations) will be stored with the wrong identity. Here is Google's advice on moving:

If a business no longer exists at a location, you can mark it as closed or moved on Google Maps. Follow these steps to have the listing moderated:

  1. Find the closed or moved business on Google Maps.
  2. Use the Report a problem link from the Google Maps result.
  3. Select Place is permanently closed option.
  4. If the place has moved to a new location, give us the new location’s information in the comment box.
  5. If your business has moved and you manage the business’s new location, you should add the new location as a separate listing in your Places dashboard.

Word is that if you move, you lose your reviews. There is a discussion on Linda's forum on this very subject where a couple of Googlers dropped in. In the example that is mentioned in the forum, the old business listing shows the old reviews and says it has moved locations and shows (and links) to the new address. The reviews have transferred so they exist on both listings as well. Hopefully this means that following Google's advice will help you keep your reviews, but sometimes the same path leads to different outcomes in the Googleverse. My best advice is never change your name, never move your address, never change your phone number. 

11. Why can't you offer customers something to write a review? 

Because Google said so in their guidelines. 🙂  Yelp says the same thing, as well. I think the reason is they feel the review would be biased if you were given any form of a reward for leaving it. They don't want solicited reviews. 

12. What is the best way to handle bad reviews on sites like PissedConsumer.com and RipoffReport.com that are ranking on the first page when they are completely spammy and not legit?

Here is a very interesting article on the subject with a few different options. If you don’t think you can get it down through a legal fight, you can try to bury it by basically creating 10-20 properties for your brand that can rank above the bad information pushing it off of page one, and even two. But the report will always be there. Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and WordPress pages for your brand are really easy to use as part of this list. The idea is to own the entire page with listings you control on your brand name searches. 

13. On the topic of reviews, would you say "one a week" is a good system to avoid waves? How many is too many a week?

I don’t know if there is an exact number of reviews per week that Google would or wouldn't look at. The key is to make the review process part of your point of sale. This way, you will naturally get reviews. At one review a week, you would have 52 reviews in a year, and I see VERY few industries that have 50+ reviews in total on a listing. What you want to avoid is going six months without reviews and then in a single day getting like 10-15 reviews. That is extremely unnatural unless you are in business for one day a year. In that case, if you will pay me lots, I will come and work for you for that one day. 

The hardest part about the review process is that you need to get reviews from accounts that have review history. If you have a customer who creates their Google+ profile simply to leave your company one review, I can almost guarantee that it will get filtered. In the Mozinar, I talk about how to find people with active review accounts. 

14. Can you get existing reviews (on Yelp, Yahoo, Zagat, etc.) to appear on your new +Local page?  Or can you only link to those reviews?

Google no longer shows the reviews from other providers in their review count and list. But there was a Google patent that basically said that they could look at other review sites and the amount of reviews as a ranking factor. I have learned something over the years with Google: just because they don't show it, doesn't mean it wont matter. Get reviews from other sites like Yelp, Yahoo, and Zagat if you customers use those sites and it will help you get business. Google might have a big market share, but they don't have all of it. 

15. You said review stations are not allowed. What’s the difference with you asking for a review on your website then? Isn't that the same?

The different is the location that the review is uploaded from. A review station will basically have a static spot. A single IP. So, it looks as if someone is sitting in a office creating review accounts and posting a fake review from it. I personally think review stations are a great idea, but Google doesn't. Though I think I am kinda a big deal, I am afraid that in this case, they win. 

16. In the car industry, there have been many complaints to the Google+ local team about reviews not showing up on their local pages. Have you seen any of these issues happening or any insight of these "bugs" happening?

They are not bugs. Google felt that in the car dealer market, most, if not all, the reviews on Google+ local were spammy. So those reviews are filtered. Mike Blumenthal said the following on his blog about it:

"I can’t share with you the specifics of why Google thinks that most car dealership reviews are spammy. The details of the conversation were under NDA. I assume though that they have looked at a lot and have solid grounds for their understanding of the situation.

The ones that I have looked appear to be guilty of either the misuse of on-site terminals to gather reviews or the use of third parties to post feedback cards as reviews."

Citations/Directories

17. Are citation directories likely to get hit by an algo? How are they different from other directories?

I do think that some citation directories have been hit by a Panda update. Most business information is copied info. This is why you are seeing less and less directories ranking on local search terms. What separates a good local directory from a bad one? Local, unique content. What is the best way for a directory to get this content? User generated reviews. I think this is why Yelp does well in the search results still. Also, to be fair, local directories weren't made for spamming links. They were made for providing websites and users with business information and listings. They run moderation in many cases (phone verification or post card verification). So, even on a bad day, you couldn't group them in the same category as a directory of websites that was strictly for getting a link.

I do think that the local directory business is in a tight spot, though. Google has basically declared themselves the "ultimate directory" and the one directory to rule them all and all are subjected unto them. Unless you can pull a Yelp and get a deal with Apple Maps, or pull a Zagat and get purchased by Google, how can you possibly stay relevant? It is time for local directories to reinvent themselves. 

18. I've heard citation submission be compared to manual link building of the past. Do you think businesses that submit information to directories will be hit by an algorithm in the future?

If they spam the listings, yes. Here is an excellent write up by Bill Slawski on a patent that was granted to Google on how they might determine "spam citations." The main thing Google would look for is a business name with search keywords stuffed in it, or categories with location keywords being used. So, if you are creating/claiming local listings correctly and keep your NAP information accurate and consistent, then I don’t think you need to worry. On the other hand, if you are filling out your listings like this…worry:

Business Name – Keyword Keyword Location

Category one: Location Dentist

Category two: Dentist in Location 

Category three: Best Dentist in Location

Category four: Local dentist in Location

19. What do you think about the Localeze, Infogroup, Axciom, and Yext-like services?

I think that they serve a great purpose, which is to scale local information across many different directories. For a business that has 100's or 1000's of locations, I don’t see a very feasible way to do this otherwise. The problem with all the services is that they are supplying data to partner sites that they do not control. So, lets say you have changed your phone number multiple times over the years. Or maybe you changed addresses. Paying these companies might get a new version of the address submitted, but it wont take care of the bigger issue, which is bad business information still left on directories. Also, while the basic business data is sent to the partners this doesn't mean that every listing looks pretty and has pictures listed withe full profiles filled out. You get the basic data listed. 

Generally speaking, if you can claim and fix listings by hand, I would recommend that approach. If you don't have the time or money to do that, then using the data aggregators is a solid option. In some cases, the combination of both would be the perfect option. In your major markets, do as much hand claiming as possible and automate the rest.

20. How do you deal with call tracking in regards to NAP?

This is one of the most frequently asked questions in local search. I get seriously upset at Google for how they handle this. The short answer is you can't do call tracking with your listings. If you put different numbers on different directories, than you send mixed signals to Google. Their answer is you can use call tracking on their paid products. Since Google+ local is free, I don’t think they are going to come up with a solution. All it would take is for Google to create another field called "preferred number" that you could fill out on your listing and it would display that number even though they would have record of your local number. It would also allow them to find any place online with the preferred number listed and attribute it correctly. In my opinion, Google is holding back the industry and crippling other directories by not allowing for call tracking. But they have every right to do it. That's the worst part. 

So what do I do? I keep the number consistent for NAP and I use an image on the website with a big number that is being tracked. That way, Google doesn't index the number. The issue is this will only be used by the people on your website and not the business listings. 

Links

21. In terms of links, do you need to build links to your Google + business page, Yelp page, etc., or is linking building primarily targeted to the website itself?

People link to things that are awesome. At least they should. So links to directory pages don't make a ton of sense in a "perfect world" and probably don't represent a reason to rank a business higher than another business as most of these links would be built by the business owner and not earned.

Now that Google+ pages have a social layer to them, it makes since that they could get links, get mentioned, etc. I don’t think it will necessarily help you rank higher in map results, but it will make your actual Google+ listing rank higher on your brand name. Same with Yelp, though; I think the only reason a Yelp listing should be linked to is as a way to say "check out our Yelp listing for reviews."

The type of links that help your map listing rank higher are ones that point at your website. 

22. Can you please offer a range of local backlinks that should be applied to a local business to stay under the radar, but be aggressive enough to move up in the SERPs?

Loaded question. Let me first talk about "staying under the radar." I used to have this mentality when it came to link building, especially in local, as it's so freaking hard to get real links in this space. When you can get to the point that the links you build have nothing to do with ranking on Google, you will sleep better, succeed more, and be able to take down your Matt Cutts dartboard. Here's why: link building for increasing page rank is against Google's guidelines. They will continue to interpret that statement unfairly, and with major bias and small businesses will fall on the wrong side of that list forever. So do these things for links and you will be fine. 

1. Quality Guest Posts (try to get em locally) – I built Nifty Marketing through guest posts. I started writing on my blog, and no one came to read it. So I started writing on Search Engine Journal and I didn't do it to get a link; I wanted to get recognized in the local space. I wanted people to know who I was. That lead to speaking events, stories on Search Engine Land, and mentions + posts on the SEOmoz blog. I can tell you I got more business off of the things I wrote or said speaking than I ever did off my rankings (and we have had a lot of good spots). Rankings are a by-product of building your brand. I used to hate that idea, but now I get it. It took me from a no name SEO in Burley, Idaho to a faculty member of Local U, and a speaker at SMX Advanced, West, East, Pubcon, Searchfest, and many other places. All of this came from outreach. If I would have only been focused on the rankings from my links, I would have missed the cream. I would have focused on building fake authority and "flying under the radar" (which is how I started before I knew better and even got a fancy link penalty for it). So now, I focus on clients that allow us to do cool things. Write cool content, and try to get them recognized for it. It's expensive, slow, and not easy, but it's always worth it. 

2. Citations – These are links. Most directories allow for a naked URL to show. Most importantly, people search for businesses on directories. If you fill them out and do a proper job of it, then you will look better than your competitors. You will stand out, you will have reviews on your listing and it will get indexed and the link will count for your business and it will help. 

3. Microsites – Not dirty copied content microsites that just switch out a location name. I'm talking unique sites that serve a purpose like this one. The point of this site isn't to link back to a main site. The point of the site is to share and gather testimonials for this business. Having it on its own URL makes finding and sharing the site offline easy. 

4. Local Newspapers – I own a small town weekly newspaper that is delivered to 18,000 homes and has around 35,000 readers. I need good local content. If a business comes to us with an awesome idea, I find room. That is a big potential audience. It's a print paper, but there is an online version. It is single-handedly one of the best links that you could get in a town like mine. 

5. Social links – Check out this Facebook page for Abrey Adams. She's a local photographer in my small town of 10,000. She has 11,000 real fans on Facebook. She gets referral business all day long. She runs Facebook competitions, she posts EVERYTHING, and she's really good at photography and Photoshop. Screw ranking on Burley and Idaho Photographer (even though she ranks in the top spots). Her business is coming from the buzz of her local brand. If she only worried about people finding her on search in my town, she would have to close up shop.

If you focus on the above, you wont fly under the radar. You will fly way above it and not even care. 

23. Is the time it takes to build up a local microsite to a respectable level worth it?

If the microsite is only for the purpose of the link, then no, it's not worth the time. If the site serves a purpose for the brand and brings visibility, then yes.

Onsite Optimization

24. Can you suggest a good NAP (correct?) maker site?

Here is the best schema site for coding your address and here is a great article on how to do it. For even more fields, you can check out the actual local business section on schema.org

25. Should the (website) testimonials be on a "testimonials" page, or along the sidebar? Do they need to be unique from the testimonials given on the Google+ Local page and other local sources?

I think that testimonials can be on both the sidebar and a full page. It doesn't make since to have more than one or two testimonials on a sidebar or a landing page, but having a massive page of testimonials can speak for your service quality. When it comes to the content of the testimonials, if you copy them from Google+ local, Yelp, or other directories, this is duplicate content. It might keep a page from ranking on (your brand name + reviews), but I doubt you would trip a Panda filter with it. There was a bit of a fiasco that happened at LocalU advanced this year in New York when Joel Headley mentioned that duplicated reviews could be removed from Google+. He wasn't able to give any specifics, but I think it is worth reading. 

26. Do you recommend creating landing page for both Service by City (meaning a landing page for every city and service)?

Yes. We created a local landing page infographic that has a good breakdown of the information to include on a local landing page. When it comes to services pages, I would also recommend building them out on a per location bases if you can do it with quality unique content. For example, let's say you are a pest control company that offers bed bug treatments. You already have local landing pages for each of your offices that shows your address. If you build out a bed bug page for each market, you could add local testimonials and talk about the places around the city that have been having bed bug problems. You can link to local news sources talking about the problem and you can give localized advice on your pricing and service. This is a better experience for the user than an overall bed bug page for all your locations. Very few people are doing this, and it's a great way to capitalize on long tail search.  

27. Hi, you briefly mentioned KML, on Google’s help page they say this is no longer supported. Are you still using this and how?

Yes. Geo sitemaps stopped being supported, but you can still create a kml file and link to it from your xml and html sitemap. Also, you can upload it as a sitemap in google webmaster tools following these directionsHere is a site that helps you create a kml file. 

28. Can we touch on what to do with NAPs for clients who have multiple office locations?

I generally like to have a "locations" tab in the main navigation that would go to a page like this:

Then, you can have the addresses as links that point to your local landing page. Both address (on the location page and on the local landing page) should be coded in schema. This method works great up to around 100 locations. If you have more locations than that, you should consider a store finder and build your local directory with a state folder so your URL structure would be mysite.com/locations/california/los-angeles. 

Google+ Local

29. Does having your full name displayed on Google+ turn you off from leaving an online review?

Yes… and no. I get why Google wants full names to be displayed. It keeps people honest. For instance, I know most of the business owners in my town on a first name basis. If I review them, I better be willing to stand by it because I see them around town. People won't say a lot of really harsh things because of it. But does that actually represent the experience? Hard to tell.

Then there are the situations like DUI Lawyers where you just can't plan on getting reviews period. Who would really leave a review with their full name? Could you imagine… "I was caught drunk driving and got away with it. This guy rocks. BOOM!"

It was a stand Google made. I respect them, but I think it puts some industries in a tough spot and it doesn't work as well for small towns.  

30. How do you connect a business google places listing or transfer that information to a Google+ business listing?

This post by David Mihm is the best post on the claiming process I know of. 

31. Some of our clients operate out of their home, and do not want to use their physical address. Suggestions on G+ pages?

I hate this whole end of Google+ local and hiding addresses. Here is a piece I did when the feature first came out. Hiding address was a guaranteed way to sink a listing. That changed. Around a year later, Miriam wrote this piece explaining that if you are a service based business and check the box that says you service customers at their location, then you need to hide your address or your listing could get suspended. Now, if you have your address hidden and service customers at their location, then Google+ local is not a product you can use. There is a sticky post by Jade (Googler) that says:

"The upgraded (merged) local Google+ pages are not currently supporting service area businesses. Please continue to manage it via Google Places for Business and hide your address as necessary, detailed in the quality guidelines."

32. How do you approach Google+ pages for a local business with multiple websites that are for different services? For example, a lawyer with both a DUI site and a bankrupcy site. Should each site have its own Google+ local page (as some suggest) or just one Local Plus page, which then would not link to one site?

You can't create more than one listing in Google Places +local social pages for different services. So basically, a one site approach. This is only for maps. Organically, it wouldn't matter. 

33. We have verified our two locations with Google, but our locations are still "under review" for the last six weeks. Any tips you can offer on how to get out of the sandbox? 

This is a link to a Google Troubleshooter for verifying listings. In a move that completely shocked the local SEO world, Google is now offering phone support on verification issues. My guess is that a monetization strategy in local will follow soon. In the meantime, if you have issues with verification, follow the steps on the link and you will get fixed up. 

34. I work for a company that has multiple businesses from one location. Will Google see us being spammy if we have the Google+ local pointing to the same location for those businesses?

This is a question that I have heard a lot of mixed responses on. But fact of the matter is the "real world" works this way. I ran two businesses that were separate LLCs from a single location for two years. You can use the same address for both listings. Here are a couple of things to keep in mind, though: 

  • If the businesses are in the same industry, just with different names, it generally will get flagged as spam. 
  • You do run the risk of the listings having information merge and reviews possibly crossing onto the wrong listing (worst case scenario).

35. If my page was created as a brand page, should I and how can I switch it to a places page? 

You can't, according to Google. Hopefully they change this at some point. 

36. With Google+, what does a company use as an account login to Google+ if they have multiple locations and businesses and don't want to sign in as a person?

Hopefully you had a company email you were using with Google Places, use that same email for creating your +local social page. One of the benefits on the new platform that is being rolled out is that it will support multiple admins. The feature exists and can be viewed by going to Google+ and looking for the Pages tab on the left sidebar. Here is a screenshot:

37. If a company that serves multiple states wants to set up a Google+ page, should they set up a local business or a company/organization page?

If you have multiple locations, you will need a local business page to link it to your map listing. Google is literally in the middle of rolling out dashboard features this week, and I am telling EVERYONE to not claim their +local page until we know what the new system will look like for multi-location businesses. So far, there seems to be a dashboard where you can view all of your locations at once, but no word exists on how a +brand page update might be reflected on your +local page. So, hold tight. 

38. If I rank well in Google local results, would you suggest converting to G+ or waiting until they get things sorted out (dashboard/integration)?

I loved my grandpa. He started Ramsey Heating Electric over 50 years ago and recently passed away. I lived with him through most of high school and he taught me the value of hard work. One thing that he constantly would say was this: 

"If it ain't broke… don’t fix it."

That is good advice, and I would adhere to it if I were you. Wait until the dust settles to upgrade. 

39. How would you do local optimization for a business located inside another business?

This is directly from Google Places Quality Guidelines: 

"Some businesses may be located within a mall or a container store, which is a store that contains another business. If your business is within a container store or mall, and you'd like to include this information in your listing, specify the container store in parentheses in the business name field. For example, Starbucks (inside Safeway)."

40. If you could give one piece of advice when it comes to your Google+ Local Page, what would it be? 

Diversify. Don't rely on Google+ local for all your business. Your listing will have issues, it wont always rank, reviews will disappear, bad things will happen. If your local strategy is simply "get my listing to rank," you will fail. I know that is harsh, but I am tired of taking phone calls from businesses who are "on the verge of closing because they rely on Google for 90% of their business and their listing disappeared last week."

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SEOmoz Daily SEO Blog

96 Quick SEO Wins – What Can You Do With an Hour?

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Posted by kevingibbons

In many ways, 2012 was the year search engine optimization (SEO) really grew up. Google left us with little choice. But we evolved as an industry, striving to build high-quality content and focus on adding as much value as possible for our users, readers, and customers.

There was a lot of pain along the way throughout this growth process, and many are still cleaning up from the aftermath. For example, the gaps in Google’s algorithm have been closed to the point that any quick SEO tactic is likely to be just that — a short-term fix at best, a potential cause of long-term damage at worst.

If you want to win in 2013, you must commit to a solid long-term strategy. However, that’s not to say you can’t build small wins into your long-term strategy to assist in developing brand strength.

The only real way to beat the well-known online brands is to become one yourself. But just because the more traditional SEO tactics from previous years are now areas to avoid in 2013, doesn’t mean there aren’t any quick wins out there.

Research and Analysis Wins

Research and Analysis Wins

  1. Make a cup of tea and read through Google’s patents to figure out where they’re going next!
  2. Not a fan of tea? Take your client for a beer instead. Find out what else they’re working on outside of your campaign. There’s a good chance you’ll find information that can be of great assistance.
  3. Spend time with your dev team. Get to know them and figure out their difficulties and bottlenecks.
  4. Build a checklist scorecard of how well you know outreach targets, and map out stages of how you you can get to know them better.
  5. Find the top bloggers in your local city or region. Figure out where they hang out so that you can meet them (events, don’t stalk them on the way home).
  6. Even better, arrange your own meetup and invite key bloggers and journalists.
  7. Run an industry survey to collect data, which can then be used for content production.

Google+ and Authorship Wins

Google+ and Authorship Wins

  1. Set up Google Authorship for your site, or if you have already, verify that it’s working.
  2. Arrange a seminar to demonstrate how your team can link up their Google+ author profiles.
  3. Encourage your team to build up their Google+ profiles and share other content.
  4. Have a blog? Find orphaned posts from ‘guest bloggers’ and move them under the relevant author profiles where you can map them up – same for ex-staff members.

Events and Sponsorship Wins

Events and Sponsorship Wins

  1. Find local sports teams and events you can sponsor.
  2. Submit a speaker pitch for an industry event.
  3. Create a content plan around liveblogging an industry event.

Content Strategy and Planning Wins

Content Strategy and Planning Wins

  1. Be creative – brainstorm new product ideas to make them link-worthy.
  2. Acquire a company!
  3. Get sued! (Ok, maybe don’t.)
  4. Open new content angles by relating your niche to a different topic.
  5. Dig into your data – look over old company reports, white papers, etc. for key statistics.
  6. Schedule a team brainstorm to develop new content ideas.
  7. Share a Google Calendar mapping out your website content plan with auto-send reminders to the people involved with different areas of content creation.
  8. Aim to split opinions with your content and promote this to both audiences for a reaction. It doesn’t have to be controversial, just as long as you have no right or wrong answer.

Relationship-Building Wins

Relationship Building Wins

  1. Follow up! Make the effort to stay in touch with key contacts via social, email, phone, and face-to-face.
  2. Become friends with key influencers and meet them in person – invite them to lunch or arrange a meetup.
  3. Reuse great outreach connections and build on-going relationships.
  4. Provide customer testimonials for your software, product, and service providers.
  5. Ask influencers to add you to their partner pages.
  6. Get your users involved. Build relationships and brand interaction by rewarding loyal fans.
  7. Ask your friends and family to link to you if they have personal websites.

Content Production Wins

Content Production Wins

  1. Take photos and make them available under a Creative Commons license.
  2. Write topical content about a trend from that day.
  3. Interview experts within your niche (ego bait).
  4. Craft an exclusive content pitch for a leading authority website.
  5. Focus on one piece of great content, instead of four average ones.
  6. Develop a content ideation plan for an infographic using data from within your company.
  7. Answer common questions asked within your industry. This can be a great method for brainstorming content ideas.
  8. Set up Google Alerts for these questions so when these are asked on blogs or forums you can reply with your opinion (and link to your content).
  9. Create and syndicate video content to target new audiences.
  10. Offer a discount promotion to get people talking, and so they are picked up on promo-code websites.
  11. Create a great 404 error page. Your users will love it, and it might get you some links for creativity!

Comment Marketing Wins

Comment Marketing Wins

  1. Make the effort to reply to comments on all of your content (posts on your blog, guest posts, news coverage, etc.) to help build relationships.
  2. Find an active forum within your niche to start contributing and building profiles.
  3. Find two targeted blogs; comment where you can add value, and subscribe or follow them and their key writers on Twitter.

Local SEO Wins

Local Wins

  1. Take photos of your office, or store and upload a minimum of six high-quality photos to help your local listing stand out.
  2. Ensure all of your company addresses are registered and up to date on Google+ Local.
  3. Design business cards that encourage customers to review your brand on Google, TripAdvisor, Yelp!, etc. Offer them a next-time discount incentive.
  4. Create landing pages with local intent. Submit them to Google Local if you have multiple addresses.
  5. Take a visit to your local library and dig deep into historical information about your local town or city. You might find a gem that hasn’t been written about online, which is great for picking up local citations and links. Michael Dorausch has some great tips in a local review of Tampa.
  6. Create a list of power reviewers within your sector and look to get on their radar.
  7. Make sure you’re listed on the key local providers, such as Yell, ThomsonLocal, ReachLocal, etc.

Blogger Outreach Wins

Blogger Outreach Wins

  1. Find two of the most authoritative bloggers in your niche and figure out the best way to connect. In all likelihood, they’ve added that to their “About” page.
  2. Pick up the phone and speak to top influencers.
  3. Hire writers within your niche and leverage their contacts for outreach.
  4. Spend your hour carefully crafting a great content pitch and make it personal and original.
  5. Give bloggers and journalists a product they can use or test in exchange for a review (use with caution, and make this well-targeted and selective).
  6. Write for authority sites within your niche. Build strong relationships and strengthen your reputation by leveraging the audiences of well-respected industry blogs.
  7. Get your client to create a company email address for you with their domain so it’s clearer when you’re sending emails out on their behalf.

Penguin and Panda Penalty Review Wins

Penguin and Panda Penalty Review Wins

  1. Perform a content performance ratio analysis to figure out how much content you need to clean up.
  2. Build a list of top sites you want to remove links from.
  3. Clean up your own internal anchor text from over-optimisation.
  4. Reduce cross-linking from other sites you own. Link from partner pages, rather than sitewide.
  5. Clean up any links from your social profiles and author bios.

On-Site Optimisation Wins

On-Site Optimisation Wins

  1. Prioritise a list of key actions, and assign responsibilities and deadlines.
  2. Install SEO WordPress plugins to optimise your blog.
  3. Optimise page title tags. It’s the oldest quick SEO win in the book, but it still works!
  4. Test pay-per-click (PPC) ad copy as title/meta description to lift organic click-through rate.
  5. Review navigation structure such as breadcrumbs and internal linking.

Productivity Wins

Productivity Wins

  1. Use tools. I could fill another 96 points here, but I suggest discovering which two or three make you more efficient. Then spend the time to really get to know how to use them fully.
  2. Start to document your delivery process. This will save you a lot of time in the future when training your team.
  3. Run a knowledge share session with your internal team and/or client. Try to make sure they know what you do, then you don’t have to do it all yourself!
  4. Learn how to get things done. Watching this video takes 45 minutes — you’ve still got 15 minutes left. So you’re instantly more productive!

Link Removal Wins

Link Removal Wins

  1. Analyse your backlinks to find off-topic, poor anchor text links.
  2. Analyse the market to find the percentage of exact-match anchor text for key competitors.
  3. Clean up any obvious paid or over-optimised links.

Link Reclamation Wins

Link Reclamation Wins

  1. Google Operator Query “Brand Name” “Key Person Within Organisation Name.” Then ask to be credited with a link within article if not already given.
  2. Google Image search for your infographics or photos. Ask for link credits where these are not provided.
  3. Find broken links pointing out of site with this tool. This is another easy fix to clean up and makes your site look good.

Competitive Analysis Wins

Competitive Analysis Wins

  1. Research competitors’ top pages in OpenSiteExplorer to get content ideas.
  2. Review brand traffic history in analytics to measure the impact of offline brand signals.
  3. Think of creative ways you can get more people searching for your brand by joining up with offline advertising.

Public Relations Wins

Public Relations Wins

  1. Bring your PR and social teams together to understand what they are doing and how they can help each other by working more closely together.
  2. Sign up for PR service HARO (Help a Reporter Out) to become a link source for news articles.
  3. Build a list of key journalists and media contacts you want to influence.
  4. Enter relevant industry and local awards competitions.
  5. Brainstorm ideas to connect offline with online tactics. How can you get more people searching for you (sending brand signals to Google)?

Technical Wins

Technical Wins

  1. Create and submit an XML Sitemap to keep this up to date in Google Webmaster Tools.
  2. Check how your website displays on mobile and tablet devices, and plan to create platform-specific sites if you don’t already have them.
  3. Fix duplicate content homepage: www vs non-www.
  4. Check for external duplicate content.
  5. Make sure the geo-targeting for your international site is set up correctly in Google Webmaster Tools.
  6. Optimise your site for mobile. Do it in less than an hour with a plugin.

Analytics and Measurement Wins

Analytics and Measurement Wins

  1. Start developing a strategy around your top 20 PPC spend/converting keywords.
  2. Find your top converting landing pages. Optimise them and update the content to attract new links.
  3. Ensure all your analytic goals are in place to measure both micro and macro conversions so you can report on revenue, leads, and ROI to your boss and/or client.
  4. Talk to your clients and learn about their main business.
  5. Finally…spend your hour writing a report making a business case for the value of SEO to get extra resources allocated. Because really — an hour's just not enough!

Whew! I could go on and on, but hopefully you get the point. And a big thanks to Ryan Gibson, Amrit Gill, Paddy Moogan, Danny Ashton, Matt Sawyer, and many more for their helpful responses on Twitter.

Let’s hope this is enough to keep you busy for the first 96 hours. Then you can use the 97th to plan the rest.

I know I am not satisfied with 96. I want to know — what else would you do? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

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SEOmoz Daily SEO Blog

Announcing Moz’s 2012 Metrics, Acquisition of AudienceWise, & Opening of Our Portland Office

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Posted by randfish

2012 was an amazing year at SEOmoz. We grew tremendously in members, revenue, and employees; finally raised a second round of funding; added some cool features to PRO; and acquired three companies (though, until today, we've only publicly talked about two of those). In this blog post, I'm going to cover our 2012 numbers in some detail and tell you about our very exciting, final acquisition of the year, AudienceWise.

The blog post is broken into several sections for those who'd like to jump around:

Moz's Acquisition of AudienceWise

I first met Matthew Brown along with his partner-in-crime at Define, Marshall Simmonds, in Xiamen, China. I was with my grandfather, Si, speaking at SES Xiamen, and the NYTimes' SEO team was hosting us for dinner. I still remember my Grandfather commenting that he'd been a subscriber to the Times for 50 years, and it was about time they took him out to dinner 🙂

Since then, Matthew's gone on to start his own consultancy, AudienceWise, with Tim Resnik, former CEO of a gaming startup and a tremendously accomplished marketer & data junkie. Both have been frequently involved in the Moz community – Matt spoke at Mozcon two years ago and will again. Tim and he are both quiet lurkers on the blog, but with this transaction, I expect that to change a bit. Over the past couple years, we've talked extensively about recruiting them to the SEOmoz team. They were on our list of potential acquisitions for our failed funding round in summer 2011, and part of the "use of funds" we spoke about with Brad Feld in our April 2012 round.

Matt and Tim are really here at Moz to help us scale our in-house marketing and product expertise. Both have built software products in the past (Matt worked with Marshall on SearchCLU, Tim on an online poker subscription service) and have tremendous depth-of-knowledge in the fields of both inbound and paid marketing. We have a lot of phenomenal talent at SEOmoz, but only a few of us are deep into the fields of SEO, social media, content marketing, email, CRO, etc. Matt and Tim are here to help serve as mentors and as internal-consultant experts to our entire team, a role that I've been far too busy to fill effectively the last 18 months.

Matt and Tim Visiting the Mozplex

The AudienceWisers have been by the Mozplex several times, but in their first official visit as employees, they impressed a lot of folks on our team and have already jumped into a ton of projects. For example, Tim is working on visiting our rankings data & how we'll build reports for rankings going forward, and reviewing a big secret project that I'm not allowed to talk about on the blog. Meanwhile, Matt's working with Erica to head up our search for great Mozcon speakers, co-piloting the 2013 ranking factors work with Dr. Matt Peters (as an aside, doesn't Matt & Dr. Matt sound like a good sitcom title?), helping with the new version of the Mozbar, working with the product and engineering teams on the web classification system, and much more. 

I particularly loved the email Matt sent on the allstaff thread welcoming him and Tim:

Matt's email to team

Some notes on the acquisition:

  • The total acquisition price (including salary, stock, and deferred payments) is in the low seven figures.
  • SEOmoz is acquiring AudienceWise's process & products (including some research work and software Matt & Tim have built), the team itself, but NOT the consulting business. Matt & Tim will continue to do a small amount of consulting outside of SEOmoz, and our business will continue to remain free from services revenue.
  • The AudienceWise Portland offices only hold three people, so we're getting some new space (more on that below).
  • Technically, the deal closed in mid-December, but we wanted to wait to announce until Matt & Tim had wrapped up their other obligations and started at Moz full time (which happened last Monday, Jan. 14).
  • Matt will be reporting to me with the title "Head of Special Projects," while Tim will be on Adam Feldstein's product team as "Principal Product Strategist." We're doing more with titles in the next couple months at Moz, so these may change. Neither will have any direct reports, but both will be contributing as consultants/advisors/project leads on a number of teams.

I'm sure that Matt & Tim would love to hear from you and are happy to take questions in the comments of this post, so feel free to leave them, and please join me in welcoming them to the Moz team!

The Opening of Our Portland Office (aka Mozlandia)

We Mozzers have long loved Portland from our perch in the Emerald city. We visit on weekends to sample their insanely weird and tasty food carts and restaurants. We stay extra nights after conferences to tour their far-too-cool-for-Seattle clothing stores. We rant jealously about their much lower cost-of-living and their lack of a state sales tax (which adds to the retail goodness). And, of course, we poke fun at their hipsterdom.

Portlandia on IFC

In fact, after watching three seasons of Portlandia, and experiencing the magic that city has to offer, we could no longer resist its pull. Starting in April of this year (probably, maybe May or June depending on lease details), SEOmoz will be opening only its second office ever in Portland, Oregon, nicknamed "Mozlandia."

We've already created a poster of our own:

Mozlandia

Pictured from left to right: Peter Bray (FollowerWonk), Matthew Brown and Tim Resnik (AudienceWise), Galen Huntington (FollowerWonk), and David Mihm (GetListed).

I'm pretty sure this picture alone means our Portland office is going to be an amazing place to work (honestly, Galen looks WAY more "Portland" than his counterpart in the IFC photo). We'll start recruiting more formally soon, but in the meantime, feel free to check out any of the open positions at Moz, many of which teams may be open to staffing in Portland. We will continue to offer our $ 12,000 referral and signing bonus for software engineering positions in both cities.

2012 Moz Financials

It was a good year for the company financially, despite our focus being on a lot of other issues. We ended the year at $ 21.9mm in revenue – nearly doubling from 2011's $ 11.4mm.

I think 2012 and 2013 are going to go down in our history as "investments in the foundation" years. After our funding round closed in April, we spent the vast majority of the year building products that have yet to launch (stay tuned), building up recruiting and onboarding processes, bolstering our product and team with acquisitions, experimenting with how to handle a much larger big data product (Mozscape – sadly most of our efforts to dramatically grow size & increase freshness in 2012 failed, but we believe we now know enough to have success in 2013), and managing culture at a mid-size company (which went pretty well and led to some nice kudos like Seattle's Best Place to Work).

Below is a look at overall product revenue growth from 2007-2012:

SEOmoz Revenue 2007-2012

More than 90% of total revenue comes from SEOmoz PRO subscriptions, with additional contributions from the SEOmoz API (these are combined in the "product revenue" chart above). Mozcon tickets sales and DVD sales are not included in this graph, nor is consulting revenue, which ended in 2009.

I did, however, want to show our expenses for 2012, compare them to 2011, and break them down by category so you can get a better sense of what's in our costs (and see how we're spending that fancy VC money!). I didn't have a great way to show this as a visual graph (pie charts over time are funky – I guess I could have done the stacked graph, but they're also funky), yet the chart conveys the data pretty well:

SEOmoz Company Expenses 2011-2012

There are a few interesting takeaways from the above:

  • Personnel as a percentage remains the same, and I'd guess it will go up a small amount in 2013.
  • Hosting is where most of our COGS (Cost of Goods Sold) and pain comes from. It should be going down as we reach larger scales, but in 2012, we chose to invest in building faster rather than going slow and finding solutions to our declining margins. That will change in 2013, and while this year as a whole will probably still be high, we're predicting that our total hosting costs will be ~50% of what they are today (~650K/month) by Q4.
  • Contractors are a resource we've leaned on heavily in the past, particularly on the development front. That number will probably remain similar in 2013, though eventually we plan to bring the vast majority of production in-house, and rely on contractors only for specialized needs.
  • Facilities is one that will, hopefully, take a huge leap up in 2013. We need a new office here in Seattle, and while we've been a bit stymied on our first six months exploring spaces (we've had two offices we wanted fall through on us), we want to be moving to a much larger headquarters as soon as possible. In the meantime, Mozlandia will help us grow a bit in Portland.
  • Not a believer in inbound marketing? If this data doesn't convince you, nothing will. The incredibly low percent of costs that go to attracting traffic and acquiring customers (on the "marketing" line – remember that SEOmoz has no sales team or costs) are a testament to SEOmoz drinking our own Kool-Aid, and investing in sources like content, organic search, social media, email, CRO, and word-of-mouth to spread our brand. It means we can invest much more in research, product, and data. Check out traffic from the last 6 quarters:

SEOmoz & OSE traffic 2011-2012

Some spikiness from viral content skews the trendline a bit, but in general, we're seeing healthy growth from every channel.

If you have questions about this stuff, feel free to ask in the comments and myself or Sarah Bird (our COO) can answer.

2012 Employee & Customer Growth Data

The financials tell part of the story, but a few other data points felt interesting to me and may be to you as well. First up is our growth in employee count from our first year as a software company to today:

SEOmoz Employee Headcount 2007-2012

The chart shows headcount of full time employees at the end of each year. We've obviously had a ton of growth here in 2012, and we're budgeting to add another 66 team members in 2013 (though a lack of new office space may slow that down). What amazes me the most is how well our culture has managed to handle this growth. I feel better about the persistence of TAGFEE and the other cultural aspects at SEOmoz today than I did when we were at 50 people, 25, or 5. To be honest, that's not what I expected. I thought things would get invariably harder and worse at this scale, but given the trend, I'm incredibly optimistic about 150, 250, even 500! Though, I know all of those will take incredible effort to succeed.

Next is our customer growth:

SEOmoz PRO Subscribers

18,731 was the final count of paid PRO subscribers on Jan. 1st, 2013 (our historical numbers for prior years were less precise, hence the rounding).

It's pretty remarkable and truly humbling to have nearly 20,000 paid customers using our product. But we know that we've got a long way to go. In 2012, we had four pretty severe incidents and several smaller ones where critical customer data like rankings, crawl info, or Mozscape index updates were missing or late. We launched a few cool features at the end of 2011 and very beginning of 2012 (social analytics, historical link analysis, universal SERPs tracking, and custom reports) but with the exception of Followerwonk (which is a huge addition to PRO, and continues to develop new features itself), it was a very quiet year for features.

2013 is going to be very different. Our first major launch since Wonk is only a few weeks away, and spring should see the start of many more. We also have an entire team of five engineers, under the leadership of Shawn Edwards, focused on uptime and reliability. The levels of unreliability we've had in the past are unacceptable, and the speed of product improvement is, too. In our reviews for each other this month, Sarah and I were chatting about a large release we've been working on since late 2011, and Sarah told me, "If we haven't launched by June, we should both fire each other." I couldn't put it better myself. This year, we need to kick ass for our customers and be more deserving of the incredible support and growth you've enabled for our team.


January 2013 marks my 11th anniversary working in this job (prior to 2004, I worked with my Mom, Gillian, at the web design/marketing company that would become SEOmoz). I've never been more amazed by what the company's accomplished than I am today, but I know every day from now forward presents the challenge to all of us at Moz – to prove we're worthy of the fantastic things we have (customers, revenue, investors, supporters) and to not be trapped by the mistakes of the past, nor fall prey to the pitfalls of the future.

Matt & Tim will be a huge help, as the teams from FollowerWonk and Getlisted have been already. Mozlandia is going to be an exciting new experiment for us. And 2012 was a great year, but honestly, I can't wait for 2013 to get going, and for us Mozzers to be able to show all of you what the remarkable team we've built can do.

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


SEOmoz Daily SEO Blog

Moving to a New Location? Don’t Forget about Local Search

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Posted by David Mihm

It’s obviously not uncommon for small businesses to move — fluctuating rents, growth, lifestyle concerns for the business owner or employees, and any number of factors make good reasons to move. However, few business owners understand the Local Search headaches they may be creating for themselves or their customers as a result of a move.

Celia Bell, Assistant Director of SCORE’s Austin chapter, is currently experiencing some of those headaches and sent me an email last week to ask for my advice on how to alleviate them. Given her essential help with Local University Austin next week, it was the least I could do to respond. The problem Celia’s having is so common, though, that I thought I’d just turn my advice into a blog post/case study.

The situation

SCORE is a nationwide volunteer-driven non-profit organization that mentors small business owners and prospective entrepreneurs in 340 markets across the country. Each of its chapters operates relatively independently from a physical location, with significant support from the parent organization — not unlike a typical commercial franchise or chain-store model.

SCORE’s Austin chapter recently moved to a location about eight miles northwest of its old local headquarters. Unfortunately, Google was displaying its former headquarters right on the main search result for “SCORE Austin,” and SCORE clients were actually visiting the old address for meetings and workshops. (In fairness to Google, other search engines were confused as well, though not quite to the same extent.)


 

The goal of this exercise: Ensure all prominent web, mobile, and app search results display only the current, proper information for the SCORE chapter.

Getting started

SCORE’s volunteer webmaster only increased her frustration level by attempting to edit the group's Google Plus Local page over and over again, with nothing to show for it. Sadly, I suspect many business owners (and marketing agencies) go through the same process, with equally unsatisfying results. I hope that this guide yields more success and helps explain why the process must be more comprehensive than just a quick edit at Google.

The reason that simply correcting misinformation about your business at Google does not solve the problem is that Google's Local index pulls in business data from a nearly-infinite number of sources across the web. Some of these are more authoritative than others (such as those provided by Localeze, Infogroup, and Acxiom–see below), but a business owner's verified listing is only one source of this data. If all you're doing is updating your Google+ Local Page, you're going to continue to see problems because "new" erroneous data will constantly feed into Google from all of its other sources.

Assessing the damage

One of the central tenets of local search engine optimization is to ensure that your business’s Name, Address, and Phone number, NAP for short, is consistent everywhere it’s mentioned around the web (and offline, too). Your NAP is basically your digital thumbprint — Google’s unique identifier for an individual business.

When you move locations, you create an inconsistency in the A of your NAP. Sadly, there’s no “301 redirect” or “forward location” command that you can give the local search engines, similar to what you can file with the U.S. Postal Service. Google, Bing, and others can't identify your new NAP as belonging to the same business. In the best case, inconsistencies lead to lower search engine rankings for keyword searches you want to rank for. But in the worst case (SCORE’s), not even customers who are specifically looking for your business can find you! So, unfortunately, it's up to you to update this information yourself.

The first thing I did was to run an Accuracy Report on GetListed for both SCORE's old and new NAP information. I wanted to see which search engines had indexed which location(s), and in what manner.

Incorrect (Old) NAP:
SCORE Austin
3809 S 2nd St
Austin, TX 78704
(512) 928-2425
Correct (New) NAP:
SCORE Austin
5524 Bee Cave Rd., Building M
Austin, TX  78746
(512) 928-2425

Running this report provided three key insights:

1) SCORE’s phone number did not change during the move.

2) Their business name is actually an acronym for “Service Corps Of Retired Executives” — which is how they’re listed on four of the most prominent local search engines:

US Score-Services Corps of Retired (Google)
US SCORE-SVC CORPS OF RETIRED (Infogroup)
US Score-Svc Corps of Retired (YP.com)
Service Corps of RTRD Exctvs Assctn (Nokia)

3) SCORE recently implemented a nationwide effort to unify branding across all of its chapters–moving from an older strategy of each chapter operating its own unique website (scoreaustin.org, e.g.) to giving each chapter its own subdomain on the national website (austin.score.org).

Item #1 is a major advantage over many small businesses who move locations — a constant phone number means that Google and other search engines should be able to verify changes much more quickly. Item #2 is a disadvantage, since neither the old NAP or new NAP is 100% clean. This will mean multiple rounds of clean up. Item #3 may be a disadvantage depending on the email address in which SCORE’s Google Plus Local pages are claimed.

The cleanup process

After running your Accuracy Report, go back to Google and perform a search, where your query is any combination of incorrect/old NAP information. Make note of the webpages that Google returns near the top of its rankings, as Google is likely pulling data from most of these sites. I find it useful to keep track of this information on an Excel or Google Spreadsheet, from a task management standpoint.

You can also click through to any Plus Pages returned by these searches. If you're lucky, sometimes Google will even tell you a few of the sites they are pulling this information from towards the bottom of those pages. In SCORE's case, Citysearch was a very important site feeding Google bad information.

You should also search Google Maps for out-of-date information. Once you do, click the little triangular drop-down button and select "Report a problem" at the bottom of the list. On the report a problem screen, correct any misinformation and explain to Google why you are requesting the change (i.e. you've moved!).

Pay special attention to the bottom of the webpages where your information is incorrect. Many of these are local directory sites where you will be able to update the information yourself--but they, in turn, may be getting this misinformation from another source. Good examples of this in SCORE's case were sites like this one for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser — a newspaper that was not even in SCORE's market — which was supplied with data by both Local.com and Acxiom.

In addition to fixing your data on these local directories, you'll want to fix it on sites that supply them with this data. These sites are Acxiom, Infogroup (ExpressUpdateUSA) and Localeze. Together, these are the three most important business data providers to Google, and if you want to update your old information permanently, you'll need to update it at all three of these sites. These companies also feed most major mobile apps like Facebook Nearby, Foursquare, and Apple Maps.

After searching Google and Google Maps, reporting problems directly, and keeping note of all of their erroneous data sources, you'll want to check one more site that Google operates: Google MapMaker. Think of MapMaker as a Wikipedia for locations. Google users from all of the world can add, edit, delete, and consolidate business information using this tool. For the most part, each edit is reviewed by other Google users before it goes live to the public.  

Not many business owners (or even marketers, for that matter) know about MapMaker, but it seems to have become a very important element in Google's business data cluster over the last few years, and it can be very helpful in cleaning up out-of-date information. Remember the "Report a problem" step above? My understanding is that that process actually feeds into the MapMaker community, but I've found that edits requested directly in MapMaker sometimes get processed more quickly than "reported problems."

To request an edit, simply click the "Edit" link under any incorrect listing for your business on MapMaker, update your information, and tell the community why you are asking for a change (i.e. your business has moved!).

Whew! This all seems a little complicated. As I said above, though, keeping track of all of the sites where you're listed incorrectly via an Excel or Google Spreadsheet can make things a lot simpler.  

Most of these major data sources for Google allow you to update information on out-of-date listings by creating a free account. Note: it's important to UPDATE old, out-of-date listings rather than create new ones. Just creating new, correct ones won't make the old, incorrect ones go away. During the course of your research, you may also find some independently-operated sites (such as local libraries or chambers of commerce), where you'll just have to reach out via email or by placing a phone call.

In my spreadsheet, I typically enter the profile page along with username, email address, and password information for each major data source on its own line. I then make a note of the last time I "touched" each listing and any notes that will help me remember special treatment for each.  

It's a best practice to choose a generic email address for your business (something like frontdesk@mybusiness.com) rather than a personal one (doglover@yahoo.com), so that future employees or agencies will be able to log in and update your information without you giving away any personal details.

Frustratingly, even though this is 2013 and this is the INTERNET, it typically takes 2-3 months for all of these updates to flow through the Local Ecosystem. So you may continue to see incorrect information showing up at Google while it assimilates all of these changes. If you've followed the process above, however, you should see a permanent update of your information at Google and other major search engines and mobile apps.

N.B. #1 I realize this guide is U.S.-Centric, and here on the SEOmoz Blog we have many international users. Over the course of the Spring, I'll be releasing Local Search Ecosystems for a number of major search markets around the world, including the UK, Germany, France, Spain, and Brasil. I already released the Canadian Ecosystem last year.  Although the data aggregators that feed Google vary across the world, the same process can be followed in other countries.

N.B. #2 I realize the additional step of querying Google and Google Maps for out-of-date NAP information seems unnecessary and duplicative, given what GetListed.org is designed to do. We are currently working on surfacing this information much more efficiently within the next version of GetListed, so stay tuned!

Fixing bad data across the Local Search ecosystem: The Cliffs Notes Version

1) Search Google.com and Maps.Google.com for your business name and city.
1a) In this era of increasing mobile engagement, you may also want to check Apple Maps or other primary mobile applications.

2) Run an Accuracy Report on GetListed.org for both correct and incorrect information returned by Google.

3) Search Google.com for your incorrect NAP. 

4) From your Google.com searches and GetListed.org Accuracy Report, keep track of major data sources that list your information incorrectly in an Excel or Google Spreadsheet.

5) Search Google Maps for your incorrect NAP and "Report a problem" for any listing that is incorrect. 

6) Visit Infogroup, Localeze, and Acxiom to check for out-of-date information.

7) Create accounts on major search engines and update incorrect listings.

8) Search Google MapMaker for your incorrect NAP.  Make edits as needed for any listing that is incorrect. 

9) Keep track of your accounts and your progress in an Excel or Google Spreadsheet.

Other great resources for helping you move locations digitally

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