More than Keywords: 7 Concepts of Advanced On-Page SEO

Posted by Cyrus-Shepard

“What is this page about?”

As marketers, helping search engines answer that basic question is one of our most important tasks. Search engines can’t read pages like humans can, so we incorporate
structure and clues as to what our content means. This helps provide the relevance element of search engine optimization that matches queries to useful results.

Understanding the techniques used to capture this meaning helps to provide better signals as to what our content relates to, and ultimately helps it to rank higher in search results. This post explores a series of
on-page techniques that not only build upon one another, but can be combined in sophisticated ways.

While Google doesn’t reveal the exact details of its algorithm, over the years we’ve collected evidence from interviews, research papers, US patent filings and observations from hundreds of search marketers to be able to explore these processes. Special thanks to Bill Slawski, whose posts on
SEO By the Sea led to much of the research for this work.

As you read, keep in mind these are only
some of the ways in which Google could determine on-page relevancy, and they aren’t absolute law! Experimenting on your own is always the best policy.

We’ll start with the simple, and move to the more advanced.

1. Keyword Usage

In the beginning, there were keywords. All over the page.

The concept was this: If your page focused on a certain topic, search engines would discover keywords in important areas. These locations included the title tag, headlines, alt attributes of images, and throughout in the text. SEOs helped their pages rank by placing keywords in these areas.

Even today, we start with keywords, and it remains the most basic form of on-page optimization.

Keyword Usage

Most on-page SEO tools still rely on keyword placement to grade pages, and while it remains a good place to start, research shows its
influence has fallen

While it’s important to ensure your page at a bare minimum contains the keywords you want to rank for, it is unlikely that keyword placement by itself will have much of an influence on your page’s ranking potential.


It’s not keyword density, it’s
term frequency–inverse document frequency (TF-IDF). 

Google researchers
recently described TF-IDF as “long used to index web pages” and variations of TF-IDF appear as a component in several well-known Google patents.

TF-IDF doesn’t measure how often a keyword appears, but offers a measurement of
importance by comparing how often a keyword appears compared to expectations gathered from a larger set of documents.

If we compare the phrases “basket” to “basketball player” in
Google’s Ngram viewer, we see that “basketball player” is a more rare, while “basket” is more common. Based on this frequency, we might conclude that “basketball player” is significant on a page that contains that term, while the threshold for “basket” remains much higher.


For SEO purposes, when we measure TF-IDF’s
correlation with higher rankings, it performs only moderately better than individual keyword usage. In other words, generating a high TF-IDF score by itself generally isn’t enough to expect much of an SEO boost. Instead, we should think of TF-IDF as an important component of other more advanced on-page concepts. 

3. Synonyms and Close Variants

With over 6 billion searches per day, Google has a wealth of information to determine what searchers
actually mean when typing queries into a search box. Google’s own research shows that synonyms actually play a role in up to 70% of searches.

To solve this problem, search engines possess vast corpuses of
synonyms and close variants for billions of phrases, which allows them to match content to queries even when searchers use different words than your text. An example is the query dog pics, which can mean the same thing as:

• Dog Photos   • Pictures of Dogs   • Dog Pictures   • Canine Photos   • Dog Photographs

On the other hand, the query
Dog Motion Picture means something else entirely, and it’s important for search engines to know the difference.

From an SEO point of view, this means creating content using
natural language and variations, instead of employing the same strict keywords over and over again.

Synonyms and Close Variants

Using variations of your main topics can also add deeper semantic meaning and help solve the problem of
disambiguation, when the same keyword phrase can refer to more than one concept. Plant and factory together might refer to a manufacturing plant, whereas plant and shrub refer to vegetation.

Today, Google’s
Hummingbird algorithm also uses co-occurrence to identify
synonyms for query replacement.

Under Hummingbird, co-occurrence is used to identify words that may be
synonyms of each other in certain contexts while following certain rules
according to which, the selection of a certain page in response to a query
where such a substitution has taken place has a heightened probability.

Bill Slawski
SEO by the Sea

4. Page Segmentation

Where you place your words on a page is often as important as the words themselves.

Each web page is made up of different parts—headers, footers, sidebars, and more. Search engines have long worked to determine the most important part of a given page. Both Microsoft and Google hold
several patents suggesting content in the more relevant sections of HTML carry more weight.

Content located in the main body text likely holds more importance than text placed in sidebars or alternative positions. Repeating text placed in boilerplate locations, or chrome, runs the risk of being discounted even more.

Page Segmentation

Page segmentation becomes significantly more important as we move toward 
mobile devices, which often hide portions of the page. Search engines want to serve users the portion of your pages that are visible and important, so text in these areas deserves the most focus.

To take it a step further,
HTML5 offers addition semantic elements such as <article>, <aside>, and <nav>, which can clearly define sections of your webpage.

5. Semantic Distance and Term Relationships

When talking about on-page optimization,
semantic distance refers to the relationships between different words and phrases in the text. This differs from the physical distance between phrases, and focuses on how terms connect within sentences, paragraphs, and other HTML elements.

How do search engines know that “Labrador” relates to “dog breeds” when the two phrases aren’t in the same sentence?

Search engines solve this problem by measuring the
distance between different words and phrases within different HTML elements. The closer the concepts are semantically, the closer the concepts may be related. Phrases located in the same paragraph are closer semantically than phrases separated by several blocks of text.

Semantic Distance and Term Relationships

Additionally, HTML elements may shorten the semantic distance between concepts, pulling them closer together. For example,
list items can be considered equally distant to one another, and “the title of a document may be considered to be close to every other term in document“.

Now is a good time to mention Schema markup provides a way to semantically structure portions of your text in a manner that explicitly define relationship between terms.

The great advantage schema offers is that it leaves no guesswork for the search engines. Relationships are clearly defined. The challenge is it requires webmasters to employ special markup. So far, studies show
low adoption. The rest of the concepts listed here can work on any page containing text.

6. Co-occurrence and Phrase-Based Indexing

Up to this point, we’ve discussed individual keywords and relationships between them. Search engines also employ methods of indexing pages based on
complete phrases, and also ranking pages on the relevance of those pages.

We know this process as
phrase-based indexing.

What’s most interesting about this process is not how Google determines the important phrases for a webpage, but how Google can use these phrases to
rank a webpage based on how relevant they are.

Using the concept of
co-occurrence, search engines know that certain phrases tend to predict other phrases. If your main topic targets “John Oliver,” this phrase often co-occurs with other phrases like “late night comedian,” “Daily Show,” and “HBO.” A page that contains these related terms is more likely to be about “John Oliver” than a page that doesn’t contain related terms.

Phrase-Based Indexing and Co-occurrence

Add to this
incoming links from pages with related, co-occurring phrases and you’ve given your page powerful contextual signals.

7. Entity Salience

Looking to the future, search engines are exploring ways of using relationships between entities, not just keywords, to determine topical relevance.

One technique, published as a Google research paper, describes assigning relevance through
entity salience.

Entity salience goes beyond traditional keyword techniques, like TF-IDF, for finding relevant terms in a document by leveraging
known relationships between entities. An entity is anything in the document that is distinct and well defined.

The stronger an entity’s relationship to other entities on the page, the more significant that entity becomes.

Entity Salience

In the diagram above, an article contains the topics
Iron Man, Tony Stark, Pepper Potts and Science Fiction. The phrase “Marvel Comics” has a strong entity relationship to all these terms. Even it only appears once, it’s likely
significant in the document. 

On the other hand, even though the phrase “Cinerama” appears multiple times (because the film showed there), this phrase has weaker entity relationships, and likely isn’t as significant.

Practical tips for better on-page optimization

As we transition from keyword placement to more advanced practices of topic targeting, it’s actually easy to incorporate these concepts into our content. While most of us don’t have the means available to calculate semantic relationships and entity occurrences, there are a number of simple steps we can take when crafting optimized content:

  1. Keyword research forms your base. Even though individual keywords themselves are no longer enough to form the foundation of your content, everything begins with good keyword research. You want to know what terms you are targeting, the relative competition around those keywords, and the popularity of those terms. Ultimately, your goal is to connect your content with the very keywords people type and speak into the search box.
  2. Research around topics and themes. Resist researching single keywords, and instead move towards exploring your keyword themes. Examine the secondary keywords related to each keyword. When people talk about your topic, what words do they use to describe it? What are the properties of your subject? Use these supporting keyword phrases as cast members to build content around your central theme.
  3. When crafting your content, answer as many questions as you can. Good content answers questions, and semantically relevant content reflects this. A top ranking for any search query means the search engine believes your content answers the question best. As you structure your content around topics and themes, make sure you deserve the top ranking by answering the questions and offering a user experience better than the competition.
  4. Use natural language and variations. During your keyword research process, it’s helpful to identify other common ways searchers refer to your topic, and include these in your content when appropriate. Semantic keyword research is often invaluable to this process.
  5. Place your important content in the most important sections. Avoid footers and sidebars for important content. Don’t try to fool search engines with fancy CSS or JavaScript tricks. Your most important content should go in the places where it is most visible and accessible to readers.
  6. Structure your content appropriately. Headers, paragraphs, lists, and tables all provide structure to content so that search engines understand your topic targeting. A clear webpage contains structure similar to a good university paper. Employ proper introductions, conclusions, topics organized into paragraphs, spelling and grammar, and cite your sources properly.

At the end of the day, we don’t need a super computer to make our content better, or easier to understand. If we write
like humans for humans, our content goes a long way in becoming optimized for search engines. What are your best tips for on-page SEO and topic targeting?

Special thanks to
Dawn Shepard, who provided the images for this post.

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October 21, 2014  Tags: , , , , ,   Posted in: SEO / Traffic / Marketing  No Comments

Is Your Social Media Strategy a Supreme Turn off?

Is Your Social Media Strategy a Supreme Turn off? is a post by SEO expert Shemmah Al-Darweesh. For information about our SEO services or more great SEO tips and tricks, visit the blog.

Do you enjoy being barked at by glinty-eyed sales associates? Neither do your customers. One-way promotional messages have taken a hard fall thanks to the interactive nature of the internet. This is especially prevalent with social media, which has made it possible for consumers to rapidly connect online and speak directly to businesses.

In order to enhance customer engagement through social media, businesses need to shift their tactics to focus on a conversational marketing approach. When customers had no forum to talk back to companies, marketers tended to promote their products and services by blasting ads at them. The internet has not only provided a channel for businesses to connect with their consumers but for their customers to pass those messages to other customers as well as the general public. This makes it even more essential to appropriately manage the social media channels that your business is using as marketing tools.

The Significance of Social Media Marketing

Even if your business doesn’t engage in online marketing it does not mean that it won’t be mentioned by consumers online. In fact, organizations that do not pay attention to their online reputation are at risk social mediafor becoming a target of online negativity. This puts you at a disadvantage when it comes to addressing a negative article or social media post and reduces your control over your brand.

Not only is social media a means to manage the reputation of your business, it can also increase your online visibility and search engine rankings. The dialogue that takes place on social media channels creates signals that are factored into the results of the search engine rankings.

These days, a company’s social media presence needs to be especially dynamic in order to build brand reputation and generate authority online. By making your online presence more conversational, instead of simply broadcasting messages about your company, your social efforts can considerably support your overall marketing strategy.

Conversational Marketing

Too many businesses, especially local companies, have a weak or nonexistent social media marketing strategy and do not interact with consumers online. The process of building up your presence online should begin with evaluating and setting up accounts on the social media platforms that are relevant to your industry. Consumers are searching for companies on popular social media channels more often so companies that do not engage on these platforms are losing out on potential business.

While social media sites can be used for distributing promotional material such as ads and press releases, they should serve as a forum for more than just pushing out company updates and brand messaging. You could, for example:

  • Search for posts that mention your brand and engage in the conversation.
  • Post content as well as links to outside articles and visuals that would be compelling to your audience.
  • Build your audience and online influence through activities that provoke interest and promote engagement from followers.
  • Monitor and analyze the results of your work on social media channels. You can do this by using various analytics tools or social media ranking systems.
  • Create a blog on your company’s website to communicate with your consumers and connect to your other social media profiles.

The person you choose to have as your social media representative should have the experience and knowledge to professionally handle customer interactions and successfully represent your brand online. Mistakes on a social media profile can reflect badly on your business and can even result in permanent damage. This makes it essential to manage your social media presence with great care.

Developing Your Social Media Marketing Strategy

social strategyWithout a social media strategy in place your marketing team is likely to waste their efforts on ineffective tactics. The popularity of social media has resulted in many organizations wasting money on scattered marketing efforts without taking the time to define their objectives.

If you are already active on social platforms then evaluate your current tactics and revise them to meet your strategic marketing goals. Otherwise start by developing your plan and matching it up with the appropriate strategies before you put it into action. The following points can be used to help you determine the most effective steps to begin with:

  • Focus on Your Audience

As you develop or tweak your plan, try to examine your strategy from the perspective of your audience. Social media is not the appropriate medium for broadcasting one-way messages. It was created to promote conversations, sharing and feedback, which is required to engage with your consumers and build your following. Think about what your organization can offer to benefit followers on these channels.  Start conversations and share valuable tips with your audience. Take an interest and give them what they want as you develop your organization’s brand.

  • Follow your Audience

If you are not paying attention to your followers’ social media posts it can make it difficult to create relevant material for them and it also displays a lack of interest as a brand. If you do not have enough manpower to actively engage with your audience on multiple channels then it is better to focus on one or two that you can effectively manage rather than having stagnant accounts.

  • Graphics and Length

Attractive visual elements on your social media posts can make them stand out and gain the attention of a larger audience. Promoting content through high-quality graphics can increase traffic to your website in addition to enhancing your social media presence. Messages on your social media profiles need to be concise if you want to effectively reach your audience. Short messages with great graphics are an ideal combination on most social media channels.

  • Create Incentive for Company Fans

Social followers that regularly engage with your posts deserve something in return. If you want to increase your interaction, give away prizes and promotions through a creative social media campaign. This gets the message out about your company, enhances interaction and keeps your social fans happy.

  • Promote Brand Advocates

One of the most effective social media marketing tactics involves letting your customers express the message about your company for you. If a customer is willing to post a Tweet or record a video about your business make sure to share them. Running social campaigns that promote consumers to speak about your brand can be a fantastic way to gain positive exposure online.

Great social media marketing leaves a lasting impression on audiences and bolsters the loyalty of consumers. Don’t turn followers off of your brand with overly promotional messaging and one-way communication. It is possible to lead great interactions and build a strong social media presence in your industry without a bloated budget or big brand. Work to increase social media engagement and expand your influence to support the management of your business reputation and meet larger business goals.

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Is Your Social Media Strategy a Supreme Turn off? is a post by SEO expert Shemmah Al-Darweesh. For information about our SEO services or more great SEO tips and tricks, visit the blog. » Blog

October 21, 2014  Tags: , , , ,   Posted in: SEO / Traffic / Marketing  No Comments

Convincing Old-School Clients that Things Have Changed

Posted by Kristina Kledzik

There’s a reason we use the terms 
“white hat” and “black hat” for SEO: it used to be the Wild West. Black hat tactics were so effective, they were almost necessary to market online. Paying a few thousand dollars to an SEO could get you to rank #1 for almost any term (before you let them go and your competitor paid them the same to outrank you). You only got a few thousand dollars in return for that ranking, though, since there weren’t many people shopping online yet.

Fast forward to today: Ranking well on Google is
insanely profitable—much more so than it ever was in the early days—and Google’s algorithm has advanced dramatically. But former SEOs and people outside our industry still hold on to that idea that a few thousand dollars of “technical SEO” can make them magically rank #1. 

So, how do you convince your old school clients things have changed?

The immediate answer

When this comes up in conversation, I have a few trump phrases that usually bring clients around:

  • “Yeah, that used to be a great tactic, but now it puts you at risk for getting a penalty.” (Really, any response that includes the word “penalty” stops clients in their tracks.)
  • “That makes sense, but Matt Cutts said…” / ”Good point, but Google’s official blog recommends…”
  • “I / another coworker / another client / a Mozzer has tried that, and it had disastrous results…”

Basically, acknowledge their idea as valid so you don’t insult them, then explain why it won’t work in a way that scares the shit out of them by mentioning real repercussions. Or, you know, just persuade them gently with logic.

If you can’t persuade/scare the shit out of them, tell them you’ll do some research and get back to them. Then do it.

If that doesn’t work…

Okay, so you have answers for on-the-spot questions now. They will work anywhere from moderately well to amazingly well, depending on your delivery and the respect you’ve gained from your client. But the client may ask for more research, or be skeptical of your answer. To be really effective, the right answer has to be coupled with a lot of respect and a logical, well-delivered explanation. 

Many of you are probably thinking, “I establish respect by being right / talking professionally / offering a lot of case studies during the sales process.” That’s the sort of thinking that
doesn’t earn respect. You gain respect by consistently being:

1. Respectful, even if your clients are wrong

It’s embarrassing to be wrong. When your client says, “What meta keywords should we put on this page?” and you chuckle and say, “Gosh, meta keywords haven’t been used in so long—I don’t even think Google ever used them,” your client is going to fight you on it, not because they’re particularly invested in the idea of using meta keywords, but because you’ve made them feel wrong.

So when your client is wrong, start by validating their idea
. Then, explain the right solution, not necessarily digging into why their solution is wrong:

Client: What meta keywords should we put on this page?

You: Well, I’m going to put together some keywords to target on this page next week, but making them meta keywords won’t make much of a difference. Google doesn’t look at them because it’s so easy to spam (wouldn’t it be nice if they did?). Anyway, when I send you those keywords that we should target, I’ll also include what we need to change on the page in order to target them.

Answering like this will keep your conversations positive and your clients open to your ideas, even if your ideas conflict directly with theirs. 

2. Honest

You’re probably smart enough not to make up client anecdotes or lie about what Matt Cutts has said. Where I usually see dishonesty in consulting is when consultants screw up and their clients call them on it. 

It looks bad to be wrong, especially when someone is paying you to be right. It’s even worse to be caught in a lie or look dishonest. Here’s my mantra:
It’s not wrong to make an honest mistake. When clients tell you you’ve done something wrong, consider it a misunderstanding. Explain where you were coming from and why you did what you did briefly, then fix it.

(Note: this obviously doesn’t work if you made a stupid mistake. If you made a stupid mistake, apologize and offer to fix it, free of charge. It’ll lose you some money up front, but it’ll be worth it in the long run.)

3. Direct

This is the best outline for any answer:

  1. Brief answer, in one sentence
  2. Deeper explanation of answer
  3. Information to back it up
  4. Reiteration of brief answer

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard another consultant (or myself) not be entirely sure of an answer and ramble on for a couple of minutes before stopping to complete silence from their client. Or know the answer but think it’s too complicated and deliver an answer that only confuses their client more.

By starting with the answer, the client already knows what’s coming, so all other information you give after that will naturally support your answer as you go, rather than possibly leading them down the wrong path. Consider these alternatives:

Standard answer:

Client: How much will this increase our rankings?

You: Competition is always a huge part of the equation, so we’ll have to look into that. It’s easier to rank for, say, “yellow sapphire necklaces” than “blue sapphire necklaces” because there are more blue sapphire necklaces out there. But this is definitely what we should do to increase our rankings.

Direct answer:

Client: How much will this increase our rankings?

You: I don’t know, it’s not something that we can definitively say in SEO, unfortunately. Competition is a huge part of the equation, so we’ll have to look into that. But, regardless, this is the most effective action that we could take to increase our rankings.

The more direct answer admits doubt, but is still much more convincing in the end (though both are vague and obviously top-of-mind examples… just ignore that). 

4. Complimentary and inclusive

It’s called the 
Benjamin Franklin Effect: “He that has once done you a kindness will be more ready to do you another, than he whom you yourself have obliged.” (Props to Rob Ousbey for telling me about this.)

When your client has done something right, compliment them on how they’ve made your job easier since you don’t have to fix their mistakes. When your client has done something wrong, let them know what they should do to fix it, but help them share in the work to make the change. It’ll make the client feel valued and it’ll take a big part of the workload off of you.

5. Proactive

Good project management is the key to effective consulting. When clients don’t know what you’re working on, they get worried that you’re wasting their money. Make sure that you consistently:

  • Meet; I like to have scheduled meetings once a week
  • Share a 3-6 month project plan, with dates and deliverables outlined
  • Ship those deliverables on time
  • Respond to emails within a day or two, even if the answer is “Great question! I’m prioritizing [other project for the same client right now], can I get back to you in a week or so?”
  • Follow up with open questions; if a client asks you a question in a meeting you don’t know, admit you don’t know, say you’ll get back to them after you research it, then actually do that

I think that project management is often dropped because it seems so easy that it’s de-prioritized. Don’t believe that: this may be the most important of the five traits I’ve listed.

To sum it up: be honest, selfless, and proactive, and your clients are going to love you.

Even if you’re a terrible SEO (though try your best to be a good one), clients are going to respect consultants who put their clients’ business first, are open and honest about what they’re doing and thinking, and get their work done without being micromanaged.

Now that you’ve earned your client’s respect, they will be open to you changing their mind. You just have to give them a reason to.

Nail it with a great argument

When a client says, “Can we rank for ‘trucks’ by putting the word ‘truck’ as the alt text to each image on this page?” our mind immediately says, “No, why would you think that?” That’s not going to win the argument for you.

The reason we SEOs say “why would you think that?” is because we know the answer. So, teach your client. Start by validating their idea (what did we just learn about clients being wrong?), then explain the right answer, then explain why their answer won’t work:

Client: Can we rank for “trucks” by putting the word “truck” as the alt text to each image on this page?

You: Well, that would certainly get “trucks” on the page more often! To really optimize the page for “trucks,” though, we’ll need to put it in the page title, and a few times in the body of the page. SEO is all about competition, and our competition is doing that. We have to at least match them. Once the page is optimized for “trucks,” though, we’ll still have to work to get more backlinks and mentions around the web to compete with Wikipedia, which ranks #1 right now for “trucks.”

Don’t focus too much on their mistake.The more time you spend on the disagreement, the more frustrated your client will get; the more time you spend on your solution, the more impressed they’ll be with you.

If that doesn’t work, do the research to tell an even better story:

  • Give examples from other clients. Don’t give away too many names, of course, but knowing that you’ve solved this problem or a problem like it in the past makes clients feel much more confident in you.
  • If you’ve never seen this problem before, reach out to your SEO community. One of the best parts of working at Distilled is that when a client off-handedly emails me a question, I can email all Distilled consultants and usually get an answer (or at least an educated guess) within an hour or so. If you work on your own, build a community online, through Moz or another online portal, and ask them.
  • Forecast the effects of your solution. I’ll be the first to admit, I’m not good at this because it can take a long time. But if your client is resistant, it’s definitely worth the trouble. Take clients through how you worked out the forecasting so they can see how much they’ll gain by working with you.

Once you’ve got proof behind your argument, restate your position, add your new arguments, and then follow up with your position and what you recommend your client does now. Make sure that you end in an action so there’s something concrete for them to focus on. 

Practice, practice, practice delivery

You can have the perfect explanation and a great relationship with your client, but if you trip over your own words or confuse your client, you won’t be convincing.

Written reports

Edit the paper multiple times. Only include the information that directly leads to an action item, don’t include all of the information that they already know, or that just shows you did your homework. That stuff is boring, and will encourage your client to skim, which will often lead to misinterpretations. Next, have a friend who’s been in SEO for awhile and knows about this old school stuff edit it. It’s hard to know where your descriptions might break down without someone else’s perspective.

Verbal presentations 

Practice your presentation ahead of time: talk through your recommendations to a friend or coworker. Have them interrupt you, because you will definitely be interrupted when you’re talking to your client. Make sure that you’re okay with that, that you can have a separate conversation, then jump back in to the report.

For presentations that are brief and over the phone, make sure that you’ve already sent your client something written. If it’s a report, make it clear and to the point (as described above), if it’s not, outline the action items in an email or a spreadsheet, so your client has something concrete to look at as you discuss. I’ve also found clients are able to digest information much better when they’ve already read it.

For big presentations – the ones that need an accompanying PowerPoint, follow the same advice as I gave in the written report section: Edit to be succinct, and get feedback.

This is pretty much a post on good consulting

I’ve consulted clients on technical SEO, promotions / outreach, creative, and content strategy-based projects, and I’ve found that the key to being effective in every one is a) coming up with a good answer, and b) everything discussed in this post. Building respect and communicating effectively is the foundation that supports your answers in almost every relationship, consulting, in house, or even personal. The key to convincing your clients that their black hat, overly white hat, or completely UX-based solutions are wrong is all sort of the same.

So what do you think? What resistance have you come up against in your consulting projects? Share in the comments below!

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October 20, 2014  Tags: , , , ,   Posted in: SEO / Traffic / Marketing  No Comments

How To Win At Local SEO Optimization Through Content

How To Win At Local SEO Optimization Through Content is a post by SEO expert For information about our SEO services or more great SEO tips and tricks, visit the blog.

Today we have a special guest post from Julia McCoy, CEO of Express Writers.

There are lots of ways content is extremely beneficial for Google rankings, but one fail-proof ranking opportunity is through original, well-written local keyword-optimized landing pages. If, for example, someone was to search for “Atlanta bathroom plumbing,” a well-written, 800-word landing page for an Atlanta plumber’s website addressing bathroom plumbing could be top of the results.

flat seo background

Other technical SEO elements, useful in their own ways, do not come close to the power of a locally optimized landing page for local SEO keyword search ranking. Let’s explore this a bit.

So, the formula for local success looks something like this:

Content + Optimization = Local SEO Win

The Variables

Do you know why I hated math back in my school days? It was because almost every equation had variables. If you didn’t understand the basic formula and the variables, you weren’t going to ace your test. Local SEO optimization is similar. It’s like a specific variation to the basic search engine optimization formula, and everybody needs local SEO. If you don’t have it, you’re missing out on an incredibly targeted audience, as well as a strong local presence—both vital to the success of every business.

The key to the local SEO variable is the optimized landing page. When it comes to creating a landing page that knocks the ball out of the park, there’s a very simple formula you can use:

Long Tail Keywords = Local Keywords = Ranking Opportunities

Locally-focused keywords are also called your long-tail keywords, which are often easy to rank quickly for (because of the low levels of competition) if you utilize one of Google’s favorite ranking elements: an original, well-researched, 800-word-minimum landing page.

According to Search Engine Watch, long tail keywords automatically put you in the one-hit-wonder search ranking category because, by nature, they have less competition. Unlike “heavy-hitting core keywords…they don’t have a bull’s-eye on them.” Google’s first-page table only has 10 seats. You can basically RSVP your spot on a local level by leveraging long tail keywords.

Examples in Action

We can talk about winning at local SEO optimization through content all we want, but that doesn’t mean anything without the proof to back it up. Let’s compare a bad example to a good one. Here’s an example of a poorly locally optimized landing page:

weak landing page

First, the landing page itself is under 100 words—they are using footer text (in the About sections) to boost the total number of words, but that only means content will be duplicated across multiple pages.

Second, there isn’t much on this page that would improve their local rankings. Landing page text is the perfect space to offer up naturally placed long tail keywords and engaging information about the business, including why the viewer should click into the About or Services sections. The single paragraph of text on this page doesn’t do any justice. There just isn’t enough information (or dedicated content space) for a search engine to pull from and rank well.

Now, here’s an example of a well-written, locally focused landing page:

stronger landing page

What makes this page a local SEO winner? Content. Look at the copy. It’s relevant, engaging, informative, inclusive, and it contains natural keyword and long-tail keyword optimization. It’s not skimpy on the word count either.

This landing page content is unique. It’s not duplicated throughout the website, and there’s plenty of meat for search engines to sink their teeth into and rank. This is how you win on the local SEO level and take one of those 10 coveted spots on the Google search results page.

How to Do It

You can obviously hire an expert team to create a winning landing page. It’s a smart move, and an investment that will save your time and money while fostering the right environment for higher conversions and sales. But what else can you do? According to Moz, there are simple optimization techniques that can win you strong local rankings:

  1. Optimize your tags. Title tags, H1 headings, alt tags, and meta descriptions are all vital components in the SEO formula. To win on a local level, one simple addition to all of these tags can make a huge impact: add your city and state.
  2. Pay attention to the URL. There’s no tweaking your homepage URL. It’s an established address. A change—not matter how minor—would be catastrophic on every level. But you can tweak the URLs to other pages on your website to add in city and state info.
  3. Plan your content for local optimization. Good content is key to search rankings. One super simple way to optimize locally is to build your city/state info into your content. Be sure to build it in naturally, though. A strong copywriter or agency can be a savvy tool in this area.
  4. Embed a Google Map. Moz points out that including an embedded Google Map is important for your local SEO strategy, but it is vital to do it correctly. Don’t just embed a map that points to your address. Instead, embed a map that points to you actual Google Plus Local listing. It’s far more effective.
  5. Buff up your citations. Moz also points out that local citations are important to improving your rankings. Citations are commonly called NAP information. They include your name, address, and phone number. Google expects this info to be on your website and other important sites, like Yelp, social media, etc. If your info isn’t spread around, it can really hurt your business rankings.

The core of your landing page is your content. Optimizing that content for local SEO with long tail keywords is surprisingly simple, but there are pitfalls, like forced keyword insertion and duplicate content, which you need to avoid. As you boost your local rankings, be sure to include the tips we’ve shared, and don’t be afraid to ask an expert for help.


About the Author:

juliaJulia McCoy is the CEO of Express Writers, an online copywriting agency that she founded in 2011, with thousands of web content pages written to date and more than 50 talented writers in the team. Her passion is copywriting, SEO, and all that pertains. 


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October 18, 2014  Tags: , , ,   Posted in: SEO / Traffic / Marketing  No Comments

Scaling Geo-Targeted Local Landing Pages That Really Rank and Convert – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by randfish

One question we see regularly come up is what to do if you’re targeting particular locations/regions with your site content, and you want to rank for local searches, but you don’t actually have a physical presence in those locations. The right track can depend on a few circumstances, and in today’s Whiteboard Friday, Rand helps you figure out which one is best for your organization.

For reference, here’s a still of this week’s whiteboard!

Scaling Geo-Targeted Local Landing Pages That Really Rank and Convert - Whiteboard Friday

Video Transcription

Howdy Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week we’re talking about geo-targeted or geo-specific local landing pages for companies that are trying to reach many geographic regions and need to have that scale, but don’t necessarily have a local physical location in every city they’re trying to target.

So if you can imagine I’m going to use the fictitious Rand’s Whisky Company, and Rand’s Whisky Company is going to be called Specialty Whisky. We’re going to be running events all over the country in all sorts of cities. We’re going to be trying to reach people with a really local approach to whisky, because I’m very passionate about whisky, and I want everyone to be able to try scotches and bourbons and American whiskies as well.

Okay, this sounds great, but there’s going to be a big challenge. Rand’s Whisky Company has no physical location in any city other than our main Seattle headquarters. This is a big challenge, and I’ve talked to many startups and many companies who have this same problem. Essentially they need to rank for a core set of terms in many different geographies.

So they might say, “Hey, we want to be in Nashville, Tennessee, and in Atlanta, Georgia, and we’ve identified a lot of whisky consumers in, let’s say, Baton Rouge, Louisiana. But we can’t open physical, local office space in every one of those geographies. In fact, we could probably only start by having a Web presence in each of those. We haven’t yet necessarily achieved sort of scale and service in every single one of those geos.” It’s not like I’m running events in every one of these the day I start. I might start with Seattle and Portland and maybe Boise, Idaho, or Spokane or something like that, and then eventually I’ll grow out.

This presents a big challenge in search results, because the way Google’s results work is that they bias to show kind of two things in a lot of categories. They’ll try and show you the local purveyors of whatever it is that the person is searching for in the local or maps results. Obviously, Pigeon had a big change and update to these, changing the geographic areas and changing the ordering of those results and now many map results show up, and those sorts of things. But obviously they’re still very present.

We see them a lot. MozCast sees a very high percent of local intent queries even sometimes without the city modifier. If you’re in a geography, you search for a whisky store, and you know what? Liquor stores and specialty liquor companies and that kind of stuff, they’re going to show up in your search results here in Seattle in those Maps local boxes. So that makes it tough.

Then the other category is, of course, the organic web results. That’s where folks like this, Rand’s Whisky Company and other folks who are trying to scale their local presence, need to show up because you really won’t have an opportunity in those local results unless and until you have true local physical space. So you’re aiming for those Web results.

You’re oftentimes competing with people like Yelp and Angie’s List. A lot of the old Yellow Pages folks are in their directories and guides. Then sometimes, occasionally there will be a company that does a great job with this.

So there two companies that I want to call out. One is Uber, which everyone is pretty much familiar with, and Uber has done a great job of having their website contained in unique portals for each city in which they operate, unique social accounts, unique blogs. They really have put together a segmented operation that targets each city that they’re in. They do have physical space, so they’re cheating a little bit on this front.

Then another one is a company called Ride the Ducks, and Ride the Ducks has different websites for every city that they operate in. So there’s a duck tour in Boston, a duck tour in Seattle, a duck tour in Los Angeles, all this kind of stuff. You can ride the ducks in any of these cities.

Now let’s say that you’re a startup or a company starting out, and you’re thinking, “Okay, fine. I’m going to have my Specialty Whisky page for Seattle, and I’ll just put some generic information in there, and then I’ll replace Seattle with Portland, with Los Angeles, with Baton Rouge.” That’s my Baton Rouge page. That’s my Los Angeles page. This is called the find and replace.

Even if you push this out, even if you customize some of the content on this page, try and make it a little more specific, have a few addresses or locations, you will fail. Unfortunately, Angie’s List, who I mentioned, they do a really terrible job of this. They have a lot of pages that are what I call find and replace pages. You could just plug in nearly any city, and that’s what the results would look like. They do rank. They are ranking because they were early and because they’ve got a lot of domain authority. Do not think that you can copy their content strategy and succeed.

The next one is a little bit more scaled out. This is a little bit more like what someone such as a Yelp or TripAdvisor might do for some of their landing pages. They’ve got some unique info in each city. It’s the same for each city, but it’s scaled out and it’s relatively comprehensive. So, my Specialty Whisky Seattle page might show our favorite bars in Seattle. It might show some recommended stores where you can buy whisky. It might show some purveyors, some vendors, that we like. It could have some local events listed on the page. Fine, great. That could be good enough if the intent is always the same.

So if every city’s intent, the people who are searching for restaurants in Portland versus restaurants in Seattle, you’re basically looking for the same thing. It’s the same kind of people looking for the same kind of thing, and that’s how Yelp and TripAdvisor and folks like that have scaled this model out to success.

If you want to take it even one step further, my final recommendation is to go in that direction of what Uber and Ride the Ducks and those types do, which is they essentially have a customized experience created by a local team in that city, even if they don’t necessarily have a physical office. Uber, before they open the physical office, will send people out. They’ll go team gathering. Yelp did this, too, in their history as they were scaling out.

That kind of thing is like, “Hey, we’ve got some photos from some of our events. We’ve got a representative in the city.” This is Seattle Whiskey Pete, and Whiskey Pete says, “Yar, you should buy some whiskey.” It’s got a list of events. So Knee High is stocking up for the holiday (presumably at the Knee High Stocking Company, which is a great little speakeasy here in Seattle), and whisky at Bumbershoot. You can follow our @WhiskySeattle account on Twitter, and that’s different from our @WhiskyPortland, our @WhiskyLosAngeles or our @WhiskyNewYork accounts. Great.

There’s a bunch of top Seattle picks. So this is a very customized page. This experience is completely owned and controlled by a team that’s focused purely on Seattle. This is sort of the Holy Grail. It’s hard to scale to this, which is why this other approach can really be okay for a lot of folks trying to scale up and rank for all of those geo terms plus their keywords.

What’s the process by which you go about this? I’m glad you asked because I wrote it down. Number one, we want to try and determine the searcher’s intent and how we can satisfy the query and at the same time delight visitors. We’ve got to create a unique, special experience for them and delight visitors in addition to satisfying their query.

So for Seattle whisky, I can show them where they can buy whisky in the city. I can recommend some bars that have a great whisky selection, and then I can delight them by showing some tips and tricks from our community. I can delight them by giving them special priority access to events. I can delight them by giving them a particular guide that they could print out and take with them or the ability to register for special things that they couldn’t get elsewhere, buy whiskies that they’d never be able to get, whatever it is, something special to delight them.

Number two, I want to select the group of keywords, and I say group because usually there are a few keywords in every one of the verticals that I’ve talked to people about. There are usually between 3 and about 20 sets of keywords that they really, deeply care about per each geography. Do be careful. You’ve got to be wary of local colloquialisms. For example, if you’re in the United States, whiskey is often spelled with an “e”, W-H-I-S-K-E-Y, whereas in the U.K. and most of Europe, most of the rest of the English language speaking world, it’s spelled W-H-I-S-K-Y with no “e”.

Also you want to take those groups, and you want to actually combine them. So say I’ve got a bunch of keywords over here. I might want to say, “Hey, you know what? These three keywords, whisky tastings and whisky events, that’s the same intent.” I don’t need to create two different landing pages for those. Let’s take those and bunch them up and group them and make that one page. That’ll be our Seattle Whisky Events page, and we’ll target tastings and events and festivals and whatever other synonyms might go in there.

Third, I want to create a few of these, one of these two models of really amazing pages as a sample, as an instruction for all future ones. This is what we want to get to. Let’s make the best, most perfect page for Seattle, and then we’ll go make one for Portland and we’ll go make one for Los Angeles. Then we’ll see how do we get that into a process that will scale for us. You want that process to be repeatable. You want it to be well-defined. You want it to be so that a content team, who comes in, or contractor, an agency can take that document, can look at the examples, and replicate that on a city by city basis. That’s going to require a lot of uniqueness. You need to have those high bars set up so that they can achieve them.

The fourth and last thing for these pages you’re creating is you’ve got to be able to answer this question: Who will amplify this page and why? By amplify, I mean share socially, share via word of mouth, share via email, link to it. Who will amplify it and why? How are we going to reach them?

Then go get them. Go prove to yourself that with those two or three amazing example pages that you made that you can actually do it, and then make that part of your scaling process.

Now you’ve got something where you can truly say, “Yes, we can go geo by geo and have the potential to rank in market after market for the terms and phrases that we care about in the organic results.”

Long term, if you have a lot of success in a city, my next suggestion would be that you move from this model to this model where you actually have a local team, just one person, even a contractor, someone who visits. It doesn’t have to be a permanent resident of that city. It can be someone who goes there a month out of the year, whatever it is, every few weekends and owns that page and that experience and that section of your site for that specific geo that produces remarkable results.

They build relationships. That furthers your press, and that furthers your brand in that town. There’s a lot of opportunity there. So that’s eventually where you want to move to.

All right, everyone. I hope all of you out there who are building local, geo-targeted landing pages at scale have found this valuable, and I hope you’re going to go build some phenomenal pages. Maybe someone will even start a whisky company for me.

All right, everyone. Take care. We’ll see you again next week for another edition of Whiteboard Friday.

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October 17, 2014  Tags: , , , , , , , , ,   Posted in: SEO / Traffic / Marketing  No Comments

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