Using Modern SEO to Build Brand Authority

Posted by kaiserthesage

It’s obvious that the technology behind search engines’ ability to determine and understand web entities is gradually leaning towards how real people will normally perceive things from a traditional marketing perspective.

The
emphasis on E-A-T (expertise, authoritativeness, trustworthiness) from Google’s recently updated Quality Rating Guide shows that search engines are shifting towards brand-related metrics to identify sites/pages that deserve to be more visible in search results.

Online branding, or authority building, is quite similar to the traditional SEO practices that many of us have already been accustomed with.

Building a stronger brand presence online and improving a site’s search visibility both require two major processes: the things you implement on the site and the things you do outside of the site.

This is where several of the more advanced aspects of SEO can blend perfectly with online branding when implemented the right way. In this post, I’ll use some examples from my own experience to show you how.

Pick a niche and excel

Building on your brand’s
topical expertise is probably the fastest way to go when you’re looking to build a name for yourself or your business in a very competitive industry.

There are a few reasons why:

  • Proving your field expertise in one or two areas of your industry can be a strong unique selling point (USP) for your brand.
  • It’s easier to expand and delve into the deeper and more competitive parts of your industry once you’ve already established yourself as an expert in your chosen field.
  • Obviously, search engines favour brands known to be experts in their respective fields.

Just to give a brief example, when I started blogging back in 2010, I was all over the place. Then, a few months later, I decided to focus on one specific area of SEO—link building—and
wrote dozens of guides on how I do it.

By aiming to build my blog’s brand identity to become a prime destination for link building tutorials, it became a lot easier for me to sell my ideas on the other aspects of inbound marketing to my continuously growing audience (from technical SEO to social media, content marketing, email marketing and more).

Strengthening your brand starts with the quality of your brand’s content, whether it’s your product/service or the plethora of information available on your website.

You can start by assessing the categories where you’re getting the most traction in terms of natural link acquisitions, social shares, conversions, and/or sales.

Prioritize your content development efforts on the niche where your brand can genuinely compete in and will have a better fighting chance to dominate the market. It’s the smartest way to stand out and scale, especially when you’re still in your campaign’s early stages.

Optimize for semantic search and knowledge graph

In the past, most webmasters and publishers would rely on the usage of generic keywords/terms in optimizing their website’s content to make it easier for search engines to understand what they are about.

But now, while the continuously evolving technologies behind search may seem to make the optimization process more complicated, the fact is that it may just reward those who pursue high-level trustworthy marketing efforts to stand out in the search results.

These technologies and factors for determining relevance—which include entity recognition and disambiguation (ERD), structured data or schema markups, natural language processing (NLP), phrase-based indexing for co-occurrence and co-citations, concept matching, and a lot more—are all driven by branding campaigns and
how an average human would normally find, talk, or ask about a certain thing.

Easily identifiable brands will surely win in this type of setup.

Where to start? See if Google already knows what your brand is about.

How to optimize your site for the Knowledge Graph and at the same time build it as an authority online

1. Provide the best and the most precise answers to the “who, what, why, and how” queries that people might look for in your space.

Razvan Gavrilas did 
an extensive study on how Google’s Answer Boxes work. Getting listed in the answer box will not just drive more traffic and conversions to a business, but can also help position a brand on a higher level in its industry.

But of course, getting one of your entries placed for Google’s answer boxes for certain queries will also require other authority signals (like natural links, domain authority, etc.).

But what search crawlers would typically search for to evaluate whether a page’s content is appropriate to be displayed in the answer boxes (according to Razvan’s post):

  • If the page selected for the answer contains the question in a very similar (if not exact) form, along with the answer, at a short distance from the question (repeating at least some of the words from the question) and
  • If the page selected for the answer belongs to a trustworthy website. So most of the times, if it’s not Wikipedia, it will be a site that it can consider a non-biased third party, such as is the case with a lot of “.edu” sites, or news organization websites.

Although,
John Mueller mentioned recently that Knowledge Graph listings should not be branded, in which you might think that the approach and effort will be for nothing.

But wait, just think about it—the intent alone of optimizing your content for Google’s Knowledge Graph will allow you to serve better content to your users (which is what Google rewards the most these days, so it’s still the soundest action to take if you want to really build a solid brand, right?).

2. Clearly define your brand’s identity to your audience.

Being remarkable and being able to separate your brand from your competitors is crucial in online marketing (be it through your content or the experience people feel when they’re using your site/service/product).


Optimizing for humans through branding allows you to condition the way people will talk about you
. This factor is very important when you’re aiming to get more brand mentions that would really impact your site’s SEO efforts, branding, and conversions.

The more search engines are getting signals (even unlinked mentions) that verify that you’re an authority in your field, the more your brand will be trusted and rank your pages well on SERPs.

3. Build a strong authorship portfolio.

Author photos/badges may have been taken down from the search results a few weeks ago, but it doesn’t mean that authorship markup no longer has value.

Both
Mark Traphagen and Bill Slawski have shared why authorship markup still matters. And clearly, an author’s authority will still be a viable search ranking factor, given that it enables Google to easily identify topical experts and credible documents available around the web.

It will continue to help tie entities (publishers and brands) to their respective industries, which may still accumulate scores over time based on the popularity and reception from the author’s works (AuthorRank).

This approach is a great complement to personal brand building, especially when you’re expanding your content marketing efforts’ reach through guest blogging on industry-specific blogs where you can really absorb more new readers and followers.

There’s certainly more to implement under
Knowledge Graph Optimization, and here’s a short list from what AJ Kohn has already shared on his blog earlier this year, which are all still useful to this day:

  • Use entities (aka Nouns) in your writing
  • Get connected and link out to relevant sites
  • Implement Structured Data to increase entity detection
  • Use the sameAs property
  • Optimize your Google+ presence
  • Get exposure on Wikipedia
  • Edit and update your Freebase entry

Online branding through scalable link building

The right relationships make link building scalable.

In the past, many link builders believed that it’s best to have thousands of links from diversified sources, which apparently forced a lot of early practitioners to resort to tactics focused on manually dropping links to thousands of unique domains (and spamming).

And, unfortunately, guest blogging as a link building tactic has eventually become a part of this craze.

I’ve mentioned this dozens of times before, and I’m going to say it one more time:
It’s better to have multiple links from a few link sources that are highly trusted than having hundreds of one-off links from several mediocre sites.

Focus on building signals that will strongly indicate relationships, because it’s probably the most powerful off-site signal you can build out there.

When other influential entities in your space are vouching for your brand (whether it’s through links, social shares, or even unlinked brand mentions), it allows you to somehow become a part of the list of sites that will most likely be trusted by search engines.

It can most definitely impact how people will see your brand as an authority as well, when they see that you’re being trusted by other credible brands in your industry.

These relationships can also open a lot of opportunities for natural link acquisitions and lead generation, knowing that some of the most trusted brands in your space trust you.

Making all of this actionable

1. Identify and make a list of the top domains and publishers in your industry, particularly those that have high search share.

There are so many tools that you can use to get these data, like
SEMRush, Compete.com, and/or Alexa.com.

You can also use
Google Search and SEOQuake to make a list of sites that are performing well on search for your industry’s head terms (given that Google is displaying better search results these days, it’s probably one of the best prospecting tools you can use).

I also use other free tools in doing this type of prospecting, particularly in cleaning up the list (in
removing duplicate domains, and extracting unique hostnames; and in filtering out highly authoritative sites that are clearly irrelevant for the task, such as ranking pages from Facebook, Wikipedia, and other popular news sites).

2. Try to penetrate at least 2 high authority sites from the first 50 websites on your list—and become a regular contributor for them.

Start engaging them by genuinely participating in their existing communities.

The process shouldn’t stop with you contributing content for them on a regular basis, as along the way you can initiate collaborative tasks, such as inviting them to publish content on your site as well.

This can help draw more traffic (and links) from their end, and can exponentially improve the perceived value of your brand as a publisher (based on your relationships with other influential entities in your industry).

These kinds of relationships will make the latter part of your link building campaign less stressful. As soon as you get to build a strong footing with your brand’s existing relationships and content portfolio (in and out of your site), it’ll be a lot easier for you to pitch and get published on other authoritative industry-specific publications (or even in getting interview opportunities).

3. Write the types of content that your target influencers are usually reading.

Stalk your target influencers on social networks, and take note of the topics/ideas that interest them the most (related to your industry). See what type of content they usually share to their followers.

Knowing these things will give you ton of ideas on how you can effectively approach your content development efforts and can help you come up with content ideas that are most likely to be read, shared, and linked to.

You can also go the extra mile by knowing which sites they mostly link out to or use as reference for their own works (use
ScreamingFrog).

4. Take advantage of your own existing community (or others’ as well).

Collaborate with the people who are already participating in your brand’s online community (blog comments, social networks, discussions, etc.). Identify those who truly contribute and really add value to the discussions, and see if they run their own websites or work for a company that’s also in your industry.

Leverage these interactions, as these can form long-term relationships that can also be beneficial to both parties (for instance, inviting them to write for you or having you write for their blog, and/or cross-promote your works/services).

And perhaps, you can also use this approach to other brands’ communities as well, like reaching out to people you see who have really smart inputs about your industry (that’ll you see on other blog’s comment sections) and asking them if they’ll be interested to talk/share more about that topic and have it published on your website instead.

Building a solid community can easily help automate link building, but more importantly, it can surely help strengthen a brand’s online presence.

Conclusion

SEO can be a tremendous help to your online branding efforts. Likewise, branding can be a tremendous help to your SEO efforts. Alignment and integration of both practices is what keeps winners winning in this game (just look at Moz).

If you liked this post or have any questions, let me know in the comments below, and you can find me on Twitter
@jasonacidre.

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July 30, 2014  Tags: , , , ,   Posted in: SEO / Traffic / Marketing  No Comments

Unraveling Panda Patterns

Posted by billslawski

This is my first official blog post at Moz.com, and I’m going to be requesting your help and expertise and imagination.

I’m going to be asking you to take over as Panda for a little while to see if you can identify the kinds of things that Google’s Navneet Panda addressed when faced with what looked like an incomplete patent created to identify sites as parked domain pages, content farm pages, and link farm pages. You’re probably better at this now then he was then.

You’re a subject matter expert.

To put things in perspective, I’m going to include some information about what appears to be the very first Panda patent, and some of Google’s effort behind what they were calling the “high-quality site algorithm.”

I’m going to then include some of the patterns they describe in the patent to identify lower-quality pages, and then describe some of the features I personally would suggest to score and rank a higher-quality site of one type.

Google’s Amit Singhal identified a number of questions about higher quality sites that he might use, and told us in the blog post where he listed those that it was an incomplete list because they didn’t want to make it easy for people to abuse their algorithm.

In my opinion though, any discussion about improving the quality of webpages is one worth having, because it can help improve the quality of the Web for everyone, which Google should be happy to see anyway.

Warning searchers about low-quality content

In “Processing web pages based on content quality,” the original patent filing for Panda, there’s a somewhat mysterious statement that makes it sound as if Google might warn searchers before sending them to a low quality search result, and give them a choice whether or not they might actually click through to such a page.

As it notes, the types of low quality pages the patent was supposed to address included parked domain pages, content farm pages, and link farm pages (yes,
link farm pages):

“The processor 260 is configured to receive from a client device (e.g., 110), a request for a web page (e.g., 206). The processor 260 is configured to determine the content quality of the requested web page based on whether the requested web page is a parked web page, a content farm web page, or a link farm web page.

Based on the content quality of the requested web page, the processor is configured to provide for display, a graphical component (e.g., a warning prompt). That is, the processor 260 is configured to provide for display a graphical component (e.g., a warning prompt) if the content quality of the requested web page is at or below a certain threshold.

The graphical component provided for display by the processor 260 includes options to proceed to the requested web page or to proceed to one or more alternate web pages relevant to the request for the web page (e.g., 206). The graphical component may also provide an option to stop proceeding to the requested web page.

The processor 260 is further configured to receive an indication of a selection of an option from the graphical component to proceed to the requested web page, or to proceed to an alternate web page. The processor 260 is further configured to provide for display, based on the received indication, the requested web page or the alternate web page.”

This did not sound like a good idea.

Recently, Google announced in a post on the Google Webmaster Central blog post,
Promoting modern websites for modern devices in Google search results, that they would start providing warning notices on mobile versions of sites if there were issues on those pages that visitors might go to.

I imagine that as a site owner, you might be disappointed seeing such warning notice shown to searchers on your site about technology used on your site possibly not working correctly on a specific device. That recent blog post mentions Flash as an example of a technology that might not work correctly on some devices. For example, we know that Apple’s mobile devices and Flash don’t work well together.

That’s not a bad warning in that it provides enough information to act upon and fix to the benefit of a lot of potential visitors. :)

But imagine if you tried to visit your website in 2011, and instead of getting to the site, you received a Google warning that the page you were trying to visit was a content farm page or a link farm page, and it provided alternative pages to visit as well.

That ”
your website sucks” warning still doesn’t sound like a good idea. One of the inventors listed on the patent is described in LinkedIn as presently working on the Google Play store. The warning for mobile devices might have been something he brought to Google from his work on this Panda patent.

We know that when the Panda Update was released that it was targeting specific types of pages that people at places such as
The New York Times were complaining about, such as parked domains and content farm sites. A
follow-up from the Timesafter the algorithm update was released puts it into perspective for us.

It wasn’t easy to know that your pages might have been targeted by that particular Google update either, or if your site was a false positive—and many site owners ended up posting in the Google Help forums after a Google search engineer invited them to post there if they believed that they were targeted by the update when they shouldn’t have been.

The wording of that
invitation is interesting in light of the original name of the Panda algorithm. (Note that the thread was broken into multiple threads when Google did a migration of posts to new software, and many appear to have disappeared at some point.)

As we were told in the invite from the Google search engineer:

“According to our metrics, this update improves overall search quality. However, we are interested in hearing feedback from site owners and the community as we continue to refine our algorithms. If you know of a high-quality site that has been negatively affected by this change, please bring it to our attention in this thread.

Note that as this is an algorithmic change we are unable to make manual exceptions, but in cases of high quality content we can pass the examples along to the engineers who will look at them as they work on future iterations and improvements to the algorithm.

So even if you don’t see us responding, know that we’re doing a lot of listening.”

The timing for such in-SERP warnings might have been troublesome. A site that mysteriously stops appearing in search results for queries that it used to rank well for might be said to have gone astray of
Google’s guidelines. Instead, such a warning might be a little like the purposefully embarrassing “Scarlet A” in Nathaniel Hawthorn’s novel The Scarlet Letter.

A page that shows up in search results with a warning to searchers stating that it was a content farm, or a link farm, or a parked domain probably shouldn’t be ranking well to begin with. Having Google continuing to display those results ranking highly, showing both a link and a warning to those pages, and then diverting searchers to alternative pages might have been more than those site owners could handle. Keep in mind that the fates of those businesses are usually tied to such detoured traffic.

My imagination is filled with the filing of lawsuits against Google based upon such tantalizing warnings, rather than site owners filling up a Google Webmaster Help Forum with information about the circumstances involving their sites being impacted by the upgrade.

In retrospect, it is probably a good idea that the warnings hinted at in the original Panda Patent were avoided.

Google seems to think that such warnings are appropriate now when it comes to multiple devices and technologies that may not work well together, like Flash and iPhones.

But there were still issues with how well or how poorly the algorithm described in the patent might work.

In the March, 2011 interview with Google’s Head of Search Quality, Amit Sighal, and his team member and Head of Web Spam at Google, Matt Cutts, titled
TED 2011: The “Panda” That Hates Farms: A Q&A With Google’s Top Search Engineers, we learned of the code name that Google claimed to be using to refer to the algorithm update as “Panda,” after an engineer with that name came along and provided suggestions on patterns that could be used by the patent to identify high- and low-quality pages.

His input seems to have been pretty impactful—enough for Google to have changed the name of the update, from the “High Quality Site Algorithm” to the “Panda” update.

How the High-Quality Site Algorithm became Panda

Danny Sullivan named the update the “Farmer update” since it supposedly targeted content farm web sites. Soon afterwards the joint interview with Singhal and Cutts identified the Panda codename, and that’s what it’s been called ever since.

Google didn’t completely abandon the name found in the original patent, the “high quality sites algorithm,” as can be seen in the titles of these Google Blog posts:

The most interesting of those is the “more guidance” post, in which Amit Singhal lists 23 questions about things Google might look for on a page to determine whether or not it was high-quality. I’ve spent a lot of time since then looking at those questions thinking of features on a page that might convey quality.

The original patent is at:

Processing web pages based on content quality
Inventors: Brandon Bilinski and Stephen Kirkham
Assigned to Google

US Patent 8,775,924

Granted July 8, 2014

Filed: March 9, 2012

Abstract

“Computer-implemented methods of processing web pages based on content quality are provided. In one aspect, a method includes receiving a request for a web page.

The method includes determining the content quality of the requested web page based on whether it is a parked web page, a content farm web page, or a link farm web page. The method includes providing for display, based on the content quality of the requested web page, a graphical component providing options to proceed to the requested web page or to an alternate web page relevant to the request for the web page.

The method includes receiving an indication of a selection of an option from the graphical component to proceed to the requested web page or to an alternate web page. The method further includes providing, based on the received indication, the requested web page or an alternate web page.

The patent expands on what are examples of low-quality web pages, including:

  • Parked web pages
  • Content farm web pages
  • Link farm web pages
  • Default pages
  • Pages that do not offer useful content, and/or pages that contain advertisements and little else

An invitation to crowdsource high-quality patterns

This is the section I mentioned above where I am asking for your help. You don’t have to publish your thoughts on how quality might be identified, but I’m going to start with some examples.

Under the patent, a content quality value score is calculated for every page on a website based upon patterns found on known low-quality pages, “such as parked web pages, content farm web pages, and/or link farm web pages.”

For each of the patterns identified on a page, the content quality value of the page might be reduced based upon the presence of that particular pattern—and each pattern might be weighted differently.

Some simple patterns that might be applied to a low-quality web page might be one or more references to:

  • A known advertising network,
  • A web page parking service, and/or
  • A content farm provider

One of these references may be in the form of an IP address that the destination hostname resolves to, a Domain Name Server (“DNS server”) that the destination domain name is pointing to, an “a href” attribute on the destination page, and/or an “img src” attribute on the destination page.

That’s a pretty simple pattern, but a web page resolving to an IP address known to exclusively serve parked web pages provided by a particular Internet domain registrar can be deemed a parked web page, so it can be pretty effective.

A web page with a DNS server known to be associated with web pages that contain little or no content other than advertisements may very well provide little or no content other than advertising. So that one can be effective, too.

Some of the patterns listed in the patent don’t seem quite as useful or informative. For example, the one stating that a web page containing a common typographical error of a bona fide domain name may likely be a low-quality web page, or a non-existent web page. I’ve seen more than a couple of legitimate sites with common misspellings of good domains, so I’m not too sure how helpful a pattern that is.

Of course, some textual content is a dead giveaway the patent tells us, with terms on them such as “domain is for sale,” “buy this domain,” and/or “this page is parked.”

Likewise, a web page with little or no content is probably (but not always) a low-quality web page.

This is a simple but effective pattern, even if not too imaginative:

… page providing 99% hyperlinks and 1% plain text is more likely to be a low-quality web page than a web page providing 50% hyperlinks and 50% plain text.

Another pattern is one that I often check upon and address in site audits, and it involves how functional and responsive pages on a site are.

The determination of whether a web site is full functional may be based on an HTTP response code, information received from a DNS server (e.g., hostname records), and/or a lack of a response within a certain amount of time. As an example, an HTTP response that is anything other than 200 (e.g., “404 Not Found”) would indicate that a web site is not fully functional.

As another example, a DNS server that does not return authoritative records for a hostname would indicate that the web site is not fully functional. Similarly, a lack of a response within a certain amount of time, from the IP address of the hostname for a web site would indicate that the web site is not fully functional.

As for user-data, sometimes it might play a role as well, as the patent tells us:

A web page may be suggested for review and/or its content quality value may be adapted based on the amount of time spent on that page.

For example, if a user reaches a web page and then leaves immediately, the brief nature of the visit may cause the content quality value of that page to be reviewed and/or reduced. The amount of time spent on a particular web page may be determined through a variety of approaches. For example, web requests for web pages may be used to determine the amount of time spent on a particular web page.”

My example of some patterns for an e-commerce website

There are a lot of things that you might want to include on an ecommerce site that help to indicate that it’s high quality. If you look at the questions that Amit Singhal raised in the last Google Blog post I mentioned above, one of his questions was “Would you be comfortable giving your credit card information to this site?” Patterns that might fit with this question could include:

  • Is there a privacy policy linked to on pages of the site?
  • Is there a “terms of service” page linked to on pages of the site?
  • Is there a “customer service” page or section linked to on pages of the site?
  • Do ordering forms function fully on the site? Do they return 404 pages or 500 server errors?
  • If an order is made, does a thank-you or acknowledgement page show up?
  • Does the site use an https protocol when sending data or personally identifiable data (like a credit card number)?

As I mentioned above, the patent tells us that a high-quality content score for a page might be different from one pattern to another.

The
questions from Amit Singhal imply a lot of other patterns, but as SEOs who work on and build and improve a lot of websites, this is an area where we probably have more expertise than Google’s search engineers.

What other questions would you ask if you were tasked with looking at this original Panda Patent? What patterns would you suggest looking for when trying to identify high or low quality pages?  Perhaps if we share with one another patterns or features on a site that Google might look for algorithmically, we could build pages that might not be interpreted by Google as being a low quality site. I provided a few patterns for an ecommerce site above. What patterns would you suggest?

(Illustrations: Devin Holmes @DevinGoFish)

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July 29, 2014  Tags: , ,   Posted in: SEO / Traffic / Marketing  No Comments

6 Tips to Optimize Your Homepage

6 Tips to Optimize Your Homepage is a post by SEO expert SEO.com. For information about our SEO services or more great SEO tips and tricks, visit the SEO.com blog.

Your SEO strategy is top-notch. Your marketing plan is spot on. People are learning about you and your product. They are making their way to your website, and you’re starting to get that feeling of success. Leads are finally coming to you! All of that time planning and strategizing over and over again is paying off.

Now that you’re getting traffic to your website, are you sure that the layout and content of your homepage is sufficient enough to keep that traffic engaged? Is it enough to lead to conversion?homepage_48

The homepage is likely the first thing a potential customer will see when they navigate to your website. Sure, there are different ways for them to dig deeper into the content of your site, but the homepage is often the gateway to it all. Because of the amount of views that one page will receive, there needs to be certain elements present in order to help guide those visitors where you need them to go.

First impressions really do matter, especially when it comes to the most common thing a potential customer will see on your website. A good homepage can lead to many sales, so putting some thought into every component is important.

1.  The Headline

The headline is basically the title of your website. It’s also likely the first thing a visitor to your site will see. Typically, a headline consists of 6 to 12 words maximum. 6 to 12 words doesn’t seem like much, does it? However, the headline is one of the most important parts of your homepage. In fact, one marketing study shows that a good headline can increase your conversion rates as much as 10.4%!

So, how do you create the perfect headline? It may be easier than you think. First of all, it’s best to remember that writing for the entirety of your audience is impossible to achieve. Try to write for the 20 to 30% of visitors that will most likely buy after visiting your site.

Write several different headlines, as many as you need to get those creative juices going. Don’t delete the ideas at this stage. Sometimes you can cannibalize parts from different ideas and combine them into the perfect headline.

Remember that your headline needs to answer the question “What does this site offer to me?” within the first few seconds of someone arriving.

headline

2.  Benefits

You can attract leads with a great headline, but to make it stick, you’ll need to show the benefits of your product or service. It’s important to list what your product does, but your customers will want to know why your product matters to them. More than that, they’ll need to know why they should get your products rather than something similar from someone else. List your benefits very clearly, and help your visitors see why they need these products and services.

3.  Calls to Action

It can really annoy a customer if, after learning about your great products, there isn’t a simple and obvious way to do something about it. Some websites make it nearly impossible to find a phone number or even order a product.

A call to action is an element within a webpage that solicits an action from the user. The most popular from of a call to action comes in the shape of a clickable button which can lead customers to other parts of the website where they can accomplish a desired task.

Placement, size, and color all matter when it comes to calls to action buttons. Make sure your customers know where they can go to purchase a product or learn more about your services by increasing button size and using contrasting colors.

See, it’s easy. Look at this one:

Request a proposal today to find out how you can optimize your pages for better results.

Request a Proposal

4.  Images

Images are important in today’s world. People tend to respond better to images than long bodies of text, and nothing is more off-putting on your homepage than huge sections of intimidating text.

How To Boost Your Traffic With Pinnable Images

Pictures, and even short videos, can have a huge effect on your page’s traffic. Make sure to include images that actually correspond with your product and what you offer. Stock photos with generic-looking business people won’t be good enough. Take time to really consider what images to use.

5.  Success with Customers

Look at it like this: when a potential customer arrives on your site, they’re looking for reasons NOT to buy from you. They are looking for a reason to leave, not a reason to give you money. You need to eliminate anything reservations they might have by building trust as quickly as possible.

case studyQuotes from happy customers can be a pretty powerful trust builder with potential leads. Our society is one that focuses on word of mouth recommendations and reviews. When you list what people are saying about your product on your homepage, it can build trust and generate more interest.

6.  Make It Clean

Make your homepage pleasant to look at. You can include all of the things listed above and still not be successful if your homepage still evokes a style more closely associated with the 90s rather than a professional, modern company. A clean, easy-to-use homepage is just as important as meaningful content.

Spend some time really planning out how you want your homepage to look. If it’s not something you would want to look at, chances are potential customers won’t want to look at it, either.

A Lasting Impression

The most effective homepages will tell a visitor exactly where they are, what they can do here, and why they should do it. The six tips above are effective ways to tweak different parts of the pages to make sure you’re answering those questions.

The homepage requires some special attention. This means taking the time to analyze every element, test your changes, and continue to turn it into an amazing marketing tool. The smallest things may have a huge impact, so don’t ignore anything when you start re-examining your homepage.

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July 29, 2014  Tags: , ,   Posted in: SEO / Traffic / Marketing  No Comments

Here’s Your Syllabus: Everything a Marketer Needs for Day 1 of an MBA

Posted by willcritchlow

A few years ago, I wrote a
post on my personal blog about MBA courses. I have a great deal of respect for the top-flight MBA courses based, in part, on how difficult I found the business-school courses I took during my graduate degree. I’m well aware of the stereotypes prevalent in the startup and online worlds, but I believe there is a lot of benefit to marketers having a strong understanding of how businesses function.

Recently, I’ve been thinking about how to build this into our training and development at Distilled; I think that our consultative approach needs this kind of awareness even more than most.

This post is designed to give you the building blocks needed to grow your capabilities in this area. Think of it as a cross between a recommended reading list and a home study guide.

Personal development: a personal responsibility

I’ve
written before about the difference between learning and training, and how I believe that individuals should take a high degree of ownership over their own development. In an area like this, where it’s unlikely to be a core functional responsibility, it’s even more likely that you will need to dedicate your own time and effort to building your capabilities.

Start with financial basics

I may well be biased by my own experiences, but I believe that, by starting with the financial fundamentals, you gain a deeper understanding of everything that comes afterwards. My own financial education started before high school:

  • My dad used to give me simple arithmetic tasks based around the financials of his own business before I was old enough to be allowed to answer the phone (when my voice broke!)
  • At college, I took some informal entrepreneurial courses as well as elected to study a few hardcore mathematical finance subjects during grad school
  • After college, I worked as a “consultant” (really, a developer) for a financial software company and got my first real introduction to P&Ls, general ledgers, balance sheets, and so forth
  • Before starting Distilled, I worked as a management consultant and learnt to build financial models and business cases (though the most memorable lesson of this era is that big businesses just have more zeros in the model – at a certain point it doesn’t matter whether you’re working with $, $k, $m or $b)

So, where should you start your financial education?

I’d begin by learning
how to read a balance sheet (which will quickly lead you to a load of ratios) and how to read a P&L (profit and loss statement). From there, you can get to cash flow.

In order to take this all in, you will need to set aside some time to work through a few examples and to dig into the definitions, acronyms, and concepts you haven’t heard before. These are not the kinds of post you can simply skim.

This may also be a good time to revisit some basics:

While working through all of this, you should be aiming to:

  • Become comfortable with the language and terminology
  • Understand the connections between cash, profit and assets
  • Begin seeing the sensitivities in how timing, margins, and business models impact outcomes

Since all of this is pretty dry, be sure to add in some human interest by reading about business models in ‘the wild’ and applying your new-found knowledge to some real-world examples. Amazon is a great place to start because of its
unusual focus on free cash flow over profit (for longer reads, I also recommend Bezos’ shareholders letters and The Everything Store).

Management: structures and methodologies

When you’re trying to get things done, it pays to understand the context of the people you’re seeking to influence. Whether you’re an external consultant or embedded in the organisation, the people you’re dealing with will have their own priorities, incentives, and worldview.

Above all, you need to get close to people in order to understand what truly makes them tick.

You can spend a lot of time digging into dry tomes on organisational design if you wish, but I’ve learned a lot of things from reading business biographies in order to understand the thinking of senior management at big business. Here are some of my favourites:

  • I already mentioned The Everything Store about Amazon in general and Jeff Bezos in particular
  • In the Plex (relevant to our interests: about Google) has all kinds of interesting anecdotes and management challenges
  • I am a massive fan of The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz that documents a lot of the interpersonal and management challenges he has seen and faced over the years
  • I was recommended The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by a client-turned-friend who has led large engineering teams – its language of “conflict and commit” quickly became part of my personal thinking
  • In a variety of ways, I’ve learned interesting things even from books that I found difficult to read or where I felt as if I wouldn’t like to work for the individuals (including Winning by Jack Welch, Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson, Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance by Lou Gerstner, and the epic Warren Buffett biography, The Snowball by Alice Schroeder)
BenHorowitz081513_076BSheehan_crop.jpg

Ben Horowitz
Image source: developers.blog.box.com/

6629275_c179a0dc20_z.jpg

Jeff Bezos
Image source: James Duncan Davidson, Flickr

The way I work is to highlight sections of a book as I read it (the Kindle is a godsend for this) and then, if I found it interesting enough, to write up a brief book report for my team. This should be somewhere between enough information to persuade them it would be an interesting read and enough to impart its key lessons.

See my write-up of “Only the Paranoid Survive”.

Strategy: the interesting parts

For me, all of this forms the basics of what you need to think about the interesting parts. I’m fully aware (and glad!) that some people become specialists in the details above and enjoy working in them. For me, they serve as tools to understand and to communicate about the way that companies and markets function.

I find that the most interesting learning has elements of storytelling, timeliness, and humanity. During my university studies, I was most excited when I got to hear about theorems developed in the last few years. In corporate strategy terms, it’s important to know your history, but it’s also exciting to realise that we can read the history that’s happening all around us right now.

In rough chronological order, here is some reading material I’ve found interesting recently:

  • Only the Paranoid Survive is the story of how Andy Grove chose to lead Intel through the almost complete disappearance of its multi-billion dollar core business in just a few short years. See my notes
  • The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton Christensen – I’ve written about this before here on Moz and over on our own site
  • In writing about The Innovator’s Dilemma, I’ve talked before about the influence Mark Suster has had on my thinking. I find the vast majority of his writing very thought-provoking. I particularly enjoyed his recent presentation on Why it’s Morning in VC which included some great stats about the growth in market opportunity for businesses that think ‘online first’
  • For the most cutting-edge thinking about the evolution of strategy in a connected world, I haven’t come across a better thinker than Benedict Evans. His newsletter is one of a handful that I read religiously

Putting it together

Different people learn in different ways, but I thought I’d close with a few ideas for more structured ways of learning:

  • Work through the basics by recreating some of the analysis linked to above. Build the Excel, learn the terminology, etc.
  • Read a book from the list and write a book report
  • Form a study group to discuss a Harvard Business Review case

Further reading

The more you get into reading about business, the more you’ll realise what a rabbit hole it truly is. I’d love to hear some recommendations in the comments section. I’ve also included a few more resources that didn’t fit into the flow above but that I thought people might like to check out:

  • MBA Mondays from Fred Wilson (I recommend you start at the end and work forwards through time). I’ve liberally pulled individual posts into the writing above, but there’s a wealth of further information in this series
  • Harvard Business Review produces an incredible amount of content, so you’ll have to pick and choose, but there’s something there for everyone – from written content and video, to deep financial analysis to inter-personal management advice
  • I have had The Personal MBA recommended highly to me – though I have to admit that it’s still sitting in my wishlist

When I first pitched this post idea to the Moz editors, they were keen that it contain actual insight itself rather than just links to a bunch of books – something I wholeheartedly support. So, I thought I’d include my notes on Andy Grove’s Only the Paranoid Survive. Here you can see what I meant by taking notes and highlighting sections of a book to discuss with a group. This is a great way of digesting the ideas of a book, especially if they are particularly complex.

8267616249_0bf5b1b597_z.jpg

Andy Grove, Robert Noyce and Gordon Moore (1978)

Image source: Intel Free Press,
Flickr

Only the Paranoid Survive: my notes on a business classic

Documenting his time at Intel, Andy Grove’s book provides a fascinating insight into how he led the company out of the memory business and into the microprocessor business. He details his approach for dealing with what he calls “strategic inflection points” which are those times in the life of a business when its fundamentals are about to change. As he says, this “can mean an opportunity to rise to new heights. But it may just as likely signal the beginning of the end.”

It’s an incredible story of leadership, management, and strategy, and I highly recommend you read it (even though it’s unfortunately not available on the Kindle – a criteria which is fast becoming my top priority for which books I’ll read).

Written in 1996, the book looks pretty dated (in parts) almost twenty years later. But to illustrate the power of the insights from the man that Fortune magazine called “The best manager in the world”, I wanted to kick off with some quotes from the final chapter of the book. These detail Grove’s support of Intel post-retirement – guiding them on the changes he thought the internet would bring to their business. It highlights the value of the rest of the book by proving that he is capable of applying his theories to the future (which is always the hardest part of making predictions).

Highlighting the era in which the book was written, it starts with a section entitled:

What is the Internet Anyway?

Grove immediately lays out his stall:

I felt that the Internet was the biggest change in our environment over the last year.

And then goes on to predict a number of the disruptions that subsequently came to pass – starting with the effect on advertising:

To do that on a big scale, you have to “steal the eye-balls,” so to say, of the consumer audience from where they get those messages today … to displays on the World Wide Web.

Publishing:

We may be witnessing the birth of a new media industry.

And even mobile (though he doesn’t call it that):

Such an Internet appliance could be built around a simpler and less expensive microchip. Clearly, this would be detrimental to our business.

His presentation, to a group of senior managers at Intel in the mid-90s, clearly met a mixed reception – and I love how much the quotes could be an indictment of my entire career:

Comments on my presentation range from “This was the best strategic analysis you’ve ever done” to “Why the hell did you waste so much time on the Internet?”

Rather than just pointing out problems, he clearly outlines a set of solutions – starting with embedding the internet at the top level of strategic direction:

Intel operates by following the direction set by three high-level corporate strategic objectives: the first has to do with our micro-processor business; the second with our communications business; the third with our operations and the executions of our plans. We add a fourth objective, encapsulating all the things that are necessary to mobilize our efforts in connection with the Internet.

…and hedging with a deliberate attempt to check his hypotheses to make sure they are correct:

So I think there is one more step for Intel to take to prepare ourselves for the future. And I think we should take it now while our market momentum is stronger than ever. I think we should put together a group to build the best inexpensive Internet appliance that can be built, around an Intel microchip. Let this group try to derail our strategies themselves.

Having set the scene, rather than rehash the story itself, I want to jump to the second half of the book. Here Grove details the general lessons he learned and the approaches he has taught since his retirement as a professor at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business.

So many of the lessons concern the ways that senior managers can make sure they stay abreast of the lessons their teams are learning at the coalface. But learning the lessons are so rarely enough in themselves. Grove details a conversation he had with Intel’s Chairman and CEO at the time – Gordon Moore:

I looked out the window at the Ferris wheel of the Great America amusement park revolving in the distance, then I turned back to Gordon and I asked, “If we got kicked out and the board brought in a new CEO, what do you think he would do?” Gordon answered without hesitation, “He would get us out of memories.” I stared at him, numb, then said, “Why shouldn’t you and I walk out the door, come back and do it ourselves?”

Knowing is not sufficient. It’s clear that you still need to work up the courage to make a change somehow. Early on, Grove dedicates a chapter to the necessary methodology of gathering information from the people he calls “Cassandras” who help funnel knowledge of impending changes to senior management:

The Cassandras in your organization are a consistently helpful element in recognizing strategic inflection points… Cassandras are usually in middle management; often they work in the sales organization.

He then goes on to address two potential objections to the particular kinds of action needed at this stage – by middle and senior management. I particularly like the second part – exhorting ‘armchair quarterbacks’ to get out of their comfy seats:

If you are in senior management, don’t feel you’re being a wimp for taking the time to solicit the views, convictions and passions of the experts. No statues will be carved for corporate leaders who charge off on the wrong side of a complex decision…If you are in middle management, don’t be a wimp. Don’t sit on the sidelines waiting for the senior people to make a decision so that later on you can criticize them over a beer — “My God, how could they be so dumb?”

Continuing the theme that it’s necessary, but not sufficient to know what’s going on, Grove calls out common behaviour among senior people who (consciously or subconsciously) know what they need to be focusing on, but continually find themselves drawn in other directions. It reminded me of the adage that
your calendar never lies:

At such times, senior managers often involve themselves in feverish charitable fundraising, a lot of outside board activities or pet projects…Frankly, as I look back, I have to wonder if it was an accident that I devoted a significant amount of my time in the years preceding our memory episode, years during which the storm clouds were already very evident, to writing a book. And as I write this, I wonder what storm clouds I might be ducking now.

In this theoretical section that comes after many of the personal stories of his own challenges, Grove lays out some mechanisms for coping with and dealing with strategic inflection points once you’ve seen them coming. In particular, he focuses on clarity of communication:

But when the structure of the industry changes, all of these elements change too. The mental map that you have been carrying with you all these years and relied upon in charting your company’s course of action suddenly loses its validity. However you haven’t had a chance to replace it with a new mental map. You haven’t made the explicit substitutions about how things are done now versus how they were done before, or who matters now versus who mattered then…If senior managers and know-how managers share a common view of the industry, the likelihood of their acknowledging changes in the environment and responding in an appropriate fashion will greatly increase. Sharing a common picture of the map of the industry and its dynamics is a key tool in making your organization an adaptive one.

…and clarity of purpose:

Management writers use the word “vision” for this. That’s too lofty for my taste. What you’re trying to do is capture the essence of the company and the focus of its business. You are trying to define what the company will be, yet that can only be done if you also undertake to define what the company will not be.

…and he addresses head-on the obvious counter to some of his simple examples by saying that he believes oversimplification is a risk worth taking in pursuit of extreme focus:

But the danger of oversimplification pales in comparison with the danger of catering to the desire of every manager to be included in the simple description of the refocused business, therefore making that description so lofty and so inclusive as to be meaningless.

Just before we get to the final section on the internet that I started with to make my broader point about the usefulness of Grove’s framework, he talks about some of the personal pitfalls of leading in the way he describes. I found these two passages to have echoes of ‘the hard thing about hard things’ that I referenced above. First, leading when you can’t know if you’re right:

I can’t help but wonder why leaders are so often hesitant to lead. I guess it takes a lot of conviction and trusting your gut to get ahead of your peers, your staff and your employees while they are still squabbling about which path to take, and set an unhesitating, unequivocal course whose rightness or wrongness will not be known for years.

…and second, the loneliness of this course:

When I started on this software study, I had to take the time I spent on it away from other things…This brought with it its own difficulties because people who were accustomed to seeing me periodically no longer saw me as often as they used to. They started asking questions like, “Does this mean you no longer care about what we do?”


I hope you’ve enjoyed this little tour through my ways of learning about business. I think an awful lot of learning comes down to curiosity and, in my experience, business is an endless source of fascination and things about which to be curious. I look forward to hearing your best links and book recommendations in the comments.

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July 28, 2014  Tags: , , , ,   Posted in: SEO / Traffic / Marketing  No Comments

What Do the Largest Websites Have in Common? What Can We Learn From Them?

What Do the Largest Websites Have in Common? What Can We Learn From Them? is a post by SEO expert Jonathan Goudy. For information about our SEO services or more great SEO tips and tricks, visit the SEO.com blog.

What-Do-the-Largest-Websites-Online-Have-in-Common-

The largest websites in the United States all have completely different purposes and target different demographics, but they all still share some common core internet marketing principles that make them successful. These are the types of things that every small website can learn from.

The marketing principles you can learn from the best of the best are powerful because they helped launch and sustain billion-dollar companies. These aren’t necessarily difficult strategies and tactics, and they won’t cost as much as you might think, so any small company can follow these examples to grow and see an increase in traffic and possibly even conversions. Let’s get started.

For the purposes of this article, I looked at the top 100 websites in the United States according to Alexa. Just to keep things simple, I’ll just include each website’s ranking on this list whenever it is mentioned.

1.  Massive Daily Content Creation – The biggest news channels like ESPN (24), or the biggest social platforms like Facebook (2), Instagram (16), Pinterest (12), and ecommerce sites like Amazon (5), are constantly adding pages to their website. This isn’t just a blog article a day, either. Some of these websites are adding over a hundred thousand pages to their website every day.

Even though it’s nearly impossible to keep up with the oceans of content sweeping onto the world’s largest platforms, small websites should push for more and more content every single day.

It can be articles, it can be new or updated product pages, it can be user-generated profiles and questions. Adding more valuable content will keep increasing the overall usefulness and value of the site.

2.  User-Generated Content – Nearly all of the top ten most-visited websites in the United States allow the public to add content onto a section of their website. Google built Google+, which is connected to the Google.com domain. Although you just can’t necessarily add content to their search engine, you can to your Google+ profile. Google+ is on a sub-domain, but it’s still branding Google’s website and it will increase engagement with users. Building content platforms for users to generate content is an ideal way to constantly add more content to a website.

Obviously, most companies don’t have the money to build an entire social platform onto a sub-domain, but some other large companies have forums built into the ‘help’ section of their website to answer frequently asked questions by website visitors. Guest columns will work if you want your traffic to write for you. It doesn’t cost much to build in a guest column, and the article approval process can be quick and simple.

Historically, user-generated sections of websites would get spammed out. Even blog commenting is technically a form of user generated content, but it takes time to monitor spam (which is discussed next). Be sure to be aggressive with spam monitoring when you have a user generated content section.

3.  Spam Control – One area most of the major websites invest in is spam control. Managing the negative, low quality, or abusive content is not cheap and usually requires more than just money and employees. It requires a good plan of action. Companies like eBay (7) and even Wikipedia (6) have had to adjust strategies and hire experts to come in and develop strategies to protect their website.

Google (1) is constantly updating its algorithm, so not only do you get the most relevant results, but they are always trying to catch spammy websites or lower their ranking positions. Spam is poison, you don’t want to feed search engines poison or they will just de-index your website.

4.  Older Websites – Six years ago, Groupon (93) was launched and is currently one of the youngest websites of the top 100 largest websites in the USA. Craigslist (10) and eBay (7) both launched in 1995 and will turn 20 years old soon. Facebook (2) made its debut in 2004 and is just over ten years old while Google (1) was launched towards the end of 1998.

Most of the top 100 websites launched before or after the year 2000. Although some of the companies were the quickest ever in our nation’s history to make a billion dollars, the truth is to be a successful website online it really does take some time and maturity.

The internet is more competitive than ever before and Google’s new search engine algorithm is making internet marketing harder to do, and it takes a little more time, strategy, money, branding, viral word-of-mouth, and patience.

When Microsoft launched Bing in 2009 they thought their money could beat a search engine that was an 11 years old at that time, but it didn’t come close. Money helps with internet marketing but it won’t automatically win the game if your competitor arrived first and has established itself as popular and relevant. It’s easy to want things now, but patience is a virtue for a reason, and websites aren’t excused from this rule. New websites need to stick at it and prove they’re trustworthy over time.

5.  Industry Leader – LinkedIn (8) is the industry leader for employment job social networking websites. Reddit (21) is the leader with social bookmarking online. ESPN (24) is the world-wide leader in sports. Being a leader in the industry brings on great brand recognition. Websites should not only be striving to rank first on Google but they should be striving to be the leader in their industry.

If it’s unrealistic to catch up to the current leader in the industry, establish something unique about your brand and be the leader for that niche. Being an industry leader has many SEO benefits as well. Search engines pay attention to brand signals now, and will often rank the brand with the most authority and relevance over anyone else for a lot of related searches.

6.  Large Audiences – Google’s (1) Facebook page has 16 million followers (likes). YouTube (3) has 80 million likes on Facebook. Even websites further down the list like Bank of America (35) have 1.9 million Facebook likes. The New York Times has 7.3 million likes on the social platform. These brands have the We love itmoney and the popularity to build large audiences on multiple social websites. They also have access to the experts and teams to help increase their social presence.

Social signals impact search rankings depending on the search engine. Google pays attention to Google + while Bing gives more weight to Facebook and Twitter. Social signals create launch pads for link building. If a website has over a million likes, the viral traction of one post can build natural links and social shares to a sites page. Building the social audience is key to a brand’s success and smaller websites should take note of that.

7. High-Quality, Simple Websites – Apple.com (30) offers a platform that doesn’t have a crazy design, or annoying Flash animations, or even pop ups, it’s just simple, plain and very easy to navigate around.  All ten of the top performing websites in the United States have a white background on their homepage. The color white is simple, and clear, and is a great canvas on which you can highlight your other brand colors.

Small businesses fall into these traps of wanting fancy websites with all the gimmicks. The truth is simple, clean and professional is the ideal direction to go when designing a website. It establishes an easy user experience and is quite affordable. Small businesses should start with something simple and, even as they grow, try to keep everything nice and orderly.

8.  The Focus on a Broader Target Audience – Smaller businesses with lower budgets tend to focus heavily on the person who is most likely going to buy their product. There’s nothing wrong with this at all, and with a smaller budget it’s wise. It’s wasteful to focus your ads on people that won’t convert. However, if you want to start building your overall traffic, so you can increase the pool of potential buyers, you’re going to need to target a bigger audience.

targetmarket

All of the five biggest traffic websites online target the general public. Facebook (2) started out by focusing on the college population but now reaches your grandparents. Although 80% of Pinterest users are women, more and more men are finding their way onto the world’s largest image bookmarking website. Amazon and eBay all target the everyday consumer. Google averages 2 trillion plus searches a year on their platform.

These websites focus on marketing that builds their brand. If your business model is focused on larger transactions it should focus on an audience. If it’s focused on branding and being a huge website, you’ll have to go after a wider audience. These brands figured out how to offer value where all ages and people will be attracted to their product.

9.  An Online Focus, No Brick and Mortar Stores – Apple.com (29) is the first of the top 50 websites online that also has offline locations spread out in local communities. Chase (34) and Bank of America (35) offer bank locations all around the nation, Wal-Mart (40) has stores everywhere as well. Only five of the top fifty websites have stores for the public to visit. The other forty-five only focus on online services.

What we can learn from this is the big websites are dedicated to dominating the online world. From day one they’ve been building their brand online. When businesses focus all of their efforts online, websites naturally create better websites with great user experiences, and they offer higher quality content. Focusing too much offline can hurt your online presence if it’s neglected.

Summary

In every sport, the best thing the young athletes can do is learn from the best. This concept applies to internet marketing. Although your industry might be different, your product might be different, or the mission of your website might be different than these large online web beasts, you can learn principles that can take your website to new levels. Be sure to express your thoughts below.

Questions Answered in the Article

  • What do the largest websites online have in common?
  • What are key internet marketing principles?
  • What does it take to get high amounts of internet traffic to a website?

Get Internet Marketing Insight For Your Company - SEO.com

What Do the Largest Websites Have in Common? What Can We Learn From Them? is a post by SEO expert Jonathan Goudy. For information about our SEO services or more great SEO tips and tricks, visit the SEO.com blog.


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July 26, 2014  Tags: , , , , ,   Posted in: SEO / Traffic / Marketing  No Comments



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