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Category: Marketing

13
Oct

It’s All About Chemistry…and SEO

A good infographic uses something familiar, something you understand, to help you grasp something new or confusing. So why in blazes did Search Engine Land decide to use Chemistry (which most people don’t understand) to help people grasp Search Engine Optimization (which most people also don’t understand)? Smh.

Realistically, though, certain subjects, like SEO, can only be boiled down so far. And the categories this graphic gives are golden. Let me walk you through it.

Search Engine Land Periodic Table of SEO Success Factors

What the Colors Mean

To start, note the color groupings. As marked, the blue columns are “On-the-page” SEO factors. Basically, these elements have everything to do with your website – how it’s built and what content you fill it with. You have direct control over these factors. The green columns by contrast are the “Off-the-page” SEO factors. You don’t have direct, immediate control of these. But your choices and strategy have everything to do with influencing them. For instance, with the penalty for spammy links to your site increasingly severe, links must now be earned rather than bought, farmed, or stolen. How? Write helpful stuff and earn the respect of other professionals through networking. Oh, and you don’t have to choose between these. You should do both.

But what about the red boxes under each column? Those are negative factors – things that hurt you. We’ll come back to them as we look at each column.

As a side note, the difference in color tone also reinforces the value each factor has. Darker colors = More important.

What Each Column Means

On-the-page SEO factors are grouped in three columns: Content, Architecture, & HTML. Off-the-page factors are grouped in four: Trust, Links, Personal, & Social. We’ll walk through each.

Content

The quick and skinny is your website should have fresh, quality content stemming from competent research and expressed using the keywords your clients will be using to find you. In contrast, “thin” content, which may penalize you, contributes nothing to the web. It’s like when you got that F on that college research paper because you just stacked block quotes out of one book.

Architecture

This groups is unavoidably technical. Essentially, when the Google bot comes to call (or “crawl”), it needs to be able to find your pages and see all your content, even on mobile – and it wants it reasonably fast. Ideally, each page will be unique and its URL will reflect the content somewhat. Bonus points if your site is secure (https://). Never build your site to display differently to bots and humans. That’s called “cloaking”. It’s bad. It will hurt you.

HTML

Believe it or not, this is less technical than that last one. A good web agency (ahem) will make it easy for you to set your page titles and descriptions and will build your site with thought to what your header tags communicate about each page. But it’s probably going to be up to you to write up these relevant titles and useful descriptions. Things to avoid are keyword stuffing and hiding text.

Trust

Search engines want to know if people trust you, if you are considered an authority in your field. Though we can’t say exactly what contributes to Google’s ascription of authority, it probably includes solid linkage from within your field, social mentions, site engagement (e.g. “How much time did the user spend on my page?”), site history, and the identity of your authors. Negatively, a history of piracy complaints and too many ads cluttering the content may undermine trust in a site.

Links

Many people know links help your SEO. Here are a few things you might not know:

  1. It matters who is linking. Links from within your industry, especially from leaders, are worth more.
  2. The text of the link matters. It’s the linker’s way of saying “This website is the place to go for ____”.
  3. Quantity still matters, but the number of sites linking is more important than the number of links on a site.
  4. Some links can hurt you. Avoid trying to buy links or spamming other blogs with links to your site.

Personal

This column focuses on the individual. Is your site relevant to the country and locale they are in? Do they or their friends have a history of using your website or sharing it on social media?

Social

While Google+ has been the only social media source directly factored into search rankings, SEO experts widely recognize the value in building a following on Facebook, Twitter, and other social sites and getting them to share your links. The more people sharing your stuff, the more people coming to your site – that’s good SEO and that’s good business.

 

If you are new to SEO, this is just enough to get your toes wet. For more details, check out Search Engine Land’s full guide or Moz’s Beginner Guide to SEO.

24
Sep

6 Ways to Make Your Restaurant Website More Appetizing

There are certain mysteries of the universe you and I will never understand: What is dark matter? How does gravity work? Why do humans need sleep? Where did that other sock disappear to?

But near that the top of that deeply perplexing list is one question that nags me almost incessantly: Why are all restaurant websites terrible?

It’s a sad reality, but it doesn’t have to be this way. By following a few basic principles, you can take your restaurant website from flavorless to five stars.

1. Make it responsive

I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: It’s critical that your website be beautiful and functional on each and every device. If it’s not adhering to the principles of responsive web design, it’s going to be a navigational nightmare for anyone looking to find your hours, menu, contact info, etc.

Think about the ways in which most folks come across your website. Facebook, Yelp, Urbanspoon and Google Maps are all huge traffic sources, and the majority of their users are browsing on mobile devices. If I’m on the go and looking for a place to grab a bite, I’m going to reach for my phone. But if I open your website and see a desktop view (or even worse, nothing at all because you’re still using Flash), chances are I’m dining elsewhere.

2. Lose the PDF

If I’m coming to your website from a mobile device, the last thing I want to do is download a huge PDF file on my slow connection (and small data plan). Even if I’m able to get it open, I’m still going to have to zoom and pan around on this multi-page behemoth to find what I’m looking for.

Not only does a PDF offer a poor user experience, it isn’t optimal for SEO or analytics tracking either.

A far better alternative is to add your menu items in good ol’ HTML markup. This will allow them to adapt to screen size, be easily parsed by Google, and change quickly when needed. No more contacting your graphic designer for a single text tweak every time you want to make a menu change, and better yet, no more frustrated potential diners.

3. Hold the cheese

oatmeal

The great web comic The Oatmeal has a clever post about restaurant websites. In it, he offers a quick list of things people look for when browsing:

  • Menu
  • Specials and happy hour info
  • Address with a link to Google Maps
  • Online reservation system that actually works
  • Hours of operation, parking and contact info

The above should be a simple wish list to fulfill, but unfortunately these things are either a) not present, or b) impossible to find amid all the clutter.

Restaurants websites are so often full of cheesy components that do more to distract than inform potential diners. Instead of over-designing and overwhelming, try to follow these rules:

  • Don’t make critical pieces of information difficult to locate
  • Save the ambient music for the restaurant itself
  • Keep design flare to a minimum
  • Put any extra content (i.e. videos, photo galleries, letters from the chef / owner) on separate inside pages and keep the homepage clean and practical

 

4. Express yourself

If your aim is to provide customers with an elegant, white tablecloth-style dining experience, that aesthetic should be reflected in your site’s design. The same is true if you’re a sports bar hoping to provide elevated bar food and a fun atmosphere.

Your website often serves as the first point of contact with potential diners. You want them to come away with an accurate sense of the experience you’re trying to provide. If you don’t, you risk failing to meet expectations.

5. Keep it current

I’m sure you change your specials on a weekly or monthly basis. You probably rotate out several menu items seasonally, too. Why not give the same thought and care to your website?

Relevant information about drink specials, happy hours, and updated menu items entice potential diners to pay you a visit. However, outdated versions of the same information can scare customers away. If you’re not updating your information online, how can I trust that you’re putting the maximum effort into your food or your service?

6. Connect with the customer

One of the easiest ways to endear yourself to potential diners is to connect with them on social media. Even if you’re not able to update your website weekly, surely you’re posting to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram regularly, right?

By displaying links to these profiles prominently on your homepage, you provide customers with a simple way to see that recipe you’re testing or the new patio you just opened.

Overwhelmed?

Unsure of how to implement all of these changes? We can help. The Kestrel Co. builds each and every website according to the best practices of responsive web design and search engine optimization. We create beautiful sites free from clutter, and ensure that your identity and vision are expressed in every detail. And, we provide simple and practical solutions for you to keep your site’s content fresh.

Eager to get started? Let’s chat!

09
Sep

Website Personality – Yours or Your customers’?

For thousands of years, design agencies have been offering conflicting advice to innocent clients.

“The look and feel of your site should match the quirkiness of your company’s brand voice.” – Agency 1

“Your website is not for you. It’s for your customers. Your site should make your customers feel like home.” – Agency 2

I’m sure I read somewhere of the famous philosopher Plato (or was it Descartes?) sitting in a cave agonizing over this most ancient of questions: whose personality should be reflected in one’s website?

A mediocre answer

Unfortunately, like so many things in life, the answer is not one or the other. The design of your site should take into consideration both your brand voice and the habits, likes, and tastes of your target demographic.

But that’s too easy and not worth your click. Kestrel can do better.

A better answer

Perhaps a better way to answer this question for you and your company is to first define what you’re selling / marketing on your website.

Let’s imagine you are the marketing director for Hal’s Handmade Hutches. You custom build solid wood dining room hutches. Wonderful. Your website should have the look and ethos of a formal dining room. That’s what you’re selling after all! The people visiting halshutches.com will be looking for and expecting to see hutches. Make them feel like they’ve landed in the right place when they get to your site. Don’t make it quirky and silly. They’re expecting quality, handmade furniture. Your site should feel just like your mother’s dining room.

But let’s switch it up. You quit Hal’s because you couldn’t stand going home smelling like a pine tree everyday. Clara’s Cleaning Crew hired you on to replace their old marketing director who suddenly passed away from exposure to excessive ammonia.

The game has changed my friend! You are no longer selling a specific product, therefore your visitors’ expectations have changed. Now you’re selling the services of Clara’s Crew. The visitors who land on your site are now expecting to meet with the service they’re considering purchasing. Therefore, the general impression of your new site ought to reflect the personality of the company. In this case, the company (more precisely, the service provided by the company) is the product.

If your company’s service is fun and playful, let some of that seep through in your copy, images, colors, and structure. On the other hand, if you’re serious, professional, clean, and prompt, don’t use coy heading tags and navigation.

tldr; (a.k.a. Summary)

Of course, you should always be cognizant of who is viewing your site, what device they’re on, how they’re interacting with your content, etc.

But at the end of the day, let the general personality of your website be a reflection of the product or service you’re providing. Web users are smart. They came to your site for a reason. They came with expectations. Make sure you don’t violate those expectations, and consider that the overall personality of your site is one more component in promoting your product or service.

21
Jul

Relevance Isn’t Optional: SEO’s Role in Your SEM

People who first hear about SEM (Search Engine Marketing) typically have two responses: “That’s amazing!” and “It sounds so easy!” If you have poured money into print ads or some other hard-to-track advertising, Pay Per Click (PPC) marketing may seem too good to be true. With PPC, you are guaranteed traffic to your site or you don’t pay. (BTW, if you’re thinking “SEM? PPC? What the heck’s he talking about?” skip over to my intro post on SEM)

Search Engine Marketing is a great opportunity but it is not a “set it and forget it” solution. Success in SEM means ongoing testing and data analysis. And one of the pieces of data you really want to pay attention to is your quality score. This will directly affect your ad rank and how much you pay when someone clicks your ad. Yes, you can actually be listed above a competitor and pay considerably less then them if you’ve got the edge in ad rank. Conversely, Google won’t show your ad at all if your quality score is too low. So, what isCat wearing a hand knit snood scarf it? Essentially, your quality score is Google’s rating on how relevant your ads (and the webpages they link to) are to the keywords you’re bidding on. But don’t assume. You might take it for granted that your website selling hand-knit, neck warmers for cats will be relevant for the keyword “neck warmers for cats”, but you might be wrong. They question is not whether you see the relevance but whether Google does.

Related to quality score, Google leaves a fair bit shrouded in mystery, but at least they make it easy to check. In your Adwords account, select the Keywords tab. If you hover over the white speech bubble next to each Keyword’s status, you will see a box showing your quality score along with an indication of some of the major factors at play.

If your quality score looksGoogle Adwords keyword quality score box like the the one pictured here, you’ve got some work to do. A below average landing page indicates that Google doesn’t think that page of your website is relevant to your targeted keyword. Finding out why may require help from a web expert familiar with SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and utilization of tools like Google Webmaster Tools.

Closer inspection might reveal easy wins like tweaking your title text and header tags. Perhaps you were a little too creative in the text you incorporated into your page and only actually mentioned cats once. Maybe you need to add alt text to your images. All of these are common SEO issues which we may touch on in a future post.

Wait, I thought we were talking about SEM, not SEO… Well, yes. But there’s a lot of crossover. Some basic, technical SEO will improve your SEM performance. Conversely, one of the tangential benefits of Search Engine Marketing is how it can inform your efforts in Search Engine Optimization. For instance, you may notice certain keywords generate a lot of quality contacts in your Paid Search advertising and decide to incorporate those keywords in various places on your website, maybe even focusing on them in a blog post or piece of sharable content.

At some point in the future, we should talk in more detail about the balance between too many keywords and too few. For now, just remember to incorporate enough relevant terms on each webpage that Google knows what it’s about, without being it being forced.

blog-sem-relevance-gif

Keep winning.

23
Jun

Search Engine Marketing Could Save Your Business

Search engine marketing keeps you from going unnoticed like a fallen tree

“If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” A fascinating question, I’m sure. But you’re running a business; who’s got time for amateur philosophy? Your question is, “If we build a smashing product and nobody finds it, is it still smashing?”

The answer is yes. Absolutely. Good on you… Unfortunately, you may still go out of business.

The problem is, as much as we idealists want to believe quality is its own marketing, that’s only part of the story. Quality is indispensable, to be sure. But sometimes, especially when you’re still building a base of repeat customers or trying to scale your business up, you just need more people to know about you. That’s where marketing comes in.

But you knew that. You’re trying to market yourself. After Ryan’s post on content creation last week, you sketched out a new blog post. You recently hired a kid to keep your social media accounts active. And you have a beautiful new, handcrafted website by Switzer Creative. You’re making smart decisions that should contribute to organic search engine ranking and pay off in the long-term. The rub is you need it to pay off in the short-term. You need traffic to your site now.

Enter SEM. Search Engine Marketing (SEM) stands out as one of the most immediate, manipulable, and measurable ways to drive traffic to your company’s site. What is it? One thought leader defines it this way, “SEM is the process of gaining website traffic by purchasing ads on search engines.” Put another way, give Google money and they will make you show up when customers search for stuff. (To be fair to the other guys, Bing and its partner Yahoo do currently account for a combined 1/3 of all search traffic, but Google holds down virtually all of the rest).

How does search engine marketing work?

Hit your target with search engine marketingSEM can be split into two groups: search and display campaigns. Paid search is built around targeting words and phrases potential customers are searching for online. Since we do web development, Switzer might bid on “web design companies”, “new website”, or even “my website sucks”. Assuming we use broad or phrase match and bid high enough, Adwords would then serve up our ad when someone Googles these phrases or a variation like “st louis web design companies”. Negative keywords allow us to exclude searches like “help me build my new website.” If you’re searching for that, you’re probably not looking for our services – yet.

Display campaigns are a horse of a different color. They differ in format, targeting, and marketing methodology. If you’re interested, comment below and I’ll address it in a future post. We have other pressing questions right now.

Are SEM and SEO the same?

A number of people get confused between SEM and SEO. They are not the same. With SEM, also referred to as “Paid Search” or “Pay-Per-Click (PPC) advertising”, you pay to show up in the ads sections of the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages). With SEO, your placement on the SERPs is organic, earned not bought. SEM & SEO do overlap at points, particularly in the areas of keyword research and landing page relevance, but they are distinct specialties with different methods and different goals. As you can see below, the placements on the SERPs are different too.

Google Adwords search engine marketing results on SERP

 

Does anybody click those ads?

Actually, yes. A lot of people do. Particularly if they are actively looking for a product or service. Coincidentally, those are exactly the motivated customers you are looking for. Yahtzee!

What is the cost of SEM?

The cost of your paid search advertising depends on a number of factors and may range from a few dimes per click up to a few dollars or more. The gratifying thing with the pay-per-click model, however, is that you don’t pay unless a customer clicks on your ad and comes to your site. You’re not paying for potential traffic as with a print ad; you’re paying for actual traffic.

SEM also affords considerable control of how much you pay for your clicks. On Google Adwords, for instance, you bid on keywords by setting a max CPC (cost-per-click). When a user Googles a term, Adwords lines up advertisers bidding on that term. The ads are arranged partly by bid, but the perceived quality of your ad and your landing page factor in heavily as well. A lower bid may outrank a higher one if the “quality score” and format of the first is better.

If a user likes your ad and clicks on it, you do not pay your max CPC. You only pay the minimum needed to, given all factors, outrank the bidder below you. For a more elaborate explanation by Google’s Hal Varian, watch the video below.

Of course, in addition to these costs paid to Google Adwords or Bing Ads, there is also the cost of managing your ads – either in management fees to an agency specializing in SEM or in time out of your rather packed schedule. Which leads to the final question…

Can I do my SEM myself?

Absolutely! Of course, that’s coming from a DIY guy who’s considered the feasibility of performing minor operations on myself to save money. Thankfully, reason won out and I’m still alive.

DIY SEM is about as bright as DIY SurgerySo, is SEM a DIY? Like many specialties, the answer is “Sure, kinda, but not really.”The resources are out there. You can teach yourself the basics and get a few campaigns up on Adwords or Bing Ads. The problem is, the learning curve is no bunny hill. You may spend months getting up to speed and still not know the errors you’re making. Noob stories abound of innocent mistakes hemorrhaging hundreds or thousands of dollars before anyone even notices.

In addition, SEM is not a static field. Like most digital specialties, the pace of change is breakneck. Search engines like Google are constantly changing the game and routinely introducing new tools. Staying in the game means exploring, iterating, and innovating.

Does Switzer Creative do SEM?

Yes! In our approach to website design, we become partners with our clients. We feel vested in your success. Since our team’s skillset and background included search engine marketing management, it made sense for us to use those skills to help our partners – driving more traffic to their sweet new sites.

If you have any questions about search engine marketing, chime in below and I’ll try to respond in a timely fashion.

16
Jun

8 Reasons We’re Blogging and You Should Too

For some time I’ve been thinking, are blogs dead? Maybe they’re just dying. Google Reader is gone and we rarely stand around talking about this or that latest blog post. And so, should you should blog for your business? In my attempt to understand search engine optimization (SEO), inbound marketing, and user acquisition, over and over I keep getting hit over the head with the need to have a blog.

Well, we’re tired of resisting. the Kestrel Co. is now the proud owner of a shiny new blog. There are lots of reasons we’ve decided to start, (I’ve outlined eight of them below) but at the end of the day it’s good for business. It’s good for our business, and if it’s good for our business, I think it would be good for yours as well.

The RSS feed model of blog reading is indeed dead, but creating shareable content that builds your social media presence and improves your search engine ranking is alive and well.

So here they are, eight reasons why we’ve started this blog and think you should get one going for your own company.

1) A blog is good for customer relationships.

In a relationship, when communication starts to fade, everything else follows,” said someone at some point in some publication.

It’s true in marriage, friendships, and client relationships. If you’re not talking, things probably aren’t going all that well. When your client has a need for services you provide, the farther you are from their mind, the less likely they are to contact you.

Blogging regularly reminds your current and potential customers that you are around, active in your field, growing your business, and able to service their needs.

2) An active blog increases search result placement.

Google is always crawling and indexing your website. They are looking for a number of things: structured content, responsive design, and content appropriate to the site’s title and keywords. But for our purposes, one of the most critical components they’re hunting for is fresh, well-written content.

There’s honestly only one way to accomplish that: some type of content feed. You can call it an event gallery, social media aggregate feed, or updates. At the end of the day, it’s a blog.

Google will see your new blog content and interpret that as an active site that search users are likely looking for. The result will be better SERP (search engine results placement).

3) Every blog article increases your online exposure.

Prior to today, the only search referrals this site (kestrelco.wpengine.com) could have received were based on the small amount of copy we have on the homepage. As of today, we also now have the possibility of ranking if someone searches “why should I start a blog”.

Next week when we post about Search Engine Marketing, we will have tripled our indexed subject matter and widened our search footprint and online presence by a factor of two or three.

The much-discussed “long tail” of search refers to highly specialized, low-traffic search terms that represent a significant amount of total searches. Translation: lots and lots of people are searching online for lots and lots of random things. You can’t realistically optimize your site for every long tail search term, but you can certainly write blog posts targeting niche keyword phrases that are likely to draw highly qualified prospects.

4) A blog will attract more traffic to your main site.

woody and buzz talking about bloggingIf your website has no blog, your homepage is the main entry-point for site visitors. With a blog, users will come to an individual article on your site. If their interest is piqued, they’ll hit your homepage, explore your services and related information, and hopefully they will contact you and convert to a paying client.

The blog becomes one more entry point for your sales funnel. It’s not magic, but it’s pretty basic. Provide information that people want to consume and you’ve increased your sales potential.

5) Each blog post has long-term marketing potential at minimal cost.

Unlike billboards, radio spots, print marketing, and pay-per-click models, blog posts live on the web forever with little to no on-going costs (monthly hosting costs for your website being the only real cost).

The post only takes a few hours to craft but once it’s published, it will live in the nether world of the interwebs in perpetuity. You can’t beat free marketing!

6) A blog article provides shareable content that points to your site.

If you don’t write anything, there is very little you can do by way of driving your Facebook and Twitter followers to your site. If you have nothing to share, it’s hard to gain new followers and build your audience.

Write blog posts, share them as links on Facebook and Twitter, encourage folks to interact with the posts, and you’ll widen your social media footprint and drive more [potentially convertible] traffic to your website.

7) Consistent posts will position your brand as an industry leader.

According to a Hubspot survey, 60% of businesses who blog acquire more customers than those who choose not to blog. There are hopefully lots of reasons that’s true (as I’ve outlined above), but one of the reasons more customers trust their blogging partners is because they see those partners as industry experts.

You’re blogging, you’re interacting with new ideas, you’re talking about trends and patterns, habits both good and bad. You are an industry expert. Your client followers see that, trust that, and look to you more often when they need an expert in your field.

8) A blog provides a platform to tell your story.

Every company has a story. A blog gives you a place to tell it. Your story is the how and why of who you are. Sharing that with readers shows your authenticity and passion and therefore engenders trust.

Back in the day, the only way to shape your brand voice was through print media. Today, a simple blog post corrects misunderstanding, reveals your personality, and displays your excitement and passion for what you do.

That’s it! Go do it. If you need help, don’t know how to get started, or want us to talk through the marketing potential for your existing site, contact us.
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