Building Better SEO from the Ground Up

Every time I meet a real estate agent at a networking event, they always ask what neighborhood I live in. (I’m guessing that goes with the territory.)

When I tell them, their comments are always something like, “Those houses are rock solid. Very safe and stable. Definitely build to withstand storms.”

My neighborhood used to be the home of military personnel back when Orlando had a navy base. The houses are indeed solid, built with cinderblock and featuring a hurricane-safe room with no windows.

These houses would not be so solid if they had not been built that way from the architect’s design and the construction of the foundations.

a website needs strong foundations for SEO success

What do building foundations have to do with SEO?

Architecture, design, and solid constructions are similarly the foundation of a good website –especially websites that rank well in search. You really can’t underestimate the importance of having a solid base to build search credibility upon.

When a new SEO client comes to us wanting to know how to improve their rankings, we always check out the website itself first. The foundations of good SEO start there, including different elements like:

  • Is the site properly tagged with appropriate descriptions and titles?
  • Is the code optimized for speed?
  • Is the website mobile-friendly?
  • Are the images properly optimized?
  • Does the navigational structure make sense to the end user?
  • Is the design user-friendly and optimized to encourage click-throughs?
  • Is the site rich in detailed content?

 

If the answer to any or all these questions is no, then regardless of whether the client likes their current website or not, they may have to rebuild it in order to improve their search rankings.

website code for stronger seo

Some things, naturally, can be optimized without a full rebuild. But it is so much more straightforward for an experienced, SEO-savvy developer to build search-friendly elements into a site being developed from scratch.

Unfortunately, these days people seem to think that search visibility is all about content, and that is just simply not true. Content does, of course, play a role, but it’s one factor among many, not the beginning and the end of SEO.

You may think that your increased website traffic is the finish line when SEO is successful, but it is also the engine that powers your search success. The last time you rebuilt your site, did you make sure it would be successful in search from the ground up?

How Mobile Design Will Affect Your Google Search Rankings

Getting ready for the great mobile website experience

Website owners who have not yet created a mobile experience for their site now have less than a month to get ready before Google renders that website near-invisible to mobile users.

Last month, in a rare pre-implementation announcement on the Webmaster Central blog, Google informed webmasters and SEO pros that they will be rolling out a new mobile algorithm for smartphones on April 21, 2015:

“Starting April 21, we will be expanding our use of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal. This change will affect mobile searches in all languages worldwide and will have a significant impact in our search results.”

After that time, anyone whose website does not meet Google’s standards of mobile friendliness will take a dive in the search engines (at least, for people who are searching on smartphones– this isn’t expected to affect tablet users).

how Google is changing mobile search to account for mobile-friendly websites

Still think a mobile-friendly website isn’t a priority for your business?

Maybe you think the people who look for your service aren’t looking while they are on mobile. But you might be surprised at the amount of traffic that comes from mobile devices.

Mobile accounts for 50% of Google’s overall search traffic. That’s huge.

Google is making this move now because of this large and increasing population of mobile users. They anticipate that some of that traffic will spill over to your website– and they are committed to delivering good screen-appropriate websites to these users.

Smartphone usage is still rising around the world, so this number won’t stay at 50% for long. The market of search-loving mobile users will be even larger by the middle and end of this year.

How can I get my website ready for the April 21st mobile algorithm update?

First, check your website for issues by dropping your website URL in this mobile-friendly test from Google.

In a Q&A, Google confirmed that they will be looking at mobile-readiness on a page by page basis, so the more different types of pages you have, the more pages you should check before assuming you are good to go.

If your existing site comes up with errors in the CSS or anything else, a good website developer should be able to clean it up for you before then.

However, if you don’t have a mobile-friendly site, you better get into development now so you can limit the pain of reduced mobile visibility.

Mobile-Only vs. Responsive Websites

Christie Pie insurance mobile responsive website exampleWhen you are looking at mobile-friendly development options, your core options are to either develop a separate mobile site (i.e. m.ct-social.com) or to develop a responsive website.

In terms of this algorithm update, Google does not seem to have a strong preference for which option you choose. For a businessperson looking to invest in a cost-effective option, there are pros and cons to each.

Mobile-only sites can be cheaper and quicker to develop, since there is no need to touch the existing desktop design. However, you have to adjust them uniquely for each screen size — and there are more new ones coming out every year.

In addition, mobile-only sites run the risk of putting you into a situation where you have duplicate links– a major SEO problem that Google has penalized for years.

Responsive designs, however, are built to adjust based on the screen size. They stem from your original site, so there is no risk of duplicate links. Google can recognize it all as one site, so as long as the search bots can crawl your CSS, it can see that it will adjust based on screen size.

Coders, SEOs, and anyone interested in learning more about the details of what Google is looking for should go straight to the source with their Mobile Documentation guide.

While many companies have been gradually evolving their websites to be more mobile-friendly, this upcoming algorithm shift from Google represents a full-scale kick in the pants for everyone who has been holding off on investing in a mobile friendly site.

Google has gotten serious about mobile– so serious that they are giving you time to prepare before the algorithm shifts. For business owners who rely on website traffic but haven’t invested in a better mobile experience, it’s time for you to get serious too.

Your blog posts are missing SEO opportunities. Here’s why.

Three ways to improve search visibility in your blog posts

Search engine optimization and social media sit side by side on the shelves of most digital marketing agencies, as toolkits waiting to be grabbed.

Not a natural fit for social? Well, let’s try it out and see how you do in search. Search isn’t working? Let’s try on social for size.

We’ve encountered businesses who switch their goals back and forth, or just want it all from the start: first page ranking in search, and top-tier brand visibility and engagement on social.

It’s not that this is impossible. Search-friendly content can perform well on social, and social-oriented content can definitely work well for search.

But I think the fact that content lies at the heart of both has lead some people (both businesses and bloggers) to assume that, as long as they keep creating “good” content, they will eventually start to rank well in Google.

(We’ve even heard people — other SEO companies in our local Orlando scene– telling this to audiences in presentations.)

The Truth about Good SEO

I’m not going to say it can’t happen. But writing with search engine success as your ultimate goal requires a lot more than just “good” content.

First of all, let’s change that from “good” content to what my partner Greg would call “f****ng AMAZING content.”

Good isn’t good enough anymore — not if you want to hit the first page. You’ve got to make your pieces better than the articles you are trying to compete against. No small feat in today’s heavily saturated content landscape.

But even amazing content isn’t always enough. Google ranks websites and content based on more than 200 signals, not all of which are known.

There are a range of SEO factors worth knowing about. Some of them are technical and require knowledge of code. Some of them are basic and can be handled by a plugin like Yoast SEO or All-in-One SEO.

Some may even involve social signals. Jury’s still out.

In other words, SEO success is not just about the content. It’s about where it lives and what you do with it.

That being said, here are three basic on-page tips you can use to tune up your blog posts and give your search rankings a nudge.

(Full credit to Greg, who keeps his eyes on the well-being of our blog’s SEO, for watching over my posts and reminding me about the importance of these sorts of opportunities, which I often miss.)

Use headings for readability and important SEO content signals.

Give Google clues about the subject of your article through the key terms you choose for headings.

Headings (which you can change in the area indicated below if you use WordPress, or similar areas on other platforms) provide a visual hierarchy for your site, breaking up the content and labeling sections of the post with relevant titles.

How to add headings in WordPress to improve your SEO

The key part is, because these headings are indicated with code (<h1>, <h2> tags and so on), Google can read them too– and is believed to pay attention to that when it comes to ranking for key terms.

Include both internal and external links for maximum SEO value.

Internal links (links within your website) and external links (links to other websites) help signal additional relevance to you.

Think of it like this:

By linking to another page within your website, you signal to Google that people who read one article might be interested in a related topic. (This can also reduce the number of people leaving your site, also known as the bounce rate).

Then, by linking to an external website, you demonstrate that you are a part of a broader conversation of ideas. While this does give readers a way to leave your site, it demonstrates a willingness to cite your sources and show your research as well.

Bonus Points: When you link (especially within your site), put the hyperlink on an appropriate key term to signal additional relevance to Google for that page, like when I linked to an article expanding on the bounce rate above:

creating an internal link in WordPress

Images matter for your SEO (and your readability).

Much like headings, when images appear in code, Google can read them.

As a result, choosing good keyword-friendly descriptions for your images matters.

It doesn’t help me very much, for example, if Google reads that this image is “photo 001.” Chances are, no one is going to be searching for that.

If, however, I title it “Search Engine Optimization for Bloggers”, that is much more likely to help signal Google to show what this post is about.

Bonus Points: The ‘alt text’ is a descriptive indicator for an image that can be understood by text-only Internet readers (such as those used for assisted reading technologies). This text should reflect what the image is, but can also be used for search engine friendly terms when appropriate.

Where to add image titles and alt text for SEO value

——

There is a lot to know about writing search engine optimized content, and these three tips should not be taken as a one-shot fix to get your site to the top of Google.

However, small steps add up, and consistent usage of properly optimized, EXCELLENT content over time goes a long way toward eventual success.

If you’ve never taken the time to implement basic SEO best practices into your writing, there is no time like the present to get started.

Do you have more questions about how to succeed in search engines? Wondering about any other digital marketing topic? We’d love to answer your questions on a post like this. Tweet it to @CTSocializer or message us on Facebook or Google+.

The Care and Feeding of Your SEO Firm

When it comes to getting found on the Internet, Google reins supreme.

No matter how popular a brand is on social media, their search engine optimization should also be top quality to encourage accidental discovery via search engines.

When people search in Google or any other search engine, they are looking for answers to their questions.

What a good SEO company will help you do is figure out the right questions for your website to answer… and how to address all the technical and content needs that will encourage Google to acknowledge your site as an authority.

Search engine optimization comes with all kinds of challenges, so in order to make sure they will do the best work possible for you, here are some care and feeding tips worth remembering.

  • Discuss expectations up front. There are only ten slots on the first page of Google and everyone wants to be there. Because of this challenge, search engine optimization can be tough, and the time frame and overall extent of your success will vary. If you’ve never worked on it before, success in Google will take a while.
  • SEO is not a ‘Hail Mary’ for your business. This is a corollary to the first point. Greg and I worked for a few months with someone who wanted better results in Google, but didn’t discover until the end that he was hoping the search engine results would turn around his failing business. Because SEO does take time to take effect, it is not a good option for that.
  • Know the difference between “SEO” and “lead conversion.” The client I mentioned in the previous bullet point? He actually already had a pretty good placement in Google for his core key term. What he lacked was a website that would convert leads. Remember: search engine optimization is about getting people to your site. Conversion is about what they do once they get there.
  • Understand your company’s approach. There are many best practices involved in understanding SEO, involving both work on your website and work off your website. Google updates their algorithm frequently to penalize SEO companies who are looking to game the system for their clients, so make sure you understand the company’s approach before you hire them.
  • Communicate regularly. Especially if your SEO company is writing content for you. Set up regular phone calls to make sure that all your questions are answered, and so that the company can stay in tune with your current projects, goals, and content preferences.

 

If you look at this post next to my other recent articles on the care of your website team and your social media community manager, the same basic principles hold true no matter what kind of project you are talking about.

At the end of the day, clear, rational expectations and solid communications are what really define the success of any digital marketing project.

Bonus Feeding Tip for Working with SEO Firms:

the care and feeding of your seo agency

#Blog365 Update: By my calculations, this is the 50th blog post I have written and published in 2015. Only 315 more to go!

How Search Works [New Short E-Book]

So you launched a new website.

Congratulations!

I’m guessing you probably want other people to find it, too.

Whether your site is brand new or whether it has been around for a while, almost everyone feels like their site could benefit from additional visibility online.

Some look to social media for visibility, seeking the elusive popularity that seems to befall a fortunate few.

Others turn to Google AdWords, competing monetarily for valuable key terms, and often running up against large companies with an ad budget to burn.

Still others look to Google’s organic listings, attempting to figure out how to get into the top 10 ranked sites for their most important topics. And inevitably, when search success is the goal, website owners look toward the search engine optimization professionals to find out what tricks can improve their rankings.

Here’s the bad news: search engine optimization isn’t really about special tricks.

It’s about a set of basic best practices, done well and done consistently over and over again.

We get a lot of questions about how search works, so we put together this basic e-book guide on SlideShare to help you understand it better. Feel free to reach out with questions if you have any further questions!

 

Does Your Web Marketing Agency Deal Crack?

In the world of digital marketing, client retention seems to be a really big deal, and why wouldn’t it be? When I started this digital marketing agency in Orlando, one of the first things we thought about was how to obtain clients and keep them so we could gain a recurring income.

After thinking about this question for some time, we decided that providing value above and beyond the purchased service would be the way we were going to operate. This has really helped to build a strong client base and wonderful word of mouth referrals from previous clients and their friends as well! It seems people really like to talk about you when you have wowed them.

Unfortunately, not all web marketing agencies operate in this fashion. Some try to make it really difficult to drop their services. They do not want you to be able to implement these strategies yourself or find an agency that fits better with you and your business. Over the years I have seen a few tactics that some of these crack dealing agencies try to pull off in order to keep a higher rate of customer retention.

Does your web marketing agency have you on lock?

Locked out of your website?

For some businesses, this could be a great thing. You don’t have to worry about much, the agency takes care of everything, you send an email and the work gets done to your satisfaction. Great, right?

Is it? Really? Well, what happens when you make your requests and the agency does not make a move, doesn’t even email you to let you know that they have it scheduled in? What happens when this becomes a regular practice?

This is the point when you are generally going to start looking for an agency that will be able to meet your needs, maybe even at a lower price than your previous agency since you are just getting one to maintain the web efforts your current agency has set up.

What if you cannot just drop your agency?

Other than a contract, what is going to keep you bound to their services? You can just take your business wherever you want, right?

Sometimes this is not the case. Sometimes the agency you are working with is looking for ways to make it difficult to just drop their services, just like a crack dealer.

I have seen marketing agencies that have their own Content Management System (CMS) for websites, which they have developed for their clients. I’m all for innovation and making things easier on both the developer and client, but this CMS did not make things easier for anybody. Perhaps it is really easy for the agency to implement, but the admin area is not at all user friendly.

The company that bought the website from this agency is now in a position where they feel that they need the agency to update their website with content the client supplied at maybe $60-$100 dollars an hour, rather than getting a contractor or an intern who could do it.

I have also witnessed a situation where an agency used WordPress for the client website, except there was almost no custom code to the site at all. They built the site using a cheap template and about 28 or 30 plugins. This is bad for so many reasons:

Seeing Green

$ - The code behind the separate plugins may conflict, causing unforeseen problems in the future when the code updates
$ – The website becomes difficult to understand, especially determining what plugin changes what features
$ – The website may become slow to load, requiring unnecessary and possibly redundant optimization.

How to avoid being sold crack by your marketing agency

Before signing any contract or statement of work, you should make sure to ask about project handoff. No matter if you are having a website built, working on content marketing, having site SEO performed, or going through a rebranding, make sure that any “ongoing” work can easily be handed off to your internal staff even if you never intend for that to happen. If the agency seems reluctant to agree to this, I recommend that you look for other options.

For example, if I were running a Facebook ads campaign for your company, and you have really liked the results but wanted to have more control over the ads yourself, I would set up a way to hand off the project without any loss to you. If at all possible, I would have suggested monthly consultation sessions where I would teach you how to properly set up different ad types, how to write your marketing message and what images are going to work best for different kind of ad campaigns. Once you felt comfortable taking over the project, it would be in your full control. I would make sure that you knew we are available for further consultation if you were to need us.

It seems that most agencies view the above situation as the death of a client. I do not happen to share this view. The client, now pleased that they no longer have to pay to get similar results, has told their friends about their Facebook success, and how I taught them how to use ads. Some of their friends could care less, some have time to learn it on their own, and the few that are interested but who will require our services now know we exist.

Not only has this past client become an advocate, but they may require further services in the future. Now because they handled Facebook ads so well their business is booming. They know they should be on Google Plus, but have not found the time to venture onto the platform. And my phone starts ringing right on cue…