Category Archives: Search Marketing

The Real Deal: Why You Should Ask Your SEO Firm for Their Case Studies

Why should you ask an SEO firm for some case studies before hiring them?

Well, there’s the obvious. You want to see their successes, and how they were achieved. But more than that, you want to know if they really know what they are doing.

For example, it is not all that uncommon to see case studies posted on an SEO firm’s site, but it might be a little vague. It doesn’t mention the company by name or some other irregularity. This could be a red flag for you. So a few questions you should ask:

  • What company was the subject of this case study? (Then follow up on your own – make sure it is a real company.)
  • Who is your contact at the company in question? Can we call for a reference?
  • Was the work done in house or contracted out?
  • Does the case study list the tactics used to generate results?

These questions should give you a pretty good idea of whether or not the firm is up front about their business practices, if they really know SEO, and if they really know their client.

Take a good look at their case studies and do your own homework. Look up the company, even the contact. You want to make sure both are real. You never know ‑ we’ve come across more than one phony case study while doing our own research.

Asking for a reference is always a good idea. Most firms will want to provide you with the chance to hear about the great work they did. It goes without saying this will ensure that the SEO firm actually did the work and that the company was pleased, or at least satisfied.

Determining whether the SEO work was done in house or contracted out is a bigger deal than it might seem on the surface. You want to know that the firm/person doing the work understands the goals of your business. Hopefully, if you have a web presence, you have a goal for your site and have a pretty good idea of what you want to achieve. If the work is contracted out, some of that gets lost in translation. It also could mean that the same person or firm who did all the great work on the case study company won’t be the person doing the work for your company.

If you’ve been engaged in the web long enough, you know that there are SEO tactics that are good ideas and some that aren’t so great. Make sure that the SEO firm you hire has outlined how they approach SEO, and that they don’t make any kind of huge promise of traffic, sales, etc. No one can promise those things; but good, solid SEO and all that entails will certainly get you headed in the right direction. A good case study will tell you what tactics were used and what impact they had.

In the end, due diligence here will serve you well, just like in every other aspect of your business. Read up on the case studies before you decide on a firm. Take a look at some of TKG’s case studies.

Do you have a great or phony case study that you’d like to share? Post it in the comments ‑ we’d love to see it too!

2014 Search Engine Trends

A year has passed since we first evaluated the usage data from all the major U.S. search engines. Now it’s time to check in and see what changed 12 months later.

As a reminder, comScore releases search engine data monthly. With January officially in the books, we can compare January 2014 with January 2013January 2012, and January 2011.

Search Share:

Search ShareExplicit Core Search Share

Ready for the broken record? With 67.6%, Google continues to dominate U.S. market share. In addition to being the most popular search engine, the company continues to grow its search share each year. In second is Microsoft’s Bing with 18.3%. This is a nice bump up from 16.5% in January 2013 and is an all-time high for the search engine. While Bing is showing growth, the fact remains that the search engine still failed in its quest to take a chunk out of Google’s pie. Instead, it continues to pull market share from Bing-powered Yahoo, Ask, and AOL. All of which continue their slow and painful descent into irrelevance.

Explicit Core Search QueriesExplicit Core Search Queries

In addition to market share data, comScore released totals for explicit core search queries. This is a measure of how many traditional searches take place in the U.S. across all the search engines. In January 2014, there were 19.561 billion searches completed compared to 19.484 billion in January 2013, and 17.804 billion in January 2012. That’s nearly a 10% increase from 2012 to 2014. This three year increase is less than the three year increase from last year’s review but is still steady growth.

What does this mean for your business in 2014?

With more visitors than ever using search engines to find and research your company, it’s important to make sure the information on your website is accurate. Have you introduced a new product or service recently? If so, have you incorporated it into all the logical places on your site? Does your VP of Operations have a bio page saying, “I love my two boys” even though she had a third boy last summer? Did you create a great video for a tradeshow but never added it to your YouTube channel? Do you still have that “new features” PDF available for download that your supplier sent you in 2012? You’ll be surprised how much of your site’s information might be outdated even though you’re convinced your business hasn’t changed. Time to get an early head start on your web content spring cleaning project!

Will Google Analytics Always Be Free?

Google Analytics is one of our favorite tools for understanding how our clients’ websites are working. It is powerful, easy to use and free. But that last point is increasingly being questioned. With the recent increases in (not provided) keyword data (see our look at that topic) many online marketers are beginning to suspect that Google is positioning themselves to be able to charge for the popular analytics platform.

Source: Google Analytics on Google+

While the idea that Google could be withholding information in an effort to make a little money from analytic users certainly makes for a good conspiracy theory, but I don’t think that it is credible. Google’s business model is based on organizing all the information on the internet. By providing data and information about how sites are performing, Google encourages site owners to improve their sites, which in turn benefits their services. My guess is that the amount Google benefits from helping site owners understand and improve their sites is more valuable when they calculate they could make by charging for the platform.

But that isn’t the only approach Google could take. They already offer a Premium service level for enterprise level customers. With an annual price of $150,000 it isn’t targeting the majority of the sites, instead it offers a big sites (with big budgets) the extras that they need. This approach lets Google focus on making fewer, high value sales while providing a great tool to smaller sites.

So, will Google Analytics always be free? I think that Google will continue to offer a very powerful analytics platform at no cost to small and medium sites. The Premium option will continue to target the big, high value sites. So, if you are looking for a solid platform to measure and track the performance of your site, I think you are safe going with Google Analytics without fear of surprise costs.

Do Meta Keywords Impact SEO?

Many content management systems have fields available for common SEO tags such as page titles, keyword-friendly URLs , meta descriptions, and meta keywords. Since those fields are often under a section labeled, “Search Engine Optimization,” one may assume filling out all of them would increase the chances of having the pages of a website rank well with Google and the other search engines.

Not to mention, websites like Social Media Today continue to making statements such as:

Meta keywords and Meta descriptions are an important part of your SEO strategy.

The casual web marketer would be fairly confident meta keywords should be included in their SEO strategy.

Those casual web marketers would be wrong.

The Karcher Group stopped providing meta keywords to clients about a year ago and more recently took it one step further and started removing existing meta keywords from websites that previously had them.

But why?

Here’s an article from Google’s own Matt Cutts from waaaaaaay back in 2009 that clearly states how Google does not use the meta keywords tag.

Yes, the last paragraph does include, “It’s possible that Google could use this information in the future, but it’s unlikely.” That’s why we continued to provide meta keywords for our clients.

Then meta keywords went from harmless to harmful.

Over the last year, reputable SEO websites such as Search Engine Land and SEM Rush started writing about how populating meta keywords can actually penalize your SEO efforts, particularly with Bing.

At this point, we’re confident meta keywords will not benefit SEO rankings and should be avoided.

Not all meta tags are bad

This article is specific to meta keywords. NOT meta descriptions and NOT keywords in general. You should still write unique, quality meta descriptions for each page of your site and you should still identify relevant keywords to incorporate into the other SEO tags.

Just don’t waste your time filling in that meta keywords box!

Google Doesn’t Really Care if You’re Ugly

Google seems to favor the fast and easy type. We’re talking websites here. Google says fast and optimized pages lead to visitor engagement and conversions. Two things The Karcher Group keeps an eye on when offering professional SEO services as part of our online marketing strategy.

Ugly Dog ContestGoogle offers valuable tools for you to look under the hood of your website and perform necessary analysis and optimization. These include the following options:

PageSpeed Insights will identify performance best practices you can use for your website. The PageSpeed optimization tools look to provide a level of automation to the process.

PageSpeed Insights offers up a lot of recommendations and technical guidance that helps you get a lean and mean website. Things to avoid such as landing page redirects and things to consider such as server response time. All of these things aim to optimize the performance of your website.

All of this is great information to use on your site and help rank higher when someone searches for your product or service. The truth of the matter though is once Google serves up your website a human must look at it and actually use it. That’s where good looks (aka. User Experience Design) and a friendly smile can set you apart from the competition.

Good User Experience Design (UX) helps serve up a good experience when customers find your website. It considers how the website looks and how its content is organized, all for the sake of usability and accessibility. UX aims to present things like a human would want to see them as opposed to how a computer would organize and store data.

So, is your website looking ugly? Or maybe it’s real easy on the eyes but still not making sales? Take a look at Google’s tools and then let me know questions. We can talk about design and search engine optimization.

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2014 SEO Strategy: Microdata

If you’re like us, you’re already thinking about what your 2014 SEO strategy will include. If you’ve got us, don’t worry, we’re on it. :) If you don’t, well, it’s time to get semantic markup/schema/microdata/whatever you want to call it on your radar.

What is Microdata?

At a high level, it’s a way of formatting information about your site in a way that is highly readable by Google.  At a more detailed level, well, Josh McDermitt already covered it so I’ll let you read his microdata post.

What does Microdata mean for your site?

Improved user experience

Microdata isn’t actually visible to your visitors but it is visible to search engines and impacts how your site shows in the search results page (this is called “rich snippets”). If you can get Google to display all the important information about your site, you’ll attract the right visitors – you know, the ones actually interested in what you have to offer. And visitors finding the right information are much more likely to engage with your business (fill out a form, call you, spend money!!)

Improved click-through rates

Which listing would you click on?

microdata

If you said the one with an image, you would be right. Of course not every B2B site, for example, has a need for showing an author’s picture, but if you run a blog, you can be it’s going to make a difference! And if you’re selling something, getting the image of your products to show on the results page can also make a huge impact.

And, finally, if you’ve got everything else in place:

An improved bottom line:

If you’re attracting more of the right visitors because Google is displaying the right information about what you offer, and if you’ve got good conversion points in place… Well, it stands to reason that microdata can help you make more money. And, let’s be honest, we all like making more money.

So, is microdata on your radar for 2014? Are you already using it? Tell me in the comments!

An Introduction to the Google Search Algorithm

In the world of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) the Google Search Algorithm is of central importance. It is the focus of many blog posts, rants, arguments and complaints. But what is it? At the simplest level the Google Search Algorithm identifies what stuff on the internet is most relevant to your search. But let’s take a closer look and get an idea of what is going on.

What is an Algorithm?

Before we start looking at Google Search, let’s step back and look at what an algorithm is. Wikipedia defines algorithm as a “step-by-step procedure for calculations.” Essentially, an algorithm takes an input, does some calculating and provides an output. For our conversation today we can think of a Google search. Consider this very simple visual representation using a flow chart.

Simple Search Algorithm Flowchart

Simple, right? You give Google a few words as an input, the search algorithm does some calculations and gives you a list of relevant stuff on the internet. While this isn’t wrong, there is a lot more going on.

Input: More Than What You Type

In the early days of search the input was what you typed into the search box and maybe a setting or two, but is has expanded to include many other clues about what may be relevant to you. Everything form search history and location to elements like spell check, autocomplete, and synonyms are also factored in.

Single or Plural?

Up to this point we have been talking about a Google Search Algorithm as a single entity, but in reality there are over 200 different factors being weighed to determine the most relevant information for you. Each of these factors are rigorously evaluated and adjusted so each search returns the best results. New factors are always being tested and tweaked to make things a little better.

If you want to explore some of the elements that go into search, I’d recommend looking at Google’s How Search Works and Dr. Pete Meyers’s A [Poorly] Illustrated Guide to Google’s Algorithm.

End Result

This where it all comes together: moments after you start typing a list of results is displayed, sorted using all the information available to help you find exactly what you are looking for. The beauty of the Google Search Algorithm is that for all the complexity that goes into it, the experience is incredibly simple. For most users, the flow chart at the beginning of this post covers all they need to know about how Google works. But if your business depends on people finding your site online having someone that cares about how all those algorithms work is incredibly valuable. Check out our online marketing offerings to learn how we can apply our nerdy love of all things web to your site.

Remove Bad Backlinks to Your Website with Google’s Disavow Tool

If you’ve ever engaged in a link building campaign, or even if you haven’t, it’s possible that your site has built up some bad links. By bad links – we mean the kind of links that simply don’t make sense at all from a business perspective, or downright spammy ones (you know, from the kinds of sites that you can’t look at while you’re at work). Don’t feel bad – it can happen even to the best of us. And sometimes, it even happens by someone maliciously trying to harm your site.

So, how do you get rid of these bad backlinks?

Up until recently there was only one way: Ask for their removal – Use WebMaster Tools to pull down a list of all sites that are linking to your site and then research how you can contact those sites and then request removal. In many cases this is quite successful.

Google's Disavow ToolBut sometimes those webmasters don’t respond… or you can’t (easily) find contact information. In this case, a new tool from Google called the disavow tool can come in really handy! This tool is basically the equivalent of “no-follow” links, only you’re in control of it.

In a nutshell, you compile a list of links to your site that you want Google to ignore, format it the way that they want and then submit your request. There’s no promise of how fast it will happen, but the general consensus seems to be that within a couple of weeks, there will be probably be some action from Google. For sites that have felt any impact from Penguin updates, this new tool is an amazing opportunity to a) fix the bad backlinks to your site, and b) help you sleep at night.

Want to learn more? Read about the new disavow tool here, or watch this video from Google’s Matt Cutts that explains when it’s appropriate to use the disavow tool.

matt cutts backlinks

Have you ever had to remove bad backlinks to your site? How did you do it? Tell me in the comments!

An Introduction to Google Hummingbird (from a Content Perspective)

hummingbird

I could SWEAR I wrote a post in the not too distant past about the Panda/Penguin algorithm updates from Google. Now, here I am talking about a brand new update. Sorry folks, never a dull moment with our fave search engine.

The newest overhaul of search results, called the Hummingbird update, however, warms my content marketing heart.

Google’s been on a slow but steady march over the years to 1) “push down” (wayyyy down) user content that isn’t up to snuff, and 2) reward a content strategy that delivers what users want.

More than that, Google is on a mission to be your #1 trusted source for information, wanting to meet and exceed your expectations for how you consume online information. That means taking into consideration the mobile web, social media, video, usability and more.

As a content marketing strategist, I couldn’t be happier. My goal when writing content is always always ALWAYS is to ask how this content will help or benefit readers.  Google’s made it clear that’s the kind of content they want, and they’re even (a little) helpful in telling you how to do it.

Here are some critical points associated with Hummingbird from a content perspective:

  1. Keywords matter less. On the analytics side, Secure Search, which blocks keyword data from Google Analytics will reach 100% by the end of 2013. As marketers, that means we can’t see which keywords are driving traffic to sites. On-page, keywords matter less as well. There are plenty of sneaky ways marketers can include related keywords on a page of copy, not always to the benefit of the user. Google is interested in how keywords are used in the larger context of the page and intent of the reader, not so much a keyword exact-match.
  2. Content must deliver. Is your piece of content the BEST on a given topic? Is it helpful? Does it match the intent of the searcher? Does it go beyond just being a vehicle to optimize for keywords? What if the user is on a mobile device? Google wants you to aspire to content greatness if you’re going to be rewarded with a top spot in search engine rankings.
  3. Mobile is huge. For many of our clients at TKG, 50%+ of searches originate from a mobile device. On my own locally-focused website, my mobile referral traffic is 50%+ on a regular basis. Google knows this, and wants your content to be user-friendly and consumable for mobile audiences. With location services, they know where you are, that you’re on a mobile device, and factor that information into their search results. Along those lines, voice search queries, which are notoriously longer and more rambling than typed searches, are also being given greater consideration in the algorithm.
  4. Authorship is important. Google wants content from reputable sources that also links (and gets links) from reputable sources. Having a strong social media presence helps with this one, as does creating content that people actually WANT to link to.  There are many, many ways to establish yourself as a valued author, but the best place to start is by generating quality content and start building up that social media presence where it makes the most sense to do so.

Guaranteed, we’ll be looking at Hummingbird in greater detail in coming weeks and months. This is just a “first look” at it from a content marketer’s perspective. Stay tuned….
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Recent Increases in Google (not provided) Data

Over 2 years ago, Google introduced encrypted search as a way to protect users. A side effect of this change was that search information from encrypted search was not available to site owners and online marketers like us. While we can tell that a visitor found our site via a Google search, for encrypted searches we don’t know what search led them to our site. This is often referred to as (not provided) because this is how this traffic shows up in Google Analytics.

Since being introduced, Google has continued to refine and improve the encrypted search and has also expanded where it is used. Initially, users had to intentionally go to https://encrypted.google.com, but then it was made the default for anyone signed in to Google. Later encrypted search became the default for the Omnibox in Chrome. And it isn’t just Google: Firefox made secure search their default in 2012.  Each time encrypted search becomes the default for a new set of users a higher percentage of visits to websites show up as (not provided) in the data.

(not provided) count

Why is this getting so much attention now? Recently the proportion of traffic from Google that is classified as (not provided) has skyrocketed. According to (Not Provided) Count a site dedicated to “track[ing] the rise of the ‘(not provided)’ keyword”, nearly 80% of searches from Google no longer have search data.

Not ProvidedWhat does this mean for your site? A big impact is that there is less information available about how people are getting to your site. This is particularly problematic if you measure success by counting visits from a specific keyword or group of search terms.

But all is not lost. Through Google Web Master Tools integration with Google Analytics it is possible to see how your site is showing up for different search terms. These reports (found under Traffic Sources > Search Engine Optimization in Google Analytics) provide great insight into not only how many visits you are getting, but how many times your site shows up for different searches and where your pages are in the results. The trade off is that the data is rounded and can’t be applied to other reports as easily.

As is the standard on the internet, things are changing and as online marketers we have to adapt to the new environment. What do you think? Is the increase in (not provided) pushing you to make changes in how you manage and market your site?

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