keywords

Fun with Keywords

If you’ve ever done a Google or any type of online search before, you may have encountered something similar to the above post. How does Google generate these suggestions? According to Search Engine Land, there are a few components. These include overall searches (things people around the world have typed in), your own search history, and regional suggestions.

So, Google and other search engines have methods for anticipating what people are looking for and delivering relevant results.

How do you get your website to show up in searches? That’s where SEO and keyword research comes in. According to Techopedia, a keyword “is a particular word or phrase that describes the contents of a Web page.” Having the right keywords on your website helps get your material to the right people when they search for certain words/phrases. How do you know if your words/phrases are “right”? There are a few pieces to that puzzle.

One part, which may seem like common sense, is that you want keywords that match the content on your website. For instance, it wouldn’t make a lot of sense to use “Barnum & Bailey Circus” on our Breaking Even Contact page. It’s not accurate and probably won’t get us any traffic. (Spammers tend to use popular words to get traffic to their spammy sites so search engines will penalize you for what they consider a mismatch between what you say is on your website and what is actually there.)

Once you determine what’s relevant, another piece of a “right” keyword is what your target audience/people who are interested in what you’re offering. Just because you think people are using certain search words doesn’t necessarily mean they are actually using those words. A lot of times, business owners have more industry knowledge and might assume others are using more jargon-y terms to reach their website. To reconcile these potential discrepancies, keyword research comes in, and that’s where things can get a bit…silly.

Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of doing keyword research using a website called SEO Profiler. This is a paid service that has several tools, including keyword research. The keyword suggestion tool lets you type in a word or phrase, and then suggests other search terms based on number of local searches (based on an area you pick out, ‘local’ for us is United States) and  competition (how many other websites are using the keyword). One of the more interesting words that I discovered was ‘whales.’

The results for ‘whales’ was very similar to some of the aforementioned Google autofill fails. Since SEO Profiler (and other keyword research tools) are basing their information on what people are searching for, this yields some pretty interesting results. My top 10 (there were HUNDREDS of hilarious results):

  1. Prince of Whales
  2. Whales the country
  3. Why do whales beach themselves
  4. Whales with legs
  5. Blackfish
  6. Why is a humpback whale called a humpback whale
  7. Do whales fart
  8. Do killer whales kill
  9. Can whales drown
  10. whales tale (<–apparently this is a water park in New England)

So, when you’re thinking about keywords, remember: relevance (is it on your website and a phrase people are actually searching), accuracy (is it what your people are searching for), and value (are people looking to ‘buy’ what you are selling when looking up that word).

The fun factor was one of the pleasant surprises to be found in keyword research, but entirely optional.

Kassie is a distance runner and a distance reader really. She lives in Ellsworth Maine and, while she might be quiet when you meet her, will throw out something witty when you least expect it.

What SEO Means in 2015

I get asked, at least once a week if we ‘do’ SEO. This is my experience with SEO:

seomeme

Typically, it’s used as a d-bag intimidation tactic to get people to simultaneously 1) feel stupid and 2) give them money.

To me, SEO is ongoing work that happens when you’re doing online marketing, maintaining a well built website, and mixing that in with other avenues (maybe a mix of paid ads, offline events, and more). Like how when you watch what you eat and exercise, you get more energy and sleep better. It’s a great byproduct but not one you’re necessarily concentrating the hardest on.

This is what I always want to say in response when someone asks what I think about SEO:

SEO means building a website correctly.

To me, most SEO problems can be prevented by building a website correctly. This means:

  • having unique page titles and descriptions for each page.
  • having words on the page people are looking for.
  • interlinking content so it’s easy to browse.
  • making items easy to share on social media.
  • more common sense stuff people shouldn’t have to ask me for as a professional.

I personally don’t believe in charging people $X to do things one mediocre way and a higher amount of $Y to do things the best way I know how. Part of building a website is doing the small things that add up and make a difference. It means building the site thinking about search engines.

(A note here: Do I think adding, say, a sitemap will make a crappy website rank number one in search for a certain key phrase? Not so much but having some things in place to make life easier for The Google usually helps your cause.)

SEO means thinking of mobile first.

A kind of big idea that summarizes SEO in the last two years is ‘mobile first’. So what does that mean?

More than 50% of website visitors are coming from a mobile device, which makes mobile visitors (for most websites) are the majority.

The mobile version of your website doesn’t get to be a crappy, pared down version of the desktop version of your website anymore. If you have to decide between a website that is mobile friendly and a website element that is pretty, you should be picking mobile friendly.

To overly simplify, thinking mobile first means:

A) a responsively designed website (one that looks good and works well on all screen sizes)
B) a fast loading website (we don’t all have five bars of cell reception 100% of the time). Don’t make your website visitor look at this:

loading

If you need examples of terrible websites: http://www.webpagesthatsuck.com

SEO means maintaining your website.

If you think once you’ve designed your website you never have to touch it again, think again.

Search engines want up-to-date software and new content. They want people linking to the website. If you haven’t looked at your website in three weeks, why do you expect Google, or the blogger you want to link back to you, to care more than you seem to?

A website, like your house, will constantly need cleaning, repairs, redecorating, etc…. because people are using it. And that’s what happens when people use things regularly: they find ways they want to make it better.

SEO means making choices.

So it’s very hard (ok, I’ll say it, impossible), on one website page, to optimize for ‘rental property’, ‘rental home’, ‘house for rent’, ‘residential rental’, etc. If you try to put all those words on your site, you’ll sound like a synonym generating robot. If you keep changing what term you are using, the page will feel inconsistent.

seokeywordstuffing(Ewww example above via: https://www.accelebrate.com/)

And this is where we get tough, people. You can’t be all things to all people. You have to pick. Who is your audience? What words do they use? What do you need them to get to on your website?

Doing SEO well means making choices. Bigger (and some smaller) websites are collecting data on us for a reason: so they can offer a customized experience. Amazon doesn’t try to design one website to make everyone happy: it selectively shows information depending on who you are.

Your website can be collecting information about visitors to some degree (check out the concept of ‘remarketing’ if this interests you) but most of us folks with smaller websites need to pick who we are, and who we are not, and think about attracting people via search accordingly.

As you see, I’m not telling you I don’t care about search engines or building websites that search engines like. I am just advocating for all of us stepping away from this idea of ‘doing’ SEO and instead thinking of SEO as a happy byproduct from good websites and online marketing campaigns.

 

Nicole runs Breaking Even Communications, an internet marketing company in Bar Harbor Maine. When she’s not online, she enjoys walking her short dog, cooking with bacon, and trying to be outdoorsy in Acadia National Park.

Tech Thursday: What Keywords Should I Use?

Choose your words wisely. It’s a sentiment you’ve (probably) heard before, and it’s true. Although Shakespeare treated language as a malleable, search engines aren’t quite as flexible. But there are several (free) tools that can help you thoughtfully choose your words to get the people you want to your website. First, there’s Google Trends, which allows you to compare various keywords (such as cookies, Christmas cookies, holiday cookies), and determine what words people search for most often. The next two, Alexa.com and SEMrush, allow you to enter ANY URL and view the top 5-10 keywords that drive people to your website (hint: you can check out what words work for your competitors and make an action plan around that).

Make it easier for people to find your website and use their words!

Kassie is a distance runner and a distance reader really. She lives in Ellsworth Maine and, while she might be quiet when you meet her, will throw out something witty when you least expect it.

Better SEO In Less Than One Hour

The most common question I get over email: “How can I improve my site’s rank in search engines?” I’ve sent variations of this in about fifty emails but thought I’d finally write this up and put on the website. A few things to know.

1. Anyone who promises you page 1 ranking in Google is full of crap.

There I said it. If they get you the number one spot really quickly, it’s because they’ve bought you a Google Ad or they did something really ridiculous and probably illegal. I can buy an ad for you in five minutes, or you can buy one yourself. (Google, like any good business, makes spending money with them as easy as possible, trust me.) That is not SEO. Ranking in search engines means being high up in what’s called organic (re: non-paid) search results.

2. Google Adwords, while sometimes helpful, is not SEO.

There is a reason people specialize in SEO (search engine optimization). It’s a bit technical, the rules are always changing, and it takes effort to do it right. If you are looking for a magic pill/quick results, buy pay per click ads. You’ll get hits more quickly, sure, but they’ll stop the minute you stop the ads. If you want more of an explanation about the difference between paid ads and SEO, check out this post from The Maine SEO Blog about it.

Hey look you're number one... Wait, you paid to be there. Guess what happens when you stop paying? Photo via: http://knol.google.com/k/search-engine-optimization-seo-overview#

Hey look you're number one... Wait, you paid to be there. Guess what happens when you stop paying? Photo via: http://knol.google.com/k/search-engine-optimization-seo-overview#

OK so you get that SEO means being in it for the long haul. Let’s oversimplify all this.

3. Search engines like three things. Give them these three things and they’ll be happier with you:

  • Links (your site linking to other sites and others linking back to you)
  • Keywords (words phrases that people are searching for online)
  • Frequently updated content (how often there is a change on your site)

People sometimes think about being sneaky and do things like put a bunch of keywords all over their page or join link farms. In the biz, this is called ‘black hat SEO’. These practices can fool search engines temporarily but more importantly:

1) Search engines could find out you did something naughty and blacklist you, like they did to JCPenney fairly recently. Do you get so much business that you can afford to disappear from Google searches?
2) It will annoy those visiting your site. Because remember, who’s doing the searches? People. Who’s going to think it’s weird you put all these random keywords on your site? People. Who’s going to think the random links on your sidebar are sketchy? People.

OK, OK so you get it, there is no short cuts and this will take time. So what *can* you do that’s legal and helpful to give search engines the three things they want?

Here’s a few things you can do to help your site rank better in search engines.

Claim your business on Google Places, Bing Local, Yelp, etc.
Here are some of the sites where you can ‘claim’ your business:
Google Places
Yahoo Local
Bing Local
Yelp
Foursquare
Manta
You’ve probably noticed when you do a search, sometimes these directory listings come up above search results. These listings besides just having the standard contact information also allow you to add keywords, etc.  If nothing else, enjoy the free inbound link to your website.
Note: To prove you actually own the business, the service will usually use a verification phone call where they’ll actually call your business phone and give you a code to type into the site… so try to be by your business phone when you’re doing this.
Time estimate: 5-10 minutes/site

Use SEF links (search engine friendly).
OK someone sends you an email. Would you rather click on:
http://www.arandomwebsite.com/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&layout=item&id=138&Itemid=22
or
http://www.arandomwebsite.com/about-us

Exactly. Not only do people like to know what a link is but search engines can read the text in your links and treat them like keywords. Bonus is it’s not difficult to turn on SEF links if you have a website that runs off a content management system. You can even manually create them for HTML sites if need be.
Time estimate: 5 minutes – 30 minutes

Autopost website updates.
So when I post to my website, I also have it connected so it goes out to Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn as well automatically. If your website has an RSS feed, this is pretty easy to set up. I use RSS Graffiti for Facebook and BlogToTweet for Twitter/LinkedIn.
Time estimate: 10 minutes to set up

Write something for your website… whether it’s a blog entry or more info for a page on your site.
Search engines (as well as real people) like it when your site has new stuff. As a matter of fact, the more often you update your website, the more often it’s indexed by search engines. I know, crazy huh? Also more pages of content help your site seem more search engine friendly. So every blog entry you write, every new page you create all helps.

So take 20 minutes and sit down to write something. Write about how your business started, an interesting customer who always comes in, review a new product you’ve just gotten in, write a how-to… It doesn’t have to be perfect, just something people might be looking for online, something that they can now find on your website.
Time estimate: 20 minutes

Setup social media pages.
Another way people increase visibility is with social media. Sites like Facebook and Twitter make it easy to keep in touch with potential customers and take just a few moments to set up.

But how does social media help with search? Well, on every profile/page you make, you can add your website link as well as a space to put info about your business. You see where I’m going here, right? Keywords and a link? Nice.

Social media will also increasingly become a part of how search engine results are calculated. So social media isn’t just touchy-feely anymore! In other words, all aboard! There’s no better time to finally create that Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Youtube, Flickr, or other social media profile related to your website.
Time estimate: 10-20 minutes/profile

Create a 301 redirect.
This is kind of nerdy but it is a good search engine-y thing to do to keep from accidentally duplicating your content. Search engines do things like penalize you for duplicating content (the same thing written multiple places- it’s what spammers do). Here’s a few ways to do the redirect.
Time estimate: Non-geek under and hour, Geek a few minutes

Have a blog.
Hands down me and most everyone else who does this for a living will tell you to do for better SEO is start a blog. Because blogs have links, keywords, and frequent updates… just like the search engines want. And once set up, a blog is technologically easy to update. Again, perfection here isn’t important (just look around my blog and you’ll see what I mean). Just write something and allow people to interact with you and other readers about it.

Clearly a blog could potentially take a lot of your time but if you plan your entries ahead of time, keep posts short, and set aside time, you can put a small amount of time towards this project.
Time estimate: 1 hour/week (that’s about what I spend)

Is this everything? Of course not. Is it something to start with? Absolutely. And if you want to totally geek out and see what factors are important to search engines ranked in order of importance, check out this fine study with 2011 data: http://www.seomoz.org/article/search-ranking-factors And if it all overwhelms you, contact your favorite geek.

Have a quick tip that helped with your SEO? Share it in the comments!

Nicole runs Breaking Even Communications, an internet marketing company in Bar Harbor Maine. When she’s not online, she enjoys walking her short dog, cooking with bacon, and trying to be outdoorsy in Acadia National Park.

Marketing Monday: Badly Targeted Ads

I think most business owners are excited about the idea of using the internet to do targeted marketing.

Search engines like Google have allowed us to do pay per click advertising to a certain demographic in terms of location and search terms for years. (Ex: target this ad text to people searching “internet marketing” in Maine.)

Yet, when we all think of social media sites like Facebook, we know much more demographic information is available from users that we can take advantage of:

  • marital status
  • interests
  • location (specific to town)
  • employer
  • age
  • and more…

So how would a small business use this? Here’s an example: one of my clients wanted to have a sale during the last snowstorm. He wanted to give a 25% discount to those who braved the weather. So in addition to the usual social media about it, I also took out a Facebook ad targeting his ideal customer within several miles of the Bar Harbor area (didn’t want too many people driving in a blizzard!), in total targeting about  200 people for the five hours he was open. It was economical and had around 400 impressions (and one click) so I know that people did see it.

Companies have begun taking advantage of this targeting particularly on Facebook. And a few of us have noticed some weird ads in the Facebook sidebar. Here’s one from my friend Renee that’s the funniest I’ve seen yet:

socialworkerfbad

This actually prompted us to start a separate blog about it: http://badfacebook.tumblr.com/ (There is a ‘Submit’ button if you have your own fun ad you’d like to contribute.)

Based on what we’ve seen, a few tips to target your ad, on Facebook or other sites like it:

  • Make sure the ad text/idea matches the target. If you’re advertising a wedding photography business, don’t make it show up for single people. Don’t talk about running after your toddler to 60 year olds. You’re just wasting money on people who see your ad and think “This doesn’t apply to me.”
  • Don’t worry about targeting a very small group of people. That’s the idea. Wouldn’t you rather pay to target 100 people who might buy your product than 1,000 people who never will? Be as specific about your customer as you want.
  • Do a little A/B testing. Experiment by running two different ads with different photos or slightly different wording and see which ads do better. Use these results in future advertisements.
  • Use keyword research. You have a limited amount of space to display the text of an ad so put words in it that people are searching for. There are many keyword tools out there that can give you an idea of not only how often a keyword is searched but how valuable it is. For example, if you knew ‘maine rentals’ was more searched and higher valued than ‘maine vacation homes’, wouldn’t you want to use that? (This is true by the way, I do offer keyword research as one of my internet marketing services if you’re interested!)
  • Pick a good photo, and one that you have permission to use. Try a Creative Commons search or use something you’ve created. In the example above, a photo from a horror movie probably isn’t the best way to promote your social worker education program. It makes you either look like you’re trying to be funny (which is weird) or that you’re completely out of touch (which means people won’t want to give you money to enter your program).
  • Link to your Facebook page. People who are on Facebook want to stay there as a general rule. Your ad will be more successful linking to a Facebook page or event versus an external website.

Can this take the place of all your marketing efforts? No. Is this a tool that, if used properly, can help you out? Absolutely. And while Facebook is the popular targeted ad option, any website out there collecting this demographic information about  users has potential for business use as well.

So rather than being annoyed by these ads, realize you can use them to promote your business… or at least have an occasional laugh.

Nicole runs Breaking Even Communications, an internet marketing company in Bar Harbor Maine. When she’s not online, she enjoys walking her short dog, cooking with bacon, and trying to be outdoorsy in Acadia National Park.

This Week In Business: Pitch Session Edition

To many, I am known for my charm and my habit of procrastination, no more so by my sometimes copy editor/ oftentimes friend John.

I posted on Facebook that I was looking for a few sets of eyes to look at a one page pitch I was going to present this coming weekend.

“When’s it due?” he asked.

“Tomorrow,” I said. I added a little wink, you know, for charm.

He proceeded to tell me I should be more on top of this kind of stuff and that’s when I told him I had decided to go to this pitch session the day before.

Another exciting week at Breaking Even Communications!

A creative economy conference in Camden where I could get some funding for my business? Yes, please!

I will be presenting my ‘pitch’ at the Juice Conference for a chance at $25,000 in funding.
Would a little capital make me sleep easier at night? Definitely!

But just as important as winning the grand prize would be to get the opportunity to present in front of funders and get some feedback on my business. (OK, it might rock a little more to win, but still…) According to the email information I got, there are about 40 participants. Gulp. Here’s me getting my game on for Friday.

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Nicole runs Breaking Even Communications, an internet marketing company in Bar Harbor Maine. When she’s not online, she enjoys walking her short dog, cooking with bacon, and trying to be outdoorsy in Acadia National Park.