SEO

SEO Guide (For Regular People): 2019 Edition

It seems just about every year, I write one of these posts. 

Does search engine optimization change drastically year to year? The spam marketing emails with vague ‘your website is not optimized’ messages would have you thinking yes. (Note, if you want to stump these people, ask them for 2-3 specific recommendations for your website. I doubt they write you back.) 

Now if you want, you can pay someone like us to ‘audit’ your website. With a fresh set of eyeballs and some expertise, we are happy to go through our battery of tests and make you some recommendations. (Contact us here.)

Otherwise, read on for stuff I haven’t said in previous yearly-ish posts about SEO:

Move to a Let’s Encrypt web host.
I was working on the SEO for giftmdi.com when someone suggested I load the entire site in HTTPS and not just the payment pages. I did it and my Google score jumped 27 points…in about the 27 seconds it took to switch it from http to https! (This is one of the many tools Google has to test your site.) And rather than buying (and remembering to update) an SSL every year you can just use a host that uses Let’s Encrypt. The certs are:
1) free and
2) automatically renew so there is zero downside. 
We know Svaha has Let’s Encrypt SSLs but simply Google ‘NAMEOFWEBHOST let’s encrypt SSL’ to see if yours offers one. And if not, might be good to see who does!

Think about setting some Facebook markup code.
If you want people to share links to your website on Facebook, unless you intentionally set the image, title, and description displayed on Facebook it could pick something really random. You can set the image, website title, and description that gets shared on Facebook, either as a default for the whole site or page by page.
To see what Facebook is getting from your website, try their debugging tool. Note: don’t just test your homepage but pages you want people to share too. 

Use Facebook marketing pixels and other tools to fully integrate your website.
Did you know if you have an ecommerce store and you upload your catalog to Facebook, you can tag products in Facebook and Instagram? Did you know you can target ads specifically to people who have looked at specific pages of your website or have taken a specific action, like made a purchase? Take advantage of Facebook’s Business Manager to fully integrate your website into the world’s biggest social network.
(If you care more about the Insta, here’s the how-to for that.) 

Note: there are many ways to mess this up, and I have done most of them, so hire someone like us to help you if you aren’t sure. Remember, you need to know how to use it, setting it up is something you only have to do once. 

Make your site load faster.
You could have the prettiest website in the world but I bet even your mom would click away before the 8 seconds it needs to load. Test your website (and this will test it objectively from servers in different states and countries) and it’ll tell you what to do, whether it’s optimizing images or loading too many elements on a page. We’ve said this before but it’s worth saying again.

Consider an interactive element.
Did you know you can use Facebook messenger on your website to answer visitors’ basic questions? Big companies use bots but it doesn’t have to just be for them. Consider how your customers and website visitors get information and whether it’s offering order updates via email, a text message system for upcoming event alerts, or a Facebook bot that does customer service, making sure your website is a bit interactive will get those visitors to your website to be repeat visitors and maybe even customers.

Search Engine Optimization is basically improving your website so the experience for search engines *and* people is great. So keep on making changes for the better and Google and the rest of them will reward you for your efforts. 

Voyage Of A Domain

I think my work is insanely interesting, but I wouldn’t say people typically agree. But occasionally, I have something so random come to me that I get to do detective work and find a really interesting story.
A month ago, I got a call from Frank, who owned a domain ten years ago. On this domain was a blog about him and a crew circumnavigating the globe on a schooner. The site was originally set up to be a way for friends and family to check in on progress of the trip or for the crew to connect with people on the journey… but then it got big. When Frank told me it got millions of hits, I was really impressed… and sad to find the domain had expired.
The first question (for the actual work) was could we find his old blog posts?
But a second question showed up as we started digging: Where had this domain gone since it left Frank’s possession 5ish years ago?
The first thing to do was to go to the current website. I won’t link to the domain name because, surprise, it’s now a porn site. (If you really want to go look at it, the domain is written in the screenshots of non-porn versions of the website below. Don’t say I didn’t warn you). But what happened to this site during the time between being an innocent schooner blog and a not-so-innocent adult video website?
I decided to see what I could uncover. Knowing that a website with this traffic would have been archived by the Way Back Machine automatically, I went to web.archive.org , typed in the URL and started going back in time. Come on this fantastical journey with me…
First the domain was as schooner blog. Here is what the site looked like from 2008 to 2010:
Then it got hacked.
I know what you’re thinking: doesn’t that just look like the old website? And it does, but if we look closer at the text, we see evidence of the hack:
Further evidence of how deep this hack went happens when you click on any link on the site that isn’t the homepage:

 

Ah, remember what hacks looked like in 2013?

 

Once the domain expired and it wasn’t renewed within the 30 day grace period, it went on the market. In 2016, it was bought by someone and became a spammy looking information site about diabetes:

You may wonder why this happened. A common tactic people use to get their site ranked more quickly is to buy high traffic domains and link to their low traffic domains from them (or redirect the URLs to their websites directly) to give them a little boost. This is just my theory but it explains why 0% effort went into the design and the content seems pretty generic (i.e. like a site pretending to be a real website).
In the same year, this domain became something else even more random: a song lyric website:
I know, random! But notice the “earnings disclaimer” in the menu. Typically if you are going to put up a website that makes money off mainly display ads, it only makes real money if you are getting high traffic. And since song lyrics are a universally appealing topic and something that people frequently Google, bonus.
Then in the past year, it became a porn site. And who knows when it’ll become something else.
The great news is Frank’s blog posts are archived in the Way Back Machine and it’ll be a matter of copying and pasting to get them on his new domain. And in addition to that, now Frank and I have a fun story we didn’t expect from the experience of the domain name’s identity crisis.
The Schooner Maggie B went on an interesting journey but so did its domain name. Because the internet, like the open ocean, was built for adventure.

How To Help People Buy From Your Business Online

You have a great product/service. You even have a website setup to sell said product/service.

Yet, you get the feeling that business could be better. Maybe your customer needs a hand to buy from you? Here are some ideas:

1. Make Yourself Easy To Find.

Follow SEO best practices. 

Search engines like three things (to overly simplify): words people are looking for, links coming into your website and frequently updated content. For more information on SEO best practices, check out some of our blog posts on the topic:

Playing well with search engines means that the people looking for you (or more accurately, your product or service) can find you.

Consider listing yourself on other websites or marketplaces. For example, if you sell Wordpress themes, maybe a marketplace like Themeforest or if you make handcrafted cribbage boards,  make a listing on Etsy.

Like anything, listing your goods on a different website has pros and cons. One pro is that you’ll be able to see a wider selection of the market. You’ll be in a position to increase awareness about your product, as well (out of the population of people who use Etsy, only a handful may already be aware of your business).

The con is that you don’t always have full control over order information. For instance, on your own website you may have an email newsletter signup as people check out. But at least consider making yourself easier to find by having a presence on websites where customers are looking for your product.



2. Make It Easy To Buy.

Accept multiple forms of payment (ex: credit cards and PayPal). What happens when people go to your online cart? What are you offering in terms of payment processing? Having more than one option, such as PayPal and a credit card processor (i.e. Stripe), could improve your checkout rate. 

If big product, consider payment plans. If you’re selling a big ticket item, consider breaking it down into payment plans (based on the actual price). This makes your product more attainable at no

Make sure payment/cart works on mobile. It’s expected that 50% of purchases online will be from a smartphone in 2017. If your website isn’t mobile friendly, or cannot handle purchases online, it’s worth taking the time to add this ability.

Watch ten potential customers navigate your website (and be quiet while they do it and take made notes). You’ve probably spent time working on the setup of your website, so the ins and outs of navigation probably make complete and total sense to you already. Watching someone else try to navigate your website from start to finish will give you a more accurate perception of a user’s experience on your website and where any shortcomings may exist.

3. Make It Advantageous To Buy.

While you don’t necessarily need to offer this for every product on your site, adding some form of incentive once in awhile can give sales a little boost.

A few ideas for making your product advantageous for customers include:

  • Coupon codes
  • Affiliate programs
  • Early Registration Discount (or other time sensitive promotions)

Someone will always think they can buy it later. By incentivizing action, you can turn ‘later’ into ‘now’.



4. Make It Easy To Share.

We’ve talked about making products easy to share, perhaps by adding social share options for coupons or on the product itself. Zulily combines these tactics in the following product post:

A few things you may notice at the bottom of the image:

  • Incentive to share the product for a discount
  • Three options for sharing- Email, Facebook, and Pinterest (Email is a great sharing option for customers without social media, or those who want to share with a person who doesn’t have social media).

Sharing is only a click away, and if you’re saving $15, why wouldn’t you want to “share”?

5. Make It Easy To Stay In Touch.

In some cases, creating an easy way for customers to stay in touch or communicate with you/among themselves will encourage them to follow through with a purchase. Some examples where this would be helpful include online fitness programs (i.e. month long challenge groups where people can interact with one another), any sort of online class, or any event where it’s helpful to have a ‘community.’

Another fairly simple way to stay in touch with people is to add an email signup somewhere in the checkout process. This gives them a way to stay in touch with you after a purchase, perhaps so you can ask for feedback or send information about future offerings. The idea is to check in at a regular increment, maybe weekly-monthly, not to be the email equivalent of a “Hey what’s up” text that you didn’t sign up for but for some reason keep getting every 12 hours anyway. Communication should be helpful, not annoying or unnecessary.

By making it easy for your customers and potential customers to buy from you online, they’ll be able to show more love to your business. Let them love you, but be easy to love too.



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.



Get Found 2016

This is the best picture Nicole took at Get Found. She is adding it to this blog post to show that no one physically fell asleep during the event.

This is the best picture Nicole took at Get Found. She is adding it to this blog post to show that no one physically fell asleep during the event.

On January 15th, we hosted our first workshop of the year with Jim LeClair of Smart Data Map Services right here at Anchorspace, the coworking space we work out of.

We had an impressive turnout, even after capping the registration early (thanks to everyone for being awesome and getting a bit cozier than we anticipated).

For those of you who couldn’t make it, here’s what the event was all about (unfortunately, we don’t have any of Nicole’s so-called ugly but very delicious cookies left to share with you…)

What is GYBO? 

“Get Your Business Online” is an initiative from Google to help small businesses succeed on the internet (which is also what we do!).

It’s geared toward small businesses to encourage them to get listed on Google with updated information, which will in turn direct more people to their business location, website, or both. You’re probably familiar with Google as a search tool generally, and won’t be surprised that it’s the most commonly used search engine. When people use Google to search for your business, you want to make sure your information (like hours and location) are correct. The easiest way to do this is to create a Google Business listing (oh, and it’s free!).

To help with this set up process, Google works with partners (like our friend Colin at Root Deeper Marketing), which gave Nicole the idea for this event. Jim LeClair agreed to join and discuss some of what he does with mapping for businesses to make the agenda a bit more interesting, and Get Found 2016 was born.

schwag

The Presentations

Jim talked Data Maps. Most of us rely on some form of GPS system for directions, and it’s a little bit frustrating for businesses and customers when an address is incorrectly listed on these maps. That’s where Jim comes in. Jim’s presentation shared the importance of having an accurate address associated with your business listing on Google (and other services). Two important takeaways: 1) filling out as much information as possible in any listing can only help you and 2) many business are identified by phone number so having separate numbers for separate businesses makes sense. For more information about data mapping and Jim’s business, check out his website.

Nicole talks Google+. As far as social media platforms go, Google+ is pretty underrated. No one ever comes to us saying “Hey, our business really wants to get active on Google+, can you help?” (usually they ask about Facebook). Nicole gave a presentation about Google+ for Businesses, explaining the benefits for business marketing and some examples of the different types of content to share. You can watch Nicole’s full presentation here.

What Can You Do?

Even if you missed the event, or don’t have a business to list on Google, there are a couple ways you can show support for area businesses.

  1. Leave a review on their Google+ page.

writereview

2. This is a fun tool we found while preparing for Get Found 2016.  It’s an online tool from Google that creates a postcard based on your 3 favorite businesses that you select, and then you can share on social media. You can create yours here (Note: this link is set to Bar Harbor businesses, but you can pick any town you want!).

spreadbhlove

Want to get your business listed on Google, but aren’t sure where to start? Check out our latest offering here!

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.



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