When we talk landing pages, most online marketers think pay-per-click, where the input of a destination URL into Google’s or Bing’s paid search offerings allow marketers to drive keyword-targeted traffic to (hopefully) optimized pages.
My previous article extolling the death of keywords talked about developing intent-based topics and building content that connects with those topics – intent to content.
We can now apply that mantra in a “first engagement” scenario, after a user clicks a search result, to ensure SEO landing pages:
- Connect with intent: Offering a user what they expect.
- Resolve (initial) user query: Answering their initial query.
- Engage the user: Sending user signals to search engines.
- Drive further user engagement (if necessary): Additional signals to both users and search engines.
A searcher intent to site content engagement scenario I call “CRED“.
In these scenarios where signed in users, search query modification, Chrome browsers, “cookied” users and toolbar data provide massive datasets of engagement signals to search engines on how users interact on sites, we need to drive optimal engagement scenarios.
Here’s a checklist of 10 “killer” tips to ensure you’re able to add a bit of CRED to your SEO campaigns, as well as demonstrate campaign success!
1. Are the primary headlines aligned with intent?
The first thing users notice is content structure, headlines, headers, bolded elements, graphics etc. Your 2 seconds of opportunity to grab attention begins with a mental assessment that needs to immediately connect with the original search query and inspire additional engagement via clear communication of what the page is about.
Content should be created with specific intent in mind, with headlines, and/or graphic headers that are obvious, short, surrounded by adequate white space. And the content must be specific enough to inspire a user’s attention.
2. Are you matching content type with query intent?
If the target query includes “how to”, “best”, “top 10″, “compare” or other intent refining modifiers, or if the query demands a certain level of text content, are you obviously offering something that visually connects, confirms relevance, displays lists, video or images?
Users won’t have time to read, but they will make a quick decision on whether the format they review matches an expectation. For example, a query on top 10 bars should have a list with numbers displayed – or one entry with numbers. Or a query on the history of search should probably have an index and look robust – not just a 200 word paragraph.
Users have short attention spans, and most have a preconceived expectation of what theyshould find, not matching that initial expectation can equate to a quick “back click.”.
Query for “best health insurance plans for single men”. Ask Men offers a clear header and an image that immediately screams “authority”
3. Can users perform a quick scan above the fold to answer who, what, and why?
As noted above, users don’t actually read on a first pass, they make a decision based on visual cues and click expectations (what they expect after they click).
Some websites fail in obviously reinforcing the click expectation, missing an opportunity for engagement, underscoring brand recognition, and providing obvious reasons of time-worthy value.
Click through to your site and ask the following:
- Is your brand obvious?
- Is it obvious what you do?
- Is it obvious why they should stick around?
Especially important with homepages, but equally important on other SEO landing pages, is ensuring your brand is obvious. Make sure what you do, or how you plan to address the user’s intent, isn’t buried. Give users obvious information and/or justification to stick around and/or click around is key to moving people to engage further.
Query for “flat head screw driver”. Home Depot offers clear branding, white space to highlight product, and additional information that is clearly visible and offers visual cues that the tabs are clickable.
Remember: for instant user assessment of resolution potential, anything below the fold doesn’t exist!
As noted with the Home Depot example, key engagement options exist such as an “add to cart” action button, search for intent refinement or modification, other options to dig into additional information and links to similar products that other customers have purchased.
Each of these elements contribute to answering the next question:
4. Is it obvious what they should do next?
For Home Depot, the answer is most probably yes. It’s easy to find the “Add to Cart” button, it’s placed in an obvious position and there’s multiple options to view additional information.
The product page offers multiple ways to engage, with a zoom button (subjectively probably not big enough), and plenty of other user-centric options such as writing reviews, checking inventory, etc.
Occasionally there can be too many options that can confuse users. In the Home Depot example there appears to be duplicated “check inventory” buttons/links, but these may have been tested and justified.
5. Are there on-page modification options? (based on query modification)
Home Depot offer a good example of obvious search functionality, related products, and other options that can help modify the user’s search query onsite rather than have them click back to the search results to modify.
These kind of onsite modifications do not always need to be driven by site search.
Breadcrumbs, side navigation, filters, related prods, color/size selection are all feasible options to mitigate click backs and improve onsite engagement signals.
6. Are ‘next clicks’ consistent?
Part of great site engagement is a consistent user experience for similar queries. By monitoring user interaction on a per query basis, website owners can identify consistencies or deficiencies in matches of search intent to site content.
Duane Forrester of Bing said in January 2013:
“In the long run, the brand names secure rankings through depth of content, trust in brand, and user interaction (searchers clicking a SERP result and staying on their site because the site is trusted and answers the searchers question)”
Providing key “next clicks” – obvious steps from landing pages to conversion or core information – is a better user experience = better potential rankability.
7. Can they share what they’ve found?
Probably the most obvious of tips, it the provision of social sharing and social connection buttons. If landing pages provide the value users expect, will they be inspired to share, and if they are, can they?
Sharing of a page is different than a click through to your social property (i.e., Facebook page or Twitter stream), and should be a key component on most landing pages, with the caveat of audience vs. social platform.
For pages with images, is there an option to share on Pinterest, Facebook, and Twitter? For business text content, is LinkedIn an option? Social signals are imperative in closing the loop on user intent satisfaction, demonstrating to both users and search engines an endorsement of your content.
8. Ultimately, can users find the banana?
Seth Godin published a book a few years ago called “The Big Red Fez” – rather than repeat all the key concepts, I can state simply is it’s all about bananas – users finding what they need from obvious choices. There’s an excellent synopsis here.
I love Helen’s Cycles, great stores and service. But visit their website and you’re presented with way too many choices (red) and a certain level of confusion (green). The green element talks about Helmets, Cycling Essentials and Clothing”¦ but offers no way to click or a link to relevant content.
Give your users clear navigation to improve consistent engagement and “banana-discovery.”
The final two tips cover justification through measurement of metrics that matter.
9. Have you segmented traffic by topics?
Google Analytics offers segmentation by query topics through Analytics filters (beyond the scope of this article but more information can be found here) or by exporting data and consolidating offline in Excel.
Custom segments allow you to monitor performance across keyword query topics, understand topic traffic and conversion trends, and leverage this data to identify the key landing pages for each topic.
10. Are you tracking first click queries for optimized pages?
Although in an ideal scenario the page you optimize will attract the keyword queries you’d expect, custom segments by topic also offer up insights into competing pages (entry pages in your site that compete against each other), highlighting opportunities to consolidate similar pages, mitigating potential thin content issues and improving topic relevance on merged pages.
Utilize custom segments, organic traffic keyword query reports, together with landing page association to provide insights into potentially competing pages.
Music genre site, with custom “rock music’ topic filter applied, highlights the anomaly of “type of rock music” query being mapped to an Anime genre page. Worth investigating why?
Landing pages have historically been the domain of paid search marketers seeking improved conversion rates.
User experience, site usability, and onsite engagement have become more important for major search engines in their assessment of a site’s “rankability”, so SEO practitioners need to ensure SEO landing pages have CRED as a key to SEO success.
What are search engines looking for? How can you build your website in a way that will please both your visitors/customers, as well as Google, Bing, and other search engines? Most importantly, how can SEO help your web presence become more profitable?
During the Introduction to SEO session at SES New York, Carolyn Shelby (@CShel), Director of SEO, Chicago Tribune/435 Digital, fully explained the extreme value SEO can deliver to a site, and stressed the importance of basic SEO using the following analogy:
“Skipping the basics and spending all your time and money on social and ‘fancy stuff’ is the same as skipping brushing your teeth and showering, but buying white strips and wearing expensive cologne,” Shelby said.
Although the Introduction to SEO session was intended for industry newcomers, Shelby’s tips offer important reminders for even experienced SEO professionals who have been optimizing sites for years.
What is SEO, Exactly?
The goal of foundational SEO isn’t to cheat or “game” the search engines. The purpose of SEO is to:
- Create a great, seamless user experience.
- Communicate to the search engines your intentions so they can recommend your website for relevant searches.
1. Your Website is Like a Cake
Your links, paid search, and social media acts as the icing, but your content, information architecture, content management system, and infrastructure act as the sugar and makes the cake. Without it, your cake is tasteless, boring, and gets thrown in the trash.
2. What Search Engines Are Looking For
Search engines want to do their jobs as best as possible by referring users to websites and content that is the most relevant to what the user is looking for. So how is relevancy determined?
- Content: Is determined by the theme that is being given, the text on the page, and the titles and descriptions that are given.
- Performance: How fast is your site and does it work properly?
- Authority: Does your site have good enough content to link to or do other authoritative sites use your website as a reference or cite the information that’s available?
- User Experience: How does the site look? Is it easy to navigate around? Does it look safe? Does it have a high bounce rate?
3. What Search Engines Are NOT Looking For
Search engine spiders only have a certain amount of data storage, so if you’re performing shady tactics or trying to trick them, chances are you’re going to hurt yourself in the long run. Items the search engines don’t want are:
- Keyword Stuffing: Overuse of keywords on your pages.
- Purchased Links: Buying links will get you nowhere when it comes to SEO, so be warned.
- Poor User Experience: Make it easy for the user to get around. Too many ads and making it too difficult for people to find content they’re looking for will only increase your bounce rate. If you know your bounce rate it will help determine other information about your site. For example, if it’s 80 percent or higher and you have content on your website, chances are something is wrong.
4. Know Your Business Model
While this is pretty obvious, so many people tend to not sit down and just focus on what their main goals are. Some questions you need to ask yourself are:
- What defines a conversion for you?
- Are you selling eyeballs (impressions) or what people click on?
- What are your goals?
- Do you know your assets and liabilities?
5. Don’t Forget to Optimize for Multi-Channels
Keyword strategy is not only important to implement on-site, but should extend to other off-site platforms, which is why you should also be thinking about multi-channel optimization. These multi-channel platforms include:
- Offline, such as radio and TV ads
Being consistent with keyword phrases within these platforms will not only help your branding efforts, but also train users to use specific phrases you’re optimizing for.
6. Be Consistent With Domain Names
Domain naming is so important to your overall foundation, so as a best practice you’re better off using sub-directory root domains (example.com/awesome) versus sub-domains (awesome.example.com). Some other best practices with domain names are:
- Consistent Domains: If you type in http://www.example.com, but then your type in just example.com and the “www” does not redirect to http://www.example.com, that means the search engines are seeing two different sites. This isn’t effective for your overall SEO efforts as it will dilute your inbound links, as external sites will be linking to http://www.example.com and example.com.
- Keep it Old School: Old domains are better than new ones, but if you’re buying an old domain, make sure that the previous owner didn’t do anything shady to cause the domain to get penalized.
- Keywords in URL: Having keywords you’re trying to rank for in your domain will only help your overall efforts.
7. Optimizing for Different Types of Results
In addition to optimizing for the desktop experience, make sure to focus on mobile and tablet optimization as well as other media.
- Create rich media content like video, as it’s easier to get a video to rank on the first page than it is to get a plain text page to rank.
- Optimize your non-text content so search engines can see it. If your site uses Flash or PDFs, make sure you read up on the latest best practices so search engines can crawl that content and give your site credit for it.
8. Focus on Your Meta Data Too
- Meta keywords are pretty much ignored by search engines nowadays, but if you still use them, make sure it talks specifically to that page and that it is also formatted correctly.
- Your meta description should be unique and also speak to that specific page. Duplicate meta descriptions from page to page will not get you anywhere.
Title tags should also be unique! Think your title as a 4-8 word ad, so do your best to entice the reader so they want to click and read more.
You should always keep SEO in the forefront of your mind, and always follow best practices. Skipping the basics of SEO will only leave your site’s foundation a mess and prevent you from fully maximizing revenue opportunities.
If tech media coverage frequency were to serve as a barometer of the relative utility of the digital channels available to marketers, one could be forgiven for concluding that search’s value pales in comparison to the much-covered social media.
An analysis of “SEO” vs. “social media” coverage on the top two major tech blogs, while not the most scientific study ever done, shows that social media was covered 4x more frequently on TechCrunch and 58x more frequently on Mashable.
This matters because, as any first year poly-sci. student knows, media coverage impacts public opinion. In this case, that means impacting marketer’s organizational decision-making such as budget and resource investment. And, as many a frustrated SEO practitioner knows, even if youyourself have things straight, the VP or CMO at the top of the food chain who likely controls the purse strings is often the most susceptible to the tech media’s influence.
Media Saturation of Social Dominates Mindshare and Budgets
To add to the “how much” coverage factor, the “what is being said” is another variable influencing public opinion. To a certain extent, the tech media has touted social media as a magic bullet, promising it will change the very fabric of how we market online. When it comes to online retail in particular, we have been told that social will change the way people shop, presumably because recommendations from friends carry more weight than results from a search engine.
Given these dual factors putting downward pressure on public opinion, now is a good time to check in on where social should, in fact, be positioned in the marketer’s toolbox.
We know that measurement of the current traffic social media drives to websites isn’t a definitive indicator about its future utility. But it gives us a finger-in-the-wind check as to where social stands relative to other drivers of inbound traffic.
With that, let’s look at some data.
Data: Social Drives Far Less Traffic than Search
First, from Adobe’s analysis of “…billions of visits from 500 retail websites during the holiday season”: only 2 percent of visits come from social, while 34 percent come from search:
And, a study from Monetate shows similar findings with social hovering at around 2 percent:
It would seem clear, therefore, that from a traffic perspective, social is driving only a small percentage of visits to retailers. A Conductor study suggested that may be in part because users overwhelmingly turn to search as a discovery platform versus social when it comes to online shopping.
People Use Search and Social Differently
Jay Taylor wrote an article on Search Engine Watch last month titled “5 Reasons SMBs Should Focus on Search, Not Social for Customer Acquisition“. He made a number of good points about re-positioning social when it comes to customer acquisition.
But he must have struck one heck of a cord with one particular aspect of his observations on social because I noticed a phenomenon I had never seen before on my Twitter stream. No less than five people I follow tweeted a link to his article with the same article snippet (or close variation) preceding the link: “People use social media to, well, socialize. People use search engines when they want to find something.”
Facebook and Twitter are hoping to change that, particularly when it comes to commerce (see:Facebook Graph Search and Twitter enabling instant commerce with American Express), but for now the data says that Taylor is right.
In the survey mentioned earlier, users showed that they want to use social for, well, socializing, while turning to search universally across all information retrieval scenarios:
Let’s Reposition Social Where it Belongs
There’s no question that social has a place in the modern marketer’s toolbox, both as a brand development and customer service listening platform. But can we agree that it’s time we return it, at least for now, where it rightly belongs: a place for socializing.
26.4% of SMBs cannot be found in online searches because their websites earn a Google Page Rank of zero or have no Google Page Rank,finds vSplash in an audit of 3.9 million US SMB websites. The audit unearthed a series of deficiencies, which the researchers believe translate into a $24.3 billion revenue opportunity for digital media and marketing solutions providers. That’s despite a recent report suggesting that 1 in 2 SMB online marketing service dollars are already being spent on web presence. (For that study, from Borrell Associates, web presence represented $202 billion in spending in 2012, and included such services as website design and management, hosting, and social media management.)
A separate study recently issued by Constant Contact found other discoverability issues with small businesses: half admitted never updating their online listings, and the same proportion had seen inaccurate listings.
Meanwhile, other deficiencies cited by the vSplash study include:
- 94.5% of SMB websites not being mobile optimized;
- 94.6% lacking a Twitter widget on their home page, and 91.2% without a Facebook widget;
- 94.6% lacking an e-commerce shopping cart;
- 93.7% without a contact email address on the home page; and
- 49.4% without a phone number on the home page.
Marketers from companies with more than $500 million in annual revenue are devoting the largest portion of their digital marketing budgets to digital or online advertising (12.5%) and content creation and management (11.6%), per survey results from a Gartner report. Those results reflect the ongoing growth of online ad spend in the US, as well as the continued rise in importance of content marketing. The study also finds that 28% of respondents reduced their traditional advertising budget to fund digital marketing activities, a finding supported by various pieces of research showing such a shift in the media mix. Still, a plurality 41% of respondents say that they are funding their digital marketing activities through the savings they are getting from using digital as opposed to traditional marketing.
Meanwhile, other activities that are getting a healthy share of digital marketing budgets include search marketing (including paid search; 10.7%), email marketing (9.6%), analytics (9.5%), and social media marketing (9.4%). CMOs recently projected that social media accounts for 8.4% of their entire marketing budgets, emblematic of a generally bullish outlook they hold on social marketing.
When it comes to the digital activities that contribute most to their success, respondents to the Gartner survey were most likely to tab corporate websites and online advertising (each at 18%) as their most effective activities, followed by commerce experiences (12%) and email marketing (10%). While social media marketing did not get many first-place votes (6%), 43% tabbed this activity as among their top-3 most effective, tying it with online advertising, just behind the corporate website.
- Companies spent 10.4% of their 2012 revenues on marketing activities, including salaries, and traditional and digital marketing costs.
- Digital marketing spending averaged 2.5% of company revenue, and 25% of marketing budgets overall.
- Respondents estimate that 50% of their search marketing is outsourced. Online advertising (46%) and mobile marketing (45%) are also being heavily outsourced.
- 7 in 10 companies have a chief marketing technologist, and 80% of those report to marketing.
About the Data: Gartner’s U.S. Digital Marketing Spending report is based on a survey of 253 marketers from U.S.-based companies with more than $500 million in annual revenue (average revenue $5 billion). Respondents were from six industries: Financial services and insurance, high-tech, manufacturing, media, retail, and healthcare. The survey took place in November and December 2012.
Social media is all the rave, and for good reason.
Fortune 500 companies are showing that social can be a very effective marketing tool, particularly when it comes to brand awareness and engagement.
But how effective is social media when it comes to customer acquisition for small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs)?
SMBs are increasingly placing emphasis on social media marketing as a customer acquisition tool, while placing less emphasis on search marketing. Here are five reasons why this is a mistake, and why SMBs should focus on search, not social when it comes to acquiring new customers.
1. Search Gets SMBs in Front of Prospective Customers Who Aren’t Already Familiar With Their Brand
Unlike Fortune 500 companies, most SMBs don’t have the resources to invest in brand awareness campaigns that can take months or years to pay dividends. New customer acquisition is the primary objective, and search allows SMBs to get in front of prospective customers who aren’t already familiar with their brand, but are in need of their products or services.
While organic search takes time, paid search allows SMBs to get in front of prospective customers immediately with ads that are contextually relevant to their search query. So, even if the prospective customer doesn’t recognize the name of the company serving the ad, that’s OK, because that company is advertising a solution intended to meet that prospective customer’s immediate needs.
2. Searchers are More Likely to Convert Into Customers
People use social media to, well, socialize. People use search engines when they want to find something.
When was the last time you went on Twitter to look for the nearest hamburger joint? Now, when was the last time you used Google to find a local restaurant?
The fact that searchers are actively searching for the products or services you offer makes them much more likely to become a customer than someone who simply likes your Facebook page. The person who likes your Facebook page may eventually become a customer, but chances are they did not like your page because of their intent to purchase.
3. Search Allows Customers to Easily Find Your Business on the Go
Search engines make it easy to find information such as phone numbers and directions to local businesses on mobile devices. In fact, 88 percent of people who search for local information with a smartphone take action within a day, such as calling or visiting a local business, according to Google.
Additionally, 77 percent of smartphone users use their device for search. So, even if you do not target a local customer base specifically, mobile search provides an excellent opportunity to get in front of prospective customers.
4. Social Media Marketing Isn’t Easy
Some SMBs tend to gravitate to social media because they perceive it as being easy and inexpensive, while perceiving search marketing as just the opposite. However, a well-executed social media campaign is no easy task, particularly if the goal is new customer acquisition.
On the other hand, if an SMB is using their company’s Twitter page to tweet about how good lunch was today at the office, then yes, that is easy and inexpensive, and also ineffective.
5. Search is a Proven Customer Acquisition Tool
Whether organic search or paid search, there is little argument that search marketing is an effective customer acquisition tool, and mobile search has only enhanced its effectiveness.
Conversely, there is still much debate regarding the relationship between “likes” and purchase intent, and social media’s effectiveness in general when it comes to customer acquisition. When working with a limited marketing budget, as most SMBs do, it makes sense to utilize a proven customer acquisition method.
The truth is that search and social are not mutually exclusive. The lines are blurring between them.
The most effective digital marketing strategy would utilize both search and social to their maximum potential. Yet, the reality is that most SMBs don’t have the necessary resources to do both effectively. So, when the primary goal is customer acquisition, SMBs should focus on search, not social.