2020 Local SEO Success: How to Feed, Fight, and Flip Google

Posted by MiriamEllis

Image credit: Migaspinto

If you own or market a business location that makes a real-world community more serviceable, diverse, and strong, I’m on your side.

I love interesting towns and cities, with a wide array of useful goods and services. Nothing in my career satisfies me more than advising any brand that’s determined to improve life quality in some spot on the map. It does my heart good to see it, but here’s my completely unsentimental take on the challenges you face:

The Internet, and Google’s local platforms in particular, are a complete mess.

Google is the biggest house on the local block; you can’t ignore it. Yet, the entries into the platform are poorly lit, the open-source concept is cluttered with spam, and growing litigation makes one wonder if there are bats in the belfry.

Google comprises both risk and tremendous opportunity for local businesses and their marketers. Succeeding in 2020 means becoming a clear-eyed surveyor of any structural issues as well as seeing the “good bones” potential, so that you can flip dilapidation into dollars. And something beyond dollar, too: civic satisfaction.

Grab your tools and get your teammates and clients together to build local success in the new year by sharing my 3-level plan and 4-quarter strategy.

Level 1: Feed Google

Image credit: Mcapdevila

Information about your business is going to exist on the Internet whether you put it there or not.

Google’s house may be structurally unsound, but it’s also huge, with a 90% search engine market share globally and over 2 trillion searches per year, 46% of which are for something local.

Residents, new neighbors, and travelers seeking what you offer will almost certainly find something about your company online, whether it’s a stray mention on social media, an unclaimed local business listing generated by a platform or the public, or a full set of website pages and claimed listings you’ve actively published.

Right now, running the most successful local business possible means acquiring the largest share you can of those estimated 1 trillion annual local searches. How do you do this? 

By feeding Google:

  • Website content about your business location, products, services, and attributes
  • Corroborating info about your company on other websites
  • Local business listing content
  • Image content
  • Video content
  • Social media content

Remember, without your content and the content of others, Google does not exist. Local business owners can often feel uncomfortably dependent on Google, but it’s really Google who is dependent on them.

Whether the business you’re marketing is small or large, declare 2020 the year you go to the drafting board to render a clear blueprint for a content architecture that spans your entire neighborhood of the Internet, including your website and relevant third-party sites, platforms, and apps. Your plans might look something like this:

Image detailing the architecture of local SEO, including what you should put on GMB, website, and via 3rd parties (all detailed in text below)

I recommend organizing your plan like this, making use of the links I’m including:

  1. Begin with a rock-solid foundation of business information on your website. Tell customers everything they could want to know to choose and transact with your business. Cover every location, service, product, and desirable attribute of your company. There’s no chance you won’t have enough to write about when you take into account everything your customers ask you on a daily basis + everything you believe makes your company the best choice in the local market. Be sure the site loads fast, is mobile-friendly, and as technically error-free as possible.
  2. Create a fully complete, accurate, guideline-abiding Google My Business listing for each location of your business.
  3. Build out your listings (aka structured citations) on the major platforms. Automate the work of both developing and monitoring them for sentiment and change via a product like Moz Local.
  4. Monitor and respond to all reviews as quickly as possible on all platforms. These equal your online reputation and are, perhaps, the most important content about your business on the Internet. Know that reviews are a two-way conversation and learn to inspire customers to edit negative reviews. Moz Local automates review monitoring and facilitates easy responses. If you need help earning reviews, check out Alpine Software Group’s two good products: GatherUp and Grade.Us.
  5. Audit your competition. In competitive markets, come check out our beta of Local Market Analytics for a multi-sampled understanding of who your competitors actually are for each location of your business, depending on searcher locale.
  6. Once you’ve found your competitors, audit them to understand the:
    1. quality, authority and rate of ongoing publication you need to surpass
    2. strength and number of linked unstructured citations you need to build
    3. number and quality of Google posts, videos, products, and other content you need to publish
    4. social engagement you need to create.
  7. As to the substance of your content, focus directly on your customers’ needs. Local Market Analytics is breaking ground in delivering actual local keyword volumes, and the end point of all of your research, whether via keyword tools, consumer surveys, or years of business experience, should be content that acts as customer service, turning seekers into shoppers.
  8. Use any leftover time to sketch in the finer details. For example, I’m less excited about schema for 2020 than I was in 2019 because of Google removing some of the benefits of review schema. Local business schema is still a good idea, though, if you have time for it. Meanwhile, pursuing relevant featured snippets could certainly be smart in the new year. I’d go strong on video this year, particularly YouTube, if there’s applicability and demand in your market.

The customer is the focus of everything you publish. Google is simply the conduit. Your content efforts may need to be modest or major to win the greatest possible share of the searches that matter to you. It depends entirely on the level of competition in your markets. Find that level, know your customers, and commit to feeding Google a steady, balanced diet of what they say they want so that it can be conveyed to the people you want to serve.

Level 2: Fight Google

Image credit: Scott Lewis

Let’s keep it real: ethical local companies which pride themselves on playing fair have good reason to be dubious about doing business with Google. Once you’ve put in the effort to feed Google all the right info to begin competing for rankings, you may well find yourself having to do online battle on an ongoing basis.

There are two fronts on which many people end up grappling with Google:

  • Problematic aspects within products
  • Litigation and protests against the brand.

Let’s break these down to prepare you:

Product issues

Google has taken on the scale of a public utility — one that’s replaced most of North America’s former reliance on telephone directories and directory assistance numbers.

Google has 5 main local interfaces: local packs, local finders, desktop maps, mobile maps and the Google Maps app. It’s been the company’s decision to allow these utilities to become polluted with misinformation in the form of listing and review spam, and irrelevant or harmful user-generated content. Google does remove spam, but not at the scale of the issue, which is so large that global networks of spammers are have sprung up to profit from the lack of quality control and failure to enforce product guidelines.

When you are marketing a local business, there’s a strong chance you will face one or more of the following issues while attempting to compete in Google’s local products:

  • Being outranked by businesses violating Google’s own guidelines with practices such as keyword-stuffed business titles and creating listings to represent non-existent locations or lead-gen companies. (Example)
  • Being the target of listing hijacking in which another company overtakes some aspect of your listing to populate it with their own details. (Example)
  • Being the target of a reputation attack by competitors or members of the public posting fake negative reviews of your business. (Example)
  • Being the target of negative images uploaded to your listing by competitors or the public. (Example)
  • Having Google display third-party lead-gen information on your listings, driving business away from you to others. (Example)
  • Having Google randomly experiment with local features with direct negative impacts on you, such as booking functions that reserve tables for your patrons without informing your business. (Example)
  • Being unable to access adequately trained Google staff or achieve timely resolution when things go wrong (Example)

These issues have real-world impacts. I’ve seen them misdirect and scam countless consumers including those having medical and mental health emergency needs, kill profits during holiday shopping seasons for companies, cause owners so much loss that they’ve had to lay off staff, and even drive small brands out of business.

Honest local business owners don’t operate this way. They don’t make money off of fooling the public, or maliciously attack neighboring shops, or give the cold shoulder to people in trouble. Only Google’s underregulated monopoly status has allowed them to stay in business while conducting their affairs this way.

Outlook issues

Brilliant people work for Google and some of their innovations are truly visionary. But the Google brand, as a whole, can be troubling to anyone firmly tied to the idea of ethical business practices. I would best describe the future of Google, in its present underregulated state of monopoly, as uncertain.

In their very short history, Google has been:

I can’t predict where all this is headed. What I do know is that nearly every local business I’ve ever consulted with has been overwhelmingly reliant on Google for profits. Whether you personally favor strong regulation or not, I recommend that every local business owner and marketer keep apprised of the increasing calls by governing bodies, organizations, and even the company’s own staff to break Google up, tax it, end contracts on the basis of human rights, and prosecute it over privacy, antitrust, and a host of other concerns.

Pick your battles

With Google so deeply embedded in your company’s online visibility, traffic, reputation and transactions, concerns with the brand and products don’t exist in some far-off place; they are right on your own doorstep. Here’s how to fight well:

1. Fight the spam

To face off with Google’s local spam, earn/defend the rankings your business needs, and help clean polluted SERPs up for the communities you serve, here are my best links for you:

2. Stay informed

If you’re ready to move beyond your local premises to the larger, ongoing ethical debate surrounding Google, here are my best links for you:

Whether your degree of engagement goes no further than local business listings or extends to your community, state, nation, or the world, I recommend increased awareness of the whole picture of Google in 2020. Education is power.

Level 3: Flip Google

Image credit: Province of British Columbia

You’ve fed Google. You’ve fought Google. Now, I want you to flip this whole scenario to your advantage.

My 2020 local SEO blueprint has you working hard for every customer you win from the Internet. So far, the ball has been almost entirely in Google’s court, but when all of this effort culminates in a face-to-face meeting with another human being, we are finally at your party under your roof, where you have all the control. This is where you turn Internet-driven customers into in-store keepers.

I encourage you to make 2020 the year you draft a strategy for making a larger portion of your sales as Google-independent as possible, flipping their risky edifice into su casa, built of sturdy bricks like community, pride, service, and loyalty.

How can you do this? Here’s a four-quarter plan you can customize to fit your exact business scenario:

Q1: Listen & learn

Image credit: Chris Kiernan, Small Business Saturday

The foundation of all business success is giving the customer exactly what they want. Hoping and guessing are no substitute for a survey of your actual customers.

If you already have an email database, great. If not, you could start collecting one in Q1 and run your survey at the end of the quarter when you have enough addresses. Alternatively, you could ask each customer if they would kindly take a very short printed survey while you ring up their purchase.

Imagine you’re marketing an independent bookstore. Such a survey might look like this, whittled down to just the data points you most want to gather from customers to make business decisions:

Have pens ready and a drop box for each customer to deposit their card. Make it as convenient and anonymous as possible, for the customer’s comfort.

In this survey and listening phase of the new year, I also recommend that you:

  1. Spend more time as the business owner speaking directly to your customers, really listening to their needs and complaints and then logging them in a spreadsheet. Speak with determination to discover how your business could help each customer more.
  2. Have all phone staff log the questions/requests/complaints they receive.
  3. Have all floor/field staff log the questions/requests/complaints they receive.
  4. Audit your entire online review corpus to identify dominant sentiment, both positive and negative
  5. If the business you’re marketing is large and competitive, now is the time to go in for a full-fledged consumer analysis project with mobile surveys, customer personae, etc.

End of Q1 Goal: Know exactly what customers want so that they’ll come to us for repeat business without any reliance on Google.

Q2: Implement your ready welcome

Image credit: Small Business Week in BC

In this quarter, you’ll implement as many of the requests you’ve gleaned from Q1 as feasible. You’ll have put solutions in place to rectify any complaint themes, and will have upped your game wherever customers have called for it.

In addition to the fine details of your business, large or small, life as a local SEO has taught me that these six elements are basic requirements for local business longevity:

  1. A crystal-clear USP
  2. Consumer-centric policies
  3. Adequate, well-trained, personable staff
  4. An in-demand inventory of products/services
  5. Accessibility for complaint resolution
  6. Cleanliness/orderliness of premises/services

The lack of any of these six essentials results in negative experiences that can either cause the business to shed silent customers in person or erode online reputation to the point that the brand begins to fail.

With the bare minimums of customers’ requirements met, Q2 is where we get to the fun part. This is where you take your basic USP and add your special flourish to it that makes your brand unique, memorable, and desirable within the community you serve.

A short tale of two yarn shops in my neck of the woods: At shop A, the premises are dark and dusty. Customer projects are on display, but aren’t very inspiring. Staff sits at a table knitting, and doesn’t get up when customers enter. At shop B, the lighting and organization are inviting, displayed projects are mouthwatering, and though the staff here also sits at a table knitting, they leap up to meet, guide, and serve. Guess which shop now knows me by name? Guess which shop has staff so friendly that they have lent me their own knitting needles for a tough project? Guess which shop I gave a five-star review to? Guess where I’ve spent more money than I really should?

This quarter, seek vision for what going above-and-beyond would look like to your customers. What would bring them in again and again for years to come? Keep it in mind that computers are machines, but you and your staff are people serving people. Harness human connection.

End of Q2 Goal: Have implemented customers’ basic requests and gone beyond them to provide delightful human experiences Google cannot replicate.

Q3: Participate, educate, appreciate

Now you know your customers, are meeting their specified needs, and doing your best to become one of their favorite businesses. It’s time to walk out your front door into the greater community to see where you can make common cause with a neighborhood, town, or city, as a whole.

2020 is the year you become a joiner. Analyze all of the following sources at a local level:

  • Print and TV news
  • School newsletters and papers
  • Place of worship newsletters and bulletins
  • Local business organization newsletters
  • Any form of publication surrounding charity, non-profits, activism, and government

Create a list of the things your community worries about, cares about, and aspires to. For example, a city near me became deeply involved in a battle over putting an industrial plant in a wetland. Another town is fundraising for a no-kill animal shelter and a walk for Alzheimer’s. Another is hosting interfaith dinners between Christians and Muslims.

Pick the efforts that feel best to you and show up, donate, host, speak, sponsor, and support in any way you can. Build real relationships so that the customers coming through your door aren’t just the ones you sell to, but the ones you’ve manned a booth with on the 4th of July, attended a workshop with, or cheered with at their children’s soccer match. This is how community is made.

Once you’re participating in community life, it’s time to educate your customers about how supporting your business makes life better in the place they live (get a bunch of good stats on this here). Take the very best things that you do and promote awareness of them face-to-face with every person you transact with.

For my fictitious bookseller client, just 10 minutes spent on Canva (you have to try Canva!) helped me whip together this free flyer I could give to every customer, highlighting stats about how supporting independent businesses improve communities:

Example of a flyer to give to customers thanking them for shopping local

If you’re marketing a larger enterprise, a flyer like this could focus on green practices you’re implementing at scale, philanthropic endeavors, and positive community involvement.

Finally, with the holiday season fast approaching in the coming quarter, this is the time to let customers know how much you appreciate their business. Recently, I wrote about businesses turning kindness into a form of local currency. Brands are out there delivering surprise flowers and birthday cakes to customers, picking them up when they’re stranded on roadsides, washing town signage, and replacing “you will be towed” plaques with ones that read “you’re welcome to park here.” Loyalty programs, coupons, discounts, sales, free events, parties, freebies, and fun are all at your disposal to say “Thank you, please come again!” to your customers.

End of Q3 Goal: Have integrated more deeply into community life, motivated customers to choose our business for aspirational reasons beyond sales, and have offered memorable acts of gratitude for their business, completely independent of Google.

Q4: Share customers and sell

Every year, local consumer surveys indicate that 80–90% of people trust online reviews as much as they trust recommendations from friends and family. But I’ve yet to see a survey poll how much people trust recommendations they receive from trustworthy business owners.

You spent all of Q3 becoming a true ally to your community, getting personally involved in the struggles and dreams of the people you serve. At this point, if you’ve done a good job, the people who make up your brand have come closer to deserving the word “friend” from customers. As we move into Q4, it’s time to deepen alliances — this time with related local businesses.

In the classic movie Miracle on 34th Street, the owners of Macy’s and Gimbel’s begin sending shoppers to one another when either business lacks what the customer wants. They even create catalogues of their competitors’ inventory to assist with these referrals. In Q3, I’m hoping you joined a local business alliance that’s begun to acquaint you with other brands that feature goods/service that relate to yours so that you can begin dedicated outreach.

Q4, with Black Friday and Small Business Saturday, is traditionally the quarter in which local businesses expect to get out of the red, but how many more wedding cakes would you sell if all the caterers in town were referring to you, how many more tires would you vend if the muffler shops sent all their customers your way, how many more therapeutic massages might you book if every holistic medical center in your city confidently gave out your name?

Formalize B2B customer referrals in this quarter in seven easy steps:

  1. Create a spreadsheet headed with your contact information and an itemized list of the main goods, services, and brands you sell. Include specialties of your business. Create additional rows to be filled out with the information of other businesses.
  2. Create a list of every local business that could tie in with yours in any way for a customer’s needs.
  3. Invite the owners or qualified reps of each business on your list to a meeting at a neutral location, like a community center or restaurant.
  4. Bring your spreadsheet to the meeting.
  5. Discuss with your guests how a commitment to sharing customers will benefit all of you
  6. If others commit, have them fill out their column of the spreadsheet. Share print and digital copies with all participants.
  7. Whenever a customer asks for something you don’t offer, refer to the spreadsheet to make a recommendation. Encourage your colleagues to do likewise, and to train staff to use the spreadsheet to increase customer sharing and satisfaction.

Make a copy of my free Local Business Allies spreadsheet!

Q4 Goal: Make this the best final quarter yet by sharing customers with local business allies, decreasing dependence on Google for referrals.

Embrace truth and dare to draw the line

Image credit: TCDavis

House flipping is a runaway phenomenon in the US that has remodeled communities and sparked dozens of hit TV shows. Unfortunately, there’s a downside to the activity, as it can create negative gentrification, making life less good for residents.

You need have no fear of this when you flip Google, because turning their house into yours actually strengthens your real-world neighborhood, town, or city. It gives the residents who already live there more stable resources, more positive human contact, and a more closely knit community.

Truth: Google will remain dominant in the discovery-related phases of your consumers’ journeys for the foreseeable future. For new neighbors and travelers, Google will remain a valuable source of your business being found in the first place. Even if governing bodies break the company up at some point, the truth is that most local businesses need to utilize Google a search utility for discovery.

Dare: Draw a line on the pavement outside your front door this year, with transactional experiences on your side of the line. Google wants to own the transaction phase of your customers’ journey. Bookings, lead gen, local ads, and related features show where they are headed with this. If Google could, I’m sure they’d be glad to take a cut of every sale you make, and you’ll likely have to participate in their transactional aspirations to some degree. But…

In 2020, dare yourself to turn every customer you serve into a keeper, cutting out Google as the middleman wherever you can and building a truly local, regenerative base of loyalty, referrals, and community.

Wishing you a local 2020 of daring vision and self-made success!

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Local SEO Spam Tactics Are Working: How You Can Fight Back

Posted by Casey_Meraz

For years, I’ve been saying that if you have a problem with spammers in local results, you can just wait it out. I mean, if Google cared about removing spam and punishing those who are regular spammers we’d see them removed fast and often, right?

While there are instances where spam has been removed, it seems these are not fast fixes, permanent fixes, or even very common. In fact, they seem few and far between. So today I’m changing my tune a bit to call more attention to the spam issues people employ that violate Google My Business terms and yet continue to win in the SERPs.

The problems are rampant and blatant. I’ve heard and seen many instances of legitimate businesses changing their names just to rank better and faster for their keywords.

Another problem is that Google is shutting down MapMaker at the end of March. Edits will still be allowed, but they’ll need to be made through Google Maps.

If Google is serious about rewarding brands in local search, they need to encourage it through their local search algorithms.

For some people, it’s gotten so bad that they’re actually suing Google. On January 13, 2017, for instance, a group of fourteen locksmiths sued Google, Yahoo, and Bing over fake spam listings, as reported by Joy Hawkins.

While some changes — like the Possum update — seemed to have a positive impact overall, root problems (such as multiple business listings) and many other issues still exist in the local search ecosystem.

And there are other technically non-spammy ways that users are also manipulating Google results. Let’s look at a couple of these examples.

It’s not all spam. Businesses are going to great lengths to stay within the GMB guidelines & manipulate results.

Let’s look at an example of a personal injury attorney in the Denver market. Recently, I came across these results when doing a search for trial attorneys:

2017-02-28_1137.png

Look at the #2 result listing, entitled “Denver Trial Lawyers.” I originally thought this was spam and wanted to report it, but I had to do my due diligence first.

To start, I needed to verify that the listing was actually spam by looking at the official business name. I pulled up their website and, to my surprise, the business name in the logo is actually “Denver Trial Lawyers.”

business name.png

This intrigued me, so I decided to see if they were using a deceptive logo to advertise the business name or if this was the actual business name.

I checked out the Colorado Secretary of State’s website and did a little digging around. After a few minutes I found the legally registered trade name through their online search portal. The formation date of this entity was 7/31/2008, so they appear to have been planning on using the name for some time.

I also reviewed their MapMaker listing history to see when this change was made and whether it reflected the trade name registration. I saw that on October 10, 2016 the business updated their MapMaker listing to reflect the new business name.

mapmaker-history.png

After all of this, I decided to take this one step further and called the business. When I did, the auto-attendant answered with “Thank you for calling Denver Trial Lawyers,” indicating that this is their legitimate business name.

I guess that, according to the Google My Business Guidelines, this can be considered OK. They state:

“Your name should reflect your business’ real-world name, as used consistently on your storefront, website, stationery, and as known to customers. Accurately representing your business name helps customers find your business online.”

But what does that mean for everyone else?

Recently, Gyi Tsakalakis also shared this beautiful screenshot on Twitter of a SERP with three businesses using their keywords in the business name:

It seems they’re becoming more and more prominent because people see they’re working.

To play devil’s advocate, there are also businesses that legitimately sport less-than-creative names, so where do you draw the line? (Note: I’ve been following some of above businesses for years; I can confirm they’ve changed their business names to include keywords).

Here’s another example

If you look closely, you’ll find more keyword- and location-stuffed business names popping up every day.

Here’s an interesting case of a business (also located in Denver) that might have been trying to take advantage of Near Me searches, as pointed out by Matt Lacuesta:

lacquesta.png

Do you think this business wanted to rank for Near Me searches in Denver? Maybe it’s just a coincidence. It’s funny, nonetheless.

How are people actively manipulating local results?

While there are many ways to manipulate a Google My Business result, today we’re going to focus on several tactics and identify the steps you can take to help fight back.

Tactic #1: Spammy business names

Probably the biggest problem in Google’s algorithm is the amount of weight they put into a business name. At a high level, it makes sense that they would treat this with a lot of authority. After all, if I’m looking for a brand name, I want to find that specific brand when I’m doing a search.

The problem is that people quickly figured out that Google gives a massive priority to businesses with keywords or locations in their business names.

In the example below, I did a search for “Fresno Personal Injury Lawyers” and was given an exact match result, as you can see in the #2 position:

fresno-.png

However, when I clicked through to the website, I found it was for a firm with a different name. In this case, they blatantly spammed their listing and have been floating by with nice rankings for quite some time.

I reported their listing a couple of times and nothing was done until I was able to escalate this. It’s important to note that the account I used to edit this listing didn’t have a lot of authority. Once an authoritative account approved my edit, it went live.

The spam listing below has the keyword and location in the business name.

We reported this listing using the process outlined below, but sadly the business owner noticed and changed it back within hours.

How can you fight back against spammy business names?

Figuring out how to fight back against people manipulating results is now your job as an SEO. In the past, some in the industry have given the acronym “SEO” a bad name due to the manipulative practices they performed. Now it’s our job to give us a better name by helping to police these issues.

Since Google MapMaker is now disappearing, you’ll need to make edits in Google Maps directly. This is also a bit of a problem, as there’s no room to leave comments for evidence.

Here are the steps you should take to report a listing with incorrect information:

  1. Make sure you’re signed into Google
  2. Locate the business on maps.google.com
  3. Once the business is located, open it up and look for the “Suggest an edit” option:

    suggest-edit.png

  4. Once you select it, you’ll be able to choose the field you want to change:
    click on what you want to edit.png
  5. Make the necessary change and then hit submit! (Don’t worry — I didn’t make the change above.)

Now, don’t expect anything to happen right away. It can take time for changes to take place. Also, the trust level of your profile seems to play a big role in how Google evaluates these changes. Getting the approval by someone with a high level of trust can make your edits go live quickly.

Make sure you check out all of these great tips from Joy Hawkins on The Ultimate Guide to Fighting Spam on Google Maps, as well.

Tactic #2: Fake business listings

Another issue that we see commonly with maps spam is fake business listings. These listings are completely false businesses that black-hat SEOs build just to rank and get more leads.

Typically we see a lot of these in the locksmith niche — it’s full of people creating fake listings. This is one of the reasons Google started doing advanced verification for locksmiths and plumbers. You can read more about that on Mike Blumenthal’s blog.

Joy Hawkins pointed out a handy tip for identifying these listings on her blog, saying:

“Many spammers who create tons of fake listings answer their phone with something generic like ‘Hello, locksmith’ or ‘Hello, service.'”

I did a quick search in Denver for a plumber and it wasn’t long before I found a listing with an exact match name. Using Joy’s tips, I called the number and it was disconnected. This seemed like an illegitimate listing to me.

Thankfully, in this case, the business wasn’t ranking highly in the search results:

2017-02-28_1254.png

When you run into these types of listings, you’ll want to take a similar approach as we did above and report the issue.

Tactic #3: Review spam

Review spam can come in many different forms. It’s clear that Google’s putting a lot of attention into reviews by adding sorting features and making stars more prominent. I think Google knows they can do a better job with their reviews overall, and I hope we see them take it a little bit more seriously.

Let’s look at a few different ways that review spam appears in search results.

Self-reviews & competitor shaming

Pretty much every business knows they need reviews, but they have trouble getting them. One way people get them is to leave them on their own business.

Recently, we saw a pretty blatant example where someone left a positive five-star review for a law firm and then five other one-star reviews for all of their competitors. You can see this below:

review-spam.png

Although it’s very unethical for these types of reviews to show up, it happens everyday. According to Google’s review and photo policies, they want to:

“Make sure that the reviews and photos on your business listing, or those that you leave at a business you’ve visited, are honest representations of the customer experience. Those that aren’t may be removed.”

While I’d say that this does violate the policies, figuring out which rule applies best is a little tricky. It appears to be a conflict of interest, as defined by Google’s review guidelines below:

"Conflict of interest: Reviews are most valuable when they are honest and unbiased. If you own or work at a place, please don’t review your own business or employer. Don’t offer or accept money, products, or services to write reviews for a business or to write negative reviews about a competitor. If you're a business owner, don't set up review stations or kiosks at your place of business just to ask for reviews written at your place of business."

In this particular case, a member of our staff, Dillon Brickhouse, reached out to Google to see what they would say.

Unfortunately, Google told Dillon that since there was no text in the review, nothing could be done. They refused to edit the review.

And, of course, this is not an isolated case. Tim Capper recently wrote an article — “Are Google My Business Guidelines & Spam Algos Working?” — in which he identified similar situations and nothing had been done.

How can you fight against review stars?

Although there will still be cases where spammy reviews are ignored until Google steps up their game, there is something you can try to remove bad reviews. In fact, Google published the exact steps on their review guidelines page here.

You can view the steps and flag a review for removal using the method below:

1. Navigate to Google Maps. 2. Search for your business using its name or address. 3. Select your business from the search results. 4. In the panel on the left, scroll to the “Review summary” section. 5. Under the average rating, click [number of] reviews. 6. Scroll to the review you’d like to flag and click the flag icon. 7. Complete the form in the window that appears and click Submit.

What can you do if the basics don’t work?

There are a ton of different ways to spam local listings. What can you do if you’ve reported the issue and nothing changes?

While edits may take up to six weeks to go live, the next step involves you getting more public about the issue. The key to the success of this approach is documentation. Take screenshots, record dates, and keep a file for each issue you’re fighting. That way you can address it head-on when you finally get the appropriate exposure.

Depending on whether or not the listing is verified, you’ll want to try posting in different forums:

Verified listings

If the listing you’re having trouble with is a verified listing, you’ll want to make a public post about it in the Google My Business Community forum. When posting, make sure to provide all corresponding evidence, screenshots, etc. to make the case very clear to the moderators. There’s a Spam and Policy section on the forum where you can do this.

Unverified listings

However, some spam listings are not verified listings. In these cases ,Joy Hawkins recommends that you engage with the Local Guides Connect Forum here.

Key takeaways

Sadly, there’s not a lot we can do outside of the basics of reporting results, but hopefully being more proactive about it and making some noise will encourage Google to take steps in the right direction.

  1. Start being more proactive about reporting listings and reviews that are ignoring the guidelines. Be sure to record the screenshots and take evidence.
  2. If the listings still aren’t being fixed after some time, escalate them to the Google My Business Community forum.
  3. Read Joy Hawkins’ post from start to finish on The Ultimate Guide to Fighting Spam in Google Maps
  4. Don’t spam local results. Seriously. It’s annoying. Continually follow and stay up-to-date on the Google My Business guidelines.
  5. Lastly, don’t think the edit you made is the final say or that it’ll stay around forever. The reality is that they could come back. During testing for this post, the listing for “Doug Allen Personal Injury Attorney Colorado Springs” came back within hours based on an owner edit.

In the future, I’m personally looking forward to seeing some major changes from Google with regards to how they rank local results and how they monitor reviews. I would love to see local penalties become as serious as manual penalties.

How do you think Google can fight this better? What are your suggestions? Let me know in the comments below.

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From Editorial Calendars to SEO: Setting Yourself Up to Create Fabulous Content

Posted by Isla_McKetta

Quick note: This article is meant to apply to teams of all sizes, from the sole proprietor who spends all night writing their copy (because they’re doing business during the day) to the copy team who occupies an entire floor and produces thousands of pieces of content per week. So if you run into a section that you feel requires more resources than you can devote just now, that’s okay. Bookmark it and revisit when you can, or scale the step down to a more appropriate size for your team. We believe all the information here is important, but that does not mean you have to do everything right now.

If you thought ideation was fun, get ready for content creation. Sure, we’ve all written some things before, but the creation phase of content marketing is where you get to watch that beloved idea start to take shape.

Before you start creating, though, you want to get (at least a little) organized, and an editorial calendar is the perfect first step.

Editorial calendars

Creativity and organization are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they can feed each other. A solid schedule gives you and your writers the time and space to be wild and creative. If you’re just starting out, this document may be sparse, but it’s no less important. Starting early with your editorial calendar also saves you from creating content willy-nilly and then finding out months later that no one ever finished that pesky (but crucial) “About” page.

There’s no wrong way to set up your editorial calendar, as long as it’s meeting your needs. Remember that an editorial calendar is a living document, and it will need to change as a hot topic comes up or an author drops out.

There are a lot of different types of documents that pass for editorial calendars. You get to pick the one that’s right for your team. The simplest version is a straight-up calendar with post titles written out on each day. You could even use a wall calendar and a Sharpie.

Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday
Title
The Five Colors of Oscar Fashion 12 Fabrics We’re Watching for Fall Is Charmeuse the New Corduroy? Hot Right Now: Matching Your Handbag to Your Hatpin Tea-length and Other Fab Vocab You Need to Know
Author Ellie James Marta Laila Alex

Teams who are balancing content for different brands at agencies or other more complex content environments will want to add categories, author information, content type, social promo, and more to their calendars.

Truly complex editorial calendars are more like hybrid content creation/editorial calendars, where each of the steps to create and publish the content are indicated and someone has planned for how long all of that takes. These can be very helpful if the content you’re responsible for crosses a lot of teams and can take a long time to complete. It doesn’t matter if you’re using Excel or a Google Doc, as long as the people who need the calendar can easily access it. Gantt charts can be excellent for this. Here’s a favorite template for creating a Gantt chart in Google Docs (and they only get more sophisticated).

Complex calendars can encompass everything from ideation through writing, legal review, and publishing. You might even add content localization if your empire spans more than one continent to make sure you have the currency, date formatting, and even slang right.

Content governance

Governance outlines who is taking responsibility for your content. Who evaluates your content performance? What about freshness? Who decides to update (or kill) an older post? Who designs and optimizes workflows for your team or chooses and manages your CMS?

All these individual concerns fall into two overarching components to governance: daily maintenance and overall strategy. In the long run it helps if one person has oversight of the whole process, but the smaller steps can easily be split among many team members. Read this to take your governance to the next level.

Finding authors

The scale of your writing enterprise doesn’t have to be limited to the number of authors you have on your team. It’s also important to consider the possibility of working with freelancers and guest authors. Here’s a look at the pros and cons of outsourced versus in-house talent.

In-house authors

Guest authors and freelancers

Responsible to

You

Themselves

Paid by

You (as part of their salary)

You (on a per-piece basis)

Subject matter expertise

Broad but shallow

Deep but narrow

Capacity for extra work

As you wish

Show me the Benjamins

Turnaround time

On a dime

Varies

Communication investment

Less

More

Devoted audience

Smaller

Potentially huge

From that table, it might look like in-house authors have a lot more advantages. That’s somewhat true, but do not underestimate the value of occasionally working with a true industry expert who has name recognition and a huge following. Whichever route you take (and there are plenty of hybrid options), it’s always okay to ask that the writers you are working with be professional about communication, payment, and deadlines. In some industries, guest writers will write for links. Consider yourself lucky if that’s true. Remember, though, that the final paycheck can be great leverage for getting a writer to do exactly what you need them to (such as making their deadlines).

Tools to help with content creation

So those are some things you need to have in place before you create content. Now’s the fun part: getting started. One of the beautiful things about the Internet is that new and exciting tools crop up every day to help make our jobs easier and more efficient. Here are a few of our favorites.

Calendars

You can always use Excel or a Google Doc to set up your editorial calendar, but we really like Trello for the ability to gather a lot of information in one card and then drag and drop it into place. Once there are actual dates attached to your content, you might be happier with something like a Google Calendar.

Ideation and research

If you need a quick fix for ideation, turn your keywords into wacky ideas with Portent’s Title Maker. You probably won’t want to write to the exact title you’re given (although “True Facts about Justin Bieber’s Love of Pickles” does sound pretty fascinating…), but it’s a good way to get loose and look at your topic from a new angle.

Once you’ve got that idea solidified, find out what your audience thinks about it by gathering information with Survey Monkey or your favorite survey tool. Or, use Storify to listen to what people are saying about your topic across a wide variety of platforms. You can also use Storify to save those references and turn them into a piece of content or an illustration for one. Don’t forget that a simple social ask can also do wonders.

Format

Content doesn’t have to be all about the words. Screencasts, Google+ Hangouts, and presentations are all interesting ways to approach content. Remember that not everyone’s a reader. Some of your audience will be more interested in visual or interactive content. Make something for everyone.

Illustration

Don’t forget to make your content pretty. It’s not that hard to find free stock images online (just make sure you aren’t violating someone’s copyright). We like Morgue File, Free Images, and Flickr’s Creative Commons. If you aren’t into stock images and don’t have access to in-house graphic design, it’s still relatively easy to add images to your content. Pull a screenshot with Skitch or dress up an existing image with Pixlr. You can also use something like Canva to create custom graphics.

Don’t stop with static graphics, though. There are so many tools out there to help you create gifs, quizzes and polls, maps, and even interactive timelines. Dream it, then search for it. Chances are whatever you’re thinking of is doable.

Quality, not quantity

Mediocre content will hurt your cause

Less is more. That’s not an excuse to pare your blog down to one post per month (check out our publishing cadence experiment), but it is an important reminder that if you’re writing “How to Properly Install a Toilet Seat” two days after publishing “Toilet Seat Installation for Dummies,” you might want to rethink your strategy.

The thing is, and I’m going to use another cliché here to drive home the point, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. Potential customers are roving the Internet right now looking for exactly what you’re selling. And if what they find is an only somewhat informative article stuffed with keywords and awful spelling and grammar mistakes… well, you don’t want that. Oh, and search engines think it’s spammy too…

A word about copyright

We’re not copyright lawyers, so we can’t give you the ins and outs on all the technicalities. What we can tell you (and you already know this) is that it’s not okay to steal someone else’s work. You wouldn’t want them to do it to you. This includes images. So whenever you can, make your own images or find images that you can either purchase the rights to (stock imagery) or license under Creative Commons.

It’s usually okay to quote short portions of text, as long as you attribute the original source (and a link is nice). In general, titles and ideas can’t be copyrighted (though they might be trademarked or patented). When in doubt, asking for permission is smart.

That said, part of the fun of the Internet is the remixing culture which includes using things like memes and gifs. Just know that if you go that route, there is a certain amount of risk involved.

Editing

Your content needs to go through at least one editing cycle by someone other than the original author. There are two types of editing, developmental (which looks at the underlying structure of a piece that happens earlier in the writing cycle) and copy editing (which makes sure all the words are there and spelled right in the final draft).

If you have a very small team or are in a rush (and are working with writers that have some skill), you can often skip the developmental editing phase. But know that an investment in that close read of an early draft is often beneficial to the piece and to the writer’s overall growth.

Many content teams peer-edit work, which can be great. Other organizations prefer to run their work by a dedicated editor. There’s no wrong answer, as long as the work gets edited.

Ensuring proper basic SEO

The good news is that search engines are doing their best to get closer and closer to understanding and processing natural language. So good writing (including the natural use of synonyms rather than repeating those keywords over and over and…) will take you a long way towards SEO mastery.

For that reason (and because it’s easy to get trapped in keyword thinking and veer into keyword stuffing), it’s often nice to think of your SEO check as a further edit of the post rather than something you should think about as you’re writing.

But there are still a few things you can do to help cover those SEO bets. Once you have that draft, do a pass for SEO to make sure you’ve covered the following:

  • Use your keyword in your title
  • Use your keyword (or long-tail keyword phrase) in an H2
  • Make sure the keyword appears at least once (though not more than four times, especially if it’s a phrase) in the body of the post
  • Use image alt text (including the keyword when appropriate)

Finding time to write when you don’t have any

Writing (assuming you’re the one doing the writing) can require a lot of energy—especially if you want to do it well. The best way to find time to write is to break each project down into little tasks. For example, writing a blog post actually breaks down into these steps (though not always in this order):

  • Research
  • Outline
  • Fill in outline
  • Rewrite and finish post
  • Write headline
  • SEO check
  • Final edit
  • Select hero image (optional)

So if you only have random chunks of time, set aside 15-30 minutes one day (when your research is complete) to write a really great outline. Then find an hour the next to fill that outline in. After an additional hour the following day, (unless you’re dealing with a research-heavy post) you should have a solid draft by the end of day three.

The magic of working this way is that you engage your brain and then give it time to work in the background while you accomplish other tasks. Hemingway used to stop mid-sentence at the end of his writing days for the same reason.

Once you have that draft nailed, the rest of the steps are relatively easy (even the headline, which often takes longer to write than any other sentence, is easier after you’ve immersed yourself in the post over a few days).

Working with design/development

Every designer and developer is a little different, so we can’t give you any blanket cure-alls for inter-departmental workarounds (aka “smashing silos”). But here are some suggestions to help you convey your vision while capitalizing on the expertise of your coworkers to make your content truly excellent.

Ask for feedback

From the initial brainstorm to general questions about how to work together, asking your team members what they think and prefer can go a long way. Communicate all the details you have (especially the unspoken expectations) and then listen.

If your designer tells you up front that your color scheme is years out of date, you’re saving time. And if your developer tells you that the interactive version of that timeline will require four times the resources, you have the info you need to fight for more budget (or reassess the project).

Check in

Things change in the design and development process. If you have interim check-ins already set up with everyone who’s working on the project, you’ll avoid the potential for nasty surprises at the end. Like finding out that no one has experience working with that hot new coding language you just read about and they’re trying to do a workaround that isn’t working.

Proofread

Your job isn’t done when you hand over the copy to your designer or developer. Not only might they need help rewriting some of your text so that it fits in certain areas, they will also need you to proofread the final version. Accidents happen in the copy-and-paste process and there’s nothing sadder than a really beautiful (and expensive) piece of content that wraps up with a typo:

Know when to fight for an idea

Conflict isn’t fun, but sometimes it’s necessary. The more people involved in your content, the more watered down the original idea can get and the more roadblocks and conflicting ideas you’ll run into. Some of that is very useful. But sometimes you’ll get pulled off track. Always remember who owns the final product (this may not be you) and be ready to stand up for the idea if it’s starting to get off track.

We’re confident this list will set you on the right path to creating some really awesome content, but is there more you’d like to know? Ask us your questions in the comments.

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The Importance of Being Different: Creating a Competitive Advantage With Your USP

Posted by TrentonGreener

“The one who follows the crowd will usually go no further than the crowd. Those who walk alone are likely to find themselves in places no one has ever been before.”

While this quote has been credited to everyone from Francis Phillip Wernig, under the pseudonym Alan Ashley-Pitt, to Einstein himself, the powerful message does not lose its substance no matter whom you choose to credit. There is a very important yet often overlooked effect of not heeding this warning. One which can be applied to all aspects of life. From love and happiness, to business and marketing, copying what your competitors are doing and failing to forge your own path can be a detrimental mistake.

While as marketers we are all acutely aware of the importance of differentiation, we’ve been trained for the majority of our lives to seek out the norm.

We spend the majority of our adolescent lives trying desperately not to be different. No one has ever been picked on for being too normal or not being different enough. We would beg our parents to buy us the same clothes little Jimmy or little Jamie wore. We’d want the same backpack and the same bike everyone else had. With the rise of the cell phone and later the smartphone, on hands and knees, we begged and pleaded for our parents to buy us the Razr, the StarTAC (bonus points if you didn’t have to Google that one), and later the iPhone. Did we truly want these things? Yes, but not just because they were cutting edge and nifty. We desired them because the people around us had them. We didn’t want to be the last to get these devices. We didn’t want to be different.

Thankfully, as we mature we begin to realize the fallacy that is trying to be normal. We start to become individuals and learn to appreciate that being different is often seen as beautiful. However, while we begin to celebrate being different on a personal level, it does not always translate into our business or professional lives.

We unconsciously and naturally seek out the normal, and if we want to be different—truly different in a way that creates an advantage—we have to work for it.

The truth of the matter is, anyone can be different. In fact, we all are very different. Even identical twins with the same DNA will often have starkly different personalities. As a business, the real challenge lies in being different in a way that is relevant, valuable to your audience, and creates an advantage.

“Strong products and services are highly differentiated from all other products and services. It’s that simple. It’s that difficult.” – Austin McGhie, Brand Is a Four Letter Word

Let’s explore the example of Revel Hotel & Casino. Revel is a 70-story luxury casino in Atlantic City that was built in 2012. There is simply not another casino of the same class in Atlantic City, but there might be a reason for this. Even if you’re not familiar with the city, a quick jump onto Atlantic City’s tourism website reveals that of the five hero banners that rotate, not one specifically mentions gambling, but three reference the boardwalk. This is further illustrated when exploring their internal linking structure. The beaches, boardwalk, and shopping all appear before a single mention of casinos. There simply isn’t as much of a market for high-end gamblers in the Atlantic City area; in the states Las Vegas serves that role. So while Revel has a unique advantage, their ability to attract customers to their resort has not resulted in profitable earnings reports. In Q2 2012, Revel had a gross operating loss of $35.177M, and in Q3 2012 that increased to $36.838M.

So you need to create a unique selling proposition (also known as unique selling point and commonly referred to as a USP), and your USP needs to be valuable to your audience and create a competitive advantage. Sounds easy enough, right? Now for the kicker. That advantage needs to be as sustainable as physically possible over the long term.

“How long will it take our competitors to duplicate our advantage?”

You really need to explore this question and the possible solutions your competitors could utilize to play catch-up or duplicate what you’ve done. Look no further than Google vs Bing to see this in action. No company out there is going to just give up because your USP is so much better; most will pivot or adapt in some way.

Let’s look at a Seattle-area coffee company of which you may or may not be familiar. Starbucks has tried quite a few times over the years to level-up their tea game with limited success, but the markets that Starbucks has really struggled to break into are the pastry, breads, dessert, and food markets.

Other stores had more success in these markets, and they thought that high-quality teas and bakery items were the USPs that differentiated them from the Big Bad Wolf that is Starbucks. And while they were right to think that their brick house would save them from the Big Bad Wolf for some time, this fable doesn’t end with the Big Bad Wolf in a boiling pot.

Never underestimate your competitor’s ability to be agile, specifically when overcoming a competitive disadvantage.

If your competitor can’t beat you by making a better product or service internally, they can always choose to buy someone who can.

After months of courting, on June 4th, 2012 Starbucks announced that they had come to an agreement to purchase La Boulange in order to “elevate core food offerings and build a premium, artisanal bakery brand.” If you’re a small-to-medium sized coffee shop and/or bakery that even indirectly competed with Starbucks, a new challenger approaches. And while those tea shops momentarily felt safe within the brick walls that guarded their USP, on the final day of that same year, the Big Bad Wolf huffed and puffed and blew a stack of cash all over Teavana. Making Teavana a wholly-owned subsidiary of Starbucks for the low, low price of $620M.

Sarcasm aside, this does a great job of illustrating the ability of companies—especially those with deep pockets—to be agile, and demonstrates that they often have an uncanny ability to overcome your company’s competitive advantage. In seven months, Starbucks went from a minor player in these markets to having all the tools they need to dominate tea and pastries. Have you tried their raspberry pound cake? It’s phenomenal.

Why does this matter to me?

Ok, we get it. We need to be different, and in a way that is relevant, valuable, defensible, and sustainable. But I’m not the CEO, or even the CMO. I cannot effect change on a company level; why does this matter to me?

I’m a firm believer that you effect change no matter what the name plate on your desk may say. Sure, you may not be able to call an all-staff meeting today and completely change the direction of your company tomorrow, but you can effect change on the parts of the business you do touch. No matter your title or area of responsibility, you need to know your company’s, client’s, or even a specific piece of content’s USP, and you need to ensure it is applied liberally to all areas of your work.

Look at this example SERP for “Mechanics”:

While yes, this search is very likely to be local-sensitive, that doesn’t mean you can’t stand out. Every single AdWords result, save one, has only the word “Mechanics” in the headline. (While the top of page ad is pulling description line 1 into the heading, the actual headline is still only “Mechanic.”) But even the one headline that is different doesn’t do a great job of illustrating the company’s USP. Mechanics at home? Whose home? Mine or theirs? I’m a huge fan of Steve Krug’s “Don’t Make Me Think,” and in this scenario there are too many questions I need answered before I’m willing to click through. “Mechanics; We Come To You” or even “Traveling Mechanics” illustrates this point much more clearly, and still fits within the 25-character limit for the headline.

If you’re an AdWords user, no matter how big or small your monthly spend may be, take a look at your top 10-15 keywords by volume and evaluate how well you’re differentiating yourself from the other brands in your industry. Test ad copy that draws attention to your USP and reap the rewards.

Now while this is simply an AdWords text ad example, the same concept can be applied universally across all of marketing.

Title tags & meta descriptions

As we alluded to above, not only do companies have USPs, but individual pieces of content can, and should, have their own USP. Use your title tag and meta description to illustrate what differentiates your piece of content from the competition and do so in a way that attracts the searcher’s click. Use your USP to your advantage. If you have already established a strong brand within a specific niche, great! Now use it to your advantage. Though it’s much more likely that you are competing against a strong brand, and in these scenarios ask yourself, “What makes our content different from theirs?” The answer you come up with is your content’s USP. Call attention to that in your title tag and meta description, and watch the CTR climb.

I encourage you to hop into your own site’s analytics and look at your top 10-15 organic landing pages and see how well you differentiate yourself. Even if you’re hesitant to negatively affect your inbound gold mines by changing the title tags, run a test and change up your meta description to draw attention to your USP. In an hour’s work, you just may make the change that pushes you a little further up those SERPs.

Branding

Let’s break outside the world of digital marketing and look at the world of branding. Tom’s Shoes competes against some heavy hitters in Nike, Adidas, Reebok, and Puma just to name a few. While Tom’s can’t hope to compete against the marketing budgets of these companies in a fair fight, they instead chose to take what makes them different, their USP, and disseminate it every chance they get. They have labeled themselves “The One for One” company. It’s in their homepage’s title tag, in every piece of marketing they put out, and it smacks you in the face when you land on their site. They even use the call-to-action “Get Good Karma” throughout their site.

Now as many of us may know, partially because of the scandal it created in late 2013, Tom’s is not actually a non-profit organization. No matter how you feel about the matter, this marketing strategy has created a positive effect on their bottom line. Fast Company conservatively estimated their revenues in 2013 at $250M, with many estimates being closer to the $300M mark. Not too bad of a slice of the pie when competing against the powerhouses Tom’s does.

Wherever you stand on this issue, Tom’s Shoes has done a phenomenal job of differentiating their brand from the big hitters in their industry.

Know your USP and disseminate it every chance you get.

This is worth repeating. Know your USP and disseminate it every chance you get, whether that be in title tags, ad copy, on-page copy, branding, or any other segment of your marketing campaigns. Online or offline, be different. And remember the quote that we started with, “The one who follows the crowd will usually go no further than the crowd. Those who walk alone are likely to find themselves in places no one has ever been before.”

The amount of marketing knowledge that can be taken from this one simple statement is astounding. Heed the words, stand out from the crowd, and you will have success.

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Even more How-To videos!

Since January we have been updating our How-To videos section to help our users get a much better understanding of the tools offered by Majestic. Today, we would like to introduce two new tutorials: “How to use the Neighbour Checker Tool” and “How to use the Link Profile Fight Tool“. The Neighbour Checker video –…

The post Even more How-To videos! appeared first on Majestic Blog.

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How To Select The Perfect Clients

Posted by Bill.Sebald

I truly believe in the power of partnerships. There have been some incredible partnerships that changed the fabric of our culture. Larry Page and Sergey Brin. William Procter and James Gamble. The Olson Twins.

Good partnerships provide support, motivation, and complementary skills, often allowing you to overcome hurdles faster and create some truly marvelous things. In consulting or any agency work, the concept of “partnership” should be the backbone of your relationship. Like a puzzle piece, sometimes the fit is initially difficult to find – if available at all. The truth is, you’re only secure if your clients are walking in the same direction as the flow of your service. If they’re walking against the current, you have what I believe to be the most detrimental predicament a service provider can have –
a rift. That’s a truly offensive four-letter word.

What kind of rift are we talking about? Let’s do a little calculating.

First think about what you or your agency is really good at. Think about the components you have the most success with; this may actually be different than where you’re most experienced. Think about what you should be selling versus not (even if those items are currently on your menu – let’s be candid here, a lot of us casually promote services we
believe we should be selling even though it’s not a fully baked product or core competency). Think about the amount of time you really spent challenging a given service to make sure it’s truly impactful to a client versus your own bottom line.

Next, think about your past client debacles (if you haven’t stopped to perform a postmortem, you should). Chances are these led to events that cost you a lot of time, pain, and possibly money. They are the memories that make you shudder. Those are the days that made you dust off your resume and think about a career change.  

Finally, how many of these past clients should have never been signed in the first place? How many simply weren’t a fit from the start? How many simply never had a shot at being successful with you – and vice-versa? This computation really needs serious consideration. Have you wasted everyone’s time?

There can be a costly fallout. I’ve seen talented team members quit over clients that simply could not be managed. I’ve seen my colleagues go so far as to cry or start seeking therapy (in part) because of overwhelming clients who were not getting what they expected and a parent company who wasn’t providing any relief. Sometimes these clients were bound to an annual contract which only made them more desperate and angry. Rifts like this can kill your business.

This should never happen.

Client/agency relationships are marriages, but marriages start with dating

I really like this 2011 post from A List Apart called
Marry Your Clients. A few years old, but nothing has changed. However, my post is going to talk about the courting part before the honeymoon.

My post also assumes you make more money on longer consulting relationships. If you’ve somehow built your model through routinely hunting new business with the expectation you’re going to get fired, then that’s a different story. For most of us however, on-boarding a client is a lot of work, both in terms of hours (which is money) and brainpower. If you “hit it off” with your client, you begin to know their business more intimately, as well as their goals and KPIs. The strategies get easier to build; they also tend to be more successful as you become aware of what their tastes and limitations are. You find you have things in common (perhaps you both enjoy long walks to the bank). You often become true partners with your clients, who in turn promote your ideas to their bosses. These are your most profitable engagements, as well as your most rewarding. They tend to last years, sometimes following your point-of-contact to their next jobs as well.

But you don’t get this way simply because both parties signed a legally-bounding document.

The truth is not all parties can work together. A lot of client/agency relationships end in divorce. Like in romance, sometimes you just aren’t compatible.

A different kind of online dating

After my first marriage went kaput, I’ll admit I went to Match.com. For those who never tried online dating, it’s really an exercise in personal marketing. You upload your most attractive pictures. You sell yourself above everyone else. You send communications back and forth to the interested parties where you work to craft the “perfect” response; as well as ask qualifying questions. I found it works pretty well – the online process saved me from potentially bad dates. Don’t get me wrong, I still have some awkward online dating stories…

Photo from Chuck Woolery’s
Twitter profile

With consulting, if we’re supposed to ultimately marry our clients, we should obviously be allowed to see if there’s a love connection. We should all be our own Chuck Woolery. I tend to think this stage is crucial, but often rushed by agencies or managed by a department outside of your own.

Some agencies seem to have a “no dating” policy. For some, it’s not uncommon to come in to work and have an email from a higher-up with the subject, “congratulations – you’re now married to a new client!” Whether it’s a client development department, or an add-on from an existing client, your marketing department is suddenly forced into an arranged marriage where you can only hope to live up to their expectations.

This is a recipe for disaster. I don’t like to run a business on luck and risk, so clearly this makes no sense to me.

But I’ve been there. I once worked for an agency that handed me a signed contract for a major underwear brand – but I didn’t even know we were even speaking to them. Before I had a chance to get the details, the VP of digital marketing called me. I did my best to understand what they were promised in terms of SEO goals without admitting I really had no clue about their business. The promises were unrealistic, but being somewhat timid and naïve back in the day, I went with it. Truth is, their expectations did not fit into our model, philosophies, or workflow. Ultimately I failed to deliver to their expectations. The contract ended early and I vowed to never let that happen again. Not just for the stress and anxiety it brought upon my team and me, but for the blatant neglect to the client as well.

With this being something I never forgot, I would occasionally bring this story up with others I met at networking events or conventions. I quickly learned this is far from an isolated incident occurring only to me. This is how some agencies build their business development departments.

Once again, this should never happen.

How to qualify a client

Let’s assume by now I have successfully inspired a few things:

  1. A client/agency relationship should truly be a partnership akin to a good marriage.
  2. A client should never be thrown into a model that doesn’t make sense for their business (i.e., your style of SEO services), and process should be in place for putting all the parties in the same room before a deal is signed.

    Now we’re up to number 3:

  3. Not all relationships work, so all parties should try to truly connect before there is a proposal. Don’t rush the signature!

Here are some of the things we do at Greenlane to really qualify a client. Before I continue, though, I’m proud to brag a little. With these practices in place, our close rate – that is, the companies we really want to work with – is 90% in our favor. Our retainment is also very high. Once we started being prudent with our intake, we’ve only lost a few companies due to funding issues or a change in their business model – not out of performance. I should also add that these tips work with all sizes of clients. While some of our 20+ clients are smaller businesses, we also have household brands and public companies, all of which could attest to going through this process with us.

It’s all in the details

Your website is your Match.com profile. Your website is your personality. If you’re vague or promotional or full of hype, only to get someone on the phone to which your “car salesman” gear kicks in, I don’t think you’re using the website to the best of its ability. People want to use the website to learn more about you before the reach out.

Our “about us” page is our third most visited page next to the homepage and pricing (outside of the blog). You can see an example from a 
Hotjar heatmap:

The truth is, I’m always tweaking (and A/B testing) our message on the about us page. This page is currently part of a funnel that we careful put together. The “about us” page is a quick but powerful overview putting our team front and center and highlighting our experience (including some past clients).

I believe the website’s more than a brochure. It’s a communication device. Don’t hide or muddle who you are. When I get a prospect email through our form, I always lead them to our “Are We The Right Fit” page. That’s right – I actually ask them to consider choosing wisely. Now at first glance, this might go against a conversion funnel that heats up the prospect and only encourages momentum, but this page has really been a strong asset. It’s crafted to transparently present our differentiators, values, and even our pricing. It’s also crafted to discourage those who aren’t a good fit. You can find this page
here. Even our URL provides the “Are We The Right Fit” question.

We want prospects to make a good decision. We care so much about companies doing great that we’d rather you find someone else if our model isn’t perfect. Sure, sometimes after pointing someone to that link, they never return. That’s OK. Just like a dating profile, this page is designed to target a certain kind of interest. Time is a commodity in agency life – no sense in wasting it on a conversation that isn’t qualified. When we do catch a prospect after reviewing the page and hear, “we went with another firm who better suits our needs,” it actually doesn’t feel like a loss at all.

Everyone who comes back goes into our pipeline. At this stage they all get followed up on with a phone call. If they aren’t a good fit from the get go we actually try to introduce them to other SEO companies or consultants who would be a better fit for them. But 9 times out of 10, it’s an amazing conversation.

Never drop the transparency

There are a few things I try to tell all the prospects I ultimately speak with. One, I openly admit I’m not a salesman. I couldn’t sell ice water to people in hell. But I’m good at being really candid about our strengths and experiences.

Now this one tends to surprise some, especially in the larger agency setting. We admit that we are really choosy about the clients we take on. For our model, we need clients who are flexible, fast moving, interested in brand building, and interested in long-term relationships. We want clients who think in terms of strategy and will let us work with their existing marketing team and vendors. We audit them for their understanding of SEO services and tell them how we’re either alike or different.

I don’t think a prospect call goes by without me saying, “while you’re checking us out to see if we’re a good fit, we’re doing the same for you.” Then, if the call goes great, I let them know we’d like a follow up call to continue (a second date if you will). This follow up call has been where the real decision gets made.

Ask the right questions

I’ve vetted the opportunity, now my partner – who naturally has a different way of approaching opportunities and relationships – asks a different set of questions. This adds a whole different dimension and works to catch the questions I may not have asked. We’ve had companies ready to sign on the first call, to which I’ve had to divert any signatures until the next conversation. This too may seem counter-intuitive to traditional business development, but we find it extremely valuable. It’s true that we could have more clients in our current book of business, but I can proudly state that every current client is exactly who we want to be with; this is very much because of everything you’ve read so far.

On each call we have a list of qualifying questions that we ask. Most are “must answer” questions, while others can roll into a needs analysis questionnaire that we give to each signed client. The purpose of the needs analysis is to get more granular into business items (such as seasonal trends, industry intelligence, etc.) for the intention of developing strategies. With so much to ask, it’s important to be respectful of the prospects’ time. At this point they’ve usually already indicated they’ve read our website, can afford our prices, and feel like we’re a good fit.

Many times prospects start with their introduction and answer some of our questions. While they speak, I intently listen and take many notes.

These are 13 questions from my list that I always make sure get answered on a call, with some rationale:

Questions for the prospect:

1. Can you describe your business model and products/services?

  1. What do you sell?
  2. B2B or B2C
  3. Retail or lead generation?

Rationale
: sometimes when reviewing the website it’s not immediately clear what kind of business they’re in. Perhaps the site just does a bad job, or sometimes their real money making services are deeper in the site and easily missed by a fast scan. One of our clients works with the government and seems to have an obvious model, but the real profit is from a by-product, something we would have never picked up on during our initial review of the website. It’s important to find out exactly what the company does. Is it interesting? Can you stay engaged? Is it a sound model that you believe in? Is it a space you have experience in?

2. What has been your experience with [YOUR SERVICE] in the past?

Rationale: Many times, especially if your model is different, a prospect may have a preconceived notion of what you actually do. Let’s take SEO as an example – there are several different styles of SEO services. If they had a link building company in the past, and you’re a more holistic SEO consulting practice, their point of reference may only be with what they’ve experienced. They may even have a bad taste in their mouth from a previous engagement, which gives you a chance to air it out and see how you compare. This is also a chance to know if you’re potentially playing with a penalized site.

3. What are your [PPC/SEO/etc.] goals?

Rationale: Do they have realistic goals, or lofty, impossible goals? Be candid – tell them if you don’t think you can reach the goals on the budget they have, or if you think they should choose other goals. Don’t align yourself with goals you can’t hit. This is where many conversations could end.

4. What’s your mission or positioning statement?

Rationale: If you’re going to do more than just pump up their rankings, you probably want to know the full story. This should provide a glimpse into other marketing the prospect is executing.

5. How do you stand out?

Rationale: Sometimes this is answered with the question above. If not, really dig up the differentiators. Those are typically the key items to build campaigns on.  Whether they are trying to create a new market segment or have a redundant offering, this can help you set timeline and success expectations.

6. Are you comfortable with an agency that may challenge your plans and ideas?

Rationale: This is one of my favorite questions. There are many who hire an agency and expect “yes-men.” Personally I believe an agency or consultant should be partners; that is, not afraid to fight for what they know is right for the benefit of the client. You shouldn’t be afraid of injury:

 

7. Who are your competitors?

Rationale: Not only do you want this for competitive benchmarking, but this can often help you understand more about the prospect. Not to mention, how big a hill you might have to climb to start competing on head terms.

8. What is your business reach? (local, national, international)?

Rationale: An international client is going to need more work than a domestic client. A local client is going to need an expertise in local search. Knowing the scope of the company can help you align your skills with their targets.

9. What CMS are you on?

Rationale:
 This is a big one. It tells you how much flexibility you will have. WordPress?  Great – you’ll probably have a lot of access to files and templates.  A proprietary CMS or enterprise solution?  Uh-oh.  That probably means tickets and project queues. Are you OK with that?

10. What does your internal team look like?

Rationale:
Another important question. Who will you be working with?  What skill sets?  Will you be able to sit at the table with other vendors too?  If you’re being hired to fill in the gaps, make sure you have the skills to do so. I ask about copywriters, developers, designers, and link builders at a minimum.

11. What do you use for analytics?

Rationale:
A tool like Wappalyzer can probably tell you, but sometimes bigger companies have their own custom analytics through their host. Sometimes it’s bigger than Google Analytics, like Omniture. Will you be allowed to have direct access to it?  You’d be surprised how often we hear no.

12. How big is your site?  Do you have other properties?

Rationale:
It’s surprising how often a prospect forgets to mention those 30+ subdomains and microsites. If the prospect envisions it as part of the deal, you should at least be aware of how far the core website extends.

13. What is your budget, preferred start time, and end date?

Rationale:
The biggest question of all. Do they even meet your fee requirements? Are you staffed and ready to take on the work? Sure, talking money can be tough, but if you post your rates firm, the prospect is generally more open to talk budget. They don’t feel like a negotiation is going to happen.

Conclusion

While these are the core questions we use, I’m sure the list will eventually grow. I don’t think you should copy our list, or the order.  You should ultimately create your own. Every agency or consultant has different requirements, and interviewing your prospect is as important as allowing them to interview you. But remember, you don’t have to have all the business.  Just the right kind of business.  You will grow organically from your positive experiences.  We all hear about “those other agencies” and how they consistently fail to meet client expectations. Next to “do great work,” this is one powerful way to keep off that list.  

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Link Profile Fight Tool – small update

We have just made a small update to the Link Profile Fight Tool; one of our tools that helps you to compare link data. The Link Profile Fight Tool specifically allows you to compare two sites at one time using the site Link Profile information. You can let the data do the work, as the…

The post Link Profile Fight Tool – small update appeared first on Majestic Blog.

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Convincing Old-School Clients that Things Have Changed

Posted by Kristina Kledzik

There’s a reason we use the terms 
“white hat” and “black hat” for SEO: it used to be the Wild West. Black hat tactics were so effective, they were almost necessary to market online. Paying a few thousand dollars to an SEO could get you to rank #1 for almost any term (before you let them go and your competitor paid them the same to outrank you). You only got a few thousand dollars in return for that ranking, though, since there weren’t many people shopping online yet.

Fast forward to today: Ranking well on Google is
insanely profitable—much more so than it ever was in the early days—and Google’s algorithm has advanced dramatically. But former SEOs and people outside our industry still hold on to that idea that a few thousand dollars of “technical SEO” can make them magically rank #1. 

So, how do you convince your old school clients things have changed?

The immediate answer

When this comes up in conversation, I have a few trump phrases that usually bring clients around:

  • “Yeah, that used to be a great tactic, but now it puts you at risk for getting a penalty.” (Really, any response that includes the word “penalty” stops clients in their tracks.)
  • “That makes sense, but Matt Cutts said…” / “Good point, but Google’s official blog recommends…”
  • “I / another coworker / another client / a Mozzer has tried that, and it had disastrous results…”

Basically, acknowledge their idea as valid so you don’t insult them, then explain why it won’t work in a way that scares the shit out of them by mentioning real repercussions. Or, you know, just persuade them gently with logic.

If you can’t persuade/scare the shit out of them, tell them you’ll do some research and get back to them. Then do it.

If that doesn’t work…

Okay, so you have answers for on-the-spot questions now. They will work anywhere from moderately well to amazingly well, depending on your delivery and the respect you’ve gained from your client. But the client may ask for more research, or be skeptical of your answer. To be really effective, the right answer has to be coupled with a lot of respect and a logical, well-delivered explanation. 

Many of you are probably thinking, “I establish respect by being right / talking professionally / offering a lot of case studies during the sales process.” That’s the sort of thinking that
doesn’t earn respect. You gain respect by consistently being:

1. Respectful, even if your clients are wrong

It’s embarrassing to be wrong. When your client says, “What meta keywords should we put on this page?” and you chuckle and say, “Gosh, meta keywords haven’t been used in so long—I don’t even think Google ever used them,” your client is going to fight you on it, not because they’re particularly invested in the idea of using meta keywords, but because you’ve made them feel wrong.


So when your client is wrong, start by validating their idea
. Then, explain the right solution, not necessarily digging into why their solution is wrong:

Client: What meta keywords should we put on this page?

You: Well, I’m going to put together some keywords to target on this page next week, but making them meta keywords won’t make much of a difference. Google doesn’t look at them because it’s so easy to spam (wouldn’t it be nice if they did?). Anyway, when I send you those keywords that we should target, I’ll also include what we need to change on the page in order to target them.

Answering like this will keep your conversations positive and your clients open to your ideas, even if your ideas conflict directly with theirs. 

2. Honest

You’re probably smart enough not to make up client anecdotes or lie about what Matt Cutts has said. Where I usually see dishonesty in consulting is when consultants screw up and their clients call them on it. 

It looks bad to be wrong, especially when someone is paying you to be right. It’s even worse to be caught in a lie or look dishonest. Here’s my mantra:
It’s not wrong to make an honest mistake. When clients tell you you’ve done something wrong, consider it a misunderstanding. Explain where you were coming from and why you did what you did briefly, then fix it.

(Note: this obviously doesn’t work if you made a stupid mistake. If you made a stupid mistake, apologize and offer to fix it, free of charge. It’ll lose you some money up front, but it’ll be worth it in the long run.)

3. Direct

This is the best outline for any answer:

  1. Brief answer, in one sentence
  2. Deeper explanation of answer
  3. Information to back it up
  4. Reiteration of brief answer

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard another consultant (or myself) not be entirely sure of an answer and ramble on for a couple of minutes before stopping to complete silence from their client. Or know the answer but think it’s too complicated and deliver an answer that only confuses their client more.

By starting with the answer, the client already knows what’s coming, so all other information you give after that will naturally support your answer as you go, rather than possibly leading them down the wrong path. Consider these alternatives:

Standard answer:

Client: How much will this increase our rankings?

You: Competition is always a huge part of the equation, so we’ll have to look into that. It’s easier to rank for, say, “yellow sapphire necklaces” than “blue sapphire necklaces” because there are more blue sapphire necklaces out there. But this is definitely what we should do to increase our rankings.

Direct answer:

Client: How much will this increase our rankings?

You: I don’t know, it’s not something that we can definitively say in SEO, unfortunately. Competition is a huge part of the equation, so we’ll have to look into that. But, regardless, this is the most effective action that we could take to increase our rankings.

The more direct answer admits doubt, but is still much more convincing in the end (though both are vague and obviously top-of-mind examples… just ignore that). 

4. Complimentary and inclusive

It’s called the 
Benjamin Franklin Effect: “He that has once done you a kindness will be more ready to do you another, than he whom you yourself have obliged.” (Props to Rob Ousbey for telling me about this.)

When your client has done something right, compliment them on how they’ve made your job easier since you don’t have to fix their mistakes. When your client has done something wrong, let them know what they should do to fix it, but help them share in the work to make the change. It’ll make the client feel valued and it’ll take a big part of the workload off of you.

5. Proactive

Good project management is the key to effective consulting. When clients don’t know what you’re working on, they get worried that you’re wasting their money. Make sure that you consistently:

  • Meet; I like to have scheduled meetings once a week
  • Share a 3-6 month project plan, with dates and deliverables outlined
  • Ship those deliverables on time
  • Respond to emails within a day or two, even if the answer is “Great question! I’m prioritizing [other project for the same client right now], can I get back to you in a week or so?”
  • Follow up with open questions; if a client asks you a question in a meeting you don’t know, admit you don’t know, say you’ll get back to them after you research it, then actually do that

I think that project management is often dropped because it seems so easy that it’s de-prioritized. Don’t believe that: this may be the most important of the five traits I’ve listed.

To sum it up: be honest, selfless, and proactive, and your clients are going to love you.

Even if you’re a terrible SEO (though try your best to be a good one), clients are going to respect consultants who put their clients’ business first, are open and honest about what they’re doing and thinking, and get their work done without being micromanaged.

Now that you’ve earned your client’s respect, they will be open to you changing their mind. You just have to give them a reason to.

Nail it with a great argument

When a client says, “Can we rank for ‘trucks’ by putting the word ‘truck’ as the alt text to each image on this page?” our mind immediately says, “No, why would you think that?” That’s not going to win the argument for you.

The reason we SEOs say “why would you think that?” is because we know the answer. So, teach your client. Start by validating their idea (what did we just learn about clients being wrong?), then explain the right answer, then explain why their answer won’t work:

Client: Can we rank for “trucks” by putting the word “truck” as the alt text to each image on this page?

You: Well, that would certainly get “trucks” on the page more often! To really optimize the page for “trucks,” though, we’ll need to put it in the page title, and a few times in the body of the page. SEO is all about competition, and our competition is doing that. We have to at least match them. Once the page is optimized for “trucks,” though, we’ll still have to work to get more backlinks and mentions around the web to compete with Wikipedia, which ranks #1 right now for “trucks.”

Don’t focus too much on their mistake.The more time you spend on the disagreement, the more frustrated your client will get; the more time you spend on your solution, the more impressed they’ll be with you.

If that doesn’t work, do the research to tell an even better story:

  • Give examples from other clients. Don’t give away too many names, of course, but knowing that you’ve solved this problem or a problem like it in the past makes clients feel much more confident in you.
  • If you’ve never seen this problem before, reach out to your SEO community. One of the best parts of working at Distilled is that when a client off-handedly emails me a question, I can email all Distilled consultants and usually get an answer (or at least an educated guess) within an hour or so. If you work on your own, build a community online, through Moz or another online portal, and ask them.
  • Forecast the effects of your solution. I’ll be the first to admit, I’m not good at this because it can take a long time. But if your client is resistant, it’s definitely worth the trouble. Take clients through how you worked out the forecasting so they can see how much they’ll gain by working with you.

Once you’ve got proof behind your argument, restate your position, add your new arguments, and then follow up with your position and what you recommend your client does now. Make sure that you end in an action so there’s something concrete for them to focus on. 

Practice, practice, practice delivery

You can have the perfect explanation and a great relationship with your client, but if you trip over your own words or confuse your client, you won’t be convincing.

Written reports

Edit the paper multiple times. Only include the information that directly leads to an action item, don’t include all of the information that they already know, or that just shows you did your homework. That stuff is boring, and will encourage your client to skim, which will often lead to misinterpretations. Next, have a friend who’s been in SEO for awhile and knows about this old school stuff edit it. It’s hard to know where your descriptions might break down without someone else’s perspective.

Verbal presentations 

Practice your presentation ahead of time: talk through your recommendations to a friend or coworker. Have them interrupt you, because you will definitely be interrupted when you’re talking to your client. Make sure that you’re okay with that, that you can have a separate conversation, then jump back in to the report.

For presentations that are brief and over the phone, make sure that you’ve already sent your client something written. If it’s a report, make it clear and to the point (as described above), if it’s not, outline the action items in an email or a spreadsheet, so your client has something concrete to look at as you discuss. I’ve also found clients are able to digest information much better when they’ve already read it.

For big presentations – the ones that need an accompanying PowerPoint, follow the same advice as I gave in the written report section: Edit to be succinct, and get feedback.

This is pretty much a post on good consulting

I’ve consulted clients on technical SEO, promotions / outreach, creative, and content strategy-based projects, and I’ve found that the key to being effective in every one is a) coming up with a good answer, and b) everything discussed in this post. Building respect and communicating effectively is the foundation that supports your answers in almost every relationship, consulting, in house, or even personal. The key to convincing your clients that their black hat, overly white hat, or completely UX-based solutions are wrong is all sort of the same.

So what do you think? What resistance have you come up against in your consulting projects? Share in the comments below!

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Thank You for 10 Incredible Years

Posted by randfish

Below are letters written to you all (yes, you!) from both Rand and Sarah.

The first is from Rand:

Dear Moz Community,

Wow. Ten years. It’s been an incredible ride. Through the ups and downs (and there have been 
plenty of both), there haven’t been many constants in my life—my wife, Seattle, and, strangely enough—you, the Moz community. From my first days on the blog and in the forums of the SEO world, when I was deeply in debt and had no idea how to dig my way out, to the incredible rush of 2007 and 2012 when we raised funding rounds and felt like the sky was the limit, you’ve been there. And in the darkest hours of the past decade, when I’ve felt the most alone, guilty, and insecure, you’ve been there, too.

I get to see many of you in person—at conferences and events around the world. But I get to see you right here on the web, too—on Twitter, in the comments, through my email. Your support, empathy, and unwavering belief that Moz could and would do great things has been a beacon of hope and a challenge that I constantly strive to meet.

A decade is a long time. Few things in our lives or in the world last that long—the average tech startup 
doesn’t quite make two years. I’m honored and humbled that you’ve stuck with us all that time, and I promise that in the decade ahead, Moz will deliver more and better work in the areas you need most. We believe in making data that others hide transparent and accessible. We believe in delivering remarkable education and software that everyone can afford. We believe that all of this can be done not just without evil, but with real generosity of spirit and action.

Thank you for the ten remarkable years of warmth, friendship, and support. We absolutely couldn’t have done it without you, nor can we take the next steps without your help. I hope you’ll keep holding us to high standards, and telling us when we’ve met your expectations and when we’ve let you down.

With deep appreciation,

Rand Fishkin

Co-founder & individual contributor

Moz

The second letter is from Moz’s CEO, and one of the company’s earliest employees, Sarah Bird:

Dear Moz Community,

Moz is the steward of this community, but it’s owned by everyone who contributes with posts, comments, shares, and visits. Many, many people have passed through the community, leaving an indelible mark. I get emotional remembering the humor and generosity of 
Goodnewscowboy. I’m grateful and relieved that Dana Lookadoo is still fighting the good fight. I’m STILL impressed with the solid that Rhea Drysdale did the SEO community when she fought a nasty trademark battle on the community’s behalf. I salute all of the folks, and there have been many, who’ve been a force for good in my life and helped us all to take our game to the next level.

Our community is dynamic, but always TAGFEE. In fact, I’ve come to believe it is the truest expression of TAGFEE. People share openly and without a promise of getting anything in return (TAG). It’s a positive and supportive environment to become your best professional self (FEE). I’m proud that the Moz community is one of the few places on the web I’m not afraid to read the comments; I seek them out because they are consistently insightful and stimulating.

Thank you to those who paused here for a bit before continuing on your journeys, and for those who have stuck with us. There are people out there RIGHT NOW who haven’t yet discovered the Moz community, and who are going to help us keep it amazing in the future. I can’t wait to meet them. Without all of you, there is nothing here.

It’s been 10 years, but there is still a lot to learn and a lot to teach. It still feels like day one. The pace of innovation has increased, and the stakes are higher. We strive to share, adapt, and become the most TAGFEE and impactful professionals we can be. Thank you for creating a space to do that every day. Together, we dig deeper and go farther than would be possible without each other. Let’s keep it going and growing for the next ten years.

Hugs and High Fives,

Sarah Bird

CEO

Moz

If you have any fun or interesting memories from the last 10 years, whether they’re related to Moz, SEO, or whatever you think we might like to hear about (we’re feeling awfully nostalgic), please share them in the comments below!

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Using Modern SEO to Build Brand Authority

Posted by kaiserthesage

It’s obvious that the technology behind search engines’ ability to determine and understand web entities is gradually leaning towards how real people will normally perceive things from a traditional marketing perspective.

The
emphasis on E-A-T (expertise, authoritativeness, trustworthiness) from Google’s recently updated Quality Rating Guide shows that search engines are shifting towards brand-related metrics to identify sites/pages that deserve to be more visible in search results.

Online branding, or authority building, is quite similar to the traditional SEO practices that many of us have already been accustomed with.

Building a stronger brand presence online and improving a site’s search visibility both require two major processes: the things you implement on the site and the things you do outside of the site.

This is where several of the more advanced aspects of SEO can blend perfectly with online branding when implemented the right way. In this post, I’ll use some examples from my own experience to show you how.

Pick a niche and excel

Building on your brand’s
topical expertise is probably the fastest way to go when you’re looking to build a name for yourself or your business in a very competitive industry.

There are a few reasons why:

  • Proving your field expertise in one or two areas of your industry can be a strong unique selling point (USP) for your brand.
  • It’s easier to expand and delve into the deeper and more competitive parts of your industry once you’ve already established yourself as an expert in your chosen field.
  • Obviously, search engines favour brands known to be experts in their respective fields.

Just to give a brief example, when I started blogging back in 2010, I was all over the place. Then, a few months later, I decided to focus on one specific area of SEO—link building—and
wrote dozens of guides on how I do it.

By aiming to build my blog’s brand identity to become a prime destination for link building tutorials, it became a lot easier for me to sell my ideas on the other aspects of inbound marketing to my continuously growing audience (from technical SEO to social media, content marketing, email marketing and more).

Strengthening your brand starts with the quality of your brand’s content, whether it’s your product/service or the plethora of information available on your website.

You can start by assessing the categories where you’re getting the most traction in terms of natural link acquisitions, social shares, conversions, and/or sales.

Prioritize your content development efforts on the niche where your brand can genuinely compete in and will have a better fighting chance to dominate the market. It’s the smartest way to stand out and scale, especially when you’re still in your campaign’s early stages.

Optimize for semantic search and knowledge graph

In the past, most webmasters and publishers would rely on the usage of generic keywords/terms in optimizing their website’s content to make it easier for search engines to understand what they are about.

But now, while the continuously evolving technologies behind search may seem to make the optimization process more complicated, the fact is that it may just reward those who pursue high-level trustworthy marketing efforts to stand out in the search results.

These technologies and factors for determining relevance—which include entity recognition and disambiguation (ERD), structured data or schema markups, natural language processing (NLP), phrase-based indexing for co-occurrence and co-citations, concept matching, and a lot more—are all driven by branding campaigns and
how an average human would normally find, talk, or ask about a certain thing.

Easily identifiable brands will surely win in this type of setup.

Where to start? See if Google already knows what your brand is about.

How to optimize your site for the Knowledge Graph and at the same time build it as an authority online

1. Provide the best and the most precise answers to the “who, what, why, and how” queries that people might look for in your space.

Razvan Gavrilas did 
an extensive study on how Google’s Answer Boxes work. Getting listed in the answer box will not just drive more traffic and conversions to a business, but can also help position a brand on a higher level in its industry.

But of course, getting one of your entries placed for Google’s answer boxes for certain queries will also require other authority signals (like natural links, domain authority, etc.).

But what search crawlers would typically search for to evaluate whether a page’s content is appropriate to be displayed in the answer boxes (according to Razvan’s post):

  • If the page selected for the answer contains the question in a very similar (if not exact) form, along with the answer, at a short distance from the question (repeating at least some of the words from the question) and
  • If the page selected for the answer belongs to a trustworthy website. So most of the times, if it’s not Wikipedia, it will be a site that it can consider a non-biased third party, such as is the case with a lot of “.edu” sites, or news organization websites.

Although,
John Mueller mentioned recently that Knowledge Graph listings should not be branded, in which you might think that the approach and effort will be for nothing.

But wait, just think about it—the intent alone of optimizing your content for Google’s Knowledge Graph will allow you to serve better content to your users (which is what Google rewards the most these days, so it’s still the soundest action to take if you want to really build a solid brand, right?).

2. Clearly define your brand’s identity to your audience.

Being remarkable and being able to separate your brand from your competitors is crucial in online marketing (be it through your content or the experience people feel when they’re using your site/service/product).


Optimizing for humans through branding allows you to condition the way people will talk about you
. This factor is very important when you’re aiming to get more brand mentions that would really impact your site’s SEO efforts, branding, and conversions.

The more search engines are getting signals (even unlinked mentions) that verify that you’re an authority in your field, the more your brand will be trusted and rank your pages well on SERPs.

3. Build a strong authorship portfolio.

Author photos/badges may have been taken down from the search results a few weeks ago, but it doesn’t mean that authorship markup no longer has value.

Both
Mark Traphagen and Bill Slawski have shared why authorship markup still matters. And clearly, an author’s authority will still be a viable search ranking factor, given that it enables Google to easily identify topical experts and credible documents available around the web.

It will continue to help tie entities (publishers and brands) to their respective industries, which may still accumulate scores over time based on the popularity and reception from the author’s works (AuthorRank).

This approach is a great complement to personal brand building, especially when you’re expanding your content marketing efforts’ reach through guest blogging on industry-specific blogs where you can really absorb more new readers and followers.

There’s certainly more to implement under
Knowledge Graph Optimization, and here’s a short list from what AJ Kohn has already shared on his blog earlier this year, which are all still useful to this day:

  • Use entities (aka Nouns) in your writing
  • Get connected and link out to relevant sites
  • Implement Structured Data to increase entity detection
  • Use the sameAs property
  • Optimize your Google+ presence
  • Get exposure on Wikipedia
  • Edit and update your Freebase entry

Online branding through scalable link building

The right relationships make link building scalable.

In the past, many link builders believed that it’s best to have thousands of links from diversified sources, which apparently forced a lot of early practitioners to resort to tactics focused on manually dropping links to thousands of unique domains (and spamming).

And, unfortunately, guest blogging as a link building tactic has eventually become a part of this craze.

I’ve mentioned this dozens of times before, and I’m going to say it one more time:
It’s better to have multiple links from a few link sources that are highly trusted than having hundreds of one-off links from several mediocre sites.

Focus on building signals that will strongly indicate relationships, because it’s probably the most powerful off-site signal you can build out there.

When other influential entities in your space are vouching for your brand (whether it’s through links, social shares, or even unlinked brand mentions), it allows you to somehow become a part of the list of sites that will most likely be trusted by search engines.

It can most definitely impact how people will see your brand as an authority as well, when they see that you’re being trusted by other credible brands in your industry.

These relationships can also open a lot of opportunities for natural link acquisitions and lead generation, knowing that some of the most trusted brands in your space trust you.

Making all of this actionable

1. Identify and make a list of the top domains and publishers in your industry, particularly those that have high search share.

There are so many tools that you can use to get these data, like
SEMRush, Compete.com, and/or Alexa.com.

You can also use
Google Search and SEOQuake to make a list of sites that are performing well on search for your industry’s head terms (given that Google is displaying better search results these days, it’s probably one of the best prospecting tools you can use).

I also use other free tools in doing this type of prospecting, particularly in cleaning up the list (in
removing duplicate domains, and extracting unique hostnames; and in filtering out highly authoritative sites that are clearly irrelevant for the task, such as ranking pages from Facebook, Wikipedia, and other popular news sites).

2. Try to penetrate at least 2 high authority sites from the first 50 websites on your list—and become a regular contributor for them.

Start engaging them by genuinely participating in their existing communities.

The process shouldn’t stop with you contributing content for them on a regular basis, as along the way you can initiate collaborative tasks, such as inviting them to publish content on your site as well.

This can help draw more traffic (and links) from their end, and can exponentially improve the perceived value of your brand as a publisher (based on your relationships with other influential entities in your industry).

These kinds of relationships will make the latter part of your link building campaign less stressful. As soon as you get to build a strong footing with your brand’s existing relationships and content portfolio (in and out of your site), it’ll be a lot easier for you to pitch and get published on other authoritative industry-specific publications (or even in getting interview opportunities).

3. Write the types of content that your target influencers are usually reading.

Stalk your target influencers on social networks, and take note of the topics/ideas that interest them the most (related to your industry). See what type of content they usually share to their followers.

Knowing these things will give you ton of ideas on how you can effectively approach your content development efforts and can help you come up with content ideas that are most likely to be read, shared, and linked to.

You can also go the extra mile by knowing which sites they mostly link out to or use as reference for their own works (use
ScreamingFrog).

4. Take advantage of your own existing community (or others’ as well).

Collaborate with the people who are already participating in your brand’s online community (blog comments, social networks, discussions, etc.). Identify those who truly contribute and really add value to the discussions, and see if they run their own websites or work for a company that’s also in your industry.

Leverage these interactions, as these can form long-term relationships that can also be beneficial to both parties (for instance, inviting them to write for you or having you write for their blog, and/or cross-promote your works/services).

And perhaps, you can also use this approach to other brands’ communities as well, like reaching out to people you see who have really smart inputs about your industry (that’ll you see on other blog’s comment sections) and asking them if they’ll be interested to talk/share more about that topic and have it published on your website instead.

Building a solid community can easily help automate link building, but more importantly, it can surely help strengthen a brand’s online presence.

Conclusion

SEO can be a tremendous help to your online branding efforts. Likewise, branding can be a tremendous help to your SEO efforts. Alignment and integration of both practices is what keeps winners winning in this game (just look at Moz).

If you liked this post or have any questions, let me know in the comments below, and you can find me on Twitter
@jasonacidre.

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