Web and Hosting Tips
Written by Taylor Hawes
Wednesday, December 4th, 2013
You’ve read the numbers: content marketing is on the rise and shows no signs of slowing. Intent on cutting yourself a slice of this pie, you hire some writers, ask your web developer to create a blog page or separate site (or, if you’re a startup, you do all of this yourself), and with a rapidly beating heart you publish your first blog post, certain that the users will come pouring in.
But they never come.
You create post after post after post but the hits never come. What’s going on? Wasn’t this content marketing thing supposed to be a sure bet? The answer to your question is: nothing is a “sure bet”, but content marketing is a powerful tool in improving sales and brand perception. The problem likely has nothing to do with your astute observation that business blogs are on the rise, but instead has to do with the nature of blogging itself.
Blogging thrives on organic traffic; traffic that depends on a body of content that triggers search engine keywords and results in page views and, eventually, conversion. But the process requires a great deal of maintenance in order to run at full steam. For that reason, do not despair. Let’s walk through some of the reasons that your blog may be underperforming.
1. Your blog is new
Take a look at your watch. Has it been an hour since your first post? Then slow your roll friend. Blogging takes time to develop readership. As mentioned, the model requires an extensive body of work that generates traffic from keyword hits. Creating this volume of posts and establishing credibility as a reputable source takes time and patience. Before jumping ship on the whole concept, examine other necessary steps to building your audience.
2. You’re blogging about yourself
We’ll begin with content. Content is a powerful driver of returning traffic and brand perception and should receive a great deal of your time. A terrible blog with great SEO may land visits, but the victory will be short-lived.
If you’re blogging about yourself, your accomplishments, and your products, stop. The goal of your business blog is not to advertise your product catalog. It’s to deliver value to your users and thereby convert them into customers. This means that blog topics and content will need to appeal to customers in order to gain and maintain readership. Focus on finding out what’s important to them and generate material accordingly.
3. Your content isn’t valuable to your intended audience
The key is to blog for the readers you want. This means that understanding your customer base is essential to generating stimulating blog pieces. Do so by creating customer personas that articulate their interests and personalities. Set up interviews with customers of different types and drill down their characteristics to identifiable personalities. Then, let these profiles guide your content creation. Doing so will not only put you in tune with your target audience, it will help make future writing easier and more effective.
4. Your writing is boring or bad
It’s not easy to hear, but sometimes the writing on your business blog is, well, bad. If you possess the resources to hire strong writers, make sure you read their content and assure its quality. If you write your own content, consider some rudimentary writing lessons in subjects such as grammar, spelling, and clarity. By nailing down the basics, you will be leaps and bounds ahead of the curve, but the basics are not all that matter. Choose engaging topics with eye-catching headlines and make your writing interesting and compelling. Avoid being robotic in your delivery and focus on being conversational and witty in order to connect with your target audience.
5. Your content is irrelevant
Blogging involves more than just writing interesting topics. Said topics need to have relevance in order to capture user attention. For this reason, keep an ear to the ground regarding industry trends, news events, and cultural developments and interject your commentary or authority where relevant. Doing so will improve not only organic traffic by tapping into hot search keywords, but reader perception by appearing current and cutting-edge.
6. Your publishing schedule is infrequent and inconsistent
Creating good content is just the beginning. Other factors play a huge part in site traffic due to the idiosyncratic characteristics of today’s users. For starters establish a blog publishing schedule and stick to it. It is not enough to simply throw content into the air at irregular intervals and trust that your blog will stay on everyone’s mind. Internet readers need a constant reminder that you exist, and establishing a publishing schedule will help facilitate that.
7. You’re not encouraging email subscription
There are all types of “vanity metrics” in the blogging world that in no way affect your actual reader engagement. Email subscription is not one of them. If the goal is to stay relevant, then email provides just that opportunity by shuttling blog content directly into user inboxes on a regular basis. If your business blog has RSS readers (individuals who read news through automated feeds), then you haven’t quite made your mark, as such readers have the luxury of remaining more passive. Consider a call-to-action imploring readers to subscribe via email and expect better traffic as a result.
8. Your blog is un-shareable
Spreading the word about your blog doesn’t have to fall entirely to you. While you remain responsible for the brunt of the work, including social media sharing buttons on blog posts can greatly increase your reach. Certain factors influence content sharing: photographs are more likely to be shared, agreeable opinions or content that embodies values readers wish to be associated with will see likes. In either instance, make this action available to your readers through social media buttons, which are both easy in implementation and profound in implication.
9. You’re not promoting your blog
As we said before, the brunt of the work is still yours, even with readers spreading the word for you. Your blog acts as marketing for your products but requires some marketing of its own to have impact. Promote posts in social media, include blog content in efforts that generate leads, link to your blog in your site navigation, and think like a marketer when promoting your material. Think of content as the ingredients in your marketing dish and promotion as the presentation; both work in tandem to whet the appetite.
10. Your blog content isn’t optimized for search
As stated earlier, blogging depends on organic traffic from keywords. But if your blog isn’t optimized for discovery, then organic traffic will be much harder to come by. Volume is essential, since each blog post you publish is another page to be indexed. In fact, research shows that the average company will see a 45% growth in traffic when increasing total blog articles from 11-20 to 21-50. Along with increased volume, research keywords relevant to your industry and topics and include these keywords on every page of your blog. The combination of better, more descriptive search indexing and post volume will drive your site traffic over time and lead to positive returns.
The potential of blogging is there, but the endeavor is not without its maintenance. Focus on creating good, relevant, and compelling content and publish it consistently. Facilitate sharing and push email subscribers in order to retain readership. Finally, promote your blog, increase your volume, and optimize your search engine keywords for greater traffic volumes and customer impact. By performing the necessary blogging chores, you may see your lemon turn into a peach, both in ROI and satisfaction.
Written by Taylor Hawes
Monday, December 2nd, 2013
With burgeoning volumes of content on social networks and websites, content has reached a point where less user friendly, empathetic, and compelling fare will see a precipitous drop-off. The fact is, media-full users simply do not have time in their days to consume everything presented to them. For that reason, discerning viewers have developed attitudes toward media that allow them to quickly determine what matters to them and what does not.
High on the list of “what matters” is visual media. The trend makes sense: in a world where time is media, quickly digested pictures and videos hold a special advantage over text in their ability to communicate meaning, emotion, and more without the “arduous” task of reading. So what does this mean for you? It means that video and photo is the “it” channel for conveying brand message, and any effort that can be made to accommodate this trend is well worth your time and energy.
What’s Behind the Trend?
When one considers the ubiquity of cellphone cameras in today’s society, it is not hard to understand why photos and videos rose to the top. With the availability of recording tools, more adults than ever are uploading original photos and videos. In addition, high-resolution screens and readily available wireless Internet access have made viewing online photos and videos a breeze.
The specific content of these items follow measurable trends. According to a Pew Research Center study, the top three types of video consumed include humor, educational, and instructional, with music at a close fourth. Video created primarily includes everyday activities, people doing humorous things, and pets. According to another study by the Pew Center, the demographics sharing and consuming this media include 18-29 year old, college-educated individuals.
What fuels the consumption of content, however, is not simply the format itself. The rise of social networking, including platforms designed specifically for video and photo sharing, have hasted the spread of visual formats. According to the Pew study above, 66% of online adults use Facebook, 12% use Pinterest, and 12% use Instagram. Specifically, as many as 20% of women use Pinterest and 27% of 18-29 year olds use Instagram. The ease and penetration of these platforms have made video and photo sharing an easy and engaging endeavor.
While all this data is well and good, you’re probably wondering how this affects your business (after all, it was in the title of the article). First and foremost, understand that if you are not using video in your marketing, you should be. According to a study by Reel SEO, 93% of marketers are using video in their campaigns with 82% reporting positive results from doing so. In addition to the hard numbers, video presents a real opportunity to enrich and engage your customers.
As an institution of authority, tap into the how-to and educational crowd. Businesses would do well to introduce content that leans on their specific area of expertise and delivers valuable, informative content to viewers. Sites that sell shaving products can afford-ably create a web series about proper shaving technique. Cooking ware companies can release videos detailing basic cooking techniques that use their products. Identify what expertise you possess and use it to engage your customers in a way that focuses on delivering value.
Furthermore, avoid any pandering and know what your audience wants. Creating video for video sake is just as likely to appear desperate, as it is to help sales. Content should be genuine and enriching. Furthermore, know your audience, either through direct communication, polling, or surveys of comments on content, and base subsequent videos on the response.
Images pose another opportunity altogether. Simplifying the content experience, photos can be readily shared and consumed by peers in a way that builds online identity. According to a study by the Content Marketing Institute, images that possess characteristics with which viewers want to be identified are more likely to see shares on social networking and, in the process, build positive brand association.
Know your goal when developing images. Infographics, for example, provide the same opportunity to deliver value that videos do, but in a way that is more digestible and less time consuming. Non-branded images incorporating your company’s products have shown to improve overall brand perception. Branded content based on memes and humor is likely to see shares, currying positive feelings toward your organization. In either instance, identify what you want to accomplish, and tailor your content on that basis.
Regardless of the content you produce, do not ignore the need to share. Unless you’ve invented the next Google or Facebook, it is unlikely that your site alone will draw enough visitors to maximize your content’s potential. Use the obvious channels, Twitter and Facebook, and don’t be afraid to embrace newer channels with demonstrated user-bases like Instagram and Pinterest. Your goal should be for a “> 1″ return on social media views: focus on shares and spreading content. In doing so, you give your brand the opportunity to become a part of the cultural zeitgeist, and that’s marketing no money can buy.
With no signs of slowing down, video and photos have become a powerful component of any successful marketing strategy. Tap into your intellectual resources and share that asset with the community in videos. Base photography on brand goals and use social networking to its fullest potential.
Written by Taylor Hawes
Saturday, November 30th, 2013
The online buying experience is a unique animal. The Internet has given us both the opportunity to proffer our wares through digital storefronts and peruse the offerings of others in a way that has expanded commerce and redefined our business relationships. On the other hand, the lack of a physical retailer introduces gaps in product and business perception; gaps that can adversely affect conversion rates and customer attitudes.
For this reason, our business models must adapt to the changing landscape. Simply placing products on an online marketplace and expecting them to sell is the sailing equivalent of casting out your boat and expecting to reach India. The fact is, products need a little guidance in order to reach the customer’s heart and home. That guidance comes in the form of product pages.
But what makes a good product page? What must we include to maximize effectiveness? More importantly, what does the customer feel when they view our products? By tapping into the psychology of online retail, we can tailor our copy, our efforts, and our mentality to best facilitate the two most important aspects of commerce: customer experience and sales conversion.
Online’s Brick-And-Mortar Analogs
It is crucial to understand the commonalities of online shopping in comparison to traditional brick-and-mortar outlets. For a moment, close your eyes and walk into a store in your imagination. Usually, you are greeted by a friendly, smiling salesperson and asked if you need help, thus acknowledging your presence and making you feel significant. You peruse carefully crafted product displays that not only show physical items in a flattering setting, but also place them in a familiar context. The decor of the store is usually pleasing, but non-partisan, allowing your desires and ideas to fill the space.
Now consider the traditional online shopping experience. Sitting in your home or browsing through your mobile device, you experience fonts, layout, and pictures. In effect, these are the salespeople, making a first impression and helping you form perceptions about the business. Items are “laid out”, sometimes in a grid pattern, sometimes in collections. Pictures of attractive individuals using the products are usually displayed near the top in order to increase brand perception and put the items in a familiar and comprehensible context. In essence, each of these pieces of the shopping puzzle serve the same function as a physical store, but in very different ways.
Understanding the Customer Experience
The difference between these experiences is that, without a helping hand to make decisions, users need a degree of guidance to help answer questions and allay concerns associated with purchase. This introduces two concepts that are key to understanding the function of product pages.
The first concept, exercised by brick-and-mortar businesses, is the idea that the longer a customer lingers in a store, the more likely they are to purchase something. You’ll notice that, in clothing stores for example, the customer effectively “disappears” into the business with only product in view. Stores are also commonly set up to retain customer traffic instead of ferrying it out the door. In this way, it is important for product pages to provide relevant information and capture customer attention, so as to prevent a virtual departure from the digital store.
The second concept of note lies in the fact that customers experience a “journey of emotions” during their purchase. That’s not to say that they weep with joy or recoil in disgust, but the internal dialog that guides a sales conversion necessitates consideration. In general, the one emotion prohibiting purchase is fear. Fear of disappointment, fear of loss from the expenditure of money, uncertainty regarding product quality and shipping logistics; each of these must be addressed in order to facilitate conversion. This is where your product pages come in.
Optimizing Your Product Pages
Since price is the greatest concern on the minds of consumers, start here. Prices should be obvious upon arrival at the page, but savings should be even more prominent. Move the inner-narrative from, “how can I afford this?” to, “how can I afford not to purchase this?” Keep customers “in your shop” by making price comparison apparent and available on the page. Include shipping cost in the price so that customers are not disappointed at checkout, which may inhibit conversion. Finally, facilitate the next step in the transaction process by making it obvious.
Since conversion is of the utmost importance, employ a little more psychology to drive purchases. Show stock information to introduce the element of scarcity. The fear of loss experienced by humans is one of the more powerful motivators in commercial activities so offering this information helps the customer make their decision. Include high-resolution pictures from multiple angles and in familiar contexts. This allows the customer to envision themselves using the item, and allays one of the primary concerns of online shoppers: the inability to physically touch and scrutinize products. Finally, give a comprehensive picture of all color and style variations by including photographs of these options.
Product descriptions should also address the fundamental fears of online shoppers. Consider consumer concerns and focus your description on addressing them. The depth of such content should be contingent on the inherent risk of purchase: larger, more involved items like expensive watches and automobiles necessitate a stronger case to justify purchase. Put the items in the context of user benefit, e.g. “anti-lock brakes keep your family safe.” In addition, include product specifications that allow consumers to measure and visualize items for themselves.
But even with a mountain of raw data and verbal assurance, little is more effective in remedying customer concerns than the objective testimonial of un-biased human beings. Place quotes from editorials next to areas of product descriptions that create friction or fear. Feature customer editorials based on their fulfillment of values stated in the description. Compare and contrast reviews in order to give a full picture of pros and cons and prevent customers from seeking third-party validation outside the page. Finally, put faces on product reviews. Showing the human face of an opinion will do wonders in building trust and confidence.
Online commerce is not a simple matter of listing and shipping. Wary, overwhelmed consumers want guidance when sifting through product bins and it is your job to give it to them. Understanding the function of page elements is key to constructing effective copy and motivating conversion. Prominently display price and savings and streamline the customer experience. Focus product descriptions on customer fears and address them with effectively. Include human faces and testimonials that lend objective credibility to your claims and expect good things in return. Remember, your website is the store, product display, and salesperson. Understand your role in the customer experience and enjoy the fruits of your empathy.
Written by Taylor Hawes
Tuesday, November 26th, 2013
A curious paradigm shift has occurred in the visibility of local businesses. There was a time when people would drive through their city, know of particular shops, visit them regularly, and consult phone books for any services they were not already privy to. Visibility was as much determined by literal, physical visibility as it was by listing in the yellow pages. With ubiquitous GPS, the desire for information and pricing prior to leaving the house, and the availability of customer reviews to help determine the destination, visibility now has infinitely more to do with search index ranking than with well-lit signage.
Fortunately for local businesses, gone are the days when appearing in online search results meant battling the big boys for traffic. Google has made extensive inroads in the construction of solutions for local businesses. We specifically mention Google for a reason. Bing and Yahoo may have local search results built into their platforms, but Google’s high traffic volumes and tie-in with Google+ afford unique tools for local businesses that will ultimately determine quality and impact of listings as the connections develops.
It bears emphasis that, while these eight factors are of great importance, any measures that can be taken to improve the relevance and quality of online listing is worth implementation. There are plenty of fish in the pond, so having the biggest hook is a goal worth pursuing. For more information on additional factors, consult Moz’s extensive 2013 Local Search Ranking Factors survey. For now, let’s take a look at the top contributors to search relevance.
1. Proper Business Category
When listing your business on Google’s platform, you’ll be asked for everything from your street address to the name of your first-born child (kidding). It is easy to assume that this information is just a formality, but this data constitutes the totality of your business record in the search index. Highest among the entries factored in is the business category. Initially, you will be asked to provide a primary business category according to Google’s current taxonomy. This is the single most important piece of information you can specify to make your business searchable. For example, in order to be included in a search for architects in Toledo, you must list your business as an architecture firm. Failing to do so will result in a great deal of missed traffic.
2. Physical Address in City of Search
The second component of that search for Toledo architects is the city. This entry affects your listing in two ways. The first involves including it in the collection of business listings within a certain city. By this system, if someone in City of Industry, CA is searching for Toledo architects, the street address of your business will assure that your firm is in the results. The second way that your physical location makes a difference is by returning results to devices within the city specified. This means that someone with a cell phone in Toledo who searches for “architects” will see your listing. This does pose potential challenges for businesses just outside of city limits and service businesses that travel to perform work, but remedies for these, including Google Plus association, will be discussed later.
3. Consistency of Structured Citations
In listing the physical address, phone number, or name of your business, consistency across multiple citations is essential. When we say “citations”, we are referring to listings on services like the Yellow Pages. Smaller discrepancies like St. versus Street are less important than typos or outdated information. Since search ranks depend on collections of reputable links and references, any inconsistencies in listing devalue the authority of the primary listing and lead to unnecessary confusion. Make a habit of checking structured listings and updating/correcting information on a regular basis.
4. Quality of Citations
Of course it is not enough to simply be listed on Bill’sBusinessBlog.com. The quality of structured citations plays an equal part in the authority of search results. Focus first on getting listed on local business indexes before scrounging for less reputable associations. Tools like GetListed.org provide checks and tools for making sure that listings are numerous and of sufficient quality.
5. HTML and Plus Place Page Information
Here we see one of the more explicit Google+ tie-ins to benefit local businesses. Plus offers businesses a chance to make a free local page that shows their information, allowing for customer engagement and distribution of marketing materials, much like pages on Facebook. The bonus of a Plus connection is the consequent bump in search relevance offered to incentivize the social media platform. The key is to keep an eye on the name, address, and phone number (NAP) of your Google Places listing and Plus Local listing and make sure they are consistent. The association will certainly pay off for Toledans looking to build a new house.
6. Quantity of Structure Citations
After you have established a solid foundation of structured citations at reputable businesses indexes and online associations, focus on the quantity of your citations to improve your authority. A good rule of thumb is to keep in mind that the more competitive your market, the more structured citations you will need. An easy way to find places to get cited is by typing business category terms into Google and seeing what pop up. A query of “architects” lists at least half a dozen opportunities for citation on the first page alone.
7. Domain Authority
The strength of a website also plays a big part in determining its rank in local search results. The collection of metrics that determine that strength, including the profile of inbound links, is referred to as “Domain Authority”. All technical definitions aside, the score is an approximation of the competitiveness of a website in Google search rankings. By improving domain authority through effective search engine optimization, businesses can put themselves closer to the top of the pile.
8. Verified Google Plus Local Page
The fact that two separate Google Plus tie-ins reside in the top 8 local search factors should be a great big green light to businesses considering hopping on the platform. In this case, a local Plus page (with matching NAP), verified by the user, will strengthen the authority of your place page, your website, and your local listing. The triad of connections makes a potent combination in the fight for local attention, but it is important to take this network on your own shoulders. Outsourcing the traffic optimization job is acceptable on a temporary basis, but the tie-in of each of these outlets with your own Google Plus profile will help make your business even more relevant.
As stated before, these are only some of the considerations local businesses need make to stand out from the crowd. However, with each of these in place, Davis and Davis Architects of Ohio will be off to a great start. Focus on quality-structured citations with consistent name, address, and phone listings and utilize Google Plus assets to improve search rankings. Be sure to list your business in the right category and don’t be afraid to get a little technical and optimize your search engine keywords. Through a little digital sweat and elbow grease, you may be the next random dinner destination for out-of-towners and locals alike.