search engine optimization,SEM

COVID-19, a shrinking sales pipeline, and the importance of non-branded leads

  • Savvy
  • ON
  • March 17, 2020

The impact of COVID-19 for marketers and the sales pipeline is two fold.

    1. Fewer personal interactions (e.g., cancelled conferences and appointments) reduce opportunities to meet new prospects and service existing customers.
    2. Financial uncertainty creates hesitation to spend. This challenges marketers, sales teams, and anyone invested in the P&L to figure out how to mitigate the financial hit coming in Q2/Q3.
So… How can sales and marketing teams mitigate some of the financial impact associated with COVID-19?
We think most companies have a tremendous opportunity to generate more non-branded leads digitally.  

What is a non-branded lead?

A non-branded lead is someone who is searching for your product or service online, but not looking for you by name. For an orthodontist, a non-branded lead might be someone Googling “braces near me.”
If you sell anti-phishing software, a non-branded lead might be someone Googling “enterprise anti-phishing software.”
Sounds obvious, right? But in our experience, most agencies and digital marketers take credit for website visits and conversions coming from branded searches and leads.

What is a branded lead?

A branded lead is someone Googling the name of your company or the brand name of your product.
This is someone who has already heard of you through referrals, word of mouth, community outreach or more traditional advertising (billboards, television, trade shows, etc).
For an orthodontist practice, a branded lead is someone Googling the name of the doctor that works at the practice.
If you sell anti-phishing software, a branded lead is someone Googling the name of your company or the brand name of your flagship product (e.g., someone Googling “ironscales anti-phishing software”).
Branded leads come from people already know who you are. This group of people was going to find you anyway.
There is very little that the digital marketing agency is likely doing to create this demand, because it already existed.
COVID-19 has greatly reduced the number of in person marketing opportunities between businesses and prospects.
Cancelled conferences, events, outreach and walk ins means less opportunity to meet new prospects that had not already heard of you.
A great way to mitigate this reduction is to pursue non-branded leads online.

So how do you generate non-branded leads?

There are three main ways to generate non-branded leads online – SEO, Paid Social, and Paid Search (like Google Ads).

SEO (Search Engine Optimization)

This means that when somebody Googles the product or category of products you sell, your website pops up organically in search engine listings. For example, if you are an orthodontist, a non-branded SEO lead would be someone who searches for “braces near me” and finds your practice.

SEO is fantastic, but it takes a few months to make an impact.

If you don’t already have an SEO strategy in place, it may be harder to get this up and running in time to make up for COVID-19 losses in Q2.
That said, doing this work now can help you make up for losses in Q3 and Q4.
Also, so much of SEO is about content creation. So if you are finding that you or your employees don’t have quite as much to do given social distancing, there is an incredible opportunity to have your team start producing massive amounts of SEO-focused content.
A good digital agency can quickly provide guidance on what content to create to make the most use of the downtime.  

Paid Social (like Facebook, Instagram, or LinkedIn ads)

You can use social media channels to advertise services, special offers, product demos, and other marketing materials directly to POTENTIAL consumers.
You can often target by demographic, location, profession, financial status, among other things.
People will be spending more time on social media over the next few weeks because of social distancing.
So this can be an incredible time to build brand awareness, socialize your offerings, and start collecting data on who is interested in your offerings.
The challenge with paid social media is that you don’t really know if the people you are serving ads to have the specific problem you solve.
For example, you can serve ads for “kids’ braces” to wealthy suburbanites in a particular zip code, but you can’t ensure that everyone looking at those ads has a child that needs braces.
So it can take longer to get people into your sales cycle, which may not provide the immediate relief needed in Q2 and early Q3.

So, what’s the best way to create immediate relief for your sales pipeline?

We believe that non-branded PPC advertising is the best way to quickly combat a shrinking sales pipeline.

Paid Search (“PPC” and, often, “Google Ads”)

PPC is about serving ads to people looking to solve specific problems online.
For example, if someone Googles “Invisalign near me,” we would serve an ad about your company and how they specialize in Invisalign.
The benefits of paid search are that you can get ads up and running fast and start to generate new leads very quickly.
But here is the key … you must be focused on non-branded leads. This means you need to build super targeted, small campaigns aimed at very specific keywords and offerings.
In the orthodontist space you need to set up different campaigns for different services – a campaign for “orthodontists,” a separate campaign for “braces,” and another for “invisalign,” for example.
In the anti-phishing software space, you need different campaigns for keywords related to “anti-phishing software” versus those related to BEC (business email compromise).
And most importantly, you need to filter out all branded terms (name of company, employee, etc.) and set up a specific campaign for those branded searches and conversions.
If you do it right, you can drive new leads for your existing products and services efficiently and inexpensively.
At a time like this, every new lead matters. 
By pushing marketers and other stakeholders to pursue non-branded leads, you will open up opportunities that you never knew existed.

Would you like to learn more about how to pursue non-branded leads quickly?

search engine optimization

What is SEO? Part 2: Off-site SEO explained

  • Hillary
  • ON
  • March 29, 2019

In “What is SEO? Part 1” I talked about on-site and off-site SEO; what they are, how they’re different, and which is more important (spoiler alert: they’re equal!). Here we’ll jump into the nitty-gritty of off-site SEO tactics because it’s easier to get this out of the way first since it’s really all about building backlinks and maintaining reputation both locally and online.

Local SEO

While Local SEO isn’t particularly on-page or off-page specifically, I’m going to classify it under off-page since it’s definitely not on-page, however, there is an on-page feature called Schema, or structured data markup (I’ll discuss this in more depth in a later blog), that you can add to your company address information and doing so will help your site rank better locally in SERPs.

If you offer a product or service at a brick and mortar location, getting in front of the eyes of potential buyers online is imperative for business success. This is more than just creating a “My Business” page on Google, this is ranking for “near me” searches and creating localized content that will build interest around your brand in your community. It’s also about ranking in the “local 3-pack” in search results. That’s a massive bonus of being optimized with local SEO.

Link building

First of all, I want to mention that link building is my absolute LEAST favorite aspect of SEO.
Honestly, you could probably ask any person who works or who has worked in SEO what task they were the least excited about and almost all of them will tell you link building. It was my dedicated responsibility from when I started as an intern through the two years I worked for that first company. I became pretty good at it but also somewhat resentful at how arduous the work was compared to its ROI. Regardless of how I feel about link building though, it’s a super important part of any SEO strategy. It’s one of the top factors Google considers when ranking your website and the more high-quality, relevant links your site receives, the better your odds are for increasing your position in search results.
Link building has come a long way over the years. In the beginning, it was really easy because Google didn’t care where your links were coming from, just that you had them and the more you had the more credible your page was in SERPs. Early marketers realized this and would create auxiliary domains just so they could link to themselves to boost their rankings. Then came the link-farming era of the internet where you could ask third-party websites to add a link to your site from a page that had no relevance to your business. You could be reading articles about autobody detailing and all of a sudden link off to a page about how fabulous Beyoncé is.
As the Googles became smarter after the 2012 introduction of the Penguin algorithm update, the earliest tactics of link building dissipated and a new age of crappy, low-quality tactics was born. These tactics relied heavily on paid directory listings and article submissions. In the last seven years, several updates have been made to Penguin that will penalize sites that participate in such low-quality techniques.

But what link building techniques SHOULD you focus on?

Types of link building

There are a lot of shitty ways to build links that will get you nowhere in the grand scheme of the interwebz but there are a few areas in which to place all your efforts for the best possible results. If you want to truly establish yourself as an authority in your industry you’ll need high-quality, natural links from industry relevant websites.

Manual link building

Manual link building is the most common way for SEOs to obtain links. This is a process where you reach out to other website owners, bloggers, and businesses asking them to link to your website. In order to get a yes from this strategy, you’d need to provide a solid reason as to why this other business should link to you, especially if you’re not going to return the favor. It’s important in this method (and really all methods) of link building that the link you’re trying to obtain is from a site that’s relevant to your business.

Editorial links

Editorial links are natural links that you didn’t have to ask for. In order to obtain a natural, editorial link or brand mention, you must have created a piece of extremely valuable information or launched a revolutionary new product or service that other influencers want to discuss. These are the most challenging links to obtain for most businesses which is why they are also the most valuable.

Self-created links

Self-created links are links you create yourself (duh.). They can be press releases, blog comments, guest post signatures or other non-editorial pieces where you publicly discuss your business and link to your own website. They can be embedded infographics or widgets that your company created that link back to your website. They can also be paid listings on directories that are not moderated for quality. As mentioned above, this is not ideal and self-created links carry significantly less value than manual or editorial links. This tactic can work for SOME businesses, but should definitely be used lightly in your link building strategy.

Ways to maintain existing backlinks and acquire new ones

Now that you know where you should be focusing your link building efforts you may be wondering how you achieve success. Over the years I’ve found a few useful ways to acquire new links or manage the ones you already have.

Broken backlinks

A broken backlink happens when a site is linking to an old version of your content that now results in a 404 page. In the best case scenario, you ask that site to replace the link on their site with your updated or most relevant existing content and they say yes, but if that fails, a good solution is to always 301 redirect your old or broken pages to their most relevant functioning match.

Stealing competitor backlinks

If I HAVE to be working on a link building assignment, this is one of my favorites! In this scenario, your competitor wrote an article and some website linked to it. At some point, after that initial link exchange your competitor took the article down or for some reason, the page is resulting in a 404 error. This enables you to swoop in like the link building hero that you are explaining that their site is linking to dead content and that your site has similar, newer content that IS working…most of the time, in this case, you would create that content after you ask for and get acceptance for the link to be updated with your article.

Directory listings

If you’re able to find a good directory that is moderated, well maintained, and has good trust and authority of its own it may be a good idea to list your business.
Link building is never done. There’s a freshness score that applies to links so you’ll want to be getting them as often as you can, which in turn means you can never stop creating new content about your brand, product or service.
Speaking of the need to constantly create content, that’ll bring me to my next “thing” in part three of the “What is SEO” series. Stay tuned!
search engine optimization

What is SEO? Part 1: An intro + on-page and off-page SEO basics

  • Hillary
  • ON
  • February 26, 2019
Years ago, at the ripe age of 27, I was working in a shopping mall when I decided that it was time for me to take on a massive career move. The mall itself, working nights, weekends, and holidays just wasn’t for me anymore. I went back to school for a Master’s in Internet Marketing and 2 months after graduating I landed my first career position as a Social Media Manager at a local startup. Sadly, 4 months later, that startup ran out of investor funding and I was without work.
I plugged away taking temp jobs here and there, trying my best to stay within the bounds of the digital marketing industry, until I was finally brought on as a Search Engine Optimization (SEO) intern at a local marketing agency. I didn’t know anything about SEO, let alone what its real purpose was or the impact that could be made by implementing SEO tactics, but I was about to learn, and fast because 3 days into that internship my mentor quit leaving me, a 3-day intern with zero experience, in charge of search engine optimization for all the company’s clients 😳.
Fast forward a few years….By this point in time, I had interviewed with plenty of other agencies and companies outside of the place I worked as an intern. I knew what I was doing in SEO. As much as you can know with the constant changes that happen at least. It never failed though, that in every interview I would be asked: “What is SEO?” My default answer, under the crippling pressure of an interview, would always be an almost exact regurgitation of Moz’s explanation:

“SEO is the practice of improving the quality and quantity of traffic to your website through organic search results.”

That answer is SO. Basic.

So then, what is SEO?

If you’re new to search engine optimization as a profession or if you’re seeking SEO services for your business and you just want to better understand what SEO is, the above explanation from Moz is a good starting point. That’s the statement you take to your Marketing Director or CMO and say “Hey, doesn’t this sound great? I think we need it!” The truth of the matter is that search engine optimization is a lot of things all packaged up neatly into one happy little acronym, SEO, that most of your friends and family will never understand, but you’ll feel super cool explaining to them about how you are in charge of the internet and you get to manipulate search results, and really, the Googs (Google) is your b**** and only listens to what you tell it to do (but with algorithmic resistance).
If you’re anything like me you’re probably thinking “come on lady, I don’t care about you or your experience, just tell me what SEO is!” Ok, fine, but my experience is what makes me the most credible source to teach you. Most people I’ve talked to about SEO over the last hand full of years all explain their experiences similarly as “being thrown to the wolves” because SEO is, exactly as stated above, the ever-changing practice (we’re pretty much website doctors) of making sure your website appeals to search engines.

But you said SEO was a lot of things, so what are all the things?

Search Engine Optimization is often explained as an art and a science because both creative thinking and technical know-how are required for getting your site indexed, improving your site’s rankings, and driving traffic. It’s an iterative process of research, strategy, implementation, analysis, wash, rinse, repeat. It’s a split between content creation and what we like to call tinkering here at Brain Bytes Creative, you know, the back-end code stuff. There are different forms like on-site SEO and off-site SEO… As I said, it’s a lot of things, and I know, if you’re new to this it’s probably all very overwhelming. No worries though, we’ll get through it! On to ALL THE THINGS!

What’s the difference between on-site SEO and off-site SEO?

When you work in SEO you quickly become the master of Google (Bing, Yahoo!, DuckDuckGo, whatever your prefs). You learn how to search the internet better than anyone you know using advanced search operators in combination with “exact match” text to find just the thing you’re looking for in a matter of seconds. Honestly, there’s not much I can’t find in search these days (even the pictures of weird bugs, plants, and critters my Dad texts me asking what they are).
You think I’m kidding….
All that to say, back when I was an intern and my mentor bailed on me and I had to teach myself everything about SEO really fast, the Googs and I became pretty tight. My new mentors were Rand Fishkin (my idol, formerly of Moz and currently SparkToro — he Tweeted to me once which basically means I’m famous right? –),

SEJ SEroundtable Search Engine Land , etc., and learning the difference between on-site and off-site SEO was one of my first steps.

On-page SEO

A lot of the time when people think of on-page, or on-site SEO, they think of the things they literally see on a page or in a page source, like metadata, body copy, etc.. While they’re not wrong, over the years search engines, (namely Google) after the 2015 launch of the RankBrain algorithm update, have become increasingly more sophisticated. Now, with a focus on user experience, there is no longer a need to use a keyword X number of times per 100 words, making on-site SEO less about keywords and more about topics. Don’t get me wrong, keywords are still important, but not in a placement/repetition way like they used to be. Other on-page elements include the use of structured data, internal/cross-linking, page load speed, URL structure, and mobile friendliness.

The biggest takeaway here is on user experience. If the page reads naturally, loads fast, and otherwise checks all the SEO boxes (we’ll get to these) from a usability standpoint, search engines will have no reason to discredit it.

On-page SEO

  • Keywords and Content Development
  • Metadata and Internal Cross-Linking
  • Site Architecture
  • SEO Code Optimization
    • Page Load Speed
    • Structured Data Markup (Schema)
    • Rich Snippets
  • Mobile Friendliness

Off-page SEO

Just as on-page optimizations are things that happen within your site to improve your rank in search engine results pages (SERPs), off-page, or off-site optimizations are the things that happen outside of your site to do the same. Now, you may be thinking “Why would I need to do anything off my site? How could that possibly help me rank better?” Well, off-site SEO is how people searching the internet and how search engines determine your credibility. The higher your domain authority, the higher you rank (assuming you’ve formidably complied to all other search engine optimization tactics, keep away from black-hat SEO). It’s not just domain authority though, off-site SEO also encompasses the page’s popularity, trustworthiness, and relevance.

Off-page SEO recap:

  • Building Backlinks
  • Social Media
  • Local Optimizations

Is one more important than the other?

You may be wondering which is more important between on-page and off-page SEO and the truth is, you can’t have one without the other. If you have no content, there is nothing for people to link to, and if you have no links you have no credibility or reason for search engines to rank your content.
If I had to choose a primary focus though, it’d be on-site SEO, hands down, more specifically, content development. The reason is this: If you write an article or a page and publish it to your site then share a link from your Twitter, LinkedIn, etc., and then your friend shares it, you’re already on your way to building backlinks. While those shares may not have high trust or authority you’re still getting your message out to the world which is step one. You never know, someone with a legendary level of clout may just share or link to your article!

If you want to know how to achieve internet popularity, trust, and authority for your site, check out What is SEO? Part 2: Off-site SEO Explained!

content marketing,conversion rate optimization,design,musings,search engine optimization,user experience,web development

How much does a website cost?

  • Jason
  • ON
  • January 25, 2019

If you are asking this question you are likely trying to determine what you will need to budget for a website for your business. You have come to the right place.

So how much do your websites cost?

Knowing how a great website is created can help give you a better understanding of the cost. Websites, like cars, have a wide range of pricing options. You can get a website for $50,000 or $50,000,000 — it all depends on its features. Keep in mind that building a truly great website is a big task. I always equate building websites to building a brick-and-mortar store location, except it’s somewhere people around the world can visit 24/7/365. Today we will go over each stage of website development and the potential cost involved.

LET’S DIVE IN!

Website discovery

Price depends on a number of factors: the size of the website, the number of competitors, the complexity of the sales funnel, and the depth of research areas the website team explores during discovery. For example, one client might need a discovery into their website’s conversion rate optimization, possibly including a deep dive into performance analytics and session records to determine how visitors are using the current website. Other clients during discovery might simply need us to become familiar with their business and their goals before we begin work. Ultimately, discovery comes down to how able you can specifically identify your website’s problems to solve. The more gray areas, the more a discovery phase can help.

Website discovery cost:
Simple: $500.00 – $1,500.00
Moderate: $2,500.00 – $4,000.00
Complicated: $5,000.00 – $20,000.00

For most businesses, a moderate discovery will suffice. At that rate your website development team should have a firm understanding of most aspects of your business and can apply . If you are skeptical about the need for a discovery, talk it over with your website team and see why they think it’s important. Don’t be afraid to ask questions; most web design agencies are flexible and willing to figure out the most cost-effective way to solve problems.

Flow mapping

Website flow mapping is all about thinking of how users will navigate through your site. You add on layers of complexity as you think through how a user will navigate through every page of your website. Many website companies and their clients believe that people go to your homepage first. That could not be more wrong. People arrive on your site by searching Google for a specific keyword and land on a related page. This is why at our agency we see every page as its own “homepage.” By looking at your website holistically, we can control what happens when someone lands on any page and push them into a sales funnel where appropriate so they convert. The next time you are doing a web search, think about where you are landing. Take note. You’ll see that understanding how users navigate though the site is critical to conversions, goal completions, and revenue.

Website flow map cost:
Simple: $200.00 – $1000.00
Moderate: $2,000.00 – $4,000.00
Complicated: $5,000.00 – $20,000.00

Every business needs to keep flow mapping as a consideration. If you choose not to do a flow mapping exercise, you will lose potential business. Moreover, Google won’t trust websites whose pages are not organized optimally or do not relate to each other in a way that makes sense. What’s important to Google’s advanced algorithm are the page relationships uncovered in flow mapping exercises. Flow mapping connects pages’ subject matter and establishes you as the expert around those specific subjects. That’s huge for both Google and your visitors.

Site architecture

Site architecture is essentially mapping out the navigation of your website. And if you do a flow mapping exercise, it will be clear what pages you need on your website. We use a program called Slickplan to create our site maps. A robust site architecture gives your users and search engines an easier time getting the information they need. Google loves a great filing system. It makes their job easier. By having an easy-to-digest site map, Google rewards you with higher rankings in the SERPS and users reward you with more conversions and goal completions.

Website Site Architecture Cost:
(If you skip flow mapping, this price will likely be very different.)
Simple: $200.00 – $1000.00
Moderate: $1,500.00 – $3,000.00
Complicated: $4,000.00 – $7,000.00

You really can’t get away from this step. Yes, you can do it yourself, but it’s always better to have a team of trained experts by your side because, over and over again, we have seen what works and what does not.

SEO (search engine optimization)

A mistake I made early in my career was not including SEO at the beginning of a project. I’d finish a website and then bring it to an SEO specialist. All it did was frustrate them. Why? Because it turns the website into a game of “What keyword are you trying to rank for?”, a lot like putting the cart before the horse. If I build an entire site with, say, forty pages and every page lacks a keyword focus, several things can happen:

You build pages that rank for zero keywords.

You have multiple pages with the same keywords, therefore cannibalizing your own pages. Google then has to make a decision about which page to serve in its result pages, and if there are a ton of pages with the same keyword, it causes Google to say, “I’m confused. I’m not going to serve any of these pages because it’s unclear what is the best page to serve.”

Google’s job is to serve the best result for any given query. Keep that in mind always, and then common sense comes into play. (If you have pages with the same keyword, make sure to put a rel:canonical tag on the one with the best content.)

You miss keywords that are critical for your business. Missed keyword opportunities mean missed business.

So what will an SEO team do at the beginning of a website project?

  1. Keyword mapping: Keyword mapping is the process of researching the search volume and intent around relevant keywords. Typically our keyword maps start with 300 to 600 keywords, but we quickly expand to tens of thousands after site launch with an important, ongoing SEO retainer. Building a site is just the start. You must think of your website as an evolution. If you don’t you are wasting money!
  2. Content assignments: Our team creates in-depth content assignments for our content creation team and/or your team’s content writers. These assignments list out the main keyword focuses, synonyms of those keywords, and break down each page by <h> tags (header tags) so it’s easy for Google to index and crawl.
  3. Site architecture recommendations: Words matter in search; so does the structure of the website. SEO specialists are always looking for ways to optimize. Having a keyword in your navigation is great, but how it connects to all relevant content is even more important.

Website SEO pricing:
Simple: $1000.00 – $2,000.00
Moderate: $2,500.00 – $4,500.00
Complicated: $5,000.00 – $20,000.00

Website SEO monthly retainer cost:
“I want to play the game and have an internal team”: $1,000.00 – $2,000.00
“I want you to do my SEO and I just want to be relevant in search results”: $2,000.00 – $3,000.00
“I want to win SEO and get to page one in SERPs within the next 6-12 months for specific keywords”: $4,000.00 – $14,000.00

Choosing not to do SEO at the start of your website is a horrible mistake. Trust me! I already told you I’ve skipped it once, and we have the occasional client that decides to skip it even after all my warnings. They all pay the price — retroactive SEO fixes and changes are expensive!

Website content development

Content is king, queen, and everything in between. Search engines rely on content to decipher what is on your website. There are a ton of best practices prescribed to content creation. If you want to be a player in the SEO game, then you must have the content to back it up. Great content (like this amazing post you are currently reading) is critical to website success. A quality content team will write with SEO in mind… ALWAYS.

Did you know that Google wants you to write like a 5th grader? We use the Hemingway app to ensure we deliver content that’s easy to consume. Google also wants your content to be above 300 words. They like 500 better but if you look at pages that rank in the number one position they are typically over 1500 words. My top ranking articles are often over 7,000 words like my article on “Music Video Costs” that ranks #1 or #2 for the keyword “Music Video Cost” since 2013! I beat Wikipedia. That’s how important great content is. Great content helps the reader by supplying them with solid, trustworthy information.

Don’t write your own content? Want to know why? Because you won’t. The majority of clients who say they will write their own content won’t actually do it because it’s hard and requires a dedication that most people don’t have time for. (This blog for example has taken me five airplane trips between Atlanta and Boston.) It’s beyond a simple matter of convenience. Content is not easy to do the right way. Hire an expert. It’s worth it.

Website content development cost per blog article or standard page:
(Depending on the writer and word count.)
Simple, using freelancer: $50.00 – $700.00
Moderate using an agency’s content team : $500.00 – $1000.00
Complicated using an agency: $1,000.00 – $1,.500.00

Website content development cost per in-depth resource (i.e., e-books, white papers, case studies):
(Depending on the writer and word count.)
Simple, using freelancer: $1,000.00 – $1500.00
Moderate using an agency’s content team : $2,000.00 – $3,000.00
Complicated using an agency: $4,000.00 – $6,000.00
*Case studies can be very dense and require a ton of research.

The great thing about creating quality, evergreen content is it has value year after year. I tell clients to think about it like compounding interest. I write articles every year that drive revenue for my business each year after I wrote it, as long as I keep it up-to-date with new information, or if it receives a decent amount of attention online. You can’t just let a piece of content sit stagnant. You need to keep it fresh and accurate.

Website design

Website design is critical to the success of your site. It’s not only the first impression, it’s the full user experience. You’ll hear the term UI/UX thrown around a lot these days because understanding how people use a site is paramount to its success. A good website design team understands user flow and conversion rate optimization — it’s critical to the success of a project. For exceptional and thoughtful website design, you can plan on spending a decent amount of cash; however, that kind of design is critical to helping drive conversions and revenue for your business. Good design is even more critical to e-commerce sites as it helps to reduce checkout friction — from selecting products, to entering payment and shipping details, to confirming purchase.

You can find designers online from $25.00/hr all the way to $150.00/hr depending on experience, but in my opinion a dedicated design team is the way to go. A website design team will produce much more powerful work than a single person building a site. Primarily, there is no diversity in thought with one designer, so you often get opinions rather than decisions based in facts and data. You see, today’s modern design teams don’t just design things that look good. They understand the reasons why websites should be designed a particular way. They have data to back up why sliders usually don’t work, or that you need multiple calls-to-action on a page. They know that anticipating how a user will use a site is more important than how pretty it is. They know that if a visitor doesn’t see what they need in 5 seconds, then they are likely to bounce off the site.

If you are only concerned with how your website looks, take a step back and think about how you use websites. Rarely are you concerned with design aesthetics over practicality. Of course, you won’t trust a site that looks like it was coded in 2008, but you also want a site that gets you the information you are looking for quickly and easily.

Website design cost: homepage
(The homepage is always more costly as it’s the website’s anchor.)
Simple, using freelancer: $300.00 – $700.00
Moderate using an agency : $3400.00 – $4,800.00
Complicated using an agency: $7,000.00 – $10,000.00

Website Design Cost: key pages
Simple, using freelancer: $150.00 – $300.00
Moderate using an agency : $2400.00 – $3,800.00
Complicated using an agency: $4,000.00 – $6,000.00

Website design cost: simple pages
Simple, using freelancer: $100.00 – $200.00
Moderate using an agency : $675.00 – $800.00
Complicated using an agency: $1,000.00 – $1,500.00

Most designers and design agencies will work to get you the most cost effective quote based on the effort involved. It’s likely that the cost of design varies even more deeply than I have laid out above. It’s also important to note that there are a ton of amazing page builders like Elementor and Octane that exist. These page builders allow designers to work within a drag and drop framework allowing them to build custom graphics and build out beautiful pages quickly. The website world is changing and there are a ton of options. A great digital marketing agency will work with you to decide what the best path forward is to you.

Website development

Website development is an area where you don’t want to cheap out. You can do every other step correctly, but this is where the rubber meets the road. The way your website is developed will affect everything from the user experience to the way Google and other search engines index your website and its pages.

In other words, if you take the cheap way out and skimp on development, you are likely to accumulate what we call technical debt. And technical debt is expensive. Technical debt refers to the shortcuts and their bad coding which cause the need for future code fixes (which cost money). You can also go into technical debt from your website going down or a hack caused by poor security measures. Technical debt can be avoided by hiring trusted developers or trusted agencies to code your website. In development you will always pay a price. The question is how much risk you want to take on. Do you pay upfront and know the cost, or do you cross your fingers and deal with the technical debt when it comes out?

Development costs vary greatly depending on the project and the language you are coding in. For example, a WordPress website will be far less to code than a .NET or Node.js website. Another variable is the development team. A younger and less experienced development team might be less money per hour but they will likely take longer to do the work or the quality might not to be as good. That said, there are a ton of really bright young developers so just do your research. An older and more experienced website development team is likely to have a higher hourly rate but also move faster. Again, every situation is different so do your homework.

Website development will affect the following:

  1. SEO indexing in the SERPS
  2. Page speed
  3. User experience
  4. Conversions
  5. Your overall stress levels

Look, #5 on the list is no joke. Worrying about your website can be very stressful and time-consuming. As many of you know, your website is the backbone of your business, and when the website goes down, business is affected. Worrying about the health of your website is a big distraction from running your business operations. It’s always best to hire a reliable team of experts to back you up.

Website development cost: homepage
(The homepage is always more costly as it’s the website’s anchor.)
Simple, using freelancer: $500.00 – $100.00
Moderate, using an agency : $3,600.00 – $5,000.00
Complicated, using an agency: $7,000.00 – $20,000.00

Website development cost: key pages
Simple, using freelancer: $150.00 – $300.00
Moderate, using an agency : $2,600.00 – $4,200.00
Complicated, using an agency: $5,000.00 – $7,000.00

Website development cost: simple pages
Simple, using freelancer: $100.00 – $200.00
Moderate, using an agency : $1,000.00 – $2,000.00
Complicated, using an agency: $3,000.00 – $4,500.00

The cost to develop a website could be expensive, but going back to my aforementioned car analogy… you can get an 1988 Ford Escort and it will get you there, but a new BMW is going to be a better ride and is less likely to breakdown because it’s better engineered and newer. Don’t be cheap. You will pay for it! Technical debt is very real. In 2010 I built a social network for a specific sport. The project went so far over budget that we were pushed to take shortcuts when the client refused to recognize major issues that would come back to haunt their website and severely complicate it down the road. One year after launch the company was out of business because of those issues that were skirted over.

Opinion: Outsourcing the code for cheap, with a company you don’t know, in some faraway place is not a viable option. For example, early in my career I worked with several small development companies in India that promised $12.00/hr for web development. Although they were friendly, I got exactly what I paid for. The point is this: If you are paying anyone $12.00/hr for web development, you can count on the end result being garbage. Don’t learn the hard way.

Disclaimer: I am speaking from my own experiences with developers. This is not a knock against any of the fantastic Indian development companies out there — my point is they likely don’t charge $12.00/hr and I’ve never had the chance to work with them. I’m always open to working with great people so if you have a international team you trust please share them with me in the comments.

How do you choose the right website design and development company?

Choosing a website design partner is not easy. Use these steps to evaluate prospective web dev partners:

  1. Know your budget. Don’t go in blind. Map out your spending threshold and give a range to your prospective web development partners. The saying “the one who says the first number loses” does not apply to the web development world. A budget helps the team building out the website proposal come back with a realistic solution to your problem.
  2. Figure out how much time you can realistically commit to working your website, and determine if your internal team will provide the content. If you don’t have free time, tell the prospective website partner. It allows them to understand how much of the mental load they will hold, which affects the pricing and the process.
  3. Review your website development partner’s portfolio. The portfolio and client list will tell you a ton about your potential partner. Note that just because they have not done something exactly like your project does not mean they can’t do it. Many teams are very agile and can adapt to different businesses and needs. But a good team will be open and honest about their capabilities.
  4. We started our website design and development agency when clients from one of my other businesses kept complaining about their web team’s response times and communication skills. When evaluating a web partner and their proposal, keep an eye on their responsiveness and when they deliver. If they are slow to respond in the sales cycle, think about how their responsiveness when it’s time to deliver a design or a build. Think about how long it will take them to respond if your site goes down or is hacked. Digital marketing moves fast and so should your agency.
  5. Once you get the proposal, make sure that that partner truly understands the project, deliverables, and timeline. Building a website is not easy, so make sure the team pitching truly gets it. Call out things they missed and ask them to make sure those things are considered. However, website designers and developers are people, too, and everyone makes mistakes, so don’t necessarily ditch a great vendor over a missed detail. There are a ton of details with every website, so the occasional oversight shouldn’t take anyone by surprise.

What happens after my website launches?

What happens after you launch is 100% up to you and your budget. The most important thing to remember is that a website is an evolution. With today’s advanced data collection tools, businesses have real insights into how people use their websites. This is an opportunity to dial up your website to boost conversions and revenue. Below are common website questions I get asked after launch:

  1. Do I need to keep doing SEO after my website launches? You should! SEO is a never-ending game, one that most of your competitors are playing. And if you’re not playing, you can’t win. Websites gain authority in the SERPS by creating trustworthy content that’s optimized for specific keywords. And those websites are shared because they provide value. Look at this post. I created this in the hopes that it would help people answer a question I hear all the time: “How much does a website cost?” If it’s truly useful, people will share it and other websites may link to it. This will add value to our entire website.
  2. How much content do I need to create monthly for my website? My opinion is you should be putting up a new article every week at a minimum and you should be editing old post to make sure they are relevant every quarter.
  3. Are blogs important for SEO? Yes. Blogs are one way to stay relevant, and search engines like blogs because they want to see that a website is active, not stagnant. Blogs are also easy to write if you are actually writing about something you know and about which you’re passionate.
  4. How important is social media marketing for my website? Huge. Social media sites and apps are, ultimately, how your content is shared. Although most social network links are opaque and considered “no follow” within website analytics, search engine algorithms still consider social signals as a big trust factor, and will rank your website better because of them.

How much does a Brain Bytes Creative website cost?

Our website costs span a massive range depending on the project. Most sites are between $30K and $60K, but there are many outliers from $15K to $400K. If you’d like to get a quote it’s as easy as clicking here or calling me right now (yes, really).

Good luck!

musings,search engine optimization

8 common misconceptions about SEO

  • Christine
  • ON
  • January 4, 2019
Oh, SEO. If you have not dipped your toes into Search Engine Optimization before, it can seem like quite the beast. Especially when the world of SEO is constantly changing with new discoveries and updates. This in itself can be challenging to keep up with. But when you also throw in all the myths that can direct you away from the true facts, that takes learning SEO to a whole new level…
Don’t freak out!
We are going to get you on the right path by setting the record straight on some common SEO misconceptions. So buckle up, Buttercup! We are about to take a cruise down Truth Street.
Questions and answers on SEO

The misconception section

1. SEO is a gimmick

Let me start off by saying that SEO is not a trick, scam or scheme. It’s pretty legit and can get you the results you’ve been dreaming of… with the right SEO strategy, of course. Honest search engine optimization isn’t about trying to swindle Google’s algorithm to get to the top of search results. Instead, we try to construe which website features and content are most important to users as well as search engines and provide it to them.

CAUTION: Although SEO is not a gimmick, there are sketchy practices out there. There are some “marketers” who use what we call in the biz “black hat SEO”. If someone tells you to use tactics such as keyword stuffing, cloaking and/or using private link networks, run away! These unethical practices are against search engine guidelines and don’t solve for the searcher. Often times, black hat techniques end in a penalty from search engines. So do yourself a favor and stick to honorable SEO practices.

2. You’re going to see immediate results

*Facepalm* As an SEO Agency, we come across this misconception all of the time! SEO is a long-term, never-ending process. Think of it more as maintenance than a single task you can check off your list. How long does it take to see results with SEO? The short answer is “it depends”. Lame answer, but a specific timeframe for SEO results simply doesn’t exist. You might begin seeing progress in organic ranking and an increase in traffic for keyword topics with low competition in just a few weeks. On the contrary, moderately competitive topics might take months, while highly competitive phrases could take over a year to see desired results!

Morale of debunking this myth: Patience is an SEO virtue.

3. You have to be #1

The infamous Ricky Bobby summarizes the next SEO misconception right up, “If you ain’t first, you’re last!”. There’s still a lot speculation around having to be in the #1 position on the first page of Google to be successful. While it’s true that part of the goal of SEO is to get on the first page for your target keywords, it doesn’t actually matter if you’re number one or not. Just being on the first page alone can cause your organic search traffic to skyrocket!

Search engine optimization is so much more than ranking in the top spot. Ranking fluctuates, but the most important thing is that you’re bringing the right people to your website. So here’s a pro tip, free of charge: Instead of focusing on getting your site to rank #1, redirect your focus on who you’re targeting.

4. Set it and forget it

Wouldn’t it be nice to clean your house one time and NEVER have to do it again? Why yes, but sadly this is not the reality. This is the same case with SEO. Simply put, SEO is never done. It’s a continuous process and you should always be monitoring your progress. Even when the clouds part, a ray of sunshine peeks through and you’ve finally hit your SEO goals, you still need to keep at it. If you don’t, you will lose the top spots to someone else.

So instead of “set it and forget it”, change the SEO mantra to “set it, revisit it and repeat”.

5. Keywords are all that you need

Keywords definitely play a large role in SEO, but they are not the end-all factor. Google uses about 200 various factors to rank a site. That’s a crazy amount of components at play! If you just focus on keywords, you are missing out on loads of opportunities to get better SEO results. So spend a proportional amount of your time making sure multiple elements such as content, website architecture, HTML, trust, and social reputation (just to name a few) are also in good order. Doing this as well as having solid keywords and links will give you the results you are looking for.

Does learning about the importance of keywords tickle your fancy? If so, you should check out our “Are Keywords Still Important for SEO?” blog. It’s pretty rad if I do say so myself. 😉

6. Content marketing is the “new” SEO

Word on the street is content marketing is replacing SEO… if you’ve heard this, please ignore! The people saying this are obviously SEO n00bs. Let me break it down for you: engaging content does indeed keep users on your page, but it’s SEO that brings them to your page in the first place.

The meat and potatoes: Content and SEO go hand in hand and need each other to be effective.

7. SEO is too complex

There’s a lot that goes into SEO, but you don’t have to be an expert to give it a go on your own. With the right sources, SEO is quite learnable. Below are a few amazing resources we recommend to help get you started on your journey to understanding and practicing SEO:

Don’t have the time for DIY SEO? Try working with an agency! They should be able to break it down for you in a way that makes sense. If this is not the case, this is not the search marketing agency for you and you should definitely check our What to look for in a search marketing agency blog to aid you in your search.

8. You don’t really need it

Psshhhhhhh… you absolutely do! Especially if you want to be competitive and successful online. Just look at the facts!

Organic search is a great source of traffic and brings in leads. The first page of organic search results has a 71% click-through rate (CTR), while pages two and three have a combined CTR of only 6%! If your not on page 1 you’re missing out on a hell of a lot of opportunities.

This is also a biggy: SEO builds trust and credibility. With SEO, your brand will become harder, better, faster, stronger (just had to through in some Daft Punk for you!). The end goal should be that, when customers search for relevant keywords and phrases, they should find your site at the top of the search results.

Ultimately, SEO should be considered an investment as opposed to a cost.  With a high ROI nonetheless! Lifting your rank to the first page of search results is where most of the clicks go. Be where the people are and the returns can be truly mind-boggling (in a good way)!

Black and white mehaphone

The moment of truth…

If you have fallen for any of these 8 misconceptions, I can’t blame you. With all the information buzzing around the internet, it is easy to have a distorted view of how SEO really works. Even when you think you have it down pat… WHAMMY… here comes something new to learn!

Just be sure to keep these lessons in mind when you are practicing SEO. Also, don’t believe what every Joe Shmoe has to say. Do your research and use reputable SEO sites/experts.

Hope you enjoyed reading this article! Feel free to comment below with any questions/comments.

Need help with SEO? We got you!

Brain Bytes Creative is an Atlanta-based digital marketing agency with a passion for search engine marketing. Want to learn more? Get in touch.

search engine optimization,SEM

How to win online search

  • Jason
  • ON
  • December 29, 2018
content-hub

I’ve been in the digital marketing space for over ten years now. Every year the rules and search algorithms change. As the digital space evolves, my team always plays by the rules, deploying white hat SEO tactics and steering clear of shady black hat ones. It all goes back to a singular belief that Google and other search engines have one job: Give users the best result for any given search query.

When you keep that in mind, it takes the mysticism out of SEO and leaves you with a clear set of rules by which you can win in search. In this article I’ll lay out the seven ways to win online search, simply by helping search engines do their job.

The rules for winning online search

1. Build content hubs.

Content hubs are webs of content containing information around a single subject. For example let’s say you own a HVAC company and want to grow your yearly AC maintenance contracts. You would want to build a series of pages or posts that prove to Google and the other search engines that you are the one-stop-shop for AC maintenance knowledge. You might have heard people refer to this as thought leadership. It’s what search engines feed on.

Don’t want to write content that no one is looking for. Using the Google keyword planning tool, you can find the monthly average search volume on any keyword. Use this data to decide if writing content around a specific keyword is going to have an ROI.

Here is what a content hub about AC maintenance might look like:

    1. Parent: AC Maintenance
    2. Page/Post: Why is AC maintenance important?
    3. What happens when you don’t perform regular AC maintenance?
    4. Your total AC Maintenance guide: What happens during a routine AC checkup
    5. How must does AC maintenance cost?
    6. How to choose a company specializing in AC maintenance?
    7. How to protect your AC units in the winter.
    8. How to prepare your AC units for the fall.
    9. 5 important things to consider before you start running your AC in the summer.
    10. How does air conditioning work?

2. Organize your content.

Once you’ve created the content, it’s important to organize it in your site architecture so search engines can easily connect the dots. Lining up those dots is simple. This means that all the pages are organized (filed) and linked together. Linking all of your content helps establish that you are the thought leader on a given subject. Linking pages together on one site is often called intra-linking.

When you load the pages onto your website, make sure the pages meet technical SEO standards. This means your meta information is plugged in, images are optimized for speed, and your site maps are updated. I also think that it’s important to ping all the search engines to let them know that you have added content to your website. Below is my personal ping list and sample of good meta titles and descriptions.

  • Meta Title Sample: Why AC Maintenance is important in Atlanta, GA (Geographic locations help you show up in areas where you do business.)
  • Meta Description: Maintaining your air conditioning system is critical. Mot performing annual maintenance could cost you thousands of dollars and cause hot sleepless nights.
  • Ping List:
  • http://rpc.pingomatic.com/
  • http://api.feedster.com/ping
  • http://api.moreover.com/ping
  • http://blogsearch.google.com/ping/RPC2
  • http://1470.net/api/ping
  • http://api.feedster.com/ping
  • http://api.moreover.com/RPC2
  • http://api.moreover.com/ping
  • http://api.my.yahoo.com/RPC2
  • http://api.my.yahoo.com/rss/ping
  • http://bblog.com/ping.php
  • http://bitacoras.net/ping
  • http://blog.goo.ne.jp/XMLRPC
  • http://blogdb.jp/xmlrpc
  • http://blogmatcher.com/u.php
  • http://bulkfeeds.net/rpc
  • http://coreblog.org/ping/
  • http://mod-pubsub.org/kn_apps/blogchatt
  • http://www.lasermemory.com/lsrpc/
  • http://ping.amagle.com/
  • http://ping.bitacoras.com
  • http://ping.blo.gs/
  • http://ping.bloggers.jp/rpc/
  • http://ping.cocolog-nifty.com/xmlrpc
  • http://ping.blogmura.jp/rpc/
  • http://ping.exblog.jp/xmlrpc
  • http://ping.feedburner.com
  • http://ping.myblog.jp
  • http://ping.rootblog.com/rpc.php
  • http://ping.syndic8.com/xmlrpc.php
  • http://ping.weblogalot.com/rpc.php
  • http://ping.weblogs.se/
  • http://pingoat.com/goat/RPC2
  • http://rcs.datashed.net/RPC2/
  • http://rpc.blogbuzzmachine.com/RPC2
  • http://rpc.blogrolling.com/pinger/
  • http://rpc.icerocket.com:10080/
  • http://rpc.newsgator.com/
  • http://rpc.pingomatic.com
  • http://rpc.technorati.com/rpc/ping
  • http://rpc.weblogs.com/RPC2
  • http://topicexchange.com/RPC2
  • http://trackback.bakeinu.jp/bakeping.php
  • http://www.a2b.cc/setloc/bp.a2b
  • http://www.bitacoles.net/ping.php
  • http://www.blogdigger.com/RPC2
  • http://www.blogoole.com/ping/
  • http://www.blogoon.net/ping/
  • http://www.blogpeople.net/servlet/weblogUpdates
  • http://www.blogroots.com/tb_populi.blog?id=1
  • http://www.blogshares.com/rpc.php
  • http://www.blogsnow.com/ping
  • http://www.blogstreet.com/xrbin/xmlrpc.cgi
  • http://www.mod-pubsub.org/kn_apps/blogchatter/ping.php
  • http://www.newsisfree.com/RPCCloud
  • http://www.newsisfree.com/xmlrpctest.php
  • http://www.popdex.com/addsite.php
  • http://www.snipsnap.org/RPC2
  • http://www.weblogues.com/RPC/
  • http://xmlrpc.blogg.de
  • http://xping.pubsub.com/ping/
  • http://api.my.yahoo.com/rss/ping
  • http://blogsearch.google.com/ping/RPC2
  • http://ping.amagle.com/
  • http://ping.bitacoras.com
  • http://ping.blo.gs/
  • http://ping.feedburner.com
  • http://ping.rootblog.com/rpc.php
  • http://ping.syndic8.com/xmlrpc.php
  • http://ping.weblogalot.com/rpc.php
  • http://rcs.datashed.net/RPC2/
  • http://rpc.blogbuzzmachine.com/RPC2
  • http://rpc.blogrolling.com/pinger/
  • http://rpc.icerocket.com:10080/
  • http://rpc.newsgator.com/
  • http://rpc.technorati.com/rpc/ping
  • http://rpc.weblogs.com/RPC2
  • http://topicexchange.com/RPC2
  • http://www.blogdigger.com/RPC2
  • http://www.blogoole.com/ping/
  • http://www.blogoon.net/ping/
  • http://www.blogsnow.com/ping
  • http://www.blogstreet.com/xrbin/xmlrpc.cgi
  • http://www.lasermemory.com/lsrpc/
  • http://www.newsisfree.com/RPCCloud
  • http://www.popdex.com/addsite.php
  • http://www.snipsnap.org/RPC2
  • http://www.wasalive.com/ping/
  • http://www.weblogues.com/RPC/

3. Keep creating new content.

A powerful content hub is one that’s updated at least once a month. Search engines want you to edit existing pages regularly, especially if information changes. Make sure the content is fresh. This becomes very important — and more difficult — when you have hundreds of pages. (One tip here: keep a spreadsheet with the dates that pages were last updated. This is very helpful when remembering what older page content needs some love.)

4. Share and boost content on social.

It’s important to get your content in front of people. If your content is well-written and provides valuable information, people will share it. The more it’s shared, the more social signals it sends out, which isn’t just important for attracting prospects — it’s also a ranking factor in most search engine algorithms.

5. Engage with your audience!

If your content is picked up and shared, you will get comments both positive and negative. Respond to all of them. In most cases this counts as add adding new content to the page and makes the page more relevant in the search engine’s eyes.

Get on page 1 for online search!

90% of all searches end on page 1 of search results. The longer you wait to build content hubs, create and optimize content and connect with your audience the harder it will be to get on page one. Too many people keep putting this off. It’s a long game, but those that are playing now will be reaping the rewards in the future.

Want to win at search, but need a hand? We’re here to help.

Brain Bytes Creative is a full-service digital marketing agency in Atlanta, with clients around the country. We’re obsessed with all forms of inbound marketing, from search optimization to content strategy and beyond. In fact, DesignRush recognized us as one of the top inbound marketing companies out there. Thanks, DesignRush!

search engine optimization

SEO: what it is, what it isn’t, and why you need it

  • Jess
  • ON
  • December 19, 2018

What SEO is

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is essentially a collection of strategies that increase the quantity and quality of traffic to your website through organic search engine results. It’s a form of targeted marketing, interwoven throughout your website that helps attract visitors who really want to be there.

Many marketers today rank SEO as one of their most effective digital marketing strategies because the majority of consumers research products online before going to a store. SEO is important because it can help your site appear closer to the top of the search results when consumers are looking for the products or services you provide.

You might have heard SEO described as the inclusion of certain keywords throughout your website’s content. In the past, companies would cram in as many keywords as often as possible on their site in order to see results. This is not the way SEO works today. In fact, this old strategy can have a negative impact on your ranking. Today’s SEO still relies on keywords, but in different ways. Search engines have gotten smarter and understand context better, so keywords are now thoughtfully included throughout in order to be useful, added to copy only when it makes sense.

Other elements which positively impact SEO include:

  • Incorporating internal links throughout your site
  • External links from reputable sites
  • Fast page speeds and solid technical foundation
  • Good user experience and accessibility

What SEO isn’t

  1. SEO isn’t SEM
    Many people new to the world of SEO confuse it with SEM (search engine marketing). These very similar terms are not interchangeable. SEM refers to paid search, sometimes called pay per click (PPC). These are the text-based ads that appear on the top or alongside search results when you enter a search query. SEO and SEM are important parts of search marketing, but they work very differently.
  2. SEO isn’t a quick fix to all your search marketing problems.
    It takes time to strategize and optimize your site, and even longer to start seeing the results. Don’t give up hope if your tactics aren’t making immediate, drastic changes to your traffic. There are changes you can make to see some quick wins in search, but it’s important to remember that SEO is a long-term strategy and will show the best results over time.
  3. It isn’t a “one and done” tactic.
    To be truly competitive in search, you need to continually be improving upon what you’ve done. You may be ranking on page one today, but that doesn’t mean your finished. If you set it and forget it, those competitor sites out there that are actively working to improve their SEO are going to bump you down the list.

Why you need SEO

According to BrightEdge, over 40% of revenue is captured by organic traffic.

This means SEO can positively impact almost half of your business since it targets consumers on the search for information. Unlike when people click on an ad, organic search means your site is discovered without you having to pay for the clickthrough. The higher your site ranks in any given search engine result, the more likely you’ll get that organic click. A higher rank can lead to more visits and more sales.

Chitika states that sites that appear on the first page of search results get 91.5% of the average traffic.

The more prominent your site ranks, the better. Getting a spot on this prime real estate you can improve clicks, build brand awareness and even improve brand loyalty. When a consumer sees your site on that first page, clicks through and has a positive user experience, they’re more likely to become a repeat customer.

All of these boosts translate to more conversions and more business without you having to pay for the user to see you online. When done well, SEO can drive qualified leads.

SEO also compliments other marketing efforts.

It should be seen as an integral part of any business’ overall marketing efforts. It enhances other digital strategies you’ve got in place, such as utilizing social media. It positively influences offline strategies by giving you additional insight into your audience which can translate to how you market to them in all channels. Knowing how you’re being searched for, what keywords others identify with your industry and your company, can become useful information in other areas of marketing such as crafting marketing messages and positioning your brand.

So now you know you need SEO, but what’s next?

In-house SEO vs SEO agency

Deciding this ultimately depends on your needs and the qualifications of your employees, however, there are some clear positives with either option.

In-house SEO

When you keep your SEO efforts in-house, you have a single person is exclusively focused on you. They work directly for you, so they have a complete understanding of your company’s products and needs, and are putting all of their time into your efforts. It’s important to find someone that has skills related to all areas of SEO in order to implement a complete strategy.

Working with an agency

Agencies bring a team of SEO experts to the table where each individual often has extensive knowledge in digital marketing as well as a specific aspect of SEO. Working collaboratively, they will get to know your business in as much detail as possible, digging into optimization areas like website goals, measuring success, and pinpointing target audience while also getting to understand your business by studying your brand, your market position, and what makes you unique. Asking the right questions and getting to know your business ensures everyone associated with your project knows you and your needs.

Agencies may also offer additional services tangential to your SEO needs, enabling you to have a single partner in SEO, web design, CRO, and other areas of digital marketing. You’re also only paying for the time you need, rather than having to cover the salary of a full-time, in-house employee.

search engine optimization

Are keywords still important for SEO?

  • Christine
  • ON
  • December 11, 2018

TLDR: Yes indeed, keywords are still very important for SEO!

Just not in the same way as they used to be. Purely focusing on keywords alone is an outdated practice, but it’s a lot more complex than that. Let’s start at the beginning…
question-mark-1024x512

Keywords’ humble beginning

In the early days, SEO was like the Wild West. It was a lawless and untamed frontier where Marketers were able to roam freely and do as they please. Methods such as keyword stuffing, excessive tagging, and spammy backlinks were often used to generate high search rankings.

Why you may ask? Because it worked! This was due to low competition and the simplicity of early search engine formulas. All you had to do was match specific keywords and your site would end up on the first page of the search results. Botta bing botta boom, it was that easy! These now shady tactics used to fly because it was okay to focus on using the same exact keyword over and over to rank well for it.

Another distinguishing attribute of this period was that there was absolutely no emphasis on content quality. It was common to come across heavily keyword stuffed pages with hardly any valuable information. A lot of the time, these pages didn’t even answer the searcher’s question or inquiry and when it comes down to it, that’s the whole point of search engines! Because of this, changes had to be made…

Search engine ch-ch-ch-ch-changes

Simply put, Google got smarter. They saw the opportunities in connecting searchers to more valuable content and were leaders in the effort to develop a more level playing field for marketers to earn rankings. During this period (2003 – 2005), many updates were made to penalize unethical optimization practices which, in turn, improved indexing.

The keystone changes…

Google Panda update

The year was 2011 when Panda was first introduced. It was a cold day in February and content farms were snuggled up and stuffing keyword after keyword onto their web pages. Their world was then rocked when they found out that Panda was developed specifically to reduce this very practice. With the arrival of Panda, marketers now needed to care more about the quality of the content, not just keywords. Poor and thin content received limited visibility while rich and compelling content valued.

Google Penguin update

Just one year after the great Panda update, another major algorithm update arose: Penguin. Google Penguin waddled into our hearts by continuing the effort to reward high-quality content sites. All the while laying down the hammer on those still using black-hat SEO practices such as keyword stuffing and manipulative link schemes.

Google Hummingbird algorithm

What’s better than an updated search algorithm? An entirely NEW search algorithm! The Hummingbird algorithm… it’s was kind of a big deal when it was announced in 2013. Google’s main objective for this new algorithm was to better understand a searcher’s query. So Hummingbird focuses on matching context to search results. The algorithm no longer looked at just specific keywords, but the context of the content as a whole. Thin and duplicated content became discredited. Ultimately, It’s all about returning better results and satisfy the user’s intent.

RankBrain

Now the big daddy: RankBrain. RankBrain was introduced to the internet in 2015 and is an expansion of Hummingbird. It’s a machine-learning Artificial Intelligence system that is used to sort live search results to help give users the best fit to their search query. RankBrain takes pieces of keywords and truncates them down. So if you have a keyword like Ohio School Systems, RankBrain will use the keyword as a matrix to find every possible variation of that keyword to give the best, most relevant results. It starts with the longest version of your term and keeps shrinking it down (Example: Ohio School Systems > Ohio School System > Ohio School). Major Takeaway, RankBrain has two major duties: understanding keywords and measuring user satisfaction.

Why keywords still matter

With all these search engine algorithm changes we’ve seen over the years, the main focus is now on overall content quality, relevance and behavioral factors (like how long someone is on the site) more than just keywords. Because of this shift, some people say that keywords are less important…

Opinion alert:

It’s our stance that keywords are more important than ever! And here are the top 3 reasons why:

  1. RankBrain and the way it interprets keywords
    As we explained above, it is no longer okay to use the same exact keyword over and over in content, this leads to keyword stuffing and penalties. But keywords are still important when used in keyword families. A keyword family is every possible version of one keyword. Pluralized, singular, etc. Since RankBrain understands these variations, it allows us to write more readable (humanized) content using synonyms and still rank well for keywords. The goal is to make sure it sounds normal and not keyword stuffed. You can accomplish this by using keywords in body copy and metadata such as titles, descriptions and headers.
  2. Google and how it ranks pages
    Let’s get real, we now know that we have to think about how we use keywords differently. But you still need them if you want to rank well on Google. And if you think that’s not crucial, let me throw these stats your way: The first position on Google gets 33% of traffic, with the second position getting around 15% and it just gets worse from there. So yeah, you definitely want to get yourself on page one, and you aren’t getting there without keywords.
  3. SEO strategy is built on keyword research
    Keyword research is the cornerstone of SEO. Knowing the search volume and potential value of keywords helps determine your areas of focus, which helps you build your strategy and determine priorities. It’s basically the roadmap for your SEO initiatives and without it, you’ll be lost.

All-in-all…

…it’s just another keyword in the search bar. We should not disregard the importance of keywords just because of the search engine algorithm updates. Instead of focusing on keywords for search engines’ sake, marketers need to focus on keywords for the users’ sake.

Need help with keyword research?

Let the experts help! We recommend Just Keyword Research for all of your keyword research needs. They create customized keyword research for marketers, agencies and customers. AND they do it faster, better and cheaper than you can do yourself. Sounds too good to be true? See for yourself and contact Just Keyword Research today!

Brain Bytes Creative is an Atlanta-based digital marketing agency with a passion for search engine marketing. Want to learn more? Get in touch.

search engine optimization

Ecommerce SEO: a digital guide to keeping your business right on the money

  • Hillary
  • ON
  • December 7, 2018

So, you’ve had your online business for a while and you’re just not seeing the leads pour in as you had hoped. Especially after spending money on the development of an ecommerce website in the first place. It should just work, right? Wrong. In this guide, we’ll discuss ecommerce SEO and provide you with tips and areas of focus that will help take your online business to the next level.

What is ecommerce SEO?

You may have heard about search engine optimization (SEO), but you’re unsure about how it works for ecommerce or how it could help your online business. To put it simply, ecommerce SEO is the process of analyzing a web-store to identify critical areas of opportunity, then implementing a strategy of improvements, analyzing the changes that result from implementation, and scaling the strategy from the new findings. Rinse. Repeat.

Benefits of SEO for ecommerce sites

A major benefit of SEO for ecommerce sites is that it’s free and what business would turn down a constant influx of high-quality traffic that they didn’t have to pay for?! Aside from getting loads of free traffic, ecommerce SEO can help you achieve the following:

  • Improved search visibility and brand awareness
  • Increased traffic and reduced marketing spend
  • Boosted conversion rates
  • Lowered bounce rates

Optimizing ecommerce sites for SEO

Every ecommerce website is built on different levels of the conversion funnel. You may spend a ton of time optimizing your homepage just to get people to your site, but for an ecommerce site, the homepage is the least valuable. It’s the awareness phase, the page people land on so early in the buying cycle that they usually bounce before they convert. It’s good that they know your store exists but it’s really difficult to drive a sale from the homepage.

The next level is your category pages. Category pages are where interest develops. They get a little higher click-through rate as people browse your product selection. Category pages are great for driving non-brand related traffic and reaching new audiences or people who may not necessarily know about your product specifically but who know that they’re interested in learning more about what the category has to offer.

For an en ecommerce site, however, it’s all about the product pages. These are your conversion pages, it’s where the money’s at. This is where people evaluate your inventory and compare against other items you offer and what your competitors are offering. Product pages should be the primary focus area for ecommerce sites.

But how do you successfully optimize your ecommerce site for SEO? Let’s take a deep dive into important focus areas and tips that will help your business stand out in SERPs against your competition.

Protect your site and users with HTTPS

Every site should be conducting its operation under HTTPS (as of July 2018). HTTPS (hypertext transfer protocol secure) supports the integrity of data being transmitted to and from your site. This is especially important for ecommerce sites because of the transmission of customer information like credit card, name, and address data. HTTPS sites protect against malicious activity while ensuring security and privacy for both your site and your site’s users. If your site is not secured, searchers (who use Chrome) will be notified on arrival and in many cases will then be reluctant to do business on your site. Having an HTTPS site is also incentivized in SERPs (for the time being).

Develop a keyword strategy

Having the right keywords on the right pages makes all the difference in getting searchers to your site, as well as controlling CTR and bounce rate. Keyword research is the foundation of your keyword and content strategies and it’s especially important for ecommerce sites. While you may opt to choose keywords that get a ton of search volume, it’s important to stay aware of the searchers intent and to understand how many resources it’ll take you to rank for specific keywords.

Keyword strategy checklist

  • Search volume

In your industry, 10 searches a month could be huge or you might not bat an eye at 100,000 searches a month, it’s all relativeIf you run a seasonal business you’ll notice fluctuations in search volume so be sure to check historical annual data if you’re planning your keyword strategy during the off-season. Search volume isn’t everything

  • Search intent

Keywords with lower search volume but higher intent match are more likely to convert. If your business sells shirts, using the keyword ‘shirt’ or ‘shirts’ will be too broad and a keyword like ‘women’s purple embroidered long sleeve shirt’ is too specific. But, something like ‘women’s long sleeve shirts’ would be a good mid-tail option that is descriptive enough to target people who’ve already decided on the style of shirt they’d like to purchase. If you’re in the business of selling tobacco pipes, using the keyword ‘pipes’ seems like a good option but again, it’s too broad. Someone searching for pipes may be looking for plumbing supplies, they could be looking up how to prevent pipes from freezing, or they could be looking for a YouTube video featuring Scottish pipes and drums bands.

  • Keyword competition

For ecommerce SEO it’s best to stick to keywords that have a medium to high competition rating in the AdWords platform. The higher the competition, the more money there is to be made. The higher a suggested bid, the more competitive. Generally, you’ll notice that keywords containing a modifier like ‘buy’, ‘purchase’, or ‘for sale’ have a higher suggested bid because these people are likely closer to taking action and therefore more businesses are forking out the cash to get the sale.To take keyword competition to the next level, you could use available web tools (SEMrush) to obtain a keyword’s difficulty score, then run a KOB (keyword opposition to benefit) analysis to determine how much work and how many resources will be involved to accomplish ranking for specific keywords.

Technical SEO & code optimization

Keeping website and server-side attributes in check are very important in ecommerce SEO. If you have not successfully implemented technical SEO tactics or properly optimized code on your site, you may never have the opportunity to be indexed, let alone ranked, and forget making a sale from an organic lead. As an online business with so much to think about from the homepage to categories to product specific pages, there are a lot of things you can do to give your store the boost it needs to rank well in SERPs.

Technical SEO checklist

  • XML sitemaps An XML sitemap can only hold up to 50,000 URLs. Given that even the most basic of ecommerce sites can have 5,000 pages or more, they can fill up pretty fast. Create unique XML sitemaps for categories, products, product videos, images, etc. By separating page types into unique sitemaps you’re future-proofing your site (anticipating over 50,000 pages) and signaling search engines to crawl every page, instead of not indexing pages based on bandwidth or crawl depth.Link XML sitemaps in the robots.txt file and be sure to submit to search engines via webmaster tools or search console with every update, or at least on a consistent, periodic schedule to ensure search engines always have the most up-to-date index.
  • Faceted navigation and paginated content As mentioned, ecommerce sites can rack up a good volume of pages pretty quickly as a result of product load, or if not implemented properly a faceted navigation can create new unique parameter URLs based on every filter option. We absolutely want every product to be crawled, but that can be accomplished through the Products XML Sitemap. You can block indexation of parameters in Google Search Console and other search engine webmaster tools. Use “nofollow” on URLs with more than one facet/filter, and “noindex” on URLs with more than two facets/filters.Use a canonical and rel=prev/next tags properly for paginated content (/page-1, /page-2)
  • Duplicate and thin content issues Every page on a site is unique in that it is about one, very specific thing, and each page’s content should follow suit. From metadata to body copy, every page on an ecommerce site must be unique in order to compete in SERPs.If every page is not or cannot be unique, canonicalization, as mentioned above, was created to resolve duplicate content issues by providing search engines with a primary designated page in which to give credit in SERPs, in a situation where there are several similar pages like, /womens-shirts, /womens-magenta-shirts, /womens-purple-shirts, etc.. In this scenario, /womens-shirts would be the primary or canonical page. Additionally, link equity would be sent to the canonical version of the collection from any links pointing to the variable pages.Pages with duplicate or thin content can be penalized by Google’s Panda algorithm instantly dropping your pages out of the top search result positions. So, in addition to keeping content unique, it also needs to be robust. For primary and category pages, 500 words is fine, and for product pages, 250 words with a bullet-pointed list of features or benefits will suffice.

Code Optimization Checklist

  • Site speed optimization Minifying site assets supports the optimization of site speed through eliminating whitespace between code and reducing file sizes of images and other large resources, effectively “shrinking” the amount of space the code takes up on your page, making it easier for search engines to quickly crawl the site. Another essential piece to site speed optimization is organizing render blocking assets. This means having critical scripts placed in a position where web crawlers won’t have to make multiple rounds of server trips to load massive assets first. Proper asset placement encourages pages to be processed and loaded in a timely manner.
  • Structured data markup on product pages Structured data markup or “rich snippets” are indicated in SERPs by the knowledge panel, star ratings, and other identifiers. Websites are not incentivized by using rich snippets but sites that use these features appear more credible and will generally receive a higher CTR.

Site search optimization

Knowing how people search your site and knowing what they’re searching for can help you understand how to merchandise your products as well as determine prioritization of sale items and items that aren’t worth selling at all. If optimized correctly, each product page should show in SERPs. People who are earlier in the buying cycle may land on your homepage or on a category page and may use your site search bar to look up products on your site, but if they can’t find what they’re looking for, they’ll leave. That’s what makes site search optimization such a major part of ecommerce SEO. With an enterprise site search platform, you can achieve everything from merchandising your site to gaining search insights.

Site search optimization checklist

  • Merchandising Product placement is key for sales. Merchandise product pages by most frequently purchased, highest customer rating or by “people also searched for”, and promote relevant products to the top of site search results by margins, newness or whichever metric is most important to your business goals.
  • Synonyms and redirects Zero result searches are inevitable because let’s be honest, not everyone knows how to spell every word (although predictive text and autocorrect are helping more each day). Optimizing site search for misspellings is important so that people don’t land on zero result search pages often. It’s difficult to predict misspellings so this is generally a constant effort. You can also try to optimize zero results, “did you mean”, with the closest possible match or related searches. You can optimize site search with redirects when you have old product URLs that need to point to the new product version or you can redirect specific search terms to specific URLs so that searchers are always landing on the most relevant product.

Ecommerce SEO is not optional

SEO is not a one and done situation. It’s an ongoing and complicated process of testing and implementing new ideas from keywords to code and technical attributes to site search functionality that will propel your business forward over time. ecommerce SEO is no longer optional if you want to be competitive, in your industry online. If your ecommerce store isn’t attracting the leads or conversions you were expecting, try optimizing your ecommerce site for SEO with these tips.

musings,search engine optimization

What your bad website says about your business

  • Jess
  • ON
  • December 4, 2018

Running a business is hard. There’s a lot to stay on top of, and your website might not make it to the top of your priorities list. It takes a lot of time and a lot of work to build a great site, to keep it up to date, and to make sure it’s working properly. But as long as you have something there for people to go to you’re okay, right? Let’s take a look at why that’s not the best idea.

How you’re hurting yourself

First of all, if you haven’t put at least some effort into your website to optimize it for SEO, then it’s unlikely you’re ranking well in search. So you’re already missing out on a ton of free traffic you could be getting. Ranking well for relevant keywords drives more traffic to your site, and 75% of people never scroll past the first page in search results. The more traffic you have coming in, the more opportunities you have for visitors to convert. This could mean a purchase, signing up for your newsletter, or whatever action you’re trying to get them to do. But if they aren’t finding your site, they can’t convert. End of story.

What about those people that are finding you? Maybe they’re going directly to your site or being referred from somewhere else. Despite your poor search rankings, they’re somehow still finding their way to your website. If what they’re seeing is less than impressive, your website isn’t doing you any favors.

You should absolutely give a damn about your bad reputation and the message you’re sending to site users. Let’s look at what you’re telling your customers by sending them to your bad website:

  1. You don’t care about their experience. Your visitors took the time to find your site and were interested enough to click into it. But they aren’t going to stick around if the user experience is terrible. Are your pages taking forever to load? They aren’t waiting around. Your navigation buttons aren’t working? They’re gone. With the number of excellent websites available making it super easy for people to find what they need, anything that slows them down is going to make a bad impression.
  2. You don’t pay attention to detail. Everyone coming to your site has the potential to want to do business with you. Whether you’re selling a product or service or just providing useful information, you need your visitors to trust you. Spelling and grammar mistakes, poor design, and illegible text all show that you aren’t putting much thought into what you’re showing them, and it’s going to shake their confidence. Who wants to do business with someone they don’t trust?
  3. You’re out of touch. If you want your visitors to believe that you’re an expert in your field, you can’t serve them up outdated info. If the site is showing straight up wrong information like old business hours or outdated pricing, it’s going to cause frustration. If you haven’t posted new content or updated your blog since 2017, you look like you don’t stay up to date on industry trends.

These things certainly can’t be true! Of course you care about your customers’ experience, and yes, you’re up to date on current happenings in your industry. But your website visitors don’t know that. All they know is what you’re showing them. If what you’re showing them isn’t good, why would they think otherwise?

Should you delete your bad website?

Don’t do that. I’m not saying you need to get rid of your website. We live in a digital age, and the average American spends almost 24 hours a week online. Having a website for your business is absolutely the right move. I’m saying you need to put in the effort to make it a great website if you want to see the best results in building brand loyalty, bringing in higher traffic, and increasing your conversions.

A better plan for a better website

Hopefully, by now I’ve convinced you that your bad website is bad news. But don’t panic! Here are some main areas to focus on fixing if you need to turn your site around.

  • Navigation. It should be easy for visitors to get around your site. They’ll spend more time exploring if it isn’t a hassle. Make sure all of your buttons are working correctly and are easy to click on both desktop and mobile. You’ll also want to look at how buttons are labeled and ensure the text is relevant to the page visitors will be taken to.
  • Page speed. If it takes more than 3 seconds for your page to load, you have a problem. After that, you’re going to start to see your bounce rate increase. You can use Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool to see how you’re doing. If you need improvement, try compressing your images, removing render-blocking JavaScript, and minifying CSS, JavaScript, and HTML on your site.
  • Content. Content is key to a great website. You want to have relevant content that completely answers visitors’ questions and keeps them engaging with your site. Great content builds trust, and you diminish that by making silly grammatical errors and spelling mistakes. Even if your content is solid, the way you display it is important. Make sure it’s displaying correctly on both desktop and mobile, and take advantage of white space so it’s easy to read.
  • 404 errors. Nothing looks worse than a site that is actually broken. 404 errors not only look bad, but they can be really frustrating for visitors who are trying to find something on your site. Any pages with 404 errors should be redirected to relevant pages so you’re not just leaving people hanging.

Now get out there and fix that website! Implementing these tips is a great start improving your overall website quality and improving your site’s SEO. If you’re looking for recommendations to solve problems specific to your website, check out Brain Bytes Creative’s SEO consulting services. Our SEO experts coach you through the process of building your online strategy, help you identify areas of weakness and opportunity, and track your progress. Contact us today to get started!