Has It Has Really Been a Quarter Century?

Early search marketers literally created on-the-fly the methodologies that are still in use today. Clever developers constantly wrote and marketed new tools that would gather the data more rapidly that we needed for deeper insights and better campaign performance.

Most early Internet marketers came into the online space accidentally. I was no exception. We all raised our hands at an opportune moment. We stepped off the edge into a void. For me, building a website seemed like a good way to increase the reach of a public relations client’s message. It was a good idea. It was 1995 — a quarter of a century ago. In fact, this good idea launched the second half of my marketing career, with a focus on search marketing.

Lots of Energy and Sharing

Early search marketers literally created on-the-fly the methodologies that are still in use today. Clever developers constantly wrote and marketed new tools that would gather the data more rapidly that we needed for deeper insights and better campaign performance.

There were numerous search engines and directories all vying for dominance, and Google wasn’t even founded until 1998. The big names were Alta Vista, Yahoo! As the industry has matured, it has lost the edginess of the early days. Today there are monoliths that dominate the search industry.

Early on, the sharing of information was essential. The industry grew through sharing what was online in forums like Webmaster World, in person at conferences bearing titles like Search Engine Strategies (that by the title alone clearly gave the prospective attendee a clear picture of what might be learned from attending), and in the written word through numerous online and print publications. I trained to be a college professor, albeit not in technology, but I jumped at any chance to teach/share with my colleagues (and anyone who would listen) my digital marketing insights and discoveries.

It was a wonderful heady ride, but for me the carousel of speaking and traveling came to an abrupt halt five-plus years ago when I returned home from a Pubcon in Las Vegas with my arthritic knees too painful to walk through the airport. I decided to hang up my spurs and stay at my desk and write instead of speaking at conferences; to travel less and train smaller groups.

Grateful for the Opportunity

An opportunity met my decision to focus on writing when I was approached to write a search marketing regular column for Target Marketing. It has been a wonderful opportunity for me to continue having my voice heard without the stress and strain of travel. I will confess that writing a regular column has often forced me to think more deeply about strategies my clients might use — a bonus. I am grateful for this opportunity.

Not Yet Over

Writing a monthly column about search marketing is an excellent discipline, but it can be a distraction. I have found myself increasingly unwilling to let it distract me from other writing tasks. So, as you may have guessed, I am signing off. I am not gone yet, for I am working on a monograph on search and have other writing projects outlined that are calling me. For now, let me say thank you once again for listening to my conference panels and reading my columns.

Why Google Going to the Dark Side Is Bad for Advertisers

Over time, the simplicity of Google’s results page has clearly eroded. In the beginning, Google’s clear user interface was beloved to search users for its ease of access and clarity. It was easy to spot ads, because they were clearly marked. The Google SERP today is visually very noisy, with lots of distractions.

Over time, the simplicity of Google’s results page has clearly eroded. In the beginning, Google’s clear user interface was beloved to search users for its ease of access and clarity. It was easy to spot ads, because they were clearly marked. The Google search engine results page today is visually very noisy, with lots of distractions.

Google rolled out its new UX on mobile several months ago, and — in mid-January — applied the changes to desktop search. Contrary to the company’s claims that the new design “puts a site’s brand front-and-center, helping searchers better understand where information is coming from, more easily scan results and decide what to explore.”

But the change, in fact, blurs the user’s ability to easily differentiate ads from organic listings. These most recent changes have taken the desktop search engine results page into the dark side, for its UX exhibits “dark patterns” in how it differentiates advertising from organic results. This has a significant downside for advertisers, organic search marketers, and their audiences.

Dark Patterns

Coined by Harry Brignull, a London-based UX designer in July 2010, “dark patterns” are user interfaces that are carefully crafted to trick users into taking an action. Although the current layout places a bold “Ad” indicator next to text ads, and shows favicons next to organic brand listings, it is easy for the user scanning a search page quickly to overlook the ad notation or confuse the ad notation with the similarly placed favicons. Many users choose not to click advertisements, preferring to skim the listings for the page that most clearly suggests the answer to their search query. Savvy users know that the ad may not, in fact, deliver the most relevant page for their query and are wary of paid advertisements.

Google has made it harder for the user to rapidly differentiate, particularly on noisy desktop pages, paid ads from organic content. This new layout is not as distracting on mobile, where the small screen makes each listing stand out. The smaller screen visually reduces the clutter, forcing the user to focus on each result card.

A single search for “high heels shoes” on a desktop yields a cluttered page that includes “sponsored” shopping ads, ads (marked with bold Ad indicator), a set of accordions with “People also ask,” a map and local listings box, and finally organic results.

With all of this distraction, the user is likely to click unintentionally on a poorly differentiated ad. In the future, it will be easy for Google to slip more ads into the pages without creating user awareness of the volume of ads being served.

Why Is This Bad?

When the user cannot clearly differentiate an ad from an organic listing, the advertiser pays for clicks that are unintentional. This depletes the advertiser’s budget, without delivering sales conversions. It is too early to tell the exact levels of the unintentional clicks, but it is my clear bet that there will be a significant volume of them.

Contrary to claims, the new UX is not good for the user. It forces the user to slow down to avoid making a perhaps erroneous decision. Rather than enhancing the user experience, the user will be less satisfied with the results delivered.

For organic search marketers, the redesign makes it imperative to have a favicon that works and clearer branding in the search Titles and Descriptions — because the actual link has been visually downgraded. It is now above the Title.

It is expected that Google will continue to test new ways to demarcate ads from content, but the continued blurring of paid and organic results only really benefits Google.

Search Needs Computational Linguistics to Solve Its Problems

The increased use of mobile devices means search must learn to answer questions posed in natural language. Research and tech development at Google on natural language processing is filtering into the search results. So SEOs need to step beyond the keyword into computational linguistics.

As users have become increasingly dependent on their digital devices, they expect to search on them using more natural language to shape the queries. Search is deeply embedded in the fabric of our lives, and we expect more from it than previously.

We spend hours on our mobile devices every day and have devices that rely on natural language processing in our homes to turn the television on or entertain us. Every search is a quest, and users are constantly looking for and expect answers.

The terrain and contours of most e-commerce quests are reasonably easy to interpret, and SEOs have carefully developed methods for identifying keywords and concepts that apply to the most important quests that buyers/searchers will undertake for the products on offer.

Does this extend far enough? Not hardly.

We must stay with our consumers and develop an understanding of the challenges of search and how they are being addressed by those who build and operate search technology.

What’s Going On?

Each day, Google processes billions of searches and has publicly noted that 15% of those queries were previously unseen. This means that Google has no history of what the most relevant pages are to deliver for the query. These queries represent unfamiliar terrain, and Google has built ways to navigate this space.

What Needs to Happen?

The increased use of mobile devices that encourage the use of natural language means search must learn to answer questions posed in natural language. Current research and technology development at Google on natural language processing is filtering into the search results. SEOs need to step beyond the keyword into — are you ready — the arcane science of computational linguistics.

Computational linguistics is an interdisciplinary field that studies language from a computational perspective. Computational linguists build statistical or rule-based models and approaches to linguistic problems, such as natural language and search. The huge computational power available today has opened the door for rapid advances in the last five years. It is time for SEOs to integrate some of these learnings into their SEO practice.

Improving Natural Language Search

In October 2019, Google announced that it would be launching worldwide the BERT algorithm. BERT, short for Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers, is a neural network-based technique for natural language processing (NLP) pre-training. Training and tuning are very important steps in developing working search algorithms. (For more on the science, see this Google blog.)

Google expects this improved model to impact 10% of all searches. It will be particularly helpful for improving queries written or spoken in natural, conversational language.

Some savvy searchers search in keyword-ese, putting long strings of disconnected words together in their queries. By keyword stuffing their query, they hope to get better results.

My own research has shown that the most frequent queries are multiple nouns strung together with an occasional adjective for refinement — long (adjective) house (noun) coat (noun). This is a simple example, but queries that are questions are much more difficult to parse. BERT will go a long way toward eliminating the need to use keyword-ese.

BERT is not to be confused with Google’s improved AI-based system of neural matching that is used to understand how words and concepts relate to one another, a super-synonym system. Combine BERT with the other advances, and we can surely expect better quality results.

Search, as a Study, Is Not Static

SEOs need to learn as much as they can about these technologies. Although it seems — at first blush — that we cannot optimize for it, we can create better content that reacts better to the new technology, watch our performance metrics to see how much and if we are improving, and then make more changes as needed. Now, isn’t that optimizing?

An SEO Consultant’s 4-Point SEO Holiday Wish List for Santa

This year, I want to take a more childish approach and write an SEO wish list for Santa. Here are four things that I want from Santa. These wishes are not big, so I hope Santa can deliver this list.

As I write this post, Thanksgiving and the rush to the end of the year are upon us. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, for it is filled with good cheer, good eats, and no expectation that gifts will be exchanged.

In the past at Thanksgiving, I have written about gratitude. But this year, I want to take a more childish approach and write an SEO wish list for Santa. Here are four things that I want from Santa. These wishes are not big, so I hope Santa can deliver this list:

  • Make all of my clients’ sites super-speedy
  • Teach all of my client teams how to write unique, valuable content — faster
  • Make all client structured data instantly accurate, complete, and error-free
  • Fix all mobile search/usability problems, immediately

Why Is This My Wish List?

Although each of these wishes are for client sites, this is, in fact, a selfish wish list. Fast sites are still the gold standard — table stakes for good SEO results. If Santa will supercharge all of my client sites, then the other SEO tactics that I recommend will have a firm and fast base to run from. It is foolish, read borderline delusional, to assume that a slow or marginally fast site is going to deliver a successful search optimization project.

Content Team Challenges Grow

Today, the message that high-quality content is an SEO must-have has finally seeped deeper into organizations, beyond just the SEO team. As the understanding the impact of content on SEO results grows, it is this SEO’s expectation that content teams will be tasked with creating more and more high-quality content. To meet the demand, content development teams will need to create more content, faster. This wish benefits the SEO consultant and the client.

Structured Data — A Key to Stronger Results

Structured data provide information that search engines can use to understand a site’s content and provide the best search results possible. Adding Schema markup to the HTML improves the way a page displays in search results pages (SERPs) by enhancing the rich snippets that are displayed beneath the page title. The rich results give searchers cues that a page may, in fact, address what they are searching. Clearer signals will result in improved results, but the structured data vocabulary is still evolving. My wish for instant, accurate, complete, and error-free structured data for client sites is a wish for an easier path.

Unaddressed Mobile Problems Are a Brake on Results

Mobile is firmly entrenched as the device of choice for a growing majority of searchers. To deny the importance of mobile is to fly in the face of reality. If a site has mobile issues that are flagged by Google’s Search Console, then it is fair to say that these will act as a brake on the search optimization program’s results. Mobile errors are — to use a sports metaphor — the equivalent of unforced errors. Quickly fixing mobile search/usability problems limits the damage; hence, my wish.

Perhaps, if you believe in Santa, you may get your wishes granted. I know Santa will bring me these four little wishes, because I’ve been very good this year. Maybe?

Flash — It’s Gone: In 2020, Google Search Will Ignore Adobe Flash

When it first launched, Flash was the answer to a static Web, providing rich animation and action. Flash was eagerly welcomed and embraced by Web developers and users. It grew so popular that the Adobe Flash Player runtime, which lets users play Flash content, was installed 500 million times in the second half of 2013.

When it first launched, Flash was the answer to a static Web, providing rich animation and action. Flash was eagerly welcomed and embraced by Web developers and users. It grew so popular that the Adobe Flash Player runtime, which lets users play Flash content, was installed 500 million times in the second half of 2013, with 300 million installations on Android and iOS alone.

Even with this huge popularity, Flash is going to be gone by the end of 2020, replaced by new, faster, more efficient, and secure open standards development technologies, such as HTML5. These newer technologies are more search-friendly than Flash, which required significant efforts to ensure successful indexing.

The lifespan of webpages in search does not neatly coincide with corporate end-of-life announcements for support of specific technologies; therefore, Google’s Oct. 28, 2019, announcement is noteworthy. It says that later this year, Google Search will stop supporting Flash content, will begin ignoring it for search, and will stop indexing standalone SWF files.

Flash Has Burned Out Slowly

In July 2017, Adobe announced that it would no longer be updating and distributing the Flash Player at the end of 2020, and has been actively encouraging content creators to migrate their existing Flash content to the new open formats.

Browser developers have been sunsetting their support for Flash content, forcing users into elaborate workarounds to view Flash content. For example, Microsoft Edge, FireFox 69, and Chrome Version 76 launched in July 2019, and have — by default — disabled Flash.

However, a large volume of Flash content remains on the Web.

In the search-related announcement, Google blithely noted that “Most users and websites won’t see any impact from this change.” I would like to suggest that, as they say in the auto industry, mileage may vary.

How to Check for Search Impact?

Many large sites have thousands of pages, a volume containing valueless antiques. They are in the company’s digital attic. These treasure troves of forgotten content are often the product of unredirected orphaned initiatives.

Did your site once have a little Flash game or a Flash-powered carousel?

These once loved, but now forgotten, pages may still be in the Google index. To ensure that you indeed see no impact from the end of Flash, run a quick check for Flash files on your site. If you have converted all of your content to new technologies, you can still not rest. Just run a check for Flash files from your site that may be in Google. If you do not find any, then enjoy the ride.

If you still have Flash content, you need to convert it to a newer technology. Don’t just use an online converter. These are not necessarily secure. If the file is worthy, redevelop it or make sure that it is properly redirected.

Site Redesigns Don’t Always Improve Search Results

Many e-commerce sites redesign and relaunch with a new look in the fall to capture the attention of holiday shoppers. One of the stated goals of most site redesigns is the endless search for … improved search results. In this article, I’d like to provide some cautionary observations on why these efforts sometimes fail.

Many e-commerce sites redesign and relaunch with a new look in the fall to capture the attention of holiday shoppers. One of the stated goals of most site redesigns is the endless search for … improved search results. In this article, I’d like to provide some cautionary observations on why these efforts sometimes fail.

A clumsy redesign can cause a decline in search results; however, here are four less obvious reasons for inadvertent failure: Putting old wine in a new skin, larding up the optimization, rushing to judgment, and neglecting the infrastructure. Let’s explore each of these in a little more detail.

Old Wine in a New Skin

It is an error to assume that simply changing the look of the site’s templates will yield improved search results. Unless there are changes in the code, a rerouting of the customer journey, and reordering of the presentation, the site has merely undergone a “reskinning” not a redesign.

If the site simply has new imagery slapped on the same old site, the old wine has been poured into a new skin.

It is the same old wine, and no improvements will ensue. It is unwise to expect improved search results when nothing has changed that directly influences what a search engine (or a customer) encounters. For improved search results, changes must be made to the elements of the site that provide search signals. If there are no changes to any of the elements that signal relevancy, Google does not really care that your site templates are a new chic color with pretty graphics.

Relevancy signals might include:

  • Improvements to the customer journey that reduce bounce rate.
  • Recoding H1s and H2s can highlight the content that is significant for search.

Since search is signals-driven, there is no reason to expect improved results — unless the signals change.

Larding up the Optimization

Just adding content is not, in itself, a winning search strategy.

Yes! Today, content is king. And content provides the most essential signal for search. Adding content that is over-optimized, larded thickly with too many keywords, and offering nothing of value, is a recipe for harming the site’s search results, not improving them.

As I have previously written, sites perform better when the content is regularly refreshed and pruned to improve the search signals. Simply adding a large volume of new content without reviewing, trimming, and pruning the existing content will not yield the improvements in search results that can be seen with the use of a more strategic approach that views each piece of content as a signal flag. A large field of jumbled flags will not provide the same clarity that fewer more prominent flags will.

Rushing to Judgment

In almost 40 years working in technology, I have hardly ever worked on a project that was completed ahead of schedule with every planned element completed. If there are elements of a redesign that will influence search, skipping past them or only partially completing the tasks invites poor results.

In my experience, it is sometimes wise to focus keen attention on those elements of the redesign that will influence search ahead of other less sensitive areas. If tradeoffs must be made, it is important to focus on the search-sensitive elements (recoding, rerouting, and strengthening the search signals) as opposed to those elements that are visual only.

Neglecting Infrastructure

Site speed and a positive mobile experience are important for search results, as well as customer interaction. Therefore, it is important to include improving site speed and the mobile experience as part of a redesign or relaunch. If it is slated for post-relaunch, the search results will not necessarily improve. Fix infrastructure first, then improve the signals, and finish with the visuals and you can expect a successful relaunch.

Don’t put old wine a new bottle, Google is a connoisseur of site content.

SEOs: Should You Seek Continuing Education or Certification, Teach Yourself, or Hire Someone?

SEO is an integral part of online marketing and is now included in most marketing curricula offered at colleges. Additionally, there are numerous certification courses offered by tool vendors and various organizations. There is also many SEOs who either learned on the job or are self-taught.

SEO is an integral part of online marketing and is now included in most marketing curricula offered at colleges. Additionally, there are numerous certification courses offered by tool vendors and various organizations. There is also many SEOs who either learned on the job or are self-taught.

Because almost every resume for an online marketer includes a reference to SEO proficiency, the question remains how to evaluate the depth of learning and level of competency of these candidates. Many very experienced SEOs have never studied SEO as part of a curriculum of study.

When I first started working in search, there were just a few online guides and some excellent forums for those wanting to discuss and solve problems. The entire industry was new and evolving. Most SEOs learned through the proverbial school of hard knocks — success, failure. Their colleagues/peers were the teachers, conferences provided extremely valuable learning opportunities.

In today’s business environment, I would not want to trust a key portion of my marketing to an amateur using trial and error. But that was the way it was. Schools are reopening, so I’d like to use this opportunity to provide a few tips for those who are hiring SEOs for their projects.

Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover

Technical SEO is a mixture of both left and right brain skills. A single semester course, certification course, or module will not provide the depth of skill needed to helm a large SEO project.

Not everyone learns SEO through official training. Many SEOs with technical/marketing experience will not have the academic coursework, but they often have learned SEO on the job.

On the other hand, coursework can provide a new hire the necessary knowledge to execute tactical steps on even a very large project.

A marketer who does not have a passing knowledge of code (can read and understand what the code instructions say) and how sites are architected must rely on programmers and other more technically proficient personnel. This is not ideal, for the technical team. The SEO must work collaboratively and in tandem to solve problems and achieve business results. It has been years since I personally wrote code, but I have found it a valuable skill to be able to read, understand and critique what the programmers have created.

Tools Are Just Tools

SEO is the home of the online tool junkie. There are literally dozens of toolsets available for almost every task — from keyword selection to analyzing the finished product. Some of the tools have a steep learning curve, others are very easy to learn and are almost intuitive. If your business has an already defined toolset used for SEO, then it makes sense to search for a candidate who is familiar with your chosen toolset.

To help deal with the need for measuring proficiency, some tool providers offer certifications (for example, Google Analytics and Adobe Analytics). A certified candidate offers the hiring managers a measure of confidence in the candidates’ competency.

However, tools are just tools. A candidate with lots of valuable skills, and who’s maybe even certified on a different toolset, but unfamiliar with your toolset, may still be the best candidate.

Tools are constantly changing, and SEOs must adapt to a fluid tool environment.

Hire the Lifelong Learner

The candidate, whether for an in-house SEO job or from an agency pitching for your business, who claims to know everything about SEO is waving a bright red flag. If a candidate does not have a bottomless curiosity and a rich set of sources of information to consult for continuous learning, their skills will quickly stale and become outdated and obsolete.

Hire the lifelong learner with a broad portfolio of skills for your technical SEO, and you will not go wrong.

The Search Marketer’s Challenge — Striking the Right Balance

Today, the digital marketer has at-hand a veritable arsenal of tools to reach potential customers. There is email, organic search, paid search, and display advertising, all on a dizzying array of platforms.

Today, the digital marketer has at-hand a veritable arsenal of tools to reach potential customers. There is email, organic search, paid search, and display advertising, all on a dizzying array of platforms.

Each platform is busily competing for the marketer’s precious dollars. In the past, organic search has been a dependable, albeit difficult to manage, source of traffic. The Merkle Q2 2019 “Digital Marketing Report” shows that overall in Q2, organic search visits declined by 6%. DuckDuckGo was the only major U.S. search engine to deliver site visit growth in Q2 2019. Organic search produced 23% of all site visits and 21% of mobile site visits in Q2 2019, a substantial share of the market. The sharp focus placed on SEO mobile is aptly placed, because phones and tablets produced 59% of organic search visits.

How are marketers to react to a declining volume of organic search visits when, for so many years, it has been on a nearly continuous rise. In the face of overall search volume declines, marketers must work harder to make sure that they are optimizing not just their organic results, but also the overall mix of platforms and media used: paid and organic search, social, and shopping.

What Are the Drivers?

The answer to what is creating the change in organic search visitors is complex, but one of the answers easily visible to mobile searchers. The small screen is now cluttered with display ads, and the user is likely to not scroll deeply into the results. Those who do and make that click into a site are seldom rewarded with an easy to navigate screen. All too often, the mobile site leaves the user wishing for a better solution.

It is vicious cycle.

A bad user experience discourages the user from making another attempt. Additionally, as users develop favorite sites, where they can dependably navigate and find what they want, they are more likely to direct navigate to them. Amazon is one of these go-to sites; therefore, I have strongly advocated developing a search strategy for Amazon.

In a nutshell, display and paid search, coupled with direct navigation, are creating the environment for decline.

What to Do!

As they say in auto parlance, your mileage may vary.

If you are doing SEO for a site that is in a market sector that does not lend itself to display or is underutilized for paid search, your experience may be different. Declining search results cannot be attributed to the structural changes noted above. A slightly deeper analysis is needed to determine if your decline is driven by SEO mistakes, algorithmic changes, or even market changes. An SEO audit will highlight both SEO mistakes and where algorithmic changes have impacted the site; however, you can easily check for market and consumer preference changes.

Try popping your “money keywords,” those which are key to your business success, into Google Trends using the drop-down to broaden the length of time out from five to 15 years (the max) and then examine the peaks. You may find that the terminology has changed and that you need to revisit your keywords, a tactical solution. If your market has changed, then the challenge shifts from tactical to strategic.

F500 Advertisers Strategize Better, But SEO Still Offers SMBs Growth Opportunities

Recent research has shown that many small advertisers spend all of their marketing budgets online. These businesses, like poker players, go all-in: investing their entire marketing budget on Google and Facebook ads.

Recent research has shown that many small advertisers spend all of their marketing budgets online. These businesses, like poker players, go all-in: investing their entire marketing budget on Google and Facebook ads.

Large businesses approach the online space differently. They apportion their considerable advertising dollars across online and traditional media, seeking synergy in their efforts.

Small business owners often wear many hats and cannot, or rather do not, spend a lot of time on developing marketing strategies. They simply have too few people trying to do too many tasks. Neglecting to budget resources, whether time or money, for localized SEO has significant opportunity costs for these businesses.

Put the Customers Ahead of Rankings

The mobile-first Google environment gives small local businesses chances to shine in search that previously were unavailable. The big brands crowded them out at the top of the listings.

Today, by strategically optimizing the site for the business location, a small business can show up for targeted local searches more easily than it ever has before. The key to this visibility is to make sure that the site offers what an out-of-town searcher might look for as well, as the local clientele.

Create a customer-first, local-first approach to achieve success.

Here is an example of a customer-first, local strategy:

I recently sadly had to look for where to purchase funeral flowers to send to a funeral home in an area that I was unfamiliar with. I found a florist in the area by searching for “flowers for funeral + place name.” Not only did the florist’s site include content on flowers for funerals, but it even had confidence-inspiring photos of some of its work. The phone number was prominently displayed, and I immediately called and made my purchase. My curiosity was pricked, and I asked several questions and found out that the shop was local, not part of a chain, and had carved out several niches in the flower market, including flowers for funerals. Although very busy, the owners had developed a marketing strategy and developed their site to bring in the right customers.

As fate would have it, I encountered another florist in another town, griping about how online is hurting her business. The local shop did not have a clear strategy or even an up-to-date site and was relying on online ads for marketing. The contrast was sharp.

Glom Onto the Free Stuff First

SEO is more than just optimizing the site. For small businesses, there are search freebies that should not be missed. Here are just a few.

  • Google My Business is free. It takes a few hours to set up a business listing. This is the table stakes, so to speak, and many businesses set up a very basic listing and fail to flesh it out or keep it up-to-date. Accuracy is important, particularly for small businesses that have storefronts. It is always amazing to look at a listing and realize that it does not reflect current hours of operation. Additionally, for businesses that are tucked into strip malls, listings that include storefront pictures help bring live customers to the businesses.
  • Yelp and TripAdvisor offer free listing services that any qualifying business should take advantage of to improve its online visibility. Both are large sites and often dominate the top search listings, so the old adage applies: If you can’t beat them, join them.
  • Facebook Pages combined with Facebook Ads create a powerful one-two marketing punch. Just as with Google My Business, it is important to go beyond the very basics and create a page that engages and informs. I am an avid, but awful, golfer — and my personal Facebook feed includes postings from several golf courses. One simply posts pictures, no engagement required. They are merely pretty pictures, and do create an urge to go play the course. Another course recently posted a short post, asking folks to rate — by difficulty — the three Par 5 holes on the course. This post drew instant engagement with many ratings, comments, and likes as responses. This lively engagement created a desire to play the course, just to test out those difficulty ratings that I had assigned. Both courses post regularly on- and off-season, so they always have a share of mind. Both are small businesses looking beyond the ads for their online marketing.

For Improved Search Results, Try Pruning Your Content

Gardening is one of the most popular hobbies in the United States. As an avid gardener, both indoors and out, I’m always searching for how to improve how my garden grows. As a search consultant, I am always looking for how to improve a site’s organic search performance.

Gardening is one of the most popular hobbies in the United States. As an avid gardener, both indoors and out, I’m always searching for how to improve how my garden grows. As a search consultant, I am always looking for how to improve a site’s organic search performance. The nexus of these two quests lies in the site’s content.

Search has become content-driven. Google is hungry for quality, fresh content and rewards it in the results; but, like a garden, content must be pruned.

Like amateur gardeners, many site owners have added loads of evergreen content to their sites and layered more content on top of even more content. It is sometimes lost that each new layer of content must balance and play off the existing content; otherwise it can obscure and diminish the desired result. The site can easily become — in gardening terms — overgrown.

If you have added extensive content over the past two-to-three years, it is probably time to step back, assess organic search results and prune your content. You may even need to reorganize some pages and site areas so that they are more visible, just as a gardener moves a plant to improve its exposure to sun and moisture.

Here are some suggestions for how to prune and garden your content:

Content Pruning Differs From Content Curation

Content curation involves the process of discovering, gathering, and presenting digital content that surrounds a specific subject matter. It does not specifically involve the generation of new content. The activity of content pruning is somewhat different, in that it specifically addresses content created to improve search performance.

Why Prune Content?

Pruning, in gardening parlance, is clipping or cutting away of branches, buds and leaves, both living and dead, that sap energy from the plant. A properly pruned plant grows healthier and stronger. Because SEO content is developed to support traffic to specific pages, SEO pruning can yield a page that provides a stronger set of search signals and yields improved performance.

When and How to Prune?

Your business cycle will set the proper time for SEO pruning. It is not a task that should be undertaken during peak sales season. Schedule it for off-peak times.

Begin by evaluating how long your so-called evergreen content has been sitting without being critically evaluated for how well it is performing. For each page and section, ask yourself:

  • Is the page being found for your keyword targets?
  • Does it compete with another page on your site?

If so, then some serious pruning needs to be done. You may find that the page simply needs to be tightened or freshened. If it has links, check if any are broken. If so, then these need to be fixed immediately, for broken links are deadwood. Do you have newer, stronger imagery that can add impact? If so, this is the equivalent of enhancing new growth in a plant.

Conclusion

For a large site with a substantial amount of older evergreen content, the results can be startling. If you have done the process critically and removed the deadwood and made the main thrust of each page, and by extension each site section, more clearly defined, you will be sending a clearer set of search signals. Watch the results and just as with gardening, you will enjoy a more bountiful harvest of search traffic.