Why Brand Matters in Organic SEO

Many years ago when I was a pre-digital marketer, when we couldn’t or didn’t measure (shame on us!) the direct results of every marketing initiative, we readily used “brand exposure” as a catch-all for marketing goodness.

Content thiefMany years ago when I was a pre-digital marketer, when we couldn’t or didn’t measure (shame on us!) the direct results of every marketing initiative, we readily used “brand exposure” as a catch-all for marketing goodness.

For example, a tradeshow appearance that netted disappointing sales was deemed to have offered “good brand exposure.” As I worked my way up as a marketer, it became increasingly apparent that “good brand exposure” was the refuge of programs of dubious value and tactics that just didn’t quite work out as planned. The result was that I became a confessed doubter of the value of most branding programs.

Then, as we roared into the digital age, where the measurement and metrics for digital marketing initiatives have bloomed, I have heard fewer initiatives whitewashed as “good brand exposure.” Over time, I have rethought my personal skepticism on what is good brand exposure and consequently the value of branding.

Success in Mobile and Organic Search Requires Strong Branding

All marketers want the searcher to look for their name, their brand and their site. This is obvious, but what is not so obvious is how branding efforts now play through in organic search.

Google typically shows a company’s name as the first organic search result. The value of name recognition is evident. Searchers looking for you by name will be delivered to you.

With the shrunken screens on mobile devices and their impact on how the search results page displays, brand name recognition is ever more important. Imprinting your name, correctly spelled, is today of utmost importance. This becomes very important when there are multiple companies with similar names, all vying for that top spot in the search results.

For pure-play e-commerce vendors, whose domain is a surrogate for their brand name, domain name recognition equals brand recognition. The No. 1 spot for their domain name in the search results is essential to their success.

Seems easy, doesn’t it? Not so fast.

There is a wrinkle. Without the support of additional branding efforts, it is easy for name-confusion to replace name-recognition. Scrapers and counterfeiters operating overseas often exploit name similarity by buying domain names similar to a leading online-only merchant. Unless there is strong brand protection and support to create the overall brand personality for the business, then the searcher can be easily misled and duped into buying from a look-alike, name-almost-alike merchant.

Brand protection should be a key part of the online e-commerce search strategy. This protection may require that you purchase domain names that are not just the usual misspellings but also those that might be exploited by a scraper.

The second level of protection requires going after counterfeiters and scrapers who steal your traffic and your business.

Part of your branding efforts should focus on making sure that your potential customers will enter your name correctly in the search box. This cries for consistency across all online media platforms.

All too frequently, I have seen companies that give their social media accounts cutesy names. These efforts, while creative, do not assist in building name recognition so that your name will be accurately placed in a search box.

While you are at it, check to see what is delivered in that first search result and see if it actually reflects what a searcher might come looking for. Then, you will truly be getting “good brand exposure.”

Google Finally Shuts the Door on Doorway Pages

Google seldom gives search engine marketers advance warning of algorithmic changes; however, in a rare move recently Google announced plans to penalize “doorway pages” through a ranking algorithmic adjustment. At the same time, Google clarified its quality guidelines on what constitutes a “doorway page.” Designed to increase a site’s search footprint for specific keywords, “doorway pages” are an old and discredited search marketing tactic. Google in its guidelines for Web development has routinely advised marketers to avoid using doorway page campaigns, because they yield a poor user experience. The question this recent move begs then is: Why is Google going after “doorway pages” now?

Google seldom gives search engine marketers advance warning of algorithmic changes; however, in a rare move recently Google announced plans to penalize “doorway pages” through a ranking algorithmic adjustment. At the same time Google, clarified its quality guidelines on what constitutes a “doorway page.” Designed to increase a site’s search footprint for specific keywords, “doorway pages” are an old and discredited search marketing tactic. Google in its guidelines for Web development has routinely advised marketers to avoid using doorway page campaigns, because they yield a poor user experience. The question this recent move begs then is: Why is Google going after “doorway pages” now?

Although it is Google’s long-standing profile that “doorway pages” are bad practice, and Google has had the technology to detect them for many years, the decision to go after them now is that, in my opinion, they have recently proliferated in morphed forms, particularly for local results. Google’s decision is also consistent with its attack on “thin content” sites. “Doorway pages” were the original thin content pages. In their early format, “doorway pages” were often machine-generated, with keywords plugged into very generic content. As search marketing has evolved, so, too, have “doorway pages,” and the new morphed forms provide almost as bad a user experience as the original machine-generated pages.

With the shift from desktop to mobile, users want crisper, more keenly targeted local results and do not want to be directed to a low-quality doorway page or a bridge page that forces them to make yet another click. It is particularly frustrating to the growing audience of mobile searchers to be guided by Google’s results to “doorway pages,” that provide little more information than Google’s search page. “Doorway pages” often create a carousel effect, where the user performs a search and is continuously lead to the same page, in spite of changing the query. These pages maximize the site owner’s search footprint as well as the user’s frustration. Because “doorway page” programs are often used to funnel localized traffic, they sit at the intersection of local and mobile search. This is a highly competitive space for Google.

Google has clearly indicated the type of pages it classifies as “doorway pages.” According to Google, these pages are created solely to derive traffic for specific queries. They can lead to multiple similar pages in user search results, where each result ends up taking the user to essentially the same destination. They are sometimes bridge pages that lead users to intermediate pages instead of to their final destination. They often have multiple domain names or pages targeted at specific regions or cities that funnel users to one page. These pages often look like search results pages instead of content pages, and they often function as geographic traffic funnels.

If you are not sure whether your search tactics employ “doorway pages,” now is the time to take a closer look at whether your pages fit the profile that Google indicated in its announcement. If you are not sure, my advice is quite simple—don’t fool yourself. You probably need to rethink your strategy quickly. Your very first step should be to block Googlebot from those pages and begin redirecting them to quality pages.

For some businesses and site owners whose search tactics have relied on large “doorway page” campaigns to drive traffic and manipulate the search results, this change could have a seismic impact. If your competitors have been using “doorway pages” and you have not, the change could boost your ranking performance. If this change leads to an improvement in search engine results quality, it will be a clear win for users.

Must Love Dogs, and Other Content Marketing Advice

Content Marketing is a lot like dating. If you create your dating profile based on what you think potential life mates might be interested in, but don’t accurately reflect who you really are, then your first date will probably be a short one.

Content Marketing is a lot like dating.

If you create your dating profile based on what you think potential life mates might be interested in, but don’t accurately reflect who you really are, then your first date will probably be a short one.

After all, if you’re an active sports enthusiast who loves dogs and isn’t afraid to speak your mind, then why would you pretend to be otherwise? Do you think that nobody will wink at you online if you’re honest about yourself? Do you think “tricking” someone into asking you out has the possibility of turning into a long term relationship?

Many businesses continue to get poor results for their content marketing efforts because they’re attempting to be something that they’re not. When Google’s algorithm discovers that your content has a lot of bounces because it does NOT really answer a Google inquiry on a topic, your search result gets moved to the back of the pack. There’s no “gaming” the system by stuffing keywords in your meta tag—Google is simply trying to figure out what a page is all about so they can serve up an authentic answer to the search inquiry.

I keep going back to the story about Marcus Sheridan, the pool company owner who started writing a blog based on answering their customers’ questions. As a result, his pool company is thriving and his website gets more traffic than any other pool company site in the world—and Marcus started an online consulting business to help other companies achieve similar results.

The secret to his success? Answering every single question a consumer could possibly have about buying a fiberglass pool in a frank and personable way. Now when a consumer asks Google a question about fiberglass pools, Marcus’ site is at the top of the organic search results because web traffic clicks and time spent on his site tell Google that his answers are the most “helpful” and relevant to the question being asked. Marcus gets an “A” for Content Marketing.

But why do most businesses still get an “F” for their attempts??

Primarily because they’re afraid: Afraid to answer questions honestly out of fear that it might make their product or service look bad; Afraid that they won’t look like they know what they’re talking about; Afraid that the competition will read their content and “steal” their answers or ideas; Afraid that someone will read their content then shop elsewhere to find the same solution… Only cheaper.

But Marcus wasn’t afraid. He had deep experience in the pool business, and was happy to share it with anyone who asked. He knew that by demonstrating his knowledge he would attract more inquiries, interest and referrals, because at the end of the day, we all love to do business with people who know what they’re talking about—people who give us confidence because we know we’ve made the right decision by purchasing from an expert.

I recently read a great quote from Phil Darby—a pioneer in new branding—who said, “You won’t build relationships by talking about yourself all the time.”

You couldn’t be more right, Phil, and just like in dating, no one wants to sit with someone who drones on and on about themselves.

Great content adds value to a topic; brings a fresh perspective to an issue, or provides advice and counsel on how to solve a problem—all without the chest pounding.

And, if you continuously post content to your site and distribute through other social media channels, that will help with SEO efforts because according to Searchmetrics, 7 out of 10 of the most important factors in SEO ranking now come from social media. Whether you post it on LinkedIn, Google+, tweet about it, or link to a Facebook post, all these efforts help optimize your search results.

Take a fresh look at your content—is it authentic? Does it truly help the reader gain new knowledge or insight on a topic? Or is it just the lipstick on your pig?

Is Your Content Fresh, Frequent and Unique?

Today, your content plays a much larger role in getting top search results than ever before; therefore, it may be time to adjust your SEO content. In September 2013, Google unveiled Hummingbird, the single largest revamp of its basic search algorithm in more than 10 years. The intent of this major change was to improve the speed and precision of the processing. It was also designed to address the changes in searcher behavior as search volumes continue to shift from desktop computers to mobile devices.

Today, your content plays a much larger role in getting top search results than ever before; therefore, it may be time to adjust your SEO content. In September 2013, Google unveiled Hummingbird, the single largest revamp of its basic search algorithm in more than 10 years. The intent of this major change was to improve the speed and precision of the processing. It was also designed to address the changes in searcher behavior as search volumes continue to shift from desktop computers to mobile devices.

Hummingbird uses signals derived from the query and the user’s behavior to assist in delivering a result that quickly and precisely answers what the user really wants to find. When users search on mobile devices, they are frequently asking specific questions in conversational language: “Where is the nearest flower shop?” or “How many miles to … ?” Hummingbird was designed to address these natural language questions and provide specific and precise answers. To be found relevant, your content must address the needs of searchers for real information.

Although Hummingbird is expected to impact 90 percent of searches, many marketers are unaware of its influence on their search traffic. No significant shifts in Web traffic were reported worldwide after its launch. This is because the impact on most well-optimized sites was negligible. This should not be interpreted as a license to maintain the status quo on your search efforts. As users become more accustomed to receiving quality results from their conversational search queries, they will expect content that is honed to specifically address the questions that they form into queries.

To meet these expectations, your content should present answers to the types of questions that might be posed in a search query. It should be rich in useful information that is presented clearly. If you expect your content to appear near the top of the search results, it must meet these three criteria: fresh, frequent and unique. Over time, we can expect to see steadily improving search results for sites that understand and actualize these content requirements.

Fresh content does not necessarily mean that all of your content must be new. If you previously developed, as part of your search program, evergreen pieces, such as “frequently asked questions” or how-to articles, you should revisit them and check how long they have been on your site. Would they benefit from an update or a revision, or just a reformatting? For Google, fresh content is better than stale content. Just as no one really wants to read the stale magazines in the doctor’s waiting room; they don’t want the digital equivalent delivered in response to their search queries. Google obliges this by screening for the newest, freshest content. Now is the time to refresh those evergreen content pieces, even if you have not seen a negative shift in your search volumes. You may be able to capture additional visitors who are seeking answers to those questions that you have cleverly addressed.

Because frequency is another criterion used to evaluate the value of your content, you should be sure to have a schedule for adding more content and for refreshing older pieces. Take a lesson from the success of blog sites. Those with frequent posts of fresh content are rewarded with more search traffic than those with just a few stale posts. Consider how you might apply the same principles to content additions to your website.

Your content must also be unique—not just an aging chestnut. Avoid stale recitations or rehashes of information. Ask yourself: “Does this provide something that is new, unique—or is it just content for the sake of content?” For search success in the future, you will need to pay close attention to your content strategy and deliver fresh, frequent and unique content.