More Rules and Regulations for Content Marketers

So, content marketers, let’s talk about the regulatory environment more broadly, because one thing is for certain: the web, as wild and woolly as online discourse may be, is no longer the Wild West. Online marketing is now being held to a much higher standard.

Privacy protection, accessibility, and copyright —  oh, my!

Last time around, we talked about data privacy regulations as they apply to non-transactional sites. As confusing a landscape as those regulations currently present, they’re not the only regulations with which you need to be aware and compliant.

So, let’s talk about the regulatory environment more broadly, because one thing is for certain: the web, as wild and woolly as online discourse may be, is no longer the Wild West. Online marketing is now being held to a much higher standard than it has been, so you’ll want to be sure you have a plan in place to build your site by the book and to remain compliant. Otherwise, you risk spending more time talking to lawyers than to prospects.

Accessibility

If you built your website without accessibility in mind, chances are you’re not going to be happy when your website developers tell you what it’s going to cost to make it compliant. In many cases, it can make more sense to start from scratch, given the investment involved.

On the plus side, the cost to design and build a new website with compliance in mind is only incrementally greater than building that same site without WCAG Level AA compliance as your goal.

There is some extra work to be done, but for the most part, compliance requires a change in mindset for designers and some slightly different coding tactics for the dev team. Once that’s in place, it’s really only a matter of making sure new content additions are made in a compliant manner. (Image alt tags must be included, for example.)

You’ll want to include an accessibility statement on your site that includes a way for visitors who are having trouble consuming your content to contact you and seek remediation.

Privacy and Data Protection

As we’ve discussed, you need a privacy policy and you need to abide by it. If you haven’t told people that you’re planning on selling their email addresses to the highest bidder, you probably can’t. (Regulations differ by jurisdiction and industry; check with a lawyer.)

Once you have a collection of data, you need to take steps to keep that data safe, both in storage and in any transmittal or other use. Again, your industry may have specific compliance standards that you have to meet, and you may need to document the protections you’ve put in place.

Copyright

If you don’t own it, don’t publish it. This should be obvious, but often marketers make mistakes that can be costly.

Images are the most common area where errors occur. Doing a web search and then publishing any old image you find is a recipe for disaster. Going through a respected stock image library and paying for the images you use is the safest approach.

If you’d prefer not to go that route, you can use the Google Advanced Image Search tool. It is an excellent way to search for images to use in your digital marketing if you filter to include only those that are “free to use, share, or modify, even commercially.”

Don’t even think about trying to use an image from a stock image library without licensing it. They can and will find you. They can and will demand payment, usually well beyond what the initial license would have cost. (Also worth noting is that technically, for most stock image libraries, any image you use should be licensed under your firm’s name rather than by your design agency. That approach is also just smart business, because you may not always be working with that design team.)

When copy is purloined, it’s even easier to track down. Even if you get away with it, the search engines may very well penalize you for publishing duplicate content. There are other ways to get on the search engines’ bad sides, so be careful if you’re republishing content from other sources, even if it’s content that you have the right to republish.

Finally, think twice before stealing code. It’s an open source world, but that doesn’t mean you’re free to take and use anything you find in your travels. At the very least, attribution may be required. Most code libraries, snippets, etc., may require license fees — regardless of how they’re used. Some require payment only if you want updates or support. This can be harder for marketers to police, so be sure to have a regularly scheduled review with your dev team.

Spend Time on This

These regulations — and whatever may be coming down the pike in the future — make investing in digital expertise ever more important. Your team needs the time and mandate to stay on top of what regulations apply to your business and best practices for remaining compliant.

Striving for Continuous Website Marketing Improvement

Taking small actions on a regular basis are likely lead to more meaningful improvements to your website marketing than a large investment in a website “refresh” or relaunch every two or three years.

It’s a mistake to think about your website marketing efforts as set-it-and-forget-it investments.

You’re probably thinking, “Well, yeah. That’s pretty obvious!”

It’s unlikely that you aren’t aware of the value and importance of a steady stream of fresh content on your website at this point in the maturity of the web as a digital marketing tool. And you’re almost certainly already aware of the necessity to integrate your website into your marketing more broadly, from your email marketing to your social media efforts to your CRM system.

All of which means you have a pretty dynamic website. It doesn’t look the same today as it did six months ago.

But that’s not where your growth-focused thinking should end. If you seek to continually improve your marketing performance, you have to implement incremental changes to your website on a regular basis.

Finding the Right Frequency for Marketing-Focused Website Updates

How frequently you make these changes will depend on your site’s traffic volume and the resources you have to identify opportunities for improvement and to make the necessary changes .

Regardless of frequency, the key is to make changes systematically and track performance so you know what’s working and what isn’t.

The improvements you make should be based on three kinds of data:

  • Straightforward analytics metrics
  • Feedback from prospects, clients, your sales team, and other client-facing staff
  • Your gut

That last one is sure to be either a shock to your system or to make you sigh with relief. Even with data-driven marketing being all the rage — and justifiably so, in most situations — there’s no reason not to lean on your years of experience and what your inner voice is telling you.

For example, a client of ours didn’t have a lot of data to back up the changes she wanted to make to a section of her website that was neither outperforming nor lagging behind other content. She just had a hunch that changes would have an impact on engagement and lead generation.

We helped her update the presentation of this particular content in a way that made it more useful beyond the website, easier to connect to through her email marketing, and far more sharable on social media.

We also worked to update her analytics so that future updates in this areas could be based on metrics, as well any hunches the client had.

What Will Move the Marketing Needle?

Not sure what might move the needle? The best places to start include these:

  • Calls to action
  • Content gating strategies
  • Progressive profiling parameters
  • Page layout and design
    • Colors
    • Pull quotes
    • CTA placement

Changes to any one of these could yield measurable improvements in engagement or conversion rates. And taking small actions on a regular basis are likely lead to more meaningful website marketing improvements than a large investment in a website “refresh” or relaunch every two or three years.

Overall, the key to continuous improvement in your marketing is measurement. Experimentation and adjustment can easily become change for change’s sake, if you’re not measuring impact.

I would also caution against chasing after the latest shiny object. That’s a real danger, if you implement a policy of incremental changes without a long-term plan documented and agreed to by your entire team. Know where you want to go in the long-term and take short-term actions to move you closer to your digital marketing goals.

MarTech Profile: How to Turn Anonymous Website Visitors Into Leads With Stirista

Collecting information about website visitors, a standard practice in B2B marketing, is now becoming available to consumer marketers. I recently had a chat about it with Karl Van Delden, who heads product management at Stirista.

Collecting information about website visitors, a standard practice in B2B marketing, is now becoming available to consumer marketers. I recently had a chat about it with Karl Van Delden, who heads product management at Stirista.

His latest product is Visitor ID Graph, which allows consumer-driven companies to identify the visitors to their websites. Using VIG, site owners can now capture the contact information of as many as 45% of their visitors, for analysis and ongoing marketing communications.

Ruth P. Stevens: Karl, I’d like to ask you some details about the new Visitor ID Graph capability from Stirista and why it’s such a powerful tool for consumer marketers. As I understand it, VIG lets website owners identify the actual names and contact information of visitors to their websites. Please explain how it works.

KVD: We start by enabling the site owner to do first-party visitor tracking. It’s a small piece of code they can quickly attach to their site’s header. It doesn’t capture any PII, or personal information. It’s the same scope of data used with Google Analytics and similar reporting tools.

The real value happens when we match those captures back to our opt-in consumer data file, to provide the name, email, and postal information. This also allows us to enable the user to leverage additional insights, such as demographics and geolocation, to help the site owners to further segment their visitor audience.

RPS: So you’re delivering both the contact info and the demographic of visitors. This has big implications for consumer marketers, right?

KVD: Yes, this data is really valuable. These are people who have come right to your online front door, with a clear interest in what you are offering. You get everything you need to re-engage them effectively through your preferred marketing channels.

RPS: Traditionally, the only way to de-anonymize your website visitors was to make an offer and persuade visitors to fill out a form or sign up for a newsletter.  But you typically only get a small percentage of visitors to do that — like maybe 1% or 2%, if you’re lucky. With VIG, what kind of match rates can we expect to get?

KVD: Typically, for a consumer-facing business, we see anywhere from 25 to 45% match rates.

RPS: So, I can expect to identify 25% to 45% of my site visitors and add those names to my marketing database. And what does it cost?

KVD:  Subscription plans start out at $500 per month, to activate one website and download up to 2,000 contacts. That’s the base, so it really only gets cheaper from there, whether you need more contacts for your site, or to activate another site entirely. These plans cap out at 12,000 contacts, which can support up to six sites, but it’s also possible for us to create custom plans above these volumes.

RPS: So, $500 gets you 2,000 names. That’s a great deal; especially since these people have already visited your website. So they’re much more qualified than an ordinary list. What kinds of clients are using the service so far?

KVD: All manner, really, but I’ve been surprised with its popularity with retail, brick-and-mortar shops. Everything from furniture stores, to auto dealers, and beyond. They can then retarget or even just identify some of the countless visitors that bounce off their site.

RPS: You’re offering a free account, like a free trial, right? So I can set VIG up for my site, or various sites I own, and see the names of the visitors as they match up, and then when I want to download the names and use them in my marketing, I can choose a payment plan.

I can see marketers salivating at the chance to identify visitors who come by from all kinds of sources, from campaigns, from SEO, over the transom, whatever. Now that VIG is launched, what other features and functionality do you have planned for it?

KVD: Well, so far, we have a pretty good hold on the essentials — setup, reporting, getting the data, and some supporting features to give flexibility to users. The next big focus will be providing new options for how to use it. This will include a built-in CRM and integration points for popular third-party CRMs and CDPs.

RPS: And if users want to get help, or find out more, or give you suggestions for how to make the product better, how should they get in touch with you?

KVD: We would welcome anyone who is interested to email us at info@stirista.com, to set up a consultation or demo. You can also visit visitoridgraph.com if you want to jump in for yourself.

As I mentioned before, everything shy of the data purchase step can be done on a free account, so I would invite anyone even remotely interested to check it out, see how simple it is to begin tracking your site, and, of course, see how many data matches you get.

A version of this article appeared originally in Biznology, the digital marketing blog.

Does Google Really Need Your Website? Well, How Mobile-Friendly Are You?

In the last two months alone, two significant updates have occurred to the Google algorithm — creating volatility in the search results. The second update happened around March 15, and was a major update — a Core Algorithm Update.

In the last two months alone, two significant updates have occurred to the Google algorithm — creating volatility in the search results. The second update happened around March 15, and was a major update — a Core Algorithm Update.

These core updates occur several times a year. Recovering from rankings drops created by a core algorithmic change is not about fixing a page. I contend that just fixing a few pages is an exercise as fruitful in arranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

Instead, you site owners should ask yourselves, honestly, does Google really need the website? The answer is often “no,” so Internet management teams avoid the question and pour their efforts and funds into fixing pages in response to algorithmic updates.

The way to avoid making fixes is to think like long and big. Think like Google, and use its learning on search and user intent to make your site valuable.

Why Should Google Want Your Site?

With its proclaimed intent to index all the world’s knowledge, it could be argued that Google needs your site to fulfill this mission.

But just being included does not mean showing up in the top results. What brings a site to the top of the results? It is the user and whether your site answers the intent of the user’s query.

If a page and, by extension, the entire site addresses the user’s intent per the query and provides clear expert, authoritative and trustworthy (E-A-T) content, then it will show up in the top results.

There is an added wrinkle. With Google moving to a mobile-first, mobile-focused environment, your mobile site must meet the user’s intent.

As I write this post, I am working at a laptop linked to a large monitor, the typical configuration of an Internet worker. This is not where the searchers are. They are on mobile devices.

If your analytics don’t show more than half your visitors are mobile, then you are an outlier.

If you are looking to fix your search results, think mobile. I would suggest getting away from the monitor at your desk and using your mobile device to conduct a series of searches your typical user might perform. You may find yourself frustrated. If you typically chase rankings, you may find lots of reasons why you are not in the top search rankings.

How Do You Fix the Problem?

Because SEO success is tied to meeting the user’s search intent, then it is imperative to attach more significance to a creating successful user experience for mobile users.

This does not push aside all of the other elements of good SEO, it simply creates a delivery system for meeting the user on the user’s terms.

Getting there goes beyond simply doing searches on a mobile device. It forces a rethinking of how and why data is presented. Begin by reading. Here are several points of departure. If you love deeply technical information or suffer from insomnia, spend some time reading Google’s Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines. (Opens as a PDF) These are the guidelines that Google’s team of human evaluators use to determine the quality of sample pages. The results from the evaluators are used as part of the training data that flow into creating the algorithm.

Here, you will quickly see what makes a page good. This is just the first stop on the tour.

Then, check out the much more user-friendly and readable UX Playbooks available for various types of sites. The retail playbook is eye-opening. (Opens as a PDF)

First, all of the examples and screenshots are mobile.

For an even longer view of where Google Search is headed in the future, read Ben Gomes’s blog post on “Improving Search in the Next 20 Years.

Instead of worrying about fixing pages in response to updates, consider how well you and your site will fit with what Google wants now and into the future.

Helping Your Website Bridge the Sales and Marketing Divide

If you think about sales and marketing as separate activities, you’re probably not thinking about the customer experience from the prospect’s perspective. That’s a potentially fatal mistake that can sap the strength of your marketing efforts and your sales team.

If you think about sales and marketing as separate activities, you’re probably not thinking about the customer experience from the prospect’s perspective. That’s a potentially fatal mistake that can sap the strength of your marketing efforts and your sales team.

There is a (probably) long path that your prospects follow from having never heard of you to deciding you’re the answer to their needs. The path differs slightly for different audience segments or industries and, of course, some prospects step off before they’ve made it to “the end.”

But all have this in common: They don’t care if or when they’ve graduated from prospect to lead to marketing-qualified lead to sales-qualified lead. Only you care about that. Any breaks in continuity you create based on those classifications are entirely artificial to your prospects. And those breaks can derail any momentum you may have gained with your prospects.

sales and marketing
Credit: Pixabay by Anemone123

Sales/Marketing Coordination

Perhaps the most critical hand-off point is the one between your marketing and sales teams. Making that hand-off seamless from the prospect’s perspective requires tight coordination between the two teams. Your website can help facilitate that cooperation.

Start by involving both the sales and marketing team in the development of your website. Neither team needs to get involved with the technical details, but both should have a say in the following:

  • How the site is organized
  • What content hubs are created around key client issues
  • Where lead magnets are offered
  • How leads are nurtured
  • When prospects are provided to the sales team

Who Else Can Help

Ideally, other departments or roles within your organization will provide input on these critical marketing questions, as well. Customer support and product teams will have entirely different perspectives on client motivation, and their knowledge should be leveraged.

Sales and Marketing Cooperation and Digital Marketing

Sales and marketing departments should both be involved in the ongoing maintenance of the information and materials being presented to prospects, not just on your website, but on social media, via email and in any thought leadership efforts you’ve undertaken.

And just as your website can’t effectively shoulder the load on its own, neither side of the sales and marketing equation is going to be as effective as it could be without the support of the other. If you can get your team leaders pointed in the same direction, your digital marketing will be much more effective.

Making Your Website Work With the Rest of Your Digital Marketing and Traditional Marketing

Compelling content, continuity and strong calls to action are the key to a successful hand-off between digital marketing (and traditional marketing) and your website.

A theme has come up in our recent conversations with clients and prospects interested in getting more marketing performance out of their existing websites regardless of whether their primary focus is digital marketing or traditional marketing. Though the sites these marketers have built vary in quality, nearly all have been quite serviceable as marketing tools.

This news makes those marketers happy, of course. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t work left to do to maximize their marketing performance. Because their sites have all bee lacking in one or more of the following critical areas.

Compelling Content

Whether you’re driving traffic to your site intentionally or not, your prospects are going to wind up on your website at some point no matter what. It’s simply part of B2B (and B2C, for that matter) due diligence before making even minor buying decisions.

The trick is less about getting them there (that’s another set of issues entirely) and more about engaging them once they’ve arrived. That requires compelling content — information that provides value to the prospect while at the same time makes it clear that you have expertise relevant to the issue they need to solve.

Continuity

That content is just the first step. Since we’re talking about how your website can work with your other marketing efforts, it’s important that there be continuity between whatever you are using to invite them to visit your website and the content they find once they arrive.

For example, if you send a targeted direct mail piece to potential clients in a particular field, the website page you direct them to must feature content related to the information in the mailer. Anything else, even if it’s the generalities of your home page, is likely to feel like a bait and switch to the prospect.

Arguments about about how tight the focus needs to be — one topic and one topic only, but there is 100% agreement that every landing page must include a strong call to action.

Calls to Action

Your calls to action will vary depending on the nature of your audience, the product/service you’re marketing, and your sales cycle, but all will seek to move the prospect closer to making a decision. You can’t force that decision; you merely provide more information and evidence that your solution is the right solution. (And that taking no action is an option that is not without costs of its own.)

It can take some testing to get the right mix of content and the right kinds of calls to action, but aiming for continual incremental improvement  — and paying attention to continuity across your marketing efforts — will help ensure that your website supports every other marketing activity you undertake.

Integrating Local SEO Into Your Existing Marketing Plan

Local SEO is Google’s gift to small businesses, yet many are ignoring it. Some marketers who’ve been doing SEO for years are too entrenched to see the benefits of shifting their strategies; others might be stuck in the past, thinking that earning a difference-making search engine ranking is nothing more than a pipe dream.

Local SEO is Google’s gift to small businesses, yet many are ignoring it.

Some marketers who’ve been doing SEO for years are too entrenched to see the benefits of shifting their strategies; others might be stuck in the past, thinking that earning a difference-making search engine ranking is nothing more than a pipe dream. With local SEO, though, anything is possible. Local SEO levels the playing field, letting small businesses get ranked by leveraging their relevance to nearby customers. Thanks to local SEO, the auto shop 30 miles away can’t outmuscle the one that’s just down the street.

Most small businesses already engage in both digital and traditional marketing. Here, we’ll review how you can integrate local SEO into your existing marketing plan.

Google My Business

Before going further, we must stress the importance of Google My Business. This is Google’s business directory where business owners can list their establishments for free. After signing up, Google sends a postcard with a PIN to your business to verify its legitimacy. Once you log into GMB with your pin, then you can optimize your business page with photos, your contact information, your hours of operation and more.

Once you’ve verified and optimized your GMB page, your website will be eligible to appear in Google’s “Local 3 Pack” above all the other organic results. Businesses in this grouping are shown on a locator map along with star ratings, phone call buttons, and other useful information. These elements are highly engaging, especially for smartphone users.

But why does this matter for small businesses that already have top-ranked organic placements? Think of it this way – if you owned a cabin next to a beautiful mountain lake, would it matter if someone built a bigger cabin between yours and the shoreline? The Local 3 Pack takes up a hefty amount of prime real estate atop Google’s search results pages, requiring users to scroll down for everything else. As a result, click-through rates on organic listings have decreased by up to 40 percent.

Sorry, old-school SEOs. Top-ranked organic results are still nice, but optimized local SEO is better for small businesses that focus on local customers.

5 Things to Start Doing Right Now

Ready to make local SEO a priority? To make it as easy as possible, we’ll focus on optimizing five popular marketing tools that might already be included in your overall marketing strategy.

1. Leverage Online Citations

When your business name, address, and phone number is listed on a website, that’s called a citation. Yelp, Angie’s List and Facebook are three examples of popular, highly ranked websites where any business owner can easily get citations. Building citations not only helps customers find your business, but it also increases the likelihood of your business information displaying higher up in Google’s search results, potentially giving Google users more than one listing to click on.

Additionally, some people skip Google entirely and favor sites like Yelp when seeking local goods and services. Optimizing your citations on these sites will instantly raise your profile among local shoppers.

One thing to remember — make sure all information in your citations exactly matches your Google My Business profile.

2. Flex Your Local Muscles on Your Website

Your website is your most powerful digital marketing tool. When someone clicks on a search result and lands on your site, that’s when the real sales pitch begins. However, your website is also important in a different way – it’s where you can prove your value to your community and local customers.

Infuse your website content with as much local content as possible. Include mentions of your city, your neighborhood and even your street. Start a blog and help people solve their local-specific problems. Post photographs of your business, your employees and your customers. Post locator maps, service areas, hours of operation, accurate phone and address information and anything else that establishes your place.

3. More Mileage from Local Outreach

Link-building has always been a foundational element of SEO. With local SEO, there is increased value from getting inbound links from local movers and shakers. Engaging with your local media is a great way to optimize your local link network – pitch story ideas and offer to be quoted in exchange for links on each story’s web version. You can also offer to contribute blog posts to regional websites, blogs and trade associations that carry weight in your community. Not only is this good for your link network, but you’ll also build brand awareness as more people see and recognize your business.

4. Be Local-Centric on Social Media

Most businesses are already active on social media, but too often this activity is focused upon promoting sales or new products. You should also be using social media to establish your local presence and connect with local customers. Optimize your social media pages in the same way you should your website, engaging visitors with as much local-specific content as possible.

5. Encourage Customers to Leave Online Reviews

Like it or not, your customers are already talking about you online — you just might not be aware of it. These online discussions can be the deciding factors in whether people give your business the time of day.

Take control of the situation and encourage your satisfied customers to leave online reviews. This is even easier once you’ve created and optimized your citations! Chances are you’re already engaging your customers on a regular basis — they’re either coming into your store, or you’re connecting with them via social media, follow-up emails, follow-up appointments or other means. To start inviting reviews, simply embed Yelp or other business directory buttons on your digital marketing materials. For the best results, simply ask your customers face-to-face, on calls, and via email whether they’d leave a quick review of your business.

Conclusion

Local SEO is a game changer for small businesses. More people are using smartphones with the goal of visiting restaurants, bookstores, clothing retailers and other establishments in their immediate vicinities.

With local SEO, even old-school mom-and-pop businesses can be seen along with big-budget companies.

This doesn’t happen automatically. Business owners and marketers must integrate local SEO with every phase of their marketing plans. Make local SEO a priority, though, and the results will be well worth the effort.

Want more SEO tips to improve your Google rankings?  Click here to grab a copy of our Ultimate SEO Checklist.

Why Your Website Should Create Conversations

If your website is presenting information rather than creating conversations, you must rethink your approach to online marketing. A website that offers only passive content to be consumed will see analytics showing its audience doesn’t stick around long. Visit durations will be short, and the number of pages consumed each visit will be low.

Build a website that encourages conversations.If your website is presenting information rather than creating conversations, you must rethink your approach to online marketing.

A website that offers only passive content to be consumed will see analytics showing its audience doesn’t stick around long. Visit durations will be short, and the number of pages consumed each visit will be low.

On the other hand, a website that encourages conversations and deeper engagement will see both of those metrics improve. But what exactly do we mean by conversations?

After all, setting aside the chat windows we sometimes see (mostly on B2C sites), the average website isn’t really about two people talking directly to one another. Fortunately, that’s not what we’re talking about. Instead, we’re talking about creating a web presence that encourages back and forth between two parties.

You publish content that your audience engages with. From that engagement, you learn more about what your audience is interested in, both individually and collectively. You then offer additional content that moves the dialog along, accomplishing two things along the way:

  • Educating your audience and providing value to them
  • Creating a relationship with your audience that encourages them to become clients

Here’s how you can make sure your site is creating that kind of conversation.

Point of View

Is the site written from your perspective or that of your prospects? Does it talk about “ours” rather than “theirs?” If so, your prospects are not going to feel that you understand their needs and are talking about their problems. Remember, prospects don’t care about your solutions, they care about their own issues and whether your solutions are a good fit for them.

Structure and Organization

That same perspective carries over into your site’s structure and organization. While it might make perfect sense to you for the sections of your site to mimic your firm’s organizational chart, your prospects won’t care. They want to know everything you have to say about what interests them, no matter how many different company divisions that information may span.

One great way to do this is to create site sections for key audience segments or buyer personas. Diving into their motivation and mindset will help you create sections that are organized to answer their questions and make them comfortable as they navigate their buyer’s journey.

Engagement

Finally, your site has to create opportunities for increased engagement. This can be a tricky proposition in that too many websites try to increase engagement too early. (Meaning, they ask for the sale long before the prospect is ready to buy.)

Gain trust by encouraging actions that requiring less commitment. This is a better approach than going all-in right from the start. Not only is that more likely to match the prospect’s level of trust, but multiple small “asks” gives you the opportunity to showcase the value you offer and the ways you differ from your competition.

These three broad concepts will help you bridge the gap between initial prospect interest and that magic moment when a prospect will invite a salesperson into their buying process. Given how much farther into that process that elusive invitation now typically comes, conversational digital marketing is critical to your overall marketing success.

4 Easy Ways to Keep Your Website Optimized for Search Engines

Businesses that launch without SEO strategies might manage to succeed, but they will struggle to reach their potential. Fortunately, improving your website’s SEO doesn’t take a Herculean effort as much as it takes consistency, time and patience. Read on for four easy ways to keep your SEO optimized.

Twenty years ago, nobody would have launched a new business without getting listed in the phone book. What would have been the point? Most people relied on phone books to find addresses and contact information for local businesses. An unlisted new business might as well not exist.

Now, thanks to the Internet, phone books are obsolete — but search engines have taken their places. People routinely use Google, Bing and even Facebook to find businesses in their areas. In addition, search engines essentially tell consumers where to find the goods and services they need. No phone book could do that!

Businesses that launch without SEO strategies might manage to succeed, but they will struggle to reach their potential. Fortunately, improving your website’s SEO doesn’t take a Herculean effort as much as it takes consistency, time and patience. Read on for four easy ways to keep your SEO optimized.

1. Don’t Play Tricks

SEO has come a long way since the end of the Phone Book Era. Digital marketers used to rely on tactics such as link spamming and keyword stuffing to get their websites ranked. They’d spam keywords in their content and in their website meta tags. Back then, gaming the system sometimes seemed better than providing your visitors with a helpful, intuitive online experience.

Those olden days are long gone. Now, succeeding in SEO is all about making users happy. In crafting its latest search engine algorithms, Google has leaned on artificial intelligence to analyze vast amounts of user data and determine the subtle signals of high-quality websites. Google has grown to reward websites that engage visitors with updated, sharable, high-quality content and fast-loading webpages that load on all kinds of devices.

So, don’t try to game the system, and don’t become consumed with any perceived hacks that claim to magically boost your search rankings. Stick with the long-held basics of good SEO and don’t fall for alleged shortcuts. Even if a shortcut is found, Google will just patch it with its next algorithm update.

2. Make the Most of Search Engine Results Pages

Standing out from the competition is important for any business. Even when phone books were the gold standard, high-rolling businesses purchased ads to stand apart from the rest.

4 Ways to Make Your Website Work Better

“Make your website work better than what?” you might ask. Better than it has. Better than it will if you decide to make changes or build a new site based on some vague notion that the site isn’t working now.

“Make your website work better than what?” you might ask. Better than it has. Better than it will if you decide to make changes or build a new site based on some vague notion that the site isn’t working now.

1. Define Success

Moving past vague notions means finding out what really is and is not working on your website. Which in turn means defining what the website is supposed to accomplish. Without the end goal in mind, you may as well stick with vague notions, because solid data can only lead the way if you know where you want to go.

2. Dive Into the Data

Once you have defined your goals its time to dive into the data that will provide you the ability to do a real quantitative examination of your site.

For most sites, Google Analytics data is all the data you’ll ever need. I have written elsewhere about the most basic analytics data points to track, so don’t let the overwhelming amount of information stop you in your tracks. (And I’m happy to chat with you if you have questions about diving deeper.)

The data should provide insights into the strengths and weaknesses of your website — what areas to double down on and what you need to shore up.

3. Prospect Perspective

Once you’ve established that quantitative framework you have to decide what to do with the data you’ve found. In other words, the quantitative information leads to some qualitative questions. For example, data on how long a visitor spends on your site and how many pages the average visitor views naturally lead to questions about how to get visitors to stay longer and view more pages.

One of the surest ways to increase engagement is to double- and triple-check that your website is written and presented from a prospect’s perspective. Your firm’s internal org chart or product lines aren’t typically going to matter to a prospect. Instead, arrange the information on your site to answer all of a prospect’s questions in one place.

For example, rather than separating services completely from case studies, the services pages should include sidebar links to the case studies most relevant to that service. The goal is to bring they information to the visitor, not to make them figure out your website’s organizational logic.

Be sure that you’re taking into account not just their interests, but also their timing. You’ll need different types of content for prospects who are just beginning their journey and prospects who are much closer to making a decision.

4. Focus on Benefits and Outcomes

Laundry detergent bottles don’t tout “20% more alcohol ethoxylate!” They tout 20 percent more whitening power. You need to follow the same pattern because no-one really cares about the process; they care about the outcome. Focusing on benefits and outcomes is another part of marketing with the prospect’s perspective in mind.

However, the laundry detergent packaging also offers a cautionary tale: nobody believes “better” anymore. We’re so inundated with advertising claims, that even with “proof” in the form of hard data, we’re dubious of all claims we can’t see with our own eyes.

Focus instead on differentiators and you remove the good/better/best evaluation from the equation. You still have to back up your differentiation claims with evidence in order to best your competitors, but building credibility for that comparison should be easier.