Fundamentals of SEO

What is SEO?

When you hear the term SEO, it is likely that someone is talking about Search Engine Optimization, which is the tactical analysis of search rankings, why pages appear where they do and what factors influence their visibility. Currently there are over 200 factors in the search algorithm, with over 3000 updates annually. While the myth that SEO IS DEAD constantly re-appears on popular websites, the fact is that humans are still required to improve search engines. Despite running on elaborate algorithms that can index and sort billions of pages, there are many things that a human can do better than a computer. SEO marketers use their technical knowledge and digital marketing experience to influence and improve organic rankings for businesses online.

What does a regular search query on Google look like?

search query or “Google Search” is the abstraction of a set of words, sometimes referred to as a string that is sent through any type of sorting algorithm and return information relevant to the search. In the case of Google, which now handles the majority of search queries, PageRank was the name of their first the search algorithm. Developed by Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin. PageRank is still the foundation of Google’s current algorithm.

Depending on the type of product or service you are looking for SEO’s use different terminology to describe the search query. Since SEO’s apply science to search marketing, we can break down search queries into the following types:

Navigational

You know what you want, you are just asking for Google’s help to find it. Sounds redundant? Every search you type in the address bar is a navigational search, lacking the advanced features of informational and transactional search queries.

Informational

Similar to navigational search but with a much broader reach due to the advanced features, such as autocomplete and search suggestions that come with informational queries. A good example are research oriented Google queries that return with search suggestions about a topic, product or event.

Transactional

transactional search is defined by performing a certain search action, such as finding a pizza, ordering food, or finding a hotel. Usually people typing these queries know what they want, so they typically involve the most competitive and lucrative keywords.

Marketing Tips – How to hire an SEO by Google

Walk into a room of professionals and ask if anyone has been burned by bad SEO practices- more often than not, someone will have a horror story to share. It’s difficult to find quality SEOs in the new age of Google, so as a Valentines’ day gift for us hard working digital marketing professionals Google has released an official video on How to Hire an SEO.

Can you show me some previous work and results?

This is the first question you should ask when interviewing potential SEOs. Have they had success in the past? What types of challenges have they overcome? Ask for concrete examples and you will save a lot of time later on when you find out they can’t solve a technical problem. SEO is an ongoing discipline and the web technology industry requires daily study to remain relevant.

What tools do you use?

Ask any potential SEO candidate what their tools of the trade are. If they can’t tell you or are hesitant to share, step back! There are already enough bad SEOs in the world. The best ones pride themselves on transparency. So sharing some info about your tools and subscriptions won’t be a threat to a potential client. If anything, this is an opportunity to explain how SEO works and why the tools are used.

How do you accept payment?

This is one of the most important questions for an SEO. Are they incorporated, or a sole proprietor? If they operate in Ontario, do they have a registered HST number? These are all important questions when selecting an SEO company and trusting them with your money.

Do you have experience with Google penalties and how did you overcome them?

Another very important question. Any good SEO would have encountered at least one penalty in their time, because no site is perfect. If they have no experience or are not willing to share details of overcoming a Google penalty, you know there will be problems when you ask questions about their work on your site.

How will you improve our SEO?

This is the big question that should be asked before anything is signed. Will they promote content using boosted posts? Will they earn content doing email outreach? There are a lot of ways to improve SEO, but not all of them are a cure all solution. Make sure your potential SEO has a strategy that you can mull over for a few days before you sign anything.

What is Organic Search Visibility?

Organic Search Visibility is a term SEOs use to describe how likely a page is to come up in search. We say, “how likely a page”, because nothing is guaranteed on Google. It is constantly testing new layouts and may temporarily move results as part of the evolving Google formula. If you are selling a new product and marketing with television ads, radio and print media but also want to be found for phrases online, search visibility is a method of measuring how affective your marketing campaigns are translating into search queries. Google will look for pages and content that relate to specific products, search visibility is vital when trying to improve sales online. A fast route to improving organic search visibility is by improving branded searches.

#1) Link Building for SEO

Link building is the art of tactfully earning external references called links from niche relevant, reputable websites. In the world of search engine optimization, link building (or link-building, linkbuilding) is a key indicator to search engines of a website’s legitimacy, making it one of the most important steps for improving web rankings. Despite efforts from Google to improve the quality of results on the web, links from other websites still remain a strong ranking factor for SEO.

Building links is about fostering relationships, making it a time consuming process that can be especially difficult for new website owners.

Anchor text, link relevancy and popularity of the website are all factors that are used to measure the influence of a link. A website like the New York Times, which is considered an authority website (trusted source) will yield a greater impact on search results than a spammy website with no real content.

High quality links are hard to earn without a proper SEO strategy.

#2) What is Hummingbird?

Google has an affinity for naming their algorithm updates (that often cause chaos and stress for business owners) after cute, fuzzy animals. Hummingbird is no different. Introduced in the fall of 2013, the Google Hummingbird algorithm has been used to improve search queries, specifically personal search results that are catered for the individual user. In many ways, Hummingbird is the dawn of the modern Google SERP as we have come to know and love, including semantic relevance in search results.

Hummingbird was announced on the eve of Google’s 15th anniversary, taking the search engine to new levels with semantic search. The algorithm pays more attention to each string in a query, taking the words in that string and applying Hummingbird to understand user intent. This dramatically changed the way that content strategy, SEO and Adwords campaigns have approached search marketing.

Google search chief Amit Singhai stated that Hummingbird was the first major update of its type since 2001 (the dot com boom) which can give you a better idea of the impact that it has had on search. As search expert Danny Sullivan describes, “Hummingbird is a brand new engine, though it continues to use some of the same parts of the old, like Penguin and Panda”

Knowledge Graph / Cards

Before Hummingbird was put into place, there was a lack of sophistication when answering general queries. Google would often give robotic results that stemmed from an inability to calculate search intent. In many cases, SEO prior to this update was a bit more difficult.

User Intent

Without user intent and Google providing personalized results, the SERP often had unreliable or irrelevant information scattered throughout page one. While this may have been great for affiliate marketing, it was horrible for user experience. Searching for lion eater, you might be served a book or even a video. But these days Google knows that our brand is called lion eater, and it can now make this distinction.

Modern Search

Hummingbird is a major component of this modern, conversational type of search which lays the foundation for voice search on products such as Google Home and Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant. Hummingbird expanded on Knowledge Graph facts to provide similar, conversational answers to unique, personalized queries that include brand terms.

Conversational Search

Although it may seem like Google has always been great at solving a question, this was not necessarily the case pre-Hummingbird. Queries such as “What’s the closest place to buy coffee” would focus on matching keywords, looking for “buy coffee” and “coffee places” which may not give the best results. The algorithm is not perfect, but understanding how it works can improve search results and influence SEO strategies for content marketing.

Although Hummingbird is paying more attention to each word in a query, taking the entire sentence into account– nothing is perfect, and sometimes you can still get results that don’t make sense. The goal of Hummingbird is to find intent, meaning and solve semantic, conversational queries in the SERP.

So what’s the difference?

It’s hard to measure the world before Hummingbird without looking for historical blog posts and screen shots. The sophistication of the Google algorithm in addition of Hummingbird has come a long way, but still has a way to go. We can prove this with a few informational queries.

Test it yourself

By typing “where to get medicine” into Google, we see that the top search results are relating to Pokemon tips circa 2012, followed by the University of Toronto Faculty of Medicine. Why is Google giving these results? Maybe it thinks I am playing a game, and I need to “find the medicine” to beat the level.

Google has identified that the search intent is related to solving a Pokemon problem.

How can we know for sure?

By looking into the autocomplete results, we can determine that semantically the term “where to get medicine” is associated with Pokemon Soul Silver edition. This explains why the top results are related to Pokemon and not medical journals.

How to get the most from Hummingbird

The best way to get value from the algorithm is to give it what it wants: great content. Conversational, human oriented content definitely ranks above spammy keyword stuffed content with little or no value. This doesn’t mean that your old content is no good, but it might need some updates to get the most from the Hummingbird update.

If you need help with your content marketing strategies, lionEater specializes in local search and content marketing using SEO. For more information on what we do, check out this great post on Content Marketing using SEO.

Additional Algorithm Resources

How Hummingbird Changed Search – Wordstream

The Moz Learning Guide to Hummingbird

Hummingbird Algorithm – Wikipedia

8 Major Algorithm Updates – SearchEngineLand

#3) Content Marketing and Copywriting for SEO

What is the difference between great content and bleh content? What prevents your content marketing efforts from reaching critical mass? You can be the best writer online but if your articles and website are not optimized for SEO, only the lonely will find you. Social Media, Content Marketing and SEO are integral pieces of the content puzzle in improving traffic and rankings. It’s hard to say what great content looks like because there is not a one size fits all formula. Want to write like Neil Patel? He tends to use short sentences in a conversational manner. This works for Neil– but it won’t work for everyone. Want something that is easily sharable with lots of photos? BuzzFeed is great at doing that, but is it worth copying their style? In this post we’ll go through the technical details of Content Marketing, testing your copywriting on social, and finding the sweet spot where you can grow an audience without spamming them with “SIGN UP NOW” popups.

Let’s start by asking a koan style question:

If a great piece of content falls off the Internet, does it make a sound?

If bleh content is shared across the web at a viral rate, does it make a sound?

If we’re going to find out, we have to learn how to measure the pulse of the web using marketing tools. So grab a coffee, sit back, and prepare to stop enjoying the magic of the Internet for a little while as we break it all down.

Tools of Measurement

Depending on what type of niche you are writing for can determine which tools are best for your strategy. Are you looking to become a travel writer? Maybe you are a food blogger and you wanted the coveted recognition of being an “influencer”, or perhaps you own a business and need to improve your ranking scores on Google. These are all valid reasons to want to create content. Having the right tools for your strategy is the most important factor in Content Marketing and Copywriting. If you can’t measure your efforts, their ranking on the SERP, or how customers are engaging (and what that engagement *could* mean) there is no way to improve them. Here are some of our favourite tools.

How to Use Tools

Depending on what tools you decide to go with, you will still need a level of expertise and understanding to dive into Content Marketing with success. It is common for websites starting from the bottom to have a difficult time establishing their brand. If Content Marketing and SEO is something you are planning to invest in, consult with a professional to assess your web property, analyze the trends in search and make informed suggestions on what type of content it needs.

Have Brands Reached “Peak Content” ?

A study performed by the marketing experts at Track Maven suggests that Content Marketing is at it’s hottest point right now, with agencies focusing too hard on emulating the competition rather than setting the standard. With more companies yelling into the void that is Social Media Marketing, the only way to stand out is to have better than average content and a team to develop, distribute, and track it.

Content Marketing and Copywriting require ongoing skill improvement. While the digital marketing landscape is constantly changing, it is clear that technical skills are the greatest asset to determine success within the scope of future search algorithms. Simply creating unique, interesting, fun and fluffy content is not enough. When brands give up on their online presence, cheap out by copying content or lack the resources for technical improvements, the cost can go beyond paying copywriters. Sometimes it is cheaper to hire an agency, depending on the needs of your strategy.

There are so many tools out there it can give you a headache. Sometimes, less is more.

#4) Social Media Marketing using SEO

Social Media Marketing is a term used to describe the process of converting social media activity (traffic, engagement, link shares, +1’s) into brand awareness, customer service and increased visibility on the web. There is no regulatory body that controls who can use the title of Social Media Manager, so independent agencies and cold calling companies can be a major red flag for your small business. Always ensure there is a reliable website that isn’t “under construction”, or shady testimonials that don’t link to websites. A Google citation and phone number that is easily available are usually indicators that the company is legitimate. Checking for a Better Business Bureau rating can be helpful for discovering customer complaints or previous legal disputes.

There are new companies around the world offering Social Media Marketing services!

SEO Data

The first step to hiring the best agency for managing your small business needs, consider your brand and corporate image. What works for one brand is not a guarantee for another. Search Engine Optimization (or SEO for short) is the art of combining targetted content with great technical markup. Sometimes in SEO you can hit a home run and get lucky with creative keywords, directed content and a great social campaign. But most of the time any good SEO learns from their losses rather than the wins. Diversity in website experience, wisdom and intuition play a role in understanding the details of great SEO. Reliable Search Engine Optimization using a good agency should involve some Quality Assurance Testing. A self-correcting feedback loop where user information influences updates to the web property. A/B testing, heatmaps and alterations to the Call to Action can lead to significant improvements in organic ranking. How can you diagnose problems with a site without user information?

This is where Big Data comes into play. By utilizing SEO tools such as Google Analytics and Webmaster Tools, SEOs can track the number of unique clicks a website receives from organic results or referral traffic (such as display ads, ppc, or remarketing). A good SEO knows how to filter this data appropriately, making sure that the next 10,000 visitors that show up on your report are not internal traffic from within your small business. Setting up proper analytics, attribution and data collection is the foundation of a great SEO campaign. Social Media Marketing is important to link building layer strategies for the modern SEO.

Social Media Marketing

Social Media Marketing, when done properly, can be an incredibly powerful marketing tool. But unlike SEO, Social Media Marketing is often difficult to quantify. Return on Investment (ROI) can be calculated by comparing the data measured during marketing campaigns to direct sales activity. Without properly setting up analytics and webmaster tools to track this data it is impossible to attribute sales or increased web traffic to SMM efforts.

Social Signals can be described as the mood of the Internet.

What are Social Signals?

Social signals are contextual to the time frame when the content was shared, the medium used (i.e, Tweeted content, Google Plus shares, embedded content, social share plugins) and the share momentum (how many people tweeted the content from the time it was posted) adding up to a complicated mess of social noise. How relevant and useful your content is perceived by the search engines relies on having diversity in your social signals. All of these factors are weighed together when taking into consideration the indexability of the share. Twitter has an agreement with Google where Tweets are indexed on the SERP. Posting irrelevant links or spammy text will not be rewarded with organic traffic to your site.

Content indexation is one of the key principles of SEO. The faster you can get content indexed, the faster you can increase chances of gaining organic traffic to your site. Facebook posts, Tweets, +1s and other social signals are another layer of indexing and linking content.

Social Media Influence

Google also considers social media influence as a factor for SEO. The best way to calculate influence is to use data based tools such as BuzzSumo or Followerwonk. These tools will assist in finding the most valuable social profiles for your brand. Is the content relevant? Are the people engaging with your content valuable to you? Are they influential bloggers or brands? Having a fancy site is not enough, and using data to qualify brands is an important factor in choosing which relationships to build on.

Here are four Social Media Strategies to get the most from SMM using principles of SEO:

Growing an Organic Follower Base

The sum of your social authority relies strongly on your follower base. In order to achieve scalable, relevant follower base you will need a social media strategy. Growing followers can be a painfully slow process, but the cost for developing a follower base organically vs. paid followers through ad services can be ridiculous, upwards to dollars per follower. This is not an effective strategy for qualifying a follower base. Buying proxy accounts to add followers to your brand will not work either, as Google is capable of detecting the quality of a follower base. The number of followers and connections on social media has an indirect influence on organic rankings.

Optimizing Social Posts for Search Engines

Thats right! The best SEOs are also really great at managing social media. Why? Because they use data to experiment with the best copy to successfully engage users and increase traffic. You can gain key positions (albeit, often temporary) in the SERP using Social Media Marketing. Frame copywriting in such a way that it creates urgency for the reader to click, but don’t mislead users with false titles to pages. Using seasonal keywords and experimenting with scheduled posts will increase chances of coming up in search results.

Increased Brand Awareness with Engagement

Social media marketing is where brand presence and reputation are priority. The greater the positive awareness of your brand, the higher the likelihood that new customers will engage in branded search. By increasing the number of organic branded searches, the more likely Google will include non-branded terms as well. Really smart brands are even incorporating an SEO perspective into the company name, increasing the probability of dominating branded search. Once a company becomes big enough to be recognizable in Google’s eyes (such as AirBnB or Uber) the search is associated with intent. When you search “AirBNB”, Google knows exactly what you are looking for, and where you want to find it.

Link Building

Social media is a great broadcasting channel for posting relevant links to content. If you know someone will want to read something, Tweet them a link. Assuming it is not click bait full of unoriginal, spun content, you can use social channels to fish for interested parties looking for new content. The more diverse link building the better for SEO.

#FOMO (Hashtags and Social Media Voyeurism)

People are reading social media checking out local buzz for bars, restaurants, pop up parties, events and conversation. If you are at a large event, take advantage of the #HASHTAGS being used. It will throw your social signals into a contextual bubble that will be helpful later for anyone searching for information related to the event. If you’re lucky, they will embed your social posts on another website and give a little link juice to your content.

Some external resources on Internet Marketing using Social Media:

10 Social Media Myths Debunked

Digital Marketing Predictions for the Future of Social Media

How Attorneys Can Harness Social Media for Legal Marketing

Sizing Cheat Sheet for Social Media Image Optimization

#4) Using Pay Per Click to Boost Business

Advertising has changed, but not by much. While print media is seemingly dying, and conventional means such as print marketing become obsolete, the age of data-driven marketing is becoming the standard for any business looking to succeed online. Even brick and mortar shops require a digital presence to communicate with customers effectively. Pay Per Click campaigns can be expensive, but when they are done right can help improve the performance of all marketing channels, including search engine optimization.

In order to stay competitive in the new digital age and secure a share of local visibility for your small business, Pay Per Click marketing can be an effective short term solution. With the constant development and updates to digital marketing strategies, it’s important to hire the right team to keep your campaigns on track.

Redirect your budget

If you take one months budget on a billboard ad and put it towards digital, you get two immediate benefits:

  1. Tracking return of investment on all marketing dollars spent (PPC, Social, SEO)
  2. Audience information such as demographics, engagement with ads, behavioural patterns when browsing site

By implementing a digital marketing strategy, you can begin to understand the people interested in your products. Pay Per Click marketing is a quick way to jumpstart this process without neglecting SEO and Social channels as well.

Facebook Ads

Google is not the only service that offers Pay Per Click marketing and is certainly not the cheapest, making Instagram and Facebook Ads an effective alternative to paying Google. If you are a fan of the works of Larry Kim, Wordstream has put together a fairly in-depth article outlining the costs and benefits of Facebook vs Google.

Instagram Ads

As of June 2016, Instagram has broken half a billion monthly active users. For brands selling online, Instagram is a no brainer when it comes to Pay Per Click marketing with the best ROI. We can’t think of a better platform as far as low cost per click goes. These customers are bored and looking for something interesting, often ready to buy.

Twitter Ads

As much as we love Twitter, there has been little talk at Lion Eater about the success of running Pay Per Click on this platform. In most cases we found the money is better spent on content distribution, not paying for people to view. The strength in Twitter comes from its ability to share information organically, so no ads is a no brainer.

Auctions (PPC) vs Storytelling (SEO)

Pay Per Click is not a traditional means of marketing, consider it a shortcut to buy visitors to your site.  What that cost may be depends on who else is bidding on the keyword and Google’s interpretation of its worth. While PPC can buy traffic, it can also break the bank, and if those visitors don’t convert into a monetary gain, you’ve just paid Google for nothing.

We specialize in Technical SEO, which will benefit the overall PPC strategy. While we support PPC, we always believe in the greater benefit of SEO.

The team at Lion Eater can design, implement and start a campaign leveraging SEO, Social and PPC in a short period of time, allowing you to focus on your business and trust the digital marketing to us.

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