Category Archive Blog

Your Customers Have a Query. Is Your Site the Best Answer?

I hear a lot of my SEO consulting clients ask a simple — but misguided — question:

Why aren’t we ranking for our target keyword?

I hate to answer a question with a question; it reminds me of when I went to a Buddhist Zen center, and every question was answered as vaguely as was possible (yes, yes, I get the non-duality of all existence, but would you just tell me where the bathroom is?).  I know that it can be a frustrating way to start a conversation.

However, I’m not doing my job if I don’t point out the error in the question — instead of asking why you aren’t ranking, you should ask why the current top result is ranking.  The answer is always the same; it’s currently the best answer.

Re-Think What You Know About Search Queries

Let’s talk about search queries for a second.

A query is just that — a question — and it’s what web users type to find answers.  In fact, some early search engines would actually force their users to use the form of a question (I’m looking at you, Ask Jeeves).

Most business owners think of queries as magical keys for more business, but I find that you’ll get better results (very quickly, in many cases) by simply thinking of every search as a question.  Now ask: are you the best answer for that question?

Let’s work with a concrete example, because I’m getting a little too Zen for my own liking (no offense to the Zen Buddhists, but I doubt they took offense in the first place).  Say that you own a car detailing shop in Ohio.  With a few exceptions, all of your customers are in Akron.  All of your customer reviews are from around Akron.

You might want to rank nationally for the key phrase, “car detailing,” but that’s simply not happening.  People who type those words into Google are looking for car detailing services near them, or they’re looking for general information.  In any case, you’re not the right answer to that question.

Now, you probably already know that, but you might not realize that you might not be the best answer for “car detailing in Tallmadge,” which, for non-Ohioans, is a city near Akron.  There are probably plenty of detailing shops in Tallmadge proper, so Google doesn’t want to lose credibility by sending users all the way to Akron for their detail work.   There’s a good chance that you’re only a good answer for “car detailing in Akron,” at least until you do some more work.

Adapting Your Site to the Search Query

So, is your little car detailing shop out of luck?

Of course not.  Maybe you’re the best detailers around, and maybe you’re the only shop qualified to handle vintage Ford trucks.  Maybe you’re opening a new office in Tallmadge.

You need a dedicated page that’s set up to get the “car detailing in Tallmadge” keyphrase, but if you want to get to the top of the search results and stay there, you can’t just spam the keyword. Write real content about your shop — tell visitors why they should make the trip from Tallmadge to Akron, let them know about your specialties, talk about the experience of your staff.

Your website is a sales pitch, after all, and it’s a sales pitch to your customers — not to Google.  If you provide real information (and you don’t just try to copy your Akron site while replacing a few words), you can rise through the ranks pretty quickly.  In niche markets and small cities, the process is remarkably easy as long as you don’t attempt to game the system.

If you haven’t noticed a pattern yet, most of these blog posts will boil down to “make quality content,” but you also need to think about your audience — and the questions they’re asking — in order to see a return.  In the next few blogs, I’ll provide a few tips for content creation and keyword research.  And yes, we’ll get into Google Keyword Planner and Webmaster Tools and all of that stuff, but for now, focus on asking the right questions.  Unless you’re a Buddhist monk; then you’ve probably already figured this stuff out.

And by the way, I apologize if you found this blog post by searching for “car detailing shop in Ohio.” We, uh, don’t do that here.

Do Small Local Businesses Need SEO-Friendly Content?

Content is king, but sometimes it’s temporarily overthrown — changes in Google’s search algorithm can temporarily topple even the most meticulously curated content.  In recent years, we’ve seen this happen time and time again as the search engine puts more focus on local results.

You’ve probably seen this for yourself — search for “plumbing,” “carpentry” or any other general keyphrase with a local slant, and you’ll see sites from businesses near your physical location.  What’s more interesting is the quality of their content; you’ll often find pages that rely on outdated SEO techniques (such as putting keywords in bold or mindless repetition of long-tail phrases) instead of quality content.

What gives?

To put it succinctly, that awful website is the most optimized option near you.  While the content may be mediocre, the landing page delivers exactly what customers want — plumbing, carpentry or other “call us now” services — and as a result, people stay interested after clicking through.  Remember, Google pays close attention to how long users stay on a page.

The “Fresh Canvas” Theory of Local SEO

Google emphasizes geo-specific local results where it makes sense, and that’s led some small businesses to reconsider their SEO marketing strategies.  Is there really a reason to buy high-quality content or to look at stuff like header and canon tags if the competition’s using decade-old SEO techniques to get to the top?

Sorry for the dumb answer, but yes, it’s absolutely still worth it.  Your competitor’s site is currently on top because it gives users what they expect.  Give them a better experience, and you’ll slowly but surely climb the ranks.

Content may be king, but it’s also cheap.  Outfitting a small business website with high-quality content should never cost more than a few hundred dollars, and operating a blog shouldn’t take more than 20-30 minutes per week (you can also hire content creators to maintain your blog for you, further reducing your costs).

Compare that to the costs of advertising versus organic search results; if you use a lot of pay-per-click ads, a high geo-specific ranking on Google will easily save you thousands of dollars per month, and you’ll enjoy more benefits over time as Google’s local algorithms improve.

In fact, I’d go so far as to say that right now, small local businesses can benefit from SEO more than other types of businesses — they’ve essentially got a fresh canvas to work with.
SEO content isn’t rocket science, and most small businesses can easily create a plan for long-term success; content is the most important part of that plan.  Make sure you’re delivering high-quality content on a regular basis.  Every piece should give a customer information or provide them with entertainment.  Don’t focus on sales when creating your ongoing content.  Content may be temporarily overthrown, but it always seems to find its way back to the kingdom.

What’s an Economist Doing in a Marketing Department?

With the recent upswing of content marketing, forward-thinking companies are relying on experts to explain their highly specialized industries to discerning audiences.

In 2013, Toshiba America Medical Systems took this trend to its logical extreme and created a new position – Manager of Health Care Economics – dedicated solely to educating consumers. The first person to occupy this position is named Tom Szostak, and while he’s technically part of a marketing department, he doesn’t do anything we would traditionally call marketing; his role is to help people understand an incredibly complex law.

Introducing Customers to a Complex Concept

Szostak is a health-care economist who has published broadly within his field, and he’s also Toshiba’s go-to resource for navigating the complex twists and turns of the Affordable Care Act. Advertising Age calls him a “secret content-marketing weapon” in a recent profile.

Since taking the job in 2013, Szostak has published studies with respected medical leaders like the Gates Vascular Institute. He has also written white papers and a five-part introduction to the Affordable Care Act for the medical imaging industry. (The first installment is available for download here.)

It’s traditionally rare to see this sort of specialist operating under a VP of Marketing – but, given the importance of accurate, high-quality information required for responsible content marketing, we may see more companies following suit.

While Szotak is engaged in a very oblique sort of business-to-consumer content marketing, the field seems to be opening up even more in the business-to-business (B2B) space. A report from the Content Marketing Institute mentions that a staggering seventy-three percent of B2B marketers say they produced more content in 2014 than in 2013.

What does this all mean for your business? Whether you’re choosing a content management service or handling the process internally, the takeaway is clear: accurate, well-researched, original content is key to spreading your company’s message.

If you’re ready to talk about what strong content can do for your business, contact us today.