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Online Marketing, SEO, and Website Design are constantly changing. In our SEO Blog, we will keep you up to date on the latest information you need to stay ahead of your competition.

How will the end of Google+ affect SEO?

Google+ launched in 2011 as Google’s attempt at a social media platform. Originally conceived to take market share from social media juggernaut Facebook, it never achieved its goal. Other than some hardcore fans, Google+ by 2018 has become largely a has-been. So when news broke that there had a been a data breach of user information at G+, it was not a huge surprise that the corporation announced it would be shutting down operations over the coming months.

The end of Google+ has seemed inevitable for a while. The question is, now that Google has officially announced the end, what impact will it have on SEO?

Google+

When it first launched, Google hinted that Google plus and +1 buttons would be a factor in search rankings. They did show up in searches over the years. Google also offered Search Plus Your World, a personalized search that showed results based on what your Google plus friends searched for and clicked on. Google actively tried to drive conversation on its social network by recommending people take their search to Google+, including highlighting Google+ content in search results and in Google News and showing users what was trending on Google plus. There was also an in-depth local search integration between Google Local and Google plus results.

Ultimately, all these attempts to promote Google+ failed. Over the years, Google stopped the heavy promotion of G+. Features and integrations with other Google products slowly faded. At this point, G+ does not play a large role in Google search. Although it has affected search in the past, it has been inactive for a while now.

When Google+ is shut down for consumer use in August 2019, I expect no impact to SEO. This has been a long time coming, Google just made it official.

 

How Should PPC and SEO Work Together?

It sounds easy to get PPC and SEO to work together, but creating an effective joint strategy can be challenging. I will outline some proven strategies on how these two platforms can work together.

1. Keyword Research. We have great tools, but many companies effectively use their PPC campaigns to test and perfect new keyword streams and approaches before writing SEO copy and implementing new SEO pages on their websites.

2. Effective PPC Ads = Better Meta Descriptions. Meta descriptions can be tricky to write and have a major effect on click-throughs from effective SEO placement. Using copy techniques from PPC ads that enjoy high click through ratios in meta descriptions is a proven technique to improve search traffic.

PPC and SEO Work Together

3. Browser Device Variations. It has become a challenge to track search results through all browser and device variations. PPC allows results to be more consistent and ensure top placement across the board for the most important Keyword Streams. Many online marketers tend to pause keyword streams that enjoy top 3 rankings on the first page of organic results, but the consistency of top page results makes this challenging.

4. SEO Pages Make Great PPC Landing Pages. Copy that is added for vital SEO Keywords on your website make great PPC landing pages. In theory, SEO pages should be designed for maximum conversion and should naturally improve quality scores for PPC keyword targets. This will not work in all instances but is a solid strategy for most clients, especially small and medium-sized businesses with limited online marketing resources.

5. Branded Results. Showing up #1 in search for your company name is a given, but does that justify turning off branded search in PPC? Maybe not, especially if you have a generic search term as your business name, ie. Quality Auto Repair. Do not let a competitor sneak into primary position for your customers just looking for your phone number. Many clients are concerned about maintaining top of page position for mobile search users. In that case, simply turn off desktop search in your campaign.

6. Organic v. PPC Rankings/Conversion. Despite the concerns voiced in #3 above, I would recommend using tools like SEM Rush to find placement reports for organic v. paid search. If organics are not ranking for paid search terms that are converting for you, it indicates that more effort should be placed into organic placement for these terms. In contrast, consideration should be given to pausing or constricting results by designating “exact match” for paid search terms that are not converting where organic placement is strong. You will want to search a sampling of the rankings found by automated services with manual search to ensure that placement is accurate.

The key is balancing your paid spend and efforts to gain organic placement to ensure that you have placement in the searches that will drive qualified customers to your business. Using paid and organic search strategies together will improve relevant search traffic and optimize online marketing investment.

Eric Van Cleave is Managing Partner of Zenergy Works, a Santa Rosa California based online marketing firm.

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How To Get Your Business Listed In The Local Pack On Google

The most common type of local pack is a list of 3 businesses featuring contact information for that business with links to the website or Google Maps page for that business.  Placement in this pack is important not only because of its prominence in search but also because of the ease of using these results when searching using a mobile device.  Google has been consistently reducing the number of businesses listed in the Local Pack on the first page of search results (from 7 to 3) over the last 2 years.  We will review the factors that will help to get your business listed in the Local Pack and how to effectively manage your Local Pack Map Listing.

Local Pack

Business information generally included in the local pack are the Name, Address, and Phone Number of Business (NAP). Other information may include business hours, star rating, and whether the business is currently open.

How to get into the Local Pack

In Local Packs, Google shows business listings, not websites, so to be featured in a Local Pack, you need to get a Google My Business page.

One of the prerequisites of getting into the Local Pack is to be ranked within the top 10 results for your local search query, which generally requires a great deal of effort be devoted to SEO optimization of your website.

Step 1: Claim and Optimize your Google My Business listing.

  1. Be sure to be consistent with NAP to the information listed on your website.
  2. Fill in correct business information.
  3. Add Photos.
  4. Make sure that you are listed in the proper category.
  5. Match the keywords in your Local Pack Listing to those featured in the H1 tags and page titles of your website.
  6. Verify your google listing.

Step 2:  Optimize your website for local SEO

  1. Scan website for on page SEO.  Use Google Search Console and a site scan tool like SEM Rush.
  2. Verify NAP on the website – BE EXACT.
  3. Create local citation sites(ie. Merchant Circle, Yellow pages online, etc) and be sure to match NAP on website and local map listing.
  4. Obtain locally relevant backlinks. Be sure to avoid spammy links.
  5. Add structured data markup.

As you can see from the list here, what used to be a simple process has become complex, time-consuming, and requires more than a little knowledge of Search Engine Optimization.   Because of the increased competition for the placements in the local map pack, not only must the list be fulfilled, but it requires more backlinks, more citation sites, and more exacting on page SEO and content strategy to gain rankings.

Eric Van Cleave is co-CEO of Zenergy Works, A Santa Rosa, California SEO, and Digital Marketing Firm.

ADA Compliance For Websites – An Overview

I have received numerous inquiries about the new WCAG 2.1 (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) that went into effect on June 5, 2018.   The specific questions are about lawsuits that are being filed against those that have websites that have serious accessibility problems for those with visual and sensory challenges.   All federal institutions’ websites must meet AA compliance on all items in WCAG 2.0 by January of 2018. The general consensus right now is that any business considered a “public accommodation” should have an ADA compliant web presence.  “Public Accommodation” is open to interpretation, but generally this refers to businesses that deal directly with consumers, (ie. retail, restaurants) or any business the general public should be able to access information about easily.

Full compliance with the  all of the 61 guidelines laid out in WCAG 2.0 to either AA or AAA level.   This is a daunting task and can require significant expense that is beyond the scope of what most small to medium sized businesses can afford.  The vast majority of websites that have been built in the last 2 to 3 years probably comply with most of the rules, and frankly, most of the websites on the internet are not in full compliance with the all 61 guidelines.  The major guidelines that can be difficult to comply with are listed below (Note:  this is not a exhaustive list of guidelines, just some of the more common sticking points):

  1. Your site must be fully navigable via keyboard only. This usually includes things like skip navigation buttons and can involve manually setting a tabindex everywhere.
  2. Your site should be navigable with screen reader software.
  3. Text must meet a minimum contrast ratio against the background, which can significantly impact your design.
  4. Your site must accommodate text scaling up to 200% without causing horizontal scrolling or content-breaking layout problems.

The resources below are easy to use and can help you to understand how your website can become compliant.  Please be aware that compliance with the scans and information received from these resources will NOT guarantee that you cannot be sued for non-compliance, but they provide a good start.  The only way to ensure compliance with screen reader software and key board navigation is manual testing, which can be extremely expensive and time consuming, but is necessary the majority of the time to ensure full compliance with the applicable laws.

  1. WAVE is a good scan but can produce a lot of false positives, particularly for contrast ratio issues and picking up code like Google Tag Manager as positives.
  2. Lighthouse can help generate a report on potential issues.

As a practical matter, it is important to let those that visit your site know that you are working to comply with ADA requirements, and that you are completing all that you can do given your time and financial resources.   We have used the follow information page on a number of websites to explain our position on the matter.  We have created a footer link entitled “ADA Compliance”   We have set this page to “do not index” and link to an interior page that has the following message:

(Name of your Business Here) is committed to making its website usable by all people by meeting or exceeding the requirements of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 Level AA (WCAG 2.0 AA).  We have conducted an accessibility review of this website and has remediated any issues identified during that review.

Please be aware that our efforts are ongoing as we incorporate the relevant improvements to meet WCAG 2.0 AA guidelines over time. If you have specific questions or concerns about the accessibility of this site or need assistance in using the processes found within this site, please contact us through our website contact form. If you do encounter an accessibility issue, please be sure to specify the page of our site and we will make all reasonable efforts to make that page accessible.

ADA Compliance is not only about mitigating risks of complicated and expensive litigation for your business, but also about creating solid communication with those that have challenges in accessing your business information.  Look at this as an opportunity to be a leader in a market that is currently underserved instead of just another government regulation designed to complicate your business.  Please also remember that these guidelines are complex and sometimes subject to interpretation, (Full Disclaimer: there is never a guarantee that you cannot be sued for non compliance) and while most websites do not currently comply with the full regulations, a good faith effort should be made by every website owner to comply with as many guidelines as possible.

Eric Van Cleave is Co-CEO and Digital Director for Zenergy Works, A Santa Rosa California Digital Marketing Agency Specializing in SEO and Paid Marketing Management.

Is Direct Traffic Really Direct?

Google Analytics is the most common analytics platform out there. Because of this, GA, as it is affectionately known by those familiar with it, has had a leading role in identifying the types of traffic to a website and how they are measured. Google Analytics shows 5 primary types of channels of traffic: Direct, Social, Organic, Paid, and Referral. There can be other channels present (ie. email) if tracking has been established for these channels.

To reach the traffic report broken down by medium, you should follow this path in your Google Analytics account: Home>Acquisition>All Traffic>Channels. Google defines   Direct traffic as URLs that people either type in directly or reach via their browser bookmarks. GA relies on a code that is usually placed in the header of your website which tracks the referring site user clicked on to reach the site.Direct Traffic

We saw the amounts of Direct traffic increase dramatically in 2012/2013 as the use of mobile browsers and browser privacy settings became more prevalent. The reason for this is that GA began to place all the traffic for which the source could not be recognized under the “Direct” channel. The numbers on direct traffic for most of our clients are continuing to grow because:

  • The increased use of privacy and security plugins in users’ browsers, thus more traffic is stripped from the organic and referral channels to be placed in the Direct channel.
  • Tablet and mobile devices (ie. Safari in iOs6 and above) are not reporting the traffic source, especially for organic traffic, making mobile traffic difficult to track.  Studies show that iOs, despite losing significant market share to Android, still represents approximately 30% of the mobile browsers currently in service.
  • The current popularity of QR codes has added to direct traffic because QR scans show up in GA as Direct traffic.

How do you minimize this trend? Unfortunately, only partial solutions are currently available. Email marketing, social media posts, and paid campaigns can be tagged using Google Tag Manager and UTM codes, and Google Paid campaigns can easily be added to GA by following the path here: Admin>+create property>Google Ads Linking.

 Google Analytics will continue to create a challenge in identifying and reading between the lines to identify direct traffic v. organic traffic v. mobile traffic from the sources outlined here. Use common sense and follow the trend of direct traffic v. mobile traffic overview (path in GA Audience>Mobile>Overview) v. mobile traffic by device (path in GA Audience>Mobile>Devices) to see if the trends match. Over time, patterns will develop that will help to fully outline the success of organic placement in mobile SERP.

Eric Van Cleave is Co-CEO and Digital Director for Zenergy Works, a Santa Rosa, California Online Marketing and SEO firm.

SEO Content – Are You Speaking with Your “Brand Voice?”

SEOs and Copywriters struggle to create content that is both SEO-friendly and in proper brand voice. If you find that perfect balance, you won’t only find more organic SEO traffic, you’ll also encourage conversion.

We all know that SEO copy is designed to be perfect for Google RankBrain, not human beings. Effective website copy speaks to your audience in a way that attracts them to your business and converts them into customers. Ideally, website content would be attractive to both your website visitors and Google’s algorithms. In recent years, Google has clearly become less concerned with keyword density and more concerned with a strong User Experience, so the two disciplines are encouraged to come together. How can we make that happen?

SEO Content - Are You Speaking with Your “Brand Voice?”

Here are some questions that will help you to define the message that will make sense for your audience.

1. What is your USP (unique selling proposition)?

Define what it is that makes you stand out from your competition. Your competition has similar products, but you want to avoid making your offerings a commodity, which makes sales a profit-killing race to the lowest price. What special skill, value, expertise, or premium do you offer?

2. Who is your ideal customer? Create an in-depth profile.

The “big picture” answer is a start. I was speaking to an auto repair client the other day and their response was, “automobile owners who need maintenance or repair on their vehicles.” This is clearly true but doesn’t go nearly deep enough. I encouraged the client to answer the following:

1. What make of automobile do they drive?
2. What are their typical service and repair problems?
3. What do they think about their automobiles? Love affair or just transportation?
4. What are they like?
5. What do you and your team do to solve their problems?

The more you know about your target audience, the easier it will be to figure out what they want and how to make them feel like you are talking directly to them. Website content should be written like a one-on-one conversation, not a broadcast.

3. What defines conversion when it comes to your website?

Is your goal to sell products, encourage a telephone call or personal visit to your store or office, or would you like each visitor to see specific pages of content on your website? Whatever the goal, it is not enough to simply put a cleverly-designed call to action button on the page. Your content must convince a website visitor that the action you want them to take is a relatively painless and logical next step if they are interested in the goods and services that you offer.

4. Are your products or services the solution to a problem?

You must emphasize the benefits of your goods and services, not the features. For an auto repair shop, the features are quality repairs made by expert auto technicians. The benefits may be saving money in the long run or getting better resale value by demonstrating that your vehicle has been properly maintained.

To help with this, you can make a list of the most common questions asked by your past clients. How can you demonstrate that you will make their lives a little easier and their experience working with you as enjoyable as possible?

5. What voice appeals to your target audience?

If your business is successful, your voice and your brand culture come through to customers you meet in person and speak to via telephone. This same voice should apply to your website content. In the long run, if your website content is not consistent with your culture, your customers and potential customers will realize it and begin to mistrust you a bit for misrepresenting yourself in the first conversation that you had with them.

Conclusion: At face value, it seems simple to create effective SEO content in brand voice, but it requires a great deal of preparation and a solid idea of how your company and its services are perceived in the marketplace. It is important to have all content reviewed carefully by a team member who has a solid grasp on your “brand voice” to keep content and the call to action consistent with how you run your business.

The investment of time and effort will be large, but you will undoubtedly find your results will be much better.

Eric Van Cleave is Co-CEO of Zenergy Works, a Santa Rosa, California-based SEO and Online Marketing Firm.

Website Traffic Dropping? Here Is Where to Look For Answers

Is Google Analytics full of bad news?  Is your online branding campaign in crisis due to declining traffic?   Don’t panic, here are some things to look for when identifying potential issues that may be negatively affecting your SEO or Website traffic.

 

  1. Look In Google Analytics.  Compare year over year and current period versus 6 months ago to identify whether this is a short term trend.   Look for traffic spikes upward that may have skewed results in the past comparison times.   Seasonality can be a factor, as well as Holiday schedules.  Look in Google Analytics under Acquisition>All Traffic>Channels to identify the exact traffic source that is declining.  If it is organic traffic that is declining, look at Behavior>Site Content>Landing Pages in Google Analytics to see declines in specific entry pages to the website.  If the drop is consistent across the board, look in Google Webmaster Tools for Manual Penalties.  Look in SEM Rush or another SEO Management Tool to look for toxic links or on page defects like mixed content and slow load speed that can affect traffic.   If the decline is with specific landing pages, and therefore, specific keywords, look for declines in your rankings for the keyword streams in search engine results.   It is important to run diagnostic tools on your pages to understand if this is do to something that you need to fix, or whether your competition is catching up and passing you.  The first step is to make sure that the tracking code on each page is in place and functioning.  You may check this by using the Google Tracking Code Checker. Either way, be prepared  to make site corrections, bolster SEO efforts and perhaps even design paid campaigns to make sure that you stay in the search results mix for the keywords that are vital to your business and your brand.
  2. Review Recent Website Changes. Have you eliminated content?  Has something been done to affect the indexing of your pages?   Google Webmaster Tools will help to answer those questions.  Go to crawl>crawl errors in in Google Webmaster Tools to Crawl and look for significant errors in crawl errors and 404s.  Go to Google Index>Index Status and see if the number of pages indexed has decreased.  Again, a website diagnostic tool like SEMRush can simplify this task for you.   Also look on SEMRush or similar for duplicate content that may have accidentally been added to your site.  The best way to do this is to look for Duplicate Titles and Duplicate Meta Descriptions.
  3. Changes in Google Algorithms. I can hear all of you saying now-“shouldn’t you have mentioned this first to save me all of the work in Analytics, Webmaster Tools and SEMRush?”  Short answer is “nope” for 2 reasons.   The first is that many of the issues discussed here will help your rankings in the face of updates anyway, so you have not wasted your time, and second, if you have been practicing good SEO practices all along, like I know all of you have been doing, then you are unlikely to get penalized by an algorithm update.  If none of the other diagnostics suggested here present an answer, by all means, search the internet tirelessly for news of a Google Algrorithm update/change/modification.   The problem is that most algorithm changes are not easy to decipher because Google is not clear about what specifically they have changed.  It can require many hours of trial and error to understand the exact nature of the change, so going back to the basics of white hat SEO is the most direct path to maximum compliance with all Google Algorithms.  The only certainty is that Google will continue to update its algorithms.  If you optimize your site with the intent of being the best response to a search for your keyword streams instead of trying to spam the system to gain an unfair advantage, you will most likely be immune to Google Algorithm Updates.

 

Conclusion.  Organic Search Engine Optimization and effective paid advertising campaigns have become more difficult and complicated with each passing year.  Successful business owners have a defined message that they want to share with their potential customers.  It is not hard to understand why an initial meeting is so important for a professional services business, or why a storefront is vital to the success of a brick and mortar retail store.  Many businesses neglect their websites and the impression that they make.  You do not only need to impress potential customers with your website presence, but you need to show Google and the other search engines that you provide the best information and resources for a potential customer looking for the goods or services that your business provides.

Eric Van Cleave is CO-CEO and Digital Director of TIV Branding, a Santa Rosa, California Branding Agency.

How to Rank for Featured Snippets: The SEM Rush Study

Featured snippets are featured in Google search results above the organic results and are vital to continuing to attract organic search traffic.  6.9 million featured snippets were reviewed in recent study conducted by SEMrush and Ghergich & Co. This study gives us insights into how featured snippets are currently ranked and how to optimize for them for placement on Google search engine results.

According to the study, 41.59% of keyword streams for featured snippets are questions (ie.  What is the best way to prepare my house for painting?), 22.67% are comparisons (ie. Manual Preparation or Powerwashing for your home painting project) 17.72% are prepositions (ie. How to prepare your home for painting) and only 7% of generic keywords have featured snippets (ie. House Painters in Talladega.)

How to Rank for Featured Snippets: The SEM Rush Study

For questions, the most popular first words are: why, are, will, does, do, can, is, should and how. How seems to be particularly effective in getting paragraph snippets, or lead ins to longer featured snippet content.  The more valuable and complete the content, the more likely it is to lead to conversions.

Comparisons can be used to help potential customers to shop, gain valuable information, and make buying decisions from search.  The most popular comparisons are price, pricing, compare and comparing.  Many pricing comparisons are successfully placed into tables that allow consumers to view several options at one time.

The most frequently used prepositions are for, with, like, without and to.  “How to” featured snippets seem to be popular. These “how to” articles can be valuable for search engine visitors and gain not only search traffic but also position the source as an expert in their field.

The study also provides data that will help to set guidelines for creating and ranking for featured snippets.

  1. Length of Featured snippets paragraph. The average length is 46 words, the maximum is 84 words.  The best practice is to be succinct and avoid huge amounts of text.
  2. Length of Lists. Average is 5.5 items, and the maximum is 8 items.  Please remember, a longer list forces Google to truncate the list and forces the website visitor to click through to the subject website for the full information.  The main guideline is to make sure the list is valuable.  Increasing the length of the list just to force Google to truncate the content is not a viable strategy.
  3. Rows in the table. The average number of rows in a table is 5.6 and the maximum is 7 rows.  Tables that Google must truncate will also force search traffic to the website for the full information.
  4. Use https. 70% of sites with more than one featured snippet use https.
  5. Optimize Mobile Performance. The average Mobile Friendly Score is 95/100. The average usability score is 96/100.

This study gives extremely valuable information on how to gain placement for featured snippets.  All this information should be viewed through the lens of good SEO practices like link structure, social sharing, solid on page SEO, and domain authority.  Featured snippets are one example of Google’s efforts to make search mobile friendly, voice search friendly, and more intuitive.

Eric Van Cleave is Co-CEO of Zenergy Works, a Santa Rosa California based SEO and Online Marketing firm.

Google Algorithm Update

SEO Experts have suspected, and – collective gasp of shock – Google has confirmed, that they ran a “broad core algorithm update” on or around March 7th that changed the placement of some websites on SERP (search engine results pages).

Here is Google’s statement on Twitter:

Each day, Google usually releases one or more changes designed to improve our results. Some are focused around specific improvements. Some are broad changes. Last week, we released a broad core algorithm update. We do these routinely several times per year.

As with any update, some sites may note drops or gains. There’s nothing wrong with pages that may now perform less well. Instead, it’s that changes to our systems are benefiting pages that were previously under-rewarded.

There’s no “fix” for pages that may perform less well other than to remain focused on building great content. Over time, it may be that your content may rise relative to other pages.

Google Algorithm Update

I have waited to reach out to Zenergy Works SEO customers on this update because I have seen little or no change in rankings that would not be expected as results of our strategies.   This update has elevated some sites that Google felt were not given proper credit in the past.   The task for SEO strategists is to figure out why the pages that have been elevated in SERP were rewarded with better placement.   So far, the insights seem to point to mobile load time, site UX and proper site map structure.  No surprises yet, but the review of the new algorithm changes continues.

Bottom Line:  Google is striving to provide the best search results possible.  The key to success appears to be to continue to provide the best UX and most valuable content for website visitors.   Eric Van Cleave is the Co-CEO and Digital Marketing Director for Zenergy Works, A Santa Rosa California SEO and Online Marketing Firm.

Mobile Page Speed Algorithm Update

Google has announced a new ranking algorithm that will downgrade the search rankings of slow loading mobile pages. Google stated that the new algorithm will go into effect in the Summer of 2018.

The search engine giant went on to state that the algorithm change “will only affect pages that deliver the slowest experience to users” and that it “will only affect a small percentage of queries.” Google has said for a long time only really slow pages have to worry about a downgrade in their rankings for speed. According to this blog post, there is no ranking improvement for being fast, just a downgrade for being really slow.

Mobile Page Speed Algorithm Update

Google says you can measure your page speed multiple ways and they are not sharing a specific, single metric to know if your site was hit by this algorithm update or not. Because the update will be algorithmic, not manual, it will not even show up in webmaster tools.

Most SEOs, including Zenergy Works, routinely use Google’s mobile speed test to evaluate mobile load time. Most responsive websites cannot achieve top speed scores, but come in at “fair” or higher. My best guess is that “fair” would not result in a rankings downgrade, but this situation will require further review as the algorithm roles out.
Eric Van Cleave is the CEO of Zenergy Works, A Santa Rosa, California (SEO) Search Engine Optimization and Online Marketing Firm.