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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.

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.

SEO In 2018 By Eric Van Cleave-Partner and Digital Strategist-TIV Branding

Search Engine Optimization

In reviewing 2017 and getting ready for 2018, I have been forced to take a close look at SEO and Online Marketing strategies and the following are some of the thoughts that I have shared with my clients in the last couple of months. So in the spirit of a Q and A session-here goes:

At this time next year, how will the day-to-day job of being an SEO be different? Why?

I think that a great deal of time will be spent on the following areas in 2018 as opposed to 2017:

  1. Mobile Sites-Mobile UX in terms of load time and use of AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) will become more prevalent. This is not new, but 2018 will be the year that Google, for one, institutes mobile first ranking.
  2. Content will have to be more engaging and in keeping with brand voice to engage customers. Content Writers will be required to write from the point of view of the potential customer, not worrying as much about keyword density, text to code ratio and other traditional SEO guidelines.
  3. Direct Traffic-I will spend time with each client on ensuring that site functionality will continue to keep customers engaged, and that each site has a plan and to build strong direct website traffic, which has become a key element of sites that enjoy high ranking in SERPs.
  4. Link Structure-Link structure will be closely tied to social media platforms and the links from some social media to content on the website, both from client social sites and through social shares. Relevant links that website visitors would actually use are the most important.

What are the biggest themes/trends in SEO you expect to see next year? Why?

  1. SEO Will Continue to Be Difficult-This is not news to those in the industry who have been driven out by numerous algorithm changes, experimentation of how SERPs display, and technical innovations like AMP. The thing is, gaining organic placement has always been a time and work intensive activity, so no real change there. I think that understanding which strategy will work for each individual client and refraining from using the same playbook and methodology for every client is a must moving ahead.
  2. Marketers Will use Paid Solutions to augment Organic SEO Efforts. Display and PPC have improved dramatically. Bing has brought its paid platform to the point of relevance and often delivers lower cost per click and conversion than Google Adwords. Programmatic ad programs have been extremely effective in reaching out to consumers and have been effective for clients with larger paid budgets. Social Media has become a bargain to gain significant engagement, especially on Facebook and Linked In.
  3. Featured Snippets/Answer Boxes-This is the new frontier of organic search, and will be territory that inspires spirited competition for placement. As web users begin to use and trust this feature more, learning how to optimize for these placements without becoming Wikipedia will be a challenge for SEOs in the coming year.

In thinking over 2017, is there anything that surprises you in hindsight? If so, what? Why?

I think that once you gain a certain level of expertise in online marketing, nothing is truly a surprise anymore. This is because the same patterns keep repeating themselves. There are far more things, in my estimation, that are not surprising based on past events in SEO. Here are a couple of them:

  1. The One Man Show-The biggest thing that I hear from others in this industry is that they are surprised that they cannot do it all for a client themselves. SEO is becoming complicated and time intensive. It requires a team of SEOs, content writers, creative folks, marketing managers, branding experts, programmers, web developers and the involvement of the client to ensure that strategy is in keeping with marketing plans to create a successful SEO campaign in 2018. Clients will not be able to say that “our SEO guys handle that, and I rarely talk to them” in 2018. There are simply too many moving parts, and too many facets of successful SEO to not have a team. So in 2018 and the years to come, I am certain that I will continue to not be surprised that I rely on my team more and more each year to help my clients grow their online traffic.
  2. New Developments-Many of the “surprises” that occur are changes in algorithms designed to improve the quality of search results displays and the quality of websites that search engines feature in SERPs. If a new website technology improves UX, expect that sooner or later it will show up as a ranking factor. If fewer local map results create less clutter for searches conducted on mobile platforms, expect that to happen. Above all, if you are an SEO and you have found a shortcut that creates an advantage over your competition and it does not involve Google being able to process accurate search results more efficiently, a superior UX, faster load time, or more useful information being displayed on your site, Google, for one will eventually close that loophole and the remainder of the search engines will closely follow. Playing the game by the rules and consistently working on improving your web presence is the only way to ensure sustained success.

Google Analytics-What Is Bounce Rate?

Bounce RateIn talking with clients and analyzing the performance of their websites, I find that there are common misconceptions about the definitions behind the numbers.

Bounce rate is defined as when a user has a single-page session on a website. That is to say, they entered on one URL and left the site from the same page (defined by the URL of the page) without interacting with that page or visiting any others on the site. Bounce Rate is calculated as a percentage, by dividing the aggregate number of single-page sessions by the total number of entries to that page. Bounce Rate can be a handy tool into whether users are engaged by content on a page or not. The assumption is that a high bounce rate is reflective of a poorly performing page that needs improved content to engage site visitors.

Bounce rate can easily be both misunderstood and misinterpreted.
Google Analytics records a bounce when a user views one page on a site and a single request is sent to the Analytics server. One request in the analytic code on the page equals a bounce. Two requests to the analytic code is not a bounce. This can be deceiving if hyperlinks or automatic actions are opened on the page without user permission.

On the other hand, a user may visit the page, find the exact information they wanted (a phone number or address, for example), and then carry out their next engagement with the brand offline. The site user could be interrupted by a phone call and have the session time out after 30 minutes.

Google Tag Manager and more sophisticated tracking methods can help to better clarify bounce rate (usually by assuming that if the user spends more than 30-45 seconds on a page they have found some content of value), but a high bounce rate is not always a problem. Many users find and access the information that they want by viewing one page and this could be a sign of a high-performing page with great content. This can occur on SEO content pages that are designed to deliver very specific information, or when the user comes to the site to verify the name of the CEO, get the address for an upcoming visit, or read a blog post.

A low bounce rate does not necessarily mean a page is performing well. It may suggest that the web page content does not contain enough information, or that the site navigation is confusing, forcing users to access multiple pages to get the information they want.

It is a mistake to look at bounce rate as the only method of evaluating page performance. Time spent on the page, conversion ratio, and call tracking can all be further indicators of how well any page of your website is performing. In the end, I tend to look at conversion (as defined as the goal of the page content call to actions) as the primary definition of the quality of the page.

Eric Van Cleave is a Partner in TIV Branding, a Santa Rosa California based Creative and Branding Agency.

Better Email Marketing in 2018

Email Marketing

Email marketing, for most of my clients, delivers the maximum return for minimum investment. Like most marketing endeavors, email marketing is a divine mix of art and science. Maintaining a connection with your audience and what they want to see and keeping a close watch on the metrics will ensure that your email campaigns are successful. A few basic strategies outlined below are a great “check in” for your email campaigns.

Double Check The Basics:

1. Send emails to those who are engaged with your product and your message.
If you have email lists with low rates of engagement activity, you should stop sending emails to them. Your prospects get tired of wading through and deleting unwanted emails and have a high probability of unsubscribing from your list. When you send to a list with low engagement rates, it damages your domain reputation and lowers the odds of connecting with your target audience.

2. Send Emails from a person, not an “info” or “no reply” email.
Don’t send emails from an “info” or “no reply” email account. Be sure to personalize the “from” email address to drive replies from subscribers to an actual person.

3. If people mark you as spam, immediately stop sending email and re evaluate your email list and strategy.
If potential clients designate your emails as “spam, your domain reputation can be damaged, and you could become blacklisted by email providers. The spam complaints can be caused by a new source of leads, a business or domain name change, an over aggressive opt in campaign, or content that does not engage the user, the best strategy is to stop sending emails until you identify and rectify the problem.

4. Have a goal for each email campaign.
If you don’t have a clear call to action for a product you wish to introduce, a case study you wish to share, or a landing page to promote the recipients of your email will be left wondering what the point of emailing them might be. Have a clear goal for your email campaigns and you can define success by tracking conversions to that goal to measure the true level of engagement you have achieved with your audience. Consider giving a number of options for CTAs (calls to action) in your emails to measure the engagement of different types of CTAs. Take care to avoid overwhelming your audience with too many options. More than two options for next steps can be overwhelming to an email recipient.

5. Personalize your emails.
It has been proven time and time again that personalized email has higher open rates. Keep it simple and personalize according to recipient names and company names.

Techniques to Try:

1. Experiment with sending emails on different days of the week.
Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays are the most popular days to send email. If you want your emails to stand out a bit more, experiment by sending them on Mondays and Fridays. Emails with calls-to-action to purchase items or view items of general interest often perform well on weekends. This is a viable option for consumers, but I would avoid this for business recipients. The weekend email will no doubt get lost in the rush of Monday morning.

2. Put some time into the subject line.
Make sure that your subject line is not misleading. Customized and personalized subject lines are the best policy. Many email marketers are experimenting with emojis. Please carefully consider the subject matter of your email and the target recipient before employing the emoji strategy.

3. Adjust the frequency of your emails
Make sure that you have something of value to say or announce before you send an email. Just blanketing an email list with the best idea you could come up with will likely lead to lowered open rates and engagement. Waiting for valuable information to share will make you stand out from those competing for attention in a prospect’s email inbox.

Conclusions:

Email marketing gets tougher every year as the public tires of being bombarded with offers to buy frivolous products that force them to waste time deleting and unsubscribing from unwanted email. This doesn’t mean that email marketing is not a viable platform, but it is more competitive. The solution is to invest the time and effort into refining your email campaigns to keep your subscribers engaged.

Eric Van Cleave is the Managing Partner of Zenergy Works, A Santa Rosa, California Based Online Marketing, Website Development and SEO Firm.

SEO Ranking Factors According to SEM Rush

SemRush, a world renowned resource for SEO and Online Marketing Tools and Resources, has released a 55 page study of ranking factors for SEO. The data was compiled by comparing the status of sites in SERP rankings, and while no study of Google algorithms would crack 100% of the code, and there are specific conditions that exist for all websites in search, the data provided some small surprises, and reaffirmed a number of facts-like inbound links still do matter.

The findings are summarized in the table below:

SEO Ranking Factors

The number one ranking factor is listed as direct traffic. Direct traffic was always a factor, but Google is giving weight to how many customers use the site as a resource. For most businesses, this means providing solid content will promote the use of the site in direct traffic, as well as encouraging time on site and pages viewed per session, which are factors 2 and 3. User experience continues to be overall, the number one factor in positive rankings.

As a group, the quality and number of backlinks appears to be the second most important factor. The number of total backlinks and follow backlinks is an important ranking factor for SEO. The debate has raged on for some time about whether backlinks are a significant ranking factor. The results of this study back up the most popular point of view that quality backlinks are second only to quality content and a positive user experience in Google Ranking Factors.

On page “formula” factors like HTTPS, total anchors, keyword in body of text, keywords in title, keyword density are shown by this study to be ranking factors, but not as important as content/UX and quality backlinks. A word of caution for this is that with over 200 known ranking factors, successful SEO still requires checking as many boxes as possible after a website that offers a quality user experience and has a positive link structure has been created. The art of search engine optimization is to create a positive UX while still preserving keyword density, etc. Good habits and adherence to the keyword content, meta and title information are still vitally important to successful SEO.

I use SEMRush daily in helping my clients to gain organic search traffic and rankings. The study referenced here is only one of the many assets that SEMRush provides to its subscribers. But even a great resource like SEMRush is just one part of the equation. Google Webmaster tools, review of analytics, competitive analysis and keyword research are also part of a successful SEO campaign.

Eric Van Cleave is the Managing Parter of Zenergy Works, A Santa Rosa California SEO and Online Marketing Firm.

3 Reasons to Consider A Bing Paid Advertising Campaign

Bing Paid Advertising

Microsoft had a great year in paid search advertising in 2016, celebrating a 23% year over year growth in search advertising.

Bing and Yahoo’s reports paint a really wonderful picture of Bing Ads’ growth this past year. Bing grew to 19.7% of the US search market share and Yahoo saw a 10% increase in paid search clicks in 2016 over 2015. And while there’s no doubt that they’re both still trailing Google in search volume, they’re gaining on paid search clicks. Google paid search clicks were down 11% year over year in 2016. How does Bing shine compared to Google in paid search? Here are 3 of the major differences:

  • Less Competition.
    And Lower Cost Per Click (CPC) Bing uses an auction format like Google Adwords, so less competition equals better ad positions and cheaper costs per click. According to Wordstream, CPC’s are an average of 33.5% cheaper CPC on Bing. Not only were these clicks cheaper on Bing, but ads often have better positions than their Google counterparts and had higher Click Through Ratios.
  • Timing is Everything.
    Bing allows advertisers to assign different campaigns different time zones. This makes sophisticated ad scheduling strategies far easier to manage in Bing.
  • Sharpen Your Aim.
    Google AdWords allows control over demographic targeting on the Google Display Network, they do not allow the specific targeting of search ads. Bing Ads give us the ability to control gender and age demographics for your search ads. Demographic targeting can be controlled at either the campaign or ad group level on Bing.

Okay, the budgets might be smaller, but there are a lot of folks still married to the Microsoft Suite, and therefore, Internet Explorer and Bing Search by lack of technical expertise or restrictions on work computers. Moving to Bing probably will not change your world, but it may provide a few more clicks for the same dollars that are spent on Google.

Eric Van Cleave is CEO of Zenergy Works and TIV Branding, located in Santa Rosa, California.

Google Ranking Factors – What is “RankBrain”?

Google has used a machine-learning artificial intelligence system called “RankBrain” since early 2015 to help rank search results. RankBrain uses AI (Artifical Intelligence) to accumulate information relevant to search rankings. AI uses Machine Learning, which is the process where a computer teaches itself how to do something, rather than being taught by programming or human beings. All indications are that AI and Machine Learning, for the purposes of Google RankBrain, mean the same thing.

RankBrain and Hummingbird

RankBrain is part of Google’s overall search algorithm, a computer program that sorts through the billions of possible pages and find the ones deemed most relevant for particular queries. The name of the new algorithm is Hummingbird. Hummingbird is the overall search algorithm, and RankBrain is one of the newest parts of the algorithm.

RankBrain

Hummingbird also contains other parts with names familiar to those in the SEO space, such as Panda, Penguin and Payday designed to fight spam, Pigeon designed to improve local results, Top Heavy designed to demote ad-heavy pages, Mobile Friendly designed to reward mobile-friendly pages and Pirate designed to fight copyright infringement.

By all accounts, RankBrain is third in priority of ranking factors behind content and links, or links and content, since Google will not specify which factors are most important in determining rankings.

What Does RankBrain Really Do?

Aside from the technical explanation, what does RankBrain really do? The popular view is that RankBrain is mainly used as a way to interpret the searches that people submit to find pages that might not have the exact words that were searched for, but are nevertheless relevant for that search. Therefore, deep content for long tailed keywords and the technique of SEO Siloing, which is creating relevant and deep content for keyword streams will become more and more important as time goes on.

Nothing here changes the over arching strategy of making sure that your website has a good UX and unique and valuable content. RankBrain, in the end, will help to find more sites that have these factors.

Eric Van Cleave is a Partner in Zenergy Works and TIV Branding, located in Santa Rosa, California.