Category Archives: SEO Blog

Zenergy Works SEO Blog

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.

How To Fix Mixed Content

Mixed Content

Mixed Content can be a negative factor for SEO rankings It also can theoretically be read or modified by attackers, even though the parent page is served over HTTPs. This will cause a warning message to appear in most browsers. Website visitors will either pay no attention to the warning or they will navigate away from your site and presume that you have not paid the proper attention to the security risks.

The best solution, of course, is to make sure that these by correctly configuring your site to serve only secure content. A mixed content warning means that there are both secured and unsecured elements being served up on a page that should be completely encrypted.

Types of Mixed Content

There are actually two types of mixed content. The most common is “mixed passive content” or “mixed display content.” This occurs when an HTTPS site loads something like an image or audio file over an HTTP connection. This type of content does not actually ruin the security of the page, but it’s still a bad security practice.. The most common cause of all mixed content warnings is caused when a site that is supposed to be secure is configured to pull images from an unsecured source.

The more dangerous type of mixed content is “mixed active content” or “mixed scripting.” This occurs when an HTTPS site loads a script file over HTTP. Loading a script over an insecure connection completely ruins the security of the current page. Web browsers generally block this type of mixed content completely.

Finding Mixed Content Issues

The best way to avoid mixed content issues is to serve all content via HTTPS instead of HTTP. You can easily search for mixed content by searching for HTTP elements directly via your source code.

  1. Open the source code of any page
  2. Using a search function search for “src=http” look for resources such as images, JavaScript, and links that are being called over a non-secure (HTTP) connection.

Fixing Mixed Content

You’ll first want to check if the resource is available over an HTTPS connection by copying and pasting the HTTP URL into a new web browser and changing HTTP to HTTPS. If the resource (i.e. image, URL) is available over HTTPs then you can simply change HTTP to HTTPS in your source code.

Conclusion

The main thing is to make sure you are hosting all images, videos, audio files and resources on a secure source. Links can be easily found using Google Webmaster Tools or an SEO platform like SEM Rush. It is best to remember that security is first, but user experience is a close second to any website designed to convert website visitors into customers.

Eric Van Cleave is CEO of Zenergy Works, A Santa Rosa, California based SEO and Website Development Firm.

Recent Google Updates

Many of you have heard me mention a number of Google Algorithm updates that have occurred in February and March. Below is a quick summary of the nature of the Google updates and, based on what we know now, what they effect and how to comply with the new standards.

Recent Google Updates

February 1st update

From a review of various online forums, it appears that this Google update targeted “spammy” links and content, including PBNs, or Private Blog Networks. PBNs use a system of purchasing expired domains and setting up a series of blogs that benefit a particular website.

The remedy for this is to continue to build link structure that a human being would use and produce high quality website content.

February 7th update

This update is focused on user experience, or UX. The best way to quantify UX from Google’s standpoint is to consult Google’s Quality Rater Guidelines (QRG). The QRG has great information on how human raters should test, and then rate, pages and sites from a quality standpoint.

To remedy elements that have been further addressed by this update, please review access to content, auto play video and audio, interstitials (pop ups), placement of ads or worse, pages that disguise ads as website content. Load times and relevant photos or diagrams are also factors in rankings. Mobile performance has been, and will continue to be, a prominent factor.

March 7th Update

Fred is here! According to a number of sources, Gary Illyes, an analyst at Google, said at the SMX West Conference that the Google search team has decided not to talk about the Fred update that touched down on March 7, 2017. Google would not confirm this last algorithm update, but this statement about Google not talking about it may be a confirmation by itself. Illyes went on to add that this update targets specific techniques that are contained in the Google webmaster guidelines. As usual, however, he declined to offer specifics.

Again, the most prominent piece of this update appears to be further evaluation of the quality of website content. The best remedy is to continue to provide unique and valuable content to your website users.

Conclusion

In many of the SEO forums that I frequent, I sense that SEO experts are angry with Google and their constant revision of the search algorithms. My point of view is that Google continues to find ways to combat spam and poor user experience in their search results. Update your website content, remove annoying ads and other money-making schemes and build links the right way. All of these practices involve hard work, but they will pay off in the long term.

Eric Van Cleave is CEO of Zenergy Works, A Santa Rosa California SEO and Web Development firm. Eric is also a partner in zentiv agency, a full 360 creative agency.

Tips for Effective Email Campaigns

Email campaigns can be frustrating, even when your list is your good customers and folks who are familiar with your business.

Email Campaigns

1. Use A Known Sender Name.

The From name is one of the most prominently displayed elements of your campaign. According to studies, 68% of American email recipients open or delete the email based on the From Name. Most browsers limit the length of the From Name that can be read on the screen to 23 characters, so consider keeping that name short.

2. Create a subject line with benefits to the recipient

My favorite sales mentor taught me that everyone’s favorite radio station is WIFM (What’s In It For Me?). A subject line should include the recipient’s name or words like Your, You, etc. that focus on the benefits of the information in the email for the recipient.

3. Make sure preheader text is on point and valuable

The preheader is the short summary text that follows the subject line when an email is viewed in the inbox. This is where the recipient decides to read more. Make sure that the preheader text compliments and follows the subject line like (subject line) Grow Your Income, (preheader text) By Working Only 15 Additional Minutes Each Day.

4. Keep the Message Easy to Read and Simple

Good email messages are about showing your audience your offering and the benefits it brings them in the simplest way possible.

While your product may be different, there are a number of formulas you can use to help you write great email content. The PAS, 4 P’s, and BAB formulas are all easy to follow frameworks that help marketers like you write high performing email campaigns by positioning your product or service as the solution to your customer’s pain points.

5. Strong, but Careful, Call to Action

The buttons you use in your email marketing campaigns are the final step towards getting someone to click-through from your campaign and visit your website, and the words you choose for them can play a big part in determining whether someone will click-through or not.

Dos:

Ask for the business by using benefit concepts like “Take the First Step to Increasing Your Revenues” or “Get More Time With Your Family”. Or “Learn More About

Dont’s:

Avoid cumbersome action words that ask your potential client to do something they don’t necessarily want to do, like:

  • Download
  • Apply
  • Order
  • Submit

Conclusion

Everyone (at least everyone that you would want to target to sell your goods and services) gets more and more email each and every day. The 5 tips outlined above will help you to get a higher “open” rate and more engagement. Its up to you to sell your products.

Eric Van Cleave is Co-CEO and Chief of Digital Marketing for zentiv agency in Santa Rosa, California.