Inbound Marketing: You may have noticed this term bandied about the blogosphere or dropped into conversations you’ve overheard or been part of and wondered whether this is a term you should be clearer on the definition of, or if indeed it’s just a rebadging of something you already do and can safely dismiss as trendy ‘marketingese’ (that elusive language that people in our industry use to fool you whilst making ourselves feel important and knowledgable).

The answer? Yes and no. Usefully.

I’m not going to turn this into one of my ramblings, I’ll keep it brief, but it’s a term that quite accurately aligns itself with the way our service to you has evolved recently and I felt it may be worth spelling out the ethos behind the terminology. It’s quite important to you and your online marketing activities as it balances everything we do (and you should be doing) in the most ROI focused proportions.

The service formally known as SEO

Previously we quite heavily touted ourselves as an SEO agency. This is a term people are familiar with and one which our target audience commonly uses when they’re looking for people like us to help them generate more traffic and sales. However, it’s probably not the most descriptive way to badge our core service offering and at the same time, shouldn’t be the focus of your traffic generating goals.

SEO is a core service in the suite of services that can be described as ‘Inbound Marketing’. What is inbound marketing? Simply, it’s all marketing activities you undertake to get your engaging message in front of an audience that is looking (that’s the inbound bit) for what you do. Now they may be looking via a search engine (SEO, PPC), they may be looking on blogs and content hubs they trust (content marketing), or they may be getting busy amongst their social networks looking for somebody who does what you do (social media). These are the most influential and potentially audience engaging platforms in the inbound marketing arena that are going to be important to your inbound marketing strategy.

SEO is just a part of the story

So SEO is still in the mix, of course it is, it’s very important. But it’s a very important part of a larger strategy. So why are we calling it Inbound Marketing? Because we know that by using all of these strategies together, each one feeds off and supports the other, meaning that your content efforts, your social efforts and your SEO efforts all work in synergy making the whole greater than the sum of the parts.

Let me quantify that a bit with an example:

1. You optimise a landing page for a particular keyword theme that you have proven in your PPC campaign converts nicely to sales.

2. You write a couple of (high quality) guest blog posts (avoiding exact or partial match anchor text in your links – brand/domain only) for a couple of high quality blogs that meet your strict criteria to support your domain strength.

3. You write a blog post (for your own blog) with content that aligns to the theme you’re targeting (very high quality,long form content or a unique data infographic etc) and is targeted towards the influencers in your social media networks (that you’re consistently growing and analysing).

4. You tweet, Facebook share, stumbleupon, pin and so on your content.

What are you trying to get in return?

  • More indexable content (landing page and your blog post)
  • A stronger domain (better rankings for any page on that domain)
  • Social engagement (with SEO enhancing social engagement signals)
  • Shares, likes, retweets, stumbles and pins (people sharing your audience targeted content)
  • Earned inbound links

This is how you get your content supporting your social activities, your social activities sharing your content with an audience, engagement at the social end, engagement (and conversions) at the website end and to put a cherry on top, plenty of kudos from Google thus higher rankings.

In other words, the more holistic inbound marketing approach means more traffic from search engines, more traffic from social media, better engagement from both and more conversions.

Getting the balance right

The balance between these activities varies depending on the site objective and your audience objectives but we’re in a very exciting phase of traffic generation right now where we can leverage these maturing social networks (and a more mature, experienced and therefore more likely to engage audience) alongside our onsite SEO activities and content creation and they actually support each other meaning that, when strategically planned, the ROI and effectiveness of each singular activity can be multiplied several times (sometimes exponentially) by it’s support for and from other activities under our inbound marketing banner – Happy days!

Hope that clears it up a bit…

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The death knell has been ringing from the bowels of Castle Greyskull Google for a while and although I’m not sure the sword is falling quite yet, there have certainly been some web spam team ninja stars flying around the place targeting the kind of low quality link building strategies that certain ‘guest blogging’ strategies dress themselves up to be.

Matt Cutts recently sounded yet another warning to the black hat brigade about how low quality guest blogging is tantamount to paid link acquisition. And that’s against Google’s terms is it not?

Guest blogging is a perfectly acceptable means of reaching your audience via somebody elses appropriate audience and one of the advantages is that you can get a link back to your website. But having been latched onto by so many SEOs in the past few years this strategy has become a defined ‘link building’ strategy and the lower quality end of the game has tarred the brush for (nearly) all.

My view is that there is still plenty of room for non spammy, well thought out, carefully considered guest posting if the metrics (and your gut feeling) marry up. We don’t even link out from our guest posts with exact or even partial match anchor text any more, just URL or branded links from relevant, on topics content and blogs. But even this is starting to take a back seat as we evolve our service into something less ‘link buildy’

So why (mostly) no more link building?

It’s always been a mainstay of the whole SEO process right? It used to be more links, then it became better quality links, then we had watch our anchor text ratios, then we had to avoid anchor text and now what is it? What the heck are we supposed to be doing to let Google know we’re a reputable source, worthy of ranking highly for our longtail keyword themes (because keywords are so 2011)?

Try this….

Have great content, actually on your website.

That’s (almost) it. Forget creating content for links and finding places to post it and start creating content for people. If you stop looking for links and invest the same amount of time and energy into creating high quality, unique content that will appeal to your target audience and the associated Linkerati and the links will start finding you. Good old fashioned linkbait folks. Only now we get this whole social network, advocates doing your work for you deal into the bargain.

Don’t put your great content on other people’s sites, put it on your own site, let nature take it’s course and reap the rewards of your efforts.

No, of course this won’t happen all by itself, you’re going to have to put a bit of effort in, but the ROI on this strategy is directly proportionate to the effort you make over the longer term, and SEO is a longer term effort today more than ever it was. You have to future proof yourself against the next potential Google update (Google index apocalypse)  that finally says “Sorry folks, I need to see high quality content allied to mighty social signals and reputable authors and I don’t care how many links you’ve got from thin content on low quality blogs” – Not so unrealistic is it?

There is a process to this and your link building strategy (or that of your web team or agency) might already be set up for this:

1. Identify your target audience:

Who are you writing for? What sort of content is going to engage them? Maybe your accountancy firm or geographical survey company might seem like it’s devoid of sexy ideas for interesting content, but know your audience and you’ll brainstorm some ‘adjacent content’ that will appeal to your target audience without being directly about what you do. As an accountant, your audience may be small businesses terrified of the perils, pitfalls (and fines!) of HMRC. So what about “Everything A Small Business Needs To Know About Tax, VAT & HMRC”? Think big, think indispensable guide, think thought leader, think authority, think audience.

2. Competitive Intelligence

You might already be looking at who links to your competitors (that’s why they rank above you right?) so why not take a look at what content people are linking to? There’s a wealth of content ideas out there sat on sites that rank better than yours. Go get inspired by it. Take a look at the glorious (and free!) Buzzsumo for trending content that getting lots of social buzz. This is happening right now, people are creating great content, get moving!

3. Distribute it to your followers

What followers? Your facebook likers and twitter followers and Google plus, er, circlers. This would really be a post of it’s own, it’s a big topic (but start here) and one you need to get your head around because the value is big, far beyond just a group of people to share your content with and help deliver those genuinely earned links, but also potential customers, influencers and advocates.

Bomb proof your strategy

Great content will deliver more than links, it will stick around, it will continue to give and it will help you to garner the kind of authority, social signals and general kudos that Google will be looking for in the not so distant future (and a little bit already…) and it’ll do this naturally without you having to go out chasing links with your precious time. I’m not saying that links garnered through fostering relationships with other businesses and people isn’t valid, or that carefully managed guest blog posting isn’t going to be the potential ranking difference between you and a ranking competitor but if you want to invest your time wisely and with a future proof (algorithmically bomb proof) link acquisition strategy, socially allied content for your website is the way forwards.

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I wouldn’t say this eventually was inevitable but it was certainly signposted. When Google dialled their keyword privacy up to 100% in the middle of October this year it was immediately perceived as a blow to the SEO fraternity. But it had actually been on the cards for a while and perhaps one or two high profile ‘data privacy’ situations pushed this into place sooner rather than later. Some folks feel this is a push from Google into the arms of Adwords and PPC advertising; a greed thing, but Google ‘Do no evil’ so it wouldn’t be that…

So what has happened and why is it bad? Actually, is it bad??

I’m often asked (although not any more!) what the (not provided) message means in Google Analytics keywords reports. It always seemed to be at the top of most reports and accounted for 20-40% of keywords in some cases. This was a privacy thing. If your website visitor was logged into their Google account when performing the search that took them to your site (remember that phrase in bold, it’ll be important later on…) then the data that allowed you to know what term delivered their visit was ‘not provided’. And still is. Only now, you don’t have to be logged into anything. All keyword data is ‘not provided’ when it comes to those analytics reports. It was always a bit annoying because it meant that you weren’t getting the full picture when it came to measuring the success of your SEO activities. Were the terms you were targeting actually sending you traffic? Was there a return on investment for that ranking success? More importantly, what words were converting best? All this information was seemingly lost overnight. Actually, there’s no seemingly about it, it was lost overnight!

Having less data is clearly a blow to measuring success, no two ways about that. But what is important is what we do with what we are left with and the reality is that in this industry we are so utterly spoiled with measurable data that even a loss like this one doesn’t have to impact your reporting, on the contrary, here at Traphic we reckon it’s forced us to be creative and evolve the way we measure our successes and actually improve the way we report.

So what do we do now the keyword data has vanished?

OK, remember the phrase in bold from earlier?: the search that took them to your site?

Well, whilst we might now the term that brought the visit, the important measure of success is not actually the term, but the fact that the search that took them to your site. So it’s useful to have the term in question handed to me on an analytical plate, but not critical to understanding what’s working well in my SEO campaign. Let me explain: I have whole conversations with clients these days that don’t even mention rankings. Single terms are yesterday’s SEO, we don’t get hung up on where one or two ‘core’ terms sit in the rankings because we know that it’s the 1000s of long tail terms that actually drive the traffic. Rankings are a guide, not a measure and even Google is moving away from a ‘keyword’ philosophy towards a contextually appropriate scenario where questions are understood and ideas or themes are considered. What my clients want to see is a report that says ‘your organic traffic has increased 20% this month’ and ‘your organic traffic channel has converted to sale at 8% this month resulting in £xyz revenue’. This is what’s important.

But what about all that hard work optimising pages for terms, how do I know it’s working?

This should be a no brainer – Remember what we said about the embarrassment of riches we have in analytics data for measuring our successes? Focus on your landing pages. You know if you’ve worked hard optimising category page X for the term ‘red widget’ so if you see an improvement in lands to that page and they’re engaging and converting then you know you’re getting results and you don’t need the keyword data to tell you you’ve nailed it.

Not happy? Still want some keyword data in your life? All is not actually lost…

Have you hooked up your Google webmaster tools account to your analytics account? You have submitted a sitemap haven’t you? Good, well, your webmaster tools account can fire across all that lovely query data to your analytics account. And you can slice that data any which way in analytics just like you would with old school ‘provided’ keywords – happy days! Not only that but WMT query data also gives you impressions; that’s the number of times your URLs have appeared in search with associated click through data. This actually gives you more to play with than you had before (even though it’s always been there, you just didn’t need to look because you already had some keywords data…).

Now we can’t vouch for the accuracy of the numbers and the data’s only going back a month at a time but it’s a good guide and honestly, that’s all that analytics has ever been – a good guide that allows for lots of conversion rate based decision making and allows for some solid ROI trends over time.

So no need to mourn keyword data, embrace you far more RESULTS orientated reporting and measuring and have a play with WMT if you absolutely must have some keyword action to refer to (I do, and there’s no harm in it!).

Do you miss keyword data in analytics? Have you found any creative ways to circumvent the hole in your data wall? Comment away…

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The actual value of an SEO service is the creation of an element that is a critical part of an equation that leads to success. Great SEO = High rankings. High Rankings from Great SEO = Targeted traffic. Targeted traffic + visitor engagement & conversion strategy = leads & sales! Here’s a little something I knocked up to illustrate…

TheSEOEquation title=
easel.ly

This is question that might at first glance appear to have an easy and obvious answer. And of course, it’s not a great mystery to those of us immersed in the field on a daily basis. But recently we nearly lost a client (yes, I know, us!) because we had not correctly established a clear understanding of where the value of our service lay. Setting clear goals and managing expectations are an important part of any SEO project, whether in house, outsourced or managed for you, agreeing on the desired outcomes (and understanding the path towards them) is vital.

But what is the point of a clear path towards and opportunity laden future if that has not been effectively communicated to your client, your colleagues or your boss? What kind of questions are you likely to get asked? This is where we unusually dropped the ball with a client and learned a valuable lesson.

The statement came out of the blue on an account that we were working hard and very successfully on. Some very competitive terms were shooting up that rankings and we were all rather proud of ourselves. Until we heard questions like “but we’re not making sales!” and even more painfully “I want to stop this because I don’t think we’re getting value”…

The short description of the resolution to this was that we immediately put a presentation together to illustrate the value of our service to the client. It had lots of pretty graphs and positive numbers and got the point over successfully and to everyone’s satisfaction. But the bottom line is very, very simple. The value must be clearly communicated. SEO does not = sales, (not even great SEO like what we do). This is because there are other factors at play at the conversion end of the deal (your conversion strategy, your risk reducers (or lack thereof), your pricing, your delivery policy, your newness, your competitors, and so on). SEO’s responsibility is to send targeted (not untargeted tyre kickers) visitors to your site. SEO’s true value (pure SEO we’re talking about rather than a holistic inbound marketing strategy) is in being part of the final equation that you simply cannot do without. Without the targeted traffic then your snazzy web psychology, fancy video demonstrations, compelling reviews and original content won’t be sending anyone down any conversion funnels…

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We’re not the cheapest SEO on the block (we’re certainly not the most expensive either) but we’re definitely not in the  £50 a month, outsourced, conveyor belt, automated system market. So when folks reasonably ask us why we are more expensive than some of the services they discover via search (or via one of those SEO emails that even I get 1000 of a day) we explain that we are an ROI focused consultancy that leads with competitive intelligence and work with our clients to generate a high quality (future proof) content strategies for link acquisition etc etc… You get the idea.

We might know we’re great but on a price first impression basis there are always going to be questions. And rightly so.

So I was utterly chuffed to bits that Aaron Wall and team over at SEObook took the time to create an infographic that spells it out so succinctly…

Click on it to see the big version to read the tiny type…

Great SEO.

Online marketing infographic by SEO Book

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Just want to go back to basics a bit with this one. I know that anchor text ratios and co-citations aren’t always the most interesting of subjects for everyone. Sometimes you just need a few simple, helpful nudges in a more productive direction with your digital marketing.

So here’s a few straight forward (spell check says that should be one word but I refuse to believe it) things you can do today that should have an impact by tomorrow (yes, really). No long words or complex processes, just actionable stuff. You’re welcome!

1. Identify your low hanging fruit….

You might already be close to some easy wins without even knowing it. Fortunately you probably have that data just a few clicks away from you right now. Login to your Google analytics account (if you don’t have an analytics account stop reading this and go and set one up immediately).

Navigate to Traffic Sources > Sources > Search > Organic

Yes, it might have ‘Not Provided’ at the top of the pile, that’s Google’s privacy policy preventing data being passed from folks logged into their G account, not much we can do about that. So go below that and look at where your traffic is coming from. What we’re looking for is traffic you’re getting but might not be ranking all that highly for. You need to cross ref this data with your rankings (check your rankings report from your SEO guys, or your own records, or go long handed and do some searches yourself) and look for terms that are productive but are ranking at the bottom of the first page or lower.

Once you’ve identified those puppies, build a couple of links to them and optimise ‘em! (check the next tip….) and get them higher up. You already know they drive traffic and you’re pretty close already. You do the time/ROI math(s).

2. Check the on page elements most highly correlated with ranking highly on your core landing pages

This is a simple on-page health check for 3 things that should be in place. Remember, on page SEO is done with caution. The general rule is to write for your target audience only, never for Google. Gbot is smart enough to cope with the minimum of clues and he’s looking for far more than keywords repeating themselves in awkward places. In fact, he’ll shout at pages that do that and ask them to leave the room.

So:

Title tag: Make sure your target keyword is in there, but something like this:

Beautiful Red Widgets from Brand Name Here

Absolutely not like this:

Buy Red Widgets Online | Widgets Red UK | Brand Name Here

Google algorithm aside, which link would you click on from a search result page?

ALT Tags: Make sure you’ve got an ALT tag on the page with your target keywords in it. Far more highly correlated with ranking higher than H1 tags don’tyouknow?

Keywords on the page: It doesn’t hurt to have a few variations of your target keywords on the page – 2 or 3 is more than enough and it had better read naturally. Otherwise your buy red widgets copy will look like it wants to rank for red widgets to buy and not for red widgets UK customers.

And Google and your target audience will laugh at/ignore you a bit.

3. Google Content Authorship

This only takes seconds and it a great way of future proofing your content strategy. Your site should have a blog because otherwise how can you add more engaging content to use as linkbait or to engage visitors, or to add more indexable content to the Internet, or to tweet about or share as part of your social strategy? So you should have a blog (as with analytics, if you haven’t, go and sort it).

Here’s the finer details (still easy though): https://plus.google.com/authorship

And by connecting the content that you write (for your blog or anybody elses) to your G+ profile you are improving your kudos as a blogger. The more you right and the more it is shared, commented on and generally well received so the higher your AuthorRank gets. The higher your AuthorRank (so the theory goes), the higher your content will rank.

You can also go back and add this connection to everything you’ve already written too!

So there you are, nothing too taxing and all with a solid ROI attached – off you go!

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