The SEO Diet

HARTENSTINE Search Engine First Marketing

Have you ever made the connection? That SEO is like a diet. (the latest fad diet I should say)

Lets face it. Marketing is always trying to make the old seem new so they can sell you more of the same.

I hear these pitches about SEO and they sounds like the latest diet fad. It wears me out. It wears me out because there really are not that many new things under the SEO sun. There are always changes in technology, and there are changes in human behavior. Both mean there is something to stay abreast of and act on, but just because people changed their search methodology sightly, does not mean we have to start all over and “get with the new diet”. ( the best diet is still that recommended in 1940 – just read “Good Carbs, Bad Carbs” and you are good to go for the next 80 years )

SEO is actually like a diet, and the key to success is just keep doing it well every day. Eating well is the same a doing SEO well. There is no need to “get with the new” by doing a 365 degree turn (which is the same as a 5 degree turn), just making slight course changes is better than a total make-over.

For instance, we learned that as more people use mobile devices to search, they changed their behavior SLIGHTLY and began using “near me” as a part of their phrasing. We all adapted SLIGHTLY by updating our SEO methods. But that was about 2 years ago and it was a slight change. It was a small 5 degree course correction, not really an earth shaking event. But if you listen to the SEO “news” you would think it required a major re-tooling.

Just stay on course. Tune as needed. Everything in moderation.


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How to Add Rich Snippets for Reviews and Ratings

HARTENSTINE Search Engine First Marketing Like everything we do, the subject of this post is really “How to get better visibility in Google Search Results”. Isn’t that what everything is about?

Use this How To post as a way for you (business owners) to understand the scope of the subject as well. Its not just about Review snippets. Here is how Google describes it.

Integrate with Search to help grow your business > Enhance Your Presence on Search > Search is evolving beyond ten blue links to bring your content to people in much richer and faster ways. Learn how structured data markup can drive users to your content and services with rich results on the Search results page.

Here are the features you have at your disposal to accomplish that.

For most business we work with, this is what we want – Local Business schema

And finally the Rich Snippets for Reviews and Ratings

Login to your Google Search Console (GSC) >
Structured Data Testing Tool >
Fetch & Validate >
Expand Reviews Section >

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Google Analytics Direct/Other Traffic Drop – Answered

HARTENSTINE Search Engine First Marketing Has your website analytics traffic suddenly dropped -80% in the Direct channel?

Normally we would look for this missing traffic to show up elsewhere, but no other channel has increased proportionately. You are probably down @ -50% overall as seen in this screenshot.
Default Channel Direct Drop in Traffic

What has happen?

Don’t panic. That traffic did not go somewhere else. Your search rank did not tank.

The traffic is still coming to your website. It is just not being reported in Google Analytics.


What happened is the referring website was switched to https but your website is still http therefore those visits will not be reported in your Google Analytics.

Didn’t you get this memo? back in 1999 in (RFC 2616)?

Because the source of a link might be private information or might reveal an otherwise private information source, it is strongly recommended that the user be able to elect whether or not the Referrer field is sent. For example, a browser client could have a toggle switch for browsing openly/anonymously, which would respectively enable/disable the sending of Referrer and From information.

That essentially was a privacy design in the https protocol 18 years ago. Now that privacy “option” is the default for our modern browsers. That means no referrer information is passed when outbound https protocol goes to (inbound) http protocol. The assumption is that you don’t want anything passed to an insecure (http) host from a secure (https) host.

Here’s an easy to understand grid of how it works between http and https:

http > http referrer passed
http > https referrer passed
https > https referrer passed
https > http referrer not passed

Back in about 2012 Google implied that employing https (secure internet communications) would increase your search rank performance. Savvy webmasters implemented https right away. “Old” industries didn’t get that memo.

The Cleanest Dirty Shirt

Five (5) years later and our (slow to adapt) website vendors just read what Google said (actually they are suddenly faced with competition forcing them to show they have a cleaner dirty shirt).

How to Fix https-to-http Referral Loss

Three (3) things :

  • 1) All outbound links on the referring website need to be edited to https where they link to an https enabled website.

However, you may not be able to get those links edited by the referrer. And to edit each link individually depending on the receiving protocol? That’s crazy! Everyone has got more important stuff to do. So we have to look at what we can accomplish ourselves.

A workaround was developed to tell browsers to override the privacy feature. All pages on a https website should include this meta tag to enable the referrer explicitly – so Google can capture it for analytics.

  • 2) <meta name=”referrer” content=”origin”>

Note that a newer tag has been introduced in HTML5 but fewer browsers support this tag. You may want to experiment for best results.

  • <meta name=”referrer” content=”always” />

Read more at W3C about Referrer Policy.

What if you have an https website, and the referrer is https. That should work, but it does not? Help!

  • 3) That means your website/host/vendor needs to FORCE https encryption (this is on the inbound website). Some hosts will accept both http & https requests and therein lies a problem for you. ( If you can’t get the referrer to edit the page and change the link to your websites to https, then that http link will be answered by the unencypted http protocol and then Google won’t report those visitors)  The solution to this problem is to FORCE HTTPS for all incoming traffic. That is how a proper webmaster would do it.

In the case you have the ability to edit both the outbound links and control the inbound website. Then do all of the above.

Want to know more about Google Analytics traffic sources ( Direct / None)?

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Should SEOs Put Phone Numbers in The Meta Title Tag – Answered.

HARTENSTINE Search Engine First Marketing I just ran into a presentation wherein the SEO analysis claimed that putting your local phone number in the meta title tag was a wasted SEO opportunity – that there are other more important keywords that should go into the precious 70 characters available.

The Precious 70 Characters

Many SEOs focus a bit too much on that supposed 70 character limit in this most-important of meta tags – the Title Tag. Some SEOs spend hours playing their version of Scrabble in order to get their Title Tag just right, but…that means they should read up on Google and the 70 characters before spending too much time there.

I do include local phone numbers in the (meta) Title Tag. I think its a very smart online leads generation trick. But before we go there, I decided to search the latest forums to see what others had to say before I argued against the purported wisdom of another SEO.

Over at LocalSEOGuide there is an article wherein many of those local SEOs thought its a great trick.

Yet over at StackExchange webmasters, the opinion was much the same as my SEO Analyst.

Here was another well written perspective that includes phone numbers in the meta tags, and why.

So there is a range of opinions on the matter. Who is right?

Local Logic

I started this practice of putting local phone numbers in the meta tags when I realized that when I searched, if the phone number is prominently displayed in the SERPs I don’t have to go to the website (and I’m an impulse buyer), I might be inclined to immediately call the business. What do my clients want more than anything else? A phone call from an online shopper. Period!

The Best Leads

Further I thought, if I’m a car BUYER (not a tire-kicker), I just want to know if they have the car I want. Why bother with more clicking around to find what I want to know right now! (especially if I’m doing all this on my mobile phone)

Now I realize that might not be the majority of people in the market for a car, but that is the type of online shopper I want to call me first – before he shops the other dealerships. Smaller percentage, but better quality lead!

(If you are the SEO who stops here (I know you are out there) to argue that “but, but we can’t measure that call in analytics!” You need to get on the other side of your desk. Your client won’t care about the analytics if their phone is ringing. However, they will care about the analytics when the phone is NOT RINGING!)

Local Large-Ticket Products

This is partially a matter of local search vs global. If I shop for a product that I can buy on Amazon, I probably don’t need to talk to someone. But if I’m a few miles away from a couple of potential sources of my desired product (thinking automobile), then I would rather call first, then drive over to see it. Local shoppers are more likely to call than click. The other aspect to consider is whether a product requires a conversation in order to purchase? Large-ticket items ($) require more discussion than buying a pair of shoes, right?

Bottom Line

Cookie-cutter SEO is always wrong. Just because there are only 70-some characters Google will read from your Title Tag in order to index your webpage to your best benefit, does not mean somethings must get in there and other things must be left out. Typically the bigger the agency, the more standardize practices become. The SEO wisdom shared by our SEO Analyst turns out to be just that – generic large agency advice that will ultimately costs some of their customers the best Internet leads.

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What Is A Search Engine Friendly Website?

HARTENSTINE Search Engine First Marketing In a sentence; it is a well organized set of information made easily accessible to another computer to crawl (the bot) and index ( the search engine ).

Search Engine Friendly means What Humans Don’t See

It is not necessary to have a visually attractive or interesting website in order to be search engine friendly. “Visually attractive” or “interesting” are things humans want. Search engines seek well organized information; a theme, explicit descriptions of a page, and explicit labels (for images). These are things humans don’t see or even care about. Here’s some advice from Google

What is not Search Engine Friendly

90% or more of “pretty” websites are not optimized for search engines (the web designer will always say it is) (and how can the client tell?). In contrast, you will never hear a real SEO claim they build pretty websites – it’s not their talent and good SEO consumers all their bandwidth. Web Designers concentrate on the visual. Do they also have the ability to concentrate on the unseen SEO as well? (I like and use webs designers, but…)

Then there are the website owners, they usually make a mess of a perfectly organized website; they move pages around, change menu navigation which often changes URLs; add this thing; and add this other thing; and soon all these “things” create obstacles for search engines. Over time the web site becomes an unintelligible and very search engine unfriendly mess.

Many website owners and advertising agencies try to do SEO themselves because it seems easy and obvious ( read a book – search online ). Hiring an SEO specialist is an unnecessary expense. We would add to the list that – hiring an SEO specialist seems unnecessary because there is a belief that “everyone can do SEO”. This self-perpetuating environment in which every website designer seems to do SEO, leads you also to ask, Why can’t I do it myself?

“A proficiency at billiards is a sign of a misspent youth” Mark Twain.

When the task is to turn a human website into one that also speaks to, and serves the needs of search engines, hire those who understand how search engines work and can take the time to do it right. Sprinkling a few keywords around pages and posts is not SEO and will not create a Search Engine Friendly Website.

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The World Goes Mobile-Local

HARTENSTINE Search Engine First Marketing Does that sound like old news? Needless to say, the search engine marketing business is always changing and marketing people being marketing people, write about every hiccup as if it were newsworthy. However this is different and I encourage you to read and think about recent changes to search results page-ad layout and how this change profoundly impacts your internet marketing reach.

Google has made a few changes recently, two in particular, that signal a monumental change in search marketing. Its not just a page-layout thing. Its a fundamental change in business.

The shot heard around the SEO world was the removal of local search filters from search. Forget about the “why” for the moment, Google never tells the truth about changes anyway. That change was followed by the radical change in paid search layout on the desktop – by doing away with side ads, the desktop now mimics the mobile interface. Some other noted initiatives point in the same mobile-local direction; re. Google Explorers and Google My Business road shows. All together these clearly focus on local business and that is because mobile search is now the largest search segment and growing. Its clear that in Google’s world, mobile is now the driver and mobile is local in nature.

We can therefore surmise some things that are unique to mobile that will drive all search optimization and search marketing going forward.

Page (Format) Strategies

If our space changes, our behavior must change. That would apply to a rat in a maze, just as it applies to an advertiser and ad formats. With the new “mobile” format, we must adapt new behaviors and strategies.

  • Paid search strategies must be drastically overhauled. What you were doing last month won’t work anymore. With four (4) instead of about ten (10) potential spots for ads on a page, it is now a “Winner Take All” environment “Go Big or Go Home”. If you are not in the those 4 spots, you are out. Its even more dramatic than that. Some pages split the #1 spot at the top and #2, 3 and 4 spots are now at the bottom of the SERP, rendering them far less fruitful. (I have seen 8 ad spots total. 4 at the top and 4 at the bottom. But bottom ads? Really?) This means the deeper pockets and the more aggressive will win. Because if you don’t get the #1 spot, your clicks are going down dramatically. Those playing at the margins are out. Keyword knowledge will become more valuable than ever before.
  • More important than Ads; the Knowledge Graph that sometimes occupies the top right of desktop display and the top of mobile is now the local elephant on the page. Also called a Business Card (or just Card) it gets the majority of SERP real estate. Therefore it gets more clicks that any paid ad.  Getting your business into the Card is a matter of survival and needs to be the heart of your SEO (natural search optimization). If you don’t have your SEO ducks-in-a-row you are not getting the Card and therefore, your natural traffic may take a hit.


Search Footprint not Search Rank

Search rank tracking formerly could be content to display natural search rank alone. Are you #1 on Google? Today #1 in natural results doesn’t mean much. Who gets the Card gets most of the clicks, along with who gets the #1 paid spot. There are also places and sitelinks that take up real estate. Adding them all up signifies a Search Footprint, which better illustrates who gets the most clicks on a SERP.

Mobile is Local

Google has a tiered keyword approach to search rank, local, national and global, and perhaps others in between as well. Global can be understood as the Brand segment and Local could be understood as a Product segment. To get your head around a this tiered keyword-search segmentation, think in terms of how searches signal whether your want a Global or Local result.

We can see this with Toyota as an example. Search for simply “toyota” and Toyota Corporation will get the Card, which is our Global result. Search for “toyota for sale” and you get what I call a National result (re. autotrader, carguru, etc.). Search for “new toyota prius” and you get a Local result (local car dealers). There is overlap, but it is often not significant and it is rather logical.

You Ranking Strategy and Keyword Focus

Your search rank strategy must now account for which tier your business fits into. Forget what you want to rank for. You cannot expect to get into another tier easily. If you are a local business, you will not easily get into the Global keyword tier. If you are a local business you will seldom get into the National tier even in your local SERP. That is just how Google’s algo works at the moment. Those in the National tier are large enough to employ a full-time SEO team/strategy. As a local business you seldom have those resources available, so its more important than ever to know which keywords are in the Local tier and make sure your SEO efforts make use of those keywords most efficiently.

And to come full-circle, when you know the National and Global teir keywords (those which you cannot rank naturally for), those keywords should be in your Paid Search Strategy. But those Global keywords just went up in price significantly, while the National keywords went up in price too. What to do?

Local search is a local game that can be won by locals. While the Global and National players will be in your paid search backyard, they just can’t know your neighborhood the way you do. Use your local know-how and maximize your Local Search Footprint judiciously.

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New .car .cars and .auto Domain Name Registration Opens Tomorrow

Toyota is circulating a notice to Toyota dealers about the ability to buy .car .cars and .auto domain names. I imagine there will be many other OEMs also giving notice and as an auto dealer, you are asking yourself whether you should buy these domains just to be prudently defensive.





I don’t think you need to buy these domain names and here is why:

  • Legally you can always get a domain name from someone who buys your brand name 1) if its an exact match, and 2) they bought it after your business existed. (Therefore none of this opinion here applies to a NEW business)

After that significant consideration, the only concern one would have is how that competing .car .cars and .auto website would perform in search results against yours.

  • Strategically a competitor would not likely be able to spend the resources required to build up a website using the new domain name to compete with your exiting .com domain name. It would be a very expensive gamble to do so. Id guesstimate it would cost more than $20,000 to compete against a well established automotive website. Certainly this would not produce a positive ROI in the end.
  • Which then leads us to the age of a website (domain name). If there is a young and an old domain of similar names, Search engines will heavily favor the older domain. They actually check when you first registered the domain. This is one of the few (SEO) rules that is not debated.
  • And finally (unless Im overlooking something) search engines heavily favor .com domains ( when was the last time you saw a .us .info or .biz domain ? those only flourished when they were first introduced. Now they almost don’t make it into search results ) and I don’t see that changing soon.

Therefore I would not be concerned.

PS. Yes I missed this >

  • Most automotive OEMs have a 1 website policy (which also means 1 active domain name) which is also one of the TOS (Terms of Service) of Google. This makes sense for Google. They only want one website per business to refer to in order to provide a good user experience. This is what prompts the OEM policy. Not all dealers adhere to that TOS/policy but in the long run that 2nd or 3rd website will a) cost you more to maintain than it can bring in additional business (that’s a fact – I’ve tested this – the ROI is negative) and b) if Google figures it out, the penalty will cause your overall results to be compromised and thereby cost lost business. Better to stick with the TOS/policy.

Any other points I may have missed? Please feel free to comment.

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Can You Predict Keyword Impressions vs CTR

VW vs Volkswagen Keywords Impressions vs CTR
VW vs Volkswagen Keywords Impressions vs CTR

I have been doing this (SEO, PPC, Keyword Research, Internet advertising, etc) for a long time and I am still often and pleasantly surprised by what I find. Its pleasant to do work that is not so rote and predictable, like keyword variations and the Impressions they generate and the CTR (click-through-rate) they get.

Here is a simple but interesting, real-life sample that illustrates how easy it is to be wrong when you assume you know what people will search for in order to find a product or business online. You would be wrong with most of your assumptions.

This sample is even more interesting because of the keyword variables – there is more than one way to search for the brand – volkswagen or vw.

It was my assumption that more people would search for “vw dealer” than for “volkswagen dealership” because its easier to type. But this sample proves that assumption would be wrong.

And one would not necessarily assume that the people who search for “vw dealer” are the most likely to convert (click-through) into a visitor to our website – the highest CTR of all our possible keyword combinations and 250% better CTR than our big Impression keyword. Surprised? I was.

There are more gems to find here, but finding those is up to you – enjoy the sample/example.

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InSourcing is The Future of SMB Internet Marketing

Insourcing is bringing a third party (someone who would have worked as a consultant) to work inside.

Of course everything has its place. DIY (Doing it Yourself) digital marketing is the norm for small and startup businesses. Google Adwords Express is exactly such an on-ramp service. It helps the DIY Internet Marketeer get started.

Outsourcing one’s (digital marketing) is the next natural step for 99.9%. Most small businesses go directly from DIY to Outsourcing their Internet Marketing (to an agency). That seems like the correct evolutionary process…but it is often the most direct route to DISAPPOINTMENT!

The problem is, DIY is not a best-practice, and outsourcing is not cost-effective.

Very few businesses consider Insourcing their Internet Marketing first,

  • a) because consultants and agency do not typically offer such services (because they make a lot more money when you outsource), and
  • b) many businesses think its too difficult to Insource.

But think of Insourcing as hiring an Intern. The fact is, the hardest part is just finding the right one. Since I started offering my SEO Toolset, SearchStation directly to clients, my business has evolved into an Insource model – and that has been positive for us both.

There is much more to this story when you learn that typical businesses gets “trapped” in agency relationships that cost more to get out of.

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Effective Keyword Research and Analysis

Effective Keyword Research and Analysis is exactly the opposite of what you think.

In the 1980’s a Canadian psychologist Dr. Lee Pulos produced a book/audio tape that I luckily stumbled upon while perusing the many self-improvement books on the very wide shelves in your local book stores. This one was fascinating and original. I still remember and use what I learned from this brilliant book/audio tape about “The Qualities of High Performance People”. Thank you Dr. Pulos.

How is that related to SEO?

Dr. Pulos hit on an important, very “human” concept that translates to our business of Search Rank Analysis (tracking and reporting). The concept is simply obvious. Psychology studies the unhealthy. He proposed brilliantly, to instead study the successful!

In SEO we gravitate to what is wrong. We look at what is not working (unhealthy). Or we look at the keywords we DON’T RANK FOR. (everyone wants to rank for everything) Therein lies the nature of our human problem. Stop doing it backwards!

To be really successful, why not study what should work? A “healthy” approach to SEO is to start with the basic keywords/phrase that you MUST rank for. What is your Brand? What is your Business Name? What Products do you sell?

Then lets do the SHOULD RANK FOR keywords/phrase…I lost you. Wait…the SEO problem:

Let me present a small, insignificant, but simply great example. I am a mountain biker. My mountain bike needs frequent repairs. I like to fix things myself. When I need a part – and that means a very specific part (which is true for an unbelievably wide range of industries, right?) – searching online is an absolute disappointment when I’m trying to find the closest bike shop that stocks my part something. No. I dont want to buy on eBay and Im not alone! (OK this is a hyperlocal SEO story that I could have mentioned in the first sentence – but this is still a relevant method for non-local SEO as well)

A hyperlocal SEO solution in a nutshell:

Lets first organize our marketing effort in a healthy way. First we need the keywords we MUST rank for – then those keywords we SHOULD rank for. We then optimize simply and accordingly. Everything else will follow in an almost zen-like way. Well it does for me.

If you get this concept, your online marketing campaigns should become almost effortless in comparison to the “conventional method” where you start with what you “want”.

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