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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Lies and Pretty SEO Reports

HARTENSTINE Search Engine First Marketing

What is the single most frequent concern I hear from business owners?
“I don’t know if the Internet Marketing we are doing is working?”
What they mean can be 2-fold, but the bottom line is always the same – is someone doing anything and is it having any affect?

The shortest path between the question and the answer you seek is Reporting. (and a quick test…more on that in a moment)

The only way to know you are getting what you pay for is in the reporting, because you often cannot see “the work”. And even if you are shown “the work”, its still about the bottom line – sales. But measuring online visitors converting into in-store sales is not easy. ( and don’t let them tell you it is )

I’m going to let you in on a secret you probably already suspect is true, The SEO business is more about “lies, damned lies, and statistics” than actually doing the work and honestly reporting the results of that work.

So here are my back-of-napkin statics : 90% of SEOs (including SEO agencies ) don’t actually do much “effective” work, and 90% of SEOs (including SEO agencies ) work harder on pretty reports than doing the actual Work. Work is hard. Re-reporting Google Analytics is much easier and scales better.

I have been amazed to see how often the magic tricks (pretty reporting) sells better than the hard work. But it makes sense. Pretty reports make people feel good and provides cover for the subordinates whose job it is to hire and manage the Internet Marketing portion of the business. Thats why we at HARTENSTINE would rather work directly with hard-nosed owners rather their “expert” employees. ( we welcome hard-nosed expert employees )

Here is one scenario you may be familiar with :

You hire an SEO, SEO firm or advertising agency (that also does SEO). After some time has passed you are given a report or presentation which shows all the keywords your website now ranks for and how you dominate your target market. Everything is “Green” and improvements are abundant. The problem is, you probably didn’t get a report on these keywords BEFORE you hired them. And “dominate your market” is often based on some kinda logic you can’t quiet get your head around – but it sure is a pretty report.

It dawns on you that you might have fallen victim to “lies, damned SEO lies, and pretty reports”. Now what do you do? You either continue in the relationship spending money on feel good reporting, or you tell them you are having a sales crisis and can’t afford them anymore. Both of these scenarios play out everyday. But either way, you are not happy.

It does not have to be that way (or end that way). You only need someone who does the work and who reports in a transparent and honest way.

The Test

I use this litmus test because we can get our hands on the data. If your SEO is working, your CPV should decline. (Cost Per Visitor)

Take a look at your past PPC campaign Average CPC ( Average Cost Per Click ). All things being equal, Average Cost Per Visitor should decline as your Internet Marketing initiative kicks in. A better website, et al, with better PPC campaigns will get lower-cost clicks. This is an especially useful test if you suddenly turned everything over to an agency and increased your budget at the same time – everything changed and the reporting will look pretty different – but the Average Cost Per Visitor test will cut right through that lying reporting.

You can get a little more complex (and more accurate) by taking your Total Website Visitors and dividing that by your Total Online Spend. Thats a bit more meaningful way to calculate your Cost Per Visitor. Then do some calculations integrating In-Store Sales, and you should start to see a pattern emerge. Regardless of how you go about it, if you are not seeing more efficiency ( lower cost per visitor / increased sales ), you now know what to do to make things right.

Don’t fall for the magic tricks of pretty reporting.

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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.

https://developers.google.com/search/

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

https://developers.google.com/search/docs/guides/search-features

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

https://developers.google.com/search/docs/data-types/local-business

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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Can I Optimize (SEO) Accelerated Mobile Pages?

HARTENSTINE Search Engine First Marketing What are Accelerated Mobile Pages and do I need to redesign my website yet again just so Google will keep my website in the top of SERPS? ( for crying-out-loud I just got a responsive website! )

Spoiler alert – No. relax. You do not need to do anything. AMP has a very small audience ( at the moment anyway ) since it is not usable for business websites – and your competition will not likely migrate their website to AMP. So there is no MAD imperative here.

AMP has been around for a while actually, and most people are just becoming aware of it. What is it? https://www.ampproject.org/ AMP is just a stripped-down version of a normal website. It has restricted functionality in exchange for loading speed with mobile devices in mind. As the creators point out below, it is designed for “reading” content, not things that require interaction. Therefore AMP is not a consideration for most businesses. As time enables more functionality into AMP designs, it may become a consideration.

AMP HTML is a subset of HTML with only specific JavaScript “components” available. It’s designed for creating “reading” content, rather than anything interactive. It is already designed to have ad units included and is going to have a standardized way of including analytics code, but it drastically limits the use of JavaScript. https://www.distilled.net/resources/how-do-accelerated-mobile-pages-amp-from-google-work/

But can I optimize AMP? Accelerated Mobile Pages are philosophically search engine optimized (SEO) already. That just means optimized for speed. So the answer is yes, Of course you can optimize other things that are not related to AMP – such as the content of the page, which can still be crafted for search engines. ( remember Grasshopper, 2500 words! )

If you want to transition your website to an AMP platform, get started here https://wordpress.org/themes/search/AMP/

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Mobile First SEO Tricks & Tips

HARTENSTINE Search Engine First Marketing We’ll assume you know that SEO in 2017 is now exclusively mobile oriented. You won’t be talking about desktop optimization anymore because Google isn’t going to be talking about desktop SEO anymore. Its all about mobile for the rest of your life.

So we have a quick trick to test if your website needs help, below.

So what does the average business owner need to know about their website and mobile first search optimization?

(Remember years ago when they said you didn’t need to do SEO because Google does not want you to optimize your website?) Today Google writes an awful lot about optimizing your website – for mobile devices and therefore mobile search. Never say never!

Mobile devices have different sizes of screens and not fast and unlimited bandwidth. So optimization is about your website looking good on any device and loading quickly. That’s it!

Now for the techie it means reading about https://developers.google.com/search/mobile-sites/mobile-seo/dynamic-serving

Again these things are not super complex, there are just so many of these little things to consider that its a full time job, and that means a business owner has to hire someone to do the job for them. ( BTW the days of DIY SEO are over too ) In order to hire someone, you would like to know what they are supposed to do – exactly. You could start here – in fact it is ALL right there.

https://developers.google.com/search/docs/guides/

Now if your website is older – or even if it isn’t and has a responsive design, you want to know if its going to please Googlebot. Here is our trick as promised. Does your site have a “Vary Header” function call? Here is what the code looks like in WordPress (functions.php).

function add_vary_header($headers) {
$headers[‘Vary’] = ‘User-Agent’;
return $headers;
}
add_filter(‘wp_headers’, ‘add_vary_header’);

This communicates with the browser about the size of the screen. This is just a test you can do today that is current for early 2018.

You can go here and test your website for other design weaknesses and search engines “unfriendliness”.

https://testmysite.withgoogle.com/intl/en-gb

https://developers.google.com/speed/pagespeed/insights/

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Keyword Enlightenment for 2018

HARTENSTINE Search Engine First Marketing You are a business owner looking at reports from your SEO vendor and they show you a list of 100 keywords that you rank #1 for. You feel good!

This article will explain how keyword volume and rank reported throughout the SEO industry is misleading because it is based on a source (Google) that is assumed to be respectable and accurate. Well, we can prove it is not accurate anyway.

You want to know that your SEO vendor isn’t selling you a feel-good story. Lets face it, most of those fancy reports don’t tell you anything actionable anyway – they are just pretty and somehow leave you with a warm and fuzzy feeling. But business decisions should not be based on “fuzzy feelings”. So lets cut through the crap.

  • The truth is, those reports are just telling you what you want to hear, showing you what you want to see.
  • Most Search Rank Reports highlight Zero Volume keywords that make you look good, 0 volume means noone uses those.

Your SEO is probably using Google’s Keyword Planner to find those keywords for on-site optimization and for PPC in Adwords? I’ll show you why Keyword Planner, the source of most reporting, is completely inaccurate to the degree that it is useless. ( remember this article is about local search, not global. Google Keyword Planner may be fine for huge volume keywords, but not for local small volume keywords. )

I know many SEO’s reading this will say, “Why bother? Just build more content and do more link building.” ( But that sounds very much “build it and they will come” – not much business acumen in that! )

The fact is, if we are going to do any Internet Marketing at all, blog more (build more content) and get more backlinks; we still want to know which keywords work and which don’t. OK. How do we find which keywords we should use?

Step #1 – What does Google say about our current exposure?

In Google Analytics > Acquisition > Search Console > Queries

(If you don’t have this menu option, it means you need another type of help first)

Google Analytics Acquisition Search Console Queries

On the far right is the first level on our way to Keyword Enlightenment; our Average Position. Now think!

  • if our website is getting an Average Position of 1st place for this keyword, shouldn’t our website be seen EACH time someone SEARCHed using that keyword?

Correct. So in that 2nd column are the Impressions we got. Next logical step would imply;

  • if our website is seen for each search, then IMPRESSIONS = SEARCH VOLUME

So lets verify the Search Volume for our keywords using Google Adwords Keyword Planner.

Step #2 in Keyword Planner we must narrow our view to a Geo ( otherwise Google will give us global volume instead and we are not interested in what happens more than 100 miles away from our business ).

We copy and paste our keywords from Search Console > Queries into Keyword Planner, we download our results, sort in a spreadsheet, correlate the two sets of data (the tedious part and why good SEO work is so time consuming – and because Google is not really trying to help ) and we get an interesting juxtaposition.

  • Why is Google telling us there are 390 searches (Search Volume) for a keyword that our website got the #1 spot for yet was seen only 83 times?

That does not make sense. That is a 470% inflated “estimate”. Why does Google report two different results for what is essentially the same thing? I’m inclined to believe that Keyword Planner is a feel-good tool. And that is why I think it is useless for doing any keyword research. I could extrapolate further whether anything Google reports is accurate, including the clicks a website “supposedly” gets in analytics. This all means that SEO vendors using Google data for their prettier reports (which is almost everyone) are even more useless.

BTW, this is why we built SearchStation. At least with SearchStation we get accurate search rank (which means Impressions in both Organic and Paid results). I would suggest employing a 3rd Party Analytics tool to track clicks as the other reporting we would need to get some realism back into our keyword research and SEO reporting.

We can now cut the crap and conclude that the only way to To Do Keyword Analysis For Local Search Engine Optimization is to derive it locally from actual SEARCH RANK and TRAFFIC that actually hits your website.

Having reached our goal of Keyword Enlightenment we know that Google’s Analytics and most SEO Vendor Reports are feel-good reporting and not the real world. We also now know that if our website consistently ranks #1 for a keyword, then visitors reported in our analytics is the most accurate measure of Search Volume for that Keyword.

Coming soon, in Part II of this series, we will take a look at the accuracy of Search Rank Reporting in Google Search Console.

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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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What is a Blog Post Worth

HARTENSTINE Search Engine First Marketing Does Blogging Pay?  Its the most common directive issued in SEO. Blog! If you want free traffic, Blog! If you don’t have a big budget to pay Google Adwords or Bing Adcenter for clicks, BLOG!

But does blogging really payoff? Here is your real-world-local-business answer. Not only can we see exactly how many clicks a blog post is bringing every month, month after month; we can calculate the exact value of those clicks, and therefore calculate the exact value of the blog-post. (which means how much could you pay someone to blog for your business) Here is our Query Report from Google Webmaster or Google Analytics.

blogging-pays

A single Blog-post about how swimming pools can pop out of the ground, brought our business 31 clicks from natural searches last month.

average-cost-per-click

Therefore if our blog-post brought 31 visitors and we are paying a nice round figure of $3.30 per visitors in our PPC campaigns, the blog is worth $102.30 per month or $1,227.60 per year. With this data, we can now make many more assumptions about our marketing spend.

Brilliant! Hold on! What you may have missed is that there are 4 blog-posts on this website, but this is the only one that is performing to bring us a measurable number of free visitors. That is a variable that needs to be included in our overall marketing calculations to determine what a blog-post is really worth (paying for).

Plus there are a few noteworthy bullets to go with our numbers that can serve to flesh-out your Internet Marketing assumptions:

  1. The blog-post title, when written, did not reflect what those online searches would be that produces our traffic. This blog-post could potentially perform much better with the right title. That’s water under the bridge, but now that we know, we can still do some SEO to increase our page position and thereby, increase our clicks.
  2. The CTR for this post is exceptional. Combined with Average Positions (that are at the bottom of page 1) and that tells us the other results on the SERP (search results page) are not as appealing, and may also mean our meta description (SEO) is working well.

Another critical marketing variable not provided here is CONVERSION (into leads, into sales) but that’s something for another post. With conversion figures you can really dial-in your ROI – the ultimate in Internet Marketing Planning.

Alrighty then:

  • Q: What should I blog about?
    • A: What questions do your customers ask you?
  • Q: Should you hire someone to write blogs?
    • A: Can you produce the material for them and can they optimize the content?

I know those are not an answers, but they should point you in the right direction to the answer you need. Only you know your business well enough to make all this work. Everyone else can only help.

Well, without question, blogging works to bring (relatively) free traffic and save you the cost of paying Google and Bing for visitors. There is technique (SEO) involved in making it work to its full potential, but my experience is that everyone has moments of inspiration and motivation, but few can actually execute – consistently. Perseverance and persistence (lack thereof), not $, is what inhibits most Internet Marketing from real success.

But at least now you cannot say you don’t know whether blogging is worthwhile for your business.

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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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Google Drops Side Ads – Confirmed as of Feb 22

This was much anticipated, and I can confirm that as of Feb 22 all SearchStations have seen no side ads since. But I’d like to concentrate on two things; a) what local businesses need to know, and b) how this particular issue is a great barometer indicating who in this business is just blogging (asleep at the wheel) for the sake of SEO, and who is awake.

The later does not take much analysis except to say I’m amazed by what little substance these noise makers in search engine land actually produce. I looked though dozens of articles “blogs” and 95% are absolutely empty dribble echoing the headline – worthless wastes of time. Do something else will ya?

What people want to know is not that it happened, but “what does it mean to me?”, the local business. So here are the bullets:

What is not new is the fact that last year we became acutely aware that mobile search had surpassed the desktop (non-mobile shall we call it?). I think you’re leading a sheltered life if you have not been to local hangouts (bars, restaurant, malls, movie theaters) and witnessed that the majority of people are more preoccupied with whatever they are doing on their mobile device than what is going on around them. That’s a fact. So you have to be there.

  • The #1 spot is what catches the fish on a mobile device. So this point has not changed so much as its now not an optional PPC rule. We have to get that #1 spot now regardless of what we think our shopper is doing. Google has forced the issue.
  • Therefore, the competition for the top 4 spots has just moved up a big notch. Therefore the CPC (cost per click) is going up.
  • That also means this change favors the larger members in their niche. ( re. the national chain flower shops will crush the mom & pop shops, the auto dealer groups will crush the single roof tops ).
  • This may not be permanent on desktops because Google experiments a lot. They may loose ad revenue as smaller players get squeezed out. But the fact remains – mobile will always be more important.

The bonus point which only one blog I read pointed out:

  • The “Card” or Knowledge Graph (or whatever it will be renamed by Google tomorrow) is the key to your online success. You can’t buy a Card from Google yet, but the Card gets ALL THE CLICKS.

Google servers up those cards only in local searches, and only when its 100% sure its the right thing to server up to the user searching – so its pretty hard to achieve. My experience is that a business can get an average of 4 keywords to produce a card, but rarely does a business have more that 8 keywords that produce a card. (I’ve seen 14 max.)

Not coincidentally, Google is making the rounds organizing local business meetups called “Lets Put Our Cities on the Map“. This is what you should be doing if you don’t already know and understand everything in this article. Here is the link

Not so long ago Google rolled out a program aiming in the same direction by enlisting people interns to update maps called Local Guides.

Altogether these separate initiatives confirms the direction Google has chosen and its not a temporary thing.

  • Its about accurate business location data! To get a Card, forget about all that other SEO stuff for the moment and clean-up your location data wherever it may be found online.

If you do understand everything in this article and have the time to DIY, then I suggest getting starting here with MOZ Local.

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