All good things must come to an end and so does this 3 part series we call, The Complete Customer Acquisition Guide for Cash Strapped Start ups and Small Businesses.
This three part series has only one purpose, to teach you how to drive traffic! Just because you built it, doesn’t mean they will come! So roll up your sleeves and get ready to do some good old fashioned hard work!
Search Engine Optimization (SEO), Web Marketing Wizardry
This instalment is kind of a Hogwarts School crash course for start-ups and any business that hasn’t had their site tricked out by an SEO and Web Marketing wizard. And it can be used as a brief to hand to the wizard to let them know you’ve done your homework and you know what you want!
So we were able to track down veteran cyber warrior Hayden Bond to update our consciousness on SEO and Web marketing.
The following is Bond’s up-to the now report, with only a bit of necessary editing to make talking readable where necessary—here we go!:
I think a lot of people are stuck with this misconception that SEO is about number “1” ranking and that you’re going to see traffic coming to your site from your ranking on Google or referral traffic from other sites, but it doesn’t work that way any more.
That was back in ‘90s and maybe up to 2012, when you could manipulate search results and acquire all these customers, and do that by various technical means or spamming Google’s index, to make it seem like your site is a higher authority, but that’s no longer the case.
Now Google has been penalizing companies and businesses trying to manipulate their site rankings via links, spamming links—that was the Google Penguin Update. So if you’re just seeking out authorities’ sites and putting text links on there, and it used to work really well, now Google is saying, for example, if you’re a surf board company based in Santa Cruz, California, why is someone from Australia with a very high authority web site ranking on Google linking back to your web site in California with a key word that they are trying to rank for? The only reason that link is there is because the company in California purchased it and manipulated the system to give itself a higher authority.
[Note: Just to make sure everybody knows what the Google Penguin Updates are, before April 2012, most search engines used keyword density as a major factor to determine the relevance of a website and how well it should rank in its search results. If you wanted your site to rank for the keyword “red dress,” for example, you just place more instances of “red dress” on your page. So you can see how search results were not very hard to manipulate.
Also, the more links on other websites linking to your site, the more authoritative your site appears to be, which also affects search results ranking. The higher the authority of a site linking to yours the better. For example, think how much better your link on today’s super-popular site Red Dress Boutique is than a link on your local mom ‘n pop thrift store’s site.
It was easy for SEO experts to figure out how to get your site ranked on the first page of a Google search. The problem was, while your site might have ranked high in a search result, your site might have been useless for the person who had conducted the search. As in our example above, if you live in Perth, Australia, and you’re looking for a surf board shop, a link to a shop in California isn’t going to help you.
So this is the gist of Google’s Penguin Updates, and you can see how it’s a helpful thing for people searching for something to actually find it instead of being misled by a plethora of spam links.
Back to Mr. Bond . . .
How Google determines what a spam link is and what a relevant link is, is best explained by how Google’s “dwell time” metric works. Google measures how much time passes after you click on a link. If the page you access isn’t relevant to your search or isn’t interesting to you, you might stay there for a second or two. So Google determines that that link isn’t relevant, it’s just a spam link, and it gets red flagged. If there’s a lot of these short “dwell time” links referring to your site, Google will suspect that the site has spammed or bought the links, and penalize the site.
Then there’s the Google Panda Update, which applies to thin content. “Thin content” means, for example, if you are a bicycle shop, of course you sell red, white, and blue Schwinns—but in order to manipulate it you create a page on your site around the key word “red Schwinn bicycle.” But that’s of no use to the user. Of course that page may rank high in search engines for a red Schwinn bicycle, but what does that content on that page have to do with anything other than just finding creative ways to repeat that over and over and over again?
Google No Longer a Search Engine?
Another SEO misconception is people think that Facebook likes or Twitter posts correlate to a higher ranking on Google—but what they don’t understand is that in this day and age Google is no longer really a search engine in the original sense.
Because when you’re searching you’re essentially asking a question. And with the proliferation of mobile devices, your search and the information you’re giving—the search engine is now contextually aware, it’s now location-aware, and it’s historically aware.
If you’re sitting in your living room and you type in “pizza delivery,” the search engine’s probably going to know if you prefer Two Guys From Italy over Dominos, it’s going to know that you’re at home, and it’s going to serve you a link to that location, based on your history and your preference of ordering pizza.
If you’re in another city and you do that same query, Google’s going to know that you’re visiting that city, and it’s probably going to give you map results, and might even give you the place that has best reviews for thin crust pizza if that’s your historical preference—and with driving directions.
So now Google’s not just saying, here’s a page, figure it out, they’re trying to give you that complete answer. So your search is not necessarily about the ranking of a site that’s relevant to your search terms, it’s trying to give you the most specific answer to what it sees as a question—where is the best pizza for you based on your location, ordering history, and preference? It’s based on your profile and what it interprets is the intent of your query.
Another example is, if you enter the term “mountain bikes,” that’s probably your first “footprint” to do with mountain bikes, it’s general, so you’re in the research phase, and Google won’t know what brand you want, but it’s considering what your next steps will be. They’re looking at a metric called “dwell time.” You type in “mountain bikes,” which is your query, Google serves up a bunch of search results, you click on a result and when you visit a page, the longer you are on that page—that’s your “dwell time”—the longer you’re on that page the more relevant the content is to your query.
But if you just want to know the temperature in Mesa, Arizona, Google serves up search results, you click on one, see the temperature and you click off of the page right away—that’s a different metric.
Other examples lead in the opposite direction. If you type in “Who is Neil Young?,” the search results are going to include Wikipedia, other biographical sites, Neil Young’s web site, rock music sites—a lot of general stuff.
Or if your wife likes to shop on-line only at Nordstrom’s, when you search for “hand bag,” “watch,” etc., Nordstrom’s is going to rank highest in the search results based on the person’s shopping history or preference—even if Amazon or Macy’s would universally rank higher, because of your historical shopping preference.
They’ve Got You Covered
Even if you don’t realize it, you’ve got a mobile device that’s being passed, you’ve got an IP address being passed, so even though you’re blocking cookies or you’re “Private” surfing on Safari, Big Data has gotten so good that just by providing your zip code they can pretty much guess who you are.
Just recently there was a story in the news about a guy who was shopping at Target, and he gets something in the mail from Target for baby clothes, and it was addressed to his 16-year-old daughter. So he’s very upset and he goes into Target and asks them what’s going on, what’re they doing sending that to his daughter? Then he finds out his daughter is pregnant, and based on her recent purchases at Target they started sending her targeted mailers.
Every time you’re swiping a credit card you’re leaving a footprint—and especially with mobile devices it’s your location—they know exactly where you are to send you advertisements.
So that’s what SEO is now.
Don’t Let Your Customers Get Lost . . .
Let’s say you’re selling pressure washers for cleaning vinyl siding, and you’re based in the Midwest. Your key words aren’t going to be just “pressure washers” and “vinyl siding.” What type of people are you selling these to? People who are going to do this residentially, commercially? So the question you have to answer is, how are these people going to go about finding you? It’s a big question.
And when they land on your web site, how are you going to be relevant to them at that time? Is it because it’s convenient to get there or is the price? Your site hosts different models and customers aren’t necessarily familiar with the technical details of each, so you need to explain them all so they know which model to choose. Your customers need to know your location, how far away they are from them, how long it’ll take to get there and the directions.
So this is also the future of SEO: If you’re understanding your user’s intent in the context of their search, and you’re giving them real value—you’re going to earn organic links to your site.
Everybody says link-building is dead, and to a certain degree that’s true. But there are still relevant links that you’d want to get. You would want to put your business in Google business management, Bing business management, put it on Google Maps, etc. There’s a legitimate need to do that. But would I do that on every business directory and web forum out there? Probably not—that’s redundant, and it’s kind of spammy, just trying to get your web site linked to more and more pages across the internet.
Now, even more important than links in some instances, is something that’s called co-citation and co-occurrence. Google is aware that your company, company name, is a brand, an entity—it’s called entity search—and Google’s all about defining entities. What is this entity, what does it do? And then it classifies that information. So now, if there’s an article talking about what your company does, and it mentions you along with some high-authority sites in the same business as you, but there’s no link to them, that’s still valuable because your company is a start-up or not well known yet, it’s being mentioned along with these other high-authority sites. There’s not a link there, but these kinds of links don’t always drive traffic but can help with authority.
If you have a link on a high-trafficked site—there are certain instances where this happens, it’s called “barnacle SEO,” a link to your site on another site, but maybe not just a link in a blog post. But if you read a blog and it’s something cool, something interesting, and you’re looking for something specific, like WordPress magazine themes and you see a blog post that says here are the top 10 magazine themes, then, those links are probably going to get a bit of traffic.
So it’s not about link building any more, it’s about link earning—it’s someone saying, “You’re good, I’m linking to you.” By all means, list your site on Google Maps, Google Business Management and list your site in the appropriate business directories. . . . After that, think about contributing to the conversation and that’s what’s going to juice your traffic—sharing with your relevant audience, and how is it tying into your business goals, and target people you already know are authorities—it’s very easy to use research tools (like Buzzsumo) to find who the influencers are on-line on a particular topic.
For example, if you’re targeting someone for your marijuana legalization news website, your “holy grail” thing is for NORML to like your content, or mention it, or say this is a must-read. So you can directly target them via Twitter, or five other sites like them, hoping they’ll join the conversation. But more so, you should be participating with them— build up some rapport, share some of their stuff first, add something to a conversation if they’re doing something on Twitter, and then say, “Hey, guys, here’s something that I wrote, I really liked this other article, here’s something that I think complements it”— then go ahead and share, and those amplifiers will help spread your content around.
Social Media : )
With Facebook and Twitter, big numbers might be look good, might gain your trust—if you see a Facebook page with 80,000 “Likes” versus one with 6,000, but at the end of the day we’re looking at results.
The 6,000 “Likes,” the people might be real, they are actually interested in the product, have a use for it, and work within the industry. So when you run ads on Facebook or do social media promotions, you’re not targeting them with nonsense or broadcasting to fake people, you’re actually reaching real customers. And those 6,000 real people are more likely to share your content because it’s more applicable to them and their circles and the people they’re associated with.
Whereas the 80,000 “Likes” on Facebook or tens of thousands of followers on Twitter could be purchased—your place of business could be in Idaho and you have 10,000 Twitter followers in Bulgaria, from a list that the business purchased.
And Pinterest, which drives a huge amount of traffic, but what nobody takes into account is that Pinterest cares about the user, they’re all about the user. So what value are you providing to the user—are they engaging with your content, are they pinning it, curating it?
So it’s not a sheer numbers game. Sure, you can have a bot or a service add 80,000 people, but you’re going to get zero return. You’re better off finding 300 real people.
You can use a site like Followerwonk—there are numerous Twitter research sights, you could type in “LASIK for presbyopia,” for example, and see not only people who have talked about that, but people who have put that as an interest or who follow that particular topic.
So already you know whom to target. It’s not a crap shoot. The data’s there, in the searching.
Even with Tweet Desk, Twitter’s own management tool, you can search for a particular keyword and see who’s talking about it live and it populates in real time. So there’s really no excuse to go buy 40,000 fake followers when all you have to do is search for them.
Your “A” Game
So that’s what SEO is about, you’ve got to be on your “A” game, you can’t just willy nilly create keywords all over. If you think about it from a cost perspective, Google has made SEO harder for sure, and they’ve also made it much more expensive. But from a business model it’s smart for Google. Instead of always trying to stay ahead of the next SEO trick, they just price people out of the market who are trying to game the system with spam links and thin content.
Back in the day, you could just spam some links with a few dollars here and a few dollars there. But creating content, putting that effort, that blood, sweat, and tears into creating a web site that works across all mobile devices, which takes into account your users, provides them with that information . . . that’s expensive.
Bonus from Shark Tank!
The solely online business Red Dress Boutique has just earned phenomenal growth from 1.8 million in sales their first year to 7.5 million their second. How did they do it? Shark Tank’s October 17, 2014 episode, where Red Dress pitched the Sharks for investment, tells the story.
Shark Tank: How did you make this grow so big, so fast, and all on-line?
Red Dress: Through social media, but more than that, it’s because I invite people in. I put the question out there to my customers: “What made you all come to me, what makes Red Dress so special?” And they give amazing answers, they say, “Oh it’s the colorful clothes, it’s the fact that we can get a high-end look for under 50 dollars.”
Shark Tank: So you learned from them, you used social media, and you kept perfecting your business with their answers?
Red Dress: I developed a program called “Buy for the Boutique,” and when I go to my markets, I go every three weeks—I go to Los Angeles, I go to Las Vegas, I go to Atlanta, and I curate. But more than that, I see items and I will take a picture of them with my phone and throw it out into social media and say: “Do you love this, yes or no? Do you want this—do you want it in red, do you want it in blue?” And no one had ever done that before and they love it.
Shark Tank: And so word of mouth gave you 4x growth?
Red Dress: We have 27,000 Instagram followers, we have just shy of a million Facebook followers—organic followers.
I really do hope you enjoyed our 3 part Customer Acquisition Guide! With my farewell, I leave you with one burning question: Are YOU ready to bring your traffic driving A-GAME… ? I TRULY HOPE SO!