Recently I wrote a reply to a blog post on Smashing Magazine and submitted it as a guest post. The post was intended to demonstrate what a specialist SEO agency actually does these days and to address the misconceptions that the design/development community seems to have about SEO.
The post I submitted is below and at the end of the email is the reply I got from Smashing Magazines editor declining to publish it. After a few emails backwards and forwards Smashing Magazine still does not believe what I am saying SEO agencies actually do. The misconceptions about SEO don’t just lie with Paul, they exist across some of the largest design blogs in the world. This is one of the most frustrating email exchanges I’ve had and I just hope they let somebody reply to this from the SEO industry on the blog Smashing Magazine blog.
In an attempt to stay ahead of the curve it is imperative to read industry blogs and white papers, everyone knows this. But as a Social Media Strategist, I am more often than not logged in to a brand account on Facebook.
These two points seem to be mutually exclusive and bare no obvious link, but when you read as many blog posts a day as I do, you start to realise the frustration of being logged into a Facebook brand page.
Below is a screen shot of a certain blog, the left is when I am logged into a brand page account and the right is when I am logged into my personal account:
Back in September, Tinie Tempah signed a letter to Prime Minister David Cameron that claimed search engines like Google should “play their part in protecting consumers and creators from illegal sites.”
Well, Google has gone some way to giving Tinie et al exactly what they asked for – search for “tinie tempah mp3” now and you’ll see this message several times:
What you won’t see is a single legitimate MP3 store on the first page of results – still. The highest ranking MP3 vendor is Amazon, who for me eventually makes an appearance just below the fold on page two.
Google Authorship has been around for a fair while now and with growing speculation about whether AuthorRank will be incorporated in Google’s algorithm next, you need to make sure you have it set up properly for your website.
Aside from being speculated to inform the next algorithm update, Authorship can provide other benefits such as increased CTR (as it helps you to dominate the SERPs page) and can help people to identify with you or your brand as they keep seeing your face alongside the content.
Mike Arnseen wrote a great SEOmoz blog post on AuthorRank in September this year which is well worth a read to understand what impact it might have and how to get ahead of the game.
Many businesses are making the mistake in thinking that, because Google+ hasn’t really taken off as a social platform, they shouldn’t bother with it. This in fact is not true, and as this post will explain, Google+ can actually help with your SEO strategy by maximising visibility in SERPs.
As you probably already know, Google+ pages are the equivalent of Facebook pages for businesses with the added bonus that when set up properly, they will show up on the right side of Google searches for your company name.
For example, a search for Branded3 brings back this:
Last week the Branded3 team took the opportunity to have a peek at the new and improved Myspace in an effort to ascertain as to whether or not sexy had in fact, been brought back.
It was a mixed reception across the board as we dissected the platform in terms of usability, features, functionality, visual-aesthetic and most interestingly, where it will sit in the broader social media landscape in which the newest incarnation of the platform has found itself.
To build upon our initial thoughts, here is a more in-depth review of the new Myspace:
After another sacking of a Chelsea manager – this time Roberto Di Matteo – we got talking in the office about which was the best football team to support.
Working in SEO. naturally I decided to check out Google’s answer to this “which football team should I support?”. After all the usual Yahoo answers and forums suggesting who the best team is, the first official club site that returns is Liverpool FC.
So, that got us thinking; if we are one of the UK’s leading digital agencies then surely Branded3 should support the UK’s digitally-leading football team. Here we take a look at the Premier League teams to find out who is top of the only league table that matters, the Branded3 Digital Premier League!
Building a strong content strategy for ecommerce sites is a challenge both from a creative perspective and also from a scalability perspective – no matter how important content is to SEO it’s hard for large scale ecommerce sites to produce great content across thousands of product pages, especially if the products are seasonal or have short lifespans.
This article is designed to cover our recommendations for how an ecommerce site should build a content strategy with the aim of becoming more useful and therefore helping with SEO performance in the mid to long term. This isn’t a guide on how to use content marketing to generate links.
One of the best ways to add unique and user generated content to your product pages is by using Q&A content where your customers ask questions and your expert staff members answer them in a timely and helpful manner. This has a major impact on conversion rates with Halfords seeing a 58% increase and many other brands reporting similar numbers.
One brand doing Q&A content well is House of Fraser who have lots of engagement and also split the answered questions from the unanswered questions and even encourage other customers to answer for them.
Our top tips for correctly implementing Q&A to an ecommerce site:
- Make sure all content is placed on the product pages
- Don’t leave anything unanswered for more than an hour or two
- Email customers when the answer is posted
- Incentivise other customers to answer questions with discount codes or prizes
- Encourage users to share Q&A via social media
- Seed the Q&A with common questions about each product from your call centre or sales team if you can
- Have a team of experts ready to answer questions in a helpful manner – remember it should influence people to buy the product
- Also consider that if lots of people have the same question you need to improve your product description
Useful & Informational Content
Not all content should be on product or category pages – it’s very important to attract users at other levels of the buying cycle too and also to build trust with users as they progress through the site perhaps with user guides, generic Q&A etc.
The content strategy framework we use may come in useful here when deciding what content to place on the site.
Our Data Insights team analysed visits across one of the UK’s largest retail ecommerce websites and found that users who engaged with a piece of content such as an article, forum thread or video on the site before reaching a product or category page were 5 times more valuable than users who arrived directly on a product or category page.
Users who engage with quality content place more trust in the brand so convert at a higher rate, purchase more products and have a greater tendency to make repeat purchases in the future.
Increasing brand trust, improving conversion rates and encouraging larger sale values are all vital elements of any SEO campaign and adding additional content is the primary way to develop this.
As the chart below shows, people are already doing this just not perhaps with as much structure or commitment as we would like to see.
Below is a slide from our recent seminar where we demonstrated the value of content that sits at other levels in the buying cycle – some top line stats from this presentation include:
- Non brand organic SEO is 40% more valuable than a traditional “last click wins” methodology would show
- 40% of ecommerce transactions are carried out 24 hours or more after users first visit the website
- Only 40% of revenue is attributable to users who buy on the first visit – most of your customers will need to remember you and find you a second time
The full slides from the presentation are below, some useful stuff in there I hope.
The most important thing an ecommerce site should address is the issue of user reviews and how to correctly integrate these within the website. There are two types of user reviews we are interested in:
- Reviews of products purchased
- Reviews of your company & service levels
There are two key reasons we add product reviews to a website – they help with long tail SEO traffic and improve conversion rates. The Bazaar Voice site has some case studies including gems such as how Argos uses product reviews to decide on which inventory they should be stocking (or getting rid of) as well as improving conversion rates by 10%, how Appliances Online use reviews to generate 30 times the CTR that a standard PPC campaign does, how Halfords saw users who engage with product reviews converting 82% higher than standard and how Evans Cycles increased SEO traffic by 23% just by adding product reviews to their pages.
Evans Cycles is the UK’s largest independent bicycle and cycling gear retailer. Recognizing their customers’ intense passion for cycling, Evans Cycles launched Bazaarvoice Ratings & Reviews in November 2009 and Ask & Answer in July 2010. User-generated content (UGC) has proven search benefits, so to maximize those, Evans Cycles launched SearchVoice Inline (SVI) for their reviews in July 2010. SVI embeds the text of the first few reviews on a product into the product page’s code, effectively updating the content to feed the freshness search engines crave.
What was measured
The team monitored Evans Cycles’ site traffic during the 12 weeks prior to and 12 weeks immediately following the SVI launch. Using Advanced Segment functionality in Google Analytics, we were able to specifically track organic traffic that landed on Evans Cycles pages with URL containing “/products/.”
23% increase in search engine visits
After launching SVI, Evans Cycles saw a 23% increase in search engine visits to product pages. Additionally, the retailer’s keyword reach — the number of search terms referring searchers to Evans Cycles’ product pages — increased 14%.
One product gets 361% more search visits
An Evans Cycles analyst also noted that he sees huge value in the addition of UGC on product pages due to the pages’ higher page rank in searches. “Diamondback Venom,” for example, a specific model of Diamondback bicycle, saw a higher page rank after launching SVI, and 361% more search visits than before launch.
SearchVoice Inline for Evans Cycles reviews has been so successful at increasing search traffic that the retailer is now working to implement SVI on their customer Q&A as well.
Reviews of products purchased sounds like a straightforward feature to implement and most ecommerce packages have this. The problem is that without correct execution the systems are often useless. Below are the top tips we have for correctly implementing a product reviews system.
- Create a CRM system that emails customers a week or two after the purchase to ask for their feedback on the product
- Make sure the email is well designed with strong call to action and split test to get the best click through & open rates
- Incentivise customers with monthly prizes or discount codes if they leave a review
- Create a strong landing page for customers to add their reviews without having to login or find the product – link directly from the email to a nice form they can complete
- Make sure customers can review multiple products in the same form
- Allow customers to review different attributes such as value, quality, price etc and then calculate an aggregate rating
- Use rich snippet markup on your product pages
- Try to use your own system, if you have to use 3rd party reviews be careful about duplicate content and always own your data
- Encourage users to share their review via social media when it’s posted
- Place the reviews on the product page not on a separate URL
Reviews Of Your Business
The second type of reviews that ecommerce sites need to implement are reviews of their business and service levels. These are commonly left on a review site such as Trust Pilot or Feefo. These sites offer three main benefits and have the usual good case studies about why you should use them. If you use PPC then you really can’t choose not to use them due to the CTR benefits they give (assuming you have good reviews).
Helping you get star ratings next to your PPC ads.
Improving your onsite conversion rates by allowing you to display a nice badge showing what a great business you are.
The reviews also help your rankings in Google Product Search but this system is being merged with AdWords so the benefit might not last much longer.
Most of the review site services will integrate with your system and email your customers asking for reviews themselves. There isn’t much that you need to do other than make sure everything is running smoothly and they are emailing after you are sure the product has arrived and you have had chance to resolve any delivery issues. This review email should be sent before the one asking for a review of the product because you want customers to review your business and not the product.
Making a product description exciting isn’t always easy depending on your industry but one thing is very clear these days, it’s no longer acceptable to have product descriptions that are short, bland, duplicate content or not designed to encourage users to make a purchase.
The best strategy for product descriptions is to inject some personality into them and have your product team write a unique description of at least 250 words when the product is uploaded. We always recommend that clients have a secondary blurb about the product which is an experts opinion on why the user should buy it over other similar products on the market. This can increase conversion rates even further especially if you add things like an author bio box to the expert comment or can find another way to add credibility to their opinions.
Writing product descriptions isn’t complicated, as long as you follow some simple rules:
- Write informative & descriptive copy designed to reflect your brands personality
- Write for your target audience
- Make sure the copy sells the product & covers features / benefits
- Forget about SEO and keywords
- Inject some fun into the descriptions
- Don’t make them too short – it’s rare that less than 250 words is OK
- Add an extra Experts Opinion to explain why you should buy this product over another
- Try to cover all the likely objections and questions people might have about the product
- Think about the product description as if you were stood on stage in front of thousands of people trying to sell the product – what would you say? How long would you spend writing your speech?
Category and sub-category pages are quite a challenge when it comes to SEO because for most sites other than the really small specialist retailers it’s the category pages that are going to have to rank for the big commercial keywords. Amazon for example needs a really strong category page to rank for “laptops” but a specialist laptop retailer might be able to use their homepage. How can Amazon or another generalist retailer hope to compete with the specialists using a category page which has less link equity?
The key to creating a great category page is to think of it as a hub which links to all the important information about the products in that category. So if we had a “laptops” category page we would link to the top selling products but also various buying guides, the latest reviews, informative articles, the latest Q&A content and perhaps some credentials or information on why you are the experts in selling laptops.
We need to make sure there is content on the category pages and the important thing here is to make sure the content is very useful to a user who is researching or buying the product you are selling. For example if the product was a laptop you should be explaining about the latest offers you have and why the user needs to be thinking about a touch screen or Windows 8 machine etc. Perhaps some notes about battery life or the benefits of a solid state drive. Users should want to read your category page text before they look at the products – if not then you are doing it wrong.
When the new Myspace preview was unleashed back in September, it ignited a hot email debate here at Branded3, with seemingly everyone having a strong opinion on the probability of its future in 2012’s social media world.
Most agreed that the new design by owners Specific Media, was faultless – clean, fresh, and slick – but beneath the exterior, does it actually offer any new social features that could entice users away from Facebook and Twitter?
Well, the time has come to find out; Myspace has been released in beta, and whilst its team are keen to stress that more new features will be added prior to its official launch next year, its current state is enough to have a poke around and get a feel for what’s to come.
Our talented web designer Max Shearer, was the first in the office to secure a new Myspace invite, and alongside the lucky five he chose to extend the invite to, he told us what his initial thoughts were after a play around:
Content Strategy and Content Marketing have been getting a huge amount of attention this year for a number of reasons and I wanted to discuss our views on these strategies and how best to use them as part of an SEO campaign.
The interesting thing about the focus on content strategy is that it’s not a new strategy at all. Content strategy has been around for years. Bill Gates talked about “content is king” in 1996, Jakob Nielsen in 1997 and the “content is king” phrase has been in use within the SEO industry since around 2003 with SEObook and seroundtable discussing content as an SEO strategy in early 2004. This isn’t cutting edge SEO – people have been doing it for nearly a decade.
Content Strategy & Google
Is content marketing a white hat way of doing SEO? It certainly is but as with any white hat strategy people will push the boundaries and plenty of people have been using content marketing in a way that isn’t really aligned with what Google wants to see. For example, consider a retailer with 5,000 product pages with below average quality product descriptions and a blog with lots of successful linkbait style posts. Does the fact that lots of people link to the blog mean that the product or other commercial pages are a better destination for Google to send searchers to? Probably not so why should the site rank higher for commercial queries?
If Matt Cutts was to give you advice on how to make the site above better do you think he would suggest improving the content of main site first or doing some linkbait/infographics?
If the blog is outsourced to a writer or an agency and just contains linkbait posts then I would argue that this should have no impact on SEO because it doesn’t affect the quality or usefulness of the actual landing page that a user is going to end up on. If the blog is written by the site owner (perhaps with help from the agency) and is full of interesting information and shows that the business is passionate and knowledgeable about the products then this is a totally different proposition and it should definitely affect the rankings of the product pages.
There is a key principle here and one that will be very important in a year or two. You have to make your content strategy defensible and make sure it never looks like you were doing it to gain links.
The key principle about content strategy is that the number 1 goal is to make your site better – getting more links is secondary.
Looking at the examples above it’s clear that if you are going to invest in content strategy (which is a long term investment, Rand says up to 5 years) then you have to get it right and not run the risk of your strategy being devalued once Google sees too many people succeeding with it. There are plenty of sites who are not willing to sort out the main part of their site so they try to generate rankings by using a content marketing strategy via a blog or other section of the site – this isn’t aligned very well with the Google desire to rank the best sites at the top.
The best content strategy to have is to actually optimise your commercial landing pages to make them as good as they can be before investing time and effort to build fantastic blog posts, infographics and other amazing linkbait pages for your site. It’s a far better investment to make sure your product pages, category pages and any other commercial landing pages that make up the main part of your site are absolutely first class in terms of content and design before you start to spend time putting content elsewhere.
Google wants to send users to the best possible result for a particular query because they see the value in keeping their users happy. If you neglect the content strategy for your commercial pages then Google will stop ranking them no matter how many fantastic blog posts or other great & well linked pages you have on your site.
When you invest in content strategy, start with your commercial pages!
Do people love your pages?
It’s unquantifiable, tough to explain to clients & impossible to make a business case for but site quality and how much your users love your site is a major ranking factor these days.
Google can tell whether people love your website & is rewarding the most loved websites with higher rankings. Panda downgraded sites that people didn’t love – why wouldn’t Google reward sites that people do love?
Hundreds of user engagement signals are analysed and fed into an artificial intelligence algorithm. The algorithm learns how to detect whether users love a site or not (probably with the help of seed sites). Remember, Chrome has 33% market share & Analytics is in use on over 10m websites.
So if user engagement and making users love your site is so important you cannot ignore content strategy for the actual pages that they are driven to on the site. We often speak to clients who neglect the content on their commercial pages but are happy to invest lots in a great blog or some infographics. This is the wrong way round – you have to sort your primary pages first.
What can we do with the site?
Once you have sorted all your commercial pages a big part of content strategy is figuring out what new pages need to exist on the site and again this should be done to make the site more useful rather than to attract links. Sections like Q&A are great as they have lots of natural language content that can attract long tail visitors.
The image above shows a very top line view of how we would start thinking about a content strategy for a client.
Branded3’s Director of Search Patrick Altoft and Head of Search Tim Grice led the first of our monthly Google+ Hangouts on Friday, in which SEO enthusiasts took advantage of the hour to ask the expert pair anything they liked.
The Hangout was the first in our monthly Brunch with Branded3 sessions, and having been such a great success, we can’t wait for the next one!
Questions for the Hangout were either submitted beforehand to email@example.com, or were tweeted to us or left on our Google+ page during the session, and luckily Tim and Patrick managed to get through nearly all of them.
The Hangout featured a lot of questions surrounding reconsideration requests and the Disavow Tool, and is well worth watching if you’re also facing challenges around these topics.
You can check out the Hangout video below, or on our YouTube channel, and if you have a question for Patrick or Tim but didn’t get chance to ask it last Friday, feel free to post it in the comments section below or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Plus, don’t forget to join us for our next Brunch with Branded3 Hangout on Thursday 24th January; keep an eye out on our blogs for details of which of our experts will be leading the Hangout, or if there’s a particular SEO, Digital or Social Media topic you’d really like to see discussed, feel free to email it over and we’ll see what we can do.
Thanks to all those who got involved on Friday, we hope you found it informative and will join us again!
A new study by Monetate shows just how far Safari has caught up with other browsers thanks to the rise of iPhone and iPad use. Our figures for the UK market are not quite as dramatic as the US study but they still show Safari ahead of Chrome and growing quickly.
I always find it amazing how many sites don’t work properly in Safari or on the iPhone/iPad and there are lots of well known sites where you just can’t use them. Sites with ajax sliders are usually terrible on the iPhone – when was the last time people checked their conversion rates in different browsers?
Data from some of our clients is below:
The chart below shows Stacounter figures but these don’t tally with what we see or with what the study at the bottom of the post shows.
Below we can see the results for US sites both for conversion rates and browser market share. Sites simply have to have a version that works in all browsers because otherwise you are losing a huge amount of potential revenue. This Christmas with people buying more tablets of all shapes and sizes the market is going to get even more confused making a good responsive design a must have next year.
Very interesting to see conversion rates on tablets not far behind traditional PC’s.
Latest from B3Labs
- Another milestone reached for Branded3 as it’s acquired by the
St Ives Group
- The latest media consumer findings & what they mean for digital marketers
- Talk to Branded3 at @BuyYorkshire in Leeds next week!
Latest from Blogstorm
- Why your press releases are getting you penalised
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- Tickets now on sale for the next #B3Seminar in London – book now!