Having a good quality SEO backlink strategy can be a powerful way for improving your website ranking in the search engines. However, the consensus among SEO consultants is that backlinks are the most “unscrupulous” area in their field. 

Many websites have risen to power then fallen from grace just as dramatically through backlinks. But what exactly are backlinks and why is there a questionable reputation for their use in SEO.

What are backlinks?

Google uses around 200 ranking factors in their algorithms when deciding which pages and websites to send to the top of their search results. Backlinks, which are also known as links, linkbacks, inbound links, incoming links, external links, inlinks, and inward links, have for many years been a major component of Google’s algorithms. They are links placed on other websites pointing to your site.

Google for a long time looked upon these backlinks as votes of trust for your site. If website owners thought highly enough of your site to send traffic from theirs to yours then much like any recommendation it increased your credibility. Backlinks are a good indication that a website is popular.

However, in the early days of search engines when it became obvious backlinks could increase rankings of sites, it was a start of a race to rival the Melbourne Cup. SEO consultants were rushing to get SEO backlinks for their clients’ sites and while many were legitimate, there were dodgy practices.

Black hat and white hat SEO practices

Black and White Hat.jpg

Before we get into SEO backlinks strategies, which can only be described as questionable at best, a brief understanding of black hat and white hat SEO practices is needed.

When I was a kid, I’d love watching old western movies with my dad. The terms black hat and white hat as they relate to SEO originated from these classic western movies where hat colour would distinguish the characters.

The villain always wore a black hat, while the hero wore a white hat. In SEO land, black hat techniques and strategies are used to get higher search rankings and break search engine rules. They’re used mainly by people looking for a quick return on sites rather than a long-term investment based on trust and credibility. Some techniques used in black hat SEO include:

  • keyword stuffing
  • link farming
  • hidden texts and links.

Consequences of black hat SEO can result in your site being banned from a search engine and de-indexed as a penalty for using unethical techniques (see further down).

In contrast, white hat SEO refers to using techniques and strategies targeting a more human audience opposed to trying to merely trick a search engine. Techniques typically used in white hat SEO include using keywords and keyword analysis, doing research, rewriting meta tags to be more relevant, link building to quality sites as well as writing quality content for human readers. Those who use white hat SEO expect to make a long-term investment on their website, as the results will last a long time.

What are black hat SEO backlinks?

The Online Co managing director James Parnwell says in the early days of search engines and the SEO industry, black hat SEO backlinks were rife and even remain a problem today.

“Backlinks are the most scammed place of SEO,” James says.

“Especially in the early days, websites were getting thousands of links to push up their SEO rankings.

“There were even whole businesses built around building websites to provide links to other websites.”

James puts the black hat backlinks into what he terms SEO 1.0 category.

“Businesses were even paying money, often even big money to have backlinks to their sites,” he says.

“They would be irrelevant backlinks but the more links to a site often the higher the ranking and of course a high ranking on Google for a term could make a business.”

How Google cracked down on black hat backlinks
So just as websites rose to the top of Google rankings, they fell as dramatically with some disastrous results for businesses.

To understand how this happened, we must realise just how far search engines, especially Google, founded in 1999, have progressed.

“Over the years, Google has solidly dispensed with their competitors one by one and they’ve become the doorway for millions of businesses to be found and grow worldwide,” James says.

“Google’s implemented numerous algorithm updates which have in effect cracked down on black hat SEO tactics including dodgy links.”

We won’t go into details about all these updates. However, some of the most significant to crack down on black hat SEO practices include Panda and Penguin. The first Panda update came into effect in early 2011 with regular updates continuing to ensure quality sites will rank higher.

Google’s former head of webspam Matt Cutts has said that with Panda the search engine took a big revenue hit with partners but its implementation has been a necessary crackdown.

“I believe it was the right decision to launch Panda, both for the long-term trust of our users and for a better ecosystem for publishers,” he says.

Webmaster Guidelines further worked to halt unscrupulous SEO practices trying to cheat the system and encourage good or white hat SEO practices.

“The Penguin update was rolled out in 2012 as basically a crackdown on users who insisted on prohibited SEO techniques like keyword stuffing and inappropriate link building,” James says.

For those sites considered by Google as trying to beat the system and in violation of their webmaster guidelines, the penalties hit hard.

Deindexing and penalties – Businesses hit hard

As James says the days of SEO 1.0 and trying to game the system are now over. Businesses practising in unscrupulous SEO methods have been met with harsh penalties by Google.

“Penalties can include Google putting you from the front page of search engine results to page 20 or even completely removing or deindexing the site,” James says.

“Google’s computing power and resources are vast. They know everything about your website and every other website on the net and how they fit together.”

His view is shared by Business Growth Digital Marketing founder David James, who in his ebook How to rank on the first page of Google admits to using black hat tactics in the early days of SEO.

“Back in the day, there were a lot of SEO tactics I used that contributed to spam but it was generally accepted in the SEO community and it worked,” David says.

“It was an era where many SEOs would do whatever they could to manipulate Google’s search results without considering the impact it would have on users’ experience.

“People were buying automated link building software to get 10,000 links in a day or using use article syndication software, paying for links and even publishing low-quality guest posts to obtain links on directories or article sites built purposely as link farms.”

David says it wasn’t until Google launched the Penguin and Panda algorithm along with other manual penalties that SEO consultants started to pay attention.”

“I’ll admit I was one of those people in the SEO crowd. “

David says he has seen many sad stories of businesses who’ve had their websites penalised.

“I’ve worked on several websites to remove penalties so their business will get back on track again,” he says.

I wanted to hear from businesses affected by Google penalties for their link strategy. There were many sad stories shared, including of businesses who took a long time to recover.

One such business hit hard was printing, design and online marketing services giant Snap, which had its website just disappear from Google.

In investigating why Snap was penalised marketing manager Cindy Haylen says the company made some important discoveries.

“Many toxic links were found to be the result of negative SEO,” Cindy says.

Negative SEO is another black hat practice of putting backlinks to a competing site to increase its probability of being hit with a penalty and consequently drop in search engine ranking.

“Other bad backlinks had been added on behalf of Snap by SEO consultants who were following widely accepted pre-Penguin SEO practices.

“Guest blogging, which is essentially syndicating company generated and attributed content onto third-party sites through well-known intermediaries, caused a lot of damage too.”

Cindy says Snap engaged SEO firm Area Ten to their site out of the ditch and back up on Google. Each link to the website was manually assessed for quality and relevancy to their website with careful attention not to remove any good backlinks.

“Google guidelines were used to manually assessing each link,” Cindy says.

“Removing a harmful link involves either using the Google Disavow Tool or directly contacting the webmaster to request its deletion.

“Either of these can take months, and there’s no guarantee they will work but we had to try.”

Ultimately, after removal of all the bad links, snap.com.au recovered its enviable Google search ranking.

Cindy says Snap has now implemented a strategy to prevent future problems including:

Analysing new links appearing on the site and addressing any threat identified before it can escalate to a penalty. Analysing links is important because of the unfortunate reality of negative SEO which businesses like Snap have no control over so can only monitor and respond to these threats as they appear.

The Snap website was redesigned to ensure every landing page was useful and relevant to its visitors, and that it loaded quickly on any device.

Following Google guidelines by only providing content that is relevant and fresh, along with a user experience that includes live chat support and a postcode-based office locator.

“The experience was a painful reminder that bad SEO can do much more harm than good,” Cindy says.

How to avoid backlinks dramas

Having your site penalised by Google can be a major and expensive drama for any businesses so in this case prevention is the best cure.

All the consultants interviewed for this piece recommend ensuring you only link out good quality and relevant sites.

“Having an experienced SEO consultant monitoring your site periodically you can also ensure dodgy sites are not linking to yours, again risking penalties by Google,” James says.

He also recommends a few tools you can use yourself to check and remove backlinks to your site starting with the Google Search Console (previously known as Google Webmaster Tool).

“It’s free and should already be enabled for anyone working on SEO for their website,” James says.

His other favourite tools for checking backlinks include SEMrush and Majestic.

While David is also a fan of the tools David mentioned, he also suggests Ahrefs, Rmoov and Link Research Tools.

“Probably my favourite is Ahrefs as it provides the most exhaustive list and is well-regarded in the SEO industry,” David says.

What to do if hit by a Google penalty

Google Jail.jpg

Discovering your site has lost its Google ranking or at worst removed from the search engine all together can be a devastating and costly blow for any business.

You may have received a Google manual penalty notification in your Google Console or noticed your website traffic suddenly take a nosedive. But if you have been penalised by Google what do you do?

Well, the first thing is to clear up your site from black hat SEO links. Clearing up your site can be a big and difficult job so you’ll probably need to enlist someone with experience.

If you feel you’ve done as much work as possible to remove spammy or low-quality links from your website, you can request Google to disavow the remaining links. In other words, you can ask Google not to take certain links into account when assessing your site.

You must then request to have your site re-indexed by Google.

“Basically, you’re writing an apology to Google with an assurance of not using black hat SEO tactics which are against their rules in the future,” James says.

“But for anyone who has gone through the pain of a Google penalty I’m pretty sure they’ll be careful to use white-hat SEO strategies in the future.”

David has written a useful article on 60 white hat SEO link building tips.

Some of these have already been mentioned in this article but other great ones include:

Contributing to web forum discussions.

Mentioning and citing experts (one-way anchor text backlinks).
Contributing to question and answer forums like Quora.

Pitching to journalists.

Remember, while backlinks are a great way to build authority and credibility on your website they can take time to build. Rushing in and using black hat tactics are not worth the risk. As James says everyone should now be thinking about adopting a reputable SEO backlinks strategy or as he calls it an SEO 2.0 approach: “If it feels wrong then it probably is wrong.”

 

Did you know there are more than two million new blogs posts daily?  Blogging has become an integral part of a content marketing strategy to support business growth. Many organisations have been blogging for years now continuing to put out new posts regularly but what about all those old blog posts?

In a newsroom, as journalists and editors, we often give old stories a new “spin”. We know the stories which rank well with our target audience so periodically do similar ones or rework old stories with a new twist or information.

But in blogging, reworking an older post was not common practice. However, Hubspot, a leading inbound marketing and sales platform, has been raving about the success of updating old blog content in a project they call “Historical Optimisation”.

What is Historical Optimisation?

Hubspot started its journey into historical optimisation after its principal marketing manager Pamela Vaughan started using its new Attribution Reports tool to determine how many leads each of their blog posts generated.

Pamela found 76 per cent of their monthly blog posts views came from old posts (not published that month), while 92 per cent of monthly blog leads came from old posts. Pamela documents Hubspot’s Historical Optimisation journey, where she writes the whole blogging team could go on holiday for a month and it wouldn’t matter.

She also notes that 46 per cent of their blog leads came from just 30 individual posts. For a large organisation writing around 200 new posts a month, this is a startling result.

Pamela and her team went about re-optimising and figuring out how to get more leads to high-traffic but low converting blog posts and more traffic to high converting blog posts.

“In other words, we should stop focusing on only brand new content and try to get more traffic and leads out of content we already have – we should optimise the past,” she wrote.

In a couple of years, Hubspot has been focusing on its Historical Optimisation project, organic traffic to its blog has risen by 200 per cent, an impressive statistic for your CV and LinkedIn profile Pamela.

As we’ve discussed in other posts, Google rewards freshness in its Search Engine Results Pages (SERPS). If you update an older blog post, Google will use the modified date and it will display higher in the SERPs.

Hubspot’s content and campaign manager Elissa Hudson says historical optimisation gives blogs a new relevance while it’s a relatively easy way to boost SEO.

“Google rewards freshness, so it makes sense to keep content up-to-date, especially when it’s performing well,” she says.

“This has had a massive impact on the Hubspot blog with posts which were ranking on page two of Google coming back up to a high spot on page after being updated and re-optimised.”

A lot of hard work goes into writing a blog from scratch so by the re-optimising content, you’re making that blog post work harder and deliver a greater ROI.

“Marketers and bloggers should be updating old content.”

13 Steps for updating your blog

Updating a blog is like a wardrobe overhaul. Keep the timeless classics and pieces which still get compliments but trash, recycle or rework blogs which aren’t performing. Here’s a breakdown of 12 steps to go about updating your posts.

Updating old posts for SEO

1. Identify top-performing posts

When updating your blogs a good place to start is to identify your top-performing posts. Which posts have generated a good number of inbound links indicating search authority? Look at your blog analytics for the last month or so to determine which old posts are still generating traffic? Has the post generated a lot of social shares, which indicates popularity?

2. Get rid of or rewrite amateur blogs

As an amateur, I made plenty of mistakes and to be honest some of our old posts make me cringe. However, it was all part of the learning curve. Go through your blog posts as some may have information you can use in other posts such as quotes from experts. I’ve even taken down posts and sent them to other marketing agencies for reworking because they’re more relevant to their personas. I’ve also been sent posts to rework on topics I want to cover or are more relevant to my personas. It’s a thrill to receive a post they’ve worked hard on but no longer want to re-work, like getting the stylish hand-me-down jacket you’ve been eyeing off from your sister.

3. Look at keywords in old blogs & your keyword plan

Do you have any posts ranking for target keywords which could improve with some optimisation or reworking? How does each post fit into the overall structure of your blog? If you have a vast, complex blog how does each post fit together or could they even be competing against each other.

Hubspot found before they re-organised their blog, see our post on content curation some posts were competing because they were so similar with overlapping content, similar URL’s and keywords. Do some keyword research and think carefully about keywords to determine how to optimise your existing posts better rather than just writing new ones.

4. Could the blog form part of a pillar page and topic cluster?

Latest best practice for blog writing focuses on covering specific areas related to an overall subject. Known as topic cluster posts, these are anchored together by a pillar page, which provides a broad overview of the main subject. The pillar page includes hyperlinks to these more specific posts and so they’re all joined together designed to monopolise a subject.

Ensure you evaluate old posts to see how to adapt them to this new model.  Can they form part of a new main pillar page? Can they be rewritten as topic cluster post? If so then follow the best practice for writing topic cluster and pillar pages, including appropriate links.

5. Ensure the accuracy and relevancy of your posts

Is there a statistic or research which you have quoted, which is now old or could be updated? Just like an old report, over time, content can become inaccurate. I, like most people, will only look at the latest statistics or research. By analysing and updating posts for accuracy and relevancy, you could bring back traffic and that freshness will also boost your SEO efforts.

6. Check links to your post

Check, replace or add internal links to your posts. Over time as your blog has grown, you will have built up more posts which are relevant to each other. As you work towards adopting a more effective content curation model like pillar pages and topic clusters, you will want to update your links accordingly. Check and replace internal links, especially if you now have better or more relevant ones to use.

Have you ever tried to visit a restaurant but found it was no longer there? Perhaps you even checked out their opening hours online and there was no indication of the restaurant’s closure. Clicking on a link to a website or blog post and finding it doesn’t work can also be just as annoying. Google knows broken links are annoying for users, it looks sloppy like you don’t do regular housekeeping and can affect your SEO. Check your links regularly with tools like:

7. Correct typos, grammar and improve readability

Even though you proofread your articles before publishing, I can guarantee as a journalist and writer you’ll always find mistakes or ways to improve. Check the obvious like spelling and grammar in a post but also look for ways you could improve the structure of sentences, paragraphs or the overall blog to improve readability.

8. Update opinions or views on a topic

While writing your older blog posts, you may have a different mindset and thus your opinions might have been different. But now you have changed your opinion on that topic according to the current trend. Your advice in that old blog posts may not be valid or effective in the present scenario.

9. Update the posts call-to-action (CTA)

Is your Call to Action (CTA) offer still the best option for the post? Do you have a better offer or could you create one? Does your post even have a CTA? Are the graphics on your CTA out of date? Evaluate your CTA’s and update them accordingly.

10. Change of opinion or best practices

It’s alright to change your view or opinion but why not update your post to reflect your current views or mindset.

For various reasons, you may now have a different view on a topic or best practices may have changed. Perhaps you have greater experience in an area, you’ve done more research, new data has come out to change your opinion or best practice advice. I came across an old post I had written on the differences between PR and marketing. However, I no longer agreed with what I wrote. My advice in the post didn’t seem valid or in line with my current opinion on the topic, so clearly it needs an update.

11. Update images and photos

What are the images like on your old post? Are they outdated? Do you have or can you find images or photos that are better suited to the post? Perhaps you have more resources now to create better infographics. Keep the images and photos on your posts updated and fresh.

12. ‘Don’t change what ain’t broken’

You’re building off search authority of the old post so don’t go changing things like the post’s URL slug. It’s good practice to copy a live post over to a draft, make the changes then copy it back over to the original when ready. Don’t do anything to diminish the current authority the post has acquired. Include an editor’s note for transparency at the bottom of the post to let readers know it is an updated version. An editor’s note will avoid confusion for readers, especially if they see comments which don’t coincide with the updated blog publication date.

13. Promote your content and track results

Promote the updated content on social media or like you would a new post. Let subscribers know what is new in the post, such as statistics or findings from a report. Be sure to track the performance of the post after republishing. This will help you understand how your update affected its overall performance and also give you an idea about which posts are worth updating.

Conclusion:  Prioritise updating old posts

Now you know about the importance of historical optimisation or updating old blogs it’s important to make it a part of your ongoing content marketing strategy. Track the results, see what is working and not working on each blog to continually modify. A lot of time and expense goes into blogging so ensure you get maximum ROI on your investment by keeping posts updated and relevant. There will always be new trends, topics and developments in your industry to write about so of course don’t stop creating new content. However, periodically take time to delve into the past, revisit and update those old posts.

 

 

 

 

 

SEO. Button on Modern Computer Keyboard. Internet Concept. 3D Render..jpeg

 

SEO was for a long time an area shrouded in mystery to me, so it feels rather strange to be writing a guide on SEO basics for beginners. Despite my training in journalism and PR, I felt unqualified to write content for blogs and websites. I had this idea that SEO consultants or copywriters were geniuses working with code and secret formulas to get sites ranking highly on Search Engine Result Pages (SERPs).

However, then I started hearing more stories from people who had been spending a lot of money with SEO firms or copywriters but still not ranking well. They weren’t sure exactly of what was being done to their sites and were also dissatisfied with the content. While containing all the right keywords for search engine crawlers to rank their sites, content pieces lacked any real human appeal.

Through research and training, I’ve certainly become more SEO savvy. If you’re creating content for a website or even if you have outsourced SEO or content writing for your site a basic understanding of the subject is valuable.

What is SEO?

SEO or Search Engine Optimisation refers to techniques, which enable your website to rank higher in organic search results. There are numerous components to improving SEO of your site pages. Search engines, the main these days being Google, examine title tags, image tags, keywords, backlinks, design structure along with even visitor behaviour to determine how highly ranked your site should be in their search results pages.

I like to imagine search engine crawlers or bots, which are programs search engines use to scan website pages to determine what they are about and their importance, as librarians cataloguing information.

The Online Co managing director James Parnwell says SEO consultants often work on upwards of 200 points when optimising a site. If we went into all of them, this post would more resemble a PhD on SEO than a basic SEO guide for beginners. Fortunately, James categorises these different points into four different areas and this guide covers the basics.

  • Content Strategy
  • Technical SEO
  • Backlinks
  • Local SEO

1. Content Strategy

 

Modern Workplace with Laptop showing Landing Page in Doodle Design Style with text Content Development. Toned 3d Image with Selective Focus..jpegHubdo co-founder Helen Nicholls, who leads a team to assist Hubspot consultants and partner agencies deliver SEO for their clients says the quality of content is vital.

“Producing high-quality, informative and educational content should be the key focus of your SEO strategy,” Helen says.

“Remember the number one rule – you are writing for humans first and search engines second.”

According to Yoast, the leading SEO plugin for website creation tool WordPress, you should have a minimum of 300 words on a page to rank well in the search engines.

According to Helen longer posts can do well but are not always that practical.

“It’s a bonus to offer your readers the occasional extra-long blog, say 1500 words but generally, it’s stretching the friendship when clients are asked to submit a 1500 word blog to their website weekly,” she says.

“Weekly or fortnightly blogs don’t need to be thousands of words long, short and sweet can be a great recipe, say 500 to 600 words, then link them to a centerpiece blog and each other,”

“It’s all about getting to the point for Google. Relevant, unique content gives you the greatest opportunity in getting your blog or business site ranking well.”

Part of ensuring the search engines know what your content is all about are keywords (see below), which you should include throughout your content. 

“But don’t test your luck and fall into any ‘black hat’ tactics of keyword stuffing– incorporate your single ‘focus’ keyword into your H1 Header, first paragraph, imageALT tag and then once or twice into the body of your content – no more than 4 – 5 times all up in a single 500 – 600 word blog post.”

Keywords

Still considered one of the vital elements of algorithms the crawlers, bots (or my imaginary librarians) use to classify your site is keywords. Keywords define the topics which your content is about and are words or terms users enter in search engines. Your goal with SEO is to drive organic traffic to your site from the search engine result pages (SERPs). The keywords you choose to target i.e put in your content will determine traffic to your site. It’s important to target the right keyword so your content is found by the search engines and target audience. See our post on SEO keyword research.

2. Technical SEO

Page title tag – Meta Title

A page title tag is the title of your page as read by the search engine. You want to ensure you’re telling Google and your page visitors about the subject of your website so include your keyword/s. The title tags for each of your website pages or blogs should be unique and relevant to the topic.

Meta description

The meta description is a short summary of the page, like a blurb on a book. A meta description should tell the search engines the content of your page so that when people put in a search term relating to your keyword it will appear in the SERPs.

You won’t see the meta description on your actual website or blog, rather it will show up under your title and URL on the SERPs.

Hubspot has some great tips for writing a meta description including:

1) Use action-oriented language.

2) Provide a solution or benefit.

3) Keep it under 155 characters.

4) Don’t deceive searchers.

5) Make it specific and relevant.

A word of warning using a black hat tactic (see our blog on backlinks) like keyword stuffing in your meta description will not get you ranking any higher. Simply, a meta description should be a concise paragraph about your website.

Header Text – H1

Header text is larger text used for your content and read differently by search engines. It tells search engines that this is important and to take notice. Header text size varies and is usually labelled H1-H6. The most important header text on the page is H1 text and I like to think of it as much like a magazine or newspaper article headline.

I’m not going to go into all the different uses for the various header texts from H1-H6 but H2 is usually for subheadings and H3 subheadings of H2 subheadings. Take note of the format for this post.

James suggests putting your keyword into one or more of your headers. However, you don’t want to overdo it and stuff your keywords into header text.

“It makes sense you mention the main topic of a blog post in one or more headings,” James says. 

“However, using your focus keyword shouldn’t feel unnatural or weird and my rule of thumb is that if it does you’re probably trying too hard and even over optimising.”

Headers are a great way of breaking up chunks of text, like in this post. However, Google guru and former head of its web spam team Matt Cutt warns against the overuse of H1 headers, recommending only one on a page.

Alt Text

Goldenretrieverpuppysittingdown.jpgAlt text is short for alternative text and known also as alt attributes, alt descriptions, image text and alt tags. Alt text is used to describe the appearance and function of an image on a page.

Adding alt text to an image is an element of good web design and principle of accessibility for all web users. The visually impaired with screen readers will be read an alt attribute to better understand an image on a web page.

Alt text displays a description in place of an image if an image file cannot be loaded and finally will provide context and descriptions to search engine crawlers who can’t decipher an image. Matt Cutt also explains alt text in this short YouTube video.

According to Yoast, you should include a keyword into your image or alt tag on a page.

“We’re specifically not saying you should spam your keyword into every alt tag,” Yoast wrote on their blog.

“You need a good, high quality, related image for your posts in which it makes sense to have the focus keyword in the alt text.”

Here’s an example of writing the alt text for an image of our golden retriever puppy for a veterinarian website.   

ALT Tag –  “Buddy Golden Retriever Puppy with blue collar – XVeterinarians”. The code of the website will translate this to <img alt=”Buddy-golden-retriever-puppy-with-blue-collar-xveterinarians”>

Site and page speed

Google has made it clear that page speed is one of their main considerations in ranking websites. Google defines site speed as “how quickly a website responds to web requests”.

“Speeding up websites is important — not just to site owners, but to all Internet users,” according to Google Webmaster blog on site speed.

“Faster sites create happy users and we’ve seen in our internal studies that when a site responds slowly, visitors spend less time there.”

Helen says to increase site speed a good web developer should ensure the speed of your site is good through numerous ways.

“We look at compressing and optimising files and images, leveraging browser caching, reducing redirects and making sure you have a good reputable host just to name a few,” she says.

“No one likes a slow loading site so this really is an important area for not just SEO but for users to experience your brand.”

3. Backlinks and anchor text

Anchor text is the clickable text in a hyperlink. Blue underlined text is considered the web standard and most common. The backlink anchor text is the anchor text used by other websites linking to your website. 

One-way anchor text backlinks

I frequently interview and quote people for my online content. I include a link to their site however, don’t seek a link back from their site to ours. Their expertise is more what I am after to make my content valuable. Mentioning and citing other sites is known as one-way anchor text backlinks. James says one-way anchor text backlinks are sought out. Interviewing James and linking to his company website is an example of a one-way backlink.

“What we call page rank juice flows between one domain to another so the more one-way anchor text backlinks a web page has from websites with high page rank, the better they’ll rank on search engines,” James says.

“Google doesn’t like spammy backlinks though, so if you link to one site on the condition they link to yours then this will not look good.”

4. Local SEO, Google My Business & reviews

GEO Targeting Red Button - Finger Pushing Button of Black Computer Keyboard. Blurred Background. Closeup View..jpegIf you’re a ‘bricks and mortar business’, local SEO is a vital area of SEO, ensuring you will be found in the geographical area your business operates.  Helen says business listing sites or ‘citations’ should be a fundamental foundation of a local SEO strategy. She says any prospective clients or customers are most likely to search for you and a location in their search eg ‘pyschologist Kenmore’.

“Google understands people are searching for local businesses so you’ll receive a higher ranking if you can show you’re both local and relevant.”

“Make sure you have your website optimised for local SEO, register with Google My Business and encourage local reviews.”

Conclusion

An effective SEO strategy is about ensuring the search engines can appropriately categorise your content and ensuring you’re noticed by your target audience. I hope this guide helps take some of the mystery out of SEO so you can develop a strong competitive strategy and ensure your content is seen by your target audience. 

Additional Resources

There’s some great resources available on SEO for further learning. Some of my favourite include:

Google SEO starter guide

Google Webmaster

Yoast – There’s lots of educational articles on their blog about various elements of SEO and if you want to learn more you can undertake some of their courses.

Brightlocal Blog – Local SEO & Reviews

Pillar Pages & Topic Cluster photo.png

When Hubspot, a leading developer of inbound sales and marketing software, unveiled pillar pages and topic clusters as the new best model for SEO in blogging I was admittedly confused. However, as I started putting the model into practice on my blog, it made sense. It was similar to how I’d practised as a journalist and news producer for many years.

There’s a strategy news outlets follow when a major story breaks to ensure thorough coverage. We have a meeting where journalists will be assigned to cover different aspects of the story. A longer story will give a complete overview of the event with shorter relatable breakaway stories.

Here’s an example of the strategy in practice.

The facts

  • Major bushfires have broken out in the Adelaide Hills.
  • Authorities are evacuating homes and warning people to take refuge in designated areas.
  • The fire has destroyed several houses while there are fears for missing people.
  • There are also concerns for native, farm and domestic animals.
  • Temperatures have been exceptionally high for a week and conditions have been like a tinderbox.
  • The weather bureau is forecasting further high temperatures for several days.
  • Firefighters have been flown in from interstate to assist exhausted firefighters who have been battling the blaze for up to 20 hours without a break.
  • There is a number to call if you are worried about the safety of loved ones.
  • Charity organisations like the Salvation Army are working to raise funds and supplies for people affected.
  • The local Country Women’s League (CWL) is making sandwiches and cooking meals for emergency services.
  • Health authorities are helping victims deal with fallout and stress of the disaster along with warning people at risk to take precautions with the smoke.

The story structure

For television, online and print news outlets covering this bushfire story, the structure would be similar.

A main, longer story will give an update touching on most, if not all, of the above facts. Shorter stories will focus on one or two key topics for example:

  • Buildings destroyed and homes lost.
  • Forecasted weather conditions.
  • CWL preparing food and interstate firefighters arriving to help.
  • Health authorities are helping victims etc. and who to contact if you are worried about loved ones.

I’ve always liked this structured, ordered approach to dealing with a story. Good textbooks follow a similar orderly structure. They will have an introduction giving an overview of the book and then individual chapters covering various topics.

But most blogs have never had a clear structure. A preoccupation with keyword rankings resulted in blogs with a seriously disorganised structure with posts which were disconnected and often doubled up on content.

However, Hubspot’s pillar pages and topic cluster model as a strategy for blog content curation is based very much on the mainstream media model or that of a good textbook.

Introduction to Pillar Pages and Topic Clusters

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(photo courtesy of Elissa Hudson of Hubspot)

Hubspot director of Acquisition and one of the world’s leading experts in SEO, Matthew Barby came up with pillar pages and topic clusters as a way to organise blog content.

Matthew was working to enhance the experience for searchers to find content, along with ensuring blogs would rank more effectively on Search Engine Result Pages (SERPS).

Matthew realised it made more sense to ditch the obsession with keywords variants and work to become an authority on topics because how people search online had changed, while search engines algorithms had also improved.

Google’s has been consistently focusing on better organising and showcasing content they think is helpful to their searchers. Algorithm updates like the Hummingbird update in 2013 focused on better understanding the intent of searchers. The Rankbrain update, which is Google’s artificial intelligence system, interprets search queries to find pages which may not have the exact words they searched for but are still relevant.

Hubspot’s content and campaign manager Elissa Hudson improvements in technology meant the obsession over keywords had to change.

“You can write conversationally with questions in the search bar or use voice search and get back what you wanted to know most of the time,” Elissa says.

“Google reports around 15 per cent of searches are new, never even entered into the search engine.”

Personal search results, based not only your location but search history, the sites you visit frequently and device you are using means people in the same room typing in the same search query could end up with different results.

“You may be under the impression you’re ranking well for a keyword and it may sound good to say you’re ranking number one for a certain keyword but it’s probably not true,” Elissa says.

“That’s why it’s better to focus on monopolising topics in industries rather than keywords.”

How Pillar Pages and Topic Clusters work

While you can’t completely abandon keyword research, being across all keywords is getting harder. Under the pillar page and topic cluster structure, instead of creating blog posts designed to rank for specific, long-tail keywords, posts cover specific topic areas related to an overall topic and are known as topic cluster posts. These topic cluster posts are anchored together by the pillar page, providing a longer, broad overview of the main topic. The pillar page includes hyperlinks to these more specific posts and so they’re all joined together designed to monopolise a topic.

Screen Shot 2017-12-15 at 4.10.40 pm.png(photo courtesy of Hubspot)

This post is a cluster topic on pillar pages and topic clusters related to the pillar page Search Engine Optimisation (SEO): Your guide to the best strategy for 2018 & beyond.

There are a series of around 10 posts, often many more, taking a deep dive into topics briefly covered in the pillar page. Each of these posts links back to the pillar page, which in turn links out to the posts. It’s just like my old TV reporting days where the news anchor would say:”We cross now to Nadine McGrath with the latest from the weather bureau to find out if there’s any reprieve in sight from these harsh bushfire conditions.”

Elissa’s pillar pages and topic cluster tips  (in her words)

How do you choose a pillar page topic?

Determine who your audience is by conducting thorough buyer persona research, then figure out what they’re searching for, which will determine how broad to make your pillar page.

The topic of a pillar page should be broad enough to enable you to write an in-depth overview of that topic and come up with several more specific keywords related to the broader topic (those will be your topic cluster blog posts).

How long should a pillar page be?

There are no rules about word count, but you should try to make it as comprehensive as possible. Your pillar page should be an in-depth overview of your broad topic. If you’ve already been producing content, you might already have an in-depth blog post that you can adapt to a pillar page.

What should be on your pillar page?

There are a few elements you should include:

· A definition of the topic/term you’re covering somewhere in the first section.

· A bulleted or numbered table of contents.

· A more specific topic-related keyword in each of your subheadings.

· Content that provides an overview (but not an exhaustive one) of the subtopics discussed on the pillar page (those will make up new blog posts later)

How do you go about deciding cluster topics?

Conduct keyword research related to your pillar page topic to identify keywords and terms that dive deeper into that topic and look at more specific aspects of it. For example, if Instagram marketing is the topic for your pillar page, then Instagram captions is a more narrow keyword that you might write a blog post about within the topic cluster.

How long should a topic cluster blog be?

Again, there are no rules here. Your blog post should aim to provide all the information the title suggests it would. Aiming for at least 400 words is a good place to start as you’d probably struggle to write anything that’s informative enough to serve the needs of your reader with a smaller word count.

How do you link cluster topic blogs to pillar pages?

Your pillar page should link to cluster blog posts. For example, the Instagram marketing pillar page links out to the Instagram captions blog post. Then make sure your cluster blog posts link back to the pillar page. Use the anchor text of the broad topic to help the pillar page rank higher in a search.

Conclusion

The pillar page and topic cluster model just makes good sense. The model provides a structure for your blog and ensures posts are part of a plan to provide valuable content on an overall topic for your target audience. It will make your blog easy to navigate and improve readability. I’ve found this model makes writing blogs easier because you have a game plan. You can brainstorm, then research good topics for pillar pages and topic clusters and then start writing. The fun part is linking them all together and when you’ve finished all the posts, you can even turn them into an ebook. You could offer this ebook in a call-to-action (CTA) at the end of the posts to capture leads. What will your first pillar page and topic cluster project be about?

34539155 – man reading the definition of feedback

Online business reviews serve to highlight, whether positively or negatively, various aspects of your business, including products, services and interactions.

Reviews can take the form of star ratings or comments and can appear on directory listings, review sites, social media or your business blog.

Review signals account for around 13 per cent of the total ranking factors of Google, which means managing your online reputation and reviews is an important component of SEO.

Hubdo co-founder Helen Nicholls, who leads a team to assist Hubspot consultants and partner agencies deliver SEO for their clients, says online business reviews can boost your SEO in numerous ways, including:

  • Creating fresh user-generated content.
  • Generating social conversation around your business or brand.
  • Boosting your keyword strategy – these are the words of your customers.
  • Google Star ratings.
  • Reviews keep content fresh.
  • The search-engines like content on sites which is updated and fresh, which is where business reviews are useful.

“Reviews provide relevant and local content while also keeping the conversation about your business flowing and active, which is important for SEO,” Helen says.

“User generated-content is also looked upon highly by Google.”

“Online business reviews generate social conversation about your brand and help keep this conversation active. When one person puts up a review about your brand, it can prompt others to write one. Reviews will keep discussions online flowing about your brand or business,” Helen says.

“By incorporating reviews into your social media strategy your further generating and prompting discussion about your brand.”

Business reviews boost keyword strategy

The language reviewers use, that is the actual voice of your clients, will be similar if not the same as your target audience.

“If you’re clever you can look carefully at your reviews, adapt and target your keyword strategy,” says Helen.

“A consistent flow of reviews will even help you target more traffic through various long-tail keywords created incidentally by your customers.”

Google star ratings

Have you ever noticed some sites have star ratings next to their listings, while most don’t? If a site shows up as 4 or 5-star, it’s likely to get more visitors than sites with no stars at all. Many SEO experts believe having good star ratings, and reviews can help you move up the search results, even if just through the higher click-through rates over time.

With Google’s recent update on star ratings, reviews with star ratings need to be visible on your website (via a plugin or similar) to allow a blog etc. to appear with a star rating. Google no longer takes these from review sites such as Yelp, Trustpilot or Google My Business. To ensure Google search bots see and recognise these reviews a piece of short coding called ‘Schema Markup’ must be added to your website. This code, when added to your website, helps the search engines to quickly identify important information for the search result pages (SERPs). Here’s an example of how a ‘star rating’ will appear:

SERPs showcase of blog or product with reviews.png

Schema.org Markup language is also known as ‘structured data’ or ‘microdata’ so ensure you ask your developer or SEO specialist.

6 step review strategy

As we’ve seen reviews are important. Your organisation should have a review strategy to encourage and handle reviews including:

1. Encourage more reviews

Whether through your site, email campaigns or social media make it clear reviews are welcome.

2. Aim for better reviews

Consistently communicate with your clients or customers, looking for ways to improve and attract quality reviews.

3. Pick your moment to ask for reviews

You’ve heard the saying “time and place”. Make sure you target the right audience at the right time of their journey with your organisation for a review.

4. Reply to reviews and embrace negative ones

No one likes criticism but as the old saying goes ‘you can’t please all of the people all of the time’. Negative reviews at some stage are inevitable. Answer them politely and promptly.

5. Sign up with quality third-party review sites.

Google relies on third-party review sites to determine a site’s star rating so ensure you’re familiar with how they work and monitor them regularly.

6. Remember social media ratings

Your review strategy should not ignore reviews on social media, where many users will go to learn more about a brand.

Health professionals & reviews

While online business reviews can be great for SEO, unfortunately, care needs to be taken for health professions in Australia who must follow strict advertising guidelines. Under various regulations, including the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law, known as the National Law, health professions as listed by the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) can’t have testimonials on sites they control.

APHRA Guidelines define testimonials or reviews as statements, stories and anecdotes about clinical care from past patients or clients about a health service or its quality. The guidelines list several reasons why testimonials aren’t allowed in medical marketing, mainly around being considered misleading, including:

  • They’re personal opinions from former clients and have no scientific or objective basis as a recommendation of a health practitioner’s services.
  • Outcomes experienced by one patient do not necessarily reflect the likely outcomes.
  • They’re not usually a balanced source of information, as they typically include a narrow selection of positive comments from patients, and therefore don’t tell the whole story about a practitioner’s services (i.e. they can be misleading).
  • Patients may place too much weight on testimonials because they do not have the expert knowledge to accurately assess their validity.

Marketing collateral, including websites or social media used to promote a business, such as a business Facebook page, is considered advertising and must therefore not include testimonials. However, a patient social media page, such as a bulletin board or Facebook group, where patients discuss their personal experiences, or other sites such as Rate MDs is not considered advertising.

A breach of advertising requirements for healthcare professionals is not to be taken lightly with consequences including hefty fines and even deregistration. Ensure you are familiar with all the rules around advertising for health professionals. For further clarification, contact us, your national professional body, APHRA or even professional indemnity provider.

Conclusion

Online business reviews are an important part of your local SEO strategy but also your overall marketing and public relations strategies. They provide your potential clients with a real account of what it is like to deal with your brand. Increasingly, in what has been termed ‘The Economy of Trust’ reviews are becoming as important as personal recommendations. All your reviews don’t have to be glowing, in fact, that can look more contrived. However, ensure you have a review strategy in place.

Keywords - Closeup Landing Page in Doodle Design Style on Laptop Screen. On Background of Comfortable Working Place in Modern Office. Toned, Blurred Image. 3D Render..jpeg

When it comes to inbound marketing one consistency among inbound marketers and SEO consultants appears to be clear – quality content will win out. However, to make an impact that content has got to be found by your target audience, which is where SEO keyword research is critical.

I’ve often mentioned how I like to imagine crawlers or bots, which are programs search engines use to scan websites to determine their importance, as librarians cataloging information.

Keywords are an important component of algorithms the crawlers (or my imaginary librarians) use to catalogue information on search engines. Keywords work to ensure when you type in a search query you’ll receive only relevant answers.

Your aim is drive traffic from the Search Engine Results Pages (SERP’s) to your website. Simply put, a lack of adequate SEO keyword research or targeting the wrong keyword can mean the crawlers and your target audience won’t easily find your website and content – it will end up lost at sea.

What exactly are keywords?

Hubdo co-founder Helen Nicholls, who has vast experience with SEO, describes Keywords as the “bloodline to your online success”.

“They define the standing of a website on Google and can make or break a business’s online strategy,” Helen says.

“Keywords are the words your ideal customers use when searching online for you and your business services.”

“As a business owner, it’s vital you understand which keywords customers use regularly and how to use these keywords effectively on your website and online tools.”

What’s the difference between short and long-tail keywords?

Keywords Research and Analysis through Loupe on Old Paper with Blue Vertical Line Background..jpegHelen explains short tail keywords as being typically non-conversational and sometimes difficult to use within your page content.

“They’re 1 to 3 words in length and may contain a local area such as ‘PR Brisbane’, as a simple example,” she says.

“In some industries, it’s difficult to gain traction with ‘short keyword’ optimisation. Short keyword terms can be highly ‘generic’ and therefore compete with articles of interest, and general knowledge sites such as Wikipedia.”

“Short tail keywords often attract a large amount of traffic, but this traffic doesn’t always convert to solid leads,” she says.

By having a clear understanding of your target market, goals and unique selling points there is a way to start ranking well and even close the SEO dominance of larger companies in your industry.

“Long tail keywords can have five or more words in a string and are conversational. Generally, long tail keywords get less search traffic than short keywords but usually have a higher conversion rate, as they are much more specific and relevant,” Helen says.

“Building on our earlier example instead of using ‘PR Brisbane’ as a short tail keyword you could try ‘Can PR services help to grow my business in Brisbane?’ as a long-tail keyword.

Helen’s Tips for keywords research

Undertaking keyword research takes time, but if done thoroughly the results can be well worth the effort.

  • Start by reviewing your services and products on your website.
  • Use Google Search autofill terms as potential keyword:

“Do this by going to Google and type in a keyword to search for your type of business. Google will display numerous ‘auto fill’ keywords. These are the most popular keywords used in the search requests on Google.” Helen says.

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  • Review your Google Analytics and Search Console accounts if you have them > Go to Search Traffic > Search Analytics – check Clicks, Impressions and Positions.
  • Review the websites of your competitors. Note the main page’s, header titles etcetera for keywords.
  • Use the Google Keyword Tool in Adwords if you have an account or keywords tool in Hubspot if you are a user of the platform.
  • Substitute in synonyms – Thesaurus.com – test different words.
  • Get keywords from the Wikipedia article on the topic/s.
  • Search in Quora – needs an account – similar to asking an audience www.quora.com.
  • Use UberSuggest to generate variations –www.ubersuggest.io.
  • Use ‘Keyword Shitter’ to create long tail keywords – YES! It’s spelt correctly keywordshitter.com
  • Add all the keywords to a list and then work through the most searched terms (data from Adwords keyword tool).
  • Remove duplicate and irrelevant keywords from your list.

How to use your chosen keywords

It’s tempting to try to fit as many keywords as possible onto one page. Unfortunately, this tactic, known as keyword stuffing, will only work against you and may be considered by Google as ‘black hat’ or bad SEO.

Using your keyword spreadsheet list, apply one specific keyword to each of the pages of your website. For example, if you have a page about ‘services’ and you’re a public relations company, use the keyword ‘Public Relations Services’ for this page.

Add the chosen keyword in the meta (SEO) title, meta description, H1 header and in the body of the page. Remember, you’re writing for a human, so it needs to make sense – you’re not writing to appease the Google bots. If possible, add the same keyword to the image title and ALT tag.

Some final points on keyword research

SEO Keyword research is not always that simple. Google processes trillions of search queries on an annual basis with many of these new and never before seen by the search engine.

With the move to ‘AI’ and Google’s desire to make searching online more ‘conversational’, there’s a move to more ‘topic-based’ content searches.  A new generation of consumers research online for more ‘focused content’ so Google has changed their algorithms to favour this ‘topic’ approach. For more information read research.hubspot.com/reports/topic-clusters-seo.

“Topic Clusters are a new approach to writing and a great way to increase author authority within your field of expertise. ‘Clusters’, are a number of smaller blogs written to complement a larger ‘pillar page’ topic, is also an opportunity to rank well for specific keywords which are competitive but achievable,” Helen says.

“Find highly relevant keywords for what you offer, popular enough that they’ll result in good traffic numbers to your site, but not so competitive that ranking well for them will be nearly impossible.

“There is nothing more satisfying than achieving a ranking result for a blog post”, Helen says. “Be sure to set your ‘SMART’ goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Timely) for each cluster. You’ll see the results in your data and your rankings will work for you over time.”

We can’t all be experts in every aspect of our business. If you’re struggling with your keyword research, reach out to us to be put in contact with experienced SEO consultants.

Red Ring Binder with Inscription Press Releases on Background of Working Table with Office Supplies, Laptop, Reports. Toned Illustration. Business Concept on Blurred Background..jpeg

Digital PR has become an integral part of a communication strategy to grow the profiles of businesses, their leaders, domain authority and boost SEO. When I first started in journalism, public relations consultants would fax or email us through press releases and they’d call us to see if we received the release and were interested in doing a story.

When I moved over to public relations, we were still emailing press releases and it’s still a common practice to do so today. However, PR leaders like Hubspot’s Illiyana Stareva, who invented the new concept Inbound PR, encourage a different and more effective approach.

Illiyana says focusing your PR strategy on digital has now become vital as content is the name of the buying game today.

“We make our decisions based on our research online by reading blogs, magazines, social media recommendations and any other online materials,” Illiyana says.

“If you haven’t focused your PR efforts on your digital appearance and building up your domain authority through more inbound links, you are not setting your business up for success in our content-driven world of digitally savvy consumers.”

The days of writing a press release and sending it on mass to journalists hoping for mainstream coverage are becoming less effective. Building your own digital PR strategy through media channels to focus more on the people you want to reach is delivering impressive results.

It’s not to say don’t write a press release or alert journalists or publications in your industry about a good story you may have for them. However, make the most of your online presence through great content to entice journalists, your target audience, influencers and other bloggers to your site. It’s all part of the inbound method where you entice people to take notice of your content rather than pushing it out upon them.

How Inbound PR can improve SEO

Inbound PR combines the techniques of traditional PR approaches – building relationships, identifying stories, creating news – with the approaches of inbound marketing. A benefit of inbound PR strategies is its boost to SEO. Gone are the days of dodgy black hat backlink tactics to show the popularity of your site by getting backlinks to irrelevant sites. Google technology and algorithms are much cleverer now and will penalise such underhanded tactics.

However, features of your brand and links to your website still play a vital role in improving your search visibility, that is the number of people able to find your business, products and services via the search engines. You need to build quality backlinks and raise your profile as an authoritative source, which is where digital PR shines. Inbound PR can help boost your SEO and profile through:

  • Promoting quality content.
  • Driving traffic to your website and owned media.
  • Building relationships with your brand and highly authoritative industry influencers, press publications and bloggers.
  • Create quality content and raise your profile through citations, mentions and links.

Make the most of co-citations

The co-citation algorithm is where Google is starting to look at what people are talking about on a page. For example, if public relations and Nadine McGrath appear in the same article, even if there’s not a single link if enough different sources cite the two together then that will carry authority. Google will start to see Nadine McGrath keeps coming up repeatedly with the words public relations so must be associated with public relations.

Google is constantly trying to discover what matters when someone is searching. Do elements like social signals, shares, mentions matter? It’s no longer just about linking strategies anymore. You need a social presence and want other people talking about you so Google can see you are credible. Anything Google can find and analyse using its crawlers then it will, including Twitter and public Facebook. It’s worth noting that Google+ is rated highest in search rankings. Make sure anything you publish is also on Google+.

How to build a valuable earned media strategy

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When people look to earned media they often have grand plans of contributing or being interviewed for top news sites or publications in their field. However, my advice is  start small and work your way up. Earned media means “earned” for a reason. Look first at getting in your local paper, radio or television news. Your local community is often where your target audience is, so it makes sense to try for coverage in this area. Once you establish your media profile locally, then look for bigger opportunities or industry media.  A good place to start is sites like SourceBottleResponse Source or Help a Reporter Out. Offer your knowledge and opinion by registering on sites like Quora or Savvy SME.

Have a good working website that reads well for people and is easy to navigate. If you’re content is boring or reads like you’re trying to cram it with keywords then chances are it won’t be interesting. All effective media strategy equals quality content plus network. If you have quality content, it may or may not get found. If you have quality content to share with a strong network, then that’s a solid formula for success. Start building your network.

Remember chasing a number one ranking for certain keywords doesn’t matter anymore because of personalisation. Nadine McGrath will come up when I search public relations not necessarily because I’m number one but because I have shared it so many times. Google is guessing Nadine McGrath is what I want to show up when I type in public relations. People connected to me who have seen my shares will see it higher up than other people who may not know Nadine McGrath.

Digital marketing manager for award-winning UK agency Impression Laura Hampton advises people to take a layered approach to their digital PR strategy with reactive and proactive techniques used side by side. Laura has written extensively on digital PR and spoken at numerous conferences including Brighton SEO, the UK’s largest search marketing conference.

What is the reactive and proactive PR technique?

A reactive PR technique means responding to what is happening within your business or topical issues in your industry that you can make a comment and might get coverage.

“On the reactive side, consider the use of Twitter hashtags like #journorequest and #PRrequest to find journalists looking for help with their stories,” Laura says.

Proactive PR is where creativity comes into play and businesses can start creating ‘news from nothing’.

“This means developing a strong understanding of your target publications and audience, to create content which suits their desires and therefore gains widespread high-quality coverage,” Laura says.

“For example, we wanted to achieve coverage across high authority publications in our industry and I found they often covered interview style content,” she says.

“I, therefore, put together an interview, which was filmed, and from which I was able to draw stories and subsequently gain coverage.”

Conclusion: Know your audience and PR goals

When developing a digital PR strategy do your research and consider your goals. Public relations is not a quick fix solution to gain more sales or clients but is about building up your credibility and influence. Public relations should be considered an essential component of any communications or marketing strategy for your brand. As Virgin founder Richard Branson says: “A good PR story is infinitely more effective than a front page ad.”

 

 

Local SEO Strategy.jpgA local SEO strategy is vital because your potential clients frequently search for businesses in their area. In a Search Engine Results Page (or SERP for short) businesses showing they are local and relevant to the searcher’s query will rank more highly.

The rise of mobile devices has substantially increased the number of local searches in the past couple of years. According to Google more than 76 per cent of people who perform a local search on their mobile phone will visit a storefront within 24 hours of that search.

Helen Nicholls, who leads a team to assist Hubspot consultants and partner agencies deliver SEO for their clients, says its vital for a brand, retail outlet or service business to focus heavily on their local SEO strategy.

“Search results are now personalised based on a user’s browser history record. Location data, such as GPS in mobile or IP addresses also allow Google to understand more about your location,” Helen says.

“These factors enable Google to provide users with exceptional local information it’s now serving up what is called the three ‘local pack’ results above organic search results,” she says.

“For business owners, this means that for each ‘locally focussed’ search query for a service or product you provide; you’ll want to show up.

“If you don’t have a good local presence online then you could certainly be missing out on business.”

The “Local Pack” results highlight your Google My Business page and Map location above the organic search results. If you want to get local traffic to your site, it is essential to optimise for these results. How you can get into these results is through local optimisation, which is another subject entirely, however, once you’re in these results, how can you make the most of your prominent position?

How to show up on local search results.

Helen says there are numerous local SEO strategies to ensure you show up in the search results pages in your local area and drive more targeted visitors to your website.

However, to make it easier Helen has broken local SEO down into four components including:

1. Google My Business

2. Local online business directories.

3. Reviews

4. Optimising your website for location.

1. What is Google My Business?

google_places.jpegGoogle My Business is a free service from Google aimed at helping businesses manage their online presence, including search queries and maps.

“Google My Business is easy to set up and a great tool for boosting your local SEO – It’s a ‘must have’ for all bricks and mortar businesses,” Helen says.

Helen says when setting up your Google My Business account there are a few important points to remember:

1. Search on Google Maps for your own business first, to make sure Google hasn’t created a listing for your business already. If one exists, you can claim this listing as the business owner and optimise it with your details. If not, go ahead and create your listing.

2. It’s important to use the correct Name, Address and Phone (NAP) on your GMB page and all your Citation listings – the NAP should be uniform throughout.

3. Complete as much of the setup as possible such as images, logo, description etc. before requesting the Verification postcard. Google will post this to you in the mail. Yes, good old fashioned ‘snail mail’.

4. Be clear about your services, products and mostly your location and service area. Businesses which show their address (rather than a service area) have more opportunity in ranking in the SERP’s.

5. Keep your GMB page up-to-date and ensure that all the information is accurate and the Map PIN is in the correct position – otherwise, your customers won’t find you.

“Having a strong positioning statement about what your business will help. Optimise the description with your primary keyword, i.e. the one keyword which is most relevant to your business. A vague summary will make it difficult for customers and the search engines to determine that important relevancy,” she says.

“The distance and proximity of the user searching on the web is a well-known factor for ranking local businesses. Google will always try to show users the closest geo location options first, while the local prominence or importance of a business is also a factor.

“Prominence is all about the online activity connected to your website and listings, such as the number of other quality sites linking to your website, your online reviews, social interaction, events, local content.

“It’s important to remember your Google My Business profile works alongside your site and is not a setup and forget option. Get active – manage your reviews; update photos correct your addresses or phone numbers as they change and have relevant local content on your website.”

2. Directory Listings to boost your local profile
One of the major lifts to your local SEO can come from local business directories otherwise known in the SEO world as ‘Citations’. Depending on your location, there could be numerous places to list your business services. However, Helen warns not all business directories are rated the same.

“Some directories require reciprocal backlinks or push you for payment to enable a full advertising page and ‘front row’ positioning on their sites,” she says.

“Check out all your options with local directories; in most cases, a free listing is all that a small business needs.”

The business directories you should consider listing your business in will vary depending on your business services, your location etc. Here’s Helen’s list of the ‘must haves’ within Australia:

Google My Business

Facebook

LinkedIn

Foursquare

Yellow Pages

White Pages

Truelocal

Your local chamber of commerce

Brownbook

Aussie Web

Hot Frog

Directories for your professional body

Yelp

Local Business Guide

What to put in a business directory

 

While each business listing may have slightly different requirements, they are very similar in the information they need about your business. Helen recommends gathering the following information into one document to copy and paste into the listing site easily:

  • Your correct Business Name, Address & Phone.
  • Your submission email address – you may want to use a secondary email to setup the listing so your main business address doesn’t get bombarded with spam.
  • Your business contact email address.
  • Your social media links.
  • Your logo and a few images – inside and out, the team etc.
  • Your business ABN.
  • Your Primary Keyword and a short list of other keywords.
  • Your office hours and Categories of business.
  • A short and a long business description – this will slightly vary for each submission. However, most sites ask for a short overview of no more than 200 words and a longer description of 500 words+.

“Keep the formatting the same across all listings and complete your submissions as much as possible,” Helen says.

“It’s likely you will get a few phone calls from directories wanting to upsell their premium listings. Many sites will send you a verification email to confirm the details too.”

3. The power of online Reviews

Recent statistics show 97 per cent of people read online reviews and 85 per cent trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.

Furthermore, 73 per cent of people say positive reviews make them trust a local business more but 86 per cent of consumers will decide against buying from you if they read negative reviews about you online.

“Online Reviews are a real necessity in today’s consumer world. The percentage of users who research and read your reviews before choosing to do business with you is large,” says Helen.

Many business owners, professional service providers are particularly nervous about online reviews. According to the Power of online reviews study, a one-star rise on review site Yelp leads a to a 5-9 per cent increase in business revenue while one negative review can cost you 30 customers.

No-one likes a negative review and inevitably most businesses or professionals will at some stage receive a negative review. It’s important to know and have a strategy for how to handle a negative review.  A strategy can help counteract their damage and in some cases, a negative review handled correctly can even be a positive.

“Typically, users want to see a mix of excellent and average reviews when researching a business or service. A site with all five-star reviews looks a little ‘contrived’,” she says.

“Ideally, the business owner should respond to every review – the excellent, the average and the bad ones. But as a business owner try not to expose your business to negative ‘bad’ Reviews –  the recovery path is a very long one.”

According to Helen, online reviews can help your local SEO efforts by creating fresh user-generated content, social conversation and even your targeted keywords.

4. Optimising your website for local SEO

Helen’s final essential tactic for an effective local SEO strategy is optimising your website to effectively communicate your specific location for the search engine crawlers and visitors. Her tips to do this include:

1. Display your business name and phone number prominently on your website. Add your business address to your Footer section for every page.

2. Include your business location in the Title Tag of your Home page.

3. Provide quality local information about your service location on your website to provide real value to your prospective customer e.g. driving, parking or public transport directions, local facilities etc.

4. If your business has multiple locations then work to provide a separate page for each which is locally optimised.

“Remember, some businesses want customers to visit their stores, so make it easy for them to find you. Mobile users can locate the map listing of your Google My Business page and ‘click to call’ or ‘click for directions’ – it’s that simple.” Helen says.

Developing a local SEO strategy can take work but is well worth the effort to be seen by your target audience in locations you service.

If you want to learn more about local SEO, then check out the BrightLocal blog. It’s a great research-based resource focused on what influences local SEO.