Paul Bruemmer, Author at Search Engine Land News On Search Engines, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) & Search Engine Marketing (SEM) Thu, 03 Mar 2022 20:36:48 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.9.2 Can Bing Be More Competitive In Search? /can-bing-competitive-search-180579 /can-bing-competitive-search-180579#comments Wed, 19 Feb 2014 14:20:39 +0000 /?p=180579 Recently, Nathan Safran wrote a piece titled, “The Bing Dilemma: What To Do With The Little Search Engine That Can’t.” In it, he posits that everything Bing has done in the past to grab market share is not working, partly because people are so used to using Google that any hope of capturing market share […]

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Recently, Nathan Safran wrote a piece titled, “The Bing Dilemma: What To Do With The Little Search Engine That Can’t.”

In it, he posits that everything Bing has done in the past to grab market share is not working, partly because people are so used to using Google that any hope of capturing market share from the #1 player is an impossible dream. He suggests that, since the online division has been “bleeding rivers of cash with little to show for it” for many years, it might be time for Bing to give up altogether.

I would grant Bing a little more gravitas and a little more time. With new management at the top and guidance by its founder, maybe Microsoft’s Bing will become the little engine that could.

Remember, folks, Google may not always be the only show in town. While Google is powerful, successful and trusted worldwide, it’s had legal problems in Europe and could have more in the future with Glass. Who’s to say the US government won’t again go after Google for antitrust the way it went after Microsoft years ago? When it comes to business, Google is not exactly “sticking to the knitting,” with its driverless car project, floating data center, private airport terminal and other interests that have nothing to do with search.

So, while most articles on SEO focus on optimizing for Google, Bing ended last year with an all-time high market share of search activity in the US. Not only that, Bing’s new CEO, Satya Nadella, has years of software engineering and business experience at Microsoft and will have Bill Gates by his side. His experience as senior vice-president of R&D for the Online Services Division and vice-president of the Microsoft Business Division makes Nadella uniquely qualified to take Bing to the next level.

bing-satori-knowledge-featured

With the new focus on cloud computing, big data, mobile marketing, semantic search and social media, the world of search and Internet marketing is changing rapidly. Nadella is well equipped to deal with these changes, as he was also Microsoft’s cloud and enterprise group executive vice-president in charge of building and running Microsoft’s computing platforms, developer tools and cloud services.

All that experience in search and related technologies, along with Bing’s social partnerships (Facebook, Twitter and Klout) and a renewed focus on mobile, could result in making Bing more competitive in search.

Bing was launched in 2009, having evolved from MSN Search and then Windows Live (Live). Later that year, Microsoft and Yahoo made a deal enabling Bing to power Yahoo Search. Since then, Bing’s search market share has increased at the expense of Yahoo.

Why focus on Bing when search optimization is more or less generic? It hasn’t always been that way. Some of you may recall the early days of search when SEO technicians complained about the difficulties of SEO because of all the different algorithms. Today, that’s mostly history — not because we complained, but because all the search engines are essentially trying to solve the same problem: identifying and satisfying user intent.

While differences in algorithms of course exist between search engines, we don’t know exactly what they are because search engines won’t divulge the nitty-gritty — it’s their secret sauce, after all. But the bottom line is that quality content, a good user experience (UX) and a mix of signals from links, social media and traffic, etc., all contribute to rankings, regardless of the search engine.

Still, the #2 US search engine has come a long way. It’s gotten serious about satisfying user intent by focusing on semantic search with its own Knowledge Graph (Snapshot). Bing also has a social sidebar which brings social information to the SERPs. Anyone familiar with Bing Blogs can tell you that Bing is serious about personalization with its focus on Adaptive Search.

All these changes and the gradual increase in search market share make it worthwhile to optimize for Bing. Even if that doesn’t involve any significant changes to your SEO strategy, it’s good to note that Bing has some useful tools to offer that can streamline your optimization efforts.

Optimizing For #2

In most aspects, optimizing for Bing will not require any additional work or adjustments to your existing SEO strategy. Bing Webmaster Guidelines provides a complete list of SEO best practices that will improve the technical and editorial aspects of your site for optimum visibility on Bing Search, and you can see that the recommendations are nearly identical to Google’s.

Bing Webmaster Tools does have a few features which help to ensure visibility within Bing specifically, and you should take the time to checks these out:

  • Use “Crawl Control” Feature: Within Bing Webmaster Tools, you can define your high crawl rate hours. This helps Bing allocate resources more efficiently.
  • Do a “Fetch As Bingbot”: This verifies that Bingbot is not blocked accidentally at the server level. It’s rare, but something as simple as this could prevent you from being indexed in Bing.
  • Use the “Ignore URL Parameters”: This is under “Configure My Site” in Bing Webmaster Tools and allows Bingbot to understand which of your URLs should be indexed and which URLs can be ignored, saving Bingbot resources. In addition, you can use the <rel canonical> tag to help Bing understand which page should be indexed and have value attributed to it.

Additionally, Bing has been improving its search tools, making it easier for site owners to optimize for the #2 Search Engine (or any search engine, for that matter).

Webmasters would do well to use Bing’s SEO Analyzer, a tool that scans a single page at a time, making it possible to check your pages to understand where more work may be required. Another great tool is SEO Reports, which are generated automatically every other week using the same set of SEO best practices as the SEO Analyzer tool. SEO Reports provide aggregated counts of all the issues found, across the entire website scanned.

My advice? Consider optimizing for Bing. The little engine that could may continue to gain search market share and popularity. What can you lose? Organic rankings on Bing can provide you with many additional opportunities for conversions and revenue.

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Three Steps for Crushing Multi-Location Local Search /three-steps-for-crushing-multi-location-local-search-178001 /three-steps-for-crushing-multi-location-local-search-178001#comments Mon, 02 Dec 2013 14:00:19 +0000 /?p=178001 Research firm BIA/Kelsey reports that 97% of consumers use online media to shop locally. If you’re a multi-location business, this means it’s more important than ever to be visible to Web users in all your business locations. This column tells you how to crush it. Based on my own daily searches, it’s clear to me that […]

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Research firm BIA/Kelsey reports that 97% of consumers use online media to shop locally. If you’re a multi-location business, this means it’s more important than ever to be visible to Web users in all your business locations. This column tells you how to crush it.

shoppers-online-worldwideBased on my own daily searches, it’s clear to me that many local businesses (especially brick-and-mortar multi-location businesses) are not optimized for local search marketing. If you’re a business with multiple store locations, with a dealership network, or with multiple state or national branch offices, there’s a good chance you don’t have 100% local coverage in the areas you service. If you’re operating below 100% coverage, you have what marketers call “a Local Market Opportunity.”

Many large enterprise businesses tend to conduct their online operations separately from their in-store counterparts and are thus missing out on the synergies for driving additional in-store foot traffic and online conversions from their digital store locator/finder.

This results in a lost opportunity cost — and because it’s hidden from management’s view, it’s often not acknowledged or dealt with. I’ve noticed in my research that the bigger the company (e.g., Home Depot, Lowes, Best Buy, Staples, Office Depot, RadioShack, Macy’s, Coach, Payless Shoes, PacSun, Michael’s, CPK, Papa John’s, etc.), the larger the hidden loss and local market opportunity.

Revenue Growth Opportunities

Stakeholders in charge of large multi-location businesses often remain blind to the revenue growth opportunities available. They continue to operate as if they’re doing fine and nothing has changed with the Internet and user behavior in the last 2-3 years. It’s a remarkable phenomenon.

Local business listings with reviews, map directions, photo images, etc., are currently being displayed on top of organic search listings, making it both desirable and important for each individual business location to be found through local searches on all the major search engines. For instance, if a national brand is missing 10% of its 4,000 store locations in cities with physical locations, 400 stores go unrepresented. There’s a cost there — and a market opportunity. Even for a smaller chain with just 50 stores, having 5 stores unrepresented is unnecessarily leaving money on the table.

It’s also worth noting that consumers have been choosing local search results over organic and paid search results. Sixty-one percent (61%) of online searchers considered local search results to be more relevant, 58 percent considered them more trustworthy and only 10 percent of online searchers considered paid search results relevant (5th Annual 15miles/LocalEze Local Search Usage Study [2012]).

Step 1: Identify Your Local Market Opportunity

First, you have to identify your local market opportunity. When your individual stores, dealerships or offices can’t be found on the first page of search results for their strategic keywords in the cities where they’re located, shoppers searching in those cities won’t find them on desktops, smartphones and tablets. Thus, it’s important to get a sense of your local market coverage.

Identifying your local market opportunity can be labor-intensive. The process is as follows and the result for a multi-location women’s clothing retailer is shown below:

  1. Create a list of all the cities where you do business
  2. Research and identify your top 5 high-volume topics or keywords
  3. Estimate your local monthly search volume for those topics or keywords
  4. Estimate your Market Share, (percentage of local purchases)
  5. Determine your Average Order Value (AOV)
  6. Multiply Market Share x AOV to get your total market opportunity
  7. Determine percentage of cities with no 1st page coverage (each keyword)
  8. Multiply total market opportunity x percentage with no coverage

Keyword Womens Clothing City Location

womens clothing

Once you’ve identified your local market opportunity, you will have a much better understanding of the lost opportunity you’re facing. Again, without 100% digital coverage in all cities and business locations, you’re leaving money on the table — probably a lot of it.

Step 2: Optimize Business Listings For Accuracy & Consistency

Even if you think your brand is optimized for local search in Google+ Local, Yahoo! Local, and the Bing Business Portal, it is likely you are not as fully optimized as you can be. Rendering your business data consistently across all devices gives you maximum optimization.

Desktop, smartphone and tablet data delivered to users and to search engines must be accurate for each location and display your relevant business information (NAP, business hours, promotions, etc.) consistently across all devices for each and every one of your locations.

Beef up your listings with as much data as you can provide — directions, payments accepted, localized description, categories, images, local coupons, photos, social network links and links to individual store pages can really make your listing stand out. I call it good data fidelity. This data — when accurate, current and consistent across locations — helps search engines deliver optimum results to user queries. And search engines live or die by delivering a good user experience through accurate results.

Additional business data you must control and optimize are your unmanaged URLs (unclaimed pages). Unclaimed pages occur when online directories like SuperPages and YellowPages index and publish business pages for your business without your knowledge (through scraping the Web or by purchasing business data that is outdated).

Once these pages are published, Google may create a business page from this data — and until you claim it, it’s floating on the Web with your name on it with data that may not be accurate or current. This likely means the correct category for your business has not been selected, your keywords have not been targeted, and other information may be inaccurate as it was obtained from outdated, unreliable sources. You must claim your listings on all online directories and maintain them for all your business locations as changes occur.

Step 3: Optimize, Publish & Distribute

Almost all the data feeds provided by clients and vendors to Information Services, IYPs and Local Maps are not enhanced for the local search engines. You must be able to optimize and update data feeds daily or weekly with accurate, current location data changes, new store info, business hours, holiday hours, etc.

The process of local map optimization involves direct management and optimization of the three major search engine map programs. Google+ pages and Bing Business Portal Maps use bulk feeds, whereas Yahoo! Local pages uses a manual feed.

Optimization of these feeds is an essential component to the bigger picture of local search optimization. It’s important to understand that providing a vendor with the basic location data requested by the engines is not enough. There are several very important fields within the data feed that must be optimized and kept updated: categories, descriptions, images, coupons, phone number, links to store page, links to mobile page, etc.

Your entire local search optimization effort is at risk when your brand is not fully optimized for all locations in IYP listings. Optimization includes location data changes, new store openings, store closings or moves to new locations, business hours changes, holiday hours, etc. This is all essential data to be kept current and fed to IYPs as search engines cross-verify their data with IYP data — when the data matches, it becomes trusted verified data, resulting in better rankings.

Your brand must optimize for Local Search Information Service Listings, or your data may not be consistent for all locations. Hint: fee-based annual subscriptions with one or more of the top three information services — LocalEze, InfoGroup and Acxiom — will provide your basic business data to IYPs, search engines and GPS. However, you must enhance and optimize your local business data first. Get busy if you want 100% coverage for all stores in all cities.

Conclusion

Remember, 97% percent of consumers use online media to shop locally. Consumers are using search engines, smartphones and tablets to find information about your local businesses brand on demand. A fully optimized store locator/finder for desktops and mobile devices has proven to drive incremental increases in online traffic and in-store foot traffic.

Discovery and automation is the key to making the changes necessary for successful and complete Local Search optimization. The three steps above provide a roadmap for multi-location businesses to achieve maximum profitability: determine your percentage of coverage, make sure your data is accurate and consistent across all devices, and update your business data with search engines and IYPs periodically. The key is to centrally manage everything from one dashboard.

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Future SEO: Linked Open Data (LOD) /future-seo-linked-open-data-lod-175839 /future-seo-linked-open-data-lod-175839#comments Mon, 11 Nov 2013 16:00:27 +0000 /?p=175839 As mentioned in my column on string entity optimization, the use of structured data allows search engines like Google to understand your page content so it can display better search results, or answers, to user queries. This month, I’ll focus on Linked Open Data (LOD), which will allow you to publish structured data so it can be interlinked to establish relationships. […]

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As mentioned in my column on string entity optimization, the use of structured data allows search engines like Google to understand your page content so it can display better search results, or answers, to user queries.

This month, I’ll focus on Linked Open Data (LOD), which will allow you to publish structured data so it can be interlinked to establish relationships. This is important, as the relationship between words allows a clear understanding of site content by search bots.

In my column about understanding entity search, I explained how semantic search uses an ontology (or language) like microdata, RDFa, etc., to break down a sentence into its subject, predicate and object to show the relationship between the words in your content.

Linked Open Data builds on standard Web technology such as HTTP, RDF, URLs, etc., extending them so they can be can be read automatically by computers. That’s why it’s important for SEOs to understand and use LOD when applying structured data to content — to make it easier for machines to read that content.

Sentences More Important Than Keywords

LOD is used to leverage “sentences” in the digital realm as we do in everyday life. Optimizing for semantic search using LOD is about using a digital rendition of natural language sentence structure as the basis for describing things (content). SEOs need to look toward the use of sentences rather than keywords in order to enhance content published on the Web or on Intranets.

It appears “future SEO” will require a more technical background. Most SEOs, myself included, will have to collaborate with the semantic Web community to iron out the details. This isn’t some new optimization tactic for SEOs to cut-and-paste into their client pages; but it’s the very fabric of the Web and will require your time, energy, study and perseverance to work through it.

To explain what Linked Data consists of in simple terms, Tim Berners-Lee has defined the following LOD principles.

LOD Principles

In his Design Issues: Linked Data, Berners-Lee provides four principles of linked data (paraphrased below):

  1. Use URIs (Uniform Resource Identifiers) to indicate things
  2. Use HTTP URIs so things can be referred to and found by people or software on behalf of people
  3. When looking up a URI (thing), provide useful information leveraging standards such as RDF (Resource Description Framework) or SPARQL (an RDF query language)
  4. Include links to other related things (URIs) when publishing data on the Web so they can discover other things

To help explain more about what LOD is and how you can use it, I’d like to share a recent interview with Kingsley Idehen, founder & CEO of OpenLink Software. Kingsley is an industry-acclaimed technology innovator and provider of technology that exploits LOD across the enterprise and World Wide Web.

What Is Linked Open Data (LOD)?

Paul: Kingsley, can you give us an idea of what LOD is?

Kingsley: Linked Open Data is structured data representation enhanced through the use of HTTP URIs (links). Basically, it’s about entity relationship — model-based structured data representation where entities, attributes, and attribute values are denoted (“referred to”) by links.

linked data url

Hash based HTTP URI denotation illustrated

HTTP URIs are implicitly open in that translating what they denote is a function of the HTTP protocol as opposed to proprietary protocols scoped to a specific application or platform.

Can you give us an example?

The following statement:

Paris is the capital of France.

Expresses a relationship represented using natural language notation whereby all participants are denoted literally using words:

“Paris” “capital” “France”

And each plays a specific role, i.e., “Paris” is the Subject, “capital,” the Predicate and “France,” the Object.

Courtesy of Linked Data, the statement above could be enhanced by the use of reference (as opposed to literal) identifiers to denote the entities in the roles of: subject, predicate and object.

<#Paris> <#capital> <#France>

If I copy the statements above to a document and then make the document available to users on an HTTP network, I would end up with a document that would automatically demonstrate Linked Data due to the fact that I would have a collection of links presented in my browser that enable me explore the entity relationship represented by the link-enhanced statement. Semantically, my single statement document implies:

 

<> <#type> <#Document> .

<> <#mentions> <#Paris> .

<> <#mentions> <#Capital> .

<> <#mentions> <#France> .

<#Paris> <#capital> <#France> .

 

Note: “<>” is simply shorthand that implies the HTTP URL of the document is to be used as the HTTP URI that denotes the subject in the statement above. Basically, you have a description of a document that includes descriptions of other things. No different to this interview, so to speak.

The use of the phrases HTTP URI and HTTP URL can be confusing, so it’s best to look at how they are applied to entity denotation as follows:

  • HTTP URIs denote (“refer to” or name) anything
  • HTTP URLs (a kind of HTTP URI) denotes Web Documents
  • WebIDs (a kind of HTTP URI) denotes Agents (People, Organizations, Software, Machines, and anything else capable of mechanized operation)

What Is The Linked Open Data (LOD) Cloud?

I’ve heard the LOD Cloud is a massive big-data collective comprised of datasets from a variety of domains such as: general knowledge (Wikipedia), Life Sciences (Bio2RDF), Media (BBC), Government (Data.Gov and Data.Gov.UK) and many others. Can you explain the LOD Cloud in a little more detail for us?

This massive collection of data is an enclave on the Web where all the structured data, in the published datasets, is represented and then published inline with Linked Data principles, i.e., HTTP URIs are used to denote things, because doing so makes the structured data webby (or web-like). In a nutshell, data becomes as navigable and discoverable as anything else on an HTTP network (e.g., the World Wide Web).

Using my earlier example, I can leverage the massive LOD cloud as a powerful source of identifiers that denote a broad range of things. For instance, I can cross-reference entity identifiers in my basic examples with identifiers from the LOD Cloud, as follows:

 

<> <#type> <#Document> .

<> <#mentions> <#Paris> .

<> <#mentions> <#Capital> .

<> <#mentions> <#France> .

<#Paris> <#capital> <#France> .

<#Paris> <#sameAs> <http://dbpedia.org/resource/Paris> .

<#France> <#sameAs> <http://dbpedia.org/resource/France> .

 

Example, placing the statements above in a document published to an HTTP network expands on the basic demonstration of what Linked Open Data accords. As you can see, my link traversal is no longer confined to my document; I’ve made a reference to data within DBpedia, which as a major junction-box in the LOD Cloud could send me (or agents) anywhere.

What’s The Difference Between Linked Data And Linked Open Data?

Are Linked Data and Linked Open Data the same thing?

Not really. The linkage comes from the structure of an entity model based statement (a kind of sentence). The openness comes from the use of a standard for entity denotation in the form of HTTP URIs. Do note, it is possible to make entity relationship model statement collections that provide a structured representation of data using many kinds of identifiers; the magic of HTTP URIs as denotation mechanisms lies in the underlying openess of URIs and the HTTP protocol.

You can have Linked Data that isn’t “Open,” through the use of proprietary identifiers for entity denotation. In short, this is how we’ve all worked with computer programs for years, prior to the emergence of URIs and the HTTP protocol. Even RDF (which mandates the use of URIs and is often conflated with Linked Data), can be used to produce Linked Data that isn’t actually “Linked Open Data.”

The diagram that follows goes a long way toward dispelling some of the confusion that swirls around Linked Data and RDF; by reminding everyone of the *fact* that Linked Data was at the very core of the Web’s original design. Recently, I tweaked Tim Berners-Lee’s original proposal document; by using HTTP URIs as opposed to Strings to denote the nodes (subjects or objects) and connectors (predicates) in the network diagram (or graph) that depicts his original World Wide Web proposal.

CERN

How Does LOD Benefit A Publisher (E-Commerce Provider)?

With Search Engines in mind and using e-commerce as an example, can you explain the benefits to us?

It increases the Serendipitous Discovery Quotient (SDQ) of content. By that I mean: it increases the degree to which content is discovered in a manner that’s “pleasantly surprising” to users with regards to relevance.

What is Serendipitous Discovery Quotient (SDQ)?

SDQ is a metric for understanding the effects of enhancing structured data representation via HTTP URIs. Golliher wrote a good article a while back  (in reaction to his first encounter with acronym) titled, Serendipitous Discovery Quotient (SDQ): The Future of SEO? Or an Abstract Concept?

IQ is a metric associated with human intelligence. SDQ is a metric associated with Web intelligence.

How can e-commerce benefit?

E-commerce vendors can actually focus on what actually comes naturally to them, i.e., producing fine-grained descriptions of their products and services, knowing that description clarity is ultimately always the critical factor for discoverability that leads to customer growth and retention.

This fundamentally implies that the description of entities such as offers, products,  pricing, availability, opening and closing hours etc., become the focal point of Web content strategy, much more so than site aesthetics and old-school keyword-based SEO hacks.

What About Schema.org Types?

Do Schema.org semantic markup, entities and LOD relate to each other in some way?

Very much so! In schema.org, you have a powerful bridge for publishing structured data that simplifies integration with the LOD cloud. From the LOD cloud side of things, you already have schema.org cross-references in datasets such as DBpedia and many others. It’s all happened in a very natural way, rather than through any kind of brute force.

Today, many online retailers are already publishing structured data based on terms from Schema.org, and in doing so they are enhancing discoverability across three critical frontiers:

  • Search Engines
  • Social Media
  • LOD Cloud

How Are Hashtags & Linked Data Related To SEO?

Barbara Starr talks about the relationship between Hashtags, Linked Data and SEO; can you elaborate a little more on this?

Hashtags solve a problem that’s long challenged HTTP URIs, i.e., the unwieldy aesthetic nature of long URIs. Through the use of hashtags, the Web user community has used folksonomy-oriented patterns to device a shorthand pattern for HTTP URIs.

Thus, courtesy of *hashtag* adoption across social media service providers, you can perform the act of HTTP URI based denotation through the practice of hash tagging. Just like that! Everyone is annotating the Web in a manner that adds more semantics to the connections between the entities denoted by these tags.

Action Items & Take Aways

What action items do you recommend for SEOs to be a part of LOD?

Get to understand that LOD isn’t some scary mysterious thing that’s a specialization for a chosen few. Instead, look at how tagging (using hashtags) is altering the way people post or track content across social media. Just click on a hashtag on G+ or Twitter for instance, and you will immediately realize that each hashtag is really a super key that resolves to a “Topic Web” comprised of contextualized links to related posts, images, music and videos, etc.

All you have to do is describe things using simple subject->predicate->object statements or simply tag posts using hashtags.

Thanks for sharing your insight with us, Kingsley. As always, change is on the horizon, and understanding semantic markup and linked open data is becoming more and more a best practice for SEOs.

Linked Open Data Advantages

Below are some key reasons why SEO practitioners must take note of the information above on Linked Open Data:

  1. Openness: This means moving away from optimization for each search engine and their periodic changes of ranking algorithms; this is optimization for the Web as whole.
  2. Cost-effectiveness: The longevity of SEO is based on entity descriptions, oriented documents that are inherently search engine agnostic.
  3. Discoverability: This increases serendipitous discovery by focusing on entity description granularity.

For more elaboration on the LOD Cloud, I may collaborate with Kingsley in a future column. In the meantime, see the LOD resources below for more information.

Semantic SEO Resources

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Future SEO: Understanding Entity Search /future-seo-understanding-entity-search-172997 /future-seo-understanding-entity-search-172997#comments Mon, 07 Oct 2013 12:54:14 +0000 /?p=172997 Last month, I asked you to imagine the future of SEO with a focus on Entity Optimization as I interviewed veteran semantic strategist Barbara Starr. We discussed an “answer engine” that uses relevant, machine-recognizable “entities” on Web pages to answer specific, well-refined queries. The Hummingbird Update On September 26, Google took another step toward becoming […]

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Last month, I asked you to imagine the future of SEO with a focus on Entity Optimization as I interviewed veteran semantic strategist Barbara Starr. We discussed an “answer engine” that uses relevant, machine-recognizable “entities” on Web pages to answer specific, well-refined queries.

The Hummingbird Update

On September 26, Google took another step toward becoming that answer engine with its Hummingbird update. In Danny Sullivan‘s live blog about the Hummingbird algorithm, he explains how Google is rapidly adopting semantic Web technology while still retaining parts of its old algorithm. This is Google’s solution for evolving from text links to answers. Such a system will display more precise results faster, as it’s based on semantic technology focused on user intent rather than on search terms.

To review Google’s progress in this direction: first came the Knowledge Graph, then Voice Search and Google Now — all providing answers, and sometimes even anticipating the questions. To serve these answers, Google relies on entities rather than keywords.

What Is An “Entity”?

For the purpose of this article, entities are people, places or things. One way of introducing entities is to recognize that Google’s Knowledge Graph is an entity graph and represents Google’s first step toward utilizing semantic search (or entity search).

What is “entity search”? Let’s keep it simple — it’s basically a more accurate method for bots to understand user intent while mapping additional verified sources to answer a search query.

data_humans_machines

Unstructured Vs. Structured Data

Over the past two decades, the Internet, search engines, and Web users have had to deal with unstructured data, which is essentially any data that has not been organized or classified according to any sort of pre-defined data model. Thus, search engines were able to identify patterns within webpages (keywords) but were not really able to attach meaning to those pages.

Semantic Search provides a method for classifying the data by labeling each piece of information as an entity — this is referred to as structured data. Consider retail product data, which contains enormous amounts of unstructured information. Structured data enables retailers and manufacturers to provide extremely granular and accurate product data for search engines (machines/bots) to consume, understand, classify and link together as a string of verified information.

Semantic or entity search will optimize much more than just retail product data. Take a look at Schema.org’s schema types — these schemas represent the technical language required to create a structured Web of data (entities with unique identifiers) — and this becomes machine-readable. Machine-readable structured data is disambiguated and more reliable; it can be cross-verified when compared with other sources of linked entity data (unique identifiers) on the Web.

Structured Data, Triples & Triplestores

Semantic search uses a vocabulary like Facebook’s Open Graph protocol or a syntax like RDFa or microdata to create structured data. Structured data can be imported and exported from triplestores. Hang in there and bear with me for a minute…

A triplestore is a database for the storage and retrieval of triples. Triplestores are optimized for the storage and retrieval of triples; they can store billions of triples.

What’s a triple? To simplify, let’s break down a sentence: the combination of three parts of speech which form any sentence include a Subject, Predicate and Object — also referred to by semantic strategists as a Triple. Triples are essentially linked entities composed of subject-predicate-object. The subject is the person/thing that carries out the action of the verb. The predicate is the action the subject takes. The object is the person/thing upon which the action is carried out.

Simple example of a triple: Mrs. Keller is teaching Algebra.

Mrs. Keller → subject → an entity

Algebra → object → an entity

is teaching → predicate or relationship → links the entities

Triples are expressed as Uniform Resource Identifiers (URIs). Answer engines will retrieve very specific data from large databases of triplestores storing billions of triples, and linking billions of subjects, objects, and predicates to form relationships. The result is more accurate answers to our queries by internally verifying validated data and relationships that link to trusted documents (structured data).

From Links To Answers

When we expand this logic and technology into a structured Web of data using schema Types that machines like Google, Bing and Yahoo! can understand, we have a machine like IBM’s Watson computer — an answer engine that answers our questions without using keywords or anchor text links.

Structured data creates the ability to provide detailed information about the meaning of your page content to search engines in a way that is easily processed and presented to users.

Understanding Vs. Indexing Data

Let’s circle back quickly to the question: what is an entity? Entities in Google’s Knowledge Graph are semantic data objects (schema types), each with a unique identifier. They are a collection of properties based on the attributes of the real world topics they represent, and they are also links representing the topic and its relationship to other entities.

When Google purchased Metaweb in July 2010, the Freebase database had 12 million entities. As of June 2012, Google’s Knowledge Graph was tracking 500 million entities and over 3.5 billion relationships between those entities. I imagine this has grown significantly over the last 16 months.

Adding machine-readable structured data to the Web will significantly improve a search engine’s capability to “understand” vs. “index” data, and it will provide two big breakthroughs for getting accurate answers to our questions when using an answer engine (or search engine):

  1. Machines will have a much better method for understanding user intent
  2. Machines will be able to draw from very large databases of structured data to match up the most reliable and accurate answer for the user i.e., verified structured data

Indexing Keywords Vs. Natural Language Understanding

SEO professionals, semantic strategists, and search engines are all in a transitional phase — from “assisting websites to get their unstructured data indexed” to “assisting websites by providing machine-readable structured data on the Web.”

Entity Extraction

To provide an example and dig a little deeper, the image below gives you a limited view of the Schema Type hierarchy for a “Place” and all its variations, e.g., Courthouse vs. Embassy vs. Apartment Complex or Canal.  You will quickly discover that entity extraction essentially powers semantic search. Therefore, an entity represents the future of search visibility! And that includes authority, trust, findability, ranking and so forth.

schema.org Place hierarchy

Schema.org “Place” hierarchy from Protégé

The semantic community, academic community, W3C, information scientists, Google, Bing, Yahoo!, astute enterprise websites, SEO professionals, Web developers, Web designers, Interactive agencies and many others have already begun to improve semantic search by building tools using semantic technology and implementing semantic markup on the Web.

Making Your Business Data & Content Visible With Semantic Markup

I’ve said this dozens of times over the last 3 years: by using semantic markup, ALL your business data and digital content become easily accessible to search engines.

Business data consists of rich media video content, product reviews and ratings, location and contact information, business specialty details, special offers, product information and the list goes on…. Again, I recommend taking a look at Schema.org’s schema types.

Implementing semantic markup on your site will make your business data  machine-readable to search engines, Web applications, in-car navigation systems, tablets, mobile devices, Apple maps, SIRI, Yelp maps, Linked Open Data , etc.

Semantic markup presents your business data as chocolate to the search engines — they love it and eat it up! Search engines understand it thoroughly and know how to aggregate the data for a better user experience in their SERPs. While search engines use structured data to display more relevant search results, you benefit because it’s known to boost CTR.

Final Thoughts

As semantic search becomes more widely adopted, the use of semantic markup allows you to give Google the data entity information it needs for its Knowledge Graph, which in turn provides better answers to user queries on various devices. In the meantime, you can continue the focus on keywords as semantic markup adoption increases. However, prepare for future SERP visibility by understanding and embracing semantic search as you become proficient at using correct structured markup.

The handwriting is on the wall: search engines want machine-readable content to provide more precise answers to user queries. Users want personalized answers at their fingertips as they favor smartphones/tablets over desktops/laptops (Monetate Q1 2013 Ecommerce Quarterly).

This makes it imperative for SEOs to understand semantic technology and entity search concepts. To get started, see Barbara Starr’s “10 Reasons Why Search Is In Vogue” for a list of 10 things you can do now.

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Future SEO: String Entity Optimization /killer-seo-string-entity-optimization-171094 /killer-seo-string-entity-optimization-171094#comments Mon, 09 Sep 2013 14:45:26 +0000 /?p=171094 Imagine the future of SEO — a future in which you forget about using keywords or their synonyms multiple times on a page. In the future, this will be obsolete. Search engines of the future will provide users with answers to their queries by internally verifying validated data that link to trusted documents. To optimize […]

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Imagine the future of SEO — a future in which you forget about using keywords or their synonyms multiple times on a page. In the future, this will be obsolete. Search engines of the future will provide users with answers to their queries by internally verifying validated data that link to trusted documents.

killer seo new1To optimize websites for search in the future, SEOs will need to create relevant, machine-recognizable “entities” on webpages that answer well-refined, focused or narrowed queries.

To create these entities, SEOs will use semantic Web technology and structured data. This allows search engines to better understand the page content and thus display valid search results/answers for each query.

What follows is the why and how of future search engine optimization. But first, let me digress.

Discussing The Future of Search & SEO

While discussing the future of Search and SEO last week in view of recent Google innovations such as Google Glass and Google Now, Barbara Starr, a good friend and business associate, agreed to share her insights in this article interview.

Barbara’s history as a semantic strategist is quite amazing. Earlier in her career, she worked on the High Performance Knowledge Bases (HPKB) project — a DARPA research program to advance the technology of how computers acquire, represent and manipulate knowledge. Barbara also worked with DARPA on the PAL program (which evolved into SIRI) as well as many other projects of that nature.

When I met Barbara in 2009, we started talking about how SEO ties into search engine technology. Over time, this led to a discussion of the historical facts and future possibilities of Search and the Semantic Web. This progressed into recent discussions around the concept of why we use keywords in search engines, which led to the concept of entity search and string entity optimization.

Google and other search engines are highly sensitive to their IP, signals and algorithms; therefore, it’s always been a bit of a guessing game for SEOs to anticipate what’s coming next in Search. Today, I’m going share a very qualified ideation Barbara and I have been brainstorming. Granted, we can’t predict what Google will do in the future; however, there are fundamental concepts about search and semantic technology currently being deployed by Google and other search engines that lay out some viable possibilities for consideration.

Why Do We Use Keywords In Search?

Paul: Barbara, why do you think we‘ve been using keywords in Search for so long?

Barbara: Keywords are an artifact that evolved during the history of search. They exist due to inefficient input mechanisms like keyboards, as voice search or other mechanisms such as gesture search had not yet matured. There’s much more work to do in perfecting these behavioral results from machines.

I believe it is part and parcel that keyword-only queries will ultimately virtually die out. They existed because it was a pain to type the entire query out in full, and there was no effective technology for voice recognition, touch screens, etc. However, at this point, search engines prefer full sentences or meaningful phrases as they give more context and information about user intent in a query (directly from the “explicit” component of the query). I would actually break down “implicit” to several different subcategories based on “situation,” such as device, geo-location, etc.

Moore’s law also comes into play on the hardware side. We did not have the raw compute power and Search Engines still needed to be aware of performance and more, so we ended up with this weird keyword system as it was better than anything else at the time, not to mention Google was great at marketing and monetizing keywords!

delivery search

Search [delivery]

No one in their wildest dream would think of an “answer engine” answering “keywords.” Without any context and out of nowhere, if you walked up to someone and said, “delivery” — they might think you were nuts. However, within existing Search Engines today, if you give it context such as search history and geo-location, in Google, you will get a restaurant carousel that delivers food-related results, and if you do not find that relevant, it will activate a second algorithm that provides e-commerce type delivery results, also using its Knowledge Graph entities, whereby Google derives the “context itself.”

Paul: Do you see a day where keywords are less emphasized?

Barbara: For SEOs, the paradigm of not relying so heavily on keywords is very disruptive; however, not so much for someone with my background, who has spent 10 years building answer engines where many searches would have queries which timed-out after an hour.

As a great example, think of search engines like Sindice.com. It crawls the pages on the Web, extracts the structured data metadata from the HTML, and throws away the rest of the page, keeping the structured data internally to search directly on it as an “entity search.” Therefore, keywords on the page in entity search, in this case, are beyond irrelevant. They are literally discarded by the search engine!

Google is using its other Signals to determine trust, to verify and validate its own internal entity graph, while a huge and natural focus on the Semantic side is looking at “Signals” from both the perspective of understanding the user’s intent, and also at “Signals” for returning relevant results for a particular user in a specific situation. If you are not defined as an entity, clearly you cannot be found in an entity search. We could really expand on the entire “situation” aspect here, and also the “social aspect,” which is key with Google Plus.

Entity Search & String Entity Optimization

Paul: These are concepts SEOs may struggle with, can you explain how SEO fits within “entity search”?

Barbara: This obviously applies to SEO when you begin to realize that Google’s Knowledge Graph is an entity graph. Therefore, if you are not defined as an “entity” in Google’s terms, you do not exist in their Knowledge Graph (or carousel), and you can certainly never become a result as the answer to a query if you do not exist in their Knowledge Graph, e.g., Google Now and/or Google Glass. You simply do not exist from the context and perspective of the machine.

So, as I mentioned, you have to make sure your brands/clients, etc., exist as entities for Google, Bing and other emerging Semantic Answer Engines, wherever you want them to be found.

SEOs can get an idea of entity ranking from Trending Entities, an initial indication of Google’s shift to entities in terms of metrics, which we may begin to see as new semantic Web tools are created.

google trends

Example Of Trending Entities

Another small example of early metrics is Structured Data results in Google Webmaster Tools, which is still in its nascent phases compared to what we could see in the future — just as the Knowledge Graph is still in its infancy as well.

Paul: What changes do you expect to see in search users and engines over the next 3 years?

Barbara: Google and the other search engines are migrating toward their goal of the Star Trek computer of the future. Search will become increasingly semantic and leverage many concepts innately thought of as relating primarily to artificial intelligence.

Paul: What considerations will be involved with search engines and SEO?

Barbara: A stronger semantic shift and a move to utilizing structured data, both in search results and in user queries.

  • With the effects of voice search and the enormous improvements in this direction, queries are going to be composed less and less of keywords and will become full sentences of questions.
  • A focus on understanding the query to better display valid search results or answers.
  • The release of many devices, perhaps wearable or possibly even one day embeddable; that can access search from wearable items such as Google Glass to other wearable items such as a watch.
  • Choice of the ultimate “device” to access all your displays, such as a home entertainment system, TV, etc. Search across all of these categories, like music, TV channels, available movies, etc., initiated presumably by your device of choice.
  • Closer interaction with the Internet of things as signals being “pushed” to user devices for Search Engines.
  • Leveraging Social Profiles such as Google Plus, a much deeper discussion.

Paul: What do you think is coming next in String Entity Optimization (i.e., Semantic SEO)?

Barbara: This brings us back to the move toward the Knowledge Graph, entity searches and Google’s associated shift from “indexing” to “understanding.”

Currently, entity search is being leveraged by the majority of search and social engines; therefore, understanding how user intent is leveraged and how this relates to entity graph searches is key. If you are not defined as an entity, clearly you cannot be found in an entity search.

Paul: What can we do as SEOs to improve our code before the engines move full force in this direction?

Barbara: Questions for the SEO then become: how can I create relevant entities on my pages that answer a well-refined query that is focused/narrowed to seeking specific results/entities as an answer.

The mapping of strings to things needs to be understood by SEOs.

The understanding that an entity found and displayed as a result and coming from structured data sources within the search engine, defined in the Schema of the entity is a stronger movement. So, stop worrying about keywords on a page. Worry about what the page “says” to a human and how it relates to the entities or “things” that search engines are interested in. The engines are interested in those “things” for a reason.

Remember my example, Sindice.com. It crawls the pages on the Web, extracts the structured data metadata from the HTML, and throws the rest of the page away, keeping the structured data internally to search directly on it (entity search).

Again, forget about using a keyword or synonym multiple times on a page; it’s useless. Once the engine has internally verified validated data that can link to documents providing the user with answers to their query, it will use that as a trusted and proven source for answers.

Paul: Thanks for sharing your insight with us, Barbara. As always, it appears change is on the horizon, and understanding semantic markup is becoming more and more a best practice for SEOs. For more elaboration on the new SEO: String Entity Optimization, Barbara and I may collaborate on a column in the future. In the meantime, see the semantic SEO resources below for more information.

Semantic SEO Resources

Google Blog: Introducing the Knowledge Graph

Search Engine Land: Used To Searching For Content? Content Searches For You

Aaron Bradley’s Blog: SEO Skeptic

David Amerland’s book: Google Semantic Search

Semantic Web Technology and Linked Data: SemanticWeb.com

Linked Data: LOD Cloud

Moz Blog: From Keywords to Contexts, The New Query Model

Google+ Community: Semantic Search Marketing

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Crush The Competition With Hyper Local Listing Management! /crush-the-competition-with-hyper-local-listing-management-170467 /crush-the-competition-with-hyper-local-listing-management-170467#comments Mon, 26 Aug 2013 13:04:39 +0000 /?p=170467 In May 2012, Google partnered with Ipsos OTX Media CT to get a better understanding of U.S. smartphone usage. Their study revealed that 94% of smartphone users have looked for local information, and 90% took action as a result (called the business, walked into a store, redeemed a coupon, etc). Also, 96% have researched a product or […]

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In May 2012, Google partnered with Ipsos OTX Media CT to get a better understanding of U.S. smartphone usage. Their study revealed that 94% of smartphone users have looked for local information, and 90% took action as a result (called the business, walked into a store, redeemed a coupon, etc). Also, 96% have researched a product or service on their phone.

At around that same time, Myles Anderson discussed key findings from BrightLocal’s Local Consumer Review Survey — one of which was that 85% of consumers use the Internet to find local businesses.

It’s more important than ever for local business owners to vie for better SERP visibility, both in desktop and mobile search. Your prospects are usually on the go and are looking for details on products to buy, places to patronize, events to attend and so forth. Mobile users in particular want the information they need at their fingertips, and they’ll select from the business with SERP visibility.

What follows here is a roadmap for listing your business on search engines to increase sales in your niche.

Verification

Hundreds of Internet directories act as a verification sources (by providing citations) for business data on Google, Yahoo! and Bing. When these search engines can match specific business data from a webpage or business directory to the info they have on file, this serves to verify the information, which in turn makes your data more authoritative. That’s why it’s so important for your business to have consistent NAP (Name, Address, Phone) information across search engines and directories.

Enhancing Your Listing

Although your NAP information is the most important in terms of consistency, many online directories (as well as Google+ Local) allow you to include a wide variety of information about your business. You can often enhance your listings with a description, store hours, payment types accepted, products, services, images, videos and even a logo. Generally, you can also select one or more categories under which your business might fall.

These fields give search engines a better understanding of your business. Understanding the format types and optimization opportunities for each individual directory is key to your brand’s performance in local search.

Top SERP Placement

Search engines rank the businesses they know more about in their top listings. Their aim is to deliver a good user experience, and to do that, they constantly crawl for other sources of business information on the Web to verify your data. Gathering your local business data while keeping this data updated and current is therefore critical to high rankings.

In addition to providing search engines with a way to validate local business data, directories often link back to the business’ website. This natural, trusted backlink provides a local and relevant link that enhances your local SEO results in the SERPs.

Updated Information & Data Consistency

Consumers will find your business first when all of your business data is updated, optimized and linked naturally on the Web. Search engines and directories rely on updated optimized local business data.

Local listing management, or business listing management, starts and ends with your providing:

  • A consistent data source for ALL of your data feeds
  • Providing properly formatted and optimized feeds for each individual directory based on their specific and accepted fields.

This is time-consuming, detailed work.

Case Study: Doing It Right

Below is a local case study from December 2012 involving Holiday Inn Express & Suites in Council Bluffs, Iowa.

The campaign objectives were to:

  1. improve search engine rankings,
  2. be found across a majority of online directories, and
  3. stand out from its competitors.

A business listing management firm, Local Market Launch, provided their listing management service. The target audience was anyone searching for a hotel in the Council Bluffs, Iowa area. According to Google’s keyword tool, approximately 5,400 people search for [Hotel in Council Bluff Iowa] each month.

The hotel’s business data was manually submitted to directories to ensure accurate and consistent business listings information would show up in local searches.

When uniform and correct business data is distributed across hundreds of directories it creates data fidelity. Search engine algorithms reward data fidelity with higher-ranking search results.

A crucial step in the process was making sure the hotel’s NAP (name, address, and phone number) was accurate across all sites. Also important was completing the appropriate field types (e.g., categories, logos, hours, and photos) to further enhance the business listing. This provides useful and relevant information for the consumer, something that is also valued and rewarded by search engines.

To ensure that no incorrect information was linked to the hotel’s online presence, each business listing was manually claimed, and any unclaimed listings had new business profiles created.

Within three months, an incremental 270 unique website visitors were finding the Holiday Inn Express & Suites in Council Bluffs, Iowa. This was recurring every 30 days, demonstrating the critical role “business listings management” plays in local visibility.

holiday-inn-listing

I personally wonder about the wide-spread effect this could have. For instance, Holiday Inn Express is a multinational brand of hotels and one of the world’s largest hotel chains, with 2,200 hotels globally. When you spread the effect of enabling an additional 270 monthly unique visitors (MUVs) to 1 location across a network of 2,200 hotel locations, it could potentially generate a significant amount of local U.S. traffic from search engines and directories — if done right.

Managing An Enterprise Level Local Search Presence

Below is a priority list for a systematic approach to managing an enterprise local search presence:

  1. Claim each business location and locally optimize for major search engines Google, Yahoo! and Bing. Include a local landing page URL when appropriate.
  2. Optimize and submit to one or more of the big three data aggregators (LocalEze, Infogroup and Acxiom). This is done through paid agreements; make sure to include a local landing page URL for in-car GPS, mobile apps, Apple maps, niche directories and Yellow Pages. This provides data validation for Google, Yahoo! and Bing.
  3. Submit to Facebook, Foursquare, Superpages, and Yellowpages (free) and include your local landing page URL. Social citations are generated from an active presence on the networks and may boost ranking in search engines.
  4. Target any smaller niche directories based on industries served and include a local landing page URL. These might include Angie’s List, Merchant Circle, Local.com or others.

Following a systematic approach will provide the in-house marketer or agency with the best chance to optimize and manage a complete local search presence across the Web. It also allows each directory to understand the content a brand is communicating when each feed is optimized and reviewed by the stakeholder prior to submission.

In some cases, transparent, automated software may be required if you rely on scale and constant updating of optimized local business data for multiple locations.

Throw Caution To The Wind

One size does not fit all when it comes to Local Search. Local Search vendors vary significantly in their capabilities and quality of service. There’s a significant need for consumer education in this area.

Thousands of companies, large and small, are being under-served because they don’t understand all the detail work they should be requiring within their Local Search campaigns. There is a huge opportunity for vendors to step up and provide quality, in-depth, meaningful local search deliverables.

I know of several trusted local search vendors, and since I’m not associated with the three below, I’ll pass their information to you for further investigation if warranted.

Local Market Launch is a new business listing management start-up in Santa Barbara, California. I was impressed with their attention to detail.

Rio SEO offers a local enterprise level software solution for multiple location business with more than 100 locations. I was impressed with their scalability.

Sycara Local is a new local search analytics start-up company located in Scottsdale, Arizona. I was impressed with their local data and analytics dashboard.

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Building An Enterprise-Level Search Marketing Team: Part 2 /building-an-enterprise-level-search-marketing-team-part-2-169017 /building-an-enterprise-level-search-marketing-team-part-2-169017#respond Fri, 16 Aug 2013 13:27:52 +0000 /?p=169017 In July, I began my two-part series on building an enterprise-level search marketing team. We left off with a review of the essentials for SEO, including all the technical and editorial factors that can hinder your website’s rankings in the search engines. If you’ve followed my recommendations thus far, you’ll have hired a reputable search guru, […]

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Image via Shutterstock

Image via Shutterstock

In July, I began my two-part series on building an enterprise-level search marketing team. We left off with a review of the essentials for SEO, including all the technical and editorial factors that can hinder your website’s rankings in the search engines.

If you’ve followed my recommendations thus far, you’ll have hired a reputable search guru, your hierarchy of team members is in place, reporting is approved and the Search Department is in sync with all the other internal departments company-wide.

Part 1 described the way an SEO department should be structured — the “essentials” for the SEO team in terms of what their responsibilities will be once formed. However, in covering the essentials for Paid Search, Social Media and Third-Party Vendors, we’re going to take a different tack.

Paid Search and Social Media campaign management are best resolved by using various types of campaign management software, but I won’t go into the details of campaign management and responsibilities here.

Rather (and more importantly), I’ll provide some proven, high-level techniques to consider when growing your business within these channels, including insights on hiring Third-Party Vendors. So, we won’t be following the same structure of outlining responsibilities here in Part 2, but instead will provide some techniques and examples for making high-level, progressive advances in your top line and net profit margins.

First Big Challenge: Paid Search Governance

Getting paid search campaigns under control is like having an intervention.

The paid search team can often end up with control of the vast majority of the search budget, tending to be singularly focused on their AdWords campaigns. These budgets can get a little out of control — and before you know it, you’ve reached a point where you’re spending $350,000/month in AdWords while spending less than $50,000/month in SEO, local, social and mobile combined.

It is my experience that the most effective long-term ROI play for the search department is to have these numbers reversed. Paid search efforts help short-term revenue goals, while SEO, local, social and mobile investments reap revenue well into the future.

If you’re starting from scratch (which is unlikely), you’re in a better position to direct and control the situation. If you’ve had paid search campaigns up and running for a while, however, it’s time to get another set of eyeballs to look at the numbers — especially if your budget numbers are disproportionate as described above.

Compare financial spreadsheets, and you’ll see how SEO, social, local and mobile can provide good returns on your search budget as well. Divvy up the budget based on performance, and watch how the paid search budget levels out while SEO goes up.

Here’s an example based on past experience: An organization was spending $20 million annually on paid search to return $100 million (pretty good performance), while their SEO, local, social and mobile departments fought for $1 million budget and returned $10 million (better performance).

Here’s where the intervention came into play. Based on the performance of each channel, we reduced the paid search budget by 50% to return $75 million (a much better ROI), while increasing the combined SEO, local, social and mobile spend to $10 million to return $125 million.

Thus, we went from spending $21 million for $110 million in revenue (a $5.24 return for every $1 spent), to spending $20 million for $200 million in revenue (a $10 return for every $1 spent). Obviously, this math makes a lot of sense for the entire organization.

At the end of the day, your Director of Search needs to be able to allocate budget to each channel based on individual performance while considering the search team as a whole. There’s no room for complacency or big egos — everyone must be focused on the bigger picture. It will almost always be the case that paid search is not the “sweet spot” and thus should not get a grossly disproportionate amount of the overall search budget.

The Essentials Of Social Media

SEO and social go together like pancakes and syrup — and search engines eat it up. Going back as far as December 2010, we can see Matt Cutts verify that Google is using data from social sites as ranking signals (video). It’s safe to say Google has since then aggressively incorporated social signals (video) into its ranking algorithms. Such social signals might include shares, Likes, +1s, tweets and retweets, etc.

Additionally, consider this: a recent Bloomberg TV interview (video) with Google’s lead search designer, John Wiley, revealed 15% of daily Google searches are about search terms and questions the search engine has never seen before. The size of the Web is enormous: Google claims to have found 30 trillion unique addresses on the Web and says their servers crawl 20 billion sites per day while processing 100 billion searches each month.

When you stop to consider Google alone brought in $50 billion in sales last year, 87% tied to search… you better believe they’re working long and hard to answer those 15% of searches they’ve never seen before.

Search, Social & The Semantic Web

Here’s where the convergence of Search and Social meet the Semantic Web. Understanding the intent behind a search query and explicitly matching a user’s intent with a high degree of confidence is known as semantic search.

In order to be understood outside the limited number of keywords it uses in its content, a brand must establish a strong footprint within social networks such as Twitter, Facebook and Google+. It must succeed in creating conversation and buzz around its brand, website, products and the services it offers (for example, through deals, coupons, promotions, contests, etc.).

A social signal is clearly compelling; many website visitors interact through comments, reviews, Likes, sharing and resharing. This creates numerous connections being associated and reconnected through semantic search. Social Media teams and marketers that have a clear understanding of Search and how these data points all connect are in the best position to maximize search visibility. Such a team will be able to get their website to show up in the SERPs related to specific subject matters, which is much more powerful than keywords.

It’s Things Not Strings!

It doesn’t take a lot of research to see this all coming to fruition. Going back to Google’s May 12, 2012 update, Introducing the Knowledge Graph: things not strings, we can see Google stepping away from keywords and moving more toward understanding things in the real-world and how they relate to each other. Social Media is an obvious player in this movement.

Armed with this data, your Director of Search and Manager of Social Media can put together a very effective social media plan with all the essentials to integrate with search engines.

Vendor Madness: The Red Zone

If you’ve ever watched the TV series Dog Whisperer, Cesar Millan refers to “Red Zone” dogs as those that bite. When selecting your third-party vendors, watch out for the Red Zone — i.e., vendors that bite.

One could write an entire book on the various vendors in Search, stretching from online marketing agencies, search agencies, SEM tool providers, SEO platforms, search analytics… the list goes on. Vendors come in various packages — and some are great illusionists.

I’ve encountered very intelligent people over the years, and unfortunately, as in our day-to-day life encounters, some have chosen to misuse their intelligence. You really have to be careful when it comes to selecting a vendor in Search, and this is where your Guru comes in handy. He or she will have the breadth of experience, knowledge, and a network of trusted vendors within the industry.

You’ll want to merge with vendors who can design deliverables around your needs and limitations, while purging any Red Zone vendors posing pie-in-the-sky deliverables.

When it comes to choosing third-party vendors, there are three primary concerns: security, site speed, and Google compliance. More so now than ever before, these three concerns must be vetted by teams of in-house specialists to ensure you protect your brand and website reputation.

Red Zone vendors can get you in trouble with Google Webmaster Guidelines. Many sites have been hit hard with the recent Penguin and Panda updates because their vendors failed to use white hat techniques. While I don’t have any solid numbers, I can tell you that friends of mine who are good at getting sites out of the penalty box are very busy these days.

I’ve also had situations where vendors are in compliance, and then Google decides to change the rules. You’ve got to be diligent at keeping pace with monthly changes at Google, Yahoo! and Bing. That’s another way a good search guru can help.

Finally, remember that native optimization is best. Owning and delivering all your content from your domain and/or sub-domains is definitely the way to go — so find vendors who are willing to transfer their knowledge or technology and content to your native site. Avoid embedded widgets, redirects, proxy pages and other technologies that take search engines off your native domain and serve-up third-party content.

This is a personal observation: currently, Google appears to allow third-party proxy pages, pages designed for SEO rankings not owned or delivered by the primary domain (client). Google arbitrarily allows this for some domains and not others. I foresee a day when this rule could possibly change, leaving those who rely on third-party content SEO without rankings. Why spend money on assets you don’t own and be subject to future algorithm changes? It’s just not good business in the long-term. Build your own content and deliver it from your domain or sub-domain.

Conclusion

Build a solid Search Department and a first class in-house SEO team by hiring an SEO guru who understands the big picture. Get your core management-level leaders in place and link the search department together with all other interacting departments. Adhere to the essentials for SEO including all the technical and editorial factors that can hinder your website’s rankings in the search engines. Deal with the essentials for paid search and social media, and remember to tread carefully when hiring third-party vendors.

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Building An Enterprise-Level Search Marketing Team: Part 1 /building-an-enterprise-level-search-marketing-team-part-1-166527 /building-an-enterprise-level-search-marketing-team-part-1-166527#comments Tue, 16 Jul 2013 13:00:49 +0000 /?p=166527 Several years ago, I was tasked with building an enterprise-level search marketing team for a top online retailer. Because of the lessons learned and results achieved, I want to pass this intel on to those tasked with creating a search marketing team from scratch. Your Foundation: The Search Guru My first recommendation is to start […]

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Several years ago, I was tasked with building an enterprise-level search marketing team for a top online retailer. Because of the lessons learned and results achieved, I want to pass this intel on to those tasked with creating a search marketing team from scratch.

Your Foundation: The Search Guru

My first recommendation is to start out with an organic search guru, an experienced person specializing in organic search.

Search gurus are those with a long-standing history of getting results and making good things happen. You’re going for a knowledge-transfer expert, not a permanent employee. The guru may cost 4x the salary of an employee, but s/he can earn you 150% YoY increase in revenue.

You can potentially receive a 600:1 ROI on your guru — that is, for each $1 you spend, you’ll bring in $600 — so don’t worry about the cost. It’s trivial in the long run.

Pay the guru half in salary and half in performance-based bonus. Give them top-down support and tell your executive staff to back off, listen to the guru, do what the guru says and leave their egos at the door.

This isn’t about threatening anyone’s career or compensation. Hopefully, the guru will be making more than most of the executive staff. But that should only happen due to performance bonuses — those based on significantly increased revenue, which means you and others will look like rock stars.

Make sure you have a real organic search guru and not a fake. Real gurus use their network of connections to get things done, and they will admit to you upfront that they don’t know it all. But they know what needs to be done and who to ask. They don’t do the actual work — they guide and direct.

Gurus guide other experts in their field to do the work. A real guru is humble and knows how to “get-along and go-along.” Give your guru full access to everyone in the organization; don’t isolate or limit your guru to certain segments of the business. Let the guru lurk and browse wherever he or she wants. Plan on keeping your guru for at least 2-5 years.

Assign A Director Of Search

Next, pick a good Director of Search — preferably a person from within the organization who intimately understands the business model and is coachable. This person should be capable of managing people in all three segments of Search: SEO, Paid Search and Social Media. Yes, Social Media.

Pick or hire a Director who works well with other departments such as Rich Media, Website, IT, Branding, Analytics, and Reporting, as well as the Marketing VPs and the CTO. This person should also have a good sense of humor — they’ll need it!

Department Hierarchy

Set up your guru to work under a Marketing SVP, the decision maker who signs the vendor checks. Make sure this SVP can leave his or her ego at the door and is fully capable of supporting the guru.

Put the Director of Search under the same Marketing SVP and ask the guru to work directly with the Director and SVP — it’s a threesome that’s hard to beat. These three people will move the Search and SEO revenue needle month-over-month and year-over-year.

Get Reporting Down

First things first: get your reporting down. Make sure you have branded and non-branded organic search revenue separated in your reporting. Obviously, Paid Search and Social Media will be in separate columns, too.

Set your guru’s bonuses and expectations on non-branded organic search revenue (SEO revenue). Provide everyone with daily numbers and results for the previous 24-hour period.  Also weekly, monthly, quarterly and annual results.

Everyone needs to see the big picture as well as the day-to-day ups and downs. Don’t hide your data — open it up for everyone in-house to see every day. This is what will keep them moving forward and accountable.

Get Your Departments In Sync With Search

With your core management-level leaders in place — the guru, the SVP and the Director of Search — you’re ready to link together with all your various departments. Department structures may differ somewhat from company to company; however, it boils down to a few basics in any organization. Someone is in charge of the following segments of the business, and they all need to be in sync with Search:

  • Website
  • IT
  • Network Operations Center
  • Branding
  • Marketing
  • Merchandising
  • Rich Media
  • Mobile
  • Affiliates
  • Reporting
  • Analytics
  • Legal
  • Public Relations
  • Physical storefront counterparts, if any

Everyone in the organization must be aware of your Search Department and what Search does.

With core management, reporting and Search in sync with everyone in the organization, you’re ready to begin building your team of managers and analysts.

Your Managers Are The Workhorses

Hire your managers; you’ll want one each for SEO, Paid Search and Social Media. Managers will report to the Director of Search and be directly responsible for all the analysts on their team.  Managers are multitaskers; they both manage their team and do the day-to-day tactical work.

Your managers must be veterans at planning and executing online marketing campaigns; they should possess a strong working knowledge of best practices and good people skills.

Theses are very important people in the organization. Pay them well and reward them with acknowledgement and kudos every time you can. Your managers are the workhorses — they get the job done.

Rounding Out The Department

Depending on the depth and breadth of the organization, it’s possible each manager may need up to five analysts working under them to accomplish goals on a day-to-day basis. In addition, one Intern for each SEO, Paid Search and Social Media section is a good idea.

Interns can move up the ladder as those above them move up or leave. Interns allow for the quick replacement of the skills needed to fulfill tactical goals and objectives. Always keep a few good interns employed to become your next up-and-coming analyst or manager.

Obviously, the number of personnel mentioned above is flexible, depending on the size of the organization. However, with a similar structure in place you’ll have all the essentials covered to manage even the largest of enterprise search departments.

Digging Deeper: Essentials For The SEO Team

The above covers all the basics for putting together your online marketing department. Now, we’ll take a closer look at each team within the department (SEO, Social and Paid Search).

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The essentials for SEO include all the technical and editorial factors that can hinder your website’s rankings in the search engines. This includes but is not limited to the following list of SEO best practices:

  • Link audits and development
  • Keyword discovery/paid search testing/optimization
  • Title elements, meta data
  • Semantic markup, RDFa, microdata
  • Hostname DNS, site and page load speed
  • Internal linking and redirects
  • URI structure, broken links and dead-end pages
  • Anchor text, image optimization
  • Duplicate content, low word count
  • Robots.txt, session IDs, server and crawl errors
  • Local, mobile and social best practices
  • Store locator conversion tools, functionality
  • Social/SEO integration

Part I: Recap

To summarize, if you want to put together a first class, in-house SEO team, you can do it quickly by hiring an SEO guru who understands the big picture.

With his or her track record, this search expert will not only hire and organize your search team for you, but will increase revenue and ROI with a team that can function optimally and interact smoothly with top level management. Not to worry about the cost of these services as they will pay for themselves — organic search is a highly profitable source of relevant traffic.

In my next column, I’ll continue this series by covering the essentials for paid search and social media, as well as guidelines for hiring third-party vendors.

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Is Link Building Dead? 3 Tips For Link Builders Post-Penguin 2.0 /3-keys-to-enterprise-seo-link-building-162886 /3-keys-to-enterprise-seo-link-building-162886#comments Tue, 18 Jun 2013 13:08:44 +0000 /?p=162886  “We’ve detected that some of the links pointing to your site are using techniques outside Google’s Webmaster Guidelines….” For enterprise SEOs, receipt of this notification is usually followed by a deep, sinking feeling in your chest. You check your keyword head-terms in the SERPs and realize that you can’t find your website anywhere.  A lump […]

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google-matt-cutts-links-1364992271 “We’ve detected that some of the links pointing to your site are using techniques outside Google’s Webmaster Guidelines….”

For enterprise SEOs, receipt of this notification is usually followed by a deep, sinking feeling in your chest.

You check your keyword head-terms in the SERPs and realize that you can’t find your website anywhere.  A lump forms in your throat as the realization sets in — you’ve been penalized by Google.

The Link Building Challenge

Google’s crackdown on unnatural links over the past few years has raised the question within SEO circles: “Is link building dead?”

The reason folks might think it’s dead is because Google’s definition of what constitutes an “unnatural” or “artificial” link seems a bit…broad:

“Any links intended to manipulate a site’s ranking in Google search results may be considered part of a link scheme.”

Not to mention the penalty for “suspicious links” is quite severe. Whereas sports celebrities are fined or suspended from a few games for breaking the rules, businesses whose websites violate Google’s Webmaster Guidelines could find themselves losing a lot more.

Some good businesses have taken major financial losses as a result of the infamous Google Penalty. Estimates suggest that costs to big box retailers and enterprise e-commerce companies could easily hit $5 million per month in lost natural search revenue.

Smaller businesses facing such penalties could end up ruined, having to close their doors.  Yes, Google can put you out of business — whether you deserve it or not.

The fear Google has instilled into the hearts of SEOs over bad links is unparalleled.  Is it any wonder that so many are asking, “Is link building a dying art?”

Link Building Lives!

The answer to the above question is an emphatic, “No!” Link building is not dead; in fact, link building is alive and well. But you do need to be careful.

While all the recent reports about Penguin 2.0 might lead conservative SEOs to advise against active link building, the vast majority of page 1 rankings are on page 1 because of their link profile.

Links are Google’s “weak link” in the search industry. Google still remains heavily reliant on links as its primary form of ranking websites within its search results pages.

So, how can enterprise SEOs navigate link building without getting penalized for building links? How can you rank organically, using good links, while avoiding penalties? Read on for the high road to link building, according to three  link experts.

1. Perform A Link Audit

This is, hands-down, your first step. Conducting a link audit will require several phases and tools; however, if you follow Chuck’s advice here, you’ll be able to get through it.

In How To Conduct a Link Audit, Chuck Price does a great job walking readers through all the steps involved in a link audit. Whether you plan to do any link building or not, I highly recommend you do a link audit now — doing so may help you avoid potential issues down the road.

Chuck explains how to “Download Latest Links” from Google Webmaster Tools and how to get a complete backlink profile. This will allow you to determine which links need to be reviewed and considered for removal/disavowal, including:

  • Links from a domain not indexed in Google
  • Links from a website containing a malware or virus warning
  • Links on the same page as spammy, unrelated links
  • Links on a page with Google PageRank that is gray bar or zero
  • Links coming from link networks
  • Sitewide links – especially blogroll and footer links
  • Paid links

2. Keep It Relevant

Your next important step is to ensure relevancy. Ken Lyons wrote an excellent article on how to build relevant links to your website.

Ken’s article, “Link Building: Get Relevant or Die Trying,” is a fantastic read. He includes Authoritative Guides, Infographics, Industry Spotlights, Group Interviews, Industry Awards, Guest Posts, and, yes…”Buying Links” as a relevant link tactic. This is a must-read for all SEOs.

Ken describes link relevancy as Google’s way to determine trust, decipher the topic or context of a target document, deliver relevant information in the right context (i.e., relevant query results) and sort out link spam.

Speaking of relevancy, Ken also provides tips on a few more relevant link tactics such as:

  • In-Depth Reviews: noteworthy products or services
  • Free Tools: prime targets for link outreach
  • Curated Content: extensive articles and weekly round ups
  • Broken Link Building: unearthing high-authority, relevant link opportunities
  • Niche Microsites: dedicated to a specific topic or niche

3. Exploit PR Strategies

Lastly, I want to recommend something not often elaborated upon: using PR to build links. Cassie Gillette, Director Online Marketing at KoMarketing, has an excellent article written recently, “5 PR Strategies You Can Use To Build Links Now.”

Cassie reviews PR-focused tools that let you find content, post pitches and seek those looking for sources — all great ways to “make connections and discover potential link opportunities.”

She points out the fact that reporters are using social media to source stories, which has given search marketers, “a huge window of opportunity for link building.” She also offers tools for creating segmented reporter lists and gathering data.

Another great source of links can be event interviews. Cassie points out how there is always someone looking to interview attendees before, during and after the show — at some conferences, they’ll even set up interviews for you!

Lastly, she suggests monitoring editorial opportunities, which can offer several outstanding methods for building high quality inbound links to your website.

Thanks to these creative professionals above (and there are many more), link building is alive and well. Everyone knows that links are the bedrock for SEO results — so I encourage you to consider these tactics.

This isn’t the end-all answer to link building by any means; however, enterprise SEOs can’t go wrong by including the above steps in their linking strategy: 1) perform your link audit, 2) keep it relevant, and 3) exploit your PR strategies.

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Optimizing Your Digital Assets To Boost Rankings & Branding /optimizing-all-your-digital-assets-to-boost-rankings-branding-159483 /optimizing-all-your-digital-assets-to-boost-rankings-branding-159483#comments Mon, 20 May 2013 15:24:54 +0000 /?p=159483 Let’s say you’re responsible for developing revenues from both traditional and non-traditional advertising. You work with a digital staff of talented people to create lead-generating Web-based content, or perhaps you are in e-commerce and sell products. Maybe you’re a brick and mortar with a website, or perhaps a pure-play Internet business with no physical storefronts. […]

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Let’s say you’re responsible for developing revenues from both traditional and non-traditional advertising. You work with a digital staff of talented people to create lead-generating Web-based content, or perhaps you are in e-commerce and sell products. Maybe you’re a brick and mortar with a website, or perhaps a pure-play Internet business with no physical storefronts.

Regardless of whether you are a newspaper (publisher), e-commerce (products) or franchise (services) site, performing well within the SERPs will always lead to new customer acquisition. By identifying and optimizing all of your digital assets, you can reach all of your prospective new customers and maximize performance.

The term “Digital Asset Optimization” (DAO) was first coined by my friend and longtime SEO, Lee Odden, back in July 2009. It ensures that we optimize content for all of our marketing collateral in all digital formats.

The process involves the optimization of digital assets throughout multiple digital content channels. This results in having all forms of your content visible in Google, Bing and Yahoo! as shown below for the term [local news ventura ca].

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bing assets 2

yahoo assets_3

google assets_4

Optimization Based On User Intent

Your optimization efforts should reflect the many ways your customers search and convey their intent. It’s important to include all digital assets in your SEO efforts, even mobile apps and widgets, to increase the likelihood of reaching all potential customers during all phases of the search funnel. This not only helps boost your rankings, it can also achieve branding at the same time.

Marketers that leverage this process across all digital assets will connect to customer personas in every channel and format, performing effectively in today’s competitive environment. For more information about personas, see Shari Thurow’s How To Use Personas & Scenarios In SEO.

Digital Assets For Optimization

Below are some examples of digital assets you might want to consider for optimization. This list may not be exhaustive but includes all I can think of at the moment.

  • Web pages (store location pages, category pages, product pages, reviews, holiday promotions, sitemaps, semantic mark up)
  • Images (product images, infographic images, news images, article enhancement images)
  • Location data (maps optimization, business data aggregators, Internet Yellow Pages)
  • Feeds (product shopping feed, map data feed)
  • Video (product videos, how-to videos, consumer generated videos, corporate interviews)
  • News (Corporate, industry, new release information)
  • Press Releases (corporate releases, newsworthy releases)
  • Blogs (company blog, category blog, seasonal regional trends)
  • Forums (product related, regional discussions)
  • Articles (product use and description related, category related, seasonal regional information, industry trends)
  • Social Media data (social API’s, customer service, product feedback, media relations, new product launch)
  • Social Media sites (Facebook business page, Twitter account)
  • Mobile Apps
  • Podcasts (instructional educational audio books)

Optimizing Your Digital Assets

Digital asset optimization is about creating and optimizing content that compels customers to engage, respond and convert. There’s been a lot written about optimizing many of the assets suggested above. However, I’d like to cover two optimization techniques that would be very advantageous for you to employ: video optimization and mobile app optimization. Read on to find out why optimizing these assets can go a long way toward bringing you more traffic, conversions and brand recognition.

Video Optimization

Over 180 million Americans watched 39 billion+ online videos in March 2013, (comScore-Media Metrix). In 2012, online audiences watched video ads at a rate of over 150 per second (AdAge).

Eighty-five percent of the US Internet audience viewed online video in March 2013, and video ads accounted for 25 percent of all videos viewed (BrightRoll – pdf). Not only that, the survey found that 75% of ad agencies believed online video ads to be equally or more effective than TV ads. Significant percentages felt that videos ads were equally or more effective than display (91%), social media (68%), search (52%) and direct response (45%) as well.

A well-optimized video can not only bring you authoritative links, it can also achieve top listings in the SERPs, resulting in traffic and conversions. When creating video, carefully define your purpose. This might be to build links, generate social shares or increase conversions.

With so many videos on the Web, you’ll have to plan carefully to excel. If you want to go viral, try humor, be original and, most importantly, tailor your video to your target audience. Another popular option is the educational video, which works well for retail products. Below are some tips for video optimization.

  • Host your video on your own website rather than on YouTube or Vimeo
  • Include social share buttons on your video embed (“Like” and “Tweet” buttons for easy sharing)
  • Use Rich Snippets by adding the required Schema.org code to your page for an eye-catching display in the SERPs
  • Create and submit an XML video sitemap
  • Promote your video on social media sites, through your blog/website, video PR, email (new products, promotions, contests, etc.)
  • Use SEO best practices ( title tag, relevant tags, specific keywords, accurate description and full video transcript)
  • For detailed video optimization, see ReelSEO’s Definitive Video SEO Guide

Mobile App Optimization

The use of mobile apps is growing rapidly. By 2012, mobile app store downloads totaled over 45.6 billion (Gartner). The Apple App Store and Google Play alone offer over 1.5 million downloadable apps.

Mobile analytics firm Flurry reports user time spent on apps has doubled from 1 hour a day in 2011 to 2 hours a day in 2013. While the time spent in apps may be starting to challenge television, Flurry compared U.S. app usage to traditional media and other online audience measurements, finding that “…app usage spikes during primetime to a peak of 52 million consumers.” Does this leave any doubt about the importance of optimizing mobile apps?

Normally, users search for apps in two places: app stores and/or search engines. Optimizing your mobile apps to be easily found is similar to optimizing your website.

Website SEO gets your site crawled by optimizing on-page and off-page elements while  building authority through links and social media. However, in mobile app SEO, you want to optimize the page on which your app resides rather than the app itself, because search engines don’t crawl inside mobile apps. The content on the page hosting the mobile app is what provides context and relevant cues for indexing.

You need to optimize two pages for your app: the app store page and the marketing page on your site.

Optimizing The App Store Page: When submitting to app stores, the descriptive content submitted with the app is very important for your app’s success, as shown below.

Title: This determines the URL and title tag of the webpage the app is hosted on. Choose a title that features the brand and the app’s function. This way, your app can be found by the brand name as well as its purpose (when users don’t know the brand).

Category: Category selection is important as it can provide easy findability in the SERPs. If an app fits into several categories, choose the one closest to the app’s purpose and one that has fewer competitors.

Keyword Field: This field influences the search results and should be descriptive without keyword stuffing or unrelated keywords, which can get your app rejected from app stores. Use descriptive keywords that are relevant to the app purpose.

Description: As with traditional SEO for websites, the app description should be written for the target audience and optimized with relevant keywords.

Links: Linking the app store page to the official app page on your site and reciprocating that link from the website back to the app store page will assure users they found the official brand app rather than an imposter.

Optimizing The App Page On Your Site: Your app should have a page on your main website for cross-promotion and linking.

As mentioned above, the website should link back to the destination of the mobile app in the app store. Linking between the app store and the website boosts the app’s SEO value and confirms it is authentic.

Other than cross-linking with the app store and using specific metadata attributes, optimizing the content on the app page is no different from optimizing any other page on your site.

Results Of Digital Asset Optimization

When marketers make it easier for search engines to find, index and display all their content in search results, it creates benefits in the form of increased sales, branding, public relations and news coverage. Optimizing all digital assets and maintaining brand consistency will help you become a dominant online player in your industry.

Digital asset optimization provides multiple opportunities to build your brand online, making your products and services more visible. While it includes optimization of webpages, it is increasingly important to optimize the types of files that are seldom covered with traditional SEO techniques: PDFs, podcasts, video content, images, Tweets, LinkedIn business profiles, and just about anything in the digital realm.

Tapping into new signals and markup recognized by search engines makes it possible to extend your optimization work and report additional value up the ladder. The fundamental premise is: if it can be searched, it can be optimized.

Bottom Line

The basics of searchability are that a digital asset is crawled by a search engine bot and made available for within search results when consumers conduct queries. Each type of searchable content presents an opportunity for optimization and improved visibility on the multiple devices from which people search.

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