Web search guru Cyrus Shepard posted earlier this week on MOZ, some great insight into how search engines evaluate and use ‘satisfaction’ in the algorithms that produce the order in which search engine results are placed. With all the attention given to external linking, social media activity and other interactions that can also influence SERP placement, Shepherd really got back to basics. In discussing the fundamentals of user satisfaction he brought up the simple fact that user behavior once on a Web page probably influences future search engine placement – perhaps very significantly.
Understanding that all search engines endeavor to deliver exactly the information the user has requested, it only follows that they will evaluate the activity that takes place immediately following a search engine referral to see if they got it right. Does the user immediately hit the back button and try a different result? Does the reader stay on the page and consume the content and then venture onto other pages within that Website?
The Google sees all! All this activity is tremendously important to understand. The ultimate Big Data collector, Google captures an incredible volume of search engine activity and interaction from which they can build finely tuned measurement systems to evaluate how readers interact with a given Web page. The longer readers stay on a page or site after a search engine referral, the more confidence the search engine has that they have properly ranked their results properly.
This brings up multiple areas to look at when trying to improve your Web page and its search engine placement. Among the considerations for improving ‘satisfaction’ and thus improving SERP placement then include:
- Rapid page load speed
- Easy to understand navigation
- Easy access to content and page value
- Good quality content (of course!)
- Depth of content (to keep readers on the page)
This last point – depth of content may indicate a need to redesign or restructure some of the more important web pages on your site to provide more value and give readers a reason to stay engaged. Landing page development should of course provide reasons to stay on the page, but they should also be easy to use and not inhibit one’s interest in consuming the content (such as an annoying pop up or request for more information).
With so much of the focus of SEO being on attracting natural links, this is a refreshing way to look at the SEO function. After all, what good is it to optimize a site and attract readers only to have them drop off.
In the end building a Website that gives readers what they are searching for is just good business. And… it keeps your site in good position on the search engine results.
One of the interesting observations following the roll out of Penguin 2.0 were the number of clients that now have their images appear as search results! This development isn’t necessarily the result of changes in the Google algorithm, but may be related to some of the things we (SEO Consultants in Denver ) did to prepare for it.
As rumors of a new Penguin update grew louder, we recommended to several clients that we again review their on page optimization and update any page assets to make sure we were clearly communicating to the search engines the unique content of each page. Included in this effort was attention given to image descriptions. This is a process that had occasionally been overlooked in previous reviews, but with the looming threat of a new algorithm update, we thought it best to give extra effort to all page assets.
Optimizing images for search is nothing new. Properly set and descriptive alt tags make the page more readable and searchable. However, prior to Penguin 2.0, we encouraged clients to give a little extra effort to making sure that image files and alt tag descriptions were consistent with the keyword and term strategy for each page. Renaming a few image files as well as resetting the alt tags for some of our client images didn’t take long and was something done almost as an afterthought to the entire Penguin preparation effort. In the end, there were some very positive results. Several clients now have their images appearing in non-branded searches.
Product Image Optimization
Organizations that have unique product images on their website can use these images to compete for more search engine traffic. In addition to the website appearing as an organic search result, images that match search terms may appear as separate search engine results. The image is clickable to a larger version on Google, beneath which is a link to the website from which the image was pulled. In a sense, this is an additional opportunity to compete for reader attention and to display any visual product advantages to potential buyers.
Inspiring the search engines to display images then seems to require a simple, two-fold strategy:
- strong on page optimization
- image optimization consistent with on page term strategy
On Page Optimization is essentially the same methodology of identifying keyword terms and installing descriptive title, description and even keyword terms. Making these consistent across all meta data types has proven important in building each page to attract traffic.
Image optimization requires the Web operator to make sure the file name from which the image is pulled, is somewhat descriptive of the type of image displayed. File names such as “snowthrowerimages” instead of “images1” work well. Setting alt tag content to a more descriptive level is a simple matter of describing the product, preferably utilizing a keyword term. Alt tag descriptions such as “Red Snow Thrower” then describes the image further. When the search engines crawl the page, they will note that the images come from a file named “Show Thrower Images” and one of the actual pictures is of a “Red Snow Thrower.” If the page is optimized using the term “Snow Thrower,” these images would then appear to be more likely to be picked up and displayed as a search result.
In the end, thinking of image display as part of the meta data exercise may be beneficial. Whenever meta data is modified or updated, including the image file name and alt tags in the modification process enables the search engines to more clearly understand what each page contains. And when some of the expected search terms are used, the search engines may be more likely to grab an image from the website to use in their results display.
Much of this is not news to experienced SEOs, but we’ve seen a number of Webmasters forget to include image optimization in their page maintenance programs. And after the latest Penguin update, we are seeing more client product images appear on search results pages.
Service Businesses and Image Optimization
What does this mean for service oriented business? Images can be developed for any line of work. Services that develop images or info-graphics that describe improved performance or better user experience may also offer some opportunity for image result display. Google in particular though, seems to be able to sniff out non-product images fairly easily, so image display for non-product business Websites may be a bit more challenging. Optimizing these images may require talking more about results, achievements and relationships and then describing them in a fashion consistent with other page meta data.
We are working a couple trials using descriptive service images, so we will keep everyone updated in this blog space.
After working through some search results following the latest Google algorithm update, we were able to isolate some additional characteristics of websites that ranked better after last week’s Penguin 2.0 launch. In reviewing results from multiple pages, sites and comparing rankings from before and after the 2.0 push, we have concluded that two areas seem to make the difference in performing well on the search engines. These are:
- Good Quality “On-Page” Optimization, and
- Natural Links
Good Quality On Page Optimization
Google in particular has really pushed the need for good quality content, but there seems now to be an extension into good quality optimization. As part of ‘Good Quality’ optimization, the pages we’ve noted as being more successful after Penguin 2.0 have been optimized around well-researched keyword terms. Additionally, and maybe more importantly, these sites have good quality internal linking strategies that utilize these keyword terms in naturally appearing language.
Sites that did well after the latest Penguin roll-out managed to fit the keyword strategies into the recommended character limits for title and description tags. We could not tell that style of title tags made much difference. Titles that included the keyword terms in a more natural sentence structure did just as well as those that were ‘pipe-separated.’
Sites that did well also contained the keyword terms towards the leading portion of the meta description. Although it isn’t anything new that more important keywords should be placed at the beginning of title and description tags, it was at least interesting to see that sites that endeavored to structure the tags in this fashion now seem to be rewarded.
We didn’t see any changes or ranking improvements for sites that provided a great deal of additional mark-up. One of our sites that did well had invested some time in providing additional mark up content through things like abstract tags. However the improvements in this site’s rankings may have more to do with the ‘spammy’ link profile of its competitors which may have caused them to drop down in search engine placement. This will require a bit more research, but looking at the importance of additional markup may be worth future effort.
Google has been harping for some time about the ‘natural link’ methodology for building web page strength. Links inspired due to good quality content is ideal, but other methodologies, such as guest blogging are a popular – if time consuming – way of building external links. However, we discovered that client sites that placed well after Penguin 2.0 were ones that didn’t invest a great deal in guest blogging. Several did invest in press release efforts for event and milestone announcements, but guest blogging didn’t seem to be an important part of the link building strategy. Note: can we conclude then that guest blogging is not important? Well.. no… but.. we just didn’t see any examples where a guest blogging strategy produced improved results over the past week.
Natural links still seem to be the main difference between sites that place well on the search engines and sites that struggle for attention. And in the end, good quality content promoted through press release and social media seem to inspire the link strength necessary to rank well. The slow-growth method of building link strength through quality content seems to – at least at first glance – pay off.
We will have more observations throughout the upcoming weeks on what Penguin 2.0 might mean for other types of link building and optimization.
No doubt about it, developing good content requires investment. Time, research and expertise all go into crafting interesting stories that others in your market will find interesting and valuable. This ‘value’ inclusion is the element that builds strength for your website and strength for your reputation as an author. As author and sponsorship authority and rank become more important in attracting new readers from the search engines, these story elements cannot be taken lightly and in the end, define what is ‘good content.’
What is good content? Simply put, good content:
· benefits others
· offers help and assistance, and
· answers questions
Note in particular that there is nothing in this list about selling a product. The place for product advocacy is on a product web page that the user can be invited to read. Content created for the purpose of building a relationship should in most cases avoid a direct sales pitch and instead offer suggestions, solutions and information geared to making the reader’s life better.
Does informational content qualify as marketing content? The simple answer is ‘yes.’ Marketing establishes relationships with those that may become future buyers and brand advocates. Content that helps build these relationships then qualifies under the business marketing function.
Many marketers and marketing organizations fail to distinguish between marketing and sales. The selling function provides information necessary to the buying decision and in many instances, attempts to compel the reader to take action. The marketing function tends to fall under a higher level of research, relationship building and brand management. It is within this latter area that content marketing tends to be the most effective.
Making this content effective – in addition to meeting the basic good content requirements – provides a benefit to those reading it that they don’t have to pay for. It is though, an invitation to continue visiting the site or blog and when the need to buy arises, the author will have the credibility to compete for the business.
Benefits take many forms. Ways of thinking about certain problems or overcoming obstacles qualify as a reader benefit. In terms of form, content may be presented graphically or with a bit of humor. Humor is in fact a big reason readers return to certain sites. Information that is delivered with some entertainment value is disarming and makes consuming the content enjoyable.
Giving some credit to one’s readers is also important. Letting the reader distill his/her value from your content by presenting case studies, results of system trials and other attempts to do things differently are terrifically valuable. In the end, providing a benefit to your reader simply means sharing something that you have learned in your business or in life.
Help and Assistance:
Offering help usually takes the form of offering a resource list or some type of suggestion for solving critical problems. In addition to problem solving, information to help in problem avoidance is also quite valuable to the reader. In either case, providing this value is a good reason for the reader to consume the content and to return at a future date.
Sometimes, problems and obstacles are either hidden or somewhat embarrassing. Recovering from mistakes and errors can make for compelling content. Besides, everyone loves a comeback!
Answering questions is a frequently overlooked way of connecting with readers. Simply maintaining a list of issues that others in your industry are wrestling with can give you a never ending supply of content ideas. Presenting questions and answering them also keeps you in a leadership position in your industry.
Creating good content may not be easy. If it was, everyone would be doing it. in the end, the effort to create good, basic content is conceptually easy, but more challenging to deliver. But.. by attracting readers in your niche and by presenting your ideas, you can attain a leadership role in your industry and with that, attract business when readers become buyers.
HubSpot recently reported that 51% of business websites that had a Google+ page with a following of 51 to 100 received 106% more traffic than those with fewer than 25 followers. If the marketing objective is to get your organization’s message more widely distributed, then attracting traffic and visitors should be an important part of your marketing effort. This makes engagement on social platforms even more important.
Google+ engagement increases traffic in two primary ways:
- Direct message distribution via social media
- Improved SERP placement
Social Media Distribution:
Increases via direct distribution follows intuitive reasoning. The more people exposed to your message on Facebook, Pintrest and Google+, the greater the possibility of attracting them to your online content. This places a high level of importance on the quality of content to both provide readers the value they want as well as to inspire them to follow, endorse and consume future content.
Content production and marketing has then emerged as a major social media effort. Over-posting or putting out too much content with too little value dilutes the reader’s willingness to return to the site. Content with no value will get your reader to ‘un-follow’ you or lose interest in the online relationship. It takes an investment of time and effort to create this content and distribute it in a fashion that will attract and hold reader attention.
Another quick note about content: good statistics – particularly data that you have developed or compiled yourself makes great content. This takes some nerve to post! Some readers may disagree, but unique observations and opinions are what will make your content unique and valuable. A significant amount of recycling takes place with interesting statistics once a major research study is released. If you are the one to release these statistics, that discussion will revolve around you and cite you as the source!
Speaking of unique statistics, our internal research has also shown that increased social engagement can improve Search Engine Placement. Particularly on the Google+ platform, an increase in 100 followers typically yields an improvement in SERP placement.
For sites placing on page three or lower, these improvements can be significant. Google+ can be the methodology by which a company can get onto the top page. Of course this depends on the on-page optimization, keyword strength, competition and content value but we have seen results improve anywhere from 10 to 15 places for 100 followers on Google+. Social engagement is a significant element in the SEO game and has emerged as an additional type of link building effort that can directly improve SERP placement.
Sites already on the top page are already in the thick of the competition battle, so improvements are a little less predictable. Still, for new sites that attract 100 followers to a business Google+ page, we have seen improvements land in the three to five places range. So a site ranking between five and 10 can improve to the top five by connecting its business website to a Google+ page and earning 100 followers.
Content development and social media engagement each require a significant level of effort. In the end though, this is what establishes an organization as a solid business entity capable of serving its customers well.
Check back frequently for more notes on Internet Marketing, SEO and Social Media Management from Denver SEO Consultants. We usually post every other day during the week.
Next Scheduled Posts: Content Creation, How to Attract Followers and Likes