Does Modern Design Destroy Your Content Flow?

Does Modern Design Destroy Your Content Flow?

When a person visits a website, they are almost always searching for a very specific piece of information.  

As writers and domain owners,we are always quick to assume that we know what that one thing is- people are here because they want to buy our products and services.  However, that’s rarely the case…at least not initially.

For instance, you stumbled across this blog post while navigating the Upstate Synergy website.  Does that mean you have your checkbook in hand ready to become one of our clients?  

Of course not.  You want to see who we are as a brand first, how well we know the digital marketing realm and what solutions we offer.  And even then, that doesn’t mean you’re here to buy anything.


Again- you’re looking for some type of specific information.



So in order for us to have any kind of chance at turning you into a paying customer, our first and foremost goal is to figure out what kind of information you’re really looking for.  The truth of the matter is that it could be almost anything- the possibilities are virtually endless.

That tells us that in order to have great website content, we need to foresee just about every possible need our customers could have when they visit us.  We try to do that by-

– Closely watching our website’s metrics and seeing how visitors travel through the site

– Posting contact forms on almost every page to make it easy to get fast answers

– Using FAQ sheets and other compact layouts to get lots of information in small spaces

– Studying feedback in email and surveys to see what info visitors can’t find easily

– Straight-out asking for direct feedback from our current clients

And guess what?  We still have large bounce rates at times.  That’s because you can’t account for every possible scenario that would cause someone to visit your website.  The best you can do is to keep asking questions and study your visitors to have a more complete picture of their needs.



Discovering Roadblocks in the Buyer's Journey

Now, you may be wondering why we go to such lengths- don’t we know our own business and our customers?

Of course we do.  That’s not the real problem here.

The real problem is that we know our business too good.  And you have the exact same problem.  You’re so close to the everyday operations that you can’t fully see the buyer’s journey from start to finish.

Let’s work through a practical example- 

A visitor arrives at your homepage.  This person falls into your ideal demographic, they can afford your product and they actually need it.  They’re an ideal customer in every sense of the word.

Yet, this person doesn’t enter your site on a product or information page- they happen to catch a link in search to your homepage.  So they’re looking at your header image, links to different categories and some type of headline.  Maybe there’s a few other pictures worked in there or a call to action as well.

The reason this ideal customer came to your site, however, was to see if they can make an online purchase/deposit with a credit card and then receive one of your products/services through a non-standard way.  Maybe they want to have a co-worker come by to talk to you about the purchase before making a final selection or set a delivery date sometime in the future.

They look on your homepage for that info.  It’s not there.  Then they visit your products page.  The info isn’t there either.  Next they try your FAQ, your contact page and a few more areas- the information they want is nowhere to be found.

So what does this ideal customer do?

While we’d love to think that they’d just call us and ask, modern consumers usually find their backspace key instead.  They’re off to another website with the same question.


Spotting the Content Dilemna

You may have noticed these days that major brands are actually using a lot less content on their main pages.  This is actually for two reasons-

1) Short, bold statements really stand out to the average consumer.

2) Modern search Optimization focuses heavily on visitor actions.

However, if you look at some of our pages closely, you may be surprised at how much content we packed in there while still keeping a minimal look.  For instance, our Lunch w/ Friends page has almost 800 words of content, but most of it is hidden in the accordian section.  We achieved similar results on the homepage with sliders, multi-layer text areas and other formats.

Now, you may think, “Nobody ever reads that stuff.”  

That’s not true though- almost nobody ever reads that stuff.  And we’re fine with that, as long as the one unique person with a specific question can find their answer quickly…or spot our contact form on each page that talks about legendary fast response times.

Along those same lines of thinking, every single page of your website should have a “Learn More” button included in each section.  While you or I may get excited over the small summary paragraph, we don’t want to alienate those who need more information and aren’t ready to reach out yet.

That means your website’s sitemap should look like a pyramid where every main page starts with a major category and then branches out for every specific need/problem.  Every time you introduce something new, then you should also provide 2-3 additional pages to talk about the different aspects of it.

The Modern Content Layout

Do you see that sexy hunk of modern muscle car above?  It pained us to put a sub-header over it because it is so darn beautiful.  That’s the new 2017 Mazda RX7.

Let’s knock out a quick examle for using Mazda USA and an example-

The home page would has some great hero images with  snappy text.  We’d also see our standard product pages, an about us (Why Mazda), a dealer page, shopping tools and a link to some testimonials.

We already know that the average buyer is going to be looking for things like fuel efficincy, overall horsepower, available colors, etc.  So they did well by working all of that information in on the homepage or the first landing page for each vehicle.  That’s essentially where the pyramid starts- going from the homepage to the eight different models that Mazda sells.

Each major category page also has content that’s light any airy.  We love the negative space to make each photo the star, plus they have some handy tools to learn about the specifics.  The layout of each vehicle page matches the exact process a salesman would present the car inside a dealership- so that’s perfect for the buyer’s journey.

However, you can’t forget about the car fanatics of the world either.  They want real information.

For instance, what’s the rear differential on the Mazda 3 sedan?  What’s the recommended mileage for changing the transmission fluid?  Does it require premium unleaded?  

One the Mazda USA site, this problem is loosely handled by providing product brochures, spec sheets and numberous other resources at the bottom of the homepage.  But is that the best way to ensure that the customer sees it?  

Definitely not.  It personally took me over eleven minutes to find answers those three basic questions.  

So while Mazda did well with “read more” and “learn more” buttons for each section, the information shared is simply too generic to meet all customer types.  We hit four different dead ends trying to answer basic questions and had to completely start our search over in other areas of the site.

Don’t forget, we’re talking about a specific car from a specific company that we’re already in love with.  If this was an example for printer paper or life insurance, we would have given up after 10-15 seconds of looking.  

Nobody earns 11 minutes of patience in cyberspace- not even Mazda.  After all, he new 2017 Ford Viper is even more gorgeous.



What’s the moral of the story here?

While your website may be beautiful, it’s probably not optimized for customers anywhere near as well as you think.  That’s a huge problem that can’t be fixed through design, navigation or different layouts- it takes real content that gives specific answers to questions that we may not have even thought about yet.

If you take one thing away from this article, it’s to find new ways to listen to your customers about what’s really important to them.  Then find logical ways to complete the buyer’s journey from homepage to contact, and remember that each of us will likely want to take a different path during that process.

Websites are not meant to be “one size fits all.”  That’s called a sales pitch, not a brand experience.

Be sure to let us know if we can help.



Twenty-Seven Reasons to Never Hire a Website Designer

Twenty-Seven Reasons to Never Hire a Website Designer

Never hire a website designer?  What kind of idiot would actually say that out loud?  Before you start throwing rotten tomatoes at your screen, just hear me out…

After all, if you want a great cup of coffee, then you would visit the best coffee shop in your town.  If you need a new suit, then you go to the premiere tailor around.  So why wouldn’t you hire a website designer to help you build a great website?

To put it simply, a freelance website designer is good for only one thing- coding HTML into websites.  And for the sake of argument, let’s say that you do need a website built.  Should you hire one then?

No.  Heck no.  Don’t even think about it.  That’s a big mistake Mister.

Why?  The initial coding elements of your website are a minor part of the overall picture compared to things like design, branding, marketing, search optimization and customer engagement.  The vast majority of web designers don’t know about any of those things, so they’re definitely not the one you want leading your online face lift for the masses to see.  Choose a creative design firm instead.

If that’s not enough to sway you to never hire a website designer, then here are 27 more things to consider-

Do You Know Content Marketing?

1) Can you speak in HTML, PHP or Klingon?

Let’s start with what websites designers are actually good at; programming in languages like PHP and HTML, plus brushing up on their Star Trek lingo for this summer’s Comic-Con.  Since you don’t speak these languages though, then you’re going to have no idea how to make any adjustments.

2) Do you care about customer service at all?

Besides, have you ever asked a website developer for help understanding something?  That’s like asking Gollum from Lord of the Rings for fashion advice…there’s simply no answer to the equation.

3) Are you a genuine WordPress expert?

Let’s say that you do hire a website designer and they deliver you a site as promised.  Now what?  Do you know your way around WordPress enough to actually turn an empty domain into a place that potential customers would want to visit?

A website designer is a person who takes instructions and works with code to make your idea come to life.  But well over 90% of them now very little about how to attract customers or make a website become popular.

4) Do you enjoy overpaying for imaginary services?!?

Besides, most of today’s web developers still work on an old-school monthly-rate plan, which means that you pay for your website up front and then shell out a large chunk of change each month for site maintenance and other imaginary services.

Well, guess what?  You don’t need to pay someone to sit idle and collect monthly fees for absolutely nothing.  

5) Do you enjoy being frequently lied to?

Now, we’re not saying that website designers are liars, because most of them have the best intentions in the world when they say that they can design your new website from top to bottom in a few weeks. 

But again, they’re thinking about code and the bare minimum of back-end stuff to make something qualify as an actual website.  All of your content marketing, lead banners and images in place are a completely different story.

6) Do you follow the latest SEO algorithm trends?

If you do then that’s great, because your web designer almost certainly doesn’t.  He has to keep up with new programming languages and the latest apps/tools instead.  That means you’ll have to do a lot of reading on Moz and HubSpot for hiring a website designer

7) Do words really matter at all?

Most website developers will quickly volunteer to write your website’s content for a nominal fee, and then turn around to do one of two things-

·         Hire a writer from India for $2.36/hr., who sub-contracts it to a gal in Pakistan for 1/4th that amount

·         Write the content themselves…which makes the Pakistani look like a true poet in comparison

Either way, none of these people are brand experts that can help you drive in conversions.  And if pleasing customers and making sales isn’t a priority, then there’s no sense in having a website to begin with.

8) Can you create an effective banner ad?

Since sites like Canva and BeFunky make it easy for almost anyone to get their art on, then maybe you can crank out a decent looking banner all by yourself.  But do you know how to upload it and link it to your squeeze page?  Can you configure it with your lead generation software?

Probably not…and neither can your web designer.

Do You Know Web Design?

9) Do you like people who overstate their credentials?

Unfortunately, most website developers earn a bad rap because people have no idea what they’re looking for when hiring a professional.  So here’s a little cheat sheet-

  • Web developers install themes and write code
  • Programmers create apps, often from scratch
  • Designers make pretty page layouts & graphics
  • Copywriters and bloggers handle your site’s content
  • Marketers focus on traffic and generating leads
  • Analysts dig deep into the data to find insights

Very rarely will one person have some serious skills in all of these areas since each can take decades to master.  That’s why you hire a marketing team instead of a web developer.

10) Do you prefer face to face business 

If so, then your boss will either laugh or cry when the “website guru” you hired shows up in the board room wearing cutoff jeans, a tie-died tee shirt, and flip flops.  Either way; you’re probably in for an ear-full from the VP of Common Sense after the meeting adjourns.

11) Does your company work late-night?

If so, then hiring a website developer may not be such a bad idea after all.  That’s because a large portion of the top web geeks tend to work well into the night and sleep until noon…just because they can.

Between that and Halo tournaments, that’s essentially why it takes three weeks for you to get a simple answer.

On the bright side though, if you hire a foreign web designer then his nights are your days so everything works out perfectly!  That is, as long as you have enough time to overcome the language barriers.

12) “It puts the lotion on its skin, or it gets the hose again!”

What, you don’t like random pop culture quotes forwarded to your inbox sixteen times a day?  Then let’s hope that you didn’t accept your web developer’s Facebook request…that’s where the real magic happens!

Seriously though, coders are a special breed that doesn’t always march to the same drum cadence as the rest of society.  That doesn’t make them any less dependable, mind you, but most are simply not made for the board room.

13) How important are overall results anyway?

Let’s say your boss is a big AC/DC fan and he wants the song “Highway to Hell” to auto-play on your homepage as soon as new visitors arrive.  Sounds like a pretty terrible idea, right?

Well, too bad for you that the web developer you just hired could care less about what may seem like a good or bad idea.  Their only job is to build a site and get paid…they could care less about results.  And once your boss realizes that heavy metal misses the demographic , guess who gets paid all over again?  Cha-ching!

Go ahead and click play though- you know you want to.  Better to get it out of your system now.

14) Hey look, the homepage is giving some random 500 error…

Oh, you actually believed that random web developer when he said that you can call him day or night?  Sorry friend, but it’s a Buffy the Vampire marathon weekend and definitely not a good time.  Maybe try back next Tuesday when his mom will be there to pick up the phone…

15) Are you looking for results-based quality?

Surely by now you’ve seen a little bit of a pattern forming here…it’s not just in your head.  The average web developer knows absolutely zero about actual design, marketing, search optimization or your customers, so they can only deliver a mere fraction of what you’re looking for.

That’s what I’ve been saying all along here; do not hire a website designer if you’re looking for the total package.  Such a person doesn’t exist in the modern world unless you’re looking to spend $150/hr for the next 18 months.

Can You Afford a Rockstar Designer?

16) What if I want to work directly with a top-level programmer?

Here’s a little secret for you- the rock star programmers in today’s world are earning comfortably in the six-figure range creating apps and future technologies.  The few that do develop websites are often either-

·         Making their own custom themes and affiliate sites, or

·         Earning a huge paycheck with a top-tier agency/corporation

Either way, there are only a small handful of top-tier website developers out there that still build websites from scratch.  The rest use platforms like WordPress or Joomla.

17) Okay, but what if I want a website built from scratch anyway?

Well, that is the way to go if you are a large company with 6+ figure online sales and millions of web views per month.  Clean code from a professional will easily pay for itself in no time, plus save you countless headaches.  So in this one very specific case, you need to hire a website designer…through a design firm.

Why? Remember how arrogant Tom Cruise and his fellow fighter pilots were in the movie Top Gun?  In real life, a superstar coder is likely going to be five times as self-righteous and twice as quick to defend their excellence.  

These types of work relationships almost always end badly.  Think epic proporations bad.

18) Do you take deadlines even halfway seriously?

Was Picasso given timelines when creating a masterpiece?  Heck no…and he didn’t even know C+ Basic.  So when you’re braving the world of programmers and building something from scratch, there’s no such thing as a timeline for actual launch.  You can be given estimates, but definitely not any sort of deadline.

19) What if I just skipped using a web designer completely?

Oh, you mean like one of those free website builders that allows you to launch a complete website in 15 minutes?  That’s a great idea…except that they absolutely, positively suck.  Not only do they vastly overcharge you on a monthly plan to move forward, but the “plug and play” coding is also a jumbled mess that the search engines hate.

So if you’re going to be a do-it-yourself type, then buy a premium WordPress theme and find a highly rated foreign WordPress expert on Upwork to install it.  This will save you a small fortune if you can serve as your own tech support and figure out the content/marketing elements on your own.

20) Wait- there are cheap AND talented foreign website developers?

Definitely, and you can find some world-class developers from Pakistan, India and similar regions for less than $200 a week for full time work.  But be warned; there are many language and cultural barriers that will drive you absolutely nuts if you don’t know what you actually need completed.

These are super-friendly, hardworking people that really aim to please…just be prepared for quite a long trial and error period.

21) Are you a true patriot?

Of course you are…so why are we talking about hiring foreign web developers and putting some hard working American college graduate out on the streets?  You should be ashamed of yourself for even entertaining the notion.

Then again, what’s more American than saving money on business expenses?  There are certainly pros and cons to hiring individuals overseas so I’ll let you decide how to proceed there.

What About Other Online Factors?

22) How versed are you on finding and optimizing keywords?

These days, it is almost impossible to appear on the first page of the search engines for your major keywords by accident.  Ranking a website is a process that’s both time consuming and highly technical; plus it takes a creative flair and a solid understand of consumers to execute correctly.  So this person with a multitude of talents either needs to be on your staff (likely for six figures), or it can be part of a creative team working on your behalf.

23) What is your actual end goal with web design?

Most people would answer this question by saying, “I want to make more sales or gather more leads.”  That’s what we all want from our websites.  But the only way to achieve that is by having a fully optimized website that engages your customers and answers their most pressing questions.

Remember that getting the customers to your domain is only half the battle…the rest is convincing them to stick around and actually experience your brand.

24) Who’s going to hold your web developer accountable?

Hopefully you’re not the type that talks to some fast talking salesman and then says, “Sure, let’s run with it!”  But since you don’t personally know website design or the many other skills it requires to make a website rank favorably, it will be impossible for you to hold a web developer accountable.

That means you either need someone on your staff that understands tech or you need to partner with a firm that has earned your trust through delivering actual results.

25) Who’s keeping an eye on your competitors?

Large corporations spend millions of dollars per year analyzing their competitors and creating campaigns to counter their rival’s latest moves.  And on a smaller scale, you should be doing the exact same thing with your website and everywhere you keep an online presence.

Is the guy who writes website code the best person for this job though?  Not by a longshot…you’d be better off hiring the average 7th  grader to take on the job.

26) How do you measure success and failure online?

A similar question would be how you actually measure online success when a website visitor has no direct connection to the people walking around your storefront.  Did they find you online?  Is anyone actually paying attention?  You need answers to these difficult questions and very few website developers are qualified to be the one interpreting it.

27) Why are you so negative about website developers anyway?

Like I’ve mentioned several times already, I have nothing against web developers since they are essential for both my business and yours.  I just want for it to be crystal clear in your mind that website development is a very small (although important) aspect of your complete online presence.  Web developers are generally weak at copywriting, photography, graphic design, search optimization, lead generation and marketing…which are all vital to your success.

So you absolutely, positively need to hire a website designer…but you don’t want that person in charge of your overall campaign.  Would you recommend an awesome mechanic to be the next VP of Marketing at Ford or Chrysler? 

Of course not- the same principle applies to hiring web developers.

Have any good horror stories from hiring a website developer?  Did I miss something in my list?  Feel free to share away in the comment section below.

The Death of Keywords in 2017

The Death of Keywords in 2017

I need to ask you an important question here- and be honest.  How much do you really focus on keywords these days?

Well, I’m going to let you in on a little secret, and you have to promise not to tell anyone about this.  Not even those self-proclaimed SEO gurus that fill our LinkedIn feeds with daily content…especially not them.  Because I’m about to ruin the scam of the century for an entire industry that’s filled with snake-oil salesmen, con artists and self-promoting idiots.

Are you ready for it?  Keywords are officially dead in 2017.

And just so we’re clear here, I’m not saying that there’s no such thing as keywords anymore.  Keywords are just some words placed together with other words…so obviously they still exist.  But they’re just not important.

Take this website, for example…and this very blog.  We all know that to properly optimize a page under SEO standards, we have to get the keyword in the title, in the very first sentence and again in the first subtitle.  Yet I haven’t used any of my site’s primary keywords.  And look down the page- there are no subtitles either.

But guess what?  You’re still reading this…and visitor engagement has surpassed silly things like meta-descriptions and keywords a long time ago.  Google has said so like a billion times.

Heck, “engagement” is probably Matt Cutt’s middle name by now…and he doesn’t even work for the search engine giant anymore.

Now, you may be pondering, “But what does it all mean?  How can the Earth survive without things like keyword density and anchor text?”  Before we get to that, I think it’s important for all of us to remain calm.  Go pop a Valium if necessary, because this feeling of utter hopelessness will pass by the end of this article.  I promise.

And just ask my kids- I may exaggerate all the time, but I never lie.  A promise is something worth keeping.

The truth is that keywords have actually been dead for quite some time now and in most cases, they’re completely unnecessary.    After all, the search engines have a very clear picture of what your website is actually about and one more blog post won’t tip the scales in your favor.

Now, you may come from the school of thought where you’d say something like, “Well, keywords definitely aren’t hurting my website, so why should I stop focusing on them?”

That’s a great question.

But unfortunately, you’ve been so obsessed with keyword stuffing for so darn long that you’ve completely forgotten what a keyword or a key-phrase is in the first place.  It’s just a series of words people- every single word on this page is a keyword.

Well, okay…maybe not all the “the, and, our, but, it” and words like that…but the rest are certainly keywords.  And if they are located next to other words on the page, then you have a bunch of key-phrases forming as well.

Before I make this too confusing, maybe I better give a practical example.  I’ll use my website once again.

For those of you that follow me, you know that I’m a copywriter that knows a thing or two about online marketing and search optimization.  And I live in Spartanburg, South Carolina, so naturally by most important key-phrase would be something like, “Spartanburg Copywriter” or “Copy writer in Spartanburg,” right?

Wrong.  Those are horrible keywords.  And I can prove it.

When I tell people around town what I do for a living, about 1/3rd of them assume a “copywriter” is a person who issues patents.  Or someone who creates laws.  They have absolutely no idea what I do for a living unless they actually have ties to the marketing field.  And that means when they look for someone like me, they almost never type those phrases, even though Google AdWords says that they’re my best bet.

So let me ask you a question- what would my main keyword be then if it’s not “copywriter”?

Well, it could be anything that people type into the search engines these days to find someone like me…and that’s a pretty darn long list.  I see everything from content creator to digital analyst to brand manager on job boards, while your average Joe searches for a blog writer or social media professional.  Some even use “wordsmith”, even though that’s technically not a word.

Do you see the problem here?  I can’t just pluck a few nifty keywords out of thin air and properly reach all of my potential clients.  In fact, I probably couldn’t reach all of them with a thousand targeted key phrases.

That’s why keywords are officially dead in 2017… they died long before you ever took your first lesson in SEO.

Besides, what good does it really do anyway to target the same keywords over and over again?  Google is dead-set on normalizing the search results so you can’t appear in multiple spots for the same phrase.  Either your website doesn’t have quality content and it will never rank for your terms, or it is already ranking well and you’re being repetitive anyway.

Either way, it’s wasted money if you follow conventional SEO logic.

Again, that brings us right back to finding a true definition of a keyword.  But the dictionary won’t help, because the only opinions that truly matter here are your actual customers.  After all, they control everything when it comes to the success of your brand.

Are you with me so far on this?  I promise- a big revelation is just seconds away.

If your main goal is to connect with more customers (and let’s face it; that’s the only reason you do any of this crap), then your main focus is not going to be on a single key-phrase.  Or even your top fifty.  Instead, you’re going to throw the SEO book straight out the window and casually use every possible combination of industry-related jargon you can think of.

And that, my friends, means that there are no such things as keywords anymore.  It’s almost like the Matrix- everything is a keyword, and you don’t even have to take the blue pill.

The morale to this lesson here is to completely forget about keywords except when it comes to your back-end meta stuff, because that’s the only place where it still slightly matters.  But to connect to actual people and to convince them to trust your brand, you’d better be talking in their language…and normal humans don’t say the same phrase six times in a two minute period.

That’s just weird.

So your content marketing goal in 2017 is to simply focus on what matters to your potential customers and to deliver your messaging in plain-Jane English that they can relate with…and then do the exact opposite of keyword targeting.  Instead, try to use every possible variation of what your customers might type across your next 10-20 blog posts.

Guess what?  There’s a term for that as well- it’s called great writing.  And that’s been the #1 ranking factor of the search engines since the early 1990’s.  The best overall content always wins.

So moving forward, forget about those silly keywords and just focus on putting a smile on a potential customer’s face.  As long as you’re doing that, Google will see your value.  That’s all that really matters anyway.

Five Tell-Tale Signs of a Neglected Website

Five Tell-Tale Signs of a Neglected Website

If you’re like most business owners in the digital age, then you probably measure you’re website’s effectiveness by the number of customers that it delivers to your doorstep.  The more daily foot traffic that mentions seeing you online, the more time you invest on creating a great web-based user experience.  And that’s great IF your website is creating fresh leads on a regular basis.

On the other hand, the #1 reason why business owners neglect their online presence is because they are not receiving an influx of customers from it, and then they illogically assume that it is because people are not looking online for that type of product/service.  We all know that’s inaccurate though since people use their smartphones for everything these days.  Just look around you…people are likely visiting your competitor’s websites while they’re inside your store shopping.

If you’re not sure if you’re one of our local Spartanburg faithful that’s neglecting their website presence, then here are five things you should be doing routinely-

Posting Fresh Content

Every time you post new content to your website, it’s like sending a distress beacon to Google that says, “Hey, look at me…I care about my customers.”  And in turn, the search engines will begin to visit your website more often to ensure that your readers can always access the most recent content from the search engines.  The beautiful thing is that fresh content doesn’t have to be elaborate articles either- it can be new product descriptions or new services/items, video and photographs, or even updates to existing pages.

Changing Your Homepage

Likewise, changing up your homepage even a little bit can have profound effects on your customers.  That’s why all the big businesses switch up their homepage graphics frequently; it keeps the site feeling new and fresh without changing the actual navigation.  So even if it’s just adding some new photos to your slider or adding a few banners, these changes really do matter in the grand scheme of things.

Social Media Updates

Whenever a consumer visits you on social media, the very first thing they do is look at the last thing posted by your company.  And if the date is several months old, then that tells them that you’re not very interested in communicating with them.  The crazy part is that you can post anything on social media to keep those engagement levels high- it can be anything from store branding to photographs to news content and local information.

Using Outdated Contact Forms

If a customer has to look at your website for more than three seconds to find your email address, phone number, store location or hours of operation, then you are seriously neglecting your website.  In fact, this is the number one reason why consumers leave a website shortly after visiting it for the first time; they simply do not have the patience to hunt down information that you should display on every page.  So if you’re guilty of this, fix it immediately.

Offering Very Little Core Content

Likewise, there is absolutely no excuse for not having great descriptions of what your business does, what products/services are available and why consumers should trust in you.  This is the core of any great website, yet all of us come across horrible domains every single day that can’t answer even basic questions.  Since this type of content also highly influences how well your website ranks, it is absolutely critical for your long term success.

The Complete SEO Strategy Guide for Small Business

The Complete SEO Strategy Guide for Small Business

It’s no secret that search engine optimization has changed drastically over the years as Google continuously adapts to reward the most helpful websites with coveted first page rankings.  And for the average small business owner or entrepreneur that’s on the outside looking in, it can seem like executing the perfect SEO strategy is nearly impossib

What if I told you, however, that everything you need to know about search optimization is summarized in the very first sentence on this page?

Go ahead and look again if you don’t believe me- I’ll sit here and wait while you do it.

The websites that go out of their way to help their customers the most are the ones that SHOULD rank at the tops of the search engines.  That was the goal in 1991 and it’s still the goal today.  The only thing that’s really changed is that Google and Bing have become much better at detecting unsavory tactics that allow websites to artificially rank, but the goal still remains exactly the same.

So as we work through this guide together, I want you to remember one universal truth that can guarantee your excellent search placement for the next fifty years- the site with the best content should always win.

That means that as long as you’re making serious efforts to bolster your customer’s online experience, you will remain in favor with the search engines and continuously see improved results.  It really is that simple.

Since this is an official SEO Strategy Guide, however, then you’ll probably want a little more detail than that to work with.  So let’s get down to some key points of interest for your search optimization strategy.



Core Content is Everything in SEO

Old-school search optimization depended largely on stuffing keywords, cranking out tremendous amounts of content and getting any form of backlinks to your website.

The Internet back then was like the Wild West; everything was available for the taking if you didn’t mind being called an outlaw.  And that’s why quality was almost an afterthought over the past two decades, the search engines did not have a strong enough algorithm in place to properly identify what we now call spam.

I won’t lie to you- some of those tactics still perform well with the major search engines these days.  You can still take a few shortcuts building backlinks and almost any form of traffic is still considered a positive signal, even if it comes from spammy sources that have no interest at all with your brand.  These black hat methods are becoming harder and harder to execute properly though, and there’s one crucial thing you have to remember about being an outlaw-

Outlaws eventually end up dead or in jail.  So stop trying to be an SEO outlaw, even if think you’re the quickest draw in the West.

  • DO create informative content to educate your customers
  • DO update your FAQ and core information pages
  • DO commit to a weekly blog about your industry
  • DO share your blogs on social channels to increase engagement
  • Do focus on a quality over quantity approach
  • Do update or remove poorly written pages
  • Do post content that leads to additional actions (read more, call, opt-in, etc.)

So when it comes to content for your website, don’t even think about taking shortcuts in 2016 and beyond.  Everything you post should engage your audience and help them learn a little bit more about your brand.  That means you should be getting down to the nitty-gritty and sharing precise details about anything and everything your customers have questions about, and it should be written in a way that just makes sense.

Take Mobile Seriously

Let’s talk about backlink building as a search optimization method for a moment…and I’ll start with an obligatory, “Ladies and gentlemen, please make sure your seat backs and tray tables are in their full upright position.  We are about to experience some severe turbulence.”

Over the past few years, creating a solid backlink profile has become increasingly difficult.  Let’s just look at what Google tells you not to do-

  • DO NOT guest post on websites with questionable ethics
  • DO NOT leave random comments with your link in it
  • DO NOT buy backlinks under any circumstance
  • DO NOT swap backlinks with other websites
  • DO NOT associate yourself with any spammy site
  • DO NOT use the same anchor text across most of your links

That’s where we reach the turbulence part of this journey, because chances are pretty darn good that you’ve violated some or all of those guidelines over the past few years.  If that’s the case, then we strongly recommend that you disavow your less-than-reputable backlinks since your website is likely facing penalties because of it.

With that said, link building strategies have not changed much over the past year other than to avoid the ComLuv’s of the world that Google has clearly blacklisted.  In fact, you should probably forget about any form of guest blogging where you’re permitted to insert a backlink straight to your website, unless it’s in an author bio.  There are still tens of thousands of quality content sites to write for out there as well- just use a little more caution this time around.

Social media is still a powerful way to receive natural backlinks as well, and Google vastly prefers this approach since others are choosing to talk about you on their own sites.  Other solid opportunities for gaining backlinks are creating highly-sharable content like infographics or case studies, utilizing directories within your niche, press releases and blogging about authorities within your industry.

One more word on backlinks before we move on.  Remember that your profile does not need dozens of backlinks to every possible page in order to achieve solid overall rankings; this is the old-school formula for grey hat SEO and it is completely unnecessary.  The search engines would rather see a handful of natural high authority links to your domain over thousands of weaker ones, so make sure your focus remains on quality partnerships.

Build Better Backlnks

Let’s talk about backlink building as a search optimization method for a moment…and I’ll start with an obligatory, “Ladies and gentlemen, please make sure your seat backs and tray tables are in their full upright position.  We are about to experience some severe turbulence.”

Over the past few years, creating a solid backlink profile has become increasingly difficult.  Let’s just look at what Google tells you not to do-

  • DO NOT guest post on websites with questionable ethics
  • DO NOT leave random comments with your link in it
  • DO NOT buy backlinks under any circumstance
  • DO NOT swap backlinks with other websites
  • DO NOT associate yourself with any spammy site
  • DO NOT use the same anchor text across most of your links

That’s where we reach the turbulence part of this journey, because chances are pretty darn good that you’ve violated some or all of those guidelines over the past few years.  If that’s the case, then we strongly recommend that you disavow your less-than-reputable backlinks since your website is likely facing penalties because of it.

With that said, link building strategies have not changed much over the past year other than to avoid the ComLuv’s of the world that Google has clearly blacklisted.  In fact, you should probably forget about any form of guest blogging where you’re permitted to insert a backlink straight to your website, unless it’s in an author bio.  There are still tens of thousands of quality content sites to write for out there as well- just use a little more caution this time around.

Social media is still a powerful way to receive natural backlinks as well, and Google vastly prefers this approach since others are choosing to talk about you on their own sites.  Other solid opportunities for gaining backlinks are creating highly-sharable content like infographics or case studies, utilizing directories within your niche, press releases and blogging about authorities within your industry.

One more word on backlinks before we move on.  Remember that your profile does not need dozens of backlinks to every possible page in order to achieve solid overall rankings; this is the old-school formula for grey hat SEO and it is completely unnecessary.  The search engines would rather see a handful of natural high authority links to your domain over thousands of weaker ones, so make sure your focus remains on quality partnerships.

Local Search is Massive

Here’s a statistic worth remembering- almost 80% of all mobile searches in the United States directly lead to a purchase.  Since almost 73% of those purchases occur in local brick and mortar stores, local search optimization (AKA Google Maps) should definitely become one of the most important parts of your overall SEO strategy in 2017 and beyond.

How do you optimize for the local search engines?

  • Create/verify your listings with all the major search engines
  • Complete the certification process to show that it’s your business
  • Complete your profile 100% (photos, categories, descriptions, etc.)
  • List a local contact phone number in your profile
  • Repeat this process on major directories (Yellow Pages, Yelp, etc.)
  • Ask your best customers for honest reviews/ratings
  • Build backlinks from social and authority sites
  • Focus on your main website’s core engagement levels

Essentially, Google and Bing want to see you treat your local search profiles exactly like you would your own website, so remember that the little things really do matter in this instance.  Also, make sure that each of your local search profiles uses 100% unique content for the spiders to crawl, but all of the other information should be exactly the same.  In other words, do not list different addresses, phone numbers and other information that the search engines could see as a conflict, and avoid toll free numbers altogether since they signal that you’re probably not seeking local business clients.

Monetization & Lead Generation

Quick question- why are you worried about your website’s SEO in the first place?  And before you answer, let me point you right back to the very first sentence on this page once again.  Because the answer you’re looking for should not be, “So I can make lots of money.”

Honestly, Google could care less if you are making income through your website or not.

Their only worry is that your site’s content makes visitors happy, and it is a huge red flag for the search engine giant if they see just a few paragraphs of text and a dozen or more ads.  Without even looking at anything else, they know right off the bat what your real intentions are.

  • DO use appealing calls to action in contact forms
  • DO ask users to visit your social sites
  • DO monetize your pages in natural, logical ways
  • DO offer freebies and giveaways to generate leads
  • DO NOT lose focus on making great content the top priority

Now, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t use ad banners and email captures on your website; just don’t do it in a way that would make people question your motives.  Remember, this is not so much about the amount of advertising, but about how much actual content there is to balance it out.

So don’t be that guy who posts 12 flashing ad banners per page- not even John Chow does that anymore…and you’re no John Chow.  That is, unless you are actually John Chow and you just happen to be reading my blog.  If that’s the case, then I guess this last section doesn’t fully apply to you.

But for everyone that’s not named John Chow, then you may want to reconsider limiting your ad-space and focusing on your actual visitors instead.

Back-End Optimizations

Even though you probably have a web developer that handles the heavy lifting when it comes to the back-end of your website, there are several minor issues that could cause you to lose appeal to the search engines.

I won’t dwell here though, just scan through this list of miscellaneous items that could be harming your search ranking-

  • Slow loading times/not enough bandwidth
  • Poor navigational structures
  • Missing pages that do not properly redirect
  • Broken inbound and outbound backlinks
  • Images not properly labeled
  • Missing H1 (main title) tags
  • Lack of meta keywords & descriptions
  • Plugin conflicts that affect functionality
  • Suspicious redirects (possibly by hackers)

So if you see any of these issues, contact your system administrator and tell him that he stinks at his job.  Then call me to fix the issues and we can make fun of that other guy together!

Keyword Research

You may have heard some of the experts mention that keywords are officially dead, and to some degree they are absolutely correct.

You should no longer be focused on things like keyword density or packing in as many combinations of key-phrases as you can in any given page.  This is no longer a valid tactic since the search engines have made it abundantly clear that they are more focused on your visitor’s engagement levels.

At the same time, keywords certainly do still matter, so let’s go straight to our bullet points-

  • DO mention on at least one primary keyword on each page
  • DO use keyword software to find popular phrases with low competition
  • DO hyperlink your targeted keyword to other parts of your website
  • DO hyperlink your targeted keyword to authority sites within your niche
  • DO include your targeted keyword in the title, meta title, and description
  • DO NOT repeat keywords just for ranking purposes
  • DO NOT ever use a keyword unless it fits naturally within the text
  • DO NOT forget that quality and engagement are the most important factors

To prove that, let’s do a little experiment and talk about our famous SEO Keyword Spatula, which is something that I just completely made up for testing purposes.  It does sound like a pretty cool product name though and since I bolded it, the search spiders will likely see it as being important.  Notice that we’re not actually keyword stuffing though, since the phrase is only being used twice total.

If you take peek in AdWords, the phrase “SEO keyword spatula” has zero natural competition (as expected) but it is also somewhat related to almost 600,000 similar monthly searches containing both “SEO” and “keyword” within the phrase.  And if our little experiment here works, then I should have the #1 ranking not only for the worthless phrase I just made up, but also have the opportunity for getting noticed in dozens of similar search terms that people are actively searching for.

Does that make sense? It’s sort of a backdoor ninja approach to capturing the easy stuff and possibly getting noticed in the ultra-competitive niches as well.

You should be doing the exact same thing with all of those long-tail keywords within your niche that others are not actively targeting.  And the long-term benefits of consistently searching for and using new long-tail keyphrases within your website copy can pay serious cumulative rewards.

Video Marketing is Huge

Many people are on the fence about video marketing since Google cannot actively see the content contained within your embedded multimedia players.  Hopefully by now you’re not going to make me refer you back to the very first sentence again though; modern SEO is not about what Google sees.

It is about how your visitors react to the core content on your domain.  And if a video captures their attention while they’re visiting you, then Google doesn’t have to understand what they’re watching.  It helps you anyway.

  • DO use videos to explain core products and services
  • DO share videos on social sites
  • DO share other videos on your site that resonate with viewers
  • DO keep the majority of your videos under two minutes
  • DO focus on lighting and sound quality
  • DO NOT hesitate to shoot simple, first person videos with a smartphone

Here is another incredibly important piece of the puzzle for video though– the most influential video hosting website on the planet is owned by Google.  So not only does video marketing get the benefit of its very own search stream for consumers, but Google also prioritizes YouTube videos within both the natural and the video types of searches as well.  So you literally get three streams of exposure by posting one video on YouTube and embedding it into your website…and your customers will love you for it.

What does a homeless young Korean man in a singing competition have to do with SEO and video marketing?  It’s almost impossible not to be moved by his amazing journey…and that is engagement at its very finest.  However, if your videos happen to answer the specific questions that your website’s visitors are contemplating, then it is an extremely powerful sales technique as well.

So while video marketing is not a core SEO factor all by itself, the engagement that it creates certainly matters.

Boosting On-Page Metrics

Throughout this guide so far, we’ve talked about the term “engagement” in almost every single section.  It is certainly one of those buzzwords that are tossed around frequently by experts, but it hardly ever seems to get properly defined either.  So let’s define it now by search engine standards.

Customer engagement refers to any positive action that is taken by a user on a website.

Any when I say “any positive action”, that’s exactly what I mean.  Think about this for a moment- the average smartphone user visits a website and qualifies it in the mind in a mere three seconds.  So if you manage to tick over to that four second mark, it’s a positive.

Not a good one, mind you, but still a plus in your favor nonetheless.

And your entire job as a website owner is to create more and more of those positive experiences so the search engines know that people are finding good stuff there.  This can include any combination of the following-

  • Visiting multiple pages
  • Clicking on a backlink
  • Filling out a contact form
  • Leaving a comment
  • Sharing on social media
  • Watching a video
  • Downloading a file/app
  • Users revisiting to your website
  • Opting in for email alerts
  • Giving likes, +1’s or other nods

If you look in your Google Analytics account, the search giant has been tracking these types of metrics for years now, so it only makes sense that you should keep up with these key metrics as well.  Every chance you get to create additional engagement helps your website overall, so know that your on-page metrics are as important as ever in the eyes of the search engines.

If you’re wondering how to boost your on-page statistics, just try to make each page as pleasant of an experience as possible for your visitors.  Here are just a few techniques to do that-

  • DO focus on using only top notch writers
  • DO keep your navigation simple
  • DO add lots of visual elements to your website
  • DO incorporate video, charts, and infographs
  • DO use bullet points and subtitles to break up text
  • DO use bold and italics to make key points stand out
  • DO link internally so users have easy access to more content

Focusing on the Consumer

If you haven’t realized it by now, search engine optimization is all about the consumer.  The more you go out of your way to provide great information and make your visitors happy, the more Yahoo, Google and Bing will reward you with a boost in natural rankings.  And even though some of the things I’ve shared so far may seem super technical and difficult to implement, I’ll tell you one more time to read the first sentence of this article- that’s close to 85% of today’s SEO right there.

As long as you’re putting forth a genuine effort to become more helpful online than all of your competition, then you will eventually outrank them…even if it’s purely by dumb luck.

So let’s recap real fast with the highlights-

  1. Write great content.
  2. Optimize for mobile users.
  3. Focus on quality backlinks.
  4. Use local to your advantage.
  5. Don’t be that guy with too many ads.
  6. Make sure your website loads smoothly.
  7. Continue to focus on keywords.
  8. Post a few videos on your site.
  9. Use smart page layouts to increase engagement.
  10. Always focus on pleasing your consumers.

That’s not so hard, is it?

If you have any questions about modern search optimization or want to point out a tip or two that I missed, please feel free to reach out through my contact form or leave a comment below.  I’m here to help.