Are User Reviews Overrated?

Is there a disconnect between how important restaurant owners think their online reviews are, compared to how important customers feel those reviews are?

A restaurant point of sale and management system called Toast recently released a whitepaper that stated:

  • Almost half (49%) of restaurant owners say online reviews are influential
  • But, only a third (35%) of customers say online reviews influence them

Huh. Ok, processing… From the perspective of an SEO company in Toronto, we must say this does not compute.

Based on the data on the browsing/searching habits we’ve seen from customers over the years, Toast’s findings don’t quite jive with us. We can tell you that restaurants are among the most Googled businesses across the globe, and data has always pointed to search engine results driving consumer behaviour.

Here are some other stats to consider:

  • BrightLocal has reported that 90% of consumers read online reviews before visiting a business
  • They also added that 84% trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation
  • The Harvard Business School reported every one-star increase in a Yelp rating means a 5 to 9% increase in revenue
  • Reviewtrackers has reported that 94% of customers surveyed said a bad online review has convinced them to avoid a business
  • Customers are willing to pay 31% more for a well-reviewed business

We were not a part of the Toast survey data gathering, but it is entirely possible the customers they surveyed may not realize how much that online reviews will actually influence their purchase decision.

You could ask people something like:

Question: How important would you say online reviews are in choosing a restaurant?
Respondent Answer: Only Somewhat

But if we dig a little deeper:

Question: Would you go to a restaurant with 2.0 stars?
Respondent Answer: No 

Question: Would you go to a restaurant after reading that it’s way too expensive?
Respondent Answer: No 

Question: Do you check menu items online before visiting a restaurant?
Respondent Answer: Yes

When you break it into individual questions about their buying behavior, the big-picture-answer is, yes, online reviews are important.

So, if you were a restaurant owner who read the Toast statistics and was about to dial back your spending/ efforts on online reviews, think again.

Online reviews are more than just a foot-traffic driver to get people into your business. They are an absolutely crucial part of any successful local SEO campaign.

Are online reviews overrated from an SEO perspective? Hard, hard no. In fact, they may be dangerously underrated by many.

The Impact of Online Reviews on SEO

If you’re a small-to-medium-sized business in a competitive market, your online reviews are a huge part of your local SEO strategy and they are the pillars of your off-page strategy.

Your off-page strategy needs to involve real effort going into:

  • Your Google My Business listing (Moz has ranked it as most important)
  • Your online reviews
  • Link-building & brand mentions

How much weight is given to your reviews in relation to other on and off-page factors? Good question! Sadly, this is not like your credit score where FICO tells you that your payment history is worth 35% of your credit score. Google doesn’t tell you how much your reviews are worth. And it’s a good thing they don’t because that would create chaos in the world of local SEO.

Here are some universal truths that data has proven:

  • High-ranking sites have more good reviews
  • They also typically have a larger number of reviews, in general
  • Good reviews help your SEO more than bad reviews, but…
  • Bad reviews aren’t always that bad (More on that later)
  • It is almost impossible to rank in a high-competition local market without them

There is also no magic ratio that expresses how much good a positive review helps you, compared to how much a bad one hurts you. I can tell you that if I knew that number, I would not share it for free in a blog. I would be living on my own island right now and rule the world of local SEO.

Good Online Reviews Help David Fight Goliath 

SEO Reviews Restaurant

Let’s say you run an amazing (but small) steak house.

You want to earn enough SEO clout to steer people away from international steak giant, The Keg. You may wonder how the hell you’re supposed to do that. The Keg probably spends the equivalent of your restaurant’s entire yearly revenue on social media ads alone, right?

You can’t take them down, but you can stand next to them!

Your reviews are your greatest SEO weapon in this battle. The Keg has (way) more money than you, but they can’t buy good reviews (more on that later). This levels the playing field.

But you may say, “They get more customers, they’re a bigger name, and they have been open longer. They already have over 2,000 reviews and an average of 4.5. How are we supposed to get that?”

You don’t need to get that. You can be listed right next to them with 200 reviews and an average of 4.6. That could very well earn you a listing right next to The Keg, and now you’re a part of a lot more conversations about people’s dinner plans.

People Like to Help the “Little Guy”

It may actually be easier for small businesses to gather online reviews, compared to a major chain.

I don’t know about you, but if I get a slice from Pizza Pizza and the teller asks me to review them online, I’m like, “Nah, you’re good without me.” But, if I get an amazing slice from a new Mom and Pop place and they ask me for a review, I’m like, “Yes! That pizza was amazing. I must tell the world! I want these guys to do well and stay open forever.”

So, if a Keg waitress gives customers the bill and says “Don’t forget to review us online,” a lot of customers won’t give it a second thought. But, when they’re in your steak house, they’re more likely to think, “Yeah, I think I will. This place is great and I want to help them.”

They may even leave a review on the Uber ride home. 

It’s an easier ask for a small business, but you still need to ask the right way.

How to Get More Good Online Reviews

Good reviews do not simply appear because you’re amazing. You may think the secret to great reviews is delivering the best possible offering and customer service. But that’s far from the case. It certainly helps, but good reviews are not built on good intentions.

The businesses with most good reviews don’t simply have a great offering, they have a great system to encourage reviews. Like anything else in SEO, you need a strong system in place. You need a goal, a plan, and means of measuring success.

One of the first things you need to do is make sure you’re properly registered as a business with Google so you can actually get reviews. You can learn all about that by clicking here.

The rest blends elements of marketing and psychology.

user review seo

Know What You’re Up Against

You’re probably already aware of this: People are more likely to leave a bad review for a bad experience.

The old adage used to be that a happy customer will tell 2-3 people about their experience but a dissatisfied consumer will share their gripe with as many as 20. The numbers always seemed to fluctuate, depending on who you talked to. However, the message is always clear. Bad experiences resonate more, and people are more likely to share them.

It’s not that we’re all terrible and whiny people who would rather complain than praise. It’s just a matter of what resonates more. 

Think about it. Which experience is more memorable?

  • That time you waited in line forever and they still screwed up your order, or…
  • That time you ordered your coffee with no problems whatsoever

Which story would you be more likely to tell to coworkers in the lunchroom later? The bad one, clearly, and it’s not your fault. It’s just simply a more memorable, and sadly, shareable experience.

This means that if bad experiences stand out more in people’s minds, we have to give them a reason to review good ones. 

Know the Rules

Some people will tell you the secret to getting more online reviews is simple: Ask for them.

Well… that’s simply not true. The biggest problem with that is that Yelp does not want anyone asking for Yelp reviews in any form at any time. Ever. They want all of their reviews to be completely unsolicited and totally organic. 

Yelp takes this seriously and is getting better at catching the people who violate their policies every single day. 

However, many other major review sites like Google and Tripadvisor do you allow you to ask for reviews. They just don’t want you to:

  1. Pay for them in any way
  2. Misrepresent the truth or lie in them

Assuming you’re not targeting Yelp, there are a number of organic ways you can encourage customers to review your company.

Train Your Staff

Get your sales or customer service staff to remind customers to review you, right after an interaction where the customer is satisfied and their opinion of you is high.

This is why servers should do this after a meal and not before. But again, if you’re a restaurant, don’t let your servers use the Y-word that rhymes with “help.”

Swag/Print Materials/ Take-aways
You can also put reminders to review you online on your take-out menus, fridge magnets, business cards, or flyers. 

Emails and SMS Reminders
Once you have your customer’s email address or phone number, you can send them a gentle reminder/ nudge that their feedback is valuable. But, be careful as Google says you’re not allowed to “solicit reviews from customers in bulk.”

Your Website and Social Channels
It’s also good to have “Review Us” buttons and sections on all of your web properties.

Never Ever Do These Things to Get More Reviews

Now that we’ve reviewed the organic and above-the-grade ways that you should earn your reviews, we will now cover the black-hat shortcuts that will get you banned from review sites in a hurry.

Or you may get a humiliating banner on your Yelp page for 90 days, letting everyone know you cheated.

yelp consumer alertNever, ever do any of these things.

Review Your Own Company:
This includes getting any members of your staff to do it. The one exception may be asking your employees for good Glassdoor reviews. This is legal, but a lot of employees still hate doing it.

Create Fake Accounts to Write Good Reviews
We can’t believe people still do this. You WILL get caught and you WILL pay for it. In fact, you might even go to jail. Seriously!

Hire a Third Party Person or Company to Write Fake Reviews
Just don’t do it, for all of the reasons we listed above.

Offer Incentives For Leaving a Review
No matter what you come up with, it is very likely going to tread too closely to paying for good reviews.

It doesn’t matter if it’s a discount, or a promotion, or free sample. You’re best to err on the side of caution and just avoid incentivized reviews.

Write Bad Reviews On Your Competitors Review Sites
This can get you banned, and it also just simply reflects very poorly on your brand.

You come off very unprofessional and petty.

Can a Bad Review Be a Good Thing?

bad reviews SEOThere is an old saying in Hollywood that all press is good press. Does this apply to your online reviews? Is any review a good review that can help your SEO ranking?

We wouldn’t go that far, but there are definitely a few upsides to a bad review.

1. Volume is a Good Thing

Google’s ranking algo is incredibly complex and constantly changing. As such, nobody can truthfully say that a good review will help your ranking, nor how much a bad one will hurt, nor what the totality of all your reviews may do. You just can’t.

There are some who can say, “We increased our reviews from X to Y, and saw our ranking jump to Z. This caused our traffic to blah blah blah.” That’s anecdotal and isolated. It’s also very tied to a local market. A bad review in Toronto could have a completely different effect than one in Manhattan.

Two things we know for sure:

  1. Google will showcase the brand with the best reviews
  2. They will also showcase the ones with the most reviews

In this regard, yes, adding to the number of reviews you have is likely a good thing, provided you can offset the bad review with lots of good ones.

2. Legitimacy and Truthfulness are Good

You also need bad reviews to be taken seriously.

You need a mixed bag of both good/ bad reviews to be respected and accepted by both the review site and your would-be customers. Ironically, you need a few bad reviews for people to believe that your good reviews are all legit.

Nothing but glowing 5-star reviews is a red flag to Yelp or Google that you are faking your reviews. And it sends the exact same signal to the people searching for your business. You’re simply too good to be true.

So, in this case, a 4.8 likely looks better than a 5.0. People look at a 5.0 and say, “Pfft. Fake.” But they look at 4.8 and say, “Oh damn.”

Research has proven that customers are more likely to respond to moderately positive reviews, compared to widely positive reviews.

Everyone knows that nobody is perfect. There were critics who didn’t like The Beatles White Album or The film The Shawshank Redemption. Nothing can garner 100% good reviews. 

Even the online mattress mega-seller Endy brags about a slightly imperfect 4.8 rating on their site, front and center. They understand the legitimacy of the number, and that buyers will know that 4.8 is actually freaking awesome. 

3. You Can Turn a Bad Review Into a Success Story

This is a very legitimate opportunity to turn a detractor into an advocate, or a hater into a fan. 

The individual attention that you spend addressing a negative review (or comment on social media) can go a long way and make a lasting impression with this once-angry customer.

Google actively encourages you to interact with your bad reviews, and points to it as a way of gaining local SEO success.

Of course, there are also services that will help you intercept a bad review from a customer before it’s posted publicly, such as:

But we will take a deeper dive into them later.

4. You Can Turn Bad Reviews into Great Blogs

Sometimes a hurtful review can be the best things to ever happen to you. 

They say that when you lose, you should never lose the lesson. So take your bad reviews and make the most of them.

The root of their complaint is clearly that customer’s pain point. Someone else will have the same pain point. This is all invaluable and unfiltered market research. Put your pride aside and learn from this.  

Take the bad review, in its entirety (swear words and all), and ask yourself:

  1. What is this customer’s overarching complaint? Was this about quality? Wait times? Pricing?
  2. What are the words they’re using to describe how they feel? Annoyed? Hurt? Disappointed?
  3. Was this just one unhappy customer or is this pointing to a trend?

Take the verbiage and the pain points from this and turn it into targeted blog content and whitepapers that talk about this. If there is a common complaint, this is a forum to explain why.

For example, let’s say you’re a keto-friendly bakery. Someone gives you a bad review saying they drove all the way across town and you were out of the keto pizza crust that they really wanted. Maybe a few people have expressed a similar complaint.

Write a blog about how your pizza crust is made by hand and you can’t get this level of keto-friendliness and tastiness in a mass-produced crust. It has to be made with love and care by hand, which is how you do it. It sells out so quickly, because it’s so dang good, but so dang hard to make.

Do I Need a Customer Review Software?

There are a lot of legitimate tools that can help you mine, cultivate and manage your customer reviews across all platforms. You can use a single solution to manage your Google Reviews, Yelp, Booking.com, Tripadvisor or whatever you need.

They include:

However, these solutions are not cheap and can often be a big investment for a small business.

Is it worth your money to invest? If you’re in a very competitive market and can see a clear return-on-investment from better online reviews, it is definitely worth considering. Or, if you’re finding that you’re spending too much time managing them manually, you should also consider it.

Keep in mind that these programs are not autopilot mode for your reviews. They can do a lot to help you manage and organize, but they still require someone to use the program and “own” it. If you don’t want to tie up any of your own time or staff worrying about this, your best bet is to likely work with an online reputation management firm.

At the same time, if you’re considering a software solution because you’re dealing with a plague of bad reviews that you want to remove/move down, you should definitely work with a reputation management firm, because this requires an entire strategy.

Parting Thoughts

So, are online reviews overrated? In a nutshell, no, not even close.

There is a reason these reviews are the new currency in the world of local SEO. Google has always rewarded organic tactics to boost your brand’s web presence, and this definitely includes a strong trail of legitimate online reviews.

Like everything else in SEO, you can’t really buy success here. You need to put in the work to earn it. It’s not easy and it doesn’t just happen simply because you did a really good job. You need to cultivate online reviews, but not too aggressively, particularly when it comes to Yelp… Yelp needs to be handled with care.

If you have any questions about online reviews or reputation management, please feel free to click here to contact us at any time.

 

Sidewalk Labs’ Vision of Toronto: Dream City or Sci-Fi Nightmare?

Sidewalk Labs was asked to create a vision for a 12ish acre piece of criminally underused land on Toronto’s waterfront. What they came back with is truly amazing or absolutely terrifying, depending on how you see it.

The people of Toronto currently have two polar views of this plan. Some feel it will be a utopian future like the Jetsons, where robots clean out homes and dress our kids. While others feel it will be a dystopian future like Terminator, where the machines rise and enslave us all..

At first glance, Sidewalk Labs’ (Google’s sister company and Alphabet Inc.’s urban innovation organization) plan looks incredible. It would make Silicon Valley look like an expensive and overrated dump compared to Toronto’s new shining beacon of to future.  

They plan promises affordable and sustainable loft housing made of (gasp) wood. This new area would also be home to innovative and lucrative jobs, while we’re all whisked around the area on a new transit system that’s enough to make today’s Go Train or TTC commuter drool. We could walk anywhere and spend more time outdoors, and get to know our friendly neighbours. 

However, a closer look at their 1,500-page plan/ opus reveals a lot of high-level questions that still need to be answered, with some pretty massive concerns about what they’ve proposed.

So far, the plan has been very divisive and polarizing. Torontonians are either ready to sign a petition to keep Sidewalk Labs out, or sign up for the waiting list for one of those lofts.

We love Toronto. We’re proud to live in the city and operate a business here. We’re also an SEO firm and web design agency that talks about Google all-day-every-day. So, you could say that we have a vested interest in how this all plays out, and we’ve been watching the headlines carefully.

Here is a look at both sides of the issue.

About Sidewalk Labs’ Proposal

Earlier this summer, Sidewalks Labs unveiled their massive proposal called, Toronto Tomorrow: A New Approach for Inclusive Growth. We call it massive because it is 4 volumes and over 1,500 words long, and because it represents one of the most ambitious plans for any city in history.

They were basically asked to come up with a plan to repurpose and revitalize a 12-acre parcel of Toronto’s lakefront. However, that is just Phase 1of their proposed plan.

Their vision would see a 20-acre Villiers West site become a new expanded Google Canada headquarters, with some new residential and commercial properties as well. Next, they would set their sites on a 190-acre area of Toronto’s waterfront that they would turn into the Innovative Development and Economic Acceleration (IDEA) district.

Keeping in Google’s “Do No Evil” motto, here is some of the good that the plan would set out to do, 

More Jobs

This plan promises to create an impressive 93,000 total jobs, which includes 44,000 direct jobs. They also say it will pump $14.2 billion into the annual GDP output by the year 2040.

Approximately 2,500 of those new positions would be manufacturing jobs “catalyzing the mass timber industry through a new Ontario factory.”

More Affordable Housing

Sidewalk labs toronto housingAt the same time, affordable housing is a benchmark of the plan, with 40% of the housing proposed being rented at below-market rates. Another 20% meeting the traditional definition of affordable, which is defined as being offered at or below 100% of the average market rent for the given city. 

They have also allocated 5% of their units to meet the definition of “deep affordability,” which means they are up to 60% of average market rent.

However, it’s important to know that these units will be… “cozy.” The proposal has touted that the Quayside condo of the future would come in both efficient and ultra-efficient units. Today’s average 1-bedroom apartment/condo in downtown Toronto hovers around the 450-500 square feet mark, including a balcony. It will be interesting to see how these units are sized.

They say smaller and more efficient units will, “Enable affordability while remaining livable through thoughtful design features, such as space-saving furniture, shared building amenities, and access to off-site storage space with on-demand delivery.”

Affordable housing is a huge issue for people who want to live and work in Toronto. The most recent numbers point to a 1-bedroom apartment in Toronto now costing an average of well over $2,200, while a 2 bedroom would cost you much closer to $2,800.

Sidewalk labs toronto loftsThat’s a 14% year-over-year increase, and these numbers have been going up for the last few years. One wonders what the market rates will be by the time this plan is approved and the new apartments are actually built in a few years. 

More Walkability and Mobility

Sidewalk Labs have also made walkability and mobility a huge part of their vision of the future.

They have proposed to build a neighbourhood where more than 3/4 (77%) of all trips are made by public transit, cycling, or walking. They added that this would save households up to $4,000 a year.

They want to do things like build “people first streets” that increase pedestrian street space increases by 91% and offer new mobility services such as: 

  • Ride-hail
  • Bike- share
  • Electric vehicle car-share
  • E-scooters

The area would also have adaptive transit lights that give priority to pedestrians.

More… Good Weather?

No rain Sidewalk labs toronto loftsSidewalk Labs also envision an area where we can all walk outside and enjoy the weather, up to 35% more. They propose this by building things to keep crappy weather out, with an “Outdoor-comfort system.”

Their proposed outdoor-comfort system would have: 

  • Raincoats to shelter sidewalks
  • Fanshells to cover open spaces
  • Lanterns to block wind

We will be the first to say that the wind comes right off the lake during Toronto’s winters. The damp and cold winter winds seem to go right through you, even if you’re wearing Gortex, Canada Goose or The North Face. Toronto’s winters are no joke, and possibly why we lost Kawhi Leonard to Los Angeles. 

But, their weather-blocking measures remind us of that time Mr. Burns wanted to block out the sun.

 That could just be us, though.

The Reaction to the Sidewalk Lab’s Proposal For Toronto

Something this massive is always guaranteed to garner a mixed bag of reaction from anyone in the GTA with a Twitter account.

The supporters are applauding the ambitious effort to turn Toronto into the world-class city of the future we all see it as. The proposed plan would pump some much-needed jobs and money into an underused part of the city, potentially turning it into a waterfront crown jewel that all other cities across the globe are insanely jealous of.

However, the detractors have 4 main concerns:

  1. Data Security: There is worrisome talk of “urban data collection.”
  2. Land grabbing: This proposal is aggressively larger in scale than anticipated
  3. Private interests: A private company deprioritizing public interests

Here is a closer look at each.

Concern #1: Data Security 

We live in an age where the average person freaks out when they see a MEC ad in their Instagram feed the same day they visit the MEC website. People are hypersensitive towards data privacy these days and Sidewalks Labs’ talking about ‘collecting urban data’ has been met with a visceral reaction from many.

data protection Sidewalk labs torontoThere has been a predictable amount of freaking out over this so far. After a public meeting, one attendee said, “In an ideal world I’d be in favour of data collection in Quayside if there were enough protections… But Google has a history of breaking public trust.”

However, that man asked not to be named in the story, and added he doesn’t have a smartphone or a bank account. So… you know. He might be more concerned with privacy than you or me.

In response to these (and many other) concerns raised by the people of Toronto, Daniel L. Doctoroff, Chief Executive Officer of Sidewalk Labs, penned a piece in the Toronto Star called, “Sidewalk Labs plan sets a new standard for inclusive urban growth.”

He addressed the privacy issue by writing that:

“That’s why we’ve proposed a government-sanctioned, independent urban data trust. And it’s why Sidewalk Labs has committed to de-identification and privacy-by-design principles; to not selling personal information or using personal information for advertising purposes.”

Of course, the words ‘government-sanctioned’ did not exactly put the critics’ fears to rest. Many of these people wouldn’t feel comfortable with Google or our government safeguarding their sensitive data.

The words ‘de-identification and privacy-by-design principles’ also didn’t do much to quell any fears. There are many who believe that AI and quantum computing technology will effectively make de-identification impossible in the next few years.

Google’s Questionable History of Data Privacy 

There is also a question of who exactly Toronto would be getting into bed with, so to speak. Google is the world’s biggest data collector, as well as the world’s biggest data collection controversy collector.

It’s understandable, as Google has had a long history of questionable data collection and sharing practices, and widespread data security criticism for every product that they offer, from Maps to Chrome. 

Despite that, Sidewalk Labs insists that protecting private data will be a top priority for this development. They have stated that the feedback from the public has inspired them to set: 

A new standard for data privacy and governance in cities, and scaling back the role of Sidewalk Labs so local third parties can lead most of the real estate and technology development.”

Sidewalk Labs would even like to create an independent, government-sanctioned Urban Data Trust. Again, this was not met with an overall sense of relief, as right now there is no legal definition of what urban data even is. And many do not trust the government’s ability (nor their trustworthiness) to operate such a trust.

However, it will be hard to garner trust as the company keeps making headlines for all of the wrong reasons.

Concern #2: Land Grabbing

It’s hard not to be taken aback by the sheer size of what’s being proposed. It’s also worth noting that something that started out as a project to revitalize fewer than 13 acres of land quickly escalated into a plan to transform most of Toronto’s eastern lakefront property.

land grab Sidewalk labs toronto

This project would have raised questions of gentrification no matter what, even if they had just stuck with the original land parcel. After all, we’re talking about the biggest brand name in the world coming in to “improve” a historic and under-developed part of town. This always brings up questions like:

  • Will this suck the soul out of the area? 
  • Will it push the less fortunate people out?  
  • What’s to stop this from spilling into other neighbourhoods?

However, Doctoroff has stated that, “This plan proposes a limited role for Sidewalk Labs with government in the lead. Working with local partners, Sidewalk Labs would develop less than 7 percent of the eastern waterfront.”

Concern #3: Private interests

There is also a concern that this section of Toronto will quickly become ‘Googleville,’ while it pushes public interests aside and keeping all of the money for itself.

Doctoroff also addressed this in his Star piece, saying that, “Sidewalk Labs and partners would provide up to $1.3 billion in funding and financing.”

“We propose to make money on real estate development, fees on advisory services, charges on any optional financing provided, and a performance payment for hitting agreed-upon targets. Much of this would come only after public goals are achieved.” 

They have also proposed 10% profit sharing with governments for 10 years for some technologies developed for and used in the IDEA District.

Closing Thoughts

Like many people in Toronto, we’re adopting a ‘wait and see’ mentality when it comes to this development. We are huge fans of Google and see what an amazing opportunity this is for Toronto, particularly those of us who work in the technology sector.

There are a lot of things in the proposal that make us want to pinch ourselves because they sound so amazing. However, there are still a lot of unanswered questions that will be addressed as the proposed plan moves forward.

Will the IDEA District be the next head office for SEO Toronto? Only time will tell.

Add TF-IDF to Your SEO Research Before Your Competition Discovers it

No, we’re not about to tell you to completely scrap your keyword research. But, we are going to advise you to add a few columns to the spreadsheet; Crucial columns that could help you leapfrog the competition.

Today, we’re going to discuss TF-IDF, which we find insanely exciting. We pride ourselves on staying on top of SEO trends, without jumping on every little hack or trick that may or may not still be a thing in 12 months.

With that in mind, we can confidently say that TF-IDF is “for reals,” as the kids say… Do kids still say that? We have no idea. SEO trends are the only ones we follow.

In any case, TF-IDF is not an SEO fad. It’s a legit game-changer that very few people are taking advantage of. This is why you need to jump on this right now before “The Other Guys” do.

We’re going to take a deep dive into TF-IDF and explore what it is and what it is not. We will also show you exactly how it can help your site, and frame it all by putting it in the context of keyword research changes in recent years.

The Keyword Research That You are Probably Doing Now 

You’re probably using some variation of this content model right now:

  1. You use a keyword tool like Google Keyword Planner, ahrefs (our go-to), or SEMRush
  2. You find the keywords to match your customers’ problems and your company’s offering
  3. Weigh search volume against the competition score to find the keywords you want
  4. Pop all of this data into a big ol’ spreadsheet or content planner
  5. Create each respective blog with a primary and secondary keyword in mind
  6. Add them to your blog as naturally as possible, without stuffing them in
  7. Repeat for each respective blog

To be clear, this system works! This is some rock-solid SEOing. If you’re doing this now, you’re ahead of most businesses out there today. For god sake, more than a third of surveyed businesses are still keyword stuffing.

If you’re using the method above and your competition is also doing it, it’s a battle to see who can do it better.

Allow us to show you how to do it better.

TF-IDF sEO Research

What is TF-IDF?

TF-IDF stands for “Term frequency–inverse document frequency.” 

How does it impact your keyword strategy? Simply put, the tried-and-trusted keyword tools we mentioned are fantastic at telling you the keywords you need to optimize to earn Google’s attention. TF-IDF takes this a step further by showing you the other words that you will need to legitimize this piece as authoritative and complete.

Performing a TF-IDF analysis reveals the relevant words used in the top 10 results for whatever keyword you’re going after. It can show you words that could be viewed as conspicuous by their absence, in the eyes of Google.

Let’s say you’re writing a blog on the Avengers. You would probably use keywords like Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, and Black Widow. However, Google’s algo may not see your piece as truly authoritative if you’re not using words like superhero, comic book, hammer, or Marvel. But, doing some TF-IDF research would show you that 10/10 of the highest ranking blogs on The Avengers all have those other words. The data also shows you exactly how frequently each word is used in each blog.

If you want an insanely detailed and complex look at how this is calculated, we invite you to read this incredible piece.

For the purposes of this article, we’re not going to get into the granular minutiae of the algo. We’ll focus on its impact on SEO and the world of keywording as we know it.

How to use TF-IDF With Your Keywords 

Let’s say you wanted to rank for the term, ‘How to paint stripes on a wall.’ This is a pretty good mix of search volume and low competition. If you own a local paint or hardware store, this could be a good one to go after.

So, you would punch ‘How to paint stripes on a wall’ into your keyword tool (we used ahrefs, as usual) and get the following:

From here, you would look at the keyword ideas by volume and make ‘How to paint stripes on a wall’ your primary keyword and use secondary/ tertiary keywords such as:

  • How to paint horizontal stripes on a wall
  • How to paint vertical stripes on a wall
  • How to paint stripes on a wall without tape

That’s a great start. Now, let’s take this to the next level by doing some TF-IDF analysis to see the other words that we should be using.

Today, we’re using Surfer keyword analyzer. There are other options out there such as:

I like Surfer’s simple layout and deep-dive insights.

First of all, let’s enter our primary keyword, ‘How to paint stripes on a wall’ to see the other words that we should be using in our blog.

From the Popular Words tab, we can see what words frequently showed up in the current top-ranking sites for this query. We can see: 

  • The #1 ranked result used the word ‘Tape’ 35 times (1.94% density)
  • The #2 used it 52 times (0.73% density)
  • The #3 used it 20 times. 

You can also see the breakdown for other words like ‘Paint’ and ‘Wall.’

Would you have written this article without the word ‘Tape?’ Probably not. But this gives you an idea of how often the top performers are using it.

Let’s see what phrases the highest-ranked articles have in common. We click the Popular Phrases tab.

Now, we see the multi-word phrases that appear in the top results the most frequently.

Some of these phrases won’t apply to your blog. ‘Reply Beth’ was used in the #2 blog’s three times, but likely makes no sense in yours. But, you can see other terms that you should be using like ‘Base Coat’ or ‘Paint Stripes.’

Let’s drill down a bit further. 

The Common Words tab will show you which words showed up in all 10 of the top 10 results. In this case, you can see they all used the words: 

2019, wall, colors, color, paint, tape, time, stripes, painting, walls, painter, measure, base, stripe

It’s interesting to see that you may not have included ‘2019’ in your blog, but every page ranking in the Top 10 did.

Now you can take a similar drill down with the Common Phrases Tab.

TF-IDF sEO Research common phrases

You can see that 9 out of the Top 10 used the terms ‘Paint stripes’ and “Painter s tape.” Your blog probably would have too, but it’s good to know. It’s pretty cool stuff and shows you a more complete view of what you’re trying to rank against.

From here, you can see that if you and your competition each write an article about how to paint a stripe on a wall, adding the word “2019” could possibly give you the edge you need to outrank them… even though it may not have shown up in your initial keyword research.

How to Use and Implement TF-IDF Data

As you can see, TF-IDF data doesn’t replace your old keyword data, it gives it a nitrous oxide boost.

So, now what? What do you do with all of these new insights? You can see that the word ‘Tape’ makes up 1.93% of the top-ranking blogs. Does that mean you’re going to make sure that you use it 19 times in 1000 words? Or even bump it up to 20?

No, please do not do that! Unless you want to frustrate your reader and publish a truly terrible blog. 

Think of this data as more of a checklist to ensure you’re telling a complete story, and creating something the Google’s algo will see as comprehensive and authoritative.

Do not look at this data and say:

“We’re only using the word ‘Tape’ 6 times, we need to bump that up or we won’t rank.”

Instead, look at it and say:

“We’re already using the word ‘Tape,’ which is good. We’ll try to add it more where it makes sense. It looks like we should also pepper in the terms ‘Base Coat’ and ‘2019’ where we can.” 

Like traditional keyword stuffing, trying to awkwardly shoehorn these words in where they won’t belong will do 3 things:

  1. Kill the quality of the writing
  2. Frustrate the human reader
  3. Tip Google off to the fact that this is a not-so-good piece 

✖ The Wrong Way To Use This Information 

Create a finite list of words you need to use in your content, and use them according to the density your research has revealed.

✅ The Right Way to Use This Information

Use this data to identify any gaps in the story you may be telling (i.e. words you’re not using) to create the best odds for your content to rank.

Why You Want This Data Before Your Competition

If you’re currently embroiled in a competitive battle over spots in the SERPs, this is the leg-up you were looking for.

TF-IDF Data can help you make more informed SEO decisions and help you create better content. Or, you can use it to identify why some of your content creation work hasn’t paid off and you’re not seeing the traffic or ranking wins you had hoped for.

We sunk a good amount of time and effort into a few long-form pieces of content, only to see some disappointing results. We were left scratching our heads a bit. These were (in our humble view) high-quality pieces, with valuable and original content. We meticulously researched and used primary and secondary keywords.

However, after a quick TF-ID analysis, we discovered a few gaps. We saw that the top-ranking posts that we were trying to overtake were more complete and they had several terms that we simply did not.

This research uncovered sub-topics that we did not cover. It was a real lightbulb moment.

Simply put, these are the fresh and deep insights you need to claim SEO space from your competition. You can use it for a boost to leapfrog them in the rankings and send more traffic to your site. 

Vicious SEO From Outta Nowhere

If you didn’t know about TF-IDF’s value in SEO, you could be left staring at your reports wondering how your competition came from out of nowhere to overtake you. 

That’s because the changes you make with this data are small and subtle. They’re almost imperceptible. People can see that you suddenly started adding (or retroactively adding) keywords to your title tags or headings. That’s an obvious change and it’s a clear sign of why you/your competition could be gaining ground in the rankings.

But simply adding a few (seemingly benign) words to your copy? Even a hummingbird couldn’t catch that work.

The Evolution of Keyword Research Over the Years

We truly believe that TF-IDF is not just a fad, but a legit turning point in the journey to a more evolved internet. For the past few years, Google has sought to reward the people and companies who are offering the most complete user experience.

To give you a better idea of where we are going, it may be helpful to take a look at where we’ve been.

Here is a brief overview of the history of SEO and keywording.

1991- 2000: The Wild West

The early internet seems laughable to us now. Dial-up modems, AOL CDs, and webpages that looked like they were made in a Word Document.

There was no real law in this wild, wild west. The entire world was trying to figure out what this newfangled internet thing was and businesses tried to figure out how to ride this wave.

Many of the spammy techniques we still (sigh) see being used today were born in the early days … because they actually worked back then. Keyword stuffing and getting meaningless backlinks could actually help you!

It’s important to remember that we didn’t have to worry about Google updates, because Google hadn’t taken over the world yet. Google wasn’t even founded until 1998. With no defacto choice, search engines were a matter of personal preference and you could choose from:

  • HotBot
  • Altavista
  • Excite
  • WebCrawler
  • Ask Jeeves
  • Ask.com 
  • Yahoo

The content was pretty much all text-based. Our dial-up speeds were incredibly tedious, so easily consumable videos and pictures were not even close to on the radar yet.

Keyword research was very primitive, as was optimization. There was an overall feeling of, “If it works, keep doing it,” with no real playbook besides the one you wrote.

Spammers, keyword stuffers and other black hats were able to thrive in the 90s because there was no central adjudicator to make them stop. Again, there were half a dozen prominent search engines and their algorithm updates were all very slow to roll out, so you could get away with a lot for a long period of time.

Even the biggest brands in the world were guilty of keyword stuffing and using link schemes. But more on that later…

2000-2007: One Search Engine to Rule Them All

Somewhere around the turn of the century (it’s hard to lock down an exact date), Google started to grow from a start-up company to a household name. You didn’t look things up anymore, you Googled them. This forced the other search engines out of the picture. Excite declared bankruptcy in 2001, and pretty soon, the rest fell off of the map. Google’s algorithm became the only one marketers needed to care about.

As Google grew in size and reach, it also became more sophisticated. This is when we first started to hear “content is king” as the old tactics of simply stuffing and spamming were now being shunned in a more evolved internet.

It wasn’t just small businesses that had to adapt. Major international brands were being called out for shady tactics to gain online traction. For example, BMW was completely removed from Google’s index for massive keyword stuffing and using doorway pages.

There was now a rulebook, and we all had to follow it. Keyword research now had to be much more complete and methodical, as did the way you used keywords in your content.

2008 – 2011: The Age of Enlightenment 

Google was evolving. Google’s Universal Search now blended a search into a new streamlined experience, and users were finding what they wanted in less time than ever.

Marketers had to do a lot more to earn a piece of that traffic. However, they now had the tools to do it. Google’s algorithm updates were now a 2-way conversation, as their Webmasters Blog would give us a fair warning with transparent (yet secretive) updates about what changes were on the horizon.

At the same time, marketers now had Google analytics and other tools to tap into the keywords they needed to zero in on, and the playbook to do so.

Organic SEO started to take shape, as an art and science.

2011- 2014 Content is Truly King

Marketing teams no longer simply had to worry about “SEO.” There was now different aspects that you needed to blend to build an entire web presence.

Your keyword research would now have to include:

  • On-page SEO (Your website and blog)
  • Off-page SEO (Link building, guest posts and influencer marketing)
  • Social media (Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube)
  • Paid search (Google Adwords and PPC)

Google’s guidelines were now more than the law; they were The Commandments. Nobody was above them, as JC Penny was exposed for building their web presence via link schemes in 2011. The same year, the once-prominent Overstock.com disappeared from the SERPs they once dominated after they were discovered exchanging discounts for links.

2014 – Present: Living in a Mobile-first World

The widespread use of smartphones and voice searches has placed more importance on longtail keywords. Would-be customers are now Googling complete questions and the SEO wins go to the companies who provide the complete answers.

Smarter keyword research tools like ahrefs and SEMrush now help companies do more granular research, allowing companies to pick their SEO battles more methodically. You can now focus less on high-competition search terms (ie. “iPhone”) to more specific lower-hanging-fruit (“cracked screen on an iPhone 6”).

The name of the game is organic. The Google algo is now rewarding people and businesses who earn traffic through organic content. At the same time, you’re now able to use your keywords in your content more organically, without having to use exact match.

We’re also now living in a mobile-first world, where your mobile site has to be better than your desktop site. This is placing a newfound focus on tapping into the exact search terms your target audience is searching for while they’re on the go. You also have to maximize every pixel of space on a tiny mobile site with SEO-rich (but not stuffed) copy and keyword optimized images.

Parting Thoughts

As we like to say around here, “The Google algo has never made more sense than it does today.” 

The TF-IDF algo also makes a lot of sense. However, to content creators, it’s less of an exact match formula and more of a checklist to ensure a given piece of content is covering all of the ideas your user will expect.

Looking at the density of TF-IDF data to find ‘supporting words’ is massively helpful. However, if you try to replicate those exact words, in those exact ratios, you will ruin your content. It’s just like how trying to stick to a strict 2.5% keyword ratio would ruin your content. Also, neither will lead to any SEO wins. 

Use these new terms as organically as possible. Like your actual keywords, it is probably best to know your supporting words in advance of even starting to write a piece. That way, you’re not scrambling to retroactively add them, which can lead to awkward sentences, choppy content and perceived ‘stuffing.’

As always, it helps to work with an experienced SEO firm who can guide you through thorough TF-IDF research and help you make it a part of a comprehensive SEO strategy. If you want to use TF-IDF to supercharge your keywords, click here to contact us at any time.

Backlinks Can Be Your Propellor or Your Anchor

Your website is a boat floating in the ocean. Now, picture your site’s backlinks as either a propellor or an anchor.

Good links are a propellor that can lead you to SEO success. They push the boat where you want it to go. They can boost your brand to the top of the Google rankings, sending a huge wave of traffic to your site and leads into your funnel.

Building the right type of links and a healthy backlink profile will get your boat into harbour to all the people (traffic).

However, bad links are an anchor that holds your SEO success in place and keeps you from moving. Even though you’re still trying to go forward, you’re stuck in place and wasting your fuel trying to move with this weighing you down.

In extreme cases, a whole lot of bad links or ‘black hat’ tactics can be a hole in your hull. They’re doing more than just holding you where you are, they’re sinking your ship.

That said, you can also pursue good links too aggressively. That type of link profile gets noticed by Google for the wrong reasons, which is sort of like burning your engine out while trying to go too fast for too long.

Navigating The Uncertain Waters of Link Building

Here is the trickiest part of it: You can’t simply chase the Google algorithm to find your SEO and link building success. Doing that is the fastest way to sabotage your results and drive yourself insane. Even Google says that you shouldn’t chase the algorithm.

5 years ago Google essentially said, “If you’re using guest blogging as a way to gain links in 2014, you should probably stop.” However, here we are in 2019 and if you look at the sites with the most traffic and highest SEO ranking, they all have guest posts. 

So, the interpretation of the message becomes, “You can’t do guest posts a certain way anymore.”

If we were to sum up our view of what link building entails in 2019, it would be this: You need to create quality content that earns links.

To help you wrap your head around all of this madness, today we’re going to take two very simple ideas, what is a great link and what is a bad link, and show you all of the factors that could impact their value.

The summations are based on our interpretation of the stone tablets that Google sends down from above (their Webmaster Central Blog and guidelines), as well as our day-to-day experiences as pretty damn good SEOs.

How to Earn Links That Propel You

Link building in 2019 is an umbrella term that encompasses a lot of different tactics. However, at the core of it all is one very basic principle: Not all links are created equal. 

There are great links and there are bad links, plain and simple. Google has a sophisticated algorithm to analyze these links and determine their value. Knowing the difference can be the key to making (or breaking) your SEO campaign.

Any given link is weighed based on literally hundreds of factors that are constantly changing. Google gives us a ballpark idea of what their algorithm updates will mean, without ever truly telling us what’s in the secret sauce. 

Figuring out the difference is how we spend most of our day, because it’s incredibly complex. Link building is mysterious and subjective. SEO nerds like us make our decisions based on our interpretation of Google’s updates and guidelines, combined with analysing the data.                                                       

There are several different software options and tools out there to help you assess the value of a given link. However, even their algorithms are not plugged into Google’s algorithm. They’re based on the interpretations and inferences of SEO nerds like us. That’s why two links that are both scored as a DA 50 by Moz could impact your site in two very different ways.   

It’s the organic, authentic, and truthful method of earning links that the Google algorithm deems appropriate.

With that in mind, here are a few of the things that we look at when determining whether or not a given link can help a given site.

Links with a Strong Domain Authority Score

We are huge fans of Moz’s and their patented DA score. To us, this is simply one of the most predictive metrics of success with Google.

It’s often where we start, but far from the only thing we look at. It’s a nice and simple number, but it is still a subjective number. As we mentioned, you could be looking at two sites with a DA score of 50 (which is high), but these two links can each impact your site in two very different ways.

Domain Authority | 2019 SEO Best Practices – Moz

Think of it as house shopping. You could be looking at two houses for $500,000, but only one of them is right for your lifestyle. One is right next to your kids’ school and the other is on the other side of town.

The DA score is often where our research begins, but never where it ends.

Relevant Links

Quite simply, when Google’s algo sees that this site is linking to yours, will it be seen as a logical fit. Does it make sense that these two sites are connected? The relevancy of a link certainly appears to be a major factor in determining its value.

Let’s stick with the two sites with a DA 50 example we used above. Let’s say your company makes organic dog food. If one of those links comes from a dog breeder blog and the other comes from a dentist, the breeder link is clearly more logical and relevant, even though both sites have the same DA.

Well-Placed Links

There is a lot of data to support the theory that links appearing early (e.g higher on the page) in the copy are given more weight than ones buried at the bottom.

At the same time, links placed in the actual body copy of a blog or page will almost always be given more weight than ones in the footer or boilerplate of a given page.

Links From New Sites 

Let’s say you’ve got two new links to your site, and they are:

  1. From a site that linked to you a month ago
  2. From a site that has never linked to you before

There is a strong chance that more weight will be given to the “new” link, as it sends signals to the Google algorithm that your site is gaining new respect from new sources. As a result, that “new” link may give you a bit more of a boost than the “old” link.

However, there are always lots of factors in play there. If you have a choice between a new link from a local business and a second link from the Huffington Post, you should likely go with the bigger fish.

Links From Trusted Sites

This is sort of a quality-versus-quantity thing. It’s trust versus traffic.

How reputable, respected and trusted is this site? The concept of TrustRank playing a major factor in any given site or link’s value certainly has a lot of traction.

A link from a site with a ton of traffic (with low trust) may not be as valuable as a link from a trusted site (with lower traffic).

There are a number of metrics and tools you can use to gauge the trustworthiness of a given site.  Both ahrefs and SEMrush each have their own proprietary formula and score for a given link or site.  However, it’s important to remember that these formulas (like anything else in link building or SEO) are a very, very educated guess.

Google obviously has their own formula to measure the trustworthiness of a given site, and we’re all just doing our very best to estimate and ballpark what it is.

However, trust is very clearly a factor.

Links From Fresh Sites

Regularly updating your site with fresh and original content is almost always a good thing. It’s showing the Google algo that you’re actively publishing good content, which conditions them to check back more frequently to crawl your site.

It’s also good to earn links from those types of sites. A link from a site that pumps out fresh and relevant content every single day is likely going to help you more than a site that hasn’t published anything new in a couple of days.

Again, no single one of the above factors will make or break a link. It’s always a mixed bag, so to speak, and you have to look at all of them to see the big picture.

For example, a link from a strong DA score from an unrelated site can do more harm than good.

How to Avoid Links That Weigh You Down

link weightNearly everything Google has done to weed out bad links has been in the name of “providing value” for the searcher. 

Unlike the factors we went over in the previous section, any single one of the infractions we’re about to cover could be enough to instantly devalue a link. If a potential link has any of these red flags, you do not want it anywhere near your site.

With that in mind, here are the specific tactics that Google has said will get your links devalued.

Automatically Generated Content

Have you ever clicked on a link and landed on a blog that appears to be pure gibberish. 

That’s because it wasn’t written by a person, it was auto-generated by a bot. Or it was translated from another language by a bot, without human editing that would fix the syntax or other language nuances.

This is a shortcut that ‘black hats” sometimes try to avoid going through the trouble of actually creating unique content.

Link Schemes

This can mean so many things. Link schemes may include:

  1. Directory or bookmark site links, AKA link farms
  2. Buying or selling meaningless links, or exchanging goods or services for them
  3. “I’ll link to you and you link to me” partnerships that add nothing
  4. Automated programs or services to generate links for your site
  5. Hidden links embedded in widgets
  6. Hiding links in the footer or template of a site
  7. Hiding links in the comment section of a blog or page

These tactics do not work and have not worked for some time. 

Pages With Little Content or Scraped Content

Google wants to see that all of the links pointing to your site are full of original content.

A bare-bones site, or a site with content lifted from other sources, is a red flag. This can also take several forms. Most of it is republishing copy, images or videos without adding new insights or value. 

One particularly offensive way to do it is an automated program that simply finds a synonym for every word in the sentence to create a “new sentence.” So, that last sentence would now be: 

“A mainly unpleasant method toward complete it is a robotic sequencer that only bargains a substitute on behalf of each expression in the judgment toward produce a “newfangled decree”

It reads like pure gibberish and Google’s algo notices.

Cloaking

Simply put, are you trying to send your users to a completely different page than Google would see when it crawls this site?

The classic example (which Google’s Matt Cutts uses in the video below) is making Google think you’re sending your browsers to a site about Disney movies, but you’re actually sending people to porn. 

Cutts stresses that, contrary to what you may have heard, there is no such thing as white hat cloaking.

This does not apply to looking at your user’s IP address and sending them to a French site based on their country of origin. This also does not apply to seeing that your visitor is coming from a mobile device and sending them to your mobile site.

Both of those examples are kosher, but trying to deceive Google’s bots by giving their IP address a different experience in any way is immediately cloaking.   

Sneaky Redirects

Are you doing something sneaky(ish) with your redirect links? Are you doing a bit of a bait and switch with your users?

This could include:

  • Google seeing one page, but users are redirected to something totally different, similar to cloaking
  • Desktop browsers to go a normal page, but mobile browsers get a redirect to a completely different domain

Hidden Text or Links

To be honest, this is pretty bush league and we’re amazed that people still do this.

It’s 2019, yet we still see people:

  • Hiding white text in white background
  • Hiding text behind an image
  • Using CSS to position text off-screen
  • Shrinking a font size down to an imperceptible 0
  • Hyperlinking one small character, like a hyphen or dash

You’re better than that!

Doorway Pages

This is when you use a bunch of domain or pages targeted to funnel users to a single page. This could be creating multiple domains like:

  • BestPitasToronto.com
  • BestPitasScarborough.com
  • BestPitasBarrie.com

You can create and own all those domains. However, you need original content on each page and you can’t just send them all to the same domain. That’s bad for SEO.

Affiliate Programs (Without Adding Sufficient Value)

We get asked about this one a lot, and we invite you to read Google’s guidelines if you’re considering adding affiliate links to your site.

Adding affiliate links can be a great way to 100% legitimately monetize your site. However, doing it the wrong way could put you in Google’s bad books.

Here is the simplest version. Let’s say you have a golf blog. You want to earn a bit of income, so you add some affiliate links to the new Callaway driver at Amazon.

These links are good, as long as you’re bringing something new to the table. You need to provide an original review or description of this driver. You can’t simply copy and paste someone else’s content or provide very little of your own.

This will get you classified as a “Thin affiliate” in the eyes of Google because your content is too thin.

If you’re adding affiliate links, make sure you’re adding value. 

Irrelevant Keywords

This is good old fashioned keyword stuffing.

Google can detect words that don’t match anything else on the page and are out of context. They also ignore you if you use a keyword too many times on a page. You may also get dinged for adding meaningless city names that you want to rank for.

Malicious Behavior

This is straightforward. You simply never want your site to be associated with hosting or spreading malware such as phishing, viruses, trojans, or other badware.

Abusing Rich Snippets Markup

If you’re looking to rank for a snippet related to a keyword of yours, test your structured data using Google’s Structured Data Testing tool during development. You can also view the Rich result status reports afterward.

The Google Penguin and its Impact on Links

These waters have penguins!

No other Google update has had more of an impact in determining the value of a given link than the Penguin.

The Penguin was first introduced in 2012 as a way of cracking down on “black hat” tactics that people were using to give their sites an SEO boost. Some of these tactics included things like buying irrelevant links in directories or link farms, or hiding/ stuffing links on a given page.

Over the last 7 years, the Penguin has been rolled out in various stages and grown more sophisticated. Here is a look at how it has evolved.

April 2012: Penguin 1

Google announced that they are taking Another step to reward high-quality sites.

They called out black hats, keyword stuffers and link schemers by name and said they’re taking big steps to weed them out. Of course, they were predictably vague about the details saying:

“While we can’t divulge specific signals because we don’t want to give people a way to game our search results and worsen the experience for users, our advice for webmasters is to focus on creating high quality sites that create a good user experience…”

However, they did confirm that this change will noticeably impact about 3.1% of queries in English, with queries in other languages being impacted slightly more. 

May 2012: Penguin 2

Google’s Matt Cutts tweeted that Google just pushed a big algo refresh that impacted another 0.1% of English queries.

October 2012: Penguin 3

Cutts tweeted that another Penguin refresh has impacted another 0.3% of English queries.

May 2013: Penguin 4 (AKA Penguin 2.0) 

Another big change. This time it is an algorithm update and not a data refresh, which is why it is dubbed Penguin 2.0. The scope of what is done is felt more broadly and Cutts announced that 2.3% of English queries will see a noticeable impact.

In an attempt to help webmasters keep up with what is changing, Google released a blog and video about what to expect.

October 2013 Penguin 5 (AKA Penguin 2.1) 

Google announced an algo update + data refresh that impacted about 1% of English queries. 

October 2014: Penguin 6 (AKA Penguin 3.0) 

The Penguin 3.0 was actually a data refresh and not an algo update. However, it was rolled out worldwide over a few weeks and impacted about 1% of English queries.

This update was a big help to sites that were dinged by the previous Penguin updates, but did the right things to fix the problem. They would now start to see a recovery.

September 2016: Penguin 7 (AKA Penguin 4.0)

This was the big one.

Google announced that there would be no more updates, because the Penguin is now part of their core search algorithm and will update organically. There would be no more layered releases that incrementally impact sites, it was now realtime.

The good news was that these real-time updates meant that if your site was previously penalized by the Penguin, you could now fix the issues and see your results much, much faster.

This is where we sit today.

“CLEAN UP YOUR LINK PROFILE!”

Parting Thoughts

Don’t get stranded at sea! Earn the right type of links through high-quality content and organic links.

Good and organic link-building is future-proofing your success. Again, nearly every Google algo update rewards people who are doing the hard work of creating high-value content and earning great organic links, while penalizing the people who take shortcuts and have bad links.

Building links the right way is like being the kid who studied for the test. A new rule saying you can’t bring your phone into the exam room won’t affect you. A no-talking rule won’t affect you, nor will a rule about sitting too close to your neighbour. Meanwhile, kids that planned to cheat to pass are now screwed.

If you want to be on the right side of link-building or have any questions about how to do it, please click here to contact us.

What Did Google’s July Deadline For Mobile-First Indexing Really Mean

We’re still hearing a bit of confusion about what exactly happened to Google’s ranking algo on July 1st, so let us clear the air.

Here’s what it wasn’t: July 1st was not the start of mobile-first Indexing. It was also not the deadline to make sure your site was up to Google’s mobile-first standards.

Here’s what it really was: All new websites (not previously crawled by Google) would be indexed mobile-first by default.

The short answer is that if you launch a site after July 1st, expect the mobile site to be looked at first. Which should not be a big deal, because most new sites should be built with mobile in mind.

The July date should have absolutely no bearing on current sides, and your site should have already been optimized. If it’s not, your homework is very late and the teacher would like you to stay after class to discuss it.

mobile first notificationWhy All the Confusion?

To be blunt, Google has been promising mobile-first indexing since November of 2016 and has rolled it out in various stages ever since. It may be hard to follow it all, if you haven’t been plugged into the SEO scene every day like we are.

At a glance, here is how it played out.

Friday, November 4, 2016
In the same year that mobile traffic surpassed desktop traffic on a global scale, everyone wondered when Google will start to put more weight on mobile sites when assessing your web presence. 

Google makes it official and announces mobile-first indexing as a way of adapting to how we’re all searching for things. No hard dates or specifics are announced, just an industry-wide feeling that, “This is huge.”

Monday, December 18, 2017
A bit more than a year after the Winter-is-Coming-like warning, Google states that:

“We continue to be cautious with rolling out mobile-first indexing. We believe taking this slowly will help webmasters get their sites ready for mobile users, and because of that, we currently don’t have a timeline for when it’s going to be completed.”

This confirms two things:

1. Google is serious about doing this the right way and wants us to all understand the scale of what is happening

2. If you haven’t optimized your mobile site, you really need to get on that.

A lot of people make their mobile site their New Year’s Resolution. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

So this is Christmas. What have you done (to your mobile site)?

A year after their last big announcement that mobile-first is being slowly rolled out, Google reports that mobile-first indexing is currently used for over 50% of their search results. They add that websites that are now being indexed mobile-first will be notified via Search Console.

If you have not acted on the previous warnings, you are very much behind at this point.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Google announced they are now switching over websites that appear to be following their best practices guide.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

This is the first time Google puts a hard date on anything.

As we mentioned earlier, Google announced that, as of July 1st, all new sites that have not previously been indexed will now be indexed mobile-first by default, because, “Most new sites seem to work fine on mobile,” according to Google’s John Mueller.

As for all sites that were launched or created before July 1st, Google says they will continue to contact webmasters about their readiness.

mobile first indexThursday, June 27th 

Google introduces more mobile-first reporting in Search Console.

This shows you that you have been switched and the date you have been switched, so you can properly analyze how the switchover has impacted your traffic and other metrics.

search-console-mobile-first-indexing-data

How to Succeed in a Mobile-First World

If the entire Google algo shifting wasn’t enough incentive to make you think mobile-first, here are some stats to consider.

  • 88% of local business searches on a mobile device let to either a call or a visit for the business within 24 hours. This means mobile customers are buy-ready customers.
  • 60% of the people who search for local business use smartphones
  • 65% of people use their mobile phone in their “buying moments,” meaning they want to buy this thing right now and they will be frustrated if your site won’t let them do that

How do you set your mobile site up for SEO success? You need to focus on the mobile experience.

Mobile User Experience (UX) and SEO

If you have a user who is in the midst of a micro-moment or buying moment, don’t stand in their way. Google can tell when someone abandons your site or the shopping cart without buying anything.

There are a number of things that can ruin this experience:

You Have Intrusive Pop-ups, Interstitials or Overlays

Is it pretty much impossible to do anything on your site without clicking your pop-up newsletter or whitepaper CTA? This is a big no-no for UX and Google has warned webmasters about this.

If you’re suffering from this, we recommend referring to Google’s guidelines.

Your Videos Don’t Work on Mobile

This is immediately off-putting for a user and they will likely leave right away.

We recommend using Google Web Designer to create mobile-friendly animations in HTML5.

Your Users Have to Pinch and Zoom to Read/ Do Anything 

Are your users clicking one button by accident when they’re trying to click another? Do they have to pinch and zoom to read your text? These are also UX and SEO killers.

Once again, we strongly recommend you read Google’s Guidelines on how to properly space your elements.

They take a nice, deep dive into how everything should look and function.

You Have Too Little SEO Content

There is less space to work with, but the exact same need for SEO content. Google still needs good old fashioned text to read to know who you are and what you’re all about. With less screen space to work with, you simply have to be more strategic in how you place it.

Picture your mobile screen, divided into thirds:

The Top Third:
Is your logo, banner, and call-to-action (CTA). This CTA is the whole point of the whole page, so you want it clear and accessible. 

The Middle Third:
This is where you briefly describe your offering as concisely as possible. You will also put your social proof here, which could be your awards badges, industry certification, big-ticket client logos, or a great testimonial.

The Bottom Third:
This is where things can get a bit more text-heavy and you can add most of your SEO-rich keywords. This is also a great place for a dropdown menu that opens up more space for more content.

Need Help With Your Mobile SEO?

The real secret to success in a mobile-first world is mobile-first planning. Our creative and strategic thinkers can help your entire web presence.

Want to start now? You can click here to get a free consultation.

9 Website Redesign Mistakes That Kill Your Website’s SEO

A web redesign can either boost your SEO… or erase all the traction you’ve earned so far. The choice is yours.

You may opt to give your site a “facelift” to keep up with changing user preferences, web design trends, or Google’s evolving algorithm. Or, you may decide to blow the whole thing up and build it again.

In either case, the last thing you want is a very expensive and beautifully designed website that just sits there. It looks great, but nobody sees it. More importantly, it’s being ignored by search engines and not producing any leads.

“What went wrong? We put all this time and effort into this and we’re no further ahead. In fact, we’ve lost ground!” This is the cry of too many business owners after a website rebuild.

So what went wrong? In a lot of cases, it’s because a design was prioritized over SEO. This can’t happen. You and your team need to stay focused on SEO before, during and after the redesign process, or all that work you’ve invested in SEO over the years may be undone.

Let’s make sure your SEO rankings stay intact and your new site is set up to move the needle forward. Here are a few common mistakes that companies make.

Mistake #1: Removing or Renaming Pages That Rank on Google

You will probably choose to get rid of (or rename) some of your existing web pages. Maybe you’re moving everything over to a new domain name or you’re trying to simplify your existing website layout.

Whatever the case may be, remember that Google uses the URL addresses of these pages when ranking your website. If you suddenly change the URL, you’ll have to start from scratch when it comes to SEO. Each page goes back to square one.

Your best bet is to use a 301 redirect when deleting or moving web pages. This shows Google and other search engines that your website has permanently moved to a new address, so you won’t lose your search rankings.

When moving pages to a new domain, this should be fairly straightforward. But, if you’re deleting pages that rank well on Google (more on that later), redirect them to the most relevant page of your new website.

If you’re simply cutting certain pages without offering a replacement, you’ll have to say goodbye to those search rankings.

And let’s not forget about backlinks, still one of the most important factors for SEO. Your backlinks account for about half of your SEO clout. But if you change or delete some of these pages, the links go with them.

Users that click on these backlinks will be greeted by a 404 page, which renders your link building efforts null and void.

Again, you’ll need to use a 301 redirect to salvage your existing backlinks. Users that click on these backlinks are redirected to your new website instead of staring at a blank screen.

Mistake #2: Not Checking Internal and External Links

Your new website needs to be navigable. But when you’re working in the development environment, things get lost.

The development environment is a separate workspace where web developers build the new website before it’s live and accessible to users. Things are bound to get lost in the shuffle as you move your new website from the development environment back to the live server.

For starters, you’ll probably use separate URL addresses in the dev site (development site) from those that eventually get published on the live server.

For instance, one of your web pages might be listed as “domain.com/client/products” on the dev site. Yet, on the live server, the web page shows up as “domain.com/products.”

This means you could be looking at a complicated puzzle of missing or broken links when you finally go live. Some internal links may appear as external links. They’re still pointing to the domain used in the development environment. It’s messy.

That’s why it’s so important to check all internal and external links before you launch your new website. Don’t worry! You don’t have to do it manually. Use a web crawl tool like Screaming Frog or SEMrush.

These programs quickly crawl and test every link on your website to make sure they’re all working. When you’re done, spend some time navigating the website to make sure everything looks, and works, the way it’s supposed to.

Mistake #3: Not Testing the Website’s Overall Functionality

Just like all those links, don’t forget to test the website’s overall functionality.

This means testing all:

  • Input/lead forms
  • Interactive programs
  • Videos
  • Slideshows
  • Any other features on your new website

Users don’t like broken things. If something isn’t working properly, your users will abandon your website in seconds. This ruins your SEO efforts. If they land on your site from a search engine results page and leave because something is broken, Google will notice.

We tend to create entire web pages around individual features, so users don’t feel overwhelmed. Thus, inattentional blindness takes over as the user focuses on the task at hand. But if one of these features isn’t responding, there will be nothing else keeping users on the page. Make sure all your features are working properly, so your users can interact with your website with ease.

Mistake #4: Overlooking the Little Things: Renaming Images, Title Tags and Meta Descriptions

Don’t forget to pay attention to all those tiny details. They can make or break your search rankings.

On-page optimization is the core of a successful SEO strategy. If you’re not familiar with the dos and don’ts of on-page optimization, take a look at Google’s official SEO Starter Guide.

You may have already optimized the individual pages of your old website, including:

  • Title tags
  • Meta descriptions
  • Alt text for images

But if you change this information when launching your new website, your search rankings could take a hit. If some of your pages were ranking well, leave this information as it is.

One of your web designers might speed past this step and rename one of your images “new image,” instead of using the alt text from the old website that earned you some SEO wins. If you decide to change some of your metadata, make sure it’s up to Google’s standards.

Mistake #5: Letting Search Engines Index the New Site Before It’s Live

Like an artist painting a masterpiece, you don’t want anyone to see the work in progress.

And you don’t want Google seeing your new website before it’s ready for its big debut. But Google might have other plans.

Unless you insulate your new website from Google’s robots, it might crawl your new website while it’s still under construction.

This means Google may create two separate versions of your website, which will frustrate even the most patient web designer. Your links will all be out of whack with some pointing toward the old website and some pointing toward the new website. Again, it’s a mess and untangling this yourself is awful.

To avoid this nightmare scenario, you can:

  1. Build your new website using a test domain
  2. Hide your website from Google’s robots
  3. Combine the two for even more peace of mind

If you want to build your new website with a test domain, choose a domain name that’s never been used before. Something like “www.skljgkllk.com” is sure to remain hidden, considering no one will be linking to that site.

Once you have a test domain, disallow Google’s robots by disabling the robot.txt feature in your website settings. Set up an empty index page, so your test website isn’t connected to your old website.  Finally, you may even want to set up a password for your test website while it’s still in development to make sure Google can’t access it without your permission.

Mistake #6: Forgetting to Let Google Index Your Website After It’s Live

We absolutely did not want Google crawling the site before it was ready. But now it’s ready, and we desperately want Google to crawl it.

Whether you’re working in WordPress or another website building platform:

  • Reconfigure your settings so Google can crawl and index your new website
  • Change your robot.txt feature to open the door for Google’s robots
  • Swap out your test domain for your real domain
  • Disable any passwords you might have used to hide your test website in the development environment.

Mistake #7: Not Optimizing for Mobile

Mobile traffic is now ahead of desktop traffic and this trend shows no signs of slowing down. Your new website needs to be responsive and mobile-friendly.

You may say, “Yes, but most of our target market won’t be using our site from a mobile device.” Fair, but don’t forget that Google has already started rolling out its mobile-first index policy. Which means it will crawl the mobile version of your website when composing its search results.

Even if you don’t think users will care about your mobile site, Google still will!

Make sure the web browser automatically resizes your content for the specific device. Otherwise, your users will have to scroll left and right just to see the heading of the page. You don’t want your users to have to pinch the screen to zoom in on a specific piece of content. This means everything needs to be visible from the get-go.

The text should automatically appear larger on smaller devices.  You also don’t want to have two buttons too close together. Or your users might click the wrong one, which is insanely annoying.

To help users see your content more clearly, use image expansion tools that blow up an image when a user clicks on it. This is especially important for e-commerce websites where users will want to see a larger image of the product before making a purchase.

And don’t forget to avoid full-screen pop-ups on mobile devices. While it might work for desktop users, clicking out of pop-ups can be a major pain on mobile devices. So the user leaves.

With all that in mind, make sure you test the mobile version of your website before you launch using a mobile-friendly test like this one from Google.

Mistake #8: Forgetting to Minify Your Code

Start a project with the right mindset so you don’t waste time fixing mistakes down the line.

Minifying code improves the usability and speed of your new website. If you’re unfamiliar with this term, it essentially means simplifying your website code by removing redundant characters and processes.

If you have a large website with hundreds of indexed pages, this is especially important! If you wait until the end of the redesign process to minify your code, it will cost you more than time and money. It may even delay the launch of your new website.

Be practical when building your new website and start minifying from the start.

Mistake #9: Sacrificing Speed for Aesthetics

Your old site was ugly or outdated, so you upgraded and updated the look. But never sacrifice speed for aesthetics!

Sure, all those fancy graphics and background videos might look great, but they could dramatically slow down your new website.

Why? Because a single second delay in load time can result in a 7% loss in your conversion rates. And 40% of web users will abandon a website if it takes longer than 3 seconds to load.

If you want your new website to be successful, you can’t afford to overlook the merits of speed. Google is driving users towards fast, responsive websites. Unless you speed things up, the competition will beat you to the punch.

Use these tips to speed up your website as much as possible before you launch.

Build it Once. Build it Right

When you’re building a new site, you basically have 3 choices:

  1. “We’ll worry about SEO after it’s live.”
    You don’t think you have the time or resources right now. But, the new site goes live with no SEO value. You actually drop in the rankings as you undo what you’d previously earned. Now, your site isn’t ranking or producing leads. You scramble to retroactively optimize your site…. Which may take months.
  2. “We’ll Worry About SEO After We Finalize Design”

Using the minifying code example from above, you now have to fix hundreds of pages that were built without SEO in mind. This could be massive rework. And rework destroys budgets and delays deadlines.

  1. “We’ll Worry About SEO Right From the Start”

Now, you’re thinking about SEO, right from the whiteboard stage. All considerations are met as SEO and design can work hand-in-hand to create something that is built the right way from the very start.

The site works out of the box, your previous SEO wins come with you to the new site, and you can start earning new clout right away.

Are you facing a site rebuild and want to make sure you do it the right way? We can help! Get in touch with SEO Toronto for a free consultation today.

8 Ways to Drive Your Customers Away: Avoid These UX Mistakes at All Costs!

Error Stop Sign Laptop

So, you’re building a website, or you already have one online, and no one seems to be taking the bait. There are several reasons why some websites succeed while others fail. Some websites are filled with too much text, while others have hardly any text at all.

Creating an effective user experience is about catering to the user in question and finding the right balance between text, images, utility, and navigation. Avoid these common UX mistakes at all costs, so you don’t scare away your users.

1) Relying on Hidden Text

There are a lot of websites out there that try to use hidden text to their advantage. Back in the day, hiding text was considered a crafty SEO tactic, as websites would hide keywords and links to boost their search rankings without taking away from the user’s experience.

But today, Google considers these tactics spam more than anything else and your users will just be confused as to why your website pops up in the search rankings if it’s not related to their original search query. If you’re hiding text to try and manipulate your search rankings, you’re probably using the wrong approach.

You should only be hiding text if it makes sense for the user, your business model, and your website. Some common reasons to hide text include:

Subscription-Based Content

While you might drive users away, you don’t want to give away valuable content for free, especially if subscriptions are an important part of your business model.

If your content is just a regular blog post and you’re not a reputable news organization with the credentials to back you up, you’re better off showing your cards and letting users read your content for free.

Satisfying Mobile Users

Some mobile users may not have time to scroll through large chunks of text, so giving them the option to hide some content can work to your advantage. But only if you have something else to offer on the page.

No one wants to click on a webpage just to see a bunch of hidden text. Remember that some people may not realize that the text is hidden. They’ll just move along without giving your website a second thought.

Hidden text shouldn’t be a major part of your UX strategy unless you’re The New York Times or another subscription-based website. Keep it simple and show your users your content right off the bat.

man hiding

2) No Text and Too Many Images

Web pages without a lot of text can be incredibly annoying, especially when people are looking for actual information. Turning your back on text also won’t help your SEO strategy, as Google’s web crawlers depend on on-page content when ranking websites.

Even if you’re not writing an epic blog post on some compelling topic, you can still add a few hundred words to help users make sense of your website, especially if they’re visiting your site for the first time. Adding some text to a simple contact page is an easy way to encourage people to interact with your business.

And let’s not forget about images. While visual imagery can pique the user’s interest and break up the text, going overboard with your images can distract from the overall message of your website. Your main goal is to sell your products and services, so refrain from filling up your website with images unless it’s part of your business model.

People can find dozens of images elsewhere. Instagram exists for a reason.

Too many images will also slow down your website. Images are much weightier in terms of data than text, so use them sparingly unless you’re prepared to use a content delivery network (CDN) to speed things up. Remember that 39% of people will stop engaging with a website if the images won’t load or take too long to load. Speed should be your first priority, not turning your site into a Google Image search.

3) Using Unrelated Images

While we’re still on the subject of images, let’s remember that images exist to supplement the message behind your business. Whether it’s an original meme, a stock photo from Shutterstock, or an infographic, every image should circle back to your business’s products and services.

If you run an e-commerce website and you use an image of a consumer shopping in a brick-and-mortar store, some of your users are bound to get confused. People make up their minds quickly when visiting a website and first impressions can make all the difference in the world.

Users spend an average of 5.94 seconds looking at a website’s main image, while spending an average of 5.59 seconds looking at a website’s written content.

Your images are bound to get the most attention, so if they don’t make sense for your website, you need to rethink your approach, or you’ll end up confusing your users before you can say Mississippi.

4) Engagement Desperation: Too Many CTAs

Everyone wants their users to do something, whether it’s a fill out a form, sign up for an email newsletter, or place an order online. But all those calls-to-action (CTAs) may be ruining your conversion rates.

Make sure you give yourself some time to make your case before you start asking your users to complete a certain task. If a stranger ran up to you on the street and asked you for your name, address, email, and phone number—you’d probably keep walking. The same idea applies to your UX design.

While you might be tempted to add a CTA at the top of the page, remember to add some basic information about your business before you start pitching your users, including who you are, what you’re selling and why your users should care. This is what’s called the value proposition. In fact, adding a CTA at the top of the page above your content can decrease conversions by 17%.

Users can also smell engagement desperation from a mile away. Telling someone to do something more than once isn’t going to help your cause.  Instead, people will see your website as spammy and your content as having little to no value.

5) Too Many Headings, Not Enough Substance

Headings are great when it comes to breaking up large sections of text, but they’re not always a great source of information. Your headers should accurately describe the text to follow, but you need to make sure that your website actually has text in the first place.

Far too many websites will fill their pages with catchy headers that do little to drive the conversation. Headers are meant to lead your users down the page as they read or skim through the text. If you’re stuffing your pages full of headers with little text in between, there’s nothing for people to grab onto except a few empty promises.

Headers and subheaders are also commonly used for SEO purposes, but you don’t want to stuff your headers with keywords, especially if there’s nothing underneath them except another header. Focus on adding value to your website by creating useful, informative content.

Once you have some text on the screen, you can start breaking things up with sub-headers. While there’s no golden rule, try to use headers every 100 – 200 words, so your website doesn’t look barren.

6) Boring or Missing Landing Pages

Landing pages are an important aspect of web design and SEO. We typically define them as a single webpage that users land on after clicking on a search result or an online advertisement.

These pages should provide valuable information to your users as they look for specific information about your products, services, and business locations. But they’re also a valuable opportunity to rank for some additional keywords.

While having too many landing pages can get you into trouble, creating a healthy portfolio of landing pages is essential. Businesses with over 40 landing pages generated a whopping 12x more leads than those with 1-5 landing pages.

If you’re running an ad campaign or offering a special discount on your products and services, you’ll need to create separate landing pages for each campaign. But use them wisely. Your goal is to convert these users and lead them to your main website.

Like a billboard, landing pages will be the user’s first impression of your business and website, so you can’t afford to mess it up. If you want to convert these new users, add some eye-catching imagery, some basic information about your promotion or products and services, and a strong CTA. Otherwise, your landing pages are simply taking up space.

A bad landing page can cripple your advertising and SEO efforts or make a bad impression on your target audience. Invest in some quality landing pages, especially if they’re the backbone of your ad campaign.

7) Cluttered Homepage

Some homepages are just too busy for their own good. This page represents the main lobby of your website, so it needs to make the right first impression.

Filling your homepage, or any webpage for that matter, with too many ads, videos, headings, menu options, and images can send your users running for the hills. People only have a few seconds to absorb your content, and, if they feel as if they’re being pulled in too many different directions, your conversion rate will start to suffer.

Ask yourself what’s the first thing you want your users to do when they land on your homepage. Is it to fill out a form, click on your products and services, or contact you for more information? Whatever the answer, make this action your number-one priority from a design perspective.

Your homepage CTA should be front and center, encouraging your users to complete one, specific action, not five different things at once.

You should also limit your ads and images, so you don’t overwhelm the user. Otherwise, this central message will get lost in the shuffle.

8) Poor Legibility

If you add text and headers to your website, you probably want people to read what you’ve written. Makes sense, right? Otherwise, what’s the point of adding all this information?

If you want people to learn about your business, your text and menu options need to be clear and legible. Your text should contrast with the background, helping people see individual letters on the screen. Use normal, thick fonts instead of thin, faded letters.

Remember that some people may be surfing the web with the screen brightness turned down to save on battery life. Even if you think your text is legible, it may be hard to read on certain devices or in certain environments. Some people may also have vision problems, so make your text as easy-to-read as possible.

Mobile web traffic continues to rise, so some people may be outside in the hot sun, riding on the subway, or riding in the back of a car when they stumble onto your website. Use strong fonts and text colors to make sure everyone can read what you have to say.

If you’re not sure if your web copy is legible for these users, you can try loading your website on different devices and in different environments. Invest in website testing to make sure the average consumer can navigate your website with ease.

As you can see, there are plenty of UX design mistakes out there to avoid. Every decision you make can have major implications for your conversions, SEO rankings, and the overall accessibility of your website. Remember to test your website extensively before launching to make sure you’ve got all the kinks out of the way.

Mistakes are bound to happen. There are so many factors to keep track of that it’s easy to miss a few crucial imperfections. Give yourself plenty of time to design the right UX and keep these mistakes in mind every step of the way.

If you’re looking for more information on creating the best UX for your website, get in touch with SEO Toronto for a free SEO consultation today.

Influencer Marketing and SEO: 7 Ways to Build Links and Grow Your Audience

Yellow Cheerful Smile in Pile Blue Sad Emoticons

Influencers are everywhere. From ads on the subway and commercials on TV to social media and YouTube videos, major companies are jumping at the chance to work with some popular talent.

With their massive followings, influencers can introduce your company and its products and services to all kinds of new audiences. You can capitalize on their success if you choose the right influencers for your marketing campaign.

But influencer marketing isn’t just about getting more “likes” on Instagram, it’s also a way of attracting more eyeballs and links to your website, giving a boost to your SEO campaign and helping you earn a top spot in Google’s search rankings.

Learn more about the connection between influencer marketing and SEO, so you can increase your rank and grow your audience.

The Age of Influencer Marketing

With the rise of social media platforms like Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube, people across all different industries and interests are uploading original content online and sharing it with users all over the world. They’re cultivating a powerful network of followers that tune in every time they post to these platforms.

And marketers are looking to cash in on this built-in audience by reaching to and working with influencers on different promotional projects. In fact, nearly half of marketers in the U.S. plan on adding more room for influencer marketing in their marketing budget.

Instead of a traditional advertisement where a company asks consumers to buy a particular product or service, influencer marketing uses online celebrities to generate organic interest in their company’s products and services. This may include:

  • Featuring a particular product or service on an influencer’s social media channel
  • Inviting an influencer to participate in a survey, study or interview
  • Influencers and companies working together to create original media

Consumers want to hear recommendations from people they trust, whether it’s their friends, family members, coworkers or someone they admire on social media. 74% of consumers say they use social media to guide their purchasing decisions. Traditional forms of advertising don’t seem to woo over consumers the way they used to, especially when it comes to millennials and younger consumers.

As you continue pouring money into your marketing campaign, remember that consumers may not trust your overly-promotional print ad, but they will trust a beloved online celebrity if they endorse your products and services.  

Entrepreneur Leadership

Why Influencers Are Important for SEO

While influencer marketing can be a great way to grow your audience and effectively woo over new consumers, it’s also a fundamental part of SEO. If you create content in collaboration with an influencer, whether it’s an original video, infographic, blog post or an ebook, you’re bound to get people talking in your industry.

Backlinks

Obviously, attracting more people to your content is a good thing. But with an influencer at your side, you should also see a spike in backlinks or other web pages that link back to your website.

These backlinks give your content more authority by showing Google that other digital publishers are willing to share your content. Google wants to drive its users to reputable content and websites, so, if you want to rank at the top of Google’s search results, you’ll need a healthy portfolio of quality backlinks to back you up.

People want to hear what influencers have to say, so if you feature them on your website, people will start looking at your page and linking back to your content. It’s just that simple. If you do an in-depth interview with Justin Timberlake or the equivalent in your industry, all kinds of people will start sharing the piece.

Ranking for Additional Keywords

Try Googling one of the influencers in your industry and see what pops up in the results. You might see their Wikipedia page, an official website, and a number of related news articles and stories. If you create content around this influencer and treat their name like any other keyword, your content will also show up in the results.

If people are searching for this influencer online, you can drive more traffic to your site and hopefully convert some of these new viewers into paying customers.

Quality Content

Along with backlinks, high-quality content is currently the most important ranking factor for SEO. Google is driving its users towards content that’s considered useful and reliable. While you might think that your content is up to snuff, featuring an influencer in your content can make all the difference in the world.

Interviewing an influencer or somehow incorporating their expertise into your content are great ways to add value and authority to your content.

How to Reach Out to and Work with Influencers

Now that we’ve established the benefits of influencer marketing and how it relates to SEO, it’s time to start putting this information to good use. Keep these tips in mind when reaching out to and working with influencers in your industry.

1) Finding the Right Influencers for Your Business

The trick to influencer marketing is choosing the right people to work with. Yes, Kim Kardashian is famous, but the chances of her working with your business are slim to none. Besides, do your consumers even care about someone like Kim Kardashian? Unless you sell beauty supplies or women’s clothing, the answer is probably no.

Reaching out to movie stars and celebrities with millions of followers is probably a waste of time. They’re most likely too busy to give you or your colleagues the time of day.

Instead, try reaching out to high-profile individuals that work in or are related to your industry. This might include:

  • Prominent CEOs, marketing experts or other business professionals
  • Lifestyle and advice gurus
  • Makers of popular YouTube tutorials
  • Consultants and mentors
  • Journalists that regularly cover your industry
  • Bloggers and vloggers
  • Published authors

If you focus in on the people directly related to your industry, they’ll be much more likely to respond to your emails and get involved with your business.

Red Carpet

You’ll also have to choose between influencers and micro-influencers, which usually have tens of thousands of followers or less. If you’re a smaller company, you might want to start with less notable influencers and work your way up the ladder. Reaching out to the biggest fish in the sea right off the bat won’t help you get your marketing campaign off the ground.

2) Content Collaboration and Choosing the Right Topic

Now that you have your eye on a few key influencers, you’ll need to come up with a marketing strategy before you start sending out all those email pitches. It’s best to be as specific as possible when reaching out to influencers, so you should already have a few ideas in mind.

  • You could do a paid promotion and ask the person to publicly endorse your products and services, which may cost you a pretty penny or two.
  • You could write a compelling article on a topic of interest in your industry and interview the influencer to gain valuable knowledge and quotes.
  • Or you could create an original piece of media in collaboration with your influencer.

Choosing the right topic or idea all depends on what your business is trying to accomplish and what kinds of content your target audience wants to see.

If you want to wow young people on social media, creating an original video or a paid promotion might make a lot of sense. If you represent a B2B business, you may want to create an industry survey or in-depth report. Keep your target audience in mind when pitching ideas and get your ideas in order before reaching out to influencers.

3) Original Media and Creative Marketing

If you choose to go the more creative route by commissioning an original piece of media, you can come up with all kinds of interesting projects that might appeal to your target influencer. People love to see their favorite influencers in action, so it makes sense to feature them in a video, infographic, or photo reel instead just mentioning them in a blog post.

Visual content tends to be more effective when it comes to winning over B2C audiences as opposed to B2B audiences. More B2C marketers than B2B marketers say that visual content is the most important type of content. While businesses will be looking for facts and statistics, traditional consumers love to be entertained, so using an influencer as the face of your campaign can be an advantage.

Videos continue to dominate social media. In fact, videos will likely represent 82% of all consumer internet traffic by 2021. You can work with your influencer to create a tutorial, an eye-catching video ad, or an inspirational speech. It all depends on whom you’re trying to reach.

4) Paid Promotions and Shout-outs

Of course, you can always pay an influencer to promote your products and services on your company’s behalf. This makes a lot of sense for e-commerce websites, major retailers, and other product manufacturers. You can have an influencer verbally endorse your products, much like a regular TV ad, or have them wear or use your products in a series of social media posts or videos.

If you go this route, it’s best to find influencers whose brand aligns with that of your company’s. Some people may be skeptical to wear or use your products unless they fit with their current style.

You’ll also have to spend some money on these kinds of promotions, especially if the person has hundreds of thousands of followers, so be prepared to break out your checkbook. You can try throwing them some free swag, but that might not be enough to get them interested in your project.

5) Interviews and Surveys

If your company caters to a B2B audience, you might want to do an industry survey or a formal interview with an influencer. To find the right topic, look at trending news stories in your industry and find something that seems to get people’s attention.

Make sure your chosen influencer is considered an expert on this topic before you start putting together a questionnaire for them to fill out. This is an easy way to collaborate with an influencer considering you can quickly send off your questions via email and they can respond at their earliest convenience. While interviews don’t require any in-person collaboration, setting up an in-person meeting can be a great photo op.

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6) Coming Up with a Professional Pitch

Once you’ve settled on a marketing strategy with clear, actionable ideas, it’s time to start pitching. You can use email or a direct message on social media to get their attention.

When Pitching, Keep These Tips in Mind:

  • Be as precise as possible, including what you expect from the influencer, how you plan on achieving it, and how you found them in the first place.
  • Create a relationship between the influencer and your company, including some information about your company and why you think they’d be a good fit for your campaign.
  • Keep it brief. Some people may not have time to read large chunks of text.
  • Leave room for feedback. Some influencers might have interesting ideas of their own.

7) Making the Most of Your Collaboration

As you work on getting your project off the ground, don’t forget about coming up with a release strategy. If you’re meeting in person, take photos of the experience that you can use on social media and your website. Don’t forget to ask the influencer’s permission.

Once the content has been published, you should also post about it on social media to make sure as many people see it as possible. You can include the piece in your email newsletter, share it on LinkedIn, or write a press release in case another news organization wants to do a story on it. This helps you make the most of your efforts instead of solely relying on the influencer to spread the word.

Influencer marketing is an effective strategy that works for almost any business. Regardless of what industry you’re in, you can capitalize on an influencer’s success and turn it into a winning SEO and marketing strategy. Remember to keep your target audience in mind when coming up with ideas and reaching out to influencers. If you continually reach out to new people, your audience will only continue to grow.

If you’re looking for more information on how to incorporate influencer marketing into your SEO campaign, get in touch with SEOToronto.ca for a free SEO consultation today.

Is Your Website Generic?! 5 UX Tips for More User Engagement

If you spend some time scrolling around the internet, you might start to realize that so many websites look more or less the same. You see the same menu options at the top of the screen, a clickbait heading, paragraphs of text and the same stock photo.  Does this sound familiar?

There are nearly two billion active websites scattered around the internet, and that number has doubled over the last four years. With so many websites online, it’s easy to see why so many of them look the same. But that doesn’t mean your website has to follow the same tiresome approach.

Creating a generic user experience (UX) has its pros and cons. For starters, you probably won’t offend anyone with your website as it may appeal to a wide audience. But, on the other hand, you also run the risk of shunning your target audience if they feel that your website doesn’t have a lot of value. Your users have seen it all before, so why would they bother interacting with your website?

People are busy and they either want to find what they’re looking for fast or they want to find something truly original and entertaining. Learn more about the dangers of having a generic website and how you can improve your UX design to drive more engagement.

Playing It Safe with UX: Why All Websites Look Alike

Creating a website is like working with a bare canvas. Platforms like Shopify make it easy to design a website and publish it online in a matter of minutes. As these tools become more popular and accessible, more people are using premade templates to design a site in record time. But even with these handy tools, the possibilities are endless.

You can do so many interesting things with your website to make it more attractive for your target audience. Just like designing a logo or building a product, every detail is an opportunity to astound and amaze. From the color and font of your text to the images on the homepage and the options on your menu, there are all kinds of ways to get creative your design without taking away from the overall utility of your website.

With so many people uploading content and designing their own website, convenience seems to almost always win out. People might not have a lot of time to get creative with their website; they just want something online as fast as possible. But launching a beautiful website takes time, patience, and an eye for design.

The Risks of Having a Generic Website

Just because you can design a website in three minutes or less doesn’t mean you should. Having a generic website means blending in with the crowd. Just like a bland blog post or a mediocre product, there’s relatively nothing to set you apart from your competitors.

If you have a truly original product or service that basically sells itself, it probably doesn’t matter what your website looks like. You could have a black page with a few misspelled words and people would still buy your products and services.

But this isn’t the case for most companies. The competition is real, so you need to do everything you can to stand out and woo over the users that land on your website.

Given 15 minutes to consume content, two-thirds of people would rather read something beautifully designed than something plain. People are inundated with images, content, and ads everywhere they go. So, if they’re choosing to click on your website, you need to give them something of value from a design perspective.

Here’s another statistic to get you thinking: 38% of people will stop engaging with a website if the content/layout is unattractive. People simply don’t have the time to look at, much less interact with, a boring website with an unattractive layout.

The Importance of Customizing Your Website for Your Target Audience

Web design is not an all-or-nothing science. What one person considers boring, another person might consider simple and useful. These terms are often subjective and based on the individual user in question. One size does not fit all. Creating a more compelling UX is about catering to your target audience.

Some users may be looking for hilarious memes and videos, while others may be looking for detailed, actionable information. You need to keep your target audience in mind when coming up with a UX design strategy. The goal is to engage a certain type of user, not all users (unless you’re Amazon or another major retailer that carries just about every product under the sun).

Focus your efforts on creating an ideal user experience for your target audience or you run the risk of over diluting your design efforts and scaring away the people you need to reach the most.

UX Tips for More User Engagement

Now, let’s dive into our UX design tips for fostering more user engagement. Again, how you implement these tips into your design strategy should all depend on your target audience, so keep those user profiles handy.

1) Be Specific with Menu Options to Drive Clicks

It’s amazing how many website menus all look the same. Nearly every website has a menu bar at the top of the screen and for good reason, considering it helps people navigate your website, but you don’t need to be so rigid when labeling your menu options.

Most website menus include the follow options: Home, About Us, Products/Services, Pricing, Contact Us, or some slight variation on these themes.

While all those menu options are valid and necessary, they could literally describe just about any business in the world. There’s nothing to set this menu apart from its competitors.

Think about things from a user’s perspective, they land on your website, blog post, or landing page and they see these menu options at the top of the screen. How do they know if they’re in the right place?

Be specific with your menu options to help your users navigate your website more easily. Instead of “Products/Services”, you could insert the specific name of your products and services, such as “Appliance Repair Services” or whatever’s applicable to your business.

Remember that, once on a company’s homepage, 86% of visitors want to see information about that company’s products/services. Help your users get around by telling them exactly what they’re going to find on a page before they click on the link.


2) Use Detailed, Industry-Specific Language

When someone lands on your website, you need to help them make sense of their surroundings. Using generic language in your web copy can muddy the waters.

Some of the first things that your users will see when they land on your website is the title of the page and the first sentence of your copy. If the person doesn’t find what they’re looking for or isn’t sure if they’re in the right place, they will click off your website in a matter of seconds.

To avoid this, use detailed, industry-specific language in your titles and web copy to help your users make sense of what they see on the screen.

Let’s say you publish a blog post titled “How to Get Rid of Wrinkles”. Some people may not know if you’re talking about ironing a piece of clothing or reducing the aging process. Instead of just jumping into specific tips, give your readers some context for the piece with words like “anti-aging”, “beauty” or “cosmetics”. This also gives Google more information about your website, so it can better categorize your website for SEO purposes.

3) Help Users Find the Info They’re Looking For with Specific Headers

Everyone knows that writing for the internet means breaking up large chunks of text with headers and subheaders. Web pages need to be skimmable and easy to read.

But, ask yourself, are your headers just breaking up the text or are they giving your readers important information about the text below?

Some of the most widely shared articles online contain thousands of words or more, but your users may be looking for an answer to a specific question within that maze of copy and they may not have time to sort through all that information.

That’s why you need to use specific headers every time you introduce a new topic within a post. For example, if someone wants to find out the average lifespan of a cat, they may not want to read through a giant post with tips on how to help a cat live longer.

If you know that some aspects of your post may be more valuable than others, you can highlight certain words or use bold or italics to make these sections easier to find.

4) Invest in Original Media

Yes, visual media makes the internet go round. Just about every website should have visuals of some kind. But instead of downloading the same old generic photos you’ve seen a thousand times before, use nontraditional images or create new ones of your own.

You don’t have to be so literal with your images. If you’re writing about helping people save money, insert a picture of an animal jumping for joy instead of two concerned homeowners consulting with a financial adviser.


Get creative with your image selections and remember that, while original photos can be costly, you can always find up-and-coming photographers online that are willing to hand over images for a lower fee. You can even look for images on Instagram and ask people if they’d be willing to license out their work.

5) Cater to the Searcher’s Intent

Everyone is looking for something different online and you should be aware of the searcher’s intent when using certain keywords in your copy. More product-based keywords like “beauty supplies” usually mean the person is looking to make a purchase, so help the person find what they need quickly by pitching the benefits of your products and guiding them towards the checkout option.

Yet, other keywords and search phrases like “how to unclog a toilet” are more about knowledge and information, so help the person find what they’re looking for by using thoughtful headers and skimmable text with clear, actionable steps.  

6) Speed and Efficiency Are the Keys to Success

Have you heard the news? The majority of internet traffic is now taking place on mobile devices.

So, what does this mean for your web design? For starters, you need to have a mobile version of your website. The text should appear larger on mobile devices and the margins of the web page should automatically readjust for mobile screens.

Your site also needs to load quickly, especially if people are browsing on mobile devices. People typically leave a site after just a few seconds if the content takes too long to load.

You also need to write content for mobile audiences. That means no long paragraphs of text and having clear menu options that help people find what they need when they’re out and about. The menu should be easy to find and collapse or expand to make more space on the screen.

If you want people to buy one of your products or services, you need to make this process as easy and as efficient as possible. You should have a clear “Buy Now” button or something similar that points users in the right direction.

As you can see, creating a compelling user experience all depends on the website in question. While these tips should point you in the right direction, you need to customize your website interface to make it more appealing for your target audience. Different web pages will serve different purposes. One page may be filled with valuable information, while another may be all about helping customers complete a purchase as quickly as possible.

Look at the websites of your competitors to get a sense of what’s already online. Do your best to shake things up by taking your website in a new direction. Good luck and happy designing!

If you’re looking for more information on creating a compelling UX, get in touch with SEO Toronto for a free consultation today.

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