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2014The New Year is here and many are already looking forward, making resolutions and formulating predictions about the year to come. But, we can’t know what is going to look for in the future without looking back at 2013. The past year brought big changes to online marketing thanks to some big revisions in Google’s policies and the ever-changing world of design.

Whether you spent the past year doing the Harlem Shake or actively following all the notable blogs to keep your site up to the latest standards, you might want to refresh yourself on the big events and articles from the past year. With that in mind, we thought we would share our most popular posts from 2013. You can remind yourself what mattered in 2013, and see what might be important in 2014.

Our Most Viewed Posts

Many local businesses want a quick and easy way to boost their local rankings. The bad news is, there isn’t really a shortcut anyone can take to better local SEO. There isn’t any way to just make a one time change and suddenly be rocking the rankings.

The good news is, there is a simple method to improving rankings, it just requires consistent output of quality content or promotional activities. This usually equates to blogging, which takes consistent effort, but is highly rewarding.

Chris Silver Smith lists all of the reasons why starting to blog can seriously help local businesses at Search Engine Land.

 

Most bloggers know how important tagging is. Tags allow you to retain a similar structure across almost all blogging platforms, unlike categories. What may be surprising however, is the amount of freedom tags give bloggers also leads to them being badly used.

With that in mind, let’s start at the top and explore what tags really are and what benefits they offer. Then we can cover how to use them properly.

What are Tags?

As one blogger describes them, “tags are your index words.” That is to say, tags allow users to easily find articles based on keywords. If a reader finds a post on your website about content marketing, they can easily find more about the topic on your site. This helps readers become more informed and spend more time on your site.

How to Use Tags Effectively

The most common issue with tags are over or under usage. You want to use enough tags to cover the relevant points people may be looking for, but you don’t want to overdo it. Sufyan bin Uzayr uses the example of tagging an article about the recent conflict in Syria to illustrate this idea. If you just tag the article “Syria” and “Middle East” you are missing out on a few important opportunities. However, if you use redundant tags such as “War in Middle East”, “Arab Revolt” and “Arab Spring” all on the same article, you are overdoing it. The key is to try not to repeat yourself.

SEO and Tags

Lately some bloggers have been suggesting that using tags in certain ways will increase your ranking somehow. This is clearly too good to be true, but that doesn’t mean you should write tags off immediately. If you index your tags efficiently, they hold their merit, but they aren’t ever going to be the magic potion some are suggesting.

Most importantly, tags are for your visitors to help with navigation, but using them improperly isn’t going to help anyone. Trying to keep navigation organized reflects in your SEO performance.

 

The ‘Rotate Indefinitely’ option in Google AdWords is back after a short hiatus. But, it’s a little unclear why the option was resurrected.

Straight from the AdWords blog:

If you select “Rotate indefinitely” option for your campaign, we will show lower-performing ads about as often as higher-performing ads. For most advertisers, this may result in fewer, more expensive clicks and your ad appearing in a lower position. So we generally don’t recommend“Rotate indefinitely”

Also, as Pamela Parker reports for Search Engine Land, less than 1-percent of AdWords users asked for ‘Rotate indefinitely’ to be brought back.

Be warned though. In the coming weeks, campaigns that are set to ‘Rotate evenly’ will automatically change to ‘Rotate indefinitely’.

AdWords is also adding options to their impression share metrics to better track and manage ads. It comes at a price, however, as Google will be phasing out impression share data in AdWords existing columns. In order to preserve historical impression share data from these columns, you’ll need to download the reports before November 1st, when they will be wiped out.

Google’s Dan Friedman recently took to the Google AdWords blog to discuss new integration between AdWords and Google Analytics. As David A. Utter reports for eCommerce Bytes, Friedman also shared a few tips for how users could benefit from the data gleaned from Analytics.

High Engagement Groups

Analytics allows you to discover ad groups that, on average, stay on your site longer and visit more pages per visit. Typically, those numbers would suggest a group with high levels of engagement and one that would give you great returns with an increase in your ad budget.

High Engagement, Low Conversions

You may notice a group or page that seems to have high engagement, but isn’t yielding enough conversions. Use this information to target those users with promotions or any other way to light the fire beneath them and get them to turn into a conversion.

Short Visits and High Bounce Rates

Monitoring for pages that aren’t doing so well is important too. But you can turn a negative into a positive. If you notice a certain page isn’t yielding the results you’d hoped for, use that page for A/B testing. You may discover a way to improve your site as a whole.

I’ve read a number of articles suggesting that Facebook is not an ideal marketing platform because your business will see a small click through rate from your Facebook page to your website and, perhaps, an even smaller conversion rate. And you know what? That opinion is dead on.

Those aren’t the proper metrics to measure Facebook success, however. In baseball, you don’t figure batting average by how many times the hitter successfully contacts the ball. He has to actually get a hit. Well, in terms of Facebook, your business gets a hit when a user ‘Likes’ your page, not when a user buys something from you. I know, that’s pretty contradictory when you consider the basics of marketing. But, it’s time to embrace the idea that sometimes brand awareness is the goal.

Avinsash Kaushik wrote a tremendous, but lengthy, blog post recently on this and many other topics that I urge you to read. He touches on advertising on Facebook, as well. Again, this is not a way for you to drive traffic to your site. You advertise on Facebook to get Facebook users to your Facebook page. It’s all very Facebook-centric.

Obviously, Facebook is not the only weapon you need in your marketing arsenal. Having a large, interested, captive audience on Facebook is a great thing. You can deliver as many messages to fans of your page as you want and they don’t cost you anything. But, while those fans might buy your product when a need arises and they might tell others about your product, you need other, more traditional marketing methods to truly impact your bottom line.

The most interesting part of marketing on Facebook seems to be that you can’t be marketing to users on Facebook. That is, those that attempt to use Facebook in the wrong way, which is marketing directly to consumers rather than attempting to build an audience with their page, fail with Facebook. But, if you have great content and create an entertaining forum for fans to gather with your Facebook page and don’t alienate them by bombarding users with ads and attempts to turn them into conversions, you’ll succeed with Facebook. Soon, those fans of your page will turn into conversions on their own and may even breed more conversions.

So, whether you’re struggling to gain ground or are just starting out with Facebook for your business, remember to measure success the right way and always consider your audience.

While your content quality is always important, it is always important to remember aesthetics when building up a blog. Adam Thompson from Search Engine Journal has a good rule for considering how your blog appears. “What’s on the inside only matters if the outside is attractive enough to keep viewers reading”.

This applies even when writing a blog post. Most internet users scan content instead of really delving in and reading. You need a quality title to intrigue readers, and good formatting to draw the readers to areas with the most important information. If you can do this well enough, your formatting may help grab your visitors and make them actually read.

We have a list of seven tips for formatting your blog, but beforehand, there are four requirements you need to meet.

  1. Have a high-quality theme – Make sure it is related to your brand, and if you choose a premium theme, you can have a designer customize it to match your brand.
  2. Use Great Titles – If your titles aren’t quality, visitors won’t bother to even skim the body text.
  3. Ensure you’re using social sharing buttons and widgets – Keep them relevant and easily accessible, but also remember not to clog the page.
  4. Follow SEO practices – Always make sure you meet the basic SEO best-practices such as static URLs, optimized page titles, meta descriptions, and image alt tags.
Now that we’ve covered those basic requirements, here are seven tips for successfully formatting your blog posts.
  1. Subheadlines – Breaking up your blog post with subheadlines help readers scan your post, and your subheadlines should give the reader a good idea what the post is about.
  2. Real Photos – Stock photos can always help add some good color and pizzaz, but if it isn’t adding anything unique to your post, then it shouldn’t be there. Your photos should be communicating something specific.
  3. Photo Captions – Captions help transform your pictures from basic aethetic touches to communcation of real ideas. Using captions well allows photos to be used to communicate specific information to the reader quickly.
  4. Custom Graphics – Sometimes charts or graphs may be the best way to quickly communicate information visually. While they require some extra time and money, custom graphics help clearly visualize data and spruce up your post.
  5. Pull Quotes – Pull quotes are an easy way to entice viewers to get intrigued in your post. If you use them right, your viewers will be intrigued by the quote and want more information or context.
  6. Use Color – Black text on a white background is old and boring. Add some color to liven up your page and engage viewers. It can be as simple as changing the colors of your Hx tags, or brightening up pull quotes. Don’t overdo it, and make your site neon, but use color to highlight information and attract readers.
  7. Bullet Point Lists – If your information is easily communicated in a list, always use bullet points or a numbered list. It makes it much easier for readers to scan for the interesting points, and still gain quite a bit of information.
If you can employ these tips in your blog, you will make viewers want to read, rather than trying to push them to the content. Coerce them to actually read by making it pleasant and engaging for them.

 

Pinterest has become a monster in the past year, with user growth up nearly 4400%. No, there’s not a typo in that figure. Obviously, it’s time for you to take advantage of this raging trend and use Pinterest to expand your audience. Mitt Ray, of Social Media Examiner, has four tips you can use.

1. Pin Content

To get traffic from Pinterest, you need to be part of the Pinterest community. Establish boards that routinely pin great content. Some of it should be yours, but some of it should be from elswhere. Establish yourself as the go-to board for your particular area of expertise.

2. Tall Images

Because of the way Pinterest displays their pinned images, taller images get more real estate and have a better chance of getting noticed and being repinned. Rather than just stretching out an image, think about combining multiple relevant images to reach your tall goal.

3. Must Have Images

No one can pin your content if it doesn’t have at least one image that’s a minimum of 110 x 100 pixels. So, it should go without saying that each of your blog posts should have an accompanying picture.

4. Default Images

Your blog should also have a default image, which is an image that appears in the header, footer or sidebar. It appears on every page of your site and, although it isn’t associated with a specific post, it can be used to pin a post.

Make the image relevant to your site’s general topic. This way, you can be sure that every post can get pinned and people will start to associate your image with your site and your brand.

If you’re using AdWords to advertise your business online, you’ll definitely want to look into their newest option, Shared Budgets, which was announced Monday on the Adwords blog.

Shared Budgets is exactly what it sounds like. Adwords let’s you set a daily allowance for how much you’d like to spend across any number of campaigns. Let’s say $100 total. You can then allocate a portion of that to each campaign. With Shared Budgets, any money that one campaign doesn’t use in a day gets automatically reallocated to another campaign that is seeing increased use. This way, you get the most out of the campaign that’s currently getting the most attention without having to constantly tinker with the budget allocation yourself.

 

No designer wants to spend hours and hours doing unnecessary revisions and redesigns. You especially don’t want your client to throw out an idea at first glance. We know making the “best” design for your client’s specific needs on the first try is almost impossible but that doesn’t mean your first designs can’t have the potential to become the best design. With these few simple steps, you can make sure your designs have potential from the beginning and, hopefully, provide better designs for your client.

  1. Know Your Brand: Designers often ignore this step. It’s easy to think, when starting out as a designer, that the brand you’re working for doesn’t matter on the first try. They will just give you tons of revisions either way, right? Wrong. Knowing the business and the brand you’re creating for gives you a better understanding of what they need. Once you know what they need, you can give them what they want. Knowing a brand means knowing who they want to attract. By doing the research, you can help solve the client’s problems.
  2. Know the Industry: There are a few reasons you want to know what is happening in a client’s industry. To begin with, design is incredibly trendy and what is “in” right now varies by industry. You want to make sure your client sticks out in a positive and logical way. Don’t try to blend in but don’t let your design be the equivalent of a Hawaiian shirt at a formal event. Secondly, while knowing what is popular with your client’s industry is important, it is also essential to know what is attractive to their customers. Your design should focus as much on their needs as it does the client’s.  Researching the industry lets you know what people in that industry want and reveals what needs to be improved.
  3. Be Creative: When faced with creating something new, we all look for inspiration. Designers usually go online and look at other designs anywhere from blogs to showcases. After finding something that inspires us, many accidentally end up copying the original source. Using inspiration does not mean changing small features of another design to make an almost identical but subtly different design. It means being creative with what inspired you. You can borrow some things but you want your inspiration to push you to try something new. Good creativity and good design lead to innovation.
  4. Details, Details, Details: Rushing to get a design finished can lead to silly mistakes that are absolutely avoidable. While focusing on the layout is important, the details are just as essential. You don’t want to have a beautiful design with a misspelled banner or a typo in a sidebar. Some clients will brush off little mistakes like these, as they are easy to fix, but many will be less forgiving. If these mistakes are easy to fix after you’ve shown the design, they should have been fixed before you showed it.
  5. Explain Your Design: We, as designers, love to understand what we create and why we did it. The problem is, we’re often bad at communicating this to others. Sending an explanation of your design when you submit it allows you to answer most of the client’s questions before they can ask them. It shows intent and purpose behind the design. While a confusing design with no explanation will almost certainly be refused before you can defend it, allowing the client to understand it from the outset will help them see potential in the design, and offer their own opinions,

Every design will need revisions but there is no reason to fear them. However, if you make the best design you can for your client’s needs on the first submission, you will likely find they are more willing to work with what you created. Communicating with clients and trying to give them what they want, rather than what you like, will make your clients happy and could open up more room for creative freedom later.

 

For more ideas on how to improve your designs, go to Kendra Gains’ article at webdesignerdepot.com