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Source: Stock.xchangIt took a couple weeks for everything to even back out after the recent Penguin update, and now its time to start looking forward to what is coming up in SEO. It is an especially good time to make predictions for the rest of 2013 as we are just now passing the halfway point in the year and Google has made some of their intentions moving forward very clear.

Google has pulled out the big guns in their fight against spam, and have publicly stated their interests in user experience through site design and quality content. None of that is a surprise, but at the turn of the year none of it had actually been confirmed by people within the search engine juggernaut. A few months later and Matt Cutts basically confirmed everything we assumed before. Focus on the user and don’t try to cheat or loophole your way to the top and you should be fine.

Still, Google isn’t content to simply focus on one or two things at a time, and there are bound to be quite a few other changes in the near future that we haven’t been told about. Jayson DeMers analyzed all of the evidence from Google’s more subtle changes and announcements in the past few months to attempt to make predictions for what we might be seeing in the next year or so in SEO. They are all just guesses from the information available, but it’s always good to stay ahead of the curve and aware of changes that may be on the horizon.

Source: Steven Depolo

Source: Steven Depolo

Any honest person working in SEO will tell you the industry has its fair share of problems. While many of these problems are a result of less than straight forward information from search engines about how their algorithms actually work, a large amount of the issues within the industry come from bad SEO consultants who will do anything to get a new client.

This isn’t to say that the industry is a scam or that even the majority of SEOs are bad, but there are more than a few SEO consultants who will tell you just about anything to “make the sale.” How do you know who to trust? You can look at what the SEO tells you to start. For example, if any SEO company tells you they can get you the top spot on Google no matter what or improve your rankings immediately, they are likely a bad choice. But, sometimes it is better to look at what they don’t tell you.

Marketers are trained in knowing what to say and what not to say, but that idea should be reserved strictly for the optimization and actual marketing on the pages they run, not meetings with clients. Pratik Dholakiya has been working in SEO for years and has run into his fair share of bad SEO consultants and recently shared a list of things they will try to hide from potential clients. Most consultants will give you a realistic idea what to expect when you’re considering hiring someone to optimize for you, but if they avoid telling you any of the five things on his list, chances are they are hiding much more and you should think twice before signing a contract with them.

When most people think of SEO, they see it as a way to earn the top spot (or close to it) on the search engine result pages (SERPs). Markets can be highly competitive, and if SEO can get you above others in your industry than most companies see the process as being worth their time and money. While that is true in some ways, it is also far from the whole truth.

The wide perception about SEO implies that it is only really important for largely internet based businesses or those in competitive markets. However, SEO can benefit anyone who wants to develop an online presence and make themselves available to the ever-increasing number of consumers who use the internet as their primary shopping tool.

Small or niche businesses with limited resources may ask what the point of investing in SEO could be when there is little to no competition. What is the point when you’ve already earned the top spot, with no signs of losing it in the future? Amanda DiSilvestro has spent quite a lot of time considering this issue (enough for two separate articles across different sites) and the conclusive answer is that SEO can help businesses in niche markets in tons of ways that may not seem apparent at first.

Optimization means improving usability

Between Google’s recent shift of focus from links and keywords to quality usability for users, many aspects of optimization are centered entirely on improving how your site functions for the people that actually use it. SEO can be perceived as a marketing tactic, but it is more importantly a usability tactic. Sites that readers enjoy using are more valuable than those that barely function, and Google recognizes that and ranks sites accordingly.

You’ll have competition eventually

No matter how niche your business is today, eventually the vast majority of companies will see competition. Chances are, if you don’t see competition eventually your niche is in danger of becoming irrelevant. Either way, it is always best to be ahead of any competition that arises, and solid SEO essentially helps you fortify your grasp on the market. Rather than battling a new competitor when they show up, you’ll be prepared and far ahead of their attempts to overthrow you.

You want to be the best, not the only option

Ignoring SEO means your site isn’t living up to its potential. Customers view site usability and professionalism as indicators of the reputability of the company running the page. Because SEO is becoming synonymous with usability, optimizing your site communicates your value to search engines and your users at the same time. If consumers see you as the only option, but think your site and brand look sub par, they will view you as the only option they have rather than the best possible option. That pushes potential customers away and could even cause an enterprising individual who notices your weakness to try to enter your little market.

Conclusion

SEO isn’t immediate. It takes a lot of time to get the results you want. While you may feel comfortably established as the top (or only) option in your niche, things always change eventually. Getting ahead of the curve will save you stress in the long run and make potential customers trust your company more.

Many small business owners are hesitant to really put an effort into SEO or their online presence because they feel like the web is already conquered by big companies they can’t compete with. It is common to feel like you don’t have the resources, time, or manpower to achieve any sort of success on search result pages, but local businesses actually have a much larger opportunity than they usually think.

Search engines provide a more leveled playing field when it comes to corporations and local businesses. All you have to do for efficient SEO is know where to invest your limited resources to get the most return, and show your value to the search engines. Nick Stamoulis recently discussed three main ways you can achieve SEO success, even with the limited means of a local business.

1) Build links naturally, one quality link at a time

While links have lost some of their influence in SEO, they are still a serious consideration to search engines. Google’s latest updates have many business owners scared of link building, but the truth is it will always be an important part of SEO and you can’t ignore it. The key to link building is to ensure that you are building quality links from various sources, which is best done by focusing on one at a time. This keeps your linking pattern looking natural and stays away from any gray areas.

Some will try to set link building goals or try to take short cuts, but Google has made it clear that if you don’t get penalized for your cheap tricks now, you will eventually. Arbitrary quotas only inspire efforts to get bulk links when your self-imposed deadline approaches, and easy links come with a big target on their backs.

2) Create Content For Your Audience

Content marketing is a buzzword for SEO at the moment, but some have already lost the real reason content has come to have such impact on SEO. Quality content has been favored by search engines because that is what audiences and customers want, and it inspires interaction between businesses and their customers. One of the things lost in the feeding frenzy of tasty blog posts, infographics, and ebooks is that those methods aren’t relevant for many smaller businesses.

Small businesses often offer services that draw customers not looking to spend a lot of time reading or watching videos. Instead, they want to be able to see what businesses have been doing, and what value they are contributing to the community. This can be as easy as semi-frequent announcements or updates on G+ or pictures and status updates on Facebook. Just focus on providing the information customers will want. Answer their questions, direct them to solutions, and provide something of value to those who find you online.

3) Find Your Niche

It is true that if you run a small flower shop you won’t have the same online presence that a national brand like 1-800-Flowers does. However, your smaller local net can catch better fish than a large net a national brand uses. You can establish yourself in your small market by pinpointing a variety of different ways your service can be used. That theoretical florist, for example, can cater wedding parties and high-end hotels, educate gardening enthusiasts, and help decorate local restaurants. Find what small markets aren’t cornered in your local area, and make your place.

Remember, national brands may have more money and people available to use for SEO, but value is what matters to the search engines. Ask yourself why customers keep coming to your local business rather than those corporate giants, and adapt it to the internet. If your site is worth visiting, the search engine results will reflect your worth.

There is no doubt that blogging is a powerful tool for content marketers and SEOs. However, the simple days of recording your daily activities in a sort of online diary has grown to become a much more complex endeavor, especially for those who intend to use it for marketing.

The reason blogging became the mess many companies see it to be is simply that too many put too much emphasis on blogging and tried to make it something new that can drive away beginners or website owners with its complexities.

Blogging can do wonders for your SEO and your business, but there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. If you’re feeling frustrated or overwhelmed with blogging, chances are you’ve reached that tipping point. You are also probably making some common mistakes that are rather simple to fix. Most likely, you just need to simplify.

A simple way to simplify is to just narrow your focus a little more. If you find yourself trying to cover vast themes and ideas in your blog, you are using the wrong format for your thesis. For every blog post, try to stick to a single idea. You may think you’re doing that, but consider it like this: while a country like Portugal may be “one topic” it can be broken down into so many subtopics. Pick one of those subtopics, and then see if you can break it down more. If you’re interested in the local culture, zoom in more on the music. Maybe pick a specific style of music that is most relevant or interesting and focus on that.

Similarly, even if you choose one fairly specific topic that you are knowledgeable on, you can still feel compelled to write endlessly, but you probably shouldn’t. Longer posts can get a little more attention and earn you some credibility if they are well done, but articles reaching 2,500 or more words should almost certainly be considered for another medium than a blog. By over-reaching on blog post size, you can throw off the scores of people who scan for information, and limit your own output possibilities.

Depending on the size of your business, bloggers can also end up in a chain where five or six people have to sign off on every single blog post before they can go to publish. In reality, you only want two to three people being the deciding council of what content is going to the public. Two or three people are enough to ensure there are no big thematic mistakes or smaller errors like typos or factual inaccuracies, but the more people you add to that process, the more likely you’ll have to deal with more arguments about what is fit to be published.

Speaking of editing, even one-person blogging teams can get stuck in the process of over-editing. Blogs don’t have to be perfect. You want to appear reputable and intelligent, so you don’t want to put out something chock full of mistakes, but web writing is informal. You don’t need to spend the time editing a blog that you would something in a newspaper or any other type of professional writing. Your audience isn’t looking for that.

For the most part, you can feel comfortable sticking to one, or possibly two rounds of editing at most for any post. You want to ensure there are no huge cohesion errors you didn’t notice in the throes of writing, but if you misspell one work, it won’t be the end of the world.

Of course, there are many more ways you can over complicate blogging as a process. Sujan Patel recently wrote about some ways that bloggers tend to make everything more of a mess than they should. You want to put out quality content, but most of the time keeping it simple will just make it easier to see the good work you’ve done.

Let me ask you, did you even know there is a difference between an SEO agency and a content marketing agency? To many, the terms have become synonymous, but the terms actually have different meanings reflecting what you hope to get out of hiring a professional to help you run your web presence. How do you know which agency is the best for you? Amanda DiSilvestro broke down the differences between the two recently, as well as the general pros and cons of both.

SEO agencies tend to be more focused on data and metrics from the search world. While they create content, they are more interested in calculating visibility and traffic and leveraging those with trends in search behavior so that they can create the best content for search engine visibility. Content marketing agencies on the other hand create content based on what what your audience wants most during the current buying cycle. The interest isn’t on search, but rather engaging with the public and achieving a goal.

The biggest differences are where each agencies information is coming from. SEOs use search-driven data and analytics, while content marketing agencies use audience-driven data and general content creation knowledge. Both agencies use data to create excellent content, and in many ways their efforts do overlap, but their methods are different.

What is best for you depends on the needs of your business. DiSilvestro suggests working with a content marketing agency first, so that you understand your audience, buying cycle, and the more broad ideas of creating content before seeking out an SEO company. Once you know how to create great content, an SEO can help you make it visible.

It isn’t uncommon for business owners to try to handle at least a portion of their SEO on their own. Some will try to find a balance between working with an SEO company and doing some of it themselves, while others try to go totally independent and see what they can do without paying for the professionals.

Both make complete sense and have positive aspects. You want to have control over your company’s online presence, and it is always important to try to familiarize yourself as much as possible with online marketing and SEO, even if you are working with an SEO agency.

There’s a reason there is professional online marketing help available however, and that is there are many online marketing tasks a company should try to take care of themselves, and then there are the more complex tasks that are best left to the people who work in SEO every day.

Many of the tasks the company can take care of are actually best done before you ever begin working with an SEO agency. If you don’t know what you can do on your own, Search Engine Journal writer Amanda DiSilvestro recently made a checklist of things you should do before you begin looking for professional help. They will let you take the reins on your online presence and make sure it fits the way you want your company to be portrayed, while also creating a foundation that experts will be able to build upon later.

Well, the big event that the SEO community has been talking about for weeks has finally hit and everything is… mostly the same, unless you run sites known for spammy practices like porn or gambling. Two days ago, Google started rolling out Penguin 2.0. By Matt Cutts’ estimate, 2.3 percent of English-U.S. queries were affected.

While 2.3 percent of searches doesn’t sound like a lot, in all actuality that is thousands of websites being hit with penalties and sudden drops in the rankings, but if you’ve been keeping up with Google’s best practices, chances are you are safe.

None-the-less, in SEO it is always best to stay informed on these types of updates, and Penguin 2.0 does change the Google handles search a bit. To fill in everyone on all the details, Search Engine Journal’s John Rampton and Murray Newlands made a YouTube video covering everything you could want to know about Penguin 2.0.

Oh, and if you’ve been wanting to know why it’s called Penguin 2.0, Cutts says, “This is the fourth Penguin-related launch Google has done, but because this is an updated algorithm (not just a data refresh).”

Great content can do just about anything you want it to. You want to draw in more visitors? They’ll come for quality content. Need more conversions? Get some great content. In the best cases, it can go viral. But how do you know what great content is? How do you know what the public wants?

The internet is so insanely populated with content at this point that it is just getting harder and harder to stand out. There are many lists like this one, and they offer different opinions in different ways, but what makes one of those articles more attractive than all the others? It answers people’s needs.

That sounds so incredibly basic that many would say there’s no way it is the whole story, but in reality answering to people’s needs is much harder than you think. There are no guaranteed right answers, and the only way to truly know if you gave the public what they want it to get it out there, but you can get some hints beforehand, if you look in the right places.

Jason DeMers shared some ways you can find out what your target audience is looking for and create the content they need. If you want your content to stick out from the rest, you need to know how to understand your audience.

  1. Competitors’ Forums – This slightly controversial method is also one of the easiest ways to get in the mind of your target audience, and it is definitely one of the easiest. Just find the competitor in your field with the best web presence, and keep tabs on what their audience is interested in and responding to. Of course, some argue that this leads to blatant copying or spylike business practices, and I suggest discretion with the tactic, but if you are looking for a quick way to find out what your market wants, this will show you.
  2. Comments Sections – Just like your competitors’ forums, any place where your audience can directly interact with you offers boundless opportunities to find out what they want and need. Comments sections on your own website, as well as others out there like Reddit, are filled with people looking for solutions, and they are often vocal about looking for it. If you keep your eye on places where the public is interacting, you should be able to easily discern what is on their minds.
  3. Surveys – Where comment threads create an open forum feeling of interaction, surveys allow your audience to speak directly to you and tell you what they want and need. You don’t even have to do your own survey if you don’t have the resources. Just keep your eyes on other public surveys going on. They are everywhere, just look in your daily newspaper.
  4. Product Forums a.k.a. the Support Boards – If you have a niche product and people are looking for support solutions, chances are there is a support board going on somewhere filled with people voicing their problems and opinions all at the same time. In the best situation, you run these boards and can create some good PR while also helping customers and monitoring their interests simultaneously  but even if your customers are using a public forum, you can benefit from listening in.

The public is often very open about their feelings and desires, you just have to go where they are voicing them. The internet offers many popular options, and it is easier than ever to keep tabs on what your target audience is thinking. There isn’t any excuse to ignore their needs.

In my opinion, you can never read too many opinions and advice columns on how to manage your PPC campaigns. Sure, some may turn out to be full of bad advice, but I believe every bit of information can either guide you to improving your own campaigns, or steer you away from looming mistakes. At the very least, it’s good to see what other people are doing in order to inspire you to come up with your own methods.

With that in mind, how could you avoid Chris Kent’s article at Search Engine Journal called ’10 Golden Rules of AdWords.’ It’s loaded with good information. Some of it is bordering on cliche, such as logging in to your account at least once a day and testing every conceivable movable piece. But, even these have been repeated for a reason. They are important and are a key to building a successful campaign.

My favorite pieces of advice are a suggestion of how to determine how much to bid for certain keywords. For many, this seems to be a guessing game, which is not good. Also, remember to link your PPC ads to the specific page your ad refers to. Don’t just leave traffic at your doorstep, invite them in and put them right where you want them. In other words, bypass your homepage and get users as close to a conversion as you can.