Thomas J. Armitage

Digital Marketing Consultant | Utica, NY

Category: Search Engine Optimization

Search Engine Optimization
The Blunt and Brutal Honest Truth About SEO

The Blunt and Brutal Honest Truth About SEO

Search Engine Optimization

There is no other marketing effort more complex or changing at a faster rate than search engine optimization (SEO). It takes a great deal of time to just keep up with the trends. Something you learned six months ago can be outdated today. And it’s unique in that you no longer really perform SEO on its own – it’s grown to live in unison with all other digital marketing practices. I’ve only been [directly] involved in SEO for a few years, but boy has there been a lot of changes in that time related to best practices and effective tactis. So I wanted to clear up a few things and also highlight what my biggest takeaways have been since my first encounter with SEO.

SEO Is Not Dead

Young digital marketers are usually passionate advocates for SEO. But old-school thinkers are the first to wave the white flag.

How many times have you been to Google today? It’s 8 am at the time of this writing and I’ve already logged about 10 searches. Guaranteed, by the end of the day, I’ll be looking at close to 100 between desktop and mobile. Not to mention all the other ways I’ve navigated around the internet today.

We rely so heavily on search engines, and the results they feature, that I don’t know what we would do without them. The top results [usually] serve our needs. And that’s because the algorithms have been refined to feature the best and most accurate answers. So becoming one of those top answers is naturally an important goal for any business, since it will lead to high levels of high quality traffic.

Plus, SEO today is much more than just organic visitors. Consider searches from retail sites like Amazon, referral traffic, direct traffic, conversions outside of your website like on local listing pages, Twitter links, news feed links, site links and more. I’ve been around the world and back again before I even finished my morning coffee – because it’s just so easy to get around online. How can SEO be dead? SEO is helping affect everything I just mentioned.

As long as the search engines continue to serve a purpose and as long as there are things we, as marketers, can do to bring qualified visitors into our site, SEO will prevail as an important piece in the digital marketing puzzle. But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t changing.

SEO Is A Long-Term Strategy

It didn’t used to be this way. Couple tweaks here, some link purchases over here, throw up some meta data. Voila! We got that number one spot, like Ludacris.

Okay, now let’s stop thinking about how easy it was to do SEO in 2004. (And let’s stop referencing songs from that year too).

It’s 2015 and Google has smartened up. Can you blame them? There was a lot of shady stuff going on for a long time and it greatly affected who was appearing on page 1. From the user’s perspective, you expect to find the best and most accurate results. So that’s what Google has been/is always trying to do. Think about Google Updates/Penalties as a way of helping us all, not hurting SEOs.

Poor links? Bad. Thin content? Bad. Comment spam? Bad. So what are you gonna do about it?

As a result of the many updates over the years, we’ve now arrived at a point where SEO is not easy. Actually, it’s pretty friggin’ hard and time consuming. And with that, it takes time to see results. Do the right thing on your site and make your site worthwhile to the audience. Focus on better/longer/more relevant content, site speed, mobile friendliness, social activity, rich snippets, security, etc. There a thousand factors in Google’s algorithms and many things you can do to help improve your online properties.

I did a tremendous amount of SEO work for a client two years ago and I’m just now seeing the fruits of all that labor. The timeline will range depending on the type of SEO work, the competition, the industry, and the company, but keep in mind that the days of quick fixes and short term results are gone. Do good work and you’ll eventually see results. Just be patient.

Conversions > Traffic

Let’s say your company sells t-shirts to young girls. What value is there in bringing 1,000 visitors to your site made up of 55+ men? The answer is: no value. They aren’t buying anything, and they probably aren’t there for the right reasons (yikes!). Your efforts are unsuccessful and the visitors arriving aren’t helping drive sales.

Thankfully, many of us are [finally] getting past the idea of traffic being the main metric we use to measure online success. And we’re opting to instead look at conversions. But the first step is to identify the conversions that mean most to your business.

Set-up goals and events in Google Analytics (and Tag Manager), or your preferred measurement software, and monitor them constantly. Goals can be sales through an e-commerce store, form completions, downloads, video views, pricing pageviews, and more. Anything that you deem as a value metric (just because you don’t have an online store, doesn’t mean you can’t measure ROI). Then monitor. These converters are the people who are qualified on your website.

Traffic means nothing. Stop leading your reports with it! Conversions will always be more valuable to you than any other metric. Plus, it allows SEO professionals to more accurately justify their work, by basing their progress around conversion-type metrics. Assign dollar values to your conversions and that’s where true ROI becomes evident. We, as marketers, need to do a better job at fighting the good fight against crappy metrics. Start today. Set up those goals and events.

SEO Is Only One Ingredient

I’ve worked with clients that give SEO too much attention (resulting in too little attention elsewhere) and also ones that don’t believe it in altogether. The happy medium is to first understand that SEO is one piece in the marketing mix, and a component of other marketing work. Content writing and content marketing, social media, website development – all of these tasks/projects are seamlessly integrated with SEO. And keeping SEO in mind with all of these can help you perform better.

You can’t make a cake with just flour. Similarly, you can’t expect to see online success with just SEO. If you don’t have the time and the resources to add all the other ingredients – content, social, video, photos, improved development, etc – then don’t even bother. It won’t taste any good.

The best approach to marketing is having an integrated strategy and having many different touchpoints to reach your target audience. SEO should not be your only activity. There must be many more items on your plate. Managing them well, and in unison, will have the greatest affect. No matter the audience, however, SEO should play an integral role. SEO is an ongoing activity. It’s not a one-and-done project, or a tactic that you can start and stop at any time. It’s a constant effort. It takes a ton of time. It doesn’t end. So budget accordingly.

Linking Totally Sucks

Quality links still pose as a factor in search engine algorithms to help dictate rankings and drive traffic. Problem is: Google and the search engines have struck down linking practices pretty heavily over the years because of how bad they were being abused (i.e. Google Penguin). Link farms, paid links, comment links, etc. So we also have to wise up.

Making an effort to specifically go out and get links is very hard. It can be done, but it must be very specific and strategic, getting only quality links placed on sites that you trust. My opinion today is to not focus on linking at all. Let the links come naturally. And there are a number of ways to do that.

  • Blog. A lot. Make them high quality posts and share them on social and through email campaigns.
  • Conduct PR work to garner earned media pieces that feature links back to your site.
  • Host internships and scholarships at your company where descriptions and write-ups will be posted by your local colleges, allowing you to get .edu links.
  • Participate in tradeshows or sponsor different events and submit company bios to the event websites.
  • Conduct cause marketing, like volunteering or donations, and let links come naturally from those non-profit .org sites.
  • Finally, work with your vendors and partners to be featured on their sites or blogs.

If you do ethical work, create unique quality content, and have ongoing outreach, your backlink profile will grow. It’s just the natural effect. Take that Google!

You Can Do It Yourself!

I’ve yet to see a master’s degree available in search engine optimization. That’s because it doesn’t exist. That means that all of us – from the most experienced professional down to the recent college grad – is at a [somewhat] even playing field. We are learning as we go. On the fly. From research, reading blogs, testing, trial and error. There isn’t any piece of paper that proves we know this stuff. It’s just based on our own learnings. And that means that you can get caught up to speed. For free.

Read blogs like Steamfeed (sorry, had to), Moz, SearchEngineWatch, SearchEngineJournal and SearchEngineLand to get the daily scoop on the latest trends. Test out software like SEMRush, Raven Tools, BrightLocal and others to learn more about the art of SEO/website analysis and how to access and utilize data. Then, go to work.

It takes time to get familiar with the lingo and the technical aspects of SEO, but it’s certainly learnable over time. No one has formal education in this stuff. We’re all self-proclaimed experts. So put in the time and the work and you can get the job done yourself. And if you do not have the skills or time to pull it off, that’s where agencies and freelancers come in.

SEO still has a lot of life left in it. Though rapidly changing every day, it’s important to exercise SEO efforts in all of our digital marketing activities to help drive the right people to our sites and lead them down the sales funnels. As long as the web serves a purpose, SEO will prevail. Take these tips into consideration and prep your site properly for long-term success!

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What Small Business Owners Need to Know About SEO

What Small Business Owners Need to Know About SEO

Search Engine Optimization

What Small Business Owners Need to Know About SEO

Search engine optimization, or SEO, is a complex business. And signs from the past few years only suggest that it’s getting even more complicated. In a nutshell, SEO is a blend of many different online tactics to help achieve higher results for your site on search engine results pages. This, in turn, gives you more exposure, more clicks, and more traffic. As a small business owner with a website that serves as one of the most important touchpoints between you and your customers, it’s important you understand some of the basics of SEO today and what you can do to help drive new and relevant visitors to your site. Here’s five things to keep in mind when it comes to SEO in 2015.

1) Don’t Pay for Garbage SEO Services

I get at least 15 emails each day from fly-by-night SEO companies, both domestic and foreign, that are trying to sell me their services. (And I work for an SEO company! So I can only imagine how many emails business owners receive). There are a handful of things wrong with working with agencies like this. They often make unrealistic guarantees. Without knowing your business, exploring your site, reviewing your competitors, it’s unfair to promise that they can get you to #1 in Google. They likely will never be able to reach that goal. And blindly offering this guarantee just shouts: “BEWARE!” Additionally, many of these companies do not pay attention to the changing landscape and still conduct SEO like it is 2005. Meaning, they buy low quality links, keyword stuff, and perform other acts that were totally fine five years ago but will now get a site flagged by Google and result in very low rankings.

Bogus SEO

On the same note, be cautious about “one and done” programs. SEO is like a maintenance drug. Taking it once won’t do any good. It needs to be done regularly to actually see results. When you consider what goes into good SEO, it’s not really a task but an activity. It’s ongoing. From online marketing, to blogging, to linking, to content building, to social media – effective SEO is the end result of many tactics at work – all at once. As my colleague Matt says, SEO is a fitness plan that you have to continually be working at. Simply buying a gym membership won’t give you results.

2) Mobile First

I’m pretty sure 2012, 2013, 2014 were all dubbed the “Year Of Mobile.” So I’m not going to call it that for the sake of sounding silly and redundant. But what I will say is that we’ve finally arrived at a point where some (not all just yet) companies are seeing more visitors come in through mobile devices than from desktop. And this is a dramatic shift in user behavior. A milestone, really. Thus, sites should be designed with the primary focus on mobile.

Mobile First

But “mobile first” doesn’t stop at just design. Small businesses should also consider the ways people are searching. Are they using Siri, Ok Google, or Cortana? If so, how do customers verbalize your business and industry terms? Not all searches are taking place in Google. Don’t fail to optimize your site and its citations to come up on top in search engines and other places too: Yelp, Amazon, UrbanSpoon, Google Play, to name a few. Also consider a mobile app, if you have something special (outside of a website) to offer your audience. If used regularly, you can build brand loyalty and turn inconsistent buyers into frequent flyers.

And speaking of development, besides being mobile friendly, your site needs to be fast too. Google is specifically looking at site speed when it comes to rankings. In other words, it doesn’t want to reward slow sites because they offer a poor experience for its users. Build your site with speed in mind and do speed tests prior to launch to ensure the search engines will appreciate it.

3) Don’t Forget About the User Experience

A rookie mistake made by some SEOs or business owners who do their own website management is putting so much emphasis on SEO that it takes away from the user experience. Maybe it’s the titles and descriptions that misguide visitors immediately in the search engines, or maybe it’s an overload of inbound links on your homepage, or perhaps it’s lots of content that doesn’t speak to your buyer personas. Whatever the case, nothing should ever trump the user experience. When a qualified visitor enters your site, he/she should be able to quickly find what he/she is looking for, move throughout the site easily, and request more information or make a purchase with ease. Your conversion rates and time on site should be helpful indicators that you are pleasing your visitors. If your bounce rate is out of control and your conversions are low, you know it’s time to make a change.

If you are building a new site this year, make sure you (or your design/dev team) understand your audience and how they behave on the web. Then build the site for them. If you are not launching a new site and are just looking to update or refresh your current site, take a look at the site, its navigation, its content. Is it user-friendly? Do an analysis to determine what can be improved. Then make changes. Add high quality images. Add links. Move pages around, if needed (don’t forget to set up 301 redirects to avoid broken links). Put yourself in the shoes of your customers and make adjustments to let them have a more enjoyable experience on your site.

4) Content…err…Quality is King

Last year, you probably read how “Content is King” whenever you started to do research on SEO or digital marketing. And it’s true, content is one of the biggest factors to help find new audiences to welcome into your site. However, somewhere along the lines, I feel like some people got too caught up with this “Content is King” philosophy because they started to pump out all types of content on all different topics. It worked in terms of bringing in traffic. Whether that was through referral links, social links, or the search engines. But guess what? They weren’t necessarily people who were going to buy products or services. So they came. They saw. They left. Oops?

Content is King

Here’s an important question. Would you rather have 200 visitors come to your site and have not one of them turn into a customer? Or would you rather have 20 new visitors enter and have 2 of them turn into customers? It’s all about quality over quantity. And now that more and more marketers are learning this the hard way, we are going to see savvy folks get more targeted with topics and the content they are publishing on their sites. Quality content is one of the most profound factors in search engine algorithms. Take time to understand your audience and its needs, then tailor your content to those folks. It will result in higher traffic, but more importantly, visits from the crowd that means most to you and your business.

5) Make Sure You Are Measuring Properly

This one is an oldie but a goodie. Because in marketing, our efforts are worthless unless we measure. We’re at a point where if an activity lives on the web, it must be tracked. Even Twitter recently launched analytics for personal accounts. There’s no excuse anymore. SEO can be pretty easy to measure if you know what to track and have the right software in place to do the heavy lifting. You can use Google Analytics, SEMrush, Raven Tools and many more to track your website’s activity, the quality of visitors coming into your site, how they behave on your site, what your social media following looks like, and much more.

You’ll want to examine things like incoming traffic, traffic sources, time on site, entrance page, exit page, conversation rate, and goal and event completions. This data is invaluable as it allows you to make all sorts of web changes (related to many of the items listed above) as well as business decisions related to your sales process and/or offering. Good SEO cannot be performed without having tracking in place. It guides your actions and allows you to do a better job in the future. Small business owners should invest time into learning more about measurement to have a better understanding of what is working and what needs adjustment.

If you keep these five points in mind during your SEO work this year, you should be on the path to success. Of course, it takes some time and talent to help accomplish these, so make sure you have the right resources in place before you embark on you journey so as to not fall short in the end. SEO is an ongoing process so it must be take into consideration all your other marketing activities as well. By following some of this advice, you should hopefully look to improve your rankings, seek out new customers, and find yourself new business in 2015!

The 5 Best Links You Can Get

The 5 Best Links You Can Get

Search Engine Optimization


If you ask an SEO specialist what the most important factors are for better rankings, he will likely tell you that quality links are critical. I know. The algorithms are constantly changing and link building is a bear these days compared to even five years ago. But unfortunately, one of the best ways for Google to measure trust and popularity of a site and/or page is still its link profile. So how are going to get those links?

  • Directories and paid links? Think again.
  • Commenting in blog articles? This isn’t 2005.
  • Press releases via wire service? Here, I’d like you to meet Google Penguin.

There have been many link-building tactics that were once successful in the past which won’t help much today. Now, some might even do more harm than good. Of course, we know producing quality content on-site is probably the best technique. It accumulates social shares, draws in relevant readers, and leads to naturally garnered links off-site. But let’s think outside of inbound content for a second. There are a number of strategic ways you can go about landing some great links to add to your backlink profile.

First, I want to make one thing clear: link building is not free. You’ll be hard-pressed to generate a solid list of great links without paying a dime. Even great content costs money, whether it’s in time, software, stock photo purchases, social advertising to push it further, or various other ways. And paying a fly-by-night SEO company from Bangkok for links is not a worthwhile investment either. Those links will surely come back to haunt you with the recent Google updates. If it seems too good to be true, then it probably is, and you’re better off spending that money elsewhere.

Kristi Hines from SearchEngineJournal wrote a post several years ago on the different types of links one can work to obtain. She mentions that you first must establish a goal. Some goals include getting more referral traffic, improving reputation, and raising your rankings in the search engines. So if you are looking to specifically embark on a link building effort to raise your position in the SERPs, here’s some advice:


Link Type: Earned Media


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What It Is and How to Get It:

Writing one press release a month and blasting it over a wire service is not a link building strategy. Instead, you need to hire a PR team (or use in-house talent) to build relationships with reporters, editors, writers, bloggers, and secure your online coverage by hand. This can be in the form of features, a company mention by way of having your CEO be a thought-leader on the topic, or you can offer to pen a guest content piece. Regardless of the form, you’ll likely be able to get a link back to your site from any true earned media piece. Think about topics that might be deemed newsworthy. A new product launch, a major c-suite hire, or a new partnership. Don’t discount local media either!

Tip: Pay for good PR! They’ll find good angles and pitch the most relevant media members to cover your company.


Link Type: Internships and Scholarships



What It Is and How to Get It:

It’s actually quite hard to get approval for a .edu website. Plus, they often feature many information-rich pages that draw in loads of links. Therefore, authority is strong and highly valued by search engines. Many schools are protective of their sites and don’t hand out links to anyone, so you have to give them a reason to link to you. Think about your company’s field and the schools that make the most sense to build a relationship with. Then, put together an annual scholarship to award to students who are serious about your field. Many schools will give you a chance to provide a write-up and a page on their site. Internships are great too. Speak to the career services office about taking on student interns regularly. The office should feature mini biographies of the companies where its students are often placed. (Don’t forget what this tactic will cost you in terms of company time for training and “babysitting.”)

Tip: Develop interpersonal relationships with relevant schools. Consider the ties that your employees already have.


Link Type: Event Participation/Sponsorships


Content Marketing

What It Is and How to Get It:

There’s an art to sponsor relations, deciding on the best events to sponsor that make the most sense for your marketing strategy, and getting the most bang for your buck. Many companies blow through their sponsorship budget frivolously without enjoying all the perks. One thing that often gets overlooked in sponsor packages is the option to submit content to an event website. Listings are okay, but you want more. See if you can get a company biography or history submitted and posted, or perhaps seek permission to prepare a guest blog post for the event’s blog or online newsletter. Try to get a spot to speak at the event and have a description typed up for your topic. Work in your backlink(s) naturally and provide disclosure of your sponsorship. Beyond the link benefit, you may even get some extra attention on-site during the event or show.

Tip: Consider sponsoring the top tradeshows in your field or even local events, like a Chamber of Commerce Conference or local TEDx.


Link Type: Cause-Related Links



What It Is and How to Get It:

Most companies participate in at least one charity event during the year. Some companies put a lot of emphasis on it, conducting company-wide outings or full participation in events. Think about the ways you can take advantage of a non-profit’s .org website without being a mercenary. Create a unique sponsorship that requires web-based participation, such as a contest or a vote, to work in a company mention and link. Make a major donation and the non-profit will likely write-up an web-based thank-you. Or perhaps one of your employees has a direct affiliation to a cause (maybe they are a survivor) and they would be willing to write up a personal story to be featured on the non-profit’s website.

Tip: Be cautious that you aren’t coming across as “rah-rah, look at me” and instead try to naturally work in your link through a legitimate goodwill effort. 


Link Type: Relationship Linking


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What It Is and How to Get It:

In business, we develop all sorts of relationships, such as with customers, vendors, agencies, partners, friends, etc. Why don’t you take advantage of those opportunities? Put together a list of all the companies that you’ve developed strong ties with over the years. Now begin reaching out to them – the more personal the better – and ask if you can mutually help each other with linking efforts. Don’t let this be a buried listing that tells Google it’s a bogus link. Make sure it looks legitimate. Perhaps they can build a section for their trusted partners with small company biography write-ups. Or, better yet, incorporate the link into a reputable testimonial or high quality case study. Now you’ll kill two birds with one stone and your partner will love you!

Tip: When reaching out, let them know the benefits of links. They’ll be more apt to give into the strategy if they can see what they will get out of it. 


Final Points

As you may have noticed, many of the above opportunities take some extra time, money, and effort. To get links online, think OFF-LINE. Many link opportunities can be created through some of these traditional marketing efforts. Maybe your company has opportunities that are readily available to you and you just haven’t noticed them as link prospects. Consider your current efforts and relationships and capitalize. If you are generating high quality links, you could start to see positive results in the SERPs with as few as 15 great new links, in as short of time as a few months. Good luck and happy link building!