MozCon 2014

MozCon Recap and Test Driving a Starship

MozCon 2014The past week, I had the joy of spending the week in Seattle to experience not only my first MozCon, but my first marketing conference. Having spent the majority of my workforce life in hospitality, most conferences were sponsored by food and beverage vendors and were dedicated to eating and drinking the latest and greatest while wandering booths pretending that you hadn’t already tried the meatballs, similar to Costco’s sample day.

Moz went above and beyond anything I could have expected.

There are so many things to mention about the conference, but I’ll recap the top five that really stood out to me.

5. Mike King – API Killah. 
This guy blew the crowd away entirely. If you were following the Twitter feed for #mozcon you would have witnessed a plethora of “I’m officially freaked out.”, “Mike King just blew my mind”, and “WTF?” tweets. He kicked things off by describing a user’s unique fingerprint they leave on each website which was interesting in itself. He then threw us down the rabbit hole of linking APIs to take that fingerprint to find out EXACTLY who each user was, their demographic, their location, their habits, etc. It was insane. Unfortunately, he didn’t also blow us away with his rap skills this year, but I’m told they’re pretty epic. You can download his slide deck from the conference here and follow him on Twitter under the handle @iPullRank.

Mike Ramsey Shuffleboard4. Mike Ramsey – Small Town Man, Doing Big Things
I had the awesome opportunity to meet Mike Ramsey before his presentation and watch him and Ed Reese clean the shuffleboard house at the Unbounce MozCrawl afterparty. The following day he gave his local search presentation and was nothing short of incredible. He creatively and seamlessly incorporated his hometown of Burley, Idaho into every aspect of his slide deck and polished it with gorgeous photography, strategic humor and even pictures of his kids (who may kick you in the face). His firm, Nifty Marketing, focuses on “making local search sexy” and they do a damn good job. Check out his slide deck here and follow the genuinely nice guy on Twitter at @MikeRamsey. He also loves Weezer. Just saying.

Tesla S3. Test Driving A Starship
I have the pleasure of living a short drive (read: long, but worth it) away from Seattle, but it is usually the best idea to cram as many things into the trip as possible. We decided to take a quick break from the conference to walk over to a little car company named Tesla to take one out for a spin. We fully warned our co-pilot that we weren’t planning on buying one for a while and she reassured us that no one is, because you simply can’t; they’re booked out on production for the next year and a half. That being said, we hopped in, played with every option on the 17″ display and took off into the streets of Seattle. With 100% of the torque going straight to the wheels, my face hurt afterwards from smiling too much.
Note: I did not get paid for this shameless plug.

MozCon At The Garage2. MozCon’s Partner Hub
Moz did a great job in picking several partners for the event who hung out outside and gave demos and information on their products. I had the opportunity to meet a lot of fun people and learn more about some of the partners that we use, or are definitely using in the future. Never once did I feel pressured to purchase anything, they simply wanted to share what they were up to and get to know their potential clients. Had great conversations and a fantastic time hanging out with Paul from Buzzstream, Oli and the Unbounce team, and Taylor from Optimizely! Look forward to seeing all of them at future events!

1. Content
I’m not sure the best way to really title this concept that was generated throughout the conference but it is a breath of fresh air. Sure, we can’t game Google search like we used to be able to, but they’re forcing to provide something the internet truly needs: Good Content. We can hate on Google and their 1000s of employed PhDs who tweak and twist their algorithm without anyone knowing the better, skewing our client’s search rankings we’ve pushed so hard to produce. We can get mad every time they name an update after an animal we will soon despise when we see at the zoo, but they’re pushing us to make a better internet. Nearly every presentation held an underlying tone that we can be as technical as we want, but in the end, just make your site better, publish something people will share, write articles readers will love and want to come back to read again. Stop worrying about the little wins and focus on the big picture. The saying I have been throwing around the office lately can sum up the greatest idea from MozCon, “Do the thing”. Time after time, we get caught in the weeds focusing on unimportant projects, or financials, or who knows what, the problem is that we ignore the main idea. #DoTheThing

0. MOZ
So I am probably breaking some sort of countdown rule by going all the way to zero, but I owe the biggest shout out to Moz for putting on a seamless conference. The production value was outstanding with incredible and entertaining videos, great music, food, shirts, and even stuffed Roger dolls. We’ll be back next year, Moz. See you all then.

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Startup Weekend Spokane: Bootcamp

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This past weekend Sixth Man Marketing was proud to host Spokane’s Start-up Weekend Bootcamp. This in-the-trenches preparation for Start-up Weekend Spokane brought a passionate and inspirational group looking to flesh-out their business ideas before the upcoming Startup Weekend competition.

Startup Weekend is a national event hosted in cities throughout the year that encourages entrepreneurship and innovation jam-packed into one long weekend. In a mere 54 hours, teams are formed to take ideas as far as possible to be judged and critiqued by a panel of business owners and successful entrepreneurs. Startup Weekend has spawned collaborations that have gone on to form local companies that have raised capital, produced products, and launched companies.  A few recent successes from Startup Weekend Spokane are Beardbrand,  iCpooch, Barters Closet and SavorX. We can’t wait to see what this year’s event produces!

Dan Gayle kicks off the Startup Weekend Bootcamp session

Past winner Dan Gayle kicks off Startup Weekend: Bootcamp with Conner Simpson and two other entrepreneurs

So what is Startup Weekend: Bootcamp? It’s a three-hour training session that provides an experienced peer group to help fine-tune pitches and provide valuable critiques and coaching for participants of the event. Everything was covered; from the 60-second initial pitch that kicks off the weekend to the final 5-minute presentation that seals your fate with the judges. Delicious food and drink was provided by the Stork Market Cafe to lighten the mood and get the ideas flowing.

pitching_250“The attendees will have a huge advantage over their competition at Startup Weekend because they now understand the format and have the insiders tricks and tips provided by previous winners.”  – Dan Gayle, Spokesman Tech Deck

Mock companies were created to get participants thinking about the importance of key elements like finding team members and how to work efficiently at the event. Connor Simpson, another organizer of the event and previous winner from Barters Closet, added, “We had a great time preparing for Startup Weekend by honing our 60 second elevator pitches”, a key part in surviving Startup Weekend.

For more details on Startup Weekend Spokane, check out the site here or click the image below.

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Content For Location Landing Pages

A location landing page is a page on a website about a specific location in which that company does business. For single-location companies, this is usually the Contact page. For enterprises with more than one physical location, there should be a unique, well-optimized page for each of those stores, shops or offices on the company’s website.

In order for Google to reward your location landing pages with high rankings, its algorithms must determine that they are useful to visitors and provide relevant answers to the searcher’s query. Using duplicated pages with just the location information switched out on them is easy, but doesn’t really satisfy the Search Engines, so companies with many locations are often overwhelmed with the task of creating truly unique, useful content for all those pages.

Here are some must haves and optional ideas for what to include on your location landing pages. Once you have decided which information to display, you can create a template that will work for dozens, hundreds or thousands of location landing pages.

Location Landing Page Must Haves

  1. Full NAP (Name, Address, Local Phone Number) in Schema.org microformat. This is like handing the Search Engines a business card telling them what your name is, where you are located and what your phone number is.
  2. Map of your location and the surrounding area. This should be an embedded, interactive Google Map that users can zoom in and out to see where you are, what is nearby you and how to get to you.
  3. The days and hours that you are open.  Save visitors (and your staff) a phone call by answering this very common question.
  4. Calls to Action – People are much more likely to perform the action you wish them to if you spell it out for them. Clearly state what action(s) you wish people to take. Examples: Call today to make an appointment or Fill out this form for a free quote or Read reviews about us here.

 

Additional Options for Location Landing Pages

  1. Symbols of trust – Badges showing visitors that you can be trusted to do a good job and stand by your work. Examples: professional associations you belong to, certifications you have earned, awards you have won, and your membership in local business groups like the Chamber of Commerce and the BBB.
  2. Testimonials – Comments from happy customers who have done business with that specific location can help to build trust.
  3. Driving Directions and nearby landmarks – These are helpful especially if it’s tricky to find your location.  If parking options aren’t obvious, include those, as well.
  4. Contact form, if appropriate – People looking for an after hours clinic to set a broken arm are not going to fill out a form and wait for someone to contact them.  However, those looking for someone to remodel their bathroom, perform a knee replacement or install new computers throughout their offices are usually not in quite so much of a hurry and are willing to fill out the required fields.
  5. Photos – Give people a look at the street view for your business so that they can easily recognize it as they approach. Show them what your service vans or delivery trucks look like. Use pictures to introduce them to your managers and staff. Not only does this add some visual appeal to the page, but also helps to make your business and your people more familiar to them.
  6. Special/coupons – If you are running any specials or offering a discount coupon for this location, put it on this page. It may just seal the deal for you.

Our friends at Nifty Marketing created this infographic to illustrate the components of an optimal location landing page. Click on this link to see the larger version.

OptimalLandingPage

So if you have more than one store, shop or office, take the time to give each location its own useful, unique landing page that answers your visitors’ common questions and helps guide them to contact you or come to your place of business. It’s worth the effort!

 

Shopping for an Internet Marketer? Buyer Beware!

Taming the Wild West

The Search Marketing industry is trying hard to outgrow its Wild West roots. In fact, Google is demanding it by making a concentrated effort to rid its index of low quality content. Google’s algorithms continually evolve to demote and eliminate websites that employ such tactics as: keyword stuffing, manipulated links, doorway pages, hidden text, micro site networks, and exact-match-domain names. These spammy, old-school tactics used to work like magic, but are now liabilities.

In the past, business owners / nonprofits / universities, etc. could put up a website and that, in and of itself, was the achievement. Today, websites require constant updating in keeping with best practices for Usability, Search Engine Optimization (SEO), graphic design, and security protocols. It is a lot to ask of business owners, to display expertise in their field (e.g. auto repair) as well as internet marketing. More and more, internet marketing is requiring not only general expertise, but specialists who focus on one aspect. Trained professionals go to conferences to keep current on skills, trends, and best practices, as well as provide thought leadership through writing, speaking, and presenting. Staying current is an important part of the job description. Unsuspecting business owners need to be wary of internet marketers who have not kept up with best practices for attaining and retaining good rankings in Google search.

Who You Don’t Want to Hire:

Unfortunately, there are quite a few unproven, inexperienced people and agencies calling themselves internet marketers, SEOs and link builders.

  • Some are scammers and spammers who have nothing more behind them than a website, a free email address, and some low-cost helpers who may or may not know what they are doing.
  • Others have good intentions, but do not have the knowledge or expertise to deliver on what they promise.  Sadly, this category includes some traditional marketing or advertising agencies, and newspaper or yellow pages-type outfits. Most of the time, their backgrounds are in paid advertising, rather than in Search, and they cannot seem to get out of that mindset.
  • Some are using other people’s websites to experiment on and try to learn the business. 
  • Sometimes people will even offer to create a website and/or market it for free, but free isn’t always good.

While I have sympathy for newbies trying to break into the market, I don’t want to trust my online business to them any more than I would want to be the first patient an intern does surgery on. Too many people are scrambling onto the internet marketing bandwagon, without first getting appropriate training or earning their chops. None of them will really do you, the business owner, much good in the long run. 

The skill sets needed for successful internet marketing are in huge demand now. Most of us didn’t experience any slow-down during the recession. Now that the economy is picking up, seasoned marketers are raising their prices out of the comfort level of many small, local businesses, because we cannot keep up with the demand for our services. This leaves an opening for new players and scammers. Small business owners are left wondering whom to turn to.

How to Find Quality Internet Marketers

It is not usual to interact with agencies or individuals that are experts at selling. How do you know if they are also good at delivering results? Here are some things to consider when you plan on hiring an individual or company to help you to promote your business online:

Ask your friends and colleagues for recommendations. Find out who is delivering new customers to them via the internet, and ask for details. This is the best way to begin your search for someone to hire.

Search online for the name of the person or company, and examine what you find. Have they written articles on their area(s) of expertise? Do they get paid to train other people in what they do? Have they done any public speaking on their topic? Have they earned the respect of their peers, through awards or collegial collaboration? Do they have a detailed profile on Linkedin that shows their own training and experience? If the answer to any or all of these is yes, then they are more likely to be legitimate internet marketers than not. However, the lack of any of these may not be a solid indicator of skills and results – it might mean that they are not concerned with marketing themselves.

Look at reviews and testimonials. Search for reviews of “name here” and complaints “name here.” Take what you read with a grain of salt, but it will give you an overall impression of the company. Be wary of the testimonials published on the company’s website.  After all, no one is going to place bad comments about themselves on their own website. If the testimonials you find are anonymous or only use a first name, they are not as believable as those that display the person’s full name and/or the name of the business.

Ask for references and then communicate with them. I would be very wary of anyone unwilling or unable or to provide references. Some companies insist on non-disclosure, but there must be one or two clients that they’ve worked for who would take a few minutes to speak with you.  If someone has done a bang-up job for them, they should be happy to tell you about it. Don’t demand too much of their time, but do ask what the agency did for them and if they were happy with the results. If they want to tell you more, then listen carefully. What you hear may help you determine if they would be a good fit for you or not.
 
Experienced, proven internet marketers do not make cold calls or send out unsolicited emails fishing for new business. They get plenty of business without using these types of sales tactics. My best advice is to completely ignore any sales calls or emails you receive that you have not specifically requested. Some of these companies are so persistent that you may even need to block their phone numbers and email addresses.

Some of these cold-calling outfits mislead you into believing they are calling from Google or that they have some special arrangement with Google. Most of the time, that’s completely untrue. Please see this article if you want to know Is That Really Google Calling?

Ask them about their guarantees. This is a trick question! No one who really knows Search Marketing will guarantee anything in regards to rankings. There are just too many variables and too many continual and unpredictable changes in Google to make any guarantees. If you hear guarantees about ranking on the first page of Google, run!  Don’t walk, run away!  Those who make such promises are either selling you paid placement via advertising, or their flimsy guarantee will only cover a handful of obscure keyword terms that will not bring you many visitors even if you do rank for them.

Ask them what they plan to do for you and why.  Many marketers will fit you into a pre-determined package of services that depends on your budget and time frame for success. Packages make it easier for the agency, allowing them to provide these services at a lower cost than those who are willing to customize a marketing plan just for you.  Customizing plans requires a thorough examination or audit of your current internet presence, so that the best opportunities can be discovered for your particular business.  You can expect to be charged for this research and planning. Only you can decide what is best for you, your budget and your business, but don’t buy a low cost package and then expect to get more than you are paying for.

Ask them which aspects of internet marketing they specialize in. This is another trick question! Back in the day, all internet marketers were generalists who were able to do just about anything needed. Now, internet marketing has become so complex that it is extremely difficult for any one person to be an expert in every aspect, especially if they haven’t been at it for very long. Subcategories of internet marketing include:  SEO, Local SEO, Social Media Marketing, Conversion Optimization, Email Marketing, PPC (Pay-Per-Click) Advertising, Mobile Marketing, Content Marketing, Analytics, and so on. If someone tells you they specialize in just one or two phases, then that’s great, if that is the area that you need. If you need a well-rounded approach to your online marketing, then look for an agency that has yeoman-like skills in most of the above areas for the best results.  I’d liken this to choosing a family physician over a specialist for your primary medical care. The family physician can take care of most of your needs, and can refer you to a specialist when needed.

If you’re shopping for an internet marketer or agency to help you grow your business online, don’t be dazzled by fast-talking sales people.  Instead, do your homework and find someone you feel confident and comfortable working with.

 

Small Usability Changes That Have a Big Impact, Part 2

Communicating Your Site’s Purpose

This is the second in a series of three articles that focuses on how you can make a big impact on usability with small changes to your website.

There are a few elements critical to creating a good user experience on any website:

  • Users have to be able to find what they are looking for.
  • They have to understand what you offer and how you can help them.
  • They have to be able to complete their tasks easily.

In this second part of the series, we will focus on how to help users understand who you are, what you do, and how you can help them.  If you missed it, read Part 1 of this series on Helping Users Find What They’re Looking For.

Instant Recognition

Imagine walking into a store, looking around, and thinking to yourself: “I have no idea what goods or services are available here.” This is often the experience of users on a website that fails to communicate, at-a-glance, what that website can do for its users and customers. Internet users have short attention spans and high expectations.  When it comes to understanding your website’s purpose, you must communicate clearly and quickly what the focus of your website is.  Make sure you are not losing potential customers within those first few critical seconds by following some of these best practices.

Business Name & Logo Placement

Visitors to your site should be able to locate your logo quickly. It needs to be a reasonable size and appear uncluttered by other elements in the header. Top left is the expected placement for most website logos, so if you choose an alternate placement, be sure that it stands out clearly from the things around it. Consider also how your logo appears on the mobile version or rendering of your site.

Tagline

If your business name does not explicitly describe what you do (e.g. “Bob’s Plumbing”), you should consider adding a descriptive tagline to your site header. This will help your visitors “get” what you’re all about in just a few seconds. The exception to this would be if your business is already so well known it is a household name (i.e., Target, Amazon, etc.)

The following examples, from Beardbrand.com and Ifixyouri.com, show uncluttered logos that are easy to locate, read, and understand. Users will have a pretty good idea at-a-glance what these websites offer, just by looking at the easy-to-find logos and taglines.

Beardbrand.com:

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IFixyouri.com:

4-Screen Shot 2014-01-28 at 2.27.37 PM

User-Focused Messages

Many business websites use messages that are business-focused, rather than customer-focused: “We sell widgets X, Y, and Z. We are the best in the business and have been doing it for 40 years.” That may be true, but this is a message that will fall flat with your customers.

The following example from Myfinancex.com has a headline that communicates two of the benefits of its online money management tool —“easy and effective”— but it starts with “we” and does not tap into users’ emotional issues and frustrations with trying to manage their money. Still it is a message that is focused on the business, not what the consumer needs.

Myfinancex.com:

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That headline is probably not going to convince a lot of potential customers that this is the best tool for them. However, if your messages connect emotionally with users by telling them how you’ll solve their really big problems, they are more likely to hear you and engage with you. In the case of someone searching for an online money management tool, a person’s true frustrations are likely to be:

  • I am not a bookkeeper. I have no idea how to budget or track money.
  • I don’t know how I’m spending my money or where it goes.
  • I don’t have money to spend for an online budgeting tool.
  • I’m not a spreadsheet person.
  • I should be saving money, but I don’t have enough left over after bills.
  • I need access to my finances on the go, through my mobile phone.

Mint.com, another online money management tool, has a headline that taps into the frustration most people have with money: They don’t know how they’re spending it!

Mint.com:

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Once again, users are being sold on the ease of use of the tool, but this headline goes so much further by addressing people directly and solving their big problem of not understanding what’s going on with their money.

The text following the headline goes on to tell users the other ways this tool can help solve their really big problems. The images reinforce that the tool has easy-to-read charts and works across devices. The short sign-up form lets users know that it is free to get started. Everything on this page is laser focused on communicating the benefits of using Mint.com’s product.

Get Rid of Clutter

Two of the core qualities of website usability are simplicity and clarity. Clutter makes people uncomfortable and can give the impression that your site — and therefore, your business — is disorganized and unreliable.

Avoid the following things that can clutter your site, distract users, and prevent them from understanding your purpose:

  • Unnecessary, flashy animations, which can also cause slow load times
  • Distracting audio
  • Overuse of multiple, bright colors
  • Inconsistent, mix-and-match visual styles
  • Too many links, especially those that lead users offsite
  • Overwhelming advertising

Test, Test, Test

There is no better way to find out if users understand your site’s purpose than to test it with actual users.

Five Second Test

Five Second Test helps you understand people’s first impressions of your existing web pages, designs or wireframes. By finding out what a person recalls about your design after looking at it for just 5 seconds, you can ensure that your message is being communicated as effectively as possible.

Five Second Test will provide you a detailed report of results from your test showing a breakdown of the interactions each tester had with your design.

UserTesting.Com

UserTesting.com allows you to “look over the shoulder” of your target audience while they use your website, so you can see and hear where users get stuck and why they leave. You will get to watch videos of participants using your site, and hear them describe their impressions of your website. You can run tests with participants from UserTesting.com that match the demographics of your audience, or with your own customers

Parting Thoughts

Every business can make website improvements that will help users quickly and easily understand what you have to offer. Eliminating clutter, having a clear brand identity, and speaking directly to users about how you can solve their problems will have a big impact. Can you identify one or two things listed here that you could do to improve your site? Make these small changes, track your analytics data, and conduct user tests to see if they improve your site’s user experience and move your business toward meeting its online goals.

Optimizing for the New Google Maps

The New Google Maps

Recently, Google has greatly changed Maps and it is now available to everyone. You can see a demo of it and sign up for it here.

Google Maps header image

Google Maps banner

The new Maps was clearly designed with two related goals in mind: to assist searchers in finding what they need, and to show them that information right within the search results, when practical. The new Maps is highly interactive, and its tagline, “Discover more with every click,” is designed to enfold users into a more comprehensive experience.

As you move around the map and click on different things, the map’s focus changes, and you see information that may be helpful or relevant, such as photos and directions (by car, public transport, bicycle, or walking). The map is also designed to learn from a user’s actions, and it adapts to become more personalized to their preferences as time goes on.  For example, if you tend to search for, ask for directions to and/or review vegan restaurants frequently, your new Map may begin showing the vegan restaurants near you as you travel around.

When new Maps first appeared, it seemed that Google was attempting to make rankings matter less by not showing businesses in the customary ranking order. But then, it began showcasing the top 3 businesses ranked in the Maps interface. This change not only makes the rankings continue to matter, but it makes ranking in positions 1, 2 or 3 even more critical than it was with the “classic” Maps.

Classic maps view vs new maps

On the Map itself, businesses with more location prominence (think of this as potential ranking power for Local Search) show up with bigger markers than other businesses, and their name is shown on the map. Other businesses have small markers, and some markers are downright tiny, and have no name listed.

new Google Maps result

Ratings, Reviews & Photos – Maps & Local Carousel

Although the new Maps and the Local Carousel were not released at the same time, both features highlight what Google thinks is most important to searchers: reviews, ratings, and photos. If you click on a map point in new Google Maps, a prominent box pops up with star ratings, the number of reviews, snippets of  from reviews, and a Google offer, if the company has one.  Positive online reviews make a difference in consumer’s choices.  The box at the top left expands to show those same features, along with the address, phone number, website, photos, and hours open on the day of the search.

1-New Google Maps 2

If you are not familiar with the Local Carousel, it is a row of listings for local businesses that Google displays at the top of some search results pages. Right now, most of the searches that result in a Local Carousel are related to the hospitality industry. We can only speculate as to whether this is will expand to other industries.

Here is an example of the Local Carousel results for the search query, “seafood near San Francisco”:

new Maps Local Carousel

As you can see, Google is showcasing ratings, reviews and photos.

Also, Google is displaying ratings, reviews, and photos in the Local Knowledge panel that appears when someone hovers over a local listing in the Google organic search results or clicks on a Local Carousel listing. Here’s an example:

local knowledge panel in Google Maps

In Conclusion

To be competitive in the new Maps search, you need to optimize your company’s Local Search presence. If you need more advice about how to maximize your Local Search presence, you are in luck! Our blog has a whole section devoted to Local Search! Help your business have systems in place to ensure that:

  1. You have great star ratings from past customers;
  2. You have plenty of good reviews from past customers; and
  3. You need high-quality photos that appeal to searchers on your website. These photos will appear in your knowledge panel, Maps listing, and Local Carousel listing. Ideally, your photos should convey aspects of your business that will appeal to searchers: kid-friendliness, accessibility, elegance, professionalism, attention to detail, etc.

If you haven’t yet taken a close look at the new Google Maps, get in there, poke around, see how it affects your company, and learn what your competitors are doing. Most importantly, make sure you have a continual system in place to deal with less-than-happy customers out of the public eye, and to encourage more good reviews by people who are happy with you.

Barnacle SEO for Local Search Success

Barnacle SEO for Small Businesses

In Local Search, we often use the phrase, barnacle SEO, which refers to the practice of getting listings on websites that rank for the terms for which you wish to rank. Will Scott, my buddy from Local U, coined the term, “barnacle SEO” in 2011, and defined it as: “Attaching oneself to a large fixed object and waiting for the customers to float by in the current.”

Good use of barnacle SEO can help your business to get in front of searchers who may not otherwise find you online. This can result in referrals from search engines, review sites, and aggregate websites. You will likely find one or two websites that will send you a decent number of referrals, but you also might want to consider casting a broader net. Getting a few referrals from many different websites can have a nice, positive impact on your bottom line.

Face it: very few small business websites will ever rank #1 organically for the most well-searched terms that are applicable to them. Terms like “hotel,” or “doctor,” or “electrician,” or “Italian restaurant,” are usually dominated by powerful sites, like Trip Advisor (hotel), Health Grades (doctor), Angie’s List (electrician), and Yelp (Italian restaurants).  These brands are trusted, and people use them to find the types of businesses they list. Therefore, your business needs to be listed on as many of these sites that rank on the first page for your high-volume search terms as possible.

Here is an example of the top Google search results for the search term, “Denver steak houses”:

SERPS for Denver steak hosue

As you can see, the 4 top-ranking websites are not from steak houses in Denver, but from websites that list the steak houses in Denver. The first business-owned steak house listing is the fifth listing, and it is followed by 2 more directory-type websites, Yellowpages and Opentable. If you own a steak house in Denver, it would behoove you to be listed on as many of these aggregate and review sites as you can. The review sites are far more well-known, and they frequently appear in the first page of the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs). A listing on this Cityvoter page may not be one you could easily obtain:

SERP result for Denver steak houses

However, you can get free listings on Yelp, Urban Spoon and Yellowpages with just a little time and effort. Some sites, like Denver.org and Opentable, require membership, which may or may not be worthwhile for your particular restaurant.  You may want to investigate the return of investment (ROI) of your advertising with them.

DIY Advertising on a Budget:

Small business owners could benefit from a few minutes or hours of strategic research. Here’s how:

  • Plug in the search terms or keywords that are most applicable to your business into your favorite search engines;
  • Make a list of which websites appear on the first page of the search engine results; and
  • Investigate the websites in which these search terms appear; and
  • If you think your business could benefit from a listing, sign up.

If you’re not familiar with the referral sites in the results, take a look at them and see what opportunities there might be for you to get listed on them.  This is also a good way to see how your business peers are spending their time and advertising dollars. Consider paying to get listed on sites that look promising, but if you have a small budget, then just get started with the free ones.

In addition to being found on these sites and gaining more exposure and new customers from them, barnacle SEO can also help you to own a bigger chunk of the real estate on the first page of the search results.

Here is an example of one business dominating the search results for the query,  “jewelry repair Indianapolis”:

Example of SERPS for jewelry repair

This picture shows only some of the search results for Rudy’s Watch & Jewelry Repair. If you perform this search yourself, you will see even more results for Rudy’s on the first page. Way to be a barnacle, Rudy!

Small Usability Changes That Have a Big Impact

Part 1: Help Users Find What They’re Looking For

Sign "You Are Here"This is the first in a series of three articles that focuses on how you can make a big impact on usability with small changes to your website. The thought of completely overhauling a website can be daunting: so daunting that it can cause inaction on the part of businesses, web teams, and marketers. However, even small changes will improve users’ experiences on your website, perhaps more dramatically than you might expect.

There are a few elements critical to creating a good user experience on any website:

  • Users have to be able to find what they are looking for.
  • They have to understand what you offer and how you can help them.
  • They have to be able to complete their tasks easily.

This series of articles will explore these issues one at a time, and look at some simple solutions that you can quickly implement. Let’s start with helping users find what they’re looking for.

User-Friendly Navigation

Your website navigation is one of the most important ways users get around on your site. People expect navigation systems to be easy to use and well organized. While your website should be unique and creative, the navigation should be standard enough that users don’t have to search for it or question how to use it. This is not the place for wildly unconventional thinking.

Here are a few things you can do to help users find what they are looking for with your navigation. Making one, two, or any of these improvements will enhance the usability of your site.

Make it Obvious

Users should easily be able to find and identify your primary navigation. Use standard placement, either horizontally across the top of your page, or vertically down the left side. If your main navigation is too small, in a non-standard location, or too crowded by other elements, your site’s bounce rate is likely to be high.

Here are two examples:

Horizontal Primary Navigation
Sample of horizontal navigation

Vertical Primary Navigation
Sample of horizontal navigation

Keep It Consistent

Your primary navigation should remain consistent, visually and structurally, from page to page so it’s always there when your visitors need to access it. If your primary navigation varies between sections or pages of your site, is it beneficial and helpful to users? Might they be better served by consistent navigation? The answer is usually, yes.

Home Link

About half of users expect that your logo will link to the homepage. This is a standard industry practice that your site should be following.  But what about the other 50% of users? Many of them don’t know that logos typically link to homepages, and then they become frustrated trying to get back to home. For those users, it is best to include a “Home” link in the primary navigation. In order not to take up too much space and clutter the navigation, many sites successfully employ a home icon to help users navigate to the homepage.

sample of prominent logo=link to home page nutrisystem

Use Relevant Keywords

Your primary navigation is one place to tell people and search engines about what you do. This is accomplished by using navigation labels with top-of-mind keywords and phrases for users, which you can identify within your analytics data or by using Google Keyword Planner.

Make sure that navigation labels reflect the keywords that users are looking for. Avoid obscure or less-used terms, jargon, and clever wordplay. For example, most people planning a trip search for “Hotels” rather than “Lodging.” Navigation should reflect that.

Keep It Simple

The fewer items in your primary navigation the better. Six or seven should be the absolute maximum number of top-level items. Did you know that human short-term memory cannot handle more than seven chunks of information at a time? It’s true. Also, place the most important items at the beginning and the end of the navigation list, or highlight them to draw attention.

Example of Consistent Navigation

Avoid Dropdown Menus (Most of the Time)

Most regular dropdown menus are annoying and rife with usability problems. They’re hard to read and difficult to use. According to usability studies from Nielsen Norman Group (NNG), dropdown menus create a less efficient and less pleasant user experience, making people more likely to abandon your site.

Of course, there are exceptions to this rule. NNG’s usability studies have found that “mega drop down menus” often test well and overcome the downsides of regular dropdowns. Be sure you’re following best practices if you feel that your site is well served by having dropdown menus.

Example of mega dropdown menu

Let Users Know They’re in the Right Place

Whether users have arrived at a page on your site from Google or through your site’s navigation and internal links, you want to reassure them that they have indeed found the content are looking for.

Page Headers

The headline text of a page has proven time and time again to impact the page’s potential conversion rate significantly.  The headers should stand out on the page and be the first thing a user reads when they arrive. There should be only one primary headline, with <h1> coding tags. Secondary <h2> and tertiary <h3> headlines can be used as needed.

Consistency is important: it builds confidence in users, and makes them feel at ease. Page headers and the navigation links to them should match. For example, the “About Us” link in the navigation should take users to a page called, “About Us,” and not one called, “Meet Our Team.”

The following image shows a page with a nearly invisible page header.

Example of invisible header

Users will have trouble understanding both what content is on this page, and where they are within the site.

In contrast, this next page has a large header and non-cluttered layout that assures users they have found the content they came looking for.

Example of prominent navigation

Highlight Active Navigation

Another way to let users know they’re in the right place is to use highlighted active navigation. Active navigation allows users to understand where they are within the site and confidently get around using the different navigation elements (primary navigation, secondary navigation, breadcrumbs, etc.). Active navigation states are something can be implemented fairly easily with CSS styles.

Helpful Error Pages

What happens when a user mistypes a page URL, or clicks a broken link on your site? They are taken to a 404 Error Page.

The absolute worst thing you can do is send users to an error page like this one:

example of unhelpful 404 page

This is not helpful at all. Rather, the error page is your opportunity to engage users, help them find what they’re looking for, and keep them on your site.

You should have a friendly custom 404 Error Page on your website like this one:

Example of useful 404 page

Smashing Magazine has a is a useful article about how to decrease your site’s errors and optimize error pages here.

Parting Thoughts

Every business can make usability changes to improve their website so that users find what they are looking for quickly and easily. We must try to think like our users, understand their frustrations, and make changes that will enable them to feel confident navigating our websites.

Can you identify one or two things in this article that you could do to improve your site? Make these small changes, track your analytics data, and conduct user tests to see if they improve your site’s user experience and move your business toward meeting its online goals. Let us know how it works for you!

Common Myths About
Google Places

Myth #1: A business owns its Google Places listing.

Google Places owns all the business listings it publishes. Adapting to this fact may be difficult for some small business owners, because they are accustomed to having complete control over their listings in other directories, especially in the print yellow pages.  Businesses pay dearly for print ads in phone directories, and thus have control of their content. A Google Places listing is free, but the business owner has little control over it.

Myth #2: Google Places uses only the info that a business owner provides.

The myth that once a Google Places listing is verified, a business owner provides the information that appears in the online listing is just that: a myth. If Google simply published what people put in their business listings, their local index would be warped into uselessness by spammers. The information a business owner provides via the Places dashboard is just one set of data that Google takes into account. Google also considers the data it receives from data providers, trusted local and industry directories, government records, phone and utility companies, what is published on the business’s own website(s), and what it learns from other reliable sources. If multiple trusted sources disagree with what the business owner provides, that version of the facts may prevail over the owner’s input. David Mihm provides a great explanation of how Google gathers and uses data here.

Myth #3: You don’t need a website to prosper in Local Search.

In the past, many businesses with no website have been able to rank well in Google’s Local Search results. This trend has been changing over the past few years. The top 2-4 positions in most Local Packs that appear within the organic search results tend to be held by companies that have both a strong Google Maps ranking and a website with a strong Google organic ranking. If your local market is competitive, you are more likely to need a strong website to rank near the top of the Local Packs.

Search results for local locksmith

Myth #4: Your Business’s Google+ Page is now your Google Places listing.

Google Places and Google+ are not the same thing.  Places is still your local business listing and Google+ Business is the platform on which you can be social using Google’s network of connections. In many cases, but not all, the two can be associated with each other within one Google account, resulting in a Places business listing which has Google+ social features.  Your About page on Google+ is one of the spots where your business information from Places can appear.

Conclusion: 

As you can see, Google Places can be a great tool for your business, but it has to be managed deliberately, like any other aspect of your business communication strategy.

Why Content Measurement is Important

I’ll be teaching a six week in-depth analytics course starting next week, so I thought it would be a good idea to go over a few of the topics we’ll be covering in the class to give a little preview as well as provide some good tips for our blog readers. In this post, I’ll be taking a look at the importance of measuring content.

For the past few years there has been a lot of talk about content strategy and optimization. This is good! For the longest time, we online marketing folks were way too focused on generating junk to get a bunch of crappy inbound links to try to rank better. Google’s recent updates of Panda, Penguin, and now Hummingbird pretty much said bye-bye to this type of content in favor or unique, high-quality content focused on the needs of users. “Nice!”

So What is Good Content?

While the definition of good content is somewhat subjective, thankfully it’s something that can be identified and measured. For the purposes of this post we’ll be defining “good content” as original content that benefits both visitors AND the company’s business goals. But even this definition can be tricky.

We see a lot of companies that view this as a chance to overtly sell their products or services. Others tend to provide a wealth of factual information so that visitors are more likely to make a purchase. Every website is unique: there is no magic formula when it comes to content. But the sooner you get busy understanding your audience and finding out what they crave, the sooner your business will benefit.

Start with the Big Picture

Content_Example_Bloom

Let’s take a look at my wife’s nonprofit, Bloom Spokane, to examine the peaks and valleys of their historic traffic. In their case, these rises and falls are very much tied to their blogging efforts. As a nonprofit, they do not advertise at all. Blogging / outreach is their primary driver of traffic. We see that they had a big spike tied to an awesome blog post that went viral in early 2011 and had sustained growth the following year. Excellent!  But then what happened. We have a drop and a very flat traffic period for the next year. Let’s take a look…

Analyze Content Demand

Bloom_Top_10

I set up a segment to take a look at their top all-time blog posts. They have a lot of good informational posts, but their top two are either edgy / controversial or humorous. The Bloom blog does an amazing job of providing valuable information to expectant mothers, but maybe their audience wants more humor or possibly a more diverse selection of content. But, looking at the last 18 months of blog posts, there hasn’t been anymore break-out blog posts in terms of popularity.

What should they do? In their case, I would not recommend radical change, but a good idea would be to examine what their readers want. I’d recommend continuing to look at their analytics, as well as performing periodic surveys to learn exactly what their audience wants from the site. They definitely have their bases covered in terms of informational content. I would suggest adding more emotionally-driven content that visitors really connect with, in combination with the current informative posts.

Learn What Content Influences

Next, we look at what the content causes the audience to do next. Did they sign up for a class via the form? Did they visit a desired area of the website? In Bloom’s case, one of their main goals is to drive visitors to their provider page. These are professionals who list their services and advertise on the website. With Google Analytics, we are able to see where these blog visitors went next. Awesome!

Blog_Posts_Driving_Provider_Visits

We see that blog posts have driven 6,628 visits to the Bloom Provider Directory. Sweet! Also it is interesting that my humor-ish post, which was the #2 blog post in terms of overall visits, has fallen to 5th for driving visits to the provider directory. Also, the two very popular articles on whether or not to perform a circumcision are not even in the top ten when it comes to driving people to the provider directory. This is not a problem. It’s just something to consider each and every time you publish content.

Have Content-Related Goals

Most of the companies I talk with about content tracking do not have (what I would define as) goals. Their most common goal is to publish on a consistent basis, which is a good place to start. That said, I will be pushing people to define content-specific goals and dashboards to help define content strategy, measure effectiveness, and really help their business thrive.

In my blog post for Bloom Spokane, I used the quote below from Shane Falco aka Keanu Reeves to illustrate what I think advice from  husbands to their wives during labor would be like. Though far from an apples-to-apples comparison, I think it applies to writing as well. Blogging is harrrrd. Writing good content is harrrrd. But it’s worth the effort. Don’t worry. We’ll help make the tracking of it easy for you… with a little help from Keanu.

I hope this has been helpful in understanding the importance of tracking the killer content you’re producing. If you’d like to dive deeper into the analytics side of life, take a look at our upcoming analytics class series.