Two Upcoming North West Digital Marketing Conferences You Need To Attent

If, like me, you’re fed up of every digital marketing conference being based in London or down South (there’s some fantastic ones down there, however, including the likes of BrightonSEO, The Digital Marketing Show, SMX London and many more) there’s two fantastic North West conferences coming up in June and July which you need to get your tickets booked for and make sure you attend!

SASCON

What: One of the UK’s finest Search, Analytics and Social Conferences
When:
5th & 6th June 2014
Where: Manchester Metropolitan University Business School
Why: Already confirmed as a keynote speaker is Brett Tabke, CEO and Founder of PubCon and there’s a whole two days of fantastic sessions and workshops with loads still to be announced.

INBOUND UK

What: A digital marketing event which brings marketing professionals, CEOs and business owners from across the UK.
When: 8th July 2014
Where: The Rum Warehouse, Liverpool
Why: You’ll get to see New York Times bestselling author, social media thought leader and entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuck as well as the likes of Dom Burch (Asda), Matt Busch (Google) and many more.

If you’re based in the North…get yourself booked to these events! I’ve got my tickets booked and can’t wait!

Hello Google Shopping Campaigns, Goodbye PLA Campaigns!

Yesterday, Google announced that come late August 2014, the current ‘Product Listing Ad’ (PLA) campaign format will be retired and replaced by Google’s new Shopping Campaigns which launched back in February. This, as far as many are concerned, can only be a good thing, given the fact that Shopping campaigns offer advertisers the ability to browse their product inventory directly through the AdWords dashboard, create multiple ad groups and bid more competitively with new metrics including benchmark data and impression share. If you’re still running standard PLA campaigns, I can’t urge you enough to switch to a Shopping campaign for a greater level of control and all-round more effective advertising options.

In addition, another exciting rollout surrounding shopping campaigns is that Google have now added the option to use a Bid Simulator, just as is available to standard campaigns. This allows advertisers to very quickly see the impact which even the smallest bid changes could have on a campaign.

All in all, the fact that standard PLA campaigns will automatically switch to shopping campaigns come August should only be seen as a positive thing and an opportunity for advertisers to take their campaigns to the next level!

Three Ways To Grow Your Local Business’ Online Presence

localIf you’re running a single store, traditional bricks and mortar business, there’s a good chance you’ve still not fully taken advantage of the benefits to be had from growing your digital presence. Back in the day, if a consumer wanted to find a local retailer or service supplier, they’d generally do one of two things; open up the Yellow Pages or ask friends and family members for recommendations. Fast forward to 2014 however and the most common way to find local services and retailers is via the internet. As such, if your business isn’t currently utilising powerful local digital marketing approaches, regardless of whether you’re a retailer or service supplier, there’s a very good chance you’re missing out on potential sales and leads and letting your competition jump ahead of you with their local presence. As such, here’s three tried and tested ways which you yourself, as a small local business owner, can use to grow your online presence.

1. Social Media

If you’re not using social media to grow your business’ online presence, you’re missing out on a huge opportunity. Even on a local level, growing a strong, loyal and relevant following on platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and Google + (there’s another benefit on this as well which will be looked at shortly) is one of the easiest and quickest things you can do to build up your overall digital presence.

social-mediaOnce you’ve setup and populated your profiles on the chosen platforms, you need to build a following which, believe it or not, isn’t as difficult as you might think. First things first, import your customer database into each platform and send an invitation to your current customers and request that they ‘Like,’ ‘Follow,’ or ‘Circle’ you on each social site. This can give you a great foundation for your followings, especially seeing as though when it’s current customers you’re working with, you know there’s a good chance of interaction from them.

From there, there’s a few things which you can actively do to help grow your social following. Participating in local Twitter chats can be a great way of interacting with and building relationships with others in your area who you may not already be familiar with (think of them as an online networking event) and even following those who follow your close local competitors can see some great results. Of course, the other option is to consider paid advertising on the likes of Facebook and Twitter which can work wonders in terms of increasing targeted brand awareness…so long as the message you’re using is right.

Ideally, you need to spend time each day both building your social presence, interacting with your fans and followers and sharing and curating content, however every little helps and once you get familiar with the platforms, you’ll come up with your own ways of growing your following, sharing content and generating interaction.

2. Google + Local

google-plus-local-300x270Before we even begin to take a look at local SEO, you need to ensure you’ve signed up to a Google Plus Local page for your business. Hopefully you’ve acted on the suggestions in point 1 and set up a Google + page but whatever you do, make sure you verify your page as a local business. This generally involves Google sending a postcard with a PIN number on it to your physical location, however once all set up, you stand a very good chance of appearing on the map listings on the first page of search results for terms relating to your business. Of course, as with everything Google, there’s all sorts of factors which affect who shows on the listings, however if you’re signed up, you at least stand a chance of showing.

It shouldn’t take you more than half an hour to set up your Google Plus Local page from scratch and it’s time well spent, especially if you end up seeing yourself showing on the map listings for relevant search terms.

3. Local SEO

local-seo-servicesMany business owners will have a general idea as to what SEO is however perhaps not the fact that it’s as powerful marketing technique for local businesses as nationals and e-commerce stores however if you’re not appearing at the top of Google for search terms relating to your businesses local offerings, it’s likely that competitors are and you’re missing out on valuable leads, enquiries and sales. Local SEO doesn’t have to be too complex and you certainly don’t need to worry about advanced techniques, at least not in the first instance. The first steps should be simply to get your website optimised for local terms, start building some citations, encouraging reviews and watching your positions increase as a result! If you’re not experienced in SEO however, you’re probably asking how you can go about this?

On-Page SEO
If your website isn’t optimised for local terms, you don’t stand a chance of ranking. Having researched the most suitable keywords to optimise your site for, you need to make sure you get these in the title tags of the relevant pages, that you write enticing meta descriptions and ensure your H1 tags contain your main keywords. Keywords, of course, on a local SEO job should always include core localisations in all optimisation. In addition, write compelling page copy which talks about what you do and where you do it, without trying to stuff keywords and make it read as though it’s written solely for search engines.

Above that, consider implementing local business Schema markup to provide strong signals to the search engines as to the area you’re based in. This allows the spiders to understand, in their terms, your core location and contact details and potentially reward you for it in search engine positions.

Building Citations
On top of on-page optimisation, you need to work on getting citations for your business across the web. Citations in short are mentions of your NAP (Name, Address, Phone Number) and can be obtained from local and niche directories. Be careful to only submit yourself to relevant and specific directories as opposed to random ones for the sake of it. You need to maintain relevance at all times.

Encouraging Reviews
You’ve hopefully setup your Google Plus Local page earlier on so spend some time encouraging your current customers to leave reviews on there. This not only showcases to potential customers that you’re a genuine and trustworthy business but also sends signals of trust to the search engines. Whatever you do, however, don’t be tempted to leave your own reviews as this violates Googles terms and could see you getting your page banned…the last thing you want!

All in all, if you’re not currently focussing your marketing efforts on growing your digital presence, there’s a good chance you’re placing an emphasis on the wrong areas and are letting competitors overtake you. It’s important to move with the times and see digital as the future. If you’re not there, you’re not being found and when you’re not being found, you’re missing out on business!

Google AdBirds – Did You Try It Out?

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If you logged into your Google AdWords account today there’s a very good chance you’ll have had a fresh notification…one which alerted you to Google’s new advertising option; Google AdBirds! In Google’s own words:

Let your ads take flight with AdBirds. A new ad format that takes your campaign to new heights by placing ads on real birds

With AdBirds you will be able to attract a whole new demographic of species.Expand your reach to another continent. Increase your cost-per-Cluck. Interact with your remarketing targets, and more!

Do not be Pigeonholed into using standard ads, this new Pheasant feature is Pecktacular, Beakause Feather you like it or not, this new feature takes your ads in a whole new Cardinal direction.

Whilst this was one of Google’s many April Fools jokes, it provided a bit of fun this morning and was made even more realistic by the fact that you could actually setup your ‘AdBirds’ just like a standard AdWords campaign.

Did you try it out? What did you think? Is it something Google should actually roll out?

It’s just one of the many April Fools jokes which Google pulled today, others which included their Pokemon hunt on Google Maps where users of the Android and iPhone apps were able to join the hunt for Pokemon to be in with the chance of a position at Google!

Why MyBlogGuest.com Received A Manual Penalty

Over the past 48 hours, the SEO industry has once again been heavily discussing the concept of guest blogging…only this time it’s not so much been that Matt Cutts has declared war on the ‘link building approach’ as he did back in January but that his team have very recently applied a manual action to the popular guest blogging community, MyBlogGuest.com. As far as Google are concerned, MBG is a link network and as we all know too well, they’re currently being very pro-active in wiping out such networks which they believe exist solely for link building purposes and which have absolutely no end user value.

If you run a search on Google for ‘My Blog Guest’ or even ‘MyBlogGuest’ you’ll see the below:

The site isn’t showing on the organic search results for their brand name, indicating that there’s been some sort of manual action placed on the site, most likely a site wide one. As we’re all aware, Google can impose a number of different types of manual action on a site (the full list can be seen here) however it’s a site wide action which will always be most severe and reduce site visibility on the search engine the most.

It just so happens that last night, Ann Smarty (founder of My Blog Guest) Tweeted confirmation that the site has been given a manual action, something which confirms my initial suspicions.

As with any ‘breaking news’ story in the SEO community, people started talking almost immediately about the action which Google had taken, however as of when I sat down to start writing this, there was very little mention or discussion as to why the site (and seemingly those publishing content from the platform) had been hit so hard, especially given the fact that MBG have always maintained a very strong ‘no money should change hands’ stance. It’s not your typical link network where links are being bought and sold in their thousands, rather a link exchange, should we call it. Of course, I do so with the greatest level of respect as I can remember when the quality of sites you could find on the platform was great and the content on offer was equally as fantastic! I personally think Ann Smarty is a greatly valued member of the SEO community as a whole and personally I’m shocked that Google decided to take such action on the site. I wouldn’t have been surprised at all if some of the sites publishing from the platform had been hit (which apparently many have now been) as some are quite obviously nothing but ‘link blogs’ however for the main site to be hit so hard, Matt Cutts must have had some justification. Whilst I’m sure an ‘official’ statement will be made of some sorts in the coming days, here’s my theories as to why My Blog Guest are no longer visible on Google!

1. Theres Some Spammy & Unnatural Sites Accepting Posts Via MBG
Unfortunately, and I say this with the greatest level of respect to Ann, the quality of many sites accepting posts through the platform has taken a nose dive over the past 12 months. I personally haven’t had much of a need for the site recently, however I decided to login and take a look at some of the sites open to guest posts. When you see some of the below sites (I’m providing screen shots, not links for obvious reasons!), you can see what I mean…they have no real sense of identity, they publish solely guest posts and they just look like spam! Most blog owners take great pride in the content on their blogs (I know I do) and simply wouldn’t publish some of the rubbish which these sites are doing! The first website’s homepage even boasts about nothing but guest posts!

Following on from this, it all goes back to the question of whether it should have been MBG who received a manual penalty or whether it should have been the publishers and webmasters using the platform. My initial theory is that Google have penalised MBG (as well as their publishers) for being the exchange platform of ‘spammy guest posts,’ which we all know too well they’re at war against! It’s a case of penalising all parties involved to showcase that such low quality sites shouldn’t ever have been accepted onto MBG. It’s obvious that many sites now using the platform are spam link sites (and again to give Ann credit, these things are hard to moderate when it’s forum based) and the quality has simply gone downhill. It’s evolved from a content sharing platform to a link exchange in Google’s eyes, something which leads onto the next point.

2. Their Anti-NoFollow Stance & Exact Match Anchor Text Links
Perhaps the downfall of MBG started when they claimed that, despite Google’s Webmaster Guideline change on guest posting and the fact that links of such a form should be nofollowed in many instances, they continued to stand by the fact that they don’t agree with it. They believed that all links in guest blogs should be dofollow and it’s things like this which really get Matt Cutts back up!

To give them credit, Ann posted a blog just yesterday which states, “Yes, starting from tomorrow we’ll give our publishers the flexibility to nofollow byline links (only byline links).”

If this is the reason why Google decided to go after MBG as their latest link network target, hopefully the penalty will be reversed pretty quickly and Ann will see her site back on Google! If you think about it…such comments coming onto Matt’s radar are going to give him cause to investigate further! Of course, I’m sure he’s been fully aware of the platform for years but perhaps such a comment made him consider whether or not MBG was proactively encouraging users to violate Google’s Webmaster Guidelines which include in their link schemes section, “Large-scale article marketing or guest posting campaigns with keyword-rich anchor text links.” In addition, you don’t have to spend very long looking through some of the sites publishing through MBG to see that many are still openly accepting dofollow exaxct match anchor text links within articles. As an example, see the below which was posted the same day MBG was penalised:

Sites accepting posts like the above are clearly in violation of Google’s guidelines and it’s perhaps the case that Google decided to take action on MBG due to being the exchange platform for such activities.

3. Google’s Using Them As A PR Stunt
There’s no doubting that MBG is the most known guest blogging platform out there and whilst there’s plenty of others doing, in essence, the same thing (PostJoint and Blogger Link Up to name just two), it’s safe to say that Google penalising any of these wouldn’t have generated anywhere near the level of buzz which this did. We all known that Google likes to make an example of sites who they deem to encourage or violate their guidelines (recently we’ve seen Interflora, Rap Genuis and even the BBC outlined as high profile manual actions) and it makes sense that what they’re trying to do here is showcase to the wider SEO community that they are becoming very strict at policing their guidelines, especially in relation to link schemes. Through a combination of the above points, it seems fitting that Matt Cutts saw a great opportunity to really hit home to many so-called ‘SEO’s’ that you can’t get away with spammy guest blogging anymore and that they are more than happy to take action on those who do.

Following the news of MBG’s penalty, I took to Twitter to chat with a few of the community to get their thoughts on this and perhaps the best response I had was from Tony at Dimmock Web Marketing who suggested:

I think Tony’s thoughts sum it up perfectly…Google are taking a no-nonsense approach to webspam and, no matter who you are, you’re at risk of negative action if you don’t play by their guidelines!

Who do you think will be next? Another link exchange or a completely different example?

How To Draw Up A Content Marketing Plan For The Year Ahead

If you believe what the experts are telling us, 2014 looks set to be the year where content marketing becomes a necessity for most brands.

If you are wondering how to get started, Martin Harrison, co-founder of the SEO copywriting service, Copify outlines how you can draw up a content marketing plan that will really get results.

1) Audit your existing content

The first step in any content marketing plan should be to carry out a comprehensive audit of your existing content assets. Look for blog posts or pages on your site that are ‘evergreen’ – future proof content that contain interesting and useful information that can be shared again and again.

2) Identify your conversion funnel

By fully understanding how your customers interact with your site before transacting with you, you can determine the areas of your site that need to be focussed on in terms of content development. For example, you may find that many people find your business through Google through a query based search such as “Who are the best accountants in Melbourne”. Use Google Webmaster Tools to find this data and then structure your site around the terms that drive traffic.

3) Create an editorial calendar

Think about the key events in your calendar and schedule content to coincide with this. For example, you may have special offers that coincide with holidays such as Christmas and Easter, promote these with blog posts and landing pages.

4) Identify contributors

Contributors to your content marketing efforts for 2014 could include your staff, clients or suppliers. Identify those within your organisation with the ability to create content and ask them to set assign some time each month to create a blog post or a video. You might also be surprised to find that clients and suppliers may be willing to ‘guest post’ for you on your blog in exchange for a link or two.

5) Automate content sharing

Most small and medium sized businesses struggle to find the time to keep on top of social media. Thankfully, tools such as Buffer help you to schedule the updating of your social media accounts. This will ensure that your content reaches an audience who will hopefully engage with it through shares, likes and comments.

The Skills An SEO Must Possess In 2014

If we look back a few years, it wasn’t difficult for anyone to call themselves an ‘SEO.’ So long as they had a basic understanding of what saw positive movement on the search engines and had a contact who they could buy links from, they could service clients to a reasonable level…at least until Google rolled out their Panda and Penguin algorithm updates. From this point onward, it’s been essential for SEO’s to know the field inside out and actually have an in-depth understanding of marketing as opposed to knowing how to buy links and game the system. As far as I’m concerned, in order to succeed for a client online, it’s essential to understand the concept of marketing as a whole as opposed to the knowledge required in the past.

With that in mind, I thought I’d take a look at the skills which it’s necessary for an SEO or digital marketer to possess in 2014 if they want to achieve strong results for their clients:

1. Wider Marketing Skills

SEO is no longer an isolated discipline of marketing and in order to succeed for clients, it’s essential, in my opinion, that a wider understanding of marketing principles is held. It’s important to be able to clearly define a particular client’s target market, plan and implement a strategy to get their business in front of that market and have the skills to carefully analyse data on performance in order to be able to respond to this and tailor the campaign effectively.

2. Copywriting Skills

Long gone are the days where you can get away with outsourcing content and, in 2014, it’s absolutely essential that SEO’s are fantastic copywriters. In order to fully succeed for clients, SEO’s will need to be able to write blog posts, whitepapers, guest blogs, press releases and a whole host of others written works which showcase the website being marketed as an authority within their industry. This, of course, isn’t going to be possible unless the marketer has great copywriting skills. This on it’s own, however, isn’t enough which leads on to…

3. Research Skills

It’s all well and good having great copywriting skills but it’s important to be able to fully research topics and concepts as well! Poor research skills will show in written content and you certainly won’t see the results which are hoped for if this is the case. Content needs to showcase the authority and knowledge of a business and it’s essential that the facts are correct, it’s targeted towards their audience and that it sells their products or services. Strong research skills are vital and without these, a content marketing campaign will fall apart quickly.

4. Communication & Negotiation Skills

Achieving great results on the search engines still rests on a website having a fantastic backlink profile, however the key is to be able to effectively encourage others to link as opposed to placing links yourself. In order to succeed on behalf of a client, it’s essential to have outstanding communication and negotiation skills to be able to discuss things such as guest blog opportunities with industry leading resources as well as encouraging other industry leaders to reference your client in their own works. In one respect, this essentially means that SEO’s now need to be PR people as well but in order to get the results a client expects, it’s something which simply has to be accepted.

5. Technical Skills

On top of marketing, communication and writing skills, the SEO of today must also be competent at the technical side of SEO. In order to ‘fully optimise’ a site, it’s important that you can work with a wide range of CMS systems, understand HTML and PHP (and ideally ASP.net too) and know the ins and outs of how to make structural improvements to a site. As Google’s algorithm places a greater emphasis on the site itself as well as the link profile, a great SEO must be able to make on the spot changes and understand how to optimise a site from a technical point of view.

I’ve outlined 5 key skills which an SEO must possess in 2014 in order to succeed for their clients, however the list could go on and on. In short, SEO is no longer a case of over-using one main keyword and buying a handful of links but rather a marketing discipline on its own which pulls skills from journalism, PR and web development, as well as traditional marketing and, dare I say it, sales techniques.

How do you feel the shift from ‘link buying’ to ‘digital marketing’ has changed the industry? Do you feel the majority of SEO’s have adapted their skill sets to keep up in this ever changing industry?

Is Deep Linking Really Advanced SEO?

A recent post on Search Engine Journal titled ‘A 101 Guide to Deep Links: Why They Matter, and How to Get Them‘ caught my attention last week and got me thinking about the whole concept and the fact that this (as far as I’m aware) natural and organic approach to link building seems to be regarded as advanced SEO by many. Jon Ball, the post’s author did a fantastic job at putting together a guide on deep links and he certainly covered the topic in depth…it’s just a shame that to many, SEO practices such as these are new concepts. To build on Jon’s piece, I felt it only fitting to take a look at why deep linking should be regarded as SEO basics and why solely linking to the homepage or a ‘money page’ is risky business and could land your site in a spot of bother with Google.

To initially take a look at why many SEO’s typically only link to a site’s homepage, it seems right to use a quote from Jon’s post to outline this:

Many novice link builders focus solely on linking to a site’s home page. It’s a rookie mistake to be sure, one I’ve seen committed numerous times. I understand the mentality behind it: the home page is the welcome mat to the entire site. It’s the page that leads to every other page, and it’s the one that most carries the weight of your brand.

Links Are For Navigation

As Jon quite rightly points out, many inexperienced SEO’s simply assume that because the homepage carries the strongest brand weighting, that all links building efforts should focus on that page and that page alone. It may initially seem like the right option, however if you step back and think about the real purpose of links (for navigation purposes) then it really doesn’t make sense. In fact, when you look at linking to your own or someone else’s site from an external source, the homepage is often going to be the last page which would work from a navigational point of view.

Links in their primary role, take a browser from page A to page B and when it comes to linking from within content and the like, their purpose is to enhance a readers’ experience and provide them with some additional information. That may be referencing a blog post, a product, an offer or even an employee, however when you really sit down and think about it, none of these would actively warrant links to the homepage to give the very best user experience.

Natural Links Go Deep

From a natural perspective, it makes sense that the majority of links which point to a site should be deep links. Of course, there’s always going to be instances where links point to a homepage (brand mentions, generic references, directories and the like), however as far as contextual links go, it makes far more sense that links which have been obtained naturally point to a whole variety of pages within a site.

With that in mind, it seems only right that Google look at the spread of links across a site’s pages as part of it’s ranking algorithm and utilise it at least as a rough indicator as to those site’s who may be placing unnatural links. A natural link profile will have links pointing to a whole range of pages however one which has been manually created will generally have most links pointing to only a few pages, with the homepage usually having significantly more than any other page. Google give this information in Webmaster Tools (the number of links to each page) and, as such, if they didn’t use it as a potential factor, why would they showcase the data? To me, Google want you to know how many links point to each page and, as such, if it looks unnatural, you have an early warning sign to try and clean things up!

Create Linkable Assets & Let Them Work For You

All in all, deep linking is a link building approach which should come naturally, however unfortunately, many SEO’s think that the homepage should be the most linked to page. As far as I’m concerned, you shouldn’t have a single ‘most linked to page’ but rather naturally earn links to fantastic content. If an asset of yours goes viral and gains a huge number of links then that’s slightly different, however in terms of current best practices, you should be spending your time creating linkable assets and promoting them anyway, as opposed to traditional forms of link building.

Link building is dead…link earning is alive and kicking!