Keep it Relevant: Content Strategy and SEO in Traditionally Boring Industries

Random Words image

I recently got into a discussion on Twitter with a former colleague of mine, after I rather (stupidly) publicly questioned my former employers’ choice of off-site content strategy. There’s more to the story and some stuff I’d like to say, but so as not to detract from the main purpose of this post, I’ll write about it at the end.

A prominent part of online marketing is content strategy. Utilised both on- and off-site, it can help with SEO, in attracting links to a website and also by targeting “long-tail” traffic (i.e. long search terms, such as questions, e.g. “what is no claims bonus”).

You might have seen it too – a lot of websites are now introducing content sections to their sites, or at the very least have gotten a blog, in order to write about their industry. But that’s just it – creating a blog is one thing, but thinking about what to write about can be something else entirely, especially if your industry is… well… boring.

In particular, I’ve seen a number of sites recently that have written content that simply isn’t relevant to their industry. The two who spring to mind are both insurance sites, one of which recently published a blog post on social media predictions for 2012. An insurance website writing about social media. Hmm…

So what’s the problem? Well here are 3 to think about:

1) It just isn’t right – it detracts from who you are and what you do

Ignoring SEO for a moment and looking at it from a purely aesthetic point of view, it just seems odd that Industry A would write about Industry X. We’re not talking slightly off-topic, but completely off-topic.

I’m not saying that the guys don’t know enough about social media in order to write about it effectively (they do engage in it, after all) – that’s not what I have a problem with. I mean heck, it could be the best social media advice ever. But even so, it seems unusual to read a blog post about social media and to see something like “this was brought to you by an insurance company” at the end. At worst, it seems misleading and somewhat seedy – you’re potentially confusing your customers about what you do, and it reeks of ulterior motive.

I’m not just picking on insurance for the sake of picking on insurance – I think it’d be true of any industry. If a doctor were to write about mortgages, and a mortgage advisor were to write about medical procedures, I think that’d be weird too, for all the same reasons.

2) It’s not going to be a relevant link

…From an SEO point of view however, it’s an issue of relevance from a more technical standpoint. If it’s an off-site article or guest blog post (such as this insurance/social media example), then the link is simply not going to be relevant.  It may be a good link in other ways (e.g. PageRank, the traffic it receives, etc.) but the content just isn’t going to match.

Looking purely at the link, with all other factors aside, having a link with “car insurance” anchor text coming from a page that’s all about social media isn’t going to be as good as a link with “car insurance” anchor text that’s all about insurance, motoring or both.

3) It’s not going to generate relevant links

Thinking beyond the post itself, think about the links it will receive, rather than the link(s) it will give (especially if it’s off-site). A social media story is likely to encourage links from other social media sites, making it more relevant about social media, but not any more relevant about insurance. It may receive more links than a piece about insurance would – given the popularity of the topic and the types of linkers in comparison – but they’re still going to be irrelevant all the same.

It’s easy to point a finger and say “don’t do that,” so what should businesses consider doing instead?

If relevant is too hard, then think one step away

In particularly niche, specific and/or dull industries (no offence), thinking of content can be difficult. For example, there’s only so much you can write about when it comes to insurance until you end up repeating yourself and covering the same ground.

So if being 100% specific is too difficult, take one step away. What’s related to:

  • Insurance? Money, budgeting, protection.
  • Car insurance? Motoring, learning to drive, car maintenance, places to drive to, racing.
  • Travel insurance? Travel, holidaying, adventure, exploration.
  • Credit cards? Money, credit, borrowing, debt.

Keep resources focussed and don’t spread yourself too thin

Now admittedly, I know that the site in question do most – if not all – of the above, but the point is that they shouldn’t stray too far away. There must be 1,000s of different topics to write about, if something as specific as insurance only provides dozens.

Writing off-topic content is only going to waste resources that could be spent writing relevant or semi-relevant content, which in turn will encourage relevant and semi-relevant traffic and links. Also, it not only means that you’re spreading yourself too thin, tackling areas that are not your area of expertise, but – as mentioned above – it also detracts from what you really are and what you actually do. Want to be an authority in insurance? Write about insurance and things closely related to it. You’re not going to be seen as an authority on a particular subject if you talk about other things, particularly if you do not even provide them as a product or service.

Ok, so off-topic can work…

Of course, it would be naïve to think that relevance is a necessity, in terms of SEO. It is only a recommendation (albeit a strong one), as it is only one of a number of ranking factors that Google considers (here’s a list of search ranking factors from SEOmoz, based on thoughts from people in the industry). For example, I’m sure a link from the homepage of Facebook would do wonders for a website’s SEO, from a PageRank point of view, but there’s more to life than PageRank…

I can’t think of any examples of off-topic content working well off the top of my head, but if anyone knows of any then please do share them in the comments.

The inspiration for this post

“Think before you tweet, Steve. Think before you tweet.”

The idea for this post came about after something that happened on Wednesday (although that said, it’s something that’s gone on for a while…)

Over the past year, I’ve questioned the content/SEO practices of my former employer, usually over Twitter, which has resulted in a former colleague (who still works there) asking me to “stop slating” them, as it’s “very unprofessional.” The reply has a “ha ha… no but seriously” tone to it, but even so, it’s made me realise that I shouldn’t do it. I have a tendency to tweet before I think, and to be more opinionated than I perhaps should be (publicly, at least). It’s no excuse, but at least I’ve realised it now – better late than never. It’s one of a number of New Year’s resolutions making the list…!

I also realised that simply saying something like “I disagree with that” or “you’re doing it wrong” helps no one, so at least this post acts as constructive criticism, giving reasons as to why I disagree along with what they could or should be doing instead. Hell, it’s only my opinion – and a personal one at that – but it’s better than nothing.

I didn’t want to link to any of the instances and examples (which feels a bit alien to a link builder like me!) but I’m sure the more investigative reader will be able to ascertain where I’ve worked previously (it’s on my LinkedIn profile, which is linked from my About page), and the correspondence between me and my former colleague can be found on Twitter if someone really did want to be nosy.

But oh well, it could’ve been worse… I could’ve written a song about it instead, like I did for a different previous employer. I thought a blog post would be better this time around!

[Random Words image credit: Chris Halderman]

Google Places Beyond Local Searches – What It Means for Small, Local Businesses

Buy Local signYesterday evening, Gareth at Liberty reported that Google had introduced a new look and feel for Google Places. More than just testing, it turns out that these changes have gone live fully, having been dubbed the ‘grey pinned results.’

When I looked into it a bit more this morning, I noticed a potentially bigger, more substantial change: I was finding that Places results were a lot more present in the search results, especially for searches that did not specify a location. In other words, when I searched for something like “it recruitment,” I was seeing a map of Cardiff-based IT recruitment agencies (as I’m based in Cardiff, of course). Notice that I didn’t have to “it recruitment cardiff” to reveal the map – “it recruitment” was enough.

Example of Google Places changes in the SERPs

Although many will argue that this is not a “new” change (as I’ll touch upon later on in this post), I’ve definitely noticed it for keywords – and industries – that have previously been unaffected.

Typically, a search like this would show national results, i.e. the top 10 results for “it recruitment” – typically nationwide agencies, or agencies in the big cities, such as London. In fact, these are still present amongst the Places results, but results local to the searcher are nestled amongst them. And if you consider the fact that recently carried-out testing has shown that Google Places listings are good at catching the searcher’s eye-line and attention, this could be very good news indeed for small, local businesses.

What this means for small businesses

Currently, I’m only seeing these types of results for a handful of keywords and industries. However, if these results become permanent and more wide-spread, then small, local businesses have more chance of getting traffic and enquiries.

The biggest impact will be seen for industries where people may not particularly consider searching locally. For example, according to Google’s own data (via the AdWords Keyword Tool), “it recruitment cardiff” gets about 30 search per month, while the broader, non-location-specific “it recruitment” gets 3,600 – more than 100 times the amount.

Results for [it recruitment] in the Keyword Tool

Admittedly, the latter will be people across the UK, while the former will probably be people in and around Cardiff, but there may be people in Cardiff who are searching for “it recruitment” without actually including the word “cardiff.” If this happens to be 1% of all those “it recruitment” searchers (i.e. 1% of these UK-wide searchers are based in Cardiff), then that’s another 30+ people, and they will now be seeing a map of Cardiff instead of just UK-wide results.

It might even lead to bigger enquiries for a small business. If a big company in Cardiff is looking for an IT recruitment agency, they might just type in “it recruitment.” After all, they might have the budget to afford a big, national or London-based agency – the likes of Hays, etc. A smaller company might type in “it recruitment cardiff” – they might want someone smaller, potentially cheaper and more local to them. With this shift, Cardiff results will have more of a fighting chance in getting noticed and receiving an enquiry from a bigger business.

A major change in search, with a focus on local?

It could even potentially change the way we searching for products and services online and buying them. It was about a year ago when this “huge change” by Google was seemingly intended to “[favour] truly local businesses for queries that are likely to be local in nature.” As Eric Enge argued back then, Google was trying to steer the results based on what the person might want to see – if someone types in “pizza,” do they want something local or something national and informational?

I remember Google testing this quite a bit back then. I remember typing in “car insurance” and seeing a map of Cardiff, which – when you think about it – is absolutely radical. “car insurance” is an industry where people don’t search locally; they just type that in and go to one of the big insurer’s websites or a comparison site. Again, using the Keyword Tool, we can see the difference – except this time it’s 20-30 versus half a million!

Results for [car insurance] in the Keyword Tool

If it comes about again then imagine what it could do for the likes of small, locally-based insurance providers!

What should a small business do?

If you’re a small business and you haven’t claimed your Google Places listing, then do it now. If you can’t do it now, do it ASAP. Seriously, do it, get cracking! Prioritise it! Get it done!

It’s free to set up a Places listing and doesn’t take long, either. You might even have a listing already – it might just be a case of ‘claiming’ and updating it.

Haven’t got the time? SEO and marketing agencies often offer a Google Places Optimisation service, meaning that they will set up listing(s) for your business locations and optimise them on your behalf. (And yes, that may or may not have been a bit of a shameless plug for my employer!)

Just what is Google up to?

It’s an interesting change by Google. Again, it could just be case of them experimenting again, or it could be longer-term.

It might even be an attempt to encourage more businesses to create and claim their listings, which this will no doubt do. As Mike Blumenthal put it, “if users won’t go to Places, bring Places to them.”

Even if it is a bit of a testing phase, or perhaps if a small business owner is reading this and their main industry keywords aren’t showing a map just yet, then it might still be an idea to sort out a Places listing, for future-proofing purposes.

Blimey… honestly – I should be on commission. What do you say, Google?

[Buy Local image credit: Ari Moore. Also, many thanks for Computer Recruiter for letting me use them as my example for this post. Can you guess what they do? You guessed it… IT recruitment in Cardiff!]

Is Link Building a Job “a Monkey Could Do?”

Monkey on a Mac imageWhen I found out that an acquaintance of mine – who I looked up to and respected – had badmouthed and insulted my main area of expertise, I was pretty hurt. I had been informed that when he was asked by someone if he thought there was any value in link building as an SEO practice, he said that he didn’t think there was and that it’s a job “a monkey could do.” Charming!

Although his line of work isn’t primarily SEO, it is closely related, so I was quite shocked – but also somewhat relieved – to find out that his thoughts were based on the ignorant belief that there’s only one thing link builders do, and that’s simply to “submit links to general directories.” Although directories can still be included as part of an all-round link building strategy, gone are the days when SEOs could rely on link directories alone.

Of course, with Google’s on-going changes to its search engine’s algorithm, for an SEO to concentrate on just directories, they’d have to be absolutely bananas! (Sorry, couldn’t resist – there had to be a monkey-related pun in this post somewhere!) Some SEOs argue that link building (a major element of off-site SEO) is a stronger SEO signal than on-site SEO (although many will also argue that both should be considered for the best possible chance of success, as one element being weak can let the side down overall). So it’s crucial that an SEO strategy involves a well-rounded and varied link building strategy, particularly in competitive industries.

Then there’s the subject of how many factors come into Google’s search engine rankings, and how often the search engine algorithm is updated. The answer? They “use more than 200 signals… and [they] update these algorithms on a weekly basis” (source). 200… Two years ago, when it was first mentioned by Matt Cutts, folks over at WebmasterWorld made an attempt to list them, and the provisional list had at least a dozen variables affecting the finer details of an individual in-bound link, including the anchor text used, its position on the page, its relevancy to the content as well as a whole bunch of other factors. It’s complicated stuff. And that was two years ago! There’s probably more now, or if now then at least they’ll have changed, with some variables gaining more importance over time; others less.

Then there’s the type of links an SEO can go out and obtain. Sure, there are your bog-standard general directories, but there’s also article marketing, reciprocal linking, paid links (boo!), blog comments, blog rolls, guest blogging, forums signatures, linkbait ideas including infographics, online tools, badges, etc. etc. – some of which have become less important compared to others as time has passed, and I’m sure there’s a lot, lot more than what I’ve just covered. It’s enough to make someone go ape… (Last pun, I promise.)

But don’t just take my word for it. When I first heard about the monkey comment, I decided to get the feedback and opinions of a few fellow SEOs via Twitter.

Profile pictures of the three tweetersThree got back to me, with the following:

Brighton-based SEO Yousaf (@ysekand) said: “Anyone can build links but it takes creativity & outside the box thinking to build quality/juicy links, that is the difference.” (Just realised that I misspelt your name in my original tweet to you – I apologise sir!)

Recent Liberty starter Andrew (@Andrew_Isidoro) has a similar opinion: “Most people could link build with training, but the best guys are web-savvy, intelligent & work with a high level of creativity.”

Tweet #3 by Mike (@Koozai_Mike) – on the other hand – seemed to be more concerned with the monkeys’ supposed confusion over their occupation: “I thought monkeys were busy writing the works of Shakespeare? If they can’t finish that yet, then they’ve got no hope.” An unusual comment, but good on him for countering the comment with a bit of humour, rather than writing an epic, probably-OTT blog post about it (we all have our ways of dealing with things, I suppose…)

However, the link building fun doesn’t stop there. It’s occurred to me typing this now that Yousaf, Andrew and Mike could possibly share this post via their Twitter profiles and possibly link to it from their own sites because they’re mentioned in it. In fact, there’s a chance that others in the SEO industry will be interested due to the industry’s strong sense of community (you only have to take a look at the likes of SEOmoz’s thriving SEO community and the WebmasterWorld Forums to see how strong the communities can be as well as the simple fact that most SEOs like to help each other out). Plus we like to defend hurtful, attacking comments made towards SEOs (remember the guy who called us “SEO bastards,” and the SEOs who wrote blog posts in response?)

I wrote this post because I wanted to defend what we do from a silly, harmful comment. But if this blog post – and my website domain as a whole – garners links in the process then I’d consider it an added bonus. This post is potentially a link-earning bit of content – a link building consideration in itself.

But hey… We’re only monkeys, right?

[“Monkey on a Mac” image credit: thegarethwiscombe – cheers also to Yousaf, Andrew and Mike for their contributions as well (their images courtesy of their respective Twitter profiles)]

Dislike a company? Leave your review somewhere other than Google…

Evil laugh at the ready?Have you been a naughty, naughty company? Have your actions resulted in bad reviews on Google? Well now, don’t shake your fist and curse the ‘good guys’ just yet. Get ready to tweak your evil mustache, pet your Bond villain-esque feline and prepare your best maniacal laugh, for you’re about to find out how you can make them disappear!

Reviews… Some people think they’re a waste of time, when others relish the fact of sharing their experience with others, good or bad. Although some might argue that we leave reviews for purely self-obsessed reasons, I’d actually argue that it’s probably the other way around…

  • The Positive – A company’s done you well and you want to return the favour by spreading the good word about them.
  • The Negative – Usually a result of being stung by a bad service or sale and therefore wanting to warn others.

My reviews tend to fit those categories. I love giving good reviews who deserve them, especially if they’re hardworking people who mean well (e.g. small, local suppliers). Likewise, I hate shoddy service and I hate seeing people get duped, so if I’ve been stung, I’ll happily warn others of my unhappiness towards the company responsible.

My personal weapon of choice? Google. Leaving a review on a Google Places listing (a.k.a. Google Maps, Google Local – call it what you will!) can help with a listing’s ranking, so if you truly want to help a company to get more business then that’s a good way to do it. The same applies with some third-party sites, such as Qype and Yelp. (See? I do actually talk about SEO from time to time on this blog!)

But what does a company do when it receives lots of negative reviews? Well, y’know… They could just delete their own listing…!

That’s what happened to a company I (negatively) reviewed recently. Well, I don’t know for sure if they deleted it, but I can’t see any other reason. It makes sense that they’d want to delete it, as I’ll go on to explain…

They had received six (SIX!) 1-star reviews, with the stars showing even before you clicked-through to the listing – i.e. a company needs 5 reviews for the stars to show, otherwise it’ll still say the number of reviews there are but won’t show the stars until you click onto the profile itself. This meant that people could see that their average rating was 1 out of 5 when they did a Google search for their name. Worse still, if they showed up amongst the Map listings with their competitors for a general search relating to their service, it would show then, too (and their competitors either didn’t have any or enough reviews, or had more positive reviews).

So what’s a company to do? Hell, if they’re lousy enough in what you do to annoy that many people that badly, why not do the unethical thing and wipe the slate clean rather than to accept the (potentially) deserved onslaught? Your Google Places listing disappears, along with your chances of ranking in the Map results amongst your competitors, but hey, maybe it’s better that people find out about you another way, rather than via Google and they witness the negativity surrounding your brand. As businesses are able to create or claim listings, they’re able to un-list and delete them, too. Like I say, I don’t know if that’s the case for sure, but I can’t see it being anything else. They knew the reviews existed, as they tried to contest them (they commented on mine and others apologising and asking us to call their customer services person), so maybe they decided they’d go one step further? Well it’s one way to sort out your brand reputation woes, I guess!

The review still lives in my Google account. I can login and read it. The link’s still there, but if I click it, I see this page:

Screenshot of Google Places 404

“We currently do not support the location,” which I’m pretty sure is the Google Places equivalent of a blank page or a 404 error.

So when you next think of leaving a negative review of a company online, it might be best to look beyond Google. Maybe use another site instead? Then again, with other review sites possibly providing the same option (how else can someone remove a listing of a business that’s no longer operating?) and the likes of Yelp supposedly letting people pay to remove their bad reviews (which I’ve heard about but can’t seem to verify), where else can you go…?

…Customary moan on Twitter and Facebook? Sounds like a plan.

[Green Goblin image credit: doug88888]

Recent posts on other sites and SEOno news

Just a quick post covering two things…

Recent posts on other websites

Just like with SEOno’s first post, every now and again I want to link to blog posts that I’ve written for other sites. There’s only two this time round…

Firstly, I’ve written another post for the online marketing blog of Liberty (my employer). It examines the difference in search volume between head terms vs. the long-tail. For example, a keyword like “shoes” may get a lot of people searching on it, but it may be more important for a business to focus on less popular (but less competitive, cheaper, easier-to-convert) keywords, such as the likes of “buy mens shoes.”

The second is a YOUmoz post, which is the UGC (User-Generated Content) section of SEOmoz, one of the world’s biggest SEO resources and my personal favourite. I’m a massive SEOmoz fan (read: I’m a massive geek), so it’s an absolute pleasure and honour to have had my post accepted. It’s about the word limit affecting the Google AdWords Keyword Tool, which could majorly affect people’s SEO keyword research, especially if they’re looking into short terms and phrases.

In the pipeline, there’ll be more content for the Liberty blog, another YOUmoz post and a guest article for Fresh Business Thinking. I’m also hoping to do a post for Cardiff Blogs (@cdfblogs on Twitter), after having attended their most recent event last month. If any of the above come off then I’ll be sure to link to them in a future post.

News about the blog

The main reason I wanted to update was to say that this’ll probably be the last post on the SEOno blog for a good month or two. The reason for the break in blogging is simply due to the fact that I’m getting married next week!

However, when I’m back, I have great plans for the blog, including a redesign (something I’ve had in mind for a while) as well as more SEO and #SMsceptic posts.

Until then, ciao…*

* A hint as to the honeymoon’s location (in fact, this font should too)! It’s my first time there, so if anyone could help out with a few vital phrases then that’d be appreciated!