Tags Posts tagged with "Content"

Content

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What’s a page rank and how does it work?

PageRank is Google’s system to rank the relative popularity of a website. Developed by Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Google’s founders, the PageRank system uses the Internet’s vast linking structure to measure an individual web page. A link from one site to another is interpreted as a “vote” for the destination site. Google also examines the pages themselves to determine the importance of each, meaning that a link or “vote” from a page within itself is a high PageRank (considered “important”) will weigh more heavily than a link from a less “important” page.

The PageRank scale is between 1 and 10, and is a logrhythmic scale, much like the Richter scale used to rate earthquakes. This means that the gap between a PageRank of 3 and 4 is tiny when compared to the gap between a PageRank of 7 and 8. Generally, a PageRank of 5 is considered average, whereas achieving a PageRank of 7 indicates a popular site.

You can check the PageRank for your site by going to Mypagerank.net. There are also PageRank predictors, such as PageRankPrediction.com, that claim to predict what your site’s future PageRank will be. While these are good indicators, they are not a guarantee of what your PageRank will be the next time Google updates.

How does an SSL certificate make transactions secure?

In order to conduct transactions on the Internet, sensitive information such as credit card data must be sent securely between the user’s web browser and the server hosting the website they are trying to purchase from. This is accomplished using an SSL (“Secure Sockets Layer”) certificate. When a web browser tries to access a secure web page, the server first sends what is called a “public key” to the browser along with the SSL certificate. Using this public key, the browser then generates a “private key”, or an encryption key, which is sent back to the server with the secure URL that the browser would like to access. The server then uses this encryption key to securely encrypt all data that is subsequently sent to the browser. Because this key is generated on the fly by the browser, the encryption method is unique between each browser and the server, ensuring that only one key can encrypt the data, and only one key can decrypt the data.

This ensures that all information that is sent to the server is secured, and your customers can rest easy knowing that their personal information is safe. Most SSL certificates use 128-bit encryption keys, although more recently 256-bit encryption has become available.

How does Alexa determine traffic ratings?

Many people use Alexa to determine their websites’ traffic rankings, the reach of the website, and other information about the popularity of their web presence. But how is this determined? It’s mainly delivered via the Alexa toolbar, a downloadable browser toolbar that has been built into Netscape and Microsoft Internet Explorer. The toolbar delivers information to Alexa about what websites people are visiting. Using this method, Alexa receives data from a defined sample population of Internet users. This data is then processed to deliver a Traffic Ranking and a Daily Reach coefficient. The Traffic Ranking measures how much traffic a site receives relative to all other websites, and is delivered as a 3-month average. The Daily Reach is determined by how many people in the Alexa sample population visit a site, and is normalized to a sample size of 1 million. In this way, a Daily Reach of 4,000 means that your site probably was viewed by 4,000 out of every 1 million Internet users.

The Alexa toolbar is only available for the Windows operating system using either Internet Explorer or Netscape browsers. The toolbar is currently not available for Firefox users, although Alexa provides the option of building your own toolbar. If your site is targeted specifically at Firefox users, or Mac users, or Linux users, odds are that the data about your site in Alexa is inaccurate, due to the fact that your visitor base is excluded from Alexa’s sample population.

How can I tell if a search engine is finding content within my site?

There are a couple of ways to determine if Google, as well as other search engines, can access the content in your site that you want it to find. The first is to find a string of text on your website that will be unique, or at least relatively rare. Copy this string of text into the search box of your favorite search engine, making sure to enclose the entire search string in quotation marks. This tells the search engine to find that specific string of text. Check the results that are returned and if your site appears, the search spiders are successfully indexing your content.

A much easier, and more informative, approach is to ask the search engine what content it has found for a particular domain. To do this, you simply enter “site:www.yourwebsite.com” into the search field of your favorite search engine. This will return every page that the search engine has indexed under that domain. This is a sure fire way of determining how effectively the spiders are getting through your website. If you don’t see content or web pages that you believe should be there, perhaps the search engine spiders are unable to access your site properly. Check with your web developer as there are a myriad of reasons why this could be the case.

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As an online store’s product catalog grows it becomes increasingly important to provide site visitors with a robust and feature-rich search solution to help them find just the right product as quickly as possible while also providing an enjoyable shopping experience. The larger and more complex your product offerings become, the more you need to provide a high quality search solution.

Effective Ecommerce Search

Algolia’s Instant Search demonstration is part of a tutorial written to help web and application developers learn to use the San Francisco-based company’s hosted search application programming interface (API).

The Algolia instant search demonstration includes many of the features that make for a great ecommerce search.

Although it is something of an academic example, the demo is delightful to use. As you type, it provides search suggestions not as a dropdown, but by swapping out page content. The words you type are highlighted on the various product entries shown, so that it is easy to understand why the search engine chose each result. Finally, it is lightning fast, returning a new, more refined set of products with each keystroke.

In short, it is a good example of an effective ecommerce search solution, because it delivers, if you will, in three ways.

  1. It provides a shortcut to content.
  2. It shows you what it is thinking.
  3. It works quickly.
A Shortcut to Content

If you think about it, your site’s search is a shortcut to content. Rather than making a shopper click on the main product navigation to uncover several product category options, which lead to even more sub-category options, which direct us — we hope — to a set of products, the shopper can bypass the site hierarchy and go directly to the set of products she wanted to see.

When this happens as expected, you have a happy customer who just saved time and effort.

This successful search shortcut depends on several component parts or features, including the way in which the search function finds matches and how the search is built to manage synonyms or related words.

Consider, first, how matches are found. Is the search querying a database? Is it conducting a full text search on some form of product data feed? Or is it crawling the site and indexing the content that it finds on each page?

How the search actually works will have a significant impact the results it presents and how quickly it presents them.

Next, how well does the search manage related terms? In a blog post about search synonyms, Algolia’s Julien Limoine used the example of the term “tablet.”

When a shopper starts to type “tablet” into a search box, should the search also match the term “iPad?” And does that relationship work the other way around? If a shopper types in the term “iPad,” should other tablet computers be shown in the results? Google seems to have answered this. On August 2, 2015 a search for “tablet” in Google Shopping returned iPads in the result set, but a search for “ipad” did not include results for other tablet computers. This makes sense because “iPad” is more specific than “tablet.”

Google's search understands the relationship between the terms "tablet" and "ipad" so that it provides the best results for each query. The search on your site should recognized these sorts of relationships too.

For a search shortcut to be truly great, it needs to understand some of these relationships, so it can provide the proper and expected results.

Show Why Terms Are Selected

If you search for the term “tablet” on the Newegg website, one of the suggestions is for Tabletop Unlimited, a kitchen supply brand, which offers, among other things, a square griddle and a jumbo cooker.

The search function on Newegg shows you what it is thinking and why some suggestions were chosen.

Newegg’s search returned this result because the term “tablet” is inside the term “tabletop.”

The search is trying to anticipate what the shopper wants, so this result makes perfect sense, but imagine what the shopper might have thought if the Newegg search had loaded a new page with a picture of an Asus tablet computer and a skillet.

If Newegg did not have Tabletop Unlimited products listed on its site, this would not be a problem, but because the site has many, diverse products — remember with a great number of products comes the need for great search — it must show shoppers why a particular suggestion is being offered.

Search Should be Fast

On the JadoPado site, search moves fast. As the user types, the search feature displays not just suggestions but actual products, updating the list of products displayed with each successive letter.

Switching out all of the products on the page in the blink of an eye, the JadoPado site search is nothing if it is not fast.

This means that the search function must reach out to the server, compare the term with the indexed content, and return a full result set in the time it take the shopper to press a key.

This flashy example of search speed is important because it gives the shopper instant feedback. A significant number of shoppers will refine their search one or more times to get the best results. Quickly showing the shopper the sorts of results a term will return, makes the process of refining search almost automatic. In fact, the shopper might not even realize that he is refining as he adds “computer” to the term “table” to eliminate a skillet or two.

This is especially important for Internet retailers with large product categories that may share key terms.

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LinkedIn Groups can be both bane and boon. On the one hand, they can be filled with spam and self-promotion. On the other, they provide sources of intelligent discussion and thought-provoking insight.

The 10 LinkedIn Groups in this list represent the latter category and are worth consideration by ecommerce merchants who want to expand their horizons and benefit from the diverse perspectives of other small business owners and marketing professionals.

1. E-Commerce Network

Unfortunately, many of LinkedIn’s ecommerce groups — at least the ones with which I am familiar — are not well maintained or monitored. As a result, they then to fall prey to spammers. This group, however, is different.

With more that 71,500 members and 19 subgroups, it is one of the largest and most active groups in the ecommerce category. The group is owned by Oliver Luxon, global initiatives manager at the ecommerce company PFSweb.

E-Commerce Network covers a wide range of relevant topics, including:

  • Strategy;
  • IT governance;
  • Project and program management;
  • Resource allocation and roadmap management;
  • Ecommerce and e-marketing topics;
  • Website development;
  • Key performance indicators.

2. Shop.org

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The Shop.org group provides a forum for ecommerce and multichannel retailers to share information.

The Shop.org group provides a forum for ecommerce and multichannel retailers to share information.

This is the official group for Shop.org, the digital division of the National Retail Federation. The term “official” means that it has passed LinkedIn’s review process and represents an established membership organization.

The group provides a forum for ecommerce and multichannel retailers to share information, discuss emerging trends, research and network with peers. Discussions tend to be more industry-level, but provide high quality content, which is why I recommend it.

Shop.org’s community is stringently monitored, so discussions that are not relevant to ecommerce, cross channel, and digital retail get deleted. Members who use the discussion board for marketing or self-promotion are removed as well.

3. eMarketing Association Network

This group proclaims itself to be the “largest and most active Marketing Group with 457,000+ members.” It is managed by the eMarketing Association and is open to anyone interested in Internet marketing.

With topics including social media, email, search, mobile and web marketing, this group goes beyond just ecommerce.

I wish I could say the group is completely devoid of spam or promotional posts, but some do appear to get through. Overall, however — perhaps due to the size of its membership — the group is extremely active with many discussions and comments. For example, the post Social Media Has Ruined Marketing received over 2,200 comments.

4. Inbound Marketers

Managed by InboundMarketing.com, the educational arm of marketing software companyHubSpot, this group bills itself simply as an “online group for marketing professionals.” It focuses on inbound marketing, search engine optimization (SEO) and social media.

Even though it has over 82,000 members, comments are limited in number; many posts receive fewer than 20. Still, the content retains a high degree of quality, and with post titles such as “5 LinkedIn Group Rules To Live By” or “3 Ways Facebook Can Boost Your Online Presence,” it seems very practical.

5. Social Commerce: Selling With Social Media

Social commerce platform Shoutlet owns this group, which targets social commerce. According to the group profile, all aspects of social commerce are under discussion including group deals, Facebook shopping, and social media return-on-investment issues.

With 2,400 members, the group is smaller than the others mentioned above, but contains some high profile social commerce practitioners. The number of posts and comments tend to be fewer, too.

Even though the group aims to be a “valuable source of insight for its members,” I wish it were more tightly monitored. Still, it is a good source of information on the topic of social commerce. I suggest giving it consideration.

6. Small Biz Nation

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Small Biz Nation covers a variety of topics pertaining to small business interests.

Small Biz Nation covers a variety of topics pertaining to small business interests.

Sponsored by HP and Intel, this group covers a variety of topics pertaining to small business interests. Its profile statement states that the group is a “valuable, exciting and new resource for small businesses looking to maximize their success.”

The group has a peer-to-peer focus where small business leaders can collaborate and share ideas. But it also has leading voices — industry technology experts from HP and Intel — that provide authoritative insights on relevant topics.

Both posting and commenting activity is routine, robust and on-target. The group’s rules are extensive and managers appear to exert a high level of control over the content to ensure it stays within published guidelines.

7. Content Marketing Institute

With 474 members, this is a newer, but fast growing, group. It is owned by Content Marketing Institute (CMI), an organization focused on the increasingly popular topic of content marketing.

CMI is a reputable organization run by one of the chief evangelists for content marketing,Joe Pulizzi. I know Joe personally and can vouch for both him and his organization’s credibility, which is why I recommend this group.

8. Content Curators

Another new LinkedIn group and one that, like Content Marketing Institute, represents an emerging field — content curation — is Content Curators.

For those unfamiliar with the topic, content curation is the process of finding, organizing, and sharing content to support an organization’s objectives. This group serves as a forum to discuss content curation best practices, helpful tips, industry solutions, and overall insight into content curation and content marketing.

The group is hosted by Content Curation Marketing, an online resource for topics pertaining to curation.

9. MarketingProfs

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MarketingProfs contains a wealth of actionable marketing information.

MarketingProfs contains a wealth of actionable marketing information.

Though skewed more toward business-to-business interests, MarketingProfs’ LinkedIn group is not only one of the most active, but contains much marketing information. Managed by MarketingProfs’ chief content officer, Ann Handley, the group centers on actionable know-how and discussions.

10. Practical Ecommerce

Last, but not least is our own group, Practical Ecommerce. The group is designed to be an extension of the website and provides a format for discussion on topics of concern to ecommerce merchants, vendors, software providers and others. Practical Ecommerce articles are also reposted here for both reference and discussion purposes.

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In a crowded online marketplace where smaller retailers are forced to vie against large ones, creating useful content is one way to garner consumer attention and trust. This is especially true when it comes to attracting prospects in social media.

At the recent Dreamforce 2012 conference, sponsored by Salesforce, Scott Monty, head of social media at Ford Motor Company, said, “Content is the currency of social.” What Monty was saying is that successful social media marketing involves creating content that engages consumers, stimulates dialogue, and evokes a response.

In this article I outline four steps to create an effective social media content marketing strategy.

  • Content Focus
  • Content Type
  • Posting Frequency
  • Content Calendar
1. Determine Content Focus

Content needs to have a focus in terms of the topics you plan to cover and the tone it will take. Here are some pointers for determining that focus.

  • Stimulate engagement. It could be educational, entertaining, inspirational, or promotional. Likely it should contain elements of all four.
  • Demonstrate knowledge and thought leadership. One way to garner trust is by establishing yourself or your company as an expert.
  • Consistent with the mission and culture of your business. You don’t want content that is out of step with your company’s character, image, and personality — it would come across as not authentic.

A commonly accepted practice is to use the 70/20/10 rule.

  • 70 percent of content should focus on your customers’ interests and needs. This can be accomplished through how-to tips, answers to frequently asked questions, and links to helpful resources. Ask yourself, “Would I find this content helpful?” If the answer is yes, then it’s probable others will too.
  • 20 percent of content should be “OPC” — other people’s content. That mandates a willingness to allow user-generated content on social channels you manage, such as a Facebook page. This gives your customers a sense of ownership in the conversation and serves to foster trust.
  • 10 percent of content should be promotional. If you are willing to focus 90 percent of your content on others, then, hopefully, no one will complain when 1/10th of it calls attention to your products and services.
2. Determine Content Type

Depending on the channel, social media content can take many forms: blog posts, tweets, status updates, contests, quizzes, poll questions, infographics, videos, and photos.

Due Pinterest and Instagram, social media has become increasingly visual. So the use of video and photo images should be a major consideration. Not only does it appeal to different learning styles, but photos and video make it easier for customers and prospects to get a feel for who you are and what you do.

3. Determine Posting Frequency

After you have decided on the content’s focus and type, determine how often you can post updates. Here are a couple of tips.

  • Post at the optimal time. By this I mean post on the days and times when you are most likely to receive responses in the form of Likes, comments and shares. Many retailers find that posting between 8:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. works best. Edge Rank Checker is a tool that can help you determine the best times to post on Facebook. Also, use Facebook Insights and Google Analytics to determine optimum posting times.
  • Put important points first. Express your core message within the first 90 characters, as longer messages might be truncated.
4. Create a Content Calendar

Once you know the focus and types of content you want to produce, and determine the posting frequency, the next step is to develop a calendar to schedule your posts. Calendars can be created on a weekly or monthly basis.

Content calendars can be developed using a spreadsheet. But I prefer a social media management application, for three reasons.

  • Such applications serve as the single source for content creation and scheduling.
  • They automate the process of content distribution and syndication to social networks.
  • They make it easier to administer and manage social media channels and engagement activities, such as responding to comments, identifying new fans and followers, and monitoring conversations about your business and its products.

I recommend the following social media management applications.

Content is Still King

Engaging content can serve your business in a variety of ways. It can:

  • Set you apart from your competition;
  • Help establish you as an expert, and a thought leader;
  • Keep your business top of mind with consumers;
  • Provide the leverage needed to keep your customers coming back time after time.

Think of yourself not only as an ecommerce merchant, but a “media mogul,” as well. Make content the focus of your social media marketing activity. It will likely translate into increased profits.

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The process of capturing customers to your online store involves multiple steps, typically.

  • Getting shoppers to visit your store.
  • Helping them find what they are looking for quickly and efficiently.
  • Showing them the information they want about the products they are looking for.
  • Providing a fast, secure, and easy method to add items to a shopping cart and checkout.
  • Delivering the products the customer ordered in a timely manner.

This oversimplifies a bit, as shoppers frequently visit many stores and compare prices, products, features, and more. But, for the most part, these are the primary elements that you control as the storeowner.

For my recent online shopping experiences, the reason that I chose one store over another did not necessarily involve the products they sold or the prices. In fact, I didn’t get to that point in several stores because they failed to land me where I expected — from a pay-per-click ad — or because they did not provide good search or navigation. For other sites, I reached the product pages, but they didn’t provide adequate, descriptive content, and I ended up buying from another store. In a few cases, they failed to provide a shipping estimator in the shopping cart.

In this article, I’ll focus on the four mistakes those storeowners made that simply are not tolerated by most shoppers today.

1. Ineffective Landing Pages

Most ecommerce businesses spend a lot of time and money driving traffic to their stores from search engines, emails, and social media. To execute these campaigns well, merchants should ensure that the links provided for a given ad land the visitor on a page that is relevant to the ad or link they clicked on.

But, I am amazed at how many stores simply direct traffic to their home pages or to products unrelated to a given search or ad. If you are selling iPhone 5 covers and your ad features the word iPhone 5 covers, be sure to land your customer on a page that sells iPhone 5 covers. If you route traffic to your home page, you risk losing customers immediately who simply do not want to have to navigate through your store to find what they are looking for.

In the case of a newsletter promotion, if you are featuring a product or group of products at 30 percent off, then be sure to land your customer on a landing page that reinforces that promotion. Ideally, if you design an ad, try to represent the same messaging in your landing page. Most stores find that their conversion rates for product or category specific landing pages that are consistent with their promotional messaging have much higher conversion rates.

2. Poor Site Search

Because of search engines like Google and Bing, shoppers expect superior search tools in online stores. For the most part, the site search function included in most shopping carts do not meet the expectations of shoppers, who want a search experience that makes suggestions, handles plurals and typos, includes a thesaurus, determines relevancy, and delivers results in a user friendly manner.

Shoppers also look for guided navigation and filters to narrow their selections. You will find those types of features on virtually all of the top retail sites today.

There are several good third-party site-search tools. Google licenses its site-search function to smaller retail stores as well. Check out what your competitors are doing and upgrade if your search is lacking. Increasingly, shoppers use search as their primary method of navigation.

3. Poor Product Content

Even with an effective landing page and a useful search tool, you will also need to deliver rich content. Shoppers are demanding multiple images and zoom, reviews and ratings, original and detailed descriptions, technical specifications, and other details. Product-comparison features are widely used. Complementary products add both visual appeal and provide a reason for visitors to invest more time in your store. Videos are widely used for more complex products.

I go to Amazon for product information if a given store lacks the level of detail I am looking for. I may go back to the original store where I found a product, but frequently I will simply get lost in the Amazon.com maze of products and suppliers and one of them will get the deal.

4. No Shipping Estimator

This is a personal pet peeve. If I can’t tell what my shipping costs are in a shopping cart and a site forces me to fill out all my personal information before know my shipping costs, I will not buy from that store under any circumstance. If you are still doing that, you are losing more sales than you know. With the rise of free shipping, consumers simply will not tolerate sites that are not transparent in their shipping costs.

But even worse are those that add a handling fee without explaining it upfront. For example, I recently shopped online for spa chemicals that are bulky and heavy. I found a site that offered free shipping. When I arrived at the final approval screen, a “handling charge” suddenly appeared. The link next to it explained that although the shipping was free, all orders incurred this charge. I left, never to return.

Be sure that your shopping cart includes a shipping estimator. Ideally, it will offers the shipping options, allow shoppers to enter their shipping addresses or zip codes, and will consistently update the shipping costs as the shopper adds items to the cart. If you offer free shipping at some purchase level, be sure to let the shopper know they have achieved that level and that shipping is now free.

The MotoGP Store volunteered for an SEO Report Card. This is the second installment of my analysis of that site. In “Part 1,” I reviewed the home page and category pages, internal navigation, HTML templates, title tags and keyword choices on, again, The MotoGP Store. Now I’ll look at URLs and duplicate content, indexation, internal linking, inbound links and the store’s international SEO aspects.

URLs and Duplicate Content

Most ecommerce platforms have some form of duplicate content. In MotoGP’s case, every category and subcategory page has nine duplicate copies, and every product page has four duplicate copies. In this case, the sources of the duplicate content are easy to identify. Each category and subcategory URL is available with a trailing slash and without. In addition, each of the four currencies adds a “cur” parameter to the end of every URL. Google has managed to index over 3,000 of the currency parametered URLs.

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Examples of duplicate content on The MotoGP Store

Examples of duplicate content on The MotoGP Store

These extra URLs add no search value, but are required for customer usability. In terms of SEO, the duplicates simply split link popularity between multiple versions of the same page and create self-competition. Based on the rankings and the site’s web analytics, the engines prefer the URLs without the trailing slash, likely for the simple reason that those URLs are used in the header navigation.

The currency duplication can be resolved for SEO without impacting customer usability by either disallowing the “cur” parameter in robots.txt, placing a meta robots noindex tag in the head of currency parametered pages, or adding a canonical tag to all pages with a currency parameter. The trailing slash duplication can be fixed by 301 redirecting all URLs with a trailing slash to the same URL without the trailing slash.

Internal Linking

Aside from the navigation, which I discussed at length in “Part 1″ of this report card, The MotoGP Store lacks cross-linking features, which could serve to further strengthen the flow of link popularity through the site. The breadcrumbs on every page do serve as cross-linking, but also mimic the URLs linked to and from the header navigation. As such, they’re less powerful than a link not already featured on the page. The recommended products feature on product pages would work nicely as a cross-linking feature, but it isn’t crawlable on the page for search engines crawling without JavaScript.

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The Recommended Products feature on product pages is not crawlable or indexable by search engines

The Recommended Products feature on product pages is not crawlable or indexable by search engines

Inbound Links

The store itself doesn’t have many valuable links to speak of, but its domain of motogp.com is heavily linked to on Wikipedia and linked to regularly on the U.K.’s BBC television site as well. These valuable links help to boost the authority of all the pages on the domain, including the store. If The MotoGP Store weren’t the official store for the official MotoGP site, it would likely have a much harder time ranking for its targeted keywords and phrases with the site as it is today. But because the domain as a whole enjoys authoritative links from authoritative sites, the store is given more leeway in the rankings than it might otherwise have.

In addition, when MotoGP launched its store in May 2011, an announcement was issued that linked to the MotoGP Store. This very short press release was widely reposted on MotoGP enthusiast sites around the world, many with the link still intact. Known as optimized press releases, including active links in press releases or announcements that contain newsworthy information can be an excellent source of building links. The links will likely be primarily from smaller and less valuable sites that repost content found on other sites or blogs, but it’s an easy way to build a quantity of links to get the link building ball rolling.

International SEO

I have to admit, I’m surprised. When I saw that the store was available in European English, Spanish, French and Italian, but had currency links for U.S. dollars, the British pound, euros, and the Japanese yen, I was skeptical that the search engines would be able to untangle the web of country and currency to deliver the correct page to the correct searcher in the correct country. However, after looking at The MotoGP Store’s web analytics, it appears that they have done just that. Queries in Spanish unfailingly land on Spanish pages. Queries from Spain land on Spanish pages. Queries from Australia land on the U.K. site.

In short, MotoGP has done an excellent job with its geotargeting technology. Most important of all to SEO, the user can change the country/language by clicking the flags in the upper right corner and the country/language choice persists even when JavaScript, CSS and cookies are disabled. This is fantastic. Because search engines traditionally crawl without JavaScript, CSS and cookies, the ability to navigate to other country/language sites without these enabled is critical. Otherwise, Google and Bing may be stuck on the U.S. or U.K. site. Even if they can crawl the full suite of countries a site offers using headless browsers — automated crawlers that emulate browsers that human customers would use — some SEO signals often gets lost in the translation.

Do SEO Best Practices Matter for MotoGP Store?

The hardest part about writing this report card has been noting the things MotoGP Store could be doing better according to best practices SEO, and then looking at the rankings it is already winning for the top phrases in its niche. Do best practices matter for The MotoGP Store? Will resolving these things make them rank better? Well, in the cases where it already ranks number 1, no. You can’t rank better than number 1. You can, however, improve a site to protect those top rankings for the future. If a competitor improves its site enough to challenge MotoGP’s store, those relatively few available searches for the MotoGP merchandise keyword market could begin to go to competitors.

On the other hand, could improving the site according to SEO best practices actually result in a decrease in rankings? Well, yes. SEO is part science and part art. We rely on the data-driven side of SEO to make business decisions, but there’s another side of SEO that’s frankly unpredictable. The sites that tend to have the most success in SEO over the long term are the sites willing to experiment. Change one aspect of the site, measure the impact, and if it didn’t result in improvement then roll it back. Then try another change, measure the impact, and act on the resulting data.

SEO best practices can only get you so far because they’re generalized across all sites in all instances. No individual site is the average site, however. Make the exact same change on five sites and invariably it will result in five slightly different results. Best practices SEO can identify the changes that are most likely to result in success, but only implementing them and measuring the impact can determine whether those changes have actually been successful.

Final Grade

By the book, then, an SEO professional would grade the site at a C level, perhaps C+. But based on its success in the rankings and the amount of traffic driven for those top phrases, MotoGP Store is dominating this SEO niche. Therefore, in a tip to reality and the poser of an authoritative domain and link portfolio, the store’s “reality” score is an A-.

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The MotoGP Store's report card

The MotoGP Store’s report card

I’d love to see this site implement some of the best practices discussed here, measure the impact, and write another “SEO Report Card” in a year or so. While the site is dominating the major phrases, it doesn’t seem to be doing as well on the long tail phrases for risers and specific products. It’s likely that SEO best practices around navigation, category landing pages and internal linking could improve the long tail while retaining the strong hold the site already has on the trophy terms for the MotoGP merchandise niche.

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Google’s search result quality mission stands seemingly opposed to the search engine optimization practice of link building. For years, SEO professionals have worked to increase the number of external in-bound links to a site in an effort to build authority and trust, thus boosting organic search rankings. One by one, Google has been devaluing these tactics, and press release distribution is the latest target.

Press Releases and Link Building

Until recently, optimized press releases were a legitimate if increasingly overused link-building strategy. Press releases are written as part of a company’s normal course of business, and links are naturally included in the body of the press release as they would be in any piece of content on your site. So far, no problem.

Then eager marketers realized that optimized links in press releases would pass link value back to their site when distributed via a press release syndication service like PR Newswire. Sites all over the world receive feeds from these distribution services and repost them on their own sites, typically with links still intact. Next came the spam: overabundant linking within the press release coupled with over-optimized anchor text.

According to Google, press release distribution for SEO benefit is just another source of paid links. You pay for the distribution service, and the result is (was) SEO benefit. In fact, PR companies openly listed SEO among the benefits of using their service. As with other forms of paid linking, Google is devaluing these links now. They’re also asking webmasters to nofollow links in press releases in the same way that links from advertisements should be nofollowed.

Many press releases will already have been actively distributed via a public relations service or copied from your site and posted on other sites. It’s not realistic to expect companies to chase all of these down and request nofollows, so Google will have to devalue those algorithmically itself. Releases distributed through the major PR companies will be easy to detect and devalue even if the PR companies don’t add the nofollows themselves.

For press releases hosted on a domain you control, nofollowing links in press releases is annoying but not impossible. For more information on nofollowing links, see Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.

Part of me wonders why webmasters should bother nofollowing these press release links if Google can devalue them algorithmically itself. More likely Google devalues what it can confirm to be press release links but has trouble catching them all. Asking sites to nofollow the links is an easy way for Google to limit the number of new PR links they need to worry about. It’s also an easy way to demonstrate to Google that your site is committed to following webmaster guidelines.

What the Change Means

Google is asking site owners to devalue their own links in press releases. But what if they don’t? And what about all those years of historical press releases floating around out there across the Internet?

When a search engine devalues a certain subset of links, it’s different than applying a penalty. In essence, the links that Google’s algorithm deems unworthy to pass link authority have their value removed algorithmically. Imagine that your home page has 1,000 in-bound links. One hundred of those links come from press releases, 100 from article distribution sites, 200 from directories, and 100 from another site you own. All told, that’s 500 links from sources Google would deem low value and would want to devalue algorithmically. So now, instead of having 1,000 links passing value to your home page, only 500 links are passing value.

Technically it’s not a penalty; it’s the removal of value that your site previously enjoyed by means Google deems unnatural. The impact feels the same, however: decreased ability to compete in organic search.

Devalued Link Building Tactics

Google’s latest link scheme guidelines named a few other link building tactics that have been sliding down the slippery slope to being considered spam.

  • Large-scale article marketing or guest posting campaigns with keyword-rich anchor text links.
  • Advertorials or native advertising where payment is received for articles that include links that pass PageRank.
  • Links with optimized anchor text in articles or press releases distributed on other sites.

These join the category of link spam long-occupied by paid links, directory submissions, posting to bookmark sites, blog and forum comment spam, widget spam, and heavily optimized footer links across a network of sites.

The only old-school link building tactics that still have value are sponsorships and other high-effort, low-quantity opportunities that require lengthy research to uncover. This is not a coincidence. It’s Google’s plan for a natural link-centric approach to search.

Quality Content Attracts Quality Links

In Google’s ideal world, high quality sites rank well because they are shared across the Internet and naturally attract high quality links. From Google’s link scheme guidelines:

“The best way to get other sites to create high-quality, relevant links to yours is to create unique, relevant content that can naturally gain popularity in the Internet community. Creating good content pays off: Links are usually editorial votes given by choice, and the more useful content you have, the greater the chances someone else will find that content valuable to their readers and link to it.”

If you think Google’s view of popularity and authority on the Internet is skewed to major brands, you’re right. By virtue of their larger mindshare and bigger marketing budgets, big brands are talked about more, visited more, searched for more and linked to more. Searchers trust brands more, search for brands more, and click through to brand sites more often in search results. All of these factor into search engines’ preference for big brands in search results.

If you don’t have the luxury of working with a brand that’s already a household name, you can still take action to improve your organic search performance within Google’s ever-tightening link guidelines.

  • Think ahead to avoid future link spam. If you’re relying heavily on a link acquisition strategy that targets large quantities of links that are fairly easy to acquire, that strategy will almost certainly be devalued in the near future if it hasn’t already. It’s best to stop now.
  • Weed out the worst of your past link spam. Try to remove links that you know are considered spam now. For example, if you acquired some run-of-site links on topically irrelevant sites, request that those be removed. If you can’t have them removed, consider disavowing the most egregious of them.
  • Target keywords that large brands won’t. Typically there are some words that major brands don’t care to use because they don’t mesh well with their marketing strategies. However, searchers use these words, and sites that target these less desirable keywords can win search traffic for which the brands can’t compete.
  • Take risks with content marketing that large brands won’t. Big brands need to be cautious with their marketing efforts, perhaps more cautious than your brand.
  • Be nimble. Big brands mean bureaucracy, which hurts their ability to iterate in SEO. Jump on opportunities as quickly as you can.
  • Make SEO a priority. Emphasize SEO across your business.

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If you want to drive more natural search visits to a page, you need to improve the relevance and authority of that page. That’s SEO 101. But one of the hardest parts for marketers to understand when they’re in the thick of content creation is the phrase “of that page.”

Search engines are picky. It’s the way they’re designed, with algorithms that determine the presence or absence of certain variables within the datasets collected for each page. Certain domain-wide variables are also taken into account, like domain authority and the overall theme and context of the site. But many aspects of SEO come down to the relevance and authority signals that each page sends individually.

For example, if a customer searches Google for “pizza cutter,” Google will return a page of search results containing individual pages with the highest relevance and authority signals for “pizza cutter.” Painfully obvious, right?

Relevance and Authority

So why do we as marketers forget the connection between individual pages, relevance, and authority when it’s time to generate content? We made a really cool video to boost search engine optimization. We wrote these excellent articles on topics our customers asked for to boost SEO. We created an infographic from unique data that we mined from our databases for SEO. This new content is good. So why isn’t our SEO performance improving?

The reason any single piece of compelling content doesn’t improve SEO almost always comes down to a disconnect between the goal and the execution. What was the goal? Did you execute your plan in such a way that the goal could be reached?

The reason any single piece of compelling content doesn’t improve SEO almost always comes down to a disconnect between the goal and the execution.

What did you want to rank? If you haven’t defined the page and phrases you want to improve SEO performance for, the chances your SEO performance will improve are very slim. A single excellent video or a new section of articles can’t boost rankings and natural search visits for every page and every keyword. Based on your site’s existing SEO performance for individual natural-search landing pages, and the keyword research that tells you what real people are searching for, set your goal for performance improvements based on individual URLs and keywords. If conversion is part of your SEO goal, make sure that the page you’re optimizing has conversion elements on it.

Focus on the Page

Where did you launch the content? If your goal is to boost SEO performance of an existing product category or detail page, the SEO work needs to be done on that exact page. No matter how great it is, posting fresh new content somewhere else on the site is unlikely to help you improve performance on your product category page. If the content is truly helpful and well optimized, it may even compete and push your product page farther down in the rankings.

The exception to this rule is when the content is so fantastic and well promoted that it goes viral. If something that’s hosted on the same domain as your ecommerce site goes viral, the massive influx of natural links to that viral content will increase the domain authority for the entire site, which should boost natural search performance site-wide as well. However, given the infrequency with which good content goes viral, it’s best to base SEO performance goals on more reliable methods.

Avoid Cul-de-sacs

How did you design the content? It’s far easier to create a group of content and hang it off the end of your navigation in a section called “Resources” than it is to integrate the new content into the existing site. I like to think of this as a content cul-de-sac. There’s one way in – that “Resources” link in the navigation – and the content inside that section doesn’t crosslink widely with product-related sections of the site. In some cases you don’t even really want shoppers going there because they might get distracted from their purchase intent.

If this sounds familiar, there’s a very good chance that this is why your SEO performance didn’t improve. Think of each link into a page feeding that page and making it a little stronger. Content cul-de-sacs typically lack the number of internal links that product content does, which means they don’t have the flow of authority they need to perform in organic search.

Jumpstarting Content

How did you promote the content? When you’re creating content with the intent that it will drive natural search traffic, it seems antithetical to have to promote it. The reality is that any new piece of content is at a disadvantage in natural search, no matter how good it is. Until it has been linked to, mentioned, shared, and otherwise had its authority validated, that amazing piece of content isn’t likely to drive much natural search at all. It needs a jumpstart through your other marketing channels like email marketing and social media to get the ball rolling. If the content truly has customer value, this should be no problem because your customers will pass it on for you.

The only reason to create content is that it has value to the customer. Content should not be created “for SEO.” The role of SEO in content marketing is to ensure that the content that is being created for customer benefit is findable via natural search. I previously addressed SEO and content marketing, in fact, at “Using SEO to Drive Content Marketing.”

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Google is actively working on ways to decrease its reliance on links by its algorithms, including identifying and promoting content written by expert authors. While content sites are obvious beneficiaries of this algorithmic initiative, ecommerce sites can tap into it as well.

From Backlinks to Authority

This week’s Google Webmaster video by Google’s head of webspam Matt Cutts addressed the transition: “…What we’re trying to do is figure out how an expert user would, say, this particular page matched their information needs. I think as we get better at understanding who wrote something, and what the real meaning of that content is, inevitably over time, there will be a little less emphasis on links.”

Historically, backlinks have been the lifeblood of search engine optimization. At first, search engines’ algorithms focused on quantity: Which site has the most links? That site must be the most authoritative.

As marketers found more and more ways to buy and build links to artificially boost link authority and inflate rankings, search engines shifted their algorithmic focus to quality and relevance: Which site has the most links from other quality sites that are topically relevant? That site must be the most authoritative.

Part of the algorithmic focus on backlink quality and relevance has been demoting sites that have a large percentage of low quality links in their backlink portfolios. Bur rooting out the many different types of link spam is hard work. Hence the desire to broaden the algorithmic focus to include an expert author component.

To be sure, quality, relevant backlinks are still and will continue to be an important part of search engine algorithms for many years. However, as we look to the future, we’ll see author expertise as an increasingly important aspect of search engine optimization.

Expert Authors and Algorithms

Just as sites have historically been algorithmically deemed authoritative, Google is working on determining individual people who are authoritative in any of thousands of topics.

In a December 2013 “This Week in Google” video, Cutts said: “So we are trying to figure out who are the authorities in the individual little topic areas and then how do we make sure those sites show up, for medical, or shopping or travel or any one of thousands of other topics. That is to be done algorithmically not by humans…”

To do this, Google has to understand who people are and what they’re saying. In essence, they have to understand natural language and identity. Google’s Hummingbird algorithmupdate in September 2013 set the stage for Google to understand natural language and identity. It’s up to ecommerce site owners to begin to leverage or assert that authority.

Create an Expert Author

Every company has someone at the top that’s passionate about the business and has some expertise in the industry. That passion, channeled into content creation and marketing, can translate to recognized expertise that search engines identify as individual authority.

Think about your founder, your executives, your senior marketing executives, your product developers, your engineers. Each of them has some degree of passion for your site’s industry. Look for the most passionate ones, the ones who either desire or at least don’t detest being in the spotlight, and the ones that communicate well. The combination of those three elements makes the ideal spokesperson, which in turn makes the ideal expert author.

Naturally, those people will also be extremely busy doing the things that make them well suited to being an author. They’re busy building the business, and developing and selling the product. Taking focus away from their day job to moonlight as an expert author may seem counterproductive.

Look at it from a sales and marketing perspective: Developing a spokesperson/expert author for your ecommerce site is another form of content marketing, and done well can drive additional traffic, leads, and sales.

Work with an Expert Author

Maybe you’re not blessed with a single person that contains the right combination of passion, communication, and desire for attention that it takes to be an authority or spokesperson. Find someone who is and work with her.

Maybe you’re not blessed with a single person that contains the right combination of passion, communication, and desire for attention that it takes to be an authority or spokesperson. Find someone who is and work with her.

The world is filled with people who are passionate and want a platform to communicate their messages. Identify a selection of people whose messages are consistent with the messages your ecommerce company wants to convey, are prolific, and can communicate effectively. Reach out to those people to determine which of them may be interested in working with your brand in a mutually beneficial and exclusive manner.

The ideal expert author to work with would already have a network of fans, followers and readers so that the messages sponsored by your brand would reach a broad and relevant audience right away. However, you may also want to grow your own expert authority by working with someone who has less exposure today but whom you feel has great potential.

Content Marketing for Expert Authors

Note that promoting an expert author is different than promoting the expertise of the company. The two are related, certainly, but a company cannot be an expert author. In addition to marketing the company and increasing its visibility and authority in the industry, you’ll also need to establish and/or promote an individual as an expert author with authority in your industry.

This is just another example of content marketing in a way that benefits SEO. Your potential expert author probably already speaks at conferences, blogs or guest blogs, gives interviews with the press, and so on. Market those activities in ways that matter to SEO as the basis of promoting your expert author.

For example, when your expert speaks at a conference, upload the slides to SlideShare and link to them (and his conference bio) from your ecommerce site. If you can acquire or create a video clip, upload that to YouTube and embed the video in a page on your site. Have your expert write a blog post or guest blog post about the conference and his speech (or ghost write it for him if needed). Then share the slides, video, blog post, and author’s bio through the relevant marketing channels like social media, PR, and your blog.

Make sure your expert’s public profiles like Google+, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, blog, and SlideShare link to each other and contain descriptions of your expert and his area of authority. And naturally, as you’re doing this, work in the relevant keyword phrases for your author’s area of expertise and the relevant products that your ecommerce site sells.

These are just a couple of ideas to get you started, not a primer in content marketing. If it sounds difficult, you’re right. It is. Nothing about establishing authority in natural search is easy anymore.

Earning links is difficult and is inextricably tied to content marketing. Earning authority, likewise, is difficult and is inextricably tied to content marketing. The only easy thing is realizing that the future of SEO and ranking well in natural search depends on doing both.

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You’ve heard how important search engine optimization is as a source of traffic that can be converted to sales. But what is SEO, really? This is the first post in an “SEO 101″ series, in which I’ll explore each area of SEO, explaining what it is and how to do it.

SEO is often called organic search or natural search. SEO involves making changes to your ecommerce site that signal its relevance and authority to search engines like Google and Bing, with the intent to increase the number of customers that click through search results to land on your site.

What SEO Is Not

Sometimes it’s easiest to define something by its opposite. SEO is very different from its search marketing counterpart, paid search. Often, paid search is called search engine marketing, but that moniker does not mean that it includes SEO as well as paid search strategies.

You can’t pay for SEO placement. That means that other paid placement elements like Google Shopping also fall outside of the influence of SEO.

Google search for "summer shoes."

SEO is also frequently confused with internal site search, which helps your visitors find what they want when they’re already on your site. While some SEO strategies may improve your site search, depending on which internal search platform you use, SEO is entirely focused on driving more visitors to your site from external search engines like Google and Bing rather than helping them find what they want when they’re already on your site.

How Does SEO Work?

Search engine optimization contains three basic pillars: technology, content, and authority.

  • Technology: Get indexed. Indexation is the root of ranking, because a search engine has to be able to algorithmically crawl your site and index it to understand what content it contains and rank it in search results. No indexation means no ranking.

So what is crawling? SEO professionals also call this activity “spidering” — so we’ll use that as an analogy. Think of thousands of tiny, nonthreatening spiders that cruise your site’s code and memorize every bit of textual content before moving to the next page via HTML links. The page is like a dining room, the textual content is the spiders’ food, and the HTML links are the hallways between dining rooms.

Instead of digesting that “food,” the spiders send the textual content they’ve collected and the information about how the pages linked together back to the search engine’s server farm to be indexed and processed algorithmically.

The problem is that some sites are not optimized to allow those spiders to crawl and index their content. Some uses of JavaScript, CSS, and cookies, as well as other server-level settings and bits of code, act as locked doors preventing spiders from crawling content. In most cases, marketers aren’t even aware that those locked doors exist. SEO helps to resolve those issues and open the doors, enabling the indexation that leads to rankings, customer visits, and sales.

  • Content: Be relevant. The most well-known of all SEO pillars, content optimization is the use of keywords that real searchers actually use when they’re searching. When the content on a page is consistent with the phrase that a searcher uses, Google is more likely to rank that page in its search results for the searcher to select from.

But relevance is more than thinking up some keywords and using them repeatedly on your page.

Keyword research shows which keywords to use based on the relative popularity of a phrase. If your page goes on and on about “warm weather footwear” but people are searching for “summer shoes,” the match between the relevance of the content on your page and the phrase people are searching for is lower. As a result, your rankings will likely also be lower.

Once you know which keywords to use, it’s important to weave them skillfully into the content areas that matter. Knowing which elements to focus on for the page and in the page’s code is important, as are creative writing skills. The content needs to be unique and appeal to humans, as well as contain the relevant keywords.

SEO text — content written to serve keywords to spiders — no longer works as a long-term SEO strategy. Neither your customers nor the search engines value content written for spiders. Search engines develop algorithms to specifically target and demote sites that contain large amounts of poor quality content.

  • Authority: Be a source. Links and mentions act like votes of trust on the web. If another site links to your page or mentions your brand, it’s likely that your page or brand is relevant to and authoritative about whatever topic the linking site is discussing. If that linking or mentioning site is authoritative itself, its vote carries more weight.

As search engine spiders crawl the web, they record these links and mentions between different sites, sending them back to the server farm to be analyzed algorithmically with the other signals to determine rankings.

It is, therefore, beneficial to SEO to acquire more of these links and mentions. Unfortunately, growing your site’s link profile has become harder and harder over the last three years as the search engines have developed ever stronger algorithms to detect artificial linking schemes such as poor quality articles and blog posts with links, directory listings, and many others.

The only long-term solution to increase authority is to work at actually increasing your personal or brand authority through content marketing and excellent business practices. We all strive to do these anyway, but capitalizing on these for the benefit of SEO is the important part of the equation when the goal is to improve rankings, visits, and sales.

For the next installment of this “SEO 101″ series, see “Part 2: Benefits of SEO.”

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SEO can be broken into two distinct areas – “onpage” factors and “off-page” factors. On-page factors include anything that you can affect on the...