Back Back Back It Up: Why Backlinks are Vital to Your SEO Strategy

All marketers should be aware of how important SEO is to your organic and local rankings. About 20% of your SEO efforts will be on-page optimization. So, what’s included in the other 80%?  Well, there’s citations, backlinks, content, mobile, page speed, etc. The list goes on.

Backlinks have always been an important Google ranking factor. As time has progressed and Google has updated their algorithm, they’ve learned to weed the good from the bad. Yes, link quantity is good, but link QUALITY is becoming even more important.

Are you still asking yourself why you should care about backlinks when it comes to SEO? How about this, backlinks are the top 3 of Google ranking factors. Convinced now? Awesome. Let’s dive in.

What are backlinks?

Backlinks, also known as Inbound links, are simply links that are directed to your website. The number of backlinks you have can be an indication of the popularity or position of your website. Google, Bing, and other search engines will give more credit to websites that have quality backlinks. This is because they consider those websites more relevant to the search query.

Notice the word QUALITY above. This is key. Not only should the referring domain having high authority and a high trust score, the site should also be relevant to your industry. Wouldn’t you find it strange if a dog food website linked to a travel site? So would Google.

As I mentioned previously, Google doesn’t weigh all backlinks equally. There are some types of backlinks you want to avoid when working out your backlink strategy.  Article directories, $5 Fiver gigs that promise tens of thousands of backlinks, irrelevant link exchanges. All of these can cause a huge spike in backlinks and Google will see that as spammy black hat tactics and penalize your site.

So, what should my backlink strategy consist of?

  1. Set goals: It can be difficult to prove a link building campaign is successful, even when it hits certain goals. Because of this, marketers have to not only set realistic goals but to make sure that the goals they set are more than build X number of links. The goals need to tie into organizational goals and have a positive impact on the bottom line of the business. Like all good marketing, focus on long-term gains, not overnight quick-wins.
  2. Identify your assets: What is it you’re going to use to attract and get links? Some examples of assets can be blog/article content, products, services, people, and or data. Be sure that the assets you create are relevant to the audience you’re wanting to attract.
  3. Identify types of links you need: Do you need links to your home page? May links to an interior page like a product or service page. You can also have links to keywords you’re targeting.
  4. Identify your sites: make sure you find sites that are not only authoritative but relevant as well. These can be news sites, government websites, educational websites, community websites, charities and other businesses. Remember, quality links so do press releases, reach out to suppliers and sponsors. Tap into communities that your customers frequent (such as Reddit, StumbleUpon, forums, and blogs).

SEO strategies are not set it and forget it. It takes a long time to build authority especially if a site is new. Don’t expect to rank #1 overnight. Want that coveted position 0 on Google? You’ve got to work for it. Stay tuned for more blogs from me on how to rank on Google. Want to learn more about how we can help in your SEO plan? Contact us today.

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Content Marketing and SEO Benefits with Infographics

Construction Accidents: The Risks, the Facts, the RepercussionsInfographics are literally information paired with a graphic design element. They’re designed to inform and educate you with a lot of data and statistics, but in a visual way that makes it easier to read and remember.

Infographic searches on Google increased 800% from 2010 to 2012, and likely have increased even more since then. It’s one of the best ways to get information across to a public that largely filters out most of what they read. That’s why data visualization is so crucial.

Infographics are beneficial in marketing for a number of different reasons, one of the most important of which is that they provide great SEO benefits. Infographics are often picked up by other websites or blogs because the content is ready-made and easily shareable.

In addition to increasing brand awareness, this can provide a great boost to your overall search engine optimization (SEO) and link-building strategy due to the link backs you earn. And the rising tide lifts all ships: you will find your core keywords performing better, as well as a huge increase in “long-tail” inbound search terms. The result is often increases in traffic, leads, sales and revenue.

The team at StrataBlue designed the Construction Accidents infographic on the right for one of our clients — the Indiana-based law firm Wilson Kehoe Winingham. Our goal was to educate interested readers about the risks and repercussions associated with working construction jobs.

We’ve been sharing and pitching this infographic strategically all over the Web, and it’s already appeared in places like the Environmental Health & Safety newsletter and on Visual.ly.

StrataBlue’s Senior Graphic Designer, Suzanne McGill, recently gave a talk on infographics marketing at the National Association of Bar Executives Conference. Below are the slides from that talk. Suzanne has a lot to say about what makes an effective infographic.

P.S. Suzanne also designed the infographic. If you’d like to work with her and the rest of the StrataBlue team to educate the public using infographics like this, get in touch.

[slideshare id=39818195&doc=showdonttellinfographicssuzannemcgillstratablue-141002165523-phpapp02]

Growth Hacking: The Other Side of Marketing

“A growth hacker is a person whose true north is growth.” -Sean Ellis

The term “growth hacking” was coined in 2010 by startup advisor and marketer Sean Ellis. To a growth hacker, everything is done for its potential impact on scalable growth. Entrepreneur Andrew Chen later wrote a blog stating that the growth hacker is the new VP Marketing. But don’t get the two roles confused, growth hackers and marketers are not the same.

According to Aaron Ginn in TechCrunch, growth hackers have three common traits: a passion for metrics and data, creativity and curiosity. You could even say that growth hackers step out of the box, ignore the rules and create new ones. One part marketer and one part developer, growth hackers use a plethora of tools to help them reach their goals, including SEO, social media, web analytics, content marketing, case studies, press releases, blogs, white papers and more, typically sticking with low-cost alternatives to traditional marketing.

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Growth hackers are essential to startups. In order for a startup to succeed, it needs to break through all of the market noise, reach its target customers and flourish. While marketers are an important piece of the puzzle, it’s the growth hackers that will get you to your end goal. In a growth hacker’s mind, the sole focus is put on growing. This drives every decision, strategy and campaign.

One popular case study of growth hacking is Dropbox offering more storage to users who referred their friends. Instead of buying into traditional marketing, growth hackers look for a way to acquire new customers that doesn’t cost very much, if anything at all. Dropbox is worth over $4 billion, but doesn’t spend much on advertising due to its growth hacking techniques. Within four years, Dropbox has gained 200 million users, has one billion files saved to it every 24 hours and has over 500 employees. That’s huge for a company to accomplish in four short years.

Do you think you have what it takes to be a growth hacker? I’d suggest you check out GrowthHackers.com, a community to connect and get inspired. Now let’s take a look at the three steps of the growth hacker funnel.

Growth Hacker Funnel

  • Get Visitors: Find new ways for people to land on your product. Just because someone lands on your webpage or finds your product doesn’t mean you’re done; you need your visitors to form a relationship with you. Getting a visitor to connect with you by joining your email list or creating an account on your site turns them from a visitor to a member, which takes us to the next step.
  • Activate Members: Help people take an action that you have decided was necessary for the success of your product. It’s time to turn your members into dedicated users, keeping them coming back regularly. Figure out ways to keep your members engaged, gradually becoming your brand ambassadors.
  • Retain Users: Help people become habitual users of your product. If you get through this third step, you’ve accomplished your goal as a growth hacker. For growth hackers, retaining customers can sometimes be the most important part of the funnel, because if retention is low then all of your previous work has been meaningless.

Not every marketer or developer has what it takes to be a growth hacker, but if you have the potential, it could take you farther than you might have imagined. Check back for more blogs about growth hacking techniques and tips.

 

Crowdsourcing Content: A Win-Win Situation

Content is a hot topic lately, with everyone scrambling to find it, put it out and increase their SEO efforts by doing so. In order to keep up with the content demand, have you considered crowdsourcing?

Crowdsourcing content works in favor of both the company and the consumer. Consumers want to play a bigger role in the brands that they support, and consumer-produced content is highly cost-effective for brands. Content marketing is 63% less expensive than traditional marketing according to Demand Metric, and three times better at generating leads. Through crowdsourcing your content, you can increase your value and raise consumer confidence in your brand.

For example, take sites like Yelp and Urbanspoon, which run solely on reviews posted by consumers. Studies have shown that content produced by consumers seems to make more of an impact on other consumers. Why? Well think of it this way: would you trust the opinion of a blog writer hired by the brand or an everyday average person that has used the product/service? People want to hear the opinions of their friends or actual users.

Keys to Crowdsourcing 

Hiring staff to write content can become costly, but having your consumers write your content for you isn’t. On average, how long does it take for you to write a blog post? Not just your musings of the day, but a well-researched, thought-out and documented blog? Think of that time in term of dollar signs and how much you could save by having your customers do the work.

  • Offer an incentive. Have your customers submit to a contest by entering a funny photo or video of them using your product/service. The prize should be related to your business or perhaps even a new product you have to offer, but it has to be worth entering to win. You can then use the submissions as content on your social media pages or website. This will not only give you content to choose from, but will also create a social buzz around your brand.
  • Give recognition. People love to be recognized and appreciated, especially when they become a loyal customer for a brand. While on Twitter, retweet your brand advocates and engage in conversation with them. When you have a new product or service launching, let those same brand advocates be the first to try it out…and let them write about it! Use pictures, blogs, videos or any other content your brand advocates create to showcase your new products/services and give full credit to them for the reviews.
  • Encourage engagement. While you can crowdsource as much content as possible, you’ll still need to keep up a regular blog schedule. In order to keep crowdsourcing, inspire your readers to leave comments. Comments will not only boost your SEO with Google, but they can be a great source of feedback from consumers. Give your point of view and ask open-ended questions towards the end.  Once your readers start to comment on your blog, make sure to follow up with every comment and even ask more questions. If appropriate, repurpose comments as quotes you can use on social media or your website.

If you need help with your content marketing strategy, contact us for help. Have you used crowdsourced content for your website? How did you get your readers to participate?

We’re Expanding Our Brand!

StrataBlue

Dream System Solutions is excited to announce an expansion of our brand! We have teamed up with established players in complementary technologies to become StrataBlue. StrataBlue will bring a wider array of solutions to better serve you and keep you ahead of the competition. We are dedicated to helping businesses strategically navigate the changing online marketplace.

Over the past seven years, Dream System Solutions has provided exceptional service in the areas of website design, SEO and social media marketing. StrataBlue offers digital management strategy services including marketing services, cloud solutions and business analytics from their Indianapolis and Greater New York City area offices. While we are excited for what the future holds in digital technology, we remain committed to our core values of exceptional client service through continued delivery of “above and beyond” effort.

“Our focus is on providing strategic technologies in conjunction with digital solutions, underpinned by exceptional customer service,” said Henry Bestritsky, CEO of StrataBlue. “Currently, we’re developing a revolutionary service using big data to assist companies with never-before-seen forecasting.”

Leading the organization is Henry Bestritsky, the former Co-CEO of Binary Tree, a well-regarded data migration ISV.  Under his leadership, Binary Tree became a leading global provider of software and services used by firms of all sizes to execute some of the world’s largest data migration projects.

“Henry brings extensive entrepreneurial experience to the team, as well as a deep passion for technology,” said Slava Vidomanets, managing partner of StrataBlue. “His innovative approach will help us continue to develop and support solutions to assist our valued clients seeking success in the digital arena.”

During the next few months, we will add 25 jobs in our Indianapolis office, including social media account managers and account executives. We look forward to expanding our brand and growing with you!

 

How Black Hat Are You, Really?

Black Hat through the Ages. The term “Black Hat” isn’t new. It popped up as soon as hackers started using their skills for personal gain and malicious intent. Black Hat hackers weren’t breaking into systems to free information for the world. They were all about personal gain. The term really exploded when SEO came into the mainstream. If you have any experience with SEO, then you’ve heard of Black Hat practices. I was contracted to do SEO for an Indianapolis company in 2010—back when dinosaurs still roamed the Earth. Even in those dark ages, we were all told how evil Black Hat techniques were, and how we were creating organic, useful content for the web.

Of course, our white hats look a little more dirty as time passes. If you’d like to waste one hour or so, just look up Black Hat SEO. No one fully agrees on what applies. I could have sworn that forum linking—even manually—was considered bad form now, but I find just as many positive statements as I do negative ones. Of course, maybe I was in one of Google’s bad neighborhoods.

The Black Hat terminology has even permeated social media management. And it’s not a new idea. The real problem with all this Sharks vs. Jets banter is that the line is constantly shifting. If you happen to read the Facebook TOS, you’ll find a list of commandments when it comes to advertising. Twitter has a similar—admittedly simpler—list of rules as well. Don’t get me wrong; these pages are important. You need to be checking them often to make sure your brand is still in compliance. But this is a tricky field. For every rule you find and roll your eyes at due to obviousness, there will be another one you’re guilty of at this very moment.

The issue with Black Hat is that everyone knows what’s very bad, but no one can agree on what’s kind of bad, or mostly good. This is doubly true when it comes to Black Hat social media management, because creativity in our industry can outshine edginess. If you do something interestingly, you can usually be forgiven for doing something a little Black Hat. At least the first time.

What to Do? Sadly there is not an ancient tomb of rules about what is and isn’t Black Hat—no matter how many blogs you read claiming such. Aside from abiding to various social media contracts, the advice here is more about media production than social media rules.

Is your content good? No, really. It’s easy to look at your Facebook calendar, your mounting influencer list, and then shrug your shoulders about one little crummy tweet. Forget about engagement and conversion for a moment; are you saying a damn thing with this content? If you were on the other side of the screen, would you LIKE your brand? If you waver, it’s time to re-evaluate what you’re doing.

Are you following or mimicking? We all look to brand leaders to learn. We’re also looking for potential customers that those leaders have already found. So we borrow what works. It’s the oldest trick in the book, and there’s nothing wrong with it. But somewhere along the line we have to start innovating and creating our own content. If all you do is mimic the top brands, you aren’t creating anything.

Are you spamming—but not really spamming? We all know—and hate—spam. But spam isn’t just an annoying, poorly worded email trying to get you to buy something bad. Spamming is bothering people. Are you giving people interesting content 75% of the time so you can then throw products at them in an annoying, obvious fashion? If so, you’re still spamming. You’re just a really good spammer.

Are you not doing evil? There are plenty of brands out there that have done harm without ever turning Black Hat. It may seem obvious, but there is more to the world than the brand you are creating content for. Know when to back off. More importantly, know when to say nothing at all.

Whether it’s 2010 or next Tuesday, we’re all going to get our white hats scuffed up at some point. The key is to be deliberate in your actions. Even on social media, reputation outshines one bad campaign or tweet. Now make sure that reputation is shining.

The Impact of Social Media on SEO

Social media has billions of users across platforms such as Google+, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, Instagram and LinkedIn. And we’ve all heard the saying that “content is king,” so don’t forget about the bloggers. Today, there is a blog for absolutely anything you’re interested in. Everyone and anyone is a critic, expert, photographer, videographer, journalist or authority due to the popularity of social media and mobile apps.

So what does this have to do with your business? Everything. It’s a no-brainer that social media should be part of your business plan, not only because it will impact your sales but also your SEO. While backlinks are still important, social media signals should not be overlooked. In fact, seven of the ten most important SEO factors come from social media! Let’s take a look at how social media, content and SEO all work together to transform your online marketing strategy.

Create quality content that people love. 92% of marketers say content creation is either “somewhat effective” or “very effective” for SEO. When writing a blog, you should consider three things: is this helpful, does this solve a problem and is this relevant? Your content needs to be valuable and shareable in order to engage people, and it needs to be original and high-quality in order for it to rank well with Google.

Engagement increases your rankings. Google+1s increase both your visibility and credibility, and a report from Searchmetrics states that Google+ has the highest impact on SEO ranking. What are other social indicators that help? Facebook shares, Facebook total, Facebook comments, Facebook likes, tweets and Pinterest are all in the top social factors. It isn’t enough to simply be posting on social media, you need to be engaging in order to increase your rankings. Here’s a quick fact for you: tweeting cuts indexation time by 50%!

Build trust. How relevant is your page content to the keyword query of your visitor? Google looks for authority (the number and quality of the links that point at your pages) and relevancy (keywords) when determining search results. A keyword-rich profile is the first step on all of your social media platforms.

Develop relationships. Connecting with your audience helps build your online authority and also creates long-lasting relationships. These relationships can transform into online brand advocates and ambassadors that will help spread the word about your brand to their own communities.

Linked content. When trying to build your brand and authority, having well-known and trusted websites link to you is one of the best ways to gain trust and respect. Think about it as a type of online “celebrity endorsement” vouching for the validity of your business. Keep your content easily shareable by adding social media links on your pages, because you want to make it as easy as possible for people to share your content.

If you’ve been avoiding adding social media to your SEO plan, now is the time to reconsider. Social media is now an integral piece in the SEO puzzle. Social shares, presence and high quality content cannot be ignored any longer. If you need help with your SEO and social media strategy, contact us today!

Twitter Optimization

Twitter Optimization

Twitter is a great tool for brands’ to use to engage potential customers, but are you using this social media platform to its fullest? Twitter optimization is critical to ensure your tweets are relevant for your audience. Get the word out to a wider audience and make sure that you’re tweets are being seen using some of these quick tips to improve your social media marketing. It’s one thing to use social media, but it’s another thing to do it the right way. What other tips do you have for using Twitter for business?