Tag Archives: Google

The Difference Between SEO And SEM

Unless you’ve been off the grid, you’ve seen the acronym SEO a lot in the past five years or so. It stands for Search Engine Optimization and by definition, it means “making your website as friendly as possible to search engines.” You see, search engines – and by search engines I mean Google, the only search engine that matters – have very specific, very dynamic sets of criteria by which they judge the worthiness of each site they come across (through a process called “indexing”). It’s a full-time job to keep up with these criteria, and so an entire industry grew up to address it: SEO.

More recently, we’ve seen a focus on a slightly different acronym, SEM.

That one stands for Search Engine Marketing. It shares a lot of characteristics with SEO, but also blends in the paid aspects of search, such as advertising, marketing and branding.

Think of it this way: Imagine you are alone on a deserted island. You have two choices. You can prepare wood to build a fire so that rescuers can find you (that’s SEO). Or, you can use that wood to build a boat so that you can go out and find the rescuers (that’s SEM).

Here at {code} Roadies, we’ve never been fans of waiting around. Maybe it’s our video game-shortened attention spans. Maybe it’s old-fashioned impatience. Either way, if there’s an opportunity to do something (rather than wish for something), we usually take it. That puts us squarely in the SEM camp, obviously.

Here are some of the actions that we take when we help clients with SEM:

  • Website development and management  First things first. Your website needs to check all of the boxes that search engines look for. Then, when those fussy search engines change their mind like an eighth grader getting ready for the big dance, we make changes to your site so that it keeps up.
  • Content creation – You’ve heard me say it a million times: search engines love new content. It’s one of the easiest ways for them to tell if you’ve taken the old “set it and forget it” approach that results in a news page that never gets updated or constructed a living, breathing website that treats users with respect.
  • Online marketing – Google will tell you that using AdWords doesn’t impact organic search. However, it doesn’t take a genius to understand that traffic is one of the biggest metrics that any search engine uses to determine popularity. So buying ads that send people to your website must impact search position, right Google? (Google smiles and winks silently.)
  • Social media management – There’s a reason that Zuckerberg wears hoodies made from unicorn hair and bought all the mansions near his mansion because his mansion was feeling a little claustrophobic. They make money by the truckload from advertisers who use Facebook and Instagram to send people to their websites. And directed traffic (like that from social media ads or Google AdWords) usually means qualified customers, which means longer site visits, which also helps search engines to decide how effective your page is.

In other words:

SEM is a long-term strategy that takes effort and expertise.

It pays to be be diligent, and it pays to get help. Give us a call here at {code} Roadies, and let’s start building that boat together.

 

Writing Copy That Search Engines Love

You may not know this, but every web page should be written for two target audiences. The first audience is users, of course. We all want our customers and clients to find our online content interesting and useful. But the second audience is nearly as important: search engines. Google’s powerful algorithm, for example, doesn’t just look at code and meta data. It mostly looks at the same information that users do and tries to determine its value to flesh-and-blood human beings.

After all, that’s what puts all of those shiny black Teslas in the parking lot in Mountain View – good search results. If our searches resulted in garbage – or worse, phony garbage, we would simply stop searching. Consequently, teams of programmers constantly update the algorithms to weed out the detritus and present only the most relevant results – and to do it, they read what people like you and I write and judge us more than your aunt Evelyn who always asks when you’re going to start a family like your cousin Curt in Omaha.

So, we need to write first for humans (our main target audience) and then for supercomputers trying really hard to think like humans (our second target audience). And there’s actually a fairly distinct difference between the two.

Here’s an example of a paragraph of web copy for a fake company called Fluffpuppy that sells dog treats, written for real humans only:

We sell dog treats. They are made from beef, pork and chicken, and they’re perfect for making your dog sit up and beg. Best of all, these wholesome ingredients don’t just taste good – they’ll help your best friend feel good as well.

Nothing wrong there, right? Wrong. To do this effectively, you need to think about both what a human searches for and wants to find on your page, as well as what a search algorithm THINKS that a real human searches for and wants to find on your page. So while including the phrase “dog treats” is important, it’s not in the copy enough. Worse yet, the brand name – Fluffpuppy – isn’t in there at all. Of course, the human can see the graphic of the logo on the top of the page, but all the algorithm sees is a file name (probably something super descriptive like logo.png, depending on who did your web development).

Then there are those ingredient names. Do people search for beef and pork when they search for dog treats? Probably not. They may be interested in seeing those ingredients once they get to the page, but until then they are more likely to search for something very basic like “dog treats” or “Fluffpuppy dog treats” or even the classic “what are the best dog treats.”

With that in mind, it’s tempting to try to trick the algorithm by shoveling keywords into your copy like a college linebacker at the all-you-can-eat Sunday brunch buffet. Here’s what that looks like:

Fluffpuppy dog treats will make your dog howl for more. Buy Fluffpuppy dog treats and watch the reaction as each dog treat gets your dog’s attention. Plus, Fluffpuppy dog treats are tasty and healthy – perfect for you and your best friend. Fluffpuppy dog treats – the only treat your dog needs.

Not only is that hard to read, the computers who try to be people are now smart enough to recognize it when somebody is getting too crazy with the keywords (remember, their goal is good search results, not garbage). So after a certain point (and none of us know what point because we don’t drive Teslas and work at Google), those algorithms start to penalize you for writing copy that nobody really wants to read. With all the talk of SEO in the world today, it can be tempting to push your luck here – don’t do it. You will actually hurt your chances for showing up in a search result. Remember, both the real humans and the fake humans who read your copy want roughly the same thing. Here’s an example of copy that gives both of those audiences what they are looking for:

What is the best dog treat? The healthiest? More importantly, which dog treat is right for your breed, whether your best friend is a beautiful black lab or an adorable mini pinscher? Every Fluffpuppy treat is filled with the flavors and wholesome ingredients that trainers and breeders recommend.

Notice that it includes several very likely search phrases (such as “what is the best dog treat”) along with the product name a few times (but not so many times that it gets obnoxious) and the brand name. It also includes a few popular dog breeds, something else that humans like to search for, along with “trainer” and “breeder” two words that pet owners respect that are likely to go together with the words “dog” and “treats.”

The trick is to make your copy appeal to humans and artificial humans without sounding like it was written by a computer, and it can be harder than it sounds. You’ll get better with practice. Just dig in and don’t be afraid to make revisions. You can also ask somebody like me for help. Together, we’ll climb the search results and get your web page in front of the people who matter most.

 

An Offer You Can’t Refuse

I spend a lot of time working with Google’s Adword’s platform. It’s not perfect, but it’s still the standard by which all other online advertising platforms are judged. Some are better, others are worse (I’m looking at you, Facebook), but nobody is more important.

That’s why it’s so valuable to watch what Google does with Adwords. It’s usually a really accurate indicator of what the rest of the web is going to do next. For the past year or so, Google has been warning people if their websites aren’t responsive and mobile-friendly. Put another way, if your website doesn’t adapt to smartphones, Google Adwords will give you some friendly advice: bring it up to speed or else. What does “or else” mean? You don’t want to find out.

Think of Google as the mafia Godfather of online marketing. All of the other big tech players follow Google’s lead, even if they would secretly like to bump them off. And anybody who has ever seen a mob movie knows that when the big boss makes a request, it’s not really a request. It’s more like an ultimatum wrapped in decorative tissue paper. As long as you do what he says, it stays in the gift bag. When you disobey, he takes it out and bops you on the head with it until the Motion Picture Association of America gives the film an R rating.

And it’s not just Google. All signs point to an increased emphasis on responsive websites across the internet. If your web presence ignores mobile devices, you will show up later in search results, you will be charged more for clicks and impressions and you will get penalized by every algorithm on the net. It’s like getting that weird mafia kiss that marks you as a target for every up-and-coming wise guy in the gang.

Why is everybody making such a big deal out of responsive websites? Because more people use the web with their smartphone than any other device. It’s not unfair treatment to single out the sites that don’t stay current, it’s good business.

If you have a website that isn’t responsive, it’s time to clear your name with the online powers that be. Update and you’ll see that the web works better when you put users first.

 

Fresh Content Tastes Better

Ah, the “News” section of a website, that well-intentioned receptacle for the very latest information about your company. You set it up when you built your current website with a plan to add fresh content as news events occurred. After all, there’s always something going on, right? Promotions, new hires, trade shows – the list in your head was endless.

Fast forward two years, and what’s featured under that “News” link? Is it a photo from the company get-together three months ago? Is it a press release for that new product launch that happened six months ago? Is it the first post you placed on the site two years ago? Everybody got so busy … If this sounds familiar, I have some bad news for you: not only does it look silly to visitors when your “News” page is filled with cobwebs and stories comparing your R&D department to “Colin Kaepernick, the future of the NFL,” it’s hurting your visibility to search engines like Google.

Nobody – and I mean NOBODY – knows exactly what makes up Google’s search algorithm anymore, and that means everyone in the web business has to put our faith in the few things we know for sure. #1 on that list is that Google tells us over and over again that its search engine loves fresh content. Here’s why:

(1) Google is working really hard to help its algorithm think like a human (some people fear this – I just figure the day it gains sentience, Google’s algorithm will just call in sick and binge watch Netflix like everybody else). And since humans don’t like to read or view the same thing over and over, fresh is better. You’ll get more visitors, and Google is very influenced by that kind of peer pressure.

(2) From a more scientific standpoint, Google’s software bots really only index (record) stuff that is new on the Internet. That means fresh stuff = more visits from Google, which is always a good thing.

(3) Lastly, if your site somehow becomes a well-regarded resource on some topic (hopefully something you sell), then the combination of visits + time on site + incoming links + social media mentions = big-time search engine lift. This is not easy, but it is possible as long as your site consistently offers fresh, original content.

How often should you update your website? In a perfect world, daily. But re-posting time lapse videos of delicious-looking crepe recipes doesn’t count. Too much borrowed content, and you’re going nowhere. That’s why a few times a week is perhaps more realistic, depending on the size of your company (and whether you have staff dedicated to the job). There’s no magic answer here, but there is a simple truth: the more new stuff, the better – period. When it comes to fresh content, you just need to find a balance that you and your team can live with.

SEO, Science And Snake Oil

One of our clients recently contacted me with a series of questions about her website that were prompted by the visit of a gentleman from a national “all things to everyone” web management company. The client was confused because the salesman had made some fantastic claims about his company’s ability to improve her website and how visible it was on search engines and in social media. She even told me that his company could make her good reviews more prominent and her bad reviews less obvious. That’s when I got suspicious.

You see, I’ve been working with search engines and social media for almost as long as they’ve existed, and saying that you can control them is like rolling into town with a wagon full of snake oil and vitamin elixirs: nobody can tell if they work or don’t work, so those purveying these wonder drugs can play fast and loose with the facts. When things improve, it’s thanks to the medicine – when they don’t, other factors were to blame. In the meantime, you’ve spent a lot of money burping up fizzy soda pop that tastes like dishwater.

Why can’t anyone really control search results and reviews? Because if they could, search results and reviews would be meaningless. That would be bad for business for the companies that run the world (not the Internet world, the world world) like Google, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, etc. All of these companies sell trust, after all, and who would trust anything on the Internet if we would simply remove something we don’t like? 

Google’s #1 product is an accurate, helpful search result (which they use to glean your vital information and sell to everybody and their mother – nobody said it was pretty). Do you think they’re going to let you – or anybody else – screw up their #1 product? They modify the algorithm – the software behind their search engine – dozens of time each week in order to overcome those who try to do just that. 

Think about that. You can either work to live in harmony with Google, Facebook etc., doing what you can to make their systems work for your company – or you can take your chances by poking them in the eye and messing with their business model. I’ve seen what can happen when you go all in trying to game Google’s algorithm, and it isn’t pretty. I had an associate who hired a hot company out of Chicago to take his online business to the top of the search results no matter what. He called me one day and told me that Google had adapted the algorithm to negate the tricks that his friends in Chicago were using and pow! He was out of the search results – entirely. He was also out of business in just a few months.

Those who seek to manipulate online reviews are running into similar problems. Regulators in the state of New York got the ball rolling by investigating – and fining – companies who were posting fake reviews online (including some of the nation’s largest “reputation-building” companies) and many other states have since joined the crusade.

Does this mean that all search engine optimization (SEO) is worthless? Nope. Let me take the vitamin elixir analogy one step further. Just like in real life, healthy lifestyle choices are smarter than magic potions. Eat nutritious foods, stay active and maybe take a few vitamins, and you can look and feel great. Keep your website up to date with new content (search engines love that), include all of the things that your customers want to see (keywords, etc.) and spend the resources needed to keep your technology fresh (for example, Google is now looking very harshly on sites that are not friendly toward mobile devices), and you will have a healthy web presence. It’s not as easy as chugging that bottle of snake oil, but it’s a lot more likely to work (and not send you sprinting to the bathroom).

And since when has the right answer been the same as the easy answer, anyway? Here’s the good news – Code Roadies and other companies like us can do a lot of that work for you. We can build you a WordPress website that allows for easy content updates, agile SEO additions and optimum viewing on everything from smartphones to laptops. We can even help you to fill your site with everything your customers – and search engines – want to see.

Work with search engines, social media and review sites rather than against them, and you’ll discover quickly that effort pays off more than a quick fix every time.