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Website Feng Shui - Five Elements of a Website

Kristen Lindsey - Monday, November 02, 2015
I had a great chat with a client last week. In the middle of it, she asked me a great question: "What are the types of things I need to expect from my web person?" It reminded me of this article I wrote a number of years ago. It seemed to answer her question pretty well so I thought I'd repost. Thoughts? Comments? Experiences to share? Please chime in!

As with the practice of Feng Shui, understanding five principle elements can help marketers and small business owners build better, more profitable websites.

Feng Shui is a practice of bringing balance to one's living space based on five elements of ancient Chinese philosophy: Water, Metal, Wood, Earth, and Fire. Whether huge and complex like or only four or five pages like a small bed and breakfast site, all websites have their own five basic elements:

  1. Infrastructure
  2. Design
  3. Functionality
  4. Content
  5. Marketing

Understanding each element, the skill sets required to produce these elements, and how they interrelate can help a business make the best decisions about how their site should be constructed, maintained and promoted.

Element #1: Infrastructure

Infrastructure is the backbone of your website. Purchasing your domain name, setting up hosting for your site, email set up, etc.  are tasks that establish the physical structure on which your site will reside.

Any type of web contractor, whether it is a one-man show like a webmaster or a full-service development firm, can handle this for your business. Though contractors may be overseeing infrastructure items on your behalf, make sure you have copies of all records and receipts of hosting agreements and domain purchases. Contractors only need the technical access info, but you need the account and billing information, in case you ever need to change contractors in the future. Plus, you're the boss! That info is mission critical business info and should live with you.

Element #2: Design

The next element of a website is design. Design is the look and feel of your web pages: Is navigation across the top or to the left? Where are the optimal locations for photos, graphics, and text? How is the copy laid out? What is the color scheme?

Design can be one of the most frustrating challenges when building a website. There is such a large number of designers out there with considerable price differences, and it is difficult to determine where there is a value for the money.

Companies or individuals marketing design services today can range from graphic designers versed in print who are trying to add web to their skills to technical people who write code in HTML but have limited artistic training. Neither of these offer the best bang for the buck.

A web designer who has strong artistic ability yet is also well-versed in common web "best practices" like optimal web page file size, usability concerns, conversion optimization and information architecture is the best option. Though you may not need an award-winning creative designer, you do need a professional, credible site. Try to shop around and find someone with these skills in your price range.

For design, the final price is less important than knowing exactly what you are getting for the price. Decide how much you are willing to pay and look for someone with the skills mentioned. You can definitely find inexpensive designers out there, but beware. You may pay less for the design, but you will lose money in the end if visitors consider your site unprofessional or untrustworthy.

Element #3: Functionality

The third element of your website is functionality. Some common examples of website functionality include online forms, site registration, email newsletter sign-ups, and shopping carts. It is sometimes common for business owners to consider design and functionality to be the same thing, but they are actually two entirely different disciplines. Functionality is executed using programming languages or scripts, whereas a design is done with tools that create, edit, and lay out photos, graphics, and text.

Knowing the difference allows you to effectively determine what skill sets are necessary for your site and find that talent, whether hiring in-house or contracting to outside consultants.

Think about the website experience you seek for your visitors. Does it involve a lot of functionality? Is it a central aspect of the website, like a shopping cart? A web designer may be able to provide some simple functionality like a request form or a simple shopping cart, but for anything more substantial you will want to hire people with web programming experience.

Element #4: Content

The fourth element is website content. Content is the most basic element around which all others revolve. This is the meat of your site - what your visitors are coming for. Infrastructure, design and functionality provide the medium for content to be provided to site visitors. Content includes text, photo, graphics, multimedia, or video. Unfortunately, content is often the most neglected element of many websites, despite its importance. Many websites suffer from outdated content. For small business owners and marketing departments, writing and updating web content seems to drop to the bottom of the priority list. Other businesses have their site maintained by their webmaster or design shop, and though the site owner is diligent about changes, the 
contractor doesn't update in a timely manner.

Current, fresh content is what keeps visitors coming to your website. Some sites may not need new content weekly or monthly, but all businesses have new happenings that need to be posted on a website, such as press releases, new products or price changes. Review your site quarterly if it is a relatively non-changing site and daily if it is highly active.

Element # 5: Marketing

Last but not least, the fifth element is web site marketing.

Infrastructure, design, functionality and content make up the actual site structure, but marketing is vital because it gets the word out so that visitors actually come to the site and find what they need there. All efforts in the other four areas are basically irrelevant if no one visits your site.

Some common forms of internet marketing include search engine optimization, permission email marketing, search and social media advertising, and re-marketing. Tactics for building productive in-house email lists or designing landing pages for potential visitors who click on advertisements can make a huge difference in marketing effectiveness.

Many firms are starting up that specifically provide internet marketing. It often requires a unique blend of marketing, design, and technical skills which design shops or advertising agencies are not always able to cover. For example, ranking well in search engines requires skills in marketing, copywriting, design, and programming to be successful. A design shop may have the technical and design skills but not the marketing and content writing abilities. An ad agency's skill set may be the opposite. Often neither have all the skills. 

Finding a digital agency that has talent in all these areas can help you produce an online program that delivers concrete results.

Now that you've broken down your site into the five website elements, think about your online business needs, and identify what tasks are necessary to produce the best web site possible.

For example, you can:

  • Develop an effective Request For Proposal (RFP) for web contracting.
  • More effectively and proactively manage your consultants.
  • Provide better information to web consultants so they can produce a better product.
  • Save money if you identify tasks that are currently being handled by an outside contractor but can be done internally, or vice-versa.

Knowing the five website elements enables you to make good business decisions without a lot of technical knowledge. 

The Best Recipe for a Successful Website Design

Kristen Lindsey - Wednesday, October 14, 2015

As a business owner, successfully designing or revamping your website can be a daunting task.

Why is it so tough?

Outsourcing it can be overwhelming, with options ranging from moonlighting college students to huge national agencies; prices range from one to tens of thousands of dollars. And, if you have the skills, doing it yourself may not be the best use of your time. It’s enough to give you indigestion.

Good news! We have the perfect recipe for a successful website design project that will leave you satisfied and content (and get results!)

Ingredient #1: Strong Client Vision

I know, I know. You were expecting me to share everything a web agency should do for you, but guess what; you have complete control over one of the most important ingredients -- your vision for the site!

Taking time before starting a project to map out a) your organizational goals, and b) how your web presence will support those goals is THE foundation

Other important things to think through:

  • Who are your primary audiences?
  • What calls-to-action should be on the site?
  • What is your desired look and feel?
  • What content needs do you have?
  • Where will you obtain photos?
  • What other websites you like or dislike and why?

By answering these questions you can gain a clear vision of how your site will differentiate you from your competitors. it will also be easy to communicate this vision quickly to potential web partners. (We actually have a nifty project questionnaire with all these questions we give to prospective clients - you can view it here)

Ingredient #2: Strong Agency Strategic Input

You are responsible for the vision ingredient. But a good web agency should be able to interpret that vision and provide strategic input, apply current technology and use clear processes to offer “right-sized” technology recommendations. If you meet with an agency that pushes latest technology trends or makes recommendations that don’t seem in alignment with your business goals or target audiences, steer clear. Find a company that offers web solutions in a way you can understand and feel confident about, that reflect your company brand and will focus on the needs of your potential customers.

Ingredient #3: Communication

Our web project recipe calls for a double portion of the “communication” ingredient. Even more than technical skills, good communication at every step of your project is critical to its success. If a web agency provides a scope of work that doesn’t clearly define the project goals and deliverables, they have failed to deliver this ingredient. Technical knowledge is not required to read a proposal and determine if it will deliver the site you need at a price reflective of its value.

Getting internal stakeholder buy-in is another example of the importance of good communication. If you are a one person company and can make all the decisions, great! But most of us need input from co-workers to make sure the new website will work for all departments. Getting internal participation and feedback, then clearly communicating that to your web agency will help the process go smoothly.

Some other examples of how both an agency and a client can contribute the communication ingredient:

An agency should:

  • provide a clear, simple to understand proposal without jargon
  • speak and write in layman’s terms
  • provide tools that help the client communicate their needs
  • provide a simple, clear process for the project -- make it easy!

A client should:

  • provide the agency with clear vision and direction
  • If you don’t understand something -- ask!
  • Use tools made available to you by the agency -- they’ve done this a lot

Ingredient #4: Client Leadership

Sorry, we’re back to you again. You thought you could outsource all of this, didn’t you? Well, at each stage your leadership is necessary to keep the website project on track. How can you lead? Some examples:

  • Make sure you understand the scope of the project right from the start
  • Give feedback on the agency’s approach -- is it supporting your vision?
  • Use the skills of your design partner -- they are technical professionals; it’s what you’re paying them for.
  • Expect timeliness, clear communication and solid solutions from your agency. If you don’t get these, speak up right away.

Ingredient #5: Design Agency Skills

Yup, finally. Something the agency needs to contribute. Maybe you initially thought this was the only ingredient. But these technical skills, while extremely important, are pretty useless without all the other ingredients.

Your agency has very specific technical skills such as strategic thinking, graphic design, programming and coding, search engine optimization, user experience design, effective project management and more. These skills combined with all the other critical ingredients above are truly the best recipe for a successful website.


I hope this will help you feel a little more empowered and in control when starting a new company website. Pairing your vision and leadership with the right, results-driven agency will result in a powerful program that will grow your business.


Finding the Right SEO Company for Your Business

Kristen Lindsey - Friday, September 25, 2015

So you are thinking that your site could and should get more traffic from search engines. Where do you start? Many businesses hire a dedicated SEO company to help them do so, but a quick search for agencies can make you feel immediately overwhelmed.

Why? Well, frankly the SEO industry has a reputation problem. You have probably received dozens of those SPAM emails saying your site is behind on rankings or that they did a test of your site and it was performing poorly. We also hear horror stories of businesses who spent thousands of dollars a month with some SEO company with no results to show for it.

There are typically two types of SEO firms - those that work within search engine terms of service (white hat agencies) and those that don’t (black hat agencies). There are also gray hat SEO firms as well; those who might be inexperienced or aggressively using SEO tactics to attempt to bring the desired results. When you work with an aggressive gray hat or black hat firm, it doesn’t mean that you won’t have results, but you do run the risk of your domain being penalized from the search engines for lack of compliance. Who can afford that to happen? And it isn;t as rare as it sounds. We’ve seen two or three cases right here in our local market where companies had to start their web presence over with a new domain name and new branding efforts - an expensive proposition.

So ruling out black hat operators and finding an SEO company that will provide stable, long-term results helps narrow down your choices. But how to do that?

Learn a Little About SEO

A little education about SEO goes a long way. You don’t have to know how to do it - but if you know enough to be able to understand how it fits in your marketing mix, then you are well on your way to finding an SEO outfit that can help. The Beginner’s Guide to SEO from Moz is a great place to start.

Is SEO Necessary?

Ask yourself - do I really need SEO? On the whole we find that for most businesses it is an excellent tactic, but did you know that for very competitive industries we have counselled clients not to bother? It is really all about your industry, your competition, and where we think you can achieve the largest ROI. If you hear a potential consultant or telling you that if you don’t do SEO you are ruined, then be wary. A more educated answer by potential practitioners about the “why” will give you a lot of information about their approach. There should also be discussion about the degree of SEO effort is a good fit for your business and your competitive niche on the Internet.

Ask Around!

Get references and case studies, or call some clients on the SEO company’s website and speak with them. Ask what is really good about the agency and also ask where they can improve. Find out what size companies they generally work with - you don’t want to be the biggest or the smallest. Talking to current clients give you a lot of information about whether or not the agency is a good fit for you, even if the company you speak to is a completely different sort of business.

Are They Black Hat or White Hat?

Ask about their philosophy and approach. You want to know if they will work within search engine terms of service. Also be wary of anyone who will guarantee rankings. This is simply impossible for any SEO agency to do.

Expect Transparency and Good Reporting

Get very concrete information about how the company will demonstrate results and make sure you are comfortable with their approach. Automated reports monthly with data overload will not tell you much. Custom dashboards, personalized status reports or regular meetings do.

Some specific things you will want to hear from a solid SEO agency:

  • They will ask about your business goals, marketing goals and target audiences
  • They will ask why you want to optimize your site
  • They will talk about building a keyword universe based on #1 & #2.
  • Efforts to integrate SEO efforts with other digital marketing channels such as pay per click advertising and social media will be made
  • They will talk about site infrastructure, on-page content, and the importance of a good user experience for your customers
  • There is a genuine brand behind the SEO agency’s online presence

Examples of things that should raise concern:

  • Guarantees of #1 rankings
  • Is their site or brand name no more than a city or state name + SEO? Is their site a cookie-cutter template that is copied across multiple areas of the country?
  • Is there a lack of transparency about who they are?
  • Tactics that involve “doorway” or “landing” pages
  • Link building strategies that focus on quantity over quality, link buying, or link exchanging
  • Do they generate pages or sites that are written for search engines and not people?

Finally, simply have a conversation with your potential agency and see if they are a good fit with your values and mission. Since SEO is an ongoing process, a good agency should be a partner you want to work with for the long term, so it is important that both your value systems are in alignment.

Well, good luck! We hope this article makes you feel a little more empowered to seek and find the right SEO practitioner to help you grow your business.


The Case for Responsive Design

Scott Thomas - Thursday, June 11, 2015

For some Alaskan businesses, the hype and news surrounding the Google Mobile Algorithm update and the fear of a pending Mobilegeddon may have caught them by surprise. While some organizations have already made the change to responsive web design, we know of many other sites functioning pretty well without any mobile friendly pages. In response to some recent conversations we've had with clients, here is a basic guide outlining why your business should consider making the change to a responsively designed website.

What is Responsive Design?

 From the all-knowing Wikipedia:

Responsive web design (RWD) is an approach to web design aimed at crafting sites to provide an optimal viewing and interaction experience—easy reading and navigation with a minimum of resizing, panning, and scrolling—across a wide range of devices (from desktop computer monitors to mobile phones).

1) Think About the User First.

Providing the answer to a question, or the product or service a person is looking for should be your organization's first priority. Many people in the U.S. are connected to the internet constantly, and moving between devices. If your site is not mobile friendly, and your competitors' sites are responsive, you are likely missing out on leads and customers. Can someone find your business on a mobile device and complete the conversion action(s) you are aiming for? Can your business afford to ignore 10% of your website visitors? 20%? 30%?

2) Searches on Mobile Devices have Exceeded Desktop Search.

Earlier this year, Google acknowledged that the volume of search queries on mobile devices exceed those on desktops in 10 countries, including the U.S.  You have probably noticed significant growth in mobile traffic -and while for some sites -that percentage may be 20% or less of your total website sessions (visits), not many business can choose to ignore or give mobile users a poor experience. A recent study by Nielsen noted that US adults spend more time on the Internet via Smart Phones.

3) Responsive Design is Preferred by Google (and better for SEO).

Since 2012, Google has recommended that websites use responsive design. While it's still a viable option for websites that use separate desktop and mobile sites, choosing such a set-up requires extra web development and content maintenance, as well careful SEO settings to highlight the two separate sites properly.

4) Flexible Formats that Adapt to the Device.

Responsively designed websites are fluid, and adapt the size of the screen. The templates used in responsive design are based upon screen size, not device. If a new technology is developed (or a new screen size) and the existing responsive templates don't work with the new device, one could update the templates for the new device(s).

5) Social Media: It's a Mobile First World.

The majority of social media consumption and sharing occurs on a mobile device. If one is attempting to share website content that isn't mobile-friendly, that will decrease the likelihood of your content being shared. Active social media campaigns can help bring in more mobile traffic, and get your website liked or shared on social media channels.

A Case Study: Denali Zipline Tours

Denali Zipline Tours This spring, we helped Denali Zipline Tours launch a responsive website. Previously, Denali Zipline Tours' site was a non-responsive site without any mobile friendly pages. Their site takes online reservations for their Zipline tours, so we can compare user engagement metrics and online ecommerce revenue for the first 90 days with a responsive design.

Comparing year over year data for this 90 day period, the Denali Zipline Tours website saw the following improvements from their mobile users:

  • 20% Reduction in Bounce Rate
  • Average Pages per Session Doubled
  • 28% Increase in Online Reservations
  • 114% Increase in Revenue

Google's Mobile Update: No Time to Panic

Scott Thomas - Friday, April 17, 2015

Starting on April 21st, Google will increase the use of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal on mobile devices. This change may take days or weeks to roll out, it will affect mobile searches in all languages, world-wide. At this time, it's unclear if the impact will boost mobile-friendly pages or work as a demotion for non-mobile friendly pages, but the intent is to promote mobile-friendly pages up higher in the search results. While there are still some unknowns as to the impacts, we do know that website that are not mobile friendly will not be removed from the search results. 

It appears that the upcoming algorithmic change will not impact desktop search rankings. We also know that the mobile friendliness update will work on the page level, and run in real time. This means that after you update your site with mobile-friendly pages, Google will quickly see that and respond to the change (no long-lasting suppression or site-wide penalties).

Remember, Google's goal is to provide the most relevant search results to it's users. What can your business or organization do to adapt?

Assess your Website Visitors' Experience: What percentage of your website visitors are using a mobile device? For example, if only 20% of your visitors are on a mobile device, and those visitors have similar engagement as your desktop users, then perhaps it's not necessary to quickly develop a new responsive or mobile site. On the other hand, if you are a local, brick-and-mortar business, and you get 30% or more of your current web visitors via mobile devices, then it's likely vital to update your site to include mobile-friendly pages as soon as possible. 

  • For your website, what percentage of pages are visited by Google organic search visitors, from a mobile device?
  • Are these mobile users looking for specific information, such as map or location information?
  • Would it be possible to create a small sub-set of mobile pages, to give these users what they need?

Check and Improve your Mobile Friendliness: Even if you already have a responsively design site, or a combination of a mobile and desktop sites, it's important to do a mobile SEO audit and see if Google is actually serving your mobile pages. Test your site with Google's Mobile-Friendly Testing tool, and see what usability issues, if any, must be addressed. From Google Webmaster Tools, use the Google smartphone crawler to see if there are problems with crawling your site. 

Competition Level in your Niche: Finally, how well does your site stack up to your top competitors? Is your website the only one that isn't mobile friendly? If you are in a very competitive field, then use mobile rankings tools to discover the keywords that your competitors are out-ranking you for on mobile devices. 

Don't Panic, but Create a Plan: While some Internet marketers, designers, and domain registrar companies might be exaggerating the impacts of the upcoming change, it's important to make your site mobile-friendly in the near future. Google representatives have publicly stated that they expect the volume of searches from mobile devices to exceed the volume of desktop-based search during the 2015 calendar year.

If your users are primarily desktop-based, then perhaps you can wait until the next planned website redesign to incorporate mobile-friendly pages. Examine your situation closely by using your analytics data, Google Webmaster Tools, and the mobile friendly testing tool to determine the potential impact of the upcoming mobile friendly algorithm change. Once April 21st rolls around, keep a close eye on the volume of Google organic traffic (especially from mobile devices) and compare it to past performance.

Think about the mobile user first, their experience your website, and when you'll have the budget to update your site for mobile-friendliness. Perhaps you have overlooked those users, and you should update your website for mobile friendliness as soon as possible; but if the impact is low, then you might be able to wait.



My MozCon 2014 Highlights

Scott Thomas - Thursday, July 24, 2014

In what is becoming an annual tradition, I attended the annual MozCon conference on behalf of the Apokrisis team. The tag line for the conference was spot-on:

“Not your typical marketing conference.”

Once again, MozCon lived up to, and exceeded my expectations. After what felt like a bit of a slow start on Day 1, the presentations and speakers consistently presented exceedingly useful material. The topics continued to broaden out from SEO and inbound marketing; touching on public relations, social media, analytics, and PPC.  Given that many small agencies work on inbound marketing and PPC, I was very happy to see that topic given some attention this year. 

For this blog post, I'm summarizing 4 presentations that I thought were most relevant to Apokrisis and our clients. It was very challenging to narrow down my list to these 4, but each of these presentations touched on topics that I believe are on the horizon or were items that we have experienced first hand with our clients.

Rand Fishkin presented 5 Big Trends from the Last Year in Web Marketing

1. We May Be on the Verge of Regulation

Several trends in Europe and the United States indicate that regulation is on the horizon: the cookie law, the right to be forgotten law and legislation that was being developed in the U.S Senate this May. Google may have staved off regulatory action by their aggressive lobbying efforts (2nd largest in the U.S.).

2. “Inbound Marketing” terminology is losing ground to “Content Marketing”

Job postings using “inbound marketing” are down 46% and job posts using “content marketing” are up 90%

Inbound Marketing: Marketing based on earning attention rather than interrupting.

Content Marketing: Producing and promoting content to earn customers.

3. Google’s Penalties have taken a toll on spam, but hurt many businesses too.

Since 2012, website owners, marketers and publishers are now required to stay vigilant for spam that points to our sites, even if we didn’t create it. The pace of change and the onus on sites to watch their own backs creates job security for SEOs.

4. We are nearing the end of “SEO” as a job title.

1997 - 2010: “I’m an SEO”
2011 – Present: “SEO is part of my job”

5. Google is shortening the searcher’s journey. This may appear to hurt publishers, but the reality may be more complicated.

Instead of Google directing people to your website, the results page may pull and display content from your site, and answer the searcher’s query directly (and likely prevent them from leaving Google). Google is providing the quickest answer possible to feed an “addiction to search.” Increasing the number of searches conducted by users, this may be a way that Google is attempting to increase search activity. How do we combat this? 1) Diversify your traffic channels and 2) Become more important to Google’s searchers than Google is to your traffic.

Mobile SEO Geekout: Key Strategies and Concepts
Speaker: Cindy Krum

Google cares a lot about mobile. Mobile traffic is growing, and it’s expected that mobile traffic will surpass desktop very soon. Cindy reviewed how mobile SEO is different: algorithmic factors, strategic focus, and technical considerations. Technical issues with mobile SEO include: crawler confusion, inefficient crawls, domain errors, and problematic indexing.

Mobile usage has grown faster than Google expected. It’s expected to surpass desktop usage very soon (later in 2014 or in 2015). With desktop traffic (and searches) flattening out or declining, you will miss out if you ignore mobile.

Mobile search rankings are very different than the desktop experience. There is much less room above the fold, so it’s imperative to rank high (top 2 positions), otherwise, you won’t be seen. It’s important to note that branded searches are much more common on mobile, and a branded search often triggers a drop down option with additional links to your site. Have you checked those links in the search results? Audit these branded searches on mobile and test your landing pages. 

There are also many more universal-style results on mobile (images, video, news, etc.). These often look great and encourage users to touch them. Does your site make use of images, video, and/or news for greater visibility on mobile devices? 

Technical considerations are critical for mobile. Audit your mobile site and focus on errors and speed. While Google has publicly supported responsive design, it is often a slower performer on a mobile device, which can be problematic. To improve your mobile performance, make use of Google Pagespeed and the Chrome plugin to find recommended efficiencies. Remove unnecessary code for mobile, minify all (images especially), and consolidate round trip requests. 

Considering the user experience, keep in mind that social and mobile are “twins.” So maximize social sharing opportunities on mobile. Also consider designing your sites for mobile first, and then consider the design for tablets and desktops.

Bad Data, Bad Decisions: The Art of Asking Better Questions.
Stephanie Beadell

Bad data from surveys can waste resources that can compound problems. It’s important to write better survey questions and be more critical of surveys you see published online. When creating your questions, ask them on a 5-point or 7-point scale. This approach gives a better idea of sentiment. If you rely upon yes/no answers, you miss out on much of the story. 

Secondly, break down big concepts into tangible pieces. When asking for feedback on a product or service feature, break them out against a 5 point scale.

Compare your answers across questions, and use segmentation. This is where you may start to see the correlations you are looking for. Beware of bias and try to avoid priming your audience. Be careful of the tone of your survey, the order of your questions (make them random), and be mindful of stereotypes, and how they can change answers.

For those sensitive questions, save them for the end of survey, after you have built trust. Use ranges for demographic information. To help avoid boredom, set expectations up front, and show their progress in completing the survey.

You are so Much More than an SEO
Wil Reynolds

As someone who is proud of being an SEO and Inbound Marketer, Wil’s presentation was a breath of fresh air. I’ve felt the frustration of client’s wanting to see optimized pages, efforts to improve local search, etc. and not focusing on their customers’ experiences. Will reminded all of us what’s most important – the customer’s experience. If SEO gets searchers to a dead end on the first step of their journey, there is nothing to celebrate. It’s time to think about the Search Users Experience (#SUX). Do we care about the person after they click your result in search? 

Instead focusing on SEO tactics, focus on delivering a holistic, end-to-end strategy. Don’t get pigeon-holed and stop being the custodian (expected to clean up everyone’s mess/mistakes). Instead of allowing the focus being on outputs (creating content, optimizing pages, getting links, etc.) shift the focus on business outcomes. As a marketer, shift your focus on making the clients’ customers happy. 

Focusing on the searchers’ user experience requires social media. Relationships are fragile and multi-touch – are you willing to fix that experience? Show that you genuinely care about the customer and really help them out (even if it doesn’t directly mean a sale). Social done wrong is why clicks don’t turn into customers, but social done right makes every channel more profitable. 

I won't attempt to summarize all of Wil's excellent presentation here. The key takeaway for SEOs is to shift the focus on the searchers' user experience. Are you focused on real business outcomes or celebrating first steps? 


A week after the conference, I'm still reviewing and trying to digest my notes and the speakers' slide decks. All of the speakers provided valuable information. Some of the presentations were absolutely mind-blowing. The opportunity to visit with my peers was invaluable (and fun) as well. I'm looking forward to sharing what I've learned with the Apokrisis team and our clients as well.  

If I had to summarize my whole MozCon experience into a brief list of takeaways, this is what I came away with:
  1. Be more than an SEO, think critically about your Internet marketing and the customers’ journey.
  2. Use data and analytics to tell a story.
  3. Use testing (A/B tests) and surveys to test and measure your efforts (and make sure you are using good data). Learn from the past efforts and improve upon them!

Adapting to Keyword Data Not Provided

Scott Thomas - Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Google has begun a major shift to encrypting all non-paid (organic) search activity, while continuing to provide keyword data for ad clicks. Within Google Analytics (or other Analytics platforms), this query data was lumped into the (not provided) segment. Anyone involved with online marketing or tracking their website performance with Analytics is likely well aware that this segment of "not provided" keyword data has been growing. Google has confirmed that it has begun shifting all searches to encrypted search, and many marketers have noticed a huge spike of (not provided) this month (Sept. 2013). 

A Brief History of Not Provided

Since October of 2011, Google began encrypting search queries for people who were logged into their Google Account. Initially, Google stated that the percentage of keyword data lost to marketers would be in the single digits. Over time, more searches were encrypted, including search boxes & from the Address/URL bar of the Chrome, Apple's Safari browser in iOS6 and Firefox browsers. Marketers began to track the percentage of not provided and finding ways to adapt to the situation.

The Shift from Tracking Keywords to Landing Page Performance

Given the increasing percentage of not provided keyword data since 2011, the quality of the remaining keyword data from Google organic search has been questionable at best over the last year or so. Instead of evaluating your site's Google organic traffic via the associated keyword data, it's time to shift your tracking to a landing page metric. Based upon the landing pages of your site's visits from Google organic traffic, one can infer the type of keyword phrases that were likely used to find each landing page. 

Other Options for Adapting to Not Provided

Fortunately, Bing still passes on the keyword data for organic search visits. Bing also provides a very high quality set of Webmaster Tools, complete with keyword research tools and SEO recommendations. Unfortunately, due to their small market share, gleaning data for small niche markets can be difficult. 

Since keyword data is still passed onto advertisers, one can use Google AdWords to acquire paid keyword data through CPC advertising. One can measure impression and click through data for a variety of branded and non-branded keywords, and track a site's progress over time.

Google Webmaster Tools provides data on the search queries, impressions, average position, and click data for your website. Currently, Google provides 90 days worth of data, but plans to provide up to one year of historical data in the near future. 

Time to Think Beyond the Keywords

In many ways, Google is pushing online marketers and website owners to think beyond the keyword and trying to rank well. If you are not already, it's time to focus on what really matters: the entire experience of your users. Can they find what they are looking for on your website? Are you providing unique, remarkable content to hold their attention? Will they keep your business in mind when they consider all their options? 

While I don't buy Google's arguments of protecting users' privacy by withholding organic keyword data while providing keyword data for paid ads, that's the world we live in now. 

MozCon 2013: Reflections and Takeaways

Scott Thomas - Friday, July 12, 2013

For the second year in a row, Apokrisis has sent me to MozCon, an annual conference focusing on SEO and Inbound Marketing in Seattle. Over the three days of sessions and networking opportunities, I was exposed to a huge volume of excellent information. I will not attempt to completely summarize every day, but pick out some my personal highlights. Overall, I felt that over 80% of the presentations ranged from Great to Awesome (paraphrasing the categories from post-conference survey here).

Day 1

The day started with Rand Fishkin providing an excellent review of current situation and the top five trends to watch for in SEO and marketing in the coming year. Richard Baxter demonstrated a method to target top influencers in a field, and Avinash Kaushik wowed the crowd with an entertaining and energetic presentation on how to Simplify Complexity for Higher ROI. Afterwards, I was lucky enough to thank him for the presentation and for my experience with his Market Motive Analytics course last year (yes the class is absolutely awesome and you should take the class if you work with web analytics). Among my personal highlights and takeaways from the afternoon sessions included actionable tactics for link building, the imperative to make everything mobile friendly, and a summary of the Moz SEO Ranking Factors 2013 survey and correlation study.

Day 2

Day 2 started off with an excellent presentation by Phil Nottingham on Video Marketing Strategies – Phil provided everything one needs to get started on utilizing video in online marketing strategies. Joanna Lord’s presentation on Customer/Brand Loyalty followed up on the importance of building your brand, which I felt was one of the overall themes & takeaways from the conference. Other excellent presentations covered eCommerce SEO, relationship building, optimization and testing, dealing with the loss of keyword KPIs, local search, and the future of user experience. 

Day 3

Rand Fishkin: MozCon 2013

For day three, there were many excellent presentations, but I will focus only on three that felt the most critical to me. Dr. Pete Meyers presentation on the future of rankings was a startling wake up call that if all you know is where you rank, you don’t really know anything. Eyeballs and attention are being kept on Google whenever possible (many answers often provide directly or in the Knowledge Graph). Of the 10,000 SERPs that they track for the

MozCast, only 15% have no rich information. Said another way, only 15% in this sample are in the generic “10 Blue Links” format.

Wil Reynolds knocked it out of the park (again!) in his presentation “The Internet Hates Us. Can RCS Change That?” If you are unfamiliar with the RCS term, check out the Real company stuff… It’s a struggle slidedeck from Wil’s presentation at the 2012 Mozcon. My key takeaways from the presentation were: respecting other disciplines, get out of the SEO echo chamber, create things that add value for the long term (build the brand); and most importantly – learn to do these things before other agencies learn how to do SEO and Inbound Marketing better.

Rand Fishkin brought it all together for me with “The Secret Ingredients of Better Marketing.” The key takeaway for me was the value of being transparent, honest, authentic, open & generous. To paraphrase a key point: if all you do is mimic your competitors, then you’ve already lost. 

The other speakers on day 3 were excellent as well, but for the sake of brevity, I’ll end my day 3 summary there. 

My Personal Takeaways for SEO and Inbound Marketing

Scott Thomas with Roger

The shift is on at Google and Bing to entity based search, and those of us in the search marketing industry must pivot accordingly. Building brands and authenticity will be critical to establish visibility across a variety of channels. I was inspired by the strategic emphasis at the conference and I hope to put what I’ve learned to use in the coming year. Thanks again to Moz for putting MozCon together and the shining examples of leadership displayed by the speakers. I cannot wrap this up without mentioning that a huge benefit of the conference is the opportunity to meet so many great people in the industry, from all over the world, no less! 

Spending time in Seattle is another highlight as well - great food, coffee, sightseeing, and culture. A heart-felt thank you to Moz for another great conference. I plan on going back in 2014! 

Other MozCon 2013 Resources

Google AdWords Enhanced Campaigns Update

Scott Thomas - Thursday, February 14, 2013

Google AdWords has begun a major update/upgrade known as Enhanced Campaigns. These new campaigns are being promoted to simplify and reduce the number of campaigns within an AdWords account. The changes within the new Enhanced Campaigns are in response to new reality that many people are connected to the Internet, wherever they go, via multiple devices (smart phone, tablet, or laptop/desktop). Along with this change, one can argue that the line between "online" and "offline" activity is blurring.

Marketing in a Constantly Connected World

Billions of searches are being conducted on all devices, these searches indicate when people are searching for location, general information, or a way to find the solution to a need or problem. Google indicates that mobile searches often provide advertisers the opportunity to better understand the context and intent of the user. In addition, multi-screen users often begin a search on mobile or tablet, and then follow up later on a PC.

Given the wide variety of devices and campaign strategies to target various devices and locations as separate campaigns, a business running large and extensive PPC advertising program could end up creating dozens of campaigns target devices and people differently in the current AdWords system.

The Benefits of Enhanced Campaigns

Powerful Bidding: improvements that allow one to manage bids seamlessly across locations, times and device types. For example, a business could bid higher for searches that are conducted on a smartphone, nearby a store, during the times that the store is open.

Smarter Ads: that are optimized for varying user contexts. One can show the right ad, site link, app or extension based on user context and device capabilities. Example: Different sitelinks can be shown to highlight special offers during specific days or times, and according to device type. So perhaps a restaurant will show special offers for specific days to coincide with slow and/or busy times. 

Advanced Reporting Metrics: advertisers will immediately have access to detailed call reporting with free Google forwarding numbers and conversion metrics. New conversion types will include phone calls and digital downloads.

What will Change for PPC Advertisers?

Fewer Device Targeting Options: Desktops, laptops and tablets are being grouped together as one group and mobile devices will grouped together as another group/device segment. All devices within these different segments must be targeted, there will be no more targeting (or "opting out") by a specific device (i.e. iPad only campaigns) or device type (no way to opt-out of all tablets, for example). 

  • Mobile devices will be targeted by default in the new Enhanced Campaigns. PPC managers can raise or lower bids based on the mobile device type. Apparently, one can also eliminate mobile device advertising by dropping the bid amount to -100%, but one cannot create a "Mobile Only" campaign. Tablets and PCs could be heavily de-emphasized by negative bids.
  • Targeting by separate operating systems will no longer be available. 

Sitelinks at the AdGroup Level: The additional sitelinks that can be placed at the bottom of text ads will be set at the AdGroup level, with improved tracking and reporting features. Also, the sitelinks can be changed according to time of day or device type. 

More Bidding Options/Settings: Default bids will be set at the desktop/laptop/tablet level. PPC managers will be able to increase or lower bids based on device, location and time. The multitude of bidding options will be extensive for large campaigns.

Calls & Digital Downloads to be Counted as Conversions: Advertisers will be able to count generated calls from a campaign, over a certain duration, as a conversion. Digital downloads will also be available for goal/conversion tracking.

Increasing Mobile Adoption: The rollout of Enhanced Campaigns will push more advertisers to including mobile devices in their PPC campaigns (many may not realize that mobile can be heavily de-emphasized with lower bids or eliminated with "-100%" bids). More websites will likely be forced to adopt responsive or mobile sites to target more devices and people more effectively.

Timeline for Rollout: Advertisers are beginning to receive notifications that Enhanced Campaigns are available now, and all campaigns will be upgraded in June of this year. 

What do PPC Managers and SEM Experts Think?

The reaction has been mixed, with many pros and cons debated within the community. While the new campaigns may be easier to manage in the long-term, or simply reduce the number of campaigns, many people in the Search Engine Marketing community agree that the conversion will require a great deal of time and work. The lack of control over device targeting frustrates some managers and large advertisers, but many also feel that it will make campaign management easier for small and medium sized businesses.

 is the Search Marketing Manager at Apokrisis.

Content-Centric SEO Strategy

Scott Thomas - Thursday, January 24, 2013
Today, I would like to review our approach to SEO for our clients here at Apokrisis. 

What is a Content-Centric SEO Strategy?

Online Marketing: Content, SEO & Social Media

A content-centric SEO strategy involves making a business or organization's website the central core for inbound marketing and engaging with visitors. The website should be the primary location for creating new and engaging content through blogging, news pieces, articles, photos, videos, and so on. From this central core, the content can be shared via social media.

Invest in Your Brand: Don't Chase the Algorithms

Search engines are becoming very sophisticated and are rewarding websites that are working to build up their brand. Attempting to chase the latest tricks or means to game the system are not worth the risks and are counter-productive. As mentioned by Google reps in Congressional hearings, Google made 516 updates in 2010, and over 13,000 updates were tested. Given Google's constant testing and updating cycle, trying to chase the latest algorithmic change is fruitless and risky. A social media or link building scheme that a competitor is using may be working today, but it's likely that eventually, the effectiveness of such schemes will fail.

Share and Engage via Social Media, but your Website is the Foundation

We believe the foundation to you online success is building and owning your content. Engaging your fans, site visitors, and customers through social media is important, but don't expend all your time and energy where your content is not truly yours. Are you sending people to your website or blog or only referring to your presence on Facebook or another social media site? Engagement via social media can be extremely useful, but don't forget to encourage people to visit your website, and consider what you have to offer. Trying to use social media as an acquisition source of new customers is impractical for many small businesses. We encourage our clients to work on their foundation first - their website - and then as resources allow, engage with the social media channels that make sense for them.

Slow and Steady Wins the Race

Our experience with SEO and inbound marketing indicates that a long-term investment in developing your brand and quality content is the most sustainable approach. Plan for a five year return on you investment in your online marketing efforts; build your brand and don't be blinded by today's rankings or the latest get-to-the-top-quick schemes that may come along.

is the Search Marketing Manager at Apokrisis.