Posts by Jon Clark:

Self-Education for SEOs: 15 Actionable Tips on Learning Your Client’s Vertical

Self-Education for SEOs: 15 Actionable Tips on Learning Your Client’s Vertical

As SEOs, we encounter clients across a plethora of verticals. Every industry needs to optimize for search engines–from education and real estate to entertainment and e-commerce. This makes a thorough knowledge of search engines a highly sought-after skill, but it also means SEOs need to be highly adaptable and ready for anything.

Whether you work for an agency, as a consultant, or even on an in-house SEO team, your career will expose you to subject matters you may not be familiar with. You don’t need to be an expert on your client’s vertical, but to create an effective SEO strategy and build trust, it helps to develop at least a preliminary knowledge of their industry. Consider these 15 tips your guide to educating yourself on the basics of your client’s vertical.

1.) Begin with your keyword research

After conducting your research, type in some of the most searched phrases–not just to identify gaps and opportunities, but to read up on the topic from some of the top ranking sites.

2.) Don’t rush your site audit

When auditing your client’s site, take your time to absorb their content. Learn what they have to say about the space they’re in, and familiarize yourself with their mission, business model, and history–all of which go into strengthening your own relationship with them.

3.) Competitor research

Researching competitors is standard practice in identifying new opportunities, but competitor sites can also be a source of information for SEOs to learn more about the space.

4.) Request materials from previous SEOs

Has your client worked with an agency or consultant previously? Those documents and research can not only inform your own strategy, but give you insight on the space from another SEOs perspective.

5.) Sign up for Google News alerts

Keeping tabs on relevant news alerts will keep you current on what’s happening in your client’s space.

6.) Follow influencers

Follow prominent influencers and thought leaders in the space across social media channels, and subscribe to their newsletters or RSS feeds.

7.) Follow conversations and trending topics

Following trends and conversations will give you good insight into the vertical from a community perspective.

8.) Familiarize yourself with regulations and restrictions

Does your client work in a heavily regulated industry, such as education, healthcare, or finance? An even cursory knowledge of any laws or mandates that regulate their vertical should give you an idea of the limitations to your own strategy.

9.) Don’t be afraid to ask questions

Asking thoughtful questions about your client’s industry shows you’re thorough. Identify areas where you need clarification, and before presenting recommendations, arrange a meeting with the client to learn directly from them.

10.) Establish a point of contact

When sourcing or writing content, establish a point of contact in your client’s organization to answer questions, review content, and provide additional resources or information.

11.) Leverage your writers

If you are sourcing content externally, choose your writers carefully. Search for writers with a thorough knowledge of the industry, who have either a career or educational background in a related field and can use their experience to inform their writing. Once you’ve found a writer you and your client are confident knows the field, lean on them as the experts to drive robust content.

12.) Learn about the local community

For local SEO particularly, learn about your client’s community. Identify local businesses as potential link partners, relevant discussions on social media your client can join, and local news or events to create content around.

13.) Read reviews about your client

Does your client own a restaurant, a private medical practice, or real estate firm? For clients who have their own clients, it is likely that people review them on other sites. Reading these reviews can help you manage your client’s reputation as well as identify needs they may not be meeting.

14.) Learn through link building

Using tools like Mention to find places where your client is referenced but not linked to is good practice for building links, but taking a little extra time to read the articles is good for your own self-edification. You’ll learn more about the space and how your client fits into it.

15.) Leverage SEO communities

Places like Reddit, Google +, and even Moz, have community spaces where SEOs can post questions and leverage the expertise of others. If you’re taking on a client in a space that’s new to you, chances are other SEOs have worked in that space before. While you should avoid posting questions specific to your client, use some of these spaces to source general information to influence your own overall strategy.

SEO best practices are universal, but must still be tailored to each individual client to meet their specific needs. And unless you narrow your scope to only focus on clients in a specific industry, you must be prepared to learn enough about any given vertical to target relevant keywords in the field, craft a content strategy, and identify link building opportunities. Integrating these tips into your own strategy can help you adapt to almost any kind of client you take on.

Google Releases Penguin 3.0 After More Than a Year

Google Releases Penguin 3.0 After More Than a Year

On Friday, October 17, 2014, Google finally released Penguin 3.0: the sixth iteration of the Penguin algorithm and the first update in over a year. The release comes after much speculation, following a statement by Bruce Clay at Pubcon Las Vegas on October 9. According to Clay, sources had alluded to the fact that a major Google update would be rolled out within the next 10 days, and sure enough, the update everyone’s been waiting for was released eight days later. SEOs and webmasters have been eagerly awaiting the next Penguin update due to the unique nature of the algorithm. With Penguin, if a website is impacted negatively, the effects of any changes you made won’t be apparent until the next iteration. So for those who took a hit last October when Penguin 2.1 rolled out, it is only now when they will see if their efforts have paid off. Google confirmed that the roll out of Penguin 3.0 was completed on the morning of Monday, October 20, 2014.

Penguin: an Overview

Google unveiled Penguin back in 2012 with the purpose of ensuring that search queries yielded relevant results from trustworthy, authority sites. The emphasis was on quality, user-focused content, and it can be said that Penguin 1.0 was the catalyst of the resurgence of content-driven marketing strategies that are dominating the current landscape of SEO. On the flip side, Penguin penalizes sites that utilize black-hat link building tactics, with each iteration refining the algorithm to target more poor practices that yield spammy, low-quality links. Naturally acquired links, such as through social media, are now the preferred practice. Paid links, guest posts, and other link-baiting tactics are now severely discouraged. It is still too early to tell exactly how Penguin 3.0 is affecting searches, though initial impressions are that it specifically targets spammy links. It is also unclear what percentage of searches have been impacted by the now-complete update. Initial data was mixed, according to Search Engine Journal. Some sites have shown either sharp inclines or declines in traffic, whereas others have shown no change whatsoever. Experts believe that Penguin has either eluded search volatility tools, making it difficult to detect the actual percentage of sites affected, or that only a very small number of sites experienced an impact. Either way, we can expect additional data, different points of view, and Google’s official statement to guide reactions to Penguin 3.0 in coming days.

Penguin-Proofing Your Site

In Search Engine Journal’s report on Penguin 3.0, their managing editor, Kelsey Jones, indicated that none of her clients were affected by the update. She attributed to the quality and regularity of their content: Amazing content is the only thing that is Google update-proof. Google will never penalize useful, unique content that the user is actually looking for. Instead of spending your time on trying to beat Google algorithms, you should be focusing on asking yourself what your ideal end user really wants… Google is always changing, and part of our job as SEOs is to stay ahead of the curve. While we can’t anticipate Google’s moves, it is clear that their general evolution is towards a user driven experience, where search results are highly personalized and reliable. We can’t just think ahead to the next algorithm–what that “might” be, and how we can trick it. Our strategies have to be long term, creating a solid plan for our sites that is truly focused on the needs of our particular audience.

4 Link Building Opportunities You May Be Missing

4 Link Building Opportunities You May Be Missing

SEO is always changing, with search engines continuously updating their algorithms to provide more dynamic rankings, and the practice of optimization evolving with those changes. While many ranking metrics fluctuate–such as Google’s recent inclusion of site encryption–some consistently remain important. Of all ranking signals, one is still considered the strongest and most important for sites to optimize for: links.

Links are the core of Google’s search algorithm. A diverse portfolio of high quality backlinks from reputable sites establishes your own site’s trust. It also has positive implications for your PageRank, Domain Authority, Page Authority, and Moz’s own MozRank link metric. Different links carry different weight, which makes the authority of the sites linking to you equally important. This is why link building remains key to a successful online marketing strategy.

There are many ways to build links back to your site, and SEOs should always be on the lookout for new link building tactics. But be careful; Google frequently refines the algorithm to penalize blackhat activities. Certain methods, such as guest blogging, are overused, considered spammy, and generate low quality links. Fortunately, you can think outside the box without resorting to black hat tactics. Here are some link building opportunities you may be missing out on.

1.)   Claim links you should be getting

You may be surprised how often your site, product, or service is being mentioned without any link to the actual website. Reaching out to sites that should be linking to you is both effective and Google-friendly. If the website is already talking about you, it’s likely they are a relevant link partner, and they have a better chance of accepting a link. Some ways to claim missing links include:

  • Link reclamation: Use tools like Mention to find instances of your client being mentioned and reach out to the website requesting a link. You can also contact sites that already link to your client and request a more optimized link (more targeted anchor text, a link to a different page).
  • Reverse Image Search: You can use services such as TinEye to find images of your client’s that are used, but not linked to, on other sites, and request a link.

2.)   Buy Links–the Right Way!

Paying for links has become synonymous with black hat SEO. But there are ways to monetarily ensure links that are so strategic, that they bear no resemblance to traditional, low quality link buying. Depending on your client’s scope or budget, some high-concept ideas include:

  • Event Sponsorship: Offer to co-sponsor an event, in-person or online. You can choose the event based on location or topical relevance. Find out what their sponsorship needs are, and request a link in exchange for your contributions.
  • Charitable Donations: Donating to a non-profit is not only a noble thing to do–it can also earn you a link on the organization’s donor’s page.

If your client does not have the budget for something as large event sponsorship, there are other lower scale options. Paid content placement involves using a vendor to place content on a relevant publisher’s website, with a link back to your client’s. You can also form a content partnership with another relevant site that involves syndication of content or mutual content creation.

3.)   Update old content

Content is still an important part of Google’s algorithm, and a solid content strategy is just as important as your link building efforts. In fact, link building and content marketing go hand-in-hand, as you can use your link building strategies to promote and strengthen your content.

Evergreen content is always of interest to readers, but depending on your client’s vertical, information on their site can become outdated and should be updated periodically. Updating this content allows you to pitch your page to other sites as a relevant source of information. Your content is current, timely, and for sites discussing similar topics, presents an opportunity to link to a related source.

You can also search competitor pages to determine content gaps you may be able to fill. What information is missing in your client’s verticals? What needs are not being met? Create this content, and then promote it to establish credibility in the space and build links. Search Engine Land recommends a similar tactic for Infographics, creating revitalized versions of competitors’ outdated graphics.

4.)   Answer questions and become an expert in the space

One interesting way to build links is a longer-term play that may be slower to yield immediate links, but if executed correctly, can help establish your client as an authority. Similar to finding and meeting needs in the space, dig through Question & Answer sites, forums, and the comments sections of popular sites to determine what is being asked the most, and what gaps exist. You can create content to answer these questions, and link to that content in summarized, yet detailed, answers you post in the forum. You will establish trust in the online community, and if you’ve given a quality answer and it performs well, this increases the chances of that content being linked to. Quora is a great example of such an opportunistic site.

Link building is the bread and butter of a successful SEO strategy. Many of your tried and true methods will always be effective, and there is no reason for thinking outside the box to replace those strategies that already work for you. However, to stay ahead of the curve and keep up with Google’s ever-changing algorithm, SEOs should always look for ways to innovate their practice. When executed strategically, and without overusing them, these nifty link building tactics can set you apart from the competition!

10 SEO Plugins for WordPress to Make Your Life Easier

10 SEO Plugins for WordPress to Make Your Life Easier

WordPress is one of the most popular and widely used content management systems (CMS) on the web, used by over 40 percent of all sites. Known for its user-friendly interface and an array of over 30,000 plugins to extend its functionality, WordPress is something most SEOs encounter on a daily basis. For many larger enterprises, a more complex and intricate CMS is needed, but for blogs and small to medium-sized businesses, WordPress meets most of a webmaster’s needs.

Whether you are working with clients who use WordPress as their CMS, or you yourself use it for your own corporate site or blog, navigating WordPress is an important skill for SEOs to have. Luckily, the extensive database of plugins offers a slew of great tools that will make optimizing the site that much easier.

Check out these 10 SEO plugins you should be using!

1.) WordPress SEO by Yoast

WordPress SEO by Yoast is a comprehensive plugin that not only allows you to optimize for all the technical aspects of your page, but also helps you write better content. By forcing you to choose a focus keyword for each particular page, the plugin acts as a guide, steering you towards better and more Google-friendly content. It has a highly advanced Google XML sitemap functionality, and it allows you to control all the Meta data of your page, from title tags to Meta descriptions. The plugin even analyzes your pages and tells you which elements are missing so you can ensure each is completely optimized.

2.) W3 Total Cache

Site speed is an important ranking signal for the Google algorithm, and this plugin is designed to optimize user experience and page speed. W3 Total Cache increases server performance to reduce download times and provide transparent content delivery network integration. An important plugin for SEOs, particularly to address the site speed implications of transitioning to HTTPS.

3.) Google XML Sitemaps

Having an XML Sitemap is key to ensuring your site is properly indexed by search engines. This plugin is easy to use and will generate a complete XML sitemap for your entire website that will make it easier for search engines to crawl your pages. Google XML Sitemaps also alerts search engines of updates to content.

4.) Squirrly

Considered ideal for non-SEO experts, Squirrly allows you to optimize content as you’re writing it, and is compatible with other SEO plugins such as Yoast or the All-In-One SEO Pack. Squirrly works in real time, offering advice for optimizing content while you’re editing the page, and indicating (via green lights) when a page is properly optimized. It helps you find and target keywords, and can audit your site on a weekly basis to provide key insights into performance and areas of weakness.

5.) Simple URLS

Simple URLs allows you to manage all the outbound links from your site using custom post types and 301 redirects to avoid performance issues and permalink conflicts. With this plug in you can create, edit, delete, and track outbound links.

6.) SEO Friendly Images

This plugin optimizes your site’s images by automatically updating them with the proper ALT and TITLE attributes.

7.) RB Internal Links

Internal linking is crucial to the architecture of any site, helping you establish a page’s authority within the website. RB Internal Links eliminates the need to manually link to other pages, let alone try to remember unwieldy URLs. The plugin uses shortcodes that are converted into the current permalink on the render of the page you’re editing, and the links update automatically if ever you change your link structure.

8.) SEO Ultimate

SEO Ultimate gives you total control over all elements of your page, from title and Meta tags to 404 errors, rich snippets, Open Graph, autolinks, canonical links, and more. Edit keywords and Meta descriptions, rewrite title tags, and integrate Authorship into your content. SEO Ultimate allows you to set canonical links to point search engines to specific content, and you can even automatically link specifically designated anchor text every time the chosen text appears on your site.

 9.) All-in-One SEO Pack 

The All-in-One SEO Pack is one of the most popular and widely used plugin of its type. Similar to WordPress SEO by Yoast, the All-in-One SEO Pack allows you to optimize your page for search engines by  giving you control over all Meta descriptions, title tags, Meta keywords, and advanced canonical URLs. It also automatically generates all of this for you, making it highly useful for beginners.

10.) WP Social

This is an important plugin for integrating social media, optimizing your site’s Social SEO by integrating Facebook Open Graph, Twitter Card and Google Rich Snippets to your site. WP Social includes all the different kinds of microdata supported by Google, and automatically adds the proper Meta tags across each social media platform supported by the plugin.

As you well know, a lot goes into optimizing a site for SEO. Fortunately, there is an extensive community of SEO experts and professionals who recognize the need for tools that make search engine optimization more manageable. What SEO plugins for WordPress are in your toolbox?

HTTPS Everywhere: Where is it Now?

HTTPS Everywhere: Where is it Now?


It has been almost a month since Google announced that it would begin using HTTPS as a new ranking signal. While the announcement, which was made on August 6, 2014, was long-rumored, it was met with questions as to what affect HTTPS would have on sites. This new factor in rankings is not part of an algorithm update. Unlike Panda or Penguin, it is its own separate signal, which begs the question: how strong is the signal?

SEOs and webmasters are working to balance the logistics of the migration of a site from a regular connection (HTTP) to a secure connection (HTTPS), which can be costly and labor intensive, with the urgency to make the move. For now, it seems as if the changes are minimal, but it is still important to prepare for the possibility that HTTPS will begin to play a larger role in how your site ranks.

What is HTTPS?

HTTP stands for Hypertext Transfer Protocol and is essentially the way websites communicate—the connection through which data is transferred between websites. Most web traffic goes through HTTP connections, which are non-encrypted, and can therefore be read by the server. This is how we are able to glean data on site visitors that help us determine user intent, search queries, and other potentially identifying information.

The “S” in HTTPS stands for “secure”. HTTPS sites use an SSL 0248-bit key certificate to establish a secure connection. SSL—or Secure Sockets Layer—certificates encrypt the connection so that user data cannot be read. It is a means of establishing trustworthiness and protecting the privacy of users. An HTTPS site is a site that uses an SSL certificate to encrypt data from visitors to their site.

HTTPS Everywhere

Google’s consideration of HTTPS as a ranking signal comes as part of an overall strategy to promote security and user safety across the Internet in general. Earlier this year, Google called for “HTTPS Everywhere”, urging webmasters to consider adding SSL certificates to their sites and alluding to the possibility that HTTPS might become a ranking signal at some point down the road. Google already uses HTTPS encryptions for most of their own services, such as Search, Gmail, and Google Drive, and is now encouraging others to follow suit.

HTTPS: Now or Later?

There has been much debate as to when webmasters should act. The migration from HTTP to HTTPS is an involved and complicated process, as each HTTPS is not site-wide. Each URL must me migrated from HTTP to HTTPS using 301 redirects, and such a large number of redirects can negatively impact rankings. The upside of this, however, is that you can migrate your site in sections—allowing you to prioritize pages and test the effects of the migration.

SSL certificates are also costly, so migrating to HTTPS may be cost prohibitive for smaller businesses. Google has, however, expressed that the rankings boost is minor—for now, at least—and that it is only affecting a very small amount of searches. According to Google:

For now it’s only a very lightweight signal — affecting fewer than 1% of global queries, and carrying less weight than other signals such as high-quality content — while we give webmasters time to switch to HTTPS. But over time, we may decide to strengthen it, because we’d like to encourage all website owners to switch from HTTP to HTTPS to keep everyone safe on the web.

For SEOs, HTTPS should, for now, play a limited role in your overall strategy, and for webmasters, there is time to make the switch. In fact, in the weeks since the announcement, it has come under debate whether or not this new ranking signal has even taken effect. SearchMetrics said they have seen no discernible change in rankings since Google made the announcement—that there is no data to support that HTTPS is even a factor. However, this could be because the ranking signal is so light, or because such a low percentage of global search queries are being affected.

Whether or not the rollout has not taken effect, or its impact is still too minor to be measured, the fact of the matter is the announcement is only a few weeks old, and it will take time before we are able to really measure the data. The important thing is that there is time. There is time to weigh the pros and cons of HTTPS, decide how to go about the transition, and actually implement the migration.

12 Completely Appropriate Responses to Google in GIFS

12 Completely Appropriate Responses to Google in GIFS

Google is constantly changing; this summer alone, there have been several major updates. It’s all in a day’s work for SEOs, and Google does a pretty good job keeping us on our toes. Don’t get whiplash trying to keep up with all the algorithm updates: stay cool, roll with the punches, and when in doubt, react accordingly:

The morning when you notice a change in traffic that indicates an unnamed update and you think you’ve figured Google out. Figuring Google Out

When diving into your site’s traffic to investigate said unnamed update, and you see a significant jump in traffic…. Increase in Site Traffic

….or a significant drop. Decrease in Site Traffic

Trying to evaluate your keyword performance, but everything is (not provided). Keyword Not Provided

When Google rolls out another Panda update… Panda Updates

…or a Penguin update. Penguin Updates

The day Google announced Hummingbird Google Hummingbird

When Google limited the number of characters displayed in title tags… Title Tag Character Length

…and when they dropped Authorship photos.  Authorship Images Dropped

Last week, when Google announced the HTTPS/SSL update, using site encryption as a ranking signal. HTTPS:SSL

What Google’s really saying when they tell us our sites won’t be affected if we’re using white-hat SEO tactics. White Hat SEO Tactics

5 Tips on Optimizing for Semantic Search

5 Tips on Optimizing for Semantic Search

The Hummingbird update to the Google algorithm in the fall of last year was, and continues to be, a game changer for SEO. Unlike the Penguin and Panda updates to come before—both partial updates to the existing algorithm—Hummingbird was a completely new algorithm that changed much of the way that search functions. Known for its focus on providing intuitive search results based primarily on user intent, Hummingbird understands the relationship of keywords or phrases to one another and uses this to rank websites relevant to what the user has searched.

Semantic Search

Semantic, or conversational, search existed before Hummingbird, although the new algorithm is the first to integrate it so completely into its ranking system. Semantic search allows users to search entire sentences or phrases and receive results based on the collective meaning of the keywords in those phrases. While there are many other features of Hummingbird that SEOs should keep in mind, semantic search is important as it changes the way we think about keywords.

Almost one year after the unveiling of Hummingbird, SEOs are still discussing how to optimize for semantic search. Here are five tips to keep in mind:

1.)  Revise Your Keyword Research Strategies

“’Semantics’ refers to the meaning or interpretation of a word or phrase”, according to Search Engine Journal. With that in mind, keyword research is the best place to begin. How will a page on your site’s keywords be interpreted when Google crawls it? By taking a holistic approach and breaking your keywords into three tiers, a well-rounded list that accounts for variations in user intent can be presented to the search engines.

  • Level 1 – Core Keywords: This list is comprised of keywords closely related to your initial target keywords. They should be variations of your targets close enough in meaning so Google can consider your site if any one of the core keywords are searched.
  • Level 2 – Thematic Keywords: Whereas the keywords in List 1 are somewhat synonymous with one another, thematic keywords are further removed from your initial targets, yet are conceptually related. If your target keyword for a page is “manhattan realtors”, a list of thematic terms like “new york city apartments” can help you potentially rank for the query, “low rent new york city apartments”.
  • Level 3 – Stem Keywords: Your third level should include keywords that answer users’ questions. These keywords anticipate the information users need after they have found your page, and should be integrated into the content to naturally provide answers. Once a user has found your page by searching “low rent new york city apartments”, it is likely they are seeking information on “finding low rent new york city apartments” or “renting affordable new york city apartments. Your Level 3 Keywords may be some variation of “rent new york city apartments” or “new york city apartment listings”. 

Ideally, keywords from all three levels should be incorporated into your content.

2.)  Create a Robust Content Outline

This isn’t new to Hummingbird—its just good SEO. But with Hummingbird focusing on user intent, pages that rank are pages that, in addition to being optimized, provide relevant content.

Keyword stuffing has never been best practice. When optimizing for semantic search, it is important that your keywords are well placed, organically integrated into your content, and not overused. Create content around the questions and searches your keywords seek to answer. Outline which keywords are targeted for which pages, and how the content on each page will meet the user’s needs. From there, build out your content to be robust and to directly relate to the keywords you’ve delegated to that page.

3.)  Integrate Social Media

Social media is a significant component of Hummingbird’s personalization of search results. Google can now provide more refined, intuitive results pulling from personal data in users’ social media profiles. Search Engine Land had a great article on the topic that stated:

This suggests that paying attention to social search is becoming more and more critical, and that social media is playing a larger role in search results, sending strong signals to the search engines. Leveraging (and discovering) your target audience’s interest graph is key to producing content that will bring them to your website.

Essentially, fully integrating social media into your marketing strategy—creating content that reflects your audience’s social interests and sharing that content on your networks—is a large part of optimizing for semantic search.

4.)  Structure Your Data

Semantic search depends on structured data. Information on your website needs to be properly tagged, marked up, and organized in order for search engines to crawl your page. More than ever before, SEOs must be well versed with the back end technical details of a website that search engines recognize as indicators of a page’s relevancy. Working closely with webmasters, or familiarizing yourself with HTML markups will ensure that your site is easily crawlable. provides a collection of templates and markups that Google, Bing, Yahoo!, and Yandex rely on.

5.)  Continue What You’re Doing

Since the launch of Hummingbird, Google has maintained that not much should change day-to-day for SEOs. While there are some specific things SEOs should keep in mind when optimizing for semantic search, that statement is, for the most part, true. Hummingbird rewards SEO best practices, and actually penalizes sites that use black hat tactics. A poorly optimized page will simply not rank. But pages that are properly marked up and focus on user intent will benefit.

Lastly, cross-pollination is important: collaborate with social media and other disciplines in search marketing, like SEM. Search engines are becoming more intelligent and responsive to users, and SEOs also need to think about how to anticipate what users ultimately need out of their search.

DuckDuckGo: What SEOs Need to Know About the Search Engine

DuckDuckGo: What SEOs Need to Know About the Search Engine

DuckDuckGoUPDATE: On September 9, 2014, Apple announced the release of the iPhone 6, the highly anticipated new generation of the iPhone. When the iPhone 6 is released on September 19th, the device will run on Apple’s new operating system, iOS 8 (launching on September 17th). One key feature of iOS 8 is the ability for users to set DuckDuckGo as their default mobile search engine. With Apple’s inclusion of DuckDuckGo, the search engine will be exposed to millions of new users, making it very important for SEOs to keep on our radar. New DuckDuckGo features, in addition to those listed below, include a customizable interface and !Bangs, which allows you to search other sites from the search engine.

From a consumer standpoint, DuckDuckGo, the search engine that emphasizes privacy above all else, is the ideal option for search. Unlike other search engines, namely Google, DuckDuckGo does not track or store IP addresses or log user information. The site claims to be completely secure, and search results are not filtered by preferences, search history, location, or any other identifying data. This means that everybody sees the same results for a search query, with is intended to preserve the quality and relevancy of results.

Furthermore, DuckDuckGo pulls its results from what it claims to be the best sources as opposed to the most. Yandex, Wikipedia, Yahoo!, Wolfram Alpha, Bing, and about 50 other sources including its own web crawler (DuckDuckBot) comprise the search engine’s sources. The site also filters websites with excessive advertising and “content mills” with high volumes of thin, low quality content.

This past May, DuckDuckGo unrolled a newly redesigned version that boasted a slew of new features, including:

  • Images and videos
  • Local search
  • Smart answers
  • Recipe search
  • More meanings for ambiguous terms
  • A sleeker and more user friendly interface


DuckDuckGo has been around since 2008, when founder Gabriel Weinberg set out to find an alternative to spam in search results. If the search engine is nearly six years old, why is this something SEOs should now be paying attention to? As an emerging trend in search, DuckDuckGo is something you should always have on your radar, although it  is recently that the search engine has gained massive traction.

Search Engine Land reported last week that things are going “swimmingly” well for DuckDuckGo. In 2013 alone, the platform saw 1 billion searches, a tremendous spike in activity that many attribute to the scandal surrounding Edward Snowden. Once the former NSA employee blew the whistle on the government’s top-secret PRISM surveillance program, people became obsessed with protecting their privacy and avoid tracking.

Market Share

Within days after the PRISM story broke, DuckDuckGo nearly doubled its total number of searches to ever come before, and while the spike has tapered off, the search engine continues to see sustained growth. Another huge boon to DuckDuckGo’s success came in June, when Apple unveiled that it would make DuckDuckGo available as a search option for users in its forthcoming iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite, demonstrating a further move towards  an emphasis of private search.

While DuckDuckGo still receives only a small fraction of Google’s daily (let alone, monthly) traffic, the site continues to grow. It is still making headlines, as argued by a July 2013 Search Engine Land article and reaffirmed by the recent announcement from Apple. It may be a while before DuckDuckGo constitutes a viable threat to Google, but it is nonetheless a site that SEOs should keep an eye on.

If anything, DuckDuckGo’s model rewards the refocusing of SEO best practices to emphasize relevant links, great content, and strategic keyword targeting. FAQ pages are conducive to the site’s smart answers feature, and so are mentions from other relevant and reliable sites. One interesting tip that Forbes offers in its “5 SEO Tips for DuckDuckGo” is to link to Wikipedia. These are generally considered to be quality links, although Wikipedia is also one of the primary sources from which DuckDuckGo pulls its results, which makes it even more relevant to optimizing for this search engine. But essentially, if a site ranks well on another search engine, it will also rank well on DuckDuckGo—it just won’t appear in the top rankings as a result of the user’s search history or preferences. In this regard, DuckDuckGo’s privacy model just goes to prove that, at the end of the day, good SEO is good SEO.

Ready, Set, Blog! Why Blogging Matters to SEO

Ready, Set, Blog! Why Blogging Matters to SEO

Blogging for SEO

Picture from Social Media Today

To blog, or not to blog? That is the question businesses and web marketers frequently ask themselves as they work to refine and strengthen their online strategy. Lately, however, it seems as if more and more people are arriving at the same conclusion: yes. Blogging matters.

Brand Marketing

Maintaining a blog is crucial to brand marketing because it is an essential part of building your actual brand. A strong brand (online) typically goes hand in hand with quality content. With Google’s continued algorithm updates that focus on quality content, you could say that a company’s brand has become important to its Google ranking.

Who blogs, and why? The truth is, blogging matters to everyone: whether you’re a freelance writer looking to increase visibility or an entrepreneur looking to broaden your small business’ reach. Even large corporations and media outlets blog to reinforce their brand and maintain a relationship with their audience.

Successful SEO

Keywords are no longer the defining method of effective Search Engine Optimization. While they definitely still matter, a well-developed content marketing strategy is just as important. As a way of adding relevant and timely content on a frequent basis, blogging comprises a large part of content marketing.

SEO as a whole is so integral to online marketing that Forbes named a lack of SEO knowledge one of seven reasons a business can fail. Successful SEO incorporates a range of tactics. Here are some reasons why blogging is such an important one of those SEO tactics.

A Blog is the Platform on Which You Build Your Brand

Your brand is your business or your product’s identity, and so much goes into building a brand that it is difficult to determine the single most important factor. Offline, traditional marketing tactics—word of mouth, physical advertisements—and your person-to-person interactions with clients, vendors, consumers, and others establish your brand. Online, your website reinforces your brand. It is the interface between you and an even wider pool of potential customers. It’s the medium through which you promote your products or services.

To provide your audience with a robust brand image, your website must be equally robust. The content you publish is the way to do this. Blogs are an excellent way to consistently feed your audience quality content. You can only have so much static content—that is, the pages that lives in fixed locations on your website—before people get lost in it all. Blogs are current, concise, and can be published on a rolling basis. In this way, you can build a vast and varied portfolio of content that really tells people who you are.

Become a Voice People Will Listen To

Static content on your site may, and should, speak directly to you or your business. The blog, however, gives you a chance to spread your wings. Always keep your blog in line with your brand’s messaging, but don’t be afraid to get creative. Speak to various issues to become an authority in your space.

A wealth of content helps you become a thought leader, and people trust someone who’s opinions are influential and valued by their peers. You can stay specific to your vertical and still provide a variety of information on a particular topic. If you are a car dealer, compare different models of cars, or offer useful consumer information. If you are a realtor, discuss the housing market and give your readers advice. Break news. Provide commentary. Review related products, or interview other thought leaders. It is always recommended to integrate various media—Infographics, videos, gifs—into your blog as well.

Content is the Basis for Web Marketing

Multiple facets of your online marketing strategy—from social media to SEO—depend on content. We’ll talk about quality content in a little bit, but essentially, content has become vital to the way you optimize your site for search engines. It must be well written, properly formatted, and must utilize targeted keywords. Your static pages give you only so much content to optimize, but blogs give you a continuously revolving repertoire. You can focus blogs on specific keywords to broaden the keywords you target, and also have a wider variety of pages to choose from for link building. Not to mention the amount of organic traffic that is driven to your site as you blog more consistently.

 Blogs are pivotal to your social media strategy as well. Effective engagement on Facebook, Twitter, Google +, and other social networks is not just about re-sharing other people’s content. Original content is not only more interesting, it also promotes your brand. Search Engine Journal writer Neil Patel says, “A blog allows you to build a fuller picture of who you are. Most people will meet you through other places…but if they like what they read on Twitter, then they’ll follow you back to your blog and find out more about who you are.”

The Evolution of SEO: From Keywords to Content

Part of Google’s renewed emphasis on content is the use of Authorship to determine the authority of a page. You can read more about Google Authorship here, but essentially, it entails integrating Google + into your site to attribute each post to the person who wrote it. This is Google’s way of making sure your content was written by someone who knows the subject and can speak to it reliably. Blogs give you more content to attribute to authors, and as Google sees more and more posts written by the same person, the credibility of both the writer and the posts increases. This can potentially lead to higher search rankings for a properly optimized blog.

If you have one person writing your blog, attribute all posts to them so that their author profile (linked to their Google +) is featured on each. If you have multiple writers, even better, just make sure posts are attributed appropriately, and whenever possible, have each person stick to a particular subject or category of blogs. This asserts their area of expertise, which Google takes into consideration when determining authority.

Was SEO Ever Dead?

A recent article by Alan Boyce from The Guardian, SEO Loopholes Are Out: Good Content is the Answer, attributes Google’s updates to the resurgence of SEO credibility. “Peak SEO”, as Boyce calls it, was that which relied on keyword stuffing and unsustainable link-building tactics. The series of updates that began with Panda and continued with Penguin and Hummingbird have all but eliminated those tactics by penalizing them for their unreliability.

Relevant and quality content therefore became key to ranking for search terms, and the renewed focus of SEO. Boyce says:

“These trends have led many commentators to claim that SEO is dead… far from being dead, SEO has evolved into something far more benign… The updates’ cumulative effect has been to rule practice after practice out of bounds, so that search results reflect whatever it is users really have in mind when they run a search… SEO today, then, is something like zen archery: to hit the target, ignore the target. Focus instead on the beauty of aligning with your audience’s intentions.”

The evolution of SEO, then, has been to focus on what the audience truly needs, and then reinforce that relevant content with the targeted keywords, meta data, and page formatting.

The aforementioned Search Engine Journal article (while still relevant) is from 2012, but even then, experts were acknowledging the importance of blogs to SEO. That was the beginning of a trend that continues to this day. If you don’t have the bandwidth or people to write your own blogs, consider hiring a freelancer. Source blogs however you can, always keeping quality and authority in mind. Content matters, and blogging is the fastest, most reliable way to consistently publish timely content.

Content is Contagious: Is There a Secret to Viral Content?

Content is Contagious: Is There a Secret to Viral Content?

Viral Marketing - Word of MouthContent is King

This popular saying has always been understood to be one of the fundamental tenants of online marketing. For a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the necessity to strengthen your brand through reliable, trustworthy, and engaging content, a solid marketing strategy seems to revolve around quality content. With static pages on your website, your content is quite literally your brand: the way you talk about yourself, your product, your services, and communicate the essentials of your company is done through content. Blog posts, infographics, Facebook shares, tweets, and other timely pieces of content are the ways your brand interacts with your audience and other thought leaders in your vertical. Google’s growing emphasis on authorship only proves that search engines, now more than ever, are caring about who writes your content because that gives insight into it’s authority.

Like any other king, content–in addition to being high quality–needs to have a wide reach. While not every piece of content needs to go viral in order to be effective, virality is certainly a fast and easy way to create visibility for your content and get people talking. Popular content that is widely shared by individuals on social media, picked up by large media sources, and reposted on other websites can be a huge boon to your site. From a link building perspective, it’s a goldmine. And from a brand perspective, viral content establishes you as a relevant and reputable participant in whatever conversation your content contributed to.

Viral Content

The question is: how do you make content go viral? Many experts have weighed in with their own opinions and techniques for creating and curating viral content. In February, HubSpot published How to Make Viral Content: 9 Tips from the Greatest Viral Content Genius on the Planet, an intriguing piece where Neetzan Zimmerman, a blogger for Gawker who created 9 of the site’s 10 top posts of 2013, shared his secrets. At The Guardian, Buzzfeed’s editorial director shared his three best strategies for viral content. Fox Business even shared their five tips. There have been countless posts on viral content, and they are all worth reading, if only to pick up on the common threads and patterns that people are talking about. The following five tips are those which most experts have agreed upon; commonly occurring suggestions that are generally accepted as ways to make your content go viral.

Please note: the following tips are not pulled solely from the three aforementioned examples, but from a variety of posts on the subject, demonstrating that they are widely agreed upon.

  1. Appeal to Human Emotions: One of the most widely espoused techniques for going viral is the need for people to connect with the content they share. In his presentation for Hubspot, Neetzan Zimmerman calls emotion the “bread and butter” of viral content, saying “stories that evoke primal emotions work best.” If you want people to share your content, they need to be moved by it. They need to feel something so that they are compelled to get others to feel the same way. Content that evokes positive emotions, such as a feel good or inspirational story, is more likely to go viral than content that evokes negative emotions like anger or sadness. However, any emotional content, positive or negative, is more likely to be shared than content that evokes no response whatsoever.

  1. Curate, Don’t Just Create: You don’t necessarily need to create every piece of content that you want to go viral. Upworthy has become one of the largest mediums for sharing viral stories entirely by finding videos, graphics, and other media they know will strike a chord with people. Depending on your goal (whether you’re looking to become a prominent voice in a conversation or if you’re trying to raise visibility for your own content), you can search for existing content that is relevant to your audience.

  1. Post as Much as You Can: Not everything you post will go viral. It’s often difficult to find the right piece of content that will blow up. You must stay timely and relevant, emotionally engaging, and visual (pictures, graphics, and videos are more likely to be shared than lengthy text) to catch your audience at the precise moment when they are looking for the kind of content you have to share with them. It requires time, effort, and patience, but posting often shows that you are actively engaging with your community, and increases your chances of something being a success. This is not to say, however, that you should post just anything. Don’t spam your readers. Make each post count and ensure  that you are only sharing quality content.

  1. Study the Data: Delve into the numbers of everything you post to figure out what works and what doesn’t. How many people did your content reach? Was there a significant increase in traffic? When? How many shares and likes did it receive? Examining the data ensures that you are learning from each post, and gaining insight into how your content is received will help you refine your strategy.

  1. Engage Influencers: There’s a reason almost everything Upworthy shares goes viral. Upworthy is a prominent voice in the online space, and people pay attention when they speak. Whether it is a post that was submitted to them or that they found, Upworthy is influential enough that the post will be noticed. Think about who your content is targeting, and figure out who the thought leaders are in that space. Is it a human rights piece? Is it an entertainment piece? Look at the kind of content notable sites and figures have shared historically, and refine your content to appeal to them. Getting your content shared by even a single influencer in a relevant vertical elevates it to a whole new level. It reaches a wider audience, and its credibility is strengthened by the fact that it’s being shared by an active thought leader. This will compel people in their audience to share it as well.

In short, it doesn’t seem as if there are any surefire secrets to viral content. The experts each have their sets of best practices, and while there is often a lot of overlap, there are also a lot of differences in their strategies as well. A lot of the techniques for making your content go viral also vary depending on the specific nature of the content itself. You wouldn’t share an emotional video the same way you would share a humorous op-ed, nor would you target the same audiences to share or repost those pieces. The advice of these and other experts is valuable, and you should definitely read what they have to say. It’s just important to take from each the pieces that best suit your goals and create a viral strategy that works for your own particular content.