Jeff Woelker : Chicago SEO, PPC, and Internet Marketing Consulting

Chicago Search Engine Optimization, Paid Search Marketing, and Online Marketing Tips and Tricks

5 tips for SEO Housekeeping and Housecleaning in 2011

vacuum

Happy New Year everyone! It’s been a while since I last posted, but I wanted to post some housekeeping and housecleaning ideas for 2011 to get those SEO juices flowing.

Take another look at Webmaster tools
This is probably something many of you do on a regular basis. I think most of us take a look at the keyword report, the crawling stats and inbound links, but there’s many other reports in there that don’t always get our full attention. Have you setup your domain to display as “www” vs “non-www”? Should your domain target users in a specific country? Do you know if you have malware on your site?

I recently had an issue with our site CMS where it was throwing a “soft 404″ error instead of a legitimate “404 error”. Don’t know what a soft 404 error is? Well, it’s when a page isn’t found and the user is directed to what looks like an error page but the server doesn’t throw a 404 error code.  Here’s some more info on “soft 404” errors. This doesn’t necessarily effect our SEO rankings to a large extent, however, in terms of serving up the freshest content to our site users, as well as search engines, it can be an issue. So even if you review these numbers on a regular basis, take a look at some of those other facts and figures you may not always analyze.

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Meaningful SEO Metrics: An Interview with BrightEdge CEO Jim Yu

jim_colorIt’s that time of year again when SES Chicago rolls into town. Typically, it doesn’t arrive until the dead of winter, but this year it’s been moved up a few months to October 18th-22nd. As I did last year, I’ve been given the opportunity to interview some of best minds in the search space. This time it’s Jim Yu, CEO of BrightEdge. Jim will be on a panel at SES Chicago entitled “Meaningful SEO Metrics: Going Beyond the Numbers”. Below are a few questions Jim was able to answer over email about going more in depth into SEO metrics and how marketers are changing the way they think about SEO as a marketing channel.

1. For many SEO marketers, the focus previously has been on ranking reports and page rank increases. What do you see as “the new metric” that many marketers are now focusing on?
We have definitively seen SEO marketers start measuring the effectiveness of their SEO campaigns with business metrics such as revenue, sign-ups, time on site, etc. We saw this trend in our enterprise customers start about one year ago, driven by the fact that SEO is becoming a top-tier online channel with C-level executive visibility. Recently, we release BrightEdge Connect which brings SEO into the CMO’s dashboard and have seen incredible adoption in the marketplace.

2. How does that metric vary by industry? Or does it?
The metric indeed vary by industry. E-commerce sites will be focused on purchases, finance and insurance on sign ups, internet and media on page views and time on site. There is usually one main key performance indicator that drives the entire business and that is the one to focus on for SEO.

3. Should B2B marketers evaluate SEO differently than B2C? Are the tactics any different?
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Google Instant: A User and Marketer’s Perspective

fortune

A few days ago saw the big launch of Google Instant, and if you haven’t tried it yet, it’s a totally different search experience compared to the Google of old. Initial reaction was mixed from SEO is dead to SEO lives on to my initial reaction that in fact, it’s just plain annoying. Now that all the initial reactions are out of the way, let’s take a step back and analyze how this really effects paid and organic search from a user experience standpoint, as well as a marketer’s standpoint.

Paid Search (User)
From a user standpoint, the sponsored listing haven’t changed. The only difference now is that users may see many more variations of them as they type their query. Now, these will probably pass them by without them noticing much, but they still rapidly change. I’m sure Google did extensive user testing on this, but we’ll see how this plays out over time. I think you’ll hear from some that they don’t like the new interface or that it’s too distracting, but it’s still new, so we’ll see over time.

Paid Search (Marketer)
From a marketing perspective, what the heck do you do now? Stay the course? Change your whole strategy? Well, my early thought is that head terms will start to play a much bigger influence on user behavior. As you type, Google “guesses” what your going to type next. So if I type “auto” it guesses that I mean “autozone”, “auto trader”, “auto parts” and a few others. It’s these guesses, much as a I said about Google Suggest, will start to sculpt user awareness around what Google recommends. As a result, my early impression is that long tail is going to take a bit of a hit. Users are inherently lazy and with Google’s redesigned interface, it’s as if they are funneling people towards top brands or sites and it’s because of that, I think some users are going to bail out earlier than they might have without the suggestions and predictions. There have been some analysts that have said Google Instant may be a play to game the volume based measurement system and make Google appear larger than it is already. I don’t think that’s it entirely. I think this play is about increasing profits faster than they would have otherwise. Here’s my theory – cost per click bids have only been increasing as more competition goes into the marketplace. This is good for Google and bad for marketers, however, as head terms become more and more expensive, good marketers have been focusing more on the tail where more qualified customers often lie. This is bad for Google, but good for marketers. With this platform change, Google has said “Ok marketers, we’re going to push your customers back up the keyword funnel to shorter head terms and if you want to follow, you have to pay the price.” Am I wrong? Possibly, but tell me it doesn’t make sense on some level.

Organic Search (User)
Same interface as before for the user, only now the results flash by rapidly as the user types. The other difference I noticed is that when a user moves from page to page, it looks like the entire page fades out and fades in with new results, as opposed to a complete page refresh. I assume this is related to some AJAX magic Google is using to serve up these results in the first place on the fly.

Organic Search (Marketer)
From a marketing perspective, I think the suggestions are also going to effect the head terms more positively than tail terms. For authoritative, high ranking sites who rank well for head terms, I don’t think you need to worry about much. Continue to do what you’ve been doing, however, if you are a long tail site that subsists primarily on long tail terms, I’d be wary of these changes. Based on my experience, I’m going to assume that some users who are unfocused are going to start typing their query, up comes some results which are close to what they were looking for, and they click away never fully realizing the long tail search they may have entered if the suggestions and predictions not appeared. Again, this is early and we’ll have to see what the industry nets out, but that’s my initial reaction.

And if you’re looking for additional opinions and resources, check out this complete breakdown of industry analysts and form your own opinion or look at Google’s take on it on the AdWords Blog or the AdWords FAQ. Have you seen any changes initially to your campaign results? What do you think is the future of this “feature”?

Image courtesy of svenstorm

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5 tips on how to be an indispensable search partner

keepcalm

I can’t believe it’s almost been seven months since I became a “client”. Maybe it flew by so fast, because I was occupied with some other things. In any case, while I’ve been at JC Whitney, I’ve learned a few things about how a search agency should and should not work with their clients and I wanted to relay a few of those things to those interested. And one point before I begin, at JC Whitney I manage numerous SEO specific vendor relationships on a regular basis, so I have exposure to several types of agencies and their deliverables. So here are five tips for SEO agencies out there wondering, “I wonder what I can do to be a better agency partner”:

Provide value
Man, going right for the jugular, aren’t you Jeff? When I say, provide value, I mean, just because we signed a contract and we’re all set to go with the first project, don’t think you’ve “won” the business and it’s time to slack off. You need to prove it day in and day out. We have a few agencies who we can consistently rely on to get an email when Google makes any algorithm changes or if they see something weird going on in our analytics. There are other agencies who we say “We need this type of report” and that’s exactly what they deliver. No more, no less. And in the case they deliver less, we continuously ask for less and less from them, eventually terminating the relationship. If you provide more than the client expects, you can get away with the occasional faux pas or miscalculation.

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Electric Vehicles in Chicago: An Interview with Tesla Motors

Tesla

If you’ve followed my blog for some time, you’ll know that I’m a big proponent of local, sustainable, and environmentally conscious. Whenever possible, I try and incorporate those things into my life. I’ve been lauding the auto industry’s move from entirely petroleum based to hybrid to electric only. And as part of my move to JC Whitney, this has only spurred on this passion.

I was recently over on Chicago’s West side and happened to see a new member to the Chicago automotive scene. It was a Tesla dealership, right in downtown Chicago. I was able to get in contact with Tesla to find out what’s going on with them and what they see happening with electric vehicles in the next few years. The following is an exchange I had with Jeremy Siwek, a product specialist with Palo Alto based Tesla Motors.

Can you give us a quick background for anyone not already familiar with Tesla?
Tesla Motors is an American car company based in Palo Alto, CA, the heart of Silicon Valley. The auto manufacturer was created with the intention of furthering electric vehicle technology to make electric vehicles available and affordable for the mass-market. The company was founded in 2003 and began delivering cars in 2008. Tesla has delivered approximately 1,000 Roadsters in 44 States and 23 countries. They are available in the U.S., Canada, and Europe, with availability in Japan and Australia coming extremely soon.

I’ve heard a lot about the Tesla Roadster and Model S, but can you give us a run down of the specs for each and how they are different.

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Agency to client side: The final deliverable

final-deliverable

So it’s been a month since I’ve moved over to the client side. To be honest, this first month has flown by. Learning about new brands, new internal processes, new technical architecture, new product taxonomy, and new office and vendor relationships can do that. In any case, over the next few months, I’m going to reflect on what it’s like to work on the client side and some of the changes I’ve seen since moving from one side to the other. The focus of this post is the final deliverable. The final deliverable may, in actuality, not be the final deliverable, however, I’m referring instead to the end product of a specific project or series of projects. It’s the Word document, Powerpoint presentation, website, PDF, etc. an agency delivers to the client, the client reacts to, and the agency ultimately gets paid.

So what’s different about being on a the receiving end of these documents? A lot! Here are a few of the things I’ve noticed since being on the client side.

It’s all in the details
On the agency side here is what a typical project looks like:

SEO Guy: So I ran that analysis for the client. Looks like things are going pretty good, but there’s this one keyword that’s still not moving.
Client Manager: What can we do to get it moving?
SEO Guy: I have to run some more analysis, but I’m almost done with the report.
Client Manager: Well, you better hurry up. It’s due tomorrow.
SEO Guy: I’ll stay late to get it done. [12:15 am, delivers report]
Client Manager: Thanks for that report.
SEO Guy: That last chart took me 4 hours to pull together. I couldn’t get Excel to format it correctly.
Client Manager: No problem. Can you have the proofreader look it over?
Proofer: Looks good. I made a few changes.
SEO Guy: Changes look good.
Client Manager: Great. I’ll send it over this afternoon.

As the client, here is what I see:

Client Manager: Dear Jeff. Attached is the report you requested. We look forward to your questions.

See the difference? On the agency side, there are numerous people who are touching the report. Editing, re-editing, copying, updating, stressing, proofing, creating, modifying, and reviewing. On the client side, I don’t see all that. All I see if the end product and I have to make my own assumptions about where time was or was not spent. And just as it goes, even if you [the agency] spent 98% of your time on one chart or one set of data, if you forget to spell check the document before sending it over, the few typos in it may throw the entire document into question as to whether the data is valid or not.

Since I’m disconnected from the process and don’t see the late nights, weekend sessions, frantic internal calls, etc. I don’t know why the data didn’t sum correctly or that number seems off. All I can do is react to what I’m given and if all I’m shown is a poorly written document, confusing data sets, typo laden paragraphs, or unusable charts, what am I supposed to think?

So I’m not saying, if you’re on the agency side to double your proofing efforts or throw out your current process in favor of something completely Machiavellian. I’m just saying that the next time you get a question from the client or they point out something grammatically incorrect with your introduction paragraph, just know that it’s because they are seperated from the process and don’t see all the minutia that goes into the creation of the final deliverable. And yes, we do appreciate your work, even if you used “they’re” instead of “their” or “it’s” instead of “its”.

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Making the switch from agency life to client side

Damn Clients!

For those of you who don’t know, I’ve recently made the switch from the agency side to what some might call “the dark side” or client side. The post below is a reflection of my decision to make the jump. I’m hoping that both long time readers, as well as newcomers can find something they can use when deciding to make this decision on their own.

Let me give you a bit of background. I’ve been working at Slack Barshinger for the past three years. I started there in February of 2007  and it was and has been a fantastic job until the day I left. I was able to work on clients too numerous to name them all, but a few included Google, Fellowes, ArcelorMittal, Dow Corning, AEM, SourceForge, Tellabs, and Diebold. I was able to take on as much responsibility for projects as I wanted and had the freedom to test and try as much as I wanted including tactics, strategies, tools, and processes. Each time learning something new about our internal structure, my clients, and my own strengths and weaknesses. And recently, things have really started to take off, so much so that we had to hire several people to keep up the demand. In spite of all of this, there came a point about a few months ago when I found out about a local business, JC Whitney which changed the whole plan.

JC Whitney is an automotive aftermarket retailer based in Chicago who sells both in catalogs as well as online. JC Whitney, part of the larger Whitney Automotive Group, was looking for a search and social media manager who could come on and support their organic search efforts as well as grow their social media presence online. Now, being from Detroit, this position both intrigued me, but also caused some consternation. Primarily, the reason I left Michigan to move to Chicago was the plethora of opportunities available for employment, but secondarily, it was to avoid affiliations with the automotive industry which has decimated the Michigan economy for the last decade and, from what I assume, will continue to do so for the coming one as well.

Having been at Slack Barshinger for three years, I was extremely comfortable in my surroundings, the processes in place, and how to work in my overall team. I met some of the best friends I’ll ever have and I was able to learn from some of the sharpest people I may ever meet. So why did I decide to make the switch? Well, there are a few reasons.

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A quick guide to growing a relevant Twitter audience

twitter

In case you’ve been living under a rock during 2009,  it was the year of Twitter. Twitter and “tweets” were all over the place. Many marketers were just trying to get their feet wet, while others jumped in wholeheartedly and even created national campaigns around it. At least until the next hot thing, it appears that Twitter is it for now. For many B2C, as well as B2B, marketers it was easy to setup a Twitter account and post a few things here and there, but after a few weeks or months they began to wonder:

  • Am I reaching the right audience?
  • How do I extend my audience?
  • What are some quick ways, aside from giving away “the farm”, to grow my audience?

This post is specifically around those questions. Here are three quick ideas you can use to grow your Twitter following quickly and relevantly.

Media Publications
The first place to look is to existing trade publications who have migrated to Twitter. Over the last several years, traditional and offline media has really been taking it on the chin due to the rise of online. As a result, many of them have taken to social media and online venues as a way to stoke the fires of their online publications. Whether you are looking to reach teens and tweens (i.e. TigerBeat), yacht enthusiasts (i.e. Sailing Magazine) or professional contractors (i.e. Contractor Magazine), there are offline or newly created online publications on Twitter. All you have to do is click on their “Followers” link and presto, you have a captive audience for your products or services. If they are interested in what these publications have to say, they are probably also interested in what your company has to say. So what publications are important to your industry? Even if they don’t have a Twitter account setup, you might find people who are regularly readers, just talking about it too. See for yourself.

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Selling search to the C-suite: Interview with Russ Mann of Covario

Covario

As you may already know from my previous post, SES Chicago is rapidly approaching and the agenda has several very interesting sessions lined up. One of the sessions I’m particularly interested in is “Selling Search to the C-Suite”, which has been an issue in previous years. I think search has approached a point now though where it should seem obvious that companies should have some presence in search. However, even today, we still have clients we need to convince that search is the right venue for them. I had the chance to interview Russ Mann, Co-Founder & Chief Executive Officer, of Covario, who is part of the panel on Day 3 on the trials, tribulations, and some tips on how to sell search more effectively to those higher up the marketing food chain.

Perhaps as a result of the recession, online has taken off even faster than many expected, due to its lower costs and higher measurability. Do you feel like selling search to the C-suite is any easier now that online and specifically search is so much more widely used and accepted?

Selling search to the C-suite as a concept is most definitely easier.  We heard CEOs of Fortune 500 clients refer to needing “a Google strategy.”  No one debates the importance or the ROI of search.  The challenge now is to make search more strategic.  For many CEOs, CFOs and CMOs, if they have one “in-house search person” or if they believe “their agency is doing it,” then they are satisfied that they have checked the box.  The C-suite now needs to understand that search represents the purest voice of the customer in aggregate, and represents not just attitudinal behavior (what they say they’ll do)- it’s behavioral data (what they’ll actually do).  The problem is that too many search marketers are overly eager to expound on the fascinating details of SEM and SEO, while the C-level exec’s eyes glaze over.  C-level execs care about big picture, direction, business impact and “moving the needle.”  That’s the next wave of enterprise class search marketing.

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Findability interview with Peter Morville – Keynote speaker at SES Chicago 2009

petermorville
As you may or may not know already, SES Chicago is rapidly approaching (again). Coincidentally, one of my professors from the University of Michigan, Peter Morville, is one of the keynote speakers at this year’s SES. I was fortunate enough to be able to interview Peter about what he thinks makes a website “findable”, the future of search engines, and who he thinks is really doing usability and “findability” well these days. You can see Peter’s full presentation on Day 2 of SES. And if you haven’t already read his book, definitely pick it up today.

What makes a website inherently “findable” these days? Is it information architecture, web design principles, an understanding of search engines, usable interfaces, or a combination of all of these?

It’s a combination. Findability requires a holistic perspective that balances engineering, marketing, and design. I often invite web managers to ask the following three questions. Can people find your site? Can people find their way around your site? And, can people find your content and services despite your site? Success in all three areas is important and can’t be achieved without paying attention to the ways that code, content and structure work together to influence usability and findability.

Either using the items listed above, or adding your own, what is the most important aspect to think of when designing a website to ensure it is easy to use and understand?

Empathy for the user is the key to good design. Only by understanding user behavior and psychology within a particular context of use can we create products, services, and experiences that help users achieve goals, complete tasks, and find what they need. That’s why user research methods such as design ethnography and usability testing are so important. Of course, we must also know enough about the technology to see what’s possible. Often, it’s not enough to optimize for ease and efficiency. We must also strive for desirability and aim for innovation.

Do you feel like Flash, AJAX, and other highly visual, but non-text based interfaces, are making the web more or less usable or findable?

It depends. Great teams employ visual interfaces and rich interaction to create engaging user experiences without sacrificing usability and findability. Unfortunately, most teams aren’t great and quickly get in over their heads.

Are there any companies who you think really exemplify “findability” in the way they create online or offline experiences?

Other than Google, which is too obvious to mention, there’s no single company that comes to mind. What’s exciting right now is the proliferation of ideas and inventions across platforms and media. On the iPhone, for instance, there are some great niche applications like SitOrSquat (for finding public toilets when you’ve gotta go) and Nearest Tube (for finding the London Underground when you’re aboveground). Location-based services and augmented reality are particularly intriguing at the moment.

Where do you see search engines and other meta data engines in the next five years?

A key point we make in our new book, Search Patterns (available from O’Reilly Media in January 2010), is the need to think outside the box. We must continue to make incremental improvements (e.g., better interfaces and algorithms) while simultaneously pursuing radical innovation. This requires thinking more expansively about goals and strategy. Twitter and the Wikipedia were not conceived as search solutions, but as knowledge management innovations they have both transformed the search landscape. Often, the biggest changes emerge not from the center but from outside the category entirely. We all need to work on our peripheral vision.

If there’s one thing you hope people walk away with after listening to your keynote address at SES Chicago, what do you hope it will be?

I hope folks leave with a sense of urgency and enthusiasm. My goal is to inspire people to make search better.

Disclosure: I have not been financially compensated for this post, although I have received a free press pass to cover SES Chicago.

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