The Online Race: SEO vs. PPC

SEO or PPC?

Whether you are new to the world of Internet Marketing or an abiding veteran, the choice between SEO and PPC is one that will be different for every site, company, and situation. Search Engine Optimization and Pay-Per-Click advertising are the two most widely used forms of Search Engine Marketing and most popular techniques to drive traffic to your website. The goal of both of these is to drive traffic to your website via search engines. But which one is best for you? Sometimes, the answer is actually both.

As a starting point, it is important to fully understand the concepts and purposes of SEO and PPC. Search Engine Optimization is the process of getting traffic from the “free” or “natural” listings on search engines, such as Google or Bing. SEO is like a marathon, where it takes a lot of time to see the results of your hard work. Your website is modified or improved to help it appear higher in the organic listings. These listings or ranking positions are determined by factors such as the popularity of your links and the relevancy of your content, but changes definitely won’t happen overnight. Pay-Per-Click advertising allows you to display ads in the sponsored results section of each search engine’s results page, and when that ad is clicked, you are charged a fee. If you want immediate clicks to your website, PPC is a much shorter race—like a short sprint—because you can immediately start appearing on the first page of results. Your rankings with PPC are determined by how much you bid on keywords, the quality score of your ads, and the landing pages that the ads point to.

webfxgoogleresults

The main factor in deciding between the two is the kind of budget you have to work with. To go in depth on which online marketing technique is appropriate for you, let’s take a look at the pros and cons of each:

PPC Pros—

Immediate results—

If you are first launching a website or even a brand new company, you want to get your new site/name out there as soon as possible. This is also beneficial if you have special promotions or events that need exposure and cannot be planned months in advance.

You are in Control—

With PPC ads, you have control over which page the “clicker” is sent to. By having control over the landing page, you are able to make sure that the visitor is seeing the most relevant information to what your ad was displaying. The ads that are displayed are written by you and you are able to test them to see which ad performs the best, which landing page is better for visitors, etc.

Flexible—

You have the ability to choose which keywords you want to bid higher on, how much you want to spend in a day, and even the ability to pause your campaign if you are running low on your budget. You are also able to set the placement of your ads and the location where you want your ad to be shown.

PPC Cons—

Limited Long Term Benefits—

Once the money stops, the ads stop. While you may gain some branded traffic down the road, that unbranded search traffic will completely disappear when the ads stop running.

Bad Reputation—

PPC listings look like ads and are purposely placed where they are. Many people dislike ads, refuse to click on them or frankly just have no idea what they are and do not trust them.

Costs Add Up—

Even though you have the ability to control your PPC campaign budget, costs do begin to pile up and you may end up spending more money than you originally planned. Traffic to your site with PPC is completely dependent on the money you pour into it. If the keywords you are targeting are highly competitive, they may be expensive and can drain your budget quickly.

SEO Pros—

Trustworthy—

86% of search engine users reportthat they trust organic search results over paid search results. In fact, it’s been said that searchers simply get annoyed with the advertisements that come up during searches and do not even think about clicking on them.

Long Term Benefits—

Once all the SEO best practices are implemented – like creating quality, keyword-rich content and a strong linking profile – the results will outlast your efforts. The return on investment for SEO will continue to climb long after PPC has peaked.

Relevant, Targeted Traffic—

SEO allows for the use of long-tail keywords, which are three to five word phrases that refine a search term to be more targeted. For example, someone who is searching for “shoes” probably is just doing some casual window shopping, but someone who is searching for “red sneakers size 9” is someone who is further along in the buying process. With long-tail keywords comes more relevant traffic.

Forces Website Improvements—

A main difference between PPC and SEO is that with PPC, you pay for the visitors, but with SEO, you earn visitors by improving your site and following best practices. It may take a lot of work, but it’s a good thing in the long run because of the improvements to your site’s usability.

googlesearchheatmap

SEO Cons—

Ever-changing Google Algorithms—

A top complaint about SEO is that all of the work you put into your site to get your website on the first page results could be affected completely if Google releases new algorithm changes (which they do, at a rate of about 1.2 changes per day).

Required On-Going Maintenance—

Keyword research, content updates, link building and more are all factors of SEO that need to be regularly monitored and updated in order for your site to maintain rankings or to increase them.

Time lag—

Compared to the instantaneous results of PPC, the time lag with SEO can be a downfall. It can take anywhere from one to three months to see any increase in rankings or traffic. This also depends on how much optimization is needed for your site to even be ready to launch.

 

So should you start running that marathon or lace up the sneakers and begin the sprint? That question is up to you to decide. Both types of search engine marketing need to be considered, then from there you can determine whether SEO, PPC, or even both options are best fit for your needs, goals and budget.

What are your thoughts? Which did you choose, or do use both methods for your website? Feel free to post your preference, success stories, and more!

SEO search engine optimization concept on blackboard

4 Eternal Truths about SEO

In an industry where change is the only reliable constant, it’s nice to know there are a few things we can rely on…

1. The Human Audience Will Always Be The Most Important

This seems like a no brainer, but anyone with experience in search engine optimization (SEO) knows that sometimes it’s easy to forget this major detail once you’ve launched yourself head first into a campaign.  But don’t forget. Don’t lose focus. Always remember that your targeted audience is composed of actual humans, not the search engines you’re trying to rank highly in—and this will NEVER change.

The Good News: More than likely the work you’re doing to rank high in the search engines will also be beneficial marketing for your audience.

2. Links Will Always Play a Part in the Rankings

Computers are awesome, but let’s be honest—how is a computer supposed to determine what website is the most authoritative on a specific topic?  The answer is links.  If websites were people, inbound links would be like votes for Homecoming King and Queen. Search engines see these links and determine the most “popular” websites for the SERPs. While this aspect of SEO is definitely evolving at a rapid pace, it’s around to stay for a long time.

The Good News: Search engines are becoming better at determining whether a link is spam or not. So for those who work hard to create quality links, it’s a win-win situation.

3. You Can’t Optimize Website Content, If the Text Doesn’t Exist.

Even though the web is constantly evolving, text is still a part of every search—even when the search is for a picture or video.  It seems like a given, then, that quality content will always be an important factor in determining rankings.  Don’t try to ignore it.  If you want your site to perform well, do your homework and create quality content, because I can guarantee the search engines are reading it.

The Good News: Why on earth would you want to have bad content on your website? That just seems silly, since your target audience will be reading it, too. This is one of those instances where what you’re doing to rank well in the search engines will also be beneficial to your audience.

4. You will never REALLY know exactly how Google works.

Surprise, surprise! Do you really expect this to ever change? Google averages one algorithm change a day, making the world of SEO that much more fascinating. And just for fun, Google will come out with exciting, new updates to change the game up a little. Panda. Penguin. You know what I’m talking about.

The Good News: You don’t want to know Google’s exact algorithm, because I can guarantee that if you do, so do all of your competitors. If everyone knew exactly what to do to rank #1, websites would become so manipulated that search engines would quickly become useless to the users.

 

So there you have it.  There are a few things we can count on to always be true, even in an industry that thrives on constant change. What are your thoughts on these “eternal” truths—agree or disagree? Leave a comment with your thoughts!

An Open Letter to New Internet Marketers and College Grads: How to Thrive in the SEO Industry

Dear College Graduate/New Internet Marketer,

Congratulations! You worked your tail off, followed the tips for studying SEO in school and landed your dream job in SEO! You may be experiencing a lot of different emotions right now… excitement, relief, eagerness, nervousness, sadness in leaving your classmates, etc. Well, brace yourself! The days of waking up at 11am and going to the all-you-can-eat dining hall may be over, but trust me, your life is about to change for the better 😉

Have you ever seen the movie The Pursuit of Happyness? If you haven’t, here is a synopsis. It is a classic rags-to-riches movie where Christopher Gardner, played by Will Smith, overcomes unfathomable odds to become a stockbroker for Dean Witter. How did he do it you may be asking? Well, as Trevin stated in his previous letter, he “hustled.” Gardner developed a mindset where failure was not an option, and he strove to reach his goals – regardless of the price.

“You got a dream… You gotta protect it. People can’t do somethin’ themselves, they wanna tell you you can’t do it. If you want somethin’, go get it. Period.”

Persuit of Happyness

I would like to challenge you to develop a similar mentality as you enter your career in Internet marketing.  Initially, leaving the classroom where you were probably at the top of the totem pole (you wouldn’t have gotten the job if you weren’t!) and entering an environment where coworkers have more knowledge and experience can be a difficult pill to swallow. One of the greatest benefits of SEM is that if you develop the mindset mentioned before, the rate of change in the industry is so great that you can bridge the gap sooner than you think. But how??

First off, classes may be over but you HAVE to become a student once again. Before you start the job, invest $20 to $40 in a book that will provide you with a foundation of mostly basic knowledge, but some advanced information as well (SEO: An Hour a Day is a good place to start). Here is the kicker… you actually have to READ IT! In college, you may have been able to get away with skimming chapters and playing Angry Birds in class, but this is an entirely different ball game. Read it once, twice, even three times… take notes, create flashcards; do whatever you have to do to get that information engrained in your mind.

Secondly, take this knowledge and apply some of it to your personal website or blog! SEO and SEM are great to read about it, but I would argue that it won’t really click in your mind until you try it out. Take chances! If you break your personal site once and a while, it’s okay (hopefully you backed it up)! Test what you are learning to see the direct impact your efforts can have.

If you remember one tip from this letter, remember this next point: Some of the most impactful knowledge I learned in Internet marketing came when I was listening to others on the phone. Open a Word document and start a daily notes journal. Did your coworker use a phrase that you are not familiar with? Jot it down and look it up! Did they state a statistic that would be beneficial to learn? Memorize it! Did they have a direct and informational response to the client? Remember it to use later! My point is there is a wealth of knowledge that you have at your disposal aside from the normal training sessions. Take advantage of it!

Next up, find a concentrated area of Internet marketing that you are interested in and become the office expert in it! After work, go home and study Schema.org markup. Learn so much about it that you become the go-to person in the office for any and all questions on that subject. After accomplishing this, move to another topic. Make your foundation so strong that not even Google can bring you down.

Another beneficial tip is to call your friends and family. Wait… what?! Exactly. Call them to explain what your job actually entails, what you are learning and what results your hard work has helped to achieve. More than likely, your parents don’t know the specifics behind SEO. By practicing and explaining the work you do to your parents, you will be a lot better equipped to explain and answer questions your future clients have down the road.

Lastly, set 30 minutes to 1 hour aside every day, outside of work, to research and find the day’s latest Internet marketing articles. Ask colleagues what their favorite sources are, set up a Google Reader, visit Inbound.Org and comment/interact on different blogs to improve your SEM credibility on the web.

This letter could go on forever but I am going to stop it here. In summary, if you want to become one of the top Internet marketers in the industry, it will be difficult but it is not impossible. Become a student once again and go get it. Period.

College Graduation

 

 

Pack Your Bags (and Hide Your Address) – We’re Going to Venice!


Rialto Bridge, Venice (National Geographic)

Hide your Address

Google’s policy change for place listings on March 28th confused many, frustrated most and, as always, ended in compliance. Why on earth would you hide your address on your Google Places listing? Well, if you’re a service-based business, you don’t have a choice in the matter.

The policy update requires that all businesses that provide home-based services hide their address from their Google Places listing or risk it not showing up in the results. In theory, most service-based companies have a ‘home base’ or central administrative office, but Google wants to know: should customers navigate to that location using Maps? Google’s motive is to provide a great user experience, showing only business addresses you may need to get to.

What about ranking factors? Removing your address from your listing means your customers looking for a plumber or electrician closest to their home can no longer make their decision based on location.

Which quickly leads me to “Venice”…

City-less Search, Code Name: “Venice”

Have Google’s Panda updates got you down? Feel like lying on a beach in Venice for a few days? Maybe Google is too. They’ve code-named their latest Local update “Venice”, and it’s a big one. Before getting into the positives, the most important thing to note is this update greatly reduces the impact of hiding your address on your Places listing.

Google has switched to “nearly 100% Blended local results” which rely on web rankings. What does this mean? Purely localized, organic search results for broad queries such as “dentist”. Google is able to do this thanks to the Location feature in Google search which captures the user’s location based on IP address (or manual change), and they want to capitalize on this feature because it is estimated that 75% of searches for local needs do not include “San Francisco” or “Atlanta”—they’re in fact city-less. Users have come to expect Google to output local businesses whether they indicate their location or not – and Google wants to deliver. In turn, Google is starting to place more weight on organic rankings than map rankings for localized search queries (ie: “dentist”, “attorney”, “grocery store”, “car wash”, “babysitter”, etc.). Locations with hidden addresses continue to show up in the main SERPs and in the ever-present blended results because these blended rankings are now controlled by organic factors, rather than Places factors.

Tax Day is around the corner, so I used the city-less query “accountant” as an example:

Normal National Results:

Set Location to San Francisco:


Set Location to Portland:


“Venice” Takeaways

The results underneath the map listings used to be traditional, national results for sites that ranked highly for that general query, answering “what is an accountant?” and “how do you become an accountant?” Now, sites that have optimized for “city term” keywords are able to show up off of a general query, whereas before they may have only appeared for queries such as “accountant Portland OR”.

Local business perks? You are now able to appear in global results if you have taken the time to optimize your website (time that is well worth your investment). Mixed results don’t eliminate your competition with national franchises; they do however increase the likelihood that as a local business your website will appear in the results, catching a user’s eye with their city name in your description.
On the other hand, if you are a national franchise, queries for your major keywords will now bring pure local results into play, if the user has their location set in Google. This is something to be aware of, especially in major cities where map listings take up most of the first page, leaving just a small amount of space to compete for.

So … what about hiding your address? As stated earlier, if you service customers at their home, or a location other than your headquarters, according to Google’s new policy you must hide your address from appearing on your Places page. While previously Google would have penalized you for hiding your address from users, “Venice” levels the playing field in this regard. With the “Venice” update, there is no longer a risk that your Places listing’s rankings or even your website’s traditional, organic rankings will be negatively affected as it would have in the past. Ultimately, Google recognizes the fact they can’t penalize you for abiding by their policy. So if you have always hid your address before for privacy purposes – you’re in luck.

Keep in mind, however, that even if you’ve hidden your address, the city and zip code will appear and your location marker can still show up in Google Maps. The location will show up as a round marker rather than the usual teardrop, but it is still unknown whether it will appear above your true location (though hidden), or a generic location in the town or city you select.

How to Capitalize on “Venice”

What does “Venice” mean to your Local SEO efforts? Focusing on Google Places alone is no longer the best course of action for local businesses. While creating and optimizing your Google Places listing is the best way to show up in the listing results, it is not the only way to enable your listing to rank well. Now, Google will be placing a lot more weight on your website’s on-page SEO, so even if you have a well-optimized Google Places page, a neglected website could potentially harm your rankings.

On the other hand, if you optimize you website appropriately, your Places page may acquire a position within the blended results—truly saturating these traditional, localized search results with your local business.

A final thing to note with “Venice” is that if you don’t currently have a website and rely solely on your Google Places listing to keep yourself in front of potential customers, you may do well to finally take the plunge and provide your customers with a very user-friendly and well-optimized website that proves helpful to your customers. Since users want to know you’re a legitimate business, Google wants to know that too. And a website that provides your customers with additional information about your company will only reinforce a positive reputation.

My Conclusion

My main concern with hiding an address in Google Places is that it actually depletes some user experience (contrary to Google’s intent). If my plumbing goes haywire and my basement is flooding as a result, I want need the closest plumber possible. Thus when I perform a search in Google and I’m unable to access the addresses of plumbers in my area, there is no way for me to make a decision short of going to each website to find their physical location. While I understand Google’s desire to show physical businesses in their maps that users actually visit, most service-based businesses reside in commercial office space, and there are customers who want to know where that is located.

On the contrary, the “Venice” update is a game-changer for local businesses, and a win for users, too. Whether you type in a geo-targeted or city-less search, you’re going to get results close by for general localized queries that indicate local intent. It doesn’t go so far as to remove all global results either, which is smart on Google’s end. Searching “accountant” and having my location set does not always mean I want to find an accountant nearby. It could mean I’m interested in what accountants do, or how to become one. Of course, we’d surmise these searches would be more exact – which is exactly what Google is doing.

In conclusion, pay attention to both of these changes, whether you’re a local business or a national franchise. They haven’t rolled out completely, but when they do, they could become the source of your traffic loss—or gain.

Couch to 5K for the Internet Marketer – Get Your Website in Shape

Spring has begun, bikini season is right around the corner and everyone wants to be in shape… now. The thing is, big changes don’t happen overnight – getting off your bum to successfully run a 5k won’t happen from Friday to Saturday and neither will changing your website ranking from 100+ to 1. That’s why I’ve created the analogous SEO guide to take your website from slouching on the couch to ranking high in the race of SERPs.

Make a Plan – Map your goals

The first step toward completing your 5k is making the conscious decision that you want to run one. You need to lay out your goals, your time frame and your workout style. In similar fashion, before you begin your search engine optimization efforts, you need to consider your KPIs (key performance indicators) and your time available for SEO. KPIs will help measure performance to see if your changes are bringing you closer to what you want to achieve. They are the internet marketing expert’s version of a stop watch.

Walk to Jog – Keywords to rank

If you’re truly jumping off the couch and aiming to run a 5K, the best way to warm up your leg muscles is to get some distance under your sneakers regardless of the pace – start with a walk. Online: warm up to your list of keywords by checking in to what you already rank for and what is already driving your traffic. How do you find these pre-existing terms?

Work out Equipment – Research tools

A major factor to success in any exercise program is keeping it diverse – challenge different muscles, entertain your mind, change it up. Try something other than running by adding a jump rope to burn more calories, strengthen your calves and ultimately become a lighter, swifter runner. For your website, try the many tools at your disposal not only for keyword research, but also to see what could be improved on your site:

Ready to Jog – Start utilizing keywords

For your next workout, your muscles are warm and used to the idea of distance, so start jogging. Alternate between brisk walks and jogging maintaining a 3:2 ratio – for example, walk 90 seconds then jog for 60. When it comes to your website, don’t run head first into covering your site with keywords – start implementing them in small ways. Begin with your title and meta tags. Rewrite them to include appropriate keywords for each page and stronger calls to action, all the while keeping your searcher in mind.

Nutritional Lifestyle – Maintain solid internal structure

Couple your workout efforts with nutritional eating habits that will let you continuously push harder. Cut down on fats, give your muscles the carbs they crave and don’t overeat. Taking care of your internal structure will help you achieve your outward goals. The same is true when it comes to search engine optimization. Ensure your website’s navigation is straightforward for users so they find what they want in no more than 3 clicks. Show search engines what pages are relevant for important topics with a healthy internal linking structure.

Time Drills – Increase crawl speed

Once you’ve started introducing jogging to your workouts, it’s time to turn it up with time drills. Mark a distance, time your run and try to continuously improve on that time. When it comes to time drills on your site, search engine robots are the ones trying to cover more distance in less time. Do them a favor by removing the backup created by inline styles, excessive java scripts and similar extraneous coding. Take these off the page and into relevant linking CSS files or JS files.

Support System – Outreach

Several weeks into your workout program, it’s not uncommon to feel bogged down or overwhelmed. Reach out to friends, join a running club or find a similar support system to help keep you going. Find parallel strength for your website by gaining an external link support system coming from relevant-topic sites. Outreach for guest blogging, connect to someone else in your industry or gain support from your distributors. Powerful, legitimate links hold immense clout in the eyes of search engines.

Rest & Repair – Dangling & Broken Links


Taking time off to rest is just as important as time spent on your feet to gain strength. Ice injuries and alternate targeted muscle groups to give others a chance to recoup. Online: correct your broken links or write 301 redirects for any deleted pages. Additionally, “nofollow” dangling links so that your pages are not wasting link power to dead end items.

Map the Race – Sitemaps

As the race gets closer, the best way to prepare is by actually running the course before race day or mapping the same distance with similar terrain to practice on. Obvious navigation through your site for users and robots is just as important. Create a sitemap.html for human searchers and a sitemap.xml for robot searchers to ensure all your pages are indexed.

Practice, practice, practice – Dynamic & social content

A major factor in running success is to keep at it – don’t stop with your workouts and don’t slack off even after the race. Keep your muscles and body active. With your website, you want to keep your users engaged and your content fresh to encourage additional crawling of your site. Build an online community through the various social media sites available and connect these venues to your site.

Just like running to get in shape or to take on a distance challenge, optimizing your site is not a one day affair. Many website owners or clients will want their SEO experts to fast-track their results, just like many people will get the running bug and want to take on a marathon this weekend. Other than the above outlined sample program, the best advice I can is to simply accept the fact that ranking in search results is not a quick task. Realizing this will make your work more worthwhile as you stick it out till you see your domain listed in that prime number one spot. It’s almost as satisfying as being the runner to break through the tape across the finish line.