COVID-19 and SEO – A Pandemic’s Impact on Digital Commerce COVID-19 and SEO – A Pandemic’s Impact on Digital Commerce

COVID-19 and SEO – A Pandemic’s Impact on Digital Commerce

Digital Marketing, SEO

Well, I’ll go ahead and say it – the last couple of months have been strange and alarming. Between the travel lockdowns, social distancing restrictions, workplace changes, business shutdowns, and a record number of unemployment claims, it seems that there’s almost nothing in our world that hasn’t been altered by COVID-19. 

We haven’t seen an interruption to commerce and society like this since the last World War, or maybe when the Spanish Flu swept the world just over 100 years ago. COVID-19 is fundamentally altering how the world works (and for good reason), but one of the biggest changes we’ve seen is how people are shopping online. With purchases now broadly categorized as “essential” and “non-essential”, people have changed how they shop in ways that few could have anticipated. 

Now that both March and April have passed, we’re able to truly see just how much COVID-19 has changed digital commerce, which industries are benefiting and struggling, and where we might be headed over the next few months.

How Google has Handled COVID-19

Search engines have been a fact of life for nearly 30 years, and during a major event like COVID-19, the need for fast and accurate information is more important than ever. Google and other search engines have been working hard to make sure people are finding the best-possible information, which has resulted in more search volatility than we’ve seen in years.  

Search engines are not messing around when it comes to adjusting and improving results. False information can get people hurt, or even killed, especially when it comes to COVID-19. Companies like Google worry about how this information is communicated on their platform, which is why they made significant updates to health-based search results through March and early April. The search giant even adjusted its search results page to provide local statistics, national resources, information on symptoms, top stories, and a map of infection hotspots when a user searches for just about anything related to “coronavirus” or “COVID-19”. 

COVID-19 Search Results for Michigan

Google’s main focus is ensuring that trusted, well-known groups who should be providing reliable information, like the CDC and the National Health Institute, take the top spots. This doesn’t mean that every health-related domain is benefitting – many have been pushed into lower rankings because they aren’t trusted enough for the current situation, don’t relate to current searches, or are focused on saving money in healthcare. Even Wikipedia has begun to see significant ranking reductions simply because there’s a chance its users can spread false information by editing content.

Organic Revenue for Essential and Non-Essential Products

This major overhaul in search results doesn’t seem to have extended too far beyond health-based queries. Domains selling “non-essential” products haven’t seen much, if any, changes to search results. Google is content to let these domains maintain value and return to them once things are back to some form of normal. On the other hand, if you sell “essential” products, you’ve likely seen a major increase in organic transactions. 

Social distancing has significantly altered our way of life and our online habits. As companies began to temporarily close offices, we saw millions of people suddenly start working remotely, many for the first time. This led to an immediate surge in sales for home office supplies. On top of that, these same people now can’t go to the gym or visit their favorite restaurants, so we’ve also seen a sharp increase in home workout equipment sales and searches for online recipes and food delivery.

The same can be said for home entertainment – video game sales are through the roof, streaming and overall internet usage is way up, and parents are buying arts and crafts supplies in bulk to keep their kids happy and busy. There’s even been a noted increase in the number of people taking online courses and completing training programs.

Some industries are seeing revenue increases simply because of consumer anxiety. Gun & ammo manufactures and survival equipment suppliers saw incredible increases in online shopping behavior from February into March and April. We saw the same thing happen across the country with toilet paper, hand sanitizer, soap, and just about all cleaning products. While store shelves work to return to normal, it’s entirely possible that these industries could have a second surge.

But this doesn’t mean that every business has seen a revenue boom from COVID-19. While the idea of what is and isn’t “essential” differs from person to person, social distancing guidelines have led to a major drop in sales for items like party supplies, camping equipment, home decor, and even fashion-focused items, like shoes, clothes, and jewelry (though makeup sales are up).  

Things have managed to change as we’ve progressed through May. Many businesses are starting to see gradual revenue and activity increases, and if states continue to carefully and intelligently loosen restrictions, it’s likely that we’ll start to see numbers matching up with this time last year.

What CQL Has Observed Through COVID-19

COVID-19 and the state-ordered social distancing rules affected everyone at CQL, both professionally and personally. Even with the Grand Rapids and Ann Arbor offices now working completely from home, we’ve maintained our focus on supporting our clients and ensuring they can manage marketing and commerce issues posed by the pandemic. 

CQL has seen both sides of the COVID coin – we’ve had some clients experience huge and unexpected levels of online traffic and sales, while others have endured year-over-year revenue and activity drops as consumers change their shopping habits. One client has even seen traffic and transaction levels that mirror their usual Black Friday or Cyber Monday traffic… and it’s happened almost every single day since the stay-at-home orders began. 

This isn’t just limited to CQL – businesses across the world are changing tactics and finding new and effective ways to serve customers. There’s been a surge in app update or development projects, particularly in the medical field, and many companies are retooling their product selection and services to meet changing customer needs.

What’s Next for SEO in the Time of COVID-19?

This is a tough question to answer, particularly since we’re still figuring out how to handle COVID-19 as a nation. 

While there was a massive drop in “non-essential” organic transactions in March (right when businesses began closing and social distancing was implemented), we’ve been watching a slow but steady increase in the number of “non-essential” online purchases. Easter weekend seemed to help spur this increase even more and we’re now seeing many commerce clients getting much closer to last year’s organic revenue and session figures. 

In my opinion, it’s likely that we’ll see things begin to return to normal (or some form of normal) over the next few months as states begin loosening or outright eliminating social restrictions. But every company needs to be prepared for the other possibility: we could also see a second wave of infections begin, which could reignite social distancing restrictions and further alter digital commerce trends. Being prepared for either eventuality is important, no matter your industry or audience. 

In any event, the last few months are going to cast a long shadow and heavily influence how we shop and interact in the future. Right now, things are looking up and we’ll likely see this gradual organic activity increase continue as we head through the rest of May. If we’re lucky, the worst of it is behind us, but everyone should be prepared for COVID-19’s presence to linger in digital commerce for years to come.

How CQL Can Help Your Business Stay Healthy

Even with the changes to our own workplace and communication strategies, CQL has maintained total support for clients affected by COVID-19. We’re still developing new solutions, improving commerce platforms and technologies, and helping clients serve their customers in new ways.

Contact us today if you’d like to know more about how to digitally transform your business in light of COVID-19’s impact and what we can do to support your goals as all of us undergo these changes in modern digital commerce. 

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Learning from the Digital Marketing Experts at SMX West Learning from the Digital Marketing Experts at SMX West

Learning from the Digital Marketing Experts at SMX West

Content Marketing, CQL @ Work, Digital Marketing, Education, SEO

Last month, I took a solo trip to San Jose, CA, to attend SMX (Search Marketing Expo) West, one of the biggest and best digital marketing conferences out there. For two full days, the San Jose Convention Center was packed with SEO specialists, pay-per-click ad managers, in-house brand managers, and general digital marketers looking for insight into the current and future state of search. 

SMX is renowned for offering a huge selection of topics and training sessions across multiple channels. While I was focused on the search engine optimization track, I had the opportunity to sit in on sessions dedicated to paid ads, email marketing, and brand development, where I picked up some valuable new ideas.

With so many excellent topics available to attendees, and so many interesting ideas shared by digital marketing experts, it’s downright difficult to fully share just how much I learned at SMX West. However, there were several very important and impactful concepts shared in multiple sessions which should be taken into consideration, no matter your industry or target market. 

If Content is King, then Site Speed is Queen

Way back in 1996, Bill Gates coined the expression, “content is king” in an essay he wrote for Microsoft’s website. He correctly predicted that the Internet’s value and expansion would be based on the content webmasters provided to visitors and searchers, but he didn’t realize that he’d accidentally coined the catchphrase marketers would wield for the next 25 years. 

Google has long championed the “content is king” idea in its search algorithms – if your site has well-written, relevant content that matches the searchers’ intent, then you’ll have a better chance of achieving high rankings for valuable keywords. However, there are many caveats and rules built into Google’s understanding of quality content, which is why it’s so important to craft page content that you know will be useful to users and search engines. 

Today, content is still king, but site speed has been crowned as the queen. With the rise of mobile devices and Google’s switch to a mobile-first database, site speed has become absolutely critical to achieving and maintaining organic value. Searchers expect fast and fully responsive websites, and will quickly abandon any domain or app that’s too slow or takes too long to load. Google will do the same thing – if your competitor’s site is faster and has similar-quality content, then it’ll likely be ranked above you. 

Tools like Google Lighthouse, CrUX (Chrome User Experience), and webpagetest.org are instrumental to understanding your site’s issues and finding solutions. By minifying and streamlining code, improving image loading, and focusing on mobile value, brands can gradually speed up their sites and find new value opportunities. 

It should be noted that Google Lighthouse provides simulation data while CrUX and webpagetest.org use live data. Many marketers use both tools to understand and improve their domain, as they provide solid viewpoints for data review.

We aren’t saying that you need to focus solely on speed improvements and ignore your site’s content. You can have the fastest site out there, but if you don’t have quality content to match your speed, then it’s off with your head.

Image and Video Optimization is Bigger than Ever

The constant increase in mobile activity over the past decade has led to some interesting changes in the digital marketing world. While we were once focused on metadata, links, and content, we’re now dealing with the rise of voice search, an increase in image-based ecommerce searches, and the explosion in available video content. 

There’s a problem with this change in search tactics: search engines are essentially blind. They can read text, review page structure, and understand a page’s intent, but they can’t “see” images or videos. This relative gap in search engine abilities can be countered by providing useful and descriptive image alt text and files, and by surrounding video content with descriptive headlines, internal links, and transcriptions of the video. This also helps improve your chances of showing up in Google’s video carousel, which appears with certain searches. 

Marketers have relied on video content forever but this new push toward fully optimizing video and image content will be huge in the coming years. This is especially true for sites looking to be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Major websites are already facing lawsuits based on ADA compliance issues with on-site imagery and videos, so now’s the time to start fully optimizing your image- and video-based content. 

Changes to Google’s NoFollow Rule and New Options

In the early days of the Internet, one of the best methods for indexing URLs and expanding a search engine’s understanding of the internet was by following links added to domains. Domains with thousands of incoming and outgoing links were seen as valuable to searchers because they must be popular. This allowed groups like Google to provide better search results to users, but it was an inherently flawed system that allowed webmasters to take advantage of the system by trading links, creating link farms, or “hiding” content. 

Since then, search engines have improved exponentially, and that includes changes to how links are handled. Internal and external links are still highly valuable, but many larger websites (like Wikipedia or the New York Times) used NoFollow tags on their outgoing links. This not only discouraged crawlers from leaving the domain, but also negates potential value sharing between the two domains. 

While there have been many changes since then, Google has recently decided that it will now see NoFollow tags as a hint. This really just means it’s going to crawl your NoFollow tags to see where they go but likely won’t attach actual value. They’ve also provided two new tags – rel=”sponsored” and rel=”ugc” – to help users better understand the differences between sponsored links and user-generated content, such as links in blog comments. This change won’t be massively impactful but it could lead to some future updates to how links are labeled. 

Changes to Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools

Google and Bing are the two titans in the search industry. While Google has always been the innovator and leader in search development, Bing has made huge strides to improve its offerings and capabilities. Instead of working as competitors, both search engines are moving toward a more unified structure and layout, which will make it easier for webmasters to use both tools. 

Google Search Console is always going through changes and tests, but its new Remove URLs tool allows webmasters to temporarily remove URLs, images, and other files from Google’s index. This is very useful for companies that are forced to take down content, those that are suddenly no longer offering a product or service, or for those that are doing major work on a site while it’s live. It should be noted that the Remove URLs tool won’t permanently remove a URL from the index (though that’s still possible with further steps). 

Bing Webmaster Tools provides far more control than Google Search Console (probably too much), but it was always a little clunky. Key aspects have been updated to match Google Search Console’s abilities, and with Microsoft Edge now using Chromium as its base, we’ll start to see better data and interaction from Bing searchers.

The Future of Search is Always Changing

SMX West was an excellent learning opportunity and easily one of the best conferences I’ve ever attended. Having the chance to hear interesting ideas and develop useful marketing skills is not only great for CQL’s clients, but for CQL as a whole. These new marketing aspects and methods will help our website development and design teams build powerful and valuable sites for our clients, while our internal marketing team will rely on these new angles to further boost our capabilities. 

If you’d like to know more about what I learned at SMX West, or would just like to better understand your site and how to improve it, then contact CQL. We’ll find the best-possible solutions for your products and services, pair a reliable content management system with an enticing design, and work closely with your team to drive new levels of success.

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Emojis in Search Results – A Trend or the Future? Emojis in Search Results – A Trend or the Future?

Emojis in Search Results – A Trend or the Future?

Digital Marketing, SEO

No matter what you do or where you live, emojis have become a fact of life. These funny, simple, and sometimes strange symbols have altered the way we communicate and have opened a new world of possibilities for everyday technology, including search engines. 

Emojis were quickly adopted in the smartphone era because they help convey emotions and ideas without having to type out a full message. Our brains are much faster at deciphering symbols and images over text, so it’s actually easier for us to understand a smiley face than it is to understand the same symbol made with a colon or semicolon in front of a closing parenthesis :). This is the same reason gifs and memes have become so popular in texting and social media.  

Emojis also cross language barriers. Someone from rural Indiana might not be able to speak Czechoslovakian, but with emojis, basic ideas and emotions can be easily communicated and understood across cultural divides. Reasons like this, and more, have helped push emojis to the forefront of online communication, but what does that mean for search engines and the modern Internet?

The Rise of Emojis in Search Results

Emojis are described as a pictographic language, which is one of the oldest forms of written human communication. The symbols, runes, carvings, and hieroglyphics used by many early cultures are common examples of pictography. We may consider ourselves modern and civilized, but that doesn’t mean we’ve moved on from using simple symbols to convey ideas. Bathroom signs, warning labels, street signs, and more rely on pictograms to express basic messages. Emojis offer the same convenience but they impact far more than just texts with your friends. 

Basic emojis began appearing here and there in search results during the early 2010s, though most searchers didn’t notice. Gradually, major brands realized they could insert emojis into meta data and make their domain stand out in search results. This inevitably led to web managers outright abusing this new optimization angle and stuffing emojis into title tags, meta descriptions, and even page content. In early 2015, Google clamped down and emojis were almost completely stripped from search results. 

SERPs remained largely emoji-free until early 2017, when Google once again started allowing emojis to appear in search results. Things had changed – now, emojis would only be shown in search results when they’re deemed “relevant, useful, and fun.” This is Google’s usual vague answer to anything concerning search results, but it gives us an idea as to when, where, and why emojis might appear in results. 

Why are Emojis Even Showing Up in Search Results?

There’s a simple answer to that question: marketing. Advertisers know that emojis are key to connecting with younger Millennials and the new Generation Z, which is why they’re starting to pop up more and more in online ads and search results. Younger generations are much more internet savvy and likely to use emojis, but you have to strike a delicate balance to make sure your emojis actually show up. 

Emojis can also be overused. We’ve all seen social media posts from influencers, celebrities, and our little cousins featuring far too many emojis, hashtags, and links, rendering the content nearly unreadable. The same applies to search results. If a searcher sees a URL’s title tag and meta descriptions jammed full of emojis, they might see it as weird or trying too hard, which might lead them to pass by the result. Using emojis sparingly and in a natural way is the best approach.

Finally, emojis have become more extensive, detailed, and ethnically diverse to match user demand, which has led some companies to join the bandwagon and release their own branded line of emoji characters. Way back in 2014, Taco Bell went so far as to start a marketing campaign just to get a taco emoji, which received half a million retweets and 33,000 signatures in five days. They got their emoji and, to this day, you’ll still get Taco Bell at the top of the results when you search with a taco emoji. Go ahead, try it out. 

How Emojis Currently Work in Google Search Results

Today, Google’s RankBrain machine learning search algorithm displays emojis in results it deems relevant. If a searcher uses an emoji in their search query (which is becoming more common), they might end up with search results displaying matching or similar emojis. 

On top of this, RankBrain is smart enough to understand when emojis might be too spammy, possibly misleading, or just out of place. If it detects meta data emojis it feels fall into one of these three categories, then it simply won’t display them in the search results. 

It’s very easy to find emojis in search results – you just have to use them correctly. You can use the pizza emoji to find local pizza places, information on the pizza emoji, and a pile of YouTube videos focused on pizza, all with one symbol (note that the YouTube videos feature food emojis in the titles). You can even look at the Related Search suggestions to see that people are combining brand names with emojis, such as “Dominos” and “Hut”. 

It Gets Weirder: Emoji Domains

To make things even more complicated, you can now own and operate domains that only use emojis in the URL. Users can simply enter the domain’s related emojis (say, a heart and a puppy), and they’ll be taken to something that could be read as “ilovepuppies.com”. 

While emoji domains are a fun and new option, there’s one big drawback: URLs will only appear as ASCII text simply because browsers can’t display emojis in the URL bar. So, instead of seeing the heart and puppy emoji, you’re going to end up with xn--qei9148m.ws. 

While that URL is ugly and impractical, there’s a possibility that these new emoji domains will actually pan out and become a real trend. While I wouldn’t recommend sinking any marketing dollars into an emoji domain right away, it is something to keep in mind down the road.

If you want to see an emoji URL in action, you can check out the Warby Parker website.  They use the basic glasses emoji to create a single-emoji URL that looks nice and works well with the brand. This URL will display as xn--4p8h.ws as the site is accessed but will switch over to the “real” URL once loaded. 

The Future of Emojis in Search Results

I feel that there will be two potential outcomes regarding the use of emojis in search results:

  1. Major brands will double down on their past mistakes and start overusing emojis in meta data and site content, which will lead to Google stripping emojis from results. Then, history will repeat itself and emojis will slowly creep back into search results and the cycle will start over.
  2. Google will continue evolving how it handles emojis in search results and will allow them to remain for relevant searches. New guidelines might be created to outline how, when, and where emojis can be considered acceptable for search results. Google might also punish sites using an excessive number of emojis in meta data and page content, but that’s a complicated aspect.

There’s a distinct possibility that both of these options will happen: Google might remove or drastically reduce emojis in search, continue working on how, when, and where they want emojis to appear in results, and come back again in a year or two with yet another approach. Time will tell. 

Should You Use Emojis in Your Meta Data?

Using emojis in meta data can absolutely help increase your click-through rate for organic search results, and it’s even been shown to significantly impact interaction with PPC ads. However, I’m not going to recommend peppering every title tag and meta description across your domain with emojis right away. 

I’m a big fan of testing and evaluating changes to meta data, but whether or not you include emojis in your meta data is going to depend entirely upon your industry. If you’re selling makeup, clothing, or food, then it could make sense to test out the inclusion of a lipstick, dress, or pizza emoji in a few title tags and meta descriptions. On the other hand, let’s say you’re running a funeral home – you probably don’t want to make your title tags pop with a few coffin or tombstone emojis.

You can love them, hate them, or simply tolerate them, but emojis are here to stay. It is worthwhile for your team to consider how you might incorporate them in the execution of your metadata strategy.

If you’d like to learn more about the best ways to optimize your domain’s meta data, page content, and technical elements, then reach out to the web development and digital marketing teams here at CQL. 

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Why You Need to Include SEO in Your Next Web Project Why You Need to Include SEO in Your Next Web Project

Why You Need to Include SEO in Your Next Web Project

Digital Marketing, SEO

Any company preparing to redesign or replatform its website is going to have a long and complicated list of tasks to manage. Whether it’s large changes to the site’s appearance, structure, or the entire platform itself, or smaller adjustments that help improve functionality, everyone has to work as a team to complete the changes and ensure quality. 

More often than not, there’s one vital element overlooked or discounted during these seismic shifts to a website’s core structure: careful and meticulous SEO management and development. A company can redevelop its website into a beautiful, perfectly functional platform that its customers will love, but if the site isn’t optimized and ready to show its new face to search engines, then that company could be in serious trouble.

It’s All About Maintaining Organic Value

A key focus of any replatform project or major redesign should be maintaining as much SEO value as possible. It can take a while for a domain to build and retain organic value, but that same value can be very easily reduced or outright lost during major updates without proper SEO care and planning. 

In most cases, a company’s domain that is set to be redesigned or replatformed falls into one of two categories: 

  1. The domain already has a solid level of organic value, so the team must take steps to maintain the site’s rankings and value in search results
  2. The domain has low organic value and will benefit from the update, which means the site needs to launch with the best-possible setup

Both situations highlight the need for organic optimization and monitoring, but it’s important to remember that a domain will always see ranking changes with a replatform or redesign. Search engines will need several weeks (or months) to reevaluate a domain after significant updates. So, even with a perfect SEO strategy in place, a domain is still going to see a time lag related to changes as everything settles.

The Good, Better, Best SEO for a New Website

The Good SEO Elements

If a company doesn’t have the time, budget, or capabilities to manage a comprehensive SEO update with its redesign or replatform, then it better be sure it’s double-checking and guaranteeing the functionality and accuracy of the items listed below. Once a site is up and running, it’s recommended the internal or external teams begin expanding the SEO work as soon as possible. 

XML sitemap

  • XML sitemaps provide search engines with a list of every URL attached to a domain
  • Be sure the domain has a working XML sitemap that contains every unblocked URL on your domain
  • Multiple free tools exist to test an XML sitemap, like xml-sitemaps.com

Robots.txt

  • The Robots.txt file tells search engines which categories, pages, and parameters should not be indexed
  • The XML Sitemap URL should be listed in the Robots.txt file

301 redirects

  • 301 redirects are used to point one URL to another URL, usually when a page is deleted
  • Redirects are highly useful for maintaining and transferring organic value and should always be part of a redesign or replatform

Status codes

  • Every accessible URL (those not hidden behind a login or blocked in Robots.txt) should resolve as a 200-level status code
  • Any URLs or in-text links resolving with 301, 302, or 404 status codes should be updated before launch, so they aren’t indexed

In the past, I’ve worked with clients who have come to us after launching websites with broken sitemaps, useless Robots.txt files, missing 301 redirects, and serious issues with status codes on live pages. Missing these critical steps  can easily lead to a significant loss of organic value. Plus, it can take serious effort (i.e., costs and effort) to fix these issues, which is why it’s so important to be sure you have the basics ready before you launch a new website.

The Better SEO Elements

The items listed above will help ensure a site has the basics ready for search engines, but in the long run, those base technical elements are not going to help a domain build real value and knock its competitors out of top positions. Taking the time and energy needed to create well-researched meta data, descriptive headlines, and developing a base interlinking strategy are vital for helping a new site maintain and gain organic value.

Meta data

  • Title tags and meta descriptions are extremely important for developing page value and encouraging clicks from search results
  • The title tag is the first thing a search engine checks when it lands on a page, which means it must have a valuable, related keyword (or two)

Headlines

  • Page headlines range from H1 tags to H2, H3, H4, and H5 tags
  • Website managers can use headlines to add secondary keywords or keyword variations that support the title tag and help raise the URL’s overall organic value

Internal linking

  • Creating connections between related pages with internal linking is one of the best ways to transfer value from high-level pages to deeper pages
  • Links should be created with valuable keywords as the anchor text, though global navigation links don’t apply

Plenty of new or redesigned websites go live without paying much attention to their meta data or internal linking strategies. I’ve seen several domains that use the same title tags and meta descriptions for every page and wonder why their new domain lost or never gained value after launch. 

They may seem like minor elements, but after you’ve updated or launched a site, search engines are going to be reviewing everything very carefully. With quality meta data and a solid interlinking strategy, you can help search engines better understand your domain and begin building new organic value. 

The Best SEO Elements

Finally, if a company is looking to make a massive impact with its new site, then it’s time to take the final step into content development, link building, and optimizing the website’s speed & performance. 

For Google, content is king. This means that well-written, fresh, and informative content is highly valued over any competing areas. Domains need to rely on quality content to help establish and expand organic value, which means writing, managing, and updating content a company knows its users will want to see.

  • Remember that the site’s on-page content can also appear in search results. Google will sometimes replace meta descriptions with scraped page content that it feels is a closer match to a searcher’s intent, which makes quality page content even more important.

Beyond page content, the team should look into link building and ways to improve the site’s overall speed and loading performance.

High-quality page content

  • On-page content is the best way to expand a page’s organic value and gain rankings for secondary keywords and keyword variations
  • The perfect opportunity for creating and implementing natural internal links and expanding a URL’s value

Link building

  • Receiving links to your website from domains in related industries
  • Links can be solicited, and many marketing groups will help companies gain more backlinks for their domain

Image loading & speed

  • One of the last major organic value development factors is a site’s overall speed and performance
  • The faster and smoother a site loads, the better – huge image files, outdated coding and styling, and other “junk” can significantly hinder a domain’s performance

Launching a site with minimal content, limited external links, and improperly loaded images is also a common problem and can majorly affect a site’s value. I’ve worked with many clients who’ve launched a site with a solid technical foundation and unique meta data, but who aren’t seeing real growth. With campaigns aimed at improving and expanding on-page content, gaining links from related domains, and improving overall site load performance, struggling domains make significant organic gains in months.

If You Build it, They Will Might Come

Keep in mind that the items listed in this article are just skimming the surface of everything that can be done to optimize a website. I’m not even dipping my toe into structured data, keyword cannibalization, content duplication, backlink management, local optimization, mobile/desktop usability, any many other areas. SEO is endless and no domain is fully or perfectly optimized.

CQL Will Help You Maintain Organic Value

With careful work and a solid strategy, you and your team can help ensure that search engines and their users value your new or relaunched website. All it takes is an eye for detail, and commitment to maintaining the efforts, and maybe a little help from the search engine optimization experts at CQL.

For an easy reference on tips to maintaining or improving organic value, download the below guide to “The Good, Better, and Best SEO for a New Website.”

CQL has over two decades of experience with helping clients create customized websites and applications, and our new digital marketing offerings will help push your new site to the top of the search listings. For more information contact us below or email info@cqlcorp.com.

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Stagnant Content is Stinking Up Your Site Stagnant Content is Stinking Up Your Site

Stagnant Content is Stinking Up Your Site

Content Marketing, SEO

Nobody likes being around stagnant, swampy water. Whether it’s an algae-filled pond in the woods or a persistent puddle in someone’s backyard, stagnant water just isn’t something people seek out. This same idea applies to your website and search engines share our opinion. Why would Google have any real interest in stagnant, boring websites full of unchanged content?

For many business owners and website managers, taking the time needed to regularly update their site’s content just isn’t possible. Managing, operating, and monitoring a website is a full-time job all by itself, so it isn’t surprising that many websites don’t update their content very often, if ever. Once the content is there, it’s a permanent element for many, many websites. 

On-page content isn’t a “set it and forget it” part of managing a website. Google wants the freshest, smartest, and most relevant content for its search results, and that means finding sites that are being actively managed and updated. If you want to stay at the top of results, increase engagement statistics, and generally improve your overall online presence, then you need to keep your site fresh. This is where things like evergreen content come into play.

How do You Create Evergreen Content?

For Google, there’s nothing as enticing as evergreen content, which is largely seen as information that’s always useful to searchers. Google wants to provide searchers with relevant content above all else, which means the search engine seriously values informative, well-written content from around the web. However, creating and managing evergreen content isn’t a simple task and will require real work.

Many marketers want to know what counts as evergreen content. Simply stated, it’s content that isn’t based on trends, fads, current news, or anything that might not be relevant to searchers in the future. While that’s a really broad definition, it provides some ideas behind what can be evergreen.

Blogs are often held up as a great way to regularly add new content to a site, particularly when evergreen content is the focus. Recipes, how-to guides, tutorials, educational content, and more can easily turn into highly valuable site content that steadily brings in more and more organic traffic.

Outside of a blog, marketers and site managers can create evergreen content focused on their specific industry. Look at what your customers search for or ask about, then think about how these ideas can be turned into descriptive, useful content that can stand the test of time.

Does Meta Data Need to be Updated?

Absolutely. A page’s meta data is where every search engine gains its initial understanding of the page’s intent. It’s the first point of contact with on-page elements, so if the page is struggling, then it’s time for a refresh. 

Title tags and headline tags are hugely important for search engines and are the first area to review when updating a page. These two spots usually provide a short, direct explanation of the page’s topic or intent, so if you really want to impact a page’s value, try adjusting your title tags to improve rankings and relevance.

While meta descriptions don’t necessarily have true SEO value, they are massively useful for getting searchers to click onto your site. Testing different meta descriptions is a great way to help keep a page from sinking into stagnancy while finding new and effective ways to gain clicks.

Keep Your Site Flowing to Stop Stagnancy

Whether it’s your marketing and merchandising team, your copywriters, or the intern who needs the training, it’s important to have people dedicated to maintaining and refreshing your site. 

CQL’s digital marketing team has years of collected experience with helping customers find the right path to success, and that includes ensuring customers manage and improve site content. Give us a call today if you’d like to learn a little more about what we can do to keep your site flowing.

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Google Discover and the Impact on SEO Google Discover and the Impact on SEO

Google Discover and the Impact on SEO

SEO, Digital Marketing

For the last 20 years, one search engine has made such a massive impact on the way people use the internet that the company’s name became a verb. I am, of course, talking about Google, which most people don’t even think of as a company – it’s simply part of everyday life. Few companies come close to Google’s success, which they’ve achieved simply by dictating how the internet will work and expecting everyone else to follow suit.

Google has maintained its spot at the top of the pile by constantly tweaking and adjusting things behind the scenes. Though they usually don’t address or announce minor changes or experiments, Google rolls out the red carpet and makes SEOs around the world start sweating when something really big comes through.

Recently, Google began to roll out Google Discover, one of its biggest changes yet. This new feature could very well drastically alter how people interact with the search engine and what customization can mean for the average user.

Google Discover Will Change Search (Forever?)

Since day one, Google has been wholly committed to providing users with a great experience and the most relevant content possible. They’ve accomplished this for years by constantly reworking their search algorithms, but recently, Google has started looking at new ways to improve the user experience. Their solution: the introduction of Google Discover.

Google Discover originally started as a basic feed feature that provided users with relevant data based on their search history. It was a minor item that saw some use, but it wasn’t a core component of the overall process. Now, Google Discover provides users with a feed-like list of articles, videos, and content related to their interests, right on the Google homepage.

Users can adjust their feed by deciding if they want to see more or less information on specific topics. Actively managing their Discover page will help create a personalized search engine completely focused on their interests. Google will customize everything to that user and create a powerful experience that searchers will likely begin to adopt, especially on mobile devices.

Is Google Discover Going to Kill Queries?

To put it simply: probably not, but it’s going to affect how SEO works over the coming years. Users will still search for goods, services, and queries just like they always have but their searches can now alter and expand their Discover feed. It could be that they begin finding relevant content right on the Google homepage and only need to use the search option for items outside their feed. This is a big change and will drastically alter how SEOs handle optimization and online marketing.

How do We Optimize for Google Discover?

Google Discover is designed to provide evergreen content to users, which means that SEOs and web marketers will need to start focusing on creating high-quality, topical content that could be useful to a searcher’s Discover feed. Content has always been king for Google, but with Discover, content is going to become the heart of any valuable website.

On top of this, it will be even more important to include schema on pages throughout the site, as these bits of code are highly useful for gathering articles, guides, and How-To posts into Google carousel and Discover feed. Tie in the idea that it’ll be important to monitor Discover traffic, which you can now do through Google Search Console, and SEOs will quickly find that it’s a whole new ball game.

As a side note: don’t worry if you don’t see the Discover section in your Google Search Console reports – it’s a slow rollout and will likely appear for ecommerce sites well before service and information sites.

Don’t Let Yourself Get Undiscovered

Google’s near-constant changes mean that marketers around the world need to be on their toes and ready to adjust their strategy at the drop of a hat. With Google Discover, it’ll be more important than ever to make sure you’re producing relevant, engaging content that won’t be lost in the shuffle.

CQL will be focusing on ensuring our clients are ready for Google Discover. If you need help, want some assistance, or just need the right marketing team to guide your company into the new era of search, then give us a call.

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SEO & Ecommerce: How to Do it Right SEO & Ecommerce: How to Do it Right

SEO & Ecommerce: How to Do it Right

CQL @ Work, Digital Marketing, Ecommerce Platforms, SEO

When I tell people that I focus on SEO for a web marketing group, I usually get a confused look, or maybe a slow nod if they’ve heard that acronym somewhere else. I follow up this comment with a simple explanation: “I make Google like my clients’ websites and services.” Once people hear that, they start nodding and immediately asking questions.

This is actually a pretty normal reaction since most people don’t really understand how search engines work or what’s required to get a website to the top of search results. This reaction and limited understanding are not just limited to people outside of the tech and web industry. The same can be said about plenty of people in the ecommerce industry, which is why I’m here to share a little bit of CQL’s SEO knowledge.  

SEO: The Big Mystery

Search engine optimization might be one of the most commonly mentioned and relatively least understood tools in a web marketer’s arsenal. We’ve all had managers, clients, and coworkers ask about SEO, but most of the time, these people only understand the basic idea: SEO will help our website show up in search results.

With proper and comprehensive search engine optimization, the established search engine value is likely there to stay and grow, barring a major algorithm shift or a concerted effort by a competitor. Companies can expect regular sales and activity once a website or particular page has achieved a high ranking and maintaining that high ranking can actually be easier than you’d think. The return on investment in SEO easily tops other marketing channels, simply because the work you put in doesn’t disappear when you stop.

So… how do you go about building that value and getting to the top of search results? It’s simple: you start with a strategy.

Developing an Ecommerce SEO Strategy

A key tenant of an effective SEO campaign is strategizing how you’ll accomplish your goal. Whether it’s increasing rankings, improving revenue generation, upping site interaction figures, or going after a unique KPI, you have to start by figuring out the path you’ll follow on your way to SEO success.

I always recommend beginning by reviewing a company’s audience and how they search. After all, there’s no better way to understand what your customers want than by reviewing what they’re searching and how they made it to your website. You can find these search terms using Google Search Console. If you don’t have a GSC account for your website, then I suggest setting one up as soon as possible.

This is the first stage of keyword research and it’s an effective method for establishing your focus and beginning to build page value. Keyword research tools like Google AdWords and SEM Rush are excellent resources for discovering new keywords, but their real value lies in finding keyword variants.

Marketers can also use tools like SEM Rush to review a website’s current and historical rankings, which can be used to identify even more high-value keywords and variants.

Implementing Your SEO Strategy

So, now that you’ve picked out a batch of keywords and variants for your selected category, product, or service page, you can begin the optimization process.

Outside of a website’s technical elements, search engines are largely looking for two areas with every page: the title tag and the on-page content. The title tag gives the search engine an immediate understanding of the page’s intent, while the deeper crawls examine page content, headline, and internal linking.

In the SEO world, the expression “Content is King” is almost a slogan. While it’s usually said in reference to long-form, detailed page content and articles, it’s just as true for product descriptions. Unique headlines, descriptions, and on-page content are highly valuable and capable of pushing pages higher in search results, but there are pitfalls to avoid along the way.

Don’t Duplicate Your Descriptions

In most cases, duplicate content is a serious issue for Google and other search engines. They don’t take plagiarism lightly, but search engines understand that a single product sold by many different websites across multiple industries might end up with similar or duplicate descriptions. After all, there are only so many ways you can describe products and services, and many ecommerce groups have agreements with manufacturers to use the descriptions they provide.

This doesn’t have to apply to your website. If you want your category, product, or service page to stand out to search engines, then you need to develop unique content. A focused title tag and headline, paired with descriptive content containing keywords and variants, should be seen as the basic structure for every product page on an ecommerce site.

Secondary Content & Meta Descriptions

Once you’ve developed your unique descriptive content, you can move on to secondary content and meta descriptions. Secondary content can be anything outside of the product’s main description, such as specifications, features, benefits and related areas. This content can be optimized but it shouldn’t be used as a way to push multiple keyword variants.

Your meta description is there to explain the related page, highlight important information and entice a user to visit your site, all in less than 160 characters.  While meta descriptions don’t have any real value to search engines, they’re still highly useful from a UX perspective. While many ecommerce groups use generic or formulaic meta descriptions (which isn’t all that bad), it’s better to write unique descriptions.

Internal Links Hold It All Together

With title tags, meta descriptions and all of the content out of the way, the next area to focus on is developing an internal linking strategy. These in-text links serve three purposes: to help users navigate a website, to spread organic value throughout a domain, and to ensure search engine crawlers both avoid dead ends and find new ways to explore the site beyond top-level navigation elements.

Every SEO will give you a different answer when you ask how many links should be on a page, but the basic rule is to never have more than 2-3 links in a single paragraph and to avoid linking to the same page more than once. Make it feel natural and give the links enough space to stand out in the eyes of a reader.

Keep Your URLs Pretty

Finally, we come to one of the most overlooked parts of ecommerce optimization: URL formatting and structure.

Depending on how your ecommerce platform works, you might have URLs full of ugly junk or simple URLs that follow a nested category structure, such as www.domain.com/product-category/product. This is the optimal structure for any website’s URLs but it’s particularly important for ecommerce websites.

Google and other search engines prefer URLs with a “clean” category structure. Product or category pages with URLs featuring filtered elements, parameters, or strange structures aren’t ranked as often as clean URLs, particularly if the canonical elements are wrong or aren’t set.

If your site uses a nested category structure and accurate canonicals, then you’re likely doing fine. If your site’s URLs need a facelift, work with your development and product management teams to find a new solution. Who knows – maybe a new ecom-focused content management system, like Salesforce Commerce Cloud, is right for your site.

Working with the Experts at CQL

For nearly 25 years, CQL has been helping service and ecommerce groups excel in their industries. Proper search engine optimization has always been a part of that approach, but with our newly expanded digital marketing services, it will become a top aspect of every website we develop.

If you’d like to learn more about CQL’s experience with designing, developing, and optimizing ecommerce websites, then contact us today.

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