Top Ten Tips: SEO Edition #9

SEO Tip 9

Everyone knows the popular idiom “a picture is worth a thousand words,” but to search engines, a picture is worth absolutely no words. Whenever a site uses an abundance of images to describe their products and services, search engines have no way to enable these images to assist with increasing a site’s ranking when people are searching for the products and services they portray.

Unlike with humans, search engines can’t interpret images and decipher their meaning; instead, they only index the fact that an image is present. For modern day designers, the overuse of pictures has become a staple of creating beautiful websites, but it comes at the cost of their SEO rankings, and that’s not something everyone is aware of when building a site.

The dramatic increase in the amount of imagery used on web pages is a result of one of two design tactics. One, you’re using a template provided by a web builder application, something that we discussed may already be hurting your ranking (Tip #10). Or, two, the developer building the site hasn’t mastered CSS, so they’re inserting images in sections where they should be writing code. We’ll discuss how both of these approaches affect your SEO ranking.

Image Heavy Templates

Wordpress Theme
Longform WordPress Theme

Part of the allure of web building applications is not needing to know how to write code to build a website. Gorgeous templates offer clients a variety of design options from professionals, and with some customization of wording and imagery, even my grandma can produce an “Applesque” site that makes mere mortals marvel at its beauty. The downside is, the same person using a template to build a website doesn’t always understand how preconfigured sites affect search rankings. Images give websites a stunning visual appeal, but they don’t integrate with the core results of a search query.

When visitors enter a term into a search engine, the majority of the results display because of the text information contained within the page’s heading and title elements. Images are elements of a web page as well, but when a search engine encounters them, they log them into a different area of the results page than where most of us find the answers to our inquiries about products and services.

Every time a user selects the images tab on the results page, they’ve moved in the dedicated area where search engines store images that they find on websites. When considering how search engines divide text-based and image search results into separate areas, it should come as no surprise that clicks in the images tab do nothing to assist a site in appearing higher in text-based rankings, and this concept is at the core of how a surplus of images is lowering your SEO rankings.

CSS Mastery

On the other hand, developers aren’t perfect either, and they can stumble into different kinds of errors when using images on pages. Modern websites often display beautiful images with subtext sprinkled over them to add context to what’s on-screen, but if developers haven’t quite mastered advanced styling techniques, these subtexts are sometimes rendered as part of the image and not an individual web element.

Integrated Image

Adding text over images requires developers to understand relative and absolute positioning values, and early-stage developers may not have developed this skill set, so they often include wording in the images themselves. Since these articles are meant to focus on SEO, and not web development tips, we won’t go into great detail about how these settings work. What we can do is let you know how to identify if you’re a victim of a novice web developer by letting you know how to detect if the technique is executed correctly.

Non-integrated Image

Not
Integrated

Text that has been directly integrated within an image cannot be selected, and trying to highlight it with a mouse cursor, or pressing and holding your finger over the text on a mobile device, will identify if the wording is selectable. If the words are not selectable, it means these words are only interpreted by sight, and not by search engines. Those images are also not doing anything to improve your search ranking.

Figuring Out Where You Stand

Understanding how much text is on a page, versus how many images the page contains, provides insight into the content/code ratio. The content/code ratio is used to determine if a page is overly reliant on images, and there are a variety of tools that measure this ratio.

For those not familiar with how this measurement works, it relies on reading the source code of a web page and measuring how many page elements are present versus the amount of content they contain. The measurement produces a percentage that developers know as the code ratio. Search engines can also see this ratio and prefer it to be between 10%-20%.

Tools that display the exact percentage are usually made available with professional SEO software, so you’re working with an agency they should have access to it, but it’s unlikely you’ll naturally stumble across it by yourself.  Make sure you’re discussing this aspect of your site as a part of any SEO audit. If you haven’t had an SEO audit, you can get a complimentary one from RTR Digital by clicking here. You can also preview what fully integrated SEO looks like by clicking here.

If you have any question or comments about this article, please them in the comments section.

Top Ten Tips: SEO Edition #10

Top SEO Tips 10

Welcome to the first article in our ten-part series that discusses the top 10 Search Engine Optimization tips from 2018 that should govern your approach to ranking your site higher in 2019. I’m not going to assume that you’re familiar with Search Engine Optimization, or SEO as it’s commonly known (if you are all in on the tech acronyms), so I’m going to give you a brief overview of what it is and why it’s essential.

“SEO is the practice of making online content more easily readable for search engines.”

SEO comprises many different elements, such as a page’s structure, metadata, and performance, with the goal of the service being to balance these three aspects of page design to maximize its efficiency, without sacrificing too drastically from its design elements. There are a lot of companies offering SEO services in today’s marketplace, and that’s making it harder for potential customers to distinguish the SEO experts from the SEO imposters.

The goal of this series is to provide education around some of the subtler points of SEO, so when you encounter a so-called “SEO Expert” lacking knowledge of these points, you can determine if the organization is possibly exaggerating their qualifications. So let’s get started.

#10: GOOGLE SEARCH PREFERS CUSTOM BUILT SITES

The first tip you need to know about Google Search, and search engines, in general, are that they favor custom built sites and not ones created with web builder applications. I’m not saying that designing your website with Wix, Squarespace, or WordPress is some nail in the coffin for your search rankings; I’m stating there is a clear preference for one over the other and I’m going to explain why.

The truth is, a search engine can’t distinguish between a site built with a web building application or one coded by a developer, but what search providers can consider, is how long a website takes to load. While not all developers write perfectly efficient code, even those sites created by developers on the lower end of the efficiency spectrum tend to load faster than those generated by applications, and the reason for this is site overhead.

Site Overhead

Load Time Research

Site overhead is a development term used to describe the number of tools a site is required to load before the page can be displayed appropriately. The more tools there are, the longer the loading time. And According to data from Akamai, a leading content delivery network (CDN), loading times in the three-second range dramatically affect a site’s abandonment rate.

Data points like the one mentioned above are not lost on search engine algorithm designers seeking to gain any advantages in their own competitive markets, so loading time is something every web designer needs to consider when deciding what tools to use when creating a site. With that in mind, it’s important to understand that websites created with web building applications are required to load significantly more tools than a site designed by a developer. The reasoning behind this is that sites built with applications have to load every resource they contain regardless of whether they are applied to a particular website.

For example, most templates usually include code that enables designers to create drop-down navigation menu items. For large sites, drop-down style menus make a lot of sense, each product or service is given its own link, making navigating directly to pages much more manageable for visitors. For less robust sites that may only have four or five top-level pages, every page link can be easily fit into a single row navigation bar, meaning the extra code required to create drop-down menus is loading unnecessarily. The result is additional loading time for the smaller site.

 

Mitigating the Damage

Whether your website was created using an application, or by a developer, there are some steps organizations can take to reduce the site overhead. Most hosting companies offer features like photo management and enabling site compression through a visual interface, and executing these steps can minimize site loading times by as much as 20%, but to make real headway, you’ll probably need a developer to perform some more advanced operations.

Intermediate tasks like minimizing HTML, JS, and CSS, require coding knowledge that most novices haven’t yet acquired, with expert level tasks like configuring the browser cache and asynchronous loading requiring someone who knows the server side configurations as well. Given what you now know about SEO, don’t be afraid to reach out for help, you’re not the only one who needs a bit of third-party assistance.

RTR Digital provides complimentary SEO Audits for any organizations that request them, and you can start your organization down the path to higher search rankings by seeking a consultation by clicking here. If you’re a bit timid about reaching out, we offer some more tips about full SEO integration here. If you have questions that you think will benefit everyone by having them answered publicly, feel free to add them in the comments section.

 

 

Can “New Silicon Valley” Survive without Ads?

Silicon Valley Apocalypse

I’ll start by stating something that I thought should be obvious by now, nothing is free, especially when it comes to content and services. I’m not trying to be a Richard when I say things like this; I just feel like most of us are only paying lip service when we talk about valuing people, time, and hard work. We offer euphemisms like, “you can’t get something for nothing,” but when it comes down to it, we’ve all come to expect a lot of things for “free.” About online content and services, a lot of us consider our use of Google Maps, for example, to be free. But it’s not, we pay for the service by turning over our personal information, GPS location data, search history, etc., with all of that data being used to target advertising more accurately.

I want you to stop and think about this for a second, almost every service that’s “free” on a connected device is primarily a tool for selling us more stuff later down the road. I’m not saying this business model is new; I’m merely stating we’re in advertising overdrive since the transition to the digital era, and I’m not sure if it’s sustainable. When I talk to clients about the “New Silicon Valley,” I’m mainly expressing a shift towards the market share first, advertising next, business models that are sweeping through the region, and it’s all based on the perception that we’re getting content and/or services for free.

Over the last decade, a lot of companies have gone public without presenting a legitimate monetization strategy to investors; solely presenting market share numbers for users in the key, but never really profitable, demographic known as Millenials. Each of these businesses ultimately landed on the same business path to profitability – advertising. And with so many companies relying on advertising dollars to keep their metaphorical ships from sinking, I’m not surprised that the emergence of native browser, ad-blockers gave Silicon Valley quite the scare. 

The True Cost of Content

Dollar Bills

The whisper of the idea that companies are going to be forced to live in a world where ads won’t reach the screens of potential consumers sent chills down the spine of Silicon Valley.  If advertising revenue models went away, a lot of your favorite Silicon Valley darlings would plummet back down to earth as if their unicorn wings had been clipped, forcing them to sell their products and services for a hefty fee (Facebook would cost ~$168 year). This situation could be the ultimate demise of the companies, as no one really buys content or services anymore, as a matter of fact, no one really buys anything. I’m not even sure if it’s okay for me to admit that I miss the days when I handed over money and received something tangible in return.

“Between radio, television, print, online, and subscription services, how many advertising dollars are there to go around?”

I’m no Saint when it comes to using advertising as a part of a business model, especially when I’m subsidizing this blog with advertisements (is you see something you like, be sure to click on it), but there is no way there are enough advertising dollars for all of us to survive. It’s not as if producing content can ever be free, regardless of its medium, someone had to pay for it in some way. In the case of this blog, my time was spent writing this; time I could have spent growing other parts of the business, managing employees, or making sales calls.

Not only is my time worth some monetary value (I won’t mention my hourly rate), but not performing other activities in place of this blog also carries its own theoretical loss of value by choosing this activity over another. Unless this blog goes viral, the pennies on the dollar I’ll generate from advertising revenue will never be enough to make up for the cost of creating this content. And it’s for this reason; I would remind all content creators that advertising revenue is supposed to be a subsidy, not a core revenue stream (Google Search being the exception to the rule).

Great Services, Equals Great Profits

Profit Margin

In the midst of the “New Silicon Valley,” we can’t lose sight of the real problem; companies have yet to position their content and services in a manner that validates its monetary value on its merit. A situation that is especially sad when you consider the number of people that helped to create said content and services that go un/underpaid. At some point, the cost of content and services will have to garner enough revenue to sustain the businesses that produce it, leading back to an era when we didn’t consider “software a service.”

“There it is. I don’t believe software is a service –”

I’ve been dancing around calling it out this entire article, but now all the cards are on the table, so I can go hard to close this thing out.

I’m not old enough to call myself “old school” when it comes to service. I wasn’t around for the heydays of personalized service, or have the money to enjoy the convenience of a personal shopper, but one thing I do know is that service usually involves humans. Not software and a touchscreen, but actual human interactions. While software and automation provide vital costs savings to many businesses, they are also diminishing their ability to differentiate themselves from one another. Long term, this is going to be a problem. The only businesses that seem to be flourishing in the digital era, other than a handful of software companies, are those that generate profits through quality service.

In my heart, I believe there only a handful of companies producing content or software that is so unique that you can call them a service, and as the fear of failure looms for the rest of those companies that opted to play the “long game” with profits, they will find their backs against the wall in the coming years. You should start asking yourself, what’s the maximum your willing to pay for Netflix, Spotify, or any other media service? In the next decade, all those companies will have to figure out what that number is if they hope to survive.

 

 

How Election Meddling Saved Digital Marketing

Donald Trump

It’s the Blueprint

BlueprintDigital marketers owe Russia a big thank you, no really, I mean it. If any questions remain about the validity of social media as a means of digital marketing, the recent inquiries into the ads displayed on multiple platforms have clearly illustrated one point – digital marketing works. You see, I work in digital marketing, and I’ve always had to deal with skepticism regarding the effectiveness of the products and services that I sell through Facebook, Google, and other digital platforms, but the recent election scandal related to the 2016 Presidential Election has illuminated some hard to ignore statistics.

Honestly, I couldn’t have run a better campaign than Russia did, it’s almost like they had someone assisting them with how digital algorithms work [Ed Snowden], explaining that both the strength and weakness of digital marketing is that there are no gatekeepers. Some figurative campaign manager was asking everyone all the right questions.

Who is there to validate your intentions when a platform is entirely automated?

Who is there to review the content of ads when they don’t use trademarks?

Who is there to make sure you’re not an adversarial nation running ads to influence political outcomes?

The answer to all of those questions is no one, and you really can’t place the blame on Facebook, Google, and Twitter for that answer, as their platforms precisely delivered what they promised to advertisers. They built an effective, trackable, inexpensive way to reach millions of people, that only has theoretical limits on the number of impressions a single piece of viral content can achieve.

Advertisers have been clamoring for these kinds of tools for years, and if takes a bit of election meddling to get people to stand up and pay attention to the most influential mass communication platforms to ever exist, maybe the resulting discussions will lead us to using them in a more productive way than posting photos of our food.

The Actual Blueprint

Let’s take a look at how a foreign power used digital marketing to run the perfect advertising campaign.

– 1. Find Something People are Passionate About – A lot of companies are on social media because it fills a series of modern-day marketing tool checkboxes that somehow make an organization feel validated as “contemporary.” In the age of Millenials, organizations avoid being grouped with traditional advertising platforms that most of the younger generation think are prehistoric, but the key to a significant social media presence is proximity to subjects that naturally promote discussion, or as Twitter users know it, trolling.

In the case of the “alleged” Russian campaign meddling, the passionate topic is obvious – politics. It’s safe to assume anything that shouldn’t be discussed at work, or at a bar, will generate a vast amount of discussion on social media, so before companies dump a large amount of effort into posting videos, photos, or GIFs, they should make sure their content contains something to be social about.

– 2. Know Your Audience – Thanks to some conveniently placed public voting demographic information, the campaign knew exactly who they were targeting, and used the sophisticated tools offered by social media platforms to hit their targets. Often, the biggest mistake made in digital marketing is something outside of the marketers’ control, the client doesn’t understand their target demographic well enough to achieve the kind of conversions they’re seeking, resulting in a less than optimal impact.

Unlike traditional marketing platforms, which are the metaphorical equivalent to a bullhorn, digital platforms target potential customers with surgical precision, but that precision can only be achieved through the availability of accurate demographic data (you should have analytics installed by now). If an organization has failed to gather a vast amount of reliable data, even the best marketing company will fail to produce the desired results.

– 3. Leverage Organic and Paid Channels – It’s great to be able to pay to get your content in front of potential customers, but the number one rule of advertising still hasn’t changed, “word of mouth is the best advertising.” While the Russian campaign boasts a whopping ~29 million impressions with paid ads on Facebook, it’s the 126 million organic impressions that should floor you.

Social media is the digital version of word of mouth, and when combined with point #1, you can see the effect a passionate group of people can have on digital reach. Users are more receptive to information that appears in their feed if it originates from a friend’s account, so if the content is sporting the “sponsored” moniker, users are less likely to pay attention to what’s on-screen.

–4. Timing is Everything – It’s not enough to sloppily throw ads on the net and expect some big return on investment; great campaigns are run within a particular window for a reason, and proper planning regarding the times and dates they appear makes all the difference. Regarding the timing of this campaign, the “when” is a bit obvious; the ads have to run before election day. Therefore, there was a clearly defined window of opportunity for the effort to be completed.

All too often businesses run ads in windows without statistically backed justification, resulting in minimal impact on their business objectives. Executing a digital campaign isn’t any different than planning a traditional one, so businesses should expect to display ads related to specific events that provide marketing opportunities, like back-to-school, or Christmas.

What We Learned as Marketers

LearningBusinesses aren’t the only entities that should have learned something from the election meddling revelations. Marketers should have gleaned some congressionally mandated insight into each platform and used it to understand the effectiveness of each channel better. Even if you aren’t into the gritty details of each platform, the representatives of those platforms were forced to explain their own data capabilities when testifying, and that was worth a couple of hours of having to watch C-SPAN in and of itself.

If you’re looking to pair with a digital marketing agency who can deliver insights like these to your organization, RTR Digital offers a variety of digital marketing services here.