Why SEO Should Be Your Primary Marketing Strategy

As an online marketing agency, we have an ever-growing arsenal of tactics and strategies to help our clients attract leads and increase sales. But almost invariably, when a new client comes onboard, we end up recommending that they start with an SEO campaign before or at least concurrent with ramping up other strategies.

Why this emphasis on SEO? Simply put, SEO offers by far and away the best value of all the marketing options available today, online or offline. In fact, one recent survey of ecommerce website owners showed that, on average, SEO leads convert to sales at an astonishing 15%. When you compare this to conversion rates of just 4% for leads from social media and 2% for leads from direct mail, email, and print ads, you’ll understand why we believe it’s just crazy to start with any other marketing strategy before you get going with SEO. With conversion rates 650% higher than these other marketing methods, SEO just makes good sense for ecommerce stores.

The top ecommerce sites already know this

The superiority of SEO leads is no secret to the biggest players in ecommerce. In any given ecommerce niche, you will find that the top companies all rely heavily on intensive SEO campaigns and organic (free) search traffic as the primary source for their leads. Amazon, Overstock, Target, and Walmart all have invested substantially in SEO and have reaped massive rewards for their efforts.

As the big boys know, today’s shoppers go to Google (and the other search engines) when they want to buy. Therefore, as an ecommerce business, you absolutely must be found as high in the search results as possible in order to grow your business and substantially increase market share. If you’re not there at the top of the search results, your competitors will be, and they will be the ones making all the sales.

Need more reasons to get started with SEO? Below are some very compelling statistics that show why your ecommerce site needs to be found at the top of the search results and how leads driven by SEO convert better than leads from any other available source.

How consumers look for you today:

  • 92% of Internet users use search engines to find the sites they want. – RedCroix.com (January 2010)
  • 71% of all U.S. adults shop online. – Pew Internet & American Life Project (August 2010)
  • 75% of Internet users have the intent to purchase when using search engines. – RedCroix.com (January 2010)

How SEO leads convert:

  • Overall, 15% of SEO leads convert to sales. Comparatively, Social Media leads convert at just 4%, while leads from outbound marketing techniques like email marketing, print campaigns, direct marketing, etc convert at just 2%. – HubSpot.com State of Inbound Marketing (2012)
  • SEO traffic converts 200% better than social referrals. – Econsultancy (August 2010)
  • 77% of search users click on organic listings over paid (Adwords) listings. – Intraspin.com (January 2010)

The bottom line is this: while SEO leads cost about the same as social media leads and less than half as much as leads from direct mail, email, and print ads, leads driven by SEO and organic search traffic convert far, far better than any of these other methods. This combination of low lead price and superior conversion rates really make SEO a no-brainer for any business looking to attract more customers and increase market share.

Now I know there are a few businesses out there that actually don’t want to grow or can’t expand their capacity due to logistical restraints. But for the rest of you, if you haven’t yet begun an SEO campaign for your ecommerce business, what are you waiting for?

Google Product Search Transitions to Paid Model

Google dropped another bombshell early this month, announcing that Google Product Search will be transitioning to a paid model. Up until now, merchants have been able to submit products and product data feeds at no expense, enjoying the free traffic to their sites. The new program will be called “Google Shopping” and is the evolution of “Google Product Listing Ads”, more commonly referred to as the Google PLA system.

Merchants have just a few months to decide whether or not to transition to the new model. Google hasn’t released an official date, but they say Google Shopping will launch sometime around the end of summer 2012, possibly as late as Oct 2012. In the meantime, merchants who sign up before August 15th are being offered a 10% monthly credit towards their monthly Product Listing Ad spend which will be effective through the end of the year. Existing merchants are also eligible for a $100 Adwords credit to apply towards Product Listing Ads.

Is a Paid Inclusion Model Good or Bad for Merchants and Consumers?

There are two schools of thought on this new development. First, that many small businesses will simply be forced out of the search results, unable to compete with the big players. This represents another move away from small business and further embracing of large corporations. Critics of Google believe that the playing field is becoming increasingly skewed towards big money, making the barrier to entry still higher for the little guy. On the other hand, Google will have us believe that the move represents an effort on their part to deliver higher quality search results and a better user experience.

The move to a “paid inclusion” model seems contrary to statements released by Google in 2004 regarding their flagship product search feature “Froogle”:

“Because we do not charge merchants for inclusion in Froogle, our users can browse product categories or conduct product searches with confidence that the results we provide are relevant and unbiased.”

Since then, Google has clearly reversed its stance. However, they argue that the definition of “paid inclusion” doesn’t apply to Google shopping because there is a clear differentiation between the organic results and the paid listings. However, Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Land disagrees citing that:

“Paid inclusion has been historically used to describe when people pay to appear in a search engine’s results but without any guarantee of prominent placement. What’s happening with Google Shopping is classic, textbook paid inclusion.”

His position is supported by the US Federal Trade Commission’s own definition of paid inclusion:

“Paid inclusion can take many forms. Examples of paid inclusion include programs where the only sites listed are those that have paid; where paid sites are intermingled among non-paid sites; and where companies pay to have their Web sites or URLs reviewed more quickly, or for more frequent spidering of their Web sites or URLs, or for the review or inclusion of deeper levels of their Web sites, than is the case with non-paid sites.”

The Future of Online Shopping

Whatever your position, The volume of online shopping traffic is simply staggering and for those that opt into the new paid model, the competition will narrow as those that choose not to participate get peeled off. There are still hundreds of free options for merchants who want to submit their products and product data feeds including Bing Shopping and theFind.com.

Google Plus Local Crash Course

Last Thursday, Google rolled out a sweeping change to the way businesses are listed in their search engine, once again shaking things up for business owners. Those of us that follow search engine technology and social trends may have seen the writing on the wall, but how and when the change came was a surprise for everyone. Without any prior announcement or warning, one of the most visible flagship Google products disappeared.

I’m talking about Google Places, or Place Pages as they’ve come to be known. For the last couple of years, business owners have been scrambling to understand how these one-page business listings get ranked on page 1, grabbing a significant portion of the overall search traffic. Behind the scenes, a subculture of savvy Internet marketing guru’s have developed sophisticated tools, tricks, and techniques designed to propel their clients above competitors.

Google Places disappeared last Thursday and it’s not coming back. Where Google Places once was, you’ll now find Google+ Local. Don’t panic! The information, photos, and videos that you added to your Google Places page was already migrated over to Google+ Local for you. If you already had a Google+ account for your business, you’re one step ahead. If not, you will have to claim it now. You can still login and update your page though the same login, and at least for now that shouldn’t change, even if it is a little confusing.

What Does Google+ Local Mean for Your Business?

The answer to that question depends entirely on whether or not you believe that the Internet is the single most powerful way for businesses to connect with people who are searching for products and services both locally and worldwide. If you are a non-believer you can simply ignore Google+ Local and continue to do things the old fashioned way. But, if you’re ready to take advantage of the Internet as a vehicle to build your business and leave your competitors in the dust, read on.

The Lowdown on Google+ Local

Google+ Local brings two products under one roof by merging the social component of Google+ with the static Places page. Ultimately, we think business owners will find it easier to manage all their Google products from one account. Users can still get all the same essential information about your location, contact information, and leave reviews for your business. But now they will also be able to comment on news items in your feed, join your circles, and interact with business owners in a way that wasn’t possible with Google Places.

Before Google+ Local blindsided everyone last week, a few proactive businesses already had created Google+ business pages and begun to build up circles, post updates, and add photos and video. For those that didn’t get a head start, Google is telling you now in no uncertain terms what they want from you. Over the coming months, Google is going to be watching closely to see which businesses take advantage of Google+ Local, and rewarding those that do with higher rankings in organic search. It’s safe to say that Google is going to be heavily weighting a few factors when it comes to ranking Google+ Local pages. Those factors include the number of reviews you have (and you’ve left on other pages), on-page as well as off-page SEO, and how active business owners are on their own pages as well as on other businesses’ pages.

Zagat Reviews Replace 5 Star Rating System

All you gastrophiles out there will be familiar with the Zagat rating system that scores restaurants out of 30 based on food, ambiance, and service. Google’s recent purchase of Zagat (Oct 2011) for $151 million was a strategic move to differentiate themselves from Yelp and other popular review sites.

Now, Google users will rate businesses on a scale of 0-4 contributing to an overall score out of 30. Zagat users can users can leave ratings from their Zagat account or from their Google account. It takes a minimum of ten reviews to trigger display of the Zagat score in the search results. Sites with less than ten reviews will simply show text that indicates how many reviews the business has. It is yet to be determined how consumers will react to the new, less familiar scoring system and what impact it will have on businesses.

Once you get used to the new landscape, you’ll want to take a closer look at some exciting features of the Google+ review system that have potentially huge implications.

  1. You can now leave reviews as a business rather than from your personal account. This makes perfect sense for those in the B2B market.
  2. Profile image icons are now clickable and bring users directly to your Google+ Local page. Google+ Profile image photos and hyperlinked text appear to be “do-follow” when we inspected with Firebug, but Google may be adding the “no-follow” attribute another way. Regardless, a link back to your Google+ Local page is a link. When you leave a review as a business, you are building off-page SEO for your page. Every time you leave a review with a clickable profile icon, you are building a backlink. If Google was looking for a way to encourage SEO companies to leave reviews on the clients behalf, they struck gold.
  3. It appears that Google+ Local Pages are now being indexed by Google. That means that all the same factors that determine your organic ranking for your website apply to Google+ Local pages.
  4. Once you leave a review, you can also choose to share that review with your circles. Sharing reviews is a powerful way to promote businesses while adding social proof at the same time.
  5. Reviews can now be sorted by “most helpful”, “most recent”, “highest score”, and “lowest score”.
  6. Reviews can be filtered to include reviews from everyone or limited to just those within your circles.
  7. Google+ is bad news for those that have built businesses by leaving fake reviews for their clients. New reviews must be tied to a legitimate Google+ account, making it easier for Google to track user activity and filter out spammers.
  8. Google+ users can now include a photo with their review. Obviously the potential for abuse is huge and we have yet to see how granting users this additional functionality will play out.
  9. All existing reviews left on Google Places have been migrated and the star ratings converted to the Zagat system. However, users must claim and republish reviews they left in the past. So far we’ve seen very little evidence that anyone has done this. Probably Google will have to find a way to nudge people for this to happen on any significant scale. When we checked today, 99% of reviews still say they were left by “a Google user”.
  10. Now when a review is left for a business, the business owner is notified by email. This should improve customer service and reputation management given the fact that most businesses have been oblivious to the conversation online so far.

Overall, the new Zagat review system is infinitely more sophisticated and should encourage Google users to be more active, which is what Google wants desperately. On the flip side, the wolves are already licking their chops in Internet marketing circles, developing stealthy marketing tactics in an effort to exploit the new functionality.

Google+ Local Has Arrived and What to do About it

Google has been trying to break into social media for years, however poorly (RIP Google Buzz!). Merging Google Places with Google+ is just another way for them to force Google users to participate in their social platform, making them more competitive with behemoths Facebook and Twitter. Make no mistake, Google has invested in Google+ on an unprecedented scale and they aren’t going to let this one go the way of the Dodo without a fight.

Like it or not, your Google+ Local page has insinuated itself into your online business model so you may as well embrace it. Once you stop pounding your fists on the floor while screaming “I don’t want it!” you’ll see that it’s actually not going to be so painful to get your businesses up to speed. Start by building out your circles, publishing regular updates, leaving reviews, and uploading photo and video content that adds value for your customers.

Essentially, Google is looking for the most influential businesses in the marketplace. If you establish yourself now, while your competitors are asleep at the wheel, only good things can happen.

What is Google’s Over-Optimization Penalty and How it Will Affect You

There is a lot of debate over what exactly the so called “over-optimization” penalty will mean for SEO’s. Some say it will be a filter applied to sites that have excessive amounts of the same anchor text, other say it applies more to on-page factors like H1 titles. Google web spam czar Matt Cutts doesn’t normally announce upcoming tweaks to the Google search algorithm, but in this case he has talked about it, and said it should be introduced over the next few weeks.

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How to Avoid the Google Sandbox

While Google won’t admit that the so-called “sandbox” actually exists, we Internet marketers know different. Rather than thinking of it as a physical place where your website resides, like some sort of virtual penal colony, it’s more like a filter that is applied to new sites. When a new website enters Googles radar, filters are applied checking for things like back-linking and so on. If the site does not appear to grow naturally, it can trip those filters and end up getting kicked out of the top 100 in an instant.

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