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Wednesday, June 07, 2017 7:05:24 PM

by Jayson DeMers

Nonprofit organizations need to raise awareness of their brands just like ordinary corporations, but they face unique challenges in the marketing world. For example, nonprofits rely on donations to keep their organizations alive, and that often creates a catch-22: relying on donations limits the budget, which means you'll have less available to fund your marketing strategies, but without marketing strategies in place, you'll have a harder time getting those donations.

It may also be difficult to recruit volunteers, or put together a cohesive brand "voice" that summarizes the mission of the organization while characterizing it for the purposes of raising brand awareness.

How Nonprofits Can Take Advantage of SEO

Fortunately, SEO is a good fit for nonprofits as a cost-efficient, scalable way to reach almost any target audience. If you're working for a nonprofit and you're trying to build a search presence, use these tips and strategies to get an edge:

1. Recruit volunteers to write content for your site.

Arguably, the most important ingredient in any SEO campaign is a wealth of high-quality, diversified content. But you're so busy and short-staffed, it's nearly impossible to find time to write all the posts you want. Instead of trying to do everything yourself, rely on volunteer authors to populate your blog on your behalf. Recruiting guest authors is easier than most people think--even for for-profit industries--so it shouldn't be hard to find a handful of people passionate about your cause who also want to establish themselves as online authorities.

2. Reach out to companies for linking opportunities.

Companies usually like the idea of associating themselves with nonprofits. It's a way to give back to the community and engage in corporate social responsibility, and it also makes them look good to their customers. Reach out to businesses in your area, and ask if they'd be interested in partnering with you; you could ask for donations of money, supplies, or even just visibility opportunities. In any case, the partnership, no matter how small, will serve as an excuse for your sites to link to each other. You should be able to generate significant authority by attracting these links.

3. Boost blog posts through social syndication.

Your blog posts aren't going to generate attention all on their own; you need some kind of catalyzing action to attract more eyes to your work. The best way for nonprofits to do this is through social syndication, and potentially boosted social media posts. Connect with as many people as you can, and distribute your work regularly to make sure it gets in front of as many people as possible.

4. Rely on original research.

As a nonprofit, there's likely one cause at the center of your organization; for example, you might be trying to provide resources to local families, or raise awareness and research funds for a specific disease. In any case, one of the best ways to convince new donors is by illustrating the problem you're trying to solve with numbers. Incidentally, that's also one of the best ways to create original content. Do as much original research as you can on the problem you're trying to solve, and weave your findings into your best blog posts, whitepapers, and eBooks.

5. Take images and videos of your nonprofit in action.

You can also motivate more people to follow and engage with your brand by including more images and video of your organization in action, both in your regular content and throughout your social media presence. This helps people understand what it is you do, and humanizes your brand. It also encourages the individuals in those pictures to take action by sharing it further with their social circles.

6. Take advantage of social influencers.

Finally, take advantage of the potential of social media influencers, who are already connected to tens of thousands of followers (or more). The idea here is to work with influencers on collaborative content, or through one-off engagements, and get your nonprofit exposed to an enormous new swath of followers, who can then share and link to your best content. Because influencers want to be seen as benefitting good causes, they'll be more likely to work with you.

Getting Started

With these strategies in place, even nonprofit organizations with strictly limited budgets can achieve growth in SEO. The trick is to get started with enough momentum to generate early results; SEO is a long-term strategy, and it can sometimes take months before your tactics start paying off.

Obviously, you'll need to invest in it as a long-term strategy, but early boosts from influencers and linking partners can help you get the early momentum you need to establish your web presence. Just make sure you have a strong homepage--with convincing calls-to-action--to make all that inbound traffic worth it.

Be sure and visit our small business news site.

Tuesday, May 09, 2017 6:36:42 PM

by Jayson DeMers

Link building has always been an important part of search engine optimization; links indicate authority, which in turn dictates how sites can rank in SERPs for relevant keyword terms. The Penguin update, which was originally released in 2012, overhauled how optimizers viewed link quality, and subsequent iterations of Penguin helped to shape the "Penguin era," demanding intelligent, relevant link building instead of link spam and forcing optimizers to reevaluate their previous strategies.

Now, we may be entering an entirely new era of link building, thanks to a major change in how the Penguin update works. This is the post-Penguin era, and your link building strategies should change with that distinction.

The Last Penguin Update

In September of 2016, Google released what became known as Penguin 4.0, an end cap to the regular, iterative Penguin updates. According to MultimediaX, the biggest takeaway here is Penguin's incorporation into the "core" Google algorithm, and the resulting process of Penguin-related data to update in real-time.

What does that mean? Previously, Penguin existed as a separate algorithm that worked in conjunction with Google's core. Data refreshes occasionally updated information in Google's index about specific sites, but those refreshes weren't exactly consistent.

You might find out that your rankings dropped due to a link you built two months ago, or fail to see your rankings recover for months after you initially made changes to your link profile. Now, those refreshes happen constantly and automatically, so any actions you take will have a nearly instant impact on your performance.

In addition, Penguin 4.0 introduced a change to how penalties work. Previously, if a formal penalty was applied, it would apply to a full domain. It still might apply to an entire domain, but in some cases, it may only apply to a specific page. However, it's still bad to get a penalty, no matter what.

How to Build Post-Penguin Links

So are links still important? Absolutely. It's almost impossible for any site to rank without first building authority--and you need inbound links for that. Let's take a look at how to build links, now that Penguin is officially part of Google's core algorithm:

  • Focus on "natural" links. Even though Penguin is now part of Google's core algorithm, the standards it set for link quality still remain. If you want to avoid getting penalized, you'll need to build "natural" links, which means the links pointing to your site shouldn't look like they're intended solely to pass authority to your domain. In practice, there's an easy rule of thumb for determining how natural the link appears: ask yourself if a user encountering this link would find the link valuable. If they do, it's probably okay. For example, if you're writing an article about the importance of getting new tires for your vehicle, a link to a site with tire reviews would be helpful to readers while a link to a bowling alley would not.
  • Use strong content as an anchor. Instead of focusing on building links, focus on writing fantastic offsite content. Your content should take priority, and your links should be secondary. Establish guest posting profiles on multiple offsite sources, and do your best to contribute material that those publishers want to see. You'll make the publishers happy and the readers happy, and whatever links you can fit into your content will look natural and add even more value to your already-valuable content. Plus, if the content's good, it will bring your brand some reputation value even without a link.
  • Check your rankings weekly (at least). The biggest change that Penguin 4.0 offered was the constant state of refresh in monitoring backlinks. That means your rankings could change within a day or two of a new link being considered as part of your backlink profile. Accordingly, you'll want to keep a close eye on your rankings, checking in on at least a weekly basis. Doing so will help you identify any problem links proactively so you can remove them before they do any more harm.
Is There a Future for Penguin?

It's unlikely that Google will revisit Penguin, now that it's joined Panda as part of Google's core. However, Google may update the way it evaluates authority in the future.

Over the past few years, Google has made moves to incorporate things like user reviews, ratings, and appearances in third-party review sites like Yelp. It's also incorporated more apps (including streaming app content) in search results. If a new authoritative score emerges in the future, it may come from one of these areas.

Until then, links remain your best way to improve your site's authority and overall rankings--as long as you comply with Penguin's standards.

Be sure and visit our small business news site.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017 6:42:16 PM

by Jayson DeMers

Consumers have increasingly turned to online stores to do their shopping, but with so much competition in play, it's hard for ecommerce business owners to remain competitive. Your online catalog exists to showcase your products to an interested audience, but if that audience never gets their eyes on your offers, it won't matter how good your deals or products are.

One solution is to optimize your online product catalog for search engines, which will help you rank higher, achieve more brand visibility, and get more traffic to your pages. So how can you do this without spending a fortune?

Strategies for Catalog Optimization

These strategies will help you build a bigger online audience:

1. Use printed and online catalogs together.

If you're used to operating exclusively online, using a printed catalog may seem foreign to you, but catalog printing is relatively inexpensive through sites like Printing Center USA. It's a good way to quickly advertise the existence of your online catalog to an audience who may otherwise miss it (demographics who rely on printed advertisements and news), and start directing traffic to your site. This, in turn, creates a synergy between your digital and physical campaigns and jumpstarts your SEO efforts with new traffic, shares, and social media buzz.

2. Use specific product names in your page titles.

Your page titles and descriptions will be the main sources of information that search crawlers use to judge the relevance of your page. Including the specific name of your product will ensure that your page is considered when consumers search for that name; for example, you'll want to include the brand, the model, the model number, and the variation (if applicable). You'll also want to briefly describe the product in the meta description.

3. Include at least two paragraphs of descriptive text for each product.

You'll also want to include lots of descriptive text--at least two paragraphs' worth--for each of your product pages. According to Spotify's guide, this not only gives more content for search crawlers to consider and index, it also helps consumers by giving them more information to make a final decision.

4. Optimize your images and videos.

Including images and videos on your product pages is a good way to secure more customer engagement, and you'll likely earn more backlinks, which are vital if you want to build your authority over time. You can optimize images and video by giving them a descriptive name, including alt text (for images), and including a meta description that describes what's happening (in the video). You may also consider hosting your videos on YouTube and embedding them on your pages, giving you another outlet of optimization; Backlinko has an excellent guide on YouTube optimization if you're interested in more information.

5. Include reviews and testimonials.

Reviews and testimonials will make your site seem more authoritative, and as an added bonus, they'll help push consumers to make a decision. In fact, 88 percent of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations, so the more reviews you're able to collect, the better.

6. Answer common consumer questions on-site.

You should also include a brief Q&A section on each of your product pages. Here, you'll list at least a handful of common consumer questions with common phrasing, alongside detailed answers that address those concerns. Again, the information may help consumers make a decision, but they'll also optimize your pages for long-tail keyword searches, making you more likely to rank when customers submit those queries.

7. Employ Schema.org microformatting.

Microformatting, sometimes called "structured markup," is a way to format your backend code in a way that allows Google to better understand and categorize it. For example, you can point out what portion of your page is a collection of reviews, and feed information like star ratings and review text to search engine crawlers. This makes it more likely that these features will show up as "rich answers" or "rich snippets," the sampled bits of onsite content that sometimes appear above regular search results in SERPs. Schema.org is still the best name in microformatting, and they have an excellent guide on how to get started.

Investing in SEO

SEO is a complex strategy, and if you want to get serious with it, you'll need to hire an expert or start educating yourself in more advanced technical areas. As you can see, however, you don't need to be an expert to get started. These strategies should be able to help you refine the audience you're targeting, differentiate yourself from your competitors, and start building the authority you need to outrank them. Remember, this is a long-term strategy, so don't be frustrated if you don't see results right away.

Stick with it, and eventually you'll see your traffic rise.

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