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How to tell if your SEO campaign is actually working

(BUSINESS MARKETING) Search Engine Optimization is more complex today than it ever has been, and whether doing it yourself or hiring a pro, you need to know if your SEO is on track. Here’s how.

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Search engine optimization (SEO) is a complex strategy, and one where there’s rarely a single “right” answer to any question. Your rankings are a the result of hundreds, if not thousands of interacting factors, and Google doesn’t disclose exactly how their algorithm works (though we have some good guesses based on its algorithm update history).

Measuring the results of your SEO campaign can also be challenging, especially for newcomers to the online marketing field. How are you supposed to determine whether your SEO campaign is actually working? And what do you do if it isn’t?

Before we get into how to tell if an SEO campaign is working, it’s important to define what “working” means for you. SEO serves many purposes for your organization; ranking higher can increase your brand visibility and your incoming traffic. But are you more worried about the sheer number of visitors you’re getting, or which pages are ranked number one? Is it better for your company to have 100 visitors with a 5 percent conversion rate or 200 visitors with a 2.5 percent conversion rate? There aren’t objective right answers to these questions—only what’s right for your brand.

You should also consider the peripheral effects that SEO can have. For example, most companies that pursue SEO invest heavily in their onsite content strategy, which can improve their brand reputation and help secure more conversions. How do these peripheral benefits factor into your judgement of your SEO strategy’s success?
We’ll get into the most important key performance indicators (KPIs) in the next couple of sections, but before that, take some time to clarify what your SEO goals truly are.

Typical KPIs for SEO – is your campaign working?

Let’s say you’ve been working on an SEO campaign for a few weeks now, and you’re interested to see if your efforts are making a difference. You’ve been producing onsite content, you’ve got your website’s technical SEO factors in order, and you’ve been building backlinks just as all the experts suggested.

What now?

There are a handful of key performance indicators (KPIs) that stand out as hallmarks of an effective SEO campaign overall:

1. Rankings. This is the most obvious factor, and the one most SEO newcomers gravitate toward, but it isn’t the be-all end-all measure of success for your campaign. “Rankings” are how the various pages of your site rank for your target keywords and phrases; typically, you’ll keep a list of all the words and phrases you’re actively targeting, and will use a tool like SEMRush to determine where you’re ranking (and where your competitors are ranking). Obviously, upward trajectory here is a good sign; if you’re ranking higher for all your targets, month after month, it means you’re making forward progress, and your tactics are making an impact.

However, these expectations should be tempered; some keywords are incredibly easy to rank for, allowing you to skyrocket to the number one position, without giving you much traffic or being especially relevant to your brand. The reverse is also true; you may spend a ton of effort increasing your rank only slightly for a highly competitive keyword, seeing only marginal bottom-line benefits from your efforts.

2. Organic traffic. Rankings are perhaps best held in consideration in the context of organic traffic, or the number of people who visit your site after discovering it in search engines. In some ways, this is the truer indicator of SEO success; regardless of how many keyword terms you’re ranking for, or how high in the rankings you climb, this number could be high or low depending on factors like click-through rates (CTRs), search volume, and your competition. You can find your organic traffic figures in Google Analytics, and tinker with the settings to see your traffic both for your entire domain and for individual pages of your site.

3. Domain and page authority. Google measures the trustworthiness of your site and its individual pages based on the quantity and quality of links pointing to them, eventually resulting in an “authority” score. The higher your domain authority, the easier it will be for all the pages of your site to rank. The higher your individual page’s authority, the more likely that page is to rank. Accordingly, you could use domain authority as an indicator of your campaign progress; a domain authority that’s growing is a sign you’re doing things right and a foundation on which you can create pages that rank more easily. There are a few ways to discover your domain and page-level authority, including through Moz’s Link Explorer.

There are a few other SEO-related metrics that warrant your attention, though they aren’t as direct an indicator of your progress as the aforementioned KPIs.

1. Referral traffic. Also discoverable in Google Analytics, if you’re big into link building, you’ll want to look at referral traffic. Referral traffic is a measure of how many people are visiting your pages from the links you’ve built. This metric doesn’t affect your search engine rankings, nor is it a byproduct of them, but it is a byproduct of one of the most important elements of your SEO strategy: your backlinks. Rising referral traffic is an indication that you’re getting published in bigger and more important publishers, and that you’re earning more authority for your work. Referral traffic is also a secondary way SEO provides value to your brand, since these visitors are as likely to convert as your organic traffic.

2. Click-through rates (CTRs). What happens if you’re ranking at number one for your most heavily favored keyword phrase, yet nobody’s visiting your site? This scenario is unlikely, but you might be getting less traffic from your rankings than you expect if your click-through rates (CTRs) are low. CTRs have a complex relationship with SEO, affecting it and being affected by it, but you can definitely improve your CTRs (and therefore improve the value of each search ranking) by tweaking your title tags and meta descriptions to better appeal to your target audience.

3. Onsite behavior and conversion rates. Even with tons of organic traffic, the value of your SEO strategy still depends on your ability to convert that traffic. Spend time studying how your incoming organic visitors behave on your site. Do they spend minutes on your best content pages, reading it and engaging with it? Or do they bounce almost immediately? Better onsite behavioral metrics, like lower bounce rates, may have a marginal effect on your search rankings, but more importantly, they impact the net value of each incoming visitor. If you neglect these factors, even thousands of organic visitors may not be enough to make your search optimization efforts “worth it.”

4. Overall return on investment (ROI). Adding to that, for most businesses, the true measure of an SEO campaign’s success is your return on investment, or ROI. That’s because all the nice-looking numbers in the world (like high rankings and organic traffic) won’t mean much if you’re spending more money than you’re seeing from your core tactics. If you’re earning more in new sales than you’re spending on all your tactics, and that gap keeps positively widening, you’ll be in a good place. Use your conversion rates in combination with your organic and referral traffic to estimate how much value you’re getting, and compare that to your expenses. Expenses are easy to calculate if you’re outsourcing your work to an agency, but you may have to get creative if you’re working with an internal team.

Why SEO takes time (and why not to bail out too early):

There’s one important caveat to all these considerations. Up until now, we’ve been covering key metrics and indicators that your SEO campaign is working; if they’re showing signs of growth, it means your efforts are worthwhile. However, SEO is a campaign that necessarily takes time, which means you may not see positive results in these areas in the first few months even if you’re doing all the right things. In fact, the majority of campaigns only start seeing the fruits of their labor after 3 to 6 months.
Building authority and developing onsite content often takes months, and you’ll have to wait for Google’s index to fully catch up to you as well.

More importantly, the rewards of an SEO strategy in its developed stages are much richer than the rewards in its developing stages; at a higher level of authority, all your links and pages will generate more traffic, and you’ll get more value for even trivial efforts, like writing a new offsite post (assuming you’re doing everything correctly). If you’re not growing quickly, do analyze and critique your own efforts, but don’t panic; if you bail out of your campaign too early, you’ll miss out on the best benefits.

Don’t be discouraged if you find that your SEO campaign isn’t working, or isn’t working the way you thought it would; in fact, this is to be expected. SEO is both an art and a science; the most successful practitioners aren’t able to launch a perfect campaign from day one, but instead are the ones able to recognize flaws and make corrections where necessary.

Diagnose your campaign early and consistently, at least once a month, and make adjustments so you’re always moving in the right direction.

Larry Alton is an independent business consultant specializing in social media trends, business, and entrepreneurship. When he's not consulting, glued to a headset, he's working on one of his many business projects. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Business Marketing

Google Analytics will now filter out bot traffic

(BUSINESS NEWS) Bender won’t be happy that Google Analytics will now automatically remove bot traffic from your results, but it’ll help your business.

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In the competitive, busy world of online content, Google Analytics can help businesses and online publications deliver what their audience and consumers want. Now Google is finally taking the step of filtering out bot traffic in your Google Analytics reporting. This is excellent news!

In the world of websites, online news sites, blogs, and social media, bots are the bane of our existence. In their finest form, they are the electronic equivalent of junk mail. At their worst, they can carry malicious malware and viruses to your site and computer. They can even flood the internet with unfounded rumors that can have an impact on people’s opinions–stirring the political pot or lending misleading numbers to drive unfounded rumors, such as wearing a mask is dangerous. No it’s not! Chalk that nonsense up to bots and crackpots.

For businesses that rely on Google Analytics to determine what content is not only reaching but also resonating with potential customers, filtering out the bot traffic is crucial to determining the best course of action. Bots skew the data and therefore, end up costing businesses money.

Bots set up for malicious purposes crawl the internet looking for certain information or user behaviors. Bad bots can steal copyrighted content and give it to a competitor. Having identical copies on two sites hurts your site and can dink your SEO ranking. However, good bots can seek out duplicate content and other copyright infringements, so the original content creator can report them.

However, it is important for companies and content creators to know if their content is actually reaching real live humans. To this end, Google will start filtering out bot traffic automatically. The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) actually provides an International Spiders and Bots list, through which Google can more easily identify bots. They use the list and their own internal research to seek out bots in action, crawling through the internet and confusing things.

Google says the bot traffic will be automatically filtered out of the Google Analytics results–users don’t have the choice. Some may argue there is a good reason to see all of the data, including bots. Many businesses and online publications, though, will be relieved to have a much clearer vision of what content genuinely appeals to humans, to readers and potential customers. It is a welcomed advancement.

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Business Marketing

Opportunity Zones: A chance to do good

(BUSINESS MARKETING) Opportunity zones offer a chance to breathe new life into economically-distressed communities.

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Opportunity Zones are a beautiful mechanism for growing communities that are struggling, but some critics have put this process in a negative light. The following is an expert’s perspective on just this topic.

Jim White, PhD is Chairman and CEO of Post Harvest Technologies, Inc. and Growers Ice Company, Inc., Founder and CEO of PHT Opportunity Fund LP, and Founder and President of JL White International, LLC. His new book is a heartfelt rallying cry for investors: Opportunity Investing: How to Revitalize Urban and Rural Communities with Opportunity Funds, launched March 31, 2020.

Dr. White holds a B.S. in civil engineering, an MBA, and a doctorate in psychology and organizational behavior. He acquires struggling businesses to revive and develop them into profitable enterprises using his business turnaround strategy.

In his own words below:

BY JIM WHITE, PHD

Every investment vehicle has a twist some folks don’t like. Real estate, stock options, offshore tax havens, and even charitable gifting can be criticized for certain loopholes.

Likewise, some detractors have pointed to opportunity zones, a newer investment vehicle unveiled in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act passed by Congress in December 2017. This bold, bipartisan plan allows for private investment capital to be channeled into some of the most distressed communities in the nation, serving the struggling residents and the investors alike.

Personally, I believe it is one of the noblest initiatives to emerge from Washington in years.

I grew up in a sharecropper cabin in what would have been an opportunity zone in Salem, South Carolina. What would an influx of investment dollars have meant to my low-income community? More and better-paying jobs to offset unemployment. People relocating to my town for those jobs, reversing population decline and increasing real estate values. New life breathed into local businesses. The increased tax revenues could have helped improve failing infrastructure. Social challenges, like crime and drug use, could have decreased. Better resources for my family and our neighbors, such as health care and education, would have emerged.

Today, there are nearly 8,800 distressed communities dotting the country that have been identified as Qualified Opportunity Zones (QOZs). These neighborhoods were designated from census tracks, treasury, and state leaders as communities that would benefit from an influx of investment dollars directed through Qualified Opportunity Funds (QOFs) to reinvigorate businesses, rebuild infrastructure and bolster residents.

As our economy continues to falter, more and more businesses file Chapter 11 and unemployment soars under COVID-19, I believe we are heading toward a painful expansion in designated opportunity zones. Even with the latest round of CARES stimulus money many people will have no way to rebound from this crisis.

One of the unexpected consequences of the coronavirus quarantine is that many businesses are discovering that, in reality, they can succeed through working remotely. This success is a double edged sword, meaning that if a business can thrive with employees working offsite then commercial real estate will suffer. And when companies no longer require brick-and-mortar locations, a local domino effect ensues; ancillary businesses, from cafés to gyms to print shops in and around a commercial office environment will subsequently close. The ripples will be felt through many other industries, including construction, transportation, energy, and retail.

Qualified Opportunity Zones and Qualified Opportunity Funds are instruments that can help stop a downward spiral. When a sponsor is able to present a project that meets the objectives of the QOZ initiative, both the QOZ and the investors benefit. That’s a win!

And, it’s not only urban centers that benefit from investment dollars. Forty percent of opportunity zones are rural. Even with often plentiful food, water, energy and other natural resources, deep poverty exists, and too many of America’s 60 million rural residents lack access to education and healthcare. A declining population often goes hand in hand with failing infrastructure as tax money for repairs dwindles. Many households lack broadband, something the vast majority of Americans take for granted.

Despite the challenges, rural residents are often surprisingly resilient and resourceful. According to The Hill (“Rural America has opportunity zones too”), rural residents create self-employment opportunities at a slightly higher rate than the national average. Their challenge is to connect with investors and access funding, more of which is directed to small business investment on the coasts.

In fact, many entrepreneurs and small business owners don’t know about Qualified Opportunity Funds. If a business is located in an opportunity zone it is eligible for direct funding by reaching out to the QOFs with a specific request for funding.

More than any investment plan that’s come before, I believe opportunity zones have the greatest capacity for positive social and economic impact. Spread out over many communities, these investments can help our nation flourish as a whole.

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Business Marketing

Gloves that translate sign language in real time

(BUSINESS MARKETING) A new wearable tech translates American Sign Language into audible English in real time.

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Advancements in technology never cease to amaze. The same is true right this moment as a new technology has been released that helps translate American Sign Language (ASL) signs into spoken English in real time.

This technology comes in the form of a hand glove – similar looking on the front side to what one would wear in the winter, but much more advanced when in view of the palm. The palm side of the glove contains sensors on the wearer to identify each word, phrase, or letter that they form via ASL, and is then translated into audible English via an app that coincides with the glove.

This is all done in real time and allows for instant communication without the need for a human translator. The signals are translated at a rate of one word per second.

The project was developed by scientists at UCLA. “Our hope is that this opens up an easy way for people who use sign language to communicate directly with non-signers without needing someone else to translate for them,” said lead researcher Jun Chen.

The hope is to make communication easier for those who rely on ASL, and to help those unfamiliar with ASL adapt to the signs. It is thought that between 250,000 and 500,000 people in the United States use ASL. As of now, the glove does not translate British Sign Language – the other form a sign language that utilizes English.

According to CNN, the researchers also added adhesive sensors to the faces of people used to test the device — between their eyebrows and on one side of their mouths — to capture facial expressions that are a part of American Sign Language. However, this facet of the technology is not loved by all.

“The tech is redundant because deaf signers already make extensive use of text-to-speech or text translation software on their phones, or simply write with pen and paper, or even gesture clearly,” said Gabrielle Hodge, a deaf post-doctoral researcher from the Deafness Cognition and Language Research Centre (DCAL) at University College London. “There is nothing wrong with these forms of communication.”

What are your thoughts on this advancement? Comment below!

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