RepEquity® Blog: Digital Brand Management Distilled

Searching for Solutions: How to Choose the Right Search Engine for Your Blog

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So you built your website. Congratulations. It was a labor of love, and the Internet thanks you for your contribution.

Time flies. One night you snap awake to terrors that your website is filled with content, but nobody has any way to find it. It was just a nightmare, you tell yourself, but the thought bugs you like a mosquito. You can’t get back to sleep.

Little-by-little, you realize your nightmare is slowly becoming reality. You know that your website’s information architecture is impeccable, but your inbox is still piling up with emails from coworkers asking where to find this document or that blog post or some brilliant tweet about “American Progress” by your CEO. Where did you go wrong?

After a bit of introspection, you realize the answer: your website needs a search function.

The Internet is rife with stories about search woes. By some accounts, almost 60% of interested visitors will use your internal website search. If search is unavailable, we can assume that these visitors will either flail through internal links until they happen upon their query, or they will simply depart and drop a nasty tweet about your website on their way to a competitor’s site. Nobody likes to be on the butt end of a nasty tweet.

The good news is that your content management system (CMS) might have a search function you can deploy within a few clicks. The bad news is that these search engines often leave much to be desired, and a mediocre search experience can be just as frustrating as none at all. Worse, it can leave visitors with the impression that the content they seek is no longer available.

Never fear: you have other options.

Good Enough: Google Custom Search

If you have limited resources or technical know-how, it may be worth taking a look at Google Custom Search. Google allows you to configure and drop a search box anywhere on your site.

The downside here is that the search results will take a user back to Google’s search results page. Even though all links will point back to your site, we’ve found that this approach may jar or confuse some users. However, it’s an easy solution to a complex problem.

Our Top Choices: Solr or Elasticsearch

Intermediate users should consider Solr or Elasticsearch. Many CMSs provide some level of support for these tools (including Drupal and WordPress). However, unless you have a server available to deploy the software manually, you will need to subscribe to a cloud hosting service. After that, the level of effort varies from platform to platform.

You can likely integrate Solr or Elasticsearch into your application even if your CMS or framework lacks native support, but it will take some programming. These tools provide an easy-to-understand query language along with responses in JSON (or XML). However, you will have to build both front-end and back-end functionality, including a mechanism for submitting content to your search engine of choice.

A major plus to using this approach is that you aren’t limited to indexing your website’s content. If you want your CEO’s tweets to appear in search results, all you need to do is write a bit of code to toss them in Solr or Elasticsearch. The same goes for other content like PDFs or Word documents.

Other Runner Ups

If you’ve already explored these options and are still on the lookout, there are other solutions to be had. Microsoft provides access to Bing’s public index via an API and allows up to 5,000 queries each month free of charge. Amazon’s solution, CloudSearch, also provides a robust API in a managed infrastructure. If you would like to have a fully integrated search without needing to maintain a Solr or Elasticsearch instance, Bing or CloudSearch may be viable options.

A solid information architecture can mitigate the need for a search function, but if you are putting out fresh content on a regular basis, things will get buried. Think long term. It is better to add search at the beginning of a project than to fix the problem only after you’ve frustrated your stakeholders.

Need more tips on search? Feel free to drop us a line.

SEO Attacks: How They Work and How to Protect Your Rankings

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Earlier this month, Akamai Technologies’ Threat Research Division released a Threat Advisory as a part of its State of the Internet report. The report detailed SEO attacks witnessed in Q3 of last year. This global, highly sophisticated SEO attack campaign was designed to promote a highly ranked web application, dubbed “Cheating Stories” – a platform to recount and share experiences of infidelity. Lurid tales aside, what’s actually interesting here is how the attacks were carried out and what that means for your SEO presence online.

How It Worked

In a nutshell, the attackers targeted some 3,500 Windows Server Web applications and attempted to inject content that contained HTML links. The goal, as Or Katz of Akamai explains, was to point links and potentially drive traffic to the “Cheating Stories” application and, in doing so, mimic organic Internet behavior.

As we’ve described in our posts, search engine rankings are determined by a variety of factors, with the intention being to reward great content (tons of traffic, referrals from quality sites, relevant context) and punish bad content. This attack, based on an outdated understanding of SEO, banked on cheating the algorithm by artificially inserting look-a-like links to work in the Cheating Stories app’s favor.

Why It Matters

First and foremost, the biggest concern here is that if your site is victimized by this type of SEO injection attack, you may suffer some consequences. A rapid influx of shady links either staged from or pointing to your site can affect your rankings and the rankings of other websites referenced in the attack. As Katz rightly points out, and as our clients are all well aware, your search engine ranking often ties directly to revenue.

So, when sites are vulnerable to attacks from “black hat” SEO shops, the entire search engine economy is undermined. This means less revenue for businesses that are putting out quality content and, most importantly, as Internet users it undermines our ability to get the best information and services for our needs.

How to Mitigate Attacks

As of now, here are some ways we know to find out whether or not you’ve been attacked and/or hacked:

One manual and affordable way to do it is checking your backlinks with Moz and Ahrefs to see if there are any that look like they don’t belong. Do this on a regular basis and be prepared to “disavow” any links that look suspect using Google’s Search Console tool.

We also recommend keeping a whitelist of external links on your site so that every time you do a crawl you’ll immediately know if something is awry. For this you can use crawling tools like Screaming Frog or Deep Crawl; the latter has the benefit of allowing you to schedule automatic crawls. For their part, Akamai recommends also setting up a Web Application Firewall (WAF) to protect against SQL injection attacks.

If you’ve found out your site’s been compromised, don’t panic. There are steps you can take to secure your site and your SEO rankings. As always, you can feel free to drop us a line.

Top 3 Ways Content Recommendation Services Can Help You

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There you are. Reading an article on The Huffington Post, Rolling Stone, or CNN, and as you scroll to the bottom of the page, you see a collection of articles recommended just for you. You click on one of them, and all of a sudden you’re on a new website, but how did you get there?

These articles are actually sponsored links powered by content recommendation services like Outbrain and Taboola, the leaders in the industry. They usually appear at the bottom of news or content-heavy websites and they are grouped together under a header such as “Around the Web,” “You May Like,” or “Related Content.” These native ads feel more natural and less intrusive than other forms of online advertising. In fact, they are hand-picked for users based on a set of thorough algorithms related to:

  • What’s on the webpage
  • Previous user behavior
  • Context of the user’s visit
  • Trending topics

For instance, if you’re reading an article on ESPN, the recommended content might be sports-related, but a heavy dose of pop culture, politics, or tech news might appear instead if you regularly visit those types of sites.

Content recommendation services aren’t a new trend – Outbrain was founded in 2006, and Taboola was founded one year later – but their usefulness in digital marketing is growing rapidly. At RepEquity, we utilize these tools in a variety of ways for our clients, promoting content and engaging new audiences. Below are the Top 3 ways we use content recommendation services.

1. Attracting new readers

The overarching goal of employing content recommendation services is to attract a wider audience. Simply by appearing in the “Related Content” section of a webpage, an article is already reaching a larger group of people, but getting them to click through to a landing page takes something special. That’s why headlines are so important.

In these types of articles, it takes a captivating headline to generate a click-through. Headlines that include a question, a phrase such as “You won’t believe…,” or a list are much more likely to capture a reader’s attention. And yes, we kept that in mind when writing this blog’s title.

2. Promoting the brand

Sometimes, when we launch a new brand or a new website, it can be hard to generate momentum right away. Blog posts and articles that amplify what the brand or website does are key, and if they are promoted through a content recommendation service, the word will get out quicker and more efficiently. Once a new audience of readers begins to access this content, more traffic is inevitable.

3. Reaching the right audience

Services like Outbrain and Taboola are so effective because they allow you to make changes on the fly based on their analytics. We typically run articles with multiple titles or pictures at first, track the results, and then focus on the title and picture that performed best. Likewise, we can track the demographics of users, and gear content or headlines toward either the people who ARE landing on the site, or the people who we want to land on the site but AREN’T. Optimizing content for the correct audience segment will only lead to higher conversion rates, including purchases, sign-ups, downloads, and leads.

Content recommendation can make all the difference

Understanding how these services work is essential to digital marketing. It’s an easy, and relatively cheap way to reach a new audience, promote content, and analyze how effective your current content is for generating leads.

How Does RankBrain Stack Up Against Google’s Other Updates?

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Google’s official acknowledgement of RankBrain as an algorithm factor is still quite recent, so we haven’t had much time to evaluate it yet in any statistical or scientific way. But, based on what we know, we are not expecting it to radically change any of the best practices we currently recommend. If you were doing things correctly six weeks ago, you shouldn’t need to adjust anything.

Our assessment of RankBrain is that it’s a breakthrough on Google’s back-end in their ongoing efforts to interpret the natural language queries sourced by human users and tie those queries to on-page content. It goes beyond simple keyword matching to draw associations between similar kinds of words people use to express what they’re looking for. In that way, it approximates an AI. If anything, this revelation doubles down on the importance of moving away from overdoing keyword-specific tactics; the goal should be to use natural language to provide quality content. If RankBrain does its job, it will find you.

The buzz around RankBrain over the past six weeks or so did, however, raise questions from our client base about Google’s algo changes in general. And, with the end of the year upon us, it seems like a good time to refresh some perceptions of the seven most notable “named” updates. Beginning with…

Panda: Panda addresses the quality of on-page content. It places value on original, unique content over anything that appears to be pulled or scraped from another source (and was originally designed to crack down on content arbitrage). We’ve found that, in addition to creating original content, working to give a few layers of depth to your sites can help vis a vis Panda. Shallow websites with no internal structure have been the most penalized by Panda.

Penguin: Penguin is all about spam – link spam, specifically. The best tip here is to constantly evaluate your inbound links via Google Search Console (formerly Webmaster Tools), and to disavow anything that throws up flags. Things like poorly designed site-wide links from third-party sites can sometimes raise the alarm, so, even if spamming was not the intent, staying on top of your inbound links is key.

Pigeon: Pigeon launched in 2014, with a focus on improving local search results. Local search is key for many small businesses, and can often be an entirely new animal apart from standard organic search. The most critical tip here is to remember your brick-and-mortar past: always include your physical location and contact information on websites, and be sure to create a Google My Business profile that includes a street address and phone number.

Payday: The Payday update really only affected industries known for a heavy amount of spam. It weeded out obvious traffic arbitrage ploys in the payday loan (hence the name), pornographic, and pharmaceutical markets, to name a few. If you’re optimized for Panda and Penguin, you’ll be fine on this front.

Pirate: Pirate is another update that is pretty specific to certain industries. If you’ve been reported for copyright infringement, you may suffer a penalty under Pirate. If you think this may be the case, check your copyright warnings – the Pirate filter is updated periodically, and it’s possible to dig your way out of this sandbox.

Top Heavy: Launched in 2012, the Top Heavy update penalized sites with an overabundance of ads at the top of pages. This is one of the few updates that is actually most focused on page layout rather than content, but, ultimately, the theme of removing sites that only exist to bait clicks and traffic holds true. Don’t weigh down the top third of your site with advertising, and you’ll be fine.

Mobile-Friendly: Otherwise known as ‘Mobilegeddon’, this update was the first to be revealed before its roll out. In April of 2015, everyone in the SEO industry scrambled to ensure that their sites passed Google’s mobile-friendly test (a very simple one-click tool). The quick tip here? Page load times are one of the most important elements in the algorithm, be it desktop, mobile, or local search.

Over time, we’ll see if ‘RankBrain’ joins this illustrious list as another targeted update, or if it simply becomes part of the foundation of everything Google does going forward. My bet is on the latter.

What Happens In Vegas Comes Back As Great Social Marketing Tactics

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The week before Thanksgiving, I headed out to Las Vegas with our Director of Digital Advertising, Sarah Knoepfler, for Marketing Land’s #SocialPro conference. The two day conference, which took place on November 18th & 19th, was jam packed with great social media marketing tips. We created a simple breakdown of the top 10 take-a-ways:

  1. “Social is free to use, but not free to do.” Social organic reach does not exist like it used to; therefore, you need paid efforts to build your social platforms. How much money are you willing to spend to educate yourself on how your campaign will work among different platforms? Be sure to give your campaign enough backing to ensure that it has a chance to succeed. You can always reallocate budgets later to put money towards the platforms that work for you. Still hesitant? Try remarketing campaigns first; if that doesn’t work, it will be an uphill battle for other campaigns as well.
  2. Eliminate the traditional marketing funnel with powerful new social ad formats, like the social direct response formats on Facebook and the lead generation card on Twitter. Why do “pay per click” marketing when you can do “pay per lead” marketing instead? Note: You should also try those fancy carousel ads on Facebook, data shows they outperform regular Facebook ad formats.

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  4. Ad recall on Instagram is 2.8x higher than other online norms. And now, creating Instagram ads is easier than ever within the Facebook ads manager. Something to note –images of your product may not always generate the most sales or engagement – sell the experience of your product with captivating imagery. And remember to use the call-to-action button!
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  6. “Promote your unicorns.” – Do not pay to promote content just because; pay to promote your BEST content, your unicorns.

Be sure to consistently post on your social media platforms and monitor performance, but only pay to promote your best content to maximize results!

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  1. Utilize custom audiences. Website traffic is the best targeting, so be sure to tag every user. Then, slice your audiences into multiple specific sets so you can understand what is happening and which users are the most beneficial. Then, retarget to those narrow, successful segments. You can also set up look-a-like audiences to be sure you are reaching users similar to your successful audiences.
  2. Social remarketing is powerful! Push hard offers, like downloads or sign-ups with remarketing ads.

To increase actions and sales, you can even try SUPER REMARKETING:

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  1. Engagement snowballs as you go. Be sure give your social media platforms enough time to prove their success. The funnel is not as direct in social – sometimes a user will need to experience your brand and content multiple times before a desired action is taken. Also, ups and downs are normal in social media marketing, so be sure to analyze data over a longer time frame to see the bigger performance picture.
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  3. It is what you say and how you say it! Be sure to stress urgency to users, while also using words like ‘you’ and ‘your’. People want a two-sided conversation and do not respond as well to words like ‘our’ and ‘we’.
  4. Go mobile! You’ve heard it a million times, mobile is on the rise. But what you may not know is that mobile CPCs are 3X less than desktop CPCs. Try targeting mobile users initially, and then retarget those users on desktop devices. Your target audience will be more specific, which will be less expensive.
  5. Users share feelings, not facts. Individuals are willing to be sold to, but they are not on social media platforms to ONLY be sold to. Users want to engage with interesting content and they will only share what speaks to them. Not all paid content has to be brand related in order to be successful.

Users spend 28% of their time online on social media – so be sure you are there to greet them with the right message and engaging content!

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