I recently attended my first overseas SEO and digital marketing conference called Search Love in London, England, one of the world’s best online marketing conferences.
I travelled a LONG way to be there (from Australia) and I wasn’t disappointed.
I had dinner and picked the brains of some of the world’s smartest and best online marketers and best of all I got to meet SEO super god and hero Rand Fishkin from Moz (“haven’t we met somewhere before?” he asked as we shook hands).
Rand took a particular liking to my jacket too but that’s a story for another day.
Apart from Rand’s really cool beard and mohawk (there were a lot of beards at this conference), the content was stellar.
I went to Search Love with a strategy.
I wanted to discover the golden nuggets that large-scale digital and SEO agencies use with their big brand clients and how they can be applied at the micro level to creatives, freelancers, small business owners and entrepreneurs.
And I got plenty of those, which I’m about to share with you.
[Free checklist: Download a free checklist that shows you all the actionable steps from this post.]
First, here’s the hard home truth.
The SEO landscape has changed and it’s only getting harder.
SEO no longer works in isolation because it’s part of a much larger holistic digital ecosystem.
Gone are the days where you could focus on SEO as its own channel because it’s connected and influenced so heavily now from other channels such as branding, content, paid search, email marketing and social media.
Don’t let that discourage you.
There are massive opportunities for entrepreneurs and small business owners if you’re prepared to embrace this new digital landscape.
And later I will reveal what strategies you can implement immediately into your business.
You’d be a fool if you let these opportunities slide through your fingers. SEO is the best form of advertising and traffic that you can get.
The reason is because SEO is not disruptive like most other forms of advertising. People are LOOKING for solutions – they WANT to find you.
You don’t have to battle for their attention and blast them with interruptive advertising such as Facebook ads and sponsored posts.
You just need to ensure you have really relevant and useful content that will actually HELP people.
In other words, give people what they want.
The KEY takeaway from this conference is on brand building and rethinking the way we do content.
Google wants you to be a brand.
Let’s define what a brand is using Distilled’s Hannah Smith’s definition. That means that a brand is not a brand until it leaves a lasting and favourable impression.
Companies and businesses need to build brands that mean something to people. In other words, it’s how you’d like the people in your world (customers, fans, followers, tribe) to feel about you and your business.
With that said, building your brand has never been more important today and especially heading into 2015.
Instead of thinking around metrics such as rankings and keywords, everything you do should be focussed on a much larger visionary goal, building a strong brand and leaving a lasting impression on your customers.
Become the brand that Google associates with [your topic] – Rand Fishkin #searchlove @randfish
There’s no doubt that brand signals are included as a part of Google’s search engine ranking factors because Google is rewarding brands in their search results.
Google trusts brands and the reason Google trusts brands is because people trust brands.
It’s now your job to make sure that the content you create and put out into the world is worthy enough for Google to find it and serve up in their search results.
Think of it this way.
You wouldn’t trust a doctor or a dentist that isn’t registered or qualified would you?
The problem is that anyone can write or say anything on the web, but that doesn’t make it true.
So why should Google trust you just because you have a website?
Google wants to direct people to the best information and resources on the Internet, just like you want to trust your doctor.
When people search for your brand in the search box, this tells Google that people are aware of your brand and shows that you’re important.
If noone is searching for your brand, unfortunately this is telling Google you don’t have a brand and you’re not that popular.
So you need to become the brand that Google associates with [photography], [copywriting], [health coaching], [WordPress designing], [organic food] etc.
The question is how does a one-person show or small business look like a big brand when you are in fact, a one-person show or a small business?
For that, you’ll need to keep reading this blog post.
Let me start by asking you these questions?
1. Do you believe that last blog post you wrote is the BEST piece of content that exists on the Web for that topic or search term?
2. Have you answered your customers and prospects questions far superior than your competitors or in a novel way that other people have not done?
3. Are you really providing your visitors and readers with new information they’ve never read ANYWHERE else on the web?
4. Do you deserve a first page ranking on Google?
Does your content really deserve to rank on page one for your target keywords?
And here’s the kicker from SEER Interactive’s Wil Reynolds at Search Love:
If your content was removed from the web, would anyone miss it? – #searchlove @wilreynolds
Let’s be real about this.
Many of us, myself included, have written content that already exists on the web, questions that have been answered hundreds if not thousands of times before and created content that doesn’t really change people’s thought processes or lives.
The reality is that nearly everything has been written about already.
So the challenge for us all is to show our audience something that they previously couldn’t see and create content in novel ways.
In other words, how can you show a different light on content and information that already exists so you stand out from the noise in your industry? (More on this later.)
There’s a reason I’m telling you this.
There are only 10 spots on the first page of Google that are are up for grabs.
Google’s intention has been and will always be to return the most relevant, useful and quite simply the BEST answers for the search term and question that’s been asked of it.
You’re not going to get a look in if you’re going to write the same old 300 to 500 word top ten generic tips blog post or something that’s already been written by Forbes a year or more earlier (and who the mighty Google already trust).
Why would Google want to dish up your post when Forbes has already covered the same topic so eloquently?
Why should Google trust you?
That’s the question you now need to ask of yourself every time you create any piece of content.
Are you contributing real value to your readers or are you just adding to the noise?
Don’t write another article like how to make French toast.
As Eric Enge from Stone Temple Consulting describes, “…there are over 31,000 results for this!
There’s no need for more than 5 articles on how to make French toast – it’s really easy.
You can’t win by writing a new article on something that has already been covered many times before.” Today’s post is about building your brand that Google will trust.
As you read this post, my goal is for you to reframe your thinking, beliefs and assumptions about what you consider SEO and content to be about.
I want you to consider what new strategies you can implement into your own business in the year ahead with the end goal focussed on BUILDING and AMPLIFYING YOUR BRAND.
So grab your favourite drink and be the first to exclusively find out the latest and greatest search engine strategies for 2015 and beyond and why you must now focus on building your brand if you want to be successful online.
Big brand search strategies for small business & entrepreneurs for 2015
Big Brand Search Strategy #1: Find opportunities to delight your customers at every opportunity
“SEO is not dead,” says Distilled’s Content Strategist Hannah Smith.
“But it is constantly evolving.”
Hannah explained that ranking number 1 doesn’t mean what it used to.
The role of SEO is not just about getting links and using keywords but also getting press coverage, social shares and exposure on sites that our target audience reads. What this means is that SEO is now about helping businesses build a brand.
The problem is brand apathy is rife.
In Europe and the US, consumers would not care if 92% of brands ceased to exist.
That means consumers would only miss 8% of brands.
In order to build a strong brand, it needs to leave a lasting and favourable impression on your customers.
One way to do this is to find opportunities to delight your customers by interacting with your audience in a way that stands out and gets shared.
Here’s a few examples.
When someone inferred that a single bird dropping would total one of their cars, Smart Car USA (@smartcarusa) responded with this: OK so what’s the takeaway here?
It’s being able to respond in a novel way that can yield out-sized returns.
And this doesn’t need to be a resource-heavy activity.
This is how Dunkin’ Donuts (@DunkinDonuts) responded to a customer who asked if their coffee syrups were available on the black market: Dunkin’ Donuts has a library of images they use to delight their customers.
As Hannah explained, if Arby’s hadn’t tweeted that, someone else probably would have and benefitted.
You don’t have to be a big brand to take advantage of these opportunities. Any business can respond to their customers in novel ways.
You just need to be paying attention. [You can view Hannah’s entire presentation here.]
HOW THIS APPLIES TO YOU:
So what are some novel ways a small business or entrepreneur can delight their customers (without breaking the bank)?
1. Send a handwritten note or love letter to a client. Saying “thank you” in a handwritten note.
2. Send your client or your tribe a free copy of your book. I just joined a mastermind and I was delighted with a paperback version of my new coach’s best selling book sent to me in the post.
3. Record and send a personalised video to your client saying what you love about them. It will make them feel warm and mushy inside.
4. Suss out your clients guilty pleasures (perhaps a beauty product or a magazine subscription) and send them a personalised gift. (Hello chocolate lovers).
5. Give them a massive shout out on social media – even better do a case study about them. If they’re new and launching, help spread the word about them.
Big Brand Search Strategy #2: Offer your audience content that will allow them to define themselves by sharing it
Hannah posed the question to us:
“Have you ever thought about why you share what you share on social media?”
68% of people share content via social media to give people a better sense of who they are and what they care about.
And this is usually happening sub-consciously.
This means people tend to share content to look good, to appear smart and knowledgeable, for people to think they have a good sense of humour, where they stand on important issues or to shape other people’s impression of themselves to their fans and followers.
Brands can give people the ability to define themselves to others.
This provides an opportunity for you to offer customers what they want and need. In other words, create content your clients will “look good” sharing.
When Oreo turned 100, they created 100 pieces of content over 100 days. Their campaign received over 1m Facebook likes and tons of press coverage.
This was highly topical content that put Oreo in the centre of people’s conversations without being self-serving.
In other words, Oreo created something that didn’t feel like a commercial. And that’s what a meaningful brand does.
HOW THIS APPLIES TO YOU:
What can you create that’s meaningful, without being self-serving and makes other people “look good” sharing (and is not resource-heavy or costly)?
1. While I believe quotes can be overused, people LOVE quotes and I see plenty of proof of that in doing tons of keyword research.
You could quote collage of the best insightful or thought provoking quotes in your niche or industry. Perfect for sharing on Instagram and Pinterest (even Google + ;)).
2. Get your creative juices flowing and write your own awesome manifesto.
A manifesto is defined as a declaration of one’s beliefs, opinions, motives, and intentions and it can create a powerful connection between people and brands.
Mark Di Somma’s post on Branding Strategy Insider suggests writing “a rallying cry” with:
• The anger of a placard
• The commitment of a doctrine
• The beauty of a story
• The hope and excitement of a vivid dream
• The sense of a philosophy and
• The call to action of a direct response ad.
3. Take advantage of trending hashtags.
This is a great way to check for content and information that might resonate with your audience.
To become a part of a trending topic, you can share an article about something that is trending, but would also be of interest to your audience.
For example, a hot trending hashtag right now is #XmasListIn3Words.
If you’re an ecommerce, or a local online retailer that wants to promote your latest Christmas specials, you could showcase your products using the hashtag.
If you’re a service provider having a special promo for affiliates or customers, you can create a series of themed Christmas images using Canva embedding the hashtag within the image and sharing them on social media using the hashtag.
Take a look at the way some brands are taking advantage of this hashtag right now:
HOW THIS APPLIES TO YOU:
1. Write a blog post about an issue you care deeply about. Show people what you stand for.
For example, Kerry Rowett from Awaken Kinesiology recently wrote a terrific post in response to an article published in BRW about why so many women are scared of being visible online.
Kerry’s post resonated with many of us in the online space because of the backlash and negativity many women face when they put themselves out there.
As a result, Kerry’s post has received a large number of social shares and coverage.
Because we wanted to share something that takes a stand against some very negative perceptions some people have towards women entrepreneurs.
It got people “talking.”
So why is building a brand becoming more and more important in today’s digital landscape?
….Because Google is favouring and giving brands more importance in the search results.
Google is fighting spam in significant ways, which, as Rand Fishkin described, is basically a crackdown on ranking without a brand.
What this simply means is this. Google is rewarding brands in the search results.
Yes it’s the likes of Amazon, E-bay, Forbes, Psychology Today and WebMD dominating the search results, depending on the search term being entered into the search box.
Google is cracking down on spam, which means if Google doesn’t consider you to be a brand, then it thinks you’re spam.
As unfair as it may sound, it’s those businesses that stand out and make the most of these opportunities that will be rewarded.
This means your search strategy needs to be aligned with your branding.
But it really is perfectly fair.
We all need to earn our position on Google.
It’s not fair that some websites or businesses get ranked when they create a lot of pages that are not that different from one another but don’t put in enough effort into the pages they add to make them unique and valuable.
Think useless 200 to 300 word blog posts.
It rarely has information to help the reader at all.
Why should a dodgy company that’s get engaged in really bad link building practices and keyword stuffed their pages be rewarded in the search results?
Why should those types of companies get any exposure at all over hard working small businesses or entrepreneurs that genuinely have great content and value that deserves to be recognised and shared?
Google is making it harder for these types of websites to rank because they’re too lazy to create great content that actually helps people.
It doesn’t “trust” those websites to provide it’s users with the information they’re looking for.
Even CEO of Google Eric Schmidt, said, “brands are the solution, not the problem. Brands are how you sort out the cesspool.”
For example, when I searched for “EFT tapping money”, Google associated Margaret Lynch to tapping in the related searches.
Remember I said earlier that you need to get Google to associate your brand with your topic.
Luckily for Margaret Lynch, Google is already associating EFT tapping money with her personal brand. So which side are you going to be on?
Your online brand marketing strategy: how to get ranked on Google when you’re not a big brand with a giant budget
OK now that I’ve mentioned that Google is making it harder for businesses to rank if they’re not a brand, what does that mean for you if you’re a small or micro business or an entrepreneur?
You maybe thinking there’s no hope because you’re not a big brand with huge resources and budgets.
If so, stop!
You just need to act like a big brand so Google sees you as a brand.
Remember what I explained earlier.
You need to be able to create a long lasting and favourable impression to people. A
ll it takes is a little creativity, strategy, motivation and commitment.
And many of us know that entrepreneurs usually have no problem with being creative and motivated.
Marie Forleo is now a well recognised brand but she didn’t start out that way.
Nor did Anthony Robbins, Natalie McNeil or Susan Cain. But don’t go thinking that being a big brand means it’s all smooth sailing.
Noone is safe from Google’s wrath if you do the wrong thing.
You can read this article here about 10 big brands that were penalised by Google, including the BBC.
If you want clients and customers and especially if you want to have an online presence, you HAVE to build a brand.
Without it, you “lack an identity, a pulse, a presence—and a purpose,” says Mary Van de Wiel of the NY Brand Lab.
So here are a few simple strategies any entrepreneur in their bra or jocks at home can do starting right now to build their personal brand online.
#1 Build up your site’s association with a topic (or set of topics)
This example comes directly from Rand Fishkin’s presentation at Search Love. Take a close look at the screenshot above and you’ll notice that there are two organic search listings for Beardbrand (that you can see).
According to Rand, Beardbrand’s constant presence across the web including social, video, news, blogs etc, means Google associates mustache product searches with their site.
Here’s another example that came from Rand:
The page isn’t even a great keyword match but Google’s association of Martha Stewart with search terms such as “house,” “home organisation,” and “checklist,” have likely played into the ranking of these listings.
How can you start to get Google to associate your brand with your products and services?
Google Plus is the perfect platform for small businesses and entrepreneurs because Google is rewarding businesses that use this platform on their organic search results.
Not only that, Google+ is the world’s second largest social network, which makes it bigger than Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest and Instagram. Right now, only Facebook is bigger.
And by 2016, social sharing on Google+ is predicted to overtake Facebook.
The key takeaway is that you can’t rely on just one channel or method to get listed on the organic search results on Google.
It involves an integrated marketing and digital strategy, which leads me to the next point.
#2 Get more from your content and focus on outreach
This was a real shift for me.
“Death to the content calendar,” was a catchy cry throughout the conference.
Too often, we’re dictated by our editorial calendars to publish content on a regular basis that we forget the real reason we want to communicate and share our message with our audience.
When I relaunched and rebranded back in May, I made a promise to my subscribers they would receive a new blog post in their inbox from me every week.
Now, I’m revisiting my entire SEO and content strategy because I don’t want to be constrained by a weekly publishing schedule that is light on substance.
I touched on this earlier.
Almost everything has been written about already so it’s really hard now to create any unique content.
You either need to deliver your content in a more visual and compelling way or shed light on topics in ways that your audience has not read before.
It’s important now to use data to tell a story instead of just giving metrics and using the right sort of content to help you build your networks and to increase your brand awareness.
This is such an essential topic but again there are huge opportunities for those that are willing to go the extra mile and be creative.
Matt Beswick delivered a terrific presentation at Search Love and it alone has changed the way I will approach content creation and outreach in the future. Matt says it’s all about crafting stories:
1. Unique data is great for outreach
2. You’re looking for a story
3. Where possible, include the data As small business owners, bloggers and entrepreneurs you have more control than you think when it comes to brand building.
The secret lies in outreach and amplification.
Who’s going to share and promote your content and why?
The problem is almost nobody does any outreach or amplification.
Too often, people create content but then they’re not proactive in promoting it.
And I’m not talking about a simple Facebook or Twitter post.
I mean serious relationship building. Because most SEO benefit is earned in the first 24 hours of launching your content.
Here’s a fews suggestions on what you can to promote your brand:
- Get free publicity for your expertise and connect with journalists and other bloggers using SourceBottle or Help A Reporter. Sharing your expertise could land you that big media opportunity you’ve been looking for. How’s that for amplification?
- If you’ve written an article and you’ve mentioned or linked to a few experts or sources, send them a email or tweet to let them know. I’ve done this loads and it helps to get other people spread your message for you. They can tweet it out to their followers or mention you on their blog or to their email list.
- Write for other blogs. Guest blogging is still a great way to tap into bigger audiences than your own.
#3 Build these brand signals
If you can’t ‘beat em, join em’.
Brian Dean from Backlinko also wrote a terrific post on how to build some easy brand signals, which I’m going to share here.
He made an interesting observation in his article in that Google is just a site ranking machine (also known as an algorithm).
In other words, Google doesn’t know that Nike or Coke are brands because it saw their commercials on TV. Google identifies brands from online brand signals.
Signals that you can use too. I said earlier that you need to act like a big brand.
Here’s how you do it:
1. Forget about keyword-rich and exact-match domain names.
I had a client ask me this week why I don’t have “SEO” in my domain name.
I explained that I’m focussed on building a personal brand and it’s not important for me to rank for “SEO.”
She explained to me she chose her business name based on a popular keyword she’s trying to rank for.
There’s nothing wrong with that if you believe it’s a genuine representation of your brand and business but it’s far more important to choose a branded domain, not one just because it has a keyword you’re trying to rank for.
For example, go for PrettyShirts.com over BestWomensBlouseAndShirts.com.
As Brian stated in his article, it’s better to send a message to Google that you’re a unique brand instead of focussing on a specific keyword.
2. Brand mentions and citations.
Link building has been the backbone of the SEO industry, which has come under a lot of scrutiny in recent years.
Google now appears to be placing more importance on brand mentions and citations, because it’s less likely to be manipulated for the purpose of only getting easy search rankings.
This means you now want to try and get links with your brand / business name instead.
In other words, I would rather people link to my site with the anchor text “Shae Baxter” instead of “SEO”.
Of course if people were to link to my site using “Shae Baxter SEO Coach,” that would be even better because Google will associate my name with my topic and expertise.
Your most important keywords should become your brand terms and aim to get more people to search for your brand on Google.
The goal is to make people search for Pretty Shirts the next time they want to buy a woman’s shirt or blouse.
3. Have a thorough about page.
This was an awesome tip from Brian. About pages are one of the most well-read pages on your site. Real brands have epic about pages and tell a story.
Summary of the best things you can do for SEO to build your brand in 2015 and beyond.
If you’re serious about being successful online in 2015, you have to take brand building seriously.
Otherwise Google is going to leave you in the cesspool. Here’s a summary of what you need to do:
- Focus on brand domains over keyword rich domain names. If you’re still trying to figure out what to call your business, don’t worry about trying to use a keyword in the domain name. It’s not important. Brand matters. You should brand yourself as an expert in your field so Google will associate your expertise with your brand. For example, if you were to start another business or blog, your name will make it easier for you to get a head start in any new projects you create.
- Use keywords that aim to get more people to search for your brand on Google. Mix in your target keywords with your brand keywords. You need to get people searching for your brand. Press articles and social media is a great way to promote your content.
- Have a thorough and epic about page. Tell a story.
- Focus on the end user. That is your ideal client. Don’t write “for SEO.” Write the best, original and helpful content you can that’s never been written anywhere else before.
- Check your Google Analytics or Google Webmaster Tools to see how much traffic comes from people searching for your name keyword.
Building a brand doesn’t happen overnight and it requires a long term commitment.
But Marie Forleo and Amazon didn’t become what they are today overnight either.
As Rand Fishkin said at Search Love:
“SEO is getting harder. But, that high barrier to entry means greater opportunity to those that succeed.”
Focus on creating a brand that people will recognise because it will make it easier for Google to reward your site with high search rankings.
Now it’s your turn.
List one thing you’re going to do to help build your brand in 2015 / 16 and share it in the comments below.
Then you definitely want to download the free checklist version of this post that I just put together.
It contains all the actionable steps from this post.
Click the link below and enter your email to download the free PDF checklist: