Do You Have Access to Webmaster Tools?

August 29th, 2012

 

The first question you might ask here is why is an AdWords Expert writing about Webmaster Tools. The answer is because it is possible to have problems with your AdWords Account that can only be fixed by Webmaster tools. I know this is unexpected to most because Webmaster tools are not connected to AdWords and they are more of an organic focused traffic tool.
The problem surfaces when the site is hit with malware because while AdWords will be disabled and it can only be reset in Webmaster Tools. This requires that you have access to them and that requires that you have a verified connection. To do this first you need to go to:

https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/home?hl=en
To get started you need to add a site to your webmaster tools account and then you have to verify your access. This verification process is done by uploading a file to the root directory of the website. To start click on the orange “Add A Site” button in the upper right hand section of the screen.
Once the site has been added you need to verify your access to this. This is done by uploading a file to the root directory of the site (where your home page is)

Recommended: HTML file upload Upload an HTML file to your site.
1. Download this HTML verification file. [google29efd3934a808ef2.html]
2. Upload the file to http://www.00000000.com/
3. Confirm successful upload by visiting http://www. 00000000.com/google29efd3934a808ef2.html in your browser.
4. Click Verify below.
To stay verified, don’t remove the HTML file, even after verification succeeds.

The file can be downloaded using the link on item one. You should then save this to your site directory. Once the file is there then you can confirm it using the link in step three. It is important that this file remain exactly as is. You cannot rename it to something that you think is better documentation and you need to make sure that the internals of the page remain as is.
Once the site is verified the really fun stuff starts to happen in that you can start learning what the data in Webmaster tools means to your business. Connecting your Webmaster tools to your Google Analytics also opens even more data in Analytics and that is done here after the site is verified.

Click on the Manage site button next to the site you want to connect to a Google Analytics profile. Then click on the Google Analytics property selection. This will give you a list of all the Google Analytics Accounts under your profile. Once you find the profile you want to connect to just click on the option dot and then go to the bottom and save the changes.

There is no tech support for Webmaster Tools that we can find inside Google, but if you are an active advertiser you might try that support line or if you are a client just give me a call. Otherwise you can try the email support.

How to NOT Waste Money in AdWords

July 25th, 2012

AdWords is quite capable of setting your credit card on fire and wasting money at epic levels, but it can also create great value. The difference in these two outcomes is driven by how the account is managed and where the energies of the account are focused. Here are some pointers on how to avoid wasting money in AdWords.

Don’t Treat all Keywords the same

In almost every account keywords break down into winners, losers, and the silent majority. Each of these needs a separate strategy.

Winners are the keywords everyone loves to buy, but they never have enough volume. The strategy in this class is to buy all the traffic you can. Make sure these words are isolated and fully funded so you buy these first and fully.

Losers are equally easy to indentify because they have no regard for your money and spend it freely with zero return. The only tough part about the losers is deciding at what point they become a loser. Pull the trigger too early and you could kill a good word; too late and you waste lots of money. Our general rule of thumb for losers is when they reach a click level that has missed 4 conversions based on the account average. For example if your normal conversion rate is 1% and the keyword has had 400 clicks with zero conversions then it’s a loser. If it has 2 or more conversions and the cost is above your maximum target CPA then it’s a loser.

The Silent Majority is what makes or breaks most accounts and it has to be managed with averages. This includes lots of low volume words that never get enough traffic independently to be either a winner or a loser. The problem here is that if the word has had one or zero conversions then the probability of getting another conversion is pretty low. Each word in the list is just as likely to get a conversion as any other and none of them have the volume needed to become either a winner or loser.

Don’t Skip the Negative Keywords

An AdWords account without a good rich set of negative keywords is a crime of the financial type. Every month the Search Query Report needs to be reviewed for new negative words and that should go on forever.  Everyone knows their primary keywords but very few know all the negatives they need to make their account really run at its highest level.

Don’t Try to Sell with Your Ad Copy

Let’s face the facts, it’s tough enough to earn a click with 95 letters and spaces (the limit of an AdWords Ad) so trying to sell something is just not going to happen. You need to focus on what is important, and what is important is getting the person to your website so you can better present your offer. About the only exception to this is the priced advertisement. If your big guns are the prices you offer then that can go into the ad. It does work, but you better be the low cost provider because your ads are going to appear price and all right next to your competitors.

Don’t Create Split Tests with More Than 2 ads

Split tests are simple to set up and complicated to analyze. The more variables in Ad Copy the worse this gets. You need to make sure that you test one thing at a time to cut the variables down to some reasonable level. You need to have a significant number of clicks to prove a click through rate and a significant number of conversions to prove performance and there is no shortcut to this. Depending on how close the results are the number required to be significant can be large so it can take time to gather that level of data.

Don’t Think that AdWords in Search Creates Demand

AdWords serves the demand of the searcher but it does not create demand. The proof of this statement is that the search query was created in the mind of the searcher before they ever saw your advertisement. To create demand you need to look at PR or advertising outside of AdWords Search.

Don’t Think You Know Something You Don’t

Let’s face it as humans we like to think we know why things do what they do, it is just our natural curiosity.  Getting from correlation to causation is at best an art form, especially in AdWords. We have run dozens of split tests with no variables but with different results, which proves that split testing is a clue not a fact. The other things we like to do here is take a very tiny piece of data and try to draw a conclusion from it. I saw the results of a split test where the person drew a conclusion and talked at length about the facts of the test – with 11 clicks over 4 ads!!! Let’s just say this is stupid to monumental level.

Don’t Go it alone

AdWords combines psychology, marketing, math, and language – it’s complicated. One person operating in isolation cannot possibly think of all the different variables with all the perspectives. The more people you engage in your AdWords strategy the better your account is likely to run. This does not mean that we advocate multiple people maintain the account but you need diversity in thought for the strategy development.

In Closing

In business you can pay for things either Cash or Creativity; it’s your choice. In our marketing we spend the creativity first and the cash last and we recommend you do the same.

99% of Contractor Websites Are Lacking The Same Thing

July 25th, 2012

My own theory is that 99% of small business websites I come across lack real people and great photos on their website. I have not run any statistics to make my theory a fact, but I can almost bet I’m not far off from those numbers. The reason most websites do not have pictures of their own people and real projects is typically the same reason most contractors do not have a consistent blog: they do not make it a priority or are too busy.

If you are a contractor that works in people’s homes or businesses, then you should strongly consider updating your site to make it look as personal as possible. Make your website looks like a showroom and think about what your customer would want to see when he or she enters. My guess would be that your customer would want to see samples or products, before and after photos, demonstrations of applications, samples and learn more about the people doing the work.

Make your website come alive in 2012. Be one of the only contractors in America who shows and tells your potential customers an incredible story.

Side Note. This is not something I can do for you. You have to be the one who makes this a priority. Hire a photographer / videographer and get some great photos and videos up! I guarantee you’ll begin to get better quality leads.

Samples of Contractor Websites Who Are On The Right Track 

Hard to find…but here are a couple:

*Editor’s note: This blog was originally posted at www.adavidcreation.com

Competing with Unlicensed Plumbers

June 30th, 2012

You worked hard to get your Plumbing License by learning the trade and proving those skills. Unlicensed Plumbers on the other hand operate outside the law and create an unfair competition. Unlicensed plumbers often bid jobs lower because the work is done without permits, inspections, or necessary insurance. This results in a lower cost with a hidden risk that the customer often does not understand. One job for your marketing is to help the consumer understand why that low bid maybe the most expensive option they have.

Promote Your License

Putting your license upfront in your marketing it will cause some clients to ask your competitor for their license. Make sure that your website and marketing materials push the value of using a licensed plumber and make it easy for people to verify. Find how consumers can verify licenses in your state and find your license in the system. Then connect your site directly to that page so it’s just one click to validate your license. You worked hard to get licensed and you need to really promote this.

Action Item: Include Your License on business cards and quotes

Promote Checking Licenses

Verifying a license Very few home owners are looking for unlicensed plumbers and most of the time it is simply that they fail to check. Make sure on your quotes, business cards, and other items that you are likely to give the home owner that you include how to check a license.

Action Item: Find State Website page to verify your license and connect to your website

Keep Track of Local Horror Stories

In marketing there is nothing more powerful than a great story. Almost every community has had the news story of something very bad happening because an unlicensed individual performed a task outside their skill set. Make sure you get copies of these stories and keep them as part of your presentation to prospective clients. Make sure you keep the internet page address (URL) so prospects can independently verify the story and keep a good quality full color print in your sales book.

Action Item: Build a book of local horror stories of unlicensed work and scams

Report Unlicensed Plumbers – the Bad Guys

Reporting Unlicensed Plumbers is a service to your industry and community and ultimately it’s good for your business. . If you lose a deal to an unknown competitor, especially when you lose big based on price; make sure you verify the license. If you find they are unlicensed; do your civic duty and report them. The complaint process is often designed for consumer reporting but you can provide what you factually know and let the enforcing agency gather the rest. If you want to stay out of the documentation most states will accept anonymous submissions in writing but not online.

Action Item: Report all work you suspect is being performed by Unlicensed Plumbers

Include Your License in Your Ads

AdWords has very little space but putting your license in one the body lines can do two things for you. First is that it separates your ad and makes it stand out and that can be good for you. This will need to be tested but it is one concept of how to leverage the license you worked very hard to get.

Vehicle Wraps – Mobile Billboards for Your Plumbing Business

June 30th, 2012

If you need to jump start your plumbing business, the most logical rst step is to advertise. According to a study held by the American Trucking Association, 91% of people notice visuals and words displayed on trucks. Why not create a moving billboard? Turn your vehicle into a marketing machine!

Vehicle graphics replace expensive custom paint jobs. The lower cost solution is used to create “moving billboards” for those seeking to promote their business. Vinyl material is placed on the car, covering the paint surface. The material is designed for long term use, but can be professionally removed, if desired, after an advertising campaign is completed. Vehicle graphics can be completed on any type of vehicle, such as vans, box trucks, eet trucks, or everyday family cars. The typical cost for vehicle graphics ranges from $500 to $5,000, depending upon the amount of vinyl used and the complexity of the installation.

“Vehicle graphics are a cost eective way to promote your business,” said Paul Ferroggiaro, founder of GenoaGraphix, a premier vehicle graphics specialist. “We are excited to offer our customers a progressive way to advertise their business and create brand awareness everyday, all day, wherever they go. Graphics can be designed to produce eye-catching results. The image and message desired, as well as the vehicle make, shape, and size, will determine the style of graphics. Whether it is a conservative image, or even a humorous look you wish to convey, a professional company can create a design to be proud of.

When researching companies to wrap your vehicle, ask specic questions. Only top of the line materials should be used. Applications need to be completed only by trained professionals, preferably those who have earned the coveted 3M certication. Just as you want your customers to call you, the professional, when they have plumbing issues, be sure to contact an expert when transforming your vehicle into an advertising machine. For more information on vehicle graphics or email Paul Ferroggiaro

Exact & Phrase Match “Improvement”

April 29th, 2012

Google rolled out a change notice that was difficult to miss. We have discovered over the years that when a change gets good notice, there is a good reason to study it. As we dig into the details we are finding that this could be a very dangerous change. Here is the posting in AdWords:

“New! Improvements coming to exact match and phrase match

Target your ads better. In mid-May, our improved exact match and phrase match options will include misspellings, plurals, and other close variants of your keywords.”

If the documentation on this new and improved feature is accurate, this moves the match rules much closer to broad keywords.

Here is what Google documentation says about Broad Match keywords:

“Your ads could also show for singular/plural forms, synonyms, and other relevant variations.”

Here is what they say about the Improvements to Exact Match and Phrase Match:

“ In addition to misspellings, other close variants include singular and plural forms, acronyms, stemmings (such as floor and flooring), abbreviations, and accents.”

It stands to reason that “Other Relevant Variations” and “Close Variants” are the same thing. It is also interesting that they do NOT mention the treatment of word order in any of this. Our hope is that word order remains a matching requirement. Does omission from the documentation mean that it does not change? This is one of those things that we will probably learn only with testing.

If Google does exactly what they say in their documentation, which does not always happen, then this feature effectively makes everything a broad term with the exception of word order.  In fairness, we expect that there will be some difference between broad and improved exact or improved phrase but it is probably more like the difference between broad and modified broad keywords.

What is not clear from the documentation is how this is going to roll out. If Google follows their historical pattern, this will become the default value on new campaigns but they will not just roll your account over to this setting. We suspect because this is such a big change, that the push back could be huge if they set this to an opt-out feature. After the change is in place, I am giving odds this will be the default value. Do no evil does not mean do not make a profit. Ultimately, Google is a company with shareholders not all of which totally buy the do no evil thing. This is a multi-billion dollar feature for Google and I suspect they smart enough to know that.

Our plan is to watch very carefully how this rolls-out and if necessary opt-out. We will then carefully test this so we can adjust the settings to our client’s advantage. It may be a very positive change, but we would like to know that before we allow this into current accounts.

Making the Phone Ring

April 27th, 2012

Let’s face reality – we judge advertising performance based on the response, not the clicks. CTR and clicks are important to Google, but your Plumbing business is interested in making the phone ring.

The right keywords and ad copy is what gets to the click. Without the click, there is no web experience. However, there is a limit to what AdWords can really do with 95 letters and spaces.

It’s about the Web Experience

It’s the web experience that creates the true impression and the response.  Plumbers routinely want a phone call or a form completion. Most of the time in the Plumbing business, it’s all about getting the phone to ring. While we do recommend forms on websites, the reality is the best leads come in from the phone.  Form leads tend to be lower quality but if a person wants to respond that way then let them.

The web experience should be designed to get the phone call and you need to keep that in mind. You need to project a professional image and make them comfortable enough with your business to pick up the phone. Depending on the situation, Plumbing is either emergency or routine traffic. With the emergency traffic, the person will stop shopping as soon as they find the first site that seems to fit their needs. If they pick up the phone and call and get a person that convinces them that their problem will be handled, then they are done.  This means that every position below the first position is a risk that they will never get to you.

Routine traffic on the other hand, will shop until they are satisfied that they have found the deal they want. In this type of traffic, the key is to be high enough in the results to make it to the short list. The typical routine traffic will view 3-10 sites before they decide to call one of them. Some percentage of them will stop when they talk to the person that they think can solve their problem. Others will call multiple businesses and play the quote for a better price game.

Position Counts!

This might seem obvious, but regardless of the type of response you want it needs to be above the fold.  For a Plumber, this means that the Phone Number and the Form Access has to be on the top of the page. This term actually came from the newspaper industry and it meant exactly what is says. In the internet world above the fold means that you can see it when you first land on the page without having to roll down. The challenge here is that not every computer has the same size screen so the fold is a concept not an exact physical position. The vast major of screens are 17” or above so using that as a standard to decide what is above the fold is a good general guideline. One of the classic problems with designers is that they fail to remember that not everyone is using a 30” monitor like they do so they design response pages above the fold for their monitor and not for the masses. Make them test their designs on a 17” monitor.

It’s a Mobile World

There is no doubt that mobile devices are coming into this world quickly. If you think a 17” monitor is a design limitation, wait till you deal with this one.  Design for mobile delivery is yet another design challenge, and here you have to realize that people are responding to less and less information so you have to adapt to that. Gone are the days of long copy, now your message is being delivered on a screen where 5 inches is considered huge. Mobile phones current range from 3.5 to 5 inches and to be readable, you need to be brief and to the point. Most of the time mobile visitors want directions, phone numbers, or very small specific information. Rule 1.01 in response design is; Give them what they want!

Being Local Is Important

This is clearly a Mr. Obvious statement but in the Plumbing business being local is huge. Make sure that your design screams local to the visitor and the first things they notice are the phone number and the city name. Make sure both of these are on the page they land on. Toll Free numbers are great for some businesses but a local prefix is much better when being local is important. It is also important that the major city name be an in-your-face element on the landing page.

There is a challenge in the local approach and it has to do with specific services like Water Heater Installation. If you have 5 cities that you have local pages for and subordinate to that, you have a page that talks about water heater installation then you have a choice to make. Do you drop them on the water heater page or the city page? Unless you are willing to have all your services duplicated, most will direct them to the city page to make the local statement and then connect them to a shared page on Water Heater Installation.

Be Clear About What You Want

If you want a phone call, then ask them to call and if you want a form filled out ask them to do that. We see websites all the time that assume that the person knows what they want and the simple truth is that is a dangerous marketing practice. Ask for the call early and often and make it very clear that is what you want them to do.

If it’s Important, Measure it

We see websites all the time that violate this rule. Most of the time, it’s the phone number that is overlooked.  As a minimum, get a phone number that is unique to your website and use it only there. There are several ways to implement this but one of the easy ones is that you pass your website through a URL tag that says to show the paid traffic phone number. Any good website designer should understand how to do this. On forms, make sure that the design goes to a unique thank you page that confirms that someone will get back to them. For some reason, some web designers want to reuse the same page and just rewrite a section of it. While this will work, it makes tracking the response more difficult than it needs to be. A unique thank you page is not really an option.

Phone Tracking is Imperfect

In today’s technology, connecting the phone call to your advertising is imperfect because computers cannot yet track the act of a person picking up a phone. This is not an excuse to not track your calls. Try to learn as much as you can about how they came to call your business. We recommend that you keep a detailed phone log and organize it the same way as you do your advertising. Most Plumbing accounts will have general plumbing, specific services, and product related ad groups and you need to classify your calls the same way. You can ask where they found you but the information may be imperfect. At the end of the month bring this data together so you can see relationships.

Offer Choices

Some people like online forms and others like phones. If both are of value to your business, then by all means offer both because the total response will most likely go up. Simply stated, people like choices.  Forms get better responses during the off hours and phones get better response during business hours. There could be several reasons for this and the most likely is that people would rather email than leave a voice mail in a general mailbox after hours.

Get to the Point

People are in a hurry and yet most websites drift around and waste our time with lots of unnecessary words and details. The golden rule here should be: Give them as much detail as they need to make an educated decision but no more than that. This is hard because different audiences will respond to different levels of detail but do the best that you can. As a minimum, tighten up your language and keep the words to a minimum. Use lists rather than paragraphs and use good highlighting to make scanning your text easier.

Remove Roadblocks to Your Response

I have seen hundreds of sites with unnecessarily complex response design forms and every decision you engineer into the process is an opportunity for the customer to leave.  We have seen errors on screens that issue messages that might make sense to some programmers but for an ordinary person it might as well be in an alien language.  Make sure that a non-programmer reviews every error message given by the system to make sure it makes sense.

Nothing is Perfect

In closing, there is no perfect response design and you need to experiment consistently to find the attributes that push your audience’s buttons. Remember that small things can make big differences and you never know what they will be until you test them.

 

Plumbing Pricing Strategy

March 21st, 2012

Your Pricing strategy goes to the core of your profitability and customer service. This article explores several of the issues involved in this complex aspect of a plumbing business.

On the simplistic side of this issue we have labor and parts costs. On the emotional side is the relationship between the customer, technician and the purchase decision.

Labor cost is complex because of all the variables involved to deliver service. Here are items that you must consider when calculating your cost to provide each hour of service.

  1. Payroll (Hourly, commission or billable hour)
  2. Fuel
  3. Vehicle maintenance
  4. Vehicle depreciation
  5. Vehicle Insurance
  6. Licensing and vehicle registration
  7. Vehicle payment
  8. Marketing (factor the cost to stay in contact with your customers 3 times per year)
  9. Office (If you work from home factor a minimum of 25% of your rent or mortgage)
  10. Office utilities
  11. Office supplies
  12. Liability insurance, bonds and state licensing fees
  13. Accounting
  14. Dispatching cost
  15. Employee benefits (this is not limited to 401K and health benefits)
  16. Accounts billable (Carrying costs are very expensive)
  17. Consumables (latex gloves, solder, invoices, business cards etc.)
  18. Profit margin (if your profit goal is 15% you will need to factor approx. 25% to meet your goal)
  19. No charge invoices (factor the % of customers that do not pay for service or FREE ESTIMATES)

Plumbing Industry Labor Rate Calculator 

A common mistake when calculating your cost to provide service is not charging for future items. If you do not have a vehicle payment, office lease or dispatcher to name a few you must consider these expenses today to build your business in the future.

Once you have an hourly rate the next challenge you will face is mark-up on material/parts. Improper mark up on material is one of the top 3 mistakes responsible for a 93% failure rate for service companies within the first 5 years. Warranty issues are the obvious. Don’t forget stolen parts, damaged material and parts given to a customer for free as a customer satisfaction.

Below is the industry standard parts mark-up:

  1. $0.01 – $10.00 = 400% mark up
  2. $10.01 – $25.00 300% mark-up
  3. $25.01 – $50.00 200% mark-up
  4. $50.01 – $200.00 60% mark-up
  5. $200 & up 40% mark-up

The best way to secure accurate pricing in the field is to have a standardized price book for the most common services and a bid worksheet for tasks not serviced daily. Assuming your price book is designed to benefit the customer and the service technician it will reduce price negotiations, buyer remorse, negative emotions and most important build value. This is a proven method of delivering price in most industries well before the plumbing industry adopted menu style pricing. Any advantage your company can gain will be a positive outcome in this increasingly competitive market.

The author of this article Mark Carrasco can be reached at mark.carrasco@mrpricebook.com or 214-770-3652. Mark is the author Mr. Price Book the industry standard in Plumbing Pricing Books.


It’s About Being Local

March 18th, 2012

In the Plumbing business the more local you are to the person seeking services, especially emergency services, the higher your response rate will be. Few Plumbers will argue with me on this point but the challenge is that many Plumbing Businesses serve several local markets.
The simple solution is to have a physical location in each market but the cost of that is prohibitive. So the issue becomes one of balance between the cost of a separate locations and the value to your business. The good news is that you can enhance your localness without going to the extreme of opening unnecessary offices.

Phase I: Phone Numbers

Stage one of getting local is phone numbers and most plumbers have known for years that they can get local dial phone numbers and redirect them to an office in another location. The question becomes how far to take this concept. The golden rule is that you need one phone number for each significant market area. A significant market is an area that identifies itself as a separate community. The issue of significant area is critical to keeping your expenses in check while getting as local as you can be. In Los Angeles for example there are 82 cities and some of them get localized traffic and some simply do not. If you get a central office code for an insignificant area all you have is an expense.
Phone numbers are made up of area codes, central office codes, and phone numbers. For example (805) 481-0118 is my local office number. The 805 area code tells you that I am in Central California, the 481 central office code tells you I am in Grover Beach, and the 0118 is just a number. In any local area the people living there will instantly recognize the area code and most of the central office codes. Like most areas we have overlap between cities so 481 or 489 both say either Grover Beach or Arroyo Grande. Having both a 481 and 489 number would be of no value because they are seen as one community.

How Accurate is the Location?

Localization cuts both ways so be careful with how close to the bone you cut. Google and many others are working on the problem but a searcher’s physical location and their system location are not always the same. My office is in Grover Beach but my internet location often reads as San Luis Obispo, which is 12 miles north on Hwy 101 and is considered a significantly different market. A mistake in the geographic location of 15 miles is not uncommon, especially if the audience is a consumer rather than a business. There are many reasons for the location being wrong but and current estimates put this error level between 50%-80%

Phase 2: Location based landing pages

At this stage you have figured out what communities are significant in your market and you have a phone number to serve that market. Next you need a page to land on that is specific to that community. You can, as some do, just put the local number on your regular home page but that is much weaker than a localized page with one number. There are some trade-offs related to the geographic error. If the location is being read wrong the highly localize page can be a negative not a positive.
We often see Plumbing sites with a huge stack of city name links off their home page and these are often part of the template but in location based pages you do not want this copied forward. You want the page to be solely about the location you are promoting and nothing else. Again the more things you are about the less you are about the one thing you are focusing on.

Phase 3: Dealing with Google Places

A big challenge in getting local is Maps and Google Places because on most plumbing searches Google Places is 40% of the top of the results page. For each area that you have a local operation make sure that you claim the Places Listing and promote that location. For each location you want to promote the physical location and invite reviews since these are two of the big factors in how the maps are optimized. Your physical location does not have to be a huge office but it has to be able to receive mail and have its own phone number. The days of claiming a physical location without really being at the location are behind us but Google Places is still incredibly important to your business.

Site Optimization for Plumbers

February 20th, 2012
People call us all the time wanting us to do search engine optimization (SEO) and they believe it is fast, cheap, and easy. The problem is that it is none of these. SEO traffic is often the most expensive, risky, and difficult to manage of the traffic types. While we deal with optimization issues every day we do not provide SEO services because to do it right is incredibly labor intensive and the return from the investment is at best difficult to measure.

Client expectations are also commonly not realistic. I have had way too many meetings where we try to explain the challenges and the person just says I want to be first and hands us a list of 50-100 words.  The problem is that this is a competitive game and while you might want to be first most are unwilling to invest the time and money required to get there.

Organic traffic is great when you can get it but the problem is the lack of dependability and scalability. It is a common event to hear “I used to be first on Google” followed by a story of how the world came crashing down. There is absolutely nothing unusual or unnatural about this because it is just the natural ebb and flow of organic listings.

The Types of Organic Results

To really explore organic traffic you have to divide it down into its parts because they operate independently of each other. In the organic slots you can have Places (Local Map Listings), Optimized Pages, Google Base (Product feed), and social network entries.  When most people talk about SEO what they normally mean is the natural keyword based page listings. In the case of plumber searches this is often behind the Places Listings and in many metros it is on the bottom of the first page.

On & Off Page Elements

There are two parts of optimization; on-page and off-page. The on-page is the one that everyone seems to be fascinated with but is reality it is the smaller of the two and not by a little bit. However the page content is the foundation of the optimization and it is the easiest to understand. Google is ranking the page by what it is about and the term they use for this is relevancy.  The question Google is trying to answer is how relevant is the content of the page to the search query posed by the searcher. So in reality optimization starts with the searcher not the page. In here is the first challenge and the first rule in SEO. The more you optimize for one keyword the more you degrade another. This is a simple rule of density and frequency and it is not going to change just because you will it. Plumbers often want to optimize for the word “Plumber” and a list of city names. The problem is that the more you optimize for Los Angeles the lower your optimization for Long Beach. The more you optimize for the singular of Plumber the less you are about the plural of Plumbers. When this game is played at the highest levels winning and losing is often very small differences.

“The more you are about one word the less you are about the other”

This happens so often it’s almost a classic meeting and it goes like this. You gather your staff and brain storm the keywords you want to optimize your site for. This results in a list of 50-100 keywords and you hand this list to an SEO. If the SEO is honest they will hand the list back and ask you to circle the one you want. You want your home page optimized for all of them but the more you are about one word the less you are about the others. A home page is the most authoritative position within your website and at best you might get good position from two keywords and one of them is probably going to be your business name.  So what you need to do is decide what keyword (single not plural) you want to be found for. Pick carefully because you probably only get one and changing your mind resets the score back to zero.

More is not Better; Better is Better

When it comes to optimization this normally the first mistake and the thinking is that if one more use of the keyword is better then ten more uses must be even more better (bad grammar is to make a point). The problem is that it is keyword density not keyword count that is being scored and the score is based on a sweet-spot not a more-is-better model.  The actual sweet-spot level is a highly guarded secret inside Google but the concept is easy to understand. If the keyword occurs too often then it is a signal that the keyword is being stuffed. As a simple example let’s guess the sweet-spot at 3%. At 3% you get the maximum score for that keyword but at 4% your score is just as low as if it were 2%.  Google is much smarter than this simple example and they are looking at hundreds of other signals including things like inferred references. If they find that every sentence has the keyword in it with no inferred references the document starts to fall out of the model they are looking for.

Position Counts

Where the keyword is placed is extremely important and it follows a simple document hierarchy.  Actual point value at each level is unknown but we know the relative value follows: Site Name, Page Name, Page Position, Title, Headings 1-6, Bold, Linked, and body text. Putting the keyword on the home page gives it more value than a lower level page and putting it in a title is worth more than a heading or body listing. Google looks for keyword support at all the different levels so if the keyword is in the title, headings, and standard text then it knows that word is important.  There are also cross page support and this is typically why you win with your own name.  Most site designs include the business name on every page and it is often in the page title and footer of lots of pages. This creates a higher value for that keyword not from just one page but the entire collection of pages that make up your site. This is referred to as the page theme.

Pictures are for People – Text is Shared

When you optimize a site you are balancing the needs of different audiences – including People and Search Engines. These are very different audiences and so you have to find the right compromise between their needs. People understand and enjoy the web experience at a very different level than search engines and the simplest of these to see is humor so here is your first clue – search engines have no sense of humor. People on the other hand respond very well to colorful and creative presentations. Fortunately web pages have the ability to display text and graphics and search engines cannot see graphics. So if you have to use humor or be clever with our audience do it graphically so you do not confuse the search engine.  Search engines only see the text so keep it simple and structured so they can understand what the page is about. Lots of people make the mistake of trying to over optimize and in reality Google is looking for good content. So write with your heart and after your words have the voice that you want then review it for optimization opportunities but never change the soul of your writing.

Quality Content Counts

We have SEOs that have attempted to convince our clients that the optimization of the page was more important than the quality of the content; that is wrong on many levels. Creating margin quality content purely for optimization purposes is a self-defeating strategy. The result is that you attract a prospect only to deliver a poor first impression. Here is a simple rule – Content Quality Counts!  There is no doubt that a good content strategy that creates good quality content over a long period of time works but you need to make this part of your normal business cycle not a onetime project.

Places – Map Listings

We discussed this in more detail last month but it is worth repeating some key items. First is that places for local businesses is a critical listing and it is driven largely by citations and reviews. Citations are simply other sites that point to your site and include your physical address. Google sees this as a vote for your business in the process of scoring your places listing. Reviews are user written evaluations that typically contain a ranking of the customer’s experience with your business. You need a plan within your business to ask for reviews and you need to monitor those for negative responses and deal with those issues. No company is perfect so at some point you will end up with a customer that has a negative experience with your business. The key here is to communicate with and resolve the problem.  Many plumbers are small businesses that do not have a physical location so they use the owners home address. There is nothing wrong with this because in plumbing they are not going to come to your office to fix a leak. Bottom line here is you NEED a real physical location or you do not go on the map.

Product Listing – Google Base

If your Plumbing Business sells, installs, and/or services specific products then you want to make sure you include these in Google Base. Google Base is simply a database that you can submit to your product listings along with some basic product information such as price, picture, etc… Google will pick up this product feed on a regular basis and update the listing. This gives you one more possible way to bring traffic to your site and the listing is organic so the traffic is free. You can also connect your AdWords Account to your Google Base listings resulting in picture based ads like the ones above in the right column. This listing has some disadvantages in that the link from this page goes to a comparative shopping feature in Google, which then connects to your website.  To make all this work you will need a landing page for that product on your site so you have a specific page to connect your Google Base listing to.

As long as we are talking about products we need to point out that as your plumbing business shifts from service (plumbing) to product your keywords will change as well. Searches with things like price and shopping start to be attractive keywords.

Reputation is not what you say about yourself; but what others say about you 

Off-page optimization is more important than on-page optimization. It is largely driven by back-links, which in Internet terms is “What others say about you.”  When a site provides a back-link they are voting for your site and the word they use to do that is the word that gets the juice. The value of the back-link is based on the reputation of the site pointing to you. So a back-link from a highly respected site is worth its weight in gold, while a low authority site is not much. As you can see this process can get real complex but it is the way the world has always operated. If highly trusted people say good things about you then it increases your reputation and this is as true on the Internet as it in the physical world. Back-links are largely a more the merrier type of score assuming the sites have a positive reputation. In the underbelly of the internet are sites that will provide paid back-links and these sites can actually reduce your score. Back-links are difficult to earn but they will go a long way increasing your organic score.

Social Networks

Social Networks are getting to be a big deal and they are a source of citations and reviews so it is best to be aware of these and to start by simply claiming your name and setting up a simple presence on these networks. It is probably too early to be seriously investing in these networks but as they mature you do not want to be late to the party. Social Network signals are starting to have an impact on organic listings but the rules and values of these are still evolving. So our advice today is be aware and engage with the process but do not put too much resource into these yet.

Summary

In closing we want to stress that SEO and your Content Strategy need to be long term and to play this game you have to commit to an on-going investment in unique quality content.