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The Future of Small Business SEO (Hint: It’s About Content)

Thursday is guest post day here at Duct Tape Marketing and today’s guest is Phil Singleton – Enjoy!

2013 was an exciting year for small business Internet marketing.  Search engine optimization transformed from a game of link popularity into what it was supposed to be from the beginning: high quality, relevant content from trusted sources.  Make no mistake; quality links pointing to your website are still really important.  It’s just that content marketing and social network participation are (collectively) more important.

volume-backliningAddressing The Content Gap

There is a great line from a Duct Tape Marketing Blog post from last year: “Content is King…Really, we mean it this time.”  As a boutique web design company that creates SEO-friendly web designs, we can report to you with absolute certainty that high quality content is king.  How do we know? We are on the front line of small biz SEO – we have dozens of SEO clients and have seen first-hand how client companies with both active blogs and social media networks handily outperformed their competitors in 2013.  If you are a small business owner and somehow still have high organic search engine rank without a content strategy, let me be the first to tell you that at some point in the near future you will be kissing your organic rank goodbye.

Here are five reasons why small business SEO strategy should focus on content marketing versus volume backlink accumulation:

1. The Fall of Boiler Room Link Building – Hip, Hip, Hooray!

Low cost, high volume offshore link building is not only dead, it’s super risky.  Google dropped the granddaddy of all backlink penalties on October 4th 2013 (Penguin 2.1 aka Penguin 5) – and guess what – more Penguin updates are coming.  If you are using an offshore link building strategy, you may soon find your website flagged with a Manual Action or an Unnatural Link Warning message in your Webmaster Tools account.  Don’t know what a WT account is?  Start Googling and get your account setup today – it’s the best way to check the search engine health of your website or to see if you’ve been hit with any penalties – and probably the best way to keep tabs on your SEO company.

2. Death, Taxes & Google 

Remember Ben Franklin’s famous quote? In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes. On the Internet, pretty much everything you put out there is a part of permanent digital record.  This is especially true of your website’s backlink profile.   Even though your site may not yet have been slapped by Mother Google, your website still may be at risk.  Further, today’s white-hat SEO methods may become tomorrow’s prohibited activities – and Google always catches up with short-cut link building techniques.  By focusing on quality content and by creating your own content distribution channel, you can start naturally attracting quality links instead of artificially creating risky links.

3. Social Networking

We’ve been in and around web design and SEO for over ten years.  If you can believe it, we didn’t have a blog or any type of social media account until last year.  Why so late to the party? Because until last year, we could dominate our own online niches with a static website and passive SEO strategies.  Social media is now a critical component of SEO.  Just creating great content is not enough. The search engines need some way to determine if your content is valuable and the best measureable way for them to do this is to calculate the number of social signals (shares, likes, pluses, tweets, links, etc.) pointing back to your content.  So when our agency discusses “content marketing”, part of what we mean is promoting content through your active social media channels.


In terms of small business websites, blogging represents both the biggest opportunity and the biggest challenge.  Blogging not only helps to establish your company as an authority, but it’s also proven to increase website traffic conversion rates. Most importantly, blogging is the best way to add high quality, relevant content to your website.  The search engines love high quality blog content.  Search engine ranking factors have changed dramatically over the years, however, most SEO industry experts agree that blogging is now critically important.  This is never going to change.  All small businesses that want to achieve and sustain maximum search engine visibility will have to maintain an active blog.  Ideally, company blog posts are written by the business owner or some other experienced employee. If your company does not have an active blog, you should consider making it a priority this year.


We said it: maintaining an active blog is essential. There is more you can do.  Guest blogging is a phenomenal way to get exclusive, relevant, high-quality content on your website.  What’s even better is that the guest author will typically market their guest blog post for you.  That’s right – they will go out and blast your website to their social networking channels and help market the content for you! Supplementing your own blog with a well-executed guest blogging program will get you both great content and coveted social signals…free of charge.

Guest blogging goes both ways.   You also want to target high quality, relevant websites and post on their sites.  Reciprocal guest blogging is a secret weapon for many SEO companies.

content-marketingA Word Of Caution 

Organic search engine rankings are more important than ever.  The ranking factors have shifted from being backlink-centric to being content-centric.  Companies have to be careful to avoid the same types of SEO short-cuts that got webmasters and business owners in trouble in the past.  The search engines are getting really good at filtering out copied and low quality content.  Spammy filler content from domestic and offshore content farms will hurt your rankings.  Google has declared war on all forms of webspam.  In fact, they just recently condemned content stitching and warned against misusing guest blog posts.    In other words, you should only publish unique blog content that is interesting or useful to your audience.  If you try to blog only for the sake of the search engines, chances are you will fail to get any SEO value.  For most businesses, great content is everywhere.  It’s just a matter of extracting stories and lessons from everyday business experience and having the discipline to document and publish them on a regular basis.

phil-singletonPhil Singleton is the owner of Kansas City Web Design®, a web development firm specializing in SEO-friendly WordPress websites and custom website applications, and Kansas City SEO®, a full-service Internet marketing services company that provides organic search engine optimization and other online marketing services.  Contact Phil on his Google+ page.

SEO Consulting in 2013: What the Pros Know that You Don’t

Thursday is guest post day here at Duct Tape Marketing and today’s guest is Chris Warden. – Enjoy!


photo credit: SEOPlanter via photopin cc

SEO is changing, and for the most part, the life of an SEO consultant is getting better. Gone are the days of open keyword data and mass link buying, but we’ve been lucky to gain a few things too. Most notably, we’ve gained the ability to justify the cost of good SEO and shown that a good SEO consultant is worth the additional expense in easy to understand terms and ideas such as ROI and lifetime value.

As in all walks of life, it seems that the pros are always one step ahead of the amateurs and the hobbyists. What separates the pros from the amateurs in 2013 isn’t going to be a self-proclaimed “expert” title in their bio on LinkedIn. In 2013 it’s all about strong content and quantitative analysis to determine what’s effective and what isn’t.

Here’s what’s really important in 2013, and beyond.

Content is king. Really, we mean it this time.

Google has been telling us for years that content was king. Somewhere deep down inside, I think they really meant it.

SEO experts knew that content was important, but the only benefit to good content over bad content was the potential to get it shared, thus building more links in the process. Other than that, content was content. If it were indeed king, it was the king of a place we’ve never heard of.

Now, Google has shown the world that it means business. The “new” search results are going to favor brands – whether personal or corporate – to low-quality, niche-specific, here today gone tomorrow websites or those that just build massive amounts of low-quality content (I’m looking at you eHow) in order to spam the search listings with as many of their indexed pages as possible.

Maybe content was king all along, and Google just found the right algorithm change to weed out most of the bad content by sending it to the depths of the search results. Or maybe Google held on to the idea for far too long that links were absolutely the most important tool in SEO; even though what they really wanted was good and relevant content, even though they didn’t have a quantitative way to measure what good content and bad content looked like (other than human review). We’ll never know.

What we do know is that bad content is a thing of the past, at least if you plan to build a site that generates a decent amount of organic search engine traffic.

Backlinks are losing ground to stronger rankings metrics.

Backlinks are still the most important metric when it comes to ranking a site, but they’re quickly losing ground to other – more modern – metrics such as social indicators, citations, and instances of co-occurrence. In short, SEO is becoming more and more similar to PR every day.

Pro tip: If you’re a PR guy (or girl) it might be time to add a bit of SEO knowledge to your repertoire before you’re completely obsolete.

Content doesn’t mean blogging (necessarily).

Every SEO consultant or person who happens to rely on content in order to drive traffic, leads or sales dies a little inside when we talk about content with clients only to hear about how they’re “already blogging.”

Content is writing. Content is also video, podcasting, design (infographics, presentations, etc.), and social media posting. There are quite literally dozens of ways to produce content and writing it in  a blog is certainly not the only way. Depending on your business, it might not even be the most effective way.

In essence, content is a way to express thoughts or ideas to other people. Writing is but one of may forms of content, and it is certainly something you should educate your clients to understand.

Integrated strategies are the new one trick pony.

In the last few years, the Internet marketing community has grown very segmented. With the rise of segmentation within our industry, we’ve come to rely on several one trick ponies – or people who specialize in just one thing – to get the job done.

The future is made for the strong generalist within all of us. SEO in general is switching from building backlinks, analyzing keywords and optimizing pages to an all-encompassing medium focused on everything from social media strategy to content production.

SEO consultants of the future don’t necessarily have to be good at everything, but they certainly need to be aware that SEO is more than linking and optimization, which is largely what the past generation of SEO revolved around. The good SEOs of the future understand that SEO is a mix of research, optimization, link & citation building, content production, social media and data mining. SEO can’t stand on its own anymore. To succeed in the future, you have to understand the importance of integrated marketing strategies and how to implement them for your clients.

There’s no better time to be (or hire) a great writer.

Anyone who calls himself an SEO consultant – or SEO expert – knows 2013 is the year of the writer, thus making it the year of content. We’ve been building to this point for quite some time, but the time has finally arrived where the best writers – or those that know how to find and retain the best writers – are going to leap frog over the outsourced link builders and the automated software. In short, this is the year the SEO consultant that plays by the rules is really going to shine.

For the first time in the history of search engines, we’re starting to see sites with established and authoritative writers ranked better than those that aren’t as high on the food chain. For example, Rand Fishkin is always going to have better ranking content on the subject of SEO than me, no matter how good I am at SEO. The reason for this is due to the perceived authority (deservedly so) that Rand has achieved within the SEO community.

The same goes for your business, or your clients. Better writers are beginning to show greater returns on investment than the $25 articles from no-name writers we’ve been purchasing from freelancers for the last decade.

It’s time to really dive in and learn all you can about producing great content, or to find someone who can. Good content runs in the range from $75 – $350+ for a blog post, but those that are producing the best content are those that are going to be rewarded with the links, shares, and recognition within the industry.

Cheap content is dead and gone.

There is no more room for shortcuts.

Automation software and overseas employees used to rule the SEO game.

Those days are gone. SEO is now an art form that needs micro managing and near constant supervision.

When your clients ask, can you tell them with 100-percent confidence that nothing is going on that is going to get them penalized by Google? Of course you can’t. And if you can’t be sure that you are providing value to your clients, you shouldn’t be in this business in the first place.


Good SEO consultants are constantly on top of the changes that happen (seemingly daily) within the industry. The main thing that separates a good SEO from a bad one is education. Educate yourself, and stay on top of trends in order to provide your client with the most bang for their buck and you’ll stay relevant no matter what changes the SEO world faces in the future.

Warden_HeadShotChris Warden is a seasoned entrepreneur and CEO. Starting his entrepreneurial career at age 19, he has performed in numerous capacities owning and managing both offline and online companies. Chris now serves as CEO of Spread Effect, a leading content marketing and publishing company. He is a member of the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) and often writes on topics of content marketing, SEO, and business development. He’s passionate about building and mentoring world-class teams and loves to chat with like-minded individuals. You can connect with Chris via Linkedin, Twitter – @ChrisWarden_SE, or Google+.

The Simple Math of SEO

math of searchRanking well in the search engines when prospects are out there searching for the kinds of solutions you provide has become an essential component of the marketing mix. For some prospects, this is the primary, if not only, way they shop for information, making it darn important if you intend to reach them.

When it comes to simple SEO for your small business remember this math formula – Content+Competition+Customer = Conversion

Ranking well for your most important keyword phrases is tough, particularly for competitive phrases, but by focusing on a handful of things in your control, you can substantially improve your search results, traffic and ultimately conversion.


Focus on creating content that you plan to update frequently and that addresses the exact types of questions and concerns your market is telling you they want to know about. Creating content on a blog and newsletter has become pretty easy with today’s publishing technologies and finding out exactly what to say has become rather scientific as well.

Content research is like market research to figure out what people really want by their search intentions, or perhaps how they are stating what they want as it relates to your products and services. ie – if you’re a floral shop and the prospect wants a flower shop, you better give it them in your content. Creating an list of phrases that you know your market searches for, including local phrases, and then adding those phrases to the content you write is a simple, but very effective way to start getting some search results for those phrases. It may not happen overnight, but I assure you it will never happen if you don’t start somewhere. If you’ve decided to write a blog anyway, why not get the roadmap for what to write.

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A Rank Checking Tool

Aaron Wall of SEOBook puts out some very nice free tools to use in your SEO efforts.

One that I’ve recently started using is Rank Checker. This is a Firefox plug in that sits in your browser ready to go to work. If you visit a site and wonder how that site ranks for any of your target keyword phrases simply click on the plug in icon, type in the phrases or words and hit search. Very shortly you get the ranking of that site for all the phrases you entered on Google, Yahoo and MSNLive.

Of course you can easily keep tabs on how your site ranks for all your important phrases as well.

Side note – MSNLive is really starting to do a better job with search results and I’m experiencing more traffic from them all of a sudden. (See XML sitemap post too.)

So what is webspam anyway?

Matt CuttsMatt Cutts is the head of Webspam for Google and in this episode he shares his tips for ranking well in Google. (For the record, starting a blog was one of his highest priority tips.)

We spend a fair amount of time validating the fact that blogs will help you rank higher in the search indexes. That’s enough ROI to do it.

He also confirmed that the meta description tag and alt attributes are currently used by Google. In fact, we cover most of the on page code tags and attributes.

Also, pay close attention to the riff on sitemaps and

You can also catch a video of Matt talking about the importance of Alt image attributes for SEO on the Duct Tape Marketing Workbench and even more of Matt on Google Video.

The finer points of top rankings

Lee Odden I got a chance to chat with Lee Odden on a recent episode of the Duct Tape Marketing podcast. Lee is the creator of TopRank blog and founder of the search marketing firm TopRank Online Marketing located in Minneapolis.

Lee is a long time blogger and probably knows as much as anyone out there about ways to use new media tools to generate traffic for your web site.

We spent a little time talking about little known small business tools like Twitter, StumbleUpon and myBloglog owned by Yahoo.

For the record Lee’s is the only site that ranks above me in Google for the term marketing blog so I’m secretly hoping some link love from him will help!

Buying links is unnatural

Buying links as an SEO tactic aimed at getting high ranking links back to your site has never been a good idea. Again, simply remember this – create lots of great content and work hard at networking to natually acquire links back to your content and you will be just fine.

Google hinted in this post that they are going to start weeding out links that are unnatural with penalties for both buyers and sellers.

“If, however, a webmaster chooses to buy or sell links for the purpose of manipulating search engine rankings, we reserve the right to protect the quality of our index.”

Easy way to grade your website

hubspotThe folks over at HubSpot have created a simple little Website Grader that allows you to get some nice information about the SEO effectiveness, or lack thereof, of your website.

Most of this information could be dug up on your own using a variety of tools, but it’s nice having it in one place with little fuss. Before you rush over and try it out make sure you have the URLs of a couple competitors in mind as it will also show you how you stack up against them.

Just for the record, this free tool is part of a process to engage you in hiring them, and that may be a good thing, but be forewarned.