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SEO Insights from Justin Croxton, CEO of Que Commerce

We're super thrilled to be featuring Justin Croxton, owner of Que Commerce, for a little Q&A on SEO, copywriting, and SEO copywriting. 

1) Let's start with a doozy. They say SEO is dead. What do they mean...and what's your response?

Great question, and nice to know that non-SEO folks think so highly of the survival of my craft! But seriously…within the SEO community, the speakers are probably alluding to the increasing challenge of SEO. Back in the day, you could unleash a plethora of irrelevant, low quality links to a website, and it would rank. Then, Google’s Penguin update—and later Panda—squashed that turkey. Like government regulation, these updates are meant to bring order to the search engine results pages (SERPs).

So is SEO dead? Absolutely not. I’ve been able to rank clients for incredibly competitive keywords in competitive markets—right here in 2014. The key is ensuring SEOs evolve as marketers. We must possess the creativity and be up-to-the-minute on our practices. 

2) Much ado is being made of the new Penguin 3.0 update. What's the deal?

Honestly, I don’t know what impact Penguin 3.0 will have on the SERPS.  There are many predictions, but here are three I think Penguin is going to address:

1. Anchor Text Ratio. I believe this is meant to further refine how much credence Google gives to websites with heavy anchor text.  I think anchor will remain a critical factor in judging what website should rank for which keywords, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Google placed less weight on this factor. Remember, the Google algorithm has over 200 factors, so this is a small but important change. Rand from Moz and IMEC Labs easily proves this.

2. Private Blog Networks (PBNs). PBNs are websites and blogs with the primary objective of passing link equity to their owners’ money-making sites. Google has crushed a number of larger networks in recent years but many smaller SEO practitioners and black hat SEOs have been using this method at scale. Google is working to determine footprints left by PBNs in order to ensure they don’t fully manipulate the search engines.

3. Relevance/Trust. I believe Google will place more weight on websites that have attracted links from trustworthy, relevant websites. So if another prominent SEO blog links to a piece of content on my website, the linking site would be considered a trusted website with higher relevancy than say a site that discusses South African trees.

3) Tell me about thin content. Obviously, this impacts the way we write web pages and blogs. Or should it? 

Thin content does impact the way websites rank for specific keywords. It doesn’t always make sense to place a lot of content on a website. I look to my clients’ competitors. If other websites with similar content contain more text, more graphics, and more information, consider adding more content. I look at a keyword phrase I want to rank for, compare what existing content is ranking to what exists, and then try to produce something exponentially better. Then, I add promotion and link building, and the content either ranks or is on its way.

I usually tell bloggers to make sure their posts are more than 300-400 words.  That’s a good rule of thumb to ensure your content falls in the good graces of Google, is in-depth, and helps the user find what they are looking for.  

4) What's the impact of having a video on your home page? Is it important what page it's on? Put another way, what's the impact of NOT having a video? Are you a lost cause..? 

If you don’t have videos on your website you certainly are not a lost cause. Video has grown to be an important aspect of SEO but it is not a requirement. There are some video tips to ensure you benefit from the videos on your website.  

I am a believer in video because it helps with site metrics (lower bounce rates and longer time spent on site). Those things can only provide a better user experience.  And a better user experience traditionally translates into more SEO love.

5) Copywriters, SEO folks. Should we just all get married? Seriously though...whenever anyone tells me they're an "SEO copywriter," I inevitably cringe. I think it's because there's so much more to copywriting that to focus on SEO is like saying "I'm a Vitamin C chef" or "I'm a lipstick makeup artist." (Actually, the second one sounds kinda cool.) Thoughts?

I value the skillset that a copywriting agency like yours possesses.  In addition to the skill of content production, you focus a lot of getting content to sing. Things well written get noticed, especially with a little promotion.  Do we all need to merge our services? No. But I see many SEOs partnering with copywriting agencies for both production and quality.

6) How important is great information architecture or organized navigation to SEO? Will it impact your SEO as a fashion retailer if your purses are tucked in your ABOUT section, your belts are in the CLOTHING section, and your pants are in SHOP? 

Information architecture is VERY important when it comes to SEO. 

Most SEOs—and I’m among them—believe bounce rate and click-through rate are factors in Google’s algorithm. So if I’m trying to find purses but it’s really in another section of the website, that’s a problem from an SEO perspective and certainly more from a user experience perspective. These are fundamentals people should adhere to. If you focus on good site architecture, the SEO should really take care of it.  

7) Say a company's got great SEO juice but needs to relaunch its site. Say the relaunch involves a new look, feel, and completely new architecture. What is the most important thing they can do to preserve that beautiful juice? Or is this even possible? 

There are a number of things to consider:

  • Check which URLs get an abundance of search traffic by going to either Google Webmaster Tools or your Google Analytics account. You can filter search traffic by landing pages. This should give you a sense of what’s safe to change and what’s not.
  • Ensure that the pages with a lot of search traffic still have a good amount Google readable text. Staying away from Javascript is a good thing as Google has a hard time reading that language (this has improved in recent years).
  • Links are one of the biggest ranking factors in Google. So the most important thing is to preserve the website URLs. When you change a domain or url that has a lot of links pointing to it, you’re losing out on crucial link equity.
  • If you have absolutely have to change a URL, make sure to 301 redirect it to the new URL.
  • Ensure the website speed is still good.

Justin Croxton is the CEO of Que Commerce, an Atlanta SEO Company.  He is passionate about all things search and enjoys golfing, sailing, and traveling.

Is your web content long enough? Does it have enough substance—does it add enough value? If it is, it’s in danger of getting dinged with a “thin content” penalty from Google’s Panda algorithm. 

While Panda’s been around for a quite a few years now, it got a significant update at the end of September that helps it sniff out low-quality (i.e., “thin”) content. 

So, how’s this affect you? What kind of word-count should you shoot for with your web pages and blog posts? Is Google going to downgrade your valuable content? Don’t panic: as long as you’re not doing anything sketchy, you should be fine. 

Bigger is Better, But No Magic Number

There’s plenty of interesting search engine optimization (SEO) research out there that shows that long copy can perform, convert, and rank better than shorter content. Longer content gives Google more concepts to index, earns more links, and can become the definitive resource on a niche topic. 

Those findings are based on real, empirical (if limited) data. They should be taken with a grain of salt—length doesn’t automatically equal value, just see Seth Godin’s wildly successful micro-blogs—but they are wholesome food for thought, especially if you’re trying to own a particular subject matter. 

Unfortunately, you’ll also find a pestilence of self-appointed SEO gurus spouting off specific minimum word counts your content has to meet to avoid the dreaded thin content penalty: 200 words, 250 words, 300 words, 500 words

Why can’t they agree? Because there is no minimum word-count magic number—it’s just the SEO guru echo chamber chewing its own cud. 

Short is Still Sweet

Go straight to the source, and you’ll see Google’s actual advice on avoiding the thin content penalty doesn't mention anything about length. 

According to Google, “thin content” is not short content, it’s:

  • Automatically generated content
  • Thin affiliate pages
  • Content from other sources. For example: Scraped content or low-quality guest blog posts
  • Doorway pages

Those are all pretty shady, black hat approaches; if you’re not doing it, you have nothing to worry about. 

In fact, concise content can be much more compelling than a long-winded diatribe, particularly for landing pages. Never overextend your content farther than it’s natural length. Far more important than your page’s word-count is its substance, style, and social shareability. 

Image credit: Kevin Dooley

Badvertising: Scent of a Woman? Tom Ford's Va-jay-jay Fragrance Ad

In this installment of MarketSmiths’ Badvertising, we answer the question: “Does sex sell?” Probably, but only if you're selling sex.

Below is a lesson we can all learn from a controversial Tom Ford campaign. And, as ever, we say: DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME!

Scent Of A Woman? Tom Ford's Va-jay-jay Fragrance Ad

In 2007, designer Tom Ford took a page from Calvin Klein's playbook and let down his buttoned-down image. Yet instead of loosening his tie, he went several steps (significantly) further, and ripped off his clothes. Rather, he ripped off the clothes of a female model and then slapped a bottle of his new Tom Ford For Men cologne across her va-jay-jay. (In a previous ad for his scent he'd shown a nude woman clasping a bottle of the stuff between her breasts, looking to all the world as if she had a well, “you-know-what,” wedged there.) 

The fragrance ads were controversial: the entire point of the campaign. In spite of the predictable stir, something about them smelled…way too calculated. They bore more the mark of Ford's photographer, Terry Richardson, than the scent of the man who had been responsible for turning around the fortunes of the House of Gucci. 

“So what does it er, smell like?” asked the ads. They smelled like desperation… and earned the name Vaginads by sites like AdRants.

Like its execution, the intended cause and effect of the campaign was as subtle as a flying hammer. Wear this cologne. Attract ze women. Position yourself you-know-where. You know, (yawn) sex sells. Women (a significant target market for men's colognes) viewed the ads as being vulgar v. sexy. Men saw themselves portrayed in the ads as mere lustful voyeurs. Instead of creating desire, both genders were turned off, and lo and behold: sex not only didn’t sell, it made Tom Ford a laughingstock for a brief and infinite season.