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The Truth About the Concept of Content Being King

If you've participated in automotive internet marketing for long enough, you've very likely heard the concept that "content is King." It was in play back in the days when I started researching search engine optimization all those years ago and it never really stopped. There was a dirty little secret that few of us in the SEO community ever mentioned, but it's been safe to say it for a little over a year now.

Content wasn't really king. It was important, but it wasn't king - not by a long shot.

When I started at TK Carsites in 2007, I wanted to prove that point. I was given a single website that belonged to the company that we wanted to rank for the important "used cars" keywords. They had a gameplan that included creating pages for every major metro in the country, populating them with tons of unique content, and playing the game the way that it's supposed to be played. I told them to hold off for a while. This was an opportunity to do some testing.

We didn't add the content... nothing. The homepage was flash and had three words in the title tag - two of them being "Used Cars". I then went through an extremely aggressive link-building process and started attacking dozens of cities. In less than two months, we were ranked in the top 3 for over 30 major metros and #1 for a dozen. These weren't easy keywords. "Baltimore Used Cars". "Dallas Used Cars". "New York City Used Cars". We Google-bombed the site and it paid off. Sadly, we didn't develop the site very much after that, but the point was made.

Fast forward about a year and we started recognizing that Google was changing the game. I was certain that they were heading towards a set of quality-control mechanisms that would make the spammy techniques obsolete. We started shifting towards a content model that included high-value sites, blogs, and guest posting. We still used some of the lesser link-building styles such as directory submissions, but we stopped all forms of footer/sidebar/signature link building. If it could be done in bulk, we weren't going to use it. Google was catching on. I was sure of it.

2009 came and went. No major change. Content was a little more important, but link-building still ruled. In fact, our high-touch, high-maintenance technique was working but not much better than the spammy techniques some were using that we had long-abandoned.

2010 - same thing. I was getting worried. I was sure Google was close. They had to be. Unfortunately, I was getting a little pressure from the SEO team because they were seeing that the techniques that I assured were evil were still working.

2011 - Panda. YAAAAY! No, wait. It didn't address the links. The spammy techniques were still working and my expensive strategy was having trouble fighting off the bulk players.

Then it happened. Penguin. April 24, 2012. The day that I thought would be coming in 2008 or 2009 finally arrived and all of the things I had hoped for came true. Some of our competitors fell of the map, Death-Star-style... "as if millions of SEO's cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced."

Today, the strategy, a content- and quality-based strategy, is alive and well. Finally.

So what was the point of all that? Today, content truly IS king, but not in the way that most perceive it. The reason that I built a new company that focuses solely on content, search, and social is that the three are now part of the same digital marketing strategy. You cannot do well with any one of them without doing well at the other two. Content is king because the quality necessary for pure link earning and social media marketing is finally bridging the gap. Unfortunately, that's bad news for the vast majority of dealers because the boilerplate content that populates so many dealer websites is hurting you. Chances are you're not really feeling it because you've never experienced the difference; if nearly everyone is doing it wrong, then "bad" is actually average.

Here is a good infographic that demonstrates many of the connections that are associated with content as part of SEO and thus part of the holistic digital marketing strategy, via Enjoy!

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Catch Me If You Can

There are always going to be those who are real experts offering real products or services with proven strategies and the ability to make changes to their techniques as the market and industries change. There are also always going to be those who put on the uniform, slide on the aviator sunglasses, and pretend like they know how to pilot a passenger jet. Sadly, the latter is starting to outnumber the former, particularly in the world of search marketing.

It happens in many industries, particularly ones where things get easier. For example, owning a custom computer shop was a nice, tight niche just a few years ago. Now, you can drop a paper airplane off a building and have a 50/50 chance of hitting someone who can build a custom computer. It isn’t that they are faking. It’s that the modular design and cross-compatibility of computer hardware components has made building custom computers as easy as building a LEGO house.

The arena of search marketing is different. In both PPC management as well as search engine optimization, there has been a tremendous influx of experts and services filling the ears and inboxes of prospective clients. It’s not that it is easier than it was in the past. In fact, it’s harder today than it has ever been in the past, particularly with the complexities, risks, and quality needs of SEO. The reason that it’s growing is because the pitch is easy. Search is obscure. It’s super easy to fall for the wrong pitch because they’re all starting to sound the same.

In Catch Me if You Can, Leonardo DiCaprio‘s portrayal of the infamous Frank Abagnale Jr. was an example of what I’m seeing more and more of today in the search marketing world. It’s a matter of being able to talk the talk and winging it when it comes to walking the walk. Everyone says the buzzwords. Unique content. Targeting competitors’ cities. Market coverage. Link building. Social signals. I’ve heard pitches from people who can barely spell “SEO” that made them sound like their services were rock solid until you asked them detailed questions or demanded more than one or two example of successes.

Therein lies the two biggest problems. Those who are buying SEO don’t know the right questions to ask or what the correct answers should be. More importantly, every vendor in the industry has at least a couple of examples of where their clients are ranking well even if they had no hand in making it happen. This happened to me first hand this week when a site that I had optimized to rank well two years ago was used as an example of search dominance by their website provider. Their rankings had fallen in the two years since we had optimized them but they were still good enough to be an example of this web provider’s excellence.

There’s really no way to fight this, unfortunately. For my own company, I’ll be collecting dozens of examples of SEO domination to give to the sales team, but what about the smaller companies that are doing it right? If they have a dozen clients and they’re all doing very well, they still look bad compared to the giant company with 2000 clients that has 8 examples of good performance. Is there a solution? Is there a way to wake up the industry and show them how to tell the difference between aggressive, solid search marketing and the type that isn’t worth a buck, let along hundreds or thousands a month?

I will be taking the comments from this post and applying them to the Automotive SEO Study.

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The Penguin has landed

Penguin 2.0 landed on May 23rd. So far I'm not impressed with what I am seeing. Dealer sites are dropping off the rankings. Most are blissfully unaware. They see their dealership in the map results and assume everything is OK. But the actual search results had entirely different people in them than a week ago. In some cases the dealership is still in the results but with their mobile site. One I was keeping an eye on dropped 65 spots, that's a 7 page drop from the #1 position. Luckily they are relaunching their site this week and should settle back at the top with their less spammy site.

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Google Penguin 2.0

There are two frames of mind amongst search marketing professionals when it comes to major updates such as the Google Penguin update last year and the upcoming Penguin 2.0 algorithm update. Some start to panic as they’ve seen these algorithm updates force companies to make major changes. In some cases, companies have had to close down because adjusting was just too much to bare. The other perspective is that these changes bring the game of optimization more in line with quality over quantity, strategy over brute force, and perhaps most importantly, art over science.

That’s what’s expected with the upcoming update based upon a mixture of common sense and some pointed Tweets by Google’s spam czar, Matt Cutts. The pursuit of quality links instead of having a large inbound link portfolio has been the focus of Google (and Bing) for over a year now and the coming update will likely be more of the same.

The art aspect of it all comes down to getting more value out of higher-quality content that can be enjoyed by real people versus meaningless links outside of content or on sites that have no real value to the search engines. Before, it was easy to stuff links on as many sites as possible to get the juice necessary for SEO. It made it to where the science was dominant – automated platforms, bulk link submission tools, and link generating scripts once ruled the search marketing world. Today, one strong article or infographic on a high-value website can get websites more coveted link juice than literally thousands of low quality links. This is where the artistry comes into play.

As businesses and marketing agencies continue to hone their skills and progress their strategies, it’s important that they understand this dynamic. It’s no longer a good thing to have dozens of link builders hitting up websites. Today and into the future, strong content creators with the connections to get their content placed on relevant and trusted sites are the most sought after resources in the industry. Everyone else is simply spamming up the system and Penguin 2.0 will punish those who do not adapt.

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Top Listing in Google

The statistic or something similar to it has dominated the sales pitches and marketing materials of search engine optimization companies for a very long time. I just saw a mention of it in an article from 2005 and it’s been reiterated again and again ever since. Nearly every study seems to come to the same conclusion. Nearly every study is wrong, at least from a business perspective.

If you torture statistics long enough, you can make them say anything you want. I could go into a long-winded breakdown of why this is a completely bogus statistic, but I’m going to appeal to common sense instead. If you take a second to think about it, the reality of search engine optimization becomes very clear.

If you include all searches, the number is probably accurate. The problem is that the majority of searches should not be considered when judging the importance of the top ranking in Google. They aren’t the type of keywords that need to be optimized. For example, the top keyword for 2012 was “Facebook”. It was searched for over 3 billion times a month in 2012. People wanted to go to Facebook, so they searched for it in Google. It’s the safest way to avoid the challenges of typos that take you to the wrong place, so they search for it. Guess what the first listing is for that keyword? What percentage of those 3 billion monthly searches do you think clicked on the top listing?

The second most searched keyword was “YouTube”, followed by “Hotmail”, and then “Google” (yes, people searched for Google in Google). Again, the top listing gets the lion’s share of those searches.

From a business perspective, the top keyword for the vast majority of companies will be by name. People who do a search for Dell with find at the top and that’s exactly what they’re going to click. People who search for “Richmond Ford” were looking for Richmond Ford and will click on the top listing which is.

The other searches, the important ones that people type in when they’re looking for something other than a specific company or website, are the money terms. They’re the ones that you will want to rank for in order to drive additional traffic to you website. These are the searches that drive down the numbers from being so high (near 100% when people do a search for Hotmail, for example) all the way down to 42%. Why? Because when people do these types of searches, they’re looking for choices. They’re not looking for a single website in particular. They’re looking for the right website. They will scan the listing and pick out pages that seem to match their needs.

People who are searching for “Richmond Ford” know what they want. People searching for “Virginia Ford Dealers” want options. It’s easy for to rank at the top for “Richmond Ford”, but the ability to rank at the top for “Virginia Ford Dealers” is the key to moving the needle. For those searches, the top listing does not get 42% of the clicks. The top listing gets more than the second listing, which gets more than the third listing, which gets much more than the fourth and fifth listings, which get much more than the next five listings. I’m not saying that being at the top isn’t important.

I’m saying that the right search strategy for the majority of businesses that have a diverse range of keywords that can drive relevant traffic to their site is to get the top spot for as many keywords as possible, but also top 3 listings for other keywords and even top 5 listings for others. Getting more keywords is more important than getting the top listing for fewer keywords.

The same effort that it takes to get the top listing for a challenging but semi-relevant keyword can be used to get top 3 or top 5 listings for dozens of other keywords. This is where the needle is moved. This is where the traffic is increased. Once the wide strategy is in place, it’s good to go back and move them up even further, but don’t get hung up on getting the top listing for single keywords. It’s good for ego but not necessarily for traffic.

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Hands Talking To Each Other

Let’s first take a moment to let the cover image of this story wear off a bit. It’s pretty freaky, I know. Once that’s done, let’s talk about how the evolution of search marketing has come to the point that we need to use freaky images to get your attention.

SEO and PPC are very different which is why for years it has been okay to have one company running one and another company running the other. They have always been complementary of each other but they didn’t necessarily have to talk to each other. The separation between paid and organic has for some time been considered a positive – trying to do both is hard because of the potential conflict in strategy and purpose.

Things have changed in 2013. The two must talk to each other. Whether it’s two different companies working each separately or through a single company that handles both with different departments, the best way to have a solid search marketing strategy is by making sure that efforts on both fronts are truly working together. When done properly, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

Here’s why:

  • PPC Focus on Organic Weaknesses – SEO takes time. PPC is instant. When there are important keywords that are lagging from an organic perspective, the fastest way to bridge the gap is through PPC.
  • Organic Cannibalization – This is a debate that I would love to have with any search professional. If you’re ranked at the top organically for a mid-level search term, you don’t need to pay as much for it (or even buy it at all). Studies have shown that for the types of mid-level search terms that garner clicks based upon choice rather than position, PPC can take organic clicks away and yield the same basic results as not buying that keyword in the first place. In other words, the money is spent but the clicks don’t measurably increase. There is a very specific strategy behind identifying these types of keywords that would take more than this blog post to flesh out, but when the two sides are communicating, money is saved on the same number of clicks. In essence, ROI goes up as a result.
  • Double Down Principle – There are certain keywords with which it makes sense to dominate from both a paid and organic perspective. This is where having a shared understanding of the analytics driving both comes into play. For example, is a page ranks at the top organically, a consolidated strategy would have the paid listing pointing to a different landing page. When people click through to one, then the other, they’re greeted with two different types of propositions.
  • Rightsized Budgets – This is arguably the most important reason to have organic and paid talking to each other, even being the same entity. There are times when services should compete, but this isn’t one of those times. When the dollars are being managed separately, both sides want more of the budget to prove success. When the budgets are consolidated, the goals align to achieve the most high-value clicks for the amount of money being spent regardless of which hand is doing the spending. It’s the best path to achieve the highest ROI on search marketing spend.

Take a look at your paid and organic search companies. Are they talking to each other? Are either saying that they don’t need to talk to the other because they work independently? If so, it may be time to look at someone else because that sort of thinking is antiquated. Get the two hands talking to each other as soon as possible.

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The rise of content marketing and more importantly the focus that Google and Bing have put on website content engagement have changed the way we view the types of content we put on our websites. It’s no longer sufficient to focus all of your content on the basic search engine principles of keyword targeting. You have to have content on your domain that draws in the important social signals and time spent on site.

In other words, your websites have to be interesting to a wider range of people, not just those specifically looking for your products and services.

There are several types of content that go on websites, but the two we’re going to be talking about here are the two most important content additions. There is basic content that is relatively stagnant on your website; product descriptions and inventory items rarely have to change, for example. There are other types of regular content additions that somewhat influential as well such as press releases and service announcements. Those are the content types that we won’t be covering.

What we will be covering are often called different things depending on who is describing them, but I look at them as conversion content and conversation content. These are the pages that should be getting added to your website regularly and on an ongoing basis. If you can only focus on one major discipline when it comes to enhancing your website traffic, search rankings, and social significance, creating these two types of content would be the activity that I would wholeheartedly recommend at the top of the activity list.


Conversion Content

For those marketing a website, this is arguably the easiest to understand from a needs basis. This is the type of content that should have an immediate impact. It’s usually geographically targeted and almost always product focused, so there’s a clear understanding how it can help.

For example, a Honda dealer in Irvine, CA, should be ranking well in Google for the various Irvine searches with their homepage alone, but they may need to create a content page called, “2013 Honda Accord Santa Ana” to have a landing page geared towards those in neighboring Santa Ana.

There’s a right way and a wrong way to do everything, and as a general rule anything that’s too easy is probably the wrong way to do it in the eyes of Google. In other words, automatically generating dozens, hundreds, even thousands of pages to hit the multitude of targets is the wrong way to do it. The practice is relatively common, so common that it often takes Google time to catch those who are doing it, but in the end they catch everyone. This type of blackhat conversion content creation leads to destruction (i.e. de-indexing or even a penalty).

Real conversion content creation is a manual effort, but that doesn’t mean that it has to be tedious or time-consuming. The page mentioned above should only take 10-20 minutes to create depending on what content management system is being used. It’s not rocket science nor does anyone need a PhD in SEO to make it happen. They simply need to create a page with lead generating tools on it that has visuals in the form of images and/or videos of the product and content describing it. The content itself doesn’t have to be long – a paragraph or two works though a little more would be better – and it can still be conversational.

There is no need to make the content keyword rich. As long as the title tag is set up properly and the content mentions the target keywords somewhere in there, that should be enough to start targeting the keyword appropriately. When you try too hard to get the keyword, you often make it harder to get.


Conversation Content

This is the type of content that I often have the hardest time convincing people to build. It goes against the nature of old-school marketing that has been embedded in most of us. In essence, conversational content has nothing to do with converting a visitor into a lead or a sale. It’s often whimsical, only loosely relevant, and seems to bring no value other than to entertain or educate.

Today, it’s the content that can have the biggest impact on search and social marketing. With conversation content, the goal is clear as day written in its name. You want conversations. You want people talking about the content on social media. You want people saving the content in their bookmarks. You want people talking to you about the content in the form of comments.

The image above was taken from a conversational piece of content titled “7 Charming Honda Vintage Ads”. There is very little chance that a Honda dealer is going to have any of the cars being advertised on the page. The page is not designed to sell anything, in fact. It’s designed to get shared. It’s designed for people to see it on social media sites, click through, and reminisce.

Most business website pages outside of the blog are not shareable. Sure, they might have social sharing buttons on them, but nobody is going to share an inventory details page of a 2009 Honda Civic. They aren’t going to share a service appointment page, a specials page, or an about us page. People share content that they find interesting.

Just as you want to be in the conversation with pages on your website, people want to share content on social media that can spark conversations. A page like this one will encourage people to share on their social networks because it’s interesting to see things such as vintage ads.

Social signals don’t just help with social media popularity. They don’t just help with the search rankings of a particular page. Their most important influence is that they help a domain rank better. The more pages that are on a domain that are getting shared well on social sites, the better chance they have of ranking for similar keyword terms as well. This dealership might not care about whether it’s ranked for “Vintage Honda Ads” but it certainly wants to rank for “Dallas Honda Dealers”. Social signals through conversation content pages help to this end tremendously.

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As you continue to push the envelope and watch your digital marketing evolve, it’s important to keep in mind that things aren’t always obvious. They’re clear – that much is certain – but the techniques and strategies that have lower adoption rates such as creating the types of content in this article can be the differentiators between your own marketing and the marketing of your competitors. If you’re creating these types of pages and your competitors are not, you have the upper hand. It’s that simple.

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Let’s Face It. Google Is Search.

Let’s call it what it really is, shall we? Despite efforts by Bing/Yahoo to stay relevant as well as efforts by Facebook and Twitter to enter the search game, there really is only one. For years, I’ve always had to add the caveat when discussing search marketing that “When I say Google, I mean Bing and Yahoo as well.”

I won’t be saying that any more. If we’re talking search, we’re talking Google.

It’s not that the others don’t exist. They do and they’re still somewhat relevant. Millions still use them on a daily basis so they cannot be ignored completely. However, when it comes to making decisions about search marketing, there’s only one algorithm that needs to be taken into account, one traffic source whose numbers should be used to steer the strategy.

The infographic below asks the question of whether or not Google is a monopoly. In reality, that’s not important, though the infographic points to a glaring fact that Google is the leader not only in market share but also in innovation and others, specifically Bing, are always just chasing the leader from a distance. The important takeaway is this: if you want to craft your strategy for search, particularly organic, mobile, and local search, then Google is the only thing to consider. Again, Bing and the other options are still valid, but if you build your strategy around Google, the others will eventually fall into line.

It’s been like that for a while. Google was the first to look at inbound links as a primary ranking factor and the others followed. Google was the first to truly integrate personalization and the others followed. Google was arguably the first to truly integrate social media into their search algorithm through the use of social signals, though in this case the competition wasn’t far behind. It doesn’t matter. Think Google when you’re thinking about your strategy and the rest will fall in line.

Paid search is a different thing altogether and many have found success with the cheaper clicks through other search engines, but even in that case the only way to truly hit a bulk level is through Google. Facebook is making strides in this arena, but they’re still worlds apart.

The funny part of it all is that Google is extremely vulnerable to manipulation, second only to Twitter when it comes to ease. Both rely more heavily on real-time data than the others, which is both their strength and vulnerability.

Here’s the graphic…

Source: Franchise Gator

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Chevy SS Website SEO Content

Back in the days when Yahoo was fighting against Alta Vista, when Bing was still called Microsoft Live, and when Google was trying to get the big Y to buy them, onsite content and meta tags were search. It was a day of keyword stuff, of hidden text, and of content scraping that helped porn sites rank for the term “toys” while male enhancement drugs could be found on searches for “big fun”. Google emerged as the leader in part because of their pure design, but also because they started looking offsite for signals about search rankings.

The days before Google’s innovation were the peak of onsite SEO. Google turned search on its head by focusing more on what other websites were saying about your website through links rather than anything you put on your site itself. PageRank changed search forever and helped to eliminate some of the poor spammy techniques that websites employed for the sake of getting search engine traffic. Of course, with any good thing comes the bad parts and spammers started learning how to manipulate offsite signals as well.

This persisted until about a year ago. It was at SXSW 2012 that Google’s Matt Cutts and Bing’s Duane Forrester told SEO guru Danny Sullivan that changes were in the works to help rein in offsite link spamming. A month and a half later on April 24th, search was changed forever with the introduction of the Penguin search algorithm update. It helped to eliminate a lot of the offsite spamming techniques, enough so to take some companies out of the SEO business (or out of business altogether).

The pre-PageRank days were the only ones when having the right website made more of a difference than it does today. With the rise of content marketing as a hub for SEO and social media marketing rather than a component of the two disciplines, having the strongest possible website content is essential in promoting a brand on search as well as social media sites like Facebook. You can’t just have a website and drive links to it anymore. Today, you have to “bring it” from a quality perspective. While it’s possible to have a dealer website that stays completely focused on the task of selling cars and services, it’s better to have one that’s diverse with information, articles, and other pieces of content that bring value to the visitors whether they want to buy something or not.

Google is smart. Bing may be smarter, albeit not at marketing themselves. They can tell the difference between SEO content and valuable content for the website visitors much better than most are will to admit. SEO spam is dying. Bulk is dying. Today, the search engines want to see effort. They want you to amaze people with the content you put on your website.

Link Building Basics 2013
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We’ve all heard about how inbound marketers need to get more creative with their content format by incorporating visuals, audio, and images. Heck, we’ve even created a free crash course (with templates) for non-designers tocreate visual content to react to this trend. With all these content types, aren’t we forgetting something?

Oh right. SEO. Even with the new glasses, Google still can’t read and index images, video, and audio content without a little help. Luckily, we have everything you need to know about SEO for non-written content, from images, to video, to audio content. Let's dive in, shall we?

Best Practices for Image SEO

To explain this concept, let's take a step back and imagine we're proprietors of a tasty ice cream shop. You've just created an infographic about the most popular ice cream flavors and toppings, and now you want to ensure it's optimized to show up in Google. Here's what you do.

1) Pick an image that's in a Google-supported format.

Before uploading your beautiful ice cream infographic, make sure it’s in the right format. Google can only index images that are saved as BMP, GIF, JPEG, PNG, WebP, and SVG. Don’t worry if your image isn’t in that format yet -- most image editors have the capability to save the file as a GIF or JPEG.

2) Name the file using keywords that describe the image.

Raise your hand if you have uploaded an image with a name like "IMG12934.jpg." (Guilty.) Instead of giving search engines a title that has nothing to do with the image, rename the file with a keyword phrase that describes what the image is. Google uses these filenames to index those images and sometimes the file name can even show up as the image title in a SERP. For this infographic, you might try a phrase like, “Popular-Ice-Cream-Flavors-Infographic.jpg”. Isn’t that better? Google thinks so, too. Don't forget to separate words with dashes--Google sees dashes as word separators and underscores as word combiners.

3) Add in helpful alt text.

The alt text of an image not only helps the search engines understand what the content of the image is so they can match it to a relevant search query, but it helps any searchers who can’t view the image understand what they would be looking at. Be as descriptive as possible in your alt text ... without keyword stuffing. Here’s a bad, better, best example for the ice cream example to see what I mean.

  • Bad: alt=””
  • Better: alt=”Ice cream”
  • Best : alt=”Popular ice cream flavors”
  • Avoid: alt= “ice cream flavor yummy vanilla chocolate Delicious"

4) Provide context for the image within content.

Remember, your image doesn’t live separately from the rest of your on-page content! Help search engines get a better sense of the story your page tells by referencing the image within your written content. Within your blog post, you might write something like, “On our popular ice cream flavors timeline to the left, you can see that cake batter is one of our newest flavor experiments.” See how I used the same keywords from the file name and alt text, but made it easy for the viewer to read? That’s an SEO win/win/win my friends.

5) Submit an image sitemap.

To make extra-super-sure that your ice cream flavor timeline is indexed by Google, submit an image sitemap to Google Webmaster. Sound scary? Don’t worry. Sitemaps are just an xml file that tells Google about a page on your website it might not discover -- the most simple sitemaps usually list the pages on your website. To create an image sitemap, add image-specific tags to a sitemap or just update one of your existing sitemaps with image tags. We’ll go more into making a sitemap in the video section, but here is exactly how to create and submit an image sitemap to Google.

Best Practices for Video SEO

Now that you’ve got the image basics down, it’s time to tackle video. MarketingSherpapublished a case study that found that videos attract 200-300% more monthly unique visitors who spend twice as long on-site. Sounds good to me! Let’s continue the dessert example, and pretend you want to embed a video on the recipes page with one of your chefs explaining how he makes your famous red velvet cupcakes (am I making you hungry yet?).

1) Save your video in a format that Google can crawl.

Like images, there are only some file formats that Google can read. Make sure your video is saved as a MPG, MPEG, M4V, MOV, WMV, ASF, AVI, RA, RAM, RM, FLV, or SWF. Most video editors will allow you to save your video in different formats.

2) Name your video file strategically.

Just like naming images, save your video file as a name that accurately describes what the file is within the context of the article without keyword stuffing. Luckily, this one is easy. Just save the video with a contextual keyword-appropriate title, like “Red-velvet-cupcake-recipe”.

3) Embrace your keyword strategy in your title, tags, and video meta-description.

You probably guessed it from the images section, but your title, alt text, and meta description should all help search engines understand what the content of your video is. However, keyword strategy from a user perspective is extra important here -- video is very likely to be viewed and searched independent of your website.

Your video title should reflect the keywords that your users are searching for, and that, of course, align with your video's content. Not sure what those are? Use a keyword tool to see what words and phrases people are searching to find your website.

Keywords are especially important to the description you provide for the video. In YouTube, you have up to 5,000 characters to describe your video. Since Google will cut off this description on the SERP to 156 characters, make sure your first sentence includes the keywords you’re optimizing for, but also gives the viewer a reason to click through. Then, continue your description with keywords and context that will help Google understand what your video is about. Finish off the description with alt text, or tags, that help paint a fuller picture for search engines.

4) Try to host only one video per page.

Your website may have a page that acts as a whole archive for its videos. This type of library can be extremely helpful for reference purposes, but from a search engine perspective, it's only a good idea if all the videos are about the same general topic. For instance, you might house all of your recipes videos on one page that's optimized to show up for a query like "dessert recipe videos." But if you want to get more granular, let's say getting found for your series on how to make cupcakes, you might want to create a separate page for videos that would ideally turn up around "cupcake recipe videos."

5) Enable sharing with embedding and specific anchor text.

Social sharing plays a role in SERP rankings for a specific keyword phrase. The Google update story can get complicated with Pandas and Penguins and the like, but one takeaway can be boiled down to four little words: more shares, better rankings. The more people embed your video in their own blog posts or share it on social media, the more the search engines love you (or your content, rather). Help your red velvet cupcake recipe video spread like wildfire by making sure the video is easily embeddable. The option to allow embedding is available on most video hosting services.

6) Create and submit a Video Sitemap to Google Webmaster.

Make sure your video is indexed by Google by submitting a video sitemap to Google webmaster. Like I said in the images section, Sitemaps are XML files with a site’s meta data that inform search engines about pages on their site that are able to be crawled. Bonus points -- submitting a video sitemap to Google Webmaster also encourages Google to include a rich snippet with your video on the SERP.

For the full story on creating and submitting a video sitemap, go straight to the source onGoogle’s Webmaster blog.

7) Include a transcription.

Sometimes, the best way for search engines to index non-written content is to make it written content by adding a transcription. Most video services, including YouTube and Wistia, include transcription services for free or for a small fee. Include a transcription on your page to help search engines and viewers who can’t watch now better consume your content. Even better? Once you have a transcription, you can repurpose that written content into another ebook or blog post. That red velvet cupcake recipe video transcription could easily be added to a recipe ebook with minimal effort or edits.

Best Practices for Audio Content SEO

We’ve talked a lot about optimizing images and videos for search engines, but what about audio content,  like podcasts? Just like Google doesn’t have eyes to view images or video, search engines also don’t have ears to listen in on your audio. But there are still ways to make sure that search engines hear the message. Since all those ice cream flavors and cupcake recipes have got me wanting to cheat on a diet, let’s make this podcast “How to Enjoy Desserts You Love Without the Guilt”.

Many of the SEO standards we discussed for images and video apply here for Google: alt-texts, titles, descriptions, and a unified keyword presence are all relevant for users to find your podcast on Google. However, when people are looking for podcasts, they primarily head to iTunes. To rank high in the iTunes podcast SERP (which often translates to better search engine ranks as well), here are some specific areas to hone in on.

1) Make your podcast easily navigable from the iTunes SERP.

Here’s a quick test to make sure you’re as easily found as you think you are: Work backwards from a viewer who has never heard of your podcast, but is searching for similar content. In this case, try searching “easy exercise tips” or a similar keyword phrase on iTunes. The process of typing in a search into the iTunes store, finding the podcast website, determining the podcast content, and listening and subscribing to your content should be easy as pie for the listener. By testing your own podcast from the beginning, you can identify hiccups from the user experience angle.

2) Optimize your content for strategic keywords.

Like video, keyword strategy is one of the most important parts of optimizing your podcast. Remember your keyword strategy when naming your podcast, episodes and writing descriptions. Research non-competitive keywords that match your content using a keyword tool.

3) Accrue subscribers.

There’s a difference between listeners who play your podcast once, and subscribers who sign up to automatically download a new episode whenever it comes out. When ranking keyword phrases, iTunes favors podcasts with more subscribers -- a higher percentage of subscribers communicates that your podcast is consistently valuable. Accrue subscribers by making it as painless as possible to subscribe (ideally with just a click of a button). Encourage listeners to take the next step to subscribe by clearly outlining the value proposition of your podcast, and include action verbs that encourage people to sign up now.

4) Solicit reviews.

iTunes also tends to favor podcasts with more reviews in their SERP. Podcasts with a higher volume of reviews indicate higher engagement. Ask listeners and subscribers directly for reviews. Include a review CTA at the end of every episode and on your podcast web page. Call out specific reviews in your podcast to show that you're listening to what your listeners and subscribers are saying. Check social media to see if there are listeners who frequently talk about your content and approach them for a product review.

5) Factor in the age of your podcast.

Another factor iTunes takes into account in their rankings is the age of your podcast. Podcasts that have been around longer are more likely to rank higher than newer ones. While there isn’t a lot you can do to manipulate the age of your podcast, the age factor is worth keeping in mind when you're considering starting an additional podcast.

6) Include a transcription.

There are plenty of services, like Casting Words, that will transcribe your podcast for as little as a dollar a minute. Translate your audio content into a written format to better help search engines and listeners digest your content, and to make it easier to repurpose that content for future use.

Best Practices for Non-Written SEO in Social Media

We’ve gone over what the SEO best practices are for individual non-written content assets, but how do those practices change within the context of social media? If you didn't already know, the two are kind of connected. And with social networks becoming more visual, optimizing non-written content is more important than ever.

But let me be clear -- the goal for non-written SEO in social networks isn’t necessarily to be found by search engines, but to make sure you’re using non-written content to its full advantage. Here are some resources for non-written SEO best practices for specific social networks. For a more general overview on optimizing your social media presence, here’s theultimate guide to optimized social media updates.


Since Pinterest is an image-centric network and has just come out with analytics, we thought thatSEO for Pinterest was an article all in itself. Best practices include the following if you're looking for the short synopsis:

  • Optimize your account name and description.
  • Include links back to your website on every pin.
  • Use keywords in the filename and alt text of images you pin.
  • Take time with each pin’s description to describe the image and include keywords.
  • Incorporate hashtags to amplify the social reach of your pins.

For more details, read this article on everything you need to know about optimizing your Pinterest account.


We have original data that indicates photos on Facebook generate 53% more likes than average posts. Images and videos are obviously a huge part of encouraging fans not only to interact with your brand, but also consume content that moves them down the funnel, especially now that Facebook updated its cover photo guidelines to include CTAs. Read this easy-to-follow tip sheet to find the best ways to engage your Facebook fans with images that breaks down thebest practices for Facebook cover images and albums.


Twitter is buzzing with new image and multi-media updates. The biggest integration Twitter has with multi-media content is the new Vine video app. With Vine you have the opportunity to:

  • Optimize cover photos on brand pages and include CTAs within your profile
  • Showcase multi-media content with featured tweets.
  • Identify what keywords your account should focus on.
  • Create a Vine account and incorporate it into your video strategy.
  • Measure the ROI of Vine and Twitter to optimize conversions and reach.


The most important thing to think about with Google+ SEO is authorship. Having the author image next to an article’s listing in the SERPs makes it much more clickable than plain text. Here’s a more in-depth article that explains why Google+ authorship is important, and how to apply for it.

What are some of the best practices you use when optimizing non-written content for SEO? Got any great tips to share? Let us know in the comments section!

Image credit: starmist1

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I have just read an eye-popping article from the fine folks over at eMarketer titled, "Auto Industry Braces for Major Shifts in Search Marketing." If you don't have time to read it, I'll point out the highlights and give you some of my own thoughts. 

As all of us know, paid, as well as, organic search helps drive leads, increase a dealership's traffic, and sell vehicles. This remains true. Yet, the emergence of digital marketing and its impact on search is changing the way your customers find your dealership online. Before we get into the nuts and bolts of it, take a moment to check out this graph.  As you can see, there's a myriad of ways your customers, when shopping online, can find your dealership.

Unless you've been living under a rock, you know that MORE and MORE people are going online to search for their next car. (See: ZMOT; See also: it's 2013!! Everybody is going online first to do research before buying!!) So, how do you increase your traffic? Well, in a recent survey of US Auto Dealerships for, Datium found that 55% of respondents' digital ad spending went to paid search engine marketing (SEM).

Think of searching online like putting together a puzzle. You dump all the pieces onto the floor, and now you have to somehow make sense of the rubble and construct one collective entity. That's what customers are doing when they go online to search. They are trying to sift through all the information to eventually make a purchase, and hopefully with a sustainable and effective digital and search marketing strategy, it's made at your store!

The thing, however, that blew my mind reading eMarketer's article is this little tidbit of information: "Only 20% of new-car shoppers in the US buy the brand they first searched for, according to Google data."

As the article aptly points out, "OEM brand sites—often developed with major digital agencies, strong media support, and cutting edge SEM and search engine optimization (SEO)—attracted more attention in search results than dealerships." While this is certainly true, things are changing.

Dealership websites are becoming more and more sophisticated, user friendly, and even mobile-friendly. If we had a time machine, we could go back a few years ago and compare a dealership's website back then to what it is today. The difference would be astounding. More and more dealers are recognizing the power of  SEO as well as VSEO. The dealer with an optimized and indexed site is going to show up first on Google and as a result, draw in more traffic. After all, your goal should be to show up on the first page of Google. The recent studies have found this to be case as auto dealerships are in "direct competition for influence over U.S. Car shoppers." 

Lastly, according to a 2012 survey done by a conjunction of folks like Google, Compete, TNS Global, and R.L. Polk & Co., 74% of U.S. new vehicle shoppers visited used dealership websites via desktop. They also surveyed the sties on mobile phone and/or tablet during the buying process. 

This change in auto search marketing, due to advances in digital marketing, isn't exactly going to push OEMs out of the lineup, however. OEMs and other related agencies are still able to push foot traffic to your dealership thanks to such things like video content. 

Where do you see search in the automotive industry going in 2013? Given the advancements of digital marketing, video social, social media, online reputation, the best it yet to come when it comes to search!

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Joker Magic Trick

“How about a magic trick? I’m gonna make this keyword disappear.”


“TA DAA! It’s…It’s gone.”

The famous scene from The Dark Knight applies very nicely to black hat search engine optimization tricks today. Those who are still trying to “beat the system” are running into roadblocks, landmines, and deranged Google employees willing to take out your metaphoric eyeball with every slight of hand technique they find. The face of SEO today is completely different than what it looked like a couple of years ago when spammers were rewarded and automated SEO reigned supreme.

Today, anything that smells like a trick should make website owners run in fear.

Search engine optimization is no longer a distant cousin of social media marketing. The two are meeting in the middle with quality content as their cornerstone and earned “love” at their hearts. Link-building is being replaced by link-earning. Bulk likes, retweets, and +1s are being muscled out by organic likes, retweets, and +1s. It’s about earning trust, not faking it. That’s why search engine optimization as an art and science is alive and well.

One thing must be understood. Google has never and will never hate search engine optimization. They have maintained the same stance for years, that their job is made easier by those who help websites tell the world and the web crawlers exactly what a website does, who it serves, and what it offers. Their war has always been with black hat techniques. Their algorithm adjustments are designed to identify these black hat techniques and those silly enough to still be using them.

This is important to understand. So many are starting to shy away from the “evils” of search engine optimization because they believe they run a risk of being hurt by it. On the contrary, truthful and organic search engine optimization is more powerful today than it ever has been. The smack down that Google and Bing have been laying on the spammers over the last couple of years means that those who stay true to what Google and Bing want have the ability to rise higher than ever before. In many cases, these updates have shown that the right listings on websites using the right techniques are moving up without doing anything in particular because their competitors are being forced down by their actions.

Now is not the time to give up on search engine optimization. Every week there will be new articles that declare the death of SEO. These articles are written by those who have found that their black hat techniques aren’t working like they used to and that their rankings are plummeting. As a result, their conclusion is that SEO is dead when in fact real SEO has never been more relevant.

Focus on quality, earn your links and social signals, and think about your visitors first. Google and Bing have rewards that will satiate desires both subtle and gross for those who do things the right way. They’ll bring down furious vengeance upon those who try to manipulate the system with magic tricks. If it sounds black and white, that’s because it is.

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In many ways, the standard thinking about your marketing no longer applies when it comes to what’s happening online. Two of the largest components, search and social, are in a constant state of flux. For better or for worse, the big players like Google and Facebook do what they can to keep marketers and the businesses using them on their toes.

Chalk it up to constant improvement if you’d like. Say that they’re out to get us and that they don’t want us to succeed because then they won’t be making as much money. Whatever theory works best to make you understand that stagnant strategies are ineffective, so be it. That’s not to say that there aren’t components of search engine optimization and social media marketing that haven’t worked for a long time and will likely continue to work into the future, but the overall status of SEO and SMM are always on the move. What worked yesterday may not work today but may work again tomorrow.

This stems from a conversation I had with a potential client who was convinced that the Google Penguin and Panda updates had reached their final form. There were no more changes to monitor, no more adjustments to make. His site was ranking well and there was no need to push any further. There are two problems with this philosophy. First, Panda was updated just last month for the umpteenth time since it rolled out in February, 2011. At almost two-years old, it’s still being adjusted. Penguin is far from hitting its final variation – Google has all but said that. Then, there’s the dreaded Zebra update that may or may not be a mythical unicorn more than a real obstacle, but whether it’s real or not doesn’t really matter. The point is that Google is always improving, which means that search marketers must always be improving as well.

The second fallacy with his argument is that their rankings were thought to be as good as they were going to get. We have a client who has been getting optimized since 2003. Every month we’re fighting to keep the progress that we’ve accumulated over the years while pushing them further in other keywords. While there is definitely a plateau that can be reached where the gains from improved SEO start to level off, the idea that SEO can be in a pinnacle phase with no need for further improvements in the future is preposterous.

Social media is worse. In social, it isn’t just the changes that the websites themselves make that make strategy adjustments important. It’s the trends and flow of the communities themselves that make a difference. Case in point – I was working with a client not too long ago who was feeding multiple RSS feeds onto their Facebook page and into their Twitter stream. There was a time (short as it may have been) when this strategy of “more is better” worked. That was 2010. Today, any business who is auto-feeding a dozen posts onto their Facebook page per day is reaching nobody. Once I showed them how to look at their statistics, they realized that out of 17K fans, their posts were reaching an average of 16 people. Everyone had either shut down their stream from their news feed or had seen so many without liking any that Facebook shut it down for them.

Their Twitter account was a mess. With 4k Twitter followers, nobody had engaged with the account in weeks. Their posts were all doubled up – they were posting from the same feeds onto Twitter and Facebook, then feeding their Facebook onto Twitter.

This isn’t intended to single out a couple of juicy examples. Most businesses are not taking such a careless approach to their online marketing. However, it does seem that there is a rise in complacency. When success is found, it’s time to move on – at least that seems to be a prevailing attitude.

The reality is this: success is relative and there are very few who have reached a level that cannot be dramatically improved upon with better understanding of the current trends. Instagram was a huge portion of many business’s Facebook and Twitter strategies just a few weeks ago and now is being abandoned altogether by many. Pinterest is hot today but is facing spamming threats that could plummet the site into strategic unworthiness. Google+ is effective today for search rankings and may become more effective in the coming months, but it could also fall off the radar completely if Google decides that it’s just too easy to manipulate.

Nobody knows what’s happening behind closed doors at the companies that drive our industry. We can speculate. We can guess. We can keep our eyes open, read the various blogs, talk to insiders we have in out back pockets, but at the end of the day we’re all dealing with too many unknown variables to rest on what works today.

I’m not trying to scare anyone. I just want it to be understood that your online marketing efforts should be tweaked, adjusted, monitored, and tested on a regular basis. To sit back and let the changes happen without you, to be passive in an extremely aggressive atmosphere, would be the biggest mistake you can make, particularly if you’re already doing well. I’ve said in the past, “Being thankful for what you have doesn’t mean you have to be satisfied with it.”

Perhaps a more appropriate “person” to quote would be Ricky Bobby: “If you ain’t first, you’re last.”

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Call it human nature to mislead in order to promote a product. Call it deceitful selling. Call it ignorance. Call it whatever you want to call it, but the concept that has been being spread around the automotive industry that you don’t need content on your homepage is absolutely incorrect. In fact, the homepage is the most important page on your website from an SEO perspective. Building a website with a homepage that has no HTML text or links is like making a hamburger without a beef patty (even though ground turkey is acceptable and ground bison is actually superior in my opinion, but I’ll save that discussion for my food blog).

More than the sitemap, more than your navigation bar, the homepage content is the true gateway through which you can highlight the most important pages on your website for the search engines. On most websites on the internet  and nearly 100% of car dealer websites, the homepage is granted the highest level of authority by the search engines. The links within the content are given the most “juice”. Pages that are linked within the HTML of the homepage within context are considered to be the most important pages.

To have contextual internal linking within the context of your homepage content, you have to have homepage content. It’s that easy. Is it possible for a website to rank without content on the homepage? Of course. It’s also possible to eat a hamburger with buns, lettuce, tomato, onions, pickles, and mustard. Just as must people who order a hamburger expect meat of some sort inside, the search engines expect their “hamburger”, the homepage of your website, to contain meat.

Does HTML content detract from lead generation? No. Your customers aren’t that naive. This isn’t the first website they’ve ever visited that has words on it. Many won’t even scroll down to see the content and will find what they really want to see (inventory, specials, or department pages) in a second or two.

It came to our attention at NADA that at least one website vendor is preaching the concept that the homepage content clutter factor of content is not beneficial for SEO. It may be more. If you hear that idea spoken, don’t buy it. Instead, ask them, “Where’s the beef?” Even a vegan burger has a soy patty. Your website needs homepage content just the same.

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(Informal) FREE Webinar On "How To Properly Optimize Your Videos For Your Dealership" - (LIVE) Video SEO from Dealer Synergy on Vimeo.

(Informal) FREE Webinar On "How To Properly Optimize Your Videos For Your Dealership" - (LIVE) Video SEO

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The idea of the NoFollow attribute on links was to help prevent spam from appearing on user generated content sites, particularly Wikipedia. It was intended as a way to tell Google (and eventually all major search engines) that a link was not supposed to transfer any “link juice” to the recipient of the link. In essence, it was designed to stop SEO spammers from trying to insert their links where they didn’t belong for the sake of improved rankings.

It has become an abused attribute. This needs to stop.

Modern use of nofollow by many websites is to prevent link juice “leakage” from a website onto other websites. Many put the attribute on any link that isn’t internal. Some go so far as to put it on every link, internal or external. This is ludicrous.

There may be some merits to the idea that leaking PageRank juice to others is a detriment to the optimization of a website, but if there is, it’s minimal. I’ve seen websites that have a completely closed nofollow policy that doesn’t “leak” any juice at all that have major troubles ranking and I’ve seen sites (such as all of my sites) that rank exceptionally well while giving link value to everyone.

There are exceptions. UGC, as mentioned before, should have nofollow attributes attached to links that are not vetted. If it’s a UGC site that passes through the eyes and scrutiny of an editor, the nofollow attribute isn’t necessary. If it goes live immediate, it’s necessary.

Comments or other areas where links can be added by anyone should also be nofollow. Some use plugins like CommentLuv to encourage comments by making links followed. This is up to site owner and as long as the comments and links are vetted I have no problem with it at all. If the links in comments aren’t vetted, I don’t suggest it.

Otherwise, there should never be nofollow links on websites. If a link is good enough to post, it’s good enough to get juice. Trying to sculpt or channel your link juice is futile, ineffective, and an argument can be made that it’s actually more damaging than good.

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Social Ecosystem

There are still many in the search engine optimization industry that are fighting the concept that Google (and Bing) is taking social signals into account at a high level when determining search rankings.

These people fall into three categories:

  1. Those who haven’t had the ability or desire to test it. If you test it thoroughly, it becomes extremely clear that it’s real.
  2. Those who do not have the ability to generate and promote high quality, shareable content as part of their SEO strategy. If you can’t do it, you might as well pretend like it doesn’t exist.
  3. Those who have read the blog posts of either of the previous two and took the opinions as truth.

The reality is that, based upon extensive testing that we’ve been running (not to mention some of the things that Google has said over the last couple of years), social signals have a significant impact on the overall SEO of websites.

There’s another thing to consider, though, as pointed out by Search Engine Watch last month. Google is paying attention to social signals through Google Analytics. Some might say that it’s a natural addition to the service since people consider social media to be an important part of their overall marketing, but that’s simply not how Google works. If they add something to Analytics, it’s because they consider it to be important. There’s no need for them to track it if they aren’t considering it in some algorithm, and the most likely algorithm that social signals could effect is their search ranking algorithm.

When Google says something with their actions, it behooves those in SEO to listen. Are you listening?

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It’s this simple. When given the choice between being ranked in the top 5 for good keywords or being ranked #1 for a great keyword, I will (after asking for further qualifications and some examples) almost always opt for the former. Search has changed dramatically in the last couple of years. As a result, above the fold for many is normally better than at the top for a few.

In reality, it isn’t that simple. You’d have to look at all of the factors to make an educated decisions. This general rule, however, works a vast majority of the time. The reason is based upon search habits. People trust Google and Bing to be a guide but not necessarily to be 100% accurate. In the past, the clicks for the top-ranked listing received the lion’s share of the clicks. #2 got fewer but still more than the rest, and so on, and so forth.

This is still the case for very specific searches. For example, if someone searches for “Dell” and is at the top, it will get over 90% of the clicks. However, for searches that are more general, the ones where the searcher is looking for options such as “Seattle Dodge Dealers”, the gap in clicks between #1 and #5 is minimal. In fact, there are times when the #2 or #3 listings get more clicks than #1.

People doing these general searches are looking for possibilities, not to have a definitive answer. Searching for “Seattle Dodge Dealers” gives them options. From there, they decide which to click on based upon reputation if they know the dealerships, the listing titles, descriptions, and position on maps when appropriate. The look at reviews, domains, and even previews in some cases. The point is this – being “above the fold” is the first goal. Moving up to the top is the second goal.

Some might wonder why we would only shoot for being above the fold. In most cases, the effort it takes to get a site moved up from #5 to #1 is about equal to the effort it takes to get several keywords into the top 5. It isn’t that dealers shouldn’t strive to be #1, but they shouldn’t do so at the detriment of getting more keywords driving traffic to the site. From experience, we’ve seen where the benefits are highest for dealers.

Step 1, get as many keywords into the top 5 as possible. Step 2, once a good chunk of the possibilities of valuable keywords are in the top 5, it’s time to circle back around and push those listings up higher. It’s not as glamorous as focusing on getting a few keywords to the top and forsaking the rest, but it’s definitely more effective in the long run.

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