How Machine Learning Affects Your Search Rankings (And What You Should Do in Response)

Google’s algorithm learns on its own, without human intervention. Yes, programmers need to alter how its algorithm learns with updates from time-to-time.

But Google’s algorithm can absolutely do much of its learning on its own. That’s artificial intelligence.

Google’s RankBrain update does this with new search queries it’s never encountered before. When evaluating the search terms entered, it compares them to similar words and keyphrases which have been searched before. Then, based on its understanding, it delivers the most relevant results for the new search term you enter.

The big deal about this is that Google can understand the actual intent of your search. For searchers, that means they get results more in line with what they want.

Maybe Google isn’t always perfect. But it’s far more accurate than any other search engine.

Big Deal! What Does This Mean for Your Business?

Well, it dramatically shifts your approach to SEO. For around a decade, it’s been all about optimizing your page using the right techniques and keyphrases. And many SEOs still swear adamantly to this approach. For example, you should:

  • Include your most important keyphrase in your page’s URL
  • Make sure it appears in the H1 title at the top of your page
  • Include it in a H2 sub-header, or maybe even a couple of them
  • Keep it in the regular body text of your page a few times
  • Make sure each of the pages on your website is at least 500 words
  • Keep your page load times at less than 3 seconds

Now don’t get us wrong. That stuff’s still important. But almost everyone understands to do it now.

So, you can’t sneak ahead of the competition when you use these techniques. It’s simply a standard of practice you have to do to keep pace.

Today, ranking’s all about content quality.

What Makes Content Amazing?

Let’s take a typical small business niche: DIY home repair. You’ll have no problem finding thousands of articles on nearly any DIY subject online.

So what makes one so much better than another?

Take a look at industry expert Bob Vila’s website. It’s loaded with dozens of “how-to” guides. They’re filled with:

  • Detailed info which explains all steps and concepts so anyone can understand them
  • Image examples to clarify ideas
  • Product recommendations

Once you’re done reading the article, you really don’t have any questions left.

But Won’t That Cause Most Customers to Simply Do Everything Themselves and Not Use Your Business?

No. Of course, some readers will go the DIY route. But, remember you’re not going to change what they want to do.

Some readers will always want to DIY. Your goal isn’t to change their minds so you can do it for them and charge them a fee.

Your goal is to provide such amazing value in your content that readers bookmark you, share your content on social media, and otherwise never forget you. Then, when they do have a need for your services (and of course many customers will want to pay for them because they have no desire to DIY), they remember you, and not your competition.

Content is a long-term game in this regard. And those shares and links you earn only come with amazing-quality content. But it creates consistency and predictability you can’t win using any other marketing technique.

3 Guidelines for Determining Your Marketing Budget

A couple decades ago, you simply needed to take out an ad in Yellow Pages. Maybe send out a few brochures. That was your marketing budget.

Now, when marketing online, there’s dozens of channels and tactics you can use. How much do you budget for each?

Which don’t you use? How do you know if you’re overspending, underspending, or spending the right amount?

…And then Google changes how the game works! How do you account for that in your budget?

Those are hard judgments to make. You don’t have any easy answers.

Realistically, you have to understand your own business’s needs and budget accordingly. Here are some things you might think about as you do:

  1. How fast do you need to profit?

Most digital marketing tactics don’t have a quick return. Yes, we’re a digital marketing company. But, that’s the truth.

Social media, SEO, content marketing, website redesign…they typically take at least 6-12 months before you see any benefit. And often, longer than that to realize the full benefit.

PPC can get you qualified leads in your doors within a month. But it’s not as cost-efficient. So, it’s something you may want to hit aggressively at first, and then allocate less budget towards in the future.

  1. How much should you spend?

Public companies spend anywhere from 5-15% of their total annual revenue to increase their growth. About 10% is the average. Public companies who spend less than 5% of their annual revenue experience slow growth, if any at all.

Further, the company who wrote that report found that even for mediocre marketing programs, companies got $10 in revenue for every $1 spent. So now you have guidelines on the gross amount to spend.

  1. 70% of Surveyed SMBs Will Increase Their 2017 Marketing Spend

Get Response, one of the leading email marketing tools available, asked Gartner, a leading tech research firm, to survey SMBs and share the results. Here’s what they found:

  • 70% of SMBs will increase their 2017 marketing budget
  • 40% would increase it “somewhat”
  • 30% said it would increase “considerably”

Another online survey by Gartner (and again requested by Get Response), found high return-on-investment in online marketing, regardless of industry.

Online Marketing Simply Works…You Have to Decide Your Budget

Just like anything else, you get what you pay for. Online marketing offers high ROI. At the same time, you have to be willing to budget for it to make it happen.

Only you can decide exactly what your budget should be. And now, you have perspective and information so you can make the most sensible decision for your business.

How to Write Amazing Headlines That Drive More Clicks and Higher Rankings

The headline…it gets overlooked a lot.

But, it’s the first thing that gets noticed about your website. If users are in search, they see that big blue headline first. If they’re actually on your website, it’s the first thing they see at the top of your web page.

Your headline determines whether searchers click through to your website. And if they’ve already made it to your website, it determines if they read to the bottom of your page or not.

Well, not entirely. But, it plays the largest role in whether that happens. Pages on your site with longer engagement time, more click-throughs, and lower bounce rates experience better rankings in search.

So, your page’s headline is quite a powerful thing that shouldn’t be overlooked.

What makes one headline get more clicks than another? Buzzsumo was wondering. So, they did research on 100 million headlines.

And here’s some of the highlights:

  • The 3 Most Popular Phrases for Starting Headlines

These are the three phrases Buzzsumo’s research found for starting headlines:
X reasons why…
X things you…
This is what…

Why do the first two work? List-based posts have always worked well…even before the internet. In the day of magazines, newspapers, and other print content, marketers knew this. People just love knowing how many things they’re going to learn before actually visiting the post.

“This is what…” likely works because it arouses curiosity. That’s usually the leading emotion to market to for consumers.

By the way, the most engaging numbers in headlines are 10, 5, and 15 – in that order.

  • How Many Words Long Should Your Headline Be?

Shorter is better, isn’t it? Not with headlines.

Buzzsumo’s research found headlines that get shared the most have 12-18 words, with about 15 being ideal. They actually fall almost perfectly on a normal curve.

If you’re going to make the topic clear and communicate exceptional value, headlines take more words.

  • All That Said, You Must Research Your Niche

People in any niche respond to certain headlines best. At this point, the web is so saturated with great content and engaging headlines that you can research what works quite easily.

Buzzsumo offers free 14-day trials. With their tool, you can enter in a URL of a top website in your niche and instantly find the articles that get the most shares so you learn what headlines and topics work.

We don’t have any kind of business affiliation with Buzzsumo, so don’t feel like this is an advertisement. It’s simply an extremely useful tool for researching the most popular content in any niche.

What Trends are Driving Digital Marketing?

Seems like just yesterday you only needed a website to market your business. Then you needed SEO. Now you need a responsive site.

You can’t hire just a single SEO consultant anymore. These days, you have to hire a whole team. SEO consultants have a network of contractors. They rarely operate independently. If you go with an agency, they have employees and contractors.

Running a website is no longer a simple, one-person endeavor.

And sorry to do this…but it’s only going to get more complex.

Here’s some of the coming trends that will shape how you operate your company website:

  • It’s Tough to Get Around Paid Advertising
    Paid advertising is now becoming necessary. Today, you can do it through PPC in Google Adwords. Bing/Yahoo have their own network too.Every major social network (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, Pinterest etc…) now has a paid advertising option. Facebook’s grown so powerful that they keep redesigning their algorithm so it shows your posts to fewer followers.

    Unless, of course, you fork over more cash.

    Any of these digital properties act as one of the major gateways to the internet. You can bet that any website with major traffic will continue to find ways to charge you money to advertise on their platform.

  • Security Will Remain a Top Concern
    Ever noticed how some websites start with “http://” while others begin with “https://?”What’s the difference? “https://” stands for “HTTP secure.” With regular HTTP, the former internet standard, third parties can see the traffic and data that passes between your browser and local web server. That information could include your credit card number or social security number.

    To encourage a safer and more secure web, Google now docks your rankings if you don’t use HTTPS, even if your website doesn’t receive sensitive information from visitors. HTTPS means that all information between your browser and server gets encrypted.

World superpowers like Russia and China have government-sponsored teams of hackers (though they’ll never publicly admit to this). And every country has its own share of independent hackers.

Smart hackers know small businesses may be less lucrative, but they’re easier targets.

Recent data shows:

  • 43% of cyber attacks target SMBs
  • Just 14% consider their security “highly effective”
  • 60% go out of business within six months of a successful attack

And It Certainly Doesn’t End There

The reality is there’s much more to digital marketing than this. Artificial intelligence, marketing automation, influencer marketing, the increasing rise of algorithms (to sort email in Gmail’s tabs, among other things), and live streaming video will continue to shape digital marketing too.

The key to all this is having someone you can trust to help you understand and identify what really makes sense for your business.

Top 5 Types of Blog Posts to Produce to Engage Your Customer

Have you heard the term “content saturation?”Working at home

These days, it refers to the fact that some niches are bloated with content. You hear the same basic ideas from everyone.

Some niches are “highly saturated.” For example, any commodity service like HVAC, law, anything medical, home care, and many others, have a glut of content available on every topic.

Standing out in any of those niches, and many others, is hard.

Here’s some types of blog posts you may consider creating to grab attention today:

  1. Opinion Posts

These posts are a great way to attract a following, and especially so if you are in B2B. They take a lot of courage because most people are afraid to stand up and say something different.

However, because (as you learned) so many people say the same old thing on their websites, having an opinion that respectfully dissents is a great way to attract attention. The one downside to this type of post is it takes deep industry knowledge or extensive research to create.

  1. Industry News

You likely won’t have the luxury of being the first to learn about an exciting news break. However, you can be the one who stays in touch with those sources and reports on the latest news to your readership.

Add in your opinion on the matters reported, and you have a nice recipe for success.

  1. List Posts

You see these all the time: “9 Tips To…” But even list posts are saturating the web. So, to stand out, you have to go above and beyond the conventional list post. You may have “27 Tips for…” or “52 Tricks on…”

Again, being different gets attention.

  1. Case Study/Customer Success Story

These don’t get used as much at the smaller business level, but they should. A “case study” is simply where you tell the story of your customer’s problem and how you solved it.

Doesn’t sound like much at first. However, case studies are the most powerful way to earn trust and credibility from your customers so they’re ready to buy.

  1. Expert Advice

For this one, you can conduct brief email interviews. However, you can also just grab brief 2-3 sentence snippets that experts have discussed on their own blogs. Compile a bunch of those quotes into a single post on your own blog, and you suddenly have a very nice post with original content.

Just make sure you give a link to each expert. And, let each of them know about your post too, which could result in some traffic coming back to your blog.

Most Companies Do What’s Quick and Easy On Their Blogs…

And that’s the problem. Running a blog that mesmerizes your readers takes a lot of time and hard work these days. You can no longer get by on content written in your spare time.

You can please Google and maintain your search rankings. But, if you really want to stand out and grab attention, you have to put in large amounts of hard work.

Does Your Content Support the Entire Sales Cycle?

Young businesswoman sitting at the office reading business report.

Warning: this post gets a little complex.

But, once you understand the information within, you’re going to be much smarter than most companies who use internet marketing.

You’re probably at least a little familiar with the concept of a sales cycle, right?

Your customers, whether businesses or consumers, have a certain set of steps they take before they finally purchase. For businesses, this can be up to 2 years. For consumers, this can be as short as 2 seconds.

Most websites focus on “bottom-of-the-funnel (BOFU)” content. In other words, this is the content a customer consumes right before they call, email, or click and order.

Nothing wrong with doing that. But you leave a ton of sales on the table if that’s all you do. Typically, you can think of your product or service pages as “BOFU” content. Your customers will read through that right before acting.

How Focusing on More Steps in the Sales Cycle Wins You More Sales

But long before your customers actually act, they already are unwittingly engaging in the sales cycle.

It all starts with a problem, right?

Your customer has something wrong in their personal life. Or a business has a big problem, like not getting enough leads.

For example, a consumer’s home seems too cold in winter and too hot in summer, despite the fact that they have a new HVAC system.

So if you run an HVAC company, you can engage them right at that point with content. They might search something like,”Why is my house so cold?”

Then, you create a blog post that answers that question. For example, it could be because they have the wrong size of HVAC system installed in their home. Or maybe their crawl space isn’t insulated properly.

Then, at the end of the post, you conclude it’s impossible to tell without a firsthand inspection.

When they read the post, the customer is at the beginning of the sales cycle. If you like acronyms, it’s called “TOFU” or “top-of-the-funnel.” They’re aware of the problem and beginning to understand it.

During the post, you’ve moved them to the “middle-of-the-funnel” or “MOFU.” They have a solid understanding of their problem, and now they need to research other HVAC companies who do the same thing.

But since you’ve educated them on the problem, while most HVAC companies don’t in their blogs, they’re much more likely to bookmark your website, or remember you. And they’re much more likely to actually call you.

It’s because they know you understand the problem and solution. Other HVAC companies might too, but they don’t necessarily demonstrate this in their blog. So the consumer is left with some doubt.

That’s How Content Marketing Works

That’s a simple example of content marketing in action. You can push customers along the sales cycle fast, and they’re happy to walk along with you because they’re solving your problems.

This is why you need to care about the sales cycle. And since many other small and local businesses don’t, you’ll uncover a gold mine of customers they wish they had.