Case Study: The Interconnectedness of Local SEO and Exact Match Domains

Posted by MarkPrestonSEO

Before we get into this article, I just want to say that if you are wanting to build a brand, doing it through exact match domains is not the best idea. I selected an exact match domain for myself, however, as I wanted to build up my personal brand. What has happened was purely an accident, but proves that exact match domains (EMDs) or partial match domains (PMDs) really do work – and work very well.

 

My story

 

Back in April 2016, after spending 15 years building digital marketing agencies, I decided to strike out on my own and promote my personal brand as a freelance SEO consultant. I registered the domain markprestonseo.com and launched my small website with the intention of writing weekly blogs.

 

Things did not turn out the way I planned, and work now eats up all my time.

 

When my site went live, I performed all of the usual on-page tweaks and published it on HTTPS. I then set up Google My Business, became verified, and created a few citations on the top UK directory sites and data aggregators.

 

Since then, I have not really done much to promote my site and have not yet got around to doing any natural link building. The only links I have are from citations that use my domain as the anchor text.

 

After a couple of months, I checked my links through Ahrefs and noticed that, to my astonishment, the site was ranking on the first page for Preston SEO.

 

Why is this astonishing? Because my business address, the address on my website, my Google account, and citations all state that my business is located in Blackpool, not Preston. The towns are about 17 miles, or 27km, apart.

 
 

oTv5y3b.jpg

 

I started to research the reason my website was outranking SEO agencies that were actually located in Preston and concluded that it was likely due to my domain name.

 

The citations I had submitted all link to my site using the anchor text markprestonseo.com and the words “Preston SEO” are in my domain name. It appeared Google was ranking me in a town unrelated to my location because of exact match anchor text which, by pure accident, happened to be identical to my domain name.

 

I took this as proof EMDs still work very well despite widespread belief to the contrary.

 

I shared the discovery with Rand Fishkin via email. He replied:

 

“I think Google is confusing mentions of your brand name with the keyword itself and thus you’re benefiting in their rankings/visibility. I’m not saying exact match anchor text/EMDs don’t work, just that it’s a conflation on Google’s part when they work in these sorts of fashions, not an intentional element of Google’s ranking goals.”

 

So, Google is just getting mixed up. I personally think Google is working how Google does: looking at the anchor text and ranking my site accordingly. Something else in my favor: I don’t use a telephone number linked to a specific area code; I use my mobile phone number. Also, my postal business address is in Blackpool; my telephone number is not.

 

Local SEO means local

 

It’s widely known that getting a website ranked for a location not attached to your business address (or within a small radius) is nearly impossible these days. But it appears that I have managed to do just that.

 
 

mzlZf5W.jpg

 

What happened next totally shocked me.

 

On a recent morning, when I was looking further into this situation, I typed in the term “Preston SEO” and nearly fell off my chair when I saw my site ranking in the No.3 spot on the maps and in the No.5 spot organically.

 
 

WWdsHwi.jpg

 

How on earth is this even possible when I don’t have an address in Preston and not a single citation relates to the town of Preston? Does this mean we can just set up exact match domains relating to different areas outside one’s physical location and get listed organically and on the maps? Personally, I think not.

 

Armed with this new finding, I set about reaching out to a few top SEO and marketing pros to ask for their comments. The response was fantastic and here is what they had to say on the subject:

 

“The distance from your location to Preston is 13 miles. I don’t find it odd that it would locate you. If you were perhaps much further away, say Birmingham, sure. But this doesn’t look odd to me at all.” – Danny Sullivan, founding Editor at Marketing Land and Search Engine Land

 

So, Danny thinks that this is very normal, even if they are two totally different towns. He does point out that my freelance office is on the outskirts of Blackpool on the Preston side.

 

“My only comment on your finding is that it is based on very limited data. Just a test of one EMD. I tend to agree with Rand’s comments. Google’s algorithm is not perfect. We run into strange things all the time. But I would say that Google gets it right way more often than they get it wrong.” – Arnie Kuenn, CEO of Vertical Measures

 

I have been preaching ethical SEO for over a decade now and do believe Google gets it right way more often than not.

 

“I agree with Rand. From my background in text analytics, I suspect that Google is identifying Preston as an entity – a proper noun in this case – but it can’t tell the difference between your name and the place name. It is possible that your physical proximity to Preston even adds to this confusion. I suspect that exact match domains help a bit in the algorithm, but I believe that they don’t work as well as they did years ago.” – Mike Moran, founder, Biznology

 

I do agree that EMDs are not as powerful as they once were, but with the launch of all the Local SEO-related updates, I would have thought Google would not rank sites outside the physical location. I can also see that it may be the case that Blackpool and Preston are only 17 miles apart, but I noticed this same thing the other day when I was doing some competitive analysis for a client. Now they are also ranking in Preston because of an exact match domain, but their physical location is 51 miles, or 82 km, apart.

 

“1) If search queries have limited volume and limited competition then they are often quite easy to rank for. But since almost nobody is searching for them, there is little financial incentive to rank for them. 2) The value of an EMD decreases EXPONENTIALLY as other signals get folded into rankings for highly competitive keywords, particularly for terms which heavy advertising billion dollar brands target. It would probably be almost impossible to sustainably rank for [auto insurance] or [car insurance] in the US market leveraging an EMD at this point. An industry trade organization might be able to do it, but just about everyone else would be guaranteed to fail due to algorithmic ranking mix shift and the brand strength of competitors.” – Aaron Wall of SEOBOOK.

 

I agree that the search volume is not great, but Google is clearly ranking me for a town that my business is not located in. To me, this shows that local is all messed up or Google is seeing “Preston SEO” as a keyword, and not a location, so they are ranking me based on the keyword anchor text which just happens to be part of my domain.

 

“Nothing to add really above what you and Rand have said. It looks like a combination of Google not understanding that Preston in this context is your surname (and not a location) + the citations + the word in the domain. The Google Maps listing is evidence of Google not understanding the context of the word Preston. We still see keywords in domain names helping, just not to the same extent they used to in years gone by. 🙂 ” Paddy Moogan, Co-Founder of Aira

 

So, from Paddy’s comment, it does appear that Google is just getting things mixed up here… or is it that exact match anchor text is more powerful than the citations related to the physical address?

 

“I just took a quick look but you have Preston SEO in your title tag, copy, domain and anchor text. It is likely a combination of factors along with the fact that the monthly volume for Preston SEO is 140 searches per month (low volume) that are leading to you ranking quickly for it. If you look at the Moz Local local ranking survey https://moz.com/local-search-ranking-factors you still seem to check several key boxes. Business title, on page keyword use, and anchor text are significant ranking factors so I can see why they would rank you locally. I don’t think this would work in a more competitive local environment, though.” – AJ Ghergich, founder of Ghergich & Co

 

I have to agree that it would probably be a different story if my name just happened to be “Mark London.”

 

What is crazy, though is this: I rank at No. 5 for “Preston SEO” organically, but for “Blackpool SEO” (the town my business and all my citations are associated with), I am way down in position No. 38 (for now) organically. Again, this is another sign that EMDs with exact match anchor text work well or that Google would naturally rank me in Blackpool as well as Preston.

 

“First of all, you must remember that Local Search and Universal Search have two different ranking algorithms, hence the local box weirdness and the organic search issues almost surely have different reasons. If I remember well, then, the ‘center centric’ local ranking factor is not such anymore, in the sense that – depending on the industry niche – Google doesn’t calculate anymore the geographical distance from the downtown of a city for determining the relevance of a local result, but it can consider a different kind of center. For instance, this is true for things like malls or car dealers, which usually are in the suburbs of the cities. In the Preston specific case, it seems as if Google considered as ‘center’ an undetermined place between Preston and Blackpool because it is not showing any agency of Blackburn, which is closer to Preston than Blackpool. Overall it is a very normal SERP, IMHO… which indicates that all the other SEO agencies are doing very bad in Local Search if you are present in the local box (or other non-Preston agencies).” – Gianluca Fiorelli of ILoveSEO.net

 

Note: The above is just a snippet of what Gianluca actually sent me as he went into some detail.

 

I did like his comment though that I am ranking because all the other SEO agencies who are actually based in Preston are not very good.

 

“I agree with you – exact match domains still work quite well. I’ve been wanting to do an article on it for a long time. BUT, usually, the moment you write something like that, magically, they’ll stop working. Especially if your article gets a lot of notice. So, if you want it to keep working for you, you might want to keep it under wraps.” -Kristi Hines, a freelance writer at kristihines.com.

 

Truthfully, it’s not an issue of whether or not I want to keep it working for me. I’m simply trying to understand what’s happening.

 

I have to say that I’m glad that someone is thinking along the same lines as me, though.

 

“It looks to me like Google is confusing your last name with the location. While I haven’t done a detailed backlink analysis for your site, I suspect that it’s further proof of the power of anchor text, as Google sees “preston” in some of your backlinks, and “seo” in others of those links. It may even recognize that “preston” is a proper name, but not know the difference between your last name and the city. Of course, you also use your name a lot on your site too!” -Eric Enge of Stone Temple Consulting

 

Let’s turn this on its head a little:

 
    • Imagine Google is confusing my name with the town of Preston
 
    • Imagine that I was not ranking based on exact match anchor text links
 

Why is it then that I rank in the No. 3 spot on the maps and No. 5 organically for the term “Preston SEO” when the term “SEO Preston” is ranking me in the No. 14 position on maps and in the No. 52 position organically?

 

This, to me, suggests Google is looking at the phrase “Preston SEO” as a keyword and using exact match anchor text to rank it, but is looking at the term “SEO Preston” from a local perspective.

 

This is certainly something worth discussing.

 

“I don’t think Google have become mixed up at all – exact match DOES work… as mentioned in Bryan Dean’s post here. I’ve witnessed it myself in the past; seeing EMDs with little valuable content and minimal (visible) inbound links, yet high ranks gained in the SERPs. It’s another quality control thing. Whatever Google tell you not to do – that’s the stuff that usually works and can manipulate rankings.” – Sam Hurley of Optim-Eyez

 

Now here is someone who thinks the same as me as to the reason my site is ranking for a term unlinked to my actual location:

 

“This case study suggests that Google uses text within a domain and/or anchor text to determine a site’s location.” – Brian Dean of Backlinko.com

 

Short, sweet, and to-the-point.

 

“I wouldn’t really count this as an exact match domain as that would just be prestonseo.com (hence the exact part). But yes, they do work. Diyhomeenergy.com ranks for ‘diy home energy’. Pottytrainingin3days.com ranks for potty training in 3 days. And so on… 🙂 ” – Glen Allsopp of Viperchill.com

 

OK, my own website may not technically be an exact match domain but, rather, a part-match domain. Well, if my PMD can secure local rankings outside its own town, then EMDss can do so much more through exact match anchor text.

 

“A very nice case, mate! That is something that I’ve discussed in my “on page seo” post. I mean having keywords in your domain or URL doesn’t have a direct impact on your ranking, but since many people link with a raw URL, you kind of get a pretty targeted anchor text from the words in your domain and your URL.” – Tim Soulo of Ahrefs.

 

This is the exact point I am trying to make.

 

“These things do happen. Google is far from perfect. The domain name definitely plays a role in it I think, but I suspect the bigger story here is how local search is screwed up big time at the moment. I’ve seen several occasions where businesses in other cities rank better on local searches.” – Bas van den Beld of State of Digital

 

I do agree that I am seeing first hand that local is all messed up at the moment. I thought it was supposed to be a lot harder to get ranked outside the immediate area your business is located!

 

“This is definitely a curiosity. I don’t know what to think since it’s a single instance – I haven’t seen anything like this previously.” – Alan Bleiweiss of AlanBleiweiss.com

 

I, on the other hand, see this same thing on nearly a daily basis within my day job, and often it is conflicting with over 50 miles of distance from the location.

 

“I wasn’t sure if it was exact match domain that was boosting the ranking or if it was click-through rate. If your domain was Preston seo, people might click on that when searching for it because the domain name appears relevant. And we know higher CTR = higher rankings.” Larry Kim of WordStream.

 

Larry might be on to something here. I can confirm that since I started to reach out to all these top marketing pros, my organic ranking for “Preston SEO” has now increased to position two, as seen in the screenshot below.

 
 

MJtGdNN.jpg

 

“I discussed the future of the new gTLDs in an article here (which may be an interesting read). You are right that exact match domains still matter, but not necessarily because of matching your domain to the search query by search engines, but rather because of matching your domain to the search query by users. External links with the domain in anchor text, CTR, and related user signals play an important role and as such this may help rankings when utilizing an exact match domain. In your post your location is also close enough to the other town, while using the town keyword in the page title and matching the query more precisely in your page title unlike the competitor (Preston SEO vs. SEO … Preston), that you become a potential relevant search result.” -Fili Wiese of SearchBrothers.com

 

The words above come from a former Google guy. Basically, I am ranking for Preston SEO because Google has deemed I am the best fit for the user. Now that sounds good to me.

 

Conclusion

 

Now that you have read my little case study about my personal belief that exact match domains or even partial match domains still work very well, but maybe for less competitive terms only, I’d like to hear your thoughts on the subject.

 

Please share in the comments below.

 
 

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Here’s How a Pricing Tweak Enabled Us to Increase Sales

Posted by livenet

As the owner of a website that offers private tutoring, I’m always looking for ways to optimize our processes in order to increase leads and sales.

 

The original offer

For years, we offered an inexpensive 30-minute trial lesson so prospects would be able to check out our services and, if they liked it (and 80% did), purchase a package of English lessons.

 

This way, we were able to filter the prospects for those who were serious about learning English and committed enough to pay a small amount to try our services.

 

However, we were faced with two head-scratching realities:

 

1. Conversions were low: Were we missing out on prospects who were serious but not ready to make a payment (even a small one) right away?

 

2. Most of our competitors offer a free trial lesson: Were these prospects going to our competitors because they couldn’t try us for free?

What changed

At the end of 2015, we decided to change our policy and offer a free 15-minute trial lesson.

The idea of the trial lesson was still to make a first contact with the student, introduce him/her to one of our native English teachers, demonstrate how we work, and show the student we could help them improve their English. At the end of the trial lesson, the prospective student received a feedback report that included an evaluation of their English speaking ability as well as suggestions for getting it to the next level.

 

When we compared the numbers from the first quarter of 2016 with those from the first quarter of 2015, we noticed the following:

 

1. Increased conversion rate from traffic: An increase in the rate of conversions from traffic (50% more leads). We were now engaging more with our website’s visitors.

 

2. Decreased conversion rate from trials: A decrease the rate of conversions from trial lessons. That is, a smaller percentage of trial lesson students decided to buy a course. (Instead of 80% of our leads choosing to continue taking English lessons by purchasing a lesson package, as they did in Q1-2015, only 60% chose to do so in Q1-2016.)

SALESFUNNEL.jpg

 

This oddity was actually expected since the free offer doesn’t ask for the same level of commitment. The prospects who register on our website without being required to pay don’t always fully follow the process we have in place for them. Once registered, they might not always book a lesson; when they book a lesson, they might not always attend their lesson.

 

A real effort must be made to make sure that each person that registers has a real intention, at minimum, to book and attend a lesson.

If offering a free lesson worth the return?

 

This experiment is not over and we still need to optimize our processes and address some of the issues we’ve uncovered so far. Overall, at this stage, we can say that the increase in purchases due to the trial lesson change is not significant.

However:

 

1. We get a lot more leads: It’s up to us to nurture these leads until they are ready to work with us

2. We serve our prospective students better: They appreciate the fact that they can talk to us and try our services before giving us any credit card information

We now have a greater margin of improvement, and we can work with more leads. But we must put the right processes in place to make sure these leads feel that we are fully committed to help them improve their English.

 

Every business needs a lead magnet, a free offer that will help them build a prospect list. We already provide free ebooks and a free English level test, but feel that no offer compares to being able to sample the product or service that is available for purchase.

For now, we’ll continue to keep our eyes on metrics, including conversion rates and costs, as well as work on optimizing our processes. Also, we will evaluate whether or not the free offer reinforces our brand – which is built on trust, commitment, and customer satisfaction.

How has your brand handled similar challenges?

 

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Here’s How GIFs Can Fire up Your Brand’s Email Open Rates

Posted by nikkielizabethdemere

I could watch Patrick Stewart facepalm all day. Through the wonder of GIFs, I’ve actually done just that, going into giggle-fits on every rotation.

 

Looped hilarity aside, GIFs are quickly spreading beyond Reddit and Tumblr and into mainstream marketing, and for good reason. They’re highly effective at achieving the KPIs every marketer wants: Better open rates, more views, and higher conversions. Also, people love ’em.

 

Email marketers can especially benefit from adding GIFs to their campaigns. In this post, we’ll cover exactly what you need to know about using GIFs to make your email marketing more convincing – and more fun – than ever before.

 

What is a GIF?

 

A GIF, or graphics interchange format, is a way to format static or animated image files into a short clip of moving images. They are typically five seconds long or so and often humorous as well as captioned.

 

GIFS aren’t exactly illegal. They fall into a gray area where the squidgy bit concerns using original content created by someone else to make and share them. Copyright owners have the right to control derivatives of their work, where and how it’s shared, and the right to proceeds generated from their images.

 

However, according to Peter Van Valkenburgh, as quoted in Forbes: “As of October 2013, there is no U.S. case that definitively states whether creating a GIF made from copyrighted material is or isn’t copyright infringement.”

 

Whether a GIF is legal depends on whether its usage falls under “fair use,” which is partly determined by what you’re using the GIF for. Typically, something falls under fair use “when the original material is used for a limited and ‘transformative’ purpose, such as commentary, criticism or parody.”

 

In other words, GIFS may be protected under free speech. Copyrighted material, essentially, can be remixed and repurposed legally if the new use is derivative, and doesn’t compete with or devalue the copyrighted work.

 

But – and this is a big but – GIFs featuring celebrities and sports games are problematic. To be completely safe using this type of GIF, you must get written releases from all copyright holders, any actors appearing in in the GIFs, and the GIF creator. You also need to link to the original source of the content (to make it clear you didn’t make it).

 

That’s too many hoops to jump through for your average content marketing department, but don’t worry. There are a lot of GIFs out there that don’t feature Patrick Stewart.

 

giphy.gif

What makes GIFs so darn good?

 

To say GIFs are wildly popular is to understate the phenomenon.

 

Fun fact: Almost 23 million GIFs are posted to Tumblr each day.

 

According to Mike Isaac at The New York Times, “[GIFs] have become a mainstream form of digital expression, a way to relay complex feelings and thoughts in ways beyond words and even photographs, making them hugely popular with young audiences who never leave home without their smartphones.”

 

Mike Isaac nails it – there’s an emotional component to a great GIF that mainlines sentiment straight through to the cerebral cortex. If you want someone to feel excited about your email offer, something like this could be your fast track:

 

giphy.gif

Use GIFs to drive engagement and connections

 

Email marketers are always on the lookout for ways to set their emails apart from the rest of the inbox. It’s a three-fold challenge: You need to get noticed, get clicks, and get conversions. That’s no small task. Luckily, animated GIFs might just be the bit o’ magic you’re looking for.

 

Social media marketers have been using GIFs to boost social engagement for years, but it isn’t a leap to see how GIFs could also liven up email marketing. Even if your email marketing needs to feature your products instead of someone else’s dog.

 

Make your own GIFs

 

Let it rise!#RiseToTheOccasion pic.twitter.com/gVbwn5Ep9u

 

– DiGiorno Pizza (@DiGiornoPizza) June 24, 2016

 
 

DiGiorno isn’t alone. Women’s clothing retailer Ann Taylor LOFT used an animated present GIF to entice subscribers to click through to “unwrap” their gift, and adding just a little motion surprised readers into doing just that. (For some truly outstanding examples of email GIFing, check these out.)

 

Get personal with GIFs

More and more, email marketers seek to make personal connections with users to drive up engagement and customer loyalty. And that means emails have to be more than “Sale!” or “Check out our new feature!” They need to act like real communications between human beings (crazy, I know). That’s why email marketing best practices recommend sending emails from personal addresses rather than a do-not-reply mass email address.

 

Consider how much more personal and compelling it would be to open an email and see the founder featured in a GIF. Or the marketing team excitedly opening the boxes of brand new products. You don’t have to make a huge production out of it. When in doubt, ask yourself: What would Fido do?

 

Google’s Photos app for Android and iPhone make it possible to get material for your own GIFs any time, anywhere, by letting you create GIFs from your smartphone albums. Giffer, also on the iPhone, lets you create GIFs from videos you’ve taken with your phone, as well as trim and add text. Remember those “Kodak moment” commercials? Now, they’re GIF moments, and they’re happening all around you.

 

Take GIFs beyond the inbox

Got a new product or feature? GIF it.

 

Manning the help Desk? Would you rather spend 20 minutes writing an email response to a question, or 20 seconds recording a video that shows customers how to accomplish a simple but important task?

 

GIFs can help you hack your workflow – and people love them. You know what they say: ‘Tis a GIF to be simple.

 

Get started with the GIF DIY Toolkit

There are far more GIF tools beyond what the options I’ve listed below, but they will provide plenty of variety and keep your team plenty busy:

 
    • CloudApp allows you to capture screen and upload it as an easily shareable GIF or silky smooth 60fps high quality video
 
    • GIF Brewery, a Mac app, lets you convert videos on your computer to GIFs with customizations like playing them in reverse and adding text overlays and color effects
 
    • Recordit lets you demonstrate on-screen functions GIF-style
 
    • Giffer, an iPhone app, lets you convert smartphone videos to GIFs; as well as trim and add text
 
    • Google Photos App organizes your photos and makes it easy to create animated GIFs from them
 

What’s been your brand’s experience using GIFs?

 

Note: All GIFs used in this post were sourced from GIPHY.

 

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How to Get CDNs to Play Nice with SEO

Posted by brianleejackson

As marketers, we all want to achieve better ranking in the SERPs. Even with Google’s recent design changes with ad placements, a lot of businesses and bloggers still rely a lot on organic search, and it isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Besides creating amazing content, building backlinks, and creating social signals; speeding up your website is a great way to help Google index and rank your site faster. Implementing a content delivery network (CDN) can be an easy way to see faster speeds and actually help improve your SEO.

 

Editor’s note: The author is employed by a CDN provider, KeyCDN.

 

What is a content delivery network?

First off, some of you might not be familiar with what a CDN actually is. Basically, it’s a collection of edge servers (also known as POPs) positioned strategically around the globe. Their purpose is to store and cache a copy of your website’s assets (e.g., HTML, JavaScript, CSS, and images).

 

When a visitor hits your site, the assets are then served from POPs located in closest to them.

 

How a CDN Works

For example, say you host your website with Linode in Dallas. When someone from Europe visits the site, they will have to request and download your entire website from Dallas. This results in latency due to the distance the data has to travel. With a CDN, a request is made to Dallas for the initial HTML doc, and then the JS, CSS, images, etc., are served from the closest POP. In this case, that means London.

 

A CDN can dramatically decrease latency and minimize packet loss, which in turn speeds up the delivery of your content.

 

How does a CDN help your SEO?

There are a lot of misconceptions when it comes to using a CDN and how it actually affects your SEO. We’ll address those in this post. But first, let’s look at a few ways a CDN actually does help your SEO.

1. Speed is a ranking factor

Accelerating websites is extremely important. Faster websites mean satisfied customers. PageSpeed becomes significant for rankings . – Matt Cutts, Google’s former head of web spam

 

Your site’s webpage load times are very important, affecting everything from bounce rate to time on your website (dwell time), conversion rates, and the overall user experience.

 

website speed

Google announced in 2010 that site speed is a ranking factor. Nobody knows just how much weight this ranking factor has, but you can pretty much bet that since it dramatically affects the user’s experience that this weight will most likely keep increasing as time goes on. Especially now with the mobile devices sometimes accounting for over 50% of a website’s traffic.

 

Alert! Render-blocking scripts

 

While a CDN can drastically increase the speed of your website, it is also important to remember a CDN is not a magic wand. It delivers your assets in the exact same way they are setup on your page. This means if you have a lot of render-blocking resources, you might still encounter delays. Render-blocking resources refer to assets such as JavaScript and CSS that are blocking the DOM and/or keeping the webpage from rendering until they are download and processed by the browser. A CDN will not fix this for you. This must be resolved on your origin server.

 

Here are a couple of recommendations on how to fix render-blocking JavaScript:

 
    1. If your JavaScript is small, you can inline it
 
    1. Load your scripts asynchronously by using the HTML async attribute
 
    1. Defer your JavaScript
 
    1. Move JavaScript to the footer (not always the best solution)
 
    1. Alternate methods to defer JavaScript
 

Here are a couple recommendations on how to fix render-blocking CSS:

 
    1. Properly call your CSS files
 
    1. Use media queries to mark some CSS resources as not render-blocking
 
    1. Lessen the amount of CSS files (concatenate your CSS files into one file, noting that this becomes less important with HTTP/2)
 
    1. Minify your CSS (remove extra spaces, characters, comments, etc.)
 
    1. Use less CSS overall
 

2. HTTPS is a ranking factor

You can serve your assets over HTTPS with a CDN while not running your main website over HTTPS. You cannot do this in the opposite direction, however, as you’ll run into mixed-content warnings. A web server and a CDN each require their own SSL certificate, which are completely separate processes.

 

HTTPS ranking factor

With the release of HTTP/2 (which technically requires HTTPS due to browser support) there have been a lot of performance benefits to using HTTPS. These include multiplexing, HPACK compression, one connection per origin, and server push. What this means is that HTTPS is no longer as slow as it once was if you are comparing it to SPDY.

 

The team at HttpWatch saw speed increases of 20% when comparing HTTPS with SPDY/3.1 and HTTP/2.

 

So how does this tie in with a CDN? Well, a lot of CDN providers now have “Let’s Encrypt” integrations.

 

Let’s Encrypt allows you to enable HTTPS on your CDN for free. And as long as your CDN provider supports HTTP/2, this means you can now easily serve all your assets much faster via HTTP/2. This will help in turn speed up the delivery of all your assets and directly affect how fast your pages load. You can of course always upload a custom certificate as well to enable HTTPS on your CDN provider.

 

And remember, if you haven’t migrated to HTTPS yet, you can do it in a two-step process. Sometimes it is easier to move your CDN provider to HTTPS first, and the migrate your web server to HTTPS afterwards.

 

3. Faster image indexing in SERPs

To put it simply, a CDN can help you index your images faster in the SERPs. Google image search is a topic we rarely see discussed in the world of SEO and CDNs, and yet it is a very important feature of the SERPs that has been known to generate a lot of traffic. According to a case study by Brafton Marketing, 63% of Google image search clicks turn into site traffic. Obviously, similar success will vary from niche to niche.

 

Indexing Images on a CDN

By hosting your images on a CDN, you can ensure they will index as fast as possible and Google will crawl them more often. This means you should see a direct correlation with the positions that your images rank for in Google image search.

 

Another tip is to use a CNAME for your CDN URL. Typically, a CDN offers customers two options for their CDN URL: 1) a shared CDN URL name, which is automatically generated; or 2) a custom URL. Setting up a custom URL with a CNAME allows you to point your assets to a subdomain on your own domain such as cdn.yourwebsite.com.

 

Here are a few reasons to consider using a custom CDN URL:

 
    1. If you use a custom CDN URL, you can use a sitemap to view indexed images data in Google Search Console. If you use the default zone URL, you will not be able to view this data. You could still use the URL search operator, however.
 
    1. You have full control over your custom CDN URL it and can switch CDN providers more easily while retaining the same URLs
 
    1. A custom CDN URL can make for better branding, as people might see your image URLs. Also, for Google, it sometimes might be better to associate the domain on the same as your root site.
 

 

Alert! Yoast image indexing issue

If you are using WordPress and your CDN images start to get de-indexed from your Google Search Console account, this is likely a sitemap structure issue with Yoast.

 

images indexing issue

You may need to add the following snippet at the top of your functions.php file in order to index your images from the CDN domain.

 

Use this snippet, making sure to updating your CDN URLs accordingly.

function wpseo_cdn_filter( $uri ) { return str_replace( ‘https://www.yoursite.com’, ‘https://cdn.yoursite.com’, $uri ); } add_filter( ‘wpseo_xml_sitemap_img_src’, ‘wpseo_cdn_filter’ );

 

Debunking CDN myths

As mentioned earlier, there are a lot of myths and misconceptions floating around the internet when it comes to CDNs. Let’s take a look at a few common ones that suggest using a CDN is bad.

1. A CDN causes duplicate content issues

False!

 

Don’t get me wrong, a CDN can definitely cause duplicate content issues if you set it up incorrectly. Here are a couple things to consider:

 
    • Canonical header: You want to ensure you have a canonical header setup. This is an extra HTTP header that is added to your CDN to tell the Google crawler the content on your CDN is only a copy. Once you add this HTTP header, your images will index normally as the crawler will know that they are only a copy and not duplicate content. Most CDN providers have an option to enable this feature with a single click.
 
    • Robots.txt file: Search engines scan the root of your website and look for a robots.txt file. If they find the file, they will follow the instructions; but if no file is present, they scan everything. By default, most CDN providers won’t enable this, meaning everything is indexed. The canonical header usually does the work. However, if it is enabled you will will want to ensure it is allowing everything to be crawled.
       
 

Here is an example of a robots.txt file on a CDN that simply allows everything.

 

User-agent: *

 

Disallow:

 

Alert! Retain similar file structure

It is also important to note that you should keep a similar file structure when migrating to a CDN. Otherwise, this can cause complications with your images and Google indexing.

 

For example, here is perhaps how your path looked before a CDN.

 

http://www.yoursite.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/image1.png

 

This is how it should look afterwards.

 

cdn.yoursite.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/image1.png

 

This will ensure that Google, along with a proper canonical header in place, will index your images correctly and you will retain all the traffic in Google image search.

 

2. A CDN is expensive

 

False!

Some CDN’s are available for $0.04/GB. Some providers use a pay-as-you go system, while others have a monthly payment. No matter which one you choose, CDNs are a lot more affordable than they used to be.

 

cheap cdn

To give you an example of how affordable they are, I have a site with a little over 60,000 visitors per month and I am paying $3.45 a month for a CDN. This will vary based upon your bandwidth, but if a majority of your site is simply normal traffic, you might end up paying less than you would for a cup of coffee at Starbucks.

3. A CDN is hard to set up

False!

A CDN can be complicated to wrap your head around, especially if you are just now learning what one is. However, there is a lot of information available out there to help you implement a CDN. Some CDN providers even have their own WordPress plugins, and integrations for almost every other platform out there, too such as Magento, Joomla, Drupal, Laravel, and Ruby.

When in doubt, ask.

 

You are paying for the CDN service, so never feel bad about asking your provider for help.

Summary

Hopefully, you now have a better understanding of how a CDN works and how it relates to SEO and SERPs. If set up correctly, a CDN can be an easy and cost effective way to speed up your website and get your content and images indexed faster.

 
 
 

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Here’s How to Transform Frontline Staff from Conversion Killers to Valuable Assets

Posted by BeTopLocal

Here’s a scenario that may be all-too-familiar:

 

You’ve worked with your client to improve their SEO and optimize their pages for conversion. You’ve set up tracking software and done a great job of delivering qualified leads.

 

Then your client complains they still aren’t closing more deals.

 

What gives?

 

What if it’s not the tech part of the funnel letting you down? What if your problem is of the human variety?

 

“Hold up!” you’re thinking. “Not my problem!”

 

Digital agencies often don’t think of “interfering” with in-house operations (or don’t feel empowered to), and it’s easy to wipe your hands of the issue once your ad campaigns are in full swing.

 

But when you’ve spent thousands of dollars making the phone ring, you can’t sit by idly and allow your client to lose customers to busy phone lines or poor onboarding. If you do, you risk losing the client.

 

Online marketing doesn’t end with the “submit” button or a phone call. Frontline staff are CRITICAL to both your ad campaigns and your client’s success.

 

In this post, I’ll share the process we followed to make frontline staff an extension of our digital efforts and grow our client’s new patient booking rate to 61%.

 

Step 1: Earn staff buy-in by solving their problems

Step 1

Buy-in is tricky. You’re an outsider trying to introduce change into a company that’s been doing things “their way” for years.

 

You need to overcome this fear and get staff to buy into your new goals and marketing plans. Once they do, they’ll be an unstoppable part of your onboarding process.

 

But how?

 

First, interview frontline staff, and make it about helping them vs. instructing them.

 

Advice from an outsider is seldom welcome, so it’s your job to get to know the staff by asking them three simple questions:

 
    • What is the most frustrating thing that happens on a call?
 
    • What do you wish people calling in already knew?
 
    • How could we make your life easier?
 

By showing staff you want to make their lives simpler and asking them for input, you build credibility and rapport with them while making them feel like you’re on their team. What’s more, you learn about the information customers currently lack when they call in, which is information you can give them on the landing page ahead of time.

Remember, receptionists are the first point of contact that a customer has with many businesses. They’re extremely important for shaping how new prospects view the entire company.

Second, consider offering an incentive for staff to close deals more quickly.

 

This is a tricky one, as booking clients is, technically, the job of frontline staff; but if there’s a way to recognize top performers, monetarily or otherwise, this can become another powerful way to get staff in on the deal.

 

An incentive could be anything from an office lunch on Friday if more than X number of appointments are successfully scheduled in a week or a gift card if scheduling rates increase by a certain percentage to vacations, TVs, etc. for top performers.

A quick example

One of our clients, a small, local clinic in Utah, was enjoying an influx of quality leads after we launched our Facebook, AdWords, and Pandora ad campaigns. However, long wait times resulted in lost prospects.

 

To remedy this, we sat down with the staff to learn about their pain points and showed them the ads we were running, then asked them what was missing. We wanted them to have a voice in the changes being made and to know how valuable they were in the onboarding process.

Their feedback was surprising.

Our client was also able to offer a $5-10 incentive for every appointment booked. This incentive motivated receptionists to answer calls and emails as soon as they came in, even on weekends, and reduce calls placed on hold or sent to voicemail.

 

Once you remove all barriers to staff buy-in, your marketing campaign can really take off. In this case, our client was able to book 203 new leads per month on the strength of staff enthusiasm.

 

Step 2: Use analytics to diagnose weak points in the funnel

Step 2

Once the staff is onboard, it’s time to dig up some granular results that will help them refine their processes and eliminate the obstacles in the way.

 

That means tracking and recording calls so that you can provide hard-hitting feedback for your client. The key here is to record calls and take the right lessons away from what you learn.

 

Get a tool to record phone calls

There are dozens of different platforms for call tracking out there, and most are quite affordable (usually $3-5 per line per month plus a small fee per minute). We wound up choosing CallTrackingMetrics to record calls for its affordability and reliability.

 

Make sure the staff knows they are being recorded, and that you’ll use the information learned from the calls to make their lives easier.

 

Including a standard “this call may be recorded for quality control” message on calls is also good practice so that you don’t violate callers’ privacy. (This is not necessary in every state; you can see a list of the applicable rules here.)

Get a tool to trace calls back to digital sources

After evaluating several tools, none did what we needed, so we designed a custom WordPress tracking plugin solution (which you can download for free) to help us attribute converting calls to channels.

 

This also enables you to see with clarity where poor leads are coming from so you can either improve your landing pages and conversion funnel or keep those leads from coming in at all.

 

These tools gave us the means to analyze the clinic’s onboarding techniques and calculate the cost per lead (CPL) and ROI of our advertising channels.

 

Listen to incoming calls to identify common causes of drop-offs

Listen for…

 
    • Questions you can proactively answer
 
    • Questions staff try to answer, but shouldn’t
 
    • Difficult prospects, and what made them difficult
 

Track these carefully, then take them back to frontline staff to get their insights and opinions. This is not a time to be accusatory, but to talk through ways to combat common problems.

 

When you have a clear picture of what your reception staff deal with, you can collaborate with them to turn their weaknesses into strengths, whether on your end in content, or on their end in the way they answer or divert client questions (which we’ll cover in the next step).

 

Step 3: Improve your ‘time-to-value’ ratio

Step 3

The main goal of your reception staff should be to get customers off the phone and into the office (or to the next step of the funnel).

You can support this goal by using your landing pages to prevent bottlenecks, as well as having strategies in place that help staff book appointments and navigate difficult situations.

 

A quick example

One of our clients had a problem that’s common to most businesses: Patients wanted all of their questions answered over the phone by front-end staff who weren’t qualified or equipped to answer them.

 

That meant more time on-call. More calls on hold. And more potential patients hanging up, tired of waiting.

 

We addressed this issue by first solving whatever bottlenecks we could with landing page content:

 
    • We made sure our landing pages answered any FAQs we might have missed so that the receptionists wouldn’t be answering them so often
 
    • Second, we worked with the front staff to come up with a very specific strategy and goal for each call, and we provided examples that they could draw from. (Note: This was not a script. It’s far more important that your staff understand your “closing strategy.” In our case, this was walking reception staff through best-practices that would get new patients to make an appointment.)
 

To tackle this in a practical way, we worked with frontline staff to help them generate a list of guidelines that not only worked but that they believed in.

 

We guided the process but gave them ownership over the guidelines.

 

Here’s what we included in our strategy:

 

Empathy: Make a connection with your caller

It takes less than three seconds to make a good impression, but only one bad experience to drive a new caller away. Knowing this, we drew on best-practice advice for business telephone etiquette and collaborated with staff to come up with our main objectives:

 
    • Answer calls promptly and professionally
 
    • Make a good first impression
 
    • Show you care
 
    • Build confidence
 
    • Be courteous and helpful, even when redirecting calls
 

To do this, we listened to successful calls and noted what made the best frontline staff successful. How did they answer questions? What were their greetings?

 

You can do the same, then use this information to draft basic scripts for greetings, redirects, and answering common questions.

 

Authority: Have clear priorities and achievable goals

Medical clinics have a lot in common with other B2C businesses in that most questions can’t be answered over the phone. Receptionists often aren’t qualified to speak on behalf of the staff members who are experienced in solving the particular problems that callers have.

The best response to most customer questions is, “That’s a great question for_________. Let’s get an appointment/consultation scheduled so s/he can answer it.”

 

To set up our goals, we took cues from resources like these Receptionist KPIs and combined them with the personal experiences our client brought to the table.

 

Our reception staff goals were:

 
    • Ask questions and track responses
 
    • Make onboarding painless
 
    • Show empathy and compassion
 
    • Give hope to callers
 
    • Offer accurate information
 
    • Don’t answer questions you’re not qualified to answer
 
    • Schedule an appointment
 

Response: Have a strategy for dealing with difficult callers

You lose most of your callers during high stress periods, especially if it makes new callers wait for long periods of time.

 

When difficult callers tie up your phone lines or you experience an influx of new callers and you have to manage multiple lines, you risk losing new callers that grow frustrated with waiting.

 

Our strategies for dealing with difficult callers:

 
    • Stay polite and courteous. Say your greeting, offer your name and ask for the caller’s name.
 
    • Avoid saying anything that might upset the caller. Offer them reassurances instead.
 
    • Tell the caller that you understand their frustration and want to help them.
 
    • Stay calm. Remaining calm will calm the caller down too.
 
    • Keep your conversation positive and diplomatic
 
    • Show that you’re willing to help them resolve the conflict they’re experiencing
 
    • Be empathetic. Think like the caller and understand that their problem is important.
 

Our strategies for managing multiple lines:

 
    • Prioritize calls in the order they come in
 
    • If a second call comes in and you need to put a caller on hold, get permission to do so
 
    • Solve simple problems for the new caller if possible (e.g., a transfer request) to free up the line
 
    • If the second caller also needs your help, ask them to hold while you finish with the first caller
 
    • Don’t make callers on hold feel neglected. Check in with them periodically if your first call takes a long time to resolve.
 
    • If possible, have a system in place so that you don’t have to place callers on hold at all (e.g., transfer the call to another staff member or an automated attendant)
 
    • Keep a pen and paper handy. Take notes whenever necessary.
 

Frontline staff are a critical part of the funnel. With the right approach, their work can be optimized.

 

You might not think it’s your prerogative as an agency to train reception staff, but this is an opportunity to bring the principles of online conversions to the offline staff and unify the client’s entire team to get better results for everyone.

 
 

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