Everything You Need to Know About the Helpful Content Update

When you enter a search in Google, your expectations are to quickly find a link that answers the questions you have.

Unfortunately, many websites write content for search engine optimization, not human interaction. This means that it’s likely you’ll click on a link that baits you with false, useless, or minimal information.

Your first click when searching for answers should be your last, and that’s what the latest Google update aims to tackle.

Let’s dig deeper into the Helpful Content Update, what it is, what it penalizes, and how you can prevent your site from tanking when the official update rolls out.

What is the Helpful Content Update?

The Helpful. Content Update is Google’s latest step toward making search a more human experience.

The update rolled out on August 25th, and will continue to roll out in the United States over the next few weeks.

The goal of this latest update is to push out content “made for SEO” and put the spotlight on content that is created for human readers.

SEO-forced content will be downgraded and could lead to substantial problems for a site (which we’ll get into later).

What is Helpful Content?

Helpful content is tailored towards the human audience and not for machines on a search engine.

According to the announcement from Google, it deems content helpful if it meets the following standards:

  • Clear demonstration of first-hand experience in your field
  • It has a clear purpose and focus (Not just a keyword stuffed piece)
  • Your audience could use your content as the end-all source for any question they would have on your subject
  • Does not use automation to create content about several different topics in your field
  • Flows naturally and doesn’t adhere to a specific word count. Google doesn’t check those anyway!

What Happens if Your Content Doesn’t Meet Google Standards?

Meeting Google standards for ranking is key to your site’s success. However, Google rarely lets us know when rollouts are on their way. Thus, when an update rolls out, it’s always a gamble regarding how it impacts a website.

One of the best things about The Helpful Content Update is that we’ve gotten a heads-up and have time to adjust and respond.

This is important because the Helpful Content Update doesn’t just penalize pages for unhelpful content, it downgrades entire sites.

If your site is impacted by this upgrade, it could take months of recovery and content creation to get yourself back in an authoritative search position.

The scary thing about this update is that it examines your entire site. Therefore, even if you’ve focused on human-centric writing recently but have older, “unhelpful” content from content strategies of the past on your site, you could still find yourself penalized and downgraded.

What Steps Can You Take to Make Sure Your Content is Useful?

So, the consequences of poor quality content are pretty steep. There’s no getting around it. However, the best thing you can do for your site is to start fresh with your content strategy and put the human audience first.

Here are some of the best ways you can comply with the Helpful Content Update.

Optimize and Delete

If you find that your site has been downgraded, see this penalty as an opportunity to take your site’s content and optimize it to perfection.

Go through your content and delete anything that hasn’t been clicked on in years or is work you know isn’t salvageable via optimization. This content only clutters your site and makes it harder for it to climb back to the top.

When it comes to content you can save, review it, find where you can humanize its tone, expand its ideas, and add quality that makes it so readers walk away feeling like they’ve learned something from you.

Research Audience Needs

Prior to writing content, take time to research your audience. You need each piece of content to be useful to your audience. Thus, finding out current concerns, excitement, or pain points about your industry and product can be extremely useful.

Rather than writing a ton of content on different topics and hoping it sticks with your audience, performing some serious audience research can help you find your voice amongst the crowd.

Staying on top of your audience lets you stand out with relevant, helpful content that answers important questions with a purpose.

Find Your Unique Angle

One of the best ways to humanize your content and create it for your audience is to give yourself an edge that proves you are the expert on a given subject.

Personal anecdotes and examples not only prove your experience in your industry but they can also make strides with customers eager to create an emotional connection with a brand.

Bringing your own spin on a topic not only makes it more relatable, but it also adds a breath of fresh air to the conversation.

Trust us when we say that a reader is more likely to stay with a fresh take on a topic than something that’s been rehashed on several other sites before yours.

Go Beyond the Lengthy Summaries

It’s easy to summarize what another writer has created and call it a day. However, with this latest update, if your content doesn’t bring anything unique to the table, it’s not going to be useful.

While you can still summarize the content and be helpful, make sure that you are also focusing on the questions your audience is asking and add these answers to the summarized content.

This practice lets you make your content a one-stop-shop for key topics and ideas in your industry. It also lets you stand out from other similar blogs that only stick to summarizations as their main content.

Bring a Pulse to Your Content

As tempting as it can be to rephrase something using automation, it’s going to bring down your rankings quickly.

Automated content rarely reads with any human emotion and won’t connect with your audience.

Use your breathing content team to its greatest potential. Writing human to human helps personalize content, makes readers comfortable, and eventually leads to conversions and long-term loyalty.

How Can Atlantic Digital Marketing Help?

Atlantic Digital Marketing is an SEO company that is ready to help our clients face the Helpful Content Update head-on.

We understand that creating creative, engaging content can be difficult for a full-time business owner. That’s why we offer content services that can help you produce content that humans and search engines can celebrate.

Our goal has always been to create content that engages audiences and puts them at ease with our industry experience and audience-first approach.

Whether your industry focuses on skincare products or supply chain management, Atlantic Digital Marketing can help you keep your rankings high.

If your site is stricken down by this update, we can also help in that area. We will take the time to review your content portfolio, delete unhelpful content, and add quality to content that has true potential.

Survive This Update and More With Atlantic Digital Marketing

If you’re nervous about the state of your site’s content, you’re not alone. Although the update has yet to completely roll out, there is always the chance your site’s rankings could stumble due to past poor quality content.

Fortunately, the team at Atlantic Digital Marketing is here to help through our content and SEO services. Contact us today to learn more and schedule your free consultation with a member of our team.

keyword research company atlanta

Ways to Make Your Keyword Research Count

Ways to Make Your Keyword Research Count

If you’re new to search engine optimization, then you’ve probably heard the term “keyword research” thrown around but don’t know the true value of the practice.

Keyword research is essential to SEO and can boost your site rankings to the first page when the right practices are taken.

What is Keyword Research?

Keyword research is the process of uncovering search terms and phrases people use when searching for answers in Google or other search engines.

Knowing what specifically audiences are searching for helps site managers and brands target content, PPC ads and social media towards what audiences actually want; in many cases, leading to a sale.

How Does Keyword Research Help Your SEO?

Keyword research is hard work and is something you’ll always have to keep tabs on if you want your SEO to excel.

Fortunately, great keyword research practices pay off and can bring the following benefit to your website:

  • Your audience builds trust with your brand because you consistently pop up in their search results
  • Your site gains organic clicks that could lead to conversions and/or positive audience engagement
  • Increased site visits and conversions open Google’s eyes to your industry influence. Therefore, great keyword research boosts your online authority.
  • Increased authority leads to increased appearances on relevant search results for the clients your brand wants to sell to.

6 Ways to Make Your Keyword Research Count

Keyword research has a massive influence on your SEO’s success. However, it’s not something that happens by accident.

Making your keyword research count is a concentrated effort that combines these six SEO tips.

1. Invest in Keyword Research Tools

If you’re starting keyword research from scratch, investing in some keyword research tools can save you time and help you understand the types of keywords your content needs to rank for. 

Most keyword research tools on the market will display the current trending keywords related to your target keywords, the search volume and difficulty of keywords, and how your site currently ranks for certain keywords.

They’re invaluable resources that can help you leap forward in your efforts, especially at the start. 

Some of the best keyword research tools to look into are:

  • SEMRush
  • Ahrefs
  • Keywords Everywhere
  • Google Keyword Planner
  • Moz
  • KWFinder

2. Think Like Your Audience, Match Their Intent

You want your keywords and targeted phrases to connect with your target audience. Before starting initial keyword research, perform some audience research that reveals exactly what people searching your industry are looking for.

Once you know what problems your audience has, how your services or products can solve them, and what the latest “it” topic is in your field, it’ll be easier to map out how to approach keyword research in the most effective way possible.

This is one area where many agencies fall short though it is a critical step to results that equate to business growth. The keyword tools are very effective, though they are only as good as the data input. Working with an agency that always makes this extra step can give you the edge over the competition and increase qualified leads.

3. Focus on Local Keywords

When you’re starting keyword research, it’s awfully tempting to kick off your plan with a bang and reach for those national keyword results.

Yes, those are commendable efforts, but the truth is that there are likely national brands out there who have been practicing SEO for decades and taking market share away from those larger brands will take time. Along the way, it is critical to take advantage of short-term gains that add up to impactful growth.

National audiences are a large target, and it requires time to build consumer trust. So, assuming you have a local audience, it’s best to keep the national keywords as a long-term strategy and put your main focus on locally based keywords to start. 

You want to market your business where your audience lives. So, if you’re a Mexican restaurant in Tempe, Arizona, keywords like “Mexican restaurant in Tempe” or “Mexican restaurant near ASU” would be beneficial search targets that actually bring in qualified leads.

4. Keep Volume in Mind

Sometimes writing industry-specific keywords may be too specific and leave your keyword research going nowhere.

Much like matching your audience’s intent, make sure that the keywords you aim for are phrases that people are actually typing in search.

“East-asian-dining-establishment” will be searched far less than “Asian Restaurant Near Me” searches in a local area.

Find out what vernacular people are using to search in your industry and base your research and content off of those terms.

5. Check Out the Competition

Performing your own research is a great move, but solo research alone won’t always get you ahead of the game.

Sometimes your competitors have inside information about a product or service or have just been in the SEO game longer than you.

If you find yourself getting outranked by the competition, it never hurts to check in on the keywords they’re ranking for and subtly tweak your original content to get yourself back in the local running.

6. Continuous Research 

Audience interest is a fickle thing, making the value of keywords just as complex.

Just because your rank is good for one keyword now, doesn’t mean it’s going to be valuable within the next year or even month. As audience interests shift, so does the value of industry keywords.

You don’t want your SEO efforts to stall out in neutral. So, researching your keywords every few months can help you refresh your strategy and update content where necessary.

How Do You Know Your Research Is Working?

One of the easiest ways to tell if your keyword research is working is through monthly analytic checks of the keywords you rank for, how targeted pages are performing, and overall site visits for a specific amount of time.

If you see your numbers rising, your research is on the right track. Yet, if you’re facing a constant plateau or drop drastically, it’s time to get with your SEO team and find a new way to target your keywords.

Some more subtle ways that indicate keyword research success are:

  • Increases in backlinks to your site
  • Increased referrals from other websites to your site
  • Social media buzz
  • Brand mentions around the internet
  • Increased traffic and conversions

How Can a Digital Marketing Agency Help?

Specializing in keyword research goes beyond the seven tips we’ve provided above. In fact, keyword research can even be a full-time job (just look at the SEO industry)!

It can be difficult for a business owner to toy around with keywords, content, and reviewing analytics, while juggling their daily operational responsibilities.

A digital marketing agency like Atlantic Digital Marketing can alleviate SEO stress and help your business start its keyword research initiative.

We are a premier SEO service agency and have helped businesses from many industries rank for target keywords.

Contact us today to schedule your free consultation with our digital marketing experts.

7 Essential Principles for Optimizing Your Website for Search

[feat-text]If you’re a healthcare provider looking for concrete ways to improve your website and rank at the top of Google, this article is for you. Explore our seven principles for building a fast, findable, high-ranking site in line with the latest SEO best practices.[/feat-text]

In 2021, a consistent trend we’ve seen is healthcare organizations investing in their digital presence. Not surprisingly, a new or updated website is usually a top priority. It’s your hub, welcome mat, traffic generator, and more. What we tell clients is that design and fancy functionality are just part of the puzzle. It’s not enough to have a good-looking website.

And it’s a critical error to leave search engine optimization (SEO) until the end or as an afterthought.

Trust us on this one. If you’re a healthcare organization considering a new website now or in 2022, make sure to put in foundational SEO as soon as possible. This is the surest way to rank for the keywords that generate more high-quality leads in the long run.


7 Essential Principles for Optimizing Your Website for Search

That said, website SEO is a broad topic with lots of nuances. To help clarify what we mean by “putting foundational SEO in place,” think of your website as a plot of land. If you’re going to develop that land, build houses and condos on it, you’ll need to map out the best layout for optimal land use; you’ll need to plan for plumbing, electrical, HVAC, etc., in a way that allows for now-construction and future expansion. And so on.

It’s a crude example, but it illustrates the point well. A website’s SEO will depend on its structure, site architecture, and URL hierarchy—foundational SEO that ensures that you can rank for target keywords and can scale your website with growth in the future. As such, your website should follow these seven principles of site architecture:

1. Organized

The recipe for foundational technical SEO has a few ingredients. As you organize your own site, remember that every piece of content has a place. Typically, that content is organized under your main navigation (main menu). That main menu should tell a story that gives website visitors exactly what they will get at a glance.

That menu is an outward representation of the way you structure and organize your site pages. You’ll want to group page types so they’re easy to navigate wherever a person is on the site. Typically, these groupings are hierarchical (your parent “Services” page might have subpages for specific service categories, for example).

As a general rule, keep page groupings and site structure as simple as possible for easier navigation and site crawlability. And make sure to write distinct meta descriptions, titles, tags, and heading tags for each of these pages (another key ingredient of technical SEO and overall site organization).

2. Discoverable

There are a couple of aspects of discoverability to consider. First of all, what good is your big, beautiful services page, or new blog post, if a visitor to your website can’t find it? “You don’t want your users going five clicks deep just to find key information.”

So, the first question you need to address from a discoverability standpoint is, can people get to your most important pages in three clicks or fewer, no matter their entry point?

Another aspect of discoverability is from the search engine standpoint. Can Google and other search engines discover, find, and crawl all of your site’s pages? One key step you can take is to add the Sitemap & Robots.txt file. Robots.txt and sitemap.xml are essential files that can help search engines better understand your particular website and index it correctly. For this reason, robots.txt and XML sitemaps go hand in hand.

3. Unique

Okay, your site is organized and discoverable. Now it’s time to address user experience (UX) and design, which can help your site in several ways. This is where UX and design come into play. You don’t want to look like all your competitors. You want to have something that stands out as memorable.

Unique websites originate from a clear sense of identity. Focus on who you are and who you help. This should inform your messaging, aesthetic, voice, tone, and other things that will make you unique. No duplicate content! Make sure to trim down duplicate content and create redirects where needed. If your website doesn’t feel unique, you’re probably not communicating what you do effectively.

Perhaps that’s something your team needs to revisit and formalize.

4. Linkable

People link to other websites when they want to point readers to an authoritative source. Likewise, people will link to your website when they feel that they’ve found reliable information that brings value to their own audience. Make sure you have natural linking opportunities within your website, and you have content worth linking to through your link-building campaigns.

You’ll want to approach linkability from a few different angles:

  • Build out excellent content that brings value to your audience. Do your pages have the authoritative information that people want to link to from their own sites?
  • Evaluate pages with no internal links and a few external links. Add internal links to pages that are missing them and remove external links from service pages.
  • Launch link building campaigns to expand your backlink portfolio. The more that authoritative websites link back to your own, the better your site’s SEO.

5. Consistent

You want continuity in terms of theme, structure, and page types throughout all sites of a given brand (or brands). Consistency ensures that your website looks coherent and works harmoniously across all its different elements, such as headers, footers, sidebars, and navigation bars.

It also:

  • Gives your users a more recognizable and memorable experience
  • Enables users to carry out tasks more quickly and efficiently
  • Improves usability and learnability of your website
  • Eliminates pain points and difficult navigation
  • Saves money and time on design

“Make sure that your content is consistent. Consistent branding, consistent messaging, and consistent theme.”

6. Valuable

We mentioned the importance of bringing value in the linkability section above. Bringing value has broader SEO benefits for your site. The number one rule is to make sure every page delivers some value. Get rid of all those pages that aren’t delivering value for you.

So, do your site visitors get something from your site (instead of only being sold something?). Value might be:

  • Educational content that helps them make an informed decision about their healthcare
  • Price and insurance information that helps them evaluate costs
  • Testimonials and case studies
  • New research and reporting on important medical topics

Of course, there are other ways to add value to your pages. You can put content in a format that follows UX best practices, for one. When you optimize current pages for a better UX, you can not only reduce bounce rates, but help users read the content better. Certain page formats, such as adding headers and bullet points to break up pages, can also help you rank for featured snippets.

As you revisit existing services pages and blog posts, look for opportunities to take certain topics deeper to bring more value to people and search engines. As always, make sure you’re targeting the right audience and keywords.

7. Fast

The Page Experience update from Google has made it essential for websites to be optimized for speed and mobile. There are a LOT of ways to make your site faster. Fundamentally, you’ll want to set up your website from the beginning to maximize page speed. When determining your site structure, for example, evaluate the technical and hosting foundation (these are more difficult to address later on).

Here are some common speed-killers for websites:

  • WYSIWYG themes
  • Poor hosting
  • Too many third-party scripts
  • Too many plugins
  • No or inadequate caching
  • Unoptimized images

Our tips for creating faster websites? Start by “clearing out the weeds,” so to speak. Audit and clean up your Google Tag Manager (GTM) and other third-party scripts. Update what plugins you do have, remove the unnecessary ones, and disable your current site speed plugins. And optimize the format, file size, load order of your images!

With that low-hanging fruit out of the way, here are a few more technical site-speed optimizations:

  • Revisit your heatmap tracking, a common culprit
  • Check to see if your PHP is out of date
  • Setup a content delivery network (CDN)


In the End, Your Site is Only As Good as Its SEO

It’s true. While the seven principles outlined here happen to be SEO-related, they really affect all aspects of your website. Attention to these seven essential principles will help healthcare consumers trying to find a great provider. It will help you build credibility and trust with healthcare consumers, affiliates, partners, and so on. It will let patients know that they can trust you and your site, while improving the overall experience with your brand.

Indeed, a strong SEO foundation has major benefits for websites that can lead to long-term exponential growth. This is why we’re encouraging all of our healthcare clients to make both SEO and web strategy a core part of their digital marketing strategies.

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Guide to SEO Best Practices for Senior Care

[feat-text]Let’s take an in-depth look at the search engine optimization (SEO) best practices essential for senior care organizations who want to increase their visibility online. I’ve sourced these tips from our agency’s work with leading multi-locations senior care groups.[/feat-text]

Let’s put things into context. The senior care vertical is poised to explode in the coming years. More than eight million seniors receive care from some kind of senior care service (nursing home, residential, etc.) annually. Research from the Urban Institute indicates that the number of Americans aged 65 years and older will double over the next two decades.

This makes for a large pool of seniors and family members looking online for care options. It’s a crowded and competitive space. Standing out in Google search experiences requires close attention to a few foundational SEO best practices, as follows.


Lay Your Foundation: Technical SEO

Before you invest considerable resources into activities like content creation, link building, or review solicitation, you need to ensure your website adheres to the technical requirements outlined by major search engines. They need to understand your website’s architecture, crawl, and index your web pages. Failure to optimize your technical SEO will result in pages that never hit the search engine results page.

Here’s a brief checklist to get you started:

  • Increase your website’s loading speed—Google and users hate slow websites
  • Ensure your website is mobile-friendly.
  • Build a site structure that’s easy for Google to crawl and index
  • Fix crawl errors
  • Optimize your crawl rate
  • Use clean search engine friendly URLs
  • Add relevant internal links to connect relevant pages
  • Replace broken links and resources
  • Implement dynamic schema markup
  • Remove duplicate content
  • Set up 301 redirects

It’s easy for minor errors to occur, and over time, they can pile up and make a negative impact on your search rankings.

Each month, we monitor and optimize 100s of technical SEO factors to make it easier for our senior care clients to rank for competitive keywords. Without a solid technical foundation, other SEO tactics become more challenging and won’t yield the same result.


Make Local SEO a Priority

For most families, senior care is a local decision. People want to be close to their families, generally speaking. They want their aging family members to be close by, too. Whether you’re a multi-location senior care group or an individual practice, your local SEO strategy will be an important means for connecting with prospects.

Develop a Localized Keyword Strategy

Keywords are the language that people use to look online for senior care. They’re the stuff search engines use to help people find what they need online. To build your localized keyword strategy, you’ll need to define the specific list of keywords you want to rank for, monitor, and measure performance against.

Broadly speaking, your keyword strategy will break down into three parts:

  • Goals. Do you want to rank your website in the top three results for a particular search phrase? Do you want to increase keyword rankings for a dedicated service page, such as “hospice care atlanta”?
  • Research. Learn how the members of your target decision-making unit (DMU) find senior care solutions online. As your ideal DMU moves through the process of finding senior care, what kind of questions do they have? What keywords do they use to search for answers?

With this information in hand, you can put together your keyword list. We recommend focusing on two types of keywords, in particular:

  • Location-based: Longer keyword phrases that include location identifiers, such as postal code, city name, and so on. In large cities, you may want to rank for specific neighborhoods. For example, “senior hospice medicare atlanta” versus “senior living communities near buckhead.”
  • High-intent, solution-aware: The language of a person who already knows the outcome they want, but not necessarily the senior care service that will get them there. For example, “dementia care atlanta,” or “after stroke care 92115.”

Both higher intent and location-based keywords are particularly useful for multi-location senior care practices. However, they’re only two parts of a broader keyword strategy. After you increase rankings and visibility for local high-intent keywords, you can then target more problem-aware keywords that are used when people start to research their senior care needs.

Create Localized Web Pages

Create a unique website page for each location within your senior care group. This location page will help each location rank for location-based searches—your Brooklyn location for people in New York, for example, or your La Mesa facility for people in San Diego.

When building these dedicated location pages, give each location page a distinct URL that includes location information and more than 500 words of content. Use location-specific keyword combinations, too, like describing nearby destinations like parks or landmarks. Finally, tie these location pages to their corresponding listings on Google My Business and elsewhere.

The idea is to rank content for location-based searches. You want to make sure, for instance, that your hospice group’s Kansas City location ranks on the first page for people searching Google for hospice care in that location.

When building these dedicated location pages, incorporate your local keyword strategy by using location-specific keyword combinations throughout. Publish valuable information to your target audience, including the FAQs they might have (insurance, cost, etc.). Where possible, develop a template that makes it easier to roll out pages for new locations as they’re added to your group or network.


Take a Full-Funnel Approach to SEO

Depending on your particular senior care space, people are looking for options right now (in response to an acute issue, for example) or those with longer consideration phases (selecting a senior living community, for example). Ideally, your full-funnel SEO strategy has you ranking content for all of the above (and everything in between).

That said, you’ll want to tailor your target keywords and content to the different stages of the funnel:

Problem Aware: At this stage, a person knows they have an issue, but they’re unaware of potential solutions. They might not even be actively seeking a solution at all. This is an opportunity to educate your target audience and articulate their problem in clear, authoritative terms.

Solution Aware: This person is in the process of evaluating different solutions to their problem. At this stage, you’ll want to demonstrate why your particular senior care service is a viable solution to their problem.

Product Aware: The product-aware consumer needs convincing that one solution is better than another. Create content that summarizes your solution concisely, makes the benefits real (using a testimonial, for instance), and disarms or overcomes any objections.

Most Aware: At this stage, your consumer likely knows and trusts your senior care brand. Now is the time to get them over the finish line with a good offer—something that incentivizes them to contact you.

Create Authoritative Content About Senior Care Topics

Beyond your primary website site pages (homepage, services, etc.), you’ll want to put out a steady flow of authoritative, keyword-rich, high-value content that aligns with those stages of the buyer’s journey. Map this content to the stages in the funnel we covered above and related target keywords.

Keep your ideal Decision-Making Unit (DMU) in mind, too. The decision-making unit (DMU) varies based on the type of senior care. Sometimes, an adult son or daughter is the primary decision-maker. In other situations, it’s the senior themselves that’s making the final purchase decisions.


Manage Your Digital Reputation

Too many senior care providers overlook their digital reputation. How your business appears in places like Google, Yelp, and other digital search experiences affects SEO. This includes the volume and quality of reviews left on each of your listings. Take an inventory of the digital profiles, sites, channels, and listings you already have. Where do your ideal patients go to read and leave reviews for your senior care brand?

Start with a Solid Google My Business Listing

At the very least, get a GMB listing in good standing for each of your locations. Keep each listing up to date with accurate NAP, business categories, and photos, and so on. GMB listings factor significantly in local search experiences. Remember, senior care is a highly local matter. A billion+ people use Google Maps every month. Make sure you update:

  • Hours of operation, address, and contact information
  • Links to websites and appointment scheduling
  • Reviews and ratings—don’t forget to monitor and respond to feedback
  • FAQs about your senior care services, insurance, and so on
  • Photos of the senior care facility and staff
  • Announcements and promotions
  • Updates about COVID-19 protocols

Generate Regular Reviews

Reviews are critical in the senior care space. People are averse to senior care brands with poor reviews or none at all—as are search engines. According to an NRC Health Study, “74.7% of patients want to see at least seven ratings before they’ll trust them.” Here are a few ways to get people to leave reviews:

  • Send out review invitations in your automated email messages, customer communications, and website
  • Train your staff to ask for a review
  • Automate your review program with vendors like BirdEye


Give Your Website the Attention it Deserves

Looking at the best practices I’ve already detailed here, it’s clear that most roads lead to your website. How does your site look, feel, and perform on various devices and platforms? Is it simple to navigate, find information, and contact you?

Things like navigation, page speed, accessibility are all part of the user experience (UX). Not only does good UX lead to better consumer experiences with your digital brand, but UX is a search engine ranking factor. Here are a few best practices to follow across your websites and pages:

  • Run your site through the Core Web Vitals report to get baseline stats and performance
  • Test your site on different devices and platforms
  • Minimize pop-ups and other distractions that interfere with what people need to do
  • Invest in a mobile-friendly and responsive site design
  • Consolidate and simplify your site structure; avoid redundant pages

Finally, Here are Three Case Studies in Senior Care SEO

I was going to close with some sweeping overture about senior care SEO. But my Flock is all about showing the proof in the pudding. So here are three case studies from our own client portfolio that have made successful use of the SEO best practices enumerated in this blog post.

King’s Bridge

From a business perspective, the King’s Bridge team had their hands full with handling resident turnover and keeping their units full. From a marketing perspective, their one-person in-house team was limited in terms of available bandwidth for even fundamental digital marketing activities. See how their team generated a 59 percent increase in organic sessions.

Home Care Assistance

At the outset of its engagement with Atlantic, the HCA team had a prime opportunity to reach a lot more hand-raisers for senior home care. What they needed from Atlantic was a way to target this audience earlier in the funnel to drive demand at the time of the precipitating life event (acute illness, a fall, etc.).


Abode needed to find a way to reach aggressive monthly goals for cost per lead and new patient admissions. This being the company’s first formal digital marketing initiative, Abode knew that they needed to partner with an experienced digital marketing agency with a proven track record.

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How Long Does it Take To See SEO Results?

[feat-text]Summary: It is tempting to think of digital content marketing as a linear process. Publish text and start getting organic traffic. But the search engine optimization game is not this straightforward. Fortune favors the patient, persistent marketer who is in it for the long haul.[/feat-text]

The web was a simpler business ten and twenty years ago. That’s a refrain frequently heard in search engine optimization (SEO) circles. It was easier to get a website to rank in the early 2000s because there were far fewer businesses on the web, hence less competition. Even ten years ago, it was easier to get a high ranking than now because SEO was not quite the refined process, and it was easy to stumble into top ranking from sheer luck. People knew Google brought traffic in 2010, but attracting search engine favor was not yet down to a science.

Now the bottom line from launch to rank on page one is typically six months at the minimum. Maybe even a year or more. That can be how long it takes for a website to get the best search traffic results, even if you’re doing everything perfectly! If you’re not doing everything perfectly, you may never receive top rankings, and it’s sometimes tough to say what you even did wrong.

Here, we’re going to provide a reality check for what to expect from an SEO strategy. We’re also hoping to warn you away from unscrupulous agencies that promise instant Google results in an unrealistic time frame. Sorry to disappoint everybody, but there is no magic bullet, snake oil, or shortcut to this process.


Defining an SEO Strategy

Let’s clarify the target of an SEO strategy: Your goal is to launch a website or improve an existing one, such that it is attracting an amount of monthly traffic through organic search results. Ideally, you want to rank at least somewhere in the top 10 on a search engine results page (SERP) for relevant terms related to your industry. And also, ideally, you want those search hits to turn into conversions (sales, subscriptions, etc.).

Depending on your business model and volume capacity, you may have some leniency in the amount of traffic needed. For example, industries like legal, high-end home design, or landscape architecture only need a few dozen conversions per month. On the other hand, some retail businesses need thousands per month.

Now to unpack an SEO strategy and assess the components so you better understand the scope of an SEO engagement:

The Plan

First, we need a plan. We’re going to corner the search engine market for your industry, whatever the specialty may be. We have to research the market landscape to determine how competitive it will be, assess the scope of the market, and determine who our target customer demographic may be. From there, we’ll dig into the specific tactics that will help you rank, like listing management, your website and technical SEO, content marketing, and link building.

Due Diligence and Competitive Research

Competition matters because online marketing is a crowded place. For established industries and markets, it can be incredibly challenging. In crowded urban markets, there may already be ten businesses just like yours. However, defining a truly unique selling proposition (USP) will help you find your place in the market and stand out—more on this below. Your USP can help guide your keyword strategy and connect you with searchers who are looking for services that only you can offer.

Gaining a thorough understanding of the competitive market will help you understand the search terms that are worth pursuing and the ones that aren’t worth your investment.

A Mobile-friendly Website

Next, you need a website (spoilers, huh?). You need a focused domain name and a site up to date on the latest Google-friendly practices. That includes developments Google has made in just the past few years: AMP (accelerated mobile pages), Core Web Vitals, E-A-T (expertise, trust, and authority) for certain topics, an up-to-date CMS (content management system, like WordPress), and more.

The logistics of your website determine your SEO success more now than ever. Google was patient in past decades with poorly-managed and out-of-date websites that still carried loads of content. In the new search market, Google prioritizes responsive, modern, mobile-friendly sites that load fast. A lot of your success hinges on the technical aspects. You can’t just dump 10K words of content onto any old HTML page and call it a day.

If your website is not technically optimized, you must fix that before moving on to creating content and building backlinks. Otherwise, those efforts will fail without a solid SEO foundation.

Your Content Strategy and SEO

You’re planning to rank for these keywords, so just post a blog with a few keywords, and you’re all set, right? Not so fast. You do need to create content quickly; this is true. But you also need to decide the shape and form of this content:

  • Is it better to have multiple pages on a topic or one big page?
  • Is covering this topic more suited to blog posts, landing pages, an on-site wiki, a podcast, embedded video media, or… ?
  • What content is actually helpful to our market, or is it just a lot of sales-talk hot air?
  • Is our content connecting with what our audience is looking for?
  • Should you target long-tail searches (infrequent niche search terms) or top searches (most frequent) or a mix of both?

Link Building

On top of all this, you want to develop a link building strategy. There are many ways to gain links, like sponsoring community events, giving interviews in regional publications, getting listed in business directories, or commenting on discussion boards like Reddit or Quora.

Another way is through guest posting on relevant sites that will provide links to your main site. Backlinks are important for Google authority ranking, which sends a signal to Google that this site has a good “vote of confidence” as a useful website. Building relationships with businesses and website masters, pitching content ideas, and creating the content all take a lot of time. Not only that, you’re at the mercy of others if they’ll even agree to link to your website.

Unfortunately, earning backlinks is a delicate dance where it’s easy to misstep. Fly-by-night SEO agencies may guarantee overnight backlinks from high-ranking sites, using black hat tactics. The catch is, Google did not become the #1 search engine by falling for dumb SEO tricks, so it will find and punish websites that use a toxic backlinking scheme. You do not want to end up on Google’s blacklist.

All of the above takes time to set up and execute, possibly several months even for a large team (and it requires ongoing maintenance). But some functions can be outsourced, for instance, such as guest posting or citation management.


Never Underestimate the Competition

As we mention, the web is a more mature platform in the 2020s, with homestead sites established for decades that have a lock on search results. IMDB has a lock on movie listings. WebMD will always be present in medical query SERPs. Social discussion sites like Reddit and Quora will pop up for the most obscure niche queries. And of course, there are hundreds of news blogs covering every topic.

You’re never “done” with SEO because it’s a 24/7 Cold War. This means that even if you use the greatest content marketing team, a competitor could have a comparable team. You might rank #1 for a keyword this month, only to drop to #3 next month because another site launched a campaign targeting that keyword or secured a backlink from a highly reputable publication.

It’s not a completely hopeless prospect, though. It just takes hard work and dedication while applying a strategy to compete. If you do climb up the search results, it’s because you had an advantage that gave you an edge, whether that was finding an under-served niche, claiming a new market, having better research data, or simply pumping out content nonstop.

Just look out for competitors with deep pockets. There is no end to how much money you can spend claiming organic traffic.


Developing Your Unique Selling Proposition

A USP is a “unique selling proposition.” It’s the thing that makes your business stand out and helps you claim a niche in search results. Of course, it’s going to be hard or even impossible to start out with a new site and rank highly for broad, established keywords. But what if we add the unique dimension?

  • There’s plenty of business tax accountants, but your firm specializes in the emerging cryptocurrency market.
  • There’s plenty of health care services, but yours has claimed the emerging CBD cannabinoid medical niche in legalized states.
  • There’s plenty of STEM universities, but yours offers comprehensive training in the cutting edge of artificial intelligence research.
  • There’s plenty of kitchen cabinet installers, but yours specializes in modern shaker-style cabinets that are all the rage.

Whatever your gimmick, you should have a USP that encapsulates it and then focus your content marketing on that niche. You can come up with a USP in almost any industry if you look at what it’s selling, what people are searching for, and the gap between the two. “Find a need and fill it” is a time-tested axiom of business. Sometimes the best inspirations come from our own experiences. There are many entrepreneurs out there who wanted something, couldn’t get it and started a business providing that.

This applies to SEO because targeting smaller sections of an industry cuts down the competition factor. The broad general search terms will often be too competitive to bother with, but a small market niche can become your mainstay while you work on broadening your USP to gain a bigger market.


SEO: The Never-Ending Battle

The good news about digital content marketing is that once you have an established base of content bringing in regular traffic, after years of toil, you can count on having an established online presence that attracts searchers. But you can not just rest on your laurels! Maintaining an online SEO presence requires ongoing maintenance. For a top-ranking site to stay in the top ranks, you have to be vigilant in areas such as:

  • Monitoring the competition and staying caught up.
  • Watching for new trends and staying current with the market.
  • Auditing the site regularly to keep the technical end robust.
  • Following Google updates and developments and changing your strategy to adapt.
  • Keeping your backlink portfolio fresh and reclaiming dead links.

Like any part of business, you do better minding the store rather than neglecting it. But if you want a one-shot, short-term effort to drive traffic quickly, you might want to investigate pay-per-click (PPC) advertising. Content marketing is a far more subtle art, playing the long game for long-term results.

Google I/O Developer Conference 2021: The Future of Conversational Search

[feat-text]Summary: We peek behind the scenes at Google’s latest demos at its I/O Developer Conference. By analyzing their latest technology breakthroughs, we can derive an educated guess at where the future of search will be, and apply that to digital marketing.[/feat-text]

If you want to cut to the chase and find out what to do about digital content marketing immediately, it’s quite simple. Ringo Starr’s hit song said it all: “Act Naturally.”

The big picture for Google search is that it wants to understand and respond adequately to natural, normal, everyday human conversation. Google doesn’t want users to have to type in specific queries with carefully-chosen keywords. Google wants you to be able to ask it anything the way you’d ask any person standing next to you. It wants to be human-like as possible. Google often states their Search mission statement as “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible.”

What this means for your content, is that you don’t need to do anything special for your content in order to rank highly. Just talk about the topic naturally, the way you would read in any magazine or newspaper article.

Even though we’re not quite there yet – true conversational AI is an ever-escaping horizon – Google is honing in on that target year by year, and so should we be adjusting digital content marketing efforts to be more in line with Google’s intent. But first, let’s unpack our new Artificial Intelligence toys.


Introducing Two New Google Technologies

The 2021 Google I/O Developer Conference included updates to its mobile Android operating system, updates to Workspaces to integrate Docs and other desktop office tools, and several other sundry bullet points relating to its many products. But the big news was two innovations that will impact Search:

  • LaMDA – “Language Model for Dialogue Applications” – To help bots better mimic human dialogue.
  • MUM – “Multitask Unified Model” – Gives Search AI more ability to understand complex search queries and discover intent (what you *really* wanted even if you were struggling to ask for it).

Neither of these are implemented in an official Google update yet. The point of a developer conference is to showcase upcoming innovations and especially to get all developers up to speed on new technologies and platforms.

On a side note, part of the MUM model project scope is to develop “multimodal models” of understanding queries and responding to them. This is so the perceived intent and response changes with the context of the medium, producing different interactions applied to text, audio, image, and video.

What Could This AI Model Look Like?

This stuff can get confusing for those who aren’t used to thinking in semantic, linguistic, and neurocognitive terms. Let’s stop here and try to define: What are we trying to do? The best example of an ideal level of human-computer interaction we can think of off the bat is the computer-human conversation from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Bear with us, it’s geeky sci-fi, but there are important lessons here.

Think about how you’re used Google and other technologies this past month, and then think about this interaction between the Hal 9000 and an astronaut in the movie. Notice the things that Hal does which our best computers still don’t do:

  • Initiates the conversation with a greeting
  • Reports “everything’s running smooth” without being prompted for a status report
  • Inquires about the human’s artwork and asks to see the drawings
  • Recognizes the sketches as portraits of other astronauts and compliments their rendering
  • Asks politely to “ask a personal question”
  • Expresses an almost emotional state of paranoia about the mission

Notwithstanding the eventual outcome of this fictional story, we do see where there is room for improvement in human-computer interaction, even given as far as we have come. Moreover, the computer in the movie is showing agency – it has its own drives, goals, ambitions, concerns, and desires. We may never see that part happen at all, since we’re content to have computers remain passive servants. But we want them to have enough agency to be good servants.


Better Interaction Applied To Google

Presently, we still have to think in terms of keywords when we make search queries. For example, say you wanted a way to animate simple shapes and images in order to capture them for video, with the intent of making this part of a branded intro for your YouTube channel. We can go out and buy Adobe AfterEffects, but think like a “work-from-homer” on a budget here – surely there’s an inexpensive shortcut? Maybe we can just animate stuff in a web browser like we used to do with now-defunct Flash? Don’t we remember something about animating in XHTML / Canvas? So we type in:

  • XHTML animation – This doesn’t seem to get us far, but we do see a new acronym…
  • SMIL – We discover it means “Synchronized Multimedia Integration Language,” but we have to skip past other expansions of that acronym
  • SMIL animation – At last we peep at a developer page at Mozilla called “SVG animation with SMIL” – hey, that sounds like close to what we intended!
  • SVG SMIL – Finally we get a free, easy way to write a little bit of code, render it in a browser, capture it with Kazam, and we got a video clip! Now compose a simple tune in Music Maker Jam, pair them both up in OpenShot video editor, and we have a whole video intro ready to tack onto the beginning of videos on our channel.

You can see where we had to dodge several false leads, and rephrase our query carefully. We know better than to say “free video” to Google, that will get us nowhere. “Video editing” isn’t specific to what we want to do – we can already draw SVG in Inkscape and record it with Kazam, we just want a shortcut for moving SVG graphics around. If we tried to “make animations for free,” we’d end up with proprietary apps buying ad placement to promise us free trials before paid subscriptions, but we’re not ready for that kind of commitment.

Imagine phrasing this whole search to a human: “So I can draw graphics in SVG, and I want to animate them for video clips for YouTube videos. Is there a free, open-source way I can do that? Sort of like Flash?”

That would be an example of a complex query. It ties together knowledge of some graphics technology, and a sharp focus on intent – if you Google Flash and SVG long enough, you’ll get bogged down in discussions about compatibility across web browsers, because normally these are discussed in the context of publishing a web page. But no, we want to open an SVG doc on our own computer, there’s our spinning logo, capture, close.

Simple queries like “recipe for hummus” are far easier to derive intent. But we all know the frustration of having to rephrase a query over and over, because we don’t know the magic keywords that will give us the right answer. This pops up all the time in our day-to-day work, especially when we’re trying to discover something that may or may not even exist.

MUM, the Multitask Unified Model, will attempt to better understand these complex queries and arrive at what the user is trying to ask. It’s also intending to incorporate 75 different languages, hoping to remove international language barriers. It’s a lofty ideal that is still in the future, but close to BERT, which we mentioned before. “BERT” stands for “Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers,” which was technical talk for “trying to understand natural language queries,” first introduced in 2018. BERT is one of many transformers, an AI method that aids in Natural Language Processing (NLP).

As for LaMDA, “Language Model for Dialogue Applications,” this is aimed more at chatbots, virtual assistants, and voice-activated systems like Alexa. While it doesn’t impact text-based content queries, Google and other tech giants have been working on voice-search for years. The difference is that, instead of typing in queries and clicking on links, the voice assistant would work more like a concierge, offering to book your appointments, make reservations, or purchase tickets when you ask it about relevant topics.


Future Conversational Search Applied To SEO

As we said up at the top, “act naturally” is the key takeaway to be ready for new, AI-conversing search trends. As long as you clearly outline your web page’s purpose and format your information with prudent use of headers, Schema, and UX design, your content will be there when Google needs to lead somebody there.

In fact, this is even better news for long-tail, niche SEO. One of Google’s stated objectives is to better serve the large volume of one-time queries from all us unique snowflakes. Even though common queries are something Google can serve by rote every day, it still sees highly specific, one-time queries which require a unique parsing and hopeful guess at the correct response.

There is no predicted timeframe for when LaMDA will be fully implemented. And rest assured, some skeptics wonder if we will ever get there. After all, Google’s answers are only as good as the information it finds. If that happens to be bad information, well, “garbage in, garbage out,” as they say. This 2017 video shows Google’s home assistant confidently giving “fake news” answers to several unlikely queries.

Our Director of SEO, John McAlpin, gave us his own summary:

“The key for marketers is to not optimize for current algorithm tech, but instead to optimize for where Google’s trying to go. Last year it was all about BERT and now it’s LaMDA and MUM. All of this tech is focused on improving search results for long-tail queries that Google hasn’t seen before.”

“Once our SEO fundamentals are set up on our clients, we need to focus on expanding our content towards the questions that aren’t showing up in our research tools. We need to focus more on the true user experience and ensure that the path to action is as streamlined as possible. Whether that’s improving site UX, or creating new content for mid-funnel and top-funnel searchers.”

Bottom line: Content marketing, which has already been focused on “write for people, not machines,” can expect to keep on doing more of the same. While keeping an eye on the same metrics and SEO objectives as before, we can afford to take a more human-focused tone with our content than ever before.

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Everything You Need to Know About SEO for Home Services

The home services industry is in a unique position regarding search engine optimization (SEO). It is dependent on Google almost exclusively, as the vast majority of home services like plumbing, HVAC, roofers, landscaping, etc., are local. Most people aren’t looking for a plumber in a neighboring state. According to BrightLocal’s 2019 report, 90% of consumers use Google to find local businesses, with a third saying they do this daily. Most of those users also browse online reviews for local businesses.

Home service businesses are firmly in the bounds of “local SEO,” this means that if you’re a home service business and not online, you might get next to no business at all. Not only that but there’s another factor: Ranking high up the list. Forbes reports that the first page of Google results captures 71% of the click-through, with the dreaded page two of search results getting just 6% of clicks.

That’s 119 million web pages that hit for this term. Google shows about ten results per page, but it can be customized to show up to 50 per page. Generally speaking, the lucky top five or so hits get all the attention, while 118,999,995 results might as well not exist. So, it’s not enough to be on the web; you also have to rank high.

Now we’re not quite going to have that much competition because most of those hits had nothing to do with the user’s intent. Because of the way keywords work, those back pages are full of tangentially related websites, random forum comments, personal blog stories about furnaces, etc. Your market becomes far narrower when you focus on a specific location. How many HVACs in Laughlin, Nevada?

What a relief! Only 68 hits! If you try that search yourself, you’ll find increasingly irrelevant results further down like homebrew local business directories, plus places in California and Arizona due to Laughlin’s proximity to the tri-state corner there.

Based on your specific location and local market, you may have low or high competition for your target customers’ keywords.

As you might guess from the way Google sorts the results, Google is trying to divine user intent. Its algorithms decide that most users searching for home furnace repair are looking for a business transaction. We have a whole deep dive into keywords and their interpretation over here, but let’s move along and learn how to optimize for what Google wants.


Getting Google to Understand Your Location

Here’s a fun trick: Try searching for any service on your phone right now with the phrase “near me,” Google will display local results, no matter where you are! How does it do that?

On your end, Google reads the location data off your mobile phone. It can sense your location even when you’re not using it, which is how it knows to poll you for a review of a business after you’ve visited there. We’ll find out about the other end of this polling review magic in a minute.

On the website end, Google uses several signals, signs, and registrations to calibrate where a business is located. It does this through:

  • Citations – using your name address phone (NAP)
  • Your website copy
  • A Google My Business listing

How To Cite

The first one is very basic: You go to any business directory and create a listing with your NAP. Anywhere you find a search directory, add your NAP. Register a social media profile in your business name and include your NAP. You can choose to cover all of the below, registering a profile for your business at each one:

  • Bing
  • Yahoo!
  • Apple Maps
  • Facebook
  • Foursquare
  • Yelp
  • Better Business Bureau
  • Internet Yellow Pages

Here are some specialized directories that are important for home service businesses to target:

  • City Search
  • Angie’s List
  • Houzz

If your municipal government website has a local business directory, be sure to flip them your data too. No matter how small, every city loves supporting local businesses because that’s revenue that stays in town. That tabloid-style free newspaper they hand out at supermarkets with a name like “CityBeat” has a local business directory. Find the one in your area and visit their website for yet another citation that tells Google where you’re located.

How to Use Local Keywords

Next, think about your website. You should have your NAP listed somewhere around the header or footer and in a “contact us” page. Ideally, you should also create a location page. Here at Atlantic Digital Marketing, we’re a multi-state agency, so we have separate index pages for all our locations.

Ideally, your location page should:

  • Be at least 500 words long
  • Contain unique copy – do not use the exact same copy for different locations!
  • Reference the location, using city, county, and regional keywords
  • Include a map and directions
  • Services available at that location
  • Photographs
  • Have a descriptive URL (something like “”)

Try browsing around local businesses in your area, and you will inevitably run into a family-owned business that looks like the website was built in the pioneer times. But it will have an “about us” page where they tell the story of how grandpappy settled in back a hundred years ago with the vision of bringing great interior design to the wild west… yada yada. It gets Google hits like no tomorrow. Just simply write 500 words that way and reference the local area a few times, and you’ll be set.

How To Use Google My Business

If you don’t have a Google My Business (GMB) listing, drop everything and claim your listing right now. It’s one of the top ways searchers find local businesses. When they use their phone to search for “electricians near me,” the search results page includes the Google Map Pack and the top three businesses nearby. Or if they’re using Google Maps, GMB listings are available across the map.

Once Google has a fix on your My Business location or has heard a rumor from all those NAP citations, it drops a red pin with your business name onto Google Maps. Included in that listing are your star ratings and reviews! They’ll be displayed from your My Business page along with your photos, video, message to customers, hours, link to your website, everything.

GMB listings are one of the top signals Google uses to determine location and rankings on the search engine results page (SERP). To ensure your GMB listing is ranked highly, you need to optimize it by:

  • Adding a robust description
  • Using target keywords
  • Answering user questions in the FAQ section
  • Including accurate NAP and operational hours
  • Adding photographs

Read our article to learn more about how to optimize your Google My Business listing; we dig into all the details that you need to do.

Beyond GMB listings and reviews, Google relies on a lot of different signals for local SEO; Learn what matters most and how to optimize those signals.


Create Content and Tell the World What You Do!

Now that you have that red pin nailed into the map, your real voyage begins. Your website needs copy. Obviously, you will want to detail to potential customers what your services are and why you’re the best solution for your target market.

After building out your core website service or product pages, you need the magic of content marketing. Content marketing is the concept of producing compelling text which is either useful or entertaining, preferably both. Within that content is a rich, chunky mixture of SEO keywords that Google will crawl and associate with your site when users search for those keywords. One way to create and share this content is through a blog, where you consistently post robust, high-quality blog articles.

Write for Humans

We’re going to stop right here because a lot of you are saying, “Look, I can’t write. I’m also a lame bird when it comes to tweeting, and I can’t be in video because I’m too homely.” We understand; you came into the plumbing game to fix pipes, not be a rock star. Be advised: nobody expects Edgar Allan Poe to run a plumbing and heating company. You don’t have to be a scholar; you just need to create accurate content that’s written naturally. Here is the ultimate Zen wisdom that is at the bottom of all SEO:

Google wants to work with the natural way humans communicate.

That is the ultimate goal of Google. The best way to work with Google is to talk about a topic in a normal, natural, human way.

If you’re still daunted at the prospect, you can hire a freelancer to produce this content for you. The main site to do that is UpWork. Choose to get a blogger, a social media manager, a multimedia artist, or an all-purpose virtual assistant-whatever you need to augment your skills. For the sake of argument, there are alternative freelance marketplaces online like and Fiverr, but the Internet tends to want one freelance marketplace the way it wants one search engine. Currently, that place is UpWork, and the runners-up go downhill fast from there.

Develop a Keyword Strategy

Before you create content, you need to understand what topics to write about and the words you should use. Consider that prerequisite reading there. Instead, we will focus on content marketing for home services. We’ll pick this lucky Beverly Hills landscaping service and examine what they do.

Their blog is what we have in mind when we say “content marketing,” They have informative topics on:

  • When to replace plants
  • Native plants
  • Impact of garden plants on bees
  • Late blooming plants for summer
  • How to handle winter damage to plants come spring
  • Importance of winter pruning
  • Garden nooks

The most canonical content marketing blog post in history, hands down, is “things to consider when choosing an X company,” where “X” is your industry. Spoiler alert: The blog post is a list of aspects and qualities which will, just by coincidence, lead the reader to chose your company. But people do this because it works.

Anyway, that’s the kind of content marketing that gets you fame and fortune. You have informative content of interest to people who are your readers. You set yourself up as an expert in your field, the voice of industry authority. You have a soapbox to answer the questions your customers always ask. You talk about the one subject which you are the world’s best expert on: your business!


A Word About Niches

Recall way back when we showed the comparison of a broad search like “home furnace” to a search narrowed down to a small populated area. It’s hard to rank high in Google results for a big broad search. It is easy to rank high for a narrow search. This is what we call “long-tail content marketing.” Because the odds of somebody searching for “how to get Nutella stains out of couch upholstery” are always low, but never zero.

Your ideal niche is to find a topic that meets the sweet spot between not being beaten to death on the web already but also common enough that it will bring in some traffic. New developments in your industry are goldmines for this. Whenever a new law or regulation affects your industry or science reveals a new thing pertaining to your business, or there’s a hot new trend in your industry, being the first to jump on that bandwagon and write about it can help you generate more traffic.

Otherwise, you can focus on the local aspect, another department that’s likely to have low competition for search volume. This might be a local pest or invasive species that are the bane of drain spouts, or weather that impacts your roofing trade, or the climate is especially harsh on a kind of wood you use in trim, whatever that aspect is. The combination of your trade and region is bound to make a unique combination.

Lacking that, just about every home service is a natural fit for “evergreen content.” This means content that will be relevant years from now as it is today. News of the minute fades tomorrow. Sensible advice about gas appliance safety will be relevant decades from now. Your content strategy should break down to about 80% evergreen content and 20% timely and relevant news.


Bringing Your Whole Website Together

One last detail that needs to be considered when trying to improve your organic search rankings is your website itself. Consult with your web developer or an experienced SEO. Google is increasingly prioritizing your website’s performance and usability as a ranking factor. This matters for things like page speed, mobile-friendly pages, security, and the nuts-and-bolts details.

Speaking of classics, this has been another one. May all your business websites be classics too! If you have additional questions about SEO for home service businesses, don’t hesitate to reach out.

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How to Create Stellar Location Pages for Your Medical Organization

[feat-text]Summary: A list of best practices and practical steps for setting up one of the most fundamental parts of your practice’s local SEO strategy.[/feat-text]

In healthcare, the name of the game is reaching patients. Consistently and with purpose. In an increasingly noisy digital marketplace, Google is still the best place to start. Of the three principal ways you can do so—paid ads, reputation, and local search optimization (SEO)—local SEO has particular upside for healthcare marketers. And one of the first steps toward shoring up local SEO for each of your locations is with a strong location page.


Why Your Location Pages are so Important

To understand how localized search has evolved, examine your own digital habits around healthcare. When you need a teeth cleaning, new primary care physician, or physical therapist, do you look in the next town over or closer to home? If you’re like most people these days, you’re making your decisions based on proximity.

You’re likely doing it all on your smartphone, too. According to the Google UX Playbook for Healthcare, 65 percent of searches for healthcare happen on mobile. Of these searches, mobile-based “near me” searches—for example, “urgent care near me”, or “dentist near me”—factor prominently.

What does this all mean for healthcare marketers? Convenience, even down to how your locations appear in search results, matters greatly. People not only want to find you using their smartphone but quickly place a call or schedule an appointment—right then and there in the search results. Indeed, “78% of respondents agree that Google has become the new homepage for local businesses” (Moz State of Local SEO Industry Report 2020).

Local SEO is critical to delivering this kind of relevance to healthcare consumers. That means optimizing your site so it appears in Map Pack and Google Maps. Step one is to create unique, optimized location pages for each of your locations. It’s the most fundamental way to send the right signals to Google so each page ranks for local search queries.


How to Create SEO-rich Location Pages for Each Locale

We’ve established that location pages are a best practice for local SEO. So let’s begin with a good rule of thumb: unique location landing pages are better than separate websites. In other words, you should create individual location pages for each physical locale, all of which live on your practice or organization’s main website (as opposed to creating a completely separate website for each location).

This approach to site structure and location pages affords the following benefits:

  • Create a cohesive brand image and voice across all locations
  • Increase site authority as you accumulate internal and external links
  • Make it easier for patients to find you and navigate your website
  • Reduce your workload with fewer pages to optimize

Here’s an eight-step formula for spinning up stellar location pages:


1. Create a Parent Location Page

Site structure and navigation matter to search engines. Before diving in headlong, put proper site structure in place for your location pages. To begin with, you’ll want to create a singular “parent” location page—a strong, locally optimized URL that has a place in your site’s top navigation menu.

If you only have one location, this page will be optimized for that location (for example, San Diego or your particular part of San Diego). If you have multiple locations, you’ll want to list them all on this parent location page, then link out to dedicated subpages for each location. Here’s what that might look like:

This centralized approach to your location pages offers several advantages:

  • Google crawlers will easily index this part of your site
  • You can concentrate your link building efforts on this page (a single URL)
  • Link juice will flow down to each dedicated location page


2. Use at Least 500 Words of Copy

The quality and thoughtfulness of this content matters. Google will figure it out pretty quickly if you’ve copied a template and swapped out the location’s name for each one. Instead, add keywords relevant to your location by including points of interest, nearby landmarks, or a location-specific description of the office itself (for example, “views of San Diego bay from our sixth-floor reception desk”).

While we don’t recommend repeating content, we do recommend developing a template that can be used for all location pages. This template should make it easy to copy agreed-upon page structure, content sections, and so on, and then quickly build out the unique content for each. This achieves some near-term consistency while making it easier to roll out and add locations as your organization expands.


3. Showcase the Providers Available at Each Location

Your people offer another opportunity to enrich each location page with relevant content. You can organize staff into various departments or groups, then include a name, photo, and credentials or bio for each. For physicians or the leadership team, you might consider creating additional bio pages with more information, testimonials and reviews, and so on.

People want to get to know their providers!


4. Highlight the Services Provided at That Location

In addition to meeting your people, healthcare consumers want to meet your services. Most likely, they’re confirming that you offer their service at this particular location and, if available, getting a bit more information. Here’s an example of how to go about that:

  • Build out a subpage for your dental group’s Tampa Bay practice
  • On that page, list the services offered at that location
  • Link each specific service, such as “veneers” and “root canal therapy,” to their own dedicated subpages
  • Enrich location-specific service pages with as much detail as possible, including media, testimonials, and FAQs


5. Add Photos

Photos serve several purposes for local SEO. First and foremost, this is an opportunity to show people what your location looks like inside and out. It gives prospective patients an idea of what to expect. This is also an opportunity to optimize the images, including image alt text and other metadata, for local search results. Google will often pull these images and include them in your Local Pack to enhance that experience for people looking for healthcare.

6. Focus on Helping People Do What They Came to Do

We’re talking about user experience (UX)—both in terms of navigating between location pages and to the location pages themselves. Not only does good UX make life easier for site visitors, but UX happens to be a Google Ranking factor. That means you have double the incentive to make it easy for patients to understand where you’re located and how to navigate to you. They should quickly find how to contact you by phone, email, or chat or to schedule an appointment.

Some tips for strong location page UX:

  • Optimize your page for smartphones
  • Structure your content for readability with skimmable headers, bullets, etc.
  • Embed a map for each specific location
  • Add a “get directions” button
  • Include the phone number for that location
  • Add a “click to call” button
  • Add an embedded scheduler
  • If applicable, include location-specific insurance information

7. On-page Optimizations You Can’t Forget

There are a few opportunities to further localize your dedicated location pages by way of on-page SEO. Here are the three we commonly recommend:

  • Implement location schema: Essentially, location schema is special page markup, and that helps search engines better serve up location-based information in search results. Check out SearchEngineJournal for an in-depth guide on location schema.
  • Use location keywords in the URL, for example:
    • /locations/san-diego-dentist-office
    • /locations/los-angeles-dentist-office
    • /locations/san-francisco-dentist-office
  • Add city and region keywords to the page title and meta-description.

8. Don’t Forget About NAP Consistency

Your name, address, and phone number information (NAP) must be consistent across all directory listings (citations) and location pages. By consistent, we mean using the exact same name, address, and phone number—same formatting, too. This way, both prospective patients and search engines know they have the right information wherever they find it.

3 Examples of Great Location Pages

Rather than treat their location pages as an afterthought, these three healthcare providers invested time and resources toward well-optimized pages.


Here’s the location page we helped CareSpot put together for its urgent care location in Lakewood, California. We focused on creating a clean and straightforward layout, mobile-optimized design, and embedded buttons for calling, getting directions, or scheduling an appointment.

LifeStance Health

This page is also simple in its layout and well optimized for mobile experiences. We appreciate the prominent “Schedule First Appointment Online” button, which is a common first action for visitors to this page. LifeStance makes it easy.


Atlanta Brain and Spine

The first thing we noticed about this page was the local-optimized URL (, as well as the embedded links to other location pages. In fact, the page is rich with photos and additional content as you scroll.



To see how more healthcare organizations across a variety of verticals are handling local SEO, check out our case studies page.


All This for a Location Page!?

Yes! There’s a reason we dedicate blog posts, social media content, and even full webinars to location pages and local SEO. With a little tender loving care—a little bit of structure and intention—these pages can generate serious link juice over time.

To a place where your location pages are ranking well and even converting, you have to make them easy to use. You need to situate them, structure them, and write them with your people in mind. What do your people need when they reach one of your location pages? And how can you build those pages to support better experiences? If you use those questions as starting points for your location pages, the rest of it takes care of itself.

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Ultimate SEO Guide for Colleges and Universities

[feat-text]Summary: Our complete one-stop guide for search engine optimization for the higher education industry. We drill down to the essential components of an effective SEO strategy that will get your university website noticed on the web.[/feat-text]

Prospective students are searching the Internet for college, program, and career information. To position your university as a voice of authority and expertise, you need to rank highly for prospective student’s top questions and draw as many of those searches to your site as possible.

This article presents the complete higher-ed search engine optimization (SEO) playbook in one place and shares the essential elements of creating an effective SEO strategy.


SEO: Every Strategy Needs a Plan

Developing an SEO and content marketing strategy for a whole university is a considerable project. To make sure your effort isn’t wasted, you need to formulate a plan that best meets your goals. So what is a school’s goal in attracting search traffic to their website? On the surface, you might just say “to drive more enrollment,” but you can focus your campaign on subsets of that broad general goal.

Possible university goals in an SEO campaign:

  • Increase enrollment in select programs
  • Increase brand awareness and visibility of a new program
  • Change the focus market to attract more of one demographic
  • Stay competitive with other universities
  • Boost the school’s image and manage its reputation
  • Promote a new location or feature
  • Attract more funding from potential donors

For each goal, you should have in mind a target audience. If you’re opening a new branch, perhaps there’s a market that has been under-served before, and now they need to know about this new opportunity. Or if there’s a “silicon prairie” tech boom going on in your town, you may want to emphasize your engineering and STEM programs.

Keyword Research: Search For Searches!

Nothing gives you insight into creating ideal website content like seeing how people search the web. If only there were a “search engine for searches”? Well, these kinds of resources do exist. Some starting points:

  • AHrefs: SEO analysis tool, close to the industry standard
  • SEMRush: A more feature-filled SEO analysis tool, very close competitor
  • Google Search Console: Better for analyzing the traffic you get already
  • Ubersuggest: A keyword suggestion generator
  • Answer the Public: A search snooper which pulls up whole questions people search on a topic

Our goal with these is to find out what our audience is searching for, and then write to position content so it is a response to that query. Searches about tuition costs can be answered with a full fee schedule and links to financial aid. Searches about career prospects from a degree or course can be answered with testimonials from alumni about their ongoing career success. Whatever the query is, you want to have a web page that provides the answer.

Search is Evolving

It is important to note that SEO keyword practices have changed drastically over the years. As Google continues to update its algorithms and introduces artificial intelligence methods to facilitate better results, the new standard is “semantic search.” This is a step beyond parsing the raw keywords to parsing the most likely user intent for a search. You can now type in a general question the same way you would ask a human…

  • “Where can I watch Godzilla vs. King Kong?”
  • “How many calories should the average adult consume in a day?”
  • “What is the average airspeed velocity of a laden swallow?”

…and get a web page that answers that exact question. For this reason, you don’t have to worry about including lists of exact text keyword phrases in every blog post. That is a very outdated method and produces content that no one would want to read anyway. Instead, provide comprehensive information on a topic using natural language, and Google will pick up the idea from there.

Note that Google also has a standard for certain industries, encapsulated in the acronym “E-A-T” for “expertise, authority, and trust.” The E-A-T standard mostly applies to important issues and high-stakes industries, like medical, legal, and financial information. Google started doing this when the web at large circa 2015 became riddled with fake news and quackery. It’s trying to weed out bad faith advice from dodgy sources with an agenda.

As a university, you should strive for high-quality content which is factually correct and thoroughly researched. Google values content by how useful it is to searchers.

The Taxonomy of Keywords

You can break down keyword searches into general groups. Some of these categories might overlap in one search, but it’s still helpful to think of them when writing targeted content.

  • Broad searches: “high-ranking universities” – these phrases are likely to have some hot competition for clicks on the web already.
  • Long-tail searches: “campus cafeterias that serve halal or kosher food” – far narrower searches that are rare but also under-served make an excellent opportunity to claim a niche.
  • Informational: “What niche scholarships are available?” – the user wants to learn something in general.
  • Navigational: “Medical degree near me” – the user is looking for a med school program near their home, which Google will recognize for their location and provide nearby results.
  • High transaction intent: “Sign up for fall classes” – the searcher is ready to commit this instant. This is also a highly competitive search category.

Some searches can fall into multiple categories. Take an example like “school with the best COVID safety measures on campus.” This might be a prospective student who is seeking out information using a longer-tail query.


Create Compelling Content

Now we’re going to want to address those keywords and search queries in our content. That content can take the form of blog posts, comprehensive web pages, press releases, editorial content in leading magazines, and sometimes even support from linked social media profiles.

You’re clearly not the only university trying to draw enrollment candidates. So, how do you compete, especially with a domain that isn’t well-established or has lacked much content up until now? Here are some strategy tips:

  • Create long-form, in-depth content that beats shallow, low-bandwidth content.
  • Aim for the question that you, yourself, cannot find answers to.
  • Create robust resources that fill an information void and draw backlinks, which can help increase your rankings.
  • Stay aware of the latest trends and news and write to what people are searching for.
  • Find the sweet spot between general, broad keywords and narrow, lower-volume keywords.
  • Don’t write just to write. Create content that helps people.
  • Google ranks your content based on quality standards that look at your authority and expertise on a topic. Always keep E-A-T in mind.

Remember also that we’re not just writing for the students, but for the guardians and peers of those students, such as teachers, counselors, and parents.

Improve Your Writing Quality

For the longest time in the SEO field, we used to tell people, “you don’t have to be Earnest Hemingway here; any half-capable hack can grind out content that keeps Google happy.” But now? We hate to gatekeep, but writing quality standards have come up a notch as compared to, say, the 2005 web. It might be beneficial to hire a pro-writing team or at least an editor to refine the copy. Let’s go over our quality content standards so far:

  • Adjust your reading level: Determine the most appropriate reading level for your audience, and use tools like Readable to make sure you’re writing to that level.
  • Write for people first: The best way to appease Google is to write for people first. l
  • Be concise: While we want comprehensive content, it shouldn’t be rambling and hard to understand.
  • Mind that grammar: It counts.

Now that we have all that covered so far, we need to talk about user engagement. We could meet all of the above standards and still not produce engaging content. We could instead create a dull, droning, great wall of text. Nobody wants to be put to sleep by reading copy unless it’s actually bedtime.

The most boring topics can be made engaging with a gifted enough writer. For instance, “the history of operating systems” sounds like something you’d read just to pass an exam and then never think about again. But along comes Neal Stephenson, author of In the Beginning was the Command Line. Bookmark it to read at your leisure sometime. Neal Stephenson has the advantage of being an accomplished science-fiction novelist, so he knows both how to wrangle a tech topic and sling a few good words around. His essay brings the topic to life with metaphors ranging from used car lots to Disneyland, with plenty of humor and a first-person layman’s perspective.

So we’re not all Neal Stephenson, but we have an example to aim for. We’re not all Earnest Hemingway either, but there is a Hemingway text grading app. It’s becoming easier to write well.

User XP is Important

The other half of engaging content is simply breaking up that wall of text into usable, digestive chunks. We do this through a well-formatted layout, using headers, subheadings, bullet points, collapsible sections, and the occasional image to illustrate a point. Doing so enhances our user experience.

This web page is an excellent example of formatting an important topic for easy digestion. Note the collapsed, clearly labeled sections. Clicking on a section expands that content with sections, lists, and links. This technique allows you to create comprehensive web pages that include all relevant information, but it’s easier to use. Instead of scrolling to the section a user needs, they can go straight there by clicking on the heading.

Additionally, you might consider including anything that clarifies the information, such as a chart, infographic, or FAQ (frequently asked questions) section.


Use Good Website Structure for Web Search Optimization

Now that we have user XP settled let’s try to make the page easier for our other user: Google’s web-crawling bots. The two steps work hand in hand because Google reads page titles and subheadings, too, using them as markers to indicate topic focus, essential parts of content, and so on. The WordPress plugin Yoast is suitable for handling lots of these details for blog posts.

There is much more to think about when it comes to the technical aspect of SEO, which is best to take up with your website maintainer.

  • Your website structure: You want robust interlinking, descriptive URLs, and easy navigation.
  • Your website speed: Google is penalizing slow sites now
  • Your mobile-friendliness: Google ranks mobile-friendly sites ahead of sites written mainly for desktop and laptop

Website structure has to take into account not just us Internet-savvy folk, but people who may be elderly, impaired, in a hurry, not paying much attention, or just not that adept at this whole Internet thing. This includes those of us with fat fingers struggling to tap a link on a phone screen. To have a good website structure, you need at the minimum:

  • A sitemap: Most online CMS come with this by default now
  • Categories and tags: Use them correctly, be careful not to generate duplicate content with one-hit tags or sparse categories
  • Navigation tools: Menus, sections, breadcrumbs, pagination widgets, archives, and more – “redundant” here is just barely enough
  • Lost user recovery: A site search feature and useful 404 pages that help the user find what they are looking for
  • Regular site audits: Nobody likes doing them, but they are essential for huge websites

University websites tend to be bulky. There are dozens of different departments, student blogs, professor blogs, campus news and announcements, school policy, contact points for recruitment, and more. Managing all that information is a challenge not to be underestimated.

As for site speed and mobile friendliness, there are a couple of points to address on the back-end:

  • Consider upgrading and maintaining your server or hosting plan to accommodate traffic.
  • Keep your image and video files small! This is the easiest way to increase your page loading speed.
  • Use accelerated mobile pages (AMP) for blog mobile-friendliness.
  • Audit and upgrade your website to adhere to Google’s new Core Web Vitals standards.


Build a Strong Back Link Portfolio

A backlink is when another website links to your site. It’s an important signal to Google, telling it that other users find your site helpful. Getting more links is called “link building,” and there are right and wrong ways to do it.

The wrong way is to try to buy backlinks or engage in other dodgy schemes to generate a false site reputation. Google knows all these tricks and penalizes you for them.

The right way to get backlinks requires some patient diligence. While universities are blessed with “.edu” domains, which Google naturally ranks highly, your main issue is competing with other universities. Higher ed has turned ruthlessly competitive. Small schools struggle to keep up with massive Ivy League institutions, as well as having their taillights chased by non-traditional remote education resources that have thrived during the COVID pandemic.

Here are the top three ways schools get links:

#1: Get in the News

Universities are naturally engaged with their local community, industry, and academic community. You have connections with government and industry partners, which you can leverage to your advantage. No municipal government was ever reluctant to promote their home campus, so you have a natural ally there. Beyond that, you can build up links from initiatives and programs between your school and collaborators.

  • Industry and tech partnerships: Your STEM department should have a friend or two in business, possibly in a start-up incubator
  • Partnered scholarships: Work with special interest groups, donors, alumni, and industry partners
  • Community outreach: Any charitable activity or support for the social infrastructure is worth a headline or two
  • Conferences: Whether it’s a professor heading to a tech talk or an art student giving a presentation at TEDx, make sure it’s publicized
  • Competitions: Any department you have which enters students in science fairs, blog-o-thons, hack-a-thons, and so on

Any of the above, such as tech companies, competition headquarters, or conference guides, will have their own website to link back to you. More likely than not, they will have great Google ranking authority themselves. A busy school is a well-linked school.

#2: Publish

Universities are a natural for publishing white papers, RFCs, research findings, exhibits, etc. Ideally, you should either have a university PR department or some eager students who want some experience in media. Work with them to issue press releases, post blogs, manage social media, or publish campus magazines or newsletters.

Any content you release is fair game for a backlink, especially from industry partners in the same field. This is where your content can serve a dual purpose; being good SEO search bait on your site and being linkbait from allied websites and social media accounts.

Now, what if your usual activity isn’t getting a lot of backlinks? Perhaps it is a bit general and other universities have the same news to report. However, what if you move into a niche with less competition? This is a tip from the blogging community, where bloggers at other websites are constantly seeking out long-tail information in tiny niches you would never think come up.

Does your school have any research departments? Can you do a study and aggregate data from other research resources? Can you take an existing study and make a graph or chart about it? Do you have an expert who can break down a complex topic and explain it in simple English? When paired with hard data that other authors can link to for a citation, these are all good ideas that can be your next ticket to a surprisingly lucrative backlink.

Try finding data that isn’t well-addressed on the web, especially for new fields that didn’t exist ten years ago. What are the exact effects of vaping, and what chemicals matter there? How are social media apps shaping youth’s social interactions? What effect are streaming services having on the satellite and cable TV industry? What became of the Hong Kong protests against China? Dig into today’s headlines, find a hot story, and link research A to story B.

As a backup, you can always be an original information resource for interviews. The next time there’s a big news story that has everyone arguing, look for an opportunity to partner with an expert in that field. Sitting down with a professor for a fifteen-minute chat is a better source of information than 90% of what the web has to say. If you can create content that debunks a common myth or shoots down a spurious claim, you’ll be in a better position to attract more backlinks.

#3: Guest Posting

Guest posting is just like regular publishing above; only you do it on somebody else’s site. Even though guest posting is a shopworn method of getting backlinks, it still works. SEMRush reports that there are still sites benefiting from guest posts, with more than half of surveyed respondents saying they use guest posts.

So send your best professor off to another site and have them guest-post. There is some etiquette to observe here:

  • Pick a site that is not only an excellent authority to link to you but will actually benefit from your content.
  • They get the SEO; you get the backlink. Make sure your pitch takes into account that the site would benefit from your content. Think hard and come up with a related topic or angle they haven’t covered yet.
  • Still, remember that they are doing you a favor.
  • Inquire once, then follow up if no answer after a week or two, then move on. Many site maintainers are simply too busy.
  • Do send your best and brightest! Don’t make the website owner go through all this for a junk, fluffy article.

Whatever you do, do not turn in a broad, general article about the host site’s topic. They have ten blog posts on their core topic already. Perhaps even ask the site editor what they would like to see. Every site editor has that one piece on their wish list that they can never get around to doing themselves. They’ll jump at the chance to complete it now that they have a university research department and a professor at their disposal. In fact, you can produce something outstanding from some collaborations.


Conclusions: Higher Ed SEO is a Tough Game!

Times used to be when colleges barely even thought about marketing. They just went about their business, and the students enrolled because they had little choice if they wanted a degree. The 21st century changed a lot. Remote learning and mobility became substantial driving factors in competition. The Internet now allows any student candidate to research anything about schools and compare them on every metric. Students can afford to be pickier.

Your mission is to prevail in the sea of Internet noise, standing out to today’s attention-challenged youth while presenting your school’s brand identity as an excellent choice for continued education. Hopefully, we have helped you make it look easy!

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SEO vs PPC: How They Work Together to Increase Visibility and Enrollment

[feat-text]Summary: Both PPC and SEO are commonly used marketing strategies. But which one is better for drawing student applicants to the higher education industry? Like many things in life, the best answer is a sensible middle ground.[/feat-text]

There are two schools of thought when it comes to search engine marketing: earned or paid. First, you have search engine optimization (SEO), where you create content hoping to earn an audience from organic Google searches. Then there’s pay-per-click (PPC) advertising where you create an ad unit and buy space on the search engine results page (SERP), without having to claw your way to the top of the organic search queue. Both of these tactics aim to increase visibility on the SERP and attract searchers to your website.

That’s the process in a tight nutshell. SEO and PPC have many factors in common. They’re both dependent on market research, testing, and sometimes the whims of Google updates (or other platforms but we focus on Google here). They both rely on keywords, and both aim to pounce upon the opportunity of a user search to unite their intent with what we’re selling.

Both SEO and PPC are effective strategies for higher education, so it shouldn’t be an either-or situation. When researching a life-changing decision like enrolling in college or continuing education, people head to a search engine to find answers to their most important questions. While other brand-building strategies will help spread the word about your school, if you want to reach a larger market and attract more students, you need to rank highly on the SERP or use Google Ads to claim the top spots.

Let’s take a look at how these two strategies compare and what insights you can learn from individual campaigns that will help you optimize your overall search engine marketing strategy.


Differences Between PPC and SEO

One of the biggest differences between SEO and PPC is that SEO is “free” which PPC costs money. Well, that settles that, you might be tempted to think. Not so fast: SEO is “free” only if you don’t count the grueling man-hours it takes to create that content and plaster it onto a well-maintained website. You have to do the market research, hire the talent, have them crank out pages of content, and then comes the painstaking chore of maintaining a website and keeping it in SEO-friendly shape.

Now you might be tempted to flip over to the other side, saying “Let’s just cut out the middle man and all that time, and go with PPC.” But there are downsides to the PPC route. It, too, requires research and careful creation of ad content, plus unique well-optimized landing pages for each campaign. You may need time to test the ad unit, pull it down, tweak it, and put it back up. There is a misconception out there that PPC ads produce instant results, but that’s not always the case unless you got extremely lucky on the first try. We find that 30 days gives you enough data to optimize campaigns so that they’re performing at their best. Finally, the PPC ad is working only as long as you keep paying the tab. Once you take the ad down, your marketing has disappeared from the web.

SEO content marketing, on the other hand, is everlasting as long as you keep paying the server bill. Write a solid piece of content on a site that’s peaking into top Google ranking, and you have a reliable feed of traffic. SEO is a game where it is tough to claw your way to the top, but once you’re on top, it’s easier to maintain your rankings. From a cold start on a brand new registered domain, you typically need a minimum of six months to achieve first page rankings for target keywords. That figure assumes a less saturated market, at least on the local scale. For highly competitive markets, it could take even longer.


Strengths and Weaknesses: SEO and PPC

In the first place, universities and colleges are naturally adept at SEO. Schools are expected to have a website anyway; in fact, schools were among the first adopters of the World Wide Web. Website domains ending in .edu are also favored by Google as reputable sources of information. Since you likely have a website already, you obviously have some content and an established digital presence to work with. SEO and content marketing, then, is just a simple extension of what you’re doing already.

SEO is good for:

  • Sustained traffic, year in, year out
  • Maintaining visibility—it’s easier to stay at the top of search results once you get there
  • Establishing yourself as an industry thought leader
  • Keeping your brand identity in the public’s mind
  • Long sales cycle where the buyer conducts extensive research

Nobody makes a snap decision about which school to attend; the decision can take months, if not years. During that time, people research different programs, career paths, and seek answers to any questions that arise. When they visit a search engine with their latest question, SEO ensures that your content is found.

As higher education and your student body evolve, you can write more SEO content to answer their questions and concerns regarding tuition and financial assistance, career practicality, compatibility with lifestyle, etc.

But PPC advertising has a few tricks up its sleeve as well.

PPC is good for:

  • Driving fast traffic and leads
  • Adding visibility to under-performing programs
  • Getting new offers out fast, such as new courses or programs, new locations, etc.
  • Keeping high visibility during peak application season
  • Focusing marketing only on segments with the highest conversion intent
  • Buying a seat at the table for highly competitive keywords
  • Having a more nimble marketing campaign that’s easier to adjust for new demands

PPC offers a lot of flexibility. You can test ad messaging and offers quickly, and increase investments in the highest-converting campaigns. If you’re experiencing low enrollment in one program, you can ramp up an ad campaign to try to boost your numbers. You can run several campaigns concurrently, each focusing on a different market sector.

You can tailor your message and keyword strategy to target the raw high school grad, the established professional looking to retool their resume, or the stay-at-home mom who is itching to realize her career dream now that the kids are older.

So which is it, SEO or PPC? No rule says you can’t use both!


SEO and PPC: More Than the Sum of Their Parts

Knowledge, they say, is power. The higher ed industry should be no stranger to that axiom. Marketing, just by coincidence, happens to be highly data-driven. Behind every SEO blog post or PPC ad is a mountain of market research and testing. On top of that, both of the digital marketing wings enable their unique dataset.

SEO and PPC are more powerful when used in conjunction. You can use market research and performance metrics gained from one hand to strengthen the other. The results and feedback you get from either marketing strategy help to refine both approaches. Here’s how they work together:

  • More campaigns give you more data
  • Keyword research metrics from individual campaigns help to optimize the overall search marketing strategy
  • A piece of SEO content that is ranking highly could indicate a growing interest in a new topic, which you could complement with a PPC ad campaign to increase visibility
  • A PPC campaign that is driving high conversion rates can help you refine your SEO content to use that compelling messaging
  • Greater oversight allows you to see your campaign’s strengths and weaknesses, such as opportunities to double-down on a keyword or points where competitors are ahead
  • You can claim more real estate on the SERP, increasing conversions and leads
  • The combined strategies enhance your brand reputation and increase exposure

If you run both PPC and SEO in conjunction, then the two coordinated approaches give you an advantage on both sides. It’s like playing poker where you get to see two hands at the table instead of one. Meanwhile, a strong SEO campaign combined with a steady PPC presence gives you a double shot of brand exposure to your audience. Users figure “well they’re on top all the time, they must be the best.”

You might think that the younger generations, particularly the marketing-jaded Gen Z, would be more skeptical about open, aggressive marketing. But you just happen to be in an industry where perceived marketing power lends to your appeal.

In higher ed, you are selling success. What looks better on your resume: a famous, well-known school or an obscure institution nobody’s heard of? Students are motivated to attend school in the first place to build a successful life. So your very appearance of a thriving status within the education industry enhances your reputation with students, provided your marketing isn’t cranked up to late-night TV infomercial levels.


SEO and PPC: The Smartest Schools Use Both

Check it yourself by searching Google for common phrases related to university marketing. You will see that the top names that pop up, again and again, have both a PPC presence and a website with strong SEO content. They are using both sides of search engine marketing to reach their audience.

In melding the strengths of SEO and PPC, it is first important to understand how each tactic works in isolation, and what data points you can reap from each. Then you can develop a strategy to use both to reach your school’s goals, both in the short and long term. You can continuously optimize your overall strategy as you review marketing campaigns and assess metrics gleaned from A/B testing. It’s the smartest strategy in the digital marketing information arms race.

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