Digital Marketing 101

Everything you ever wanted to know about PPC, SEO, and Content Marketing.
It’s not voodoo magic. Arm yourself with the information you need to hold your agency accountable for results.

Overview

What You'll Learn

Let’s face it: digital marketing is complex.

But your marketing partner shouldn’t use that as an excuse to keep you in the dark as to what they’re doing and how, exactly, it will push the needle for your business.

Your digital marketing partner needs to educate you so you can understand the importance of the three main elements of digital marketing:

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Pay-Per-Click (PPC)

Content Marketing


We wrote a 6,500-word guide complete with all the information you need to make an informed decision when hiring a digital marketing agency.


In this guide, we’ll take away the curtain. We’ll teach you:

What SEO, content strategy and PPC are–

How to implement digital marketing correctly

How the elements of digital marketing work together to drive traffic, nurture leads and grow your business

 

And here’s the kicker:

You don’t even have to give us your information.

If you like what you read, get in touch. If you don’t, then don’t. (But we think you’ll learn a lot either way).

So go ahead. Give the guide a read—you have nothing to lose.

Chapter One

SEO: An Overview

An overview of search engine optimization: What it is, why it’s important and how to implement it

SEO isn’t magic—it’s a strategy-driven way to attract relevant traffic to your site and drive leads.

It’s a combination of on-site content and off-site signals that indicate to Google that your content is worth displaying to its users.

Simply put, on-site SEO + off-site SEO = results. You need both components to rank organically.

What you need to know about SEO: 3 elements of any successful SEO strategy

Here’s why SEO is important: when someone comes to Google (or Yahoo or Bing) with a question, Google wants to provide the right answer. And they want to do it quickly, so the searcher doesn’t stop using their search engine.

They use an ever-changing algorithm to find, save and provide the information they think most closely aligns with what a searcher wants.

Whether the searcher is ready to buy or simply learning more about your service, you want to be visible in results.

There are hundreds of factors that affect where your site falls in search engine results. But they can all be distilled into three main components: your link profile, your knowledge of your target audiences and the quality of your content.

  • Build a robust link profile

    Think about it: if you’re looking for the ”best lawyer in St. Louis,” you want to find the best. Not the worst one. Search engines look to external signals—links, mentions and reviews—on other sites to determine which sites have the most authority on a topic and the highest relevance to its users.

    The signal that Google takes the most seriously is your ”link profile”—the collection of links from other sites pointing back toward useful pages on your site.

    Google takes each inbound link as a ”vote” of confidence in the usefulness of your site’s content and the authority of your business.

    If a small, lesser known blogger links to you, you’ll get a couple votes. If a bigger, more well-known site links to you, you’ll get a whole bunch of votes.

    Google takes a holistic look at your votes to decide how reputable you are in your industry and whether to rank your pages.

  • Know your target audience really well … and talk like they do

    You need to know what your audience wants, and how your product addresses those needs.

    What are your customer’s pain points? How do they stand to benefit from your product and service?

    Once you know the answers to these questions—and have content addressing them on your site—you have your customers in the palm of your hand. But you still have to make sure they find your site.

    But how?

    We do extensive keyword research to find out how your target audience talks—and searches—about your product or service.

    For instance, you might think you’re selling ”fitness programs,” but if your target audience almost exclusively searches for ”weight loss videos,” you won’t appear in Google search results when a customer is looking for your product.

    We’ll direct you toward those phrases and keywords that will get you found by your target audience, and implement them into your content strategy.

  • Create really good, useful content
    Useful, well-written, user-focused content will always win out over sparse copy that screams, ”BUY, BUY, BUY!”

    Why?

    Well, first off, Google wants to solve problems and answer questions so that users continue to use their search engine.

    And second, the vast majority of your users aren’t ready to buy.

    Just give the people what they want: useful content that addresses the intent of the search.

    Let’s take an obvious example: Someone who searches ”buy marketing services NOW” probably has a different intent than someone who searches ”how does SEO work.”

    Maybe the searcher is ready to buy; maybe they aren’t. Be conscious of the intent behind the keywords you’re trying to rank for.

    You need to write content that addresses the needs of searchers at every stage of the buying cycle: those who don’t yet know they need your service, those who are researching your product and those who are ready to buy.

    Buyer behavior is changing. The digital age customer now goes through about 70-90 percent of the decision-making process before even calling you.

    Answer all of the questions a lead might have during the buyer’s journey, and you’ll see results in the form of rankings and new business leads.

Why the SEO company you choose matters

There are many ”tricks,” you can use to get around Google’s algorithm and appear in search results. These tricks are called ”black hat” SEO.

But Google isn’t dumb. They know when they’re being played.

And you should know: legally, Google does not have to display your site at all. Trying to trick Google can result in a penalty, meaning your site won’t be visible to searchers at all.

So if you’ve heard an SEO agency promise results that sound too good to be true, they probably are.

At Digital Strike, we don’t play games.

We’re just really good at optimizing sites and their online footprints. We want long-term results, not quick plays that get results, only to earn a penalty.

We have your best interests in mind, and will work tirelessly to make sure you see results in the form of targeted traffic to your site. Then, once they’re on the site, we’ll drive conversion.

Chapter Two

On-site SEO

ON-SITE SEO STRATEGY: GROW YOUR BOTTOM LINE BY OPTIMIZING YOUR SITE’S STRUCTURE, CONTENT, AND METADATA

In Chapter One of this guide, we talked a bit about search engine optimization, in general, to give you a big-picture idea of what it is and then defined the essential three ingredients of any successful SEO strategy.

But SEO is a topic so vast and so complex that you could literally write a book on it. So, that’s just what we did.

The next two chapters of this guide are dedicated to the two types of search engine optimization: on-site and off-site.

In this chapter, we’ll discuss on-site SEO — what it is, why it’s important, and the difference it can make in your site ranking well in Google, Bing, and other major search engines.

WHAT IS ON-SITE SEO?

On-site SEO is the process of optimizing the metadata, coding, and content of a webpage to quickly communicate to Google and the other search engines the purpose, intent, and value of that webpage.

When implemented properly in conjunction with the off-site optimization techniques covered in Chapter Three, on-site SEO will help drive traffic to your site through higher rankings in search engine results and, more importantly, convert its visitors into cold, hard leads.

Generally speaking, there are three overarching aspects of effective page optimization:

  1. Clean structure (including the navigation, URL structure, and the code that makes up the page)
  2. Keyword-centric metadata
  3. Informative, engaging content

Clean page and site structure — how users navigate your page — improve the overall user experience and help search engines’ robots (also referred to as crawlers) more quickly navigate and index your site’s pages, which can improve your search rankings, lower your bounce rate, and improve your conversion rates.

Metadata containing relevant keyword terms quickly communicates to Google what each of your site’s pages is about. By including target keywords in your title tagmeta description and image alt text tags, Google better understands the purpose of your pages. And, if done right, keyword-optimized meta descriptions and title tags also entice a searcher to click on your site right from within search engine results pages (SERPS).

Content, especially well-written, high-quality content, is the crux of on-site SEO. Good page content that caters to your customer’s decision-making journey — and thus answers questions and solves problems relative to your product or service — will always win over sparse content that includes an abundance of keywords for keywords’ sake. 

The goal should be to frame your pages with a user-friendly structure through your content. Using popular blogging platforms like Wordpress can be a great tool to create shorter, very topical posts that directly address what’s important to your audience. There’s also a handful of tools out there that will help you to create extremely shareable, downloadable items, such as whitepapers, videos, and infographics, should be shareable because of their informational value to your site’s visitors. 

Manufacturing this type of informational value to your site’s visitors through content will achieve big SEO wins for your company.

Now that we’ve covered the three main aspects of effective on-site SEO practice, let’s discuss in-depth the guiding principles that we have found comprise the overall optimization process and have seen produce great results for companies large and small.

USER EXPERIENCE

Does the user know what your site is about and how to use it?

We put this first because users always come before search engines.

Google will fully admit to this. As will Bing and all the rest. Show search visitors you care about your visitors, first and foremost, by creating great content that provides them with the info they’re looking for.

If you are not doing this, Google and all other search engines have little to no reason to rank your site well for important keyword searches.

The goal of all search engines — not just Google — is to provide its users with a good experience by giving each user the information he or she is seeking, so the logic makes perfect sense. Every search engine fulfills this goal by leveraging the content of those sites they choose to include in their search results.

When you consider this, it’s no surprise why Google incessantly pushes for and promotes the benefits of useful, high-quality content.

Search engine algorithms constantly evolve because, well, they have to. They have to in order to stay one step ahead of our ever-changing online behavior and the way we indicate our intent through search — not to mention to ward off relentless spam attempts from those who continue to try to game the system.

When you create valuable content, though, there is no need to worry about how often search engine algorithms shift.

But what, exactly, are the characteristics of content that provides your visitors with a good user experience? 

According to Usability.gov, the Web’s leading resource for user experience best practices, those characteristics are as follows:

  • Useful: Your content should fulfill the needs of its audience
  • Usable: Your site must be easy to use
  • Desirable: Your brand identity and the design elements of your site should evoke emotion
  • Findable: Your content of your site should be easily located
  • Accessible: Your content should be easily accessible for persons with disabilities
  • Credible: Visitors should be able to trust your content

If you create content on your site with these characteristics in mind, search engines will notice.

META TAGS

Can search engine easily determine what your page is about?

On-page content tells the human visitor what your site’s all about. Search engines use meta tags to accomplish this.

We’ve mentioned how search engine algorithms are getting smarter every day, but they still rely on this metadata as clues to construct an overall blueprint of what each page of your site is about.

There are many forms of metadata, but these are the four most important in terms of site performance in search engines:

  • Meta content type: Helps search engines decipher the character set of each page
  • Page title: One of several header tags, this acts as a clickable title for the page shown directly in search engine results pages
  • Meta description: Sits below the title in SERPs and acts as a preview of the content on a page, primarily to help improve clickthrough rate (CTR)
  • Viewport: This tag provides a Web browser with vital info in regards to a page’s dimensions and scaling when being viewed on a mobile device

On a side note, though technically not defined at metadata, alt tags are HTML attributes found within the code of your site’s pages that describe images to search engines. These tags, when optimized, can satisfy some of the SEO factors required for getting your site’s images to rank well in Google Images, the image search section of its results pages.

When the metadata of each page of your site is optimized properly, this complements the user experience you created through content.

These two elements combine to form a page that will be incredibly well-received by both human visitors and all search engines.

SITE STRUCTURE

Is your site structured in such a way that the search engine — and user — can easily navigate it?

When someone comes to your site, that visitor should be able to quickly locate what he or she is looking for.

It’s the same with search engine crawlers; they should be able to navigate and parse through your content quickly.

This means that no page should be more than a few clicks away, regardless of where a user lands on your site. 

There are two ways to go about this: 

  • Intentional site navigation structure
  • Interlinking

Good site navigation establishes an easily understandable hierarchy of your website’s pages. This can be done in the form of tabs, an interlinking structure, buttons, etc.

Your navigation should be strategically structured, so anyone on your site can quickly determine your key services, products, markets, etc. This also includes any unique resources that visitors might find useful, such as blog posts, how-to guides, videos, audio clips, and whitepapers. 

Internal links — links on a specific page that direct users to other, related pages of your site — are another way to aid in navigation. As site visitors skim your content, they might find a topic that piques their interest and want to learn more about it. If you have a page that explains this topic in greater detail, you should link to it.

For example, in the course of reading this guide, you may come across links embedded with the content that point to other pages of the Digital Strike site, such as our PPC services page or content marketing page.

This technique not only aids in user navigation and helps increase the amount of time each user engages your site, it helps search engine bots quickly find and index your most useful pages. 

Google makes it easy for website owners and their webmasters to identify possible technical issues that could preventing it and other search engines from adequately crawling a site. We always recommend creating a free account on Google Search Console (formerly Google Webmaster Tools); it’s easy to set up, and all you need to do is add a small snippet of code to the backend of your site to allow Google to perform its diagnostics.

But don’t stop there; it’s always best practice to conduct a thorough site audit or hire someone to do so. By looking at a map of your current site structure, you will more clearly see ways to improve your site’s navigation and usability.

PAGE SPEED

Does your page load before the searcher gets frustrated?

Users of your site expect its pages to load quickly. This site speed is an integral part of the overall user experience.

Because we live in a mobile-first world, Google uses the load time of your site on mobile devices as the benchmark for how well (or poorly) your site should rank for searches on all devices.

The rule of thumb is that pages of your site should load in less than three seconds. With every additional second, the chances that a user bounces off your site — meaning, they fail to visit more than page before leaving — increase dramatically.

In fact, studies have shown that a one-second delay in load time could lead to an 11% loss in page views.

A delay of a mere second may not sound like much, but consider what it could mean for your bottom line, it takes on new meaning. Fewer visitors to your site, of course, means fewer chances at making sales. That feeble one-second delay, studies have shown, could cause conversions to plummet by as much as 7 percent.

Searchers do not want to wait. And if your site’s load time causes even the slightest delay, that sale that may have gone to you will likely go to one of your competitors.

So, how do you increase your page speed? There’s no one-size-fits-all answer, but start with using Google’s mobile speed tool, where you can calculate your site’s speed and even compare it to that of your competitors.

From there, you can incrementally increase your loading speed by concentrating on best practices, such as clean code, compressed images and browser caching.

RESPONSIVE DESIGN

Is your site optimized for all devices: desktop, mobile, and tablet?

In 2010, only one-fourth of Internet users used a mobile device for access. 

More than 10 years later, in 2020, not only does mobile Internet usage outperform that of desktops or laptops — which officially occurred for the first time in 2016 — it is suspected that more than 80% of all Web access takes place on a mobile device.

Google knows this. Which is why the world’s largest and most powerful search engine recently announced its mobile-first index. This is a fancy way of saying that it will now rank all sites based on mobile performance.

What does this mean for your site?

It means that if your site isn’t responsive on mobile devices — meaning, the design of the site allows it to conform in perfect proportion to the size of the screen of the device used to view it — you will fall behind the competition. In other words, visitors to your site should not have to use two fingers to zoom into any section to get a clearer look at text, a better view an image, or easier way to click a link.

The beauty of responsive design is that every element on a page remains intact while conforming to the screen of a visitor’s device.

Make no mistake: Responsive design is now perhaps Google’s top-ranking factor and therefore should chief among SEO best practices. In 2010, mobile-readiness was just a bonus that was nice to have.

Now, it will forever be a crucial necessity for any company’s digital marketing efforts.

CONTEXTUAL, KEYWORD-TARGETED CONTENT

Is your content optimized for what your target audience is searching for? Does your content satisfy the intent behind the search?

This might seem obvious, but if you want your site to rank well for keyword searches related to your business, you need to write useful content about what you do (your services or products) and who you sell it to (your markets).

You also need to anticipate — and provide viable answers to — any questions your potential customer might have at any point during the decision-making cycle, from the research stage to the time of the actual purchase. 

In late 2019, Google released its BERT update to emphasize this very concept to all content producers, and its impact on how content will be judged going forward cannot be ignored. Affecting more than 10% all possible searches, this groundbreaking update signals Google’s most advanced effort in closing the gap between how search engine algorithms understand searches differently from humans.

As the update stresses, you need to produce content that uses natural language, so as to concentrate more on answering questions and solving problems important to your audience — rather than tying to lace your each page with a keyword phrase X number of times.

It’s a matter of matching your content to search intent.

The search intent of the person who thinks they want your product or service is completely different from that of the person who knows they want your product or service. As such, these are two different mindsets, and you can bet that the two will hardly ever perform a Google search in the same fashion.

Content that is designed to cater to each of these unique individuals will look, sound, and read completely different. This is why keyword research is so important. 

This research process identifies both those shorter phrases and longer query strings — typically referred to as long-tail keywords for their specificity —  that are being used by your target markets at various along the buying cycle. You, then, tailor content around each stage of this cycle.

There are a variety of tools — Google Ads Keyword Planner, Ahrefs, SEMrush and others — that allow you to see how your audience is searching for the products and services you sell, and from these terms, you can gauge which part of the buying cycle is most appropriate for each one.

For example, the term ”what is on-page SEO” will likely be used by someone who wants to know what on-page SEO is or how it works. Compare that to someone who searches ”best SEO agency,” which is a pretty good indication of an immediate need for SEO assistance, including all of the on-site stuff discussed here.

The first searcher is looking for information, while the second searcher is looking for a service. Thus, the content that would be used to reach each one will vary greatly and should be accessible on completely different landing pages.

Just as Google Search Console is a good tool to assess the technical health of your site, an account on Google Analytics (also free) can be used to identify and gaps in your content efforts. For example, if you see that visitors are leaving a good number of your site’s after a short period time, this could mean that the content on those pages is not properly match up their intent. 

START INCREASING YOUR RANKINGS BY UPDATING YOUR ON-SITE SEO STRATEGY

Making sure your site is fully optimized requires a deft page-by-page approach. But don’t worry about addressing everything in one day — or even week.

Chapter Three

Off-site SEO

OFF-SITE SEO STRATEGY: A CRUCIAL PIECE TO THE DIGITAL MARKETING PUZZLE

What, exactly, is off-site search engine optimization, why is it important, and how do you execute it? We’ll take a look at all that and more in Chapter Three of our Digital Marketing 101 Guide.

But first, let’s review some of the numbers that reveal why so many business owners allocate a considerable portion of their overall marketing budgets to off-site SEO to get their websites ranked highly in Google, by far the world’s most powerful and trusted search engine.

OVERVIEW

It is estimated that Google processes more than 3.5 billion searches worldwide per day and 1.2 trillion annually.

That breaks down to more than 40,000 per second.

In the time it will take me to write this sentence, Google will have returned information for more than 300,000 searches.

These numbers are simply mind-boggling, if not borderline unbelievable. 

Sometimes, we forget that Google, founded in 1998, is only a few years removed from adolescence, but in the short time since its inception, it has rapidly matured into an unrivaled behemoth. 

Today, Google receives more than 90% of all online searches performed in the world, but what’s the reason for the sheer and utter dominance in the marketplace? There are, after all, other search engines.

Simple: Google provides its users with the most relevant information more consistently and in an exponentially better fashion than any other search engine in existence. As a result, the word “Google” is now more widely recognized as a verb than a brand name, used almost subconsciously to describe the everyday action of quickly retrieving desired information.

The allure of Google is so strong that website owners all over the world will go to great lengths — sometimes the wrong ones — to rank well in its search engine results pages (SERPS), because they know of the financial windfall that could await. Your target audience finding you in Google, especially consistently, means a lot of traffic, which means many opportunities for new business, which can lead to increased revenue and more sustained growth over time.

But Google has incredibly high standards, and rightfully so. If it didn’t, it wouldn’t be Google; it’d be on a similar plane as any other search engine.

Getting your site ranked highly in Google — and then retaining those rankings over periods of time — requires a lot of hard work. Previously, in Chapter Two of this guide, we discussed how on-page SEO — the combination of improving user experience, addressing page optimization from a technical perspective, and publishing useful, high-quality content on those pages — is one half of the very complex, overall equation.

Here, we’ll outline how the other half — unsurprisingly, referred to as off-page SEO — consists of accruing domain authority and trust in Google through acquiring quality links that point to your site from other sites around the Web.

WHAT IS OFF-SITE SEO?

Boiled down to its simplest form, off-site search engine optimization refers to the actions performed separately from your website to get its pages to rank highly in the search results pages of Google and other search engines, such as Bing and Yahoo.

Think of it like this: If on-site SEO is what you say about yourself on your site, off-site SEO is what other people say about you on other sites.

Google has confirmed in the past that it evaluates roughly 200 individual signals when determining how highly and in what order site should rank. Many of these signals are either much too complex or simply don’t bear enough weight to warrant discussion here. Those very well may be for additional guides at a later time!

chart showing difference between off site and on site seo
image credit

However, despite some compelling experiments that suggest ranking well in Google requires a delicate balance of on- and off-page work, it is typically agreed upon that of the two, work performed away from your site with the goal of building domain authority is slightly more important to achieving strong, long-lasting search engine rankings and, consequently, high levels of organic traffic.

How do you build this authority?

It starts with links, links, and more links. 

THE VALUE OF LINKS

To be clear, there are many SEO factors at play, and so building up authority and trust in Google and other search engines isn’t just about inbound links to your site. Anyone with a computer and a shred of time can use spammy, automated software or sign up for an online directory and create a link that points to any site.

That’s not what we’re talking about. And this is why Google continually polishes its algorithm with updates like Penguin — of which there have been at least four known iterations since its initial release in 2012 — to crack down on spammy link building attempts.

A link inbound to your domain from a highly authoritative source is the dream scenario. This would be something along the lines of the Wall Street Journal linking to your site within an article, referencing the services you offer, a study you conducted, etc.

But, alas, this is not always possible, at least not consistently. And Google knows this. To the most advanced search engine in the world, “quality backlinks” is by no means a blanket term.

Google also knows that it’s completely out of your control, as a website owner, who links to your site, including any number of spammy sources. This is why Google assesses value to the links that point to your domain — sometimes referred to as link juice — on a sliding scale.

Above all else, when it comes to who is referring to your domain across the Web, Google wants to see variety. Be balanced: Too many links from high-authority sources looks suspicious, while too many from low-authority sources looks, well, bad.

More specifically, Google wants to confirm your domain is fulfilling two main criteria:

  • Building a well-rounded link profile
  • Acquiring off-site mentions for your company

Let’s cover each of these in more detail.

WHAT’S IN A LINK PROFILE

A link profile is just as it sounds: It’s the summation of every link on the Web that points to your domain, and the overall picture this paints for Google is how they determine how much authority your domain possesses. Ultimately, this determines how well your site’s pages rank.

As we said a moment ago, the more authoritative your links, the better. Although the value (or juice) from any domain contributes to your own domain’s authority the first time that domain links to yours, one link from the Wall Street Journal is still a thousands times more potent than 100 links to your domain from tweets on Twitter.

There are three main types of links, and here, they’re listed in order of difficulty to attain:

  • Natural links: Given without any action on part of or involvement from the website owner
  • Manual links: Acquired through calculated, deliberate acts of building links
  • Self-created links: The low-handing fruit and border upon spam in the eyes of Google as a link building tactic

The spectrum of difficulty from top to bottom of this list ranges much more than what you might, so let’s explore how each of these types of links are acquired.

Natural Links

Natural links, by and large, are earned through awesome content that people feel compelled to share. As a result, they tend to be the most valued by Google.

Google trusts that if other sites think your content is useful enough share through linking, your site will probably be useful to their users, too. And remember, the more authoritative the source of the inbound link, the more value your domain receives. 

Earning links through relevant and helpful content will help you ascend in the ranks of Google search results, potentially very quickly, and drive relevant traffic to your site. Ultimately, this leads to more revenue and growth for your company.

Manual Links

All links matter and all links count. Including those you may even request from loyal customers — or a complete stranger through an influencer marketing or social media campaign.

Still, it’s not a good idea to simply pay another site or individual for links. In fact, links that appear forced or unnatural in nature can result in a penalty from Google.

Manual links can be effective, but be wary of using the below methods in bulk:

  • Press releases
  • Guest posts (also referred to as guest blogging)
  • Reciprocal linking (an arrangement between two sites to link to one another)

Links should not appear unnatural or forced, nor should they be two-way. Always focus your efforts on earning one-way, inbound links to your domain.

If creating manual links is a big part of your off-site SEO strategy, remain focused on fostering brand awareness by creating great content and make sure you create the variety Google is looking for. This means asking partners to mix up dofollow with nofollow links. Be purposely random and inconsistent with your anchor text. And be cognizant manually creating links in forms other than text, such as infographics, podcasts, and more.

Lastly, ignore anyone who promises a link from a source that promises to pass PageRank to your site. 

Though PageRank is an algorithm it has used for nearly two decades to determine link quality, in 2016, Google discontinued use of its PageRank meter tool from all browsers after the tool was found to have encouraged spammers to tell sell links in exchange for increases in PageRank.

Self-Created Links

As a disclaimer, we must be clear that not all self-created links are bad. In fact, as you’ll see in Chapter Four of this guide, creating listings in local directories for your business, some of which require a fee, is an excellent optimization technique to attract traffic from those in your immediate community.

What you do want to stay away from is bombarding free resources, such as blogs, forums, and the like, and quickly dropping a link to your site in the comments section — rather than taking the time to thoughtfully contribute to an ongoing discussion.

This type of laziness can set off all kinds of alarms with Google, and when/if they choose to hammer you for it, the damage, in some cases, can be irreparable. 

Instead, you need to be strategic when building backlinks.Each digital marketing strategy that Digital Strike develops includes a robust, long-term link building strategy that will increase your site’s authority and drive business for your company.You need an audit of your current link profile. From there, you can target well-known bloggers, publications and sites relevant to your industry, so that Google—and your target audience—will see you as a trusted resource.

OFF-SITE BRAND MENTIONS

When it comes to off-site SEO, achieving great search rankings doesn’t require anything but links.

On the contrary, Google looks the cases in which there’s something less than a clickable link that directs to your domain.

When bloggers, publications, social media users and other sites mention your site — even without providing you with a backlink — Google takes that as a signal that your brand is popular or useful. This is referred to as a brand mention.

Brand mentions matter less than backlinks, but are they nonetheless important as an off-page SEO ranking factor. And they can be easy to manufacture.

Here are a few ways you can generate online mentions for your brand:

  • Social media engagement
  • Participate on video channels (YouTube)
  • Speaking engagements
  • Publish high-quality content

Of these four methods, content is the most effective way of acquiring brand mentions and instilling the trust that can breed more with time. 

In Chapter Five of this guide, you’ll learn how you can leverage a thoughtful content marketing strategy to acquire more brand mentions and much more.

Chapter Four

Local Optimization

LOCAL SEARCH ENGINE OPTIMIZATION: CAPTURING THE RIGHT AUDIENCE AT THE PERFECT TIME

In Chapters Two and Three of this digital marketing guide, we took a deep dive into how you can use best on-site and off-site SEO practices to rank well in Google’s organic listings for any search.

In this chapter, we focus exclusively on optimization techniques as they relate to increasing your site’s exposure for local searches.

You’ll notice a lot of crossover between this chapter and the previous two, but with local search marketing, we’re referring to two distinct areas of Google’s search results page:

  • The local Map Pack
  • The local organic results

The Map Pack, as its name suggests, is a section specifically designated for the listing of three local businesses. This section consists of each business’ listing information — name, address, review rating, etc. — as well as a snapshot of Google Maps that approximates how far each business is from the user’s location at the time of the search.

The local organic listings, on the other hand, are what follows below the Map Pack. This is where you’ll find many well-known directories for local businesses, such as Angie’s List and Yelp, among many others.

Ultimately, both of these areas must be considered a crucial element of any successful SEO strategy of a local business.

Before tackling the specifics of optimizing for the local search environment, let’s first explain what local search marketing is and detail why it’s so important in today’s digital marketing ecosystem and to develop a sustainable online presence.

WHAT’S LOCAL SEARCH & WHY IS IT IMPORTANT?

As Moz puts it, local search marketing is “anything you do on the Web to promote a physical business that makes face-to-face contact with its customers.”

This definition is very simplistic, but it provides a broad scope on how important it is for physical businesses to be visible in the Map Pack of popular search engines such as Google and Bing, as well as in the general organic results area.

But what empirical proof exists to illustrate how important local search really is to digital marketing success?

Consider these numbers:

  • More than 46% of all searches performed on Google — which, as we covered in previous chapters, number in the billions per day — are seeking local information
  • As many as 97% of all search engine users utilized the Web to find a local business
  • A vast majority (86%) of consumers rely upon the Internet to find a local business
  • Almost a third (29%) of all consumers search for local businesses at least once per week
  • More than 88% of consumers who conduct a local search on their smartphones visit or call a store within 24 hours

Those numbers are astounding, yet they still paint a perfectly believable picture of how many Web users turn to businesses within close proximity of their location when a need for a product or service arises.

And therein lies the importance of local search: When someone needs something, they don’t want to go far or wait long to get it.

This applies to restaurants, florists, auto repair shops, dentists, chiropractors, locksmiths, and many others. Google knows this. Which is why they often present users with the most applicable local businesses at or near the top of their search results.

As such, the following should be the main goal behind local search optimization: To be seen by local consumers prior to or at the time they make a purchasing decision.

WHAT DO RESULTS FOR LOCAL SEARCHES IN GOOGLE LOOK LIKE?

Google can determine if there is local intent behind a search — or, in other words, if a searcher is looking for a local product or service to satisfy a need. Terms like “near me,” “in St. Louis,” or “closest to me” are just a few that indicate local intent.

Google displays the most relevant web pages and business listings in the results. But there are slight differences with local intent search results as compared with non-local search results.

To illustrate this point, let’s use the following example:

You’re in Miami on vacation with your friends and you’re looking for a nail salon. You might search ”best nail salons in Miami” into Google.

There’s a geo-modifier in your search, so Google instantly knows your search has local intent.

Here’s what your Google search results will look like:

As you can see, Google splits local search results into two categories: the local Map Pack and organic search results. The three results of the Map Pack appear at the top of the results, with organic search results appearing just below.

Local searches — such as ”best nail salons in Miami” — often indicate the need or want for a local business, especially when done on a smartphone. If you are searching for a nail salon in Miami or elsewhere, you want to go to a salon very soon — if not the same day.

And odds are, the business you pick will be ranked within the local Map Pack, where conversion rates, often as high as 60 percent, are significantly higher than anywhere else within Google’s organic search results.

No wonder why so many local businesses fight tooth and nail to get into the local listings Map Pack or on the first page of local organic listings.

But here’s the unexpected kicker: main ranking factors — relevance, prominence, and proximity — are weighted differently for the Map Pack results than they are for local organic results, so let’s go over some techniques that will effectively address both.

HOW TO GET RANKED HIGHLY IN LOCAL SEARCH

Disclaimer: Before you can optimize your local listing for maximum exposure in Google or Bing, you must first create an account on either’s local listing platform, where you will create your listing from scratch.

Google’s platform is called Google My Business and Bing’s platform, Bing Places. Both are recommended, neither costs anything, and creating a listing typically takes no more than 10-15 minutes.

Performing well in local search results, regardless of the search engine, is comprised of three main areas: relevance, prominence, and proximity. Paying attention to these areas will help both your listing and website show up in Google’s organic results for local searches.

Let’s delve into the three individually to understand how each plays a pivotal role in the local optimization of your listing and website, specifically in Google.

Relevance

Since its inception, Google’s primary goal has been — and always will be — to provide its users with the most relevant search results possible.

Google determines how relevant your business is to a specific topic by using a number of specific signals, and these signals are evaluated across both your Google My Business listing and business website.

Local Listing Signals

  • Name, Address, & Phone Number (NAP): This may be elementary, but ensuring your business information always contains the current NAP of your business is vital to determining relevance
  • Local Category Selection: This category — of which there are 3,000 in Google — defines your business; up to 10 categories are allowed but choose the fewest possible needed to describe your core business
  • Business Description: Google provides you with up to 750 characters to describe your business in detail; don’t be salesy and focus on writing high-quality content that gives upfront info to your potential customers

Website Signals

Note: If you are unfamiliar with some of these terms and need assistance, we’re happy to help! Drop us a line here.

  • Content: Make sure the content on your site directly addresses the questions your audience has in regards to your product or service — and then provides answers to those questions
  • Title tags: Optimize the tag of each of your site’s pages with a keyword or keywords related to the topic of that page; this is the area of your listing that users click on to get to your site
  • Meta descriptions: This supplements your title tag by allowing you up to 150 characters to provide more detailed and insightful context of the topic of a page
  • Body tags: Often referred to by their technical names — H1, H2, or H3 tags — they are simple ways to title provide relevant descriptions to the content that they precede
  • Alt-text: Pairing related images with your content always helps the human visitor, but you can use alt text to give search engines a detailed idea of what an image is depicting
  • Internal linking: Connecting similar pages of your site through links enhances the user experience and paints you as more of an authority figure on your topic in the eyes of Google
  • Outbound links: Linking out from your site to sites that cover similar topics helps Google’s algorithms validate your relevancy
  • Schema: Microdata that can be easily added to the existing code of each webpage, Schema markup gives search engines an even richer idea of what your site is about and then presents this info directly within search results
  • Reviews: Reviews on a page — whether it’s a product page or location page — should be relevant to the topic of the page
  • URL structure: Make sure the structure of your page’s URLs reflect the page’s topic (i.e. www.plumber.com/drain-cleaning)

Prominence

Building prominence in the eyes of Google and other search engines is not necessarily a quick-fix you can accomplish by tweaking the settings of your GMB listing or website.

Prominence is all about gaining trust, and that can take time.

Here are some local listing management items to keep in mind for your listing and site that will build up trust between you and those looking for your product or service.

Local Listing Signals

  • Reviews: This is one of Google’s top local ranking signals, so encourage reviews whenever possible and respond to them, especially the bad ones (and there will be some)
  • Photos & videos: Second behind only reviews, high-quality photos and videos are the most important signal to Google in determining ranking within local search
  • Q&A feature: Your potential customers will need answers to questions, and this feature allows you to provide those answers — even to those that have not yet been asked online
  • Informational posts: GMB posts are like social media updates, and even though they have a shelf life of 7 days, they’re great for covering newsworthy topics, promoting specials, etc.
  • Virtual walkthrough: We imagine you’re proud of your office, so why not show it off by investing in a Google-certified virtual 360-degree walkthrough?
  • Messaging: As with reviews and Q&As, leveraging this text-like feature to your benefit requires a lot of customer interaction, but the more you interact, the more trust you can build

Website Signals

When it comes to site, you build trust primarily through content. Through great content comes a better reputation for your business, a higher Google E-A-T rating, and more inbound links from similar quality sources.

Note: Just an FYI, E-A-T is not an actual rating or scoring system, but it is a concept that Google uses to determine how effectively your site provides solutions to its visitors’ problems through content that conveys expertise, authority, and trustworthiness — hence the acronym.

Create 10x Content

What is 10x content? It’s content you produce for your site that’s 10 times better than that which currently ranks the highest for a given keyword.

That’s vague, at best, but here are some tangible criteria of 10x content:

  • Provides users with a great experience regardless of device
  • Must be highly engaging, interesting, and trustworthy
  • Differs considerably in scope and detail from all other content that fulfills the same user intent
  • Creates a powerful emotional response with the reader
  • Solves problems and answers questions with expert-level info and resources
  • Delivered in an unexpected and unique manner

To provide more clarity on exactly what 10x content looks and reads like, here’s a terrific list of examples.

And 10x content is not bound the restraints of what may be considered typical content. Consider this piece created a few years ago by CNN, which chronicles the paradoxical wealth gap of Silicon Valley, home to some of the country’s wealthiest counties, by using a slideshow of images accompanied by only supporting statistics and sparse commentary.

Despite being published in 2015, CNN’s story can still be found in among the top 20 results in Google for “Silicon Valley wealth gap,” demonstrating an impressive amount of staying power that has endured amid a ton of competition.

Producing that meets the 10x standards might sound a little intimidating, but if you hone the knowledge you already regarding your craft or industry, you’d be surprised how easily the ideas will flow.

Start by thinking or researching how questions or concerns your audience has evolves with time, and go from there.

And, if you need a little help with the writing, we’ll be here!

Link Equity

Acquiring links inbound to your site from authoritative sources by producing great content is thoroughly covered in Chapter 3 of this guide.

Known as a natural link, this is absolutely the best type of link you can attain because you’re not requesting it — you’re earning it.

And for this reason, producing 10x content and getting references from sources of notable authority will forever be linked (no pun intended).

Here are some ways to get quality inbound links without having to produce extraordinary content:

  • Guest blog posts: Contribute to the content quality of a site similar to yours and link back to your site
  • Fix broken links: Use software to track down any links pointing to your site that may have been deactivated and contact those site owners
  • Sign up for relevant directories: Create profiles on sites that contain local directories that deal specifically with your industry (Houzz, HomeAdvisor, etc.)
  • Update or repurpose old content: Give old content new life by updating statistics or changing the scope to make the piece more current

Proximity

According to a Moz survey on local search rankings factors conducted in 2018, proximity was among the top factors Google uses to display GMB listings for any given search. Google has since doubled down on the importance of proximity when it comes to local search, evidenced by the effects of the Google Possum 2.0 update in November of 2019.

There’s no magic pill that will allow to get around this, unless you’re able to somehow predict where searches will come from and then move your brick-and-mortar business within minutes!

Unfortunately, where your business is located in relation to where Google thinks a user is searching from is out of your control, but the good news is, there are several things you can do to make proximity work in your favor.

Here are a few of them:

  • Concentrate 100% on relevance & prominence: Worry about what you can control, which is doing all you can to ensure those who are within close proximity to your store will see your GMB listing at the time of a search
  • Cover all your bases with Bing & Yahoo: Do not forget that plenty of people still use the two other large search engines — albeit in much lower numbers — to get as much close-proximity traffic as possible
  • Engage with your existing customers to return: Recurring revenue with existing customers nearby is more important than getting revenue once from someone not typically in your local area
  • Use PPC to fill in any gaps: Google’s regard for proximity within its Google Ads platform is not nearly as restrictive, allowing you to target potential local customers within a sizeable radius around your local — or even across your entire city
  • Focus on content that includes crucial terms: Keyword research is an essential portion of local SEO, too. Incorporate geographical terminology throughout your content.
  • Acquire links from local sources: 

TOP MUST-HAVE COMPONENTS OF YOUR LOCAL SEO STRATEGY

As we’ve seen, there are a lot of factors to consider when developing a local SEO strategy, and it can take time to address them all.

So, in ending, let’s address only those that are the most conducive to setting you up for success.

These basics to local SEO optimization alone won’t guarantee results, but they’ll go a long way toward getting toward pushing you in the right direction:

  • Google My Business Listing: Can Google trust your brand?

Google needs to trust that you are who you say you are. This means making sure your NAP — business name, business address, phone number — is not only current within your GMB listing, but consistent across all online directories. It’s about thorough listing management to ensure the integrity of your business data.

Google doesn’t want its searchers to get frustrated by a phone number that doesn’t work, or an address that’s incorrect, either of which could drive users to switch to Bing or Yahoo.

Digital Strike’s team of SEO experts work with aggregator partners, such as Yext, to set up your directory listings accurately across a high volume of directors, and then regularly update your account to suppress any duplicate listings and correct any miscellaneous errors that might arise. This way, Google will feel more comfortable showing your local listing in its search results.

  • Reviews: Do people like or trust your brand?

Reviews matter. Search engines don’t want to display content about unpopular businesses and products.

Google, Bing, and Yahoo want to provide valuable content or solutions from reputable sources to keep their users coming back. That’s why managing your online reputation is so important to SEO.

Digital Strike can help you manage your online reputation through review-building campaigns that involve reaching out to old customers and connecting with new ones.

We know you’re going to reply to your good reviews, but as we have discussed here, it’s just as important to address the bad ones — and do so as calmly and eloquently as possible.

Engaging with customers who have any type of experience is key to sustaining a healthy brand image.

  • Local link building: Are other sites linking to yours?

Links are one big way search engines measure prominence and relevance.

The more sites that link to you — especially those sites important to the city where your business is located — the more trustworthy and relevant your business will seem to Google.

If local newspapers, magazines and bloggers are all talking about your business, Google uses this as a signal to display your business in its search results.

But link building, as we covered in Chapter 3 of this guide, isn’t as easy as it sounds. It requires a comprehensive strategy that considers not only the quality and quantity of links, but also the content of the article in which your business is mentioned.

Anyone can direct links to your site. But if best practices are not strictly followed, your site can be removed from Google’s index altogether. A precise and intentional strategy is key to any successful link building campaign.

We’ve developed effective strategies for a variety of businesses big and small, and we can develop a customized solution for you, too.

  • Staying on top of local SEO trends: Is your SEO agency keeping up with Google updates?

When it comes to Google, the only constant is change, and that includes local SEO.

Google is constantly rolling out updates to its algorithm so it better serves its searchers. Your SEO agency needs to keep abreast of these changes so you can stay ahead of your competition.

Digital Strike’s local SEO team works hard, day-in and day-out, to thoroughly test what works and what doesn’t. Plus, we’re pretty passionate about local SEO, so constantly reading and learning about changes in the local space will always be a crucial part of our overall local listings management process.

We are constantly re-thinking how we approach local because, otherwise, we — and our clients — would be left behind. We’ll constantly update our partners and clients with new tactics, strategies and tricks we’ve found through our extensive research about and passion for local SEO.

Chapter Five

Content Marketing

Strategic content marketing: The fuel behind any effective SEO campaign

How a comprehensive content strategy can generate business and amplify SEO

Useful, well-written content pieces are the lifeblood that makes SEO work. No SEO campaign can reach its full potential without killer content that converts.

Think about it: even if your SEO campaign draws millions of website visitors a month, no one will convert into a lead if your content isn’t helpful.

Likewise, even the best content won’t convert if it never gets seen—good, white hat SEO tactics and paid search marketing boost the reach of your blogs, pages and premium content pieces.

And, because customers are making 70 to 90 percent of their buying decisions through online research before ever contacting your sales people, you cannot afford not to be absent from search engine results when they begin asking questions online about your services.

In the golden days of marketing, you could address a prospect’s questions through mass media marketing or a sales call and close the deal.

No longer. Content marketing is the new sales process.

A prospect’s questions are being asked and answered online long before you even know the lead exists. You need to have SEO-optimized content pieces armed and ready to answer your prospect’s question at the right time.

If you aren’t there to satisfy the intent of every search a potential lead is making, they will become your content-marketing-savvy competitor’s customer.

Creating a content strategy that answers your client’s questions and wins their business

The overwhelming majority of your website visitors aren’t ready to buy. You’re making a mistake if all the content on your site screams, ”BUY!”

You need a customized content strategy that addresses all the questions your ideal buyer might have from awareness to consideration to purchase—and everything in between—that will eventually make your future clients comfortable making a buying decision with your business.

Here’s what our content strategy process looks like:

  • It all starts with a meeting

    In order to determine how to best go about achieving your business goals through a content marketing strategy, we have to, well, know your goals.

    We’ll schedule a meeting to learn more about your company’s vision, brand, target audience and business goals.

    Only then can we begin developing a strategy that will help push the needle for your company.

  • Auditing the content you already have

    We believe in the old adage: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

    If you have content that’s already working for you, there’s no need to change it. We’ll do a deep dive into what’s working, what’s not and where the holes are.

  • Develop a content gap analysis

    If there are questions that people are asking—and you’re not answering—we’ll note that in our formal content gap analysis.

    Our strategy will be built upon bolstering the weak spots and building upon what’s already performing well.

  • Learn how your audience talks about your industry, services and products

    The essence of any good content strategy is writing directly to your audience’s pain points, questions and desires. To do this, you need to know your ideal buyers better than they know themselves.

    How?

    It’s simple: research how they talk—and search—about your business, services and understand the key drivers that lead to a purchasing decision.

    You need to know the questions they’re asking before they know about your product or solution, while they’re researching their options and after they’ve decided to make the purchase.

    And you need to know which keyword phrases they’re using to ask these questions, so you’ll be present in search engine results as the answer.

    Once we know which questions your audience is asking—and how they’re asking them—we can develop a data-backed keyword list that will serve as the basis of our strategy.

    From there, we can determine the intent behind each search—information, product or service specifications, etc.—and write content that will satisfy that intent.

  • Creating a custom strategy based on your goals

    No company is the same, and no two of our content strategies are identical.

    We don’t take a one-size-fits-all approach to content strategies—we’ll get to the root of your target audience’s pain points, and address them through well-researched blogs, guides and pages.

    A good content strategy serves to hold the prospect’s hand and push them further along in the buying cycle. Useful, helpful content gives prospects the nudge they need to advance from researcher to lead to paying customer.

    Sometimes, our strategy starts with building a sitemap that addresses your key services and markets.

    Other times—such as when you have a good site already—this strategy will mostly include informational blogs and premium lead generation content pieces to fill the gaps and drive conversions.

    We’ll tailor our strategy to your needs, goals and audience.

  • Content strategy execution (aka, writing)

    Only once we have the destination (your goals) and the map (our strategy), we’ll sit down to write. We’re really good about getting in the head of your target buyer, knowing their objections, concerns and questions—and addressing all of them.

    At Digital Strike, we operate by the belief that content marketing campaigns should achieve results. So we write content that works. After all, strategies are worthless if the execution is slipshod.

    We obsess over sentences, lose sleep over calls to action and, most importantly, write content that turns searchers into paying customers.

Chapter Six

Pay-per-click (PPC)

How PPC helps you get quick wins for your business

Most of what we’ve already talked about—organic search engine marketing—is a long-term play.

We build authority for your site over time through link building, content creation and citation building, and eventually you start ranking for the keywords you want.

Pay per click advertising helps you get quick wins, supplementing your long-term organic SEO and content strategy.

PPC also helps promote limited-time campaigns, win competitive industry keywords, and increase the reach of your organic SEO efforts.

It’s pay to play: you bid on the keywords you want, and you will appear in the search results.

Pay per click (PPC) advertising: An intention-based marketing strategy

PPC is the only digital marketing tool that will produce immediate results. And it isn’t disruptive.

Someone has a need: let’s say they want to order a pizza. They might Google ’pizza near me.’ If you bid on pizza-related keywords, you’ll appear in the results.

You’re giving them what they want: pizza. You’re getting what you want: a pizza order.

Everybody’s happy.

Essentially, pay per click advertising allows you to target based on intention.

Your ad appears at the right time (someone wants your service) in the right place (the top of the search results). And, just like that, you have an engagement, sale or lead.

Lesser known types of PPC advertising

PPC advertising doesn’t just occur in search engines like Google, Yahoo and Bing. Cost per click can also refer to social media advertising on platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Social media advertising allows you to put your message in front of your target audience and track engagements (clicks, people reached, social interactions) over time.

Sounds easy enough, but advertising on social media requires intentional strategy about who you’re targeting, how much you’re paying per interaction and whether each campaign is driving results in the form of website traffic, lead conversions and sales.

You can’t simply ”set it and forget it.” Our team of paid advertising strategists has spent years perfecting their campaign strategy.

They know how to make sure your ad gets in front of the right audience, and that it converts.

And, because we provide you with a transparent results dashboard at the end of each month, you’ll know exactly how well our campaigns perform. You’ll remain in the loop from the start of the campaign until the end.

4 components of a successful PPC campaign

When it comes to PPC, our main goal is to drive leads and increase profit for your business.

We optimize so that your campaign attracts many clicks, and that those clicks convert to leads and sales.

We’ll tell you the whole story: where your money is being spent, where leads are falling off in the conversion process, what keywords are converting at the highest rates. We’ll even tell you when our initial strategy needs to change.

The digital world moves quickly.

You need a team that understands the PPC world inside and out and can modify your PPC strategy as the digital space changes. Plus, your company’s PPC team should be dedicated to continually optimizing your campaign.

Our team will send you a report every month detailing every success—and failure—and how we plan to make your campaign more efficient in the future.

Here’s what you can expect with a Digital Strike PPC campaign:

  • Goal-driven campaign build

    Your PPC campaign should be focused on a goal, whether it’s increasing calls, whitepaper downloads, newsletter signups or getting more people into your store.Digital Strike’s team of PPC experts will build a campaign with your business goal in mind.We’ll choose keywords that indicate the searcher is looking to buy into what you’re selling, and we’ll write ads that showcase the value of your service.

  • Landing pages that convert

    Once a searcher clicks on your ad, they’ll be taken to a landing page on your site.This landing page should urge the searcher to do something such as call you, download a white paper or request a free consultation.We track these engagements and report it to you at the end of every month. Using the initial and lifetime value of your average customer, we’ll let you know how much you’re making off your PPC campaign.

  • Transparent and consistent reporting

    PPC is about results. You need to know whether the campaign is driving leads, and how much every engagement is costing you.

    We’ll give you a comprehensive summary of your campaign every month. In the report, we’ll tell you what’s going well—and what’s not. If something isn’t working, we’ll come to you with a plan to fix it.

    At Digital Strike, we’re problem solvers.

    PPC isn’t one-size-fits-all, and we’re constantly adapting keywords, spend and build to make sure you’re spending your budget efficiently and meeting your lead goals.

  • And the secret ingredient … Ongoing campaign management

    To quote Mike Tyson, everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.

    Everything might be perfect in the Excel sheet, but if the initial plan isn’t working your PPC management team needs to be able to adapt quickly.

    Maybe lots of paid traffic is coming to your site, but no one is converting into a lead. Maybe too few people are clicking on the ad. Maybe some keywords are converting at a higher rate than others. Maybe the cost per click is too much.

    At the end of the day, the goal of any PPC campaign is to drive leads for your business for as little money as possible.

    Our PPC managers will draw on their vast experience in paid search to make sure your business’ campaign is successful.

    Each month our team of PPC experts will go through your campaign and find ways to spend your budget more efficiently.

    They’ll get rid of keywords that aren’t converting. They’ll look at which ads were performing the best, and focus media spend on those.

Chapter Seven

Landing Page Optimization

How the right landing page is crucial to converting site traffic.

Let’s talk about landing pages.

Even better, let’s talk about landing pages that do what they are supposed to do … convert.

Any good landing page converts the traffic it receives. And yet, too often we see that website owners send traffic to general pages of their site that are not strategically designed and optimized to generate conversions.

As a result, they end up pulling their hair out trying to pin down why their sites don’t produce new sales opportunities.

Your site’s landing pages should be created with a focus on allowing visitors to accomplish a singular goal. This goal, after all, is the reason why they decided to visit in the first place.

Not executing on this singular focus and direction could be the difference between a business that consistently identifies and acquires new customers and one that struggles mightily to do both.

In this chapter of our Digital Marketing 101 guide, we’ll show you how to put yourself on the right side of that equation.

But first…

Let’s cover some of the basics.

What is a landing page?

By definition alone, a landing page is nothing more than what it sounds: a page upon which a visitor lands when arriving at your site.

If a page resides on your site and it loads properly – technically, it qualifies as a landing page – but this info is not the reason you’re here.

You want the goods. And if your site’s landing pages are going to deliver the goods for your business, they better do the following:

  • Cover a singular focus, topic, product, or service
  • Target the right audience via a specific marketing campaign (PPC, email, etc.)
  • Provide visitors with two core options: convert as a lead or leave
  • Allow visitors to commit desired action quickly and easily

This is not an end-all, be-all list.

Obvious points of concern — such as whether your pages are optimized for mobile devices, load quickly, etc. — have been purposely omitted. Vital technical aspects of your site can be found in Chapter Two of this guide.

The purpose of this chapter is to discuss how landing pages — when structured properly — can be utilized as the epicenter of your marketing efforts to ensure you’re getting the most out of the visits your site receives.

Especially when you are paying for this traffic. When viewed through this lens, the discussion regarding what an effective landing page actually looks like and what it should achieve starts to take on a much more intriguing and exciting twist.

Why you need effective landing pages

Effective landing pages breed growth within your organization.

Landing pages that convert traffic allow you to do the following:

  • Acquire new customers
  • Generate recurring revenue from past customers
  • Create new or build existing email lists
  • Maximize ROI on advertising dollars

A website without landing pages that convert traffic may as well be a brochure – countless pages of pretty pictures and a lot of words that most of us won’t read – they encourage more exploration and less focus on a singular goal.

This is aimless wandering mixed with information overload, and studies have shown that these factors combine to form one of the major factors why people leave websites without committing any action.

Ultimately, brochures await a slow death at or near the bottom of a stack of other mailers to be forgotten on the coffee table or kitchen counter.

A similar fate awaits your site unless you take the steps to build out pages that contain the elements needed to convert someone from a visitor into a potential lead or customer.

CASE STUDY: Landing Page Optimization Increases Our Client’s Engagement Rate By More Than 500%

The good news is, most of these elements may already be, in some shape or form, on some of your website’s pages.

Even if they are not, implementing them is not as difficult as you might think.

The key is, putting yourself in the shoes of your target audience.

Once you’re able to do this effectively, you’ll be able to clearly visualize what they will need to accomplish their, and your, desired goal upon arriving at your site.

Key elements of every effective landing page

Every great landing page contains certain elements that are required for success.

Exactly how these elements are executed can vary from website to website and business to business, but their mandatory existence is non-negotiable

If your landing pages are going to convert visitors into leads, they need the following elements:

  • Your unique selling proposition (USP)
  • A clear, unmistakable offer
  • The benefits of your offer
  • Social proof
  • A strong call-to-action (CTA)

As we go through each of these elements in more detail, you’ll start to see a patchwork develop that can be applied to a large amount of landing pages across your site.

Let’s go a little deeper into each of theses five elements:

1. Unique Selling Proposition (USP)

unique selling prop
Photo Credit: https://germanystartupjobs.com/identify-unique-selling-propositionusp/

 

Your USP is the benefit, the experience, the solution, etc. that you — and you only — are able to provide your visitors.

It’s the cross-section between what you do better than anyone else and what your customer wants.

Your USP is not a tangible product or service, rather, it’s the unique way in which your company can improve the lives of your customers.

We all hear or see famous USPs every day without realizing it.

For TOMS, the popular shoe retailer, its USP is not a stylish and affordable men’s or women’s shoe; it’s the promise that a pair of shoes will be donated to someone in need for every pair that is sold.

Dollar Shave Club’s USP is not necessarily a blade for men that outperforms that of Gillette; it’s the personal experience and inherent convenience that comes with receiving new blades at your door through a recurring delivery service.

The USP is where you address questions like “Why should I buy from you?” or “What makes you better than everyone else?”

Of these five elements, this is undoubtedly the hardest to implement, and most business owners have not considered their true USP until they are forced to do so.

Even more, identifying your USP can and probably will take time and research.

That said, if you are able to temporarily remove yourself from your role and, instead, define a singular benefit that your product or service provides your customers, nailing down your USP becomes easier.

2. Special offer

The offer you make to visitors of your site is the sales-oriented crystallization of your USP.

It’s there to give your visitors that little push, to motivate them to take advantage of and experience your USP.

Your offer is what makes your visitors raise an eyebrow. It puts them on notice and entices them to make their way down the page, where they’ll encounter the other elements.

If you’re a plumber, your USP may be that you’re able to reduce customers’ water bills, and your offer might be a free water softener with every repair.

If you sell software, your USP could be that you increase workflow by 50% while reducing operational costs, and your offer might be free setup assistance or a year’s worth of 24/7 support.

Whatever your offer — and you don’t necessarily need to give away the farm — make sure it’s unmistakably clear to whomever is reading it.

There can be no confusion, or else you run the risk of your message being convoluted, at which point you lose the ability to navigate your visitor down the path that leads to a desired action.

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3. Benefits of your offer

Because the Web offers up so much choice, every visitor to your site will want to know what’s in it for them, regardless of their unique situation and, in some cases, despite a high level of urgency in their search.

Again, why should they choose you over one of your competitors?

To clearly communicate the answer to them, it’s imperative that you do something that may seem a little odd at first: Do NOT talk about your company’s product or service.

Let that sink in a little…

To best communicate how your product or service will address your visitors’ needs, you must refrain from talking about your product or service.

This is a process known as building a story brand, introduced to the mainstream by marketer Donald Miller.

customer journey
Photo credit: https://medium.com/@geekrodion/building-a-storybrand-by-donald-miller-a9c0eb81cfbf

In short, consumers all want to be the heroes of our own stories, no matter how small or minute the victory may be.

You, the brand, must act as a guide in facilitating this victory by providing an appropriate product or service.

In order for this victory to be achieved, the visitor on your site must feel as if he or she is the one playing the role of the hero.

The copy of your landing page and, more specifically, your offer needs to reflect this type of thinking.

Rather than saying your service equipment uses only the most advanced technology, speak directly to the visitor by detailing exactly how this technology will improve their lives, allowing them to assume the hero role.

In the case of the plumber, even though his water softener may contain components that no other softener can match, the idea is to speak directly to the visitor by telling them that they can use the softener to reduce soap/shampoo consumption and benefit from softer skin and healthier hair.

4. Social Proof

This is the part where you say, “But don’t take our word for it…”

No matter how sound your USP, attractive your offer, and substantial its benefits, visitors to your site will still relish seeing that others in their identical situation have improved their lives by using your product or service.

It’s no coincidence as to why product reviews take up so much room on Amazon.

In fact, a study conducted in 2017 found that 93 percent of consumers say online reviews have an impact on a purchasing decision.

You don’t need to be Amazon, but you do need to allocate a section of your landing pages for reviews and testimonials from past or current customers.

This could even be key excerpts from extensive case studies you’re created that detail how your services have helped another company excel in a number of areas.

If possible, be specific. Provide concrete, verifiable numbers that stand out and carry weight.

If your software increased the productivity of Company X by 300%, say so.

Doing so will go much further than a generic review from someone who says your “company is the best!”

5. Call-to-action

The CTA is the culmination of everything we have discussed so far.

It is meaningless without the other four elements, but it is also the reason why those four exist.

Your CTA is the goal you want each landing page visitor to achieve.

It can take many forms, but generally a strong, effective CTA contains most, if not all, of the following characteristics:

  • Uses action words
  • Creates urgency and/or scarcity
  • Minimizes risk Emphasizes on value
  • Generates curiosity
  • Avoids friction words
  • Cements benefits and social proof

Maybe your CTA is to download a whitepaper, watch a video, fill out a quote form, place a phone call, or sign up for a newsletter.

Ask yourself – “what is the exact business objective I want to achieve” – when creating the landing page.

When you can identify the explicit action each visitor to the page must take to allow you to accomplish this objective, that becomes your CTA.

There is no written rule, per se, for the exact look of your CTA or how many times it must appear on your landing page but oftentimes, your CTA will be in the shape of a button or form that allows your visitor to perform your desired action.

Keep in mind, though, studies have shown that your business’ industry may determine the color of your CTA button.

Always be aware of how much information you’re collecting in your CTA forms.

Visitors can easily be turned off by long forms, those that contain more than seven fields, so you should only ask for info you absolutely need.

Above all, make sure your CTA stands out from all other elements on the page, and that you make it crystal clear what you want the visitor to do.

The visitor’s opportunity to complete this action should be accessible at various points on the page, so as to acknowledge the fact that not every visitor will come to your page with the same level of intent or commitment.

The visitor that won’t answer your CTA until the bottom of the landing page is every bit as important as the one that doesn’t need to scroll at all — and vice versa.

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An effective landing page in action

Up to this point, we have discussed at length the best practices involved with creating effective landing pages.

Now, let’s take a look at a real-life example of a successful landing page and the difference it can make.

A&J Mobility

aj mobilityA respected member of the National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association (NMEDA), A&J Mobility boasts five locations throughout Wisconsin as the state’s leading dealer of wheelchair accessible vans and other mobility equipment.

Thanks in part to a very favorable reputation, traditional media had worked well for the dealership in the past, but management also knew that a considerable number of competitors were pulling ahead in the arms race thanks to digital marketing — particularly paid advertising on Google.

A&J wanted a piece of the pie, and they wanted to acquire these new leads online at a very low average cost.

Early struggles lead to landing page redesign

New Google Ads campaigns were activated in mid-June 2019. Over the next six weeks, they accrued more than several thousand dollars in click costs, but results were stagnant.

The overall conversion rate was only 1.5% — well below the industry average — and we were spending roughly $220 per conversion.

Exasperated, both parties agreed that something further had to be done.

Up to this time, traffic had been sent to the main inventory page of the A&J site. This particular page contained all the info you could ever want about every vehicle in the dealership’s inventory, but it was largely void of many of the main landing page ingredients needed for advertising success and favorable ROI.

Our next goal had become clear: We needed to design an entirely new landing page.

This new landing page would contain the following key elements:

  • Main section that lists A&J’s USP (freedom for those who with disabilities)
  • The main offer (a call with a specialist to customize a van)
  • The benefits of the offer (getting a van that addresses unique customer needs)
  • A section filled with testimonials from previous customers
  • Strong and clear CTA form/button
PPC engagement rate grows by 530%

Once the new landing page was published and implemented, it did not take long to see returns.

The switchover in landing pages was made to start August. The results, nearly immediate, spoke for themselves over the final five months of 2019:

Data Findings

During the last five months of the year, not only did the average number of engagements — defined as either a phone call to a dealership location or a form submission to schedule a call with a mobility specialist — increase dramatically, but the dealership received them well below the average cost we had targeted back at the outset.

By the end of 2019, the numbers were staggering:

  • Increased average number of monthly engagements by 209%
  • Increased overall engagement rate by 530%
  • Reduced overall cost per engagement by 74%

A&J has continued to benefit from the engagements produced by the new landing page.

Through the first two months of 2020, the rate of engagement has exceeded that of the final five months of 2019.

The right landing page matters.

If you create the right pudding, you’ll see the proof, perhaps right away.

Summary

By definition, a landing page can be any ol’ webpage.

But a properly optimized landing page — one that successfully incorporates your USP, offer, offer benefits, social proof, and strong CTA — can make all the difference.

Anything less amounts to nothing more than a traffic net, so don’t leave anything to chance.

Of course, not every visitor to your site will do what you want them to do; this is an unavoidable fact.

But, as we have seen, with some understanding of what ingredients characterize every successful landing page, you’ll be able to give your site’s visitors what they need to engage your brand, increase your sales, and grow your company.

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