Meetup Summary

You know you should be doing SEO, but it seems logical and confusing at the same time. Where to begin? So, you put it off until “later” (whenever that is). What if someone could guide you through some basic SEO best practices that you could actually do right now to get in front of more potential customers on Google… even if you’re not super “computer-savvy”? That’s what this meetup is about. You’ll get practical tips from experienced SEOs (that you can trust) on things you can do right now to show up in front of more potential customers and get more bookings.

Guest Panel

Video Recording

Key Takeaways

  1. Google doesn’t just consider keywords – it ranks content based on E.A.T., which stands for Expertise, Authority & Trustworthiness
  2. Google ranks pages, not websites, so ensure each page of your website has a purpose and meets the intended need
  3. Run search queries to see what content Google currently values and use what you learn to improve your content
  4. Google sees links to your content from other websites as a signal of authority, so work to get more links
  5. An easy way to get backlinks to create online profiles on popular business directories and social media platforms
  6. Create a list of things places to go, stay or eat on your website and reach out to businesses you add; they might do the same for you
  7. Write a piece of content and submit it to a website, such as a travel blog. If it doesn’t get accepted, post it to your own website

Resource Links

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Meeting Transcript

[Carl] All right, let’s go ahead and get started. So again, welcome to this week’s Accelerate Tourism Marketing Meetup. Our topic today is how to grow bookings with SEO. For those of you who are new to the meetup we started this about eight weeks ago. Our whole goal is to make this a virtual meetup for business leaders serving the tourism industry. We focus on sharing tourism marketing ideas through guest speakers and open discussion. And we plan to hold these weekly during the lockdown period and then move to monthly ’cause all of us are gonna be focused on growing our businesses, right? So again, today’s topic is how to grow bookings with SEO. So I know most of you on the call are familiar with search engine optimization, you’ve done efforts to try to improve your search rankings. Hopefully you’re monitoring your search activity through tools like Google Analytics, and I know this is one of the hot topics that was requested from the group just to learn a little bit more about how does SEO work? What can I as a business owner do to help improve my SEO? What are some tips, strategies, etcetera. So I’m really excited about today’s session. We’ve got a great panel of speakers for you today. Some of you will recognize from past sessions, Justin Mosebach, who’s the SEO director at Improve & Grow. We’ve also got Joe Arduini, who is the search director at REQ , which is the agency that does a lot in the travel and entertainment industry, and Ross Stockdale who is the digital marketing manager with Equestrian International. So welcome to each of you. And really excited to have you guys share a little bit with us about your experiences with SEO, and specifically tips and strategies for our audience here and what they can do to improve their rankings on Google.

SEO Overview

[Carl] So Justin, I’d like to start with you and just get your perspective on just, give us a real quick synopsis of just what is search engine optimization ’cause again, we’ve got a lot of people from different backgrounds, different experiences, just break it down in simplest form for us. What is SEO?

[Justin] Yeah. So basically, to understand SEO, I think the easiest way to understand it is to think of yourself doing a Google search. So imagine yourself doing a Google search for something like things to do near Philadelphia, for example. So you do that search, and you’re gonna see several different things on Google’s search results page, right? You’re gonna see a map with a bunch of listings there. And the main way to show up there is by doing Google, my business optimization, which we’ve talked about in previous webinar, some other things that you’re gonna see are lists of actual businesses, and you’re gonna see some directories and third party websites, for example, Tripadvisor, and Yelp and Facebook, those type of things that are showing up there. So search engine optimization is focused on trying to get a specific business a specific website on the top of that page, as much as possible. So everywhere possible in the maps, we get the actual business website listed to show up there and on any of those third party sites that somebody might also click on getting the website listed there as well.

[Carl] Cool. So the big question then becomes how does Google decide who to rank?

[Justin] Yeah, so I think the easiest way to kind of or the way I like explaining it is, if you think of the internet as a big library, Google’s basically the librarian. They have to sift through all of the books, all of the content, all of the chapters, so that when you ask the library, let’s say you go to the library and you wanna find a book about hiking in Pennsylvania. So you go there you ask the librarian. Well the librarian is either mentally sifting through or is doing search to figure out, “Okay, “that is a category that would be in this section, “and it would probably be in a book like this, “and oh, yeah, I’ve seen that book before. “That’s familiar. “And it seems to be popular “because it’s been cited by all “these other books, I would recommend “you check out this book.” Well, if Google, if the internet’s a library and Google’s librarian, your website is basically a book. And you can think about each chapter of that book, as being your webpage as being a page on that site. So Google’s trying to get you to be trying to get the user to this specific page of this specific book in the library. So hopefully, that’s kind of helpful. I know, we’ll get into it more but hopefully, that’s kind of a helpful analogy to understanding how Google works and then search engine optimization is helping Google understand the importance of your website, what your website’s about the prominence of it. So you can think of that as other documents, other books citing you, as a source, citing your website as a source. And that citation would basically be a link pointing to your website.

[Carl] I like that analogy of the library. So if we think of our website as the book and each page has chapters, I guess the question is like, how do we get Google as the librarian to pay attention to our book?

[Justin] Yeah, so there’s different things that you can do. The first thing is you need to make sure that you have a website that Google can easily understand. ’cause the way that Google finds all that information is it has to go collect it, right? So it has to come and crawl your website using a machine, essentially using a computer programme. So it needs to understand what your website is about. So that could be as simple as making sure that there’s text on the page instead of putting text in a bunch of images, or using flash or something like that, or Google’s not as easily going to be able to understand what the content is to making sure going back to the citation analogy of the book that other websites are linking to your website. You think of a link pointing from another website to your website. It’s kind of a vote of confidence that Google can say, “Okay, all these “other websites are linking to this one website about “this particular topic. “I can probably trust that that’s legitimate.” And there’s some other things that we’ll get into. So there’s things on the website, there’s things off the website that you can do.

[Carl] Got you. So that’ll come up later when we talk to Joe and Ross about the concepts of on site and off site. That’s a good setup for that. What other important factors go into how Google decides what to rank a website?

[Justin] Yeah, so it comes down to the term that’s being thrown around SEO world for the past two years or so. Is EAT. Google’s come out and said that they want to be able to rank websites highly, that have expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness. So that’s where the EAT acronym comes from. So again, expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness. So you can show expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness by doing things on your website either on the back end that users can’t see or quite frankly, just writing good content that users are going to be interested in.

[Carl] Yeah, that’s a good acronym to keep in mind ’cause it’s more than just like having a page about your tour or having a page about your bed and breakfast, right? If you have a legitimate, bed and breakfast or a legitimate tour or legitimate restaurant or attraction, there’s content that’s expected to be there. So like, going out of your way to explain things, describe things, and talk about them in ways that show you know what you’re talking about. That’s what I’m understanding from what you’re saying about the expertise, authority, and trustworthiness.

On-site SEO

[Carl] Joe, I know you’ve got a lot of thoughts around on site SEO, and just what needs to be done with the website content to help make the website or help make that content indexable by the search engine and helping provide value to users. Can you tell us a little bit more about like, what are some easy things that people can do on their website right now to give them a better chance at getting more bookings or rankings from their website?

[Joe] Absolutely. I think that Justin, laid a really good foundation too with the librarian analogy. When you think about a Google search and you consider checking chapters of books. There’s obviously a lot of books, a lot of chapters that talk about, in a lot of cases, the same thing. So when you’re thinking about your page for your site, it’s really the understanding of what the intent behind the searcher is. There are technical elements to make sure that you have in place such as title tags and meta descriptions will provide some references to some resources, because we can get into those items. But really, just to talk more conceptually, you wanna think about what the user is trying to achieve in their search, and whether or not your content fits what their need is. So to go back to Justin’s analogy, if you’re searching, for example, let’s say, bed and breakfast near Philadelphia, and you’re noticing that on page one of Google, that there’s a lot of content from competitors that outranking yours that perhaps talks more about the history of their bed and breakfast or the amenities that they offer. Maybe they talk more about the specific room types and what you can expect on your visit. Those are all things that Google is taking into consideration, from a conceptual standpoint, that feed to the intent of the user. So, while there is a lot of technical aspects that go into SEO, really just the manual process of searching for the terms that you want your business to rank for, and looking at page one, and trying to draw comparisons to what your competitors might be doing, or what sites that you would like to emulate or doing, and relaying that back to the search intent of your own site content can be really valuable.

[Carl] Yeah, I love that tip. It’s sometimes easy to forget that, but basically just looking at what’s already showing up on Google, that’s a good indication of if Google’s valuing the site, that’s evidence of it because they’re already ranking for it. So kinda just trying to derive a theory, if you will, about what is the content that’s really driving that and what is it about that and then figuring out how to either to replicate that or we talked about this on last week’s session with the blog content do better than that. So that’s great Joe. Joe, a lot of our participants are running, they’re in the travel tourism space, they run coveted experiences, very unique experiences, and so I know images can be a big thing and so, I’ve talked to some business owners who are like, “Hey, I just need to kind of tell people, “I’m here and show them really good images “that portray the experience that’s there.” And let’s not have a lot of words, I mean, this is just an advertisement. Basically, we wanna get them to book. What’s your reaction to that kind of feedback as it relates to SEO? Like does that strategy work of focusing primarily on images and maybe just a little bit of text?

[Joe] From a purely technical standpoint, there are case studies that suggest that words matter and descriptions matter and that describing your experiences is important. But all of those things are not to take away from the user experience. If a user can get to, let’s say, a gallery, or a page that talks about maybe your rooms or other amenities, and is able to do so effectively through images, well that might be all that you need. However, if again, and this relates back to what we just talked about, if you’re noticing that on some of your competitors’ sites that are out ranking you that maybe they talk about a specific amenity, and they have one page that’s just dedicated to that amenity. Maybe it’s, the idea of breakfast or something along those lines. And there’s specific images of what options are available, maybe there’s gluten free or even vegan options. And in addition to the images, they really describe, what time breakfast is, how it served, who cooks it, those are all things that are important to relaying the experience that Google might take into consideration to rank other content over yours. So that’s not to say you can’t be successful by optimizing images properly, it’s just that when you consider again what the intent behind the search is and what the user is looking to find out from a knowledge perspective of where they might choose to book, it really does matter that you are, conveying that experience in a manner that Google believes is relevant to what the user’s search was.

[Carl] Yeah, that’s great. One thing I’m reminded of is that the way users search has really changed quite a bit and what we’re looking for has change. So anyone who’s familiar with SEO is probably also familiar with keywords. It’s important to have the right keywords on the pages. And that’s been important ever since search engines began. But one thing I’ve really learned is that they’re doing a lot more research on their own, before they reach out and call somebody. So like, one thing I have to remind myself and remind others about and I’m sure you’d agree is go out of your way to explain things like you mentioned, the breakfast times, the types of breakfast, those kind of styles, it’s kinda like, “Well, if they book with me, “I can tell them all that.” Well, that’s true but we’ve changed in our behavior. We don’t wanna book with someone where we can’t figure out, if my whole family is gluten free, we don’t wanna book with a place that doesn’t have some gluten free options as an example, that’s a great point. Joe, you mentioned user experience, and I will admit, this isn’t my expertise but when I think about user experience, I think about things like navigation, like how does user experience affect SEO or what would you recommend as it relates to that?

[Joe] Sure. So again, this is getting into a little bit more of the science so. And also there’s a lot of arguments in the industry as to what type of effect things like bounce rate or pages per session, affect your actual SEO visibility or your organic visibility and rankings. So really, the experience is about providing what a user is looking for, in the most efficient manner possible. And really, driving them to that page and it comes down to the kind of the thought process of compartmentalizing your site, as Justin mentioned too into a bunch of different experiences. And in some cases when we talk about keywords, when we talk about search, we really are talking about optimizing for very key specific pieces of information related to whether it’s amenities, whether it’s the breakfast example. And it’s about if somebody’s searching for that not getting to your homepage and then having to sift through your entire site. It’s really about optimizing that breakfast page to make sure that if somebody is asking, “Does x bed and breakfast “serve vegan or gluten free?” Them coming directly to that page and getting that piece of information, and then being satisfied with that information to drive whatever their next action is. So really, search engine optimization, really, user experience is all about delivering the right answer at the right time for the right search, and how that happens varies for every single search. And that’s why starting with just some manual searches of keywords that you’d like to rank for experiences that you offer can be really insightful because it helps you to understand how you can split up your information into those experiences, and then deliver the right one for the right search. As opposed to being a little bit more broad and just saying, “Here’s my website, “here’s my great destination that you should come visit, “find the information that you’re looking for “once you’re here.” Google should be doing that for you. In actuality, Google really should be your homepage, and people should be able to find that information as soon as they search with whatever that top result is.

[Carl You said something really important there that I wanna reinforce which is that Google’s gonna, again, Google’s the librarian like Justin mentioned, trying to present the user with the best information they can or the most credible source, which means that if a user’s searching for very specific information like bed and breakfast that has gluten free options, they may end up on your breakfast page that talks about the fact that you have gluten free options not your homepage. So a lot of people take great care to design their homepage and make sure all the right links and information are there, but don’t pay as much attention to the secondary pages of the website. But if I’m understanding what you’re saying there, it’s just as important to optimize those often considered secondary pages, because they may in fact be primary pages depending on the users or key landing pages, depending on what the user is searching for. Interesting

[Joe] That’s a good point. And I mean, it relates a lot to keyword research as well and thinking about if a keyword has enough of authority to stand on its own, you don’t necessarily need to have 1,000 pages for every single thing you offer but if it is something that you’re finding that your users, your customers, your audience are searching enough for, it might very well deserve to have its own page and be very thoroughly explained as opposed to kinda lumped in with your overall just amenities page for example, breakfast should be separate from just overall amenities if you have all your amenities on one single amenities page, and somebody is searching for whether it’s if you have fitness or some kind of outdoor experience or again, a meal option, they wanna be able to find those things individually as opposed to just falling on a singular amenities page. And by defining those very succinctly, you will stand out and your content will have a better chance of ranking and it does lend itself back to the topic of EAT that Justin mentioned to you. That you have expertise, authoritativeness and trust in everything around your business, not just this one kind of overarching general topic.

Off-site SEO

[Carl] Yeah, that’s great. So I know when Justin mentioned, so we’ve just covered a lot about the content on the sites. Justin mentioned that the other big aspect of SEO is getting links to your site or other websites on the internet pointing to or referencing the website. And that’s often referenced in the SEO world as off site SEO. Ross, I know you’ve got a lot of experience with dealing with link building, off-site SEO, finding ways to expand your online presence beyond your website and create opportunities for people to be linking to your website which feeds into that idea of expertise, authority and trustworthiness because other websites are referring to you and citing you. So tell us a little bit about that. I know there’s a technical term that people have probably heard of, but often might not completely understand what it is and that’s the idea of backlinks. what are backlinks and why do they matter for SEO?

[Ross] Sure. So, I think in order to answer what backlinks are, we gonna look at how Google originally became the authority in being a librarian for the internet. So the original way that the algorithm works back in the late ’90s was also the concept called PageRank. And PageRank used the internet as a big web and the more strings or backlinks, a website had pointing to that site, the more Google is assumed to have authority and trust. So quite literally links used to be votes of confidence on the internet. It’s since changed and evolved tremendously to better reflect actual expertise, authority and trust but think of backlinks as connections are friends. If you’re on Facebook, and I’m friends with Carl, I mean my friendship to him is considered like a backlink not technically with SEO but if I have a website and a blog post on my website, I say Carl Lefever is a great business owner in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and I link to his website now I’m being to get backlink for him. So how do you get those backlinks? There’s a lot of different ways to do that. And how do you manage your backlinks as well, I think is worth mentioning too. So I’ll explain a couple of ways to get the backlinks. One is you can manually create them. So I could create profiles on Yelp, Google my businesses have a one importance to create and manage and update Tripadvisor, Travelocity, a bunch of different websites that are out there, whatever industry you’re in, we’re talking about tourism so for example, discover Lancaster if you’re around us, a website dedicated towards that. The way I like to evaluate websites, and that you might actually be having a relationship with someone that’s a webmaster at those websites to create that. When we’re creating business directories, things that are worth mentioning to evaluate those directories are if they have similarities to your business and location, if they’re authoritative. I kind of measure authoritative as in is a day old website does it have plenty of content on it and plenty of links on the website? does it pass the sniff test? From a user perspective, does it make sense like it’s adding value? Have you seen that website at other places? So you can manually create these profiles by creating a listing on there, which includes your business name, your business address, your phone number, and your website. The acronym we use is NAPW but having an authoritative and plenty others, there’s directory listing screen backlinks is a great way to ensure that you do have a good backlink profile, because you can influence that. The trickier way to get backlinks is to have other people, willfully edit the website to include your website as a point of reference. So when we’re thinking about Google as a librarian, and I’m taking myself back in to my academic years, I was doing a work, a research paper, you wanna look at a Work Cited list. And you want Google to reference your website as in the Work Cited list section of your research paper, right? So in order for that to happen, someone has to find value in the content on your website. They have to say, “Oh, this “is a really good great article “about what to bring to my trip, “to Lancaster, Pennsylvania.” And then in there, if you’re the author, your website’s the author, someone is much more likely to pass that along through social media through text. However they found it, you can reach out and say, “Hey, I noticed that “you have a publication about, “you have a publication about “things to do in Lancaster, “well, we offer a great place to stay.” So making that human connection typically has two things, one of those, peer to peer trust. So someone’s much more likely to share your content if they like know you and trust you from a human perspective. But it also sort of gives them an incentive, you’re doing someone a favor by creating value onto their website. So if you create valuable content on your website, and then you make a human connection, that’s one way to make sure you can get backlink that’s not, it’s not within your control but it kind of is, it’s more sales than it is content publication.

[Carl] So Ross, just to kind of recap to the things you’ve said so far. So one quick way to get started is take advantage of things like directories and social media profiles where you can create them, which I think is what you meant by the manually create. And then you can put your information on there, your business name, your address, your phone number, your website, and that website is gonna link, that website address isn’t just gonna be a piece of text, it’s gonna link to your website, so that counts as a link and then because those are very popular and trustworthy sites that’ll get to that authoritativeness and trustworthiness as well that Justin talked about. And then the second thing you mentioned was reaching out to websites that logically could be connection points and asking them to consider linking to your website. The example that came up last week is you’ve written a good blog article about, an experience in the destination that you live in. And there’s lots of other websites that maybe have lists of things to do in that destination, pitching that blog article you wrote to them and suggesting that it be added as a link. Is that a good example of what you’re talking about?

[Ross] Yeah, I think so. If I was to make an analogy, I would just paint myself in the picture of hey I’m a photographer, right? I go out and I take photos of Lancaster County. I think these photos are great. I post them on my website and my social profiles. So anyone in my, that’s the manual action I can take, I can also reach out to National Geographic, or any other really large publication and submit to them, “Hey, would you have these photos? “Possibly consider sharing them “with your audience?” Yeah, absolutely. Then you have links that are pointing back to you and see, who’s pointing back to you and whatnot. And one of the things that I’ve had success with is if there are not so favorable websites pointing back to a website to disavow and say “Actually, no, I choose not “to have a connection to that source.” And sometimes you can improve your ranking or at least, at the very least reduce your chance of getting penalized by Google by disavowing a bad connection. Making sure that really your ecosphere. And when I say ecosphere I mean, what your backyard looks like as far as your links, your backlinks and connections, making sure that it’s clean and really full of relevant, authoritative and non toxic sources.

[Carl] Cool. So Ross you mentioned a good tool that would be good for people to know and we’ll put In the resources, which is Google Search Console, you can use Google Search Console to see how Google looks at your website, and one of the tools that Google Search Console makes available is they give you a list of websites that they see that are linking to your website and you can use that to see both, what your backlink profile looks like now, and it can also inspire ideas about other places to go and get backlinks. When you see the kind of places that have already linked to you. It might show you other opportunities. That’s great. Ross. So, so far we’ve covered, taking control of your own profile online and expanding it by submitting the directories and social media profiles, and those would all include links. You’ve talked about reaching out to other websites where there might be a logical connection to link to content that you have, what other kinds of strategies can help a business build up a reputation online and earn backlinks? Like one thing that comes to mind, how does PR, like press releases and things like that. Does that play into SEO in any way?

[Ross] Yeah, so I think PR, using press releases is a great strategy because you’re adding value. You’re pushing out the information of who you are, what you do, where you are, how to contact you, plus whatever relevant news that your entity, your business entity can offer to your community. And you’re pushing out to media network. So every PR that I’ve ever done has gotten indexed by Google. We’ve seen almost immediately optics and in our search visibility, no, maybe not tremendous but yeah, it’s an absolutely a valid tactic. But it also provides value and puts your name out there in a new standpoint. Another tactic I like to use not getting too much in the weeds, but if you think of building relationships and building backlinks as being synonymous, and really an easier way to make friends is to do somebody else a favor. So, for example if I would review somebody’s website and find a broken link and bring it to their attention and say, “Hey, listen, I really liked this article “but this link right here, it’s not really working. “How about, maybe as a suggestion, “take it or leave it, you link to this page?” And that might, a, it will clean up their website, it will clean up their page, and they’ll have less technical errors and b, your point you’re making them aware of it and help you show them a solution to fix it. So that’s another tactic I like, and a third one is what I call skyscraper method. So if someone was to publish a travel article, and they had a listicle right, so listicle for those aren’t necessarily up in the technical jargon is top 10 reasons to visit Lancaster County. And it was it was written in 2015. Well, a lot of things have happened potentially in the last five years. So you take the core fundamental part of the article, and you update it to 2020. Or you say top 20 reasons to visit Lancaster PA, for example, submitting that kind of new improved content to a content curator, usually that makes them pretty happy. You’re doing something for nothing. And oftentimes, they’ll return the favor by featuring you on their website.

[Carl] That’s a great suggestion. Joe, I’m curious, any tips from your perspective on link building any other strategies than what Ross has mentioned?

[Joe] I think one of the other natural ways too is from use of kind of editorial content on your site. You can call it a blog, you can call it a content hub. It doesn’t just have to be in blogs necessarily. And it does lend itself back to the idea of authoritativeness. So one of the other strategies and this works really well for a lot of our partners too is the idea of while you might be a business or a service, trying to rank for. Again, let’s say bed and breakfast near Philadelphia or, some other offering that is very true to your business. There’s also a lot of value in ranking for the experiences that you should be kind of that tour guide for. So whether that’s hiking trails near Philadelphia, whether that is, best views, best happy hours. All the things that people traveling to where you’re located might want to find. It’s twofold. Number one, it’s going to help increase your visibility, because if somebody is searching for best, happy hours near or even in Philadelphia, and your site ranks, it’s a situation where you’re gaining visibility that you otherwise weren’t going to get as a business. If somebody was searching for that query, and you as again, a tour operator or an experienced provider, don’t have that content on your site, that’s a situation where someone’s gonna find that Yelp article or that Yelp listing to Ross’s mentioned there as well, they’re not going to be introduced to your brand and then have it be a consideration to book or for whatever that purchase or action is. That’s number one. Number two is if you write good enough content, it is something where if somebody is searching for whether it’s the best happy hour or whether it is hiking trails, nature excursions, they’re likely to credit you when they write their article as well. So if they were searching for that experience, found value in the content you provided, and then actually, either booked with you or have started engaging in your content, but when they either write something similar, or when they talk about their experience, either on social media or on their own website, they’re more likely to just naturally link to you. So by you having that content, you can help not only grow your own kind of footprint across the web, and build out your authoritativeness for your brand, but you also are naturally kind of encouraging people to link to you because you provide this information.

[Carl] That’s great. And for those of you who attended last week’s session, we talked a lot about blogging and the value it can drive just in terms of attracting traffic to your site, engaging your users. And if you didn’t pick up on it, Joe just added one more significant benefit to that, which is that that can actually help you get more exposure in other places ’cause people see that content and share it on their website, link to it on their website, share it on social, that just helps to increase the exposure, and another kind of reason to focus on creating just really good content, because it’s much more likely to get shared and linked to in that way. We’re about to open up for questions so I wanna encourage you if you have questions about terms that were thrown out, tools that were thrown out, or if we haven’t yet addressed your big questions as it relates to SEO, please use the Q and A feature to submit those questions. We’ll catch them and bring them up to our panelists here. But just one last question for you Justin. Do you have any specific tips for link building that Ross and Joe haven’t hit yet?

[Justin] Yeah, and there’s a lot of stuff that was really good, that was turned out here. So hopefully I don’t accidentally repeat anything that was said. but I think one thing to do is, and you could do this for free, no tools required. Just go to Google and do a search for your business name. Go through the results not your own website, you have control over that but look at every place that you’re mentioned online and see if there’s a link that points back to your website on that page. So let’s say I do a search for Justin’s bed and breakfast. And I see that there was a blog or there was a newspaper article written two years ago that mentions Justin’s bed and breakfast. I could reach out to that reporter and say, “Hey, I’m a small business, “it’d be helpful for your readers. “If you could link to my business’s website there.” And so that’s kind of unlinked brand mentions. It’s basically finding where your business has mentioned online already. So you don’t have to convince somebody to mention you because they’ve already mentioned you, but they just don’t link to your website. So that can be some easy wins. Another easy win is Google, that just like Joe was talking about towards the beginning, do an actual Google search for the term you want to rank for. Look through those lists of competing businesses, and then do the same thing you just did. Google, do a Google search for those competitors names. And don’t look at their websites specifically, but see where they’re being mentioned on other websites and see if that might be an opportunity. So they might be mentioned by a particular travel blogger in your area or maybe a restaurant has a resource page of things to do near a restaurant. And if you’re a tourist attraction would be great if you linked there, especially if your competitors are already linked there. So those would be two things. And I think the third and last thing is one of the easiest, I think this is one of the easiest things, although you do need a tool to do it, is to find all of the links from other sites that are pointing to your site where they don’t work anymore. So they’re pointing to a page that maybe you deleted a while ago, or they’re pointing to some other URL on your site that just doesn’t exist. You can have your webmaster go in and create what’s called a redirect. So it will help the user get to the page that the link originally was broken. It’s just kind of fixing that pothole or putting a bridge from the page that was deleted to the new page. So it’s redirecting the user without them even realizing it to the correct page. And that, in and of itself creates a link. So that can be a really easy way to find links too is to use a tool to see what links are pointing to your site, and then use another tool to see which ones are broken. And I know that those tools, most of them are paid. I’d be happy to if anybody in the audience wants to find a list of the broken links that are pointing to their site, I’d be happy to pull a report together. I’ll put my email address in the chat and the slides too I think.

[Carl] That’s great. And Justin, an example that comes immediately to mind that very often happens is businesses like those from our participants will hold like events. So they might put a page up on their website for “Hey we’re having an open house.” Or “Hey, we’re having a free cookout.” Or ” Hey, we’re having a community day.” And then when that day is over, it totally makes sense to pull that page off of your website, it doesn’t make sense to have this page on your website that’s advertising some event that happened two years ago. But what you might not realize is if you did a really good job of promoting that event, other people might have mentioned it on their website and their website might still be pointing to that page or trying to point to that page. And so what I think I’m hearing you say is, if you pull down that page that’s fine, because it’s no longer relevant to the user. But those links that are pointing to that page, now lose their value, because Google’s not gonna give credit, to a link to a page that doesn’t exist anymore. But because that link is still there, you’re saying if you set up a redirect and point it to a valid page on your website, like your home page or another event that’s happening in this example, then you’ve basically reclaimed the value of that link. Is that right?

[Justin] Yeah, that’s correct. Yap.

[Carl] Awesome. And you also mentioned you kinda need some special tools to be able to figure out which of those links that are pointing to your website that are broken and thank you for the offer. So I would encourage any of you on the on the call here today to reach out to Justin. If you don’t know how to do that or don’t have the tools for that, it’s very quick to run that report. We’re happy to share that with you and your webmaster could help you with reclaiming those backlinks. I know we had a client recently where we were able to reclaim I think 100 plus links as a result of doing that with just a couple of keystrokes. So definitely a cool opportunity there. Thank you.

Open Q&A

[Carl] Well, I’d like to open it now up for questions. I know Joe, Ross and Justin, you’ve hit a lot of ground, you’ve covered a lot of key things and hopefully inspired some good ideas but let’s go to our audience. Sam, what questions have been submitted?

[Sam] Yeah, so we got a couple here to begin with. This one’s from Phil True. What are some ways one can balance simple page design, while maximizing SEO content on a page? So what are some ways one can balance simple and easy to use page design, while maximising SEO content on a page?

[Carl] Joe, any ideas on that?

[Joe] Sure. And I think in hearing that, I maybe need to even take a step back to a little bit of what I discussed with on page earlier as well. So, Google again is trying to get to an answer for a user as quickly as possible. So while there is definitely benefit to explain the experiences and being thorough in describing what you’re trying to rank for and for the user, what their intent behind their search is, there’s also a lot of misconception around the idea of keywords and making sure that you have arbitrary numbers of words and keyword usage on pages for SEO. So if you do searches for proper on page optimization, you’re likely to come across content on the web that says that Google values content that’s over, 1000 words per page. Google tends to value content when you use your keyword in your title tag and your meta description, and at least three or four times in various synonymous manners throughout your site. None of that, honestly matters when we’re talking about the user. Google is going to value the SEO. Yes, keywords are important, you should use them on your site. If you’re trying to target let’s say hiking in Philadelphia, that keyword or some variation of it should be on the page. But you shouldn’t try to write content and write words just for the sake of hitting a number and I guess the point being is the best SEO is SEO that you don’t experience as the user. The user’s goal is to search for something and find the answer. So the best way that you can do that, from a design and optimization standpoint, is describe what you have to answer the question, be as thorough as you need to, but don’t be exhaustive. If you can answer a question in 30 words, then that page only needs 30 words and maybe one or two images, depending on what you’re seeing across competitors. This does go back to about a year ago, Google was even testing just single answer results. So if somebody searched for, let’s say, what time is it In Las Vegas, for example? Google wouldn’t actually even give you a list of results. They would just tell you what the time was. And there was a lot of controversy around that because there were certain queries that could potentially have some intent behind, not just what time it is. I think one was like dating Great Britain. So maybe somebody was looking for dating sites as an example. But it does point to Google really is just trying to give you the answer, give you it as quickly as possible. And all of that is tied into the user experience. So if you’re trying to build a simple page with just an image or two, a booking button and think that two sentences answers what you’re trying to communicate to a user or to your potential customer we’ll just do that don’t write 500 words, because you read somewhere that that’s what Google sees is value for your content.

[Carl] Yeah, I think Joe that’s a really extremely important point is don’t write for the sake of writing, I will go even further and say organisation matters a tremendous amount. So like having a numbered list or a bullet point list, or a step by step. Because at that point, both users and Google can extrapolate and say, “Okay, we can make sense of this easily because “it’s very nicely formatted because “it’s in a logical order.” Because in Google’s mind, a lot of answer box results, position zero on the search engine results page have been in that structured format of bullet points, right? So they can just quickly easily skim it and get to the point.

[Justin] And I think another thing that’s helpful to understand is, you have to understand that, you have to think of Google as trying to understand the concept behind your website as a whole. So what’s the main bucket that Google can say? Okay, ESPN talks about sports. Tripadvisor talks about travel. What is your website as a whole mainly about? And if it’s about a specific attraction, you can have a page on your site that talks about things to do near that attraction or places to stay near that attraction places to eat near that attraction. And because your website’s already in the travel category, so to speak those other two terms are related. So it reinforces your authority in those areas. So I know that doesn’t answer the question directly but that’s something that I thought of going back to something that Joe had said earlier. I think was the example of hiking in Philadelphia for your bed and breakfast. You could have a blog post like that.

So be cognizant that Google is trying to figure out the main concept of your website, and the concept of each individual page, like, what is this page about? And so you have to kinda think like a robot. But to answer Phil’s question, you also have to think like a user. Put yourself in the shoes of the user and imagine yourself looking for, if you’re an attraction, looking for something to do in some area that you don’t live. What are you looking for? What types of things are you looking for?

[Ross] An analogy, Justin I like to use. Is that Google is the world’s smartest five year old. So you’re thinking like a human, but you’re also thinking like a robot?

[Sam] Just to give maybe say everything that was just said maybe in a different way and give a little preview of something that we’ll talk about next week, I think, writing for the user or writing for Google and how that where that kind of overlays is, like everybody has said, the organization of the content. And one little thing that I’ve been doing and maybe this is more of a problem with people in the agency world like us is that instead of saying, we are writing for the user, we’re literally writing for a reader, somebody who’s going to be reading our content. And there are lots of different readers out there and different approaches to reading that everybody has and you’re gonna have some people that tend to be more like me, which are I’m going to skim the whole content. And I’m going to look for key words or key phrases, the things that I’m trying to figure out if it’s even worth my time of reading the finer print that’s on the page by making a judgment call on the headline. So the headlines become really important. And even if you don’t have, step one, step two, step three, using your headlines as kind of the summary of the page. I like to see a well written blog post for me or well written landing page for me, especially on a sales type page, which is trying to convince me of something. I wanna be able to read all the headlines and get the whole story. And then because I’m curious, and now I know that it’s worth my time, I’ll go back to the top of the page and I’ll read through the nitty gritty details. So I think that’s maybe it’s just really another way to say what everybody else’s contributed. But yeah, having those headlines being very much an overview of the whole page. And that’ll, if you start with that, I think you’ll end up with a well designed page and a well written page.

[Carl] What other questions do we have Sam?

[Sam] So the next one we have here is you see, I lost it here in the comments. Is guest posting on other sites worth the time and a good strategy? So a good SEO strategy.

[Ross] So, if I can jump in and answer that one, I think that I have made more beneficial business relationships, and more beneficial, just new audience members to whatever content I’m trying to create for a client from guest posting, because don’t just think of guest posting, right as you’re writing something, think of it as you’re making a new introduction to someone’s entire network that are basically inviting you to either speak at, like if I would be a guest speaker I would want to say Improve & Grow webinar, That’s a great opportunity. If I were to invite somebody new and interview them on a YouTube channel, or a podcast, I’m opening up them to my network, they’re opening up me to their network. So, guest posting, and whatever medium form whether that is just writing, whether that’s, a video or just purely audio. Think of it as you’re being invited to a party and you’re being invited to or a church and to a whole new social function and you’re making a pretty personal introduction to their entire audience. I found it to be, one of the most mutually beneficial digital marketing strategies for a content producer.

[Carl] If you don’t mind me adding to that what I love about that strategy too, is you get, it’s like a two fold strategy ’cause not only does that content usually link back to your website, either as like a credit to the author, or maybe even your brand’s brander. Person name being mentioned in the article and linked to you but it also, you mentioned being exposed to their network, that article on that other site could drive traffic to your site as well. So if you have the opportunity to get a post on a website that’s already highly trafficked, not only does that link back have more value, but also there could be traffic that comes with that because now people that are reading that article on that popular website might follow that link to come to your website and check it out. And Google’s little tight lipped on exactly how their algorithms work and how much credit everything gets but there’s some pretty strong evidence that traffic coming from links builds up an even better credibility for the website, because it’s not just a link, it’s actually bringing traffic and a steady stream of traffic to the website. So it’s a good signal that that’s a valued piece of content. That’s great. Justin, Joe, any other thoughts on that question? On guest posting.

[Joe] I think the only thing that I would add is I mean, in addition to that, once you’ve established yourself as kinda that authority in your space and you’ve done a healthy amount of content on your own site, then beginning to branch out and offer up some of your insights for like minded publications is only gonna help boost your own contents reach as well. If somebody is reading through, an article and sees your mention that you placed on a third party publication or on a news or travel site. And when it comes back to linking to your site and finds your blog, it’s just more exposure that you’re going to get as well. So I think it’s a great point. I do think it’s a great strategy as well.

[Sam] Very cool. So a couple more questions here. One, are event calendars worth posting on?

[Justin] So I assume by that question, it’s online event calendars. But what I would say is yes, if you have an event, let’s say like right now with COVID, everybody kind of restaurants especially having to go to do like to go menu type of things. There’s a local grocery store here who on Memorial Day, is having a drive thru pancake breakfast. So that would be an excellent opportunity for that grocery store, to in addition to trying to get Social Buzz about it on Facebook and Instagram and whatnot, to post on websites, like the local newspapers, that calendar, the local TV station, radio station, most of them have event calendars that you can post on for free, especially if it’s a free event. And what that’s gonna do is yes, you may get some people that come to the event because you were on that event calendar, but it’s gonna help with SEO too, because Google is going to see your brand name, your brand mentioned on an authoritative website, authoritative website being a TV station’s website, radio station local newspaper, so it’s giving you a lot of topical authority surrounding your business. And I know there’s a lot of those like I know just everybody’s destination is a little different but for destinations that are very popular from a tourism perspective, there could be half a dozen or even more websites that have community what we call community calendars that are promoting events that are happening in the area and 80 to 90% of those are free like you mentioned. I know like in our area, we talked about Lancaster a lot because some of us organizing the call are from there and a lot of probably about half of you on the call here today are from the immediate area here. There are over 20 different community calendars just in the county area that you can post and promote events on and each one of them allows you to get a link back to your website as well. So that’s another twofer right? You’re promoting promoting your event on another highly trafficked website. Plus you’re getting a highly valued link back to your website both of which are gonna help you from referral traffic and SEO traffic.

And I think one thing too to hit on in general in addition to links which are obviously somebody can click on it and go to your site and Google sees that just having your brand mentioned on a website that’s media type of website is helpful from an authoritative standpoint. So even if they don’t allow the opportunity to link back to your website, I think it’s still valuable because Google’s again, trying to figure out who’s the expert on this topic? Who’s authoritative? And who can I trust that if I show my users this website the users are gonna be satisfied with it? Because if Google starts showing users untrustworthy, bad data, users are gonna to stop using Google and they’re gonna go elsewhere.

Closing Summary

[Carl] Cool. Well, I’m looking at the time and I’m realizing we’re gonna need to wrap up at this point. And so before we close today, one I want to thank Justin, Joe and Ross for joining us today just a ton of good information and really good practical tips. I particularly appreciate the examples that were given ’cause I think that helps really bring some of these concepts home. Like our past calls, all the resources that were mentioned today are gonna be published in the notes and we’ll email those out once we have the recording and the notes compiled. Some other resources that we’re gonna include in there. There’s a nice video that Justin suggested, which just provides like a five minute video guide on how Google Search works. That might be a good read for those of you who are kinda new to SEO and how it works. There’s a nice guide here for optimizing your content for SEO. We spent some time talking about that today. This article from Search Engine Journal really goes deep on the idea of how to really do a good job of optimizing your content. So if you’re excited about that, but one want to spend more time on that, that article is a great idea. There’s a website here, our website, we have a free tool on the website, that it can allow you to audit your website for SEO and see if there’s any major technical issues that might be inhibiting your website from showing up well on search, and then those of you who have been with us for a while might remember Darren from white spark speaking about Google My Business. His website also has a really nice article about local search. We didn’t really get into local search too deeply today but there’s some specific parameters that are different when Google sees a user having local intent in their search. That article is a really good one for that. And then, Joe and the team at our EQ have a really comprehensive blog that has lots of good content on with just tips and insights on SEO and other marketing strategies. So I encourage you to check that out. There a few other resources that were mentioned on the call today. We’ll add those to that list. Just looking forward to next week. There’s a whole series of topics that we have planned and one of the topics that we haven’t really addressed today as your website. You think about your website is really the most critical asset you have from an online or digital marketing perspective. There are ways that you can influence your website being effective and helping you get more bookings or not being effective at getting more bookings. And so, next week, we’re gonna talk about seven ways to improve your website so that you can get more bookings from the people that are already visiting it. I encourage you to check in for that. And then looking ahead two weeks from now, as I mentioned we have this whole series of topics, we’re gonna spend some time talking about kind of tying all these topics together to figure out how you put this together as an overall strategy or marketing funnel for your organization. So stay tuned, we’re gonna have two really powerful sessions over the next two weeks. So with that I’d like to close for today. Just want to encourage you guys to keep the conversation going throughout the week. If you haven’t already joined the Accelerate Tourism Facebook group, please do that. If you had questions about SEO that we didn’t get to today or that you think of after the call, post them in the Facebook group. I encourage you to take advantage of the expertise in the group if you’ve got some challenges with your website and you’re not sure what’s going on with it or you just want to get kind of crowdsource some input, put it on the Facebook group, everybody is here to help. And just one last idea. For those of you, we’ve got bed and breakfast on the phone, we’ve got attractions on the phone, we’ve got other types of tourism focused businesses on the phone. When we talk about the idea of link building and SEO, a lot of the bed and breakfast owners I know have pages on their website that say things to do in the area that you market. And then a lot of other people from those same destinations are wanting to be in front of people that are looking for things to do. So there’s probably opportunities for you guys to collaborate a little bit on there. Support each other’s businesses by mentioning them on your business. Put a blog article up of 10 best restaurants and include meetup members on there, or your local friends, whether they’re a member of the meetup or not. And then let them know that you did that. That would encourage them to share that out on social or to link to you on their website. So with that, I know we went over a little bit today. I appreciate everybody joining. I love the community we have here and just the questions and the topics we hope you’re finding this valuable. And we’ll be sending out the recording and the notes from the call as soon as that’s available, and we’ll look forward to seeing you next week. See you everyone. Thanks again Joe, Justin and Ross

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Meet the Author:

Carl Lefever

Carl Lefever, Founder & Strategist

Carl is the founder of Improve & Grow, LLC, where his primary passion is helping businesses grow by improving their online marketing. He leads the team and is involved in developing and executing internet marketing strategies for our clients. Carl's background is in continuous improvement disciplines, focused on sales and marketing operations. He is a certified Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt. He is a proud father of 4 girls and loves traveling and supporting missions work.