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Daniel Carroll is the founder and owner of Hammerback Media, a full-service online branding and internet marketing company headquartered in Watertown.

Mastering the Web

Businesses need to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to search engine optimization

By Lou Sorendo

In today’s age when technology evolves at a rapid pace, learning to use the internet as a marketing tool is becoming increasingly essential for business owners both large and small.

Among the avenues on the web is search engine optimization (SEO). When a consumer is searching for a particular product or service on the internet, search engines display results pages in response to a query by a searcher. The main component of search engine results pages is the listing of results that are returned by the search engine in response to a keyword query.

For a business, being among the top choices could be the difference between cashing in or losing.

Daniel Carroll is the founder and owner of Hammerback Media, a full-service online branding and internet marketing company headquartered in Watertown.

One of the business’s specialties involves SEO.

Today, there are many different search engines available on the internet, each with its own abilities and features.

Marketers such as Hammerback Media are experts on how search engine algorithms work. With this knowledge, content can be tweaked so that search engines have a complete understanding of the purpose of a client’s page and can deliver it near the top of the relevant results for a user looking for that client’s kind of business.

SEO is about understanding businesses, the customers that are looking for that business and the technology users are employing in their search, Carroll said.

“Search engines evolve constantly in an effort to ensure they are delivering high-quality results to their users,” Carroll said. “SEO is leveraging all possible avenues to ensure your business shows up fast when the user’s search is relevant to your business.”

Google wants to give users the answers they are seeking while still keeping their attention after they have completed the search, Carroll noted.

“If Google can deliver the answer without the need for a user to click your link, they want that to happen,” he said.

“For example, go to Google now and search for ‘lollipop.’ If you were a local business selling lollipops, look how far the user would have to scroll down the page to find your business,” he said. “The page is filled with pictures of lollipops, music with lollipop in the title, and some dictionary entries.”

An effective SEO consultant is staying on top of these trends and is proactively ensuring his or her client’s business has a presence in this “prime real estate,” well above the first natural organic link, he added.

“There should be photos of your business’ lollipops up there, and perhaps a link to a YouTube video about your brand,” Carroll said. “Most of this prime real estate is taken up by what Google calls ‘rich snippets’ or pieces of information from your website that are displayed directly in search results without users having to click your link.”

Carroll said business owners must make adjustments in order to adapt to changes.

“If you have a web developer and a marketing department on staff, ensure they are familiar with rich snippets and proper structured data,” he said.

Structured data is data that has been organized into a formatted repository, typically a database, so that its elements can be made accessible for effective processing and analysis.

“These are fairly novel concepts, so it may be time to consider sending staff to some continuing training to freshen up those skills if you aren’t already showing up in these results,” Carroll said.

If a business does not have a web developer or marketing team on staff, it’s time to hire a consultant, he added.

Step up to plate

Carroll said business owners must take proper measures prior to hiring a company that specializes in SEO and understands the changes that are taking place.

Traditional SEO has evolved and significantly changed in the last six months and most people are just recently enacting a plan that will fail if they are hiring a substandard SEO expert, Carroll noted.

“First, ensure they understand your business and your customers. Someone could be an expert at technical implementation but if they don’t understand your product and your customer, none of that matters because they can’t properly implement a successful strategy,” he said.

Secondly, Carroll said to quiz prospects by asking about rich snippets and structured data.

“Ask them about their company policy for continued education,” he said.

Carroll said it is imperative that candidates read weekly industry blogs, participate in quarterly online training seminars, and attend Moz conferences annually. MozCon is where some of the world’s top SEO experts share research and ideas.

“There is no reasonable way to expect they can perform optimally in today’s hyper-fast and constantly evolving search engine landscape,” he said.

Carroll said Hammerback Media seeks a competitive edge over other companies that specialize in SEO.

“There are actually a lot of scammers or pretenders in the online marketing space,” he said. “I know a lot of ‘social media experts’ that give themselves that title because they have a lot of friends on Facebook.”

Carroll said the same is true for “SEO experts.”

“Someone read an online article and uses search engines a lot so now their LinkedIn says, ‘Search Expert.’ Either ask for certifications or ask about past campaign performance. If you are seeking pay-per-click services, it makes sense that your agency has passed the Google Ads certification, which is free,” Carroll said.

Hammerback Media ensures that results promoting one’s business display relevant and inviting information that encourages potential customers to click on his or her link, the owner said.

“That is because we start with a genuine conversation about your business,” he said. “I want to understand what your business does and its goals. I want to understand why your customers choose your product.”

SEO Audit

For business owners who are new to internet marketing, the first step is to get an SEO audit, Carroll said.

“Even if you had a perfect SEO strategy, if it was implemented more than a year ago, there could be a lot of missed opportunity,” he said. “Some of our past clients are doubling their website traffic after receiving an SEO audit and fixing problem areas.”

In addition, he said many customers have recently added Google Ads to their marketing efforts so they can receive an increase in traffic to their site in less than 24 hours.

Google Ads is an online advertising platform developed by Google where advertisers pay to display brief advertisements, service offerings, product listings, video content, and generate mobile application installs within the Google ad network to web users.

Carroll said typical SEO work takes weeks or months for search engines to update a business’s rankings and start driving more traffic to its site.

“But ads show up immediately and up to four ads can be displayed before even the ‘rich snippets’ on any Google search result page,” he said.