Setting Your SEO Up for Holiday Success

Fine Point Grey Sean Van Guilder, Director of SEO

Setting Your SEO Up for Holiday Success

(21-minute podcast)

Is there still time to set up your SEO to boost holiday sales? Our host, Maureen Jann is joined by Sean Van Guilder, Director of SEO to deep dive into the importance of setting up your schema markup properly, the impact of local SEO, social media, content marketing, and paid search, and more quick tips to get your site in shape. We also cover the week’s marketing headlines including voice assistants, natural language search, & Pokemon Go’s continuing impact.

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Featured Experts:

Sean Van Guilder, Director of SEO, Point It Digital Marketing

Guests and Experts

Sean Van Guilder, Director of SEO, Point It Digital Marketing

Bio: Sean Van Guilder has been helping businesses get found on the internet for over 20 years. He has a 10,000 foot view of digital marketing that helps shed light on SEO as a business driver.  Sean has worn almost every digital marketing hat out there and brings strategies and tactics that have knocked the socks off of companies such as Microsoft, MSN and WONGDOODY, to name a few.  Currently, Sean is leading the SEO Practice for premier digital marketing agency, Point It, in Seattle.  Sean is a self-taught digital marketer and loves every minute of it.  When he’s not in front of a computer, he’s teasing his co-workers, playing sports, hanging with his kids, making music and collecting HO scale trains.

HOST: Maureen Jann, Director of Marketing, Point It Digital Marketing

Bio: Maureen Jann is a veteran B2B marketer whose career in Digital Media has grown up with the Internet. A self-described jill-of-all-trades, Maureen has elevated creative problem solving to an art form and enjoys the daily challenges of driving business results in unexpected ways. Her skills as an entrepreneur, content marketer, creative director and passionate people manager set her apart from the pack. Maureen has worked in every corner of marketing making her a skilled tactical resource as well as a strategic partner. Recently, she was the captain of the marketing ship for an award-winning professional services firm and is currently creating a content marketing strategy for Point It, a digital marketing agency.


Maureen Jann: Welcome to Fine Point, a weekly digest of digital marketing updates. Each week, we’ll feature an industry expert and guests to talk about what’s happening in digital marketing. I’m Maureen Jann, the director of marketing at Point It Digital Marketing here in Seattle, Washington. Today it is gorgeous. It’s sunshiny. It is beautiful. It is exciting. I came in dry today, so I feel like today is a good day.


Sean V.: I don’t know. It feels off to actually have sunshine.


Maureen Jann: It’s true. It’s true. Today as you heard, we have Sean Van Guilder, our director of SEO, and we’re going to be talking to him about content marketing and the upcoming holiday season and the impact on SEO. First, we’re going to run through a few news headlines that I’ve pulled up. I use Nuzzel. It’s a great aggregator of just what are people talking about in my network. The few things that caught my eye today start … Well, they start with Pokemon GO, still being talked about, believe it or not, Snapchat Stories, and the last one is the personal assistant industry, which I think is fascinating and super creepy as I have mentioned in previous podcasts.


Sean V.: Yup. It’s huge.


Maureen Jann: Let’s get started. The first headline that I found was called Magical Content that Gets Links and Shares. This is by BuzzSumo. Basically they use Pokemon GO as this example of the holy grail of backlinks and connections and shares. It aggregated some data around Pokemon GO and the success, and apparently got over 100,000 shares and acquired 70,000 links from 800 different domains. It’s interesting, because this is sort of a flash in the pan, right?


Sean V.: Yup.


Maureen Jann: They didn’t sustain this because it was novel and new and shiny, but I believe the actual engagement for long term for that app will drop significantly after the beginning.


Sean V.: Yup.


Maureen Jann: Right? What I was thinking was that really it comes back to just good SEO practices and not relying on magic …


Sean V.: Absolutely.


Maureen Jann: … for your good backlinks.


Sean V.: Yeah, I think a lot of times we look at things like this, like with Pokemon GO. They go viral almost overnight. There’s this huge interest in what they’re doing. You can’t always rely on that. Yeah, we see instances where we have press releases or clients are in the news. That helps with their SEO, their organic rankings, their traffic, acquiring the backlinks, but also too looking at, even using this example of Pokemon GO garnering all these links and all these shares, how many of those links are actually really good? Sure, it’s one thing to have that link velocity and acquisition of them, but really what you want to do for the long term is go after those links that are of high quality, not spammy, et cetera, so when you do have something that comes along for your company that is going to go viral or have a huge interest, even if it’s short term, that’s going to prop you up for the long term.


Maureen Jann: Yeah. I mean, really what they did that has longevity, that has legs, is really turn augmented reality into a … It gave it fresh life. I think that that’s the thing that’s going to stick around for them, more than a fancy game that people aren’t playing anymore.


Sean V.: Right.


Maureen Jann: Right. Although I was out this weekend and there was a headline that … Somebody had an LED sign as we were driving, and it said Pokemon stop here, or Pokemon stop, PokeStop, PokeStop.


Sean V.: Yup.


Maureen Jann: Yup, and I was like, “Wow, that casino has a PokeStop, and it advertises it on its road signs.”


Sean V.: Yeah. It’s a great idea. It’s a great marketing plan.


Maureen Jann: It is. The next story that I saw that was interesting, Snapchat is an enigma to me on a lot of levels, and from a B2B perspective, we don’t have to explore it a lot, so I’m always asking questions. How do you use Snapchat? When I saw this … One of the things that I struggle with with Snapchat is repurposing this content, being able to use it other places. It’s really challenging, I think. I thought it was challenging, but then as I read more about on … This article is how to repurpose your Snapchat stories, and I was like, “Eureka. Thank you, Social Media Examiner,” because what you can do is take those stories and those memories, and you can download them and use them as basically visual bait to bring people back from other platforms on to your Snapchat. I was like, “Oh, that makes so much more sense from a business perspective.”


Sean V.: Yup. Yup.


Maureen Jann: Yeah. We’ve talked about social media having an impact on a company’s SEO. What is the implications here with Snapchat and SEO?


Sean V.: I think it’s still developing, especially for Snapchat, but really what it comes down to is brand awareness, brand authority. If you have a business that is maybe in the entertainment sector, or selling goods, not just services but actual physical storefront, this kind of thing can help build your brand or the awareness around your brand and your offerings, so that when people are going and thinking about those types of products, they do a search for that particular product. That’s going to help drive up the traffic to your site. It’s not really a direct correlation that the Snapchat or maybe even Instagram would have on SEO, but it’s more of an indirect that’s going to help long term.


Maureen Jann: Okay, that makes sense. I always wondered because I know a lot of that stuff is behind a wall, and a lot of it is private chats and private conversations. I could see that SEO wouldn’t be a huge … It’s not a huge influence on the SEO for a brand or a site, but from a marketing standpoint, sure.


Sean V.: Yeah. Yeah, definitely from a marketing … With Stories, and to Instagram as well now that they have Stories just like Snapchat, it’s gaining that ability to get your brand out there in front of people that normally wouldn’t see you. A lot of times, even on Snapchat, the growth of Stories and basically the e-magazine style format that they have for Stories now from entertainment, from news, all those different channels, that will help get you in front of those people that you normally wouldn’t get in front of.


Maureen Jann: Yeah, it feels like it would be really valuable, like in fashion when you’re doing new lines, [crosstalk 00:06:30] and you have basically Snapchat lookbooks. That sounds pretty interesting, and I think …


Sean V.: Absolutely.


Maureen Jann: … that’s pretty effective. The last headline that I ran across which I find infinitely creepy, as I mentioned earlier, is the personal assistants. This headline is Google Home Bests Amazon Echo and Alexa for Answering Questions, Search Engine Land. I just actually watched a video before we started doing this of a guy testing same question, both services. It was interesting. Alexa and Echo are really challenged with answering specific questions.


One of them was around Michael Jordan. It was like, “When was Michael Jordan a basketball player?” It was like, “Are you talking …” Alexa was like, “Are you talking about this person or this person or this person,” whereas the Google Home was like, boom, 1999 to 2003 or something like that. It was very simple. It was very interesting. What’s cool about this is it’s more hands-free assistance coming on the market, which I think is going to provide some really healthy competition to Amazon, and push them to make their technology better. I don’t think that’s a bad thing.


Sean V.: It’s not surprising that Google Home would best them, because they’ve been around for so long and have been, for a number of years now, moving towards entity search, or natural language search, whether it’s mobile or desktop search that they’ve been doing. It’s just a natural progression for Google. They have a wealth of data that unfortunately Echo and Alexa don’t have in the back end. Google knows, and they’ve been able to take that vast amount of data from their search queries that people have been doing, and understand that typically 90% of the people that start off with this type of search end up wanting whatever it is three or four searches later. They’re trying to get closer to that very end search where people are actually ending up.


When it comes to natural language search, really it’s just another means for finding information. That’s where Google’s been going. They’ve been going towards the natural language search for years to allow for this type of platform to prosper and succeed. Right now, and that’s the thing is, if your sites, whether it’s lead generation or e-commerce, if they’re not propped up in such a way that allow for answering those questions, you’re going to miss out on a huge wealth of traffic from personal assistants.


Maureen Jann: Right, and I think that actually goes to talk about … My latest flag waving that I’ve been doing is all about making sure that your content answers the question, which is something that I’ve learned from you. It’s all about being singular, being focused, being tight, and making sure that whatever content you have out there answers the kind of question that somebody would search for with a natural language query. That’s the way we’ve shifted our content here at Point It too, just to make sure that we are … I mean, because complexity is fantastic. As long as you have teasers that answer those natural language questions, you can always push them further into those more complex pieces.


Sean V.: Absolutely.


Maureen Jann: If you don’t start simply, then you’re not going to start at all, so it’s been pretty interesting.


Sean V.: Yeah, and we’ve seen great outcomes from that.


Maureen Jann: We really have. We just actually got some more information about that, so that was exciting.


Sean V.: Yeah.


Maureen Jann: Yeah. Let’s talk specifically SEO. Sean Van Guilder is our director of SEO at Point It Digital Marketing. Not too long ago, he released an article about things you can do from an SEO standpoint to boost your holiday sales. This is something that I don’t see out in the market when I am scanning headlines very much, which feels like a missed opportunity to me.


Sean V.: Mm-hmm (affirmative).


Maureen Jann: Sean’s been in the business 20+ years, and has a comprehensive 10,000 foot view of the industry, so it’s always interesting to hear his perspective. I know I’ve learned a lot from him, so thanks for coming and chatting with me.


Sean V.: Absolutely. My pleasure.


Maureen Jann: Yeah, it’ll be fun. Tell us a little bit about the article you wrote, and yeah, from an SEO perspective, where do we get started?


Sean V.: The article was focused on looking at some of the, not only best practices, but how they can help you going into the holiday season. Some of the things is looking at, for example, schema markup. A lot of people don’t know about it, and even less the number of companies have incorporated it. It’s extremely important for e-commerce sites to have schema markup on their site, and it’s just as important for lead gen types of sites to have that.


Maureen Jann: What is … To give us a primer on what schema markup is.


Sean V.: Yeah, so basically schema markup is HTML on steroids, I guess is the best way of describing it. Essentially what it does, it gives specific buckets for the engines to look for information on those pages. If you go to, you’ll see that there’s markup for local business, markup for reviews, markup for product information, and all those buckets can be sliced and diced. Essentially it’s a way for site owners to get information in front of the engines that much faster. was a joint venture between Google, Bing, and Yahoo, and as far as I know, Yahoo’s still around, just recently bought. It’s very valuable because then it allows the engines to take things like reviews component and show that information within the search result pages. We know that drives click-through. We know that drives conversions.


Another thing is looking at your local SEO, which is so very, very important, especially for local businesses, but even if you’re a statewide or national business, you have to realize every search that’s conducted is essentially local SEO. If your name, address, phone number, et cetera, is not consistently formatted through all those social media platforms, Facebook, Twitter, and Google+, Google My Business, et cetera, it’s going to be very hard for you to rank and show up in the local pack.


Another thing is looking at, especially coming up for the holidays in the short term, look at, is your site, site-wide, HTTPS compliant, meaning all the pages, all the images, CSS, Javascript, et cetera. Then last is going back to the backlinks. We talked about that in the beginning. Look at who’s linking to your site. If you have low quality, low quality can be somebody that has a domain authority under 20, or they’re a link farm, or any of the other bad practices that Google and Bing frown upon. Get rid of those now. We know that with Amazon they’re doing a new deal every day, so Black Friday already started. It started the first of the month, but you still have opportunity to garner that traffic if you get your site cleaned up and aligned.


Maureen Jann: We’re in November. It is weird.


Sean V.: Yeah.


Maureen Jann: It is coming fast. It is fast and furious. I know that I’m already thinking … Actually I probably should have already been thinking, what am I getting my mom and dad for Christmas, but I’m going to wait till the last minute because that’s the kind of shopper I am.


Sean V.: Fair.


Maureen Jann: If you’re looking to grab traffic out of the stream, and you’re this late in the game, what are some top SEO things that you could do right now?


Sean V.: Yeah, schema markup, huge. Get in social media. We talk about the digital marketing ecosystem. If you’re not doing SEO, PPC, and at a bare minimum, paid social and/or display, you’re missing out. People probably don’t realize just how well those complement each other. We’ve seen click-through rates increase when we have a paid ad and an organic result on the same page.


Maureen Jann: Yeah, there’s some pretty intense statistics. Isn’t that something like 75% or something?


Sean V.: Yeah, it ranges depending on the industry, but at a minimum, we’ve seen about a 27% lift in click-through rate for both paid ads and organic results.


Maureen Jann: When they show up together.


Sean V.: Yeah.


Maureen Jann: That’s intense.


Sean V.: It is.


Maureen Jann: Yeah.


Sean V.: Obviously having budget available for that would be key at this point.


Maureen Jann: Sure.


Sean V.: From a pure SEO perspective, HTTPS, schema markup, making sure that you’re getting your messages out there on social media platforms.


Maureen Jann: Great. What you need now is a quick hit list, right?


Sean V.: Yup.


Maureen Jann: That sounds like a quick hit list. Let’s say it’s too late for you after you’ve done the top tips that you just gave us. Next year, what does next year look like? If you could do everything, what would you recommend?


Sean V.: That they start looking at what their plan is or what their strategy is going to be around for the holidays, I would say at a minimum six months prior, so May, June would be ideal, so that whatever their marketing plan is for their business, looking at how you integrate that into your content creation, into your messaging and your branding, for SEO.


Maureen Jann: Yeah.


Sean V.: Apart from that, looking at all the different elements that make up SEO, so making sure that you … Like I mentioned, schema markup, HTTPS compliancy, making sure your content actually answers questions, looking at internal links on your site. What’s your internal linking strategy look like? Do you have content that requires people to click to display it? We know Google devalues that, so you’re losing out on ranking opportunities. What your content strategy is leading up into the holidays, so that content strategy should be married to your marketing plan for the year as well as your holiday, so that you can create the blog articles, the content, conduct the outreach to other experts within the industry or to other similar sites that are within your market space to get those links to your site. Then speaking of links, clean up your links. It’s not a one and done thing. We’ve seen Russia and China sites scrape other sites and use it as links to our client sites, which is going to ultimately drag down your overall traffic.


Maureen Jann: Sure.


Sean V.: Then also, especially one of the things that we haven’t actually touched on is looking at usability, which is huge, so looking at, if your site is conversion-driven, like an e-commerce site, how many steps does it take to check out? Does it go well beyond the number of average page views for a user on your site? If your checkout process is 10 pages, and people are typically only looking at four, that’s a huge gap, so look at how you can streamline that process. Look at the overall usability of your site. Is it mobile-friendly? Can people check out or can they even search and find you on mobile?


Maureen Jann: Right. I always thought that checkout tip was super interesting. It’s not something you think about. You often don’t think about usability and SEO together either, like how integrated they are in order to get people to convert via that channel, but it’s so core, right?


Sean V.: Absolutely. Look at the last four or five years of Google’s updates, all the different animal names, Panda, Penguin, you name it. In my view, they fall into two buckets, usability and user intent. That’s what they’re focused on. Is your site fast? Does it load quickly? Does it look good on mobile devices, smartphones, tablets, et cetera?


Maureen Jann: Right. When we talk about content, it’s always interesting to me, because another thing that was in your article was around ratings, and articles about the products that you sell were pretty interesting, and then combine that with the blog articles, it tends to become this package of SEO boosting awesome.


Sean V.: Yes.


Maureen Jann: Yeah.


Sean V.: Absolutely. Unfortunately, a lot of times, businesses will look at, “Well, we just need to get all the information that’s in our head up on the website,” versus looking at it from the user side, what truly is the user that you’re targeting, so that if you write the content not only for the product description or the service description, but then also go in deeper as to blog articles or best practices, those sort of things that you then can link to your product pages or your service pages, but it gives that more deeper, almost conversational level of information to visitors of your site.


Maureen Jann: Yeah, I think in your … Any company now has to be a company that provides value and resources to clients or customers. It doesn’t matter what you do. If you have a wealth of resources and you have a wealth of information, then you’re more likely to win.


Sean V.: Yup.


Maureen Jann: From an SEO perspective, from a customer loyalty perspective, I mean, really, there’s just a million different ways that you win when you’re providing value to your customer on that level.


Sean V.: Absolutely.


Maureen Jann: Awesome. I think that’s our time. Thanks for joining me.


Sean V.: Thanks for having me.


Maureen Jann: Had a good time. I always learn something. It’s always fun. Thank you guys for joining us. My name is Maureen Jann. I’m the director of marketing here at Point It Digital Marketing for Fine Point, a weekly digest of digital marketing updates. We’re here in the Point It Studios in Seattle, AKA the conference room, and next week we hope to be chatting about the PSAMA Pulse Awards. Looking forward to having you join us then. For now, stay on point.



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