Category Archive of blog news

Reclaiming Online Visibility in 2019 [3 Critical Strategies]

“We want to rank first for that keyword.”

If you run a small business, I’m sure you’ve had that thought. It’s a great goal to have. And yes, ranking first for a specific term has its advantages.

But it also doesn’t mean what it used to. Take a quick look on Google today, and you’ll find that first position organic search results are now pushed down the page and below the fold by ads, local map packs, and other Search Engine Results Page (SERP) features. It’s likely your prospects could search Google for a keyword you rank well for, but never see your company’s listing!

To show you how dramatically this has changed, let’s take a look at a comparison of page one search results for the keyword “pool tables” back in 2008 versus the same search today, in 2019.

In the screenshot below, you can quickly see the first organic search result is highlighted in red for the 2008 search.

Back in 2008, Google served the top-ranking organic listings well above the fold, directly under three sponsored links (which are set apart by the beige background).

That’s a totally different story in 2019.

The screenshot below shows the same exact search for the keyword “pool tables” in 2019. Notice how the user now has to scroll past four ads, a map, and three local map results before ever seeing the true, first organic search result. In the example below, the first organic search result now shows up in the eighth position on the page!

Why This Matters

Google’s top focus is helping its users find what they’re looking for as quickly as possible. When you do a search now, Google has developed a very convenient way to display the information you’re looking for “front and center” right in the search results. Clicking on the search results is no longer required in most cases to get the answers you are looking for. As a result, this has dramatically decreased the click-through-rate for organic search results.

Earlier this year, SparkToro’s Rand Fishkin and Jumpshot released data showing the decrease in click-through-rate for organic searches and the number of searches that yielded “zero clicks” on organic links or paid ads. On desktop searches in the US, the organic click-through rate (CTR) decreased by 2%. The story on mobile is even worse, with CTR going down 11% and zero-click searches (searches where none of the results are clicked) increasing from 55% to 62%.

It’s hard to foresee a future where these trends change, and one thing is clear when digging into the numbers (or just simply via the eye test), organic search should only represent a single aspect of your digital marketing strategy.

What You Can Do About It

If your goal is to increase visibility, your strategy needs to include more than just organic SEO. In order to do this, here are a few tools you need to have in your digital outreach strategy.

Google Ads

The best place to start regaining visibility on Google’s SERP is by claiming a space among the ad links that are pushing organic search results down the page. If Google shows ads when users search for keywords that are important to your business, there is virtually no way to outrank them organically. Businesses pay good money for this above-the-fold real estate, and if being among the first shown results is important to you, then there is no other option but to join them.

Google Ads are now a quintessential part of any digital marketing effort. What Search Engine Optimizers (SEOs) hope to achieve over time with organic optimization, Google Ads can achieve overnight. With the correct budget and a list of curated keywords to target, a business can begin appearing at the top of search results in mere hours. This means your business experiences instant brand exposure and immediate lead flow. If you are a local business hoping to expand your reach beyond the city you are located in, you can instantly appear in searches outside of your locality with Google Ads.

Google My Business

When Google launched Google My Business (GMB) in 2014, it served as a great opportunity for both local and national businesses to manage their online presence and communicate key information to their customers. Now, a well-maintained Google My Business page is a crucial aspect of ensuring your business is positioned to rank well, not only in organic results but also in the local map packs (shown below) that appear for people around you who are searching for your products or services.

How do we know that? Google tells users directly! According to their Improve Your Local Ranking on Google page,

“Providing and updating business information in Google My Business can help your business’s local ranking on Google and enhance your presence in Search and Maps.”

First, it’s important that you have claimed and verified your listing on Google. Verifying your business online helps both Google and people conducting searches online know that the information presented in the listing is accurate. Once your listing is set up, you will want to ensure the accuracy of all of the information on the listing, respond to any reviews that are left (even the negative ones), and utilize Google My Business’s post functionality regularly.

Want a real-world example of how Google My Business activity can impact search visibility? At North Star, we started to leverage GMB’s post functionality for one of our clients. We created two posts a month from July to February. When we went back and compared traffic coming to their website through organic search from the same period in the previous year, we noticed a 34% increase after implementing the GMB posts!

Want more information about how to optimize your Google My Business listing? Check out our blog post outlining how to win more local searches using this great tool.

Search Engine Results Page (SERP) Feature Optimization

Google has introduced several new SERP features in recent years, from shopping carousels and knowledge cards to featured snippets and the local map pack. They serve a wide variety of audiences and search intents, but they all have one thing in common; users see them before they see almost any organic search results. Their existence has spawned an entirely new arm of SEO, On-SERP SEO. The gallery below shows some examples of SERP features Google uses to present relevant information to searchers right on the results page.

Shopping Results: Shopping results are considered a sponsored SERP feature. Companies pay for placement in an image carousel, populated with rich information like pricing and customer ratings.

Stock Direct Answer: If you search for a specific stock or index, Google serves the stock direct answer SERP feature which allows users to quickly see a stock’s performance for the day.

Featured Snippet: The featured snippet SERP feature gives a brief preview of the contents of an article that Google believes may answer the searcher’s query.

Knowledge Card: Knowledge cards present a quick look at data relevant to a specific query. This includes semantic, user-generated data to data extracted from the Google Index.

Sports Direct Answer: The sports SERP feature can serve several purposes, from showing users scores and schedules to presenting information regarding standings and playoff brackets.

Due to their visibility, SERP feature placements (like the examples above) are coveted real estate. It’s important to identify which of these SERP features Google delivers for your targeted keywords so that you know how to optimize for them. If you want people to find your bakery on Main Street, your website will need to be optimized for placement in the local pack feature. If you are putting together a list article on tips for salvaging a burnt cake, you will want to develop content optimized for the featured snippet.

While optimizing for SERP features may not necessarily yield a higher click-through-rate (remember, these features are the reason zero-click searches are on the rise), regularly appearing for users in SERP features on a particular topic will increase.

Putting it All Together

None of this is to say that ranking first for important keywords in your industry shouldn’t be a significant portion of your online marketing strategy. On desktop, 61% of searches still result in a click to an organically ranking site. But if you want to reach as large an audience as possible, it is going to take more than showing up in the ten blue links on Google SERPs.

If you are interested in seeing what audiences you are and are not currently reaching and what strategies could have the most impact on your marketing efforts, reach out to us! At North Star Marketing, we offer a wide array of online marketing services, from local SEO to paid search management to content strategy development.

To get started, fill out this form to request a free local search audit. We can provide you with an audit and recommendations for ensuring that local prospects can find your business.  

See What the WordPress Gutenberg Update Means for Your Website

WordPress is an amazing Content Management System (CMS) that powers websites across a wide variety of industries.  In fact, more than 30 percent of the top 10,000 websites run on WordPress. It is open source, meaning that it is free to use and hundreds of developers donate their time to keep the platform safe, secure, and fast.  Our development team at North Star Marketing consists of a few developers that help give back to that community through volunteering time and speaking at WordPress Meetups and WordCamps all over the country.

Getting Ready for the New Gutenberg WordPress Update

North Star has helped hundreds of clients – from schools, colleges, and healthcare networks to banks, accounting firms, and manufacturers – reach key audiences through engaging websites that are built on the WordPress platform.  We’re making sure all of the websites we host continue to function seamlessly when the next major update to WordPress, Version 5.0, is rolled out in the next month. If your website currently utilizes WordPress, keep reading to learn what to expect with this latest update.

More Editing Flexibility

Version 5.0 features a new editing experience called Gutenberg.  Named after the inventor of the Printing Press, Johannes Gutenberg (1394-1468), the new content editor will take the place of the WYSIWYG editor in favor of a feature block content area.  This block system will give designers and developers a better editing experience that more closely matches the front end of your site. WordPress even gives you a great place to test out Gutenberg on their website.  

Many WordPress users may not realize Gutenberg is a fundamental shift in not only the publishing side of the CMS, but also the coding side of the platform. WordPress has always prided itself on being able to update without the risk of breaking features that might have been in the code for over 10 years.  That is wonderful for users, but very difficult for developers because WordPress hasn’t done the best job of keeping up with newer technologies. That all changes with Gutenberg. Developers and designers will now be able to come together to work on a simple editing experience that looks beautiful on the front end and back end of your site.

When you open Gutenberg for the first time, you will notice a complete shift in how the back end page editing is laid out.  The publish button is moved to a floating menu bar at the top, and you just click on the text to edit what you want. You click on the plus button to add a new block, and the settings for that block are found on the right side of the screen.

Once you are familiar with the block concept, you will notice that everything is a block and can be added very simply to your content. This will be taking the place of common shortcodes that we add to sites, such as calls-to-action, accordions, and testimonials.

Gutenberg Compatibility

Gutenberg is going to be great for websites moving forward, but if your site wasn’t designed and developed to take advantage of the new editor, it can cause some serious layout issues with your content.  

For North Star-hosted WordPress sites, we have activated a new plugin called Classic Editor to address the Version 5.0 compatibility issues.  This will allow your site to continue to use the current editing experience familiar to your website managers. You will not have to worry about any compatibility problems, and your site will keep running in its current format.  

Free Webinar to See Gutenberg in Action

The North Star Marketing development team is currently working on putting together a webinar to review some of the major features of Gutenberg. We invite you to sign up, and we’ll keep you posted on the particulars.  

Upgrading to Gutenberg

At North Star Marketing, we build custom websites that take advantage of the technologies that are available at the time of development to keep your site pages consistent and beautiful. Each site is different, and therefore each site will require different edits to become compatible with Gutenberg.  If you are a North Star client, the first step is to contact North Star Marketing and let us know that you would like a quote on updating your site to Gutenberg. We will then test your site and put together an estimate for the switchover. If you are not a North Star Marketing client and are considering either upgrading your WordPress site to Gutenberg or developing a new site, click here to start the conversation.

Gutenberg Webinar

Why VirCon6 is a Must for School Marketers


If you’re in education marketing or admissions, don’t miss this virtual conference.

I first became aware of Brendan Schneider through my friend, Rick Newberry (a.k.a. “Globetrotter,” a.k.a. “Selfie Samurai”), an enrollment consultant who has worked with hundreds of schools across the U.S. and beyond to help them boost their numbers in a sustainable way.

As I’ve followed Brendan over the years, I’ve come to appreciate why he’s a go-to source for so many marketing and enrollment professionals. He’s not speaking out of theory. He’s practicing his craft as Director of Advancement at Sewickley Academy in the Greater Pittsburgh Area. And he gets results.

So, why am I telling you about Brendan? Two reasons:

  1. If you’re in education marketing, admissions, or advancement, you need to follow this guy.
  2. He’s asked me to speak at VirCon6 on Saturday, October 13, 2018.

What is VirCon6? I’m glad you asked. In brief, VirCon6 is simply one of the best bargains you’ll find in enrollment marketing. There’s no travel – you just dial in. You’ll hear experts address relevant topics that can help you drive enrollment and retention. And you don’t actually have to attend live on Saturday, October 13. You can watch and share the recorded content with your team at any time after the event.

My presentation is on strategic messaging for schools. The title is, “Telling Your School Story with Clarity, Consistency, and Confidence.” I’ll be sharing key findings from my message consulting work with private schools that will help your team become better aligned with the interests of prospective families.

There are eight other presenters who will be speaking on a range of topics, including ADA compliance, digital marketing, virtual teams, and video strategy.

If you’re interested in learning more about VirCon6 or taking advantage of early bird special, just click here!

I hope to see you dial in on October 13, 2018, for an action-packed day of learning.

Triad Payroll Company Increases Mobile Engagement 97% with Responsive Website

Responsive Web DesignScott Jenkins, President of Payroll Solutions, knew his website wasn’t up to par. It was nearly ten years old, and his team realized that a responsive design would be vital to meet client needs. As a result, Jenkins contacted North Star Marketing in late 2016 and launched his new site in April 2017. Since launch, the company is already seeing indicators from the new website that positively impact productivity, sales, and client retention. A few of these include:

  • Increases in direct traffic to the site
  • Fewer visitors leaving the site (lower bounce rates)
  • And a significant increase in mobile visitor engagement

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The Social Tool Your Company May Be Missing – Google+


The world of social media often fosters confusion rather than traction. Businesses simply don’t know where to invest their time and energy. If you’re like most, you’ve probably explored at least one of the widely-used platforms such as Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn. But if you have limited time to invest in social media, there’s one platform you don’t want to overlook – Google+. With more than 343 million active users, you’ll want to join the party.

With a vast majority of web searches taking place on Google, your Google+ page can have huge SEO implications. A lot of the information that Google indexes about your company can be controlled by keeping this social media platform up to date. Additionally, Google+ integrates easily across other Google platforms, like Gmail and YouTube, and offers a unique combination of both social and SEO opportunity.

A verified and up-to-date Google+ page can improve both your organic search results, as well as your local rankings. This will allow your business to be more prominent on a page of search results, and increase the number of times you show up on a page. 

Google+ may not be the most well known social media platform, but its vital role in boosting your SEO value should not be overlooked. If you want to learn how to effectively use your Google+ page to drive more traffic and find new leads, contact North Star Marketing today to learn how we can help you take advantage of this powerful social tool.



My Business Comes Via Word of Mouth. Why Do I Need a Marketing Consultant?

Micah Fox - Business DeveloperIt’s true for nearly every company, school and nonprofit we work with: most of their customers (or students or donors or volunteers) come from positive word of mouth. In fact, it’s not even close. Word of mouth beats the socks off of paid advertising.

So, it’s worth asking the question: “Why do I need to market my business if almost all of it comes to me via word of mouth?” Working in sales, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that question over the last five years at North Star Marketing. It’s a valid question. But is it the right question? Read More

Rebranding Mebane – It Started With A Sign

watertower2It’s a strange to think of a city as a brand. There’s no storefront, no salespeople, no products on shelves. While you may not get a receipt, choosing a city for your home or business is one of the biggest “purchase” decisions you can make, and the greatest competition is the next closest mailing address.

Last year, Mebane’s city council set out to come up with a few new wayfinding signs, looking to polish the town’s curb appeal. The process started by developing a tagline to communicate what their city has to offer, but fully encapsulating an entire city is more difficult that it seems. Along the way, it became clear they were missing an essential piece of the puzzle… a logo. Read More

De’mist’ifying the Cloud

Ryan Cardwell - Senior Web Developer

I know that the Information Technology (IT) field is infamous for a strange love of acronyms and abstract terms most of which are confusing and unknown even to some of us using them.  Admittedly, they help to raise the shroud of mystery and disguise over what it is that computer scientists actually do; we feel so much cooler in our cloak-and-dagger terminology.  However clandestine we may like to keep such knowledge, the present reality is that lines are blurring between technology and pop culture with the prevalence of computers, whether they be large desktops, handheld smartphones, techno glasses or our normal, everyday refrigerators (or what we thought was normal until it started ordering groceries for us).  One of the concepts that is a buzzword today is The Cloud.  We hear it all the time in business meetings and in casual conversations. But ask any one person what is the Cloud, any number of unique answers will be given.  Let’s use the analogy of a cloud to explain what it is and how it can be useful.

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