Tuesday, August 22, 2017

How to Perform a Basic Local Business Competitive Audit

Posted by MiriamEllis

“Why are those folks outranking me in Google’s local pack?”

If you or a client is asking this question, the answer lies in competitive analysis. You’ve got to stack Business A up against Business B to identify the strengths and weaknesses of both competitors, and then make an educated guess as to which factors Google is weighting most in the results for a specific search term.

Today, I’d like to share a real-world example of a random competitive audit, including a chart that depicts which factors I’ve investigated and explanatory tips and tools for how I came up with the numbers and facts. Also included: a downloadable version of the spreadsheet that you can use for your own company or clients. Your goal with this audit is to identify exactly how one player is winning the game so that you can create a to-do list for any company trying to move up in the rankings. Alternatively, some competitive audits can be defensive, identifying a dominant player’s weaknesses so that they can be corrected to ensure continued high rankings.

It’s my hope that seeing this audit in action will help you better answer the question of why “this person is outranking that person,” and that you may share with our community some analytical tips of your own!

The scenario:

localseoaudit.jpg

Search term: Chinese Restaurant San Rafael

Statistics about San Rafael: A large town of approximately 22 square miles in the San Francisco Bay Area with a population of 58,954 and 15+ Chinese restaurants.

Consistency of results: From 20 miles away to 2000+ miles away, Ping’s Chinese Cuisine outranks Yet Wah Restaurant in Google’s local pack for the search term. We don’t look closer than 20 miles, or proximity of the searcher creates too much diversity.

The challenge: Why is Ping’s Chinese Cuisine outranking Yet Wah Restaurant in Google’s Local Pack for the search term?

The comparison chart

*Where there’s a clear winner, it’s noted in bolded, italicized text.

Basic business information

NAP

Ping’s Chinese Cuisine
248 Northgate Dr.
San Rafael, CA 94903
(415) 492-8808

Yet Wah Restaurant
1238 4th St.
San Rafael, CA 94901
(415) 460-9883

GMB landing page URL

http://pingsnorthgate.com/

http://www.yetwahchinese.com/

Local Pack rank

1

2

Organic rank

17

5

Organic rank among business-owned sites
*Remove directories and review platforms from the equation, as they typically shouldn’t be viewed as direct competitors

8

1

Business model eligible for GMB listing at this address?
*Check Google’s Guidelines if unsure: https://support.google.com/business/answer/3038177...

Yes

Yes

Oddities

Note that Ping’s has redirected pingschinesecuisine.com to pingsnorthgate.com. Ping’s also has a www and non-www version of pingsnorthgate.com.

A 2nd website for same business at same location with same phone number: http://yetwahsanrafael.com/. This website is ranking directly below the authoritative (GMB-linked) website for this business in organic SERP for the search in question.

Business listings

GMB review count

32

38

GMB review rating

4.1

3.8

Most recent GMB review
*Sort GMB reviews by "most recent" filter

1 week ago

1 month ago

Proper GMB categories?

Yes

Yes

Estimated age of GMB listing
*Estimated by date of oldest reviews and photos, but can only be seen as an estimate

At least 2 years old

At least 6 years old

Moz Local score (completeness + accuracy + lack of duplicates)
*Tool: https://moz.com/local/search

49%

75%

Moz Local duplicate findings
*Tool: https://moz.com/local/search

0

1 (Facebook)

Keywords in GMB name

chinese

restaurant

Keywords in GMB website landing page title tag

Nothing at all. Just “home page”

Yes

Spam in GMB title
*Look at GMB photos, Google Streetview, and the website to check for inconsistencies

No

Yes: “restaurant” not in website logo or street level signage

Hours and photos on GMB?

Yes

Yes

Proximity to city centroid
*Look up city by name in Google Maps and see where it places the name of the city on the map. That’s the city “centroid.” Get driving directions from the business to an address located in the centroid.

3.5 miles

410.1 feet

Proximity to nearest competitor
*Zoom in on Google map to surface as many adjacent competitors as possible. Can be a Possum factor in some cases.

1.1 mile

0.2 miles

Within Google Maps boundaries?
*Look up city by name in Google Maps and note the pink border via which Google designates that city’s boundaries

Yes

Yes

Website

Age of domain
*Tool: http://smallseotools.com/domain-age-checker/

March 2013

August 2011

Domain Authority
*Tool: https://moz.com/products/pro/seo-toolbar

16

8

GMB Landing Page Authority
*Tool: https://moz.com/products/pro/seo-toolbar

30

21

Links to domain
*Tool: https://moz.com/researchtools/ose/

53

2

DA/PA of most authoritative link earned
*Tool: https://moz.com/researchtools/ose/

72/32

38/16

Evaluation of website content

*This is a first-pass, visual gut check, just reading through the top-level pages of the website to see how they strike you in terms of quality.

Extremely thin, just adequate to identify restaurant. At least has menu on own site. Of the 2 sites, this one has the most total text, by virtue of a sentence on the homepage and menus in real text.

Extremely thin, almost zero text on homepage, menu link goes to another website.

Evaluation of website design

Outdated

Outdated, mostly images

Evaluation of website UX

Can be navigated, but few directives or CTAs

Can be navigated, but few directives or CTAs

Mobile-friendly
*Tool: https://search.google.com/test/mobile-friendly

Basic mobile design, but Google’s mobile-friendly test tool says both www and non-www cannot be reached because it’s unavailable or blocked by robots txt. They have disallowed scripts, photos, Flash, images, and plugins. This needs to be further investigated and resolved. Mobile site URL is http://pingsnorthgate.com/#2962. Both this URL and the other domains are failing Google’s test.

Basic mobile design passes Google’s mobile-friendly test

Evaluation of overall onsite SEO
*A first-pass visual look at the page code of top level pages, checking for titles, descriptions, header tags, schema, + the presence of problems like Flash.

Pretty much no optimization

Minimal, indeed, but a little bit of effort made. Some title tags, some schema, some header tags.

HTML NAP on website?

Yes

Yes

Website NAP matches GMB NAP?

No (Northgate One instead of Northgate Drive)

Yes

Total number of wins: Ping’s 7, Yet Wah 9.

Download your own version of my competitive audit spreadsheet by making a copy of the file.

Takeaways from the comparison chart

Yet Wah significantly outranks Ping’s in the organic results, but is being beaten by them in the Local Pack. Looking at the organic factors, we see evidence that, despite the fact that Ping’s has greater DA, greater PA of the GMB landing page, more links, and stronger links, they are not outranking Yet Wah organically. This is something of a surprise that leads us to look at their content and on-page SEO.

While Ping’s has slightly better text content on their website, they have almost done almost zero optimization work, their URLs have canonical issues, and their robots.txt isn’t properly configured. Yet Wah has almost no on-site content, but they have modestly optimized their title tags, implemented H tags and some schema, and their site passes Google’s mobile-friendly test.

So, our theory regarding Yet Wah’s superior organic ranking is that, in this particular case, Yet Wah’s moderate efforts with on-page SEO have managed to beat out Ping’s superior DA/PA/link metrics. Yet Wah’s website is also a couple of years older than Ping’s.

All that being said, Yet Wah’s organic win is failing to translate into a local win for them. How can we explain Ping’s local win? Ping’s has a slightly higher overall review rating, higher DA and GMB landing page PA, more total links, and higher authority links. They also have slightly more text content on their website, even if it’s not optimized.

So, our theory regarding Ping’s superior local rank is that, in this particular case, website authority/links appear to be winning the day for Ping’s. And the basic website text they have could possibly be contributing, despite lack of optimization.

In sum, basic on-page SEO appears to be contributing to Yet Wah’s organic win, while DA/PA/links appear to be contributing to Ping’s local win.

Things that bother me

I chose this competitive scenario at random, because when I took an initial look at the local and organic rankings, they bothered me a little. I would have expected Yet Wah to be first in the local pack if they were first in organic. I see local and organic rankings correlate strongly so much of the time, that this case seemed odd to me.

By the end of the audit, I’ve come up with a working theory, but I’m not 100% satisfied with it. It makes me ask questions like:

  • Is Ping’s better local rank stemming from some hidden factor no one knows about?
  • In this particular case, why is Google appearing to value Ping’s links more that Yet Wah’s on-page SEO in determining local rank? Would I see this same trend across the board if I analyzed 1,000 restaurants? The industry says links are huge in local SEO right now. I guess we’re seeing proof of that here.
  • Why isn’t Google weighting Yet Wah’s superior citation set more than they apparently are? Ping’s citations are in bad shape. I’ve seen citation health play a much greater apparent role in other audits, but something feels weird here.
  • Why isn’t Google “punishing” Yet Wah in the organic results for that second website with duplicate NAP on it? That seems like it should matter.
  • Why isn’t age factoring in more here? My inspection shows that Yet Wah’s domain and GMB listing are significantly older. This could be moving the organic needle for them, but it’s not moving the local one.
  • Could user behavior be making Ping’s the local winner? This is a huge open question at the end of my basic audit.* See below.

*I don’t have access to either restaurant’s Google Analytics, GMB Insights, or Google Search Console accounts, so perhaps that would turn up penalties, traffic patterns, or things like superior clicks-to-call, clicks-for-directions, or clicks-to-website that would make Ping’s local win easier to explain. If one of these restaurants were your client, you’d want to add chart rows for these things based on full access to the brand’s accounts and tools, and whatever data your tools can access about the competitor. For example, using a tool like SimilarWeb, I see that between May and June of this year, YetWah’s traffic rose from an average 150 monthly visits up to a peak of 500, while Ping’s saw a drop from 700 to 350 visits in that same period. Also, in a scenario in which one or both parties have a large or complex link profile, you might want additional rows for link metrics, taken from tools like Moz Pro, Ahrefs, or Majestic.

In this case, Ping’s has 7 total wins in my chart and Yet Wah has 9. The best I can do is look at which factors each business is winning at to try to identify a pattern of what Google is weighting most, both organically and locally. With both restaurants being so basic in their marketing, and with neither one absolutely running away with the game, what we have here is a close race. While I’d love to be able to declare a totally obvious winner, the best I could do as a consultant, in this case, would be to draw up a plan of defense or offense.

If my client were Ping’s:

Ping’s needs to defend its #1 local ranking if it doesn’t want to lose it. Its greatest weaknesses which must be resolved are:

  • The absence of on-page SEO
  • Thin content
  • Robots.txt issues

To remain strong, Ping’s should also work on:

  • Improving citation health
  • Directing the non-www version of their site to the www one
  • A professional site redesign could possibly improve conversions

Ping’s should accomplish these things to defend its current local rank and to try to move up organically.

If my client were Yet Wah:

Yet Wah needs to try to achieve victory over Ping’s in the local packs, as it has done in the organic results. To do that, Yet Wah should:

  • Earn links to the GMB landing page URL and the domain
  • Create strong text content on its high-level pages, including putting a complete dining menu in real text on the website
  • Deal with the second website featuring duplicate NAP

Yet Wah should also:

  • Complete work on its citation health
  • Work hard to get some new 5-star reviews by delighting customers with something special
  • Consider adding the word “Restaurant” to their signage, so that they can’t be reported for spamming the GMB name field.
  • Consider a professional redesign of the website to improve conversions

Yet Wah should accomplish these things in an effort to surpass Ping’s.

And, with either client being mine, I’d then be taking a second pass to further investigate anything problematic that came up in the initial audit, so that I could make further technical or creative suggestions.

Big geo-industry picture analysis

Given that no competitor for this particular search term has been able to beat out Ping’s or Yet Wah in the local pack, and given the minimal efforts these two brands have thus far made, there’s a tremendous chance for any Chinese restaurant in San Rafael to become the dominant player. Any competitor that dedicates itself to running on all cylinders (professional, optimized website with great content, a healthy link profile, a competitive number of high-star reviews, healthy citations, etc.) could definitely surpass all other contestants. This is not a tough market and there are no players who can’t be bested.

My sample case has been, as I’ve said, a close race. You may be facing an audit where there are deeply entrenched dominant players whose statistics far surpass those of a business you’re hoping to assist. But the basic process is the same:

  1. Look at the top-ranking business.
  2. Fill out the chart (adding any other fields you feel are important).
  3. Then discover the strengths of the dominant company, as well as its potential weaknesses.
  4. Contrast these findings with those you’ve charted for the company you’re helping and you’ll be able to form a plan for improvement.

And don’t forget the user proximity factor. Any company’s most adjacent customers will see pack results that vary either slightly or significantly from what a user sees from 20, 50, or 1,000 miles away. In my specific study, it happened to be the third result in the pack that went haywire once a user got 50 miles away, while the top two remained dominant and statically ranked for searchers as far away as the East Coast.

Because of this phenomenon of distance, it’s vital for business owners to be educated about the fact that they are serving two user groups: one that is located in the neighborhood or city of the business, and another that could be anywhere in the country or the world. This doesn’t just matter for destinations like hotels or public amusements. In California (a big state), Internet users on a road trip from Palm Springs may be looking to end their 500-mile drive at a Chinese restaurant in San Rafael, so you can’t just think hyper-locally; you’ve got to see the bigger local picture. And you’ve got to do the analysis to find ways of winning as often as you can with both consumer groups.

You take it from here, auditor!

My local competitive audit chart is a basic one, looking at 30+ factors. What would you add? How would you improve it? Did I miss a GMB duplicate listing, or review spam? What’s working best for your agency in doing local audits these days? Do you use a chart, or just provide a high-level text summary of your internal findings? And, if you have any further theories as to how Ping’s is winning the local pack, I’d love for you to share them in the comments.


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Does the Developing World Want Solar Power?

While the developing world leapfrogged into cellular phones rather than using landlines first, their appetite for skipping over central station power generated by reliable traditional technologies for solar power and mini-grids is apparently not the same. An attempt to leapfrog into mini-grids using solar power in a part of India resulted in no takers at the true cost of the system and only a few takers when it was heavily subsidized. In Dharnai, a village in India, youngsters demanded the “real source of energy”, and “not the fake solar powered” energy after a solar micro-grid was installed providing electricity for the first time in 33 years.[i] Among developing countries, including China and India, there is a long-standing recognition of the need for fossil fuels, especially coal, which is more abundant and has a competitive edge over natural gas, especially in Southeast Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa where coal reserves are plentiful.

Source: Forbes

Study on Solar Power and the Mini-Grid

Michael Greenstone, a University of Chicago economist, studied an impoverished area in India called Bihar, which has 100 million people, but only 5 percent of them are supplied with grid-connected electricity. Greenstone and his team of scholars from Yale, Harvard and the London School of Economics wanted to know at what price residents would pay for solar power. They found that at prices that reflect the cost of supplying solar power and the mini-grid, there was almost no demand. If the government subsidized the price to where most businesses could pay for the power, the demand was only about nine percent.[ii]

The researchers wanted to know why the residents were not favorable to the solar mini-grid concept. The answer was that they wanted real electricity, i.e. central station grid-connected power that was reliable and available 24 hours a day.

The Demand for Coal

Asia and Africa are expected to become major coal consumers. Thirty percent of the increase in the world’s energy demand from now to 2040 is expected to be India, and coal, natural gas and nuclear are largely expected to supply that energy. China’s coal-fired generation is expected to increase by as much as 19 percent by 2020.

In Southeast Asia, coal is the preferred fuel for electricity generation due to its lower cost compared to competing fuels. The region added 25 gigawatts of coal-fired capacity in the past five years, accounting for 42 percent of new generating capacity; it had 62 gigawatts of coal-fired capacity at the end of 2015. There are 29 gigawatts of coal-fired capacity under construction and most will be operational by 2020. In addition, there are over 100 gigawatts of coal-fired capacity that have either been permitted or announced. The chart below shows the expected capacity additions by technology for each Southeast Asian country between 2016 and 2025.[iii]

Generating Capacity Additions by Country and Technology (2016 to 2025)

Source: Oxford Energy

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), coal consumption in Africa is expected to increase from 5 quadrillion Btu in 2012 to 7 quadrillion Btu in 2040 due to the increase in electricity demand. Because Sub-Saharan Africa has vast coal reserves, coal-fired electricity will be a major economically viable source of supplying that demand.[iv]

Unfortunately for developing countries, global institutions and international finance bodies have adopted a hard line, promoting renewable energy over more traditional approaches including coal. For example, the World Bank restricted funding for coal plants in 2013[v] and Deutsche Bank stopped all coal financing in 2017.[vi] President Trump’s policy, however, to promote clean coal technology is putting pressure on multilateral development banks such as the World Bank to rethink their stance.

The U.S. Treasury Department indicated that it will use its vote to push banks to help countries access and use fossil fuels more cleanly and efficiently. This helps developing countries and provides demand and jobs for the U.S. coal industry—part of President Trump’s “energy dominance” strategy. At the Clean Energy Ministerial Meeting in June, Energy Secretary Rick Perry noted that the United States and India are discussing plans to broaden joint research on clean coal and carbon capture technology.[vii]

Conclusion

Under the Obama Administration, wind and solar were pushed here and abroad as the fuels for generating electricity. However, despite access to solar power and micro-grids, citizens in developing countries want power that they can rely on 24 hours a day. For many of those developing countries, coal is abundant and the lowest cost fuel for electricity generation, providing reliable electricity generation 24/7. Hopefully, President Trump’s energy dominance strategy will help those people get the power that they need.


[i] Daily Mail, Bihar village rejects solar-powered micro-grid and demands ‘real’ electricity, August 6, 2014, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/indiahome/indianews/article-2717149/Bihar-village-rejects-solar-powered-micro-grid-demands-real-electricity.html

[ii] Forbes, What If We Gave The World Solar Mini-Grids, And The World Didn’t Want Them, August 3, 2017, https://www.forbes.com/sites/jeffmcmahon/2017/08/03/what-if-we-gave-the-world-solar-mini-grids-and-the-world-didnt-want-them/amp/?utm_source=Breakthrough%2BNewsletter&utm_campaign=5819024a82-Breakthrough%2BDispatches%2B8-8-2017&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_49b872540e-5819024a82-152704733#3b48005af693

[iii] The Oxford Institute for Energy Studies, The role of coal in Southeast Asia’s power sector and implication for global and regional coal trade, December 2016, https://www.oxfordenergy.org/wpcms/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/The-role-of-coal-in-Southeast-Asias-power-sector-CL-4.pdf

[iv] Oil Price, Was Trump Right About Coal?, July 30, 2017, http://oilprice.com/Energy/Energy-General/Was-Trump-Right-About-Coal.html

[v] Reuters, World Bank to limit financing of coal-fired plants, July 16, 2013, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-worldbank-climate-coal-idUSBRE96F19U20130716

[vi] Guardian, Deutsche Bank pulls out of coal projects to meet Paris climate pledge, January 31, 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/business/2017/feb/01/deutsche-bank-pulls-out-of-coal-projects-to-meet-paris-climate-pledge

[vii] Hindustan Times, US keen to collaborate with India on clean coal technology, June 11, 2017, http://www.hindustantimes.com/world-news/us-keen-to-collaborate-with-india-on-clean-coal-technology/story-xmgNgDArq5gBAUXfdF5MyI.html

The post Does the Developing World Want Solar Power? appeared first on IER.

Monday, August 21, 2017

IER Publishes “The Solar Value Cliff: The Diminishing Value of Solar Power”

WASHINGTON – The popular media is replete with articles heralding the falling costs of solar power. But while solar’s costs may be going down, so too is its value to the electricity grid. Today, as the nation anticipates its first total solar eclipse in nearly 100 years, the Institute for Energy Research released a paper detailing this phenomenon, which it calls the solar value cliff.

The Solar Value Cliff: The Diminishing Value of Solar Power chronicles the following:

  • Solar’s intermittent nature results in a lack of dispatchability
  • Countries that have more developed solar sectors than the United States—such as Spain and Italy—have seen drastic falls in solar investment
  • At low penetration levels into the electricity mix, solar can reduce stress on electricity systems—but that does not hold true as penetration levels increase
  • Peak solar generation occurs early in the afternoon while peak demand occurs around twilight; at high penetration levels, this presents system operators with the challenging “duck curve” scenario
  • The duck curve solar generation creates amounts to an imposed cost
  • When photovoltaic (PV) solar reaches a 6% market share, the capacity value of marginal PV capacity falls to zero

IER President Thomas Pyle issued the following statement:

“As the utility sector prepares for the short-term impact of a solar eclipse, a much larger problem looms for solar advocates—the diminishing value of  intermittent solar as a reliable source of electricity. This new paper, from the Institute for Energy Research, evaluates the constraints and shortcomings of solar energy today.

“Public discourse has hailed solar’s falling costs as of late, but this paper shows that solar’s value to the grid is also falling. The crux of the issue is that solar remains an intermittent electricity resource. Though it can have a useful role on an electrical grid as a supplementary source of energy, at high penetration levels solar energy actually does more harm than good.

“What policymakers need to realize—both federally and at the state level—is that subsidizing solar energy through efforts like tax incentives and net metering makes no sense. More solar penetration in places like California will lead to an outcome no one wants: a less reliable electricity grid.”

The post IER Publishes “The Solar Value Cliff: The Diminishing Value of Solar Power” appeared first on IER.

Friday, August 18, 2017

The Perfect Blog Post Length and Publishing Frequency is B?!!$#÷x - Whiteboard Friday

Posted by randfish

The perfect blog post length or publishing frequency doesn't actually exist. "Perfect" isn't universal — your content's success depends on tons of personalized factors. In today's Whiteboard Friday, Rand explains why the idea of "perfect" is baloney when it comes to your blog, and lists what you should actually be looking for in a successful publishing strategy.

the perfect blog post length and frequency

Click on the whiteboard image above to open a high-resolution version in a new tab!

Video Transcription

Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week we're going to chat about blog posts and, more broadly, content length and publishing frequency.

So these are things where a lot of the posts that you might read, for example, if you were to Google "ideal blog post length" or "ideal publishing frequency" will give you data and information that come from these sources of here's the average length of content of the top 10 results in Google across a 5,000-keyword set, and you can see that somewhere between 2,350 and 2,425 words is the ideal length, so that's what you should aim for.

I am going to call a big fat helping if baloney on that. It's not only dead wrong, it's really misleading. In fact, I get frustrated when I see these types of charts used to justify this information, because that's not right at all.

When you see charts/data like this used to provide prescriptive, specific targets for content length, ask:

Any time you see this, if you see a chart or data like this to suggest, hey, this is how long you should make a post because here's the length of the average thing in the top 10, you should ask very careful questions like:

1. What set of keywords does this apply to? Is this a big, broad set of 5,000 keywords, and some of them are navigational and some of them are informational and some of them are transactional and maybe a few of them are ecommerce keywords and a few of them are travel related and a few of them are in some other sector?

Because honestly, what does that mean? That's sort of meaningless, right? Especially if the standard deviation is quite high. If we're talking about like, oh, well many things that actually did rank number one were somewhere between 500 words and 15,000 words. Well, so what does the average tell me? How is that helpful? That's not actually useful or prescriptive information. In fact, it's almost misleading to make that prescriptive.

2. Do the keywords that I care about, the ones that I'm targeting, do they have similar results? Does the chart look the same? If you were to take a sample of let's say 50 keywords that you cared about and you were to get the average content length of the top 10 results, would it resemble that? Would it not? Does it have a high standard deviation? Is there a big delta because some keywords require a lot of content to answer them fully and some keywords require very, very small amounts of content and Google has prioritized accordingly? Is it wise, then, to aim for the average when a much larger article would be much more appreciated and be much more likely to succeed, or a much shorter one would do far better? Why are you aiming for this average if that's the case?

3. Is correlation the same as causation? The answer is hell no. Never has been. Big fat no. Correlation doesn't even necessarily imply causation. In fact, I would say that any time you're looking at an average, especially on this type of stuff, correlation and causation are totally separate. It is not because the number one result is 2,450 words that it happens to rank number one. Google does not work that way. Never has, never will.

INSTEAD of trusting these big, unknown keyword set averages, you should:

A. look at your keywords and your search results and what's working versus not in those specific ones.

B. Be willing to innovate, be willing to say, "Hey, you know what? I see this content today, the number one, number two, number three rankings are in these sorts of averages. But I actually think you can answer this with much shorter content and many searchers would appreciate it." I think these folks, who are currently ranking, are over-content creating, and they don't need to be.

C. You should match your goals and your content goals with searcher goals. That's how you should determine the length that you should put in there. If you are trying to help someone solve a very specific problem and it is an easily answerable question and you're trying to get the featured snippet, you probably don't need thousands of words of content. Likewise, if you are trying to solve a very complex query and you have a ton of resources and information that no one else has access to, you've done some really unique work, this may be way too short for what you're aiming for.

All right. Let's switch over to publishing frequency, where you can probably guess I'm going to give you similar information. A lot of times you'll see, "How often should I publish? Oh, look, people who publish 11 times or more per month, they get way more traffic than people who publish only once a month. Therefore, clearly, I should publish 11 or more times a month."

Why is the cutoff at 11? Does that make any sense to you? Are these visits all valuable to all the companies that were part of whatever survey was in here? Did one blog post account for most of the traffic in the 11 plus, and it's just that the other 10 happened to be posts where they were practicing or trying to get good, and it was just one that kind of shot out of the park there?

See a chart like this? Ask:

1. Who's in the set of sites analyzed? Are they similar to me? Do they target a similar audience? Are they in my actual sector? What's the relative quality of the content? How savvy and targeted are the efforts at earning traffic? Is this guy over here, are we sure that all 11 posts were just as good as the one post this person created? Because if not, I'm comparing apples and oranges.

2. What's the quality of the traffic? What's the value of the traffic? Maybe this person is getting a ton of really valuable traffic, and this person over here is getting very little. You can't tell from a chart like this, especially when it's averaged in this way.

3. What things might matter more than raw frequency?

  • Well, matching your goals to your content schedule. If one of your goals is to build up subscribers, like Whiteboard Friday where people know it and they've heard of it, they have a brand association with it, it's called Whiteboard Friday, it should probably come out once a week on Friday. There's a frequency implied in the content, and that makes sense. But you might have goals that only demand publishing once a quarter or once a month or once a week or once every day. That's okay. But you should tie those together.
  • Consistency, we have found, is almost always more important than raw frequency, especially if you're trying to build up that consistent audience and a subscriber base. So I would focus on that, not how I should publish more often, but I should publish more consistently so that people will get used to my publishing schedule and will look forward to what I have to say, and also so that you can build up a cadence for yourself and your organization.
  • Crafting posts that actually earn attention and amplification and help your conversion funnel goals, whatever those might be, over raw traffic. It's far better if this person got 50 new visits who turned into 5 new paying customers, than this person who published 11 posts and got 1 new paying customer out of all 11. That's a lot more work and expense for a lot less ROI. I'd be careful about that.

*ASIDE:

One aside I would say about publishing frequency. If you're early stage, or if you were trying to build a career in blogging or in publishing, it's great to publish a lot of content. Great writers become great because they write a lot of terrible crap, and then they improve. The same is true with web publishers.

If you look at Whiteboard Friday number one, or a blog post number one from me, you're going to see pretty miserable stuff. But over time, by publishing quite a bit, I got better at it. So if that is your goal, yes, publishing a lot of content, more than you probably need, more than your customers or audience probably needs, is good practice for you, and it will help you get better.

All right, everyone. Hope you've enjoyed this edition of Whiteboard Friday. We'll see you again next week. Take care.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com


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Thursday, August 17, 2017

California Gas-Fired Power Plant Files for Bankruptcy

The La Paloma natural gas plant in California filed for bankruptcy last December because it was not getting enough operating time to cover its costs due to solar and other renewable energy receiving preference. The plant, which serves as back-up to the state’s renewable generating technologies, was also denied a reliability charge by the state that would have allowed it to continue to operate. The owners project an annual loss of $39 million without a reliability contract or other support. In its bankruptcy filing, the plant owners listed assets between $100 million and $500 million and liabilities of $500 million to $1 billion.[i]  La Paloma is a 1200-megawatt merchant plant located 110 miles northwest of Los Angeles and is able to serve both the San Francisco and Los Angeles markets.[ii]

The La Paloma Power Plant

La Paloma, an independent power plant constructed in 2003, was built by private developers at a cost of about $500 million and is the state’s eleventh largest plant. Its capital cost is completely paid and, even though it is 14 years into its operating life, its lifespan could last another 30 or 40 years. Unlike regulated utilities, it does not have retail customers and is dependent on contracts from utility companies. It gets its natural gas from a pipeline located nearby.

Between 2014 and 2016, La Paloma’s operating level dropped from about 78 percent of capacity to just 50 percent.

 

What is ironic is that the agency that operates the state’s power grid would rather have a new generating plant built, charging consumers for it rather than allow this merchant plant to operate. As IER’s study shows, operating an existing natural gas power plant is about half the cost of operating a new natural gas power plant.[iii]

La Paloma’s troubles began last year due to low market power prices, the lack of a guaranteed contract for its electricity and a new annual review by the grid operator of local electricity demand in ten state energy regions, including Los Angeles. The review was conducted with the premise that each region should be energy self-sufficient, supplied with electricity primarily from natural gas plants within the region to more reliably respond to sudden drops in electricity supply from solar, wind and other renewable sources. La Paloma fell outside the boundaries of all ten regions. The regional boundaries have been used to justify construction of seven new natural gas projects in Southern California to provide reliable power when renewable energy is not producing.

The California Independent System Operator wants a new power plant, the Puente power plant in Ventura County, to be constructed at a cost of about $250 million, which would be paid for by electricity customers. The Puente power project in Ventura County is being developed by Southern California Edison and will be built and owned by NRG Energy Inc. Edison customers would pay for the plant’s construction, regardless of how much the plant produces.

California regulators continue to approve more plants and increase electricity rates, even though California consumers are using less power. The building of new power plants and transmission lines is costing Californians $40 billion a year for electricity, $6.8 billion more than nine years ago, which is a reason why the state’s residential electricity prices are about 50 percent higher than the national average.

Conclusion

La Paloma is not the only power plant in California facing closure due to its policy promoting renewable energy. Pacific Gas and Electric’s Diablo Canyon plant is in a similar situation despite its solid operating experience. The result of California’s poorly designed energy policy is higher prices for its constituency, but that seems to be of little concern to state leaders.


[i] Los Angeles Times, A Central Valley power plant may close as the state pushes new building at customers’ expense, June 10, 2017, http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-la-paloma-capacity-20170609-story.html

[ii] Kallanish Energy, California gas power plant La Paloma files for Chapter 11, December 12, 2016, http://www.kallanishenergy.com/2016/12/12/california-gas-power-plant-la-paloma-files-chapter-11/

[iii] Institute for Energy Research, The Levelized Cost of Electricity from Existing Generation Resources, July 2016, https://www.instituteforenergyresearch.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/IER_LCOE_2016-2.pdf

The post California Gas-Fired Power Plant Files for Bankruptcy appeared first on IER.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Will Solar Power Be at Fault for the Next Environmental Crisis?

Solar panel waste will become a major issue in the coming decades as old solar panels reach the ends of their useful lifespans and require disposal. Last November, Japan’s Environment Ministry issued a warning that the amount of solar panel waste Japan produces each year is likely to increase from 10,000 to 800,000 tons by 2040, and the country has no plan for safely disposing of it.[i] China has more solar power plants than any other country, operating roughly twice as many solar panels as the United States and also has no plan for the disposal of the old panels. In China, there could be 20 million metric tons of solar panel waste, or 2,000 times the weight of the Eiffel Tower, by 2050.[ii] California, another world leader in deploying solar panels, likewise has no plan for disposal, despite its boasts of environmental consciousness. Only Europe requires solar panel manufacturers to collect and dispose of solar waste at the end of their useful lives.[iii]

Environmental Issues with Solar Panels

Solar panels are manufactured using hazardous materials, such as sulfuric acid and phosphine gas, which make them difficult to recycle. They cannot be stored in landfills without protections against contamination. They contain toxic metals like lead, which can damage the nervous system, as well as chromium and cadmium, known carcinogens that can leak out of existing e-waste dumps into drinking water supplies.

A study published last December determined that the net impact of using solar panels actually temporarily increases carbon dioxide emissions, because of the amount of energy needed in the construction process. But, because newer solar panels have a smaller adverse environmental impact than older models and as their time of operation increases to mitigate the construction effects, some scientists believe the solar industry could develop a net positive environmental impact by 2018.[iv]

According to federal data, however, building solar panels significantly increases emissions of nitrogen trifluoride (NF3), which is 17,200 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas over a 100-year time period.[v] NF3 emissions increased by 1,057 percent over the last 25 years. In comparison, U.S. carbon dioxide emissions only increased by about 5 percent during that time period.

Regardless, the waste disposal issues regarding solar panels are enormous. According to an analysis by Environmental Progress, solar panels create about 300 times more toxic waste per unit of electricity generated than nuclear power plants. For example, if solar and nuclear produce the same amount of electricity over the next 25 years that nuclear produced in 2016, and the wastes are stacked on football fields, the nuclear waste would reach 52 meters (the height of the Leaning Tower of Pisa), while the solar waste would reach 16 kilometers (the height of two Mt. Everests).

Further, while nuclear units can easily operate 50 or 60 years, solar panels have relatively short operational lifespans (20 to 30 years), so their disposal will become a problem in the next few decades. While nuclear waste is contained in heavy drums and regularly monitored, very little has been done to deal with solar waste. Solar waste outside of Europe tends to end up in a large stream of electronic waste.

 

A report determined that it would take 19 years to recycle all of the solar waste that Japan is expected to produce by 2020. By 2034, the annual waste production will be 70 to 80 times larger than that of 2020. (See graph below.) The projected annual peak of 810,000 tons of solar waste in Japan is equivalent to 40.5 million panels. To dispose of that amount of solar waste in a year would mean getting rid of over 110,000 panels per day.[vi]

 

Conclusion

Solar photovoltaic energy is not as environmentally conscious as many think it is. Besides being an intermittent source of energy and more expensive than traditional technologies[vii], it has serious waste disposal issues that few countries are tackling. The hazardous materials used in their construction are not easy to recycle and can contaminate drinking water if solely discarded with other electronic waste.


[i] Environmental Progress, Are We Headed For a Solar Waste Crisis?, June 21, 2017, http://www.environmentalprogress.org/big-news/2017/6/21/are-we-headed-for-a-solar-waste-crisis

[ii] Daily Caller, Old Solar Panels Causing An Environmental Crisis In China, August 1, 2017, http://dailycaller.com/2017/08/01/old-solar-panels-causing-an-environmental-crisis-in-china/

[iii] Solar Waste/ European WEEE Directive, http://www.solarwaste.eu/faq/

[iv] Daily Caller, Solar Power Actually Made Global Warming Worse, Says New Study, December 7, 2017, http://dailycaller.com/2016/12/07/solar-power-actually-made-global-warming-worse-says-new-study/

[v] Daily Caller, Solar Panels Increased Emissions Of A Gas 17,200 Times More Potent Than CO2, March 1, 2017, http://dailycaller.com/2017/03/01/solar-panels-increased-emissions-of-a-gas-17200-times-more-potent-than-co2/

[vi] Nikkei Asian Review, Japan tries to chip away at mountain of disused solar panels, November 8, 2016, https://asia.nikkei.com/Tech-Science/Tech/Japan-tries-to-chip-away-at-mountain-of-disused-solar-panels?page=1

[vii] Institute for Energy Research, The Levelized Cost of Electricity from Existing Generation Resources, July 2016, https://www.instituteforenergyresearch.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/IER_LCOE_2016-2.pdf

 

The post Will Solar Power Be at Fault for the Next Environmental Crisis? appeared first on IER.

5 Tips to Help Show ROI from Local SEO

Posted by JoyHawkins

Earlier this year, when I was first writing my advanced local SEO training, I reached out to some users who work for local SEO agencies and asked them what they'd like more training on. The biggest topic I got as a result was related to tracking and reporting value to small business owners.

My clients will often forward me reports from their prior SEO company, expressing that they have no idea what they were getting for their money. Some of the most common complaints I see with these reports are:

  • Too much use of marketing lingo ("Bounce Rate," "CTR," etc.)
  • Way too much data
  • No representation of what impact the work done had on the business itself (did it get them more customers?)

If a small business owner is giving you hundreds or thousands of dollars every month, how do you prove to them they're getting value from it? There's a lot to dig into with this topic — I included a full six pages on it in my training. Today I wanted to share some of the most successful tips that I use with my own clients.


1. Stop sending automated Google Analytics reports

If the goal is to show the customer what they're getting from their investment, you probably won't achieve it by simply sending them an Analytics report each month. Google Analytics is a powerful tool, but it only looks awesome to you because you're a marketer. Over the past year, I've looked at many monthly reports that made my head spin — it's just too much data. The average SMB isn't going to be able to look at those reports and figure out how their bounce rate decreasing somehow means you’re doing a great job at SEO.

2. Make conversions the focus of your report

What does the business owner care about? Hint: it’s not how you increased the ranking for one of their 50 tracked keywords this month. No, what they care about is how much additional business you drove to their business. This should be the focus of the report you send them. Small business call conversions

3. Use dynamic number insertion to track calls

If you’re not already doing this, you're really killing your ability to show value. I don’t have a single SEO or SEM client that isn’t using call tracking. I use Call Tracking Metrics, but CallRail is another one that works well, too. This allows you to see the sources of incoming calls. Unlike slapping a call tracking number on your website, dynamic number insertion won’t mess up NAP consistency.

The bonus here is that you can set up these calls as goals in Google Analytics. Using the Landing Page report, you can see which pages on the site were responsible for getting that call. Instead of saying, "Hey customer, a few months ago I created this awesome page of content for you," you can say "Hey customer, a few months ago, I added this page to your site and as a result, it’s got you 5 more calls."
Conversion goal completion in Google Analytics

4. Estimate revenue

I remember sitting in a session a couple years ago when Dev Basu from Powered by Search told me about this tactic. I had a lightbulb moment, wondering why the heck I didn’t think to do this before.

The concept is simple: Ask the client what the average lifetime value of their customer is. Next, ask them what their average closing ratio is on Internet leads. Take those numbers and, based on the number of conversions, you can calculate their estimated revenue.

Formula: Lifetime Value of a Customer x Closing Ratio (%) x Number of Conversions = Estimated Revenue

Bonus tip: Take this a step further and show them that for every dollar they pay you, you make them $X. Obviously, if the lifetime value of the customer is high, these numbers look a lot better. For example, an attorney could look like this:Example monthly ROI for an attorneyWhereas an insurance agent would look like this:
Example monthly ROI for an insurance agent

5. Show before/after screenshots, not a ranking tracker.

I seriously love ranking trackers. I spend a ton of time every week looking at reports in Bright Local for my clients. However, I really believe ranking trackers are best used for marketers, not business owners. How many times have you had a client call you freaking out because they noticed a drop in ranking for one keyword? I chose to help stop this trend by not including ranking reports in my monthly reporting and have never regretted that decision.

Instead, if I want to highlight a significant ranking increase that happened as a result of SEO, I can do that by showing the business owner a visual — something they will actually understand. This is where I use Bright Local's screenshots; I can see historically how a SERP used to look versus how it looks now.


At the end of the day, to show ROI you need to think like a business owner, not a marketer. If your goals match the goals of the business owner (which is usually to increase calls), make sure that's what you’re conveying in your monthly reporting.


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