This Article originally appeared on DealCrunch.com in 2016, but I just discovered that the website no longer exists so I am reposting it here.
The Crunch: For 20 years, Pierre Zarokian and his company Submit Express have been helping local, national, and online businesses improve their web presence with reputation management, SEO, and other marketing services such as email advertising and landing page creation. The company’s clients, including Siemens, Purina Mills, and Penn State University, have used Pierre’s experience and solutions to place their content in front of the readers they want to reach. Pierre shared some tips with us that present retailers with best practices that can help boost search rankings, maintain good reputations, and, ultimately, increase conversion and revenue.
In 1998, two businesses were launched — one would change the way people found what they were looking for online, and one would help information and businesses be found. Google has since become synonymous with searching on the web, and the SEO company Submit Express has grown alongside the giant, learning how to keep businesses on the first page of search results.
Over the years, Submit Express Founder Pierre Zarokian and his company have weathered all 10,000+ Google algorithm updates and have helped optimize web marketing for organizations like Siemens, Purina Mills, Penn State University, and the U.S. Department of Justice.
That’s where Pierre and his team have developed their expertise. Pierre and Submit Express offer businesses advice and tools to ensure consumers interact with online touchpoints in the most effective manner to convert sales and maintain brand integrity.Submit Express was started to help businesses improve their web presence and search engine rankings with SEO marketing. The company’s first tool — a free website submission box to report new sites to Google back in the early days of search — attracted many businesses eager to be listed. Once online, new businesses recognized their need to climb search results.
“There are two types of small businesses,” Pierre said, “the local Mom and Pop retailers who need foot traffic, and then there are online retailers who need better rankings on Google and Web traffic. We help both types of businesses to improve search engine rankings and increase traffic.”
Submit Express helps both types of businesses in numerous ways, said Pierre, including increasing positive reviews on platforms like Google+ and Yelp, and utilizing SEO techniques like keyword research and content writing. Businesses can also take advantage of other services, such as reputation management from their sister company Reputation Stars, email advertising, and landing page creation, to optimize their presence online and stay top of mind with their consumer bases.
Pierre is also a writer for Search Engine Journal and Search Engine Watch online publications, where he writes about SEO and Reputation Management related topics.
Reviews Are Everything: Local Retailers Can Control Online Image
The old adage that word-of-mouth advertising is the best advertising still rings true in the digital age. With local reviews platforms, like Google+ and Yelp, consumers have more power than ever before to have their voices heard and impact businesses. In fact, a study by Harvard Business School found that each ratings star added on a Yelp review translated to anywhere from a 5% to 9% effect on revenues.
“Yelp plays a huge factor in the traffic local businesses receive,” Pierre said. “Yelp is a huge revenue driver for businesses rated at four or five stars. On the other hand, Yelp can be a detriment to businesses with poorer ratings.”
Merchants run the risk of losing the business of potential customers who read negative reviews on sites like Yelp and Google+, but there are proven ways of remedying this problem. Pierre told us that there are cases where businesses can make an argument to have a negative review removed.
“Yelp requires that all reviews are first-person experiences,” Pierre said. “For example, if someone says ‘My friend had a bad experience here,’ the business can flag the review using Yelp’s reporting mechanism.”
Businesses can employ other, more complicated methods to remove unwanted negative reviews. For these, however, Pierre recommends consulting an expert.
“There is only one chance to argue for removal via flagging,” he said. “So, if businesses are inexperienced in making these arguments and aren’t fully versed with Yelp’s terms of service, they might benefit from outside help.”
If flagging a negative review doesn’t seem like the best option, businesses can work with companies like Submit Express to show them the way forward. Many times, if there is ample documentation, a legal expert can draft a letter to Yelp’s legal department to remove an unwarranted negative review.
As Pierre noted, however, fewer than 5% of the reviews on Yelp are candidates for removal. In many cases, it is much more effective to boost positive reviews.
“This can be done by surveying existing customers, asking them to rate your products and services,” Pierre said. “If the ratings come back positive, you can ask those customers for Yelp and Google+ reviews. If they come back negative, businesses can reach out to customers and try to resolve the issues before they ask them for a review. We make this process automated with our software platform called Repengage.”
For local businesses, Google Maps is primarily where they want to have high rankings. Luckily, local businesses usually outrank national results in Google Maps, but merchants still need to be vigilant and have a plan to make sure they are at or near the top results.
To have the best results in Google Maps, Pierre told us that it is very important for businesses to claim Google profiles and add proper categories and descriptions. Businesses can manage Google+ pages through Google My Business.
This allows businesses to set up a local page where customers can see business hours and contact information. Most importantly, setting up a local business page on Google+ makes a business more visible in local search results and displays it prominently in Google Maps.
Google also looks at citations from other directories, like Yellow Pages and other similar sites, to make sure these are all up-to-date. Citations are like a vote of approval and validity for Google. The more citations the better it would be for Google local rankings.
By using tools like Yext, which is a local directory submission service, Submit Express can help businesses find all of their online listings and update them on one platform. This, along with positive reviews, helps better a local business’ rankings on Google Maps and improves overall visibility.
One of Submit Express’ clients is a local mattress store called Los Angeles Mattress Stores that went from one location to five in a matter of two years using primarily online reviews and local rankings to grow. All their locations are rated five stars in Yelp and have hundreds of reviews. Submit Express initially helped them with getting listed in various directories and then helped them grow their reviews using their RepEngage platform. With number one rankings for both Yelp and Google Local, anyone looking for a mattress store in Los Angeles area would immediately see this business listed.
Los Angeles Mattress Stores owner, Arman Adamson, told us, “I have spent tons of money on traditional advertising, such as fliers, billboards, and TV. Traditional advertising lasts as long as you are still paying, while online reputation lasts forever and is our number one form of traffic to our website and showrooms.”
Latest SEO Recommendations for E-Tailers to Stay Top of Mind
While Yelp and other reviews platforms can help online merchants, SEO is a much more effective vehicle for them to increase web presence and, therefore, conversion rates. A 2015 case study by Search Engine Land found that retailers with top rankings on search engines were 160% more likely to convert visitors. This is due to the high probability that customers clicking on the top search result were closer to purchase instead of clicking through lower results to price compare.
As Pierre informed us, SEO has been getting more and more difficult with Google’s ever-changing algorithm, but there are proven steps to help rank higher in search results.
“My main suggestion with SEO is to try to get as many links as possible,” Pierre said. “The more legitimate sites linking to your site the better. Guest articles work well. I recommend writing articles in your niche and submitting to online publications and blogs. Quality is preferred over quantity when it comes to link building, so you need to try to get some good quality backlinks rather than hundreds of low quality links. Low quality link examples would be those from blog comments, directories, link pages, footers or forums.”
One of the most important changes to Google in recent history is that sites will now rank better if they provide a mobile friendly or responsive experience to users on different devices. Submit Express offers a wide range of SEO services to help businesses identify factors impacting how their sites rank such as mobile issues.
Another recent algorithm change is the new Penguin algorithm that is affecting rankings in almost real time. Pierre tells us that Google is analyzing backlinks and SEO factors in real time now, whereas before it was done every so often.
“Until a couple of months ago, if your site suffered from having too many low-quality links, you had to try and remove them and submit a Disavow file to Google,” he said. “This meant competitors could also sabotage your rankings by creating low-quality backlinks to you. However, the new algorithm update simply ignores low-quality backlinks. Instead, sites may still get penalized for having too many low-quality backlinks through a manual review by Google’s spam team.”
Pierre emphasizes that it is important to stay up to date with all the Google ranking changes to be successful in SEO.
“If you are going to do it yourself, it is a lot of work,” he added. “Make sure to keep up to date with all latest search engine algorithm changes and do lots of research. If you are going to hire a person or company, then also make sure you hire the right person. Ask a lot of questions and check their online reviews and reputation.”
Many small businesses do not have the time or assets to allocate toward SEO, link-building and content writing. That’s why Pierre recommends businesses turn to experts to help.
Businesses Benefit from Wide Array of Submit Express Services
Submit Express offers additional services that can be used in tandem with or separate from SEO campaigns. Social media marketing, reputation management services, email advertising, Wikipedia page creation and landing page creation services are tools all businesses should have in pocket.
iClimber, Submit Express’ social media marketing program, provides content writing and other marketing services businesses can use on social media platforms to maximize presence and credibility for clients. Businesses working with iClimber learn best practices in social profile creation, promotion, and marketing.
Email advertising is usually a big part of any effective marketing campaign, and Submit Express offers an email marketing solution with a “no spam” policy.
“Our opt-in email service is great to reach those who may be interested in a business’s product or service,” Pierre said. “We work with database providers to help businesses target people based on geography and interests. And our methodology ensures that the messages hit inboxes instead of being tagged by spam filters.”
Pierre told us that so many commercial email messages get tagged as spam because they contain keywords that are recognized as negatives by spam filters. Too many instances of words like “discount,” “sale,” or “guarantee” in a message may result in it being sent to junk mail, a destination where no business wants to end up.
“When we run email campaigns for our clients, we use various tools to test if they will pass the spam filters. This is very important,” Pierre said.
Businesses looking to direct consumers to specific products benefit from Submit Express’s landing page creation services.
“If you’re employing pay-per-click ads, it’s recommended that you take consumers directly to the page on which you’re selling the item,” Pierre said. “There you can get the consumer to perform a specific action, whether it’s to buy something or fill out a form.”
These landing pages are also beneficial for SEO purposes. If there are certain products a business sells that are more popular than others, landing pages can be created with information and stats on those products, which helps the ranking of the overall site in search results.
Online Marketing Best Practices Ready Businesses for Future Growth
In 1998, Google changed the way people obtained information and became a vehicle for businesses to market themselves online. Pierre and Submit Express have grown alongside the search engine, tweaking and evolving approaches to SEO as Google continues to pump out 500 to 600 algorithmic changes annually. That’s a lot for an SEO company to keep pace with, but Pierre and Submit Express appear to do it seamlessly.
Local merchants and e-tailers alike can take advantage of Pierre’s wealth of knowledge when it comes to positioning them for growth.
“We started as a company to get sites into Google with our free submission tool and were able to show companies how to best employ SEO strategies,” Pierre said. “We evolved into a company that helps businesses get the best out of Google, social media, reputation management, and email marketing. Really, we enable businesses to get the best of the web.”