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Every year, for the past five years, some of Maryland’s top companies apply for a spot on the The Gazette of Politics & Business P&B Exceptional 53 (aka. the P&B 53). To be eligible, a company must be headquartered in Maryland and have been in business for at least three years. The final list is selected by a panel of judges based on criteria that includes business practices, growth, innovation, work place environment, and community service. This year, Blue Corona ranked 39th, joining other top Maryland companies such as Adventist HealthCare, Hughes, MedImmune and many others (48 others to be exact)!
At the awards ceremony, I couldn’t help but notice how many honorees referenced the importance of their website, and/or how they are now actively using the Internet to drive business growth and enhance their service delivery. For example, Southern Maryland Electrical Cooperative is using social media as another way to engage with customers – especially during emergency events (we’ll have to see how they use it to manage customer expectations during the “frankenstorm” that is headed toward Maryland!). Aronson, LLC is actively engaged in content marketing and has used their blog to establish themselves as thought leaders in their industry – attracting something like 250,000 web visits annually in the process!
This got me thinking…
How do the P&B Exceptional 53 stack up online?
- Which company has the largest website (in terms of web pages)?
- Which site has the most search-friendly structure?
- Which company has the most engaged online community?
- Who has the most backlinks?
Then it hit me. Why not use our new SEO software to crawl and analyze the websites of the 53 honorees?!?
I spoke with one of our software developers, and after a little bit of tweaking, we did it. We had our software crawl and analyze all 53 websites (I think one site is still being crawled as I type this – sorry, Comcast, your site is HUGE).
Before I get into the results, I’d like to run you through a quick overview of our perspective on the web. Let’s start with the idea that WAY too many companies continue to think of and treat their websites like digital brochures. No matter what industry you’re in or how large/small your company, it’s a mistake to treat your website like a brochure. Your website is NOT a brochure – it’s a sales funnel. At the highest level, you should be testing and investing in strategies to drive more qualified visitors to your site and using tracking technologies – like those offered by Blue Corona – to monitor and continually try to improve your website’s conversion rates.
There are thousands of different ways to get people to your website, but the most effective strategy at present is what we call content marketing or content-centric SEO. What do people do when they’re looking for a product or service? They Google it! Content marketing and SEO are great because they place your business directly in front of people at the exact moment of interest and intent. I think it is safe to assume that there’s a good chance someone searching, “payroll company in Maryland” is looking for a new payroll provider. What a lot of business owners and marketing executives don’t realize is that Google doesn’t rank websites – it ranks web PAGES. By creating content relevant to what your target prospects are searching, over time, you will start to see your site appear more and more in the organic search results.
But why do some websites outrank others?
Great question! Let’s simplify things for the purpose of this blog post and say that to rank well organically, you need three things:
- Proper website code
- Great content
At Blue Corona, we’re in the business of helping companies establish and promote themselves as THE authority for what they do in the markets they do it. We’ve created a number of software programs that help us analyze websites from an objective perspective. We like beautiful websites as much as the next person, but what really intrigues us is how effective a website is in terms of its rank-ability and its ability to engage qualified visitors and convert them into leads.
Let’s take a look at the websites of the 2012 P&B Exceptional 53!
The Websites of the P&B 53
The first thing you need to rank well organically is a website that is coded in a way that Google, Yahoo, Bing, and the other search engines can find, crawl, and categorize your site. Think of your website as if it were a car. You can have two cars that look identical on the outside, but very different when you lift up the hood. Your site might look comparable to a competitor’s site, but after a look under the hood, we might determine that your site is powered by a four cyclinder engine where as your competitor has a super-charged V8!
The P&B 53 Websites with the Best Site Structure
Rockville Printing also has an XML sitemap and a robots.txt file. An XML sitemap is like a blueprint that gives the search engines an overview of all the pages on your site. This way, if a search engine can’t crawl your site’s navigation menu, it can see all your pages via the XML sitemap. The site also has title tags on every page, h1 tags on virtually every page, and has very few pages missing meta description tags. All of these characteristics make it easier for the search engines to find, crawl, and understand the content on Rockville Printing’s website.
If your site’s navigation menu is tricky for the search engines’ software to crawl, there is a chance that the search engine will find your home page and not much else. Modern content management systems (CMS) make this less of a problem today than in years past, but problems still arise and many business owners are totally unaware that an issue exists. Note: The Rockville Printing website is in need of a significant upgrade in terms of the technology and the aesthetic, but even being outdated, it is fundamentally easy for the search engines to find and crawl.
You can get a good feel for your website’s code and site structure by getting a full SEO audit.
The P&B 53 Websites with the Most Pages
Adventist HealthCare (a Blue Corona client) takes the top spot for P&B 53 websites with the most web pages. As mentioned above, having a lot of web pages is important because Google doesn’t rank websites – it ranks web PAGES. Each page on your website provides you an additional opportunity to rank for a closely related set of keywords.
To illustrate how this works, think about the following scenario:
Suppose you own an IT consulting firm. You provide small business network support, cloud solutions, data backup services, and remode helpdesk support. You have a website with a “Services” page and you have a paragraph about each of the services above on your page. Your competitor offers the same services you do. They have a main “Services” page on their website too, but at the end of each individual service paragraph, they link to a specific page with ~750 additional words about that service (and only that service). Your competitor is going to have more pages on their website and, all things being equal, they are going to outrank you organically if someone searches for one of your specific services.
We like to use the saying, “keyword phrases need their own individual pages.” Write and optimize pages for each service you provide and you will improve your company’s organic visibility.
(Note: yes, we stretched this list to include 15 companies to get Blue Corona in the mix!)
The P&B 53 Sites with the Most Words Per Page
While Google and the other search engines can find, crawl, and (to a certain extent) interpret content such as images, PDFs, and videos, text-based content is still the easiest for them to understand. In order to rank well organically, your site must be interpreted as relevant to the searcher’s query. It is much easier to accomplish this if you have a decent amount of text-based content on each page of your site.
Once again, Adventist HealthCare claims the top spot for Words Per Page – followed closely by Blue Corona and Video Labs. If you score well in our analysis for website code, but you don’t rank well organically, you should spend some time reviewing the text-based content on each of your website pages.
The Most Authoritative P&B 53 Sites
Google wants to match searchers with the most relevant and authoritative website given their query. Relevance is mostly determined by on-page or on-site content, but it can also be determined by looking at the on-page or on-site content of other sites linking to yours. If two or more websites seem to be the same in terms of relevance, site/domain authority is used as the tie breaker. Authority is largely determined by the number of other authoritative websites linking to yours, but all links are not created equal.
A link from The Gazette of Politics & Business is going to help improve your website’s authority much more than a link from the local neighborhood Patch website will. Non-profits have a much easier time getting links than commercial enterprises do, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that 40% of the most authoritative P&B 53 websites belong to not-for-profit organizations with a .org domain extension.
To improve your website’s authority, focus on creating unique and remarkable content and promoting its existence to other non-competing websites. Over time, doing this will get more websites to cite or reference your site and they’ll typically do this with a link back to your page.
Other Interesting Insights
In reviewing the websites of the P&B 53, a few other things stuck out to me worth pointing out. Only 26.4% of the honorees have more than 500 website pages. This means that the vast majority of the companies on the list have a major opportunity to generate more website traffic, leads, and sales simply by adding more pages to their sites. An easy way to do this is by creating and maintaining an active blog (or hiring a company to do this for you).
A lot of honorees mentioned being active on social media sites like Twitter, but just 11.3% of the companies on the list had 100 or more Facebook “Likes.” The real value in social media is building an engaged community. Likes gives an indication as to the size of your community. Shares gives you an idea of how engaged your community is. Adding Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter icons to your site hardly constitutes a social media strategy.
PageRank is a metric created by Google to help measure the authority or importance of a website. More high PR pages linking to a particular page equals a higher PR for the page in question. For years, we’ve been telling local companies that they should expect to have a PR in the 3-5 range. A full 81% of the P&B 53 fall into this range. Only seven companies on the list have PRs higher than 5 and these include local giants such as MedImmune and Hughes. Just about 68% of the P&B 53 have a PageRank (PR) of 4 or less. PageRank is becoming less important than it used to be because Google is augmenting their ranking algorithm to use other measures of authority.
To see the full analysis of the websites of the 2012 P&B Exceptional 53, visit http://www.pb53stats.com
If you’d like a similar analysis performed on your website or your company is one of the award winners and you’d like us to explain things in more detail, drop us a line!
About The Author: Ben Landers is the President and CEO of Blue Corona, a data-driven, inbound internet marketing company. Submit an inquiry to book Ben to speak at your next conference or event.
View more blogs by Ben Landers