a picture of "the life changing magic of tidying up"

What Marie Kondo Taught Me About Digital Marketing

Dare I Say It? Even Your Website Might Benefit from “Less is More”

TL;DR – The highlights

I’m not the first person to notice a tie-in between Marie Kondo and the unlikely world of digital marketing. You can find great articles here and here and here. There’s even more. Google it.

I guess it depends on what cultural corner you live on whether you know the name Marie Kondo. Some days it seems like everyone has heard of her, other days I mention her name to a friend and they react with “who?” I first encountered her as a reference used by others who expected me to know who she is. For example this 2019 article on the political blog The Bulwark:

And the biggest threat to physical books is Marie Kondo gleefully advising people to toss them all out in the name of “decluttering.”

Or what about a reference in a 2019 article from The Atlantic about astronomy (of all things):

In 2013, astronomers found something new around Neptune, in a manner that would make Marie Kondo proud.

I had heard the references enough to know the name, but nothing about her (despite the fact that she had a New York Times best-selling book, a 2019 Netflix series, and had appeared on Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Kimmel, and Ellen Degeneres, along with many other venues (ok, so I don’t get out much!).

How This Digital Marketer Discovered Marie Kondo

a picture of "the life changing magic of tidying up"

My own, well-thumbed copy.

I really discovered the disarmingly charming Ms. Kondo when I discovered her book, “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” on a shelf in my office while in the process of, well, tidying up, of course. I had never seen the book, and no one in my household claimed ownership. Weeks later I learned that the book was (probably) purchased by my mom. But since she rarely visits my house it’s still a mystery how it ended up on my bookshelf (there’s a bit of magic there, as well).

Guess what; I read it. I was intrigued by Marie’s simple rule of keeping only those things that “spark joy” in my life. (Of course, I had to fudge Marie’s rule a bit to include household necessities. Let’s face it, though there’s simply no joy to be found in a roll of paper towels, I’m not about to throw it away. Duh!).

I launched into a full “KonMari” process in my fast emptying home (3 kids gone, only one remains: I’m almost an empty nester). I piled every stitch of clothing on my bed to give myself that “shokku” that Marie wants her clients to feel. As in “Damn! How did I ever find the money to buy all those clothes?” I emptied every bookshelf, every filing cabinet, every cupboard, every drawer. My garage became engorged with joyless items I not only no longer needed, but I couldn’t even remember why I owned.

I discovered things. Some precious. Some not so precious, such as the 16-years-past-the-expiration box of Crème Brulèe mix. Or the even more ancient jar of Tiger Balm (the date on this jar means this tiny, unused jar accompanied us as my family changed address 4 times. It’s almost as old as my 24-year-old 2nd born – born September of 97, and is older than my 16-year-old daughter and my 19-year-old son — and it still smells good, btw).

expired tiger balm jar

This got packed up and moved 4 times in 24 years, and every time we put it into the moving boxes it carried the same expiration date: 10/97.

It took months to complete the process of “tidying up” but it truly has been “life changing magic.” I feel lighter, happier, much more settled. I also have less trouble finding my keys (the whole process was worth it just for that bennie).

It wasn’t until I was almost complete with that grueling, months-long process, and hard into my final 2 acts: the decluttering yard sale, followed by driving the packed van of leftovers to Goodwill, that I realized how Marie Kondo’s lessons, method, and logic could make the digital marketing struggle with content similarly lighter, happier, and even – how shall I put this? – magical.

Website Clutter

Anyone who’s been creating content for years, especially for a blog, knows that it’s amazing how much content you end up with. It’s like piling all your clothes on the bed. It gives you a “shokku.”

My friend Matt Campbell, who has built one of the most successful wedding websites online (myweddingsongs.com), impressed me early on not only with his dedication to adding content to his website, but his fortitude in removing content that no longer served its purpose.

The benefits have been enormous for Matt and many others aiming for better performance for their websites. Google is no fan of content “deadwood,” and websites typically see a benefit from getting rid of pages that no one finds valuable. Some pages are easy to identify, like the page I just found on one of my long-neglected personal websites that’s advertising the workshops I’ll be holding during…2013!

But for other pages where the choice is not so clear, how do you decide?

That brings us back to Marie Kondo, because her approach to this decision can be applied to your website. The articles I mentioned at the outset all apply a similar approach to decluttering your website, namely asking yourself what “sparks joy.”

Sparking Digital Joy

How can you reduce Marie’s famous maxim, “keep only what sparks joy,” to your website or blog? I see three areas where you can look for a form of “joy” in this context.

Sparking Joy for the Audience

The first aspect of joy applies to your audience. A website likely won’t grow, or even survive, unless it creates satisfaction for those users that encounter its pages. Well, how would you know that? Here are a few ways.

Comments – If you’re evaluating blog pages with the comments section open, a great way to judge “joy” is whether people are leaving comments (favorable ones, obviously).

Backlinks – After your page has been up for a time, use a tool like Majestic to see if any links have been created to it from legitimate websites. Organic links to your content often are a spontaneous expression of “joy,” at least in the context we’re talking about.

Engagement with the page – In Google Analytics, go to Behavior > Site Content > All Pages. Take a look at the column “Avg. Time on Page,” and sort it from high to low. You’ll immediately start seeing pages that people lingered over, and, on the opposite end of the scale, pages they couldn’t escape from fast enough. One word of caution when applying this analysis: it only works if you have a decent volume of visits to the page. Any page with visits in the single digits can’t effectively be evaluated this way. Which brings us to the next form of joy…

Sparking Joy for Google

Ok, I realize I’m stretching a bit here. We all know that Google’s primary measurement of joy is profit. But think of joy in this sense as an “algorithmic” joy, if such a thing exists. Basically, does Google like to display your page to searchers? Do you think Googlebot gives a little squeal of delight when it crawls your page? (I already admitted that I’m stretching this a bit…or quite a bit…but I think the principle here is valid.)

If Google sees no value in your content, the average searcher will never have a chance to decide whether it sparks joy for them or not.

A great tool for determining this is Google Search Console. Inside of Search Console, navigate to Performance, and then switch the display to Pages. Make sure you have a pretty large window of time. For this type of measurement I typically max the time window to 18 months. Enable the “Position” column in display. Sort by Impressions from lowest to highest.

When you see pages that a) have been around for a while, and b) are getting very few impressions, or none at all, then those pages are obviously not sparking joy in the heart of Google’s algorithm. Unless there’s a strong reason to keep the page, remove it. (Here’s a quick video how-to I created that illustrates the basics)

Sparking Joy for You

This final measure of joy is, in my opinion, the most important. Does the page spark joy for you? I can’t give you a measurement tool for this, because you’ll have to find the answer within. If you view a page and it sparks the opposite of joy, for example embarrassment at a piece of old content you wrote when you didn’t know better, you might want to dump it regardless of the metrics.

On the other hand, if you wrote a page, most likely a blog post, that still speaks for you, and resonates with you, I would suggest keeping it alive even if you’re the only reader (obviously this advice is for those of you who run your own websites; if you’re an agency like Horizon Web Marketing you have to evaluate everything through the eyes of your client). If you are a blogger, for example, and you jettison pages you value just because others don’t, ultimately there will be nothing left of you in your website. Your website will have lost its soul, and you will lose interest. I guarantee it.

What Not to Do in Decluttering Your Website

That having been said, there’s a right way and a wrong way to get rid of old pages that spark joy for no one. So, make your hit list, but make sure you learn the right way to get rid of your stuff before you start throwing pages in the trash can. I’ll be getting that post out in the next week or two, so keep an eye out.

And While You Wait…

Ms. Kondo has a new series out on Netflix, “Sparking Joy with Marie Kondo.” Just what Stephen Colbert, I, and other members of the KonMari cult have been waiting for.

Thumbnail for video explaining how to check for https secure protocol implementation

Secure Protocol 101: How to Check the HTTPS Implementation of Your Website (video)

Another SEO Audit How-To Video

Google wants your website to be secure! That’s why they are favoring websites that use “https” instead of “http”

Image of a website running https

Above is an image of how a website will show in a browser if it is running https

 

Image of a website showing a not secure warning

Above is an image of a site that has not implemented https, or has done it incorrectly

This is another video in our series of SEO Audit Essentials how-to’s. In this video I discuss one of the items we always check when we’re doing an audit on a website, namely whether it’s running on secure protocol (in other words, using “https” instead of “http”), and then, if it is, whether that https protocol has been implemented correctly (often it has not).

Since Google is valuing https in their ranking we always want to make sure that Google doesn’t think the https implementation on a website is broken. It might negatively impact the trustworthiness of the site.

(This video is designed to complement our SEO Audit Essentials free checklist. To get a copy of that checklist for your SEO work, click here)

An audio transcript appears below the video.

Audio Transcript

Hi, everybody. This is Ross Barefoot with Horizon Web Marketing. I’m here with another tip for how to use our SEO audit checklist. As you may already know, and may already have a copy, we offer as a free download a checklist similar to the one we use in house for performing an SEO audit on your website. So, we’re just going to drill down into one small aspect of that, and show you how you can do a check on your site. And in this case, it’s for the security protocol that your site is operating under.

Let’s take a look at the checklist. You can see it here. It’s set up in a spreadsheet format.

image of seo audit essentials checklist

If we scroll down a little bit, you’ll see it there’s a setting that says security issues. And the first question is, is the site using HTTPS? Of course, as you probably know, Google is pushing everyone to use a secure protocol and here I’ve got a project site to take a look at. You’ll see up at the top left that the site is using HTTPS, as opposed to just HTTP. Whenever you visit a website, typically, if it’s running this secure protocol, if you’re using Chrome browser, it’s going to show secure, other browsers will show something similar.

Your first step is, if you’re going to check out your site is try typing in the address, just like I’ve done it here without any protocol [ed: without http or https] and hit Enter, and then see what it defaults to. In this case, it defaults to HTTPS. So, so far, so good. I’d click around to a few pages on a few links, see if it’s running HTTPS. Okay, so at this real basic level, it looks to be running HTTPS. But I’m going to check one other thing, and that is what about if somebody has a link out there with just the standard old-fashioned HTTP? So, I’m going to put that in for this site and I’m going to hit enter. Now notice that it redirects again to HTTPS.

So, some sites do not force it to check. Part of what you’re going to do is you’re going to check by taking out that S, and running it through and seeing if it redirects back to the secure protocol. But typically, you’re not done there.

Using the Insecure Content Report in Screaming Frog

Now tool that we use quite a bit, and I’ve talked about on some of my other videos is Screaming Frog [ed: for a link to any tools mentioned in this video, see the description of the video on YouTube]. It’s free for up to about 500 URLs. It’s a free download. Otherwise, if you have to buy it, it’s a good tool to have. I’ll do other videos on what we use it for, a whole bunch of different stuff. I’ve done a crawl here on a somewhat abandoned site called rockymountainsearchacademy.com. Once I do a crawl using Screaming Frog, they have a report that is called insecure content. When you click on that, it’ll prompt you to download a spreadsheet.

image of the dashboard of Screaming Frog

What the spreadsheet looks like is right here. You’ll notice that it will show me every page that has a link on it that points to an insecure destination. In this case, on my page, How To SEO Courses, you’ll see here under the column destination, notice how the protocol over here is HTTP. That’s not really the best case. Now in our situation, we do have what are called redirects in place. So, if someone clicks on that link, they are forced to a secure version of this page. But that puts an unnecessary step in the process. So, this would be an area that I would need to give some attention to, to change these links here to HTTPS.

Using JitBit to Double Check for Page Resources Called Insecurely

Now there’s one other free tool that I’m going to show you how to use. We’ll go back here, and we’ll check this tab. This is a cool little site called JitBit. You can go there and do an SSL check. Now, this will only go up to about 200 pages. But it gives you a good idea whether you might have a problem or not. Notice you have to tweet to gain access? That’s a small price to pay. So, I go ahead and tweet, and I’m going to show you what the result is when I did a check on Rocky Mountain search engine Academy. And you can see in the screen capture here, that it finds just one insecure item. Now, this is because it’s looking for actually where the website is calling some sort of a resource that is using something to build the page that is insecure. Now, this is something that Screaming Frog did not pick up on. And so, in essence, you really have to do a variety of different checks.

At this point, if you find that you do have a problem, and you’re not really technical, here’s where you call in your developer or an outside developer if you feel that your developer, or the person you’re working with, can’t handle this. And you say, “Well, here’s what I find:” In the case of Rocky Mountain search Academy, I have a bunch of insecure links that need to be swapped out. That can be done with a one-step database replacement operation. I would also show them the JitBit document, because it shows where an external script is being called insecurely. Both of those are red flags to Google. And so, they would need to be dealt with. Once you deal with them, you can mark this off your list.

Again, my name is Ross Barefoot with Horizon Web Marketing and Horizon Web Marketing Academy. I hope this has been useful to you. Please subscribe for more tips like this, and also click on the bell icon next to the subscribe button. That way, you’ll actually get a notification when we have new videos come out that will help you work through these tough SEO questions. Bye for now.

Mobile Friendly and the Busy CEO: C-Suite SEO Tip #2

The Culture Goes Mobile: Is Your Business Ready for That?

How does a half hour on the phone with Apple customer service tie into the way Google treats your website? In this video I explore an anecdote to illustrate why ignoring the mobile trend in website marketing is tempting but dangerous (a transcript appears below the embedded video).

If you would like an assessment of your website’s mobile friendliness, contact us today.

Video Transcript

Yesterday I had a really frustrating experience with Apple customer service. When I was done with that frustrating experience, I realized that I needed to reach out to top level managers and CEOs and business owners and give them fair warning that they could end up having a very unpleasant surprise in the very near future with Google. If those things don’t seem to line up, stick around. I’ll put the pieces together in just a few seconds.

Hi. I’m Ross Barefoot with Horizon Web Marketing. First, I’m going to tell you a little bit about this frustrating experience that I had with Apple customer service. Like many of you out there, I have a teenage daughter, and a teenage daughter who spends a lot of time on her iPhone. She’s a really responsible girl, so I let her use my Apple sign-in ID. The other day, she downloaded an app that came with a subscription. She had no intention of buying it, but she just wanted to see what it was like. There was a trial period. She deleted the app, and I said, “Well, I need to do due diligence. Let’s log in to Apple and see if there’s going to be any consequences to this. Is there anything that we need to cancel?”

Of course, what do I do? Troglodyte that I am, I go to my desktop computer, I go to the Apple website. You see it right here. Of course, you got a way to sign in. I’m signed in right now. Once I sign in, I navigate on over to my account. Within my account, I check the status of any orders. No orders showing there. I can’t find anything about subscriptions, so I figure, “Hey, I’m good. Right?” What do you think happens? Of course, two days later, boom, I got a $50 charge on my credit card.

I get on with Apple chat customer service. Long story short, after 30 minutes, I finally was able to get the subscription canceled. In the meantime, while I’m chatting with this lady who’s trying to help me, she’s directing me to articles like this one, “View, change, or cancel your subscriptions”. I’m sending her screen captures of the place where I’m at. By the way, she wasn’t even looking at my screen captures, so bad for customer service in that respect. Finally figured out that the only way to cancel the subscription was on the iPhone. There was a workaround if I would have had iTunes installed, but I didn’t. There’s just simply no way though the web browser interface to get this simple job done of canceling a subscription.

Alright. Why am I going into all of this? Because it illustrates a point. The point it illustrates is how strongly the culture, users, and major companies are moving towards a mobile-centric world. I don’t like it anymore than you do, at least I hope you don’t like it, if you’re like me, but that’s the way it is nowadays. You know who’s paying attention to this? Google. That’s why Google is writing like on their official Webmaster Central Blog recently, they did an article on how they are moving to a mobile-first index and how eventually they may even move to a mobile-only index. Not going to try and explain what mobile-first index or even what index is, I’m just going to tell you the impact.

The impact on your business website is if your website does not run smoothly, look good, load quickly on a mobile device, it’s going to start hurting you in Google search results, and most likely Bing as well, although most people only really care about Google nowadays. Basically, the ante has been upped. You need to make sure that your business website, if you need visibility in search, and who doesn’t, has to be ready on mobile. You might be saying to yourself, “Well, we got web developers and we hired this company that does our website and everything.” Maybe you haven’t even checked it out.

That factors back into why I’m talking to top level business executives. If you’re, for example, a CEO, you’ve got a really busy schedule. It’s entirely understandable if you’ve never actually pulled out a phone and taken a look at your company’s website on the phone. I’m going to tell you that you need to engage with this and not just delegate it away. Here’s a couple of examples of why.

I’m going to go to a website, or I’m going to show you here a large company website. This company is $87 million in annual revenue estimated. Look at their page over here on the right. You can see their page on a mobile device. This tool here that I’m showing you is Google’s own mobile friendly test. Notice what Google concludes, “This page is not mobile friendly.” This factors back into what I was telling you about Google. If the page is not mobile friendly, it’s not going to be well situated for a mobile-first world, the world that Google is preparing for.

Let me give you another example here so you can see this is not an isolated incident. Here’s a $106 million business. On mobile, their website doesn’t even render correctly. I doubt if the CEO or if the top level senior management people in this company even know that this is the case. You also might be thinking, “Hey, our clientele is always going to be looking at our website on a desktop computer, so it doesn’t really matter”, but it does because Google says, “Page is not mobile friendly.” Google is basically saying, “Page is very possibly not going to do well for search in the future.”

screenshot of a large company website that is not mobile friendly

Here’s my final example to show you really quickly, and that is … Let me see if I can find it here. Here is probably the most egregious example that I have. A $410 million company, half a billion dollars almost in annual revenue, and their website does not render correctly on a mobile device.

The purpose of this video is not to give you a how-to of how to check out your website. I have done a video that shows you how you, without any technical skills, can check out your own company’s website in order to see, “Hey, are we measuring up? Is our website mobile friendly?” I’ll put a link to that video in the description for this video, but no, the purpose of this is to give you my “dad” lecture, like I did with my oldest son when I said, “Hey, listen. If you drop out of high school, you’re going to regret it.” He did drop out of high school, and yeah, he does regret it. The point is if you don’t check this out, if you don’t engage with this issue, you’re likely to regret it when you find that you’re losing ground in Google search results.

If you need any help on this, at Horizon Web Marketing, we do consulting and we also do seo training, either for you or for your staff, around all sorts of digital marketing issues, including issues like this. What impact does this type of thing have on your placement in search results? That’s part of what we do for SEO, or search engine optimization. Definitely if you like videos in plain business English, subscribe down below. Also in the comments, let me know what you’d like to learn more about so that you can be more effective in managing your company’s digital marketing presence, or making sure that other people and companies do a good job of that. Until next time, my name is Ross Barefoot with Horizon Web Marketing and Horizon Web Marketing Academy. Thank you very much for your time.

seal like rubber stamp with word audit

Video – How to Use Our SEO Audit Essentials Checklist (7 minutes)

Graphic indicating the free download for the SEO audit checklistHave You Downloaded Our Free SEO Audit Checklist Yet?

(If you haven’t, you can find it here.)

If you have, maybe you’d like a bit of a guided tour. In this brief video I’ll give you an overview and a few insights as to how you might want to use this resource in your own web development and digital marketing.

 

When you watch the video, feel free to post questions in the comments for either this blog post or the video itself. We want to make sure you can get the most out the SEO Audit checklist.

Why should you care about SEO? SEO is Search Engine Optimization to rank higher in search results. Here is a great reference to learn about the value of first page Google results.

Is Your Website Search Engine “Friendly” (Part III)

In Part I of this series (6 Questions to Ask that Will Help You Determine Whether Your Website is Search Engine Friendly) I discussed the need to make your website search engine friendly before you try to do Search Engine Optimization.  I think this is a necessity even when you have no budget for actual professional SEO, simply because search engine friendliness is possible and beneficial for any website budget.  It only requires some awareness when the site is being developed and the cooperation of your website developer.

In Part II of the series I discussed the need for a sitemap and search engine friendly URLs.

In this final installment I will be discussing questions 5 and 6 of our original topic, and both are discussed also by Google in their instructions for making your website “Google Friendly.”

Question 5 – Does your site have a substantial amount of relevant text on the home page?

Search engines are text-greedy.  They have invested hundreds of millions of dollars into discovering, indexing, organizing, and analyzing textual content.  Sure they also put a ton into image and video search, but text still is the locomotive that drives their engine.  So are you giving them text that will help them get a bead on your site?  If not, you’re definitely not showing them a friendly face.

Take a look at your home page.  Remove the images.  Google recommends looking at your browser in Lynx, which is a text-only browser; what a nightmare.  I think the most recent version of Lynx was created when Eisenhower was president.  Easier: Use Google Chrome and browse your website with images disabled (at least for this, Firefox is much more difficult to configure).  Now try to figure out what your website is about.  Can you do it?  Is there enough textual content without the aid of images to help the search engines determine what your home page is relevant to?  If not, you need to figure out a way to beef up your textual content.  Doing so will go a long way toward making it more welcoming to Google.

Here’s an example for you.  Note the images-on/images-off difference for Venus Clothing (who somehow bagged the very desirable name venus.com).  Note the screen capture below with images off.  There’s virtually nothing there!

screen capture of venus.com to show display with images on

 

 

another screen capture of venus.com showing images turned off and virtually no content

 

Question 6 – Does your site hide key information in graphics?

This is related to question 5, but a bit different.  Graphics can get you into trouble in a couple of ways with the search engines.  One is by slowing down your page load time (see question 2 of this series).  But additionally lots of companies make the mistake of putting their name, phone number, even their address into a pretty graphic that someone created using Photoshop and then dropped into their webpage.

Look at the examples above for Venus Fashion.  Even their company name is missing except for a small copyright notice at the bottom of the page.

While your browser is still in text-only mode (see above for instructions), see if you can find key navigational information or key company information.  If you can’t, turn images back on and see if it suddenly shows up.  It’s ok to leave key information embedded in images and graphics, but it’s not OK if that’s the only way it appears.  For example, if your company phone number is part of a beautiful image, fine.  Just make sure that you have it somewhere else on the page as text.

Well, I hope this has been helpful to you in making your website friendlier when Google or Bing come knocking…or rather, crawling.  If you want to go deeper into this topic, you can take a look at this guide from Moz, however when I looked at their article I found it, frankly, overwhelming.  As a business person I usually need immediate steps that I can take now, rather than a dense theoretical guide that I’ll get to in that distant and hazy future that never comes.

And for you SEO professionals who might be reading this, if you have run into other Search Engine Unfriendly stuff that business can and should watch out for without a huge investment of money, please leave it in the comments.

As usual, if you found this useful, please do me a favor and give it a Like, a +1, or a Tweet.