The Voice Playbook – Building a Marketing Plan for the Next Era in Computing

Posted by SimonPenson

Preface

This post serves a dual purpose: it’s a practical guide to the realities of preparing for voice right now, but equally it’s a rallying call to ensure our industry has a full understanding of just how big, disruptive, and transformational it will be — and that, as a result, we need to stand ready.

My view is that voice is not just an add-on, but an entirely new way of interacting with the machines that add value to our lives. It is the next big era of computing.

Brands and agencies alike need to be at the forefront of that revolution. For my part, that begins with investing in the creation of a voice team.

Let me explain just how we plan to do that, and why it’s being actioned earlier than many will think necessary….

Jump to a section:

Why is voice so important?
When is it coming in a big way?
Who are the big players?
Where do voice assistants get their data from?
How do I shape my strategy and tactics to get involved?
What skill sets do I need in a “voice team?”

Introduction

“The times, they are a-changing.”
– Bob Dylan

Back in 1964, that revered folk-and-blues singer could never have imagined just what that would mean in the 21st century.

As we head into 2018, we’re nearing a voice interface-inspired inflection point the likes of which we haven’t seen before. And if the world’s most respected futurist is to be believed, it’s only just beginning.

Talk to Ray Kurzweil, Google’s Chief Engineer and the man Bill Gates says is the “best person to predict the future,” and he’ll tell you that we are entering a period of huge technological change.

For those working across search and many other areas of digital marketing, change is not uncommon. Seismic events, such as the initial roll out of Panda and Penguin, reminded those inside it just how painful it is to be unprepared for the future.

At best, it tips everything upside down. At worst, it kills those agencies or businesses stuck behind the curve.

It’s for exactly this reason that I felt compelled to write a post all about why I’m building a voice team at Zazzle Media, the agency I founded here in the UK, as stats from BrightEdge reveal that 62% of marketers still have no plans whatsoever to prepare for the coming age of voice.

I’m also here to argue that while the growth traditional search agencies saw through the early 2000s is over, similar levels of expansion are up for grabs again for those able to seamlessly integrate voice strategies into an offering focused on the client or customer.

Winter is coming!

Based on our current understanding of technological progress, it’s easy to rest on our laurels. Voice interface adoption is still in its very early stages. Moore’s Law draws a (relatively) linear line through technological advancement, giving us time to take our positions — but that era is now behind us.

According to Kurzweil’s thesis on the growth of technology (the Law of Accelerating Returns),

“we won’t experience 100 years of progress in the 21st century – it will be more like 20,000 years.”

Put another way, he explains that technology does not progress in a linear way. Instead, it progresses exponentially.

“30 steps linearly get you to 30. One, two, three, four, step 30 you’re at 30. With exponential growth, it’s one, two, four, eight. Step 30, you’re at a billion,” he explained in a recent Financial Times interview.

In other words, we’re going to see new tech landing and gaining traction faster than we ever realized it possible, as this chart proves:

Above, Kurzweil illustrates how we’ll be able to produce computational power as powerful as a human brain by 2023. By 2037 we’ll be able to do it for less than a one-cent cost. Just 15 years later computers will be more powerful than the entire human race as a whole. Powerful stuff — and proof of the need for action as voice and the wider AI paradigm takes hold.

Voice

So, what does that mean right now? While many believe voice is still a long ways off, one point of view says it’s already here — and those fast enough to grab the opportunity will grow exponentially with it. Indeed, Google itself says more than 20% of all searches are already voice-led, and will reach 50% by 2020.

Let’s first deal with understanding the processes required before then moving onto the expertise to make it happen.

What do we need to know?

We’ll start with some assumptions. If you are reading this post, you already have a good understanding of the basics of voice technology. Competitors are joining the race every day, but right now the key players are:

  • Microsoft Cortana – Available on Windows, iOS, and Android.
  • Amazon AlexaVoice-activated assistant that lives on Amazon audio gear (Echo, Echo Dot, Tap) and Fire TV.
  • Google Assistant – Google’s voice assistant powers Google Home as well as sitting across its mobile and voice search capabilities.
  • Apple Siri – Native voice assistant for all Apple products.

And (major assistants) coming soon:

All of these exist to allow consumers the ability to retrieve information without having to touch a screen or type anything.

That has major ramifications for those who rely on traditional typed search and a plethora of other arenas, such as the fast-growing Internet of Things (IoT).

In short, voice allows us to access everything from our personal diaries and shopping lists to answers to our latest questions and even to switch our lights off.

Why now?

Apart from the tidal wave of tech now supporting voice, there is another key reason for investing in voice now — and it’s all to do with the pace at which voice is actually improving.

In a recent Internet usage study by KPCB, Andrew NG, chief scientist at Chinese search engine Baidu, was asked what it was going to take to push voice out of the shadows and into its place as the primary interface for computing.

His point was that at present, voice is “only 90% accurate” and therefore the results are sometimes a little disappointing. This slows uptake.

But he sees that changing soon, explaining that “As speech recognition accuracy goes from, say, 95% to 99%, all of us in the room will go from barely using it today to using it all the time. Most people underestimate the difference between 95% and 99% accuracy — 99% is a game changer… “

When will that happen? In the chart below we see Google’s view on this question, predicting we will be there in 2018!

Is this the end for search?

It is also important to point out that voice is an additional interface and will not replace any of those that have gone before it. We only need to look back at history to see how print, radio, and TV continue to play a part in our lives alongside the latest information interfaces.

Moz founder Rand Fishkin made this point in a recent WBF, explaining that while voice search volumes may well overtake typed terms, the demand for traditional SERP results and typed results will continue to grow also, simply because of the growing use of search.

The key will be creating a channel strategy as well as a method for researching both voice and typed opportunity as part of your overall process.

What’s different?

The key difference when considering voice opportunity is to think about the conversational nature that the interface allows. For years we’ve been used to having to type more succinctly in order to get answers quickly, but voice does away with that requirement.

Instead, we are presented with an opportunity to ask, find, and discover the things we want and need using natural language.

This means that we will naturally lengthen the phrases we use to find the stuff we want — and early studies support this assumption.

In a study by Microsoft and covered by the brilliant Purna Virji in this Moz post from last year, we can see a clear distinction between typed and voice search phrase length, even at this early stage of conversational search. Expect this to grow as we get used to interacting with voice.

The evidence suggests that will happen fast too. Google’s own data shows us that 55% of teens and 40% of adults use voice search daily. Below is what they use it for:

While it is easy to believe that voice only extends to search, it’s important to remember that the opportunity is actually much wider. Below we can see results from a major 2016 Internet usage study into how voice is being used:

Clearly, the lion’s share is related to search and information retrieval, with more than 50% of actions relating to finding something local to go/see/do (usually on mobile) or using voice as an interface to search.

But an area sure to grow is the leisure/entertainment sector. More on that later.

The key question remains: How exactly do you tap into this growing demand? How do you become the choice answer above all those you compete with?

With such a vast array of devices, the answer is a multi-faceted one.

Where is the data coming from?

To answer the questions above, we must first understand where the information is being accessed from and the answer, predictably, is not a simple one. Understanding it, however, is critical if you are to build a world-class voice marketing strategy.

To make life a little easier, I’ve created an at-a-glance cheat sheet to guide you through the process. You can download it by clicking on the banner below.

In it, you’ll find an easy-to-follow table explaining where each of the major voice assistants (Siri, Cortana, Google Assistant, and Alexa) retrieve their data from so you can devise a plan to cover them all.

The key take away from that research? Interestingly, Bing has every opportunity to steal a big chunk of market share from Google and, at least at present, is the key search engine to optimize for if voice “visibility” is the objective.

Bing is more important now.

Of all the Big Four in voice, three (Cortana, Siri, and Alexa) default to Bing search for general information retrieval. Given that Facebook (also a former Bing search partner) is also joining the fray, Google could soon find itself in a place it’s not entirely used to being: alone.

Now, the search giant usually finds a way to pull back market share, but for now a marketers’ focus should be on Microsoft’s search engine and Google as a secondary player.

Irrespective of which engine you prioritize there are two key areas to focus on: featured snippets and local listings.

Featured snippets

The search world has been awash with posts and talks on this area of optimization over recent months as Google continues to push ahead with the roll out of the feature-rich SERP real estate.

For those that don’t know what a “snippet” is, there’s an example below, shown for a search for “how do I get to sleep”:

Not only is this incredibly valuable traditional search real estate (as I’ve discussed in an earlier blog post), but it’s a huge asset in the fight for voice visibility.

Initial research by experts such as Dr. Pete Myers tells us, clearly, that Google assistant is pulling its answers from snippet content for anything with any level of complexity.

Simple answers — such as those for searches about sports results, the weather, and so forth — are answered directly. But for those that require expertise it defaults to site content, explaining where that information came from.

At present, it’s unclear how Google plans to help us understand and attribute these kinds of visits. But according to insider Gary Illyes, it is imminent within Search Console.

Measurement will clearly be an important step in selling any voice strategy proposal upwards and to provide individual site or brand evidence that the medium is growing and deserving of investment.

User intent and purchase

Such data will also help us understand how voice alters such things as the traditional conversion funnel and the propensity to purchase.

We know how important content is in the traditional user journey, but how will it differ in the voice world? There’s sure to be a rewrite of many rules we’ve come to know well from the “typed Internet.”

Applying some level of logic to the challenge, it’s clear that there’s a greater degree of value in searches showing some level of immediacy, i.e. people searching through home assistants or mobiles for the location of something or time and/or date of the same thing.

Whereas with typed search we see greater value in simple phrases that we call “head terms,” the world is much more complex in voice. Below we see a breakdown of words that will trigger searches in voice:

To better understand this, let’s examine a potential search “conversation.”

If we take a product search example for, let’s say, buying a new lawn mower, the conversation could go a little like this:

[me] What’s the best rotary lawn mower for under £500?

[voice assistant] According to Lawn Mower Hut there are six choices [reads out choices]

Initially, voice will struggle to understand how to move to the next logical question, such as:

[voice assistant] Would you like a rotary or cylinder lawn mower?


Or, better still…

[voice assistant] Is your lawn perfectly flat?


[me] No.


[voice assistant] OK, may I suggest a rotary mower? If so then you have two choices, the McCulloch M46-125WR or the BMC Lawn Racer.

In this scenario, our voice assistant has connected the dots and asks the next relevant question to help narrow the search in a natural way.

Natural language processing

To do this, however, requires a step up in computer processing, a challenge being worked on as we speak in a bid to provide the next level of voice search.

To solve the challenge requires the use of so-called Deep Neural Networks (DNNs), interconnected layers of processing units designed to mimic the neural networks in the brain.

DNNs can work across everything from speech, images, sequences of words, and even location before then classifying them into categories.

It relies on the input of truckloads of data so it can learn how best to bucket those things. That data pile will grow exponentially as the adoption of voice accelerates.

What that will mean is that voice assistants can converse with us in the same way as a clued-up shop assistant, further negating the need for in-store visits in the future and a much more streamlined research process.

In this world, we start to paint a very different view of the “keywords” we should be targeting, with deeper and more exacting phrases winning the battle for eyeballs.

As a result, the long tail’s rise in prominence continues at pace, and data-driven content strategies really do move to the center of the marketing plan as the reward for creating really specific content increases.

We also see a greater emphasis placed on keywords that may not be on top of the priority list currently. If we continue to work through our examples, we can start to paint a picture of how this plays out…

In our lawnmower purchase example, we’re at a stage where two options have been presented to us (the McCulloch and the BMC Racer). In a voice 1.0 scenario, where we have yet to see DNNs develop enough to know the next relevant question and answer, we might ask:

[me] Which has the best reviews?

And the answer may be tied to a 3rd party review conclusion, such as…

[voice assistant] According to Trustpilot, the McCulloch has a 4.5-star rating versus a 3.5-star rating for the BMC lawn mower.

Suddenly, 3rd party reviews become more valuable than ever as a conversion optimization opportunity, or a strategy that includes creating content to own the SERP for a keyword phrase that includes “review” or “top rated.”

And where would we naturally go from here? The options are either directly to conversion, via some kind of value-led search (think “cheapest McCulloch M46-125W”), or to a location-based one (“nearest shop with a McCulloch M46-125WR”) to allow me to give it a “test drive.”

Keyword prioritization

This single journey gives us some insight into how the interface could shape our thinking on keyword prioritization and content creation.

Pieces that help a user either make a decision or perform an action around the following trigger words and phrases will attract greater interest and traffic from voice. Examples could include:

  • buy
  • get
  • find
  • top rated
  • closest
  • nearest
  • cheapest
  • best deal

Many are not dissimilar to typed search, but clearly intent priorities change. The aforementioned Microsoft study also looked at how this may work, suggesting the following order of question types and their association with purchase/action:

Local opportunity

This also pushes the requirement for serious location-based marketing investment much higher up the pecking order.

We can clearly see how important such searches become from a “propensity to buy/take action” perspective.

It pays to invest more in ensuring the basics are covered, for which the Moz Local Search Ranking Factors study can be a huge help, but also in putting some weight behind efforts across Bing Places. If you are not yet set up fully over there, this simple guide can help.

Local doesn’t start and end with set up, of course. To maximize visibility there must be an ongoing local marketing plan that covers not just the technical elements of search but also wider marketing actions that will be picked up by voice assistants.

We already know, for instance, that engagement factors are playing a larger part of the algorithmic mix for local, but our understanding of what that really means may be limited.

Engagement is not just a social metric but a real world one. Google, for instance, knows not just what you search for but where you go (via location tracking and beacon data), what you watch (via YouTube), the things you are interested in, and where you go (via things such as Flight search and Map data). We need to leverage each of these data points to maximize effect.

As a good example of this in action, we mentioned review importance earlier. Here it plays a significant part of the local plan. A proactive review acquisition strategy is really important, so look to build this into your everyday activity by proactively incentivizing visitors to leave them. This involves actively monitoring on all the key review sites, not just your favorite!

Use your email strategy to drive this behavior as well by ensuring that newsletters and offer emails support the overall local plan.

And a local social strategy is also important. Get to know your best customers and most local visitors and turn them into evangelists.

Doing it is easier than you might think; you can use Twitter mention monitoring not only to search for key terms, but also mentions within specific latitude/longitude settings or radius.

Advanced search also allows you to discover tweets by location or mentioning location. This can be helpful as research to discover the local questions being asked.

The awesome team at Zapier covered this topic in lots of detail recently, so for those who want to action this particular point I highly recommend reading this post.

Let’s go deeper

There is new thinking needed if the opportunity is to be maximized. To understand this, we need to go back to our user journey thought process.

For starters, there’s the Yelp/Alexa integration. While the initial reaction may be simply to optimize listings for the site, the point is actually a wider one.

Knowing that many of the key vertical search engines (think Skyscanner [travel], Yelp [local], etc.) will spend big to ensure they have the lion’s share of voice market, it will pay to spend time improving your content on these sites.

Which is most important will be entirely dependent upon what niche you are working in. Many will only offer limited opportunity for optimization, but being there and spending time ensuring your profile is 110% will be key. It may even pay to take sponsored opportunities within them for the added visibility it may give you in the future.

There’s also the really interesting intellectual challenge of attempting to map out as many potential user journeys as possible to and from your business.

Let’s take our lawnmower analogy again, but this time from the perspective of a retailer situated within 20 miles of the searcher. In this scenario, we need to think about how we might be able to get front and center before anyone else if we stock the McCulloch model they are looking for.

If we take it as a given that we’ve covered the essentials, then we need to think more laterally.

It’s natural to not only look for a local outlet that stocks the right model, but when it may be open. We might also ask more specific questions like whether they have parking, or even if they are busy at specific times or offer appointments.

The latter would be a logical step, especially for businesses that work in this way; think dentists, doctors, beauty salons, and even trades. The opportunity to book a plumber at a specific time via voice would be a game changer for those set up to offer it.

Know your locality

As a local business, it is also imperative that you know the surrounding areas well and to be able to prove you’ve thought about it. This includes looking at how people talk about key landmarks from a voice perspective.

We often use slang or shortened versions of landmark naming conventions, for instance. In a natural, conversational setting, you may find that you miss out if you don’t use those idiosyncrasies within the content you produce and feature on your site or within your app.

Fun and entertainment

Then, of course, comes the “fun.” Think of it as the games section of the App Store — it makes little logical sense, but in it lies a whole industry of epic proportions.

Voice will give birth to the next era in entertainment. While some of you may be thinking about how to profit from such an active audience, the majority of brands would be smart to see it as an engagement and brand awareness world.

Game makers will clamber to create hit mind games and quizzes, but those that play around the edges may well be the monarchs of this opportunity. Think about how voice could change the dynamic for educators, play the part of unbiased referees in games, or teach birdsong and the birds to which they relate. The opportunity is endless — and it will claim 25% of the overall pie, according to current usage research.

The monetization methods are yet to be uncovered, but the advertising opportunity is significant, as well as how clever technology like Blockchain may enable frictionless payments and more.

User journey mapping

So how do you tie all of this together into a seamless plan, given the complexity and number of touch points available? The answer starts and ends with user journey mapping.

This is something I find myself doing more and more now as part of the wider marketing challenge. Fragmented audiences and a plethora of devices and technology mean it’s more difficult than ever to build an integrated strategy. Taking a user-centric approach is the only way to make sense of the chaos.

Voice is no different, and the key differentiator here is the fact that in this new world a journey is actually a conversation (or a series of them).

Conversation journey mapping

While the tech may not yet be there to support conversations in voice, given the point at the beginning of this piece around the law of Accelerating Returns, it’s clear that it’s coming — and faster than we realize.

In some respects, the timing of that advancement is irrelevant, however, as the process of working through a series of conversations that a potential client or customer may have around your product or service is invaluable as research for your plan.

To go back to our lawnmower example, a conversation mapping exercise may look a little like this:

[me] What’s the best lawnmower for under £500?

[voice assistant] How large is your lawn?

[me] It’s not very big. I don’t need a ride-on.
[voice assistant] OK so would you prefer a cylinder or rotary version?

[me] I don’t know. How do I choose?

[voice assistant] If you want stripes and your lawn is very flat, a cylinder gives a better finish. If not, a rotary is better.

[me] OK, definitely a rotary then!

[voice assistant] Good choice. In that case, your best options are either the McCulloch M46-125WR or the BMC Lawn Racer.

[me] Which is best?

[voice assistant] According to Trustpilot, the McCulloch has 4.5 stars from 36 reviews versus 3.5 stars for the BMC. The McCulloch is also cheaper. Do you want me to find the best deal or somewhere nearby that stocks it?

[me] I’d like to see it before buying if possible.

[voice assistant] OK, ABC Lawn Products is 12 miles away and has an appointment at 11am. Do you want to book it?

[me] Perfect.

Where are the content or optimization opportunities?

Look carefully above and you’ll see that there are huge swathes of the conversation that lend themselves to opportunity, either through content creation or some other kind of optimization.

To spell that out, here’s a possible list:

  • Guide – Best lawnmower for £500
  • Guide – Rotary versus cylinder lawnmowers
  • Review strategy – Create a plan to collect more reviews
  • Optimization – Evergreen guide optimization strategy to enhance featured snippet opportunities
  • Local search – Optimize business listing to include reviews, opening times, and more
  • Appointments – Open up an online appointment system and optimize for voice

In developing such a roadmap, it’s also important to consider the context within which the conversation is happening.

Few of us will ever feel entirely comfortable using voice in a crowded, public setting, for instance. We’re not going to try using voice on a bus, train, or at a festival anytime soon.

Instead, voice interfaces will be used in private, most likely in places such as homes and cars and places where it’s useful to be able to do multiple things at once.

Setting the scene in this way will help as you define your conversation possibilities and the optimization opportunities from it.

What people do we need to create all this?

The one missing piece of the jigsaw as we prepare for the shift to voice? People.

All of the above require a great deal of work to perfect and implement, and while the dust still needs to clear on the specifics of voice marketing, there are certain skill sets that will need to pull together to deliver a cohesive strategy.

For the majority, this will simply mean creating project groups from existing team members. But for those with the biggest opportunities (think recipe sites, large vertical search plays, and so on), it may be that a standalone team is necessary.

Here’s my take on what that team will require:

  • Developer – with specific skill in creating Google Home Actions, Alexa Skills, and so on.
  • Researcher – to work with customer groups to understand how voice is being used and capture further opportunities for development.
  • SEO – to help prioritize content creation and how it’s structured and optimized.
  • Writer – to build out the long-tail content and guides necessary.
  • Voice UX expert – A specialist in running conversation mapping sessions and turning them into brilliant user journeys for the different content and platforms your brand utilizes.

Conclusion

If you’ve read to this point, you at least have an active interest in this fast-moving area of tech. We know from the minds of the most informed experts that voice is developing quickly and that it clearly offers significant benefits to its users.

When those two key things combine, alongside a lowering cost to the technology needed to access it, it creates a tipping point that only ends one way: in the birth of a new era for computing.

Such a thing has massive connotations for both digital and wider marketing, and it will pay to have first-mover advantage.

That means educating upwards and beginning the conversation around how voice interfaces may change your own industry in the future. Once you have that running, who knows where it might lead you?

For some, it changes little, for others everything, and the good news for search marketers is that there are a lot of existing tactics and skill sets that will have an even bigger part to play.

Existing skills

  • The ability to claim featured snippets and answer boxes becomes even more rewarding as they trigger millions of voice searches.
  • Keyword research has a wider role in forming strategies to reach into voice and outside traditional search, as marketers become more interested in the natural language their audiences are using.
  • Local SEO wins become wider than simply appearing in a search engine.
  • Micro-moments become more numerous and even more specific than ever before. Research to uncover these becomes even more pivotal.

New opportunities to consider

  • Increases in content consumption through further integration in daily life — so think about what other kinds of content you can deliver to capture them.
  • Think Internet of Things integration and how your brand may be able to provide content for those devices or to help people use connected home.
  • Look at what Skills/Actions you can create to play in the “leisure and entertainment” sector of voice. This may be as much about an engagement/awareness play than pure conversion or sales, but it’s going to be a huge market. Think quick games, amazing facts, jokes, and more…
  • Conversation journey mapping is a powerful new skill to be learned and implemented to tie all content together.

Here’s to the next 50 years of voice interface progress!

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How to Optimize for Google’s Featured Snippets to Build More Traffic

Posted by AnnSmarty

Have you noticed it’s getting harder and harder to build referral traffic from Google?

And it’s not just that the competition has got tougher (which it certainly has!).

It’s also that Google has moved past its ten blue links and its organic search results are no longer generating as much traffic they used to.

How do you adapt? This article teaches you to optimize your content to one of Google’s more recent changes: featured snippets.

What are featured snippets?

Featured snippets are selected search results that are featured on top of Google’s organic results below the ads in a box.

Featured snippets aim at answering the user’s question right away (hence their other well-known name, “answer boxes”). Being featured means getting additional brand exposure in search results.

Here are two studies confirming the claim:

  • Ben Goodsell reports that the click-through rate (CTR) on a featured page increased from two percent to eight percent once it’s placed in an answer box, with revenue from organic traffic increasing by 677%.
  • Eric Enge highlights a 20–30% increase in traffic for ConfluentForms.com while they held the featured snippet for the query.

Types of featured snippets

There are three major types of featured snippets:

  • Paragraph (an answer is given in text). It can be a box with text inside or a box with both text and an image inside.
  • List (an answer is given in a form of a list)
  • Table (an answer is given in a table)

Here’s an example of paragraph snippet with an image:

paragraph snippet image

According to Getstat, the most popular featured snippet is “paragraph” type:

Getstat

Featured snippets or answer boxes?

Since we’re dealing with a pretty new phenomenon, the terminology is pretty loose. Many people (including myself) are inclined to refer to featured snippets as “answer boxes,” obviously because there’s an answer presented in a box.

While there’s nothing wrong with this terminology, it creates a certain confusion because Google often gives a “quick answer” (a definition, an estimate, etc.) on top without linking to the source:

Answer box

To avoid confusion, let’s stick to the “featured snippet” term whenever there’s a URL featured in the box, because these present an extra exposure to the linked site (hence they’re important for content publishers):

Featured snippet

Do I have a chance to get featured?

According to research by Ahrefs, 99.58% of featured pages already rank in top 10 of Google. So if you are already ranking high for related search queries, you have very good chances to get featured.

On the other hand, Getstat claims that 70% of snippets came from sites outside of the first organic position. So it’s required that the page is ranked in top 10, but it’s not required to be #1 to be featured.

Unsurprisingly, the most featured site is Wikipedia.org. If there’s Wikipedia featured for your search query, it may be extremely hard to beat that — but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try.

Finally, according to the analysis performed in a study, the following types of search queries get featured results most often:

  • DIY processes
  • Health
  • Financial
  • Mathematical
  • Requirements
  • Status
  • Transitional

Ahrefs’ study expands the list of popular topics with their most frequently words that appear in featured snippets:

words trigger featured snippets

The following types of search queries usually don’t have answer boxes:

  • Images and videos
  • Local
  • Shopping

To sum up the above studies:

  • You have chances to get featured for the terms your pages are already ranking in top 10. Thus, a big part of being featured is to improve your overall rankings (especially for long-tail informational queries, which are your lower-hanging fruit)
  • If your niche is DIY, health or finance, you have the highest probability of getting featured

Identify all kinds of opportunities to be featured

Start with good old keyword research

Multiple studies confirm that the majority of featured snippets are triggered by long-tail keywords. In fact, the more words that are typed into a search box, the higher the probability there will be a featured snippet.

It’s always a good idea to start with researching your keywords. This case study gives a good step by step keyword research strategy for a blogger, and this one lists major keyword research tools as suggested by experts.

When performing keyword research with featured snippets in mind, note that:

  • Start with question-type search queries (those containing question words, like “what,” “why,” “how,” etc.) because these are the easiest to identify, but don’t stop there…
  • Target informational intent, not just questions. While featured snippets aim at answering the user’s question immediately, question-type queries are not the only types that trigger those featured results. According to the aforementioned Ahrefs study, the vast majority of keywords that trigger featured snippets were long-tail queries with no question words in them.

It helps if you use a keyword research tool that shows immediately whether a query triggers featured results. I use Serpstat for my keyword research because it combines keyword research with featured snippet research and lets me see which of my keywords trigger answer boxes:

Serpstat featured snippet

You can run your competitor in Serpstat and then filter their best-performing queries by the presence of answer boxes:

Serpstat competitor research

This is a great overview of your future competition, enabling you to see your competitors’ strengths and weaknesses.

Browse Google for more questions

To further explore the topic, be sure to browse Google’s own “People also ask” sections whenever you see one in the search results. It provides a huge insight into which questions Google deems related to each topic.

People also ask section

Once you start expanding the questions to see the answers, more and more questions will be added to the bottom of the box:

More questions

Identify search queries where you already rank high

Your lowest-hanging fruit is to identify which phrases you already rank highly for. These will be the easiest to get featured for after you optimize for answer boxes (more on this below).

Google Search Console shows which search queries send you clicks. To find that report, click “Search Traffic” and then “Search Analytics.”

Check the box to show the position your pages hold for each one and you’ll have the ability to see which queries are your top-performing ones:

Google Search Console

You can then use the filters to find some question-type queries among those:

Search console filter

Go beyond traditional keyword research tools: Ask people

All the above methods (albeit great) tackle already discovered opportunities: those for which you or your competitors are already ranking high. But how about venturing beyond that? Ask your readers, customers, and followers how they search and which questions they ask.

MyBlogU: Ask people outside your immediate reach

Move away from your target audience and ask random people what questions they have on a specific topic and what would be their concerns. Looking out of the box can always give a fresh perspective.

MyBlogU (disclaimer: I am the founder) is a great way to do that. Just post a new project in the “Brainstorm” section and ask members to contribute their thoughts.

MyBlogU concept

Seed Keywords: Ask your friends and followers

Seed Keywords is a simple tool that allows you to discover related keywords with help from your friends and followers. Simply create a search scenario, share it on social media, and ask your followers to type in the keywords they would use to solve it.

Try not to be too leading with your search scenario. Avoid guiding people to the search phrase you think they should be using.

Here’s an example of a scenario:

Example

And here are the suggestions from real people:

Seed Keywords

Obviously, you can create similar surveys with SurveyMonkey or Google Forms, too.

Monitor questions people ask on Twitter

Another way to discover untapped opportunities is to monitor questions on Twitter. Its search supports the ? search operator that will filter results to those containing a question. Just make sure to put a space between your search term and ?.

Twitter questions

I use Cyfe to monitor and archive Twitter results because it provides a minimal dashboard which I can use to monitor an unlimited number of Twitter searches.

Cyfe questions

Once you lack article ideas, simply log in to Cyfe to view the archive and then proceed to the above keyword research tools to expand on any idea.

I use spreadsheets to organize questions and keyword phrases I discover (see more on this below). Some of these questions may become a whole piece of content, while others will be subsections of broader articles:

  • I don’t try to analyze search volume to decide whether any of those questions deserve to be covered in a separate article or a subsection. (Based on the Ahrefs research and my own observations, there is no direct correlation between the popularity of the term and whether it will trigger a featured snippet).
  • Instead, I use my best judgement (based on my niche knowledge and research) as to how much I will be able to tell to answer each particular question. If it’s a lot, I’ll probably turn into a separate article and use keyword research to identify subsections of the future piece.

Optimizing for featured snippets

Start with on-page SEO

There is no magic button or special markup which will make sure your site gets featured. Of course, it’s a good idea to start with non-specific SEO best practices, simply because being featured is only possible when you rank high for the query.

Randy Milanovic did a good overview of tactics of making your content findable. Eric Brantner over at Coschedule has put together a very useful SEO checklist, and of course never forget to go through Moz’s SEO guide.

How about structured markup?

Many people would suggest using Schema.org (simply because it’s been a “thing” to recommend adding schema for anything and everything) but the aforementioned Ahrefs study shows that there’s no correlation between featured results and structured markup.

That being said, the best way to get featured is to provide a better answer. Here are a few actionable tips:

1. Aim at answering each question concisely

My own observation of answer boxes has led me to think that Google prefers to feature an answer which was given within one paragraph.

The study by AJ Ghergich cites that the average length of a paragraph snippet is 45 words (the maximum is 97 words), so let it be your guideline as to how long each answer should be in order to get featured:

Optimal featured snippet lengths

This doesn’t mean your articles need to be one paragraph long. On the contrary, these days Google seems to give preference to long-form content (also known as “cornerstone content,” which is obviously a better way to describe it because it’s not just about length) that’s broken into logical subsections and features attention-grabbing images. Even if you don’t believe that cornerstone content receives any special treatment in SERPs, focusing on long articles will help you to cover more related questions within one piece (more on that below).

All you need to do is to adjust your blogging style just a bit:

  • Ask the question in your article (that may be a subheading)
  • Immediately follow the question with a one-paragraph answer
  • Elaborate further in the article

This tactic may also result in higher user retention because it makes any article better structured and thus a much easier read. To quote AJ Ghergich,

When you use data to fuel topic ideation, content creation becomes more about resources and less about brainstorming.

2. Be factual and organize well

Google loves numbers, steps and lists. We’ve seen this again and again: More often than not, answer boxes will list the actual ingredients, number of steps, time to cook, year and city of birth, etc.

In your paragraph introducing the answer to the question, make sure to list useful numbers and names. Get very factual.

In fact, the aforementioned study by AJ Ghergich concluded that comparison charts and lists are an easier way to get featured because Google loves structured content. In fact, even for branded queries (where a user is obviously researching a particular brand), Google would pick up a table from another site (not the answer from the brand itself) if that other site has a table:

Be factual

This only shows how much Google loves well-structured, factual, and number-driven content.

There’s no specific markup to structure your content. Google seems to pick up <table>, <ol>, and <ul> well and doesn’t need any other pointers.

3. Make sure one article answers many similar questions

In their research of featured snippets, Ahrefs found that once a page gets featured, it’s likely to get featured in lots of similar queries. This means it should be structured and worded the way it addresses a lot of related questions.

Google is very good at determining synonymic and closely related questions, so should be you. There’s no point in creating a separate page answering each specific question.

Related question

Creating one solid article addressing many related questions is a much smarter strategy if you aim at getting featured in answer boxes. This leads us to the next tactic:

4. Organize your questions properly

To combine many closely related questions in one article, you need to organize your queries properly. This will also help you structure your content well.

I have a multi-level keyword organization strategy that can be applied here as well:

  • A generic keyword makes a section or a category of the blog
  • A more specific search query becomes the title of the article
  • Even more specific queries determine the subheadings of the article and thus define its structure
    • There will be multiple queries that are so closely related that they will all go under a single subheading

For example:

Spreadsheet

Serpstat helps me a lot when it comes to both discovering an article idea and then breaking it into subtopics. Check out its “Questions” section. It will provide hundreds of questions containing your core term and then generate a tag cloud of other popular terms that come up in those questions:

Questions tag cloud

Clicking any word in the tag cloud will filter results down to those questions that only have that word in them. These are subsections for your article:

Serpstat subheadings

Here’s a good example of how related questions can help you structure the article:

Structure

5. Make sure to use eye-grabbing images

Paragraph featured snippets with images are ridiculously eye-catching, even more so than regular featured featured snippets. Honestly, I wasn’t able to identify how to add an image so that it’s featured. I tried naming it differently and I tried marking it as “featured” in the WordPress editor. Google seems to pick up a random image from the page without me being able to point it to a better version.

That being said, the only way to influence that is to make sure ALL your in-article images are eye-catching, branded, and annotated well, so that no matter which one Google ends up featuring, it will look nice. Here’s a great selection of WordPress plugins that will allow you to easily visualize your content (put together graphs, tables, charts, etc.) while working on a piece.

You can use Bannersnack to create eye-catching branded images; I love their image editing functionality. You can quickly create graphics there, then resize them to reuse as banners and social media images and organize all your creatives in folders:

banner maker bannersnack

6. Update and re-upload the images (WordPress)

WordPress adds dates to image URLs, so even if you update an article with newer information the images can be considered kind of old. I managed to snatch a couple of paragraph featured snippets with images once I started updating my images, too:

Images

7. Monitor how you are doing

Ahrefs lets you monitor which queries your domain is featured for, so keep an eye on these as they grow and new ones appear:

Monitor where you are being featured

Conclusion

It takes a lot of research and planning and you cannot be sure when you’ll see the results (especially if you don’t have too many top 10 rankings just yet) but think about this way: Being featured in Google search results is your incentive to work harder on your content. You’ll achieve other important goals on your way there:

  • You’ll discover hundreds of new content ideas (and thus will rank for a wider variety of various long-tail keywords)
  • You’ll learn to research each topic more thoroughly (and thus will build more incoming links because people tend to link to indepth articles)
  • You’ll learn to structure your articles better (and thus achieve a lower bounce rate because it will be easier to read your articles)

Have you been featured in Google search results yet? Please share your tips and tricks in the comments below!

Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!

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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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.

https://fast.wistia.net/embed/iframe/vhkmto6gk4?videoFoam=true

https://fast.wistia.net/assets/external/E-v1.js

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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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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SEO Above the Funnel: Getting More Traffic When You Can’t Rank Any Higher

Posted by Tom.Capper

Normally, as SEOs, we follow a deceptively simple process. We identify how people are searching for our product, then we build or optimize pages or websites to match searcher intent, we make sure Google can find, understand, and trust it, and we wait for the waves of delicious traffic to roll in.

It’s not always that simple, though. What if we have the right pages, but just can’t rank any higher? What if we’re already satisfying all of the search volume that’s relevant to our product, but the business demands growth? What if there is no search volume relevant to our product?

What would you do, for example, if you were asked to increase organic traffic to the books section on Amazon? Or property search traffic to Rightmove (UK) or Zillow (US)? Or Netflix, before anyone knew that true online streaming services existed?

In this post, I’m going to briefly outline four simple tactics for building your relevant organic traffic by increasing the overall size of the market, rather than by trying to rank higher. And none of them require building a single link, or making any changes to your existing pages.

1. Conquer neighboring territories

This is a business tactic as well as an SEO one, but it’s worth keeping an eye out for reasonably uncompetitive verticals adjacent to your own. You have an advantage in these, because you already have a brand, a strong domain, a website to build upon, and so forth. New startups trying to make headway in these spaces will struggle to compete with a fairly low-effort execution on your part, if you judge it well.

Start by ideating related products. For example, if you’re a property listings site, you might look at:

  • Home insurance
  • Home valuation
  • Flat-sharing listings
  • Area guides

Once you’ve outlined your list (it’s probably longer than my example), you can do your basic keyword research, and take a look at the existing ranking pages. This is a bit like identifying keyword opportunities, except you’re looking at the core landing pages of a whole vertical — look at their Domain Authorities, their branded search volumes, the quality of their landing pages, the extent to which they’ve done basic SEO, and ask whether you could do better.

In the example above, you might find that home insurance is well served by fairly strong financial services or comparison sites, but flat-sharing is a weak vertical dominated by a few fairly young and poorly executed sites. That’s your opportunity.

To minimize your risk, you can start with a minimal viable version — perhaps just a single landing page or a white-labeled product. If it does well, you know it merits further investment.

You’ve already established a trusted brand, with a strong website, which users are already engaging in — if you can extend your services and provide good user experiences in other areas, you can beat other, smaller brands in those spaces.

2. Welcome the intimidated

Depending on your vertical, there may be an untapped opportunity among potential customers who don’t understand or feel comfortable with the product. For example, if you sell laptops, many potential customers may be wary of buying a laptop online or without professional advice. This might cause them not to buy, or to buy a cheaper product to reduce the riskiness.

A “best laptops under £500,” or “lightest laptops,” or “best laptops for gaming” page could encourage people to spend more, or to buy online when they might otherwise have bought in a store. Pages like this can be simple feature comparisons, or semi-editorial, but it’s important that they don’t feel like a sales or up-sell function (even though that’s what the “expert” in the store would be!).

This is even more pertinent the more potentially research intensive the purchase is. For example, Crucial have done amazingly for years with their “system scanner,” linked to prominently on their homepage, which identifies potential upgrades and gives less savvy users confidence in their purchase.

Guaranteed compatible!

If this seems like too much effort, the outdoor retailer Snow and Rock don’t have the best website in the world, but they have taken a simpler approach in linking to buying guides from certain product pages — for example, this guide on how to pick a pair of walking boots.

Can you spot scenarios where users abandon in your funnels because of fear or complexity, or where they shift their spend to offline competitors? If you can make them feel safe and supported, you might be able to change their buying behavior.

3. Whip up some fervor

At the opposite end of the spectrum, you have enthusiasts who know your vertical like the back of their hand, but could be incited to treat themselves a little more. I’ve been really impressed recently by a couple of American automotive listings sites doing this really well.

The first is Autotrader.com, who have hired well-known automotive columnist Doug Demuro from Jalopnik.com to produce videos and articles for their enthusiast news section. These articles and videos talk about the nerdy quirks of some of the most obscure and interesting used cars that have been listed on the site, and it’s not uncommon for videos on Doug’s YouTube channel — which mention Autotrader.com and feature cars you could buy on Autotrader.com — to get well into 7-figure viewing counts.

These are essentially adverts for Autotrader.com’s products, but I and hundreds of thousands of others watch them religiously. What’s more, the resulting videos and articles stand to rank for the types of queries that curious enthusiasts may search for, turning informational queries into buying intent, as well as building brand awareness. I actually think Autotrader.com could do even better at this with a little SEO 101 (editorial titles don’t need to be your actual title tag, guys), but it’s already a great tactic.

Another similar site doing this really well is Bringatrailer.com. Their approach is really simple — whenever they get a particularly rare or interesting car listed, they post it on Facebook.

These are super low-effort posts about used cars, but if you take a step back, Bring a Trailer are doing something outrageous. They’re posting links to their product pages on Facebook a dozen or more times a day, and getting 3-figure reaction counts. Some of the lesson here is “have great product pages,” or “exist in an enthusiast-rich vertical,” and I realize that this tactic isn’t strictly SEO. But it is doing a lot of things that we as SEOs try to do (build awareness, search volume, links…), and it’s doing so by successfully matching informational or entertainment intents with transactional pages.

When consumers engage with a brand emotionally or even socially, then you’re more likely to be top-of-mind when they’re ready to purchase — but they’re also more likely to purchase if they’re seeing and thinking about your products, services, and sector in their feed.

4. Tell people your vertical exists

I won’t cover this one in too much detail, because there’s already an excellent Whiteboard Friday on the subject. The key point, however, is that sometimes it’s not just that customers are intimidated by your product. They may never have heard of it. In these cases, you need to appear where they’re looking using demographic targeting, carefully researched editorial sections, or branded content.

What about you, though?

How do you go about drumming up demand in your vertical? Tell me all about it in the comments below.

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Google (Almost Certainly) Has an Organic Quality Score (Or Something a Lot Like It) that SEOs Need to Optimize For – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by randfish

Entertain the idea, for a moment, that Google assigned a quality score to organic search results. Say it was based off of click data and engagement metrics, and that it would function in a similar way to the Google AdWords quality score. How exactly might such a score work, what would it be based off of, and how could you optimize for it?

While there’s no hard proof it exists, the organic quality score is a concept that’s been pondered by many SEOs over the years. In today’s Whiteboard Friday, Rand examines this theory inside and out, then offers some advice on how one might boost such a score.

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Google's Organic Quality Score

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 organic quality score.

So this is a concept. This is not a real thing that we know Google definitely has. But there’s this concept that SEOs have been feeling for a long time, that similar to what Google has in their AdWords program with a paid quality score, where a page has a certain score assigned to it, that on the organic side Google almost definitely has something similar. I’ll give you an example of how that might work.

So, for example, if on my site.com I have these three — this is a very simplistic website — but I have these three subfolders: Products, Blog, and About. I might have a page in my products, 14axq.html, and it has certain metrics that Google associates with it through activity that they’ve seen from browser data, from clickstream data, from search data, and from visit data from the searches and bounces back to the search results, and all these kinds of things, all the engagement and click data that we’ve been talking about a lot this year on Whiteboard Friday.

So they may have these metrics, pogo stick rate and bounce rate and a deep click rate (the rate with which someone clicks to the site and then goes further in from that page), the time that they spend on the site on average, the direct navigations that people make to it each month through their browsers, the search impressions and search clicks, perhaps a bunch of other statistics, like whether people search directly for this URL, whether they perform branded searches. What rate do unique devices in one area versus another area do this with? Is there a bias based on geography or device type or personalization or all these kinds of things?

But regardless of that, you get this idea that Google has this sort of sense of how the page performs in their search results. That might be very different across different pages and obviously very different across different sites. So maybe this blog post over here on /blog is doing much, much better in all these metrics and has a much higher quality score as a result.

Current SEO theories about organic quality scoring:

Now, when we talk to SEOs, and I spend a lot of time talking to my fellow SEOs about theories around this, a few things emerge. I think most folks are generally of the opinion that if there is something like an organic quality score…

1. It is probably based on this type of data — queries, clicks, engagements, visit data of some kind.

We don’t doubt for a minute that Google has much more sophistication than the super-simplified stuff that I’m showing you here. I think Google publicly denies a lot of single types of metric like, “No, we don’t use time on site. Time on site could be very variable, and sometimes low time on site is actually a good thing.” Fine. But there’s something in there, right? They use some more sophisticated format of that.

2. We also are pretty sure that this is applying on three different levels:

This is an observation from experimentation as well as from Google statements which is…

  • Domain-wide, so that would be across one domain, if there are many pages with high quality scores, Google might view that domain differently from a domain with a variety of quality scores on it or one with generally low ones.
  • Same thing for a subdomain. So it could be that a subdomain is looked at differently than the main domain, or that two different subdomains may be viewed differently. If content appears to have high quality scores on this one, but not on this one, Google might generally not pass all the ranking signals or give the same weight to the quality scores over here or to the subdomain over here.
  • Same thing is true with subfolders, although to a lesser extent. In fact, this is kind of in descending order. So you can generally surmise that Google will pass these more across subfolders than they will across subdomains and more across subdomains than across root domains.

3. A higher density of good scores to bad ones can mean a bunch of good things:

  • More rankings in visibility even without other signals. So even if a page is sort of lacking in these other quality signals, if it is in this blog section, this blog section tends to have high quality scores for all the pages, Google might give that page an opportunity to rank well that it wouldn’t ordinarily for a page with those ranking signals in another subfolder or on another subdomain or on another website entirely.
  • Some sort of what we might call “benefit of the doubt”-type of boost, even for new pages. So a new page is produced. It doesn’t yet have any quality signals associated with it, but it does particularly well.

    As an example, within a few minutes of this Whiteboard Friday being published on Moz’s website, which is usually late Thursday night or very early Friday morning, at least Pacific time, I will bet that you can search for “Google organic quality score” or even just “organic quality score” in Google’s engine, and this Whiteboard Friday will perform very well. One of the reasons that probably is, is because many other Whiteboard Friday videos, which are in this same subfolder, Google has seen them perform very well in the search results. They have whatever you want to call it — great metrics, a high organic quality score — and because of that, this Whiteboard Friday that you’re watching right now, the URL that you see in the bar up above is almost definitely going to be ranking well, possibly in that number one position, even though it’s brand new. It hasn’t yet earned the quality signals, but Google assumes, it gives it the benefit of the doubt because of where it is.

  • We surmise that there’s also more value that gets passed from links, both internal and external, from pages with high quality scores. That is right now a guess, but something we hope to validate more, because we’ve seen some signs and some testing that that’s the case.

3 ways to boost your organic quality score

If this is true — and it’s up to you whether you want to believe that it is or not — even if you don’t believe it, you’ve almost certainly seen signs that something like it’s going on. I would urge you to do these three things to boost your organic quality score or whatever you believe is causing these same elements.

1. You could add more high-performing pages. So if you know that pages perform well and you know what those look like versus ones that perform poorly, you can make more good ones.

2. You can improve the quality score of existing pages. So if this one is kind of low, you’re seeing that these engagement and use metrics, the SERP click-through rate metrics, the bounce rate metrics from organic search visits, all of these don’t look so good in comparison to your other stuff, you can boost it, improve the content, improve the navigation, improve the usability and the user experience of the page, the load time, the visuals, whatever you’ve got there to hold searchers’ attention longer, to keep them engaged, and to make sure that you’re solving their problem. When you do that, you will get higher quality scores.

3. Remove low-performing pages through a variety of means. You could take a low-performing page and you might say, “Hey, I’m going to redirect that to this other page, which does a better job answering the query anyway.” Or, “Hey, I’m going to 404 that page. I don’t need it anymore. In fact, no one needs it anymore.” Or, “I’m going to no index it. Some people may need it, maybe the ones who are visitors to my website, who need it for some particular direct navigation purpose or internal purpose. But Google doesn’t need to see it. Searchers don’t need it. I’m going to use the no index, either in the meta robots tag or in the robots.txt file.”

One thing that’s really interesting to note is we’ve seen a bunch of case studies, especially since MozCon, when Britney Muller, Moz’s Head of SEO, shared the fact that she had done some great testing around removing tens of thousands of low-quality, really low-quality performing pages from Moz’s own website and seen our rankings and our traffic for the remainder of our content go up quite significantly, even controlling for seasonality and other things.

That was pretty exciting. When we shared that, we got a bunch of other people from the audience and on Twitter saying, “I did the same thing. When I removed low-performing pages, the rest of my site performed better,” which really strongly suggests that there’s something like a system in this fashion that works in this way.

So I’d urge you to go look at your metrics, go find pages that are not performing well, see what you can do about improving them or removing them, see what you can do about adding new ones that are high organic quality score, and let me know your thoughts on this in the comments.

We’ll look forward to seeing you again next week for another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Take care.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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How to Find Your Competitor’s Backlinks – Next Level

Posted by BrianChilds

Welcome to the newest installment of our educational Next Level series! In our last episode, Brian Childs equipped copywriters with the tools they need to succeed with SEO. Today, he’s back to share how to use Open Site Explorer to find linking opportunities based upon your competitors’ external inbound links. Read on and level up!


In Moz’s SEO training classes, we discuss how to identify and prioritize sources of backlinks using a mix of tools. One tactic to quickly find high Domain Authority sites that have a history of linking to pages discussing your topic is to study your competitors’ backlinks. This process is covered in-depth during the SEO Link Building Bootcamp.

In this article, I’ll show how to create and export a list of your competitor’s backlinks that you can use for targeting activities. This assumes you’ve already completed keyword research and have identified competitors that rank well in the search results for these queries. Use those competitors for the following analysis.


How to check the backlinks of a site

Step 1: Navigate to Open Site Explorer

Open Site Explorer is a tool used to research the link profile of a website. It will show you the quality of inbound links using metrics like Page Authority, Domain Authority, and Spam Score. You can do a good amount of research with the free version, but to enjoy all its capabilities you’ll need full access; you can get that access for free with a 30-day trial of Moz Pro.

Step 2: Enter your competitor’s domain URL

I suggest opening your competitor’s site in a browser window and then copying the URL. This will reduce any spelling errors and the possibility of incorrectly typing the domain name. An example of a common error is incorrectly adding “www” to the URL when that’s not how it renders for the site.

Step 3: Navigate to the “Inbound Links” tab

The Inbound Links tab will display all of the pages that link to your competitor’s website. In order to identify sources of links that are delivering link equity, I set the parameters above the list as follows: Target This – Root Domain, Links Source – Only External, and Link Type – Link Equity. This will show all external links providing link equity to any page on your competitor’s site.

Step 4: Export results into .csv

Most reports in Open Site Explorer will allow you to export to .csv. Save these results and then repeat for your other competitors.

Step 5: Compile .csv results from all competitors

Once you have Open Site Explorer exports from the top 5–10 competitors, compile them into one spreadsheet.

Step 6: Sort all results by Page Authority

Page Authority is a 1–100 scale developed by Moz that estimates the likelihood of a page’s ability to rank in a search result, based on our understanding of essential ranking factors. Higher numbers suggest the page is more authoritative and therefore has a higher likelihood of ranking. Higher Page Authority pages also will be delivering more link equity to your competitor’s site. Use Page Authority as your sorting criteria.

Step 7: Review all linking sites for opportunities

Now you have a large list of sites linking to your competitors for keywords you are targeting. Go down the list of high Page Authority links and look for sites or authors that show up regularly. Use your preferred outreach strategy to contact these sites and begin developing a relationship.


Want to learn more SEO processes?

If you like these step-by-step SEO processes, you’ll likely enjoy the SEO training classes provided by Moz. These live, instructor-led webinars show you how to use a variety of tools to implement SEO. If you’re in need of comprehensive SEO training, you can save 20% by purchasing the 5-class bundle:

Sign up for the Bootcamp Bundle

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11 Lessons Learned from Failed Link Building Campaigns

Posted by kerryjones

We’ve created more than 800 content campaigns at Fractl over the years, and we’d be lying if we told you every single one was a hit.

The Internet is a finicky place. You can’t predict with 100% accuracy if your content will perform well. Sometimes what we think is going to do OK ends up being a massive hit. And there have been a few instances where we’d expect a campaign to be a huge success but it went on to garner lackluster results.

While you can’t control the whims of the Internet, you can avoid or include certain things in your content to help your chances of success. Through careful analysis we’ve pinpointed which factors tend to create high-performing content. Similarly, we’ve identified trends among our content that didn’t quite hit the mark.

soup-nazi.gif

In this this post, I’ll share our most valuable lessons we learned from content flops. Bear in mind this advice applies if you’re using content to earn links and press pickups, which is what the majority of the content we create at Fractl aims to do.

1. There’s such a thing as too much data.

For content involving a lot of data, it can be tempting to publish every single data point you collect.

A good example of this is surveying. We’ve fallen down the rabbit hole of not only sharing all of the data we’ve collected in a survey, but also segmenting the data out by demographics — regardless of whether or not all of that data is super compelling. While this can give publishers a large volume of potential angles to choose from, the result is often unfocused content lacking a cohesive narrative.

george-and-jerry.gif

Only include the most insightful, interesting data points in your content, even if that means tossing aside most of the data you’ve gathered.

One example of this was a survey we did for a home security client where we asked people about stalker-ish behaviors they’d committed. The juiciest survey data (like 1 in 5 respondents had created a fake social account to spy on someone — yikes!) ended up getting buried because we included every data point from the survey, some of which wasn’t so interesting. Had we trimmed down the content to only the most shocking findings, it probably would have performed far better.

Furthermore, the more data you include, the more time it takes for a publisher to wade through it. As one journalist told us after we sent over an epic amount of data: “Long story short, this will take too much time.”

Consider this: It shouldn’t take a publisher more than 10 seconds of looking at your project to grasp the most meaningful data points. If they can’t quickly understand that, how will their readers?

2. Turning published data into something cool doesn’t always yield links.

If you’re going to use data that’s already been reported on, you better have a new spin or finding to present. Journalists don’t want to cover the same stats they have already covered.

A great example of this is a project we created about the reasons startups fail. The majority of the data we used came from CB Insights’ startup post mortems list, which had performed really well for them. (As of the time I’m writing this, according to Open Site Explorer it has 197 linking root domains from sites including BBC, Business Insider, Fortune, Vox, CNBC, and Entrepreneur — impressive!)

It worked well once, so it should work again if we repackage it into a new format, right?

We used the startups featured on the CB Insights list, added in a handful of additional startups, and created a sexy-looking interactive node map that grouped together startups according to the primary reasons they went under.

While the content didn’t end up being a failure (we got it picked up by Quartz, woo!), it definitely didn’t live up to the expectations we had for it.

Two problems with this project:

  1. We weren’t saying anything new about the data.
  2. The original data had gotten so much coverage that many relevant publishers had already seen it and/or published it.

But of course, there are exceptions. If you’re using existing data that hasn’t gotten a ton of coverage, but is interesting, then this can be a smart approach. The key is avoiding data that has already been widely reported in the vertical you want to get coverage in.

3. It’s difficult to build links with videos.

Video content can be extremely effective for viral sharing, which is fantastic for brand awareness. But are videos great for earning links? Not so much.

When you think of viral content, videos probably come to mind — which is exactly why you may assume awesome videos can attract a ton of backlinks. The problem is, publishers rarely give proper attribution to videos. Instead of linking to the video’s creator, they just embed the video from YouTube or link to YouTube. While a mention/link to the content creator often happens organically with a piece of static visual content, this is often not the case with videos.

Of course, you can reach out to anyone who embeds your video without linking to you and ask for a link. But this can add a time-consuming extra step to the already time-intensive process of video creation and promotion.

4. Political ideas are tough to pull off.

Most brands don’t want to touch political topics with a ten-foot pole. But to others, creating political content is appealing since it has strong potential to evoke an emotional reaction and get a lot of attention.

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We’ve had several amazing political ideas fail despite solid executions and promotional efforts. It’s hard for us to say why this is, but our assumption has been publishers don’t care about political content that isn’t breaking (because it’s always breaking). For this reason, we believe it’s nearly impossible to compete with the constant cycle of breaking political news.

5. Don’t make content for a specific publisher.

We’ve reached out to publishers to collaborate during content production, assuming that if the publisher feels ownership over the content and it’s created to their specifications, they will definitely publish it.

In general, we’ve found this approach doesn’t work because it tends to be a drain on the publishers (they don’t want to take on the extra work of collaborating with you) and it locks you into an end result that may only work for their site and no other publishers.

Remember: Publishers care about getting views and engagement on their site, not link generation for you or your client.

6. Hyperlocal content is a big risk.

If you focus on one city, even with an amazing piece of content featuring newsworthy information, you’re limited in how many publishers you can pitch it to. And then, you’re out of luck if none of those local publishers pick it up.

On the flip side, we’ve had a lot of success with content that features multiple cities/states/regions. This allows us to target a range of local and national publishers.

Note: This advice applies to campaigns where links/press mentions are the main goal – I’m not saying to never create content for a certain locality.

7. Always make more than one visual asset.

And one of those assets should always be a simple, static image.

Why?

Many websites have limits to the type of media they can publish. Every publisher is able to publish a static graphic, but not everyone can embed more complex content formats (fortunately, Moz can handle GIFs).

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In most cases, we’ve found publishers prefer the simplest visualizations. One classic example of this is a project where we compared reading levels and IQ across different states based on a analysis of half a million tweets. Our Director of Creative, Ryan Sammy, spent a painstaking amount of time (and money) creating an interactive map of the results.

What did most publishers end up featuring? A screenshot of a Tableau dashboard we had sent as a preview during outreach…

8. Be realistic about newsjacking.

Newsjacking content needs to go live within 24 to 48 hours of the news event to be timely. Can you really produce something in time to newsjack?

We’ve found newsjacking is hard to pull off in an agency setting since you have to account for production timelines and getting client feedback and approval. In-house brands have a more feasible shot at newsjacking if they don’t have to worry about a long internal approval process.

9. Watch out for shiny new tools and content formats.

Just because you are using cool, new technology doesn’t automatically make the content interesting. We’ve gotten caught up in the “cool factor” of the format or method only to end up with boring (but pretty) content.

10. Avoid super niche topics.

You greatly increase your risk of no return when you go super niche. The more you drill down a topic, the smaller your potential audience becomes (and potential sites that will link become fewer, too).

There are a ton of people interested in music, there are fewer people interested in rap music, there are even fewer people interested in folk rap music, and finally, there are so few people interested in ’90s folk rap. Creating content around ’90s folk rap will probably yield few to no links.

Some questions to ask to ensure your topic isn’t too niche:

  • Is there a large volume of published content about this topic? Do a Google search for a few niche keywords to see how many results come up compared to broader top-level topics.
  • If there is a lot of content, does that content get high engagement? Do a search in Buzzsumo for keywords related to the niche topic. Is the top content getting thousands of shares?
  • Are people curious about this topic? Search on BloomBerry to see how many questions people are asking about it.
  • Are there online communities dedicated to the topic? Do a quick search for “niche keyword + forum” to turn up communities.
  • Are there more than 5 publishers that focus exclusively on the niche topic?

11. Don’t make content on a topic you can’t be credible in.

When we produced a hard-hitting project about murder in the U.S. for a gambling client, the publishers we pitched didn’t take it seriously because the client wasn’t an authority on the subject.

From that point on, we stuck to creating more light-hearted content around gambling, partying, and entertainment, which is highly relevant to our client and goes over extremely well with publishers.

It’s OK to create content that is tangentially related to your brand (we do this very often), but the connection between the content topic and your industry should be obvious. Don’t leave publishers wondering, why is this company making this content?”

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Learning from failure is crucial for improvement.

Failure is inevitable, especially when you’re pushing boundaries or experimenting with something new (two things we try to do often at Fractl). The good news is that with failure you tend to have the greatest “a-ha!” moments. This is why having a post-campaign review of what did and didn’t work is so important.

Getting to the heart of why your content is rejected by publishers can be extremely helpful — we collect this information, and it’s invaluable for spotting things we can tweak during content production to increase our success rate. When a publisher tells you “no,” many times they will give a brief explanation why (and if they don’t, you can ask nicely for their feedback). Collect and review all of this publisher feedback and review it every few months. Like us, you may notice trends as to why publishers are passing up your content. Use these insights to correct your course instead of continuing to make the same mistakes.

And one last note for anyone creating content for clients: What should you do when your client’s campaign is a flop? To mitigate the risk to our clients, we replace a campaign if it fails to get any publisher coverage. While we’ve rarely had to do this, putting this assurance in place can give both you and your client peace of mind that a low-performing campaign doesn’t mean their investment has gone to waste.

What have you observed about your content that didn’t perform well? Does your experience contradict or mirror any of the lessons I shared?

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Overcoming Corporate Roadblocks for Enterprise SEO Efficacy

Posted by jaredgardner

“You don’t have an SEO strategy problem. You have an organizational efficacy problem.”

That is typically what I tell our new clients at Red Door Interactive (RDI). Poor organizational efficacy can be caused by several things, most commonly a lack of labor, a lack of knowledge, or a lack of senior executive buy-in and direction. Many people would say “efficiency” is a more accurate term than “efficacy,” but I like to remind people that you can do ineffective SEO in a very efficient manner. If the work doesn’t move the needle, then there’s a fatal flaw in your SEO program.

At RDI, we specialize in marketing services for mid to large enterprise clients with annual revenues of our ideal client ranging from $50M/year to $20B/year. The size of clients that we work with have 50+ person marketing departments, and some with more than 1,000. Implementing profitable and evolving SEO programs is much more difficult for non-agile companies and those with marketing that predates the internet. Despite having more resources and built-in topical authority, enterprise SEO can be much harder than SMB SEO — not only because the SEO challenges are greater, but because it introduces another layer of organizational challenges.

What is enterprise SEO?

This same question was on a slide at a recent SEO meetup lead by Ratish Naroor, Director of SEO at Overstock.com. Ratish’s opinion of what constitutes enterprise SEO differed from mine in a few areas. Ratish’s main qualification was that the site in question had one million organic landing pages. At RDI, we work with companies that drive hundreds of millions of dollars a year in revenue through organic search. Often these sites have less than 5,000 pages, yet their digital marketing departments are twice the size of many marketing teams at e-commerce-first companies. In my opinion, there’s more to consider than just the number of pages. I like to focus on the organization itself and not the size of its site; organizations whose website is its product take SEO more seriously. E-commerce retailers like Overstock, real estate sites like Zillow, and travel sites like Trip Advisor or Expedia all invest heavily in SEO programs. Many times, “old companies” that have been around 40+ years will have “old management” stakeholders who are a little late to the digital marketing party and more resistant to change. Does this late adoption of SEO and digital marketing make the organization itself any less enterprise? I don’t believe so.

If it’s not just page count that matters, where do you draw the line for “enterprise SEO”? Here’s how I classify it:

  1. Corporate team structure, budgeting, and approval process. There’s no hard number here, but typically 20 or more people are involved in taking web pages from an idea to a 200 status code. Some companies are so lean it will blow you away, so think more than just the total head count.
  2. Organic search as a channel can drive realistic business. SEO isn’t for every company, so it’s crucial that the company can drive top-line revenue growth through organic search.
  3. Unique and difficult SEO challenges. This may include large page counts where scaling on-page changes and crawl control is important, competitive industries where search terms have high paid CPAs, or international SEO operating in multiple languages and countries.

How do you succeed at enterprise SEO?

When working with an enterprise organization, there are three major areas to address in order to minimize internal SEO challenges and to see real follow-through in implementing high-value SEO ideas, strategies, and tactics.

1. Create a culture of SEO through visibility

SEO can’t succeed in a silo. To get your strategies implemented, you will need full participation and cooperation with content producers, developers, legal, and department heads. It’s important to remember that companies of this size will have an established culture. Sometimes this culture is dysfunctional, and overcoming it will be an uphill battle. Tom Critchlow recently described this culture as a “grain.” The direction and depth of this “grain” is going dictate how much time you spend on this step, and the best way to get people involved is to keep your work visible to the decision makers:

  • Automated reporting: Focus on showing each team/person metrics they can control
    • Dev teams: Technical crawl reports with issues such as internal redirects or 404 reports are relevant things that they can control. We like DeepCrawl for crawl reporting.
    • VPs and directors: High-level performance reports like M/M and Y/Y traffic and conversions give them a bird’s eye view of the site and the effects of your SEO efforts. Tying this data to a dollar figure will help make your case. This can include simple analytics data from Google Analytics, or more advanced tools such as our favorite BI tool, DOMO, or its competitor Tableau.
    • Product owners/business units: Keyword-level data and traffic to a specific site section that a team works on. An enterprise SEO tool like BrightEdge or Conductor can make these reports easy to manage.
    • Pro tip: Include the email of the SEO lead on these reports and encourage questions.
  • Trainings
    • Many marketers still think SEO is something you sprinkle on at the end of a content project, or “something our IT team handles.” It’s up to you to break down those assumptions and educate their team on the idea that that SEO is symbiotic with every marketing channel and department. These trainings can vary quite a bit, so find what works for the company you are working in/with. We have seen success with the following formats: lunch and learns, video recordings for SEO suites mentioned above, team-specific trainings focused on the area the team controls such as development or content research. While I’d love to say that we turned all the marketers into great SEOs, that’s rarely the case. What we typically see — and are thrilled when it happens — is an email from a product manager that says, “Hey, we are launching a new product next quarter and you mentioned it’s good to do keyword research for new pages; can you help?”
  • Open brainstorms
    • Share your knowledge and promote contributions to the program. When I started at RDI 2.5 years ago, our SEO program was good, but it was siloed. We had 3 people working on their own projects for clients and not really collaborating with each other. To share ideas between the (much larger) SEO team and other teams, we started hosting weekly meetings called the “SEO Brainshare.” Each week, one team member picks a topic or challenge and we workshop it with whoever wants to participate. We typically see 5–10 people from other teams at RDI join the meeting, which increases SEO knowledge and keeps our department top of mind. After a year of hosting these meetings religiously, we have seen a large influx in SEO work being incorporated into new and existing client programs, as well as a more multi-channel approach to everything we do at RDI.

2. Teamwork and navigating a political environment

As an agency, we have to be clear with our main point of contact: “You can’t change your SEO results without changing your site. We need you to be the driver of change at your organization. RDI will arm you with the ideas, rationale, and detailed instructions, but you have to get the people in your organization to act.”

While my experience is very agency-focused, in-house SEOs will have to explain a similar scenario to their managers, and the managers of the content, creative, and development teams. The best way to enable yourself for success is make sure you have access to all the players needed for SEO greatness, and they each know what’s at stake and have a certain degree of ownership from their managers. If the product owner doesn’t have a KPI tied to organic traffic or conversions on their pages, it’s highly unlikely they will prioritize and take ownership of organic traffic to those pages.

For a real-world example, I’ve presented challenges and opportunities to Senior VPs and CMOs at Fortune 100 companies where executives have said, “Wow this is a huge opportunity. Why haven’t we done this yet?” and our main client contact responds, “Because XX department hasn’t been tasked with supporting us from their management, so this isn’t their problem.” That’s where the politics really start to come in. You typically need to go high enough up the marketing department ladder to convince someone with power to back your initiative and direct people outside of your department to support you, holding those other people accountable for the results of the team.

3. Don’t get lost in the noise — focus on return

This is undoubtedly the hardest to nail. SEO results by nature are highly ambiguous. There is a constant flux of right vs wrong, causation vs correlation, and my least favorite, the best choice between two “good” options. I recently listened to a podcast where Bill Hunt (an OG of SEO, BTW) said, “If you can’t put a dollar number on it, you won’t get a dollar for it.” The hardest thing for me to do as I grew my SEO strategies from local businesses to enterprises was to eliminate SEO busy work. I needed to move away from tasks like updating ALT tags because a crawl tool flagged them as “errors,” and start focusing on projects that would have a monetary impact — like creating new site sections, reworking high-ranking titles for CTR, and consolidating competing content.

There are a few ways to estimate the impact of a fix. Most involve some form of search volume X expected CTR X conversion rate. Here’s the formula in theory:

(Expected click-through rate at current position X search volume for that term) X (conversion rate of site section) = Current non-brand conversions for a keyword

Now you need to see how many non-brand conversions you would get if you achieved the rank you feel is plausible (this is more of an art than science; I like to use the rank of the top competitor as “achievable”):

(Expected click-through rate at target position X search volume for that term) X (conversion rate of site section) = Target non-brand conversions for a keyword

Then run a percent change for delta for those two numbers and you have the amount of new conversions for your project.

Ideally you want to do this at scale, since you want to look at more than a single search term for a site change. Here is the excel formula for that:

=IFERROR(B3*(VLOOKUP(G3,’Rank CTR’!A:B,2,0)),0)

For this you’ll need to have a CTR curve table in a table labeled “Rank CTR.” We used the CTR table from AWR for unbranded search, but feel free to use any CTR curve you feel is most accurate for your industry. You can even build upon your own data in Google Search Console.

You will need to do this once for current estimated traffic and again after you have set your target rank numbers, then run a delta to get percent change. (The above formula and CTR curve can be found in the Content Gap Analysis template on our site.)

Working in the agency world, the pressure for our recommendations to have a return is extremely high because those recommendations are measured against the cost of the retainer, even when the project might be something that tends to have a negative impact, like a domain migration. At RDI, the closest thing we have to a secret sauce for this is our Content Gap Analysis. Here’s a sample of how we present findings to clients:

You can grab the Excel template from our site linked above.

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. In the Content Gap Analysis we look at what competitors are doing, then measure the estimated traffic for a topic area. This kind of analysis looks for gaps on our client’s site where competitors have content and we do not. We can examine the likelihood of us being successful in our next content endeavor and to put a number on the estimated traffic a competitor’s site section or page is getting. Once you find opportunities with a forecastable impact, prioritize them in content or site projects and try not to juggle too many balls at once — at least until some content projects have shipped. Don’t forget to quickly communicate the success of a project to accelerate the two factors mentioned above, even if it’s just a quick email with a screenshot from Google/Adobe Analytics.

Focus on the needle-movers and communicate the value of your ideas clearly

Enterprise SEO is great because it allows you the opportunity to work on sites with serious impact and serious challenges. Sometimes you must take the good with the bad, and in enterprise SEO the bad is typically the bureaucracy that comes with large companies. Focus on what matters, don’t piss anyone off, and don’t relent on the need for progress. Happy optimizing! Please share how you have conquered organization challenges in your work in the comments below!

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