Digital Marketing

A (Re)Introduction to Guest Posting

Posted by CitationLabs

Garrett French — founder of Citation Labs and all around link building expert — takes you on a comprehensive walkthrough of guest posting on sites supported by sales. Why is this a good strategy? How do your posts benefit these websites? How do you start and what websites do you reach out to? Watch to find out!

21 Smart SEO Tips for 2021

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Video Transcription

Hello, folks. My name is Garrett French, and I’m a link builder. I run Citation Labs. We have 120 employees, and we build lots of links. Today I am here to reintroduce to you the tactic of guest posting.

All right. Very specifically, though, guest posting with a target of publishers — this largest portion here of the publisher pyramid — who are supported by sales, whose main reason of publishing is to sell things.


So let’s dig in. We are talking about earned placements. The publishers have to approve this content. There’s an editorial gatekeeper. Again, yes/no? Do we want to publish? Do we not?

Is it up to our standards? We’re talking about real websites with real audiences. We’re talking about flexible format. So you can think beyond an article. You can think into an FAQ, for example, or a glossary or something along those lines. Again, very much we want to emphasize the publishers that we’re talking about here get their revenue from sales.

They’re publishing so that they can get new clients or to sell products or services. We’re not talking about PBNs. We’re not talking about sponsored placements. We’re not talking about any circumstance where you have to pay money in order to get in front of somebody’s audience. Lastly, I want to point out we’re not necessarily talking about op-ed circumstances here.

This isn’t a branded expertise play. This isn’t your chance to show how much you know. Now you’re going to be able to show your expertise, but you’re going to be second fiddle. You’ve got to put the publisher themselves and their interest in sales first. That’s what you’re doing here, and that’s why you’re approaching this group, and again it’s why they publish. That’s the publisher benefit that you’re going to be emphasizing when you approach this group. 

Why guest posts?

Now, why guest posts? Well, guys, there’s an enormous amount of visibility and reach here. Look at the pyramid. Now, this is representative of most industries generally, where we’ve got 95% of the publishers are publishing to get sales, 4% that are mission based and are supported by taxes, tuition, donations, subscriptions, etc.

Then we’ve got the 1% ad supported. There are so many publishers out there trying to sell in your vertical, in your clients’ verticals, in your target vertical if you’re in-house, and there’s a lot of disaggregated reach there. There’s a lot newsletters out there, a lot of social media followings out there, folks, that you could be working to get in front of.

You have a lot more topic and context control when you’re publishing on these types of websites, when you’re seeking publishing on these sites. Again, if you’re looking at the tax, tuition, donation, and subscription supported swath here, the 4%, you can sometimes have topics where you can discuss sales or mention a sales page.

But more frequently you’ve got to really focus on the publisher’s mission, why are they publishing. They’re on a mission, and so they’re supported by something besides sales. Then lastly, of course, if we’re talking about digital PR or any kind of mainstream media focus or PR effort, they want content that’s going to drive page views.

That’s how they’re supported. There’s still some mission, of course, in there. But anyhow, you’re much less able, at that point, to link into your sales pages. So again, what we’re talking about here or one of the benefits here rather links to sales pages, which of course is going to improve the rankings of your sales pages.

How to guest post

Now why is that easier in this context, in the context of helping someone else sell? Well, let’s dig in and talk through the how, and you’ll see also what makes that possible. 

Finding publishers

So primarily we’re talking about finding publishers with whom you have top-of-funnel overlap, where some of your top-of-funnel topics, the pains that your prospective clients have and the pains their prospective clients have are similar, interrelated.

Perhaps we’re talking about audience overlap. Perhaps we’re talking about industry overlap. Even location overlap. There’s some kind of overlap here, and you’re speaking into that place when you’re thinking of topics for a given publisher. Another way to think about it is the members of that market it’s what we think of as a solution stack.

So in the SEO space, we all have our favorite tool stack, the tools everybody uses, Moz for example. Well, if you’re selling into that, if you’re an agency like Citation Labs, it might make sense to work and try to get some visibility on a SaaS tool in the SEO space.

“Unbundling” the stack

Let’s work here a little bit longer though, stick on this one a little bit longer and think about unbundling the stack in different verticals, because this is really at the heart of the process and the approach. Let’s think about you’re a realtor.

So within your stack or your industry and certainly within your location, there are going to be some roofers too, and a handful of these folks are going to have blogs. Not all of them, but a handful will. So you’re going to approach a roofer with a topic such as 10 reasons to fix your roof before you put your home up for sale.

Now, this solves a roofer problem, doesn’t it? It’s reasons to purchase roofing services. Also it gives you an opportunity to talk about your expertise as a realtor and what impact roof condition may have on the sale of a home.

Let’s go into this one here, commercial ovens, let’s say those brick ovens for pizza. We’re looking at somebody in the flour space. Maybe they’ve got some organic flour. Well, you’re going to write them a guide on why you need to use organic flour in your pizza dough for your pizza restaurant, the difference that organic flour can make on the outcome of the quality of the dough, of the crust.

You’re going to speak to temperature impact on organic versus not organic, if there is. There might not be, but let’s just for the sake of this assume there is. Then you’re also going to have a great chance to link to your commercial pizza ovens.

If you’re on a site that sells flour into the restaurant space, well, it really makes sense for you to have some visibility there. Let’s say you sell cell phones and you’re thinking about the fitness or health space. So you can pitch something.

You find a physical therapist. You’ve got 10 apps that augment your physical therapy. This can work just as well for let’s say a yoga studio or a CrossFit gym. Apps that augment your exercise, your physical fitness regimen. Again, you’re putting them first, because you’re talking about augmenting services or work that’s already going on, which is kind of assuming that someone would be their customer, would choose to go to this physical therapist, or would choose to attend yoga classes at this particular studio.

So this is what we’re talking about when we think about or talk about unbundling this stack. You see as we come up with topics that we would pitch, we’re putting the publisher first. Always putting the publisher first and recognizing the reason that they publish.

Hone your pitch

This is the biggest piece, guys. Why do they publish? They publish because they want to sell services and products. So you’re thinking about topics and formats that are going to support that and that overlap with what you’re selling and how you’re functioning. Let’s see. Here’s another good tip. Try and get calls to action for your publisher into the title.

So we could revise this one. Ten reasons to fix roof before sale of home. No, 10 reasons to call a roofer before you put your home up for sale, or 10 reasons to call a roofer now if you’re going to put your home up for sale in April.

So again, you’re really looking at honing your pitch for the intended purpose of this publisher group. You’re thinking beyond the article. We talked about it a little bit, mentioned this earlier. You’re thinking about FAQs. You’re thinking about glossaries.

Explore different formats

What other formats could be strong, potential formats? An infographic, a small, little infographic. Any of these could be explained or supported through the use of graphics. Again, this is the type of document or pitch that could be really effective, because the publisher is going to see immediately how it could benefit their sales, the reason why they publish.

Keyword research

You’re an SEO, right? You’re going to lean into keyword research on your pitch. Hey, it looks like you’re not ranking for some of these terms in your area. Again, there needs to be overlap for these terms and with what you’re trying to sell it or with what your topic needs to be.

But if you’ve got some basis behind your pitch, some keyword research to support your topic and why it’s going to benefit the publisher, you’re miles ahead of anybody else who is pitching them. 

Help promote

Then you could even offer some promotion. You’re going to link to it from another placement if you get another one. You’re going to put it up on Twitter to your following. You’re going to mention it on Facebook, etc. Maybe even buy some ads for it. 

Fact-based citations

Now one of the key pieces here, it’s kind of hidden down here at the bottom. You’re going to make sure that when you’re linking to your pages on your site, you’re doing it in the context of a fact-based citation. Ideally you’ve got something on your sales page, we call it a citable element, that’s fact-based, ideally your own data that supports a purchase decision ultimately. 

For example, if you know that your ovens do best with organic flour at 412 degrees instead of 418 and you’ve got the data to support that, well, that’s a great place and reason to link back to your oven page that would have that data point mentioned on it.

You’re best served by linking in a justifiable manner, and that’s specifically when we’re talking about data and we’re talking about some kind of citation that needs to be linked, where the link is absolutely mandatory, a quote for example.

So again, this model or this approach has to be supported by citable elements living on your sales pages or whatever page you’re linking to, if you choose to go this route and not necessarily do sales pages. 


Whoo, I think that’s about it, folks.

Probably lots of questions. But that’s our approach to guest posting on sales-supported publishers. Give it a shot and let me know how it goes. Love to hear from you at — happy to answer any questions. 

Thank you, folks.

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Digital Marketing

4 SEO Strategies for Programmatic Sites

Posted by Royh

Planning and executing SEO strategies for sites with hundreds of millions of pages is no easy task, but there are strategies to make it simpler.

Programmatic pages are pages that have been generated automatically on a very large scale. SEO strategies for these pages are used to target multiple keyword variations by creating landing pages at that scale automatically.

You’ll typically find these pages in major verticals like e-commerce, real estate, travel, and informational sites. These verticals are relying on programmatic pages to build their SEO strategy, and they have a dedicated page for each product and category. This set up can lead to hundreds of millions of pages — they’re efficient, functional, and user-friendly, however, they do come with some SEO challenges.

In my experience, the comprehensive SEO strategy covered in this post works best when tailored to fit a large site with programmatic pages. Many strategies that typically work for sites with only a few hundred pages won’t necessarily get the same results on larger sites. Small sites rely on manual and meticulous content creation, compared to programmatic pages, which are the main traffic-driving pages of the site.

So, let’s get down to business! I’ll explore the four major SEO challenges you’ll encounter when dealing with programmatic pages, and unpack how to overcome them.

1. Keyword research and keyword modifiers

Well-planned keyword research is one of the biggest challenges when operating on a programmatic scale. When working on a sizable set of pages and keywords, it’s important to choose and find the right keywords to target across all pages.

In order to function both efficiently and effectively, it’s recommended that you divide site pages into a few templates before digging into the research itself. Some examples of these templates could include:

  • Categories
  • Sub-categories
  • Product pages
  • Static pages
  • Blogs
  • Informational pages
  • Knowledge base/learning

Once you have all the page templates in place, it’s time to build keyword buckets and keyword modifiers.

Keyword modifiers are additional keywords that, once you combine them with your head terms and core keywords, help with long tail strategy. For example, modifiers for the head term “amazon stock” can be anything related to market share, statistics, insights, etc.

Programmatic pages typically hold the majority of the site’s pages. (Take Trulia, for example, which has over 30 million indexed pages — the majority of which are programmatic.) As a result, those pages are usually the most important on a larger website, both in terms of volume and search opportunity. Thus, you must ensure the use of the right keyword modifiers across each page template’s content.

Of course, you can’t go over every single page and manually modify the SEO tags. Imagine a website like Pinterest trying to do that — they’d never finish! . On a site with 30-100 million pages, it’s impossible to optimize each one of them individually. That’s why it’s necessary to make the changes across a set of pages and categories — you need to come up with the right keyword modifiers to implement across your various page templates so you can efficiently handle the task in bulk.

The main difference here, compared to typical keyword research, is the focus on keyword modifiers. You have to find relevant keywords that can be repeatedly implemented across all relevant pages.

Let’s take a look at this use case on a stock investment website:

The example above shows a website that is targeting users/investors with informational intent, and that relies on programmatic pages for the SEO strategy. I found the keyword modifier by conducting keyword research and competitor research.

I researched several relevant, leading websites using Moz’s Keyword Explorer and SimilarWeb’s Search Traffic feature, and noted the most popular keyword groups. After I’d accumulated the keyword groups, I found the search volume of each keyword to determine which ones would be the most popular and relevant to target

Once you have the keyword modifiers, you must implement them across the title tags, descriptions, headline tags, and content on the page template(s) the modifiers are for. Even when you multiply this strategy by millions of pages, having the right keyword modifier makes updating your programmatic pages a much easier process and much more efficient.

If you have a template of pages ordered by a specific topic, you’ll be able to update and make changes across all the pages with that topic, for example, a stock information site with a particular type of stock page, or a category with stocks based on a price/industry. One update will affect all the pages in the same category, so if you update the SEO title tag of the template of a stock page, then all pages in the same category will be updated as well.

In the example above, the intent of the keywords is informational. Keyword intent focuses on how to match search intents to keyword modifiers. We’re targeting searchers who are looking to gather certain insights. They want more information regarding stocks or companies, market caps, expert evaluations, market trends, etc. In this case, it’s recommended to add additional keywords that will include questions such as “how?”, “what?”, and “which?”.

As another example, transactional keywords — which are a better fit for e-commerce and B2C websites — are highly effective for addressing searches with purchase intent. These terms can include “buy”, “get”, “purchase”, and “shop”.

2. Internal linking

Smart internal linking plans are vital for large sites. They have the ability to significantly increase the number of indexed pages, then pass link equity between pages. When you work on massive sites, one of your main priorities should be to make sure Google will discover and index your site’s pages.

So, how should you go about building those internal linking features?

When looking at the big picture, the goal is that Page A will link to Page B and Page C, while Page B will link to Page D and Page E, etc. Ideally, each page will get at least one link from a different indexed page on the site. For programmatic sites, the challenge here is the fact that new pages emerge on a daily basis. In addition to the existing pages, it’s imperative to calculate and project so that you can jumpstart internal linking for the new pages. This helps these pages get discovered quickly and indexed in the proper fashion.

Related pages and “people also viewed”

One strategy that makes link building easier is adding a “related pages” section to the site. It adds value for the user and the crawlers, and also links to relevant pages based on affinity.

You can link to similar content based on category, product type, content, or just about any other descriptive element. Similar content should be sorted in numeric order or alphabetical order.

HTML sitemap

Yes, even large websites are using HTML sitemaps to help crawlers find new pages. They’re extremely effective when working on large scale sites with millions of pages.

Let’s take a look at this example from the Trulia HTML sitemap (shown above): Trulia built their HTML sitemap based on alphabetical order, and in a way that ensures all pages have links. This way, there won’t be any orphan pages, which helps their goal of supplying link juice to all pages that they wish to index.

In general, many e-commerce and real estate websites are sequencing their sitemaps by alphabetical/categorical order to guarantee that no page will be alone.

3. Crawl budget and deindexing rules

Crawl budget is a very important issue that large websites need to consider. When you have tens of millions of programmatic pages, you need to make sure Google consistently finds and indexes your most valuable pages. The value of your pages should be based on content, revenue, business value, and user satisfaction.

First, choose which pages should not be indexed:

  1. Use your favorite analysis tool to discover which pages have the lowest engagement metrics (high bounce rates, low averages of time on site, no page views, etc.).
  2. Use the search console to discover which pages have high impressions and low CTRs.
  3. Combine these pages into one list.
  4. Check to see if they have any incoming links.
  5. Analyze the attribution of those pages to revenue and business leads.
  6. Once you have all of the relevant data and you choose the pages that should be removed from index, add no-index tag to all of them and exclude them from sitemap XML.

I work for SimilarWeb, a website with over 100 million pages, and I ran a no-index test on over 20 million pages based on the checklist above. I wanted to see the impact of removing a high number pages from our organic channel.

The results were incredible.

Although we lost over half a million visits over the course of a month, the overall engagement metrics on programmatic pages improved dramatically.

By removing irrelevant pages, I made more room for relevant and valuable pages to be discovered by the Google bot.

Rand Fishkin also has a really comprehensive checklist, which shows you how to determine if a page is low quality according to Google. Another great example is Britney Muller’s experiment, where she deindexed 75% of Moz’s pages with great results.

4. SEO split testing

Test everything! The advantage when working on a large scale SEO campaign is that you have access to big data and can utilize it for your SEO efforts. Unlike regular A/B testing, which tests human behavior, A/B split testing is purely for crawlers.

The split testing process is usually based on the same or similar templates of pages. Split the page into two or three groups — one group acts as a control, while the other groups are enabled. Test the following criteria:

  • Adding structured data
  • Changing the keyword modifier of SEO tags (title tag, description, H tags, etc.)
  • Image ALT tags
  • Content length
  • Page performance
  • Internal linking

In terms of measuring the performance, I recommend using one experiment at a time. For instance, you might adjust SEO tags first, and then continue testing other verticals after you’ve built some confidence.

Diving into a split testing example, let’s look at Etsy. Etsy wanted to test which title tag would rank higher and drive better CTR, and generally improve the organic traffic to the pages that were tested. In the image below, we can see how they performed the split test between control pages with default title tags against test pages with different tag variations in this article

Pinterest’s dashboard also shows how their growth team relies on split testing experiments for their SEO strategy. Pinterest’s goal was to build an experimentation tool that would help them measure the impact of SEO changes to their rankings and organic traffic.

Now it’s your turn

Since programmatic pages are different from most others, it’s imperative that you build and optimize these pages in the right way. This requires several adjustments from your normal SEO strategy, along with the application of new and proprietary strategies. The benefit of using the approach outlined above is the incremental scale with which you can contribute to your business.

Programmatic page searches are supposed to fit the search query, whether it’s by product search, address, or information. This is why it’s crucial to make sure the content is as unique as possible, and that the user will have the best answer for each query.

Once you grasp the four tactics above, you’ll be able to implement them into your SEO strategy and begin seeing better results for your programmatic pages.

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Digital Marketing

The Best-Laid Plans: Can We Predict Anything About 2021?

Posted by Dr-Pete

I’ve deleted this introduction twice. To say that no one could’ve predicted how 2020 unfolded seems trite since we’re not even a month into 2021, and this new year has already unraveled. Our challenges in the past year, across the globe, have gone far beyond marketing, and I doubt any of us ended the year the way we expected. This graph from Google Trends tells the story better than I can:

The pandemic fundamentally rewrote the global economy in a way none of us has ever experienced, and yet we have to find a path forward. How do we even begin to chart a course in 2021?

What do we know?

Let’s start small. Within our search marketing realm, is there anything we can predict with relative certainty in 2021? Below are some of the major announcements Google has made and trends that are likely to continue. While the timelines on some of these are unclear (and all are subject to change), these shifts in our small world are very likely.

Mobile-only indexing (March)

Mobile-first indexing has been in progress for a while, and most sites rolled over in 2020 or earlier. Google had originally announced that the index would fully default to mobile-first by September 2020, but pushed that timeline back in July (ostensibly due to the pandemic) to March 2021.

If you haven’t made the switch to a mobile-friendly site at this point, there’s not much time left to waste. Keep in mind that “mobile-first” isn’t just about speed and user experience, but making sure that your mobile site is as crawlable as your desktop. If Google can’t reach critical pages via your mobile design and internal links, then those pages are likely to drop out of the index. A page that isn’t indexed is a page that doesn’t rank.

Core Web Vitals (May)

While this date may change, Google has announced that Core Web Vitals will become a ranking factor in 2021. Here’s a bit more detail from the official announcement

Page experience signals in ranking will roll out in May 2021. The new page experience signals combine Core Web Vitals with our existing search signals including mobile-friendliness, safe-browsing, HTTPS-security, and intrusive interstitial guidelines.

Many of these page experience signals already impact ranking to some degree, according to Google, so the important part really boils down to Core Web Vitals. You can get more of the details in this Whiteboard Friday from Cyrus, but the short version is that this is currently a set of three metrics (with unfortunately techie names):

(1) Largest Contentful Paint (LCP)

LCP measures how quickly the largest, visible block of your page loads. It is one view into perceived load-time and tries to filter out background libraries and other off-page objects.

(2) First Input Delay (FID)
FID measures how much time it takes before a user can interact with your page. “Interact” here means the most fundamental aspects of interaction, like clicking an on-page link.

(3) Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS)
CLS measures changes to your page layout, such as ads that appear or move after the initial page-load. I suspect the update will apply mostly to abusive or disruptive layout shifts.

While these metrics are a narrow slice of the user experience, the good news is that Google has defined all of them in a fair amount of detail and allows you to track this data with tools like Google Lighthouse. So, we’re in a unique position of being be able to prepare for the May algorithm update.

That said, I think you should improve site speed and user experience because it’s a net-positive overall, not because of a pending 2021 update. If past history — including the HTTPS update and mobile-friendly update — is any indicator, Google’s hope is to use the pre-announcement to push people to make changes now. I strongly suspect that Core Web Vitals will be a very minor ranking factor in the initial update, ramping up over a period of many months.

Passage indexing/ranking (TBD)

In October 2020, Google announced that they were “… now able to not just index web pages, but individual passages from the pages.” They later clarified that this wasn’t so much passage indexing as passage ranking, and the timeline wasn’t initially clear. Danny Sullivan later clarified that this change did not roll out in 2020, but Google’s language suggests that passage ranking is likely to roll out as soon as it’s tested and ready.

While there’s nothing specific you can do to harness passage ranking, according to Google, I think this change is not only an indicator of ML/AI progress but a recognition that you can have valuable, long-form content that addresses multiple topics. The rise of answers in SERPs (especially Featured Snippets and People Also Ask boxes) had a side-effect of causing people to think in terms of more focused, question-and-answer style content. While that’s not entirely bad, I suspect it’s generally driven people away from broader content to shorter, narrower content.

Even in 2020, there are many examples of rich, long-form content that ranks for multiple Featured/Snippets, but I expect passage ranking will re-balance this equation even more and give us increased freedom to create content in the best format for the topic at hand, without worrying too much about being laser-targeted on a single topic.

Core algorithm updates (TBD)

It’s safe to say we can expect more core algorithm updates in 2021. There were three named “Core” updates in 2020 (January, May, and December), but the frequency and timing has been inconsistent. While there are patterns across the updates, thematically, each update seems to contain both new elements and some adjustments to old elements, and my own analysis suggests that the patterns (the same sites winning and losing, for example) aren’t as prominent as we imagine. We can assume that Google’s Core Updates will reflect the philosophy of their quality guidelines over time, but I don’t think we can predict the timing or substance of any particular core update.

Googlebot crawling HTTP/2 (2022+)

Last fall, Google revealed that Googlebot would begin crawling HTTP/2 sites in November of 2020. It’s not clear how much HTTP/2 crawling is currently happening, and Google said they would not penalize sites that don’t support HTTP/2 and would even allow opt-out (for now). Unlike making a site secure (HTTPS) or mobile-friendly, HTTP/2 is not widely available to everyone and may depend on your infrastructure or hosting provider.

While I think we should pay attention to this development, don’t make the switch to HTTP/2 in 2021 just for Google’s sake. If it makes sense for the speed and performance of your site, great, but I suspect Google will be testing HTTP/2 and turning up the volume on it’s impact slowly over the next few months. At some point, we might see a HTTPS-style announcement of a coming ranking impact, but if that happens, I wouldn’t expect it until 2022 or later.

When will this end?

While COVID-19 may not seem like a marketing topic, the global economic impact is painfully clear at this point Any plans we make for 2021 have to consider the COVID-19 timeline, or they’re a fantasy. When can we expect the pandemic to end and businesses to reopen on a national and global scale?

Let me start by saying that I’m not a medical doctor — I’m a research psychologist by training. I don’t have a crystal ball, but I know how to read primary sources and piece them together. What follows is my best read of the current facts and the 2021 timeline. I will try to avoid my own personal biases, but note that my read on the situation is heavily US-biased. I will generally avoid worst-case scenarios, like a major mutation of the virus, and stick to a median scenario.

Where are we at right now?

As I’m writing this sentence, over 4,000 people died just yesterday of COVID-19 in the US and over 14,000 globally. As a data scientist, I can tell you that every data point requires context, but when we cherry-pick the context, we deceive ourselves. What data science doesn’t tell us is that everyone one of these data points is a human life, and that matters.

There is a light at the end of the tunnel, in the form of viable vaccines, including (here in the US and in the UK) the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines. These vaccines have been approved in some countries, have demonstrated promising results, and are in production. Here in the US, we’re currently behind the timeline on distribution, with the CDC reporting about 10 million people vaccinated as of mid-January (initial goal was 20 million vaccinated by the end of 2020). In terms of the timeline, it’s important to note that, for maximum effectiveness, the major vaccines require two doses, separated by about 3-4 weeks (this may vary with the vaccine and change as research continues).

Is it getting better or worse?

I don’t want to get mired in the data, but the winter holidays and travel are already showing a negative impact here in the US, and New Year’s Eve may complicate problems. While overall death rates have improved due to better treatment options and knowledge of the disease, many states and countries are at or near peak case rates and peak daily deaths. This situation is very likely to get worse before it gets better.

When might we reopen?

I’m assuming, for better or worse, that reopening does not imply full “herd immunity” or a zero case-rate. We’re talking about a critical mass of vaccinations and a significant flattening of the curve. It’s hard to find a source outside of political debates here in the US, but a recent symposium sponsored by Harvard and the New England Journal of Medicine suggests that — if we can adequately ramp up vaccine distribution in the second quarter of 2021 — we could see measurable positive impact by the end of our summer (or early-to-mid third quarter) here in the US.

Any prediction right now requires a lot of assumptions and there may be massive regional differences in this timeline, but the key point is that the availability of the vaccine, while certainly cause for optimism, is not a magic wand. Manufacturing, distribution, and the need for a second dose all mean that we’re realistically still looking at a few months for medical advances to have widespread impact.

What can we do now?

First, let me say that there is absolutely no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. Many local businesses were decimated, while e-commerce grew 32% year-over-year in 2020. If you’re a local restaurant that managed to stay afloat, you may see a rapid return of customers in the summer or fall. If you’re a major online retailer, you could actually see a reduction in sales as brick-and-mortar stores become viable again (although probably not to 2019 levels).

If your e-commerce business was lucky enough to see gains in 2020, Miracle Inameti-Archibong has some great advice for you. To inadequately summarize — don’t take any of this for granted. This is a time to learn from your new customers, re-invest in your marketing, and show goodwill toward the people who are shopping online more because of the difficulties they’re facing.

If you’re stuck waiting to reopen, consider the lead time SEO campaigns require to have an impact. In a recent Whiteboard Friday, I made the case that SEO isn’t an on/off switch. Consider the oversimplified diagram below. Paid search is a bit like the dotted gray line — you flip the switch on, and the leads starting flowing. The trade-off is that when you flip the switch off, the leads dry up almost immediately.

Organic SEO has a ramp-up. It’s more like the blue curve above. The benefit of organic is that the leads keep coming when you stop investing, but it also means that the leads will take time to rebuild when you start to reinvest. This timeline depends on a lot of variables, but an organic campaign can often take 2-3 months or more to get off the ground. If you want to hit the ground running as reopening kicks in, you’re going to need to start re-investing ahead of that timeline. I acknowledge that that might not be easy, and it doesn’t have to be all or none.

In a recent interview, Mary Ellen Coe (head of Google Marketing Solutions) cited a 20,000% increase during the pandemic in searches from consumers looking to support local businesses. There’s a tremendous appetite for reopening and a surge of goodwill for local businesses. If you’re a local business, even if you’re temporarily closed, it’s important to let people know that you’re still around and to keep them up-to-date on your reopening plans as they evolve.

I don’t expect that the new normal will look much like the old normal, and I’m mindful that many businesses didn’t survive to see 2021. We can’t predict the future, but we can’t afford to wait for months and do nothing, either, so I hope this at least gives you some idea of what to expect in the coming year and how we might prepare for it.

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Digital Marketing

8 Unconventional Ways to Generate Qualified B2B Sales Leads

Posted by Nadya_Khoja

We know there are numerous ways to generate B2B sales leads, but let’s face it, the same old methods have been done to death.

It’s time to take an unconventional approach to lead generation, especially for B2B companies, because B2B is a different ballgame than B2C — and your strategies need to reflect your audience.

As a refresher, here’s how organization goals differ in the B2C versus the B2B sectors:

Source: Venngage

Before we begin detailing these B2B methods, it’s important to keep in mind that lead generation isn’t a one-and-done deal.

You have to be open to A/B testing your strategies and your content. Regularly track your content performance, metrics, conversions, and be ready to improve.

So, what are these unconventional methods to generate B2B sales leads? Read on to find out.

1. Tailor content for B2B sales leads

B2B content is brand and agency-focused, and you want to create materials that attract attention from that audience.

Getting eyeballs on your content won’t mean much if they aren’t converting into customers — those aren’t the right B2B sales leads for your company.

How can you tailor your content marketing to the right B2B audience?

Buyer personas

Most businesses create audience personas to help them reach their target market. In the B2B arena, don’t aim for a company — look for the decision-makers within that company.

Every target company will have a few key people who decide which products and services benefit the business. These are the decision-makers your content needs to be tailored to, and for whom you can build buyer personas around, such as this example:

Source: Venngage

Determine who within a business will most need your product or service, and build your buyer personas based on the following:

  • Age
  • Location
  • Job title
  • Level in company
  • Preferred content channels
  • Desired goals
  • Pain points

Create a flow chart with these details to facilitate the content creation process. This also helps you decide which channels will get you the most traction.

Search intent

Once you know your audience, your next step in tailoring content to earn B2B sales leads is to determine their search intent, which can take numerous forms:

  • Searching for information
  • Searching to buy
  • Searching to learn

As a largely B2B company, we do extensive research before creating a piece of content. We ascertain keywords related to our topic, but we also check Google, the “People Also Ask” section, AnswerThePublic, and conduct surveys among fellow marketers.

Choose keywords and terms that are relevant to your audience — not solely based on search volume. Popular searches in your industry will attract more B2C consumers, whereas focused keywords that have a higher value, but a lower search volume, usually fall in the B2B realm.

2. How to use B2B email marketing

B2B email marketing has a higher click-to-open ratio than B2C, and is a favored channel for 59% of B2B marketers.

This is a channel that can consistently bring in B2B sales leads — if done right. You have to keep a few things in mind to make email marketing a successful lead generation channel.

Automate email marketing

Marketing teams know the benefits of automating processes: smoother workflow, faster processing time, and time funneled into creativity instead of repetitive tasks.

But automating your email marketing also helps to generate B2B sales leads.

You can use marketing automation to segment email lists, send targeted campaigns, respond to abandoned carts, and convert customers, as this graphic explains:

Source: Venngage

Imagine this scenario: a customer gets to the final stage of purchasing, but leaves your site right before checkout. Whether that customer was distracted, lost connection, or changed their mind, it’s up to your company to encourage them to finish the process.

If cart abandonment is being handled manually, this customer could fall through the cracks, or get a response well after they’ve decided on another brand.

Email automation can be programmed to respond to them immediately upon cart abandonment — and you’ve earned a customer who would otherwise have been lost.

Email deliverability

Automating emails is one thing, but are your customers receiving your emails? You can create the best content in your industry, but it will amount to little if your newsletters end up in the spam folder.

Brands can improve their email deliverability and draw more B2B leads by following these practices:

  • Emails sent with a company name instead of a person’s name are more likely to end up in the spam folder or not opened at all. Use an individual’s address to send emails, and include a reply-to option to that address.
  • Don’t change the frequency of your email campaigns too often. There will be certain periods when you send more emails, but be as consistent as possible so your subscriber base knows when to expect your emails.
  • Regularly check and clean your lists so you aren’t sending emails to addresses that no longer exist and increase your bounce rates.

Email content

Keep these things in mind when creating your email content as, at the end of the day, your email content is what will be most successful in earning you B2B sales leads:

  • Your content should be consistent with your brand. Send emails about products, services, events, industry news, and your latest blog posts.
  • Create a consistent design for your marketing newsletters, including branding elements like your logo, brand colors, and fonts.
  • Don’t go for the hard-sell approach! If every email is selling products to your list, people will unsubscribe.
  • Make it worth their while to click on and open your emails by sharing news, updates, and stories that will enrich your customers’ lives.

3. Hybrid events

Conferences have always been a good place to make potential B2B sales, as they’re shared spaces for people with similar interests. But 2020 changed all that.

Though the COVID-19 vaccine is ready for distribution, it’s going to take a while to return to business as usual. We’ve seen an increase in virtual events in 2020, but the future of networking lies in hybrid events, like Apple’s annual announcements.

Combining physical and virtual elements and attendees, hybrid events allow access to a greater swathe of industry specialists and clients.

There are three ways to get B2B sales leads from hybrid events:

  • Attend the event: B2B marketers should look at attending more hybrid events in their industry to meet potential clients.
  • Participating in events: search for speaking engagements at conferences to place your business as a thought leader in the field and generate more organic leads.
  • Hold events: your business can hold hybrid events to connect with experts in your field and establish partnerships with prospective customers.

Events can be a lot of hard work, but the potential for earning leads, converting customers, and boosting ROI make the process worth it.

4. Personalize B2B sales lead content

Personalization is a huge part of content marketing — and it’s crucial for finding B2B sales leads. In the B2B arena, you need to build personal relationships, not just transactional ones.

Because every relationship isn’t just a customer earned, it’s also a customer retained, with the possibility for future referrals that will bring in more sales.

Here are the three areas you want to focus on for personalization:

  • Presentations
  • Social media
  • Landing pages

Sales presentations

You can start building customer relationships early on in the lead generation process by designing a presentation that includes your branding and your customer’s.

In the pitch meeting, talk about subjects that matter to your customer — don’t focus too much on what your business can do, unless you’re talking about the solutions you can provide.

Don’t be afraid of getting granular in your pitch by mentioning buyer intent keywords related to your customer and their industry.

Do your research so you can show them how knowledgeable you are about their company, but also that you’re planning for a future with them.

Social media

Take it a step further by personalizing your social media outreach. Long believed to be the realm of B2C lead generation, social media has its advantages in the B2B field, too.

I’ve mentioned the importance of finding decision-makers within target companies. Most of these decision-makers will have a presence on social channels such as LinkedIn and Twitter. Choose personnel who can make personal connections with key decision-makers on these channels. But don’t treat every channel the same way.

Work with your team to craft LinkedIn summaries that showcase your brand’s ethos — and not just on your company page but also on staff profiles, where you can exhibit some personality.

Twitter is another place to generate B2B sales leads, and it’s a good one for understanding your customers, because Twitter is where people tend to share personal stories.

There are scheduling and analytics tools that you can use to research decision-makers and find out what their interests are — this will help create more meaningful relationships.

Landing pages

A great landing page grabs a customer’s attention within seconds. The best way to do that is to personalize your landing page to generate B2B sales leads.

What does a landing page need to include? It has to answer a specific question that your customers are asking.

What we’ve learned from making our landing pages is that you do not want to put too much information on there — that can be overwhelming for a visitor.

Keep it short and sweet — focus on one selling point, not all. That’s why we love the Moz landing page — it clearly states what the brand can do for any customer visiting it.

Can’t fit all your selling points onto one page? Create multiple landing pages, each one optimized to specific keywords and buyer intent.

It sounds like more work but designing more landing pages helps you retain B2B sales leads by creating cohesion between your advertising and landing pages.

5. B2B referral marketing works

Referral marketing doesn’t just exist within the B2C space — it’s an effective tool for drawing in B2B leads. People across the board trust referrals from fellow customers.

For B2B brands — where sales can sometimes involve millions of dollars — a referral from a friend, backed up by strong reviews, can lead to a purchase much more quickly than paid incentives and advertising.

Referrals lead to more loyal customers and better retention rates. They also act as a tool for boosting organic reach because established customers become your company’s ambassadors, like this PioneerSystems case study.

How do you get referrals? Here are a few steps:

  • Offer rewards such as discounts, free training sessions, and event invitations
  • Survey multiple customers
  • Keep your surveys short and precise so customers will be more likely to respond
  • Send surveys regularly and keep the window between surveys short
  • Include follow-up questions asking customers to explain their scores
  • Use the net promoter system to calculate how likely customers will be to recommend you
  • Ask for a written review or testimonial, or to feature in a testimonial video
  • Suggest creating a case study
  • Ask for a quote for a press release
  • Offer content that customers can share with their friends

Referral marketing is a great way to generate leads, but you do need to incentivize the process so customers participate.

6. Repurpose content

At Venngage, we are huge on repurposing content — we even created an infographic explaining how to do it:

We know how overwhelming it is for marketers to create fresh content to bring in more views and leads. This is why we’ve found ways to repurpose existing content.

Using old content in new ways takes a bit of practice, but once you get the hang of it, your marketing team can structure your strategy around it.

Here are a few ways we’ve stretched a single piece of content and generated more B2B sales leads:

  • Take quotes and stats from a blog post and create data visualizations for social media
  • Turn a blog post into an infographic — look at these infographic examples for inspiration
  • Share infographics on social channels and as a newsletter
  • Divide an infographic into multiple smaller graphics to share on social media
  • Turn listicles into social media carousel posts
  • Create email headers from social posts
  • Turn a blog post into a podcast or webisode
  • Combine multiple blog posts on a similar subject into a white paper or eBook
  • Use an eBook as the basis for a webinar
  • Divide a longer e-seminar into short YouTube videos
  • Create GIFs out of videos to share on social media

These are the content repurposing methods we’ve used but the possibilities with this method are endless.

7. Varied content channels

Conventional wisdom has been to focus on the channels that you know best, instead of being a jack-of-all-trades and dabbling in multiple channels. But you also need to know what channels your potential B2B sales leads are favoring. If you’re not where your customers are, you are losing leads.


You may not have in-house writers, but with B2B blogs still being a huge source for leads, this is a channel that is worth investing in.


The content market is currently oversaturated — diversifying your content channels helps you reach leads who may not see your content on conventional platforms. Consider starting a podcast for your business. They take some time and investment, but podcasts are easier to run and maintain now. Focus your podcast on thought leadership, industry news, or on sharing behind the scenes tidbits about your business.


Video marketing is another tool to draw in B2B leads. It’s gone from strength to strength, especially in the last few years, with 87% of businesses using video as a marketing tool.

Creating a YouTube channel for testimonials, business insights, how-to guides, and troubleshooting videos will bring in leads who don’t have the time to read a blog post.

But videos do take time and effort to create — you need equipment and software to shoot and edit videos. Plus, you can’t create a video and leave it at that — a promotion plan will need to be executed.


Search for B2B leads on channels like Quora and Reddit. Customers use these platforms to ask questions and you can tailor content around these.

But don’t use these channels to pitch your company. Follow the same etiquette as responding to a blog post comment. Share your own experience and use these channels for research.

There are a variety of channels available to get qualified leads. Don’t stretch yourself too thin as that will impact the quality of your content but don’t restrict yourself either.

8. Create gated content

eBooks, white papers, and webinars make for great gated content. But why should customers sign up for them?

We’ve seen success with our gated B2B content by doing the following:

  • Address your customers’ pain points early on
  • Solve their problems with your content
  • Include calls-to-action for gated content in relevant blog posts
  • Use more visuals than text in gated content — don’t make customers work hard
  • Repurpose your content whenever you can
  • Provide a preview of your content to whet their appetite
  • Be informative, inspire action, educate, be personable, and then promote

Your gated content should add value to anyone who accesses it, so longer-form content is the best for this lead generation strategy.

Key takeaways: Focus on the people behind B2B sales leads, not the business

The process of generating leads and encouraging them through the buyer journey to become a loyal customer who advocates for your business is a challenging one. It’s important to remember that even in the B2B field, you are engaging with people at the end of the day.

To recap, here are eight unconventional ways to get B2B sales leads:

  1. Tailored content
  2. Email marketing
  3. Hybrid events
  4. Personalize
  5. Referral marketing
  6. Repurposed content
  7. New content channels
  8. Gated content

You can adopt all or a few of these lead gen methods, but remember to test target segments, CTAs, landing page designs, and social media captions.

And finally, while it’s great to get as many leads as possible, ensure your automation software and sales team can handle it.

Which B2B lead generation methods have worked for you? Let me know in the comments.

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Digital Marketing

Investigating Traffic Upticks

Posted by jocameron

In this week’s episode of Whiteboard Friday, Jo Cameron — Moz’s Learning Team Manager — dives into the process of addressing and capitalizing on traffic spikes, including how to determine where traffic is coming from and what to do with the increased attention. Enjoy! 

21 Smart SEO Tips for 2021

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

Video Transcription

Hi. Welcome to Whiteboard Friday. I’m going to be talking through the journey that you embark upon when you notice a sudden change in traffic to a particular page on your site. In our case, this was a sudden and consistent increase, which may on the face of it look great.

You may perceive that this is exactly what you and your clients have been striving for. But as we know, traffic funneling into your site isn’t the end of the story. You’re also going to want that traffic to convert. But also, when something like this happens, there can be other lessons that you can learn and potentially apply to other pages and areas of your site.

I’m Jo. I’m the Learning Team Manager here at Moz. We create all the course material that you’ll see on the Moz Academy. This is where you can advance your SEO education and earn your SEO Essentials Certification. We also write the documentation for how to use the Moz tools, and this is where our story begins.

What’s driving the spike? 

Over the summer, we noticed a fairly drastic increase in visitors to a particular MozBar help page. We wanted to go beyond trying to understand why we’re getting that traffic and turn this into an opportunity to support our company goals. 

So when you see something like this happen, your first question might reasonably be: Why? Why are we getting this traffic? What has changed? What has caused this? And also, what do we already know from the metrics we’re collecting? 

What do we know?

On the Moz Learning Team, we track top-level metrics monthly, including unique visitors. We also collect visitor sentiment through the “Feedback” button on the page. And we also collect reporting every month in our Moz Pro campaign, using Keyword Explorer and Link Explorer as handy research tools in our toolkit.

So first of all, we had a dig into the monthly metrics on a more granular level. We looked at the cadence of the traffic in Google Analytics to see if this was a sudden spike or a consistent trend over time. 

Now before you can be totally confident in the quality of your Google Analytics data, you may want to clear up and filter that data. You can learn all about this in the SEO Essentials Certification. With this course, we take you through our SEO methodology, which helps you to approach SEO strategically. This is made up of five sections: research, audit, optimize, amplify, and iterate. Reporting sits in the fifth section of the methodology, which is iterate. Within that, we break it down into awareness metrics, on-site activity, and the all important conversions. The lessons in the SEO Essentials Certification take you through this in much more detail, and you can download the SEO report card when you purchase this course.

So back to what we saw in Google Analytics, we noticed an upward trend that also reflected the pattern followed by our previous traffic trends. We saw these scallop shapes, which nicely line up with the weekdays and the weekends. You may be used to seeing a different shape depending on your industry. 

We also looked at referral data in Google Analytics and compared this to what we saw before the spike. We also looked at how traffic was entering and exiting that page through Google Analytics, and we had a dig around in Google Trends to see if we could identify any related topics taking off. I’m tracking the help section of the domain in my Moz Pro campaign, and I have this connected to Google Analytics. This pulls in the overall visits and landing pages. This is the data that you’ll see in the acquisition section of Google Analytics. 

So while my team is focused primarily on one area of, this gives me an idea of where this page sits as a percentage of search traffic in relation to other landing pages. 

Now this is where it all starts to come together. Under the rankings tab in my Moz Pro campaign, I can now see the landing page data cross-referenced with my tracked keywords and their rankings. So I can also see search volume and estimated visits for each tracked keyword. We also entered the MozBar URL into Keyword Explorer to review the ranking keywords for that URL, and then added these keywords to my existing campaign to track them over time.

We know that SEO and SEO reporting is iterative. So by building out your tracked keywords in this way, this will help you to fill in the blanks as to which keywords are sending traffic to your site. 

We also saw some interesting data from the “Visitor Satisfaction” button. This is the thumbs up or thumbs down option that you can select on this page and generally indicates if the content was helpful or not.

We saw that there were a lot more people responding that this content was indeed helpful. So this is not only positive for my team and I, but it’s also informative. It gave us a really good idea that the content on this page was generally matching the intent of the visitors. So we looked at all of this together, and we drew some conclusions.

It didn’t seem like this visitor traffic was coming from one particular source or campaign that we could reasonably attribute this to. It looked like it was reflecting our previous traffic trends, just a lot more of it. So it’s probably quite important now to explain a bit more about the page that we are investigating.

The page is about MozBar. It’s an overview of how to use our free Chrome extension. Now it would also be remiss of me not to mention the fact that we have had a massive shift this year in terms of changes to our lives and businesses due to COVID-19, which has had a massive impact on how people spend their time, how businesses are run, and many, many other areas of our lives.

So after we looked at data for that page, in addition to all the other reporting metrics, we took a step back and we thought, “Well, what is this page about, and how has this shift impacted demand for these types of tools?” Because of these two things, nothing else really standing out as a flag to indicate a single event and this global change, we started to lean towards this being part of an increase in demand for free tools.

MozBar is a free extension that sits at the top of your Chrome browser, and it displays link metrics for your pages that you visit on the web. It’s also got some other handy features, like the ability to highlight different types of links, so it can show you internal or external links on a page, and to check your on-page elements, and so on. So with all of this information we collected, we’re now circling around understanding what caused this.

What do we do with the traffic?

The trick for us wasn’t just to figure out why this was happening or why it happened, but to turn this into some kind of positive action. So what we decided to do was to test driving traffic directly from these pages or this particular page to our key Moz initiatives. So this would be our personalized, one-to-one walkthroughs of the Moz Pro tool and the Moz Pro free trial.

This was a quick edit for my team. We could add those in there fairly quickly to test this out. We already know that this page is doing a standup job of helping people to understand how to use MozBar, so let’s see if they are interested in our other SEO tools. We added length to this page to help people identify what to do next once they’ve given MozBar a go.

And what we found out was that we are indeed seeing people taking us up on this offer, and they are clicking through to have a chat with our excellent Onboarding Team and also to check out the Moz Pro 30-day free trial. So with this relatively small amount of effort from my team we’ve now started to collect data on visitor behavior that can better inform future decisions and future projects.

Thank you so much for joining me today. I hope that this helps.

Video transcription by

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Digital Marketing

Travel SEO Trends and Pivots from 2020 (and What to Carry into 2021)

Posted by Rachel.Vandernick

If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that you can’t predict the future of tourism. Unlike nearly any other industry, tourism is simultaneously dictated by a number of factors including consumer proclivity, weather and climate, global economics, and government.

Travel was undoubtedly one of the hardest hit sectors in the 2020 shutdowns, which affected every business domain from the largest destination marketing organizations (DMOs) to local small businesses that thrive on the foot traffic tourism normally brings. US Travel’s year-end assessment determined there was a 48% drop in travel-related spending for December 2020 compared to 2019, and a year-long loss of $500 billion. Success in tourism in 2020 meant simply surviving for many businesses, accompanied by total content strategy revamps, product pivots, local SEO investments, and local marketing activations.

What worked in 2020

Locals-only tourism

With out-of-state quarantines in effect for most of the US, and especially prevalent in the northeast, once global destinations and metros became intensely local. Succeeding locally meant celebrating local culture and playing to the hometown advantage, and creating and activating hyper-local content and SEO to sell reimagined experiences and drive renewed interest at home.

Visit Philadelphia, the DMO for the greater Philadelphia region, revamped its 2020 marketing efforts to rollout “Our Turn To Tourist” through winter 2021, a “regional marketing initiative [that] encourages people to take staycations and close-to-home drive trips.”

Visit Philadelphia’s main objective is to attract tourists from all over the country to the city of Philadelphia. With millions of out-of-state visitors each year, and huge growth each year proceeding 2020, Visit Philadelphia had the early foresight to create content geared towards both locals and visitors, and adopted a local-first SEO strategy for things to do, see, and eat nearby.

The organization went so far as to create local-centric mini itineraries based off of current restrictions, optimizing for local tourism and attraction-related keywords, and widely distributing new COVID-19 content. This campaign supported not only the hotels and attractions in the city, but also the local restaurants and small businesses.

While not totally divergent in its approach, the long-term investment that Visit Philadelphia has made into winning at local search, snagging SERP features, and embracing new features like Discover, helps ensure it will continue to be a successful advocate for Philadelphia as “the greatest city in the USA to spend the weekend”.

Reinvented experiences

Tourism and experience-based companies hadn’t extensively ventured into the virtual space prior to 2020 — after all, why plan to watch the action from home when you could board a plane and take part live and in-person?

Philadelphia-based Beyond the Bell Tours, the only LGBTQ+-owned-and-run tour operator in the city, faced a critical decision in May 2020: Their hallmark Pride-themed “Drag Me Along” drag queen trolly bar crawl was unable to launch with bars closed indefinitely and social gatherings restricted. As searches continued to increase for virtual events, virtual gatherings, and virtual things to do, businesses that rose to meet the demand found success. For Beyond the Bell, that meant turning the “Drag Me Along” concept into “Pride In A Box”: a series of five different themed Pride boxes that included products and experiential components for use at home.

Though their website was originally built on a tour-booking engine, to execute a pivoted product strategy, they restructured it to allow an e-commerce integrated function, and optimized to sell products and experiences for Pride.

Founder Rebecca Fisher said, “We thought about how a box could embody a community. We highlighted queer people, businesses, and queer products, and held weekly events for Pride, all proceeds of which were donated to racial justice. A single ‘box’ purchased during Pride supported many queer businesses, and we wanted people to feel that impact.”

Ultimately, businesses that adapted quickly to changes in consumer search behavior, and that conducted and implemented keyword research for new content targeting previously unranked/low-volume terms, were better positioned to maintain consumer support and visibility even though actual travelers continued to drop.

Up-to-date info on expanding and changing regulations

Domestic travel is rarely regulated in the US, so when cities across the country responded to shut down orders, hot spots beloved by locals and tourists alike emptied out and revenue began to drastically fall.

As an SEO community (especially local!) we’re always advocates of the value of keeping local listings in Google My Business up-to-date, and it never mattered more than in 2020. Coming out on top were those who updated hours, COVID-19 policies and procedures, and published delivery or third-party partnerships. Unsurprisingly, AirBnB’s and VRBO’s new Covid content “enhanced cleaning protocol” and “guidelines for owners” come out top in searches for short term rental cleaning best practices, and cleanliness related to travel accomodations. Updated local listings allowed exasperated consumers to easily see what businesses were open, and allowed search-savvy businesses to leverage their GMB to position themselves as safety-conscious, accessible, and prioritize addressing consumer concerns (not to mention the features released to help businesses access these tools).

What to expect from tourism in 2021

It’s hard to remember a time of greater collective cabin fever. Though with border closings, pre-travel testing, and business closures remaining a moving target, we can still expect that a majority of travel will happen closer to home in early 2021. Here’s where we can expect to see growth first.

Short term stays: road trips, workspace respites, and snow birds

What’s ahead for short-term travels? Continued RV sales, for one, which were up 4.5% annually in 2020. These growth indicators, as well as public perceptions of travel safety, continue to slate hometown and close-by exploration as the early 2021 winners.

Outdoor and spaced-out activities show continued interest in search volume and sales. Yellowstone National Park alone saw a 21% increase in year-over-year visitation in September 2020. Don’t expect this to slow down any time soon.

Another trend we expect to see continue in early 2021? Snow birding. Once reserved for the retired, heading south for the winter is especially popular this year for northerners leaving lockdowns at home. Expect extended stays, fuller flights, and busier beaches than normal.

One final place you can expect to see travelers? In a nearby hotel. Formerly reserved for the luxurious staycations, local hotels have become workplace respites for those fully remote workers who lack adequate home office space. Though not “technically” travel, many hotels (Hyatt, Marriott, and Hilton, for starters) are offering single-day, day-time only, “work from hotel” deals to help relieve lost revenue and fried nerves of managing co-occurring zoom calls at the kitchen table.

Extended visits: remote relocations

With many children and families, not to mention formerly remote employees, feeling the squeeze of their walls at home, many hotels and villa properties are offering cost-effective extended stays (three weeks or more). Mid-term relocations are becoming incredibly common, with particular flight happening from metro centers in New York City, Philadelphia, and Washington D.C. Individual countries are actively trying to scoop up consumer demand for change of scenery and pace, with countries like Dubai, Jamaica, and the Cayman Islands offering temporary extended work visas to US citizens as a way to revive local tourism.

Short term rental properties such as beach house bookings, waterfront properties, mountain cabins, and southern getaways — or you know, just a yard if you’re a city-dweller — are booking in greater numbers in 2020 than nearly any time in 2019. AirDNA notes, “Among those leading the rebound are beaches, mountain towns, lakeside getaways, and really anything within driving distance of a major urban hub.”

Longer-term remote stays, whether for yourself or your family, are increasingly popular, as are remote work options which, according to Google trend data, have increased by two-times the previous levels pre-pandemic. Searches for extended stay vacations peaked at the end of December 2020, with previous highs in October and April 2020. Moving into 2021, we’ll likely see expanded tourism offerings to match this consumer demand, and also to accommodate pre-quarantine requirements, which vary city to city.

In conclusion

Travel isn’t what it used to be, and for the time being, we’re seeing increasingly important local search activations and feature adoption. And as remote work and location agnostic work becomes more the norm, the lessons we learned from pandemic travel search will help businesses thrive in this new tourism climate moving forward.

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Digital Marketing

The Evolution of SEO [Video Presentation]

Posted by RobOusbey

Last November, Moz VP Product, Rob Ousbey, gave a presentation at Web Con 2020 on the evolution of SEO, and we’re sharing it with you today! Rob draws on his years of research experience in the industry to discuss how SEO has changed, and what that means for your strategies. 

Editor’s Note: Rob mentions a promo in the video that has since expired, but you can still get a free month of Moz Pro + free walkthrough here

Video Transcription

Hello, everyone. Thank you for that introduction. I very much appreciate it, and it’s wonderful to be with all of you here today. I’m Rob Ousbey from Moz.

Real quick, I was going to share my screen here and say that my gift to you for coming to the session today is this link. This won’t just get you a free month of Moz Pro, but everybody who signs up can get a free walkthrough with an SEO expert to help you get started. I’ll put this link up again at the end of the session. But if you’re interested in SEO or using a tool suite to help you, then Moz might be the toolset that can help.

Also, if you want to learn more about SEO, come join me on Twitter. I am @RobOusbey, and it would be wonderful to chat to you over there.

One reason I put my bio up here is because I’ve not been at Moz for all that long. I just started about a year ago. Before that, I was at Distilled, which is an international digital marketing agency, and I ran the Seattle office there for over a decade. I mention that because I want to share with you today examples of what I discovered when I was doing my client work. I want to share the research that my team members did when we were in your shoes.

A troubling story

So I wanted to kick off with an experience that stuck in my mind. Like I say, I’ve been doing this professionally for about 12 or 13 years, and back when I started, SEO was certainly more straightforward, if not getting easier.

People like my friend Rand Fishkin, the founder of Moz, used to do correlation studies that would discover what factors seem to correlate with rankings, and we’d publish these kinds of reports. This was the top ranking factors for 2005. And back then, they were broadly split between factors that assessed whether a page was relevant for a particular term and those that asked whether a site was authoritative. A lot of that relevance came from the use of keywords on a page, and the authority was judged by the number of links to the site. So we would help companies by doing good SEO. We’d put keywords on a page and build a bunch of links.

And I want to tell you a story about one of our clients. This is from just a couple of years ago, but it definitely stuck in my head. We were doing a lot of content creation for this client. We created some really informative pages and some really fun pages that would go viral and take over the Internet, and all of this earned them a lot of links. And this was the result of our efforts — a consistent, steady growth in the number of domains linking to that site. We had an incredible impact for them.

And here’s the graph of how many keywords they had when they ranked on the first page. This is fantastic. They ranked for a lot of keywords. And finally, here’s the graph of organic traffic to the site. Amazing.

But if you looked a little closer, you notice something that is a bit troubling. We never stopped acquiring links. In fact, a lot of the content we produced is so evergreen that even content built two or three years ago is still gathering new links every single week. But the number of keywords we have ranking in the top 10 went up and up and then stopped growing. And not surprisingly, the same trend is there in organic search traffic as well. What appears to have happened here is that we got strong enough to get on the front page with these keywords, to be a player in the industry, but after that, just building more links to the site didn’t help it rank for more keywords and it didn’t help it get any more search traffic.

SEO fundamentals

It seems like all the SEO fundamentals that we’ve learned about, keywords and links and technical SEO still apply and they’re still necessary to help you become a player in a particular industry. But after that, there are other factors that you need to focus on.

Now this evolution of SEO into new factors has been an accelerating process. My colleague at Moz, Dr. Pete Meyers has been tracking and collecting a lot of data about this. Last year, Google made close to 4,000 improvements to their results, and that’s the result of running something like 45,000 different experiments.

Pete has also been tracking how much the search results change every day. Blue is really stable results. Orange is a lot of changes. And so if you felt like your rankings for your site are getting more volatile than ever, you’re not wrong. When we hit 2017, we saw more changes to the results every day than we ever had before.

Now the way that Google’s algorithms used to be updated was by a bunch of people in a room making decisions. In fact, it was this bunch of people in this room. They decided what factors to dial up or down to create the best results.

Google’s goal: portal to the Internet

But what does this mean? What does it mean to make the best results? Well, we should think about what Google’s real goal is. They want to be your portal to the Internet. They want your web experience to begin with a Google search, and you’ll continue to do that if they make you satisfied with the results you see and the pages you click on. If they send you to the perfect web page for your query, that’s a satisfying experience that reflects well on Google. If they send you to page that’s a bad experience, it reflects poorly on them.

So it’s interesting to ask, “How would Google avoid doing that, and what would be a bad user experience?” Well, there are some obvious things, like if you arrive on a page that installs malware or a virus on your computer, or you arrive at a product page where everything is out of stock, or you go to a website that’s really slow or full of adverts. These are the pages Google does not want to include in their results.

And they’ve always been good at measuring these things pretty directly. More than 10 years ago they were testing how fast sites are and then using that to inform their rankings. If they spot malware or viruses on a site, they’ll temporarily remove it from the search results.

But they also tried more opinion-based measures. For a while, they were running surveys to ask people: Are you satisfied with these results? This was how they knew if their algorithm was working to get people what they wanted, to give them a good experience. 

But the Google way of doing this is to try and do it at massive scale and hopefully to do it in the background, where users don’t have to answer a survey pop-up like this. And doing this in the background, doing it at huge scale has been more and more possible, firstly because of how much data Google has.

Click through rates

So I want to take a look at some of the kinds of things they might be looking at. Here’s an example of something they may want to do. Let’s consider the average click-through rate for every ranking position in the search results. Imagine that Google knows that 30% of people click on the first result and 22% click on number two and 5% click on number six and so on. They have a good understanding of these averages. But then for a particular keyword, let’s say they notice number six is getting 12% of the clicks. Something is going on there. What is happening? Well, whatever the reason why this is, Google could be better satisfying its users if that result was higher up in the rankings. Whoever is ranking at number six is what people want. Maybe they should rank higher.

“Pogo sticking”

Here’s another example. This is what we call pogo sticking. A user does a search and then clicks on a result, and then after a couple seconds looking at the page, they realize they don’t like it, so they click the back button and they select a different result. But let’s say they don’t like that one either, so they click back and they select a third result, and now they stay here and they use that site. Imagine a lot of people did the same thing. Well, if we were Google, when we saw this happening, it would be a pretty strong indicator that the third result is what’s actually satisfying users. That’s actually a good result for this query, and it probably deserves to be ranking much higher up.

User satisfaction: refinement

There’s even an extension of this where users pogo stick around the SERPs, and then they decide they can’t find anything to do with what they wanted. So they refine their search. They try typing something else, and then they find what they want on a different query. If too many people are not satisfied by any of the results on the first page, it’s probably a sign to make a pretty serious change to that SERP or to nudge people to do this other query instead.

Google’s evolution with Machine Learning

And doing this kind of huge analysis on a massive scale is something that was made much easier with the advent of machine learning. Now for a long time the folks in charge of the search results at Google were very reluctant to incorporate any machine learning into their work. It was something they did not want to do. But then Google appointed a new head of search, and they chose someone who had spent their career at Google promoting machine learning and its opportunities. So now they’ve moved towards doing that. In fact, Wired magazine described Google as remaking themselves as a “machine learning first” company.

What we’re seeing now

So this is where I want to move from my conjecture about what they could do into giving some examples and evidence of all of this for you. And I want to talk about two particular modern ranking factors that we have evidence for and that if you’re doing SEO or digital marketing or working on a website you can start considering today.

User signals

Firstly, I talked about the way that users interact with the results, what are they clicking on, how are they engaging with pages they find. So let’s dive into that.

A lot of this research comes from my former colleague, Tom Capper. We worked at Distilled together, but he’s also a Moz Associate, and a lot of this has been published on the Moz Blog.

User engagement

Let’s imagine you start on Google. You type in your query, and here’s the results. Here’s page one of results. Here’s page two of results. Not going to worry much about what happens after that because no one tends to click through further than page two.

Now let’s think about how much data Google has about the way people interact with those search results. On the front page, they see lots going on. There are lots of clicks. They can see patterns. They can see trends. They can see what people spend time on or what they pogo stick back from. On the second page and beyond, there’s very little user engagement happening. No one is going there, so there’s not many clicks and not much data that Google can use.

So when we look at what factors seem to correlate with rankings, here’s what we see. On page two, there is some correlation between the number of links a site has and where it ranks. That’s kind of what we expected. That’s what SEOs have been preaching for the last decade or more. But when we get to the bottom of page one, there’s a weaker correlation with links. And at the top of page 1, there’s almost no correlation between the number of links you have and the position you rank in. 

Now we do see that the folks on page one have more links than the sites on page two. You do need the SEO basics to get you ranking on the first page in the first place. We talk about this as the consideration set. Google will consider you for the first page of results if you have good enough SEO and if you have enough links.

But what we can take away from this is that when all that user data exists, when Google know where you’re clicking, how people are engaging with sites, they will use those user metrics as a ranking factor. And then in situations where there isn’t much user data, the rankings might be more determined by link metrics, and that’s why deeper in the results we see links being a more highly correlated factor.

In a similar way, we can look at the whole keyword space, from the very popular head terms in green to the long tail terms in red that are very rarely searched for. Head terms have a lot of people searching for them, so Google has a lot of user data to make an assessment about where people are clicking. For long tail terms, they might only get a couple of searches every month, they just don’t have that much data. 

And again, what we see is that the popular, competitive terms, where there’s lots of searching happening, Google seems to be giving better rankings to sites with better engagement. For long tail terms, where they don’t have that data, the rankings are more based on link strength. And there have been plenty of studies that bear this out.

Larry Kim found a relationship between high click-through rates and better rankings. Brian Dean found a relationship between more engagement with a page and better rankings. And Searchmetrics found that time on site correlated with rankings better than any on-page factor.

Contemporary SEO

And even though Google keeps a tight lid on this, they won’t admit to exactly what they’re doing, and they don’t describe their algorithms in detail, there are occasionally insights that we get to see. 

A couple of years ago, journalists from CNBC had the chance to sit in on a Google meeting where they were discussing changes to the algorithm. One interesting part of this article was when Googlers talked about the things they were optimizing for when they were designing a new feature on the results page. They were looking at this new type of result they’d added, and they were testing how many people clicked on it but then bounced back to the results, which they considered a bad sign. So this idea of pogo sticking came up once again.

If that was something that they were monitoring in the SERPs, we should be able to see examples of it. We should be able to see the sites where people pogo stick don’t do so well in SEO, which is why I’m always interested when I find a page that has, for whatever reason, it has a bad experience.

User metrics as a ranking factor

So here’s a site that lists movie trivia for any movie you might be interested in. It’s so full of ads and pop-ups that you can barely see any of the content on the page. It’s completely overrun with adverts. So if my hypothesis was correct, we’d see this site losing search visibility, and in fact that’s exactly what happened to them. Since their peak in 2014, the search visibility for the site has gone down and down and down.

Here’s another example. This is a weird search. It’s for a particular chemical that you buy if you were making face creams and lotions and that kind of thing. So let’s have a look at some of the results here. I think this first result is the manufacturer’s page with information about the chemical. The second is an industrial chemical research site. It has all the data sheets, all the safety sheets on it. The third is a site where you can buy the chemical itself.

And then here’s another result from a marketplace site. I’ve blurred out their name because I don’t want to be unfair to them. But when you click through on the result, this is what you get, an immediate blocker. It’s asking you to either log in or register, and there’s no way I want to complete this form. I’m going to hit the back button right away. Google had listed nine other pages that I’m going to look at before I even consider handing over all my data and creating an account here. 

Now if my theory is right, as soon as they put this registration wall up, visitors would have started bouncing. Google would have noticed, and their search visibility would have suffered. 

And that’s exactly what we see. This was a fast-growing startup, getting lots of press coverage, earning lots of links. But their search traffic responded very poorly and very quickly once that registration wall was in place. The bottom graph is organic traffic, and it just drops precipitously.

Here’s my final example of this, Forbes. It’s a 100-year-old publishing brand. They’ve been online for over 20 years. And when you land on a page, this is the kind of thing you see for an article. Now I don’t begrudge advertising on a page. They need to make some money. And there’s only one banner ad here. I was actually pleasantly surprised by that.

But I’m baffled by their decision to include a video documentary in the corner about a totally different topic. Like I came to read this article and you gave me this unrelated video. 

And then suddenly this slides into view to make absolutely sure that I didn’t miss the other ad that it had in the sidebar. And then the video, that I didn’t want any way about an unrelated topic, starts playing a pre-roll ad. Meanwhile their browser alert thing pops up, and then the video — about the unrelated topic that I didn’t want in the first place — starts playing. So I’m trying to read and I scroll away from all this clutter on the page. But then the video — about an unrelated topic that I didn’t want in the first place — pins itself down here and follows me down the page. What is going on? And then there’s more sidebar ads for good measure.

And I want to say that if my theory is right, people will be bouncing away from Forbes. People will avoid clicking on Forbes in the first place, and they will be losing search traffic. But I also know that they are a powerhouse. So let’s have a look at what the data said. 

I grabbed their link profile, and people will not stop linking to Forbes. They’re earning links from 700 new domains every single day. This is unstoppable. But here’s their organic search visibility. Forbes is down 35% year-on-year. I think this is pretty validating.

At this point, I’m confident saying that Google has too much data about how people engage with the search results and with websites for you to ignore this. If your site is a bad experience, why would Google let you in the top results to begin with and why would they keep you there?

What can you do?

So what can you do about this? Where can you start? Well, you can go to Google Search Console and take a look through the click-through rates for your pages when they appear in search. And in your analytics package, GA or whatever else, you can see the bounce rate for visitors landing on your pages, particularly those coming from search. So look for themes, look for trends. Find out if there are pages or sections of your site that people don’t like clicking on when they appear in the results. Find out if there are pages that when people land on them, they bounce right away. Either of those are bad signs and it could be letting you down in the results.

You can also qualitatively take a critical look at your site or get a third party or someone else to do this. Think about the experience that people have when they arrive. Are there too many adverts? Is there a frustrating registration wall? These things can hurt you, and they might need a closer look.

Brand signals

Okay, so we talked about those user signals. But the other area I want to look at is what I talk about as brand signals. Brand can apply to a company or a person. And when I think about the idea being a brand, I think about how well-known the company is and how well-liked they are. These are some questions that signal you have a strong brand, that people have heard of you, people are looking for you, people would recommend you. 

And this second one sounds like something SEOs know how to research. When we say people are looking for you, it sounds like we’re just talking about search volume. How many times every month are people typing your brand name into Google?

Again, my colleague, Tom Capper did some research about this that’s published on the Moz Blog. He looked at this problem and said, “Okay. Well, then let’s see if the number of people searching for a brand has any correlation to how well they rank.” And then there’s a load of math and a long story that led to this conclusion, that branded search volume did correlate with rankings. This is in blue. In fact, it correlated more strongly with rankings than Domain Authority does, so that’s the measure that shows you the link strength of a website. 

So think about this. We’ve worried about links for two decades, but actually something around brand strength and maybe branded search volume seems to correlate better.

For data geeks, here’s a way of using the R-squared calculation to answer the question, “How much does this explain the rankings?” Again, what you need to know here is that branded search volume explained more of the rankings than anything else.

So we’ve been preaching about this for a while, and then literally two days ago I saw this tweet. A team in the UK was asking about controversial SEO opinions. And the SEO manager for Ticketmaster came out and said this. He believes that when Google sees people searching for your brand name alongside a query, they start ranking you higher for the non-branded terms. And I don’t think this is controversial. And in fact, one of the replies to this was from Rand Fishkin, the founder of Moz. He also now believes that the brand signals are more powerful than what links and keywords can do.

What can you do? 

So what can you do about this? Well, first you have to realize that any investment you make in brand building, whether that’s through PR activities or through like traditional advertising, is good business to do anyway. But it now has twice the value because of its impact on SEO, because those activities will get people looking for you, following you, sharing your brand. If you work for a billion-dollar company, you should make sure that your SEO and PR teams are well-connected and well-aligned and talking together. If you don’t work for a billion-dollar company, I’ve got two small, interesting examples for you.

Example: AdaFruit

First I want to call out this site, They sell electronic components. There are many, many sites on the web that sell similar products. Not only do they have great product pages with good quality images and helpful descriptions, but I can also look at a product like this and then I can click through to get ideas for things I can build with it. This is some LED lights that you can chain together. And here’s an idea for a paper craft glowing crystal you can build with them. Here’s the wiring diagram I’d need for that project plus some code I can use to make it more interactive. It’s only an $8 product, but I know that this site will make it easy for me to get started and to get value from making this purchase.

They go even further and have a pretty impressive AdaFruit channel on YouTube. They’ve got 350,000 subscribers. Here’s the videos, for instance, that they publish every week walking you through all the new products that they’ve recently added to the site. 

The CEO does a hands-on demo telling you about everything they have in stock. And then they have other collections of videos, like their women in hardware series that reaches an audience that’s been typically underserved in this space.

AdaFruit made a significant investment in content for their own channels, and it paid off with some brand authority, but brand trust and brand engagement as well.

Example: Investor Junkie

But I want to show you one other example here from arguably a much less exciting industry and someone who couldn’t invest so much in content. This is, a site that does reviews of financial services and products. And when I was working at the agency, we worked with this site and specifically with its founder, Larry. Larry was an expert in personal finance and particularly in personal investments. And this was his solo project. He blogged on the site and used his expertise. But as the site grew, he hired some contractors as well as our agency, and they created a lot of great content for the site, which really helped with SEO. But to make a significant impact on brand strength, we had to get the word out in front of loads of people who didn’t already know about him.

So we took Larry’s expertise and we offered him as a guest to podcasts, a lot of podcasts, and they loved having him on as a guest. Suddenly Larry was able to provide his expertise to huge new audiences, and he was able to get the Investor Junkie brand and their message in front of lots of people who had never heard of the site before.

But better still, this had a compounding effect, because people who are interested in these topics typically don’t just subscribe to one of these podcasts. They subscribe to a bunch of them. And so if they hear about Larry and Investor Junkie once, they might never think about it again. But if he shows up in their feed two or three or four times over the course of a few months, they’ll start to form a new association with the brand, maybe trusting him more, maybe seeking out the site.

And as an aside, there’s one other thing I love about podcasts, which is that if you’re creating a blog post, that can take hours and hours of work. If you’re creating a conference presentation, it can take days or weeks of work. If you’re a guest on a 30-minute podcast, it literally takes you about 30 minutes. You log on, you talk to a host, and then your part of the work is done.

So this can get you in front of a new audience. It gets people looking for you, which Google will notice. But it has even more SEO value as well, because every podcast typically has a page like this with show notes. It’s a page that Google can index, a page that Google can understand. And Google can see the signals of trust. It can see your brand being mentioned. It can see the links back to your site as well. I obviously can’t speak highly enough of podcasts for PR, for brand awareness, and even for SEO.

Did this help Larry and the Investor Junkie team? Yeah. This obviously wasn’t the extent of their SEO strategy. But everything they did contributed to them getting great rankings for a variety of competitive terms, and it helped them rank up against much bigger sites with much bigger teams and much bigger budgets. And that story actually came to an end just about two years ago, because the site was finally acquired for $6 million, which is not bad for a solo founder who was just busy building his own brand.

In summary

All right. I’ll wrap up with some of these thoughts. Google has been evolving. They’ve now been able to collect so much more data about the way people interact with the search results and other pages, and they’re now using machine learning to process all of that so they can better assess: Are we giving people a good user experience? Are the sites that we’re ranking the ones that satisfy people’s queries? The game of SEO has changed.

Now when you’re starting out, all the basics still apply. Come to Moz, read the Beginner’s Guide, do great technical SEO, do great keyword research, do great link building. Those are still necessary to be considered to become a player in your industry to help get you near the first page for any terms you want to target.

But when you’re trying to move up the front page, when you’re trying to establish yourself much further and become a much bigger brand, we’re not seeing a lot of correlation between things like links and getting into the very top rankings for any particular term. Instead, think about the good game that Google is playing. They want to make sure that when someone clicks on a result, they stay there. They don’t want to see this pogo sticking. They don’t want to see the link and the title that people want to click on sitting down at number six. So target their KPIs. Think about how you can help Google by making sure that your results are the ones people want to click on. Make sure that when people click on your results, that’s the page that they stay on.

But ultimately, you will never lose out if you improve your brand authority and engagement with your content. These are just good things to do for business. A stronger brand, content, and a website that people want to spend time on is hugely important and pays dividends. But now it’s all doubly important because it also has this massive impact on your SEO.

Video transcription by Speechpad

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Digital Marketing

2021 Local SEO Success: Expert Tips & Predictions

Posted by MiriamEllis

“We are here to awaken from our illusion of separateness.” ― Thích Nhất Hạnh, Buddhist teacher

Image credit: Maulvi

My warm New Year’s greetings to all local business owners and local SEOs reading my column today. Add to this my sincere sentiments of solidarity for what we went through together in 2020 — we won’t soon forget it, and our stories from the journey contain important teachings for our market and industry.

I often find that the best local SEO takeaways sprout from the real-world anecdotes of colleagues and friends, and you’ll find those here today along with my personal predictions for the year ahead. Let’s get learning!

Teachings from the real lives of local SEOs

In a year when we were physically distant from one another in unprecedented ways, I’ve found memorable lessons in how local business owners broke down barriers to keep communities connected. I asked four wonderful colleagues to share a personal anecdote with me about a local business they transacted with, both prior to and during the pandemic. As you read these brief stories, see if you can identify six common threads running through them.

Amanda Jordan, Director of Local Search at LOCOMOTIVE Agency

“One of my favorite businesses that I have used before and during 2020 is Pete’s Diner. I first found out about them by driving by, but they have been in the community for decades.

Before the pandemic, my husband and I would have breakfast with his parents every Saturday at a different local restaurant. It became one of our regular breakfast spots because their food is great and it’s pretty close to our home. They also carried a hard-to-find, high-quality olive oil that we would buy in large quantities while we were there.

During the pandemic, we decided to do our best to continue to support local businesses. Pete’s really has adapted to the current climate by offering online ordering and delivery without raising prices significantly or compromising on the quality of their food. Moving into 2021, I recommend that local businesses continue to offer delivery and online ordering even after the pandemic is over. Use Google Posts to keep customers up to date on specials or new services and products.”

John Vuong, Founder of Local SEO Search Inc.

“I discovered my favorite Vietnamese pho restaurant three years ago. I was on the hunt for something that was close to my home, was family-run, and that had an amazing Vietnamese bone broth noodle soup that would remind me of my childhood (my family immigrated to Canada from Vietnam).

Like many SEOs do, I found it through Google Search. I always check Google reviews to see what a company’s online reputation is. The first time I stepped foot in their restaurant, they recognized that I was new. They took the time to explain their business and tell me their most popular dishes. They took the time to build a personal relationship and rapport with me by asking my name and sharing theirs. It felt like there was a real personal touch. And of course, the food was amazing, the service was quick, and they topped it all off with complimentary dessert. I was hooked!

I’d been going to this pho restaurant weekly — that is until the pandemic hit. I didn’t visit them for a little over three months when lockdown first went into effect. But when I did, I was so happy to see that they had implemented all of the necessary health precautions to make their customers and staff feel safe. I noticed a huge influx of takeout orders.

I think my best local marketing advice for 2021 would be to take care of your customers! Listen to them intently and go over and above what you typically would. Treat every single customer like they’re your family and they will feel the love! Don’t expect anything in return, and you will be rewarded when you least expect it!”

Niki Mosier, Head of SEO at Two Octobers

“There is a local cafe/coffee shop near me that I would frequent, especially for their homemade doughnut Fridays. The proximity of the location (two blocks away), the quality of the food, and the customer service made me a repeat customer.

The business was quick to offer delivery (even for two blocks away), which has been amazing — who doesn’t want Irish coffee and fresh doughnuts delivered to their door on a Friday morning? They’ve added other fun takeaway options, too, like bake-your-own cookie dough, meals, and a Thanksgiving pie and beer collab with the brewery down the street. Think outside the box and don’t be afraid to pivot. Focus on customer service and your customers will stay loyal.”

Garrett Sussman, Head of Marketing at

“Some might argue that Wegmans, the northeast grocery chain, has a cult following. It’s easy to understand why. I first discovered the store from my father. He raved about the way they had special baked goods, quality produce, and an assortment of branded products. I was living in New Jersey at the time, and I was hooked after my first visit. Maybe it was the takeout sandwiches, the fresh sushi, or the large and open layout of the store — and it didn’t hurt that they were about five minutes from my apartment at the time.

Since then, I’ve learned more about the brand and appreciate their philosophy: ‘Employees first, customers second.’ I want to go to a store that takes care of their employees. They’ve even invested $5 million dollars in employee scholarships. How cool is that?

In 2020, they adapted to the pandemic by being one of the first grocery stores to implement mask policies, glass splash guards, and social distancing. They increased their employees’ wages in March by $2.00, and had hand sanitizer at entrances very early on. If I had to give them one piece of local search marketing advice, I’d recommend utilizing Google Posts more frequently. Adding a post once every couple of months is better than nothing, but it’s such an opportunity to attract more customers to their grocery stores.”

6 common threads for 2021 local SEO strategy

Image credit: RJP

Did you spot the commonalities in the four stories? When I distill them down into local SEO themes, here’s what I see:

1. Essential local businesses take pride of place

When I asked for a story about a favorite business, Amanda, John, Niki, and Garrett all chose an essential business — a restaurant or grocery store that fed them! Eating is the most fundamental of all activities, as recent times have highlighted for us all. One of my major takeaways from 2020 that I’ll be bringing with me into 2021 is that operating an essential business which fulfills the basic structural needs of a community is the wisest entrepreneurial strategy.

If you’re adjusting your business model and its inventory, opening a new business this year, or advising local entrepreneurs, learn to map community essentials and create a business plan that puts basics before luxuries.

2. Local business discovery is multi-channel

Getting found is the preliminary step to every local business transaction:

  • Amanda found a restaurant while driving
  • John looked at Google listings and reviews
  • Niki needed a spot in close proximity to her workplace
  • Garrett heard by word-of-mouth from a family member

Being there for the customer means being discoverable both online and offline, via vehicle, foot traffic, web-based local business platforms, and by word-of-mouth recommendations. Your visibility strategy for the year ahead needs to cover all these bases.

3. Local businesses can deliver multiple types of value

The local businesses you’re marketing have the best chance of success if you can unlock the secret of what patrons value most. These examples abound in our four anecdotes:

  • Great selection — Amanda’s olive oil, Garret’s baked goods, John’s pho, Niki’s Irish coffee.
  • High quality — clearly, all of these foods are extra delicious!
  • Convenience — everyone wanted something nearby.
  • Brand affinity — John wants a family-owned business, Garret wants employees to be cared for, Niki likes businesses that partner up with one another, and Amanda likes a brand that maintains quality without raising prices too much.
  • Brand adaptability — all four brands made safety adjustments to keep serving the public.

This year, find out what your customers and potential customers value most, and make common cause with them.

4. Pandemic adaptations drive loyalty

The four businesses our contributors highlighted are successfully weathering an incredible storm via the praiseworthy changes they made to keep serving the public safely, like:

  • Implementing new sanitary policies
  • Implementing digital commerce
  • Offering home delivery
  • Doubling down on takeout service
  • Increasing employees’ wages
  • Trying new things, like meal kits
  • Forming new cross-sales partnerships with fellow businesses

Taking maximum safety precautions, delivering at the curb or the front door, facilitating online purchasing, and experimenting with new ideas are all must-haves for 2021.

5. There’s even more that good local brands can do

I asked our experts what they’d suggest if they could offer once piece of local SEO advice to their favorite businesses for 2021. They recommended:

  • Maintaining all new sales and service channels, even after the hoped-for end of COVID-19.
  • Making consistent use of Google Posts as a communications channel.
  • Listening intently to evolving customer needs.
  • Putting customer service at the center of everything.
  • Making customers feel loved.

6. The most important local SEO factor is the human factor

These are the parts of the stories I like best, because they show businesses making us feel less alone, despite our necessary distancing.

  • Amanda found a place a family feels so welcome, they made it a regular multi-generational hangout.
  • Niki found a place that added a sense of fun to life with their creativity.
  • John found a place that not only served a beloved dish from childhood, but where the staff took the time to build a personal relationship with him.
  • Garrett found a place where he can feel good shopping because they take genuine care of their staff.

Philosopher Thích Nhất Hạnh might say that each of these businesses found a way to shatter the illusion of separateness, in the midst of a pandemic, by making each of these patrons feel like valued members of the community. Any local business you market in 2021 can definitely do the same.

My own local SEO predictions and tips for 2021

Here we go!

1. Your local business website will be more essential than in any previous year

Image credit: Robbert Noordjiz

It’s hard to believe that just three years ago, I felt compelled to publish a piece on why you still needed a website, pushing back on the narrative that the amount of zero-click-type SERPs was making websites irrelevant. Nobody can claim this in 2021, and recent stats from Moxtra’s Small Business Digital Resilience Report make the “why” of this clear. Consider:

  • 66% of respondents say the pandemic made them more likely to do business with SMBs in the future (and I’ve seen higher numbers than this in other surveys).
  • But, 2020 saw 30% growth in consumers requiring that digital capabilities be present to facilitate transactions (think e-commerce and telemeetings).
  • And, 84% said if these capabilities were lacking, they’d consider looking elsewhere for a brand that could serve them online (84% is a huge number!).

Local digital sales are where it’s at in 2021, so finding the best possible e-commerce provider should be the top priority for all relevant brands. Don’t worry too much about zero-click SERPs this year. Yes, Google has its shopping engine and has even ramped up its “nearby” filter in 2020, but focus on pulling in every bit of traffic you can to your website’s own shopping cart this year. This goal will build stronger-than-ever bridges between local and organic SEO, so this is the time for local-focused agencies to double down on organic skills.

I’m also watching with interest the rise of medical devices and apps that monitor heart rate, blood pressure, and other vitals. There’s a telemedicine revolution going on, which should seep into other professional services that could improve customer convenience via secure telemeetings, any time face-to-face appointments aren’t essential.

Has anyone ever really enjoyed sitting for hours in a waiting room to speak to an accountant, a consultant, a banker? I don’t think so. In 2021, websites for professional service providers should be optimized to drive online bookings for as many remote meetings as possible.

2. The triumphant return of the milkman and the everything-delivery person!

I’ve been predicting the return of the milkman for many years here at Moz, and 2020 made it happen. Thousands of customers signed up this past summer to make standing orders with Alpenrose Dairy in the Portland area, after a 40-year absence of home delivery service. Under new leadership, the old dairy invested in a fleet of trucks, drivers, branded delivery boxes, and even dog biscuits to toss to barking pups along the way. As their success grew, Alpenrose began partnering up with other local brands to deliver all kinds of treats and groceries, and their social profiles are being rewarded with nostalgic, happy praise from locals and a ton of transactions.

What I find absolutely key to this story is that Alpenrose is managing delivery in-house. They aren’t outsourcing to a third party and losing something like one-third of their revenue. If a local business you’re marketing can deliver, it definitely should.

Further, I’d urge digital marketing agencies to have vital conversations with clients in Q1 about the problems inherent in outsourcing customer experience to a third party. As I’ve learned from both restaurateurs and grocers, it’s generally too costly and too risky to let another company get between you and your customers. This means that a key problem to solve in the year ahead is the employment and transportation of in-house drivers.

“Oyster man. Oyster manny-manny-manny!”

A vintage cookbook tells me this is the song residents of mid-century New Orleans heard each day as a seafood wagon came down their streets. When I look through and beyond 2021, my best inspiration comes from examining the past, with its bountiful produce trucks making rounds, and ladies coming onto porches to purvey gumbo file powder. Ask your elders for reminiscences to inspire 2021 opportunities, because everything old is becoming new again, and whenever I ask around, customers who have gotten a taste of home delivery want it to continue beyond the hoped-for end of the pandemic.

But here’s one problem I need help to solve: If I’m predicting the continued expansion of delivery, and I’m looking back in time, I see lots of households with somebody available to accept perishable orders. In June of 2020, 42% of the US workforce was working at home, but if and when we return to formal workplaces, who will be in situ to bring in the meat and dairy before they spoil?

Will the return of the milkman necessitate the return of the outdoor icebox, or at least some form of it, like a fridge on the porch, a cooler the driver knows to fill, an apartment complex cold case? Inventors, please speak up, because there’s just no way I’m going to let Amazon into my house.

3. My tossed salad of local search marketing predictions

Image credit: Slice of Chic

So, solving for local digital sales and delivery are the two biggest stories I’m focused on in the year ahead, but here are my mixed greens of other developments I think we’ll see in the next twelve months:

1. Google’s Core Web Vitals is coming, and it will be felt on local business shores. But the truth is that — as recently as 2019 — one-third of small businesses still reported having no website at all (hence, nothing to optimize for Google’s latest initiatives). While local SERPs make it clear that it’s quite possible to rank a site-less local business in even moderately competitive packs and finders, 2020 turned the lack of a digital presence into a dire disadvantage for the smallest brands. Even a free website will be better than nothing in the year ahead.

2. Google will push harder on Google Messaging, and brands and agencies will need to decide whether to invite them into customer communications to this degree. If Google Messaging ever fully takes off, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Google sunset Questions & Answers as a result.

3. Google’s purchase of Pointy should start to surface more clearly as key to their strategy for a local transactional future. I strongly believe Google’s greatest growth potential lies in facilitating local online shopping through a mapped interface, and I’m expecting their game plan for this to be more obvious by the end of 2021.

4. Reviews will continue to be absolutely central, but unless Google does something more about vetting the quality of reviews and Q&A responses from its Local Guides program, searcher experience will suffer. We won’t see a massive erosion of trust to threaten Google’s review dominance in 2021, but review spam and poor content will continue the confidence leak at a slow, aggravating trickle unless Google plugs it up.

5. If Apple launches its search engine this year, the local SEO industry’s necessary hyper-focus on Google could see some welcome variation. Moz Local already distributes to Apple Maps, so if you’re a customer, you’re ahead of the Apple game, but coverage of optimizing for Apple search will deserve your closest attention to be an early bird.

6. The rise of Nextdoor for local business visibility will hit a new high, and hopefully prompt the company to start developing more agency-friendly solutions. Nextdoor is the structured citation platform in which I’m most interested for the new year, and Moz Local now offers a top tier plan with a solution for agencies to help get all their clients onto Nextdoor (a function that’s absent from the platform’s own interface). Watch the Moz Blog for further coverage this year!

7. Local medical and personal service providers may need to expand hires (at least temporarily). Once a truly successful COVID-19 vaccine has been widely implemented, expect a glut of bookings from clients who have put off all kinds of appointments during lockdown. Now is the time to investigate good booking software and also evaluate Google’s options for this, because online reputation will be impacted by the ability to see clients in a timely manner once it’s safe to do so.

8. Public-brand affinity will set conscientious local businesses apart. Centering deep concern for whatever your local public cares about most will be increasingly important in the coming year. Whether through brand activism or allyship with major movements like Black Lives Matter or climate change addressal, or diligent support of local programs to alleviate poverty or increase diversity, equity, and inclusion, company reputations will become further tied to actions for the common good.

In summary

I’ll sum up by saying that there’s never been a tougher year than 2021 for making marketing predictions. After all, how many of us foresaw the harsh realities of 2020? But, as I look to the sunrise of a vaccine, and couple this with multiple polls indicating just how strongly the public wants to support local businesses, I think there’s both reason for optimism and genuine opportunity ahead.

2020 reminded us of just how interdependent we all are, for the basics of daily living and for human support, encouragement, and hope. Everyone benefits from inhabiting well-resourced, sustainable communities and if your brand or agency can help with this, the future belongs to you.

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!


Digital Marketing

21 Smart Google SEO Tips for 2021

Posted by Cyrus-Shepard

Happy new year, readers! We’re back with a brand new season of Whiteboard Friday episodes for your viewing pleasure. 

First up: Moz SEO expert Cyrus Shepard shares his top 21 tips for successful Google SEO in 2021, including what to prioritize and what to look out for in the year ahead. He’s also included a bunch of helpful resources for your reference in the transcription below! 

Watch and enjoy, and as always, leave your questions and your own suggestions in the comment section. 

21 Smart SEO Tips for 2021

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

Video Transcription

Howdy, Moz fans. Welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. I’m Cyrus Shepard. Today, so glad that you can join us. We are talking about 21 smart Google SEO tips for 2021.

We’re getting ready for a new year, a new year of SEO strategies. These are 21 practical tips that you can implement that should, hopefully, move the needle on your organic traffic. 

These are some of the best tips that I’ve collected over the past year. Many of them that I’m going to use myself in my own SEO strategies. 

Now we have four categories: increasing clicks, content/on-page SEO tips, technical SEO, and a little bit of link building.

There are 21 of these. These are going to go fast. We’re trying to do 10 to 12 minutes, so we don’t get to spend a lot of time on each one. But don’t fret. We’re going to link to appropriate resources in the transcript below so that we can keep along and explore a little bit more. All right. Ready to dive in? 

Increasing clicks

Let’s start with clicks, specifically earning more clicks from Google without actually ranking higher, because that’s one of the great things about SEO. You don’t actually have to rank higher to get more traffic if you can get more clicks from the rankings that you already have. So let’s talk about some specific strategies for getting more clicks without increasing rankings. 

1. Favicon optimization

First, favicon optimization.

Now I’m surprised more people haven’t talked about this in 2020. Google displays favicons in mobile search results, and they can influence your click-through rate if they’re high contrast, if they’re visible or not visible. Having a good favicon can make a few percentage points difference, very minor, but it does make a difference if you can get it right. Aaron Wall, SEO Book, wrote one of the very few posts about that

2. Breadcrumb optimization

While we’re optimizing our favicons, let’s take a look at breadcrumb optimization. Google displays breadcrumbs in both desktop and mobile search results. They can be keyword-rich breadcrumbs, which can influence your click-through rate. Now Google gets their breadcrumbs from a lot of places. That can be your URL, your schema markup, your actual breadcrumbs on the page.

What you want to do is make sure Google is displaying the breadcrumbs that you want them to display, using those keywords that you choose. The best way to do that, make sure that you have breadcrumbs actually on your page with links, that you’re using schema markup. Ideally, it would match your URL structure, but that isn’t always necessary. So a great breadcrumb optimization audit. 

3. Meta descriptions

Let’s optimize those meta descriptions. This is so old-school SEO. But a recent study shows that 30% of websites don’t even use meta descriptions. Now that’s understandable because another study shows that 70% of the time, Google will rewrite the meta description, usually because it’s not using the keywords that the user is searching for. But if we write a well-crafted meta description, it can compel users to click, and that means using keyword-rich descriptions that people are actually searching for, so when Google does use your meta description, it’s encouraging those clicks and acting as marketing copy for your website.

4. Numbers in titles

Along with meta descriptions, titles. Just shared a study recently showing that dates added to titles increased rankings for a particular brand. Numbers are generally one thing that I always test in title tags that usually produce pretty consistent results. Specifically, dates in title tags are often a winner, January 2021.

Don’t be spammy about it. Don’t include it if it doesn’t make sense and don’t fake it. But if you can include a number, it will often increase your click-through rate for any given query. 

5. <Title> boilerplate

How about doing a boilerplate audit for your title tag? Tip number five. What’s boilerplate? Boilerplate are the parts of your title tag that repeat every single time.

For example, here at Moz, we put “Moz,” our brand name at the end of every title tag. We used to put “Whiteboard Friday” at the end of every Whiteboard Friday until we tested it and found out that we actually got more clicks and higher rankings when we removed it. So boilerplate, you want your titles to be unique, provide unique value. So I would encourage you to experiment with your boilerplate and see if removing it actually increases your rankings.

Sometimes it’s not going to. Sometimes you need that boilerplate. But do the test to find out. 

6. FAQ and how-to schema

Tip number six: schema, specifically FAQ and how-to schema. Google gave us a huge gift when they introduced these in search results. FAQ schema gives you a lot of SERP real estate. You can’t always win it, and you can’t always win the how-to schema, but when you do, that can definitely increase or influence people to click on your result, expand those FAQ schemas out.

It’s not appropriate for every page. You want to make sure that you actually have those FAQs on your pages. But it is one way, in appropriate situations, that you can increase clicks without increasing your actual Google ranking. All right. 

Content/on-page SEO

Let’s move on to some content and on-page tips. 

7. Relaunch top content

All right, number seven. This is the year I want you to look into relaunching your top content.

Content can go stale after a few years. So we launch content. You have a blog, you launch it, and you share it on social media. Most people forget about it after that. So go back, look at your top content over the last two to five years or even 10 years, if you want to go back that far, and see what you can relaunch by updating it, keeping it on the same URL. In some cases, you can see gains of 500% to 1,000% just by relaunching some of your old content with some updates.

So do a relaunch audit in 2021. 

8. Increase internal linking

Number eight: increasing internal linking. Now a lot of top SEO agencies, when they need to quickly increase rankings for clients, there are generally two things that they know are the easiest levers to pull. First, title tags and meta descriptions, what’s getting more clicks, but second is increasing the internal linking.

You know that you can increase internal links on your site, and there are probably some opportunities there that you just haven’t explored. So let’s talk about a couple easy ways to do that without having too much work. 

9. Update old content with new links

Number nine is updating your old content with new links. This is a step that we see people skip time and time again. When you publish a new blog post, publish a new piece of content, make sure you’re going back and updating your old content with those new links.

So you’re looking at the top keyword that you want to rank for, and going in Google Search Console or checking tools like Keyword Explorer to see what other pages on your site rank for that keyword, and then adding links to the new content to those pages. I find when I do this, time and time again, it lowers the bounce rate. So you’re not only updating your old page with fresh content and fresh links and adding relevance. You’re adding links to your new content. So make sure, when you publish new content, you’re updating your old content with those new links. 

10. Remove unnecessary links

Number 10, remove unnecessary links from your content. Now this is a form of PageRank sculpting. PageRank sculpting is a dirty word in SEO, but actually it works to a certain extent. It’s not nofollow link page sculpting.

It is removing unnecessary links. Do you really need a link to your team page on every page of your website? Do you need a link to your contact form on every page of your website? In many cases, you don’t. Sometimes you do. But if you remove the unnecessary links, you can pass more link equity through the links that actually count, and those links are a major Google ranking signal.

11. Mobile link parity audit

Number 11, need you to do a mobile link parity audit. What is that? What is a mobile link parity audit? That is ensuring that the links on your mobile site are the same as the links on your desktop site. Why is that important? Well, the last couple of years Google has moved to a mobile first index, meaning what they see on your mobile site, that’s your website.

That’s what counts. So a lot of sites, they have a desktop site, and then they reduce it to their mobile site and they’re missing links. They get rid of header navigation, footer links, and things like that. A recent study showed that the average desktop page has 61 links and the average mobile page has 54 links. That means on the web as a whole there are seven fewer links on mobile pages than desktop pages, meaning a lot of link equity is being lost.

So do a study on your own website. Make sure you have mobile link parity between your desktop and your mobile site so you’re not losing that equity. 

12. Invest in long-form content

Number 12: need you to invest in long-form content. Now I am not saying that content length is a ranking factor. It is not. Short-form content can rank perfectly well. The reason I want you to invest in long-form content is because consistently, time and time again, when we study this, long-form content earns more links and shares.

It also generally tends to rank higher in Google search results. Nothing against short-form content. Love short-form content. But long-form content generally gives you more bang for your buck in terms of SEO ranking potential. 

13. Use more headers

When you’re doing that long-form content, make sure you do number 13: use more headers. I’m talking about H2 and H3 tags.

Break up your content with good, keyword-rich header tags. Why? Well, we have research from A.J. Ghergich that shows that the more header tags you have, generally you rank for more featured snippets. Sites with 12-13, which seems like a lot of header tags, rank for the most featured snippets of anything that they looked at in their most recent study.

So make sure you’re breaking up your content with header tags. It adds a little contextual relevance. It’s a great way to add some ranking potential to your content. 

14. Leverage topic clusters

Number 14, leverage topic clusters. Don’t just launch one piece of content. Make sure you write about multiple pieces of content around the same subject and link those together. When you do that and you link them intelligently, you can increase engagement because people are reading the different articles.

You can add the right contextual inner links. I have a great case study that I want to show you in the transcript below, where someone did this and produced amazing results. So look into topic clusters for 2021. 

15. Bring content out of tabs

Finally, bring your content out of tabs. If you have content that is in accordions or drop-downs or you have to click to reveal the content, study after study after study shows that content that’s brought out of tabs and brought into the main body, so people don’t have to click to see, generally performs better than content that’s hidden in tabs.

Now to be clear, I don’t believe that Google discriminates content in tabs. They seem to be able to index and rank it just fine. But I think people generally engage with content when it’s out of tabs, and maybe some of those signals help those pages to rank a little better. 

Technical SEO

All right. Just a very few technical SEO tips. We’re going fast.

16. Core Web Vitals

Number 16: this is the year to invest in Core Web Vitals. These are some of the page experience signals that Google is bringing to the forefront in 2021. It’s going to be an actual ranking factor very soon. We’re talking about cumulative shift layout, hard word to say. Generally, we’re talking about site speed and delivering great page experience. Now some of these things are very technical, and Google has some tools, like Lighthouse, to try to help you to figure them out.

One tip I like to share, if you are on WordPress, I highly recommend using Cloudflare, in particular their APO for WordPress. It’s a great way to speed up your WordPress website and help you score better for some of these Core Web Vitals. It’s very low cost, it’s easy to implement, and it’s a great way to speed up your WordPress website.

17. Limit sitemaps to 10,000

Number 17: sitemaps. Sitemaps, you’re allowed to have 50,000 URLs per sitemap. This is always a question in every SEO quiz. How many URLs per sitemap are you allowed? Instead, if you have a large site and you have indexing issues, tip number 17, limit your sitemaps to 10,000 URLs. You don’t have to use all 50,000.

We have some evidence that using smaller sitemaps, compressing those into a limited URL set can actually improve your crawlability of those. It’s kind of like Google might prioritize those in some way. The data seems to support it. You also get a little bit better data out of Google Search Console. You can see what’s being indexed and what’s not.

18. Leverage dynamic sitemaps

Also, leverage dynamic sitemaps. Our friend Oliver Mason shows — that I’ll link to in the transcript below — that a dynamic sitemap is a sitemap that changes based upon what you want Google to crawl. So if you have a large corpus of URLs that you want Google to crawl, put the high priority ones in their own special sitemap.

Maybe you limit it to one thousand URLs. As Google crawls and discovers those, remove them and put in additional high priority URLs that you want Google to discover. Keep the sitemap small and tight, and let Google know that those are the ones that you want them to pay attention to. 

Link building

Let’s quickly talk about link building tips for 2021, because everybody loves link building.

No, kidding. Everybody hates link building. Link building is so hard. There are some professionals and there are some great people in the industry who do love it, who are great at it. Personally, I’m not that great at link building, but I still am able to build a lot of links. 

19. Passive link acquisition

One way that I’m able to do that is number 19: passive link acquisition. What passive link acquisition means is creating content that passively earns links as people discover it in the SERPs.

It means I don’t have to outreach to people. It means that when they find it, when journalists find it, when bloggers find it, they naturally want to link to it. You do that by creating the types of content that journalists and bloggers and web creators are looking for. These are generally data, guides, definitions, how to, such as this video. When you create that kind of content, it generally earns a lot of links as people find it. Passive link building is one of the most sustainable ways to earn links over time. 

20. Page-level link intersect

Number 20, page-level link intersect. When you do have to do outreach, you want to do outreach to the pages most likely to link to you. Now we’ve known for a long time one of the top SEO tips for link building is find websites that link to your competitors but not to you.

I like to make that a little more specific and find web pages that link to at least two of my competitors but not to me. That means that they are generally a resource page, if they’re linking to multiple competitors but not to me, and more likely to link to me if I ask them. We have a great tool here at Moz, Link Explorer, that does page-level link intersect. I think it’s the best tool for this specific task in the SEO industry, not because I’m biased, because I actually use it.

21. Be the last click

Tip number 21 for 2021, be the last click. What do I mean by that? I mean satisfy your users. Once you earn the first click, you want to get that first click that people click, but you also want to be the last click. That means they found what they are looking for. User satisfaction is ranking signal number one. Your goal with all of this is to satisfy the user, to give them what they search for.

That’s the magic of SEO. They’re searching for something, and you’re delivering it to them at the exact moment they search for it. When you can be the last click, you’re almost guaranteed to rise in rankings and get the traffic that you deserve. 

All right, those are 21 tips. That’s your roadmap for 2021. Hope you enjoyed it. Please share this video and share your tips for 2021 in the comments below.

Thanks, everybody.

Video transcription by

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Digital Marketing

The Link Building Webslog

Posted by rjonesx.

This is not the link building article you — or really anyone — were probably hoping for. It isn’t a step-by-step guide to getting the best backlinks, it isn’t some list of hot tips or new opportunities, and it isn’t the announcement of some great tool. What it is, unashamedly, is a window into the brutal slog that is outreach-based link building. 

What can you expect?


2. Some tips and tricks.

3. Weeping and gnashing of teeth

Punch people in the face through the internet
Courtesy Some Ecards

All kidding aside, one of the few aphorisms I’ve come to believe is that sharing how we do things as SEOs is almost never a problem, because 99% of people don’t have the follow-through and resources to make it happen. I would love to be proven wrong by the readers on Moz.

My goal here is to give a realistic understanding of the monotonous slog that is white-hat, outreach-based link building. I happen to think that link building is a perfect counterexample to the “Pareto Principle”. Unlike the Pareto Principle, which states that 80% of the effect comes from 20% of the cause, I find that unless you put in 60-80% of the effort, you won’t see more than 20% of the potential effect. The payoff comes when you have outworked your competitors, and I promise you they are putting in more than 20%.

pareto principle
Courtesy Quotiss

The goal of this “Webslog” is to document the weeks and months that go into a link building campaign, at least as far as how I go about the process.

Courtesy Aaron Burden

Also, look at that gorgeous fountain pen. I frickin’ love fountain pens.

I will try and update this document every week or so with progress reports, my motivation level, the tips and tricks I’ve employed over the last few days, the headaches, wins, and losses. By the end of this, I hope to have accomplished something along the lines of a link building journal. It won’t be a blueprint for link building success, but hopefully it will mark on the map of your link building journey the things to avoid, the best way to get through certain jams, and when you’re just going to have to tough it out.

Journal Entry Day One

Day one is almost always the best day. It’s a preparation day. It’s the day you buy the gym membership, purchase a veritable ton of whey protein and protein shaker bottles, weigh yourself — in all reality you accomplish nothing, but feel like you have done so much. Day one is important because it can provide momentum and clear a path to success, but it also presents the problem of motivation being incredibly disproportionate to success. It’s likely that your first day will be the most discordant with respect to motivation and results. 

Rand does a great job explaining the relationship between ROI and Effort:

However, I think the third component here is motivation. While it does largely track the chart Rand provides, I think there are some notable differences, the first of which is that, in the first few days, your motivation will be high despite not having any results. Your motivation will probably dip very quickly and become parallel with the remainder of the “effort” line on the graph, but you get the point.

Courtesy Drew Beamer

It’s essential to keep your motivation up over the course of the “slog”, and the trick is to disconnect your motivation from your ROI and attach it instead to attainable goals which lead to ROI. It’s a terribly difficult thing to do. 

Alright, so, Day One prep.

Project description

For this project, I’ll be employing a unique form of broken link building (Part 2). If you’ve seen any of my link building presentations in the last 2-3 years, you may have caught a glimpse of some of the techniques in the process. Nevertheless, the link building method really isn’t important for the sake of this project. All that matters for the sake of our discussion in the method is:

  1. Outreach Based (requires contacting other webmasters).
  2. Neutral with regard to Black/White hat (it could be done either way).
  3. Requires Prospecting.
  4. Ultimately brings Return on Investment through either advertising or an exit.

In addition, I won’t be using any aliases in this project. For once, I’m building something respectable enough that I don’t mind my name being associated with it. I do still need to be careful (avoid negative SEO, for example) as this is a YMYL industry (health related). The site is already in existence, but with almost no links.

So, what are the returns on investment (or effort) that I’ll be tracking and, importantly, won’t be tracking?

Return on Investment

1. Emails sent to links placed relative to:

  • Subject line
  • Pitch email
  • Target broken link

2. Contact forms filled to links placed:

  • Subject line
  • Pitch email
  • Target broken link

3. Anchor text used in links placed

4. Not tracking:

  • Deliverability
  • Open rate
  • Reply rate
  • Domain Authority of source

I know #4 will sound like a cardinal sin to many of the professional link builders reading this, but I’m really just not interested in bothering a recipient who chooses to overlook the email. I’m certain that the speed of emails sent will not impact deliverability, so the other statistics just seem like continuing to ring the doorbell at someone’s house until they are forced to answer. Sure, it might work, but it also might get you reported.


There are a couple of steps I take every time I begin a project like this.

1. Set up email, obviously. I typically set up russ@, info@, contact@, media@ and a catch all. I don’t use Google. It just seems, well, wrong. I have had success with Zoho before, although honestly I just need the email so I often go with a CPANEL host and then add the MX records to Cloudflare.

2. Set up a phone number for voice mail. I like Grasshopper, personally. This is not to improve rankings (although I do put it on the site), it’s to improve conversion rates. Email messages with a real phone number and real email address from a real person, with the same domain promoted as the domain in the email, just seem to do better when your project is truly above-board.

3. Set up SPF and DKIM records for better deliverability.

4. Set up a number of Google Docs sheets which will help with some of the prospecting and mail sending.

5. Set up my emailer. I know this is vague, but one of the things I try to do is create stumbling blocks to cheating. There are some awesome tools out there Pitchbox, BuzzStream, LinkProspector and more, but I find each very tempting to take shortcuts. I want to make sure I pull the trigger personally on every email that goes out. Efficient, no. Effective, not really. Safe, yeah.

Honestly, this is about as much as I can do in one day. I look forward to updating this regularly, make sure you follow @moz or @rjonesx on Twitter to get notified when we update this journal.

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