In today’s episode of Whiteboard Friday, Tom Capper walks you through a problem many SEOs have faced: cannibalization. What is it, how do you identify it, and how can you fix it? Watch to find out!
Happy Friday, Moz fans, and today we’re going to be talking about cannibalization, which here in the UK we spell like this: cannibalisation. With that out of the way, what do we mean by cannibalization?
What is cannibalization?
So this is basically where one site has two competing URLs and performs, we suspect, less well because of it. So maybe we think the site is splitting its equity between its two different URLs, or maybe Google is getting confused about which one to show. Or maybe Google considers it a duplicate content problem or something like that. One way or another, the site does less well as a result of having two URLs.
So I’ve got this imaginary SERP here as an example. So imagine that Moz is trying to rank for the keyword “burgers.” Just imagine that Moz has decided to take a wild tangent in its business model and we’re going to try and rank for “burgers” now.
So in position one here, we’ve got Inferior Bergz, and we would hope to outrank these people really, but for some reason we’re not doing. Then in position two, we’ve got Moz’s Buy Burgers page on the moz.com/shop subdirectory, which obviously doesn’t exist, but this is a hypothetical. This is a commercial landing page where you can go and purchase a burger.
Then in position three, we’ve got this Best Burgers page on the Moz blog. It’s more informational. It’s telling you what are the attributes to a good burger, how can you identify a good burger, where should you go to acquire a good burger, all this kind of more neutral editorial information.
So we hypothesize in this situation that maybe if Moz only had one page going for this keyword, maybe it could actually supplant the top spot. If we think that’s the case, then we would probably talk about this as cannibalization.
However, the alternative hypothesis is, well, actually there could be two intents here. It might be that Google wishes to show a commercial page and an informational page on this SERP, and it so happens that the second best commercial page is Moz’s and the best informational page is also Moz’s. We’ve heard Google talk in recent years or representatives of Google talk in recent years about having positions on search results that are sort of reserved for certain kinds of results, that might be reserved for an informational result or something like that. So this doesn’t necessarily mean there’s cannibalization. So we’re going to talk a little bit later on about how we might sort of disambiguate a situation like this.
First, though, let’s talk about the classic case. So the classic, really clear-cut, really obvious case of cannibalization is where you see a graph like this one.
So this is the kind of graph you would see a lot of rank tracking software. You can see time and the days of the week going along the bottom axis. Then we’ve got rank, and we obviously want to be as high as possible and close to position one.
Then we see the two URLS, which are color-coded, and are green and red here. When one of them ranks, the other just falls away to oblivion, isn’t even in the top 100. There’s only ever one appearing at the same time, and they sort of supplant each other in the SERP. When we see this kind of behavior, we can be pretty confident that what we’re seeing is some kind of cannibalization.
Sometimes it’s less obvious though. So a good example that I found recently is if, or at least in my case, if I Google search Naples, as in the place name, I see Wikipedia ranking first and second. The Wikipedia page ranking first was about Naples, Italy, and the Wikipedia page at second was about Naples, Florida.
Now I do not think that Wikipedia is cannibalizing itself in that situation. I think that they just happen to have… Google had decided that this SERP is ambiguous and that this keyword “Naples” requires multiple intents to be served, and Wikipedia happens to be the best page for two of those intents.
So I wouldn’t go to Wikipedia and say, “Oh, you need to combine these two pages into a Naples, Florida and Italy page” or something like that. That’s clearly not necessary.
Questions to ask
So if you want to figure out in that kind of more ambiguous case whether there’s cannibalization going on, then there are some questions we might ask ourselves.
1. Do we think we’re underperforming?
So one of the best questions we might ask, which is a difficult one in SEO, is: Do we think we’re underperforming? So I know every SEO in the world feels like their site deserves to rank higher, well, maybe most. But do we have other examples of very similar keywords where we only have one page, where we’re doing significantly better? Or was it the case that when we introduced the second page, we suddenly collapsed? Because if we see behavior like that, then that might, you know, it’s not clear-cut, but it might give us some suspicions.
2. Do competing pages both appear?
Similarly, if we look at examples of similar keywords that are less ambiguous in intent, so perhaps in the burgers case, if the SERP for “best burgers” and the SERP for “buy burgers,” if those two keywords had completely different results in general, then we might think, oh, okay, we should have two separate pages here, and we just need to make sure that they’re clearly differentiated.
But if actually it’s the same pages appearing on all of those keywords, we might want to consider having one page as well because that seems to be what Google is preferring. It’s not really separating out these intents. So that’s the kind of thing we can look for is, like I say, not clear-cut but a bit of a hint.
3. Consolidate or differentiate?
Once we’ve figured out whether we want to have two pages or one, or whether we think the best solution in this case is to have two pages or one, we’re going to want to either consolidate or differentiate.
So if we think there should only be one page, we might want to take our two pages, combine the best of the content, pick the strongest URL in terms of backlinks and history and so on, and redirect the other URL to this combined page that has the best content, that serves the slight variance of what we now know is one intent and so on and so forth.
If we want two pages, then obviously we don’t want them to cannibalize. So we need to make sure that they’re clearly differentiated. Now what often happens here is a commercial page, like this Buy Burgers page, ironically for SEO reasons, there might be a block of text at the bottom with a bunch of editorial or SEO text about burgers, and that can make it quite confusing what intent this page is serving.
Similarly, on this page, we might at some stage have decided that we want to feature some products on there or something. It might have started looking quite commercial. So we need to make sure that if we’re going to have both of these, that they are very clearly speaking to separate intents and not containing the same information and the same keywords for the most part and that kind of thing.
Lastly, it would be better if we didn’t get into the situation in the first place. So a quick tip that I would recommend, just as a last takeaway, is before you produce a piece of content, say for example before I produced this Whiteboard Friday, I did a site:moz.com cannibalization so I can see what content had previously existed on Moz.com that was about cannibalization.
I can see, oh, this piece is very old, so we might — it’s a very old Whiteboard Friday, so we might consider redirecting it. This piece mentions cannibalization, so it’s not really about that. It’s maybe about something else. So as long as it’s not targeting that keyword we should be fine and so on and so forth. Just think about what other pieces exist, because if there is something that’s basically targeting the same keyword, then obviously you might want to consider consolidating or redirecting or maybe just updating the old piece.
I recently dug into over 50,000 title tags to understand the impact of Google’s rewrite update. As an SEO, this naturally got me wondering how the update impacted Moz, specifically. So, this post will be a more focused examination of a site I have deep familiarity with, including three case studies where we managed to fix bad rewrites.
As an author, I take titles pretty personally. Imagine if you wrote this masterpiece:
… and then you ended up with a Google result that looked like this:
Sure, Google didn’t do anything wrong here, and it’s not their fault that there’s an upper limit on what they can display, but it still feels like something was lost. It’s one thing to do a study across a neutral data set, but it’s quite another when you’re trying to understand the impact on your own site, including articles you spent hours, days, or weeks writing.
Moz rewrites by the numbers
I’m not going to dig deep into the methodology, but I collected the full set of ranking keywords from Moz’s Keyword Explorer (data is from late August) and scraped the relevant URLs to pull the current <title> tags. Here are a few of the numbers:
74,810 ranking keywords
10,370 unique URLs
Note that just under 2,000 of these “rewrites” were really pre-update (…) truncation. The majority of the rest were brand rewrites or removals, which I’ll cover a bit in the examples. The number of significant, impactful rewrites is hard to measure, but was much smaller.
Where did Google get it right?
While I have reservations about Google rewriting title tags (more on that at the end of this post), I tried to go into this analysis with an open mind. So, let’s look at what Google got right, at least in the context of Moz.com.
(1) Removing double-ups
Our CMS automatically appends our brand (“ – Moz”) to most of our pages, a situation that’s hardly unique to our site. In some cases, this leads to an odd doubling-up of the brand, and Google seems to be removing these fairly effectively. For example:
While the CMS is doing its job, “Moz – Moz” is repetitive, and I think Google got this one right. Note that this is not simple truncation — the additional text would have easily fit.
(2) Those darned SEOs!
Okay, I’m not sure I want to admit this one, but occasionally we test title variations, and we still live with some of the legacy of rebranding from “SEOmoz” to “Moz” in 2013. So, some areas of our site have variations of “ | SEO | Moz”. Here’s how Google handled one variety:
While it’s a bit longer, I suspect this is a better extension for our Q&A pages, both for us and for our visitors from search. I’m going to call this a win for Google.
(3) Whatever this is…
I have no idea what the original intent of this <title> tag was (possibly an experiment):
While there’s nothing terribly wrong with the original <title> tag, it’s probably trying too hard to front-load specific keywords and it’s not very readable. In this case, Google opted to use the blog post title (from the <H1>), and it’s probably a good choice.
Where did Google get it so-so?
It may seem strange to cover examples where Google did an okay job, but in some ways these bother me the most, if simply because they seem unnecessary. I feel like the bar for a rewrite should be higher, and that makes the gray areas worth studying.
(4) Shuffling the brand
For some of our more evergreen pieces, we put the Moz brand front-and-center. In a number of cases, Google shuffled that to the back of the title. Here’s just one example:
There’s nothing inherently wrong with this rewrite, but why do it? We made a conscious choice here and — while the rewrite might be more consistent with our other content — I’m not sure this is Google’s decision to make.
(5) Double-brand trouble
This is a variation on #4, conceptually. Some of our Whiteboard Friday video titles end in “- Whiteboard Friday – Moz”, and in this example Google has split that and relocated half of it to the front of the display title:
Whiteboard Friday is a brand in and of itself, but I have a feeling that #4 and #5 are really more about delimiters in the title than the brand text. Again, why did this trigger a rewrite?
You might be thinking something along the lines of “Google has all the data, and maybe they know more than we do.” Put that thought on hold until the end of the post.
(6) The old switcheroo
Here’s an example where Google opted for the post title (in the <H1>) instead of the <title> tag, with the end result being that they swapped “remove” for “delete”:
This isn’t really a single-word substitution (so much as a total swap), and I don’t know why we ended up with two different words here, but what about the original title — which is extremely similar to the post title — triggered the need for a rewrite?
One quick side note — remember that Featured Snippets are organic results, too, and so rewrites will also impact your Featured Snippets. Here’s that same post/rewrite for another query, appearing as a Featured Snippet:
Again, there’s nothing really wrong or inaccurate about the rewrite, other than a lack of clarity about why it happened. In the context of a Featured Snippet, though, rewrites have a greater possibility of impacting the intent of the original author(s).
Where did Google get it wrong?
It’s the moment you’ve been waiting for — the examples where Google made a mess of things. I want to be clear that these, at least in our data set, are few and far between. It’s easy to cherry-pick the worst of the worst, but the three examples I’ve chosen here have a common theme, and I think they represent a broader problem.
(7) Last things first
Here’s an example of rewrite truncation, where Google seems to have selected the parenthetical over the main portion of the title:
Many of the bad examples (or good examples of badness) seem to be where Google split a title based on delimiters and then reconstructed what was left in a way that makes no sense. It seems especially odd in the case of a parenthetical statement, which is supposed to be an aside and less important than what precedes it.
(8) Half the conversation
In other cases, Google uses delimiters as a cutting-off point, displaying what’s before or after them. Here’s a case where the “after” approach didn’t work so well:
This is user-generated content and, granted, it’s a long title, but the resulting cutoff makes no sense out of context. Standard (…) truncation would’ve been a better route here.
(9) And another thing…
Here’s a similar example, but where the cutoff happened at a hyphen (-). The title style is a bit unusual (especially starting the sub-title with “And”), but the cutoff turns it from unusual to outright ridiculous:
Again, simple truncation would’ve been a better bet here.
I get what Google’s trying to do — they’re trying to use delimiters (including pipes, hyphens, colons, parentheses, and brackets) to find natural-language breaks, and split titles at those breaks. Unfortunately, the examples demonstrate how precarious this approach can be. Even the classic “Title: Sub-title” format is often reversed by writers, with the (arguably) less-important portion sometimes being used first.
Three case studies (& three wins)
Ultimately, some rewrites will be good-to-okay and most of these rewrites aren’t worth the time and effort to fix. Over half of the Moz <title> rewrites were minor brand modifications or brand removal (with the latter usually being due to length limits).
What about the objectively bad rewrites, though? I decided to pick three case studies and see if I could get Google to take my suggestions. The process was relatively simple:
Update the <title> tag, trying to keep it under the length limit
Submit the page for reindexing in Google Search Console
If the rewrite didn’t take, update the <H1> or relevant on-page text
Here are the results of the three case studies (with before and after screenshots):
(1) A shady character
This one was really our fault and was an easy choice to fix. Long story short, a data migration led to a special character being corrupted, which resulted in this:
I’m not blaming Google for this one, but the end result was a strange form of truncation that made “Google Won’t” look like “Google Won”, and made it appear that this was the end of the title. I fixed and shortened the <title> tag, and here’s what happened:
Interestingly, Google opted to use the <H1> here instead of the shortened <title> version, but since it fixed the main issue, I’m going to call this a win and move on.
(2) Change isn’t easy
Here’s another one where Google got it wrong, breaking the <title> tag at a parenthetical that didn’t really make any sense (similarly to the examples above):
Since this was a recent and still-relevant post, we were eager to fix it. Interestingly, the first fix didn’t take. I had to resort to changing the post title (<H1>) as well, and removed the parentheses from that title. After that, Google opted for the <title> tag:
This process may require some trial-and-error and patience, especially since the GSC reindexing timeline can vary quite a bit. Most of these updates took about a day to kick in, but I’ve recently heard anywhere from an hour to never.
(3) Don’t ditch Moz!
Our final case study is a complex, multi-delimiter title where Google decided to split the title based on a phrase in quotation marks and then truncate it (without the “…”):
Although the main portion of the rewrite is okay, unfortunately the cutoff makes it look like the author is telling readers to ditch Moz. (Marketing wasn’t thrilled about that). I opted to simplify the <title> tag, removing the quote and the parentheses. Here’s the end result:
I managed to sneak in all of the relevant portion of the title by switching “And” out with an ampersand (&), and now it’s clear what we should be ditching. Cue the sigh of relief.
While there’s potentially a lot more to be done, there are two takeaways here:
You need to prioritize — don’t sweat the small rewrites, especially when Google might change/adjust them at any time.
The bad rewrites can be fixed with a little time and patience, if you understand why Google is doing what they’re doing.
I don’t think this update is cause for panic, but it’s definitely worth getting a sense of your own rewrites — and especially patterns of rewrites — to make sure they reflect the intent of your content. What I found, even across 8,000 rewrites, is that there were only a handful of patterns with maybe a few dozen examples that didn’t fit any one pattern. Separating the signal from the noise takes work, but it’s definitely achievable.
Are rewrites good or bad?
This is an incredibly subjective question. I purposely structured this post into right/so-so/wrong to keep myself from cherry-picking bad examples, and my observations are that most rewrites (even on a site that I take pretty personally) are minor and harmless. That said, I have some misgivings. If you’re happy with the analysis and don’t need the editorializing, you’re welcome to go make a sandwich or take a nap.
It’s important to note that this is a dynamic situation. Some of the rewrites my research flagged had changed when I went back to check them by hand, including quite a few that had reverted to simple truncation. It appears that Google is adjusting to feedback.
This research and post left me the most uncomfortable with the “so-so” examples. Many of the bad examples can be fixed with better algorithms, but ultimately I believe that the bar for rewriting titles should be relatively high. There’s nothing wrong with most of the original <title> tags in the so-so examples, and it appears Google has set the rewrite threshold pretty low.
You might argue that Google has all of the data (and that I don’t), so maybe they know what they’re doing. Maybe so, but I have two problems with this argument.
First, as a data scientist, I worry about the scale of Google’s data. Let’s assume that Google A/B tests rewrites against some kind of engagement metric or metrics. At Google scale (i.e. massive data), it’s possible to reach statistical significance with very small differences. The problem is that statistics don’t tell us anything about whether that change is meaningful enough to offset the consequences of making it. Is a 1% lift in some engagement metric worth it when a rewrite might alter the author’s original intent or even pose branding or legal problems for companies in limited cases?
If you’re comparing two machine learning models to each other, then it makes sense to go with the one that performs better on average, even if the difference is small. Presumably, in that case, both models have access to the same data. With title rewrites, though, we’re comparing the performance of a model to millions of conscious, human decisions that may have a great deal of context Google has no access to. The risk of rewriting is reasonably high, IMO, and that means that small differences in performance may not be enough.
Second — and this is a more philosophical point — if Google has found that certain patterns or title styles result in better performance, then why not be transparent and publish that data? I understand why Google wants to veil the algorithm in secrecy, but they’ve already told us that title rewrites don’t impact rankings. If the goal is to create better titles across the web, then empower writers and content creators to do that. Don’t make those decisions for us.
Ultimately, I think Google moved too far, too fast with this update. I believe they could have communicated (and still could communicate) the reasons more openly without risk to any major secrets and be more conservative about when and if to make changes, at least until these systems have been improved.
Having a website that doesn’t convert is a little like having a bucket with a hole in it. Do you keep filling it up while the water’s pouring out — or do you fix the hole then add water? In other words, do you channel your budget into attracting people who are “pouring” through without taking action, or do you fine-tune your website so it’s appealing enough for them to stick around?
Our recommendation? Optimize the conversion rate of your website, before you spend on increasing your traffic to it.
Here’s a web design statistic to bear in mind: you have 50 milliseconds to make a good first impression. If your site’s too slow, or unattractive, or the wording isn’t clear, they’ll bounce faster than you can say “leaky bucket”. Which is a shame, because you’ve put lots of effort into designing a beautiful product page and About Us, and people just aren’t getting to see it.
As a digital web design and conversion agency in Melbourne, Australia, we’ve been helping our customers optimize their websites for over 10 years, but it wasn’t until mid-2019 that we decided to turn the tables and take a look at our own site.
As it turned out, we had a bit of a leaky bucket situation of our own: while our traffic was good and conversions were okay, there was definitely room for improvement.
In this article, I’m going to talk a little more about conversions: what they are, why they matter, and how they help your business. I’ll then share how I made lots of little tweaks that cumulatively led to my business attracting a higher tier of customers, more inquiries, plus over $780,000 worth of new sales opportunities within the first 26 weeks of making some of those changes. Let’s get into it!
What is conversion?
Your conversion rate is a figure that represents the percentage of visitors who come to your site and take the desired action, e.g. subscribing to your newsletter, booking a demo, purchasing a product, and so on.
Conversions come in all shapes and sizes, depending on what your website does. If you sell a product, making a sale would be your primary goal (aka a macro-conversion). If you run, say, a tour company or media outlet, then subscribing or booking a consultation might be your primary goal.
If your visitor isn’t quite ready to make a purchase or book a consultation, they might take an intermediary step — like signing up to your free newsletter, or following you on social media. This is what’s known as a micro-conversion: a little step that leads towards (hopefully) a bigger one.
A quick recap
A conversion can apply to any number of actions — from making a purchase, to following on social media.
Macro-conversions are those we usually associate with sales: a phone call, an email, or a trip to the checkout. These happen when the customer has done their research and is ready to leap in with a purchase. If you picture the classic conversion funnel, they’re already at the bottom.
Micro-conversions, on the other hand, are small steps that lead toward a sale. They’re not the ultimate win, but they’re a step in the right direction.
Most sites and apps have multiple conversion goals, each with its own conversion rate.
Micro-conversions vs. macro-conversions: which is better?
The short answer? Both. Ideally, you want micro- and macro-conversions to be happening all the time so you have a continual flow of customers working their way through your sales funnel. If you have neither, then your website is behaving like a leaky bucket.
Here are two common issues that seem like good things, but ultimately lead to problems:
High web traffic (good thing) but no micro- or macro-conversions (bad thing — leaky bucket alert)
High web traffic (good thing) plenty of micro-conversions (good thing), but no macro conversions (bad thing)
A lot of businesses spend heaps of money making sure their employees work efficiently, but less of the budget goes into what is actually one of your best marketing tools: your website.
Spending money on marketing will always be a good thing. Getting customers to your site means more eyes on your business — but when your website doesn’t convert visitors into sales, that’s when you’re wasting your marketing dollars. When it comes to conversion rate statistics, one of the biggest eye-openers I read was this: the average user’s attention span has dropped from 12 to a mere 7 seconds. That’s how long you’ve got to impress before they bail — so you’d better make sure your website is fast, clear, and attractive.
Our phone wasn’t ringing as much as we’d have liked, despite spending plenty of dollars on SEO and Adwords. We looked into our analytics and realized traffic wasn’t an issue: a decent number of people were visiting our site, but too few were taking action — i.e. inquiring. Here’s where some of our issues lay:
Our site wasn’t as fast as it could have been (anything with a load time of two seconds or over is considered slow. Ours was hovering around 5-6, and that was having a negative impact on conversions).
Our CTA conversions were low (people weren’t clicking — or they were dropping off because the CTA wasn’t where it needed to be).
We were relying on guesswork for some of our design decisions — which meant we had no way of measuring what worked, and what didn’t.
In general, things were good but not great. Or in other words, there was room for improvement.
What we did to fix it
Improving your site’s conversions isn’t a one-size-fits all thing — which means what works for one person might not work for you. It’s a gradual journey of trying different things out and building up successes over time. We knew this having worked on hundreds of client websites over the years, so we went into our own redesign with this in mind. Here are some of the steps we took that had an impact.
We decided to improve our site
First of all, we decided to fix our company website. This sounds like an obvious one, but how many times have you thought “I’ll do this really important thing”, then never gotten round to it. Or rushed ahead in excitement, made a few tweaks yourself, then let your efforts grind to a halt because other things took precedence?
This is an all-too-common problem when you run a business and things are just… okay. Often there’s no real drive to fix things and we fall back into doing what seems more pressing: selling, talking to customers, and running the business.
Deciding you want to improve your site’s conversions starts with a decision that involves you and everyone else in the company, and that’s what we did. We got the design and analytics experts involved. We invested time and money into the project, which made it feel substantial. We even made EDMs to announce the site launch (like the one below) to let everyone know what we’d been up to. In short, we made it feel like an event.
We got to know our users
There are many different types of user: some are ready to buy, some are just doing some window shopping. Knowing what type of person visits your site will help you create something that caters to their needs.
We looked at our analytics data and discovered visitors to our site were a bit of both, but tended to be more ready to buy than not. This meant we needed to focus on getting macro-conversions — in other words, make our site geared towards sales — while not overlooking the visitors doing some initial research. For those users, we implemented a blog as a way to improve our SEO, educate leads, and build up our reputation.
User insight can also help you shape the feel of your site. We discovered that the marketing managers we were targeting at the time were predominantly women, and that certain images and colours resonated better among that specific demographic. We didn’t go for the (obvious pictures of the team or our offices), instead relying on data and the psychology of attraction to delve into the mind of the users.
We built our website for speed. Moz has a great guide on page speed best practices, and from that list, we did the following things:
We optimized images.
We managed our own caching.
We compressed our files.
We improved page load times (Moz has another great article about how to speed up time to first Byte). A good web page load time is considered to be anything under two seconds — which we achieved.
In addition, we also customized our own hosting to make our site faster.
We introduced more tracking
As well as making our site faster, we introduced a lot more tracking. That allowed us to refine our content, our messaging, the structure of the site, and so on, which continually adds to the conversion.
We used Google Optimize to run A/B tests across a variety of things to understand how people interacted with our site. Here are some of the tweaks we made that had a positive impact:
Social proofing can be a really effective tool if used correctly, so we added some stats to our landing page copy.
Google Analytics showed us visitors were reaching certain pages and not knowing quite where to go next, so we added CTAs that used active language. So instead of saying, “If you’d like to find out more, let us know”, we said “Get a quote”, along with two options for getting in touch.
We spent an entire month testing four words on our homepage. We actually failed (the words didn’t have a positive impact), but it allowed us to test our hypothesis. We did small tweaks and tests like this all over the site.
We used heat mapping to see where visitors were clicking, and which words caught their eye. With this data, we knew where to place buttons and key messaging.
We looked into user behavior
Understanding your visitor is always a good place to start, and there are two ways to go about this:
Quantitative research (numbers and data-based research)
Qualitative research (people-based research)
We did a mixture of both.
For the quantitative research, we used Google Analytics, Google Optimize, and Hotjar to get an in-depth, numbers-based look at how people were interacting with our site.
Heat-mapping software shows how people click and scroll through a page. Hot spots indicate places where people naturally gravitate.
We could see where people were coming into our site (which pages they landed on first), what channel brought them there, which features they were engaging with, how long they spent on each page, and where they abandoned the site.
For the qualitative research, we focused primarily on interviews.
We asked customers what they thought about certain CTAs (whether they worked or not, and why).
We made messaging changes and asked customers and suppliers whether they made sense.
We invited a psychologist into the office and asked them what they thought about our design.
What we learned
We found out our design was good, but our CTAs weren’t quite hitting the mark. For example, one CTA only gave the reader the option to call. But, as one of our interviewees pointed out, not everyone likes using the phone — so we added an email address.
Combined, these minor tweaks had a mighty impact. There’s a big difference in how our site looks and how we rank. The bottom line: after the rebuild, we got more work, and the business did much better. Here are some of the gains we’ve seen over the past two years.
Our site speed increased: we managed to achieve a load time of around 500-600 ms.
Our dwell time increased by 73%, going from 1.5 to 2.5 minutes.
We received four-times more inquiries by email and phone.
Our organic traffic increased despite us not channeling more funds into PPC ads.
We also realized our clients were bigger, paying on average 2.5 times more for jobs: in mid-2018, our average cost-per-job was $8,000. Now, it’s $17,000.
Our client brand names became more recognizable, household names — including two of Australia’s top universities, and a well-known manufacturing/production brand.
Within the first 26 weeks, we got over $770,000 worth of sales opportunities (if we’d accepted every job that came our way).
Our prospects began asking to work with us, rather than us having to persuade them to give us the business.
We started getting higher quality inquiries — warmer leads who had more intent to buy.
Some practical changes you can make to improve your website conversions
When it comes to website changes, it’s important to remember that what works for one person might not work for you.
We’ve used site speed boosters for our clients before and gotten really great results. At other times, we’ve tried it and it just broke the website. This is why it’s so important to measure as you go, use what works for your individual needs, and remember that “failures” are just as helpful as wins.
Below are some tips — some of which we did on our own site, others are things we’ve done for others.
Tip number 1: Get stronger hosting that allows you to consider things like CDNs. Hiring a developer should always be your top choice, but it’s not always possible to have that luxury. In this instance, we recommend considering CDNs, and depending on the build of your site, paying for tools like NitroPack which can help with caching and compression for faster site speeds.
Tip number 2: Focus your time. Identify top landing pages with Moz Pro and channel your efforts in these places as a priority. Use the 80/20 principle and put your attention on the 20% that gets you 80% of your success.
Tip number 3: Run A/B tests using Google Optimize to test various hypotheses and ideas (Moz has a really handy guide for running split tests using Google). Don’t be afraid of the results — failures can help confirm that what you are currently doing right. You can also access some in-depth data about your site’s performance in Google Lighthouse.
Tip number 4: Trial various messages in Google Ads (as a way of testing targeted messaging). Google provides many keyword suggestions on trending words and phrases that are worth considering.
Tip number 5: Combine qualitative and quantitative research to get to know how your users interact with your site — and keep testing on an ongoing basis.
Tip number 6: Don’t get too hung up on charts going up, or figures turning orange: do what works for you. If adding a video to your homepage slows it down a little but has an overall positive effect on your conversion, then it’s worth the tradeoff.
Tip number 7: Prioritize the needs of your target customers and focus every build and design choice around them.
Nitropack: speed up your site if you’ve not built it for speed from the beginning.
Moz Pro: Identify top landing pages when you connect this tool to your Google Analytics profile to create custom reports.
How to keep your conversion rates high
Treat your website like your car. Regular little tweaks to keep it purring, occasional deeper inspections to make sure there are no problems lurking just out of sight. Here’s what we do:
We look at Google Analytics monthly. It helps to understand what’s working, and what’s not.
We use goal tracking in GA to keep things moving in the right direction.
We use Pingdom‘s free service to monitor the availability and response time of our site.
We regularly ask people what they think about the site and its messaging (keeping the qualitative research coming in).
Spending money on marketing is a good thing, but when you don’t have a good conversion rate, that’s when your website’s behaving like a leaky bucket. Your website is one of your strongest sales tools, so it really does pay to make sure it’s working at peak performance.
I’ve shared a few of my favorite tools and techniques, but above all, my one bit of advice is to consider your own requirements. You can improve your site speed if you remove all tags and keep it plain. But that’s not what you want: it’s finding the balance between creativity and performance, and that will always depend on what’s important.
For us as a design agency, we need a site that’s beautiful and creative. Yes, having a moving background on our homepage slows it down a little bit, but it improves our conversions overall.
The bottom line: Consider your unique users, and make sure your website is in line with the goals of whoever you’re speaking with.
We can do all we want to please Google, but when it comes to sales and leads, it means more to have a higher converting and more effective website. We did well in inquiries (actual phone calls and email leads) despite a rapid increase in site performance requirements from Google. This only comes down to one thing: having a site customer conversion framework that’s effective.
This customer FAQ has become all the more important since 2020, with the public relying heavily on the Internet to help them remotely source goods and services while spending as little time as possible on business premises.
Google gets this, and is taking one step after another to position itself as the intermediary for this foundational query. Becoming the “transaction layer of the Internet” is how my friend and colleague David Mihm of Near Media describes Google’s aims when it comes to online shopping and the role they plan to play in it. As local businesses everywhere have scrambled to implement e-commerce and delivery features, Google has been very busy, too, with its own developments.
Perhaps the simplest of all these opportunities to get started with is Google My Business Products — a sort of virtual window shopping interface that can really spruce up your listings. Located in eligible GMB dashboards and with an output that’s visible on several local search interfaces, this feature could not be easier to use.This illustrated tutorial will walk you through adding your most important products and services to Google My Business Products, building your confidence that you are keeping apace with local search expanding to encompass local shopping search.
Who can and can’t add Google My Business products to their listings?
If you sign into your Google My Business dashboard, and you see a tab in the left menu for “products” you are eligible, with the exception of the products listed here that you can’t upload.
If you lack the “products” link but see that your competitors are using it, it’s likely that they have a Google My Business category you’re missing. Use the GMB Spy Chrome Extension to see all of the competitor’s GMB listing categories so that you can consider adding whatever is necessary to prompt the “products” option to appear in your dashboard.
Google’s documentation of this feature states that it’s intended for small-to-medium local businesses, and that they prefer large, multi-locations brands to provide product data through Local Inventory Ads. It would be helpful if Google would update this page to give a numeric cutoff between a medium-sized business and a large chain.
Meanwhile, if you’re marketing a restaurant, please note that Google prefers you to use the popular dishes and menu functions for showcasing your offerings, rather than the products option. Also for restaurants and service-oriented businesses, be aware that adding items to the products function will delete any meal or service menus that have been created for you by a third party. You’ll need to recreate them with the aforementioned, Google-based menu function or the Services tab in your GMB dashboard.
What can be added as a product to Google My Business listings?
You can list the following as products:
Virtual inventory, like software
There’s a strong argument to be made for listing your services as products, in fact, because they are more visible and have those strong, linked calls-to-action. As far as I’ve seen, Google has no problem with you having both products and services listed, so you can do both!
How to add products to your Google My Business dashboard in 10 easy steps
To keep yourself organized, create a spreadsheet (or make a copy of this freebie I created for you) containing all the products you plan to list, and include a field in it for:
BEFORE YOU BEGIN: Note that the last product you add will be the one that shows up first on your profile. So, save the best for last. Made a mistake? You can delete a product and re-add it as the newest item, which will make it show first, or you can edit a product in some minor way and the edit will also trigger re-ordering of the product lineup.
Now you’re ready to get going!
Step 1: Sign into your Google My Business dashboard for the listing you want to add products to, and click on the Products tab in the left-hand navigation menu:
Step 2. This will bring up a popup telling you how many people saw your listing last month and prompting you to add your products. Click the “get started button”.
Step 3. This brings up the simple wizard for adding your products
Step 4: Begin by adding a 1200 x 900 photo representing your first product. I recommend using original photos and graphics rather than stock photos, and it can make a bold visual statement if you choose to overlay the name of the product in text on the image.
Step 5: Give your product a name:
Step 6: Create a category for the product. If this is the very first product you’ve added to your listing, there will be nothing in the dropdown. As you add more products and categories, though, the categories you’ve previously created will appear in the dropdown and you can select them to apply to the next product you add, or you can create further, new categories.
Step 7. Optionally, enter the price. You can either enter a single price, or use the little grey toggle on the right to enter a minimum and maximum price range. Don’t use letters or symbols in this field or Google will reject them. Our product pricing structure at Moz is complex, with special offers and different pricing for monthly vs. annual customers, so we chose to leave this field blank, but if your pricing is simple and not subject to frequent change that would require you to be updating pricing on a regular basis, it’s a good idea to add it.
Step 8: Add a product description of up to 1000 characters. It’s optional to do this, but you should definitely make the most of this opportunity to talk about the benefits of the product. I included a short explanation of the Moz Pro product, plus a customer’s testimonial.
Step 9: Add a call-to-action button from among the choices of Learn More, Buy, Order Online, or Get Offer. There’s also the option not to add a button, but why forego the chance to bring customers from your listing to your website? In the “link for your button” field, add the URL of the page you want this button to take the customer to on your website. If you want to measure how your product listings are performing, use UTM tagging in the link you enter, and you can track engagement in Google Analytics, though not in GMB Insights, sadly.
Step 10: Take a second look at all you’ve entered to be sure you’re happy with your entry and then hit the blue “save” button. Google will then show you the product in your dashboard:
And as you add more products and product categories, you can see them tabbed in the “Products” section of your GMB dashboard:
And, presto! Within minutes to a couple of hours, you should see your products appearing on your Google Business Profile when you search for you brand name (or brand name + city, if Google is a bit confused):
Customers can click on the “view all” link to see all the products you’ve listed:
Or, they can explore using the product categories you’ve created. Look at how big and bold these category buttons are, highlighting key offerings of your business!
And it will also show up on the Google Local Finder version of your GMB listing, though as far as I have seen, not in the Google Maps version of your listing:
The big question: Should you use GMB products?
Can and should are never the same thing. You’ve just learned whether you can upload your inventory via GMB products and you can definitely do it! But to determine whether you should invest the time in doing this, consider all of the following:
Adoption of Google My Business products is so low as of yet, that if you add your products, it will really make your listing fuller than the bulk of your competitors in most markets. This is a definite competitive difference maker.
If you’ve got the ability to take good quality photos or have a graphic designer in-house who can efficiently design some imagery for you, product photos add a very appealing visual element to your listings. If you’d like to make a rather plain listing more inviting, this is a great option.
If you have an inventory that’s relatively stable, meaning you won’t be having to continuously editing existing product listings to avoid customer letdown when items become unavailable, that’s a good bet. If your pricing on stable products changes, you may want to opt out of showing prices.
If you need to drive any additional traffic you can to your website and shopping cart, this is surely an opportunity. Added bonus that this traffic is likely to be qualified traffic, because the searcher is looking for something particular.
If you’ve not yet been able to invest in a full e-commerce solution for your local business, consider GMB products a first step towards alerting shoppers that you have inventory for sale, even if you can’t yet fulfill their desire to buy it online.
Finally, a “yes” vote on adding products to your GMB listings can be consistent with your company’s culture of empathy. Regardless of where you do business, your community is full of elders, neighbors with serious health issues, and unvaccinated small children who are staying at home for safety’s sake for as long as the pandemic is with us. You can think of GMB products as a kind of virtual window shopping for these valued community members, and if you can connect your product showcase with curbside pickup or home delivery, your efforts are making your town a more caring and better-resourced place to call home. Use the description field and buttons to let people know how you can get your products safely into their hands.
If your inventory changes constantly, you’ll need to evaluate whether you have the internal resources to regularly edit your product set in the GMB dashboard.
If your inventory is large, you may not want to add every single product. Instead, you could add a representative product for each major category of goods, and write the description to make it clear that you have a wide selection of this type of item.
Mobile phones can take great pictures these days, but if your photos just don’t look great, it could be off-putting to customers seeing low-quality images. You might want to hold off on adding products until you learn to take photos that create a professional impression of the quality of your goods and services.
Some business owners may feel qualms about Google’s increasing involvement between them and their customers, and prefer to work on their own website rather than devoting additional resources to Google My Business features.
If your resources are limited, you may prefer to skip Google My Business products for now and go straight to Google Shopping, with its more sophisticated interface.
Overall, most local businesses will benefit from devoting some time to adding Google My Business products. Google has given us every reason to believe they are intently focused on shopping, with two major signs being their debut of the Shopping Graph at I/O this past spring and making it free to upload products to Google Shopping in 2020. We’ve all learned together over the past few decades that when Google zooms in on an area of search, we should at least be paying attention to how their efforts might be put to work for our local brands.
You have multiple opportunities to explore for enhancing the online visibility of your inventory, and right now, Google My Business products are the easiest way to wade into this work. The holiday shopping season is, incredibly, just around the corner, and if you start uploading products today, it will be your listing that stands out as the place that has what local customers want in December.
While search marketers can get bogged down worrying about high quality content, successful link building strategies, and technically sound sites, when it comes to SEO, we need to take a step back and look at the what and why in order to get results.
To that end, Moz’s own Ola King walks you through the three main pillars, or as he calls them, “bosses”, of SEO work. All of your SEO strategies feed into their demands, but they all need different things.
Hi, Moz fans. I’m Ola King. I work at Moz, and I’m excited to join you today for this edition of Whiteboard Friday. I will be talking to you about the three bosses of SEO.
Creating high quality content, making sure that you have a solid link building strategy, making sure your site is technically sound, these are great things to do when it comes to SEO. However, none of them would be as effective if you’re not taking a look at things from a strategic, wider lens. Basically, it means you have to take a step back and look at what you’re doing and why you’re doing them in order for you to get the results that you need.
So for SEO, there are three main pillars really to consider. I call them the three bosses of SEO. So that’s really your business, your searchers, and your search engines. Each of these bosses have their own individual needs.
Boss #1: Your business
So let’s start with the business. So these are the needs of the business. This is by no means a comprehensive list. I’m sure there are things that I’m missing. So if there are things that you think should be here, please leave a comment and we can have a discussion on that so we can all learn from each other. But the whole idea of this is to get you thinking about things from a broader lens before you dive into tactics.
Key metrics and goals
So the first one is the key metrics and goals. Any activity that is done without a goal is essentially a hobby, which is fine. However, if you want to do serious SEO work, you need to have a goal. In order to know what your goals are, I guess you have to look at your business goals.
Then that determines your marketing goals, which then determines your SEO goals. So understand what your KPIs are, understand what your priorities are, and that will then let you know what your next steps are. So, for example, if your goal is to get more traffic, you need to focus more on the top of funnel types of content, so like an ultimate guide for example.
If your goal is to get more leads, you might start looking at maybe your product comparison pages. Then if your goal is to have more sales, then it might be time to start optimizing your product pages for example. So always look at your key metrics and goals and then work from there.
So the competitors is also something you should really consider. A lot of people are very familiar with who their direct competitors are in terms of product or services.
But when it comes to SEO, there is also the informational competitors, so people that might not be doing the same thing as you, but they provide information to your ideal audience. So always keep an eye on those competitors as well.
The resources. So look at the resources that you have in terms of time, budget, and personnel. If you don’t have the time for SEO, you might be able to consider outsourcing it. Or if you don’t have the right talent for link building, maybe you might want to partner up with an agency that does that. So always take stock of your resources before you start thinking of what you should do.
Brand identity + recognition
The brand identity and recognition also determines the types of content that you go after. It doesn’t matter if the content has a lot of volume and it’s trendy. If it doesn’t align with your brand in the long run, it’s not really a very good use of your time.
Area of expertise
The area of expertise as well is very much related to this. So what are you an expert at? Try to lean on your expertise. If you don’t have the expertise but you want to provide that information to your audience, maybe you might want to collaborate with other people that are better suited to that so that you can still complete your goal for your business and audience.
Strengths is very related to expertise, but this is in terms of what talents, what skills do you have. Are you better at doing research and creating long-form content, or are you better at creating things that go viral and are more like listicles? Lean into your strengths and collaborate as needed with people that can help you with your weakness.
Time in business
The time in business also the time is the approach you take for SEO. A brand-new website, what you would need would be completely different from a business that has been around for a long time, that has a great website, but they’re just trying to do a refresh, which is also different from a business that has been around for a very long time but doesn’t have a very good online presence.
All of this would affect the way you approach content, link building, and trying to rank for those tough content. So that’s your business. As I mentioned, I’m sure there are things I’m missing. So I’m very curious to know the other things that you might come up with as well.
Boss #2: Searchers
So next up let’s look at the searchers. So these are the people that you are serving as a business. The first thing, when it comes to the searchers, is look at your persona. So what are the types of people that you’re trying to attract into your website? There is no point in creating any piece of content if you don’t even know who you are trying to attract with that content. So start with the persona.
Search intent and relevance
Once you’ve identified the persona, you can then start looking at the search intent and relevance.
So what are they looking for? The good news is the answer is already right on your search engine results pages. Do a quick search for your ideal keyword and you’ll be able to see the results that the search engines have deemed as the most appropriate for what your audience is looking for, which matches the search intent. Once you’ve done that, then you’re going to want to create the right content to satisfy the searcher’s intent.
Topics, not keywords
When you’re creating content, focus on topics and not keywords. So gone are the days where you just want to create your page and stuff it with as many keywords as you can and you start ranking and print out dollars. Not so effective anymore. You basically want to look at each page on your site covering a topic that you have a focus.
While you’re doing that, then you want to make sure that you have the most comprehensive page that answers that searcher’s intent. Cyrus Shepard actually has a great [blog] on this, where he talked about you want to be the first click, the long click, and the last click. So be the most comprehensive page that satisfies the searcher’s intent based on topic, not keywords.
Psychological and socioeconomic factors
So when you’re creating your content or you’re trying to devise your content strategy, always look at the emotion, psychology, social, and economic factors that are affecting your audience. It’s easy to look at data on your site’s traffic and obsess about what could have gone wrong in terms of your competitors or other factors. But you might also want to take a step back and look at what’s happening in the lives of your audience, like what are they struggling with right now.
So in the past 18 months also, every one of us have been experiencing the pandemic. So that has changed the way people search for things. Searches for keywords like remote, things like delivery, those searches have gone up over the past few months, and that’s based on the social factors that are affecting people. It means they can no longer do things that they were able to do before, so now they’re having to adjust in different ways. So always look at what’s happening to your audience and then react accordingly.
Brand affinity and trust
The brand affinity and trust also affects the way people interact with your site. If people are familiar with a brand, they are more likely to trust them and interact with them more.
So if you’re a newer website or a brand, it might be a good idea to let the content speak for itself and not try to make your brand the front and center of attention. Whereas for a bigger brand, it might be a good idea to do the opposite. So a site like Amazon would do good to have their brand name in the title tag for example because people know their brand and they can trust them and click on the site, whereas a brand-new website it might be a good idea to not necessarily make that the focus of attention.
Trends and seasonality
So other things to look at are trends and seasonality. As you’re looking at your SEO data, if you notice a dip, you might not be doing anything wrong. It could just mean that it’s the nature of the time of the year. So I’m sure certain keywords would trend upward around the holiday season, for example, for things like electronics, video games, etc.
Then towards like February or March, maybe those searches might reduce. It doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong. It’s just the seasonality.
So the search behavior as well. People’s behavior changes over time. Humans are not robots. They are very dynamic.
Things change, things that they search for. As I mentioned before, when their emotional, psychological, social, and political factors are affected, it also changes how they search for things as well. So always try to react to that or pay attention to what people are doing. Try to understand what’s changing in their search behavior and react to that accordingly.
The customer journey is very important. Always understand the touch points that your customers have with your business. Even outside of your business, look at their journey before they get to your business. This allows you to know the types of content you need to create to fill in the gap in their journey. This allows you to know who you might need to collaborate with, so other information sources that your audience has, where they hang out. You are able to understand those things and be able to create the perfect content for them and also promote it in the right places as well.
The struggles. What are the things keeping your audience up at night? What are they struggling with? Understanding this allows you to create content that no other person would be able to create. It would almost be to them like you have like some magic wand where you’re able to predict what’s going on with them.
Try to understand what are their struggles. You can find out the struggles by looking at questions that your audience asks your help team, for example. That’s a good place to start and use SEO tools to do your keyword research to know what some of those questions that they’re asking, that indicate struggles. Go on forums like Quora and Reddit. Those types of places allow you to find those struggles.
Location and language
Location and language affects how people search for things. Different locations have their own slangs, have their own culture, behaviors, and ways of doing things. Try to understand the location that you’re targeting. Try to understand what the culture is like, what the language is, and try to create your content with that in mind. If you don’t have that expertise or knowledge, it’s a good idea to partner up with someone in those locations as well.
Also make sure that your site is internationalized as well if you’re targeting multiple countries. There are lots of resources that teach you how to do this. You can find that in the Moz [SEO Learning Center] as well.
Accessibility, different people search for things in different ways. People have different needs. So make sure that your site is universally accessible to everyone. So make sure it’s mobile friendly. Make sure you don’t have like annoying pop-ups everywhere. Make sure that you provide an alt tag for your images to make your content more accessible to all.
So these are the factors that are affecting the searchers. There’s a lot that I probably missed, so I would love to know what you think and also other ones that I forgot.
Boss #3: Search engines
So the last but not the least is the search engines. In order to win for SEO, you really need to understand that the search engines are businesses as well.
So in order for them to rank your site, you have to be a site that is in line with their business. For Google, if you want to understand what their business model is, there is a video on YouTube that you should watch.
It’s called “A Trillion Searches, No Easy Answers.” It’s a very interesting video that shows you the behind the scenes of how they think about things, what challenges they have, and the future of where they’re heading. This would then allow you to be able to know where they might go next so that you can react accordingly.
For Google, once again, I mean ultimately they are just trying to provide content to their searchers that is valuable, that is from sites that are indexable, that provides a good experience, and of course it has to be relevant content.
Natural language processing
They put a huge emphasis on relevant content. That leads us to the next one — NLP. So every additional change that Google has been making over the past few years is geared towards that goal of helping people get answers to things that they search for in a natural way, so making search basically more human.
That allows them to be able to help people find the relevant content to them by using more advancements in machine learning. So in order for you to do well for SEO, you need to understand what are they doing with these updates. Read the release notes. Try to understand what each update means and then try to cater your content to match that goal as well.
E-A-T, it means expertise, authoritativeness, and trust. Google is very strict on this when it comes to sites that are in the money or your life categories. So that’s health, finance, and fitness, things like that. So make sure that your site is displaying the signals that they need for this authority.
The links, I don’t need to explain this too much. Everyone that works in SEO is pretty much familiar with this. But links are basically the digital word of mouth. A lot of people are familiar with getting backlinks.
But just as important to getting backlinks, you also want to make sure that you’re spreading internal links as well. So make sure that the pages on your site that are getting high traffic, you are also linking to pages on your site that might not be getting as much traffic, but they are just as important to you.
Core web vitals
This is a recent update, the Core Web Vitals. So it’s meant to basically build better websites in the world. A lot of people debate the effectiveness of this at this very moment. I would say you should do your best. Use tools like the Moz Performance Metrics Beta and try to improve your site as best as you can to at least be prepared when these changes do start affecting your ranking power.
Take advantage of schemas. These help the search engines understand your website very clearly. Having schemas doesn’t mean you would always win the SERP features, but at least it gives you a fighting chance. So take advantage of them as well.
Query deserves freshness
QDF is “query deserves freshness”. So for certain queries, the search engines determine that more up-to-date information is more relevant than other types of content, so they refresh them more frequently. So if you notice that some of your content did not perform quite as well, it might just be because that they are outdated.
So a little quick refresh can help you take advantage of the opportunity to rank better.
Last but not least, ongoing updates. SEO is not stagnant. It’s continuously dynamic. It’s moving, and things are changing. All the search engines are pushing dozens of updates on a daily basis.
So keep an eye on, like I said, their business model, try to understand where they are headed, and try to be able to predict where they’re going. Keep on top of the updates and then adjust as you go. But yeah, so these are the three bosses of SEO, and these are all what they need.
As I mentioned, I probably missed a lot of things. But the whole idea is not for this to cover everything. The idea is just getting to think of SEO from a very holistic perspective. You might be wondering this is a lot. Where do I even start from? Well, the most important thing is your business. Try to make sure that you’re doing the right thing for your business.
Then make sure you do the right thing for your searchers and then start satisfying the search engines to get results. But yeah, so that’s all I have for you today. Leave your comments below. I would love to have a discussion with you and see what we can learn from each other as well. All right. See you next time.
A brief history of Google’s mission to make the web faster
In 2009, by issuing a call to arms to “make the web faster”, Google set out on a mission to try and persuade website owners to make their sites load more quickly.
In order to entice website owners into actually caring about this, in 2010 Google announced that site speed would become a factor in its desktop (non-mobile) search engine ranking algorithms. This meant that sites that loaded quickly would have an SEO advantage over other websites.
Mobile’s now-dominant role in search led Google to develop its “Accelerated Mobile Pages” (AMP) project. This initiative is aimed at encouraging website owners to create what is essentially another mobile theme, on top of their responsive mobile theme, that complies with a very strict set of development and performance guidelines.
Although many site owners and SEOs complain about having to tend to page speed and AMP on top of the other 200+ ranking factors that already give them headaches, page speed is indeed a worthy effort for site owners to focus on. In 2017, Google conducted a study where the results very much justified their focus on making the web faster. They found that “As page load time goes from one second to 10 seconds, the probability of a mobile site visitor bouncing increases 123%.”
With the average human attention span decreasing all the time, and our reliance on our mobile devices growing consistently, there’s no question that page speed is, and will continue to be, an incredibly important thing for website owners to tend to.
How to optimize a website for speed
Think like a race car driver
Winning the page speed race requires the same things as winning a car race. To win a race in a car, you make sure that your vehicle is as lightweight as possible, as powerful as possible, and you navigate the racetrack as efficiently as possible.
I’ll use this analogy to try to make page speed optimization techniques a bit more understandable.
Make it lightweight
These days, websites are more beautiful and functional than ever before — but that also means they are bigger than ever. Most modern websites are the equivalent of a party bus or a limo. They’re super fancy, loaded with all sorts of amenities, and therefore HEAVY and SLOW. In the search engine “racetrack,” you will not win with a party bus or a limo. You’ll look cool, but you’ll lose.
Image source: A GTMetrix test results page
To win the page speed race, you need a proper racing vehicle, which is lightweight. Race cars don’t have radios, cupholders, glove boxes, or really anything at all that isn’t absolutely necessary. Similarly, your website shouldn’t be loaded up with elaborate animations, video backgrounds, enormous images, fancy widgets, excessive plugins, or anything else at all that isn’t absolutely necessary.
In addition to decluttering your site of unnecessary fanciness and excessive plugins, you can also shed website weight by:
Reducing the number of third-party scripts (code snippets that send or receive data from other websites)
Switching to a lighter-weight (less code-heavy) theme and reducing the number of fonts used
Compressing and minifying code
Performing regular database optimizations
On an open-source content management system like WordPress, speed plugins are available that can make a lot of these tasks much easier. WP Rocket and Imagify are two WordPress plugins that can be used together to significantly lighten your website’s weight via image optimization, compression, minification, and a variety of other page speed best practices.
Give it more power
You wouldn’t put a golf cart engine in a race car, so why would you put your website on a dirt-cheap, shared hosting plan? You may find it painful to pay more than a few dollars per month on hosting if you’ve been on one of those plans for a long time, but again, golf cart versus race car engine: do you want to win this race or not?
Traditional shared hosting plans cram tens of thousands of websites onto a single server. This leaves each individual site starved for computing power.
If you want to race in the big leagues, it’s time to get a grown-up hosting plan. For WordPress sites, managed hosting companies such as WP Engine and Flywheel utilize servers that are powerful and specifically tuned to serve up WordPress sites faster.
If managed WordPress hosting isn’t your thing, or if you don’t have a WordPress site, upgrading to a VPS (Virtual Private Server) will result in your website having way more computing resources available to it. You’ll also have more control over your own hosting environment, allowing you to “tune-up your engine” with things like the latest versions of PHP, MySQL, Varnish caching, and other modern web server technologies. You’ll no longer be at the mercy of your shared hosting company’s greed as they stuff more and more websites onto your already-taxed server.
In short, putting your website on a well-tuned hosting environment can be like putting a supercharger on your race car.
Drive it better
Last, but certainly not least, a lightweight and powerful race car can only go so fast without a trained driver who knows how to navigate the course efficiently.
The “navigate the course” part of this analogy refers to the process of a web browser loading a webpage. Each element of a website is another twist or turn for the browser to navigate as it travels through the code and processes the output of the page.
I’ll switch analogies momentarily to try to explain this more clearly. When remodeling a house, you paint the rooms first before redoing the floors. If you redid the floors first and then painted the rooms, the new floors would get paint on them and you’d have to go back and tend to the floors again later.
When a browser loads a webpage, it goes through a process called (coincidentally) “painting.” Each page is “painted” as the browser receives bits of data from the webpage’s source code. This painting process can either be executed efficiently (i.e. painting walls before refinishing floors), or it can be done in a more chaotic out-of-order fashion that requires several trips back to the beginning of the process to redo or fix or add something that could’ve/should’ve been done earlier in the process.
Image source: WebPageTest.org Test Result (Filmstrip View)
Here’s where things can get technical, but it’s important to do whatever you can to help your site drive the “track” more efficiently.
Caching is a concept that every website should have in place to make loading a webpage easier on the browser. It already takes long enough for a browser to process all of a page’s source code and paint it out visually to the user, so you might as well have that source code ready to go on the server. By default, without caching, that’s not the case.
Without caching, the website’s CMS and the server can still be working on generating the webpage’s source code while the browser is waiting to paint the page. This can cause the browser to have to pause and wait for more code to come from the server. With caching, the source code of a page is pre-compiled on the server so that it’s totally ready to be sent to the browser in full in one shot. Think of it like a photocopier having plenty of copies of a document already produced and ready to be handed out, instead of making a copy on demand each time someone asks for one.
Various types and levels of caching can be achieved through plugins, your hosting company, and/or via a CDN (Content Delivery Network). CDNs not only provide caching, but they also host copies of the pre-generated website code on a variety of servers across the world, reducing the impact of physical distance between the server and the user on the load time. (And yes, the internet is actually made up of physical servers that have to talk to each other over physical distances. The web is not actually a “cloud” in that sense.)
Getting back to our race car analogy, utilizing caching and a CDN equals a much faster trip around the racetrack.
Those are two of the basic building blocks of efficient page painting, but there are even more techniques that can be employed as well. On WordPress, the following can be implemented via a plugin or plugins (again, WP Rocket and Imagify are a particularly good combo for achieving a lot of this):
Asynchronous and/or deferred loading of scripts. This is basically a fancy way of referring to loading multiple things at the same time or waiting until later to load things that aren’t needed right away.
Preloading and prefetching. Basically, retrieving data about links in advance instead of waiting for the user to click on them.
Lazy loading. Ironic term being that this concept exists for page speed purposes, but by default, most browsers load ALL images on a page, even those that are out of sight until a user scrolls down to them. Implementing lazy loading means telling the browser to be lazy and wait on loading those out-of-sight images until the user actually scrolls there.
Serving images in next-gen formats. New image formats such as WebP can be loaded much faster by browsers than the old-fashioned JPEG and PNG formats. But it’s important to note that not all browsers can support these new formats just yet — so be sure to use a plugin that can serve up the next-gen versions to browsers that support them, but provide the old versions to browsers that don’t. WP Rocket, when paired with Imagify, can achieve this.
Image source: WP Rocket plugin settings
Optimize for Core Web Vitals
Lastly, optimizing for the new Core Web Vital metrics (Largest Contentful Paint, First Input Delay, and Cumulative Layout Shift) can make for a much more efficient trip around the racetrack as well.
These are pretty technical concepts, but here’s a quick overview to get you familiar with what they mean:
Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) refers to the painting of the largest element on the page. Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool will tell you which element is considered to be the LCP element of a page. A lot of times this is a hero image or large slider area, but it varies from page to page, so run the tool to identify the LCP in your page and then think about what you can do to make that particular element load faster.
First Input Delay (FID) is the delay between the user’s first action and the browser’s ability to respond to it. An example of an FID issue would be a button that is visible to a user sooner than it becomes clickable. The delay would be caused by the click functionality loading notably later than the button itself.
Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) is a set of three big words that refer to one simple concept. You know when you’re loading up a webpage on your phone and you go to click on something or read something but then it hops up or down because something else loaded above it or below it? That movement is CLS, it’s majorly annoying, and it’s a byproduct of inefficient page painting.
In conclusion, race car > golf cart
Page speed optimization is certainly complex and confusing, but it’s an essential component to achieve better rankings. As a website owner, you’re in this race whether you like it or not — so you might as well do what you can to make your website a race car instead of a golf cart!
Responsive search ads are very flexible ads that automatically adapt to show the right message to the right customer. You enter multiple headlines and descriptions when creating the ad. Google’s machine learning systems will mix headlines and descriptions and test different combinations of the ads to learn which performs best over time. The most relevant message will be shown to the customer.
Responsive search ads are the default ad type in Google Ads Pay Per Click (PPC) search campaigns as of February 18, 2021. This change isn’t surprising, considering Google’s increased focus on automation in Google Ads.
Since responsive search ads adapt their content to show the most relevant message to match customer search terms, they help you reach more customers and may help to increase conversion rates and campaign performance. According to Google, advertisers who use responsive search ads in their ad groups can achieve an increase of up to 10% more clicks and conversions as compared to standard text ads.
But responsive search ads have many more benefits:
Mobile-friendly: They are very flexible and can adapt to fit devices of different widths. Most online searches are made on mobile devices. These ads can adapt to show fewer headlines and descriptions on mobile devices.
Save time in testing: By setting up responsive search ads with multiple combinations of assets, they save time both in writing and testing multiple versions of ads.
Reach more customers: Having multiple ad combinations and keywords helps to improve search relevance since there are more headlines to match customer search terms. This helps you reach more customers and compete in more auctions.
Target specific geo locations: Some of the headlines used in the ads can target specific cities and customer locations. This can help to target local customers in specific geographic locations.
Available in all languages: Responsive search ads are available in all languages to all advertisers.
Here is an example of a responsive search ad from Google search results:
How to set up responsive search ads in your Google Ads PPC search campaign
Sign into your Google Ads PPC account and select Responsive Search Ad from the Ad menu:
Select Ads and extensions in the left menu
Click on the blue plus button on the top
Select Responsive Search Ad in the menu
Now you can enter the headlines and descriptions and the landing page for the responsive search ad:
Select a Search Campaign
Select an Ad Group
Enter the Final URL ( this is the landing page URL).
Enter the display paths for the Display URL (this is optional).
Enter at least 5 unique headlines. The minimum is 3 and the maximum is 15. The tool will suggest keywords from the ad group to include in the headlines.
Enter at least 2 unique descriptions. The minimum is 2 and the maximum is 4.
As you create the ad, an ad strength indicator will indicate the ad strength.
As you type the ad, you will see a preview of the Ad in different combinations in the preview panel.
Save the ad
Follow the best practices below to optimize responsive search ads for better performance.
5 best practices when using responsive search ads in your Google Ads PPC search campaigns
These tips will help you optimize your responsive search ads in your Google Ads search campaigns and increase clicks and conversions.
1. Add at least one responsive search ad per ad group with “good” or “excellent” ad strength
It’s best to create very specific ad groups based on your products with at least three quality ads, as recommended by Google. This enables Google’s systems to optimize for performance and may result in more clicks.
2. Add several unique headlines and descriptions
The power of the flexible format of responsive search ads lies in having multiple ad combinations and keywords that can match customer search terms. This helps to increase search relevance and reach more customers.
When building your responsive search ads, add as many unique headlines as you can to increase possible ad combinations and improve campaign performance.
The headlines and descriptions in a responsive search ad can be shown in multiple combinations in any order. It’s therefore important to ensure that these assets are unique from each other and work well together when they are shown in different ad combinations.
When creating a responsive search ad, you can add up to fifteen headlines and four descriptions. The responsive search ad will show up to three headlines and two descriptions at a time. On smaller screens, like mobile devices, it may show with two headlines and one description.
Here are tips for adding headlines and descriptions:
To increase the chances that the ad will show, enter at least five headlines that are unique from each other. Do not repeat the same phrases as that will restrict the number of ad combinations that are generated by the system.
You can use some headlines to focus on important product or service descriptions.
Include your popular keywords in at least two headlines to increase ad relevance. As you create the responsive search ad, the tool will recommend popular keywords in the ad group to include in headlines to improve ad performance.
Make sure that you DO NOT include keywords in three headlines so that more ad combinations are generated. Instead you can highlight benefits, special services, special hours, calls to action, shipping and return policies, special promotions, taglines, or ratings.
Try adding headlines of different lengths. Do not max out the characters in every headline. Google’s systems will test both long and short headlines.
There are 30 characters for each headline.
2. Include two descriptions that are unique. The maximum is four descriptions.
Descriptions should focus on describing product or service features that are not listed in the headlines, along with a call to action.
There are 90 characters for each description.
An example of creating a responsive search ad with headlines and descriptions is shown in the figure below.
3. Use popular content from your existing expanded text ads
Use headlines and descriptions from your existing expanded text ads in the ad group when writing your headlines and descriptions for the responsive search ads. This helps you get more ad combinations with keywords that have already been proven to be successful in your marketing campaign.
4. Pin headlines & descriptions to specific positions to control where they appear. Use sparingly.
Responsive search ads will show headlines and descriptions in any order by default. To control the positions of text in the ad, you can pin headlines and descriptions to certain positions in the ad. Pinning is a new concept introduced with responsive search ads.
Use the pinning feature sparingly. Pinning too many headlines and descriptions to fixed positions in the responsive search ad reduces the effectiveness of using this flexible ad format to serve multiple ad combinations.
1. If you have text that must appear in every ad, you should enter it in either Headline Position 1, Headline Position 2 or Description Position 1, and pin it there. This text will always show in the ad.
2. You can also pin headlines and descriptions that must always be included in the ad to specific positions in the ad. For example, disclaimers or special offers.
3. To pin an asset, hover to the right of any headline or description when setting up the Ad and click on the pin icon that appears. Then select the position where you want the headline or description to appear.
4. Pinning a headline or description to one position will show that asset in that position every time the ad is shown. For increased flexibility, it is recommended to pin 2 or 3 headlines or descriptions to each position. Any of the pinned headlines or descriptions can then be shown in the pinned position so that you still have different ad combinations available.
5. Click Save.
The image below shows a headline pinned in position 1 and a description pinned in position 2. The Ad will always show this headline and description in the pinned positions every time it runs.
5. Increase ad strength to improve performance
As you create a responsive search ad, you will see an ad strength indicator on the right with a strength estimate. The ad strength indicator helps you improve the quality and effectiveness of your ads to improve ad performance.
1. Ad strength measures the relevance, diversity and quality of the Ad content.
2. Some of the ad strength suggestions include
Adding more headlines
Including popular keywords in the headlines
Making headlines more unique
Making descriptions more unique
3. Click on “View Ideas” to see suggestions provided by the tool to improve ad relevance and ad quality.
4. The ad strength ratings include “Excellent”, “Good”, “Average” , “Poor” and “No Ads”.
5. Try to get at least a “Good” rating by changing the content of headlines or descriptions or by adding popular keywords. If you have a lot of assets pinned to specific positions, try unpinning some of the assets to improve ad strength.
Are expanded text ads still supported?
Expanded text ads are still supported but they are no longer the default ad format in Google Ads paid search campaigns.
However, Google has removed the option to add a text ad directly from the Ads and extensions menu. When you add a new ad, the menu now lists only options to add a Responsive Search Ad, Call Ad, Responsive Display Ad and Ad variations.
You can still add an expanded text ad although you cannot add it directly from the Ads and extensions menu. Follow these steps,
In the Ads and extensions menu, click to select Responsive search ads.
This opens up the editing menu to create a responsive search ad.
Then click on “switch back to text ads” on the top to create a text ad.
The removal of expanded text ads from the Ad and extensions menu certainly suggests that Google may be planning to phase out expanded text ads in the future. However, they continue to be supported at this time.
In summary, responsive search ads continue the progression towards automation and machine learning in Google Ads. We have used responsive search ads in PPC search campaigns at our digital marketing agency, and have seen an increase in clicks and CTR as compared to expanded text ads.
You can improve the performance of your Google Ads PPC search campaigns by following these five best practices for responsive search ads:
Add at least one responsive search ad per ad group.
Add several unique headlines and descriptions.
Use popular content from your expanded text ads.
Pin some of the assets to control where they appear in the ad.
Increase ad strength to at least a “good” rating to improve ad performance.
Other best practices recommended by Google include:
You’ve spent hours learning the most effective SEO tactics, but they won’t be useful if you can’t measure them.
Measuring SEO return on investment (ROI) involves two factors: KPIs (key performance indicators) and the cost of your current SEO campaigns. Tracking these key metrics monthly enables you to tweak and optimize your strategy, as well as make educated business decisions.
To get the most bang for your buck (or time), consider using Google Analytics (GA) to calculate your ROI. With GA, you can pinpoint where your audience is coming from, set goals to stay on track, and incorporate the most attractive keywords to rank better in search engines.
Ways to calculate your SEO ROI using Google Analytics
#1 Page value
Page value is an important aspect to consider when talking about ROI.
Think about it like money. In the US, paper money has been dated back to the late 1600s as a way of symbolizing the value of something. Instead of bartering, citizens began attaching a value to a 10 dollar bill or a 100 dollar bill to obtain an item they needed that was worth the equivalent value.
Page value assigns an average monetary value to all pages viewed in a session where a transaction took place. Specifically for e-commerce sites, it helps assign a value to non-transactional pages such as articles and landing pages. This is useful to understand because although a blog didn’t necessarily produce revenue, that doesn’t mean it didn’t contribute to a customer’s buying decision in the future.
With lead generation pages, a value can be assigned to a goal like the contact form submission, so you can more accurately measure whether or not you’re on track.
Below is a visual that depicts how page value is calculated according to Google:
In the first example, Page B is visited once by a user before continuing to the Goal page D (which was assigned a value of $10) and Receipt page E (which generated $100). That means a single pageview of Page B generated $110, which gives us its Page Value.
In equation form, this is how it looks:
Page Value for Page B = E-commerce Revenue ($100) + Total Goal Value ($10) Number of Unique Pageviews for Page B (1) = $110
But not all pageviews lead to a conversion. That’s why it’s important to keep track of data and recalculate your Page Value as more information comes in. Let’s see how this works with the second example.
Here we see two sessions but only one converted to an e-commerce transaction (session 1). So even if we have two unique pageviews for Page B, the e-commerce revenue stays the same. We can then recalculate our Page B’s Page Value using this new information.
Page Value for Page B = e-commerce revenue ($100) + Total Goal Value ($10 x 2 sessions) Number of Unique Pageviews for Page B (2) = $60
With more sessions and more data, you’ll get a better idea of which pages contribute most to your site’s revenue.
#2 E-commerce settings
If you’re not managing an e-commerce business, skip this section. For those of you who do, there’s a more advanced feature on Google Analytics that can prove extremely useful. By turning on the e-commerce settings, you can track sales amounts, the number of orders, billing locations, and even the average order value. In this way, you can equate website usage to sales information and better understand which landing pages or campaigns are performing the best.
How to turn on e-commerce settings
In your Google Analytics left sidebar panel, click on ADMIN > under the VIEW panel (rightmost panel), click on “E-commerce Settings” > Enable E-Commerce > Enable Enhanced E-commerce Reporting.
To finalize this go over to where it says, “Checkout Labeling” underneath the Enhanced E-commerce settings, and under “funnel steps” type in:
Proceed to payment
Below is a picture to better explain these steps:
If you have Shopify or Woocommerce, make sure to set up tracking over there, too, so that Google Analytics can communicate and relay this crucial information to you.
Once you have the E-commerce tracking setup, you’ll have access to the following data:
An overview of your revenue, E-commerce conversion rate, transactions, average order value, and other metrics
Product and sales performance
Shopping and checkout behavior
These give you a better understanding of how your customers are interacting with your site and which products are selling the most. In terms of calculating SEO ROI, knowing the steps that your customers take and the pages they view before making a purchase helps you analyze the value of individual pages and also the effectiveness of your overall SEO content strategy.
#3 Sales Performance
Again, this is for e-commerce only. The sales performance feature shows sales from all sources and mediums. You can view data for organic traffic only and identify its revenue.
How to view your sales performance
In your Google Analytics’ left panel, click on “Conversions” > “E-commerce” > “Sales Performance”.
This gives you an overview of your revenue and a breakdown of each transaction. Tracking this through time and seeing how it trends guides your content strategy.
What is the average transaction amount and what does it tell you about your customers? Does tweaking your copy to promote up-sells or cross-sells have an impact on your per-transaction revenue?
Another set of data that helps you calculate your SEO ROI and optimize your content strategy is your customers’ shopping behavior.
How to see your customers’ shopping behavior in-depth
Click over to “Conversions” > “E-Commerce” > “Shopping Behavior”
At a glance, you can see how effective your purchase funnel is – how many sessions continue from one step to the next? How many people went to your page and didn’t purchase, or added to the cart but didn’t follow through with payment?
This helps you identify areas that need more SEO attention. This also helps you draw projections on how much your revenue can increase by optimizing your copy and implementing SEO to boost organic traffic, which helps you get a better idea of your SEO ROI.
For instance, if there’s a high percentage of users visiting your page but not going through the buying cycle, maybe you need to tweak your copy to include searchable keywords or copy that resonates better with your audience.
Additionally, it’s worth remembering that while this does show organic sales, you can’t identify the keyword that led to that sale, but organic traffic can be an indicator of holistic marketing efforts working. For example, PR may increase brand searches on Google.
Quick tip: you can get an idea of which keywords bring in the most traffic to your website with Google Search Console and then follow the navigation history from Google Analytics in order to connect specific keywords with sales.
Overall, to truly measure the ROI of your SEO you need to discover which keywords are working for your business, because although people may be interested in your business due to some amazing PR exposure, they might not actually be interested in your services. To really hit this one home, select keywords that have purchase intent. That way you can attract more qualified leads to your site.
#4 Engagement Events
If you’re not working on an e-commerce site (hint, hint, my fellow B2B marketers), here’s where you’ll want to pay attention. Both e-commerce and lead generation sites can make use of engagement events.
Align with your sales team to assign a value to a goal based on average order value, the average number of sign-ups, and conversion rate. Although useful for e-commerce, these analytics are likely to be most beneficial for lead generation sites who have longer sales cycles and transactions that occur off-site or after multiple sessions (for example, B2B SaaS or a marketing agency).
Examples of engagement events include:
Newsletter sign up
Contact form submission
Adding to a cart
How to view your campaign engagement data
Click on “Behavior” > “Events” > “Top Events”
Below is an image so you can follow along:
This type of tracking gives greater insight into how people are interacting with parts of your website, and how engaged they are at different parts of the journey. Use it to set goals for your lead generation and investigate whether or not your SEO efforts are paying off.
Let’s say you find that your website gets a ton of traffic to your services page, and a high percentage of those visitors download a case study. This means they’re interested in what you have to offer and would like to see more case studies from you.
Use ROI calculations to make better strategic decisions for your business
Ultimately, when using Google Analytics for SEO, you should work to align business goals with specific measurable metrics so that you can create a long-term plan for sustainable growth. It’s no secret SEO is a powerful tool for your business, but putting it into an actionable and personalized plan to get the train continuously going uphill is what counts.
You may already be familiar with STAT Search Analytics and its rank tracking abilities, but did you know it can also help you discover SEO opportunities on a massive scale? In today’s Whiteboard Friday, Cyrus shows you how to dig into STAT to do just that.
Hi, everybody. Welcome. My name is Cyrus. Today the thing I want to talk about is how to use STAT to find SEO opportunities at scale, and I mean massive scale.
Now a lot of you have probably heard of STAT. You may know that it has an excellent reputation. But it’s possible you haven’t actually used it or have a very good understanding of what it actually does.
So that’s what I’m going to try to cover today and explain how powerful it is at discovering SEO opportunities in ways that can inform content strategy, competitive analysis, and a lot more.
What is STAT?
So STAT, the full name of STAT is actually STAT Search Analytics. On the surface, what a lot of people understand is that it is a rank tracker, tracking thousands of keywords at a time anywhere across the globe. But underneath the hood, it’s actually a lot more than a rank tracker. It’s a rank tracker. It’s a competitive landscape tool. It’s SERP analysis and intent. It allows you to do some pretty incredible things once you dig into the data.
So let me dig into a little bit about how it actually works. So like a lot of keyword rank trackers, you start with keywords. But one of the differences is all the different attributes that you can assign to each of your keywords.
So first is very familiar, the market or the search engine. So you want Canadian English results or Canadian French results. Any market in the world that’s available it’s pretty much available for you to use in STAT.
The second is location, which is a slightly different concept. So you can define ZIP Codes, cities, be as specific as you want. This is very important for multiple location businesses or if you’re running an advertising campaign in a certain part of the country and you want to track very specific results. But you can define location very specifically for each of your keywords.
Third is device, mobile or desktop, especially important with mobile-first indexing and increasing mobile results. But also tags, smart tags, and this is where the true power of STAT comes in, the ways that you can use smart tagging.
So you can tag your keywords in multiple ways, assigning multiple tags to slice them and dice them any way you want.
So different ways that you can tag keywords in STAT is anything that’s important to your business. For example, you can create keyword groups based on what’s important to you. On Moz, we tag keywords with “SEO” in it or anything that’s important to your business that you want to create a keyword cohort out of. Or location, like we were talking about, if you’re running an advertising campaign in Indiana and you want to tag certain keywords that you’re targeting there, something like that. Or all your Kansas city keywords or your London or Berlin keywords.
Product categories. So if you sell multiple categories, you sell TVs, books, dresses, anything you want, you might want to tag all of those into a particular keyword category. Or attributes, such as a 55-inch television versus a 48-inch television, when you want to get very, very specific across your product line.
Also your brand. At Moz, we track everything with the word “Moz” in it, or Nike or Apple or whatever your brand is or if you have multiple brands. Basically, anything that’s important to your business, any KPI that you measure, anything that’s relevant to your marketing department or finance or anything else like that, you can tag, and that’s where the true power comes in, because once you tag, you’ve created a keyword cohort or a group.
Share of voice
Then you can see your share of voice across that entire market using just that group. So if you want to track yourself against a very specific set of keywords, you can see your share of voice, share of voice meaning how much visibility you have in Google search results, and STAT will show you your exact competitors and how you rank among those.
Generally, you want to see yourself going up and to the right. But if you’re not, you can see exactly who’s beating you and where their movement is, and how you’re doing for that specific keyword group, which is incredibly valuable when you’re working on a particular set of keywords or a campaign.
SERP features + intent
But my favorite part — and this is where the true power comes in, because it can inform your content strategy and this is where the SEO opportunities are actually at — is the analysis of SERP features and intent. Because what STAT will do is, out of the thousands of keywords that you put into it, it will analyze the entire SERP of each of those and it will collect all the SERP features that it finds and tell you exactly what you own and don’t own and where your opportunities are.
So let’s give an example that’s a little more concrete. So let’s say you track a bunch of keywords within a particular cohort and you see that most of the results have a featured snippet. STAT will show you exactly what you own and what you don’t own. Now what’s cool about this is you can click into what you don’t own and you can see the exact featured snippets that your competitors own that you can actually create some content strategy around and try and go steal those.
A different way is images or news. So let’s say that you notice that you’re selling TVs or something like that and almost all the SERPs have images and you don’t own any of them. So something like that can inform your content strategy, where you go to your team and you say, “Hey, folks, we need to create more images, or we need better structured data to get Google to show the images because this is the intent for this type of keyword, and we’re simply not owning it in this way.”
Same thing with news. If you notice a lot of news results and you’re not a news organization but you’re competing for these keywords, that can inform your content strategy and maybe you need to go after those news keywords or try something else. Video is another one. More and more SERPs have video results with video carousel and things like that. You can see exactly what you own and what you don’t own.
A lot of times you’re going to find that certain domains are beating you on those videos and that may inform, especially for the high volume keywords that you want to go after, you may want to be creating more video content for that. But it all depends on the SERP, and you’re going to find different feature sets and different combinations for every keyword cohort that you do.
So what’s important to you and what’s important to track it’s going to show up differently every time, but it’s going to show you exactly where the opportunities are. FAQs are another thing, rich snippets sort of results. You may find that your competitors are all using FAQ markup. You’re not using any. That could inform your SEO strategy, and you might start incorporating more FAQs because Google is obviously rewarding those in the SERPs and your competitors are gaining those and not you.
Other things, virtually any SERP feature that’s trackable. You can find local results. Twitter boxes. You may find that for certain queries Google is surfacing Twitter results and maybe that means you need to be on Twitter more than you actually are right now and see who’s ranking for those results instead of something that you’re doing on-site.
Maybe it’s you need to do more YouTube. It’s not all necessarily on your site. But this will tell you where you need to invest those opportunities. Review stars, podcasts, and more. All of this will tell you what’s important and where the opportunities are and where you’re winning and losing and the exact keywords that you can go after if you want to win and the exact feature sets where your competitors are getting traffic and you aren’t.
So I use STAT, I love it, every week. It’s a great tool. If you want to try it out, I encourage you to do so. That’s it for me. Thanks, everybody.
Links drive rankings — that’s one thing that technical SEOs, content marketers, digital PR folks, and even some of #SEOTwitter can agree on. But which rankings, and for which pages on your website?
If you’ve ever wanted to build links that impact rankings for specific pages on your website, we’ve got the guide for you.
Selecting pages for a targeted-impact link building campaign
Preparing a link building campaign often involves helping the client refine their goals in order to be able to effectively measure the campaign. The first step is typically level-setting based on what we can learn from available data.
Comparing link metrics against top competitors will help us size up the competition. Layered against estimated traffic, Page Authority, and SEO “difficulty”, and we’re able to better understand the opportunity. While this isn’t particularly complex or inaccessible, it’s likely deeper than the client has gone, and very often they’re happy to move forward with data-informed recommendations.
If we were preparing a link building campaign for Moz, for example, we might pre-select some sections of the site to focus on in the analysis.
Suppose we start with /products/, /tools/ the beginners guide pages (love those), and a few others that jump out. Here are a few pages from that list:
From here, we would compile a list of competitors based on top keywords for each of the pages. That will let us compare average metrics across the top competitors to the metrics for Moz’s pages.
This dataset represents the top 10 competitors from the top 10 keywords for each of Moz’s pages. Once compiled, we’ll have 90-100 rows of competitor data, give or take, depending on where Moz ranks for each page in the list. We can average the competitor data to make it easy to compare, and spot-check from there to look for outliers, or filter out branded or stray keywords we don’t want to compete for anyway:
Now it’s time to look for opportunities. We can eye-ball the metrics in a shortlist like this, but if we’re looking at hundreds or thousands of pages (even after filtering it down), this gets a little cumbersome. Prioritizing the pages will help us look more quickly through the list and find the best opportunities.
In a scenario where it’s a short pilot program, some of these competitors have scary-high linking root domains, and we’re going to have an idea of a monthly budget to set our pilot up for success by not biting off more than we can chew.
So, we’ll add a couple columns to help some of these stand out. To help find the low-hanging fruit, we might look at the relationship to the gap in linking root domains of the competition and our potential campaign page, and the search volume from those top 10 keywords:
By dividing the link gap into the search volume, we can look at higher priority pages for the campaign based on the probability of reducing the linking root domain gap, in order to improve the client’s share of voice on high-converting pages.
Adding rank-order to the rows will help us look at the best potential opportunities:
From this group of pages, the Moz Pro product page seems to be a pretty tasty candidate. We might stay away from the free SEO tools page since, well, “free” doesn’t necessarily scream REVENUE, but it’s worth a conversation to verify. The same can be said for a couple of those beginner guide pages as well.
Even if none end up in the campaign, we’ll still be able to assess the link gap for pages that ARE the targets, and help steer Moz towards effective linking choices
After a few refinements, we’ll have a very solid set of potential campaign pages to recommend!
Finding your most-impactful audience
We build out our model of audience based on the specific client URL that we’re building links to. So, for sales pages, we’re thinking about where, how, when, and why that product or service fits into the customer’s life. What are its various contexts of use? What circumstances or conditions benefit from the use of this offering?
The offering’s contexts of use are intrinsically relevant to the target URL, whether or not the same keyword is used to describe them. For example, if we target the Moz Pro page identified above, we’d start asking ourselves: “when is it that agencies and in-house SEOs start thinking about SEO tools?”
Perhaps we explore that point where someone has to pick up the SEO projects left behind by someone whose career has taken them elsewhere. What’s the checklist like for following behind another SEO? Additionally, what about an SEO crash course for folks who suddenly find themselves in charge of an SEO department (we’ve spoken with people in this situation before). Both of these scenarios could give ample reason and circumstance to mention SEO tools. For either of these examples, an expert survey, expert interviews, and off-site informational placements could enable contextual linking opportunities.
Let’s step outside of the SEO space though and think about insurance sales pages. We could begin mapping out the circumstances and events in life as one decides to seek insurance: Events like having your first child, becoming an independent contractor, buying a home, having a cardiac-related scare, etc.
From these “use-case brainstorms”, we work up into problem areas — and related queries — that the target audience might be having. These give us a basis for discovering publishers that align the audience of the target page with its contexts of usage. For Moz, we’d likely focus on marketing trade pubs — SEO or not. For the insurance pages, we’d likely start with parenting blogs, health/fitness publishers, websites relating to starting a business, and potentially realtor sites.
For good measure, we frequently examine high ranking pages in the target keyword space to learn more about what we call the “linking context” for a given set of keywords. We’re especially focused on the titles of linking pages. This gives instant insight into topics that make sense for prospect discovery. We usually find things like long form guides, tons of coupon pages, review sites, forums, etc. — all of this gives us a better sense of the linking context.
Combined, use-case brainstorms and linking context analysis help us build out a full picture of the audiences and key problems that will lead us to suitable publishers.
Outreach is simple. Well, sort of.
If you understand what the publisher wants, which is ultimately related to how they make a living, then you figure out how to pitch and deliver just that.
If you’re in the digital PR space pitching journalists, you’re pitching your ability to drive “audience engagement” (as we’ve picked up from Neomam CEO, Gisele Navarro). So your subject line and offer need to clearly drip with page views, click-throughs, and social shares. And your content has to deliver. After all, with the high content costs involved you’ll need to reuse your contacts!
If you’re in broken link building (and to a lesser extent, a tactic like unlinked mentions), you’re offering “visitor experience improvements” to a webmaster or page curator who’s dedicated to a particular audience. With this in mind, your subject line and offer (a fix) must demonstrate value to the target audience, as well as mention the impact the broken link could have on an expectant visitor in need.
We find that when pitching guest content, especially to sales-supported publishers, we see higher conversions when we pitch topics that will help drive the publisher’s traffic or conversions. You can learn more about our guest content approach in this Whiteboard Friday, but again, we lean into pitching “publishing benefits” to the site owner.
So your key question: what is this person’s purpose for publishing to their particular audience? Knowing this helps you determine an offer that will resonate, and earn you a link.
One last bit of advice on outreach: avoid directly implementing subject lines, templates, etc. from other experts. Be inspired by the experts, but remember that their advice involves very specific offers, audiences, and publishers, and they are unlikely to align with your actual circumstances. Study them, for sure, but only for understanding general guidelines.
A quick word on link building tactics
Every functional link building tactic earns its links by meeting the target publisher’s unstated “price” for reaching their audience.
The publisher’s cost can certainly be money, but in the earned link space, we’re usually talking about supplying publishers with value such as exclusive news and information, previously unstated but highly useful advice, articles that could help them sell more products or services, and useful corrections that shore up authority.
We’re reminded, as we discuss value exchange, of a campaign by the link builder Debra Mastaler, in which she offered a cement client’s t-shirt to the members of several dues-supported professional organizations. She not only earned links from the organization websites (who got to provide a “special perk” to their members), but earned business and, of course, brand visibility within their precise target audience. Wow!
So, while a free t-shirt may not work in all verticals, Mastaler reminds us of the most overlooked aspect of link building campaigns: finding publishers who reach your target audience and asking “okay, what can we offer that they will actually want?”. Creative, entrepreneurial thinking — perhaps you could call it marketing instinct? — remains the link builder’s most important tactic.
That said, reviewing the existing array of link building tactics can be very useful, especially as you’re starting out, just as a budding chef spends time reading cookbooks to understand key ingredients and guiding principles. And as it is for the budding chef, your greatest lessons will come from the hours spent in the kitchen, working on your craft.
Check out this graphic for a quick overview of some of the more common tactics and their relationships between the publishers and your desired SEO outcomes:
Measurable link building wins
This is one of the most challenging aspects of a campaign for myriad reasons.
It’s also one of the most effective ways to retain clients, or budget, if you’re on the in-house side.
There are a number of ways to track the performance of a link building campaign, but which methods are chosen largely depends on the tactics deployed. In our case, we’re focused on the content side, and specialize in earning placements to hard-to-link sales landing pages. We approach our measurements of success from the perspective of SEO-related metrics that will show both leading indicators of improvements, and the right performance indicators once we have had impact.
Early on in a campaign, we often see a worsening of average position. The cause of this is typically new keywords ranking on the campaign page. Because the page initially begins to rank on SERP #7 or #8, this will initially pull down the average rank of the page, even if the rank for established keywords is improving.
This graph underscores one of the risks of focusing too heavily on rank as the primary success metric. While average position (the purple line) shows a decline in average position, we can see in the stacked columns that not only is the total number of ranking keywords growing, it’s also growing nicely in positions 1-3 (the blue segment at the top), as well as positions 4-10 (the orange segment 2nd from top). Just not enough to keep up with newly ranking keywords further down in the SERPs.
Correlating ranking changes to ranking keyword count was paramount to continuing this campaign.
While we track and report on average position over time, we certainly don’t lead with it. Instead, we focus on metrics that more directly correlate to traffic and conversions, which positions us for demonstrating positive ROI of the campaign.
The metrics that matter for us are share of voice (a search volume-weighted CTR model) and Moz Page Authority.
Share of voice
The benefit for us of prioritizing share of voice over ranking is that it normalizes dramatic shifts in time series reports based on ranking fluctuations from low-volume queries. Ranking reports, as we all know, can be a serious roller coaster.
Share of voice, on the other hand, aligns with an estimated traffic model, expressed as a percentage of total traffic for the keyword set.
As seen in the graph above, we also include a control group: a second set of pages on the site that are not part of the campaign (and preferably not part of any concerted SEO effort). This second set of pages is chosen from similar sections of the site and from similarly ranking and visited pages when possible, to measure the success of our link building campaign against.
While the graph above does indicate positive growth just with the bars, when we determine the percentage difference between our campaign pages and the control group, the results are even more dramatic.
Another critical metric is Moz Page Authority, which is often another early indicator of imminent success. We sometimes see Page Authority increase even before we see improvement to rankings and share of voice.
And again, tracking against a control group helps to underscore the value of our work.
Another benefit of Page Authority: Third party validation of the direct impact of our work.
While many factors outside of the scope of our link building campaign may affect rank, such as core algorithm updates, gaps in page content, topic misalignment or technical issues inhibiting Google’s full valuation of the page), a metric that is best influenced by “improving a page’s link profile by… getting external links”, aligns very well with our offering.
And hey, we think using a third party metric to validate the hard work we’re doing for our clients is pretty okay in our book (now in its second edition!).
Questions? More link building tips? Share them with us on Twitter.