[Case Study] How We Ranked #1 for a High-Volume Keyword in Under 3 Months

Posted by DmitryDragilev

This blog post was co-written with Brad Zomick, the former Director of Content Marketing at Pipedrive, where this case study took place.

It’s tough out there for SEOs and content marketers. With the sheer amount of quality content being produced, it has become nearly impossible to stand out in most industries.

Recently we were running content marketing for Pipedrive, a sales CRM. We created a content strategy that used educational sales content to educate and build trust with our target audience.

This was a great idea, in theory — we’d educate readers, establish trust, and turn some of our readers into customers.

The problem is that there are already countless others producing similar sales-focused content. We weren’t just competing against other startups for readers; we also had to contend with established companies, sales trainers, strategists, bloggers and large business sites.

The good news is that ranking a strategic keyword is still very much possible. It’s certainly not easy, but with the right process, anyone can rank for their target keyword.

Below, we’re going to show you the process we used to rank on page one for a high-volume keyword.

If you’re not sure about reading ahead, here is a quick summary:

We were able to rank #1 for a high-volume keyword: "sales management" (9,900 search volume). We outranked established sites including SalesManagement.org, Apptus, InsightSquared, Docurated, and even US News, Wikipedia, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. We managed this through good old-fashioned content creation + outreach + guest posting, aka the "Skyscraper Technique."

Here are the eight steps we took to reach our goal (click on a step to jump straight to that section):

  1. Select the right topic
  2. Create bad-ass content for our own blog
  3. Optimize on-page SEO & engagement metrics
  4. Build internal links
  5. Find people who would link to this content
  6. Ask people to link to our content
  7. Write guest posts on leading blogs
  8. Fine-tuning content with TF * IDF

Before we start, understand that this is a labor-intensive process. Winning a top SERP spot required the focus of a 3-person team for the better part of 3 months.

If you’re willing to invest a similar amount of time and effort, read on!


Step 1: Finding a good topic

We wanted three things from our target keyword:

1. Significant keyword volume

If you’re going to spend months ranking for a single keyword, you need to pick something big enough to justify the effort.

In our case, we settled on a keyword with 9,900 searches each month as per the Keyword Planner (1k–10k range after the last update).

That same keyword registered a search volume of 1.7–2.9k in Moz Keyword Explorer, so take AdWords’ estimates with a grain of salt.

One way to settle on a target volume is to see it in terms of your conversion rate and buyer’s journey:

  • Buyer’s journey: Search volume decreases as customers move further along the buyer’s journey. Fewer searches are okay if you’re targeting Decision-stage keywords.
  • Conversion rate: The stronger your conversion rate for each stage of the buyer’s journey, the more you can get away with by targeting a low search volume keyword.

Also consider the actual traffic from the keyword, not just search volume.

For instance, we knew from Moz’s research that the first result gets about 30% of all clicks.

For a keyword with 9,900 search volume, this would translate into over 3,000 visitors/month for a top position.

If we could convert even 5% of these into leads, we’d net over 1,800 leads each year, which makes it worth our time.

2. Pick a winnable topic

Some SERPs are incredibly competitive. For instance, if you’re trying to rank for "content marketing," you’ll find that the first page is dominated by CMI (DA 84):

You might be able to fight out a first-page rank, but it’s really not worth the effort in 99% of cases.

So our second requirement was to see if we could actually rank for our shortlisted keywords.

This can be done in one of two ways:

Informal method

The old-fashioned way to gauge keyword difficulty is to simply eyeball SERPs for your selected keywords.

If you see a lot of older articles, web 1.0 pages, unrecognizable brands, and generic content sites, the keyword should be solid.

On the other hand, if the first page is dominated by big niche brands with in-depth articles, you’ll have a hard time ranking well.

I also recommend using the MozBar to check metrics on the fly. If you see a ton of high DA/PA pages, move on to another keyword.

In our case, the top results mostly comprised of generic content sites or newish domains.

Moz Keyword Explorer

Moz’s Keyword Explorer gives you a more quantifiable way to gauge keyword difficulty. You’ll get actual difficulty vs. potential scores.

Aim for a competitiveness score under 50 and opportunity/potential scores above 50. If you get scores beyond this threshold, keep looking.

Of course, if you have an established domain, you can target more difficult keywords.

Following this step, we had a shortlist of four keywords:

  1. sales techniques (8100)
  2. sales process (8100)
  3. sales management (9900)
  4. sales forecast (4400)

We could have honestly picked anything from this list, but for added impact, we decided to add another filter.

3. Strategic relevance

If you’re going to turn visitors into leads, it’s important to focus on keywords that are strategically relevant to your conversion goals.

In our case, we chose “sales management” as the target keyword.

We did this because Pipedrive is a sales management tool, so the keyword describes us perfectly.

Additionally, a small business owner searching for “sales management” has likely moved from Awareness to Consideration and thus, is one step closer to buying.

In contrast, “sales techniques” and “sales forecast” are keywords a sales person would search for, not a sales leader or small business owner (decision-makers).


Step 2: Writing a bad-ass piece of content

Content might not be king anymore, but it is still the foundation of good SEO. We wanted to get this part absolutely right.

Here’s the process we followed to create our content:

1. Extremely thorough research

We had a simple goal from the start: create something substantially better than anything in the top SERPs.

To get there, we started by reviewing every article ranking for “sales management,” noting what we liked and what we didn’t.

For instance, we liked how InsightSquared started the article with a substantive quote. We didn’t like how Apptus went overboard with headers.

We also looked for anomalies. One thing that caught our attention was that two of the top 10 results were dedicated to the keyword “sales manager.”

We took note of this and made sure to talk about “sales managers” in our article.

We also looked at related searches at the bottom of the page:

We also scoured more than 50 sales-related books for chapters about sales management.

Finally, we also talked to some real salespeople. This step helped us add expert insight that outsourced article writers just don’t have.

At the end, we had a superior outline of what we were going to write.

2. Content creation

You don’t need to be a subject matter expert to create an excellent piece of content.

What you do need is good writing skills... and the discipline to actually finish an article.

Adopt a journalistic style where you report insight from experts. This gives you a better end-product since you’re curating insight and writing it far better than subject matter experts.

Unfortunately, there is no magic bullet to speed up the writing part — you’ll just have to grind it out. Set aside a few days at least to write anything substantive.

There are a few things we learned through the content creation experience:

  1. Don’t multi-task. Go all-in on writing and don’t stop until it’s done.
  2. Work alone. Writing is a solitary endeavor. Work in a place where you won’t be bothered by coworkers.
  3. Listen to ambient music. Search “homework edit” on YouTube for some ambient tracks, or use a site like Noisli.com

Take tip #1 as non-negotiable. We tried to juggle a couple of projects and finishing the article ended up taking two weeks. Learn from our mistake — focus on writing alone!

Before you hit publish, make sure to get some editorial feedback from someone on your team, or if possible, a professional editor.

We also added a note at the end of the article where we solicit feedback for future revisions.

If you can’t get access to editors, at the very least put your article through Grammarly.

3. Add lots of visuals and make content more readable

Getting visuals in B2B content can be surprisingly challenging. This is mostly due to the fact that there are a lot of abstract, hard-to-visualize concepts in B2B writing.

This is why we found a lot of blog posts like this with meaningless stock images:

To avoid this, we decided to use four custom images spread throughout the article.

We wanted to use visuals to:

  • Illustrate abstract concepts and ideas
  • Break up the content into more readable chunks.
  • Emphasize key takeaways in a readily digestible format

We could have done even more — prolific content creators like Neil Patel often use images every 200–300 words.

Aside from imagery, there are a few other ways to break up and highlight text to make your content more readable.

  • Section headers
  • Bullets and numbered lists
  • Small paragraphs
  • Highlighted text
  • Blockquotes
  • Use simple words

We used most of these tactics, especially blockquotes to create sub-sections.

Given our audience — sales leaders and managers — we didn’t have to bother with dumbing down our writing. But if you’re worried that your writing is too complex, try using an app like Hemingway to edit your draft.


Step 3: Optimize on-page SEO and engagement metrics

Here’s what we did to optimize on-page SEO:

1. Fix title

We wanted traffic from people searching for keywords related to “sales management,” such as:

  • “Sales management definition” (currently #2)
  • “Sales management process” (currently #1)
  • “Sales management strategies” (currently #4)
  • “Sales management resources” (currently #3)

To make sure we tapped all these keywords, we changed our main H1 header tag to include the words definition, process, strategies, and resources.

These are called “modifiers” in SEO terms.

Google is now smart enough to know that a single article can cover multiple related keywords. Adding such modifiers helped us increase our potential traffic.

2. Fix section headers

Next, we used the right headers for each section:

Instead of writing “sales management definition,” we used an actual question a reader might ask.

Here’s why:

  • It makes the article easier to read
  • It's a natural question, which makes it more likely to rank for voice searches and Google’s “answers”

We also peppered related keywords in headers throughout the article. Note how we used the keyword at the beginning of the header, not at the end:

We didn’t want to go overboard with the keywords. Our goal was to give readers something they’d actually want to read.

This is why our <h2> tag headers did not have any obvious keywords:

This helps the article read naturally while still using our target keywords.

3. Improve content engagement

Notice the colon and the line break at the very start of the article:

This is a “bucket brigade”: an old copywriting trick to grab a reader’s attention.

We used it at the beginning of the article to stop readers from hitting the back button and going back to Google (i.e. increase our dwell time).

We also added outgoing and internal links to the article.

4. Fix URL

According to research, shorter URLs tend to rank better than longer ones.

We didn’t pay a lot of attention to the URL length when we first started blogging.

Here’s one of our blog post URLs from 2013:

Not very nice, right?

For this post, we used a simple, keyword-rich URL:

Ideally, we wouldn’t have the /2016/05/ bit, but by now, it’s too late to change.

5. Improve keyword density

One common piece of on-page SEO advice is to add your keywords to the first 100 words of your content.

If you search for “sales management” on our site, this is what you’ll see:

If you’re Googlebot, you’d have no confusion what this article was about: sales management.

We also wanted to use related keywords in the article without it sounding over-optimized. Gaetano DiNardi, our SEO manager at the time, came up with a great solution to fix this:

We created a “resources” or “glossary” section to hit a number of related keywords while still being useful. Here's an example:

It’s important to make these keyword mentions as organic as possible.

As a result of this on-page keyword optimization, traffic increased sharply.

We over-optimized keyword density in the beginning, which likely hurt rankings. Once we spotted this, we changed things around and saw an immediate improvement (more on this below).


Step 4: Build internal links to article

Building internal links to your new content can be surprisingly effective when promoting content.

As Moz has already written before:

“Internal links are most useful for establishing site architecture and spreading link juice.”

Essentially, these links:

  • Help Googlebot discover your content
  • Tell Google that a particular page is “important” on your site since a lot of pages point to it

Our approach to internal linking was highly strategic. We picked two kinds of pages:

1. Pages that had high traffic and PA. You can find these in Google Analytics under Behavior --> Site Content.

2. Pages where the keyword already existed unlinked. You can use this query to find such pages:

Site:[yoursite.com] “your keyword”

In our case, searching for “sales management” showed us a number of mentions:

After making a list of these pages, we dove into our CMS and added internal links by hand.

These new links from established posts showed Google that we thought of this page as “important.”


Step 5: Finding link targets

This is where things become more fun. In this step, we used our detective SEO skills to find targets for our outreach campaign.

There are multiple ways to approach this process, but the easiest — and the one we followed — is to simply find sites that had linked to our top competitors.

We used Open Site Explorer to crawl the top ten results for backlinks.

By digging beyond the first page, we managed to build up a list of hundreds of prospects, which we exported to Excel.

This was still a very “raw” list. To maximize our outreach efficiency, we filtered out the following from our list:

  • Sites with DA under 30.
  • Sites on free blog hosts like Blogspot.com, WordPress.com, etc.

This gave us a highly targeted list of hundreds of prospects.

Here’s how we organized our Excel file:

Finding email addresses

Next step: find email addresses.

This has become much easier than it used to be thanks to a bunch of new tools. We used EmailHunter (Hunter.io) but you can also use VoilaNorbert, Email Finder, etc.

EmailHunter works by finding the pattern people use for emails on a domain name, like this:

To use this tool, you will need either the author’s name or the editor/webmaster’s name.

In some cases, the author of the article is clearly displayed.

In case you can’t find the author’s name (happens in case of guest posts), you’ll want to find the site’s editor or content manager.

LinkedIn is very helpful here.

Try a query like this:

site:linkedin.com “Editor/Blog Editor” at “[SiteName]”.

Once you have a name, plug the domain name into Hunter.io to get an email address guess of important contacts.


Step 6: Outreach like crazy

After all the data retrieval, prioritization, deduping, and clean up, we were left with hundreds of contacts to reach out to.

To make things easier, we segmented our list into two categories:

  • Category 1: Low-quality, generic sites with poor domain authority. You can send email templates to them without any problems.
  • Category 2: Up-and-coming bloggers/authoritative sites we wanted to build relationships with. To these sites, we sent personalized emails by hand.

With the first category of sites, our goal was volume instead of accuracy.

For the second category, our objective was to get a response. It didn’t matter whether we got a backlink or not — we wanted to start a conversation which could yield a link or, better, a relationship.

You can use a number of tools to make outreach easier. Here are a few of these tools:

  1. JustReachOut
  2. MixMax
  3. LeadIQ
  4. Toutapp
  5. Prospectify

We loved using a sales tool called MixMax. Its ability to mail merge outreach templates and track open rates works wonderfully well for SEO outreach.

If you’re looking for templates, here’s one email we sent out:

Let’s break it down:

  1. Curiosity-evoking headline: Small caps in the subject line makes the email look authentic. The “something missing” part evokes curiosity.
  2. Name drop familiar brands: Name dropping your relationship to familiar brands is another good way to show your legitimacy. It’s also a good idea to include a link to their article to jog their memory.
  3. What’s missing: The meat of the email. Make sure that you’re specific here.
  4. The “why”: Your prospects need a “because” to link to you. Give actual details as to what makes it great — in-depth research, new data, or maybe a quote or two from Rand Fishkin.
  5. Never demand a link: Asking for feedback first is a good way to show that you want a genuine conversation, not just a link.

This is just one example. We tested 3 different emails initially and used the best one for the rest of the campaign. Our response rate for the whole campaign was 42%.


Step 7: Be prepared to guest post

Does guest blogging still work?

If you’re doing it for traffic and authority, I say: go ahead. You are likely putting your best work out there on industry-leading blogs. Neither your readers nor Google will mind that.

In our case, guest blogging was already a part of our long-term content marketing strategy. The only thing we changed was adding links to our sales management post within guest posts.

Your guest post links should have contextual reference, i.e. the post topic and link content should match. Otherwise, Google might discount the link, even if it is dofollow.

Keep this in mind when you start a guest blogging campaign. Getting links isn’t enough; you need contextually relevant links.

Here are some of the guest posts we published:

  • 7 Keys to Scaling a Startup Globally [INC]
  • An Introduction to Activity-Based Selling [LinkedIn]
  • 7 Tips for MBAs Entering Sales Management Careers [TopMBA]

We weren’t exclusively promoting our sales management post in any of these guest posts. The sales management post just fit naturally into the context, so we linked to it.

If you’re guest blogging in 2017, this is the approach you need to adopt.


Step 8: Fine-tuning content with TF * IDF

After the article went live, we realized that we had heavily over-optimized it for the term “sales management.” It occurred 48 times throughout the article, too much for a 2,500 word piece.

Moreover, we hadn’t always used the term naturally in the article.

To solve this problem, we turned to TF-IDF.

Recognizing TF-IDF as a ranking factor

TF-IDF (Term Frequency-Inverse Document Frequency) is a way to figure out how important a word is in a document based on how frequently it appears in it.

This is a pretty standard statistical process in information retrieval. It is also one of the oldest ranking factors in Google’s algorithms.

Hypothesis: We hypothesized that dropping the number of "sales management" occurrences from 48 to 20 and replacing it with terms that have high lexical relevance would improve rankings.

Were we right?

See for yourself:

Our organic pageviews increased from nearly 0 to over 5,000 in just over 8 months.

Note that no new links or link acquisition initiatives were actively in-progress during the time of this mini-experiment.

Experiment timeline:

  • July 18th – Over-optimized keyword recognized.
  • July 25th - Content team finished updating body copy, H2s with relevant topics/synonyms.
  • July 26th - Updated internal anchor text to include relevant terms.
  • July 27th - Flushed cache & re-submitted to Search Console.
  • August 4th - Improved from #4 to #2 for "Sales Management"
  • August 17 - Improved from #2 to #1 for "Sales Management"

The results were fast. We were able to normalize our content and see results within weeks.

We’ll show you our exact process below.

Normalization process — How did we do it?

The normalization process focused on identifying over-optimized terms, replacing them with related words and submitting the new page to search engines.

Here’s how we did it:

1. Identifying over-optimized term(s)

We started off using Moz’s on-page optimization tool to scan our page.

According to Moz, we shouldn’t have used the target term — “sales management” — more than 15 times. This means we had to drop 33 occurrences.

2. Finding synonymous terms with high lexical relevance

Next, we had to replace our 28+ mentions with synonyms that wouldn’t feel out of place.

We used Moz's Keyword Explorer to get some ideas.

3. Removed “sales management” from H2 headings

Initially, we had the keyword in both H1 and H2 headings, which was just overkill.

We removed it from H2 headings and used lexically similar variants instead for better flow.

4. Diluted “sales management” from body copy

We used our list of lexically relevant words to bring down the number of “sales management” occurrences to under 20. This was perfect for 2,500+ word article.

5. Diversify internal anchors

While we were changing our body copy, we realized that we also needed more anchor text diversity for our internal links.

Our anchors cloud was mostly “sales management” links:

We diversified this list by adding links to related terms like “sales manager,” “sales process,” etc.

6. Social amplification

We ramped up our activity on LinkedIn and Facebook to get the ball rolling on social shares.

The end result of this experimentation was an over 100% increase in traffic between August ‘16 to January ‘17.

The lesson?

Don’t just build backlinks — optimize your on-page content as well!


Conclusion

There’s a lot to learn from this case study. Some findings were surprising for us as well, particularly the impact of keyword density normalization.

While there are a lot of tricks and tactics detailed here, you’ll find that the fundamentals are essentially the same as what Rand and team have been preaching here for years. Create good content, reach out to link prospects, and use strategic guest posts to get your page to rank.

This might sound like a lot of work, but the results are worth it. Big industry players like Salesforce and Oracle actually advertise on AdWords for this term. While they have to pay for every single click, Pipedrive gets its clicks for free.


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The Best Types of Content for Local Businesses: Building Geo-Topical Authority

Posted by MiriamEllis

bestcontentlocalbusiness.jpg

Q: What kind of content should a local business develop?

A: The kind that converts!

Okay, you could have hit on that answer yourself, but as this post aims to demonstrate:

  1. There are almost as many user paths to conversion as there are customers in your city, and
  2. Your long-term goal is to become the authority in your industry and geography that consumers and search engines turn to.

Google’s widely publicized concept of micro-moments has been questioned by some local SEOs for its possible oversimplification of consumer behavior. Nevertheless, I think it serves as a good, basic model for understanding how a variety of human needs (I want to do, know, buy something, or go somewhere) leads people onto the web. When a local business manages to become a visible solution to any of these needs, the rewards can include:

  • Online traffic
  • In-store traffic
  • Transactions
  • Reviews/testimonials
  • Clicks-for-directions
  • Clicks-to-call
  • Clicks-to-website
  • Social sharing
  • Offline word-of-mouth
  • Good user metrics like time-on-page, low bounce rate, etc.

Takeaway: Consumers have a variety of needs and can bestow a variety of rewards that directly or indirectly impact local business reputation, rankings and revenue when these needs are well-met.

No surprise: it will take a variety of types of content publication to enjoy the full rewards it can bring.

Proviso: There will be nuances to the best types of content for each local business based on geo-industry and average consumer. Understandably, a cupcake bakery has a more inviting topic for photographic content than does a septic services company, but the latter shouldn’t rule out the power of an image of tree roots breaking into a septic line as a scary and effective way to convert property owners into customers. Point being, you’ll be applying your own flavor to becoming a geo-topical authority as you undertake the following content development work:

Foundational local business content development

These are the basics almost every local business will need to publish.

Customer service policy

Every single staff member who interacts with your public must be given a copy of your complete customer service policy. Why? A 2016 survey by the review software company GetFiveStars demonstrated that 57% of consumer complaints revolve around customer service and employee behavior. To protect your local business’ reputation and revenue, the first content you create should be internal and should instruct all forward-facing employees in approved basic store policies, dress, cleanliness, language, company culture, and allowable behaviors. Be thorough! Yes, you may wear a t-shirt. No, you may not text your friends while waiting on tables.

Customer rights guarantee

On your website, publish a customer-focused version of your policy. The Vermont Country Store calls this a Customer Bill of Rights which clearly outlines the quality of service consumers should expect to experience, the guarantees that protect them, and the way the business expects to be treated, as well.

NAP

Don’t overlook the three most important pieces of content you need to publish on your website: your company name, address, and phone number. Make sure they are in crawlable HTML (not couched in an image or a problematic format like Flash). Put your NAP at the top of your Contact Us page and in the site-wide masthead or footer so that humans and bots can immediately and clearly identify these key features of your business. Be sure your NAP is consistent across all pages for your site (not Green Tree Consulting on one page and Green Tree Marketing on another, or wrong digits in a phone number or street address on some pages). And, ideally, mark up your NAP with Schema to further assist search engine comprehension of your data.

Reviews/testimonials page

On your website, your reviews/testimonials page can profoundly impact consumer trust, comprising a combination of unique customer sentiment you’ve gathered via a form/software (or even from handwritten customer notes) and featured reviews from third-party review platforms (Google, Yelp). Why make this effort? As many as 92% of consumers now read online reviews and Google specifically cites testimonials as a vehicle for boosting your website’s trustworthiness and reputation.

Reviews/testimonials policy

Either on your Reviews/Testimonials page or on a second page of your website, clearly outline your terms of service for reviewers. Just like Yelp, you need to protect the quality of the sentiment-oriented content you publish and should let consumers know what you permit/forbid. Here’s a real-world example of a local business review TOS page I really like, at Barbara Oliver Jewelry.

Homepage

Apart from serving up some of the most fundamental content about your business to search engines, your homepage should serve two local consumer groups: those in a rush and those in research mode.

Pro tip: Don’t think of your homepage as static. Change up your content regularly there and track how this impacts traffic/conversions.

Contact Us page

On this incredibly vital website page, your content should include:

  • Complete NAP
  • All supported contact methods (forms, email, fax, live chat, after-hours hotline, etc.),
  • Thorough driving directions from all entry points, including pointers for what to look for on the street (big blue sign, next to red church, across the street from swim center, etc.)
  • A map
  • Exterior images of your business
  • Attributes like parking availability and wheelchair accessibility
  • Hours of operation
  • Social media links
  • Payment forms accepted (cash only, BitCoin, etc.)
  • Mention of proximity to major nearby points of interest (national parks, monuments, etc.)
  • Brief summary of services with a nod to attributes ("Stop by the Starlight tonight for late-night food that satisfies!")
  • A fresh call-to-action (like visiting the business for a Memorial Day sale)

Store locator pages

For a multi-location businesses (like a restaurant chain), you’ll be creating content for a set of landing pages to represent each of your physical locations, accessed via a top-level menu if you have a few locations, or via a store locator widget if you have many. These should feature the same types of content a Contact Us page would for a single-location business, and can also include:

  • Reviews/testimonials for that location
  • Location-specific special offers
  • Social media links specific to that location
  • Proofs of that location’s local community involvement
  • Highlights of staff at that location
  • Education about availability of in-store beacons or apps for that location
  • Interior photos specific to that location
  • A key call-to-action

For help formatting all of this great content sensibly, please read Overcoming Your Fear of Local Landing Pages.

City landing pages

Similar to the multi-location business, the service area business (like a plumber) can also develop a set of customer-centric landing pages. These pages will represent each of the major towns or cities the business serves, and while they won’t contain a street address if the company lacks a physical location in a given area, they can contain almost everything else a Contact Us page or Store Locator page would, plus:

  • Documentation of projects completed in that city (text, photos, video)
  • Expert advice specific to consumers in that city, based on characteristics like local laws, weather, terrain, events, or customs
  • Showcasing of services provided to recognized brands in that city ("we wash windows at the Marriott Hotel," etc.)
  • Reviews/testimonials from customers in that city
  • Proofs of community involvement in that city (events, sponsorships, etc.)
  • A key call-to-action

Product/service descriptions

Regardless of business model, all local businesses should devote a unique page of content to each major product or service they offer. These pages can include:

  • A thorough text description
  • Images
  • Answers to documented FAQs
  • Price/time quotes
  • Technical specs
  • Reviews of the service or product
  • Videos
  • Guarantees
  • Differentiation from competitors (awards won, lowest price, environmental standards, lifetime support, etc.)

For inspiration, I recommend looking at SolarCity’s page on solar roofing. Beautiful and informative.

Images

For many industries, image content truly sells. Are you "wowed" looking at the first image you see of this B&B in Albuquerque, the view from this restaurant in San Diego, or the scope of this international architectural firm’s projects? But even if your industry doesn’t automatically lend itself to wow-factor visuals, cleaning dirty carpets can be presented with high class and even so-called “boring” industries can take a visual approach to data that yields interesting and share-worthy/link-worthy graphics.

While you’re snapping photos, don’t neglect uploading them to your Google My Business listings and other major citations. Google data suggests that listing images influence click-through rates!

FAQ

The content of your FAQ page serves multiple purposes. Obviously, it should answer the questions your local business has documented as being asked by your real customers, but it can also be a keyword-rich page if you have taken the time to reflect the documented natural language of your consumers. If you’re just starting out and aren’t sure what types of questions your customers will ask, try AnswerThePublic and Q&A crowdsourcing sites to brainstorm common queries.

Be sure your FAQ page contains a vehicle for consumers to ask a question so that you can continuously document their inquiries, determine new topics to cover on the FAQ page, and even find inspiration for additional content development on your website or blog for highly popular questions.

About page

For the local customer in research mode, your About page can seal the deal if you have a story to tell that proves you are in the best possible alignment with their specific needs and desires. Yes, the About Us page can tell the story of your business or your team, but it can also tell the story of why your consumers choose you.

Take a look at this About page for a natural foods store in California and break it down into elements:

  • Reason for founding company
  • Difference-makers (95% organic groceries, building powered by 100% renewable energy)
  • Targeted consumer alignment (support local alternative to major brand, business inspired by major figure in environmental movement)
  • Awards and recognition from government officials and organizations
  • Special offer (5-cent rebate if you bring your own bag)
  • Timeline of business history
  • Video of the business story
  • Proofs of community involvement (organic school lunch program)
  • Links to more information

If the ideal consumer for this company is an eco-conscious shopper who wants to support a local business that will, in turn, support the city in which they live, this About page is extremely persuasive. Your local business can take cues from this real-world example, determining what motivates and moves your consumer base and then demonstrating how your values and practices align.

Calls to action

CTAs are critical local business content, and any website page which lacks one represents a wasted opportunity. Entrepreneur states that the 3 effective principles of calls to action are visibility, clear/compelling messaging, and careful choice of supporting elements. For a local business, calls to action on various pages of your website might direct consumers to:

  • Come into your location
  • Call
  • Fill out a form
  • Ask a question/make a comment or complaint
  • Livechat with a rep
  • Sign up for emails/texts or access to offers
  • Follow you on social media
  • Attend an in-store event/local event
  • Leave a review
  • Fill out a survey/participate in a poll

Ideally, CTAs should assist users in doing what they want to do in alignment with the actions the business hopes the consumer will take. Audit your website and implement a targeted CTA on any page currently lacking one. Need inspiration? This Hubspot article showcases mainly virtual companies, but the magic of some of the examples should get your brain humming.

Local business listings

Some of the most vital content being published about your business won't exist on your website — it will reside on your local business listings on the major local business data platforms. Think Google My Business, Facebook, Acxiom, Infogroup, Factual, YP, Apple Maps, and Yelp. While each platform differs in the types of data they accept from you for publication, the majority of local business listings support the following content:

  • NAP
  • Website address
  • Business categories
  • Business description
  • Hours of operation
  • Images
  • Marker on a map
  • Additional phone numbers/fax numbers
  • Links to social, video, and other forms of media
  • Attributes (payments accepted, parking, wheelchair accessibility, kid-friendly, etc.)
  • Reviews/owner responses

The most important components of your business are all contained within a thorough local business listing. These listings will commonly appear in the search engine results when users look up your brand, and they may also appear for your most important keyword searches, profoundly impacting how consumers discover and choose your business.

Your objective is to ensure that your data is accurate and complete on the major platforms and you can quickly assess this via a free tool like Moz Check Listing. By ensuring that the content of your listings is error-free, thorough, and consistent across the web, you are protecting the rankings, reputation, and revenue of your local business. This is a very big deal!

Third-party review profiles

While major local business listing platforms (Google My Business, Facebook, Yelp) are simultaneously review platforms, you may need to seek inclusion on review sites that are specific to your industry or geography. For example, doctors may want to manage a review profile on HealthGrades and ZocDoc, while lawyers may want to be sure they are included on Avvo.

Whether your consumers are reviewing you on general or specialized platforms, know that the content they are creating may be more persuasive than anything your local business can publish on its own. According to one respected survey, 84% of consumers trust online reviews as much as they trust personal recommendations and 90% of consumers read less than 10 reviews to form a distinct impression of your business.

How can local businesses manage this content which so deeply impacts their reputation, rankings, and revenue? The answer is twofold:

  1. First, refer back to the beginning of this article to the item I cited as the first document you must create for your business: your customer service policy. You can most powerfully influence the reviews you receive via the excellence of your staff education and training.
  2. Master catching verbal and social complaints before they turn into permanent negative reviews by making your business complaint-friendly. And then move onto the next section of this article.

Owner responses

Even with the most consumer-centric customer service policies and the most detailed staff training, you will not be able to fully manage all aspects of a customer’s experience with your business. A product may break, a project be delayed, or a customer may have a challenging personality. Because these realities are bound to surface in reviews, you must take advantage of the best opportunity you have to manage sentiment after it has become a written review: the owner response.

You are not a silent bystander, sitting wordless on the sidelines while the public discusses your business. The owner response function provided by many review sites gives you a voice. This form of local business content, when properly utilized, can:

  • Save you money by winning back a dissatisfied existing customer instead of having to invest a great deal more in winning an entirely new one;
  • Inspire an unhappy customer to update a negative review with improved sentiment, including a higher star rating; and
  • Prove to all other potential customers who encounter your response that you will take excellent care of them.

You’ll want to respond to both positive and negative reviews. They are free Internet real estate on highly visible websites and an ideal platform for showcasing the professionalism, transparency, accountability, empathy, and excellence of your company. For more on this topic, please read Mastering the Owner Response to the Quintet of Google My Business Reviews.

Once you have developed and are managing all of the above content, your local business has created a strong foundation on the web. Depending on the competitiveness of your geo-industry, the above work will have won you a certain amount of local and organic visibility. Need better or broader rankings and more customers? It’s time to grow with:

Structural local business content development

These are options for creating a bigger structure for your local business on the web, expanding the terms you rank for and creating multiple paths for consumer discovery. We’ll use Google’s 4 micro-moment terms as a general guide + real-world examples for inspiration.

I want to do

  1. A homeowner wants to get her house in Colorado Springs ready to sell. In her search for tips, she encounters this Ultimate Home Seller’s To-Do Checklist & Infographic. Having been helped by the graphic, she may turn to the realty firm that created it for professional assistance.
  2. A dad wants to save money by making homemade veggie chips for his children. He’s impressed with the variety of applicable root vegetables featured in this 52-second video tutorial from Whole Foods. And now he’s also been shown where he can buy that selection of produce.
  3. A youth in California wants to become a mountain climber. He discovers this website page describing guided hikes up nearby Mount Whitney, but it isn’t the text that really gets him — it’s the image gallery. He can share those exciting photos with his grandmother on Facebook to persuade her to chaperone him on an adventure together.

I want to know

  1. A tech worker anywhere in America wants to know how to deal with digital eye strain and she encounters this video from Kaiser Permanente, which gives tips and also recommends getting an eye exam every 1–2 years. The worker now knows where she could go locally for such an exam and other health care needs.
  2. A homeowner in the SF Bay Area wants to know how to make his place more energy efficient to save on his bills. He finds this solar company’s video on YouTube with a ton of easy tips. They’ve just made a very good brand impression on the homeowner, and this company serves locally. Should he decide at some point to go the whole nine yards and install solar panels, this brand’s name is now connected in his mind with that service.
  3. A gardener wants to know how to install a drip irrigation system in her yard and she encounters this major hardware store brand’s video tutorial. There’s a branch of this store in town, and now she knows where she can find all of the components that will go into this project.

I want to go

  1. While it’s true that most I-want-to-go searches will likely lead to local pack results, additional website content like this special gluten-free menu an independently owned pizza place in Houston has taken the time to publish should seal the deal for anyone in the area who wants to go out for pizza while adhering to their dietary requirements.
  2. A busy Silicon Valley professional is searching Google because they want to go to a "quiet resort in California." The lodgings, which have been lucky enough to be included on this best-of list from TripAdvisor, didn’t have to create this content — their guests have done it for them by mentioning phrases like "quiet place" and "quiet location" repeatedly in their reviews. The business just has to provide the experience, and, perhaps promote this preferred language in their own marketing. Winning inclusion on major platforms’ best-of lists for key attributes of your business can be very persuasive for consumers who want to go somewhere specific.
  3. An ornithologist is going to speak at a conference in Medford, OR. As he always does when he goes on a trip, he looks for a bird list for the area and encounters this list of local bird walks published by a Medford nature store. He’s delighted to discover that one of the walks corresponds with his travel dates, and he’s also just found a place to do a little shopping during his stay.

I want to buy

  1. Two cousins in Atlanta want to buy their uncle dinner for his birthday, but they’re on a budget. One sees this 600+ location restaurant chain’s tweet about how dumb it is to pay for chips and salsa. Check this out @cousin, he tweets, and they agree their wallets can stretch for the birthday dinner.
  2. An off-road vehicle enthusiast in Lake Geneva, WI wants to buy insurance for his ride, but who offers this kind of coverage? A local insurance agent posts his video on this topic on his Facebook page. Connection!
  3. A family in Hoboken, NJ wants to buy a very special cake for an anniversary party. A daughter finds these mouth-watering photos on Pinterest while a son finds others on Instagram, and all roads lead to the enterprising Carlo’s Bakery.

In sum, great local business content can encompass:

  • Website/blog content
  • Image content including infographics and photos
  • Social content
  • Video content
  • Inclusion in best-of type lists on prominent publications

Some of these content forms (like professional video or photography creation) represent a significant financial investment that may be most appropriate for businesses in highly competitive markets. The creation of tools and apps can also be smart (but potentially costly) undertakings. Others (like the creation of a tweet or a Facebook post) can be almost free, requiring only an investment of time that can be made by local businesses at all levels of commerce.

Becoming a geo-topical authority

Your keyword and consumer research are going to inform the particular content that would best serve the needs of your specific customers. Rand Fishkin recently highlighted here on the Moz Blog that in order to stop doing SEO like it’s 2012, you must aim to become an entity that Google associates with a particular topic.

For local business owners, the path would look something like when anyone in my area searches for any topic that relates to our company, we want to appear in:

  • local pack rankings with our Google My Business listing
  • major local data platforms with our other listings
  • major review sites with our profiles and owner responses
  • organic results with our website’s pages and posts
  • social platforms our customers use with our contributions
  • video results with our videos
  • image search results with our images
  • content of important third-party websites that are relevant either to our industry or to our geography

Basically, every time Google or a consumer reaches for an answer to a need that relates to your topic and city, you should be there offering up the very best content you can produce. Over time, over years of publication of content that consistently applies to a given theme, you will be taking the right steps to become an authority in Google’s eyes, and a household brand in the lives of your consumers.


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Launching a New Website: Your SEO Checklist – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by randfish

Hovering your finger over the big red "launch" button for your new website? Hold off for just a second (or 660 of them, rather). There may be SEO considerations you haven't accounted for yet, from a keyword-to-URL content map to sweeping for crawl errors to setting up proper tracking. In today's Whiteboard Friday, Rand covers five big boxes you need to check off before finally setting that site live.


SEO checklist when launching a new website

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

Video Transcription

Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week we're going to talk about launching a new website and the SEO process that you've got to go through. Now, it's not actually that long and cumbersome. But there are a few things that I put into broad categories, where if you do these as you're launching a new site or before you launch that new site, your chances of having success with SEO long term and especially in those first few months is going to go way up.

1. Keyword to URL map for your content

So let's get started with number one here. What I'm suggesting that you do is, as you look across the site that you've built, go and do some keyword research. There are a lot of Whiteboard Fridays and blog posts that we've written here at Moz about great ways to do keyword research. But do that keyword research and create a list that essentially maps all of the keywords you are initially targeting to all of the URLs, the pages that you have on your new website.

So it should look something like this. It's got the URL, so RandsAnimals.com, targeting the keyword "amazing animals," and here's the page title and here's the meta description. Then, I've got RandsAnimals.com/lemurs, which is my page about lemurs, and that's targeting "lemurs" and "lemur habits." There's the title.

You want to go through these and make sure that if you have an important keyword that you have not yet targeted, you do so, and likewise, that if you've got a URL, a page on your website that you have not yet intentionally targeted a keyword with, you make sure to do that as well. This can be a great way to go through a small site in the early stages and make sure that you've got some terms and phrases that you're actually targeting. This will be also helpful when you do your rank tracking and your on-page optimization later on.

2. Accessibility, crawl, and UX

So what I want you to do here is to ask yourself:

I. "Are the pages and the content on my website accessible to search engines?"

There are some great ways to check these. You can use something like Screaming Frog or Google Search Console. You could use Moz Pro, or OnPage.org, to basically run a scan of your site and make sure that crawlers can get to all the pages, that you don't have duplicate content, that you don't have thin content or pages that are perceived to have no content at all, you don't have broken links, you don't have broken pages, all that kind of good stuff.

II. "Is the content accessible to all audiences, devices, and browsers?"

Next, we're going to ask not about search engines and their crawlers, but about the audience, the human beings and whether your content is accessible to all the audiences, devices, and browsers that it could be. So this could mean things like screen readers for blind users, mobile devices, desktop devices, laptops, browsers of all different kinds. You're going to want to use a tool like a browser checker to make sure that Chrome, Firefox, and... What's Internet Explorer called now? Oh, man. They changed it. Microsoft Edge. Make sure that it works in all of them.

I like that I think that there's a peanut gallery who's going to yell it out. Like you're watching this at lunch and you're thinking, "Rand, if I yell it to you now, it won't be recorded." I know. I know.

III. "Do those pages load fast from everywhere?"

So I could use a tool like Google Speed Test. I can also do some proxy checking to make sure that from all sorts of regions, especially if I'm doing international targeting or if I know that I'm going to be targeting rural regions that my pages load fast from everywhere.

IV. "Is the design, UI, visuals, and experience enjoyable and easy for all users?"

You can do that with some in-house usability testing. You could do it informally with friends and family and existing customers if you have them. Or you could use something like Five Second Test or UsabilityHub to run some more formal testing online. Sometimes this can reveal things in your navigation or your content that's just stopping people from having the experience that you want — that's very easy to fix.

3. Setup of important services and tracking

So there's a bunch of stuff that you just need to set up around a website. Those include:

  • Web analytics - Google Analytics is free and very, very popular. But you could also use something like Piwik, or if you're bigger, Omniture. You're going to want to do a crawl. OnPage or Moz Pro, or some of these other ones will check to make sure that your analytics are actually loaded on all of your pages.
  • Uptime tracking - If you haven't checked them out, Pingdom has some very cheap plans for very early-stage sites. Then, if you get bigger, they can get more expensive and more sophisticated.
  • Retargeting and remarketing - Even if you don't want to pay now and you're not going to use any of the services, go ahead and put the retargeting pixels from at least Facebook and Google onto your website, on all of your pages, so that those audiences are accessible to you later on in the future.
  • Set up some brand alerts - The cheapest option is Google Alerts, which is free, but it's not very good at all. If you're using Moz Pro, there's Fresh Web Explorer alerts, which is great. Mention.net is also good, Talkwalker, Trackur. There's a number of options there that are paid and a little bit better.
  • Google Search Console - If you haven't set that up already, you're going to want to do that, as well as Bing Webmaster Tools. Both of those can reveal some errors to you. So if you have accessibility issues, that's a good free way to go.
  • Moz/Ahrefs/SEMRush/Searchmetrics/Raven/etc. - If you are doing SEO, chances are good that you're going to want to set up some type of an SEO tool to track your rankings and do a regular crawl, show you competitive opportunities and missteps, potentially show you link-building opportunities, all that kind of stuff. I would urge you to check out one of probably these five. There are a few other ones. But these five are pretty popular — Moz, Ahrefs, SEMRush, Searchmetrics, or Raven. Those are some of the best known ones certainly out there.
  • Social and web profiles - Again, important to set those up before you launch your new site, so that no one goes and jumps on the name of your Facebook page, or your Pinterest page, or your Instagram profile page, or your YouTube page, or your SlideShare page. I know you might be saying, "But Rand, I don't use SlideShare." No, not today. But you might in the future, and trust me, you're going to want to claim Rand's Animals on YouTube and SlideShare. You're going to want to claim whatever your website's name is. I'll go claim this one later. But you've got to set all those up, because you don't want someone else taking them later. I would urge you to go down the full list of all the social media sites out there, all the web profiles out there, just to make sure that you've got your brand secured.

4. Schema, rich snippets, OpenGraph, etc

Optimization in general, more broadly. So this is where I'm essentially going through these URLs and I'm making sure, "Hey, okay. I know I've targeted these keywords and I already did sort of my page title meta description. But let me check if there are other opportunities."

Are there content opportunities or image search opportunities? Do I have rich snippet opportunities? Like maybe, this is probably not the case, but I could have user review stars for my Rand's Animals website. I don't know if people particularly love this lemur GIF versus that lemur GIF. But those can be set up on your site, and you can see the description of how to do that on Google and Bing. They both have resources for that. The same is true for Twitter and Facebook, who offer cards so that you show up correctly in there. If you're using OpenGraph, I believe that also will correctly work on LinkedIn and other services like that. So those are great options.

5. Launch amplification & link outreach plan

So one of the things that we know about SEO is that you need links and engagement and those types of signals in order to rank well. You're going to want to have a successful launch day and launch week and even a launch month. That means, asking the question in advance:

I. "Who will help amplify your launch and why? Why are they going to do this?"

If you can identify, "These people, I know they personally want to help out," or, "They are friends and family. I have business relationships with them. They're customers of mine. They're journalists who promised to cover this. They are bloggers who care a lot about this subject and need stuff to write about." Whatever it is, if you can identify those people, create a list, and start doing that direct outreach, that is certainly something that you should do. I would plan in advance for that, and I would warn folks of when you were going to do that launch. That way, when launch day rolls around, you have some big, exciting news to announce. Two weeks after you launch to say, "Hey, I launched a new website a couple weeks ago," you're no longer news. You're no longer quite as special, and therefore your chances of coverage go down pretty precipitously after the first few days.

II. "What existing relationships, profiles, and sites should I update to create buzz (and accuracy)?"

I would also ask what existing relationships and websites and profiles do you already have that you can and should update to create buzz and actually to create accuracy. So this would be things like everything from your email signature to all your social profiles that we've talked about, both the ones you've claimed and the ones that you personally have. You should go and update your LinkedIn. You should go and update your Twitter page. You should go and update Facebook. All of those kinds of things, you may want to go and update. About.me if you have a profile there, or if you're a designer, maybe your Dribbble profile, whatever you've got.

*Then, you should also be thinking about, "Do I have content that I've contributed across the web over the years, on all sorts of other websites, where if I went and said, 'Hey, I've got a new site. Could you point to that new site, instead of my old one, or to my new site that I've just launched, instead of my old employer who I've left?'" you can do that as well, and it's certainly a good idea.

III. "What press coverage, social coverage, or influencer outreach can I do?"

The last thing I would ask about are people who are maybe more distant from you, but press coverage, social coverage, or influencer outreach, similar to the, "Who will help you amplify and why?" You should be able to make a list of those folks, those outlets, find some email addresses, send a pitch if you've got one, and start to build those relationships.

Launch day is a great reason to do outreach. When you're launching something new is the right time to do that, and that can help you get some amplification as well.

All right. Hopefully, when you launch your new site, you're going to follow this checklist, you're going to dig into these details, and you're going to come away with a much more successful SEO experience.

If you've launched a website and you see things that are missing from this list, you see other recommendations that you've got, please, by all means, leave them in the comments. We'd love to chat about them.

We'll see you again next week for another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Take care.


Video transcription by Speechpad.com


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The Wonderful World of SEO Meta Tags [Refreshed for 2017]

Posted by katemorris

Meta tags represent the beginning of most SEO training, for better or for worse. I contemplated exactly how to introduce this topic because we always hear about the bad side of meta tags — namely, the keywords meta tag. One of the first things dissected in any site review is the misuse of meta tags, mainly because they're at the top of every page in the header and are therefore the first thing seen. But we don't want to get too negative; meta tags are some of the best tools in a search marketer's repertoire.

There are meta tags beyond just description and keywords, though those two are picked on the most. I've broken down the most-used (in my experience) by the good, the bad, and the indifferent. You'll notice that the list gets longer as we get to the bad ones. I didn't get to cover all of the meta tags possible to add, but there's a comprehensive meta tag resource you should check out if you're interested in everything that's out there.

My main piece of advice: stick to the core minimum. Don't add meta tags you don't need — they just take up code space. The less code you have, the better. Think of your page code as a set of step-by-step directions to get somewhere, but for a browser. Extraneous meta tags are the annoying "Go straight for 200 feet" line items in driving directions that simply tell you to stay on the same road you're already on!


The good meta tags

These are the meta tags that should be on every page, no matter what. Notice that this is a small list; these are the only ones that are required, so if you can work with just these, please do.

  • Meta content type – This tag is necessary to declare your character set for the page and should be present on every page. Leaving this out could impact how your page renders in the browser. A few options are listed below, but your web designer should know what's best for your site.
<meta http-equiv="Content-Type" content="text/html; charset=utf-8" />
<meta http-equiv="Content-Type" content="text/html; charset=ISO-8859-1">
  • Title – While the title tag doesn’t start with "meta," it is in the header and contains information that's very important to SEO. You should always have a unique title tag on every page that describes the page. Check out this post for more information on title tags.
  • Meta description – The infamous meta description tag is used for one major purpose: to describe the page to searchers as they read through the SERPs. This tag doesn't influence ranking, but it's very important regardless. It's the ad copy that will determine if users click on your result. Keep it within 160 characters, and write it to catch the user's attention. Sell the page — get them to click on the result. Here's a great article on meta descriptions that goes into more detail.
  • Viewport – In this mobile world, you should be specifying the viewport. If you don’t, you run the risk of having a poor mobile experience — the Google PageSpeed Insights Tool will tell you more about it. The standard tag is:
<meta name=viewport content="width=device-width, initial-scale=1">


The indifferent meta tags

Different sites will need to use these in specific circumstances, but if you can go without, please do.

  • Social meta tagsI'm leaving these out. OpenGraph and Twitter data are important to sharing, but are not required per se.
  • Robots One huge misconception is that you have to have a robots meta tag. Let's make this clear: In terms of indexing and link following, if you don't specify a meta robots tag, they read that as index,follow. It's only if you want to change one of those two commands that you need to add meta robots. Therefore, if you want to noindex but follow the links on the page, you would add the following tag with only the noindex, as the follow is implied. Only change what you want to be different from the norm.
<meta name="robots" content="noindex" />
  • Specific bots (Googlebot) – These tags are used to give a specific bot instructions like noodp (forcing them not to use your DMOZ listing information, RIP) and noydir (same, but instead the Yahoo Directory listing information). Generally the search engines are really good at this kind of thing on their own, but if you think you need it, feel free. There have been some cases I've seen where it's necessary, but if you must, consider using the overall robots tag listed above.
  • Language – The only reason to use this tag is if you're moving internationally and need to declare the main language used on the page. Check out this meta languages resource for a full list of languages you can declare.
  • Geo – The last I heard, these meta tags are supported by Bing but not Google (you can target to country inside Search Console). There are three kinds: placename, position (latitude and longitude), and region.
<META NAME="geo.position" CONTENT="latitude; longitude">
<META NAME="geo.placename" CONTENT="Place Name">
<META NAME="geo.region" CONTENT="Country Subdivision Code">
  • Keywords – Yes, I put this on the "indifferent" list. While no good SEO is going to recommend spending any time on this tag, there's some very small possibility it could help you somewhere. Please leave it out if you're building a site, but if it's automated, there's no reason to remove it.
  • Refresh – This is the poor man's redirect and should not be used, if at all possible. You should always use a server-side 301 redirect. I know that sometimes things need to happen now, but Google is NOT a fan.
  • Site verification – Your site is verified with Google and Bing, right? Who has the verification meta tags on their homepage? These are sometimes necessary because you can't get the other forms of site verification loaded, but if at all possible try to verify another way. Google allows you to verify by DNS, external file, or by linking your Google Analytics account. Bing still only allows by XML file or meta tag, so go with the file if you can.

The bad meta tags

Nothing bad will happen to your site if you use these — let me just make that clear. They're a waste of space though; even Google says so (and that was 12 years ago now!). If you're ready and willing, it might be time for some spring cleaning of your <head> area.

  • Author/web author – This tag is used to name the author of the page. It's just not necessary on the page.
  • Revisit after – This meta tag is a command to the robots to return to a page after a specific period of time. It's not followed by any major search engine.
  • Rating – This tag is used to denote the maturity rating of content. I wrote a post about how to tag a page with adult images using a very confusing system that has since been updated (see the post's comments). It seems as if the best way to note bad images is to place them on a separate directory from other images on your site and alert Google.
  • Expiration/date – "Expiration" is used to note when the page expires, and "date" is the date the page was made. Are any of your pages going to expire? Just remove them if they are (but please don't keep updating content, even contests — make it an annual contest instead!). And for "date," make an XML sitemap and keep it up to date. It's much more useful.
  • Copyright – That Google article debates this with me a bit, but look at the footer of your site. I would guess it says "Copyright 20xx" in some form. Why say it twice?
  • Abstract – This tag is sometimes used to place an abstract of the content and used mainly by educational pursuits.
  • Distribution – The "distribution" value is supposedly used to control who can access the document, typically set to "global." It's inherently implied that if the page is open (not password-protected, like on an intranet) that it's meant for the world. Go with it, and leave the tag off the page.
  • Generator – This is used to note what program created the page. Like "author," it's useless.
  • Cache control – This tag is set in hopes of controlling when and how often a page is cached in the browser. It's best to do this in the HTTP header.
  • Resource type – This is used to name the type of resource the page is, like "document." Save yourself time, as the DTD declaration does it for you.

There are so many meta tags out there, I’d love to hear about any you think need to be added or even removed! Shout out in the comments with suggestions or questions.


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Most SEOs Are No Better than a Coin-Flip at Predicting Which Page Will Rank Better. Can You?

Posted by willcritchlow

We want to be able to answer questions about why one page outranks another.

“What would we have to do to outrank that site?”
“Why is our competitor outranking us on this search?”

These kind of questions — from bosses, from clients, and from prospective clients — are a standard part of day-to-day life for many SEOs. I know I’ve been asked both in the last week.

It’s relatively easy to figure out ways that a page can be made more relevant and compelling for a given search, and it’s straightforward to think of ways the page or site could be more authoritative (even if it’s less straight-forward to get it done). But will those changes or that extra link cause an actual reordering of a specific ranking? That’s a very hard question to answer with a high degree of certainty.

When we asked a few hundred people to pick which of two pages would rank better for a range of keywords, the average accuracy on UK SERPs was 46%. That’s worse than you’d get if you just flipped a coin! This chart shows the performance by keyword. It’s pretty abysmal:

It’s getting harder to unpick all the ranking factors

I’ve participated in each iteration of Moz’s ranking factors survey since its inception in 2009. At one of our recent conferences (the last time I was in San Diego for SearchLove) I talked about how I used to enjoy it and feel like I could add real value by taking the survey, but how that's changed over the years as the complexity has increased.

While I remain confident when building strategies to increase overall organic visibility, traffic, and revenue, I’m less sure than ever which individual ranking factors will outweigh which others in a specific case.

The strategic approach looks at whole sites and groups of keywords

My approach is generally to zoom out and build business cases on assumptions about portfolios of rankings, but it’s been on my mind recently as I think about the ways machine learning should make Google rankings ever more of a black box, and cause the ranking factors to vary more and more between niches.

In general, "why does this page rank?" is the same as "which of these two pages will rank better?"

I've been teaching myself about deep neural networks using TensorFlow and Keras — an area I’m pretty sure I’d have ended up studying and working in if I’d gone to college 5 years later. As I did so, I started thinking about how you would model a SERP (which is a set of high-dimensional non-linear relationships). I realized that the litmus test of understanding ranking factors — and thus being able to answer “why does that page outrank us?” — boils down to being able to answer a simpler question:

Given two pages, can you figure out which one will outrank the other for a given query?

If you can answer that in the general case, then you know why one page outranks another, and vice-versa.

It turns out that people are terrible at answering this question.

I thought that answering this with greater accuracy than a coin flip was going to be a pretty low bar. As you saw from the sneak peak of my results above, that turned out not to be the case. Reckon you can do better? Skip ahead to take the test and find out.

(In fact, if you could find a way to test this effectively, I wonder if it would make a good qualifying question for the next moz ranking factors survey. Should you only listen only to the opinion of those experts who are capable of answering with reasonable accuracy? Note that my test that follows isn’t at all rigorous because you can cheat by Googling the keywords — it’s just for entertainment purposes).

Take the test and see how well you can answer

With my curiosity piqued, I put together a simple test, thinking it would be interesting to see how good expert SEOs actually are at this, as well as to see how well laypeople do.

I’ve included a bit more about the methodology and some early results below, but if you'd like to skip ahead and test yourself you can go ahead here.

Note that to simplify the adversarial side, I’m going to let you rely on all of Google’s spam filtering — you can trust that every URL ranks in the top 10 for its example keyword — so you're choosing an ordering of two pages that do rank for the query rather than two pages from potentially any domain on the Internet.

I haven’t designed this to be uncheatable — you can obviously cheat by Googling the keywords — but as my old teachers used to say: "If you do, you’ll only be cheating yourself."

Unfortunately, Google Forms seems to have removed the option to be emailed your own answers outside of an apps domain, so if you want to know how you did, note down your answers as you go along and compare them to the correct answers (which are linked from the final page of the test).

You can try your hand with just one keyword or keep going, trying anywhere up to 10 keywords (each with a pair of pages to put in order). Note that you don’t need to do all of them; you can submit after any number.

You can take the survey either for the US (google.com) or UK (google.co.uk). All results are considering only the "blue links" results — i.e. links to web pages — rather than universal search results / one-boxes etc.

Take the test!

What do the early responses show?

Before publishing this post, we sent it out to the @distilled and @moz networks. At the time of writing, almost 300 people have taken the test, and there are already some interesting results:

It seems as though the US questions are slightly easier

The UK test appears to be a little harder (judging both by the accuracy of laypeople, and with a subjective eye). And while accuracy generally increases with experience in both the UK and the US, the vast majority of UK respondents performed worse than a coin flip:

Some easy questions might skew the data in the US

Digging into the data, there are a few of the US questions that are absolute no-brainers (e.g. there's a question about the keyword [mortgage calculator] in the US that 84% of respondents get right regardless of their experience). In comparison, the easiest one in the UK was also a mortgage-related query ([mortgage comparisons]) but only 2/3 of people got that right (67%).

Compare the UK results by keyword...

...To the same chart for the US keywords:

So, even though the overall accuracy was a little above 50% in the US (around 56% or roughly 5/9), I’m not actually convinced that US SERPs are generally easier to understand. I think there are a lot of US SERPs where human accuracy is in the 40% range.

The Dunning-Kruger effect is on display

The Dunning-Kruger effect is a well-studied psychological phenomenon whereby people “fail to adequately assess their level of competence,” typically feeling unsure in areas where they are actually strong (impostor syndrome) and overconfident in areas where they are weak. Alongside the raw predictions, I asked respondents to give their confidence in their rankings for each URL pair on a scale from 1 (“Essentially a guess, but I’ve picked the one I think”) to 5 (“I’m sure my chosen page should rank better”).

The effect was most pronounced on the UK SERPs — where respondents answering that they were sure or fairly sure (4–5) were almost as likely to be wrong as those guessing (1) — and almost four percentage points worse than those who said they were unsure (2–3):

Is Google getting so me of these wrong?

The question I asked SEOs was “which page do you think ranks better?”, not “which page is a better result?”, so in general, most of the results say very little about whether Google is picking the right result in terms of user satisfaction. I did, however, ask people to share the survey with their non-SEO friends and ask them to answer the latter question.

If I had a large enough sample-size, you might expect to see some correlation here — but remember that these were a diverse array of queries and the average respondent might well not be in the target market, so it’s perfectly possible that Google knows what a good result looks like better than they do.

Having said that, in my own opinion, there are one or two of these results that are clearly wrong in UX terms, and it might be interesting to analyze why the “wrong” page is ranking better. Maybe that’ll be a topic for a follow-up post. If you want to dig into it, there’s enough data in both the post above and the answers given at the end of the survey to find the ones I mean (I don’t want to spoil it for those who haven’t tried it out yet). Let me know if you dive into the ranking factors and come up with any theories.

There is hope for our ability to fight machine learning with machine learning

One of the disappointments of putting together this test was that by the time I’d made the Google Form I knew too many of the answer to be able to test myself fairly. But I was comforted by the fact that I could do the next best thing — I could test my neural network (well, my model, refactored by our R&D team and trained on data they gathered, which we flippantly called Deeprank).

I think this is fair; the instructions did say “use whatever tools you like to assess the sites, but please don't skew the results by performing the queries on Google yourself.” The neural network wasn’t trained on these results, so I think that’s within the rules. I ran it on the UK questions because it was trained on google.co.uk SERPs, and it did better than a coin flip:

So maybe there is hope that smarter tools could help us continue to answer questions like “why is our competitor outranking us on this search?”, even as Google’s black box gets ever more complex and impenetrable.

If you want to hear more about these results as I gather more data and get updates on Deeprank when it’s ready for prime-time, be sure to add your email address when you:

Take the test (or just drop me your email here)


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