Optimizing Sites for Featured Snippets with Q&A Content [Case Study]

Posted by NickRebuildGroup

Ranking near the top of the SERPs for short-tail keywords in competitive business verticals can be extremely difficult. Wikipedia, Dictionary.com, and similar sites have the market cornered on ranking at the top of search results. Even if you manage to rank in the first position, there are featured snippets, ads, map packs, and other SERP layouts that are dominating the space as well.

Because short-tail keywords have such broad search intents, it's in the search engine’s best interest to try and answer questions directly in SERPs. That is the intent of featured snippets. If a search engine is able to answer a user’s query without them leaving the results page, they believe that delivers the best result. And the proliferation of featured snippets is only beginning. According to Search Engine Land, 19.45% of queries will display rich answers (a form of featured snippets) in Google.

A search for “what is orthodontics” in an incognito Google Chrome window displayed the following featured snippet:

orthodontics Google Search.png

This search result satisfies at least one large search intent: “What is orthodontics?” I use this as an example because my agency and I had been trying to get a client to rank for this keyword for some time. They were a dental practice with locations across the US that offered both orthodontic and general dental procedures. We had optimized their locations for their orthodontic procedures, but we wanted to get their non-localized service pages to rank as well in order to draw new patients that may be in the beginning stages of looking for a new orthodontist. But without a local qualifier, it was difficult to get the pages to rank for the short-tail searches.

After a year and change of writing, optimizing, re-writing, and re-optimizing the content — all while building links — we weren't getting any movement with our organic rankings. It seemed that business websites were not meant to rank for these short-tail keywords. Content creators have long lamented that featured snippets don’t attribute where the content in the SERP comes from, thus leaching traffic away from the site.

We believed that rich snippets in SERPs would become more prominent — especially with mobile and voice search on the rise — and that, even without proper attribution, it would benefit our client to appear in these types of search results, especially if we were able to rank in long-tail, question-oriented searches. If we could rank in a featured snippet, where a potential consumer was asking a question about a service that we provide, it would benefit us to answer that question for them. Not only would we achieve the coveted “zero position,” we would position our client as authorities in their vertical, potentially increasing conversions.

With this in mind, we began developing the strategy that would ultimately lead us to ranking in featured snippet searches.

Q&A content

Question and answer content on websites is fairly standard. Many companies will place Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) content on their sites to help users with any questions they may have instead of answering them directly. Noting the prevalence of featured snippets in SERPs, we used the Q&A format to create new content to find out: a) could we rank for these queries? and b) would it benefit our client to rank in these queries?

Research & content creation

Using SEMRush, we conducted keyword research to find long-tail keywords with high monthly search volumes. Some of the phrases we decided to create the content around were “how long does it take to put on braces,” “how much does Invisalign cost without insurance,” and other similar queries. We also asked our client’s call team and Livechat correspondents to send us the most-asked questions they receive about orthodontics. The questions that the internal teams provided were primarily about pricing and insurance. This information was vital for our new Q&A content, as it allowed us to create answers we knew our users were looking for.

While researching current featured snippets, we gleaned that the content must emphasize the answer, not the answerer. Meaning, the content needed to be straightforward and answer the query without any marketing fluff. We ensured that our headers included the targeted keyword, along with the title tags. Once the content was created, we placed each question in the main navigation bar on the site, with each one leading to a separate landing page.

Link building

As most SEOs will tell you, backlinks are still a very important ranking factor. It was our belief that building links to our new Q&A content would be essential in ensuring that it ranked well. We built links exclusively via sites like Quora and Reddit, the idea being that these are places where people are already asking questions that we can answer as experts, while linking back to our site. In order to avoid spamming, we limited the number of links that we built per month.


After a year of collecting data, we can confidently say that not only were we successful in getting the site to rank for a featured snippet, but traffic to the orthodontics content increased by 46.10%, conversions from the content increased by 235%, and the conversion rate increased by 129.30%.


Organic sessions to the orthodontic Q&A content


Organic conversions from orthodontic Q&A content


Organic conversion rate from orthodontic Q&A content

The results were even more striking on mobile, where traffic increased by 91.46%, conversions increased by 322.22%, and conversion rate increased by 120.53%.


Mobile organic sessions to the orthodontic Q&A content


Mobile organic conversions from orthodontic Q&A content


Mobile organic conversion rate from orthodontic Q&A content

Measurement method

For this study we only looked at organic and mobile organic traffic. We also only looked at traffic that landed on our site via the orthodontics content (meaning we only measured users that entered the site via one of the orthodontics pages from an organic source).

Attention metrics

It should be noted that this implementation was not successful in every facet. One of the most important goals for new content is making sure that users engage with it. And at Rebuild Group, we normally measure content engagement through attention metrics: pages/session, average time on site, bounce rate, etc.

Upon collecting the data, we noticed that all attention metrics decreased year over year. Our hypothesis is that because the content is both meant to answer a question and is easily digestible, users were more likely to leave the site after their question was answered. It explains why traffic, conversions, and conversion rate increased so much year over year and attention metrics decreased.


Most important to this experiment, we were able to have our site rank in the first position — or zero position — in search results for the query “how long do you wear invisalign a day,” while also ranking on the first page (though not the first position) for other Q&A orthodontic terms.

how long do you wear invisalign a day 3:14:17.png

We started ranking in the first position for this term in mid-January, though we lost the ranking shortly thereafter. We began to consistently rank in the first position in March and are still ranked there as of this writing.

Our belief is that by simply answering the question and including the keyword in crawlable parts of the content, we were able to rank in the first position for one of our targeted Q&A phrases, resulting in a featured snippet.


Conversions were measured as the number of contact form submissions sent during sessions where a user entered the site via the orthodontic content. As mentioned above, conversions and conversion rates for all organic and mobile organic traffic increased greatly year over year. However, the effects were not seen until 9 months into the experiment.

When the traffic was measured at 90 and 180 days, organic traffic to the new content was steadily increasing overall and via mobile devices, but conversions and conversion rate had not gone up compared to the previous year. It wasn’t until 270 days in, when we first ranked in the featured snippet SERP, that conversions began to increase.


Organic traffic to the orthodontic Q&A content


Organic conversions from orthodontic Q&A content

Once we were consistently ranking in the first position for a featured snippet SERP, while also ranking on the first page of SERPs for other queries, our conversions and conversion rates began to greatly increase.

Google Home

As stated earlier, voice search is on the rise. Once we were able to rank as a featured snippet in a targeted SERP, we wanted to see if that featured snippet would affect how Google Home provided an answer to the targeted query:

*Note: This video was recorded on my phone, so the quality is not the best. You may need to turn up your volume to hear the question and answer.

As you can see, Google Home clearly attributes the answer to our client, answers the question, and then sends the user to the Home App, where the answer is again shown:


From there they can click through to the site on their mobile device:


In the end we drew a strong correlation between the implementation of the Q&A orthodontics content, ranking highly in rich snippet SERPs, and increased conversions and conversion rates. But like all things SEO, there are no definites when implementing this kind of strategy. We implemented content that drove users to a site that offered services they were looking for. Someone searching “how to boil water” is not likely looking to buy new pots and pans. Ultimately, it's important to know what your users are looking for and cater to their searches. Once you're able to answer their questions with simple, to-the-point content, the rest is easy.

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Is the New, Most Powerful Ranking Factor "Searcher Task Accomplishment?" – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by randfish

Move over, links, content, and RankBrain — there's a new ranking factor in town, and it's a doozy. All kidding aside, the idea of searcher task accomplishment is a compelling argument for how we should be optimizing our sites. Are they actually solving the problems searchers seek answers for? In today's Whiteboard Friday, Rand explains how searcher task accomplishment is what Google ultimately looks for, and how you can keep up.

Searcher Task Accomplishment

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Video Transcription

Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week, we're chatting about a new Google ranking factor.

Now, I want to be clear. This is not something that's directly in Google's algorithm for sure. It's just that they're measuring a lot of things that lead us to this conclusion. This is essentially what Google is optimizing toward with all of their ranking signals, and therefore it's what SEOs nowadays have to think about optimizing for with our content. And that is searcher task accomplishment.

So what do I mean by this? Well, look, when someone does a search like "disinfect a cut," they're trying to actually accomplish something. In fact, no matter what someone is searching for, it's not just that they want a set of results. They're actually trying to solve a problem. For Google, the results that solve that problem fastest and best and with the most quality are the ones that they want to rank.

In the past, they've had to do all sorts of algorithms to try and get at this from obtuse angles. But now, with a lot of the work that they're doing around measuring engagement and with all of the data that's coming to them through Chrome and through Android, they're able to get much, much closer to what is truly accomplishing the searcher's task. That's because they really want results that satisfy the query and fulfill the searcher's task.

So pretty much every — I'm excluding navigational searches — but every informational and transactional type of search — I mean, navigational, they just want to go to that website — but informational and transactional search query is basically this. It's I have an expression of need. That's what I'm telling Google. But behind that, there's a bunch of underlying goals, things that I want to do. I want to know information. I want to accomplish something. I want to complete an activity.

When I do that, when I perform my search, I have this sort of evaluation of results. Is this going to help me do what I want? Then I choose one, and then I figure out whether that result actually helps me complete my task. If it does, I might have discovery of additional needs around that, like once you've answered my disinfect a cut, now it's, okay, now I kind of want to know how to prevent an infection, because you described using disinfectant and then you said infections are real scary. So let me go look up how do I prevent that from happening. So there's that discovery of additional needs. Or you decide, hey, this did not help me complete my task. I'm going to go back to evaluation of results, or I'm going to go back to my expression of need in the form of a different search query.

That's what gives Google the information to say, "Yes, this result helped the searcher accomplish their task," or, "No, this result did not help them do it."

Some examples of searcher task accomplishment

This is true for a bunch of things. I'll walk you through some examples.

If I search for how to get a book published, that's an expression of need. But underlying that is a bunch of different goals like, well, you're going to be asking about like traditional versus self-publishing, and then you're going to want to know about agents and publishers and the publishing process and the pitch process, which is very involved. Then you're going to get into things like covers and book marketing and tracking sales and all this different stuff, because once you reach your evaluation down here and you get into discovery of additional needs, you find all these other things that you need to know.

If I search for "invest in Ethereum," well maybe I know enough to start investing right away, but probably, especially recently because there's been a ton of search activity around it, I probably need to understand: What the heck is the blockchain and what is cryptocurrency, this blockchain-powered currency system, and what's the market for that like, and what has it been doing lately, and what's my purchase process, and where can I actually go to buy it, and what do I have to do to complete that transaction?

If I search for something like "FHA loans," well that might mean I'm in the mindset of thinking about real estate. I'm buying usually my first house for an FHA loan, and that means that I need to know things about conditions by region and the application process and what are the providers in my area and how can I go apply, all of these different things.

If I do a search for "Seattle event venues," well that means I'm probably looking for a list of multiple event venues, and then I need to narrow down my selection by the criteria I care about, like region, capacity, the price, the amenities. Then once I have all that, I need contact information so that I can go to them.

In all of these scenarios, Google is going to reward the results that help me accomplish the task, discover the additional needs, and solve those additional needs as well, rather than the ones that maybe provide a slice of what I need and then make me go back to the search results and choose something else or change my query to figure out more.

Google is also going to reward, and you can see this in all these results, they're going to reward ones that give me all the information I need, that help me accomplish my task before they ask for something in return. The ones that are basically just a landing page that say, "Oh yeah, Seattle event venues, enter your email address and all this other information, and we'll be in touch with a list of venues that are right for you." Yeah, guess what? It doesn't matter how many links you have, you are not ranking, my friends.

That is so different from how it used to be. It used to be that you could have that contact form. You could have that on there. You could not solve the searcher's query. You could basically be very conversion rate-focused on your page, and so long as you could get the right links and the right anchor text and use the right keywords on the page, guess what? You could rank. Those days are ending. I'm not going to say they're gone, but they are ending, and this new era of searcher task accomplishment is here.

Challenge: The conflict between SEO & CRO

There's a challenge. I want to be totally up front that there is a real challenge and a problem between this world of optimizing for searcher task accomplishment and the classic world of we want our conversions. So the CRO in your organization, which might be your director of marketing or it might be your CEO, or maybe if your team is big enough, you might have a CRO specialist, conversation rate optimization specialist, on hand. They're thinking, "Hey, I need the highest percent of form completions possible."

So when someone lands on this page, I'm trying to get from two percent to four percent. How do we get four percent of people visiting this page to complete the form? That means removing distractions. That means not providing information up front. That means having a great teaser that says like, "Hey, we can give this to you, and here are testimonials that say we can provide this information. But let's not give it right up front. Don't give away the golden goose, my friend. We want these conversions. We need to get our qualified leads into the funnel," versus the SEO, who today has to think about, "How do I get searchers to accomplish their task without friction?" This lead capture form, that's friction.

So every organization, I think, needs to decide which way they're going to go. Are they going to go for basically long-term SEO, which is I'm going to solve the searcher's task, and then I'm going to figure out ways later to monetize and to capture value? Or am I going to basically lose out in the search results to people who are willing to do this and go this route instead and drive traffic from other sources? Maybe I'll rank with different pages and I'll send some people here, or maybe I will pay for my traffic, or I'll try and do some barnacle SEO and get links from people who do rank up top there, but I won't do it directly myself. This is a choice we all have.

How do we nail searcher task accomplishment?

All right. So how do you do this? Let's say you've gone the SEO path. You've decided, "Yes, Rand, I'm in. I want to help the searcher accomplish their task. I recognize that I'm going to have to be willing to sacrifice some conversion rate optimization." Well, there are two things here.

1. Gain a deep understanding of what drives searchers to search.

2. What makes some searchers come away unsatisfied.

Once they've performed this query, why do they click the back button? Why do they choose a different result? Why do they change their query to something else? There are ways we can figure out both of these.

To help with number 1 try:

Some of the best things that you can do are talk to people who actually have those problems and who are actually performing those searches or have performed them through...

  • Interviews
  • Surveys

I will provide you with a link to a document that I did around specifically how to get a book published. I did a survey that I ran that looked at searcher task accomplishment and what people hoped that content would have for them, and you can see the results are quite remarkable. I'll actually embed my presentation on searcher task accomplishment in this Whiteboard Friday and make sure to link to that as well.

  • In-person conversations, and powerful things can come out of those that you wouldn't get through remote or through email.
  • You can certainly look at competitors. So check out what your competitors are saying and what they're doing that you may not have considered yet.
  • You can try putting yourself in your searcher's shoes.

What if I searched for disinfect a cut? What would I want to know? What if I searched for FHA loans? I'm buying a house for the first time, what am I thinking about? Well, I'm thinking about a bunch of things. I'm thinking about price and neighborhood and all this. Okay, how do I accomplish all that in my content, or at least how do I provide navigation so that people can accomplish all that without having to go back to the search results?

To help with number 2 try:

Understanding what makes those searchers come away unsatisfied.

  • Auto-suggest and related searches are great. In fact, related searches, which are at the very bottom of the page in a set of search results, are usually searches people performed after they performed the initial search. I say usually because there can be some other things in there. But usually someone who searched for FHA loans then searches for jumbo loans or 30-year fixed loans or mortgage rates or those kinds of things. That's the next step. So you can say, "You know what? I know what you want next. Let me go help you." Auto-suggest related searches, those are great for that.
  • Internal search analytics for people who landed on a page and performed a site search or clicked on a Next link on your site. What did they want to do? Where did they want to go next? That helps tell you what those people need.
  • Having conversations with those who only got partway through your funnel. So if you have a lead capture at some point or you collect email at some point, you can reach out to people who initially came to you for a solution but didn't get all the way through that process and talk to them.
  • Tracking the SERPs and watching who rises vs falls in the rankings. Finally, if you track the search results, generally speaking what we see here at Moz, what I see for almost all the results I'm tracking is that more and more people who do a great job of this, of searcher task accomplishment, are rising in the rankings, and the folks who are not are falling.

So over time, if you watch those in your spaces and do some rank tracking competitively, you can see what types of content is helping people accomplish those tasks and what Google is rewarding.

That said, I look forward to your comments. We'll see you again next week for another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Take care.

Why We Can't Do SEO WIthout CRO from Rand Fishkin

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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SEO Best Practices for Canonical URLs + the Rel=Canonical Tag – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by randfish

If you've ever had any questions about the canonical tag, well, have we got the Whiteboard Friday for you. In today's episode, Rand defines what rel=canonical means and its intended purpose, when it's recommended you use it, how to use it, and sticky situations to avoid.

SEO best practices for canonical URLs

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Video Transcription

Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week, we're going to chat about some SEO best practices for canonicalization and use of the rel=canonical tag.

Before we do that, I think it pays to talk about what a canonical URL is, because a canonical URL doesn't just refer to a page upon which we are targeting or using the rel=canonical tag. Canonicalization has been around, in fact, much longer than the rel=canonical tag itself, which came out in 2009, and there are a bunch of different things that a canonical URL means.

What is a "canonical" URL?

So first off, what we're trying to say is this URL is the one that we want Google and the other search engines to index and to rank. These other URLs that potentially have similar content or that are serving a similar purpose or perhaps are exact duplicates, but, for some reason, we have additional URLs of them, those ones should all tell the search engines, "No, no, this guy over here is the one you want."

So, for example, I've got a canonical URL, ABC.com/a.

Then I have a duplicate of that for some reason. Maybe it's a historical artifact or a problem in my site architecture. Maybe I intentionally did it. Maybe I'm doing it for some sort of tracking or testing purposes. But that URL is at ABC.com/b.

Then I have this other version, ABC.com/a?ref=twitter. What's going on there? Well, that's a URL parameter. The URL parameter doesn't change the content. The content is exactly the same as A, but I really don't want Google to get confused and rank this version, which can happen by the way. You'll see URLs that are not the original version, that have some weird URL parameter ranking in Google sometimes. Sometimes this version gets more links than this version because they're shared on Twitter, and so that's the one everybody picked up and copied and pasted and linked to. That's all fine and well, so long as we canonicalize it.

Or this one, it's a print version. It's ABC.com/aprint.html. So, in all of these cases, what I want to do is I want to tell Google, "Don't index this one. Index this one. Don't index this one. Index this one. Don't index this one. Index this one."

I can do that using this, the link rel=canonical, the href telling Google, "This is the page." You put this in the header tag of any document and Google will know, "Aha, this is a copy or a clone or a duplicate of this other one. I should canonicalize all of my ranking signals, and I should make sure that this other version ranks."

By the way, you can be self-referential. So it is perfectly fine for ABC.com/a to go ahead and use this as well, pointing to itself. That way, in the event that someone you've never even met decides to plug in question mark, some weird parameter and point that to you, you're still telling Google, "Hey, guess what? This is the original version."

Great. So since I don't want Google to be confused, I can use this canonicalization process to do it. The rel=canonical tag is a great way to go. By the way, FYI, it can be used cross-domain. So, for example, if I republish the content on A at something like a Medium.com/@RandFish, which is, I think, my Medium account, /a, guess what? I can put in a cross-domain rel=canonical telling them, "This one over here." Now, even if Google crawls this other website, they are going to know that this is the original version. Pretty darn cool.

Different ways to canonicalize multiple URLs

There are different ways to canonicalize multiple URLs.

1. Rel=canonical.

I mention that rel=canonical isn't the only one. It's one of the most strongly recommended, and that's why I'm putting it at number one. But there are other ways to do it, and sometimes we want to apply some of these other ones. There are also not-recommended ways to do it, and I'm going to discuss those as well.

2. 301 redirect.

The 301 redirect, this is basically a status code telling Google, "Hey, you know what? I'm going to take /b, I'm going to point it to /a. It was a mistake to ever have /b. I don't want anyone visiting it. I don't want it clogging up my web analytics with visit data. You know what? Let's just 301 redirect that old URL over to this new one, over to the right one."

3. Passive parameters in Google search console.

Some parts of me like this, some parts of me don't. I think for very complex websites with tons of URL parameters and a ton of URLs, it can be just an incredible pain sometimes to go to your web dev team and say like, "Hey, we got to clean up all these URL parameters. I need you to add the rel=canonical tag to all these different kinds of pages, and here's what they should point to. Here's the logic to do it." They're like, "Yeah, guess what? SEO is not a priority for us for the next six months, so you're going to have to deal with it."

Probably lots of SEOs out there have heard that from their web dev teams. Well, guess what? You can end around it, and this is a fine way to do that in the short term. Log in to your Google search console account that's connected to your website. Make sure you're verified. Then you can basically tell Google, through the Search Parameters section, to make certain kinds of parameters passive.

So, for example, you have sessionid=blah, blah, blah. You can set that to be passive. You can set it to be passive on certain kinds of URLs. You can set it to be passive on all types of URLs. That helps tell Google, "Hey, guess what? Whenever you see this URL parameter, just treat it like it doesn't exist at all." That can be a helpful way to canonicalize.

4. Use location hashes.

So let's say that my goal with /b was basically to have exactly the same content as /a but with one slight difference, which was I was going to take a block of content about a subsection of the topic and place that at the top. So A has the section about whiteboard pens at the top, but B puts the section about whiteboard pens toward the bottom, and they put the section about whiteboards themselves up at the top. Well, it's the same content, same search intent behind it. I'm doing the same thing.

Well, guess what? You can use the hash in the URL. So it's a#b and that will jump someone — it's also called a fragment URL — jump someone to that specific section on the page. You can see this, for example, Moz.com/about/jobs. I think if you plug in #listings, it will take you right to the job listings. Instead of reading about what it's like to work here, you can just get directly to the list of jobs themselves. Now, Google considers that all one URL. So they're not going to rank them differently. They don't get indexed differently. They're essentially canonicalized to the same URL.


I do not recommend...

5. Blocking Google from crawling one URL but not the other version.

Because guess what? Even if you use robots.txt and you block Googlebot's spider and you send them away and they can't reach it because you said robots.txt disallow /b, Google will not know that /b and /a have the same content on them. How could they?

They can't crawl it. So they can't see anything that's here. It's invisible to them. Therefore, they'll have no idea that any ranking signals, any links that happen to point there, any engagement signals, any content signals, whatever ranking signals that might have helped A rank better, they can't see them. If you canonicalize in one of these ways, now you're telling Google, yes, B is the same as A, combine their forces, give me all the rankings ability.

6. I would also not recommend blocking indexation.

So you might say, "Ah, well Rand, I'll use the meta robots no index tag, so that way Google can crawl it, they can see that the content is the same, but I won't allow them to index it." Guess what? Same problem. They can see that the content is the same, but unless Google is smart enough to automatically canonicalize, which I would not trust them on, I would always trust yourself first, you are essentially, again, preventing them from combining the ranking signals of B into A, and that's something you really want.

7. I would not recommend using the 302, the 307, or any other 30x other than the 301.

This is the guy that you want. It is a permanent redirect. It is the most likely to be most successful in canonicalization, even though Google has said, "We often treat 301s and 302s similarly." The exception to that rule is but a 301 is probably better for canonicalization. Guess what we're trying to do? Canonicalize!

8. Don't 40x the non-canonical version.

So don't take /b and be like, "Oh, okay, that's not the version we want anymore. We'll 404 it." Don't 404 it when you could 301. If you send it over here with a 301 or you use the rel=canonical in your header, you take all the signals and you point them to A. You lose them if you 404 that in B. Now, all the signals from B are gone. That's a sad and terrible thing. You don't want to do that either.

The only time I might do this is if the page is very new or it was just an error. You don't think it has any ranking signals, and you've got a bunch of other problems. You don't want to deal with having to maintain the URL and the redirect long term. Fine. But if this was a real URL and real people visited it and real people linked to it, guess what? You need to redirect it because you want to save those signals.

When to canonicalize URLs

Last but not least, when should we canonicalize URLs versus not?

I. If the content is extremely similar or exactly duplicate.

Well, if it is the case that the content is either extremely similar or exactly duplicate on two different URLs, two or more URLs, you should always collapse and canonicalize those to a single one.

II. If the content is serving the same (or nearly the same) searcher intent (even if the KW targets vary somewhat).

If the content is not duplicate, maybe you have two pages that are completely unique about whiteboard pens and whiteboards, but even though the content is unique, meaning the phrasing and the sentence structures are the same, that does not mean that you shouldn't canonicalize.

For example, this Whiteboard Friday about using the rel=canonical, about canonicalization is going to replace an old version from 2009. We are going to take that old version and we are going to use the rel=canonical. Why are we going to use the rel=canonical? So that you can still access the old one if for some reason you want to see the version that we originally came out with in 2009. But we definitely don't want people visiting that one, and we want to tell Google, "Hey, the most up-to-date one, the new one, the best one is this new version that you're watching right now." I know this is slightly meta, but that is a perfectly reasonable use.

What I'm trying to aim at is searcher intent. So if the content is serving the same or nearly the same searcher intent, even if the keyword targeting is slightly different, you want to canonicalize those multiple versions. Google is going to do a much better job of ranking a single piece of content that has lots of good ranking signals for many, many keywords that are related to it, rather than splitting up your link equity and your other ranking signal equity across many, many pages that all target slightly different variations. Plus, it's a pain in the butt to come up with all that different content. You would be best served by the very best content in one place.

III. If you're republishing or refreshing or updating old content.

Like the Whiteboard Friday example I just used, you should use the rel=canonical in most cases. There are some exceptions. If you want to maintain that old version, but you'd like the old version's ranking signals to come to the new version, you can take the content from the old version, republish that at /a-old. Then take /a and redirect that or publish the new version on there and have that version be the one that is canonical and the old version exist at some URL you've just created but that's /old. So republishing, refreshing, updating old content, generally canonicalization is the way to go, and you can preserve the old version if you want.

IV. If content, a product, an event, etc. is no longer available and there's a near best match on another URL.

If you have content that is expiring, a piece of content, a product, an event, something like that that's going away, it's no longer available and there's a next best version, the version that you think is most likely to solve the searcher's problems and that they're probably looking for anyway, you can canonicalize in that case, usually with a 301 rather than with a rel=canonical, because you don't want someone visiting the old page where nothing is available. You want both searchers and engines to get redirected to the new version, so good idea to essentially 301 at that point.

Okay, folks. Look forward to your questions about rel=canonicals, canonical URLs, and canonicalization in general in SEO. And we'll see you again next week for another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Take care.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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Moz Transitions: Rand to Step Away from Operations and into Advisory Role in Early 2018

Posted by SarahBird

I have some big news to share with you.

As many of you know, three and a half years ago, Rand began to shift his role at Moz. He transitioned from CEO into a product architect role where he could focus his passion and have hands-on impact in evolving our tools. Now, over the next 6 to 9 months he will transition into a supporting role as a Moz Associate. He will continue to be a passionate speaker and evangelist, and you'll still see his enthusiastic face in Whiteboard Fridays, on the Moz Blog, and on various conference stages. And of course, he is one of our largest shareholders and will remain Chairman of the Board.

This is hard. Rand started Moz (formerly seomoz.org) over 16 years ago as a blog to record what he was learning about this new field. He and his co-founder Gillian Muessig created a marketing agency that focused on helping websites get found in search. They launched their first SAAS software product in February 2007, and I joined the company nine months later as the 8th employee. We've come a long way. Today, we have over 36,000 customers, 160 team members, a strong values-based culture, great investors, over $42 million in annual revenue last year, and a large and growing community of marketers. So many people have helped us reach this point.

What else is next for Rand? We're excited to find out. His book about the last 16 years at Moz comes out next year.

When you see Rand, please show him gratitude and support. He is an incredibly talented, passionate, and productive individual with a commitment to helping others. I know he's going to continue to make marketing better and spread TAGFEE in all his future roles.

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How "Message Match" Can Lift Conversion Rates by 212.74% [Case Study]

Posted by bsmarketer

Google offered to build a free mobile website for our past client. But rather than take them up on that very generous offer, they hired us to rebuild it for them (at about $20,000+ times Google’s initial estimate).

Smart or dumb?

The problem is that shoving an outdated legacy design onto a smaller screen won’t fix your problems. In fact, it’ll only amplify them. Instead, the trick is to zoom back out to the big picture. Then it’s a fairly straightforward process of:

  1. Figuring out who your customers are
  2. What they want
  3. And how they want it

That way, you can align all of the critical variables (thereby making your "messages match") in order to improve their experience. Which, if done correctly, should also improve your bottom line; in the end, our client saw a 69.39% cost per conversion decrease with a 212.74% conversion rate lift.

Here’s how you can do the same.

How AdWords pricing works

AdWords is an auction. Kinda, sorta.

It's an auction-based system where (typically) the highest bidder receives the best positions on the page. But that’s not always the case. It’s possible for someone to rank in the coveted 1–2 positions above you and actually pay less per click than you. (Not to mention convert those people at a higher percentage once they hit your site — but we’ll leave that until later.)

Any marketer worth their salt knows what’s coming up next.

The Quality Score begins to dictate effective pricing. It’s not the end-all be-all PPC metric. But it’s a helpful gauge that lets you know if you’re on the right path to prosperity and profits — or not. It’s a blend of several factors, including the expected click-through rate, ad relevance, and landing page experience. Ad Rank is used in conjunction to determine position based on an ad’s performance. (That’s the 30-second explanation, anyway.)

Years ago, Larry Kim analyzed Quality Score in-depth to determine just what kind of impact it had on what you pay. You should read the full thing. But one of the key takeaways was this:

Note that if your Quality Score is below average, you'll basically pay a penalty — up to 64% more per conversion than your average advertiser. In a nutshell, for every Quality Score point above the average 5/10 score, your CPA will drop by 16%, on average. Conversely, for every Quality Score point below the average of 5/10, your CPA will rise by 16%.


(Image source)

Fast forward to just a few months ago, and Disruptive Advertising’s Jacob Baadsgaard analyzed their 2,000+ AdWords accounts (with millions in ad spend) to filter out a similar analysis. They ended up with strikingly similar results:

In fact, our results are strikingly similar to those reported by Larry Kim. If your quality score increases by 1 point, your cost-per-conversion decreases by 13% (Larry puts it at 16%). If your quality score decreases by 1 point, your cost-per-conversion increases by 13%.”


(Image source)

Coincidence? Unlikely.

But wait, there’s more!

Jumping platforms for a second, Facebook introduced a "Relevance Score" recently. AdEspresso analyzed 104,256 ads over a 45-day period and saw a similar correlation between a higher Relevance Score and lower CPC rates. The inverse is also true.


(Image source)

Okay. Three different analyses, by three different people, across two channels, with three similar results. What can we learn from this?

That the alignment of your ads, your keyword or audience targeting, and your landing pages significantly influence costs (not to mention, eventual results). And what’s the one underlying concept that affects these?

Your "message match."

How to get message match right

Oli from Unbounce is a masochist. You’d have to be anyway, in order to spend a day clicking on 300 different paid ads, noting message match along the way.

The final tally?

98% of the 300 ads Oli clicked on did NOT successfully match. That’s incredibly bad, as this doesn’t take any PPC ninja skills. All it takes is a little attention to detail. Because what is message match?

You use the same headline, description or value proposition, and image from your ad:

great message match ad

(Image source)

And include those same elements on the landing page people visit:

great message match landing page

(Image source)

Sure, you probably don’t want to use clip art in your ads and on your landing pages in 2017, but at least they've got the basics down.

When you think about this concept holistically, it makes perfect sense. In real life, the majority of communication is nonverbal. Fifty-five percent, in fact, comes down to your expressions, gestures, and posture.

Online you lack that nuance and context. It’s difficult (if not impossible) to strike the same emotional chord with a text-only headline limited to 25 characters as you can through audio and video. It (literally) pays to be as specific and explicit as possible. And while it could take hours to distill all of this down, here’s the CliffsNotes version.

Step #1: Your audience/keywords

AdWords generated about 68% of Google’s revenue in 2014. Last year they made $75 billion. So we’re talking billions with a B here.

A lot of that comes down to a searcher’s (1) intent and (2) urgency, where you bid on classically bottom-of-the-funnel keyphrases and convert ~2–10% of those clicks.


(Image source)

(Facebook’s kind of a different beast, where you instead build a funnel for each step.)

Even though it sounds trite, the best ways to come up with keyphrases is a deeper understanding of what makes your potential customers tick (besides doing the obvious and dropping your competitor’s domain name into SEMrush or SpyFu to see what they’re all bidding on).

A nice, actionable example of this is The Ad Grid from Digital Marketer, which helps you figure out which potential "hooks" should/would work for each customer type. build-traffic-campaigns-img5.jpg

(Image source)

From there, you would obviously hit the keyword research market with your Keyword Explorers and SEMrushes and then distill all of your information down into one nice, neat little package.

Again borrowing from the excellence of others, my favorite approach would be single-keyword ad group (SKAG) from Johnathan Dane at KlientBoost.

For example, one Ad Group would have a single keyphrase with each match type, like the following:

  • Broad: +marriage +proposal +planners
  • Phrase: “marriage proposal planners”
  • Exact: [marriage proposal planners]

This, unsurprisingly, seems time-consuming. That’s because it is.

Don’t worry, because it’s about to get even worse.

Step #2: Your ads

The best way to scale your PPC ad writing is to create a formula. You have different variables that you mix-and-match, watching CTRs and other metrics to determine which combination works best.

Start with something simple, like Johnathan + Klientboost's example that incorporates the appropriate balance of keyphrase + benefits + action:


(Image source)

For bottom-of-the-funnel, no-frills keyphrases, sometimes simple and direct works best. You don’t have to get overly clever with reinventing the wheel. You just slap in your keyphrase in that little headline space and try to emphasize your primary value prop, USP, or benefit that might get people to click on your ad instead of all the others that look just like it.

Ad writing can get difficult and messy if you get lost in the intangible fluffiness of jargon.


Instead, focus on emphasizing concrete examples, benefits, and outcomes of whatever it is you’re advertising. Here are some of Digital Marketer's hooks to borrow from:

  1. How does it compare the before and after effect?
  2. How does it make them feel emotionally/?
  3. How (specifically) does it improve their average day?
  4. How does it affect their status or vanity?
  5. Is there quantifiable proof of results?
  6. What’s the expected time to results (i.e. speed)?

You can then again strip away the minutia by boiling everything down to variables.


For more reading on this topic, here’s a deeper dive into scaling PPC ad writing on WordStream.

Step #3: Landing page

Okay — here comes the fun part.

Marketing efforts in general fail when we can only (or are only allowed) to make surface-level changes. Marketing doesn’t equal just advertising, after all.

Made a ton of updates to an AdWords account? Great. You’ll still struggle until you can take full control over the destinations those ads are sending to, and create new dedicated pages for each campaign.

In an ideal world, each of your SKAGs created above would have their own specific landing page too. If you’re good at math, that landing page total in your head just jumped another 5X most likely. But as we’ve alluded, it’s worth it.

You start with a single new landing page template. Then think of each element as its own interchangeable variable you can mix and match (get it?). For example, the headline, hero image, bullet points and CTAs can evolve or update for one type of customer:

Attorney insurance quotes

And be quickly duplicated/cloned, then switched out for another to increase message match as much as possible:

Dentist insurance quotes

Perfect. Another incredibly time-consuming task to add to your list to get done this week.

Fortunately, there are a few tricks to scale this approach too.

Possibility #1: Dynamic Text Replacement

Unbounce’s ready-made solution will allow you to create a standard landing page, and then automatically (or dynamically) switch out that content based on what someone just searched for.

You can enter these dynamic text fields using their visual builder, then hook it up to your AdWords account so you literally don’t have to lift a finger.


(Image source)

Each section allows you to specify default text to use (similar to how you’d specify a fallback font for all browsers for example).

Possibility #2: Advanced Custom Fields

This one requires a little bit of extra leg work, but it makes technical people smile.

My company used Advanced Custom Fields + Flexible Content to create these variable options on the backend of WordPress pages, so we (and clients) can simply mass-produce unique content at scale.

For the example used earlier, here’s what switching out the Hero section on the earlier landing page example would look like:

Click and upload an image to a pre-formatted space. Select a few radio options for page placement. Easy-peasy.

Here’s what the headline and subhead space looks like:

Now making changes or updates to landing pages (to get message match right) takes just a few seconds per page.

We even build out these options for secondary calls-to-action on a page as well, like footer CTAs:

This way, with the click of a button, we can set up and test how different CTA options might work.

For example, how does simple and direct...


…compare with one of the hooks that we came up with in a previous step?


For extra credit, you can combine these customizable features based on your inbound traffic segmentation with your exit intent (or overlay) messaging.


How increasing PPC message match drives results

So back to the results.

After updating the ad account and making major modifications to our client’s landing page infrastructure, here’s what improved message match can deliver (in a competitive industry with mid-five figure monthly spend).

In 2015, before all of this work, the cost per converted click was $482.41 and conversion rate across all accounts was only 4.08%.


During the same 30-day period in 2016 (after all of this work), the cost per converted click fell to only $147.65 and the conversion rate jumped to 12.76%.


That means way more leads, for far less. And this just scratches the surface, because in many cases, AdWords conversions are still just leads. Not true sales.

We haven’t even discussed post-lead conversion tactics to combine all of this with, like marketing automation, where you would combine the same message match approach by sending targeted content that builds on the same topics or hooks that people originally searched for and converted on.

Or layering in newer (read: less competitive or expensive) options like Facebook, automatically syncing these leads to your aforementioned marketing automation workflows that are pre-configured with the same message match in mind.

The possibilities are endless, and the same laser-focus on aligning message match with each channel has the potential to increase results throughout the entire funnel.


When a sale is moved from offline to on, we lose a lot of the context for communication that we commonly rely upon.

As a result, the focus tends to shift more towards clarity and specificity.

There’s no greater example than looking at how today’s most popular online ad platforms work, where the costs people pay are directly tied to their performance and ability to "match" or align their ads and content to what people are looking for.

Clever vs. clear?

Who cares — as long as your messages match.

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