Countdown to Launch: How to Come Up with Great Testing Ideas

Posted by ChrisDayley

Whether you are working on a landing page or the homepage of your website, you may be asking yourself, "Why aren't people converting? What elements are helping or hurting my my user experience?"

Those are good questions.

When it comes to website or landing page design, there are dozens — if not hundreds — of potential elements to test. And that's before you start testing how different combinations of elements affect performance.

Launching a test

The good news is, after running thousands of tests for websites in almost every industry you can imagine, we've created a simple way to quickly identify the most important areas of opportunity on your site or landing page.

We call this approach the "launch analysis".

Why? Well, getting someone to convert is a lot like trying to launch a rocket into outer space. To succeed in either situation, you need to generate enough momentum to overcome any resistance.

To get a rocket into orbit, the propulsion and guidance systems have to overcome gravity and air friction. To get a potential customer to convert, your CTA, content and value proposition have to overcome any diversions, anxiety or responsiveness issues on your site.

So, if you really want your conversion rate to "take off" (see what I did there?), you need to take a hard look at each of these six factors.

Prepping for launch

Before we dive into the launch analysis and start testing, it's important to take a moment to review 3 important testing factors. After all, no matter how good your analysis is, if your test is fundamentally broken, you'll never make any progress.

With that in mind, here are three questions to ask yourself before you dive into the launch analysis:

What is my business question?

Every good website or landing page test should answer some sort of important business question. These are usually open-ended questions like "how much content should be on the page to maximize conversions?" or "what does the best-converting above-the-fold experience look like?"

If your test is designed to answer a fundamental business question, every test is a success. Even if your new design doesn't outperform the original, your test still helps get you get some data around what really matters to your audience.

What is my hypothesis?

Where your business question may be relatively broad, your testing hypothesis should be very specific. A good hypothesis should be an if/then statement that answers the business question (if we do X, Y will happen).

So, if your business question is "how much content should be on the page?", your hypothesis might be: "if we reduce the amount of content on our page, mobile conversions will increase." (If you're interested, this is actually something we studied at Disruptive Advertising.)

What am I measuring?

We hinted at this in the last section, but every good test needs a defined, measurable success metric. For example, "if we reduce the amount of content on our page, people will like our content more" is a perfectly valid hypothesis, but it would be incredibly difficult to define or measure, which would make our test useless.

When it comes to online advertising, there are tons of well-defined, actually measurable metrics you can use (link clicks, time on page, bounce rate, conversion rate, cart abandonment rate, etc.) to determine success or failure. Pick one that makes sense and use it to measure the results of your test.

The launch analysis and countdown

Now that we have the testing basics out of the way, we can dive into the launch analysis. When performing a launch analysis on a page of your site, it is critical that you try to look at your page objectively, and identify potential opportunities instead of immediately jumping into things you need to change. Testing is about discovering what your audience wants, not about making assumptions.

With that being said, let's countdown to launch!

6. Value proposition

To put it simply, your value proposition is what motivates potential customers to buy.

Have you ever wanted something really badly? Badly enough that you spent days, weeks, or even months figuring out how to get it for an affordable price? If you want something badly enough (or, in other words, if the value proposition is good enough), you'll conquer any obstacle to get it.

This same principle applies to your website. If you can really sell people on your value proposition, they'll be motivated enough to overcome a lot of potential obstacles (giving their personal information, dealing with poor navigation, etc.).

For example, a while back, we were helping a college optimize the following page on their site:

It wasn't a bad page to begin with, but we believed there was opportunity to test some stronger value propositions. "Get Started on the Right Path: Prepare yourself for a better future by earning your degree from Pioneer Pacific College" doesn't sound all that exciting, does it?

There's a reason for that.

In business terms, your value proposition can be described as "motivation = perceived benefits - perceived costs." Pioneer Pacific's value proposition made it sound like going to all the work to get a degree from their college was just the beginning of a long, hard process. Not only that, but it wasn't really hitting on any of the potential pain points an aspiring student might have.

In this particular case, the value proposition minimized the perceived benefits while maximizing the perceived costs. That's not a great way to get someone to sign up.

With that in mind, we decided to try something different. We hypothesized that focusing on the monetary benefits of earning a degree (increased income) would increase the perceived benefits and talking about paying for a degree as an investment would decrease the perceived cost.

So, we rewrote the copy in the box to reflect our revised value proposition and tested it:

As you can see above, simply tweaking the value proposition increased form fills by 49.5%! The form didn't change, but because our users were more motivated by the value proposition, they were more willing to give out their information.

Unfortunately, many businesses struggle with this essential step.

Some websites lack a clear value proposition. Others have a value proposition, but it makes potential customers think more about the costs than the benefits. Some have a good cost-benefit ratio, but the proposition is poorly communicated, and users struggle to connect with it.

So, if you're running the launch analysis on your own site or landing page, start by taking a look at your value proposition. Is it easy to find and understand? Does it address the benefits and costs that your audience actually cares about? Could you potentially focus on different aspects of your value propositions to discover what your audience really cares about?

If you think there's room for improvement, you've just identified a great testing opportunity!

5. Call to action

If you've been in marketing for a while, you've probably heard all about the importance of a good call to action (CTA), so it should come as no surprise that the CTA is a key part of the launch analysis.

In terms of our rocket analogy, your CTA is a lot like a navigation system for your potential customers. All the rocket fuel in the world won't get you to your destination if you don't know where you're going.

In that regard, it's important to remember that your CTA typically needs to be very explicit (tell them what to do and/or what to expect). After all, your potential customers are depending on your CTA to navigate them to their destination.

For example, another one of our clients was trying to increase eBook downloads. Their original CTA read "Download Now", but we hypothesized that changing the CTA to emphasize speed might improve their conversion rate.

So, we rephrased the CTA to read "Instant Download" instead. As it turned out, this simple change to the CTA increased downloads by 12.6%!

The download was just as instantaneous in both cases; but, simply by making it clear that users would get immediate access to this content, we were able to drive a lot more conversions.

Of course, there is such a thing as being too explicit. While people want to know what to do next, they also like to feel like they are in the driver's seat, so sometimes soft CTAs like "Get More Information" can deliver better results than a more direct CTA like "Request a Free Demo Today!"

As you start to play around with CTA testing ideas, it's important to remember the 2-second rule: If a user can't figure out what they are supposed to do within two seconds, something needs to change.

To see if your CTA follows this rule, ask a friend or a coworker who has never seen your page or site before to look at it for two seconds and then ask them what they think they are supposed to do next. If they don't have a ready answer, you just discovered another testing opportunity.

Case in point: On the page below, a client of ours was trying to drive phone calls with the CTA on the right. From a design perspective, the CTA fit the color scheme of the page nicely, but it didn't really draw much attention.

Since driving calls was a big deal for the client, we decided to revamp the CTA. We made the CTA a contrasting red color and expanded on the value proposition.

The result? Our new, eye-catching CTA increased calls by a whopping 83.8%.

So, if your CTA is hard to find, consider changing the size, location and/or color. If your CTA is vague, try being more explicit (or vice versa). If your CTA doesn't have a clear value proposition, find a way to make the benefits of converting more obvious. The possibilities are endless.

4. Content

Like your value proposition, your content is a big motivating factor for your users. In fact, great content is how you sell people on your value proposition, so content can make or break your site.

The only problem is, as marketers and business owners, we have a tendency towards egocentrism. There are so many things that we love about our business and that make it special that we often overwhelm users with content that they frankly don't care about.

Or, alternatively, we fail to include content that will help potential customers along in the conversion process because it isn't a high priority to us.

To really get the most out of your content, you have to lay your ego and personal preference aside and ask yourself questions like:

  • How much content do my users want?
  • What format do they want the content in?
  • Do mobile and desktop users want different amounts of content?

As a quick example of this, we were working with a healthcare client (an industry that is notoriously long-winded) to maximize eBook downloads on the following page:

As you can see above, the original page included a table of contents-style description of what readers would get when they downloaded the guide.

We hypothesized that this sort of approach, with its wordy chapter titles and and formal feel, did not make the eBook seem like a user-friendly guide. There was so much content that it was hard to get a quick feel for what the eBook was actually about.

To address this, we tried boiling the copy down to a quick, easy-to-read summary of the eBook content:

Incredibly, paring the content down to a very simplified summary increased eBook downloads by 57.82%!

However, when it comes to content, less is not always more.

While working on a pop-up for Social Media Examiner, we tested a couple different variants of the following copy in an effort to increase eBook downloads and subscriptions:

Just like the preceding example, this copy was a bit wordy and hard to read. So, we tried turning the copy into bullet points...

...and even tried boiling it down to the bare essentials:

However, when the test results came in, both of these variants had a lower conversion rate than the original, word-dense content!

These results fly in the face of the whole "less is more" dogma marketers love to preach, which just goes to show how important it is to test your content.

So, when it comes to content, don't be afraid to try cutting things down. But, you might also try bulking things up in some places — provided that your content is focused on what your potential customers want and need, not just your favorite talking points. Our suggestion: challenge whatever you have on your site. Try less, more, and different variations of the same. It should ultimately be up to your audience!

3. Diversions

Unfortunately, having a great value proposition, CTA and content doesn't guarantee you a great conversion rate. To get a rocket to its destination, the launch team has to overcome a variety of obstacles.

Same goes for the launch analysis.

Now that we've talked about how to maximize motivation, it's time to talk about ways to reduce obstacles and friction points on your site or page that may be keeping people from converting, starting with diversions.

When it comes to site testing, diversions could be anything that has the potential to distract your user from reaching their destination. Contrasting buttons, images, other offers, menus, links, content, pop ups...like cloud cover on launch day, if it leads people off course, it's a diversion.

For example, take a look at the page below. There are 5 major elements on the page competing for your attention - none of which are a CTA to view the product - and that's just above the fold!

What did this client really want people to do? Watch a video? Read a review? Look at the picture? Read the Q&A? Visit their cart?

As it turns out, the answer is "none of the above".

What the client really wanted was for people to come to their site, look at their products and make a purchase. But, with all the diversions on their site, people were getting lost before they even had a chance to see the client's products.

To put the focus where it belonged—on the products—we tried eliminating all of the diversions by redesigning the site experience to focus on product call to actions. That way, when people came to the page, they immediately saw Cobra's products and a simple CTA that said "Shop Our Products".

The new page design increased revenue (not just conversions) by 69.2%!

We've seen similar results with many of our eCommerce clients. For example, we often test to see how removing different elements and offers from a client's homepage affects their conversion rates (this is called "existence testing").

Existence testing is one of the easiest, fastest ways to discover what is distracting from conversions and what is helping conversions. If you remove something from your page and conversion rates go down, that item is helpful to the conversion process. If you remove something and conversion rates go up - Bingo! You found a distraction.

The GIF below shows you how this works. Essentially, you just remove a page element and then see which version of the page performs better. Easy enough, right?

For this particular client, we tested to see how removing 8 different elements from their home page would affect their revenue. As it turned out, 6 of the 8 elements were actually decreasing their revenue!

By eliminating those elements during our test, their revenue-per-visit (RPV) increased by 59%.

Why? Well, once again, we discovered things that were diversions to the user experience (as it turns out, the diversions were other products!).

If you're curious to see how different page or site elements affect your conversion rate, existence testing can be a great way to go. Simply create a page variant without the element in question and see what happens!

2. Anxiety

Ever have that moment when you're driving a car and you suddenly get hit by a huge gust of wind? What happens to your heart rate?

Now imagine you're piloting a multi-billion dollar rocket…

Whether you're in the driver's seat or an office chair, anxiety is never a good thing. Unfortunately, when it comes to your site, people are already in a state of high alert. Anything that adds to their stress level (clicking on something that isn't clickable, feeling confused or swindled) may lead to you losing a customer.

Of course, anxiety-inducing elements on a website are typically more subtle than hurricane-force winds on launch day. It might be as simple as an unintuitive user interface, an overly long form or a page element that doesn't do what the user expects.

As a quick example, one of our eCommerce clients had a mobile page that forced users to scroll all the the way back up to the top of the page to make a purchase.

So, we decided to try a floating "Buy Now" button that people could use to quickly buy the item once they'd read all about it:

Yes, scrolling to the top of the page seems like a relatively small inconvenience, but eliminating this source of anxiety improved the conversion rate by 6.7%.

Even more importantly, it increased the RPV by $1.54.

Given the client's traffic volume, this was a huge win!

As you can probably imagine, the less confusion, alarm, frustration and work your site creates for users, the more likely they are to convert.

When you get right down to it, conversion should be a seamless, almost brainless process. If a potential customer ever stops to think, "Wait, what?" on their journey to conversion, you've got a real problem.

To identify potential anxiety-inducing elements on your site or page, try going through the whole conversion process on your site (better yet, have someone else do it and describe their experience to you). Watch for situations or content that force you to think. Odds are, you've just discovered a testing opportunity.

1. Responsiveness

Finally, the last element of the launch analysis is responsiveness—specifically mobile responsiveness.

To be honest, mobile responsiveness is not the same thing as having a mobile responsive site, just like launching a rocket on a rainy day is not the same thing as launching a rocket on a clear day.

The days of making your site "mobile responsive" and calling it good are over. With well over half of internet searches taking place on mobile devices, the question you need to ask yourself isn't "Is my site mobile responsive?" What you should be asking yourself is, "Is my site customized for mobile?"

For example, here is what one of our clients' "mobile responsive" pages looks like:

While this page passed Google's "mobile friendly" test, it wasn't exactly a "user friendly" experience.

To fix that problem, we decided to test a couple of custom mobile pages:

The results were truly impressive. Both variants clearly outperformed the original "mobile responsive" design and the winning variant increased calls by 84% and booked appointments by 41%!

So, if you haven't taken the time yet to create a custom mobile experience, you're probably missing out on a huge opportunity. It might take a few tests to nail down the right design for your mobile users, but most sites can expect big results from a little mobile experience testing.

As you brainstorm ways to test your mobile experience, remember, your mobile users aren't usually looking for the same things as your desktop users. Most mobile users have very specific goals in mind and they want it to be as easy as possible to achieve those goals.

Launch!

Well, that's it! You're ready for launch!

Go through your site or page and take a look at how what you can do to strengthen your value proposition, CTA and content. Then, identify things that may potentially be diversions, anxiety-inducing elements or responsiveness issues that are preventing people from converting.

By the time you finish your launch analysis, you should have tons of testing ideas to try. Put together a plan that focuses on your biggest opportunities or problems first and then refine from there. Happy testing!


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How to Do a Keyword-Driven Content Audit (with Keyword Explorer)

Posted by Dr-Pete

As content marketers, we frequently suffer from What Have You Done For Me Lately Syndrome (WHYDFMLS). As soon as we're done with one piece of content, we're on to the next one, barely stopping to check analytics for a couple of days. Analytics themselves are to blame, in part. Our default window into traffic-based analytics is somewhere in the realm of 30 days, leading us to neglect older content that's still performing well but may not be competing day-to-day with the latest and greatest.

I'm a big believer in digging back into your hidden gems and looking for content that's still performing but may be due for an update, rewrite, or even just testing a better title/headline. How do we find this content, which is often buried in our this-week-focused analytics?

Let's think like SEOs. One approach is to find older content that's still ranking for a solid number of keywords, but may be out of date or under-performing. This is content that's still driving traffic, but we may be overlooking. We don't have to fight an uphill battle to get it ranking – we just have to better tap the potential this content is already demonstrating.

Step 0 – The "Exact Page" filter

Before we begin, I'm going to jump to the end. You may know that we recently launched Keywords By Site in Keyword Explorer, which allows you to peer into a keyword "universe" of millions of searches to see how a given domain is ranking. What you may not know is that you can also look up a specific page with the "Exact Page" filter. Go to the Keyword Explorer home page, and it's the last entry in the pull-down:

Here's a zoom-in. I've entered a popular post from my personal website:

Click the search (magnifying glass) button and you'll get back something like this:

Even for my small blog, I've got a healthy list of keywords here, and some ranking in the top 50 that have solid volume. I also know that this post still gets decent traffic, even though it was written in 2009. If I were still active in the usability space, this would be a prime candidate for a rewrite, and I'd know exactly what keywords to target.

This is all well and good when you have an exact page in mind, but how do you audit an entire site or blog when you don't know what's performing for you? I'm going to outline a 6-step process below.

Step 1 – Get all rankings

Let's say I want to find some buried content treasure right here on the Moz Blog. In the Keyword Explorer menu, I'll select "root domain" and enter our root domain, "moz.com":

I'll get a similar report as in Step 0. Under "Top Ranking Keywords", I'm going to select "See all ranking keywords". In this case, I get back a table of more than 53,000 keywords that moz.com currently ranks

for. Not too shabby. These are not just keywords I actively track, but all of the keywords moz.com ranks for in Keyword Explorer's "universe" of roughly 40 million keywords.

Step 2 – Export keywords

So, how does a keyword list help us to better understand our content? Above the keyword table, you'll see two options, "Export CSV" and "Add to...":

I'm going to choose the export – we're going to want the whole, beautiful mess for this job. What I'll get back is a file with every keyword and the following columns:

  • Keyword
  • Minimum Volume
  • Maximum Volume
  • Keyword Difficulty
  • Top Rank
  • Top Ranking URL

That last column is the important one. The export contains the top ranking URL for moz.com for each of the keywords (note: your maximum export size does vary with your Moz Pro membership level). This is where we can start forging the content connection.

Step 3 – Filter pages

I ended up with 30K keyword/URL pairings in the CSV. So that the viewers at home can follow along, I'm going to do the next few steps in Google Sheets. The first thing I want to do is filter out just what I'm interested in. In the "Data" menu, select "Filter". You'll see green arrows appear next to each column header. Click on the one next to "Top Ranking URL" (the last column). I'm going to use "Filter by condition" with "Text contains" and isolate all ranking URLs with "/blog/" in them:

This leaves me with 13,266 keyword/URL pairings. Personally, I like to copy and paste the filtered data to a new worksheet, just because working with filtered data tends to be a bit unpredictable. So, now I've got a separate worksheet (named "Filtered") with just the keywords where the Moz blog ranks.

Step 4 – Pivot pages

If you haven't used pivot tables, I'd strongly encourage you to check them out. Annie Cushing has a great Excel tutorial on pivot tables, and I'll walk you through a couple of basics in Google Sheets. Generally, you use pivot tables when you want to group data and calculate statistics on those groups very quickly. In this case, what I want to do is group all of the matching URLs in my data set and get the counts. In other words, how many keywords is each unique blog post ranking on?

After selecting all of the data on that new "Filtered" tab, click the "Data" menu again, and then "Pivot tables..." at the bottom. This opens up a new sheet with a blank table. On the right are some slightly cryptic options. Under "Rows", I'm going to add "Top Ranking URL". This tells Google Sheets that each row in the pivot table should be a unique (grouped) URL from the top ranking URLs. Next, I'll select the "Values"::

The COUNTA() function just tells Google Sheets to return the total count for each URL (for some reason, COUNT() only works on numeric values). As a bonus, I've also selected the SUM() of Max Volume. This will total up the volume for all of the ranking keywords in our data set for each URL.

Pivot table results can be a bit hard to work with (in both Excel and Google Sheets), so I'm going to copy and paste the data (as values only) into a new sheet called "Audit".

Step 5 – Find candidates

Let's get to the good stuff. When I group the URLs, I'm left with 1,604 unique blog posts in this particular data set. I can easily sort by posts ranking for the most keywords or posts with the most potential search volume (under "Data" / "Sort range"). I'm going to stick to raw keyword count. Here's just a sample:

Obviously, there's a ton here to dig into, but right away I noticed that two of the posts in the top 10 seemed to have some connection to graphics and/or image search. This stood out, because it's not a topic we write about a lot. Turns out the first one is a video from May 2017, so not a great candidate for an update. The second, however (highlighted), is a tools post from early 2013. This post was surprisingly popular, and given how many new tools have come out in the past 4-1/2 years, is a perfect candidate to rewrite.

Here's a link to the full Google Sheet. Feel free to make a copy and play around.

Step 6 – Back to Step 0

Remember that "Exact URL" option I talked about at the beginning of this post? Well, now I've got a URL to plug back into that feature and learn more about. Our data dump showed 170 ranking keywords, but when I target that exact URL, I'm likely to get even more data. Here's just a sample:

Sure enough, I get almost double that count (348) with an exact URL search, and now I have an entire treasure trove to sort through. I sorted by volume (descending) here, just to get a sense of some of the more interesting keywords. I can, of course, repeat Step 6 with any of the URLs from Step 5 until I narrow down my best prospects.

Next steps (for the adventurous)

If I were going to rewrite the post I found, I'd want to make sure that I'm targeting two sets of keywords: (1) the important keywords I currently rank highly on (don't want to lose that traffic) and (2) higher volume keywords I have the potential to rank on if I target them better. I might target, for example, a few choice keywords where I currently rank in the top 20 results and have a Page Authority that's better than (or, at least, not too far from) the listed Keyword Difficulty.

Of course, you can also feed any of these keywords back into Keyword Explorer for more suggestions. Ideally, you're looking for a handful of solid keyword concepts to target. The goal isn't to stuff every variation into your rewritten post. The goal is to create a better, newer, more useful post that also happens to intelligently incorporate highly relevant keywords.

Bonus: Walk-through video

If you'd like to learn more about the Keyword Explorer features discussed in this post, I've created a short (roughly 2 minute) walk-through video:

Give it a try and let me know what you find. While I've chosen to focus on Keyword Explorer in this post (hey, we have to pay the bills), this same process should work with a handful of other popular keyword research tools, as well.


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The Local SEO Holiday Checklist – You Could Even Say It Glows

Posted by MiriamEllis

holidaylocalseo1.jpg

“You know Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Citations…”

If you're in charge of the local search marketing for a business, you've got two groups to please at the holidays: your clients/superiors and consumers. You don't want to be kicked out of the reindeer games on January 2nd, so let's dive into an organized checklist of the most important things you can do to maximize outreach and profits in the coming weeks, making everyone (including you) a winner!


☑ Local business listings accurate

If you're not already on top of this (maybe using SaaS like Moz Local to ensure your listings on the key platforms are accurate), potential shoppers may end up someplace other than your storefront. Weird versions of your name, old phone numbers, and former street addresses can misdirect your customers or contribute to your failure to be found in the local packs at all. The truth is, November can be a bit late to sign up for a local listing management product in time for holiday victories, so you may have to make fast manual fixes where you can. The Moz Check Listing tool can help you quickly hunt down inaccurate listings. Found a ton of them? Fix whatever data errors you can this year, and make a New Year's Resolution you'll keep to undertake professional citation management in Q1 so bad data isn't still undermining sales and rankings in Q4 2018.

☑ Duplicate listings closed

Related to item one, if you didn’t get duplicates closed earlier in the year and Check Listing is showing you a bunch of them, the fact is that you may not get this completely squared away by the holidays. It can take weeks (sometimes months!) to get certain platforms to resolve duplicate listings. This is the case whether you're doing it manually or via software, so do what you can as quickly as you can (Google can be surprisingly quick at this) and vow to get this task nailed down completely before the first jingle bell rings next year.

☑ Google My Business special hours added

Extended hours can make a fundamental difference in revenue, and happily, adding them to your GMB listing is a quick fix. Google offers this list of holidays for which they support special hours (including Kadooment Day which Google just taught me is a harvest festival in Barbados!) Here's Google’s complete tutorial on adding special hours via a variety of methods, including mobile and bulk uploads. Accuracy across all locations matters, of course, as the last thing you want is to create negative brand impressions if customers arrive, gift-list in hand, only to find doors closed for the day. Negative brand impressions lead to negative reviews, which lead to negative trends in conversions, so check your own list of corporate-approved extended hours twice before adding them to GMB.

holidaylocalseo2.jpg

☑ Website pages updated

Doubtless, the brand you are marketing has plans for featuring holiday specials on its website, but while you're adding extended hours to local business listings, be sure website landing pages/contact pages/home pages display updated hours, too, dispensing with potential confusion. Dealing with multiple locations? Landing pages are a great place to highlight holiday specials specific to certain branches of a business.

☑ Complaint-ready, both on and offline

While many people cherish seasonal shopping trips, others find the holidays to be stressful, and psychologists continue to weigh in on how proposed phenomena like Seasonal Affective Disorder factor into changes in winter mood. Suffice it to say that even the jolliest of us can get frazzled in a crowded shopping mall and may not be at our most forgiving when customer service lets us down. Don't leave it up to chance whether unhappy shoppers will let disappointments go or vent their frustrations in a stinging and costly negative review.

Urge management to hold a first-time or refresher course to train all public-facing staff in complaint resolution, equipped with a clear hierarchy for escalating problems, and publish your complaint phone/text hotlline on in-store signage and on the company website. This holiday season, I highly recommend giving your clients or higher-ups the gift of Mike Blumenthal’s free eBook, Build a Better Business with Complaints to fully explore the vital role offline sentiment management plays in digital marketing.

☑ Google Posts brainstormed and ready to go

Speaking of gifts, Google is giving one in the form of microblogging right on your Knowledge Panel in 2017. Google Posts is a perfect way to instantly highlight your Black Friday/Cyber Monday deals, your philanthropic outreach, holiday events and other newsworthy items. There are so many options when it comes to social outreach, and other platforms may be stronger performers for you, but I'd use this year's holiday season to experiment with the new Google Posts feature. Line up some short, exciting content and schedule it.

Best image size is around 750 x 750, only the first 100 characters appear live on your post, and posts stay live for 7 days, unless you schedule an event which will remain live until the event ends. For more tips, I recommend Joy Hawkins' 12 Things to Know to Succeed with Google Posts.

☑ Other social media ready to go

Whether it's Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, or Pinterest that your customers rely on most, having your messaging pre-planned the stress of last-minute scrambles to think of something to say. Make a spreadsheet and schedule for your outreach, refined down to the last pixel and character. And don't just sell; look at how creative agencies told compelling social stories this time last year.

☑ Analytical tracking in place

UTM codes added to the links in your socially-promoted URLs? Google Analytics set up to help you analyze traffic and conversions to local landing pages? A nod to GMB Insights or your Moz Local dashboard's Insights component so you can evaluate how many clicks-to-call, clicks-for-directions and clicks-to-website your listings are driving? What about call tracking that doesn’t interfere with NAP consistency? If tracking local campaigns is new to you, Nick Pierno's recent post will get you started swiftly. The goal here is that, when the confetti settles, you've got data to analyze so that you can strategize for new-year improvements.

☑ Empathy engaged

It has been one rough year in North America. We've experienced life-altering man-made and natural disasters. Even if a given shopper hasn't personally suffered losses in a fire or hurricane in 2017, chances are good in our interconnected society that they know someone who has. Sadly, these tragedies are going to be in the minds and hearts of many as they set out to make spirits bright for their loved ones this holiday season.

I can't think of a better time to acknowledge reality and offer a proactive means of some consolation for everyone involved. Encourage clients and management to dig deep into their brand's store of empathy, letting shoppers know that a percentage of sales or some other benefit is going towards relief and recovery in affected communities. Give people a chance to feel that they are taking care of neighbors while also taking care of their own. Knowing we can help is a powerful step along the healing path.


Good service is your guiding light!

The good news is, if you make a best effort at a lot of little things on the checklist in an organized fashion, they total up to a bright local business that's covering its customer service bases. If there's one thing the digital marketing industry has become increasingly aware of with each passing year, it's how everything circles back to the customer.

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You can do this! If you can envision shoppers interacting both online and offline with the business you're marketing, you can see how to serve them best, and seriously — then all the reindeer will love you — clients, customers, teammates, and CEOs included! Wishing you success and satisfaction in your work as we put a bow on 2017.


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Link Strategies that Stand the Test of Time: A Tribute to Eric Ward (Link Moses) – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by randfish

This week, we pay a special tribute to the late SEO pioneer Eric Ward. His link strategies formed the foundation of many of today's smartest approaches to links, and in this Whiteboard Friday, Rand covers several that are as relevant today as they were when Eric first started talking about them.

Link strategies that stand the test of time

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


Video Transcription

Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to a special edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week we are paying an honorary tribute to our friend, lost but not forgotten, Eric Ward.

Eric was one of the pioneers of the SEO industry. In fact, he was a link strategist and a creator of links for websites before search engines even valued links on the internet. He was the very first link marketer that Amazon.com hired. He had a testimonial from Jeff Bezos on his website, from Google's Matt Cutts from many years ago, and worked with hundreds, if not thousands, of organizations to improve their link strategies.

Beyond that, Eric was a remarkable contributor to the field of SEO through conferences and events, through webinars, through his blog and his Twitter account, and through countless conversations with SEOs like me. In fact, Eric was one of the first people who helped me to understand how link strategy worked, and I have many, many fond memories of him.

I'd also like to say that Eric and I had a number of phone calls and emails over the years about mental and emotional health. I know that's something that both of us have struggled with. I know that it's something that many of us in the entrepreneurial and technology worlds struggle with, and it's an issue that deserves more openness and more attention. I hope that we can do that and that I can do that here at Moz.

But, of course, this is Whiteboard Friday, and since we're honoring Eric, what I want to help today with is talking about some of his link strategies that stand the test of time. These are high level concepts, which we often dig into the very weeds and the details here on Whiteboard Friday, but I think it pays to pull back a little and think about links from a big-picture perspective.

For those of you who are active link builders and link strategists, much of this might be familiar. But I bet for your clients, for your teams, for your bosses, for the people that you work with, this sort of strategic level thinking sometimes goes ignored, and it means that you don't always get the credit that you should. So let's take some of the lessons. These are just a tiny handful of the plethora of value that Eric has provided over the decades that he had been in our field.

1. People and organizations link because:

First off, Eric liked to talk about why people and organizations link, and I think there's actually some excellent tactical and strategic thinking in here.

A. Content is deserving of their recognition

First off, he talked about how the content that they would link to is actually deserving of their recognition, which I think makes intuitive sense, but is something that is often not considered in a link building list. When we create our lists, we sometimes ignore that.

B. They have a non-financial incentive to link

Which makes sense. If you're trying to get someone to link, they need to have a reason, an emotional reason, a business-driven reason, a partnership-driven reason. If it's financial, of course, the search engines will penalize it or eventually penalize it.

C. The right person made them aware that the citation should exist

This was the form of work that Eric concentrated on particularly early in his career, when he was a very tactical link strategist, and I think it makes great sense, but is so often ignored, that we don't find the right people in our organizations to make that connection, that we don't actually make the organizations that should link to us aware of why a link should happen and where it should exist, and that this work, while very manual, is also very powerful. It can drive direct traffic, and of course it drive rankings in search engines.

D.The content actually matters to their audience

That whoever you're reaching out to, this reason, this incentive needs to connect with their audience. Otherwise, Google is unlikely to count that link, and visitors are unlikely to click on that link. I actually think personally that the two might be related, that there's some form of browser level data, user and usage level data that Google is using here.

E. That content is new (or recently updated)

I found this fascinating that Eric pointed out that it is vastly easier, vastly easier to get content to earn links from its audience, from a target if it is new or recently updated. It's much more challenging to do that with older content, which is one of the reasons why a lot of the strategies or a lot of the tactical elements that he proposed, when working with his clients, centered around: How are we going update, redo, or make something new that is going to cause all of these things to be true?
I think if you can check off these five, you have got a great set to be able to go out and pitch people on why those links should exist.

A quote from Eric: "Identify and contact venues that would be inclined to care about the new content enough to write about it and/or to link to it." I think that really is PR. That's public relations, just in a digital marketing capacity and really a huge part of what successful outreach looks like.

2. Great execution is a result of strategy and planning

Next up, great execution is a result of strategy and planning. I know. Who knew? What's true in every other part of the business world and every other part of the world of things that get accomplished is also true in link building? Yes, it is.

A. Strategy flows from understanding your topic and online space

Eric liked to say that strategy flows from a deep understanding of the topic and the space, which is why a lot of these services that you might find online, that are very inexpensive or very scalable, don't work very well in links, because they don't have that deep topic and deep space understanding. When you have a deep understanding of the topic and the space, you can better target your link earning abilities.

B. A blueprint of how to earn links from various types of targets dramatically increases the odds of success.

So two interesting things in here. If you have a blueprint, that means you have a structure for how you're going to target and how you're going to outreach. If you consider various types of targets, and Eric mentions a number of these on his website. I'm planning to link to link to a bunch of resources in this Whiteboard Friday from Eric around this. If you choose those various types of targets, you will over time discover which ones are consistently high performing for you and have the best opportunity to earn you the links that will make a difference in your campaigns.

Eric would say what we do, and he's using "we" here to refer to link strategists rather than just link builders, "What we do is to help content find the audience it was intended for and the audience find the content." I love that. It has a beautiful simplicity to it, but also a deep strategy that unfortunately a lot of link building campaigns don't pay attention to.

3. Short-term thinking leads to devaluation, penalties, and poor results

Eric was extremely passionate, if you ever spent time with him or listened to one of his webinars or interviews, he was very passionate about this idea that...

A. Links that would exist, even if Google and Bing did not, are almost always the ones that provide the most value. That's both in traffic and in rankings.

Eric had this wonderful nomenclature. He was known as Link Moses, and Link Moses had these commandments about link building. He said, "The link schemer may eat today, but the link earner eateth from a bountiful table for a lifetime." I think that's a beautiful sentiment.

Folks, if Eric has provided you with value, and I can assure you that if you are in the link world, almost all of us, who have anything worthwhile to share, have earned our ideas from people who have learned from Eric or from Eric himself. His family is grieving, and it would be wonderful if we could help show them support. Geraldine and I, my wife and I have done so, and I'd encourage you to do so as well.

Danny Sullivan, who's now with Google, but of course who was behind Search Engine Watch and Search Engine Strategies and then Third Door Media, has set up a donation page that will go directly to his family at bit.ly/ericward2017. I think it would be wonderful if the Moz community and all of us who have benefitted so much from Eric's help over the years paid him that respect.
Thanks very much. Take care.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com


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How Local Content is Helping SMBs Keep Big Brands at Bay

Posted by ronell-smith

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Darren Shaw of Whitespark speaking at Mozcon Local

The gentleman sitting across the table from me at a crowded lunch spot has what he sees as a workable business idea for a local business, a sound plan to get it off the ground, enough funds to weather the ups and downs of the current business climate in his area, and the determination to stick around long enough to be successful.

However, what he doesn't have are the answers to three questions pertaining to content marketing for his small business:

  • "What should I write about?"
  • "How do I [rank higher in local SERPs?]"
  • "Do I need to use social media? Will it help my brand?"

My heart breaks a little as he looks down to pick at his salad. Not because I don't like questions, or because the questions are difficult to answer. They aren't.

In fact, the answer I gave comes from a slogan i learned of in college and have used repeatedly when attempting to get small brands to see the shortest path to success: "Think globally, act locally."

The SERPs won't save you

Every brand wants to be No. 1 in the SERPs, or so they think.

What they really want, however, is to be the No. 1 most-chosen brand.

What ultimately matters in the earliest stages of your relationship with prospects is that they see you in the SERPs, recognize your brand for its quality of service and/or excellent products(s), and reward you with a click.

Far too often, however, local brands think too broadly (often as a result of poor keyword selection) and attempt to rank for terms and/or categories they'll never be able to consistently rank for. All the while, they ignore low-hanging fruit, such as ensuring their Google My Places is up-to-date, their citations are accurate, and prioritizing reviews on third-party sites.

Worse still, even brands that do commit to these efforts too often ignore creating local-specific pages, which can be a tremendous asset for capturing traffic, leads, and driving conversions for local brands.

Individually, not capitalizing on these areas is bad for brand health; collectively, they amount to leaving the door open to the competition.

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Image source

And if you're a small or midsize business (SMB) owner, your focus must be on closing doors to the competition. To do that you'll need to use your size and the knowledge of your local service area to your advantage.

As I'm wont to say, it's simple, but it won't be easy.

Local SEO to the rescue

A few months, I had the distinct pleasure of getting to work with Local SEO expert Mary Bowling as she prepared for Mozcon Local. During a phone conversation, I shared with her my frustration at seeing local brands get pwned by big brands, in large part because the former has all but given up on the quest to be competitive, even when they have wood to throw on the fire.

She agreed that there some holes SMBs are refusing to expose.

"Big brands do have the resources to dominate in local search, but to a large degree they often won't spent the money needed to be successful, specifically as it regards local-specific content," says Bowling, owner of Ignitor Digital, which provides online marketing and Local Search marketing solutions to SMBs. "Often small brands don't create good content because they don't think they have the time. But it's not as complicated as they believe. Also, being that they are the local experts, local-specific content is easier to create than they think and can provide the [perfect vehicle to ward off bigger brands]."

That conversation was the wellspring for discussions I'd later have at Mozcon Local with speakers Mike Ramsey of Nifty Marketing and Darren Shaw of Whitespark. I also had the privilege of interviewing each of them, in addition to Local SEO whiz Phil Rozek of Local Visibility Systems, after the event.

What follows is a post based on the entirety of those conversations, with the goal of answering one question: How can local SMBs better compete with big brands in their respective areas?

Local content is David's slingshot to Goliath's plate of armor

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One of the toughest parts of working with SMB owners is getting them to realize the vast world around them is actually much smaller than they assume, in at least two key ways:

  • Big brands with local or regional offices/locations are always a threat for stealing local customers.
  • Their reach is as limited as their resources, in that while their service area is small, so too is their ability to rank in the SERPs.

That is, unless SMBs use the biggest and best weapon available to them: Local-focused content that makes a priority of using people, personalization and events to help them stave off the typically much stronger competition.

Full disclosure: Nothing related to business pisses me off more than seeing big brands dominate local search queries, when I know smaller brands that provide better service are all around.

Equally frustrating is seeing these small brands try to compete outside their league by relying too heavily on paid search and ignore how effective content marketing can be for their business's long-term success.

If this sounds like your brand, I implore you to own your local turf by following the three steps outlined below.

#1 — Think quality > quantity

As a business strategist, two questions comes up over and over from SMB owners:

  1. "What should I write about?"
  2. "How often should I post blogs?"

A better question is, "What topics are my prospects most interested in, and how can I write about those topics with the quality necessary to gain and retain their attention?"

The process begins with you thinking less about how often you write and more about how well you write on the topics your prospects and customers care most about.

"If you want to get local content, and get ranking but also customers, think quality over quantity," says Phil Rozek. "Get your sea legs. Can you create a page that gets rankings but also customers?"

The last point, which I discussed extensively with Rozek via phone, is a very important one.

The key to success for any brand's content goes well beyond the SERPs, and that applies doubly so for local SMBs, where butts in the door or phone calls are the lifeblood of the business.

The focus, he says, must be on producing content of sufficient quality and relevancy to move the needle, not simply attain eyeballs.

"The goal is to get the phone to ring," adds Rozek. "You want it to rank and continue to get the phone to ring. But you also want it to be good enough that you get customers who become brand advocates. If you can't do that, you need to go back to the drawing board."

Ramsey says well-performing local content should hit at least one of the following points perfectly:

  • "It's unifying. Think of sporting events — it's one thing in a local place that brings everyone together across different walks of life and puts everyone on the same page. Good local content that gets shared and loved does the same."
  • "It's educational. Local is confusing. Whether explaining history, directions, or tips, people crave good information about places."
  • "It's insider. There is nothing worse than someone talking about a place that they don't understand. It's why content 'only' locals perform so well."

As an example, Ramsey uses Movoto, a service provides tools and information for the real estate, as a great example. You can see from the example below that localized pages they create go way beyond what we typically see for city-specific pages, as the content is compelling visually and topically, creating a rich experience visitors are likely to read, share, and link to.

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Adds Ramsey, "SMBs should ask every customer where they spend their time online. When they know that, they can start to create content that will appeal to them. The problem that most SMBs have is they get 'sold' on products that will update feeds with garbage or create content that doesn't really relate to their audience.

"Then they give up. I think they have to step back and realize that you can't outsource strategy. They need to be a part of it. They know their customer and need to be involved in determining how best to reach them."

  • What this tells us: Content quality goes beyond good grammar and solid images. Creating a content experience is the optimal goal.
  • How to make it for your brand: Focus on creating content that is uniquely better than anything you've seen or that could be easily created by the competition, no matter how large. Think of the elements that make your area unique and interesting, then work to create content that provides a sensory experience worthy of being talked about and shared.
  • Recommended reading/viewing: How to Create 10x Content - Whiteboard Friday

#2 — Relish the role of local expert

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Mary Bowling speaking at Mozcon Local

Each time I do a search for a local service provider and see a large national or regional brand show up, a little of the strategist in me dies insides. Yes, I get that larger brands have the deep pockets to spend on Google Adwords and the domain authority to wreak havoc in the organic search. But come on... A lot of small brands aren't even trying to compete, and that's a shame.

"Too often, with small brands, they think they'll have to hire someone else to create it," says Bowling. "They don't realize they are the local authorities, and simply writing what they know can go a long way. Most sales are taken at the location level, but small brands often don't do enough location-specific content to help their business. Often, with a simple phone call and a fifteen minute interview, we can create a post that's able to move the needle for their brand."

Bowling further added: "The goal for the content these small brands create is localized excellence."

Rob Robillard, aka A Concord Carpenter, provides an excellent example of how local brands can use the expert mantle to own their space. A general contractor, carpenter, and woodworker, Robillard has parlayed his expert and local knowledge into a correspondence gig for the Boston Globe.

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Image courtesy of A Concord Carpenter

Says Rozek, "Robillard doesn’t write 'local' content as much as he’s a local business owner whose business has benefitted from his having become a noted local authority. Not only does he write for the Boston Globe, he also has a cable show" and a popular video series.

Also, stresses Rozek, different types of businesses will have different goals for their content.

A plumber, for example, is likely less concerned with having a piece of content that draws and engagement and get links; she needs the phone to ring. So having strong city-specific pages that have the ability to rank and get the phone to ring would likely be a more desirable option.

However, if a small brand can do both, they're better positioned to enjoy success.

"If you have a small site that has good authority and some good links, they're in the bully pulpit because any page they create is a little more likely to rank," says Rozek. "The name of the game, then, is to use the other pages of the site to help the city pages rank, since even if they are done well doesn't guarantee that they rank by themselves. But if you build links to other related pages on the site, those city pages are [likely to see a lift as well in organic reach], which is significant for building authority and engagement, even if the pages the links are pointing to don't get the phone to ring."

What this tells us: Don't focus solely on creating content that gets the phone to ring. Devote some resources to attaining links on other parts of the site.

How to make it for your brand: Spend time building your reputation as an expert of note in your area, then create and share content on your site and other sites you're able to partner with. Also, while city pages get people in the door, effective outreach can help you build links to other parts of the site that, in turn, provide a boost to the other pages on the site, including the city-specific pages.

Recommended reading: Top-3 Local SEO "Content” Wins for People Who Hate to Write

#3 — Get personal

One of the toughest sells to SMBs is getting them to see the value of making the content they share personal in nature. Makes zero sense when you consider that unique-to-only-you content is the one thing the competition cannot effectively copy.

"Small companies can create more unifying, educational, and insider content, but to do so they have to find the time and money to do it," says Ramsey, adding, if they do, "Small businesses can blow away competition."

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Mike Ramsey speaking at Mozcon Local

An impressive example of a small brand outpacing all comers is Danburry Barbershop in Provo, Utah. The site has a welcoming, old-school feel and contains images of customers before, during, and after they receive service.

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Danburry is getting right to the heart of personalized content by making local folks celebrities of sorts for, well, simply sitting in a chair and getting a trim or a wash. Let's be honest: Who doesn't want to show off their new 'do? You know the customers are sharing the experience with friends and family members while providing the barber shop with ready-made personalized content.

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Also, the brand posts images to social media, including Facebook and Twitter, creating a web of personalized content even large brands must envy.

"The Danburry Barbershop is killing it with a subdomain on a .blogspot site simply because he uses his site to showcase his customers," says Ramsey. "His Facebook feed is also filled with his customer stories and what they do. He is creating a loyal community of unified, educated, and insider Provo people."

My question to small business owners is, "What's stopping you from doing the same?" And for those who work with SMBs, either as strategists, SEOs, or content people, we mustn't shy away from making recommendations of this sort, especially when a brand has the bandwidth and the clientele to make it work.

What this tells us: Look for ways to get personal with your clientele, particularly as it regards the sharing of information involving them.

How to make it for your brand: Think of the people who've talked or written about how much they enjoy your product or service. Why not reach out to them for a quick interview, which could take the form of a short video that could posted to Instagram or YouTube or hosted directly on your site?

All you'd need is a few questions to ask them — don't make it about your brand. Make it about the audience: getting to know them, who they are, etc.

Recommended reading: The Power of the Personal: Personal Brands for Company Brands


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