Optimizing for Searcher Intent Explained in 7 Visuals

Posted by randfish

Ever get that spooky feeling that Google somehow knows exactly what you mean, even when you put a barely-coherent set of words in the search box? You’re not alone. The search giant has an uncanny ability to un-focus on the keywords in the search query and apply behavioral, content, context, and temporal/historical signals to give you exactly the answer you want.

For marketers and SEOs, this poses a frustrating challenge. Do we still optimize for keywords? The answer is “sort of.” But I think I can show you how to best think about this in a few quick visuals, using a single search query.

First… A short story.

I sent a tweet over the weekend about an old Whiteboard Friday video. Emily Grossman, longtime friend, all-around marketing genius, and official-introducer-of-millenial-speak-to-GenXers-like-me replied.

Emily makes fun of Rand's mustache on Twitter

Ha ha Emily. I already made fun of my own mustache so…

Anywho, I searched Google for “soz.” Not because I didn’t know what it means. I can read between lines. I’m hip. But, you know, sometimes a Gen-Xer wants to make sure.

The results confirm my guess, but they also helped illustrate a point of frequent frustration I have when trying to explain modern vs. classic SEO. I threw together these seven visuals to illustrate.

There you have it friends. Classic SEO ranking inputs still matter. They can still help. They’re often the difference between making it to the top 10 vs. having no shot. But too many SEOs get locked into the idea that rankings are made up of a combination of the “Old School Five”:

  1. Keyword use
  2. Links to the page
  3. Domain authority
  4. Anchor text
  5. Freshness

Don’t get me wrong — sometimes, these signals in a powerful enough combination can overwhelm Google’s other inputs. But those examples are getting harder to find.

The three big takeaways for every marketer should be:

  1. Google is working hard to keep searchers on Google. If you help them do that, they’ll often help you rank (whether this is a worthwhile endeavor or a Prisoner’s Dilemma is another matter)
  2. When trying to reverse why something ranks in Google, add the element of “how well does this solve the searcher’s query”
  3. If you’re trying to outrank a competitor, how you align your title, meta description, first few sentences of text, and content around what the searcher truly wants can make the difference… even if you don’t win on links 😉

Related: if you want to see how hard Google’s working to keep searchers on their site vs. clicking results, I’ve got some research on SparkToro showing precisely that.

P.S. I don’t actually believe in arbitrary birth year ranges for segmenting cohorts of people. The differences between two individuals born in 1981 can be vastly wider than for two people born in 1979 and 1985. Boomer vs. Gen X vs. Millenial vs. Gen Z is crappy pseudoscience rooted in our unhealthy desire to categorize and pigeonhole others. Reject that ish.

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Five ways SEOs can utilize data with insights, automation, and personalization

Five ways SEOs can utilize data with insights, automation, and personalization.

Constantly evolving search results driven by Google’s increasing implementation of AI are challenging SEOs to keep pace. Search is more dynamic, competitive, and faster than ever before.

Where SEOs used to focus almost exclusively on what Google and other search engines were looking for in their site structure, links, and content, digital marketing now revolves solidly around the needs and intent of consumers.

This past year was perhaps the most transformative in SEO, an industry expected to top $80 billion in spending by 2020. AI is creating entirely new engagement possibilities across multiple channels and devices. Consumers are choosing to find and interact with information by voice search, or even on connected IoT appliances, and other devices. Brands are being challenged to reimagine the entire customer journey and how they optimize content for search, as a result.

How do you even begin to prioritize when your to-do list and the data available to you are growing at such a rapid pace? The points shared below intend to help you with that.

From analysis to activation, data is key

SEO is becoming less a matter of simply optimizing for search. Today, SEO success hinges on our ability to seize every opportunity. Research from my company’s Future of Marketing and AI Study highlights current opportunities in five important areas.

1. Data cleanliness and structure

As the volume of data consumers are producing in their searches and interactions increases, it’s critically important that SEOs properly tag and structure the information we want search engines to match to those queries. Google offers rich snippets and cards that enable you to expand and enhance your search results, making them more visually appealing but also adding functionality and opportunities to engage.

Example of structured data on Google

Google has experimented with a wide variety of rich results, and you can expect them to continue evolving. Therefore, it’s best practice to properly mark up all content so that when a rich search feature becomes available, your content is in place to capitalize on the opportunity.

You can use the Google Developers “Understand how structured data works” guide to get started and test your structured data for syntax errors here.

2. Increasingly automated actionable insights

While Google is using AI to interpret queries and understand results, marketers are deploying AI to analyze data, recognize patterns and deliver insights as output at rates humans simply cannot achieve. AI is helping SEOs in interpreting market trends, analyzing site performance, gathering and understanding competitor performance, and more.

It’s not just that we’re able to get insights faster, though. The insights available to us now may have gone unnoticed, if not for the in-depth analysis we can accomplish with AI.

Machines are helping us analyze different types of media to understand the content and context of millions of images at a time and it goes beyond images and video. With Google Lens, for example, augmented reality will be used to glean query intent from objects rather than expressed words.

Opportunities for SEOs include:

  • Greater ability to define opportunity space more precisely in a competitive context. Understand underlying need in a customer journey
  • Deploying longer-tail content informed by advanced search insights
  • Better content mapping to specific expressions of consumer intent across the buying journey

3. Real-time response and interactions

In a recent “State of Chatbots” report, researchers asked consumers to identify problems with traditional online experiences by posing the question, “What frustrations have you experienced in the past month?”

Screenshot of users' feedback on website usage experiences

As you can see, at least seven of the top consumer frustrations listed above can be solved with properly programmed chatbots. It’s no wonder that they also found that 69% of consumers prefer chatbots for quick communication with brands.

Search query and online behavior data can make smart bots so compelling and efficient in delivering on consumer needs that in some cases, the visitor may not even realize it’s an automated tool they’re dealing with. It’s a win for the consumer, who probably isn’t there for a social visit anyway as well as for the brand that seeks to deliver an exceptional experience even while improving operational efficiency.

SEOs have an opportunity to:

  • Facilitate more productive online store consumer experiences with smart chatbots.
  • Redesign websites to support visual and voice search.
  • Deploy deep learning, where possible, to empower machines to make decisions, and respond in real-time.

4. Smart automation

SEOs have been pretty ingenious at automating repetitive, time-consuming tasks such as pulling rankings reports, backlink monitoring, and keyword research. In fact, a lot of quality digital marketing software was born out of SEOs automating their own client work.

Now, AI is enabling us to make automation smarter by moving beyond simple task completion to prioritization, decision-making, and executing new tasks based on those data-backed decisions.

Survey on content development using AI

Content marketing is one area where AI can have a massive impact, and marketers are on board. We found that just four percent of respondents felt they were unlikely to use AI/deep learning in their content strategy in 2018, and over 42% had already implemented it.

In content marketing, AI can help us quickly analyze consumer behavior and data, in order to:

  • Identify content opportunities
  • Build optimized content
  • Promote the right content to the most motivated audience segments and individuals

5. Personalizations that drive business results

Personalization was identified as the top trend in marketing at the time of our survey, followed closely by AI (which certainly drives more accurate personalizations). In fact, you could argue that the top four trends namely, personalization, AI, voice search, and mobile optimization are closely connected if not overlapping in places.

Across emails, landing pages, paid advertising campaigns, and more, search insights are being injected into and utilized across multiple channels. These intend to help us better connect content to consumer needs.

Each piece of content produced must be purposeful. It needs to be optimized for discovery, a process that begins in content planning as you identify where consumers are going to find and engage with each piece. Smart content is personalized in such a way that it meets a specific consumer’s need, but it must deliver on the monetary needs of the business, as well.

Check out these 5 steps for making your content smarter from a previous column for more.

How SEOs are uniquely positioned to drive smarter digital marketing forward

As the marketing professionals have one foot in analysis and the other solidly planted in creative, SEOs have a unique opportunity to lead smart utilization and activation of all manners of consumer data.

You understand the critical importance of clean data input (or intelligent systems that can clean and make sense of unstructured data) and differentiating between first and third-party data. You understand economies of scale in SEO and the value in building that scalability into systems from the ground up.

SEOs have long nurtured a deep understanding of how people search for and discover information, and how technology delivers. Make the most of your current opportunities by picking your low-hanging fruit opportunities for quick wins. Focus your efforts on putting the scalable, smart systems in place that will allow you to anticipate consumer needs, react quickly, report SEO appropriately, and convey business results to the stakeholders who will determine budgets in future.

Jim Yu is the founder and CEO of leading enterprise SEO and content performance platform BrightEdge. He can be found on Twitter .

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Social listening 101: Six crucial keywords to track

Social listening 101 Six crucial keywords to track

Social listening is a tactic that’s not unheard of. Quite a number of brands use it these days and even more consider trying it out in the near future. However, for many, the step-by-step process of social listening remains unclear.

This article aims to answer the most burning questions about social listening:

  • What is a keyword?
  • Which keywords should you monitor?
  • How do you get relevant and comprehensive results instead of all the noise that the Internet is filled with?

What is a keyword?

As we know, social listening is a process that requires a social media listening/social media monitoring tool (e.g., Awario, Mention, Brandwatch). The first thing you do when you open the app is entering keywords to monitor.

Keywords are the words that describe best what you want to find on social media platforms and the web. A keyword can be one word (e.g. “Philips”), two words (e.g. “Aleh Barysevich”), four words (e.g. “search engine optimization tool”), etc. Each one of these examples presents one keyword. After you typed in your keyword(s), the tool will search for mentions of these keywords and collect them in a single place.

Screenshot of mentions for a specific keyword

Which keywords should you monitor?

You can monitor absolutely anything. You can monitor the keywords “Brexit” or “let’s dance” or “hello, is it me you’re looking for”. However, in terms of marketing purposes, there are six main types of keywords that you are most likely to monitor. They are:

1. Brand/company
2. Competitors
3. Person
4. Campaign
5. Industry
6. URL

Now let’s go through each type together to make sure you understand the goals behind monitoring these keywords and how to get the most out of them.

1. Brand/Company

Monitoring your brand/your company is essential in most cases. While the goals of social listening can be very diverse (reputation management, brand awareness, influencer marketing, customer service), most of these goals require listening to what people say about your brand.

To make sure you don’t miss any valuable mentions, include common misspellings and abbreviations of your brand name as well.

In case your brand name is a common word (e.g. “Apple” or “Orange”) make sure to choose a tool that gives you an option to introduce “negative” keywords. These would be keywords such as “apple tree”, “apple juice”, “apple pie”. Excluding them from your search will help get mentions of Apple the brand only. Any tool that has a boolean search option will also save you from tons of such irrelevant mentions.

2. Competitors

Pick a couple of your main competitors (or even just one), and enter their brand/company name as a separate project. There’s a good reason for that: Questions and complaints directed at your competitors can be replied by your social media manager first. They could explain why your brand is better/doesn’t have specific problems that your competitor does. This is social selling, a process of finding hot leads on social media.

Most social media monitoring tools also let you compare how your brand is doing on social media against your competitor’s brand. This can be useful for tracking your progress and discovering new ideas.

For example, knowing which social networks, which locations, and what time slots get your competitor more attention could help you upgrade your social media strategy. Knowing how their campaigns, social media posts, and product releases perform could help you improve your own plans, and avoid some mishaps.

3. Person

The CEO of your company might not necessarily be the company’s face or even a public persona at all. However, if reputation management is one of your goals, monitoring mentions of the CEO are important. Their actions on social media could easily attract attention and cause a social media crisis. Also, you’ll know straight away about any publications that mention your company’s CEO.

Same, of course, goes for any other people in the company.

4. Campaign

It’s crucial to monitor marketing (and other) campaigns as well as product launches. Reactions on social media happen very quickly. Only by monitoring such events in real time, you’ll know straight away if it’s going well or not, if it’s working at all, and if there are problems that you might’ve not noticed while creating the campaign. The earlier you know how the reality is unfolding, the better. To monitor a campaign, enter its name if it has one, its slogan, and/or its hashtag as a keyword.

Example of how social media activities could go wrong

It’s important to understand that there are loads of marketing campaigns that have caused serious problems for the companies. Something that could’ve been avoided with social media monitoring.

5. Industry

Not in every industry can you monitor the so-called “industry keywords”. However, if you can, these are the source of endless opportunities. Most of these are in the realms of social selling, brand awareness, and influencer marketing.

For example, if your product is a productivity app, this would be your keyword “productivity app”. Include a couple of synonyms and words such as “looking for”, or “can anyone recommend” and you’ll get mentions from people that look for a product like yours. Specify the language and the location to get more relevant results.

With a social media monitoring tool that finds influencers, you can go to the list of influencers that is built around your industry keywords and choose the ones to work with.

Example of finding influencers using social listening keywords

6. URL

Monitoring your brand by excluding your brand’s URL (which is possible with a social media monitoring tool) is important for SEO purposes. It’s a big part of link-building. All you have to do is find mentions of your brand that don’t link to your brand, reach out to the author, and ask for a link. In most cases, the authors wouldn’t mind adding the link to your site.

Besides, you can monitor competitors’ URLs. This will give you a list of sources where they get links from. It’s only logical that if the author is interested in the niche and is willing to write about your competitor, they probably wouldn’t mind reviewing your product as well.

Conclusion

There’s a lot you can do with social media monitoring. All you have to do is start. Starting is the hardest part. Then, appetite, ideas, and knowledge come with eating. Hopefully, this article gave you a clear idea of where to start.

Aleh is the Founder and CMO at SEO PowerSuite and Awario. He can be found on Twitter at .

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The One-Hour Guide to SEO, Part 2: Keyword Research – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by randfish

Before doing any SEO work, it’s important to get a handle on your keyword research. Aside from helping to inform your strategy and structure your content, you’ll get to know the needs of your searchers, the search demand landscape of the SERPs, and what kind of competition you’re up against.

In the second part of the One-Hour Guide to SEO, the inimitable Rand Fishkin covers what you need to know about the keyword research process, from understanding its goals to building your own keyword universe map. Enjoy!

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

Video Transcription

Howdy, Moz fans. Welcome to another portion of our special edition of Whiteboard Friday, the One-Hour Guide to SEO. This is Part II – Keyword Research. Hopefully you’ve already seen our SEO strategy session from last week. What we want to do in keyword research is talk about why keyword research is required. Why do I have to do this task prior to doing any SEO work?

The answer is fairly simple. If you don’t know which words and phrases people type into Google or YouTube or Amazon or Bing, whatever search engine you’re optimizing for, you’re not going to be able to know how to structure your content. You won’t be able to get into the searcher’s brain, into their head to imagine and empathize with them what they actually want from your content. You probably won’t do correct targeting, which will mean your competitors, who are doing keyword research, are choosing wise search phrases, wise words and terms and phrases that searchers are actually looking for, and you might be unfortunately optimizing for words and phrases that no one is actually looking for or not as many people are looking for or that are much more difficult than what you can actually rank for.

The goals of keyword research

So let’s talk about some of the big-picture goals of keyword research. 

Understand the search demand landscape so you can craft more optimal SEO strategies

First off, we are trying to understand the search demand landscape so we can craft better SEO strategies. Let me just paint a picture for you.

I was helping a startup here in Seattle, Washington, a number of years ago — this was probably a couple of years ago — called Crowd Cow. Crowd Cow is an awesome company. They basically will deliver beef from small ranchers and small farms straight to your doorstep. I personally am a big fan of steak, and I don’t really love the quality of the stuff that I can get from the store. I don’t love the mass-produced sort of industry around beef. I think there are a lot of Americans who feel that way. So working with small ranchers directly, where they’re sending it straight from their farms, is kind of an awesome thing.

But when we looked at the SEO picture for Crowd Cow, for this company, what we saw was that there was more search demand for competitors of theirs, people like Omaha Steaks, which you might have heard of. There was more search demand for them than there was for “buy steak online,” “buy beef online,” and “buy rib eye online.” Even things like just “shop for steak” or “steak online,” these broad keyword phrases, the branded terms of their competition had more search demand than all of the specific keywords, the unbranded generic keywords put together.

That is a very different picture from a world like “soccer jerseys,” where I spent a little bit of keyword research time today looking, and basically the brand names in that field do not have nearly as much search volume as the generic terms for soccer jerseys and custom soccer jerseys and football clubs’ particular jerseys. Those generic terms have much more volume, which is a totally different kind of SEO that you’re doing. One is very, “Oh, we need to build our brand. We need to go out into this marketplace and create demand.” The other one is, “Hey, we need to serve existing demand already.”

So you’ve got to understand your search demand landscape so that you can present to your executive team and your marketing team or your client or whoever it is, hey, this is what the search demand landscape looks like, and here’s what we can actually do for you. Here’s how much demand there is. Here’s what we can serve today versus we need to grow our brand.

Create a list of terms and phrases that match your marketing goals and are achievable in rankings

The next goal of keyword research, we want to create a list of terms and phrases that we can then use to match our marketing goals and achieve rankings. We want to make sure that the rankings that we promise, the keywords that we say we’re going to try and rank for actually have real demand and we can actually optimize for them and potentially rank for them. Or in the case where that’s not true, they’re too difficult or they’re too hard to rank for. Or organic results don’t really show up in those types of searches, and we should go after paid or maps or images or videos or some other type of search result.

Prioritize keyword investments so you do the most important, high-ROI work first

We also want to prioritize those keyword investments so we’re doing the most important work, the highest ROI work in our SEO universe first. There’s no point spending hours and months going after a bunch of keywords that if we had just chosen these other ones, we could have achieved much better results in a shorter period of time.

Match keywords to pages on your site to find the gaps

Finally, we want to take all the keywords that matter to us and match them to the pages on our site. If we don’t have matches, we need to create that content. If we do have matches but they are suboptimal, not doing a great job of answering that searcher’s query, well, we need to do that work as well. If we have a page that matches but we haven’t done our keyword optimization, which we’ll talk a little bit more about in a future video, we’ve got to do that too.

Understand the different varieties of search results

So an important part of understanding how search engines work — we’re going to start down here and then we’ll come back up — is to have this understanding that when you perform a query on a mobile device or a desktop device, Google shows you a vast variety of results. Ten or fifteen years ago this was not the case. We searched 15 years ago for “soccer jerseys,” what did we get? Ten blue links. I think, unfortunately, in the minds of many search marketers and many people who are unfamiliar with SEO, they still think of it that way. How do I rank number one? The answer is, well, there are a lot of things “number one” can mean today, and we need to be careful about what we’re optimizing for.

So if I search for “soccer jersey,” I get these shopping results from Macy’s and soccer.com and all these other places. Google sort has this sliding box of sponsored shopping results. Then they’ve got advertisements below that, notated with this tiny green ad box. Then below that, there are couple of organic results, what we would call classic SEO, 10 blue links-style organic results. There are two of those. Then there’s a box of maps results that show me local soccer stores in my region, which is a totally different kind of optimization, local SEO. So you need to make sure that you understand and that you can convey that understanding to everyone on your team that these different kinds of results mean different types of SEO.

Now I’ve done some work recently over the last few years with a company called Jumpshot. They collect clickstream data from millions of browsers around the world and millions of browsers here in the United States. So they are able to provide some broad overview numbers collectively across the billions of searches that are performed on Google every day in the United States.

Click-through rates differ between mobile and desktop

The click-through rates look something like this. For mobile devices, on average, paid results get 8.7% of all clicks, organic results get about 40%, a little under 40% of all clicks, and zero-click searches, where a searcher performs a query but doesn’t click anything, Google essentially either answers the results in there or the searcher is so unhappy with the potential results that they don’t bother taking anything, that is 62%. So the vast majority of searches on mobile are no-click searches.

On desktop, it’s a very different story. It’s sort of inverted. So paid is 5.6%. I think people are a little savvier about which result they should be clicking on desktop. Organic is 65%, so much, much higher than mobile. Zero-click searches is 34%, so considerably lower.

There are a lot more clicks happening on a desktop device. That being said, right now we think it’s around 60–40, meaning 60% of queries on Google, at least, happen on mobile and 40% happen on desktop, somewhere in those ranges. It might be a little higher or a little lower.

The search demand curve

Another important and critical thing to understand about the keyword research universe and how we do keyword research is that there’s a sort of search demand curve. So for any given universe of keywords, there is essentially a small number, maybe a few to a few dozen keywords that have millions or hundreds of thousands of searches every month. Something like “soccer” or “Seattle Sounders,” those have tens or hundreds of thousands, even millions of searches every month in the United States.

But people searching for “Sounders FC away jersey customizable,” there are very, very few searches per month, but there are millions, even billions of keywords like this. 

The long-tail: millions of keyword terms and phrases, low number of monthly searches

When Sundar Pichai, Google’s current CEO, was testifying before Congress just a few months ago, he told Congress that around 20% of all searches that Google receives each day they have never seen before. No one has ever performed them in the history of the search engines. I think maybe that number is closer to 18%. But that is just a remarkable sum, and it tells you about what we call the long tail of search demand, essentially tons and tons of keywords, millions or billions of keywords that are only searched for 1 time per month, 5 times per month, 10 times per month.

The chunky middle: thousands or tens of thousands of keywords with ~50–100 searches per month

If you want to get into this next layer, what we call the chunky middle in the SEO world, this is where there are thousands or tens of thousands of keywords potentially in your universe, but they only have between say 50 and a few hundred searches per month.

The fat head: a very few keywords with hundreds of thousands or millions of searches

Then this fat head has only a few keywords. There’s only one keyword like “soccer” or “soccer jersey,” which is actually probably more like the chunky middle, but it has hundreds of thousands or millions of searches. The fat head is higher competition and broader intent.

Searcher intent and keyword competition

What do I mean by broader intent? That means when someone performs a search for “soccer,” you don’t know what they’re looking for. The likelihood that they want a customizable soccer jersey right that moment is very, very small. They’re probably looking for something much broader, and it’s hard to know exactly their intent.

However, as you drift down into the chunky middle and into the long tail, where there are more keywords but fewer searches for each keyword, your competition gets much lower. There are fewer people trying to compete and rank for those, because they don’t know to optimize for them, and there’s more specific intent. “Customizable Sounders FC away jersey” is very clear. I know exactly what I want. I want to order a customizable jersey from the Seattle Sounders away, the particular colors that the away jersey has, and I want to be able to put my logo on there or my name on the back of it, what have you. So super specific intent.

Build a map of your own keyword universe

As a result, you need to figure out what the map of your universe looks like so that you can present that, and you need to be able to build a list that looks something like this. You should at the end of the keyword research process — we featured a screenshot from Moz’s Keyword Explorer, which is a tool that I really like to use and I find super helpful whenever I’m helping companies, even now that I have left Moz and been gone for a year, I still sort of use Keyword Explorer because the volume data is so good and it puts all the stuff together. However, there are two or three other tools that a lot of people like, one from Ahrefs, which I think also has the name Keyword Explorer, and one from SEMrush, which I like although some of the volume numbers, at least in the United States, are not as good as what I might hope for. There are a number of other tools that you could check out as well. A lot of people like Google Trends, which is totally free and interesting for some of that broad volume data.



So I might have terms like “soccer jersey,” “Sounders FC jersey”, and “custom soccer jersey Seattle Sounders.” Then I’ll have these columns: 

  • Volume, because I want to know how many people search for it; 
  • Difficulty, how hard will it be to rank. If it’s super difficult to rank and I have a brand-new website and I don’t have a lot of authority, well, maybe I should target some of these other ones first that are lower difficulty. 
  • Organic Click-through Rate, just like we talked about back here, there are different levels of click-through rate, and the tools, at least Moz’s Keyword Explorer tool uses Jumpshot data on a per keyword basis to estimate what percent of people are going to click the organic results. Should you optimize for it? Well, if the click-through rate is only 60%, pretend that instead of 100 searches, this only has 60 or 60 available searches for your organic clicks. Ninety-five percent, though, great, awesome. All four of those monthly searches are available to you.
  • Business Value, how useful is this to your business? 
  • Then set some type of priority to determine. So I might look at this list and say, “Hey, for my new soccer jersey website, this is the most important keyword. I want to go after “custom soccer jersey” for each team in the U.S., and then I’ll go after team jersey, and then I’ll go after “customizable away jerseys.” Then maybe I’ll go after “soccer jerseys,” because it’s just so competitive and so difficult to rank for. There’s a lot of volume, but the search intent is not as great. The business value to me is not as good, all those kinds of things.
  • Last, but not least, I want to know the types of searches that appear — organic, paid. Do images show up? Does shopping show up? Does video show up? Do maps results show up? If those other types of search results, like we talked about here, show up in there, I can do SEO to appear in those places too. That could yield, in certain keyword universes, a strategy that is very image centric or very video centric, which means I’ve got to do a lot of work on YouTube, or very map centric, which means I’ve got to do a lot of local SEO, or other kinds like this.

Once you build a keyword research list like this, you can begin the prioritization process and the true work of creating pages, mapping the pages you already have to the keywords that you’ve got, and optimizing in order to rank. We’ll talk about that in Part III next week. Take care.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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Robots.txt best practice guide + examples

robots.txt best practice guide

The robots.txt file is an often overlooked and sometimes forgotten part of a website and SEO.

But nonetheless, a robots.txt file is an important part of any SEO’s toolset, whether or not you are just starting out in the industry or you are a chiseled SEO veteran.

What is a robots.txt file?

A robots.txt file can be used for for a variety of things, from letting search engines know where to go to locate your sites sitemap to telling them which pages to crawl and not crawl as well as being a great tool for managing your sites crawl budget.

You might be asking yourself “wait a minute, what is crawl budget?” Well crawl budget is what what Google uses to effectively crawl and index your sites pages. As big a Google is, they still only have a limited number of resources available to be able to crawl and index your sites content.

If your site only has a few hundred URLs then Google should be able to easily crawl and index your site’s pages.

However, if your site is big, like an ecommerce site for example and you have thousands of pages with lots of auto-generated URLs, then Google might not crawl all of those pages and you will be missing on lots of potential traffic and visibility.

This is where the importance of prioritizing what, when and how much to crawl becomes important.

Google have stated that “having many low-value-add URLs can negatively affect a site’s crawling and indexing.” This is where having a robots.txt file can help with the factors affecting your sites crawl budget.

You can use the file to help manage your sites crawl budget, by making sure that search engines are spending their time on your site as efficiently (especially if you have a large site) as possible and crawling only the important pages and not wasting time on pages such as login, signup or thank you pages.

Why do you need robots.txt?

Before a robot such as Googlebot, Bingbot, etc. crawls a webpage, it will first check to see if there is in fact a robots.txt file and, if one exists, they will usually follow and respect the directions found within that file.

A robots.txt file can be a powerful tool in any SEO’s arsenal as it’s a great way to control how search engine crawlers/bots access certain areas of your site. Keep in mind that you need to be sure you understand how the robots.txt file works or you will find yourself accidentally disallowing Googlebot or any other bot from crawling your entire site and not having it be found in the search results!

But when done properly you can control such things as:

  1. Blocking access to entire sections of your site (dev and staging environment etc.)
  2. Keeping your sites internal search results pages from being crawled, indexed or showing up in search results.
  3. Specifying the location of your sitemap or sitemaps
  4. Optimizing crawl budget by blocking access to low value pages (login, thank you, shopping carts etc..)
  5. Preventing certain files on your website (images, PDFs, etc.) from being indexed

Robots.txt Examples

Below are a few examples of how you can use the robots.txt file on your own site.

Allowing all web crawlers/robots access to all your sites content:

User-agent: *
Disallow:

Blocking all web crawlers/bots from all your sites content:

User-agent: *
Disallow: /

You can see how easy it is to make a mistake when creating your sites robots.txt as the difference from blocking your entire site from being seen is a simple forward slash in the disallow directive (Disallow: /).

Blocking a specific web crawlers/bots from a specific folder:

User-agent: Googlebot
Disallow: /

Blocking a web crawlers/bots from a specific page on your site:

User-agent: Disallow: /thankyou.html

Exclude all robots from part of the server:

User-agent: *
Disallow: /cgi-bin/
Disallow: /tmp/
Disallow: /junk/

This is example of what the robots.txt file on the theverge.com’s website looks like:

The example file can be viewed here: www.theverge.com/robots.txt

You can see how The Verge use their robots.txt file to specifically call out Google’s news bot “Googlebot-News” to make sure that it doesn’t crawl those directories on the site.

It’s important to remember that if you want to make sure that a bot doesn’t crawl certain pages or directories on your site, that you call out those pages and or directories in the in “Disallow” declarations in your robots.txt file, like in the above examples.

You can review how Google handles the robots.txt file in their robots.txt specifications guide, Google has a current maximum file size limit for the robots.txt file, the maximum size for Google is set at 500KB, so it’s important to be mindful of the size of your sites robots.txt file.

How to create a robots.txt file

Creating a robots.txt file for your site is a fairly simple process, but it’s also easy to make a mistake. Don’t let that discourage you from creating or modifying a robots file for your site. This article from Google walks you through the robots.txt file creation process and should help you get comfortable creating your very own robots.txt file.

Once you are comfortable with creating or modify your site’s robots file, Google has another great article that explains how to test your sites robots.txt file to see if it is setup correctly.

Checking if you have a robots.txt file

If you are new to the robots.txt file or are not sure if your site even has one, you can do a quick check to see. All you need to do to check is go to your sites root domain and then add /robots.txt to the end of the URL. Example: www.yoursite.com/robots.txt

If nothing shows up, then you do not have a robots.txt file for you site. Now would be the perfect time to jump in and test out creating one for your site.

Best Practices:

  1. Make sure all important pages are crawlable, and content that won’t provide any real value if found in search are blocked.
  2. Don’t block your sites JavaScript and CSS files
  3. Always do a quick check of your file to make sure nothing has changed by accident
  4. Proper capitalization of directory, subdirectory and file names
  5. Place the robots.txt file in your websites root directory for it to be found
  6. Robots.txt file is case sensitive,  the file must be named “robots.txt” (no other variations)
  7. Don’t use the robots.txt file to hide private user information as it will still be visible
  8. Add your sitemaps location to your robots.txt file.
  9. Make sure that you are not blocking any content or sections of your website you want crawled.

Things to keep in mind:

If you have a subdomain or multiple subdomains on your site, then you you will need to have a robots.txt file on each subdomain as well as on the main root domain. This would look something like this store.yoursite.com/robots.txt and yoursite.com/robots.txt.

Like mentioned above in the “best practices section” it’s important to remember not to use the robots.txt file to prevent sensitive data, such as private user information from being crawled and appearing in the search results.

The reason for this, is that it’s possible that other pages might be linking to that information and if there’s a direct link back it will bypass the robots.txt rules and that content may still get indexed. If you need to block your pages from truly being indexed in the search results, use should use different method like adding password protection or by adding a noindex meta tag to those pages. Google can not login to a password protected site/page, so they will not be able to crawl or index those pages.

Conclusion

While you might be a little nervous if you have never worked on robots.txt file before, rest assured it is fairly simple to use and set up. Once you get comfortable with the ins and outs of the robots file, you’ll be able to enhance your site’s SEO as well as help your site’s visitors and search engine bots.

By setting up your robots.txt file the right way, you will be helping search engine bots spend their crawl budgets wisely and help ensure that they aren’t wasting their time and resources crawling pages that don’t need to be crawled. This will help them in organizing and displaying your sites content in the SERPs in the best way possible, which in turn means you’ll have more visibility.

Keep in mind that it doesn’t necessarily take a whole lot of time and effort to setup your robots.txt file. For the most part, it’s a one-time setup, that you can then make little tweaks and changes to help better sculpt your site.

I hope the practices, tips and suggestions described in this article will help give you the confidence to go out and create/tweak your sites robots.txt file and at the same time help guide you smoothly through the process.

Michael McManus is Earned Media (SEO) Practice Lead at iProspect.

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How to increase conversions: Ideas, tools, examples

how to increase conversions: ideas, tools, and examples

Historically digital marketers are more concerned about attracting traffic to the site than boosting on-site conversions.

This is unfortunate because conversion optimization usually requires smaller investments and provides faster results than growing your traffic.

Here are eight ways to increase your ecommerce conversions quickly by providing better usability and smoother user experience.

1. Make your checkout process simpler

The name of the game is convenience. Don’t make it difficult for the consumer to finish a purchase. The more barriers your site throws up, the more likely it is your customers will leave the cart without completing the purchase.

According to BigCommerce’s 2019 Omni-Channel Retail Report, convenience is among the top 3 reasons U.S.  consumers across all generations chose to buy from an online store. When shopping online, millennials have become used to speed and convenience while younger generations have never known shopping without these.

graph showing "what is the primary reason you buy from a brand's website"

You should have a simple checkout process because that’s what is expected from your site these days (and often the primary reason why they shop online anyway). For example, sites that force you to sign up before you can check out are frustrating, and many users are not willing to spend time creating an account. Remove the forced signup and provide an option to checkout out as “guest.”

Every section of your checkout process is another opportunity for the consumer to quit and walk away. Consider whether any given section is worth the chance of losing sales and if you can safely remove it. Or, if it can’t be removed, find a way to streamline the entire process. For example, include a duplicating button that allows users to make their delivery address their billing address, without entering the same information twice.

Create easy cart navigation and decrease the number of steps needed to complete the purchase. This will increase sales and profits as well as customer satisfaction.

Featured tool: Convert.com allows to easily A/B your site shopping experience to come up with the best solution for your customers. Additionally, for WordPress, here’s a detailed A/B testing tutorial.

convert.com tool for how to increase conversions

2. Provide one-click upsells

According to ConversionXL, it is 25 times more expensive to develop new customers than it is to re-convert your current customers. You need to work to keep re-engaging your existing customers continually.

They are more valuable to you than a new visitor. Studies have shown that if you can increase your customer retention by 5%, you can increase your profits by up to 25%.

You can keep these consumers through a one-click upsell option. It convinces customers to complete an additional, unplanned-for transaction. It’s exactly how impulse shopping works in brick-and-mortar stores. They place enticing items by the register to convince you to add them to your purchase while you stand in line.

PayKickstart users have demonstrated powerful proof of concept: Many of them have seen both their average customer value and the total revenue more than double after they implemented one-click upsells:

paykickstart showing benefits of increased conversions after adding upsells

3. Make your shopping experience mobile-friendly

Mobile shopping is continually growing. More people are using their mobile device or tablet to shop on ecommerce sites than ever before, and with the fast adoption of smartphones worldwide, the numbers will continue to go up.

Users are more likely to abandon a cart and navigate away from your site if it’s difficult to browse on a smartphone. You don’t always need to develop an expensive app, but you do need to make your website easy to read and use on a smartphone.

One powerful way to make your shopping experience mobile friendly without investing into a standalone app is to use web design platforms that support progressive web apps (PWAs) which act like native mobile apps but don’t need to be installed by your customers. According to Google, PWAs are “a new way to deliver amazing user experiences on the web.”

PWAs also support many app-like functionalities that most mobile-optimized websites do not, such as push notifications, which can be especially useful for omnichannel retailers.

Duda allows agency professionals to roll out progressive web app versions of their clients’ sites with one click of a button:

duda platform showing progressive web apps (PWAs)

4. Provide personalized shopping experience

Several studies found personalized experience is a growing ecommerce trend that shouldn’t be neglected:

  • 59% of e-commerce shoppers find it easier and more engaging to shop on sites that are personalized.
  • 56% of shoppers are increasingly more likely to return to a site that recommends products to them.
  •  53% of shoppers believe that e-commerce retailers that offer personalized shopping provide a valuable service.

With Amazon leading the digital marketing industry, most of US consumers already expect to receive personalized treatment whenever they shop online.

Alter helps you set-up personalized shopping experience without the need to invest into an in-house solution. It works as follows:

  • Visitors read content or research products like they normally would on their favorite websites and blogs
  • Alter anonymously determines non-personal visitor interests based on the web pages they’re viewing (e.g. shoes, cars).
  • Visitors see personalized content based on those interests to help save time on websites they visit later (marketer websites).

image of how to provide personalized experiences

Some content management systems also provide for solid personalization options (which would be even easier to implement). For example, Duda allows you to personalize CTAs and special offers based on time of day, geolocation, number of visits and more:

duda platform for how to edit special offers

5. Match your customers’ expectations

Many of your customers discover your products through Google search. Are your landing pages doing a good-enough job matching their expectations?

Search intent optimization is often overlooked. Yet, it’s what often determines your users’ on-page engagement. Whether they will instantly see what they expected to see determines whether they will want to stay and give your landing page a chance to convert them into buyers.

Text Optimizer is a great way to optimize your landing page copy to meet Google’s and its users’ expectations. It uses semantic analysis to extract important concepts from Google’s search results. Use these terms when crafting your landing page copy to optimize it better and engage more of your site visitors:

TextOptimizer tool for how to improve copy for increased conversions

6. Add a sense urgency

Have you ever had a case of FOMO or fear of missing out? You’re not alone. The fear of missing out on something amazing or special or even extremely ordinary is a powerful psychological force that you can tap into.

Add a sense of urgency to your shopping cart page to develop FOMO in your costumer. This can give hesitant customers the extra push they need to complete the purchase.

Amazon uses FOMO extremely well by adding a countdown timer tied into your shipping. It tells you to buy the product in the next XX minutes to qualify for one-day shipping.

image of amazon example of adding urgency for how to increase conversions

You can use this tactic by adding a timer to your cart page, or a countdown clock to the end of a sale (here’s how). You could even go simply by writing “checkout now” instead of only “checkout.”

7. Add breadcrumbs

Site navigation can be tricky. If you’ve never been on a particular website, you might struggle to find your way around after you move from the landing page.

This is especially troublesome for e-commerce sites. You need to implement clear site navigation for both SEO and  usability.

Setting up breadcrumbs throughout your pages is a simple way to help your users feel confident at each step of their journey. Make it obvious where the consumer should go and what they should click next, and you are likely to see your conversions go up.

Conversion optimization may seem overwhelming. Luckily there are tools and solutions that can make it quite doable. Before investing in attracting more traffic to your site, try implementing the tips above to get the most of those visitors you already have.

Ann Smarty is the blogger and community manager at Internet Marketing Ninjas. She can be found on twitter @seosmarty

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SEO Is a Means to an End: How Do You Prove Your Value to Clients?

Posted by KameronJenkins

“Prove it” is pretty much the name of the game at this point.

As SEOs, we invest so much effort into finding opportunities for our clients, executing strategies, and on the best days, getting the results we set out to achieve.

That’s why it feels so deflating (not to mention mind-boggling) when, after all those increases in rankings, traffic, and conversions our work produced, our clients still aren’t satisfied.

Where’s the disconnect?

The value of SEO in today’s search landscape

You don’t have to convince SEOs that their work is valuable. We know full well how our work benefits our clients’ websites.

  1. Our attention on crawling and indexing ensures that search engine bots crawl all our clients’ important pages, that they’re not wasting time on any unimportant pages, and that only the important, valuable pages are in the index.
  2. Because we understand how Googlebot and other crawlers work, we’re cognizant of how to ensure that search engines understand our pages as they’re intended to be understood, as well as able to eliminate any barriers to that understanding (ex: adding appropriate structured data, diagnosing JavaScript issues, etc.)
  3. We spend our time improving speed, ensuring appropriate language targeting, looking into UX issues, ensuring accessibility, and more because we know the high price that Google places on the searcher experience.
  4. We research the words and phrases that our clients’ ideal customers use to search for solutions to their problems and help create content that satisfies those needs. In turn, Google rewards our clients with high rankings that capture clicks. Over time, this can lower our clients’ customer acquisition costs.
  5. Time spent on earning links for our clients earns them the authority needed to earn trust and perform well in search results.

There are so many other SEO activities that drive real, measurable impact for our clients, even in a search landscape that is more crowded and getting less clicks than ever before. Despite those results, we’ll still fall short if we fail to connect the dots for our clients.

Rankings, traffic, conversions… what’s missing?

What’s a keyword ranking worth without clicks?

What’s organic traffic worth without conversions?

What are conversions worth without booking/signing the lead?

Rankings, traffic, and conversions are all critical SEO metrics to track if you want to prove the success of your efforts, but they are all means to an end.

At the end of the day, what your client truly cares about is their return on investment (ROI). In other words, if they can’t mentally make the connection between your SEO results and their revenue, then the client might not keep you around for long.

From searcher to customer: I made this diagram for a past client to help demonstrate how they get revenue from SEO.

But how can you do that?

10 tips for attaching value to organic success

If you want to help your clients get a clearer picture of the real value of your efforts, try some of the following methods.

1. Know what constitutes a conversion

What’s the main action your client wants people to take on their website? This is usually something like a form fill, a phone call, or an on-site purchase (e-commerce). Knowing how your client uses their website to make money is key.

2. Ask your clients what their highest value jobs are

Know what types of jobs/purchases your client is prioritizing so you can prioritize them too. It’s common for clients to want to balance their “cash flow” jobs (usually lower value but higher volume) with their “big time” jobs (higher value but lower volume). You can pay special attention to performance and conversions on these pages.

3. Know your client’s close rate

How many of the leads your campaigns generate end up becoming customers? This will help you assign values to goals (tip #6).

4. Know your client’s average customer value

This can get tricky if your client offers different services that all have different values, but you can combine average customer value with close rate to come up with a monetary value to attach to goals (tip #6).

5. Set up goals in Google Analytics

Once you know what constitutes a conversion on your client’s website (tip #1), you can set up a goal in Google Analytics. If you’re not sure how to do this, read up on Google’s documentation.

6. Assign goal values

Knowing that the organic channel led to a conversion is great, but knowing the estimated value of that conversion is even better! For example, if you know that your client closes 10% of the leads that come through contact forms, and the average value of their customers is $500, you could assign a value of $50 per goal completion.

7. Consider having an Organic-only view in Google Analytics

For the purpose of clarity, it could be valuable to set up an additional Google Analytics view just for your client’s organic traffic. That way, when you’re looking at your goal report, you know you’re checking organic conversions and value only.

8. Calculate how much you would have had to pay for that traffic in Google Ads

I like to use the Keywords Everywhere plugin when viewing Google Search Console performance reports because it adds a cost per click (CPC) column next to your clicks column. This screenshot is from a personal blog website that I admittedly don’t do much with, hence the scant metrics, but you can see how easy this makes it to calculate how much you would have had to pay for the clicks you got your client for “free” (organically).

9. Use Multi-Channel Funnels

Organic has value beyond last-click! Even when it’s not the channel your client’s customer came through, organic may have assisted in that conversion. Go to Google Analytics > Conversions > Multi-Channel Funnels.

10. Bring all your data together

How you communicate all this data is just as important as the data itself. Use smart visualizations and helpful explanations to drive home the impact your work had on your client’s bottom line.


As many possibilities as we have for proving our value, doing so can be difficult and time-consuming. Additional factors can even complicate this further, such as:

  • Client is using multiple methods for customer acquisition, each with its own platform, metrics, and reporting
  • Client has low SEO maturity
  • Client is somewhat disorganized and doesn’t have a good grasp of things like average customer value or close rate

The challenges can seem endless, but there are ways to make this easier. I’ll be co-hosting a webinar on March 28th that focuses on this very topic. If you’re looking for ways to not only add value as an SEO but also prove it, check it out:

Save my spot!

And let’s not forget, we’re in this together! If you have any tips for showing your value to your SEO clients, share them in the comments below.

Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!

Eight tools you need for backlink generation

Eight tools you need for backlink generation

So you’ve created your website, following all the recommended SEO best practices.

That means you’ve included valuable, relevant keywords on your pages, made it mobile friendly and even started a blog that you’re updating frequently with original, relevant content.

But despite your best efforts, you’re not seeing as much traffic as you’d like, and your site is still ranking too low on Google’s Search Engine Results Page (SERP). It could be that your site is missing just one thing: backlinks.

Backlinks are links from another website that point to your website. Getting backlinks from websites with high domain authority that are relevant to your niche will help you rank higher on Google searches and grab your audience’s attention.

Why is there such an emphasis on backlinks? Google’s Search Engine Results Page (SERP) uses them to discover new pages, confirm pages are legitimate and determine the popularity of these pages. After all, Google doesn’t want to risk its own reputation by ranking subpar sites high on the SERP. According to a study by Backlinko, the number of domains linking to a webpage “correlated with rankings more than any other factor”.

Backlink generation isn’t easy, especially for new businesses or businesses just starting to build their web presence. However, with time, effort and the right tools, you can make sure you’re ranking high and receiving the views you deserve.

If you’re a business owner and want to boost your backlinks, here are eight tools to get you started.

1. MozBarScreenshot of MozBar

MozBar is a free SEO toolbar you download onto your web browser. It shows you the domain authority (DA) of a certain website, which gives you an indication of whether or not you should reach out for a backlink. If you do earn a backlink from a website with a DA, this will positively affect your own site’s authority.

In terms of DA, it ranges from 1 to 100, and the higher, the better. There’s no ideal number to look for, but generally, try finding sites with excellent content that relate to your field. If the DA is, say, a 35, that won’t help you as much as a site with a 75, but it won’t hurt, either. Research sites thoroughly and makes sure they aren’t spammy before pursuing them.

2. SEMrushScreenshot of SEMrush

SEMrush, which helps with all types of marketing strategies, shows users a few key tools for backlink generation. When logged into the paid version, you can navigate to the mentions section and find which websites are mentioning you but not linking to you. Once you discover these mentions, you can reach out and ask for a link to your site (as long as the site is relevant and has a high DA), which will boost your rankings.

Another tactic is to go into the backlink audit and see who’s currently linking to your website. Check to see if the link appears underneath the proper SEO-rich keyword and if the site is legitimate and relevant. (If the site is not legitimate, you may want to reach out and ask them to take it down, since that backlink can potentially hurt your ranking.)

While on SEMrush, try the backlink gap tool, which shows you which backlink opportunities your competitors are not taking advantage of. Then, you can reach out and ask for those valuable backlinks instead.

3. PitchboxScreenshot of Pitchbox

Pitchbox is a platform to find websites that may want to spread the news about your business or backlink to your pages or content. You simply sign up for Pitchbox, log in, paste the link to the page/content you’re doing backlink generation for and add in some specific keywords you’re looking to target. Then, in a minute or two, Pitchbox will come up with (usually) hundreds of websites you can reach out to.

You can filter for or delete any websites with low domain authority, and go through the sites one by one to see which are valuable. You can reach out to these websites using a Pitchbox email template. Pitchbox will show you the contacts for that site (or allow you to manually input them), automatically place in the person’s name and their website name, and send as many follow-up emails as you’d like.

When using Pitchbox, double check the contacts to make sure they’re current. Another best practice is to email a maximum of two people at the website since you don’t want to spam numerous people within an organization. If you’re having trouble with backlink generation, consider offering a backlink exchange. Just make sure, again, that the site you’re promising to link to relevant to yours and not spammy.

4. AhrefsScreenshot of Ahrefs

Ahrefs is similar to SEMrush and allows you to use the platform’s backlinks checker to view your current backlinks. Since they’ve already linked to your content before, you can ask these sites to link back to your other pages as well. Ahrefs also allows you to disavow toxic backlinks that might hurt your ranking.

Another helpful backlink generation tool is the Ahrefs Site Explorer. By entering the name of your competitor, you can see all of their referring backlinks. Using that information, you can reach out to the same sites that are linking to your competitors and see if they want to link to a valuable piece of content from your site.

5. Google AlertsScreenshot of Google Alerts

Let’s say you don’t have time to log onto SEMrush or Ahrefs every day and go through your mentions and backlinks. Instead, sign up for Google Alerts, which will email you when you’re mentioned somewhere. Visit the websites that mention you and try to find the contact information for someone you can reach out to there. If you can’t find them, log onto Hunter.io, which is a free tool for finding email addresses using only a domain name.

6. Broken Link Builder

Screenshot of Broken Link Builder

Somebody’s broken link can be your backlinking opportunity with Broken Link Builder. With this tool, you can find dead websites and their respective backlinks, and then offer up similar content to the website that was linking to the dead link. It’s a white-hat SEO tactic that benefits both webmasters and backlink seekers. Broken Link Builder only takes 30 to 60 minutes to generate a report for you to find valuable backlinking opportunities.

7. Majestic

Screenshot of Majestic

Majestic is a backlinking tool, like SEMrush and Ahrefs, that examines all the backlinks for your website, as well as your competitors, and allows you to perform very specific searches. You can search and filter backlinks however you choose, including by crawl or discovery dates, anchor text, link type, URL snippet or merchant ID. Majestic also claims to have the largest index out of any other service.

8. Linkody

Screenshot of Linkody

Linkody is another platform for tracking and performing research on backlinks. It tells you when you lose or gain links, and you can disavow bad links. You’re able to see your competitors’ backlinks and analyze your own link profile. You can choose to receive daily notifications in your inbox, view which links point to your landing pages and connect your Linkody and Google Analytics accounts for more backlink information. If you don’t want to pay for the service, you can use Linkody’s Free Backlink Checker to check two unique domains per week.

Tracking backlinks

With backlink generation, you need to track your efforts. A good place to do this is within a Google Sheet. Create a spreadsheet and share it with your team working on backlinks. They should input information like the date the backlink was pursued, the DA of the website, the URL of the website, the target URL of your content or page, the date the backlink was added, the contact’s email address and any notes about the process. Then, when you’re doing another round of backlink generation, you can refer to your Google sheet and reach out to the same people to see if they’d like to link to something else of yours.

Backlinks will always be part of Google’s ranking requirements. Understanding their importance and learning how to use these tools empowers you to do effective backlink generation that can increase your rankings and bring in more visitors to your site.

Mario Medina is a content strategist. He can be found on Twitter .

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How I got 80% open rate in my email outreach campaign

achieving 80% email open rate

The suggestion that you could have 80% of your outreach read by recipients sounds like a pipedream — an astronomical figure designed to keep people plugging away on their outbox. 

With such a small canvas of visible information in a recipient’s inbox to work with, it can feel like enticing four out of every five targets to open your email is impossible.

But if you incorporate the right approaches, then it can very much become a reality. Just to give you the heads up, here’re some results we’ve managed to get in our recent outreach campaign:

In the following article, I’ve explored the ingredients needed to get 80% of your outreach messages viewed. So perhaps you’d like to pour yourself a coffee and brace yourself for an awful lot more audience interaction in the near future — the caffeine might come in handy.

Identify your targets

There are five key factors behind achieving a high open rate in your email outreach, and the first and most important is through identifying the right recipients.

A common mistake among many outreachers is their shotgun approach to distributing emails. While scattering mail across the internet into as many inboxes that can be sourced may seem like a good, time-saving and quantitative technique, it actually wastes more time that could be better invested in finding quality recipients.

Before a successful outreach campaign, you’ll need to dedicate some time to the preparation stage. Identify who your ideal responder would be, whether it’s a client, customer, consumer or collaborator, and work on devising a list of the perfect targets that fit the description.

Through the use of opt-ins and calls-to-action, you can have an interested recipient base come to you with minimal fuss and is a sure-fire approach to sending marketing emails to those most likely to view your content. By inviting your website’s visitors to subscribe to your mailing list via an effective call-to-action placed on your homepage, you get to save time on research and effortlessly come into possession of hundreds of emails – a great outreach method for websites that are in a position to offer a product or service to thousands of people.

For outreach emails with more link-building intentions sourcing becomes more difficult. If you’ve decided to target industry professionals and influencers, then tools like Email Hunter and Voila Norbert could be the answer — these services scour the internet for the relevant email addresses behind just about any active website and can help you hit the bulls-eye when it comes to finding the right people to get in contact with.

domain search for emails for search engine watch

Mastering the subject line

According to a poll conducted via Litmus, 34% of recipients believe that an email subject line is the most important factor in helping them to decide to open their mail. This means that over 1/3 of your targets for outreach will be waiting for a perfect heading before clicking on your message.

These stats illustrate how important it is to get your subject line right, and there are many schools of thought behind what’s most effective and what isn’t.

Of course, each subject line will vary depending on the type of outreach you conduct, but the best practice is to appeal to people’s curiosity, to make them believe they’ll be gaining something if they read your email – which of course they will if your campaign has been constructed well enough.

screenshot of how email outreach goes to "other" mailbox

A winning subject line needs to be short, personal wherever possible, and relevant to the topics covered by your email. Sometimes being upfront can be effective, especially when it comes to outreaching savvy marketers and bloggers.

There are a few other factors that can make all the difference in making your email stand out too. Incorporating emojis into your heading may risk your content appearing puerile, but with the vast catalogue of emojis that are more serious than a winking yellow circle with a tongue sticking out, you can really add some standout imagery and colour to your title. For example, travel companies have been using holiday-themed emojis like aeroplanes and city skylines to great effect in capturing the imagination of recipients — if you can find something relevant that appeals to the aesthetics of your email, then it could be a key addition to make.

With so many individuals checking their inboxes via their smartphones, keeping your subject lines short and punchy has never been more important — make sure you get your message across in less than 50 characters.

By adding an element of urgency to your headline, recipients will feel more compelled to check its contents. You can exercise this by adding a sense of limited-time opportunity to your subject, or by inviting them to respond before a deadline — the chances are that they’ll be curious as to what’s caused the urgency and read on.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions in your subject line too — this can be seen as a way of cutting to the chase and getting your message across immediately.

Making use of your preview snippets

Many inboxes have menus that not only feature an unread email’s subject line but a snippet of text from the beginning of a message. It’s important not to neglect the opening lines of your email because this could be a key factor in whether or not it gets read or moved to the ‘junk’ folder.

Litmus has stated that 24% of recipients check the text previews of emails, so it’s worth dedicating time to.

The most important part of nailing your email opening is personalization. Make sure it begins with ‘Dear, [Name]’ or ‘Hi [Name],’ where possible – any less than this will give off the strong impression that you’re simply using templates to scatter across the web (which may well be the case, but we don’t want them to know that).

An effective use of the preview snippet is to treat it like a secondary subject line, or to summarize the email in the first line – doing so could be the deciding factor while your target’s hovering over your message in their inbox. If you’re using an email marketing software, make sure to use these two rules in every template.

Keeping your sender reputation in check

You could have compiled the best list of targeted recipients, the best subject line and opening text, all for it to be undone by a sender score that’s so low that your email drops straight into the junk folder never to be seen again.

Email providers are designed to give their users the best experience. And part of that is through whittling down any perceived junk automatically by filtering out any messages from users with a low sender score.

A sender score is calculated by prior interactions, and how many users generally open your emails. A great website to check if your current email address passes most servers’ junk filters is to consult Senderscore.org, which will let you know how your email is faring, and whether or not your messages will make it to the inboxes of your recipients.

sender score metrics for search engine watch

Effective follow-ups

Don’t be afraid to follow up on your emails. It can be easy to perceive the use of follow-ups as a nuisance or spammy, but in reality, a second email tends to work wonders in getting your content noticed.

example of a follow up email for email outreach

There are many reasons why recipients don’t read emails the first time around; it could’ve been received at a busy time in their day, or deleted by accident, or simply missed. Here, a follow-up offers your target a second chance to see your content and acknowledge your outreach.

Be sure to specify that your email is a follow-up – this shows that you’ve been in touch prior and clearly value the recipient’s attention. Also be sure to note when you sent your initial email for ease of reference.

While it’s worth sending more than one follow-up email to maximize your recipient’s chances to respond, we advise against mailing more than two chasers in order to limit the risk of being considered spam, or worse, being blacklisted.

Dmytro Spilka is Head Wiz at Solvid Digital. He can be found on Twitter at @spilkadi.

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Win That Pitch: How SEO Agencies Can Land New Business

Posted by TheMozTeam

If you’re a digital agency, chances are you have your sights set on a huge variety of clients — from entertainment and automotive, to travel and finance — all with their own unique SEO needs.

So how do you attract these companies and provide them with next-level SEO? By using a flexible tracking solution that delivers a veritable smorgasbord of SERP data every single day. Here are just four ways you can leverage STAT to lock down new business. 

1. Arm yourself with intel before you pitch 

The best way to win over a potential client is to walk into a pitch already aware of the challenges and opportunities in their online space. In other words: come armed with intel.

To get a lay of their search landscape, research which keywords are applicable to your prospect, load those puppies into STAT, and let them run for a few days (you can turn tracking on and off for however many keywords you like, whenever you like).

This way, when it comes time to make your case, you can hit them with hard data on their search visibility and tailored strategies to help them improve.

Walking into a pitch with deep insights in just a few days will make you look like an SEO wizard — and soon-to-be-new clients will know that you can handle any dark magic unleashed on the SERPs by a Google update or new competitors jumping into the mix. 

2. Look at your data from every possible angle

As an SEO for an agency, you’re vying to manage the visibility of several clients at any given time, and all of them have multiple websites, operate in different industries and verticals worldwide, and target an ever-growing list of topics and products.

So, when prospective clients expect individualized SEO recommendations, how can you possibly deliver without developing a permanent eye twitch? The answer lies in the ability to track and segment tons of keywords.

Get your mittens on more SERPs

To start, you’ll need to research and compile a complete list of keywords for every prospective client. When one keyword only returns one SERP, and people’s searches are as unique as they are, the longer the list, the greater the scope of insight. It’s the difference between a peek and peruse — getting a snapshot or the whole picture.

For example, let’s say your would-be client is a clothing chain with an online store and a brick-and-mortar in every major Canadian city. You’ll want to know how each of their products appears to the majority of searchers — does [men’s jeans] (and every iteration thereof) return a different SERP than [jeans for men]?

Next, it’s time to play international SEO spy and factor in the languages, locations, and devices of target audiences. By tracking pin-point locations in influential global markets, you can keep apprised of how businesses in your industry are performing in different cities all over the world.

For our example client, this is where the two keywords above are joined by [jeans pour hommes], [jeans for men in Montreal], and [jeans pour hommes dans Montreal], and are tracked in the Montreal postal code where their bricks-and-mortar sit, on desktop and mobile devices — giving you with 10 SERPs-worth of insight. Swap in “in Quebec City,” track in a postal code there, and gain another 10 SERPs lickety-split.

Unlock multiple layers of insights

While a passel of keywords is essential, it’s impossible to make sense of what they’re telling you when they’re all lumped together. This is why segmentation is a must. By slicing and dicing your keywords into different segments, called “tags” in STAT, you produce manageable data views with deep, targeted insight.

You can divvy up and tag your keywords however you like: by device, search intent, location, and more. Still running with our earlier example, by comparing a tag that tracks jeans keywords in Montreal against jeans keywords in Vancouver, you can inform your prospect of which city is bringing up the rear on the SERPs, and how they can better target that location.

STAT also lets you to segment any SERP feature you’re interested in — like snippets, videos, and knowledge graphs — allowing you to identify exactly where opportunities (and threats) lie on the SERP.

So, if your tag is tracking the all-important local places pack and your prospect’s brick-and-mortar store isn’t appearing in them, you can avoid the general “we’ll improve your rankings” approach, and focus your pitch around ways to get them listed. And once you’ve been hired to do the job, you’ll be able to prove your local pack success.

For more tag ideas, we created a post with some of the keyword segments that we recommend our clients set up in STAT.

3. Put a tail on the competition

Monitoring a client’s site is one thing, but keeping an eagle-eye on their competition at the same time will give you a serious leg up on other agencies.

With an automated site syncing option, STAT lets you track every known competitor site your prospect has, without any additional keyword management on your part.

All you need to do is plunk in competitor URLs and watch them track against your prospect’s keywords. And because you’ve already segmented the bejesus out of those keywords, you can tell exactly how they stack up in each segment.

To make sure that you’re tracking true search competitors, as well as emerging and dwindling threats, you should be all over STAT’s organic share of voice. By taking the rank and search volume of a given keyword, STAT calculates the percentage of eyeballs that players on the SERPs actually earn.

When you know the ins and outs of everyone in the industry — like who consistently ranks in the top 10 of your SERPs — you can give clients a more comprehensive understanding of where they fit into the big picture and uncover new market opportunities for them to break into. They’ll be thanking their lucky stars they chose you over the other guys.

4. Think big while respecting client budgets

As an enterprise SEO, having economies of scale is a critical factor in beating out other agencies for new business. In order to achieve this, you’ll want to collect and crunch data at an affordable rate.

STAT’s highly competitive per-keyword pricing is designed for scale, which is precisely why STAT and agencies are a match made in heaven. Thinking big won’t break anyone’s bank.

Plus, STAT’s billing is as flexible as the tracking. So, if you only need a few days’ worth of data, whether for a pitch or a project, you can jump into STAT and toggle tracking on or off for any number of keywords, and your billing will follow suit. In simpler terms: you’re only billed for the days you track.

And with no limits on users and no per-seat charges, you’re welcome to invite anyone on your team — even clients or vendors — to see your projects, allowing you to deliver transparency in conjunction with your SEO awesomeness.

If you’d like to do any or all of these things and are looking for the perfect SERP data tool to get the job done, say hello and request a demo!

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