Overcoming Blockers: How to Build Your Red Tape Toolkit – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by HeatherPhysioc

Have you ever made SEO recommendations that just don’t go anywhere? Maybe you run into a lack of budget, or you can’t get buy-in from your boss or colleagues. Maybe your work just keeps getting deprioritized in favor of other initiatives. Whatever the case, it’s important to set yourself up for success when it comes to the tangled web of red tape that’s part and parcel of most organizations.

In this week’s Whiteboard Friday, Heather Physioc shares her tried-and-true methods for building yourself a toolkit that’ll help you tear through roadblocks and bureaucracy to get your work implemented.

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Video Transcription

What up, Moz fans? This is Heather Physioc. I’m the Director of the Discoverability Group at VML, headquartered in Kansas City. So today we’re going to talk about how to build your red tape toolkit to overcome obstacles to getting your search work implemented. So do you ever feel like your recommendations are overlooked, ignored, forgotten, deprioritized, or otherwise just not getting implemented?

Common roadblocks to implementing SEO recommendations

#SEOprobs

If so, you’re not alone. So I asked 140-plus of our industry colleagues the blockers that they run into and how they overcome them.

  • Low knowledge. So if you’re anything like every other SEO ever, you might be running into low knowledge and understanding of search, either on the client side or within your own agency.
  • Low buy-in. You may be running into low buy-in. People don’t care about SEO as much as you do.
  • Poor prioritization. So other things frequently come to the top of the list while SEO keeps falling further behind.
  • High bureaucracy. So a lot of red tape or slow approvals or no advocacy within the organization.
  • Not enough budget. A lot of times it’s not enough budget, not enough resources to get the work done.
  • Unclear and overcomplicated process. So people don’t know where they fit or even how to get started implementing your SEO work.
  • Bottlenecks. And finally bottlenecks where you’re just hitting blockers at every step along the way.

So if you’re in-house, you probably said that not enough budget and resources was your biggest problem. But on the agency side or individual practitioners, they said low understanding or knowledge of search on the client side was their biggest blocker.

So a lot of the time when we run into these blockers and it seems like nothing is getting done, we start to play the blame game. We start to complain that it’s the client who hung up the project or if the client had only listened or it’s something wrong with the client’s business.

Build out your red tape toolkit

But I don’t buy it. So we’re going to not do that. We’re going to build out our red tape toolkit. So here are some of the suggestions that came out of that survey.

1. Assess client maturity

First is to assess your client’s maturity. This could include their knowledge and capabilities for doing SEO, but also their organizational search program, the people, process, ability to plan, knowledge, capacity.

These are the problems that tend to stand in the way of getting our best work done. So I’m not going to go in-depth here because we’ve actually put out a full-length article on the Moz blog and another Whiteboard Friday. So if you need to pause, watch that and come back, no problem.

2. Speak your client’s language

So the next thing to put in your toolkit is to speak your client’s language. I think a lot of times we’re guilty of talking to fellow SEOs instead of the CMOs and CEOs who buy into our work. So unless your client is a super technical mind or they have a strong search background, it’s in our best interests to lift up and stay at 30,000 feet. Let’s talk about things that they care about, and I promise you that is not canonicalization or SSL encryption and HTTPS.

They’re thinking about ROI and their customers and operational costs. Let’s translate and speak their language. Now this could also mean using analogies that they can relate to or visual examples and data visualizations that tell the story of search better than words ever could. Help them understand. Meet them in the middle.

3. Seek greater perspective

Now let’s seek greater perspective. So what this means is SEO does not or should not operate in a silo. We’re one small piece of your client’s much larger marketing mix. They have to think about the big picture. A lot of times our clients aren’t just dedicated to SEO. They’re not even dedicated to just digital sometimes. A lot of times they have to think about how all the pieces fit together. So we need to have the humility to understand where search fits into that and ladder our SEO goals up to the brand goals, campaign goals, business and revenue goals. We also need to understand that every SEO project we recommend comes with a time and a cost associated with it.

Everything we recommend to a CMO is an opportunity cost as well for something else that they could be working on. So we need to show them where search fits into that and how to make those hard choices. Sometimes SEO doesn’t need to be the leader. Sometimes we’re the follower, and that’s okay.

4. Get buy-in

The next tool in your toolkit is to get buy-in. So there are two kinds of buy-in you can get.

Horizontal buy-in

One is horizontal buy-in. So a lot of times search is dependent on other disciplines to get our work implemented. We need copywriters. We need developers. So the number-one complaint SEOs have is not being brought in early. That’s the same complaint all your teammates on development and copywriting and everywhere else have.

Respect the expertise and the value that they bring to this project and bring them to the table early. Let them weigh in on how this project can get done. Build mockups together. Put together a plan together. Estimate the level of effort together.

Vertical buy-in

Which leads us to vertical buy-in. Vertical is up and down. When you do this horizontal buy-in first, you’re able to go to the client with a much smarter, better vetted recommendation. So a lot of times your day-to-day client isn’t the final decision maker. They have to sell this opportunity internally. So give them the tools and the voice that they need to do that by the really strong recommendation you put together with your peers and make it easy for them to take it up to their boss and their CMO and their CEO. Then you really increase the likelihood that you’re going to get that work done.

5. Build a bulletproof plan

Next, build a bulletproof plan.

Case studies

So the number-one recommendation that came out of this survey was case studies. Case studies are great. They talk about the challenge that you tried to overcome, the solution, how you actually tackled it, and the results you got out of that.

Clients love case studies. They show that you have the chops to do the work. They better explain the outcomes and the benefits of doing this kind of work, and you took the risk on that kind of project with someone else’s money first. So that’s going to reduce the perceived risk in the client’s mind and increase the likelihood that they’re going to do the work.

Make your plan simple and clear, with timelines

Another thing that helps here is building a really simple, clear plan so it’s stupid-easy for everybody who needs to be a part of it to know where they fit in and what they’re responsible for. So do the due diligence to put together a step-by-step plan and assign ownership to each step and put timelines to it so they know what pace they should be following.

Forecast ROI

Finally, forecast ROI. This is not optional. So a lot of times I think SEOs are hesitant to forecast the potential outcomes or ROI of a project because of the sheer volume of unknowns.

We live in a world of theory, and it’s very hard to commit to something that we can’t be certain about. But we have to give the client some sense of return. We have to know why we are recommending this project over others. There’s a wealth of resources out there to do that for even heavily caveated and conservative estimate, including case studies that others have published online.

Show the cost of inaction

Now sometimes forecasting the opportunity of ROI isn’t enough to light a fire for clients. Sometimes we need to show them the cost of inaction. I find that with clients the risk is not so much that they’re going to make the wrong move. It’s that they’ll make no move at all. So a lot of times we will visualize what that might look like. So we’ll show them this is the kind of growth we think that you can get if you invest and you follow this plan we put together.

Here’s what it will look like if you invest just a little to monitor and maintain, but you’re not aggressively investing in search. Oh, and here, dropping down and to the right, is what happens when you don’t invest at all. You stagnate and you get surpassed by your competitors. That can be really helpful for clients to contrast those different levels of investment and convince them to do the work that you’re recommending.

6. Use headlines & soundbites

Next use headlines, taglines, and sound bites. What we recommend is really complicated to some clients. So let’s help translate that into simple, usable language that’s memorable so they can go repeat those lines to their colleagues and their bosses and get that work sold internally. We also need to help them prioritize.

So if you’re anything like me, you love it when the list of SEO action items is about a mile long. But when we dump that in their laps, it’s too much. They get overwhelmed and bombarded, and they tune out. So instead, you are the expert consultant. Use what you know about search and know about your client to help them prioritize the single most important thing that they should be focusing on.

7. Patience, persistence, and parallel paths

Last in your toolkit, patience, persistence, and parallel paths. So getting this work done is a combination of communication, follow-up, patience, and persistence. While you’ve got your client working on this one big thing that you recommended, you can be building parallel paths, things that have fewer obstacles that you can own and run with.

They may not be as high impact as the one big thing, but you can start to get small wins that get your client excited and build momentum for more of the big stuff. But the number one thing out of all of the responses in the survey that our colleagues recommended to you is to stay strong. Have empathy and understanding for the hard decisions that your client has to make. But come with a strong, confident point of view on where to go next.

All right, gang, these are a lot of great tips to start your red tape toolkit and overcome obstacles to get your best search work done. Try these out. Let us know what you think. If you have other great ideas on how you overcome obstacles to get your best work done with clients, let us know down in the comments. Thank you so much for watching, and we’ll see you next week for another edition of Whiteboard Friday.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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5 Ways We Improved User Experience and Organic Reach on the New Moz Help Hub

Posted by jocameron

We’re proud to announce that we recently launched our brand-new Help Hub! This is the section of our site where we store all our guides and articles on how to use Moz Pro, Moz Local, and our research tools like Link Explorer.

Our Help Hub contains in-depth guides, quick and easy FAQs, and some amazing videos like this one. The old Help Hub served us very well over the years, but with time it became a bit dusty and increasingly difficult to update, in addition to looking a bit old and shabby. So we set out to rebuild it from scratch, and we’re already seeing some exciting changes in the search results — which will impact the way people self-serve when they need help using our tools.

I’m going to take you through 5 ways we improved the accessibility and reach of the Help Hub with our redesign. If you write software guides, work in customer experience, or simply write content that answers questions, then this post is worth a look.

If you’re thinking this is just a blatant excuse to inject some Mozzy news into an SEO-style blog post, then you’re right! But if you stick with me, I’ll make sure it’s more fun than switching between the same three apps on your phone with a scrunched-up look of despair etched into your brow. 🙂

Research and discovery

To understand what features we needed to implement, we decided to ask our customers how they search for help when they get stuck. The results were fascinating, and they helped us build a new Help Hub that serves both our customers and their behavior.

We discovered that 78% of people surveyed search for an answer first before reaching out:

This is a promising sign, and perhaps no surprise that people working in digital marketing and search are very much in the habit of searching for the answers to their questions. However, we also discovered that a staggering 36% couldn’t find a sufficient answer when they searched:

We also researched industry trends and dug into lots of knowledge bases and guides for popular tools like Slack and Squarespace. With this research in our back pockets we felt sure of our goal: to build a Help Hub that reduces the length of the question-search-answer journey and gets answers in front of people with questions.

Let’s not hang about — here are 5 ways we improved organic reach with our beautiful new Help Hub.

#1: Removing features that hide content

Tabbed content used to be a super cool way of organizing a long, wordy guide. Tabs digitally folded the content up like an origami swan. The tabs were all on one page and on one URL, and they worked like jump links to teleport users to that bit of content.

Our old Help Hub design had tabbed content that was hard to find and wasn’t being correctly indexed

The problem: searchers couldn’t easily find this content. There were two reasons for this: one, no one expected to have to click on tabs for discovery; and two (and most importantly), only the first page of content was being linked to in the SERPs. This decimated our organic reach. It was also tricky to link directly to the tabbed content. When our help team members were chatting with our lovely community, it was nearly impossible to quickly send a link to a specific piece of information in a tabbed guide.

Now, instead of having all that tabbed content stacked away like a Filofax, we’ve got beautifully styled and designed content that’s easy to navigate. We pulled previously hidden content on to unique pages that we could link people to directly. And at the top of the page, we added breadcrumbs so folks can orient themselves within the guide and continue self-serving answers to their heart’s content.

Our new design uses breadcrumbs to help folks navigate and keep finding answers

What did we learn?

Don’t hide your content. Features that were originally built in an effort to organize your content can become outdated and get between you and your visitors. Make your content accessible to both search engine crawlers and human visitors; your customer’s journey from question to answer will be more straightforward, making navigation between content more natural and less of a chore. Your customers and your help team will thank you.

#2: Proudly promote your FAQs

This follows on from the point above, and you have had a sneak preview in the screenshot above. I don’t mind repeating myself because our new FAQs more than warrant their own point, and I’ll tell you why. Because, dear reader, people search for their questions. Yup, it’s this new trend and gosh darn it the masses love it.

I mentioned in the point above that tabbed content was proving hard to locate and to navigate, and it wasn’t showing up in the search results. Now we’re displaying common queries where they belong, right at the top of the guides:

FAQ placement, before and after

This change comprises two huge improvements. Firstly, questions our customers are searching, either via our site or in Google, are proudly displayed at the top of our guides, accessible and indexable. Additionally, when our customers search for their queries (as we know they love to do), they now have a good chance of finding the exact answer just a click away.

Address common issues at the top of the page to alleviate frustration

I’ve run a quick search in Keyword Explorer and I can see we’re now in position 4 for this keyword phrase — we weren’t anywhere near that before.

SERP analysis from Keyword Explorer

This is what it looks like in the organic results — the answer is there for all to see.

Our FAQ answer showing up in the search results

And when people reach out? Now we can send links with the answers listed right at the top. No more messing about with jump links to tabbed content.

What did we learn?

In addition to making your content easily accessible, you should address common issues head-on. It can sometimes feel uncomfortable to highlight issues right at the top of the page, but you’ll be alleviating frustration for people encountering errors and reduce the workload for your help team.

You can always create specific troubleshooting pages to store questions and answers to common issues.

#3: Improve article quality and relevance to build trust

This involves using basic on-page optimization techniques when writing or updating your articles. This is bread and butter for seasoned SEOs, although often overlooked by creators of online guides and technical writers.

It’s no secret that we love to inject a bit of Mozzy fun into what we do, and the Help Hub is no exception. It’s a challenge that we relish: to explain the software in clear language that is, hopefully, a treat to explore. However, it turns out we’d become too preoccupied with fun, and our basic on-page optimization sadly lagged behind.

Mirroring customers’ language

Before we started work on our beautiful new Help Hub, we analyzed our most frequently asked questions and commonly searched topics on our site. Next, we audited the corresponding pages on the Help Hub. It was immediately clear that we could do a better job of integrating the language our customers were using to write in to us. By using relevant language in our Help Hub content, we’d be helping searchers find the right guides and videos before they needed to reach out.

Using the MozBar guide as an example, we tried a few different things to improve the CTR over a period of 12 months. We added more content, we updated the meta tags, we added jump links. Around 8 weeks after the guide was made more relevant and specific to searchers’ troubleshooting queries, we saw a massive uptick in traffic for that MozBar page, with pageviews increasing from around ~2.5k per month to ~10k between February 2018 and July 2018. Traffic from organic searches doubled.

Updates to the Help Hub content and the increased traffic over time from Google Analytics

It’s worth noting that traffic to troubleshooting pages can spike if there are outages or bugs, so you’ll want to track this over an 8–12 month period to get the full picture.

What we’re seeing in the chart above is a steady and consistent increase in traffic for a few months. In fact, we started performing too well, ranking for more difficult, higher-volume keywords. This wasn’t exactly what we wanted to achieve, as the content wasn’t relevant to people searching for help for any old plugin. As a result, we’re seeing a drop in August. There’s a sweet spot for traffic to troubleshooting guides. You want to help people searching for answers without ranking for more generic terms that aren’t relevant, which leads us to searcher intent.

Focused on searcher intent

If you had a chance to listen to Dr. Pete’s MozCon talk, you’ll know that while it may be tempting to try to rank well for head vanity keywords, it’s most helpful to rank for keywords where your content matches the needs and intent of the searcher.

While it may be nice to think our guide can rank for “SEO toolbar for chrome” (which we did for a while), we already have a nice landing page for MozBar that was optimized for that search.

When I saw a big jump in our organic traffic, I entered the MozBar URL into Keyword Explorer to hunt down our ranking keywords. I then added these keywords in my Moz Pro campaign to see how we performed over time.

You can see that after our big jump in organic traffic, our MozBar troubleshooting guide dropped 45 places right out of the top 5 pages for this keyword. This is likely because it wasn’t getting very good engagement, as people either didn’t click or swiftly returned to search. We’re happy to concede to the more relevant MozBar landing page.

The troubleshooting guide dropped in the results for this general SEO toolbar query, and rightly so

It’s more useful for our customers and our help team for this page to rank for something like “why wont moz chrome plugin work.” Though this keyword has slightly fewer searches, there we are in the top spot consistently week after week, ready to help.

We want to retain this position for queries that match the nature of the guide

10x content

Anyone who works in customer experience will know that supporting a free tool is a challenge, and I must say our help team does an outstanding job. But we weren’t being kind to ourselves. We found that we were repeating the same responses, day in and day out.

This is where 10x content comes into play. We asked ourselves a very important question: why are we replying individually to one hundred people when we can create content that helps thousands of people?

We tracked common queries and created a video troubleshooting guide. This gave people the hand-holding they required without having to supply it one-to-one, on demand.

The videos for our SEO tools that offer some form of free access attract high views and engagement as folks who are new to them level up.

Monthly video views for tools that offer some free access

To put this into context, if you add up the views every month for these top 4 videos, they outperform all the other 35 videos on our Help hub put together:

Video views for tools with some free access vs all the other 35 videos on the Help Hub

What did we learn?

By mirroring your customers’ language and focusing on searcher intent, you can get your content in front of people searching for answers before they need to reach out. If your team is answering the same queries daily, figure out where your content is lacking and think about what you can do in the way of a video or images to assist searchers when they get stuck.

Most SEO work doesn’t have an immediate impact, so track when you’ve made changes and monitor your traffic to draw correlations between visitors arriving on your guides and the changes you’ve made. Try testing updates on a portion of pages and tracking results. Then rolling out updates to the rest of your pages.

More traffic isn’t always a good thing, it could indicate an outage or issue with your tool. Analyzing traffic data is the start of the journey to understanding the needs of people who use your tools.

#4: Winning SERP features by reformatting article structure

While we ramped up our relevance, we also reviewed our guide structure ready for migration to the new Help Hub CMS. We took paragraphs of content and turned them into clearly labelled step-by-step guides.

Who is this helping? I’m looking at you, 36% of people who couldn’t find what they were looking for! We’re coming at you from two angles here: people who never found the page they were searching for, and people who did, but couldn’t digest the content.

Here is an example from our guide on adding keywords to Moz Pro. We started with blocks of paragraphed content interspersed with images. After reformatting, we have a video right at the top and then a numbered list which outlines the steps.

Before: text and images. After: clearly numbered step-by-step guides.

When researching the results for this blog post, I searched for a few common questions to see how we were looking in the search results. And what did I find? Just a lovely rich snippet with our newly formatted steps! Magic!

Our new rich snippet with the first 4 steps and a screenshot of our video

We’ve got all the things we want in a rich snippet: the first 4 steps with the “more items” link (hello, CTR!), a link to the article, and a screenshot of the video. On one hand, the image of the video looks kind of strange, but it also clearly labels it as a Moz guide, which could prove to be rather tempting for people clicking through from the results. We’ll watch how this performs over time to figure out if we can improve on it in future.

Let’s go briefly back in time and see what the original results were for this query, pre-reformatting. Not quite so helpful, now, is it?

Search results before we reformatted the guide

What did we learn?

By clearly arranging your guide’s content into steps or bullet points, you’re improving the readability for human visitors and for search engines, who may just take it and use it in a rich snippet. The easier it is for people to comprehend and follow the steps of a process, the more likely they are to succeed — and that must feel significantly better than wading through a wall of text.

#5: Helping people at the end of the guide

At some point, someone will be disappointed by the guide they ended up on. Maybe it doesn’t answer their question to their satisfaction. Maybe they ended up in the wrong place.

That’s why we have two new features at the end of our guides: Related Articles and Feedback buttons.

The end of the guides, before and after

Related Articles

Related Articles help people to continue to self-serve, honing in on more specific guides. I’m not saying that you’re going to buckle down and binge-read ALL the Moz help guides — I know it’s not exactly Netflix. But you never know — once you hit a guide on Keyword Lists, you may think to yourself, “Gosh, I also want to know how to port my lists over to my Campaign. Oh, and while I’m here, I’m going to check on my Campaign Settings. And ohh, a guide about setting up Campaigns for subdomains? Don’t mind if I do!” Guide lovers around the world, rejoice!

Feedback buttons

I know that feedback buttons are by no means a new concept in the world of guides. It seems like everywhere you turn there’s a button, a toggle, or a link to let some mysterious entity somewhere know how you felt about this, that, and the other.

Does anyone ever actually use this data? I wondered. The trick is to gather enough information that you can analyze trends and respond to feedback, but not so much that wading through it is a major time-wasting chore.

When designing this feature, our aim was to gather actionable feedback from the folks we’re looking to help. Our awesome design, UX, and engineering teams built us something pretty special that we know will help us keep improving efficiently, without any extra noise.

Our new feedback buttons gather the data we need from the people we want to hear from

To leave feedback on our guides, you have to be logged in to your Moz account, so we are sure we’re helping people who engage with our tools, simple but effective. Clicking “Yes, thank you!” ends the journey there, job done, no need for more information for us to sift through. Clicking “No, not really” opens up a feedback box to let us know how we can improve.

People are already happily sending through suggestions, which we can turn into content and FAQs in a very short space of time:

Comments from visitors on how we can improve our guides

If you find yourself on a guide that helps (or not so much), then please do let us know!

The end of an article isn’t the end of the line for us — we want to keep moving forward and building on our content and features.

What did we learn?

We discovered that we’re still learning! Feedback can be tough to stomach and laborious to analyze, so spend some time figuring out who you want to hear from and how you can process that information.


If you have any other ideas about what you’d like to see on the Help Hub, whether it’s a topic, an FAQ, or snazzy feature to help you find the answers to your questions, please do let us know in the comments below.

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How to Create a Local Marketing Results Dashboard in Google Data Studio – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by DiTomaso

Showing clients that you’re making them money is one of the most important things you can communicate to them, but it’s tough to know how to present your results in a way they can easily understand. That’s where Google Data Studio comes in. In this week’s edition of Whiteboard Friday, our friend Dana DiTomaso shares how to create a client-friendly local marketing results dashboard in Google Data Studio from start to finish.

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Video Transcription

Hi, Moz fans. My name is Dana DiTomaso. I’m President and partner of Kick Point. We’re a digital marketing agency way up in the frozen north of Edmonton, Alberta. We work with a lot of local businesses, both in Edmonton and around the world, and small local businesses usually have the same questions when it comes to reporting.

Are we making money?

What I’m going to share with you today is our local marketing dashboard that we share with clients. We build this in Google Data Studio because we love Google Data Studio. If you haven’t watched my Whiteboard Friday yet on how to do formulas in Google Data Studio, I recommend you hit Pause right now, go back and watch that, and then come back to this because I am going to talk about what happened there a little bit in this video.

The Google Data Studio dashboard

This is a Google Data Studio dashboard which I’ve tried to represent in the medium of whiteboard as best as I could. Picture it being a little bit better design than my left-handedness can represent on a whiteboard, but you get the idea. Every local business wants to know, “Are we making money?” This is the big thing that people care about, and really every business cares about making money. Even charities, for example: money is important obviously because that’s what keeps the lights on, but there’s also perhaps a mission that they have.

But they still want to know: Are people filling out our donation form? Are people contacting us? These are important things for every business, organization, not-for-profit, whatever to understand and know. What we’ve tried to do in this dashboard is really boil it down to the absolute basics, one thing you can look at, see a couple of data points, know whether things are good or things are bad.

Are people contacting you?

Let’s start with this up here. The first thing is: Are people contacting you? Now you can break this out into separate columns. You can do phone calls and emails for example. Some of our clients prefer that. Some clients just want one mashed up number. So we’ll take the number of calls that people are getting.

If you’re using a call tracking tool, such as CallRail, you can import this in here. Emails, for example, or forms, just add it all together and then you have one single number of the number of times people contacted you. Usually this is a way bigger number than people think it is, which is also kind of cool.

Are people taking the action you want them to take?

The next thing is: Are people doing the thing that you want them to do? This is really going to decide on what’s meaningful to the client.

For example, if you have a client, again thinking about a charity, how many people filled out your donation form, your online donation form? For a psychologist client of ours, how many people booked an appointment? For a client of ours who offers property management, how many people booked a viewing of a property? What is the thing you want them to do? If they have online e-commerce, for example, then maybe this is how many sales did you have.

Maybe this will be two different things — people walking into the store versus sales. We’ve also represented in this field if a person has a people counter in their store, then we would pull that people counter data into here. Usually we can get the people counter data in a Google sheet and then we can pull it into Data Studio. It’s not the prettiest thing in the world, but it certainly represents all their data in one place, which is really the whole point of why we do these dashboards.

Where did visitors com from, and where are your customers coming from?

People contacting you, people doing the thing you want them to do, those are the two major metrics. Then we do have a little bit deeper further down. On this side here we start with: Where did visitors come from, and where are your customers coming from? Because they’re really two different things, right? Not every visitor to the website is going to become a customer. We all know that. No one has a 100% conversion rate, and if you do, you should just retire.

Filling out the dashboard

We really need to differentiate between the two. In this case we’re looking at channel, and there probably is a better word for channel. We’re always trying to think about, “What would clients call this?” But I feel like clients are kind of aware of the word “channel” and that’s how they’re getting there. But then the next column, by default this would be called users or sessions. Both of those are kind of cruddy. You can rename fields in Data Studio, and we can call this the number of people, for example, because that’s what it is.

Then you would use the users as the metric, and you would just call it number of people instead of users, because personally I hate the word “users.” It really boils down the humanity of a person to a user metric. Users are terrible. Call them people or visitors at least. Then unfortunately, in Data Studio, when you do a comparison field, you cannot rename and call it comparison. It does this nice percentage delta, which I hate.

It’s just like a programmer clearly came up with this. But for now, we have to deal with it. Although by the time this video comes out, maybe it will be something better, and then I can go back and correct myself in the comments. But for now it’s percentage delta. Then goal percentage and then again delta. They can sort by any of these columns in Data Studio, and it’s real live data.

Put a time period on this, and people can pick whatever time period they want and then they can look at this data as much as they want, which is delightful. If you’re not delivering great results, it may be a little terrifying for you, but really you shouldn’t be hiding that anyway, right? Like if things aren’t going well, be honest about it. That’s another talk for another time. But start with this kind of chart. Then on the other side, are you showing up on Google Maps?

We use the Supermetrics Google My Business plug-in to grab this kind of information. We hook it into the customer’s Google Maps account. Then we’re looking at branded searches and unbranded searches and how many times they came up in the map pack. Usually we’ll have a little explanation here. This is how many times you came up in the map pack and search results as well as Google Maps searches, because it’s all mashed in together.

Then what happens when they find you? So number of direction requests, number of website visits, number of phone calls. Now the tricky thing is phone calls here may be captured in phone calls here. You may not want to add these two pieces of data or just keep this off on its own separately, depending upon how your setup is. You could be using a tracking number, for example, in your Google My Business listing and that therefore would be captured up here.

Really just try to be honest about where that data comes from instead of double counting. You don’t want to have that happen. The last thing is if a client has messages set up, then you can pull that message information as well.

Tell your clients what to do

Then at the very bottom of the report we have a couple of columns, and usually this is a longer chart and this is shorter, so we have room down here to do this. Obviously, my drawing skills are not as good as as aligning things in Data Studio, so forgive me.

But we tell them what to do. Usually when we work with local clients, they can’t necessarily afford a monthly retainer to do stuff for clients forever. Instead, we tell them, “Here’s what you have to do this month.Here’s what you have to do next month. Hey, did you remember you’re supposed to be blogging?” That sort of thing. Just put it in here, because clients are looking at results, but they often forget the things that may get them those results. This is a really nice reminder of if you’re not happy with these numbers, maybe you should do these things.

Tell your clients how to use the report

Then the next thing is how to use. This is a good reference because if they only open it say once every couple months, they probably have forgotten how to do the stuff in this report or even things like up at the top make sure to set the time period for example. This is a good reminder of how to do that as well.

Because the report is totally editable by you at any time, you can always go in and change stuff later, and because the client can view the report at any time, they have a dashboard that is extremely useful to them and they don’t need to bug you every single time they want to see a report. It saves you time and money. It saves them time and money. Everybody is happy. Everybody is saving money. I really recommend setting up a really simple dashboard like this for your clients, and I bet you they’ll be impressed.

Thanks so much.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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Why We’re Doubling Down on the Future of SEO – Moz + STAT

Posted by Dr-Pete

Search is changing. As a 200-person search marketing software company, this isn’t just a pithy intro – it’s a daily threat to our survival. Being an organic search marketer can be frustrating when even a search like “What is SEO?” returns something like this…

…or this…

…or even this…

So, why don’t we just give up on search marketing altogether? If I had to pick just one answer, it’s this – because search still drives the lion’s share of targeted, relevant traffic to business websites (and Google drives the vast majority of that traffic, at least in the US, Canada, Australia, and Western Europe).

We have to do everything better

The answer isn’t to give up – it’s to recognize all of this new complexity, study it, and do our jobs better. Earlier this year, for example, we embarked on a study to understand how SERP features impact click-through rates (CTR). It turns out to be a difficult problem, but even the initial insights of the data were useful (and a bit startling). For example, here’s the average organic (SERPs with no features) curve from that study…

Various studies show the starting point at various places, but the shape itself is consistent and familiar. We know, though, that reducing everything to one average ignores a lot. Here’s a dramatic example. Let’s compare the organic curve to the curve for SERPs with expanded sitelinks (which are highly correlated with dominant and/or branded intent)…

Results with sitelinks in the #1 position have a massive 80% average CTR, with a steep drop to #2. These two curves represent two wildly different animals. Now, let’s look at SERPs with Knowledge Cards (AKA “answer boxes” – Knowledge Graph entities with no organic link)…

The CTR in the #1 organic position drops to almost 1/3 of the organic-only curve, with corresponding drops throughout all positions. Organic opportunity on these SERPs is severely limited.

Opportunity isn’t disappearing, but it is evolving. We have to do better. This is why Moz has teamed up with STAT, and why we’re doubling down on search. We recognize the complexity of SERP analytics in 2018, but we also truly believe that there’s real opportunity for those willing to do the hard work and build better tools.

Doubling down on RANKINGS

It hurts a bit to admit, but there’s been more than once in the past couple of years where a client outgrew Moz for rank tracking. When they did, we had one thing to say to those clients: “We’ll miss you, and you should talk to STAT Search Analytics.” STAT has been a market leader in daily rank tracking, and they take that job very seriously, with true enterprise-scale capabilities and reporting.

For the past couple of years, STAT’s team has also been a generous source of knowledge, and even as competitors our engineering teams have shared intel on Google’s latest changes. As of now, all brakes are off, and we’re going to dive deep into each other’s brains (figuratively, of course – I only take mad science so far) to find out what each team does best. We’re going to work to combine the best of STAT’s daily tracking technology with Moz’s proprietary metrics (such as Keyword Difficulty) to chart the future of rank tracking.

We’ll also be working together to redefine what “ranking” means, in an organic sense. There are multiple SERP features, from Featured Snippets to Video Carousels to People Also Ask boxes that represent significant organic opportunity. STAT and Moz both have a long history of researching these opportunities and recognize the importance of reflecting them in our products.

Doubling down on RESEARCH

One area Moz has excelled at, showcased in the launch and evolution of Keyword Explorer, is keyword research. We’ll be working hard to put that knowledge to work for STAT customers even as we evolve Moz’s own toolsets. We’re already doing work to better understand keyword intent and how it impacts keyword research – beyond semantically related keywords, how do you find the best keywords with local intent or targeted at the appropriate part of the sales funnel? In an age of answer engines, how do you find the best questions to target? Together, we hope to answer these questions in our products.

In August, we literally doubled our keyword corpus in Keyword Explorer to supercharge your keyword research. You can now tap into suggestions from 160 million keywords across the US, Canada, UK, and Australia.

Beyond keywords, Moz and STAT have both been market leaders in original industry research, and we’ll be stronger together. We’re going to have access to more data and more in-house experts, and we’ll be putting that data to work for the search industry.

Doubling down on RESULTS

Finally, we recognize that SERP analytics are much more than just a number from 1–50. You need to understand how results drive clicks, traffic, and revenue. You need to understand your competitive landscape. You need to understand the entire ecosystem of keywords, links, and on-page SEO, and how those work together. By combining STAT’s enterprise-level analytics with Moz’s keyword research, link graph, and technical SEO tools (including both Site Crawl and On-demand Crawl), we’re going to bring you the tools you need to demonstrate and drive bottom-line results.

In the short-term, we’re going to be listening and learning from each other, and hopefully from you (both our community and our customers). What’s missing in your search marketing workflow today? What data do you love in Moz or STAT that’s missing from the other side? How can we help you do your job better? Let us know in the comments.

If you’d like to be notified of future developments, join our Moz+STAT Search Analytics mailing list (sign-up at bottom of page) to find out about news and offers as we roll them out.

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Moz Acquires STAT Search Analytics: We’re Better Together!

Posted by SarahBird

We couldn’t be more thrilled to announce that Moz has acquired STAT Search Analytics!

It’s not hard to figure out why, right? We both share a vision around creating search solutions that will change the industry. We’re both passionate about investing in our customers’ success. Together we provide a massive breadth of high-quality, actionable data and insights for marketers. Combining Moz’s SEO research tools and local search expertise with STAT’s daily localized rankings and SERP analytics, we have the most robust organic search solution in the industry.

I recently sat down with my friend Rob Bucci, our new VP of Research & Development and most recently the CEO of STAT, to talk about how this came to be and what to expect next. Check it out:

https://fast.wistia.net/embed/iframe/ar4ne22q64?seo=false&videoFoam=true

https://fast.wistia.net/assets/external/E-v1.js

You can also read Rob’s thoughts on everything here over on the STAT blog!

With our powers combined…

Over the past few months, Moz’s data has gotten some serious upgrades. Notably, with the launch of our new link index in April, the data that feeds our tools is now 35x larger and 30x fresher than it was before. In August we doubled our keyword corpus and expanded our data for the UK, Canada, and Australia, positioning us to lead the market in keyword research and link building tools. Throughout 2018, we’ve made significant improvements to Moz Local’s UI with a brand-new dashboard, making sure our business listing accuracy tool is as usable as it is useful. Driving the blood, sweat, and tears behind these upgrades is a simple purpose: to provide our customers with the best SEO tools money can buy.

STAT is intimately acquainted with this level of customer obsession. Their team has created the best enterprise-level SERP analysis software on the market. More than just rank tracking, STAT’s data is a treasure trove of consumer research, competitive intel, and the deep search analytics that enable SEOs to level up their game.

Moz + STAT together provide a breadth and depth of data that hasn’t existed before in our industry. Organic search shifts from tactics to strategy when you have this level of insight at your disposal, and we can’t wait to reveal what industry-changing products we’ll build together.

Our shared values and vision

Aside from the technology powerhouse this partnership will build, we also couldn’t have found a better culture fit than STAT. With values like selflessness, ambition, and empathy, STAT embodies TAGFEE. Moz and STAT are elated to be coming together as a single company dedicated to developing the best organic search solutions for our customers while also fostering an awesome culture for our employees.

Innovation awaits!

To Moz and STAT customers: the future is bright. Expect more updates, more innovation, and more high-quality data at your disposal than ever before. As we grow together, you’ll grow with us.

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The SEO Cyborg: How to Resonate with Users & Make Sense to Search Bots

Posted by alexis-sanders

SEO is about understanding how search bots and users react to an online experience. As search professionals, we’re required to bridge gaps between online experiences, search engine bots, and users. We need to know where to insert ourselves (or our teams) to ensure the best experience for both users and bots. In other words, we strive for experiences that resonate with humans and make sense to search engine bots.

This article seeks to answer the following questions:

  • How do we drive sustainable growth for our clients?
  • What are the building blocks of an organic search strategy?

What is the SEO cyborg?

A cyborg (or cybernetic organism) is defined as “a being with both organic and
biomechatronic body parts, whose physical abilities are extended beyond normal human limitations by mechanical elements.”

With the ability to relate between humans, search bots, and our site experiences, the SEO cyborg is an SEO (or team) that is able to work seamlessly between both technical and content initiatives (whose skills are extended beyond normal human limitations) to support driving of organic search performance. An SEO cyborg is able to strategically pinpoint where to place organic search efforts to maximize performance.

So, how do we do this?

The SEO model

Like so many classic triads (think: primary colors, the Three Musketeers, Destiny’s Child [the canonical version, of course]) the traditional SEO model, known as the crawl-index-rank method, packages SEO into three distinct steps. At the same time, however, this model fails to capture the breadth of work that we SEOs are expected to do on a daily basis, and not having a functioning model can be limiting. We need to expand this model without reinventing the wheel.

The enhanced model involves adding in a rendering, signaling, and connection phase.

You might be wondering, why do we need these?:

  • Rendering: There is increased prevalence of JavaScript, CSS, imagery, and personalization.
  • Signaling: HTML <link> tags, status codes, and even GSC signals are powerful indicators that tell search engines how to process and understand the page, determine its intent, and ultimately rank it. In the previous model, it didn’t feel as if these powerful elements really had a place.
  • Connecting: People are a critical component of search. The ultimate goal of search engines is to identify and rank content that resonates with people. In the previous model, “rank” felt cold, hierarchical, and indifferent towards the end user.

All of this brings us to the question: how do we find success in each stage of this model?

Note: When using this piece, I recommend skimming ahead and leveraging those sections of the enhanced model that are most applicable to your business’ current search program.

The enhanced SEO model

Crawling

Technical SEO starts with the search engine’s ability to find a site’s webpages (hopefully efficiently).

Finding pages

Initially finding pages can happen a few ways, via:

  • Links (internal or external)
  • Redirected pages
  • Sitemaps (XML, RSS 2.0, Atom 1.0, or .txt)

Side note: This information (although at first pretty straightforward) can be really useful. For example, if you’re seeing weird pages popping up in site crawls or performing in search, try checking:

  • Backlink reports
  • Internal links to URL
  • Redirected into URL

Obtaining resources

The second component of crawling relates to the ability to obtain resources (which later becomes critical for rendering a page’s experience).

This typically relates to two elements:

  1. Appropriate robots.txt declarations
  2. Proper HTTP status code (namely 200 HTTP status codes)

Crawl efficiency

Finally, there’s the idea of how efficiently a search engine bot can traverse your site’s most critical experiences.

Action items:

  • Is site’s main navigation simple, clear, and useful?
  • Are there relevant on-page links?
  • Is internal linking clear and crawlable (i.e., <a href=”/”>)?
  • Is an HTML sitemap available?
  • Side note: Make sure to check the HTML sitemap’s next page flow (or behavior flow reports) to find where those users are going. This may help to inform the main navigation.
  • Do footer links contain tertiary content?
  • Are important pages close to root?
  • Are there no crawl traps?
  • Are there no orphan pages?
  • Are pages consolidated?
  • Do all pages have purpose?
  • Has duplicate content been resolved?
  • Have redirects been consolidated?
  • Are canonical tags on point?
  • Are parameters well defined?

Information architecture

The organization of information extends past the bots, requiring an in-depth understanding of how users engage with a site.

Some seed questions to begin research include:

  • What trends appear in search volume (by location, device)? What are common questions users have?
  • Which pages get the most traffic?
  • What are common user journeys?
  • What are users’ traffic behaviors and flow?
  • How do users leverage site features (e.g., internal site search)?

Rendering

Rendering a page relates to search engines’ ability to capture the page’s desired essence.

JavaScript

The big kahuna in the rendering section is JavaScript. For Google, rendering of JavaScript occurs during a second wave of indexing and the content is queued and rendered as resources become available.

Image based off of Google I/O ’18 presentation by Tom Greenway and John Mueller, Deliver search-friendly JavaScript-powered websites

As an SEO, it’s critical that we be able to answer the question — are search engines rendering my content?

Action items:

  • Are direct “quotes” from content indexed?
  • Is the site using <a href=”/”> links (not onclick();)?
  • Is the same content being served to search engine bots (user-agent)?
  • Is the content present within the DOM?
  • What does Google’s Mobile-Friendly Testing Tool’s JavaScript console (click “view details”) say?

Infinite scroll and lazy loading

Another hot topic relating to JavaScript is infinite scroll (and lazy load for imagery). Since search engine bots are lazy users, they won’t scroll to attain content.

Action items:

Ask ourselves – should all of the content really be indexed? Is it content that provides value to users?

  • Infinite scroll: a user experience (and occasionally a performance optimizing) tactic to load content when the user hits a certain point in the UI; typically the content is exhaustive.

Solution one (updating AJAX):

1. Break out content into separate sections

  • Note: The breakout of pages can be /page-1, /page-2, etc.; however, it would be best to delineate meaningful divides (e.g., /voltron, /optimus-prime, etc.)

2. Implement History API (pushState(), replaceState()) to update URLs as a user scrolls (i.e., push/update the URL into the URL bar)

3. Add the <link> tag’s rel=”next” and rel=”prev” on relevant page

Solution two (create a view-all page)
Note: This is not recommended for large amounts of content.

1. If it’s possible (i.e., there’s not a ton of content within the infinite scroll), create one page encompassing all content

2. Site latency/page load should be considered

  • Lazy load imagery is a web performance optimization tactic, in which images loads upon a user scrolling (the idea is to save time, downloading images only when they’re needed)
  • Add <img> tags in <noscript> tags
  • Use JSON-LD structured data
    • Schema.org “image” attributes nested in appropriate item types
    • Schema.org ImageObject item type

CSS

I only have a few elements relating to the rendering of CSS.

Action items:

  • CSS background images not picked up in image search, so don’t count on for important imagery
  • CSS animations not interpreted, so make sure to add surrounding textual content
  • Layouts for page are important (use responsive mobile layouts; avoid excessive ads)

Personalization

Although a trend in the broader digital exists to create 1:1, people-based marketing, Google doesn’t save cookies across sessions and thus will not interpret personalization based on cookies, meaning there must be an average, base-user, default experience. The data from other digital channels can be exceptionally useful when building out audience segments and gaining a deeper understanding of the base-user.

Action item:

  • Ensure there is a base-user, unauthenticated, default experience

Technology

Google’s rendering engine is leveraging Chrome 41. Canary (Chrome’s testing browser) is currently operating on Chrome 69. Using CanIUse.com, we can infer that this affects Google’s abilities relating to HTTP/2, service workers (think: PWAs), certain JavaScript, specific advanced image formats, resource hints, and new encoding methods. That said, this does not mean we shouldn’t progress our sites and experiences for users — we just must ensure that we use progressive development (i.e., there’s a fallback for less advanced browsers [and Google too ☺]).

Action items:

  • Ensure there’s a fallback for less advanced browsers

Indexing

Getting pages into Google’s databases is what indexing is all about. From what I’ve experienced, this process is straightforward for most sites.

Action items:

  • Ensure URLs are able to be crawled and rendered
  • Ensure nothing is preventing indexing (e.g., robots meta tag)
  • Submit sitemap in Google Search Console
  • Fetch as Google in Google Search Console

Signaling

A site should strive to send clear signals to search engines. Unnecessarily confusing search engines can significantly impact a site’s performance. Signaling relates to suggesting best representation and status of a page. All this means is that we’re ensuring the following elements are sending appropriate signals.

Action items:

  • <link> tag: This represents the relationship between documents in HTML.
    • Rel=”canonical”: This represents appreciably similar content.
      • Are canonicals a secondary solution to 301-redirecting experiences?
      • Are canonicals pointing to end-state URLs?
      • Is the content appreciably similar?
        • Since Google maintains prerogative over determining end-state URL, it’s important that the canonical tags represent duplicates (and/or duplicate content).
      • Are all canonicals in HTML?
      • Is there safeguarding against incorrect canonical tags?
    • Rel=”next” and rel=”prev”: These represent a collective series and are not considered duplicate content, which means that all URLs can be indexed. That said, typically the first page in the chain is the most authoritative, so usually it will be the one to rank.
    • Rel=”alternate”
      • media: typically used for separate mobile experiences.
      • hreflang: indicate appropriate language/country
        • The hreflang is quite unforgiving and it’s very easy to make errors.
        • Ensure the documentation is followed closely.
        • Check GSC International Target reports to ensure tags are populating.
  • HTTP status codes can also be signals, particularly the 304, 404, 410, and 503 status codes.
    • 304 – a valid page that simply hasn’t been modified
    • 404 – file not found
    • 410 – file not found (and it is gone, forever and always)
    • 503 – server maintenance

  • Google Search Console settings: Make sure the following reports are all sending clear signals. Occasionally Google decides to honor these signals.
    • International Targeting
    • URL Parameters
    • Data Highlighter
    • Remove URLs
    • Sitemaps

Rank

Rank relates to how search engines arrange web experiences, stacking them against each other to see who ends up on top for each individual query (taking into account numerous data points surrounding the query).

Two critical questions recur often when understanding ranking pages:

  • Does or could your page have the best response?
  • Are you or could you become semantically known (on the Internet and in the minds of users) for the topics? (i.e., are you worthy of receiving links and people traversing the web to land on your experience?)

On-page optimizations

These are the elements webmasters control. Off-page is a critical component to achieving success in search; however, in an idyllic world, we shouldn’t have to worry about links and/or mentions – they should come naturally.

Action items:

  • Textual content:
    • Make content both people and bots can understand
    • Answer questions directly
    • Write short, logical, simple sentences
    • Ensure subjects are clear (not to be inferred)
    • Create scannable content (i.e., make sure <h#> tags are an outline, use bullets/lists, use tables, charts, and visuals to delineate content, etc.)
    • Define any uncommon vocabulary or link to a glossary
  • Multimedia (images, videos, engaging elements):
    • Use imagery, videos, engaging content where applicable
    • Ensure that image optimization best practices are followed
  • Meta elements (<title> tags, meta descriptions, OGP, Twitter cards, etc.)
  • Structured data

Image courtesy of @abbynhamilton

  • Is content accessible?
    • Is there keyboard functionality?
    • Are there text alternatives for non-text media? Example:
      • Transcripts for audio
      • Images with alt text
      • In-text descriptions of visuals
    • Is there adequate color contrast?
    • Is text resizable?

Finding interesting content

Researching and identifying useful content happens in three formats:

  • Keyword and search landscape research
  • On-site analytic deep dives
  • User research

Visual modified from @smrvl via @DannyProl

Audience research

When looking for audiences, we need to concentrate high percentages (super high index rates are great, but not required). Push channels (particularly ones with strong targeting capabilities) do better with high index rates. This makes sense, we need to know that 80% of our customers have certain leanings (because we’re looking for base-case), not that five users over-index on a niche topic (these five niche-topic lovers are perfect for targeted ads).

Some seed research questions:

  • Who are users?
  • Where are they?
  • Why do they buy?
  • How do they buy?
  • What do they want?
  • Are they new or existing users?
  • What do they value?
  • What are their motivators?
  • What is their relationship w/ tech?
  • What do they do online?
  • Are users engaging with other brands?
    • Is there an opportunity for synergy?
  • What can we borrow from other channels?
    • Digital presents a wealth of data, in which 1:1, closed-loop, people-based marketing exists. Leverage any data you can get and find useful.

Content journey maps

All of this data can then go into creating a map of the user journey and overlaying relevant content. Below are a few types of mappings that are useful.

Illustrative user journey map

Sometimes when trying to process complex problems, it’s easier to break it down into smaller pieces. Illustrative user journeys can help with this problem! Take a single user’s journey and map it out, aligning relevant content experiences.

Funnel content mapping

This chart is deceptively simple; however, working through this graph can help sites to understand how each stage in the funnel affects users (note: the stages can be modified). This matrix can help with mapping who writers are talking to, their needs, and how to push them to the next stage in the funnel.

Content matrix

Mapping out content by intent and branding helps to visualize conversion potential. I find these extremely useful for prioritizing top-converting content initiatives (i.e., start with ensuring branded, transactional content is delivering the best experience, then move towards more generic, higher-funnel terms).

Overviews

Regardless of how the data is broken down, it’s vital to have a high-level view on the audience’s core attributes, opportunities to improve content, and strategy for closing the gap.

Connecting

Connecting is all about resonating with humans. Connecting is about understanding that customers are human (and we have certain constraints). Our mind is constantly filtering, managing, multitasking, processing, coordinating, organizing, and storing information. It is literally in our mind’s best interest to not remember 99% of the information and sensations that surround us (think of the lights, sounds, tangible objects, people surrounding you, and you’re still able to focus on reading the words on your screen — pretty incredible!).

To become psychologically sticky, we must:

  1. Get past the mind’s natural filter. A positive aspect of being a pull marketing channel is that individuals are already seeking out information, making it possible to intersect their user journey in a micro-moment.
  2. From there we must be memorable. The brain tends to hold onto what’s relevant, useful, or interesting. Luckily, the searcher’s interest is already piqued (even if they aren’t consciously aware of why they searched for a particular topic).

This means we have a unique opportunity to “be there” for people. This leads to a very simple, abstract philosophy: a great brand is like a great friend.

We have similar relationship stages, we interweave throughout each other’s lives, and we have the ability to impact happiness. This comes down to the question: Do your online customers use adjectives they would use for a friend to describe your brand?

Action items:

  • Is all content either relevant, useful, or interesting?
  • Does the content honor your user’s questions?
  • Does your brand have a personality that aligns with reality?
  • Are you treating users as you would a friend?
  • Do your users use friend-like adjectives to describe your brand and/or site?
  • Do the brand’s actions align with overarching goals?
  • Is your experience trust-inspiring?
  • https://?
  • Using Limited ads in layout?
  • Does the site have proof of claims?
  • Does the site use relevant reviews and testimonials?
  • Is contact information available and easily findable?
  • Is relevant information intuitively available to users?
  • Is it as easy to buy/subscribe as it is to return/cancel?
  • Is integrity visible throughout the entire conversion process and experience?
  • Does site have credible reputation across the web?

Ultimately, being able to strategically, seamlessly create compelling user experiences which make sense to bots is what the SEO cyborg is all about. ☺

tl;dr

  • Ensure site = crawlable, renderable, and indexable
  • Ensure all signals = clear, aligned
  • Answering related, semantically salient questions
  • Research keywords, the search landscape, site performance, and develop audience segments
  • Use audience segments to map content and prioritize initiatives
  • Ensure content is relevant, useful, or interesting
  • Treat users as friend, be worthy of their trust

This article is based off of my MozCon talk (with a few slides from the Appendix pulled forward). The full deck is available on Slideshare, and the official videos can be purchased here. Please feel free to reach out with any questions in the comments below or via Twitter @AlexisKSanders.

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Rewriting the Beginner’s Guide to SEO, Chapter 5: Technical Optimization

Posted by BritneyMuller

After a short break, we’re back to share our working draft of Chapter 5 of the Beginner’s Guide to SEO with you! This one was a whopper, and we’re really looking forward to your input. Giving beginner SEOs a solid grasp of just what technical optimization for SEO is and why it matters — without overwhelming them or scaring them off the subject — is a tall order indeed. We’d love to hear what you think: did we miss anything you think is important for beginners to know? Leave us your feedback in the comments!

And in case you’re curious, check back on our outline, Chapter One, Chapter Two, Chapter Three, and Chapter Four to see what we’ve covered so far.


Chapter 5: Technical Optimization

Basic technical knowledge will help you optimize your site for search engines and establish credibility with developers.

Now that you’ve crafted valuable content on the foundation of solid keyword research, it’s important to make sure it’s not only readable by humans, but by search engines too!

You don’t need to have a deep technical understanding of these concepts, but it is important to grasp what these technical assets do so that you can speak intelligently about them with developers. Speaking your developers’ language is important because you will likely need them to carry out some of your optimizations. They’re unlikely to prioritize your asks if they can’t understand your request or see its importance. When you establish credibility and trust with your devs, you can begin to tear away the red tape that often blocks crucial work from getting done.

Pro tip: SEOs need cross-team support to be effective

It’s vital to have a healthy relationship with your developers so that you can successfully tackle SEO challenges from both sides. Don’t wait until a technical issue causes negative SEO ramifications to involve a developer. Instead, join forces for the planning stage with the goal of avoiding the issues altogether. If you don’t, it can cost you in time and money later.

Beyond cross-team support, understanding technical optimization for SEO is essential if you want to ensure that your web pages are structured for both humans and crawlers. To that end, we’ve divided this chapter into three sections:

  1. How websites work
  2. How search engines understand websites
  3. How users interact with websites

Since the technical structure of a site can have a massive impact on its performance, it’s crucial for everyone to understand these principles. It might also be a good idea to share this part of the guide with your programmers, content writers, and designers so that all parties involved in a site’s construction are on the same page.

1. How websites work

If search engine optimization is the process of optimizing a website for search, SEOs need at least a basic understanding of the thing they’re optimizing!

Below, we outline the website’s journey from domain name purchase all the way to its fully rendered state in a browser. An important component of the website’s journey is the critical rendering path, which is the process of a browser turning a website’s code into a viewable page.

Knowing this about websites is important for SEOs to understand for a few reasons:

  • The steps in this webpage assembly process can affect page load times, and speed is not only important for keeping users on your site, but it’s also one of Google’s ranking factors.
  • Google renders certain resources, like JavaScript, on a “second pass.” Google will look at the page without JavaScript first, then a few days to a few weeks later, it will render JavaScript, meaning SEO-critical elements that are added to the page using JavaScript might not get indexed.

Imagine that the website loading process is your commute to work. You get ready at home, gather your things to bring to the office, and then take the fastest route from your home to your work. It would be silly to put on just one of your shoes, take a longer route to work, drop your things off at the office, then immediately return home to get your other shoe, right? That’s sort of what inefficient websites do. This chapter will teach you how to diagnose where your website might be inefficient, what you can do to streamline, and the positive ramifications on your rankings and user experience that can result from that streamlining.

Before a website can be accessed, it needs to be set up!

  1. Domain name is purchased. Domain names like moz.com are purchased from a domain name registrar such as GoDaddy or HostGator. These registrars are just organizations that manage the reservations of domain names.
  2. Domain name is linked to IP address. The Internet doesn’t understand names like “moz.com” as website addresses without the help of domain name servers (DNS). The Internet uses a series of numbers called an Internet protocol (IP) address (ex: 127.0.0.1), but we want to use names like moz.com because they’re easier for humans to remember. We need to use a DNS to link those human-readable names with machine-readable numbers.

How a website gets from server to browser

  1. User requests domain. Now that the name is linked to an IP address via DNS, people can request a website by typing the domain name directly into their browser or by clicking on a link to the website.
  2. Browser makes requests. That request for a web page prompts the browser to make a DNS lookup request to convert the domain name to its IP address. The browser then makes a request to the server for the code your web page is constructed with, such as HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.
  3. Server sends resources. Once the server receives the request for the website, it sends the website files to be assembled in the searcher’s browser.
  4. Browser assembles the web page. The browser has now received the resources from the server, but it still needs to put it all together and render the web page so that the user can see it in their browser. As the browser parses and organizes all the web page’s resources, it’s creating a Document Object Model (DOM). The DOM is what you can see when you right click + “inspect element” on a web page in your Chrome browser (learn how to inspect elements in other browsers).
  5. Browser makes final requests. The browser will only show a web page after all the page’s necessary code is downloaded, parsed, and executed, so at this point, if the browser needs any additional code in order to show your website, it will make an additional request from your server.
  6. Website appears in browser. Whew! After all that, your website has now been transformed (rendered) from code to what you see in your browser.

Pro tip: Talk to your developers about async!

Something you can bring up with your developers is shortening the critical rendering path by setting scripts to “async” when they’re not needed to render content above the fold, which can make your web pages load faster. Async tells the DOM that it can continue to be assembled while the browser is fetching the scripts needed to display your web page. If the DOM has to pause assembly every time the browser fetches a script (called “render-blocking scripts”), it can substantially slow down your page load.

It would be like going out to eat with your friends and having to pause the conversation every time one of you went up to the counter to order, only resuming once they got back. With async, you and your friends can continue to chat even when one of you is ordering. You might also want to bring up other optimizations that devs can implement to shorten the critical rendering path, such as removing unnecessary scripts entirely, like old tracking scripts.

Now that you know how a website appears in a browser, we’re going to focus on what a website is made of — in other words, the code (programming languages) used to construct those web pages.

The three most common are:

  • HTML – What a website says (titles, body content, etc.)
  • CSS – How a website looks (color, fonts, etc.)
  • JavaScript – How it behaves (interactive, dynamic, etc.)

HTML: What a website says

HTML stands for hypertext markup language, and it serves as the backbone of a website. Elements like headings, paragraphs, lists, and content are all defined in the HTML.

Here’s an example of a webpage, and what its corresponding HTML looks like:

HTML is important for SEOs to know because it’s what lives “under the hood” of any page they create or work on. While your CMS likely doesn’t require you to write your pages in HTML (ex: selecting “hyperlink” will allow you to create a link without you having to type in “a href=”), it is what you’re modifying every time you do something to a web page such as adding content, changing the anchor text of internal links, and so on. Google crawls these HTML elements to determine how relevant your document is to a particular query. In other words, what’s in your HTML plays a huge role in how your web page ranks in Google organic search!

CSS: How a website looks

CSS stands for cascading style sheets, and this is what causes your web pages to take on certain fonts, colors, and layouts. HTML was created to describe content, rather than to style it, so when CSS entered the scene, it was a game-changer. With CSS, web pages could be “beautified” without requiring manual coding of styles into the HTML of every page — a cumbersome process, especially for large sites.

It wasn’t until 2014 that Google’s indexing system began to render web pages more like an actual browser, as opposed to a text-only browser. A black-hat SEO practice that tried to capitalize on Google’s older indexing system was hiding text and links via CSS for the purpose of manipulating search engine rankings. This “hidden text and links” practice is a violation of Google’s quality guidelines.

Components of CSS that SEOs, in particular, should care about:

  • Since style directives can live in external stylesheet files (CSS files) instead of your page’s HTML, it makes your page less code-heavy, reducing file transfer size and making load times faster.
  • Browsers still have to download resources like your CSS file, so compressing them can make your web pages load faster, and page speed is a ranking factor.
  • Having your pages be more content-heavy than code-heavy can lead to better indexing of your site’s content.
  • Using CSS to hide links and content can get your website manually penalized and removed from Google’s index.

JavaScript: How a website behaves

In the earlier days of the Internet, web pages were built with HTML. When CSS came along, webpage content had the ability to take on some style. When the programming language JavaScript entered the scene, websites could now not only have structure and style, but they could be dynamic.

JavaScript has opened up a lot of opportunities for non-static web page creation. When someone attempts to access a page that is enhanced with this programming language, that user’s browser will execute the JavaScript against the static HTML that the server returned, resulting in a web page that comes to life with some sort of interactivity.

You’ve definitely seen JavaScript in action — you just may not have known it! That’s because JavaScript can do almost anything to a page. It could create a pop up, for example, or it could request third-party resources like ads to display on your page.

JavaScript can pose some problems for SEO, though, since search engines don’t view JavaScript the same way human visitors do. That’s because of client-side versus server-side rendering. Most JavaScript is executed in a client’s browser. With server-side rendering, on the other hand, the files are executed at the server and the server sends them to the browser in their fully rendered state.

SEO-critical page elements such as text, links, and tags that are loaded on the client’s side with JavaScript, rather than represented in your HTML, are invisible from your page’s code until they are rendered. This means that search engine crawlers won’t see what’s in your JavaScript — at least not initially.

Google says that, as long as you’re not blocking Googlebot from crawling your JavaScript files, they’re generally able to render and understand your web pages just like a browser can, which means that Googlebot should see the same things as a user viewing a site in their browser. However, due to this “second wave of indexing” for client-side JavaScript, Google can miss certain elements that are only available once JavaScript is executed.

There are also some other things that could go wrong during Googlebot’s process of rendering your web pages, which can prevent Google from understanding what’s contained in your JavaScript:

  • You’ve blocked Googlebot from JavaScript resources (ex: with robots.txt, like we learned about in Chapter 2)
  • Your server can’t handle all the requests to crawl your content
  • The JavaScript is too complex or outdated for Googlebot to understand
  • JavaScript doesn’t “lazy load” content into the page until after the crawler has finished with the page and moved on.

Needless to say, while JavaScript does open a lot of possibilities for web page creation, it can also have some serious ramifications for your SEO if you’re not careful. Thankfully, there is a way to check whether Google sees the same thing as your visitors. To see a page how Googlebot views your page, use Google Search Console’s “Fetch and Render” tool. From your site’s Google Search Console dashboard, select “Crawl” from the left navigation, then “Fetch as Google.”

From this page, enter the URL you want to check (or leave blank if you want to check your homepage) and click the “Fetch and Render” button. You also have the option to test either the desktop or mobile version.

In return, you’ll get a side-by-side view of how Googlebot saw your page versus how a visitor to your website would have seen the page. Below, Google will also show you a list of any resources they may not have been able to get for the URL you entered.

Understanding the way websites work lays a great foundation for what we’ll talk about next, which is technical optimizations to help Google understand the pages on your website better.

2. How search engines understand websites

Search engines have gotten incredibly sophisticated, but they can’t (yet) find and interpret web pages quite like a human can. The following sections outline ways you can better deliver content to search engines.

Help search engines understand your content by structuring it with Schema

Imagine being a search engine crawler scanning down a 10,000-word article about how to bake a cake. How do you identify the author, recipe, ingredients, or steps required to bake a cake? This is where schema (Schema.org) markup comes in. It allows you to spoon-feed search engines more specific classifications for what type of information is on your page.

Schema is a way to label or organize your content so that search engines have a better understanding of what certain elements on your web pages are. This code provides structure to your data, which is why schema is often referred to as “structured data.” The process of structuring your data is often referred to as “markup” because you are marking up your content with organizational code.

JSON-LD is Google’s preferred schema markup (announced in May ‘16), which Bing also supports. To view a full list of the thousands of available schema markups, visit Schema.org or view the Google Developers Introduction to Structured Data for additional information on how to implement structured data. After you implement the structured data that best suits your web pages, you can test your markup with Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool.

In addition to helping bots like Google understand what a particular piece of content is about, schema markup can also enable special features to accompany your pages in the SERPs. These special features are referred to as “rich snippets,” and you’ve probably seen them in action. They’re things like:

  • Top Stories carousel
  • Review stars
  • Sitelinks search boxes
  • Recipes

Remember, using structured data can help enable a rich snippet to be present, but does not guarantee it. Other types of rich snippets will likely be added in the future as the use of schema markup increases.

Some last words of advice for schema success:

  • You can use multiple types of schema markup on a page. However, if you mark up one element, like a product for example, and there are other products listed on the page, you must also mark up those products.
  • Don’t mark up content that is not visible to visitors and follow Google’s Quality Guidelines. For example, if you add review structured markup to a page, make sure those reviews are actually visible on that page.
  • If you have duplicate pages, Google asks that you mark up each duplicate page with your structured markup, not just the canonical version.
  • Provide original and updated (if applicable) content on your structured data pages.
  • Structured markup should be an accurate reflection of your page.
  • Try to use the most specific type of schema markup for your content.
  • Marked-up reviews should not be written by the business. They should be genuine unpaid business reviews from actual customers.

Tell search engines about your preferred pages with canonicalization

When Google crawls the same content on different web pages, it sometimes doesn’t know which page to index in search results. This is why the tag was invented: to help search engines better index the preferred version of content and not all its duplicates.

The rel=”canonical” tag allows you to tell search engines where the original, master version of a piece of content is located. You’re essentially saying, “Hey search engine! Don’t index this; index this source page instead.” So, if you want to republish a piece of content, whether exactly or slightly modified, but don’t want to risk creating duplicate content, the canonical tag is here to save the day.

Proper canonicalization ensures that every unique piece of content on your website has only one URL. To prevent search engines from indexing multiple versions of a single page, Google recommends having a self-referencing canonical tag on every page on your site. Without a canonical tag telling Google which version of your web page is the preferred one, http://www.example.com could get indexed separately from http://example.com, creating duplicates.

“Avoid duplicate content” is an Internet truism, and for good reason! Google wants to reward sites with unique, valuable content — not content that’s taken from other sources and repeated across multiple pages. Because engines want to provide the best searcher experience, they will rarely show multiple versions of the same content, opting instead to show only the canonicalized version, or if a canonical tag does not exist, whichever version they deem most likely to be the original.

Pro tip: Distinguishing between content filtering & content penalties
There is no such thing as a duplicate content penalty. However, you should try to keep duplicate content from causing indexing issues by using the rel=”canonical” tag when possible. When duplicates of a page exist, Google will choose a canonical and filter the others out of search results. That doesn’t mean you’ve been penalized. It just means that Google only wants to show one version of your content.

It’s also very common for websites to have multiple duplicate pages due to sort and filter options. For example, on an e-commerce site, you might have what’s called a faceted navigation that allows visitors to narrow down products to find exactly what they’re looking for, such as a “sort by” feature that reorders results on the product category page from lowest to highest price. This could create a URL that looks something like this: example.com/mens-shirts?sort=price_ascending. Add in more sort/filter options like color, size, material, brand, etc. and just think about all the variations of your main product category page this would create!

To learn more about different types of duplicate content, this post by Dr. Pete helps distill the different nuances.

3. How users interact with websites

In Chapter 1, we said that despite SEO standing for search engine optimization, SEO is as much about people as it is about search engines themselves. That’s because search engines exist to serve searchers. This goal helps explain why Google’s algorithm rewards websites that provide the best possible experiences for searchers, and why some websites, despite having qualities like robust backlink profiles, might not perform well in search.

When we understand what makes their web browsing experience optimal, we can create those experiences for maximum search performance.

Ensuring a positive experience for your mobile visitors

Being that well over half of all web traffic today comes from mobile, it’s safe to say that your website should be accessible and easy to navigate for mobile visitors. In April 2015, Google rolled out an update to its algorithm that would promote mobile-friendly pages over non-mobile-friendly pages. So how can you ensure that your website is mobile friendly? Although there are three main ways to configure your website for mobile, Google recommends responsive web design.

Responsive design

Responsive websites are designed to fit the screen of whatever type of device your visitors are using. You can use CSS to make the web page “respond” to the device size. This is ideal because it prevents visitors from having to double-tap or pinch-and-zoom in order to view the content on your pages. Not sure if your web pages are mobile friendly? You can use Google’s mobile-friendly test to check!

AMP

AMP stands for Accelerated Mobile Pages, and it is used to deliver content to mobile visitors at speeds much greater than with non-AMP delivery. AMP is able to deliver content so fast because it delivers content from its cache servers (not the original site) and uses a special AMP version of HTML and JavaScript. Learn more about AMP.

Mobile-first indexing

As of 2018, Google started switching websites over to mobile-first indexing. That change sparked some confusion between mobile-friendliness and mobile-first, so it’s helpful to disambiguate. With mobile-first indexing, Google crawls and indexes the mobile version of your web pages. Making your website compatible to mobile screens is good for users and your performance in search, but mobile-first indexing happens independently of mobile-friendliness.

This has raised some concerns for websites that lack parity between mobile and desktop versions, such as showing different content, navigation, links, etc. on their mobile view. A mobile site with different links, for example, will alter the way in which Googlebot (mobile) crawls your site and sends link equity to your other pages.

Breaking up long content for easier digestion

When sites have very long pages, they have the option of breaking them up into multiple parts of a whole. This is called pagination and it’s similar to pages in a book. In order to avoid giving the visitor too much all at once, you can break up your single page into multiple parts. This can be great for visitors, especially on e-commerce sites where there are a lot of product results in a category, but there are some steps you should take to help Google understand the relationship between your paginated pages. It’s called rel=”next” and rel=”prev.”

You can read more about pagination in Google’s official documentation, but the main takeaways are that:

  • The first page in a sequence should only have rel=”next” markup
  • The last page in a sequence should only have rel=”prev” markup
  • Pages that have both a preceding and following page should have both rel=”next” and rel=”prev”
  • Since each page in the sequence is unique, don’t canonicalize them to the first page in the sequence. Only use a canonical tag to point to a “view all” version of your content, if you have one.
  • When Google sees a paginated sequence, it will typically consolidate the pages’ linking properties and send searchers to the first page

Pro tip: rel=”next/prev” should still have anchor text and live within an <a> link
This helps Google ensure that they pick up the rel=”next/prev”.

Improving page speed to mitigate visitor frustration

Google wants to serve content that loads lightning-fast for searchers. We’ve come to expect fast-loading results, and when we don’t get them, we’ll quickly bounce back to the SERP in search of a better, faster page. This is why page speed is a crucial aspect of on-site SEO. We can improve the speed of our web pages by taking advantage of tools like the ones we’ve mentioned below. Click on the links to learn more about each.

Images are one of the main culprits of slow pages!

As discussed in Chapter 4, images are one of the number-one reasons for slow-loading web pages! In addition to image compression, optimizing image alt text, choosing the right image format, and submitting image sitemaps, there are other technical ways to optimize the speed and way in which images are shown to your users. Some primary ways to improve image delivery are as follows:

SRCSET: How to deliver the best image size for each device

The SRCSET attribute allows you to have multiple versions of your image and then specify which version should be used in different situations. This piece of code is added to the <img> tag (where your image is located in the HTML) to provide unique images for specific-sized devices.

This is like the concept of responsive design that we discussed earlier, except for images!

This doesn’t just speed up your image load time, it’s also a unique way to enhance your on-page user experience by providing different and optimal images to different device types.

Pro tip: There are more than just three image size versions!
It’s a common misconception that you just need a desktop, tablet, and mobile-sized version of your image. There are a huge variety of screen sizes and resolutions. Learn more about SRCSET.

Show visitors image loading is in progress with lazy loading

Lazy loading occurs when you go to a webpage and, instead of seeing a blank white space for where an image will be, a blurry lightweight version of the image or a colored box in its place appears while the surrounding text loads. After a few seconds, the image clearly loads in full resolution. The popular blogging platform Medium does this really well.

The low resolution version is initially loaded, and then the full high resolution version. This also helps to optimize your critical rendering path! So while all of your other page resources are being downloaded, you’re showing a low-resolution teaser image that helps tell users that things are happening/being loaded. For more information on how you should lazy load your images, check out Google’s Lazy Loading Guidance.

Improve speed by condensing and bundling your files

Page speed audits will often make recommendations such as “minify resource,” but what does that actually mean? Minification condenses a code file by removing things like line breaks and spaces, as well as abbreviating code variable names wherever possible.

“Bundling” is another common term you’ll hear in reference to improving page speed. The process of bundling combines a bunch of the same coding language files into one single file. For example, a bunch of JavaScript files could be put into one larger file to reduce the amount of JavaScript files for a browser.

By both minifying and bundling the files needed to construct your web page, you’ll speed up your website and reduce the number of your HTTP (file) requests.

Improving the experience for international audiences

Websites that target audiences from multiple countries should familiarize themselves with international SEO best practices in order to serve up the most relevant experiences. Without these optimizations, international visitors might have difficulty finding the version of your site that caters to them.

There are two main ways a website can be internationalized:

  • Language
    Sites that target speakers of multiple languages are considered multilingual websites. These sites should add something called an hreflang tag to show Google that your page has copy for another language. Learn more about hreflang.
  • Country
    Sites that target audiences in multiple countries are called multi-regional websites and they should choose a URL structure that makes it easy to target their domain or pages to specific countries. This can include the use of a country code top level domain (ccTLD) such as “.ca” for Canada, or a generic top-level domain (gTLD) with a country-specific subfolder such as “example.com/ca” for Canada. Learn more about locale-specific URLs.

You’ve researched, you’ve written, and you’ve optimized your website for search engines and user experience. The next piece of the SEO puzzle is a big one: establishing authority so that your pages will rank highly in search results.

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