A good, solid competitive analysis can provide you with priceless insights into what’s working for other folks in your industry, but it’s not always easy to do right. In this week’s edition of Whiteboard Friday, Cyrus walks you through how to perform a full competitive analysis, including:
How to identify your true competitors
Keyword gap analysis
Link gap analysis
Top content analysis
Plus, don’t miss the handy tips on which tools can help with this process and our brand-new guide (with free template) on SEO competitive analysis. Give it a watch and let us know your own favorite tips for performing a competitive analysis in the comments!
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Howdy, Moz fans. Welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. I’m Cyrus Shepard. Today we’re talking about a really cool topic — competitive analysis. This is an introduction to competitive analysis.
What is competitive analysis for SEO?
It’s basically stealing your competitors’ traffic. If you’re new to SEO or you’ve been around awhile, this is a very valuable tactic to earn more traffic and rankings for your site.
Instead of researching blindly what to go after, competitive analysis can tell you certain things with a high degree of accuracy that you won’t find other ways, such as:
what keywords to target,
what content to create,
how to optimize that content, and
where to get links.
How to do an SEO competitive analysis
How does it do this?
Well, instead of researching just in a keyword tool or a link tool, with competitive analysis you look at what’s actually working for your competitors and use those tactics for yourself.
This often works so much better than the old-style ways of research, because you can actually improve upon what other people are actually doing and make those tactics work for you.
1. Identify your top competitors
So to get started with competitive analysis, the first challenge is to actually identify your top competitors.
This sounds easy. You probably think you know who your competitors are because you type a keyword into Google and you see who’s ranking for your desired keyword. This does work, to certain degree.
Another way to do it is to look at the keywords you rank for, because the challenge is you probably rank for far more keywords than you believe you do.
Moz, for instance, ranks for hundreds of thousands or possibly even millions of keywords, and we want to know at scale who are all the competitors ranking for all those different queries. This is very hard to do manually.
Fortunately there are a lot of SEO tools out there — Ahrefs, SEMrush — many tools that can tell you look at all the keywords that you rank for across thousands of SERPs and then calculate, using advanced metrics, exactly who your true competitors are.
I’m happy to announce that Moz just released a tool that does exactly this. We’re going to link to it in the transcript below.
You simply type in your domain, and we look through all the keywords that your site ranks for in our database, we look at all the competitors, and we use some advanced heuristics and we match those up and we tell you who your true competitors are. Once you know your true competitors, you can continue with the rest of the analysis.
2. Perform a keyword gap analysis
The first step that most people take in doing an SEO competitive analysis is identifying the keyword gap. Now for a long time, when I was new to SEO, I heard this term “keyword gap” and I didn’t really know what it meant. But it’s actually really simple.
It’s simply what keywords do my competitors rank for that I don’t rank for, and that’s the gap. The idea is that we want to close that gap if the keyword is valuable or high volume. The trick is you can do this on your own manually. You can see all the keywords you rank for using an advanced keyword tool and then list all the keywords your competitors rank for and then combine those lists in Excel. It’s a long, tedious process.
Fortunately, again, major SEO tools, such as Moz, can do this at scale for you within seconds. If you go to Moz Keyword Explorer, you simply enter your domain, enter your top competitor’s domain that we found in this first step, and it will list all the keywords that your competitors rank for that you don’t rank for.
You can then pull this into a spreadsheet and find keywords with high volume or keywords that are valuable and relevant to your business.
This is an important point. You don’t just want to go willy-nilly after any keyword your competitor ranks for. You want to actually find the keywords that are relevant to your business.
3. Perform a link gap analysis
So after you do that, we also have the cousin of a keyword gap analysis — link gap analysis.
This is a very similar concept, because you need links to rank. But where do you find the links? So you want to ask, “Who links to my competitors but does not link to me?”
The theory here is that if someone is linking to your competitor on a similar topic, they are more likely to link to you because they are in that business of linking out to that type of content.
An advanced tip is you often want to look at two or more competitors. The idea is that if someone is linking to multiple sources but not to you, it’s more likely they’ll link to you if you have superior content.
Again, SEO tools can provide something like this. You can list all the backlinks to yourself or your competitors and combine them in a spreadsheet. But the tools make it much easier.
In Moz’s Link Explorer, you simply enter your competitor, you enter another competitor and yours, and you can find all the people who are linking to those competitors but not to you.
An advanced tip that I like to use is do it at the page level. Don’t look for domains that are linking to your competitors. Look for specific pages and you can do this in Link Explorer. We’re going to show you in a little more detail in a guide I’m going to link to at the bottom of this post.
4. Perform a top content analysis
So we understand links, we understand the keywords. But what content do we want to create?
Top content analysis, this is very easy to do these days. You’re basically looking for content that earns your competitors a lot of traffic or a lot of links.
The idea is if other people are linking to these things, then it’s highly probable that you can earn links with similar but better content. So the idea is you go to a tool like Link Explorer. You can sort by top pages, and you pick out the content that has the most links for your competitor. Then don’t just re-create the content, but make it better. This is called the skyscraper technique, the idea of finding content that does really well and then making it better.
Then once you have this, you go back to your link gap analysis and you reach out to those people who are linking to that content and you ask them for links, showing them the better content.
So that’s it in a nutshell. When we put it all together, we have a very valuable process. We can go back to our individual pages, look at those pages that are ranking for our competitors. When you’re all done, you can actually take your page, plug it into your keyword gap, and see all the keywords the page is ranking for.
Our original keyword gap analysis looked at the domain, but now we just want to know what the page is ranking for. We can add that into our own page and make the page even better. We can again reach out to the same people who are linking to this page, show them our better content, and that is the process.
New Guide & Free Template
Whew, I’m exhausted. This is a huge process. I went over it really quickly. Fortunately, if it went by a little fast for you, we just released a guide, “An Introduction to SEO Competitive Analysis.” We’re going to link to it.
Planet Fitness, Great Clips, Ace Hardware… you can imagine the sense of achievement the leadership of these famous franchises must enjoy in making it to the top of lists like Entrepreneur’s 500. Behind the scenes of success, all competitive franchisors and franchisees have had to manage a major shift — one that centers on customers and their radically altered consumer journeys.
Research online, buy offline. Always-on laptops and constant companion smartphones are where fingers do the walking now, before feet cross the franchise threshold. Statistics tell the story of a public that searches online prior to the 90% of purchases they still make in physical stores.
And while opportunity abounds, “being there” for the customers wherever they are in their journey has presented unique challenges for franchises. Who manages which stage of the journey? Franchisor or franchisee? Getting it right means meeting new shopping habits head-on, and re-establishing clear sight-lines and guidelines for all contributors to the franchise’s ultimate success.
Over the next few weeks, we’ll be publishing a series of articles dedicated to franchises. Want all the info now? Download The Practical Guide to Franchise Marketing:
Traditionally, online marketing wasn’t something that franchisees had to think much about. And that was sort of a good thing because everyone knew their lane.
Franchisors handled national or regional marketing through broadcast, print, and other media. They also handled digital marketing — which, within recent recall, consisted mainly of a website, social media accounts, and paid search.
Franchisees managed the local beat with coupons, flyers, direct mail, and other community and word-of-mouth marketing efforts.
Then people started shopping differently and traditional lanes began merging. Customers started using online directories to get information. They started using online listings for discovering local businesses “near me” on a map. They started reading online reviews to make choices. They started browsing online inventories or menus in advance. They started using cell phones to make reservations, click to call you, or to get a digital voice assistant like Siri or Alexa to give them directions to the nearest and best local option.
Suddenly, what used to be a “worldwide” resource — the internet — began to be a local resource, too. And a really powerful one. People were finding, choosing, and building relationships online not just with the national brand, but with local shops, services and restaurants, often making choices in advance and showing up merely to purchase the products or services they want.
Stats State the Case
Consider how these statistics are impacting every franchise:
76% of people who search for something nearby on their smartphone visit a related business within a day, and 28% of those searches result in a purchase. – Google
88% of shoppers regularly or occasionally browse products online before purchasing them in a store. – Adweek
45% of brick-and-mortar sales in 2018 started with an online review — a 15% year-over-year increase from 2017. – Bazaarvoice
According to Google, “near me” mobile searches that contain a variant of “can I buy” or “to buy” have grown over 500% in the past two years, and we’ve seen a 900% growth in mobile search for “___near me today/tonight.” – Google
Search interest in ”open now” has increased 300% in the past two years. – Google
These are huge changes — and not ones the franchise model was entirely ready for.
There used to be a clear geographic split between a franchise’s corporate awareness marketing and franchisee local sales marketing that was easy to understand. But the above statistics tell new tales. Now there is an immediacy and urgency to the way customers search and shop that’s blurring old lines.
Ace is the place with the helpful hardware folks
Even a memorable jingle like this one goes nowhere unless the franchisor/franchisee partnership is solid. How do customers know a brand like Ace stands by its slogan when they see a national TV campaign like this one which strives to distinguish the franchise from understaffed big box home improvement stores?
Customers feel the nation-wide promise come true as soon as they walk into an Ace location:
Place located where the internet said it was? Check!
Abundance of staff? Check!
Online purchase ready for pickup? Check!
Trust earned? Check!
A brand promo only works when all sides are equally committed to making each location of the business visible, accessible, and trusted. This joint effort applies to every aspect of how the business is marketed. From leadership to door greeter, everyone has a role to play. It’s defining those roles that can make or break the brand in the new consumer environment.
We’ll be exploring the nuts and bolts of building ideal partnerships in future installments of this series. Up next is The Unique World of Franchise Marketing. Keep an eye out for it on the blog at the end of the month!
Don’t want to wait for the blog posts to come out? Download your copy now of our comprehensive look at unique franchise challenges and benefits:
When Craig Bradford of Distilled reached out and asked if we’d like to run some SEO experiments on Moz using DistilledODN, our reply was an immediate “Yes please!”
If you’re not familiar with DistilledODN, it’s a sophisticated platform that allows you to do a number of cool things in the SEO space:
Make almost any change to your website through the ODN dashboard. Since the ODN is a cloud platform that sits in front of your website (like a CDN) it doesn’t matter how your website is built or what CMS it uses. You can change a single page — or more likely — entire sections.
The ODN allows you to A/B split test these changes and both measure and predict their impact on organic traffic. They also have a feature called full-funnel testing allowing you to measure impact on both SEO and CRO at the same time.
When you find something that works, you see a positive result like this:
SEO experimentation is great, but almost nobody does it right because it’s impossible to control for other factors. Yes, you updated your title tags, but did Google roll out an update today? Sure, you sped up your site, but did a bunch of spam just link to you?
A/B split testing solves this problem by applying your changes to only a portion of your pages — typically 50% — and measuring the difference between the two groups. Fortunately, the ODN can deploy these changes near-instantly, up to thousands of pages at a time.
It then crunches the numbers and tells you what’s working, or not.
Testing Google’s UGC link attribute
For our first test, we decided to tackle something simple and fast. Craig suggested looking at Google’s new link attributes, and we were off!
To summarize: Google recently introduced new link attributes for webmasters/SEOs to label links. Those attributes are:
rel=”sponsored” – For paid and sponsored links
rel=”ugc” – For links in user-generated content (UGC)
rel=”nofollow” – Remains a catch-all for all followed links
On the Moz blog, all comments links are currently marked “nofollow” — following years of SEO best practices. Google has stated that using the new attributes won’t give you a rankings boost. That said, we wanted to test for ourselves if changing these links to “ugc” would impact the rankings/traffic of our blog pages.
To be clear: We are not testing if the pages we link to change rankings, but instead the source page that hosts the link — in this case, the blog pages with comments.
Here’s an example of a comment the ODN modified.
After we set the test running, 50% of blog posts had comments with “ugc” links, while 50% kept their original “nofollow” attributes.
We expected a “null” test — meaning we wouldn’t see a significant impact.
In fact, that’s exactly what happened.
If we detected a significant change, the probability cone at the bottom right would have pointed more dramatically up or down.
In fact, at a 95% confidence interval, the test predicted traffic would either fall 26,000 visits/month or gain 9,300 visits/month.
Hence, a null result.
This validates Google’s statements that using the “ugc” attribute won’t give you a ranking boost.
What should Moz test next?
While “null” tests aren’t as fun as a positive result, we have a lot of cool A/B SEO testing ahead of us.
The great thing is we can now test out changes with the ODN, and when we find one that works, pass that to our developers to make the changes permanently. This cuts down on needless development work and stops the guessing game.
We have a Trello board set up for test ideas, and we’d love to add some community ideas to the mix. The ODN is currently running on the Moz Blog and Q&A, so anything in these site sections is fair game.
We’re also looking at experiments where we use Moz data to inform these decisions. For example, a Moz Pro crawl identified that the Moz Blog titles currently use H2 tags instead of H1. Google recently indicated this likely shouldn’t impact rankings, but wouldn’t it be good to test?
What wild/clever/ridiculous/obvious SEO things should we test? With each good test, we’ll publish the results. Leave your ideas in the comments below.
A trend we’ve been noticing at Go Fish Digital is that more and more of our clients have been using the Shopify platform. While we initially thought this was just a coincidence, we can see that the data tells a different story:
The Shopify platform is now more popular than ever. Looking at BuiltWith usage statistics, we can see that usage of the CMS has more than doubled since July 2017. Currently, 4.47% of the top 10,000 sites are using Shopify.
Since we’ve worked with a good amount of Shopify stores, we wanted to share our process for common SEO improvements we help our clients with. The guide below should outline some common adjustments we make on Shopify stores.
What is Shopify SEO?
Shopify SEO simply means SEO improvements that are more unique to Shopify than other sites. While Shopify stores come with some useful things for SEO, such as a blog and the ability to redirect, it can also create SEO issues such as duplicate content. Some of the most common Shopify SEO recommendations are:
Remove duplicate URLs from internal linking architecture
Remove duplicate paginated URLs
Create blog content for keywords with informational intent
Add “Product,” “Article,” & “BreadcrumbList” structured data
We’ll go into how we handle each of these recommendations below:
In terms of SEO, duplicate content is the highest priority issue we’ve seen created by Shopify. Duplicate content occurs when either duplicate or similar content exists on two separate URLs. This creates issues for search engines as they might not be able to determine which of the two pages should be the canonical version. On top of this, often times link signals are split between the pages.
We’ve seen Shopify create duplicate content in several different ways:
Duplicate product pages
Duplicate collections pages through pagination
Duplicate product pages
Shopify creates this issue within their product pages. By default, Shopify stores allow their /products/ pages to render at two different URL paths:
Canonical URL path: /products/
Non-canonical URL path: /collections/.*/products/
Shopify accounts for this by ensuring that all /collections/.*/products/ pages include a canonical tag to the associated /products/ page. Notice how the URL in the address differs from the “canonical” field:
While this certainly helps Google consolidate the duplicate content, a more alarming issue occurs when you look at the internal linking structure. By default, Shopify will link to the non-canonical version of all of your product pages.
As well, we’ve also seen Shopify link to the non-canonical versions of URLs when websites utilize “swatch” internal links that point to other color variants.
Thus, Shopify creates your entire site architecture around non-canonical links by default. This creates a high-priority SEO issue because the website is sending Google conflicting signals:
“Here are the pages we internally link to the most often”
“However, the pages we link to the most often are not the URLs we actually want to be ranking in Google. Please index these other URLs with few internal links”
While canonical tags are usually respected, remember Google does treat these as hints instead of directives. This means that you’re relying on Google to make a judgement about whether or not the content is duplicate each time that it crawls these pages. We prefer not to leave this up to chance, especially when dealing with content at scale.
Adjusting internal linking structure
Fortunately, there is a relatively easy fix for this. We’ve been able to work with our dev team to adjust the code in the product.grid-item.liquid file. Following those instructions will allow your Shopify site’s collections pages to point to the canonical /product/ URLs.
Duplicate collections pages
As well, we’ve seen many Shopify sites that create duplicate content through the site’s pagination. More specifically, a duplicate is created of the first collections page in a particular series. This is because once you’re on a paginated URL in a series, the link to the first page will contain “?page=1”:
However, this will almost always be a duplicate page. A URL with “?page=1” will almost always contain the same content as the original non-parameterized URL. Once again, we recommend having a developer adjust the internal linking structure so that the first paginated result points to the canonical page.
Product variant pages
While this is technically an extension of Shopify’s duplicate content from above, we thought this warranted its own section because this isn’t necessarily always an SEO issue.
It’s not uncommon to see Shopify stores where multiple product URLs are created for the same product with slight variations. In this case, this can create duplicate content issues as often times the core product is the same, but only a slight attribute (color for instance) changes. This means that multiple pages can exist with duplicate/similar product descriptions and images. Here is an example of duplicate pages created by a variant: https://recordit.co/x6YRPkCDqG
If left alone, this once again creates an instance of duplicate content. However, variant URLs do not have to be an SEO issue. In fact, some sites could benefit from these URLs as they allow you to have indexable pages that could be optimized for very specific terms. Whether or not these are beneficial is going to differ on every site. Some key questions to ask yourself are:
Do your customers perform queries based on variant phrases?
Do you have the resources to create unique content for all of your product variants?
Is this content unique enough to stand on its own?
For a more in-depth guide, Jenny Halasz wrote a great article on determining the best course of action for product variations. If your Shopify store contains product variants, than it’s worth determining early on whether or not these pages should exist at a separate URL. If they should, then you should create unique content for every one and optimize each for that variant’s target keywords.
Crawling and indexing
After analyzing quite a few Shopify stores, we’ve found some SEO items that are unique to Shopify when it comes to crawling and indexing. Since this is very often an important component of e-commerce SEO, we thought it would be good to share the ones that apply to Shopify.
A very important note is that in Shopify stores, you cannot adjust the robots.txt file. This is stated in their official help documentation. While you can add the “noindex” to pages through the theme.liquid, this is not as helpful if you want to prevent Google from crawling your content all together.
Here are some sections of the site that Shopify will disallow crawling in:
While it’s nice that Shopify creates some default disallow commands for you, the fact that you cannot adjust the robots.txt file can be very limiting. The robots.txt is probably the easiest way to control Google’s crawl of your site as it’s extremely easy to update and allows for a lot of flexibility. You might need to try other methods of adjusting Google’s crawl such as “nofollow” or canonical tags.
Adding the “noindex” tag
While you cannot adjust the robots.txt, Shopify does allow you to add the “noindex” tag. You can exclude a specific page from the index by adding the following code to your theme.liquid file.
Shopify does allow you to implement redirects out-of-the-box, which is great. You can use this for consolidating old/expired pages or any other content that no longer exists. You can do this by going to Online Store > Navigation > URL Redirects.
So far, we havn’t found a way to implement global redirects via Shopify. This means that your redirects will likely need to be 1:1.
Similar to the robots.txt, it’s important to note that Shopify does not provide you with log file information. This has been confirmed by Shopify support.
Product structured data
Overall, Shopify does a pretty good job with structured data. Many Shopify themes should contain “Product” markup out-of-the-box that provides Google with key information such as your product’s name, description, price etc. This is probably the highest priority structured data to have on any e-commerce site, so it’s great that many themes do this for you.
Shopify sites might also benefit from expanding the Product structured data to collections pages as well. This involves adding the Product structured data to define each individual product link in a product listing page. The good folks at Distilled recommend including this structured data on category pages.
Article structured data
As well, if you use Shopify’s blog functionality, you should use “Article” structured data. This is a fantastic schema type that lets Google know that your blog content is more editorial in nature. We’ve seen that Google seems to pull content with “Article” structured data into platforms such as Google Discover and the “Interesting Finds” sections in the SERPs. Ensuring your content contains this structured data may increase the chances your site’s content is included in these sections.
BreadcrumbList structured data
Finally, one addition that we routinely add to Shopify sites are breadcrumb internal links with BreadcrumbList structured data. We believe breadcrumbs are crucial to any e-commerce site, as they provide users with easy-to-use internal links that indicate where they’re at within the hierarchy of a website. As well, these breadcrumbs can help Google better understand the website’s structure. We typically suggest adding site breadcrumbs to Shopify sites and marking those up with BreadcrumbList structured data to help Google better understand those internal links.
Performing keyword research for Shopify stores will be very similar to the research you would perform for other e-commerce stores.
Some general ways to generate keywords are:
Export your keyword data from Google AdWords. Track and optimize for those that generate the most revenue for the site.
Research your AdWords keywords that have high conversion rates. Even if the volume is lower, a high conversion rate indicates that this keyword is more transactional.
Review the keywords the site currently gets clicks/impressions for in Google Search Console.
Run your competitors through tools like Ahrefs. Using the “Content Gap” report, you can find keyword opportunities where competitor sites are ranking but yours is not.
If you have keywords that use similar modifiers, you can use MergeWords to automatically generate a large variety of keyword variations.
Similar to Yoast SEO, Shopify does allow you to optimize key elements such as your title tags, meta descriptions, and URLs. Where possible, you should be using your target keywords in these elements.
To adjust these elements, you simply need to navigate to the page you wish to adjust and scroll down to “Search Engine Listing Preview”:
Adding content to product pages
If you decide that each individual product should be indexed, ideally you’ll want to add unique content to each page. Initially, your Shopify products may not have unique on-page content associated with them. This is a common issue for Shopify stores, as oftentimes the same descriptions are used across multiple products or no descriptions are present. Adding product descriptions with on-page best practices will give your products the best chance of ranking in the SERPs.
However, we understand that it’s time-consuming to create unique content for every product that you offer. With clients in the past, we’ve taken a targeted approach as to which products to optimize first. We like to use the “Sales By Product” report which can help prioritize which are the most important products to start adding content to. You can find this report in Analytics > Dashboard > Top Products By Units Sold.
By taking this approach, we can quickly identify some of the highest priority pages in the store to optimize. We can then work with a copywriter to start creating content for each individual product. Also, keep in mind that your product descriptions should always be written from a user-focused view. Writing about the features of the product they care about the most will give your site the best chance at improving both conversions and SEO.
Shopify does include the ability to create a blog, but we often see this missing from a large number of Shopify stores. It makes sense, as revenue is the primary goal of an e-commerce site, so the initial build of the site is product-focused.
However, we live in an era where it’s getting harder and harder to rank product pages in Google. For instance, the below screenshot illustrates the top 3 organic results for the term “cloth diapers”:
While many would assume that this is primarily a transactional query, we’re seeing Google is ranking two articles and a single product listing page in the top three results. This is just one instance of a major trend we’ve seen where Google is starting to prefer to rank more informational content above transactional.
By excluding a blog from a Shopify store, we think this results in a huge missed opportunity for many businesses. The inclusion of a blog allows you to have a natural place where you can create this informational content. If you’re seeing that Google is ranking more blog/article types of content for the keywords mapped to your Shopify store, your best bet is to go out and create that content yourself.
If you run a Shopify store (or any e-commerce site), we would urge you to take the following few steps:
Identify your highest priority keywords
Manually perform a Google query for each one
Make note of the types of content Google is ranking on the first page. Is it primarily informational, transactional, or a mix of both?
If you’re seeing primarily mixed or informational content, evaluate your own content to see if you have any that matches the user intent. If so, improve the quality and optimize.
If you do not have this content, consider creating new blog content around informational topics that seems to fulfill the user intent
As an example, we have a client that was interested in ranking for the term “CRM software,” an extremely competitive keyword. When analyzing the SERPs, we found that Google was ranking primarily informational pages about “What Is CRM Software?” Since they only had a product page that highlighted their specific CRM, we suggested the client create a more informational page that talked generally about what CRM software is and the benefits it provides. After creating and optimizing the page, we soon saw a significant increase in organic traffic (credit to Ally Mickler):
The issue that we see on many Shopify sites is that there is very little focus on informational pages despite the fact that those perform well in the search engines. Most Shopify sites should be using the blogging platform, as this will provide an avenue to create informational content that will result in organic traffic and revenue.
Similar to WordPress’s plugins, Shopify offers “Apps” that allow you to add advanced functionality to your site without having to manually adjust the code. However, unlike WordPress, most of the Shopify Apps you’ll find are paid. This will require either a one-time or monthly fee.
Shopify apps for SEO
While your best bet is likely teaming up with a developer who’s comfortable with Shopify, here are some Shopify apps that can help improve the SEO of your site.
Crush.pics: A great automated way of compressing large image files. Crucial for most Shopify sites as many of these sites are heavily image-based.
JSON-LD for SEO: This app may be used if you do not have a Shopify developer who is able to add custom structured data to your site.
Smart SEO: An app that can add meta tags, alt tags, & JSON-LD
Yotpo Reviews: This app can help you add product reviews to your site, making your content eligible for rich review stars in the SERPs.
Is Yoast SEO available for Shopify?
Yoast SEO is exclusively a WordPress plugin. There is currently no Yoast SEO Shopify App.
Limiting your Shopify apps
We’ve seen pretty good success in our clients that use Shopify stores. Below you can find some of the results we’ve been able to achieve for them. However, please note that these case studies do not just include the recommendations above. For these clients, we have used a combination of some of the recommendations outlined above as well as other SEO initiatives.
In one example, we worked with a Shopify store that was interested in ranking for very competitive terms surrounding the main product their store focused on. We evaluated their top performing products in the “Sales by product” report. This resulted in a large effort to work with the client to add new content to their product pages as they were not initially optimized. This combined with other initiatives has helped improve their first page rankings by 113 keywords (credit to Jennifer Wright & LaRhonda Sparrow).
In another instance, a client came to us with an issue that they were not ranking for their branded keywords. Instead, third-party retailers that also carried their products were often outranking them. We worked with them to adjust their internal linking structure to point to the canonical pages instead of the duplicate pages created by Shopify. We also optimized their content to better utilize the branded terminology on relevant pages. As a result, they’ve seen a nice increase in overall rankings in just several months time.
As Shopify usage continues to grow, it will be increasingly important to understand the SEO implications that come with the platform. Hopefully, this guide has provided you with additional knowledge that will help make your Shopify store stronger in the search engines.
Featured snippets are still the best way to take up primo SERP real estate, and they seem to be changing all the time. Today, Britney Muller shares the results of the latest Moz research into featured snippet trends and data, plus some fantastic tips and tricks for winning your own.
Click on the whiteboard image above to open a high resolution version in a new tab!
Hey, Moz fans. Welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday.
Today we’re talking about all things featured snippets, so what are they, what sort of research have we discovered about them recently, and what can you take back to the office to target them and effectively basically steal in search results.
What is a featured snippet?
So to be clear, what is a featured snippet?
If you were to do a search for “are crocs edible,” you would see a featured snippet like this:
Essentially, it’s giving you information about your search and citing a website. This isn’t to be confused with an answer box, where it’s just an answer and there’s no citation. If you were to search how many days are in February, Google will probably just tell you 28 and there’s no citation. That’s an answer box as opposed to a featured snippet.
Need-to-know discoveries about featured snippets
Now what have we recently discovered about featured snippets?
23% of all search result pages include a featured snippet
Well, we know that they’re on 23% of all search result pages. That’s wild. This is up over 165% since 2016.
We know that they’re growing.
There are 5 general types of featured snippets
We know that Google continues to provide more and more in different spaces, and we also know that there are five general types of featured snippets:
The most common that we see are the paragraph and the list. The list can come in numerical format or bullets.
But we also see tables and then video. The video is interesting because it will just show a specific section of a video that it thinks you need to consume in order to get your answer, which is always interesting.
Lately, we have started noticing accordions, and we’re not sure if they’re testing this or if it might be rolled out. But they’re a lot like People Also Ask boxes in that they expand and almost show you additional featured snippets, which is fascinating.
Paragraphs (50%) and lists (37%) are the most common types of featured snippets
Another important thing to take away is that we know paragraphs and lists are the most common, and we can see that here. Fifty percent of all featured snippet results are paragraphs. Thirty-seven percent are lists. It’s a ton. Then it kind of whittles down from there. Nine percent are tables, and then just under two percent are video and under two percent are accordion. Kind of good to know.
Half of all featured snippets are part of a carousel
Interestingly, half of all featured snippets are part of a carousel. What we mean by a carousel is when you see these sort of circular options within a featured snippet at the bottom.
So if you were to search for I think this was comfortable shoes, you have options for women is a circular carousel button, for work, and stylish. What happens when you click these is it recalibrates that featured snippet and changes it into what you clicked. So it starts to get very, very niche. You might have started with this very general search, and Google is basically begging you to refine what it is that you’re looking for. It’s very, very interesting and something to keep in mind.
People Also Ask boxes are on 93.8% of featured snippet SERPs
We also know that people also ask boxes are on 93.8% of featured snippet SERPs, meaning they’re almost always present when there’s a featured snippet, which is fascinating. I think there’s a lot of good data we can get from these People Also Ask questions to kind of seed your keyword research and better understand what it is people are looking for.
“Are Crocs supposed to be worn with socks?” It’s a very important question. You have to understand this stuff.
Informational sites are winning
We see that the sites that are providing finance information and educational information are doing extremely well in the featured snippet space. So again, something to keep in mind.
Be a detective and test!
You should always be exploring the snippets that you might want to rank for.
Where is it grabbing from the page?
What sort of markup is it?
Start being a detective and looking at all those things. So now to kind of the good stuff.
How to win featured snippets
What is it that you can specifically do to potentially win a featured snippet?
These are sort of the four boiled down steps I’ve come up with to help you with that.
1. Know which featured snippet keywords you rank on page one for
So number one is to know which featured snippet keywords your site already ranks for. It’s really easy to do in Keyword Explorer at Moz.
So if you search by root domain and you just put in your website into Moz Keyword Explorer, it will show you all of the ranking keywords for that specific domain.
From there, you can filter by ranking or by range, from 1 to 10:
What are those keywords that you currently rank 1 to 10 on?
Then you add those keywords to a list. Once they populate in your list, you can filter by a featured snippet.
This is sort of the good stuff. This is your playground. This is where your opportunities are. It gets really fun from here.
2. Know your searchers’ intent
Number two is to know your searchers’ intent.
If one of your keywords was “Halloween costume DIY” and the search result page was all video and images and content that was very visual, you have to provide visual content to compete with an intent like that.
There’s obviously an intent behind the search where people want to see what it is and help in that process. It’s a big part of crafting content to rank in search results but also featured snippets. Know the intent.
3. Provide succinct answers and content
Number three, provide succinct answers and content. Omit needless words. We see Google providing short, concise information, especially for voice results. We know that’s the way to go, so I highly suggest doing that.
4. Monitor featured snippet targets
Number four, monitor those featured snippet targets, whether you’re actively trying to target them or you currently have them. STAT provides really, really great alerts. You can actually get an email notification if you lose or win a featured snippet. It’s one of the easiest ways I’ve discovered to keep track of all of these things.
Pro tip: Add a tl;dr summary
A pro tip is to add a “too long, didn’t read” summary to your most popular pages.
You already know the content that most people come to your site for or maybe the content that does the best in your conversions, whatever that might be. If you can provide summarized content about that page, just key takeaways or whatever that might be at the top or at the bottom, you could potentially rank for all sorts of featured snippets. So really, really cool, easy stuff to kind of play around with and test.
Want more tips and tricks? We’ve got a webinar for that!
Lastly, for more tips and tricks, you should totally sign up for the featured snippet webinar that we’re doing. I’m hosting it in a couple weeks.
I know spots are limited, but we’ll be sharing all of the research that we’ve discovered and even more takeaways and tricks. So hopefully you enjoyed that, and I appreciate you watching this Whiteboard Friday.
Keep me posted on any of your featured snippet battles or what you’re trying to get or any struggles down below in the comments. I look forward to seeing you all again soon. Thank you so much for joining me. I’ll see you next time.
If you want a quick overview of top SEO metrics for any domain, today we’re officially launching a new free tool for you: Domain Analysis.
One thing Moz does extremely well is SEO data: data that consistently sets industry standards and is respected both for its size (35 trillion links, 500 million keyword corpus) and its accuracy. We’re talking things like Domain Authority, Spam Score, Keyword Difficulty, and more, which are used by tens of thousands of SEOs across the globe.
With Domain Analysis, we wanted to combine this data in one place, and quickly show it to people without the need of creating a login or signing up for an account.
The tool is free, and showcases a preview of many top SEO metrics in one place, including:
Domain Analysis includes a number of new, experimental metrics not available anywhere else. These are metrics developed by our search scientist Dr. Pete Meyers that we’re interested in exploring because we believe they are useful to SEO. Those metrics include:
Keywords by Estimated Clicks
You know your competitor ranks #1 for a keyword, but how many clicks does that generate for them? Keywords by Estimate Clicks uses ranking position, search volume, and estimated click-through rate (CTR) to estimate just how many clicks each keyword generates for that website.
Top Featured Snippets
Search results with featured snippets can be very different than those without, as whoever “wins” the featured snippet at position zero can expect outsized clicks and attention. These are potentially valuable keywords. Top Featured Snippets tells you which keywords a site ranks for that triggers a featured snippet, and also whether or not that site owns the snippet.
Branded keywords are a type of navigational query in which users are searching for a particular site. These can be some of the website’s most valuable keywords. Typically, it’s very hard — for anyone outside of Google — to accurately know what a site’s branded keywords actually are. Using some nifty computations in our database, here you’ll find the highest volume keywords reflecting the site’s brand. Cool, right?
Top Search Competitors
Knowing who your top search competitors are is important for any serious SEO competitive analysis. Sadly, most people simply guess. You may know who competes for your favorite keyword, but what happens when you rank for hundreds, thousands, or hundreds of thousands of keywords? Fortunately, we can comb through our vast database and make these calculations for you. Top Search Competitors shows you the competitors that compete for the same keywords as this domain, ranked by visibility.
“People Also Ask” have become a ubiquitous feature of Google search results, and represent a good starting point for keyword research and topic optimization. Top Questions shows questions mined from People Also Ask boxes for relevant keywords.
A few notes about the new Domain Analysis tool:
The tool is 100% free
Limited to 3 reports/day
Moz Pro users get unlimited reports
Experimental metrics are just that. These are not (yet) available in Moz Pro.
Metrics are meant to give you a quick overview of any domain. If you want to dive deeper for further analysis, we suggest signing up for a Moz Pro account
Also, we’re looking for feedback! What do you think of the new Domain Analysis Tool? Let us know in the comments below.
Not long ago, my colleagues and I at Advanced Web Ranking came up with an HTML study based on about 8 million index pages gathered from the top twenty Google results for more than 30 million keywords.
We wrote about the markup results and how the top twenty Google results pages implement them, then went even further and obtained HTML usage insights on them.
What does this have to do with SEO?
The way HTML is written dictates what users see and how search engines interpret web pages. A valid, well-formatted HTML page also reduces possible misinterpretation — of structured data, metadata, language, or encoding — by search engines.
This is intended to be a technical SEO audit, something we wanted to do from the beginning: a breakdown of HTML usage and how the results relate to modern SEO techniques and best practices.
In this article, we’re going to address things like meta tags that Google understands, JSON-LD structured data, language detection, headings usage, social links & meta distribution, AMP, and more.
Meta tags that Google understands
When talking about the main search engines as traffic sources, sadly it’s just Google and the rest, with Duckduckgo gaining traction lately and Bing almost nonexistent.
The meta description is a ~150 character snippet that summarizes a page’s content. Search engines show the meta description in the search results when the searched phrase is contained in the description.
<meta name="description" content="*">
<meta name="description" content="">
On the extremes, we found 685,341 meta elements with content shorter than 30 characters and 1,293,842 elements with the content text longer than 160 characters.
The title is technically not a meta tag, but it’s used in conjunction with meta name=”description”.
This is one of the two most important HTML tags when it comes to SEO. It’s also a must according to W3C, meaning no page is valid with a missing title tag.
Research suggests that if you keep your titles under a reasonable 60 characters then you can expect your titles to be rendered properly in the SERPs. In the past, there were signs that Google’s search results title length was extended, but it wasn’t a permanent change.
Considering all the above, from the full 6,263,396 titles we found, 1,846,642 title tags appear to be too long (more than 60 characters) and 1,985,020 titles had lengths considered too short (under 30 characters).
A title being too short shouldn’t be a problem —after all, it’s a subjective thing depending on the website business. Meaning can be expressed with fewer words, but it’s definitely a sign of wasted optimization opportunity.
missing <title> tag
Another interesting thing is that, among the sites ranking on page 1–2 of Google, 351,516 (~5% of the total 7.5M) are using the same text for the title and h1 on their index pages.
Also, did you know that with HTML5 you only need to specify the HTML5 doctype and a title in order to have a perfectly valid page?
“These meta tags can control the behavior of search engine crawling and indexing. The robots meta tag applies to all search engines, while the “googlebot” meta tag is specific to Google.” – Meta tags that Google understands
“When users search for your site, Google Search results sometimes display a search box specific to your site, along with other direct links to your site. This meta tag tells Google not to show the sitelinks search box.” – Meta tags that Google understands
There may be situations where providing your content to a much larger group of users is not desired. Just as it says in the Google support answer above, this meta tag tells Google that you don’t want them to provide a translation for this page.
This is basically one of the good meta tags. It defines the page’s content type and character set. Considering the table below, we noticed that just about half of the index pages we analyzed define a meta charset.
<meta charset="..." >
<meta http-equiv=”refresh” content=”…;url=…”>
“This meta tag sends the user to a new URL after a certain amount of time and is sometimes used as a simple form of redirection.” – Meta tags that Google understands
From the total 7.5M index pages we parsed, we found 7,167 pages that are using the above redirect method. Authors do not always have control over server-side technologies and apparently they use this technique in order to enable redirects on the client side.
Also, using Workers is a cutting-edge alternative n order to overcome issues when working with legacy tech stacks and platform limitations.
<meta name=”viewport” content=”…”>
“This tag tells the browser how to render a page on a mobile device. Presence of this tag indicates to Google that the page is mobile-friendly.” – Meta tags that Google understands
<meta name="viewport" content="...">
Starting July 1, 2019, all sites started to be indexed using Google’s mobile-first indexing. Lighthouse checks whether there’s a meta name=”viewport” tag in the head of the document, so this meta should be on every webpage, no matter what framework or CMS you’re using.
Considering the above, we would have expected more websites than the 4,992,791 out of 7.5 million index pages analyzed to use a valid meta name=”viewport” in their head sections.
Designing mobile-friendly sites ensures that your pages perform well on all devices, so make sure your web page is mobile-friendly here.
This tag is used to denote the maturity rating of content. It was not added to the meta tags that Google understands list until recently. Check out this article by Kate Morris on how to tag adult content.
JSON-LD structured data
Structured data is a standardized format for providing information about a page and classifying the page content. The format of structured data can be Microdata, RDFa, and JSON-LD — all of these help Google understand the content of your site and trigger special search result features for your pages.
While having a conversation with the awesome Dan Shure, he came up with a good idea to look for structured data, such as the organization’s logo, in search results and in the Knowledge Graph.
Last but not least, there are lots of articles, presentations, and posts to dive in on the official JSON for Linking Data website.
Advanced Web Ranking’s HTML study relies on analyzing index pages only. What’s interesting is that even though it’s not stated in the guidelines, Google doesn’t seem to care about structured data on index pages, as stated in a Stack Overflow answer by Gary Illyes several years ago. Yet, on JSON-LD structured data types that Google understands, we found a total of 2,727,045 features:
STRUCTURED DATA FEATURES
Employer aggregate rating
Subscription and paywalled content
The rel=canonical element, often called the “canonical link,” is an HTML element that helps webmasters prevent duplicate content issues. It does this by specifying the “canonical URL,” the “preferred” version of a web page.
<link rel=canonical href="*">
It’s not new that <meta name=”keywords”> is obsolete and Google doesn’t use it anymore. It also appears as though <meta name=”keywords”> is a spam signal for most of the search engines.
“While the main search engines don’t use meta keywords for ranking, they’re very useful for onsite search engines like Solr.” – JP Sherman on why this obsolete meta might still be useful nowadays.
<meta name="keywords" content="*">
<meta name="keywords" content="">
Within 7.5 million pages, h1 (59.6%) and h2 (58.9%) are among the twenty-eight elements used on the most pages. Still, after gathering all the headings, we found that h3 is the heading with the largest number of appearances — 29,565,562 h3s out of 70,428,376 total headings found.
There are 3,046,879 pages with missing h1 tags and within the rest of the 4,502,255 pages, the h1 usage frequency is 2.6, with a total of 11,675,565 h1 elements.
While there are 6,263,396 pages with a valid title, as seen above, only 4,502,255 of them are using a h1 within the body of their content.
Missing alt tags
This eternal SEO and accessibility issue still seems to be common after analyzing this set of data. From the total of 669,591,743 images, almost 90% are missing the alt attribute or use it with a blank value.
img w/ missing alt
According to the specs, the language information specified via the lang attribute may be used by a user agent to control rendering in a variety of ways.
The part we’re interested in here is about “assisting search engines.”
“The HTML lang attribute is used to identify the language of text content on the web. This information helps search engines return language specific results, and it is also used by screen readers that switch language profiles to provide the correct accent and pronunciation.” – Léonie Watson
A while ago, John Mueller said Google ignores the HTML lang attribute and recommended the use of link hreflang instead. The Google Search Console documentation states that Google uses hreflang tags to match the user’s language preference to the right variation of your pages.
Of the 7.5 million index pages that we were able to look into, 4,903,665 use the lang attribute on the html element. That’s about 65%!
When it comes to the hreflang attribute, suggesting the existence of a multilingual website, we found about 1,631,602 pages — that means around 21.6% index pages use at least a link rel=”alternate” href=”*” hreflang=”*” element.
Google Tag Manager
From the beginning, Google Analytics’ main task was to generate reports and statistics about your website. But if you want to group certain pages together to see how people are navigating through that funnel, you need a unique Google Analytics tag. This is where things get complicated.
Google Tag Manager makes it easier to:
Manage this mess of tags by letting you define custom rules for when and what user actions your tags should fire
Change your tags whenever you want without actually changing the source code of your website, which sometimes can be a headache due to slow release cycles
Use other analytics/marketing tools with GTM, again without touching the website’s source code
We searched for *googletagmanager.com/gtm.js references and saw that about 345,979 pages are using the Google Tag Manager.
“Nofollow” provides a way for webmasters to tell search engines “don’t follow links on this page” or “don’t follow this specific link.”
Google does not follow these links and likewise does not transfer equity. Considering this, we were curious about rel=”nofollow” numbers. We found a total of 12,828,286 rel=”nofollow” links within 7.5 million index pages, with a computed average of 1.69 rel=”nofollow” per page.
We went a bit further and looked up these new link attributes values, finding 278 rel=”sponsored” and 123 rel=”ugc”. To make sure we had the relevant data for these queries, we updated the index pages data set specifically two weeks after the Google announcement on this matter. Then, using Moz authority metrics, we sorted out the top URLs we found that use at least one of the rel=”sponsored” or rel=”ugc” pair:
Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) are a Google initiative which aims to speed up the mobile web. Many publishers are making their content available parallel to the AMP format.
To let Google and other platforms know about it, you need to link AMP and non-AMP pages together.
Within the millions of pages we looked at, we found only 24,807 non-AMP pages referencing their AMP version using rel=amphtml.
We wanted to know how shareable or social a website is nowadays, so knowing that Josh Buchea made an awesome list with everything that could go in the head of your webpage, we extracted the social sections from there and got the following numbers:
Facebook Open Graph
meta property="fb:app_id" content="*"
meta property="og:url" content="*"
meta property="og:type" content="*"
meta property="og:title" content="*"
meta property="og:image" content="*"
meta property="og:image:alt" content="*"
meta property="og:description" content="*"
meta property="og:site_name" content="*"
meta property="og:locale" content="*"
meta property="article:author" content="*"
meta name="twitter:card" content="*"
meta name="twitter:site" content="*"
meta name="twitter:creator" content="*"
meta name="twitter:url" content="*"
meta name="twitter:title" content="*"
meta name="twitter:description" content="*"
meta name="twitter:image" content="*"
meta name="twitter:image:alt" content="*"
And speaking of links, we grabbed all of them that were pointing to the most popular social networks.
Apparently there are lots of websites that still link to their Google+ profiles, which is probably an oversight considering the not-so-recent Google+ shutdown.
According to Google, using rel=prev/next is not an indexing signal anymore, as announced earlier this year:
“As we evaluated our indexing signals, we decided to retire rel=prev/next. Studies show that users love single-page content, aim for that when possible, but multi-part is also fine for Google Search.” – Tweeted by Google Webmasters
However, in case it matters for you, Bing says it uses them as hints for page discovery and site structure understanding.
“We’re using these (like most markup) as hints for page discovery and site structure understanding. At this point, we’re not merging pages together in the index based on these and we’re not using prev/next in the ranking model.” – Frédéric Dubut from Bing
Nevertheless, here are the usage stats we found while looking at millions of index pages:
<link rel="prev" href="*"
<link rel="next" href="*"
That’s pretty much it!
Knowing how the average web page looks using data from about 8 million index pages can give us a clearer idea of trends and help us visualize common usage of HTML when it comes to SEO modern and emerging techniques. But this may be a never-ending saga — while having lots of numbers and stats to explore, there are still lots of questions that need answering:
We know how structured data is used in the wild now. How will it evolve and how much structured data will be considered enough?
Should we expect AMP usage to increase somewhere in the future?
How will rel=”sponsored” and rel=“ugc” change the way we write HTML on a daily basis? When coding external links, besides the target=”_blank” and rel=“noopener” combo, we now have to consider the rel=”sponsored” and rel=“ugc” combinations as well.
Will we ever learn to always add alt attributes values for images that have a purpose beyond decoration?
How many more additional meta tags or attributes will we have to add to a web page to please the search engines? Do we really needed the newly announced data-nosnippet HTML attribute? What’s next, data-allowsnippet?
There are other things we would have liked to address as well, like “time-to-first-byte” (TTFB) values, which correlates highly with ranking; I’d highly recommend HTTP Archive for that. They periodically crawl the top sites on the web and record detailed information about almost everything. According to the latest info, they’ve analyzed 4,565,694 unique websites, with complete Lighthouse scores and having stored particular technologies like jQuery or WordPress for the whole data set. Huge props to Rick Viscomi who does an amazing job as its “steward,” as he likes to call himself.
Performing this large-scale study was a fun ride. We learned a lot and we hope you found the above numbers as interesting as we did. If there is a tag or attribute in particular you would like to see the numbers for, please let me know in the comments below.
As a digital content marketer, your job is to grow traffic that converts into leads and sales. Some of us in this field are lucky to work with companies that sell sexy products. It makes it a little easier. But that’s not always the case. This post is for the other marketers that work in the not-so-sexy fields. I can speak to this audience because up until the spring of this year, I was the Digital Content and Marketing Manager at a synthetic oil company. I won’t fault you if you don’t know what that is — we’ll get to it shortly.
Grow blog traffic, stat
In 2016, I joined a company that sold synthetic oil (the stuff in your engine that you change once every couple of months). One of my tasks was to grow website traffic, and the best channel I landed on was the company blog.
The corporate e-commerce website (yep, we sold engine oil online at a premium) was a political minefield, so I had very limited sway. The blog was not. A group of three contributors would meet weekly and throw spur-of-the-moment posts together. It had a sporadic publishing schedule. The topics were dry (it was a blog about motor oil, after all) and blog traffic was correspondingly sluggish. The blog at the time had averaged under 5,000 sessions a month. Within a year, we doubled it. Within two years, we scaled it up seven times. By the time I left, we had surpassed 100,000 sessions within a month threshold.
How we operationalized our blog for triple-digit growth
Within a few months of assuming leadership of the blog, we overhauled the entire publishing process, doubled the team of volunteer contributors, implemented a quarterly editorial calendar, and search-optimized the heck out of our blog posts.
These are the tactics I used to increase our sessions, search visibility, and subscribers in two years.
1. No man is an island — neither is your blog
Our company had a communications team of great writers. Correction: great-but-swamped writers. So we had to look elsewhere. I reached out to departments across the company in hopes of finding people that liked writing enough to publish something once or twice a month. The writer assigned to help manage the blog would proof and edit posts before they were published, so that these contributors wouldn’t have to worry about writing perfectly.
Our efforts paid off; we grew the team from three contributors to a group of eight.
2. Build a flexible calendar, yo
We cut back on the spur-of-the-moment publishing process and focused on getting content out three times a week. Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays were our days, initially.
I created a shared doc where contributors could add post topics. Each quarter, we went through the ideas and picked topics that we would publish. Then I ran each idea through keyword research (via Moz Keyword Explorer and Keyword Planner) and social research (Buzzsumo). This process gave us direction on which messaging resonated with different audiences and how we would distribute our content. Sometimes we wrote posts to answer search queries. Other times, we had a customer group in mind, or an event our marketing team was sponsoring.
One of the events we sponsored was the Sturgis Rally. In this case, the post we created was purely for our social media and events support. Luckily, the rally promoted it, which brought an influx of their fans to our blog. An audience we were targeting with our event sponsorship, because they were likely to know and care about which brand of oil they used on their bikes.
3. Ditch the corporate speak — write like you
We weren’t corporate mouthpieces. We were a team of individuals, each with our own personalities. One contributor was a handyman and liked to fix things; I encouraged him to write from that perspective. Another writer, Andy, was known for his colorful commentary (“Quaker, it takes more than one goose flying north to make a summer!”) so he infused his posts with some of it, as well. Our racing and events writer became a mom, and her son made an appearance in some of her posts. Our approach did not always align with our brand’s masculine tone. Not a best practice (shrug) but it made our posts a lot more genuine. Each piece we wrote had a distinct voice.
Did this have a direct correlation to traffic growth? Probably not. However, it did encourage people to write more often, because the writing was a more natural process. This helped us churn out new content several times a week, which did have an impact.
4. Not all posts shall be optimized equally — that’s ok
Despite our best efforts, the blog was a volunteer project slated among a slew of tasks we all had. Thus, not all posts were created equal. Some posts pulled more than their fair share of traffic. We focused on on-page optimization for those each summer with the help of our interns. On a given blog post, we might have:
Tweaked the blog post title
Added a table of contents (with anchor links and bonus points for voice search phrases)
Changed the URL (with a redirect, of course)
Implemented alt tags
Added crawl/human/voice search-friendly sub-heads
Added videos (where relevant)
Lengthened the post with relevant additional content
By implementing these tactics, several of our posts were able to gain Position 0 or 1 and garnered pretty significant spikes in traffic.
An example of a post that benefitted from some extra love was our engine flush blog post. It became our hallmark for how we could optimize good writing on a relevant topic into a high-ranking and ultra-SERP-friendly post.
5. Invest in AMP (if you haven’t already)
Not judging. Sometimes it takes months for larger organizations to adapt to changes that are for their benefit. When we implemented Accelerated Mobile Pages, it blew our search traffic through the roof.
But driving AMP traffic is not enough. We learned through the process that the standard AMP implementation strips out most aspects of the blog interface. As a result, we lost links to sign up for our blog emails or shop our e-commerce website (egad!). Even though our mobile traffic was up considerably, traffic to the website suffered or lagged.
Unfortunately, we had a custom-built design. Changes would have to be manual, and we didn’t have a budget or the resources for that. So we focused on doing a better job of highlighting our website and products within our posts.
6. Use social media to gather ideas
Yes, we promoted our posts on social, but we also used social media to curate ideas. Some ideas were published. As a thank you, we embedded shout-outs in the post and on social media to the source. It was a way of making our posts feel personal to our audience.
7. Add more pep to your blog email newsletter
Consistency is cool, but we tried to throw an element of surprise and delight into our blog emails. This meant taking time to create a clear and compelling reason why the recipient should open the email — not just listing new posts. Since there isn’t a lot of change month-to-month in the industry, we got creative. Each week I played with subject lines that were timely, relevant, fun, or attention-grabbing. I backed those up with a standard pre-header/teaser for consistency. Some subject lines we used included:
Spit into this tube, we’ll build a car for you.
Remember this classic SNL skit?
Cruisers, Firearms, and Cash
Can your truck go 500,000 miles?
I also used the blog newsletter as a channel to curate and promote older, evergreen posts when relevant, which helped bring fresh eyes to existing material.
8. Do one thing at a time
We split our goals into our top priorities each year, and focused on that. Once we achieved the first goal, we shifted focus to the next priority.
Year one, our focus was growing traffic from search engine results pages and social. To drive traffic, we created search-optimized, evergreen posts and chose relevant topics with significant search volume. We also held team sessions on beginner SEO where we went over best practices and gave the team access to easy keywording tools (I used Spyfu). We propelled our organic search traffic after a year of consistently following this protocol.
In year two, our goal was driving sign-ups. We created premium content and leveraged social to capture some of our fans through lead ads tied to blog content. These tactics drove our blog subscriber list up by 44%.
The third year, we focused on increasing the blog’s contribution to sales. We put our efforts into highlighting products in the blog email, publishing product-centric posts, and including very clear and compelling calls-to-action to shop our e-commerce website.
We gamified our team’s participation by establishing a blogger leaderboard and highlighting up-and-coming creators, or those whose posts were doing well across different metrics.
Could we have done this all concurrently? Probably. But that would have required more time and resources than what we had.
“Sexy” is what you make of it
For us, creating blog posts was something a team of volunteers contributed to between a myriad of other tasks that were actually on our job descriptions. But we grew the channel into a source of considerable traffic for the company. We rallied around an unsexy topic — synthetic oil — and turned it into a creative outlet that moved product. The project also sparked a team of empowered creators, stakeholders, and in-house champions across departments who were fired up by the results of a motley crew of writers, DIY-ers, and tinkerers.
From e-commerce to listings sites to real estate and myriad verticals beyond, the data you can harness using custom extraction via crawler tools is worth its weight in revenue. With a greater granularity of data at your fingertips, you can uncover CRO and user experience insights that can inform your optimizations and transform your customer experience.
In this episode of Whiteboard Friday, we’re delighted to welcome Luke Carthy to share actionable wisdom from his recent MozCon 2019 presentation, Killer CRO and UX Wins Using an SEO Crawler.
Hey, Moz. What’s up? Wow, can I just say it’s incredible I’m here in Seattle right now doing a Whiteboard Friday? I can’t wait to share this cool stuff with you. So thanks for joining me.
My name is Luke Carthy. As you can probably tell, I’m from the UK, and I want to talk to you about custom extraction, specifically in the world of e-commerce. However, what I will say is this works beautifully well in many of the verticals as well, so real estate, in job listings. In fact, any website that can pretty much spit out HTML in a web crawler, you can use custom extraction.
What is custom extraction?
Let’s get started. What is custom extraction? Well, as I kind of just alluded to, it allows you, when you’re crawling using like Screaming Frog, for example, or DeepCrawl or whatever it is you want to use, it allows you to grab and extract specific parts of the HTML and export it to a file, a CSV, in Excel, or whatever you prefer.
As a principle, okay, great, but I’m going to give you some really good examples of how you can really leverage that. So e-commerce, right here we’ve got a product page that I’ve beautifully drawn, and everything in red is something that you can potentially extract. Although, as I said, anything on the page you can. These are just some good examples.
Product information + page performance
Think about this for a moment. You’re an e-commerce website, you’re a listing site, and of course you have listing pages, you have product pages. Wouldn’t it be great if you could very quickly, at scale, understand all of your products’ pricing, whether you’ve got stock, whether it’s got an image, whether it’s got a description, how many reviews it has, and of the reviews, what’s the aggregate score, whether it’s four stars, five stars, whatever it is?
That’s really powerful because you can then start to understand how good pages perform based upon the information that they have, based upon traffic, conversion, customer feedback, and all sorts of great stuff, all using custom extraction and spitting it out on say a CSV or an Excel spreadsheet file.
But where it gets super powerful and you get a lot of insight from is when you start to turn the lens to your competitors and you think about ways in which you can get those really good insights. You may have three competitors. You may have some aspirational competitors. You may have a site that you don’t necessarily compete with, but you use them on a day-to-day basis or you admire how easy their site was to use, and you can go away and do that.
You can fire up a crawl, and there’s no reason why you couldn’t extract that same information from other competitors and see what’s going on, to see what pricing your competitors are selling an item at, do they have that in stock or not, what are the reviews like, what FAQs do people have, can you then leverage that in your own content.
Examples of how to glean insights from custom extraction in e-commerce
Example 1: Price increases for products competitors don’t stock
Let me give you a perfect example of how I’ve managed to use this.
I’ve managed to identify that a competitor doesn’t have a specific product in stock, and, as a result of that, I’ve been able to increase our prices because they didn’t sell it. We did at that specific time, and we could identify the price point, the fact that they didn’t have any stock, and it was awesome. Think about that. Really powerful insights at massive amounts of scale.
Example 2: Improving facets and filters on category pages
Another example I wanted to talk to you about. Category pages, again incredibly gorgeous illustrations. So category pages, we have filters, we have a category page, and just to switch things up a little bit I’ve also got like a listings page as well, so whether it’s, as I said, real estate, jobs, or anything in that environment.
If you think about the competition again for a second, there is no reason why you wouldn’t be able to extract via custom extraction the best filters that people use, the top filters, the top facets that people like to select and understand. So you can then see whether you’re using the same kind of combinations of features and facets on your site and maybe improve that.
Equally, you can then start to understand what specific features correlate to sales and performance and impacts and really start to improve the performance of how your website performs and behaves for your customers. The same thing applies to both environments here.
If you are a listing site and you list jobs or you list products or classified ads, is it location filters that they have at the top? Is it availability? Is it reviews? Is it scores? You can crawl a number of your competitors across a number of areas and identify whether there’s a pattern, see a theme, and then see whether you can leverage and better that and take advantage of that. That’s a great way in which you can use it.
Example 3: Recommendations, suggestions, and optimization
But on top of that and the one that I am most fascinated with is by far recommendations.
Think about how powerful that is. You can crawl your own site, understand your own recommendations at scale, identify the stock of those recommendations, the price, whether they have images, in what order they are, and you can start to build a really vivid picture as to what products people associate with your items. You can do that on a global scale. You can crawl the entire of your product portfolio or your listing portfolio and get that.
But again, back to powerful intelligence, your competitors, especially when you have competitors that might have multivariable facets or multivariable recommendations. What I mean by that is we’ve all seen sites where you’ve got multiple carousels. So you’ve got Recommended for You.
You might have People Also Bought, alternative suggestions. The more different types of recommendations you have, the more data you have, the more intelligence you have, the more insight you have. Going back to say a real estate example, you might be looking at a property here. It’s at this price. What is your main aspirational real estate competitor recommending to you that you may not be aware of?
Then you can think about whether the focus is on location, whether it’s on price, whether it’s on number of bedrooms, etc., and you can start to understand and behave how that can work and get some really powerful insights from that.
Custom extraction is all about granular data at scale
To summarize and bring it all to a close, custom extraction is all about great granular data at scale. The really powerful thing about it is you can do all of this yourself, so there’s no need to have to have meetings, send elaborate emails, get permission from somebody.
Fire up Screaming Frog, fire up DeepCrawl, fire up whatever kind of crawler you want to use, have a look at custom extraction, and see how you can make your business more efficient, find out how you can get some really cool competitive insights, and yeah, hopefully, fingers crossed that works for you guys. Thank you very much.
This is a meaty topic, we know — if you enjoyed this Whiteboard Friday and find yourself eager to know more, you’re in luck! Luke’s full presentation at MozCon 2019 goes even more in-depth into what custom extraction can do for you. Catch his talk along with 26 other forward-thinking topics from our amazing speakers in the MozCon video bundle:
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