You’ve spent months crafting the “perfect” brand message, focus-grouping it to core demographics and psychographics, and lovingly/hatingly crafting hundreds of page titles. You wake up, grab your coffee, and fire up Google to admire your handiwork, only to see this:
For reference, here’s the original <title> tag:
You may be feeling confused and more than a little frustrated after Google’s recent title rewrite update, but why is Google rewriting title,s and what can we learn from it? I explored over 50,000 <title> tags to find out.
Title rewrites by the numbers
All of the data was collected from the MozCast 10,000-keyword tracking set on August 25, 2021, and compared to original title tags collected using Screaming Frog (we only attempted one collection, since these were third-party sites). Here’s a brief rundown:
85,340 page-one results
71,603 unique URLs
57,832 <title> tags
You might be doing the math right now, realizing that 58% of the <title> tags we tracked were rewritten, and rushing to Twitter to express your outrage. Please don’t — at least not yet.
First, there are bound to be quirks, like cached <title> tags that don’t match the current site, sites that blocked or modified our requests, cloaking, etc. I suspect those cases are relatively rare, but we can’t discount them.
Second, “rewrite” is a tricky word, because it implies a meaningful difference between the original version and rewritten version. Of this data set, over 13,000 <title> tags were over 600 pixels wide, the physical limit of Google’s desktop display title. Over 7,000 showed simple (…) truncation. Google has been doing this for years. Here’s an example from October 2011 (via the Wayback Machine):
Are these really “rewrites” in any meaningful sense? To understand what Google’s doing, and how it differs from the past, we need to dig deep into the unique scenarios at play.
Scenario #1: Simple truncation (…)
Google can only fit so much on one line. That limit has changed over the years, but the basic fact remains. In many cases, <title> tags are just too long, and that’s not always a bad thing or necessarily spammy. Here’s one example and its corresponding search result:
This is a wordy <title> tag and we could certainly argue the merits of academic vs. marketing copy, but there’s nothing inherently wrong with or spammy about it. It simply doesn’t fit the available space, and Google has to account for that.
Scenario #2: Complex truncation (…)
Even prior to the recent update, we saw a less common variant of this scenario, where Google would truncate a title and then append the brand after the “…”:
In this example, Google truncated the tag with “…” but then re-inserted the brand. Note that the original pipe (|) was replaced with a hyphen (-).
Scenario #3: Rewrite truncation
More recently (and possibly beginning with the August 16th update), Google is truncating long titles without displaying ellipses (…) and, in some cases, taking the display title from other elements of the page. For example:
This text actually appears in the middle of the <title> tag, but it’s possible that it was extracted from somewhere else on the target page. I would argue that this is a pretty successful truncation that serves the search query (in this case, “Dodd Frank”).
Scenario #4: Keyword stuffing
This scenario tends to overlap with 1-3 — sometimes titles are too long and have clearly been stuffed with keywords. I can’t speak to anyone’s motivations, but here’s an example that seems pretty egregious:
Mistakes were made, etc. Interestingly, this rewrite seems to be pulled from an <H2> on the page, but an entire paragraph is wrapped in that <H2>.
These are fun. Let’s do another one:
This reminds me of that joke, “An SEO walks into a bar, grill, tavern, pub, public house…”. In this case, it appears that Google is taking the truncated title from the primary <H1> on the page. It’s hard to fault Google for rewriting either of these examples.
These extreme examples can be entertaining, but it appears Google has also made some significant changes around less-extreme situations where phrases are strung together with separators like pipes (|). Here’s one example:
While this <title> tag does appear over-optimized, it’s obviously a far less problematic example than the previous two. Google seems to be taking a dim view of pipes (|) in general with this new update. In our data set, over 10,000 titles with pipes were rewritten, and nearly 6,000 of those were below the pixel-width limit.
In some of these cases, the original <title> tags simply appear to be reflecting the site’s information architecture. Take this example from Zales:
While you could make an argument that echoing the site’s IA isn’t particularly helpful to searchers, there’s nothing spammy or misleading about this <title> tag. It appears Google may be getting too aggressive with rewriting delimited phrases.
Scenario #5: Brand name added
For a while now, Google has been appending brand names to the end of display titles in some cases. Here’s one example:
We don’t know exactly what signals Google uses to make this call. It could be a function of brand authority or based on measuring some kind of SERP engagement signals. In the case of a high-authority brand like WebMD that’s only five letters long, this change may be beneficial.
What about long brand names, though? Consider the example below:
Here, Google has exchanged a naturally-sounding and relevant title for a combination of the <H1> content and the brand name. Unfortunately, the addition of the 27-character brand name severely limits the rest of the display title. Fortunately, across a few hundred brand name addition examples I reviewed, this appears to be a rare occurrence.
Scenario #6: Brand name moved
One surprisingly common occurrence since the August 16th update is when Google takes a <title> tag with the brand name at the end and moves it to the beginning. For example:
Here, Google has moved the brand name to the front, followed by a colon (:), and has also shortened “I.T.” to “IT”. This version (with “IT”) is nowhere to be found in the page source.
On occasion, Google seems to be doing the opposite, and moving a brand name at the beginning of the <title> tag to the end of the display title. Here’s one example:
Unlike the back-to-front move, I believe this example is actually a variant of scenario #3. Google appears to be truncating the <title> tag and appending the brand name to the end of it. The removal of the brand name from the front is probably an accident of truncation.
Scenario #7: <Title> is too short
Channeling a bit of Goldilocks, sometimes your <title> tag is too long for Google and sometimes it’s too short. Here’s an example from a recipe result:
This one’s an odd duck (pun intended) — in addition to appending the brand name, Google has expanded the title, and that exact phrase appears nowhere in any major page elements.
Here’s an example where Google rewrote a brand-only <title> tag:
Again, this was pulled from an <H1> tag on the page. What’s unclear is whether Google is rewriting these titles because they’re too short or because they aren’t particularly relevant to the query space. This brings us to Scenario #8:
Scenario #8: Relevance issues
At this point we don’t really know the exact trigger for a rewrite, but it does seem like some titles are being rewritten because they aren’t a good fit to query intent. Sadly, dozens of pages in this data set still had some variant of “Home” as their <title> tag:
In the majority of these cases, Google is rewriting the display title as the brand name. Of course, “Home” is also potentially just too short. Here’s an example of a longer <title> tag where relevance might have come into play:
Putting aside the odd orphaned pipe (|) at the beginning, I’d argue that this <title> tag is generic marketing copy that doesn’t do much to inform searchers.
Scenario #8.5: Marketing lingo
That last case led me down a bit of a rabbit hole, and I’m not sure if this is a sub-case of #8 or a separate phenomenon. There were about 700 cases in our data set where Google rewrote a <title> tag with the word “Best” in it to remove that word. Here’s another example:
Once again, Google pulled the <H1> from the target page, but the rewrite and the original <title> tag share very similar intent and format. It’s possible that Google is taking a dim view of superlatives like “Best,” but that’s only a theory at this point.
Note that there were over 3,000 <title> tags in our data set where “Best” did not get removed, but some of those were contextually important, like “Best Man Speech” or “Best Buy” (the electronics retailer).
Speaking of superlatives, here’s an amusing one:
I think we can probably all agree that “Must Do Super Fun Things to Do” is pushing the envelope. Again, we can’t really prove what specifically is triggering this rewrite, but the pattern here is interesting.
We saw some similar patterns around marketing terms like “cheap,” “official,” and “2021.” Here’s the kicker, though: in some cases, Google is taking <title> tags without superlatives and adding them back in. For example:
Here, Google took a perfectly nice <title> tag, and chose the <H1> that included both “Best” and “Bespoke” instead. This begs the question — are <title> tags with words like “Best” being rewritten because of specific content, or are they being rewritten because of other factors, like length or keyword-stuffing, that just happen to be correlated with that content?
Scenario #9: Query-based rewrites
We’ve long suspected that Google would rewrite some display titles in real-time based on their relevance (or irrelevance) to the search query. In Google’s explainer about the August 16th update, though, they stated the following:
Last week, we introduced a new system of generating titles for web pages. Before this, titles might change based on the query issued. This generally will no longer happen with our new system.
So, are we seeing any evidence of query-based rewrites after the August 16th update? One way to test this is to look for pages/URLs that rank for multiple keywords and show different display titles (even though, being one URL, they share a <title> tag). For example:
The first result appeared on a search for “department of corrections,” and the second result on a search for “prison inmate search.” While this seems interesting at first glance, these results were collected across two different locations (and probably two different data centers). When I attempted to reproduce this difference from a single location, I only got back a single (rewritten) display title.
In our data set, only 96 URLs showed multiple display titles and only one of those showed more than two variants. In every case I spot-checked from a single location, those variants disappeared. It appears that Google really has removed or dramatically reduced query-based rewriting.
How do you prevent rewrites?
There’s currently no way to tell Google not to rewrite your <title> tag (although this latest update has the industry buzzing for that ability), but we can use the scenarios above to develop a few guidelines.
(*) Take a deep breath
Changing your <title> tags at scale is a time-consuming job and carries risk. Before you overreact, collect the data. Are your display titles even being affected? Are these changes impacting your click-thru rate or organic search traffic? Is that impact negative? Frankly, we also don’t know when and how Google might adjust this update. If you’re seeing serious negative consequences, then definitely take action, but don’t panic.
(1) Mind the length limit
While Moz tools track <title> tags that exceed the length limit, my advice the past couple of years has basically been “Be aware of the limit, but don’t lose sleep over it.” Truncation isn’t the kiss of death, as long as the important bits of the <title> tag appear before the cut-off.
Now, I may have to revise that advice. With truncation, you at least control the pieces that happen before the cut-off. Now that Google is potentially rewriting long titles completely, you could end up with substantially different display titles.
(2) Don’t keyword-stuff titles
I hope that most of the people reading this article aren’t engaging in old-school keyword-stuffing, but we may have to be even more careful now, especially with stringing phrases together using delimiters like pipes (|). I hope Google tones down this particular case, as a lot of non-spammy titles seems to be getting caught up in the mix.
(3) Write for searcher intent
This was good advice long before the recent update. Frankly, no one cares about your marketing copy when they’re trying to find something and scanning results. Write for the average intent of the audience you’re trying to attract. It’ll reduce the chances your display titles get rewritten, but it’ll also drive relevant clicks and engagement.
For now, I think the best thing you can do is be aware of the situation and try to assess how much it impacts your site. If the impact is minimal, there are far better uses of your SEO efforts than rewriting hundreds of <title> tags. One exception to this advice is if your CMS is creating a pattern of problematic titles. In that case, a small tweak (or a few small tweaks) could yield sizable results.
WordPress published a useful, early case study about how they spotted a problematic rewrite and fixed it. I think this approach — consciously focusing on high-impact pages — is a good one with potentially high ROI.
The author’s views are entirely his or her own (excluding the unlikely event of hypnosis) and may not always reflect the views of Moz.
Is life about to throw you into the deep end of the local SEO pool? Maybe you’ve just opened your business or have slowly realized that your existing business isn’t showing up very well on the Internet. Maybe you just got a new job at a local business that’s struggling because no one on staff has a background in online marketing and the boss is looking to you. Maybe you’re trying to learn new skills to become a stronger candidate for a digital marketing agency job opening.
Splish splash, hang on! I’ve got water wings for you in this column, answering seven of the most common questions Google receives from folks like you searching the Internet for an introductory understanding of what this thing called “local SEO” means, who needs it, how it works, how to study it to benefit a business you need to market, and more!
Instead of expecting you to tread midstream as though you magically already know all these things, we’ll wade in together gently before we start swimming anywhere near the high water mark.
1. What is local SEO?
Local search engine optimization (local SEO) consists of many actions you can take online and offline to make it easier for people in your community to find and choose a business you’re marketing.
It’s simplest to think of local SEO as a form of customer service. In the real world, you take all kinds of actions to make a business visible, accessible, and appealing. For example, you rent or buy a property at an address near your customers, buy a phone number, organize and display your inventory of goods and services, hang bold signage, seek advertising, and train staff to greet people who walk in, answer their questions, and resolve their complaints. You do all of this to connect with customers.
Local SEO has the same goal of connection. It builds a digital mirror image of what you do offline and enriches it with online-only opportunities, as you become an Internet publisher and promoter of your business’ contact information, offerings, reputation, expertise, and customer service amenities.
When done well, your local SEO efforts convince search engines like Google that your business deserves to be visible in their results when people are searching for what you offer in the place you offer it.
2. How do you know if you need local SEO?
What are the rules, guidelines, and circumstances that determine whether local SEO is the right match for your business?
If your business is physically located near customers who need to find it, then it’s likely you need local SEO to run as profitable a venture as possible. However, needing and qualifying for a complete local SEO campaign are two different things.
If you want to be seen by customers in a specific geographic area (like a neighborhood, city, or county) then you need local SEO to become visible online to these people. However, the number of local SEO actions you are qualified to use in promoting a specific business online is dictated by two things:
Take these three steps to determine your eligibility opportunities:
First, answer a simple question:
Does my business serve customers face-to-face? Or, at least, did it do so prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and plans to resume in-person transactions once it is safe for society to do so again?
If your answer is “no”, because you are operating a completely virtual business with no face-to-face interactions with the public, then a complete local SEO campaign is likely not the right match for you and you should read this article: How To Do Local SEO Without Physical Locations in 2021.
If your answer is “yes”, read on.
Second, identify your model
There are more than 10 different local business structures that Google recognizes:
Brick and mortar, like a retail shop or restaurant customers can visit
Service Area Business (SAB), like a plumber or caterer who goes to customers’ locations
Hybrid, like a pizza restaurant which also delivers
Home-based, like a daycare center
Co-located/co-branded business, like a KFC/A&W chain location
Multi-department business, like a hospital or auto dealership
Multi-practitioner business, like a real estate firm or dental practice with multiple staff
Solo practitioner business, like a single attorney operating in two areas of law
Multi-brand business, specific to auto dealerships vending multiple car makes
Mobile business, like a stationary food truck
Kiosk, ATM, and other less common business models
Determine which of the above descriptions most closely matches how your business operates.
Third, read all of Google’s guidelines that apply to your model
These all-important guidelines teach you what you can and can’t do to promote a local business via Google’s local platforms. Failure to comply with Google’s guidelines can result in penalties and removal of your information from Google’s system (a disaster!).
If, at this point, you’re wondering why this article is referencing Google so heavily, it’s because Google’s platforms dominate where local businesses list themselves online and where local consumers search for local businesses. In fact, their market share is more than 92%, making them central to your local SEO activity. There is much more to complete local SEO than just Google, but Google tends to set the tone of how we view and promote local businesses.
To sum up, if you need people in your community to be able to find your business online, your business normally transacts with customers in-person, and your model matches one of those recognized by Google, you likely both need and qualify for a local SEO marketing campaign.
3. How does local SEO work?
If you’ve now determined that local SEO is the right lane for you to swim in, you’ll want to know the specifics of how to actually do the work. Now is your chance to learn how local businesses do SEO and what local SEO includes.
How local search engines work
Google is a search engine. It’s an “answer machine” that exists to discover, understand, and organize information on the Internet so that it can present that information in response to people’s searches.
Google gets information about local businesses from a variety of sources including:
The Google My Business listings you create for your business
Your company’s website
Other websites, directories, and platforms that list, mention, or link to your company
Information the public submits to Google about your company, such as reviews, ratings, photos, suggested edits of your Google My Business listings, and other forms of feedback
Unconfirmed relationships with other local business data providers and indexes
Your Google My Business listing is something you get to actively submit to Google, but Google also looks all over the internet for information about your business (this is called crawling), then stores and organizes the information they’ve found (this is called indexing), and finally, provides a ranked display of that information to humans who are searching for it.
Google uses secret, internal calculations (algorithms) to rank the information they’ve indexed. One of your key goals in spending time on local search engine optimization is to persuade Google that your business deserves to be ranked highly when someone searches for something that’s relevant to what you offer. When Google decides a searcher’s query has a local and intent and you’ve convinced Google that your business is a relevant answer, local SEO can help you show up in all of the following displays:
Search engine results are often given the generic name, “SERPs” (search engine results pages) but local SERPs also have these more specific names:
Google local packs
Google business profiles
Google local finders
Google organic results
Additionally you can show up in image, video, and shopping results, if pertinent to your business model. Your overall goal in investing time and money in local SEO will be to convince Google that you’re a good result to show to people searching for what you offer.
How do you do local SEO?
So what is the work that actually goes into a local business doing SEO? There are many, many possible tactics and strategies, but a “starter kit” will almost always consist of these 4 basics to get you into the game:
1. An operational local business
You need a business founded on a product or service that local customers want and that is actively building an offline reputation for excellent customer service.
2. A website
While it’s possible to market your business without a website, you should consider one as an essential business asset.
Your website should:
Present what your business is, does, and offers, centering customers’ needs and customers’ language.
Include your geographic terms (neighborhood, city, etc) in the website’s tags, text, and links.
Provide accurate contact information, hours of operation, and abundant cues about how to connect with the business.
3. Local business listings
You need to actively create online listings for your business, such as your Google My Business listing and a variety of other listings (also called “structured citations”) on local business directories and related platforms. Fill out as many fields and provide as much information as possible when creating these listings. Be sure you update your listings any time your information changes (Moz Local can help with this time-consuming task!).
4. Online reviews from your customers
You need to actively acquire and respond to customers’ reviews on your Google My Business listing, all your local business listings that have a review component, and any review platform profiles you’ve created.
You’ll be off to a strong start with the above four basic local SEO components, but as you become more advanced at marketing your business, you will want to explore these additional promotional avenues:
5. Market research and competitor analysis
You’ll want to actively survey your community to refine your understanding of local needs and supplement this with ongoing keyword and trend research to add to your knowledge of the language people use when searching the Internet for what you offer. Your findings can then be used to grow your inventory, service menu, and the optimization of your website for an expanded set of search phrases.
Meanwhile, you will want to regularly search Google for your business, while you are located at your place of business and at different spots around town, to see how you are showing up in their results. Where competitors are outranking you, you’ll want to audit their websites, listings, reviews, and marketing strategies to develop theories of why they’re ahead of you. Your goal, then, will be to emulate their tactics and eventually surpass them.
6. Unstructured citations + links
Unstructured citations are any online reference by a third party to your company’s complete or partial contact information. You can learn more about them here. Links are the clickable elements that take an Internet user from one place to another, and if you’re ready for a more technical explanation, read The Beginner’s Guide to Link Building.
The more often Google finds your business referenced by other relevant sources, the better your chances of them considering your company a good result to show to searchers. The relationships you build with local colleagues, local media sources, different groups in your community and industry can be reflected online when these entities cite your business and/or link to it.
For example, if your business sponsors a town food drive, the charity may list you as a benefactor. Or, if you host an exciting contest, a local lifestyle blogger may pick up your story and link to your website for further details. If the platforms that cite you and link to you have achieved a strong local or industry standing, this will help build the authority of your website in the eyes of Google, as well as expanding your visibility to customers. Finding opportunities for unstructured citations and links is a key part of an advanced local SEO campaign.
7. Expanded media
Each business will need a custom approach to expanding its reach. A social media presence on sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram might be right for you and your customers. Or it could be email marketing, video media, podcasting, blogging, or publishing articles on respected third-party sites in your industry or geographic region that will solidify connections with your customers and introduce your business to a wider audience. Experimentation is key.
Profitability is your bottom line goal, and you will get there by becoming a continuously-chosen resource in your community. Customers can come to you via many paths, but the ultimate endpoint is a first transaction followed by repeat transactions once you’ve earned loyalty. Analytics tools help you track stages along those paths (like customers clicking on your listing to find driving directions or to phone you) so that you can improve the experience the customer is having at each step, increasing the chances of a transaction.
Whether basic or advanced, all eight of the above components are ones you will be sustaining, improving and expanding on for the life of your business, in addition to other efforts you may explore as your company grows.
How can anyone know how to influence rankings if Google’s algorithms are secret?
The entire concept of SEO is based on decades of business owners and marketers testing activities to see how Google and other search engines react to them and how the business then benefits from this reaction. From this ongoing testing, we arrive at theories about certain actions we can take that tend to cause Google to make a particular business or other entity become more visible to searchers.
For example, let’s imagine you own a pizza place in Sacramento, California with a one-page website that simply lists your menu items. You don’t rank very well for “gluten free pizza” even though it’s on your menu, and you seldom receive orders for this item.
You decide to create a second page on your site to tell the story of how and why you make this type of pizza, and you carefully include keywords like “gluten free pizza crust” and “Sacramento” in the page’s tags and text. A month later, your orders for this item triple, and when you check, you find that Google is now bringing up your new page for local customers seeking “gluten free pizza”. You’ve successfully taken an action that has influenced the search engine to the benefit of your business.
All local SEO and organic SEO basically comes down to this sort of experimentation, however complex a given strategy or tactic may be. Decades of such testing and clues from Google have enabled local SEOs to summarize Google’s local algorithm as having three main components:
Proximity: the distance between a searcher and a business
Relevance: the result that is the best match for the intent of the searcher’s query
Prominence: how well-known and well-cited a business is, based on what Google has learned about it by their crawl of the Internet
In practical terms, if I search for “gluten free pizza” while located in close proximity to the pizza place example, and Google finds the page you’ve created about this menu item with lots of relevant text on it, and Google has also found a lot of other websites referencing your gluten-free pizza (making it a prominent local resource), then your restaurant has a good chance of being shown to me as a result.
So, while the hundreds of factors that make up Google’s several algorithms are secret, you’re standing on established ground by doing all you can to work on the relevance and prominence of your business so that Google returns it as a result to searchers within Google’s concept of appropriate proximity.
4. What are the benefits of local SEO?
Once you dive into local SEO in earnest, you can expect to find treasure.
If the goal of local SEO is to make your business easier for customers to find and choose on the Internet, then the most obvious benefit for your company will be increased profitability. Customers reward businesses that make things easy for them, and a greater number of transactions should ultimately result from your work. But, the total array of benefits is enormous! When done well, local SEO can increase your:
Customer service quality
Knowledge of your customer base
Repeat sales (customer loyalty)
Brand awareness + positive reputation
Power for civic good
And so much more!
The amount of benefit you can expect to enjoy from engaging in local SEO will depend on:
1. Your budget of both time and money
2. How far that budget takes you vs. how far your market competitors’ budgets are taking them
3. The maximum growth potential defined by the size and characteristics of your local consumer base
A very small business in a very small town can make a modest investment in local SEO, easily surpass a few disengaged competitors, and reach pretty much every local customer who is on the Internet, plus new neighbors and travelers. As the competition and the consumer base becomes greater, local companies will have to increase their investment to see optimum return.
5. How local is local SEO?
Google indicates that lots of folks are asking about this, and I’m having to make a best guess that what business owners and marketers are wondering about is how big the radius of their visibility in Google’s results will be if they invest in doing local SEO. For example, if a business is located at 123 Main Street in Somewhereville, will they only show up for searchers who are walking along Main Street, or for people anywhere in the town, or for people beyond the town’s borders, or for several adjacent cities, or even the whole state?
The answer to this common question depends on Google’s idea of the intent of the searcher coupled with the competitive level of the market. For instance, Google might only cast a very small radius of results if someone searches for “coffee downtown Portland”:
But if I change my search to just “coffee portland”, Google expands the radius of the results being returned to a much larger area:
Meanwhile, if I signal to Google that I’m not searching for something quick and nearby like “coffee”, and instead search for something where my intent might cover the whole state, like “wedding venues oregon”, Google again expands the results to show me quite a large region:
In general, queries with a very “nearby” intent or queries happening in a dense city with many competitors located near one another will typically return a tighter radius of results. By contrast, queries that could be reasonably fulfilled by the searcher driving further, or that are seeking a rare good or service, or that take place in a rural area with few businesses tend to receive a larger radius of results.
Please note my use of the phrase “in general”, because there are so many exceptions. Moreover, Google’s own products deliver varied results. For instance, I’ve noticed that Google’s local finder often delivers a tighter radius than Google Maps. Meanwhile, Google’s organic results can behave quite differently than their local ones. And, it’s foundational knowledge for you to know that Google delivers different results to each searcher, based on their physical location at the time they search, the exact search language they use, and their search history.
This is an excellent foundational question. First, you must know that local and localized organic rankings are not stable. As mentioned, above, Google orders results for each searcher based on:
Google’s perception of the searcher’s intent coupled with an algorithmic calculation of which results are most relevant to that intent
Google’s knowledge of where the searcher’s device is located at the time of search
The density of competition for the search term
The searcher’s history of previous searches.
The time of day
Because of this, consider it a myth and a mistake when people talk about being #1 for a search term, because local rankings are so highly customized and can literally change from hour to hour. The best you can aim at is a general sense of your visibility for a particular search phrase for people located at different points on the map at different times of day.
The most bare-bones, manual approach to understanding your visibility is to search for a phrase while standing inside your business and note the local and organic rankings. Then, physically move out from there, searching from a block away, a few blocks away, the other side of town, the city border, and beyond the city border. It can be an educational experience to try this, but it’s not one that’s practical to replicate on a regular basis.
For the sake of convenience, many platforms have developed location emulators and local rank trackers that can approximate the results you might see if searching from different geographic locations. It’s important to note that no tool can claim to be 100% accurate, because of how highly customized results can be for each searcher, but as we’ve covered, you’re looking for a general idea of your visibility rather than set-in-stone numbers. There are many popular emulation and localized rank tracking options. Consider these:
On the paid side, both Whitespark and BrightLocal have sophisticated local rank tracking dashboards, and LocalFalcon is also lauded for its nifty visual interface. Mobile Moxie has a 7-day free trial of their rank tracker so you can give this type of analysis a test drive.
Moz Pro customers can use the beta of Local Market Analytics to see localized organic rankings mapped out with innovative multi-SERP sampling.
You’ll want to track your rankings on a regular basis, but always remember, it’s “conversions” that deserve the lion’s share of your focus. Learn to think beyond how your business ranks to how that visibility is resulting in clicks on your listings, clicks-to-call, requests for driving requests, reviews, chats, questions, leads, bookings, and sales!
7. How can I learn local SEO?
Having read this article, you’re ready to move out from the shallow end of the pool into more exciting waters. The important thing is for you to find resources for further local SEO learning that are worthy of your time and won’t steer you wrong. I suggest these as your next 4 laps:
This free, eight-chapter guide has been praised by readers as being not just about the “how” of doing local SEO, but the “why”. Studying this guide will get you into a strong mindset for engaging in holistic local search marketing in an authentic way that takes your business and its community into account.
2. Go where the advocates are
Specific organizations, media outlets, and publications are making names for themselves through pro-local business advocacy. Get to know these entities and rid yourself of the feeling of “going it alone” as a local business owner:
The Institute for Local Self Reliance publishes some of the best local business/local community reports on the web with statistics you can work into the narrative of your business’ story.
The American Independent Business Alliance can get your community started with a formal Buy Local program, if one doesn’t yet exist in your city, and they offer events you can attend virtually.
Near Media is an emerging outlet featuring thought leadership from top local SEO industry experts in strong support of independent business owners, with a growing library of articles, podcasts, and video media.
Plan to virtually attend a LocalU seminar for presentations by local SEO experts on the latest tactics for local search marketing success. This popular conference circuit is special for its all-local focus.
Streetfight covers both small businesses and enterprises, with a strong focus on developing technologies.
I’m also a longtime fan of the good minds behind the Whitespark blog for the sound advice they give
It may seem obvious, but read your local newspaper to keep tabs on the business scene nearest you
If you get tired from reading so much, many outlets like Moz, Near Media and LocalU offer audio and video media, as well, so you can kick back and listen for a bit. Also, multiple platforms have popular newsletters that round up the latest happenings for you so that you don’t have to seek them out yourself. And to follow local SEO industry experts on your favorite social media platforms; here’s a starter list of Twitter accounts you might like to check out.
4. Hire a local SEO to teach you
In some cases, it’s the right fit for local businesses to outsource all of their local SEO work to agencies. Not every business owner is going to have the time to become an expert in this form of marketing, on top of running their company.
That being said, if you can learn to do some or all of your brand’s local SEO or train your employees to do it, you’ll be acting from a place of ultimate knowledge, power and control. If this sounds appealing, you may want to consider hiring a pro to tutor you for accelerated learning.
My advice would be to find a small local SEO agency with an excellent reputation and inquire if their consulting services can be customized for you into training sessions with one of their talented team members. Ideally, you’d set up virtual meetings in which the tutor can visually walk you through tools and tactics, using your business as the workbook. Expect to pay well for this specialized training, knowing you’ll be using what you learn for years to come.
5. Learn from experience — it’s a good teacher!
Provided that you adhere to the guidelines of the third-party platforms on which you’re marketing, it’s your own experimentation that is likely to teach you the most about local SEO. In fact, many of today’s most-recognized local SEOs started out as business owners who became excited by what they realized they were able to do online for brands.
There are excellent free guides to get you started, amazing software to support your journey, and experts who freely share their advice on blogs and social media. All of these will strengthen you. The most essential takeaways will be ones that match the right technology and outreach to your specific customers. When you’ve mastered applying what you learn, and commit to ongoing experimentation, you’ll be ready to swim with the best of them.
The author’s views are entirely his or her own (excluding the unlikely event of hypnosis) and may not always reflect the views of Moz.
Obility’s Austin Peachey joins us once again to discuss conversion rate optimization (CRO) — specifically for B2B companies.
B2B SEOs know that, compared to B2C businesses, the sales cycle in B2B means multiple visits from potential customers before they make their final purchase. To help you encourage conversion, Austin covers four areas for optimization.
Hey there, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. I’m Austin Peachey, an SEO manager at Obility, a B2B-focused digital marketing agency based in Portland, Oregon. Today, I’d like to talk to you about conversion rate optimization, specifically optimizing sites for B2B organizations.
When compared to the offerings of a typical B2C business, the sales cycle in B2B means that users will be visiting your site multiple times throughout their sales cycle before making a final purchase, and it’s necessary that you are reaching them at different stages in their journey.
The earliest and sometimes overlooked step in conversion rate optimization is actually click-through rate optimization.
Increasing the traffic to your site from Google search results can help grow your potential pipeline and increase total leads. Google Search Console is a fantastic tool to review and optimize your listings on search page results. Audit your queries and pages and find out which are the lowest performing. For example, pull in a report of all things that have a click-through rate of less than 1%.
Once you’ve targeted your underperformers, review the title tags and meta descriptions. Start out with the easy things, like are they getting truncated and your full message isn’t showing up. But go beyond that and actually evaluate the language being used. Are you providing incentive for them to click on you versus a competitor? Is there a CTA? If not, try adding one. It can also be helpful to look at the pages that do have a high click-through rate and see what is written for their title and their description.
What’s different and what could be moved from a high performer to a low performer to try to replicate those results?
Know your audience
The next step in conversion rate optimization is to know your audience. This is especially important when it comes to B2B businesses as you have individuals from many different roles exploring your site, providing input and ultimately making critical decisions.
Don’t make assumptions and let the data help you along the way. Google Analytics, Google Tag Manager, and heat mapping tools, like Hotjar and Crazy Egg, can provide valuable insights to your customers and how they interact with your website. When using a heat mapping tool, you can see how far users are typically scrolling down your page, and from that you can get a lot of different insights.
For example, if they don’t get very far down your page, but all your CTAs are in the footer, try moving a second CTA mid-page that might capture more of the audience that isn’t getting all the way to the bottom. You can also use heat mapping tools to see where users usually click on the site. If they continuously click on a piece of content that doesn’t have a link, that continuous click most likely means that they want to click there and read more about it.
So you can improve the user experience by going in and adding one to the relevant content. Follow your user’s journey with Google Analytics and see where in the funnel they might commonly drop off and is there an opportunity to shorten the time from entry to the site to where your site’s conversion points are. A key point of knowing your audience is to be mindful of where they are in the buying process.
Take a look at the keywords that are driving traffic to that page using a tool like Moz’s Keyword Explorer. If they are using long tail keywords, they’re more likely a more seasoned user and are ready for a gated asset, like a white paper or a case study. But if it’s short tail keywords, they’re probably still in the discovery phase and just want to read a blog post or a recent article. Try not to think of things as a marketer, but instead put yourself in the shoes of your potential customers.
Figure out what they want and not what you want them to want.
Solve for poor UX
Now that you know your audience, the next step is to solve for poor user experience on the website. User experience tip number one, please remove the pop-up from your website. No one wants to go to a page and immediately have a big ad block the content they’re trying to see.
They’re going to that page for a reason, and it’s not to have them be redirected somewhere else on the site. Once you have gotten rid of all of the pop-ups, the next step is to optimize your top navigation of your site. Make sure it’s easy to access all the different areas of your site’s content and make sure that you have a CTA available in the header to easily send them to conversion points.
To help optimize your navigation, track what people are searching for using site search in Google Analytics and make sure the topics that they are searching for on a regular basis are easy enough to find. Next step is to review your content and add internal links to relevant pieces of content that may help the user with their decision-making process.
Technical health is also important. Make sure that your site loads quickly and users aren’t running into broken links all the time that will then hinder them on their process of discovery and learning more about your product. The last thing I’d like to discuss, when it comes to user experience, are contact forms.
As mentioned before, you could have anyone from a small team manager to a C-suite executive looking through your site, and they want a form that’s going to be quick and easy to use. Only collect the data that is needed to get the conversion and don’t bog them down with extra form fields that don’t mean anything. Now I wouldn’t be talking about conversion rate optimization if I didn’t mention optimizing your CTAs.
When it comes to CTAs, you want to make sure that they’re unique and relevant to the content of the page. Skip out on the Contact Us and Learn More that’s on every single site and really try and tailor it to what’s happening. If your content is about the benefits of your software, say something like, “Don’t believe the hype and try a demo to see for yourself.” It’s really going to push them to make that conversion more than just learn more.
The final thing, when it comes to conversion rate optimization, is testing. Test everything. There’s so much data being collected and analyzed, so there’s no reason that you need to be making all of your changes just based on hunches. If you see something underperforming on your site, set up an A/B test or a multivariate test to gather information on what really works best for your users.
Software like Google Optimize or Optimizely let you easily conduct these tests and make strong, data-driven changes to your site. There are so many potential things you can test. Try different ways of saying things, different colors of buttons or components, or even entire layouts completely. But just as you’re doing the testing, remember to go through the five phases of testing something.
One is the research phase. What can you learn from your data as it is right now? Two, the hypothesis phase, what educated ideas can you think of to potentially test? Three, the prioritization phase, what changes are going to have the biggest impact on your site and make sure you’re doing those first to drive further conversions in the future.
Four, the testing phase, run and collect your data, whether it’s an A/B test or a multivariate test, and make sure you can get some substantial evidence to make a permanent change on your site. Then five, the learning phase, what can you learn from these tests to make other further improvements in the future? Remember, the only failed test is one where you don’t learn anything.
Well, that’s it, everybody. That is our best tips for conversion rate optimization. Thank you for listening and I hope you all have a great day.
The author’s views are entirely his or her own (excluding the unlikely event of hypnosis) and may not always reflect the views of Moz.
Note: This guide was co-authored by Caitlin Boroden and Kristi Barrow.
The largest players in website analytics are Adobe Analytics and Google Analytics (GA), and for many SEOs, GA is typically their first foray into the world of analytics.
While there are plenty of guides to self-learn GA, there is noticeably less documentation for Adobe Analytics. In this new guide, we’ll cover the basics of Adobe Analytics for SEO, guide you through creating a simple dashboard, and help you ensure your Adobe Analytics implementation is set up correctly for your business needs. Then, we’ll show you how to add a few new and exciting elements to your SEO dashboard.
What is Adobe Analytics and why is it important for SEO?
On a basic level, Adobe Analytics functions just like Google Analytics. They both allow you to monitor website traffic across channels, track conversions, and understand customer behavior.
However, Adobe Analytics has many advanced features that allow you to get down and dirty with the data. As for SEO, with even a basic setup, it can provide you with a wealth of information about your website and its visitors.
For an excerpt, read on for a brief how-to on building a basic SEO dashboard.
Build your first SEO dashboard
In this section, we guide you through creating your first SEO dashboard. By the end, you’ll have built a dashboard that includes all the SEO basics in one place.
Now, open up a blank Adobe Analytics Workspace and let’s get started!
1. Organic Traffic Overview
The first panel we’ll be creating is an Organic Traffic Overview. This panel is simple and meant to give a quick gauge of SEO performance. Here are the steps to recreate this panel:
1. First things first, create a new workspace panel and add a Natural Search segment. To do so, within the components panel, search for Marketing Channel. Once found, click the small > to refine the dimension. Find Natural Search and drag and drop into the top of the panel.
2. To create the field that summarizes the total Organic Visits, within the visualization panel, select Summary Number, and drag and drop into the panel. Two things will pop up: Summary Number and Summary Number Data. In the Summary Number Data chart, drag and drop Visits into the Drop a Metric Here (or any other component) placeholder. If you only want to report on December, for example, within the component panel search, search for Last Month or any time frame you desire. Drag and drop this into the chart too. It should look like this:
Your summary number should now be showing. To hide the chart and only show the line graph, click the colored dot next to the title of your Summary Number. Then toggle off Show Data Source. Lastly, rename and resize the summary number as you see fit.
3. To create the month-over-month (MoM) change visualization, within the visualization panel, select Summary Change, and drag and drop into the panel. Two things will pop up: Summary Change and Summary Change Data. In the Summary Change Data chart, drag and drop Visits into the Drop a Metric Here (or any other component) placeholder. Then filter visits with the time periods you want to compare. For example, add a filter for Last Month vs. 2 Months Ago for a MoM comparison. Then, drag and drop All Visits into the chart as well. It will look like this:
Now, your summary change should be showing. To hide the chart and only show the line graph, click the colored dot next to the title of your Summary Number. Then toggle off Show Data Source. Lastly, rename and resize the summary change to your liking.
4. Finally, to create the line graph, first update the time panel to Last Year (or whatever time period you plan to report on). Then, from the visualization panel, select Line and drag and drop into the panel. Two things will pop up: Line and Line Data. In the Line Data chart, drag and drop Visits into the Drop a Metric Here (or any other component) placeholder. Your line graph should now populate. To hide the chart and only show the line graph, click the colored dot next to the title of your line graph. Then toggle off Show Data Source. Lastly, rename and resize the line graph as you see fit.
2. Top Entry Pages Report
The second panel we’ll be creating is a Top Entry Pages Report. This panel is also relatively simple and is meant to quickly show which website’s pages are performing best in the SERPs. Here are the steps to recreate this panel:
1. First, add a new panel to your dashboard and add a Natural Search segment. To do so, within the components panel search Marketing Channel. Once found, click the small > to refine the dimension. Find Natural Search and drag and drop into the panel.
2. To create the table, within the visualization panel, select Freeform Table, and drag and drop into the panel. An empty table will show up. In the Freeform Table, drag and drop Entry Page into the body of the table. In the Drop a Metric Here (or any other component) placeholder, drag and drop Visits, Bounce Rate, and Average Time on Site side-by-side. Lastly, rename and resize the table as you see fit.
3. Marketing Channels Report
The third panel we’ll be creating is a Marketing Channels Report. This panel will break down your website’s marketing channels with two different visualizations: a donut chart and a freeform table.
1. To begin, add a new panel to your dashboard. No segment is needed for this report.
2. To create the table, within the visualization panel, select Freeform Table, and drag and drop into the panel. An empty table will show up. In the Freeform Table, drag and drop Marketing Channel into the body of the table. In the Drop a Metric Here (or any other component) placeholder, drag and drop Visits. Lastly, rename and resize the table as you see fit.
3. To create the donut chart, within the Freeform Table you just created, highlight the Marketing Channels like so:
Then, right click, go to Visualize, and select Donut. A Donut Chart should appear and be populated with your information. Lastly, rename and resize the donut chart as you wish.
4. Referral Reports
The fourth panel we will be creating is a Referral Report. This panel is meant to provide a glimpse into what external websites are driving traffic to your website. Here are the steps to recreate this panel:
1. To start, add a new panel to your dashboard. No segment is needed for this report.
2. To create the table, within the visualization panel, select Freeform Table, and drag and drop into the panel. An empty table will show up. In the Freeform Table, drag and drop Referring Domain into the body of the table. In the Drop a Metric Here (or any other component) placeholder, drag and drop Visits and Unique Visitors. Lastly, rename and resize the table as you see fit.
5. Conversion Reports/Examples
In this final panel, we’ll be creating a Conversion Report to highlight the top conversions for the website. In this example, we will simply be using Summary Numbers. However, feel free to include a line graph, bar graph, or any other visualization that fits your needs. If you’ve been following along so far, you’ve got all the skills you need to create these visualizations, too.
1. To start, add a new panel to your dashboard and add a Natural Search segment. To do so, within the components panel search Marketing Channel. Once found, click the small > to refine the dimension. Find Natural Search and drag and drop into the panel.
2. To create the various Summary Number visualizations, in the visualization panel, select Summary Number, and drag and drop into the panel. Two things will pop up: Summary Number and Summary Number Data. In the Summary Number Data chart, drag and drop your Goal Metric into the Drop a Metric Here (or any other component) placeholder. Your summary number should now be showing. At this time, don’t forget to update the time period range to fit your needs. To hide the chart and only show the summary number, click the colored dot next to the title of your Summary Number. Then toggle off Show Data Source. Lastly, rename and resize the summary number as you see fit.
3. Repeat step two for all the conversions you want to display, renaming and resizing each Summary Name to your liking.
Celebrate — you did it!
That’s that! You have created a simple SEO dashboard in Adobe Analytics, and are hopefully feeling more confident about the basics.
The author’s views are entirely his or her own (excluding the unlikely event of hypnosis) and may not always reflect the views of Moz.
Three years ago, I wrote a post for the Moz Blog advising how the latest news on mobile-first indexing would impact internal linking strategies, particularly for larger sites.
“By now, you’ve probably heard as much as you can bear about mobile first indexing”, I joked in my introduction. Little did I know.
Only now — in the summer of 2021 — are Google, supposedly, maybe, finalizing the rollout of mobile-first. Even as of August 2021, Google is still very much actively crawling sites with Googlebot desktop*.
As with the recent delays to the Core Web Vitals rollout, the issue here for Google is that they can’t push changes which make their results worse. As Mike King pointed out back in March over at iPullRank, there’s still a big disparity between the mobile and desktop versions of the web, especially when it comes to links.
I don’t need to persuade most SEOs that they should care about links, but I maybe do need to remind you that internal links are, for most pages, a much bigger part of how they get their strength than external links. On an even vaguely established site, it’s not unreasonable to think that including a landing page in your top nav is going to generate more impactful links than most digital PR campaigns could ever hope to. And yet, sites tend to focus disproportionately on the latter, which is perhaps what brings us to this conundrum today.
In this post, I’m going to point out some of the common causes of disparities between mobile and desktop internal linking, when you should care, and what you can do to fix these issues without throwing UX under the bus.
*(thanks to Dom Woodman and the wealth of data at his fingertips for confirming for me that this is still the case!)
A brief history of mobile-first
Back in 2015, SEOs had two months’ warning to prepare for what the industry nicknamed “Mobilegeddon”. This wasn’t the first time that Google had factored mobile friendliness into its rankings, but it was probably the first time they tried to make a really big deal out of it as a way of steering webmasters — a sign of things to come.
About 18 months later, in November 2016, we got the phrase “Mobile-first indexing”. Over the next few years, SEOs with access to multiple Search Console properties became familiar with the routine trickle of emails informing them of sites moving over to the new paradigm.
During this period, some SEOs, including the late Russ Jones, myself in the aforementioned post on the Moz Blog, and my old boss Will Critchlow, started to voice concerns about the potential impact on the linkgraph:
The overall impression at the time was that Google was using a hybrid index for now, but that “mobile only” was already on its way.
Fast forward to March 2020, and Google warned we had six months to prepare for the final toll of the desktop index. This initially suggested a September 2020 rollout, then that became March 2021, and then, as I’ve mentioned above, that date too seemed to pass without incident.
We should assume, though, that this is still coming, or perhaps largely already here, and as such that our mobile sites need to present the version of truth we want Google to see.
The roles of internal links
Internal links, like all other links, fulfill multiple vital functions:
Allowing search engines to discover new URLs
Passing on clues as to topical relevance, via their anchor text, and source URL
Passing on authority, via PageRank or equivalent
That’s of course without even getting into their roles in user experience, which is a topic for another post. (Although if you want to learn more about internal links, I recommend this Whiteboard Friday.)
A disparity in internal links between desktop and mobile versions, then, is likely to have far-reaching implications. (This also goes for any other two versions, such as rendered and raw HTML.) In most cases, one of the two versions will be the one that the site’s SEO practitioner(s) were happy with, and as such the other will not be.
At this point it’s common best practice, at least for your major templates, to routinely produce a list of links from both versions of the page and look for discrepancies.
That said, some differences are more impactful than others. For illustrative purposes, I’ve compared the desktop and mobile versions of five homepages, and in the rest of this post I’ll discuss some of the more interesting differences I noted, and what I’d recommend to the respective sites. Just to be clear: I am not involved with, or indeed pitching, any of these sites.
The five homepages I looked at were:
Interestingly, of these, two had no differences at all for us to discuss — congratulations to Optimizely and Zoopla for paying attention back in 2018. For the other three, read on…
Less harmful examples
Anchor links within a page
The Amazon UK homepage links to itself no fewer than six times, with anchor text such as “back to top”, “see product details”, and “next page” (within a carousel). These links are all unique to desktop, although the mobile version does have a “Top of page” link instead of the “Back to top” link.
Amazon UK desktop (top) vs. Amazon UK mobile (bottom)
You probably don’t need to be too concerned about links like these from an SEO perspective. There’s no dramatic difference in optimization or targeting implied by the different text, and pages linking to themselves probably aren’t going to reshape the linkgraph.
Links to non-indexed pages
Amazon UK desktop (top) vs. Amazon UK mobile (bottom)
The main nav link to the “Pet supplies” category on the Amazon UK homepage comes with different internal tracking tags on mobile vs. desktop:
However, from a specific mobile/desktop parity point of view, this isn’t a big deal. As I said, they both share a canonical tag pointing to the same place, so we end up with equivalent behavior.
A similar rule applies when linking to pages like “my account” or “basket” — there may be differences in desktop and mobile implementations, but as both pages are noindex and/or robots.txt blocked, it isn’t a big deal.
Ebuyer has a few instances of the same element using different anchor text on mobile vs. desktop:
Ebuyer desktop (top) vs. Ebuyer mobile (bottom)
Note the longer anchor text on mobile(!). I also noticed something similar on the New York Times site, although that may be due to them rapidly testing different headline variants.
Either way, I don’t think this is a huge deal as long as the behavior is intended and the implied topic is largely similar, which it is in these cases.
Common problems & solutions
One of the most common causes of disparity is navigation elements that are desktop-only. The example below is from Ebuyer, and shows a bunch of links that I was unable to find anywhere on their mobile homepage.
These links all point to URLs that also feature in the top-nav, so the impact on the link graph may not be huge. However, Google is likely to place different weightings on a prominent homepage link like this vs. a link buried in a navigation, so there are SEO implications to this disparity. Ebuyer’s desktop site implies that these are some of the most important subcategories on the site, whereas their mobile site gives them a more equal footing with other subcategories in the mega-menu.
Happening across millions of sites, this is the sort of issue that might impact the quality of Google’s results. Ebuyer has presumably featured here the categories that are core to their business, and if they rank slightly better in these cases than in other cases, that means Google is slightly more likely to show people results from a business that is highly competent in that area. That, from Google’s perspective, is surely a win, but one they miss out on by exclusively using the mobile version.
From Ebuyer’s point of view, the choice of what to feature in this element is a strategic lever that is lost when Google stops counting their desktop links. The only real solution here is to develop a mobile equivalent to this element, but one can be creative. It could be somewhere slightly different on the page, for example, or it could be a carousel on mobile but static on desktop. Alternatively, you can accept that this is a desktop-specific UX element that should be disregarded in any SEO consideration, and instead must justify itself through its benefit to conversion rates.
Mega-menus & subcategory linking
Many sites, especially e-commerce, handle internal linking by having a huge mega-menu on desktop that collapses into a hamburger menu perhaps four layers deep on mobile. This leaves users very many clicks from anything they might hope to find, and the ironic thing is that super-exhaustive top navigations aren’t necessarily optimal from an SEO perspective either. Sure, they get a lot of pages crawled and pass on a little equity, but they do nothing to concentrate relevance around subtopics, and they don’t allow you to focus your strength where it’s most needed.
Some sites improve on this with a section-specific subnavigation, for example these links on Amazon that only appear within the Grocery section:
This is a great alternative to a mega-menu in general, in that there are fewer sitewide links (meaning that each remaining sitewide link is a little stronger), and, proportionately, more links between closely related pages.
However, of course, this element doesn’t appear at all on mobile. D’oh.
Similarly, Amazon has these featured subcategories on desktop, performing a similar role:
Again, I’d say this is a great idea from an SEO perspective, but these links don’t exist on mobile.
Zoopla handles the same issue much more neatly:
Sidebar links to relevant subcategories
They similarly have subcategory links that only feature in the relevant category, but then on mobile, they retain them — just moving them to the bottom of the page instead of a sidebar:
Sidebar links shuffled to bottom of content on mobile
This isn’t hugely attractive, but it doesn’t matter — few people will scroll to these depths anyway, and Zoopla’s SEO strategy is robust to the mobile-only index as a result. Plus, because of the focus on interlinking only relevant subcategories, the volume of links here isn’t extreme.
SEO copy & hidden content
A similar argument could be made for Ebuyer’s treatment of SEO copy here:
It’s right at the bottom of the page, so perhaps this is an opportunity for internal linking? Indeed, there are a couple of links at the end of this block of text.
Without going too much into the benefits and drawbacks of this kind of copy in general, I’d say this is a little excessive for the bottom of an e-commerce category page (you can only see a fraction in the screenshot above). Instead, Ebuyer could do something similar to what they’ve done with their footer:
Collapsed or tabbed content can be a great way to handle bulky internal linking structures on mobile
On desktop, all of these footer sections are expanded by default, and all visible. On mobile, they’re hidden in these expandable sections. This is generally a good way to handle SEO elements on mobile, as Google has said repeatedly at this point that there’s no downside to doing this.
Conclusion: On-page linking, but tastefully
I’ve tried to explore here some of the common issues that sites face when aiming for mobile/desktop linking parity.
To quickly recap, the main issues I recommend sites focus on are:
And my suggested solutions are:
Pushing linking widgets to the bottom of the page on mobile, rather than removing them altogether
Using tabs, carousels, expandable sections and other creative solutions to make better use of on-screen real estate
I’m keen to see more examples in the wild, though — how is your site handling mobile-first internal linking? Tell me on Twitter!
The author’s views are entirely his or her own (excluding the unlikely event of hypnosis) and may not always reflect the views of Moz.
SEO is one of the most crucial digital marketing strategies, but it’s such an in-depth concept that it pays off in the long-term to work with a qualified professional. Putting it off or hiring the wrong person can waste time, energy, and resources (not to mention all the lost revenue and business opportunities).
While there are as many SEO strategies as there are SEO experts, there are still essential skills that you should look for when hiring for your next in-house SEO expert.
With that said, open a new Google Doc… it’s time to take notes!
An overview of the SEO knowledge tree
There are a lot more to SEO experts than meets the eye, but let’s start with a basic overview of what an SEO specialist should be proficient in. I’ll also note here that not all specialists have the same knowledge, and typically specialize in one area, but may know some parts of all of these subtopics: on-page SEO, off-page SEO, and technical SEO.
On-page SEO is exactly what you think it is: everything on a website that you have control over from keyword optimization to internal linking. Other elements include title tags, meta descriptions, alt text, URL structure, and the quality of the content. While this type of SEO is most often the star of the show, a well-designed SEO strategy also includes the next two elements.
Off-page SEO has more to do with how popular your website is. Think back to high school for a moment… if you were someone who had a lot of friends, you may have been considered “popular”. The same goes for off-page SEO — the more websites that know and link back to your website, the higher the chances of ranking on search engines. However, this is only true if the links are high quality and the sources are credible. Aside from backlinks, other contributing factors include website age, domain name, and how many of your social networks link to your website.
Technical SEO is a bit more complex. To put it simply, a website that has optimized specific features allows it to be crawled easier by search engine spiders, which in return ranks your site more efficiently. This might mean that your site is mobile-friendly, has quick loading times, and/or has an XML sitemap (like a roadmap but for search engine spiders). All these items work in unison to ensure a website has the highest probability of ranking. When it comes to the detailed elements, there is a lot of overlap between on-page and technical SEO, so I don’t recommend viewing these as entirely separate.
Top skills today’s in-house SEOs must have
You might think, “Isn’t SEO only about the technical side of digital marketing?” However, the reality is that emotional intelligence and logic are integral skills that an SEO specialist needs to succeed. The top candidate will have a balance of these top skills.
One might argue if we all had a bit more empathy, the world would be a better place. But that’s a topic for another day. For the context of this article, let’s think back to 2020 in its entirety. Brands that lacked empathy and failed to adapt to the COVID crisis or the Black Lives Matter movement lost customers.
You see, at the very core, SEO experts put themselves in the shoes of the reader. They might ask, “would my reader care about this?” or “would my reader search for this topic?” To back it up even further, an empathetic SEO specialist would first fully understand the target audience as a whole.
An SEO expert is not just in tune with SEO, oh no. They’re aware of how copy evokes emotions in your readers, how it makes them think, inspires them, and urges them to take action. This person guides you in understanding how tweaking your copy can result in ripples of success for your business.
So, how do you know if a candidate has empathy? During the interview, observe the following:
How are their listening skills? Candidates that genuinely listen instead of formulating a response while you’re still talking have high levels of empathy.
How much effort do they make in trying to understand you and your target audience? Do they ask questions about the company’s business goals during the interview? Do they share suggestions on how to engage with your target audience? Do they make an effort to explain how SEO is not just about numbers, but it involves the human side, too?
The next one on this list goes hand in hand with empathy: critical thinking.
#2 Critical thinking
An SEO expert has essential critical thinking skills. This quality is needed to go from following a template, to looking at your business from a holistic standpoint and understanding how to take action accordingly.
Digital marketing is a forever-changing industry and SEOs must adapt by actively searching for solutions. Give your potential hire an SEO problem on the spot and see how effectively they can propose a solution to you (I emphasize that this is a fair question, because it is truly what experienced SEOs do every day). If they struggle to come up with suggestions, they may not be the best candidate.
#3 Data analysis
Using data to drive decisions is another crucial skill for an SEO expert.
Consider this: SEO is the makeup of a trial, error, analyze, readjust, and relaunch cycle. Nothing more, nothing less. All SEOs are learning as we go. Those who learn more than others and have the ability to better understand how data drives strategic decision-making are able to come up with better solutions.
To put it simply, being able to gather and analyze marketing data gives you the competitive advantage to quickly iterate and optimize your SEO strategy.
You might consider compiling some of your SEO data and asking your interviewee what they think about it. Ask them what they notice and what they’d change in the next campaign to get more attractive results. This is a surefire way to get a pulse on their data analysis skills.
#4 T-shaped marketing expertise
The term “T-shaped marketer” refers to someone competent in many marketing disciplines, and an expert in one or two specific niches. We’re often told to find our niche or specialize in one area, but the truth is that having broad knowledge in the many different areas of marketing cultivates more connections.
How? Let’s say, for example, the potential hire knows about copywriting, email marketing, and social media marketing. With all this information, they’d be more likely to enhance all these areas using their overlapping insights of SEO.
Look for this element by asking hypothetical questions like:
Their answers will provide valuable information to find out how they plan to leverage SEO to grow the business as a whole.
#5 Strategic planning
You know the saying, knowledge is power? Well, it’s partially true. The true power lies in the combination of knowledge and action. A strategic plan is the key to propelling your business forward, and without it, you’ll be left in the dust. Strategizing involves assessing the data, understanding the goals, and curating a detailed plan to make progress.
The ability to tend to the details while also acknowledging long-term goals is a large piece of the SEO puzzle. And considering SEO efforts take months to get results anyways, your next in-house SEO hire should be comfortable with short-term and long-term strategic planning.
To test for this ability, tell the interviewee your goals, share some insights, and see what sort of plan they present to you. If they’ve listened to your needs and prioritized key factors, they’re a winner!
#6 Technology skills
Even our grandparents are on Facebook these days, so the phrase “tech-savvy” has become watered down. Technology skills expand far beyond using Google Docs, navigating through Facebook, or hosting a Zoom call. Experienced SEO experts should be familiar with some helpful tools like Moz, Ahrefs, or Google Search Console or be willing to learn these platforms.
These tools should be used in appropriate ways to derive the right data and make relevant strategic decisions, as well as compile reports. Here’s how to test for it:
Ask them to find the top keywords on a certain topic in your niche
Ask them to provide an outline of the content with those top keywords
Ask them how they’d track the results from that content once it’s live
It’s crucial to gain an overall sense of where your in-house SEO hire is before onboarding them. To truly gauge this, keep reading for a couple of considerations to keep in mind.
How to screen and test in-house SEO hires
Because SEO efforts only truly started in the early 2000s, the concept is still relatively new in the grand scheme of the internet. So when testing your potential hire, test them, but also be fair. Below are a few factors to think about.
#1 Be clear on what you need
First, understand what your company needs specifically. Review the previous sections and break down the areas of your business that you’ll need to focus your SEO efforts on. Then, write it down for yourself and in the job description. If you don’t take the time to investigate this, it may be difficult to distinguish if this person is a good fit.
Important note: I’ve seen many job descriptions that list the job title as something like “SEO Manager” but then also include that this person is responsible for a bazillion other types of marketing. So when formulating your job description, consider a balance of the most important elements you need this person to accomplish — don’t go overboard. If you’re unsure about what to include, check with another SEO or someone in your marketing department to make sure the job description is accurate and fair.
#2 Look for someone with proven results
Ask for a portfolio. Their portfolio may include strategy work and/or optimized content (depending on the type of SEO they specialize in). However, it can be the case that company data is restricted, so if they’re unable to provide this, a trial test (see #4) will clarify their skills.
You want someone with a good balance of experience in your industry and other industries, as they are most likely to find creative solutions and approach SEO strategies more holistically. If they can explain to you how they’ve guided another business towards success using the SEO strategy they developed, then keep them in mind when you make your final decision.
#3 Assess SEO know-how during an interview
Assess their knowledge of SEO using the questions mentioned earlier. Other important questions I’d recommend asking are:
What are the top SEO KPIs to track on a monthly basis?
How do you know when content needs to be optimized after it’s already published?
How do you know when your SEO strategy is working vs. not working?
Someone quick on their feet with well-thought answers will tell you a great deal about their ability to adapt and help your business grow.
#4 Give them a trial test to check their strategic planning skills
As I noted before, knowledge doesn’t do much without action. To determine if a candidate for an SEO position is a match for your needs, they should be able to create a mock strategic plan. One of the best testing methods is to ask candidates to do a mini SEO audit to see how they approach combining data with strategic insights. In combination with their SEO knowledge, their process will tell you everything you need to know to make your choice.
Hiring an in-house SEO is one of the best decisions you’ll make for the longevity of your business
Ultimately, putting in the work upfront to fully vet your next in-house SEO position will pay dividends in the long term. SEO can skyrocket your business efforts to a whole new level, but only with assistance from the right person and with the right strategy.
Without these ingredients, missed opportunities could prevail. To avoid this, be sure to first understand what your marketing team needs and make sure this aligns with the candidate’s particular skill set.
At the end of the day, the most important skill is the ability to keep on learning and improving, because, like SEO, we must all continually optimize.
The author’s views are entirely his or her own (excluding the unlikely event of hypnosis) and may not always reflect the views of Moz.
In today’s episode of Whiteboard Friday, Moz’s own SEO expert, Tom Capper, talks about the untapped organic traffic opportunity that is Google Discover.
Happy Friday, Moz fans, and today’s topic is going to be Google Discover.
Now this is a massive opportunity that I think a lot of sites have been sleeping on. It’s been out for about three years now, and the sites that are taking it seriously, I’ve seen quite a few recently that are now getting more traffic from Google Discover than they are from organic.
What is Google Discover?
So hopefully that gives you some kind of idea of what you’re missing out on. But in case you have been sort of living under a rock, completely oblivious to this, this is what Google Discover is.
This is what it looks like. So basically, if you open up the Google app on Android or on iOS, you’ll see, yes, there’s a search bar that you normally expect with Google, but there’s also, if you scroll down, by default at least, there’s this list of recommended articles, very heavily personalized.
You can sort of scroll infinitely. They’re based on your interests and sort of what Google has seen you searching for and looking for in the past basically. They’re all articles. This isn’t e-commerce or something like that for the most part.
How to be featured
Now I’m going to talk a little bit about what you need to do to be featured here. Indexing, at the basic level, works the same as regular Google organic.
There’s no sort of special process like you might see with Google News or something like that. But there are a few hard requirements that you’re going to need, and there’s also a few sort of myths that I’m going to talk about.
1. Schema markup
Now the first big hard requirement that I’ve seen completely ubiquitously is schema markup. So in my own Google Discover feed, everything that I’ve seen recommended to me is either marked up as schema in an article or schema in a news article. When I’ve looked at the analytics of sites I have access to and what they’re getting featured in Google Discover, it’s the same. It’s all either article or news article markup.
Now it might be possible that people are succeeding with maybe recipes or something like that and I’ve just not seen that. But definitely some kind of schema markup is required here.
2. Unambiguous, broad topics
Now there’s also sort of, like I say, a very heavy topics layer here and what people are being recommended based on their interests and so on. This is kind of surprisingly unsubtle as far as I can tell, or at least surprising if you’re used to Google’s organic algorithm and how sophisticated it is.
So basically Google will cotton on very heavily to a few broad topics of things you’re interested in, and sites that I’ve seen doing well and articles that I’ve seen doing well are very unambiguously about one of these sort of broad topics.
So, for example, the Moz Blog actually does quite well in Google Discover. I think that’s because it’s very unambiguously about SEO, and it’s never really dangerous to recommend a Moz blog article to someone who’s interested in SEO. Similarly, on some sites the articles I’ve seen doing very well are ones that prominently mention and clearly are about maybe a celebrity or a car brand or some other sort of broad topic like this. So this sort of unambiguous topic seems to be very important.
The next requirement is more something you might be familiar with if you’ve optimized for YouTube or Twitter or Facebook or something like that, and it’s this clickiness. And to be honest, I’m sorry to say kind of being click-baity. The articles that do best on Google Discover are ones that sort of hint at something salacious in the title but don’t reveal it. So they’re really drawing in that click, and it seems to really reward that.
Now it’s worth mentioning this title. This is not a title tag, like you might be used to from SEO, and it’s also not an Open Graph title, like you might be used to from social media optimization. This is part of that schema markup. It’s the headline in there. This needs to be no more than 110 characters. Ideally pretty close to that. There’s also this image. This image needs to be 1,200 pixels wide, and again it’s referenced in that schema markup. Again, that can be a very important way of drawing in that click.
The last sort of big requirement that I noticed is speed.
It seems much more important for Google Discover than it is for Google organic to have fast loading pages, to such an extent that I’ve seen a lot of people out there sort of claiming that AMP is a hard requirement.
Google Discover myths
Now we sort of get into the myths section or the urban myths.
AMP is definitely not a hard requirement for Google Discover.
There are sites out there doing very well without AMP, even smaller, lesser-known sites doing very well without AMP. But you do need to be very fast. So I can see how people come to have that idea, and sure enough if you look in your own Google Discover, you’ll probably see a lot of AMP pages. But it’s definitely not a requirement. Indeed there are even some sites doing well with slower pages, but they tend to be more a household name or very authoritative brands within their space, which possibly compensates.
2. Link building
I think that’s what leads people to think about this next myth, which is I’ve seen a lot of people recommending that you should do link building for the benefit of Google Discover. Maybe that does help. But compared to organic, I’ve seen sites DA 20 something doing very, very well, six-figure daily traffic through Google Discover. It’s definitely not a hard requirement to have any substantial amount of links.
So maybe it helps, or maybe there are other ways that Google is measuring brand here, but this is not something I would focus on for Google Discover to start with.
3. Knowledge graph
The last sort of myth that I’ve seen is I think it comes about because early on in Google Discover you could follow certain sites or brands if they were featured in the Knowledge Graph, and then you would supposedly see more content from that site.
That’s no longer possible. But in any case, like I say, I’ve seen sites doing very, very well that not only have very few links, but also as a brand or as a site or as an entity are not in the Knowledge Graph. So what I think probably is working trying to get your brand featured in the Knowledge Graph and probably your brand already is featured in the Knowledge Graph if it’s well-known.
This is definitely not something that’s going to be a hard requirement for you to perform very, very well in Google Discover.
Measuring success in Google Discover
Now the next step you’re probably going to want to think about is how do you actually go about, once you’re optimizing for Google Discover, how do you measure how well you’ve been doing so that you can sort of iterate and improve.
Now sadly this is a little bit messy. The most accurate data source you’re going to have is Google Search Console. Similar to Google News, if you’re getting any Google Discover traffic at all, you’ll get this extra tab appear in Google Search Console that shows you your Discover traffic as separate to your web search traffic or your Google News traffic if you have that.
Again, the Google News thing only appears if you’re getting Google News traffic. Obviously, Search Console data isn’t ideal. It has some limitations. It’s not tied up with data from your other channels. It’s not tied up with your conversion data or your on-site analytics. But if you want to actually debug this in something like Google Analytics, it’s very messy.
So what I’ve seen when I found articles that according to Google Search Console are only getting Discover traffic, zero web search traffic whatsoever, they’re just getting Discover traffic, and then I look at how that Discover traffic appears in Analytics, it sadly very spread out.
There used to be some ways of capturing this through basically a typo in the referral that Google Discover was sending. Sadly, that’s no longer the case. So what you tend to see is the Google Discover traffic appears mostly as Google organic, sort of blended in with your other organic data. Then a good chunk of it, in my experience about 17%, will appear as direct.
So 15% to 20%. Seventeen is probably overly precise. Then you’ll get a tiny sliver which is appearing as this googleapis.com referral traffic. Now if you’re getting anything with googleapis.com referral as the source and medium, then you’re definitely getting some Discover traffic, but it’s a lot more than you would think from this green slice. This is just sort of the tip of the iceberg.
So hopefully you found all of that useful. I’d love to know your own tips if you can share them on social and tag me or tag Moz. This is an area that I think right now is relatively little explored by SEOs and by the industry. So yeah, I’d love to see what other people are doing and what’s working for them. Thank you very much.
The author’s views are entirely his or her own (excluding the unlikely event of hypnosis) and may not always reflect the views of Moz.
Marketers love graphs. Oftentimes, however, we visualize complex data in a way that can be unintentionally misleading. The graph trends upwards but is the data the right metric to be plotting? Are we choosing data that genuinely conveys the state of play, or just information that supports our case?
We have reams of data at our fingertips, and using that to support business cases or budget increases is paramount. How do you do this in a way that conveys truth to a less-knowledgeable audience?
When presenting results to stakeholders, marketers will often find themselves talking to people who don’t understand the metrics to the same degree. Let’s make smart choices in how we choose and display data. From cleansing data and choosing the right metrics, to visualizing them in a way that helps build support and omits bias.
Winning friends with reporting
Marketing reports are about communicating a message through data. Often that data can be fairly complicated — augmented by segments, audiences, time periods, and campaigns. The message is usually much more simple. There is a key thought, implication, or decision that you want to leave the reader with. The key to good reporting is making sure the data elicits those thoughts in an unbiased way that is easily comprehended.
Consider your audience
The first step in ensuring your reports are useful to other people is putting yourself in their shoes. Go back to basics with your report and ask yourself this: who is the audience of this report?
The audience is central to the reporting process. After all, you’re trying to convey a message. So, when designing your reports, you may want to conduct some research first — that is, speak to the people who will be receiving your report. This might be a client, your line manager, a colleague, or an outside stakeholder. Whoever it is, they’re likely to have a different set of questions they want to have answered by the data than you.
Ask them some of the following:
What questions do you want this report to answer?
Find out from the report receiver if there is a specific question they need answered by the data you’re presenting. This might well be something along the lines of needing to know if the campaigns being run are generating ROI. It might be wanting to know if the budget is being assigned efficiently. Perhaps they need to know whether the new marketing channel being trialled is bringing about results, or if the test you’ve been running should be rolled out across more pages of the website.
If you don’t know what the report needs to answer, it’ll be hard for you to write one that’s useful to the people you’re presenting it to.
Who else needs to see this report?
Your key stakeholders may not be the only people who will pick up the report and draw conclusions from it. As an agency account executive, you may have a key contact who you send the reports to, but find out from them if they then send them on to others. If it goes to your contact’s colleagues or boss, they may have different needs.
Perhaps you send the reports to your line manager, who then discusses it with the board of directors. Is there key information the board needs that you can include front-and-center in your reports?
What insights do you want to be able to pass on?
The marketing report you provide might be useful in helping the recipient communicate ideas to their stakeholders. For instance, if the report is designed to show the performance of SEO for your company, might your line manager like to be able to argue for a bigger budget? What can you include in your reports to make this decision clearer?
What do you already report on that you would also like to see in this report?
There’s often a lot of duplication going on with marketing reports. Each marketing channel will be commenting on their impact on the website, or how they’re improving brand awareness. Can you help to simplify the reporting process by bringing some of these other reports into yours? If your report’s recipient is already reporting on metrics of their own, find out if they’re aligned enough to include in your reporting. You’ll instantly be adding value to the report you’re creating.
What are your key objectives and performance metrics?
Ascertain what metrics actually matter. Marketing reports can end up cumbersome, and unfortunately, skim-read as a result. Are there any pertinent metrics that your report recipients really need to know? What are the KPIs they’re being measured on? How does your work impact those? Include these metrics directly into your report so your stakeholders can see how your activity is benefiting them.
How much of what I report on are you already familiar with?
It’s not an easy question, and requires some tact, but it’s important to understand your report recipient’s level of understanding about what you’re reporting on. Are they marketers themselves, or are you their main touch-point within your marketing department? Are they seasoned SEOs who have seen every iteration of an SEO report under the sun?
Once you know their level of understanding on the subject, you can decide how to format your report to aid in explaining details more clearly, like including a glossary or notations.
An example email to a stakeholder designed to help understand what a marketing report needs to cover.
Learn to use your reports for your own marketing purposes
Let’s not forget that we’re reporting on marketing data because we want to show how our work is paying off. That means there will always be an element of showing our successes and failures. How we communicate those through our reports is important.
What do you want to communicate?
Are you looking to prove that a concept works or that a campaign has been successful? Are you wanting to share an update on the general trends of an account?
Consider your marketing reports as a marketing tool in their own right. Once you have a better understanding of their audience, you can use them to present data to clearly convey your message.
Your reports can help you get sign-off
Your marketing reports will serve to sum up the successes and room for growth in your previous marketing endeavors. Done well, they’ll help to show off your skills and achievements. This can pave the way for future buy-in from your stakeholders. “Referral traffic to the website has increased by 50% due to the last digital PR campaign you ran? Of course you can run another!”
Your reports prove the worth of your work
Along with showing off all the good you’ve achieved, your reports should also cover what you’ve learned. That might include projects or campaigns that have not performed as you hoped. Being honest about what didn’t work and how you would change that in the future can help to solidify your reputation as a diligent, accountable marketer.
Not everything will go to plan all of the time, and our reports should reflect when they don’t. Only giving one side of the story through reports can lead to some awkward conversations later down the line when stakeholders want to know where their budget has gone or why goals haven’t been met.
The unfortunate truth about marketing reports is that they don’t always get read. You may spend hours putting together an intelligent, thought-out commentary to go alongside your carefully crafted graphs and charts, only for it to lie attached to an unopened email for weeks.
One of the ways our reports can be off-putting to their audience is length. Send a Data Studio document consisting of 15 pages to a busy executive and they may never click “open” again. A way around this, and to make sure the pertinent information is definitely being read, is a succinct summary.
Add the main message to the first page of the report. Write it after the rest of the report has been constructed and take from that analysis the most salient points you want your audience to know. Summarize the key points and include only the important data on that first page. If the recipient reads nothing else from the report they should be able to take away the key information you need from this one page alone.
The rest of the data, tables, charts and commentary should be backing up that first page. This can be where the deep-dive analysis of the data is carried out, but not where the important information is first raised.
Continually review your report structure and tone
Your reports might need to go through several iterations in order to get the right level of “comprehensive” and “clear”. Don’t be afraid of asking for feedback on your reports. Think of them like marketing collateral – you may need to refine the messaging to make sure it’s resonating with your target audience. Reports shouldn’t be a case of “set-it-and-forget-it” — they may need to be adapted to new team members or stakeholders.
Share insight, not just intelligence
There’s a difference between insight and intelligence. In this instance, intelligence is the sharing of data. It’s valuable in its own right, but not necessarily the best way to communicate through your reports.
Instead, consider insight to be the goal. Insight should come from a place of analysis. When reporting on your marketing campaigns, dig deeper to look into trends, seasonality, social, and political factors that might be having an effect.
Your expert take
If you’re producing marketing reports, chances are you’re a skilled marketing professional with a broad or deep knowledge of marketing disciplines. Your opinion matters.
Depending on the type of report you’re creating, and the audience who’s receiving it, you may need to go into quite some detail explaining what the data shows. Guide the readers to the conclusions that can be drawn from the data. This way, the reports become useful decision-making tools.
Evaluate how this report backs up your other comms
It’s likely that your marketing reports aren’t the only source of information about the campaigns or channel your stakeholders are receiving. You may be updating them on progress through meetings, dashboards, and emails. Progress might be frequently discussed by other members of your team. Your reports need to be cohesive with these other communications. If they aren’t, how do stakeholders know which one is the source of truth?
There are many of ways in which the results may be misunderstood or miscommunicated. When creating your reports, it’s imperative that you’re aware of what other discussions around the report-subject are being held so you can ensure you’re providing the data that evidences and reiterates those discussions.
Keeping data accurate and unbiased
Using your reports as a marketing tool makes sense when you think about them being a reflection of your hard work. However, this approach could lead to some distortion of the facts.
One key takeaway from this article is this: keep your reports honest and unbiased.
This is hard to do. There’s often a lot riding on your reports — new budgets, recurring revenue, your promotion opportunities, etc. To help, the following are ten tips for making sure you’re presenting the data in the best way possible for your audience to see the true message.
1. Choosing the right data set
What data do we need to report on? This might seem like a simple decision to make, but it’s actually more nuanced than you might expect.
Consider what you’re trying to demonstrate through your reports. If it’s the success of a marketing campaign, then the data you need to report on might go beyond the data you have a direct impact on.
For instance, if you’re tasked with driving converting organic traffic to a website, then it might not be enough for you to just report on the Google Analytics organic channel traffic and conversions. To create a truly useful marketing report, you may also need to include data from what happens after the traffic completes a conversion on the website. Can you include data from software like Salesforce or Hubspot, which gives an indication of how much of that traffic actually became a marketing qualified lead, or even a customer?
Your data should be chosen based on the overall goals of the marketing initiatives you’re reporting on. Rarely is that simply to drive more traffic to a website or generate more awareness of a product. It usually comes down to revenue. To really identify whether the work you’re carrying out is making an impact on a company’s bottom line, then you may need to include that revenue data in some way. Doing this gives a much fuller picture of how effective your marketing is, and keeps you accountable to the role that your marketing activity should be playing in the success of the business.
2. Reporting on the key goals
Think about the big picture of the company. What are the overall KPIs it’s working with? How can the information provided in your report tie into those KPIs?
Say, for example, your company has released a new line of sneakers. The overall goals of the new campaign are to have sold 20,000 units of this new stock by the end of the year. How can your SEO report include information that might help identify whether that launch has been successful?
By including references to wider company goals in your report, it will stay more relevant to a wider audience. It also means there’s a direct correlation to be drawn between the activity you’re carrying out and the success of the business.
This might mean that your report structure needs to change seasonally as the goals of the company change. You may have a page of your report dedicated to data that tracks the success of the sneaker launch until the end of the year. As a new product line launches and the focus of the company changes, so may the focus of that page of the report.
3. Keeping the integrity of that data set
Our reports ride on a lot of trust that the data we’re using is… actually right. Consider: Who has access to your Google Analytics data? Your Search Console account? Who can add filters, delete views, change custom groupings, delete properties?
It’s really important to lock down who has the ability to make changes to your data that could drastically affect its reliability. It’s even more important to build processes that will reduce the risk of it happening. Even the most seasoned Google Analytics user will not necessarily be aware of how adding a traffic filter to the account may affect the integrity of data that someone else in the team is reporting on.
You may well be trying to clean up your data source by better attributing channel data, or filtering out bot traffic. These are all good ideas. However, unless it’s carried out in conjunction with other people who are using that data, properly noted and even annotated within your data source, it can cause a loss of integrity.
Even outside of the data source itself, there can be factors that affect it. For instance, Google Analytics channel data relies on people using UTM codes correctly. Make sure you invest time in creating training programs that inform stakeholders of how their actions can impact data. Create processes that limit the effect of those changes. Consider keeping a centralized document of UTM codes used on marketing campaigns and develop a system for creating them consistently. This way you can limit the poorly attributed traffic polluting your marketing reports.
4. Avoiding bad data
To reiterate: Our marketing reports should be useful to their recipients. Safe reports — ones that just cover basic metrics or cherry-pick data— do not add value.
When writing your reports, avoid just choosing data that is “bad”. That is, data that obfuscates truth and hides issues. This can be through choosing metrics that, on the face of it, look good (like a low site-wide bounce rate), but in reality do not provide sufficient information to base decisions on. For bounce rate to be a metric on which to base decisions, a reader would need to know what the bounce rate of individual pages were, or the type of content they contained, or even just whether the low bounce rate is coupled with a high engagement rate.
Bad data can also be data that has been highlighted because it’s positive, but at the expense of showing data that might reflect badly on the marketing activities. Showing that traffic to a webpage is growing may look great. Not including the fact that conversion rate has steadily been declining could hide the issue of the decreasing quality of that traffic.
For example, look at these two charts. They show the same organic traffic data to a webpage:
The first image shows just the organic traffic to the page. If an agency presented this image to a client, it would suggest that their work over the past year had been successful. Organic traffic has almost doubled during those 12 months.
This second image uses the same organic traffic data, but adds in the leads generated by that traffic during the same time period. By adding in the leads generated by that organic traffic, you see a different story emerge of the success of that campaign. The traffic has increased but leads have decreased. There could be several reasons as to why that has happened, but this image would not suggest the recent SEO work has been successful in adding to their client’s business goals.
5. Giving a clear picture of the data
Your report needs to analyze, detail, and display the data in a way that tells a story. This is the insight that adds value. Think of your report like a journey. You want to draw your reader into the data in a way that helps them to understand the context, the results, and the conclusions.
Consider starting your report broad: What is the context of this data? Depending on your niche, this might include all sorts of related information like political background, weather data, economic factors, societal restrictions, COVID-19 case levels, etc.
Your report should then narrow down to what is being reported on, looking specifically at the business. Perhaps this will include some of the more business-focused KPIs we discussed earlier. It might be the wider marketing team’s goals and metrics.
Next up should be the KPIs that your work has directly impacted. For instance, SEO traffic data, conversions, or content engagement.
From there it would be worth narrowing down further to look at the results of activity that has been carried out during the reporting time period. For instance, detail the results of that link-building campaign, or demonstrate how the changes to the webpage copy impacted bounce rate and dwell time.
6. Using the best visualizations for the data
Choosing the best way to display your data can make or break a report. You can take data from a confusing mess to being easily understood by simply changing the scale on an axis.
It’s also very easy to mislead your audience by using an inappropriate chart or graph. Consider what you’re trying to demonstrate. Is it the changes in data over time? Then perhaps a line or bar graph is the best bet. Need to show the relationship between the parts of a whole? Then a pie chart might be a good choice.
Whatever you do, make sure you avoid these common ways of skewing the data visually:
Manipulating the axis scale: Not starting at zero is a common way of making data look more significant than it is. A scale going from 1,000 to 3,000 makes the comparison of two data sets that differ by 500 look huge. Similarly, the axis not being labelled in the right increments can be very misleading. Too big a gap between increments and differences between plots on the graph look small. Too small a gap and the differences look very significant.
Parts not adding up to a whole: The key to a pie chart, or any graph that is meant to represent parts of a whole, is that it needs to add up to 100%. That is, every part should be represented, even if it’s included in an “other” segment.
Percentages instead of actual numbers: You’ll see these sorts of statistics all over social media when marketers are showing off their work. Growth will often be spoken about in terms of percentage changes rather than absolute numbers. Which sounds better: increasing traffic to the site from 10 to 20 users, or a 100% increase in users?
Missing data: Only showing the best quarter of a year of poor results can make the results look a lot better. In reality, the missing context is significant and shouldn’t be hidden.
7. Annotate your charts and graphs
Wherever possible, annotate your visualizations, especially if they’re time-based. For instance, did you start filtering out internal traffic in March 2021? If so, that could have caused a dramatic drop in website traffic from that point onwards. Someone new to the business or your team may not know that it happened and will be looking for reasons for this change in traffic.
Equally, when comparing March 2021’s traffic to the previous year, the graph may give the impression of a drop in traffic year-over-year. In fact, this could be masking an increase in the external traffic to the site. Noting significant changes in the context of your data on your marketing charts and graphs can help identify genuinely significant changes.
8. Waiting for the right time to draw conclusions and report on data
It might be tempting to call out successes in your campaigns as soon as you see them. Often, though, it pays to wait before drawing those conclusions.
You may be only a month or two into a six-month campaign. Instead of declaring it a success now, note in your reports how other factors may yet influence it.
It would be better to wait for a longer period of time to pass before you call a campaign or activity a success. There may still be insights to be gleaned from how successful it is or could be.
9. Showing a clear link between the data and next steps
Remember to be clear about the conclusions you want the reader of your report to take away. These conclusions should result in actions or decisions. Otherwise, the report isn’t actionable and its value is arguably limited.
What would you want someone who is less knowledgeable about the work you’ve been doing, or marketing as a whole, to take away from it? The data you’re choosing to report on should be sufficient enough to back-up your analysis, and clearly link the conclusions you’ve drawn to your next steps.
10. Stay true to the data
Your reports need to be factually accurate in order for you to achieve a good balance of marketing collateral and reliable analysis.
If you gave this data set over to another industry professional with the same level of expertise as you, and with access to the same contextual knowledge, would they be likely to draw the same conclusions? If not, you may have introduced some bias into your analysis.
When analyzing your data, always consider whether another person who is more objective of the situation would be interpreting the data in the same way. This should help you to be more critical of the information, and less prone to highlighting only the positives.
The key aspects of any marketing report is that it needs to be accurate, factual, and clear. It should also show how your marketing has had an impact — whether it be positive, negative, or if it remains to be seen. Reports shouldn’t leave the reader confused as to their significance. Help your audience understand the data’s context, and clearly show the actions that can be taken off the back of it.
The author’s views are entirely his or her own (excluding the unlikely event of hypnosis) and may not always reflect the views of Moz.
When it comes to e-commerce platforms, there are few that are more robust than Magento. Due to its power and customizability, Magento is still the go-to e-commerce platform for retailers. This is especially true for enterprise stores. Magento is utilized by many enterprise sites such as American Express, Ford, Puma, Xerox, and more.
If you’re an SEO working in the e-commerce space, it’s going to be important to learn how to work with Magento. Fortunately, there are a lot of really good things that Magento does out of the box from an SEO perspective. However, there are definitely some considerations you’ll need to take into account with any Magento site.
What is Magento SEO?
Magento SEO is a set of SEO adjustments that are unique to the Magento platform. Magento has great features for SEO such as a robots.txt file, sitemap.xml and multiple ways to redirect pages. Magento SEO issues include duplicate content from the faceted navigation, improper canonical tags, and a lack of blogging functionality.
Below you can see our recommendations for improving SEO on the Magento platform:
1. Crawling & indexing
Duplicate content & faceted navigation
One of the biggest SEO issues with any Magento site is likely going to be the faceted navigation. Faceted navigations create huge crawling and indexing issues since their existence exponentially increases the number of pages that can be crawled. As pages in the faceted navigation will only either sort or narrow existing products, these pages create duplicate and similar content. Alsol, if you think about the fact that every single combination of parameters could be considered a unique page, the number of pages a faceted navigation creates can be enormous. In this example, Google showsa video from Google, they indicate how a store with 158 SKUs actually created 380,000 unique URLs that Googlebot could crawl. Not ideal!
If your Magento store utilizes faceted navigation, you’re likely going to need to take steps to control the crawl. While a how-to on controlling the crawl of a faceted navigation could warrant multiple blog posts, I’ll try to summarize steps that should be taken.
Audit to find low-quality, indexed pages from the faceted navigation. Identify steps to remove them from the index (noindex, canonical tag)
Review the site’s log files to find any low-quality pages that are getting crawled
Block the crawl of any low value parameters through the robots.txt
Consider only allowing pages with high search potential to be indexed
Of course, the steps taken here are going to vary a lot depending on the site. The overall point is that if you utilize a faceted navigation on your Magento site, one of the most important things you’ll need to do is review how Google is crawling and indexing the pages that are being generated and take steps to remove the indexation and then block the crawl of low quality or duplicate pages.
Product & category page canonical tags
By default, a Magento site’s canonical tags won’t be set for both product and category pages. This isn’t ideal, as it’s best practice to ensure that product and category pages have self-referential canonical tags. This indicates to the search engines that these pages are the pages that should be ranking well.
Fortunately, you can adjust this in vanilla Magento:
Navigate to Stores > Configuration
In the “Catalog” dropdown, select “Catalog”
Select the “Search Engine Optimization” dropdown
Ensure that “Use Canonical Link Meta Tag For Categories” and “Use Canonical Link Meta Tag For Products” are set to “Yes”
Select “Save Config”
By adjusting these settings, this should ensure that all of the site’s product and category pages will have self-referential canonical tags applied to them.
Canonical tags in pagination
When looking at paginated URLs of Magento sites, we can see that, by default, proper canonical tags are not set. In Magento, all of the paginated URLs in a given series have a canonical tag that points back to the root category page. For example, here is how the canonical tag of “Page 2” of a particular category would look:
Canonical Tag: www.example.com/category
Technically, this is not best practice from an SEO standpoint. Canonical tags should only be used to consolidate duplicate content. Since paginated content are not duplicates of the root versions (as they contain different products), they should not have canonical tags that point to this version. Instead, every page within the pagination series should have it’s own self-referential canonical tag. This will tell Google that the paginated URL contains unique content and should be crawled accordingly.
Canonical Tag: www.example.com/category?p=2
You might need to have a developer create a custom solution that allows the site’s pagination to utilize self-referential canonical tags instead of pointing to the root category page.
Indexable internal search pages
Another Magento SEO issue is that internal search pages are indexable out of the box. This means that Google can crawl and index these low-quality pages. These pages will generally be in the /catalogsearch/ URL path.
For example, here’s a Magento site where over 4,000 internal search pages have gotten caught in Google’s index:
In order to ensure that these pages don’t get indexed by Google, you’ll want to be sure the “noindex” tag is applied to them. We recommend having a developer implement this for you and providing this article as a reference point for them.
After you’ve implemented the “noindex” tag, you’ll want to be sure that none of your internal search URLs are actually getting indexed. Perform a search for “site:example.com inurl:/catalogsearch/”. If you see URLs appearing in the index, we recommend waiting until Google removes the majority of them. If you don’t see the URLs in the index, you might consider blocking them by using a robots.txt command.
Within Magento, you can also configure the robots.txt file. You’ll want to utilize the robots.txt file in order to limit how many pages of your Magento site that Google is eligible to crawl. This is especially important to configure if your site utilizes a faceted navigation that allows users to select from a variety of attributes.
Fortunately, Magento does allow you to control the robots.txt of your site. To do this, you can perform the following steps:
In the Admin sidebar, navigate to Content > Design > Configuration
Find the “Store View” you want to adjust and select “Edit”
Expand the “Search Engine Robots” dropdown
Add your robots.txt commands in the “Edit custom instruction of robots.txt File” field
How you adjust the robots.txt is going to depend on your particular store. Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all option here. The main objective will be to block the crawling of any low value pages (that aren’t indexed) while allowing the crawl of high priority ones.
Below are some general things you might consider blocking in the robots.txt:
Low value pages created by the faceted navigation and sorting options
The site’s internal search pages
The user’s shopping cart
Sitemap.xml files ensure that Google has a pathway of discovering all of your site’s key URLs. This means that regardless of the site’s architecture, the sitemap.xml gives Google a way of finding important URLs on the site.
Fortunately, Magento has the capability of creating a sitemap.xml file and does a good job of this in it’s default settings. You can technically configure the XML sitemap settings in Magento’s “Catalog” menu. However, most of these should be okay.
While these settings are configured, you might need to generate your sitemap.xml file so it will actually be published on the site. Fortunately, that process is very straightforward. You can do this by:
Navigating to Marketing > SEO & Search > Site Map
Click the “Add Sitemap” button
For “Filename” add the text “sitemap.xml”
For “Path”, choose the URL path you want to be associated with your sitemap.xml file. This is generally at the “/pub/” URL path
3. URL paths
Out of the box, Magento will add the URL extension “.html” to the end of the site’s product and category URLs. While this isn’t necessarily “bad” for SEO, it does create lengthier URLs that are harder to read from a user perspective. URLs without the “.html” extension will have a much cleaner format for users.
To remove the .html extension from the end of URLs, you can take the following steps:
Navigate to Stores > Configuration
In the “Catalog” dropdown, select “Catalog”
Select the “Search Engine Optimization” dropdown
Find “Product URL Suffix” & “Category URL Suffix”
Replace the “.html” field with “/”
Select “Save Config”
The result will be cleaner and easier to read URLs for your store.
Please note that this is best done for a brand new Magento site. This change will automatically adjust all of the URLs on your Magento store. If your store has already existed for some time, without proper migration planning, changing this field could actually result in ranking drops. Therefore, tores that have been established a while may want to consider keeping the “.html” extension.
In addition, the old URL paths won’t automatically redirect back to the new URLs without the “.html” extension. This means that you might need to implement global redirect rules to ensure that the old pages will redirect both users and search engines.
Magento does implement global redirects on your site. This means that if your store utilizes a “www” subdomain or “https”, if a user doesn’t enter those attributes, Magento will still redirect the user to the correct destination URL. This is great for the user experience of the site, as users should land on the correct content even if they don’t type in the exact destination URL in those instances.
However, Magento does this through 302 redirects instead of 301 redirects:
Back in 2016, there was a famous study by Wayfair that showed that 302 redirects could significantly dilute link equity. While Google has claimed that 302 redirects pass link equity, this argument is still a never-ending debate in SEO. While we believe that 302 redirects do distribute much more link equity then they once did, we take the stance that you should never utilize 302 redirects unless you absolutely need to.
For this reason, we recommend adjusting this in the Magento platform. Fortunately, this is a very straightforward change:
Navigate to Stores > Configuration
In the “General” dropdown, select “Web”
Select the “Url Options” dropdown
Change “Auto-redirect to Base URL” to “Yes (301 Moved Permanently)”
This should ensure that your Magento website’s global redirects now utilize 301 status codes instead of 302:
Of course, aside from the site’s global redirects, you’re also going to want to implement 1:1 redirects for individual pages. This ensures that if you ever need to implement redirects for old pages, you can do so. Fortunately, Magento offers this functionality out of the box.
In order to implement redirects for individual pages, you can perform the following steps:
In the Admin sidebar, navigate to Marketing > SEO & Search > URL Rewrites
Select “Add URL Rewrite”
Enter the URL you wish to redirect in the “Request Path”. This must be a relative URL
Enter the destination page in the “Target Path”. This must be a relative URL
Choose the “Redirect Type”. Generally, you’ll want to choose “Permanent (301)”
Please note that in order to implement redirects, the page must be completely deleted from Magento, as you can’t redirect active pages. This makes redirects very “all or nothing”, as they need to be completely removed from the platform first.
One thing that’s good to know about redirects in the Magento platform is that it will automatically create redirects when you change the URLs. For example, here I’m changing the URL path of a page:
We can see how there is an option to “Create Permanent Redirect for old URL”
This is a really nice feature that makes it easier to handle the site’s redirects, and is definitely a best practice if you plan on changing URL paths for any key pages of the site.
5. On-page content
Title tags & meta descriptions
Want to set your title tags, meta descriptions, and URLs for an individual product? No worries, Magento includes this SEO feature by default.
When you’re on an individual product or category page, simply scroll down and find the “Search Engine Optimization” dropdown. From there you can enter your title tag in the “Meta Title” field and your meta description in the “Meta Description” field.
Another great feature that Magento allows you to implement is “Related Products”. You can set this on individual product pages. Adding “Related Products” to all of the site’s product pages is a fantastic way to improve several SEO aspects of your site:
This can help improve the overall UX and engagement by showing users other products that are similar to the one they’re on
This can result in more revenue from showing users upsell opportunities
The internal links from these products can help Google easily discover and distribute link equity to them
On Magento product pages, you can manually set “Related Products” for a particular product. To do this, navigate to the product and then find “Related Products, Up-Sells, and Cross-Sells”. You can then select “Add Related Products” and add any other SKUs you offer that users might be interested in. This should add these internal links to the bottom of your product page!
6. Blogging functionality
One of the biggest weaknesses of Magento from an SEO perspective is that the platform doesn’t contain blogging functionality out of the box. While generally an e-commerce site’s category and product pages are going to be the most important from a revenue perspective, blogs can still be very important for e-commerce sites.
In recent years, there has definitely been a shift towards more informational content ranking for keywords where we would expect a category or product page to rank instead. We can see that, more and more, Google is choosing to rank content such as guides, affiliate sites, or “how to” content above product and category pages. This means that not having a place for informational content to live can limit Magento stores’ SEO success.
For instance, let’s say we set up a store that sells cameras that are great for selfies. Naturally, we might want to create a page to rank for the term “selfie cameras”. However, when we check the SERPs, some of the top ranking results are informational pieces of content.
In the screenshot below, you can see how ShotKit (#2) and B&H (#3) actually rank above Best Buy and Amazon for this query with “Best Selfie Camera” pages:
When we look at the B&H page, we can see how they’ve set up a blog post that ranks the best selfie cameras that they offer. They’ve then intelligently linked to the products in their store. Instead of trying to force a category or product page to rank, they were able to use this listicle-style blog post to improve their visibility for an important query:
A blog allows a natural place for your informational content to live. Without informational content, Magento stores might not be able to rank for some of their target keywords by only using product and category pages.
Fortunately, there are extensions that you can utilize such as the Magento 2 Blog Extension from Magefan. You could also consider setting up a blog on WordPress and creating a subdomain for your Magento store (blog.example.com). We highly recommend setting up one of these options to give your site the ability to host informational content.
7. Structured data
Structured data is code you can add to your site that gives Google a better understanding of what an individual page is about. As Magento sites can be quite large, structured data can be a great way to improve Google’s understanding of the site at scale.
For e-commerce sites, here is our ideal mapping of which structured data types should go on different page templates:
This mapping can help give Google a stronger understanding of your store’s content. Below is a little more detail about CollectionPage and Product structured data, as these will be included on the most important pages of your site.
By using CollectionPage schema, you can signal to Google that your category pages contain a collection of different products, and provide key information about each one. Here are some of the properties you can include about each product:
Position on the page
For example, here is some CollectionPage structured data that we’ve been able to implement:
Of course, Product structured data is a staple of e-commerce sites. Product schema tells Google and other search engines that the page contains information about a particular SKU. Ideally, this structured data will contain key properties such as:
One of our favorite properties to include both on-page and within the structured data is the “SKU” property. It’s very common on Magento sites to see queries for SKU numbers appearing in Search Console’s “Performance” report. These are high-intent queries where users could be looking to purchase the exact product that you’re offering in your store. You’ll definitely want to be sure you’re including this in both the on-page content and Product schema markup.
Overall, the good news for Magento store owners is that the platform is built well for SEO. Since it’s open source, store owners have a lot of control over a particular site’s SEO elements such as the robots.txt, sitemap.xml, redirects, metadata, and more. While there are a few SEO issues that store owners might run into, such as duplicate content through the faceted navigation and no blog functionality, Magento does give store owners and SEOs the tools they need in order to fix these issues.
If you have any other strategies that you use to improve the SEO on Magento sites, let us know on Twitter @moz and @gofishchris.
The author’s views are entirely his or her own (excluding the unlikely event of hypnosis) and may not always reflect the views of Moz.
Should you always expect a traffic drop during a site/URL migration, even a temporary one?
In case you didn’t notice, Moz recently launched a shiny new SEO Q&A platform for all the world to see, explore, and use to learn about SEO.
Originally launched as a private feature for Pro members many years ago, the Q&A was opened for public — and search engine — viewing back in 2011.
In the years since, it grew to over 60,000 posts covering every SEO topic imaginable, and tens of millions of page views. For a long time, a significant portion of Moz’s organic traffic came from the Q&A.
Sadly, though, as often happens, over time the Q&A saw serious neglect. As a result:
The platform accumulated a ton of technical debt, making it nearly impossible to update
Pages loaded so slowly many users gave up entirely
Spam became more and more common
Moderation tools were outdated, and couldn’t keep up
For these reasons, two predictable things happened:
The Q&A became less useful and satisfying to users
Over time, traffic dropped significantly
So Moz had a choice: improve the Q&A immediately, or kill it.
Thankfully, we choose to improve it.
Working with the fantastic team at NodeBB (highly recommended, by the way), we quickly spun up a new Q&A using our existing database, but with entirely modern technology on the front and backend.
Why this migration was challenging
We were under intense time constraints. What might normally take months, we needed to accomplish in a couple of weeks. This presented unique challenges from an SEO perspective.
The biggest challenge? Our entire URL structure needed to change. (If we had more time, we could have avoided this, but it was a luxury we didn’t have.)
That meant we needed to migrate thousands of URLs that looked like this:
The migration also included all of Moz’s user profiles, which number in the hundreds of thousands. To be fair, most of the user profiles aren’t actually indexed.
Regardless, this was a huge migration!
The other potential red flag was that most of the Q&A would use client-side rendering — not considered a best SEO practice! We could’ve implemented a solution for server-side rendering, but again, we simply didn’t have time. We were concerned Google would have trouble rendering the content, and this might tank our rankings (more on this later.)
We made a list of every possible URL and URL path. It’s amazing how many URLs and patterns you might miss. A good crawler is essential to help with this to make sure you don’t forget anything. For Moz, we were able to accomplish this with data from Google Analytics, Search Console, and our own Moz Pro site crawl.
We mapped every URL to its corresponding URL on the new NodeBB platform. While we found many edge cases, this was relatively straightforward.
Speaking of canonicalization, we also ran crawls of the new URL structures using the NodeBB platform. In instances where we found URL paths that didn’t match our old patterns or we thought were extraneous, the NodeBB team was able to easily set up canonicalization patterns to avoid Google over-indexing our URLs.
2. Maximum sitemap management
A key part of our migration strategy was sitemap management. This involved two steps:
1. Old URLs: We already had sitemaps of all the old URLs in place. Importantly, we kept these sitemaps live and registered in Search Console. This way, Google would continue to crawl the old URLs and “see” the redirects.
Often, webmasters make the mistake of removing sitemaps too early, which may cause a decrease in crawl rate by Google. This means it could potentially take longer for Google to process the redirects.
Sitemaps aren’t a perfect guarantee that Google will visit all your old URLs, but they do provide a hint. In fact, we still had several thousand URLs after several months that Google still hadn’t visited, even with the sitemaps in place. Regardless, without the sitemaps of the old URLs, the issue could have taken much longer.
2. New URLs: Our old sitemaps were grouped into lists of 50,000 each — the maximum allowed by Google. There’s some suggestion in the SEO community that grouping URLs into smaller sitemaps can actually improve crawling efficiency.
Fortunately, NodeBB allowed us to build smaller sitemaps by default, so that’s exactly what we did. Instead of 2-3 sitemaps with tens of thousands of URLs, we now had 130 individual XML sitemaps, typically with no more than 500 URLs each.
3. Spam + cruft cleanup
As I mentioned earlier, the old Q&A had over 60,000 individual posts built up over 10 years.
Inevitably, a number of these posts were very low quality. We suspected both the low quality of the posts, along with poor user experience, could be causing Google to rank us lower.
Again, time constraints meant we couldn’t do a full content pruning audit. Fortunately, NodeBB came to the rescue again (this is starting to sound like an advertorial — I swear it’s not!) and ran all 60,000 posts through their spam plugin to remove the most obvious, low-quality offenders.
In total, we removed over 10,000 posts.
We did not redirect these URLs, and simply let them 404 after the migration. No one seemed to miss them.
FYI: another excellent resource on content pruning is this excellent webinar with Bernard Huang, Suganthan Mohanadasan, and Andy Chadwick.
4. Better internal linking & user experience
Even though we were porting over the same content and basic design, the migration presented a terrific opportunity to improve user experience. To accomplish this, we made two tiny tweaks to the overall UX:
Added breadcrumbs throughout the app
Added highly relevant “related questions” in the sidebar
The old Q&A had neither of these features. Users who landed on a question had no options to explore other questions. As a result, we suffered for years with a frustratingly high bounce rate and poor site engagement metrics.
Results: Before and after the migration
To be honest, I’ve never seen a migration quite like this. Having performed many migrations, I did my best to prepare everyone for the most likely scenario: be prepared for a 15-30% dip in traffic for 1-3 months while Google processes all the URLs.
In truth, nothing even close to that happened.
As you can see in the chart below, we actually saw an increase in traffic, nearly starting at day one.
In fact, in the two months after the migration, organic Google traffic to Q&A pages was up nearly 19% compared with traffic to all other pages.
What caused this immediate lift in traffic? Was it the improved sitemap coverage, the better internal linking, or something else?
We simply don’t know for sure, but we do have a hint.
As soon as we launched the new Q&A, engagement numbers shot through the roof:
Higher time on site
Lower bounce rate
More pages per session
In short, users seemed to be much happier and more engaged with the new experience.
Could the improved user engagement have helped rankings?
Again, we don’t know. Google is rather tight-lipped about how it may or may not use user click signals for ranking purposes, but we do have our suspicions.
Moving to the future
We’re still continuing to improve the Q&A experience. Most notably, we’re working to prioritize speed improvements, especially in light of Google’s work around Core Web Vitals.
Regardless, this was definitely a delightful migration where we didn’t experience a traffic drop — not even for a single day!
Perhaps if you vastly improve your user experience, site architecture, and SEO best practices, migrations might actually lead to a quick net win.