We couldn’t do it without you! In 2018, over 1,400 marketers responded to our State of the Local SEO industry survey. We all learned so much from your responses about the day-to-day realities of marketing local businesses. This year, we can do even better because your answers will give us all valuable comparative data to analyze, YoY.
Who can take the survey?
Anyone who markets local businesses in any way is eagerly invited. Whether you market a single location, work for an agency with some local business clients, or are an in-house SEO for a brand with thousands of locations, we would love your participation! Whether you do just a little local search marketing or a lot, are a novice or an adept, your insights have value.
What is the survey about?
Unlike a typical local ranking factors poll, The State of the Local SEO Industry Survey digs deep into marketers’ experiences with tactics, challenges, clients, Google, and the working environment. For example, we learned last year that:
90% of respondents felt Google’s emphasis on proximity was detrimental to SERP quality
62% felt there aren’t enough quality local search marketing training materials available
60% lacked a comprehensive review management strategy
49% felt utilization of Google Business Profile features were impacting local rank
35% had no link building strategy in place
17% of enterprises had no in-house SEO staff
With your help, we’ll see what’s changed and what hasn’t. There are fresh questions, too, which we hope will uncover new stories to spark new strategies for local brands and their marketers.
There will be four lucky winners!
Everyone is a winner with access to the data we’ll be sharing from this large survey. But we’d like to offer a little extra thank-you for your time and knowledge.
Every respondent who completes the full survey will be automatically entered for a chance to win one of four $50 Visa gift cards. Winners will be selected at random, and we hope they will use these gift cards to shop someplace local and awesome this holiday season!
Earlier this week, I hosted a webinar all about featured snippets covering essential background info, brand-new research we’ve done, the results of all the tests I’ve performed, and key takeaways. Things didn’t quite go as planned, though. We had technical difficulties that interfered with our ability to broadcast live, and lots of folks were left with questions after the recording that we weren’t able to answer in a follow-up Q&A.
The next best thing to a live webinar Q&A? A digital one that you can bookmark and come back to over and over again! We asked our incredibly patient, phenomenally smart attendees to submit their questions via email and promised to answer them in an upcoming blog post. We’ve pulled out the top recurring questions and themes from those submissions and addressed them below. If you had a question and missed the submission window, don’t worry! Ask it down in the comments and we’ll keep the conversation going.
If you didn’t get a chance to sign up for the original webinar, you can register for it on-demand here:
And if you’re here to grab the free featured snippets cheat sheet we put together, look no further — download the PDF directly here. Print it off, tape it to your office wall, and keep featured snippets top-of-mind as you create and optimize your site content.
Now, let’s get to those juicy questions!
1. Can I win a featured snippet with a brand-new website?
If you rank on page one for a keyword that triggers a featured snippet (in positions 1–10), you’re a contender for stealing that featured snippet. It might be tougher with a new website, but you’re in a position to be competitive if you’re on page one — regardless of how established your site is.
We’ve got some great Whiteboard Fridays that cover how to set a new site up for success:
2. Does Google provide a tag that identifies traffic sources from featured snippets? Is there a GTM tag for this?
Unfortunately, Google does not provide a tag to help identify traffic from featured snippets. I’m not aware of a GTM tag that helps with this, either, but would love to hear any community suggestions or ideas in the comments!
It’s worth noting that it’s currently impossible to determine what percentage of your traffic comes from the featured snippet versus the duplicate organic URL below the featured snippet.
3. Do you think it’s worth targeting longer-tail question-based queries that have very low monthly searches to gain a featured snippet?
Great question! My advice is this: don’t sleep on low-search-volume keywords. They often convert really well and in aggregate they can do wonders for a website. I suggest prioritizing long tail keywords that you foresee providing a high potential ROI.
For example, there are millions of searches a month for the keyword “shoes.” Very competitive, but that query is pretty vague. In contrast, the keyword “size 6 red womens nike running shoes” is very specific. This searcher knows what they want and they’re dialing in their search to find it. This is a great example of a long tail keyword phrase that could provide direct conversions.
4. What’s the best keyword strategy for determining which queries are worth creating featured snippet-optimized content for?
Dr. Pete wrote a great blog post outlining how to perform keyword research for featured snippets back in 2016. Once you’ve narrowed down your list of likely queries, you need to look at keywords that you rank on page one for, that trigger a snippet, and that you don’t yet own. Next, narrow your list down further by what you envision will have the highest ROI for your goals. Are you trying to drive conversions? Attract top-of-funnel site visitors? Make sure the queries you target align with your business goals, and go from there. Both Moz Pro and STAT can be a big help with this process.
A tactical pro tip: Use the featured snippet carousel queries as a starting point. For instance, if there’s a snippet for the query “car insurance” with a carousel of “in Florida,” “in Michigan,” and so on, you might consider writing about state-specific topics to win those carousel snippets. For this technique, the bonus is that you don’t really need to be on page one for the root term (or ranking at all) — often, carousel snippets are taken from off-SERP links.
5. Do featured snippets fluctuate according to language, i.e. if I have several versions of my site in different languages, will the snippet display for each version?
This is a great question! Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to do international/multi-language featured snippet research just yet, but hope to in the future. I would suspect the featured snippet could change depending on language and search variation. The best way to explore this is to do a search in an incognito (and un-logged-in) browser window of Google Chrome.
If you’ve performed research along these lines, let us know what you found out down in the comments!
6. Why do featured snippet opportunities fluctuate in number from day to day?
Change really is the only constant in search. In the webinar, I discussed the various tests I did that caused Moz to lose a formerly won featured snippet (and what helped it reappear once again). Changes as simple as an extra period at the end of a sentence were enough to lose us the snippet. With content across the web constantly being created and edited and deprecated and in its own state of change, it’s no wonder that it’s tough to win and keep a featured snippet — sometimes even from one day to the next.
The SERPs are incredibly volatile things, with Google making updates multiple times every day. But when it comes down to the facts, there are a few things that reliably cause volatility (is that an oxymoron?):
If a snippet is pulling from a lower-ranking URL (not positions 1–3); this could mean Google is testing the best answer for the query
Google regularly changing which scraped content is used in each snippet
Featured snippet carousel topics changing
The best way to change-proof yourself is to become an authority in your particular niche (E-A-T, remember?) and strive to rank higher to increase your chances of capturing and keeping a featured snippet.
7. How can I use Keyword Lists to find missed SERP feature opportunities? What’s the best way to use them to identify keyword gaps?
Keyword Lists are a wonderful area to uncover feature snippet (and other SERP feature) opportunity gaps. My favorite way to do this is to filter the Keyword List by your desired SERP feature. We’ll use featured snippets as an example. Next, sort by your website’s current rank (1–10) to determine your primary featured snippet gaps and opportunities.
The filters are another great way to tease out additional gaps:
Which keywords have high search volume and low competition?
Which keywords have high organic CTR that you currently rank just off page one for?
8. What are best practices around reviewing the structure of content that’s won a snippet, and how do I know whether it’s worth replicating?
Content that has won a featured snippet is definitely worth reviewing (even if it doesn’t hold the featured snippet over time). Consider why Google might have provided this as a featured snippet:
Does it succinctly answer the query?
Might it sound good as a voice answer?
Is it comprehensive for someone looking for additional information?
Does the page provide additional answers or information around the topic?
Are there visual elements?
It’s best to put on your detective hat and try to uncover why a piece of content might be ranking for a particular featured snippet:
What part of the page is Google pulling that featured snippet content from?
Is it marked up in a certain way?
What other elements are on the page?
Is there a common theme?
What additional value can you glean from the ranking featured snippet?
9. Does Google identify and prioritize informational websites for featured snippets, or are they determined by a correlation between pages with useful information and frequency of snippets?
In other words, would being an e-commerce site harm your chances of winning featured snippets, all other factors being the same?
I’m not sure whether Google explicitly categorizes informational websites. They likely establish a trust metric of sorts for domains and then seek out information or content that most succinctly answers queries within their trust parameters, but this is just a hypothesis.
While informational sites tend to do overwhelmingly better than other types of websites, it’s absolutely possible for an e-commerce website to find creative ways of snagging featured snippets.
It’s fascinating how various e-commerce websites have found their way into current featured snippets in extremely savvy ways. Here’s a super relevant example: after our webinar experienced issues and wasn’t able to launch on time, I did a voice search for “how much do stamps cost” to determine how expensive it would be to send apology notes to all of our hopeful attendees.
This was the voice answer:
“According to stamps.com the cost of a one ounce first class mail stamp is $0.55 at the Post Office, or $.047 if you buy and print stamps online using stamps.com.”
Pretty clever, right? I believe there are plenty of savvy ways like this to get your brand and offers into featured snippets.
10. When did the “People Also Ask” feature first appear? What changes to PAAs do you anticipate in the future?
People Also Ask boxes first appeared in July 2015 as a small-scale test. Their presence in the SERPs grew over 1700% between July 2015 and March 2017, so they certainly exploded in popularity just a few years ago. Funny enough, I was one of the first SEOs to come across Google’s PAA testing — you can read about that stat and more in my original article on the subject: Infinite “People Also Ask” Boxes: Research and SEO Opportunities
And there are a couple of great articles cataloging the evolution of PAAs over the years here:
When it comes to predicting the future of PAAs, well, we don’t have a crystal ball yet, but featured snippets continue to look more and more like PAA boxes with their new-ish accordion format. Is it possible Google will merge them into a single feature someday? It’s hard to say, but as SEOs, our best bet is to maintain flexibility and prepare to roll with the punches the search engines send our way.
11. Can you explain what you meant by “15% of image URLs are not in organic”?
Sure thing! The majority of images that show up in featured snippet boxes (or to be more accurate, the webpage those images live on) do not rank organically within the first ten pages of organic search results for the featured snippet query.
12. How should content creators consider featured snippets when crafting written content? Are there any tools that can help?
First and foremost, you’ll want to consider the searcher.
What is their intent?
What desired information or content are they after?
Are you providing the desired information in the medium in which they desire it most (video, images, copy, etc)?
Look to the current SERPs to determine how you should be providing content to your users. Read all of the results on page one:
13. “Write quality content for people, not search engines” seems like great advice. But should I also be using any APIs or tools to audit my content?
The only really helpful tool that comes to mind is the Flesch-Kincaid readability test, but even that can be a bit disruptive to the creative process. The very best tool you might have for reviewing your content might be a real person. I would ensure that your content can be easily understood when read out loud to your targeted audience. It may help to consider whether your content, as a featured snippet, would make for an effective, helpful voice search result.
14. What’s the best way to stay on top of trends when it comes to Google’s featured snippets?
Find publications and tools that resonate, and keep an eye on them. Some of my favorites include:
Subscribing to SEO newsletters like the Moz Top 10
One of the very best things you can do, though, is performing your own investigative featured snippet research within your space. Publishing the trends you observe helps our entire community grow and learn.
Thank you so much to every attendee who submitted their questions. Digging into these follow-up thoughts and ideas is one of the best parts of putting on a presentation. If you’ve got any lingering questions after the webinar, I would love to hear them — leave me a note in the comments and I’ll be on point to answer you. And if you missed the webinar sign-up, you can still access it on-demand whenever you want.
We also promised you some bonus content, yeah? Here it is — I compiled all of my best tips and tricks for winning featured snippets into a downloadable cheat sheet that I hope is a helpful reference for you:
Free download: The Featured Snippets Cheat Sheet
There’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to win your own snippets when you’re armed with data, drive, and a good, solid plan! Hopefully this is a great resource for you to have on hand, either to share around with colleagues or to print out and keep at your desk:
Machine learning is only growing in importance for anyone working in the digital world, but it can often feel like an inaccessible subject. It doesn’t have to be — and you don’t have to miss out on the competitive edge it can give you when it comes to SEO task automation. Put on your technical SEO cap and get ready to take notes, because Britney Muller is walking us through Machine Learning 101 in this week’s episode of Whiteboard Friday.
Click on the whiteboard image above to open a high-resolution version in a new tab!
Hey, Moz fans. Welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Today I’m talking about all things machine learning, something, as many of you know, I’m super passionate about and love to talk about. So hopefully, this sparks a seed in some of you to explore it a bit further, because it is truly one of the most powerful things to happen in our space in a very long time.
What is machine learning?
So a brief overview, in a nutshell, machine learning is actually a subset of AI, and some would argue we still haven’t really reached artificial intelligence. But it’s just one facet of the overall AI.
The best way to think about it is in comparison to traditional programming. So traditional programming, you input data and a program into a computer and out comes the output, whether that be a web page or calculator you built online, whatever that might be.
With machine learning, what you do is you put in the data and the desired output and put this into a computer, and you get a program, otherwise known as a machine learning model. So it’s a bit flipped, and it works extremely well. There are two primary types of machine learning:
You have supervised, which is where you’re basically feeding a model labeled training data,
And then unsupervised, which is where you’re feeding a program data and letting it create clusters or associations between data points.
The supervised is a bit more common. You’ll see things like classification, linear regression, and image recognition. Things like that are all very common. If you think about machine learning in terms of, okay, there’s all of this data that you’re putting into the model, data is the biggest part of machine learning. A lot of people would argue that if machine learning was a vehicle, data would be the fuel.
It’s a really important part to understand, because unless you have the right types of data to feed a model, you’re not going to get the desired outcome that you would like.
A machine learning model example
So let’s look at an example. If you wanted to build a machine learning model that predicts housing prices, you might have all of this information.
You might have the current price, square foot of these homes, land, the number of bathrooms, the number of bedrooms, you name it. It goes on and on. These are also known as features. So what a model is going to try to do, when you put in all of this data, it’s going to try to understand associations between this information and come up with a model that best predicts home prices in the future.
The most basic of these machine learning models is linear regression. So if you think about inputting the data where maybe you just put in the price and the square foot, and you can kind of see the data like this.
You see that as the square foot goes up, so does the price. A model over time, in looking at this data, is going to start to find the smoothest line through the data to have the most accurate predictions in the future.
What you don’t want it to do is to fit every single data point and have a line that looks like that — that’s also known as overfitting — because it doesn’t play nice for new data points. You don’t want a model to get so calculated to your dataset that it doesn’t predict accurately in the future.
A way to look at that is by the loss function. That’s maybe getting a bit deeper in this, but that’s how you would measure how the line is being fit. Let’s see.
What are the machine learning possibilities in SEO?
So what are some of the possibilities in SEO? How can we leverage machine learning in the SEO space?
Automate meta descriptions
So there are couple ways that people are already doing this. You can automate meta descriptions by looking at the page content and using a machine model to summarize the text. So this literally summarizes the content for you and pares it down to a meta description length. Pretty incredible.
You could similarly do this for titles, although I don’t suggest you do this for primary pages. This isn’t going to be perfect. But if you have a huge, huge website, with hundreds of thousands of pages, it gets you halfway there. It’s really interesting to start playing around in that space with these large websites.
Automate image alt text
You can also automate alt text for images. We see these models getting really good at understanding what’s in an image.
Automate 301 redirects
301 redirects, Paul Shapiro has an incredible write-up and basically process for that already.
Automate content creation
Content creation, and if that scares some of you or if you doubt that these models can currently create content that is decent, I challenge you to go check out Talk to Transformer.
It is a pared-back version of OpenAI, which was founded by Elon Musk. It’s pretty incredible and a little scary as to how good the content is just from that pared back model. So that is for sure possible in the future and even today.
Automate product/page suggestions
In addition to product and page suggestions.
So this is just going to get better. Imagine us providing content and UX specifically for the unique users that come to our site, highly personalized content, highly personalized experiences. Really exciting stuff moving forward.
I’ve got some resources I highly suggest you check out.
Google Codelabs is one of my favorites, just because it walks you through the steps. So if you go to Google Codelabs, filter by TensorFlow or machine learning, you can see the possible examples there. Colab notebooks or Jupyter notebooks are where you’ll likely be doing any of the machine learning that you want to do on your own.
Kaggle.com is the number one resource for data science competitions. So you get to really see what are the examples, how are people using machine learning today. You’ll see things like TSA has put up over $1 million for a data science team to come up with a model that predicts potential threats from security footage.
This stuff gets really interesting really fast. It’s also so important to have diversity and inclusion in this space to avoid really dangerous models in the future. So it’s something to definitely think about.
Then Algorithmia is sort of a one-stop shop for models. So if you don’t care to dip your toes into machine learning and you just want say a summarizer model or a particular type of model, you could potentially find one there and do a plug-and-play of sorts.
So that’s pretty interesting and fun to explore. The last thing is a machine learning model is only as good as the data. I can’t express that enough. So a lot of machine learning and data scientists, it’s all data cleaning and parsing, and that’s the bulk of the work in this field.
It’s important to be aware of that. So that’s it for Machine Learning 101. Thank you so much for joining me, and I hope to see you all again soon. Thanks.
If you enjoyed this episode of Whiteboard Friday, you’ll be delighted by all the cutting-edge SEO knowledge you’ll get from our newly released MozCon 2019 video bundle. Catch more useful technical tips in Britney’s talk, plus 26 additional future-focused topics from our top-notch speakers:
I’m a self-funded start-up business owner. As such, I want to get as much as I can for free before convincing our finance director to spend our hard-earned bootstrapping funds. I’m also an analyst with a background in data and computer science, so a bit of a geek by any definition.
What I try to do, with my SEO analyst hat on, is hunt down great sources of free data and wrangle it into something insightful. Why? Because there’s no value in basing client advice on conjecture. It’s far better to combine quality data with good analysis and help our clients better understand what’s important for them to focus on.
In this article, I will tell you how to get started using a few free resources and illustrate how to pull together unique analytics that provide useful insights for your blog articles if you’re a writer, your agency if you’re an SEO, or your website if you’re a client or owner doing SEO yourself.
The scenario I’m going to use is that I want analyze some SEO attributes (e.g. backlinks, Page Authority etc.) and look at their effect on Google ranking. I want to answer questions like “Do backlinks really matter in getting to Page 1 of SERPs?” and “What kind of Page Authority score do I really need to be in the top 10 results?” To do this, I will need to combine data from a number of Google searches with data on each result that has the SEO attributes in that I want to measure.
Let’s get started and work through how to combine the following tasks to achieve this, which can all be setup for free:
Querying with Google Custom Search Engine
Using the free Moz API account
Harvesting data with PHP and MySQL
Analyzing data with SQL and R
Querying with Google Custom Search Engine
We first need to query Google and get some results stored. To stay on the right side of Google’s terms of service, we’ll not be scraping Google.com directly but will instead use Google’s Custom Search feature. Google’s Custom Search is designed mainly to let website owners provide a Google like search widget on their website. However, there is also a REST based Google Search API that is free and lets you query Google and retrieve results in the popular JSON format. There are quota limits but these can be configured and extended to provide a good sample of data to work with.
When configured correctly to search the entire web, you can send queries to your Custom Search Engine, in our case using PHP, and treat them like Google responses, albeit with some caveats. The main limitations of using a Custom Search Engine are: (i) it doesn’t use some Google Web Search features such as personalized results and; (ii) it may have a subset of results from the Google index if you include more than ten sites.
Notwithstanding these limitations, there are many search options that can be passed to the Custom Search Engine to proxy what you might expect Google.com to return. In our scenario, we passed the following when making a call:
start=1 – The index of the first result to return – e.g. SERP page 1. Successive calls would increment this to get pages 2–5.
Google has said that the Google Custom Search engine differs from Google .com, but in my limited prod testing comparing results between the two, I was encouraged by the similarities and so continued with the analysis. That said, keep in mind that the data and results below come from Google Custom Search (using ‘whole web’ queries), not Google.com.
Harvesting data with PHP and MySQL
Now we have a Google Custom Search Engine and our Moz API, we’re almost ready to capture data. Google and Moz respond to requests via the JSON format and so can be queried by many popular programming languages. In addition to my chosen language, PHP, I wrote the results of both Google and Moz to a database and chose MySQL Community Edition for this. Other databases could be also used, e.g. Postgres, Oracle, Microsoft SQL Server etc. Doing so enables persistence of the data and ad-hoc analysis using SQL (Structured Query Language) as well as other languages (like R, which I will go over later). After creating database tables to hold the Google search results (with fields for rank, URL etc.) and a table to hold Moz data fields (ueid, upa, uda etc.), we’re ready to design our data harvesting plan.
Google provide a generous quota with the Custom Search Engine (up to 100M queries per day with the same Google developer console key) but the Moz free API is limited to 2,500. Though for Moz, paid for options provide between 120k and 40M rows per month depending on plans and range in cost from $250–$10,000/month. Therefore, as I’m just exploring the free option, I designed my code to harvest 125 Google queries over 2 pages of SERPs (10 results per page) allowing me to stay within the Moz 2,500 row quota. As for which searches to fire at Google, there are numerous resources to use from. I chose to use Mondovo as they provide numerous lists by category and up to 500 words per list which is ample for the experiment.
I also rolled in a few PHP helper classes alongside my own code for database I/O and HTTP.
In summary, the main PHP building blocks and sources used were:
One factor to be aware of is the 10 second interval between Moz API calls. This is to prevent Moz being overloaded by free API users. To handle this in software, I wrote a “query throttler” which blocked access to the Moz API between successive calls within a timeframe. However, whilst working perfectly it meant that calling Moz 2,500 times in succession took just under 7 hours to complete.
Analyzing data with SQL and R
Data harvested. Now the fun begins!
It’s time to have a look at what we’ve got. This is sometimes called data wrangling. I use a free statistical programming language called R along with a development environment (editor) called R Studio. There are other languages such as Stata and more graphical data science tools like Tableau, but these cost and the finance director at Purple Toolz isn’t someone to cross!
I have been using R for a number of years because it’s open source and it has many third-party libraries, making it extremely versatile and appropriate for this kind of work.
Let’s roll up our sleeves.
I now have a couple of database tables with the results of my 125 search term queries across 2 pages of SERPS (i.e. 20 ranked URLs per search term). Two database tables hold the Google results and another table holds the Moz data results. To access these, we’ll need to do a database INNER JOIN which we can easily accomplish by using the RMySQL package with R. This is loaded by typing “install.packages(‘RMySQL’)” into R’s console and including the line “library(RMySQL)” at the top of our R script.
We can then do the following to connect and get the data into an R data frame variable called “theResults.”
# INNER JOIN the two tables
theQuery <- "
SELECT A.*, B.*, C.*
) A -- Custom Search Query
) B -- Custom Search Results
ON A.cseq_search_id = B.cser_cseq_id
) C -- Moz Data Fields
ON B.cser_url = C.moz_url
#  Connect to the database
# Replace USER_NAME with your database username
# Replace PASSWORD with your database password
# Replace MY_DB with your database name
theConn <- dbConnect(dbDriver("MySQL"), user = "USER_NAME", password = "PASSWORD", dbname = "MY_DB")
#  Query the database and hold the results
theResults <- dbGetQuery(theConn, theQuery)
#  Disconnect from the database
NOTE: I have two tables to hold the Google Custom Search Engine data. One holds data on the Google query (cse_query) and one holds results (cse_results).
We can now use R’s full range of statistical functions to begin wrangling.
Let’s start with some summaries to get a feel for the data. The process I go through is basically the same for each of the fields, so let’s illustrate and use Moz’s ‘UEID’ field (the number of external equity links to a URL). By typing the following into R I get the this:
Looking at this, you can see that the data is skewed (a lot) by the relationship of the median to the mean, which is being pulled by values in the upper quartile range (values beyond 75% of the observations). We can however, plot this as a box and whisker plot in R where each X value is the distribution of UEIDs by rank from Google Custom Search position 1-20.
Note we are using a log scale on the y-axis so that we can display the full range of values as they vary a lot!
Box and whisker plots are great as they show a lot of information in them (see the geom_boxplot function in R). The purple boxed area represents the Inter-Quartile Range (IQR) which are the values between 25% and 75% of observations. The horizontal line in each ‘box’ represents the median value (the one in the middle when ordered), whilst the lines extending from the box (called the ‘whiskers’) represent 1.5x IQR. Dots outside the whiskers are called ‘outliers’ and show where the extents of each rank’s set of observations are. Despite the log scale, we can see a noticeable pull-up from rank #10 to rank #1 in median values, indicating that the number of equity links might be a Google ranking factor. Let’s explore this further with density plots.
Density plots are a lot like distributions (histograms) but show smooth lines rather than bars for the data. Much like a histogram, a density plot’s peak shows where the data values are concentrated and can help when comparing two distributions. In the density plot below, I have split the data into two categories: (i) results that appeared on Page 1 of SERPs ranked 1-10 are in pink and; (ii) results that appeared on SERP Page 2 are in blue. I have also plotted the medians of both distributions to help illustrate the difference in results between Page 1 and Page 2.
The inference from these two density plots is that Page 1 SERP results had more external equity backlinks (UEIDs) on than Page 2 results. You can also see the median values for these two categories below which clearly shows how the value for Page 1 (38) is far greater than Page 2 (11). So we now have some numbers to base our SEO strategy for backlinks on.
# Create a factor in R according to which SERP page a result (cser_rank) is on
> theResults$rankBin <- paste("Page", ceiling(theResults$cser_rank / 10))
> theResults$rankBin <- factor(theResults$rankBin)
# Now report the medians by SERP page by calling ‘tapply’
> tapply(theResults$moz_ueid, theResults$rankBin, median)
Page 1 Page 2
From this, we can deduce that equity backlinks (UEID) matter and if I were advising a client based on this data, I would say they should be looking to get over 38 equity-based backlinks to help them get to Page 1 of SERPs. Of course, this is a limited sample and more research, a bigger sample and other ranking factors would need to be considered, but you get the idea.
Now let’s investigate another metric that has less of a range on it than UEID and look at Moz’s UPA measure, which is the likelihood that a page will rank well in search engine results.
UPA is a number given to a URL and ranges between 0–100. The data is better behaved than the previous UEID unbounded variable having its mean and median close together making for a more ‘normal’ distribution as we can see below by plotting a histogram in R.
We’ll do the same Page 1 : Page 2 split and density plot that we did before and look at the UPA score distributions when we divide the UPA data into two groups.
# Report the medians by SERP page by calling ‘tapply’
> tapply(theResults$moz_upa, theResults$rankBin, median)
Page 1 Page 2
In summary, two very different distributions from two Moz API variables. But both showed differences in their scores between SERP pages and provide you with tangible values (medians) to work with and ultimately advise clients on or apply to your own SEO.
Of course, this is just a small sample and shouldn’t be taken literally. But with free resources from both Google and Moz, you can now see how you can begin to develop analytical capabilities of your own to base your assumptions on rather than accepting the norm. SEO ranking factors change all the time and having your own analytical tools to conduct your own tests and experiments on will help give you credibility and perhaps even a unique insight on something hitherto unknown.
Google provide you with a healthy free quota to obtain search results from. If you need more than the 2,500 rows/month Moz provide for free there are numerous paid-for plans you can purchase. MySQL is a free download and R is also a free package for statistical analysis (and much more).
It’s undeniable that the SERPs have changed considerably in the last year or so. Elements like featured snippets, Knowledge Graphs, local packs, and People Also Ask have really taken over the SEO world — and left some of us a bit confused.
In particular, the People Also Ask (PAA) feature caught my attention in the last few months. For many of the clients I’ve worked with, PAAs have really had an impact on their SERPs.
If you are anything like me, you might be asking yourself the same questions:
How important are these SERP features?
How many clicks do they “steal” from SEO?
And most importantly: who are these people that also ask SO MANY questions? Somehow, I always imagine the hipster-looking man from Answer the Public being the leader of such a group of people…
The first part of the post focuses on five things I’ve learned about People Also Ask, while the second part outlines some ideas on how to take advantage of such features.
Let’s get started! Here are five things you should know about PAAs.
1. PAA can occupy different positions on the SERP
I don’t know about you all, but I wasn’t fully aware of the above until a few months ago; I just assumed that most of the time PAAs appeared in the same location, IF and only IF it was actually triggered by Google. I didn’t really pay attention to this featured until I started digging into it.
Distinct from featured snippets (which appear always at the top of the SERP), PAAs can be located in several different parts of the page.
Let’s look at some examples:
Keyword example: [dj software]
For the keyword [dj software], this is what the SERP looks like:
3 PPC ads
4 PAA listings at the top of the page
10 organic results
Keyword example: [cocktail dresses under 50 pounds]
For the keyword [cocktail dresses under 50 pounds], this is what the SERP looks like:
1 PPC ad
3 organic results
4 PAA listings in the middle of the page
Keyword example: [tv unit]
For the keyword [tv unit], this is what the SERP looks like:
1 PPC ad
10 organic results
3 PAA listings at the bottom of the page
Why does this matter to you?
Understanding the implications of the different positions of PAA in the SERPs impacts organic results’ CTR, especially on mobile, where space is very precious.
2. Do PAAs have a limit?
I’m just giving away the answer now: No-ish.
This feature has the ability to trigger a potentially infinite number of questions on the topic of interest. As Britney Muller researched in this Moz post, the initial 3–4 listing could continue into the hundreds once clicked on, in some cases.
With one simple click, the 4 PAA questions can trigger three more listings, and so on and so forth.
Has the situation changed at all since the original 2016 Moz article?
Yes, it has! What I’m seeing now is actually very mixed: PAAs can vary extensively, from a fixed number of 3–4 listings to a plethora of results.
Let’s look at an example of a query that’s showing a large number of PAAs:
Keyword example: [featured snippets]
For the query [featured snippets], the PAA listings can be expanded if clicked on, which process generates a large number of new PAA listings that appear at the bottom of such SERP feature.
For other queries, Google will only show you 4 PAA listings and such number will not change even if the listings get clicked on:
Keyword example: [best italian wine]
For the query [best italian wine], the PAA listings cannot be expanded, no matter how many times you hover or click on them.
Interestingly, it also appears that Google does not keep this feature consistent: a few days after I took the above screenshots, the fixed number of PAAs was gone. On the other hand, I’ve recently seen instances where the keywords have a fixed amount of only 3 PAAs instead of 4.
Now, the real question for Google would be:
“What methodology are they using to decide which keywords trigger an infinite amount of PAAs and which keywords cannot?”
As you might have guessed by now, I don’t have an answer today. I’ll continue to work on uncovering it and keep you folks posted when/if I get an answer from Google or discover further insights.
My two cents on the above:
The number of PAAs does not relate to particular verticals or keywords patterns at the moment, though this may change in the future (e.g. comparative keywords more or less inclined to a fixed amount of PAAs.)
Google’s experiments will continue, and they may change PAAs quite a bit in the next one to two years. I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw questions being answered in different ways. Read the next point to know more!
Why does this matter to you?
From an opportunity standpoint, the number of questions you can scrape to take advantage of will vary.
From a user standpoint, it impacts your search journey and offers a different number of answers to your questions.
I wasn’t able to replicate the above result myself in London — but that doesn’t matter, as we’re used to seeing Google experimenting with new features in the US first.
Answering a PAA listing with a video makes a lot of sense, especially if you consider the nature of many of the queries listed:
And so on.
I expect this to be tested more and more by Google, to a point where most of the keywords that are currently showing video results in the SERPs will trigger video results in the PAA listings, too.
Keyword example: [how to clean suede shoes diy]
Video results will matter more and more in the near future. Why is that?
Just examine how hard Google is working on the interpretation and simplification of video results. Google has added key moments for videos in search results (read this article to know more). This new feature allows us to jump to the portion of the video that answers our specific query.
Why does this matter to you?
From an opportunity standpoint, you can optimize your YouTube and video results to be eligible to appear in PAAs.
From a user standpoint, it enriches your search journey for PAA queries that are better answered with videos.
4. PAA questions are frequently repeated for the same search topic and also trigger featured snippets
This might be obvious, but it’s important to understand these three points:
Most PAA questions also trigger featured snippets
The same PAA question (& answer) can be triggered for different keywords
The same answer/listing that appears for a certain question in a PAA can also appear for different questions triggered by PAAs
Let’s look at some examples to better visualize what I mean:
1. PAA questions also trigger Featured Snippets
Keyword 1: [business card ideas]
Keyword 2: [what is on a good business card?]
The keyword [business card ideas] triggers some PAA listings, whose questions, if used as the main query, trigger a featured snippet.
2. Different keywords can trigger the same PAA question and show the same result.
The same listing that appears for a PAA question for keyword X can also appear for the same question, triggered by a different keyword Y.
Keyword 1: [quality business cards]
Keyword 2: [business cards quality design]
To summarize: Different keywords, same question in the PAA and same listing in the PAA.
3. Different questions listed in a PAA triggered by different keywords can show the same result.
The same listing that appears for a PAA question for keyword X can also appear for the same question, triggered by a different keyword Y.
Keyword 1: [quality business cards]
Keyword 2: [best business cards online]
To summarize: Different keywords, different question in the PAA but same listing in the PAA.
The above keywords are clearly different, but they show the same intent:
“I’m looking for a business card by using terms that highlight certain defining attributes — best & quality.”
From an opportunity standpoint, your PAA listings can trigger featured snippets and also have the possibility to cover a portfolio of different keyword permutations.
5. PAAs have a feedback feature
Most of you have probably glanced over this feature but never really paid attention to it: at the bottom of the last PAA listing, there is often a little hyperlink with the word Feedback.
By clicking on it, you’re shown the following pop-up:
Google states that this option is available “on some search results” and it allows users to send feedback or suggest a translation. Even if you do go through the effort, Google says they will not reply to you directly, but rather collect the info submitted and work on the accuracy of the listings.
Does this mean they’ll actually change the PAA listing based off of feedback?
Unfortunately, I don’t have an answer for this (I’ve tried to submit feedback manually and nothing really happened) but I think it’s very unlikely.
The only for-sure thing you get from Google is the following response:
Why does this matter to you?
From an opportunity standpoint, if you notice that PAA listings (for questions you are trying to appear for) are not accurate, you can flag it to Google and hope they’ll change it.
Now that we’ve covered some interesting facts, how can we take advantage of PAA?
Determine how deeply your SERP is being affected by PAA (and other SERP features)
This task is fairly straightforward, but I guarantee you very few people actually pay much attention to it. When monitoring your rankings, you should really try to dig deeply into which other elements are affecting your overall organic traffic & organic CTR.
Start by asking yourself the following questions:
What elements affect the SERP for my core keywords?
How often do these SERP elements appear?
How deeply are they affecting my organic results?
You might spot an increasing amount of paid results (in the form of shopping ads for products or text ads for services) appearing for many of your key terms.
Established tools like SEMrush, Sistrix, and Ahrefs can show you the number of ads, overall spending, & how the ads look at a keyword level.
Kw: [hr software]
Or it may be the case that organic SERP elements, such as video results, are being triggered in the SERP for many of your informational queries, or that featured snippets appear for a high percentage of your navigational & transactional terms, and so on.
Recently, I came across a client where over 90% of their primary keywords triggered PAAs at the top of the SERP. 90%!
Which tools can help?
At Distilled we use STAT, which reports on such insights in a really comprehensive manner with a great overview of all the SERP elements.
This is what the STAT SERP features interface looks like:
Ahrefs also does a great job of allowing you to download the SERP features of the top twenty results for any of the keywords you’re interested in.
Understanding where you stand in the current SERP landscape & how your SEO has been affected by it is a crucial step prior to implementing any SERP strategy.
Tactics to take advantage of PAAs
There are several ways to incorporate PAAs into your SEO strategy. It’s already been written about many times online, so I’m going to keep it simple and focus on a few easy tactics that I think will really improve your workflow:
1. Extract PAA listings
This one’s pretty straightforward: how can we take advantage of PAAs if we cannot find a way to extract those questions in the first place?
There are several ways to “scrape” PAAs, more or less compliant with Google’s Terms & Conditions (such as using Screaming Frog).
Personally, I like STAT’s report, so I’ll talk about how easy it is to extract PAA listings using this tool:
One of the features of STAT’s reporting is called “People also ask (Google),” which is pretty self-explanatory: for the keywords you’ve decided to track in the tool, this report will provide the PAA questions they trigger and the URLs appearing for those listings, along with their exact rankings within the PAA box.
This is an example of how the report will look like after you’ve downloaded the “People also ask (Google)” report:
2. Address questions in your content
Once you have a list of all PAA questions and you are able to see which URLs rank for such results, what should you do next?
This is the more complicated part: think how your content strategy can incorporate PAA findings and start experimenting. Similarly to featured snippets, PAAs should be included in your content plan. If that’s not yet the case, well, I hope this blog post can convince you to give it a go!
Since I am not focusing (sadly, for some) on content strategy with this article, I will not dwell on the topic too much. Instead, I’ll share a few tips on what you could do with the data gathered so far:
Understand what type of results such PAA questions are triggering: are they informational, navigational, transactional?
Many people think featured snippets and PAA questions are triggered by heavily informational or Q&A pages: trust me, do NOT assume anything. heck your data and behave accordingly. Keyword intent should never be taken for granted.
Create or re-optimize your content
Depending on the findings in the previous point, it may be a matter of creating new content that can address PAA questions or re-optimizing the existing content on your site.
If you discover that you have a chance at ranking in a PAA with your current transactional/editorial pages, it might be best to re-optimize what you have.
It may also be the case that one of the following options can be enough to rank in PAAs:
Adding questions and answers to your content (don’t limit yourself to just the bottom of the page)
Using the right headings to mark up such elements (h1, h2, h3, whatever works for your page)
Copying the formatting of results that are currently appearing in PAA
Simply changing the language used on your site
If you do not have any content to cover a certain keyword theme, think about creating new ones that would match the keyword intent that Google is favoring. Editorial content with SEO in mind (don’t limit yourself to PAA, but look at the overall SERP spectrum) or simple FAQs pages could really help win PAA or featured snippets.
Depending on your KPIs (traffic, leads, signups, etc), tailor your newly optimized content and be ready to retain users on your site
Once users land on your site after clicking on a PAA listing, what do you want them to see/do? Don’t do half the job, worry about the entire user journey from the start!
3. Test schema on your page
The SEO community has gone a bit cray-cray over the new FAQs schema — my colleague Emily Potter wrote a great post on it.
FAQs and how-to schema represent an interesting opportunity for SERP features such as featured snippets and PAAs, so why not give it a go? Having the right content & testing the right type of schema may help you win precious snippets or PAAs. In the future, I expect Google to increase the amount of markup that refers to informational queries, so stay tuned — and test, test, and test some more!
Think of the extended search volume opportunity
Without digging too much into this topic (it deserves a post on its own), I’ve been thinking about the following idea quite a lot recently:
What if we started looking at PAAs as organic listings, hence counting the search volume for the keywords that trigger such PAAs?
Since PAAs and other elements have been redefining the SERPs as we know them, maybe it’s time for us marketers to redefine how these features are impacting our organic results. Maybe it’s time for us to consider the extended search opportunity that such features bring to the table and not limit ourselves at the tactics mentioned above.
Just something to think about!
PAA can be your friend
By now, I hope you’ve learned a bit more about People Also Ask and how it can help your SEO strategy moving forward.
PAA can be your friend indeed if you’re willing to spend time understanding how your organic visibility can be influenced by such features. The fact that PAAs are now popular for a large portfolio of queries makes me think Google considers them a new, key part of the user journey.
With voice search on the rise, I expect Google to pay even more attention to elements like featured snippets and People Also Ask. I don’t think they’re going anywhere soon — so my dear fellow SEOs, you should start optimizing for the SERPs starting today!
Feel free to get in touch with us at Distilled or on Twitter at @SamuelMng to discuss this further, or just have a chat about who these people who also ask so many questions actually are…
A good, solid competitive analysis can provide you with priceless insights into what’s working for other folks in your industry, but it’s not always easy to do right. In this week’s edition of Whiteboard Friday, Cyrus walks you through how to perform a full competitive analysis, including:
How to identify your true competitors
Keyword gap analysis
Link gap analysis
Top content analysis
Plus, don’t miss the handy tips on which tools can help with this process and our brand-new guide (with free template) on SEO competitive analysis. Give it a watch and let us know your own favorite tips for performing a competitive analysis in the comments!
Click on the whiteboard image above to open a high-resolution version in a new tab!
Howdy, Moz fans. Welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. I’m Cyrus Shepard. Today we’re talking about a really cool topic — competitive analysis. This is an introduction to competitive analysis.
What is competitive analysis for SEO?
It’s basically stealing your competitors’ traffic. If you’re new to SEO or you’ve been around awhile, this is a very valuable tactic to earn more traffic and rankings for your site.
Instead of researching blindly what to go after, competitive analysis can tell you certain things with a high degree of accuracy that you won’t find other ways, such as:
what keywords to target,
what content to create,
how to optimize that content, and
where to get links.
How to do an SEO competitive analysis
How does it do this?
Well, instead of researching just in a keyword tool or a link tool, with competitive analysis you look at what’s actually working for your competitors and use those tactics for yourself.
This often works so much better than the old-style ways of research, because you can actually improve upon what other people are actually doing and make those tactics work for you.
1. Identify your top competitors
So to get started with competitive analysis, the first challenge is to actually identify your top competitors.
This sounds easy. You probably think you know who your competitors are because you type a keyword into Google and you see who’s ranking for your desired keyword. This does work, to certain degree.
Another way to do it is to look at the keywords you rank for, because the challenge is you probably rank for far more keywords than you believe you do.
Moz, for instance, ranks for hundreds of thousands or possibly even millions of keywords, and we want to know at scale who are all the competitors ranking for all those different queries. This is very hard to do manually.
Fortunately there are a lot of SEO tools out there — Ahrefs, SEMrush — many tools that can tell you look at all the keywords that you rank for across thousands of SERPs and then calculate, using advanced metrics, exactly who your true competitors are.
I’m happy to announce that Moz just released a tool that does exactly this. We’re going to link to it in the transcript below.
You simply type in your domain, and we look through all the keywords that your site ranks for in our database, we look at all the competitors, and we use some advanced heuristics and we match those up and we tell you who your true competitors are. Once you know your true competitors, you can continue with the rest of the analysis.
2. Perform a keyword gap analysis
The first step that most people take in doing an SEO competitive analysis is identifying the keyword gap. Now for a long time, when I was new to SEO, I heard this term “keyword gap” and I didn’t really know what it meant. But it’s actually really simple.
It’s simply what keywords do my competitors rank for that I don’t rank for, and that’s the gap. The idea is that we want to close that gap if the keyword is valuable or high volume. The trick is you can do this on your own manually. You can see all the keywords you rank for using an advanced keyword tool and then list all the keywords your competitors rank for and then combine those lists in Excel. It’s a long, tedious process.
Fortunately, again, major SEO tools, such as Moz, can do this at scale for you within seconds. If you go to Moz Keyword Explorer, you simply enter your domain, enter your top competitor’s domain that we found in this first step, and it will list all the keywords that your competitors rank for that you don’t rank for.
You can then pull this into a spreadsheet and find keywords with high volume or keywords that are valuable and relevant to your business.
This is an important point. You don’t just want to go willy-nilly after any keyword your competitor ranks for. You want to actually find the keywords that are relevant to your business.
3. Perform a link gap analysis
So after you do that, we also have the cousin of a keyword gap analysis — link gap analysis.
This is a very similar concept, because you need links to rank. But where do you find the links? So you want to ask, “Who links to my competitors but does not link to me?”
The theory here is that if someone is linking to your competitor on a similar topic, they are more likely to link to you because they are in that business of linking out to that type of content.
An advanced tip is you often want to look at two or more competitors. The idea is that if someone is linking to multiple sources but not to you, it’s more likely they’ll link to you if you have superior content.
Again, SEO tools can provide something like this. You can list all the backlinks to yourself or your competitors and combine them in a spreadsheet. But the tools make it much easier.
In Moz’s Link Explorer, you simply enter your competitor, you enter another competitor and yours, and you can find all the people who are linking to those competitors but not to you.
An advanced tip that I like to use is do it at the page level. Don’t look for domains that are linking to your competitors. Look for specific pages and you can do this in Link Explorer. We’re going to show you in a little more detail in a guide I’m going to link to at the bottom of this post.
4. Perform a top content analysis
So we understand links, we understand the keywords. But what content do we want to create?
Top content analysis, this is very easy to do these days. You’re basically looking for content that earns your competitors a lot of traffic or a lot of links.
The idea is if other people are linking to these things, then it’s highly probable that you can earn links with similar but better content. So the idea is you go to a tool like Link Explorer. You can sort by top pages, and you pick out the content that has the most links for your competitor. Then don’t just re-create the content, but make it better. This is called the skyscraper technique, the idea of finding content that does really well and then making it better.
Then once you have this, you go back to your link gap analysis and you reach out to those people who are linking to that content and you ask them for links, showing them the better content.
So that’s it in a nutshell. When we put it all together, we have a very valuable process. We can go back to our individual pages, look at those pages that are ranking for our competitors. When you’re all done, you can actually take your page, plug it into your keyword gap, and see all the keywords the page is ranking for.
Our original keyword gap analysis looked at the domain, but now we just want to know what the page is ranking for. We can add that into our own page and make the page even better. We can again reach out to the same people who are linking to this page, show them our better content, and that is the process.
New Guide & Free Template
Whew, I’m exhausted. This is a huge process. I went over it really quickly. Fortunately, if it went by a little fast for you, we just released a guide, “An Introduction to SEO Competitive Analysis.” We’re going to link to it.
Planet Fitness, Great Clips, Ace Hardware… you can imagine the sense of achievement the leadership of these famous franchises must enjoy in making it to the top of lists like Entrepreneur’s 500. Behind the scenes of success, all competitive franchisors and franchisees have had to manage a major shift — one that centers on customers and their radically altered consumer journeys.
Research online, buy offline. Always-on laptops and constant companion smartphones are where fingers do the walking now, before feet cross the franchise threshold. Statistics tell the story of a public that searches online prior to the 90% of purchases they still make in physical stores.
And while opportunity abounds, “being there” for the customers wherever they are in their journey has presented unique challenges for franchises. Who manages which stage of the journey? Franchisor or franchisee? Getting it right means meeting new shopping habits head-on, and re-establishing clear sight-lines and guidelines for all contributors to the franchise’s ultimate success.
Over the next few weeks, we’ll be publishing a series of articles dedicated to franchises. Want all the info now? Download The Practical Guide to Franchise Marketing:
Traditionally, online marketing wasn’t something that franchisees had to think much about. And that was sort of a good thing because everyone knew their lane.
Franchisors handled national or regional marketing through broadcast, print, and other media. They also handled digital marketing — which, within recent recall, consisted mainly of a website, social media accounts, and paid search.
Franchisees managed the local beat with coupons, flyers, direct mail, and other community and word-of-mouth marketing efforts.
Then people started shopping differently and traditional lanes began merging. Customers started using online directories to get information. They started using online listings for discovering local businesses “near me” on a map. They started reading online reviews to make choices. They started browsing online inventories or menus in advance. They started using cell phones to make reservations, click to call you, or to get a digital voice assistant like Siri or Alexa to give them directions to the nearest and best local option.
Suddenly, what used to be a “worldwide” resource — the internet — began to be a local resource, too. And a really powerful one. People were finding, choosing, and building relationships online not just with the national brand, but with local shops, services and restaurants, often making choices in advance and showing up merely to purchase the products or services they want.
Stats State the Case
Consider how these statistics are impacting every franchise:
76% of people who search for something nearby on their smartphone visit a related business within a day, and 28% of those searches result in a purchase. – Google
88% of shoppers regularly or occasionally browse products online before purchasing them in a store. – Adweek
45% of brick-and-mortar sales in 2018 started with an online review — a 15% year-over-year increase from 2017. – Bazaarvoice
According to Google, “near me” mobile searches that contain a variant of “can I buy” or “to buy” have grown over 500% in the past two years, and we’ve seen a 900% growth in mobile search for “___near me today/tonight.” – Google
Search interest in ”open now” has increased 300% in the past two years. – Google
These are huge changes — and not ones the franchise model was entirely ready for.
There used to be a clear geographic split between a franchise’s corporate awareness marketing and franchisee local sales marketing that was easy to understand. But the above statistics tell new tales. Now there is an immediacy and urgency to the way customers search and shop that’s blurring old lines.
Ace is the place with the helpful hardware folks
Even a memorable jingle like this one goes nowhere unless the franchisor/franchisee partnership is solid. How do customers know a brand like Ace stands by its slogan when they see a national TV campaign like this one which strives to distinguish the franchise from understaffed big box home improvement stores?
Customers feel the nation-wide promise come true as soon as they walk into an Ace location:
Place located where the internet said it was? Check!
Abundance of staff? Check!
Online purchase ready for pickup? Check!
Trust earned? Check!
A brand promo only works when all sides are equally committed to making each location of the business visible, accessible, and trusted. This joint effort applies to every aspect of how the business is marketed. From leadership to door greeter, everyone has a role to play. It’s defining those roles that can make or break the brand in the new consumer environment.
We’ll be exploring the nuts and bolts of building ideal partnerships in future installments of this series. Up next is The Unique World of Franchise Marketing. Keep an eye out for it on the blog at the end of the month!
Don’t want to wait for the blog posts to come out? Download your copy now of our comprehensive look at unique franchise challenges and benefits:
When Craig Bradford of Distilled reached out and asked if we’d like to run some SEO experiments on Moz using DistilledODN, our reply was an immediate “Yes please!”
If you’re not familiar with DistilledODN, it’s a sophisticated platform that allows you to do a number of cool things in the SEO space:
Make almost any change to your website through the ODN dashboard. Since the ODN is a cloud platform that sits in front of your website (like a CDN) it doesn’t matter how your website is built or what CMS it uses. You can change a single page — or more likely — entire sections.
The ODN allows you to A/B split test these changes and both measure and predict their impact on organic traffic. They also have a feature called full-funnel testing allowing you to measure impact on both SEO and CRO at the same time.
When you find something that works, you see a positive result like this:
SEO experimentation is great, but almost nobody does it right because it’s impossible to control for other factors. Yes, you updated your title tags, but did Google roll out an update today? Sure, you sped up your site, but did a bunch of spam just link to you?
A/B split testing solves this problem by applying your changes to only a portion of your pages — typically 50% — and measuring the difference between the two groups. Fortunately, the ODN can deploy these changes near-instantly, up to thousands of pages at a time.
It then crunches the numbers and tells you what’s working, or not.
Testing Google’s UGC link attribute
For our first test, we decided to tackle something simple and fast. Craig suggested looking at Google’s new link attributes, and we were off!
To summarize: Google recently introduced new link attributes for webmasters/SEOs to label links. Those attributes are:
rel=”sponsored” – For paid and sponsored links
rel=”ugc” – For links in user-generated content (UGC)
rel=”nofollow” – Remains a catch-all for all followed links
On the Moz blog, all comments links are currently marked “nofollow” — following years of SEO best practices. Google has stated that using the new attributes won’t give you a rankings boost. That said, we wanted to test for ourselves if changing these links to “ugc” would impact the rankings/traffic of our blog pages.
To be clear: We are not testing if the pages we link to change rankings, but instead the source page that hosts the link — in this case, the blog pages with comments.
Here’s an example of a comment the ODN modified.
After we set the test running, 50% of blog posts had comments with “ugc” links, while 50% kept their original “nofollow” attributes.
We expected a “null” test — meaning we wouldn’t see a significant impact.
In fact, that’s exactly what happened.
If we detected a significant change, the probability cone at the bottom right would have pointed more dramatically up or down.
In fact, at a 95% confidence interval, the test predicted traffic would either fall 26,000 visits/month or gain 9,300 visits/month.
Hence, a null result.
This validates Google’s statements that using the “ugc” attribute won’t give you a ranking boost.
What should Moz test next?
While “null” tests aren’t as fun as a positive result, we have a lot of cool A/B SEO testing ahead of us.
The great thing is we can now test out changes with the ODN, and when we find one that works, pass that to our developers to make the changes permanently. This cuts down on needless development work and stops the guessing game.
We have a Trello board set up for test ideas, and we’d love to add some community ideas to the mix. The ODN is currently running on the Moz Blog and Q&A, so anything in these site sections is fair game.
We’re also looking at experiments where we use Moz data to inform these decisions. For example, a Moz Pro crawl identified that the Moz Blog titles currently use H2 tags instead of H1. Google recently indicated this likely shouldn’t impact rankings, but wouldn’t it be good to test?
What wild/clever/ridiculous/obvious SEO things should we test? With each good test, we’ll publish the results. Leave your ideas in the comments below.
A trend we’ve been noticing at Go Fish Digital is that more and more of our clients have been using the Shopify platform. While we initially thought this was just a coincidence, we can see that the data tells a different story:
The Shopify platform is now more popular than ever. Looking at BuiltWith usage statistics, we can see that usage of the CMS has more than doubled since July 2017. Currently, 4.47% of the top 10,000 sites are using Shopify.
Since we’ve worked with a good amount of Shopify stores, we wanted to share our process for common SEO improvements we help our clients with. The guide below should outline some common adjustments we make on Shopify stores.
What is Shopify SEO?
Shopify SEO simply means SEO improvements that are more unique to Shopify than other sites. While Shopify stores come with some useful things for SEO, such as a blog and the ability to redirect, it can also create SEO issues such as duplicate content. Some of the most common Shopify SEO recommendations are:
Remove duplicate URLs from internal linking architecture
Remove duplicate paginated URLs
Create blog content for keywords with informational intent
Add “Product,” “Article,” & “BreadcrumbList” structured data
We’ll go into how we handle each of these recommendations below:
In terms of SEO, duplicate content is the highest priority issue we’ve seen created by Shopify. Duplicate content occurs when either duplicate or similar content exists on two separate URLs. This creates issues for search engines as they might not be able to determine which of the two pages should be the canonical version. On top of this, often times link signals are split between the pages.
We’ve seen Shopify create duplicate content in several different ways:
Duplicate product pages
Duplicate collections pages through pagination
Duplicate product pages
Shopify creates this issue within their product pages. By default, Shopify stores allow their /products/ pages to render at two different URL paths:
Canonical URL path: /products/
Non-canonical URL path: /collections/.*/products/
Shopify accounts for this by ensuring that all /collections/.*/products/ pages include a canonical tag to the associated /products/ page. Notice how the URL in the address differs from the “canonical” field:
While this certainly helps Google consolidate the duplicate content, a more alarming issue occurs when you look at the internal linking structure. By default, Shopify will link to the non-canonical version of all of your product pages.
As well, we’ve also seen Shopify link to the non-canonical versions of URLs when websites utilize “swatch” internal links that point to other color variants.
Thus, Shopify creates your entire site architecture around non-canonical links by default. This creates a high-priority SEO issue because the website is sending Google conflicting signals:
“Here are the pages we internally link to the most often”
“However, the pages we link to the most often are not the URLs we actually want to be ranking in Google. Please index these other URLs with few internal links”
While canonical tags are usually respected, remember Google does treat these as hints instead of directives. This means that you’re relying on Google to make a judgement about whether or not the content is duplicate each time that it crawls these pages. We prefer not to leave this up to chance, especially when dealing with content at scale.
Adjusting internal linking structure
Fortunately, there is a relatively easy fix for this. We’ve been able to work with our dev team to adjust the code in the product.grid-item.liquid file. Following those instructions will allow your Shopify site’s collections pages to point to the canonical /product/ URLs.
Duplicate collections pages
As well, we’ve seen many Shopify sites that create duplicate content through the site’s pagination. More specifically, a duplicate is created of the first collections page in a particular series. This is because once you’re on a paginated URL in a series, the link to the first page will contain “?page=1”:
However, this will almost always be a duplicate page. A URL with “?page=1” will almost always contain the same content as the original non-parameterized URL. Once again, we recommend having a developer adjust the internal linking structure so that the first paginated result points to the canonical page.
Product variant pages
While this is technically an extension of Shopify’s duplicate content from above, we thought this warranted its own section because this isn’t necessarily always an SEO issue.
It’s not uncommon to see Shopify stores where multiple product URLs are created for the same product with slight variations. In this case, this can create duplicate content issues as often times the core product is the same, but only a slight attribute (color for instance) changes. This means that multiple pages can exist with duplicate/similar product descriptions and images. Here is an example of duplicate pages created by a variant: https://recordit.co/x6YRPkCDqG
If left alone, this once again creates an instance of duplicate content. However, variant URLs do not have to be an SEO issue. In fact, some sites could benefit from these URLs as they allow you to have indexable pages that could be optimized for very specific terms. Whether or not these are beneficial is going to differ on every site. Some key questions to ask yourself are:
Do your customers perform queries based on variant phrases?
Do you have the resources to create unique content for all of your product variants?
Is this content unique enough to stand on its own?
For a more in-depth guide, Jenny Halasz wrote a great article on determining the best course of action for product variations. If your Shopify store contains product variants, than it’s worth determining early on whether or not these pages should exist at a separate URL. If they should, then you should create unique content for every one and optimize each for that variant’s target keywords.
Crawling and indexing
After analyzing quite a few Shopify stores, we’ve found some SEO items that are unique to Shopify when it comes to crawling and indexing. Since this is very often an important component of e-commerce SEO, we thought it would be good to share the ones that apply to Shopify.
A very important note is that in Shopify stores, you cannot adjust the robots.txt file. This is stated in their official help documentation. While you can add the “noindex” to pages through the theme.liquid, this is not as helpful if you want to prevent Google from crawling your content all together.
Here are some sections of the site that Shopify will disallow crawling in:
While it’s nice that Shopify creates some default disallow commands for you, the fact that you cannot adjust the robots.txt file can be very limiting. The robots.txt is probably the easiest way to control Google’s crawl of your site as it’s extremely easy to update and allows for a lot of flexibility. You might need to try other methods of adjusting Google’s crawl such as “nofollow” or canonical tags.
Adding the “noindex” tag
While you cannot adjust the robots.txt, Shopify does allow you to add the “noindex” tag. You can exclude a specific page from the index by adding the following code to your theme.liquid file.
Shopify does allow you to implement redirects out-of-the-box, which is great. You can use this for consolidating old/expired pages or any other content that no longer exists. You can do this by going to Online Store > Navigation > URL Redirects.
So far, we havn’t found a way to implement global redirects via Shopify. This means that your redirects will likely need to be 1:1.
Similar to the robots.txt, it’s important to note that Shopify does not provide you with log file information. This has been confirmed by Shopify support.
Product structured data
Overall, Shopify does a pretty good job with structured data. Many Shopify themes should contain “Product” markup out-of-the-box that provides Google with key information such as your product’s name, description, price etc. This is probably the highest priority structured data to have on any e-commerce site, so it’s great that many themes do this for you.
Shopify sites might also benefit from expanding the Product structured data to collections pages as well. This involves adding the Product structured data to define each individual product link in a product listing page. The good folks at Distilled recommend including this structured data on category pages.
Article structured data
As well, if you use Shopify’s blog functionality, you should use “Article” structured data. This is a fantastic schema type that lets Google know that your blog content is more editorial in nature. We’ve seen that Google seems to pull content with “Article” structured data into platforms such as Google Discover and the “Interesting Finds” sections in the SERPs. Ensuring your content contains this structured data may increase the chances your site’s content is included in these sections.
BreadcrumbList structured data
Finally, one addition that we routinely add to Shopify sites are breadcrumb internal links with BreadcrumbList structured data. We believe breadcrumbs are crucial to any e-commerce site, as they provide users with easy-to-use internal links that indicate where they’re at within the hierarchy of a website. As well, these breadcrumbs can help Google better understand the website’s structure. We typically suggest adding site breadcrumbs to Shopify sites and marking those up with BreadcrumbList structured data to help Google better understand those internal links.
Performing keyword research for Shopify stores will be very similar to the research you would perform for other e-commerce stores.
Some general ways to generate keywords are:
Export your keyword data from Google AdWords. Track and optimize for those that generate the most revenue for the site.
Research your AdWords keywords that have high conversion rates. Even if the volume is lower, a high conversion rate indicates that this keyword is more transactional.
Review the keywords the site currently gets clicks/impressions for in Google Search Console.
Run your competitors through tools like Ahrefs. Using the “Content Gap” report, you can find keyword opportunities where competitor sites are ranking but yours is not.
If you have keywords that use similar modifiers, you can use MergeWords to automatically generate a large variety of keyword variations.
Similar to Yoast SEO, Shopify does allow you to optimize key elements such as your title tags, meta descriptions, and URLs. Where possible, you should be using your target keywords in these elements.
To adjust these elements, you simply need to navigate to the page you wish to adjust and scroll down to “Search Engine Listing Preview”:
Adding content to product pages
If you decide that each individual product should be indexed, ideally you’ll want to add unique content to each page. Initially, your Shopify products may not have unique on-page content associated with them. This is a common issue for Shopify stores, as oftentimes the same descriptions are used across multiple products or no descriptions are present. Adding product descriptions with on-page best practices will give your products the best chance of ranking in the SERPs.
However, we understand that it’s time-consuming to create unique content for every product that you offer. With clients in the past, we’ve taken a targeted approach as to which products to optimize first. We like to use the “Sales By Product” report which can help prioritize which are the most important products to start adding content to. You can find this report in Analytics > Dashboard > Top Products By Units Sold.
By taking this approach, we can quickly identify some of the highest priority pages in the store to optimize. We can then work with a copywriter to start creating content for each individual product. Also, keep in mind that your product descriptions should always be written from a user-focused view. Writing about the features of the product they care about the most will give your site the best chance at improving both conversions and SEO.
Shopify does include the ability to create a blog, but we often see this missing from a large number of Shopify stores. It makes sense, as revenue is the primary goal of an e-commerce site, so the initial build of the site is product-focused.
However, we live in an era where it’s getting harder and harder to rank product pages in Google. For instance, the below screenshot illustrates the top 3 organic results for the term “cloth diapers”:
While many would assume that this is primarily a transactional query, we’re seeing Google is ranking two articles and a single product listing page in the top three results. This is just one instance of a major trend we’ve seen where Google is starting to prefer to rank more informational content above transactional.
By excluding a blog from a Shopify store, we think this results in a huge missed opportunity for many businesses. The inclusion of a blog allows you to have a natural place where you can create this informational content. If you’re seeing that Google is ranking more blog/article types of content for the keywords mapped to your Shopify store, your best bet is to go out and create that content yourself.
If you run a Shopify store (or any e-commerce site), we would urge you to take the following few steps:
Identify your highest priority keywords
Manually perform a Google query for each one
Make note of the types of content Google is ranking on the first page. Is it primarily informational, transactional, or a mix of both?
If you’re seeing primarily mixed or informational content, evaluate your own content to see if you have any that matches the user intent. If so, improve the quality and optimize.
If you do not have this content, consider creating new blog content around informational topics that seems to fulfill the user intent
As an example, we have a client that was interested in ranking for the term “CRM software,” an extremely competitive keyword. When analyzing the SERPs, we found that Google was ranking primarily informational pages about “What Is CRM Software?” Since they only had a product page that highlighted their specific CRM, we suggested the client create a more informational page that talked generally about what CRM software is and the benefits it provides. After creating and optimizing the page, we soon saw a significant increase in organic traffic (credit to Ally Mickler):
The issue that we see on many Shopify sites is that there is very little focus on informational pages despite the fact that those perform well in the search engines. Most Shopify sites should be using the blogging platform, as this will provide an avenue to create informational content that will result in organic traffic and revenue.
Similar to WordPress’s plugins, Shopify offers “Apps” that allow you to add advanced functionality to your site without having to manually adjust the code. However, unlike WordPress, most of the Shopify Apps you’ll find are paid. This will require either a one-time or monthly fee.
Shopify apps for SEO
While your best bet is likely teaming up with a developer who’s comfortable with Shopify, here are some Shopify apps that can help improve the SEO of your site.
Crush.pics: A great automated way of compressing large image files. Crucial for most Shopify sites as many of these sites are heavily image-based.
JSON-LD for SEO: This app may be used if you do not have a Shopify developer who is able to add custom structured data to your site.
Smart SEO: An app that can add meta tags, alt tags, & JSON-LD
Yotpo Reviews: This app can help you add product reviews to your site, making your content eligible for rich review stars in the SERPs.
Is Yoast SEO available for Shopify?
Yoast SEO is exclusively a WordPress plugin. There is currently no Yoast SEO Shopify App.
Limiting your Shopify apps
We’ve seen pretty good success in our clients that use Shopify stores. Below you can find some of the results we’ve been able to achieve for them. However, please note that these case studies do not just include the recommendations above. For these clients, we have used a combination of some of the recommendations outlined above as well as other SEO initiatives.
In one example, we worked with a Shopify store that was interested in ranking for very competitive terms surrounding the main product their store focused on. We evaluated their top performing products in the “Sales by product” report. This resulted in a large effort to work with the client to add new content to their product pages as they were not initially optimized. This combined with other initiatives has helped improve their first page rankings by 113 keywords (credit to Jennifer Wright & LaRhonda Sparrow).
In another instance, a client came to us with an issue that they were not ranking for their branded keywords. Instead, third-party retailers that also carried their products were often outranking them. We worked with them to adjust their internal linking structure to point to the canonical pages instead of the duplicate pages created by Shopify. We also optimized their content to better utilize the branded terminology on relevant pages. As a result, they’ve seen a nice increase in overall rankings in just several months time.
As Shopify usage continues to grow, it will be increasingly important to understand the SEO implications that come with the platform. Hopefully, this guide has provided you with additional knowledge that will help make your Shopify store stronger in the search engines.
Featured snippets are still the best way to take up primo SERP real estate, and they seem to be changing all the time. Today, Britney Muller shares the results of the latest Moz research into featured snippet trends and data, plus some fantastic tips and tricks for winning your own.
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Hey, Moz fans. Welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday.
Today we’re talking about all things featured snippets, so what are they, what sort of research have we discovered about them recently, and what can you take back to the office to target them and effectively basically steal in search results.
What is a featured snippet?
So to be clear, what is a featured snippet?
If you were to do a search for “are crocs edible,” you would see a featured snippet like this:
Essentially, it’s giving you information about your search and citing a website. This isn’t to be confused with an answer box, where it’s just an answer and there’s no citation. If you were to search how many days are in February, Google will probably just tell you 28 and there’s no citation. That’s an answer box as opposed to a featured snippet.
Need-to-know discoveries about featured snippets
Now what have we recently discovered about featured snippets?
23% of all search result pages include a featured snippet
Well, we know that they’re on 23% of all search result pages. That’s wild. This is up over 165% since 2016.
We know that they’re growing.
There are 5 general types of featured snippets
We know that Google continues to provide more and more in different spaces, and we also know that there are five general types of featured snippets:
The most common that we see are the paragraph and the list. The list can come in numerical format or bullets.
But we also see tables and then video. The video is interesting because it will just show a specific section of a video that it thinks you need to consume in order to get your answer, which is always interesting.
Lately, we have started noticing accordions, and we’re not sure if they’re testing this or if it might be rolled out. But they’re a lot like People Also Ask boxes in that they expand and almost show you additional featured snippets, which is fascinating.
Paragraphs (50%) and lists (37%) are the most common types of featured snippets
Another important thing to take away is that we know paragraphs and lists are the most common, and we can see that here. Fifty percent of all featured snippet results are paragraphs. Thirty-seven percent are lists. It’s a ton. Then it kind of whittles down from there. Nine percent are tables, and then just under two percent are video and under two percent are accordion. Kind of good to know.
Half of all featured snippets are part of a carousel
Interestingly, half of all featured snippets are part of a carousel. What we mean by a carousel is when you see these sort of circular options within a featured snippet at the bottom.
So if you were to search for I think this was comfortable shoes, you have options for women is a circular carousel button, for work, and stylish. What happens when you click these is it recalibrates that featured snippet and changes it into what you clicked. So it starts to get very, very niche. You might have started with this very general search, and Google is basically begging you to refine what it is that you’re looking for. It’s very, very interesting and something to keep in mind.
People Also Ask boxes are on 93.8% of featured snippet SERPs
We also know that people also ask boxes are on 93.8% of featured snippet SERPs, meaning they’re almost always present when there’s a featured snippet, which is fascinating. I think there’s a lot of good data we can get from these People Also Ask questions to kind of seed your keyword research and better understand what it is people are looking for.
“Are Crocs supposed to be worn with socks?” It’s a very important question. You have to understand this stuff.
Informational sites are winning
We see that the sites that are providing finance information and educational information are doing extremely well in the featured snippet space. So again, something to keep in mind.
Be a detective and test!
You should always be exploring the snippets that you might want to rank for.
Where is it grabbing from the page?
What sort of markup is it?
Start being a detective and looking at all those things. So now to kind of the good stuff.
How to win featured snippets
What is it that you can specifically do to potentially win a featured snippet?
These are sort of the four boiled down steps I’ve come up with to help you with that.
1. Know which featured snippet keywords you rank on page one for
So number one is to know which featured snippet keywords your site already ranks for. It’s really easy to do in Keyword Explorer at Moz.
So if you search by root domain and you just put in your website into Moz Keyword Explorer, it will show you all of the ranking keywords for that specific domain.
From there, you can filter by ranking or by range, from 1 to 10:
What are those keywords that you currently rank 1 to 10 on?
Then you add those keywords to a list. Once they populate in your list, you can filter by a featured snippet.
This is sort of the good stuff. This is your playground. This is where your opportunities are. It gets really fun from here.
2. Know your searchers’ intent
Number two is to know your searchers’ intent.
If one of your keywords was “Halloween costume DIY” and the search result page was all video and images and content that was very visual, you have to provide visual content to compete with an intent like that.
There’s obviously an intent behind the search where people want to see what it is and help in that process. It’s a big part of crafting content to rank in search results but also featured snippets. Know the intent.
3. Provide succinct answers and content
Number three, provide succinct answers and content. Omit needless words. We see Google providing short, concise information, especially for voice results. We know that’s the way to go, so I highly suggest doing that.
4. Monitor featured snippet targets
Number four, monitor those featured snippet targets, whether you’re actively trying to target them or you currently have them. STAT provides really, really great alerts. You can actually get an email notification if you lose or win a featured snippet. It’s one of the easiest ways I’ve discovered to keep track of all of these things.
Pro tip: Add a tl;dr summary
A pro tip is to add a “too long, didn’t read” summary to your most popular pages.
You already know the content that most people come to your site for or maybe the content that does the best in your conversions, whatever that might be. If you can provide summarized content about that page, just key takeaways or whatever that might be at the top or at the bottom, you could potentially rank for all sorts of featured snippets. So really, really cool, easy stuff to kind of play around with and test.
Want more tips and tricks? We’ve got a webinar for that!
Lastly, for more tips and tricks, you should totally sign up for the featured snippet webinar that we’re doing. I’m hosting it in a couple weeks.
I know spots are limited, but we’ll be sharing all of the research that we’ve discovered and even more takeaways and tricks. So hopefully you enjoyed that, and I appreciate you watching this Whiteboard Friday.
Keep me posted on any of your featured snippet battles or what you’re trying to get or any struggles down below in the comments. I look forward to seeing you all again soon. Thank you so much for joining me. I’ll see you next time.