Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit in early 2020, business owners have had to move quickly to make drastic changes in their services to meet searchers’ new needs in a continuously unpredictable landscape.
While “Near me” searches saw a slight drop in early 2020, since then, have maintained a steady increase, further solidifying the need for brands and businesses of all sizes to be present and discoverable online.
When thinking about your Google My Business profile and adjustments to your information, the most important element is informing searchers how they can do business with you.
You’ll want to ensure all of your core location data is updated. This includes marking whether or not you’re temporarily closed. If you’re open, you should have the most accurate operating hours published.
Furthermore, you should make it as easy as possible for searchers to get in contact with you if they have any questions. This includes making sure your phone number is accurate, monitoring your Q&A section on Google My Business, and enabling messaging if you have the staff to respond. These are all methods that make customers feel connected to you, which will encourage them to convert and purchase from you.
What type of safety precautions are you taking with your customers and staff?
The health and safety of customers and employees is top of mind for all searchers. As a business, this information should be front and center so potential customers can understand how important this is to your organization.
It should be incredibly clear to anyone looking to engage with your business what types of safety precautions and protocols you’re following, and how this could impact their trip to your business or the delivery of your services. These should include things like social distancing measures which may result in long lines, mask requirements, etc. Surfacing this information as early as possible makes the decision to do business with you that much easier.
What types of services are you offering, and are these different than normal?
Businesses and consumers have had to adjust to so many new normals. In order to capture new customers and grow the evangelism of existing ones, remove as much friction as possible by communicating changes up front.
If you’ve made changes to services or products that users have come to rely on you for, make it clear what has changed and how. This is especially true for essential businesses that are growing particularly busy and facing supply chain shortages.
What can all businesses do to communicate updates about new and changing services on Google My Business?
1. Update your attributes
Google has rolled out dozens of highly visible attributes and will continue to introduce new ones. This includes details like whether you offer in-person or online service and appointments, delivery and pick up, and safety measures for in-person shopping. Keep an eye on these and make sure all relevant attributes are applied to your business.
Now that Google has temporarily lifted the limit on API access for chains, businesses of all sizes should be leveraging posts. Posts allow you to share timely and relevant updates spanning temporary closures, product and service updates, promotions, and gift card options.
4. Update your images
If your product, service, or location looks different to returning customers, this can cause confusion or disappointment. Don’t underestimate the power of updated imagery on your Google My Business profile. Most smartphones have a high enough quality camera that even snapping a few pictures each week and uploading these will be enough.
5. Publish additional hours
Publishing additional hours sets helps to surface the supplemental offerings you have. These include senior hours, online operating hours, drive through hours, pickup hours, and more.
One of the most impacted industries, especially from a digital perspective, has been healthcare. Both sick and healthy patients have been forced to rethink how they can access their healthcare needs.
Healthcare organizations are making adjustments to serve existing and new patients. There’s been a large shift to offer telehealth appointments in lieu of in-person for a number of specialties from internal medicine to therapy. Governmental agencies also reported increases in telehealth visits, with a 154% increase in the last week of March 2020 alone.
Based on this data, in early April, Google rolled out a telehealth link for healthcare categories. This enabled healthcare organizations and providers to surface and convert patients with non-emergency needs who are cautious of visiting an office in-person.
Just as critical as launching telehealth support was the introduction of the coronavirus testing facility information on maps and search. Google My Business partnered with a number of third party health and governmental sources, as well as with Castlight to ingest data for new testing sites. The roll out of COVID-19 testing information was a phased approach and has evolved over the last few months. For healthcare organizations offering COVID-19 testing, this is the most relevant and critical service you can add to your Google My Business listing.
For retail businesses, one of the biggest challenges faced over the last few months has likely been inventory fluctuations and ordering methods. This is why businesses of all sizes have been integrating product shopping features and live inventory on their listings. Google even rolled out free product listings in the U.S. to support businesses.
Once retailers have made it easy to see what products are in stock, they’ve had to adjust to support different methods of ordering and pickup. This includes enabling “buy online, pick up in-store”, curbside pickup, and contactless delivery. Google has rolled out attributes to highlight each of these, so businesses should ensure each location’s offerings are reflected.
Banks and businesses within the financial service industry have more limited options due to regulations and the nature of their business. In addition to the safety measures they’re taking at their local branches, banking customers have been relying on drive-up support and virtual banking services. By leveraging drive-through and online appointment attributes, as well as by highlighting unique drive-through hours, financial service providers can better help customers understand the ways they can complete their banking.
Restaurants have had to deal with continual and fluctuating mandates that dictate restrictions on how and when they can open. Depending on where the restaurants are located and the guidelines of the area, they have to communicate whether they offer delivery, takeout, and/or dine-in, and what that looks like. Some dine-in has been restricted to outdoor dining only, while others have been restricted to smaller capacities to allow for social distancing.
There are a number of Google My Business features that you can utilize in order to let customers know what dining features you have available. Restaurants should make sure to keep their dine-in, delivery, and take-out attributes updated. Utilizing posts to describe dining accommodations such as outdoor-only or limited indoor capacity can also be helpful for customers. If you’re offering delivery, online orders, or reservations, make sure you’ve reviewed the Online Ordering feature that activates the blue action buttons on your Knowledge Panel.
Businesses of all sizes and industries have made it easier for consumers to engage with them as this pandemic continues to drive changes in everyday life. Follow these tips to make sure your updates are discoverable on your Google My Business profile, where the majority of “near me” searches are happening.
How and when we interact with ads online drastically changed in March when COVID-19 ushered in a new era of rolling global lockdowns, not to mention lifestyle changes that none of us could predict.
And for native advertising in particular, ad performance has always relied on the nature of consumer behavior on the sites where they appear. Because they fit the form and function of their sites, their best practices are directly dictated by how we interact with the organic content that surrounds them.
On editorial sites (think news, niche blogs and online magazines), consumer behavior has shifted quite a bit.
People started interacting with content from different devices, at different times, and reacting to different types of campaign creatives. All of this resulted in a new set of best practices for marketers to follow when it comes to running effective native ads.
We’ll walk you through those new best practices and answer the following:
How have native ads been impacted by COVID-19?
How has consumer interaction with native ads changed?
What campaign messaging is the most effective?
What KPIs are other advertisers in your vertical targeting?
What creative strategies perform best?
COVID-19’s impact on news sites and native ads
There was a whole lot of uncertainty this past March, and as a result, many companies pumped the advertising breaks. Despite the slowdown, the industry will spend more on native ads in 2020 than they did in 2019, but at a much smaller growth rate.
According to eMarketer, $47.33 billion will be spent on native ads in 2020 — a 4.8% growth spurt. They expect native ad spend to grow by 21% as digital ad spend recovers next year.
The ads that did run, though, saw a lot of attention. The coronavirus news cycle brought a boom of interest to editorial sites across the web from March to April.
Nieman Lab reported that articles about the pandemic increased overall traffic to 350% week over week, totalling 980 million views.
When the dust settled, it was clear consumer priorities had shifted, and where and when they were spending time on editorial sites did, too.
Where and when consumers interact with native ads
Editorial sites have the potential to serve native ads in a lot of different places. They can appear as promoted articles on a homepage or category page, as native display ads in the middle of an article, and at the bottom of the article, to name a few examples.
We partnered with Nielsen using BrainVu, a cloud-based neurocognition technology, to measure consumer reactions to ads on the page, meaning we physically measured people’s brain waves as they interacted with ads on editorial sites.
Immersive AI and virtual reality technology (think headgear with a ton of wires attached) measured when and where they were paying the most attention and had the highest emotional response.
We found that consumers were paying 20% more attention to ads at the bottom of the article and had a 17% higher emotional response than anywhere else on the page.
Plus, research participants displayed an 8% lower cognitive load at the end of an article. Basically, they had more “brain space”, or memory resources, to pay attention to new content or ads.
A follow-up study from Nielsen revealed that these moments occurred most often as we were on our way to bed or just waking up, taking a work break, or using the restroom. Lunch breaks, lines, and commutes had been deprioritized.
When we’re in those moments of next, primed and ready to discover content or advertising from brands, what are the topics engaged with the most?
We’ve seen three major shifts in consumer interest that should shape the messaging for your next native advertising campaigns.
Campaign messaging people engage with the most
The news topics gaining the most attention on editorial sites have changed, which should signal to marketers a need for a shift in native ad messaging.
Long-term trends in news are a reflection of consumers most relevant and immediate concerns. Aligning your campaign messaging with these long-term trends will improve your native ad performance.
So, what are those long-term trends?
First off, content related to the coronavirus and political climate has all but eclipsed consumer attention on editorial sites.
Underneath those high-level basic interests, we’ve identified four trending topics that have emerged since the coronavirus was declared a pandemic, and with which we’re seeing a lot of engagement:
Investing: The combination of coronavirus and the 2020 election has resulted in some ups and downs in the stock market, and everyone wants to jump on the bandwagon. (Nerdwallet pushed a partnership with Fundrise just in time for the trend).
Food: Quarantine baking has resulted in a burst of attention to the food category, specifically for topics related to desserts and baking. (Just Egg leaned into marketing as a faux egg alternative when quarantine baking took off.)
Racism: George Floyd’s murder and the Black Lives Matter movement have sparked a recent increase in engagement with topics related to racism and equality. (Mint promoted a webinar and video series on how to close the racial wage gap.)
Work: How and when we’re getting back to work is on our minds. (Nestlé released a series of content, including this article, about how parents were handling working from home.)
Here’s how interest in these content topics have broken down over the past six months, measured in pageviews:
While specific news stories have created spikes of pageviews for content related to these topics, interest has stayed steady for all four since April.
How coronavirus influenced native advertising KPIs
Native advertising KPIs shifted after COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic.
To illustrate this change, we took a look at the total advertiser spend on our network across each vertical, and broke it down by three high-level KPIs: brand awareness, lead generation, and purchases.
If the percentage of spend allocated to one of those KPIs changed more than 5% after March or April, we included it here.
Brand awareness includes campaigns optimized for KPIs like impressions, clicks, and pageviews.
For the fashion and technology verticals, brand awareness became a much higher priority after March 8th.
Lead generation includes KPIs like form fills, engagement on the page, or newsletter subscriptions.
Both the entertainment and auto industries prioritized lead generation just after the pandemic was declared.
They eventually focused more on brand awareness by April, when a need for education and finance products took their place.
As consumers looked to support schooling at home, and make sure their finances were in order, education and finance brands started to prioritize lead generation over other KPIs.
Purchase KPIs include cart checkouts, contacting a sales representative, or any digital step in the funnel that results in a sale.
Directly after the pandemic hit, healthcare and home good brands prioritized purchase KPIs as consumers looked to stay healthy and improve their inside spaces. Healthcare has continued to prioritize purchase KPIs since the pandemic was announced.
Moving into April, more and more education marketers also prioritized purchase KPIs to support homeschooling and professional development needs. Beauty advertisers also filled a need left by closing salons across the globe.
Fashion marketers started prioritizing purchase KPIs again through April as it became clear how consumer priorities had shifted.
Creative best practices since coronavirus
When pen meets paper (figuratively speaking) and it’s time to build your campaign creatives, you’ll want to be sure to include creative elements that consumers find engaging.
Below you’ll find insights for native ads that are either driven by sponsored content (think articles, e-books, photo galleries, and videos on the landing page) and video (think video creatives where a click isn’t necessarily the goal).
These ads are made up of a headline and photo to entice consumers to click and learn more about what you have to offer. Both require a bit of attention to make sure your ad performs as best as it can.
We’re seeing increases in click-through-rates (CTRs) for the following photo elements:
Photos without text
Photography over illustrations
People over landscapes
Colors over black and white
Close-ups over photos at a distance
We recommend A/B testing photos with one or two of these elements to see what works best for your campaign.
After your photo catches your eye, your headline has to convince people to click and keep reading. We’ve seen certain keywords give advertisers a better chance at a user clicking through to their landing page.
Over the past month, the following keywords have had a positive impact on CTRs:
These keywords used to have a positive impact on CTR, but are now used in many different ad campaigns, meaning you’ll likely have to bid higher in order to get in front of consumers.
Finally, these keywords haven’t quite made it into the ‘strong engagement’ bucket, but have had a positive CTR impact for a smaller selection of advertiser campaigns and might be worth testing if relevant to your brand.
When producing video assets, there are specific action types and characteristics to include to make an impact on completion rate and viewability.
High completion rate
Consider showing scenes with swimming, air travel, stretching, and other high-movement related action types to encourage people to watch your video ad all the way to the end.
In addition, video characteristics like winter scenes, men, videos without people, and food are also showing a positive impact on completion rates.
When it comes to catching someone’s eye, actions like eating, climbing, and stretching seem to be the most effective.
Male actors, videos that aren’t illustrated, colors, and food are also great characteristics to include to make sure your video isn’t missed.
The native advertising landscape has changed since March and the declaration of a global pandemic. Ad spend changed in response to consumer behavior, and we walked away with a new set of best practices to use as a basis for our native advertising campaigns.
When you’re building your next native advertising campaign, ask yourself:
Can I incorporate a messaging angle related to investing, food, racial justice or work?
Are other advertisers seeing success with my desired KPI in my vertical?
Have I considered testing native ad placements at the bottom of the page where people are most likely to be engaged?
Am I following creative best practices like including colorful, close-up images of people?
You should always A/B test—best practices should always be taken with a grain of salt. Using these best practices as a basis for testing your native advertising campaigns moving forward will make your optimization process a bit easier, and ultimately lead to better performance marketing.
You can stay up to date on the latest content topics and creative trends at Taboola Trends.
Becoming an authoritative brand is no easy feat, but the massive benefits are worth the effort.
When you’ve built authority, potential customers and clients begin to count on you and trust you — and it’s hard to imagine that trust not leading to a sale (at some point).
But how exactly can a brand begin to build, or build upon, their authority? Content is an excellent way, and in this article, I’ll go through my tips on how it can be done.
1. Answer your audience’s questions
If you’re not doing this, there’s virtually no way you’ll become an authority. People grow to rely on brands when those brands provide the information they’re looking for, so if your content marketing doesn’t incorporate those answers, you’re not demonstrating to your audience why they should trust you.
By building on-site content that provides this kind of value, you can build authority while simultaneously building more awareness for your brand. In other words, you can position yourself as an expert for those who don’t already know you.
Search is a huge component of why this content tactic works. Google does a significant amount of curation for users, choosing what it thinks is the most appropriate results for a particular query. When users see that you’re ranking at the top for a certain keyword or topic, there’s an assumption you made it through the algorithm for good reason and know what you’re talking about.
As an example, I searched “shoe size chart,” which, according to Keyword Surfer, gets 49,500 monthly searches in the U.S. alone. Here’s one of the top results from Famous Footwear:
Presumably, people are searching for this because they want to buy shoes, but they’re not sure what size to get. If they click this result, not only are they now on the website, but they recognize that this brand provided the answer they were looking for. Perhaps they’ll even browse for shoes while they’re on the site.
One of the best ways to demonstrate your authority is to show your continued interest in unearthing new information and insights. You can do this by prioritizing original research.
When you create your own studies, surveys, and reports (aka perform data journalism) based on new data or unveiling new insights, you not only provide value to readers, but also have something you can pitch to the media.
This gives you double benefit: Getting media coverage (and building even more brand authority) and earning high-quality backlinks, which signals to Google that you’re an authority.
We’ve used this strategy for our clients since Fractl first started up in 2012, and we’re convinced it’s one of the best brand authority strategies.
Let’s look at a study we did for The Interview Guys, as an example, which involved analyzing the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Requirements Survey to identify the highest-paying jobs that require the least amount of experience. Here’s one of the graphics from the report:
The study got media coverage on CNBC, Reader’s Digest, MarketWatch and more, earning extremely high-value dofollow links. But take a look at how The Interview Guys are mentioned in the articles:
By supplying new insights, The Interview Guys are positioned by the writers as the source of the information, which is an extremely authoritative way to be referenced.
How to execute this strategy: After doing the first tip and analyzing questions, zoom out a bit and consider what general questions in your industry still need answers. How can you answer them with data? Once you’ve created a report that reveals new information, utilize digital PR to pitch writers.
3. Utilize the authority of in-house experts
Some brands are built entirely around a particular persona, like Steve Jobs with Apple, but those examples can intimidate people. Smaller companies and newer companies alike can benefit from a similar strategy if they have subject matter experts (or SMEs) who can show their authority.
A great example of this is Headspace and how it features its founder, Andy Puddicombe. There’s a page all about him on their website where they explain his credentials but also provide what are called authority signals (which I’ll explain more in the next section) and embed his Ted Talk, so you can see for yourself what he knows.
Why is this smart? Headspace probably realized that as the literal voice behind Headspace (Andy does much of the meditation audio himself), Andy started building trust with audiences. It makes sense to double-down on that trust by helping people get to know who he is, and by having him explain even more concepts directly through Radio Headspace and their YouTube channel. After all, if people trust Andy, they’re more likely to trust the Headspace app.
How to execute this strategy: If your internal experts have never shared anything with the public, see if they’re comfortable contributing blog posts or quotes to your website. Pitch them to be on podcasts, or use Help a Reporter Out (HARO) to pitch them as sources for relevant news articles. Help them demonstrate their knowledge in ways that are useful to audiences.
4. Highlight reviews, case studies, and other proof of expertise
There are dozens of types of authority signals, from testimonials to reviews to social media share counts. The key is identifying which ones make sense to highlight for your products or services, and figuring out the best placement for them.
Your goal is to show people you know what you’re talking about by leveraging third-party validation. Your audience doesn’t just have to take your word for it that you know what you’re doing — other people can confirm that you’re great, too!
I like how SquadCast tackles this. On their homepage they have a few authority signals they provide, including testimonials that match with each user persona, which I think is really smart.
Then when you scroll further, they throw in the fact that household names like Spotify, Microsoft, Starbucks, and ESPN trust them.
If you look at the Fractl site, you’ll see we use a similar strategy. Not only do we have case studies showcasing the results we’ve gotten for clients, but we also have logos showing some of the clients we’ve worked with and the publications where our thought leadership appears.
All of this content says to a site visitor: “Others trust us, and you should too.”
How to execute this strategy: If you don’t already have this type of content, ask yourself how you can best collect it. Reach out to your best clients and ask them for a quote. Pull the best reviews you’ve ever gotten for your products. Call out any media mentions you’ve received. Then put this information on your homepage, but also on conversion pages to instill confidence when and where it counts.
5. Associate with other authoritative brands
You know the phrase, “Show me who your friends are, and I’ll tell you who you are?” That can apply in marketing, too.
If you align with other brands you respect and that are doing right by their customers/users, it’s possible some of that same trust will transfer to you if that company’s respect is reciprocated. Additionally, if you collaborate, you’re getting your brand name in front of a new audience.
So, think about which brands it makes sense to collaborate with. There are ways to do this outside of content marketing, like referral programs, but there are content-specific ways to work together, too.
This is an amazing example from Auntie Anne’s and Samuel Adams, who teamed up to create an at-home Oktoberfest kit, complete with Samuel Adams Octoberfest beer, Auntie Anne’s DIY Pretzel Kit, recipe book, a “Prost from Home” playlist you can stream, and more.
This isn’t purely a content strategy, but you can see the overlap between product and building more of an experience. People who love and count on Auntie Anne’s pretzels are exposed to Samuel Adams and vice versa. Through a collaboration like this, fans of one have the potential to become fans of the other, as you can see in this review:
This is a more fun example, but you can also execute a collaboration based on studies and surveys by partnering with organizations interested in answering the same questions or solving the same problems as your brand.
How to execute this strategy: Brainstorm which brands you may have a natural alignment in objectives or values with. How can you work together to provide something of value to both of your audiences?
6. Give away some of your secrets
This can be scary for a lot of marketers and especially for the C-suite. Why should you give away what makes you great?
It’s a valid question, and it won’t always apply. But in some cases, especially for service-based businesses, sharing information and breaking down exactly how you achieve that greatness can actually build trust.
Marcus Sheridan has a wonderful example of this. When my colleague attended Inbound last year, she was impressed by Marcus’s presentation in which he described a single blog post that earned him $2 million in sales. (Heidi Cohen has a great write up about it.)
Why did it work? Because he shared information no one else wanted to share: the actual cost of a fiberglass pool. Rather than hiding the information and revealing it later in the sales process, he was forthright and answered the question people wanted the answer to. Clearly this strategy paid off.
We use the same philosophy at Fractl, explaining exactly how we go about doing our work and building our clients links and brand awareness. There are process details we haven’t disclosed, but all and all, we’ve been very transparent about how we operate, and it’s worked well for us.
In fact, people still recall an Experts on the Wire podcast interview with Kerry Jones, our previous marketing director, in which she walked through our strategies. I’ve had marketing folks tell me that this is how they heard about Fractl in the first place. Years later, it’s still featured on the podcast’s main page:
People appreciate when you’re open and honest. In our case, even if people knew our strategy, clients often partner with us because they don’t have the bandwidth to execute the strategy at scale, as it requires a lot of time and resources. So by knowing how we work, they can trust us to handle it for them.
How to execute this strategy: Consider what information you have that you can share, even if (sometimes especially if) your competitors haven’t shared it. You can leave a big impression of you’re open about your industry in a way others aren’t. Of course, don’t do something that will jeopardize your company, but consider the question and see what might make sense.
The very act of investing in content marketing is a big step in building more brand authority. By creating content that’s beneficial for your audience, you’re demonstrating your own knowledge and utilizing your expertise.
By continuing to build on your strategy with the above tactics, you can greatly improve the chances your audience will not only remember your brand, but begin to trust your brand. Additionally, it’s likely the Google algorithm will recognize your authority, as well, especially after building an impressive link portfolio, and your results will rise in the SERP ranks.
Good luck amplifying your strategy, and don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any questions!
Google Analytics data is used to support tons of important work, ranging from our everyday marketing reporting, all the way to investment decisions. To that end, it’s integral that we’re aware of just how that data works. In this Best of Whiteboard Friday edition, Tom Capper explains how the sessions metric in Google Analytics works, several ways that it can have unexpected results, and as a bonus, how sessions affect the time on page metric (and why you should rethink using time on page for reporting).
Editor’s note: Tom Capper is now an independent SEO consultant. This video is from 2018, but the same principles hold up today. There is only one minor caveat: the words “user” and “browser” are used interchangeably early in the video, which still hold mostly true. Google is trying to further push multi-device users as a concept with Google Analytics 4, but still relies on users being logged in, as well as extra tracking setup. For most sites most of the time, neither of these conditions hold.
Click on the whiteboard image above to open a high-resolution version in a new tab!
Hello, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. I am Tom Capper. I am a consultant at Distilled, and today I’m going to be talking to you about how sessions work in Google Analytics. Obviously, all of us use Google Analytics. Pretty much all of us use Google Analytics in our day-to-day work.
Data from the platform is used these days in everything from investment decisions to press reporting to the actual marketing that we use it for. So it’s important to understand the basic building blocks of these platforms. Up here I’ve got the absolute basics. So in the blue squares I’ve got hits being sent to Google Analytics.
So when you first put Google Analytics on your site, you get that bit of tracking code, you put it on every page, and what that means is when someone loads the page, it sends a page view. So those are the ones I’ve marked P. So we’ve got page view and page view and so on as you’re going around the site. I’ve also got events with an E and transactions with a T. Those are two other hit types that you might have added.
The job of Google Analytics is to take all this hit data that you’re sending it and try and bring it together into something that actually makes sense as sessions. So they’re grouped into sessions that I’ve put in black, and then if you have multiple sessions from the same browser, then that would be a user that I’ve marked in pink. The issue here is it’s kind of arbitrary how you divide these up.
These eight hits could be one long session. They could be eight tiny ones or anything in between. So I want to talk today about the different ways that Google Analytics will actually split up those hit types into sessions. So over here I’ve got some examples I’m going to go through. But first I’m going to go through a real-world example of a brick-and-mortar store, because I think that’s what they’re trying to emulate, and it kind of makes more sense with that context.
So in this example, say a supermarket, we enter by a passing trade. That’s going to be our source. Then we’ve got an entrance is in the lobby of the supermarket when we walk in. We got passed from there to the beer aisle to the cashier, or at least I do. So that’s one big, long session with the source passing trade. That makes sense.
In the case of a brick-and-mortar store, it’s not to difficult to divide that up and try and decide how many sessions are going on here. There’s not really any ambiguity. In the case of websites, when you have people leaving their keyboard for a while or leaving the computer on while they go on holiday or just having the same computer over a period of time, it becomes harder to divide things up, because you don’t know when people are actually coming and going.
So what they’ve tried to do is in the very basic case something quite similar: arrive by Google, category page, product page, checkout. Great. We’ve got one long session, and the source is Google. Okay, so what are the different ways that that might go wrong or that that might get divided up?
Several things that can change the meaning of a session
1. Time zone
The first and possibly most annoying one, although it doesn’t tend to be a huge issue for some sites, is whatever time zone you’ve set in your Google Analytics settings, the midnight in that time zone can break up a session. So say we’ve got midnight here. This is 12:00 at night, and we happen to be browsing. We’re doing some shopping quite late.
Because Google Analytics won’t allow a session to have two dates, this is going to be one session with the source Google, and this is going to be one session and the source will be this page. So this is a self-referral unless you’ve chosen to exclude that in your settings. So not necessarily hugely helpful.
2. Half-hour cutoff for “coffee breaks”
Another thing that can happen is you might go and make a cup of coffee. So ideally if you went and had a cup of coffee while in you’re in Tesco or a supermarket that’s popular in whatever country you’re from, you might want to consider that one long session. Google has made the executive decision that we’re actually going to have a cutoff of half an hour by default.
If you leave for half an hour, then again you’ve got two sessions. One, the category page is the landing page and the source of Google, and one in this case where the blog is the landing page, and this would be another self-referral, because when you come back after your coffee break, you’re going to click through from here to here. This time period, the 30 minutes, that is actually adjustable in your settings, but most people do just leave it as it is, and there isn’t really an obvious number that would make this always correct either. It’s kind of, like I said earlier, an arbitrary distinction.
3. Leaving the site and coming back
The next issue I want to talk about is if you leave the site and come back. So obviously it makes sense that if you enter the site from Google, browse for a bit, and then enter again from Bing, you might want to count that as two different sessions with two different sources. However, where this gets a little murky is with things like external payment providers.
If you had to click through from the category page to PayPal to the checkout, then unless PayPal is excluded from your referral list, then this would be one session, entrance from Google, one session, entrance from checkout. The last issue I want to talk about is not necessarily a way that sessions are divided, but a quirk of how they are.
4. Return direct sessions
If you were to enter by Google to the category page, go on holiday and then use a bookmark or something or just type in the URL to come back, then obviously this is going to be two different sessions. You would hope that it would be one session from Google and one session from direct. That would make sense, right?
But instead, what actually happens is that, because Google and most Google Analytics and most of its reports uses last non-direct click, we pass through that source all the way over here, so you’ve got two sessions from Google. Again, you can change this timeout period. So that’s some ways that sessions work that you might not expect.
As a bonus, I want to give you some extra information about how this affects a certain metric, mainly because I want to persuade you to stop using it, and that metric is time on page.
Bonus: Three scenarios where this affects time on page
So I’ve got three different scenarios here that I want to talk you through, and we’ll see how the time on page metric works out.
I want you to bear in mind that, basically, because Google Analytics really has very little data to work with typically, they only know that you’ve landed on a page, and that sent a page view and then potentially nothing else. If you were to have a single page visit to a site, or a bounce in other words, then they don’t know whether you were on that page for 10 seconds or the rest of your life.
They’ve got no further data to work with. So what they do is they say, “Okay, we’re not going to include that in our average time on page metrics.” So we’ve got the formula of time divided by views minus exits. However, this fudge has some really unfortunate consequences. So let’s talk through these scenarios.
Example 1: Intuitive time on page = actual time on page
In the first scenario, I arrive on the page. It sends a page view. Great. Ten seconds later I trigger some kind of event that the site has added. Twenty seconds later I click through to the next page on the site. In this case, everything is working as intended in a sense, because there’s a next page on the site, so Google Analytics has that extra data of another page view 20 seconds after the first one. So they know that I was on here for 20 seconds.
In this case, the intuitive time on page is 20 seconds, and the actual time on page is also 20 seconds. Great.
Example 2: Intuitive time on page is higher than measured time on page
However, let’s think about this next example. We’ve got a page view, event 10 seconds later, except this time instead of clicking somewhere else on the site, I’m going to just leave altogether. So there’s no data available, but Google Analytics knows we’re here for 10 seconds.
So the intuitive time on page here is still 20 seconds. That’s how long I actually spent looking at the page. But the measured time or the reported time is going to be 10 seconds.
Example 3: Measured time on page is zero
The last example, I browse for 20 seconds. I leave. I haven’t triggered an event. So we’ve got an intuitive time on page of 20 seconds and an actual time on page or a measured time on page of 0.
The interesting bit is when we then come to calculate the average time on page for this page that appeared here, here, and here, you would initially hope it would be 20 seconds, because that’s how long we actually spent. But your next guess, when you look at the reported or the available data that Google Analytics has in terms of how long we’re on these pages, the average of these three numbers would be 10 seconds.
So that would make some sense. What they actually do, because of this formula, is they end up with 30 seconds. So you’ve got the total time here, which is 30, divided by the number of views, we’ve got 3 views, minus 2 exits. Thirty divided 3 minus 2, 30 divided by 1, so we’ve got 30 seconds as the average across these 3 sessions.
Well, the average across these three page views, sorry, for the amount of time we’re spending, and that is longer than any of them, and it doesn’t make any sense with the constituent data. So that’s just one final tip to please not use average time on page as a reporting metric.
I hope that’s all been useful to you. I’d love to hear what you think in the comments below. Thanks.
It’s the local SEO two-step at the heart of every campaign. It’s the 1-2 punch combo that hinges on a balance of visible, accurate contact data, and a volunteer salesforce of consumer reviewers who are supporting your rise to local prominence.
But here’s the thing: while managed location data and reviews may be of equal and complementary power, they shouldn’t require an equal share of your time.
Automation of basic business data distribution is the key to freeing you up to focus on the elements of listings that require human ingenuity — namely, reviews and other listings-based content like posts and Q&A.
It’s my hope that sharing this article with your team or your boss will help you get the financial allocations you need for automated listings management, plus generous resources for creative reputation management.
Location data + reviews = the big picture
When Google lists a business, it gives good space to the business name, and a varying degree of space to the address and phone number. But look at the real estate occupied by the various aspects associated with reputation:
If Google cares this much about ratings, review text, responses, and emerging elements like place topics and attributes, any local brand you’re marketing should see these factors as a priority. In this article, I’ll strive to codify your actionable perspective on managing both location data and the many aspects of reviews.
Ratings: The most powerful local filter of them all
In the local SEO industry, we talk a lot about Google’s filters, like the Possum filter that’s supposed to strain local businesses through a sort of sieve so that a greater diversity of mapped results is shown to the searcher. But searchers have an even more powerful filter than this — the human-driven filter of ratings that helps people intuitively sort local brands by perceived quality.
Whether they’re stars or circles, the majority of rating icons send a 1–5 point signal to consumers that can be instantly understood. This symbol system has been around since at least the 1820s; it’s deeply ingrained in all our brains as a judgement of value.
This useful, rapid form of shorthand lets a searcher needing to do something like grab a quick taco see that the food truck with five Yelp stars is likely a better bet than the one with only two. Meanwhile, searchers with more complex needs can comb through the ratings of many listings at leisure, carefully weighing one option against another for major purchases. In Google’s local results, ratings are the most powerful human-created filter that influences the major goal of being chosen.
But before a local brand can be chosen on the basis of its high ratings, it has to rank well enough to be found. The good news is that, over the past three years, expert local SEOs have become increasingly convinced of the impact of Google ratings on Google local pack rankings. In 2017, when I wrote the original version of this post, contributors to the Local Search Ranking Factors survey placed Google star ratings down at #24 in terms of local rankings influence. In 2020, this metric has jumped up to spot #8 — a leap of 16 spots in just three years.
In the interim, Google has been experimenting with different ratings-related displays. In 2017, they were testing the application of a “highly rated” snippet on hotel rankings in the local packs. Today, their complex hotel results let the user opt to see only 4+ star results. Meanwhile, local SEOs have noticed patterns over the years like searches with the format of “best X in city” (e.g. best burrito in Dallas) appearing to default to local results made up of businesses that have earned a minimum average of four stars. Doubtless, observations like these have strengthened experts’ convictions that Google cares a lot about ratings and allows them to influence rank.
Heading into 2021, any local brand with goals of being found and chosen must view low ratings as an impediment to reaching full growth potential.
Consumer sentiment: The local business story your customers are writing for you
Here’s a randomly chosen Google 3-pack result when searching just for “tacos” in a small city in the San Francisco Bay Area:
We’ve just covered the topic of ratings, and you can look at a result like this to get that instant gut feeling about the 4-star-rated eateries vs. the 2-star place. Now, let’s open the book on business #3 and see precisely what kind of brand story its consumers are writing, as you would in conducting a professional review audit for a local business, excerpting dominant sentiment:
It’s easy to ding fast food chains. Their business model isn’t commonly associated with fine dining or the kind of high wages that tend to promote employee excellence. In some ways, I think of them as extreme examples. Yet, they serve as good teaching models for how even the most modest-quality offerings create certain expectations in the minds of consumers, and when those basic expectations aren’t met, it’s enough of a story for consumers to share in the form of reviews.
This particular restaurant location has an obvious problem with slow service, orders being filled incorrectly, and employees who have been denied the training they need to represent the brand in a knowledgeable, friendly, or accessible manner. If you audited a different business, its pain points might surround outdated fixtures or low standards of cleanliness.
Whatever the case, when the incoming consumer turns to the review world, their eyes scan the story as it scrolls down their screen. Repeat mentions of a particular negative issue can create enough of a theme to turn the potential customer away. One survey says only up to 11% of consumers will do business with a brand that’s wound up with a 2-star rating based on poor reviews. Who can afford to let the other 91% of consumers go elsewhere?
The central goal of being chosen hinges on recognizing that your reviewer base is a massive, unpaid salesforce that tells your brand story. Survey after survey consistently finds that people trust reviews — in fact, they may trust them more than any claim your brand can make about itself.
Going into 2021, the writing is on the wall that Google cares a great deal about themes surfacing in your reviews. The ongoing development and display of place topics and attributes signifies Google’s increasing interest in parsing sentiment, and doubtless, using such data to determine relevance.
Fully embracing review management and the total local customer service ecosystem is key to giving customers a positive tale to tell, enabling the business you’re marketing to be trusted and chosen for the maximum number of transactions.
Velocity/recency/count: Just enough of a timely good thing to be competitive
This is one of the easiest aspects of review management to convey. You can sum it up in one sentence: don’t get too many reviews at once on any given platform but do get enough reviews on an ongoing basis to avoid looking like you’ve gone out of business.
For a little more background on the first part of that statement, watch Mary Bowling describing in this LocalU video how she audited a law firm that went from zero to thirty 5-star reviews within a single month. Sudden gluts of reviews like this not only look odd to alert customers, but they can trip review platform filters, resulting in removal. Remember, reviews are a business lifetime effort, not a race. Get a few this month, a few next month, and a few the month after that. Keep going.
The second half of the review timing paradigm relates to not running out of steam in your acquisition campaigns. Multiple surveys indicate that the largest percentage of review readers consider content from the past month to be most relevant. Despite this, Google’s index is filled with local brands that haven’t been reviewed in over a year, leaving searchers to wonder if a place is still in business, or if it’s so unimpressive that no one is bothering to review it.
While I’d argue that review recency may be more important in review-oriented industries (like restaurants) vs. those that aren’t quite as actively reviewed (like septic system servicing), the idea here is similar to that of velocity, in that you want to keep things going. Don’t run a big review acquisition campaign in January and then forget about outreach for the rest of the year. A moderate, steady pace of acquisition is ideal.
And finally, a local SEO FAQ comes from business owners who want to know how many reviews they need to earn. There’s no magic number, but the rule of thumb is that you need to earn more reviews than the top competitor you are trying to outrank for each of your search terms. This varies from keyword phrase, to keyword phrase, from city to city, from vertical to vertical. The best approach is steady growth of reviews to surpass whatever number the top competitor has earned.
Authenticity: Honesty is the only honest policy
For me, this is one of the most prickly and interesting aspects of the review world. Three opposing forces meet on this playing field: business ethics, business education, and the temptations engendered by the obvious limitations of review platforms to police themselves.
I often recall a basic review audit I did for a family-owned restaurant belonging to a friend of a friend. Within minutes, I realized that the family had been reviewing their own restaurant on Yelp (a glaring violation of Yelp’s policy). I felt sorry to see this, but being acquainted with the people involved (and knowing them to be quite nice!), I highly doubted they had done this out of some dark impulse to deceive the public.
In such a scenario, there’s definitely an opportunity for the marketer to offer the necessary education to describe the risks involved in tying a brand to misleading practices, highlighting how vital it is to build trust within the local community. Fake positive reviews aren’t building anything real on which a company can stake its future. Ethical business owners will catch on when you explain this in honest terms and can then begin marketing themselves in smarter ways.
But then there’s the other side. Mike Blumenthal’s reporting on this has set a high bar in the industry, with coverage of developments like the largest review spam network he’d ever encountered. There’s simply no way to confuse organized, global review spam with a busy small business making a wrong, novice move. Real temptation resides in this scenario, because, as Blumenthal states:
“Review spam at this scale, unencumbered by any Google enforcement, calls into question every review that Google has. Fake business listings are bad, but businesses with 20, or 50, or 150 fake reviews are worse. They deceive the searcher and the buying public and they stain every real review, every honest business, and Google.”
When a platform like Google makes it easy to “get away with” deception, companies lacking ethics will take advantage of the opportunity. Beyond reporting review spam, one of the best things we can do as marketers is to offer ethical clients the education that helps them make honest choices. We can simply pose the question:
Is it better to fake your business’ success or to actually achieve success?
Local brands that choose to take the high road must avoid:
Any form of review incentives or spam
Review gating that filters consumers so that only happy ones leave reviews
Violations of the review guidelines specific to each review platform
Owner responses: creatively turning reviews into two-way conversations
My key learnings from nearly two decades of examining reviews and responses are these:
Review responses are a critical form of customer service that can’t be ignored any more than business staff should ignore in-person customers asking for face-to-face help. Many reviewers expect responses.
The number of local business listings in every industry with zero owner responses on them is totally shocking.
Negative reviews, when fairly given, are a priceless form of free quality control for the brand. Customers directly tell the brand which problems need to be fixed to make them happy.
Many reviewers think of their reviews as living documents, and update them to reflect subsequent experiences.
Many reviewers are more than happy to give brands a second chance when a problem is resolved.
Positive reviews are conversations starters warmly inviting a response that further engages the customer and can convince them that the brand deserves repeat business.
Local brands and agencies can use software to automate updating a phone number or hours of operation. Software like Moz Local can be of real help in alerting you to new, incoming reviews across multiple platforms, or surfacing the top sentiment themes within your review corpus.
Tools free up resources to manage what can’t be automated: human creativity. It takes serious creative resources to spend time with review sentiment and respond to customers in a way that makes a brand stand out as responsive and worthy. It takes time to fully utilize the opportunities owner responses represent to impact goals all the way from the top to the bottom of the sales funnel.
I’ve never forgotten a piece Florian Huebner wrote for StreetFight documenting the neglected reviews of a major fast food chain and its subsequent increase in location closures and decrease in profits. No one was taking the time to sit down with the reviews, listen, fix problems customers were citing, or offer proofs of caring resolution via owner responses.
And all too often, when brands large and small do respond to reviews, they take a corporate-speak stance equivalent to “whistling past the graveyard” when addressing complaints. To keep the customer and to signal to the public that the brand deserves to be chosen, creative resources must be allocated to providing gutsy, honest owner responses. It’s easy to spot the difference:
The response in yellow signals that the brand simply isn’t invested in customer retention. By contrast, the response in blue is a sample of what it takes to have a real conversation with a real person on the other side of the review text, in hopes of transforming one bad initial experience into a second chance, and hopefully, a lifetime of loyalty.
NAP and reviews: The 1–2 punch combo every local business must practice
Right now, there’s an employee at a local business or a staffer at an agency who is looking at the review corpus of a brand that’s struggling for rankings and profits. The set of reviews contains mixed sentiment, and no one is responding to either positive or negative customer experiences.
Maybe this is an issue that’s been brought up from time to time in company meetings, but it’s never made it to priority status. Decision-makers have felt that time and budget are better spent elsewhere.
Meanwhile, customers are quietly trickling away for lack of attention, leads are being missed, structural issues are being ignored…
If the employee or staffer I’m describing is you, my best advice is to make 2021 the year you make your strongest case for automating listing distribution and management with software so that creative resources can be dedicated to full reputation management.
Local SEO experts, your customers and clients, and Google, itself, are all indicating that location data + reviews are highly impactful and here to stay. In fact, history proves that this combination is deeply embedded in our entire approach to local commerce.
When traveling salesman Duncan Hines first published his 1935 review guide Adventures in Good Eating, he was developing what we think of today as local SEO. Here is my color-coded version of his review of the business that would one day become KFC. It should look strangely familiar to anyone who has ever tackled local business listings management:
No phone number on this “citation,” of course, but telephones were quite a luxury in 1935. Barring that element, this simple and historic review has the core earmarks of a modern local business listing. It has location data and review data; it’s the 1–2 punch combo every local business still needs to get right today. Without the NAP, the business can’t be found. Without the sentiment, the business gives little reason to be chosen.
From Duncan Hines to the digital age, there may be nothing new under the sun in marketing, but striking the right pose between listings and reputation management may be new news to your CEO, your teammates, or clients. So go for it — communicate this stuff, and good luck at your next big meeting!
Check out the new Moz Local plans that let you take care of location data distribution in seconds so that the balance of your focus can be on creatively caring for the customer.
Many SEOs mistakenly believe that freshness signals are simply about updating the content itself (or even lazier, putting a new timestamp on it.) In actuality, the freshness signals Google may look actually take many different forms:
Rate of content change: More frequent changes to the content can indicate more relevant content.
User engagement signals: Declining engagement over time can indicate stale content.
Link freshness: The rate of link growth over time can indicate relevancy.
To be fair, the post had slipped significantly in all of these categories. It hasn’t been updated in years, engagement metrics had dropped, and hardly anyone new linked to it anymore.
To put it simply, Google had no good reason to rank the post highly.
This time when publishing, we also decided to launch the post as a stand-alone guide — instead of a blog post — which would be easier to maintain as evergreen content.
Finally, as I wrote in the guide itself, we simply wanted a cool guide to help people rank. One of the biggest questions we get from new folks after they read the Beginner’s Guide to SEO is: “What do I read next? How do I actually rank a page?”
This is exactly that SEO guide.
Below, we’ll discuss the SEO goals that we hope to achieve with the guide (the SEO behind the SEO), but if you haven’t check it out yet, here’s a link to the new guide:
Based on this, we knew we should include the word “Google” in the title and try to rank for terms about “ranking on Google.”
2. Featured snippets
Before publishing the guide, our friend Brian Dean (aka Backlinko) owns the featured snippet for “how to rank on Google.”
It’s a big, beautiful search feature. And highly deserved!
We want it.
There are no guarantees that we’ll win this featured snippet (or others), but by applying a few featured snippets best practices—along with ranking on the first page—we may get there.
We believe the guide is great content, so we hope it attracts links.
Links are important because while the guide itself may generate search traffic, the links it earns could help with the rankings across our entire site. As Rand Fishkin once famously wrote about the impact of links in SEO, “a rising tide lifts all ships.”
Previously, the old post had a few hundred linking root domains pointing at it, including links from high-authority sites like Salesforce.
Obviously, we are now 301 redirecting these links to the new guide.
We’ll also update internal links throughout the site, as well as adding links to posts and pages where appropriate.
To help build links in the short-term, we’ll continue promoting the guide through social and email channels.
Long-term, we could also do outreach to help build links.
To be honest, we think the best and easiest way to build links naturally is simply to present a great resource that ranks highly, and also that we promote prominently on our site.
Will we succeed?
Time will tell. In 3-6 months we’ll do an internal followup, to track our SEO progress and see how we measured up against our goals.
To make things more complicated, SEO is far more competitive than it was 7 years ago, which makes things harder. Additionally, we’re transparently publishing our SEO strategy out in the open for our competitors to read, so they may adjust their tactics.
Want to help out? You can help us win this challenge by reading and sharing the guide, and even linking to it if you’d like. We’d very much appreciate it 🙂
Editor’s note: This blog is from the perspective of five University of Pittsburgh students — Kirsten, Steve, Darcie, Erin, and Sara — who completed a class this summer called “Digital Marketing Search Fundamentals”, taught by Zack Duncan of Root and Branch.
Our digital marketing class this summer did not give us credits that count towards graduation (in fact, some of us graduated in Spring 2020), nor did it give us a grade. Instead, we learned about paid search and organic search along with some of the key concepts central to digital marketing. We also became certified in Google Ads Search along the way.
We each had different reasons for taking the course, but we all believe that digital marketing will have value for us in our lives.
At the beginning of the term, in June 2020, we were asked, “What is one thing you’re hoping to get out of this class?” Here are some of our responses to that question:
I hope to gain a strong understanding of SEO and Google Ads, and to get hands-on experience to understand how both would be used in a work setting.
I want to learn something about marketing that I might not learn in the classroom.
I’m hoping to become more competitive in this difficult job market.
I hope to build on my resume and develop skills for personal use.
I want to learn a foundational skill that can be applied in many different aspects of business.
Now that we’ve completed the class, we wanted to share our thoughts on why we believe digital marketing matters — both for our lives today and as we look ahead to the future. We’re also going to cover five of the most important building blocks we learned this summer, that have helped us see how all the pieces of digital marketing fit together.
Part 1: Why digital marketing matters
Why digital marketing training matters now
To become more competitive candidates in applying for jobs
Some of us are recent grads in the midst of searching for our first jobs after college. Some of us are still in school and are actively looking for internships. We’ve all seen our fair share of job listings for positions like “Digital Marketing Intern” or “Digital Marketing Associate”. Given that the majority of us are marketing majors, you might think it’s safe to assume we would be qualified for at least an interview for those positions.
Before gaining a solid foundation in digital marketing, we were often quite limited in the listings we were qualified for. But things have been changing now that we can say we’re certified in Google Ads Search and can speak to topics like digital analytics, SEO, and the importance of understanding the marketing funnel.
To help with growing freelance side businesses
Towards the beginning of the pandemic, a few of us were dangerously close to graduation with little to no hope of finding a job in marketing. Instead of binge-watching Netflix all day and hoping some fantastic opportunity would magically come our way, the entrepreneurial among us decided to see how we could use our current skills to generate revenue.
One of us is especially interested in graphic design and learned everything there was to know in Adobe Creative Suite to become a freelance graphic designer, starting a side business in graphic design, and designs logos, labels, menus, and more.
After this class, finding clients has changed in a big way now. Instead of being limited to looking for clients in social media groups, digital marketing knowledge opens up a whole new world. With a functioning website and a knowledge of both paid and organic search, the process of finding new customers has dramatically changed (for the better!).
To be more informed consumers
While a digital marketing background doesn’t instantly translate to job opportunities for everyone, it can help all of us become more informed consumers.
As consumers, we want to pay for quality goods and services at a fair price. Some basic digital marketing knowledge gives us a better understanding of why the search engine results page (SERP) findings show up in the order that they do. Knowing about keywords, domain authority (for organic search) and quality scores (for paid results) can demystify things. And that’s just on the SERP.
Moving off the SERP, it’s helpful to know how nearly every advertisement we see is somehow targeted to us. If you are seeing an ad, there is a very good chance you fall into an audience segment that a brand has identified as a potential target. You may also be seeing the ad due to a prior visit to the brand’s website and are now in a retargeting audience (feel free to clear out those cookies if you’re sick of them!).
The more information you have as a consumer, the more likely you are to make a better purchase. These few examples just go to show how digital marketing training matters now, even if you are not the one actively doing the digital marketing.
How a digital marketing foundation be useful in the future
It’s helpful in creating and growing a personal brand
Your brand only matters if people know about it. You could sit in your room and put together the most awesome portfolio website for yourself and create a solid brand identity, but if no one else knows about it, what’s the point? Digital marketing concepts like understanding SEO basics can help make your presence known to potential customers, employers, and clients.
It would be terrible if your competition got all the business just because you didn’t use the simple digital marketing tools available to you, right? Digital marketing efforts can have many different goals ranging from making sales to just increasing general awareness of your brand, so get out there and start!
To become a more flexible contributor in future career opportunities
One thing we’ve heard consistently in the job search process is employers love flexible, cross functional employees. It seems the most successful and valued employees are often those that are not only experts in their field, but also have a pretty good understanding of other subjects that impact their work. Let’s say you’re an account manager for a digital agency, and you have some great insight that you think could be helpful in driving some new ad copy testing for your biggest client. It’s going to be a whole lot easier talking with your copywriter and media team (and being taken seriously by them), if you have an understanding of how the text ads are built.
To see data as an opportunity for action, as opposed to just numbers
Are you someone who enjoys numbers and performance metrics? That’s great! So are we! But those numbers are meaningless without a digital marketing background to provide context for the data.
Understanding data is a valuable tool for getting to know your audience and evaluating advertising campaigns. Seeing that your Google Search text ad has a poor click-through rate is only actionable if you have the foundation to take steps and improve it. Analyzing your website’s metrics and finding that you have a low average session duration is meaningless if you don’t connect the dots between the numbers and what they mean for your web design or your on-page content.
It’s pretty clear that the numbers don’t give much value to a marketer or a business without the ability to recognize what those metrics mean and the actions that can be taken to fix them. As we advance in our careers and have more and more responsibility for decision making, digital marketing fundamentals can continue to grow our experience with turning data into insight-driven action.
To optimize for conversions — always
Whatever the goal, it’s important to know if you’re operating efficiently in terms of your conversions. In other words, you need to know if you’re getting a return for the investment (time, money, or both) you’re putting in. When you’re operating to get the most conversions for the lowest cost, you are employing a mindset that will help your marketing efforts perform as well as they can.
Having a digital marketing foundation will allow you to think intelligently about “conversions”, or the kinds of results that you’d like to see your marketing efforts generate. A conversion might be a completed sale for an e-commerce company, a submitted lead form for a B2B software company, or a new subscriber for an online publication.
Whatever the desired conversion action, thinking about them as the goal helps to give context in understanding how different marketing efforts are performing. Is your ad performing well and should it receive more media spend, or is it just wasting money?
Thinking about conversions isn’t always easy, and may take some trial and error, but it can lead to making smart, measurable, and cost-effective decisions. And those decisions can get smarter over time as we get more and more familiar with the five key building blocks of digital marketing (at least the five that we’ve found to be instructive).
Part 2: Understanding five building blocks of digital marketing
1. The marketing funnel (customer journey)
The marketing funnel (or the user/customer journey) refers to the process by which a prospective customer hears about a product or service, becomes educated about the product or service, and makes a decision whether or not to purchase the product or service in question.
It encompasses everything from the first time that brand awareness is established to the potential purchase made by the customer. The awareness stage can be known as the “top of the funnel”, and there are lots of potential prospects in that audience.
From there, some prospects “move down the funnel” as they learn more and get educated about the product or service. Those that don’t move down the funnel and progress in their journey are said to “fall out” of the funnel.
As the journey continues, prospects move closer to becoming customers. Those who eventually “convert” are those that completed the journey through the bottom of the funnel.
Understanding that there is such a thing as a customer journey has helped to frame our thinking for different types of marketing challenges. It essentially boils down to understanding where, why, when, and how your prospects are engaging with your brand, and what information they will need along the way to conversion.
2. Paid search vs. organic search and the SERP
For many of us, one of the first steps in understanding paid vs. organic search was getting a handle on the SERP.
The slide below is our “SERP Landscape” slide from class. It shows what’s coming from paid (Google Ads), and what’s coming from organic search. In this case, organic results are both local SEO results from Google My Business, and also the on-page SEO results. Here’s a link to a 92-second video with the same content from class.
We learned to look for the little “Ad” designation next to the paid text ads that are often at the top of the SERP.
These are search results with the highest AdRank who are likely willing to bid the most on the specific keyword in question. Since paid search is based on CPC (cost per click) pricing, we learned that the advertiser doesn’t incur any costs for their ad to show up, but does pay every single time the ad is clicked.
Although many CPCs might range in the $2 – $3 range, some are $10 and up. With that kind of investment for each click, advertisers really need to focus on having great landing pages with helpful content that will help drive conversions.
Organic search, on the other hand, is “free” for each click. But it also relies on great content, perhaps even more so than paid search. That’s because the only way to get to the top of the organic search rankings is to earn it. There’s no paying here!
Search engines like Google are looking for Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness (E-A-T) in content to rank highly on the SERP. In addition to making good local sense for Google, it all comes back to the core of Alphabet’s business model, as the slide below shows.
Understanding Google’s motivations help us understand what drives organic search and the SERP landscape overall. And understanding the basics of paid and organic search is an important foundation for all aspiring digital marketers who want to work in the field.
3. Inbound vs. outbound marketing
Are you working to push a message out to an audience that you hope is interested in your product or service? If so, you’re doing some outbound marketing, whether it be traditional media like billboards, television, or magazines, or even certain types of digital advertising like digital banner ads. Think about it as a giant megaphone broadcasting a message.
Inbound work, on the other hand, aims to attract potential customers who are actively engaged in seeking out a product or service. Search marketing (both paid search and organic search) are perfect examples of inbound, as they reach prospects at the moment they’re doing their research. Instead of a megaphone, think of a magnet. The content that does the best job in solving problems and answering questions will be the content with the strongest magnetic pull that gets to the top of SERPs and converts.
If you’re going to be here for a while, click the image below for more information on how we think about content in the context of digital marketing efforts.
4. Basic digital marketing metrics
There are some universal metrics that we all need to understand if we’re going to develop a competency in digital marketing. Click through rate (CTR), for example, is a great way to measure how effective an ad unit or organic result is in terms of generating a click.
But before we can fully understand CTR (clicks divided by impressions), we first need to make sure we understand the component parts of the metric. Here are four of those key components that we learned about during our digital marketing training:
Impression: A search result (paid or organic) or an ad shows up on a page
Click: A user clicking the search result or ad on a page triggers a recorded click
Conversion: After clicking on the search result or ad, the user completes an action that is meaningful for the business. Different types of businesses have different conversion actions that are important to them.
Cost: While organic search results are “free” (not counting costs associated with creating content), paid ads incur a cost. Understanding the cost of any paid advertising is a crucial component of understanding performance.
How does it all work in practice? Glad you asked! Check out the example below for a hypothetical advertising campaign that served 10,000 impressions, drove 575 clicks, cost $1,000, and generated 20 conversions:
5. Platforms and tools a beginner digital marketer should use
Our class was focused on search marketing, and we talked about one platform for paid and one platform for organic.
On the paid side, there is only one name in the game: Google Ads. Google has free training modules and certifications available through a platform called Skillshop. You’ll need a Google-affiliated email address to log in. After doing so, just search for “Google Ads Search” and you can go through the training modules shown below.
If you’re already a Google Ads pro, you can hop right to the exam and take the timed Google Ads Search Assessment. If you can get an 80% or higher on the 50-question exam, you’ll get a certification badge!
For organic search, we learned about keyword research, title tags, H1s and H2s, anchor text in links, and more through the training available on Moz Academy. The 73-minute Page Optimization course has eight different training sections and includes an On Page Optimization Quiz at the end. Fair warning, some of the content might be worth watching a few times if you’re new to SEO. For most of us this was our first exposure to SEO, and it took some time for most of our brains to sort through the difference between a title tag and an H1 tag!
Another platform that we liked was Google Trends, which can be useful for both paid and organic search, and is just generally a cool way to see trends happening!
There are many more resources and tools out there in the world. Some of us are aiming to get more comfortable with these fundamentals, while some others have already branched out into other disciplines like social media.
Thanks for coming along with us on this digital marketing journey. We hope it was a useful read!
During the process of putting this together, things have changed for us:
Kirsten landed a full-time job.
Steve started doing consulting work for a growing Shopify site in Google Ads and Google Analytics, and is planning to make consulting his full-time work.
Darcie landed a job as a Paid Search Analyst for a national retailer.
For all of us, we know we’re only taking the first steps of our digital marketing futures, and we’re excited to see what the future holds!
Are you using internal links to their full potential? Probably not. Luckily, Cyrus is here with five tips to help you boost your internal linking strategy — and your site performance — in this brand new Whiteboard Friday.
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, and today we are talking about internal links. Specifically, five SEO tactics to maximize your internal links.
I love internal links. There are a lot of guides out there, internal link best practices — they explain everything. This is not that video. This is not that guide. Instead, I want to show you ways to maximize your internal links for maximum SEO gain, because I see a lot of people who don’t leverage their full power, and they think internal links simply aren’t as powerful.
But first, a story…
So I have some specific tactics for you to try and employ, and we’ll get into those in a second. But first, to demonstrate internal links, I want to start with a story, a story which shows some of their potential power. It’s a story of a single link here at Moz that we employed several months ago.
We have a page on Domain Authority. If you Google “Domain Authority,” it’s typically the very first result. Back in January, we added a single link to the page. We had just launched a new tool, SEO Domain Metrics, and we wanted to add a link from our existing page to our new page. So we did. The link said “Check your Domain Authority for free,” and we added it. Within weeks we saw some interesting metrics, not on the page that we linked to, but on the page that we linked from.
We also included an image on the page to draw attention to the link. Bounce rate instantly went down 33%. Why? People were clicking the link. They wanted to check their Domain Authority. Pages per session went up 33%. So when people were visiting this page, they were visiting more pages pretty much because of this link and the accompanying image.
Session duration was up 10%. So people were spending 10% more time on Moz after they visited this page. Within a few weeks, traffic to the page that we added the link to was up 42%, and it has sustained that traffic increase ever since January when we added that link. Of course, the page that we linked to we added links from all over the site.
Traffic on this page has risen exponentially, and it’s now one of the top pages on Moz, probably not all because of this link, but the cumulative efforts of many of those links. So why did that link work so well and why do we think that the link helped improve those page metrics? So here’s the thing that most people don’t get about internal links.
Number one, strive for engagement. When you add internal links to your page, it gives people the opportunity to visit other relevant pages on your site, thereby improving your engagement metrics. That’s when you know that your internal links are working when you improve engagement. If you’re just adding SEO links for SEO value and there’s no engagement change, are you really adding value?
No. So you want to go after engagement. There are some technical Google reasons for this. Google has several patents that we’ve discussed over the years — reasonable surfer. There’s a patent called User Sensitive PageRank. Through these patents, Google describes how they want to count links that people actually click.
If people aren’t clicking on your links, should they really count? So Google has several processes in place to sort of measure what people are clicking or what they might click and actually pass more weight through those links. So you get help with the engagement, but you also pass more link signals through those links that people are actually clicking.
Now think about where you might be putting your internal links now. Are you putting them at the bottom of the page, like in a related post? Is anybody clicking those widget links? Maybe not, probably not. Look at the top of this post, the top of this page. I’m going to add some links about internal linking at the very top of the post. Do you think people are going to click those links?
You bet they are. There’s a good chance you’re going to click one of those links after you watch this video. Or maybe you clicked on it before you watch those videos. So we would expect those links to pass more value than adding those links further down on the page or in a widget or something like that. You can tell your internal links are working and have value when you see your engagement metrics start to move.
So that should be the number one measure or standard of if your internal links are valuable and are working for you. Pursue engagement, number one rule.
2. Extreme topical relevance
Number two tip, extreme topical relevance. Now people say, yes, you should link to topically relevant pages. I like link to extremely topically relevant pages.
So whenever I publish a new page, I look for the other pages on my site that are very topically related, and I make sure to interlink them appropriately so I can get the right rankings boost to the right pages that I want. There are other Google technical reasons for this too. We talked about reasonable surfer and user sensitive PageRank. Well, Google also has something they patented called Topical PageRank, and that means that links that are more topically relevant pass more value.
Links that are less topically relevant pass less value. You can also look at your engagement metrics to see if these links are topically relevant because people generally don’t want to click less topically relevant links. So a couple of tips for finding your most topically relevant pages on your site. For example, for Domain Authority, I might look at all the other keywords that that page ranks for in positions 2 and 10, which means they rank highly but they’re not quite number 1 and I want to boost the rankings.
I want to find other pages on my site that also rank for those keywords. So I would use a query like this, and I’ll put the code in the transcription below. I would search on my site, site to moz.com, search for my keyword “Domain Authority,” and I would exclude the page that I’m actually looking for, so:
Google will give me a list of other pages on my site that rank for Domain Authority, excluding this, and I know those might be good link targets to link to my page to help it rank for those terms. We have some other resources on that as well if you search around and I’ll link to:
Third tip, don’t just add links, add context to your links.
One thing that a lot of people do, that I hate seeing, is when they add a link to a page, they’ll just find a piece of relevant text and they’ll add a link to it and that’s it, without adding any relevant context or anything else like that. In my experience, it’s much better if you add context around a link. Google’s freshness patents talk about the amount of change in a document.
When they just see a link, they might ignore just a simple link added. But if you add text, if you add image, if you add context around a link to help draw people’s attention to it, to help give some relevant signals to Google, that link, in my experience, is much more likely to pass value than simply adding a link and linking some existing text.
So always add context to your links.
4. Make every link unique
Number four, can you believe we’re at four out of five? Number four, make every link unique. Now a lot of people in SEO they talk about link ratio. Should you use exact match anchor text or partial match anchor text? What should your ratios be? I think that’s far too complicated.
I think much easier is just simply make every new link you add unique. Make it natural. Use natural words. I tend to avoid exact match anchor text completely. That way I get to avoid something that’s very easy to do, which is over-optimization. If you’re a new site with not a lot of authority, Google has processes in place to detect over-optimization when they think that you’re trying to manipulate your rankings.
So make every link unique. Use natural words. Don’t worry about ratios and things like that. If you follow my advice, I would generally avoid exact match anchor text on internal links. Other people may give you different advice though.
5. Trim low value links
Finally, tactic number five, you may consider trimming your low value links, and this is another technical reason.
This is a type of old PageRank sculpting. The idea is every page has a certain amount of PageRank. If you include lots and lots of links on your page, the value that Google is able to pass through each link is diminished. It’s diluted. So you sometimes may want to eliminate the low value links. So what do I mean by a low value link?
Links that are not engaging and not relevant. People are not clicking them. If they’re not engaging and they’re not relevant, there is simply no point to include them on the page if they’re not being actually helpful.
All right. So those are my five tips for getting the most power of your internal linking. If you have any other tips that you’d like to share with the community, we’d love to hear about them in the comments below.
Hope you enjoyed this video. Best of luck with your SEO.
2020 has been a busy year for Google My Business (GMB). Since January, Google has launched new features, fixed bugs, and had to adapt to the global pandemic.
At Sterling Sky, we think it’s important to keep track of all the changes that happen in the local search space in general, and that impact GMB specifically. So far in 2020 we are up to 54 changes.
As you can tell, changes that impact Google My Business came at a fast pace — and at high volume — in 2020. In this post, I highlight the changes I think were most important in each month of this year, so far. For an exhaustive list of all the updates that have been made, check out this timeline.
January: Google posts borked — hello, 2020!
Foreshadowing things to come, GMB started off the year with a major issue in their Google Posts feature. Google Posts were getting rejected left, right, and center.
At first, it appeared to be a bug in the system. We were further confused when Google stated that everything was “working as intended”, but the Google My Business Forum was still flooded with users complaining that their Google Posts were being rejected, and not just for a single reason:
And then Google announced that they resolved the issue. Was it truly “Working as intended”? Likely not, but the issues have, indeed, been resolved.
This hiccup made it tough for SEOs who offer Google Posts as part of their service offerings to do their work, and it would have been even more difficult for software companies that connect to Google’s API and offer multi-location Google Posts.
When one of GMB’s products fail, it’s on us as SEOs to clearly explain what’s happening to our clients. Staying on top of GMB bugs, and being able to articulate them, is a critical component of the modern local SEO tool belt.
February: Google adds “suggested categories” for GMB Products
February saw the first of many visible changes to the GMB dashboard when Google added “suggested categories” to the Products section. As of today, we still don’t know if this specific addition impacts ranking, but they still appear in the business profile on mobile, so they can impact conversions. In addition, we do know that adding actual GMB Products does not impact ranking.
March: Google launches several COVID-related features
March saw the beginning of GMB allocating a large percentage of their support resources to the healthcare verticals that were impacted most by COVID-19. To complicate things further, Google disabled the GMB Twitter and Facebook support options.
In addition to allocating resources to healthcare verticals, they began launching specific GMB features to help businesses adjust and communicate their current state of operations to their customers. Some of these initial features included:
These features have done a great job helping businesses through the pandemic, and give SEOs another venue to offer value by implementing them for our clients in a proactive manner.
For instance, the COVID-19 Google Post type appears higher up in the business profile, compared to regular Google Post types, which gives us the opportunity to offer businesses an effective way to give their message an increased level of visibility.
April: GMB adds telehealth appointment and COVID links
April concluded with GMB adding several new website link options to the dashboard. The two main link options that were added are the “COVID-19 info link” and the “Telehealth info link”:
Here’s how they look live on mobile:
We dug into Google Analytics for the example above. The COVID links, in addition to being a useful way to communicate new protocols, also drove traffic and conversions.
May: Google confirms April/May local ranking fluctuations were bugs
In November 2019, we described the local ranking algorithm as the “most volatile” we had seen it to date. The ranking fluctuation was so great that we named the algorithm update that was happening “Bedlam”.
When we started to see strikingly similar volatility in the local search results in April 2020, we jumped to the conclusion that this was another local algorithm update. However, Danny Sullivan confirmed that it was a bug this time around:
<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>Just wanted to update. Thanks for the examples. They helped us find a bug that we got resolved about about two weeks ago, and that seems to have stabilized things since.</p>— Danny Sullivan (@dannysullivan) <a href=”https://twitter.com/dannysulli… 28, 2020</a></blockquote> <script async src=”https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js” charset=”utf-8″></script>
Several of our clients who saw major ranking fluctuation told us that the real-world impact on their business was palpable. When their rankings dropped, they immediately felt it from a revenue perspective, and when their rankings moved back up, revenue went back up as well. I can only guess that the amount of revenue lost and gained due to this bug, across all businesses, was astronomical.
June: GMB adds “more hours” option
In June, GMB included a new set of hours that a business can add to their locations to indicate when they are open for special circumstances. Some of the “more hours” options appeared to be a response to the pandemic, such as “senior hours”. I suspect that this feature will be available long after the pandemic is over.
SEOs can add value for their clients by proactively setting this up. Some bigger chains such as Wal-Mart are already doing a great job utilizing this feature. Here are some examples I’ve found in the wild recently:
July: Google adds ability to flag user profiles
This is one of my favorite new features from Google this year. They now provide the option for any user to flag a user profile. This new feature is ideal when you want to report a reviewer’s profile that is engaging in clearly fake reviews.
Before this option became available, the only way to report an entire user’s profile was to send an email to Local Guides support.
The important thing to remember is that this feature is only available from the Google Maps App. Here’s how it works:
Open the Google Maps app.
Find a contribution from the profile that you’d like to flag.
Tap on the user name of the profile.
Tap the three vertical dots in the upper right-hand corner.
Choose “Report profile”.
August: GMB adds performance metrics to direct edit experience
The GMB direct edit experience has been around for a while now. (Ben Fisher did a great job covering it recently.) It’s a useful way for GMB page managers and owners to make edits to the listing directly on Google search, and not have to go into the GMB dashboard.
What GMB added to this feature in August was the ability to see performance metrics (GMB Insights) directly in Google search as well. What I like about this feature is that you can go back and get data from a six-month window, and as of today, you can only go back three months inside the GMB dashboard.
Here’s how you find the performance metrics. Please note that this feature is not available to all businesses yet. Google typically rolls out new features in phases. As Google gathers data on this rollout, and if it is being adopted well, I imagine we will see this rolled-out to 100% by early 2021.
Perform a branded search for the business that you manage and select the “View profile” button.
Next, you need to select “Add a highlight”. This used to be labeled as “Promote”:
After that, select “Performance”:
And finally, after selecting the performance option you will be able to view your insights data.
September: COVID-related health and safety attributes launch
The pandemic influenced several new GMB features such as the “temporarily closed” option and COVID-19 Google Post type, which we have already covered. I think the most significant feature related to COVID-19, however, was the launch of the coronavirus-related health and safety attributes, which were launched in September.
Google seems to be adding more attributes to the list as time goes on, but here is what they have added as of today. You can select these under the “Info” tab inside the Google My Business dashboard.
These attributes are powerful because they are highly visible in multiple places. You can see them on both mobile and desktop, and in both Google Maps and Google search.
Here’s what they look like in the wild:
October: New “preview call history” module in GMB dashboard
As of the beginning of October, I started seeing a module inside the GMB dashboard called “Preview call history BETA”. It’s not entirely clear what the final feature will look like, but experts have been weighing in over at the Local Search Forum.
Here’s what we know so far based on feedback from Google as well as members’ feedback from the Local Search Forum.
It’s currently US only and opt-in.
No transcription or call recording.
Call logs remain for 45 days.
There is a whisper message telling the owner that the call originated from Google.
The number displayed to the caller will be the forwarding number.
This may interfere with off-site call tracking via GMB, so use cautiously if you’re using a call tracking strategy.
So what? November, December, and 2021
Like Bowie said, “Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes”. When it comes to Google My Business, you can expect the changes to keep coming as we complete 2020 and move on to 2021.
As for my future predictions, where Google My Business is concerned, I see guidelines opening up to include additional business models as a result of the pandemic, and due to the shift that businesses have had to make from an in-person, brick-and-mortar operation to online service.
Telehealth is a prime example. Google has been adding several GMB attributes that a business can select to indicate that they offer online services. Currently, the guidelines say you need to make in-person contact with customers to qualify for a listing. At the very least, Google has opened this rule up temporarily during the pandemic to accommodate this new health model. So the question is whether or not this will continue into the future once the pandemic is over. I think they will.
And with that, remember to turn and face the strange, and embrace Google My Business in all of its constantly changing glory.
“Conscious spending with the community can contribute to neighborhood sustainability.” — Christine Araquel, The Park’s Finest
I encountered this quote from a restauranteur on the American Express Small Business Saturday website, and just these few words called a vivid image to my mind: local business owners and customers gazing together toward the horizon, hoping to pierce the clouds of COVID-19 and see them clearing away, revealing communities that are still standing, and still capable of sustaining our hometowns, our cities, and our dreams.
In Q4 of 2019, I used my column to encourage local business owners to start having meaningful conversations with customers about how “conscious spending” at independently-owned enterprises impacts local quality of life. Buying local affects everything from mental and physical health, to emergency services access, diversity, democracy, and climate change.
In 2020, it’s time to turn up the local SEO industry’s dial on conscious spending. Today, I’m urging every business owner and marketer to consider dedicating space to a concerted educational campaign on the topic on their websites, social profiles, local business listings, reviews, and real-world interfaces. Your work, and mine, depends on sustaining independently-owned local businesses through and far beyond Small Business Saturday. With the right strategy, we can make an impactful effort together.
What is Small Business Saturday?
American Express created Small Business Saturday in 2010 in response to the Great Recession. This annual event invites communities to shop at small, local businesses on the Saturday following Thanksgiving. Small Business Saturday’s date this year is November 28th.
Make use of AmEx’s tutorials on topics like contactless payments, answering COVID FAQs, and implementing digital shopping.
These are all standard good practices to ready your company for this major shopping day, but amid the severe challenges of 2020, it’s time to go beyond common techniques.
Share-worthy Buy Local statistics
If conscious local shopping is the goal, education is the key to helping customers make informed choices.
There’s never been a better year for local vendors to re-envision themselves as heroic community educators. Beyond the typical preparations you make to get ready for Small Business Saturday, now is the time to start sharing with customers why conscious shopping with you matters. Consider:
In 2012, small businesses made up 99.7% of US employer firms. SMBs with 500 or fewer employees are the backbone of the US economy.
Small businesses not only create the local and state tax base essential to civic life, they also contribute 250% more than big brands to community causes. Shopping locally directly impacts services and programs you care about like first responders, food and housing security, children’s resources, and animal welfare.
Make a copy of Moz’s free Why Buy Local stats sheet to help you tell a compelling small business story to the communities in which you serve and market.
For local business owners: Where to educate in the run-up to Small Business Saturday 2020
Share the stories (with supporting statistics) of your choice to boost awareness of the benefits of shopping at independently-owned, local businesses in the following places:
Determine which resources matter most to the communities you serve, and explain how shopping local funds those essentials. Create a section on the homepage of your website summarizing these benefits, and link it to a landing page that expands on how conscious local shopping is sustaining the community.
For example, in my community, taxes are absolutely critical to keeping official fire departments operational, and volunteer fire departments depend on local giving. In the American West, where we’ve been in a constant state of disaster due to fire for months, SMBs can use their websites to draw the throughline between shopping local and funding essential emergency services. In other parts of the country, it could be flood relief, or food banks, or the survival of local newspapers.
Build a strong internal link structure pointing to your shop local landing page, and sprinkle your product and service pages with stats proving the point that choosing your business instead of a big box or online monopoly makes life better where shoppers live.
Bring creativity to bear in publicizing your most compelling reasons to shop local on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and other social media platforms. You don’t have to guilt-trip customers into spending at independents, but you can engage them with statistics that show how shopping with you benefits the community, as well as inviting customers to tell their own stories.
Use social media to ask which services, resources, places, and causes matter most to your customers, and help locals connect the dots between where they spend and how their purchases fund whatever is valued most at a local level.
Local business listings
Concise statistics can be incorporated into the description fields of your local business listings, Google Posts, videos, photos, GMB messaging, and Google Q&A. Use these spaces to give local shoppers extra reasons to do business with you.
And, of course, be sure the basic contact information and hours of operation on your major local business listings are up-to-date before Small Business Saturday, so that first-time shoppers who like your messaging can find you without any misdirection or disappointment.
Incorporate brief statistics into review request campaigns, encouraging respondents to voice their educated opinions on why they choose to shop locally with you.
For example, a review request might state that sales at your business contribute X amount of funding to first responders, and that you’d appreciate the reviewer writing about how supporting these services matters to them and to the community. A review corpus spangled with persuasive statements from fully-aware customers can help other shoppers choose you over corporate competitors.
Additionally, local business owners are sometimes at a loss for how to vary their “thank you” owner responses to positive reviews. Diminish repetition by including data in your replies. For example, a hypothetical owner response could read:
“So glad you enjoyed your soft tacos, Mary! Your great review is extra appreciated right now, as dining with us is also ensuring a 3% donation to our local food bank from every order. You’re making a difference by helping us make sure everyone in the community has food on the table this winter. Thank you so much for caring about our town. We hope to see you again soon!”
The new Moz Local plans will alert you to every new review that comes in on our partner networks. Use these alerts to craft timely, informative thank-you notes in your owner responses.
Storefronts, window displays, in-store signage, menus, brochures, mailers, packaging, receipts, business cards, and many other real-world assets can convey educational statistics that will help locals choose you to support the local economy.
Google has interesting theories about the messy middle of the customer’s journey during COVID-19. Your online assets may be of most influence during the evaluation and exploration phases of the buyer’s path, but don’t overlook the messages you’re sending to customers whose attention you’ve already captured. Using tangible assets — like window displays seen by passersby — to showcase how local patronage directly sustains the community could bring you repeat business from convinced customers.
For agencies: Be more than a local SEO — be a local business advocate
Local SEO agencies know, first-hand, the difficulties they and their clients have been through in 2020. Consider Danny Caine: teacher, poet, author, and owner of The Raven Book Store in Lawrence, Kansas. Like so many independent business owners, he gives back to his community. Whether he’s serving locally-famous pie to visiting authors, or donating to restore the neighborhood church where Langston Hughes worshipped, Mr. Caine walks the hometown walk with a good heart. He’s like so many of our SMB clients.
But Danny Caine has taken community advocacy one step further than most local business owners. His letter to Jeff Bezos on the distinction between healthy competition and harmful disruption made some news. His self-published zine, How to Resist Amazon and Why, sold 10,000 copies and is now headed for formal publication as a full-length book.
While so many local search marketing agencies have been offering discounts to clients to keep them going during the pandemic, or simply seeing their SMB contracts disappear, Mr. Caine is proactively offering education to inspire conscious local shopping.
If a busy independent bookseller like Danny Caine can make the time to utilize local, social, and print media as advocacy channels, how much could skilled marketers at good agencies do to boost messaging in support of their SMB clients? Is there anything standing in our way?
Just do it
Multiple inspiring speakers at MozCon 2020 advised brands to have strong opinions and take public stands on important issues, building affinity with customers based on shared values. Mention was made of the famous Nike ad featuring abolitionist, Colin Kaepernick. In dollars and cents, the year following Nike’s commercial brought them $163 million in earned media, a $6 billion brand value increase, a 31% increase in sales,
and all-time-high stock values. But it brought the country so much more than this — it role-modeled courageously doing the right thing in the face of adversity.
The local SEO industry doesn’t have the same visibility as a footwear giant or a beloved superbowl quarterback. Collectively, ten of my favorite local SEOs have about 130,000
Twitter followers. What can we do, with only this much reach, to support local business owners like Danny Caine in what has become a critical, nationwide struggle of independents vs. monopoly?
Marketers: you’ve spent your careers developing incredible publicity skills! I want to know what your best ideas are, and I have three suggestions of my own to share to get the conversation started:
Idea 1: Take a stand on education
Because local SEOs work in tech, we find ourselves in a work environment that sometimes reveres market disruption just for the sake of the “wow” factor. We look at our social media feeds and see our peers cheering for Amazon Prime Day because it’s cool, for every Google AI development because it’s cool, for big box brands because they’re cool.
But for our own client base and our own communities, we know in our bones that it’s the opposite of cool to see local businesses closing down and workers displaced, or to see independent business owners struggling to scrape together the budget for a competitive local search marketing campaign.
There are hundreds of good reasons not to cheerlead for the biggest competitors of independent businesses, but for local SEOs, we don’t have to look further than our client rosters to choose which side to champion. Unless you’re holding out in the hopes of a Fortune 500 company becoming your star client, you’re already working with one or two feet in the SMB camp. So why not speak up about it?
That audience of 130,000 Twitter followers would quickly get used to seeing local SEO agencies taking bold, principled stands on the basis of ethics, civics, and local economics. What you say could begin influencing the larger worlds of SEO and digital marketing, so that the norm becomes covering market disruption with greater thoughtfulness about its impacts on local community life.
In the run-up to Small Business Saturday, why not start by sharing some Buy Local stats on your social feeds? Then, looking ahead to 2021, see how far you can take your agency in the direction of client support. I’ll follow any marketer who takes the leap from local SEO to local business advocate.
Idea 2: Make your agency website a source of educational citations
Most digital marketing agencies already have some sort of portfolio, and they’re often one of the most underutilized areas of the company website. Reimagined, portfolios are only a couple of steps away from becoming useful directories of structured citations for clients that could help boost their organic visibility and associated local pack rankings.
Putting the power of your agency’s own PA/DA behind the local brands you want to see beating out spam and corporate competitors is a great act of SMB allyship. Your agency could:
Create an in-depth page for each client containing structured NAP, a link, and the best data you can amass about how choosing this SMB benefits its city of location vs. shopping with big boxes of online giants.
Build good internal links to these pages.
Seek out a few good inbound links to these pages
Promote these pages on your social feeds
Use these pages as your examples at conferences, on webinars, and podcasts in 2021
Try to build at least one of these citation pages for a favorite SMB client before Small Business Saturday so that you’re templating the process. Create more in the new year and track how they’re ranking in the overall scheme of your clients’ unstructured citation/reputation assets.
Idea 3: Educate pro bono and educate for a fee
“I felt like I had to do more,” says Local SEO Search founder, John Vuong, and I hope you will take two minutes to watch his highly motivational video:
Mary: One of the tactics that’s been used here in our little valley is having free “get your business online” things where an agency will go in and help small businesses in their area actually get online and get verified and start harvesting some of the rewards of having Google My Business set up properly. It’s a really worthwhile thing to do.
Mike: I think with just an hour a month, an agency can then both build out the listing and provide additional services including metrics that demonstrate significant key performance indicators as they build this business toward a full digital relationship.
I recommend listening to the full conversation starting at about 10:10 in the video, and to the interview by Garrett Sussman that sparked it. In completely practical terms, our industry knows that a thriving local business scene means more clients with better funding for really good marketing.
I’d suggest adding one extra ingredient into any pro bono or discounted work you’re doing for local businesses: freely share my stats sheet with independent business owners to help them better tell their own story of how shopping with them sustains community life.
Meanwhile, if you’re a local SEO who has earned enough of a reputation to be a guest on podcasts, a speaker at webinars, or a paid presenter at conferences, build education about the vital role of independent businesses into your pitches. The more the digital marketing industry hears from us, and the more awareness we raise about the importance of conscious shopping, the better position we are putting our clients in to win.
Simmering success this year for a better Small Business Saturday in 2021
If 2020 got in the way of you doing everything you wanted to do leading up to Small Business Saturday, consider that we’ve all got 12 months ahead of us before next year’s event. That’s 12 months to double down on educational messaging to support year-round, conscious, local shopping.
I don’t want to say it will be easy — there will definitely be hurdles.
In particular, marketing on the promise of dubious convenience is as old as commerce. I’ve laughed at canned soup ad copy telling consumers to buy their product to avoid standing over a hot stove for hours. Education is what makes us able to spot the fiction here: when you make soup from scratch, you turn on the burner and then go about the rest of your day until it’s ready to eat. Nobody, not even Jacques Pépin, actually stands glued to the stove while homemade soup simmers.
The Amazons, the big boxes, the monopolies and near-monopolies, are counting on the public going along with the fiction of convenience indefinitely and never stopping to count the cost to our communities.
Actively point out to your customer base that it’s not actually more convenient to shop giant “everything stores” anymore (if it ever was?), because with the curbside pickup and home delivery revolution 2020 brought small businesses, “near me” shopping has never been easier. Highlight that we can all take a 10-minute drive to pick up an item and get ourselves out of the house, or place a quick order via the web from a local purveyor and go about the rest of our day.
At least, we can do this so long as we still have local independents to buy from, to support with our dollars, and with our serious marketing skills. The choice is ours, and the real convenience will be on the side of the people if we choose to build thriving tax bases, community health and safety, human well-being, and local character via locally-supported commerce.
With 12 months between Small Business Saturday 2020 and 2021, you have the time and talents to contribute to positive social change. What are your best ideas? Please share in the comments!