We express solidarity with the Indigenous communities of this continent grieving their precious lost children. What occurred at the boarding and residential schools of Canada and the US is cruel beyond words. We call for the rights, needs, requests, and words of Indigenous Peoples in their own voices to be foregrounded in all areas relating to cultural genocide.
At Moz, we have been working for the past year with the Tribes, Nations, and Bands in the traditional homelands in which our offices are located to draft an approved Statement of Land Acknowledgement, but we still have so much more to learn. We recommend the following resources to our community for further learning in support of Indigenous Peoples.
The first step toward change is education. We’ve compiled resources you can use to learn more about these tragedies:
Learn how to be an ally to Indigenous communities. Dr. Lynn Gehl shares an Ally Bill of Responsibilities here, while Amnesty International offers a helpful resource here.
Many non-Indigenous people live on stolen land. Take the time to learn about and support the Indigenous communities near you.
Know where you live. Native-land.ca is a community-contributed interactive map that shares the Peoples, languages, and treaties for a given geographic location. Learn about the land you live on, the people from whom it was taken, the Nations, Tribes, and Bands who currently live there, and their many diverse cultures. This map is a work in progress; seek out additional information from the websites of Indigenous communities near you and from books written by local Indigenous authors.
Start a discussion at your company about developing and publishing a Statement of Land Acknowledgement on your website. Here, for example, is the Duwamish Tribe’s guidance on such statements, and here is an example of this type of statement on the website of Seattle Central College.
All of us have the power to make a difference. Here are actions you can take today to express solidarity with Indigenous communities.
Advocate for transparency in education. Inaccuracies and historical omissions are par for the course when it comes to teaching kids about North America’s violent colonial history. Teaching children the truth about history, even the ugly parts, is one way to halt the cycle of harm.
Contact your representatives. If you’re in the US, this government site will help you connect with your local elected officials. For Canada, see the On Canada Project here. If you are a non-Indigenous resident, let officials know you support the specific requests and demands of Indigenous Peoples, as expressed in their own voices.
Amplify Indigenous voices. The SEO community is highly active on social media. Consider following Indigenous neighbors on Twitter, Facebook, and other platforms, learning respectfully from their accounts, and sharing their content from your own accounts.
The author’s views are entirely his or her own (excluding the unlikely event of hypnosis) and may not always reflect the views of Moz.
B2B companies are really focused on the middle of the sales funnel. They’ve got great e-books, lots of good data published, but they tend to neglect the top-of-the-funnel content. That type of content is actually crucial to B2B success, as it allows your potential customers to learn more about your brand.
A great way for B2B companies to fill this gap is by creating pillar pages. To help get you started, in today’s Whiteboard Friday, guest host Carly Schoonhoven of Obility walks you through a simple strategy for employing pillar pages on your website. Enjoy!
Hello and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. My name is Carly Schoonhoven, and I’m a senior SEO manager here at Obility. We’re a digital marketing agency focused on B2B in beautiful Portland, Oregon.
Now one of the biggest struggles I find that B2B companies have, when working on a content strategy, is how to create content that’s able to effectively rank for those top-of-funnel, higher search volume, more conversational queries. A lot of times B2B companies are really focused on mid-funnel. They’ve got great e-books, lots of good data content, but they tend to neglect the top-of-the-funnel content.
However, that type of content is so important because it allows for your potential customers to perform self-discovery and really learn more about your brand, learn more about the industry you’re in before they’re ready to take a more meaningful step, like filling out a form or requesting a demo. So one great content strategy for a B2B company is creating a pillar page.
What are pillar pages?
Pillar pages, you might have heard them referred to as hub and spoke content or umbrella content, but whatever you want to call it, it’s essentially the same thing. So the idea is that you start with your pillar page. So this is one large piece of content that’s really optimized for one very broad topic that’s really relevant to your business.
Then it internally links out to your cluster pages, which are targeted at those longer tail, secondary keywords and really well-optimized to answer the questions that your customers may have. It’s so important that you’re linking back from the cluster pages to the pillar page and from the pillar page out to your clusters.
Again, this has multiple benefits. One that your customers are able to navigate to this content and get their questions answered themselves. Then, at the same time, it’s great for SEO because it’s so easy for Google to tell what this content is about since it’s all internally linked to each other and it’s all focused on one specific topic. So if this sounds like something for you, I’m going to walk you through step by step how to go about creating a pillar content strategy.
1. Pick a topic
So Step 1, of course, is you have to pick a topic. So there are a couple things you want to keep in mind when you’re doing this, one of which is that you want it to be broad but not too broad. So obviously it has to be somewhat broad because you need to be able to find enough secondary keywords that also have search volume that it’s worth your time putting the work in.
But if it’s too broad, it’s going to be really difficult to create one piece of content that covers everything you need to cover in this content. So, for example, a pillar page about SEO as a whole, that might be a little bit too broad. There’s a lot of stuff you’re going to have to cover, and it’s going to be really difficult to rank for a lot of those keywords. But something like SEO content strategy, that’s a little bit more focused, there’s still a lot of potential there.
You can talk about ideating content for B2B. You can talk about on-site optimization. So something that is definitely broad, has lots of keywords, but not so broad you’re biting off more than you can chew.
2. Keyword research
So speaking of keywords, obviously you have to do keyword research. This is SEO.
It’s so important. So you can start with that one topic, but then you really need to expand your list of keywords to find all of those secondary keywords that you want to include. Moz’s Keyword Explorer is a great tool for this because you’re able to put in your topic and then it will generate all of those related keywords for you, along with things like search volume and keyword difficulty. I also love that you can filter down to just the keywords that are questions, because again it’s so important to make sure that you’re answering your potential customers’ questions in your content.
3. Look at your existing content
So you’ve got your list, you’ve got your keywords, but don’t forget to look at your existing content as well. So you’re going to be putting a lot of work in. Find ways you can save yourself time. Maybe you’ll have some content buried in your blog or buried in your resource section that you can repurpose and include as part of this strategy. Definitely make sure you’re not neglecting content that you already have.
4. Plan URL structure
Up next, planning your structure. So you’re going to be creating a great new piece of content. You need to know where you’re going to put it. You can just link to it in your top navigation, or maybe you just want to feature it on your resources section. But one thing to keep in mind is that you want to make sure that your cluster pages are in a subfolder of your pillar page.
5. Start writing (clusters first)
All right, Step 5, start writing. You actually get to start putting these pieces together. So ultimately, what do you want them to look like? Now ideally, for your main pillar page, what you want is to have sort of just an introductory section talking about the topic area as a whole, but really this page serves as that hub that links out to all of your other secondary pages.
So you want to make it really easy to navigate. You want to make sure you’re including lots of mid-funnel CTAs within that content, because ultimately this is that hub piece of content where everyone is going to navigate to from those cluster pages. So start with your intro and then have a nice table of contents and then a little header for each of your cluster pages with a little bit of a summary, but then that ultimately links out to those cluster pages so that someone can visit that page if they really want to learn more and get more in depth into that topic.
As far as your cluster pages, this is where you really want to get in depth, spend a lot of time putting your content together and make sure you’re covering it. I think that the question-and-answer format is a really good approach for this type of content because it really helps you optimize for featured snippets or for the people also ask feature. So you want to make sure that you’re putting your question in the header, and then summarize the answer to that question in about 40 to 50 words if you’re optimizing for a snippet.
All right. Number 6 is promotion. So you’ve created your content. You’ve figured out where to put it. You’ve published it. You did all of this work. You want to make sure people see it.
So promote it internally. Make sure you’re sharing it on your social media. Share it with your team. But then also flex your link building skills and reach out to anyone in your industry who you think would benefit from this content or be willing to share it as well.
7. Measure everything
Number 7 is measure. So, of course, you put all this work in and you want to see how does it do. Did it perform well?
So you have your list of keywords, so use Moz to track your keyword rankings. Take a look to see if there are new keywords you weren’t expecting to rank for. Obviously, keywords are super important. Also, look at Google Analytics. Check out your landing page report. Are you getting organic traffic? Are people actually converting?
See what you can learn from that, if you need to make tweaks, swap out your CTAs. Just make sure you’re measuring and you don’t let this content go to waste. You’re bringing in this new traffic. Make sure you’re converting those people.
Step 8, repeat. So once you have the process down, do it again. Find other topics that are really relevant to your industry you can create a pillar page about.
When you do, tell me about it. I really hope that this was helpful for you, and I hope you go out there and create some pillar content. So thank you so much.
Dana DiTomaso is the founder and president of Kick Point, a Canadian-based digital marketing agency. She is well known for her ingenious and innovative presentations on tracking and analytics, as well as other growth marketing strategies. She’s presented at SMX, Local Search Summit, and Engage, and we’re thrilled to welcome her back to this year’s MozCon Virtual where she’ll discuss modern web development that puts SEO first. Check out what she has to share ahead of this year’s show!
Question: 2020 was quite the year, what were you up to this past year? Any surprises or favorite projects you worked on?
Dana: Like many people I actually ended up moving! I now live on Vancouver Island and I can practically see the USA from my house — not that I’ve been able to visit. I also completed my first course, hopefully of many, for LinkedIn Learning on the topic of technical SEO. My next course is already in progress and will be covering how to transition from Google Analytics Universal to GA4, and that should be out in the fall.
At Kick Point, we grew over the past year and we’re now a team of 12! Like a lot of agencies, we did see some good come out of an otherwise pretty awful time for many, we’re very fortunate.
Q: What is the biggest shift you’ve seen in the SEO industry over the past year? How does that impact your work at Kick Point, if at all?
D: The biggest change this year was the rollout of Core Web Vitals, which as I write this, is only just happening now. I am extremely curious to see how it impacts SEO over the remainder of 2021. I don’t want to say too much more in case it ages badly!
Q: Last year, you discussed how to use a discovery process to turn red flags to green lights. Will we see any of the same themes come through in your presentation this year? How so?
D: Absolutely! This year is really a companion piece to last year. Last year I covered discovery for marketing projects, and this year I’m covering discovery for website projects. These discovery processes have made such incredible changes at Kick Point in terms of how we work with new clients — it’s really been amazing. I hope that people who listen to my talk are able to take away some of the lessons that we’ve learned and apply them to their own processes.
Q: In your MozCon talk, you’ll be discussing how to build a website with a search-first mindset. What inspired you to discuss this topic at MozCon 2021?
D: I think it’s a topic that isn’t covered enough. We unfortunately often still see a real divide between the developer and SEO worlds and I’m hoping that we can work towards bridging that. Particularly with the advent of Core Web Vitals, these two teams need to work together more than ever before.
Additionally, this talk is based on a lot of our own learnings in terms of better ways to run website projects. Since we have adopted this process, website projects are just more fun — less stress, on time, on budget, all those things that we all want in a website project but seem impossible to achieve. I’m not saying this will magically fix everything but it’ll definitely put you on a happier path.
Q: What are some of the challenges SEOs face in the web development process?
D: Being taken seriously! I’ve been working in this field for 21 years now and I can’t even tell you the number of times that I’ve been on a call with a developer or development team discussing SEO recommendations and just being completely dismissed — that these recommendations aren’t necessary, that we’re wrong, or that the developer knows better. And it’s an incredibly frustrating place to be in. I’m sure other SEOs reading this have had similar experiences.
Q: Why is it important for SEO to be at the forefront when it comes to website development? How has the relationship changed over the years?
D: Because it’s so much easier and cheaper to get SEO recommendations added in at the beginning instead of trying to shove things in later after the site is done. I think that developers are more aware of SEO now but there is still a lot of mistrust. I think it’s important to set the tone that you aren’t there to throw the developer under the bus — they aren’t an SEO expert, and shouldn’t be expected to learn all this specific SEO stuff. Showing that you’re there to help right from the start can really help that relationship thrive.
Q: What’s your #1 tip for ensuring that SEO gets a seat at the table in a website rebrand?
D: You need to start with education. Either the leadership team that you’re working with doesn’t understand the power of SEO or they may have a really outdated understanding of what SEO is and what it can do. Tom Critchlow has an excellent article that he recently published on how to convince executives to care about SEO and I’d say that is required reading.
Q: What are the key takeaways you want the audience to walk away with?
D: I want people to understand that there is a space between waterfall and agile when it comes to website development processes. I hope that people will enjoy our blueprint process and it’ll help them make better website plans. Finally, I’m really excited to show off the keyword research presentation idea that I got from Rebekah Baggs and Chris Corak — it’s so good!
Q: Who in the MozCon lineup are you most excited to watch this year? Anything else you are looking forward to?
D: The talks by Dr. Pete, Areej AbuAli, and Britney Muller all look great! And of course I’ll be watching Brie Anderson’s talk since GA4 is very close to my heart. I’m also really looking forward to hopefully having an in-person MozCon next year! There is really nothing that can replace the experience of speaking to a live audience.
A big thank you to Dana for her time! To learn more about Dana’s upcoming presentation, see details on our other speakers, and to purchase your ticket, make sure you click the link below!
The author’s views are entirely his or her own (excluding the unlikely event of hypnosis) and may not always reflect the views of Moz.
Have you googled yourself or your company recently?
I bet you have, but this doesn’t mean you have a branded search optimization strategy.
Brand-driven search is so much more than URLs you see ranking for your brand name. It’s an ongoing process that will result in higher conversions and more predictable buying journeys.
Let’s start from the beginning.
What is branded search?
A branded (also referred to as brand-driven) search query is one that contains your brand or product name. Branded search includes search queries that include personal, brand-driven words, like your CEO or writers’ names.
Why should your branded search be your marketing priority?
There seems to be an obvious answer to this question. After all, great SEO starts with your brand, so branded SEO research should be any company’s priority. Yet, it’s quite unbelievable how many brands completely ignore search queries.
Branded search is crucial for several important reasons:
Brand-driven search is usually high-intent: People who type your brand name in the search box want to either go straight to your site or research you before making a purchase.
Branded search queries show which issues your current or future customers may be experiencing with your site or product.
Brand-driven search is important to analyze in order to understand the online sentiment around your (and competing) brand.
Finally (and obviously), any of those branded SERPs may influence buying decisions, which make them part of your sales funnel.
Like a branded hashtag, your branded SERPs don’t belong to you, and you can’t really control what people see there, unless you spend some time and effort optimizing for your own branded search.
How to research your branded search queries
Start with your immediate branded Google suggestions
What do people see when they just start typing your brand name into the search box?
Brand-driven Google suggestions should be your top priority for two important reasons:
Google suggestions show what people search most as far as your brand is concerned. They’ve historically relied on the search frequency data, so the more people search for a particular phrase, the higher that phrase shows up in Google suggestions.
Google suggestions may (and likely will) influence lots of your customers’ buying decisions. Think about someone typing your brand name in their mobile device address bar (in an effort to go directly to your site) and seeing “brand name alternatives” as a suggestion. What’s the chance that person will get curious enough to click that suggestion and discover your competitors? According to the recent study, Google searchers use one of Google’s suggestions 23% of the time. That’s almost a quarter of your customers who already know you enough to search for your name. Suddenly, you’re competing for the attention of someone who had been going directly to your site:
“This isn’t even a search box. This is Safari’s URL bar. Safari uses Google’s top suggestions, which may steer your current or future customers to competitors.”
Basically, this means that branded Google suggestions may influence your buyers’ decisions even when they aren’t really searching for anything.
I’m sure you’re wondering: Is there any way to change what Google shows when people are typing your brand name?
There’s no long-term way to somehow influence Google suggestions. Of course, you could try and hire an army of searchers to type some other combinations with your brand name to convince Google to include in those results. But even if it works, Google will remove that suggestion soon after you stop paying your army.
Another way to influence your branded suggestions is to go viral with some new product, report, or news. A quickly-rising search term is often included in those suggestions.
Yet, as soon as people stop searching for that query, the result will also be replaced with a different one.
That being said, chances are, you’ll need to deal with branded Google suggestion results as they are.
Types of branded Google suggestions
It’s amazing how often brands absolutely neglect their branded search suggestions. In fact, these as-you-type results may tell you a lot about your brand’s perception as well as your buyers’ journeys:
In our example, the brand’s domain ranks #1 only for four queries. All other branded suggestions are controlled by third-party domains:
Use keyword research tools
Your brand name is your most important keyword. You want people to search more for your brand as that helps you evaluate your marketing efforts and measure brand awareness. But you also want to make sure that your branded search results push those searchers further down your sales funnel instead of scaring them away for good.
It will pull a large variety of your branded search queries.
It will show you the search volume for each query containing your brand name.
It offers a few cool filters allowing you to play with your lists. For example, you can filter your search queries to questions or group them by lexical similarity.
Keep an eye on branded questions
Questions often get additional visibility in organic search because they often trigger featured snippets. Additionally, Google has a separate section for questions within search result pages called “People Also Ask”.
I like using questions as subheads of whatever content I’m working on. When phrased as questions, subheadings seem to draw readers in deeper into the page.
The three useful sources of branded keyword inspiration include:
1. Moz Keyword Explorer
Moz Keyword Explorer offers you an easy way to filter keyword lists by questions:
2. Google’s “People Also Ask”
Simply searching Google can give you some question inspiration. Keep an eye on those “People Also Ask” boxes and keep a record of questions that need your attention there. It’s also your goal to rank your answer for each one of those:
For larger brands with hundreds of branded search queries and questions, it would be easier to use tools like IMN’s Content Optimization tool that collects People Also Ask results for your most important queries (Disclaimer: This is the company I work for).
Finally, my go-to tool for just about any SEO task, Text Optimizer offers a separate section for questions that helps you better understand searching patterns of your audience:
Take note of these questions to include into your content marketing plan.
Group your keywords
Like with any keyword lists, yours will have several variants of one and the same idea, worded a little differently. This will be especially true for larger brands in broad niches that are searched a lot.
This is where Moz’s Keyword Explorer will turn helpful again. Take a look at your Google suggestion results and use keyword modifiers from there to group your list by a common word:
[These are essentially keyword phrases to use within a single article.]
You can also use Moz’s keyword grouping feature to discover more groups to focus on:
Finally, for every keyword you choose to work with, you can also run a SERP analysis to see high-ranking results as well as Google’s search elements:
The tool I’m currently using is called SE Ranking, because I like how they save a cached snapshot of each monitored SERP every day. For branded search monitoring where I try and rank more than my own website for each query (more on that below), this close-up view of each SERP (and all saved records) is exactly what I need:
Group your branded search query groups by intent and further action
Above I mentioned that I group branded keywords by a common modifier or close semantic meaning, so my plan of action involves those groups rather than an individual query.
This makes the work much more doable because I usually have to deal with no more than 20 branded keyword groups instead of hundreds of individual search queries.
When making my plan, I always note:
Your possible action item for each of identified branded keyword groups may be:
As you may know, I love using spreadsheets for just about anything because they make data so easy to organize, and can even be turned into a schedule, if need be.
I break [cost] and [price] into different groups because the search volume is so high for both, they each deserve an individual marketing plan.
Go above and beyond
When it comes to branded search, the more of each SERP you control, the better your odds are at winning those brand-aware searchers.
Besides, branded SERPs (just like any other SERP out there) are more than organic links. They often include videos, images, “People Also Ask” results, and more. It’s worth noting all those additional search elements in your spreadsheet as well:
So optimizing your own site for each of these keyword groups may not be enough. To incur your brand’s visibility throughout branded SERPs, you may need to:
Maintain more long-form, content-based channels, including Medium and LinkedIn, etc.
Set up mini sites targeting some of your most popular branded queries (including coupons, reviews, etc.). Namify is a great tool to come up with cool domain names to register:
It’s a good idea to note additional assets to be created in your spreadsheet as well:
On top of that, it’s always a good idea to optimize for Google’s rich snippets to let your brand-owned search snippets stand out in search. Consider adding one of the following schema markup types to your brand-oriented content assets:
FAQ schema for just about any page that answers more than two questions (this is where your question research will turn useful)
HowTo for instructions
Video schema if you have a video embedded
You also do want other departments of your company to be aware of some or many of those branded search queries. For example, navigational search queries may be a signal of some serious usability issues to be fixed, and some product-related queries may help you identify some product flaws to work on:
Interlink and monitor
Obviously, you still need links to rank all of your assets on top of branded SERPs, so it’s important to interlink your assets effectively, especially if you’re using more than your website to optimize for branded search.
Use your website power to link to your third-party assets. This is the easiest to do. You can use your About page as well as your blog to send links to your other columns and channels to rank those higher.
Don’t forget to link from video descriptions back to your site.
Link all your channels together listing all your additional columns and accounts wherever possible..
Having to deal with so many channels and assets can be exhausting, but it is doable if you set up your monitoring routine right:
Again, use a position monitoring platform to keep an eye on your positions.
Use tools like LinkChecker to keep an eye on all the links and make sure you haven’t lost any.
Keep an eye on your branded search traffic. Google Search Console is a free and easy way to do that. All you need is to limit your queries to your brand name and then compare that to the previous period to see if you are on the right track:
If Google is not the only search engine you’re interested in (for example, if you target Russian and Chinese markets), you can use Finteza, which gives aggregate traffic data from all search engines:
Branding comes with many benefits, including higher conversions and revenue. But it also comes with one challenge not many brands are prepared for: a fast-growing branded search. As more and more people are researching your brand online, you need to keep improving your branded search optimization strategy.
As such, optimizing for your branded search is an on-going effort (since we all hope your brand will keep growing), but hopefully the steps above will help clearly define and implement it.
There are so many ways to remember you, endless facets to who you were and your impact on SEO. Where do I even begin?
You were the funniest guy in the room. You would gear up for a joke with that wry smile and sparkle in your eye, and we always knew what was coming. Your sense of humor was keen and clever and ever-present.
I remember being ill and jetlagged on the way to put on a mini-MozCon for a valued, strategic client — you made the 2.5-hour winter car ride pass by in a breeze with your entertaining and hilarious stories. You could make charming conversation about anything and with anyone. Listening and laughing with delight to your stories about growing up as an identical twin, current events, memories from past MozCons, and ideas about what we could build at Moz next, you transformed my tired and cranky mood into happy and creative energy. Your spirit and laughter was infectious.
You were brilliant. Our longtime friend, links API power user, and collaborator on the blog, it was only a matter of time before you became a full-fledged Mozzer. When we officially welcomed you to Moz in 2015, it was like coming home. From the start, you showed up eager and ready to innovate. Over the years you were relentless in your quest for better data, holding tech giants and the SEO industry accountable. You’ve left an indelible mark on Moz: our link index and keyword corpus bear witness to your passion for reliable, quality data and meaningful metrics. Keyword Explorer wouldn’t be here without you. Your work on the new Domain Authority score was transformative. And your commitment to the SEO community, to relaying complex ideas clearly and with conviction, were second to none. You were always there when we needed you.
You were bold and courageous. You stuck up for your beliefs and staunchly defended them, be they professional or political. You were a loyal and steadfast advocate, always willing to wade into the fray for your friends and colleagues, the best kind of friend to have. I learned a lot from watching you debate and explain with flair, class, and compassion in all the SEO corners of the internet. Conversations that I didn’t have the stomach for, you would enter into with a smile, guided by the flame of your convictions.
I loved your devotion to your family and how you treasured time with them above all else. You would think deeply about whether you were being the best dad, husband, brother you could be. The same curiosity and drive for greatness that you applied to work, you also applied to your personal relationships. You wanted to be good at loving your family because you believed they deserved that from you. I felt it when you brought them to MozCon and you talked about watching your daughters grow and learn. You were always asking yourself, “How could I be a better dad in this moment?” Your passion for service and making the world better was driven, in part, because you wanted a better world for your girls.
There’s so much we still wish we could say to you. There are words left unsaid, projects unfinished, ideas unrealized. But beyond all else, I just want to say thank you, Russ, for the incredible impact you’ve had: on Moz and Mozzers, on the SEO community, on everything and everyone you touched. On me.
To the SEO community, I invite you to revisit the vast legacy Russ gifted us with his blog posts, Whiteboard Fridays, and MozCon presentations, linked below. Remember him for all he gave us. We’re lucky to have these memories of a brilliant soul gone too soon.
A memorial site has been set up in his honor at rememberingrussjones.com. There you can read more about Russ and his great loves in life, share a memory, and make a donation to a fund for his family.
Our grief is deep. Our love is deeper. Today, I’ll be raising a glass (Scotch, neat) and I ask you to join me in this toast: To Russ, who pushed for excellence, who always strove to make life a little easier for others, and who always had a sparkle in his eyes and a joke at the ready. Goodbye, my friend.
The author’s views are entirely his or her own (excluding the unlikely event of hypnosis) and may not always reflect the views of Moz.
Local SEO expert Joy Hawkins joins us for a special edition of Whiteboard Friday, giving you a sneak peek at her MozCon Virtual 2021 presentation: To Post or Not to Post: What We Learned From Analyzing Over 1,000 Google Posts.
Don’t forget to grab your ticket to see Joy and our other incredible speakers, July 12-14!
Hi, Moz fans. It’s Joy Hawkins, and today I’m going to be giving you a preview of the presentation I’m going to be doing later this year at MozCon. It’s all about Google My Business posts.
So if you are unfamiliar with posts, there are currently four different types of Google My Business posts. There are what we call the update posts, which is kind of your typical post that has an image and some text. There are what we call offer posts, event posts, and then last year Google actually released a new one called COVID posts. Now typically all these posts share some similarities, but they’re all a little different.
1. COVID Posts perform well
One of the things that we looked at in the study, that I’m going to be going over at MozCon, is which type performs better.
So specifically we wanted to know: Do they get more clicks? Do they get more conversions? We identified that two of the types definitely outperform the other two. So I’m not going to reveal both. But I’ll tell you that one of the two was the COVID post type. The reason for this I believe is that, unlike the other three types of posts, COVID posts get their own special spot in the knowledge panel.
So I’ve done my best to highlight this here. On the left here, you’ll see that at the bottom there’s usually the post carousel, and it’s underneath reviews, questions and answers, and products. So it’s kind of like shoved down in the search results. Now COVID posts on the other hand, which are featured over here on the right, they show up right at the top, right underneath the business information.
So they’re very visible, and it’s a really good place to get a quick message across. The only downside, of course, is that they don’t have photos. So keep that in mind when you’re figuring out which type to use.
2. Average CTR = 0.5%
Now the second thing that we discovered was that the average click-through rate on all the posts in our study was half a percent, so 0.5%, which means that you need about 200 views on a post before you’re going to get a click.
Now don’t let that discourage you. Keep in mind that that is only tracking clicks that happen on the actual post. So, in reality, people could be calling you more, they could be clicking on your website more, lots of other things. So there are still a lot of reasons why you would want to consider doing Google Posts.
3. GMB does not equal GA
The third thing on my list here is keep in mind, when you are tracking the results from posts, that what you see inside Google My Business Insights is not going to match what you see inside Google Analytics.
Now in this industry, often we use what are called UTM codes, which help you track things better in Google Analytics. If you’re unfamiliar with how those work or how to use them with Google Posts, I’m going to link to an article down below that will explain all of that. But the main thing that you’ve got to remember is that these numbers won’t match. So don’t expect them to match. If you do, you’re going to be very frustrated. Don’t go down that rabbit trail. Just remember that they are tracked differently and you’re going to get different numbers. So pick one and stick with it.
4. Justifications = 60 days
The fourth thing is in regards to justifications. Now if you’re unfamiliar with that term, you’re like, “What are justifications,” Miriam Ellis recently did a blog post here on Moz about this topic, and she explained it really well. So I’m not going to do what she did and explain it. Check out her article, and that will give you all the information you need.
But just in case you’re not familiar and you really don’t know what I’m talking about, I did my best — I’m not an artist — to draw it over here. So let’s say, for example, you’re on Google and you do a search for local SEO, and my agency, Sterling Sky, shows up in the search results.
If we had a post recently that mentioned local SEO, Google might grab that little snippet, the words essentially and stick it right there in the local pack results. This is what we call a justification. So they’re really cool, and it’s a great way to get more words and more messaging in front of your possible consumers. Now the thing to keep in mind here is that post justifications only look at posts that were done from the last 60 days.
So your older posts won’t be looked at. So you’ve got to have a post strategy that is pretty frequent.
5. Seasonal Posts = one of the worst
The fifth thing was that we wanted to look at content types. So people often ask me, “Joy, what should I post about? Like what am I supposed to put in the content in Google Posts?” It comes up a lot as a question.
So we, with our study, basically organized all the different posts we looked at into different categories. Then what I’m going to show at MozCon is the winners and the losers. So one from the losers, that did not perform well, were posts about seasonal topics. Now that shocked me to be completely honest. But what I’m talking about here is let’s say you have a dermatologist and it’s coming close to Christmas.
So you use like Christmassy wording and Christmas emojis and like Christmas stuff to try and make the post kind of be more relevant. These did not perform well. So it kind of surprised me, but that was one from our losers list.
6. Use emojis!
One from our winners list was emojis, point number six. So emojis are great. Some of you may be excited by this. Some of you might roll your eyes.
If you love emojis, this is one of the strategies that we saw that actually helped performance on Google Posts. So make sure you use emojis if you are trying to get people’s attention. Posts with them outperformed posts without them.
7. Update Posts = 6 months
Finally, the last tip I’m going to share with you today is in regards to the update posts. Now if you’re not familiar with the term “update posts,” I kind of made it up because there was no name for the traditional post inside Google My Business.
So it sent updates, so we just called it that. But this was the type of post that, if you remember when Google first launched this feature, you would do a post and it would last for seven days, and after seven days, it would get deleted from your knowledge panel. So it was essentially invisible, which was a little annoying because you don’t want to have to go and post every seven days. Because you can’t schedule a post natively inside Google My Business, it was a bit of a headache to try and keep up with this as a business owner.
So the good news is that several months ago Google changed this, and now these posts actually stay on your knowledge panel for a long time. But I wanted to know exactly how long they stayed on there, so I tracked some and came to the conclusion that they stay on your knowledge panel for six months. So essentially what that means is if you made one update post, never posted again, it would stay there for six months and then it would disappear, which is a lot better than seven days.
So keep these tips in mind when you are coming up with your post strategy. Obviously to get a lot more, feel free to check out my talk at MozCon upcoming later this year. Some of the things that I’ll be talking about there — there’s a lot that I didn’t cover — I’ll be addressing if posts impact ranking, which is probably the number one question that I get asked, and I’ll also be going through a lot more of the winning and losing strategies that we found from the study.
Thanks for listening, and if you have any questions, feel free to leave them in the comments.
You probably know of rising SEO star Areej AbuAli from her work leading the Women in Tech SEO (WTS) community, for her presentations at conferences like SMX or BrightonSEO, or for her insightful and informative tweets. And now, we’re so excited to welcome her to the MozCon Virtual stage for the first time!
Before the show, we talked with Areej about the success of WTS, what drew her to SEO, and what viewers can look forward to in her MozCon presentation.
Read the full interview below, and don’t forget to grab your ticket to see Areej and our other amazing speakers at MozCon Virtual 2021:
Question: 2020 was quite the year, what were you up to this past year? Any surprises or favorite projects you worked on?
Areej: Yes, it was definitely quite a year! I have a lot to be grateful for. I’m healthy, I have a job, and I’m surrounded by people I love. I know it’s not the same for others.
In terms of my favorite 2020 project, I managed to host the first full-day Women in Tech SEO Festival right before lockdown (I’m extremely lucky!). It took place in London in honor of International Women’s Day. I spent eight months organizing it from my dining table and I couldn’t be happier with how it went.
Post-lockdown, I focused on our global community and I launched a number of community initiatives including WTSWorkshop, WTSPodcast, WTSNewsletter, and more. I made the most out of the time that was no longer lost in commuting to the office and I’m proud of how much the community grew during that period.
Question: You’ve been running the Women in Tech SEO group for about two years now. What inspired you to start this community?
Areej: The honest answer is for purely selfish reasons. A few months before I started Women in Tech SEO, I was feeling really demotivated. I didn’t know if I wanted to continue being an SEO, I always felt judged for asking questions, I didn’t think I was good enough in what I do. I couldn’t find a safe group or community that I could be a part of. There were lots of “exclusive” groups that I was told I couldn’t be a part of because I haven’t been in the industry for x number of years or because I haven’t spoken in specific events. So I decided to start my own safe group, one that has values that revolve around kindness and is a judgment-free zone, one where all women are welcome, even if they’ve just heard about the word SEO the other day.
Question: Was there anything unexpected that happened as you began this community?
Areej: I never expected it to grow so much organically. I put a tweet out saying “Women in Tech SEO, rejoice, we now have a safe group…” and on the first day, over 100 members joined the group. I also didn’t expect it to grab the attention of such a global audience. In the first year, I was very focused on London-based events yet we still kept having lots of members from all around the world join us. I guess I never realized how much it was needed until I started it. There’s now over 4K of us and we keep growing.
Question: John Mu recently said that you are doing some of the most impactful work in SEO right now. How does that feel knowing that you are driving real change in an industry that has been male-dominated for so long?
Areej: John is extremely kind and I really appreciate all the support he gives our community and the industry as a whole. It’s humbling to get the support of John and many others for the work I do and it keeps me going. It’s not always rosy, I get a handful of unkind comments, I’m sometimes told that it’s sexist and illegal to host events that are only for women. It’s also a lot of work, time, and energy. So when I receive these kind comments, it keeps me going and helps me stay motivated to work on the next big project.
Question: What specific changes are you hoping to influence in the SEO industry in the coming years? In what ways are you hoping to inspire the next generation of women in Tech?
Areej: I’ll consider Women in Tech SEO to be a successful project when the day comes that we no longer need it. There are lots of challenges that women in the industry currently face which require communities like WTS to be around. I hope that the day comes where there’s equality in representation and pay, as well as kindness and respect all around, for us to no longer need communities like Women in Tech SEO.
Question: Outside of the Women in Tech community, you are also an accomplished SEO and speaker. How did you first get started in SEO and where you are today?
Areej: I studied Computer Engineering back home in Egypt then moved to the UK to do a post-graduate in Business IT. This is when I came across digital marketing and I did a few internships while studying that introduced me to the concept of SEO. This was 8 years ago and I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do with my career at that point. I ended up joining an agency that was looking for an Arabic speaker for a few campaigns and in a month I got moved to the Tech SEO team. I loved Tech SEO because it was this nice bridge between Computing & Marketing. I’ve been doing SEO ever since, I spent around five years agency-side then moved onto client-side. Currently, my day job is spent heading up SEO for a global e-commerce company and my evenings and weekends are spent growing Women in Tech SEO.
Question: Could you tell us a little bit about what you’ll be discussing at MozCon this year?
Areej: I’m really excited about my talk this year because it’s as honest as it gets. As Tech SEOs, we tend to be fixated on our own metrics; everything from crawlability, indexability, performance, etc… But these metrics aren’t ones that align with the business KPIs and it’s difficult for us to get sign-off from engineers and senior stakeholders for big Tech SEO projects. It took me a long time to understand that so in my talk, I share a case scenario of a car aggregator website that has an indexability challenge and how I tie these to business KPIs.
Question: What do you hope our readers will take away from your presentation?
Areej: I hope that everyone who attends my talk is able to tie their own technical SEO hurdles with business KPIs and communicate those with stakeholders.
Question: What recommendations do you have for other women looking to elevate their personal brand in the SEO space?
Areej: A few things come to mind. Firstly, be your authentic self! Work on projects, write posts, and speak in conferences that align with YOUR values. Reach out to people who motivate you and introduce yourself. And most importantly, don’t be fixated on numbers (number of followers/likes/retweets, etc…) Instead, focus on the quality and value of your interactions with others.
Question: Who in the MozCon line-up are you most excited to watch this year? Anything else you are looking forward to?
Areej: Let me just start off by saying that I absolutely love how diverse the MozCon speaker line-up is! With 14 brilliant women (other than myself) taking the stage, it’s difficult to pick a specific speaker that I’m most excited about. If I absolutely have to, then I’d like to give a shout-out to Shannon McGuirk. I became good friends with Shannon in MozCon 2019, she was my Seattle buddy who made me feel very comfortable about getting on the MozCon stage for the first time ever. Her talks are always extremely honest and she’s a wonderful storyteller.
A big thank you to Areej for her time! To learn more about her upcoming presentation, see details on our other speakers, and to purchase your ticket, make sure you click the link below!
Local business communications options are rapidly expanding, and customers are trying to reach out to your business for help in many ways. Simultaneously, any local business you’re marketing has multiple options for initiating welcome outreach. Where can we look for inspiring models and methodologies to help us build communications bridges with the communities we serve?
The model of nature relies on abundance and connectivity. Instead of standing alone, one tree is connected to all the others in its forest via fungal bridges, through which trees provide carbohydrates to mushrooms, and they return the favor with water and minerals. Reciprocity in our digital marketing scenario consists of a business offering something people need while throwing open as many doors of communication as possible. Meanwhile, the consumer contributes their money, time, feedback, loyalty, WOM referrals, and even user-generated content.
It’s a very different model than artificial scarcity, which underpins monopoly, arbitrarily limiting things humans need and creating hardship instead of sharing. Think of agonizing automated phone trees vs. well-trained live customer service representatives, and you’ll feel the difference in your gut.
Do you find nature’s model to be the more inspirational of the two? Let’s apply it! Google says searches for “local” and “business” grew by an astounding 80% last year as communities earnestly sought reconnection in changed circumstances. Customers truly want a relationship with your business.
Let’s look at technological bridges for facilitating relationships with people you want to serve. We’ll chat with respected experts including David Mihm, Aaron Weiche, Claire Carlile, and Ellen Dunne and equip you with tips for becoming the most connected local business in town.
8 ways to connect with modern local business customers
Evaluate each of these local business communications bridges to find the best fit for each local business you’re marketing.
1. Texting & messaging: winning right now
91% of consumers are interested in texting with you. To learn more about this mode of customer communication, I caught up with my friend Aaron Weiche, whose new business texting and messaging app Leadferno could lead the way in making this technology accessible and simple for local brands at every level.
When I asked Aaron to describe the goal of his startup, he emphasized that “win right now” is a key objective for brands considering SMS, and summarized three basic concepts:
“Conversion: Our goal is to make having conversations easy and fast. Having an always visible CTA during your web experience attracts more conversations. By offering text messaging to website visitors, they gain a known and trusted channel to ask questions, gain confidence and convert to a customer.
Efficiency: Leadferno lets you manage your SMS and Facebook Messenger conversations in one place (GMB messages by fall 2021), giving the business one interface for multiple channels. We’ve layered on time-saving tools like shortcuts to saved replies, scheduled messages, and conversation reminders to shave minutes from conversations for both the business and the consumer.
Organization: Businesses miss so many leads in their email or voicemails by not being able to organize them, track their status, assign them, or ensure it’s tied off. Leadferno brings a set of tools and cues so that you stop missing leads and opportunities to help your customers.”
“Today’s consumer has growing expectations in timing as they have many options at their fingertips (or search results). If you want to win that business, you better have tools to win right now…or your competitor will.”
I concur that now is the right time to start messaging with local customers, and Aaron offered these stats, which underscore this interesting moment of opportunity:
66% of consumers would actually pay more for something if it was supported by a mobile messaging channel
69.4% of consumers are extremely likely or likely to interact with a business for customer service via text. Another 24.4% were a maybe with just 6.2% being unlikely.
Finally, Aaron offered some tips for brands to be successful with this communications bridge:
“Embrace text messaging as a two-way channel, not another blast or campaign. While these might have their place, consumers really want quick answers on a channel they already use more than any other (phone or email). Texting is where the customer is…go to them! SMS offers a quicker conversation for both sides. Text messages are quickly seen and read, allowing for short cycles of responses. Use SMS to help prospects and customers faster.
Market that you offer text messaging as a channel. While I feel we will arrive at SMS as an expectation when we see any phone number, you want to use it as a benefit to working with you now. Placing ‘you can text us’ on your website, landing pages, and traditional marketing lets customers know you have an easy channel to access you.”
Considering the statistics surrounding texting, I’d say that nearly every local business should simply be saying “sign me up!” at this point.
2. Google My Business Messaging: built-in visibility
Aaron mentioned that Leadferno will start supporting Google My Business Messaging later this year, and it’s an option you should be carefully considering now.
With Google’s dominance of local search, anything they develop has built-in visibility, so I reached out to my friend Claire Carlile to see how early adoption of this function is working out for local business clients of Claire Carlile Marketing. I was eager to hear whether the clients she’s implemented this for were actually getting leads from it, and what the volume of messages looked like. She explained:
“Yes, they are getting leads! I have stores, attractions, therapists, campsites, and event providers with messaging currently turned on. Volume of messages is very variable. One client, a wine store, can have a few a day, and the others maybe only a couple a week.”
This sounds both intriguing and manageable for almost any business, but I asked Claire to share some field notes with me based on her early experience with this feature, and from client opinions while using it, because it might not be right for every local brand. She mentioned:
“Ultimately, if the client is keen and has the resources to manage messaging, we’ve found that it’s worthwhile to turn it on. I’d be reticent to turn it on for a customer who was consistently struggling to manage communication channels, as it’s a poor customer experience to message a business and not get a reply. All clients have personalized the message that is seen when you click through to message a business — something like ‘please do message us here and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can. If your enquiry is urgent please call on…Thanks!’”
Claire offered some additional words to the wise:
“One client had messaging turned off by Google because they did not respond within a 24-hour timeframe. The UI is potentially confusing for both business and people using messaging — it’s easier for a business now that they can turn messaging on and off via the GMB app AND the GMB dashboard on a desktop. I’ve found that if you enable notifications in messaging in the GMB dashboard on a desktop, there don’t appear to be any notifications.”
So, we’ve learned that Google hasn’t perfected the UX of this feature, but that it can deliver leads for the right businesses with adequate resources for responsiveness. Now is a good time for brands you’re marketing to weigh whether inviting Google into conversations with customers will be a win.
3. Live chat: recreating in-store assistance experiences
Like many of you, I’ve been keeping a close eye on the intriguing rise of Shopify, and I was thrilled when Senior Product Lead Ellen Dunne made time to talk with me about trends and tactics surrounding Shopify’s live chat feature.
I started by asking her for some basic statistics about the benefits of implementing website-based live chat, and was fascinated by what Ellen shared:
“During the COVID period, we saw chat volume increase 85%. As a result, merchant sales revenue attributed to chat increased 200%. A great example of this comes from London homeware brand Earl of East when they had to close the doors of their retail store. They learned a new approach to foot traffic: thinking digitally. They realized that if customers would leave their website because they didn’t get a question answered, it was the same as a customer walking out of their shop. They added chat to their online store, and saw the value of having knowledgeable staff chat with customers to make sales and turn a one time shopper into a loyal customer.
There is a strong consumer trend to shop local. When customers can reach a merchant in a chat and connect with a human, an authentic connection is made. The customer is 70% more likely to make a purchase, then to refer friends, come back for subsequent purchases, and so on. The customer relationship is so essential for small/local businesses and we have really seen chat as an invaluable tool for accelerating those relationships and driving sales.”
As for top tips for maximizing the potential of live chat, Ellen noted:
“It’s not surprising that there is a direct correlation between response time and sales. 10% of customers who initiate a chat from the online store will make a purchase, which is already an impressive conversion rate. That number goes up to 17% when the merchant responds within five minutes. Timeliness is key. Next, understanding that chat is a really effective sales tool is important! Ask the customer the right questions to get a better understanding of what they are looking for so that you can make specific product recommendations and share products right in the conversation. Don’t be afraid to offer a discount if the customer has a high cart value or you feel like it might nudge them to make the purchase now. If merchants can recreate the in-store shopping experience for customers through chat, it works really well.”
Finally, I wanted to take the time to ask what it is about Shopify’s offerings that are contributing to the popularity of the company and of features like its live chat. Our search industry can be very choosy about praising software, and it stands out to me that I’m continuously hearing praise for Shopify from so many colleagues. Ellen mentioned these benefits and strategies winning favor with their customers:
“1. Chat where people shop. We believe that chat is a tool to help merchants convert more of their hard-earned traffic into sales. Shopify Chat is free, and can be set up on a merchants’ online store in just a few clicks. It also pulls in all chats from channels like Facebook and Apple business chat so all your conversations are in one place.
2. Focus on conversations that lead to sales. Make it easy for you and your team to focus on conversations that lead to sales by using frequently asked questions and reply templates to speed up response time. Automated order lookup through our chat bot can handle conversation volume, which frees up a merchant’s time to focus on pre-purchase conversations that have a high likelihood to result in an order.
3. Give visitors a personalized shopping experience. You can see what customers have in their online shopping cart while chatting with you, and the total cart value. You can use this context to help you prioritize a fast response, anticipate a customer’s questions, or give them additional guidance that you know might be helpful on sizing, materials, etc.”
If the local brands you’re marketing have made the O2O leap as a result of the pandemic, don’t overlook live chat as part and parcel of e-commerce. Holding customers’ hands, even at a distance, is a generous and smart strategic choice.
4. Email & email newsletters: consistency is key
Email was invented in the 1970s, and I’ll take it as a given that any local business owner or marketer reading this knows that responding to customers’ support request emails in a timely manner is basic to customer service at this point. But what we hear less about is the power of communications initiated by the brand, namely newsletters.
I know I’m not alone in having read more brand emails during the pandemic just to understand what was happening with businesses I support, and I wanted to sit down with Tidings founder David Mihm to ask my good friend for the latest happenings, stats, and tips for seeing success with newsletters. David said:
To me that suggests at LEAST through the end of the COVID pandemic, and possibly beyond, that businesses should be staying in touch with their customers on a once-a-week basis for maximum impact. That finding is validated by a much older Marketing Sherpa consumer survey.”
“My top tip is to be consistent with your sending routine. Per the Mailchimp stats, the most effective businesses send emails to their customers at least monthly, and in many cases weekly. Email is most effective when it keeps you top of mind with your customers (in addition to being a direct transactional channel). Search for the ‘mere presence effect‘ in psychology. Simply sending a once-a-year birthday email, and maybe a Black Friday discount, doesn’t really keep you top of mind. Beyond that, I’d say make sure you’re sending engaging content. What that content is varies by industry, but for many the 80-20 rule of thumb holds. That is, 80% of your emails should be educational/informational, and 20% of them should be promotional. There are a number of studies that back this up. Promotions might be the primary reason your subscribers sign up to hear from you, but if all you do is bombard them with discounts (which might also impact your bottom line), you could see a drop-off in engagement.”
While I had David with me, I also asked what has made Tidings successful, and he explained its customer-centric benefits:
“Our goal is to make it as easy as possible to share great content with your subscribers via email. For those local businesses who are active on social media, we pull in your existing social content by default, but even if you’re not active, you can just drop in bookmarked articles as you come across them and build a really engaging newsletter in seconds. We integrate with the major small business email Service Providers (Mailchimp, Constant Contact, ActiveCampaign), so you can just send to your customer segment(s) directly from Tidings — you don’t need to migrate your lists or set up new forms on your website.”
I’d sum up by recommending that if you’re considering starting a newsletter, be sure any tool you consider offers the types of conveniences David just described, and that you build a bridge readers love crossing to get to you!
5. Phone: pain points and pet peeves you can solve with people
You know what automatically raises my hackles like the spines on a disgruntled hedgehog? Robots, phone trees, and automated messaging blocking my access to human beings when I call a business for help. Microsoft found that being trapped by automated phone systems was the #1 cause of customer frustration linked to churn. Unless I’m dialing after hours or the business is one you wouldn’t normally contact by phone, anything other than fast access to a live person signals to me, as a customer, one or more of the following negative sentiments:
This business doesn’t care about me and my experience contacting them.
This business is too big to speak to me and has doomed me to shouting at a senseless robot.
This business is too small/understaffed to answer their own phone.
This business is inaccessible.
This business is hiding from the public.
This business replaced a bunch of their staff with robots, costing my fellow citizens their jobs and me the information and pleasure of learning what it’s like to interact with their team.
In short, I’m not reaching out to do business with a robot, so why am I being greeted and gate-kept by one?
Pet peeves and pain points abound, and the least digestible aspect of this is that it’s a problem brands have created for themselves in defiance of the basic tenets of good customer service (not to mention, good manners). In Why is Customer Service So Bad? Because It’s Profitable, Harvard Business Review found that:
“American consumers spend, on average, 13 hours per year in calling queue…a third of complaining customers must make two or more calls to resolve their complaints and that ignores the portion who simply give up in exasperation after their firstcall.”
This study suggests that by putting as many hassles as possible in the way of customers, companies have to pay out less in redressals, and if they have enough market share, they aren’t worried about resulting reputation damage. Most distressingly, data indicates that women, Black, and Latino customers are treated to the worst customer service hassles.
This may be someone’s idea of how to run a good business, but don’t let it be yours. Local businesses and monopolies are on opposite sides of this equation, and a well-trained phone staff can be an incredible differentiator between a business you’re marketing and its more uncaring corporate peers.
I’d bet my hat (and my hackles) that there isn’t an average American citizen right now who can’t readily empathize with consumer loathing for bureaucracy in phone UX, especially after a year of trying to reach government resources for vaccinations, DMV, unemployment, and a host of other stressful scenarios. Rescue your customers from that awful feeling of being disregarded by employing people to answer your phones — with excellent customer service as their absolute mission.
6. Google Questions & Answers: leads gathering dust
This pie chart capture from my original 2020 survey of US grocery stores tells the sad story of Google’s experimental Q&A feature, located within Google Business Profiles. The 50 top-ranked supermarkets I studied across the country had received 1,145 leads, requests for help, and other timely inquiries in the form of Q&A, but 86% of the markets were simply ignoring this content. My earlier research on restaurants surfaced similar neglect.
Some of my peers are starting to chalk up Q&A as a failed bridge Google tried to build because of lack of brand adoption (not to mention a preponderance of useless non-answers being provided by the public in the absence of any official response). I think there’s still reason to explore use of this overlooked feature for three forms of communication:
To post company FAQs as a means of having answers to common questions visible right on your Google listings. Even if you get zero queries from the public, you can do a one-and-done session of adding and answering your own top FAQs and walk away feeling good.
To capture leads. Walking away from Q&A queries that are clearly leads is as senseless as ignoring someone at your real-world customer service desk.
To demonstrate responsiveness. Google’s bridge may not be ideal here, but if you meet your customers on it with timely replies, you’re building the right kind of reputation.
I think one of the biggest challenges preventing businesses from using Q&A to its full potential is simple lack of awareness that the public is out there asking questions. Need a solution? Moz Local alerts you every time you get a new question on any of your listings, supporting your development of a reputation for superlative accessibility.
7. Google Posts: publication without blogging
Blogging isn’t right for every local business, although sources estimate that there are 600,000,000 blogs on the web and that 85% of B2C marketers utilize this form of publication.
Read Chapter 5 of The Essential Local SEO Strategy Guide to determine whether blogging is right for any local business you’re marketing. If you decide a formal investment in this type of content isn’t a good match for a particular brand and/or its audience, microblogging in the form of Google Posts could still be a win for you.
Google Posts are a communications bridge you initiate on your end — either using the Moz Local dashboard or the GMB dashboard. They’re a form of publication that’s so easy to write, so there’s no reason not to experiment with them. They can do wonders for intent matching when you focus on topics customers are searching for, but to find out whether people are actually crossing the bridge you’re building with Google Posts, don’t miss Joy Hawkins’ tutorial on how to track them in Google Analytics and Google Search Console.
Focus your Google Posts on attention-grabbing topics of interest to your customers, use images (including images with text in them), and be sure they feature strong calls-to-action.
8. Telesupport: next best thing to in person, or, sometimes, even better
Check out Crate & Barrel’s virtual customer services and consider whether this type of telesupport is a good fit for a local brand you’re marketing. PCMag ran a good piece recently on the best video conferencing software, and after a year of celebrating family events over Zoom, think of the segments of your consumer base who have now gained a new comfort level with video-based communications.
We’re still in the early stages of this. A recent Biteable survey found that just 19% of businesses are using video as part of their customer service solutions, though 32% are now using filmed media for sales. Local brands looking to differentiate themselves have a limited time window for becoming early adopters of this technology in order to develop a reputation for multimedia accessibility before their competitors do.
Surveys indicate that the shopping public is eager for the return of in-store local business experiences when safer days arrive, but our taste for online convenience will not be soon forgotten. If there are elements of a business model you’re marketing that can be supported by video — like consultation, complaint resolution, or showcasing — there are many customers who would like to catch up with you online rather than fighting traffic to get to you. Even in more normal times, all of us have sick days, busy weeks, and downtime when we’d just prefer to stay comfy at home. Telesupport makes consumer-to-brand connection possible when it wouldn’t be otherwise, making it an opportunity worthy of exploration.
Customer service — that make-or-break foundation of all local brands — really boils down to how good you are at sparking, facilitating, managing, and resolving conversations. If you can think like a glorious tree and span your neck of the woods with accessible communications bridges, you can go far towards resolving one of the oldest challenges in commerce.
As a local SEO, I read more consumer reviews than most people do, and an ever-present theme is that many customers fear businesses are in some way trying to rip them off. I see all kinds of anxiety and anger, often groundless, emerging in the way unhappy customers review businesses. I picture these reviewers sitting remote from the business, alone with their device and their unresolved complaints. Somehow, they’ve been left to brood on dissatisfactions, rather than encouraged to trust that if they speak up, they’ll be helped.
Let’s bring some photosynthesis into this age-old, stale situation. Imagine this same customer welcomed across many bridges: texting, messaging, live chat, newsletters, microblogging, humans on phones, humans on film, and all questions answered. It’s all as simple as talking + tech, and if you get it right, reciprocal benefits will follow.
Earn customers’ trust by showing that you’re always ready to talk, and they’ll grow your business for you.
Hi, everyone. I am Amanda Milligan, the Growth Director at Fractl, and today I want to talk to you about how to make newsworthy content. My career has been in marketing and communications, but my degree was in journalism. So this is a topic that is near and dear to my heart.
So my MozCon presentation is actually on how to perform a link gap analysis, which basically means how to find out who your competitors are getting links from and then how to brainstorm how you can get similar links. Well, when it comes to actually building those links, newsworthy content is the best way to do that. I’m going to talk to you about some of the elements that are really important in creating that type of content.
So first, data. Data is really crucial to this process because most of us do not have breaking news operations or full news rooms for our brand. We are not actual reporters.
This is not our full-time job. So we can’t be just reporting on the newest thing that’s happening. We almost have to create our own news by digging in and investigating topics that are interesting to us.
So original data is a great way to do that. You can start with seeing if you actually have any internal data at your company that would be of interest to relevant publications. A lot of companies overlook this aspect.
Obviously, you have to have permission to do so. But you might have information that would be really interesting. Or maybe you have an email list or an audience that’s pretty active that you can survey or poll and find out some information that would be appealing to people. So that’s a good place to start.
Otherwise, there’s public data available. The government alone has tons and tons of publicly available datasets that you can use and even combine different datasets to see some really interesting things.
An example of a combination of that is for our client Porch.com. We looked at information about how much different household chores, no, not chores, but home improvement projects cost, and then we surveyed people to ask how often they did those home improvement projects. We were able to see the cost of home improvement over many years of time. So that’s an example of using two different datasets combining for new insights.
Thirdly, surveys and other types of data collection are great if you don’t have the answer and data yet. Maybe you can run a survey. Maybe you can scrape social media. Maybe there is another way. We’ve done germ swabbing. Anything you can do to collect data. Basically a good way to think about it is ask yourself a question that’s interesting to you and would be interesting to your audience or think about what’s interesting to your audience.
If there is no answer, ask yourself how you can find it. Then this piece will make the rest of the process exponentially easier, because when you go to pitch a reporter, you’re going to say, “I have exclusive research, new data that no one else has really talked about before.” That is hugely appealing to the media.
The second component here is emotion. Is what you’re working on going to make somebody feel something? Now I actually have a sample headline down here from TechRepublic. This is actual coverage from a piece that we pitched.
It says: “Your Zoom background may not make you look as professional as you think.” Now you read that, and you’re like, “Wait. What?” We’re all on Zoom. That’s not good. So that has an element of surprise to it, right? The reason why I say to think about this, it comes sometimes inherently, when you’re coming up with ideas, we all tend to think of things that are going to have some kind of an emotional resonance.
But if you think about this stuff from the beginning and you imagine maybe what a headline might look like or what’s going to be the interesting takeaway from something, you can really focus in on the interesting parts of a project. You can also see here — so this headline is from a survey that we did I believe — more original data. So they’re able to say some new claim that they weren’t able to say before.
So emotion. If you are not really sure which direction to go in, try surprise, focus on surprise, because a lot of journalists like to focus on things that are new and unexpected. Also we did a study many years ago, I think 2013, where we looked at all the viral images of that year, and we polled people on what emotions were most present.
Surprise was the most present one. So it’s actually very prevalent in viral content. But we’re not even talking about viral content. We’re talking about anything that does well in digital PR. Surprise is a really great way to do that. So as you’re creating a piece of content or a project, ask yourself as you’re doing it, like what do you expect and did the results come back that way.
Obviously, you have to work with what the data gives you. But if you found it surprising, odds are someone else is going to find it surprising. Make sure that’s highlighted in the results. When you pitch it, make sure it’s highlighted in the body of your pitch.
Thirdly, impact. Impact, it has some other names. Sometimes we talk about newsworthiness.
Prominence is one of them. Basically, is it actually affecting the audience? When a journalist decides what to write, they want to know: Does this impact my readers? How does this affect their daily lives? So if you look back at this headline example, TechRepublic, their audience most likely has been on a lot of Zoom calls in the last year or so.
So they know, when they saw this pitch, this is going to be interesting to a lot of people. This is more in the general audience bucket. You can do projects and I have another video about tangential content, which you can check out, that’s along these lines. But you can think, “What impacts a wide audience?” If you’re trying to get national news coverage or appeal to a pretty general audience, you have to think about what’s going to impact a lot of folks.
What do we have in common? What is something that we’re going to be able to all relate to? Or you can still apply this in a niche perspective. You don’t always have to appeal everybody. But if you’re going to do that, then you need to focus in and think, “How is this going to impact that specific person that I have in mind, that set of people?” If you’re able to do that and explain in your pitch to the journalists I think this insight is interesting because XYZ, and they see that it has an impact for their audience, they’re going to be more likely to cover it, because it’s in their interest not only to get their audience to click on these stories but to inform them about things that they might be interested about.
In this case, it’s that they might not look as professional as they thought. I put this headline here because it’s an example of all three of these things. We often like to think we have our digital PR perspective involved from the very beginning of creating content. You don’t want to have them separate. You don’t want to create something and then have somebody pitch it later and have no idea kind of where it came from or why you went that direction.
Think about: What is it that we’re trying to get out of this? What’s the question we’re trying to answer? If you have a thesis, is it correct? Are you proving it wrong? Those are going to be the interesting bits that are going to lead you to getting the coverage like this. So I went through a lot very quickly. The whole point of this is if you come up with something newsworthy, if it’s appealing to a certain group of people, if it’s original information, and it has a lot of emotional resonance, you’re going to be able to pitch that to the media and hopefully get media coverage for your brand, which not only gets you brand awareness and a very authoritative positioning, because your brand is being mentioned alongside original research that your brand did, but also incredible backlinks, which again ties into the whole backlink analysis side of things.
SEOs are really always looking for ways to get excellent links, but you have to earn those links and you have to earn it through creating newsworthy content. So thank you so much for joining me today. I really appreciate you taking the time and best of luck out there.
For over 20 years, SEOs and content marketers have built links across the web to get their content in front of their target audience.
As Google grows smarter, so do these link-building SEOs – gone are the days of spammy link schemes and black hat SEO. Enter modern link builders who are focused on placing high quality, relevant links on sites guaranteed to drive the most important metrics: conversions and revenue.
But how far have we really come, and are there any lessons we can take from the past to inform where we go from here? We asked eight link building experts their thoughts on this very question, as well as what our readers can do to stay ahead of the link building curve!
For more link building tips, be sure to check out our recent update to The Beginner’s Guide to Link Building:
Historically, links have been a sure-fire way to build authority and visibility for your business. However, as Google begins to focus on other tactics such as user experience, will that change how links factor into search visibility?
Russ Jones, Search Consultant at Moz, says that the value of a well-placed link isn’t going anywhere: “Google will find more and more ways to extract value from the link graph and click stream data. The link remains king.”
Britney Muller adds that “If Google disappeared tomorrow, would you still get qualified traffic to your website (via your link profile)? That’s exactly how I believe we should be thinking about link building today.”
Backlinko founder, Brian Dean, has a different perspective:
“I think links will be less important as time goes on,” he says, but agrees that they’ll always be a major part of the algorithm. “Links are actually a really good signal! Especially today with Google more focused on E-A-T, links are a great way to size up whether a site is credible or not. Without links, they’d have no real way of knowing if the content on a page is legit.”
Has the definition of a “high quality link” changed?
The short answer is yes, and (surprise!) it depends on your goals.
In the early days, SEOs tested Google with sketchy link schemes. These low quality links offered a quick fix of link juice, and a boost in rankings. Today, link builders have ditched the black hat tactics in favor of a more relevant and consumer-focused approach, and quality over quantity.
Carrie Rose, CEO at Rise at Seven, has this to say: “The definition of a high-quality link has massively changed over the years. Relevancy is a huge topic online right now — but what does a relevant link actually mean? Ultimately, we track that based on is it a link that is driving traffic to your website, of whom are your audience? Too many link building strategies focus too much on ‘link juice’ and SEO metrics such as DA — but care less about link engagement metrics. SEOs, link builders, and digital PRs should care more about understanding where their audience is, high traffic websites, and gaining links from there instead.”
Russ Jones agrees: “I believe that Google has dramatically increased the degree to which the relevancy of a link matters,” he says, adding, “Google has placed greater influence on links that come from topical authorities as they combat issues like fake news and link spam. If this is the case, it means that link builders need to narrow their focus and fight for links from industry peers.”
As relevancy becomes more important, our experts encourage other link builders to focus on the audience rather than the outlet.
Tamara Sykes, Public Relations Specialist at Postali, believes that “It’s obviously great to get a backlink in a recognizable outlet like the Wall Street Journal. However, if your audience isn’t there, it only serves half of its purpose. You’ll get a ‘vote’ from a high DA site to prove that yours is more trustworthy, but it may generate little to no traffic because the audience isn’t as invested in what content you have to offer.”
Domenica D’Ottavio, Marketing Manager at Fractl, prefers to diversify her link portfolios, noting that high quality links can mean different things in different campaigns.
“The definition of a high-quality link can change depending on your goals,” she says. “Not all links are created equally for every business. In my opinion, the ideal portfolio has a 1) high volume of 2) relevant and 3) high-quality backlinks. If you’re a business in the personal finance space, for example, you might want a mix of links from sites like The Motley Fool, CNN Money, and smaller finance blogs like The Penny Hoarder, Budgets are Sexy, or I Will Teach You To Be Rich.”
Lastly, as with most things in marketing and SEO, Andy Crestodina of OrbitMedia reminds us that there are also a half dozen other factors to consider including DA, follow vs. nofollow, outgoing links and much more! So be sure to take these factors into consideration as you develop your link building strategy.
The role of link building in SEO is stronger than ever
Developing high quality content and distributing that content to respected sites in your target market can be an extremely scalable and cost-effective way to build and maintain authority in your niche. So, it’s not surprising that link building and digital PR is rapidly becoming a core strategy for many brands.
Carrie Rose highlights the fact that link building and digital PR industries have grown rapidly:
“The responsibility to create good quality content and improve trust to a site no longer purely sits within SEO. Having a good link building strategy which is performing well can improve trust, authority, and therefore rankings for a site. High quality links and high traffic can also increase traffic in the masses… It also has a huge impact on branded search (the holy grail).”
Brian Dean agrees, saying “Content and links have always had significant overlap (after all, people generally link to a page based on the content on that page). But the tie between the two is stronger than ever. That’s because many other tried-and-true link building strategies (like large-scale guest posting) no longer work. Which means your link building efforts largely rely on the content that you’re putting out.”
Surena Chande believes that, overall, the quality of link building campaigns has improved since Google’s E-A-T update: “We’re producing more topic-relevant campaigns for our clients rather than thinking solely about ideas that would land coverage,” she says, adding that SEOs and link builders are now working together to “reevaluate their concepts and ensure they are true to a brand.”
Getting buy-in is easier — if you focus on the metrics that matter
Because of the extra visibility in recent years, our experts agree that it’s easier than ever to get the buy-in from higher-ups. “I don’t need to tell an executive that a link is like a vote. They know that now,” says Russ Jones. “I don’t have to say ‘80% of purchases online begin with a search’. They know that now, too.”
“Link building has a way of showing direct results for executives and stakeholders and therefore becomes easier to get the buy-in,” Carrie Rose says. “Traditional PR, creative, or offline marketing strategies are receiving less and less budget and attention because of its inability to prove ROI and we see that budget reallocated to link building and digital PR efforts.”
Andy Crestodina agrees: “Just show an executive the Moz Link Explorer ‘Compare Link Profiles’ report and they’ll get excited …or upset. Once a stakeholder sees the data, they usually want to take action. The key is to guide the ideas away from the spammy actions and toward high-quality content marketing and influencer outreach.”
With less internal education and campaigning at the executive level, marketers are now faced with tougher questions around how their specific strategies impact ROI. To do so, our experts recommend keeping things simple and taking it slow.
“It’s important to explain that Domain Authority moves very slowly. It takes patience,” Andy says, adding, “it’s a proxy metric for PageRank. It’s not Google. Focus on the actions, not the reports.”
If you need some help breaking down metrics, check out Andy’s Whiteboard Friday:
Russ Jones breaks things down even further: “Report simple campaign statistics such as: ‘referring domains and referring traffic are increasing’. Coupled with a generic metric like DA or PA, this gives stakeholders the most important answers about the quality of the link building campaign. Second, we report the increased traffic and rankings relative to competitors based on the work. It is important, though, to provide context wherever possible. If a competitor has been out-spending you and acquiring more links because of it, we shouldn’t let that go unreported.”
Tamara Sykes finds that it’s helpful to provide some background on sites that link to her content. “I go as far as to share what that website’s purpose is, who its audience is and the website’s SEO stats,” she says. “This helps me paint a picture of why this link is relevant to a brand, rather than sharing a number that only shows ‘Hey, we got 12 backlinks’.”
Where should link builders focus?
Google is getting better and better at recognizing high quality, relevant links. “They’re super good at identifying links that don’t fit with a natural pattern. And it’s not just obvious black hat spam,” Brian Dean says. “Google can also filter out many grey hat approaches (like mass guest posting), which basically only leaves a handful of link building approaches: digital PR, targeted outreach, and content designed to get links.”
So when it comes to link building strategy, where should link builders and digital PRs focus their efforts?
Test out new content mediums to stand out from the pack!
Carrie Rose notes that, even though we’re seeing more automation in marketing, “Robots can’t manufacture creativity. That’s where the best links come from — where content is more creative than their competitors and brands are getting links others can’t replicate.”
Andy Crestodina recommends creating new tools and original research that features bite-size, shareable nuggets such as stats, graphs, and infographics. “These are 100-times more link-worthy than anything else on your domain,” he says.
As the market becomes more saturated, it will be especially important for link builders and digital PRs to deepen relationships with respected publishers and authors in their industry. But you don’t need to overthink it.
Andy believes that a little personalization goes a long way: “Link building has a bad reputation for a good reason: spam. Spammers send cold emails to website owners, clogging our inboxes with the same messages.”
But how do you build those connections in the first place?
Warm up the conversation by engaging with that author or editor on social media! Domenica D’Ottavia uses Twitter to connect. “Twitter is an excellent tool for building those relationships with journalists,” she says. “Reach out to them, like their stuff, respond and retweet, show them you’re a real person… When you finally outreach them with your link building project, they’ll recognize your name from your interactions on Twitter and will be much more likely to respond positively to your PR pitch.”
Others agree that the ROI of mass outreach continues to decline, remembering the days of in-person link building. “Believe it or not, I used to CALL people, introduce myself, explain how interesting I thought their ‘X’ business was,” says Britney Muller. “I’d ask some questions and then weave in a thoughtful proposition of us linking to each other’s websites.”
“People are becoming numb to any non-targeted outreach,” Brian Dean adds. “If you are good at personalization, there could still be a chance of securing links but the bar of what qualifies as ‘personalized’ is higher than ever. Now you almost need to mention their dog’s name to get a response.” (Note to all the link builders out there: my dog’s name is Ginger.)
Learn more about great outreach from Britney’s Whiteboard Friday on the subject!
Tap into influencer networks
Influencer marketing is a growing field and, no, it isn’t just for consumer brands and Instagram. Leveraging experts to elevate your content can capture the attention of your target publishers and audience.
Surena Chande says that “utilizing expert commentary is one of the strongest and most overlooked techniques in link building. If you have clients who are experts in their field or have access to the CEO, you can utilize them to build links with minimal effort for both you and your client.”
“Link building is influencer marketing,” says Andy Crestodina. “You’re pitching an influencer (usually blogger or editor) with a request, usually some kind of collaboration. When you combine influencer marketing with original research, you have the ingredients in place. Your content supports their content. Links begin to appear spontaneously. You’re attracting them. Do it right and high DA sites will link to you every few days. Magic.”
In a news cycle that is constantly changing, hot topics can rise and fall in the blink of an eye. But if you have your timing right, you can ride the trend wave to secure extra eyeballs from editors and readers.
“I believe that the pandemic, particularly the early stages in 2020, taught the industry a very harsh lesson in the form of reactive outreach and campaigns forming one of the best methods of outreach,” Surena Chande says. “I was so used to conceiving campaign ideas for large-scale interactive pieces, and the unpredictability of the situation taught us that we had to quickly change our approach to link building.”
“Jumping on a trending topic and creating a project or link building campaign around something that’s already earned the attention of journalists” says Domenica D’Ottavio, but notes to proceed with caution. “While newsjacking is a clever way to earn a ton of links very fast, it’s also pretty risky. You have to work around the clock to get your idea created before the topic has lost relevance, and it might flop if you’re too late to respond, wasting your investment.”
Our experts also advise to stay on top of the news across the web, read articles from a variety of publications weekly, study what journalists are asking for when they put out #journorequests, and analyze what angles they take on topics as they go viral. This will ensure that you are well positioned when it comes time to pitch your content.
At the end of the day, link building has undergone some major changes in the last 15 years (likely for the better!), but what’s old is new, and many of the same rules continue to apply:
Relevant content will always perform so long as you target the right audience
Links remain a major part of how Google determined the expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness of a site.
Creativity and timeliness in link building will be rewarded