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It’s too easy to fall into a rut with your SEO audits. If it doesn’t meet best practices it ought to be fixed, right? Not always. Though an SEO audit is essentially a checklist, it’s important to both customize your approach and prioritize your fixes to be efficient and effective with your time and effort. In today’s Whiteboard Friday, Kameron Jenkins teaches us her methods for saying adios to generic, less effective SEO audits and howdy to a better way of improving your site.
Hey, everybody. Welcome to this week’s edition of Whiteboard Friday. My name is Kameron Jenkins, and today we’re going to be talking about the SEO audit. We’re going to be talking about how to take it from its kind of current generic state to something that’s a little bit more customized and it has prioritization baked in so hopefully we’re going to be doing these SEO audits for higher impact than we’re currently doing them.
What is an SEO audit?
So I think it’s safe to start with a definition of what an SEO audit is. Now, depending on who you ask, an SEO audit can mean a lot of different things. So if you were to boil it down to its just barest of bones, here’s what I would say an SEO audit usually is. This is what someone means when they say SEO audit.
An SEO audit is a checklist to see if your site is compliant
So it’s a list of checks basically. You have all of these things that are SEO best practices, and you run your site through this sieve and you try to see is my site compliant or not compliant essentially.
So you have things like: Missing H1s, yes or no? Broken links, yes or no? Duplicate title tags, yes or no? So you end up with this whole big, long list of things that are wrong and not according to SEO best practices on your site.
Purpose = improving SEO metrics
The whole purpose of this is usually to improve some kind of SEO metrics.
Maybe you’re trying to correct a traffic drop or something like that. So you have this whole laundry list of things now that you need to fix as a result of this SEO audit. So usually what you end up saying is, hey, dev team or client or whoever you’re giving this to, “You need to fix these things because they’re SEO best practice.” What’s wrong with this though?
“Fix it because it’s SEO best practice.” What’s wrong with this picture?
I think there are a couple things wrong with this.
1. May or may not be hurting you
Number one, it means that we’re addressing things that may or may not actually be the culprit of whatever issue we’re facing. It’s just a list of things that didn’t meet a best practices list, but we don’t really know and we’re not really sure if these things are actually causing the issues that we’re seeing on our site.
2. May or may not have an impact
So because we don’t know if these are the culprit and the things that are hurting us, they may or may not have an impact when we actually spend our time on them.
3. May be wasting time
Number three, that leads to a lot of potential wasted time. This is especially true, well, for everyone. Everyone is very busy. But this is especially true for people who work at enterprises and they have a very large website, maybe a really strapped for time and resources development team. If you give them a list of fixes and you say, “Hey, fix these things because it’s SEO best practices,”they are just going to say, “Yeah, sorry, no.I don’t have time for that, and I don’t see the value in it.I don’t really know why I’m doing this.”
So I think there’s a better way. Move over to this side.
How to customize
Customization and prioritization I think are a lot better alternatives to doing our SEO audits. So there are three kind of main ways that I like to customize my SEO audits.
1. Don’t look at everything
Number one, it may sound a little bit counterintuitive, but don’t look at everything. There are plenty of times when you do an SEO audit and it makes sense to do a kind of comprehensive audit, look through all kinds of things.
You’re doing links. You’re doing content. You’re doing the site architecture. You’re doing all kinds of things. Usually I do this when I’m taking over a new client and I want to get to know it and I want to get to know the website and its issues a little bit better. I think that’s a totally valid time to do that. But a lot of times we’re doing more work than we actually have to be doing when we look at the entire website and every single scenario on the website.
So maybe don’t look at everything.
2. Start with a problem statement
Instead I think it could be a good idea to start with a goal or a problem statement. So a lot of times SEO audits kind of come in response to something. Maybe your client is saying, “Hey, our competitor keeps beating us for this. Why are they beating us?” Or, “Hey, we’ve had year-over-year decline in traffic.What’s going on? Can you do an SEO audit?”
So I think it’s a good idea to start with that as kind of a goal or a problem statement so that you can narrow and target your SEO audit to focus on the things that are actually the issue and why you’re performing the audit.
3. Segment to isolate
Number three, I think it’s a really good idea to segment your site in order to isolate the actual source of the problem. So by segment, I mean dividing your site into logical chunks based on their different purposes.
So, for example, maybe you have product pages. Maybe you have category pages. You have a blog section and user-generated content. There are all these different sections of your website. Segment those, isolate them, and look at them in isolation to see if maybe one of the sections is the culprit and actually experiencing issues, because a lot of times you find that, oh, maybe it’s the product pages that are actually causing my issues and it’s not the blog posts or anything else at all.
So that way you’re able to really waste less time and focus, take a more targeted, focused look at what’s actually going on with your website. So once you’ve kind of audited your site through that lens, through a more customized lens, it’s time to prioritize, because you still have a list of things that you need to fix. You can’t just heap them all onto whatever team you’re passing this on to and say,” Here, fix these all.”
How to prioritize
It’s a lot better to prioritize and tell them what’s more important and why. So here’s how I like to do that. I would plot this out on a matrix. So a pretty simple matrix. At the top, your goal goes there. It keeps you really focused. All of these little things, say pretend these are just the findings from our SEO audit.
On the y-axis, we have impact. On the x-axis, we have time. So essentially we’re ordering every single finding by what kind of impact it’s going to have and how much time it’s going to take to complete. So you’re going to end up with these four quadrants of tasks.
So in this green quadrant here, you have your quick wins.
These are the things that you should do right now, because they’re going to have a really high impact and they’re not going to take a lot of time to do. So definitely prioritize those things.
Schedule & tackle in sprints
In this blue quadrant here, you have things that are going to make a really high impact, but they also take a lot of time. So schedule those after the green quadrant if you can. I would also suggest breaking those larger, time-intensive tasks into smaller, bite-sized chunks.
This is a good idea no matter what you’re doing, but this is especially helpful if you’re working with a development team who probably runs in two-week sprints anyway. It’s a really good idea to segment and tackle those little bits at a time. Just get it on the schedule.
In this orange down here, we have things to maybe deprioritize. Still put them on the schedule, but they’re not as important as the rest of the tasks.
So these are things that aren’t going to make that high of an impact, some impact, but not that high, and they’re not going to take that much time to do. Put them on the schedule, but they’re not as important.
Just don’t do it
Then in this last quadrant here, we have the just don’t do it quadrant. Hopefully, if you’re taking this really nice targeted look at your site and your audit through this lens, you won’t have too many of these, if any.
But if something is going to take you a lot of time and it’s not going to make that big of an impact, no one really has time for that. We want to try to avoid those types of tasks if at all possible. Now I will say there’s a caveat here for urgency. Sometimes we have to work on things regardless of what kind of impact they’re going to make on our site.
Maybe it’s because a client has a deadline, or it’s something in their contract and we just have to get something done because it’s a fire. We all have love/hate relationships with those fires. We don’t want to be handling them all of the time. If at all possible, let’s make sure to make those the exception and not the rule so that we actually get these priority tasks, these important things that are going to move the needle done and we’re not constantly pushing those down for fires.
One last thing, I will say impact is something that trips up a lot of people, myself included. How do you actually determine how much of an impact something is going to have before you do it? So that can be kind of tricky, and it’s not an exact science. But there are two main ways that I kind of like to do that. Number one, look for correlations on your website.
So if you’re looking at your website through the lens of these pages are performing really well, and they have these things true about them, and they’re on your list of things to fix on these other pages, you can go into that with a certain degree of certainty, knowing that, hey, if it works for these pages, there is a chance that this will make a high impact on these other pages as well.
So look at the data on your own website and see what’s already performing and what qualities are true about those pages. Number two, I would say one of the biggest things you can do is just to start small and test. Sometimes you really don’t know what kind of an impact something is going to make until you test on a small section. Then if it does have a high impact, great. Put it here and then roll it out to the rest of your site.
But if it doesn’t have a good impact or it has minimal impact, you learn something from that. But at least now you know not to prioritize it, not to spend all of your time on it and roll it out to your entire website, because that could be potentially a waste of time. So that’s how I prioritize and I customize my SEO audits. I think a lot of us struggle with: What even is an SEO audit?
How do I do it? Where do I even look? Is this even going to make a difference? So that’s how I kind of try to make a higher impact with my SEO audits by taking a more targeted approach. If you have a way that you do SEO audits that you think is super helpful, pop it in the comments, share it with all of us. I think it’s really good to share and get on the same page about the different ways we could perform SEO audits for higher impact.
So hopefully that was helpful for you. That’s it for this week’s Whiteboard Friday. Please come back again next week for another one.
Structured data (Schema markup) is a powerful tool SEOs can use to efficiently deliver the most important information on our webpages to search engines. When applied effectively across all relevant entities, Schema markup provides significant opportunities to improve a website’s SEO performance by helping search engines to better understand its content.
While Schema.org is continuously expanding and refining its documentation, Google updates its list of supported features that are eligible to be displayed as rich organic results far less frequently. When they happen, these updates are exciting because they give marketers new ways to affect how their organic listings appear in Google’s search results. To make things even more interesting, some of this year’s new Schema types offer the unique opportunity for marketers to use Schema to drive clicks to more than one page on their site through just one organic listing.
Three new Schema types worth focusing on are FAQ, HowTo, and Q&A Schema, all of which present great opportunities to improve organic search traffic with eye-catching, real estate-grabbing listing features. By strategically implementing these Schema types across eligible page content, marketers can dramatically increase their pages’ visibility in the search results for targeted keywords — especially on mobile devices.
Pro tip: When rolling out new Schema, use the Rich Results Testing Tool to see how your Schema can appear in Google’s search results. Google Search Console also offers reporting on FAQ, HowTo, and Q&A Schema along with other Schema types in its Rich Results Status Report.
According to Google, FAQ Schema can be used on any page that contains a list of questions and answers on any particular topic. That means FAQ Schema doesn’t have to be reserved only for company FAQ pages; you can create a “frequently asked questions” resource on any topic and use the Schema to indicate that the content is structured as an FAQ.
FAQ Schema is a particularly exciting new Schema type due to how much real estate it can capture in the organic listings. Marking up your FAQ content can create rich results that absolutely dominate the SERP, with the potential to take up a huge amount of vertical space compared to other listings. See the below example on mobile:
Like all Schema, the FAQ content must be a 100 percent match to the content displayed on the page, and displaying different content in your Schema than what is displayed on the page can result in a manual action. Google also requires that the content marked up with FAQ Schema is not used for advertising purposes.
Impacts on click-through rate
There is some risk involved with implementing this Schema: if the content is too informational in nature, it can create a situation where users to get the answers they need entirely within the search results. This is exactly what happened when we first rolled out FAQ Schema for one of our clients at Path Interactive — impressions to the page surged, but clicks fell just as quickly.
This conundrum led to us discover the single most exciting feature of FAQ Schema: The fact that Google supports links and other HTML within the answers. Look for opportunities within your FAQ answers to link to other relevant pages on your site, and you can use FAQ Schema to drive organic users to more than one page on your website. This is a great way to use informational content to drive users to your product or service pages.
Note that this tactic should be done within reason: The links to other pages should actually provide value to the user, and they must also be added to the page content so the Schema code is a 100 percent match with the content on the page. Check out my other detailed article on implementing FAQ Schema, which includes recommendations around tagging links in FAQ answers so you can monitor how the links are performing, and for distinguishing clicks to the FAQ links from your other organic listings.
HowTo Schema is another new Schema type that can be used to enhance articles containing instructions on “how to” do something. Like FAQ Schema, Google lays out certain content requirements about what can and can’t be marked up with HowTo Schema, including:
- Not marking up offensive, violent or explicit content
- The entire content of each “step” must be marked up
- Not using HowTo markup to advertise a product
- Including relevant images, as well as materials and tools used to complete the task
- HowTo should not be used for Recipes, which have their own Schema
Unfortunately, unlike FAQ Schema, the text included within each HowTo step is not linkable. However, the individual steps themselves can become links to an anchor on your page that corresponds to each step in the process, if you include anchored links and images in your HowTo markup.
HowTo has two visual layouts:
One layout includes image thumbnails for each step in the process. With this layout, users can click on each step and be taken directly to that step on your page. Anchored (#) links also appear separately in Google Search Console, so you can track impressions and clicks to each step in your HowTo process.
The second HowTo layout uses accordions to display the steps.
One added benefit of HowTo Schema is its voice search potential: properly marked up HowTo content is eligible to be read aloud by Google Assistant devices. When voice searchers ask their Google Assistants for help with a task that is best answered with a “how to” guide, content marked up with HowTo Schema will be more likely to be read aloud as the answer.
Like FAQ Schema, HowTo markup presents pros and cons for marketers. Given that the rich result takes up so much space in the SERP, it’s a great way to make your listing stand out compared to competing results. However, if users can get all the information they need from your marked-up content within the search results, it may result in fewer clicks going to your website, which coincides with Google’s rise in no-click searches.
In rolling out HowTo markup, it’s important to monitor the impact the Schema has on your impressions, clicks, and rankings for the page, to make sure the Schema is producing positive results for your business. For publishers whose sites rely on ad revenue, the potential loss in click-through-rate might not be worth the enhanced appearance of HowTo markup in the search results.
Does HowTo markup earn featured snippets for “how to” queries?
Given that virtually every “How To” query generates a Featured Snippet result, I wanted to see whether there was any correlation between implementing HowTo Schema and earning Featured Snippets. I conducted an analysis of 420 URLs currently ranking in Featured Snippets for common “how to” queries, and only 3 these pages are currently using HowTo markup. While this Schema type is still relatively new, it doesn’t appear to be the case that using HowTo markup is a prerequisite for earning the Featured Snippet for “how to” queries.
Q&A Schema is another new Schema type used for pages that contain a question and a way for users to submit answers to that question. The Q&A Schema should be applied only on pages that have one question as the main focus on the page — not a variety of different questions. In its documentation, Google also distinguishes between Q&A and FAQ markup: If users are not able to add their own answers to the question, FAQ markup should be used instead.
Q&A Schema is great for forums or other online message boards where users can ask a question and the community can submit answers, such as the Moz Q&A Forum.
Google strongly recommends that Q&A Schema include a URL that links directly to each individual answer to improve user experience. As with HowTo Schema, this can be done using anchor (#) links, which can then be monitored individually in Google Search Console.
Blending Schema types
Another exciting new development with these new Schema types is the opportunity to blend multiple types of Schema that generate rich results on the same page. FAQ Schema in particular works as a great supplement to other Schema types, such as Product or Professional Service, which can generate stars, review counts, or other attributes in the SERP. Below is an example of how these combined Schema types can look on mobile:
If it makes sense for your content, it may be worth testing adding FAQ or HowTo markup to pages that already have other Schema types that generate rich results. It’s possible that Google will display multiple rich result types at once for certain queries, or it could change the rich appearance of your listing depending on the query. This could potentially lead to a big increase in the click-through-rate given how much space these mixed results take up in the SERP.
Note: there is no guarantee Google will always display blended Schema types the way it currently does for websites who have already done this implementation. Google is always changing how it displays rich results, so it’s important to test this on your own pages and see what Google chooses to display.
Risks involved with implementing Schema
It would be irresponsible to write about using Schema without including a warning about the potential risks involved. For one, Google maintains specific criteria about how Schema should be used, and misusing the markup (whether intentionally or not) can result in a structured data manual action. A common way this occurs is when the JSON-LD code includes information that is not visible for users on the page.
Secondly, it can be tempting to implement Schema markup without thoroughly thinking through the impact it can have on the click-through-rate of the page. It is possible that Schema markup can result in such a positive user experience within the SERP, that it can actually cause a decline in click-through-rate and less traffic to your site (as users get all the information they need within the search results). These considerations require that marketers think strategically about whether and how to implement Schema to ensure they are not only complying with Google’s guidelines but also using Schema in a way that will provide meaningful results for their websites.
Lastly, it is possible that Google will update its quality guidelines around how rich results are displayed if they find that these new Schema types are leading to spam or low-quality results.
Avoid misusing Schema, or it’s possible Google might take away these fantastic opportunities to enhance our organic listings in the future.
If you’re anything like me, you might be wondering how the heck it’s already August — where did the first half of the year go?
As we move into the last months of 2019, it’s a great time to reflect on what we’ve accomplished so far this year. And here at Moz, we’ve been hard at work getting a bunch of cool features out the door.
We’ve made these improvements with you in mind, to help your day-to-day workflows and make your experience in our tools easier and more efficient. Ready for a quick look back at the new functionalities we’ve rolled out? Let’s do it!
Not a Moz Pro user yet?
Domain Authority 2.0
Gauging the strength of a website can be a complicated task. Moz’s Domain Authority (DA) metric has served the SEO industry for years as one such method of measurement. In March, we updated the algorithm that powers DA — to keep pace with the search engines and predict ranking ability better than ever before. You can use DA to identify the growth of your own site over time, understand the strength of your website against competitors, determine the difficulty to rank on a particular SERP, and much more.
Pro tip: Always use DA as a relative metric in comparison to your competitors’ sites, rather than as an absolute metric in isolation.
Want to know how others are using Moz Pro to get the competitive edge? See how TopSpot increased their organic traffic by 29 percent within 90 days of switching domains by leveraging Link Explorer, Page Authority, and DA.
Keyword clusters are groups of closely-related keywords — and tracking keywords as clusters (rather than as individual terms) allows you to more accurately track your ranking, understand your search visibility, and stay ahead of your competitors. In June, we introduced fresh functionality in Campaign setup that supports clustering of semantically-related keywords. We’ll even help you get started by automatically suggesting potential clusters and keywords you might want to track as part of these groups!
As you set up a Campaign to begin tracking a site, you’ll have the opportunity to group keywords into different clusters. Once you’ve got your Campaign set up, the Search Visibility graph in the Rankings section will allow you to compare multiple clusters to each other. To see a keyword cluster’s performance, use the filter. Click the plus sign, and type in the names of the clusters you’d like to compare. This will give you a visual representation for how each keyword cluster is performing – including which are your strongest topics, and which are your weakest, to identify what areas need more attention.
Pro tip: Consider building separate clusters for each of the product types you offer, the types of services your business provides, or related query types that you hope to rank for.
Bulk upload keywords by CSV
Speaking of labels and keyword clusters, we’ve made one of your most-requested features a reality and added the option to bulk upload keywords to a Campaign. Rather than adding keywords manually, use a CSV to quickly and easily upload keywords, with labels and locations tied to them. In your Tracked Keywords Overview, simply click Add Keywords and toggle to the Upload CSV tab.
Filter by SERP Feature in Keyword Lists
Having trouble prioritizing keywords? Identify opportunities for featured snippets and other SERP features faster than ever. If you already have a keyword list in Keyword Explorer, simply hop into the list and refresh all keywords. Once the list is refreshed, you’ll be able to quickly view, filter, and export SERP Feature data for your keywords.
Don’t have a list yet? Just add keywords from Keyword Explorer into a list, and you’ll be off and running!
Pro tip: Want the inside scoop on which content is most likely to win you a particular feature snippet type on a SERP? Use this filter to get a glimpse into which terms already have featured snippets; then apply what you’ve learned to drive your own content creation.
Advanced filtering in Keyword Suggestions
Keyword research can take even the savviest SEO quite a bit of time to navigate. Advanced filtering in Keyword Explorer helps you to keep your keyword research laser-focused and saves you major time and effort. Filter your keyword suggestions to include a particular term that is important to you— or exclude a term that you don’t need mucking up your suggestions list. Stack up your “includes” and “excludes” to refine your suggestions list and ensure you’re seeing the types of keywords that meet your needs.
Pro tip: Try excluding branded terms (your own, or your competitors’ branded terms) to keep keyword suggestions brand-agnostic.
Format annotations in Custom Reports
Custom Reports allow you to share your hard work and SEO efforts with stakeholders, providing the opportunity to pull in areas of your Moz Pro Campaign. Drag and drop modules from your Campaign into your custom-ordered report, and add customizable notes to help your readers understand and interpret your SEO work.
All-new custom formatting of those notes allows you to add in your preferred formatting — from headers to font formatting, to bullets, links, images, and more, using Markdown. Ensure that the stakeholders reading your reports know exactly what your work means and see the value of the SEO efforts you’ve been working on.
Improved Moz Pro navigation
We’ve improved navigation within Moz Pro to help you quickly access all areas of the tool. In the left navigation, you’ll have the option of toggling between Campaigns, navigating around a Campaign easily, and hopping straight into the research tools.
“Make a Suggestion” button
If you’ve ever been in the Moz tools and thought, “I wish I could tell Moz how I feel about this feature!” this one is just for you.
When you hop into a Campaign, you’ll notice a button on the top of your Dashboard that says “Make a Suggestion.” A click of this button will give you the power to tell us what you want to see. We love hearing from you and we’re always looking for ways to iterate and improve our product for you so that your job as an SEO is as easy as possible.
Outside of Moz Pro, other big things are happening
We launched the Moz Certification in April — an instructor-led, six-part course covering the SEO Essentials. The Certification brings six hours of online content that you can take at your own pace and includes exams to test your knowledge as well as and a LinkedIn badge to share your credentials with your network.
Client Onboarding Course
Outside of the Certification, we also have standalone courses on additional topics, including our newest addition: The Client Onboarding Course — perfect for when you’ve just signed a new SEO client and want to know what the next steps are. This course delves deep into internal communication processes, how to best get to know your new client, setting expectations—and even provides a new client questionnaire that Moz’s SEO experts have developed.
New Moz Local
As local search continues to evolve, we’ve been working to evolve our toolset in a number of ways.
The launch of the new Moz Local in June brought features like real-time profile management and sync, data cleansing, automated duplicate detection and deletion, and deep integrations with Google and Facebook. The new platform also provides the chance to manage your reviews and post to social networks, straight from the Moz Local interface! Check out how PAPYRUS saw a 42 percent increase in direction requests and a 26 percent increase in click-to-call requests after Wpromote harnessed Moz Local to optimize their business listings. This drove 90,000 more potential in-store shoppers annually and was celebrated by the US Search Awards!
And there’s more to come!
That’s just the tip of the iceberg. We have oodles of exciting more launches on the docket before the end of the year is through. Stay tuned!
How many of these have you heard over the years? Convincing clients and stakeholders that SEO is worth it is half the battle. From doubts about the value of its traffic to concerns over time and competition with other channels, it seems like there’s an argument against our jobs at every turn.
In today’s Whiteboard Friday, Kameron Jenkins cover the five most common objections to SEO and how to counter them with smart, researched, fact-based responses.
Click on the whiteboard image above to open a high-resolution version in a new tab!
Hey, everybody. Welcome to this week’s edition of Whiteboard Friday. My name is Kameron Jenkins, and today we’re going to be going through five common objections to SEO and how to respond. Now I know, if you’re watching this and you’re an SEO, you have faced some of these very objections before and probably a lot of others.
This is not an exhaustive list. I’m sure you’ve faced a ton of other objections, whether you’re talking to a potential client, maybe you’re talking to your friend or your family member. A lot of people have misunderstandings about SEO and that causes them to object to wanting to invest in it. So I thought I’d go through some of the ones that I hear the most and how I tend to respond in those situations. Hopefully, you’ll find that helpful.
1. “[Other channel] drives more traffic/conversions, so it’s better.”
Let’s dive in. The number one objection I hear a lot of the time is this other channel, whether that be PPC, social, whatever, drives more traffic or conversions, therefore it’s better than SEO. I want to respond a few different ways depending.
Success follows investment
So the number one thing I would usually say is that don’t forget that success follows investment.
So if you are investing a lot of time and money and talent into your PPC or social and you’re not really doing much with organic, you’re kind of just letting it go, usually that means, yeah, that other channel is going to be a lot more successful. So just keep that in mind. It’s not inherently successful or not. It kind of reflects the effort you’re putting into it.
Every channel serves a different purpose
Number two, I would say that every channel serves a different purpose. You’re not going to expect social media to drive conversions a lot of the time, because a lot of the time social is for engagement. It’s for more top of the funnel. It’s for more audience development. SEO, a lot of the time that lives at your top and mid-funnel efforts. It can convert, but not always.
So just keep that in mind. Every channel serves a different purpose.
Assists vs last click only
The last thing I would say, kind of dovetailing off of that, is that assists versus last click only I know is a debate when it comes to attribution. But just keep in mind that when SEO and organic search doesn’t convert as the last click before conversion, it still usually assists in the process. So look at your assisted conversions and see how SEO is contributing.
2. “SEO is dead because the SERPs are full of ads.”
The number two objection I usually hear is SEO is dead because the SERPs are full of ads. To that, I would respond with a question.
What SERPs are you looking at?
It really depends on what you’re querying. If you’re only looking at those bottom funnel, high cost per click, your money keywords, absolutely those are monetized.
Those are going to be heavily monetized, because those are at the bottom of the funnel. So if you’re only ever looking at that, you might be pessimistic when it comes to your SEO. You might not be thinking that SEO has any kind of value, because organic search, those organic results are pushed down really low when you’re looking at those bottom funnel terms. So I think these two pieces of research are really interesting to look at in tandem when it comes to a response to this question.
I think this was put out sometime last year by Varn Research, and it said that 60% of people, when they see ads on the search results, they don’t even recognize that they’re ads. That’s actually probably higher now that Google changed it from green to black and it kind of blends in a little bit better with the rest of it. But then this data from Jumpshot says that only about 2% to 3% of all search clicks go to PPC.
So how can these things coexist? Well, they can coexist because the vast majority of searches don’t trigger ads. A lot more searches are informational and navigational more so than commercial.
People research before buying
So just keep in mind that people are doing a lot of research before buying.
A lot of times they’re looking to learn more information. They’re looking to compare. Keep in mind your buyer’s entire journey, their entire funnel and focus on that. Don’t just focus on the bottom of the funnel, because you will get discouraged when it comes to SEO if you’re only looking there.
Also, they’re just better together. There are a lot of studies that show that PPC and SEO are more effective when they’re both shown on the search results together for a single company.
I’m thinking of one by Seer, they did right now, that showed the CTR is higher for both when they’re on the page together. So just keep that in mind.
3. “Organic drives traffic, just not the right kind.”
The number three objection I hear a lot is that organic drives traffic, just not the right kind of traffic. People usually mean a few different things when they say that.
Branded vs non-branded
Number one, they could mean that organic drives traffic, but it’s usually just branded traffic anyway.
It’s just people who know about us already, and they’re searching our business name and they’re finding us. That could be true. But again, that’s probably because you’re not investing in SEO, not because SEO is not valuable. I would also say that a lot of times this is pretty easily debunked. A lot of times inadvertently people are ranking for non-branded terms that they didn’t even know they were ranking for.
So go into Google Search Console, look at their non-branded queries and see what’s driving impressions and clicks to the website.
Assists are important too
Number two, again, just to say this one more time, assists are important too. They play a part in the eventual conversion or purchase. So even if organic drives traffic that doesn’t convert as the last click before conversion, it still usually plays a role.
It can be highly qualified
Number three, it can be highly qualified. Again, this is that following the investment thing. If you are actually paying attention to your audience, you know the ways they search, how they search, what terms they search for, what’s important to your brand, then you can bring in really highly qualified traffic that’s more inclined to convert if you’re paying attention and being strategic with your SEO.
4. “SEO takes too long”
Moving on to number four, that objection I hear is SEO takes too long. That’s honestly one of the most common objections you hear about SEO.
SEO is not a growth hack
In response to that, I would say it’s not a growth hack. A lot of people who are really antsy about SEO and like “why isn’t it working right now” are really looking for those instant results.
They want a tactic they can sprinkle on their website for instant whatever they want. Usually it’s conversions and revenue and growth. I would say it’s not a growth hack. If you’re looking at it that way, it’s going to disappoint you.
Methodology + time = growth
But I will say that SEO is more methodology than tactic. It’s something that should be ingrained and embedded into everything you do so that over time, when it’s baked into everything you’re doing, you’re going to achieve sustained growth.
So that’s how I respond to that one.
5. “You can’t measure the ROI.”
Number five, the last one and probably one of the most frustrating, I’m sure this is not exclusive to SEO. I know social hears it a lot. You can’t measure the ROI, therefore I don’t want to invest in it, because I don’t have proof that I’m getting a return on this investment. So people kind of tend to mean, I think, two things when they say this.
A) Predicting ROI
Number one, they really want to be able to predict ROI before they even dive in. They want assurances that if I invest in this, I’m going to get X in return, which there are a lot of, I think, problems with that inherently, but there are some ways you can get close to gauging what you’re going to get for your efforts. So what I would do in this situation is use your own website’s data to build yourself a click-through rate curve so that you know the click-through rate at your various rank positions.
By knowing that and combining that with the search volume of a keyword or a phrase that you want to go after, you can multiply the two and just say, “Hey, here’s the expected traffic we will get if you will let me work on improving our rank position from 9 to 2 or 1” or whatever that is. So there are ways to estimate and get close.
A lot of times, when you do improve, you’re focusing on improving one term, you’re likely going to get a lot more traffic than what you’re estimating because you tend to end up ranking for so many more longer tail keywords that bring in a lot of additional search volume. So you’re probably going to even underestimate when you do this. But that’s one way you can predict ROI.
B) Measuring ROI
Number two here, measuring ROI is a lot of times what people want to be doing.
They want to be able to prove that what they’re doing is beneficial in terms of revenue. So one way to do this is to get the lifetime value of the customer, multiply that by the close rate so that you can have a goal value. Now if you turn on your conversions and set up your goals in Google Analytics, which you I think should be doing, this assumes that you’re not an e-commerce site.
There’s different tracking for that, but a similar type of methodology applies. If you apply these things, you can have a goal value. So that way, when people convert on your site, you start to rack up the actual dollar value, the estimated dollar value that whatever channel is producing. So you can go to your source/medium report and see Google organic and see how many conversions it’s producing and how much value.
This same thing applies if you go to your assisted conversions report. You can see how much value is in there as well. I think that’s really beneficial just to be able to show people like, “Look, it is generating revenue.My SEO that’s getting you organic search traffic is generating value and real dollars and cents for you.” So those are some of the most common objections that I hear.
I want to know what are some of the ones that you hear too. So pop those in the comments. Let me know the objections you hear a lot of the time and include how you’re either struggling to respond or find the right response to people or something that you found works as a response. Share that with us. We’d all love to know. Let’s make SEO better and something that people understand a lot better. So that’s it for this week’s Whiteboard Friday.
Come back again next week for another one.
Search for information about SEO, and you’ll quickly discover three big themes: content, user experience, and links. If you’re just getting started with SEO, that last theme will likely seem a lot more confusing and challenging than the others. That’s because, while content and user experience are under the realm of our control, links aren’t… at least not completely.
Think of this post as a quick-and-dirty version of The Beginner’s Guide to SEO’s chapter on link building. We definitely recommend you read through that as well, but if you’re short on time, this condensed version gives you a quick overview of the basics as well as actionable tips that can help you get started.
Let’s get to it!
What does “building links” mean?
Link building is a term used in SEO to describe the process of increasing the quantity of good links from other websites to your own.
Why are links so important? They’re one of the main (although not the only!) criteria Google uses to determine the quality and trustworthiness of a page. You want links from reputable, relevant websites to bolster your own site’s authority in search engines.
For more information on different types of links, check out Cyrus Shepard’s post All Links are Not Created Equal: 20 New Graphics on Google’s Valuation of Links.
“Building links” is common SEO vernacular, but it deserves unpacking or else you may get the wrong idea about this practice. Google wants people to link to pages out of their own volition, because they value the content on that page. Google does not want people to link to pages because they were paid or incentivized to do so, or create links to their websites themselves — those types of links should use the “nofollow” attribute. You can read more about what Google thinks about links in their webmaster guidelines.
The main thing to remember is that links to your pages are an important part of SEO, but Google doesn’t want you paying or self-creating them, so the practice of “building links” is really more a process of “earning links” — let’s dive in.
How do I build links?
If Google doesn’t want you creating links yourself or paying for them, how do you go about getting them? There are a lot of different methods, but we’ll explore some of the basics.
Link gap analysis
One popular method for getting started with link building is to look at the links your competitors have but you don’t. This is often referred to as a competitor backlink analysis or a link gap analysis. You can perform one of these using Moz Link Explorer’s Link Intersect tool.
Link Intersect gives you a glimpse into your competitor’s link strategy. My pal Miriam and I wrote a guide that explains how to use Link Explorer and what to do with the links you find. It’s specifically geared toward local businesses, but it’s helpful for anyone just getting started with link building.
A skill you’ll definitely need for link building is email outreach. Remember, links to your site should be created by others, so to get them to link to your content, you need to tell them about it! Cold outreach is always going to be hit-or-miss, but here are a few things that can help:
- Make a genuine connection: People are much more inclined to help you out if they know you. Consider connecting with them on social media and building a relationship before you ask them for a link.
- Offer something of value: Don’t just ask someone to link to you — tell them how they’ll benefit! Example: offering a guest post to a content-desperate publisher.
- Be someone people would want to link to: Before you ask anyone to link to your content, ask yourself questions like, “Would I find this valuable enough to link to?” and “Is this the type of content this person likes to link to?”
There are tons more articles on the Moz Blog you can check out if you’re looking to learn more about making your email outreach effective:
Contribute your expertise using services like HARO
When you’re just getting started, services like Help a Reporter Out (HARO) are great. When you sign up as a source, you’ll start getting requests from journalists who need quotes for their articles. Not all requests will be relevant to you, but be on the lookout for those that are. If the journalist likes your pitch, they may feature your quote in their article with a link back to your website.
Where do I go from here?
I hope this was a helpful crash-course into the world of link building! If you want to keep learning, we recommend checking out this free video course from HubSpot Academy that walks you through finding the right SEO strategy, including how to use Moz Link Explorer for link building.
Remember, link building certainly isn’t easy, but it is worth it!
“When you forgive, you in no way change the pas — but you sure do change the future.” — Bernard Meltzer
Your brand inhabits a challenging world in which its consumers’ words make up the bulk of your reputation. Negative reviews can feel like the ultimate revenge, punishing dissatisfactory experiences with public shaming, eroded local rankings, and attendant revenue loss. Some business owners become so worried about negative reviews, they head to fora asking if there is any way to opt-out and even querying whether they should simply remove their business listings altogether rather than face the discordant music.
But hang in there. Local business customers may be more forgiving than you think. In fact, your customers may think differently than you might think.
I’ve just completed a study of consumer behavior as it relates to negative reviews becoming positive ones and I believe this blog post will hold some very welcome surprises for concerned local business owners and their marketers — I know that some of what I learned both surprised and delighted me. In fact, it’s convinced me that, in case after case, negative reviews aren’t what we might think they are at all.
Let’s study this together, with real-world examples, data, a poll, and takeaways that could transform your outlook.
Stats to start with
Your company winds up with a negative review, and the possibility of a permanently lost customer. Marketing wisdom tells us that it’s more costly to acquire a new customer than to keep an existing one happy. But it’s actually more far-reaching. The following list of stats tells the story of why you want to do anything you can to get the customer to edit a bad review to reflect more positive sentiment:
- 57 percent of consumers will only use a business if it has four or more stars — (BrightLocal)
- One study showed that ~1.5-star rating increase improved conversions from 10.4 percent to 12.8 percent, representing about 13,000 more leads for the brand. — (Location3)
- 73.8 percent of customers are either likely or extremely likely to continue doing business with a brand that resolves their complaints. — (GatherUp)
- A typical business only hears from four percent of its dissatisfied customers, meaning that the negative reviews you rectify for outspoken people could solve problems for silent ones. — (Ruby Newell-Lerner)
- 89 percent of consumers read businesses’ responses to reviews. — (BrightLocal)
The impact of ratings, reviews, and responses are so clear that every local brand needs to devote resources to better understanding this scenario of sentiment and customer retention.
People power: One reason consumers love reviews
The Better Business Bureau was founded in 1912. The Federal Trade Commission made its debut just two years later. Consumer protections are deemed a necessity, but until the internet put the potential of mass reviews directly into individuals hands, the “little guy” often felt he lacked a truly audible voice when the “big guy” (business) didn’t do right by him.
You can see how local business review platforms have become a bully pulpit, empowering everyday people to make their feelings known to a large audience. And, you can see from reviews, like the one below, the relish with which some consumers embrace that power:
Here, a customer is boasting the belief that they outwitted an entity which would otherwise have defrauded them, if not for the influence of a review platform. That’s our first impression. But if we look a little closer, what we’re really seeing here is that the platform is a communications tool between consumer and brand. The reviewer is saying:
“The business has to do right by me if I put this on Yelp!”
What they’re communicating isn’t nice, and may well be untrue, but it is certainly a message they want to be amplified.
And this is where things get interesting.
Brand power: Full of surprises!
This month, I created a spreadsheet to organize data I was collecting about negative reviews being transformed into positive ones. I searched Yelp for the phrase “edited my review” in cities in every region of the United States and quickly amassed 50 examples for in-depth analysis. In the process, I discovered three pieces of information that could be relevant to your brand.
Surprise #1: Many consumers think of their reviews as living documents
In this first example, we see a customer who left a review after having trouble making an appointment and promising to update their content once they’d experienced actual service. As I combed through consumer sentiment, I was enlightened to discover that many people treat reviews as live objects, updating them over time to reflect evolving experiences. How far do reviewers go with this approach? Just look:
In the above example, the customer has handled their review in four separate updates spanning several days. If you look at the stars, they went from high to low to high again. It’s akin to live updates from a sporting event, and that honestly surprised me to see.
Brands should see this as good news because it means an initial negative review doesn’t have to be set in stone.
Surprise #2: Consumers can be incredibly forgiving
“What really defines you is how you handle the situation after you realize you made a mistake.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself, and this edited review typifies for me the reasonableness I saw in case after case. Far from being the scary, irrational customers that business owners dread, it’s clear that many people have the basic understanding that mistakes can happen… and can be rectified. I even saw people forgiving auto dealerships for damaging their cars, once things had been made right.
Surprise #3: Consumers can be self-correcting.
The customer apparently isn’t “always right,” and some of them know it. I saw several instances of customers editing their reviews after realizing that they were the ones who made a mistake. For example, one rather long review saga contained this:
“I didn’t realize they had an hourly option so my initial review was 3 stars. However, after the company letting me know they’d be happy to modify my charges since I overlooked the hourly option, it was only fair to edit my review. I thought that was really nice of them. 5 stars and will be using them again in the future.”
When a customer has initially misunderstood a policy or offering and the business in question takes the time to clarify things, fair-minded individuals can feel honor-bound to update their reviews. Many updated reviews contained phrases like “in good conscience” and “in all fairness.”
Overall, in studying this group of reviewers, I found them to be reasonable people, meaning that your brand has (surprising) significant power to work with dissatisfied customers to win back their respect and their business.
How negative reviews become positive: Identifying winning patterns
In my case study, the dominant, overall pattern of negative reviews being transformed into positive ones consisted of these three Rs:
- Reach — the customer reaches out with their negative experience, often knowing that, in this day and age, powerful review platforms are a way to reach brands.
- Remedy — Some type of fix occurs, whether this results from intervention on the part of the brand, a second positive experience outweighing an initial negative one, or the consumer self-correcting their own misunderstanding.
- Restoration — The unhappy customer is restored to the business as a happy one, hopefully, ready to trust the brand for future transactions, and the reputation of the brand is restored by an edited review reflecting better satisfaction.
Now, let’s bucket this general pattern into smaller segments for a more nuanced understanding. Note: There is an overlap in the following information, as some customers experienced multiple positive elements that convinced them to update their reviews.
Key to review transformation:
- 70 percent mentioned poor service/rude service rectified by a second experience in which staff demonstrated caring.
- 64 percent mentioned the owner/manager/staff proactively, directly reached out to the customer with a remedy.
- 32 percent mentioned item replaced or job re-done for free.
- 20 percent mentioned customer decided to give a business a second chance on their own and was better-pleased by a second experience.
- 6 percent mentioned customer realized the fault for a misunderstanding was theirs.
From this data, two insights become clear and belong at the core of your reputation strategy:
Poor and rude service seriously fuel negative reviews
This correlates well with the findings of an earlier GatherUp study demonstrating that 57 percent of consumer complaints revolve around customer service and employee behavior. It’s critical to realize that nearly three-quarters of these disasters could be turned around with subsequent excellent service. As one customer in my study phrased it:
“X has since gone above and beyond to resolve the issue and make me feel like they cared.”
Proactive outreach is your negative review repair kit
Well over half of the subjects in my study specifically mentioned that the business had reached out to them in some way. I suspect many instances of such outreach went undocumented in the review updates, so the number may actually be much higher than represented.
Outreach can happen in a variety of ways:
- The business may recognize who the customer is and have their name and number on file due to a contract.
- The business may not know who the customer is but can provide an owner response to the review that includes the company’s contact information and an earnest request to get in touch.
- The business can DM the customer if the negative review is on Yelp.
You’re being given a second chance if you get the customer’s ear a second time. It’s then up to your brand to do everything you can to change their opinion. Here’s one customer’s description of how far a local business was willing to go to get back into his good graces:
“X made every effort to make up for the failed programming and the lack of customer service the night before. My sales rep, his manager and even the finance rep reached out by phone, text and email. I was actually in meetings all morning, watching my phone buzz with what turned out to be their calls, as they attempted to find out what they could do to make amends. Mark came over on my lunch break, fixed/reprogrammed the remote and even comped me a free tank of gas for my next fill up. I appreciated his sincere apologies and wanted to update/revise my review as a token of my appreciation.”
What a great example of dedication to earning forgiveness!
Should you actively ask restored customers to edit their negative reviews?
I confess — this setup makes me a bit nervous. I took Twitter poll to gauge sentiment among my followers:
Respondents showed strong support for asking a customer who has been restored to happiness to edit their review. However, I would add a few provisos.
Firstly, not one of the subjects in my study mentioned that the business requested they update their review. Perhaps it went undocumented, but there was absolutely zero suggestion that restored customers had been prompted to re-review the business.
Secondly, I would want to be 100 percent certain that the customer is, indeed, delighted again. Otherwise, you could end up with something truly awful on your review profile, like this:
Suffice it to say, never demand an edited review, and certainly don’t use one as blackmail!
With a nod to the Twitter poll, I think it might be alright to mention you’d appreciate an updated review. I’d be extremely choosy about how you word your request so as not to make the customer feel obligated in any way. And I’d only do so if the customer was truly, sincerely restored to a sense of trust and well-being by the brand.
So what are negative reviews, really?
In so many cases, negative reviews are neither punishment nor the end of the road.
They are, in fact, a form of customer outreach that’s often akin to a cry for help.
Someone trusted your business and was disappointed. Your brand needs to equip itself to ride to the rescue. I was struck by how many reviewers said they felt uncared-for, and impressed by how business owners like this one completely turned things around:
In this light, review platforms are simply a communications medium hosting back-and-forth between customer people and business people. Communicate with a rescue plan and your reputation can “sparkle like diamonds”, too.
I want to close by mentioning how evident it was to me, upon completing this study, that reviewers take their task seriously. The average word count of the Yelp reviews I surveyed was about 250 words. If half of the 12,584 words I examined expressed disappointment, your brand is empowered to make the other half express forgiveness for mistakes and restoration of trust.
It could well be that the industry term “negative” review is misleading, causing unnecessary fear for local brands and their marketers. What if, instead, we thought of this influential content as “reviews-in-progress,” with the potential for transformation charting the mastery of your brand at customer service.
The short road is that you prevent negative experiences by doubling down on staff hiring and training practices that leave people with nothing to complain about in the entire customer service ecosystem. But re-dubbing online records of inevitable mistakes as “reviews-in-progress” simply means treading a slightly longer road to reputation, retention, and revenue. If your local brand is in business for the long haul, you’ve got this!
In 2019, high-authority links remain highly correlated with rankings. However, acquiring great links is becoming increasingly difficult. Those of you who operate publications of any variety, especially those who enjoy high domain authority, have likely received several link building requests or offers like this each day:
“Please link to my suspect site that provides little or no value.”
“Please engage in my shady link exchange.”
“I can acquire 5 links of DA 50+ for $250 each.”
Or maybe slightly more effectively:
“This link is broken, perhaps you would like to link here instead.”
“You link to X resource, but my Y resource is actually better.”
This glut of SEOs who build links through these techniques above have been consistently eroding the efficacy of this style of little-to-no-value ad outreach link building. In the past, perhaps it was possible to convert 2% of outreach emails of this style to real links. Now, that number is more like 0.2 percent.
Link building outreach has become glorified email spam—increasingly ignored and decreasingly effective. And yet, high-authority links remain one of the single most important ranking factors.
So where do we go from here?
Let’s start with a few axioms.
The conclusion: Leveraging data journalism to tell newsworthy stories re-enables effective promotion of content via outreach/pitching. Doing so successfully results in the acquisition of high domain authority links that enjoy the potential for viral syndication. Overall data journalism and outreach represents one of the only remaining scaleable high-authority link building strategies.
How can I leverage data journalism techniques to earn coverage?
To answer this question, I conducted my own data journalism project about the state of data journalism-driven link building! (Meta, I know.)
The primary goal was to understand how major publications (the places worth pitching content) talk about data journalism findings from external sources. By understanding how data journalism is covered, we lay the groundwork for understanding what types of data journalism, themes, and strategies for outreach can be most effective for link building.
We pulled 8,400 articles containing the text “study finds.” This keyword was used as a heuristic for finding data-driven news stories created by outside sources (not done internally by the news publication themselves). We then supplemented these articles with additional data, including links built, social shares, and Google’s Machine Learning topic categorization.
The categories derived by Google’s classifier can have multiple tiers based on the keywords in the article titles, giving us four ways to show the results within each category: The main topic area (containing all relevant subcategories), just the first subcategory, just the second subcategory, and just the third subcategory.
Which outlets most frequently cover data-driven stories from external pitches?
Let’s begin by taking a look at which top-tier news outlets cover “study finds” (AKA, any project pitched by an outside source that ran a survey or study that had “findings”).
For companies conducting studies, they hope to win press coverage for, these top sites are prime targets, with editorial guidelines that clearly see outside pitches of study findings as attractive.
It’s not surprising to see science-based sites ranking at the top, as they’re inherently more likely to talk about studies than other publications. But sites like The Independent, Daily Mail, The Guardian, CNN, Washington Post, and NBC News all ranked highly as well, providing great insight into which established, trusted news sources are willing to publish external research.
Which topic areas do these publishers write about most?
Diving a little deeper, we can explore which topics are covered in these publications that are associated with these external studies, providing us insight into which verticals might be the best targets for this strategy.
There are many unique insights to be gleaned from the following charts depending on your niche/topical focus. This data can easily be used as a pitching guide, showing you which publishers are the most likely to pick up and cover your pitches for the findings of your study or survey.
Here is a view of the overall category and subcategory distribution for the top publishers.
As you can see, it’s…a lot. To get more actionable breakdowns, we can look at different views of the topical categories. The categories derived by Google’s classifier can have multiple tiers based on the keywords in the article titles, giving us several ways to show the results within each category.
You can explore the Tableau sheets to get into the nitty-gritty, but even with these views, a few more specialized publications, like InsideHigherEd.com and blogs.edweek.org, emerge.
Which topic areas drive the most links?
Press mentions are great, but syndication is where data journalism and content-based outreach strategy really shines. I also wanted to understand which topic areas drive link acquisition. As it turns out, some topics are significantly better at driving links than others.
Note that the color of the bar charts is associated with volume of sharing by topic—the darker the bar on the chart, the higher it was shared. With this additional sharing data, it’s plain to see that while links and social shares are highly correlated, there are some categories that are top link builders but do not perform as well on social and vice versa.
This next set of data visualizations again explore these topic areas in detail. In each batch, we see the median number of links built as an overall category aggregate and then by each category.
Which domains generate the most links when they pick up a data-driven story?
Another interesting question is which domains overall result in the largest number of links generated for “study finds” stories. Below is that ranking, colored by the median number of total shares for that domain.
Notice that while The Independent ranked supreme in the earlier graph about including the most “study finds” pieces, they don’t appear at all on this graph. Sites like The Guardian, CNN, The Washington Post, and NBC News, however, score highly on both, meaning they’re probably more likely to publish your research (relatively speaking, since all high-authority sites are tough to get coverage on), and if you’re successful, you’re probably more likely to get more syndicated links as a result.
Which topic areas are the most evergreen?
Now, let’s look at each category by BuzzSumo’s “evergreen score” to see what kind of content will get you the most bang for your buck.
The evergreen score was developed by BuzzSumo to measure the number of backlinks and social shares an article receives more than a month after it’s published.
When you’re considering doing a study and you want it to have lasting power, brainstorm whether any of these topics tie to your product or service offering, because it appears their impact lingers for longer than a month:
What this all means
Link building through data-driven content marketing and PR is a predictable and scalable way to massively impact domain authority, page authority, and organic visibility.
1. Which publishers make sense to pitch to?
- Do they often cover external studies?
- Do they cover topics that I write about?
- Does their coverage lead to a high volume of syndicated links?
2. Does my topic have lasting power?
To really make the most of your content and outreach strategy, you’ll need to incorporate these tips and more into your content development and pitching.
In previous articles on Moz I’ve covered:
These ideas and methodologies are at the heart of the work we do at Fractl and have been instrumental in helping us develop best practices for ideation, content creation, and successful outreach to press. Pulling on each of these levers (and many others), testing, and accumulating data that can then be used to refine processes is what begins to make a real impact on success rates and allows you to break through the noise.
If you want to discuss the major takeaways for your industry, feel free to email me at [email protected].
Did anything surprise you in the data? Share your thoughts below!
Spending a ton of effort on outreach and waking up to an empty inbox is a demoralizing (and unfortunately common) experience. And when it comes to your outreach, getting those emails opened is half the battle. In today’s Whiteboard Friday, we welcome recent MozCon 2019 alum Shannon McGuirk to share five of her best tips to make your outreach efficient and effective — the perfect follow-up to her talk about building a digital PR newsroom.
Click on the whiteboard image above to open a high resolution version in a new tab!
Hi, Moz fans. My name is Shannon McGuirk. I’m the Head of PR and Content at a UK-based digital marketing agency called Aira. So at this year’s MozCon, I spoke about how to supercharge your link building with a digital PR newsroom and spoke about the three different types of media and journalist writing that we should be tapping into.
But I only had half an hour to be able to share my insights and thoughts. As a next step from that presentation, I need to equip you guys with everything in order to be able to go out and actually speak to these journalists. So for my Whiteboard Friday today, I’m going to be sharing my five tips for success for supercharging your outreach, specifically evolved around email outreach alone.
In the U.K. and in the U.S. as well, we’re seeing, as our industry grows and develops, journalists don’t want to be called anymore, and instead the best way to get in touch with them is via email or on social media. So let’s dive straight in.
1. Subject lines A/B tests
So tip one then. I want to share some insights with you that I did for subject lines and specifically around some A/B testing.
Back in the early part of the summer, around April time, we started working on a tool called BuzzStream. Now that allowed us to be able to send different kinds of tests and emails out with a variety of different subject lines in order for us to understand how many open rates we were getting and to try and encourage journalists, through the use of our language and emojis, to open up those all-important pitch emails so that we could follow up and make sure that we’re bringing those links home.
Journalist’s name in subject line
So we ran two different types of A/B tests. The first one here you can see was with the journalist’s name in the subject line and the journalist’s name without. It turns out then that actually, when we were running this data, we were seeing far more opens if we had the journalist’s name in the subject line. It was getting their attention. It was getting that cut-through that we needed when they’re getting hundreds of emails per day and to see their name in a little nib meant that we were increasing open rates. So that was our first learning from test number one.
“Data” vs “story tip”
Now test number two, we had a bit of a gut feel and a little bit of an instinct to feel that there were certain types of words and language that we were using that were either getting us more open rates or not. For this one specifically, it was around the use of the word “data.” So we compared the use of the word “data” with story tip, and again including the journalist’s name and not, to try and see how many journalists were opening up our emails.
At Aira, we have around a 33% open rate with any campaigns that we launch, and again this is tracked through BuzzStream. But when we started to do these A/B tests, combine story tip, full name, and then follow with “data,” we increased that to 52%. So that jump up, it doesn’t mean that you’re going to get 52% more links off the back of your outreach, but it means that you are getting more people opening up their email, considering your data, considering your campaigns, which is half of the problem, when we all know as outreachers, content marketers, digital PRs how difficult it can be for someone to even just open that initial approach.
So now, off the back of those A/B tests, make sure that whenever you’re writing those emails out you have story tip for Tom and then followed by data and whatever research you’ve got in that campaign.
2. Headline language
For tip two then, keeping on the theme of language, I did a piece of research for another conference that I was speaking at earlier in the summer called SearchLeeds and another one called outREACH.
I analyzed 35,000 articles across 6 different top 10 news sites in the U.K. The language that came out of that, around the headlines specifically, was so interesting. So I split these 35,000 articles down into relevant sectors, took the likes of travel, automotive, business, what have you, and then I was able to create around 30 word clouds according to different articles that had been produced within these different industries at different titles.
I was able to start to see common words that were used in headlines, and that got my mind ticking a bit. I was starting to think, well, actually as a team, at Aira, we should be starting to pitch and use language within our pitches that journalists are already using, because they straightaway resonate with the story that we’ve got. So here’s a quick snapshot of the kind of word clouds that the analysis revealed.
You can kind of see some core words shining through. So we’ve got research, best, stats, experts, that kind of thing. Now the top five words that were most commonly used across all sectors within the headlines were: best, worst, data, new, and revealed. Now “data” is really interesting, because if we go back to our A/B testing, we know that that’s a strong word and that that will get you more opens with your subject lines.
But it also reaffirms that that A/B test is right and that we definitely should be using “data.” So combine story tip for that journalist’s name, Tom or what have you, with data and then start to use some of the language here, out of these top five, and again you’re going to increase your open rates, which is half of the problem with what we’re doing with outreach.
3. Use color
So tip three then. Now this was quite an experimental approach that we took, and a huge recommendation of mine, when you’re doing your email outreach, is actually to start to use color within that all-important pitch email itself. So we’ve moved from subject lines into looking at the body of the email. We use color and bolding back at Aira.
So we use color straightaway when we’re writing the email. So we’ll start with something like, “Dear Tom, I have a story that you might be interested in.” Straight under that, so we’re already using again the language that they’ll be using, story, going back to our A/B test. But then straight under that, we will bold, capitalize, and put in a really bright color — reds, greens, blues — nice, strong primary colors there the headline that we think Tom might write off the back of our outreach.
So here’s an example. “New data reveals that 21% of drivers have driven with no insurance.” Not the most exciting headline in the world. But if Tom here is an automotive editor or a digital online automotive writer, straightaway he knows what I’m talking to him about. Again, he can start to see how this data can be used to craft stories for his own audience.
Again, as I said, this is quite experimental. We’re in the early phases of it at Aira, but we know it’s working, and it’s something that I learnt, again, at outREACH conference too. Straight under this use of color with headline, you should pull out your key stats. Now only keep those bullet points to three to five. Journalists are busy.
They’re on deadlines. Don’t be having huge, bulk paragraphs or long-winded sentences. Tell them the headline, follow it up with the key stats. Be clean, be punchy, and get to the point really quickly. Below this, obviously sign off and include any press material, Google Drive links, press packs that you’ve got under that. Again, we’re seeing this work really, really well.
We’re still in the early stages, and I hope to share some insights, some kind of data and metrics as to the success results of it. But we’ve been able to secure links from the likes of the Mail Online, the Telegraph back in the U.K., and also last week just FoxBusiness using this exact approach.
4. Use emojis
So tip four then, and again this is a really playful technique and something that we only learnt with experimentation.
Start to use emojis within your pitches as well. Now this can be used within the subject line. Again, you’re looking to try and get the journalist to get that piece of attention straightaway and look at your headline. Or start to use them within the body of the email too, because they break up that text and it makes your email stand out far more than if you have someone that’s pitching in a business piece of data and you’ve just got huge stacks and research pieces.
Actually throw in some emojis that are relating to the business world, a laptop or whatever it may be, something that proves your point around the campaign. Again, it’s more engaging for a journalist to read that. It means that they’ll probably remember your email over the other 200 that they’re getting that day. So really nice, simplistic tip then for me.
If you’re pitching something in the automotive world, put a car or traffic lights on the end. If you’re doing something in the travel sphere, sun, beaches, something that just gets that journalist’s eye. It means that your email is going to be opened above anyone else’s.
5. Use Twitter
Finally then, so I know I’ve kept this around email outreach for the last couple of points.
But one thing that we’re seeing work really well with the implementation of this digital PR newsroom is starting to approach and speak to journalists on Twitter. Twitter we know is a new source for journalists. Trending topics will obviously be picked up in the press and covered on a daily if not hourly basis. As soon as something breaks on Twitter, we’ll see journalists, writers, bloggers turn that trending feature into an article that’s really resonant and relevant for their audience.
So in the run-up to your campaign, way before the launch, we’re talking like three or four weeks here, reach out to the journalists on Twitter. Start to engage with them. Like some articles. Start to let them know that you’re in and engaging with them on their social media platform. Don’t push it too hard.
You don’t want to go overboard with this. But a little bit of engagement here and there means that when your email comes into their inbox, it’s not a new name, and you’re already starting to build the foundations of that relationship. Secondary to this then, feel free and start to experiment with DM’ing journalists as well. We know that they’re getting two, three, or four hundred emails per day. If you take to Twitter and send them a quick overview of your up-and-coming campaign via a Twitter DM, it’s likely that they’ll read that on the journey home or potentially when they’re walking from meeting to meeting.
Again, it puts you one step ahead of your competitors. Recently we’ve got some of our best pieces of coverage through warming the press up and specific journalists through Twitter, because when your campaign launches, you’re not going out with it cold. Instead the journalist knows that it’s coming in. They may even have the editorial space to cover that feature for you too. It’s something that we’ve seen really work, and again I can’t stress enough that you really have to find that balance.
You don’t want to be plaguing journalists. You don’t want to be a pain and starting to like every single tweet they do. But if it is relevant and you find an opportunity to engage and speak to them about your campaign the weeks in advance, it opens up that door. Again, you may be able to secure an exclusive out of it, which means that you get that first huge hit. So there are my five tips for link building in 2019, and it will help you supercharge things.
Now if you have any comments for me, any questions, please pop them in the thread below or reach out to me on Twitter. As I’ve just said, feel free to send me a DM. I’m always around and would love to help you guys a little bit more if you do have any questions for me. Thanks, Moz fans.
Did you miss Shannon’s groundbreaking talk at MozCon 2019, How to Supercharge Link Building with a Digital PR Newsroom? Download the deck here and don’t miss out on next year’s conference — super early bird discounts are available now!
Disclaimer: I’m currently the Director of Demand Generation at Nextiva, and writing this case study post-mortem as the former VP of Marketing at Sales Hacker (Jan. 2017 – Sept. 2018).
Every B2B company is investing in content marketing right now. Why? Because they all want the same thing: Search traffic that leads to website conversions, which leads to money.
But here’s the challenge: Companies are struggling to get traction because competition has reached an all-time high. Keyword difficulty (and CPC) has skyrocketed in most verticals. In my current space, Unified Communication as a Service (UCaaS), some of the CPCs have nearly doubled since 2017, with many keywords hovering close to $300 per click.
Not to mention, organic CTRs are declining, and zero-click queries are rising.
Bottom line: If you’re not creating 10x quality content based on strategic keyword research that satisfies searcher intent and aligns back to business goals, you’re completely wasting your time.
So, that’s exactly what we did. The outcome? We grew from 19k monthly organic sessions to over 100k monthly organic sessions in approximately 14 months, leading to an acquisition by Outreach.io
We validated our hard work by measuring organic growth (traffic and keywords) against our email list growth and revenue, which correlated positively, as we expected.
Organic Growth Highlights
January 2017–June 2018
As soon as I was hired at Sales Hacker as Director of Marketing, I began making SEO improvements from day one. While I didn’t waste any time, you’ll also notice that there was no silver bullet.
This was the result of daily blocking and tackling. Pure execution and no growth hacks or gimmicks. However, I firmly believe that the homepage redesign (in July 2017) was a tremendous enabler of growth.
Organic Growth to Present Day
I officially left Sales Hacker in August of 2018, when the company was acquired by Outreach.io. However, I thought it would be interesting to see the lasting impact of my work by sharing a present-day screenshot of the organic traffic trend, via Google Analytics. There appears to be a dip immediately following my departure, however, it looks like my predecessor, Colin Campbell, has picked up the slack and got the train back on the rails. Well done!
Unique considerations — Some context behind Sales Hacker’s growth
Before I dive into our findings, here’s a little context behind Sales Hacker’s growth:
- Sales Hacker’s blog is 100 percent community-generated — This means we didn’t pay “content marketers” to write for us. Sales Hacker is a publishing hub led by B2B sales, marketing, and customer success contributors. This can be a blessing and a curse at the same time — on one hand, the site gets loads of amazing free content. On the other hand, the posts are not even close to being optimized upon receiving the first draft. That means, the editorial process is intense and laborious.
- Aggressive publishing cadence (4–5x per week) — Sales Hacker built an incredible reputation in the B2B Sales Tech niche — we became known as the go-to destination for unbiased thought leadership for practitioners in the space (think of Sales Hacker as the sales equivalent to Growth Hackers). Due to high demand and popularity, we had more content available than we could handle. While it’s a good problem to have, we realized we needed to keep shipping content in order to avoid a content pipeline blockage and a backlog of unhappy contributors.
- We had to “reverse engineer” SEO — In short, we got free community-generated and sponsored content from top sales and marketing leaders at SaaS companies like Intercom, HubSpot, Pipedrive, LinkedIn, Adobe and many others, but none of it was strategically built for SEO out of the box. We also had contributors like John Barrows, Richard Harris, Lauren Bailey, Tito Bohrt, and Trish Bertuzzi giving us a treasure trove of amazing content to work with. However, we had to collaborate with each contributor from beginning to end and guide them through the entire process. Topical ideation (based on what they were qualified to write about), keyword research, content structure, content type, etc. So, the real secret sauce was in our editorial process. Shout out to my teammate Alina Benny for learning and inheriting my SEO process after we hired her to run content marketing. She crushed it for us!
- Almost all content was evergreen and highly tactical — I made it a rule that we’d never agree to publish fluffy pieces, whether it was sponsored or not. Plain and simple. Because we didn’t allow “content marketers” to publish with us, our content had a positive reputation, since it was coming from highly respected practitioners. We focused on evergreen content strategies in order to fuel our organic growth. Salespeople don’t want fluff. They want actionable and tactical advice they can implement immediately. I firmly believe that achieving audience satisfaction with our content was a major factor in our SEO success.
- Outranking the “big guys” — If you look at the highest-ranking sales content, it’s the usual suspects. HubSpot, Salesforce, Forbes, Inc, and many other sites that were far more powerful than Sales Hacker. But it didn’t matter as much as traditional SEO wisdom tells us, largely due to the fact that we had authenticity and rawness to our content. We realized most sales practitioners would rather read insights from their peers in their community, above the traditional “Ultimate Guides,” which tended to be a tad dry.
- We did VERY little manual link building — Our link building was literally an email from me, or our CEO, to a site we had a great relationship with. “Yo, can we get a link?” It was that simple. We never did large-scale outreach to build links. We were a very lean, remote digital marketing team, and therefore lacked the bandwidth to allocate resources to link building. However, we knew that we would acquire links naturally due to the popularity of our brand and the highly tactical nature of our content.
- Our social media and brand firepower helped us to naturally acquire links — It helps A LOT when you have a popular brand on social media and a well-known CEO who authored an essential book called “Hacking Sales”. Most of Sales Hacker’s articles would get widely circulated by over 50+ SaaS partners which would help drive natural links.
- Updating stale content was the lowest hanging fruit — The biggest chunk of our new-found organic traffic came from updating / refreshing old posts. We have specific examples of this coming up later in the post.
- Email list growth was the “north star” metric — Because Sales Hacker is not a SaaS company, and the “product” is the audience, there was no need for aggressive website CTAs like “book a demo.” Instead, we built a very relationship heavy, referral-based sales cadence that was supported by marketing automation, so list growth was the metric to pay attention to. This was also a key component to positioning Sales Hacker for acquisition. Here’s how the email growth progression was trending.
So, now that I’ve set the stage, let’s dive into exactly how I built this SEO strategy.
Bonus: You can also watch the interview I had with Dan Shure on the Evolving SEO Podcast, where I breakdown this strategy in great detail.
1) Audience research
Imagine you are the new head of marketing for a well-known startup brand. You are tasked with tackling growth and need to show fast results — where do you start?
That’s the exact position I was in. There were a million things I could have done, but I decided to start by surveying and interviewing our audience and customers.
Because Sales Hacker is a business built on content, I knew this was the right choice.
I also knew that I would be able to stand out in an unglamorous industry by talking to customers about their content interests.
Think about it: B2B tech sales is all about numbers and selling stuff. Very few brands are really taking the time to learn about the types of content their audiences would like to consume.
When I was asking people if I could talk to them about their media and content interests, their response was: “So, wait, you’re actually not trying to sell me something? Sure! Let’s talk!”
Here’s what I set out to learn:
- Goal 1 — Find one major brand messaging insight.
- Goal 2 — Find one major audience development insight.
- Goal 3 — Find one major content strategy insight.
- Goal 4 — Find one major UX / website navigation insight.
- Goal 5 — Find one major email marketing insight.
In short, I accomplished all of these learning goals and implemented changes based on what the audience told me.
If you’re curious, you can check out my entire UX research process for yourself, but here are some of the key learnings:
Based on these outcomes, I was able to determine the following:
- Topical “buckets” to focus on — Based on the most common daily tasks, the data told us to build content on sales prospecting, building partnerships and referral programs, outbound sales, sales management, sales leadership, sales training, and sales ops.
- Thought leadership — 62 percent of site visitors said they kept coming back purely due to thought leadership content, so we had to double down on that.
- Content Types — Step by step guides, checklists, and templates were highly desired. This told me that fluffy BS content had to be ruthlessly eliminated at all costs.
- Sales Hacker Podcast — 76 percent of respondents said they would listen to the Sales Hacker Podcast (if it existed), so we had to launch it!
2) SEO site audit — Key findings
I can’t fully break down how to do an SEO site audit step by step in this post (because it would be way too much information), but I will share the key findings and takeaways from our own Site Audit that led to some major improvements in our website performance.
Lack of referring domain growth
Sales Hacker was not able to acquire referring domains at the same rate as competitors. I knew this wasn’t because of a link building acquisition problem, but due to a content quality problem.
Lack of organic keyword growth
Sales Hacker had been publishing blog content for years (before I joined) and there wasn’t much to show for it from an organic traffic standpoint. However, I do feel the brand experienced a remarkable social media uplift by building content that was helpful and engaging.
Sales Hacker did happen to get lucky and rank for some non-branded keywords by accident, but the amount of content published versus the amount of traffic they were getting wasn’t making sense.
To me, this immediately screamed that there was an issue with on-page optimization and keyword targeting. It wasn’t anyone’s fault – this was largely due to a startup founder thinking about building a community first, and then bringing SEO into the picture later.
At the end of the day, Sales Hacker was only ranking for 6k keywords at an estimated organic traffic cost of $8.9k — which is nothing. By the time Sales Hacker got acquired, the site had an organic traffic cost of $122k.
This is common among startups that are just looking to get content out. This is just one example, but truth be told, there was a whole mess of non-descriptive URLs that had to get cleaned up.
Poor internal linking structure
The internal linking concentration was poorly distributed. Most of the equity was pointing to some of the lowest value pages on the site.
Poor taxonomy, site structure, and navigation
I created a mind-map of how I envisioned the new site structure and internal linking scheme. I wanted all the content pages to be organized into categories and subcategories.
My goals with the new proposed taxonomy would accomplish the following:
- Increase engagement from natural site visitor exploration
- Allow users to navigate to the most important content on the site
- Improve landing page visibility from an increase in relevant internal links pointing to them.
Topical directories and category pages eliminated with redirects
Topical landing pages used to exist on SalesHacker.com, but they were eliminated with 301 redirects and disallowed in robots.txt. I didn’t agree with this configuration. Example: /social-selling/
Trailing slash vs. non-trailing slash duplicate content with canonical errors
Multiple pages for the same exact intent. Failing to specify the canonical version.
Branded search problems — “Sales Hacker Webinar”
Some of the site’s most important content is not discoverable from search due to technical problems. For example, a search for “Sales Hacker Webinar” returns irrelevant results in Google because there isn’t an optimized indexable hub page for webinar content. It doesn’t get that much search volume (0–10 monthly volume according to Keyword Explorer), but still, that’s 10 potential customers you are pissing off every month by not fixing this.
3) Homepage — Before and after
Sooooo, this beauty right here (screenshot below) was the homepage I inherited in early 2017 when I took over the site.
Fast forward six months later, and this was the new homepage we built after doing audience and customer research…
New homepage goals
- Tell people EXACTLY what Sales Hacker is and what we do.
- Make it stupidly simple to sign up for the email list.
- Allow visitors to easily and quickly find the content they want.
- Add social proof.
- Improve internal linking.
I’m proud to say, that it all went according to plan. I’m also proud to say that as a result, organic traffic skyrocketed shortly after.
Special Note: Major shout out to Joshua Giardino, the lead developer who worked with me on the homepage redesign. Josh is one of my closest friends and my marketing mentor. I would not be writing this case study today without him!
There wasn’t one super measurable thing we isolated in order to prove this. We just knew intuitively that there was a positive correlation with organic traffic growth, and figured it was due to the internal linking improvements and increased average session duration from improving the UX.
4) Updating and optimizing existing content
Special note: We enforced “Ditch the Pitch”
Before I get into the nitty-gritty SEO stuff, I’ll tell you right now that one of the most important things we did was blockade contributors and sponsors from linking to product pages and injecting screenshots of product features into blog articles, webinars, etc.
Side note: One thing we also had to do was add a nofollow attribute to all outbound links within sponsored content that sent referral traffic back to partner websites (which is no longer applicable due to the acquisition).
The #1 complaint we discovered in our audience research was that people were getting irritated with content that was “too salesy” or “too pitchy” — and rightfully so, because who wants to get pitched at all day?
So we made it all about value. Pure education. School of hard knocks style insights. Actionable and tactical. No fluff. No nonsense. To the point.
And that’s where things really started to take off.
Before and after: “Best sales books”
What you are about to see is classic SEO on-page optimization at its finest.
This is what the post originally looked like (and it didn’t rank well for “best sales books).
And then after…
And the result…
Before and after: “Sales operations”
What we noticed here was a crappy article attempting to explain the role of sales operations.
Here are the steps we took to rank #1 for “Sales Operations:”
- Built a super optimized mega guide on the topic.
- Since the old crappy article had some decent links, we figured let’s 301 redirect it to the new mega guide.
- Promote it on social, email and normal channels.
Here’s what the new guide on Sales Ops looks like…
And the result…
5) New content opportunities
One thing I quickly realized Sales Hacker had to its advantage was topical authority. Exploiting this was going to be our secret weapon, and boy, did we do it well:
We knew we could win this SERP by creating content that was super actionable and tactical with examples.
Most of the competing articles in the SERP were definition style and theory-based, or low-value roundups from domains with high authority.
In this case, DA doesn’t really matter. The better man wins.
“Best sales tools”
Because Sales Hacker is an aggregator website, we had the advantage of easily out-ranking vendor websites for best and top queries.
Of course, it also helps when you build a super helpful mega list of tools. We included over 150+ options to choose from in the list. Whereas SERP competitors did not even come close.
Notice how Sales Hacker’s article is from 2017 still beats HubSpot’s 2019 version. Why? Because we probably satisfied user intent better than them.
For this query, we figured out that users really want to know about Direct Sales vs Channel Sales, and how they intersect.
HubSpot went for the generic, “factory style” Ultimate Guide tactic.
Don’t get me wrong, it works very well for them (especially with their 91 DA), but here is another example where nailing the user intent wins.
“Sales excel templates”
This was pure lead gen gold for us. Everyone loves templates, especially sales excel templates.
The SERP was easily winnable because the competition was so BORING in their copy. Not only did we build a better content experience, but we used numbers, lists, and power words that salespeople like to see, such as FAST and Pipeline Growth.
Special note: We never used long intros
The one trend you’ll notice is that all of our content gets RIGHT TO THE POINT. This is inherently obvious, but we also uncovered it during audience surveying. Salespeople don’t have time for fluff. They need to cut to the chase ASAP, get what they came for, and get back to selling. It’s really that straightforward.
When you figure out something THAT important to your audience, (like keeping intros short and sweet), and then you continuously leverage it to your advantage, it’s really powerful.
6) Featured Snippets
Featured snippets became a huge part of our quest for SERP dominance. Even for SERPs where organic clicks have reduced, we didn’t mind as much because we knew we were getting the snippet and free brand exposure.
Here are some of the best-featured snippets we got!
Featured snippet: “Channel sales”
Featured snippet: “Sales pipeline management”
Featured snippet: “BANT”
Featured snippet: “Customer success manager”
Featured snippet: “How to manage a sales team”
Featured snippet: “How to get past the gatekeeper”
Featured snippet: “Sales forecast modeling”
Featured snippet: “How to build a sales pipeline”
7) So, why did Sales Hacker get acquired?
At first, it seems weird. Why would a SaaS company buy a blog? It really comes down to one thing — community (and the leverage you get with it).
Two learnings from this acquisition are:
1. It may be worth acquiring a niche media brand in your space
2. It may be worth starting your own niche media brand in your space
I feel like most B2B companies (not all, but most) come across as only trying to sell a product — because most of them are. You don’t see the majority of B2B brands doing a good job on social. They don’t know how to market to emotion. They completely ignore top-funnel in many cases and, as a result, get minimal engagement with their content.
There’s really so many areas of opportunity to exploit in B2B marketing if you know how to leverage that human emotion — it’s easy to stand out if you have a soul. Sales Hacker became that “soul” for Outreach — that voice and community.
But one final reason why a SaaS company would buy a media brand is to get the edge over a rival competitor. Especially in a niche where two giants are battling over the top spot.
In this case, it’s Outreach’s good old arch-nemesis, Salesloft. You see, both Outreach and Salesloft are fighting tooth and nail to win a new category called “Sales Engagement”.
As part of the acquisition process, I prepared a deck that highlighted how beneficial it would be for Outreach to acquire Sales Hacker, purely based on the traffic advantage it would give them over Salesloft.
Sales Hacker vs. Salesloft vs Outreach — Total organic keywords
This chart from 2018 (data exported via SEMrush), displays that Sales Hacker is ranking for more total organic keywords than Salesloft and Outreach combined.
Sales Hacker vs. Salesloft vs Outreach — Estimated traffic cost
This chart from 2018 (data exported via SEMrush), displays the cost of the organic traffic compared by domain. Sales Hacker ranks for more commercial terms due to having the highest traffic cost.
Sales Hacker vs. Salesloft vs Outreach — Rank zone distributions
This chart from 2018 (data exported via SEMrush), displays the rank zone distribution by domain. Sales Hacker ranked for more organic keywords across all search positions.
Sales Hacker vs. Salesloft vs Outreach — Support vs. demand keywords
This chart from 2018 (data exported via SEMrush), displays support vs demand keywords by domain. Because Sales Hacker did not have a support portal, all its keywords were inherently demand focused.
Meanwhile, Outreach was mostly ranking for support keywords at the time. Compared to Salesloft, they were at a massive disadvantage.
I wouldn’t be writing this right now without the help, support, and trust that I got from so many people along the way.
- Joshua Giardino — Lead developer at Sales Hacker, my marketing mentor and older brother I never had. Couldn’t have done this without you!
- Max Altschuler — Founder of Sales Hacker, and the man who gave me a shot at the big leagues. You built an incredible platform and I am eternally grateful to have been a part of it.
- Scott Barker — Head of Partnerships at Sales Hacker. Thanks for being in the trenches with me! It’s a pleasure to look back on this wild ride, and wonder how we pulled this off.
- Alina Benny — My marketing protege. Super proud of your growth! You came into Sales Hacker with no fear and seized the opportunity.
- Mike King — Founder of iPullRank, and the man who gave me my very first shot in SEO. Thanks for taking a chance on an unproven kid from the Bronx who was always late to work.
- Yaniv Masjedi — Our phenomenal CMO at Nextiva. Thank you for always believing in me and encouraging me to flex my thought leadership muscle. Your support has enabled me to truly become a high-impact growth marketer.
Thanks for reading — tell me what you think below in the comments!
It’s easy to find writers; they’re everywhere — from a one-second Google search to asking on LinkedIn.
But hiring the best ones? That’s the daunting task marketers and business owners face. And you do not just need writers, you need exceptional SEO content writers.
Mainly because that’s what Google (aka the largest traffic driver of most sites) has clearly been clamoring for since their Panda update in 2011, RankBrain in 2015, and their “Fred” update (and by the way, Gary Illyes from Google coined “Fred’ for every unnamed Google update) in March, 2017.
It’s obvious how each of these major updates communicates Google’s preference for excellent SEO writers:
If you’re a frequent Moz reader, you probably know how they work — but if not: Panda penalizes every webpage with content that adds little to no value to people online, giving more visibility to content pieces that do. On its own, the RankBrain update has made Google almost as smart as humans — when choosing the most relevant and high-quality content to rank on page #1 of search engine result pages (SERPs).
The “Fred” update further tackled sites with low-quality content that aren’t doing anything beyond providing information that’s already available on the internet. It also penalized sites that prioritized revenue above user experience.
After this update, 100+ sites saw their traffic drop by 50 percent to 90 percent.
It is evident that Google has, through these core updates, been requiring brands, publishers, and marketers to work with SEO content writers who know their onions; the ones who know how to write with on-page SEO mastery.
But how do you find these exceptional wordsmiths? Without a plan, you will have to screen tens (or even hundreds) of them to find those who are a good fit.
But let’s make it easier for you. Essentially, your ideal SEO writers should have two key traits:
- Good on-page SEO expertise
- A great eye for user experience (i.e. adding relevant images, formatting, etc.)
A writer with these two skills is a great SEO writer. But let’s dig a bit deeper into what that means.
(Note: this post is about hiring exceptional SEO content writers — i.e., wordsmiths who don’t need you monitoring them to do great work. So, things can get a bit techie as you read on. I’ll be assuming your ideal writer understands or is responsible for things like formatting, on-page SEO, and correctly uploading content into your CMS.)
1. On-page SEO knowledge
By now, you know what on-page SEO is. But if not, it’s simply the elements you put on a site or web page to let search engines understand that you have content on specific topics people are searching for.
So, how do you know if a writer has good on-page SEO knowledge?
Frankly, “Can you send me your previous writing samples?” is the ideal question to ask any writer you’re considering hiring. Once they show their samples, have them walk you through each one, and ask yourself the following questions:
Question A: Do they have ‘focus keywords’ in their previous samples?
Several factors come into play when trying to rank any page, but your ideal writer must know how to hold things down on the keyword side of things.
Look through their samples; see if they have optimized any content piece for a specific keyword in the past so you can know if they’ll be able to do the same for your content.
Question B: How do they use title tags?
Search engines use title tags to detect the headings in your content.
You know how it works: put “SEO strategy” — for example — in a few, relevant headings on a page and search engines will understand the page is teaching SEO strategy.
Essentially, your ideal SEO writer should understand how to use them to improve your rankings and attract clicks from your potential customers in search results.
Are title tags really that important? They are. Ahrefs, for instance, made their title tag on a page more descriptive and this alone upped their traffic by 37.58%.
So, look through the titles in your candidate’s samples, especially the h1 title. Here’s what you should look for when examining how a candidate uses HTML tags:
i. Header tags should, ideally, not be more than 60 characters. This is to avoid results that look like this in SERPs:
(three dots in front of your titles constitutes bad UX — which Google frowns at)
ii. The subheadings should be h2 (not necessarily, but it’s a plus)
iii. Headings under subtopics should be h3 (also not necessary, but it’s a plus)
Look for these qualities in your candidate’s work and you’ll be able to confirm that they properly implement title tags in their content, and can do the same for you.
But some writers may not have control over the title tags in their published works — that is, the sites they wrote for probably didn’t give them such access. In this case, request samples they published on their own site, where they actually have control over these tags.
Question C: What do they know about internal linking?
Orbit Media once shared how they used internal linking to shoot a blog post from position #29 up to #4.
So, it’s important that your writers know how to contextually link to your older content pieces while writing new content. And it works for good reason; internal linking helps you:
- Communicate the relevance and value of your pages to Google (the more links a page gets, the more authority it has in Google’s eyes)
- Demonstrate to Google that your site contains in-depth content about any specific topic
- Tell Google your site has easy navigation — which means it has good UX and is well-structured.
Internal linking is a major key to search ranking, so you need writers who have internal linking in their pocketful of tools. But also ensure they do it using proper anchor texts; in a recent LinkedIn post, expert editor Rennie Sanusi hinted at two key anchor text elements to look for in your candidate’s samples:
- [Anchor texts] should clearly explain where they’ll take your reader to
- [Anchor texts] shouldn’t be too long
Question D: Do they write long-form content?
The average word count of a Google first page result is 1,800+ words long — according to research from Backlinko.
Google has been all about in-depth content since its inception; you’re probably familiar with their mission statement:
Every algorithm change they make is geared toward achieving this mission statement, and ranking long-form content helps them in the process as well.
Because, to them, writing longer content means you’re putting more information that searchers are looking for into your content.
So you need writers who can produce long-form content. Check their samples and confirm they know how to write long-form content on a regular basis.
Question E: Have they ranked for any important keywords?
Ultimately, you need to see examples of important keywords your ideal content writer has ranked for in the past. This is the utmost test of their ability to actually drive search traffic your way.
That’s it for finding writers who know on-page SEO. But as you know, that’s only one part of the skills that makes a great SEO content writer.
The other important bit is their ability to write content that engages humans. In other words, they need to know how to keep people reading a page for several minutes (or even hours), leading them to take actions that are important to your business.
2. A great eye for user experience
Keeping readers on a page for long durations also improves your ranking.
In the aforementioned Backlinko study, researchers analyzed 100,000 sites and found that “websites with low average bounce rates are strongly correlated with higher rankings.”
And you know what that means; your ideal SEO writer should not only write to rank on search engines, they must also write to attract and keep the attention of your target audience.
So, look for the following in their samples:
Headlines and introductions that hook readers
You need writers who are expert enough to know the types of headlines and opening paragraphs that work.
It’s not a hard skill to spot; look through their samples. If their titles and introductions don’t hook you, they probably won’t hook your audience. It’s really that simple.
Explainer images and visuals
The report also revealed that: “Content with at least one image significantly outperformed content without any images.”
But of course, they have to be relevant images (or other visual types). And many times (if not most of the time), that means explainer images — so look out for those in their samples. And there are two examples of explainer images:
Example #1: Explainer images with text and pointers
This one has elements (an arrow and a text) on it, explaining how the image is relevant to the topic the content is about.
Example #2: Explainer images without text and pointers
Why does this image not have any text or arrows on it? It’s a self-explanatory screenshot, that’s why.
As long as it’s used appropriately — where the “online sales of Nike products” is mentioned in the content — it gets its message across.
In general, your ideal SEO writers need to know how to use tools like Skitch and Canva to create these images. Remember, you’re on a hunt for the exceptional ones.
References and citing resources
Your ideal writer should link to stats or studies that make their points stronger. This one’s pretty self-explanatory. Check the links in their samples and make sure they cite genuine resources.
Illustrations make understanding easier. Especially if you’re in a technical industry (and most industries have their geeky side), your ideal writer should know how to explain their points with examples.
Simply search their samples — using Command + F (or Ctrl F if you’re using Windows) — for “example,” “instance,” or “illustration.” This works, because writers usually mention things like “for example,” or “for instance” when providing illustrations.
Excellent SEO content writers = Higher search rankings
Getting SEO content writers who have all the skills I’ve mentioned in this article are possible to find. And hiring them means higher search rankings for your content. These writers are, again, everywhere. But here’s the thing — and you’ve probably heard it before: You get what you pay for.
Exceptional SEO content writers are your best bet, but they’re not cheap. They can send your search traffic through the roof, but, like you: They want to work for people who can afford the quality they provide. So, if you’re going on a hunt for them, ready your wallet.
But ensure you get their samples and ask the questions in this guide as you deem fit. If you’re paying for content that’ll help you rank higher on Google, then you really should get what you pay for.
Did you find any of my tips helpful? Let me know in the comments below!