Now more than ever, we’re depending on the online world for our day-to-day activities. We’re making use of the web for learning and studying, shopping, paying bills, and for the majority of our entertainment and social needs. This means the need for search engines to provide us with what we’re looking for has never been more relevant.
Google’s algorithm focuses on how to fulfill search intent, and we want Google to see us doing that. We know the accuracy and relevancy of content is imperative so Google thinks we’re the answer to the searcher’s query.
I lead Moz’s onboarding team in Ireland, and keywords are our most discussed topic in one-on-one walkthroughs — you all want to know how to find the best keywords, if you are currently using the most relevant keywords, and what keywords your competitors are using. The Moz Pro tool shows us all this and more.
We want our customers to know the most effective ways to use Moz Pro to get keyword data, so we’ve put together these Daily Fix videos to help you do just that! I would love to hear your opinion on fulfilling search intent and what has yielded good results for your website, so speak to you in the comments section!
Keyword suggestions groups
Is there any way to find keywords that have a similar meaning or are broadly related in meaning so I can focus on similar keywords? How can I see the volume of a group of similar keywords?
In this Daily Fix, Emilie guides you through how to use the “Grouped keywords” filter in the Keyword Explorer tool.
The “Grouped keywords” filter gives you an idea of the volume for your area of interest, rather than focusing solely on the volume of one keyword.
Does Moz have anything to help me create better content relating to my keywords, or to help me start my keyword competitive analysis?
In this Daily Fix, Megan shows us how to use the content suggestions section in the Page Optimization tool to help build better content in relation to your keyword topic.
This can also help you get ideas for keywords to research based on the content suggestions provided.
This section is based on a specific URL and keyword pairing, and shows other keywords commonly found in the highly-ranked search results which contain your initial keyword.
What keywords am I ranking for that I’m not aware of?
What if I start ranking for other keywords after I create my campaign, does Moz track this data?
In this Daily Fix, Emilie explains how to find keywords that may be sending your site traffic, and for which your site is already ranking but you’re not tracking.
Click on the “Track” button to add these opportunities to your campaign, and start collecting data to see where you’re ranking for each keyword.
Finding ranking keywords
How do I know what I’m already ranking for?
How can I see what keywords my competitors are ranking for?
In this Daily Fix, I demonstrate how to find any website’s ranking keywords. You can see your website’s ranking keywords, or find those of competitors. You can also see pages associated with ranking positions, which will help with content ideas.
Having this information allows you to start your competitor analysis. You can use your keyword list feature and have a list for each competitor to get a better understanding of potential keyword opportunities available to you.
The keyword list overview helps to compare metrics across groups of keywords, which will help you see low hanging fruit.
Can Moz give me suggestions of keywords I might not have thought of? How do I know what questions my customers could be asking?
In this Daily Fix, Michael shows you how to use the suggestions filter in Keyword Explorer to find useful keywords. This can be a great source for content suggestions, example ideas for your blog, or potential FAQs on your website.
It can also help you find topics that are related to your keyword so you can provide the content your customers really want to see.
It’s the local SEO two-step at the heart of every campaign. It’s the 1-2 punch combo that hinges on a balance of visible, accurate contact data, and a volunteer salesforce of consumer reviewers who are supporting your rise to local prominence.
But here’s the thing: while managed location data and reviews may be of equal and complementary power, they shouldn’t require an equal share of your time.
Automation of basic business data distribution is the key to freeing you up to focus on the elements of listings that require human ingenuity — namely, reviews and other listings-based content like posts and Q&A.
It’s my hope that sharing this article with your team or your boss will help you get the financial allocations you need for automated listings management, plus generous resources for creative reputation management.
Location data + reviews = the big picture
When Google lists a business, it gives good space to the business name, and a varying degree of space to the address and phone number. But look at the real estate occupied by the various aspects associated with reputation:
If Google cares this much about ratings, review text, responses, and emerging elements like place topics and attributes, any local brand you’re marketing should see these factors as a priority. In this article, I’ll strive to codify your actionable perspective on managing both location data and the many aspects of reviews.
Ratings: The most powerful local filter of them all
In the local SEO industry, we talk a lot about Google’s filters, like the Possum filter that’s supposed to strain local businesses through a sort of sieve so that a greater diversity of mapped results is shown to the searcher. But searchers have an even more powerful filter than this — the human-driven filter of ratings that helps people intuitively sort local brands by perceived quality.
Whether they’re stars or circles, the majority of rating icons send a 1–5 point signal to consumers that can be instantly understood. This symbol system has been around since at least the 1820s; it’s deeply ingrained in all our brains as a judgement of value.
This useful, rapid form of shorthand lets a searcher needing to do something like grab a quick taco see that the food truck with five Yelp stars is likely a better bet than the one with only two. Meanwhile, searchers with more complex needs can comb through the ratings of many listings at leisure, carefully weighing one option against another for major purchases. In Google’s local results, ratings are the most powerful human-created filter that influences the major goal of being chosen.
But before a local brand can be chosen on the basis of its high ratings, it has to rank well enough to be found. The good news is that, over the past three years, expert local SEOs have become increasingly convinced of the impact of Google ratings on Google local pack rankings. In 2017, when I wrote the original version of this post, contributors to the Local Search Ranking Factors survey placed Google star ratings down at #24 in terms of local rankings influence. In 2020, this metric has jumped up to spot #8 — a leap of 16 spots in just three years.
In the interim, Google has been experimenting with different ratings-related displays. In 2017, they were testing the application of a “highly rated” snippet on hotel rankings in the local packs. Today, their complex hotel results let the user opt to see only 4+ star results. Meanwhile, local SEOs have noticed patterns over the years like searches with the format of “best X in city” (e.g. best burrito in Dallas) appearing to default to local results made up of businesses that have earned a minimum average of four stars. Doubtless, observations like these have strengthened experts’ convictions that Google cares a lot about ratings and allows them to influence rank.
Heading into 2021, any local brand with goals of being found and chosen must view low ratings as an impediment to reaching full growth potential.
Consumer sentiment: The local business story your customers are writing for you
Here’s a randomly chosen Google 3-pack result when searching just for “tacos” in a small city in the San Francisco Bay Area:
We’ve just covered the topic of ratings, and you can look at a result like this to get that instant gut feeling about the 4-star-rated eateries vs. the 2-star place. Now, let’s open the book on business #3 and see precisely what kind of brand story its consumers are writing, as you would in conducting a professional review audit for a local business, excerpting dominant sentiment:
It’s easy to ding fast food chains. Their business model isn’t commonly associated with fine dining or the kind of high wages that tend to promote employee excellence. In some ways, I think of them as extreme examples. Yet, they serve as good teaching models for how even the most modest-quality offerings create certain expectations in the minds of consumers, and when those basic expectations aren’t met, it’s enough of a story for consumers to share in the form of reviews.
This particular restaurant location has an obvious problem with slow service, orders being filled incorrectly, and employees who have been denied the training they need to represent the brand in a knowledgeable, friendly, or accessible manner. If you audited a different business, its pain points might surround outdated fixtures or low standards of cleanliness.
Whatever the case, when the incoming consumer turns to the review world, their eyes scan the story as it scrolls down their screen. Repeat mentions of a particular negative issue can create enough of a theme to turn the potential customer away. One survey says only up to 11% of consumers will do business with a brand that’s wound up with a 2-star rating based on poor reviews. Who can afford to let the other 91% of consumers go elsewhere?
The central goal of being chosen hinges on recognizing that your reviewer base is a massive, unpaid salesforce that tells your brand story. Survey after survey consistently finds that people trust reviews — in fact, they may trust them more than any claim your brand can make about itself.
Going into 2021, the writing is on the wall that Google cares a great deal about themes surfacing in your reviews. The ongoing development and display of place topics and attributes signifies Google’s increasing interest in parsing sentiment, and doubtless, using such data to determine relevance.
Fully embracing review management and the total local customer service ecosystem is key to giving customers a positive tale to tell, enabling the business you’re marketing to be trusted and chosen for the maximum number of transactions.
Velocity/recency/count: Just enough of a timely good thing to be competitive
This is one of the easiest aspects of review management to convey. You can sum it up in one sentence: don’t get too many reviews at once on any given platform but do get enough reviews on an ongoing basis to avoid looking like you’ve gone out of business.
For a little more background on the first part of that statement, watch Mary Bowling describing in this LocalU video how she audited a law firm that went from zero to thirty 5-star reviews within a single month. Sudden gluts of reviews like this not only look odd to alert customers, but they can trip review platform filters, resulting in removal. Remember, reviews are a business lifetime effort, not a race. Get a few this month, a few next month, and a few the month after that. Keep going.
The second half of the review timing paradigm relates to not running out of steam in your acquisition campaigns. Multiple surveys indicate that the largest percentage of review readers consider content from the past month to be most relevant. Despite this, Google’s index is filled with local brands that haven’t been reviewed in over a year, leaving searchers to wonder if a place is still in business, or if it’s so unimpressive that no one is bothering to review it.
While I’d argue that review recency may be more important in review-oriented industries (like restaurants) vs. those that aren’t quite as actively reviewed (like septic system servicing), the idea here is similar to that of velocity, in that you want to keep things going. Don’t run a big review acquisition campaign in January and then forget about outreach for the rest of the year. A moderate, steady pace of acquisition is ideal.
And finally, a local SEO FAQ comes from business owners who want to know how many reviews they need to earn. There’s no magic number, but the rule of thumb is that you need to earn more reviews than the top competitor you are trying to outrank for each of your search terms. This varies from keyword phrase, to keyword phrase, from city to city, from vertical to vertical. The best approach is steady growth of reviews to surpass whatever number the top competitor has earned.
Authenticity: Honesty is the only honest policy
For me, this is one of the most prickly and interesting aspects of the review world. Three opposing forces meet on this playing field: business ethics, business education, and the temptations engendered by the obvious limitations of review platforms to police themselves.
I often recall a basic review audit I did for a family-owned restaurant belonging to a friend of a friend. Within minutes, I realized that the family had been reviewing their own restaurant on Yelp (a glaring violation of Yelp’s policy). I felt sorry to see this, but being acquainted with the people involved (and knowing them to be quite nice!), I highly doubted they had done this out of some dark impulse to deceive the public.
In such a scenario, there’s definitely an opportunity for the marketer to offer the necessary education to describe the risks involved in tying a brand to misleading practices, highlighting how vital it is to build trust within the local community. Fake positive reviews aren’t building anything real on which a company can stake its future. Ethical business owners will catch on when you explain this in honest terms and can then begin marketing themselves in smarter ways.
But then there’s the other side. Mike Blumenthal’s reporting on this has set a high bar in the industry, with coverage of developments like the largest review spam network he’d ever encountered. There’s simply no way to confuse organized, global review spam with a busy small business making a wrong, novice move. Real temptation resides in this scenario, because, as Blumenthal states:
“Review spam at this scale, unencumbered by any Google enforcement, calls into question every review that Google has. Fake business listings are bad, but businesses with 20, or 50, or 150 fake reviews are worse. They deceive the searcher and the buying public and they stain every real review, every honest business, and Google.”
When a platform like Google makes it easy to “get away with” deception, companies lacking ethics will take advantage of the opportunity. Beyond reporting review spam, one of the best things we can do as marketers is to offer ethical clients the education that helps them make honest choices. We can simply pose the question:
Is it better to fake your business’ success or to actually achieve success?
Local brands that choose to take the high road must avoid:
Any form of review incentives or spam
Review gating that filters consumers so that only happy ones leave reviews
Violations of the review guidelines specific to each review platform
Owner responses: creatively turning reviews into two-way conversations
My key learnings from nearly two decades of examining reviews and responses are these:
Review responses are a critical form of customer service that can’t be ignored any more than business staff should ignore in-person customers asking for face-to-face help. Many reviewers expect responses.
The number of local business listings in every industry with zero owner responses on them is totally shocking.
Negative reviews, when fairly given, are a priceless form of free quality control for the brand. Customers directly tell the brand which problems need to be fixed to make them happy.
Many reviewers think of their reviews as living documents, and update them to reflect subsequent experiences.
Many reviewers are more than happy to give brands a second chance when a problem is resolved.
Positive reviews are conversations starters warmly inviting a response that further engages the customer and can convince them that the brand deserves repeat business.
Local brands and agencies can use software to automate updating a phone number or hours of operation. Software like Moz Local can be of real help in alerting you to new, incoming reviews across multiple platforms, or surfacing the top sentiment themes within your review corpus.
Tools free up resources to manage what can’t be automated: human creativity. It takes serious creative resources to spend time with review sentiment and respond to customers in a way that makes a brand stand out as responsive and worthy. It takes time to fully utilize the opportunities owner responses represent to impact goals all the way from the top to the bottom of the sales funnel.
I’ve never forgotten a piece Florian Huebner wrote for StreetFight documenting the neglected reviews of a major fast food chain and its subsequent increase in location closures and decrease in profits. No one was taking the time to sit down with the reviews, listen, fix problems customers were citing, or offer proofs of caring resolution via owner responses.
And all too often, when brands large and small do respond to reviews, they take a corporate-speak stance equivalent to “whistling past the graveyard” when addressing complaints. To keep the customer and to signal to the public that the brand deserves to be chosen, creative resources must be allocated to providing gutsy, honest owner responses. It’s easy to spot the difference:
The response in yellow signals that the brand simply isn’t invested in customer retention. By contrast, the response in blue is a sample of what it takes to have a real conversation with a real person on the other side of the review text, in hopes of transforming one bad initial experience into a second chance, and hopefully, a lifetime of loyalty.
NAP and reviews: The 1–2 punch combo every local business must practice
Right now, there’s an employee at a local business or a staffer at an agency who is looking at the review corpus of a brand that’s struggling for rankings and profits. The set of reviews contains mixed sentiment, and no one is responding to either positive or negative customer experiences.
Maybe this is an issue that’s been brought up from time to time in company meetings, but it’s never made it to priority status. Decision-makers have felt that time and budget are better spent elsewhere.
Meanwhile, customers are quietly trickling away for lack of attention, leads are being missed, structural issues are being ignored…
If the employee or staffer I’m describing is you, my best advice is to make 2021 the year you make your strongest case for automating listing distribution and management with software so that creative resources can be dedicated to full reputation management.
Local SEO experts, your customers and clients, and Google, itself, are all indicating that location data + reviews are highly impactful and here to stay. In fact, history proves that this combination is deeply embedded in our entire approach to local commerce.
When traveling salesman Duncan Hines first published his 1935 review guide Adventures in Good Eating, he was developing what we think of today as local SEO. Here is my color-coded version of his review of the business that would one day become KFC. It should look strangely familiar to anyone who has ever tackled local business listings management:
No phone number on this “citation,” of course, but telephones were quite a luxury in 1935. Barring that element, this simple and historic review has the core earmarks of a modern local business listing. It has location data and review data; it’s the 1–2 punch combo every local business still needs to get right today. Without the NAP, the business can’t be found. Without the sentiment, the business gives little reason to be chosen.
From Duncan Hines to the digital age, there may be nothing new under the sun in marketing, but striking the right pose between listings and reputation management may be new news to your CEO, your teammates, or clients. So go for it — communicate this stuff, and good luck at your next big meeting!
Check out the new Moz Local plans that let you take care of location data distribution in seconds so that the balance of your focus can be on creatively caring for the customer.
Many SEOs mistakenly believe that freshness signals are simply about updating the content itself (or even lazier, putting a new timestamp on it.) In actuality, the freshness signals Google may look actually take many different forms:
Rate of content change: More frequent changes to the content can indicate more relevant content.
User engagement signals: Declining engagement over time can indicate stale content.
Link freshness: The rate of link growth over time can indicate relevancy.
To be fair, the post had slipped significantly in all of these categories. It hasn’t been updated in years, engagement metrics had dropped, and hardly anyone new linked to it anymore.
To put it simply, Google had no good reason to rank the post highly.
This time when publishing, we also decided to launch the post as a stand-alone guide — instead of a blog post — which would be easier to maintain as evergreen content.
Finally, as I wrote in the guide itself, we simply wanted a cool guide to help people rank. One of the biggest questions we get from new folks after they read the Beginner’s Guide to SEO is: “What do I read next? How do I actually rank a page?”
This is exactly that SEO guide.
Below, we’ll discuss the SEO goals that we hope to achieve with the guide (the SEO behind the SEO), but if you haven’t check it out yet, here’s a link to the new guide:
Based on this, we knew we should include the word “Google” in the title and try to rank for terms about “ranking on Google.”
2. Featured snippets
Before publishing the guide, our friend Brian Dean (aka Backlinko) owns the featured snippet for “how to rank on Google.”
It’s a big, beautiful search feature. And highly deserved!
We want it.
There are no guarantees that we’ll win this featured snippet (or others), but by applying a few featured snippets best practices—along with ranking on the first page—we may get there.
We believe the guide is great content, so we hope it attracts links.
Links are important because while the guide itself may generate search traffic, the links it earns could help with the rankings across our entire site. As Rand Fishkin once famously wrote about the impact of links in SEO, “a rising tide lifts all ships.”
Previously, the old post had a few hundred linking root domains pointing at it, including links from high-authority sites like Salesforce.
Obviously, we are now 301 redirecting these links to the new guide.
We’ll also update internal links throughout the site, as well as adding links to posts and pages where appropriate.
To help build links in the short-term, we’ll continue promoting the guide through social and email channels.
Long-term, we could also do outreach to help build links.
To be honest, we think the best and easiest way to build links naturally is simply to present a great resource that ranks highly, and also that we promote prominently on our site.
Will we succeed?
Time will tell. In 3-6 months we’ll do an internal followup, to track our SEO progress and see how we measured up against our goals.
To make things more complicated, SEO is far more competitive than it was 7 years ago, which makes things harder. Additionally, we’re transparently publishing our SEO strategy out in the open for our competitors to read, so they may adjust their tactics.
Want to help out? You can help us win this challenge by reading and sharing the guide, and even linking to it if you’d like. We’d very much appreciate it 🙂
Are you using internal links to their full potential? Probably not. Luckily, Cyrus is here with five tips to help you boost your internal linking strategy — and your site performance — in this brand new Whiteboard Friday.
Click on the whiteboard image above to open a high resolution version in a new tab!
Howdy, Moz fans! Welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. I’m Cyrus Shepard, and today we are talking about internal links. Specifically, five SEO tactics to maximize your internal links.
I love internal links. There are a lot of guides out there, internal link best practices — they explain everything. This is not that video. This is not that guide. Instead, I want to show you ways to maximize your internal links for maximum SEO gain, because I see a lot of people who don’t leverage their full power, and they think internal links simply aren’t as powerful.
But first, a story…
So I have some specific tactics for you to try and employ, and we’ll get into those in a second. But first, to demonstrate internal links, I want to start with a story, a story which shows some of their potential power. It’s a story of a single link here at Moz that we employed several months ago.
We have a page on Domain Authority. If you Google “Domain Authority,” it’s typically the very first result. Back in January, we added a single link to the page. We had just launched a new tool, SEO Domain Metrics, and we wanted to add a link from our existing page to our new page. So we did. The link said “Check your Domain Authority for free,” and we added it. Within weeks we saw some interesting metrics, not on the page that we linked to, but on the page that we linked from.
We also included an image on the page to draw attention to the link. Bounce rate instantly went down 33%. Why? People were clicking the link. They wanted to check their Domain Authority. Pages per session went up 33%. So when people were visiting this page, they were visiting more pages pretty much because of this link and the accompanying image.
Session duration was up 10%. So people were spending 10% more time on Moz after they visited this page. Within a few weeks, traffic to the page that we added the link to was up 42%, and it has sustained that traffic increase ever since January when we added that link. Of course, the page that we linked to we added links from all over the site.
Traffic on this page has risen exponentially, and it’s now one of the top pages on Moz, probably not all because of this link, but the cumulative efforts of many of those links. So why did that link work so well and why do we think that the link helped improve those page metrics? So here’s the thing that most people don’t get about internal links.
Number one, strive for engagement. When you add internal links to your page, it gives people the opportunity to visit other relevant pages on your site, thereby improving your engagement metrics. That’s when you know that your internal links are working when you improve engagement. If you’re just adding SEO links for SEO value and there’s no engagement change, are you really adding value?
No. So you want to go after engagement. There are some technical Google reasons for this. Google has several patents that we’ve discussed over the years — reasonable surfer. There’s a patent called User Sensitive PageRank. Through these patents, Google describes how they want to count links that people actually click.
If people aren’t clicking on your links, should they really count? So Google has several processes in place to sort of measure what people are clicking or what they might click and actually pass more weight through those links. So you get help with the engagement, but you also pass more link signals through those links that people are actually clicking.
Now think about where you might be putting your internal links now. Are you putting them at the bottom of the page, like in a related post? Is anybody clicking those widget links? Maybe not, probably not. Look at the top of this post, the top of this page. I’m going to add some links about internal linking at the very top of the post. Do you think people are going to click those links?
You bet they are. There’s a good chance you’re going to click one of those links after you watch this video. Or maybe you clicked on it before you watch those videos. So we would expect those links to pass more value than adding those links further down on the page or in a widget or something like that. You can tell your internal links are working and have value when you see your engagement metrics start to move.
So that should be the number one measure or standard of if your internal links are valuable and are working for you. Pursue engagement, number one rule.
2. Extreme topical relevance
Number two tip, extreme topical relevance. Now people say, yes, you should link to topically relevant pages. I like link to extremely topically relevant pages.
So whenever I publish a new page, I look for the other pages on my site that are very topically related, and I make sure to interlink them appropriately so I can get the right rankings boost to the right pages that I want. There are other Google technical reasons for this too. We talked about reasonable surfer and user sensitive PageRank. Well, Google also has something they patented called Topical PageRank, and that means that links that are more topically relevant pass more value.
Links that are less topically relevant pass less value. You can also look at your engagement metrics to see if these links are topically relevant because people generally don’t want to click less topically relevant links. So a couple of tips for finding your most topically relevant pages on your site. For example, for Domain Authority, I might look at all the other keywords that that page ranks for in positions 2 and 10, which means they rank highly but they’re not quite number 1 and I want to boost the rankings.
I want to find other pages on my site that also rank for those keywords. So I would use a query like this, and I’ll put the code in the transcription below. I would search on my site, site to moz.com, search for my keyword “Domain Authority,” and I would exclude the page that I’m actually looking for, so:
Google will give me a list of other pages on my site that rank for Domain Authority, excluding this, and I know those might be good link targets to link to my page to help it rank for those terms. We have some other resources on that as well if you search around and I’ll link to:
Third tip, don’t just add links, add context to your links.
One thing that a lot of people do, that I hate seeing, is when they add a link to a page, they’ll just find a piece of relevant text and they’ll add a link to it and that’s it, without adding any relevant context or anything else like that. In my experience, it’s much better if you add context around a link. Google’s freshness patents talk about the amount of change in a document.
When they just see a link, they might ignore just a simple link added. But if you add text, if you add image, if you add context around a link to help draw people’s attention to it, to help give some relevant signals to Google, that link, in my experience, is much more likely to pass value than simply adding a link and linking some existing text.
So always add context to your links.
4. Make every link unique
Number four, can you believe we’re at four out of five? Number four, make every link unique. Now a lot of people in SEO they talk about link ratio. Should you use exact match anchor text or partial match anchor text? What should your ratios be? I think that’s far too complicated.
I think much easier is just simply make every new link you add unique. Make it natural. Use natural words. I tend to avoid exact match anchor text completely. That way I get to avoid something that’s very easy to do, which is over-optimization. If you’re a new site with not a lot of authority, Google has processes in place to detect over-optimization when they think that you’re trying to manipulate your rankings.
So make every link unique. Use natural words. Don’t worry about ratios and things like that. If you follow my advice, I would generally avoid exact match anchor text on internal links. Other people may give you different advice though.
5. Trim low value links
Finally, tactic number five, you may consider trimming your low value links, and this is another technical reason.
This is a type of old PageRank sculpting. The idea is every page has a certain amount of PageRank. If you include lots and lots of links on your page, the value that Google is able to pass through each link is diminished. It’s diluted. So you sometimes may want to eliminate the low value links. So what do I mean by a low value link?
Links that are not engaging and not relevant. People are not clicking them. If they’re not engaging and they’re not relevant, there is simply no point to include them on the page if they’re not being actually helpful.
All right. So those are my five tips for getting the most power of your internal linking. If you have any other tips that you’d like to share with the community, we’d love to hear about them in the comments below.
Hope you enjoyed this video. Best of luck with your SEO.
Back in the spring of 2017, I wrote that HTTPS results made up half of page-one Google organic URLs. In over three years, I haven’t posted an update, which might lead you to believe that nothing changed. The reality is that a whole lot changed, but it changed so gradually that there was never a single event or clear “a-ha!” moment to write about.
Now, in the fall of 2020, HTTPS URLs make up 98% of page-one organic results in the MozCast 10,000-keyword tracking set. Here’s the monthly growth since April 2017:
There was a bump in HTTPS after October 2017, when Google announced that Chrome would be displaying more warnings to users for non-secure forms, but otherwise forward momentum has been fairly steady. While browsers have continued to raise the stakes, there have been no announced or measured algorithm updates regarding HTTPS.
I scoff at your data!
So, why am I writing this update now? While the MozCast 10,000-keyword set is well-suited for tracking long-term trends (as it’s consistent over time and has a long history), the data is focused on page-one, desktop results and is intentionally skewed toward more competitive terms.
Recently, I’ve been gifted access to our anonymized STAT ranking data — 7.5M keywords across desktop and mobile. Do these trends hold across devices, more pages, and more keywords?
The table above is just the page-one data. Across a much larger data set, the prevalence of HTTPS URLs on page one is very similar to MozCast and nearly identical across desktop and mobile. Now, let’s expand to the top 50 organic results (broken up into groups of ten) …
Even at the tail end of the top 50 organic results, more than 92% of URLs are HTTPS. There does seem to be a pattern of decline in HTTPS prevalence, with more non-secure URLs ranking deeper in Google results, but the prevalence of HTTPS remains very high even on page five of results.
Does this increase in HTTPS prevalence at the top of the rankings suggest that HTTPS is a ranking factor? Not by itself — it’s possible that more authoritative sites tend to be more sensitive to perceived security and have more budget to implement it. However, we know Google has stated publicly that HTTPS is a “lightweight ranking signal”, and this data seems to support that claim.
You can’t make me switch!
I don’t know why you’re being so combative, but no, I can’t really make you do anything. If you’re not convinced that HTTPS is important when 97-98% of the top ten organic results have it, I’m not sure what’s left to say. Of course, that’s not going to stop me from talking some more.
When we focus on rankings, we sometimes ignore core relevance (this is a challenge in large-scale ranking studies). For example, having relevant keywords on your page isn’t going to determine whether you win at rankings, but it’s essential to ranking at all. It’s table stakes — you can’t even join the game without relevant keywords. The same goes for HTTPS in 2020 — it’s probably not going to determine whether you rank #1 or #10, but it is going to determine whether you rank at all. Without a secure site, expect the bouncer to send you home.
As importantly, Google has made major changes around HTTPS/SSL in the Chrome browser, increasingly warning visitors if your site isn’t secure. Even if you’re still lucky enough to rank without HTTPS URLs, you’re going to be providing a poor user experience to a lot of visitors.
There’s not much left between 97% and 100%, and not many blog posts left to write about this particular trend. If you’re not taking HTTPS/SSL seriously in 2020, this is your final wake-up call.
Now, whether that phrase takes you back to a simpler (maybe? I don’t know, I was born in the 80s) time of gold panning, Mark Twain, and metallurgical assay — or just makes you want some Velveeta shells and liquid gold (I also might be hungry) — the point is, there is a lot you can learn from analyzing search results.
Search engine results pages (SERPs) are the mountains we’re trying to climb as SEOs to reach the peak (number one position). But these mountains aren’t just for climbing — there are numerous “nuggets” of information to be mined from the SERPs that can help us on our journey to the mountaintop.
Earning page one rankings is difficult — to build optimized pages that can rank, you need comprehensive SEO strategy that includes:
Technical SEO audits
Projections and forecasting
Niche and audience research
Content ideation and creation
Knowledge and an understanding of your (or your client’s) website’s history
A ton of work and research goes into successful SEO.
Fortunately, much of this information can be gleaned from the SERPs you’re targeting, that will in turn inform your strategy and help you make better decisions.
The three main areas of research that SERP analysis can benefit are:
And competitive analysis.
So, get your pickaxe handy (or maybe just a notebook?) because we’re going to learn how to mine the SERPs for SEO gold!
Finding keyword research nuggets
Any sound SEO strategy is built on sound keyword research. Without keyword research, you’re just blindly creating pages and hoping Google ranks them. While we don’t fully understand or know every signal in Google’s search algorithm — I’m pretty confident your “hopes” aren’t one of them — you need keyword research to understand the opportunities as they exist.
And you can find some big nuggets of information right in the search results!
First off, SERP analysis will help you understand the intent (or at least the perceived intent by Google) behind your target keywords or phrases. Do you see product pages or informational content? Are there comparison or listicle type pages? Is there a variety of pages serving multiple potential intents? For example:
Examining these pages will tell you which page — either on your site or yet to be created — would be a good fit. For example, if the results are long-form guides, you’re not going to be able to make your product page rank there (unless of course the SERP serves multiple intents, including transactional). You should analyze search intent before you start optimizing for keywords, and there’s no better resource for gauging searcher intent than the search results themselves.
You can also learn a lot about the potential traffic you could receive from ranking in a given SERP by reviewing its makeup and the potential for clicks.
Of course, we all want to rank in position number one (and sometimes, position zero) as conventional wisdom points to this being our best chance to earn that valuable click-through. And, a recent study by SISTRIX confirmed as much, reporting that position one has an average click-through rate (CTR) of 28.5% — which is fairly larger than positions two (15.7%) and three (11%).
But the most interesting statistics within the study were regarding how SERP layout can impact CTR.
Some highlights from the study include:
SERPs that include sitelinks have a 12.7% increase in CTR, above average.
Position one in a SERP with a featured snippet has a 5.2% lower CTR than average.
Position one in SERPs that feature a knowledge panel see an 11.8% dip in CTR, below average.
SERPs with Google Shopping ads have the worst CTR: 14.8% below average.
SISTRIX found that overall, the more SERP elements present, the lower the CTR for the top organic position.
This is valuable information to discover during keyword research, particularly if you’re searching for opportunities that might bring organic traffic relatively quickly. For these opportunities, you’ll want to research less competitive keywords and phrases, as the SISTRIX report suggests that these long-tail terms have a larger proportion of “purely organic SERPs (e.g. ten blue links).
To see this in action, let’s compare two SERPs: “gold panning equipment” and “can I use a sluice box in California?”.
Here is the top of the SERP for “gold panning equipment”:
And here is the top of the SERP for “can I use a sluice box in California?”:
Based on what we know now, we can quickly assess that our potential CTR for “can I use a sluice box in California?” will be higher. Although featured snippets lower CTR for other results, there is the possibility to rank in the snippet, and the “gold panning equipment” SERP features shopping ads which have the most negative impact (-14.8%) on CTR.
Of course, CTR isn’t the only determining factor in how much traffic you’d potentially receive from ranking, as search volume also plays a role. Our example “can I use a sluice box in California?” has little to no search volume, so while the opportunity for click-throughs is high, there aren’t many searching this term and ranking wouldn’t bring much organic traffic — but if you’re a business that sells sluice boxes in California, this is absolutely a SERP where you should rank.
Keyword research sets the stage for any SEO campaign, and by mining existing SERPs, you can gain information that will guide the execution of your research.
Mining content creation nuggets
Of course, keyword research is only useful if you leverage it to create the right content. Fortunately, we can find big, glittering nuggets of content creation gold in the SERPs, too!
One the main bits of information from examining SERPs is which types of content are ranking — and since you want to rank there, too, this information is useful for your own page creation.
For example, if the SERP has a featured snippet, you know that Google wants to answer the query in a quick, succinct manner for searchers — do this on your page. Video results appearing on the SERP? You should probably include a video on your page if you want to rank there too. Image carousel at the top? Consider what images might be associated with your page and how they would be displayed.
You can also review the ranking pages to gain insight into what formats are performing well in that SERP. Are the ranking pages mostly guides? Comparison posts? FAQs or forums? News articles or interviews? Infographics? If you can identify a trend in format, you’ve already got a good idea of how you should structure (or re-structure) your page.
Some SERPs may serve multiple intents and display a mixture of the above types of pages. In these instances, consider which intent you want your page to serve and focus on the ranking page that serves that intent to glean content creation ideas.
Furthermore, you can leverage the SERP for topic ideation — starting with the People Also Ask (PAA) box. You should already have your primary topic (the main keyword you’re targeting), but the PAA can provide insight into related topics.
Here’s an example of a SERP for “modern gold mining techniques”:
Right there in the PAA box, I’ve got three solid ideas for sub-topics or sections of my page on “Modern Gold Mining”. These PAA boxes expand, too, and provide more potential sub-topics.
While thorough keyword research should uncover most long-tail keywords and phrases related to your target keyword, reviewing the People Also Ask box will ensure you haven’t missed anything.
Of course, understanding what types of formats, structures, topics, etc. perform well in a given SERP only gets you part of the way there. You still need to create something that is better than the pages currently ranking. And this brings us to the third type of wisdom nuggets you can mine from the SERPs — competitive analysis gold.
Extracting competitive analysis nuggets
With an understanding of the keywords and content types associated with your target SERP, you’re well on your way to staking your claim on the first page. Now it’s time to analyze the competition.
A quick glance at the SERP will quickly give you an idea of competition level and potential keyword difficulty. Look at the domains you see — are there recognizable brands? As a small or new e-commerce site, you can quickly toss out any keywords that have SERPs littered with pages from Amazon, eBay, and Wal-Mart. Conversely, if you see your direct competitors ranking and no large brands, you’ve likely found a good keyword set to target. Of course, you may come across SERPs that have major brands ranking along with your competitor — if your competitor is ranking there, it means you have a shot, too!
But this is just the surface SERP silt (say that five times fast). You need to mine a bit deeper to reach the big, golden competitive nuggets.
The next step is to click through to the pages and analyze them based on a variety of factors, including (in no particular order):
If the page is lacking in any, many, or all these areas, there is a strong opportunity your page can become the better result, and rank.
You should also review how many backlinks ranking pages have, to get an idea for the range of links you need to reach to be competitive. In addition, review the number of referring domains for each ranking domain — while you’re competing on a page-to-page level in the SERP, there’s no doubt that pages on more authoritative domains will benefit from that authority.
However, if you find a page that’s ranking from a relatively unknown or new site, and it has a substantial amount of backlinks, that’s likely why it’s ranking, and earning a similar amount of links will give your page a good chance to rank as well.
Lastly, take the time to dive into your competitor’s ranking pages (if they’re there). Examine their messaging and study how they’re talking to your shared audience to identify areas where your copy is suboptimal or completely missing the mark. Remember, these pages are ranking on page one, so they must be resonating in some way.
Successful SEO requires thorough research and analysis from a variety of sources. However, much of what you need can be found in the very SERPs for which you’re trying to rank. After all, you need to understand why the pages that rank are performing if you want your pages to appear there, too.
These SERPs are full of helpful takeaways in terms of:
Keyword research and analysis
Content ideation and strategy
And competitive analysis and review.
These golden nuggets are just there for the takin’ and you don’t need any tools other than Google and your analytical mind — well, and your metaphorical pickaxe.
The COVID-19 pandemic has upended the way we engage with local businesses. We’re ordering more food for delivery, spending more money in online shops, and checking for safety measures on the web listings of businesses of all kinds. But what do these new trends mean for the ways businesses market themselves online?
We asked five local SEO experts to zero in on the trends and tactics businesses across five industries should focus on to get ahead — and stay ahead — during this time.
1. 70% of local marketers reported marketing budget cuts due to COVID-19, leading marketers to focus even more on the most impactful local SEO campaign elements. Which three local search marketing tactics are delivering the most value for businesses right now, and why?
1. Detailed, recent reviews — especially on Google Maps, but preferably also on other sites.
2. Where applicable, a “telehealth”-type page that goes into great detail on what specific problem(s) the doctor or wellness profession can help with remotely.
3. A detailed page on every specific service, procedure, or condition the practice handles, each with a section that explicitly states whether a telehealth or similar “virtual” option is applicable to it.
1. Link building. A lot of businesses have a hard time getting quality links on their own, so when you have link building tactics at an agency that work, it can be a huge value add.
2. Optimizing internal linking structure on the business website. Most websites for small businesses are not structured properly, and making a few adjustments to internal linking can make fairly impressive changes in the search results. It also impacts both the local and organic search results, just like link building.
3. Localizing content on the website. Taking existing pages on a business’ website and optimizing them for city, county, or state queries can have really great impacts on both local and organic results. We’ve also seen great results from optimizing for “near me” queries.
For home services, identifying and reporting Google My Business spam/violations are the most impactful. Why? If you’re using accurate rank tracking and see that you rank #5 for a popular keyword in your target market BUT three of the listings above you are violating Google My Business guidelines, getting those listings updated or removed (depending on the violation) would move you up three spots. Knowing the Google My Business guidelines is crucial along with knowing how to spot violations.
The second most impactful marketing “tactic” is implementing and maintaining a review building strategy. You can’t outrank a sh*tty reputation.
The third most important marketing tactic is understanding who your customers are, where they live, how you can relate to them, and what they care about. From a strategic standpoint, the more information you have on your target customers, the more you’re able to get involved in the local community that they belong to. For local search, I’m of the opinion that Google wants to highlight popular companies from the offline world in the online world. Start focusing on building a better, LOCAL brand.
For restaurant and hotel listings in particular, there’s certainly a lot that can be done to stand out from other listings. With COVID, both categories have been impacted heavily. Many listings needed to either be marked as “Permanently Closed” or the newly created “Temporarily Closed”. Three tactics that are important to utilize right now include:
Effective attribute usage: There are now attributes in GMB for “Health & Safety” and “Service Options”. Both are extremely important right now, especially the mask-related attributes, which can give customers a lot of reassurance. The same goes for how hospitality businesses are operating with respect to whether there are in-store or pick-up options.
Google Post notices: Google Posts are an effective way of communicating important changes to operations. The COVID-19 update post is a great one to use because it never expires. But there is the downside that other posts are buried (COVID-19 posts are given prominence).
Proactive updates: For hotel listings, GMB can be a complicated space with how booking sites are deeply integrated into the UI. As COVID regulations change based on your location, details on these sites need to be kept updated quickly to reach customers and avoid negative experiences.
Make sure that your GMB listings use the COVID posts to share information about how you are keeping your clients safe. Our financial client created COVID landing pages for both personal and business accounts. This client saw a 95% increase in organic goal completions from February to March. There was also a 97% increase in organic goal completions YoY. Google posts that focused on coronavirus-related services and products have also performed well.
2. 75% of marketers agree that elements of Google My Business profiles (categories, reviews, photos, etc.) are local search ranking factors. Which three GMB elements do you recommend businesses focus on right now to influence their local pack rankings, and why?
Phil Rozek: Health and Wellness Services
Number one: reviews.
Number two: categories — particularly the “primary” category.
Number three: getting your “practitioner” GMB pages right, by which I mean you’ve got a detailed “bio” page serving as the GMB landing page, a primary category that reflects the practitioner’s specialty, and Google reviews for each practitioner from their patients.
Joy Hawkins: Legal Services
There are only four elements inside Google My Business that really impact ranking. Since the first one is the business name, I’d suggest focusing on the other three: Reviews, the page on your website you link the listing to, and the categories you choose. For example, in this article, I detailed the difference between the family lawyer category and the divorce lawyer category, and which keywords they correlate to.
Blake Denman: Home Services
Specifically for the home services industry, adjusting your primary category in Google My Business when seasons change. HVAC company? Winter is fast approaching, your primary category should be changed to a relevant heating category instead of your summer category, AC. Your primary Google My Business category is going to have more of a ranking improvement than secondary categories.
I hate to sound like a broken record, but take a look at all of your competitor’s listings for Google My Business violations. And finally, reviews are going to make or break your listing. If you haven’t implemented a review building strategy by now, you really need to get one set up ASAP.
Brodie Clark: Hospitality
As a starting point, opening hours and whether a listing is marked as permanently/temporarily closed are major influencers of local pack rankings. Each is key to showing up at all, but incremental increases can certainly be achieved with gaining a high volume of positive reviews and making sure both your primary and secondary categories are set effectively. With categories, a great place to start is completing a competitor analysis with GMBspy Chrome extension.
Amanda Jordan: Financial Services
Reviews are one of the most important ranking factors, as well as being important for improving conversions.
Second is the proximity to searchers — are there ATMs or branches that currently do not have GMB listings? New listings can help increase visibility in Google Maps.
Build local links. Now is a great time to work on link building. Try to find directories and organizations specific to your geographic location to join.
3. 90% of our survey respondents agree that GMB reviews influence local pack rankings. What advice can you offer businesses looking to maximize the value of reviews?
Phil Rozek: Health and Wellness Services
Stop going for easy, fast, drive-by email requests, and start trying to identify patients who might go into a little detail in their reviews. Lazy requests result in lazy reviews. At the very least, don’t send “Dear Valued Patient”-type requests by email, but ideally you also find a discreet way to ask in-person, with a follow-up email to come later. See my 2017 post on “Why Your Review-Encouragement Software Is a Meat Grinder”.
These days, more than ever, patients want to know things like what safety and hygiene procedures you follow, what wait times are like, whether the standard of care has changed, etc. Longtime patients are in the best position to write crunchy, detailed reviews, but you should encourage every patient to go into as much detail as they can. Try having a designated “review person” who knows a thing or two about any given patient, and will take a couple of minutes to make a personal and personalized request. Do it because you want “keywords” in your reviews, and because a five-star review that doesn’t impress anyone won’t help your practice much.
Joy Hawkins: Legal Services
Make sure you ask every customer for a review and come up with a process that is streamlined and easy to keep organized. We normally suggest using a paid platform for review management (we use GatherUp) because it can automate the process and send reminders to people who haven’t responded yet.
Blake Denman: Home Services
Figure out the best method for earning reviews. Test email, texting, and in-person requests from your team, physical cards with a bit.ly link, etc. Test each one for a few months, then switch to a different method. Test until you find the method that works best for your customers.
The other thing that really needs to be considered is how to get customers to write about the specific services they used when working with your company. Little prompts or questions that they could answer when you reach out will help customers write better reviews.
Brodie Clark: Hospitality
Getting reviews on GMB has never been easy. You can always try to take the manual route, but that’s impossible to properly scale. I rely on and recommend using GatherUp for hospitality business with multiple listings that need an integrated strategy to gather reviews effectively. The upside of using GatherUp is that you can capture first party reviews to use on your website or as an internal feedback mechanism.
Amanda Jordan: Financial Services
My number one tactic for reviews has always been to have an actual person ask for a review during key points in the customer journey. For example, an associate that helps someone open a checking account, a mortgage advisor who is helping a family refinance their home, etc.
4. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, 78% of local marketers agreed with Mike Blumenthal’s popularized concept that Google is the new homepage for local businesses. Do your observations and analytics data indicate that this concept is still correct? Has the role of websites for currently operational businesses grown or decreased as a result of the public health emergency, and what does that mean for those websites?
For casual, drop-in businesses, where customers or clients don’t need to do much research or make a big decision, I could see how maybe Google has made the SERPs an almost-suitable substitute for the homepage. That may also be true of medical practices to the extent they have current or returning patients who just want or need quick information fast on a practice they’re already familiar with. But when people’s health is at stake, they tend to dig a little deeper. Often they want or need to find out what procedures a practice does or doesn’t offer, learn more about the doctors or other staff, learn more about insurance and billing, or confirm what they saw in the search results.
Joy Hawkins: Legal Services
I agree that Google My Business is becoming a more important factor, as there are a ton of options that Google is pushing out due to COVID-19 that you can take advantage of.
I think it’s important, though, for people to realize that Google My Business is mainly there to provide the opportunity to share more about what your business does and provide ways for customers to contact you. Most of the fields inside Google My Business do not impact ranking. Traditional SEO factors are needed to make sure your business actually ranks on Google, and then Google My Business will help ensure those customers see the right information. Additionally, Google My Business has not replaced the need for a website — it’s simply another place that needs to be monitored and updated frequently.
Blake Denman: Home Services
Yes, Google My Business might be the first interaction people have with before (or needing) to go to your website. Websites are still really important — not just for traditional organic SEO, but for traditional SEO signals that influence Google My Business rankings, too.
Since the public health emergency emerged, we’re seeing an uptick in traffic to websites. Yes, you can add certain attributes to your GMB listing to address public health concerns, but people need more information. What kinds of protocols are you taking? How far out are you booked?
Brodie Clark: Hospitality
It really depends on the business type, but at the moment, many local businesses (especially in hospitality) are under a lot of pressure. This means they might not have the capacity to keep their websites updated or their GMB listings in check. So, they’re having to resort to food delivery services like UberEats — which has become far more mainstream in recent years, and I’m guessing there’s been an increase during 2020. And hotels, where I’m located in Melbourne, anyway, haven’t been able to operate for some time, but I probably wouldn’t be relying on their GMB listing to give the most up-to-date information.
Amanda Jordan: Financial Services
The role of the website has definitely grown for our financial clients. Websites are hubs for useful information, especially in the case of a crisis or for products and services that play a large role in your life. For many business categories, the information found on GMB listings is enough to get conversions. Consumers do significant research when choosing a financial product, and they need all of the information they can get to make a well-informed decision based on rates, fees, and policies.
5. Only 39% of marketers feel that Google’s emphasis on user-to-business proximity always delivers high-quality results. In the industry, does Google tend to prioritize proximity over quality for core search terms? Would you say they over-emphasize proximity in your experience?
Phil Rozek: Health and Wellness Services
That’s truest in saturated industries, in my experience. But in more specialized fields, or for more specific (niche) terms, Google doesn’t seem to fixate on proximity as much. To some extent that’s because it can’t: Google needs to go a little farther afield to grab enough relevant results to fill up a page or a 3-pack.
Joy Hawkins: Legal Services
Absolutely. Proximity is one of the main reasons why spam is a problem in the legal services industry. Marketing companies will create lead-generating Google My Business listings and be able to get them to rank simply based on having keyword-rich business names. They create them in mass so they rank when people close to them are searching (due to the proximity factor).
Here is an example of some of the spam we see in the legal services industry.
Blake Denman: Home Services
Proximity for certain types of industries (restaurants, coffee shops, dry cleaners, etc.) are great, but for others, like home industries, they are not. Most home service businesses should not be displaying their address since they are a Service Area Business, but this doesn’t stop some from keeping their address up to rank in that city.
Google does tend to prioritize proximity in the home services industry, unfortunately.
Brodie Clark: Hospitality
I think Google does a reasonable job at dialing up the proximity meter where necessary. If you were to pin keywords in a business listing name against proximity, keywords in the business name would win nine times out of 10. So in that instance, other signals should be dialled up further, but proximity may only be relevant in certain cases.
Amanda Jordan: Financial Services
Absolutely. With digital banking and the amount of trust we put into financial organizations, proximity isn’t a major factor when considering a financial service provider, but Google results don’t reflect that.
Proximity is a much bigger factor when you’re choosing a place to order takeout from than it is when you’re choosing who to trust with your 30-year mortgage. Reviews should definitely play a bigger factor than proximity for financial institutions.
6. 91% of marketers tell us they have a strategy in place for capturing featured snippet visibility in the SERPs. Which featured snippets should businesses focus on most, and why?
Phil Rozek: Health and Wellness Services
Focus on FAQs, particularly on your “service,” “treatment,” or “condition” pages. Focus on those sorts of pages rather than on blog posts or other purely informational resources, which generally are less likely to help bring you new patients.
Those FAQs and your answers, of course, should be specific to the service, treatment, procedure, or condition you describe on a given page. The questions should be phrased in the way your patients (or searchers) would phrase them, and your answers should be blurb-length and relatively simple.
Joy Hawkins: Legal Services
I have seen featured snippets for lots of really long-tail, commercial-intent keywords that probably shouldn’t have featured snippets. These can be really amazing sources of traffic if you get one of them (see photo below). Additionally, creating content around things like “can you sue for [insert information]” can be a great way to win featured snippets.
Blake Denman: Home Services
With more and more personalization coming into the SERPs, I believe that featured snippets will become more and more regionally specific. If you do a search for “new water heater cost” you see a featured snippet for Home Advisor. If a company that is local to me published content around the cost and installation, why wouldn’t Google serve that snippet to me instead of what is shown nationally?
Brodie Clark: Hospitality
Featured snippets are a topic that I write about regularly. When it comes to hospitality businesses, featured snippets can be a lower-end priority. According to the MozCast, featured snippets appear on ~9% of all SERPs in the ~10K MozCast query set. I would expect it to be lower than that for most hospitality businesses. Focus on the featured snippets that provide the highest return for your time, and ensure you’ve got a tracking strategy in place. I wrote a post recently that described a method for using Google Analytics and Google Tag Manager to capture these insights.
Amanda Jordan: Financial Services
We teach our financial clients to focus on educating their customers by making sure we research the right topics and provide the best possible answer. Paragraph, table, and carousel featured snippets are typically the types that we see financial websites achieving most often.
7. We saw an increase in the number of consultants advising clients about offline strategy, instead of keeping strictly to online SEO consulting. What can businesses be doing offline right now to strengthen their chances of success?
Phil Rozek: Health and Wellness Services
Don’t keep patients waiting anywhere close to how long they’d wait pre-COVID. Patients should think, “I wish it happened under better circumstances, but I do like that I don’t wait around as much as I used to.”
Make sure your patient-facing staff are always friendly, patient, and organized. Many practices get bad reviews online not because of the doctor(s), but because of complaints regarding staff. Yes, admins and other staff have a tough job, and no, patients aren’t always reasonable. Just the same, staff-patient issues can bring down a practice. Continually working with staff on soft skills is time well-spent.
Get to know more doctors or business owners outside of your field of practice. Occasionally they have great ideas that you can adapt to your situation, to your practice.
Joy Hawkins: Legal Services
I would focus on tactics offline that would increase branded searches on Google. Branded searches are one of the things we’ve found that correlate with your business getting a place label on Google Maps. Our study on this is releasing later this year.
Blake Denman: Home Services
Start focusing on building a BETTER. LOCAL. BRAND. I’ve come across websites that have a horrible backlink profile or haven’t updated their website since 2010, yet they rank prominently in their market — why? They have been involved in their local community for a long time.
If you know who your customers are and have dived into your affinity categories in Google Analytics, you will have a really good understanding of what your target audience cares about outside of your service.
Brodie Clark: Hospitality
Talk to your customers. Ask them questions and understand their concerns. Taking important conversations offline still plays an important role in your marketing strategy.
Amanda Jordan: Financial Services
Review strategies should include offline tactics. Community outreach and involvement are crucial. I would argue that anyone who is consulting about online reputation management should focus on the company’s reputation offline as well.
Every business is different and no tactic is one-size-fits-all. As with all good things in SEO, the key is testing. Whether you’re releasing a new product or service, upleveling your review management process, or changing the way you use Google My Business, we encourage you to try out some of these expert tips to see what will stick for your business.
Have a local SEO strategy that’s working well for your business, or want us to feature your industry in our next post? Let us know in the comments below.
When you publish new content, you want users to find it ranking in search results as fast as possible. Fortunately, there are a number of tips and tricks in the SEO toolbox to help you accomplish this goal. Sit back, turn up your volume, and let Cyrus Shepard show you exactly how in this popular and informative episode of Whiteboard Friday.
[Note: #3 isn’t covered in the video, but we’ve included in the post below. Enjoy!]
Click on the whiteboard image above to open a high-resolution version in a new tab!
Howdy, Moz fans. Welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. I’m Cyrus Shepard, back in front of the whiteboard. So excited to be here today. We’re talking about ten tips to index and rank new content faster.
You publish some new content on your blog, on your website, and you sit around and you wait. You wait for it to be in Google’s index. You wait for it to rank. It’s a frustrating process that can take weeks or months to see those rankings increase. There are a few simple things we can do to help nudge Google along, to help them index it and rank it faster. Some very basic things and some more advanced things too. We’re going to dive right in.
1. URL Inspection / Fetch & Render
So basically, indexing content is not that hard in Google. Google provides us with a number of tools. The simplest and fastest is probably the URL Inspection tool. It’s in the new Search Console, previously Fetch and Render. As of this filming, both tools still exist. They are depreciating Fetch and Render. The new URL Inspection tool allows you to submit a URL and tell Google to crawl it. When you do that, they put it in their priority crawl queue. That just simply means Google has a list of URLs to crawl. It goes into the priority, and it’s going to get crawled faster and indexed faster.
Another common technique is simply using sitemaps. If you’re not using sitemaps, it’s one of the easiest, quickest ways to get your URLs indexed. When you have them in your sitemap, you want to let Google know that they’re actually there. There’s a number of different techniques that can actually optimize this process a little bit more.
The first and the most basic one that everybody talks about is simply putting it in your robots.txt file. In your robots.txt, you have a list of directives, and at the end of your robots.txt, you simply say sitemap and you tell Google where your sitemaps are. You can do that for sitemap index files. You can list multiple sitemaps. It’s really easy.
You can also do it using the Search Console Sitemap Report, another report in the new Search Console. You can go in there and you can submit sitemaps. You can remove sitemaps, validate. You can also do this via the Search Console API.
But a really cool way of informing Google of your sitemaps, that a lot of people don’t use, is simply pinging Google. You can do this in your browser URL. You simply type in google.com/ping, and you put in the sitemap with the URL. You can try this out right now with your current sitemaps. Type it into the browser bar and Google will instantly queue that sitemap for crawling, and all the URLs in there should get indexed quickly if they meet Google’s quality standard.
(BONUS: This wasn’t in the video, but we wanted to include it because it’s pretty awesome)
Within the past few months, both Google and Bing have introduced new APIs to help speed up and automate the crawling and indexing of URLs.
Both of these solutions allow for the potential of massively speeding up indexing by submitting 100s or 1000s of URLs via an API.
While the Bing API is intended for any new/updated URL, Google states that their API is specifically for “either job posting or livestream structured data.” That said, many SEOs like David Sottimano have experimented with Google APIs and found it to work with a variety of content types.
If you want to use these indexing APIs yourself, you have a number of potential options:
That’s talking about indexing. Now there are some other ways that you can get your content indexed faster and help it to rank a little higher at the same time.
4. Links from important pages
When you publish new content, the basic, if you do nothing else, you want to make sure that you are linking from important pages. Important pages may be your homepage, adding links to the new content, your blog, your resources page. This is a basic step that you want to do. You don’t want to orphan those pages on your site with no incoming links.
Adding the links tells Google two things. It says we need to crawl this link sometime in the future, and it gets put in the regular crawling queue. But it also makes the link more important. Google can say, “Well, we have important pages linking to this. We have some quality signals to help us determine how to rank it.” So linking from important pages.
5. Update old content
But a step that people oftentimes forget is not only link from your important pages, but you want to go back to your older content and find relevant places to put those links. A lot of people use a link on their homepage or link to older articles, but they forget that step of going back to the older articles on your site and adding links to the new content.
Now what pages should you add from? One of my favorite techniques is to use this search operator here, where you type in the keywords that your content is about and then you do a site:example.com. This allows you to find relevant pages on your site that are about your target keywords, and those make really good targets to add those links to from your older content.
6. Share socially
Really obvious step, sharing socially. When you have new content, sharing socially, there’s a high correlation between social shares and content ranking. But especially when you share on content aggregators, like Reddit, those create actual links for Google to crawl. Google can see those signals, see that social activity, sites like Reddit and Hacker News where they add actual links, and that does the same thing as adding links from your own content, except it’s even a little better because it’s external links. It’s external signals.
7. Generate traffic to the URL
This is kind of an advanced technique, which is a little controversial in terms of its effectiveness, but we see it anecdotally working time and time again. That’s simply generating traffic to the new content.
Now there is some debate whether traffic is a ranking signal. There are some old Google patents that talk about measuring traffic, and Google can certainly measure traffic using Chrome. They can see where those sites are coming from. But as an example, Facebook ads, you launch some new content and you drive a massive amount of traffic to it via Facebook ads. You’re paying for that traffic, but in theory Google can see that traffic because they’re measuring things using the Chrome browser.
When they see all that traffic going to a page, they can say, “Hey, maybe this is a page that we need to have in our index and maybe we need to rank it appropriately.”
Once we get our content indexed, talk about a few ideas for maybe ranking your content faster.
8. Generate search clicks
Along with generating traffic to the URL, you can actually generate search clicks.
Now what do I mean by that? So imagine you share a URL on Twitter. Instead of sharing directly to the URL, you share to a Google search result. People click the link, and you take them to a Google search result that has the keywords you’re trying to rank for, and people will search and they click on your result.
You see television commercials do this, like in a Super Bowl commercial they’ll say, “Go to Google and search for Toyota cars 2019.” What this does is Google can see that searcher behavior. Instead of going directly to the page, they’re seeing people click on Google and choosing your result.
This does a couple of things. It helps increase your click-through rate, which may or may not be a ranking signal. But it also helps you rank for auto-suggest queries. So when Google sees people search for “best cars 2019 Toyota,” that might appear in the suggest bar, which also helps you to rank if you’re ranking for those terms. So generating search clicks instead of linking directly to your URL is one of those advanced techniques that some SEOs use.
9. Target query deserves freshness
When you’re creating the new content, you can help it to rank sooner if you pick terms that Google thinks deserve freshness. It’s best maybe if I just use a couple of examples here.
Consider a user searching for the term “cafes open Christmas 2019.” That’s a result that Google wants to deliver a very fresh result for. You want the freshest news about cafes and restaurants that are going to be open Christmas 2019. Google is going to preference pages that are created more recently. So when you target those queries, you can maybe rank a little faster.
Compare that to a query like “history of the Bible.” If you Google that right now, you’ll probably find a lot of very old pages, Wikipedia pages. Those results don’t update much, and that’s going to be harder for you to crack into those SERPs with newer content.
The way to tell this is simply type in the queries that you’re trying to rank for and see how old the most recent results are. That will give you an indication of what Google thinks how much freshness this query deserves. Choose queries that deserve a little more freshness and you might be able to get in a little sooner.
10. Leverage URL structure
Finally, last tip, this is something a lot of sites do and a lot of sites don’t do because they’re simply not aware of it. Leverage URL structure. When Google sees a new URL, a new page to index, they don’t have all the signals yet to rank it. They have a lot of algorithms that try to guess where they should rank it. They’ve indicated in the past that they leverage the URL structure to determine some of that.
Consider The New York Times puts all its book reviews under the same URL, newyorktimes.com/book-reviews. They have a lot of established ranking signals for all of these URLs. When a new URL is published using the same structure, they can assign it some temporary signals to rank it appropriately.
If you have URLs that are high authority, maybe it’s your blog, maybe it’s your resources on your site, and you’re leveraging an existing URL structure, new content published using the same structure might have a little bit of a ranking advantage, at least in the short run, until Google can figure these things out.
These are only a few of the ways to get your content indexed and ranking quicker. It is by no means a comprehensive list. There are a lot of other ways. We’d love to hear some of your ideas and tips. Please let us know in the comments below. If you like this video, please share it for me. Thanks, everybody.
Interested in building your own content strategy? Don’t have a lot of time to spare? We collaborated with HubSpot Academy on their free Content Strategy course — check out the video to build a strong foundation of knowledge and equip yourself with actionable tools to get started!
When business is struggling, budgets are tight, and resources limited, your company might be tempted to cut back or cut off SEO efforts to save time and money until things stabilize. But halting SEO altogether — even for a short time — is actually a bad idea, as it means more work for you and your business in the long run.
Dr. Pete is here with a brand new Whiteboard Friday to tell you why SEO should not be treated like an on/off switch, and provide some suggestions on what to do instead.
Click on the whiteboard image above to open a high resolution version in a new tab!
Hey, everybody, Dr. Pete from Moz here. I want to welcome you to my first recording from Whiteboard Friday Studio Chicago, aka my basement. I want to thank the content team, first of all, for getting me set up with the equipment, but especially for their patience. I am not an AV guy, so this has taken a little while longer than I had hoped. You’ve already seen some remote Whiteboard Fridays from Russ and Britney and Cyrus, and they’re doing a great job. So hopefully we can have some fun, and now I know the ropes and can get this going a little easier.
So I want to talk about a serious topic today. Obviously, we’re going through some tough times. Budgets can be tight, and when that happens, you’re tempted to scale back marketing. Obviously, we’re in the business of selling SEO tools, and we don’t want you to do that because that’s where our food comes from and the roofs over our heads. I’ll be transparent about that. But I do think there are some real dangers to treating SEO like it’s an on/off switch. So I want to talk about the reality of that, and what can happen, and some of what to do to mitigate that.
You can’t do more with less
A friend reached out to me and she said, “My boss is worried about budgets, and he wants to cut back paid search, and he wants to cut back content, and cut back social, but get the same results. What do we do?” Before the pandemic, I might have laughed at that. But it’s a serious question and a serious situation, and the reality is there’s no magic to this. We can’t expect to do more with less.
It’s a nice thing to say. But especially when people are struggling, and when our workers are having problems, and they’re stressed, and their time is being taken up doing mundane things — like grocery shopping — that are three times harder now, we can’t expect them to do more with less, and we can’t expect to do nothing and get results. So what do we do, and how do we deal with this problem?
You can’t treat organic like paid
So first of all, I just want to say that I think sometimes we look at the situation like this. If we scale back marketing, we can just wait until times are better, and then we can push it back up. So we turn on our search marketing. We get the traffic and things are great. We shut it off. Okay, that sucks. We don’t get the traffic, but we’re not paying. Turn it back on and boom the traffic is back.
That’s not how it works, not even close.
This is more like how paid search works. I don’t want to oversimplify. I used to work in paid search. Obviously, you’re optimizing and improving and adding negative keywords and doing A/B testing and all these things to hopefully get better and better performance. But, generally speaking, one of the advantages of paid search is that when you turn it on, the leads come. You get traffic right away that day. When you turn it off, you get nothing. The money is not there. You don’t get the leads. Okay, that’s rough, but you expect that, right? But you turn it back on, the leads come back that day. So this is the double-edged sword in a sense. It’s not that one is better than the other, but this is how paid search works. It’s a machine that you can flip off and on.
That’s not how organic works. Organic does take time. So what happens is you turn it on, and you see this gradual ramp-up. Finally, it starts to peak and level off, and then you turn it off. Let’s say budgets are tight.
Okay, I understand that you’re not producing new content and you’re not optimizing. It’s not a thing you can just turn off frankly. But you still see positive results. You still see that traffic until this starts to trail off over time. Now that’s a good thing about SEO. It doesn’t immediately turn off. You still continue to get that traffic.
But the problem with SEO is when you turn it back on and when the money comes back, you’re going to have to go through this ramp-up again. The curve may be different shapes, and it may not go all the way down and it may not go back to where it was. But it’s going to take time. There’s going to be a lag, and it could be weeks or it could be months. So I think we make two mistakes. One we’ve already discussed.
One is number two ironically, that this is going to take time to come back. So if you count on just turning the switch back on and things recovering, you’re going to be disappointed, right? That’s going to take time. So it’s not just a situation of a pandemic. Let’s say you close down for remodeling or let’s say you had some kind of flooding or some kind of damage or something you needed to do to shut down for a month or two.
You can’t expect that, when you turn things back on, it will immediately come back. So you may have to get ahead of that. You may have to start spending again before things pick up. I know that’s a difficult thing, but you have to anticipate this lag. You have to be realistic about that. The other problem, though, is I think sometimes we hit this point, and we shut off our efforts.
We cut down content production. We don’t optimize. We switch agencies, whatever we do. We don’t see an immediate drop, and so we start to say maybe this isn’t really working. I think it’s a bit like exercise. I have this habit certainly over the years. You get motivated.
You do really well for a few weeks or a couple of months. You’re feeling good, and you start to plateau. You get a little frustrated, and then you stop. For a while, you still feel good, right? You have these dividends. That’s how it works, and that’s how organic search works. So you think, well, maybe it wasn’t that big of a deal.
Maybe it wasn’t really helping me. Until two or three or six months later, when you realize how much worse you feel. Then by then, to start back up again takes effort, right? You don’t feel good when you start exercising again after that six weeks of sitting around. So it takes a couple of months to get back to where you were. So I don’t want you to go through that, and I want you to be a bit careful about that.
What you can do
So what can we do? By the way, I have no artistic skills. This is from my 10-year-old daughter. Any drawings you see on my Whiteboard Fridays will be probably from her. So thank you, Jordan. So a couple suggestions I have that are general.
1. Have a pulse
First of all, and I mean this quite literally, you need to continue to have a pulse.
If you shut down your business or your marketing, you may just think, “Well, okay, we’re going to get less leads. We’re going to get less of a good thing, but nothing bad is going to happen”.
But the problem is this may be the only place people see you, and this may be where they come looking for you. So if you disappear, and especially in an environment like the pandemic where businesses are going under, people may look at that and say, “Oh, I guess they’re not around anymore. I guess they’re gone.”
They might not come back. They might not come looking for you again. I think there’s a very real danger of that, especially for small local businesses. So you want to make sure that your presence at least continues to exist. You have that pulse.
It doesn’t have to be as frequent — you don’t have to do as much work, you don’t have to put out as much content, you don’t have to be as active on social — but I think you have to at least show people that you’re still alive and kicking so that they know to come back when things improve. Otherwise, they might just forget and go somewhere else.
2. Tell your story
I think it’s okay, especially during times like this — and really any time that something is kind of going wrong — if you’re remodeling, you’re going to be closed for a couple months. That’s a real negative thing that’s hard. It’s okay to be personal. It’s okay to tell some of that story.
My kids’ orthodontist, they’re a family-owned business locally here. They were really great when they were closed. They were closed for a couple of months, about two or three months. They were as responsible as I think they could be about it. They communicated their plans, but they talked to us. They sent emails. They told us about their story. They told us about being a family-owned business and why this was hard and why they thought it was the right thing to do. So when they reopened, there was a real trust there, and I was willing to send my oldest back and get her checked out and get the normal stuff done, that I might not have been if I wasn’t sure what was going on.
But I knew their procedures. I knew their story. I empathized with them, and I think that was a big deal. That’s something you should do. It’s okay to tell that, “Hey, this is hard. This is what’s going on. Here’s what’s going on with us. We hope you come back. We’re still here.”
3. Try new things
Then I think this is an interesting time to try new things. And maybe that sounds counterintuitive because when you have less money, trying something new seems like a bad idea.
But it’s okay to try new things. Maybe not as well as you normally would have. Ironically, this is a problem we’ve had with Whiteboard Friday. I’ve been remote my whole time at Moz, and so I’ve had to fly to Seattle to do recordings. So you see very few Whiteboard Fridays from me. There’s a handful over the years and one that gets repeated a bit. Because we have a studio there, we were afraid that the quality might not be as good.
It might not be up to par. It might hurt our brand, honestly. But when the pandemic came, we said, “Hey, you know what? Now we have no choice. The studio is closed. We can’t go into the office for a while.” Actually, currently we’re moving the office, so again we’re delayed. So it opened up this opportunity to try something new, try something different. Even with equipment, it costs less than one of us flying out there and staying for a few days one time.
So it made sense, and we realized that during this time people were going to naturally be forgiving. If we could get to 70% or 80% quality and improve back up over time, it was going to be okay. So I encourage you to do that. Try some formats you might not have tried before. Try some video. Use some basic equipment. We did home recordings for MozCon this year.
It was great. We had some basic equipment, Logitech web cam, a clip-on USB mic, much less sophisticated than what I’m using right now, a couple of ring lights. Maybe 200 bucks’ worth of equipment and a backdrop that really I thought looked great. It was really professional once we got used to it. Try podcasting.
Try something you haven’t tried before. Don’t worry about it being perfect, because I think this is a time that people will be okay with that. You can try some new things and hopefully come out stronger and come out with a new thing and resume what you were doing and maybe be ahead of where you were. So again, I just don’t want you to think that if you turn this thing off, you can flip it back on.
Be realistic. Don’t disappear. Try something new. Tell people what you’re going through. Be human. I hope you all get through this okay and that things are going all right. It’s great to see you. Thank you.
People around the world are having important discussions about systemic racism, overt and covert bias, and how we can all do better.
Understanding the problem is the first step. To get a sense of conditions within the SEO community, we asked people to take our Diversity and Inclusion in SEO survey as part of our ongoing project to study the state of SEO.
Due to the subject matter and the way we reached out, our respondents were not a snapshot of the industry as a whole. We were very pleased to have 326 SEOs complete the survey, including a significant number of female, BIPOC, and LGBTQ+ participants. These are important voices that need to be heard, but as we analyzed the data, we were careful not to generalize the industry as a whole without accounting for potential sampling bias. We addressed this by looking at groups separately — straight white cisgender men, BIPOC women, LGBTQ+ men, and so forth.
We recognize that intersectionality is common. Many of the SEOs who shared their stories with us don’t fit neatly into a single group. We addressed that by counting people in each category that applied to them, so a gay Black man’s answers would be factored into both the LGBTQ+ and BIPOC analyses.
Of the 326 SEOs who participated, 231 respondents (70.9%) described themselves as white. Among the rest, 32 SEOs described themselves as Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish; 28 Black or African American; 18 Asian or Asian American; 11 Middle Eastern or North African; eight Indian or South Asian; four Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander; and three American Indian or Alaska Native. (Some people were counted in more than one category.)
Our respondents included 203 SEOs who identify as women (including one transgender woman), 109 who identify as men (including two transgender men), and 11 who consider themselves nonbinary, genderqueer, two-spirit, or gender nonconformist. Three people preferred not to share their gender.
With regard to sexual orientation, 72.8% described themselves as heterosexual, 25.2% as LGBTQ+, and 2% preferred not to say.
About two-thirds (218 SEOs) of the participants were from the U.S., and about one in 10 (35 SEOs) were from the United Kingdom. The rest came from 26 other countries across the globe. The average age was 34.5 with 6.9 years of experience in SEO. (Please see the methodology section at the end for more details.)
How is the SEO community doing with diversity and inclusion?
We started our study by asking SEOs how our industry compares with the rest of the business world when it comes to discrimination and bias. More than half of our participants (57.7%) had a different career or significant job experience in another field before working in SEO, so we figured they’d be in a position to know.
Overall, most people (58.7%) think SEO is about the same as other professions. But among those who disagree, more think it’s worse (26%) than better (15.2%).
Surprisingly, there was also no statistically significant difference between BIPOC and white respondents when we asked about prevalence of bias in the industry. However, when we asked how big a problem it is, things got interesting.
Both BIPOC and white SEOs felt much more positively about their own companies than the industry as a whole.
Slightly more than 40% of both BIPOC and white SEOs said discrimination is “not a serious problem at all” within their own companies. However, almost three-quarters of BIPOC SEOs (74.0%) and more than two-thirds of white SEOs (67.5%) said bias is a “moderately serious” or “extremely serious” problem in the SEO industry.
Emotions ran high in the comments for this section. Jamar Ramos, 38, the black male chief operations officer of Crunchy Links in Belmont, California wrote, “White men on SEO Twitter are the f***ing worst. They are defensive, uncouth, and destructive for the industry. So scared of losing power they will drive EVERY BIPOC from SEO if they could.”
Another Black SEO, a 29-year-old woman at a Chicago agency, commented, “As a Black woman (and queer at that), I have definitely not seen a woman like me. I always (somewhat) joked around that I’ll be the Queen of SEO, but underneath those words was because I saw not only women underrepresented in the industry, but other minority subsects of being a woman underrepresented as well, such as being a Black woman and/or a queer Black woman. Where are we?!!”
Other perspectives were represented, as well. Said another 28-year-old Black female SEO, “I’m thrilled to work in an industry where there is the freedom to find multiple agencies that are welcoming to all, and the additional freedom to strike out on my own if I ever felt I should.” Many comments in later sections backed up these sentiments, with endorsements of the SEOs’ own companies and their diversity and inclusion policies.
How bad is it? Frequency of racial or ethnic bias in SEO
Our respondents were more diverse than the SEO industry as a whole, so we expect that their experiences would be a bit different, as well. Also, our survey was based on self-reporting, which can be inconsistent. That said, overall, 48.7% of our respondents told us they never experience racial or ethnic bias. Among the others, 6.7% experience racial or ethnic bias at least once a week, 10.9% at least once a month, 9.2% every couple of months, and 24.4% said it was rare but did happen on occasion.
Knowing that 7 out of 10 of our respondents were white, we broke the data down by the SEOs’ self-reported ethnic backgrounds to get a clearer idea about the extent of racial or ethnic bias. Here’s what we found.
Asian and Asian American SEOs were the most likely to say they experience ethnic bias at least once a week, followed by Hispanic or Latino SEOs.
Most Black or African American SEOs said discrimination was a monthly or bi-monthly experience for them. Not surprisingly, white SEOs were the least likely to experience racial or ethnic bias, although about a third said they do get discriminated against based on their heritage or cultural identity.
We’d like to know more about the racial and ethnic discrimination white SEOs are facing. Unfortunately, we focused on BIPOC and LGBTQ+ issues in this survey and did not include questions about religion, so we don’t know what role that might play. We also did not address ageism or disability issues. With each study we publish, we realize how much more we have to learn. We will be sure to explore those issues in future studies.
Gender and LGBTQ+ bias in SEO
There are a lot of forms of LGBTQ+ and gender bias. We let our survey participants interpret the phrase for themselves when asking how often they experience it. Overall, 94.1% of LGBTQ+ SEOs experience bias at least some of the time, and more than a third do so at least once a month. However, 72.5% of the heterosexual SEOs also said they feel gender discrimination at least some of the time.
The impact of bias
About 4 in 10 SEOs said they experienced bias in the past year. We asked them what impact it has had on their productivity, career trajectory, and happiness. Here’s what they said:
69.1% feel “Bias in the workplace has had a negative impact on my productivity and sense of engagement.” (38.3% strongly agreed; 30.8% slightly agreed)
72.1% feel “Bias in the workplace has had a negative impact on my career advancement and earnings.” (39.3% strongly agreed; 32.8% slightly agreed)
74.6% feel “Bias in the workplace has had a negative impact on my happiness, confidence, or well-being.” (42.6% strongly agreed; 32.0% slightly agreed)
The cost of bias
How do discrepancies in pay, being passed over for promotion, and other forms of discrimination add up over the course of a career? There are many variables when comparing incomes. For example, pay can vary based on years of experience, size of company, and specific expertise.
We did the best we could to compare the incomes of SEOs with similar career profiles. Ultimately, we chose to focus on SEO generalists working in the United States, which gave us the largest pool of responses. We broke them down by gender, ethnicity, and age. Our sample sizes for men ranged from 8 to 22 people in each subcategory. Our sample sizes for women ranged from 13 to 35 for each subcategory.
These were small groups, so the results are far from definitive. But the consistency of a disparity merits conversation. Here’s what we found.
For male SEO generalists working in the United States:
In their 20s, white male SEOs reported earning an average of $75,312 per year. BIPOC male SEOs in their 20s reported earning an average of $63,500 per year (18.6% less).
In their 30s, white male SEOs reported earning an average of $95,833 per year. BIPOC male SEOs in their 30s reported earning an average of $89,091 per year (7.6% less).
In their 40s, white male SEOs reported earning an average of $115,937 per year. BIPOC male SEOs in their 40s reported earning an average of $90,417 per year (28.2% less).
For female SEO generalists working in the United States:
In their 20s, white women SEOs reported earning an average of $75,384 per year. BIPOC women SEOs in their 20s reported earning an average of $61,250 per year (23% less).
In their 30s, white women SEOs reported earning an average of $86,571 per year. BIPOC women SEOs in their 30s reported earning an average of $86,094 per year (0.6% less).
In their 40s, white women SEOs reported earning an average of $109,375 per year. BIPOC women SEOs in their 40s reported earning an average of $101,094 per year (7.6% less).
What does on-the-job bias look like?
“Where are you really from?” “Are you the new diversity hire?” “But you all look alike.” “You’re Asian, so you’re good at math, right?” “You don’t speak Spanish?” “Do you play basketball?” “I think what she was trying to say was…”
It can happen to anyone, but people of color, members of the LGBTQ+ community, and women hear things like this often. A microaggression is a subtle behavior directed at a member of a marginalized group. It can be verbal or nonverbal, delivered consciously or not, and can pose a cumulative, damaging effect to the receiver.
Columbia University defines racial microaggressions as “brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities” that contain “hostile, derogatory, or negative” content or subtext. The result, according to a City University of New York study, can be “anxiety and depressive symptoms over and above the effects of non-race-specific stress.”
Minority racial and ethnic groups are often targets of microaggressions, but these offenses can be directed at any marginalized group in addition to people of color, including women, people with disabilities, individuals in the LGBTQ+ community, those with mental illness, single parents, and people in lower economic classes.
Many SEOs reported experiencing a cascade of microaggressions and similar offenses. A 46-year-old white woman in the U.K. with more than 15 years of experience in the field wrote, “I don’t feel I get taken at all seriously as a female SEO — to the extent that I stopped attending events years ago. It’s a total boys club, to the point of afterparties at strip clubs. As a woman, I’ve had male SEOs expect me to do all the legwork because my time is less important, and then they try and take credit for my work. When I called them out, I was met with bullying. It’s a disgusting situation to still be in after this long in the industry.”
The most common microaggression reported during the past year, by more than 4 in 5 SEOs (81.4%) in our poll, was being interrupted or spoken over. Second on the list, however, was an actively offensive action: Nearly 6 in 10 reported having an idea taken by someone else (57.5%).
Perhaps unsurprisingly, 44.1% of respondents reported being paid less than similarly qualified employees. A 2016 Pew Research center report supported the data on this enduring travesty with regard to race and gender. Additionally, Census Bureau data from as recently as 2018 showed that women of all races still earn 82 cents for every dollar earned by men.
Among the 48.4% of respondents who report being talked down to or treated as less capable than similarly qualified employees, several made poignant comments to back up their responses.
A 26-year-old biracial woman at a small Midwestern agency said, “I am constantly having to prove my case or strategies, even when the target audience I am marketing/optimizing for looks more like me than my colleagues. I am questioned constantly and asked to prove my work, despite being the only person at the company with the knowledge and skills to produce the work.”
And one technical SEO said, “I am a white, cisgendered woman, so I have a lot of privilege, but I still have clients who feel the need to verify my recommendations with their own ‘research’ (rudimentary Google search) or by checking my advice against the opinion of white men, many of whom have less experience than I do (‘My nephew learned about SEO in college, and he says …’).”
Other common verbal microaggressions reported by survey respondents include being addressed unprofessionally (41.3%), hearing crude or offensive jokes about race and ethnicity (36.1%), or about sexual orientation or gender identity (38.5%).
Drilling down: specific microaggression experiences by group
We asked SEOs in our survey about the types of microaggressions they’ve been exposed to in the field, and found that some types of microaggressions are more commonly experienced by certain groups. We sorted respondents into six groups based on gender, ethnicity, and LGBTQ+ orientation to see how different issues affected each demographic. In some cases, we found surprising results.
At least half of SEOs in each group registered the most common microaggression: being interrupted or spoken over. In all, 91.1% of straight, white, cisgender women and 90.7% of LGBTQ+ women report this happening to them, while a surprising 82.5% of straight, white, cisgender men share the experience. Men in the BIPOC group reported barely half as many incidences of this microaggression in their experience.
All three categories of women were most likely to report a pay gap and having their ideas stolen. Reports from straight, white, cisgender women (65.8%), LGBTQ+ women (60.5%), and BIPOC women (59.3%) were remarkably consistent, falling within just slightly more than six percentage points of one another.
Meanwhile, men in the BIPOC group were most likely to say they’d been passed over for a promotion (41.7%), followed closely by LGBTQ+ men (40%), and women (37.2%).
Conversations on the job were fertile ground for verbal microaggressions of different types. What some might consider harmless banter may not be harmless at all. We explored jokes and other verbal interactions that SEOs reported as disrespectful and hurtful.
We defined four different categories and found that the most common complaint occurred among straight, white, and cisgender women, 68.4% of whom reported “being talked down to or treated as less capable than similarly qualified employees.”
The other two most common complaints involved hearing “offensive jokes about race or ethnicity.” A total of 58.3% of BIPOC men reported hearing such jokes, but interestingly, even more LGBTQ+ men (60%) said they’d been exposed to this kind of inappropriate humor. And 37% of BIPOC women endured the same treatment.
A disappointing wealth of examples of this egregious behavior was described in the comments.
A 32-year-old white SEO who identifies as gender nonconformist described the time a “past employer, during the interview process, told me he wanted to make it clear to his (service industry) customers he wasn’t going to send any Black people to their homes. This job was rampant with racism and misogyny. I took the job out of desperation and got out as soon as I could.”
Another SEO, a 37-year-old Black woman, wrote, “When starting out, I worked at a boutique agency where many people felt comfortable telling Black and Asian jokes to me. I was on time for a business trip meetup at 5 a.m. and one employee joked that he didn’t realize Black people could get up that early. I left as soon as I could get another job that wouldn’t ding my résumé.”
Slightly more than 53% of LGBTQ+ women and men responded that they’d heard offensive jokes about gender identity or sexual orientation, the highest in that category. Likewise, LGBTQ+ men (20%) and women (14%) were most likely to have been asked how they got hired.
Mixed messages at work
Next, we considered four categories in which employees are implicitly singled out because of their membership in a marginalized group.
On the one hand, we asked whether group members had been singled out to promote an appearance of diversity — through tokenism or by assigning them to resolve problems of bias. The dubious value that such a request (under the best of circumstances) might signify, though, is negated by their opposite and often accompanying tendencies: targeting certain people or groups with suspicion (by being monitored more closely) or with criticism for their being “too sensitive” to discriminatory language/behavior.
LGBTQ+ men were most likely to report instances of tokenism (26.7%) and being labeled “too sensitive” (33.3%) to discrimination. BIPOC women ranked next in those categories, with 22.2% and 29.6%, respectively. Similarly, one-third of BIPOC women (33.3%) reported being supervised more closely than similarly qualified employees.
The comments for this section were rife with examples, like the one from a 36-year-old Hispanic/Latino male who described “being asked to ‘woke-check’ social content to see if anything in it might trigger a backlash from the immigrant community.”
Unsurprisingly, straight, white, cisgender men and women ranked in the bottom half of those reporting in each of the four categories. But men and women in other categories reported varying results. Nearly three times as many LGBTQ+ men (26.7%) as women (9.3%) said they’d experienced tokenism. Meanwhile, BIPOC women were far more likely than men — 29.6% to 8.3% — to report being labeled “too sensitive” for calling out discriminatory behavior or language.
We specifically asked BIPOC respondents to our survey how often they’d experienced three common forms of microaggression, dividing participants into four groups:
Middle Eastern/North African
All four groups reported that the most common of the three microaggressions we asked about was being complimented for being articulate or “well-spoken” — indicating an implied and unfounded expectation that they wouldn’t be. Three-quarters (75%) of Middle Eastern/North African respondents and two-thirds (66.7%) of Black/African American survey participants said this had happened to them.
In addition, nearly half (47.6%) of Hispanic/Latino group members surveyed said they’d been asked where they’re “actually” from. This was at least 20 percentage points higher than for any of the other three groups. The results appear to reflect a bias against immigrants from Mexico and Central America, and a baseless distrust of their status as citizens or legal residents.
The third question explored what researchers have identified as a tendency to view members of other racial or ethnic groups as interchangeable: a bias that can lead to stereotyping and discrimination. In this instance, Black/African American participants were significantly more likely (44.4%) to indicate they’d been mistaken for someone else of their race or ethnicity.
How diverse are SEOs’ workplaces?
Representation of diverse populations is a huge issue in the microcosm of the SEO industry, as well as the macrocosm of business and society in general. We were interested in how SEOs viewed diversity in the rosters at their workplaces, both in the rank-and-file employee roster and in executive or leadership positions.
Survey respondents were nearly evenly split between working for an agency and working in-house at a company (45.9% and 42.2%, respectively), while the remainder split the difference between freelancing (5.3%) and consulting (6.6%) in the SEO field.
Overall diversity levels never exceeded 15.3% for organizations of any size, hitting that level for companies with 2-10 employees and again for businesses with 251-1,000 workers. Companies with 11-25 workers turned in a percentage of 12.1%.
Percentages were lowest at the largest corporations, with the worst showing (5%) at companies with 5,001-10,000 workers. Companies with more than 10,000 employees (6.5%) and with 1,001-5,000 workers (6.9%) did only slightly better. One-person companies were also relatively less likely to be diverse than other small or midsize businesses, at 7.5%.
To further plumb the depths of representation in various SEO employment situations, we asked survey respondents to estimate the level of diversity in their organizations, including at leadership levels. We asked the same question for racial and ethnic diversity and for gender and LGBTQ+ diversity.
In exploring diversity levels for SEOs with regard to race and ethnicity, we found a fairly even split between those that were rated “somewhat” or “very diverse” (slightly more than 54%) and those that were “not very” or not at all diverse (roughly 46%). At the extremes, roughly 16% were very diverse, and just slightly less were not diverse at all.
But, as mentioned, leadership is less diverse: Fully half (50.4%) of companies said they had no diverse individuals in leadership roles, and just over 7% reported more than half of their leadership was diverse. In total, 82.5% of respondents said diverse individuals comprised less than 25% of their company’s leadership or less.
At major tech companies such as Facebook, Apple, and Microsoft, the bulk of racial and ethnic diversity in 2017 was represented by Asian employees, with Black and Hispanic employees making up just small slivers of the workforce.
Gender and LGBTQ+ diversity
When it comes to gender or sexual orientation, diversity results are slightly higher than those for race and ethnicity. More than 6 in 10 respondents (61.8%) answered that their companies were either very (20.9%) or somewhat (40.9%) diverse, compared with just 12% who said they were not diverse at all.
More specifically, however, the data seems to indicate less diversity.
For women, a 2018 report by the National Center for Women & Technology found that their share of the workforce at tech-related companies was 26%, far shy of the 57% for the U.S. workforce in general. Meanwhile, Black, Latina, and Native American women made up just 4% of computing jobs, even though they accounted for 16% of the overall population.
The numbers for LGBTQ+ leadership in our survey were even less encouraging: More than 4 in 10 survey participants (41.7%) said their leadership teams did not include any LGBTQ+ members, while a mere 4.4% said that more than a quarter of those team members were LGBTQ+ individuals.
An interesting finding: 37.4% of those who responded said they were not sure about the LGBTQ+ membership composition of their leadership teams. This would seem to indicate that many team members choose not to share their sexual orientation, suggesting a bigger-than-expected separation between private and professional life.
How important is diversity in SEOs’ workplaces?
In answer to the question, “Is diversity and inclusion a priority in your company,” the comments varied widely. Some respondents simply answered “No” — or if it was, they weren’t aware of it.
At the other end of the spectrum were comments along the lines of “We don’t need to try; our team is just naturally diverse and inclusive.” (As with other responses, the survey cannot address the accuracy of self-assessment.) Several other comments indicated that the company strived to hire the best person for the job, “regardless of any stereotype.”
Other responses were slightly more specific. Several said their companies had only started focusing on diversity in response to the Black Lives Matter movement after George Floyd’s death in police custody.
Others indicated that their companies have an established focus on gender equality, but had only recently begun to address BIPOC or LGBTQ+ issues. A 34-year-old gay white man at a large company wrote, “Diversity and inclusion is a priority for the gender pay gap, but doesn’t include or reference race or LGBT. There’s a women’s mentor program to help promote women to higher roles, and there’s a women’s network to raise visibility.”
When asked whether diversity was a priority at their company, nearly half (49.7%) of the SEOs indicated that it was — nearly three times as many as those who said it wasn’t (17.2%). One in five (20.34%) weren’t sure, and 12.8% checked “Other” and were asked to elaborate with specific responses. Roughly 19% of those questioned elected not to answer.
What steps do companies take to encourage diversity and inclusion?
The prevalence of “Yes” answers was encouraging. Many of these were followed up with detailed descriptions of initiatives and programs in place to promote diversity and inclusion at the respondents’ workplaces.
For example, a 29-year-old Black woman who described her company as “very diverse” detailed the organization’s initiatives like this: “We have a diversity and inclusion council with men and women of all different backgrounds from across the world. We have a North American task force; we publish our diversity data; we do outreach to educational institutions including HBCUs [historically black colleges and universities] to source talent; and we have anti-racism and inclusion training.”
Also, a 28-year-old woman who identifies as American Indian or Alaska Native in Austin, Texas, commented, “Our leadership has recently made great strides to take action to ensure diversity and inclusion is a topic our entire company is knowledgeable about. We are also taking actions to raise awareness about inequality in the tech industry in a landmark report about BIPOC in tech as well as finding ways to volunteer with a BIPOC kids coding organization.”
The number and breadth of diversity and inclusion initiatives our SEOs described were also encouraging. These ranged from interactive activities such as diversity training sessions and workshops to company communication efforts like informative newsletters and the publication of diversity data.
When it comes to personnel management, some businesses are further seeking to instill diversity and excise bias in their criteria for recruiting, hiring, and promoting. And, especially important in response to the on-the-job-learning aspects specific to the SEO field, participation in internships and mentoring programs is also a growing and well-supported option.
A 28-year-old Black nonbinary SEO described several initiatives at her large agency, saying, “They have a group focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion. They are updating their practices around recruiting and interviewing to remove any unconscious racial biases. And, providing mandatory anti-racist training for all employees.”
For more detailed information on the measures companies are enacting to improve diversity and inclusion within their organizations, continue to the section below.
What are some solutions?
Diversity and inclusion data can look discouraging overall, but anecdotal responses told us that a breadth of measures are being taken to address disparities in representation, discriminatory practices, and inherent bias in everyday operations. Here are several of the initiatives cited by survey takers to enhance diversity and inclusion in the SEO workplace.
1. Initiatives at the corporate level
Employee participation in and consultation with advisory panels and task forces was a commonly cited effort, in addition to compiling and distributing informative resources like newsletters and reading lists. Several respondents described opt-in cultural activities designed to facilitate diversity, such as setting up Slack channels around particular affinities or topics, establishing employee book clubs, and spotlighting diversity in holiday celebrations.
One SEO generalist in the U.K., a 37-year-old white woman, described several activities of her company’s diversity organization, among them “[organizing] events around different holidays so everyone feels included. We celebrate Eid and Diwali, for example, and everyone in the company is encouraged to share and request days organized around things that are important to them. It’s a great initiative and I’ve learned so much from people openly sharing and discussing.”
2. Employee resource groups
Affinity-based employee resource groups, or ERGs, were cited as extremely valued resources for SEOs. These groups foster safe and informed forums in which different groups can gather to discuss issues, devise requests, suggest solutions, and share information.
One SEO manager, a 58-year-old white trans woman with nearly 15 years in the business, commented, “I am a five-time elected board member of the LGBTQIA ERG diversity group, Pride. We have seven ERGs here at [my company].”
Depending on the workplace and its demographics and company culture, ERGs may center on shared issues of gender, age, race and ethnicity, LGBTQ+ orientation, disability, mental health, neurodiversity, religion, parenting, military or veteran status, international communities, women in leadership, and more.
Naturally, any group is most effective and receives greater respect and resources when it’s sponsored and promoted by leaders at the executive level — whether or not the leaders share the demographics of the group.
3. Personal education and growth
Each individual has a responsibility to self-educate on topics related to bias and discrimination, diversity, equity, and inclusion surrounding the struggle of groups historically targeted for exclusion and injustice.
4. Allies in leadership
The support and advocacy of leaders at the executive level is not only the only ingredient necessary for changing company cultures overall. The vocal and steadfast support of allies from other groups is essential — and, unfortunately, often still lacking.
One SEO consultant, a 49-year-old woman who is biracial Latina and white, put it quite succinctly: “I see a lot of women in the SEO industry speaking out about the lack of diversity and inclusion, but very few men in the industry. Whenever one of these conversations gets going on Twitter, most of the men in SEO whom I follow suddenly get very quiet. The industry is only going to change when men also start taking action and speaking out about how the industry treats everyone other than men. Silence is complicity.”
5. Speaking up: see something, say something
Many people witness incidents of bias but struggle with how to respond. Especially if a company has not formalized a set of procedures for addressing such conflicts, employees are left to figure it out on their own.
As we know, there is no standardized societal guidebook for how to deal with discriminatory situations, especially in the U.S., where attitudes can be polarized and discussions difficult to initiate or sustain. Consequently, people chose a variety of responses to these situations, as evidenced by these findings:
As part of our survey, we asked participants whether they’d witnessed discrimination or bias against someone in their workplace during the past year based on race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation. In all, 43.2% replied that they had, so we asked these participants to go further by telling us what they did in response.
Of that group, more than 4 in 10 (42.9%) took no action because they didn’t feel comfortable getting involved. This was true even though the U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission has declared that workers “have a right to work free of discrimination” based on “race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, disability, age (age 40 or older) or genetic information.”
One reason may be fear of retaliation, which the EEOC found was the most common issue cited by federal employees in discrimination cases. The same is likely true in the private sector. Respondents may fear the outcome if their employer fails to act on their report, and/or the accused discovers the source of the complaint.
In light of this, it was encouraging to find in our survey that 41.2% of witnesses to workplace discrimination told their supervisor. (Another option, reporting the conduct to Human Resources, was not included as a choice among our survey answers).
The most common answer: 56.3% confided in a colleague. This might indicate that these respondents weren’t comfortable going to an in-house supervisor, but also that they felt distressed enough about the situation that they wanted to tell someone.
Among other responses, slightly more than one-third (33.6%) spoke out in the moment, while others addressed the situation later, either with the target of the discrimination (37.8%) or the perpetrator (21%). In the accompanying comments, several reported following up later with both the target and the perpetrator.
6. Mentoring someone from a different background
SEO is a peculiar field in that there isn’t a well-defined path into the industry. The majority of SEOs are self-taught or learn on the job, figuring things out as they go. Or they have a mentor. One in three SEOs surveyed (33.1%) said mentors were their most significant source of SEO knowledge early in their careers.
Our survey asked four questions that went to the question of diversity among mentors. The first two asked whether respondents had worked with a mentor 1) of their own gender and/or 2) of the same race/ethnicity as theirs.
The results were interesting. While only 41.9% reported working with a mentor of their own gender, more than two-thirds (69.5%) said they’d worked with one of the same race/ethnicity. This would seem to indicate more diverse interaction among genders than exists between people of different races and ethnicities.
The next two questions asked whether respondents had worked with a BIPOC mentor and a member of the LGBTQ+ community. In terms of diversity, the results of the first question were disappointing, while answers to the second were encouraging.
A total of 10.8% said they’d worked with a BIPOC member, but that was far short of the U.S. population for that category, according to the U.S. Census. Black Americans alone accounted for 13.4% of the U.S. population in 2019, according to Census Bureau estimates, with Hispanic/Latino individuals checking in at 18.5%.
By contrast, 10.4% of respondents in our survey said they’d worked with a mentor from the LGBTQ+ community. That’s nearly double the percentage of LGBTQ individuals in tech-heavy California during 2019, according to the UCLA School of Law Williams Institute, which placed the figure at 5.3%.
These insights were the result of a month-long survey of 326 SEO professionals conducted by North Star Inbound from August 24 to September 28, 2020. We promoted the survey on Twitter, our own blog, and by email. We’re grateful to Moz and Search Engine Land for also sharing the link.
In terms of gender, the SEOs described themselves as follows:
203 identify as women
109 identify as men
1 is a trans woman
2 are trans men
11 are nonbinary, genderqueer, two-spirit, or gender nonconformist
3 preferred not to say
With regard to sexual orientation:
72.8% said they were heterosexual
11.5% said they were bisexual
4.1% said they were pansexual
3.9% said they were gay
3.3% said they were lesbian
1.1% said they were asexual
1.9% preferred not to say
The SEOs described their race or ethnicity as follows: (Participants were able to check more than one box)
30 Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish
25 Black or African American
13 Asian or Asian American
7 South Asian/Indian subcontinent
5 Middle Eastern/North African/Arabian peninsula
4 Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander
2 American Indian or Alaska Native
The SEOs who completed the survey came from the following countries:
218 from the U.S.
35 from the U.K.
11 from Canada
9 from Germany
8 from Taiwan
6 from Spain
2 each from Australia, Brazil, France, India, Israel, Japan, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Poland, Romania, and Switzerland
1 each from Argentina, Austria, China, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Malta, Mauritius, Peru, Portugal, and Turkey
The survey respondents’ average number of years in SEO was 6.9. The median number of years was 5. The average age was 34.5, and the median age was 32.