The author’s views are entirely his or her own (excluding the unlikely event of hypnosis) and may not always reflect the views of Moz.
There are so many ways to improve SEO, not least of which is link building. But do you feel like the quality of results from your link building strategy has started dwindling?
If your answer is “yes”, you’re not alone. Link building has taken off in the content marketing world, but we’ve exhausted the typical strategies by overusing them.
There is one method to improve SEO and brand awareness that marketers haven’t utilized broadly yet — designing guestographics.
This is a strategy that we at Venngage have been using for years to earn backlinks and improve our SERP. Guestographics aren’t exactly a secret, but since so few content marketers know about them, here are our tips for creating and pitching them.
What is a guestographic?
A guestographic is essentially a guest infographic. We’ve used this term internally for years because it has a very specific purpose.
Guestographics are created in collaboration with other brands. It’s their content with our infographic design. This has become an effective way to improve SEO for both parties.
For example, we partnered with Hubspot to turn their lead generation ideas blog post into the infographic below:
Over the years, we’ve used this strategy to partner with numerous sites. It’s helped our team build connections in the industry, earn us backlinks, and improve our SEO.
Why should you create a guestographic?
Some types of content are easy to build backlinks to. Blog posts, survey results, and interviews often offer unique content that marketers are happy to include in their posts.
But what about pages for which you want unusual or specific anchor text? What about landing pages? How can you improve SEO for those pages through link building? You can spend all your time doing cold outreach and research and still not get the desired results. Offering to design guestographics can cut your work down significantly because you’ll get more positive responses.
For example, we wanted to build links to a page using the anchor text “infographic maker”, but we came up against a brick wall. That phrase is sales-y and sites didn’t want to hyperlink that specific anchor text.
However, when we offered to design an infographic for Mention, they were happy to add our link to our preferred anchor text when they credited our guestographic on their post. Both parties win.
Why does this strategy work? Because everyone loves visuals. They’re easy to skim. Plus, in the content-rich online space, visuals are better at attracting users.
And if you have original research, why not share it as an infographic, like this example, to appeal to a wider audience?
We’ve produced 200 guestographics since we started using this strategy and they’ve generated 200,000 organic sessions per month. We’ve also improved our SEO and rank #1 on our highest converting pages. Here’s how we did it.
How to improve SEO with a guestographic
If you’re still wondering how to improve website SEO using guestographics, here’s the six-step strategy we’ve perfected.
1. Find the right guestographic content
One thing we’ve learned the hard way is that not all posts make for great infographic content. A super-long article with multiple headers and subheadings is going to be impossible to condense into one graphic.
You also don’t want to promise more than one guestographic. Whether you’re relying on a designer, agency, or an infographic solution like Venngage, designing takes time.
What we did find is that simple list articles make for great infographics. Lists are easy to read and follow an established pattern. All they lack is visual appeal, which is where Guestographics come in.
But how do you find the list posts that will help improve your SEO? You can use a tool like Moz, SEMRush, or Ahrefs to find relevant content.
Since we’re looking for lists, we would go to the Keyword Overview in Moz and search for “10 tips for”. You can be more specific and search for “10 tips for content marketing”.
The next bit is a bit more manual. Click through to each link and skim through the content. You don’t want to offer a guestographic to a site that already has an infographic for their list.
You also want to look through the lists in detail. As we said, posts that are too complicated are hard to repurpose into an infographic.
On the other hand, if a post is particularly text-heavy but is formatted into a list, that would be the right target for you.
2. Define your audience
Before you pitch your guestographics to a site, take the time to define your target audience. Remember, the point of this exercise is to improve your website SEO. Getting backlinks is great, but if they’re not from your industry or relevant to your brand, the links won’t help your SERP.
Guestographics require some effort to create. You don’t want to hand them out to just anyone. That’s why we define our audience by creating user personas.
For inspiration, here’s an example of a customer persona profile.
How do you decide the ideal users for your brand? Analyze your existing customers. Where is the traffic to your site coming from? Who are the top purchasers?
If you feel like you don’t have enough demographic information, or can’t define user interests, send out a survey or quiz to collect this data. Speak to your users directly for more information.
The overlaps in interests, demographics, pain points, and solutions will help you define two to three ideal personas. These will become your targets when choosing sites to pitch to.
3. Choose keywords to improve website SEO
There are still a few stops on the way to the pitch. You know your ideal persona, but have you found the best keywords that will effectively improve website SEO?
Topic relevance is extremely important. If you’re in the real estate field, backlinks from sites that are printing school books won’t do anything for you.
Even if a keyword is lucrative, if it isn’t in your field, there’s no point targeting it. There won’t be much positive impact on your SEO.
In fact, getting backlinks from anywhere and everywhere could end up hurting your rankings. You don’t want Google to think you aren’t an authority or thought leader in your field.
We use Google Keyword Planner to choose primary and related keywords. If you want to know more, Loganix also has a helpful guide for finding long-tail keywords.
You can also find relevant keywords from the Google search bar. Type in a keyword and before pressing “enter”, look at the options presented.
List your set of keywords in a chart, like the example below. This will make it easier to find the right kind of content to create Guestographics for.
Google’s Image Search isn’t as powerful a SERP tool as the text search, but it does impact your keywords and rankings. That’s why images need to be keyword optimized.
We use this SEO checklist to ensure that our keywords have been used in the correct areas, including in the image alt attributes:
Before you finalize your guestographic, check that the alt attributes and file name corresponds to your chosen keywords.
4. The guestographic pitch
Once you have a shortlist of content that would benefit from a guestographic, it’s time to pitch the site. Your pitch should be direct and offer the contact added value.
Remember, content editors are busy people. They get tons of emails in their inbox, many of them asking for the same thing. They can’t spare five minutes to read an email.
Since you’re offering a guestographic instead of a link collaboration, you already have the upper hand over your competitors. That’s a good start. But your pitch still needs to be perfect.
Here’s an example of a pitch that we’ve used in the past. It gets straight to the point, offers value, and states what we would like in return, which isn’t much.
Note how we give examples of past guestographics we created with major names in the industry. Name drops aren’t necessary, but they help show the contact that you mean business.
If you’re pitching your first guestographic and don’t have any examples to show, include something that displays your credentials.
After sending your pitch, follow up a few days later. Try not to exceed three follow-ups. If you haven’t received a reply by then, they’re not interested in the guestographic.
When you do get positive responses, you can start collaborating with the site. It took some trial and error for us to reach a process that didn’t require constant back and forth emails.
Here’s what we do. We ask the contact for an outline of the content, including:
Brand colors and fonts
Call to action
We also ask the contact to look at our templates for inspiration. This makes it easier for the design team as they already have some direction from the site.
Why do we ask for these details before the graphic design process? Because if we create the outline and send it for review to the client, they’re going to return with edits.
We make those edits and send them back for review, and go back and forth until everyone is frustrated and no work has been done. It’s better to get the outline first and work from there.
Also, design is a lot of work even when we’re using our templates. If we also have to provide the outline and review the process, that becomes a huge ask.
5. Design a memorable infographic
With the client’s checklist in place, you can begin designing a guestographic that will successfully improve SEO rankings for both you and your contact.
As a design platform, we’re used to creating infographics pretty regularly.
For organizations that don’t have designers, there are online design resources available (like Venngage) or you can outsource the process to freelance graphic designers.
6. Promoting guestographics to improve SEO ranking
You’ve done the work of creating a guestographic. Is that all it takes to improve SEO on Google? Unfortunately not. There’s still one more step.
The client site will be promoting their guestographic. It’s a huge selling point for their content, after all.
But you also need to promote it. Share the client’s post on social media and let the world know that you create guestographics. This will also help you attract more users.
That’s not all. Look for other sites that would be interested in similar content and ask them to share the guestographic. You can also offer the same service to them.
This is your chance to create a whole new outreach campaign. Use the guestographic as a tool to earn more links from new sites.
A guestographic is repurposed content. But it can be further repurposed for your content marketing strategy. Break the infographic down into multiple social media posts or a slideshow. This is a great way to stretch one piece of content over multiple platforms and to reach a wider audience.
The takeaway is: treat every guestographic as an opportunity to scale your backlinks strategy.
Conclusion: Use guestographics to organically improve your SEO on Google
Backlinks are an important part of improving your SEO, but getting backlinks continues to be a challenging process.
There’s a lot of work that goes into getting backlinks. Most sites are likely to refuse to link to you because of the sheer number of requests they get.
If you can offer additional value to your contacts, not only can you earn a backlink but you can also create a partnership that lasts longer than a single conversation.
With every new and relevant backlink, you let Google know that you’re an authority in your niche and a site that’s worth ranking at the top of the SERP.
That’s the power of guestographics. They add value to your partners and place you as a brand that is willing to go that extra mile for its users.
The author’s views are entirely his or her own (excluding the unlikely event of hypnosis) and may not always reflect the views of Moz.
Local search marketing is a very strenuous hike.
When you hire an agency to help with the varied tasks of local search engine optimization and offline-to-online marketing, you’re hoping to take an experienced guide along with you on the journey from trailhead, to setting up camp, to making the most of your company’s stay in your neck of the woods.
Top of mind for your local business will certainly be increasing revenue. You know you’ll need better or broader local and localized organic rankings for this, perhaps more reviews, more clicks-to-call, more form submissions, more qualified website traffic, or an improved conversion rate to get there. But, I want to encourage you to start the search for a local SEO agency with a long-term relationship as the goal, rather than swift wins on specific metrics.
The best agency for your local business will be the one that’s there for you when things go right and when they go wrong, for many years to come, because you’ve made a mutual commitment to traveling together and are both sharing the rewards success brings. This article will equip you with tips for finding that kind of agency, warn you of danger signs, and help you to take your local business on the best possible trek into the future.
Your responsibilities to the local SEO agency you hire
Fundamental: be sure you’re hiring a firm with local SEOs on board rather than just a general digital marketing agency. But, beyond this, you need to see that your partner is making a real commitment to your business in order for you to trust them and act on their advice. The other half of the relationship equation will be the commitments you are prepared to make. These five responsibilities belong in your backpack:
1. Know Google’s guidelines
Before you begin your search for an agency, mark out 30 minutes on your calendar for slowly reading through the Guidelines for representing your business on Google. It’s as fundamental to what you’re about to do as looking at a trail map would be before heading off into Yosemite. If you don’t read the guidelines, you’ll be in danger of asking your agency partners to do things that would get your business into trouble with Google. More alarming, without knowledge of what Google allows local brands to do on their platform, you will have no idea if an agency you hire is engaging in activities that violate the guidelines, putting your company at risk of suspension, listing removal, and reputation damage.
Don’t skip this step. You don’t have to be an expert in all the minutiae of weird scenarios businesses encounter when seeking guideline-compliance, but you do need a rough understanding of what Google permits, so that you and your chosen agency start from the same entry point of making smart marketing decisions with business longevity in mind.
2. Be honest about past mistakes
If, through past ignorance of Google’s guidelines, you come to realize that your business made mistakes in its marketing, tell your agency partners. This could include mistakes that resulted in actions on Google’s part, such as listing suspensions or review removal. Or, it could include mistakes that Google has not yet noticed, such as creating listings for ineligible entities like P.O. boxes, or having staff post positive reviews of your business.
Your agency will have the task of cleaning up, either before damage has occurred or after it’s already happened. It can be embarrassing to admit mistakes, but unless you make your marketers aware of any errors and problems you know of, they can’t help you with them, and they may cast a long shadow over your business if left unaddressed, undermining success.
3. Do your best to deliver on your end
I’ve consulted with every type of local business from beekeepers to bookkeepers, and one of the most frustrating barriers to getting agency work completed is when clients fail to meet deadlines for deliverables. This widespread problem that can seriously strain business relationships because delays in delivery then delay expected successes. The client can end up blaming and quitting the agency for not meeting benchmarks, when failure is actually due to the local business missing deadlines. In fact, it’s a red flag to good agencies if a potential client has changed marketing firms repeatedly within a short timeframe, because enough time can’t have been given for the results of their local SEO work to bear fruit.
If you or your staff have agreed to provide certain materials, such as spreadsheets of business information, content for new pages on the website, photos, or access permissions, do your best to deliver on time.
Empathetic local SEOs understand that local business owners are some of the busiest people in the world, and an occasional delay is understandable, but if it becomes a pattern, it’s time to reassess the relationship. For example, if the business repeatedly fails to deliver text content to the agency, it may be that the business needs to expand the number of services for which it’s paying its marketers. Maybe the agency needs to provide a copywriter for the business so that work can begin moving ahead again at a good pace.
4. Base expectations on your expert’s appraisal of what’s possible
The internet is crowded, and unless your business model is unique in its geographic market, it’s going to take time to see maximum ROI from your agency partnership. Some local SEO tasks can literally provide same-day boosts, but for others, it will take many months to see your investments start to pay off.
Every marketing relationship should begin with a realistic appraisal of what experts at the agency believe is possible for the unique business — within a rational timeframe. This is the opposite of expectations like, “I want to rank #1 within two weeks.” Rather, it’s the foundation of a strategy that could take multiple years to fully roll out, meeting important benchmarks on a monthly or quarterly basis along the way so that growth is measurable and meaningful. It’s your responsibility to ask the experts you hire to map out what you should expect, based on your business model, your market, your market competitors, and the agency’s past experience.
5. When dealing with Google, expect change
Your agency’s backpack contains all kinds of specialized knowledge, but they don’t control the forest. It’s Google, with their near-monopoly on local search, that rules their powerful platform, and they are continuously altering the terrain in both small and large ways. New rules, new features, emergent bugs, ongoing algorithmic updates, and new competitors setting up shop or upping their marketing games mean that you and your marketers can always expect change.
It can be extremely alarming when Google alters something and your business experiences a drop in phone calls, traffic, visibility, or reviews. Communicate with your agency, and then extend a little patience while your marketers investigate the change and develop a list of actions, if any, that need to be taken.
Warning signs of an undesirable local SEO agency
As mentioned, local search marketing is a very strenuous hike, and what you don’t need in a traveling companion is an ill-equipped partner. There are three points of discovery at which you must assess whether an agency is a benefit or burden to your local business: before hiring, mid-relationship, and post-relationship. Watch out for these red flags:
Beware of any agency that cold-contacts you. You may receive phone calls or emails from marketing agencies claiming that something is wrong with your website or marketing that they can fix. You may be contacted by people claiming to have a special relationship with Google, or even to be from Google! People may follow you on social media and then try to sell you services.
While good agencies do engage in legitimate advertising, the best local SEO agencies may get nearly all or all of their work via referrals from happy clients, industry peers, and the reputation they’ve built, preventing them from relying on cold contacts. Rather than responding to anyone reaching out to you out of the blue, it’s better for you to do the finding of your future marketing partners through your own research.
A good way to start this process is to look up questions you have about local SEO in Google, see who has written answers that make sense to you, and then learn more about the author from their website, other articles, and social media profiles.
Beware of any agency that promises you any kind of results. “I can get you #1 rankings,” is a huge red flag of a shady firm, because honest SEOs know they can’t make promises about platforms (like Google) that they don’t directly control.
Beware of any agency that doesn’t meet your standards of accessible, prompt, professional communication. If a marketing firm is hard to reach before you hire them, expect this to continue even when you’re paying them, and never begin a relationship with a partner who is dismissive of your communications, unclear to you in their communications so that you don’t understand what they’re offering, rude, or inconsistent in their claims.
Beware of agencies that only sell packages. While some services can be packaged up for general use by most local businesses, all local brands are unique, and good agencies should be offering you a customized strategy.
Related to this, be cognizant of the size of the agency you’re considering. In my experience, small-to-medium local businesses are best served by small-to-medium agencies, rather than becoming just a number in an enormous client roster of a major brand. For example, a big website hosting company may offer a local SEO package, but you’re unlikely to have a unique identity to the people working at a brand this large, and shouldn’t expect to receive best-quality, personalized service when being fit into shoes thousands of others are wearing.
Finally, and crucially, beware of any agency that indicates they will engage in a practice that you’ve learned violates Google’s guidelines. This is one reason it’s so important for you to equip yourself with that essential reading, so you can walk away from this headache before it begins.
It’s quite common for local businesses to have to work with more than one agency before finding an ideal fit. Sometimes, a relationship can start well, but changes in personnel at the digital marketing agency, changes in expectations, or growth of the business beyond the agency’s skill set can require reassessment of whether the partnership is still the best choice for the business.
Take note if your agency becomes less communicative, fails to respond to emails or calls, or cancels meetings. If you notice a pattern, ask what has changed, give the agency the chance to correct course with you (including booking more of their time or offering you extra help to make up for past failures), but then consider moving on if dissatisfaction isn’t remedied. I’m personally such a local business fan that I’ve always considered it a tremendous honor to be brought into a good local business to advise them. Evaluate at regular intervals whether you feel like you and your business are being honored by your marketing partners.
Finally, pay attention if benchmarks are repeatedly missed. For example, if your marketing partners tell you that they typically expect investment in review outreach to have doubled the rate at which you’re receiving reviews within one quarter, and four months go by without any improvement, request an explanation and weigh it well. Local SEO is experimental and demands patience and leeway, but if stated goals are consistently not met, your agency may not be up to the task at hand.
If changes on either side of the relationship make it necessary to part ways with your agency, the ideal scenario is a mutually-respectful adieu in which the marketers wish the client well on the next phase of their journey, and the client has done nothing that would make it awkward to potentially work with these partners again in future — if they’d like to.
I’ve seen from a distance some shockingly unprofessional business breakups, with accusations hurled on both sides, websites being held hostage, scathing reviews being left, foolhardy online revenge attempts, and even lawsuits. Unless something has happened to warrant legal action, it’s best to walk away with everyone’s dignity intact. There are many reasons why clients and agencies may be mismatched, but only edge cases warrant making a public scene that risks reputation damage to both houses.
When a top quality local SEO agency can’t fulfill a client’s expectations or needs, a respectful environment may prompt them to refer the business to another firm they know and trust. When a client grows beyond what an agency can provide but has been happy up to that point, polite openness can greatly ease the parting. Rather than burning a bridge, try to keep it open so that good feelings on both sides exist for any future potential work together.
Almost any agency will be sorry to see you go. You can remain an all-time favorite client of theirs if you agree to write a testimonial about whatever was good for your business in working with them, and they will love you forever if you refer other local brands to them that you think would be a good match for their services. If you stay friends with your former marketers, they may CC you when they see an opportunity for your business, and it’s definitely a plus for your brand if your marketers tell their big circle of colleagues, friends, and family about the great things your business offers. I’ve personally become a loyal customer of some of my best clients!
7 questions to ask a local SEO agency before you hire them
Before inviting a marketer or marketing team to partner with your business, you’ll need to walk a mile or so with them. Conduct a thorough interview of one or more prospective agency reps, and document their answers to these seven questions, so that you can do a comparison to identify the best possible match for your needs.
1. Are your marketing practices consistent with all of Google’s guidelines?
For example, if you ask the marketer whether you can get a Google My Business listing for a virtual office, they should tell you “no” and point you to the guidelines that forbid this. If a marketer knows the guidelines but suggests that you can get away with a violation because Google is asleep at the wheel, walk away. The marketer may be quite right, by the way, but they’re not a safe bet for your brand’s reputation.
2. Based on what you already know about my business and market, are my goals realistic?
Provide a clear, concrete list of goals to the interviewee. Be specific about how many more search terms you want to rank for, how many more reviews you want, how many more phone calls, form submissions, leads, sales, etc. you want within a set timeframe.
Before having an interview with you, a motivated agency will have conducted a modest amount of research on your business and its market. They may have run some reports. But don’t expect them to have done a full workup before being hired. What you want to hear at this stage is whether they feel your goals sound reasonable or are obviously unattainable, based on what they know so far. You want to hear them say that they will be able to provide a more reliable answer once they’ve put in the work as your hired partner. But also look out if they promise you everything off the bat — they could be overselling you just to get the job.
3. How much time will you invest in researching my market before creating my strategy?
You won’t be hiring a local SEO who is already marketing a direct competitor in your city, so this means your partner will need time to learn about the community you serve. And, unless you hire a specialty firm that only works with your category of business, the agency will need time to learn about your industry. Beyond this, they will need the time to study the specifics of your unique business: its goods and services, its staff (including any in-house staff that may be contributing to marketing), its policies, history, and more.
Time for all of this must be built into the informal agreement or formal contract. You should expect to be billed for it, and need to know how much time the agency considers reasonable for an initial period of study, with the understanding that they will be continuing to evaluate your brand and your market opportunities across time in order to continuously create strategy.
Give the interviewee the chance to set clear expectations about the deliverables they will need from you and the time they may need to speak with you and your staff. Within this framework, establish what types and amounts of communications will be involved.
Some local business owners want their marketers to take care of everything behind the scenes and only come to them with reports of problems or growth. They may be outsourcing this work due to genuine lack of time to learn about local search marketing. Other clients hire an agency to train them and their staff to become more self sufficient at many marketing tasks, in-house. These scenarios cover an extremely wide spectrum of communications needs.
Be upfront about whether you want bare minimum communication, a regular schedule of strategy sessions, or formal training, and have the interviewee explain to you what commitments you’ll need to make on your end to facilitate this.
And, of course, now is the time to request a full explanation of costs. Agency pricing structures differ tremendously, from itemized price sheets, to packages, to monthly retainers. Be realistic and firm about your budget, and see whether what you can invest is a good match for what the interviewee can provide in your joint pursuit of meeting goals.
5. May I see an anonymized client report?
Every local business will have different expectations and needs concerning the reports their marketers deliver, but across the board, all brands need to be sure they will receive reports that are intelligible rather than simply overwhelming. Before you hire a local SEO, ask to see one or more anonymized, real client reports. Look at them thoroughly. Now is the time to ask questions about anything that’s in the reports that you don’t understand.
Some clients want exhaustive reports that capture every iota of traffic and every search language permutation on every day of the week. Others prefer to see only high-level data with action items for the agency or client. Whatever your needs, be sure the style of reporting the marketers offer is a good match, both in terms of content and frequency, and that customization is possible if you need something that isn’t being provided in the samples.
Feel free to ask the agency about the tools and software they use, and to do your own research of the quality of those products. You are also free to ask if the agency is white-labeling tools or has proprietary technologies. A good agency will be open and honest with their clients.
6. Can you show me the growth you’ve created for three other clients?
Due to NDAs and client privacy, this information may also need to be anonymized, but you want to see a convincing account of growth for more than one client. Be on the lookout for whether the agency reports on vague metrics like doubling traffic, or concrete ones like doubling leads and revenue. If there’s a particular type of growth your business is pursuing, you can ask the agency to show you wins they’ve gotten in this area.
If the agency keeps a public roster of their clients, ask if you can be put in touch with someone at a few of these businesses for a quick chat. Ideally, you’re hoping to hear a glowing recommendation from an existing client of the company you’re considering hiring.
7. What is your history and involvement in your own industry?
Consider it a fundamental part of your interview process to go online and research the reputation of any marketer you might hire. Look particularly at the degree to which they are involved in education in the local SEO industry, because you will be hiring this person or team to educate you.
Deeply-invested local SEOs will have a history of writing about this marketing discipline. They may have a blog, or contribute to industry blogs, have a podcast or videos, and speak at or host conferences. Look at their website, their social media profiles, reviews if they have them, and note what their peers and clients are saying about them.
In addition to doing your own online research, now is a great time to ask the marketer a little about their own history. Why did they get into local SEO and what do they like about it? Do they have a philosophy that they can share succinctly and does it resonate with your company’s culture? Throughout the interview process, be keenly alert to how well any prospective partner communicates with you and the level of comfort they create, because it will set the tone of any future relationship.
Mutual, sustained growth: so happy together
After a long hiring journey, you’ve chosen your agency and have now set up camp together. You’ve become sharers in one another’s fates, and that’s exciting! Unless your local business is taking a complete hands-off approach to marketing, you’re about to learn a lot about local SEO. There are three things you can do to get the most from this business investment:
1. Ask questions
I’m hoping that the agency you’ve engaged doesn’t communicate in jargon, but if they do, nip this unhelpful habit in the bud by being completely fearless about asking questions. Never, never be timid about this. If your marketer says, “We can increase CTR with a more compelling USP, but we need to focus on largest contentful paint first,” and you don’t hear the next three things they say because you got lost trying to parse this out, state clearly:
“I’d prefer you avoid acronyms and jargon as much as possible so that we’re speaking the same language, and I’ll try to do the same when explaining my industry to you.”
If there is anything your marketer says or sends you at any time that isn’t clear or contains words and phrases you don’t recognize, you’re the smart one for asking them to back up and explain until you’re completely comfortable with what’s being proposed, reported, or discussed.
2. Communicate dissatisfaction and satisfaction openly
Don’t let resentment quietly build over dissatisfactions you have with your agency. If something isn’t meeting your standards, please speak up early and often so that your marketers aren’t in the dark about how to best serve you. As a local SEO, I watch this silent curse fuel the majority of negative online reviews and think to myself how much distress could be avoided if customers politely voiced complaints at the time of service. In your relationship with your marketer, your frank feedback when something isn’t right is essential!
On the flip side, when a goal is met, take a moment to thoughtfully thank your local SEO. I’ve had lovely clients send me gifts as an extraordinary celebration for services rendered. That’s extremely kind, but a simple, “This really went well and I’m very happy with your work,” is an amazing psychological boost to the marketers who are working so hard for your brand’s success.
3. Grow your own local SEO knowledge
You’re paying your marketers for their expertise, but your business can only benefit if you develop a working acquaintance with local search marketing that enables you to brainstorm initiatives with a confident command of the terrain.
The best local SEO firms will do all they can to study your consumer base and geography, but they will never know your business or community quite like you do. If you can pair your deep market intelligence with some study of what’s possible online, you will become a much stronger company leader. Don’t know how to get started? Read The Essential Local SEO Strategy Guide and excite your marketers at your next meeting!
To round up, hiring a local search marketing partner is the first step toward the business growth you desire, and you’re expecting to learn a lot. What you might not know is that your agency is likewise planning to learn a lot from you. Local SEO is one grand experiment, and smart agencies learn from every single client. It’s through working on your website, listings, reviews, social platforms, and other assets that marketers make thrilling discoveries, hone skills, and experience gratifying professional success.
It’s this mutual hunt for success, in fact, that safeguards and inspires growth in the client-agency relationship. Teaming up can turn the very strenuous hike of local SEO into a navigable pathway strewn with exciting rewards. With commitments to earning trust over time, finding the right levels and styles of communication, learning together, and a basic grounding in reciprocal respect, this is a partnership you can build your local business on, and from, for years to come.
The author’s views are entirely his or her own (excluding the unlikely event of hypnosis) and may not always reflect the views of Moz.
For SEO agencies, consultants, and website owners
As an SEO consultant, I was always on the lookout for a good SEO audit checklist. One that I could use and present to my clients. One I could modify to my own needs. One that covered all the important SEO bases. One that was up-to-date. And importantly, one that I didn’t have to pay several hundred dollars for.
This, my SEO friends, is that checklist. And Moz is making it available to you.
One cool thing about this audit checklist is that you can perform it almost entirely 100% for free, or using free versions of SEO tools. This is important for SEO starting out on a budget, or small business owners who want to learn to audit a small site on their own.
That said, if you’re looking to audit medium/large sites or more than a few pages at a time, you likely want to look into more scalable solutions, such as our Moz Pro Site Crawl including our new Performance Metrics Beta.
We also like the audit checklist by Benjamin Estes over at BrainLabs, in particular, the pass/fail selector for each item. While our own audit is substantially different, we incorporated this feature into our own.
Site Audit Coverage
Originally, we set out to create a solid technical SEO audit checklist — one that covered all the important technical SEO areas which could have a significant impact on rankings/traffic and could be completed in a short amount of time.
As we created the audit, we realized that SEOs also want to check other traffic-impacting site issues that aren’t necessarily technical. Hence, we ended up with a more complete Technical SEO and beyond site audit — one that covers nearly every important SEO area with the potential to impact traffic and rankings.
Briefly, the audit checklist covers:
Here you take a few quick steps to set your audit up for success: making sure you have analytics installed, Search Console access set up, and optionally, running a site crawl. Go to Basics.
2. Crawling & Indexing
Covering the foundations of technical SEO, the crawling and indexing section of the audit makes sure that search engines can find, crawl, and index your content without challenge. Go to Crawling & Indexing.
3. Meta & Structured Data
Both metadata and structured data have become increasingly complex in SEO. Here we include 8 quick checks to ensure maximum visibility in all types of search results. Go to Meta & Structured Data.
Content isn’t often considered “technical” SEO, but many technical issues with the content itself can impact indexing and rankings. Beyond the quality of the content itself, these technical issues need to be checked and addressed. Go to Content.
5. Links & Navigation
Links are the roads that hold your site together and connect it to the larger internet around the world. Google uses links in a variety of ways to rank content, so here we include 8 brief audits to make sure your links are optimized for crawling and ranking. Go to Links & Navigation.
Images not only add relevance to web pages, but also improve engagement, and can help with rankings. Additionally, Google Images is one of the largest search engines by itself in the world. Here we include 5 quick checks to make sure your images are up to snuff. Go to Images.
Videos play an increasingly important role on the web, but in truth, many sites pay no attention to video SEO. This is one area where Google simply won’t “figure it out” without solid, technical SEO. Here are 4 audit items to make sure your videos can rank. Go to Video.
Google is now mobile-first! (Well, almost there.) Most SEO audits take place on desktop, but doing a few quick mobile checks can make the difference between ranking or not. Go to Mobile.
Ready for Core Web Vitals? In truth, page speed has been important to SEO for years, and now there’s more attention to it than ever. Go to Speed.
Many SEOs often overlook security issues, but Google takes it very seriously. Beyond implementing HTTPS, there are a couple of areas you want to check if your site experiences problems. Go to Security.
11. International & Multilingual Sites
This optional section applies if your site targets multiple languages and/or regions. Implementing hreflang and international targeting is a technically tricky area, so you want to make sure you get it right. Go to International & Multilingual Sites.
While backlinks are only rarely included in a technical SEO audit, a lack of relevant backlinks is often the number one reason good, relevant content struggles to rank. While this doesn’t represent a complete link audit, we recommend a few quick link checks to make sure you aren’t leaving rankings behind. Go to Backlinks.
This is a living document. That means we’ll work to keep this audit checklist up-to-date as SEO changes, so be sure to check back for new updates. If you have any additions or suggestions, please let us know in the comments below.
The author’s views are entirely his or her own (excluding the unlikely event of hypnosis) and may not always reflect the views of Moz.
Fixing broken links has long stood as an SEO best practice. But if you’ve run into situations where you’ve fixed a broken link and nothing happened, you’re not alone. In today’s episode of Whiteboard Friday, SEO expert Cyrus Shepard discusses whether these fixes still matter, and takes you through steps to increase your chances of seeing the benefits.
For more link building tips, be sure to check out our recent update to The Beginner’s Guide to Link Building:
Howdy, Moz fans. Welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. I’m Cyrus Shepard. I am a full-time SEO consultant, working here with Moz. Today I want to talk to you about a subject I saw on Twitter that I thought was really interesting: Does fixing old broken links still matter to SEO?
Now I thought this was a great question because fixing broken links is an SEO best practice. You read about it all the time. But if you’ve been doing SEO long enough, like I have, you’ve run into situations where you’ve fixed a broken link, or you found a page with hundreds of broken links, maybe thousands of broken links, you fixed it, you redirected it to a new target, and nothing happened.
So does this happen all the time? Is this common? Has Google changed the way it treats broken links? What’s going on here, what are best practices, and what steps can we take to increase our chances of seeing a benefit from fixing broken links? That’s what we’re going to talk about today.
Why we fix broken links
So let’s start off with why do we fix broken links. This is the basic stuff, the introduction.
Links pass link signals. Google uses links for things like PageRank and anchor text. So when they find links, they can give you a rankings boost. When a page 404s when those links break, when they go to a page that doesn’t work, those link signals don’t have a chance to pass anymore, and that can hurt your SEO. Usually these are caused by one of two reasons.
One, the link itself is just bad. It points to a page that doesn’t exist on your website or something like that. There’s a weird parameter in it. Someone typed it in wrong. But oftentimes pages break on your own site. You remove a page and you don’t redirect it to another page. A combination of these factors means that on any given site you can find tens, hundreds, thousands, even millions of links sometimes because this is a very common scenario.
So that’s why we fix broken links, to regain that link juice and get that ranking benefit that Google is looking for. So it’s supposed to work and oftentimes it does work and a lot of times it’s great. But there are times when it doesn’t work.
Why it might not work
So what could be going on here during these times that it doesn’t work? So here are four reasons why fixing broken links may not be effective in certain situations.
1. The links didn’t count
First of all, the links may not have counted in the first place. The truth is there are a lot of links Google just doesn’t count. These could be spam links, manipulative links, or links they find that are non-editorial. Just because a tool reports a link as being broken or pointing to a non-existent page doesn’t mean that link actually has value. So that could be one reason why fixing the broken link may not work.
2. The links were low value
Second reason, Google may have counted those links, but they were considered low value or not fresh. Consider a link on a page that’s a broken link from a page that’s 10 years old. It doesn’t have very much traffic or no traffic. It’s buried at the bottom. No one even visits this page. Google doesn’t even rank it.
Would you expect Google to attach a lot of value by fixing that broken link? Probably not. So a lot of times when you’re fixing broken links, you may find low value, not fresh links, pages that aren’t updated. They may not pass a lot of value and fixing them may not have a lot of benefit.
3. You redirected to an irrelevant URL
Third, and this is a really common reason, you fixed the link, but you redirected it to an irrelevant URL or a URL that’s not as pertinent.
We see this a lot with sites that discontinue an entire section and they redirect everything to the homepage. They get rid of a subdomain. They redirect to a category page or something like that. Google will often report these as soft 404s, meaning they see your redirect, but they don’t think the page that you’re redirecting to is as relevant as the original page or the page that was broken or intended to be there in the first place.
So that’s another reason why Google may not pass these link signals through these links when they see a soft 404 or they see you redirecting to a page that just isn’t as relevant as the original.
4. Google may not rely on “live” links
The fourth reason it may not work, there’s this phenomenon, this theory that Google may not rely on live links, that these link signals don’t necessarily have to be there all the time for Google to pass value to them.
Now Google advises us, when we do redirects, to leave those redirects in place for a year. Now why would they say a year? The theory is that after a year any value in those link signals has already passed. Rand Fishkin noticed this phenomenon and named it ghost links several years ago, where links that no longer exist might already have passed their value.
So sometimes we don’t really know how Google treats these older links. But sometimes it may not be necessary for links to be live for them to pass value, so fixing them doesn’t really have an impact. Again, this is an area where we don’t have a lot of insight into how Google actually works, but it’s possible that the link signals have simply passed on their relevance anyway.
5 broken link building best practices
So what can we do about it? What can we do about these situations to maximize fixing old broken links on our website? So here are my five best practices.
1. DO fix broken links
One, yes, you should fix broken links. Do continue to fix broken links, because we don’t know which links Google isn’t counting, and there are several, often many instances where it does work and you can see a benefit.
Plus it’s just a good user experience. When users are coming from one URL to another, they don’t want to see broken pages, and those link signals can pass relevance and value to Google.
2. Prioritize pages with high authority
Two, prioritize pages and links with high authority. Your site may have thousands of broken links or millions of broken links. You don’t need to fix all of them. But what you want to prioritize are the high value links, the pages with lots of links pointing to them, or links from pages that have lots of value themselves.
We score pages here at Moz on a value called Page Authority. A lot of SEO tools have different metrics that help rank pages based on links. So fix the pages with your highest number of links, your highest Page Authority or whatever score you’re using, and prioritize links from pages themselves that also have high Page Authority. These are going to be your most valuable links to fix.
3. Prioritize links with freshness signals
Third, we want to prioritize links with freshness signals. We want to avoid these 10-year-old pages. Well, we don’t necessarily need to avoid them, but we want to prioritize the most important pages. So what are freshness signals? Generally, we want to prioritize links from pages that get traffic themselves, that are regularly updated, that get links coming to them.
There are many, many different types of freshness signals. There’s an old post I wrote a while back. We’ll link to it in the transcript below. But we definitely want to prioritize those links that have the highest value.
4. Redirect to relevant URLs
Fourth, we want to make sure we’re redirecting to relevant URLs. You don’t want to redirect everything to your homepage or necessarily a category page that’s off-topic.
A question to ask is: Does the page you’re redirecting to rank for the same types of keywords as the old URL? Or would it provide a good user experience to someone coming from the old link, or would the user be confused? The closer you are in topicality to the original page, the more likely those link signals are to pass from one target onto another.
Ideally, you’re linking to the exact same page and it just happens to be a broken page and you can fix it and it’s relevant and everything is great. But in cases where you can’t redirect to a relevant page, as close as possible or maybe you just shouldn’t redirect at all, because 404s are okay. They’re a natural part of the internet. It’s not always bad to have a 404.
5. You don’t need to fix every link
Which brings us to best practice number five, you don’t have to fix every link. This happens all the time. Broken links are a natural part of the internet. Moz, if we go into our broken links report, we have tens of thousands of broken links. It would not be worth our time to fix every one of them, and it would be a waste of money and effort. But fixing the good ones, fixing the ones with high authority, with freshness signals, and redirecting to relevant URLs or the original URLs, those are the ones that are going to have value.
So you don’t want to give your developers a list of 10,000 broken links and say, “Hey, fix all these.” They’re going to be mad at you, and you’re not going to see the value out of it. So if you want some tips on how to fix broken links, how to find those high value links, we have a video from Dr. Pete on tips on exactly how to do that using Moz. You can use many other tools.
Google Search Console and others are great at this. So yes, fix those broken links. You don’t have to fix all of them. That’s how you’re going to get the value. Leave us your tips in the comments below. Thanks, everybody.
The author’s views are entirely his or her own (excluding the unlikely event of hypnosis) and may not always reflect the views of Moz.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this series on SEO and accessibility. In the final installment, Cooper shows you how the technical SEO strategies you implement across your site can help make it more perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust.
Hey, Moz fans. Welcome to the latest edition of Whiteboard Friday. I’m Cooper Hollmaier. I’ve been doing SEO since 2016, and today I work for a large outdoor retailer helping our technical SEO strategy come to life. Thank you so much for attending this series on SEO and accessibility.
I hope that you’ve gained a broad perspective and new tips and tricks for creating content that not only is resonating with your audience, performs well in search, but is also accessible to more people. Today we’re going to talk about technical SEO and accessibility.
Technical SEO and accessibility
Let’s dive in. Last time we talked about Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, and you might remember that the four principles of WCAG are perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust.
As a technical SEO, you’re probably most concerned with perceivable because your day-to-day operations, your day-to-day work stream involves making sure that the pages, the content, the experiences you’re creating are accessible to search engines and perceivable to search engines.
A lot of times when we go through SEO recommendations or SEO audits, I hear a lot of common themes, like the header tag is baked into the image and so a search engine can’t see it, or the content I’m producing is visible to bots but it’s not visible to people. These are issues with base level perception. I want you to take that mindset and consider if you apply that to your whole audience as well. So can all of your people that are hoping to engage with your service or product or experience, are they able to perceive all the things you have to offer at a base level?
Some things you might be thinking would be similar to what you would be seeing in this audit, like: Is all of my text on the page visible? Is it active text? Is it native to the page, so can I select it and copy and paste it, or is it baked into the image and unreachable by assistive technology or browsers or what have you? You might also be thinking: Is the color contrast to my background and my text, is it the right contrast?
Is there enough clarity and crispness between my layout elements? If things seem a little bit fuzzy or it’s not quite clear that something is accessible to a search engine and a user, go back to the drawing board and figure out how to make both of those things work out well.
2. Rich media
We also like to add images, text, video, and audio to the pages that we’re building for our customers. It’s important that these rich elements, now that we’re kind of past the basic text and the styling elements, the rich elements we’re putting on the page are perceivable by all of your users as well. There’s a couple of things we can do to make that happen. For images, giving them a text alternative and providing something that is in addition to that imagery will help it be seen by a screen reader and understood by someone who has a visual disability.
Also naming things with human-friendly names versus “DSC1352.JPEG” is going to help search engines as well as assistive technology see that image and understand what it is. On-page context, it’s also important that you put images on pages that add value. You want to enlighten a user with some additional content to give them a little bit more of a feeling or give them some more context on what you’re talking about. Add images for value, not just to show up in Google image search.
What about video? So video is a little bit different. Video has a series of moving images. So every time I think about movement, I think to myself, “How can I make sure that if a user wants to stop this movement, they can?”
Having clear playback controls is crucial when we’re talking about accessibility as well as having a great video player experience for any user. In addition, synchronous equivalents for those text alternatives. We talked about images having text alternatives. Videos need to have text alternatives as well, but they need to be synchronized to time with that video. Otherwise they won’t make sense in context.
Then making sure that they’re distinguishable. This is the same between video and audio. We want to make sure that the foreground and the background are easily distinguishable from one another. If your video feels muddy, if your audio feels muddy and it takes me straining my ear or straining my eyes to be able to see that content and understand what’s happening, you need to be a little bit more crisp, a little bit more clear on those two distinctions.
Then text transcripts. Just like you need closed captions for videos, for audio you want to have a text transcript, so if I’m maybe in a loud place and I can’t hear the audio or I don’t have my headphones plugged in or I needed to use assistive technology, I’m able to access that audio.
These are all things that you’ll be seeing as you’re reviewing code as a technical SEO and you should be aware of.
If you don’t have these things going on, on your website, I would empower you to ask those questions, the hard questions like: Hey, is there a text alternative to this image? How will a person with a visual disability, how will a person with an auditory disability access these things?
3. Page structure
Three and four are about page structure and semantic HTML. So this is a little bit less about is this perceivable and is it kind of understandable.
It’s kind of grazing the understandable, but it should be a little bit about perception, too. Having a bunch of H1s on a page, as you can imagine, a search engine might perceive as very confused, right? They’re like, okay, there’s a bunch of H1s on this page. I’m not really sure what this page is about. Adding structure and cascading headings to signify parent-child relationships is going to help your content be a little bit more perceivable. It’s going to be easier to understand what’s happening.
4. Semantic HTML
Same thing with semantic HTML. We tend to put lots of divs and spans and unidentifiable elements in our HTML. But by marking them up in more appropriate ways, so that we understand what their meaning is, understand what those tags contain, whether it’s navigation or forms or tables, providing that extra layer of information and understandability is going to allow search engines and assistive technology to be able to parse through those things, to allow them to perceive the things you’re putting on your page that are different from one another and provide a richer experience.
Okay, so we’re able to perceive the content. But how do we make sure that it’s operable?
1. HTML sitemaps
A couple of SEO recommendations that I often see people making are build an HTML sitemap and put breadcrumbs on your page. A lot of times you might get some pushback from that. The HTML site map is super important we know for SEO, for discoverability of those pages deep in our website’s hierarchy.
Then breadcrumbs allow me to parse up and down the particular let’s say it’s a product search page on an e-commerce website without having to go back to the menu and then parse through every single menu item again. So these two are super important for navigation but also especially for people who are navigating with a keyboard and using assistive technology.
3. Develop keyboard-first
Then a non-SEO thing but important nonetheless and relatable, develop your website and your experience keyboard first. Not everyone has a mouse or the ability to use a mouse because of a movement disability or because of an impairment or because of a lack of technology or hardware. So make sure you develop keyboard first, and you’re going to kind of encapsulate more of those people that you’re looking to encapsulate with your audience.
Understandable. So we talk about in international SEO, when we’re dealing with different countries and different languages, how important it is to use the HTML on our page to signify what the language of the page is. It helps search engines provide the right results in the right maybe national or international context. It also helps screen readers read your content aloud in the right language.
2. Navigational layout
Then navigational layout and interstitials I think are pretty common, but nobody likes a navigation or a layout of a website that’s confusing. The easier you make it, the easier it is for people to convert or do what you’re looking for them to do with this website, whether it’s learn, whether it’s buy, whether it’s engage in a service. That’s easier when the navigation and layout is streamlined and we’re not using different words in different places to mean the same thing. It’s even more important for people with assistive technology.
Interstitials, nobody likes those pop-ups in our face, that don’t allow us to browse the rest of the website. Google doesn’t love them either. But especially people with assistive technology, if we’re not treating those pop-ups in the right way, we’re going to end up in a scenario where users may be in a keyboard trap and they can’t get out of the interstitial, or they don’t understand that an interstitial is even put up on the page. So it’s important to be very mindful when using interstitials.
Last but not least is robust. How do we make sure that the content we’re putting on the page is compatible for a large variety of devices and scenarios?
Just using proper HTML is a big way to do this. You can use a validator and you can look at your HTML, your CSS, and your JSON-LD. Creating the right code and especially when you’re using semantic HTML as well providing meaning to that code, you’re going to have a lot better experience and everything your building is more digestible.
Is your website responsive? You should be doing this already. But if you’re not, make sure it’s operating on a mobile and a desktop and a tablet device and the layout stays the same, it’s just maybe resized or re-imaged in a different way.
Make sure it’s interactable. If a user wants to be able to zoom in because they have a visual disability or they want to be able to change the colors, does your technology on your website allow them to do that? It should. If you do these three things on the bottom, I think it’s going to do a lot of heavy lifting and you’re going to have to do a lot less work because you’ve kind of built in the framework, the foundation to be accessible.
That’s technical SEO and accessibility. If you have more questions or want some validation tools, there are some on the right-hand side here, or you can hit me up on Twitter @cooperhollmaier for some more advice. But thank you so much for listening to Whiteboard Friday and accessibility along with SEO. I hope that you take this and you become more and more inclusive in the way that you’re doing SEO in the future.
The author’s views are entirely his or her own (excluding the unlikely event of hypnosis) and may not always reflect the views of Moz.
It doesn’t take a pro to do SEO.
But hiring one can certainly help.
For business owners who are ready to take their SEO efforts up a notch, it may be time to move beyond the DIY approach and onboard an SEO provider that can get the job done.
But the question is: How do you find and hire the right SEO company that can generate real, tangible results for your business?
Here are our top tips for smart SEO hiring — from weighing the pros and cons of outsourcing to knowing what questions to ask during the hiring process.
Benefits of hiring an SEO company
While there are countless resources online to help you implement SEO on your own, there are also many perks to either outsourcing your SEO marketing or hiring an SEO professional in-house. SEO isn’t always the easiest to figure out, so working with a professional may be the solution to avoiding headaches, wasted time, and marketing dollars down the drain.
If you’re asking yourself if it’s worth hiring an SEO company, it’s time to consider the benefits.
An SEO provider can help:
Take the guesswork out of SEO to start implementing an effective strategy from the start.
Save you money by running data-driven, highly targeted campaigns that make the most of your marketing budget.
Broaden your business’s reach online by expanding your marketing to a variety of channels.
Prevent costly SEO errors and, potentially, Google penalties.
Explain your website analytics, what they mean, and why they matter for your business.
Tips for SEO hiring
Choosing an SEO company or consultant takes careful consideration, as your primary goal is to find a provider that best fits the needs and goals of your business.
For this reason, we’ve included some of the best tips for effective SEO hiring to help you weigh your options and decide on the right choice for you.
1. Ask your network
One of the best sources for SEO provider recommendations is your existing network, particularly those business owners who are in your industry. By asking your network, you’ll already have people who can vouch for the provider’s services, offer an honest review, and point you in the right direction.
2. Request an honest estimate
When you end up reaching out to an SEO agency or consultant, you should request an honest estimate of how much their services will cost for your site and how long they expect those services to take. Any provider that’s cryptic about what they offer or how much it costs is one you should be wary of.
A decent SEO agency will know how much work is required to optimize your site, approximately how long it will take, and how much it will cost. There may be optional add-ons to be discussed later, but their upfront quote should give you a clear idea of what to expect when working with them.
3. Know what’s included
Many providers pitch an “all-in-one” SEO package, but it’s important to be critical of anyone who takes a one-size-fits-all approach. You’re looking for a provider that will take the time to understand your business and craft a strategy that suits your specific needs and audience.
It’s essential to ask what’s included in their SEO package so you can be super clear on what you’re paying for. Some of these services might include on-page SEO, local SEO, technical optimization, content creation, or link building.
4. Ask how they measure results
Every business owner dreams of landing that #1 spot in the SERP, but SEO is about more than just rankings. A reputable SEO provider knows that the goal of any SEO strategy is ultimately to help the business make money, so they’ll look at key performance indicators (KPIs) beyond just rankings.
Some of these KPIs may include traffic numbers, conversion rate, leads, and revenue generated. They should be able to communicate the true value of SEO and why these metrics are most important when it comes to measuring the success of your SEO efforts.
5. Schedule a call
Before you sign on the dotted line, it can help to have a face-to-face (or voice-to-voice) conversation with your potential provider. This will give you a chance to discuss your needs in more detail, ask questions, and get a better sense of whether this provider is right for you.
Before signing on with a new SEO provider, it’s best to conduct some initial research to learn more about their services, approach, and the results they’ve generated for their clients. This involves scoping out their social media profiles, looking out for client testimonials, and checking out case studies on their website.
Scope out reviews and testimonials
Whether you’re referred by someone in your network or stumble across a provider on your own, it’s always a good idea to check out the provider’s testimonials to get a read on how they work, and whether their past clients have enjoyed working with them. Also look for evidence that they’ve generated results for their clients in the form of traffic, leads, or sales.
Check out their socials
Many SEO companies are active on social media, and perusing their content is a good way to get a sense of their approach to SEO and how they work with their clients. Beyond reviews, look out for blog articles and posts being shared on their social media pages to see whether this is a brand you’d like to work with.
Look for case studies and portfolio examples
While you’re searching Facebook, Google, and Yelp for reviews, you should check out the provider’s website to see if they post any SEO case studies or examples of their past work. Testimonials may be able to tell you how much clients have enjoyed working with them, but case studies are a stronger indicator of whether their services actually move the needle.
During your research of a company, ask yourself: Do they communicate an in-depth understanding of analytics and how to interpret them? How do they measure success? Are they fixated on rankings, or on more discernible metrics?
These are all important questions to ask yourself as you read their case studies and website content. Their answers can build—or break—your confidence in their services, helping you determine whether they are the right provider for your business.
7. Communicate your business’s SEO goals
“Rank at the top of Google” may seem like a noble goal, but it’s likely that you have other, perhaps more tangible goals in mind. Be sure to communicate these to your potential provider so they know what you hope to achieve and to ensure you are both on the same page.
The right provider should be able to help you articulate your SEO goals and establish new ones. They should know what’s realistic for your business and be able to set your expectations from the very beginning.
8. Compare your options
You don’t have to pick the first SEO provider that comes your way. Feel free to compare your options, shop around, get a second opinion, or otherwise check out different providers so you can choose the right fit for your business. Ultimately, it should come down to who understands your business the best and proves that they have what it takes to bring your business positive results from your SEO campaigns.
Hire the right SEO for the job
Finding the right SEO agency for your business requires researching your options, asking the right questions, and looking out for proof of results. Any agency worth its weight will take the time to understand your business and come up with a strategy that serves to bring your business the best SEO results possible. This guide gave you some ways to identify a good SEO agency and choose the perfect fit for your needs.
There’s plenty of room for paid tools in the SEO space — Moz is a prime example — but if you’re just getting started or lack the budget necessary for fancy tools, there are still many resources available.
In this piece, we’re going to cover five of our favorite FREE Google tools, and how they can help you step up your SEO game.
When you go to Google Trends, you’ll see a search bar where you can input a broad topic or specific search query. Upon entering your query, you’ll be presented with a trend chart of interest in the query over time.
While this may be useful, the real gems are at the bottom of the page: Related Topics and Related Queries.
By default, these boxes will both be set to “rising.” This means that these topics and queries are currently gaining traction. These are the keywords that you may want to capitalize on quickly, as you could be a first-mover and gain rankings quickly.
Advanced keyword research
Even at a base-level, Google Trends is helpful, but you can always take it a step further. Across the top of Google Trends, there is a menu that allows you to specify a region, time period, category, and search platforms.
Region allows you to determine where you want to pull search data from geographically. This can be especially useful when working on local SEO projects.
Category allows you to select the category you’re competing in. This is a nice feature for people who offer a service in a specific industry, or who have a query that’s extremely common.
Search platform allows you to refine the data to specific platforms such as YouTube Search, Image Search, Google Shopping Search, and News Search. Search platform modifiers are great for those with an integrated SEO plan.
2. Rising Retail Categories
Though it’s almost impossible to predict what the Next Big Thing is going to be in e-commerce, you can still stay on top of the game with Rising Retail Categories.
This is Google’s compilation of data on retail. On it, you’ll find currently trending product categories and the searches around them, as well as where exactly they’re trending.
As an e-commerce SEO, this can give you a good idea of which products to focus on for the most potential impact.
As an enterprise local SEO, you can use this data to determine which products to focus on in each market.
3. Visual Stories
Google summarizes Visual Stories as “Bite-size visual stories for busy marketers, driven by trending topics and data from Google.”
These stories range from holiday shopping trends to specific industry case studies, and more. They’re interactive slides, each with a few insights or data points.
For example, there’s a Visual Story about the automotive industry. Throughout the story, there are data points shared to give insight into how the pandemic has affected the car-buying process.
These data points don’t just focus on search data, though. It’s clear that this has been a full-on case study by Google. Some insights shared address the desires, experiences, and perceptions of the audience.
This information can easily be used to change the user journey, including the things that matter to the customer earlier on. It could also be used to address pain points that hadn’t been previously uncovered, or, on a more basic level, give an SEO an idea of what keywords to focus on.
4. Grow My Store
Grow My Store is a fantastic tool for those selling a product either online or in person. Grow My Store tests sites for Google Identifiers for Successful Online Stores.
These identifiers are broken down into five categories: Product Information, Store Details, Personalization, Customer Service, and Security.
This tool literally hands over Google’s idea of the must-haves for a product-selling business website. Some of the components included are product reviews, profiles for shoppers, live chat, and HTTPS.
To use Grow My Store, you simply answer three questions: what is your domain, what type of business do you have, and what industry are you in? Once you answer the questions, you will see a preview of your report with your overall score and some data around your industry. To get your full report complete with recommendations, you have to create an account. The report is then sent to your email.
You then get an account where you can create (and track) a checklist of changes that need to be made — according to Google.
In addition, you’ll get customized data and insights based on your industry. To find this data on Grow My Store, in the menu, select “Reach More Customers.” If you scroll down a bit, you’ll find a section with the heading “Understanding industry trends.” Here you’ll be able to choose your industry and specific category to get specific information such as top searches in that industry, top months for the industry, and so on.
5. Test My Site
Another great tool for measuring your site in the eyes of Google is Test My Site. Much like Grow My Store, Test My Site tests for three very specific categories of features on your site. These features are Speed, Personalization, and Experience. Unlike Grow My Store, Test My Site is for any website, not just product-base business sites.
The first report you will get from Test My Site is a mini report that breaks down your mobile site speed and any recommendations for fixes. There is also a tool to show the potential ROI of speeding up your site! Talk about buy-in.
If you want even more information, which you will, you can sign up to get the full report. The full report is emailed to you and breaks down recommendations and explanations for both marketers and developers. The report I got back was 16 pages long, filled with links to other resources and case studies as well as tactical tips in the form of a checklist.
While Google can often be cryptic about what they care about on websites, they’ve created quite a few resources that can give you insight into what they find important. Using these tools can easily get you a step ahead.
It’s not just about the tools, though. In 2021, data is more important than ever, and who better to get data from than The Giant themselves?
Now, go forth and be excellent — using free stuff!
The author’s views are entirely his or her own (excluding the unlikely event of hypnosis) and may not always reflect the views of Moz.
As SEOs, our goal when we’re creating content is to provide equitable access, which means that content isn’t just available to search engines, but also to people of all abilities. In the second installment of his three-part accessibility series, Cooper shows you how to ensure that your amazing content is accessible by bots AND people.
Click on the whiteboard image above to open a high resolution version in a new tab!
Hey, Moz fans. Welcome to the latest edition of Whiteboard Friday. I’m Cooper Hollmaier. I started doing SEO in 2016, and today I worked at a large outdoor specialty retailer helping make our strategies for technical SEO come alive. Thank you for attending this Session 2 of 3 of our SEO and accessibility series.
It all starts with accessibility
If you’ve taken the intro to SEO course here at Moz, you’re probably familiar with the concept called Mozlow’s hierarchy of SEO needs. If you’re not, the basic idea is that we have to have some foundational elements that are needed to make us rank in search engine results, and then we can layer some things on top to make us more competitive in those results.
But it all starts with crawl accessibility, and in the same way it starts with basic human accessibility as well. Our goal when we’re creating content is to provide equitable access. So this means my content is not only available to search engines but people of all abilities as well. Let’s look at an example.
Making assumptions about your audience
Let’s say I’m a restaurant. Commonly you’ll see restaurants post their menu in the windows of their stores or shops. Well, the problem with this idea, while it seems easy because anyone can walk by, they don’t have to look at my Facebook or my website, and they can look at the menu, see what they like or don’t like, and then choose to engage with my business and enjoy my food.
What’s bad about this is that we’ve made some assumptions about our ideal audience. We’ve assumed that they’re the average height and that they’re tall enough to be able to see the menu that I posted in my window. We’ve assumed that they have great vision, that they on a rainy day can see the menu items and still make the decision to come inside. We’ve also assumed that by not including any pictures on our menu people know what we’re talking about.
They’re familiar with the cuisine that I’m making or the flowery culinary, eloquent culinary language that I’m using to describe my dishes. But I think what you’ll find is that these assumptions are exclusive versus inclusive, and we want to be inclusive of all of our audience members. So for example, assume maybe my person is not an average height. How do I account for that?
If they’re not the average height, seeing the menu might be impossible. Assume that maybe they have low vision or blindness and ask yourself, “Is this available digitally or in a Braille compatible format that they can access, too?” Or maybe add some pictures, add some different language to your menu to help people understand the culinary language that you’re using, because without that they might not understand and they might choose to avoid your restaurant versus come in and see it.
Ask “What if?”
So these are things you can do to assume the best and provide a diverse group of people a better experience.
Let’s do some math. If you have 1,000 people in your restaurant every month, we know from last time that 1 in 5 people on average have a disability in the United States. That means 200 of those 1,000 people have a disability, and you’re excluding them by not including some information or other mediums to consume your menu.
That compounded as 200 people times let’s say an average of $15 a meal, that’s $3,000 a month you’re leaving on the table quite literally. So think about that. It’s not just about providing equitable access, but it will cost your business money too, and $3,000 a month is very expensive, especially for a small business. I’m sure you’re saying, “Cooper, what if I’m not a small business? What if I want people to buy my product or give me a lead or come sign up for my service?”
That’s okay. These rules apply to you too. It’s the mindset. If you have a podcast, an email newsletter, a blog, a website, I would implore you to ask the question, “As a person with __________, can I __________?” Fill in that first blank with things like as a person with colorblindness, ADHD, dyslexia, hard of hearing, Down syndrome, can I and fill in that second blank with whatever you want people to do at your business.
Can I buy a product? Can I read this newsletter? Can I enjoy this podcast? If the answer to that question, that string of questioning, is no, you have a little bit of a problem. You have some work to do, right?
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines
What I’m talking about is following the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, and these are commonly called WCAG or “Wikag.” These guidelines are set up to make sure that our content on the web is accessible.
I think you’ll find that as you make your content accessible for people of diverse abilities, you’re going to have your content accessible for search engines of diverse abilities too. So following the four principles of Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, they are POUR or “Pour”: Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, or Robust, I think you’ll find that your content resonates better with your audience, you exclude less audience members, and your search engine optimization will ultimately only be that much better.
So what do I mean by perceivable? What I mean by perceivable is we all don’t want to look at a brick of text. I think that’s pretty clear. We tend to include things like images, video, and audio on our pages. What I want you to do is consider any time you’re using those rich media elements to include a text alternative. So this means images, include alt text. Videos, include captions and transcripts.
Audio, same thing, include the transcript so if I can’t hear that audio with my speakers, I’m able to either convert it into something I can use or I’m able to enjoy it in some other way. Then when we’re talking about video, including an ASL interpreter or converting your presentation into American Sign Language can also be a little bit more inclusive for the audience you’re trying to reach and save you a little bit of that money we talked about earlier.
Operable, what I mean by this is: Are your links saying “Click Here” or “Learn More,” or are they really telling me where I’m going as a user? Think about your users here. We know we love anchor text. We know that search engines love to see where we’re going too. So “Click Here” and “Learn More” aren’t as descriptive as they could be. They’re not as operable. It’s hard for me as a user to operate your website or your email newsletter or your podcast.
Is my content understandable? So this is something I have a hard time doing too sometimes, but considering is the content that I’m writing at a reading level that my audience is going to enjoy that. Have I described it in a language that my customers understand? Oftentimes I think we get stuck in SEO and we start to use a lot of SEO language, especially if you’re working at like an agency with clients.
Taking the time to break it down into language that’s more understandable will allow you to resonate with a larger set of audience members, but also it will allow you generally to capture those search terms too, right? People aren’t looking up PhD level things in Google search. They’re looking up language that we can all understand, so consider that.
Then robust, this kind of touches things like: Is my website mobile friendly? Is it responsive? Are the things that I’m producing compatible with a lot of technologies and these technologies include assistive technologies? So POUR, remember those things when producing web content. You shouldn’t need a monocle to read what you’re producing. You shouldn’t need a PhD to read what you’re producing. It should be really, really easy for a diverse group of people to access the stuff that you produce.
If you want some more information about WCAG, there’s a link right here, and it will be linked in the bottom of this post as well.
What can content SEOs do?
So what can you do as a content SEO?
You can write informative and unique page titles. Those page titles matter for not just search engines but people as well and assistive technologies.
You can use headings correctly. Commonly I’ll see people use those H tags. You’re probably familiar with the H1, but H2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 matter too to style the page in a certain way and make the text bolder or brighter or larger, and that will be great. But as someone who’s using assistive technology or someone who’s trying to understand the parent-child relationships between things on a page, it’s going to be a lot harder for me to do that if I’m not using those headings correctly.
Links are for users. One thing I always ask myself is, “Is this link on the page for SEO, or is it for my customer?” If the answer is it’s just on the page for SEO, come back to the table, figure out a way to make an SEO friendly approach to a customer problem, and put a link on the page that’s going to resonate with customers and also help your SEO. Not just one or the other.
Plan for a text alternative. No matter what you’re building, I’m sure it’s going to involve some rich media. Plan to include captions, transcripts, ASL interpretation in your presentation from day one.
Over-describe what’s happening. We know that descriptions are going to help pick up additional synonyms and additional talking points for search engines as well. We know that being more comprehensive and honest and ethical will ultimately lead to a better SEO outcome. It also helps people, normal people with diverse abilities get that same outcome as well. Let them enjoy it. Make this about customers and not just search engines, and I think you’ll find that both parties win.
Provide clear instructions, so what you want people to do. Don’t make it hard to convert.
Number 7 is write content that you want to read.
I would ask you to close your eyes and listen to the content that you’ve written on the page and ask yourself, “Is this SEO optimized, or is this built in a way that a customer would want to engage with it?” What I want you to try to do is try to figure out, “How can I write this piece of content in a way that is just seamless? It’s invisible, and I’ve even optimized this for SEO. It just feels like it’s a normal piece of content that resonates with me.”
That’s what you’re looking for. The best SEO is invisible. Help people and bots. Not just bots or not just people. So focus on the Web Accessibility Guidelines. If you want some more information about WCAG, it’s right there. Next time, we’re going to talk about technical SEO and some behind-the-scenes code that will make your website more accessible for all.
The author’s views are entirely his or her own (excluding the unlikely event of hypnosis) and may not always reflect the views of Moz.
If you’re currently working to make your website accessible to all users, you’ve probably already heard about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This piece of US federal legislation was passed to prevent discrimination against disabled individuals, either by government agencies or private companies.
The ADA itself doesn’t set out any specific criteria for web and mobile accessibility. Instead, many web developers and legal professionals turn to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), widely accepted as the benchmark for digital accessibility today.
In this blog, we’ll take a closer look at WCAG, and outline the steps you can take to meet its standards. We’ll also briefly explain why accessible websites typically rank higher in search engines — making accessibility the right choice all around!
What’s the link between SEO and accessibility?
Ensuring that your website is accessible to all users already brings huge benefits to your company — if more people visit your website, you’re likely to see an uptick in business. It’s that simple.
Consider this example: Search engines aim to promote pages with content that is clear and correctly ordered. This means that you need to follow WCAG guidelines on things like headings. If you don’t include the heading ranks in the right order — for instance, by placing text with a fourth-level (<h4>) heading after a second-level (<h2>) heading — you can cause accessibility issues for people using assistive technologies.
Equally, if you don’t provide appropriate alternative text for images, or if you mix up captions with alternative image text, you’ll create issues for users with disabilities and also damage the image SEO on your website.
Indeed, any investment you make in digital accessibility will also be reflected in your search rankings. In its mission statement, Google says that its purpose is “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” “Universally accessible” is the key phrase here. It suggests that as Google continues to evolve its search engine and align it with the principles of accessible design, websites with strong accessibility features will be bumped up higher and higher in its search rankings.
What is WCAG and how can you achieve compliance?
WCAG offers a set of rules for web developers who are looking to create accessible websites. It was created by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), a global community of public and member organizations that are committed to making the internet open to everyone.
Websites and mobile applications are constantly changing as new technologies and innovations become available. To keep WCAG guidelines up to date, W3C also works to provide fresh advice to web developers on an ongoing basis.
If you review recent digital accessibility lawsuits, you’ll see that WCAG 2.0 is the most widely cited version. However, you should note that this version is already out of date. WCAG 2.1 is now available and provides further guidance on mobile accessibility — and WCAG 2.2 is hot on its heels.
It’s also crucial to note that while “WCAG compliance” is a widely used term, it’s actually a misnomer. Technically, it’s more accurate to think about successfully meeting WCAG standards. The term “WCAG compliance” implies a regulatory body, and W3C is not an industry regulator, nor is it a part of federal legislation. That said, WCAG compliance is the accepted phrasing at both web development conferences and law seminars, so we’ll use the term in this article.
Does my website need to meet WCAG standards?
If you’re in the US, yes, it does. Every website that is used by a US citizen, or owned by a US company, is required by law to comply with the ADA. And because WCAG is often cited as a standard for digital accessibility during litigation, following its guidance can help your organization avoid costly and damaging lawsuits. The notion that any company is exempt from ADA compliance is a myth, too.
How can I make my website WCAG compliant?
WCAG sets out four main principles. These offer a solid foundation that web developers can follow to build websites that are accessible to everyone. Let’s take a closer look at each one:
To be perceivable, all the information contained on a website and all the features in its user interface — such as links, text boxes, and buttons — must be presented in ways so that all users can perceive them by at least one of their senses. If any content is hidden to any user, then the website cannot be considered perceivable.
A website is considered to be operable when all users can interact with it and successfully navigate it. If a website has any interactive features, all users need to be able to operate those components.
All users must be able to understand the information and interface of a website. Web pages should appear and operate in predictable ways, and users should be protected against making input errors on pages that cause legal commitments or financial transactions to occur.
The content on a website must be open to interpretation by a broad variety of user agents. For instance, standard web browsers and assistive technologies such as screen readers must be able to access a website, and the content on a website must continue to be accessible as assistive technologies evolve.
How can I start my compliance journey?
On paper, the four principles of accessibility set out in WCAG sound simple enough. But how can you apply them? To help answer this question, WCAG offers more detailed guidelines for each of the four topics and breaks down each recommendation into a set of success criteria. WCAG also outlines several “sufficient techniques” that provide examples of how developers can achieve them in practice. Think of it as a checklist for compliance.
Each success criterion is also classified according to three levels: A, AA, and AAA. A indicates the most basic level of accessibility, and AAA denotes the most comprehensive. Currently, courts are interpreting the middle level, AA, as the benchmark.
While this article aims to provide you with a better understanding of WCAG criteria, it doesn’t list all the guidelines in full. If you want to find out more about each criterion, check out the “How to Meet WCAG” quick reference guide on the W3C website. This offers a definitive guide for each aspect of WCAG with suggestions on how developers can satisfy them.
1. A: Your website is accessible to some users
The level A success criteria details the steps you can take to avoid some of the most serious violations of accessibility principles. For instance, guideline 1.4 focuses on distinguishability, which simply means making it easy for users to perceive content.
Section 1.4.1 Use of Color is a level A success criterion. It explains that websites shouldn’t only use color as the primary way to convey information that indicates action, prompts a response, or is a distinguishing visual element.
If a website included a passage of red-colored text and the hyperlinks in that text were highlighted in green, it would be impossible for a user with red/green color blindness to distinguish links from the text. One way to improve accessibility would be to add another visual cue to the links, such as underlining them or using a different font.
2. AA: Your website is accessible to almost all users
To meet level AA, you first need to satisfy all the level A success criteria. Level AA guidelines naturally build on top of the level A criteria, providing additional requirements.
In Guideline 1.4, for instance, the 1.4.3 Contrast (Minimum) level AA success criterion augments the guidance of 1.4.1 Use of Color. It outlines that text on any page must have a color contrast ratio of 4.5:1 or higher. There are some exceptions if text is large, or if the images of text are entirely decorative or part of a brand or logo.
You can learn more about how to achieve the correct color contrast in our full article on the topic. For the purposes of this blog, it’s sufficient to imagine the difference between a website where the main text is presented as black text on a white background, versus one where the text is pale yellow on a white background. Black-on-white has a high contrast ratio, while yellow-on-white has a very low contrast ratio. Users with visual impairments often struggle to see small differences in color contrast, which makes it all the more important for websites to ensure that the color contrast ratio of text is high enough to make it readable for all.
The AA level success criteria also include 1.4.4 Resize Text, which recommends that users should be able to enlarge text by up to 200 percent of the standard size without the need for assistive technologies.
3. AAA: Your website is accessible to the most users possible
As with the two previous levels, level AAA compliance requires meeting all the level A and level AA success criteria first. To achieve level AAA, websites must meet even more detailed standards. For instance, in Guideline 1.4, we find 1.4.6 Contrast (Enhanced), which lifts the required color contrast ratio from 4.5:1 to 7:1.
Criterion 1.4.8 Visual Presentation adds to 1.4.4 Resize Text by requiring that text can be resized up to 200 percent, while ensuring that the user can still read each full line of text without having to scroll their browser window horizontally. This criterion also makes additional suggestions, such as allowing users to select foreground and background colors themselves, and specifying settings for line spacing and justification that make text easier to read for people with visual or cognitive disabilities, such as dyslexia.
Start improving the accessibility of your website
By following the principles of accessible design, you’ll also make it easier for search engines to parse and rank your site.
Of course, digital accessibility is a huge topic, so you may be feeling in need of direction! Happily, there are numerous resources to help, not least of which is the W3C’s complete Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), which should become your touchstone for all things accessibility. You can also potentially use their quick reference guide as a checklist for major accessibility topics.
There are also many automated tools available to help you find and fix accessibility issues, including those created by my company, AudioEye, and you can try them out free of charge. We also provide managed services led by a team of accredited experts, so feel free to contact us for advice and recommendations as you take the next step.
The author’s views are entirely his or her own (excluding the unlikely event of hypnosis) and may not always reflect the views of Moz.
A decade ago, you could define SEO to a layperson by establishing the relationship between “search” and “text.” Fast-forward to present day, and a sizable chunk of web traffic and online purchases now come from searches initiated by voice prompt. Because users ask for content differently when they use Siri or Alexa — compared to when they type a search query into a browser — optimizing content to capture more of that traffic is going to work a bit differently.
Voice search is different than browser search
You have to make a distinction early on between voice searches that simply transcribe a voice prompt into a search bar and return a list of results, or a search action that triggers a specific command from a digital assistant-style platform. Most content isn’t going to be able to accommodate optimizations for both the Google search bar and an Alexa voice command at the same time, and some content can’t be engaged by voice-enabled devices at all, like a screen-free home smart speaker that can’t display an article or play a video. Rather, if you want to reach audiences while they interact with voice-enabled devices, you can think of voice-optimized content as another arrow in your quiver.
Not all content needs to be voice friendly
Creating content specifically geared to be findable and consumable via voice search is going to be more important for some users than others. As screen-free devices and voice-enabled search become more ubiquitous, some sites and pages would likely benefit from becoming more Alexa-friendly. For example, location-based businesses have huge opportunities to increase their foot traffic by optimizing their online presence to be discoverable via voice search. There are more users to capture every day who are likely to ask Siri or Alexa to “find a pizza shop nearby,” compared to those who might navigate to Yelp or Google Maps and perform a text search for “pizza delivery.”
That said, voice searchability isn’t necessarily what you should build your entire SEO strategy around, even for those users likely to benefit the most from high voice search rankings. That’s because voice isn’t exactly replacing text search — it’s supplementing it.
For example, Siri will update a user on the score of a game, but won’t narrate the action blow-by-blow. If you want a page to rank because you want to serve ads to users interested in sports commentary, then trying to optimize all of your content to accommodate voice may not be the most effective way to drive engagement.
However, if you want to boost foot traffic for a retail sandwich shop, then you can absolutely optimize the business listing to be easier to find when users ask for “lunch spots near me” via voice command while driving, and tailor your approach with that goal in mind.
Smart devices and voice search see usage grow, but not yet dominate
Voice search is arriving quickly but has not yet hit critical mass, creating some low-hanging fruit for early adopters with specific content goals.
In July 2019, Adobe released a study suggesting that around 48% of consumers are using voice search for general web searches. The study did not differentiate between digital assistants on smartphones or smart speakers, but the takeaways are similar.
In Adobe’s study, 85% of those respondents used voice controls on their smartphones, and the top use case for voice commands was to get directions, with 52% of navigational searches performed via voice. Consistent with Adobe’s findings, Microsoft also released a study in 2019 reporting that 72% of smartphone owners used digital assistants, with 65% of all road navigation searches being done by voice prompt.
A 2018 voice search survey conducted by BrightLocal broke out some common use cases by device:
58% of U.S. consumers had done a voice search for a local business on a smartphone
74% of those voice search users use voice to search for local businesses at least weekly
76% of voice search users search on smart speakers for local businesses at least once a week, with the majority doing so daily
But mass adoption of voice tech is still lagging, despite inroads made during the COVID-19 pandemic. While the 2020 Smart Audio Report by NPR and Edison Research found that consumption of news and entertainment using these devices increased among a third of smart speaker owners in early 2020, a two-thirds majority of non-owners were “not at all likely” to purchase a voice-enabled speaker in the next six months, and nearly half of non-owners who use voice commands felt the same. People who own smart speakers still perform lots of traditional text searches, in accordance with Microsoft’s 2019 study, and not everyone who has access to voice command tech likes to use it for every basic function.
Part of the delay in mass adoption may be attributed to unresolved trust and privacy questions that come with being asked to fill our homes with microphones. A majority of smart speaker owners (52%) and a majority of smartphone voice users (57%) are bothered that their smart speaker/smartphone is “always listening.” However, a silver lining is that roughly the same numbers of users for each respective device trust the companies that make the smart speaker/smartphone to keep their information secure.
Market share of digital assistants across search
There are four major smart assistants processing the majority of voice search requests at the time of publication, each with their own search algorithms, but with some overlap and data sources in common.
Understanding the market share for each assistant can help you prioritize your optimization strategy to your top growth objectives. Each of these digital assistants are tied to different hardware brands with a slightly different appeal and user base, so you can likely focus your analytics tracking efforts to just one or two platforms depending on the audience you’re targeting.
The Microsoft 2019 Voice Report asked respondents to list which digital assistants they had used before, which provides a broad idea of how much voice search traffic we can expect to come from each of these engines. Siri and Google Assistant tied for first place, commanding 36% of the market each. Amazon Alexa accounts for 25% of all digital assistant usage, while Microsoft Cortana ranked third place, powering 19% of devices.
An interesting thing to note here is that the engine powering Cortana leans largely on a partnership with Amazon Alexa. Cortana provides voice command functionality to laptops and personal computers, such as “Cortana, read my new emails”, while Alexa sees more smart-speaker requests like “Turn on the lights” or “Play NPR.”
Optimizing for voice search vs. voice actions
Voice commands actually fall into two categories — voice search and voice actions — and each looks for different criteria to determine which response will be returned first for any given voice request. It’s really important to define which one you’re talking about when assessing an SEO plan for voice search, because they process content very differently.
A voice search essentially just replaces a keyboard input with a spoken search phrase to return results in a browser, such as using the “OK Google” command in a smartphone browser. This may impact how you tailor your keyword phrases, based on the user’s tendency to phrase queries more conversationally when interacting with a voice AI.
Voice actions, on the other hand, are specific voice commands or questions from the user that trigger certain apps or automations, such as placing an order for takeout via smart speaker or checking the weather from your car. Screen-free devices like home smart speakers and some car assistants use voice actions. These commands don’t return a ranked page of results, but often a single spoken result, with a prompt for further action. If you ask an Echo Dot device for the weather, it will describe the weather out loud based on data pulled from a predetermined source. It can’t return a list of popular weather forecast sites, because there is no screen to display a Search Engine Results Page (SERP). This is an important distinction.
Smart assistants often pull data from secondary sites to return these vocal snippet results, like pinging WolframAlpha for mathematical conversions or Yelp for local business listings. One such use case would be a voice search for “order a pizza.” The AI would route the query to Yelp or Google Maps, and verbally return one result such as “I found a pizzeria nearby with five stars on Yelp. Would you like to call Joe’s Pizza to place an order or look up driving directions?” This is sometimes known as “position zero,” when a search engine returns an abstract or snippet from within the content itself to answer a direct question without necessarily sending the user to the page.
Achieving position zero depends on the device
Ranking position zero for a voice action prompt depends on where those results are being pulled from. Improving the voice search ranking for driving directions to a specific physical storefront, for example, is often a matter of improving that business’s visibility on listing sites like Google Maps and Yelp, which you may already be doing as part of your SEO plan anyway.
The data source depends on the platform running the voice search. Google and Android devices utilize Google Local Pack, while Siri crawls Yelp to return results when prompted for “the best” in any specific category, otherwise prioritizing the closest results. Since Alexa pulls local results from Bing, Yelp, and Yext, having filled-out profiles and robust listings on those platforms will help a business rank highly in Alexa search results.
Each assistant also pulls NAP identity (name, address, and phone number of a business’s online listing). NAP pulls profiles for location-based results from slightly different and sometimes overlapping sources:
Siri pulls local recommendations from the NAP profiles on Yelp, Bing, Apple Maps, and Trip Advisor
Android devices and Google Assistant pulls NAP profiles from Google My Business
Alexa pulls NAP profiles from Yelp, Bing, and Yext
Cortana, powered by Alexa, pulls from Yelp and Bing
Someone hoping to optimize their business page for voice search will want to max out their NAP profiles across all platforms by making sure that their listings at business.google.com, bingmapsportal.com, and mapsconnect.apple.com are completely filled out. This is also where a reputation management product like Moz Local can help businesses looking to improve their rankings.
Should you go after the voice snippet feature?
Again, many of the strategies you’d use to achieve first position on a text-based web search still apply to optimizing voice search. To improve voice performance specifically and appear in SERP features and voice snippets, on-page content should be structured so it’s easy to extract, basically reverse engineering the featured snippet you want to produce. But the question is, will it actually help you to rank well in that kind of search? That depends on your goal.
If the page you’re optimizing is built to sell more pizza to local customers, then yes, a featured snippet that pulls your NAP data from Google My Business and provides the pizzeria’s phone number to a hungry local parked nearby is a very good thing. But if the page in question is intended to serve sponsored content about diabetes management to drive clicks to an affiliate link for glucose monitoring strips, then you don’t necessarily want to build a page that helps Siri define Type II diabetes aloud to an eighth grader completing their homework.
Structuring the content headings with a question, followed by a concise answer in the paragraph below, makes it more likely that Siri will recite content from a given page when asked a similarly worded question by the user. The first answers a digital assistant gives when responding to a voice search query are typically the same type of snippets that show up in SERP features such as “People Also Ask” and Knowledge Graph results from Google.
In other words, Siri is unlikely to return your website to answer the voice prompt “What is the chemical composition of sugar?”, but you could rank highly with a featured snippet to answer a search like “Is sugar really bad for children with ADHD?”
The most valuable content for those seeking on-page visitors is the kind that addresses questions that are hard to answer with a single spoken response.
Rand Fishkin made his predictions on the role of the vocal snippet in search results as voice search was ramping up in 2016, and provided some advice on how you can plan your content around it in this Whiteboard Friday. According to Fishkin, it depends on whether you’re in the “safe” or “dangerous” zone for the content you’re trying to rank for, based on how easily a voice response can address the user’s query without sending them to your page.
“I think Google and Apple and Amazon and Alexa and all of these engines that participate in this will be continuing to disintermediate simplistic data and answer publishers,” Fishkin wrote.
He advises users to question the types of information they’re publishing, adding that if X percent of queries that result in traffic can be answered in fewer than Y words, or with “a quick image or a quick graphic, a quick number,” then the engine is going to do it themselves.
“They don’t need you, and very frankly they’re faster than you are,” Fishkin summarized. “They can answer that more quickly, more directly than you can. So I think it pays to consider: Are you in the safe or dangerous portion of this strategic framework with the current content that you publish and with the content plans that you have out in the future?”
Voice-enabled devices are gradually becoming more embedded in consumers’ daily lives, but that doesn’t mean we should prioritize our content as though voice is bearing down on the traditional search engine results page, threatening to replace text all together in the role of SEO. Even if smart assistants and voice-enabled devices continue to become more popular year over year, they still fill a relatively niche role in most consumers’ technical gadget ecosystem at this time. That could change as the voice AIs become more sophisticated and talking to our gadgets starts to feel more normal, but the industry is still grappling with some serious growing pains.
Voice search and voice action technology still has some really exciting applications looming on the horizon, and marketers are already finding clever ways to insert their brands into the hands-free experience. Optimizing content for voice search is just one piece of that puzzle.
Give us your hottest takes and wildest predictions on where voice search is headed in 2021 in the comments!