5 best practice tips for email

Reading this blog will provide you with five fundamentals of high-performing email campaigns. You’ll also receive a handful of hints, tips and useful tools to easily create email campaigns which deliver great business results.

1. Above the fold

An adult’s attention span is on average about eight seconds. Not long, is it? With such a short attention span it’s safe to assume that not all of your recipients are reading your campaigns word for word. Instead, they’ll scan through your email looking for something of interest which grabs their attention.

The fold is an important part of your campaign design and what’s above it has an impact on the performance of your emails.

What is the fold? The fold is a term stemming from the world of printed newspapers and was the space of newspaper cover that was visible after it was folded in half to put out on display. It often contained breaking news headlines and content to draw immediate interest. Let’s bring that to the present day – ‘above the fold’ is the content that you can see instantly after opening an email campaign.

It should include content to attract the recipients’ attention and encourage them to scroll down the page. More importantly, it should include a call to action (CTA).

In email design, the ‘above the fold’ area is approx. 350px high

Have you heard of the inverted pyramid model? Combine this with key points for designing above the fold and you will create an effective way to ensure your recipients are taking the most away from your email campaigns in those crucial eight seconds.

pyramid model

As you can see from the example below, email campaigns which follow the inverted pyramid model usually contain a concise headline which highlights the key message, a supporting CTA and visuals to help convince readers of the benefits of clicking through.

The inverted pyramid model works particularly well for campaigns with a single message and a single call to action, such as announcements and marketing offer campaigns.

email

 

2. Alt text on images

We all know – and have probably experienced – that images can sometimes be blocked by default in email clients. How do we deal with this? Enter some alt text, of course!

Alt text is the alternative text displayed with an image. It provides some context about what your image is for the recipients who have images blocked or turned off by default.

There’s another good reason for alt text, which often gets forgotten. Alt text is used is for visually impaired subscribers that may use a screen reader to get a description of images in an email.

Tips for including alt text on images:

  1. Keep it succinct
  2. Include punctuation
  3. Include the text that is present in the image
  4. Don’t ‘copy and paste’ image captions. Your alt text should offer additional information that’s not conveyed through the caption.
  5. Keep the alt text in context

3. Responsive design – mobile-first

More email and web traffic are moving towards mobile and it’s likely that your recipients are reading your emails on a mobile device. Just by changing the styling and the methods applied to your mobile-first campaign, you could reach more potential or current users while multiplying your ROI.

Here’s a very quick checklist of what you should be implementing:

  • Inline images
  • Large and lovely CTAs
  • Engaging content with nominal effort

We want to provide email campaigns full of content that is customized for your recipient’s device. Using dotmailer’s EasyEditor, you can use your responsive templates to send emails which adapt to fit the screen size and the device type they’re are viewed on.

Abide by these best practices to achieve effective responsive emails:

  1. Use a single column layout. Less swiping and shifting makes it easier for your recipients to read your campaign.
  2. Use 12pt or 14pt font for the body text and no smaller than 18pt-20pt for the titles. This will ensure your campaign is much more readable on a small screen.
  3. Place your most important CTA above the fold.
  4. Avoid using hyperlinks – use a big, clickable button instead.
  5. Test, test, test. Use dotmailer’s ‘inbox and spam filter test’ which enables you to view your campaigns in all major email inboxes and receive a spam filter report.

4. Colors and fonts

There’s a high chance that your email campaigns aren’t the only interaction or communication your recipients will have with your brand. In fact, your recipients probably visited your website before signing up to receive campaigns from you.

Because of this customer journey, it’s important that your email campaigns are aligned with the colors, fonts and branding you use across your other channels.

It helps your customers to know that the email campaign is from you and it creates a level of trust and credibility which reassures people it’s safe to click through.

If you’re a dotmailer customer, this can be achieved with ease using our drag-and-drop EasyEditor. You can choose from a range of designer-selected, web-safe fonts and select your brand’s hex color. With these features, creating a high-converting email campaign that instills trust among your recipients is effortless.

One of dotmailer’s clients, Daisy London, provides effective consistency between its website and its email campaigns. Take a look…

email

5. Preheader text

We’ve all heard that we should include one of these, but what exactly is it? It’s that little line of text that follows the subject line and introduces the content your recipient will find within the email campaign.

So many brands neglect the preheader, often leaving it blank or, rather shockingly, writing ‘dummy’ text, which consequently leads to poor results.

The crux of the preheader text is to serve as a courtesy to steer recipients in convincing them to open your email, boosting open rates and leading to higher ROI.

We’re in an age where our time is precious, and we seem to have less and less time. We scan read rather than digest the words on a page. Plus, our attention span has dropped, so you might think that adding something extra in to your campaign creation process will be pointless. But in fact, the preheader offers recipients a chance to get an idea using three text levels, helping them screen what is and is not relevant more quickly.

Conclusion

Email marketing is one of the most effective ways for marketers today to reach a wide audience base. But if you’re not optimizing your email campaigns for conversion, you could be missing out on valuable clicks, sales and revenue for your business.

Next time you’re creating an email campaign, no matter the type of content or audience, apply these five fundamentals to get better results.

For more best practice inspo, download our back to basics cheatsheet.

The post 5 best practice tips for email appeared first on The Marketing Automation Blog.

Reblogged 23 hours ago from blog.dotmailer.com

The birth of omnichannel

Consumers have witnessed unprecedented change in recent decades.

  • Shifts in behavior and demand have opened up new markets
  • Existing markets have expanded their offerings
  • The above has triggered an avalanche of products and services

The digitalization of the marketplace freed consumers and merchants from the restraints of proximity; the resulting mass consumerism led to the rise in ecommerce, which has transformed the way we shop. This hasn’t just resulted in spiraling growth, but shaken the foundations of marketing as a whole.

We now live in an omnichannel world. This blog will explain how we got there.

But if you’d like a definition of omnichannel, you’ll have to download our whitepaper here.

The rise of inbound marketing

Brands can no longer dictate an idea to customers. Instead, customers fuel the idea and, in response, brands agree on their message and shape their offering. It’s a complete role reversal.

Blasting a one-size-fits-all message to an anonymous audience is ineffective, while sacrificing budget to blindly mass market is simply a waste of money. To meet the needs of modern consumers, brands need to align their positioning to the characteristics of their target audience.

Inbound vs. Outbound

Outbound marketing was effective 30 years ago. However, today it can provoke annoyance and can be highly interruptive to on-the-go consumers. Broadcast commercials, for instance, are likely to irritate your everyday series bingers – from Game of Thrones to Love Island fans – while they’re watching catch-up.

A softer, two-way approach was needed to pique the interests of modern consumers. The move to ecommerce opened up many possibilities, providing brands and customers with an array of platforms to interact with (i.e. responsive websites and apps).

Consumers now actively participate online; this has enabled marketers to better recognize individuals and tailor messages to those most likely to purchase. Since inbound marketing lets the user come to the brand, businesses can capture better quality leads.

This drives cost efficiencies; as targeting those ripest for conversion is more economical than broadcasting to the masses. Four times as many marketers say inbound provides higher ROI. Outbound on the other hand involves more moving parts and its effectiveness is much harder to track.

The shift to online

The digitalization of commerce has brought new opportunities to consumers and businesses. It’s caused a dramatic shift from one-way marketing to seamless, two-way communications.

The rapid development in technology, along with an inflated population, has resulted in a demand for:

  • new markets
  • better products
  • improved methods of selling
  • convenience when buying

According to Business Insider, ‘nothing can stop the shift to online shopping’, especially in the case of retail where we’re witnessing a mass exodus of department stores.

So. Much. Choice.

Consumers have a near-infinite number of products to choose from and countless brands to buy them from. They’ve also an unprecedented level of control in how to communicate and interact with brands. Similarly, marketers have plentiful ways of delivering the first-class experiences demanded by omnichannel customers.

On the flipside, whilst technology empowers businesses to market effectively, consumers are empowered to dodge the marketing they’re not interested in. Email recipients can easily overlook or unsubscribe from messages landing in their inbox, while web users can download add-blocking software on their browser.

Customers now seek value from experiences as well as from tangible products; brands need to focus on the online journey in its entirety, making sure each and every touchpoint is consistent and seamless.

Going mobile

Handheld devices have transformed our lives and revolutionized how businesses market and sell their products and services. Mobile marketing has a direct and wide reach, empowering brands to build awareness and cement customer loyalty.

Smartphones and tablets are increasingly becoming the go-to devices of communication across many demographics – from teenagers to city commuters to retired couples. For many of us, our iPhone or Android can’t be more than an arm’s length away; as well as being our primary mode of communication, it’s also our morning alarm, music apparatus, fitness tracker and purchasing device.

Omnichannel consumers are ‘always on’

81% of all adults in the UK have a smartphone and the time they spend on it is rising (Comapi, 2018). In 2017, it was estimated that UK consumers spent 1 hour and 59 minutes on their smartphones per day. In 2019, this figure is set to increase to 2 hours and 14 minutes.

Omnichannel consumers rely heavily on their mobile devices. So much screen time means they’re ‘always on’ and highly attentive towards notifications. For instance, 90% of SMS messages are read within 10 seconds. For brands that adopt smart tactics and clever targeting, they can win big on mobile.

Brands need to finesse their mobile presence. While many have adopted a ‘mobile-friendly’ approach (the bare minimum) to their marketing efforts, retailers in particular are championing a ‘mobile-first’ approach. The ‘it works on mobile’ attitude isn’t enough. Being ‘mobile first’ is designing for the smallest screen and then scaling up. It’s the most effective way of maximizing responsiveness across all devices and delivering a positive first-touch experience for mobile users. This helps drive conversion and sets the scene for a great customer journey.

Customers call the shots

Omnichannel customers want to immerse themselves in the world of the brands they advocate – and they’ve certainly got the technological resource to do so. Take social media as an example. Each medium provides consumers with a platform of influence where they can conceptualize ideas, create persuasive content and converse en masse.

To leverage the power of social activity, brands need to be at the core of every single conversation. Social content is the new, reinvented storefront; 47% of millennials cite social media as an influencer of their buying decisions. Whilst these ‘social surfers’ might avoid marketing through more traditional mediums, they’re likely to seek advice from their peers (such as friends and family) on the best products and services.

Social proof and trust points

The term ‘social influencer’ was coined to describe individuals who, having attained a large social following, drive the collective opinion of their audiences. The content they create, such as reviews or commentaries, will no doubt affect purchasing behavior. This is especially powerful for brands looking to monetize the social sphere.

Businesses, to gain from this social phenomena, will need to incorporate ‘trust points’ in their marketing practices across every channel. Today, B2C brands share the meaningful experiences of their customers, while B2B companies shout about client success.

In both cases, brands build trust through exhibiting a strong and emotive connection to their customers – your problem is my problem, your success is my success, etc. – as well as a true understanding of their needs. The best way to communicate brand credibility is through authentic storytelling. Prospective customers who relate to these powerful stories will want their share in the winnings.

Start your journey to omnichannel

Omnichannel can be mystifying. Download our whitepaper here and we’ll demystify it for you. We’ll also provide you with steps on how to become an effective omnichannel marketer.

 

The post The birth of omnichannel appeared first on The Marketing Automation Blog.

Reblogged 4 days ago from blog.dotmailer.com

Ecommerce marketers, do you really need SMS?

SMS marketing provides brands with the opportunity to craft an immediate personal relationship with customers, but many are yet to incorporate the channel. With consumers running the game when it comes to tech adoption, those that act fast will stake a claim in the mobile inbox – leaving others at the back of the queue.

Today’s empowered consumer challenges us to provide exceptional brand experiences. Each interaction needs to be packed with all the contextual relevancy and personalization we now receive in our digital lives. Moreover, consumers are fully aware that they leave data breadcrumbs everywhere they go. And they expect them to be used to make their experience better.

To keep up with on-the-go consumers, marketers (firstly) need to utilize powerful technology and leverage the right data. Secondly, they need to compose brilliant, meaningful messages that compel customers to act fast. Adding complementary channels to support your email marketing efforts means you can reach the right customer through their most relevant channel. At dotmailer, we think this omnichannel expansion starts with SMS.

There’s no better way to reach every customer than by bringing together the two giants in communication: SMS and email marketing automation. More than 5 billion people will own a mobile by 2019. Plus, eMarketer expects total US retail mcommerce sales will grow a further 32.7% in 2018. And with email boasting a healthy £38 return for every £1 spent, the numbers paint a healthy picture for investment. Both mediums provide much more bang for their buck compared to, say, paid media, giving you back valuable resources to spend as you see fit.

Combining these two push channels nurtures that all-important 360° customer view. Plus, you can add relevance and granularity to your strategy when you tailor your engagements to the individual. Choosing a tech provider with SMS baked in means you can add the channel to your strategy with ease – and scale quickly.

We’ve put together this free guide that shows 6 prime use-cases for the SMS in ecommerce, along with some ideas for your first foray into omnichannel marketing.

Download the free guide.

 

dotmailer’s integrated global SMS service works in 156 countries, helping you amplify your automation strategy with timely and contextually relevant communication. Check it out for yourself!

Want to see what you can do with SMS? Take a quick demo.

 

The post Ecommerce marketers, do you really need SMS? appeared first on The Marketing Automation Blog.

Reblogged 5 days ago from blog.dotmailer.com

Purple WiFi: our newest integration

We are pleased to announce that dotmailer is now compatible with Purple’s WiFi analytics solution. This enables you to capture data as customers walk in-store and connect to WiFi. 

About Purple

Purple’s cloud-based solution provides businesses with the same in-depth understanding of their physical spaces that website analytics have delivered for years.

With Purple’s software enabled over your existing WiFi network, you can access a wealth of rich WiFi analytics to help you build detailed customer profiles and better understand how customers are interacting within your venue.

The connector

The Purple-dotmailer integration is designed to make it as easy as possible for you to engage with your customers and drive meaningful communications. The aim is to increase click-through and conversion rates.

Now, when visitors authenticate onto your WiFi network, their name and contact details will automatically be synced and instantly sent to the address book of your choice in dotmailer.

The integration removes the need for marketing teams to manually extract and transfer data across different operating systems. This saves time and improves marketing efficiency.

Key features:

  • Real-time transfer of individual visitor information
  • Automatically send data to the address book of your choice
  • GDPR compliant – if users unsubscribe in Purple, they will be automatically unsubscribed in dotmailer
  • System checks for duplicates before creating a new user
  • Existing contact information will be automatically updated

Benefits:

  • Marketing automation – stay connected with visitors during and after they visit your venue to drive spend and encourage return rates
  • Integration – benefit from a constant flow of new contacts, ensuring you never miss an opportunity to connect with your customers
  • Reporting – see who opens your emails, how often they are clicked, and which visitors engage with your content

The decision to integrate both systems was a simple one. Purple WiFi is a very popular platform with extensive reach – it’s the number one choice for many of our customers. The integration enables customers to get the most out of the data they collect through Purple on-site.

Implementation:

First you will need a Purple account. To set one up, click here. If you’re already a Purple customer, then head to the Purple Portal.

In the Portal, select Management > Connectors, from the left navigation panel. Then select dotmailer.

Next, you’ll need to head over to your dotmailer account to gather some information. In settings, select Access. Here you will be able to retrieve the information required to set up the integration. Head back over to the Portal and enter the applicable information.

Verify that your details are correct, click Save, and you’re good to go!

The dotmailer integration is now live within the Purple Portal, ready for you to use.

Not yet a dotmailer customer? No problem! Click here for a quick demo or get in touch with one of our sales representatives.

 

 

 

The post Purple WiFi: our newest integration appeared first on The Marketing Automation Blog.

Reblogged 6 days ago from blog.dotmailer.com

Take the 2018 Moz Local Search Marketing Industry Survey

Posted by MiriamEllis

Local search marketing is a dynamic and exciting discipline, but like many digital professions, it can be a bit isolating. You may find yourself running into questions that don’t have a ready answer, things like…

  • What sort of benchmarks should I be measuring my daily work by?
  • Do my clients’ needs align with what my colleagues are seeing?
  • Am I over/undervaluing the role of Google in my future work?

Here’s a chance to find out what your peers are observing and doing on a day-to-day basis.

The Moz Local Search Marketing Industry Survey will dive into job descriptions, industries served, most effective tactics, tool usage, and the non-stop growth of Google’s local features. We’ll even touch on how folks may have been impacted by the recent August 1 algorithm update, if at all. In-house local SEOs, agency local SEOs, and other digital marketers are all welcome! All participants will be entered into a drawing for a $100 Amazon gift card. The winner will be notified on 8/27/18.

Give just 5 minutes of your time and you’ll get insights and quotable statistics back when we publish the survey results. Be sure to participate by 8/24/2018. We sincerely appreciate your contributions!

Take the Local SEO Survey Now

Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!

Reblogged 1 week ago from tracking.feedpress.it

Marketing challenges: how to beat the 5 bottlenecks

Fast technological development has empowered companies with an array of SaaS tools, helping break down the traditional barriers between business and consumer. If used effectively, marketers can deliver exceptional customer experiences – easily and profitably.

What are we on about? Marketing automation of course!

Only 51% of businesses are using marketing automation – what’s causing this roadblock? It’s certainly not the ROI: triggered messages drive 624% more conversions than batch-and-blast emails (Blueshift Benchmark Report, 2016).

If you find your challenges overwhelming, you need to take a step back and:

  • plan ahead with realism
  • invest your time wisely
  • adopt technology that helps you reach your customers

Challenge #1 – data

Data can be a stumbling block for businesses. It can either bring strategies to fruition or stop them in their tracks. The #1 priority for worldwide marketers, according to eMarketer, is to generate traffic and leads. However, this ultimately hinges on the data processes adopted by your company – so it’s crucial to get to grips with your collection, enrichment and management of data.

Whether you’re a B2C or B2B, your data will tell a story. Extracting insight is a fundamental practice that will contribute to the success of your marketing efforts.

Single customer view (SCV) is a mystifying term that needs to be addressed. Commonly thought of as a product, SCV is actually an optimum flow of data that informs marketing, enables sales and yields analytics. It’s the most important process in business and heavily relies on having the right technology in-house.

SCV could be the sum of a customer’s behavioral, transactional and demographic data. These data sources provide complete and actionable insight, meaning you can treat customers as individuals in your marketing campaigns. As a result, they’re likelier to engage with you and buy from you.

Challenge #2 – technology

Technology innovation is shaping the digital landscape, and with it, the customer-brand relationship. Consumers are now the decision-makers when it comes down to communication.

Those who fail to move with the times will be left in the lurch – if brands don’t adapt to customers’ communication preferences, they’re as good as out of businesses.

Aspirational marketers must adopt the right tools to meet the demands of their audiences. And while there are many SaaS options available, it’s wise for businesses to work with a powerful platform that plays well with others – where native products, integrations and widgets work together under one roof.

Today, brands can no longer use the ‘technology gap’ as a legitimate excuse for delivering poor customer experiences. The development of marketing automation systems has empowered businesses to be champions of personalization and one-to-one communications. These data-triggered messages deliver twice the number of leads than bulk emailing. Blitzing contacts with a shower of emails simply doesn’t cut it anymore! Plus, the market offering is so plentiful that there’s an option to suit every budget.

Challenge #3 – time

It can be hard to break the routine and take time to focus on your wider strategic goals. As marketers, we often get bogged down in day-to-day tasks that need to be churned out; in doing so, we neglect the things that matter most.

79% of marketing leads never convert into sales, for example; poor lead nurturing efforts are to blame for this, and the root cause is a lack of time.

Marketing automation is the answer; making time to implement it means saving more time in the long run. You also make more money – 75% of marketers swear by automation as a revenue-generating tactic.

These winning automation practices can help you save time and make serious money:

  • Automating social media posts can save you around 6 hours per week – time better spent elsewhere!
  • Dynamic content variations in email deliver a 20% uplift in sales
  • Businesses that automate lead nurturing with timely emails see a 10%+ increase in revenue
  • It costs five times more to acquire a new customer than to retain an existing one, so implementing an aftersales program is top on the agenda

Challenge #4 – resource

Not having enough resources in-house can hold you back from kickstarting your automation journey.

Many marketers prioritize their everyday tasks, neglecting proper time to focus on process improvements or alternative solutions that will make life easier. This can compromise long-term strategy and weaken marketing effectiveness to the benefit of the competition.

If you’re familiar with this scenario, you’re not alone.

40% of UK marketers surveyed in an eMarketer report said limits in resource hinder their email marketing automation. [1] This was the highest response rate for any given reason, which included a lack of strategy and budget restraints. Likewise, in an Econsultancy report, 60% of B2B marketers cited resource as the most significant challenge impeding marketing automation. [2]

Whether you want to create a customer lifecycle program, or need interim campaign management support, outsourcing your automation efforts means you can hit the ground running. After all, there are people out there – like us – building automation programs day in, day out.

And while this alleviates your resource constraints, your best brains get the chance to strategize and plan more programs. This will boost your long-term performance and ROI.

Challenge #5 – expertise

The surge in digital channels means that marketers need to leverage the right expertise to utilize their technology effectively.

According to a study of marketers conducted by the Digital Marketing Institute, strategy and planning emerged as the leading skills gap among US and UK organizations. Plus, only 8% of those who were tested on digital marketing competency achieved entry level skills! [3]

Ambitious marketers limited to in-house resources can easily get ahead of themselves and end up with too much on their plates. A whole host of things can suffer as a result: the learning curve, productivity, strategic planning, to name but a few. Not every marketer knows everything – and that’s okay! It’s important to remember that each knowledge gap you encounter is an opportunity to be seized.

If there’s a limit to your expertise – and this is preventing you from realizing your strategy – then it’s high time you considered outsourcing knowledge. A touch of marketing know-how is sometimes all you need to take your business to the next level.

Whether it’s practical advice from a digital marketing specialist, strategic guidance from an account manager, or a full-blown digital consultancy session – the learnings are there to take away and build upon.

When sourcing expertise, don’t forget to:

 

For the key takeaways on how to beat these five marketing challenges, download our handy cheatsheet here.

 

[1] eMarketer, Challenges of Marketing Automation According to Email Marketers Worldwide [Chart], 2017

[2] Econsultancy, State of B2B Marketing Automation, 2017

[3] Missing the Mark: the digital marketing skills gap in the USA, UK and Ireland, 2016

The post Marketing challenges: how to beat the 5 bottlenecks appeared first on The Marketing Automation Blog.

Reblogged 2 weeks ago from blog.dotmailer.com

Rewriting the Beginner’s Guide to SEO, Chapter 2: Crawling, Indexing, and Ranking

Posted by BritneyMuller

It’s been a few months since our last share of our work-in-progress rewrite of the Beginner’s Guide to SEO, but after a brief hiatus, we’re back to share our draft of Chapter Two with you! This wouldn’t have been possible without the help of Kameron Jenkins, who has thoughtfully contributed her great talent for wordsmithing throughout this piece.

This is your resource, the guide that likely kicked off your interest in and knowledge of SEO, and we want to do right by you. You left amazingly helpful commentary on our outline and draft of Chapter One, and we’d be honored if you would take the time to let us know what you think of Chapter Two in the comments below.


Chapter 2: How Search Engines Work – Crawling, Indexing, and Ranking

First, show up.

As we mentioned in Chapter 1, search engines are answer machines. They exist to discover, understand, and organize the internet’s content in order to offer the most relevant results to the questions searchers are asking.

In order to show up in search results, your content needs to first be visible to search engines. It’s arguably the most important piece of the SEO puzzle: If your site can’t be found, there’s no way you’ll ever show up in the SERPs (Search Engine Results Page).

How do search engines work?

Search engines have three primary functions:

  1. Crawl: Scour the Internet for content, looking over the code/content for each URL they find.
  2. Index: Store and organize the content found during the crawling process. Once a page is in the index, it’s in the running to be displayed as a result to relevant queries.
  3. Rank: Provide the pieces of content that will best answer a searcher’s query. Order the search results by the most helpful to a particular query.

What is search engine crawling?

Crawling, is the discovery process in which search engines send out a team of robots (known as crawlers or spiders) to find new and updated content. Content can vary — it could be a webpage, an image, a video, a PDF, etc. — but regardless of the format, content is discovered by links.

The bot starts out by fetching a few web pages, and then follows the links on those webpages to find new URLs. By hopping along this path of links, crawlers are able to find new content and add it to their index — a massive database of discovered URLs — to later be retrieved when a searcher is seeking information that the content on that URL is a good match for.

What is a search engine index?

Search engines process and store information they find in an index, a huge database of all the content they’ve discovered and deem good enough to serve up to searchers.

Search engine ranking

When someone performs a search, search engines scour their index for highly relevant content and then orders that content in the hopes of solving the searcher’s query. This ordering of search results by relevance is known as ranking. In general, you can assume that the higher a website is ranked, the more relevant the search engine believes that site is to the query.

It’s possible to block search engine crawlers from part or all of your site, or instruct search engines to avoid storing certain pages in their index. While there can be reasons for doing this, if you want your content found by searchers, you have to first make sure it’s accessible to crawlers and is indexable. Otherwise, it’s as good as invisible.

By the end of this chapter, you’ll have the context you need to work with the search engine, rather than against it!

Note: In SEO, not all search engines are equal

Many beginners wonder about the relative importance of particular search engines. Most people know that Google has the largest market share, but how important it is to optimize for Bing, Yahoo, and others? The truth is that despite the existence of more than 30 major web search engines, the SEO community really only pays attention to Google. Why? The short answer is that Google is where the vast majority of people search the web. If we include Google Images, Google Maps, and YouTube (a Google property), more than 90% of web searches happen on Google — that’s nearly 20 times Bing and Yahoo combined.

Crawling: Can search engines find your site?

As you’ve just learned, making sure your site gets crawled and indexed is a prerequisite for showing up in the SERPs. First things first: You can check to see how many and which pages of your website have been indexed by Google using “site:yourdomain.com“, an advanced search operator.

Head to Google and type “site:yourdomain.com” into the search bar. This will return results Google has in its index for the site specified:

The number of results Google displays (see “About __ results” above) isn’t exact, but it does give you a solid idea of which pages are indexed on your site and how they are currently showing up in search results.

For more accurate results, monitor and use the Index Coverage report in Google Search Console. You can sign up for a free Google Search Console account if you don’t currently have one. With this tool, you can submit sitemaps for your site and monitor how many submitted pages have actually been added to Google’s index, among other things.

If you’re not showing up anywhere in the search results, there are a few possible reasons why:

  • Your site is brand new and hasn’t been crawled yet.
  • Your site isn’t linked to from any external websites.
  • Your site’s navigation makes it hard for a robot to crawl it effectively.
  • Your site contains some basic code called crawler directives that is blocking search engines.
  • Your site has been penalized by Google for spammy tactics.

If your site doesn’t have any other sites linking to it, you still might be able to get it indexed by submitting your XML sitemap in Google Search Console or manually submitting individual URLs to Google. There’s no guarantee they’ll include a submitted URL in their index, but it’s worth a try!

Can search engines see your whole site?

Sometimes a search engine will be able to find parts of your site by crawling, but other pages or sections might be obscured for one reason or another. It’s important to make sure that search engines are able to discover all the content you want indexed, and not just your homepage.

Ask yourself this: Can the bot crawl through your website, and not just to it?

Is your content hidden behind login forms?

If you require users to log in, fill out forms, or answer surveys before accessing certain content, search engines won’t see those protected pages. A crawler is definitely not going to log in.

Are you relying on search forms?

Robots cannot use search forms. Some individuals believe that if they place a search box on their site, search engines will be able to find everything that their visitors search for.

Is text hidden within non-text content?

Non-text media forms (images, video, GIFs, etc.) should not be used to display text that you wish to be indexed. While search engines are getting better at recognizing images, there’s no guarantee they will be able to read and understand it just yet. It’s always best to add text within the <HTML> markup of your webpage.

Can search engines follow your site navigation?

Just as a crawler needs to discover your site via links from other sites, it needs a path of links on your own site to guide it from page to page. If you’ve got a page you want search engines to find but it isn’t linked to from any other pages, it’s as good as invisible. Many sites make the critical mistake of structuring their navigation in ways that are inaccessible to search engines, hindering their ability to get listed in search results.

Common navigation mistakes that can keep crawlers from seeing all of your site:

  • Having a mobile navigation that shows different results than your desktop navigation
  • Any type of navigation where the menu items are not in the HTML, such as JavaScript-enabled navigations. Google has gotten much better at crawling and understanding Javascript, but it’s still not a perfect process. The more surefire way to ensure something gets found, understood, and indexed by Google is by putting it in the HTML.
  • Personalization, or showing unique navigation to a specific type of visitor versus others, could appear to be cloaking to a search engine crawler
  • Forgetting to link to a primary page on your website through your navigation — remember, links are the paths crawlers follow to new pages!

This is why it’s essential that your website has a clear navigation and helpful URL folder structures.

Information architecture

Information architecture is the practice of organizing and labeling content on a website to improve efficiency and fundability for users. The best information architecture is intuitive, meaning that users shouldn’t have to think very hard to flow through your website or to find something.

Your site should also have a useful 404 (page not found) page for when a visitor clicks on a dead link or mistypes a URL. The best 404 pages allow users to click back into your site so they don’t bounce off just because they tried to access a nonexistent link.

Tell search engines how to crawl your site

In addition to making sure crawlers can reach your most important pages, it’s also pertinent to note that you’ll have pages on your site you don’t want them to find. These might include things like old URLs that have thin content, duplicate URLs (such as sort-and-filter parameters for e-commerce), special promo code pages, staging or test pages, and so on.

Blocking pages from search engines can also help crawlers prioritize your most important pages and maximize your crawl budget (the average number of pages a search engine bot will crawl on your site).

Crawler directives allow you to control what you want Googlebot to crawl and index using a robots.txt file, meta tag, sitemap.xml file, or Google Search Console.

Robots.txt

Robots.txt files are located in the root directory of websites (ex. yourdomain.com/robots.txt) and suggest which parts of your site search engines should and shouldn’t crawl via specific robots.txt directives. This is a great solution when trying to block search engines from non-private pages on your site.

You wouldn’t want to block private/sensitive pages from being crawled here because the file is easily accessible by users and bots.

Pro tip:

  • If Googlebot can’t find a robots.txt file for a site (40X HTTP status code), it proceeds to crawl the site.
  • If Googlebot finds a robots.txt file for a site (20X HTTP status code), it will usually abide by the suggestions and proceed to crawl the site.
  • If Googlebot finds neither a 20X or a 40X HTTP status code (ex. a 501 server error) it can’t determine if you have a robots.txt file or not and won’t crawl your site.

Meta directives

The two types of meta directives are the meta robots tag (more commonly used) and the x-robots-tag. Each provides crawlers with stronger instructions on how to crawl and index a URL’s content.

The x-robots tag provides more flexibility and functionality if you want to block search engines at scale because you can use regular expressions, block non-HTML files, and apply sitewide noindex tags.

These are the best options for blocking more sensitive*/private URLs from search engines.

*For very sensitive URLs, it is best practice to remove them from or require a secure login to view the pages.

WordPress Tip: In Dashboard > Settings > Reading, make sure the “Search Engine Visibility” box is not checked. This blocks search engines from coming to your site via your robots.txt file!

Avoid these common pitfalls, and you’ll have clean, crawlable content that will allow bots easy access to your pages.

Once you’ve ensured your site has been crawled, the next order of business is to make sure it can be indexed. That’s right — just because your site can be discovered and crawled by a search engine doesn’t necessarily mean that it will be stored in their index. Read on to learn about how indexing works and how you can make sure your site makes it into this all-important database.

Sitemaps

A sitemap is just what it sounds like: a list of URLs on your site that crawlers can use to discover and index your content. One of the easiest ways to ensure Google is finding your highest priority pages is to create a file that meets Google’s standards and submit it through Google Search Console. While submitting a sitemap doesn’t replace the need for good site navigation, it can certainly help crawlers follow a path to all of your important pages.

Google Search Console

Some sites (most common with e-commerce) make the same content available on multiple different URLs by appending certain parameters to URLs. If you’ve ever shopped online, you’ve likely narrowed down your search via filters. For example, you may search for “shoes” on Amazon, and then refine your search by size, color, and style. Each time you refine, the URL changes slightly. How does Google know which version of the URL to serve to searchers? Google does a pretty good job at figuring out the representative URL on its own, but you can use the URL Parameters feature in Google Search Console to tell Google exactly how you want them to treat your pages.

Indexing: How do search engines understand and remember your site?

Once you’ve ensured your site has been crawled, the next order of business is to make sure it can be indexed. That’s right — just because your site can be discovered and crawled by a search engine doesn’t necessarily mean that it will be stored in their index. In the previous section on crawling, we discussed how search engines discover your web pages. The index is where your discovered pages are stored. After a crawler finds a page, the search engine renders it just like a browser would. In the process of doing so, the search engine analyzes that page’s contents. All of that information is stored in its index.

Read on to learn about how indexing works and how you can make sure your site makes it into this all-important database.

Can I see how a Googlebot crawler sees my pages?

Yes, the cached version of your page will reflect a snapshot of the last time googlebot crawled it.

Google crawls and caches web pages at different frequencies. More established, well-known sites that post frequently like https://www.nytimes.com will be crawled more frequently than the much-less-famous website for Roger the Mozbot’s side hustle, http://www.rogerlovescupcakes.com (if only it were real…)

You can view what your cached version of a page looks like by clicking the drop-down arrow next to the URL in the SERP and choosing “Cached”:

You can also view the text-only version of your site to determine if your important content is being crawled and cached effectively.

Are pages ever removed from the index?

Yes, pages can be removed from the index! Some of the main reasons why a URL might be removed include:

  • The URL is returning a “not found” error (4XX) or server error (5XX) – This could be accidental (the page was moved and a 301 redirect was not set up) or intentional (the page was deleted and 404ed in order to get it removed from the index)
  • The URL had a noindex meta tag added – This tag can be added by site owners to instruct the search engine to omit the page from its index.
  • The URL has been manually penalized for violating the search engine’s Webmaster Guidelines and, as a result, was removed from the index.
  • The URL has been blocked from crawling with the addition of a password required before visitors can access the page.

If you believe that a page on your website that was previously in Google’s index is no longer showing up, you can manually submit the URL to Google by navigating to the “Submit URL” tool in Search Console.

Ranking: How do search engines rank URLs?

How do search engines ensure that when someone types a query into the search bar, they get relevant results in return? That process is known as ranking, or the ordering of search results by most relevant to least relevant to a particular query.

To determine relevance, search engines use algorithms, a process or formula by which stored information is retrieved and ordered in meaningful ways. These algorithms have gone through many changes over the years in order to improve the quality of search results. Google, for example, makes algorithm adjustments every day — some of these updates are minor quality tweaks, whereas others are core/broad algorithm updates deployed to tackle a specific issue, like Penguin to tackle link spam. Check out our Google Algorithm Change History for a list of both confirmed and unconfirmed Google updates going back to the year 2000.

Why does the algorithm change so often? Is Google just trying to keep us on our toes? While Google doesn’t always reveal specifics as to why they do what they do, we do know that Google’s aim when making algorithm adjustments is to improve overall search quality. That’s why, in response to algorithm update questions, Google will answer with something along the lines of: “We’re making quality updates all the time.” This indicates that, if your site suffered after an algorithm adjustment, compare it against Google’s Quality Guidelines or Search Quality Rater Guidelines, both are very telling in terms of what search engines want.

What do search engines want?

Search engines have always wanted the same thing: to provide useful answers to searcher’s questions in the most helpful formats. If that’s true, then why does it appear that SEO is different now than in years past?

Think about it in terms of someone learning a new language.

At first, their understanding of the language is very rudimentary — “See Spot Run.” Over time, their understanding starts to deepen, and they learn semantics—- the meaning behind language and the relationship between words and phrases. Eventually, with enough practice, the student knows the language well enough to even understand nuance, and is able to provide answers to even vague or incomplete questions.

When search engines were just beginning to learn our language, it was much easier to game the system by using tricks and tactics that actually go against quality guidelines. Take keyword stuffing, for example. If you wanted to rank for a particular keyword like “funny jokes,” you might add the words “funny jokes” a bunch of times onto your page, and make it bold, in hopes of boosting your ranking for that term:

Welcome to funny jokes! We tell the funniest jokes in the world. Funny jokes are fun and crazy. Your funny joke awaits. Sit back and read funny jokes because funny jokes can make you happy and funnier. Some funny favorite funny jokes.

This tactic made for terrible user experiences, and instead of laughing at funny jokes, people were bombarded by annoying, hard-to-read text. It may have worked in the past, but this is never what search engines wanted.

The role links play in SEO

When we talk about links, we could mean two things. Backlinks or “inbound links” are links from other websites that point to your website, while internal links are links on your own site that point to your other pages (on the same site).

Links have historically played a big role in SEO. Very early on, search engines needed help figuring out which URLs were more trustworthy than others to help them determine how to rank search results. Calculating the number of links pointing to any given site helped them do this.

Backlinks work very similarly to real life WOM (Word-Of-Mouth) referrals. Let’s take a hypothetical coffee shop, Jenny’s Coffee, as an example:

  • Referrals from others = good sign of authority
    Example: Many different people have all told you that Jenny’s Coffee is the best in town
  • Referrals from yourself = biased, so not a good sign of authority
    Example: Jenny claims that Jenny’s Coffee is the best in town
  • Referrals from irrelevant or low-quality sources = not a good sign of authority and could even get you flagged for spam
    Example: Jenny paid to have people who have never visited her coffee shop tell others how good it is.
  • No referrals = unclear authority
    Example: Jenny’s Coffee might be good, but you’ve been unable to find anyone who has an opinion so you can’t be sure.

This is why PageRank was created. PageRank (part of Google’s core algorithm) is a link analysis algorithm named after one of Google’s founders, Larry Page. PageRank estimates the importance of a web page by measuring the quality and quantity of links pointing to it. The assumption is that the more relevant, important, and trustworthy a web page is, the more links it will have earned.

The more natural backlinks you have from high-authority (trusted) websites, the better your odds are to rank higher within search results.

The role content plays in SEO

There would be no point to links if they didn’t direct searchers to something. That something is content! Content is more than just words; it’s anything meant to be consumed by searchers — there’s video content, image content, and of course, text. If search engines are answer machines, content is the means by which the engines deliver those answers.

Any time someone performs a search, there are thousands of possible results, so how do search engines decide which pages the searcher is going to find valuable? A big part of determining where your page will rank for a given query is how well the content on your page matches the query’s intent. In other words, does this page match the words that were searched and help fulfill the task the searcher was trying to accomplish?

Because of this focus on user satisfaction and task accomplishment, there’s no strict benchmarks on how long your content should be, how many times it should contain a keyword, or what you put in your header tags. All those can play a role in how well a page performs in search, but the focus should be on the users who will be reading the content.

Today, with hundreds or even thousands of ranking signals, the top three have stayed fairly consistent: links to your website (which serve as a third-party credibility signals), on-page content (quality content that fulfills a searcher’s intent), and RankBrain.

What is RankBrain?

RankBrain is the machine learning component of Google’s core algorithm. Machine learning is a computer program that continues to improve its predictions over time through new observations and training data. In other words, it’s always learning, and because it’s always learning, search results should be constantly improving.

For example, if RankBrain notices a lower ranking URL providing a better result to users than the higher ranking URLs, you can bet that RankBrain will adjust those results, moving the more relevant result higher and demoting the lesser relevant pages as a byproduct.

Like most things with the search engine, we don’t know exactly what comprises RankBrain, but apparently, neither do the folks at Google.

What does this mean for SEOs?

Because Google will continue leveraging RankBrain to promote the most relevant, helpful content, we need to focus on fulfilling searcher intent more than ever before. Provide the best possible information and experience for searchers who might land on your page, and you’ve taken a big first step to performing well in a RankBrain world.

Engagement metrics: correlation, causation, or both?

With Google rankings, engagement metrics are most likely part correlation and part causation.

When we say engagement metrics, we mean data that represents how searchers interact with your site from search results. This includes things like:

  • Clicks (visits from search)
  • Time on page (amount of time the visitor spent on a page before leaving it)
  • Bounce rate (the percentage of all website sessions where users viewed only one page)
  • Pogo-sticking (clicking on an organic result and then quickly returning to the SERP to choose another result)

Many tests, including Moz’s own ranking factor survey, have indicated that engagement metrics correlate with higher ranking, but causation has been hotly debated. Are good engagement metrics just indicative of highly ranked sites? Or are sites ranked highly because they possess good engagement metrics?

What Google has said

While they’ve never used the term “direct ranking signal,” Google has been clear that they absolutely use click data to modify the SERP for particular queries.

According to Google’s former Chief of Search Quality, Udi Manber:

“The ranking itself is affected by the click data. If we discover that, for a particular query, 80% of people click on #2 and only 10% click on #1, after a while we figure out probably #2 is the one people want, so we’ll switch it.”

Another comment from former Google engineer Edmond Lau corroborates this:

“It’s pretty clear that any reasonable search engine would use click data on their own results to feed back into ranking to improve the quality of search results. The actual mechanics of how click data is used is often proprietary, but Google makes it obvious that it uses click data with its patents on systems like rank-adjusted content items.”

Because Google needs to maintain and improve search quality, it seems inevitable that engagement metrics are more than correlation, but it would appear that Google falls short of calling engagement metrics a “ranking signal” because those metrics are used to improve search quality, and the rank of individual URLs is just a byproduct of that.

What tests have confirmed

Various tests have confirmed that Google will adjust SERP order in response to searcher engagement:

  • Rand Fishkin’s 2014 test resulted in a #7 result moving up to the #1 spot after getting around 200 people to click on the URL from the SERP. Interestingly, ranking improvement seemed to be isolated to the location of the people who visited the link. The rank position spiked in the US, where many participants were located, whereas it remained lower on the page in Google Canada, Google Australia, etc.
  • Larry Kim’s comparison of top pages and their average dwell time pre- and post-RankBrain seemed to indicate that the machine-learning component of Google’s algorithm demotes the rank position of pages that people don’t spend as much time on.
  • Darren Shaw’s testing has shown user behavior’s impact on local search and map pack results as well.

Since user engagement metrics are clearly used to adjust the SERPs for quality, and rank position changes as a byproduct, it’s safe to say that SEOs should optimize for engagement. Engagement doesn’t change the objective quality of your web page, but rather your value to searchers relative to other results for that query. That’s why, after no changes to your page or its backlinks, it could decline in rankings if searchers’ behaviors indicates they like other pages better.

In terms of ranking web pages, engagement metrics act like a fact-checker. Objective factors such as links and content first rank the page, then engagement metrics help Google adjust if they didn’t get it right.

The evolution of search results

Back when search engines lacked a lot of the sophistication they have today, the term “10 blue links” was coined to describe the flat structure of the SERP. Any time a search was performed, Google would return a page with 10 organic results, each in the same format.

In this search landscape, holding the #1 spot was the holy grail of SEO. But then something happened. Google began adding results in new formats on their search result pages, called SERP features. Some of these SERP features include:

  • Paid advertisements
  • Featured snippets
  • People Also Ask boxes
  • Local (map) pack
  • Knowledge panel
  • Sitelinks

And Google is adding new ones all the time. It even experimented with “zero-result SERPs,” a phenomenon where only one result from the Knowledge Graph was displayed on the SERP with no results below it except for an option to “view more results.”

The addition of these features caused some initial panic for two main reasons. For one, many of these features caused organic results to be pushed down further on the SERP. Another byproduct is that fewer searchers are clicking on the organic results since more queries are being answered on the SERP itself.

So why would Google do this? It all goes back to the search experience. User behavior indicates that some queries are better satisfied by different content formats. Notice how the different types of SERP features match the different types of query intents.

Query Intent

Possible SERP Feature Triggered

Informational

Featured Snippet

Informational with one answer

Knowledge Graph / Instant Answer

Local

Map Pack

Transactional

Shopping

We’ll talk more about intent in Chapter 3, but for now, it’s important to know that answers can be delivered to searchers in a wide array of formats, and how you structure your content can impact the format in which it appears in search.

Localized search

A search engine like Google has its own proprietary index of local business listings, from which it creates local search results.

If you are performing local SEO work for a business that has a physical location customers can visit (ex: dentist) or for a business that travels to visit their customers (ex: plumber), make sure that you claim, verify, and optimize a free Google My Business Listing.

When it comes to localized search results, Google uses three main factors to determine ranking:

  1. Relevance
  2. Distance
  3. Prominence

Relevance

Relevance is how well a local business matches what the searcher is looking for. To ensure that the business is doing everything it can to be relevant to searchers, make sure the business’ information is thoroughly and accurately filled out.

Distance

Google use your geo-location to better serve you local results. Local search results are extremely sensitive to proximity, which refers to the location of the searcher and/or the location specified in the query (if the searcher included one).

Organic search results are sensitive to a searcher’s location, though seldom as pronounced as in local pack results.

Prominence

With prominence as a factor, Google is looking to reward businesses that are well-known in the real world. In addition to a business’ offline prominence, Google also looks to some online factors to determine local ranking, such as:

Reviews

The number of Google reviews a local business receives, and the sentiment of those reviews, have a notable impact on their ability to rank in local results.

Citations

A “business citation” or “business listing” is a web-based reference to a local business’ “NAP” (name, address, phone number) on a localized platform (Yelp, Acxiom, YP, Infogroup, Localeze, etc.).

Local rankings are influenced by the number and consistency of local business citations. Google pulls data from a wide variety of sources in continuously making up its local business index. When Google finds multiple consistent references to a business’s name, location, and phone number it strengthens Google’s “trust” in the validity of that data. This then leads to Google being able to show the business with a higher degree of confidence. Google also uses information from other sources on the web, such as links and articles.

Check a local business’ citation accuracy here.

Organic ranking

SEO best practices also apply to local SEO, since Google also considers a website’s position in organic search results when determining local ranking.

In the next chapter, you’ll learn on-page best practices that will help Google and users better understand your content.

[Bonus!] Local engagement

Although not listed by Google as a local ranking determiner, the role of engagement is only going to increase as time goes on. Google continues to enrich local results by incorporating real-world data like popular times to visit and average length of visits…

Screenshot of Google SERP result for a local business showing busy times of day

…and even provides searchers with the ability to ask the business questions!

Screenshot of the Questions & Answers portion of a local Google SERP result

Undoubtedly now more than ever before, local results are being influenced by real-world data. This interactivity is how searchers interact with and respond to local businesses, rather than purely static (and game-able) information like links and citations.

Since Google wants to deliver the best, most relevant local businesses to searchers, it makes perfect sense for them to use real time engagement metrics to determine quality and relevance.


You don’t have to know the ins and outs of Google’s algorithm (that remains a mystery!), but by now you should have a great baseline knowledge of how the search engine finds, interprets, stores, and ranks content. Armed with that knowledge, let’s learn about choosing the keywords your content will target!

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