Know What Your Audience Wants Before Investing in Content Creation and Marketing – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by randfish

Content marketing is an iterative process: We learn and improve by analyzing the success of the things we produce. That doesn’t mean, though, that we shouldn’t set ourselves up for that success in the first place, and the best way to do that is by knowing what our audiences want before we actually go through the effort to create it. In today’s Whiteboard Friday, Rand (along with his stick-figure friends Rainy Bill and Hailstorm Hal) explains how we can stack our own decks in our favor with that knowledge.

Know What Your Audience Wants – Whiteboard Friday_1

For reference, here’s a still of this week’s whiteboard!

Video transcription

Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. It’s 2015. It’s going to be a year where, again, many, many marketers engage in a ton of content investments and content marketing for a wide variety of purposes from SEO to driving traffic to growing their email newsletters and lists to earning links and attention and growing their social channels. Unfortunately, there’s a content marketing problem that we see over and over and over again, and that is that folks are making investments in content without knowing whether their audience is going to know and love and appreciate what they’re doing beforehand.

That kind of sucks because it adds a lot of risk to a process that is already risk intensive. You’re going to put a lot of work into the content that you’re creating. Well, hopefully you are. If you’re not, I don’t know how well it’s going to do. All of that work can be for naught.

Let me show you two examples. Over here I have Rainy Bill from WhatTheWeather.com, and here’s Hailstorm Hal from KingOfClimate.com. We’ll start with Rainy Bill’s story.

So Rainy Bill, he’s thinking to himself, “You know, I want to invest in some content marketing for WhatTheWeather.com.” He has an idea. He’s like, “You know, maybe I could make a chart of the T-shirts that meteorologists wear by season. I’ll look at all the TV meteorologists, all the Internet meteorologists, and I’ll look at the T-shirts that they wear. They all wear T-shirts, and I’ll make a big chart of them.”

You might think this is a ridiculous idea. I have seen worse. But Rainy Bill is thinking to himself, “Well, if I do this, it’s kind of ego bait. I get all the meteorologists involved. I’ll feature all their T-shirts, and, of course, all of them will see it and they’ll all link to me, talk about me, share it on their social media channels, email their friends with it. Oh check it out. Put it on their Facebook.”

He makes it. He’s got this beautiful chart showing different kinds of T-shirts that meteorologists are wearing over the seasons, and Bill’s just as happy as a clam. He can’t believe how beautiful that is until he tries to launch and promote it. Then it’s just sadness. He’s just crying tears.

What happened here is that no one actually cared what Bill had to say. No one cared about T-shirt patterns that are worn by meteorologists, and Bill didn’t actually realize this until he had already made the investment and started trying to do the promotion.

This might be a slightly ridiculous example, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen exactly this story play out by marketer after marketer of content investments. They put something together that they hope will achieve their goal of reaching a new audience, of getting promoted, but it falls flat mostly because they had the idea before they talked to anyone else. Before they realized whether anyone else was interested, they went and built it.

That’s actually kind of a terrible idea. Unless you have your finger on the pulse of an industry, a field so incredibly well that you don’t need that process, I’m going to say that is the 1% of the 1% who can do this without going out and first talking to their audience and understanding.

Hailstorm Hal, from KingOfClimate, instead of having a great idea for a piece of content, Hailstorm Hal is going to start with the idea from which all content marketing springs, which is, “I want to make something people will really want and something they’ll really love.” Okay. They want it, and they’re going to love it when they see it and when they get it.

So Hailstorm Hal is going to go out and say, “Well, what are the weather watchers talking about? People who are active in this community, in this industry, the people who do the sharing and the amplification, who influence what the rest of us see, what are they talking about?”

So he goes onto this weather forum and hears someone complaining, “The weather in Cincinnati is totally unpredictable.” The reply, “Yeah, but it’s way more predictable than Seattle is.” “Nuh-uh, you liar.” From this, eureka, Hailstorm Hal has a great idea. “Wait a minute. What if I were to actually go and take all of this online commentary and turn it into something useful where these two commenters could prove to each other who’s correct and people would know for certain how much . . .”

It’s not just helpful to them. This is helpful to a huge, broad swath of society. How accurate are your meteorologists, on average, city by city? I don’t actually know, but I would be fascinated to know whether when I go to San Diego — I was there for the holidays to see my wife’s family — maybe the weather reports in San Diego are much more or much less accurate than what I’m used to here at home in Seattle.

So Hal’s going to put together this great map that’s got an illustration of different regions of the United States, and you can see that in the Midwest actually weather is more predictable than it is on the coast or less predictable than it is on the coast. That’s awesome. That’s terrific. This is going to work far, far better than anything that Hal could have come up with on his own without first understanding the industry.

Now the process and tips that I’m going to recommend here are not exhaustive. There are a lot more things in this. But if you follow these five, at least, I think you’re going to do much better with your content investment.

First off, even before you do this process, get to know the industry, the niche, or the community that you’re operating in. If Hal didn’t know where to find weather watchers, he might just search weather forum, click on the first link in Google, and be at some place that doesn’t really have a very serious investment from the community of people he’s trying to reach. Without understanding all of the sites and pages, without understanding who are the big influencers in the community on social media, without understanding what are the popular websites, what gets a lot of interaction and engagement and doesn’t, that’s going to be really tough for him to figure out.

So that’s why I would say you need to go out and learn about your industry before you make something for it. Incidentally, this is why it’s really tough to do this as a consultant and why if you are paying consultants to go and do this, you’re going to actually be paying quite a bit of money for this research time. This is going to be dozens of hours of research to understand the niche before you can effectively create content for it. That’s something where it isn’t just an on demand kind of thing.

Then from there you want to use the discussion forums, Q&A sites, social media, and blog comments to find topics and discussions that inspire questions, curiosity, and need. Some of that is going to be very blatant. Some of it is going to be much more latent, and you’re going to be drawing from both of those. Your job is to have insight and empathy, and that’s what a great marketer should be able to do when they’re researching these communities.

Number three, you want to validate that if you created something, (a) it would be unique, no one else has made it before, and (b) others would actually share it. You can do this very directly by reaching out and talking to people.

So Hal can go and say, “Hey, who’s this commenter right here? Let’s have a quick conversation. Would you like this?” If the answer is, “Yeah, not only would I like that, I would help share that. I would spread that. I would love to know the answer to this question.” Or no reply, or “Sounds interesting, let me know when you get it up.” There’s going to be a different variation.

You can go and use Twitter, Google+, and email to reach out directly to these people. Most of the time, if you’re finding commentary on these forums and in these places, there will be a way to reach them. I also have two tools I’m going to recommend, both for email. One is Conspire and the other is VoilaNorbert. VoilaNorbert.com is an email finding tool. I think it’s the best one out there right now, and Conspire is a great tool for seeing who you’re connected to that’s connected to people you might want to reach. When you’re trying to reach someone, those can be very helpful.

Number four, it tends to be the case that visual and/or interactive content is going to perform a lot better than text. So if Hal’s list had simply been a list of data — here are all the major U.S. regions and here’s how predictable and unpredictable their weather is — well, that might work okay. But this map, this visual is probably going to sail around the weather world much faster, much better, be picked up by news sources, be written about, be embedded in social media graphics, all that kind of stuff, far better than a mere chart would be.

Number five, remember that as you’re doing the creation, you need to align the audience goals with your business goals. So if KingOfClimate’s goal is to get people signing up for a weather tracking service on an email list, well great, you should have this and then say, “We can send you variability reports. We can tell you if things are getting more or less accurate,” and have an email call to action to get people to sign up to the newsletter. But you want to tie those business goals together.

The one thing I’d be careful of and this is a mistake that many, many folks who invest in content marketing make is that a lot of those benefits are going to be indirect and long term, meaning if the goal is that KingOfClimate.com is trying to sell professional meteorologists on a software subscription service, well, you know what? You’re probably not going to sell a whole lot with this. But you are going to get a lot more professional meteorologists who remember the name, KingOfClimate, and that brand memory is going to influence future purchase decisions, likely nudging conversation rates up a little bit.

It’s probably going to help with links. Links will lead to rankings. Rankings will lead to being higher up in search engines when professional meteorologists search for precisely, “I’m looking for weather tracking software or weather notification software.” So these kings of things are long term and indirect. You have to make sure you’re tying together all of the benefits of content marketing with your business goals that you might achieve.

I hope to see some phenomenal content here in 2015. I’m sure you guys are already working on some great stuff. Applying this can mean that you don’t have to be psychic. You just have to put in a little bit of elbow grease, and you can make things that will perform far better for your customers, for your community, and for your business.

All right, everyone. Look forward to the discussion, and we will see you again next week for another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Take care.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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How to Convert a Client’s Goals into Reportable Metrics – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by DiTomaso

Metrics are really only effective markers of business success if they’re measuring your progress toward your organization’s goals. How, though, do we make the leap from goals to reportable metrics? In today’s Whiteboard Friday, Dana DiTomaso (a partner at Kick Point and a MozCon 2014 speaker!) walks us through that process.

Want to see more from Dana? You can watch her presentation “Prove Your Value” from
MozCon 2014 for free.
(If you’re looking to turn turn the marketing learning volume up to 11, you can purchase all of the MozCon presentations on that page!)

For reference, here’s a still of this week’s whiteboard!

Video transcription

Hi, I’m 
Dana DiTomaso. I work at Kick Point, which is a digital marketing agency in Edmonton. I presented at MozCon 2014 this year, talking about reporting and how people love it so much and how you can make your reporting better.

One of the slides in my presentation that people had a lot of questions about afterwards was what you see behind me. This is not my handwriting. It’s much better than my handwriting. Left-handers and whiteboards don’t mix. One of the things that we wanted to talk in this slide was you can take a goal that the client gives you and drill it down to what you report on in the actual report. The reason why you do this is that you can report on basically everything. That’s one of our super powers as a digital marketer. Because of that, it means that you’re able to take what the client says are their business goals and turn it into things that you actually report on. Because you’re able to do this for a client, they’re much more likely to like you, keep paying their bills, keep you around, last company fired when all the contractor budgets get cut, those sorts of things.

We find that reporting to clients goals proves your value much more strongly than anything else you could possibly do, including delivering great results, to be honest. Clients appreciate honesty, and they appreciate it when you are able to say, “This is what we’re doing to meet your goals. This is the work and here’s how it all fits together.” You’ll have an easier time selling what it is that you do. The client’s going to be happy, you’re going to be happy, everybody’s happy.

Let’s start with how this works. The idea here is you take the client’s goal. When we start with a client, we say to them, “What are your business goals for this year and next year? Give us all your goals.” They often say, “Oh, no marketing company has ever asked for this before,” which is kind of crazy. So start asking your clients for these goals. Again, that’s already a competitive differentiator, and this is before the client has even signed on with us. This is in the proposal meeting. After you’ve done your research, you can come back to the client and say, “Here’s how we’re going to break down your goals into the strategy that we’re going to execute on once you sign on the nice dotted line and give us a check.”

I find that definitely doing that research part is an important part of our proposal process. It might be an important part of yours. What we really like to focus on is making that sure we understand all the pieces of how the client’s project is going to fit together before we tell them how much it’s going to be to execute on it. Because of that, not all clients are like, “Oh I have to pay you money, and then I have to pay you money again.” They are kind of confused, but at the same time you have a way better grasp of what’s going to happen. There are no nasty surprises like, “Oh, you paid a company to black hat link building for you. Well, that’s great.” Then you’re going to have to revise your estimate, etc., etc., etc.

Doing this goal setting as a part of the research process, before you quote on the actual piece, is crucial. If a client doesn’t agree to it, we actually don’t work with them as a client. I know it means that you get less business, but at the same time you get way better business. Clients who are invested in this process are awesome clients.

Back to the goals, this is a real goal from one of our clients — increase gross sales to $17.5 million in 2014. For this client, to set some context, they have recently cancelled all of their print. They weren’t doing any radio or TV. It was just print advertising. They have gone strictly digital. What they’re going to get leads in now is word-of-mouth, referral, being known in the industry, and digital marketing. Great, so now we have this goal.

The question is: How do we track that goal? What do we need to find out in order to make sure we’re delivering on that goal? That gets broken down into KPIs, key performance indicators. That’s gross sales, average sale size, and average time to close sale. That’s the three things we need from the client. Because we communicate to this client at the very beginning, we can then set up a process to say, “Okay, so when it’s report time at the end of the month, this is the kind of stuff that we need from you.” The client is ready, able to deliver it right away. It’s not a huge turnaround time on the reports.

The next thing is tactics. Of course, there are way more tactics than this. This is kind of a broad overview of the tactics that you think about. This includes things like link building or content marketing or outreach or anything like that. What we’re looking at right now is: How are we going to deliver, and how are we going to deliver on our end? What is the stuff we’re thinking about when we actually do stuff like content marketing?

So this helps to sharpen your focus to say, “All right, we’re going to right a blog post about how our client is really awesome at environmental sustainability,” for example. Then we know that we need to make sure that we’re setting up lead tracking and lead scoring and that there’s a nice call-to-action at the end of that content piece, because we need to make sure that it turns into leads, and blah, blah, blah.

A couple of tactics, use lead tracking to determine the percentage of lead sources per industry and their source. For this client, they want to sell more to specific industries, so we want to make sure that we’re tracking that on the form. There is a drop-down on the form, but also people hate self-reporting. They’re really bad at it. They often pick “other” or “I don’t want to tell you” or they just don’t fill out the form. If you can remove that and then try to get the industry in some other way, either through demographic information. For example, once you get your email address, you can look it up. If it’s a client with a low volume of leads, that can be really effective or some other method, and then you can remove that from the form. That helps improve your close rate.

Lead scoring to identify high close rate, fast closing leads and their source. What we want to know is not just how many leads did you get, but what were the best leads. Which ones closed the fastest? Which ones gave you the most money? Let’s get more of these. We want to find out their source so we can say, “Wow, that referral campaign we did was really amazing. Let’s make sure we do more of that.” That’s the tactics.

Next is metrics. This is what are we going to pull out of Google Analytics or whatever reporting method you’re using. For example, this could also be a social goal that’s related strictly to social media, such as improving share of voice in your industry. In that case, you would look at different metrics like the share of voice. You would look at mentions. There’s lots of different stuff that you can look at. For this case, we’re looking at lead form fills and specifically the multi-attribution model. I want to take a minute to talk about that. I think that by default, of course, Google Analytics reports on the click before the last click attribution model. What we want to report on is all the different steps that went into that. Annie Cushing had a great quote about this, “Reporting on last click attribution in 2014 is like buying a football team and only paying the players who score.” If you only report on last-attribution modeling, the problem is that you are shortchanging yourself. Often, for example, organic traffic is very high up the funnel. We want to make sure that we’re getting credit for every touch point that the client makes before they fill out that form.

The first time you present multi-attribution modeling to a client, if you aren’t doing it already, and if you’re not doing it already, then start. I know it takes a little bit of work with customer reporting and stuff, but it’s totally worth it. You usually have to sit down and explain to the client. I have used Annie’s quote. It works really great to explain how this stuff works. Just sit down with them and show them and actually open up Google Analytics and take them through the model. Say, “Look at all these different paths. Isn’t this crazy? Did you know somebody visited your website 78 times before they filled out form?”

They are often horrified, but also a little confused, as we all are about user behavior on the Internet. I find that it’s important to show the client this so that they understand and they get a real appreciation of all the different pieces that come in together. There’s very rarely a, “I clicked on your ad. I filled out a form.” That’s not necessarily a transaction that happens a lot, especially in the B2B space, which is where this client is.

Make sure that you’re using multi-attribution in all your reporting, that you’re explaining it, and that you’re giving credit where credit is due, even if it isn’t something that you particularly did. Let’s say you’re not responsible for email marketing. That’s a client. Email marketing can be a really important channel, drives lots of leads. No, you didn’t do it, but report on it. The client is going to appreciate that. Make sure you use the multi-attribution model.

In the report itself, now we know these are the metrics you’re going to report on: number of leads; attribute leads to channels, this is really important; and attribute high value leads to channels. This is the golden thing that’s going to be able to tell us what is really working well for this client and what we need to focus on in the future.

Then, of course, that rolls all the way back up to this goal again. By putting all the pieces together, you can become incredibly valuable to your clients. They appreciate honest, accurate reporting. They appreciate reporting that relates back to their business goals, so then when it comes time for your client’s boss to ask questions about why they’re paying all that money to the digital marketing agency, they can come back and say, “Look what they did to hit those goals.” That should help you out with reporting. Thanks.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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A Content Strategy Template You Can Build On

Posted by Isla_McKetta

Picture it. A room full of executives from a company you never thought you could land as a client. They’re so engaged in what they are saying that they’re leaning forward in their chairs. The CEO looks poised to ask a question but you can tell she doesn’t want to interrupt your flow.

This is the moment content strategists dream of.

But if you’re like me, it’s easy to get caught up in how new the field is and wonder, “Am I even doing this right?” There are lots of posts to help you, such as 
How to Build a Content Marketing Strategy and Content Strategy: You’re Doing it Wrong. There are also comprehensive guides to creating content strategies. There’s even an epic list of content strategy resources. And there are books (my favorite is Kristina Halvorson and Melissa Rach’s Content Strategy for the Web).

Still, sometimes you just want to peek over someone else’s shoulder at a concrete example to see if there’s anything you can learn. This can be especially true if you’re working in-house and don’t have anyone to bounce ideas off of.

So, I built a
template.

What a content strategy should look like

Content strategies take many forms, from a 50-page word document to an hour-long PowerPoint presentation. That means this template is not meant to be gospel. Instead, it introduces you to the many moving parts that make up a content strategy and gives you an example of how I, based on the years I spent consulting on content strategies for everything from stock photography to software as a service, would write it up.

Peek over my shoulder to get your next strategy started, or just to get a glimpse of how someone else approaches a strategy. Build on this template and make it your own. You’ll find that the template is written from an agency perspective (with lots of references to “the client”) but it works equally well if you are in-house and are writing for that one, all-important client—your boss.

What goes into a content strategy

The content strategy template walks you through researching and writing up the three key elements of a content strategy: what content looks like now, what it should look like, and the ecosystem in which content is created.

Content today

A strategy should provide an assessment of the client’s current content, as well as insight into their competitors’ content. That assessment may include any or all of the following:

  • Personas 
  • Stakeholder interviews 
  • Content inventory 
  • Content audit 
  • Gap analysis 
  • Competitive analysis

Content in the future

Then you want to show your client where the content should take them and how they can use various channels to get there. Some of
many places content resides are:

Onsite content 

  • Homepage
  • Landing pages 
  • Category pages 
  • Product descriptions 
  • Blog 
  • Error pages 
  • Etc.

Offsite content 

  • Emails 
  • Social media 
  • Brochures 
  • Packaging 
  • Invoices 
  • Voicemail messages 
  • Etc.

Governance (aka the content ecosystem)

Finally, you want to think about the environment in which the content gets created—the governance of content. This includes:

  • Brand, voice, and style guidelines 
  • Workflow analysis 
  • Best practices for writing on the web 
  • SEO tips 
  • Editorial calendar

See the template for more in-depth descriptions of all of these elements as well as some of my favorite tools to get them done.

Again, take these pieces and use them to create your own template. Each strategy you do will require its own tweaks, but this will give you the leg up to put your own stamp on this emerging field.

The storytelling of content strategy

My brand of content strategy, and you’ll see this reflected a little in the template, is that a content strategy is a story. For a deeper understanding of this, check out the Mozinar I gave a few weeks ago,
The Storytelling of Content Strategy.

Basically, I advocate for taking the elements of fiction and using them to get a fresh perspective on a brand’s journey toward a goal.

Here’s how the five elements of a story are also the basis of a content strategy:

1. Brands and customers are heroes

A content strategy can either be about a brand’s journey to land a customer (useful when a brand is new or has lost its way), or a content strategy can be about a customer’s journey and how the brand can help. See the webinar for an example of each.

2. Your current landscape is your ground situation

You can’t start a strategy until you know where your hero is coming from. Most of the initial research you do—from
stakeholder interviews to content inventories and audits—is to understand the starting point of your strategy. This is where the journey begins. You will be measuring all future success against the understanding you build of this landscape.

3. Goals articulate your central desire

You can’t plot a strategy if you don’t know what direction the brand wants to grow. Goals should come from the brand itself, but you might find that the brand needs a little coaching. It’s helpful if you distinguish overall business goals from content goals. They are related, but there are some goals (e.g. reducing employee turnover) that content plays a much smaller role in achieving. Setting specific goals for your content strategy also lets you get more granular about some goals in which content is the star player (e.g. increasing email open rate).

4. Competitors are antagonists

Even if you’re going to write the most TAGFEE content strategy ever, you still need to figure out where your competitors are and how you can learn from their example. And it’s important to remember that because of the way search engines work, your business competitors might be different than your SERP competitors. Ideally a content strategy will address both.

5. Plot is strategy

At this point in the story, you know who the players are, what’s working and what’s not, and have some ideas about how to move forward to achieve those goals.

When I write up a strategy, I think about them as though I were plotting a novel. Each tactic or channel is a way to move the brand closer to those goals. What obstacles might they encounter? Who are they competing with in the space? How can they master this tactic or channel? And how can content help them achieve their goals and ride happily off into the sunset?

Making a content strategy your own

Now it’s time to
download that template and see what story your content strategy is trying to tell. Once you’re confident in the strategy you’re presenting, you’ll have the complete attention of every executive in that conference room. And, with any luck, they’ll refer you to their friends. 

I want to learn from you, too. Is there anything you’d include in the template that I haven’t covered? Do you have any strategies for success in presenting content strategies or any lessons learned? Please share your ideas and stories in the comments.

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Outdated SEO Concepts People Still Think are Reality

Posted by katemorris

It’s on the internet, so it’s true.

The bane of the existence of all search marketers is old or incorrect information given to clients at
any point in time that they still hang on to. This post was inspired by an interaction with a client’s co-workers, people that are not thinking about SEO on a regular basis. This is not to knock them, but to bring to the attention of everyone that there is a continual need for education. These concepts have a way of hanging around.

And this isn’t about just clients either. This is about friends, parents, and partners. Does anyone else still get asked if they make pop-up ads when they try to explain what they do? (Just me? Crap.)

Doing research for this post, I noticed there are a ton of SEO misconceptions out there, and people are talking about them regularly, but many are related to content marketing or online marketing overall. I’m not covering all misconceptions, but those concepts that seem to be stuck to the idea of SEO and will not let go. Then I’ll give you resources to help educate the people that believe these misconceptions and alternate solutions to give them.


Hiding Cat by Aftab Uzzaman

Putting text behind an image

The inspiration. The client is struggling with balancing revenue and content on the page. There is a large image on the page now and we suggested editing the page to add content about the product. The question was asked if we could just put the content behind the image and solve both problems.

My client stepped in and answered the question wonderfully, but it brought to mind how many times I’ve seen overstuffed alt text attributes and content in a noscript tag that doesn’t match what’s in the Flash.

Additional resource

A Comprehensive Guide to Hidden Text

Alternate solution

In this instance, we recommended putting text below the fold for the users that wanted the information and keeping the current image for returning users. Balance that satisfies both user needs and the business goals.


Copying a competitor’s actions

This isn’t as obvious as hiding text, but it’s something that companies refuse to stop doing. It’s the concept that if a competitor is doing something, it must be worth doing. This goes for competitors ranking above a business, but it also covers competitors that the business just dislikes. We all have those competitors we want to “beat” and sometimes that makes us do things that are not fully researched and planned.

Amazon.com is my biggest annoyance. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard the reasoning “but Amazon does it” by major brands that other businesses look up to. Amazon, like most major companies, tests many things, and there is a different person behind each test. If you work for a large company, you understand what I mean.

Additional resource

Stop Copying Your Competitors, They Don’t Know What They are Doing Either

Alternate solution

Everyone is on the hunt for the best results and bringing in new customers, retaining current customers, and making other stakeholders happy. The way you beat competitors is to listen to your stakeholders (customers, clients, partners, employees, investors) and make decisions based on their feedback as well as what is going on in the market.


Sheer number of links equals ranking

This has been debunked so many times it makes my head swim. That doesn’t change how many people still think that the total number of links (as reported by a third party tool like Moz, Majestic, or AHREFs) is the sole factor in ranking. Want to do better in SERPs? Well, we need to hire someone to build us some links! I’m going to leave one screen shot here (Search: “insurance”) and then we’ll get into resources and solutions for when you have to face this.

Additional resource

Moz Search Ranking Factors

Alternate solution

This is more of an “additional solution,” as links and mentions are still very important, but as seen above, it’s far from the only factor in ranking. It’s best to explain the different ranking factors like content relevance to the query, some social data, query deserves freshness, local, news, personalization, and all of the other things that can impact ranking. Focus on a marketing strategy that will not only result in links, but also send new customers through those links and engage the customers into lifelong evangelists.


A loss in traffic means you’ve been penalized

The next two are focused on the issue of penalties. So many people are afraid of being penalized. I think this goes back to the days of black marks in your school record. That or people are worried about losing revenue. Maybe that.

The media gets involved with SEO when there is a penalty and so that is what most people hear about. FTD and Overstock types of situations. Then disaster strikes and revenue falls unexpectedly. After some digging, they find that website traffic is down. This paired with emails business owners get at least once a quarter (in a good year) from fly by night SEO companies telling them they can help with SEO, promise the moon and warn of penalties.

The only logical conclusion is a penalty! We have all seen it and most reputable agencies pipelines are filled with leads from companies in this exact situation. The thing is that we never know if there is a penalty unless we dive into the situation, but I have seen times where there is no penalty.

Many things could have happened including:

  • A developer added a noindex tag to a section of the site when meaning to add it to one page or they disallowed that section.
  • The site was redesigned with URL changes that can drop the traffic coming into many sites if not done correctly.
  • PPC traffic stopped due to a corporate card expiring and not being updated.

Additional resource

Guide to Common SEO Penalties and How to Recover From Them

Alternate solution

Rather than paying the first person that will call you back, first look into what part of the site lost traffic and where that traffic was coming from in the past few months. Did you lose traffic from organic search, paid search, referral traffic, or social media? Try to narrow down what happened and figure it out from there. If you’re sure it was organic search, look into the date and ask your developers if anything changed about the site. If nothing did, check Google Webmaster Tools for any messages from Google about a penalty. If you’re sure it’s organic search and there are no messages, that’s a good time to contact a reputable agency. 


Duplicate content can incur a penalty

Penalty by Daniele Zanni

I did a talk on this very topic a few years back at Pubcon. So many people don’t take the time to understand what duplicate content is and how to fix it. More importantly, there is a misunderstanding that duplicate content can cause or is a penalty. 

Most clients assume that having duplicate content will incur the “search engine gods’ ” wrath, and that just isn’t true (for the most part; I mean, if your whole site is a copy of someone else’s site …). Duplicate content is a hindrance to site performance most of the time, but most likely not the cause for a substantial drop in traffic and definitely not a penalty from the search engines. 

Additional resource

Google’s Guidelines for Duplicate Content


Alternate solution

Don’t fret. Take the time to visit Webmaster Tools regularly and check out your duplicated title tags and meta descriptions for an easy look into what might be causing duplicate content or crawling issues on your site. Maintenance is the best medicine!


A call to educate

Education by Sean MacEntee

We sometimes live in a bubble where we think people know everything we do and take for granted information like everything above. If someone asked you how to create a P&L Statement, could you? Maybe, maybe not, but you get what I mean. Take the time to answer questions, whether from clients or colleagues if you are in-house. You would be amazed how much more YOU can learn from teaching others. 

So what are your horror stories? Let me know in the comments below!


Photo credits (all images are linked):

  • Internet Open by Blaise Alleyne
  • Hiding Cat by Aftab Uzzaman
  • Penalty by Daniele Zanni
  • Educate by Sean MacEntee

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