The Meta Referrer Tag: An Advancement for SEO and the Internet

Posted by Cyrus-Shepard

The movement to make the Internet more secure through HTTPS brings several useful advancements for webmasters. In addition to security improvements, HTTPS promises future technological advances and potential SEO benefits for marketers.

HTTPS in search results is rising. Recent MozCast data from Dr. Pete shows nearly 20% of first page Google results are now HTTPS.

Sadly, HTTPS also has its downsides.

Marketers run into their first challenge when they switch regular HTTP sites over to HTTPS. Technically challenging, the switch typically involves routing your site through a series of 301 redirects. Historically, these types of redirects are associated with a loss of link equity (thought to be around 15%) which can lead to a loss in rankings. This can offset any SEO advantage that Google claims switching.

Ross Hudgens perfectly summed it up in this tweet:

Many SEOs have anecdotally shared stories of HTTPS sites performing well in Google search results (and our soon-to-be-published Ranking Factors data seems to support this.) However, the short term effect of a large migration can be hard to take. When Moz recently switched to HTTPS to provide better security to our logged-in users, we saw an 8-9% dip in our organic search traffic.

Problem number two is the subject of this post. It involves the loss of referral data. Typically, when one site sends traffic to another, information is sent that identifies the originating site as the source of traffic. This invaluable data allows people to see where their traffic is coming from, and helps spread the flow of information across the web.

SEOs have long used referrer data for a number of beneficial purposes. Oftentimes, people will link back or check out the site sending traffic when they see the referrer in their analytics data. Spammers know this works, as evidenced by the recent increase in referrer spam:

This process stops when traffic flows from an HTTPS site to a non-secure HTTP site. In this case, no referrer data is sent. Webmasters can’t know where their traffic is coming from.

Here’s how referral data to my personal site looked when Moz switched to HTTPS. I lost all visibility into where my traffic came from.

Its (not provided) all over again!

Enter the meta referrer tag

While we can’t solve the ranking challenges imposed by switching a site to HTTPS, we can solve the loss of referral data, and it’s actually super-simple.

Almost completely unknown to most marketers, the relatively new meta referrer tag (it’s actually been around for a few years) was designed to help out in these situations.

Better yet, the tag allows you to control how your referrer information is passed.

The meta referrer tag works with most browsers to pass referrer information in a manner defined by the user. Traffic remains encrypted and all the benefits of using HTTPS remain in place, but now you can pass referrer data to all websites, even those that use HTTP.

How to use the meta referrer tag

What follows are extremely simplified instructions for using the meta referrer tag. For more in-depth understanding, we highly recommend referring to the W3C working draft of the spec.

The meta referrer tag is placed in the <head> section of your HTML, and references one of five states, which control how browsers send referrer information from your site. The five states are:

  1. None: Never pass referral data
    <meta name="referrer" content="none">
    
  2. None When Downgrade: Sends referrer information to secure HTTPS sites, but not insecure HTTP sites
    <meta name="referrer" content="none-when-downgrade">
    
  3. Origin Only: Sends the scheme, host, and port (basically, the subdomain) stripped of the full URL as a referrer, i.e. https://moz.com/example.html would simply send https://moz.com
    <meta name="referrer" content="origin">
    

  4. Origin When Cross-Origin: Sends the full URL as the referrer when the target has the same scheme, host, and port (i.e. subdomain) regardless if it’s HTTP or HTTPS, while sending origin-only referral information to external sites. (note: There is a typo in the official spec. Future versions should be “origin-when-cross-origin”)
    <meta name="referrer" content="origin-when-crossorigin">
    
  5. Unsafe URL: Always passes the URL string as a referrer. Note if you have any sensitive information contained in your URL, this isn’t the safest option. By default, URL fragments, username, and password are automatically stripped out.
    <meta name="referrer" content="unsafe-url">
    

The meta referrer tag in action

By clicking the link below, you can get a sense of how the meta referrer tag works.

Check Referrer

Boom!

We’ve set the meta referrer tag for Moz to “origin”, which means when we link out to another site, we pass our scheme, host, and port. The end result is you see http://moz.com as the referrer, stripped of the full URL path (/meta-referrer-tag).

My personal site typically receives several visits per day from Moz. Here’s what my analytics data looked like before and after we implemented the meta referrer tag.

For simplicity and security, most sites may want to implement the “origin” state, but there are drawbacks.

One negative side effect was that as soon as we implemented the meta referrer tag, our AdRoll analytics, which we use for retargeting, stopped working. It turns out that AdRoll uses our referrer information for analytics, but the meta referrer tag “origin” state meant that the only URL they ever saw reported was https://moz.com.

Conclusion

We love the meta referrer tag because it keeps information flowing on the Internet. It’s the way the web is supposed to work!

It helps marketers and webmasters see exactly where their traffic is coming from. It encourages engagement, communication, and even linking, which can lead to improvements in SEO.

Useful links:

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Reblogged 3 years ago from tracking.feedpress.it

Exposing The Generational Content Gap: Three Ways to Reach Multiple Generations

Posted by AndreaLehr

With more people of all ages online than ever before, marketers must create content that resonates with multiple generations. Successful marketers realize that each generation has unique expectations, values and experiences that influence consumer behaviors, and that offering your audience content that reflects their shared interests is a powerful way to connect with them and inspire them to take action.

We’re in the midst of a generational shift, with
Millennials expected to surpass Baby Boomers in 2015 as the largest living generation. In order to be competitive, marketers need to realize where key distinctions and similarities lie in terms of how these different generations consume content and share it with with others.

To better understand the habits of each generation,
BuzzStream and Fractl surveyed over 1,200 individuals and segmented their responses into three groups: Millennials (born between 1977–1995), Generation X (born between 1965–1976), and Baby Boomers (born between 1946–1964). [Eds note: The official breakdown for each group is as follows: Millennials (1981-1997), Generation X (1965-1980), and Boomers (1946-1964)]

Our survey asked them to identify their preferences for over 15 different content types while also noting their opinions on long-form versus short-form content and different genres (e.g., politics, technology, and entertainment).

We compared their responses and found similar habits and unique trends among all three generations.

Here’s our breakdown of the three key takeaways you can use to elevate your future campaigns:

1. Baby Boomers are consuming the most content

However, they have a tendency to enjoy it earlier in the day than Gen Xers and Millennials.

Although we found striking similarities between the younger generations, the oldest generation distinguished itself by consuming the most content. Over 25 percent of Baby Boomers consume 20 or more hours of content each week. Additional findings:

  • Baby Boomers also hold a strong lead in the 15–20 hours bracket at 17 percent, edging out Gen Xers and Millennials at 12 and 11 percent, respectively
  • A majority of Gen Xers and Millennials—just over 22 percent each—consume between 5 and 10 hours per week
  • Less than 10 percent of Gen Xers consume less than five hours of content a week—the lowest of all three groups

We also compared the times of day that each generation enjoys consuming content. The results show that most of our respondents—over 30 percent— consume content between 8 p.m. and midnight. However, there are similar trends that distinguish the oldest generation from the younger ones:

  • Baby Boomers consume a majority of their content in the morning. Nearly 40 percent of respondents are online between 5 a.m. and noon.
  • The least popular time for most respondents to engage with content online is late at night, between midnight and 5 a.m., earning less than 10 percent from each generation
  • Gen X is the only generation to dip below 10 percent in the three U.S. time zones: 5 a.m. to 9 a.m., 6 to 8 p.m., and midnight to 5 a.m.

When Do We Consume Content

When it comes to which device each generation uses to consume content, laptops are the most common, followed by desktops. The biggest distinction is in mobile usage: Over 50 percent of respondents who use their mobile as their primary device for content consumption are Millennials. Other results reveal:

  • Not only do Baby Boomers use laptops the most (43 percent), but they also use their tablets the most. (40 percent of all primary tablet users are Baby Boomers).
  • Over 25 percent of Millennials use a mobile device as their primary source for content
  • Gen Xers are the least active tablet users, with less than 8 percent of respondents using it as their primary device

Device To Consume Content2. Preferred content types and lengths span all three generations

One thing every generation agrees on is the type of content they enjoy seeing online. Our results reveal that the top four content types— blog articles, images, comments, and eBooks—are exactly the same for Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, and Millennials. Additional comparisons indicate:

  • The least preferred content types—flipbooks, SlideShares, webinars, and white papers—are the same across generations, too (although not in the exact same order)
  • Surprisingly, Gen Xers and Millennials list quizzes as one of their five least favorite content types

Most Consumed Content Type

All three generations also agree on ideal content length, around 300 words. Further analysis reveals:

  • Baby Boomers have the highest preference for articles under 200 words, at 18 percent
  • Gen Xers have a strong preference for articles over 500 words compared to other generations. Over 20 percent of respondents favor long-form articles, while only 15 percent of Baby Boomers and Millennials share the same sentiment.
  • Gen Xers also prefer short articles the least, with less than 10 percent preferring articles under 200 words

Content Length PreferencesHowever, in regards to verticals or genres, where they consume their content, each generation has their own unique preference:

  • Baby Boomers have a comfortable lead in world news and politics, at 18 percent and 12 percent, respectively
  • Millennials hold a strong lead in technology, at 18 percent, while Baby Boomers come in at 10 percent in the same category
  • Gen Xers fall between Millennials and Baby Boomers in most verticals, although they have slight leads in personal finance, parenting, and healthy living
  • Although entertainment is the top genre for each generation, Millennials and Baby Boomers prefer it slightly more than than Gen Xers do

Favorite Content Genres

3. Facebook is the preferred content sharing platform across all three generations

Facebook remains king in terms of content sharing, and is used by about 60 percent of respondents in each generation studied. Surprisingly, YouTube came in second, followed by Twitter, Google+, and LinkedIn, respectively. Additional findings:

  • Baby Boomers share on Facebook the most, edging out Millennials by only a fraction of a percent
  • Although Gen Xers use Facebook slightly less than other generations, they lead in both YouTube and Twitter, at 15 percent and 10 percent, respectively
  • Google+ is most popular with Baby Boomers, at 8 percent, nearly double that of both Gen Xers and Millennials

Preferred Social PlatformAlthough a majority of each generation is sharing content on Facebook, the type of content they are sharing, especially visuals, varies by each age group. The oldest generation prefers more traditional content, such as images and videos. Millennials prefer newer content types, such as memes and GIFs, while Gen X predictably falls in between the two generations in all categories except SlideShares. Other findings:

  • The most popular content type for Baby Boomers is video, at 27 percent
  • Parallax is the least popular type for every generation, earning 1 percent or less in each age group
  • Millennials share memes the most, while less than 10 percent of Baby Boomers share similar content

Most Shared Visual ContentMarketing to several generations can be challenging, given the different values and ideas that resonate with each group. With the number of online content consumers growing daily, it’s essential for marketers to understand the specific types of content that each of their audiences connect with, and align it with their content marketing strategy accordingly.

Although there is no one-size-fits-all campaign, successful marketers can create content that multiple generations will want to share. If you feel you need more information getting started, you can review this deck of additional insights, which includes the preferred video length and weekend consuming habits of each generation discussed in this post.

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Reblogged 3 years ago from tracking.feedpress.it

Should I Rebrand and Redirect My Site? Should I Consolidate Multiple Sites/Brands? – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by randfish

Making changes to your brand is a huge step, and while it’s sometimes the best path forward, it isn’t one to be taken lightly. In today’s Whiteboard Friday, Rand offers some guidance to marketers who are wondering whether a rebrand/redirect is right for them, and also those who are considering consolidating multiple sites under a single brand.

For reference, here’s a still of this week’s whiteboard. Click on it to open a high resolution image in a new tab!

To rebrand, or not to rebrand, that is the question

Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Today we’re going to chat a little bit about whether you should rebrand and consider redirecting your existing website or websites and whether you should potentially consolidate multiple websites and brands that you may be running.

So we’ve talked before about redirection moves best practices. We’ve also talked about the splitting of link equity and domain authority and those kinds of things. But one of the questions that people have is, “Gosh, you know I have a website today and given the moves that Google has been making, that the social media world has been making, that content marketing has been making, I’m wondering whether I should potentially rebrand my site.” Lots of people bought domains back in the day that were exact match domains or partial match domains or that they thought reflected a move of the web toward or away from less brand-centric stuff and toward more keyword matching, topic matching, intent matching kinds of things.

Maybe you’re reconsidering those moves and you want to know, “Hey, should I be thinking about making a change now?” That’s what I’m here to answer. So this question to rebrand or not to re, it is tough because you know that when you do that rebrand, you will almost certainly take a traffic hit, and SEO is one of the biggest places where people typically take that traffic hit.

Moz previously was at SEOmoz.org and moved to moz.com. We saw a dip in our traffic over about 3 to 4 months before it fully recovered, and I would say that dip was between 15% and 25% of our search traffic, depending on week to week. I’ll link to a list of metrics that I put on my personal blog, Moz.com/rand, so that you can check those out if you’d like to see them. But it was a short recovery time for us.

One of the questions that people always have is, “Well wait, did you lose rankings for SEO since SEO used to be in your domain name?” The answer is no. In fact, six months after the move, we were ranking higher for SEO related terms and phrases.

Scenario A: Rebranding or redirecting scifitoysandgames.com

So let’s imagine that today you are running SciFiToysAndGames.com, which is right on the borderline. In my opinion, that’s right on the borderline of barely tolerable. Like it could be brandable, but it’s not great. I don’t love the “sci-fi” in here, partially because of how the Syfy channel, the entity that broadcasts stuff on television has chosen to delineate their spelling, sci-fi can be misinterpreted as to how it’s spelled. I don’t love having to have “and” in a domain name. This is long. All sorts of stuff.

Let’s say you also own StarToys.com, but you haven’t used it. Previously StarToys.com has been redirecting to SciFiToysAndGames.com, and you’re thinking, “Well, man, is it the right time to make this move? Should I make this change now? Should I wait for the future?”

How memorable or amplifiable is your current brand?

Well, these are the questions that I would urge you to consider. How memorable and amplifiable is your current brand? That’s something that if you are recognizing like, “Hey I think our brand name, in fact, is holding us back in search results and social media amplification, press, in blog mentions, in journalist links and these kinds of things,” well, that’s something serious to think about. Word of mouth too.

Will you maintain your current brand name long term?

So if you know that sometime in the next two, three, four, or five years you do want to move to StarToys, I would actually strongly urge you to do that right now, because the longer you wait, the longer it will take to build up the signals around the new domain and the more pain you’ll potentially incur by having to keep branding this and working on this old brand name. So I would strongly urge you, if you know you’re going to make the move eventually, make it today. Take the pain now, rather than more pain later.

Can or have you tested brand preference with your target audience?

I would urge you to find two different groups, one who are loyal customers today, people who know SciFiToysAndGames.com and have used it, and two, people who are potential customers, but aren’t yet familiar with it.

You don’t need to do big sample-sizes. If you can get 5, 10, or 15 people either in a room or talk to them in person, you can try some web surveys, you can try using some social media ads like things on Facebook. I’ve seen some companies do some testing around this. Even buying potential PPC ads and seeing how click-through rates perform and sentiment and those kinds of things, that is a great way to help validate your ideas, especially if you’re forced to bring data to a table by executives or other stakeholders.

How much traffic would you need in one year to justify a URL move?

The last thing I think about is imagine, and I want you to either imagine or even model this out, mathematically model it out. If your traffic growth rate — so let’s say you’re growing at 10% year-over-year right now — if that improved 1%, 5%, or 10% annually with a new brand name, would you make the move? So knowing that you might take a short-term hit, but then that your growth rate would be incrementally higher in years to come, how big would that growth rate need to be?

I would say that, in general, if I were thinking about these two domains, granted this is a hard case because you don’t know exactly how much more brandable or word-of-mouth-able or amplifiable your new one might be compared to your existing one. Well, gosh, my general thing here is if you think that’s going to be a substantive percentage, say 5% plus, almost always it’s worth it, because compound growth rate over a number of years will mean that you’re winning big time. Remember that that growth rate is different that raw growth. If you can incrementally increase your growth rate, you get tremendously more traffic when you look back two, three, four, or five years later.

Where does your current and future URL live on the domain/brand name spectrum?

I also made this domain name, brand name spectrum, because I wanted to try and visualize crappiness of domain name, brand name to really good domain name, brand name. I wanted to give some examples and then extract out some elements so that maybe you can start to build on these things thematically as you’re considering your own domains.

So from awful, we go to tolerable, good, and great. So Science-Fi-Toys.net is obviously terrible. I’ve taken a contraction of the name and the actual one. It’s got a .net. It’s using hyphens. It’s infinitely unmemorable up to what I think is tolerable — SciFiToysAndGames.com. It’s long. There are some questions about how type-in-able it is, how easy it is to type in. SciFiToys.com, which that’s pretty good. SciFiToys, relatively short, concise. It still has the “sci-fi” in there, but it’s a .com. We’re getting better. All the way up to, I really love the name, StarToys. I think it’s very brandable, very memorable. It’s concise. It’s easy to remember and type in. It has positive associations probably with most science fiction toy buyers who are familiar with at least “Star Wars” or “Star Trek.” It’s cool. It has some astronomy connotations too. Just a lot of good stuff going on with that domain name.

Then, another one, Region-Data-API.com. That sucks. NeighborhoodInfo.com. Okay, at least I know what it is. Neighborhood is a really hard name to type because it is very hard for many people to spell and remember. It’s long. I don’t totally love it. I don’t love the “info” connotation, which is generic-y.

DistrictData.com has a nice, alliterative ring to it. But maybe we could do even better and actually there is a company, WalkScore.com, which I think is wonderfully brandable and memorable and really describes what it is without being too in your face about the generic brand of we have regional data about places.

What if you’re doing mobile apps? BestAndroidApps.com. You might say, “Why is that in awful?” The answer is two things. One, it’s the length of the domain name and then the fact that you’re actually using someone else’s trademark in your name, which can be really risky. Especially if you start blowing up, getting big, Google might go and say, “Oh, do you have Android in your domain name? We’ll take that please. Thank you very much.”

BestApps.io, in the tech world, it’s very popular to use domains like .io or .ly. Unfortunately, I think once you venture outside of the high tech world, it’s really tough to get people to remember that that is a domain name. If you put up a billboard that says “BestApps.com,” a majority of people will go, “Oh, that’s a website.” But if you use .io, .ly, or one of the new domain names, .ninja, a lot of people won’t even know to connect that up with, “Oh, they mean an Internet website that I can type into my browser or look for.”

So we have to remember that we sometimes live in a bubble. Outside of that bubble are a lot of people who, if it’s not .com, questionable as to whether they’re even going to know what it is. Remember outside of the U.S., country code domain names work equally well — .co.uk, .ca, .co.za, wherever you are.

InstallThis.com. Now we’re getting better. Memorable, clear. Then all the way up to, I really like the name AppCritic.com. I have positive associations with like, “Oh year, restaurant critics, food critics, and movie critics, and this is an app critic. Great, that’s very cool.”

What are the things that are in here? Well, stuff at this end of the spectrum tends to be generic, forgettable, hard to type in. It’s long, brand-infringing, danger, danger, and sketchy sounding. It’s hard to quantify what sketchy sounding is, but you know it when you see it. When you’re reviewing domain names, you’re looking for links, you’re looking at things in the SERPs, you’re like, “Hmm, I don’t know about this one.” Having that sixth sense is something that we all develop over time, so sketchy sounding not quite as scientific as I might want for a description, but powerful.

On this end of the spectrum though, domain names and brand names tend to be unique, memorable, short. They use .com. Unfortunately, still the gold standard. Easy to type in, pronounceable. That’s a powerful thing too, especially because of word of mouth. We suffered with that for a long time with SEOmoz because many people saw it and thought, “Oh, ShowMoz, COMoz, SeeMoz.” It sucked. Have positive associations, like StarToys or WalkScore or AppCritic. They have these positive, pre-built-in associations psychologically that suggest something brandable.

Scenario B: Consolidating two sites

Scenario B, and then we’ll get to the end, but scenario B is the question like, “Should I consolidate?” Let’s say I’m running both of these today. Or more realistic and many times I see people like this, you’re running AppCritic.com and StarToys.com, and you think, “Boy, these are pretty separate.” But then you keep finding overlap between them. Your content tends to overlap, the audience tends to overlap. I find this with many, many folks who run multiple domains.

How much audience and content overlap is there?

So we’ve got to consider a few things. First off, that audience and content overlap. If you’ve got StarToys and AppCritic and the overlap is very thin, just that little, tiny piece in the middle there. The content doesn’t overlap much, the audience doesn’t overlap much. It probably doesn’t make that much sense.

But what if you’re finding like, “Gosh, man, we’re writing more and more about apps and tech and mobile and web stuff on StarToys, and we’re writing more and more about other kinds of geeky, fun things on AppCritic. Slowly it feels like these audiences are merging.” Well, now you might want to consider that consolidation.

Is there potential for separate sales or exits?

Second point of consideration, the potential for separate exits or sales. So if you know that you’re going to sell AppCritic.com to someone in the future and you want to make sure that’s separate from StarToys, you should keep them separate. If you think to yourself, “Gosh, I’d never sell one without the other. They’re really part of the same company, brand, effort,” well, I’d really consider that consolidation.

Will you dilute marketing or branding efforts?

Last point of positive consideration is dilution of marketing and branding efforts. Remember that you’re going to be working on marketing. You’re going to be working on branding. You’re going to be working on growing traffic to these. When you split your efforts, unless you have two relatively large, separate teams, this is very, very hard to do at the same rate that it could be done if you combined those efforts. So another big point of consideration. That compound growth rate that we talked about, that’s another big consideration with this.

Is the topical focus out of context?

What I don’t recommend you consider and what has been unfortunately considered, by a lot of folks in the SEO-centric world in the past, is topical focus of the content. I actually am crossing this out. Not a big consideration. You might say to yourself, “But Rand, we talked about previously on Whiteboard Friday how I can have topical authority around toys and games that are related to science fiction stuff, and I can have topical authority related to mobile apps.”

My answer is if the content overlap is strong and the audience overlap is strong, you can do both on one domain. You can see many, many examples of this across the web, Moz being a great example where we talk about startups and technology and sometimes venture capital and team building and broad marketing and paid search marketing and organic search marketing and just a ton of topics, but all serving the same audience and content. Because that overlap is strong, we can be an authority in all of these realms. Same goes for any time you’re considering these things.

All right everyone, hope you’ve enjoyed this edition of Whiteboard Friday. I look forward to some great comments, and we’ll see you again next week. take care.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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Reblogged 3 years ago from tracking.feedpress.it

Building Better Content By Improving Upon Your Competitors

Posted by Bill.Sebald

In rock n’ roll music, stealing is expected. Led Zepplin allegedly lifted from lots of earlier blues and folk artists. The famous I-IV-V chord progression of The Wild One’s song “Wild Thing” was used only a couple years later on “Mony, Mony.” My favorite example of musical larceny – “Let It Be” by The Beatles, “Farmhouse” by Phish, and “No Woman, No Cry” by Bob Marley are built around the exact same chord progression. Yet in all these cases, the songs were tweaked enough to stand on their own in meaning, served as distinct entities, and inspired unique feelings from the listener. Granted record company execs often disapproved, but some artists were often flattered to see interpretations of their riffs and progressions. At the end of the day, this is what spawned (and advanced) the rock music genre. Sometimes stealing is the engine of innovation.

Your idea isn’t new. Pick an idea; at least 50 other people have thought of it. Get over your stunning brilliance and realize that execution matters more.” —Mark Fletcher of Bloglines.com.

In marketing, we don’t just “steal” the minds of consumers, we sometimes steal – and interpret – from our competitors. Sometimes we’re lazy about it, and sometimes we’re perceived as originals. Remember one of the immutable laws of marketing – always appear to be first. Well then why not be first to make someone’s content strategy more effective (for your own gain)?

Wait – so do I condone being a pickpocket, cat burglar, or politician? No. What I’m suggesting is reviewing what inspires you, analyzing why it was successful, and inspiring yourself to make something better. Better for us, better for our clients, and better for their customers.

Oh no; is this another “Content Is King” post?

I’m not a huge fan of that phrase anymore. SEO has gone through some serious developmental stages in its lifetime. Once the hype was all about “keyword density,” then “anchor text,” then “duplicate content;” now I feel like our latest bandwagon concept is the semi-vague “content is king.”

These are certainly all valid concepts in SEO, but without proper context, they often fall short of sound advice. They become blind directives. So here we are in 2014, with many business executives nodding along, “yes – content is king. I’ve read that a trillion times. We need to crank out 100 posts a month. Go, go go…” But I think this is a problem. Now that SEO is mainstream, there’s so much “good content” that the noise ceiling has simply been raised. I’ve said it before, “Fair-quality copy is becoming the new Google spam.” I go into pitches now where businesses can’t understand why their legacy content isn’t getting searches. In other words, they ask why “content is king” isn’t producing results. It’s usually because content was treated as a homogeneous tactic where a marketing or SEO strategy wasn’t put in place to link the pieces together.

I think it’s time SEOs put that phrase to rest, and start thinking in terms of how a traditional content marketer would think about it. “Content that is unique in value, strong in expertise, provides a necessary point-of-view, and leads the pack in terms of usefulness is more than king – it’s fundamental to success.” A bit of a mouthful (and less sexy), not to mention harder to develop, but it really needs to be adopted.

So if you would, please keep that in mind during this post. Continue on!

What are your competitors doing?

Content ideas come from lots of sources. Some are vapid (like content topic generators) and some are interpreted (like reviewing customer poll results). Often a simple interview with your sales or service team can teach you plenty about the mindset of your consumer. Studying on-page product reviews can also be inspiring. Focus groups, experiments; all this and more can help produce pieces of content that can be strung together and tracked in order to build a truly converting funnel.

We all know the most effective content is inspired by data, versus “crazy ideas” with no concrete evidence quickly thrown against the wall. While this occasionally has some SEO benefit (arguably less and less with Panda updates), it rarely does much for your conversion funnel. It takes that extra digging that some aren’t quick to execute (at least in my experience). But what happens when your competitor is willing to do the work?

That’s where you can learn some interesting things. Marketing espionage!

Granted, most competitors don’t want to share their data with you, no matter how much beer you try to bribe them with (believe me, I’ve tried). We have tools like
SEMrush to estimate search metrics, and services like Hitwise and Compete to get more online visitor data. While that is certainly helpful, it’s still directional. But we’re marketers – so what do we do? We get creative.

How to get a birdseye view of a content play (with common SEO tools)

It’s time to lift the hood. I like to start with
Screaming Frog. Most SEOs know this tool. If you don’t, it’s a spider that emulates what a search engine spider might find. In my experience there’s no better way to find the topics a website is targeting than with a “screaming” crawl.

Filter down to HTML, and you’ll find the URL, Title Tag, Meta Description, H1, and sometimes the Meta Keyword data. If you already have your own keywords and entities in mind, and want to see what a competitor is doing with them, it’s as simple as searching for them in Screaming Frog (or an excel export) and scanning for it.

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Consider this totally random “shammy” example in the screenshot above. If I worked in the shammy business, through a quick scan I might be interested to know that at least one of my competitors found value enough in creating a section around an iPad cloth. Is that a segment I never considered?

Don’t have Screaming Frog? The site:operator is a less powerful option. You can’t export into a spreadsheet without a scrape.

Ubersuggest or keywordtool.io can be used in clever “quick and dirty” way – put in a keyword you think there’s opportunity for, and add “who,” “what,” “where,” “why,” or “how” to the query. Your fragmented query will often show some questions people have asked Google. After all, plenty of great content is used to answer a query. Search some of these queries in Google and see what competitor content shows up! At the very least, this is a nice way to find more competitors who are active with creating content for their users.

At this point you should be taking notes, jotting down ideas, observations, potential content titles, and questions you want to research. Whether in a spreadsheet or the back of a napkin, you’re now brainstorming with light research. Let your brain-juice flow. You should also be looking for connections between the posts you are finding. Why were they written? How do they link together? What funnels are the calls-to-action suggesting? Take notes on everything, Sherlock!


Collect the right data

Next, step it up with more quantifying data.Time to trim the fat.

Search data

By entering and measuring your extracted in Google’s Keyword Planner, you’ll see not only is there interest in an iPad cleaner (where an “iPad Shammy” might make sense with its own strategy), but some searcher interest in the best ways to clean an iPad. That could be fun, playful content to write – even for a shammy retailer. It could tie directly to products you already sell, or possibly lead you into carrying new products.

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Estimated searches don’t tell the whole story. We know plenty of keywords and metrics from this tool are either interpolated or missing. I’ve found that small estimated searches can sometimes still lead to more highly-converting volume than expected. Keep that in mind.

Social data

What searches enter into Google’s search box isn’t the only indicator of value. Ultimately if nobody likes a certain topic or item your content, they aren’t going to share or link to it. Wouldn’t it be great to have another piece of evidence before you get to structuring a strategy and writing copy? That evidence may lie with your competitors’ social audience.

At this point you have keyword ideas, content titles, sample competitor URLs, and possible strategies sketched out. There are some great tools for checking out what is shared in the social space. TopsySocial Crawlytics, and Buzzsumo are solid selections. You can look up the social popularity of a given URL or domain, and in some cases drill down to influencers. If it’s heavily shared, that may suggest perceived value.

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Look at the image above. If my agency is a competitor of yours, you might be interested that one of my posts got 413 social shares. It was a post called “Old School SEO Tests In Action (A 2014 SEO Experiment)”. You can dig in to see the debates boiling through the comments or the reactions through social media. You can go so far as see who shared the post, how influential these people are, and what kind of topics they usually share. This helps qualify the shares.

With these social metrics I believe It’s reasonably safe to infer people in the SEO space care about experiments, learning about things that move rankings, and that most believe older tactics aren’t worth pursuing. With very little time at all, you might be able to come up with ways to improve upon this post or ideas for your own follow up. Maybe even a counter argument? Looking at who the post resonated with, you could presume my target audience was SEOs with a goal of providing industry insights. With a prominent lead generation form on this post, you might even suspect a secondary interest was as a source of new client leads.

If you surmised any of these things from the social data, you’re 100% right! This was certainly a thought out post with those goals in mind.

Backlink data

Let’s examine link popularity and return to the shammy industry. Specifically let’s look at a pretty unique item – a shammy for Apple products –
https://www.klearscreen.com/detail.aspx?ID=11.

  • Open Site Explorer found 1 link from a retailer.
  • Ahrefs found 8 links from 8 domains, one being a forum conversation on Stackexchange.com, and the others from a retailer.
  • Majestic found 13 links from 6 domains. Similiar to what Ahrefs found.
  • WebMeUp found 30 backlinks from 9 domains.

From this data it looks like the iPad shammy market isn’t exactly on fire. Now it doesn’t appear iKlear (or Klear Screen) is doing much marketing for this particular product – at least not according to Google. Their other Apple product cleaners seem to get more attention, but perhaps iKlear simply knows this isn’t a high demand product. It could be true – after all it hasn’t gone viral. It hasn’t generated much in the way of online discussions. But it also hasn’t been marketed much.

This is why all the data needs to be collected, correlated, and analyzed.  You want the best hypothesis you can get before you start committing your time to a content strategy. Did this just kill a possible content strategy for an iPad Shammy, or is this a huge untapped opportunity? It entirely depends on how you interpret all the data you collect.

You’ve got some ideas; now what’s the execution?

You just did a lot of work. You can’t go off half-cocked throwing up willy-nilly content. Jeepers, no! The next step is the most crucial!

At this point you should have uncovered some great ideas based on your competitor’s clues. Now comes the part where you thoughtfully determine how to implement these ideas and craft a strategic roadmap. The options are endless, which could provide a decision-making struggle. From new microsites to overhauling existing content, there’s so much you can do with the gems you’ve dug up.

Remember to examine what your competitors did. How did they plug everything together?

But sometimes your competitors don’t have a discernible content strategy. Instead just fragmented content floating like an island. This is even better for you. Now you have opportunity to not only outshine in the actual content, but put together an actual experience that your users will value, thus providing a likely positive SEO result. Here are three options I tend to build a strategy around most often:

  • Create a new funnel
  • Create content for off-page SEO
  • Create emphasis content

With fresh metrics, the
new funnel is often necessary. Chances are you discovered uncharted territory (at least from your website’s perspective). All future or existing content should have pre-conceived goals – there’s a top and bottom to every funnel, and maybe some strategic off-ramps leading to forms, contact pages, or products. Remember, you’re goal is to be driving the reader through an experience, eliciting emotions and appealing to their needs of which you’ve already built a hypothesis upon. This new funnel can dip into your current website or run parallel (ie, a microsite, sub-domian, or otherwise disconnected grouping). The greatest thing about digital marketing is that nothing is in stone. It’s so easy to test these funnels and redesign with collected data when necessary.


Off-page
is also very common (right link builders?). Find something that is popular, and go share it with sites more popular than yours. Maybe you can even start generating new popularity and create a segment of its own. Build a strategy to take this burgeoning topic and let the widest audience know about it. Get branding, mind share, links, and ideally profit like a beast.

The
“emphasis content” (as I call it) has been a solid go-to plan for me when I discover small pockets of opportunity; notably the stuff that may have a smaller impact and isn’t worth a month long content strategy. If I were to create my own iPad shammy play, based on what I’m seeing so far, I’d probably think about a page or two as emphasis content.

This content is like an independent port of entry or landing page, either to an existing funnel or a direct money maker. In a previous post I talked about
creating niche collection pages for eCommerce. That could serve as emphasis content to a parent collection, but I’m usually thinking of heavier use of text in this case. Where you really take your goal, slice it up, and provide nice, beefy communication about it.

This play can be nuclear. By creating these one-off pages based on all the metrics discussed above, it’s usually much easier to do targeted outreach and social marketing. A well placed page, providing well placed internal links (ideally off popular pages), can pass PageRank and context like a dream, A tool like
Alchemy API can help you see the relevance of pages and help you determine the best place to publish this page

Summary

A content strategy doesn’t go far if it’s phoned in. Take all the help you can get, even if it’s from a competitor. Learn from businesses who took steps before you. They may have very well discovered the holy grail. Competitive research has always been a part of any marketing campaign, but scratching the surface only gets you superficial results. Look deeper to uncover more than just a competitor’s marketing plan, but the very reason why the competitor may be beating you in search. Then, hopefully you’ll become the rock star others are trying to copy from. That’s a good problem to have.

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