Pinpoint vs. Floodlight Content and Keyword Research Strategies – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by randfish

When we’re doing keyword research and targeting, we have a choice to make: Are we targeting broader keywords with multiple potential searcher intents, or are we targeting very narrow keywords where it’s pretty clear what the searchers were looking for? Those different approaches, it turns out, apply to content creation and site architecture, as well. In today’s Whiteboard Friday, Rand illustrates that connection.

Pinpoint vs Floodlight Content and Keyword Research Strategy Whiteboard

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

Video Transcription

Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week we’re going to chat about pinpoint versus floodlight tactics for content targeting, content strategy, and keyword research, keyword targeting strategy. This is also called the shotgun versus sniper approach, but I’m not a big gun fan. So I’m going to stick with my floodlight versus pinpoint, plus, you know, for the opening shot we don’t have a whole lot of weaponry here at Moz, but we do have lighting.

So let’s talk through this at first. You’re going through and doing some keyword research. You’re trying to figure out which terms and phrases to target. You might look down a list like this.

Well, maybe, I’m using an example here around antique science equipment. So you see these various terms and phrases. You’ve got your volume numbers. You probably have lots of other columns. Hopefully, you’ve watched the Whiteboard Friday on how to do keyword research like it’s 2015 and not 2010.

So you know you have all these other columns to choose from, but I’m simplifying here for the purpose of this experiment. So you might choose some of these different terms. Now, they’re going to have different kinds of tactics and a different strategic approach, depending on the breadth and depth of the topic that you’re targeting. That’s going to determine what types of content you want to create and where you place it in your information architecture. So I’ll show you what I mean.

The floodlight approach

For antique science equipment, this is a relatively broad phrase. I’m going to do my floodlight analysis on this, and floodlight analysis is basically saying like, “Okay, are there multiple potential searcher intents?” Yeah, absolutely. That’s a fairly broad phase. People could be looking to transact around it. They might be looking for research information, historical information, different types of scientific equipment that they’re looking for.

<img src="http://d1avok0lzls2w.cloudfront.net/uploads/blog/55b15fc96679b8.73854740.jpg" rel="box-shadow: 0 0 10px 0 #999; border-radius: 20px;"

Are there four or more approximately unique keyword terms and phrases to target? Well, absolutely, in fact, there’s probably more than that. So antique science equipment, antique scientific equipment, 18th century scientific equipment, all these different terms and phrases that you might explore there.

Is this a broad content topic with many potential subtopics? Again, yes is the answer to this. Are we talking about generally larger search volume? Again, yes, this is going to have a much larger search volume than some of the narrower terms and phrases. That’s not always the case, but it is here.

The pinpoint approach

For pinpoint analysis, we kind of go the opposite direction. So we might look at a term like antique test tubes, which is a very specific kind of search, and that has a clear single searcher intent or maybe two. Someone might be looking for actually purchasing one of those, or they might be looking to research them and see what kinds there are. Not a ton of additional intents behind that. One to three unique keywords, yeah, probably. It’s pretty specific. Antique test tubes, maybe 19th century test tubes, maybe old science test tubes, but you’re talking about a limited set of keywords that you’re targeting. It’s a narrow content topic, typically smaller search volume.

<img src="http://d1avok0lzls2w.cloudfront.net/uploads/blog/55b160069eb6b1.12473448.jpg" rel="box-shadow: 0 0 10px 0 #999; border-radius: 20px;"

Now, these are going to feed into your IA, your information architecture, and your site structure in this way. So floodlight content generally sits higher up. It’s the category or the subcategory, those broad topic terms and phrases. Those are going to turn into those broad topic category pages. Then you might have multiple, narrower subtopics. So we could go into lab equipment versus astronomical equipment versus chemistry equipment, and then we’d get into those individual pinpoints from the pinpoint analysis.

How do I decide which approach is best for my keywords?

Why are we doing this? Well, generally speaking, if you can take your terms and phrases and categorize them like this and then target them differently, you’re going to provide a better, more logical user experience. Someone who searches for antique scientific equipment, they’re going to really expect to see that category and then to be able to drill down into things. So you’re providing them the experience they predict, the one that they want, the one that they expect.

It’s better for topic modeling analysis and for all of the algorithms around things like Hummingbird, where Google looks at: Are you using the types of terms and phrases, do you have the type of architecture that we expect to find for this keyword?

It’s better for search intent targeting, because the searcher intent is going to be fulfilled if you provide the multiple paths versus the narrow focus. It’s easier keyword targeting for you. You’re going to be able to know, “Hey, I need to target a lot of different terms and phrases and variations in floodlight and one very specific one in pinpoint.”

There’s usually higher searcher satisfaction, which means you get lower bounce rate. You get more engagement. You usually get a higher conversion rate. So it’s good for all those things.

For example…

I’ll actually create pages for each of antique scientific equipment and antique test tubes to illustrate this. So I’ve got two different types of pages here. One is my antique scientific equipment page.

<img src="http://d1avok0lzls2w.cloudfront.net/uploads/blog/55b161fa871e32.54731215.jpg" rel="box-shadow: 0 0 10px 0 #999; border-radius: 20px;"

This is that floodlight, shotgun approach, and what we’re doing here is going to be very different from a pinpoint approach. It’s looking at like, okay, you’ve landed on antique scientific equipment. Now, where do you want to go? What do you want to specifically explore? So we’re going to have a little bit of content specifically about this topic, and how robust that is depends on the type of topic and the type of site you are.

If this is an e-commerce site or a site that’s showing information about various antiques, well maybe we don’t need very much content here. You can see the filtration that we’ve got is going to be pretty broad. So I can go into different centuries. I can go into chemistry, astronomy, physics. Maybe I have a safe for kids type of stuff if you want to buy your kids antique lab equipment, which you might be. Who knows? Maybe you’re awesome and your kids are too. Then different types of stuff at a very broad level. So I can go to microscopes or test tubes, lab searches.

This is great because it’s got broad intent foci, serving many different kinds of searchers with the same page because we don’t know exactly what they want. It’s got multiple keyword targets so that we can go after broad phrases like antique or old or historical or 13th, 14th, whatever century, science and scientific equipment ,materials, labs, etc., etc., etc. This is a broad page that could reach any and all of those. Then there’s lots of navigational and refinement options once you get there.

Total opposite of pinpoint content.

<img src="http://d1avok0lzls2w.cloudfront.net/uploads/blog/55b1622740f0b5.73477500.jpg" rel="box-shadow: 0 0 10px 0 #999; border-radius: 20px;"

Pinpoint content, like this antique test tubes page, we’re still going to have some filtration options, but one of the important things to note is note how these are links that take you deeper. Depending on how deep the search volume goes in terms of the types of queries that people are performing, you might want to make a specific page for 17th century antique test tubes. You might not, and if you don’t want to do that, you can have these be filters that are simply clickable and change the content of the page here, narrowing the options rather than creating completely separate pages.

So if there’s no search volume for these different things and you don’t think you need to separately target them, go ahead and just make them filters on the data that already appears on this page or the results that are already in here as opposed to links that are going to take you deeper into specific content and create a new page, a new experience.

You can also see I’ve got my individual content here. I probably would go ahead and add some content specifically to this page that is just unique here and that describes antique test tubes and the things that your searchers need. They might want to know things about price. They might want to know things about make and model. They might want to know things about what they were used for. Great. You can have that information broadly, and then individual pieces of content that someone might dig into.

This is narrower intent foci obviously, serving maybe one or two searcher intents. This is really talking about targeting maybe one to two separate keywords. So antique test tubes, maybe lab tubes or test tube sets, but not much beyond that.

Ten we’re going to have fewer navigational paths, fewer distractions. We want to keep the searcher. Because we know their intent, we want to guide them along the path that we know they probably want to take and that we want them to take.

So when you’re considering your content, choose wisely between shotgun/floodlight approach or sniper/pinpoint approach. Your searchers will be better served. You’ll probably rank better. You’ll be more likely to earn links and amplification. You’re going to be more successful.

Looking forward to the comments, and we’ll see you again next week for another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Take care.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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Announcing the All-New Beginner’s Guide to Link Building

Posted by Trevor-Klein

It is my great pleasure to announce the release of Moz’s third guide for marketers, written by the inimitable 
Paddy Moogan of Distilled:

We could tell you all about how high-quality, authoritative links pointing to your site benefit your standing in the SERPs, but instead we’ll just copy the words straight from the proverbial horse’s mouth:

<img style="float: left; width: 64px; border-radius: 3px; margin-right: 20px; margin-left: 60px;" src="http://d2v4zi8pl64nxt.cloudfront.net/beginners-guide-to-link-building/53f24cf6adc0a8.24313709.jpg"

“Backlinks, even though there’s some noise and certainly a lot of spam, for the most part are still a really, really big win in terms of quality for search results.”
— Matt Cutts, head of the webspam team at Google, 
2/19/14

Link building is one area of SEO that has changed significantly over the last several years; 
some tactics that were once effective are now easily identifiable and penalized by Google. At the same time, earning links remains vital to success in search marketing: Link authority features showed the strongest correlation with higher rankings in our 2013 ranking factors survey. For that reason, it has never been more important for marketers to truly earn their links, and this guide will have you building effective campaigns in no time.


What you’ll learn


1. What is Link Building, and Why Is It Important?


This is where it all begins. If you’re brand new to link building and aren’t sure whether or not it’s a good tactic to include in your marketing repertoire, give this chapter a look. Even the more seasoned link earners among us could use a refresher from time to time, and here we cover everything from what links mean to search engines to the various ways they can help your business’s bottom line.


2. Types of Links (Both Good and Bad)

Before you dive into building links of your own, it’s important to understand the three main types of links and why you should really only be thinking about two of them. That’s what this short and sweet chapter is all about.


3. How to Start a Link Building Campaign

Okay, enough with the theory; it’s time for the nitty-gritty. This chapter takes a deep dive into every step of a link building campaign, offering examples and templates you can use to build your own foundation. 


4. Link Building Tactics

Whether through ego bait or guest blogging (yes, that’s 
still a viable tactic!), there are several approaches you can take to building a strong link profile. This chapter takes a detailed run through the tactics you’re most likely to employ.


5. Link Building Metrics

Now that the links are rolling in, how do you prove to ourselves and our clients that our work is paying off? The metrics outlined in this chapter, along with the tools recommended to measure them, offer a number of options for your reports.


6. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Link Building

If we’re preaching to the choir with this chapter, then we’re thrilled, because spammy links can lead to severe penalties. Google has gotten incredibly good at picking out and penalizing spammy link building techniques, and if this chapter isn’t enough to make you put your white hat on, nothing is.


7. Advanced Link Building Tips and Tricks

Mastered the rest of what the guide has to offer? Earning links faster than 
John Paulson earns cash? Here are a few tips to take your link building to the next level. Caution: You may or may not find yourself throwing fireballs after mastering these techniques.


The PDF

When we released the Beginner’s Guide to Social Media, there was an instant demand for a downloadable PDF version. This time, it’s ready from the get-go (big thanks to David O’Hara!).

Click here to download the PDF.

Thanks

We simply can’t thank Paddy Moogan enough for writing this guide. His expertise and wisdom made the project possible. Thanks as well to Ashley Tate for wrangling the early stages of the project, Cyrus Shepard for his expert review and a few key additions, Derric Wise and David O’Hara for bringing it to life with their art, and Andrew Palmer for seamlessly translating everything onto the web.

Now, go forth and earn those links!

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Link Echoes (a.k.a. Link Ghosts): Why Rankings Remain Even After Links Disappear – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by randfish

One of the more interesting phenomena illustrated by Rand’s IMEC Lab project is that of “link echoes,” sometimes referred to as “link ghosts.” The idea is that if we move a page up in rankings by pointing links to it, and then remove those links, the bump in rankings often remains.

In today’s Whiteboard Friday, Rand explains what’s going on.

One quick note: Rand mentions a bit.ly link in this video that isn’t quite accurate; here’s the correct one. =)

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

Video Transcription

Howdy Moz fans and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week I’m going to talk a little bit about link echoes. This is the reverberation of the effect of a link across Google’s link graph and across the rankings, that has an impact even after a link has been removed. In the past, we have also referred to these as link ghosts, but I think link echoes is actually a much better name. I appreciate some folks pointing that out for me.

Let me show you exactly what I’m talking about. So, as you might know, I’ve been running a number of tests, and those tests have been happening through a project I call IMEC Lab. If you go to http://bit.ly/imeclab, you will find this project ongoing.

We’ve been performing a number of tests over the last six months. I started with a smaller group. The group has gotten bigger. So we’ve been able to test some really fascinating things. A number of those have been around tests related to links. I’m going to share one of those tests, because it helps really highlight what’s going on with link echoes.

So we had a page point ranking number 31 for a key phrase, a not very competitive keyword search phrase, and the only reason I’m not transparently sharing these, at least not yet, is because we prefer that Google didn’t know all of the websites and pages that we’re pointing links from. Otherwise, they could potentially mess with the test. We like to keep the test results as clean as possible, and so we’re not disclosing these for right now.

Another page, page B ranking number 11 for the same query. So page ranking for query A, that’s page A ranking number 31, page B ranking number 11. Of course, our first step . . . well, this was one of the steps in our test was we pointed 22 links from 22 different websites, all the same pages of those sites to both A and B. We were actually trying to test anchor text. So we pointed anchor text exact match links at A, non-match at B. We wanted to see which one would boost it up. Some of the links we put first, some of the links we put second. We tried to control a bunch of variables.

We ran tests like these many times. I think this particular one we repeated four or five different times. In this case, we saw A, the one that was ranking number 31, it moved up to position one. Just 22 links were able to move it, bam. Anchor text links able to move it up to position one. Anchor text links obviously still pretty darn powerful. We could see that in each of our tests.

B we pointed those same 22 links at, that moved up 6 positions. Remember it didn’t have the exact match anchor text, so it moved up to position five, still quite impressive.

Then we did something else. We took those links away. We removed all the links, and this is pretty natural. We want to run more tests. We’re going to use some of these same sites and pages, so we removed all the links, no longer exist. The next week, they’d all been indexed. What happened?

Well, gosh, page A, that was ranking number 31 and moved up to 1, even after all those pages that were linking to it had been indexed with no link there anymore by Google, didn’t move. It stayed in position number one. That’s pretty weird. Almost the same thing happened with result B. It moved down one position. It’s ranking number six.

Even weirder, this happened over four and a half months ago. We’re now in the middle end of July. This was in mid-April, early April. That’s a very long time, right? Google’s indexed these pages that we’re linking many times, never seen the links to them. As far as we can tell, there are no new links pointing to either of those pages. At least we haven’t seen them, and none of the link tools out there have seen them. So it’s possible, maybe some new links.

Here’s where it gets weird. This effect of these link tests, remaining in place long after the link had been removed, happened in every single link test we ran, of which I counted eight where I feel highly confident that there were no confounding variables, feeling really good that we followed a process kind of just like this. The links pointed, the ranking rose. The links disappeared, the ranking stayed high. Eight different consecutive tests every single time. In fact, there wasn’t one test where, when we removed the links, the rankings fell back to their original position. Some of them like this one fell a position or two. Almost everything that we moved from page two or three stayed on page one after we linked to it, even after removing the links.

This argues strongly in favor of a phenomenon that some SEOs have speculated about for a good amount of time. I believe one of them is Martin Panayotov — I might not be pronouncing his name correctly — and, of course, Moz contributor Michael King, iPullRank. Both of them had commented on a post years ago saying link ghosts, aka link echoes, are real. You guys should look into them. Sorry it took us so long to look into this, but this is fascinating.

Now, there could be a number of explanations behind this link echo phenomenon, the continuing reverberation of a link’s effect on a ranking. It could be that maybe that page ends up performing well in Google’s analysis of its user and usage data. It ranks well for this relatively unpopular query. It’s ranking number one. And you know what? Google’s finding that the click-throughs are still pretty high. There’s not a lot of pogo sticking back to the results. Maybe they’re going, “Hey, this page looks legit. Let’s leave it here,” even after the links disappear.

It could be that the site or page was bolstered by other factors, other ranking factors that we may not know about. It could be that every one of these eight times when we moved it up, maybe by moving it up through links we inadvertently did something else to it. Maybe that helped it rank higher for other pages, and those other pages generated links each of these times. That’s fairly unlikely when you repeat the test this many times, but not impossible.

Or it could be that Google actually has something in their algorithm around link echoes, where they say, “Hey, you know what? After a link has disappeared, that doesn’t necessarily mean we should take away the value of that link as a vote forever and ever.” In fact, maybe we should, for a long time, perhaps depending on how many links the page has or how uncompetitive the search results are, or something that they say, “You know what? Let’s leave some remnant, some echo, a ghost of that link’s value in the ranking equation for the site or page.” These things are all possible.

What’s fascinating about practice to me is that it means that, for a lot of us who worry tremendously about link reclamation, about losing links on sites or pages that may produce things freshly, but then remove them on blogs that don’t always stay consistent across time, that we may be getting more value than we think from a link that disappears in the future. Of course, learning more about how Google works, about their operations is just fascinating to me. Google says their mission is to organize the world’s information and to make it universally accessible and useful. Well, I think part of Moz’s mission and my mission is to organize information about how Google works and make it universally accessible and useful. That’s what I hope we’re doing with some of these tests, particularly around link ghosts.

So I’m looking forward to some great comments. I’m sure many of you are going to have things that you’ve observed as well. If you’d like to follow along with this and other tests, I’d suggest checking out . . . you can go to bit.ly/mozmadscience and see the full presentation from my MozCon talk, in which I talk about link ghosts and a number of other tests we’ve been performing. I’ll be sharing a few of those individually here on Whiteboard Friday as well. But link echoes is such a fascinating one, I thought we should bring that out right away.

Thanks everyone. Take care. We’ll see you again next week for another edition of Whiteboard Friday.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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Is that Mind-Blowing Title Blowing Your Credibility? You Decide

Posted by Isla_McKetta


Image of Tantalus courtesy of Clayton Cusak

What if I told you I could teach you to write the perfect headline? One that is so irresistible every person who sees it will click on it. You’d sign up immediately and maybe even promise me your firstborn.

But what if I then told you not one single person out of all the millions who will click on that headline will convert? And that you might lose all your credibility in the process. Would all the traffic generated by that “perfect” headline be worth it?

Help us solve a dispute

It isn’t really that bad, but with all the emphasis lately on
headline science and the curiosity gap, Trevor (your faithful editor) and I (a recovering copywriter) started talking about the importance of headlines and what their role should be in regards to content. I’m for clickability (as long as there is strong content to back the headline) and, if he has to choose, Trevor is for credibility (with an equal emphasis on quality of the eventual content).

credible vs clickable headlines

What’s the purpose of a headline?

Back in the good ol’ days, headlines were created to sell newspapers. Newsboys stood on street corners shouting the headlines in an attempt to hawk those newspapers. Headlines had to be enough of a tease to get readers interested but they had to be trustworthy enough to get a reader to buy again tomorrow. Competition for eyeballs was less fierce because a town only had so many newspapers, but paper cost money and editors were always happy to get a repeat customer.

Nowadays the competition for eyeballs feels even stiffer because it’s hard to get noticed in the vast sea of the internet. It’s easy to feel a little desperate. And it seems like the opportunity cost of turning away a customer is much lower than it was before. But aren’t we doing content as a product? Does the quality of that product matter?

The forbidden secrets of clickable headlines

There’s no arguing that headlines are important. In fact, at MozCon this year,
Nathalie Nahai reminded us that many copywriters recommend an 80:20 ratio of energy spent on headline to copy. That might be taking things a bit far, but a bad (or even just boring) headline will tank your traffic. Here is some expert advice on writing headlines that convert: 

  • Nahai advises that you take advantage of psychological trigger words like, “weird,” “free,” “incredible,” and “secret” to create a sense of urgency in the reader. Can you possibly wait to read “Secret Ways Butter can Save Your Life”?
  • Use question headlines like “Can You Increase Your Sales by 45% in Only 5 Minutes a Day?” that get a reader asking themselves, “I dunno, can I?” and clicking to read more.
  • Key into the curiosity gap with a headline like “What Mother Should Have Told You about Banking. (And How Not Knowing is Costing You Friends.)” Ridiculous claim? Maybe, but this kind of headline gets a reader hooked on narrative and they have to click through to see how the story comes together.
  • And if you’re looking for a formula for the best headlines ever, Nahai proposes the following:
    Number/Trigger word + Adjective + Keyword + Promise = Killer Headline.

Many readers still (consciously or not) consider headlines a promise. So remember, as you fill the headline with hyperbole and only write eleven of the twelve tips you set out to write, there is a reader on the other end hoping butter really is good for them.

The headline danger zone

This is where headline science can get ugly. Because a lot of “perfect” titles simply do not have the quality or depth of content to back them.

Those types of headlines remind me of the Greek myth of Tantalus. For sharing the secrets of the gods with the common folk, Tantalus was condemned to spend eternity surrounded by food and drink that were forever out of his reach. Now, content is hardly the secrets of the gods, but are we tantalizing our customers with teasing headlines that will never satisfy?

buzzfeed headlines

For me, reading headlines on
BuzzFeed and Upworthy and their ilk is like talking to the guy at the party with all those super wild anecdotes. He’s entertaining, but I don’t believe a word he says, soon wish he would shut up, and can’t remember his name five seconds later. Maybe I don’t believe in clickability as much as I thought…

So I turn to credible news sources for credible headlines.

washington post headlines

I’m having trouble deciding at this point if I’m more bothered by the headline at
The Washington Post, the fact that they’re covering that topic at all, or that they didn’t really go for true clickbait with something like “You Won’t Believe the Bizarre Reasons Girls Scream at Boy Band Concerts.” But one (or all) of those things makes me very sad. 

Are we developing an immunity to clickbait headlines?

Even
Upworthy is shifting their headline creation tactics a little. But that doesn’t mean they are switching from clickbait, it just means they’ve seen their audience get tired of the same old tactics. So they’re looking for new and better tactics to keep you engaged and clicking.

The importance of traffic

I think many of us would sell a little of our soul if it would increase our traffic, and of course those clickbaity curiosity gap headlines are designed to do that (and are mostly working, for now).

But we also want good traffic. The kind of people who are going to engage with our brand and build relationships with us over the long haul, right? Back to what we were discussing in the intro, we want the kind of traffic that’s likely to convert. Don’t we?

As much as I advocate for clickable headlines, the riskier the headline I write, the more closely I compare overall traffic (especially returning visitors) to click-throughs, time on page, and bounce rate to see if I’ve pushed it too far and am alienating our most loyal fans. Because new visitors are awesome, but loyal customers are priceless.

Headline science at Moz

At Moz, we’re trying to find the delicate balance between attracting all the customers and attracting the right customers. In my first week here when Trevor and Cyrus were polling readers on what headline they’d prefer to read, I advocated for a more clickable version. See if you can pick out which is mine…

headline poll

Yep, you guessed it. I suggested “Your Google Algorithm Cheat Sheet: Panda, Penguin, and Hummingbird” because it contained a trigger word and a keyword, plus it was punchy. I actually liked “A Layman’s Explanation of the Panda Algorithm, the Penguin Algorithm, and Hummingbird,” but I was pretty sure no one would click on it.

Last time I checked, that has more traffic than any other post for the month of June. I won’t say that’s all because of the headline—it’s a really strong and useful post—but I think the headline helped a lot.

But that’s just one data point. I’ve also been spicing up the subject lines on the Moz Top 10 newsletter to see what gets the most traffic.

most-read subject lines

And the results here are more mixed. Titles I felt like were much more clickbaity like “Did Google Kill Spam?…” and “Are You Using Robots.txt the Right Way?…” underperformed compared to the straight up “Moz Top 10.”

While the most clickbaity “Groupon Did What?…” and the two about Google selling domains (which was accurate but suggested that Google was selling it’s own domains, which worried me a bit) have the most opens overall.

Help us resolve the dispute

As you can tell, I have some unresolved feelings about this whole clickbait versus credibility thing. While Trevor and I have strong opinions, we also have a lot of questions that we hope you can help us with. Blow my mind with your headline logic in the comments by sharing your opinion on any of the following:

  • Do clickbait titles erode trust? If yes, do you ever worry about that affecting your bottom line?
  • Would you sacrifice credibility for clickability? Does it have to be a choice?
  • Is there such thing as a formula for a perfect headline? What standards do you use when writing headlines?
  • Does a clickbait title affect how likely you are to read an article? What about sharing one? Do you ever feel duped by the content? Does that affect your behavior the next time?  
  • How much of your soul would you sell for more traffic?

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Experiment: We Removed a Major Website from Google Search, for Science!

Posted by Cyrus-Shepard

The folks at Groupon surprised us earlier this summer when they reported the
results of an experiment that showed that up to 60% of direct traffic is organic.

In order to accomplish this, Groupon de-indexed their site, effectively removing themselves from Google search results. That’s crazy talk!

Of course, we knew we had to try this ourselves.

We rolled up our sleeves and chose to de-index
Followerwonk, both for its consistent Google traffic and its good analytics setup—that way we could properly measure everything. We were also confident we could quickly bring the site back into Google’s results, which minimized the business risks.

(We discussed de-indexing our main site moz.com, but… no soup for you!)

We wanted to measure and test several things:

  1. How quickly will Google remove a site from its index?
  2. How much of our organic traffic is actually attributed as direct traffic?
  3. How quickly can you bring a site back into search results using the URL removal tool?

Here’s what happened.

How to completely remove a site from Google

The fastest, simplest, and most direct method to completely remove an entire site from Google search results is by using the
URL removal tool

We also understood, via statements form Google engineers, that using this method gave us the biggest chance of bringing the site back, with little risk. Other methods of de-indexing, such as using meta robots NOINDEX, might have taken weeks and caused recovery to take months.

CAUTION: Removing any URLs from a search index is potentially very dangerous, and should be taken very seriously. Do not try this at home; you will not pass go, and will not collect $200!

CAUTION: Removing any URLs from a search index is potentially very dangerous, and should be taken very seriously. Do not try this at home; you will not pass go, and will not collect $200!

After submitting the request, Followerwonk URLs started
disappearing from Google search results in 2-3 hours

The information needs to propagate across different data centers across the globe, so the effect can be delayed in areas. In fact, for the entire duration of the test, organic Google traffic continued to trickle in and never dropped to zero.

The effect on direct vs. organic traffic

In the Groupon experiment, they found that when they lost organic traffic, they
actually lost a bunch of direct traffic as well. The Groupon conclusion was that a large amount of their direct traffic was actually organic—up to 60% on “long URLs”.

At first glance, the overall amount of direct traffic to Followerwonk didn’t change significantly, even when organic traffic dropped.

In fact, we could find no discrepancy in direct traffic outside the expected range.

I ran this by our contacts at Groupon, who said this wasn’t totally unexpected. You see, in their experiment they saw the biggest drop in direct traffic on
long URLs, defined as a URL that is at least as long enough to be in a subfolder, like https://followerwonk.com/bio/?q=content+marketer.

For Followerwonk, the vast majority of traffic goes to the homepage and a handful of other URLs. This means we didn’t have a statistically significant sample size of long URLs to judge the effect. For the long URLs we were able to measure, the results were nebulous. 

Conclusion: While we can’t confirm the Groupon results with our outcome, we can’t discount them either.

It’s quite likely that a portion of your organic traffic is attributed as direct. This is because of different browsers, operating systems and user privacy settings can potentially block referral information from reaching your website.

Bringing your site back from death

After waiting 2 hours,
we deleted the request. Within a few hours all traffic returned to normal. Whew!

Does Google need to recrawl the pages?

If the time period is short enough, and you used the URL removal tool, apparently not.

In the case of Followerwonk, Google removed over
300,000 URLs from its search results, and made them all reappear in mere hours. This suggests that the domain wasn’t completely removed from Google’s index, but only “masked” from appearing for a short period of time.

What about longer periods of de-indexation?

In both the Groupon and Followerwonk experiments, the sites were only de-indexed for a short period of time, and bounced back quickly.

We wanted to find out what would happen if you de-indexed a site for a longer period, like
two and a half days?

I couldn’t convince the team to remove any of our sites from Google search results for a few days, so I choose a smaller personal site that I often subject to merciless SEO experiments.

In this case, I de-indexed the site and didn’t remove the request until three days later. Even with this longer period, all URLs returned within just
a few hours of cancelling the URL removal request.

In the chart below, we revoked the URL removal request on Friday the 25th. The next two days were Saturday and Sunday, both lower traffic days.

Test #2: De-index a personal site for 3 days

Likely, the URLs were still in Google’s index, so we didn’t have to wait for them to be recrawled. 

Here’s another shot of organic traffic before and after the second experiment.

For longer removal periods, a few weeks for example, I speculate Google might drop these semi-permanently from the index and re-inclusion would comprise a much longer time period.

What we learned

  1. While a portion of your organic traffic may be attributed as direct (due to browsers, privacy settings, etc) in our case the effect on direct traffic was negligible.
  2. If you accidentally de-index your site using Google Webmaster Tools, in most cases you can quickly bring it back to life by deleting the request.
  3. Reinclusion happens quickly even after we removed a site for over 2 days. Longer than this, the result is unknown, and you could have problems getting all the pages of your site indexed again.

Further reading

Moz community member Adina Toma wrote an excellent YouMoz post on the re-inclusion process using the same technique, with some excellent tips for other, more extreme situations.

Big thanks to
Peter Bray for volunteering Followerwonk for testing. You are a brave man!

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I See Content Everywhere – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by MarkTraphagen

Most of us who work in content marketing have felt the strain that scaling puts on our efforts. How on Earth are we supposed to keep coming up with great ideas for new pieces of content? The answer is, in some sense, all around us. In today’s Whiteboard Friday, MozCon community speaker Mark Traphagen shows us how to see the world in a different way—a way that’s chock full of content ideas.

Heads-up! We’re publishing a one-two punch of Whiteboard Fridays from our friends at Stone Temple Consulting today. Be sure to check out “Content Syndication” by Eric Enge, as well!

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

Video transcription

Hey, hello. I’m Mark Traphagen from Stone Temple Consulting, and welcome to this week’s Whiteboard Friday. I want to talk to you today, starting out, about a movie that I hope you’ve all seen by now, because this should not be a spoiler alert. I’m not even going to spoil the movie, but it’s “The Sixth Sense.”

Most of you know that movie. You’ve seen it and remember it. The little kid who says that creepy thing: “I see dead people.”

What I want to give to you today, what I want to try to teach you to do and bring to you is that you see, not dead people, but content and see it everywhere. Most of us realize that these days we’ve got to be producing content to be effective on the Web, not only for SEO, but to be effective in our marketing, in our branding and building the reputation and trust authority that we need around our brand. That’s going to be happening by content.

We’re all topically challenged

But if you’re the one tasked with coming up with that content and you’ve got to create it, it’s a tough job. Why? Most of us are topically challenged. We come to that moment, “What do I write about? What do I do that video about? What do I make that podcast about? What’s the next thing I’m going to write about?” That’s going to be the hardest thing.

When I talk to people about this, people who do this, like I do every day for a living, producing, inventing content, they’re almost invariably going to put that in the top three and usually number one. What do I do? Where do I get this from?

It’s more important now than ever before. It used to be just most companies that did content at all, websites, would hire an SEO copywriter. They’d actually use that term. We need an SEO copywriter. That usually meant that we’re looking for somebody who’s going to know where to put the keywords in enough times, and we don’t really care what else goes on with the content, what they write or how they say it or how good a writer they are as long as they can know the ways to manipulate the search engines.

Well, I think most of us now, if you watch these Whiteboard Friday videos, you know it, that that just doesn’t work anymore. That’s not going to cut it. Not only does that not really work with the search engines so well anymore, but it’s not really using your content effectively. It’s not using it to build, again, that reputation, that trust, that authority that you need around your brand and that content can be so powerful to do.

Get yourself some cyborg content eyes

So what I’m going to challenge you to do today is to get content eyes. You’ve got to get content eyes. You’ve got to get eyes that see content everywhere. This is what I train myself to do. It’s why I’m never out of ideas for that next blog post or that next video. You start to see it everywhere. You’ve got to get those eyes for it.

You’ve got to be like that professional photographer. Professional photographers are like this. This is what they have. Some of them, maybe they are born with it, but I think a lot of them have just developed it. They train themselves that everywhere they walk, when they’re going down the city street, when they’re out in the country, or wherever they are, they see photographs. The rest of us will walk right by it and say, “That’s just stuff happening.” But they see that old man on the street that has a face that tells a story of long ages. They see the way that shadow falls across the street at that moment, that right time of day. They see that’s a photograph. That’s a photograph. That’s a photograph.

You’ve got to start looking for that with content. You’ve got to be like Michelangelo. According to legend anyway, he said that he could look at a block of granite and see the sculpture that was inside it, waiting for him to chisel it out. That’s what you’ve got to train yourself to do.

So what I want to do today with the rest of this time is to give you some ways of doing that, some ways that you can look at the other content that you’re reading online, or videos you’re watching, conversations that you get into, listening to a conference speaker, wherever you are to start to look for that and get those content eyes. So let’s break into what those are.

Like the bumper sticker says, question everything

By questioning everything here, I mean develop a questioning mind. This is a good thing to do anyway when you’re reading, especially when you’re reading non-fiction content or you’re looking at and evaluating things. But for the content producer, this is a great tool.

When I’m looking at a piece of content, when I’m watching one of Rand’s Whiteboard Friday videos, I don’t just say, “Oh, it’s Rand Fishkin. I’ve got to take everything that he says.” I formulate questions in my mind. Why is that true? He just went past that fact there, but how does he know that?

Wait, I’d like to know this, but I’m looking at a Whiteboard video. I could yell at it all day, and Rand’s not going to answer me. But maybe instead of just putting that question in the comments, maybe that becomes my next piece of content.

Install a question antenna

So question everything. Get those questions. Related to that — get a question antenna up. Now what I mean by that is look for questions that are already there, but aren’t getting answered. You see a great blog post on something, and then you look in the comments and see somebody has asked this great question, and neither the author of the blog post nor anybody else is really answering it adequately. Chances are, if that’s a really great question, that person doesn’t have it alone. There are a lot of other people out there with that same question.

So that’s an opportunity for you to take that and make a piece of content out of it. We’re talking here about something that’s relevant to the audience that you’re after, obviously. So that’s another thing is looking for those questions, and not just on other pieces of content, but obviously you should be listening to your customers. What are the questions they’re asking? If you don’t have direct access to that, talk to your sales staff. Talk to your customer service people. Whoever interfaces with the customers, collect their questions. Those are great sources of content.

Finally, here, not finally. Second to finally, penultimate, do the mash-up. I love mash-ups. I’m totally obsessed with them. It’s where somebody, an artist goes and takes two or three or sometimes more pieces of pop music —

they could be from different eras — and puts them together in a very creative way. It’s not just playing one after the other, but finds ways that they sonically match up and they can blend over each other. It might be a Beatles song over Gangster’s Paradise. A whole new thing happens when they do that.

Juxtapose this! By which I mean do a mash-up.

Well, you can do mash-ups. When you’re reading content or watching videos or wherever you’re getting your stimulation, look for things that juxtapose in some way, that you could bring that in, in some way that nobody’s done before.

Quickly, there are four kinds of things you should be looking for to do your mash-up. Sometimes you could be writing about things that intersect in some way. You might see two different pieces of content and, because you’ve got your content eyes out there, you say, “Ah, there’s an overlap here that nobody is talking about.” So you talk about it. You write about that.

It might be a total contrast. It might be like over here people are saying this, and over here people are saying that. Why is there such a difference?

Maybe you can either resolve that or even just talk about why that difference is there.

It can be just an actual contradiction. There’s contradiction in this thing. Why is that contradiction there? Or maybe just where they complement each other. That’s supposed to be a bridge between there. Not a very good bridge. The two things, how do they complement each other? The mash-up idea is taking two or more ideas that are out there floating around, that you’ve been thinking about, and bringing them together in a way that nobody else has.

Before I go on to the last one here, I just want to say “Do you see what we’re doing?” We’re synthesizing out of other stimulus that’s out there to produce something that is unique, but birthed out of other ideas. That’s where the best ideas come from. That’s a way that you can be getting those ideas.

Let’s brand-name-acne-treatment this topic up

Let’s go to the last one here. I call it Clearasil because it’s clearing things up. This is one I use a lot. Maybe it’s because I have a background as a teacher years ago. I’ve got to make this clear. I’ve got to explain this. When you see something out there that is interesting or new, somebody presents some new facts, a test result, whatever it is, but they just kind of presented the facts, you could go, if you understand it, and say, “I think I know what that’s happening. I think I know the implications of that.” You could go and explain that. Now you have cleared that up, and you’ve created a great new piece of useful content.

A quick example of that kind of thing is I had a chat with Jay Baer recently, of Convince & Convert. Something he said just pinged in my mind and I said, “Yes, that’s why some of my content works.” He has this thing that he calls “and therefore” content. He says that he’s trained his staff and himself that when they go out and they see something where somebody has said like, “This happened out there,” kind of reporting of the news, they say, “Let’s write about or do a video about or an audio or whatever, and therefore what this means to you, and therefore the next steps you need to take because of that, and therefore what might happen in the future.” You see the power of that?

So the whole thing here is getting content eyes. Learning to see content everywhere. Train yourself. Begin to ask those questions. Begin to look at the stimulus that comes in around you. Listen, look, and find out what you can put together in a way that nobody else has before, and you’ll never run out of those content ideas. Thanks a lot for joining me today.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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