Why Effective, Modern SEO Requires Technical, Creative, and Strategic Thinking – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by randfish

There’s no doubt that quite a bit has changed about SEO, and that the field is far more integrated with other aspects of online marketing than it once was. In today’s Whiteboard Friday, Rand pushes back against the idea that effective modern SEO doesn’t require any technical expertise, outlining a fantastic list of technical elements that today’s SEOs need to know about in order to be truly effective.

For reference, here’s a still of this week’s whiteboard. 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 I’m going to do something unusual. I don’t usually point out these inconsistencies or sort of take issue with other folks’ content on the web, because I generally find that that’s not all that valuable and useful. But I’m going to make an exception here.

There is an article by Jayson DeMers, who I think might actually be here in Seattle — maybe he and I can hang out at some point — called “Why Modern SEO Requires Almost No Technical Expertise.” It was an article that got a shocking amount of traction and attention. On Facebook, it has thousands of shares. On LinkedIn, it did really well. On Twitter, it got a bunch of attention.

Some folks in the SEO world have already pointed out some issues around this. But because of the increasing popularity of this article, and because I think there’s, like, this hopefulness from worlds outside of kind of the hardcore SEO world that are looking to this piece and going, “Look, this is great. We don’t have to be technical. We don’t have to worry about technical things in order to do SEO.”

Look, I completely get the appeal of that. I did want to point out some of the reasons why this is not so accurate. At the same time, I don’t want to rain on Jayson, because I think that it’s very possible he’s writing an article for Entrepreneur, maybe he has sort of a commitment to them. Maybe he had no idea that this article was going to spark so much attention and investment. He does make some good points. I think it’s just really the title and then some of the messages inside there that I take strong issue with, and so I wanted to bring those up.

First off, some of the good points he did bring up.

One, he wisely says, “You don’t need to know how to code or to write and read algorithms in order to do SEO.” I totally agree with that. If today you’re looking at SEO and you’re thinking, “Well, am I going to get more into this subject? Am I going to try investing in SEO? But I don’t even know HTML and CSS yet.”

Those are good skills to have, and they will help you in SEO, but you don’t need them. Jayson’s totally right. You don’t have to have them, and you can learn and pick up some of these things, and do searches, watch some Whiteboard Fridays, check out some guides, and pick up a lot of that stuff later on as you need it in your career. SEO doesn’t have that hard requirement.

And secondly, he makes an intelligent point that we’ve made many times here at Moz, which is that, broadly speaking, a better user experience is well correlated with better rankings.

You make a great website that delivers great user experience, that provides the answers to searchers’ questions and gives them extraordinarily good content, way better than what’s out there already in the search results, generally speaking you’re going to see happy searchers, and that’s going to lead to higher rankings.

But not entirely. There are a lot of other elements that go in here. So I’ll bring up some frustrating points around the piece as well.

First off, there’s no acknowledgment — and I find this a little disturbing — that the ability to read and write code, or even HTML and CSS, which I think are the basic place to start, is helpful or can take your SEO efforts to the next level. I think both of those things are true.

So being able to look at a web page, view source on it, or pull up Firebug in Firefox or something and diagnose what’s going on and then go, “Oh, that’s why Google is not able to see this content. That’s why we’re not ranking for this keyword or term, or why even when I enter this exact sentence in quotes into Google, which is on our page, this is why it’s not bringing it up. It’s because it’s loading it after the page from a remote file that Google can’t access.” These are technical things, and being able to see how that code is built, how it’s structured, and what’s going on there, very, very helpful.

Some coding knowledge also can take your SEO efforts even further. I mean, so many times, SEOs are stymied by the conversations that we have with our programmers and our developers and the technical staff on our teams. When we can have those conversations intelligently, because at least we understand the principles of how an if-then statement works, or what software engineering best practices are being used, or they can upload something into a GitHub repository, and we can take a look at it there, that kind of stuff is really helpful.

Secondly, I don’t like that the article overly reduces all of this information that we have about what we’ve learned about Google. So he mentions two sources. One is things that Google tells us, and others are SEO experiments. I think both of those are true. Although I’d add that there’s sort of a sixth sense of knowledge that we gain over time from looking at many, many search results and kind of having this feel for why things rank, and what might be wrong with a site, and getting really good at that using tools and data as well. There are people who can look at Open Site Explorer and then go, “Aha, I bet this is going to happen.” They can look, and 90% of the time they’re right.

So he boils this down to, one, write quality content, and two, reduce your bounce rate. Neither of those things are wrong. You should write quality content, although I’d argue there are lots of other forms of quality content that aren’t necessarily written — video, images and graphics, podcasts, lots of other stuff.

And secondly, that just doing those two things is not always enough. So you can see, like many, many folks look and go, “I have quality content. It has a low bounce rate. How come I don’t rank better?” Well, your competitors, they’re also going to have quality content with a low bounce rate. That’s not a very high bar.

Also, frustratingly, this really gets in my craw. I don’t think “write quality content” means anything. You tell me. When you hear that, to me that is a totally non-actionable, non-useful phrase that’s a piece of advice that is so generic as to be discardable. So I really wish that there was more substance behind that.

The article also makes, in my opinion, the totally inaccurate claim that modern SEO really is reduced to “the happier your users are when they visit your site, the higher you’re going to rank.”

Wow. Okay. Again, I think broadly these things are correlated. User happiness and rank is broadly correlated, but it’s not a one to one. This is not like a, “Oh, well, that’s a 1.0 correlation.”

I would guess that the correlation is probably closer to like the page authority range. I bet it’s like 0.35 or something correlation. If you were to actually measure this broadly across the web and say like, “Hey, were you happier with result one, two, three, four, or five,” the ordering would not be perfect at all. It probably wouldn’t even be close.

There’s a ton of reasons why sometimes someone who ranks on Page 2 or Page 3 or doesn’t rank at all for a query is doing a better piece of content than the person who does rank well or ranks on Page 1, Position 1.

Then the article suggests five and sort of a half steps to successful modern SEO, which I think is a really incomplete list. So Jayson gives us;

  • Good on-site experience
  • Writing good content
  • Getting others to acknowledge you as an authority
  • Rising in social popularity
  • Earning local relevance
  • Dealing with modern CMS systems (which he notes most modern CMS systems are SEO-friendly)

The thing is there’s nothing actually wrong with any of these. They’re all, generally speaking, correct, either directly or indirectly related to SEO. The one about local relevance, I have some issue with, because he doesn’t note that there’s a separate algorithm for sort of how local SEO is done and how Google ranks local sites in maps and in their local search results. Also not noted is that rising in social popularity won’t necessarily directly help your SEO, although it can have indirect and positive benefits.

I feel like this list is super incomplete. Okay, I brainstormed just off the top of my head in the 10 minutes before we filmed this video a list. The list was so long that, as you can see, I filled up the whole whiteboard and then didn’t have any more room. I’m not going to bother to erase and go try and be absolutely complete.

But there’s a huge, huge number of things that are important, critically important for technical SEO. If you don’t know how to do these things, you are sunk in many cases. You can’t be an effective SEO analyst, or consultant, or in-house team member, because you simply can’t diagnose the potential problems, rectify those potential problems, identify strategies that your competitors are using, be able to diagnose a traffic gain or loss. You have to have these skills in order to do that.

I’ll run through these quickly, but really the idea is just that this list is so huge and so long that I think it’s very, very, very wrong to say technical SEO is behind us. I almost feel like the opposite is true.

We have to be able to understand things like;

  • Content rendering and indexability
  • Crawl structure, internal links, JavaScript, Ajax. If something’s post-loading after the page and Google’s not able to index it, or there are links that are accessible via JavaScript or Ajax, maybe Google can’t necessarily see those or isn’t crawling them as effectively, or is crawling them, but isn’t assigning them as much link weight as they might be assigning other stuff, and you’ve made it tough to link to them externally, and so they can’t crawl it.
  • Disabling crawling and/or indexing of thin or incomplete or non-search-targeted content. We have a bunch of search results pages. Should we use rel=prev/next? Should we robots.txt those out? Should we disallow from crawling with meta robots? Should we rel=canonical them to other pages? Should we exclude them via the protocols inside Google Webmaster Tools, which is now Google Search Console?
  • Managing redirects, domain migrations, content updates. A new piece of content comes out, replacing an old piece of content, what do we do with that old piece of content? What’s the best practice? It varies by different things. We have a whole Whiteboard Friday about the different things that you could do with that. What about a big redirect or a domain migration? You buy another company and you’re redirecting their site to your site. You have to understand things about subdomain structures versus subfolders, which, again, we’ve done another Whiteboard Friday about that.
  • Proper error codes, downtime procedures, and not found pages. If your 404 pages turn out to all be 200 pages, well, now you’ve made a big error there, and Google could be crawling tons of 404 pages that they think are real pages, because you’ve made it a status code 200, or you’ve used a 404 code when you should have used a 410, which is a permanently removed, to be able to get it completely out of the indexes, as opposed to having Google revisit it and keep it in the index.

Downtime procedures. So there’s specifically a… I can’t even remember. It’s a 5xx code that you can use. Maybe it was a 503 or something that you can use that’s like, “Revisit later. We’re having some downtime right now.” Google urges you to use that specific code rather than using a 404, which tells them, “This page is now an error.”

Disney had that problem a while ago, if you guys remember, where they 404ed all their pages during an hour of downtime, and then their homepage, when you searched for Disney World, was, like, “Not found.” Oh, jeez, Disney World, not so good.

  • International and multi-language targeting issues. I won’t go into that. But you have to know the protocols there. Duplicate content, syndication, scrapers. How do we handle all that? Somebody else wants to take our content, put it on their site, what should we do? Someone’s scraping our content. What can we do? We have duplicate content on our own site. What should we do?
  • Diagnosing traffic drops via analytics and metrics. Being able to look at a rankings report, being able to look at analytics connecting those up and trying to see: Why did we go up or down? Did we have less pages being indexed, more pages being indexed, more pages getting traffic less, more keywords less?
  • Understanding advanced search parameters. Today, just today, I was checking out the related parameter in Google, which is fascinating for most sites. Well, for Moz, weirdly, related:oursite.com shows nothing. But for virtually every other sit, well, most other sites on the web, it does show some really interesting data, and you can see how Google is connecting up, essentially, intentions and topics from different sites and pages, which can be fascinating, could expose opportunities for links, could expose understanding of how they view your site versus your competition or who they think your competition is.

Then there are tons of parameters, like in URL and in anchor, and da, da, da, da. In anchor doesn’t work anymore, never mind about that one.

I have to go faster, because we’re just going to run out of these. Like, come on. Interpreting and leveraging data in Google Search Console. If you don’t know how to use that, Google could be telling you, you have all sorts of errors, and you don’t know what they are.

  • Leveraging topic modeling and extraction. Using all these cool tools that are coming out for better keyword research and better on-page targeting. I talked about a couple of those at MozCon, like MonkeyLearn. There’s the new Moz Context API, which will be coming out soon, around that. There’s the Alchemy API, which a lot of folks really like and use.
  • Identifying and extracting opportunities based on site crawls. You run a Screaming Frog crawl on your site and you’re going, “Oh, here’s all these problems and issues.” If you don’t have these technical skills, you can’t diagnose that. You can’t figure out what’s wrong. You can’t figure out what needs fixing, what needs addressing.
  • Using rich snippet format to stand out in the SERPs. This is just getting a better click-through rate, which can seriously help your site and obviously your traffic.
  • Applying Google-supported protocols like rel=canonical, meta description, rel=prev/next, hreflang, robots.txt, meta robots, x robots, NOODP, XML sitemaps, rel=nofollow. The list goes on and on and on. If you’re not technical, you don’t know what those are, you think you just need to write good content and lower your bounce rate, it’s not going to work.
  • Using APIs from services like AdWords or MozScape, or hrefs from Majestic, or SEM refs from SearchScape or Alchemy API. Those APIs can have powerful things that they can do for your site. There are some powerful problems they could help you solve if you know how to use them. It’s actually not that hard to write something, even inside a Google Doc or Excel, to pull from an API and get some data in there. There’s a bunch of good tutorials out there. Richard Baxter has one, Annie Cushing has one, I think Distilled has some. So really cool stuff there.
  • Diagnosing page load speed issues, which goes right to what Jayson was talking about. You need that fast-loading page. Well, if you don’t have any technical skills, you can’t figure out why your page might not be loading quickly.
  • Diagnosing mobile friendliness issues
  • Advising app developers on the new protocols around App deep linking, so that you can get the content from your mobile apps into the web search results on mobile devices. Awesome. Super powerful. Potentially crazy powerful, as mobile search is becoming bigger than desktop.

Okay, I’m going to take a deep breath and relax. I don’t know Jayson’s intention, and in fact, if he were in this room, he’d be like, “No, I totally agree with all those things. I wrote the article in a rush. I had no idea it was going to be big. I was just trying to make the broader points around you don’t have to be a coder in order to do SEO.” That’s completely fine.

So I’m not going to try and rain criticism down on him. But I think if you’re reading that article, or you’re seeing it in your feed, or your clients are, or your boss is, or other folks are in your world, maybe you can point them to this Whiteboard Friday and let them know, no, that’s not quite right. There’s a ton of technical SEO that is required in 2015 and will be for years to come, I think, that SEOs have to have in order to be effective at their jobs.

All right, everyone. Look forward to some great comments, and we’ll see you again next time for another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Take care.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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Reblogged 4 years ago from tracking.feedpress.it

From Editorial Calendars to SEO: Setting Yourself Up to Create Fabulous Content

Posted by Isla_McKetta

Quick note: This article is meant to apply to teams of all sizes, from the sole proprietor who spends all night writing their copy (because they’re doing business during the day) to the copy team who occupies an entire floor and produces thousands of pieces of content per week. So if you run into a section that you feel requires more resources than you can devote just now, that’s okay. Bookmark it and revisit when you can, or scale the step down to a more appropriate size for your team. We believe all the information here is important, but that does not mean you have to do everything right now.

If you thought ideation was fun, get ready for content creation. Sure, we’ve all written some things before, but the creation phase of content marketing is where you get to watch that beloved idea start to take shape.

Before you start creating, though, you want to get (at least a little) organized, and an editorial calendar is the perfect first step.

Editorial calendars

Creativity and organization are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they can feed each other. A solid schedule gives you and your writers the time and space to be wild and creative. If you’re just starting out, this document may be sparse, but it’s no less important. Starting early with your editorial calendar also saves you from creating content willy-nilly and then finding out months later that no one ever finished that pesky (but crucial) “About” page.

There’s no wrong way to set up your editorial calendar, as long as it’s meeting your needs. Remember that an editorial calendar is a living document, and it will need to change as a hot topic comes up or an author drops out.

There are a lot of different types of documents that pass for editorial calendars. You get to pick the one that’s right for your team. The simplest version is a straight-up calendar with post titles written out on each day. You could even use a wall calendar and a Sharpie.

Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday
Title
The Five Colors of Oscar Fashion 12 Fabrics We’re Watching for Fall Is Charmeuse the New Corduroy? Hot Right Now: Matching Your Handbag to Your Hatpin Tea-length and Other Fab Vocab You Need to Know
Author Ellie James Marta Laila Alex

Teams who are balancing content for different brands at agencies or other more complex content environments will want to add categories, author information, content type, social promo, and more to their calendars.

Truly complex editorial calendars are more like hybrid content creation/editorial calendars, where each of the steps to create and publish the content are indicated and someone has planned for how long all of that takes. These can be very helpful if the content you’re responsible for crosses a lot of teams and can take a long time to complete. It doesn’t matter if you’re using Excel or a Google Doc, as long as the people who need the calendar can easily access it. Gantt charts can be excellent for this. Here’s a favorite template for creating a Gantt chart in Google Docs (and they only get more sophisticated).

Complex calendars can encompass everything from ideation through writing, legal review, and publishing. You might even add content localization if your empire spans more than one continent to make sure you have the currency, date formatting, and even slang right.

Content governance

Governance outlines who is taking responsibility for your content. Who evaluates your content performance? What about freshness? Who decides to update (or kill) an older post? Who designs and optimizes workflows for your team or chooses and manages your CMS?

All these individual concerns fall into two overarching components to governance: daily maintenance and overall strategy. In the long run it helps if one person has oversight of the whole process, but the smaller steps can easily be split among many team members. Read this to take your governance to the next level.

Finding authors

The scale of your writing enterprise doesn’t have to be limited to the number of authors you have on your team. It’s also important to consider the possibility of working with freelancers and guest authors. Here’s a look at the pros and cons of outsourced versus in-house talent.

In-house authors

Guest authors and freelancers

Responsible to

You

Themselves

Paid by

You (as part of their salary)

You (on a per-piece basis)

Subject matter expertise

Broad but shallow

Deep but narrow

Capacity for extra work

As you wish

Show me the Benjamins

Turnaround time

On a dime

Varies

Communication investment

Less

More

Devoted audience

Smaller

Potentially huge

From that table, it might look like in-house authors have a lot more advantages. That’s somewhat true, but do not underestimate the value of occasionally working with a true industry expert who has name recognition and a huge following. Whichever route you take (and there are plenty of hybrid options), it’s always okay to ask that the writers you are working with be professional about communication, payment, and deadlines. In some industries, guest writers will write for links. Consider yourself lucky if that’s true. Remember, though, that the final paycheck can be great leverage for getting a writer to do exactly what you need them to (such as making their deadlines).

Tools to help with content creation

So those are some things you need to have in place before you create content. Now’s the fun part: getting started. One of the beautiful things about the Internet is that new and exciting tools crop up every day to help make our jobs easier and more efficient. Here are a few of our favorites.

Calendars

You can always use Excel or a Google Doc to set up your editorial calendar, but we really like Trello for the ability to gather a lot of information in one card and then drag and drop it into place. Once there are actual dates attached to your content, you might be happier with something like a Google Calendar.

Ideation and research

If you need a quick fix for ideation, turn your keywords into wacky ideas with Portent’s Title Maker. You probably won’t want to write to the exact title you’re given (although “True Facts about Justin Bieber’s Love of Pickles” does sound pretty fascinating…), but it’s a good way to get loose and look at your topic from a new angle.

Once you’ve got that idea solidified, find out what your audience thinks about it by gathering information with Survey Monkey or your favorite survey tool. Or, use Storify to listen to what people are saying about your topic across a wide variety of platforms. You can also use Storify to save those references and turn them into a piece of content or an illustration for one. Don’t forget that a simple social ask can also do wonders.

Format

Content doesn’t have to be all about the words. Screencasts, Google+ Hangouts, and presentations are all interesting ways to approach content. Remember that not everyone’s a reader. Some of your audience will be more interested in visual or interactive content. Make something for everyone.

Illustration

Don’t forget to make your content pretty. It’s not that hard to find free stock images online (just make sure you aren’t violating someone’s copyright). We like Morgue File, Free Images, and Flickr’s Creative Commons. If you aren’t into stock images and don’t have access to in-house graphic design, it’s still relatively easy to add images to your content. Pull a screenshot with Skitch or dress up an existing image with Pixlr. You can also use something like Canva to create custom graphics.

Don’t stop with static graphics, though. There are so many tools out there to help you create gifs, quizzes and polls, maps, and even interactive timelines. Dream it, then search for it. Chances are whatever you’re thinking of is doable.

Quality, not quantity

Mediocre content will hurt your cause

Less is more. That’s not an excuse to pare your blog down to one post per month (check out our publishing cadence experiment), but it is an important reminder that if you’re writing “How to Properly Install a Toilet Seat” two days after publishing “Toilet Seat Installation for Dummies,” you might want to rethink your strategy.

The thing is, and I’m going to use another cliché here to drive home the point, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. Potential customers are roving the Internet right now looking for exactly what you’re selling. And if what they find is an only somewhat informative article stuffed with keywords and awful spelling and grammar mistakes… well, you don’t want that. Oh, and search engines think it’s spammy too…

A word about copyright

We’re not copyright lawyers, so we can’t give you the ins and outs on all the technicalities. What we can tell you (and you already know this) is that it’s not okay to steal someone else’s work. You wouldn’t want them to do it to you. This includes images. So whenever you can, make your own images or find images that you can either purchase the rights to (stock imagery) or license under Creative Commons.

It’s usually okay to quote short portions of text, as long as you attribute the original source (and a link is nice). In general, titles and ideas can’t be copyrighted (though they might be trademarked or patented). When in doubt, asking for permission is smart.

That said, part of the fun of the Internet is the remixing culture which includes using things like memes and gifs. Just know that if you go that route, there is a certain amount of risk involved.

Editing

Your content needs to go through at least one editing cycle by someone other than the original author. There are two types of editing, developmental (which looks at the underlying structure of a piece that happens earlier in the writing cycle) and copy editing (which makes sure all the words are there and spelled right in the final draft).

If you have a very small team or are in a rush (and are working with writers that have some skill), you can often skip the developmental editing phase. But know that an investment in that close read of an early draft is often beneficial to the piece and to the writer’s overall growth.

Many content teams peer-edit work, which can be great. Other organizations prefer to run their work by a dedicated editor. There’s no wrong answer, as long as the work gets edited.

Ensuring proper basic SEO

The good news is that search engines are doing their best to get closer and closer to understanding and processing natural language. So good writing (including the natural use of synonyms rather than repeating those keywords over and over and…) will take you a long way towards SEO mastery.

For that reason (and because it’s easy to get trapped in keyword thinking and veer into keyword stuffing), it’s often nice to think of your SEO check as a further edit of the post rather than something you should think about as you’re writing.

But there are still a few things you can do to help cover those SEO bets. Once you have that draft, do a pass for SEO to make sure you’ve covered the following:

  • Use your keyword in your title
  • Use your keyword (or long-tail keyword phrase) in an H2
  • Make sure the keyword appears at least once (though not more than four times, especially if it’s a phrase) in the body of the post
  • Use image alt text (including the keyword when appropriate)

Finding time to write when you don’t have any

Writing (assuming you’re the one doing the writing) can require a lot of energy—especially if you want to do it well. The best way to find time to write is to break each project down into little tasks. For example, writing a blog post actually breaks down into these steps (though not always in this order):

  • Research
  • Outline
  • Fill in outline
  • Rewrite and finish post
  • Write headline
  • SEO check
  • Final edit
  • Select hero image (optional)

So if you only have random chunks of time, set aside 15-30 minutes one day (when your research is complete) to write a really great outline. Then find an hour the next to fill that outline in. After an additional hour the following day, (unless you’re dealing with a research-heavy post) you should have a solid draft by the end of day three.

The magic of working this way is that you engage your brain and then give it time to work in the background while you accomplish other tasks. Hemingway used to stop mid-sentence at the end of his writing days for the same reason.

Once you have that draft nailed, the rest of the steps are relatively easy (even the headline, which often takes longer to write than any other sentence, is easier after you’ve immersed yourself in the post over a few days).

Working with design/development

Every designer and developer is a little different, so we can’t give you any blanket cure-alls for inter-departmental workarounds (aka “smashing silos”). But here are some suggestions to help you convey your vision while capitalizing on the expertise of your coworkers to make your content truly excellent.

Ask for feedback

From the initial brainstorm to general questions about how to work together, asking your team members what they think and prefer can go a long way. Communicate all the details you have (especially the unspoken expectations) and then listen.

If your designer tells you up front that your color scheme is years out of date, you’re saving time. And if your developer tells you that the interactive version of that timeline will require four times the resources, you have the info you need to fight for more budget (or reassess the project).

Check in

Things change in the design and development process. If you have interim check-ins already set up with everyone who’s working on the project, you’ll avoid the potential for nasty surprises at the end. Like finding out that no one has experience working with that hot new coding language you just read about and they’re trying to do a workaround that isn’t working.

Proofread

Your job isn’t done when you hand over the copy to your designer or developer. Not only might they need help rewriting some of your text so that it fits in certain areas, they will also need you to proofread the final version. Accidents happen in the copy-and-paste process and there’s nothing sadder than a really beautiful (and expensive) piece of content that wraps up with a typo:

Know when to fight for an idea

Conflict isn’t fun, but sometimes it’s necessary. The more people involved in your content, the more watered down the original idea can get and the more roadblocks and conflicting ideas you’ll run into. Some of that is very useful. But sometimes you’ll get pulled off track. Always remember who owns the final product (this may not be you) and be ready to stand up for the idea if it’s starting to get off track.

We’re confident this list will set you on the right path to creating some really awesome content, but is there more you’d like to know? Ask us your questions in the comments.

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Reblogged 4 years ago from tracking.feedpress.it

Moving 5 Domains to 1: An SEO Case Study

Posted by Dr-Pete

People often ask me if they should change domain names, and I always shudder just a little. Changing domains is a huge, risky undertaking, and too many people rush into it seeing only the imaginary upside. The success of the change also depends wildly on the details, and it’s not the kind of question anyone should be asking casually on social media.

Recently, I decided that it was time to find a new permanent home for my personal and professional blogs, which had gradually spread out over 5 domains. I also felt my main domain was no longer relevant to my current situation, and it was time for a change. So, ultimately I ended up with a scenario that looked like this:

The top three sites were active, with UserEffect.com being my former consulting site and blog (and relatively well-trafficked). The bottom two sites were both inactive and were both essentially gag sites. My one-pager, AreYouARealDoctor.com, did previously rank well for “are you a real doctor”, so I wanted to try to recapture that.

I started migrating the 5 sites in mid-January, and I’ve been tracking the results. I thought it would be useful to see how this kind of change plays out, in all of the gory details. As it turns out, nothing is ever quite “textbook” when it comes to technical SEO.

Why Change Domains at All?

The rationale for picking a new domain could fill a month’s worth of posts, but I want to make one critical point – changing domains should be about your business goals first, and SEO second. I did not change domains to try to rank better for “Dr. Pete” – that’s a crap shoot at best. I changed domains because my old consulting brand (“User Effect”) no longer represented the kind of work I do and I’m much more known by my personal brand.

That business case was strong enough that I was willing to accept some losses. We went through a similar transition here
from SEOmoz.org to Moz.com. That was a difficult transition that cost us some SEO ground, especially short-term, but our core rationale was grounded in the business and where it’s headed. Don’t let an SEO pipe dream lead you into a risky decision.

Why did I pick a .co domain? I did it for the usual reason – the .com was taken. For a project of this type, where revenue wasn’t on the line, I didn’t have any particular concerns about .co. The evidence on how top-level domains (TLDs) impact ranking is tough to tease apart (so many other factors correlate with .com’s), and Google’s attitude tends to change over time, especially if new TLDs are abused. Anecdotally, though, I’ve seen plenty of .co’s rank, and I wasn’t concerned.

Step 1 – The Boring Stuff

It is absolutely shocking how many people build a new site, slap up some 301s, pull the switch, and hope for the best. It’s less shocking how many of those people end up in Q&A a week later, desperate and bleeding money.


Planning is hard work, and it’s boring – get over it.

You need to be intimately familiar with every page on your existing site(s), and, ideally, you should make a list. Not only do you have to plan for what will happen to each of these pages, but you’ll need that list to make sure everything works smoothly later.

In my case, I decided it might be time to do some housekeeping – the User Effect blog had hundreds of posts, many outdated and quite a few just not very good. So, I started with the easy data – recent traffic. I’m sure you’ve seen this Google Analytics report (Behavior > Site Content > All Pages):

Since I wanted to focus on recent activity, and none of the sites had much new content, I restricted myself to a 3-month window (Q4 of 2014). Of course, I looked much deeper than the top 10, but the principle was simple – I wanted to make sure the data matched my intuition and that I wasn’t cutting off anything important. This helped me prioritize the list.

Of course, from an SEO standpoint, I also didn’t want to lose content that had limited traffic but solid inbound links. So, I checked my “Top Pages” report in
Open Site Explorer:

Since the bulk of my main site was a blog, the top trafficked and top linked-to pages fortunately correlated pretty well. Again, this is only a way to prioritize. If you’re dealing with sites with thousands of pages, you need to work methodically through the site architecture.

I’m going to say something that makes some SEOs itchy – it’s ok not to move some pages to the new site. It’s even ok to let some pages 404. In Q4, UserEffect.com had traffic to 237 URLs. The top 10 pages accounted for 91.9% of that traffic. I strongly believe that moving domains is a good time to refocus a site and concentrate your visitors and link equity on your best content. More is not better in 2015.

Letting go of some pages also means that you’re not 301-redirecting a massive number of old URLs to a new home-page. This can look like a low-quality attempt to consolidate link-equity, and at large scale it can raise red flags with Google. Content worth keeping should exist on the new site, and your 301s should have well-matched targets.

In one case, I had a blog post that had a decent trickle of traffic due to ranking for “50,000 push-ups,” but the post itself was weak and the bounce rate was very high:

The post was basically just a placeholder announcing that I’d be attempting this challenge, but I never recapped anything after finishing it. So, in this case,
I rewrote the post.

Of course, this process was repeated across the 3 active sites. The 2 inactive sites only constituted a handful of total pages. In the case of AreYouARealDoctor.com, I decided to turn the previous one-pager
into a new page on the new site. That way, I had a very well-matched target for the 301-redirect, instead of simply mapping the old site to my new home-page.

I’m trying to prove a point – this is the amount of work I did for a handful of sites that were mostly inactive and producing no current business value. I don’t need consulting gigs and these sites produce no direct revenue, and yet I still considered this process worth the effort.

Step 2 – The Big Day

Eventually, you’re going to have to make the move, and in most cases, I prefer ripping off the bandage. Of course, doing something all at once doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be careful.

The biggest problem I see with domain switches (even if they’re 1-to-1) is that people rely on data that can take weeks to evaluate, like rankings and traffic, or directly checking Google’s index. By then, a lot of damage is already done. Here are some ways to find out quickly if you’ve got problems…

(1) Manually Check Pages

Remember that list you were supposed to make? It’s time to check it, or at least spot-check it. Someone needs to physically go to a browser and make sure that each major section of the site and each important individual page is resolving properly. It doesn’t matter how confident your IT department/guy/gal is – things go wrong.

(2) Manually Check Headers

Just because a page resolves, it doesn’t mean that your 301-redirects are working properly, or that you’re not firing some kind of 17-step redirect chain. Check your headers. There are tons of free tools, but lately I’m fond of
URI Valet. Guess what – I screwed up my primary 301-redirects. One of my registrar transfers wasn’t working, so I had to have a setting changed by customer service, and I inadvertently ended up with 302s (Pro tip: Don’t change registrars and domains in one step):

Don’t think that because you’re an “expert”, your plan is foolproof. Mistakes happen, and because I caught this one I was able to correct it fairly quickly.

(3) Submit Your New Site

You don’t need to submit your site to Google in 2015, but now that Google Webmaster Tools allows it, why not do it? The primary argument I hear is “well, it’s not necessary.” True, but direct submission has one advantage – it’s fast.

To be precise, Google Webmaster Tools separates the process into “Fetch” and “Submit to index” (you’ll find this under “Crawl” > “Fetch as Google”). Fetching will quickly tell you if Google can resolve a URL and retrieve the page contents, which alone is pretty useful. Once a page is fetched, you can submit it, and you should see something like this:

This isn’t really about getting indexed – it’s about getting nearly instantaneous feedback. If Google has any major problems with crawling your site, you’ll know quickly, at least at the macro level.

(4) Submit New XML Sitemaps

Finally, submit a new set of XML sitemaps in Google Webmaster Tools, and preferably tiered sitemaps. While it’s a few years old now, Rob Ousbey has a great post on the subject of
XML sitemap structure. The basic idea is that, if you divide your sitemap into logical sections, it’s going to be much easier to diagnosis what kinds of pages Google is indexing and where you’re running into trouble.

A couple of pro tips on sitemaps – first, keep your old sitemaps active temporarily. This is counterintuitive to some people, but unless Google can crawl your old URLs, they won’t see and process the 301-redirects and other signals. Let the old accounts stay open for a couple of months, and don’t cut off access to the domains you’re moving.

Second (I learned this one the hard way), make sure that your Google Webmaster Tools site verification still works. If you use file uploads or meta tags and don’t move those files/tags to the new site, GWT verification will fail and you won’t have access to your old accounts. I’d recommend using a more domain-independent solution, like verifying with Google Analytics. If you lose verification, don’t panic – your data won’t be instantly lost.

Step 3 – The Waiting Game

Once you’ve made the switch, the waiting begins, and this is where many people start to panic. Even executed perfectly, it can take Google weeks or even months to process all of your 301-redirects and reevaluate a new domain’s capacity to rank. You have to expect short term fluctuations in ranking and traffic.

During this period, you’ll want to watch a few things – your traffic, your rankings, your indexed pages (via GWT and the site: operator), and your errors (such as unexpected 404s). Traffic will recover the fastest, since direct traffic is immediately carried through redirects, but ranking and indexation will lag, and errors may take time to appear.

(1) Monitor Traffic

I’m hoping you know how to check your traffic, but actually trying to determine what your new levels should be and comparing any two days can be easier said than done. If you launch on a Friday, and then Saturday your traffic goes down on the new site, that’s hardly cause for panic – your traffic probably
always goes down on Saturday.

In this case, I redirected the individual sites over about a week, but I’m going to focus on UserEffect.com, as that was the major traffic generator. That site was redirected, in full on January 21st, and the Google Analytics data for January for the old site looked like this:

So far, so good – traffic bottomed out almost immediately. Of course, losing traffic is easy – the real question is what’s going on with the new domain. Here’s the graph for January for DrPete.co:

This one’s a bit trickier – the first spike, on January 16th, is when I redirected the first domain. The second spike, on January 22nd, is when I redirected UserEffect.com. Both spikes are meaningless – I announced these re-launches on social media and got a short-term traffic burst. What we really want to know is where traffic is leveling out.

Of course, there isn’t a lot of history here, but a typical day for UserEffect.com in January was about 1,000 pageviews. The traffic to DrPete.co after it leveled out was about half that (500 pageviews). It’s not a complete crisis, but we’re definitely looking at a short-term loss.

Obviously, I’m simplifying the process here – for a large, ecommerce site you’d want to track a wide range of metrics, including conversion metrics. Hopefully, though, this illustrates the core approach. So, what am I missing out on? In this day of [not provided], tracking down a loss can be tricky. Let’s look for clues in our other three areas…

(2) Monitor Indexation

You can get a broad sense of your indexed pages from Google Webmaster Tools, but this data often lags real-time and isn’t very granular. Despite its shortcomings, I still prefer
the site: operator. Generally, I monitor a domain daily – any one measurement has a lot of noise, but what you’re looking for is the trend over time. Here’s the indexed page count for DrPete.co:

The first set of pages was indexed fairly quickly, and then the second set started being indexed soon after UserEffect.com was redirected. All in all, we’re seeing a fairly steady upward trend, and that’s what we’re hoping to see. The number is also in the ballpark of sanity (compared to the actual page count) and roughly matched GWT data once it started being reported.

So, what happened to UserEffect.com’s index after the switch?

The timeframe here is shorter, since UserEffect.com was redirected last, but we see a gradual decline in indexation, as expected. Note that the index size plateaus around 60 pages – about 1/4 of the original size. This isn’t abnormal – low-traffic and unlinked pages (or those with deep links) are going to take a while to clear out. This is a long-term process. Don’t panic over the absolute numbers – what you want here is a downward trend on the old domain accompanied by a roughly equal upward trend on the new domain.

The fact that UserEffect.com didn’t bottom out is definitely worth monitoring, but this timespan is too short for the plateau to be a major concern. The next step would be to dig into these specific pages and look for a pattern.

(3) Monitor Rankings

The old domain is dropping out of the index, and the new domain is taking its place, but we still don’t know why the new site is taking a traffic hit. It’s time to dig into our core keyword rankings.

Historically, UserEffect.com had ranked well for keywords related to “split test calculator” (near #1) and “usability checklist” (in the top 3). While [not provided] makes keyword-level traffic analysis tricky, we also know that the split-test calculator is one of the top trafficked pages on the site, so let’s dig into that one. Here’s the ranking data from Moz Analytics for “split test calculator”:

The new site took over the #1 position from the old site at first, but then quickly dropped down to the #3/#4 ranking. That may not sound like a lot, but given this general keyword category was one of the site’s top traffic drivers, the CTR drop from #1 to #3/#4 could definitely be causing problems.

When you have a specific keyword you can diagnose, it’s worth taking a look at the live SERP, just to get some context. The day after relaunch, I captured this result for “dr. pete”:

Here, the new domain is ranking, but it’s showing the old title tag. This may not be cause for alarm – weird things often happen in the very short term – but in this case we know that I accidentally set up a 302-redirect. There’s some reason to believe that Google didn’t pass full link equity during that period when 301s weren’t implemented.

Let’s look at a domain where the 301s behaved properly. Before the site was inactive, AreYouARealDoctor.com ranked #1 for “are you a real doctor”. Since there was an inactive period, and I dropped the exact-match domain, it wouldn’t be surprising to see a corresponding ranking drop.

In reality, the new site was ranking #1 for “are you a real doctor” within 2 weeks of 301-redirecting the old domain. The graph is just a horizontal line at #1, so I’m not going to bother you with it, but here’s a current screenshot (incognito):

Early on, I also spot-checked this result, and it wasn’t showing the strange title tag crossover that UserEffect.com pages exhibited. So, it’s very likely that the 302-redirects caused some problems.

Of course, these are just a couple of keywords, but I hope it provides a starting point for you to understand how to methodically approach this problem. There’s no use crying over spilled milk, and I’m not going to fire myself, so let’s move on to checking any other errors that I might have missed.

(4) Check Errors (404s, etc.)

A good first stop for unexpected errors is the “Crawl Errors” report in Google Webmaster Tools (Crawl > Crawl Errors). This is going to take some digging, especially if you’ve deliberately 404’ed some content. Over the couple of weeks after re-launch, I spotted the following problems:

The old site had a “/blog” directory, but the new site put the blog right on the home-page and had no corresponding directory. Doh. Hey, do as I say, not as I do, ok? Obviously, this was a big blunder, as the old blog home-page was well-trafficked.

The other two errors here are smaller but easy to correct. MinimalTalent.com had a “/free” directory that housed downloads (mostly PDFs). I missed it, since my other sites used a different format. Luckily, this was easy to remap.

The last error is a weird looking URL, and there are other similar URLs in the 404 list. This is where site knowledge is critical. I custom-designed a URL shortener for UserEffect.com and, in some cases, people linked to those URLs. Since those URLs didn’t exist in the site architecture, I missed them. This is where digging deep into historical traffic reports and your top-linked pages is critical. In this case, the fix isn’t easy, and I have to decide whether the loss is worth the time.

What About the New EMD?

My goal here wasn’t to rank better for “Dr. Pete,” and finally unseat Dr. Pete’s Marinades, Dr. Pete the Sodastream flavor (yes, it’s hilarious – you can stop sending me your grocery store photos), and 172 dentists. Ok, it mostly wasn’t my goal. Of course, you might be wondering how switching to an EMD worked out.

In the short term, I’m afraid the answer is “not very well.” I didn’t track ranking for “Dr. Pete” and related phrases very often before the switch, but it appears that ranking actually fell in the short-term. Current estimates have me sitting around page 4, even though my combined link profile suggests a much stronger position. Here’s a look at the ranking history for “dr pete” since relaunch (from Moz Analytics):

There was an initial drop, after which the site evened out a bit. This less-than-impressive plateau could be due to the bad 302s during transition. It could be Google evaluating a new EMD and multiple redirects to that EMD. It could be that the prevalence of natural anchor text with “Dr. Pete” pointing to my site suddenly looked unnatural when my domain name switched to DrPete.co. It could just be that this is going to take time to shake out.

If there’s a lesson here (and, admittedly, it’s too soon to tell), it’s that you shouldn’t rush to buy an EMD in 2015 in the wild hope of instantly ranking for that target phrase. There are so many factors involved in ranking for even a moderately competitive term, and your domain is just one small part of the mix.

So, What Did We Learn?

I hope you learned that I should’ve taken my own advice and planned a bit more carefully. I admit that this was a side project and it didn’t get the attention it deserved. The problem is that, even when real money is at stake, people rush these things and hope for the best. There’s a real cheerleading mentality when it comes to change – people want to take action and only see the upside.

Ultimately, in a corporate or agency environment, you can’t be the one sour note among the cheering. You’ll be ignored, and possibly even fired. That’s not fair, but it’s reality. What you need to do is make sure the work gets done right and people go into the process with eyes wide open. There’s no room for shortcuts when you’re moving to a new domain.

That said, a domain change isn’t a death sentence, either. Done right, and with sensible goals in mind – balancing not just SEO but broader marketing and business objectives – a domain migration can be successful, even across multiple sites.

To sum up: Plan, plan, plan, monitor, monitor, monitor, and try not to panic.

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Reblogged 4 years ago from tracking.feedpress.it

The Most Important Link Penalty Removal Tool: Your Mindset

Posted by Eric Enge

Let’s face it. Getting slapped by a manual link penalty, or by the Penguin algorithm, really stinks. Once this has happened to you, your business is in a world of hurt. Worse still is the fact that you can’t get clear information from Google on which of your links are the bad ones. In today’s post, I am going to focus on the number one reason why people fail to get out from under these types of problems, and how to improve your chances of success.

The mindset

Success begins, continues, and ends with the right mindset. A large percentage of people I see who go through a link cleanup process are not aggressive enough about cleaning up their links. They worry about preserving some of that hard-won link juice they obtained over the years.

You have to start by understanding what a link cleanup process looks like, and just how long it can take. Some of the people I have spoken with have gone through a process like this one:

link removal timeline

In this fictitious timeline example, we see someone who spends four months working on trying to recover, and at the end of it all, they have not been successful.
A lot of time and money have been spent, and they have nothing to show for it. Then, the people at Google get frustrated and send them a message that basically tells them they are not getting it. At this point, they have no idea when they will be able to recover. The result is that the complete process might end up taking six months or more.

In contrast, imagine someone who is far more aggressive in removing and disavowing links. They are so aggressive that 20 percent of the links they cut out are actually ones that Google has not currently judged as being bad. They also start on March 9, and by April 30, the penalty has been lifted on their site.

Now they can begin rebuilding their business, five or months sooner than the person who does not take as aggressive an approach. Yes, they cut out some links that Google was not currently penalizing, but this is a small price to pay for getting your penalty cleared five months sooner. In addition, using our mindset-based approach, the 20 percent of links we cut out were probably not links that were helping much anyway, and that Google might also take action on them in the future.

Now that you understand the approach, it’s time to make the commitment. You have to make the decision that you are going to do whatever it takes to get this done, and that getting it done means cutting hard and deep, because that’s what will get you through it the fastest. Once you’ve got your head on straight about what it will take and have summoned the courage to go through with it, then and only then, you’re ready to do the work. Now let’s look at what that work entails.

Obtaining link data

We use four sources of data for links:

  1. Google Webmaster Tools
  2. Open Site Explorer
  3. Majestic SEO
  4. ahrefs

You will want to pull in data from all four of these sources, get them into one list, and then dedupe them to create a master list. Focus only on followed links as well, as nofollowed links are not an issue. The overall process is shown here:

pulling a link set

One other simplification is also possible at this stage. Once you have obtained a list of the followed links, there is another thing you can do to dramatically simplify your life.
You don’t need to look at every single link.

You do need to look at a small sampling of links from every domain that links to you. Chances are that this is a significantly smaller quantity of links to look at than all links. If a domain has 12 links to you, and you look at three of them, and any of those are bad, you will need to disavow the entire domain anyway.

I take the time to emphasize this because I’ve seen people with more than 1 million inbound links from 10,000 linking domains. Evaluating 1 million individual links could take a lifetime. Looking at 10,000 domains is not small, but it’s 100 times smaller than 1 million. But here is where the mindset comes in.
Do examine every domain.

This may be a grinding and brutal process, but there is no shortcut available here. What you don’t look at will hurt you. The sooner you start on the entire list, the sooner you will get the job done.

How to evaluate links

Now that you have a list, you can get to work. This is a key part where having the right mindset is critical. The first part of the process is really quite simple. You need to eliminate each and every one of these types of links:

  1. Article directory links
  2. Links in forum comments, or their related profiles
  3. Links in blog comments, or their related profiles
  4. Links from countries where you don’t operate/sell your products
  5. Links from link sharing schemes such as Link Wheels
  6. Any links you know were paid for

Here is an example of a foreign language link that looks somewhat out of place:

foreign language link

For the most part, you should also remove any links you have from web directories. Sure, if you have a link from DMOZ, Business.com, or BestofTheWeb.com, and the most important one or two directories dedicated to your market space, you can probably keep those.

For a decade I have offered people a rule for these types of directories, which is “no more than seven links from directories.” Even the good ones carry little to no value, and the bad ones can definitely hurt you. So there is absolutely no win to be had running around getting links from a bunch of directories, and there is no win in trying to keep them during a link cleanup process.

Note that I am NOT talking about local business directories such as Yelp, CityPages, YellowPages, SuperPages, etc. Those are a different class of directory that you don’t need to worry about. But general purpose web directories are, generally speaking, a poison.

Rich anchor text

Rich anchor text has been the downfall of many a publisher. Here is one of my favorite examples ever of rich anchor text:

The author wanted the link to say “buy cars,” but was too lazy to fit the two words into the same sentence! Of course, you may have many guest posts that you have written that are not nearly as obvious as this one. One great way to deal with that is to take your list of links that you built and sort them by URL and look at the overall mix of anchor text. You know it’s a problem if it looks anything like this:

overly optimized anchor text

The problem with the distribution in the above image is that the percentage of links that are non “rich” in nature is way too small. In the real world, most people don’t conveniently link to you using one of your key money phrases. Some do, but it’s normally a small percentage.

Other types of bad links

There is no way for me to cover every type of bad link in this post, but here are other types of links, or link scenarios, to be concerned about:

  1. If a large percentage of your links are coming from over on the right rail of sites, or in the footers of sites
  2. If there are sites that give you a site-wide link, or a very large number of links from one domain
  3. Links that come from sites whose IP address is identical in the A block, B block, and C block (read more about what these are here)
  4. Links from crappy sites

The definition of a crappy site may seem subjective, but if a site has not been updated in a while, or its information is of poor quality, or it just seems to have no one who cares about it, you can probably consider it a crappy site. Remember our discussion on mindset. Your objective is to be harsh in cleaning up your links.

In fact, the most important principle in evaluating links is this:
If you can argue that it’s a good link, it’s NOT. You don’t have to argue for good quality links. To put it another way, if they are not obviously good, then out they go!

Quick case study anecdote: I know of someone who really took a major knife to their backlinks. They removed and/or disavowed every link they had that was below a Moz Domain Authority of 70. They did not even try to justify or keep any links with lower DA than that. It worked like a champ. The penalty was lifted. If you are willing to try a hyper-aggressive approach like this one, you can avoid all the work evaluating links I just outlined above. Just get the Domain Authority data for all the links pointing to your site and bring out the hatchet.

No doubt that they ended up cutting out a large number of links that were perfectly fine, but their approach was way faster than doing the complete domain by domain analysis.

Requesting link removals

Why is it that we request link removals? Can’t we just build a
disavow file and submit that to Google? In my experience, for manual link penalties, the answer to this question is no, you can’t. (Note: if you have been hit by Penguin, and not a manual link penalty, you may not need to request link removals.)

Yes, disavowing a link is supposed to tell Google that you don’t want to receive any PageRank, or benefit, from it. However, there is a human element at play here.
Google likes to see that you put some effort into cleaning up the bad links that you have gotten that led to your penalty. The more bad links you have, the more important this becomes.

This does make the process a lot more expensive to get through, but if you approach this with the “whatever it takes” mindset, you dive into the requesting link removal process and go ahead and get it done.

I usually have people go through three rounds of requests asking people to remove links. This can be a very annoying process for those receiving your request, so you need to be aware of that. Don’t start your email with a line like “Your site is causing mine to be penalized …”, as that’s just plain offensive.

I’d be honest, and tell them “Hey, we’ve been hit by a penalty, and as part of our effort to recover we are trying to get many of the links we have gotten to our site removed. We don’t know which sites are causing the problem, but we’d appreciate your help …”

Note that some people will come back to you and ask for money to remove the link. Just ignore them, and put their domains in your disavow file.

Once you are done with the overall removal requests, and had whatever success you have had, take the rest of the domains and disavow them. There is a complete guide to
creating a disavow file here. The one incremental tip I would add is that you should nearly always disavow entire domains, not just the individual links you see.

This is important because even with the four tools we used to get information on as many links as we could, we still only have a subset of the total links. For example, the tools may have only seen one link from a domain, but in fact you have five. If you disavow only the one link, you still have four problem links, and that will torpedo your reconsideration request.

Disavowing the domain is a better-safe-than-sorry step you should take almost every time. As I illustrated at the beginning of this post, adding extra cleanup/reconsideration request loops is very expensive for your business.

The overall process

When all is said and done, the process looks something like this:

link removal process

If you run this process efficiently, and you don’t try to cut corners, you might be able to get out from your penalty in a single pass through the process. If so, congratulations!

What about tools?

There are some fairly well-known tools that are designed to help you with the link cleanup process. These include
Link Detox and Remove’em. In addition, at STC we have developed our own internal tool that we use with our clients.

These tools can be useful in flagging some of your links, but they are not comprehensive—they will help identify some really obvious offenders, but the great majority of links you need to deal with and remove/disavow are not identified. Plan on investing substantial manual time and effort to do the heavy lifting of a comprehensive review of all your links. Remember the “mindset.”

Summary

As I write this post, I have this sense of being heartless because I outline an approach that is often grueling to execute. But consider it tough love. Recovering from link penalties is indeed brutal.
In my experience, the winners are the ones who come with meat cleaver in hand, don’t try to cut corners, and take on the full task from the very start, no matter how extensive an effort it may be.

Does this type of process succeed? You bet. Here is an example of a traffic chart from a successful recovery:

manual penalty recovery graph

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Reblogged 4 years ago from tracking.feedpress.it

Death to Wishy-Washy Reports: Simple Edits to Put the Authority Back in Your Writing

Posted by Isla_McKetta

True life confession: Although I’ve worked with some of the smartest SEOs, architects, and CPAs in the business, you couldn’t always tell from their writing. Which is a problem. Because while some of them are client-facing (so the client gets to know their smarts firsthand—either in person or on the phone), some are only known by the lackluster reports they turn in.

This is a post about how anyone (whether you’re an expert in SEO, PPC, social media, or even… content marketing) can write a clearer, more persuasive report. And the lessons contained herein can help you with any form of corporate communication, whether you’re writing for a client or your boss.

Get ready to sound smarter.

Be assertive

Being assertive doesn’t mean you should stand on your desk and shout your opinions like you’re auditioning to be the next Hulk. Instead, have confidence in the data and recommendations you’re reporting and convey that confidence in your writing. Because if you’re not confident, you might not be ready to write the report. So go double-check your research and then use the following tactics to sound like the authority you are:

Ditch “I think”

I think there are a lot of things you could possibly say to show a client what they might or might not do depending on how they interpret your recommendations.

Notice how that sentence had no spine? That’s because it’s filled with empty phrases—words that do nothing for the sentence but convey how unwilling its author is to make a point.

Phrases like “I think,” “I feel,” and “might” are couching words—things you say when you’re trying to leave yourself an out, and they make you sound passive and unsure. Go through your report and check for couching words. Ask yourself if you need them (in case of actual uncertainty like “Google might…”) or if you can cut them out and strengthen your points.

Dump the passive voice

Mistakes are often made as we try to get around to a point with our writing.

One of those mistakes is in failing to use the active voice. Every sentence has an actor (subject) and an action (verb). While it’s nice to vary your sentence structure sometimes, stick to “actor commits action” when you have something important to say (especially when you have bad news to break).

Be careful with dependent clauses

If you want to sound confident and decisive, lead with an independent clause instead of a dependent one (like I did here). 

Time for a (mercifully quick) jump back to elementary school grammar. Independent clauses are the ones that can stand on their own as a complete sentence. They have a subject, verb, and usually an object. Dependent clauses don’t.

Dependent clauses are often added to an independent clause to increase the level of information in a sentence. Let’s flip that last sentence so you can watch the dependent clause move from the end to the front:

To increase the level of information in a sentence, dependent clauses are often added to an independent clause.

Dependent clauses are very useful, but some writers fall into a pattern of starting most of their sentences with them. That delay of the independent clause can make you sound like you’re hesitating to get to the point. It can also make you seem passive or like there’s something you’re trying to hide. That’s not how you want to come off in a report.

Choose a point of view (and stick to it)

Some companies prefer to write from a formal (and somewhat) distant third person perspective where “I” is never used; I prefer the more conversational first person. 

You can write your report from any point of view you want, but be careful with those pronouns.

The most common mistake I see is for the writer to get indecisive with the pronouns and start throwing around the word “we” as in “we need to fix your title tags.” Which could mean that the consultant is taking responsibility for the title tags, or it could be a general suggestion that the title tags need fixing.

Try instead, “your title tags need to be updated; we plan to start work on those during the second month of our engagement.” Still uses the word “we,” but now it’s more obvious who’s doing what (and will save you some embarrassing followup conversations).

Write for your audience

Industries with a high degree of fiduciary responsibility are often more accustomed to the use of a formal tone. Meanwhile, writers in other industries, like fashion, automotive, and anything related to the Internet, can get away with a much more casual voice. 

You may have noticed by now that I start a lot of sentences with conjunctions like “and” and “but.” I also use contractions. Both are part of a conversational tone that’s “Mozzy,” but if I was writing for a different audience, I would button the top button on my style (and maybe even add a tie).

You know your clients and their style of communication. It’s reflected in everything from their RFP to the latest call. Try to mirror their tone (unless you think they came to you for a big shakeup) and your audience will feel like you understand their culture and needs. That means your work is more likely to be accepted.

Explain things

Remember that you were hired because of your unique expertise. That means that you know things the person reading the report doesn’t.

When you’re introducing a concept your client or boss likely hasn’t encountered (or might be a little rusty on), give a short refresher to keep them engaged.

Don’t over-explain things

No one likes to feel like an idiot. Going step by step through all the things anyone could ever want to know about a concept (whether foreign or not) has the potential to not only annoy your audience, but also distract from your main point.

If you come across a concept in writing your report that requires extensive education of your reader, either create an addendum where they can read as much as they need to, or schedule a phone call, training, or other way to get them all the info they need.

Use numbers (wisely)

Ninety-nine percent of SEOs have more data than they can ever reasonably convey to the client.

That’s because clients (at least sane ones) don’t want to know what every single keyword ranked on every day last month. They want to know if their overall rankings are up or down, what that means for their business, and how to push rankings upward in general in the future.

Numbers are very useful (and can be very powerful) if you’re using graphs and tables that tell a story, but without your interpretation, they’re all kind of meaningless.

So although you have access to all the numbers in the world, the real magic of your report is in getting inside your reader’s head and figuring out what they need to understand about the numbers. Then use the analysis portion of your report to translate that data into answers.

Write fewer words

Concision is an art. Redundancy is annoying. Write as few words as you can to convey your point.

Don’t let big words interfere with meaning

An immense vocabulary can obfuscate significance.

This is true of using big words to sound smart and also if you’re spouting jargon at people who don’t understand it. You might notice from reading this post that I use very little jargon. That’s because the vocab words I learned in creative writing won’t mean anything to most of you and I can usually find a clearer way to express marketing jargon.

So if your clients (and all the people who will read the report) regularly use words like “earned media,” “freemium,” and “EPV,” you can use them too. But if you have any doubt, try to find a way to use a more accessible word or add some context so everyone can follow you.

Think about general scanability

Your clients are busy. You want them to get the most out of a report they might only ever scan. 

All the things you’ve learned about writing for the Internet apply to writing reports:

  • Short sentences (that aren’t choppy) are easier to read.
  • Keeping each paragraph to one topic with a topic sentence makes it easier to scan.
  • Using bullet points (when appropriate) will help your reader digest all that information you’ve created for them.

Help your reader out by making all your great information intelligible.

Employ an executive summary

Keep the person who signs your checks in the loop with a few words. 

To write an effective executive summary, give the highlights:

  • Why was the work undertaken?
  • What problems were found?
  • Next steps

The summary should run between a paragraph and a page (depending on how long your report is). That means you want to save all that delicious analysis you’ve slaved over for the report itself.

Use templates at your own risk

I know, a lot of the things you’re saying to one client are 90% the same as what you’re saying to the next client, and creating a template just makes your job more efficient. But if you aren’t carefully reading the resulting document, you might be making a mistake (like using the wrong client name or giving them instructions for Omniture when they use GA) that takes much longer to clean up than writing an original report would have.

Trust me, about the third time you’re reading over the same words in the same order (even if for different clients), you are too far inside the template to see the mistakes. But your client is reading this report for the first time ever and they won’t miss a thing :/. Speaking of which…

Proofreading isn’t optional

You aren’t qualified to proofread you’re [sic] own work. 

Not saying anything about your reading or grammar skills, but I’m 99% certain that you’ve spent so long staring at that report that you are beyond spotting your own typos. Find a second reader. If you’re in absolute dire straits and can’t find a buddy, read the report aloud to yourself.

Feel smarter already? I hope so. Because you’ve worked too hard to pull all that information together just to have it fall flat because of a bad report. Tell me about your report writing disasters (and things you’d like help with) in the comments.

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Reblogged 4 years ago from tracking.feedpress.it

Effective Outreach: Making It as Easy as Possible for Journalists to Say "Yes"

Posted by Beverley_Distilled

As part of the promotions and online PR team at Distilled, I spend the majority of my time trying to get the attention of journalists. If you’ve ever worked in PR you’ll know that this isn’t always as easy as it sounds. Journalists are busy. They’re on a deadline, they’re knee-deep in an article that’s exponentially more timely than whatever you’re pitching to get coverage for. That email you spent half an hour perfecting? It’s getting scanned for something newsworthy, for surprising facts, for data that’s going to make an interesting story, and something that’s going to make their readers hit the ‘share’ buttons.

When I’m not working at Distilled, I run a travel blog and I’m a freelance writer. Consequently I find myself on the receiving end of the kind of emails I send out in my day job. More often than not, I hit the archive button and move on. Why? Because a lot of the pitches I get are totally irrelevant to my readership and, honestly, if you can’t take one minute to visit my site ask yourself whether you actually want you client in front of an audience of travel-lovers, then welcome to my trash folder.

That’s not where you want to be; the trash folder. You want to be in the yes folder, if there is in fact such a thing. You want your email to be so compelling, so full of the little details that make a journalist’s job easier, that their mouse doesn’t even hover near the delete button, let alone actually press it.

So how do you make it easy for a journalist to say yes to you?

Stop with the flattery

Flattery might work when you’re doing blogger outreach. Or, should I say, genuine flattery works; as a blogger I’ve received way too many emails where the the first sentence reads like a random positive adjective generator’s been used to say some nice things about my blog so that the sender, seemingly too busy to visit my site for a few minutes, doesn’t have to do any actual research.

Genuine flattery works with bloggers because it’s our site, our hard work, our money being poured into site design and hosting every month, our bedside lamps burning until the early hours as we write, and promote, and plan, and pitch.

Journalists are doing their jobs. You don’t need to tell them that the article they wrote for The Atlantic back in 2013 really resonated with you. You don’t need to try to make them like you. You don’t need to make them feel all warm and fuzzy inside. So stop. Stop with the flattery and get to the point.

‘CC’ is a big no-no

I get it, OK, you’re busy. I’m busy. We’re all busy. You know what you shouldn’t be too busy to do if you really want journalists to cover your story? You shouldn’t be so busy that you don’t have a few minutes to send a separate email to each journalist you’re pitching.

Unless you’re pitching an exclusive story journalists know that you’re probably going to be pitching to more than one publication. That’s OK, that’s what you should be doing to try and obtain the maximum amount of coverage for your company or client.

What you don’t want them to think is that you’ve sent the exact same email to every single journalist with the exact same information which, if you send a blanket email, is basically what you’re doing.

When you do that you’re almost saying ‘OK, I’ve done no research into your publication, no research into the kinds of articles you’ve written in the past, and I haven’t tailored any of my pitch to appeal to you or your audience’ which is exactly what you don’t want.

Write some of the story for them

Imagine if you told your friends you’d cook them dinner anytime they wanted. They wouldn’t have to give you any notice. All they had to do was turn up at your door with the ingredients.

Except word gets around and, one day, you’re facing the prospect of cooking 20 different meals for 20 different friends. I don’t know what your culinary skills are like but can we all just agree that this would be a somewhat stressful and annoying situation?

Now imagine that those 20 people turn up with their ingredients again, except this time they’ve done some of the work for you. Onions have been diced, garlic’s been crushed. Everything you need to make the meal is there, you just need to bind them together.

How much better do you feel? How much more willing are you to forgive your friends for turning up unannounced?

That’s kind of what you need to do for journalists. No, not invite them around for dinner; do some of the work for them so that they can write the story around the facts.

In practical terms, I tend to take the stats that are most relevant to their audience, the parts that I want them to focus on, and include them in my pitch email on separate lines. This way, the journalist can see the most important details at a glance without having to dig through data, or read a huge press release. Help them write the story you want them to write about your client and you’re much more likely to get a ‘yes’ out of them.

Don’t Be a Tease, Be Proactive

Do you have images that the journalist can use should they choose to run the story? Do you have a press release with more information in it? Do you have contact details for your company or client’s spokesperson?

Maybe you have an awesome interactive graphic the journalist can feature, or an iframe they can use to host it on their site fully. Maybe you have all the things.

So why are you only teasing the journalist in your first email?

‘I have some photos of the product if you want to use them’

‘I can also get your the details of our expert on this.’

‘Let me know if you need anything else.’

Seriously? If you have these things available, give them to the journalist now. Be proactive. If you think they’re going to be useful include them in your email. Attach the photos, copy the press release underneath your pitch in the body of the email, include the iframe code.

Journalists are under more pressure than ever to get stories published. They don’t spend all day working on one article, they’re writing multiple articles each day. This is why it’s so important that you give them everything you think they could possibly need so that they can get on with writing the story instead of replying to your email.

Build a relationship

Good news: you did your research, you sent a pitch, and a journalist covered your story. But your relationship with that journalist doesn’t stop there. In fact, what you do after they’ve hit publish on their article is almost as important as everything you did before you hit send on your pitch.

A couple of weeks ago, I got a piece of creative we’d built for one of our clients some coverage on the site of one of the UK’s largest national newspapers so, afterwards, I emailed my contact to say ‘thank you’ and shared the article on my social media channels. It literally took me all of 10 seconds.

I mean, sure, I didn’t get another email back from my contact (remember when I said journalists were busy?) but that’s because, by that point, she was probably more interested in writing her next article.

And that’s OK, because the next time I have a story I think she’d be interested in covering, and I email her, I’ll carry on the email thread and she’ll know that I was helpful, and quick to reply, and courteous. Things that go a long way in the world of PR.

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Reblogged 4 years ago from tracking.feedpress.it

For Writers Only: Secrets to Improving Engagement on Your Content Using Word Pictures (and I Don’t Mean Wordle)

Posted by Isla_McKetta

“Picture it.”

If you’re of a certain generation, those two words can only conjure images of tiny, white-haired Sophia from the Golden Girls about to tell one of her engaging (if somewhat long and irrelevant) stories as she holds her elderly roommates hostage in the kitchen or living room of their pastel-hued Miami home.

Even if you have no idea what I’m talking about, those words should become your writing mantra, because what readers do with your words is take all those letters and turn them into mind pictures. And as the writer, you have control over what those pictures look like and how long your readers mull them over.

According to
Reading in the Brain by Stanislas Dehaene, reading involves a rich back and forth between the language areas and visual areas of our brains. Although the full extent of that connectivity is not yet known, it’s easy to imagine that the more sensory (interesting) information we can include in our writing, the more fully we can engage our readers.

So if you’re a writer or content marketer you should be harnessing the illustrative power of words to occupy your readers’ minds and keep them interested until they’re ready to convert. Here’s how to make your words
work for you.

Kill clichés

I could have titled this piece “Painting a Picture with Words” but you’ve heard it. Over and over and over. And I’m going to propose that every time you use a cliché, a puppy dies. 

While that’s a bit extreme (at least I hope so because that’s a lot of dead puppies and Rocky’s having second thoughts about his choice of parents), I hope it will remind you to read over what you’ve written and see where your attention starts to wander (wandering attention=cliché=one more tragic, senseless death) you get bored. Chances are it’s right in the middle of a tired bit of language that used to be a wonderful word picture but has been used and abused to the point that we readers can’t even summon the image anymore.

Make up metaphors (and similes)

Did you know that most clichés used to be metaphors? And that we overused them because metaphors are possibly the most powerful tool we have at our disposal for creating word pictures (and, thus, engaging content)? You do now.

By making unexpected comparisons, metaphors and similes force words to perform like a stage mom on a reality show. These comparisons shake our brains awake and force us to pay attention. So apply a whip to your language. Make it dance like a ballerina in a little pink tutu. Give our brains something interesting to sink our teeth into (poor Rocky!), gnaw on, and share with out friends.

Engage the senses

If the goal of all this attention to language is to turn reading into a full brain experience, why not make it a little easier by including sensory information in whatever you’re writing? Here are a few examples:

  • These tickets are selling so fast we can smell the burning rubber.
  • Next to a crumbling cement pillar, our interview subject sits typing on his pristine MacBook Air.
  • In a sea of (yelp!) never ending horde of black and gray umbrellas, this red cowboy hat will show the world you own your look.
  • Black hat tactics left your SERPs stinking as bad as a garbage strike in late August? Let us help you clear the air by cleaning up those results.

See how those images and experiences continue to unfold and develop in your mind? You have the power to affect your readers the same way—to create an image so powerful it stays with them throughout their busy days. One note of caution, though, sensory information is so strong that you want to be careful when creating potentially negative associations (like that garbage strike stench in the final example).

Leverage superlatives (wisely) and ditch hyperbole

SUPERLATIVES ARE THE MOST EFFECTIVEST TOOL YOU CAN USE EVER (until you wear your reader out or lose their trust). Superlatives (think “best,” “worst,” “hairiest” – any form of the adjective or adverb that is the most exaggerated form of the word) are one of the main problems with clickbait headlines (the other being the failure to deliver on those huge promises).

Speaking of exaggeration, be careful with it in all of its forms. You don’t actually have to stop using it, but think of your reader’s credence in your copy as a grasshopper handed over by a child. They think it’s super special and they want you to as well. If you mistreat that grasshopper by piling exaggerated fact after exaggerated fact on top of it, the grasshopper will be crushed and your reader will not easily forgive you.

So how do you stand out in a crowded field of over-used superlatives and hyperbolic claims? Find the places your products honestly excel and tout those. At Moz we don’t have the largest link index in the world. Instead, we have a really high quality link index. I could have obfuscated there and said we have “the best” link index, but by being specific about what we’re actually awesome at, we end up attracting customers who want better results instead of more results (and they’re happier for it).

Unearth the mystery

One of the keys to piquing your audience’s interest is to tap into (poor puppy!) create or find the mystery in what you’re writing. I’m not saying your product description will suddenly feature PIs in fedoras (I can dream, though), but figure out what’s intriguing or new about what you’re talking about. Here are some examples:

  • Remember when shortcuts meant a few extra minutes to yourself after school? How will you spend the 15-30 minutes our email management system will save you? We won’t tell…
  • You don’t need to understand how this toilet saves water while flushing so quietly it won’t wake the baby, just enjoy a restful night’s sleep (and lower water bills)
  • Check out this interactive to see what makes our work boots more comfortable than all the rest.

Secrets, surprises, and inside information make readers hunger for more knowledge. Use that power to get your audience excited about the story you’re about to tell them.

Don’t forget the words around your imagery

Notice how some of these suggestions aren’t about the word picture itself, they’re about the frame around the picture? I firmly believe that a reader comes to a post with a certain amount of energy. You can waste that energy by soothing them to sleep with boring imagery and clichés, while they try to find something to be interested in. Or you can give them energy by giving them word pictures they can get excited about.

So picture it. You’ve captured your reader’s attention with imagery so engaging they’ll remember you after they put down their phone, read their social streams (again), and check their email. They’ll come back to your site to read your content again or to share that story they just can’t shake.

Good writing isn’t easy or fast, but it’s worth the time and effort.

Let me help you make word pictures

Editing writing to make it better is actually one of my great pleasures in life, so I’m going to make you an offer here. Leave a sentence or two in the comments that you’re having trouble activating, and I’ll see what I can do to offer you some suggestions. Pick a cliché you can’t get out of your head or a metaphor that needs a little refresh. Give me a little context for the best possible results.

I’ll do my best to help the first 50 questions or so (I have to stop somewhere or I’ll never write the next blog post in this series), so ask away. I promise no puppies will get hurt in the process. In fact, Rocky’s quite happy to be the poster boy for this post—it’s the first time we’ve let him have beach day, ferry day, and all the other spoilings all at once.

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Reblogged 4 years ago from tracking.feedpress.it