How to Find Your True Local Competitors

Posted by MiriamEllis

Who are your clients’ true competitors?

It’s a question that’s become harder to answer. What felt like a fairly simple triangulation between Google, brand, and searcher in the early days of the local web has multiplied into a geodesic dome of localization, personalization, intent matching, and other facets.

This evolution from a simple shape to a more complex shape has the local SEO industry starting to understand the need to talk about trends and patterns vs. empirical rankings.

For instance, you might notice that you just can’t deliver client reports that say, “Congratulations, you’re #1” anymore. And that’s because the new reality is that there is no #1 for all searchers. A user on the north side of town may see a completely different local pack of results if they go south, or if they modify their search language. An SEO may get a whole different SERP if they search on one rank checking tool vs. another — or even on the same tool, just five minutes later.

Despite all this, you still need to analyze and report — it remains a core task to audit a client’s competitive landscape.

 Today, let’s talk about how we can distill this dynamic, complex environment down to the simplest shapes to understand who your client’s true competitors are. I’ll be sharing a spreadsheet to help you and your clients see the trends and patterns that can create the basis for competitive strategy.

Why are competitive audits necessary…and challenging?

Before we dive into a demo, let’s sync up on what the basic point is of auditing local competitors. Essentially, you’re seeking contrast — you stack up two brands side-by-side to discover the metrics that appear to be making one of them dominant in the local or localized organic SERPs.

From there, you can develop a strategy to emulate the successes of the current winner with the goal of meeting and then surpassing them with superior efforts.

But before you start comparing your brand A to their brand B, you’ve got to know who brand B actually is. What obstacles do you face?

1. SERPs are incredibly diversified

    A recent STAT whitepaper that looked at 1.2 million keywords says it all: every SERP is a local SERP. And since both local packs and organic results are both subject to the whims of geo-location and geo-modification, incorporating them into your tracking strategy is a must.

    To explain, imagine two searchers are sitting on the same couch. One searches for “Mexican restaurant” and the other searches for “Mexican restaurant near me”. Then, they divvy up searching “Mexican restaurant near me” vs. “Mexican restaurant in San Jose”. And, so on. What they see are local packs that are only about 80 percent similar based on Google recognizing different intents. That’s significant variability.

    The scenario gets even more interesting when one of the searchers gets up and travels across town to a different zip code. At that point, the two people making identical queries can see local packs that range from only about 26–65 percent similar. In other words, quite different.

    Now, let’s say your client wants to rank for seven key phrases — like “Mexican restaurant,” “Mexican restaurant near me,” “Mexican restaurant San Jose,” “best Mexican restaurant,” “cheap Mexican restaurant,” etc. Your client doesn’t have just three businesses to compete against in the local pack; they now have multiple multiples of three!

    2) Even good rank tracking tools can be inconsistent

    There are many useful local rank tracking tools out there, and one of the most popular comes to us from BrightLocal. I really like the super easy interface of this tool, but there is a consistency issue with this and other tools I’ve tried, which I’ve captured in a screenshot, below.

    Here I’m performing the same search at 5-minute intervals, showing how the reported localized organic ranking of a single business vary widely across time.

    The business above appears to move from position 5 to position 12. This illustrates the difficulty of answering the question of who is actually the top competitor when using a tool. My understanding is that this type of variability may result from the use of proxies. If you know of a local rank checker that doesn’t do this, please let our community know in the comments.

    In the meantime, what I’ve discovered in my own work is that it’s really hard to find a strong and consistent substitute for manually checking which competitors rank where, on the ground. So, let’s try something out together.

    The simplest solution for finding true competitors

    Your client owns a Mexican restaurant and has seven main keyword phrases they want to compete for. Follow these five easy steps:

    Step 1: Give the client a local pack crash course

    If the client doesn’t already know, teach them how to perform a search on Google and recognize what a local pack is. Show them how businesses in the pack rank 1, 2, and 3. If they have more questions about local packs, how they show up in results, and how Google ranks content, they can check out our updated Beginners Guide to SEO.

    Step 2: Give the client a spreadsheet and a tiny bit of homework

    Give the client a copy of this free spreadsheet, filled out with their most desired keyword phrases. Have them conduct seven searches from a computer located at their place of business* and then fill out the spreadsheet with the names of the three competitors they see for each of the seven phrases. Tell them not to pay attention to any of the other fields of the spreadsheet.

    *Be sure the client does this task from their business’ physical location as this is the best way to see what searchers in their area will see in the local results. Why are we doing this? Because Google weights proximity of the searcher-to-the-business so heavily, we have to pretend we’re a searcher at or near the business to emulate Google’s “thought process”.

    Step 3: Roll up your sleeves for your part of the work

    Now it’s your turn. Look up “directions Google” in Google.

    Enter your client’s business address and the address of their first competitor. Write down the distance in the spreadsheet. Repeat for every entry in each of the seven local packs. This will take you approximately 10–15 minutes to cover all 21 locations, so make sure you’re doing it on company time to ensure you’re on the clock.

    Step 4: Get measuring

    Now, in the 2nd column of the spreadsheet, note down the greatest distance Google appears to be going to fill out the results for each pack.

    Step 5: Identify competitors by strength

    Finally, rate the competitors by the number of times each one appears across all seven local packs. Your spreadsheet should now look something like this:

    Looking at the example sheet above, we’ve learned that:

    • Mi Casa and El Juan’s are the dominant competitors in your client’s market, ranking in 4/7 packs. Plaza Azul is also a strong competitor, with a place in 3/7 packs.
    • Don Pedro’s and Rubio’s are noteworthy with 2/7 pack appearances.
    • All the others make just one pack appearance, making them basic competitors.
    • The radius to which Google is willing to expand to find relevant businesses varies significantly, depending on the search term. While they’re having to go just a couple of miles to find competitors for “Mexican restaurant”, they’re forced to go more than 15 miles for a long tail term like “organic Mexican restaurant”.

    You now know who the client’s direct competitors are for their most desired searches, and how far Google is willing to go to make up a local pack for each term. You have discovered a pattern of most dominant competition across your client’s top phrases, signaling which players need to be audited to yield clues about which elements are making them so strong.

    The pros and cons of the simple search shape

    The old song says that it’s a gift to be simple, but there are some drawbacks to my methodology, namely:

    • You’ll have to depend on the client to help you out for a few minutes, and some clients are not very good at participation, so you’ll need to convince them of the value of their doing the initial searches for you.
    • Manual work is sometimes tedious.
    • Scaling this for a multi-location enterprise would be time-consuming.
    • Some of your clients are going to be located in large cities and will want to know what competitors are showing up for users across town and in different zip codes. Sometimes, it will be possible to compete with these differently-located competitors, but not always. At any rate, our approach doesn’t cover this scenario and you will be stuck with either using tools (with their known inconsistencies), or sending the client across town to search from that locale. This could quickly become a large chore.

    Negatives aside, the positives of this very basic exercise are:

    • Instead of tying yourself to the limited vision of a single local pack and a single set of competitors, you are seeing a trend, a pattern of dominant market-wide competitors.
    • You will have swiftly arrived at a base set of dominant, strong, and noteworthy competitors to audit, with the above-stated goal of figuring out what’s helping them to win so that you can create a client strategy for emulating and surpassing them.
    • Your agency will have created a useful view of your client’s market, understanding the difference between businesses that seem very embedded (like Mi Casa) across multiple packs, vs. those (like Taco Bell) that are only one-offs and could possibly be easier to outpace.
    • You may discover some extremely valuable competitive intel for your client. For example, if Google is having to cast a 15-mile net to find an organic Mexican restaurant, what if your client started offering more organic items on their menu, writing more about this and getting more reviews that mention it? This will give Google a new option, right in town, to consider for local pack inclusion.
    • It’s really quite fast to do for a single-location business.
    • Client buy-in should be a snap for any research they’ve personally helped on, and the spreadsheet should be something they can intuitively and immediately understand.

    My questions for you

    I’d like to close by asking you some questions about your work doing competitive audits for local businesses. I’d be truly interested in your replies as we all work together to navigate the complex shape of Google’s SERPs:

    1. What percentage of your clients “get” that Google’s results have become so dynamic, with different competitors being shown for different queries and different packs being based on searcher location? What percentage of your clients are “there yet” with this concept vs. the old idea of just being #1, period?
    2. I’ve offered you a manual process for getting at trustworthy data on competitors, but as I’ve said, it does take some work. If something could automate this process for you, especially for multi-location clients, would you be interested in hearing more about it?
    3. How often do you do competitive audits for clients? Monthly? Every six months? Annually?

    Thanks for responding, and allow me to wish you and your clients a happy and empowering audit!

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

    Reblogged 4 months ago from tracking.feedpress.it

    The true taste of success: Monin stays connected to customers and understands what drives them

    To inspire brand loyalty, you need to stay connected and understand what interests your customers. Why should they keep coming back? What can you offer them that a competitor can’t?

    dotmailer gives you access to seamless integrations with ecommerce platforms, such as Magento, to help you achieve real results. Take the world-famous syrup brand Monin, for example, whose products adorn restaurants, coffee shops and bars in over 160 countries. The brand recognized that, to meet the needs of its diverse customer base, they needed to bring their ecommerce and email closer together.

    We’ve been working closely with Monin since 2015, helping the brand create an effective content strategy, refine its automation programs and improve its audience segmentation. This was made possible by the insight that the dotmailer-for-Magento integration offers.

    The brand’s success has been considerable, and we’re delighted to announce that Monin was shortlisted for the Imagine Excellence Award with dotmailer – for Commerce Marketing Team of the Year 2018.

    Bringing the in-store experience online

    Understanding that content was a key driver of engagement, Monin focused on generating ideas that perfectly paired dotmailer and Magento. To complement a new email campaign, Monin populated their website with relevant content – from recipes to ‘Tips & Techniques’. A super-smooth path to purchase was on the cards for customers; a call to action on the perfect iced latte experience drove readers to click through, read an inspirational blog, and head to the checkout – equipped with the syrups needed to recreate it themselves.

    Getting the right message to the right customer – at the right time

    To tackle the midweek lull in traffic, Monin combined the insights gathered from Magento and dotmailer to identify preferences based on user behavior. The brand was then able to target specific content and promotions to these segments. Utilizing our WebInsight tool, Monin tracked customers’ browsing history, enabling them to curate content and recommend products based on previous purchases, recently-visited product pages and abandoned cart items.

    The brand’s biggest success story was its carefully planned ‘Monin Mondays’ campaign, capitalizing on slow Mondays and Tuesdays: days with typically low levels of orders. The campaign was run routinely – four to five times a year – and specifically targeted lapsed customers, those yet to make a purchase and VIPs. Spontaneously landing in inboxes with hard-hitting discounts, this campaign boosted sales by a phenomenal 400%!

    These new tactics, harnessing the data and capabilities of dotmailer and its integration with Magento, have contributed to a dramatic increase in Monin’s online sales. There has been a 20% increase in conversion rates and a 10% lift in revenue generated by email. Job well done, Monin!

    For more inspiration about how dotmailer can help you, visit our customer success page or contact your account manager.

    What are the Imagine Excellence Awards?

    Imagine is the annual conference hosted by Magento. One of the highlights of the conference is the Imagine Excellence Awards, announced on the day of the event. They celebrate the achievement in leadership, innovation, teamwork and impact of Magento merchants, developers and partners over the previous twelve months.

    In 2018, they received 250 submissions across 16 categories. Those nominated are shining examples of innovation, customer experience, design, and business acumen.

     

    The post The true taste of success: Monin stays connected to customers and understands what drives them appeared first on The Marketing Automation Blog.

    Reblogged 1 year ago from blog.dotmailer.com

    Is Australia the land of opportunity for your retail brand?

    Australia has a resident population of more than 24 million and, according to eMarketer, the country’s ecommerce sales are predicted to reach A$32.56 billion by 2017. The country’s remote location in the APAC region means that unlike European countries or the USA, traditionally there have been a lack of global brands sold locally.

    Of course, we also know that many expatriates, particularly from inside the Commonwealth, have made Australia their home and are keen to buy products they know and love from their country of origin.

    All of these factors present a huge and potentially lucrative opportunity for non-Australian brands wanting to open up their new and innovative products to a fresh market, or compete for market share.

    But it’s not just non-Australian retailers who are at an advantage here: Australia was late to the ecommerce party because native, established brands were trading well without it. Subsequently, Australian retailers’ ecommerce technology stacks are much more recent and not burdened by legacy systems. This makes it much easier to extend, or get started with, best-of-breed technologies and cash in on a market that’s booming. To put some of this into perspective, Magento’s innovative ecommerce platform currently takes 42% of Australia’s market share and the world’s first adopter of Magento 2.0 was an Australian brand.

    The GST loophole

    At the moment, local retailers are campaigning against a rule that exempts foreign websites from being charged a 10% general sales tax (GST) on purchases under A$1,000. And in 2013, Australian consumers made $3.11 billion worth of purchases under A$1,000.[1]

    While the current GST break appears to put non-Australian retailers at an advantage, Australian-based brands such as Harvey Norman are using it to their advantage by setting up ecommerce operations in Asia to enjoy the GST benefit.

    Australian consumers have also countered the argument by saying that price isn’t always the motivator when it comes to making purchasing decisions.

    It’s not a place where no man has gone before

    Often, concerns around meeting local compliance and lack of overseas business knowledge prevent outsiders from taking the leap into cross-border trade. However, this ecommerce passport, created by Ecommerce Worldwide and NORA, is designed to support those considering selling in Australia. The guide provides a comprehensive look into everything from the country’s economy and trade status, to logistics and dealing with international payments.

    Global expansion success stories are also invaluable sources of information. For instance, it’s not just lower-end retailers that are fitting the bill, with brands like online luxury fashion retailer Net-a-Porter naming Australia as one of its biggest markets.

    How tech-savvy are the Aussies?

    One of the concerns you might have as a new entrant into the market is how you’ll reach and sell to your new audience, particularly without having a physical presence. The good news is that more than 80% of the country is digitally enabled and 60% of mobile phone users own a smartphone – so online is deeply rooted into the majority of Australians’ lives. [2]

    Marketing your brand

    Heard the saying “Fire bullets then fire cannonballs”? In any case, you’ll want to test the waters and gauge people’s reactions to your product or service.

    It all starts with the website because, without it, you’re not discoverable or searchable, and you’ve nowhere to drive people to when running campaigns. SEO and SEM should definitely be a priority, and an online store that can handle multiple regions and storefronts, like Magento, will make your life easier. A mobile-first mentality and well thought-out UX will also place you in a good position.

    Once your new web store is set up, you should be making every effort to collect visitors’ email addresses, perhaps via a popover. Why? Firstly, email is one of the top three priority areas for Australian retailers, because it’s a cost-effective, scalable marketing channel that enables true personalization.

    Secondly, email marketing automation empowers you to deliver the customer experience today’s consumer expects, as well as enabling you to communicate with them throughout the lifecycle. Check out our ‘Do customer experience masters really exist?’ whitepaper for some real-life success stories.

    Like the Magento platform, dotmailer is set up to handle multiple languages, regions and accounts, and is designed to grow with you.

    In summary, there’s great scope for ecommerce success in Australia, whether you’re a native bricks-and-mortar retailer, a start-up or a non-Australian merchant. The barriers to cross-border trade are falling and Australia is one of APAC’s most developed regions in terms of purchasing power and tech savviness.

    We recently worked with ecommerce expert Chloe Thomas to produce a whitepaper on cross-border trade, which goes into much more detail on how to market and sell successfully in new territories. You can download a free copy here.

    [1] Australian Passport 2015: Cross-Border Trading Report

    [2] Australian Passport 2015: Cross-Border Trading Report

    Reblogged 3 years ago from blog.dotmailer.com

    Stop Ghost Spam in Google Analytics with One Filter

    Posted by CarloSeo

    The spam in Google Analytics (GA) is becoming a serious issue. Due to a deluge of referral spam from social buttons, adult sites, and many, many other sources, people are starting to become overwhelmed by all the filters they are setting up to manage the useless data they are receiving.

    The good news is, there is no need to panic. In this post, I’m going to focus on the most common mistakes people make when fighting spam in GA, and explain an efficient way to prevent it.

    But first, let’s make sure we understand how spam works. A couple of months ago, Jared Gardner wrote an excellent article explaining what referral spam is, including its intended purpose. He also pointed out some great examples of referral spam.

    Types of spam

    The spam in Google Analytics can be categorized by two types: ghosts and crawlers.

    Ghosts

    The vast majority of spam is this type. They are called ghosts because they never access your site. It is important to keep this in mind, as it’s key to creating a more efficient solution for managing spam.

    As unusual as it sounds, this type of spam doesn’t have any interaction with your site at all. You may wonder how that is possible since one of the main purposes of GA is to track visits to our sites.

    They do it by using the Measurement Protocol, which allows people to send data directly to Google Analytics’ servers. Using this method, and probably randomly generated tracking codes (UA-XXXXX-1) as well, the spammers leave a “visit” with fake data, without even knowing who they are hitting.

    Crawlers

    This type of spam, the opposite to ghost spam, does access your site. As the name implies, these spam bots crawl your pages, ignoring rules like those found in robots.txt that are supposed to stop them from reading your site. When they exit your site, they leave a record on your reports that appears similar to a legitimate visit.

    Crawlers are harder to identify because they know their targets and use real data. But it is also true that new ones seldom appear. So if you detect a referral in your analytics that looks suspicious, researching it on Google or checking it against this list might help you answer the question of whether or not it is spammy.

    Most common mistakes made when dealing with spam in GA

    I’ve been following this issue closely for the last few months. According to the comments people have made on my articles and conversations I’ve found in discussion forums, there are primarily three mistakes people make when dealing with spam in Google Analytics.

    Mistake #1. Blocking ghost spam from the .htaccess file

    One of the biggest mistakes people make is trying to block Ghost Spam from the .htaccess file.

    For those who are not familiar with this file, one of its main functions is to allow/block access to your site. Now we know that ghosts never reach your site, so adding them here won’t have any effect and will only add useless lines to your .htaccess file.

    Ghost spam usually shows up for a few days and then disappears. As a result, sometimes people think that they successfully blocked it from here when really it’s just a coincidence of timing.

    Then when the spammers later return, they get worried because the solution is not working anymore, and they think the spammer somehow bypassed the barriers they set up.

    The truth is, the .htaccess file can only effectively block crawlers such as buttons-for-website.com and a few others since these access your site. Most of the spam can’t be blocked using this method, so there is no other option than using filters to exclude them.

    Mistake #2. Using the referral exclusion list to stop spam

    Another error is trying to use the referral exclusion list to stop the spam. The name may confuse you, but this list is not intended to exclude referrals in the way we want to for the spam. It has other purposes.

    For example, when a customer buys something, sometimes they get redirected to a third-party page for payment. After making a payment, they’re redirected back to you website, and GA records that as a new referral. It is appropriate to use referral exclusion list to prevent this from happening.

    If you try to use the referral exclusion list to manage spam, however, the referral part will be stripped since there is no preexisting record. As a result, a direct visit will be recorded, and you will have a bigger problem than the one you started with since. You will still have spam, and direct visits are harder to track.

    Mistake #3. Worrying that bounce rate changes will affect rankings

    When people see that the bounce rate changes drastically because of the spam, they start worrying about the impact that it will have on their rankings in the SERPs.

    bounce.png

    This is another mistake commonly made. With or without spam, Google doesn’t take into consideration Google Analytics metrics as a ranking factor. Here is an explanation about this from Matt Cutts, the former head of Google’s web spam team.

    And if you think about it, Cutts’ explanation makes sense; because although many people have GA, not everyone uses it.

    Assuming your site has been hacked

    Another common concern when people see strange landing pages coming from spam on their reports is that they have been hacked.

    landing page

    The page that the spam shows on the reports doesn’t exist, and if you try to open it, you will get a 404 page. Your site hasn’t been compromised.

    But you have to make sure the page doesn’t exist. Because there are cases (not spam) where some sites have a security breach and get injected with pages full of bad keywords to defame the website.

    What should you worry about?

    Now that we’ve discarded security issues and their effects on rankings, the only thing left to worry about is your data. The fake trail that the spam leaves behind pollutes your reports.

    It might have greater or lesser impact depending on your site traffic, but everyone is susceptible to the spam.

    Small and midsize sites are the most easily impacted – not only because a big part of their traffic can be spam, but also because usually these sites are self-managed and sometimes don’t have the support of an analyst or a webmaster.

    Big sites with a lot of traffic can also be impacted by spam, and although the impact can be insignificant, invalid traffic means inaccurate reports no matter the size of the website. As an analyst, you should be able to explain what’s going on in even in the most granular reports.

    You only need one filter to deal with ghost spam

    Usually it is recommended to add the referral to an exclusion filter after it is spotted. Although this is useful for a quick action against the spam, it has three big disadvantages.

    • Making filters every week for every new spam detected is tedious and time-consuming, especially if you manage many sites. Plus, by the time you apply the filter, and it starts working, you already have some affected data.
    • Some of the spammers use direct visits along with the referrals.
    • These direct hits won’t be stopped by the filter so even if you are excluding the referral you will sill be receiving invalid traffic, which explains why some people have seen an unusual spike in direct traffic.

    Luckily, there is a good way to prevent all these problems. Most of the spam (ghost) works by hitting GA’s random tracking-IDs, meaning the offender doesn’t really know who is the target, and for that reason either the hostname is not set or it uses a fake one. (See report below)

    Ghost-Spam.png

    You can see that they use some weird names or don’t even bother to set one. Although there are some known names in the list, these can be easily added by the spammer.

    On the other hand, valid traffic will always use a real hostname. In most of the cases, this will be the domain. But it also can also result from paid services, translation services, or any other place where you’ve inserted GA tracking code.

    Valid-Referral.png

    Based on this, we can make a filter that will include only hits that use real hostnames. This will automatically exclude all hits from ghost spam, whether it shows up as a referral, keyword, or pageview; or even as a direct visit.

    To create this filter, you will need to find the report of hostnames. Here’s how:

    1. Go to the Reporting tab in GA
    2. Click on Audience in the lefthand panel
    3. Expand Technology and select Network
    4. At the top of the report, click on Hostname

    Valid-list

    You will see a list of all hostnames, including the ones that the spam uses. Make a list of all the valid hostnames you find, as follows:

    • yourmaindomain.com
    • blog.yourmaindomain.com
    • es.yourmaindomain.com
    • payingservice.com
    • translatetool.com
    • anotheruseddomain.com

    For small to medium sites, this list of hostnames will likely consist of the main domain and a couple of subdomains. After you are sure you got all of them, create a regular expression similar to this one:

    yourmaindomain\.com|anotheruseddomain\.com|payingservice\.com|translatetool\.com

    You don’t need to put all of your subdomains in the regular expression. The main domain will match all of them. If you don’t have a view set up without filters, create one now.

    Then create a Custom Filter.

    Make sure you select INCLUDE, then select “Hostname” on the filter field, and copy your expression into the Filter Pattern box.

    filter

    You might want to verify the filter before saving to check that everything is okay. Once you’re ready, set it to save, and apply the filter to all the views you want (except the view without filters).

    This single filter will get rid of future occurrences of ghost spam that use invalid hostnames, and it doesn’t require much maintenance. But it’s important that every time you add your tracking code to any service, you add it to the end of the filter.

    Now you should only need to take care of the crawler spam. Since crawlers access your site, you can block them by adding these lines to the .htaccess file:

    ## STOP REFERRER SPAM 
    RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} semalt\.com [NC,OR] 
    RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} buttons-for-website\.com [NC] 
    RewriteRule .* - [F]
    

    It is important to note that this file is very sensitive, and misplacing a single character it it can bring down your entire site. Therefore, make sure you create a backup copy of your .htaccess file prior to editing it.

    If you don’t feel comfortable messing around with your .htaccess file, you can alternatively make an expression with all the crawlers, then and add it to an exclude filter by Campaign Source.

    Implement these combined solutions, and you will worry much less about spam contaminating your analytics data. This will have the added benefit of freeing up more time for you to spend actually analyze your valid data.

    After stopping spam, you can also get clean reports from the historical data by using the same expressions in an Advance Segment to exclude all the spam.

    Bonus resources to help you manage spam

    If you still need more information to help you understand and deal with the spam on your GA reports, you can read my main article on the subject here: http://www.ohow.co/what-is-referrer-spam-how-stop-it-guide/.

    Additional information on how to stop spam can be found at these URLs:

    In closing, I am eager to hear your ideas on this serious issue. Please share them in the comments below.

    (Editor’s Note: All images featured in this post were created by the author.)

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

    Reblogged 4 years ago from tracking.feedpress.it

    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

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

    Reblogged 4 years ago from tracking.feedpress.it

    The Linkbait Bump: How Viral Content Creates Long-Term Lift in Organic Traffic – Whiteboard Friday

    Posted by randfish

    A single fantastic (or “10x”) piece of content can lift a site’s traffic curves long beyond the popularity of that one piece. In today’s Whiteboard Friday, Rand talks about why those curves settle into a “new normal,” and how you can go about creating the content that drives that change.

    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 we’re chatting about the linkbait bump, classic phrase in the SEO world and almost a little dated. I think today we’re talking a little bit more about viral content and how high-quality content, content that really is the cornerstone of a brand or a website’s content can be an incredible and powerful driver of traffic, not just when it initially launches but over time.

    So let’s take a look.

    This is a classic linkbait bump, viral content bump analytics chart. I’m seeing over here my traffic and over here the different months of the year. You know, January, February, March, like I’m under a thousand. Maybe I’m at 500 visits or something, and then I have this big piece of viral content. It performs outstandingly well from a relative standpoint for my site. It gets 10,000 or more visits, drives a ton more people to my site, and then what happens is that that traffic falls back down. But the new normal down here, new normal is higher than the old normal was. So the new normal might be at 1,000, 1,500 or 2,000 visits whereas before I was at 500.

    Why does this happen?

    A lot of folks see an analytics chart like this, see examples of content that’s done this for websites, and they want to know: Why does this happen and how can I replicate that effect? The reasons why are it sort of feeds back into that viral loop or the flywheel, which we’ve talked about in previous Whiteboard Fridays, where essentially you start with a piece of content. That content does well, and then you have things like more social followers on your brand’s accounts. So now next time you go to amplify content or share content socially, you’re reaching more potential people. You have a bigger audience. You have more people who share your content because they’ve seen that that content performs well for them in social. So they want to find other content from you that might help their social accounts perform well.

    You see more RSS and email subscribers because people see your interesting content and go, “Hey, I want to see when these guys produce something else.” You see more branded search traffic because people are looking specifically for content from you, not necessarily just around this viral piece, although that’s often a big part of it, but around other pieces as well, especially if you do a good job of exposing them to that additional content. You get more bookmark and type in traffic, more searchers biased by personalization because they’ve already visited your site. So now when they search and they’re logged into their accounts, they’re going to see your site ranking higher than they normally would otherwise, and you get an organic SEO lift from all the links and shares and engagement.

    So there’s a ton of different factors that feed into this, and you kind of want to hit all of these things. If you have a piece of content that gets a lot of shares, a lot of links, but then doesn’t promote engagement, doesn’t get more people signing up, doesn’t get more people searching for your brand or searching for that content specifically, then it’s not going to have the same impact. Your traffic might fall further and more quickly.

    How do you achieve this?

    How do we get content that’s going to do this? Well, we’re going to talk through a number of things that we’ve talked about previously on Whiteboard Friday. But there are some additional ones as well. This isn’t just creating good content or creating high quality content, it’s creating a particular kind of content. So for this what you want is a deep understanding, not necessarily of what your standard users or standard customers are interested in, but a deep understanding of what influencers in your niche will share and promote and why they do that.

    This often means that you follow a lot of sharers and influencers in your field, and you understand, hey, they’re all sharing X piece of content. Why? Oh, because it does this, because it makes them look good, because it helps their authority in the field, because it provides a lot of value to their followers, because they know it’s going to get a lot of retweets and shares and traffic. Whatever that because is, you have to have a deep understanding of it in order to have success with viral kinds of content.

    Next, you want to have empathy for users and what will give them the best possible experience. So if you know, for example, that a lot of people are coming on mobile and are going to be sharing on mobile, which is true of almost all viral content today, FYI, you need to be providing a great mobile and desktop experience. Oftentimes that mobile experience has to be different, not just responsive design, but actually a different format, a different way of being able to scroll through or watch or see or experience that content.

    There are some good examples out there of content that does that. It makes a very different user experience based on the browser or the device you’re using.

    You also need to be aware of what will turn them off. So promotional messages, pop-ups, trying to sell to them, oftentimes that diminishes user experience. It means that content that could have been more viral, that could have gotten more shares won’t.

    Unique value and attributes that separate your content from everything else in the field. So if there’s like ABCD and whoa, what’s that? That’s very unique. That stands out from the crowd. That provides a different form of value in a different way than what everyone else is doing. That uniqueness is often a big reason why content spreads virally, why it gets more shared than just the normal stuff.

    I’ve talk about this a number of times, but content that’s 10X better than what the competition provides. So unique value from the competition, but also quality that is not just a step up, but 10X better, massively, massively better than what else you can get out there. That makes it unique enough. That makes it stand out from the crowd, and that’s a very hard thing to do, but that’s why this is so rare and so valuable.

    This is a critical one, and I think one that, I’ll just say, many organizations fail at. That is the freedom and support to fail many times, to try to create these types of effects, to have this impact many times before you hit on a success. A lot of managers and clients and teams and execs just don’t give marketing teams and content teams the freedom to say, “Yeah, you know what? You spent a month and developer resources and designer resources and spent some money to go do some research and contracted with this third party, and it wasn’t a hit. It didn’t work. We didn’t get the viral content bump. It just kind of did okay. You know what? We believe in you. You’ve got a lot of chances. You should try this another 9 or 10 times before we throw it out. We really want to have a success here.”

    That is something that very few teams invest in. The powerful thing is because so few people are willing to invest that way, the ones that do, the ones that believe in this, the ones that invest long term, the ones that are willing to take those failures are going to have a much better shot at success, and they can stand out from the crowd. They can get these bumps. It’s powerful.

    Not a requirement, but it really, really helps to have a strong engaged community, either on your site and around your brand, or at least in your niche and your topic area that will help, that wants to see you, your brand, your content succeed. If you’re in a space that has no community, I would work on building one, even if it’s very small. We’re not talking about building a community of thousands or tens of thousands. A community of 100 people, a community of 50 people even can be powerful enough to help content get that catalyst, that first bump that’ll boost it into viral potential.

    Then finally, for this type of content, you need to have a logical and not overly promotional match between your brand and the content itself. You can see many sites in what I call sketchy niches. So like a criminal law site or a casino site or a pharmaceutical site that’s offering like an interactive musical experience widget, and you’re like, “Why in the world is this brand promoting this content? Why did they even make it? How does that match up with what they do? Oh, it’s clearly just intentionally promotional.”

    Look, many of these brands go out there and they say, “Hey, the average web user doesn’t know and doesn’t care.” I agree. But the average web user is not an influencer. Influencers know. Well, they’re very, very suspicious of why content is being produced and promoted, and they’re very skeptical of promoting content that they don’t think is altruistic. So this kills a lot of content for brands that try and invest in it when there’s no match. So I think you really need that.

    Now, when you do these linkbait bump kinds of things, I would strongly recommend that you follow up, that you consider the quality of the content that you’re producing. Thereafter, that you invest in reproducing these resources, keeping those resources updated, and that you don’t simply give up on content production after this. However, if you’re a small business site, a small or medium business, you might think about only doing one or two of these a year. If you are a heavy content player, you’re doing a lot of content marketing, content marketing is how you’re investing in web traffic, I’d probably be considering these weekly or monthly at the least.

    All right, everyone. Look forward to your experiences with the linkbait bump, and I will see you again next week for another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Take care.

    Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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

    Reblogged 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.

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

    Reblogged 4 years ago from tracking.feedpress.it