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

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!


Controlling Search Engine Crawlers for Better Indexation and Rankings – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by randfish

When should you disallow search engines in your robots.txt file, and when should you use meta robots tags in a page header? What about nofollowing links? In today’s Whiteboard Friday, Rand covers these tools and their appropriate use in four situations that SEOs commonly find themselves facing.

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 going to talk about controlling search engine crawlers, blocking bots, sending bots where we want, restricting them from where we don’t want them to go. We’re going to talk a little bit about crawl budget and what you should and shouldn’t have indexed.

As a start, what I want to do is discuss the ways in which we can control robots. Those include the three primary ones: robots.txt, meta robots, and—well, the nofollow tag is a little bit less about controlling bots.

There are a few others that we’re going to discuss as well, including Webmaster Tools (Search Console) and URL status codes. But let’s dive into those first few first.

Robots.txt lives at, it tells crawlers what they should and shouldn’t access, it doesn’t always get respected by Google and Bing. So a lot of folks when you say, “hey, disallow this,” and then you suddenly see those URLs popping up and you’re wondering what’s going on, look—Google and Bing oftentimes think that they just know better. They think that maybe you’ve made a mistake, they think “hey, there’s a lot of links pointing to this content, there’s a lot of people who are visiting and caring about this content, maybe you didn’t intend for us to block it.” The more specific you get about an individual URL, the better they usually are about respecting it. The less specific, meaning the more you use wildcards or say “everything behind this entire big directory,” the worse they are about necessarily believing you.

Meta robots—a little different—that lives in the headers of individual pages, so you can only control a single page with a meta robots tag. That tells the engines whether or not they should keep a page in the index, and whether they should follow the links on that page, and it’s usually a lot more respected, because it’s at an individual-page level; Google and Bing tend to believe you about the meta robots tag.

And then the nofollow tag, that lives on an individual link on a page. It doesn’t tell engines where to crawl or not to crawl. All it’s saying is whether you editorially vouch for a page that is being linked to, and whether you want to pass the PageRank and link equity metrics to that page.

Interesting point about meta robots and robots.txt working together (or not working together so well)—many, many folks in the SEO world do this and then get frustrated.

What if, for example, we take a page like “blogtest.html” on our domain and we say “all user agents, you are not allowed to crawl blogtest.html. Okay—that’s a good way to keep that page away from being crawled, but just because something is not crawled doesn’t necessarily mean it won’t be in the search results.

So then we have our SEO folks go, “you know what, let’s make doubly sure that doesn’t show up in search results; we’ll put in the meta robots tag:”

<meta name="robots" content="noindex, follow">

So, “noindex, follow” tells the search engine crawler they can follow the links on the page, but they shouldn’t index this particular one.

Then, you go and run a search for “blog test” in this case, and everybody on the team’s like “What the heck!? WTF? Why am I seeing this page show up in search results?”

The answer is, you told the engines that they couldn’t crawl the page, so they didn’t. But they are still putting it in the results. They’re actually probably not going to include a meta description; they might have something like “we can’t include a meta description because of this site’s robots.txt file.” The reason it’s showing up is because they can’t see the noindex; all they see is the disallow.

So, if you want something truly removed, unable to be seen in search results, you can’t just disallow a crawler. You have to say meta “noindex” and you have to let them crawl it.

So this creates some complications. Robots.txt can be great if we’re trying to save crawl bandwidth, but it isn’t necessarily ideal for preventing a page from being shown in the search results. I would not recommend, by the way, that you do what we think Twitter recently tried to do, where they tried to canonicalize www and non-www by saying “Google, don’t crawl the www version of” What you should be doing is rel canonical-ing or using a 301.

Meta robots—that can allow crawling and link-following while disallowing indexation, which is great, but it requires crawl budget and you can still conserve indexing.

The nofollow tag, generally speaking, is not particularly useful for controlling bots or conserving indexation.

Webmaster Tools (now Google Search Console) has some special things that allow you to restrict access or remove a result from the search results. For example, if you have 404’d something or if you’ve told them not to crawl something but it’s still showing up in there, you can manually say “don’t do that.” There are a few other crawl protocol things that you can do.

And then URL status codes—these are a valid way to do things, but they’re going to obviously change what’s going on on your pages, too.

If you’re not having a lot of luck using a 404 to remove something, you can use a 410 to permanently remove something from the index. Just be aware that once you use a 410, it can take a long time if you want to get that page re-crawled or re-indexed, and you want to tell the search engines “it’s back!” 410 is permanent removal.

301—permanent redirect, we’ve talked about those here—and 302, temporary redirect.

Now let’s jump into a few specific use cases of “what kinds of content should and shouldn’t I allow engines to crawl and index” in this next version…

[Rand moves at superhuman speed to erase the board and draw part two of this Whiteboard Friday. Seriously, we showed Roger how fast it was, and even he was impressed.]

Four crawling/indexing problems to solve

So we’ve got these four big problems that I want to talk about as they relate to crawling and indexing.

1. Content that isn’t ready yet

The first one here is around, “If I have content of quality I’m still trying to improve—it’s not yet ready for primetime, it’s not ready for Google, maybe I have a bunch of products and I only have the descriptions from the manufacturer and I need people to be able to access them, so I’m rewriting the content and creating unique value on those pages… they’re just not ready yet—what should I do with those?”

My options around crawling and indexing? If I have a large quantity of those—maybe thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands—I would probably go the robots.txt route. I’d disallow those pages from being crawled, and then eventually as I get (folder by folder) those sets of URLs ready, I can then allow crawling and maybe even submit them to Google via an XML sitemap.

If I’m talking about a small quantity—a few dozen, a few hundred pages—well, I’d probably just use the meta robots noindex, and then I’d pull that noindex off of those pages as they are made ready for Google’s consumption. And then again, I would probably use the XML sitemap and start submitting those once they’re ready.

2. Dealing with duplicate or thin content

What about, “Should I noindex, nofollow, or potentially disallow crawling on largely duplicate URLs or thin content?” I’ve got an example. Let’s say I’m an ecommerce shop, I’m selling this nice Star Wars t-shirt which I think is kind of hilarious, so I’ve got starwarsshirt.html, and it links out to a larger version of an image, and that’s an individual HTML page. It links out to different colors, which change the URL of the page, so I have a gray, blue, and black version. Well, these four pages are really all part of this same one, so I wouldn’t recommend disallowing crawling on these, and I wouldn’t recommend noindexing them. What I would do there is a rel canonical.

Remember, rel canonical is one of those things that can be precluded by disallowing. So, if I were to disallow these from being crawled, Google couldn’t see the rel canonical back, so if someone linked to the blue version instead of the default version, now I potentially don’t get link credit for that. So what I really want to do is use the rel canonical, allow the indexing, and allow it to be crawled. If you really feel like it, you could also put a meta “noindex, follow” on these pages, but I don’t really think that’s necessary, and again that might interfere with the rel canonical.

3. Passing link equity without appearing in search results

Number three: “If I want to pass link equity (or at least crawling) through a set of pages without those pages actually appearing in search results—so maybe I have navigational stuff, ways that humans are going to navigate through my pages, but I don’t need those appearing in search results—what should I use then?”

What I would say here is, you can use the meta robots to say “don’t index the page, but do follow the links that are on that page.” That’s a pretty nice, handy use case for that.

Do NOT, however, disallow those in robots.txt—many, many folks make this mistake. What happens if you disallow crawling on those, Google can’t see the noindex. They don’t know that they can follow it. Granted, as we talked about before, sometimes Google doesn’t obey the robots.txt, but you can’t rely on that behavior. Trust that the disallow in robots.txt will prevent them from crawling. So I would say, the meta robots “noindex, follow” is the way to do this.

4. Search results-type pages

Finally, fourth, “What should I do with search results-type pages?” Google has said many times that they don’t like your search results from your own internal engine appearing in their search results, and so this can be a tricky use case.

Sometimes a search result page—a page that lists many types of results that might come from a database of types of content that you’ve got on your site—could actually be a very good result for a searcher who is looking for a wide variety of content, or who wants to see what you have on offer. Yelp does this: When you say, “I’m looking for restaurants in Seattle, WA,” they’ll give you what is essentially a list of search results, and Google does want those to appear because that page provides a great result. But you should be doing what Yelp does there, and make the most common or popular individual sets of those search results into category-style pages. A page that provides real, unique value, that’s not just a list of search results, that is more of a landing page than a search results page.

However, that being said, if you’ve got a long tail of these, or if you’d say “hey, our internal search engine, that’s really for internal visitors only—it’s not useful to have those pages show up in search results, and we don’t think we need to make the effort to make those into category landing pages.” Then you can use the disallow in robots.txt to prevent those.

Just be cautious here, because I have sometimes seen an over-swinging of the pendulum toward blocking all types of search results, and sometimes that can actually hurt your SEO and your traffic. Sometimes those pages can be really useful to people. So check your analytics, and make sure those aren’t valuable pages that should be served up and turned into landing pages. If you’re sure, then go ahead and disallow all your search results-style pages. You’ll see a lot of sites doing this in their robots.txt file.

That being said, I hope you have some great questions about crawling and indexing, controlling robots, blocking robots, allowing robots, and I’ll try and tackle those in the comments below.

We’ll look forward to seeing you again next week for another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Take care!

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!


A Universal SEO Strategy Audit in 5 Steps – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by randfish

When it comes to building an SEO strategy, many marketers (especially those who don’t spend a significant amount of time with SEO) start off by asking a few key questions. That’s a good start, but only if you’re asking the right questions. In today’s Whiteboard Friday, Rand puts the usual suspects on the chopping block, showing us the five things we should really be looking into when formulating our SEO strategy.

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

Video transcription

Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week we’re chatting about building an SEO strategy and having a universal set of five questions that can get you there.

So number one: What keywords do you want to rank for?

Number two
: How do we get links?

Number three
: Site speed. Mobile? Doesn’t even seem like a question.

Number four
: What about Penguin and Panda?

Number five
: When do I get money?

This is bologna. That’s not a strategy. Some of those go to tactics you might invest in an SEO, but this is not an SEO strategy. Unfortunately, this is how a lot of conversations about SEO start at teams, with CMOs, with managers, with CEOs, with clients or potential clients, and it’s very frustrating because you can’t truly do a great job with SEO just in the tactical level. If you don’t start with a compelling strategy, doing all of these things is only going to produce a small amount of potential return compared to if you ask the right questions and you get your strategy set before you begin an SEO process and nailing your tactics.

So that’s what I want to go through. I spend a lot of time thinking through these things and analyzing a lot of posts that other people have put up and questions that folks have put in our Q&A system and others, on Quora and other places. I think actually every great SEO strategy that I have ever seen can be the distilled down to answers that come from these five questions.

So number one: What does our organization create that helps solve searchers’ questions or problems? That could be, “Or what will we create in the future?” It might be that you haven’t yet created the thing or things that’s going to help solve searchers’ questions or problems. But that thing that you make, that product or service or content that you are making, that expertise that you hold, something about your organization is creating value that if only searchers could access it, they would be immensely thankful.

It is possible, and I have seen plenty of examples of companies that are so new or so much on the cutting edge that they’re producing things that aren’t solving questions people are asking yet. The problem that you’re solving then is not a question. It’s not something that’s being searched for directly. It usually is very indirect. If you’re creating a machine that, let’s say, turns children’s laughter into energy, as they do in the film “Monsters, Inc.”, that is something very new. No one is searching for machine to turn kids laughing into energy. However, many people are searching for alternative energy. They’re searching for broader types of things and concepts. By the way, if you do invent that machine, I think you’ll probably nail a lot of that interest level stuff.

If you have a great answer to this, you can then move on to, “What is the unique value we provide that no one else does?” We talked about unique value previously on Whiteboard Friday. There’s a whole episode you can watch about that. Basically, if everyone else out there is producing X and X+1 and X+2, you’ve either got to be producing X times 10, or you’ve got to be producing Y, something that is highly unique or is unique because it is of such better quality, such greater quality. It does the job so much better than anything else out there. It’s not, “Hey, we’re better than the top ten search results.” It’s, “Why are you ten times better than anything on this list?”

The third question is, “Who’s going to help amplify our message, and why will they do it?” This is essential because SEO has turned from an exercise, where we essentially take content that already exists or create some content that will solve a searcher problem and then try and acquire links to it, or point links to it, or point ranking signals at it, and instead it’s ones where we have to go out and earn those ranking signals. Because we’ve shifted from link building or ranking signal building to ranking signal earning, we better have people who will help amplify our message, the content that we create, the value that we provide, the service or the product, the message about our brand.

If we don’t have those people who, for some reason, care enough about what we’re doing to help share it with others, we’re going to be shouting into a void. We’re going to get no return on the investment of broadcasting our message or reaching out one to one, or sharing on social media, or distributing. It’s not going to work. We need that amplification. There must be some of it, and because we need amplification in order to earn these ranking signals, we need an answer to who.

That who is going to depend highly on your target audience, your target customers, and who influences your target customers, which may be a very different group than other customers just like them. There are plenty of businesses in industries where your customers will be your worst amplifiers because they love you and they don’t want to share you with anyone else. They love whatever product or service you’re providing, and they want to keep you all to themselves. By the way, they’re not on social media, and they don’t do sharing. So you need another level above them. You need press or bloggers or social media sharers, somebody who influences your target audience.

Number four: What is our process for turning visitors from search into customers? If you have no answer to this, you can’t expect to earn search visits and have a positive return on your investment. You’ve got to be building out that funnel that says, “Aha, people have come to us through channel X, search, social media, e-mail, directly visited, referred from some other website, through business development, through conference or trade show, whatever it is. Then they come back to our website. Then they sign up for an e-mail. Then they make a conversion. How does that work? What does our web-marketing funnel look like? How do we take people that visited our site for the first time from search, from a problem or a question that they had that we answered, and now how do they become a customer?” If you don’t have that process yet, you must build it. That’s part of a great SEO strategy. Then optimization of this is often called conversion rate optimization.

The last question, number five: How do we expose what we do that provides value here in a way that engines can easily crawl, index, understand, and show off? This is getting to much more classic SEO stuff. For many companies they have something wonderful that they’ve built, but it’s just a mobile app or a web app that has no physical URL structure that anyone can crawl and be exposed to, or it’s a service based business.

Let’s say it’s legal services firm. How are we going to turn the expertise of our legal team into something that engines can perceive? Maybe we have the answers to these questions, but we need to find some way to show it off, and that’s where content creation comes into play. So we don’t just need content that is good quality content that can be crawled and indexed. It also must be understood, and this ties a little bit to things we’ve talked about in the past around Hummingbird, where it’s clear that the content is on the topic and that it really answers the searchers’ underlying question, not just uses the keywords the searcher is using. Although, using the keywords is still important from a classic SEO perspective.

Then show off that content is, “How do we do a great job of applying rich snippets, of applying schema, of having a very compelling title and description and URL, of getting that ranked highly, of learning what our competitors are doing that we can uniquely differentiate from them in the search results themselves so that we can improve our click-through rates,” all of those kinds of things.

If you answer these five questions, or if your customer, your client, your team, your boss already has great answers to these five questions, then you can start getting pretty tactical and be very successful. If you don’t have answers to these yet, go get them. Make them explicit, not just implicit. Don’t just assume you know what they are. Have them list them. Make sure everyone on the team, everyone in the SEO process has bought into, “Yes, these are the answers to those five questions that we have. Now, let’s go do our tactics.” I think you’ll find you’re far more successful with any type of SEO project or investment.

All right gang, thanks so much for joining us on Whiteboard Friday, and we’ll see you again next week. Take care.

Video transcription by

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!


How to Provide Unique Value in Your Content – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by randfish

Marketers of all stripes are hearing more about providing unique content and value to their audiences, and how that’s what Google wants to show searchers. Unique content is straightforward enough, but what exactly does everyone mean by “unique value?” What does that actually look like? In today’s Whiteboard Friday, Rand illustrates the answer.

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

Video transcription

Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week we’re going to chat a little about providing unique value in your content. Now I’ve been known to talk a lot about what you need to do to get to the kind of uniqueness in content that Google wants to index, that searchers want to find, that is likely to earn you amplification and links and all the signals that you’ll need to perform well in the rankings, and to perform well on social media and in content marketing of all kinds.

The challenge has been that I’ve seen a lot of people adopt this attitude around, yes, unique content, unique value, but merge those two and not view them as two different things and really not understand what I mean when I say unique value at all, and it’s not just me. A lot of the content marketing and SEO industries are talking about the need for unique value, and they may say other words to describe that. But unfortunately, as an industry, we’ve not yet coalesced around what that idea means, and so this Whiteboard Friday is to try and explain exactly what a lot of these best practices and experts are talking about when they say “unique value.”

Modern criteria for content

So let’s start by talking about our modern criteria for content, and I have a slide that I like to show a lot that kind of displays this, and many other folks in the field have as well. So if I’m going to be producing content, I need to meet these five criteria.

One of a kind

One of a kind is basically what we meant when we said old unique content, meaning that the engines have never seen those words and phrases and numbers and visuals and whatever in that order on a page on the web previously. It’s been written for the first time, produced and published for the first time. Therefore, it is one of a kind, doesn’t appear elsewhere.


Relevant meaning it contains content that both searchers and engines interpret as on topic to that searcher’s query or their intent. Sometimes you can be on topic to the query, meaning you’ve used the words and the phrases that the searcher used, and not be on topic to their intent. What did they actually want to get out of the search? What question are they trying to answer? What information are you trying to get?


This one’s pretty obvious. You should resolve the searcher’s query in a useful, efficient manner. That should be a page that does the job that they’re hoping that that content is going to do.

Uniquely valuable

This is the one we’re going to be talking about today, and what we mean here is provides information that’s unavailable or hard to get elsewhere — I’m going to dive into that a little bit more — 

Great user experience

This means it’s easy and pleasurable to consume anywhere on any device.

You meet these criteria with your content and you’ve really got something when it comes to a content marketing strategy or when it comes to content you’re producing for SEO. This is a pretty solid checklist that I think you can rely on.

Unique value and you (and your website)

The challenge is this one. Uniquely valuable has been a really hard concept for people to wrap their heads around, and so let’s dig in a little more on what we mean when we say “unique value.”

So these are kind of the three common criteria that we mean when we say “unique value,” and I’m actually going to show some examples as well.

1) Massive upgrade in aggregation, accessibility and design

The first one is a massive upgrade versus what’s already available on the web in aggregation, accessibility, and/or design. Meaning you should have someone who views that content say, “Wow. You know, I’ve seen this material presented before, but never presented so well, never so understandable and accessible. I really like this resource because of how well aggregated, how accessible, how well designed this resource is.”

Good examples, there’s a blog post from the website Wait But Why on the Fermi Paradox, which is sort of a scientific astrophysics, “why are we alone in the universe” paradox concept, and they do a brilliant job of visualizing and explaining the paradox and all of the potential scenarios behind it. It’s so much fun to read. It’s so enjoyable. I’ve read about the Fermi Paradox many times and never been as entranced as I was as when I read this piece from Wait But Why. It really was that experience that says, “Wow, I’ve seen this before, but never like this.”

Another great site that does pure aggregation, but they provide incredible value is actually a search engine, a visual search engine that I love called Not particularly easy to spell, but you do searches for things like letter press or for emotional ideas, like anger, and you just find phenomenal visual content. It’s an aggregation of a bunch of different websites that show design and visual content in a search interface that’s accessible, that shows all the images in there, and you can scroll through them and it’s very nicely collected. It’s aggregated in the best way I’ve ever seen that information aggregated, therefore, providing unique value. Unfortunately, since it’s a search engine, it’s not actually going to be indexed by Google, but still tremendously good content marketing.

2) Information that is available nowhere else

Number two is information that’s available nowhere else. When I say “information,” I don’t mean content. I don’t mean words and phrases. I don’t mean it’s one-of-a-kind in that if I were to go copy and paste a sentence fragment or a paragraph and plug it into Google, that I wouldn’t find that sentence or that paragraph elsewhere. I mean unique information, information that, even if it were written about thousands of different ways, I couldn’t find it anywhere else on the web. You want your visitor to have experience of, “Wow, without this site I never would have found the answers I sought.” It’s not that, “Oh, this sentence is unique to all the other sentences that have been written about this topic.” It’s, “Ah-ha this information was never available until now.”

Some of my favorite examples of that — Walk Score. Walk Score is a site that took data that was out there and they basically put it together into a scoring function. So they said, “Hey, in this ocean beach neighborhood in San Diego, there are this many bars and restaurants, grocery stores, banks, pharmacies. The walkability of that neighborhood, therefore, based on the businesses and on the sidewalks and on the traffic and all these other things, the Walk Score out of 100 is therefore 74.” I don’t know what it actually is. Then you can compare and contrast that to, say, the Hillcrest neighborhood in San Diego, where the Walk Score is 88 because it has a far greater density of all those things that people, who are looking for walkability of neighborhoods, are seeking. If you’re moving somewhere or you’re considering staying somewhere downtown, in area to visit for vacation, this is amazing. What an incredible resource, and because of that Walk Score has become hugely popular and is part of many, many real estate websites and visitor and tourism focused websites and all that kind of stuff.

Another good example, blog posts that provide information that was previously unavailable anywhere else. In our industry I actually really like this example from Conductor. Conductor, as you might know, is an enterprise SEO software company, and they put together a phenomenal blog post comparing which portions of direct traffic are almost certainly actually organic, and they collected a bunch of anonymized data from their platform and assembled that so that we could all see, “Oh, yeah, look at that. Sixty percent of what’s getting counted as direct in a lot of these websites, at least on average, is probably coming from organic search or dark social and those kinds of things, and that credit should go to the marketers who acquire that traffic.” Fascinating stuff. Unique information, couldn’t find that elsewhere.

3) Content presented with a massively differentiated voice or style

The third and final one that I’ll talk about is content that’s presented with a massively differentiated voice or style. So this is not necessarily you’ve aggregated information that was previously unavailable or you’ve made it more accessible or you’ve designed it in a way to make it remarkable. It’s not necessarily information available nowhere else. It’s really more about the writer or the artist behind the content creation, and content creators, the great ones, have some artistry to their work. You’re trying to create in your visitors this impression of like, “I’ve seen stuff about this before, but never in a way that emotionally resonated with me like this does.” Think about the experience that you have of reading a phenomenal book about a topic versus just reading the Wikipedia entry. The information might be the same, but there are miles of difference in the artistry behind it and the emotional resonance it can create.

In the content marketing world, I really like a lot of stuff that Beardbrand does. Eric from Beardbrand just puts together these great videos. He has this gigantic beard. I feel like I’ve really captured him here actually. Eric, tell me what you think of this portrait? You’re free to use it as your Twitter background, if you’d like. Eric’s videos are not just useful. They do contain useful information and stuff that sometimes is hard to find elsewhere, but they have a style to them, a personality to them that I just love.

Likewise, for many of you, you’re watching Whiteboard Friday or consuming content from us that you likely could find many other places. Unlike when Moz started, there are many, many great blogs and resources on SEO and inbound marketing and social media marketing, and all these things, but Moz often has a great voice, a great style, at least one that resonates with me, that I love.

Another example, one from my personal life, my wife’s blog — the Everywhereist. There are lots of places you can read, for example, a history of Ireland. But when Geraldine wrote about her not-so-brief history of Ireland, it had a very different kind of emotional resonance for many other people who read and consumed that and, as a result, earned lots of nice traffic and shares and links and all of these kinds of things.

This, one of these three, is what you’re aiming for with uniquely valuable, and there are likely some others that fit into these or maybe that cross over between them. But if you’re making content for the web and you’re trying to figure out how can I be uniquely valuable, see what it is that you’re fitting into, which of these themes, hopefully maybe even some combination of them, and is that defensible enough to make you differentiated from your competition, from what else is in the search results, and does it give you the potential to have truly remarkable content and SEO going forward. If not, I’m not sure that it’s worth the investment. There’s no prize in content for hitting Publish. No prize for hitting Publish. The only prize comes when you produce something that meets these criteria and thus achieves the reach and the marketing goals that you’re seeking.

All right, everyone, we’ll see you again next week for another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Take care.

Video transcription by

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!