5 Spreadsheet Tips for Manual Link Audits

Posted by MarieHaynes

Link auditing is the part of my job that I love the most. I have audited a LOT of links over the last few years. While there are some programs out there that can be quite helpful to the avid link auditor, I still prefer to create a spreadsheet of my links in Excel and then to audit those links one-by-one from within Google Spreadsheets. Over the years I have learned a few tricks and formulas that have helped me in this process. In this article, I will share several of these with you.

Please know that while I am quite comfortable being labelled a link auditing expert, I am not an Excel wizard. I am betting that some of the things that I am doing could be improved upon if you’re an advanced user. As such, if you have any suggestions or tips of your own I’d love to hear them in the comments section!

1. Extract the domain or subdomain from a URL

OK. You’ve downloaded links from as many sources as possible and now you want to manually visit and evaluate one link from every domain. But, holy moly, some of these domains can have THOUSANDS of links pointing to the site. So, let’s break these down so that you are just seeing one link from each domain. The first step is to extract the domain or subdomain from each url.

I am going to show you examples from a Google spreadsheet as I find that these display nicer for demonstration purposes. However, if you’ve got a fairly large site, you’ll find that the spreadsheets are easier to create in Excel. If you’re confused about any of these steps, check out the animated gif at the end of each step to see the process in action.

Here is how you extract a domain or subdomain from a url:

  • Create a new column to the left of your url column.
  • Use this formula:

    =LEFT(B1,FIND(“/”,B1,9)-1)

    What this will do is remove everything after the trailing slash following the domain name. http://www.example.com/article.html will now become http://www.example.com and http://www.subdomain.example.com/article.html will now become http://www.subdomain.example.com.

  • Copy our new column A and paste it right back where it was using the “paste as values” function. If you don’t do this, you won’t be able to use the Find and Replace feature.
  • Use Find and Replace to replace each of the following with a blank (i.e. nothing):
    http://
    https://
    www.

And BOOM! We are left with a column that contains just domain names and subdomain names. This animated gif shows each of the steps we just outlined:

2. Just show one link from each domain

The next step is to filter this list so that we are just seeing one link from each domain. If you are manually reviewing links, there’s usually no point in reviewing every single link from every domain. I will throw in a word of caution here though. Sometimes a domain can have both a good link and a bad link pointing to you. Or in some cases, you may find that links from one page are followed and from another page on the same site they are nofollowed. You can miss some of these by just looking at one link from each domain. Personally, I have some checks built in to my process where I use Scrapebox and some internal tools that I have created to make sure that I’m not missing the odd link by just looking at one link from each domain. For most link audits, however, you are not going to miss very much by assessing one link from each domain.

Here’s how we do it:

  • Highlight our domains column and sort the column in alphabetical order.
  • Create a column to the left of our domains, so that the domains are in column B.
  • Use this formula:

    =IF(B1=B2,”duplicate”,”unique”)

  • Copy that formula down the column.
  • Use the filter function so that you are just seeing the duplicates.
  • Delete those rows. Note: If you have tens of thousands of rows to delete, the spreadsheet may crash. A workaround here is to use “Clear Rows” instead of “Delete Rows” and then sort your domains column from A-Z once you are finished.

We’ve now got a list of one link from every domain linking to us.

Here’s the gif that shows each of these steps:

You may wonder why I didn’t use Excel’s dedupe function to simply deduplicate these entries. I have found that it doesn’t take much deduplication to crash Excel, which is why I do this step manually.

3. Finding patterns FTW!

Sometimes when you are auditing links, you’ll find that unnatural links have patterns. I LOVE when I see these, because sometimes I can quickly go through hundreds of links without having to check each one manually. Here is an example. Let’s say that your website has a bunch of spammy directory links. As you’re auditing you notice patterns such as one of these:

  • All of these directory links come from a url that contains …/computers/internet/item40682/
  • A whole bunch of spammy links that all come from a particular free subdomain like blogspot, wordpress, weebly, etc.
  • A lot of links that all contain a particular keyword for anchor text (this is assuming you’ve included anchor text in your spreadsheet when making it.)

You can quickly find all of these links and mark them as “disavow” or “keep” by doing the following:

  • Create a new column. In my example, I am going to create a new column in Column C and look for patterns in urls that are in Column B.
  • Use this formula:

    =FIND(“/item40682”,B1)
    (You would replace “item40682” with the phrase that you are looking for.)

  • Copy this formula down the column.
  • Filter your new column so that you are seeing any rows that have a number in this column. If the phrase doesn’t exist in that url, you’ll see “N/A”, and we can ignore those.
  • Now you can mark these all as disavow

4. Check your disavow file

This next tip is one that you can use to check your disavow file across your list of domains that you want to audit. The goal here is to see which links you have disavowed so that you don’t waste time reassessing them. This particular tip only works for checking links that you have disavowed on the domain level.

The first thing you’ll want to do is download your current disavow file from Google. For some strange reason, Google gives you the disavow file in CSV format. I have never understood this because they want you to upload the file in .txt. Still, I guess this is what works best for Google. All of your entries will be in column A of the CSV:

What we are going to do now is add these to a new sheet on our current spreadsheet and use a VLOOKUP function to mark which of our domains we have disavowed.

Here are the steps:

  • Create a new sheet on your current spreadsheet workbook.
  • Copy and paste column A from your disavow spreadsheet onto this new sheet. Or, alternatively, use the import function to import the entire CSV onto this sheet.
  • In B1, write “previously disavowed” and copy this down the entire column.
  • Remove the “domain:” from each of the entries by doing a Find and Replace to replace domain: with a blank.
  • Now go back to your link audit spreadsheet. If your domains are in column A and if you had, say, 1500 domains in your disavow file, your formula would look like this:

    =VLOOKUP(A1,Sheet2!$A$1:$B$1500,2,FALSE)

When you copy this formula down the spreadsheet, it will check each of your domains, and if it finds the domain in Sheet 2, it will write “previously disavowed” on our link audit spreadsheet.

Here is a gif that shows the process:

5. Make monthly or quarterly disavow work easier

That same formula described above is a great one to use if you are doing regular repeated link audits. In this case, your second sheet on your spreadsheet would contain domains that you have previously audited, and column B of this spreadsheet would say, “previously audited” rather than “previously disavowed“.

Your tips?

These are just a few of the formulas that you can use to help make link auditing work easier. But there are lots of other things you can do with Excel or Google Sheets to help speed up the process as well. If you have some tips to add, leave a comment below. Also, if you need clarification on any of these tips, I’m happy to answer questions in the comments section.

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The Nifty Guide to Local Content Strategy and Marketing

Posted by NiftyMarketing

This is my Grandma.

She helped raised me and I love her dearly. That chunky baby with the Gerber cheeks is
me. The scarlet letter “A” means nothing… I hope.

This is a rolled up newspaper. 

rolled up newspaper

When I was growing up, I was the king of mischief and had a hard time following parental guidelines. To ensure the lessons she wanted me to learn “sunk in” my grandma would give me a soft whack with a rolled up newspaper and would say,

“Mike, you like to learn the hard way.”

She was right. I have
spent my life and career learning things the hard way.

Local content has been no different. I started out my career creating duplicate local doorway pages using “find and replace” with city names. After getting whacked by the figurative newspaper a few times, I decided there had to be a better way. To save others from the struggles I experienced, I hope that the hard lessons I have learned about local content strategy and marketing help to save you fearing a rolled newspaper the same way I do.

Lesson one: Local content doesn’t just mean the written word

local content ecosystem

Content is everything around you. It all tells a story. If you don’t have a plan for how that story is being told, then you might not like how it turns out. In the local world, even your brick and mortar building is a piece of content. It speaks about your brand, your values, your appreciation of customers and employees, and can be used to attract organic visitors if it is positioned well and provides a good user experience. If you just try to make the front of a building look good, but don’t back up the inside inch by inch with the same quality, people will literally say, “Hey man, this place sucks… let’s bounce.”

I had this experience proved to me recently while conducting an interview at
Nifty for our law division. Our office is a beautifully designed brick, mustache, animal on the wall, leg lamp in the center of the room, piece of work you would expect for a creative company.

nifty offices idaho

Anywho, for our little town of Burley, Idaho it is a unique space, and helps to set apart our business in our community. But, the conference room has a fluorescent ballast light system that can buzz so loudly that you literally can’t carry on a proper conversation at times, and in the recent interviews I literally had to conduct them in the dark because it was so bad.

I’m cheap and slow to spend money, so I haven’t got it fixed yet. The problem is I have two more interviews this week and I am so embarrassed by the experience in that room, I am thinking of holding them offsite to ensure that we don’t product a bad content experience. What I need to do is just fix the light but I will end up spending weeks going back and forth with the landlord on whose responsibility it is.

Meanwhile, the content experience suffers. Like I said, I like to learn the hard way.

Start thinking about everything in the frame of content and you will find that you make better decisions and less costly mistakes.

Lesson two: Scalable does not mean fast and easy growth

In every sales conversation I have had about local content, the question of scalability comes up. Usually, people want two things:

  1. Extremely Fast Production 
  2. Extremely Low Cost

While these two things would be great for every project, I have come to find that there are rare cases where quality can be achieved if you are optimizing for fast production and low cost. A better way to look at scale is as follows:

The rate of growth in revenue/traffic is greater than the cost of continued content creation.

A good local content strategy at scale will create a model that looks like this:

scaling content graph

Lesson three: You need a continuous local content strategy

This is where the difference between local content marketing and content strategy kicks in. Creating a single piece of content that does well is fairly easy to achieve. Building a true scalable machine that continually puts out great local content and consistently tells your story is not. This is a graph I created outlining the process behind creating and maintaining a local content strategy:

local content strategy

This process is not a one-time thing. It is not a box to be checked off. It is a structure that should become the foundation of your marketing program and will need to be revisited, re-tweaked, and replicated over and over again.

1. Identify your local audience

Most of you reading this will already have a service or product and hopefully local customers. Do you have personas developed for attracting and retaining more of them? Here are some helpful tools available to give you an idea of how many people fit your personas in any given market.

Facebook Insights

Pretend for a minute that you live in the unique market of Utah and have a custom wedding dress line. You focus on selling modest wedding dresses. It is a definite niche product, but one that shows the idea of personas very well.

You have interviewed your customer base and found a few interests that your customer base share. Taking that information and putting it into Facebook insights will give you a plethora of data to help you build out your understanding of a local persona.

facebook insights data

We are able to see from the interests of our customers there are roughly 6k-7k current engaged woman in Utah who have similar interests to our customer base.

The location tab gives us a break down of the specific cities and, understandably, Salt Lake City has the highest percentage with Provo (home of BYU) in second place. You can also see pages this group would like, activity levels on Facebook, and household income with spending habits. If you wanted to find more potential locations for future growth you can open up the search to a region or country.

localized facebook insights data

From this data it’s apparent that Arizona would be a great expansion opportunity after Utah.

Neilson Prizm

Neilson offers a free and extremely useful tool for local persona research called Zip Code Lookup that allows you to identify pre-determined personas in a given market.

Here is a look at my hometown and the personas they have developed are dead on.

Neilson Prizm data

Each persona can be expanded to learn more about the traits, income level, and areas across the country with other high concentrations of the same persona group.

You can also use the segment explorer to get a better idea of pre-determined persona lists and can work backwards to determine the locations with the highest density of a given persona.

Google Keyword Planner Tool

The keyword tool is fantastic for local research. Using our same Facebook Insight data above we can match keyword search volume against the audience size to determine how active our persona is in product research and purchasing. In the case of engaged woman looking for dresses, it is a very active group with a potential of 20-30% actively searching online for a dress.

google keyword planner tool

2. Create goals and rules

I think the most important idea for creating the goals and rules around your local content is the following from the must read book Content Strategy for the Web.

You also need to ensure that everyone who will be working on things even remotely related to content has access to style and brand guides and, ultimately, understands the core purpose for what, why, and how everything is happening.

3. Audit and analyze your current local content

The point of this step is to determine how the current content you have stacks up against the goals and rules you established, and determine the value of current pages on your site. With tools like Siteliner (for finding duplicate content) and ScreamingFrog (identifying page titles, word count, error codes and many other things) you can grab a lot of information very fast. Beyond that, there are a few tools that deserve a more in-depth look.

BuzzSumo

With BuzzSumo you can see social data and incoming links behind important pages on your site. This can you a good idea which locations or areas are getting more promotion than others and identify what some of the causes could be.

Buzzsumo also can give you access to competitors’ information where you might find some new ideas. In the following example you can see that one of Airbnb.com’s most shared pages was a motiongraphic of its impact on Berlin.

Buzzsumo

urlProfiler

This is another great tool for scraping urls for large sites that can return about every type of measurement you could want. For sites with 1000s of pages, this tool could save hours of data gathering and can spit out a lovely formatted CSV document that will allow you to sort by things like word count, page authority, link numbers, social shares, or about anything else you could imagine.

url profiler

4. Develop local content marketing tactics

This is how most of you look when marketing tactics are brought up.

monkey

Let me remind you of something with a picture. 

rolled up newspaper

Do not start with tactics. Do the other things first. It will ensure your marketing tactics fall in line with a much bigger organizational movement and process. With the warning out of the way, here are a few tactics that could work for you.

Local landing page content

Our initial concept of local landing pages has stood the test of time. If you are scared to even think about local pages with the upcoming doorway page update then please read this analysis and don’t be too afraid. Here are local landing pages that are done right.

Marriott local content

Marriot’s Burley local page is great. They didn’t think about just ensuring they had 500 unique words. They have custom local imagery of the exterior/interior, detailed information about the area’s activities, and even their own review platform that showcases both positive and negative reviews with responses from local management.

If you can’t build your own platform handling reviews like that, might I recommend looking at Get Five Stars as a platform that could help you integrate reviews as part of your continuous content strategy.

Airbnb Neighborhood Guides

I not so secretly have a big crush on Airbnb’s approach to local. These neighborhood guides started it. They only have roughly 21 guides thus far and handle one at a time with Seoul being the most recent addition. The idea is simple, they looked at extremely hot markets for them and built out guides not just for the city, but down to a specific neighborhood.

air bnb neighborhood guides

Here is a look at Hell’s Kitchen in New York by imagery. They hire a local photographer to shoot the area, then they take some of their current popular listing data and reviews and integrate them into the page. This idea would have never flown if they only cared about creating content that could be fast and easy for every market they serve.

Reverse infographicing

Every decently sized city has had a plethora of infographics made about them. People spent the time curating information and coming up with the concept, but a majority just made the image and didn’t think about the crawlability or page title from an SEO standpoint.

Here is an example of an image search for Portland infographics.

image search results portland infographics

Take an infographic and repurpose it into crawlable content with a new twist or timely additions. Usually infographics share their data sources in the footer so you can easily find similar, new, or more information and create some seriously compelling data based content. You can even link to or share the infographic as part of it if you would like.

Become an Upworthy of local content

No one I know does this better than Movoto. Read the link for their own spin on how they did it and then look at these examples and share numbers from their local content.

60k shares in Boise by appealing to that hometown knowledge.

movoto boise content

65k shares in Salt Lake following the same formula.

movoto salt lake city content

It seems to work with video as well.

movoto video results

Think like a local directory

Directories understand where content should be housed. Not every local piece should be on the blog. Look at where Trip Advisor’s famous “Things to Do” page is listed. Right on the main city page.

trip advisor things to do in salt lake city

Or look at how many timely, fresh, quality pieces of content Yelp is showcasing from their main city page.

yelp main city page

The key point to understand is that local content isn’t just about being unique on a landing page. It is about BEING local and useful.

Ideas of things that are local:

  • Sports teams
  • Local celebrities or heroes 
  • Groups and events
  • Local pride points
  • Local pain points

Ideas of things that are useful:

  • Directions
  • Favorite local sports
  • Granular details only “locals” know

The other point to realize is that in looking at our definition of scale you don’t need to take shortcuts that un-localize the experience for users. Figure and test a location at a time until you have a winning formula and then move forward at a speed that ensures a quality local experience.

5. Create a content calendar

I am not going to get into telling you exactly how or what your content calendar needs to include. That will largely be based on the size and organization of your team and every situation might call for a unique approach. What I will do is explain how we do things at Nifty.

  1. We follow the steps above.
  2. We schedule the big projects and timelines first. These could be months out or weeks out. 
  3. We determine the weekly deliverables, checkpoints, and publish times.
  4. We put all of the information as tasks assigned to individuals or teams in Asana.

asana content calendar

The information then can be viewed by individual, team, groups of team, due dates, or any other way you would wish to sort. Repeatable tasks can be scheduled and we can run our entire operation visible to as many people as need access to the information through desktop or mobile devices. That is what works for us.

6. Launch and promote content

My personal favorite way to promote local content (other than the obvious ideas of sharing with your current followers or outreaching to local influencers) is to use Facebook ads to target the specific local personas you are trying to reach. Here is an example:

I just wrapped up playing Harold Hill in our communities production of The Music Man. When you live in a small town like Burley, Idaho you get the opportunity to play a lead role without having too much talent or a glee-based upbringing. You also get the opportunity to do all of the advertising, set design, and costuming yourself and sometime even get to pay for it.

For my advertising responsibilities, I decided to write a few blog posts and drive traffic to them. As any good Harold Hill would do, I used fear tactics.

music man blog post

I then created Facebook ads that had the following stats: Costs of $.06 per click, 12.7% click through rate, and naturally organic sharing that led to thousands of visits in a small Idaho farming community where people still think a phone book is the only way to find local businesses.

facebook ads setup

Then we did it again.

There was a protestor in Burley for over a year that parked a red pickup with signs saying things like, “I wud not trust Da Mayor” or “Don’t Bank wid Zions”. Basically, you weren’t working hard enough if you name didn’t get on the truck during the year.

Everyone knew that ol’ red pickup as it was parked on the corner of Main and Overland, which is one of the few stoplights in town. Then one day it was gone. We came up with the idea to bring the red truck back, put signs on it that said, “I wud Not Trust Pool Tables” and “Resist Sins n’ Corruption” and other things that were part of The Music Man and wrote another blog complete with pictures.

facebook ads red truck

Then I created another Facebook Ad.

facebook ads set up

A little under $200 in ad spend resulted in thousands more visits to the site which promoted the play and sold tickets to a generation that might not have been very familiar with the show otherwise.

All of it was local targeting and there was no other way would could have driven that much traffic in a community like Burley without paying Facebook and trying to create click bait ads in hope the promotion led to an organic sharing.

7. Measure and report

This is another very personal step where everyone will have different needs. At Nifty we put together very custom weekly or monthly reports that cover all of the plan, execution, and relevant stats such as traffic to specific content or location, share data, revenue or lead data if available, analysis of what worked and what didn’t, and the plan for the following period.

There is no exact data that needs to be shared. Everyone will want something slightly different, which is why we moved away from automated reporting years ago (when we moved away from auto link building… hehe) and built our report around our clients even if it took added time.

I always said that the product of a SEO or content shop is the report. That is what people buy because it is likely that is all they will see or understand.

8. In conclusion, you must refine and repeat the process

local content strategy - refine and repeat

From my point of view, this is by far the most important step and sums everything up nicely. This process model isn’t perfect. There will be things that are missed, things that need tweaked, and ways that you will be able to improve on your local content strategy and marketing all the time. The idea of the cycle is that it is never done. It never sleeps. It never quits. It never surrenders. You just keep perfecting the process until you reach the point that few locally-focused companies ever achieve… where your local content reaches and grows your target audience every time you click the publish button.

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​Inbound Lead Generation: eCommerce Marketing’s Missing Link

Posted by Everett

If eCommerce businesses hope to remain competitive with Amazon, eBay, big box brands, and other online retail juggernauts, they’ll need to learn how to conduct content marketing, lead generation, and contact nurturing as part of a comprehensive inbound marketing strategy.

First, I will discuss some of the ways most online retailers are approaching email from the bottom of the funnel upward, and why this needs to be turned around. Then we can explore how to go about doing this within the framework of “Inbound Marketing” for eCommerce businesses. Lastly, popular marketing automation and email marketing solutions are discussed in the context of inbound marketing for eCommerce.

Key differences between eCommerce and lead generation approaches to email

Different list growth strategies

Email acquisition sources differ greatly between lead gen. sites and online stores. The biggest driver of email acquisition for most eCommerce businesses are their shoppers, especially when the business doesn’t collect an email address for their contact database until the shopper provides it during the check-out process—possibly, not until the very end.

With most B2B/B2C lead gen. websites, the entire purpose of every landing page is to get visitors to submit a contact form or pick up the phone. Often, the price tag for their products or services is much higher than those of an eCommerce site or involves recurring payments. In other words, what they’re selling is more difficult to sell. People take longer to make those purchasing decisions. For this reason, leads—in the form of contact names and email addresses—are typically acquired and nurtured without having first become a customer.

Contacts vs. leads

Whether it is a B2B or B2C website, lead gen. contacts (called leads) are thought of as potential customers (clients, subscribers, patients) who need to be nurtured to the point of becoming “sales qualified,” meaning they’ll eventually get a sales call or email that attempts to convert them into a customer.

On the other hand, eCommerce contacts are often thought of primarily as existing customers to whom the marketing team can blast coupons and other offers by email.

Retail sites typically don’t capture leads at the top or middle of the funnel. Only once a shopper has checked out do they get added to the list. Historically, the buying cycle has been short enough that eCommerce sites could move many first-time visitors directly to customers in a single visit.
But this has changed.

Unless your brand is very strong—possibly a luxury brand or one with an offline retail presence—it is probably getting more difficult (i.e. expensive) to acquire new customers. At the same time, attrition rates are rising. Conversion optimization helps by converting more bottom of the funnel visitors. SEO helps drive more traffic into the site, but mostly for middle-of-funnel (category page) and bottom-of-funnel (product page) visitors who may not also be price/feature comparison shopping, or are unable to convert right away because of device or time limitations.

Even savvy retailers publishing content for shoppers higher up in the funnel, such as buyer guides and reviews, aren’t getting an email address and are missing a lot of opportunities because of it.

attract-convert-grow-funnel-inflow-2.jpg

Here’s a thought. If your eCommerce site has a 10 percent conversion rate, you’re doing pretty good by most standards. But what happened to the other 90 percent of those visitors? Will you have the opportunity to connect with them again? Even if you bump that up a few percentage points with retargeting, a lot of potential revenue has seeped out of your funnel without a trace.

I don’t mean to bash the eCommerce marketing community with generalizations. Most lead gen. sites aren’t doing anything spectacular either, and a lot of opportunity is missed all around.

There are many eCommerce brands doing great things marketing-wise. I’m a big fan of
Crutchfield for their educational resources targeting early-funnel traffic, and Neman Tools, Saddleback Leather and Feltraiger for the stories they tell. Amazon is hard to beat when it comes to scalability, product suggestions and user-generated reviews.

Sadly, most eCommerce sites (including many of the major household brands) still approach marketing in this way…

The ol’ bait n’ switch: promising value and delivering spam

Established eCommerce brands have gigantic mailing lists (compared with lead gen. counterparts), to whom they typically send out at least one email each week with “offers” like free shipping, $ off, buy-one-get-one, or % off their next purchase. The lists are minimally segmented, if at all. For example, there might be lists for repeat customers, best customers, unresponsive contacts, recent purchasers, shoppers with abandoned carts, purchases by category, etc.

The missing points of segmentation include which campaign resulted in the initial contact (sometimes referred to as a cohort) and—most importantly—the persona and buying cycle stage that best applies to each contact.

Online retailers often send frequent “blasts” to their entire list or to a few of the large segments mentioned above. Lack of segmentation means contacts aren’t receiving emails based on their interests, problems, or buying cycle stage, but instead, are receiving what they perceive as “generic” emails.

The result of these missing segments and the lack of overarching strategy looks something like this:

My, What a Big LIST You Have!

iStock_000017047747Medium.jpg

TIME reported in 2012 on stats from Responsys that the average online retailer sent out between five and six emails the week after Thanksgiving. Around the same time, the Wall Street Journal reported that the top 100 online retailers sent an average of 177 emails apiece to each of their contacts in 2011. Averaged out, that’s somewhere between three and four emails each week that the contact is receiving from these retailers.

The better to SPAM you with!

iStock_000016088853Medium.jpg

A 2014 whitepaper from SimpleRelevance titled
Email Fail: An In-Depth Evaluation of Top 20 Internet Retailer’s Email Personalization Capabilities (
PDF) found that, while 70 percent of marketing executives believed personalization was of “utmost importance” to their business…

“Only 17 percent of marketing leaders are going beyond basic transactional data to deliver personalized messages to consumers.”

Speaking of email overload, the same report found that some major online retailers sent ten or more emails per week!

simplerelevance-email-report-frequency.png

The result?

All too often, the eCommerce business will carry around big, dead lists of contacts who don’t even bother reading their emails anymore. They end up scrambling toward other channels to “drive more demand,” but because the real problems were never addressed, this ends up increasing new customer acquisition costs.

The cycle looks something like this:

  1. Spend a fortune driving in unqualified traffic from top-of-the-funnel channels
  2. Ignore the majority of those visitors who aren’t ready to purchase
  3. Capture email addresses only for the few visitors who made a purchase
  4. Spam the hell out of those people until they unsubscribe
  5. Spend a bunch more money trying to fill the top of the funnel with even more traffic

It’s like trying to fill your funnel with a bucket full of holes, some of them patched with band-aids.

The real problems

  1. Lack of a cohesive strategy across marketing channels
  2. Lack of a cohesive content strategy throughout all stages of the buying cycle
  3. Lack of persona, buying cycle stage, and cohort-based list segmentation to nurture contacts
  4. Lack of tracking across customer touchpoints and devices
  5. Lack of gated content that provides enough value to early-funnel visitors to get them to provide their email address

So, what’s the answer?

Inbound marketing allows online retailers to stop competing with Amazon and other “price focused” competitors with leaky funnels, and to instead focus on:

  1. Persona-based content marketing campaigns designed to acquire email addresses from high-quality leads (potential customers) by offering them the right content for each stage in their buyer’s journey
  2. A robust marketing automation system that makes true personalization scalable
  3. Automated contact nurturing emails triggered by certain events, such as viewing specific content, abandoning their shopping cart, adding items to their wish list or performing micro-conversions like downloading a look book
  4. Intelligent SMM campaigns that match visitors and customers with social accounts by email addresses, interests and demographics—as well as social monitoring
  5. Hyper-segmented email contact lists to support the marketing automation described above, as well as to provide highly-customized email and shopping experiences
  6. Cross-channel, closed loop reporting to provide a complete “omnichannel” view of online marketing efforts and how they assist offline conversions, if applicable

Each of these areas will be covered in more detail below. First, let’s take a quick step back and define what it is we’re talking about here.

Inbound marketing: a primer

A lot of people think “inbound marketing” is just a way some SEO agencies are re-cloaking themselves to avoid negative associations with search engine optimization. Others think it’s synonymous with “internet marketing.” I think it goes more like this:

Inbound marketing is to Internet marketing as SEO is to inbound marketing: One piece of a larger whole.

There are many ways to define inbound marketing. A cursory review of definitions from several trusted sources reveals some fundamental similarities :

Rand Fishkin

randfishkin.jpeg

“Inbound Marketing is the practice of earning traffic and attention for your business on the web rather than buying it or interrupting people to get it. Inbound channels include organic search, social media, community-building content, opt-in email, word of mouth, and many others. Inbound marketing is particularly powerful because it appeals to what people are looking for and what they want, rather than trying to get between them and what they’re trying to do with advertising. Inbound’s also powerful due to the flywheel-effect it creates. The more you invest in Inbound and the more success you have, the less effort required to earn additional benefit.”


Mike King

mikeking.jpeg

“Inbound Marketing is a collection of marketing activities that leverage remarkable content to penetrate earned media channels such as Organic Search, Social Media, Email, News and the Blogosphere with the goal of engaging prospects when they are specifically interested in what the brand has to offer.”

This quote is from 2012, and is still just as accurate today. It’s from an
Inbound.org comment thread where you can also see many other takes on it from the likes of Ian Lurie, Jonathon Colman, and Larry Kim.


Inflow

inflow-logo.jpeg

“Inbound Marketing is a multi-channel, buyer-centric approach to online marketing that involves attracting, engaging, nurturing and converting potential customers from wherever they are in the buying cycle.”

From Inflow’s
Inbound Services page.


Wikipedia

wikipedia.jpeg

“Inbound marketing refers to marketing activities that bring visitors in, rather than marketers having to go out to get prospects’ attention. Inbound marketing earns the attention of customers, makes the company easy to be found, and draws customers to the website by producing interesting content.”

From
Inbound Marketing – Wikipedia.


Larry-Kim.jpeg

Larry Kim

“Inbound marketing” refers to marketing activities that bring leads and customers in when they’re ready, rather than you having to go out and wave your arms to try to get people’s attention.”

Via
Marketing Land in 2013. You can also read more of Larry Kim’s interpretation, along with many others, on Inbound.org.


Hubspot

“Instead of the old outbound marketing methods of buying ads, buying email lists, and praying for leads, inbound marketing focuses on creating quality content that pulls people toward your company and product, where they naturally want to be.”

Via
Hubspot, a marketing automation platform for inbound marketing.

When everyone has their own definition of something, it helps to think about what they have in common, as opposed to how they differ. In the case of inbound, this includes concepts such as:

  • Pull (inbound) vs. push (interruption) marketing
  • “Earning” media coverage, search engine rankings, visitors and customers with outstanding content
  • Marketing across channels
  • Meeting potential customers where they are in their buyer’s journey

Running your first eCommerce inbound marketing campaign

Audience personas—priority no. 1

The magic happens when retailers begin to hyper-segment their list based on buyer personas and other relevant information (i.e. what they’ve downloaded, what they’ve purchased, if they abandoned their cart…). This all starts with audience research to develop personas. If you need more information on persona development, try these resources:

Once personas are developed, retailers should choose one on which to focus. A complete campaign strategy should be developed around this persona, with the aim of providing the “right value” to them at the “right time” in their buyer’s journey.

Ready to get started?

We’ve developed a quick-start guide in the form of a checklist for eCommerce marketers who want to get started with inbound marketing, which you can access below.

inbound ecommerce checklist

Hands-on experience running one campaign will teach you more about inbound marketing than a dozen articles. My advice: Just do one. You will make mistakes. Learn from them and get better each time.

Example inbound marketing campaign

Below is an example of how a hypothetical inbound marketing campaign might play out, assuming you have completed all of the steps in the checklist above. Imagine you handle marketing for an online retailer of high-end sporting goods.

AT Hiker Tommy campaign: From awareness to purchase

When segmenting visitors and customers for a “high-end sporting goods / camping retailer” based on the East Coast, you identified a segment of “Trail Hikers.” These are people with disposable income who care about high-quality gear, and will pay top dollar if they know it is tested and reliable. The top trail on their list of destinations is the
Appalachian Trail (AT).

Top of the Funnel: SEO & Strategic Content Marketing

at-tommy.jpg

Tommy’s first action is to do “top of the funnel” research from search engines (one reason why SEO is still so important to a complete inbound marketing strategy).

A search for “Hiking the Appalachian Trail” turns up your article titled “What NOT to Pack When Hiking the Appalachian Trail,” which lists common items that are bulky/heavy, and highlights slimmer, lighter alternatives from your online catalog.

It also highlights the difference between cheap gear and the kind that won’t let you down on your 2,181 mile journey through the wilderness of Appalachia, something you learned was important to Tommy when developing his persona. This allows you to get the company’s value proposition of “tested, high-end, quality gear only” in front of readers very early in their buyer’s journey—important if you want to differentiate your site from all of the retailers racing Amazon to the bottom of their profit margins.

So far you have yet to make “contact” with AT Hiker Tommy. The key to “acquiring” a contact before the potential customer is ready to make a purchase is to provide something of value to that specific type of person (i.e. their persona) at that specific point in time (i.e. their buying cycle stage).

In this case, we need to provide value to AT Hiker Tommy while he is getting started on his research about hiking the Appalachian Trail. He has an idea of what gear not to bring, as well as some lighter, higher-end options sold on your site. At this point, however, he is not ready to buy anything without researching the trail more. This is where retailers lose most of their potential customers. But not you. Not this time…

Middle of the funnel: Content offers, personalization, social & email nurturing

at-hiker-ebook.png

On the “What NOT to Pack When Hiking the Appalachian Trail” article (and probably several others), you have placed a call-to-action (CTA) in the form of a button that offers something like:

Download our Free 122-page Guide to Hiking the Appalachian Trail

This takes Tommy to a landing page showcasing some of the quotes from the book, and highlighting things like:

“We interviewed over 50 ‘thru-hikers’ who completed the AT and have curated and organized the best first-hand tips, along with our own significant research to develop a free eBook that should answer most of your questions about the trail.”

By entering their email address potential customers agree to allow you to send them the free PDF downloadable guide to hiking the AT, and other relevant information about hiking.

An automated email is sent with a link to the downloadable PDF guide, and several other useful content links, such as “The AT Hiker’s Guide to Gear for the Appalachian Trail”—content designed to move Tommy further toward the purchase of hiking gear.

If Tommy still has not made a purchase within the next two weeks, another automated email is sent asking for feedback about the PDF guide (providing the link again), and to again provide the link to the “AT Hiker’s Guide to Gear…” along with a compelling offer just for him, perhaps “Get 20% off your first hiking gear purchase, and a free wall map of the AT!”

Having Tommy’s email address also allows you to hyper-target him on social channels, while also leveraging his initial visit to initiate retargeting efforts.

Bottom of the funnel: Email nurturing & strategic, segmented offers

Eventually Tommy makes a purchase, and he may or may not receive further emails related to this campaign, such as post-purchase emails for reviews, up-sells and cross-sells.

Upon checkout, Tommy checked the box to opt-in to weekly promotional emails. He is now on multiple lists. Your marketing automation system will automatically update Tommy’s status from “Contact” or lead, to “Customer” and potentially remove or deactivate him from the marketing automation system database. This is accomplished either by default integration features, or with the help of integration tools like
Zapier and IFTTT.

You have now nurtured Tommy from his initial research on Google all the way to his first purchase without ever having sent a spammy newsletter email full of irrelevant coupons and other offers. However, now that he is a loyal customer, Tommy finds value in these bottom-of-funnel email offers.

And this is just the start

Every inbound marketing campaign will have its own mix of appropriate channels. This post has focused mostly on email because acquiring the initial permission to contact the person is what fuels most of the other features offered by marketing automation systems, including:

  • Personalization of offers and other content on the site.
  • Knowing exactly which visitors are interacting on social media
  • Knowing where visitors and social followers are in the buying cycle and which persona best represents them, among other things.
  • Smart forms that don’t require visitors to put in the same information twice and allow you to build out more detailed profiles of them over time.
  • Blogging platforms that tie into email and marketing automation systems
  • Analytics data that isn’t blocked by Google and is tied directly to real people.
  • Closed-loop reporting that integrates with call-tracking and Google’s Data Import tool
  • Up-sell, cross-sell, and abandoned cart reclamation features
Three more things…
  1. If you can figure out a way to get Tommy to “log in” when he comes to your site, the personalization possibilities are nearly limitless.
  2. The persona above is based on a real customer segment. I named it after my friend Tommy Bailey, who actually did write the eBook
    Guide to Hiking the Appalachian Trail, featured in the image above.
  3. This Moz post is part of an inbound marketing campaign targeting eCommerce marketers, a segment Inflow identified while building out our own personas. Our hope, and the whole point of inbound marketing, is that it provides value to you.

Current state of the inbound marketing industry

Inbound has, for the the most part, been applied to businesses in which the website objective is to generate leads for a sales team to follow-up with and close the deal. An examination of various marketing automation platforms—a key component of scalable inbound marketing programs—highlights this issue.

Popular marketing automation systems

Most of the major marketing automation systems can be be used very effectively as the backbone of an inbound marketing program for eCommerce businesses. However, only one of them (Silverpop) has made significant efforts to court the eCommerce market with content and out-of-box features. The next closest thing is Hubspot, so let’s start with those two:

Silverpop – an IBMⓇ Company

silver-pop.jpeg

Unlike the other platforms below, right out of the box Silverpop allows marketers to tap into very specific behaviors, including the items purchased or left in the cart.

You can easily segment based on metrics like the Recency, Frequency and Monetary Value (RFM) of purchases:

silverpop triggered campaigns

You can automate personalized shopping cart abandonment recovery emails:

silverpop cart abandonment recovery

You can integrate with many leading brands offering complementary services, including: couponing, CRM, analytics, email deliverability enhancement, social and most major eCommerce platforms.

What you can’t do with Silverpop is blog, find pricing info on their website, get a free trial on their website or have a modern-looking user experience. Sounds like an IBMⓇ company, doesn’t it?

HubSpot

Out of all the marketing automation platforms on this list, HubSpot is the most capable of handling “inbound marketing” campaigns from start to finish. This should come as no surprise, given the phrase is credited to
Brian Halligan, HubSpot’s co-founder and CEO.

While they don’t specifically cater to eCommerce marketing needs with the same gusto they give to lead gen. marketing, HubSpot does have
an eCommerce landing page and a demo landing page for eCommerce leads, which suggests that their own personas include eCommerce marketers. Additionally, there is some good content on their blog written specifically for eCommerce.

HubSpot has allowed some key partners to develop plug-ins that integrate with leading eCommerce platforms. This approach works well with curation, and is not dissimilar to how Google handles Android or Apple handles their approved apps.

magento and hubspot

The
Magento Connector for HubSpot, which costs $80 per month, was developed by EYEMAGiNE, a creative design firm for eCommerce websites. A similar HubSpot-approved third-party integration is on the way for Bigcommerce.

Another eCommerce integration for Hubspot is a Shopify plug-in called
HubShoply, which was developed by Groove Commerce and costs $100 per month.

You can also use HubSpot’s native integration capabilities with
Zapier to sync data between HubSpot and most major eCommerce SaaS vendors, including the ones above, as well as WooCommerce, Shopify, PayPal, Infusionsoft and more. However, the same could be said of some of the other marketing automation platforms, and using these third-party solutions can sometimes feel like fitting a square peg into a round hole.

HubSpot can and does handle inbound marketing for eCommerce websites. All of the features are there, or easy enough to integrate. But let’s put some pressure on them to up their eCommerce game even more. The least they can do is put an eCommerce link in the footer:

hubspot menus

Despite the lack of clear navigation to their eCommerce content, HubSpot seems to be paying more attention to the needs of eCommerce businesses than the rest of the platforms below.

Marketo

Nothing about Marketo’s in-house marketing strategy suggests “Ecommerce Director Bob” might be one of their personas. The description for each of
their marketing automation packages (from Spark to Enterprise) mentions that it is “for B2B” websites.

marketo screenshot

Driving Sales could apply to a retail business so I clicked on the link. Nope. Clearly, this is for lead generation.

marketo marketing automation

Passing “purchase-ready leads” over to your “sales reps” is a good example of the type of language used throughout the site.

Make no mistake, Marketo is a top-notch marketing automation platform. Powerful and clean, it’s a shame they don’t launch a full-scale eCommerce version of their core product. In the meantime, there’s the
Magento Integration for Marketo Plug-in developed by an agency out of Australia called Hoosh Marketing.

magento marketo integration

I’ve never used this integration, but it’s part of Marketo’s
LaunchPoint directory, which I imagine is vetted, and Hoosh seems like a reputable agency.

Their
pricing page is blurred and gated, which is annoying, but perhaps they’ll come on here and tell everyone how much they charge.

marketo pricing page

As with all others except Silverpop, the Marketo navigation provides no easy paths to landing pages that would appeal to “Ecommerce Director Bob.”

Pardot

This option is a
SalesForce product, so—though I’ve never had the opportunity to use it—I can imagine Pardot is heavy on B2B/Sales and very light on B2C marketing for retail sites.

The hero image on their homepage says as much.

pardot tagline

pardot marketing automationAgain, no mention of eCommerce or retail, but clear navigation to lead gen and sales.

Eloqua / OMC

eloqua-logo.jpeg

Eloqua, now part of the Oracle Marketing Cloud (OMC), has a landing page
for the retail industry, on which they proclaim:

“Retail marketers know that the path to lifelong loyalty and increased revenue goes through building and growing deep client relationships.”

Since when did retail marketers start calling customers clients?

eloqua integration

The Integration tab on OMC’s “…Retail.html” page helpfully informs eCommerce marketers that their sales teams can continue using CRM systems like SalesForce and Microsoft Dynamics but doesn’t mention anything about eCommerce platforms and other SaaS solutions for eCommerce businesses.

Others

There are many other players in this arena. Though I haven’t used them yet, three I would love to try out are
SharpSpring, Hatchbuck and Act-On. But none of them appear to be any better suited to handle the concerns of eCommerce websites.

Where there’s a gap, there’s opportunity

The purpose of the section above wasn’t to highlight deficiencies in the tools themselves, but to illustrate a gap in who they are being marketed to and developed for.

So far, most of your eCommerce competitors probably aren’t using tools like these because they are not marketed to by the platforms, and don’t know how to apply the technology to online retail in a way that would justify the expense.

The thing is, a tool is just a tool

The
key concepts behind inbound marketing apply just as much to online retail as they do to lead generation.

In order to “do inbound marketing,” a marketing automation system isn’t even strictly necessary (in theory). They just help make the activities scalable for most businesses.

They also bring a lot of different marketing activities under one roof, which saves time and allows data to be moved and utilized between channels and systems. For example, what a customer is doing on social could influence the emails they receive, or content they see on your site. Here are some potential uses for most of the platforms above:

Automated marketing uses

  • Personalized abandoned cart emails
  • Post-purchase nurturing/reorder marketing
  • Welcome campaigns for the newsletter (other free offer) signups
  • Winback campaigns
  • Lead-nurturing email campaigns for cohorts and persona-based segments

Content marketing uses

  • Optimized, strategic blogging platforms, and frameworks
  • Landing pages for pre-transactional/educational offers or contests
  • Social media reporting, monitoring, and publishing
  • Personalization of content and user experience

Reporting uses

  • Revenue reporting (by segment or marketing action)
  • Attribution reporting (by campaign or content)

Assuming you don’t have the budget for a marketing automation system, but already have a good email marketing platform, you can still get started with inbound marketing. Eventually, however, you may want to graduate to a dedicated marketing automation solution to reap the full benefits.

Email marketing platforms

Most of the marketing automation systems claim to replace your email marketing platform, while many email marketing platforms claim to be marketing automation systems. Neither statement is completely accurate.

Marketing automation systems, especially those created specifically for the type of “inbound” campaigns described above, provide a powerful suite of tools all in one place. On the other hand, dedicated email platforms tend to offer “email marketing” features that are better, and more robust, than those offered by marketing automation systems. Some of them are also considerably cheaper—such as
MailChimp—but those are often light on even the email-specific features for eCommerce.

A different type of campaign

Email “blasts” in the form of B.O.G.O., $10 off or free shipping offers can still be very successful in generating incremental revenue boosts — especially for existing customers and seasonal campaigns.

The conversion rate on a 20% off coupon sent to existing customers, for instance, would likely pulverize the conversion rate of an email going out to middle-of-funnel contacts with a link to content (at least with how CR is currently being calculated by email platforms).

Inbound marketing campaigns can also offer quick wins, but they tend to focus mostly on non-customers after the first segmentation campaign (a campaign for the purpose of segmenting your list, such as an incentivised survey). This means lower initial conversion rates, but long-term success with the growth of new customers.

Here’s a good bet if works with your budget: Rely on a marketing automation system for inbound marketing to drive new customer acquisition from initial visit to first purchase, while using a good email marketing platform to run your “promotional email” campaigns to existing customers.

If you have to choose one or the other, I’d go with a robust marketing automation system.

Some of the most popular email platforms used by eCommerce businesses, with a focus on how they handle various Inbound Marketing activities, include:

Bronto

bronto.jpeg

This platform builds in features like abandoned cart recovery, advanced email list segmentation and automated email workflows that nurture contacts over time.

They also offer a host of eCommerce-related
features that you just don’t get with marketing automation systems like Hubspot and Marketo. This includes easy integration with a variety of eCommerce platforms like ATG, Demandware, Magento, Miva Merchant, Mozu and MarketLive, not to mention apps for coupons, product recommendations, social shopping and more. Integration with enterprise eCommerce platforms is one reason why Bronto is seen over and over again when browsing the Internet Retailer Top 500 reports.

On the other hand, Bronto—like the rest of these email platforms—doesn’t have many of the features that assist with content marketing outside of emails. As an “inbound” marketing automation system, it is incomplete because it focuses almost solely on one channel: email.

Vertical Response

verticalresponse.jpeg

Another juggernaut in eCommerce email marketing platforms, Vertical Response, has even fewer inbound-related features than Bronto, though it is a good email platform with a free version that includes up to 1,000 contacts and 4,000 emails per month (i.e. 4 emails to a full list of 1,000).

Oracle Marketing Cloud (OMC)

Responsys (the email platform), like Eloqua (the marketing automation system) was gobbled up by Oracle and is now part of their “Marketing Cloud.”

It has been my experience that when a big technology firm like IBM or Oracle buys a great product, it isn’t “great” for the users. Time will tell.

Listrak

listrak.jpeg

Out of the established email platforms for eCommerce, Listrak may do the best job at positioning themselves as a full inbound marketing platform.

Listrak’s value proposition is that they’re an “Omnichannel” solution. Everything is all in one “Single, Integrated Digital Marketing Platform for Retailers.” The homepage image promises solutions for Email, Mobile, Social, Web and In-Store channels.

I haven’t had the opportunity to work with Listrak yet, but would love to hear feedback in the comments on whether they could handle the kind of persona-based content marketing and automated email nurturing campaigns described in the example campaign above.

Key takeaways

Congratulations for making this far! Here are a few things I hope you’ll take away from this post:

  • There is a lot of opportunity right now for eCommerce sites to take advantage of marketing automation systems and robust email marketing platforms as the infrastructure to run comprehensive inbound marketing campaigns.
  • There is a lot of opportunity right now for marketing automation systems to develop content and build in eCommerce-specific features to lure eCommerce marketers.
  • Inbound marketing isn’t email marketing, although email is an important piece to inbound because it allows you to begin forming lasting relationships with potential customers much earlier in the buying cycle.
  • To see the full benefits of inbound marketing, you should focus on getting the right content to the right person at the right time in their shopping journey. This necessarily involves several different channels, including search, social and email. One of the many benefits of marketing automation systems is their ability to track your efforts here across marketing channels, devices and touch-points.

Tools, resources, and further reading

There is a lot of great content on the topic of Inbound marketing, some of which has greatly informed my own understanding and approach. Here are a few resources you may find useful as well.

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How We Fixed the Internet (Ok, an Answer Box)

Posted by Dr-Pete

Last year, Google expanded the Knowledge Graph to use data extracted (*cough* scraped) from the index to create answer boxes. Back in October, I wrote about a failed experiment. One of my posts, an odd dive
into Google’s revenue, was being answer-fied for the query “How much does Google make?”:

Objectively speaking, even I could concede that this wasn’t a very good answer in 2014. I posted it on Twitter, and
David Iwanow asked the inevitable question:

Enthusiasm may have gotten the best of us, a few more people got involved (like my former Moz colleague
Ruth Burr Reedy), and suddenly we were going to fix this once and for all:

There Was Just One Problem

I updated the post, carefully rewriting the first paragraph to reflect the new reality of Google’s revenue. I did my best to make the change user-friendly, adding valuable information but not disrupting the original post. I did, however, completely replace the old text that Google was scraping.

Within less than a day, Google had re-cached the content, and I just had to wait to see the new answer box. So, I waited, and waited… and waited. Two months later, still no change. Some days, the SERP showed no answer box at all (although I’ve since found these answer boxes are very dynamic), and I was starting to wonder if it was all a mistake.

Then, Something Happened

Last week, months after I had given up, I went to double-check this query for entirely different reasons, and I saw the following:

Google had finally updated the answer box with the new text, and they had even pulled an image from the post. It was a strange choice of images, but in fairness, it was a strange post.

Interestingly, Google also added the publication date of the post, perhaps recognizing that outdated answers aren’t always useful. Unfortunately, this doesn’t reflect the timing of the new content, but that’s understandable – Google doesn’t have easy access to that data.

It’s interesting to note that sometimes Google shows the image, and sometimes they don’t. This seems to be independent of whether the SERP is personalized or incognito. Here’s a capture of the image-free version, along with the #1 organic ranking:

You’ll notice that the #1 result is also my Moz post, and that result has an expanded meta description. So, the same URL is essentially double-dipping this SERP. This isn’t always the case – answers can be extracted from URLs that appear lower on page 1 (although almost always page 1, in my experience). Anecdotally, it’s also not always the case that these organic result ends up getting an expanded meta description.

However, it definitely seems that some of the quality signals driving organic ranking and expanded meta descriptions are also helping Google determine whether a query deserves a direct answer. Put simply, it’s not an accident that this post was chosen to answer this question.

What Does This Mean for You?

Let’s start with the obvious – Yes, the v2 answer boxes (driven by the index, not Freebase/WikiData)
can be updated. However, the update cycle is independent of the index’s refresh cycle. In other words, just because a post is re-cached, it doesn’t mean the answer box will update. Presumably, Google is creating a second Knowledge Graph, based on the index, and this data is only periodically updated.

It’s also entirely possible that updating could cause you to lose an answer box, if the new data weren’t a strong match to the question or the quality of the content came into question. Here’s an interesting question – on a query where a competitor has an answer box, could you change your own content enough to either replace them or knock out the answer box altogether? We are currently testing this question, but it may be a few more months before we have any answers.

Another question is what triggers this style of answer box in the first place? Eric Enge has an
in-depth look at 850,000 queries that’s well worth your time, and in many cases Google is still triggering on obvious questions (“how”, “what”, “where”, etc.). Nouns that could be interpreted as ambiguous also can trigger the new answer boxes. For example, a search for “ruby” is interpreted by Google as roughly meaning “What is Ruby?”:

This answer box also triggers “Related topics” that use content pulled from other sites but drive users to more Google searches. The small, gray links are the source sites. The much more visible, blue links are more Google searches.

Note that these also have to be questions (explicit or implied) that Google can’t answer with their curated Knowledge Graph (based on sources like Freebase and WikiData). So, for example, the question “When is Mother’s Day?” triggers an older-style answer:

Sites offering this data aren’t going to have a chance to get attribution, because Google essentially already owns the answer to this question as part of their core Knowledge Graph.

Do You Want to Be An Answer?

This is where things get tricky. At this point, we have no clear data on how these answer boxes impact CTR, and it’s likely that the impact depends a great deal on the context. I think we’re facing a certain degree of inevitability – if Google is going to list an answer, better it’s your answer then someone else’s, IMO. On the other hand, what if that answer is so complete that it renders your URL irrelevant? Consider, for example, the SERP for “how to make grilled cheese”:

Sorry, Food Network, but making a grilled cheese sandwich isn’t really that hard, and this answer box doesn’t leave much to the imagination. As these answers get more and more thorough, expect CTRs to fall.

For now, I’d argue that it’s better to have your link in the box than someone else’s, but that’s cold comfort in many cases. These new answer boxes represent what I feel is a dramatic shift in the relationship between Google and webmasters, and they may be tipping the balance. For now, we can’t do much but wait, see, and experiment.

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Leveraging Panda to Get Out of Product Feed Jail

Posted by MichaelC

This is a story about Panda, customer service, and differentiating your store from others selling the same products.

Many e-commerce websites get the descriptions, specifications, and imagery for products they sell from feeds or databases provided by the
manufacturers. The manufacturers might like this, as they control how their product is described and shown. However, it does their retailers
no good when they are trying to rank for searches for those products and they’ve got the exact same content as every other retailer. If the content
in the feed is thin, then you’ll have pages with…well….thin content. And if there’s a lot of content for the products, then you’ll have giant blocks of content that
Panda might spot as being the same as they’ve seen on many other sites. To throw salt on the wound, if the content is really crappy, badly written,
or downright wrong, then the retailers’ sites will look low-quality to Panda and users as well.

Many webmasters see Panda as a type of Google penalty—but it’s not, really. Panda is a collection of measurements Google
is taking of your web pages to try and give your pages a rating on how happy users are likely to be with those pages.
It’s not perfect, but then again—neither is your website.

Many SEO folks (including me) tend to focus on the kinds of tactical and structural things you can do to make Panda see
your web pages as higher quality: things like adding big, original images, interactive content like videos and maps, and
lots and lots and lots and lots of text. These are all good tactics, but let’s step back a bit and look at a specific
example to see WHY Panda was built to do this, and from that, what we can do as retailers to enrich the content we have
for e-commerce products where our hands are a bit tied—we’re getting a feed of product info from the manufacturers, the same
as every other retailer of those products.

I’m going to use a real-live example that I suffered through about a month ago. I was looking for a replacement sink
stopper for a bathroom sink. I knew the brand, but there wasn’t a part number on the part I needed to replace. After a few Google
searches, I think I’ve found it on Amazon:


Don’t you wish online shopping was always this exciting?

What content actually teaches the customer

All righty… my research has shown me that there are standard sizes for plug stoppers. In fact, I initially ordered a
“universal fit sink stopper.” Which didn’t fit. Then I found 3 standard diameters, and 5 or 6 standard lengths.
No problem…I possess that marvel of modern tool chests, a tape measure…so I measure the part I have that I need to replace. I get about 1.5″ x 5″.
So let’s scroll down to the product details to see if it’s a match:

Kohler sink stopper product info from hell

Whoa. 1.2 POUNDS? This sink stopper must be made of
Ununoctium.
The one in my hand weighs about an ounce. But the dimensions
are way off as well: a 2″ diameter stopper isn’t going to fit, and mine needs to be at least an inch longer.

I scroll down to the product description…maybe there’s more detail there, maybe the 2″ x 2″ is the box or something.

I've always wanted a sink stopper designed for long long

Well, that’s less than helpful, with a stupid typo AND incorrect capitalization AND a missing period at the end.
Doesn’t build confidence in the company’s quality control.

Looking at the additional info section, maybe this IS the right part…the weight quoted in there is about right:

Maybe this is my part after all

Where else customers look for answers

Next I looked at the questions and answers bit, which convinced me that it PROBABLY was the right part:

Customers will answer the question if the retailer won't...sometimes.

If I was smart, I would have covered my bets by doing what a bunch of other customers also did: buy a bunch of different parts,
and surely one of them will fit. Could there
possibly was a clearer signal that the product info was lacking than this?

If you can't tell which one to buy, buy them all!

In this case, that was probably smarter than spending another 1/2 hour of my time snooping around online. But in general, people
aren’t going to be willing to buy THREE of something just to make sure they get the right one. This cheap part was an exception.

So, surely SOMEONE out there has the correct dimensions of this part on their site—so I searched for the part number I saw on the Amazon
listing. But as it turned out, that crappy description and wrong weight and dimensions were on every site I found…because they came from
the manufacturer.

Better Homes and Gardens...but not better description.

A few of the sites had edited out the “designed for long long” bit, but apart from that, they were all the same.

What sucks for the customer is an opportunity for you

Many, many retailers are in this same boat—they get their product info from the manufacturer, and if the data sucks in their feed,
it’ll suck on their site. Your page looks weak to both users and to Panda, and it looks the same as everybody else’s page for that product…to
both users and to Panda. So (a) you won’t rank very well, and (b) if you DO manage to get a customer to that page, it’s not as likely to convert
to a sale.

What can you do to improve on this? Here’s a few tactics to consider.

1. Offer your own additional description and comments

Add a new field to your CMS for your own write-ups on products, and when you discover issues like the above, you can add your own information—and
make it VERY clear what’s the manufacturer’s stock info and what you’ve added (that’s VALUE-ADDED) as well. My client
Sports Car Market magazine does this with their collector car auction reports in their printed magazine:
they list the auction company’s description of the car, then their reporter’s assessment of the car. This is why I buy the magazine and not the auction catalog.

2. Solicit questions

Be sure you solicit questions on every product page—your customers will tell you what’s wrong or what important information is missing. Sure,
you’ve got millions of products to deal with, but what the customers are asking about (and your sales volume of course) will help you prioritize as well as
find the problems opportunities.

Amazon does a great job of enabling this, but in this case, I used the Feedback option to update the product info,
and got back a total
bull-twaddle email from the seller about how the dimensions are in the product description thank you for shopping with us, bye-bye.
I tried to help them, for free, and they shat on me.

3. But I don’t get enough traffic to get the questions

Don’t have enough site volume to get many customer requests? No problem, the information is out there for you on Amazon :-).
Take your most important products, and look them up on Amazon, and see what questions are being asked—then answer those ONLY on your own site.

4. What fits with what?

Create fitment/cross-reference charts for products.
You probably have in-house knowledge of what products fit/are compatible with what other products.
Just because YOU know a certain accessory fits all makes and models, because it’s some industry-standard size, doesn’t mean that the customer knows this.

If there’s a particular way to measure a product so you get the correct size, explain that (with photos of what you’re measuring, if it seems
at all complicated). I’m getting a new front door for my house. 

  • How big is the door I need? 
  • Do I measure the width of the door itself, or the width of the
    opening (probably 1/8″ wider)? 
  • Or if it’s pre-hung, do I measure the frame too? Is it inswing or outswing?
  • Right or left hinged…am I supposed to
    look at the door from inside the house or outside to figure this out? 

If you’re a door seller, this is all obvious stuff,
but it wasn’t obvious to me, and NOT having the info on a website means (a) I feel stupid, and (b) I’m going to look at your competitors’ sites
to see if they will explain it…and maybe I’ll find a door on THEIR site I like better anyway.

Again, prioritize based on customer requests.

5. Provide your own photos and measurements

If examples of the physical products are available to you, take your own photos, and take your own measurements.

In fact, take your OWN photo of YOURSELF taking the measurement—so the user can see exactly what part of the product you’re measuring.
In the photo below, you can see that I’m measuring the diameter of the stopper, NOT the hole in the sink, NOT the stopper plus the rubber gasket.
And no, Kohler, it’s NOT 2″ in diameter…by a long shot.

Don't just give the measurements, SHOW the measurements

Keep in mind, you shouldn’t have to tear apart your CMS to do any of this. You can put your additions in a new database table, just tied to the
core product content by SKU. In the page template code for the product page, you can check your database to see if you have any of your “extra bits” to display
alongside the feed content, and this way keep it separate from the core product catalog code. This will make updates to the CMS/product catalog less painful as well.

Fixing your content doesn’t have to be all that difficult, nor expensive

At this point, you’re probably thinking “hey, but I’ve got 1.2 million SKUs, and if I were to do this, it’d take me 20 years to update all of them.”
FINE. Don’t update all of them. Prioritize, based on factors like what you sell the most of, what you make the best margin on, what customers
ask questions about the most, etc. Maybe concentrate on your top 5% in terms of sales, and do those first. Take all that money you used to spend
buying spammy links every month, and spend it instead on junior employees or interns doing the product measurements, extra photos, etc.

And don’t be afraid to spend a little effort on a low value product, if it’s one that frequently gets questions from customers.
Simple things can make a life-long fan of the customer. I once needed to replace a dishwasher door seal, and didn’t know if I needed special glue,
special tools, how to cut it to fit with or without overlap, etc.
I found a video on how to do the replacement on
RepairClinic.com. So easy!
They got my business for the $10 seal, of course…but now I order my $50 fridge water filter from them every six months as well.

Benefits to your conversion rate

Certainly the tactics we’ve talked about will improve your conversion rate from visitors to purchasers. If JUST ONE of those sites I looked at for that damn sink stopper
had the right measurement (and maybe some statement about how the manufacturer’s specs above are actually incorrect, we measured, etc.), I’d have stopped right there
and bought from that site.

What does this have to do with Panda?

But, there’s a Panda benefit here too. You’ve just added a bunch of additional, unique text to your site…and maybe a few new unique photos as well.
Not only are you going to convert better, but you’ll probably rank better too.

If you’re NOT Amazon, or eBay, or Home Depot, etc., then Panda is your secret weapon to help you rank against those other sites whose backlink profiles are
stronger than
carbon fibre (that’s a really cool video, by the way).
If you saw my
Whiteboard Friday on Panda optimization, you’ll know that
Panda tuning can overcome incredible backlink profile deficits.

It’s go time

We’re talking about tactics that are time-consuming, yes—but relatively easy to implement, using relatively inexpensive staff (and in some
cases, your customers are doing some of the work for you).
And it’s something you can roll out a product at a time.
You’ll be doing things that really DO make your site a better experience for the user…we’re not just trying to trick Panda’s measurements.

  1. Your pages will rank better, and bring more traffic.
  2. Your pages will convert better, because users won’t leave your site, looking elsewhere for answers to their questions.
  3. Your customers will be more loyal, because you were able to help them when nobody else bothered.

Don’t be held hostage by other peoples’ crappy product feeds. Enhance your product information with your own info and imagery.
Like good link-building and outreach, it takes time and effort, but both Panda and your site visitors will reward you for it.

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!

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How to Have a Successful Local SEO Campaign in 2015

Posted by Casey_Meraz

Another year in search has passed. It’s now 2015 and we have seen some major changes in local ranking factors since 2014, which I also expect to change greatly throughout 2015. For some a new year means a fresh starting point and yet for others it’s a time of reflection to analyze how successful your campaign has been. Whatever boat you’re in, make sure to sit down and read this guide. 

In this guide we will cover how you can have a successful local SEO campaign in 2015 starting with the basics and getting down to five action items you should focus on now. This is not limited to Google My Business and also includes localized organic results. 

Now the question is where do you start?

Since Pigeon has now rolled out to the US, UK, Australia, and Canada it’s important to make sure your strategies are in line with this no matter what part of the world you’re in. A successful local SEO Campaign in 2015 will be much more successful if you put more work into it. Don’t be fooled though. More work by itself isn’t going to get you where you need to be. You need to work smarter towards the goals which are going to fuel your conversions.

For some industries that might mean more localized content, for others it may mean more social interaction in your local area. Whatever it ends up being, the root of it should be the same for most. You need to get more conversions for your website or your client’s website. So with this in mind let’s make sure we’re on the same page as far as our goals are concerned.

Things you need to know first

Focus on the right goals

Recently I had a conversation with a client who wanted to really nail in the point that
he was not interested in traffic. He was interested in the conversions he could track. He was also interested to see how all of these content resource pieces I recommended would help. He was tired of the silly graphs from other agencies that showed great rankings on a variety of keywords when he was more interested to see which efforts brought him the most value. Instead, he wanted to see how his campaign was bringing him conversions or meaningful traffic. I really appreciated this statement and I felt like he really got it.

Still, however, far too often I have to talk to potential clients and explain to them why their sexy looking traffic reports aren’t actually helping them. You can have all of the traffic in the world but if it doesn’t meet one of your goals of conversions or education then it’s probably not helping. Even if you make the client happy with your snazzy reports for a few months, eventually they’re going to want to know their return on investment (ROI).

It’s 2015. If your clients aren’t tracking conversions properly, give them the help they need. Record their contacts in a CRM and track the source of each of these contacts. Track them all the way through the sales funnel. 

That’s a simple and basic marketing example but as SEOs
your role has transformed. If you can show this type of actual value and develop a plan accordingly, you will be unstoppable.

Second, don’t get tunnel vision

You may wonder why I started a little more basic than normal in this post. The fact is that in this industry there is not a full formal training program that covers all aspects of what we do. 

We all come from different walks of life and experience which makes it easy for us to get tunnel vision. You probably opened this article with the idea of “How Can I Dominate My Google Local Rankings?” While we cover some actionable tips you should be using, you need to think outside of the box as well. Your website is not the only online property you need to be concerned about.

Mike Ramsey from Nifty Marketing put out a great study on 
measuring the click-through rates from the new local stack. In this study he measured click-through rates of users conducting several different searches like “Salt Lake City Hotel” in the example below. With so many different options look where the users are clicking:

They’re really clicking all over the place! While it’s cool to be number one, it’s much better if you get clicks from your paid ad, organic result, local result, and barnacle SEO efforts (which we’ll talk about a little later). 

If you combine your conversion marketing data with your biggest priorities, you can put together a plan to tackle the most important areas for your industry. Don’t assume it’s a one-size-fits-all approach. 

Third, some spam still works. Don’t do it and rise above it.

There’s no doubt that some spammy tactics are still working. Google gets better everyday but you still see crap
like this example below show up in the SERPs.

While it sucks to see that kind of stuff, remember that in time it disappears (just as it did before this article was published). If you take shortcuts, you’re going to get caught and it’s not worth it for the client or the heartache on your site. Maintain the course and do things the right way. 

Now let’s get tactical and prepare for 2015

Now it’s time for some practical and tactical takeaways you can use to dominate your local search campaign in 2015.

Practical tip 1: start with an audit

Over the years, one of the best lessons I have learned is it’s OK to say “I don’t know” when you don’t have the answer. Consulting with industry experts or people with more experience than you is not a bad thing and will likely only lead to you to enhance your knowledge and get a different perspective. It can be humbling but the experience is amazing. It can open your mind.

Last year, I had the opportunity to work with over ten of the industry’s best minds and retained them for site audits on different matters. 

The perspective this gives is absolutely incredible and I believe it’s a great way to learn. Everyone in this industry has come from a different background and seen different things over the years. Combining that knowledge is invaluable to the success of your clients’ projects. Don’t be afraid to do it and learn from it. This is also a good idea if you feel like your project has reached a stalemate. Getting more advice, identifying potential problems, and having a fresh perspective will do wonders for your success.

As many of the experts have confirmed, ever since the Pigeon update, organic and local ranking factors have been more tied together than ever. Since they started going this direction in a big way, I would not expect it to stop. 

This means that you really do need to worry about things like site speed, content, penalties, mobile compatibility, site structure, and more. On a side note, guess what will happen to your organic results if you keep this as a top priority? They will flourish and you will thank me.

If you don’t have the budget or resources to get a third party opinion, you can also conduct an independent audit. 

Do it yourself local SEO audit resources:

Do it yourself organic SEO audit resources:

Alternatively if you’re more in the organic boat you should also check out this guide by Steve Webb on
How To Perform The World’s Greatest SEO Audit

Whatever your situation is, it’s worth the time to have this perspective yearly or even a couple times a year if possible.

Practical tip 2: consider behavioral signals and optimize accordingly

I remember having a conversation with Darren Shaw, the founder of 
Whitespark, at MozCon 2013 about his thoughts on user behavior affecting local results. At the time I didn’t do too much testing around it. However just this year, Darren had a mind-blowing presentation at the Dallas State of Search where he threw in the behavioral signals curve ball. Phil Rozek also spoke about behavioral signals and provided a great slide deck with actionable items (included below). 

We have always speculated on behavioral signals but between his tests and some of Rand’s IMEC Lab tests, I became more of a believer last year. Now, before we go too deep on this remember that your local campaign is NOT only focused on just your local pack results. If user behavior can have an impact on search results, we should definitely be optimizing for our users.


You can view Phil Rozek’s presentation below: 

Don’t just optimize for the engines, optimize for the humans. One day when Skynet is around this may not be an issue, but for now you need to do it.

So how can you optimize for behavioral signals?

There is a dark side and a light side path to this question. If you ask me I will always say follow the light side as it will be effective and you don’t have to worry about being penalized. That’s a serious issue and it’s unethical for you to put your clients in that position.

Local SEO: how to optimize for behavioral signals

Do you remember the click-through study we looked at a bit earlier from Nifty Marketing? Do you remember where the users clicked? If you look again or just analyze user and shopper behavior, you might notice that many of the results with the most reviews got clicks. We know that reviews are hard to get so here are two quick ways that I use and recommend to my clients:


1. Solicit your Gmail clients for reviews

If you have a list of happy Gmail clients you can simply send them an email with a direct link to your Google My Business Page. Just get the URL of your local page by pulling up your URL and copying and pasting it. A URL will look like the one below:

Once you have this URL, simply remove the /posts and replace it with: 

 /?hl=en&review=1


It will look like this:

If your clients click on this link via their logged-in Gmail, they will automatically be taken to the review page which will open up the box to leave a review which looks like the example below. It doesn’t get much more simple than that. 

2. Check out a service like Mike Blumenthal’s Get Five Stars for reviews

I recently used this with a client and got a lot of great feedback and several reviews.

Remember that these reviews will also help on third-party sites and can help your Google My Business ranking positions as well as click-through rates. You can
check out Get Five Stars Here.

Another way outside of getting reviews is to optimize the appearance of your Google My Business Page. 


3. Optimize your local photos

Your Google My Business page includes photos. Don’t use generic photos. Use high quality photos so when the users hover over your listing they get an accurate representation of what they’re looking for. Doing this will increase your click-through rate. 

Organic SEO: Optimize for Behavioral Signals

The optimization for click-through rates on organic results typically focus on three areas. While you’re likely very familiar with the first two, you should not ignore them.


1. Title tags: optimize them for the user and engine

Optimize your meta title tags to increase click-through rates. Each page should have a unique title tag and should help the viewer with their query. The example below (although fabricated) is a good example of what NOT to do. 


2. Meta descriptions: optimize them for the user

Optimize your meta description to get the user to click on the search result. If you’re not doing this just because Google may or may not pull it, you’re missing opportunities and clicks. 


3. Review Schema markup: add this to appropriate pages

Reviewing
Schema markup is still a very overlooked opportunity. Like we talked about above in the local section, if you don’t have reviews coded in Schema, you could be missing out on getting the orange stars in organic results. 

Practical tip 3: don’t ignore barnacle SEO

I firmly believe that most people are not taking advantage of barnacle SEO still to this day and I’m a big fan. When I first heard Will Scott introduce this term at Pubcon I thought it was spot on. According to Will Scott’s website Search Influence, barnacle SEO is “attaching oneself to a large fixed object and waiting for the customers to float by in the current.” In a nutshell, we know that if you’re trying to rank on page one of Google you will find others that you may be able to attach to. If Yelp results come up for a lot of your search terms you might identify that as an opportunity. But there are three main ways you can take advantage of this.


1. You can try to have the most visible profile on that third party page

If Yelp is ranking for LA Personal Injury Attorneys, it would suit you to figure out how the top users are showing up there. Maybe your customers are headed there and then doing some shopping and making a selection. Or maybe they’re using it for a research platform and then will visit your website. If your profile looks great and shows up high on the list, you just gave yourself a better chance at getting a conversion.


2. You can try to get your page to rank

Hey, just because you don’t own Yelp.com or whatever similar site you’ve found, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t put in the effort to have it rank. If Google is already showing you that they trust a third party site by ranking it, you can use similar organic ranking techniques that you would use on your own site to make your profile page stronger. Over time you might add this to your bio on interviews or other websites to earn links. If you increase the visibility of your profile on search engines and they see your website on the same page you might increase conversions.


3. You can help your Google My Business

If the site you’re using passes link juice and you earn links to the third party profile page, you will start to see some strong results. Links are a big factor in local since Pigeon this year and it’s an opportunity that should not be missed.


So how can you use this advice?

Start by finding a list of potential barnacle SEO partners for your industry. As an example, I did a search for “Personal Injury Attorneys” in Los Angeles. In addition to the law firms that showed up in the results on the first page, I also identified four additional places I may be able to show up on.

  1. Yelp
  2.  Thumbtack
  3. Avvo
  4. Wikipedia

If you were attorney, it would be worth your while to explore these and see if any make sense for you to contribute to.

Practical tip 4: earn some good links

Most people get too carried away with link building. I know because I used to do it. The key with link building is to change your approach to understand that
it’s always better to get fewer high quality links than hundreds or thousands of low quality links

For example, a link like this one that one of our clients earned is what I’m talking about. 

If you want to increase your local rankings you can do so by earning these links to your associated Google My Business landing page.

Do you know the URL you entered in your Google My Business page when you set it up? That’s the one I’m talking about. In most cases this will be linked to either a local landing page for that location or the home page. It’s essential to your success that you earn solid links to this page.


Simple resources for link building

Practical tip 5: have consistent citations and remove duplicates

Identifying and correcting incorrect or duplicate citations has been getting easier and easier over the years. Even if you don’t want to pay someone to do it, you can sign up for some great do-it-yourself tools. Your goal with any citation cleanup program is this:

  1. Ensure there are no duplicate citations
  2. Ensure there are no incorrect citations with wrong phone numbers, old addresses, etc. 

You can ignore small differences and inconsistencies like St vs. Street. I believe the importance of citations has been greatly reduced over the past year. At the same time, you still want to be the least imperfect and provide your customers with accurate information if they’re looking on third party websites.  

Let’s do good things in 2015

2014 was a tough year in search altogether. We had ups like Penguin refreshes and we had downs like the removal of authorship. I’m guessing 2015 will be no different. Staying on the roller coaster and keeping with the idea of having the “least imperfect” site is the best way to ring out the new year and march on moving forward. If you had a tough year in local search, keep your head up high, fix any existing issues, and sprint through this year by making positive changes to your site. 

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!

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