Imitating search algorithms for a successful link building strategy


When doing a link building strategy – or any other type of SEO-related strategy, for that matter – you might find the sheer amount of data that we have available to us at a relatively low cost, quite staggering.

However, that can sometimes create a problem in itself; selecting the best data to use, and then using it in such a way that makes it useful and actionable, can be a lot more difficult.

Creating a link building strategy and getting it right is essential – links are within the top two ranking signals for Google.

This may seem obvious, but to ensure you are building a link strategy that is going to benefit from this major ranking signal and be used on an ongoing basis, you need to do more than just provide metrics on your competitors. You should be providing opportunities for link building and PR that will guide you on the sites you need to acquire to provide the most benefit.

To us at Zazzle Media, the best way to do this is by performing a large-scale competitor link intersect.

Rather than just showing you how to implement a large scale link intersect, which has been done many times before, I’m going to explain a smarter way of doing one by mimicking well-known search algorithms.

Doing your link intersect this way will always return better results. Below are the two algorithms we will be trying to replicate, along with a short description of both.

Topic-sensitive PageRank

Topic-sensitive PageRank is an evolved version of the PageRank algorithm that passes an additional signal on top of the traditional authority and trustworthy scores. This additional signal is topical relevance.

The basis of this algorithm is that seed pages are grouped by the topic to which they belong. For example, the sports section of the BBC website would be categorised as being about sport, the politics section about politics, and so on.

All external links from those parts of the site would then pass on sport or politics-related topical PageRank to the linked site. This topical score would then be passed around the web via external links just like the traditional PageRank algorithm would do authority.

You can read more about topic-sensitive PageRank in this paper by Taher Haveliwala. Not long after writing it he went onto become a Google software engineer. Matt Cutts also mentioned Topical PageRank in this video here.

Hub and Authority Pages

The idea of the internet being full of hub (or expert) and authority pages has been around for quite a while, and Google will be using some form of this algorithm.

You can see this topic being written about in this paper on the Hilltop algorithm by Krishna Bharat or Authoritative Sources in a Hyperlinked Environment by Jon M. Kleinberg.

In the first paper by Krishna Bharat, an expert page is defined as a ‘page that is about a certain topic and has links to many non-affiliated pages on that topic’.

A page is defined as an authority if ‘some of the best experts on the query topic point to it’. Here is a diagram from the Kleinberg paper that shows a diagram of hubs and authorities and then also unrelated pages linking to a site:

We will be replicating the above diagram with backlink data later on!

From this paper we can gather that to become an authority and rank well for a particular term or topic, we should be looking for links from these expert/hub pages.

We need to do this as these sites are used to decide who is an authority and should be ranking well for a given term. Rather than replicating the above algorithm at the page level, we will instead be doing it at the domain level. Simply because hub domains are more likely to produce hub pages.

Relevancy as a Link Signal

You probably noticed both of the above algorithms are aiming to do very similar things with passing authority depending on the relevance of the source page.

You will find similar aims in other link based search algorithms including phrase-based indexing. This algorithm is slightly beyond the scope of this blog post, but if we get links from the hub sites we should also be ticking the box to benefit from phrase-based indexing.

If anything, reading about these algorithms should be influencing you to build relationships with topically relevant authority sites to improve rankings. Continue below to find out exactly how to find these sites.

1 – Picking your target topic/keywords

Before we find the hub/expert pages we are aiming to get links from, we first need to determine which pages are our authorities.

This is easy to do as Google tells us which site it deems an authority within a topic in its search results. We just need to scrape search results for the top sites ranking for related keywords that you want to improve rankings for. In this example we have chosen the following keywords:

  • bridesmaid dresses
  • wedding dresses
  • wedding gowns
  • bridal gowns
  • bridal dresses

For scraping search results we use our own in-house tool, but the Simple SERP Scraper by the creators of URL Profiler will also work. I recommend scraping the top 20 results for each term.

serp scraper

2 – Finding your authorities

You should now have a list of URLs ranking for our target terms in Excel. Delete some columns so that you have just the URL that is ranking. Now, in column B, add a header called ‘Root Domain’. In cell B2 add the following formula:

=IF(ISERROR(FIND(“//www.”,A2)), MID(A2,FIND(“:”,A2,4)+3,FIND(“/”,A2,9)-FIND(“:”,A2,4)-3), MID(A2,FIND(“:”,A2,4)+7,FIND(“/”,A2,9)-FIND(“:”,A2,4)-7))

Expand the results downwards so that you have the root domain for every URL. Your spreadsheet should now look like this:


Next add another heading in column C called ‘Count’ and in C2 add and drag down the following formula:


This will just count how many times that domain is showing up for the keywords we scraped. Next we need to copy column C and paste as a value to remove the formula. Then just sort the table using column C from largest to smallest. Your spreadsheet should now look like this:


Now we just need to remove the duplicate domains. We do this by going into the ‘Data’ tab in the ribbon at the top of Excel and selecting remove duplicates. Then just remove duplicates on column B. We can also delete column A so we just have our root domains and the number of times the domain is found within the search results.

We now have the domains that Google believes to be an authority on the wedding dresses topic.

domains wedding dresses

3 – Export referring domains for authority sites

We usually use Majestic to get the referring domains for the authority sites – mainly because they have an extensive database of links. Plus, you get their metrics such as Citation Flow, Trust Flow as well as Topical Trust Flow (more on Topical Trust Flow later).

If you want to use Ahrefs or another service, you could use a metric that they provide that is similar to Trust Flow. You will, however, miss out on Topical Trust Flow. We’ll make use of this later on.

Pick the top domains with a high count from the spreadsheet we have just created. Then enter them into Majestic and export the referring domains. Once we have exported the first domain, we need to insert an empty column in column A. Give this column a header called ‘Competitor’ and then input the root domain in A2 and drag down.

people's answers

Repeat this process and move onto the next competitor, except this time copy and paste the new export into the first sheet we exported (excluding the headers) so we have all the backlink data in one sheet.


I recommend repeating this until you have at least ten competitors in the sheet.

4 – Tidy up the spreadsheet

Now that we have all the referring domains we need, we can clean up our spreadsheet and remove unnecessary columns.

I usually delete all columns except the competitor, domain, TrustFlow, CitationFlow, Topical Trust Flow Topic 0 and Topical Trust Flow Value 0 columns.

I also rename the domain header to be ‘URL’, and tidy up the Topical Trust Flow headers.


5 – Count repeat domains and mark already acquired links

Now that we have the data, we need to use the same formula as earlier to highlight the hub/expert domains that are linking to multiple topically relevant domains.

Add a header called ‘Times Linked to Competitors’ in column G and add this formula in G2:


This will now tell you how many competitors the site in column B is linking to. You will also want to mark domains that are already linking to your site so we are not building links on the same domain multiple times.

To do this, firstly add a heading in column H called ‘Already Linking to Site?’. Next, create a new sheet in your spreadsheet called ‘My Site Links’ and export all your referring domains from Majestic for your site’s domain. Then paste the export into the newly created sheet.

Now, in cell H2 in our first sheet, add the following formula:

=IFERROR(IF(MATCH(B2,’My Site Links’!B:B,0),”Yes”,),”No”)

This checks if the URL in cell B2 is in column B of the ‘My Site Links’ links sheet and returns yes or no depending on the result. Now copy columns G and H and paste them as values, just to remove the formulas again.

In this example, I have added as our site.


6 – Organic traffic estimate (optional)

This step is entirely optional but at this point usually I will also pull in some metrics from SEMrush.

I like to use SEMrush’s Organic Traffic metric to give a further indication of how well a website is ranking for its target keywords. If it is not ranking very well or has a low organic traffic score, this a pretty good indication the site has either been penalised, de-indexed or is just low quality.

Move onto step 8 if you do not want to do this.

To get this information from SEMrush, you can use URL Profiler. Just save your spreadsheet as a CSV, right click in the URL list area in URL Profiler then import CSV and merge data.

Next, you need to tick ‘SEMrush Rank’ in the domain level data, input your API key, then run the profiler.


If you are running this on a large set of data and want to speed up collecting the SEMrush metrics, I will sometimes remove domains with a Trust Flow score of 0 – 5 in Excel before importing. This is just to eliminate the bulk of the low-quality untrustworthy domains that you do not want to be building links from. It also saves some SEMrush API credits!

7 – Clean-up URL profiler output (still optional)

Now we have the new spreadsheet that includes SEMrush metrics, you just need to clear up the output in the combined results sheet.

I will usually remove all columns that have been added by URL Profiler and just leave the new SEMrush Organic Traffic.

davids bridal

8 – Visualise the data using a network graph

I usually do steps 8, 9, 10, so the data is more presentable rather than having the end product as just a spreadsheet. It also makes filtering the data to find your ideal metrics easier.

These are very quick and easy to create using Google Fusion Tables, so I recommend doing them.

To create them save your spreadsheet as a CSV file and then go to create a new file in Google Drive and select the ‘Connect More Apps’ option. Search for ‘Fusion Tables’ and then connect the app to your Drive account.


Once that is done, create a new file in Google Drive and select Google Fusion Tables. We then just need to upload our CSV file from our computer and select next in the bottom right.


After the CSV has been loaded, you will have to import the table by clicking next again. Give your table a name and select finish.

9 – Create a hub/expert network graph

Now the rows are imported we need to create our network graph by clicking on the red + icon and then ‘add chart’.


Next, choose the network graph at the bottom and configure the graph with the following settings:


Your graph should now look something like below. You may need to increase the number of nodes it shows so more sites begin to show up. Be mindful that the more nodes there are, the more demanding it is on your computer. You will also just need to select ‘done’ in the top right corner of the chart so we are no longer configuring it.


If you have not already figured it out, the yellow circles on the chart are our competitors; the blue circles are the sites linking to our competitors. The bigger the competitors circle, the more referring domains they have. The linking site circles get bigger depending on how much of a hub domain it is. This is because, when setting up the chart, we weighted it by the number of times linking to our competitors.

While the above graph looks pretty great, we have quite a lot of sites in it that fit the ‘unrelated page of large in-degree’ categorisation mentioned in the Kleinberg paper earlier as they only link to one authority site.

We want to be turning the diagram on the right into the diagram on the left:


This is really simple to do by adding the the below filters.


Filtering so only sites who link to more than one competitor will show only hub/expert domains; filtering by TrustFlow and SEMrush Organic Traffic removes lower quality untrustworthy domains.

You will need to play around with the Trust Flow and SEMrush Organic Traffic metrics depending on the sites you are trying to target. Our chart has now gone down to 422 domains from 13,212.

If you want to, at this point you can also add another filter to only show sites that aren’t already linking to your site. Here is what our chart now looks like:


The above chart is now a lot more manageable. You can see our top hub/expert domains we want to be building relationships with floating around the middle of the chart. Here is a close-up of some of those domains:


Your PR/Outreach team should now have plenty to be getting on with! You can see the results are pretty good, with heaps of wedding related sites that you should start building relationships with.

10 – Filter to show pages that will pass high topical PageRank

Before we get into creating this graph, I am first going to explain why we can substitute Topical Trust Flow by Majestic for Topic-sensitive PageRank.

Topical Trust Flow works in a very similar way to Topic-sensitive PageRank in that it is calculated via a manual review of a set of seed sites. Then this topical data is propagated throughout the entire web to give a Topical Trust Flow Score for every page and domain on the internet.

This gives you a good idea of what topic an individual site is an authority on. In this case, if a site has a high Topical Trust Flow score for a wedding related subject, we want some of that wedding related authority to be passed onto us via a link.

Now, onto creating the graph. Since we know how these graphs work, doing this should be a lot quicker.

Create another network graph just as before, except this time weight it by Topical Trust Flow value. Create a filter for Topical Trust Flow Topic and pick any topics related to your site.

For this site, I have chosen Shopping/Weddings and Shopping/Clothing. I usually also use a similar filter to the previous chart for Trust Flow and organic traffic to prevent showing any low-quality results.


Fewer results are returned for this chart, but if you want more authority passed within a topic, these are the sites you want to be building relationships with.

You can play around with the different topics depending on the sites you want to try and find. For example, you may want to find sites within the News/Magazines and E-Zines topic for PR.

11 – Replicate Filters in Google Sheets

This step is very simple and does not need much explanation.

I import the spreadsheet we created earlier into Google Sheets and then just duplicate the sheet and add the same filters as the ones I created in the network graphs. I usually also add an ‘Outreached?’ header so the team knows if we have an existing relationship with the site.

I recommend doing this, as while these charts look great and visualise your data in a fancy way, it helps with tracking which sites you have already spoken to.


You should now know what you need to be doing for your site or client to not just drive more link equity into their site, but also drive topical relevant link equity that will benefit them the most.

While this seems to be a long process, they do not take that long to create – especially when you compare the benefit the site will receive from them.

There are much more uses for Network Graphs. I occasionally use them for visualising internal links on a site to find gaps in their internal linking strategy.

I would love to hear any other ideas you may have to make use of these graphs, as well as any other things you like to do when creating a link building strategy.

Sam Underwood is a Search and Data Executive at Zazzle and a contributor to Search Engine Watch.

HTTPS websites account for 30% of all Google search results

moz https results

As of late June, 32.5% of page one Google results now use the HTTPS protocol, according to a new study from Moz.

The esteemed Dr Pete published a blog post this week on the data they’ve been tracking in the two year period since Google announced HTTPS was to be a light ranking signal in August 2014.

The results are definitely enough to give SEOs pause for thought when it comes to considering whether to switch their sites to a secure protocol.

What is HTTPS?

In case you need a refresher, here is Jim Yu’s explanation of the difference between http and HTTPS:

HTTP is the standard form used when accessing websites. HTTPS adds an additional layer of security by encrypting in SSL and sharing a key with the destination server that is difficult to hack.

And here is Google’s 2014 announcement:

“We’re starting to use HTTPS as a ranking signal. For now, it’s only a very lightweight signal, affecting fewer than 1% of global queries, and carrying less weight than other signals, such as high-quality content.”

But over time, the promise that Google would strengthen the signal “to keep everyone safe on the Web” seems to be coming true…

HTTPS as a ranking signal in 2014

Searchmetrics found little difference between HTTP and HTTPS rankings in the months after the initial Google announcement. Hardly surprising as it did only affect 1% of results.

Moz also saw very little initial difference. Prior to August 2014, 7% of page one Google results used HTTPS protocol. A week after the update announcement, that number increased to 8%.

So we all went about our business, some of us implemented, some of us didn’t. No big whoop. It’s not like it’s AMP or anything! Amirite?


HTTPS as a ranking signal in 2016

Moz has found that one-third of page one Google results now use HTTPS.

As Dr Pete points out, due to the gradual progression of the graph, this probably isn’t due to specific algorithm changes as you would normally see sharp jumps and plateaus. Instead it may mean that Google’s pro-HTTPS campaign has been working.

“They’ve successfully led search marketers and site owners to believe that HTTPS will be rewarded, and this has drastically sped up the shift.”

Projecting forward it’s likely that in 16–17 months time, HTTPS results may hit 50% and Dr Pete predicts an algorithm change to further bolster HTTPS in about a year.

How the future of advertising is in servicing the ‘moment’

Kiip_hulu_you deserve a treat_600

Great advertising starts when a brand delivers a service to the consumer – rather than an ad, says Forbes 30 Under 30 entrepreneur, Brian Wong.

Wong is the 25-year-old co-founder and chief executive of Kiip – an advertising tool that allows advertisers to send ‘rewards’ to mobile users during moments of online achievements. It gives the 700 brands using the platform, access to more than 200 million monthly active users across 5000 apps.

*Image: Kiip

Ad blocking has forced the advertising industry into some self-reflection, while simultaneously pushing the trend for native and platform-driven content.

Viewability has become a key metric as a result, forcing brands to be more honest about where their ad dollars are going.

“It’s always important to have these moments of responsibility and accountability in an industry. After the whistle is blown, people are more careful, more conscious, and ultimately more responsible,” says Wong.

Here are Wong’s key tips for advertising which goes beyond reach and placements to engaging connected consumers during the moments when they are most receptive to receiving ads.

1. Native advertising

Native advertising has become a key trend this year, largely as a way to outmanoeuvre the ad blockers. It’s also what has helped drive the rise of platforms like Snapchat and Hulu.

“There are platforms where the more native you are, the harder it is to block you,” says Wong.

He says users don’t want to have to skip or block an ad, they want an advertising model that’s entertaining. And a platform like Snapchat allows brands to do just that.

*Image: Snapchat

This dynamic is forcing advertisers (in a really good way, Wong adds) to be more conscious of their content.

“In the past, a brand would use its own creative and spew it out across thousands of publishers. That no longer works, you now have to be a lot more curated and a lot more intelligent about what you’re trying to push out there,” says Wong.

2. The connected consumer

Forget millennials, the real consumer a brand should be targeting is the connected one.

“Ultimately it’s not about age groups or generations – it’s about the level of connectivity that the consumer is experiencing,” says Wong.

This level of connectivity comes from the number of devices a consumer owns, and how often they are interacting with them.

Mobile is enhancing this level of constant connectivity in both developed and emerging economies, and for brands it means developing strategies for these constantly connected consumers.

Wong uses his mum as an example. She has an Apple Watch, an iPad and an iPhone.

“Just because I’m a millennial, doesn’t mean I’m in a special generation that requires such treatment. My mum requires special treatment.”

Brands need to recognize that consumers adopting these technologies expect special types of services that come from being constantly connected, and that’s not just millennials.

3. Servicing the moment

A core component of the Kiip tool is access to user ‘moments’. Wong and his team are using these moments to build a new metric around the modern connected consumer.

A ‘moment’ is when a user is connected to a device while experiencing a period of time where they’ve just done something ‘meaningful’. For example, they have achieved a new high score in a mobile gaming app, or hit a target during a work out.

This is where the value of this moment can be detectable in real time. It puts a brand in a very advantageous position if it can communicate with the consumer at these moments where they are most receptive to an advertising messaging, says Wong.

Kiip_2_Reward for running_600

*Image: Kiip

“We are trying to create a model where the brand is conscious of the time component, where someone is active on mobile and being respectful of that experience in bringing the advertising in to that moment,” he says.

The best way to do this is to engage with them via a reward on mobile. This leaves the consumer with something valuable, but something they can takeaway and engage with at a later time.

“That’s important on mobile – at the moment I am doing something else so I’m not going to immerse myself into your brand. However, if you give me something to takeaway, I will be able to spend time with it later on,” says Wong.


*Image: Kiip

Where does data and privacy come into all of this? Wong believes privacy isn’t so much of an issue when the ad stops being an ad, and starts being a service to the consumer.

For example, when a hotel knows everything about the consumer, the better they can serve them and it becomes about the experience.

4. Respectful advertising

It all comes down to being conscious of the consumer and the consumer experience. In short, the consumer has to come first.

That means if a click through rate is just 2% to 5%, advertisers need to face up to the reality that 95% of people don’t want to consume that ad.

“Be respectful and cognisant that you need to create something the consumer wants,” says Wong.

In addition, it’s about timing. Wong says 90% of the battle is knowing what time to be a part of a consumer’s digital habits.

“You might have the best ad ever, but if you are there to interrupt them, you will get flack,” he says.

5. Awareness and product

A common mistake advertisers make is thinking that if a product is good it will sell itself.

“Unfortunately with all the noise out there, good advertising needs to accommodate that product,” says Wong.

The product still comes first, but these products need to be integrated into the fabric of a consumer’s daily life through advertising. The product itself begins to create new ways for the brand to become relevant, he says.

Good advertising and good products have to be combined – it can’t be mutually exclusive.

6. Data

Wong believes a common mistake brands make is running an ad campaign without paying attention to the data that is being generated from it. Worse still, the company the brand has just bought the ads from is probably using that data, whether that’s for things like retargeting or profiling.

Brands should therefore take hold of their data, store it in a DMP, knowing they have it at their disposal to use in future campaigns.

7. Mobile first

Mobile will continue to be the dominant focus for advertisers as they target mobile first audiences. Traditional forms of CRM and advertising via television are no longer going to cut it.

The juggernauts like Facebook, Google and Twitter already have a lot of mobile first data, and more and more brands will start to look at the consumer from this point of view. Wong predicts that by 2020 most big brands will have a mobile profile of the consumer.

As an entrepreneur, Wong has this concluding advice: Never learn the rules. “When you go to different industries, it’s kind of cool not to know the rules because you are ultimately going to take people who have been in the industry for a long time by surprise,” he says.

*Brian Wong is a keynote speaker at ClickZ Live Hong Kong on August 3-4. Join him there to learn more about successful marketing to the connected consumer and what it takes to be a Silicon Valley startup entrepreneur at 19.

Nine considerations for movie-based SEO outreach campaigns

Compare the Market Batman V Supes

Alien invasions have had their costs calculated by finance companies. Fashion boutiques care about superhero costumes. Travel firms researched where films were made, and retailers know which gadgets spies use…

As a blogger I receive infographics throughout the week which contain great movie related content. Only the best of them will be published and only the clever will earn a link.

Movie based outreach ideas, designed to boost SEO with some earned links, seem like a good idea but there are plenty of issues to get your head around.

Since being forewarned is forearmed; let’s take a look at some.

Ahoy! Thar be lawyers!

Most movies have no objections to free publicity but some SEO campaigns can cross the line.

Usually, if brands or agencies are making anything physical – anything with demonstrable value – of trademarked and protected intellectual property then there is a risk.

It is safer to stay digital although, better still, is to talk around the movie rather than directly about it, and anything you can do to avoid yet another infographic will be worthwhile.

For example, UK finance site Compare the Market teamed up with DC Entertainment to produce an actual superhero meerkat comic book. If any similar brand had attempted to print and publish their own unofficial Batman V Superman spin-off then it is likely legal teams would have been involved.

There is an upside, if the brand does land in hot water on the back of an unofficial movie tie-in and if their skin is thick enough you can turn that drama into a linkbait campaign.

If you are working with a brand large enough to work officially with a movie it is often worth asking in quarterly reviews whether there are any partnerships coming up. This is exactly the sort of opportunity that can be missed because no one thought to tell the agencies.

Find the signal in the noise

Pulsar reach

Data is important but it is no substitute for skill. You’ll find this distinction plays an important part in movie outreach.

Movies create a lot of buzz and can involve people with significance reach. This means you have to filter through a lot of noise. Is a movie popular with bloggers just because there is media attention?

Movie mentions may come from celebs or vloggers with no interest in the movie other than to interest their audience. You might even find actors who have appeared in the movie but have little chance of engaging in with your brand.

In either scenario, if you decide to approach these influencers you will want to do so individually and with cooperation with PR, sponsorship and branding teams in mind.

A better approach than qualifying with just one or two mentions to consider the true “Vocality” of the potential influencer – know how often are they talking about the movie or subjects related to it. The more often, the better. Also consider “Visibility” as a hybrid of reach and engagement. Both are important.

The danger with the single mention route is that an apparently large list of outreach targets is more likely to waste your time, mismanage expectations or get your content on low quality sites than help you connect with the type of blogger or influencer who will help ignite interest around your content.

On the flipside, working with just one fan community can supercharge your campaign.

Understand image sharing

Pulsar Images

The overwhelming majority of movie inspired outreach and engagement campaigns – either for social or for SEO – lean heavily on highly visual content. Thankfully, visual doesn’t always mean infographic.

The leading influence analyzer platforms have the ability to study pictures as part of their research. This is worth doing. Finding a blogger with a tendency to share infographics, for example, is a valuable find.

Movies based on an established franchise, either a sequel or a movie of a comic book or game, will be accessible and researchable based on visuals long before they hit theatres. This is a tactical advantage should not be wasted.

Build on past successes

There are few occasions when an outreach and engagement campaign needs to begin from scratch and even fewer in which it should.

In most scenarios the brand or agency should already have relationships with bloggers and a strong idea of what content types are popular. This knowledge should be baked into the campaign. There’s no reason why key bloggers cannot be approached in advance, their input sought or even co-creation concepts explored.

For large, officially backed, movie campaigns relationships should be built in advance. Ideally no brand should be in the situation of having spent a considerable amount of money on a tie-in and content before an agency sees whether or not the influential bloggers on that topic are actually interested in it. Some dominant fan sites may even be offended if they’re not given the chance to be involved.

Pick a movie that suits your brand


Some movies work better for outreach than others. Movies with a large community – geek, for example – are easier targets.

There are generally lots of clever ways to make a brand relevant for the movie’s audience too. Sell suspending ceiling panels? Look around, maybe there’s a haunted house movie coming up and that’ll give you the chance to talk about strange noises from the attic instead.

Sometimes there is a good connection between a brand and a movie but it won’t be one the brand enjoys. What if a smart character in the haunted house movie argues against the lunacy of splendid ceiling panels? You won’t know until after the movie is released and most outreach projects need to begin long before then.

There are times you just have to be careful.

Hipster-macho brand Bluebeard’s Revenge partnered with the Suicide Squad movie. There’s overlapping demographics in the audience. We also have a brand that sells straight razors partnering a movie with ‘Suicide’ in the title (and featuring The Joker, no less). This certainly doesn’t mean it is a bad partnership or there are no outreach potentials but it does mean some careful handling will be needed.

Build Anchors

An anchor is one half of a handshake in well designed outreach and engagement campaign. It is the reason why a blogger or other publisher would make an editorial decision to link back to your site.

Campaigns with no or weak anchors sometimes ask bloggers to link back to ‘credit the source’. This rarely works as publishers you care about know about nofollow.

Surveys inspired by movies a good example here. They’re easy to do, haven’t entirely jumped the shark and can be used to pitch some big media. Do they offer bloggers a reason to link back to the brand that paid for the survey? Not so much.

Your SEO mind has to come up with a reason, create something that wonderfully complements the survey data so that writers make the decision to reference it, therefore link, in their coverage.

Provide media assets

Media assets are the other half of the handshake in an SEO outreach campaign. These assets make it easier for bloggers to cover your campaign. Every movie inspired outreach and engagement campaign should have an image on offer, at least.

For example, take a look at this simple parallax from Grange on 007 cars. It was timely, out at the same time as the movie Spectre. Bloggers know to avoid thin content, writing nothing but sign-posts that direct readers elsewhere, and coming up with an angle to discuss an interactive like this requires time, energy and imagination.

Grange’s agency made sure a ‘full flat’ version of the infographic was available as a media asset to try and mitigate that problem. A sensible thing to do is to create some WordPress safe animated gifs (in terms of size, common theme width) of interactions on your interactive and make them available as assets to accompany your anchor.

Research international distribution plans

avengers assemble

Movies are not released on the same date across the world. For example, Disney’s Big Hero 6 was released in the United States on the 7th November in 2014 but after Christmas in the UK on the 30th of January 2015.

It’s far easier to do your outreach for big movies with similar release dates in your target markets and the good news is it’s easy enough to research schedules far in advance.

It’s not unheard of for movies to change names for international releases too. This can make building an outreach and engagement campaign around them. For example, the 2012 The Avengers movie was called Avengers Assemble in the UK as not to clash with a classic TV series. The added catch? Most UK bloggers called the movie The Avengers anyway.

Work with your Affiliates

In most cases your Affiliate marketing channel can be used to help assist your SEO and Social media activities as it will give you access to hundreds of publishers.

Take just a little time to see how many content affiliates you have in your program. This information may be easily discoverable if the affiliate team have done this work already.

It’ll certainly be worth emailing them directly and saving money preventing a second agency doing exactly the same thing. Even cashback and voucher code sites are worth tipping off; they may well want to do some marketing around the movie as well and this could be a great chance to score some extra promotion.

However, if you are experimenting with attribution models then be aware of how providing linkbait and clickbait headlines to your army of publishers will influence that study. You’ll help those sites lay claim to radically more sales touch points.

Andrew Girdwood is Head of Media Technology at Cello Signal and a contributor to Search Engine Watch. You can connect with Andrew on Twitter or Google+.

What do content marketers need to know about SEO?

answer the public

The way that search marketing has evolved over the last few years has brought content marketing and SEO ever closer together.

Content creation and SEO used to be very separate disciplines in the past, but now it’s hard to see how either can be practiced effectively without at least some knowledge of the other.

Which brings me to the question: what do content marketers need to know about SEO (and vice versa) to achieve the best results?

In this post I’ll make an attempt to answer that question, with the help of Kevin Gibbons, MD at Blueglass and Sticky Content’s Content Director Dan Brotzel.

What do content marketers need to know about SEO?

Here are some of the tactics and skills, mainly associated with SEO, that content marketers need to be aware of.

I’ve not mentioned technical SEO here, though it is of course important as the foundations on which effective SEO (and content marketing) is built.

Keyword research

Keyword research enables SEOs to find gaps and opportunities to help target pages rank, by understanding the popularity of keywords.

For example, a site producing content around wedding dresses needs to understand the most popular terms used, and the range of terms they need to optimise their content around.

There are lots of useful SEO tools (many are free) which can help with keyword research. Google’s Keyword Planner and Trends are obvious ones (though Keyword Planner has just become less useful), while just typing terms into Google and seeing the suggested searches is another way.

One tool I’ve found useful recently is Answer the Public, which provides some great insight into the kinds of questions people have around a particular topic.

Here are the results for ‘content marketing’. It provides some great insight into the kinds of questions people are asking around a topic, which should help content marketers to target more effectively, as well as generating some useful ideas.

According to Dan Brotzel:

“Keywords and other SEO insights are a vital tool. They provide a useful (and often surprising) index of users’ preoccupations, and the words that they actually use to phrase their searches. Anyone in the business of generating ideas for content should see keyword research/data as a rich resource for understanding user intent and interest, and make it integral to their brainstorming process.”

Knowledge of user search behaviour

This is related to keyword research, as this provides insight into how people search, the language used etc. It’s more than that though…

Insights such as the seasonality of some searches can inform content planning, as can the way people view and interact with search results.


Effective content marketing looks at the target audience’s questions and concerns and produces content to address their needs. Knowledge of how people search and what the search for provides plenty of insight to help with this goal.

Attracting authority links

Link building is a valuable tactic for SEOs and one which content marketers should be aware of.

They don’t necessarily have to actively build links, but can attract links by creating content that people want to link to and promoting in to relevant publications and channels.

Indeed, a 2016 link building study found that content based link building was by far the most effective method.

Link building tactics most effective

Proving the value of content

There are plenty of content marketing metrics to look at, and the SEO value of content should be part of the measurement applied to content efforts.

As Kevin Gibbons says, it can help to secure budget:

“Knowing the role SEO can play helps to prove the value of content. If you can forecast and report that your content will generate a monetary value in terms of organic traffic and revenue, this is when people can start to scale their investment towards building valuable content assets.”

There are several SEO-related metrics to look at – the organic traffic (and any related revenue) delivered by the content you produce, the links it attracts, and the success in securing organic search positions.


What do SEOs need do know about content marketing?

These are the tactics and skills normally associated with content production which are becoming ever more valuable to SEOs.

Many of these tactics are interchangeable. For example a focus on the target audience is essential for SEO and content marketing.

The importance of storytelling

Content creation requires a degree of creativity, which can also be valuable from an SEO perspective.

As Kevin Gibbons explains:

“The biggest thing SEO can learn from content marketing, in my opinion is around the importance of storytelling.

It’s vital that you get your message across, providing the best experience in the format that resonates with your target audience. SEOs can often be guilty of sticking to the tried and trusted campaigns that have worked in the past, great content marketers realise that it’s not about what we think, it’s about your audience.

Do your persona analysis, speak to your customers, find out what they really want to see and have a less is more approach towards driving and engagement through doing the best job possible to tell your story.”


A focus on the audience/customer

An effective content strategy needs to address the needs of your target customer, and should also align with business goals. It’s not just about attracting traffic, rather it should aim to attract the right kind of customer.

If you address the needs of your target customer through content, the viewers of this content are likely to be your target audience.

For example, retailers can use content such as how-to guides to attract potential customers. So, Repair Clinic produces useful guides on appliance repair. This is useful content which also ties in closely with, and therefore helps to promote, its products.

It’s great for SEO too, as it helps them to target searchers with appliance-related problems, its target audience.


There are SEO tools and techniques which can help to answer these questions, but a broader understanding of the target customer can be gained by using a wide range of information.

This includes customer surveys and reviews, information from customer service interactions, and much more.

As Dan Brotzel says, this process requires creativity:

“Content marketers need to apply editorial initiative and imagination to generating ideas for content that can both address users’ needs and business requirements. They need to find ways to answer the question: What kind of content do our users care about? What counts as a good idea for them? What kind of ideas and content can we credibly produce from within our niche? How can we use content to support our goals?”

Importance of quality content

The old SEO techniques of churning out content for the sake of putting target keywords on a page is no longer effective.

Algorithm updates have forced SEOs to think more about the quality of the content they produce, and this is also the focus of effective content marketing.

As Dan Brotzel says, quality is what users want:

“The great thing about the evolution of SEO is that it is pushing content ever closer to the one criterion that users are ever likely to care about: quality. Yes, you want your content to surface high in results (and to be accessible and scannable, come to that), but there’s no point being easy to find and consume if what you’re offering users isn’t on reflection actually worth finding.”

Quality is, of course, a very subjective term, and is ultimately something for the end user to judge, but the aim should be to produce content that is valuable.

This can be measured to a certain extent in the way that users interact with it (on-page behaviour, actions taken after reading etc) but also in the way that search engines rank content.

Quality can also be a factor in search rankings. For example, if the content is answering the question that the searcher typed into Google, this helps it rank higher.

This is the ‘long click’ (as explained here by Bill Slawski). It’s similar to – but not the same as – bounce rates.

It’s essentially a measure of how long a user spends on a page before returning to the search results page. If they take time, or don’t return to search results, it tells Google that the content has satisfied the searcher, and is therefore relevant to the search query.

Over time, quality content which achieves this will rank well. It will also attract links and social shares, all of which help in terms of SEO.

This is why a focus on evergreen content can be a great tactic for content marketers and SEOs alike.

For example, a post on SEO basics (since updated) from 2014 has delivered traffic over a long period of time. There’s an initial spike after publication, but the traffic didn’t drop off totally, it continued to deliver visitors to this site. In fact it attracted more than 25,000 pageviews last month, more than two years after publication.

The reason is that this is useful content for searchers, and this has helped the article top Google for the term ‘SEO basics’ for some time. This ranking then helps to deliver more visits, attract links, and so on. It’s a virtuous circle.



In summary

The reality is that no marketing discipline can exist in a vacuum. They all rely on skills and techniques normally associated with other disciplines.

Email marketers need some content skills to make their subject lines and email copy more effective, ecommerce sites rely on SEO techniques to attract customers, and so on.

For content marketing and SEO, its very important for practitioners to understand the importance of the tactics and skills of each.

In a nutshell, SEO requires good content to be really effective, while content producers need to use SEO to help with content planning, and to ensure that the content they work hard on can be found by their target audience.

Is Google AMP a ranking signal?

amp news carousel

So I’ve been working my backside off trying to implement Google’s Accelerated Pages, with limited amounts of success and bucket-loads of frustration and I’ve come to the point now where I have to ask… is it all really worth it?

Before we get to the wider picture of why AMP is so important, and why ultimately you probably do need to implement the thing. Let’s first answer the simple question stated in the headline…

Is Google AMP a ranking signal?


Gary Illyes, Webmaster Trends Analyst at Google, stated during his SEJ Summit Chicago appearance that, “Currently, AMP is not a mobile ranking factor.”

But of course you can pull that “Currently” apart as much as you like, and read into it a high likelihood that Google will probably use it as a direct ranking factor one day soon.

As Danielle Antosz from SEJ reports, Illyes further pledged that Google will be expanding AMP vertices to include Google News, Google Now, Play Newsstand, Now On Tap, and in the near future it will likely expand to product pages for ecommerce sites like Amazon.

Which brings me to my next question…

But does it actually matter whether AMP is a ranking signal or not?

Well… (again)… No.

As you will have read countless times in countless search engine related news sites (well 3 or 4 anyway), the world of search is a drastically different place to what it was a couple of years ago and it continues to evolve every day. Every element we describe as a ‘traditional ranking signal’ is oversimplifying that element greatly.

It’s all about context, content and… stop me if you’ve heard this one before… user experience.

And that’s the key thing with AMP, it improves the user experience.

Which brings us neatly to…

Why should I implement Google AMP?

Here’s a super-quick refresher on AMP in case you’re completely lost:

Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages are an open source initiative which aims to improve the performance of the mobile web. stripped-down versions of web pages.

When you Google search for an article on a mobile, you may have spotted the ‘lightning’ symbol. This is to indicate that by clicking on it, you will experience a cleaner, faster, streamlined version of the article that downloads instantly.

According to Kissmetrics, 40% of web users will abandon a page if it takes longer than three seconds to load, and that’s just on a desktop.

With mobile there are masses of other issues that can lead to abandonment – connection faults, poor formatting, non-mobile optimised content, badly placed links – so you can imagine why, if now more than 50% of searches take place on mobile, Google would want to improve the mobile web. It’s difficult to monetise a crappy experience.

According to Gary Illyes, AMP pages have a four times faster than average load time, 90% of publishers are seeing higher CTRs, 80% of publishers are getting more views, and the majority of publishers are seeing higher eCPMs.

So clearly AMP is working. Searchers are clicking through, they’re enjoying the experience, they’re seeking more AMP content to read… Wait. Hang on…

Of course AMP traffic is growing! For almost every content-related search I do on a mobile it’s difficult to get past the attractive, image-heavy carousel of AMP posts at the top of SERPs… of course the CTR is going to be a high! It’s basically a stacked deck.

Unfortunately if you’re (to continue the horrible analogy) in the game, you will need to sit at the table.

Implementing AMP is dead easy though right?


Let’s just take a look at my Search Console AMP results for my own site right now. I have 258 pages with errors.

Search Console Accelerated Mobile Pages report

And this is after implementing all of Yoast’s recommendations and various plug-ins. Frustratingly I can see my AMP pages actually working, just by adding the /amp/ suffix to my URLs, yet I’m still seeng these errors.

But perhaps my own ultimate frustration lies in the fact there doesn’t seem to be much point in implementing AMP if my site doesn’t show up in Google News, as its the News carousel that provides all of the AMP content.

We already looked at why SEOs are so slow to implement AMP just a couple of months ago, and revealed that only 23% of SEOs are currently using AMP. It’s reasons such as the above that add to this general malaise.

There’s also the potential loss of revenue to consider…

As Rebecca Sentance reported in May, “Because AMP strips out a lot of the dynamic elements that slow down page loading time, search marketers have to do away with features that they depend on for business, such as comment systems, lead capture forms and other types of pop-up.”

Implementing AMP is obviously good for user experience, but of course Google is primarily a business…

Google launched three ad formats for AMP last month, intended to gain some ad share in mobile display advertising away from Facebook and other competitors.

AMP could be read as Google’s sly way to make you remove all your own ads in order to conform to its faster mobile web, then encouraging you to join up with it’s own ad exchange platform Doubleclick because you need to generate revenue somehow.

But then all of this could become horribly unstuck when every mobile web user on the planet decides they’ve truly had enough and downloads an ad-blocker.

Tl;dr: yeah you should probably implement AMP, Google has you right where it wants you anyway.

Or does it?

How to increase your content’s viral potential

emotions survey

Viral content is sort of the holy grail of internet marketing; everyone wants it, but almost no-one knows how to get it.

Whatever it is that makes content inherently shareable – and, at the extreme end of the spectrum, go viral – seems like more of a mystical art than a science; a fortunate coinciding of different elements like timeliness, relevance and tapping into something in the wider consciousness that resonates with people.

But many researchers and marketers have set out to define, scientifically, what exactly it is that makes us share content?

What are the emotions and thought processes that are involved in the process of deciding to share something? And is there something inherently unique about viral content that makes it go viral, over another piece of content?

Fractl conducted a study aimed at discovering exactly that. They surveyed 400 people on their emotional responses to a set of viral images, using the PAD emotional state model to score their responses and determine how viral content resonates with us emotionally, as well which combinations of emotions are most likely to make content go viral.

A surprising result

The survey assessed respondents on their emotional responses to 100 of the top images from Reddit’s /r/pics subreddit: 50 with captions, and 50 without. They were able to choose from a range of emotions belonging to the PAD emotional state model, a psychological model developed to describe and measure emotional states, to describe how they felt about the image presented in the survey.

The survey’s respondents were English speakers from all over the world, and so the research team chose images which could be understood regardless of cultural background, avoiding references to pop culture or current events. Each of the images had thousands of upvotes and hundreds or thousands of comments, plus at least one million views on Imgur.

The list contained emotions ranging from love and admiration to relief, pity, remorse and hate. Although humour, a key component of viral imagery, is not represented by the PAD model, other emotions like happiness and satisfaction come close to expressing the same sentiment.

Andrea Lehr, brand relationship strategist at Fractl, said that the agency already knew that humorous content can create an “extremely positive emotional experience”, but that “we were interested in looking at more nuanced instances of viral content where it’s not as clear why something became hugely popular.”

Fractl found that the top three emotional responses to the viral images in their survey were happiness, surprise and admiration.

Negative emotions were reported far less than positive emotions, with the bottom three responses being hate, reproach and resentment.

A bar chart of the bottom emotional responses to viral images in the survey, ranging from least to most common. Hate is at the top with about 300 responses, followed by reproach and then resentment. Next is gloating with about 450 responses, then shame, anger, remorse, depression, annoyance and finally disappointment with about 800 responses.

These results for the most part match up with the findings cited by Kohlben Vodden, founder of StoryScience, in a talk at a CMA Digital Breakfast on the science behind shareable content.

Vodden noted, referencing a study by Jonah Berger and Katherine Milkman, that content with an overall positive sentiment will always be more shareable – hence the popularity of feel-good viral content websites like Upworthy and Thought Catalog.

However, Berger and Milkman also found that high-intensity negative emotions like anger also made content highly shareable.

This finding was not reflected in the study by Fractl, who found that anger was the sixth least likely emotion to be felt in response to the viral images they used, out of a possible 26 different emotional responses.

Complex emotions

Fractl’s study also found that viral images are frequently emotionally complex, eliciting multiple emotional responses at the same time. Positive emotions along with surprise were found to result in massive shares – you only have to look at the recent ‘Chewbacca mom’ viral hit to see this in action.

As well as the initial emotional reaction, the survey asked participants to assess how pleasant each image made them feel, on a scale of 1 to 10. They were then asked to rate their levels of ‘arousal’ and ‘dominance’ in response to each image.

‘Arousal’ essentially measures the level of excitement and energy produced by emotions: anxiety, anger and excitement are high-arousal emotions, while sadness, relaxation and depression are low-arousal emotions.

‘Dominance’ measures the level of control that a person feels through their emotions. An emotion like anger is high-dominance, while fear is a submissive or low-dominance emotion, as it tends to result in feeling out of control.

Again, surprise was a recurring theme among the researchers’ findings, which makes sense when you think about the natural of viral content: it often catches us out, is shocking or unexpected, which is what drives the urge to pass it along to everyone we know so that they can share in the amazement.

A photograph of cars driving along a road in stormy weather. In the distance is a pure white vertical beam of light streaking down from the clouds. The caption above reads, "Strange beam of light formed from a lightning strike."

The study found that images which made people feel high levels of dominance and arousal were all accompanied by positive emotions, or positive emotions plus surprise. For images which caused high arousal and low dominance, the emotional responses tended to combine surprise with negative and/or positive emotions.

For instance, this image of a diver taking a selfie with a great white shark behind produced high arousal and low dominance, with emotions ranging from fear and surprise to admiration.

A diver takes a selfie underwater with a great white shark clearly visible behind, appearing to be swimming towards him.

Low-arousal and low-dominance images resulted in a mixed bag of emotional responses, but surprise was almost always present. Boredom was also a frequent response to these images, indicating that not every surprising image is necessarily interesting!

How to increase your content’s viral potential

So how can you put these findings into practice and increase the shareability of your content marketing? Fractl offered some key takeaways for marketers:

1. Combine positive emotions with surprise for huge sharing potential.

“Want people to share your content? Feel-good content is primed for social sharing,” said Fractl in their report on the results of the study. The research found that admiration and happiness had a strong correlation with high dominance, which helps drive people to share things.

Combining these with an element of surprise can help to magnify the positive emotions and spur users to pass along the content. With that said, the surprise needs to be genuine: clickbait headlines such as “You’ll never believe…” which lead to unsurprising or boring content are quick to annoy users.

A headline from Wired magazine online reading, 'You'll be outraged at how easy it was to get you to click on this headline'.

2. Pair ‘low-arousal’ emotions with admiration or surprise.

If your content is a bit of a downer, incorporate an element of surprise or admiration to increase its viral potential.

Fractl had previously assumed that ‘high-arousal’ emotions like excitement or anger were needed for content to go viral. From the study, however, they discovered that negative, low-arousal images which evoked images like sadness and depression could still go viral when paired with surprise or admiration.

A good example of this technique is ‘The Song’, Apple’s famed Christmas advert from 2014:

‘The Song’ pairs a sad and wistful story with elements of surprise, admiration and hope, for an uplifting after-effect that makes the advert eminently shareable.

3. Play up high-arousal emotions in unsurprising, negative content.

Generally speaking, an element of surprise is also needed to make high-arousal negative content more shareable: most of the images in Fractl’s study which received negative reactions were also rated as surprising.

Only two images provoked purely negative responses, and both of those made respondents feel very high-arousal negative emotions: anger, fear or distress. Therefore, it is possible to have negative content which is still shareable if it energises people in some way; but overall, positive and surprising content is still the clear winner if you want your content shared widely.

How paid and organic SEO results overlap in 2016

paid on mobile

This year marks the seventh year that I’ve written an article on the overlap of paid and organic search. For many of those years, the landscape was largely unchanged and it was simply a review of how well brands aligned their paid and organic efforts.

However, this year is different.

For the first time ever, mobile searches on Google exceeded desktop. To account for this massive shift, Google has made some of the most drastic changes to search results in years.

They removed the right rail ads and added a fourth paid listing above the organic results. This caused mobile results to be filled with paid ads.

See the example for the term “Car Insurance” below…

A search for this term required multiple scrolls before you got to true organic listings (past four paid results and a map with three local listings). This makes those top spots in organic even more precious since everyone is now lower on the scroll.

The other feature that has increased over the last few years is the appearance of shopping results. Google shopping continues to grow in the amount of impressions it receives and traffic it drives.

This year I started to track data for the number of times four paid ads, shopping results, or local listings appear in search results.

What did the data show us? Here are my two key findings from the data this year.

1) Paid search seems to rule the day, but don’t sleep on organic

With the screen shot above as key proof, paid search dominates the screen on mobile devices.

This plays into two factors for search engines: 1) stock valuation – Google, Yahoo, and Bing all need to drive revenue for shareholders, 2) User experience – I do believe that with call extensions on mobile and increased ad copy, the user experience with paid ads has improved.

With that said, organic and paid overlap did drop slightly year over year, but still had the second highest overlap in seven years.

I believe this is due to brands paying more and more attention to SEO, especially in regard to user experience, as well as Google’s increased focus on quality content (Panda) and use of technology (mobile friendliness).

overlap mobile friendliness

2) The importance of “other” search listings

Many of us still think of search as text links, but for years now, search has been much more than that.

From the knowledge graph, images, news, and local listings, the search engines have been pulling a variety of different information into its results for a long time.

This year, as we started to track how frequently these items appear, we are reminded of this fact. For example, we found that shopping ads appeared 100% of the time for retail terms and 94% of the time for retail “technology” terms (iPad, Fitness tracker, etc). So if you are an advertiser and your feed isn’t right and you haven’t been paying attention to shopping ads you are probably missing out big time.

Local listings didn’t appear nearly as much as shopping, but I think this is really one to watch. Especially with the recent announcement of ads within maps.

This new feature will not only provide local businesses with great opportunities to be seen, but will also drive more revenue opportunity for Google and this usually means increased ad inventory.

search results chart

Overall the amount of change has really accelerated in the past 12 months around search results. This challenges a lot of the established protocols that brands and agencies have been using.

If you haven’t considered what these changes have done to your results, or you haven’t already seen an impact to your data you should take a look. A coordinated search strategy that includes all elements, paid, organic, local, and shopping whenever applicable will set your brand up for success.

The ABC of Google Quick Answers

quick answers

Google is increasing the number of queries that receive a Google Quick Answer box. The number of results that had an answer box went from just over 20% in December 2014 to more than 30% in May 2016.*

Brands that wish to maintain a strong digital presence need to make sure their website is well represented within these rich answers.

Answer boxes provide users with scannable, easy-to-digest answers at the top of the search results so that users can find the information they seek without having to click off to another website.

These answer boxes are pulled from high-ranking websites that Google trusts to provide users with the correct response. They appear most frequently in response to question queries, such as those beginning with ‘what is’ or ‘how to’.

As they become increasingly significant on SERPs, companies who are not optimized to receive Quick Answers have a good chance of falling behind and losing ground to others in their industry.

How do Google Quick Answers impact brands?

When Quick Answers first appeared, many site owners became nervous about the potential implications for site traffic. With the answer to many queries appearing right at the top of the page, users would theoretically lose their motivation to click through to the websites.

Some sites found this to be true. Wikipedia, for example, saw a drop in traffic that many attributed to the growth of Quick Answers. This is likely because the domain specializes in providing people with the type of rapid response that many can now receive right on the SERP.

However many business websites started to see tremendously positive results.

It is important to remember that Quick Answers are not just taken from results in position 1 on the SERP. The can come from any result on the page, although the majority come from the top 5 results.

This means however that sites ranked in position 3 or 4 can receive an answer box and suddenly be front and centre on the page, without even earning the top ranking spot. This draws the user’s attention to this result and can have a very positive impact on site success.

Adobe, for example, benefited from a 17% incremental lift on topics on which it has secured the Quick Answer box. The results contributed to millions of additional visitors to

Kirill Kronrod at Adobe reported that within the sub-set of 2,000 How-To phrases, 60% produced Quick Answers, contributing to 84% share of voice with Quick Answer boxes for the main site and 98% including supporting sites.

Quick Answers help Google improve the user experience, and your brand needs to optimize to remain relevant.

The ABCs of succeeding with Google Quick Answers

A) Understand the four key factors that matter for Quick Answers

Although there is no concrete formula that brands have to meet before they will receive a Quick Answer, there are a few commonalities that sites which earn the answer box tend to have.

  • Sites have over 1,000 referring domains
  • Pages rank in the top 5
  • Pages are less than 2,000 words
  • Pages have strong user engagement
  • All of these factors demonstrate to Google that you have a site appreciated by users and that offers value to readers. These factors show that you offer an authoritative resource, making you appealing to Google.

    B) Find the best opportunities to explore

    It is important to find opportunities where you have a reasonable chance of gaining an answer box.

    Since only one site can have it at a time, you need to have the domain authority and response needed to make your page stand out. SEO software can be an enormous asset in this quest.

    You can research which keywords have high traffic and which ones already have Quick Answers. If the keyword already has a Quick Answer, you will need to investigate the page to see if you can outperform it.

    If it does not, then you can see if an answer box would be the optimal display for the user. Make sure that the pages you select to optimize for the Quick Answers will lend themselves easily to you fulfilling the four key factors.

    C) Optimize your site for the answer box

    On-page optimization: you will need to follow on-page optimization best practices to improve the ranking of your site. These will include using your target keyword in titles and headings, linking to other pages in your site, and making your page more engaging with images and other rich media.

    Remember that Google wants to be able to pull the answer quickly from your text, so include the answer to the target question in the first paragraph and use lists and bullets – which are appealing both for users and search engines – where possible.

    Off-page optimization: you want to focus on cultivating backlinks, so look for opportunities to write guest posts to bring links to your site. It is also important to develop a thorough content distribution system that will attract attention to your content.

    When people are exposed to your content and it provides them with value, they become more likely to share it with others and link back to it themselves. For off-page optimization, you also want to submit pages to Google Search Console to maximize visibility.

    Technical optimization: use schema markup to increase visibility for your site. Schema was developed as means of providing search engines with an optimal look at your site. It will help the search engines quickly interpret your material, which will aid Google in its quest to quickly pull answers from websites.

    Of course, your pages should also be optimized for mobile, since not being mobile-friendly can hurt sites in the SERPs and hinder the user experience. Also include your page in your XML sitemap to ensure that Google can easily find and interpret the material.

    Google Quick Answers offer users an improved user experience, making them popular with the search engine. To remain relevant for customers, you need to follow these ABCs and ensure your site is optimized to provide the answer box for the key terms that are important for your business. For more information, check out our Quick Answers pdf guide.

    *(source Stone Temple Consulting)

    What can Medium’s Creative Exchange bring to native advertising?

    A screenshot of the top of a Medium sponsored piece entitled 'How to Rewrite Your Past, Present and Future'. At the very top of the page are the words 'life well lived' in gold and blue, while underneath the heading the text reads 'Presented by GUARDIAN' with the logo for Guardian life insurance.

    Last week, social publishing company Medium announced the launch of a programme that will allow its writers to partner with brands to create dedicated sponsored content: the Creative Exchange.

    The Creative Exchange is by no means Medium’s first foray into native advertising: in the past, it has produced a number of verticals in partnership with different brands, including BMW, Marriott and Samsung. But this is the first time that Medium has opened up native advertising for the wider community to take part in.

    In its blog post announcing the new programme, Medium acknowledged that, “One of the things we’ve heard consistently is that our community wants a way to make money from their work on the platform. It takes effort to produce a piece of high-quality content and that effort should be rewarded.”

    While this is undoubtedly true, the writers who called for Medium content to be monetised probably wanted the ability to earn money from the independent content they write, rather than to be paid to write sponsored content for a brand.

    Still, there are no doubt plenty of others who will welcome the venture. But what can Medium contribute to the field of sponsored content, already crowded with publishers and platforms, that’s particularly new? And what do brands stand to gain?

    What can Medium bring to native advertising?

    Medium has always been a slightly strange entity, whose exact nature is hard to pin down: it straddles the divide between publisher and network, between social and blogging; giving writers a space for their voice to be heard, but very much on Medium’s terms.

    “Medium’s greatest asset is our community of writers and publishers,” the blog post which announced the Creative Exchange began. Clearly this is what Medium intends to be its main selling point as it expands its venture into native advertising: an established network of writers, many with huge followings, and readers who will eagerly consume writing published to the platform regardless of whether it is sponsored or not, as long as it is of the quality and type they have come to expect.

    A piece of sponsored content on Medium, with branding clearly marked

    Medium’s blog post cites two past pieces of sponsored content as examples of what writing produced by the Creative Exchange is likely to look like. One is sponsored by Guardian, a life insurance company, the other by Upwork, a freelance marketplace.

    Both are well-written and valuable pieces of content which don’t read like advertising or even mention the sponsored brand by name (although they are both clearly marked as sponsored with logos above and below the piece).

    Neither of them made me want to buy anything either, but then, the aims of native advertising are usually more subtle than that.

    In many ways, Medium is exceedingly well-suited to native advertising, much more than other publishing platforms. For one thing, it’s already heavily branded. Criticisms have been levelled against Medium for taking away creative control from writers who publish to its platform, denying them the ability to choose how their content looks and is offered to readers.

    A screenshot of a Medium post by Rebecca Sentance, entitled 'Reflections on Liberating Corporate Data'. The post is laid out in simple, no-frills style, in black serif font with a wide margin either side. The Medium logo in grayscale is present in the top left corner.Publishing to Medium offers writers very little leeway, if any, to impose their own style on the content

    The design, the layout, the branding is all very much Medium’s; and so users who are happy with this arrangement are unlikely to object to a further level of branding being applied to their content. It seems unlikely that any devoted writers or readers, if they’re content to use Medium as it is, will abruptly draw a line and say no, this amount of branding is a step too far.

    So Medium can offer an engaged community of writers and readers among whom there is already a demand for some kind of monetisation, and an openness to sponsored branding. All points in its favour – but what else is Medium offering to brands in the deal?

    How will brands benefit?

    At the moment, Medium isn’t opening up the Creative Exchange programme too widely to interested writers and publishers; the programme is currently in “closed beta”, and aspiring participants will need to add their details to a waiting list. But Medium is placing no such restriction on brands who want to take part. This makes sense, since Medium has writers in abundance, but the brands are where the real money lies.

    Medium’s approach to content publishing, that it simplifies the process by taking care of the unimportant details that no-one wants to concern themselves with (like design) is also the main thrust of its appeal to brands: it offers an all-in-one deal, “including writing, editing, project management, editorial strategy, publication creation, and publication branding.” In its bid, Medium plays up the fact that it can “manage the entire process for you, including publishing approved content from your brand account.”

    A graphic of a brown box with parcel tape across the top, with "this side up" icons on one side in blue, and on the front-facing side, a blue stick figure carrying a house.
    Medium’s native advertising aims to offer brands the whole package
    Image by OpenclipartVectors on Pixabay, available via CC0

    This is likely to be an appealing prospect for brands who are new to native advertising or don’t have the time or the resources to micro-manage every aspect of the project. However, as with writers who publish to the Medium platform, there are drawbacks in the form of ownership and control. Medium is coy about the subject of brands owning the content produced via Creative Exchange, saying only that, “We have several different licenses available. We’ll work with you to meet your needs. Contact us for more information.”

    There is a lot to be said for publishing to a platform which, as I covered above, comes with an in-built community of readers eager to consume that content. In many respects it puts Medium ahead of native ad providers like Outbrain and Taboola which have to depend on luring readers away from platforms where they are already reading content, with gimmicky headlines and psychological tricks.

    A screenshot from the platform game Fez, featuring floating platforms against a bright blue backdrop, with square green trees on top of them.Brands are already faced with an overabundance of platforms demanding their content
    Image via Wikimedia Commons, available via CC BY-SA 3.0

    But there’s a drawback to it, too: brands are already faced with an overabundance of platforms to which they could publish content, each with their own appeal. Medium boasts one engaged community of users, but Facebook has another, as does Twitter, and Google, and Snapchat, and every other contender which is throwing its hat into this expanding ring.

    No matter how good the offer is, ultimately brands have to make a choice as to how many channels are worth spreading their presence across. And if they are a brand which already has an established presence on Medium, why pay for what they are already getting for free?

    To an extent, Medium’s all-in-one approach does solve that problem, by allowing brands to reach an extra audience without having to expend the time and effort that they would normally need to invest in publishing to a new platform: Medium will take care of all of that. But brands will still have to decide whether the exact audience they want to reach is present within Medium’s walled garden, and if it isn’t, they are likely to take their business elsewhere.