Artificial intelligence and machine learning: What are the opportunities for search marketers?

Did you know that by 2020 the digital universe will consist of 44 zettabytes of data (source: IDC), but that the human brain can only process the equivalent of 1 million gigabytes of memory?

The explosion of big data has meant that humans simply have too much data to understand and handle daily.

For search, content and digital marketers to make the most out the valuable insights that data can provide, it is essential to utilize artificial intelligence (AI) applications, machine learning algorithms and deep learning to move the needle of marketing performance in 2018.

In this article, I will explain the advancements and differences between artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and deep learning while sharing some tips on how SEO, content and digital marketers can make the most of the insights – especially from deep learning – that these technologies bring to the search marketing table.

I studied artificial intelligence in college and after graduating took a job in the field. It was an exciting time, but our programming capabilities, when looking back now, were rudimentary. More than intelligence, it was algorithms and rules that did their best to mimic how intelligence solves problems with best-guess recommendations.

Fast forward to today and things have evolved significantly.

The Big Bang: The big data explosion and the birth of AI

Since 1956, AI pioneers have been dreaming of a world where complex machines possess the same characteristics as human intelligence.

In 1996, the industry reached a major milestone when the IBM’s Deep Blue computer defeated a chess grandmaster by considering 200,000,000 chessboard patterns a second to make optimal moves.

Between 2000 and 2017, there were many developments that enabled great leaps forward. Most important were the geometric increases in the amount data collected, stored, and made retrievable. That mountain of data, which came to be known as big data, ushered in the advent of AI.

And it keeps growing exponentially: in 2016 IBM estimated that 90% of the world’s data had been generated over the last few years.

When thinking about AI, machine learning and deep learning, I find it helps to simplify and visualize how the 3 categories work and relate to each other – this framework also works from a chronological, sub-set development and size perspective.

Artificial intelligence is the science of making machines do things requiring human intelligence. It is human intelligence in machine format where computer programs develop data-based decisions and perform tasks normally performed by humans.

Machine learning takes artificial intelligence a step further in the sense that algorithms are programmed to learn and improve without the need for human data input and reprogramming.

Machine learning can be applied to many different problems and data sets. Google’s RankBrain algorithm is a great example of machine learning that evaluates the intent and context of each search query, rather than just delivering results based on programmed rules about keyword matching and other factors.

Deep learning is a more detailed algorithmic approach, taken from machine learning, that uses techniques based on logic and exposing data to neural networks (think human brain) so that the technology trains itself to perform tasks such as speech and image recognition.

Massive data sets are combined with pattern recognition capabilities to automatically make decisions, find patterns, emulate previous decisions, etc. Self-learning comes from here as the machine gets better from the more data that it is supplied.

Driverless cars, Netflix movie recommendations and IBMs Watson are all great examples of deep learning applications that break down tasks to make machine actions and assists possible.

Organic search, content and digital performance: Challenge and opportunity

Organic search (SEO) drives 51% of all website traffic and hence in this section it is only natural to explain the key benefits that deep-learning brings to SEO and digital marketers.

Organic search is a data-intensive business. Companies value and want their content to be visible on thousands or even millions of keywords in one to dozens of languages. Search best practices involve about 20 elements of on-page and off-page tactics. The SERPs themselves now come in more than 15 layout varieties.

Organic search is your market-wide voice of the customer, telling you what customers want at scale. However, marketers are faced with the challenge of making sense of so much data, having limited resources to mine insights and then actually act on the right and relevant insight for their business.

To succeed in highly demanding markets against your competitors’ many brands now requires the expertise of an experienced data analyst, and this is where machine learning and deep learning layers help recommend optimizations to content.

Connecting the dots with deep learning: Data and machine learning

The size of the organic data and the number of potential patterns that exist on that data make it a perfect candidate for deep learning applications. Unlike simple machine learning, deep-learning works better when it can analyse a massive amount of relevant data over long periods of time.

Deep learning and its ability to identify or prioritize material changes in interests and consumption behavior allows organic search marketers to gain a competitive advantage, be at the forefront of their industry, and produce the material that people need before their competitors, boosting their reputation.

In this way, marketers can begin to understand the strategies put forth by their competitors. They will see how well they perform compared to others in their industry and can then adjust their strategies to address the strengths or weaknesses that they find.

The insights derived from deep learning technologies blend the best of search marketing and content marketing practices to power the development, activation, and automated optimization of smart content, content that is self-aware and self-adjusting, improving content discovery and engagement across all digital marketing channels.
Intent data offers in-the-moment context on where customers want to go and what they want to know, do, or buy. Organic search data is the critical raw material that helps you discover consumer patterns, new market opportunities, and competitive threats.
Deep learning is particularly important in search, where data is copious and incredibly dynamic. Identifying patterns in data in real-time makes deep learning your best first defense in understanding customer, competitor, or market changes – so that you can immediately turn these insights into a plan to win.

To propel content and organic search success in 2018 marketers should let the machines does more of the leg work to provide the insights and recommendations that allow marketers to focus on the creation of smart content.

Below are a just a few examples of the benefits for the organic search marketer:

Site analysis

Pinpoint and fix critical site errors that drive the greatest benefits to a brand’s bottom line. Deep learning technology can be used to incorporate website data, detect anomalies tying site errors to estimated marketing impact so that marketers can prioritize fixes for maximum results.

Without a deep learning application to help you, you might be staring at a long list of potential fixes which typically get postponed to later.

Competitive strategy

Identifying patterns in real-time makes deep learning a brands’ best first defense in understanding customer, competitor, or market changes– so that marketers can immediately turn these insights into a plan to win.

Content discovery

Surface high-value topics that target different content strategies, such as stopping competitive threats or capitalizing on local demand.

Deep learning technology can be used to assess the ROI of new content items and prioritize their development by unveiling insights such as topic opportunity, consumer intent, characteristics of top competing content, and recommendations for improving content performance.

Content development

Score the quality and relevance of each piece of content produced. Deep learning technology can help save time with automated tasks of content production, such as header tags, cross-linking, copy optimization, image editing, highly optimized CTAs that drive performance, and embedded performance tracking of website traffic and conversion.

Content activation

Deep learning technology can help ensure that each piece of content is optimized for organic performance and customer experience—such as schema for structure, AMP for better mobile experiences, and Open Graph for Facebook. Technology can help marketers can amplify their content in social networks for greater visibility.


Automation helps marketers do more with less and execute more quickly. It allows marketers to manage routine tasks with little effort, so that they can focus on high-impact activities and accomplish organic business goals at scale.

Note: To make the most of the insights and recommendations from deep learning marketers need to take action and make the relevant changes to web page content to keep website visitors engaged and ultimately converting.

Additionally, because the search landscape changes so frequently, deep learning fuels the development of smart content and can be used to automatically adjust to changes in content formats and standards.

Deep learning in action

An example of deep learning in organic search is DataMind. BrightEdge (disclosure, my employer) Data Mind is like a virtual team of data scientists built into the platform, that combines massive volumes of data with immediate, actionable insights to inform marketing decisions.

In this case the deep learning engine analyzes huge, complex, and dynamic data sets (from multiple sources that include 1st and 3rd party data) to determine patterns and derive the insights marketers need. Deep learning is used to detect anomalies in a site’s performance and interpret the reasons, such as industry trends, while making recommendations about how to proceed.


Think of deep learning applications as your own personal data scientist – here to help and assist and not to replace. The adoption of AI, machine learning and now deep learning technologies allows faster decisions, more accurate and smarter insights.

Brands compete in the content battleground to ensure their content is optimized and found, engages audiences and ultimately drives conversions and digital revenue. When armed with these insights from deep learning, marketers get a new competitive weapon and a massive competitive edge.

Best of 2017: Our top 5 search industry articles

As we come to the end of 2017, we’ve decided to take a look back at some of our most-read articles throughout the year. For the rest of this week, we’ll be highlighting the top five most popular articles in various categories across the site.

So far this week, we’ve rounded up our top five articles on SEO and top five articles on PPC. To wrap up the week, we’re taking a look at our top five most-read articles about the search industry.

Our Industry category on Search Engine Watch covers any developments in the wider search industry, such as new search engines, the evolution of Web 3.0, or major changes to search engines like Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc. It also covers articles about strategy and how marketers should approach SEO, PPC and SEM in their day-to-day jobs: such as how to get execs excited about SEO, or how much SEO should really cost.

To the surprise of no-one, our most popular articles in this category tend to be things that Google is doing. So here is our very Google-centric list of the top 5 most popular Industry articles published in 2017.

#1: The 10 best Google Doodles of all time

Who doesn’t love a good Google Doodle? The creative and inventive Google Doodle, which we’re now accustomed to seeing on the Google homepage with regularity, actually began life in 1998 as a quirky out-of-office message to notify users that Sergey Brin and Larry Page, co-founders of Google, had gone to Burning Man festival.

Soon afterwards, Google began experimenting with Doodles to mark historical events, and the Doodle’s popularity was so great that it has become a regular fixture on Google’s homepage, with a dedicated team of around 10 staff members.

In our most-read Industry article of 2017, Clark Boyd looks back over nearly 20 years of Google Doodles to pick the 10 best Doodles of all time.

The 10 best Google Doodles of all time

#2: Google just released verified customer reviews: 3 ways to come out on top

Customer reviews are important for SEO and brand reputation, particularly in the new age of linkless link-building. But they aren’t always reliable. As such, Google’s introduction of Verified Customer Reviews, a method of leaving feedback in which you can guarantee that the reviewer is a genuine customer – was a big development.

Amanda DiSilvestro looked at how business owners can sign up for verified customer reviews, as well as three ways to make sure you come out on top.

Google just released verified customer reviews: 3 ways to come out on top

#3: A visual history of Google SERPS: 1996-2017

Over the past 20 years, Google has revolutionized how we source information, how we buy products, and how advertisers sell those products to us. And yet, one fact remains stubbornly true: the shop-front for brands on Google is still the Search Engine Results Page (SERP).

Since Google began as a college project named Backrub in 1996, those “ten blue links” which make up the Google SERP have undergone all kinds of evolutions, from the advent of local results in 2004 to the introduction of Google Suggest in 2008, to the more recent removal of the right-hand rail of search ads in 2016.

It can be easy to lose sight of just how much the SERPS have changed as a whole, over the years. This brilliant infographic by Clark Boyd, Safiya Lawrence and Chelsea Herbert looks back over how far Google has come, and considers the trends that predominantly define the SERPs today.

A visual history of Google SERPs: 1996 to 2017

#4: What do we know so far about Google’s new homepage?

And speaking of changes to Google… Without a doubt, the biggest change to come to the internet’s most popular search engine this year has been the launch of its new, feed-based mobile homepage in July.

Perhaps the most drastic update of the homepage since Google’s creation in 1996, the new homepage allows users to customize a news feed that updates based on their interests, location, and past search behaviors.

On the heels of the new homepage’s US launch, Clark Boyd looked at what we knew so far about the homepage, why Google chose to launch it when they did, and the potential new opportunities for marketers.

What do we know so far about Google’s new homepage?

#5: Google Chrome SSL certificate proposal could affect millions of websites

In another major piece of news this year, potential millions of websites that use SSL certificates issued by Symantec and affiliated resellers faced finding out that their certificates were effectively worthless as far as Google Chrome was concerned, after a member of the Chrome team published a proposal that would make them untrusted over the next 12 months.

According to the Google Chrome team, Symantec had not properly validated thousands of certificates. In fact, the Chrome team claimed that “an initial set of reportedly 127 [misissued] certificates has expanded to include at least 30,000 [misissued] certificates, issued over a period spanning several years.”

Al Roberts looked at the news for Search Engine Watch and its potential impact for website owners

Google Chrome SSL certificate proposal could affect millions of websites

And that’s it for us in 2017! We hope you enjoy revisiting the best of our published content over the past 12 months, and we’ll see you in the new year!

Best of 2017: Our top 5 articles in PPC

As we come to the end of 2017, we’ve decided to take a look back at some of our most-read articles throughout the year. For the rest of this week, we’ll be highlighting the top five most popular articles in various categories across the site.

Yesterday, we kicked things off with a look at our top 5 articles about SEO, and if you missed that one, it’s definitely worth a read. Today, we’ll be turning our attention to the other great staple of Search Engine Watch content: PPC.

We covered some fun ground with our PPC articles this year, from emoji in AdWords ad titles to the psychology of ad copy, to the impact of Google’s new ‘Ad’ label on marketers. Let’s not waste any more time – here are our top 5 articles from 2017 about PPC.

#1: Emoji appear in Google AdWords ad titles

This was an interesting one. Just a couple of weeks after we wrote about Google’s decision to bring emoji back to the SERPs, emoji were spotted in the wild in AdWords ad titles, suggesting that Google had decided to go the whole hog in embracing emoji in both organic search and paid search ads.

Sadly, the test doesn’t seem to have lasted in the case of paid search, as Google’s official stance is still that emoji are “invalid characters” – but there have also been recent reports of people being able to bid on emoji in AdWords. Either way, the combination of fun emoji news with a potential big change for search marketers makes it no surprise that this was our most-read article about PPC in 2017.

Emoji appear in Google AdWords ads titles

#2: The psychology of language for paid search

When it comes to PPC best practice, there’s a vast amount of ground you can cover, from keyword bidding to demographic targeting, AdWords reports, landing page optimization and everything in between. But how often do we talk about the actual copy of the ads that are supposed to get consumers’ attention?

According to Sophie Turton, Head of Content and PR at Bozboz, people don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it. In her presentation at Brighton SEO in April 2017, she explained how search marketers can use psychology to make their paid search ads more effective. Tereza Litsa sums up the key highlights in an informative piece for Search Engine Watch.

The psychology of language for paid search

#3: 10 online marketing strategies to make you a unicorn [infographic]

It’s hard to go wrong with a good infographic, and Larry Kim of Wordstream has a great one which brings together 10 online marketing strategies to make you a unicorn – one of those magical campaigns that’s so effective, it performs in the top 1-3% of all marketing campaigns.

Sound like a dream come true? Check out Larry’s infographic, whose points he expands on in further detail in his post, and find out why you need to forget everything you know about Conversion Rate Optimization.

10 online marketing strategies to make you a unicorn [infographic]

#4: How to target high-income consumers with AdWords

There are many industries in which being able to target high net worth individuals with your paid search campaigns is extremely useful. If you think that AdWords doesn’t have this function, you might want to think again.

Wesley Parker reveals the secret behind a “deeply hidden gem within AdWords”, currently available for U.S. locations only, which allows you to target people based on their household income. With step-by-step instructions and screenshots, he explains exactly how to set this up, as well as how you can use layered targeting to pull in multiple different demographics.

How to target high-income consumers with AdWords

#5: How will Google’s new ‘Ad’ label impact marketers?

In a major development for PPC, Google began testing a new look for its ad labels in January of this year, and in late February confirmed that this would be rolled out globally.

The new white label with green text and a green outline replaced the green label that was launched in June 2016, and blends much more seamlessly with the rest of the ad placement, perhaps creating less of a contrast between organic and paid search results. Clark Boyd considered Google’s motivation for the change, and the possible impact on search marketers.

How will Google’s new ‘Ad’ label impact marketers?

Best of 2017: Our top 5 articles in SEO

As we come to the end of 2017, we’ve decided to take a look back at some of our most-read articles throughout the year. For the rest of this week, we’ll be highlighting the top five most popular articles in various categories across the site.

First up is, of course, the bread and butter of Search Engine Watch: SEO. Several of our most-read articles in SEO were list articles (hard to go wrong with a good list), and they often dealt with how to prepare for the year ahead: how to plan your strategy for 2017, tips to boost your SEO in 2017, trends to watch in 2018.

If you missed any of these excellent articles when they were published, now’s your chance to check them out. And if you’ve already read them, well, it never hurts to refresh your knowledge.

#1: Five quick tips to boost your SEO in 2017

Everyone loves quick tips for SEO, and Tereza Litsa has some great ones to get your SEO off to a strong start in the new year. These might be tips for 2017, but they stand the test of time – there’s no reason why you shouldn’t apply these to your SEO going into 2018, if you haven’t already.

Five quick tips to boost your SEO in 2017

#2: Seven SEO trends to watch in 2018

What does the year ahead hold for SEO? While it’s hard to say exactly what will unfold in 2018, based on the events of this year and the prevailing winds in the industry, we can make a pretty good guess as to what the major trends will be. Tereza Litsa outlines seven you need to watch and account for in your search strategy next year.

Seven SEO trends to watch in 2018

After you’ve clued up on the trends ahead, don’t miss our follow-up article on how to optimize for them: How to future-proof your SEO for 2018.

#3: The 15 best Google Chrome extensions for SEO

Google Chrome dominates as the world’s favorite desktop browser, and its thousands of extensions give it an almost daunting level of customization. You can do just about anything with Google Chrome extensions, including – no, especially – SEO. But which are the best extensions to use?

Clark Boyd rounds up 15 Chrome extensions to aid you in your SEO efforts, from a quick site review to on-site content analysis, technical SEO and backlink analysis.

The 15 best Google Chrome extensions for SEO

#4: Building your SEO strategy in 2017: What’s most important?

In another enduring piece about SEO strategy for 2017, Marcela de Vivo looks at the areas you should be focusing on for SEO amid hundreds of possible ranking factors and points of optimization. Again, it’s still highly relevant as we come to the end of the year and well worth a revisit. How many of these areas did you nail in 2017?

Building your SEO strategy in 2017: what’s most important?

#5: How to create SEO-friendly content

The increasing merging of content and SEO, once thought of as separate disciplines, has been one of the enduring themes of the past couple of years. By now, if your content strategy and SEO aren’t at least on the same page, if not working hand-in-glove, then you’re definitely taking the wrong approach to both.

If you need a primer or a refresher on creating the best content to rank well in search, Tereza Litsa has you covered with her guide on how to create SEO-friendly content.

How to create SEO-friendly content

Check back tomorrow for our next set of highlights – the top 5 most popular articles in PPC.

Best practices for anchor text optimization in 2018

Doing SEO for any client is intimately associated with getting the most out of every link.

Anchor text is an important element that “unlocks” every link’s potential — to the extent that Google had to roll out its first Penguin update in 2012, cutting tried-and-true anchor text over-optimization methods out of the picture.

Over the past five years, the best practices of anchor text optimization have considerably evolved. It is time to learn how anchor text best practices can allow you to get the most out of links in 2018.

Anchor text and Google Penguin

The release of Penguin 1.0 in April, 2012 shook up the SERPs, affecting around 3% of all search queries in English, German, Chinese, Arabic, and other popular languages. Since then, there have been at least five major Google Penguin updates:

Penguin 1.1 — May, 2012
Penguin 1.2 — October, 2012
Penguin 2.0 — May, 2013
Penguin 2.1 — October, 2013
Penguin 3.0 — October, 2014
Penguin 4.0 — September, 2016

Since Google releases its Penguin updates periodically, some SEO professionals and marketers take advantage of the gaps, pushing up SERPs with gray-hat anchor text practices (e.g. targeted anchor texts, lower-quality link-building), and then get penalized for doing so.

When it comes to the relationship between anchor texts and Google Penguin updates, the rule of thumb is simple: Follow Google’s guidelines and avoid trying to hack the system by using overly aggressive anchor text practices. Sooner or later, Google will come up with a new update, which will negatively affect SERPs.

Major anchor text categories

Before providing specific tips on anchor text optimization, let’s recap the major categories of anchor text:

Branded — your brand name with a link placed on it (e.g. Search Engine Watch)
Naked URL — your site’s URL with the link it is pointing to (e.g.
Website Name — your site’s URL with the anchor text written as “” (e.g.
Page/Blog Post Title — a page’s title anchor text with a link on it (e.g. How to future-proof your SEO for 2018)
Exact-match Keywords — a targeted keyword with a link on it (e.g. Tips for entrepreneurs)
Partial-match Keywords — a targeted keyword plus some other text with a link on it (e.g. Beginner tips for entrepreneurs, tips for entrepreneurs guide)
LSI Keywords — a keyword anchor text that is related to a targeted keyword (e.g. entrepreneurship tips, business tips for entrepreneurs, startup business success stories)
No Text — an image with a link on it
Generic (e.g. Click this link, Read more, Check this out)
Best practices for anchor text optimization
Keep it natural… and versatile

According to Google, every part of any website, including links and their associated anchor text, needs to provide real value to users. Links must be put only where users expect to see them, so they can get informed about something valuable to them.

With Google’s algorithms getting smarter every year, you should avoid multiple repetitive and keyword-based anchors in your site’s anchor text cloud. Failure to do so will definitely result in a penalty.

To quote Neil Patel:

“I like building natural links, because that’s what Google wants. You can’t be smarter than the engineers who spend their workdays making the algorithm work smarter. So, stay off Google’s radar, focus on high-quality content and avoid a penalty on Google and other search engines.”

Of course, you need to link to high-quality, relevant pages and disavow all links from low-quality, non-relevant web pages. Getting links from sites with high Domain Authority, Page Authority, and Trust Flow is also a must.

Avoid over-optimization

Google does not appreciate overly-rich anchor text. A spammy, keyword-based anchor text cloud is a big red flag to Google. It indicates blunt manipulation with backlinks, which, obviously, results in penalties.

Instead, try to keep your anchor text natural by spreading it across your inbound links in the right proportions (more about this below). For instance, instead of placing “Software development company” in every guest post, try using something like “companies that develop software” or “the most reliable software development firms,” etc.

Keep anchors relevant to content

As time goes on, Google will only improve its algorithms responsible for understanding the actual meaning of a web page’s content. Since 2015, it has been testing DeepMind, a natural language processing technology that allows artificial intelligence to learn just as humans would.

Provided Google knows what is put on a concrete web page, it will not have any problems figuring out if a specific anchor text or link is relevant to a web page’s content.

If you place an internal link with irrelevant anchor text on your own website, this is likely to harm your search ranking. The is true for backlinks with irrelevant anchor text.

Google is obsessed with improving user experiences. It tries its best to provide relevant content in the most convenient manner. Clearly, non-relevant anchors with non-relevant links behind them lead users to non-relevant content, which Google does not appreciate.

Engage in relevant guest blogging

The relevance of the anchor text is one of key factors of a successful, cost-efficient guest blogging campaign, or of any healthy anchor text cloud for that matter.

What it comes down to is this: If you are guest posting with the intention of pushing up your “Digital marketing tips” keyword, place links to pages that include information about digital marketing, with exact-match, partial-match, and LSI (Latent Semantic Indexing) keywords featuring the topic of discussion. Obviously, your “Digital marketing tips” anchor text, with an associated link, should not be put on websites that have nothing to do with digital marketing.

Note: Do your best to use LSI and partial-match anchors in your guest post. In this way, you will achieve a more natural-looking anchor text cloud and satisfy the Google gods.

Avoid links from and linking to spammy sites

While the first part of this one is self-descriptive (you should never build links from low-quality websites), it is not common knowledge that Google pays close attention to websites you link to as well. Actually, since the release of Google’s Hummingbird update, this type of co-citation can play a key role in calculating your site’s SERP placement.

Check your outbound links to make sure you steer clear of low-quality sites. Even though you can get paid or rewarded with a couple of reciprocal links, linking to a toxic website has the potential to ruin your site’s authority and rank in the long run.

Distribute anchors in the right proportions

While the “right proportions” part is always up for debate, it is pretty much indisputable that you should:

Avoid stuffing your anchor text cloud with exact-match and partial-match keywords by all means
Rely on branded and website name anchor texts (as they are allowed by Google and other search engines)
Sparsely use Page Title/Blog Post Title anchor texts (Adam White of Search Engine Journal claims that this is the single best anchor text for SEO)

So, what are the right proportions?

While the safe answer is, “It depends,” — some recommendations do exist. According to at least a couple of anchor text case studies, the golden formula is:

50% — Branded anchor texts
15% —
10-20% — Naked URL
10-15% — Page Title/Blog Post Title
1-5% — Generic anchor texts
1-5% — Exact- and partial match keywords

But, once again, make sure that you do a thorough analysis of your niche and competitors. Your first priority is to reverse-engineer the anchor text cloud of websites ranked at the top, and only then can you start adjusting your website’s anchor text cloud.

Focus anchors on deep-level pages

One of the most common mistakes that beginner SEO professionals make is focusing the anchors they build on top-level pages, mainly placing links to a homepage, landing pages, or even concrete product pages.

An anchor text cloud that is purely built around these shallow pages does not look natural to Google and other search engines, simply because people do not naturally place links in that way. As a rule, they link to worthy shareable content like blog posts.

What you should do is focus your anchors on relevant, deep-level pages. Not only will you create a natural, versatile anchor text cloud, but you will also allow visitors to navigate to top-level pages.

Place anchors where users pay the most attention

This is more of a psychology-type tip.

Since users often do not read but rather skim pages, a page’s first few paragraphs, its headings, subheadings, and imagery become focal points — people pay more attention there. Thus, it makes sense to put your anchor texts next to these “hot” parts of a page in order to increase click-through rates and engagement.

Do not be overly obsessed with this one, though. If users find concrete anchor text to be descriptive and potentially valuable, they will click the link to check out what’s inside, one way or another.


Anchor text optimization practices evolve over time. As most of them get adjusted in line with the Penguin updates, pay close attention to keeping your anchor text cloud natural and versatile, which is the first point of interest to Google.

“Organic” anchor text distribution influenced by averages for a targeted niche, and specifically for your competitor’s websites, plays a huge role, but keep low-quality links in mind. If your anchor texts are up to snuff, do a complete audit of incoming links to sift out and disavow those coming from untrustworthy, non-relevant websites.

To sum it up, you need to remain on the right side of Google, one way or another. Specifically, do not try to game the system — it will not work in the long run. Instead, make sure that your anchor text is natural (avoid over-optimization, use relevant anchors, do not link to low-quality websites), and use keyword-rich links once in a while to help you rank.

How to highlight search opportunity and create a keyword difficulty metric

One key element of a search strategy we often see fail is prioritization.

Whether working client-side or for an agency, being able to prioritize a link-building campaign, a content refresh or a technical fix on a site is essential to ensure you are making the most use of the limited resources you are given.

Within this post we’ll run through a few different ways to show how to highlight opportunity across a keyword set and introduce a keyword difficulty metric you can use to take prioritizing work to the next level.

Individual keyword opportunity

With a basic approach, opportunity can be found by merely completing keyword research, identifying those keywords with the highest search volume and targeting those.

Clustering keywords

By being a little more advanced, we could try clustering (or grouping) related keywords and then look at the collated volume of each cluster. After you have that information, you can then focus on the category of keywords which attracts the most search volume.

Some different ways of grouping your keywords could be:

  • By word operators, e.g. how, what, where, when, why

  • By topic, e.g. fridges, microwaves, recipes

  • By the intent of the keyword, e.g. transactional (looking to buy) informational (looking for information), navigational (branded keywords, looking to browse a specific site)

  • By the length of the keyword, e.g. head (one word, high volume), body (2-3 words medium to high volume) or long tail (4+ words, low to medium volume).

  • By how commercial the keyword is. I typically do this based on CPC (cost per click) data and put it into low, medium and high categories. A high CPC means that more people are bidding on the keyword, which usually implies that it converts better and is more commercial.

Introducing Traffic Estimations

If you want to take this a step further, you could look at the incremental traffic to be gained from each keyword. This is based upon your current position, how many times it is searched per month, the estimated click-through rate (CTR) and the maximum traffic you can get from ranking in position one.

To break that down:

You can then assess the incremental traffic in relation to the ways in which you have clustered your keywords, and highlight any gaps in which you can gain traffic.

The graphs for these would like the same as the ones above, except with incremental traffic, max traffic or estimated traffic plotted instead of volume. At this stage, you could even do an analysis of how much market share you have captured for each topic:

Is this really highlighting opportunity?

These methods of highlighting opportunity work, and the latter methods in particular are much better than just looking at search volume in isolation.

However, none of these methods tells you how difficult it is going to be to attain the traffic figures you are highlighting.

Opportunity is defined by the Cambridge English Dictionary as:

‘An occasion or situation that makes it possible to do something that you want to do or have to do, or the possibility of doing something.’

With both methods, we are only really showing where the volume is, we are not saying how possible it is for us to achieve those incremental traffic figures. So, are we truly highlighting opportunity?

This is where we can introduce a keyword difficulty metric so that you can look at address both the opportunity and the difficulty in terms of your traffic figures.

Once you have created such a metric, your opportunity analysis begins to look a bit more like this:

Now, we are no longer just highlighting where the traffic is, we are also showing how difficult it is to get, which means we are now really showing the opportunity.

From the above chart, we can now see that, while fridges have lots of opportunity for additional traffic, it makes far more sense to concentrate on microwaves and kettles as they both still have a large number of searches but the difficulty to rank well for these terms is far lower.

Creating a keyword difficulty metric

Before we begin, here are some features of the keyword difficulty metric:

  • It works on a logarithmic scale from 0 – 100
  • 75% of the metric is based upon referring domains to the URL, the remaining 25% is based upon domain level referring domains
  • When we show the metric by category, a weighted average is taken. The weight is the search volume of each keyword within the category. This means high volume keywords contribute to the difficulty of the category more than the low volume ones.

Rather than going into more detail on how the metric is created, first I’ll run through what you need to do so you can go ahead and start creating it yourself. Use our template from the next section and if you want to learn more about its creation , skip ahead to the end of the article.

To start building this metric, you will first need to do some data collection. You will need to find:

  • The top 10 results for each keyword you have from your research
  • The number of referring domains to each URL in the top 10
  • The number of referring domains to each domain in the top 10

Before we collect these, do some keyword research and enter your results into the keyword difficulty metric template we have created for you. Make sure to click ‘File’, and ‘Make a copy…’ to save your own version of the template.

To start with, just fill out the ‘Keyword Research’ sheet with your list of keywords, categories and search volumes.

Scrape the top 10 results

To get the top 10 results, I have access to our in-house rank tracker at Zazzle Media. You can, however, get this information from various tools such as:

  • Simple SERP Scraper
  • Serposcope – Open source rank tracker that requires some setup
  • A variety of other rank trackers on the market

Add the URLs for your top 10 results, along with the associated keyword, into the ‘Keyword Difficulty’ tab of the template. The sheet should now look like this:

Once you have added all this information to your sheet, you need to collect the number of referring domains to both the URL and the domain. To do this, I usually use Majestic and URL Profiler to quickly pull data via the API. Both Majestic and URL Profiler are paid tools, but they are worth spending the money on given the data they provide.

Copy the URLs from your keyword difficulty sheet and paste them into URL Profiler. Select the URL Level Data and Domain Level Data tick boxes for Majestic; you may need to link up to the Majestic API when you do this. After, select ‘Run Profiler’ in the bottom right.

Once you have the export, copy and paste the URL, domain referring domains and URL referring domains over to the ‘Keyword Difficulty URLs’ tab. The ‘Keyword Difficulty’ sheet will now create the difficulty metric for each URL ranking in positions 1 – 10 and will look like the below.

Of course, we want results for each keyword, rather than for each URL ranking in the search result. If you go back to the ‘Keyword Research’ sheet that you originally put all your keywords and data into, you will see that the keyword difficulty metric has been averaged across all sites ranking within the top 10 for that keyword.

Opportunity Charts

Now, when you go into the ‘Category Opportunity’ tab, you will be able to see the ‘volume against keyword difficulty’ charts shown earlier as well as ‘traffic captured vs overall’ and ‘incremental traffic by category’.

Along with these, I have also added a difficulty distribution bubble charts in the ‘Category Difficulty Distribution’ and ‘Keyword Difficulty Distribution’ tabs.

Here is what a category difficulty distribution chart looks like:

Here is a keyword difficulty distribution chart:

When you have inputted your data, you will see actual keywords and categories rather than the dummy data I’ve currently inputted. To give you a bit more of an idea what you can gain from these charts, here are some descriptions of how you should target keywords or categories depending on their location on the chart:

Upper Left: High Difficulty, low opportunity. These are usually not worth the investment in link building activity.

Bottom Left: Low difficulty, low opportunity. We should target some of these keywords, especially the ones in the right side of the bottom left quarter.

Upper Right: High difficulty, high opportunity. It will take a lot of work to rank for these, but we will see a large return in traffic from doing so.

Bottom Right: Low difficulty, high opportunity. We can rank for these keywords with a smaller link building campaign and we will see a high return in traffic.

These charts can be handy if you are struggling to see category opportunity from just analysing the bar and area chart in the ‘Category Opportunity’ tab.

More about the metric

Correlation studies all state near enough the same thing, namely that links to your site are still the most influential factor when it comes to ranking a page. Here is a recent example of this from Ahrefs (which also has its own Keyword Difficulty metric if you don’t mind paying for it):

Because the data says links still correlate the most, it makes sense to base the keyword difficulty metric on this.

The Ahrefs study above states that referring domains correlate with rankings less than referring domains to an individual URL.

Because of this, it also makes sense for our metric to put more weight on the number of referring domains to the URLs, rather than the number of referring domains to each domain on the search result.

Here’s how the difficulty scales for links to the URL (making up 75% of the score):

Here is the scale for domains referring domains (making up 25% of the score):


If you’ve read through this and managed to calculate keyword difficulty, you should now be able to increase the quality of your opportunity analysis tenfold and be able to highlight whether or not targeting a topic/niche for traffic is viable for you.

Moving forward, you should be able to target queries and users based upon whether ranking for a term is achievable, not solely on whether or not people are searching for it.

If you have any questions feel free to tweet me at @SamUnderwoodUK.

Why linkless mentions are the future of link-building

Since the early days of search, Google has used links as a means of judging the reputation and relevance of webpages. The more links pointing to a particular page, particularly from other reputable pages, the more importance Google would award it in search.

And so link-building developed as an SEO strategy, with SEOs doing everything they could to win, buy or otherwise gain links pointing to their website in order to boost it up the rankings.

Over the years, Google has made a lot of adjustments to the way it treats links, cracking down on paid-for or freebie links and implementing algorithm updates like Penguin or Fred which penalize sites with a lot of spammy links. This has made link-building a lot trickier for SEOs than it once was.

At the same time, the web has evolved, and search engines have evolved along with it. With the rise of social media, digital assistants and voice interfaces, and the increasing merging of the online and offline worlds, the number of links pointing to a site seems like a slightly outdated way of judging its reputation – not to mention easy to game.

And in fact, it’s not the only means that search engines have of judging reputation. Over the past few years, major search engines like Google and Bing have developed the ability to gauge a website’s reputation via any reference to a brand, anywhere online, together with the sentiment it is mentioned in. These references are known as “linkless mentions”, or “linkless backlinks”.

We touched on the rise of linkless mentions in our recent piece ‘How to future-proof your SEO for 2018′. In this article, we’ll look more closely at how linkless mentions have changed the nature of link-building, and how you should adjust your strategy to account for them.

How do linkless mentions work?

Previously, Google used an algorithm known as PageRank to assess a page’s authority. In essence, PageRank considered links pointing to a page to be like “votes” for that page; the more votes a page received, particularly from other pages with a lot of votes, the more importance it was given.

Of course, this has never been the sole factor that Google uses for determining ranking, and plenty of commentators warned against the dangers of thinking that a high PageRank instantly correlates to a high search ranking. But it was given a lot of emphasis in SEO nevertheless.

An illustration of how PageRank works for a simple network, with percentages to represent page authority.

Times have moved on since then, and in early 2016 Google officially retired PageRank from its toolbar in order to avoid misleading website owners about just how important PageRank was. While Google still uses PageRank internally, it’s clear that there is a lot more to how it judges a website’s authority.

Meanwhile, evidence has been mounting that both Google and Bing are able to associate mentions of a brand or website without a link, and use that as a trust signal.

At SMX West 2016, Duane Forrester, Bing’s former Senior Product Manager, stated that linkless mentions can be just as strong a signal as regular links, adding that Bing figured out how to associate mentions without a link, as well as determine sentiment and tone, “years ago”.

As for Google, sharp-eyed industry commentators noticed a patent that Google filed in 2014 which defined non-linked mentions as “implied links”. Simon Penson, writing for Moz, explained exactly how this works in practice:

“It means that once a connection is made by someone typing in a brand name or other search query and then clicking on a site it creates a connection in Google’s eyes. The search engine can then store that info and use it in the context of unlinked mentions around the web in order to help weight rankings of particular sites.”

But the shift towards unlinked mentions as a trust signal was most clearly spelled out by Google’s Gary Illyes, in a keynote at Brighton SEO in September 2017. Talking about SEO best practices that webmasters should stick to, Illyes said:

“Basically, if you publish high quality content that is highly cited on the internet – and I’m not talking about just links, but also mentions on social networks and people talking about your branding, crap like that. Then you are doing great.”

It couldn’t be spelled out more plainly: Google considers all mentions of your brand on the internet, not just links, to be akin to a trust signal, and is taking them into account.

What does this mean for link-building strategy?

What does this development mean for the way you should approach link-building strategy?

A lot of the same principles of a good link-building strategy still apply to building linkless mentions, and if you’ve got a link-building strategy going that’s working well for your brand, of course you should continue it.

Links still matter – but they don’t always need to be the ultimate goal of link-building. Tactics like tracking down mentions of your site and badgering the website owners into adding a hyperlink aren’t necessary any more; just the mention by itself, assuming it’s not a negative one, is enough to provide Google with a trust signal.

Here are some other steps you can take to make sure that your link-building strategy also targets linkless mentions:

Aim to build overall brand awareness and reputation

Link-building isn’t just about hyperlinks any more, and over time we may well see the term change to something more general like “reference-building” or “reputation-building”, to reflect what’s really involved.

For the same reasons, it’s helpful to broaden your goals beyond gaining backlinks to include other, positive mentions of your brand. Some things that can contribute to this include:

  • Online reviews: Encourage and track customer reviews for your brand, and make sure you do what you can to respond to negative ones.
  • Public Relations: PR is the original link-building, and PRs are experts in getting mentions of and links to their brand in the press and trade publications. If you have a dedicated PR specialist or department, make sure your SEO team is aligned with them – you’re working towards the same goals. If you don’t, you can still emulate their tactics.
  • Social media: Use social media to build brand awareness campaigns and get conversations going about your brand and products or services.
  • Guest blogging: A well-established link-building tactic, and one that also works for linkless mentions. Traditionally, publications will often restrict guest authors to one link per article – so save the link for a key term you want to target and forgo a link to your site. As long as there is a mention of your brand present in the article, it will achieve the same goal.

Track all brand mentions – not just backlinks

If you’re pursuing a link-building strategy, it’s always a good move to invest in some backlink analysis tools that will allow you to track links back to your site and understand your link profile.

With linkless mentions, the same principle applies – but you need to be tracking all kinds of mentions, not just backlinks, which requires some slightly different tools.

Some tools which allow you to track mentions of your brand across the web include:

  • Google Alerts: As usual, Google has the basics covered with a free tool which alerts you to any mentions of your brand or chosen keyword across the web. You may well already be using this to monitor for backlink opportunities.
  • Awario: Another great tool for tracking brand mentions across the web, Avario’s “reach” metric allows you to see a commenter’s level of influence – similar to seeing whether a site linking back to you has high or low authority.
  • Talkwalker Alerts: Styling itself as “the best free and easy alternative to Google Alerts”, Talkwalker Alerts provides data about the performance of your brand mentions, demographic data, sentiment analysis and information on the influencers discussing your brand.
  • Mention: Mention provides you with live updates about mentions of your brand or product across the web, allows you to filter by source, language and sentiment, and allows you to perform direct comparisons with competitor data.

Comparing competitor data in Mention | Source:

Optimize your off-page SEO

Similar to our first point about building overall brand awareness and reputation, if you haven’t set out to optimize your off-page SEO, you absolutely must.

Off-page SEO encompasses all of the aspects of SEO that don’t take place on your website, such as your social media activity, customer service practices, online reviews, influencer marketing and more. As such, anything that’s great for off-page SEO is also great for building brand reputation and mentions.

For more on how to nail off-page SEO, don’t miss Amanda DiSilvestro’s comprehensive guide: How to achieve off-the-charts off-page SEO that will boost traffic.

Carry out reputation management

Just as backlinks pointing to your site are only beneficial if they’re reputable, non-spammy links, mentions of your brand are only beneficial if they’re positive mentions – so a reputation management strategy is a must.

Be proactive in monitoring the sentiment of the conversation around your brand; many of the mention tracking tools listed above will allow you to do that. This will allow you to spot any potential problem situations brewing before they develop into a full-blown crisis.

Make sure you take the time to engage with and respond to individuals reporting a negative experience with your brand, and do your best to resolve the issues they have. Actively promote your brand name online, so that the positive and authoritative mentions of your brand will inevitably drown out any negative mentions that do arise.

Check out Marcela De Vivo’s guide to Online Reputation Management: Beyond Damage Control for more practical advice on managing your online reputation, and what to do in a reputation crisis.

How to improve your AdWords conversion rate 

Your ad campaigns should bring you closer to new prospects and clients. But how well are you able to judge their success?

Your conversion rate in AdWords is your success rate at persuading consumers to click on your ads and carry out a particular action, such as a product purchase.

It is estimated that the average conversion rate for an Adwords account is just 2.35%. According to analysis carried out by WordStream on more than 2,000 client accounts, the top 25% of accounts had conversion rates of 5.31% or higher, while the bottom 25% of accounts had a conversion rate of 0-1%.

Where on the performance scale do your ads sit? An alarmingly high proportion of PPC campaign managers and marketers don’t know how well their ads are performing. Or maybe you do know, but aren’t sure what to do to improve your conversion rate.

In this article, we’ll outline three areas where you should focus your efforts to improve your AdWords conversion, and give practical tips on how you can nudge the scale in the right direction.

First: Establish which conversions you’re tracking

The first step to improving your conversion rate is to know how your campaigns are performing. Thus, you will need to set up conversion tracking to keep track of your ads’ performance.

According to a report by Disrupt Advertising, only 57.7% of Adwords accounts have set up conversion tracking. This means that 42.3% of the respondents are not able to tell if their campaigns are successful.

Conversion tracking allows you to analyse the performance of your ads, your ad groups and your campaigns. This makes it easier to find the ROI for each investment, while it also makes it easier to measure the exact number of conversions.

So far, so good; but in order to track conversions, you need to have established which outcomes you want to achieve with your PPC campaign. For example, for an ecommerce company, a conversion is usually interpreted as a product sale. However, you many be interested in tracking:

  • The number of new subscriptions to your email newsletter
  • The number of downloads of an ebook or whitepaper
  • The number of new product demo requests made to your site

Not all of these actions directly produce revenue, but if your aim is to increase engagement and awareness, then these are viable conversion goals for your business.

3 tips to improve your Adwords conversion rate

Improve Quality Score

Improving your Adwords Quality Score can significantly impact your conversion rate in two ways: one, by lowering your campaign Cost Per Click (CPC), allowing you to get your ads in front of a wider audience for the same budget; and two, by serving as a metric for how good your ad experience is for the consumer.

The best ways to improve it are to:

  • Focus on quality and relevant ads for your target audience
  • Organise your ad groups
  • Pay attention to your ad copy
  • Keep your Adwords profile organised
  • Focus on the right keywords
  • Improve the landing page experience

Improving the wider experience of your Adwords campaigns will improve your Quality Score, and by the same token, increase the chances of seeing a higher number of clicks and conversions.

According to Google, the three main components that define how your Quality Score can affect a real-time auction are:

Overall, the Quality Score is Google’s attempt to reward quality and relevant ads, and a focus on improving it can lead to more successful Adwords campaigns.

Optimize your landing pages

The design of your landing page plays a key role in your number of conversions. A good ad campaign may bring more people to your landing page, but if it’s not optimized to facilitate conversions, then you’re likely to lose those potential customers before they convert.

A high-converting landing page is:

  • appealing
  • relevant
  • easy to navigate

Every element should be tested, from the CTA to the colour of the buttons and their placement. Carrying out A/B testing allows you to minimize the risk of wasting your budget on a low-converting page.

Optimization should start by ensuring that your landing page facilitates the customer journey. Think like a user to spot the problems that can affect your page’s performance.

A good way to increase your chances of conversion is to align the ad copy with the landing page. You don’t want your ad copy to be misleading, as it risks losing the user’s trust. Similarly, you don’t want the copy to be vague, as this will affect the number of clicks.

The copy of your ads should align with the content of your landing pages. You need to live up to the expectations to increase the conversion rate and this can also improve your quality score.

Overall, the optimisation of your landing page should include:

Appealing and targeted copy

A good headline along with relevant content can make a landing page more interesting for your target audience.

Eye-catching visual content

As with the copy, images and videos can grab the audience’s attention and facilitate the conversion. The type of image, the size, the design can all affect the outcome of a visit.

A well-tested CTA

One of the most important elements to test on your landing page is the CTA. Your call-to-action button will affect the conversion rate and that’s why you need to test the ideal colour, size, placement for it.

Good user experience

User experience can significantly affect the conversion rate of your landing page although it can still be overlooked during the A/B testing. Your visitors expect a good user experience when visiting a landing page with a fast loading speed, a fully functional page and a properly tested form. Every element of your landing page appeals to UX and accessibility can also be part of it. Conversion becomes easier when you ensure that your landing page is optimized for every single visitor.

Responsiveness across all devices

As with user experience, a responsive page that is equally well-presented across all devices maximizes the chances of conversion. The increased number of mobile users calls for a fully functional mobile page that takes into consideration a good user experience. Except for the page speed, the copy should be also short and engaging, while the form has to be limited to a set number of fields to avoid losing the visitors’ interest.

For more tips on how to design a high-converting AdWords landing page, check out these guides:

  • A 14-point checklist for designing a PPC landing page
  • 11 quick UX tips to improve landing page conversion

Adjust your keyword matching type

Adwords allows you to add keywords that are:

  • broad match
  • phrase match
  • exact match

A broad match keyword shows your ads to anyone searching for your selected keyword. For example, if you add “black iPhone price”, your ad will show up to anyone searching for it, no matter what order the words show up. This increases the reach of your ad campaign, bringing more clicks to it.

A phrase match keyword shows your ads to anyone searching for the specific phrase, either the way it is or as part of a sentence, such as “how to find black iPhone price”. This type of keywords allows you to filter your ads to a more specific audience, while still maintaining a significant reach.

An exact match keyword is the most specific type, only displaying your ad to anyone searching for the exact keyword you input, and in the same way that you’ve structured it. If the search is not an exact match, then your ad will not show up.

Ad campaigns that focus on exact match keywords can have a higher conversion rate as they attract a smaller, more highly-targeted audience. If your goal is to narrow down your audience then this can be a useful option.

However, if you want to cast as wide a net as possible in the hopes of attracting different types of consumers who might convert, a phrase match or broad match keyword might be more suitable.

It’s a good idea to test all the variations in order to determine which one works better for your campaign and your target audience. You can start by focusing on narrow results through exact matches and then scale up your efforts to expand your campaign reach if you don’t achieve your desired conversion rate.

For more detail on the different types of PPC keyword matching and how to set them up, don’t miss Amanda DiSilvestro’s guide: Common PPC keyword mistakes (Understanding broad match vs. phrase match vs. exact match).


Conversion is a key metric for measuring the effectiveness of your ad campaigns. The higher the conversion rate, the better the chances of meeting your business goals and driving ROI.

However, it’s useful to remember that there also needs to be an evaluation of the quality of the conversions and whether they match your target audience. It’s tempting to reach a wider audience and see the conversion rate improving, but do they really serve as leads and prospect clients? This depends on your goals and your expectations from every campaign and that’s why it’s useful to keep analyzing the performance of your ads.

The most important tips for improving your conversion rates are to:

  • Stay focused on your goal
  • Be relevant
  • Align your ad copy and landing page
  • Optimize your landing page
  • A/B test each element of the campaign
  • Experiment with keyword matches to find what works best for you
  • Focus on improving your Quality Score

Which tools should I buy to advance my SEO strategy?

research tools

The complexity of an organic search campaign necessitates some technological assistance. There are plenty of tools on the market, but they vary in price, functionality, and effectiveness.

Once you have all the basics in place, which SEO tools should you invest in to take your strategy to the next level?

The SEO landscape is highly competitive, with every company battling for precious real estate at the top of page one. The points of differentiation between competitors fall into the following, intertwined categories: people and technology. Assuming you already have your SEO team or agency partner in place, you will need to enable them with the best technology on the market.

The Google-owned products (Keyword Planner, Search Console, Google Analytics) are essential to cover the basics, but an advanced SEO strategy usually requires some investment in third-party technology. That need has created a crowded market – one that can be difficult to navigate without guidance.

Moreover, there is overlap to contend with, as so many tools appear to do so many similar things.

In truth, every tool tends to excel in one or two areas. Many will promise to be an all-in-one solution, but the task is too gargantuan to be tackled convincingly. Instead, a combination of tools is required to cover all the bases.

Any large-scale SEO campaign will encompass the following areas:

  • Research
  • Technical SEO
  • Keyword tracking
  • Backlink analysis
  • Content marketing

At each juncture, we are met by a lengthy list of technology solutions that can reveal new insights, automate the drudgery, and tell us whether our strategy is working.

Marketers should prioritize these categories, as budgets are rarely limitless and many of the best SEO tools do require investment.

Previously, we have covered the best free SEO tools and the best tools for a mobile SEO strategy. In this article, we will review the best tools to invest in for each of the core areas of an advanced SEO strategy.

Research: Moz Pro

A Moz Pro licence provides access to an impressive suite of SEO tools. Customers can utilize a site crawl, a keyword tracker, and an on-page grader, among many others.

That gives Moz Pro mass appeal, but it is essential to take note of where it excels, and where it is surpassed by other solutions.

The Keyword Explorer tool is particularly valuable for research, going far beyond what Google’s Keyword Planner can offer. Moz’s keyword research tool provides a range of suggestions for keywords to target and groups these together by their degree of lexical similarity.

At a time when sophisticated SEO professionals have moved beyond keyword matching to a more nuanced targeting approach, this capability is indispensable.

Open Site Explorer (OSE) is a long-time member of the standard SEO toolbox and it retains its usefulness for competitor backlink analyses.

Proprietary Moz metrics like Domain Authority, Page Authority, and Spam Score add extra depth to OSE and, while it is not comprehensive enough to suffice as the only backlink checker in an SEO’s armoury, it forms a natural complement to the likes of Ahrefs and Majestic.

The Moz toolbar also made our list of the best Chrome extensions for SEO, providing access to all the Moz Pro features as you visit websites.

Cost: Ranges from $99/month for the basic package to $599/month for the premium offering.

Honorable mentions: Similarweb.

Technical SEO: Botify

Technical SEO is a complex field, characterized (perhaps even caricatured) by never-ending spreadsheets and impenetrable code.

The gap between technical SEO experts and business leaders has therefore always been significant. Tools like Screaming Frog, which are highly valuable but difficult to decipher for the novice, have not helped to bridge this gap.

And yet, the importance of technical SEO for performance means that its messages need to be communicated to non-technical audiences.

Botify manages to dive deep enough to the data to provide meaningful analysis, but also display this in a compelling manner that gets the message across.

Botify Analytics

Core to its effectiveness is the Botify Log Analyzer, which collects and analyzes data at the server level. This provides an accurate record of Googlebot’s visits to the site and highlights any crawling issues.

The significance of this data was highlighted just last week, with Google’s John Mueller suggesting log file analysis as the ideal resource for site owners that want to see if they have been switched over to the mobile-first index:

I think you would probably recognize it in the log files. If you look now, probably something like 80% of the crawling is with the Googlebot desktop and maybe 20% is with mobile with the smartphone Googlebot.

And probably that will shift over and that most of the crawling will be done with the smartphone Googlebot and less crawling with the desktop Googlebot.

So if you like really watch out for your log files probably you can notice that fairly obviously.

Another albatross around the neck of technical SEO has been that its improvements are hard to tie to performance. Aside from serious issues that are causing URLs to be left out of Google’s index altogether, for example, many technical recommendations can end up gathering dust while the more glamorous changes are put into effect.

Botify Keywords is a handy feature in this sense, as it pulls in Search Console rankings data that can be tied back to any technical changes made on the site. This brings an extra element of accountability to technical SEO, all of which is tracked in the user’s dashboard automatically.

Cost: Varies, depending on site.

Honorable mention: Deepcrawl.

Keyword tracking: BrightEdge

Modern-day keyword tracking is something of a thankless task. With the twin advances of personalization and localization, there is really no such thing as a ‘true’ ranking position for each keyword. Google’s rankings differ based on so many factors that they can no longer be considered a static resource, but we can’t simply ignore rankings.

As a result, SEOs will typically use a combination of tools, including Google’s Search Console, to get a handle on how well their site is performing.

BrightEdge is the choice of many large corporations for SEO performance tracking, due to its user-friendly interface, customizable reports, and analytics integrations. It also provides the ability to track rankings down to a specific metropolitan area, which proves invaluable for brands with a presence across a range of territories.

Though the platform has evolved to encompass these new products, at its core BrightEdge is still a reliable rank tracker that provides at-a-glance performance insights for stakeholders from the SEO specialist to the CMO.

Cost: Dependent on number of keywords, domains, and territories required.

Honorable mentions: STAT Search Analytics, SearchMetrics, SEMrush.

Backlink analysis: Ahrefs

When assessing a backlink analysis tool, there are some essential fields to consider.

Firstly, the size of the technology’s index of URLs should be assessed to discern how accurate its findings will be.

None will exactly match the scope of Google’s index, which of course is significantly larger than any SEO tool could muster. However, it is important to bear in mind that each tool crawls and creates its own index, so the results you see in your dashboard on each may be different.

Next, check to see how frequently the index is updated. Given the importance of links for SEO rankings, most practitioners will want to see the quantity and quality of backlinks directed to their site on at least a weekly basis.

Ahrefs’ index contains 3 trillion URLs and is updated daily, which gives it the edge over its competitors.

It provides a comprehensive overview of historical backlink performance and helps SEOs to pinpoint any issues that may be hampering performance. Ahrefs is also a great resource for competitor analysis and can be used to find new websites to target through outreach activities.

All in all, Ahrefs provides the best package for advanced backlink analysis.

In-depth link analysis

Cost: From $99/month to $999/month.

Honorable mention: Majestic SEO.

Content marketing: Buzzsumo

Backlinks are a vital factor in how Google crawls the web and ranks websites, but social shares and mentions are the next stage of evolution for a content marketing strategy.

Essentially, a site with content that attracts a lot of relevant, authoritative links and large quantities of social media interactions may be looked upon favorably when it comes to ranking websites for a specific query.

That is easier said than done, of course.

Buzzsumo has become an important tool for SEOs precisely because it aids us in this difficult task. Marketers can enter a domain name or just a keyword to see which pieces of content are performing best in terms of backlinks and social media shares.

The intuitive interface allows for a lot of customization, so it is possible to hone in on particular social networks, dates, or topics.

This makes it a helpful resource for influencer research too, as it also identifies the individuals that have helped certain content assets to ‘go viral’.

Buzzsumo can’t write the content for you, but it does a great job of at least telling you what to write about. It also provides almost instantaneous feedback on how your content is performing, making it an infinitely valuable tool for an advanced SEO strategy.

BuzzSumo screen shot

Cost: $79/month to $499+/month.

How to carry out a mobile SEO audit on your site

You don’t need us to tell you about the importance of mobile. You already know about the mobile-first index and that mobile constitutes more than 50% of all website traffic.

So instead, we’re going to tell you what to do about it. Mobile optimization should be an integral part of your SEO strategy, and it goes beyond just checking whether your site passes Google’s Mobile Friendly test.

In order to cover off all the factors involved in achieving the ultimate mobile-optimized website, it is necessary to carry out a mobile SEO audit on your site.

In this post, we explain the key components of a comprehensive mobile SEO audit. From keywords and UX through to handy tools and content, you’ll be dominating the mobile SERPs in no time at all.

Mobile keyword strategy

Due to the nature of mobile searches, users typically use different search queries on mobile than on desktop. When typing in a query, search terms tend to be shorter and less wordy, as speed and accessibility are key on mobile.

Aside from query length, there is also a greater emphasis on local searches. People using mobile for searching are often on the move, hence the need to focus more heavily on a local search strategy.

Another aspect to factor in is voice search. With the recent proliferation of devices offering voice activated services, it is becoming an increasingly popular method of searching. Optimizing for voice search should therefore be an integral part of any SEO strategy.

Rather frustratingly, in contrast to our advice about utilizing shorter terms for mobile searches, voice searches tend to be longer and more conversational. It is therefore necessary to achieve a balance between these different strands of the mobile search realm.

Remember that you can find out which keywords searchers are using on different devices via Google Search Console. Within your Search Analytics, select ‘mobile’ under the Devices dropdown. Google Search Console data is never fully comprehensive, but it is nevertheless useful as a guide and for a touch of inspiration in the research phase.

Google Search Console

On the topic of Google Search Console, be sure to make use of the various tools available through this platform:

Check any mobile crawl errors by selecting the ‘Smartphone’ tab under ‘Crawl Errors’.
Fetch and Render on both desktop and mobile within the ‘Fetch as Google’ section.
Identify any major errors by viewing the resulting renders to learn how the crawlers see your site.
Check the ‘Mobile Usability’ report to learn which pages have usability issues on mobile and the nature of the problems.

There is a bit of debate as to whether you should submit a separate mobile XML sitemap to Google Search Console. In short, as long as your site utilizes responsive design then there should be no need to do so.

If, however, you have two separate versions of your site – one for desktop and one for mobile – then it may be worth submitting a separate mobile XML sitemap. Do also remember to check any redirects are working correctly if this is the case. However, we would always recommend responsive design as the most effective in terms of a mobile-friendly and SEO-appropriate user experience.

Site speed on mobile

It goes without saying that site speed is absolutely crucial. This is especially true on mobiles, due to the combination of less power and a reliance on data over wifi.

Your first port of call should be Google’s PageSpeed Insights, which helpfully provides a list of recommendations to improve your site speed on mobile. Follow these as closely as possible, without sacrificing the overall look of your site.

If mobile site speed is causing you headaches then you may want to consider an AMP plugin. Accelerated Mobile Pages is a result of a collaboration between Google and Twitter, with the aim of quickly optimizing mobile pages. We’d need a whole series of blog posts to cover off this topic, so we’re going to stick to the subject in hand for now.

However, when you get a minute (hour), spend it reading up on AMP, as it is definitely worth your time and consideration.

Design & user experience

Deploying responsive web design is by far the most effective way of ensuring a top-notch user experience across multiple device types. You may even want to consider mobile-first design; given that over half of all website traffic is via mobile, it makes sense to prioritize it over desktop.

There are a whole myriad of factors which contribute to a mobile-friendly user experience, but here’s a top-line checklist to get you started:

Make navigation as smooth and intuitive as possible. Consider those of us with a larger than average thumb and finger surface area to contend with…
Check above-the-fold content on mobile – ensure that the most important elements are there and not cut off midway.
Avoid the use of pop-ups on mobile as they can be difficult to exit and a source of frustration for the user. Plus, they slow load speed.
Remove any use of Flash on the site, as they can cause loading issues on mobile.
Make any videos responsive so that the screen adapts to the phone size. Use HTML5 video player, as it makes rendering on mobile easier.
Check that the mobile and desktop designs match up for consistency.

Finally, don’t forget to test, test, test. And not just on your iPhone. Test with both iOS and Android, as well as various different tablets. Cover as many types, sizes and browsers as you can to ensure a seamless user experience for everybody.

Written content

Determining how much written content to feature on your site can be tricky. We all know that long form content can be incredibly valuable to an SEO campaign, but mobile users generally don’t have the capacity to consume larger volumes of content. What’s the best way to resolve this dilemma?

We recommend avoiding overly wordy content on the key pages of the site, saving the longer form content for blog posts. Do not use this as an excuse to skimp on copy across the site though, as informative and valuable copy is still important for ranking purposes. Feature the key information in the first paragraph or two so that mobile users can access what they need quickly and efficiently.

It’s all about balance and a handy way of judging how much content is necessary is to keep an eye on the bounce rates of key pages. If users are prepared to spend a solid amount of time on any given page then there’s no need to go chopping that content. If users are bouncing pretty quick, then it’s worth reviewing the content.

Reporting & tracking

As with any digital marketing campaign, tracking and reporting is integral to the process. Remember to consult your Google Analytics data to measure and track your mobile traffic. Use this data to guide your audit, helping you to make informed decisions with regards to the implementation.

Consider the proportion of traffic via mobile, as well as the behavior of mobile users. Monitor whether there are any changes to this data following the implementation of your mobile audit.

With any luck, you’ll see the proportion of mobile users increase, the bounce rate decrease, a better user flow and higher conversions as a result.