How to ensure you ask the right questions of your data

Our team at Google recently talked to web analysts who say they spend half their time answering basic analytics questions for other people in their organization.

In fact, a recent report from Forrester found 57% of marketers find it difficult to give their stakeholders in different functions access to their data and insights.

To help, our team at Google recently launched a new feature in Analytics to help you better understand “what happened?” questions of your data, such as “how many visitors to my site from California arrived via paid search?”

But the right “why and what next” questions are not always so easy to consider, let alone answer. Posing the wrong questions wastes precious time, and with only so many hours in the day to use your data effectively, you need to become really skilled at knowing what questions to ask when analyzing results so you find answers that are actionable and relevant.

Let’s go through some ways you can get better at this.

1. Have the right objectives and KPIs established before your team begins executing

I’ve advised countless companies on measurement planning over the years, and continue to stress the importance of this both online and at events.

If you haven’t conducted measurement planning and established what your success metrics are up front, get started today. Without this, you will never ask the right questions of your data because you’ll always be boiling the analytics ocean instead of focusing on the metrics that really matter.

Establishing objectives and KPIs is the best thing you can do to ensure you always ask relevant questions that lead to actions that will actually be taken, and which are aligned with your business.

2. No analysts work in a silo; know what all your different teams are doing

If you are sitting in your analyst ivory tower all day, ultimately you will ask questions you think are interesting, but perhaps not ones which have answers your team cares about, or even really impact your business.

Don’t be isolated; rather, spend time with your different teams so you have your finger on the pulse of their projects and goals – you will then be far better positioned to help them.

3. Automate your reporting so you can spend more time asking questions of data

Updating custom dashboards, spreadsheets, and reports manually is a time-consuming process. It’s also one no one really enjoys doing.

Sure, it’s quicker to do it once, but over time, automation will save you a lot of effort, effort which is better spent asking questions of your data to tease out meaningful insights to inform your marketing.

In a previous column on ClickZ, Search Engine Watch’s sister site, I outlined some ways to get started with automating dashboard updates in order to focus your time on analysis.

4. Executive summaries of your dashboards shared with your team are a chance for real-time feedback

As I’ve shared before in my piece ‘Five steps to report marketing results like a boss‘, never send a dashboard without an executive summary outlining the main takeaways.

Your summary inevitably will include insights from questions you asked of your data when reviewing the visualizations and trends. And this summary in turn will almost always generate responses from those who you have the dashboard tailored for – all too critical for us as analysts to close the feedback loop on our analysis. Don’t ignore it.

5. Don’t waste too much time on unanswerable questions

We’ve all been there when a team member asks you a question about an outlier in a given month. Maybe you had a huge spike in high bounce traffic you can’t seem to find a reason for.

Usually in these such cases it didn’t matter anyway, other than satisfying someone’s curiosity – but you could spend hours on end going down the rabbit hole to try and determine why something happened that might not have been that important in the first place.

In my experience nearly all the “unanswerable” questions end up being ones which didn’t matter much anyway.

6. Educate your wider marketing team on the data sources your company has access to

Without knowing what it is your analysis tools are capturing, you can’t meaningfully ask good questions. So as part of onboarding new team members be sure you educate them on what data sources you have access to.

The other benefit on educating your team is if someone senior like your CMO asks a question beyond the scope of your current reporting capabilities, it can be a good opportunity to research how you might answer that question and potentially ask for an increased budget if required (something we all want more of).

Build it and they shall come: Why your SEO architecture and search strategy must be aligned

As a society, we have been conditioned with the age-old saying “Build it and they shall come”.

However, does this hold true for the digital world and your website? And more specifically, what about Google?

In most organizations, organic search optimization becomes a layer that is applied after the fact. After the brand teams, product owners and tech teams have decided what a website’s architecture should be.

However, what if I were to tell you that if search were a primary driver in your site’s architecture you could see a 200%+ performance gain out of your organic channel (and paid quality scores if you drive paid to organic pages), along with meeting brand guidelines and tech requirements?

The top 5 benefits of architecture driven by organic search

  • Match Google relevancy signals with audience segmentation and user demand
  • Categorization of topical & thematic content silos
  • A defined taxonomy and targeted URL naming schemes
  • Ability to scale content as you move up funnel
  • A logical user experience that both your audience and Google can understand
  • When search strategy is aligned with your architecture you gain important relevancy signals that Google needs to understand your website.

    You position yourself to acquire volume and market share that you would otherwise lose out on. In addition, you will be poised for organic site links within Google, answer box results and local map pack acquisition.

    Imagine opening a 1,000-page hardcover book and looking for the table of contents, only to find it is either missing completely or reads with zero logic. As a user, how would you feel? Would you know what the chapters are about? Get a sense of what the book is about?

    If you want Google to understand what your website is about and how it is put together, then make sure and communicate it properly – which is the first step for proper site architecture.

    Let us pick on a few common, simplistic examples:

    /about-us (About who?)

    /contact-us (Contact who?)

    /products/ (What kind of products?)

    /articles (Articles about what?)

    /categories (Category about what?)

    And my very favorite…

    /blog (Blog? What is that about? Could be anything in the world)

    These sub-directories within the infrastructure of your website are key components – they are the “chapter names” in your book. Naming something “articles” lacks the relevancy and key signals to describe what your chapter is about.

    The upper level sub-directories are known as parent level pages, which means any pages underneath them are child level pages. As you build and scale child level pages, it should be categorized under the proper parent level page. This allows all of the related content of the children pages to “roll up” and become relevant for the parent level page.

    Google thrives on this sort of organization, as it provides a good user experience for their users, as well as communicating systematically what the pages are supposed to be about and how they are related to each other.

    Example of a proper architecture

    As you can see from this example, the relevancy of the two category levels (business plan template & how to write a business plan) all have relevancy that rolls up to the term business plans.

    Then as you drill down one level deeper, you can see that you would isolate and build pages that are for business plan outline and business plan samples. These both roll up to the business plan template category.

    Through proper keyword targeting and research you would locate the primary keyword driver that matches the page intent and high volume for the URL naming conventions. This communicates to Google what the page will be about as well as matching high customer demand from a search perspective.

    Most brand or product teams create and name a structure based on internal reasons, or no particular reason at all. So rather than applying search filters after the fact and trying to retrofit, do the research and understand the volume drivers – then apply them to the architectural plan. You will have significant gains in your rankings and share of voice.

    With a structure like this, every page has a home and a purpose. This architecture not only is designed for “current state” but also will scale easily for “future state”. It becomes very easy to add child categories under the primary silo category thus allowing you to scale easily and move up funnel to capture new market share and volume.

    How does user experience (UX) play a role in architecture?

    A common crossroads we encounter is the UX as it relates to search, content marketing and architecture. UX typically wants minimal content, limited navigational options and a controlled user journey.

    However, keep in mind that a UX journey is considered from one point of entry (typically the home page), while search if done properly – every page becomes a point of entry. So we need to solve for both.

    The good news is that pure architecture structure and URL naming schemes is and can be completely different than the UX. Build the architecture the proper way and you can still apply any UX as an overlay.

    Where the primary differences come in is between UX and navigation. Here again, UX typically wants to limit the choices and control the journey, which means that the navigation is reduced and not all architectural levels are available and visible.

    The challenge here is that you want Google to rank you number one in the world for all of these pages; however, you are also telling Google they are not important enough to you to even be in your navigation.

    A rule of thumb I learned almost 20 years ago is to make sure every page can stand on its own. A user should never have to go “back” in order to go forward. So make sure your navigation and categorical pages are available from every page, especially knowing for organic search, a user will enter your site and the journey at every level.

    Now does this mean abandoning UX? No. You can still control the journey through your primary CTAs and imagery, without sacrificing navigation or architecture.

    5 remarketing strategies to prep for Q4

    Remarketing is always one of the most powerful tools in an ecommerce marketer’s belt, but it takes on added importance in Q4.

    With the holidays fast approaching, you can do a good amount of prep work now to put yourself in a great position to capitalize on the holiday rush. I’ve outlined my five favorite remarketing strategies below.

    1. Dynamic product ads (Facebook & Google)

    If you’re an ecommerce company with a significant number of products and you aren’t remarketing with dynamic product ads, you are making a big mistake.

    Over and over in our accounts, DPAs have proven to be among the more successful ecommerce remarketing ad types. These ads basically show and remind users of products they have seen on your site, along with similar products they may be interested in.

    If you haven’t set these up yet, make sure to prioritize this initiative, as feeds can get technical and should be addressed before you’re crunched for time.

    2. Audience creation by depth

    An amateur mistake of those launching remarketing campaigns is that they typically blanket all audiences and remarket to anyone who has visited the site but not converted.

    They may have taken things a step further by also creating an audience for users who have added products to cart but not converted, but that’s still leaving plenty of room for refinement.

    Remarketing to one or two audiences just doesn’t take advantage of the varying intent of audiences that have visited your site. Segmenting your audiences by depth of interaction even further (product category pages, about page, initiate checkout page, audience time on site, etc.) will allow you to understand the performance of each type of audience; from there, you can bid more aggressively to reach those with a higher likelihood of purchasing (vs. those perhaps in the research phase).

    Additionally, you can start working with your creative team to develop specific visuals for these different audience segments (e.g. for audiences that viewed female clothing, creative can show gender-specific products, etc.).

    3. Sequential remarketing

    In addition to developing audiences by how far they’ve gotten to your site or how they’ve interacted with your site, you’ll also want to develop audiences by time they last visited the site (e.g. a day ago, a week ago, two weeks ago, three weeks ago, etc.).

    After you create these segments, you can implement sequential remarketing and show these audiences different creative and messaging.

    Instead of showing the same audience the same creative and messaging over and over, you can test different creative and messaging as time goes on (try further incentivizing users as time goes on to push them to convert).

    4. Remarketing lists for specific dates

    One tactic we’ve used with success is creating audiences for specific holidays – for example, develop an audience that came to your site during Black Friday or Cyber Monday.

    These audiences will include visitors who may not be your typical customers (and might be purchasing gifts). You can then leverage these audiences in Q4 to remind them to purchase gifts for their loved ones.

    5. Broad RLSA strategy

    Given that you have so many audiences developed (right?), you’ll definitely want to layer these segments onto your existing search campaigns.

    This will allow you to bid more aggressively for higher-intent audiences who have visited your site but not converted and are still searching for they types of products or services you have to offer. Since they are already familiar with your site, your goal should be to bring them back and get them to complete the conversion.

    Additionally, you can create a separate campaign with broad or highly competitive/expensive terms you typically wouldn’t bid on, and layer those campaigns on your remarketing lists. Because you are going after an audience that is already aware of your site/service/product, you’ll see higher CVRs and should be able to bring CPAs for those terms within reach.

    The sooner you put all of these into play, the more data you’ll have at your fingertips for quick and efficient optimization when traffic gets hot (and more expensive). Good luck!

    Four tools to build a smarter and more up-to-date in-house marketing team

    Zest trello

    The SEO community has been fighting with low-quality, outdated and simply incorrect content for ages. How can you educate yourself as well as your team in this abyss of misinformation?

    It can be overwhelming to be a new SEO because there’s no way to tell a trustworthy article from a misleading one. In many cases, new SEOs are being guided by outdated advice and get themselves intro trouble.

    The other problem is the SEO information overload. There are so many click-baiting articles that keep retelling the same advice again and again. It’s really hard to find really valuable guides these days – it’s usually the same repackaged advice over and over.

    Here are four tools that can help solve these problems.

    1. Zest

    What I’d been usually doing to overcome these two problems was creating my own feed list and only reading what those selected bloggers had to say. There are two problems with that method:

  • You limit yourself to a certain circle of voices and you are very likely to miss new and exciting ideas from emerging bloggers
  • The quality of many blogs I added 5 or more years ago have deteriorated
  • I had pretty much lost hope of finding a decent solution to recommend my team members until I came across Zest.is.

    Zest.is is a marketing community of curators, moderators and administrators who select marketing content to only publish the very best of it.

    It works through a Google Chrome extension: just have it installed and give it a try. You’ll be impressed by the quality of content there. Every single article is a gem! Katya Rozenoer did a good job describing the Zest content quality assurance process here.

    You can:

    • Search and filter content by tags
    • Filter your feed by media types to show only Video or Audio content
    • Sort your feed by most recent, clicked, or shared articles

    Furthermore, you can share each and every article you come across there on social media (your followers will be thankful) and even add articles to Slack discussions and Trello boards (I found that option especially useful: Read the rest of the article to get a better idea how this option helps team collaboration).

    From now on, I am going to recommend Zest to anyone looking for no-fluff marketing content.

    2. Serpstat

    I have a confession: I don’t believe in learning without acting/playing. You cannot learn anything by just reading; you need to start implementing that advice into action right away. Therefore I love tools so much that I have spent 80% of my blogging career finding and reviewing SEO tools.

    I had started using SEO tools prior to learning what SEO really was, and I still think that’s the only way to go.

    There are lots of great SEO tools out there; I won’t overwhelm you here with trying to list all of them. What you really need for your new in-house SEO team is something that:

    • Can help with multiple aspects of SEO process (keywords, backlinks, on-page, competitor research, etc.)
    • Can enable productive co-working and collaboration for your team to work on a project at the same time
    • Isn’t too overwhelming (Your team members should be able to figure it out without additional training, because that’s the point of it)

    I’ve tried different tools that satisfy the above criteria, Serpstat being the most recent one.

    Serpstat tool

    You’ll find their…:

    • Overall toolset pretty huge and comprehensive
    • Their keyword and competitor research tools absolutely awesome. I simply love the selection of keywords I get there as well as the data and filters I can play with.
    • Their on-page report pretty basic but it will work great for newbies because they will be able to see SEO errors in action
    • Their rank tracking and backlink tools quite reliable and well-designed

    Overall, it’s a must to have a tool like this to let your in-house SEO team play inside daily.

    3. Buzzsumo Trends and Alerts

    While Zest will help your team access the highest-quality SEO guides and tutorials, Buzzsumo will help them monitor trends and news.

    • You can set up alerts for common words like “SEO”, “Content marketing”, etc. to get those links delivered to your inbox
    • You can use Buzzsumo’s “Trending” section to see currently hot articles on any topic

    Buzzsumo trends

    Buzzsumo is using their “Trends score” metric allowing you to spot popular content even before it gets hot.

    I wouldn’t offer it to my new team on day one though. They will find too many click-baiting headlines there and will quickly get overwhelmed. Once you have a well-read team who can tell real news from click-bait, it’s time to get up-to-date. That’s when they can start using Buzzsumo Trends.

    4. Trello

    Finally, it’s important that your team can share links, concepts and ideas in a productive way. Furthermore, it should be encouraged that your team share their findings with each other because it’s in proper communication that true knowledge is born.

    I tried using Slack, but somehow the point gets missed in long communication strings there. It’s like a never ending chatroom. Trello is much less entertaining, but it’s much better organized and much more productive.

    I like to have a separate Trello board running where all the members can add their must-read URLs as new tasks for anyone else to go through. To keep that list from growing enormous, we keep tasks in the “To read” column for a month before we move them to the archives.

    We also keep a separate column for “To-do” items, i.e. articles that inspired some form of action (be it playing in Trello or a quick fix on a company blog). Actionable guides are my favorite articles.

    If your team uses Zest for marketing reading, you can add articles to Trello right from your Zest dashboard, which is pretty awesome.

    I know Trello is not for everyone. I’ve seen plenty of people who don’t like using it for anything. There are plenty of other productivity tools listed here, so you can pick an alternative.

    How do you build an inspired and educated digital marketing team? Please share your resources!

    Why SEOs can’t afford to wait around for a mobile-first index

    We’re often told that the web is increasingly mobile, and that it is imperative for businesses to adapt their marketing strategies to be ‘mobile-first’ in order to capitalize on this shift in internet behavior.

    But just how mobile is the web in 2017, and what does this mean for search?

    SEO and performance marketing agency BrightEdge today released a new report which sheds light on this question, and on the steadily widening gap between mobile and desktop search.

    I spoke to Erik Newton, VP of Customer Marketing and Head of SEO at BrightEdge, about the report’s findings, Google’s mobile-first index tests, and how SEOs can adapt their strategy to account for the increasing divergence between desktop and mobile.

    Majority mobile: 57% of web traffic is now mobile & tablet devices

    In one of the key findings of the research, BrightEdge reports that 57% of web traffic now originates from mobile and tablet devices – meaning that close to 6 out of every 10 consumers are using a mobile device. Businesses who still aren’t optimizing for mobile, therefore, are ignoring a decisive majority of potential customers.

    Even more noteworthy is the finding that the same query on the same search engine generates a different rank on mobile and desktop 79% of the time.

    Among the top 20 ranked results, the gap is less pronounced, with 47% of queries differing between devices – but this still means that close to half of rankings differ.

    And 35% – more than a third – of the time, the first page that ranked for any given domain was different between mobile and desktop SERPs.

    In a press release about the research, BrightEdge commented that these figures indicate a “significant shift to a new mobile-first index”. I asked Erik Newton whether this means that BrightEdge believes Google’s mobile-first index is already being rolled out. Most SEOs believe we are still awaiting the official launch of the new index, but is BrightEdge seeing otherwise?

    “We are seeing a divergence of rank and content between the two devices, and we have seen the data move in both directions over the last few months,” says Newton. “We believe that Google is testing and calibrating, as they have with other major shifts, to prepare for the separate mobile index.”

    This fits with Google’s usual M.O. around big algorithm updates, but it also means that whatever strategies SEOs are planning to deploy when the mobile-first index finally rolls around, now might be the time to start testing them.

    And for those who are still biding their time, they may already be losing out.

    How are businesses really doing on mobile?

    In the marketing industry, we’ve been talking for what feels like years, with increasing urgency, about the need for our campaigns and our web presences to be mobile-friendly. Or mobile-responsive. Or mobile-first.

    But how are businesses really doing with this? Are marketers doing enough, even in 2017, to optimize for mobile?

    “For most of the businesses that grew up on desktop, we see them using a desktop frame of reference,” observes Erik Newton. “We see evidence of this tendency in web design, page performance, analytics, and keyword tracking.

    “We believe that Google gives the market signals to move forward and toward mobile faster. This is one of those times to push harder on mobile.

    “Some of the newer companies, however, are mobile-first and even mobile-only. They are more likely to be app-based, and have always had majority mobile share.”

    As we’ve seen from the figures cited in the previous section, using desktop as a frame of reference is increasingly short-sighted given the widening gap between desktop and mobile rankings. But how, then, should marketers plan their search strategy to cater to an increasing disparity between the two?

    Should they go so far as to split their SEO efforts and cater to each separately? Or is there a way to kill two birds with one stone?

    “The research report has some specific recommendations,” says Newton.

    “One – Identify and differentiate mobile versus desktop demand.

    “Two, design and optimize websites for speed and mobile-friendliness. Three, use a responsive site unless your business is app-based and large enough to build traffic through app distribution.

    “Four, understand different online consumer intent signals across desktop and mobile devices. Five, produce separate mobile and desktop content that resonates on multiple device types.

    “Six: focus on optimizing mobile content and mobile pages to improve conversions. Seven: track, compare, and report mobile and desktop share of traffic continuously.

    “Eight, measure and optimize the page load speed of the mobile and desktop sites separately. And nine, track your organic search rank for mobile and desktop separately.

    “The first challenge is to be even equally attentive to both mobile and desktop. We find that many brands are not acutely aware of the basic stat of mobile share of traffic.

    “Additionally, brands can analyze the mobile share among new visitors, or non-customers, to see what kind of a different role it can play for people at different stages of the customer journey. For example, my mobile traffic is 32% higher among new visitors than overall visitors, and my mobile-blog-non-customer is 58% higher. That’s a place I should be leaning in on mobile when communicating to non-customers.

    “Brands do not need to split their SEO efforts, but they do need to decide that some content efforts be mobile-first to be competitive.”

    It can be difficult for brands who have traditionally catered to desktop users and who are still seeing success from a desktop-focused strategy to break away from this mindset and take a gamble on mobile. However, the figures are convincing.

    What’s most evident is that it isn’t enough for SEOs and marketers to wait around for the launch of Google’s mobile-first index: it’s already being tested, and when combined with the growing proportion of mobile web traffic, brands who wait to develop a mobile-first strategy are increasingly likely to miss out.

    The best SEO influencers and resources to follow

    More than any other digital marketing discipline, SEO is a game of opinions. There is no one-size-fits-all strategy that guarantees success, and that leaves plenty of room for healthy debate.

    Given how profitable SEO can be when done well, the industry has spawned a vast array of influencers, dispensing morsels of invaluable insight that businesses can apply to their own strategies. A few of these influencers have even gained something close to celebrity status.

    It’s been a tough few months for the industry in that sense, with luminaries like Rand Fishkin, Danny Sullivan and Matt McGee announcing their respective departures from the scene in the near future.

    These are all respected figures with a wealth of experience who essentially put SEO on the map. In their wake, there is a need for a new wave of dedicated SEO experts to conduct and share their findings with the wider community. Fortunately, there are plenty of worthy candidates.

    Unfortunately, there is also a lot of bad advice out there. SEO provokes conjecture along with healthy debate, and following the wrong advice can have a negative impact on any business.

    However, help is at hand. The below is a list of experts and resources that continually provide excellent, reliable, actionable SEO advice.

    Backlinko

    As the name suggests with minimal subtlety, the site is mainly about link building. This is an essential area of SEO, but yet also the one of the most difficult to master. With Google’s Penguin algorithm now functioning in real time, all SEOs need to make sure their link earning practices are squeaky clean.

    Backlinko helps to bridge this gap by providing convincing evidence of the areas that drive performance, backed up by case studies and in-depth research.

    The blog also contains exhaustive, permanent resources on non-link building topics, including YouTube ranking factors and a very long list of 201 SEO tips.

    Backlinko provides a lesson for all SEO and content marketers. The site’s principal author, Brian Dean, posts as frequently as he has something substantial and of lasting value to share. This flies in the face of the received wisdom that content publication should have a regular cadence, but it seems to work.

    For anyone looking to go beyond the usual SEO soundbites and find out what really works, this is an excellent place to start.

    SEO by the Sea

    SEO by the Sea is a niche blog, focusing on analysis of newly granted patents for companies like Google. It makes for a much more entertaining read than one might expect, with rare insights into the workings of the world’s foremost tech companies.

    The site is run by Bill Slawski and provides more substantial information than most other SEO-focused blogs out there. Of course, not all of the patents reviewed see the light of day in product form, so we need to approach them with a modicum of caution. However, as a resource for understanding the technology and methodology behind retrieving and ranking search results, SEO by the Sea is unparalleled.

    In combination with the corroborating evidence we can find on sites like Backlinko, this site helps provide a rounded view of how a search engine really works.

    Lisa Myers

    Lisa Myers is the founder of UK-based agency Verve Search, and is also a regular on the SEO conference scene. She has presented at a wide range of events; most of the presentations can be found here.

    Lisa’s presentations have covered some fascinating topics, including the need for SEOs to inject some emotion into their content to cut through with audiences. Many of the decks are focused on how to attract authoritative backlinks through content, which is undoubtedly one of the most challenging and unpredictable areas of our work. Her most recent talk from MozCon 2017 is definitely worth reading for anyone that works in content marketing or influencer engagement.

    Lisa Myers is also the founder of Women in Search, another great resource if you are looking for some SEO influencers to follow.

    Dr Pete

    Dr Pete is the resident marketing scientist at Moz and he has for some time been a reputable authority on the inner workings of search engines.

    Recently, he has focused on understanding Google’s ‘featured snippets’, which are another huge opportunity for SEOs, but not one that we can distil to an exact, simple formula. This guide is about as comprehensive a resource on the subject as one could hope for, and following the steps it outlines can help SEOs improve the likelihood they will show up in those coveted featured snippets positions.

    You can also follow Dr Pete on Twitter, where he is typically very responsive to any specific questions from the SEO community.

    Barry Schwartz

    Barry Schwartz is an industry veteran and is one of the most reliable authorities on Google updates. He runs the excellent Search Engine Roundtable, which is just about the best site out there for any breaking SEO news. Posts are short and to the point, containing the essential information as it becomes available. The sources for their news stories typically work in the engineering teams at Google, so it as about as reliable as we could expect to find.

    This means that posts are typically quite short and to the point, containing the essential information we need to know. Search Engine Roundtable is therefore a little different to most other SEO blogs, choosing to report on very specific pieces of Google information, rather than in-depth studies. As a result, it’s a site that most SEOs should visit quite frequently to keep abreast of the latest news as it breaks.

    Stone Temple Research

    Stone Temple is an SEO agency and, like most SEO agencies, they have a blog. What makes theirs stand out from the crowd is their dedication to spending a huge amount of time preparing rigorous studies that tell us something new.

    The recent study on how Google might rank videos differently on YouTube versus traditional search is essential reading for anyone in the industry. Past studies have investigated Google’s indexation of Twitter posts over time and the effectiveness of the various digital assistants.

    Stone Temple keep a clear focus on content quality, backing everything up with a coherent methodology and a transparent view on their findings. As such, posts are relatively infrequent, but they are typically worth the wait.

    Webmaster Central

    So, there are lots of different guides and resources out there, but sometimes SEO questions don’t fit so neatly within these categories. Chances are, however obscure your SEO question is, someone has asked it already on Webmaster Central.

    This Google help forum provides an opportunity for search professionals to ask and answer detailed questions. Everything from disavow files to international SEO is covered in a huge amount of depth, so this site is worth benchmarking in case you run into any obstacles. In all likelihood, someone else will already have encountered (and overcome) the same hurdle on Webmaster Central.

    Marketing Experiments

    This is not strictly an SEO resource, but it is worth adding to an SEO reading list nonetheless. Marketing Experiments contains a trove of case studies, mainly focused on Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) tests. User engagement factors are increasingly important for SEO rankings, so this is not an area of marketing that we can ignore. With the advent and subsequent growth of RankBrain, the worlds of SEO and CRO have converged almost entirely now.

    Image via Pixabay

    Marketing Experiments hosts a lengthy list of use cases that can provide invaluable data to shape our own hypotheses when it comes to testing landing page variations. The Unbounce blog is also a good place to stay up to speed with the latest in CRO.

    Inbound.org

    You can bring all of this together, and add a lot more influencers to your own list, by signing up to Inbound.org. Inbound curates a personalized list for marketers based on their areas of interest, with options including PPC, SEO, Social Media, and Data Science.

    Inbound highlights trending topics in organic search, but it also serves as a marketing community and forum for people to share ideas. There are always new voices in the SEO industry; this is a great place to hear them first.

    5 ways to identify potential featured snippets to rank for

    Have you been wondering how to start owning Google’s featured snippets for your brand?

    If you’d like to earn those coveted “position 0” spots, you need to start by understanding what featured snippets are and how to earn them. By earning featured snippets, you can increase web traffic, boost visibility in Google SERPs, and earn the credibility you deserve.

    The first, and most important, step in earning featured snippets is understanding how to identify “snippable” opportunities. Once you know how to find them, you can craft the rest of your strategy around maximizing these opportunities.

    In this article, I’ll go over five ways to identify featured snippet opportunities.

    Use Google to identify potential snippets

    Start looking for snippet opportunities by putting yourself in your audience’s shoes and thinking what questions you may want answers for. Even boring industries have a large range of opportunities to answer questions in the featured snippets.

    For instance, let’s say you are in the diamond industry. The very nature of this industry is filled with terminology people will search to get information about.

    Doing a quick Google search like, “What is a girdle on a diamond” will showcase a Google featured snippet.

    Hopefully the showcased content is yours. Under the snippet you will sometimes see a helpful note from Google, “People also ask.”

    These are the pressing questions your target audience wants answers for. You can dig a little deeper and even see who has the leading content for that question based query.

    Now that you see a few competitors, you can try to steal their snippet with a little more research and some snippable optimization.

    Use SEMrush to snag competitor featured snippets

    SEMrush is one of the most used online platforms for site analytics, and also a useful tool to identify Google Featured Snippets. You can use SEMrush to find your snippets, or use the platform to find your competitors’ snippets as well.

    To check out your snippets, do an “Organic Research” search for your domain:

    Next, locate “Featured Snippet” on the right side of the page.

    You can also filter your snippable keywords using the “Advanced Filters” option, choosing Include – SERP Features – Featured Snippets.

    Once you’d identified snippets that your competitors rank for, you can optimize for those same terms.

    As for identifying your own snippets, it allows you to find variations of relevant long tail keywords that you could also own, and find keyword clusters that you already have authority in and might be able to expand upon.

    Look for questions on Quora

    Given that the foundation of these snippets is answering who, what, why, when, where type questions, you’ll need inspiration for finding the questions your audience is asking.

    To do so, you can use Q&A platforms like Quora to find them. This will help you compile a healthy list of potential blog topics for your Featured Snippet content marketing campaign.

    For instance, let’s say you were a travel site looking to compete with Kayak, Expedia, and other dominating brands.

    Type in a quick question with a few of your keywords:

    A nice dropdown of questions to choose from will suddenly appear right from the get-go, even before finishing your question.

    You can also type in one or two keywords and find groups that may have snippet-worthy questions waiting for you to develop content around.

    Once in the group, you can poke around, follow certain questions. You can also find a nice list of other groups to the right you may want to check out.

    Next, you can use the on-page elements to optimize for the snippets as described here.

    Find segmented questions on Answer the Public

    Did you know that certain question words have a higher likelihood of being showcased as a snippet? That’s right: the question in question matters.

    According to research by SEMrush, question based queries that begin with “how” or “what” are more snippable than when, where, why, and who.

    This is valuable knowledge to have, but where do you find questions segmented into those respectable question words fast? Well, Answer the Public to the rescue.

    Let’s say you want to earn a few SEO content snippets.

    Your search results for SEO will yield a ton of questions you can use for content. The best part is that you can focus on the “how” and “what” questions to increase your Featured Snippet chances.

    Find a variety of questions on Reddit

    If you are searching for a wide range of questions for your daily blog, Reddit can be very useful. This online platform offers valuable insight for what questions are trending.

    First, you will need to access the “askreddit” section of the platform:

    Once you are there, you can use the search feature to further segment your search based on your industry. Focus on generic keywords in order to get relevant questions.

    Once you’ve identified the questions, you can then focus on optimizing for those searches.

    Ready for position zero?

    Identifying potential Featured Snippet opportunities is the first step towards earning those coveted position ones. Make a list of all the question based queries you find using the above strategies, and begin optimizing your snippable content today.

    How do you find featured snippet opportunities?

    How to escape Google’s filter bubble

    Bubble floating against white background with the Google logo imposed on it.

    For some people the personalization of their news apps and other content feeds online is a manual, conscious decision.

    They want to be displayed certain topics due to their interests, which is completely understandable. Cut through the noise by making sure that you get given what you want.

    For a lot of us, though, while personalization can make the considerable amount of time we spend scrolling through social feeds more entertaining, most of the automated personalization we encounter on a day-to-day basis is not necessarily requested – and is wider spread than one might initially think.

    In a Ted talk, Eli Pariser discussed what he called the ‘filter bubble’. For those who have never heard of the filter bubble, it is a similar theory to that of ‘echo chambers’. Essentially, the focus of providing and consuming content that is closely aligned to your preferences results in the creation of a bubble or chamber, restricting your view of the wider picture.

    As our internet ecosystem has evolved, we have shared increasing amounts of personal data with services we use every day, from social networks to search engines. They then use this data to tailor the content they provide us with to what they think will be most appealing, engaging or relevant. Google in particular has gradually increased the extent with which it tailors results to the user with innovations like Hummingbird and RankBrain, the inclusion of social results in search, and semantic search.

    To many users this personalization of search results is helpful and convenient, but an increasing number of users are disturbed by the extent to which the sites they encounter are being shaped by forces outside of their control. If you are one of them, you may be wondering: How can you stop this from happening? How do you escape the filter bubble?

    In this article, we are going to look at ways in which you can partially escape Google’s filter bubble, as well as how SEOs can penetrate it to make sure their sites are surfaced to as wide an audience as possible.

    How do you escape Google’s filter bubble?

    Disclaimer: If you want to be completely free of Google’s filter bubble, the only real way is to stop using Google. Know this, though – the rest of your treasured social feeds and news outlets will be no different, and who would want to stop using Google?

    Do what you can to hide from the Big G

    You can always log out of Gmail, delete your search history/browser cache and use an incognito browser (to prevent a level of browser caching). Again, though, you will not be completely free.

    The filter bubble is not just specific to personal activity online; it also takes into personal factors that are not dictated by the individual such as device and location. You are also potentially not free of Google’s own internal bias, shown by their recent fine from the EU.

    The outlook appears to be pretty bleak, huh? Well not entirely. Escaping Google’s filter bubble (and to an extent, all other platforms’ bubbles) is less about attempting to erase your internet history or privacy settings, and more about simply being aware of the bubble.

    Awareness is critical

    Take it upon yourself to find different sources and take an objective view. Let’s face it: echo chambers were around long before Google and Facebook. Newspapers have spent decades reporting the news with their own bias – you only need look at the differences in how The Independent and the Daily Mail provide commentary for the goings on in the world to see this in action.

    Depending on how conspiracy theory-led you are, you could argue that this pushing of agendas comes straight from the top at a government level. The point is that the most powerful tool for escaping Google’s filter bubble is one’s own awareness of the situation. If you are researching important information, don’t take everything as gospel and verse. Research, utilize multiple sources, and try to look at the situation objectively.

    All of us are culprits, including myself. We use a single news app because it is the easy option, thus our echo chambers are somewhat self-inflicted. That is not to say that we should necessarily start to use Ask Jeeves, Yahoo or DuckDuckGo.

    The point is that we should look deeper than the first results, and utilize alternate sources to investigate key topics.

    How can SEOs penetrate Google’s filter bubble?

    Whichever side of the fence you are when it comes to the personalization of content and its effect on our ability to have complete access to information, the Google filter bubble presents a predicament to SEOs and marketers alike.

    Compared with the deeper moral arguments surrounding the Google filter bubble, it may seem somewhat trivial to discuss how SEOs can flog more of their wares via Google. However, the filter bubble has a real impact on both consumers’ lives and companies.

    So how as SEOs do we penetrate it?

    How specific are target search terms?

    We did a test in the office here with three different individuals off two different devices each (mobile with wifi turned off, and laptop), all logged in to their Gmail accounts. We tested both broad and more specific search terms, and were not displayed different results.

    This is not to say that the filter bubble does not exist, but it did get us thinking. Pariser’s Ted talk used the example of two individuals searching for ‘Egypt’ and being returned very different results. The issue here? Egypt is an incredibly broad search term and whilst SEOs may look to target ‘broader’ search terms within their strategy, the majority will have a very different view of ‘broad’ when compared with searching for ‘Egypt’.

    We would bet that the data would show a less powerful filter as the searches become more and more specific, especially for more traditional transactional search terms harbored by SEOs.

    Penetrating the bubble

    One of the main issues of the filter bubble for SEOs is that it takes users down a self-fulfilling path: the more you engage with a certain website or topic, the more likely you are to be shown similar information. As such, penetrating the filter bubble is the number one priority.

    A constant improvement in your site’s authority will help prevent your website being shut out of people’s filter bubbles, but alternate marketing channels should also be utilized:

    Social media

    Capitalize on highly shareable content to expand your degrees of separation and drive traffic to your website. You will be competing against each social platform’s own version of the filter bubble, but this is somewhat mitigated by the ability to share content.

    Paid search and social

    If the bubbles are proving too strong to penetrate, incorporating paid search (Adwords) and social media advertising will give you a foot in the door for new prospective customers.

    Email

    Direct mail is often shunned by those of us that are dedicated to the Inbound Methodology but is another effective way of driving action from consumers. Use behavioural automation to take your campaigns to the next level and drive action.

    Trust in the process

    Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater here; what we are saying is nothing new. Trusting in the quality of your campaign and ensuring that you diversify the marketing channels that you employ should be part of the agenda regardless of filter bubbles. It might require a revisit of some of your core pillars but this is something that should be completed time to time anyway.

    Really understand your buyer personas – these are the individuals who will become customers. Dig deeper into their drivers and satisfy their queries, questions and concerns. As always, value for the user is at the forefront of what we as SEOs should be providing.

    Diversity of content and link building – again, no surprises here. Spread the net a little wider and assess how diverse the content is that you are providing. Is it too specific to a certain buyer persona and therefore somewhat neglecting other (also valuable) prospects?

    Furthermore, high quality link building can gain you exposure on relevant sites, therefore widening the net further.

    Keep people coming back

    All of the above is great for your SEO campaign but don’t neglect the need to keep people coming back. The continual improvement of your user experience and a higher percentage of returning visitors will ensure that your users are furthering their own self-fulfilling Google filter bubble prophecy.

    Combine this this with a widening diversity of content, and you put your website in a great place to mitigate the effects of the filter bubble.

    If you enjoyed this article, check out some of our other pieces on similar topics:

    • Say goodbye to Google: 14 alternative search engines
    • Going over to the duck side: A week using DuckDuckGo
    • The 10 best ways to generate traffic without Google
    • Should Google be more transparent with its updates?

    The 15 best Google Chrome extensions for SEO

    Google Chrome has taken a dominant position as the world’s favorite desktop browser, with almost 60% market share and rising.

    Its central role among Google’s vast suite of digital software and hardware has driven this growth, but users also love how customizable the browser is.

    It can be dauntingly customizable, in fact. With tens of thousands of extensions available, finding the few that will aid you on a daily basis is an all-consuming endeavor. In one store, you can find everything from Nicholas Page (an extension that turns any page Nicholas Cage-themed) to a variety of income tax calculators.

    Somewhere in between those two extremes, there are hundreds of SEO-themed extensions, some much more useful than others.

    There is a little bit of a learning curve to using some SEO Chrome extensions, but once they become habit, they will save plenty of time in the long run.

    Therefore, within this list we have distilled this down to the 15 extensions that will simply make you more effective at the core areas of SEO.

    Chrome extensions for a quick site review

    SimilarWeb

    The SimilarWeb extension is a great place to start with a quick site analysis. It provides a broader view of a website beyond just SEO, taking into account all traffic sources. The extension does this by analyzing clickstream data from thousands of internet service providers, SimilarWeb’s own web crawlers, and their clients’ data.

    As a result of these calculations, you can get reasonably reliable stats on a brand’s audience demographics, how much they spend on paid media, and which countries their traffic comes from.

    All of these factors affect SEO, of course, so this provides invaluable insight when analyzing a brand’s digital presence. The Chrome extension is free, but a paid account does give access to a more complete data set.

    MozBar

    We couldn’t really have an SEO Chrome extensions list without including MozBar. As an all-in-one tool for a quick SEO site overview, MozBar is still the best on the market. Once a user is logged into their Moz community account (it’s free to sign up, for those that haven’t opened an account), MozBar springs into action on websites and search engine results pages.

    It contains an extensive list of analyses, covering technical SEO, on-site content, social media engagement, and backlinks. MozBar can cause sites to load a little more slowly, however, so it’s best to enable it only when you need to assess a website’s SEO metrics.

    Impactana

    Impactana is a content marketing toolbar that offers the social media analysis you would expect, displaying share counts for each page on Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, et al.

    Where it stands apart from the competition is in its use of proprietary metrics to calculate the ‘Impact’ and ‘Buzz’ of each piece of content. These metrics incorporate user engagement signals to assess not just whether content has been shared, but whether people have interacted with it too. As such, it makes for a great starting point when analyzing the effectiveness of a competitor’s content marketing campaigns.

    Chrome extensions for technical SEO

    User agent switcher

    In this mobile-first age, we need to make sure we are optimizing for a variety of screen sizes and device types. That’s pretty hard to do with just a desktop to hand, unless you have a user agent switcher downloaded.

    This extension will give you the option to view web pages as they would appear on a wide variety of devices and operating systems. It’s an essential extension for developers, but it’s very useful for anyone conducting SEO analysis too.

    Scraper

    Quite often, we need to pull elements from a range of individual pages or websites for large-scale analysis. There are a few different ways of doing this, such as using IMPORTXML code to pull structured data from websites into Google Sheets or Excel.

    The Scraper Chrome extension speeds up this process, using the XPath query language to export HTML data elements from a page, along with similar data from across the website.

    It take a little getting used to, but there is a handy step-by-step guide here. Once you get accustomed to how Scraper functions, it saves a lot of time during any technical SEO audits.

    META SEO Inspector

    If we want to understand how a search engine crawls and indexes our websites (and presumably, we all do), we need to get to grips with metadata. META SEO Inspector goes beyond the narrow, SEO-focused definition of metadata as the ‘meta’ tags defined within the HTML source code.

    The extension also facilitates analysis of XFN tags, canonical tags, and various microformats. It is also updated quite regularly to stay abreast of any amendments or additions to Google’s best practice guidelines.

    Tag Assistant

    This Chrome extension from Google isn’t the most glamorous tool on our list, but it is one of the most useful. Tag Assistant acts as a trouble-shooter, verifying the installation of Google tags such as those used for Google Analytics and Remarketing.

    The ability to record sessions and analyze the implementation of tracking tags through user journeys is perhaps Tag Assistant’s main USP. It gives the extension a lot of potential for frequent use, beyond the occasional spot checks to verify if tags are implemented correctly or not.

    Page Load Time

    As we discussed in a recent article, speed is of the utmost importance as Google continues to prepare its mobile-first index.

    Page Load Time helps SEO keep an eye on this essential ranking factor, without being obtrusive in the way that other Chrome Extensions can be. Every time a page loads, it highlights the amount of time it took in seconds.

    Users can then click on the extension’s icon to see a breakdown of the elements required to load the page’s content. For quick insights into page speed, it makes for the perfect starting point.

    Chrome extensions for on-site content analysis

    Page Analytics

    Many of the entries on our list focus on assessing competitors, but this Google extension allows you to view data from your Google Analytics account while you browse your website(s). Once a user is logged into GA, they can view metrics from their account in real time by opening the extension.

    The metrics available in this snapshot include bounce rate, unique page views, and average time on page. With the increasing prominence of user engagement factors in a RankBrain-driven Google search ecosystem, this extension is a very handy way to keep an eye on how each individual page is performing without visiting the Google Analytics platform.

    Keywords Everywhere

    Some things never change in SEO. We still need to understand which search queries our target audience uses, but gaining access to accurate search volumes has grown increasingly difficult. The Keywords Everywhere extension doesn’t quite solve this riddle entirely, but it goes some way towards providing a bit of clarity.

    By pulling data from Google Keyword Planner, Google Search Console, and UberSuggest, the extension displays approximate search volumes within results pages. From there, SEO professionals can start to consider for which queries they want to optimize their content.

    This extension shouldn’t be used in isolation to conduct larger keyword research tasks, but it has enough handy features to make it a worthwhile addition.

    Spark Content Optimizer

    This extension is ideal for getting different teams to incorporate SEO into their daily routines. Everyone from copywriters to developers can benefit from Spark, a Chrome add-on that scans content to assess how comprehensively it covers a topic and how well it makes use of popular search queries.

    This can be a tricky area of SEO, as we want to provide a search engine with clear signals about our content, but also need to tread carefully to avoid stuffing in keywords to the detriment of content quality. Spark provides some hints without being overbearing, making it a worthy addition to any SEO armory.

    Chrome extensions for backlink analysis

    Link Research Tools

    This toolbar from Link Research Tools overlays backlink data as users search and browse. It’s great for getting a quick look at a site’s backlink profile, although it does require a paid account to gain access to some of LRT’s more advanced features.

    Much is the same fashion as MozBar, the LRT toolbar overlays backlink data onto search engine results pages too. This is very beneficial for taking a backlink-based look at why particular sites perform well for a keyword.

    LinkMiner

    LinkMiner is probably the best Chrome extension for identifying broken links. Once activated, it will highlight the number of outbound links on any page, highlighting in green those that are active, and in red those that are broken. It makes for an easy way to share issues with the development team and get links fixed.

    Through its integration with a range of indices (including Ahrefs, Majestic, and Moz), it also creates a simple overview of the ratio of inbound to outbound links on each page.

    Majestic Backlink Analyzer

    Majestic remains one of the heavyweight SEO software packages, and this Chrome extension provides much of its functionality without having to visit a separate URL.

    The Backlink Analyzer provides insight into the quantity and quality of backlinks pointing to any page, along with their topical relevance to the source material. Majestic’s index is larger than Moz’s, so this makes it a more robust reference point when conducting backlink analysis. You will require a paid Majestic subscription to avail of these benefits, however.

    Buzzmarker

    Engaging with influencers can be a fantastic way to gain relevant, authoritative backlinks. Nonetheless, as anyone who has worked in this field will know, the pursuit of those all-important backlinks can bring with it a lot of time-intensive, manual work.

    This extension from outreach platform BuzzStream aims to simplify the outreach process. It helps with prospecting, by highlighting key social media metrics on a potential partner’s website. It also makes it easier to bookmark influencers and add them into the main BuzzStream platform.

    Once more, this will require a paid BuzzStream account, but if you already have an account, then downloading this extension should be a no-brainer.

    Why site speed is as important as ever on the visual web

    In 2017 there has been a lot of focus around the impending mobile-first index and serving content through HTTPS. But there have also been two other important unfashionable topics lingering in the shadows: cybersecurity and site speed.

    Since 2010, Google have publicly acknowledged that they take into account page load speed and site speed, and with tools like Page Speed Insights (along with a number of other third party solutions) we’ve been able to monitor and analyse our seconds.

    However, balancing a quick page load speed and a great user experience hasn’t always been easy. As the internet has become a more and more important part of our daily lives, our online experience has evolved and we (as users) prefer much more visual content.

    Big visuals also mean big image files, video files and potentially a lot of JS and CSS to fancy up the written text. This also means that there is more to load, therefore increasing load speed.

    The reason that this is becoming more of an issue is because in 2015 mobile traffic overtook desktop traffic in a number of verticals, and mobile users browse everywhere; when they’re on the Wi-Fi at home, at work or using roaming data on the go. Users are noticing slow-loading pages; which means Google have noticed users noticing slow loading pages – and now Facebook has noticed slow-loading pages.

    Identifying site speed issues

    At the moment, with the noise surrounding mobile responsiveness and HTTPS, a lot of webmasters and development teams are being overwhelmed with changes. It’s also worth remembering that not everyone runs modern stacks or has a clean website; there are still a lot of big websites on legacy platforms.

    That being said, there are a number of checks you can carry out that could make a big difference to your page load speed by refactoring your code.

    JavaScript Libraries

    I’ve encountered a number of websites that run big JavaScript libraries that aren’t used on a lot of pages, but they still have to load on every page.

    Making excessive calls to a large amount of unnecessary JavaScript and CSS files slows down the overall page load speed.

    You could move all of these code elements towards the end of the code, meaning they are called last. This would only really impact the user if you’re using dynamic phone numbers that change an element through JavaScript, but the flicker is often only a twentieth of a second and minimal.

    Image optimization

    Images and graphics play a big role in both delivering the message of the content and improving the user experience on a website. Getting rid of images isn’t viable, but compressing their file sizes is.

    In some scenarios, the delivery of the images could also be optimized. If your images are quite far down a piece of content, utilize lazy-load solutions or even better, utilize a CDN like Cloudflare or Amazon CloudFront.

    System fonts

    Another (and slightly less common) solution to improving page load speed is to utilize system fonts.

    System fonts are the fonts that come pre-installed on your device. These are great options as they don’t have to be loaded, you simply call the system fonts in your CSS. That being said, choosing a system font can be tricky.

    System fonts generally fall into two categories, optimized for screen and optimized for print. The main difference between these fonts is the detail. The only other issue with choosing a system font is that they are really over-exposed.

    As every computer and device in the world (near enough) has them, they are not unique; so if typography is important to your brand, use custom fonts. But if Helvetica, Garamond or Seravek will do, use them.

    Is AMP really the solution?

    I couldn’t go through his whole article without mentioning AMP. AMP allows webmasters to create their slow, heavy pages but essentially serve their content through a new AMP page, that canonicals back to the original slow page.

    Accelerated Mobile Pages seems on the surface to be an easy solution, especially for the big content publishers. But it’s not really a solution to the problem, more papering over the cracks.

    What made these big sites slow and heavy in the first place is often tied very closely to how they generate revenue, advertising. Big banner adverts, banners spliced into content, overlays, auto play videos in the sidebars (yuck), all there to get your view and edge the website ever closer to another CPM payday.

    With AMP, you don’t get to do it to the same extent and will lose out on potential revenue and ad views. How content is formatted is also very controlled, and the fact that Google hosts the content makes it a weird position to put the content publisher in.

    Google is obviously willing publishers to utilize AMP and take advantage of the ranking benefits (AMP v non-AMP), but it still an odd situation to be in. A lot of webmasters have migrated to AMP as they manage large web properties that command a lot of traffic, but not because it is a logical business sense to do so, but because they are too afraid not to while their competitors make the move.

    AMP is the right move for a number of websites, but I would assess all options first to speed up your website before boarding the AMP ship.

    In conclusion

    Producing a modern website that works for both SEO and users is not easy. It requires a lot of careful technical planning and development to ensure it contains useful, valuable content; that it’s secure; that it works on mobile; and that it’s fast.

    Site speed can often be overlooked as a lesser priority, but it’s an extremely important part of the quartet. There are a number of free ways to test your site speed as well, and a lot of them provide good guidance on how to fix a lot of the issues.