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An Investigation Into Google’s Maccabees Update

Posted by Dom-Woodman

December brought us the latest piece of algorithm update fun. Google rolled out an update which was quickly named the Maccabees update and the articles began rolling in (SEJ , SER).

The webmaster complaints began to come in thick and fast, and I began my normal plan of action: to sit back, relax, and laugh at all the people who have built bad links, spun out low-quality content, or picked a business model that Google has a grudge against (hello, affiliates).

Then I checked one of my sites and saw I’d been hit by it.

Hmm.

Time to check the obvious

I didn’t have access to a lot of sites that were hit by the Maccabees update, but I do have access to a relatively large number of sites, allowing me to try to identify some patterns and work out what was going on. Full disclaimer: This is a relatively large investigation of a single site; it might not generalize out to your own site.

My first point of call was to verify that there weren’t any really obvious issues, the kind which Google hasn’t looked kindly on in the past. This isn’t any sort of official list; it’s more of an internal set of things that I go and check when things go wrong, and badly.

Dodgy links & thin content

I know the site well, so I could rule out dodgy links and serious thin content problems pretty quickly.

(For those of you who’d like some pointers on the kinds of things to check for, follow this link down to the appendix! There’ll be one for each section.)

Index bloat

Index bloat is where a website has managed to accidentally get a large number of non-valuable pages into Google. It can be sign of crawling issues, cannabalization issues, or thin content problems.

Did I call the thin content problem too soon? I did actually have some pretty severe index bloat. The site which had been hit worst by this had the following indexed URLs graph:

However, I’d actually seen that step function-esque index bloat on a couple other client sites, who hadn’t been hit by this update.

In both cases, we’d spent a reasonable amount of time trying to work out why this had happened and where it was happening, but after a lot of log file analysis and Google site: searches, nothing insightful came out of it.

The best guess we ended up with was that Google had changed how they measured indexed URLs. Perhaps it now includes URLs with a non-200 status until they stop checking them? Perhaps it now includes images and other static files, and wasn’t counting them previously?

I haven’t seen any evidence that it’s related to m. URLs or actual index bloat — I’m interested to hear people’s experiences, but in this case I chalked it up as not relevant.

Appendix help link

Poor user experience/slow site

Nope, not the case either. Could it be faster or more user-friendly? Absolutely. Most sites can, but I’d still rate the site as good.

Appendix help link

Overbearing ads or monetization?

Nope, no ads at all.

Appendix help link

The immediate sanity checklist turned up nothing useful, so where to turn next for clues?

Internet theories

Time to plow through various theories on the Internet:

  1. The Maccabees update is mobile-first related
    • Nope, nothing here; it’s a mobile-friendly responsive site. (Both of these first points are summarized here.)
  2. E-commerce/affiliate related
    • I’ve seen this one batted around as well, but neither applied in this case, as the site was neither.
  3. Sites targeting keyword permutations
    • I saw this one from Barry Schwartz; this is the one which comes closest to applying. The site didn’t have a vast number of combination landing pages (for example, one for every single combination of dress size and color), but it does have a lot of user-generated content.

Nothing conclusive here either; time to look at some more data.

Working through Search Console data

We’ve been storing all our search console data in Google’s cloud-based data analytics tool BigQuery for some time, which gives me the luxury of immediately being able to pull out a table and see all the keywords which have dropped.

There were a couple keyword permutations/themes which were particularly badly hit, and I started digging into them. One of the joys of having all the data in a table is that you can do things like plot the rank of each page that ranks for a single keyword over time.

And this finally got me something useful.

The yellow line is the page I want to rank and the page which I’ve seen the best user results from (i.e. lower bounce rates, more pages per session, etc.):

Another example: again, the yellow line represents the page that should be ranking correctly.

In all the cases I found, my primary landing page — which had previously ranked consistently — was now being cannabalized by articles I’d written on the same topic or by user-generated content.

Are you sure it’s a Google update?

You can never be 100% sure, but I haven’t made any changes to this area for several months, so I wouldn’t expect it to be due to recent changes, or delayed changes coming through. The site had recently migrated to HTTPS, but saw no traffic fluctuations around that time.

Currently, I don’t have anything else to attribute this to but the update.

How am I trying to fix this?

The ideal fix would be the one that gets me all my traffic back. But that’s a little more subjective than “I want the correct page to rank for the correct keyword,” so instead that’s what I’m aiming for here.

And of course the crucial word in all this is “trying”; I’ve only started making these changes recently, and the jury is still out on if any of it will work.

No-indexing the user generated content

This one seems like a bit of no-brainer. They bring an incredibly small percentage of traffic anyway, which then performs worse than if users land on a proper landing page.

I liked having them indexed because they would occasionally start ranking for some keyword ideas I’d never have tried by myself, which I could then migrate to the landing pages. But this was a relatively low occurrence and on-balance perhaps not worth doing any more, if I’m going to suffer cannabalization on my main pages.

Making better use of the Schema.org “About” property

I’ve been waiting a while for a compelling place to give this idea a shot.

Broadly, you can sum it up as using the About property pointing back to multiple authoritative sources (like Wikidata, Wikipedia, Dbpedia, etc.) in order to help Google better understand your content.

For example, you might add the following JSON to an article an about Donald Trump’s inauguration.

[
          {
            "@type": "Person",
            "name": "President-elect Donald Trump",
            "sameAs": [
              "https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki\Donald_Trump",
              "http://dbpedia.org/page/Donald_Trump",
              "https://www.wikidata.org/wiki/Q22686"
            ]
          },
          {
            "@type": "Thing",
            "name": "US",
            "sameAs": [
              "https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States",
              "http://dbpedia.org/page/United_States",
              "https://www.wikidata.org/wiki/Q30"
            ]
          },
          {
            "@type": "Thing",
            "name": "Inauguration Day",
            "sameAs": [
              "https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_presidential_inauguration",
              "http://dbpedia.org/page/United_States_presidential_inauguration",
              "https://www.wikidata.org/wiki/Q263233"
            ]
          }
        ]

The articles I’ve been having rank are often specific sub-articles about the larger topic, perhaps explicitly explaining them, which might help Google find better places to use them.

You should absolutely go and read this article/presentation by Jarno Van Driel, which is where I took this idea from.

Combining informational and transactional intents

Not quite sure how I feel about this one. I’ve seen a lot of it, usually where there exist two terms, one more transactional and one more informational. A site will put a large guide on the transactional page (often a category page) and then attempt to grab both at once.

This is where the lines started to blur. I had previously been on the side of having two pages, one to target the transactional and another to target the informational.

Currently beginning to consider whether or not this is the correct way to do it. I’ll probably try this again in a couple places and see how it plays out.

Final thoughts

I only got any insight into this problem because of storing Search Console data. I would absolutely recommend storing your Search Console data, so you can do this kind of investigation in the future. Currently I’d recommend paginating the API to get this data; it’s not perfect, but avoids many other difficulties. You can find a script to do that here (a fork of the previous Search Console script I’ve talked about) which I then use to dump into BigQuery. You should also check out Paul Shapiro and JR Oakes, who have both provided solutions that go a step further and also do the database saving.

My best guess at the moment for the Maccabees update is there has been some sort of weighting change which now values relevancy more highly and tests more pages which are possibly topically relevant. These new tested pages were notably less strong and seemed to perform as you would expect (less well), which seems to have led to my traffic drop.

Of course, this analysis is currently based off of a single site, so that conclusion might only apply to my site or not at all if there are multiple effects happening and I’m only seeing one of them.

Has anyone seen anything similar or done any deep diving into where this has happened on their site?


Appendix

Spotting thin content & dodgy links

For those of you who are looking at new sites, there are some quick ways to dig into this.

For dodgy links:

  • Take a look at something like Searchmetrics/SEMRush and see if they’ve had any previous penguin drops.
  • Take a look into tools Majestic and Ahrefs. You can often get this free, Majestic will give you all the links for your domain for example if you verify.

For spotting thin content:

  • Run a crawl
    • Take a look at anything with a short word count; let’s arbitrarily say less than 400 words.
    • Look for heavy repetition in titles or meta descriptions.
    • Use the tree view (that you can find on Screaming Frog, for example) and drill down into where it has found everything. This will quickly let you see if there are pages where you don’t expect there to be any.
    • See if the number of URLs found is notably different to the indexed URL report.
  • Soon you will be able to take a look at Google’s new index coverage report. (AJ Kohn has a nice writeup here).
  • Browse around with an SEO chrome plugin that will show indexation. (SEO Meta in 1 Click is helpful, I wrote Traffic Light SEO for this, doesn’t really matter what you use though.)

Index bloat

The only real place to spot index bloat is the indexed URLs report in Search Console. Debugging it however is hard, I would recommend a combination of log files, “site:” searches in Google, and sitemaps when attempting to diagnose this.

If you can get them, the log files will usually be the most insightful.

Poor user experience/slow site

This is a hard one to judge. Virtually every site has things you can class as a poor user experience.

If you don’t have access to any user research on the brand, I will go off my gut combined with a quick scan to compare to some competitors. I’m not looking for a perfect experience or anywhere close, I just want to not hate trying to use the website on the main templates which are exposed to search.

For speed, I tend to use WebPageTest as a super general rule of thumb. If the site loads below 3 seconds, I’m not worried; 3–6 I’m a little bit more nervous; anything over that, I’d take as being pretty bad.

I realize that’s not the most specific section and a lot of these checks do come from experience above everything else.

Overbearing ads or monetization?

Speaking of poor user experience, the most obvious one is to switch off whatever ad-block you’re running (or if it’s built into your browser, to switch to one without that feature) and try to use the site without it. For many sites, it will be clear cut. When it’s not, I’ll go off and seek other specific examples.

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Wanted: Session ideas for SMX Advanced

We want your input to help us plan our upcoming SMX Advanced conference, taking place June 12-13, 2018. Specifically, we’d love to hear from you if you have a great idea for a session that you think should be on the agenda. And if you’re interested in speaking at the show, the absolute…



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Why Google AdWords’ Keyword Volume Numbers Are Wildly Unreliable – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by randfish

Many of us rely on the search volume numbers Google AdWords provides, but those numbers ought to be consumed with a hearty helping of skepticism. Broad and unusable volume ranges, misalignment with other Google tools, and conflating similar yet intrinsically distinct keywords — these are just a few of the serious issues that make relying on AdWords search volume data alone so dangerous. In this edition of Whiteboard Friday, we discuss those issues in depth and offer a few alternatives for more accurate volume data.

why it's insane to rely on Google adwords' keyword volume numbers

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Video Transcription

Howdy, Moz fans. Welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week we’re going to chat about Google AdWords’ keyword data and why it is absolutely insane as an SEO or as a content marketer or a content creator to rely on this.

Look, as a paid search person, you don’t have a whole lot of choice, right? Google and Facebook combine to form the duopoly of advertising on the internet. But as an organic marketer, as a content marketer or as someone doing SEO, you need to do something fundamentally different than what paid search folks are doing. Paid search folks are basically trying to figure out when will Google show my ad for a keyword that might create the right kind of demand that will drive visitors to my site who will then convert?

But as an SEO, you’re often driving traffic so that you can do all sorts of other things. The same with content marketers. You’re driving traffic for multitudes of reasons that aren’t directly or necessarily directly connected to a conversion, at least certainly not right in that visit. So there are lots reasons why you might want to target different types of keywords and why AdWords data will steer you wrong.

1. AdWords’ “range” is so broad, it’s nearly useless

First up, AdWords shows you this volume range, and they show you this competition score. Many SEOs I know, even really smart folks just I think haven’t processed that AdWords could be misleading them in this facet.

So let’s talk about what happened here. I searched for types of lighting and lighting design, and Google AdWords came back with some suggestions. This is in the keyword planner section of the tool. So “types of lighting,” “lighting design”, and “lighting consultant,” we’ll stick with those three keywords for a little bit.

I can see here that, all right, average monthly searches, well, these volume ranges are really unhelpful. 10k to 100k, that’s just way too giant. Even 1k to 10k, way too big of a range. And competition, low, low, low. So this is only true for the quantity of advertisers. That’s really the only thing that you’re seeing here. If there are many, many people bidding on these keywords in AdWords, these will be high.

But as an example, for “types of light,” there’s virtually no one bidding, but for “lighting consultant,” there are quite a few people bidding. So I don’t understand why these are both low competition. There’s not enough granularity here, or Google is just not showing me accurate data. It’s very confusing.

By the way, “types of light,” though it has no PPC ads right now in Google’s results, this is incredibly difficult to rank for in the SEO results. I think I looked at the keyword difficulty score. It’s in the 60s, maybe even low 70s, because there’s a bunch of powerful sites. There’s a featured snippet up top. The domains that are ranking are doing really well. So it’s going to be very hard to rank for this, and yet competition low, it’s just not telling you the right thing. That’s not telling you the right story, and so you’re getting misled on both competition and monthly searches.

2. AdWords doesn’t line up to reality, or even Google Trends!

Worse, number two, AdWords doesn’t line up to reality with itself. I’ll show you what I mean.

So let’s go over to Google Trends. Great tool, by the way. I’m going to talk about that in a second. But I plugged in “lighting design,” “lighting consultant,” and “types of lighting.” I get the nice chart that shows me seasonality. But over on the left, it also shows average keyword volume compared to each other — 86 for “lighting design,” 2 for “lighting consultant,” and 12 for “types of lighting.” Now, you tell me how it is that this can be 43 times as big as this one and this can be 6 times as big as that one, and yet these are all correct.

The math only works in some very, very tiny amounts of circumstances, like, okay, maybe if this is 1,000 and this is 12,000, which technically puts it in the 10k, and this is 86,000 — well, no wait, that doesn’t quite work — 43,000, okay, now we made it work. But you change this to 2,000 or 3,000, the numbers don’t add up. Worse, it gets worse, of course it does. When AdWords gets more specific with the performance data, things just get so crazy weird that nothing lines up.

So what I did is I created ad groups, because in AdWords in order to get more granular monthly search data, you have to actually create ad groups and then go review those. This is in the review section of my ad group creation. I created ad groups with only a single keyword so that I could get the most accurate volume data I could, and then I maximized out my bid until I wasn’t getting any more impressions by bidding any higher.

Well, whether that truly accounts for all searches or not, hard to say. But here’s the impression count — 2,500 a day, 330 a day, 4 a day. So 4 a day times 30, gosh, that sounds like 120 to me. That doesn’t sound like it’s in the 1,000 to 10,000 range. I don’t think this could possibly be right. It just doesn’t make any sense.

What’s happening? Oh, actually, this is “types of lighting.” Google clearly knows that there are way more searches for this. There’s a ton more searches for this. Why is the impression so low? The impressions are so low because Google will rarely ever show an ad for that keyword, which is why when we were talking, above here, about competition, I didn’t see an ad for that keyword. So again, extremely misleading.

If you’re taking data from AdWords and you’re trying to apply it to your SEO campaigns, your organic campaigns, your content marketing campaigns, you are being misled and led astray. If you see numbers like this that are coming straight from AdWords, “Oh, we looked at the AdWords impression,” know that these can be dead f’ing wrong, totally misleading, and throw your campaigns off.

You might choose not to invest in content around types of lighting, when in fact that could be an incredibly wonderful lead source. It could be the exact right keyword for you. It is getting way more search volume. We can see it right here. We can see it in Google Trends, which is showing us some real data, and we can back that up with our own clickstream data that we get here at Moz.

3. AdWords conflates and combines keywords that don’t share search intent or volume

Number three, another problem, Google conflates keywords. So when I do searches and I start adding keywords to a list, unless I’m very careful and I type them in manually and I’m only using the exact ones, Google will take all three of these, “types of lights,” “types of light” (singular light), and “types of lighting” and conflate them all, which is insane. It is maddening.

Why is it maddening? Because “types of light,” in my opinion, is a physics-related search. You can see many of the results, they’ll be from Energy.gov or whatever, and they’ll show you the different types of wavelengths and light ranges on the visible spectrum. “Types of lights” will show you what? It will show you types of lights that you could put in your home or office. “Types of lighting” will show you lighting design stuff, the things that a lighting consultant might be interested in. So three different, very different, types of results with three different search intents all conflated in AdWords, killing me.

4. AdWords will hide relevant keyword suggestions if they don’t believe there’s a strong commercial intent

Number four, not only this, a lot of times when you do searches inside AdWords, they will hide the suggestions that you want the most. So when I performed my searches for “lighting design,” Google never showed me — I couldn’t find it anywhere in the search results, even with the export of a thousand keywords — “types of lights” or “types of lighting.”

Why? I think it’s the same reason down here, because Google doesn’t believe that those are commercial intent search queries. Well, AdWords doesn’t believe they’re commercial intent search queries. So they don’t want to show them to AdWords customers because then they might bid on them, and Google will (a) rarely show those, and (b) they’ll get a poor return on that spend. What happens to advertisers? They don’t blame themselves for choosing faulty keywords. They blame Google for giving them bad traffic, and so Google knocks these out.

So if you are doing SEO or you’re doing content marketing and you’re trying to find these targets, AdWords is a terrible suggestion engine as well. As a result, my advice is going to be rely on different tools.

Instead:

There are a few that I’ve got here. I’m obviously a big fan of Moz’s Keyword Explorer, having been one of the designers of that product. Ahrefs came out with a near clone product that’s actually very, very good. SEMrush is also a quality product. I like their suggestions a little bit more, although they do use AdWords keyword data. So the volume data might be misleading again there. I’d be cautious about using that.

Google Trends, I actually really like Google Trends. I’m not sure why Google is choosing to give out such accurate data here, but from what we’ve seen, it looks really comparatively good. Challenge being if you do these searches in Google Trends, make sure you select the right type, the search term, not the list or the topic. Topics and lists inside Google Trends will aggregate, just like this will, a bunch of different keywords into one thing.

Then if you want to get truly, truly accurate, you can go ahead and run a sample AdWords campaign, the challenge with that being if Google chooses not to show your ad, you won’t know how many impressions you potentially missed out on, and that can be frustrating too.

So AdWords today, using PPC as an SEO tool, a content marketing tool is a little bit of a black box. I would really recommend against it. As long as you know what you’re doing and you want to find some inspiration there, fine. But otherwise, I’d rely on some of these other tools. Some of them are free, some of them are paid. All of them are better than AdWords.

All right, everyone. Look forward to your comments and we’ll see you again next week for another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Take care.

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What to Do When a New Potential SEO Client Contacts You

Posted by dohertyjf

Editor’s note: We originally published a different article by mistake due to an oversight and a valuable lesson in the dangers of copy-paste; you can see it live here. We truly apologize for the error.


If you’re an agency owner or solo consultant, you’re probably constantly thinking about getting new clients. And we’re inundated in this industry with too much advice around new marketing funnels, new marketing ideas, and “one weird tricks to 10x your traffic overnight.”

But something we don’t talk about enough is what you do when you actually convert that person into a real contact on your site.

I’m not talking about “a lead” here, because that word is used widely in our space and has come to mean everything and nothing at the same time. A lead could be an email address and it could be a long-form submission telling you everything about their needs, as well as their budget and their birth city.

What I’m talking about here is a marketing qualified lead (MQL) that you are going to turn into a sales qualified lead (SQL) so that you can turn them into a business qualified lead (aka a new client). (Note: I just made up business qualified lead, so don’t go around talking about BQLs. Or do, but credit me!).

Over the last two years I’ve helped a lot of businesses connect with great marketing providers through my company Credo, and through that I’ve been able to watch how agencies and consultants alike pitch work.

I see all sorts of strategies done to try to close a lead into a client, such as:

  • Send an intake survey to try to vet the lead more;
  • Send them a Calendly link to get them to schedule a call as soon as possible;
  • Send an initial proposal after the first call and then refine it with the client on the phone;
  • Send tracked proposals using a tool like DocSend so you can follow up depending on whether they’ve viewed it or not.

There are many more I’ve seen as well. Some work well, others don’t. This post isn’t going to dig into the various tactics you can use, as you should be testing those yourself.

What I care about is that you develop a sales strategy that sets a strong base and that you can build from into the future.

I also have a unique view on our industry, because I get to see what kind of sales process actually closes potential clients into actual clients. While you may be doing something that you think works really well, there’s a great chance that I know a better way.

And today, I’m going to give you a view into what I know closes clients, and the sales process that I use to close a high percentage of projects who want to work with me into clients.


What to do when a client contacts you

The first rule of sales in a service business like a consulting agency is that the earlier you reply to a prospective client, the more likely you are to close them into an actual client.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve tried to educate businesses that they should speak with multiple agencies and get multiple proposals, to understand what each agency has to offer and be able to compare them in order to arrive at the right decision for their specific business.

And yet, time and time again I see the first agency to respond to be the one to close the project probably 70% of the time.

This can absolutely be a templated response, and tools like Gmail’s Canned Responses or templates within your CRM of choice can help. I personally use HubSpot’s and push form entries there via Zapier, but there are many different options out there; I’m sure you can find one that connects your form technology to your CRM.

In your response, you have to include these three points at minimum:

  1. Respond as quickly as possible and thank them for contacting you
  2. Acknowledge the project they say they’re interested in
  3. Schedule a time to chat on the phone as quickly as possible

As I said above, I’ve seen many agencies send an intake questionnaire that’s a page or two long before even getting on the phone with the potential client.

I advise against this simply because this slows down the process. Some clients that you would otherwise win will simply move on to another agency. You’re giving them work when really what you need to do is remove friction from their decision to choose you.

This initial contact is also not the place to tell them all of the brands you’ve helped and the results you’ve gotten. If they’re contacting you, they’re already interested. Don’t make them think.

You have one goal with your response: to get them to schedule a phone call with you.


What to learn on the first call

If you’ve followed my instructions above, you’re getting the client to schedule a call with you (when you’re available) as quickly as possible. Don’t forget to have them include their phone number, as well!

Schedule the call for 30 minutes so that you can:

  1. Get an understanding for their project, and
  2. Not invest too much time into them in case they’re not qualified enough.

As a side note, if you’re getting too many “leads” (may we all be so lucky) that are not qualified for your business and thus wasting you or your salesperson’s time, then you may want to look at adding some friction to your lead forms. More is not always better.

You should have an idea of who your best clients are and the kind of work they’ve hired you to do that you are best-in-class doing; you need to walk away from this first call at minimum knowing if they’re a good fit or not.

If they are a good fit, then you can move them forward in your sales process (usually a recap and another call).

You’ll also be able to use this process to qualify out the leads who on the surface seem to be a good fit because they were able and willing to successfully fill out your lead form, but when you dig deeper into their business and needs, you realize they’re not quite such a good fit. We’ll talk about this more in a minute.

On this initial phone call, you need to cover all of these points to determine whether you should pitch the work or not:

  1. What their business model is, so that you can understand if they’re profitable;
  2. The type of project they’re looking for, such as strategy or services or a combination thereof;
  3. Their internal team structure and their knowledge of the marketing channel they’re inquiring to you about;
  4. Whether the person you’re speaking with is the person who has final sign-off and budgetary control, or if they’ve been tasked with sourcing an agency but ultimately are not the decision maker;
  5. Their budget range;
  6. Their timetable for wanting to get started.

Thank them for their time and set their expectations about what you’ll do next and when they can expect to hear back from you.

Now your work really begins.


After the first call

Assuming the first call with your prospective client goes well, you’ll need a process to follow so that followups don’t fail and the process moves forward.

This part is important.

Right after the call, follow up with the person you spoke with via email to recap the call and reiterate your next steps.

First, thank them for their time. Regardless of whether or not you ultimately decide to pitch the project, you should be grateful that they decided to speak with you and not someone else.

Second, recap what you discussed on the call. I like to take notes with my CRM (I use HubSpot, as mentioned above) and then use those to write the recap. A CRM should integrate with your email system and allow you to email the prospect from directly within it so that you don’t have to move between your CRM and your email client.

Here’s a templated response that I use when replying to someone after our initial call:

Hi FNAME,

Thank you for the conversation today! I enjoyed learning more about your business and how we can potentially help.

As we discussed, COMPANY is looking for TYPE OF PROJECT. (recap the project here)

As I mentioned on the call, my next step is to spend some time reviewing your site and your project to determine if it is the right fit for me as well. I will follow up with you within 48 hours (NOTE: THIS CAN CHANGE IF YOU CHATTED ON FRIDAY, IN WHICH CASE SAY END OF DAY ON MONDAY) with my findings and where I think I can add value to your business. In the case that your project is not the right fit for me, I can suggest some other people you should speak with.

Thanks FNAME, and you will hear from me soon!

John

Now you can review their project and website metrics to see where you can add value, and if it’s a project that can be successful within the budget they have outlined for you.

Then, decide if you should pitch for the project or refer them elsewhere.


Deciding whether to pitch the work

Sales is all about determining who the right prospects are and are not, then optimizing your time to focus on the clients you want to sign — not on the ones that are a poor fit for your business.

Hopefully you know who your ideal customer is, in terms of budget but also the type of work they need (strategy, services, or some combination thereof) as well as the marketing channel(s). Once you know who your ideal customer is (and is not), you’ll have a much easier time determining whether or not you should pitch the work.

In my experience with seeing over a thousand projects introduced to marketing providers, the six factors mentioned in the “What to learn on the first call” section are the ones that reliably help you understand whether you should pitch the work or not.

Some of the factors to avoid are:

  1. Unrealistic expectations or timelines
  2. No or low budget
  3. No resources to get things done
  4. Their last four agencies haven’t worked out
  5. Going out of business “unless they get help”

I love that so many in the SEO industry are helpful and genuinely good people who want to help others, but if you start taking on clients that can’t pay you what you need to operate a profitable business or have had issues with many other agencies, then you’re doing yourself and your business a disservice.

If I had a dollar for every time I heard an agency say that they “pitched the work, but set the budget high” I’d be financially independent and retired to a mountain town in Switzerland by now.

Hear me loud and clear here:

You do not have to pitch every project that falls into your lap.

If the project doesn’t meet your minimum project budget, the type of client you can get outsized returns for, or is not within your core competency (your zone of genius), then you should not pitch the project.

Let me explain why.

If a client is below your minimum project threshold and you pitch them, you’ve wasted two people’s time. You’ve wasted your time by creating a proposal and potential project plan, and you’ve wasted their time because they took time out of their day to review something that they’ll never sign off on.

Second, if they negotiate back to try to get the budget lower, you’re going to spend your time to get a project that is smaller than what they ideally need and can afford. You’re literally spending time to make less money, when you could take that time to pitch and negotiate with someone who can easily afford your services.

Should you sign the project that is smaller than or right at your minimum while at the same time being at very top end of their budget, you can rest assured that this client will take up more time than they’re paying for because they feel pressure to make it work quickly. Unless you set expectations explicitly and are very good at saying no to requests for work that are outside of the scope of what they’re paying for, this project will quickly snowball and take up too much time, thus putting it in the red.

Don’t pitch a project that’s very likely to go into the red budget-wise. That is Business 101, and you will regret it. I promise.


Conclusion

I hope this post has been helpful to you in learning what to do when a new potential consulting client first contacts you or your agency.

First, speed is of the essence. While we want to believe that the best pitch will ultimately win the business, experience tells us that it is most often the first person to respond who actually gets to pitch and sign the business.

Second, get the potential client on the phone as quickly as possible. Don’t rely on email, as you can gain way more information on a 30-minute call than in a string of emails. People are busy and you don’t want to create more friction for them. Get them on the phone.

Third, you need to send a followup email within a few hours of the phone call where you thank them for their time, recap what you discussed, and set their expectations for what your next steps are and when they’ll hear from you again. Feel free to use my template and adjust it for your specific needs.

Fourth, decide if you want to pitch the project. Don’t pitch projects that are too small, outside your/your agency’s zone of genius, where what you have to offer is not their highest leverage option, or where they’re not set up internally to make the project successful. Your project will not succeed if any of these are true.

I am also writing an ebook, hopefully out in Q1 2018, about everything I’ve learned seeing over 1,100 projects come through Credo. If you’re interested to hear when it launches, sign up.

I’d love to hear your comments below and interact with you around better sales for digital marketing consulting work!

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SearchCap: Google AdWords app, SEO success & managing redesigns

Below is what happened in search today, as reported on Search Engine Land and from other places across the web.

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Should SEOs & Content Marketers Play to the Social Networks’ "Stay-On-Our-Site" Algorithms? – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by randfish

Increasingly, social networks are tweaking their algorithms to favor content that remains on their site, rather than send users to an outside source. This spells trouble for those trying to drive traffic and visitors to external pages, but what’s an SEO or content marketer to do? Do you swim with the current, putting all your efforts toward placating the social network algos, or do you go against it and continue to promote your own content? This edition of Whiteboard Friday goes into detail on the pros and cons of each approach, then gives Rand’s recommendations on how to balance your efforts going forward.

Should SEOs and content marketers play to the social networks "stay-on-our-site" algorithms?

Click on the whiteboard image above to open a high-resolution version in a new tab!


Video Transcription

Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week we’re chatting about whether SEOs and content marketers, for that matter, should play to what the social networks are developing in their visibility and engagement algorithms, or whether we should say, “No. You know what? Forget about what you guys are doing. We’re going to try and do things on social networks that benefit us.” I’ll show you what I’m talking about.

Facebook

If you’re using Facebook and you’re posting content to it, Facebook generally tends to frown upon and lower the average visibility and ability of content to reach its audience on Facebook if it includes an external link. So, on average, posts that include an external link will fare more poorly in Facebooks’ news feed algorithm than on-site content, exclusively content that lives on Facebook.

For example, if you see this video promoted on Facebook.com/Moz or Facebook.com/RandFishkin, it will do more poorly than if Moz and I had promoted a Facebook native video of Whiteboard Friday. But we don’t want that. We want people to come visit our site and subscribe to Whiteboard Friday here and not stay on Facebook where we only reach 1 out of every 50 or 100 people who might subscribe to our page.

So it’s clearly in our interest to do this, but Facebook wants to keep you on Facebook’s website, because then they can do the most advertising and targeting to you and get the most time on site from you. That’s their business, right?

Twitter

The same thing is true of Twitter. So it tends to be the case that links off Twitter fare more poorly. Now, I am not 100% sure in Twitter’s case whether this is algorithmic or user-driven. I suspect it’s a little of both, that Twitter will promote or make most visible to you when you log in to Twitter the posts that have been made or the tweets that have been made that are self-contained. They live entirely on Twitter. They might contain a bunch of different stuff, a poll or images or be a thread. But links off Twitter will be dampened.

Instagram

The same thing is true on Instagram. Well, on Instagram, they’re kind of the worst. They don’t allow links at all. The only thing you can do is a link in profile. More engaging content on Instagram, as of just a couple weeks ago, more engaging content equals higher placement in the feed. In fact, Instagram has now just come out and said that they will show you content posts from people you’re not following but that they think will be engaging to you, which gives influential Instagram accounts that get lots of engagement an additional benefit, but kind of hurts everyone else that you’re normally following on the network.

LinkedIn

LinkedIn, LinkedIn’s algorithm includes extra visibility in the feed for self-contained post content, which is why you see a lot of these posts of, “Oh, here’s all the crazy amounts of work I did and what my experience was like building this or doing that.” If it’s a self-contained, sort of blog post-style content in LinkedIn that does not link out, it will do much better than posts that contain an external link, which LinkedIn sort of dampens in their visibility algorithm for their feed.

Play to the algos?

So all of these sites have these components of their algorithm that basically reward you if you are willing to play to their algos, meaning you keep all of the content on their sites and platform, their stuff, not yours. You essentially play to what they’re trying to achieve, which is more time on site for them, more engagement for them, less people going away to other places. You refuse or you don’t link out, so no external linking to other places. You maintain sort of what I call a high signal to noise ratio, so that rather than sharing all the things you might want to share, you only share posts that you can count on having relatively high engagement.

That track record is something that sticks with you on most of these networks. Facebook, for example, if I have posts that do well, many in a row, I will get more visibility for my next one. If my last couple of posts have performed poorly on Facebook, my next one will be dampened. You sort of get a string or get on a roll with these networks. Same thing is true on Twitter, by the way.

$ #@! the algos, serve your own site?

Or you say, “Forget you” to the algorithms and serve your own site instead, which means you use the networks to tease content, like, “Here’s this exciting, interesting thing. If you want the whole story or you want to watch full video or see all the graphs and charts or whatever it is, you need to come to our website where we host the full content.” You link externally so that you’re driving traffic back to the properties that you own and control, and you have to be willing to promote some potentially promotional content, in order to earn value from these social networks, even if that means slightly lower engagement or less of that get-on-a-roll reputation.

My recommendation

The recommendation that I have for SEOs and content marketers is I think we need to balance this. But if I had to, I would tilt it in favor of your site. Social networks, I know it doesn’t seem this way, but social networks come and go in popularity, and they change the way that they work. So investing very heavily in Facebook six or seven years ago might have made a ton of sense for a business. Today, a lot of those investments have been shown to have very little impact, because instead of reaching 20 or 30 out of 100 of your followers, you’re reaching 1 or 2. So you’ve lost an order of magnitude of reach on there. The same thing has been true generally on Twitter, on LinkedIn, and on Instagram. So I really urge you to tilt slightly to your own site.

Owned channels are your website, your email, where you have the email addresses of the people there. I would rather have an email or a loyal visitor or an RSS subscriber than I would 100 times as many Twitter followers, because the engagement you can get and the value that you can get as a business or as an organization is just much higher.

Just don’t ignore how these algorithms work. If you can, I would urge you to sometimes get on those rolls so that you can grow your awareness and reach by playing to these algorithms.

So, essentially, while I’m urging you to tilt slightly this way, I’m also suggesting that occasionally you should use what you know about how these algorithms work in order to grow and accelerate your growth of followers and reach on these networks so that you can then get more benefit of driving those people back to your site. You’ve got to play both sides, I think, today in order to have success with the social networks’ current reach and visibility algorithms.

All right, everyone, look forward to your comments. We’ll see you again next week for another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Take care.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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Winning the Negative Moment of Truth

Ratings and reviews are so important, Lecinski has a curious oversight in his book. He discusses many digital marketing tactics to get discovered, but he doesn’t focus significant space on how to make sure those discoveries (in the form of reviews, at least) are good for your brand.
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Get More Traffic, More Confidence, and More Work Done

Good to see you again! With the Monday Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, this was a short week on Copyblogger. On Tuesday, Kelton Reid kicked things off with a thoughtful look at impostor syndrome — with clues on how to approach it from different sources, including the famous Turing Test. And on Wednesday, I talked
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Free Local SEO Tools That Belong in Your Kit

Posted by MiriamEllis

What a lot can change in just a few years! When I wrote the original version of this post in January 2014, the local SEO industry didn’t have quite the wealth of paid tools that now exists, and many of the freebies on my previous list have been sunsetted. Definitely time for a complete refresh of the most useful free tools, widgets, and resources I know of to make marketing local businesses easier and better.

While all of the tools below are free, note that some will require you to sign up for access. Others are limited, no-cost, or trial versions that let you get a good sense of what they provide, enabling you to consider whether it might be worth it to buy into paid access. One thing you may notice: my new list of local SEO tools offers increased support for organic SEO tasks, reflective of our industry’s growing understanding of how closely linked organic and local SEO have become.

Now, let’s open this toolkit and get 2018 off to a great start!


For Research

US Census Bureau Tool Set

Looking to better understand a target community for marketing purposes? You’ll find 20+ useful resources from the US Census Bureau, including population statistics, economic data, mapping and geocoding widgets, income and language information, and much more.

Client Onboarding Questionnaire & Phone Script

Onboarding a new client? Reduce repetitious follow-ups by asking all of the right questions the first time around with this thorough questionnaire and easy-to-follow phone call script from Moz. Includes helpful tips for why you are asking each question. As local SEO veterans will tell you, a missed question can lead to unhappy (and costly) surprises down the marketing road. Be sure you have the total picture of an incoming client in clear view before you begin strategizing.

Location Information Spreadsheet

Vital when marketing multi-location businesses, this free Moz spreadsheet will ensure that you’ve got all the info at your fingertips about each locale of a company.

*Pro tip: When working with large enterprises, be certain that the data you’re inputting in this spreadsheet has been approved by all relevant departments. It’s really no fun to find out six months into a marketing campaign that there’s internal disagreement about company NAP or other features.

Local Competitive Audit Spreadsheet

Now we’re really getting down to brass tacks. When you need to look for answers to the perennial client question, “Why is that guy outranking me?”, this free Moz spreadsheet will help you document key competitive data. The end result of filling out the sheet will be two columns of stats you can compare and contrast in your quest to discover competitors’ ranking strengths and weaknesses. Need more guidance? Read my blog post in which I put this audit spreadsheet into action for two San Francisco Bay Area Chinese restaurants.

Manual GeoLocation Chrome Extension

Watch Darren Shaw demo using this tool to show how a local pack changes when a user virtually crosses a street and you’ll quickly understand how useful this Chrome extension will be in approximating the impacts of user-to-business proximity. Works well on desktop devices.

Our industry still hasn’t fully recovered from Google removing the Local Search filter from its engine in 2015, and I still live in hope that they will bring it back one day, but in the meantime, this extension gives us a good sense of how searcher location affects search results. In fact, it may even be a superior solution.

The MozBar SEO Toolbar

Local businesses in competitive markets must master traditional SEO, and the free MozBar provides a wonderful introduction to the metrics you need to look at in analyzing the organic strengths and weaknesses of clients and competitors. On-page elements, link metrics, markup, HTTP status, optimization opportunities — get the data you need at a glance with the MozBar.

Google Advanced Search Operators

Not a tool, per se, but the best tutorial I have ever seen on using Google advanced search operators to deepen your research. Dr. Pete breaks this down into 67 steps that will enable you to use these search refinements for content and title research, checking for plagiarism, technical SEO audits, and competitive intelligence. Be totally wizardly and impress your clients and teammates, simply by knowing how to format searches in smart ways.

Google Search Console

Apologies if it already seems like a no-brainer to you that you should be signed up for Google’s console that gives you analytics, alerts you to serious errors, and so much more, but local SEO is just now crossing the threshold of understanding how deeply connected it is to organic search. When playing in Google’s backyard, GSC is a must-have for businesses of every type.

BrightLocal’s Search Results Checker

This popular tool does an excellent job of replicating local search results at a city or zip code level. In some cases, it’s best to search by city (for example, when there are multiple towns covered by a single zip code), but other times, it’s better search by zip code (as in the case of a large city with multiple zip codes). The tool doesn’t have the capability to recreate user-level results, so always remember that the proximity of a given user to a business may create quite different results than what you’ll see searching at a city or zip code level. I consider this a great tool to suss out the lay of the land in a community, identifying top competitors.

Offline Conversion Tracker Form

Give this handy Whitespark form to anyone who answers your phone so that they can document the answer to the important question, “How did you hear about us?” Submitted information is saved to Whitespark’s database and tracked in Google Analytics for your future reference and analysis. For local businesses, knowledge of offline factors can be priceless. This form provides a simple point of entry into amassing real-world data.


For Content

Answer the Public

One of the best-loved keyword research tools in the digital marketing world, Answer the Public lets you enter a keyword phrase and generate a large number of questions/topics related to your search. One of the most awesome facets of this tool is that it has a .CSV download feature — perfect for instantly generating large lists of keywords that you can input into something like Moz Keyword Explorer to begin the sorting process that turns up the most powerful keywords for your content dev and on-page optimization.

Buzzsumo

Another great content inspiration tool, Buzzsumo shows you lets you enter a keyword, topic or domain name, and then shows you which pieces are getting the most social shares. For example, a search for wholefoodsmarket.com shows that a highly shared piece of content at the time of my search is about an asparagus and broccoli soup. You can also sort by content type (articles, videos, infographics, etc.). Use of Buzzsumo can help you generate topics that might be popular if covered on your website.

OSHA Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) System Search

Another interesting resource for brainstorming a wide pool of potential keywords for content dev consideration, OSHA’s SIC search returns big, comprehensive lists. Just look up your industry’s SIC code, and then enter it along with a keyword/category to get your list.

USPS Look Up a ZIP Code Widget

Working with service area businesses (SABs)? Note the second tab in the menu of this widget: Cities by zip code. When you know the zip code of a business you’re marketing you can enter it into this simple tool to get a list of every city in that zip. Now, let’s not take a wrong step here: don’t publish large blocks of zips or city names on any website, but do use this widget to be sure you know of all the communities for which an SAB might strategize content, link building, brand building, real-world relationship building, social media marketing, and PPC.


Schema/JSON-LD Generators

Rather than list a single tool here, I’m going to take the advice of my friend, schema expert David Deering, who has taught me that no one tool is perfect. In David’s opinion, there isn’t currently a schema/JSON-LD generator that does it all, which is why he continues to build this type of markup manually. That being said, if you’re new to Schema, these generators will get you started:


For Citations

Moz Check Listing

I can say without bias that I know of no free tool that does a better job of giving you a lightning-fast overview of the health of a local business’ listings. On the phone with a new prospect? Just plug in the name and zip and see how complete and accurate the company’s citations are on the sources that matter most, including the major local business data aggregators (Acxiom, Factual, Infogroup, Localeze) plus key platforms like Google My Business, Facebook, Yelp, YP, and more.

Literally at a glance, you can tell if inconsistencies and duplicate listings are holding a business back. It can also be used for competitive analysis, defining whether a clean or messy citation set is impacting competitors. The value of the free Check Listing tool becomes most fully realized by signing up for the paid Moz Local product, which automates aggregator-level listing management even at an enterprise level with hundreds or thousands of listings, and offers options for review monitoring, ranking analysis, and more.

Whitespark’s Local Citation Finder (free version)

The free version of this cool tool from our friends at Whitespark will give you a sense of how the paid version can help you discover additional places, beyond the basics, where you might want to get listed. It also analyzes your competitors’ citations.


For Reviews

The Hoth’s Online Business Review Checker Tool

You’ll have to sign up, but this free tool gives you an overview report of a local business’ reviews on a variety of platforms. This is a smart thing to do for every incoming client, to gauge reputation strengths and weaknesses. The state of a company’s reviews indicates whether it has an offline problem that needs to be corrected at a real-world structural level, or if its core challenge is a lack of strategy for simply earning a competitive number of positive reviews.

Free Review Monitoring

Need to know when a new review comes in on a major or industry-specific review site? Signing up for this free tool will send you email alerts so that you can respond quickly. Watch the little video and pay attention to its statement that the majority of unhappy customers will consider visiting a business again if it quickly resolves a complaint. Good to know!

Review Handout Generator

Another freebie from Whitespark in partnership with Phil Rozek, this very simple resource lets you enter some business info and generate a printable handout your public-facing staff can give to customers. Active review management has become a must in even moderately competitive geo-industries. How nice to have a physical asset to offer your customers to get more of those reviews rolling in!

Google Review Link Generator

Google’s local product has gone through so many iterations that finding a link to point consumers to when requesting a GMB review has been foolishly difficult at times. Whitespark helps out again, at least for brick-and-mortar businesses, with this easy widget that lets you enter your business info and generate a shareable link. Unfortunately, SABs or home-based businesses with hidden addresses can’t use this tool, but for other business models, this widget works really well.


For social

Notify

Whenever your business gets mentioned on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Linkedin, Reddit, and a variety of other platforms, Notify uses Slack or HipChat to send you an alert. By being aware of important conversations taking place about your brand, and participating in them, your business can achieve an excellent status of responsiveness. Social media has become part of the customer service environment, so a tool like this comes in very handy.

Followerwonk

A free trial is available for this app which acts as serious analytics for Twitter. If Twitter is a favorite platform in your industry, definitely give this resource a spin. Understand the characteristics of your followers, find and connect with influencers, and use data to improve your outreach.

Character Count Online

I use this ultra-basic tool all of the time for three specific tasks. Some social platforms either have character limits and don’t always have counters, or (like Google Posts) truncate your social messaging so that only a limited snippet appear at the highest interface. Just plug in your text and see the character count.

And, of course, you’ll want a character counter to be sure your on-page title tags and meta descriptions read right in the SERPs.

My third use for this counter relates to content marketing. Most publications have character count parameters for the pieces they will accept. Here on the Moz Blog, we’re not into length limits, because we believe thorough coverage is the right coverage of important topics. But, when I’m invited to blog elsewhere, I have to rein myself in and be sure I haven’t galloped past that 800-character limit. If you’ve found that to be a problem, too, a character counter can keep you on-track as you write. Whoa, horsie!


So, what did I miss?

If you’re saying to yourself right now, “I can’t believe this totally awesome free local SEO tool I use every week isn’t included,” please share it with our community in the comments. One thing I know I’d love to find a free solution for would be a tool that does review sentiment analysis. Paid solutions exist for this, but I’ve yet to encounter a freebie.

My criteria for a great tool is that it makes work better, stronger, faster… or is that the intro to The Six Million Dollar Man? Well, Steve Austin had some amazing capabilities (and a cool 70s jogging suit, to boot!), and I’m hoping you’ll feel kitted up for success, too, with this list of free tools in the year ahead.

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