Tag Archive | "Getting"

How to Stop Comparing Yourself to Other Content Marketers (and Start Getting Better Clients)

People in your life mean well. They really do. They want to protect you. They want you to have a…

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Getting Real with Retail: An Agency’s Guide to Inspiring In-Store Excellence

Posted by MiriamEllis

A screenshot of a negative 1-star review citing poor customer service

No marketing agency staffer feels good when they see a retail client getting reviews like this on the web.

But we can find out why they’re happening, and if we’re going above-and-beyond in our work, we just might be able to catalyze turning things around if we’re committed to being honest with clients and have an actionable strategy for their in-store improvements.

In this post, I’ll highlight some advice from an internal letter at Tesla that I feel is highly applicable to the retail sector. I’d also like to help your agency combat the retail blues headlining the news these days with big brands downsizing, liquidating and closing up shop — I’m going to share a printable infographic with some statistics with you that are almost guaranteed to generate the client positivity so essential to making real change. And, for some further inspiration, I’d like to offer a couple of anecdotes involving an Igloo cooler, a monk, reindeer moss, and reviews.

The genuine pain of retail gone wrong: The elusive cooler, “Corporate,” and the man who could hardly stand

“Hi there,” I greeted the staffer at the customer service counter of the big department store. “Where would I find a small cooler?”

“We don’t have any,” he mumbled.

“You don’t have any coolers? Like, an Igloo cooler to take on a picnic to keep things cold?”

“Maybe over there,” he waved his hand in unconcern.

And I stood there for a minute, expecting him to actually figure this out for me, maybe even guide me to the appropriate aisle, or ask a manager to assist my transaction, if necessary. But in his silence, I walked away.

“Hi there,” I tried with more specificity at the locally owned general store the next day. “Where would I find something like a small Igloo cooler to keep things cold on a picnic?”

“I don’t know,” the staffer replied.

“Oh…” I said, uncomfortably.

“It could be upstairs somewhere,” he hazarded, and left me to quest for the second floor, which appeared to be a possibly-non-code-compliant catch-all attic for random merchandise, where I applied to a second dimly illuminated employee who told me I should probably go downstairs and escalate my question to someone else.

And apparently escalation was necessary, for on the third try, a very tall man was able to lift his gaze to some coolers on a top shelf… within clear view of the checkout counter where the whole thing began.

Why do we all have experiences like this?

“Corporate tells us what to carry” is the almost defensive-sounding refrain I have now received from three employees at two different Whole Foods Markets when asking if they could special order items for me since the Amazon buyout.

Because, you know, before they were Amazon-Whole Foods, staffers would gladly offer to procure anything they didn’t have in stock. Now, if they stop carrying that Scandinavian vitamin D-3 made from the moss eaten by reindeer and I’ve got to have it because I don’t want the kind made by irradiating sheep wool, I’d have to special order an entire case of it to get my hands on a bottle. Because, you know, “Corporate.”

Why does the distance between corporate and customer make me feel like the store I’m standing in, and all of its employees, are powerless? Why am I, the customer, left feeling powerless?

So maybe my search for a cooler, my worries about access to reindeer moss, and the laughable customer service I’ve experienced don’t signal “genuine pain.” But this does:

Screenshot of a one-star review: "The pharmacy shows absolutely no concern for the sick, aged and disabled from what I see and experienced. There's 2 lines for drops and pick up, which is fine, but keep in mind those using the pharmacy are sick either acute or chronic. No one wants to be there. The lines are often long with the phone ringing off the hook, so very understaffed. There are no chairs near the line to sit even if someone is in so much pain they can hardly stand, waiting area not nearby. If you have to drop and pick you have to wait in 2 separate lines. They won't inform the other window even though they are just feet away from each other. I saw one poor man wait 4 people deep, leg bandaged, leaning on a cart to be able to stand, but he was in the wrong line and was told to go to the other line. They could have easily taken the script, asked him to wait in the waiting area, walk the script 5 feet, and call him when it was his turn, but this fella who could barely stand had to wait in another line, 4 people deep. I was in the correct line, pick up. I am a disabled senior with cancer and chronic pain. However, I had a new Rx insurance card, beginning of the year. I was told that to wait in the other line, too! I was in the correct line, but the staff was so poorly trained she couldn't enter a few new numbers. This stuff happens repeatedly there. I've written and called the home office who sound so concerned but nothing changes. I tried to talk to manager, who naturally was "unavailable" but his underling made it clear their process was more important than the customers. All they have to do to fix the problem is provide nearby sitting or ask the customer to wait in the waiting area where there are chairs and take care of the problem behind the counter, but they would rather treat the sick, injured and old like garbage than make a small change that would make a big difference to their customers. Although they are very close I am looking for a pharmacy who actually cares to transfer my scripts, because I feel they are so uncaring and disinterested although it's their job to help the sick."

This is genuine pain. When customer service is failing to the point that badly treated patrons are being further distressed by the sight of fellow shoppers meeting the same fate, the cause is likely built into company structure. And your marketing agency is looking at a bonafide reputation crisis that could presage things like lawsuits, impactful reputation damage, and even closure for your valuable clients.

When you encounter customer service disasters, it begs questions like:

  1. Could no one in my situation access a list of current store inventory, or, barring that, seek out merchandise with me instead of risking the loss of a sale?
  2. Could no one offer to let “corporate” know that I’m dissatisfied with a “customer service policy” that would require me to spend $ 225 to buy a whole case of vitamins? Why am I being treated like a warehouse instead of a person?
  3. Could no one at the pharmacy see a man with a leg wound about to fall over, grab a folding chair for him, and keep him safe, instead of risking a lawsuit?

I think a “no” answer to all three questions proceeds from definite causes. And I think Tesla CEO, Elon Musk, had such causes in mind when he recently penned a letter to his own employees.

“It must be okay for people to talk directly and just make the right thing happen.”

“Communication should travel via the shortest path necessary to get the job done, not through the ‘chain of command.’ Any manager who attempts to enforce chain of command communication will soon find themselves working elsewhere.

A major source of issues is poor communication between depts. The way to solve this is allow free flow of information between all levels. If, in order to get something done between depts, an individual contributor has to talk to their manager, who talks to a director, who talks to a VP, who talks to another VP, who talks to a director, who talks to a manager, who talks to someone doing the actual work, then super dumb things will happen. It must be ok for people to talk directly and just make the right thing happen.

In general, always pick common sense as your guide. If following a ‘company rule’ is obviously ridiculous in a particular situation, such that it would make for a great Dilbert cartoon, then the rule should change.”
- Elon Musk, CEO, Tesla

Let’s parlay this uncommon advice into retail. If it’s everyone’s job to access a free flow of information, use common sense, make the right thing happen, and change rules that don’t make sense, then:

  1. Inventory is known by all store staff, and my cooler can be promptly located by any employee, rather than workers appearing helpless.
  2. Employees have the power to push back and insist that, because customers still expect to be able to special order merchandise, a specific store location will maintain this service rather than disappoint consumers.
  3. Pharmacists can recognize that patrons are often quite ill and can immediately place some chairs near the pharmacy counter, rather than close their eyes to suffering.

“But wait,” retailers may say. “How can I trust that an employee’s idea of ‘common sense’ is reliable?”

Let’s ask a monk for the answer.

“He took the time…”

I recently had the pleasure of listening to a talk given by a monk who was defining what it meant to be a good leader. He hearkened back to his young days, and to the man who was then the leader of his community.

“He was a busy man, but he took the time to get to know each of us one-on-one, and to be sure that we knew him. He set an example for me, and I watched him,” the monk explained.

Most monasteries function within a set of established rules, many of which are centuries old. You can think of these guidelines as a sort of policy. In certain communities, it’s perfectly acceptable that some of the members live apart as hermits most of the year, only breaking their meditative existence by checking in with the larger group on important holidays to share what they’ve been working on solo. In others, every hour has its appointed task, from prayer, to farming, to feeding people, to engaging in social activism.

The point is that everyone within a given community knows the basic guidelines, because at some point, they’ve been well-communicated. Beyond that, it is up to the individual to see whether they can happily live out their personal expression within the policy.

It’s a lot like retail can be, when done right. And it hinges on the question:

“Has culture been well-enough communicated to every employee so that he or she can act like the CEO of the company would in wide variety of circumstances?”

Or to put it another way, would Amazon owner Jeff Bezos be powerless to get me my vitamins?

The most accessible modern benchmark of good customer service — the online review — is what tells the public whether the CEO has “set the example.” Reviews tell whether time has been taken to acquaint every staffer with the business that employs them, preparing them to fit their own personal expression within the company’s vision of serving the public.

An employee who is able to recognize that an injured patron needs a seat while awaiting his prescription should be empowered to act immediately, knowing that the larger company supports treating people well. If poor training, burdensome chains of command, or failure to share brand culture are obstacles to common-sense personal initiative, the problem must be traced back to the CEO and corrected, starting from there.

And, of course, should a random staffer’s personal expression genuinely include an insurmountable disregard for other people, they can always be told it’s time to leave the monastery…

For marketing agencies, opportunity knocks

So your agency is auditing a valuable incoming client, and their negative reviews citing dirty premises, broken fixtures, food poisoning, slowness, rudeness, cluelessness, and lack of apparent concern make you say to yourself,

“Well, I was hoping we could clean up the bad data on the local business listings for this enterprise, but unless they clean up their customer service at 150 of their worst-rated locations, how much ROI are we really going to be able to deliver? What’s going on at these places?”

Let’s make no bones about this: Your honesty at this critical juncture could mean the difference between survival and closure for the brand.

You need to bring it home to the most senior level person you can reach in the organization that no amount of honest marketing can cover up poor customer service in the era of online reviews. If the brand has fallen to the level of the pharmacy I’ve cited, structural change is an absolute necessity. You can ask the tough questions, ask for an explanation of the bad reviews.

“But I’m just a digital marketer,” you may think. “I’m not in charge of whatever happens offline.”

Think again.

Headlines in retail land are horrid right now:

If you were a retail brand C-suite and were swallowing these predictions of doom with your daily breakfast, wouldn’t you be looking for inspiration from anyone with genuine insight? And if a marketing agency should make it their business to confront the truth while also being the bearer of some better news, wouldn’t you be ready to listen?

What is the truth? That poor reviews are symptoms smart doctors can use for diagnosis of structural problems.
What is the better news? The retail scenario is not nearly as dire as it may seem.

Why let hierarchy and traditional roles hold your agency back? Tesla wouldn’t. Why not roll up your sleeves and step into in-store? Organize and then translate the narrative negative reviews are telling about structural problems for the brand which have resulted in dangerously bad customer service. And then, be prepared to counter corporate inertia born of fear with some eye-opening statistics.

Print and share some good retail tidings

Local SEO infographic

Print your own copy of this infographic to share with clients.

At Moz, we’re working with enterprises to get their basic location data into shape so that they are ready to win their share of the predicted $ 1.4 trillion in mobile-influenced local sales by 2021, and your agency can use these same numbers to combat indecision and apathy for your retail clients. Look at that second statistic again: 90% of purchases are still happening in physical stores. At Moz, we ask our customers if their data is ready for this. Your agency can ask its clients if their reputations are ready for this, if their employees have what they need to earn the brand’s piece of that 90% action. Great online data + great in-store service = table stakes for retail success.

While I won’t play down the unease that major brand retail closures is understandably causing, I hope I’ve given you the tools to fight the “retail disaster” narrative. 85% more mobile users are searching for things like “Where do I buy that reindeer moss vitamin D3?” than they were just 3 years ago. So long as retail staff is ready to deliver, I see no “apocalypse” here.

Investing time

So, your agency has put in the time to identify a reputation problem severe enough that it appears to be founded in structural deficiencies or policies. Perhaps you’ve used some ORM software to do review sentiment analysis to discover which of your client’s locations are hurting worst, or perhaps you’ve done an initial audit manually. You’ve communicated the bad news to the most senior-level person you can reach at the company, and you’ve also shared the statistics that make change seem very worthwhile, begging for a new commitment to in-store excellence. What happens next?

While there are going to be nuances specific to every brand, my bet is that the steps will look like this for most businesses:

  1. C-suites need to invest time in creating a policy which a) abundantly communicates company culture, b) expresses trust in employee initiative, and c) dispenses with needless “chain of command” steps, while d) ensuring that every public facing staffer receives full and ongoing training. A recent study says 62% of new retail hires receive less than 10 hours of training. I’d call even these worrisome numbers optimistic. I worked at 5 retail jobs in my early youth. I’d estimate that I received no more than 1 hour of training at any of them.
  2. Because a chain of command can’t realistically be completely dispensed with in a large organization, store managers must then be allowed the time to communicate the culture, encourage employees to use common sense, define what “common sense” does and doesn’t look like to the company, and, finally, offer essential training.
  3. Employees at every level must be given the time to observe how happy or unhappy customers appear to be at their location, and they must be taught that their observations are of inestimable value to the brand. If an employee suggests a solution to a common consumer complaint, this should be recognized and rewarded.
  4. Finally, customers must be given the time to air their grievances at the time of service, in-person, with accessible, responsive staff. The word “corporate” need never come into most of these conversations unless a major claim is involved. Given that it may cost as much as 7x more to replace an unhappy customer than to keep an existing one happy, employees should be empowered to do business graciously and resolve complaints, in most cases, without escalation.

Benjamin Franklin may or may not have said that “time is money.” While the adage rings true in business, reviews have taught me the flip side — that a lack of time equals less money. Every negative review that cites helpless employees and poor service sounds to my marketing ears like a pocketful of silver dollars rolling down a drain.

The monk says good leaders make the time to communicate culture one-on-one.

Tesla says rules should change if they’re ridiculous.

Chairs should be offered to sick people… where common sense is applied.

Reviews can read like this:

Screenshot of a positive 5-star review: "Had personal attention of three Tesla employees at the same time. They let me sit in both the model cars they had for quite time time and let me freely fiddle and figure out all the gizmos of the car. Super friendly and answered all my questions. The sales staff did not pressure me to buy or anything, but only casually mentioned the price and test drive opportunities, which is the perfect touch for a car company like Tesla. "

And digital marketers have never known a time quite like this to have the ear of retail, maybe stepping beyond traditional boundaries into the fray of the real world. Maybe making a fundamental difference.

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Getting Comfortable (and Effective) at Selling Your Product or Service

This week, we have some resources to help you actually Sell the Thing. Because you can create magnificent content all day long, pull together a wonderful audience, and produce a glorious product or service. But if you lack the skills to Sell the Thing, you don’t get the benefit of all that hard work. On
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Sustainable Link Building: Increasing Your Chances of Getting Links – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by Paddy_Moogan

Link building campaigns shouldn’t have a start-and-stop date — they should be ongoing, continuing to earn you links over time. In this edition of Whiteboard Friday, please warmly welcome our guest host Paddy Moogan as he shares strategies to achieve sustainable link building, the kind that makes your content efforts lucrative far beyond your initial campaigns for them.

Sustainable Link Building: Increasing Your Chances of Getting Links

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

Video Transcription

Hi, Moz fans. Welcome to Whiteboard Friday. I’m not Rand. I’m Paddy Moogan. I’m the cofounder of Aira. We’re an agency in the UK, focusing on SEO, link building, and content marketing. You may have seen me write on the Moz Blog before, usually about link building. You may have read my link building book. If you have, thank you. Today, I’m going to talk about link building again. It’s a topic I love, and I want to share some ideas around what I’m calling “sustainable link building.”

Problems

Now, there are a few problems with link building that make it quite risky, and I want to talk about some problems first before giving you some potential solutions that help make your link building less risky. So a few problems first:

I. Content-driven link building is risky.

The problem with content-driven link building is that you’re producing some content and you don’t really know if it’s going to work or not. It’s quite risky, and you don’t actually know for sure that you’re going to get links.

II. A great content idea may not be a great content idea that gets links.

There’s a massive difference between a great idea for content and a great idea that will get links. Knowing that difference is really, really important. So we’re going to talk a little bit about how we can work that out.

III. It’s a big investment of time and budget.

Producing content, particularly visual content, doing design and development takes time. It can take freelancers. It can take designers and developers. So it’s a big investment of time and budget. If you’re going to put time and budget into a marketing campaign, you want to know it’s probably going to work and not be too risky.

IV. Think of link building as campaign-led: it starts & stops.

So you do a link building campaign, and then you stop and start a new one. I want to get away from that idea. I want to talk about the idea of treating link building as the ongoing activity and not treating it as a campaign that has a start date and a finish date and you forget about it and move on to the next one. So I’m going to talk a little bit about that as well.

Solutions

So those are some of the problems that we’ve got with content-driven link-building. I want to talk about some solutions of how to offset the risk of content-driven link building and how to increase the chances that you’re actually going to get links and your campaign isn’t going to fail and not work out for you.

I. Don’t tie content to specific dates or events

So the first one, now, when you coming up with content ideas, it’s really easy to tie content ideas into events or days of the year. If there are things going on in your client’s industry that are quite important, current festivals and things like that, it’s a great way of hooking a piece of content into an event. Now, the problem with that is if you produce a piece of content around a certain date and then that date passes and the content hasn’t worked, then you’re kind of stuck with a piece of content that is no longer relevant.

So an example here of what we’ve done at Aira, there’s a client where they launch a piece of content around the Internet of Things Day. It turns out there’s a day celebrating the Internet of Things, which is actually April 9th this year. Now, we produced a piece of content for them around the Internet of Things and its growth in the world and the impact it’s having on the world. But importantly, we didn’t tie it exactly to that date. So the piece itself didn’t mention the date, but we launched it around that time and that outreach talked about Internet of Things Day. So the outreach focused on the date and the event, but the content piece itself didn’t. What that meant was, after July 9th, we could still promote that piece of content because it was still relevant. It wasn’t tied in with that exact date.

So it means that we’re not gambling on a specific event or a specific date. If we get to July 9th and we’ve got no links, it obviously matters, but we can keep going. We can keep pushing that piece of content. So, by all means, produce content tied into dates and events, but try not to include that too much in the content piece itself and tie yourself to it.

II. Look for datasets which give you multiple angles for outreach

Number two, lots of content ideas can lead from data. So you can get a dataset and produce content ideas off the back of the data, but produce angles and stories using data. Now, that can be quite risky because you don’t always know if data is going to give you a story or an angle until you’ve gone into it. So something we try and do at Aira when trying to produce content around data is from actually different angles you can use from that data.

So, for example:

  • Locations. Can you pitch a piece of content into different locations throughout the US or the UK so you can go after the local newspapers, local magazines for different areas of the country using different data points?
  • Demographics. Can you target different demographics? Can you target females, males, young people, old people? Can you slice the data in different ways to approach different demographics, which will give you multiple ways of actually outreaching that content?
  • Years. Is it updated every year? So it’s 2018 at the moment. Is there a piece of data that will be updated in 2019? If there is and it’s like a recurring annual thing where the data is updated, you can redo the content next year. So you can launch a piece of content now. When the data gets updated next year, plug the new data into it and relaunch it. So you’re not having to rebuild a piece of a content every single time. You can use old content and then update the data afterwards.

III. Build up a bank of link-worthy content

Number three, now this is something which is working really, really well for us at the moment, something I wanted to share with you. This comes back to the idea of not treating link building as a start and stop campaign. You need to build up a bank of link-worthy content on your client websites or on your own websites. Try and build up content that’s link worthy and not just have content as a one-off piece of work. What you can do with that is outreach over and over and over again.

We tend to think of the content process as something like this. You come up with your ideas. You do the design, then you do the outreach, and then you stop. In reality, what you should be doing is actually going back to the start and redoing this over and over again for the same piece of content.

What you end up with is multiple pieces of content on your client’s website that are all getting links consistently. You’re not just focusing on one, then moving past it, and then working on the next one. You can have this nice big bank of content there getting links for you all the time, rather than forgetting about it and moving on to the next one.

IV. Learn what content formats work for you

Number four, again, this is something that’s worked really well for us recently. Because we’re an agency, we work with lots of different clients, different industries and produce lots and lots of content, what we’ve done recently is try to work out what content formats are working the best for us. Which formats get the best results for our clients? The way we did this was a very, very simple chart showing how easy something was versus how hard it was, and then wherever it was a fail in terms of the links and the coverage, or wherever it was a really big win in terms of links and coverage and traffic for the client.

Now, what you may find when you do this is certain content formats fit within this grid. So, for example, you may find that doing data viz is actually really, really hard, but it gets you lots and lots of links, whereas you might find that producing maps and visuals around that kind of data is actually really hard but isn’t very successful.

Identifying these content formats and knowing what works and doesn’t work can then feed into your future content campaign. So when you’re working for a client, you can confidently say, “Well, actually, we know that interactives aren’t too difficult for us to build because we’ve got a good dev team, and they really likely to get links because we’ve done loads of them before and actually seen lots of successes from them.” Whereas if you come up with an idea for a map that you know is actually really, really hard to do and actually might lead to a big fail, then that’s not going to be so good, but you can say to a client, “Look, from our experience, we can see maps don’t work very well. So let’s try and do something else.”

That’s it in terms of tips and solutions for trying to make your link building more sustainable. I’d love to hear your comments and your feedback below. So if you’ve got any questions, anything you’re not sure about, let me know. If you see it’s working for your clients or not working, I’d love to hear that as well. Thank you.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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Getting Around the "One Form" Problem in Unbounce

Posted by R0bin_L0rd

What is Unbounce?

Unbounce is a well-known and well-regarded landing page creation tool designed to allow HTML novices to create impressive and impactful landing pages, while offering scope for more experienced coders to have a bit more fun.

In this post, I’m going to list some solutions to what I refer to as the “one form” problem of Unbounce, their strengths and weaknesses, and which I personally prefer.

What is the “one form” problem?

As with any system that tries to take complex processes and make them simple to implement, there’s a certain amount of nuance and flexibility that has to be sacrificed.

One limitation is that each landing page on Unbounce can only have one embedded form (there are a few community articles discussing the topic, for instance: 1, 2, 3). While there’s a definite risk of call-to-action fatigue if you bombard your visitors with forms, it’s a reasonable requirement to want to provide easy access to your form at more than one point.

For example, you could lead with a strong call to action and the form at the top of the page, then follow up further down the page when users have had time to absorb more information about your offering. A simple example of this is the below Teambit landing page, which was featured in Hubspot’s 16 of the Best Landing Page Design Examples You Need to See in 2017.

The top of this Teambit page features a simple email collection form

The form is repeated at the bottom of the page once visitors have had a chance to read more.

Potential solutions to the one-form issue

Now that we’ve established the problem, let’s run through some solutions, shall we?

Fortunately, there are a few possible ways to solve this problem, either using built-in Unbounce tools or by adding code through open HTML, CSS, and JavaScript inputs.

It’s worth bearing in mind that one solution is to not have the form on your page at all, and have your call-to-action buttons linking to other pages with forms. This is the approach Unbounce uses in the example below. While that’s a perfectly valid approach, I wouldn’t call it so much a solution to this problem as a completely different format, so I haven’t included it in the list below.

Here Unbounce use two CTAs (the orange buttons), but don’t rely on having the form on the page.

1. Scrolling anchor button

This is potentially the simplest solution, as it’s natively supported by Unbounce:

  1. Create a button further down the page where you would want your second form.
  2. Edit that button, in the “Click Action” section of the right-hand button settings panel, where you would normally put the URL you are linking to
  3. Add in the unique ID code for the box that holds your form (you can find that by editing the box and scrolling to the bottom of the right-hand panel to “Element Metadata”)

Register button

“Click Action” section of right-hand button settings panel

“Element Metadata” section at bottom of right-hand element setting panel

Benefits

Quick and easy to implement, little direct JavaScript or HTML manipulation needed.

Drawbacks

There are far more seamless ways to achieve this from the user perspective. Even with smooth scrolling (see “bonus points” below), the experience can be a little jarring for users, particularly if they want to go back to check information elsewhere on a page.

Bonus points

Just adding that in as-is will mean a pretty jarring experience for users. When they click the button, the page will jump back to your form as though it’s loaded a new page. To help visitors understand what’s going on, add smooth scrolling through JavaScript. Unbounce has how-to information here.

Double bonus

The link anchors work by aligning the top of your screen with the top of the thing you’ve anchored. That can leave it looking like you’ve undershot a bit, because the form is almost falling off the screen. You can solve this simply by putting a tiny, one-pixel-wide box a little bit above the form, with no fill or border, positioning it how you want, and linking to the ID of that box instead, allowing a bit of breathing room above your form.

Without and with the one-pixel-wide box for headroom

2. iFrames

Unbounce allows free <HTML> blocks, which you can use to embed a form from another service or even another Unbounce page that consists of only a form. You’ll need to drag the “Custom HTML” block from the left bar to where you want the form to be and paste in your iFrame code.

The “Custom HTML” block in the left-hand bar

Blank HTML box that pops up

How HTML blocks look in the editor

Benefits

This will allow for multiple forms, for each form to be positioned differently on the page, to function in a different way, and for entries to each form to be tagged differently (which will offer insight on the effectiveness of the page).

This solution will also allow you to make the most of functionality from other services, such as Wufoo (Unbounce has documented the process for that here).

Drawbacks

Having chosen Unbounce as a one-stop-shop for creating landing pages, breaking out of that to use external forms could be considered a step away from the original purpose. This also introduces complications in construction, because you can’t see how the form will look on the page in the editing mode. So your workflow for changes could look like:

  1. Change external form
  2. Review page and see styling issues
  3. Change layout in Unbounce editor
  4. Review page and see that the external form isn’t as readable
  5. Change external form
  6. Etc.

Bonus points

Unbounce can’t track conversions through an iFrame, so even if you use another Unbounce page as the form you draw in, you’re going to be breaking out of Unbounce’s native tracking. They have a script here you can use to fire external tracking hits to track page success more centrally so you get more of a feel for whether individual pages are performing well.

Double bonus

Even if you’re using an identical Unbounce page to pull through the same form functionality twice, tag the form completions differently to give you an idea of whether users are more likely to convert at the top of the page before they get distracted, or lower down when they have had time to absorb the benefits of your offering.

3. Sticky form (always there)

An option that will keep everything on the same page is a sticky form. You can use CSS styling to fix it in place on a screen rather than on a page, then when your visitor scrolls down, the form or CTA will travel with them — always within easy reach.

This simple CSS code will fix a form on the right-hand side of a page for screen widths over 800px (that being where Unbounce switches from Desktop to Mobile design, meaning the positioning needs to be different).

Each ID element below corresponds to a different box which I wanted to move together. You’ll need to change the “lp-pom-box-xxx” below to match the IDs of what you want to move down the page with the user (you can find those IDs in the “Element Metadata” section as described in the Scrolling Anchor Button solution above).

<style>
@media (min-width: 800px) {
    #lp-pom-box-56{ position:fixed; left:50%; margin-left: 123px; top:25%; margin-top:-70px}
    #lp-pom-form-59{ position:fixed; left:50%; margin-left: 141px; top:25%; margin-top:60px}
    #lp-pom-box-54{ position:fixed; left:50%; margin-left: 123px; top:25%; margin-top:50px}}
</style>

Benefits

This allows you to keep tracking within Unbounce. It cuts out a lot of the back and forth of building the form elsewhere and then trying to make that form, within an iFrame, act on your page the way you want it to.

Drawbacks

The problem with this is that users can quickly become blind to a CTA that travels with them, adding some kind of regular attention seeking effect is likely to just annoy them. The solution here is to have your call to action or form obscured during parts of the page, only to reappear at other, more appropriate times (as in the next section).

It can be difficult to see exactly where the form will appear because your CSS changes won’t take effect in the editor preview, but you will be able to see the impact when you save and preview the page.

4. Sticky form (appearing and disappearing)

The simplest way to achieve this is using z-index. In short, the z-index is a way of communicating layers through HTML, an image with a z-index of 2 will be interpreted as closer to the user than a box with a z-index of 1, so when viewing the page it’ll look like the image is in front of the box.

For this method, you’ll need some kind of opaque box in each section of your page. The box can be filled with a color, image, gradient — it doesn’t matter as long as it isn’t transparent. After you’ve put the boxes in place, make a note of their z-index, which you can find in the “Meta Data” section of the right-hand settings bar, the same place that the Element ID is shown.

This box has a z-index of 31, so it’ll cover something with an index of 30

Then use CSS to select the elements you’re moving down the page and set their z-index to a lower number. In the below lines I’ve selected two elements and set their z-index to 30, which means that they’ll be hidden behind the box above, which has a z-index of 31. Again, here you’ll want to replace the IDs that start #lp-pom-box-xxxx with the same IDs you used in the Sticky Form (Always There) solution above.

<style>
    #lp-pom-box-133{z-index: 30; }
    #lp-pom-box-135{z-index: 30; }
</style>

When you’re choosing the place where you want your form to be visible again, just remove any items that might obscure the form during that section. It’ll scroll into view.

Benefits

This will allow you to offer a full form for users to fill out, at different points on the page, without having to worry about it becoming wallpaper or whether you can marry up external conversions. Using only CSS will also mean that you don’t have to worry about users with JavaScript turned off (while the bonus points below rely on JavaScript, this will fall back gracefully if JavaScript is turned off).

Drawbacks

Unlike the iFrame method, this won’t allow you to use more than one form format. It also requires a bit more CSS knowledge (and the bonus points will require at least a bit of trial and error with JavaScript).

Bonus points

Use JavaScript to apply and remove CSS classes based on your scrolling position on the page. For example you can create CSS classes like these which make elements fade in and out of view.

CSS:

<style>
@media (min-width: 800px) {
   /* make the opacity of an element 0 where it has this class */
       .hide {
       opacity: 0;
}
   /* instead of applying an effect immediately, apply it gradually over 0.2 seconds */    .transition {
   -webkit-transition: all 0.2s ease-in-out;
       -moz-transition: all 0.2s ease-in-out;
       -o-transition: all 0.2s ease-in-out;
       transition: all 0.2s ease-in-out;
    }}
</style>

You could then use this JavaScript to apply the .hide class when user scrolls through certain points, and remove it when they get to the points where you want them to see the form. This can be used for finer-grained control of where the form appears, without having to just cover it up. As before, you’ll need to update the #lp-pom-box-xxx strings to match the IDs in your account.

JavaScript:

<script>
// This script applies the “hide” class, which makes opacity zero, to certain elements when we scroll more than 100 pixels away from the top of the page. Effectively, if we scroll down the page these items will fade away.
$  (window).scroll(function() {
    if ($  (window).scrollTop() > 100 ){
        $  ('#lp-pom-box-54').addClass('hide');
        $  ('#lp-pom-box-228').addClass('hide');
}
// This section removes the hide class if we’re less than 500 pixels from the bottom of the page or scroll back up to be less than 100 from the top. This means that those elements will fade back into view when we’re near the bottom of the page or go back to the top.
if ($  (document).height() - ($  (window).height() + $  (window).scrollTop()) < 500 ||
$  (window).scrollTop() < 100 ){
    $  ('#lp-pom-box-54').removeClass('hide');
    $  ('#lp-pom-box-228').removeClass('hide');
}}
</script>

Double bonus

You could consider using JavaScript to selectively hide or show form fields at different points. That would allow you to show a longer form initially, for example, and a shorter form when it appears the second time, despite it actually being the same form each time.

For this, you’d just add to your .scroll JavaScript function above:

   if ($  (document).height() - ($  (window).height() + $  (window).scrollTop()) < 75){
// This part hides the “full name” part of the form, moves the submit button up and reduces the size of the box when we scroll down to less than 75 pixels away from the bottom of the page
    $  ('#container_full_name').addClass('hide');
    $  ('#lp-pom-box-54').stop().animate({height: "200px"},200);
    $  ('.lp-pom-button-60-unmoved').animate({top: '-=75'}, 200);
    $  ('#lp-pom-button-60').removeClass('lp-pom-button-60-unmoved');
    $  ('#lp-pom-button-60').addClass('lp-pom-button-60-moved');}
    else{
// This part adds the “full name” part back in to the form, moves the submit button back down and increases the size of the box if we scroll back up.
    $  ('#container_full_name').removeClass('hide');
    $  ('#lp-pom-box-54').stop().animate({height: "300px"},200);
    $  ('.lp-pom-button-60-moved').animate({top: '+=75'}, 200);
    $  ('#lp-pom-button-60').removeClass('lp-pom-button-60-moved');
    $  ('#lp-pom-button-60').addClass('lp-pom-button-60-unmoved');

When scrolling within 75px of the bottom of the page, our JavaScript hides the Full Name field, reduces the size of the box, and moves the button up. This could all happen when the form is hidden from view; I’ve just done it in view to demonstrate.

Conclusion

In the table below I’ve pulled together a quick list of the different solutions and their strengths and weaknesses.

Solution

Strengths

Weaknesses

Scrolling anchor button

Easy implementation, little coding needed

Jarring user experience

iFrame

Multiple different forms

Requires building the form elsewhere and introduces some styling and analytics complexity to workflow

Sticky form (always there)

Keeps and design tracking within one Unbounce project

CTA fatigue, using up a lot of page space

Sticky form (appearing and disappearing)

The benefits of a sticky form, plus avoiding the CTA fatigue and large space requirement

CSS knowledge required, can only use one form

Personally, my favorite has been the Sticky Form (appearing and disappearing) option, to reduce the need to integrate external tools, but if I had to use multiple different forms I could definitely imagine using an iFrame.

Which is your favorite? Have I missed any cool solutions? Feel free to ping me in the comments.

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Keys to Greatness (or Just Getting More Great Stuff Done)

This week, we have lots of pragmatic advice for you on how to be a happier, more productive person. Because you’re good enough, you’re smart enough, and gosh darn it, this joke has now been permanently rendered un-funny. On Monday, Morgan Dix (he happens to be one of our Certified Content Marketers) revealed what meditation
Read More…

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Getting SEO Value from rel="nofollow" Links – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by randfish

Plenty of websites that make it easy for you to contribute don’t make it easy to earn a followed link from those contributions. While rel=nofollow links reign in the land of social media profiles, comments, and publishers, there’s a few ways around it. In today’s Whiteboard Friday, Rand shares five tactics to help you earn equity-passing followed links using traditionally nofollow-only platforms.

How to get SEO value from rel="nofollow" links

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 going to chat about how you can get SEO value from nofollowed links. So in the SEO world, there are followed links. These are the normal ones that you find on almost every website. But then you can have nofollowed links, which you’ll see in the HTML code of a website. You will see the normal thing is a href=somewebsite in here. If you see this rel=nofollow, that means that the search engines — Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc. — will not count this link as passing link equity, at least certainly not in the same way that a followed link would.

So when you see these, you can see them by looking in the source code yourself. You could turn on the MozBar and use the “Show nofollow links” on the Page button and see these.

What sort of links use rel=nofollow?

But the basic story is that you’re not getting the same SEO value from them. But there are ways to get it. Recently you might have seen in the SEO news world that Inc. and Forbes and a few other sites like them, last year it was Huffington Post, started applying nofollow tags to all the links that belong to articles from contributors. So if I go and write an article for Inc. today, the links that I point out from my bio and my snippet on there, they’re not going to pass any value, because they have this nofollow applied.

A) Social media links (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.)

There are a bunch of types of links use this. Social media, so Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, which is one of the reasons why you can’t just boost your linked profile by going to these places and leaving a bunch of links around.

B) Comments (news articles, blogs, forums, etc.)

Comments, so from news articles or blogs or forums where there’s discussion, Q&A sites, those comments, all the links in them that you leave again nofollowed.

C) Open submission content (Quora, Reddit, YouTube, etc.)

Open submission content, so places like Quora where you could write a post, or Reddit, where you could write a post, or YouTube where you could upload a video and have a post and have a link, most of those, in fact almost all of them now have nofollows as do the profile links that are associated. Your Instagram account, for example, that would be a social media one. But it’s not just the pictures you post on Instagram. Your profile link is one of the only places in the Instagram platform where you actually get a real URL that you can send people to, but that is nofollowed on the web.

D) Some publishers with less stringent review systems (Forbes, Buzzfeed, LinkedIn Pulse, etc.)

Some publishers now with these less stringent publishing review systems, so places like Inc., Forbes, BuzzFeed in some cases with their sponsored posts, Huffington Post, LinkedIn’s Pulse platform, and a bunch of others all use this rel=nofollow.

Basic evaluation formula for earning followed links from the above sources

Basic evaluation formula for earning followed links from the above sources

The basic formula that we need to go to here is: How do you contribute to all of these places in ways that will ultimately result in followed links and that will provide you with SEO value? So we’re essentially saying I’m going to do X. I know that’s going to bring a nofollowed link, but that nofollowed link will result in this other thing happening that will then lead to a followed link.

Do X → Get rel=nofollow link → Results in Y → Leads to followed link

5 examples/tactics to start

This other thing happening can be a bunch of different things. It could be something indirect. You post something with your site on one of these places. It includes a nofollow link. Someone finds it. We’ll just call this guy over here, this is our friendly editor who works for a publication and finds it and says, “Hmm, that link was actually quite useful,” or the information it pointed to was useful, the article was useful, your new company seems useful, whatever it is. Later, as that editor is writing, they will link over to your site, and this will be a followed link. Thus, you’re getting the SEO value. You’ve indirectly gained SEO value essentially through amplification of what you were sharing through your link.

Google likes this. They want you to use all of these places to show stuff, and then they’re hoping that if people find it truly valuable, they’ll pick it up, they’ll link to it, and then Google can reward that.

So some examples of places where you might attempt this in the early stages. These are a very small subset of what you could do, and it’s going to be different for every industry and every endeavor.

1. Quora contributions

But Quora contributions, especially those if you have relevant or high value credentials or very unique, specific experiences, that will often get picked up by the online press. There are lots of editors and journalists and publications of all kinds that rely on interesting answers to Quora questions to use in their journalism, and then they’ll cite you as a source, or they’ll ask you to contribute, they’ll ask you for a quote, they’ll point to your website, all that kind of stuff.

2. Early comments on low-popularity blogs

Early comments especially in, I know this is going to sound odd, but low-popularity blogs, rather than high-popularity ones. Why low popularity? Because you will stand out. You’re less likely to be seen as a spammer, especially if you’re an authentic contributor. You don’t get lost in the noise. You can create intrigue, give value, and that will often lead to that writer or that blogger picking you up with followed links in subsequent posts. If you want more on this tactic, by the way, check out our Whiteboard Friday on comment marketing from last year. That was a deep dive into this topic.

3. Following and engaging with link targets on Twitter

Number three, following and engaging with your link targets on Twitter, especially if your link targets are heavily invested in Twitter, like journalists, B2B bloggers and contributors, and authors or people who write for lots of different publications. It doesn’t have to be a published author. It can just be a writer who writes for lots of online pieces. Then sharing your related content with them or just via your Twitter account, if you’re engaging with them a lot, chances are good you can get a follow back, and that will lead to a lot of followed up links with a citation.

4. Link citations from Instagram images

Instagram accounts. When you post images on Instagram, if you use the hashtags — hashtag marketing is kind of one of the only ways to get exposure on Instagram — but if you use hashtags that you know journalists, writers, editors, and publications of any kind in your field are picking up and need, especially travel, activities, current events, stuff that’s in the news, or conferences and events, many times folks will pick up those images and ask you for permission to use them. If you’re willing to give it, you can earn link citations. Another important reason to associate that URL with your site so that people can get in touch with you.

5. Amplify content published on your site by republishing on other platforms

If you’re using some of these platforms that are completely nofollow or platforms that are open contribution and have follow links, but where we suspect Google probably doesn’t count them, Medium being one of the biggest places, you can use republishing tactics. So essentially you’re writing on your own website first. Writing on your own website first, but then you are republishing on some of these other places.

I’m going to go Forbes. I’m going to publish my column on Forbes. I’m going to go to Medium. I’m going to publish in my Medium account. I’m going to contribute Huffington Post with the same piece. I’m republishing across these multiple platforms, and essentially you can think of this as it’s not duplicate content. You’re not hurting yourself, because these places are all pointing back to your original. It’s technically duplicate content, but not the kind that’s going to be bothersome for search engines.

You’re essentially using these the same way you would use your Twitter or Facebook or LinkedIn, where you are pushing it out as a way to say, “Here, check this out if you’re on these platforms, and here’s the original back here.” You can do that with the full article, just like you would do full content in RSS or full content for email subscribers. Then use those platforms for sharing and amplification to get into the hands of people who might link later.


So nofollowed links, not a direct impact, but potentially a very powerful, indirect way to get lots of good links and lots of good SEO value.

All right, everyone, hope you’ve enjoyed this edition of Whiteboard Friday, and we’ll see you again next week. Take care.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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SEO Above the Funnel: Getting More Traffic When You Can’t Rank Any Higher

Posted by Tom.Capper

Normally, as SEOs, we follow a deceptively simple process. We identify how people are searching for our product, then we build or optimize pages or websites to match searcher intent, we make sure Google can find, understand, and trust it, and we wait for the waves of delicious traffic to roll in.

It’s not always that simple, though. What if we have the right pages, but just can’t rank any higher? What if we’re already satisfying all of the search volume that’s relevant to our product, but the business demands growth? What if there is no search volume relevant to our product?

What would you do, for example, if you were asked to increase organic traffic to the books section on Amazon? Or property search traffic to Rightmove (UK) or Zillow (US)? Or Netflix, before anyone knew that true online streaming services existed?

In this post, I’m going to briefly outline four simple tactics for building your relevant organic traffic by increasing the overall size of the market, rather than by trying to rank higher. And none of them require building a single link, or making any changes to your existing pages.

1. Conquer neighboring territories

This is a business tactic as well as an SEO one, but it’s worth keeping an eye out for reasonably uncompetitive verticals adjacent to your own. You have an advantage in these, because you already have a brand, a strong domain, a website to build upon, and so forth. New startups trying to make headway in these spaces will struggle to compete with a fairly low-effort execution on your part, if you judge it well.

Start by ideating related products. For example, if you’re a property listings site, you might look at:

  • Home insurance
  • Home valuation
  • Flat-sharing listings
  • Area guides

Once you’ve outlined your list (it’s probably longer than my example), you can do your basic keyword research, and take a look at the existing ranking pages. This is a bit like identifying keyword opportunities, except you’re looking at the core landing pages of a whole vertical — look at their Domain Authorities, their branded search volumes, the quality of their landing pages, the extent to which they’ve done basic SEO, and ask whether you could do better.

In the example above, you might find that home insurance is well served by fairly strong financial services or comparison sites, but flat-sharing is a weak vertical dominated by a few fairly young and poorly executed sites. That’s your opportunity.

To minimize your risk, you can start with a minimal viable version — perhaps just a single landing page or a white-labeled product. If it does well, you know it merits further investment.

You’ve already established a trusted brand, with a strong website, which users are already engaging in — if you can extend your services and provide good user experiences in other areas, you can beat other, smaller brands in those spaces.

2. Welcome the intimidated

Depending on your vertical, there may be an untapped opportunity among potential customers who don’t understand or feel comfortable with the product. For example, if you sell laptops, many potential customers may be wary of buying a laptop online or without professional advice. This might cause them not to buy, or to buy a cheaper product to reduce the riskiness.

A “best laptops under £500,” or “lightest laptops,” or “best laptops for gaming” page could encourage people to spend more, or to buy online when they might otherwise have bought in a store. Pages like this can be simple feature comparisons, or semi-editorial, but it’s important that they don’t feel like a sales or up-sell function (even though that’s what the “expert” in the store would be!).

This is even more pertinent the more potentially research intensive the purchase is. For example, Crucial have done amazingly for years with their “system scanner,” linked to prominently on their homepage, which identifies potential upgrades and gives less savvy users confidence in their purchase.

Guaranteed compatible!

If this seems like too much effort, the outdoor retailer Snow and Rock don’t have the best website in the world, but they have taken a simpler approach in linking to buying guides from certain product pages — for example, this guide on how to pick a pair of walking boots.

Can you spot scenarios where users abandon in your funnels because of fear or complexity, or where they shift their spend to offline competitors? If you can make them feel safe and supported, you might be able to change their buying behavior.

3. Whip up some fervor

At the opposite end of the spectrum, you have enthusiasts who know your vertical like the back of their hand, but could be incited to treat themselves a little more. I’ve been really impressed recently by a couple of American automotive listings sites doing this really well.

The first is Autotrader.com, who have hired well-known automotive columnist Doug Demuro from Jalopnik.com to produce videos and articles for their enthusiast news section. These articles and videos talk about the nerdy quirks of some of the most obscure and interesting used cars that have been listed on the site, and it’s not uncommon for videos on Doug’s YouTube channel — which mention Autotrader.com and feature cars you could buy on Autotrader.com — to get well into 7-figure viewing counts.

These are essentially adverts for Autotrader.com’s products, but I and hundreds of thousands of others watch them religiously. What’s more, the resulting videos and articles stand to rank for the types of queries that curious enthusiasts may search for, turning informational queries into buying intent, as well as building brand awareness. I actually think Autotrader.com could do even better at this with a little SEO 101 (editorial titles don’t need to be your actual title tag, guys), but it’s already a great tactic.

Another similar site doing this really well is Bringatrailer.com. Their approach is really simple — whenever they get a particularly rare or interesting car listed, they post it on Facebook.

These are super low-effort posts about used cars, but if you take a step back, Bring a Trailer are doing something outrageous. They’re posting links to their product pages on Facebook a dozen or more times a day, and getting 3-figure reaction counts. Some of the lesson here is “have great product pages,” or “exist in an enthusiast-rich vertical,” and I realize that this tactic isn’t strictly SEO. But it is doing a lot of things that we as SEOs try to do (build awareness, search volume, links…), and it’s doing so by successfully matching informational or entertainment intents with transactional pages.

When consumers engage with a brand emotionally or even socially, then you’re more likely to be top-of-mind when they’re ready to purchase — but they’re also more likely to purchase if they’re seeing and thinking about your products, services, and sector in their feed.

4. Tell people your vertical exists

I won’t cover this one in too much detail, because there’s already an excellent Whiteboard Friday on the subject. The key point, however, is that sometimes it’s not just that customers are intimidated by your product. They may never have heard of it. In these cases, you need to appear where they’re looking using demographic targeting, carefully researched editorial sections, or branded content.

What about you, though?

How do you go about drumming up demand in your vertical? Tell me all about it in the comments below.

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"SEO Is Always Changing"… Or Is It?: Debunking the Myth and Getting Back to Basics

Posted by bridget.randolph

Recently I made the shift to freelancing full-time, and it’s led me to participate in a few online communities for entrepreneurs, freelancers, and small business owners. I’ve noticed a trend in the way many of them talk about SEO; specifically, the blocks they face in attempting to “do SEO” for their businesses. Again and again, the concept that “SEO is too hard to stay on top of… it’s always changing” was being stated as a major reason that people feel a) overwhelmed by SEO; b) intimidated by SEO; and c) uninformed about SEO.

And it’s not just non-SEOs who use this phrase. The concept of “the ever-changing landscape of SEO” is common within SEO circles as well. In fact, I’ve almost certainly used this phrase myself.

But is it actually true?

To answer that question, we have to separate the theory of search engine optimization from the various tactics which we as SEO professionals spend so much time debating and testing. The more that I work with smaller businesses and individuals, the clearer it becomes to me that although the technology is always evolving and developing, and tactics (particularly those that attempt to trick Google rather than follow their guidelines) do need to adapt fairly rapidly, there are certain fundamentals of SEO that change very little over time, and which a non-specialist can easily understand.

The unchanging fundamentals of SEO

Google’s algorithm is based on an academia-inspired model of categorization and citations, which utilizes keywords as a way to decipher the topic of a page, and links from other sites (known as “backlinks”) to determine the relative authority of that site. Their method and technology keeps getting more sophisticated over time, but the principles have remained the same.

So what are these basic principles?

It comes down to answering the following questions:

  1. Can the search engine find your content? (Crawlability)
  2. How should the search engine organize and prioritize this content? (Site structure)
  3. What is your content about? (Keywords)
  4. How does the search engine know that your content provides trustworthy information about this topic? (Backlinks)

If your website is set up to help Google and other search engines answer these 4 questions, you will have covered the basic fundamentals of search engine optimization.

There is a lot more that you can do to optimize in all of these areas and beyond, but for businesses that are just starting out and/or on a tight budget, these are the baseline concepts you’ll need to know.

Crawlability

You could have the best content in the world, but it won’t drive any search traffic if the search engines can’t find it. This means that the crawlability of your site is one of the most important factors in ensuring a solid SEO foundation.

In order to find your content and rank it in the search results, a search engine needs to be able to:

  1. Access the content (at least the pages that you want to rank)
  2. Read the content

This is primarily a technical task, although it is related to having a good site structure (the next core area). You may need to adapt the code, and/or use an SEO plugin if your site runs on WordPress.

For more in-depth guides to technical SEO and crawlability, check out the following posts:

Site structure

In addition to making sure that your content is accessible and crawlable, it’s also important to help search engines understand the hierarchy and relative importance of that content. It can be tempting to think that every page is equally important to rank, but failing to structure your site in a hierarchical way often dilutes the impact of your “money” pages. Instead, you should think about what the most important pages are, and structure the rest of your site around these.

When Google and other search engine crawlers visit a site, they attempt to navigate to the homepage; then click on every link. Googlebot assumes that the pages it sees the most are the most important pages. So when you can reach a page with a single click from the homepage, or when it is linked to on every page (for example, in a top or side navigation bar, or a site footer section), Googlebot will see those pages more, and will therefore consider them to be more important. For less important pages, you’ll still need to link to them from somewhere for search engines to be able to see them, but you don’t need to emphasize them quite as frequently or keep them as close to the homepage.

The main question to ask is: Can search engines tell what your most important pages are, just by looking at the structure of your website? Google’s goal is to to save users steps, so the easier you make it for them to find and prioritize your content, the more they’ll like it.

For more in-depth guides to good site structure, check out the following posts:

Keywords

Once the content you create is accessible to crawlers, the next step is to make sure that you’re giving the search engines an accurate picture of what that content is about, to help them understand which search queries your pages would be relevant to. This is where keywords come into the mix.

We use keywords to tell the search engine what each page is about, so that they can rank our content for queries which are most relevant to our website. You might hear advice to use your keywords over and over again on a page in order to rank well. The problem with this approach is that it doesn’t always create a great experience for users, and over time Google has stopped ranking pages which it perceives as being a poor user experience.

Instead, what Google is looking for in terms of keyword usage is that you:

  1. Answer the questions that real people actually have about your topic
  2. Use the terminology that real people (specifically, your target audience) actually use to refer to your topic
  3. Use the term in the way that Google thinks real people use it (this is often referred to as “user intent” or “searcher intent”).

You should only ever target one primary keyword (or phrase) per page. You can include “secondary” keywords, which are related to the primary keyword directly (think category vs subcategory). I sometimes see people attempting to target too many topics with a single page, in an effort to widen the net. But it is better to separate these out so that there’s a different page for each different angle on the topic.

The easiest way to think about this is in physical terms. Search engines’ methods are roughly based on the concept of library card catalogs, and so we can imagine that Google is categorizing pages in a similar way to a library using the Dewey decimal system to categorize books. You might have a book categorized as Romance, subcategory Gothic Romance; but you wouldn’t be able to categorize it as Romance and also Horror, even though it might be related to both topics. You can’t have the same physical book on 2 different shelves in 2 different sections of the library. Keyword targeting works the same way: 1 primary topic per page.

For more in-depth guides to keyword research and keyword targeting, check out the following posts:

Backlinks

Another longstanding ranking factor is the number of links from other sites to your content, known as backlinks.

It’s not enough for you to say that you’re the expert in something, if no one else sees it that way. If you were looking for a new doctor, you wouldn’t just go with the guy who says “I’m the world’s best doctor.” But if a trusted friend told you that they loved their doctor and that they thought you’d like her too, you’d almost certainly make an appointment.

When other websites link to your site, it helps to answer the question: “Do other people see you as a trustworthy resource?” Google wants to provide correct and complete information to people’s queries. The more trusted your content is by others, the more that indicates the value of that information and your authority as an expert.

When Google looks at a site’s backlinks, they are effectively doing the same thing that humans do when they read reviews and testimonials to decide which product to buy, which movie to see, or which restaurant to go to for dinner. If you haven’t worked with a product or business, other people’s reviews point you to what’s good and what’s not. In Google’s case, a link from another site serves as a vote of confidence for your content.

That being said, not all backlinks are treated equally when it comes to boosting your site’s rankings. They are weighted differently according to how Google perceives the quality and authority of the site that’s doing the linking. This can feel a little confusing, but when you think about it in the context of a recommendation, it becomes a lot easier to understand whether the backlinks your site is collecting are useful or not. After all, think about the last time you saw a movie. How did you choose what to see? Maybe you checked well-known critics’ reviews, checked Rotten Tomatoes, asked friends’ opinions, looked at Netflix’s suggestions list, or saw acquaintances posting about the film on social media.

When it comes to making a decision, who do you trust? As humans, we tend to use an (often unconscious) hierarchy of trust:

  1. Personalized recommendation: Close friends who know me well are most likely to recommend something I’ll like;
  2. Expert recommendation: Professional reviewers who are authorities on the art of film are likely to have a useful opinion, although it may not always totally match my personal taste;
  3. Popular recommendation: If a high percentage of random people liked the movie, this might mean it has a wide appeal and will likely be a good experience for me as well;
  4. Negative association: If someone is raving about a movie on social media and I know that they’re a terrible human with terrible taste… well, in the absence of other positive signals, that fact might actually influence me not to see the movie.

To bring this back to SEO, you can think about backlinks as the SEO version of reviews. And the same hierarchy comes into play.

  1. Personalized/contextual recommendation: For local businesses or niche markets, very specific websites like a local city’s tourism site, local business directory or very in-depth, niche fan site might be the equivalent of the “best friend recommendation”. They may not be an expert in what everyone likes, but they definitely know what works for you as an individual and in some cases, that’s more valuable.
  2. Expert recommendation: Well-known sites with a lot of inherent trust, like the BBC or Harvard University, are like the established movie critics. Broadly speaking they are the most trustworthy, but possibly lacking the context for a specific person’s needs. In the absence of a highly targeted type of content or service, these will be your strongest links.
  3. Popular recommendation: All things being equal, a lot of backlinks from a lot of different sites is seen as a signal that the content is relevant and useful.
  4. Negative association: Links that are placed via spam tactics, that you buy in bulk, or that sit on sites that look like garbage, are the website equivalent of that terrible person whose recommendation actually turns you off the movie.

If a site collects too many links from poor-quality sites, it could look like those links were bought, rather than “earned” recommendations (similar to businesses paying people to write positive reviews). Google views the buying of links as a dishonest practice, and a way of gaming their system, and therefore if they believe that you are doing this intentionally it may trigger a penalty. Even if they don’t cause a penalty, you won’t gain any real value from poor quality links, so they’re certainly not something to aim for. Because of this, some people become very risk-averse about backlinks, even the ones that came to them naturally. But as long as you are getting links from other trustworthy sources, and these high quality links make up a substantially higher percentage of your total, having a handful of lower quality sites linking to you shouldn’t prevent you from benefiting from the high quality ones.

For more in-depth guides to backlinks, check out the following posts:

Theory of Links

Getting More Links

Mitigating Risk of Links

Does anything about SEO actually change?

If SEO is really this simple, why do people talk about how it changes all the time? This is where we have to separate the theory of SEO from the tactics we use as SEO professionals to grow traffic and optimize for better rankings.

The fundamentals that we’ve covered here — crawlability, keywords, backlinks, and site structure — are the theory of SEO. But when it comes to actually making it work, you need to use tactics to optimize these areas. And this is where we see a lot of changes happening on a regular basis, because Google and the other search engines are constantly tweaking the way the algorithm understands and utilizes information from those four main areas in determining how a site’s content should rank on a results page.

The important thing to know is that, although the tactics which people use will change all the time, the goal for the search engine is always the same: to provide searchers with the information they need, as quickly and easily as possible. That means that whatever tactics and strategies you choose to pursue, the important thing is that they enable you to optimize for your main keywords, structure your site clearly, keep your site accessible, and get more backlinks from more sites, while still keeping the quality of the site and the backlinks high.

The quality test (EAT)

Because Google’s goal is to provide high-quality results, the changes that they make to the algorithm are designed to improve their ability to identify the highest quality content possible. Therefore, when tactics stop working (or worse, backfire and incur penalties), it is usually related to the fact that these tactics didn’t create high-quality outputs.

Like the fundamentals of SEO theory which we’ve already covered, the criteria that Google uses to determine whether a website or page is good quality haven’t changed all that much since the beginning. They’ve just gotten better at enforcing them. This means that you can use these criteria as a “sniff test” when considering whether a tactic is likely to be a sustainable approach long-term.

Google themselves refer to these criteria in their Search Quality Rating Guidelines with the acronym EAT, which stands for:

  • Expertise
  • Authoritativeness
  • Trustworthiness

In order to be viewed as high-quality content (on your own site) or a high-quality link (from another site to your site), the content needs to tick at least one of these boxes.

Expertise

Does this content answer a question people have? Is it a *good* answer? Do you have a more in-depth degree of knowledge about this topic than most people?

This is why you will see people talk about Google penalizing “thin” content — that just refers to content which isn’t really worth having on its own page, because it doesn’t provide any real value to the reader.

Authority

Are you someone who is respected and cited by others who know something about this topic?

This is where the value of backlinks can come in. One way to demonstrate that you are an authority on a topic is if Google sees a lot of other reputable sources referring to your content as a source or resource.

Trust

Are you a reputable person or business? Can you be trusted to take good care of your users and their information?

Because trustworthiness is a factor in determining a site’s quality, Google has compiled a list of indicators which might mean a site is untrustworthy or spammy. These include things like a high proportion of ads to regular content, behavior that forces or manipulates users into taking actions they didn’t want to take, hiding some content and only showing it to search engines to manipulate rankings, not using a secure platform to take payment information, etc.

It’s always the same end goal

Yes, SEO can be technical, and yes, it can change rapidly. But at the end of the day, what doesn’t change is the end goal. Google and the other search engines make money through advertising, and in order to get more users to see (and click on) their ads, they have to provide a great user experience. Therefore, their goal is always going to be to give the searchers the best information they can, as easily as they can, so that people will keep using their service.

As long as you understand this, the theory of SEO is pretty straightforward. It’s just about making it easy for Google to answer these questions:

  1. What is your site about?
    1. What information does it provide?
    2. What service or function does it provide?
  2. How do we know that you’ll provide the best answer or product or service for our users’ needs?
  3. Does your content demonstrate Expertise, Authoritativeness, and/or Trustworthiness (EAT)?

This is why the fundamentals have changed so little, despite the fact that the industry, technology and tactics have transformed rapidly over time.

A brief caveat

My goal with this post is not to provide step-by-step instruction in how to “do SEO,” but rather to demystify the basic theory for those who find the topic too overwhelming to know where to start, or who believe that it’s too complicated to understand without years of study. With this goal in mind, I am intentionally taking a simplified and high-level perspective. This is not to dismiss the importance of an SEO expert in driving strategy and continuing to develop and maximize value from the search channel. My hope is that those business owners and entrepreneurs who currently feel overwhelmed by this topic can gain a better grasp on the way SEO works, and a greater confidence and ease in approaching their search strategy going forward.

I have provided a few in-depth resources for each of the key areas — but you will likely want to hire a specialist or consultant to assist with analysis and implementation (certainly if you want to develop your search strategy beyond simply the “table stakes” as Rand calls it, you will need a more nuanced understanding of the topic than I can provide in a single blog post).

At the end of the day, the ideas behind SEO are actually pretty simple — it’s the execution that can be more complex or simply time-consuming. That’s why it’s important to understand that theory — so that you can be more informed if and when you do decide to partner with someone who is offering that expertise. As long as you understand the basic concepts and end goal, you’ll be able to go into that process with confidence. Good luck!

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Writers: Here’s Why You Aren’t Getting More Great Clients

"It’s a particularly good time to join our list of recommended writers." – Sonia Simone

We’ve been saying it for years — writers run the web.

The internet depends on a wealth of content that’s worth reading, watching, and listening to.

And writers are the ones who put those words together. Who create and shape ideas, who teach us, who move us to action … while making all of it interesting and engaging.

It’s difficult work, and it’s necessary work if we want to attract and persuade the people who will become our customers.

So why do so many writers have a hard time making a living?

There are two ugly problems that keep writers from making what they’re worth, and I’m going to talk about both of them today.

Ugly Problem #1

The first ugly problem of freelancing is finding enough clients.

It turns out that getting really good at putting words together doesn’t always translate to marketing our own businesses.

Word-of-mouth can be a great way to find clients — but it’s not necessarily how you’re going to find the right number of clients to fill your schedule, or to find them when you actually need them.

We talk about freelancing as though it’s different from other forms of business … but it isn’t. Every business needs to have marketing systems in place, so you’re putting a compelling message in front of enough people, and converting a sufficient number to customers or clients.

“My clients love me” is not a marketing system.

Some day, if you’re very good, your marketing might be able to rest on your reputation alone.

You don’t have to starve before you get there.

Make sure you have a reliable way to get in front of people looking to hire a good writer. That might be spending time on LinkedIn, it might be cold-calling, or you could do the work to get onto our list of recommended writers.

The important thing is to make yourself visible to the kind of people who hire writers.

There’s another reason professional writers struggle, and it’s even uglier than the first one.

Ugly Problem #2

What’s even worse than not having enough clients?

Not having enough good clients.

Crummy clients burn all of your time, energy, and enthusiasm getting you to do ineffective work for lousy rates.

You won’t have the time, much less the emotional energy, to work on your own marketing. You’ll be too busy writing dreadful listicles for pennies — for people who don’t respect you or what you do.

What causes a lack of good clients?

Bad positioning.

Your marketing can’t just communicate, “Hey, I’m available.”

It has to communicate, “Hey, I’m different.”

Well-paid writers work hard to become true experts. Many of them specialize in desirable formats (sales letters, email sequences) or lucrative niches (healthcare, law). And they understand the structures that make marketing effective.

Well-paid writers don’t write dreadful listicles, because dreadful listicles don’t create great results for clients.

And knowing what kind of content creates results — and what kind of content should be kicked to the curb — is an important part of why well-paid writers deserve those great rates.

How to fix your positioning

Writers need to do two things to improve their positioning:

  1. Get very good at things that clients care about.
  2. Communicate that they’re very good at things that clients care about.

One of those, “sounds simple, is actually really hard” things, I know.

So how do you do it?

Well, getting very good is a matter of becoming a bit obsessed with your craft, and doing a whole bunch of it. Learn everything you can about persuasive copy. Read this blog, listen to podcasts, connect with writers whose voices you enjoy.

Study content strategy, then try it out. Write. A lot. Publish — on your own blog, on someone else’s blog, on any copywriting project you can. Pay close attention to what works and what doesn’t.

Once you’ve got the “being really good” part down, if you’re having trouble getting that across, you may just need a supportive community to get you over the confidence hurdle. In my experience, nothing quiets impostor syndrome better than finding a community of professionals who have your back when you’re feeling low.

So is Content Certification the answer to everything?

Right about now, you probably think I’m going to tell you that our Certified Content Marketer program is going to solve all your problems for you.

Well, it might … depending on what problems you’re having.

  • It will get you in front of people who are looking for writers.
  • It will teach you the strategies that allow you to get better client results.
  • It will give you the opportunity to ask questions about specific hurdles you’re encountering.
  • It will open a door to a supportive community that can help you find your professional confidence.
  • It will show you models for marketing systems to find an abundance of really good clients.

Here’s what it definitely won’t do for you:

It won’t teach you the art and magic of stringing the words together. You have to bring that magic with you. This program is intended for folks who are already solid writers.

This is a particularly good time …

At this point, I’ve seen a lot of writers get fantastic benefits from the program. Which has been a lot of fun to watch, to tell you the truth.

But I have reason to believe that we were just getting started … because once Copyblogger starts offering done-for-you services for the Rainmaker Platform, we think the demand for “our kind of writers” is going to spike pretty dramatically.

Now I don’t have a crystal ball, and I’m not going to make any guesses about precisely what the demand will look like.

But I do know that if I was still freelancing and I had a chance to be on the list of recommended writers right as Copyblogger was ramping up their ability to offer writing services … I’d be all over that.

Here’s how to take the next step

We’re going to be reopening the Certification program in the next few days. Just add your email address below to get all the details, and you’ll be the first to know when we open the doors to our new group of students.

Find out when our Certified Content Marketer training program reopens:

The post Writers: Here’s Why You Aren’t Getting More Great Clients appeared first on Copyblogger.


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