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Rewriting the Beginner’s Guide to SEO, Chapter 1: SEO 101

Posted by BritneyMuller

Back in mid-November, we kicked off a campaign to rewrite our biggest piece of content: the Beginner’s Guide to SEO. You offered up a huge amount of helpful advice and insight with regards to our outline, and today we’re here to share our draft of the first chapter.

In many ways, the Beginner’s Guide to SEO belongs to each and every member of our community; it’s important that we get this right, for your sake. So without further ado, here’s the first chapter — let’s dive in!


Chapter 1: SEO 101

What is it, and why is it important?

Welcome! We’re excited that you’re here!

If you already have a solid understanding of SEO and why it’s important, you can skip to Chapter 2 (though we’d still recommend skimming the best practices from Google and Bing at the end of this chapter; they’re useful refreshers).

For everyone else, this chapter will help build your foundational SEO knowledge and confidence as you move forward.

What is SEO?

SEO stands for “search engine optimization.” It’s the practice of increasing both the quality and quantity of website traffic, as well as exposure to your brand, through non-paid (also known as “organic”) search engine results.

Despite the acronym, SEO is as much about people as it is about search engines themselves. It’s about understanding what people are searching for online, the answers they are seeking, the words they’re using, and the type of content they wish to consume. Leveraging this data will allow you to provide high-quality content that your visitors will truly value.

Here’s an example. Frankie & Jo’s (a Seattle-based vegan, gluten-free ice cream shop) has heard about SEO and wants help improving how and how often they show up in organic search results. In order to help them, you need to first understand their potential customers:

  • What types of ice cream, desserts, snacks, etc. are people searching for?
  • Who is searching for these terms?
  • When are people searching for ice cream, snacks, desserts, etc.?
    • Are there seasonality trends throughout the year?
  • How are people searching for ice cream?
    • What words do they use?
    • What questions do they ask?
    • Are more searches performed on mobile devices?
  • Why are people seeking ice cream?
    • Are individuals looking for health conscious ice cream specifically or just looking to satisfy a sweet tooth?
  • Where are potential customers located — locally, nationally, or internationally?

And finally — here’s the kicker — how can you help provide the best content about ice cream to cultivate a community and fulfill what all those people are searching for?

Search engine basics

Search engines are answer machines. They scour billions of pieces of content and evaluate thousands of factors to determine which content is most likely to answer your query.

Search engines do all of this by discovering and cataloguing all available content on the Internet (web pages, PDFs, images, videos, etc.) via a process known as “crawling and indexing.”

What are “organic” search engine results?

Organic search results are search results that aren’t paid for (i.e. not advertising). These are the results that you can influence through effective SEO. Traditionally, these were the familiar “10 blue links.”

Today, search engine results pages — often referred to as “SERPs” — are filled with both more advertising and more dynamic organic results formats (called “SERP features”) than we’ve ever seen before. Some examples of SERP features are featured snippets (or answer boxes), People Also Ask boxes, image carousels, etc. New SERP features continue to emerge, driven largely by what people are seeking.

For example, if you search for “Denver weather,” you’ll see a weather forecast for the city of Denver directly in the SERP instead of a link to a site that might have that forecast. And, if you search for “pizza Denver,” you’ll see a “local pack” result made up of Denver pizza places. Convenient, right?

It’s important to remember that search engines make money from advertising. Their goal is to better solve searcher’s queries (within SERPs), to keep searchers coming back, and to keep them on the SERPs longer.

Some SERP features on Google are organic and can be influenced by SEO. These include featured snippets (a promoted organic result that displays an answer inside a box) and related questions (a.k.a. “People Also Ask” boxes).

It’s worth noting that there are many other search features that, even though they aren’t paid advertising, can’t typically be influenced by SEO. These features often have data acquired from proprietary data sources, such as Wikipedia, WebMD, and IMDb.

Why SEO is important

While paid advertising, social media, and other online platforms can generate traffic to websites, the majority of online traffic is driven by search engines.

Organic search results cover more digital real estate, appear more credible to savvy searchers, and receive way more clicks than paid advertisements. For example, of all US searches, only ~2.8% of people click on paid advertisements.

In a nutshell: SEO has ~20X more traffic opportunity than PPC on both mobile and desktop.

SEO is also one of the only online marketing channels that, when set up correctly, can continue to pay dividends over time. If you provide a solid piece of content that deserves to rank for the right keywords, your traffic can snowball over time, whereas advertising needs continuous funding to send traffic to your site.

Search engines are getting smarter, but they still need our help.

Optimizing your site will help deliver better information to search engines so that your content can be properly indexed and displayed within search results.

Should I hire an SEO professional, consultant, or agency?

Depending on your bandwidth, willingness to learn, and the complexity of your website(s), you could perform some basic SEO yourself. Or, you might discover that you would prefer the help of an expert. Either way is okay!

If you end up looking for expert help, it’s important to know that many agencies and consultants “provide SEO services,” but can vary widely in quality. Knowing how to choose a good SEO company can save you a lot of time and money, as the wrong SEO techniques can actually harm your site more than they will help.

White hat vs black hat SEO

“White hat SEO” refers to SEO techniques, best practices, and strategies that abide by search engine rule, its primary focus to provide more value to people.

“Black hat SEO” refers to techniques and strategies that attempt to spam/fool search engines. While black hat SEO can work, it puts websites at tremendous risk of being penalized and/or de-indexed (removed from search results) and has ethical implications.

Penalized websites have bankrupted businesses. It’s just another reason to be very careful when choosing an SEO expert or agency.

Search engines share similar goals with the SEO industry

Search engines want to help you succeed. They’re actually quite supportive of efforts by the SEO community. Digital marketing conferences, such as Unbounce, MNsearch, SearchLove, and Moz’s own MozCon, regularly attract engineers and representatives from major search engines.

Google assists webmasters and SEOs through their Webmaster Central Help Forum and by hosting live office hour hangouts. (Bing, unfortunately, shut down their Webmaster Forums in 2014.)

While webmaster guidelines vary from search engine to search engine, the underlying principles stay the same: Don’t try to trick search engines. Instead, provide your visitors with a great online experience.

Google webmaster guidelines

Basic principles:

  • Make pages primarily for users, not search engines.
  • Don’t deceive your users.
  • Avoid tricks intended to improve search engine rankings. A good rule of thumb is whether you’d feel comfortable explaining what you’ve done to a website to a Google employee. Another useful test is to ask, “Does this help my users? Would I do this if search engines didn’t exist?”
  • Think about what makes your website unique, valuable, or engaging.

Things to avoid:

  • Automatically generated content
  • Participating in link schemes
  • Creating pages with little or no original content (i.e. copied from somewhere else)
  • Cloaking — the practice of showing search engine crawlers different content than visitors.
  • Hidden text and links
  • Doorway pages — pages created to rank well for specific searches to funnel traffic to your website.

Full Google Webmaster Guidelines version here.

Bing webmaster guidelines

Basic principles:

  • Provide clear, deep, engaging, and easy-to-find content on your site.
  • Keep page titles clear and relevant.
  • Links are regarded as a signal of popularity and Bing rewards links that have grown organically.
  • Social influence and social shares are positive signals and can have an impact on how you rank organically in the long run.
  • Page speed is important, along with a positive, useful user experience.
  • Use alt attributes to describe images, so that Bing can better understand the content.

Things to avoid:

  • Thin content, pages showing mostly ads or affiliate links, or that otherwise redirect visitors away to other sites will not rank well.
  • Abusive link tactics that aim to inflate the number and nature of inbound links such as buying links, participating in link schemes, can lead to de-indexing.
  • Ensure clean, concise, keyword-inclusive URL structures are in place. Dynamic parameters can dirty up your URLs and cause duplicate content issues.
  • Make your URLs descriptive, short, keyword rich when possible, and avoid non-letter characters.
  • Burying links in Javascript/Flash/Silverlight; keep content out of these as well.
  • Duplicate content
  • Keyword stuffing
  • Cloaking — the practice of showing search engine crawlers different content than visitors.

Guidelines for representing your local business on Google

These guidelines govern what you should and shouldn’t do in creating and managing your Google My Business listing(s).

Basic principles:

  • Be sure you’re eligible for inclusion in the Google My Business index; you must have a physical address, even if it’s your home address, and you must serve customers face-to-face, either at your location (like a retail store) or at theirs (like a plumber)
  • Honestly and accurately represent all aspects of your local business data, including its name, address, phone number, website address, business categories, hours of operation, and other features.

Things to avoid

  • Creation of Google My Business listings for entities that aren’t eligible
  • Misrepresentation of any of your core business information, including “stuffing” your business name with geographic or service keywords, or creating listings for fake addresses
  • Use of PO boxes or virtual offices instead of authentic street addresses
  • Abuse of the review portion of the Google My Business listing, via fake positive reviews of your business or fake negative ones of your competitors
  • Costly, novice mistakes stemming from failure to read the fine details of Google’s guidelines

Fulfilling user intent

Understanding and fulfilling user intent is critical. When a person searches for something, they have a desired outcome. Whether it’s an answer, concert tickets, or a cat photo, that desired content is their “user intent.”

If a person performs a search for “bands,” is their intent to find musical bands, wedding bands, band saws, or something else?

Your job as an SEO is to quickly provide users with the content they desire in the format in which they desire it.

Common user intent types:

Informational: Searching for information. Example: “How old is Issa Rae?”

Navigational: Searching for a specific website. Example: “HBOGO Insecure”

Transactional: Searching to buy something. Example: “where to buy ‘We got y’all’ Insecure t-shirt”

You can get a glimpse of user intent by Googling your desired keyword(s) and evaluating the current SERP. For example, if there’s a photo carousel, it’s very likely that people searching for that keyword search for photos.

Also evaluate what content your top-ranking competitors are providing that you currently aren’t. How can you provide 10X the value on your website?

Providing relevant, high-quality content on your website will help you rank higher in search results, and more importantly, it will establish credibility and trust with your online audience.

Before you do any of that, you have to first understand your website’s goals to execute a strategic SEO plan.

Know your website/client’s goals

Every website is different, so take the time to really understand a specific site’s business goals. This will not only help you determine which areas of SEO you should focus on, where to track conversions, and how to set benchmarks, but it will also help you create talking points for negotiating SEO projects with clients, bosses, etc.

What will your KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) be to measure the return on SEO investment? More simply, what is your barometer to measure the success of your organic search efforts? You’ll want to have it documented, even if it’s this simple:

For the website ________________________, my primary SEO KPI is _______________.

Here are a few common KPIs to get you started:

  • Sales
  • Downloads
  • Email signups
  • Contact form submissions
  • Phone calls

And if your business has a local component, you’ll want to define KPIs for your Google My Business listings, as well. These might include:

  • Clicks-to-call
  • Clicks-to-website
  • Clicks-for-driving-directions

Notice how “Traffic” and “Ranking” are not on the above lists? This is because, for most websites, ranking well for keywords and increasing traffic won’t matter if the new traffic doesn’t convert (to help you reach the site’s KPI goals).

You don’t want to send 1,000 people to your website a month and have only 3 people convert (to customers). You want to send 300 people to your site a month and have 40 people convert.

This guide will help you become more data-driven in your SEO efforts. Rather than haphazardly throwing arrows all over the place (and getting lucky every once in awhile), you’ll put more wood behind fewer arrows.

Grab a bow (and some coffee); let’s dive into Chapter 2 (Crawlers & Indexation).


We’re looking forward to hearing your thoughts on this draft of Chapter 1. What works? Anything you feel could be added or explained differently? Let us know your suggestions, questions, and thoughts in the comments.

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The Content Marketer’s Guide to Starting a Meditation Practice Today

You and I are storytellers. We’re content creators and copywriters. Our livelihoods depend on spinning creative yarns that compel our readers to action. For the execution of our craft, we depend on some key inner resources every day. Creativity and focus are two biggies. And I’m sure you’ve noticed that — like gold and platinum
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The Complete Guide to Direct Traffic in Google Analytics

Posted by tombennet

When it comes to direct traffic in Analytics, there are two deeply entrenched misconceptions.

The first is that it’s caused almost exclusively by users typing an address into their browser (or clicking on a bookmark). The second is that it’s a Bad Thing, not because it has any overt negative impact on your site’s performance, but rather because it’s somehow immune to further analysis. The prevailing attitude amongst digital marketers is that direct traffic is an unavoidable inconvenience; as a result, discussion of direct is typically limited to ways of attributing it to other channels, or side-stepping the issues associated with it.

In this article, we’ll be taking a fresh look at direct traffic in modern Google Analytics. As well as exploring the myriad ways in which referrer data can be lost, we’ll look at some tools and tactics you can start using immediately to reduce levels of direct traffic in your reports. Finally, we’ll discover how advanced analysis and segmentation can unlock the mysteries of direct traffic and shed light on what might actually be your most valuable users.

What is direct traffic?

In short, Google Analytics will report a traffic source of “direct” when it has no data on how the session arrived at your website, or when the referring source has been configured to be ignored. You can think of direct as GA’s fall-back option for when its processing logic has failed to attribute a session to a particular source.

To properly understand the causes and fixes for direct traffic, it’s important to understand exactly how GA processes traffic sources. The following flow-chart illustrates how sessions are bucketed — note that direct sits right at the end as a final “catch-all” group.

Broadly speaking, and disregarding user-configured overrides, GA’s processing follows this sequence of checks:

AdWords parameters > Campaign overrides > UTM campaign parameters > Referred by a search engine > Referred by another website > Previous campaign within timeout period > Direct

Note the penultimate processing step (previous campaign within timeout), which has a significant impact on the direct channel. Consider a user who discovers your site via organic search, then returns via direct a week later. Both sessions would be attributed to organic search. In fact, campaign data persists for up to six months by default. The key point here is that Google Analytics is already trying to minimize the impact of direct traffic for you.

What causes direct traffic?

Contrary to popular belief, there are actually many reasons why a session might be missing campaign and traffic source data. Here we will run through some of the most common.

1. Manual address entry and bookmarks

The classic direct-traffic scenario, this one is largely unavoidable. If a user types a URL into their browser’s address bar or clicks on a browser bookmark, that session will appear as direct traffic.

Simple as that.

2. HTTPS > HTTP

When a user follows a link on a secure (HTTPS) page to a non-secure (HTTP) page, no referrer data is passed, meaning the session appears as direct traffic instead of as a referral. Note that this is intended behavior. It’s part of how the secure protocol was designed, and it does not affect other scenarios: HTTP to HTTP, HTTPS to HTTPS, and even HTTP to HTTPS all pass referrer data.

So, if your referral traffic has tanked but direct has spiked, it could be that one of your major referrers has migrated to HTTPS. The inverse is also true: If you’ve migrated to HTTPS and are linking to HTTP websites, the traffic you’re driving to them will appear in their Analytics as direct.

If your referrers have moved to HTTPS and you’re stuck on HTTP, you really ought to consider migrating to HTTPS. Doing so (and updating your backlinks to point to HTTPS URLs) will bring back any referrer data which is being stripped from cross-protocol traffic. SSL certificates can now be obtained for free thanks to automated authorities like LetsEncrypt, but that’s not to say you should neglect to explore the potentially-significant SEO implications of site migrations. Remember, HTTPS and HTTP/2 are the future of the web.

If, on the other hand, you’ve already migrated to HTTPS and are concerned about your users appearing to partner websites as direct traffic, you can implement the meta referrer tag. Cyrus Shepard has written about this on Moz before, so I won’t delve into it now. Suffice to say, it’s a way of telling browsers to pass some referrer data to non-secure sites, and can be implemented as a <meta> element or HTTP header.

3. Missing or broken tracking code

Let’s say you’ve launched a new landing page template and forgotten to include the GA tracking code. Or, to use a scenario I’m encountering more and more frequently, imagine your GTM container is a horrible mess of poorly configured triggers, and your tracking code is simply failing to fire.

Users land on this page without tracking code. They click on a link to a deeper page which does have tracking code. From GA’s perspective, the first hit of the session is the second page visited, meaning that the referrer appears as your own website (i.e. a self-referral). If your domain is on the referral exclusion list (as per default configuration), the session is bucketed as direct. This will happen even if the first URL is tagged with UTM campaign parameters.

As a short-term fix, you can try to repair the damage by simply adding the missing tracking code. To prevent it happening again, carry out a thorough Analytics audit, move to a GTM-based tracking implementation, and promote a culture of data-driven marketing.

4. Improper redirection

This is an easy one. Don’t use meta refreshes or JavaScript-based redirects — these can wipe or replace referrer data, leading to direct traffic in Analytics. You should also be meticulous with your server-side redirects, and — as is often recommended by SEOs — audit your redirect file frequently. Complex chains are more likely to result in a loss of referrer data, and you run the risk of UTM parameters getting stripped out.

Once again, control what you can: use carefully mapped (i.e. non-chained) code 301 server-side redirects to preserve referrer data wherever possible.

5. Non-web documents

Links in Microsoft Word documents, slide decks, or PDFs do not pass referrer information. By default, users who click these links will appear in your reports as direct traffic. Clicks from native mobile apps (particularly those with embedded “in-app” browsers) are similarly prone to stripping out referrer data.

To a degree, this is unavoidable. Much like so-called “dark social” visits (discussed in detail below), non-web links will inevitably result in some quantity of direct traffic. However, you also have an opportunity here to control the controllables.

If you publish whitepapers or offer downloadable PDF guides, for example, you should be tagging the embedded hyperlinks with UTM campaign parameters. You’d never even contemplate launching an email marketing campaign without campaign tracking (I hope), so why would you distribute any other kind of freebie without similarly tracking its success? In some ways this is even more important, since these kinds of downloadables often have a longevity not seen in a single email campaign. Here’s an example of a properly tagged URL which we would embed as a link:

https://builtvisible.com/embedded-whitepaper-url/?…_medium=offline_document&utm_campaign=201711_utm_whitepaper

The same goes for URLs in your offline marketing materials. For major campaigns it’s common practice to select a short, memorable URL (e.g. moz.com/tv/) and design an entirely new landing page. It’s possible to bypass page creation altogether: simply redirect the vanity URL to an existing page URL which is properly tagged with UTM parameters.

So, whether you tag your URLs directly, use redirected vanity URLs, or — if you think UTM parameters are ugly — opt for some crazy-ass hash-fragment solution with GTM (read more here), the takeaway is the same: use campaign parameters wherever it’s appropriate to do so.

6. “Dark social”

This is a big one, and probably the least well understood by marketers.

The term “dark social” was first coined back in 2012 by Alexis Madrigal in an article for The Atlantic. Essentially it refers to methods of social sharing which cannot easily be attributed to a particular source, like email, instant messaging, Skype, WhatsApp, and Facebook Messenger.

Recent studies have found that upwards of 80% of consumers’ outbound sharing from publishers’ and marketers’ websites now occurs via these private channels. In terms of numbers of active users, messaging apps are outpacing social networking apps. All the activity driven by these thriving platforms is typically bucketed as direct traffic by web analytics software.

People who use the ambiguous phrase “social media marketing” are typically referring to advertising: you broadcast your message and hope people will listen. Even if you overcome consumer indifference with a well-targeted campaign, any subsequent interactions are affected by their very public nature. The privacy of dark social, by contrast, represents a potential goldmine of intimate, targeted, and relevant interactions with high conversion potential. Nebulous and difficult-to-track though it may be, dark social has the potential to let marketers tap into elusive power of word of mouth.

So, how can we minimize the amount of dark social traffic which is bucketed under direct? The unfortunate truth is that there is no magic bullet: proper attribution of dark social requires rigorous campaign tracking. The optimal approach will vary greatly based on your industry, audience, proposition, and so on. For many websites, however, a good first step is to provide convenient and properly configured sharing buttons for private platforms like email, WhatsApp, and Slack, thereby ensuring that users share URLs appended with UTM parameters (or vanity/shortened URLs which redirect to the same). This will go some way towards shining a light on part of your dark social traffic.

Checklist: Minimizing direct traffic

To summarize what we’ve already discussed, here are the steps you can take to minimize the level of unnecessary direct traffic in your reports:

  1. Migrate to HTTPS: Not only is the secure protocol your gateway to HTTP/2 and the future of the web, it will also have an enormously positive effect on your ability to track referral traffic.
  2. Manage your use of redirects: Avoid chains and eliminate client-side redirection in favour of carefully-mapped, single-hop, server-side 301s. If you use vanity URLs to redirect to pages with UTM parameters, be meticulous.
  3. Get really good at campaign tagging: Even amongst data-driven marketers I encounter the belief that UTM begins and ends with switching on automatic tagging in your email marketing software. Others go to the other extreme, doing silly things like tagging internal links. Control what you can, and your ability to carry out meaningful attribution will markedly improve.
  4. Conduct an Analytics audit: Data integrity is vital, so consider this essential when assessing the success of your marketing. It’s not simply a case of checking for missing track code: good audits involve a review of your measurement plan and rigorous testing at page and property-level.

Adhere to these principles, and it’s often possible to achieve a dramatic reduction in the level of direct traffic reported in Analytics. The following example involved an HTTPS migration, GTM migration (as part of an Analytics review), and an overhaul of internal campaign tracking processes over the course of about 6 months:

But the saga of direct traffic doesn’t end there! Once this channel is “clean” — that is, once you’ve minimized the number of avoidable pollutants — what remains might actually be one of your most valuable traffic segments.

Analyze! Or: why direct traffic can actually be pretty cool

For reasons we’ve already discussed, traffic from bookmarks and dark social is an enormously valuable segment to analyze. These are likely to be some of your most loyal and engaged users, and it’s not uncommon to see a notably higher conversion rate for a clean direct channel compared to the site average. You should make the effort to get to know them.

The number of potential avenues to explore is infinite, but here are some good starting points:

  • Build meaningful custom segments, defining a subset of your direct traffic based on their landing page, location, device, repeat visit or purchase behavior, or even enhanced e-commerce interactions.
  • Track meaningful engagement metrics using modern GTM triggers such as element visibility and native scroll tracking. Measure how your direct users are using and viewing your content.
  • Watch for correlations with your other marketing activities, and use it as an opportunity to refine your tagging practices and segment definitions. Create a custom alert which watches for spikes in direct traffic.
  • Familiarize yourself with flow reports to get an understanding of how your direct traffic is converting. By using Goal Flow and Behavior Flow reports with segmentation, it’s often possible to glean actionable insights which can be applied to the site as a whole.
  • Ask your users for help! If you’ve isolated a valuable segment of traffic which eludes deeper analysis, add a button to the page offering visitors a free downloadable ebook if they tell you how they discovered your page.
  • Start thinking about lifetime value, if you haven’t already — overhauling your attribution model or implementing User ID are good steps towards overcoming the indifference or frustration felt by marketers towards direct traffic.

I hope this guide has been useful. With any luck, you arrived looking for ways to reduce the level of direct traffic in your reports, and left with some new ideas for how to better analyze this valuable segment of users.

Thanks for reading!

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Rewriting the Beginner’s Guide to SEO

Posted by BritneyMuller


Many of you reading likely cut your teeth on Moz’s Beginner’s Guide to SEO. Since it was launched, it’s easily been our top-performing piece of content:

Most months see 100k+ views (the reverse plateau in 2013 is when we changed domains).

While Moz’s Beginner’s Guide to SEO still gets well over 100k views a month, the current guide itself is fairly outdated. This big update has been on my personal to-do list since I started at Moz, and we need to get it right because — let’s get real — you all deserve a bad-ass SEO 101 resource!

However, updating the guide is no easy feat. Thankfully, I have the help of my fellow Mozzers. Our content team has been a collective voice of reason, wisdom, and organization throughout this process and has kept this train on its tracks.

Despite the effort we’ve put into this already, it felt like something was missing: your input! We’re writing this guide to be a go-to resource for all of you (and everyone who follows in your footsteps), and want to make sure that we’re including everything that today’s SEOs need to know. You all have a better sense of that than anyone else.

So, in order to deliver the best possible update, I’m seeking your help.

This is similar to the way Rand did it back in 2007. And upon re-reading your many “more examples” requests, we’ve continued to integrate more examples throughout.

The plan:

  • Over the next 6–8 weeks, I’ll be updating sections of the Beginner’s Guide and posting them, one by one, on the blog.
  • I’ll solicit feedback from you incredible people and implement top suggestions.
  • The guide will be reformatted/redesigned, and I’ll 301 all of the blog entries that will be created over the next few weeks to the final version.
  • It’s going to remain 100% free to everyone — no registration required, no premium membership necessary.

To kick things off, here’s the revised outline for the Beginner’s Guide to SEO:

Click each chapter’s description to expand the section for more detail.

Chapter 1: SEO 101


What is it, and why is it important? ↓


Chapter 2: Crawlers & Indexing


First, you need to show up. ↓


Chapter 3: Keyword Research


Next, know what to say and how to say it. ↓


Chapter 4: On-Page SEO


Next, structure your message to resonate and get it published. ↓


Chapter 5: Technical SEO


Next, translate your site into Google’s language. ↓


Chapter 6: Establishing Authority

Finally, turn up the volume. ↓


Chapter 7: Measuring and Tracking SEO

Pivot based on what’s working. ↓


Appendix A: Glossary of Terms

Appendix B: List of Additional Resources

Appendix C: Contributors & Credits


What did you struggle with most when you were first learning about SEO? What would you have benefited from understanding from the get-go?

Are we missing anything? Any section you wish wouldn’t be included in the updated Beginner’s Guide? Leave your suggestions in the comments!

Thanks in advance for contributing.

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The Content Marketer’s Guide to UTM Parameters for Tracking Referrals

If you’ve ever used Google Analytics, you’ve probably heard about UTM parameters. UTM parameters aren’t a new technology. In fact, they’re ubiquitous. But they also may be one of the most misunderstood and most frequently abused website tracking tools around. So today, I’m here to explain what they are, why they were invented, when you
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A Quick-Start Guide to Video Content: Become Confident on Camera in 5 Steps

Videos are everywhere. They’re on your Facebook feed, your Instagram wall, and they also come up in search engine results. As a former TV journalist, I know that video is a powerful way to reach people — and being on camera regularly solidifies your connection with your audience. I had the pleasure (sarcasm intended) of
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The Beginner’s Guide to Structured Data for SEO: How to Implement Structured Data

Posted by bridget.randolph

Part 2: How to implement structured data for SEO

Welcome to Part 2 of The Beginner’s Guide to Structured Data: How to Implement Structured Data for SEO. In Part 1, we focused on gaining a high-level understanding of what structured data is and how it can be used to support SEO efforts.

(If you missed Part 1, you can go check it out here).

In Part 2, we’ll be looking at the steps to identify opportunities and implement structured data for SEO on your website. Since this is an introductory guide, I’ll be focusing on the most basic types of markup you can add and the most common use cases, and providing resources with additional detail for the more technical aspects of implementation.

Is structured data right for you?

Generally speaking, implementing structured data for SEO is worthwhile for most people. However, it does require a certain level of effort and resources, and you may be asking yourself whether it’s worth prioritizing.

Here are some signs that it’s a good time to prioritize structured data for SEO:

  • Search is a key value-driving channel for your business
  • You’ve recently audited your site for basic optimization issues and you know that you’ve achieved a competitive baseline with your keyword targeting, backlinks profile, site structure, and technical setup
  • You’re in a competitive vertical and need your results to stand out in the SERPs
  • You want to use AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) as a way to show up in featured areas of the SERP, including carousels
  • You have a lot of article-style content related to key head terms (e.g. 10 chicken recipes) and you’d like a way to display multiple results for those terms in the SERP
  • You’re ranking fairly well (position 15 or higher) already for terms with significant search volume (5000–50,000 searches/month)*
  • You have solid development resources with availability on staff and can implement with minimal time and financial investment
  • You’re in any of the following verticals: e-commerce, publishing, educational products, events/ticketing, creative production, TV/movie/book reviews, job listings, local business

*What is considered significant volume may vary according to how niche your market is.

If you said yes to any of these statements, then implementing structured data is particularly relevant to you! And if these criteria don’t currently apply to you, of course you can still go ahead and implement; you might have great results. The above are just a few of the most common indicators that it’s a worthwhile investment.

Implementing structured data on your site

In this guide, we will be looking solely at opportunities to implement Schema.org markup, as this is the most extensive vocabulary for our purposes. Also, because it was developed by the search engine companies themselves, it aligns with what they support now and should continue to be the most supported framework going forward.

How is Schema.org data structured?

The way that the Schema.org vocabulary is structured is with different “types” (Recipe, Product, Article, Person, Organization, etc.) that represent entities, kinds of data, and/or content types.

Each Type has its own set of “properties” that you can use to identify the attributes of that item. For example, a “Recipe” Type includes properties like “image,” “cookTime,” “nutritionInformation,” etc. When you mark up a recipe on your site with these properties, Google is able to present those details visually in the SERP, like this:

Image source

In order to mark up your content with Schema.org vocabulary, you’ll need to define the specific properties for the Type you’re indicating.

For example:

If you’re marking up a recipe page, you need to include the title and at least two other attributes. These could be properties like:

  • aggregateRating: The averaged star rating of the recipe by your users
  • author: The person who created the recipe
  • prepTime: The length of time required to prepare the dish for cooking
  • cookTime: The length of time required to cook the dish
  • datePublished: Date of the article’s publication
  • image: An image of the dish
  • nutritionInformation: Number of calories in the dish
  • review: A review of the dish
  • …and more.

Each Type has different “required” properties in order to work correctly, as well as additional properties you can include if relevant. (You can view a full list of the Recipe properties at Schema.org/Recipe, or check out Google’s overview of Recipe markup.)

Once you know what Types, properties and data need to be included in your markup, you can generate the code.

The code: Microdata vs JSON-LD

There are two common approaches to adding Schema.org markup to your pages: Microdata (in-line annotations added directly to the relevant HTML) and JSON-LD (which uses a Javascript script tag to insert the markup into the head of the page).

JSON-LD is Google’s recommended approach, and in general is a cleaner, simpler implementation… but it is worth noting that Bing does not yet officially support JSON-LD. Also, if you have a WordPress site, you may be able to use a plugin (although be aware that not all of WordPress’ plugins work they way they’re supposed to, so it’s especially important to choose one with good reviews, and test thoroughly after implementation).

Whatever option you choose to use, always test your implementation to make sure Google is seeing it show up correctly.

What does this code look like?

Let’s look at an example of marking up a very simple news article (Schema.org/NewsArticle).


Here’s the article content (excluding body copy), with my notes about what each element is:

[posted by publisher ‘Google’]
[headline]Article Headline
[author byline]By John Doe
[date published] Feb 5, 2015
[description] A most wonderful article
[image]
[company logo]

And here’s the basic HTML version of that article:

<div>
  <h2>Article headline</h2>
  <h3>By John Doe</h3>
    <div>
    <img src="https://google.com/thumbnai1.jpg"/>
    </div>
  <div>
      <img src="https://google.com/logo.jpg"/>
      </div>

If you use Microdata, you’ll nest your content inside the relevant meta tags for each piece of data. For this article example, your Microdata code might look like this (within the <body> of the page):

<div itemscope itemtype="http://schema.org/NewsArticle">
  <meta itemscope itemprop="mainEntityOfPage"  itemType="https://schema.org/WebPage" itemid="https://google.com/article"/>
  <h2 itemprop="headline">Article headline</h2>
  <h3 itemprop="author" itemscope itemtype="https://schema.org/Person">
    By <span itemprop="name">John Doe</span>
  </h3>
  <span itemprop="description">A most wonderful article</span>
  <div itemprop="image" itemscope itemtype="https://schema.org/ImageObject">
    <img src="https://google.com/thumbnail1.jpg"/>
    <meta itemprop="url" content="https://google.com/thumbnail1.jpg">
    <meta itemprop="width" content="800">
    <meta itemprop="height" content="800">
  </div>
  <div itemprop="publisher" itemscope itemtype="https://schema.org/Organization">
    <div itemprop="logo" itemscope itemtype="https://schema.org/ImageObject">
      <img src="https://google.com/logo.jpg"/>
      <meta itemprop="url" content="https://google.com/logo.jpg">
      <meta itemprop="width" content="600">
      <meta itemprop="height" content="60">
    </div>
    <meta itemprop="name" content="Google">
  </div>
  <meta itemprop="datePublished" content="2015-02-05T08:00:00+08:00"/>
  <meta itemprop="dateModified" content="2015-02-05T09:20:00+08:00"/>
</div>

The JSON-LD version would usually be added to the <head> of the page, rather than integrated with the <body> content (although adding it in the <body> is still valid).

JSON-LD code for this same article would look like this:

<script type="application/ld+json">
{
  "@context": "http://schema.org",
  "@type": "NewsArticle",
  "mainEntityOfPage": {
    "@type": "WebPage",
    "@id": "https://google.com/article"
  },
  "headline": "Article headline",
  "image": {
    "@type": "ImageObject",
    "url": "https://google.com/thumbnail1.jpg",
    "height": 800,
    "width": 800
  },
  "datePublished": "2015-02-05T08:00:00+08:00",
  "dateModified": "2015-02-05T09:20:00+08:00",
  "author": {
    "@type": "Person",
    "name": "John Doe"
  },
   "publisher": {
    "@type": "Organization",
    "name": "Google",
    "logo": {
      "@type": "ImageObject",
      "url": "https://google.com/logo.jpg",
      "width": 600,
      "height": 60
    }
  },
  "description": "A most wonderful article"
}
</script>

This is the general style for Microdata and JSON-LD code (for Schema.org/Article). The Schema.org website has a full list of every supported Type and its Properties, and Google has created “feature guides” with example code for the most common structured data use cases, which you can use as a reference for your own code.

How to identify structured data opportunities (and issues)

If structured data has previously been added to your site (or if you’re not sure whether it has), the first place to check is the Structured Data Report in Google Search Console.

This report will tell you not only how many pages have been identified as containing structured data (and how many of these have errors), but may also be able to identify where and/or why the error is occurring. You can also use the Structured Data Testing Tool for debugging any flagged errors: as you edit the code in the tool interface, it will flag any errors or warnings.

If you don’t have structured data implemented yet, or want to overhaul your setup from scratch, the best way to identify opportunities is with a quick content audit of your site, based on the kind of business you have.

A note on keeping it simple

There are lots of options when it comes to Schema.org markup, and it can be tempting to go crazy marking up everything you possibly can. But best practice is to keep focused and generally use a single top-level Type on a given page. In other words, you might include review data on your product page, but the primary Type you’d be using is Schema.org/Product. The goal is to tell search engines what this page is about.

Structured data must be representative of the main content of the page, and marked up content should not be hidden from the user. Google will penalize sites which they believe are using structured data markup in scammy ways.

There are some other general guidelines from Google, including:

  • Add your markup to the page it describes (so Product markup would be added to the individual product page, not the homepage)
  • For duplicated pages with a canonical version, add the same markup to all versions of the page (not just the canonical)
  • Don’t block your marked-up pages from search engines
  • Be as specific as possible when choosing a Type to add to a page
  • Multiple entities on the same page must each be marked up individually (so for a list of products, each product should have its own Product markup added)
  • As a rule, you should only be adding markup for content which is being shown on the page you add it to

So how do you know which Schema.org Types are relevant for your site? That depends on the type of business and website you run.

Schema.org for websites in general

There are certain types of Schema.org markup which almost any business can benefit from, and there are also more specific use cases for certain types of business.

General opportunities to be aware of are:

  • Sitelinks Search Box: if you have search functionality on your site, you can add markup which enables a search box to appear in your sitelinks:

Image source

Image source

  • VideoObject: if you have video content on your site, this markup can enable video snippets in SERPs, with info about uploader, duration, a thumbnail image, and more:

A note about Star reviews in the SERP

You’ll often see recommendations about “marking up your reviews” to get star ratings in the SERP results. “Reviews” have their own type, Schema.org/Review, with properties that you’ll need to include; but they can also be embedded into other types using that type’s “review” property.

You can see an example of this above, in the Recipes image, where some of the recipes in the SERP display a star rating. This is because they have included the aggregate user rating for that recipe in the “review” property within the Schema.org/Recipe type.

You’ll see a similar implementation for other properties which have their own type, such as Schema.org/Duration, Schema.org/Date, and Schema.org/Person. It can feel really complicated, but it’s actually just about organizing your information in terms of category > subcategory > discrete object.

If this feels a little confusing, it might help to think about it in terms of how we define a physical thing, like an ingredient in a recipe. Chicken broth is a dish that you can make, and each food item that goes into making the chicken broth would be classified as an ingredient. But you could also have a recipe that calls for chicken broth as an ingredient. So depending on whether you’re writing out a recipe for chicken broth, or a recipe that includes chicken broth, you’ll classify it differently.

In the same way, attributes like “Review,” “Date,” and “Duration” can be their own thing (Type), or a property of another Type. This is just something to be aware of when you start implementing this kind of markup. So when it comes to “markup for reviews,” unless the page itself is primarily a review of something, you’ll usually want to implement Review markup as a property of the primary Type for the page.


In addition to this generally applicable markup, there are certain Schema.org Types which are particularly helpful for specific kinds of businesses:

  • E-commerce
    • including online course providers
  • Recipes Sites
  • Publishers
  • Events/Ticketing Sites
    • including educational institutions which offer courses
  • Local Businesses
  • Specific Industries (small business and larger organizations)
  • Creative Producers

Schema.org for e-commerce

If you have an e-commerce site, you’ll want to check out:

  • Product: this allows you to display product information, such as price, in the search result. You can use this markup on an individual product page, or an aggregator page which shows information about different sellers offering an individual product.
  • Offer: this can be combined with Schema.org/Product to show a special offer on your product (and encourage higher CTRs).
  • Review: if your site has product reviews, you can aggregate the star ratings for each individual product and display it in the SERP for that product page, using Schema.org/aggregateRating.

Things to watch out for…

  • Product markup is designed for individual products, not lists of products. If you have a category page and want to mark it up, you’ll need to mark up each individual product on the page with its own data.
  • Review markup is designed for reviews of specific items, goods, services, and organizations. You can mark up your site with reviews of your business, but you should do this on the homepage as part of your organization markup.
  • If you are marking up reviews, they must be generated by your site, rather than via a third-party source.
  • Course markup should not be used for how-to content, or for general lectures which do not include a curriculum, specific outcomes, or a set student list.

Schema.org for recipes sites

For sites that publish a lot of recipe content, Recipe markup is a fantastic way to add additional context to your recipe pages and get a lot of visual impact in the SERPs.

Things to watch out for…

If you’re implementing Recipe Rich Cards, you’ll want to be aware of some extra guidelines:

Schema.org for publishers

If you have an publisher site, you’ll want to check out the following:

  • Article and its subtypes,
    • NewsArticle: this indicates that the content is a news article
    • BlogPosting: similar to Article and NewsArticle, but specifies that the content is a blog post
  • Fact Check: If your site reviews or discusses “claims made by others,” as Google diplomatically puts it, you can add a “fact check” to your snippet using the Schema.org/ClaimReview.

Image source

  • CriticReview: if your site offers critic-written reviews of local businesses (such as a restaurant critic’s review), books, and /or movies, you can mark these up with Schema.org/CriticReview.
    • Note that this is a feature being tested, and is a knowledge box feature rather than a rich snippet enhancement of your own search result.

Image source

Things to watch out for…

Schema.org for events/ticketing sites

If your business hosts or lists events, and/or sells tickets, you can use:

  • Events: you can mark up your events pages with Schema.org/Event and get your event details listed in the SERP, both in a regular search result and as instant answers at the top of the SERP:

  • Courses: If your event is a course (i.e., instructor-led with a student roster), you can also use Schema.org/Course markup.

Things to watch out for…

  • Don’t use Events markup to mark up time-bound non-events like travel packages or business hours.
  • As with products and recipes, don’t mark up multiple events listed on a page with a single usage of Event markup.
    • For a single event running over several days, you should mark this up as an individual event and make sure you indicate start and end dates;
    • For an event series, with multiple connected events running over time, mark up each individual event separately.
  • Course markup should not be used for how-to content, or for general events/lectures which do not include a curriculum, specific outcomes, and an enrolled student list.

Schema.org for job sites

If your site offers job listings, you can use Schema.org/JobPosting markup to appear in Google’s new Jobs listing feature:

Note that this is a Google aggregator feature, rather than a rich snippet enhancement of your own result (like Google Flights).

Things to watch out for…

  • Mark up each job post individually, and do not mark up a jobs listings page.
  • Include your job posts in your sitemap, and update your sitemap at least once daily.
  • You can include Review markup if you have review data about the employer advertising the job.

Schema.org for local businesses

If you have a local business or a store with a brick-and-mortar location (or locations), you can use structured data markup on your homepage and contact page to help flag your location for Maps data as well as note your “local” status:

  • LocalBusiness: this allows you to specify things like your opening hours and payment accepted
  • PostalAddress: this is a good supplement to getting all those NAP citations consistent
  • OrderAction and ReservationAction: if users can place orders or book reservations on your website, you may want to add action markup as well.

You should also get set up with GoogleMyBusiness.

☆ Additional resources for local business markup

Here’s an article from Whitespark specifically about using Schema.org markup and JSON-LD for local businesses, and another from Phil Rozek about choosing the right Schema.org Type. For further advice on local optimization, check out the local SEO learning center and this recent post about common pitfalls.

Schema.org for specific industries

There are certain industries and/or types of organization which get specific Schema.org types, because they have a very individual set of data that they need to specify. You can implement these Types on the homepage of your website, along with your Brand Information.

These include LocalBusiness Types:

And a few larger organizations, such as:

Things to watch out for…

  • When you’re adding markup that describes your business as a whole, it might seem like you should add that markup to every page on the site. However, best practice is to add this markup only to the homepage.

Schema.org for creative producers

If you create a product or type of content which could be considered a “creative work” (e.g. content produced for reading, viewing, listening, or other consumption), you can use CreativeWork markup.

More specific types within CreativeWork include:

Schema.org new features (limited availability)

Google is always developing new SERP features to test, and you can participate in the testing for some of these. For some, the feature is an addition to an existing Type; for others, it is only being offered as part of a limited test group. At the time of this writing, these are some of the new features being tested:

Structured data beyond SEO

As mentioned in Part 1 of this guide, structured data can be useful for other marketing channels as well, including:

For more detail on this, see the section in Part 1 titled: “Common Uses for Structured Data.”

How to generate and test your structured data implementation

Once you’ve decided which Schema.org Types are relevant to you, you’ll want to add the markup to your site. If you need help generating the code, you may find Google’s Data Highlighter tool useful. You can also try this tool from Joe Hall. Note that these tools are limited to a handful of Schema.org Types.

After you generate the markup, you’ll want to test it at two stages of the implementation using the Structured Data Testing Tool from Google — first, before you add it to the site, and then again once it’s live. In that pre-implementation test, you’ll be able to see any errors or issues with the code and correct before adding it to the site. Afterwards, you’ll want to test again to make sure that nothing went wrong in the implementation.

In addition to the Google tools listed above, you should also test your implementation with Bing’s Markup Validator tool and (if applicable) the Yandex structured data validator tool. Bing’s tool can only be used with a URL, but Yandex’s tool will validate a URL or a code snippet, like Google’s SDT tool.

You can also check out Aaron Bradley’s roundup of Structured Data Markup Visualization, Validation, and Testing Tools for more options.

Once you have live structured data on your site, you’ll also want to regularly check the Structured Data Report in Google Search Console, to ensure that your implementation is still working correctly.

Common mistakes in Schema.org structured data implementation

When implementing Schema.org on your site, there are a few things you’ll want to be extra careful about. Marking up content with irrelevant or incorrect Schema.org Types looks spammy, and can result in a “spammy structured markup” penalty from Google. Here are a few of the most common mistakes people make with their Schema.org markup implementation:

Mishandling multiple entities

Marking up categories or lists of items (Products, Recipes, etc) or anything that isn’t a specific item with markup for a single entity

  • Recipe and Product markup are designed for individual recipes and products, not for listings pages with multiple recipes or products on a single page. If you have multiple entities on a single page, mark up each item individually with the relevant markup.

Misapplying Recipes markup

Using Recipe markup for something that isn’t food

  • Recipe markup should only be used for content about preparing food. Other types of content, such as “diy skin treatment” or “date night ideas,” are not valid names for a dish.

Misapplying Reviews and Ratings markup

Using Review markup to display “name” content which is not a reviewer’s name or aggregate rating

  • If your markup includes a single review, the reviewer’s name must be an actual organization or person. Other types of content, like “50% off ingredients,” are considered invalid data to include in the “name” property.

Adding your overall business rating with aggregateRating markup across all pages on your site

  • If your business has reviews with an aggregateRating score, this can be included in the “review” property on your Organization or LocalBusiness.

Using overall service score as a product review score

  • The “review” property in Schema.org/Product is only for reviews of that specific product. Don’t combine all product or business ratings and include those in this property.

Marking up third-party reviews of local businesses with Schema.org markup

  • You should not use structured data markup on reviews which are generated via third-party sites. While these reviews are fine to have on your site, they should not be used for generating rich snippets. The only UGC review content you should mark up is reviews which are displayed on your website, and generated there by your users.

General errors

Using organization markup on multiple pages/pages other than the homepage

  • It might seem counter-intuitive, but organization and LocalBusiness markup should only be used on the pages which are actually about your business (e.g. homepage, about page, and/or contact page).

Improper nesting

  • This is why it’s important to validate your code before implementing. Especially if you’re using Microdata tags, you need to make sure that the nesting of attributes and tags is done correctly.

So there you have it — a beginner’s guide to understanding and implementing structured data for SEO! There’s so much to learn around this topic that a single article or guide can’t cover everything, but if you’ve made it to the end of this series you should have a pretty good understanding of how structured data can help you with SEO and other marketing efforts. Happy implementing!

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The Beginner’s Guide to Structured Data for SEO: A Two-Part Series

Posted by bridget.randolph

Part 1: An overview of structured data for SEO

SEOs have been talking about structured data for a few years now — ever since Google, Bing, Yahoo! and Yandex got together in 2011 to create a standardized list of attributes and entities which they all agreed to support, and which became known as Schema.org. However, there’s still a lot of confusion around what structured data is, what it’s for, and how and when to implement structured data for SEO purposes. In fact, a survey carried out last year by Bing found that only 17% of marketers are using (or were planning to use) Schema.org structured data markup.

In this two-part series, you’ll learn the basics of structured data: first we’ll talk about what it is, and how it relates to SEO (Part 1), and then I’ll take you through a simple process for identifying structured data opportunities and implementing structured data on your own site (Part 2).

What is “structured data”?

“Structured data” as a general term simply refers to any data which is organized (i.e., given “structure”). For example, if you have a bunch of scattered Post-It notes with phone messages about meetings, dates, times, people, etc, and you organize these into a table with labeled rows and columns for each type of information, you’re structuring the data.

Example of unstructured data

Post-It 1: “John called, confirming 3pm on Wed at Coffee Shop”

Post-It 2: “Don’t forget your 10am meeting at Mary’s Office this Friday”

Example of structured data

Meeting With

Date

Time

Location

John

Wednesday

3pm

Coffee Shop

Mary

Friday

10am

Office


Structured data can be used in many different ways, such as using Open Graph markup to specify a Facebook title and description, or using SQL to query a relational database. In an SEO context, “structured data” usually refers to implementing some type of markup on a webpage, in order to provide additional detail around the page’s content. This markup improves the search engines’ understanding of that content, which can help with relevancy signals and also enables a site to benefit from enhanced results in SERPs (rich snippets, rich cards, carousels, knowledge boxes, etc). Because this type of markup needs to be parsed and understood consistently by search engines as well as by people, there are standardized implementations (known as formats and/or syntaxes) and classifications of concepts, relationships, and terms (known as vocabularies) which should be used.

There are three syntaxes which search engines will typically support (Microdata, JSON-LD, and microformats) and two common vocabularies which can be used with these syntaxes: Schema.org and Microformats.org. If you’re reading up on this topic, you may also see references to RDFa, which is another syntax.

*This all gets pretty confusing, so if you’re feeling less-than-crystal-clear right now, you might want to check out this great glossary cheat sheet from Aaron Bradley.


When we talk about structured data for SEO, we’re usually talking about the particular vocabulary known as “Schema.org.” Schema.org is the most commonly used approach to structured data markup for SEO purposes. It isn’t the only one, though. Some websites use the Microformats.org vocabulary, most often for marking up product reviews (h-review markup) or defining a physical location (h-card markup).

In addition to being able to use different vocabularies to mark up your site, you can also implement this markup in different ways using syntaxes. For Schema.org vocabulary, the best ways to add markup to your site are either through using the Microdata format, or JSON-LD. With Microdata markup, your structured data is integrated within the main HTML of the page, whereas JSON-LD uses a Javascript object to insert all of your markup into the head of the page, which is often a cleaner, simpler implementation from a development perspective.

The Microdata approach was originally the recommended one for SEO purposes, but Google’s JSON-LD support has improved in the past few years and now it is their recommended approach when possible. Note, however, that Bing does not currently support JSON-LD (although hopefully this may be changing soon).

How does structured data support SEO?

Google, Bing, and other search engines encourage webmasters to use structured data, and incentivize that usage by providing benefits to websites with structured data correctly implemented.

Some of these benefits include search result enhancements and content-specific features, such as:

  • Rich search results: Includes styling, images, and other visual enhancements
  • Rich cards: A variation on rich search results, similar to rich snippets and designed for mobile users
  • Enriched search results: Includes interactive or immersive features
  • Knowledge Graph: Information about an entity such as a brand
  • Breadcrumbs: Breadcrumbs in your search result
  • Carousels: A collection of multiple rich results in a carousel style
  • Rich results for AMP: To have your AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) appear in carousels and with rich results, you’ll need to include structured data

These enhanced search results can also improve your click-through rate (CTR) and drive additional traffic, because they are more visually appealing and provide additional information to searchers. And improved CTR can also indirectly improve your rankings, as a user behavior signal.

Implementing structured data on your site is also a way to prepare for the future of search, as Google in particular continues to move in the direction of hyper-personalization and solving problems and answering questions directly. Tom Anthony gave a presentation about this topic not too long ago, titled Five Emerging Trends in Search.

Common uses for structured data

Part 2 of this series will go into more detail around specific structured data opportunities and how to implement them. However, there are certain common uses for structured data which almost any website or brand can benefit from:

Knowledge Graph

If you have a personal or business brand, you can edit the information which appears on the right-hand side of the SERP for branded searches. Google uses structured data to populate the Knowledge Graph box.

Rich snippets and rich cards

The most commonly used markup allows you to provide additional context for:

  • Articles
  • Recipes
  • Products
  • Star Ratings and Product Reviews
  • Videos

Using this markup allows your site to show up in the SERPs as a rich snippet or rich card:

Google’s rich cards examples for “Recipe”

If your site has several items that would fit the query, you can also get a “host carousel” result like this one for “chicken recipes”:

Image source

In addition to these types of content markup, Google is currently experimenting with “action markup,” which enables users to take an action directly from the SERP, such as booking an appointment or watching a movie. If this is relevant to your business, you may want to express interest in participating.

AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages)

If your site uses AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages), you’ll want to make sure you include structured data markup on both the regular and AMP pages. This will allow your AMP pages to appear in rich results, including the Top Stories carousel and host carousels.

Social cards

Although Open Graph, Twitter cards, and other social-specific markup may not have a big impact from a purely SEO perspective, this markup is visible to search engines and Bing specifically notes that their search engine can understand Open Graph page-level annotations (although at the moment they only use this data to provide visual enhancements for a specific handful of publishers).

If you use any social networks for marketing, or simply want your content to look good when it’s shared on social media, make sure you correctly implement social markup and validate using the various platforms’ respective testing tools:

AdWords

You can include structured data in your AdWords ads, using structured snippet extensions. These allow you to add additional information within your ad copy to help people understand more about your products or services and can also improve click-through rate (CTR) on your ads.

Email marketing

If you have Gmail, you may have gotten a confirmation email for a flight and seen the information box at the top showing your flight details, or seen a similar information box for your last Amazon order. This is possible due to structured data markup for emails. Google Inbox and Gmail support both JSON-LD and Microdata markup for emails about various types of orders, invoices and reservations.

3 common myths about structured data & SEO

Myth #1: Implementing structured data means I will definitely get rich snippets.

Although using structured data markup is necessary to be eligible for rich snippets and rich cards, there is no guarantee that simply adding structured data markup to your site will immediately result in rich snippets or cards. Sometimes it may not show up at all, or may appear inconsistently. This doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve done anything wrong.

Myth #2: Structured data is a ranking signal.

Using structured data correctly can help search engines to better understand what your content is about and may therefore contribute to a stronger relevancy signal. In addition, studies have shown that rich snippets can improve click-through rate (CTR), which can lead to better rankings indirectly. However, the use of structured data markup on its own is not a direct ranking signal.

Myth #3: Google can figure it out without the extra work.

Sometimes it’s tempting to skip extra steps, like implementing structured data, since we know that Google is getting smarter at figuring things out and understanding content without much help. But this is a short-sighted view. Yes, Google and other search engines can understand and figure out some of this stuff on their own, but if you want them to be able to understand a specific thing about your content, you should use the correct markup. Not only will it help in the short term with the things the algorithms aren’t so good at understanding, it also ensures that your site itself is well structured and that your content serves a clear purpose. Also, Google won’t give you certain features without correct implementation, which could be costing you on a large scale over time, especially if you’re in a competitive niche. Apart from anything else, studies have shown that rich snippets can improve CTR by anywhere from 5%–30%.

Additional resources

In Part 2 of this two-part series, we’ll be looking at the practical side of structured data implementation: how to actually identify structured data opportunities for your site, and how to implement and test the markup correctly.

But for now, here are some resources to help you get started:

In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you: Have you implemented structured data markup on your site? Share your results in the comments!

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The Non-Perfectionist’s Guide to Noteworthy Blogging for Your Business

"You can care about quality and produce meaningful work without driving yourself crazy." – Stefanie Flaxman

The fear of criticism …

It can certainly discourage you from writing in the first place, and it also can disguise itself as perfectionism when you do attempt to create content for your business.

If you delay publishing your writing — while you try to improve your content before anyone else reads it — you are likely trying to avoid criticism.

The false belief associated with perfectionism is that if everything is “just right,” you’ll protect yourself from someone pointing out something you did wrong or something they don’t like (which is impossible to control).

The pivotal word in the sentence above is “false.” In the pursuit of perfection, you both perpetuate a false belief and prevent yourself from being as prolific of a writer as you could be.

So, how do noteworthy business blogs gain recognition for their remarkable writing without the perils of perfectionism?

Face your true challenge (it’s not criticism)

Let’s imagine a scenario where no one criticizes your writing.

It’s not that far-fetched of a concept because it happens on many blogs every single day … blogs no one reads.

"Please, please, please stop doing this." – Sonia Simone

The downside of a lack of criticism is that your blog probably doesn’t have a substantial number of readers yet or your content doesn’t meaningfully impact the people it does reach.

Criticism can be unpleasant, but it’s not the most harmful thing for your blog. Obscurity is.

The non-perfectionist knows …

When you create content that isn’t boring and forgettable, there will always be someone who doesn’t like what you do.

Keep creating anyway.

Embrace “good enough”

A lot of people say “there’s no such thing as ‘perfect.’”

Here’s how I like to elaborate on that idea:

When you’re passionate about your work, aiming for “perfect” may be necessary. But what you end up with is even better than “perfect” … because it’s a creation you’ve made that no one can take away from you.

You can care about quality and produce meaningful work without driving yourself crazy.

Explore the Content Editor Cosmos to Produce Out-of-This-World Writing

If you never publish anything because you’re worried about making it perfect, you never get to experience the benefits of having your writing available for others to read.

“Good enough” is not an excuse to publish sloppy or uninspired work, though.

It’s simply a marker that helps you assess when your content is ready to be published. With each new piece of content you create, you’ll have a chance to improve and fine-tune your style.

The non-perfectionist knows …

Prolific writers learn how to gauge when their final draft is “good enough.” Missteps or mistakes still might happen, despite your best efforts.

Keep creating anyway.

Build confidence

By now, we’re starting to get comfortable with inevitable things that will happen when you publish your writing:

  • People will disagree with you.
  • A typo will occasionally appear in your final draft, even though you proofread carefully.
  • You’ll change your mind and cringe at something you wrote a year ago.

And as you continue to get comfortable with the uncomfortable aspects of publishing, you strengthen your resilience and build your confidence.

Confidence is vital for content marketers. It’s what enables you to stand for something that matters and attract prospects who identify with your brand.

"True influence isn’t something you borrow. It’s what you embody." – Brian Clark

The more you produce, the less afraid you are of mistakes. Your confidence takes their power away.

The non-perfectionist knows …

Each published piece of content might not be a masterpiece.

Keep creating anyway.

Befriend your blog

Professional business blogs set and meet publishing deadlines.

That’s a lot easier when you like the topics you write about and approach your blog as an outlet to help your community.

If you don’t have readers yet, help the people you want to help even if they don’t know who you are. That’s the only way they’ll eventually discover you.

You have to start even if you don’t feel ready and before anyone is paying attention to you.

Working on one idea always leads to additional ideas for future pieces of content — and new ways to solve problems.

The practice makes you a stronger writer and a better resource for the prospects you want to attract. There’s no substitute for consistent writing practice.

practical tips for practicing your writing

As a former perfectionist who wanted to avoid criticism, it took me a long time to learn that. I actually wrote my first ebook to avoid creating a blog on my business website.

I felt comfortable putting all my perfectionist energy into writing an ebook, because once it was finished, it was finished. A blog was open-ended, and I’d have to constantly put my perfectionist energy into it. It seemed nerve-racking and overwhelming.

But when I eventually made a commitment to my blog, it was a huge step in the right direction for my business. Blog posts resonated with my ideal clients — who previously had trouble telling me apart from other service providers.

Before my business website had a blog, it’s like I was hiding. My blog not only made me visible, it made me the only reasonable choice for many prospects.

The non-perfectionist knows …

Your best writing that connects with the right prospects emerges when you’re actually doing the work. Since you start to reveal more about your point of view, will the wrong people also decide that you’re not for them? Sure.

Keep creating anyway.

Don’t save your (best) ideas

If a good idea fits into a blogger’s strategy, why would they wait to publish a post about it?

It’s typically a desire to wait until they have a bigger audience. Avoid that attitude and remember that everyone starts by serving the audience they currently have (or, when you don’t have any readers yet, the audience you aim to attract to your business).

"You don't have to just wait for your audience to stumble across you." – Sonia Simone

Follow through with your idea, rather than hold off until a seemingly more ideal time.

You’ll always have a chance to write about the topic again in the future — and with new insights.

Is your blog or a different website the best fit for your idea?

As you become your own content editor, you develop skills that help determine the best place for a piece of content. And if you have an opportunity to write a guest post for a site that has a larger audience than yours, you always want to submit your best work.

The non-perfectionist knows …

It’s smart to use ideas that fit into your content marketing strategy right away, even if you wish you were already a bigger influencer.

Keep creating anyway.

Spread your most outstanding work

When you use one of your best ideas and recognize the content is special, repurpose it in different formats to reach more people.

"This is how you increase the likelihood of reaching new audience members with your best work." – Jerod Morris

A blog post will attract readers, but your target audience might also search for videos on YouTube. A version of that blog post that leads viewers back to your website can be put on YouTube so more people can discover and connect with your story.

If you have an outstanding product or service, you should be proud of the content you create to market it.

The non-perfectionist knows …

Even though it may be your goal to build your audience, it can be scary to expose your work to more people.

Keep creating anyway.

Noteworthy bloggers overcome perfectionism

Information is … information.

Content is your chance to creatively position information in a new way — a way that your prospects want to hear it.

Aren’t you more interested in finding the information you need from people you know, like, and trust? Those noteworthy bloggers write despite their perfectionist tendencies or fears of criticism.

So, keep creating the work that gets people to know, like, and trust you.

And publish it regularly on your website.

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A Beginner’s Guide to Marketing Automation

Posted by Angela_Petteys

To say marketing automation is a complex subject is putting it mildly. On the surface it seems simple enough, but once you get just a little bit deeper into it, it’s overwhelming. Even if you work with marketing automation on a daily basis, it can be hard to describe.

When used correctly, marketing automation can be useful in helping sales and marketing teams do their jobs more effectively so they can reach their goals. But there are also a lot of misunderstandings about what marketing automation is and isn’t. Let’s try to get a better understanding of what marketing automation is and how it can potentially help a business.

What is marketing automation?

Marketing automation is the use of software to deliver personalized messages to customers and leads. The software allows you to create a dynamic series of messages to send to your contacts. The message a person receives is decided by factors you specify, like what their spending habits are, where they are in the buying process, and past interactions they’ve had with your site.

Delivering content that’s tailored to a person’s needs and interests helps build stronger relationships which, in turn, can help increase conversions and revenue. Marketing automation can help you accomplish all these things while streamlining your operations at the same time.

In the broad scope of things, marketing automation incorporates several different aspects of marketing and business development, including email marketing, content development, conversion rate optimization, and lead generation.

The benefits of using marketing automation

By far, one of the biggest benefits of marketing automation is that it helps sales and marketing teams work more efficiently. People love personalized content; sending out personalized emails generates six times more revenue than sending non-personalized emails. But manually sending out customized messages to contacts simply isn’t practical. Marketing automation platforms handle the mundane and repetitive work that goes into delivering personalized content, giving sales and marketing professionals more time to focus on things that are more interesting and challenging.

Not only does marketing automation make it easier to deliver messages, it makes it easier to figure out where people are in the conversion process. Marketing automation programs typically have a lead scoring feature which helps users quickly identify which leads are the most sales-ready.

One of the most common reasons why businesses consider using marketing automation in the first place is because they want to improve their conversion rates and revenues. Marketing automation is a way to encourage customers to stay engaged longer, making it more likely they’ll stick around long enough to convert. On average, companies that use marketing automation have 53% higher conversion rates and an annual revenue growth rate 3.1% higher compared to companies that don’t.

For products and services with longer conversion cycles, marketing automation can also help speed up the process. In one example cited by VentureHarbour, Thomson Reuters was able to reduce their conversion time by 72% by using marketing automation software.

What applications are there for marketing automation?

While marketing automation has several different applications, email messaging and lead generation/nurturing are among the most common.

Yes, email is still relevant as a marketing tool. While it’s easy to say things like “Everybody’s on Facebook/Twitter/Instagram,” it’s simply not true. However, most Internet users do have at least one email address. Email inboxes also tend to move at a slower pace than social media feeds, giving you the best chance at making a direct connection with your contacts. There’s a multitude of ways marketing automation can be used with email:

  • Welcome messages
  • Product retargeting
  • Abandoned cart reminders
  • Personalized product recommendations

And that’s just to name a few.

Many companies use marketing automation to solicit feedback from their contacts, regardless if they’ve converted or not. Whether it’s by sending out surveys or asking people to send comments directly to them, the information they garner can be extremely valuable in guiding changes that will help improve their revenues in the long run.

Given that personalized emails generate so much more revenue than non-personalized emails, marketing automation can be an effective way to nurture your leads. According to Marketo, about 50% of leads in any system are not ready to buy and nearly 80% of all new leads will never become sales. With marketing automation, the goal is to give people something of value when they need it most so that they’re more likely to convert. Effective lead nurturing generates 50% more sales-ready leads at a 33% lower cost. Nurtured leads also tend to make larger purchases than non-nurtured leads.

Marketing automation platforms are also often commonly used to manage social media campaigns, create landing pages, and conduct ongoing A/B testing.

B2B vs. B2C marketing automation

Businesses of all sizes can potentially benefit from marketing automation, but whether a business has a B2B or B2C model is going to have an impact on the type of messaging used in their campaigns. While both types of businesses would have the main goals of improving conversions and revenue, there are differences in how they’ll reach that goal.

B2B sales

B2B sales tend to have longer conversion cycles than B2C sales and often involve products or services that require a more long-term commitment. (Of course, there are some exceptions.) Because of this, B2B messaging has a greater emphasis on long-form content like whitepapers, case studies, and e-books. When major purchases are being considered for a business, multiple people are often involved in the decision-making process, so it’s not always a matter of winning over one person like it is with B2C sales. It’s important for the business with something to sell to establish themselves as an authority in their industry — offering in-depth informational content is a great way to do that.

B2C sales

Since B2C sales move at a faster pace, the content used in their messaging is typically much simpler. For example, Sephora customers aren’t going to be interested in long case studies about a product, but they might appreciate a 30-second video demonstrating how to use a product instead. For B2C companies, the focus tends to be more on brand building and giving customers reasons to come back, so their messaging typically includes things like abandoned shopping cart reminders, personalized product recommendations, and offers tailored to specific types of customers.

Key concepts

Although many different aspects of marketing and business development come together in marketing automation, the whole process is ultimately driven by a few core concepts.

Conversion funnels

A conversion funnel is the process a person takes toward becoming a customer. Now that it’s so easy to find product reviews and shop around, a lot of people don’t just buy things from the first place they see it for sale. Marketing automation is a way to keep people engaged so they’re more likely to convert.

The conversion funnel can be broken down into a few basic stages:

  • Awareness: The customer initially becomes aware of a company, product, or service. It’s too soon for a person to want to make any decisions, but a business has made its way onto their radar.
  • Interest: Not everyone who is aware of a business/product/service is going to have a need for it. At this point, those who are interested will start becoming more engaged by doing things like requesting a quote, signing up for a free trial, following a business on social media, looking for reviews, or reading blog posts and other content on a company’s site.
  • Consideration: By now, a person is familiar enough with a business to know they like what’s being offered. They’re not quite ready to make a decision, but a business is in the running.
  • Action: This is the point where a person decides to convert. You’ve won them over and they’re ready to do business with you.

Ideally, after a person converts once, they’ll be so happy with their decision that they become a repeat customer. But as people move through the conversion funnel, whether they do it once or several times, some of them will always drop out at each level. On average, only 1–5 % of people who enter a conversion funnel actually convert. When people drop out, it’s known as churn, and while some churn is inevitable, marketing automation can help reduce it. By understanding the needs and interests of people at each stage of the conversion funnel, you’re better able to keep them engaged by providing them with the type of content they’re most interested in.

For example, let’s say a company installs vinyl windows and they advertise heavily in the local media. At any given time, a large percentage of the thousands of people who see their ads won’t take any action after seeing one because they either don’t need new windows or because they live in a rental property. No amount of additional messaging will win those people over. But since replacing windows can be very expensive, the people who actually do need them typically spend time doing research to make sure they choose the right type of window and get the best price. If this company were to send additional information about vinyl windows to the people who contact them to get an estimate, they may be able to convince more people to convert.

Feedback loops and metrics

One of the basic laws of physics is that for every action, there’s an equal and opposite reaction. A very similar concept also applies in the world of marketing automation, and it’s known as a feedback loop. When you send a message to a person, the recipient will have some kind of reaction to it, even if that reaction is to do nothing at all. That reaction is part of your feedback loop and you’ll need to pay attention to your metrics to get an idea of what those reactions are.

Feedback loops and metrics are a reflection of how effective your marketing automation strategy is. Whether a person converts, clicks through to your site, ignores the message, flags it as spam, or unsubscribes from your list, that tells you something about how the recipient felt about your message.

When you look at your metrics, you’ll ideally want to see high open rates, clickthrough rates, and maybe even some forwards, since those are signs your content is engaging, valuable, and not annoying to your contacts. Some unsubscribes and abuse reports are inevitable, especially since a lot of people get confused about the difference between the two. But don’t ignore those metrics just because they’re not what you want to see. An increasing number of either could be a sign your strategy is too aggressive and needs to be reworked.

User flow

While conversion funnels refer to the process taken toward converting, user flow refers to the series of pages a person visits before taking an action.

When you have traffic coming to your site from different sources like PPC ads, social media, and email messages, you want to direct users to pages that will make it easy for them to take the action you want them to take, whether it’s buying something, signing up for a free trial, or joining an email list.

You also have to keep in mind that people often have different needs depending on how they arrive at a page, so you’ll want to do your best to make sure people are being taken to a page that would appeal to them. For example, if a person is directly taken to a product page after doing a search for a long-tail keyword, that’s fine since they’re clearly looking for something specific and are more likely to be ready to convert. But someone who clicks on a PPC ad and fills out a form on a landing page is probably going to want more information before they make any decisions, so it’s not time to give them a hard sell.

Workflows

Workflows are where the automation part of marketing automation comes into play. Your workflow is the series of triggers you create to deliver messages. Creating a workflow involves taking yourself through the entire process and asking yourself, “If this happens, what should happen next?”

Workflows can consist of many different triggers, such as how long it’s been since a person has taken an action, interactions you’ve had with a person, or actions they’ve previously taken on your site. Some types of workflows commonly used by retailers include sending discount codes to customers who haven’t made any purchases in a while, reminding people to review products after they’ve had some time to enjoy their purchase, and sending reminders to people who have recently added items to their cart without actually making a purchase.

Important steps in creating a marketing automation strategy

1. Define your goals

This might seem like an obvious point to make, but before you do anything else, you need to decide exactly what you want marketing automation to help you achieve so you can plan your strategy accordingly. Are you trying to generate more leads? Working to build up business from return customers? Trying to boost sales during an off season? Each of those goals is going to require a different strategy, so it’s important to understand exactly what your main objectives are.

2. Identify who to target

Of course it’s important to understand the needs of your customers at all points of the conversion process. But depending on what your main goals are, your time and energy may be best spent focusing on people who are at a specific point of the process. For instance, if you’re not really having a problem with lead generation but you want more people to convert, your time and energy would be better spent focusing on the middle and lower parts of the conversion funnel.

3. Map user flows

By using marketing automation, you’re trying to get people to take some kind of action. Mapping user flow is a way to visualize the steps people need to go through to be able to take that action.

Depending on the way a person arrives at your site, some people might need more information than others before they’re willing to take that action. You don’t want to make people go through more steps than are necessary to do something, but you don’t want to hit people with a hard sell too soon, either. By using state diagrams to map user flows, as recommended by Peep Laja of ConversionXL, you’ll see exactly how people are arriving at a page and how many steps it takes for them to take the desired action.

4. Segment and rate your leads

It’s important to remember that not all leads are necessarily equal in terms of quality. Your database of contacts is inevitably going to be a mix of people who are on the verge of buying, people who are still researching their options, and people who probably won’t convert, so it’s not possible to create broad messages that will somehow appeal to all of those types of people. Rating your leads helps you figure out exactly who needs further nurturing and who is ready to be handed over to a sales team.

The interactions a person has had with your content and the actions they’ve taken on your site can be a reflection of how ready they are to convert. A person who has viewed a pricing page is most likely going to be closer to buying than someone who has simply read a blog post on a site. A person who has visited a site multiple times over the course of a few weeks is clearly more interested than someone who has only visited once or twice in the past year. Marketing automation software lets you assign values to certain actions and interactions so that it can calculate a score for that lead.

Marketing automation also lets you segment your database of contacts to a very high degree so you can deliver messages to very specific types of people. For example, when working with a B2B business, a marketer might want to target messages to people with certain job titles who work at businesses of a certain size. With B2C sales, a retailer might want to segment their lists to give special offers to people who have spent a certain amount of money with the company or send product recommendations to people who live in certain locations.

Building and maintaining a contact database

There’s no easy way around it: Building a high-quality database of contacts takes time. Marketing automation should come into play once you already have a fairly sizeable database of contacts to work with, but you will need to keep adding new names to that database on a regular basis.

One of the most effective ways to build a database of highly qualified contacts is by creating informative content. Blog content is great for providing high-level information, and it helps businesses build trust and establish themselves as an authority in their field. On the other hand, things like whitepapers and e-books are best for attracting people who want more in-depth information on a subject and are more inclined to be interested in what a business is offering, which is why those types of content are usually gated. With gated content, a person’s contact information is essentially the price of accessing the content.

For businesses that offer a service, free trials are an excellent way to get contact information since the people who sign up for them are obviously interested in what’s being offered.

Just say “no” to purchased lists

Whatever you do, don’t be tempted to buy a list of contacts. Purchased lists may give you a quick boost up front, but they’ll work against you in the long run.

First of all, high-quality lists of contacts aren’t for sale. The kinds of lists you can buy or rent are typically full of invalid and abandoned email addresses. Even if a person actually does see your message, they likely either won’t be interested or will be skeptical about doing business with a company they’re not familiar with.

If you were to start sending messages to a list full of contacts of questionable quality, you’ll most likely end up with high bounce rates, lots of unsubscriptions, low open rates, and a whole lot of abuse reports. Email service providers pay attention to those sorts of metrics and if they start seeing them on a regular basis, they’ll view you as a spammer, which will only make it harder for you to get your message to more qualified leads once you have them.

Best practices for marketing automation messaging

Get to the point

Make your point quickly and make it clear. We all have a limited amount of time each day and one thing people have little patience for is long messages. People just want to know what’s in it for them. How would your product or service solve their problem? What’s unique about what you’re offering?

Keep it active

By implementing marketing automation strategies, you’re trying to keep people engaged. Therefore, your messages should be written in an active tone and encourage recipients to take some kind of action, whether it’s downloading a whitepaper, reading a blog post, watching a video, or making a purchase.

Remember where people are in the process

Don’t forget that some types of content will be more appealing than others depending on where a person is in the conversion funnel. People who are just starting to learn more about a company or product are not going to be happy if they get hit with a hard sell, but highly promotional content could potentially be effective on someone further down in the conversion funnel.

Avoid looking spammy

When used correctly, marketing automation is not spam — we’ll talk more about why that is in just a little bit. But don’t give your contacts the wrong impression. Certain things will always look spammy, such as typing in all capital letters, overusing the color red, and using too many links in the body of the message. If you’re going to use symbols in your subject lines or messages, don’t use too many of them. Avoid using words known to trigger spam filters.

If you’re unfamiliar with the CAN-SPAM Act, take some time to learn about what it means for your campaign. Subject lines need to be accurate and not misleading. Companies that send marketing messages through email need to provide a physical mailing address. (PO box addresses are allowed.) You also need to provide an unsubscribe option in all messages and make sure all opt-out requests are honored as soon as possible.

Hone your list

Bigger isn’t always better when it comes to contact lists. One of the key goals for marketing automation is to get your message to precisely the right people. Pay close attention to your metrics so you know who your most qualified leads are and get rid of the ones who aren’t responding anymore. You’re better off with a smaller list of highly qualified leads than with a large list of contacts who don’t care. If it’s been months since a person last opened a message from you, just remove them from your list and focus more on the leads who are more interested.

Misconceptions about marketing automation

It’s impersonal

When done correctly, marketing automation can and should feel personal. In all fairness, it’s easy to understand how people get the wrong impression here — after all, the word “automation” is usually associated with things like computerization and robots. But for a marketing automation strategy to be successful, there needs to be a human touch behind it. Marketing automation simply makes it easier for you to get your message out there. It’s up to you to come up with content that will appeal to people and to create the strategy for getting it out there.

It’s spam

We all know how obnoxious spam is — marketers included. Marketers also understand how ineffective it is. While spam is an unsolicited message promoting something irrelevant to the vast majority of its recipients, the goal of marketing automation is to deliver highly relevant messages to users who clearly express an interest in it.

Unlike spam, marketing automation also frequently involves non-promotional content. Marketing automation messages absolutely can be promotional in nature, but ultimately, the goal is to foster positive relationships by offering something of value — and that doesn’t always involve a hard sell.

You can set it and forget it

This is another case where the word “automation” can give the wrong impression. When you think of something being automated, it’s easy to think you can just set it up, sit back, and let it run on its own. In reality, marketing automation is anything but a hands-off process. Marketing automation needs constant attention and refinement to make sure it’s as successful as possible. Many people use the A/B testing functionality of marketing automation software to run ongoing tests to see which sorts of content, subject lines, design variations, and CTAs people best respond to.

It’s just email marketing

Email is a significant part of marketing automation, but marketing automation isn’t just a new name for email marketing.

First of all, the types of messages involved in basic email marketing and marketing automation are distinctly different. When most people think of email marketing, they’re thinking of broad email blasts that go out to an entire list of contacts, but that’s just what you’re trying to avoid doing with marketing automation. Marketing automation messages are much more fine-tuned to a user’s interests and needs. Although basic email marketing programs do allow for some list segmentation, marketing automation programs allow you to get much more hyper-segmented.

Basic email marketing and marketing automation programs also offer different functionality and insights. While regular email marketing platforms give some basic information about how people interact with your message, marketing automation programs offer more measurable, in-depth insights.

While marketing automation offers a lot of benefits, it’s not going to be an ideal solution for all businesses. For some types of businesses, basic email marketing is all they really need. Studies have shown that marketers often feel like marketing automation software isn’t worth the investment, but many marketers also fail to use it to its full potential or businesses try using it before they have a large enough database of contacts to truly make it worthwhile. Before using marketing automation, the key things to consider are whether or not you have the time and resources to dedicate to training on the software so they can use it to its full potential.

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