Tag Archive | "Should"

Why You Should Think Twice about Writing How-To Posts

“Write what you know.” It’s an old adage you’ve probably heard before. And many bloggers and content writers have taken…

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How the hospitality industry should approach online reviews and citations

Looking for more positive reviews? Here are some smart ways to build citations and reviews plus tips to boost the visibility of businesses in the hospitality sector.



Please visit Search Engine Land for the full article.


Search Engine Land: News & Info About SEO, PPC, SEM, Search Engines & Search Marketing

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SEO "Dinosaur" Tactics That You Should Retire – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by randfish

It’s tough to admit it, but many of us still practice outdated SEO tactics in the belief that they still have a great deal of positive influence. In this week’s Whiteboard Friday, Rand gently sets us straight and offers up a series of replacement activities that will go much farther toward moving the needle. Share your own tips and favorites in the comments!

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Video Transcription

Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week we’re going to go back in time to the prehistoric era and talk about a bunch of “dinosaur” tactics, things that SEOs still do, many of us still do, and we probably shouldn’t.

We need to replace and retire a lot of these tactics. So I’ve got five tactics, but there’s a lot more, and in fact I’d loved to hear from some of you on some of yours.

Dino Tactic #1: AdWords/Keyword Planner-based keyword research

But the first one we’ll start with is something we’ve talked about a few times here — AdWords and Keyword Planner-based keyword research. So you know there’s a bunch of problems with the metrics in there, but I still see a lot of folks starting their keyword research there and then expanding into other tools.

Replace it with clickstream data-driven tools with Difficulty and CTR %

My suggestion would be start with a broader set if you possibly can. If you have the budget, replace this with something that is driven by clickstream data, like Ahrefs or SEMrush or Keyword Explorer. Even Google Search Suggest and related searches plus Google Trends tend to be better at capturing more of this.

Why it doesn’t work

I think is just because AdWords hides so many keywords that they don’t think are commercially relevant. It’s too inaccurate, especially the volume data. If you’re actually creating an AdWords campaign, the volume data gets slightly better in terms of its granularity, but we found it is still highly inaccurate as compared as to when you actually run that campaign.

It’s too imprecise, and it lacks a bunch of critical metrics, including difficulty and click-through rate percentage, which you’ve got to know in order to prioritize keywords effectively.

Dino Tactic #2: Subdomains and separate domains for SERP domination

Next up, subdomains and separate domains for SERP domination. So classically, if you wanted to own the first page of Google search results for a branded query or an unbranded query, maybe you just want to try and totally dominate, it used to be the case that one of the ways to do this was to add in a bunch of subdomains to your website or register some separate domains so that you’d be able to control that top 10.

Why it doesn’t work

What has happened recently, though, is that Google has started giving priority to multiple subpages in a single SERP from a single domain. You can see this for example with Yelp on virtually any restaurant-related searches, or with LinkedIn on a lot of business topic and job-related searches.

You can see it with Quora on a bunch of question style searches, where they’ll come up for all of them, or Stack Overflow, where they come up for a lot of engineering and development-related questions.

Replace it with barnacle SEO and subfolder hosted content

So one of the better ways to do this nowadays is with barnacle SEO and subfolder hosted content, meaning you don’t have to put your content on a separate subdomain in order to rank multiple times in the same SERP.

Barnacle SEO also super handy because Google is giving a lot of benefit to some of these websites that host content you can create or generate and profiles you can create and generate. That’s a really good way to go. This is mostly just because of this shift from the subdomains being the way to get into SERPs multiple times to individual pages being that path.

Dino Tactic #3: Prioritizing number one rankings over other traffic-driving SEO techniques

Third, prioritizing number one rankings over other traffic-driving SEO techniques. This is probably one of the most common “dinosaur” tactics I see, where a lot of folks who are familiar with the SEO world from maybe having used consultants or agencies or brought it in-house 10, 15, 20 years ago are still obsessed with that number one organic ranking over everything else.

Replace it with SERP feature SEO (especially featured snippets) and long-tail targeting

In fact, that’s often a pretty poor ROI investment compared to things like SERP features, especially the featured snippet, which is getting more and more popular. It’s used in voice search. It oftentimes doesn’t need to come from the number one ranking result in the SERP. It can come number three, number four, or number seven.

It can even be the result that brings back the featured snippet at the very top. Its click-through rate is often higher than number one, meaning SERP features a big way to go. This is not the only one, too. Image SEO, doing local SEO when the local pack appears, doing news SEO, potentially having a Twitter profile that can rank in those results when Google shows tweets.

And, of course, long-tail targeting, meaning going after other keywords that are not as competitive, where you don’t need to compete against as many folks in order to get that number one ranking spot, and often, in aggregate, long tail can be more than ranking number one for that “money” keyword, that primary keyword that you’re going after.

Why it doesn’t work

Why is this happening? Well, it’s because SERP features are biasing the click-through rate such that number one just isn’t worth what it used to be, and the long tail is often just higher ROI per hour spent.

Dino Tactic #4: Moving up rankings with link building alone

Fourth, moving up the rankings on link building alone. Again, I see a lot of people do this, where they’re ranking number 5, number 10, number 20, and they think, “Okay, I’m ranking in the first couple of pages of Google. My next step is link build my way to the top.”

Why it no longer works on its own

Granted, historically, back in the dinosaur era, dinosaur era of being 2011, this totally worked. This was “the” path to get higher rankings. Once you were sort of in the consideration set, links would get you most of the way up to the top. But today, not the case.

Replace it with searcher task accomplishment, UX optimization, content upgrades, and brand growth

Instead I’m going to suggest you retire that and replace it with searcher task accomplishment, which we’ve seen a bunch of people invest in optimization there and springboard their site, even with worse links, not as high DA, all of that kind of stuff. UX optimization, getting the user experience down and nailing the format of the content so that it better serves searchers.

Content upgrades, improving the actual content on the page, and brand growth, associating your brand more with the topic or the keyword. Why is this happening? Well, because links alone it feels like today are just not enough. They’re still a powerful ranking factor. We can’t ignore them entirely certainly.

But if you want to unseat higher ranked pages, these types of investments are often much easier to make and more fruitful.

Dino Tactic #5: Obsessing about keyword placement in certain tags/areas

All right, number five. Last but not least, obsessing about keyword placement in certain tags and certain areas. For example, spending inordinate amounts of time and energy making sure that the H1 and H2, the headline tags, can contain keywords, making sure that the URL contains the keywords in exactly the format that you want with the hyphens, repeating text a certain number of times in the content, making sure that headlines and titles are structured in certain ways.

Why it (kind of) doesn’t work

It’s not that this doesn’t work. Certainly there’s a bare minimum. We’ve got to have our keyword used in the title. We definitely want it in the headline. If that’s not in an H1 tag, I think we can live with that. I think that’s absolutely fine. Instead I would urge you to move some of that same obsession that you had with perfecting those tags, getting the last 0.01% of value out of those into related keywords and related topics, making sure that the body content uses and explains the subjects, the topics, the words and phrases that Google knows searchers associate with a given topic.

My favorite example of this is if you’re trying to rank for “New York neighborhoods” and you have a page that doesn’t include the word Brooklyn or Manhattan or Bronx or Queens or Staten Island, your chances of ranking are much, much worse, and you can get all the links and the perfect keyword targeting in your H1, all of that stuff, but if you are not using those neighborhood terms that Google clearly can associate with the topic, with the searcher’s query, you’re probably not going to rank.

Replace it with obsessing over related keywords and topics

This is true no matter what you’re trying to rank for. I don’t care if it’s blue shoes or men’s watches or B2B SaaS products. Google cares a lot more about whether the content solves the searcher’s query. Related topics, related keywords are often correlated with big rankings improvements when we see folks undertake them.

I was talking to an SEO a few weeks ago who did this. They just audited across their site, found the 5 to 10 terms that they felt they were missing from the content, added those into the content intelligently, adding them to the content in such a way that they were actually descriptive and useful, and then they saw rankings shoot up with nothing else, no other work. Really, really impressive stuff.

So take some of these dino tactics, try retiring them and replacing them with some of these modern ones, and see if your results don’t come out better too. Look forward to your thoughts on other dino tactics in the comments. We’ll see you again next week for another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Take care.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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Marketing 101: An intro to social listening, why you should become an undercover social media agent (and where to begin)

Learning what target customers aren’t telling you directly can be extremely valuable to your marketing efforts, providing critical insights. Your social knowledge base will evolve over time, but here are some good starting points.
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Why Search Agencies Should Embrace the Adjacency of Email Marketing

Posted by davidmihm

As someone who’s spent virtually his entire career in local search, I’m by no means an early proponent of email. But in my interactions at marketing conferences, studies of industry research, and social media conversations, I get the feeling that many of my peers are even further down the adoption curve than I’ve been.

With this post, I encourage you to take a hard look at email marketing for yourselves, or an even harder look if you’ve already done so. If you’ve focused exclusively on offering SEO and SEM services to clients in the past, I hope I’ll convince you that email should be a natural and profitable complement to those offerings.

And if you’re a local business reading this post, I hope many of these points convince you to take a look at email marketing yourselves!

Making the case for email

High ROI

With a return on investment (ROI) of 44:1, marketers consistently rate email as the top-performing channel. According to Campaign Monitor, that ROI has actually increased since 2015, and it’s particularly true for B2B companies. Despite the supposed unpopularity of email among millennials, it remains far and away the most-preferred channel by which to receive communication from a business.

Just plain cheap

The fact that email’s so cheap helps the denominator of that 44:1 stat a bunch. Mailchimp is free up to 2,000 subscribers, as are MailerLite and SendinBlue, and many other providers offer plans under $ 10/month depending on your number of subscribers.

It’s also cheap in terms of time cost. Unlike social media where daily or even hourly presence performs best, email allows you to duck in and duck out as you have time.

As far as the numerator, average open rates far exceed social media reach on most platforms. And even if they don’t open, ⅓ of people report purchasing based on an email they received from a brand (!). Search provides better purchase intent, but the top-of-mind awareness and referral potential from email is unmatched.

Makes other channels more effective

Gathering customer email addresses is essential for other critical forms of local business marketing already — you need an email address to ask for a review, build lookalike audiences, and make customer intelligence solutions like FullContact most effective.

Actually offering something of value, whether that’s a discount code, loyalty program, whitepaper, or newsletter subscription, increases the odds of earning that email address for all of those purposes.

Last best option?

Frankly, the number of organic digital channels available to small businesses is shrinking. Facebook’s latest announcement signals a tough road ahead there for businesses without the budget to Boost posts, and Google’s expansion of its Local Service Ad program to verticals and locales across the United States in the next couple of years seems inevitable to me. Now is the time to start building an email program as these monetization pressures intensify.

Why agencies should offer email

Your customers know it works.

Local businesses might be more aware of email’s potency than some of the agencies that are serving them. Email consistently rates among the top three marketing channels in industry surveys by the Local Search Association, StreetFight, Clutch, and more.

At the very least, email requires barely any client education. Unlike the black box of SEO or the complexity of PPC, by and large, small businesses inherently understand email marketing. They know they should be sending emails to their customers, but many of them just aren’t yet doing it, or are doing it poorly.

It’s a concrete deliverable.

Unlike so much of the behind-the-scenes work that leads to success in SEO, clients can actually see an email campaign delivered to their inbox, as well as the results of that campaign: every major Email Service Provider tracks opens and clicks by default.

It leverages existing offerings.

I already mentioned some of the ways that email marketing complements other channels above. But it can tie in even more closely to an agency’s existing content offering: many of you are already developing full content calendars, or at the very least social content.

<pitch>(For those clients whom you’re helping with social media, their newsletter can be built using Tidings with no additional effort on your part.)</pitch>

Building email into your client content strategy can help their content reach a deeper audience, and possibly even a different audience.

It’s predictable.

Though you could argue that the Gmail and Apple Mail interface configurations are algorithms of a kind, generally speaking, email marketing is not subject to wild algorithmic changes or inexplicable ranking fluctuations.

And unlike Google’s unrealistic link building axiom that great content will naturally attract inbound links, great content actually does naturally attract more subscribers and more customers as they receive forwarded emails.

You can expand it over time.

Unlike SEO for local businesses, which generally includes relatively easy wins up front and gets progressively harder to deliver the same value over time, email marketing offers numerous opportunities to expand the scope of your engagement with a client.

Beyond fulfilling the emails themselves, there are plenty of other email-related services to offer, including managing and optimizing list sign-up, welcome emails and drip campaigns, A/B testing subject lines and content, and ongoing customer intelligence.

Tactical ingredients for success with email

Use a reputable Email Service Provider.

Running an email marketing program through Gmail or Outlook is an easy way to get your primary address blacklisted. You also won’t have access to open rate or click rate, nor an easy way to automate signups onto specific lists or segments.

Be consistent.

Setting expectations for your subscribers and then following through on those expectations is a particularly important practice for email newsletters, but also holds true for explicitly commercial emails and automated emails.

You should be generally consistent with the day on which you send weekly specials, appointment reminders, or service follow-ups. Consistency helps form a habit among your subscribers.

Consistency also applies to branding. It’s fine to A/B test subject lines and content types over time, but don’t shoot yourself in the foot from a brand perspective by designing every email you send from scratch. Leave that kind of advanced development to big brands with full in-house email teams.

The other reason to be consistent is that designing for email is really, really difficult — a lesson I learned the hard way last year prior to launching Tidings. Complex email clients like Microsoft Outlook use their own markup languages to render emails, and older email clients can’t interpret a lot of modern HTML or CSS declarations.

Choose a mobile-first template.

Make sure your layout renders well on phones, since that’s where more than 2/3 of email gets opened. Two- or three-column layouts that force pinching and zooming on mobile devices are a no-no, and at this point, most subscribers are used to scrolling a bit to see content.

As long as your template reflects your brand accurately, the content of that layout is far more important than its design. Look no further than the simple email layouts chosen by some of the most successful companies in their respective industries, including Amazon, Kayak, and Fast Company.

Pick a layout that’s proven to work on phones and stick with it.

Include an email signup button or form prominently on your website.

It’s become a best practice to include social icons in the header and/or footer of your website. But there’s an obvious icon missing from so many sites!

An email icon should be the first one in the lineup, since it’s the channel where your audience is most likely to see your content.

Also consider using Privy or Mailmunch to embed a signup banner or popover on your website with minimal code.

The specific place of newsletters

Plenty of people way smarter than me are on the newsletter bandwagon (and joined it much earlier than I did). Moz has been sending a popular “Top 10” newsletter for years, Kick Point sends an excellent weekly synopsis, and StreetFight puts out a great daily roundup, just to name a few. As a subscriber, those companies are always top-of-mind for me as thought leaders with their fingers on the pulse of digital marketing.

But newsletters work far beyond the digital marketing industry, too.

Sam Dolnick, the man in charge of the New York Times’ digital initiatives, puts a lot of stock in newsletters as a cornerstone channel, calling them “a lo-fi way to form a deep relationship with readers.”

I love that description. I think of a newsletter as a more personalized social channel. In the ideal world it’s halfway between a 1:1 email and a broadcast on Facebook or Twitter.

Granted, a newsletter may not be right for every local business, and it’s far from the only kind of email marketing you should be doing. But it’s also one of the easiest ways to get started with email marketing, and as Sam Dolnick said, an easy-to-understand way to start building relationships with customers.

For more newsletter best practices, this ancient (1992!) article actually covers print newsletters but almost all of its advice applies equally well to digital versions!

A great option or a strategic imperative?

Facebook’s ongoing reduction in organic visibility, Google’s ongoing evolution of the local SERP, and the shift to voice search will combine to create an existential threat to agencies that serve smaller-budget local businesses over the next 2–3 years.

Agencies simply can’t charge the margin to place paid ads that they can charge for organic work, particularly as Google and Facebook do a better and better job of optimizing low-budget campaigns. More ads, more Knowledge Panels, and more voice searches mean fewer organic winners at Google than ever before (though because overall search volume won’t decline, the winners will win bigger than ever).

Basic SEO blocking-and-tackling such as site architecture, title tags, and citation building will always be important services, but their impact for local businesses has declined over the past decade, due to algorithmic sophistication, increased competition, and decreased organic real estate.

To grow or even maintain your client base, it’ll be critical for you as an agency to offer additional services that are just as effective and scalable as these techniques were a decade ago.

As a concrete, high-margin, high-ROI deliverable, email should be a centerpiece of those additional services. And if it just doesn’t feel like something you’re ready to take on right now, Tidings is happy to handle your referrals :D !

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

Posted by randfish

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

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

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Video Transcription

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

Facebook

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

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

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

Twitter

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

Instagram

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

LinkedIn

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

Play to the algos?

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

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

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

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

My recommendation

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

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

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

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

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

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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How Long Should Your Meta Description Be? (2018 Edition)

Posted by Dr-Pete

Summary: The end of November saw a spike in the average length of SERP snippets. Across 10K keywords (90K results), we found a definite increase but many oddities, such as video snippets. Our data suggests that many snippets are exceeding 300 characters, and going into 2018 we recommend a new meta description limit of 300 characters.

Back in spring of 2015, we reported that Google search snippets seemed to be breaking the 155-character limit, but our data suggested that these cases were fairly rare. At the end of November, RankRanger’s tools reported a sizable jump in the average search snippet length (to around 230 characters). Anecdotally, we’re seeing many long snippets in the wild, such as this 386-character one on a search for “non compete agreement”:

Search Engine Land was able to get confirmation from Google of a change in how they handle snippets, but we don’t have a lot of details. Is it time to revisit our guidelines on meta descriptions limits heading into 2018? We dug into our daily 10,000-keyword tracking data to find out…

The trouble with averages

In our 10K tracking data for December 15th, which consisted of 89,909 page-one organic results, the average display snippet (stripped of HTML, of course) was 215 characters long, slightly below RankRanger’s numbers, but well above historical trends.

This number is certainly interesting, but it leaves out quite a bit. First of all, the median character length is 186, suggesting that some big numbers are potentially skewing the average. On the other hand, some snippets are very short because their Meta Descriptions are very short. Take this snippet for Vail.com:

Sure enough, this is Vail.com’s meta description tag (I’m not gonna ask):

Do we really care that a lot of people just write ridiculously short meta descriptions? No, what we really want to know is at what point Google is cutting off long descriptions. So, let’s just look at the snippets that were cut (determined by the “…” at the end). In our data set, this leaves just about 33% (29,664), so we can already see that about two-thirds of descriptions aren’t getting cut off.

Looking at just the descriptions that were cut off, the average jumps all the way up to 292, but let’s look at the frequency distribution of the lengths of just the cut snippets. The graph below shows cut-snippet lengths in bins of 25 (0-25, 25-50, etc.):

We’ve got a clear spike in the 300-325 character range, but why are we seeing descriptions being cut off in the 100-200 character range (and some even below 100 characters? Digging in deeper, we discovered that two things were going on here…

Oddity #1: Video snippets

Spot-checking some of the descriptions cut off in the under-200 character range, we realized that a number of them were video snippets, which seem to have shorter limits:

These snippets seem to generally max out at two lines, and they’re further restricted by the space the video thumbnail occupies. In our data set, a full 88% of video snippets were cut off (ended in “…”). Separating out video, only 32% of organic snippets (removing the video results) were cut off.

Oddity #2: Pre-cut metas

A second oddity was that some meta description tags seem to be pre-truncated (possibly by CMS systems). So, the “…” in those cases is an unreliable indicator. Take this snippet, for example:

This clocks in at 150 characters, right around the old limit. Now, let’s look at the meta description:

This Goodreads snippet is being pre-truncated. This was true for almost all of the Goodreads meta descriptions in our data set, and may be a CMS setting or a conscious choice by their SEO team. Either way, it’s not very useful for our current analysis.

So, we attempted to gather all of the original meta description tags to check for pre-truncated data. We were unable to gather data from all sites, and some sites don’t use meta description tags at all, but we were still able to remove some of the noise.

Let’s try this again (…)

So, let’s pull out all of the cut snippets with video thumbnails and the ones where we know the meta description ended in “…”. This cuts us down to 26,766 snippets (about 30% of the original 89,909). Here’s what the frequency distribution of lengths looks like now:

We’ve cleaned up some of the lower end, but it’s not a dramatic difference. We’re still seeing some snippets cut at less than 200 characters. Some of these may be situations where we couldn’t retrieve the original Meta Description tag, but others seem to be legitimate cuts.

The bulk of these snippets are being cut off in the 275–350 character range. In this cleaned-up distribution, we’ve got a mean of 309 characters and a median of 317 characters. There’s still a bit of a tail to the left, so the distribution isn’t quite normal, but it’s clear that the lion’s share of cut-offs are happening in that 300-325 bin.

What about the snippets over 350 characters? It’s hard to see from this graph, but they maxed out at 375 characters. In some cases, Google is appending their own information:

While the entire snippet is 375 characters, the “Jump…” link is added by Google. The rest of the snippet is 315 characters long. Google also adds result counts and dates to the front of some snippets. These characters don’t seem to count against the limit, but it’s a bit hard to tell, because we don’t have a lot of data points.

Do metas even matter?

Before we reveal the new limit, here’s an uncomfortable question — when it seems like Google is rewriting so many snippets, is it worth having meta description tags at all? Across the data set, we were able to successfully capture 70,059 original Meta Description tags (in many of the remaining cases, the sites simply didn’t define one). Of those, just over one-third (35.9%) were used as-is for display snippets.

Keep in mind, though, that Google truncates some of these and appends extra data to some. In 15.4% of cases, Google used the original meta description tag, but added some text. This number may seem high, but most of these cases were simply Google adding a period to the end of the snippet. Apparently, Google is a stickler for complete sentences. So, now we’re up to 51.3% of cases where either the display snippet perfectly matched the meta description tag or fully contained it.

What about cases where the display snippet used a truncated version of the meta description tag? Just 3.2% of snippets matched this scenario. Putting it all together, we’re up to almost 55% of cases where Google is using all or part of the original meta description tag. This number is probably low, as we’re not counting cases where Google used part of the original meta description but modified it in some way.

It’s interesting to note that, in some cases, Google rewrote a meta description because the original description was too short or not descriptive enough. Take this result, for example:

Now, let’s check out the original meta description tag…

In this case, the original meta description was actually too short for Google’s tastes. Also note that, even though Google created the snippet themselves, they still cut it off with a “…”. This strongly suggests that cutting off a snippet isn’t a sign that Google thinks your description is low quality.

On the flip side, I should note that some very large sites don’t use meta description tags at all, and they seem to fare perfectly well in search results. One notable example is Wikipedia, a site for which defining meta descriptions would be nearly impossible without automation, and any automation would probably fall short of Google’s own capabilities.

I think you should be very careful using Wikipedia as an example of what to do (or what not do), when it comes to technical SEO, but it seems clear from the data that, in the absence of a meta description tag, Google is perfectly capable of ranking sites and writing their own snippets.

At the end of the day, I think it comes down to control. For critical pages, writing a good meta description is like writing ad copy — there’s real value in crafting that copy to drive interest and clicks. There’s no guarantee Google will use that copy, and that fact can be frustrating, but the odds are still in your favor.

Is the 155 limit dead?

Unless something changes, and given the partial (although lacking in details) confirmation from Google, I think it’s safe to experiment with longer meta description tags. Looking at the clean distribution, and just to give it a nice even number, I think 300 characters is a pretty safe bet. Some snippets that length may get cut off, but the potential gain of getting in more information (when needed) offsets that relatively small risk.

That’s not to say you should pad out your meta descriptions just to cash in on more characters. Snippets should be useful and encourage clicks. In part, that means not giving so much away that there’s nothing left to drive the click. If you’re artificially limiting your meta descriptions, though, or if you think more text would be beneficial to search visitors and create interest, then I would definitely experiment with expanding.

Update (December 19): My sincere apologies, but I discovered a substantial error in my original analysis which caused me to exclude many data points from the cut-off analysis. All counts, percentages, and graphs have been updated. The 300-character conclusion did not change based on this re-analysis.

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Which of My Competitor’s Keywords Should (& Shouldn’t ) I Target? – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by randfish

You don’t want to try to rank for every one of your competitors’ keywords. Like most things with SEO, it’s important to be strategic and intentional with your decisions. In today’s Whiteboard Friday, Rand shares his recommended process for understanding your funnel, identifying the right competitors to track, and prioritizing which of their keywords you ought to target.

Which of my competitor's keyword should I target?

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Video Transcription

Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. So this week we’re chatting about your competitors’ keywords and which of those competitive keywords you might want to actually target versus not.

Many folks use tools, like SEMrush and Ahrefs and KeywordSpy and Spyfu and Moz’s Keyword Explorer, which now has this feature too, where they look at: What are the keywords that my competitors rank for, that I may be interested in? This is actually a pretty smart way to do keyword research. Not the only way, but a smart way to do it. But the challenge comes in when you start looking at your competitors’ keywords and then realizing actually which of these should I go after and in what priority order. In the world of competitive keywords, there’s actually a little bit of a difference between classic keyword research.

So here I’ve plugged in Hammer and Heels, which is a small, online furniture store that has some cool designer furniture, and Dania Furniture, which is a competitor of theirs — they’re local in the Seattle area, but carry sort of modern, Scandinavian furniture — and IndustrialHome.com, similar space. So all three of these in a similar space, and you can see sort of keywords that return that several of these, one or more of these rank for. I put together difficulty, volume, and organic click-through rate, which are some of the metrics that you’ll find. You’ll find these metrics actually in most of the tools that I just mentioned.

Process:

So when I’m looking at this list, which ones do I want to actually go after and not, and how do I choose? Well, this is the process I would recommend.

I. Try and make sure you first understand your keyword to conversion funnel.

So if you’ve got a classic sort of funnel, you have people buying down here — this is a purchase — and you have people who search for particular keywords up here, and if you understand which people you lose and which people actually make it through the buying process, that’s going to be very helpful in knowing which of these terms and phrases and which types of these terms and phrases to actually go after, because in general, when you’re prioritizing competitive keywords, you probably don’t want to be going after these keywords that send traffic but don’t turn into conversions, unless that’s actually your goal. If your goal is raw traffic only, maybe because you serve advertising or other things, or because you know that you can capture a lot of folks very well through retargeting, for example maybe Hammer and Heels says, “Hey, the biggest traffic funnel we can get because we know, with our retargeting campaigns, even if a keyword brings us someone who doesn’t convert, we can convert them later very successfully,” fine. Go ahead.

II. Choose competitors that tend to target the same audience(s).

So the people you plug in here should tend to be competitors that tend to target the same audiences. Otherwise, your relevance and your conversion get really hard. For example, I could have used West Elm, which does generally modern furniture as well, but they’re very, very broad. They target just about everyone. I could have done Ethan Allen, which is sort of a very classic, old-school furniture maker. Probably a really different audience than these three websites. I could have done IKEA, which is sort of a low market brand for everybody. Again, not kind of the match. So when you are targeting conversion heavy, assuming that these folks were going after mostly conversion focused or retargeting focused rather than raw traffic, my suggestion would be strongly to go after sites with the same audience as you.

If you’re having trouble figuring out who those people are, one suggestion is to check out a tool called SimilarWeb. It’s expensive, but very powerful. You can plug in a domain and see what other domains people are likely to visit in that same space and what has audience overlap.

III. The keyword selection process should follow some of these rules:

A. Are easiest first.

So I would go after the ones that tend to be, that I think are going to be most likely for me to be able to rank for easiest. Why do I recommend that? Because it’s tough in SEO with a lot of campaigns to get budget and buy-in unless you can show progress early. So any time you can choose the easiest ones first, you’re going to be more successful. That’s low difficulty, high odds of success, high odds that you actually have the team needed to make the content necessary to rank. I wouldn’t go after competitive brands here.

B. Are similar to keywords you target that convert well now.

So if you understand this funnel well, you can use your AdWords campaign particularly well for this. So you look at your paid keywords and which ones send you highly converting traffic, boom. If you see that lighting is really successful for our furniture brand, “Oh, well look, glass globe chandelier, that’s got some nice volume. Let’s go after that because lighting already works for us.”

Of course, you want ones that fit your existing site structure. So if you say, “Oh, we’re going to have to make a blog for this, oh we need a news section, oh we need a different type of UI or UX experience before we can successfully target the content for this keyword,” I’d push that down a little further.

C. High volume, low difficulty, high organic click-through rate, or SERP features you can reach.

So basically, when you look at difficulty, that’s telling you how hard is it for me to rank for this potential keyword. If I look in here and I see some 50 and 60s, but I actually see a good number in the 30s and 40s, I would think that glass globe chandelier, S-shaped couch, industrial home furniture, these are pretty approachable. That’s impressive stuff.

Volume, I want as high as I can get, but oftentimes high volume leads to very high difficulty.
Organic click-through rate percentage, this is essentially saying what percent of people click on the 10 blue link style, organic search results. Classic SEO will help get me there. However, if you see low numbers, like a 55% for this type of chair, you might take a look at those search results and see that a lot of images are taking up the other organic click-through, and you might say, “Hey, let’s go after image SEO as well.” So it’s not just organic click-through rate. You can also target SERP features.

D. Are brands you carry/serve, generally not competitor’s brand names.

Then last, but not least, I would urge you to go after brands when you carry and serve them, but not when you don’t. So if this Ekornes chair is something that your furniture store, that Hammers and Heels actually carries, great. But if it’s something that’s exclusive to Dania, I wouldn’t go after it. I would generally not go after competitors’ brand names or branded product names with an exception, and I actually used this site to highlight this. Industrial Home Furniture is both a branded term, because it’s the name of this website — Industrial Home Furniture is their brand — and it’s also a generic. So in those cases, I would tell you, yes, it probably makes sense to go after a category like that.

If you follow these rules, you can generally use competitive intel on keywords to build up a really nice portfolio of targetable, high potential keywords that can bring you some serious SEO returns.

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

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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