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5 Reasons Legacy Brands Struggle With SEO (and What to Do About Them)

Posted by Tom.Capper

Given the increasing importance of brand in SEO, it seems a cruel irony that many household name-brands seem to struggle with managing the channel. Yet, in my time at Distilled, I’ve seen just that: numerous name-brand sites in various states of stagnation and even more frustrated SEO managers attempting to prevent said stagnation. 

Despite global brand recognition and other established advantages that ought to drive growth, the reality is that having a household name doesn’t ensure SEO success. In this post, I’m going to explore why large, well-known brands can run into difficulties with organic performance, the patterns I’ve noticed, and some of the recommended tactics to address those challenges.

What we talk about when we talk about a legacy brand

For the purposes of this post, the term “legacy brand” applies to companies that have a very strong association with the product they sell, and may well have, in the past, been the ubiquitous provider for that product. This could mean that they were household names in the 20th century, or it could be that they pioneered and dominated their field in the early days of mass consumer web usage. A few varied examples (that Distilled has never worked with or been contacted by) include:

  • Wells Fargo (US)
  • Craigslist (US)
  • Tesco (UK)

These are cherry-picked, potentially extreme examples of legacy brands, but all three of the above, and most that fit this description have shown a marked decline in the last five years, in terms of organic visibility (confirmed by Sistrix, my tool of choice — your tool-of-choice may vary). It’s a common issue for large, well-established sites — peaking in 2013 and 2014 and never again reaching those highs.

It’s worth noting that stagnation is not the only possible state — sometimes brands can even be growing, but simply at a level far beneath the potential, you would expect from their offline ubiquity.

The question is: why does it keep happening?

Reason 1: Brand

Quite possibly the biggest hurdle standing in the way of a brand’s performance is the brand itself. This may seem like a bit of an odd one — we’d already established that the companies we’re talking about are big, recognized, household names. That in and of itself should help them in SEO, right?

The thing is, though, a lot of these big household names are recognized, but they’re not the one-stop shops that they used to be.

Here’s how the above name-brand examples are performing on search:

Other dominant, clearly vertical-leading brands in the UK, in general, are also not doing so well in branded search:

There’s a lot of potential reasons for why this may be — and we’ll even address some of them later — but a few notable ones include:

  • Complacency — particularly for brands that were early juggernauts of the web, they may have forgotten the need to reinforce their brand image and recognition.
  • More and more credible competitors. When you’re the only competent operator, as many of these brands once were, you had the whole pie. Now, you have to share it.
  • People trust search engines. In a lot of cases, ubiquitous brands decline, while the generic term is on the rise.

Check out this for the real estate example in the UK:

Rightmove and Zoopla are the two biggest brands in this space and have been for some time. There’s only one line there that’s trending upwards, though, and it’s the generic term, “houses for sale.”

What can I do about this?

Basically, get a move on! A lot of incumbents have been very slow to take action on things like top-of-funnel content, or only produce low-effort, exceptionally dry social media posts (I’ve posted before about some of these tactics here.) In fairness, it’s easy to see why — these channels and approaches likely have the least measurable returns. However, leaving a vacuum higher in your funnel is playing with fire, especially when you’re a recognized name. It opens an opportunity for smaller players to close the gap in recognition — at almost no cost.

Reason 2: Tech debt

I’m sure many people reading this will have experienced how hard it can be to get technical changes — particularly higher effort ones — implemented by larger, older organizations. This can stem from complex bureaucracy, aging and highly bespoke platforms, risk aversion, and, particularly for SEO, an inability to get senior buy-in for what can often be fairly abstract changes with little guaranteed reward.

What can I do about this?

At Distilled, we run into these challenges fairly often. I’ve seen dev queues that span, literally, for years. I’ve also seen organizations that are completely unable to change the most basic information on their sites, such as opening times or title tags. In fact, it was this exact issue that prompted the development of our ODN platform a few years ago as a way to circumvent technical limitations and prove the benefits when we did so.

There are less heavy-duty options available — GTM can be used for a range of changes as the last resort, albeit without the measurement component. CDN-level solutions like Cloudflare’s edge workers are also starting to gain traction within the SEO community.

Eventually, though, it’s necessary to tackle the problem at the source — by making headway within the politics of the organization. There’s a whole other post to be had there, if not several, but basically, it comes down to making yourself heard without undermining anyone. I’ve found that focusing on the downside is actually the most effective angle within big, risk-averse bureaucracies — essentially preying on the risk-aversion itself — as well as shouting loudly about any successes, however small.

Reason 3: Not updating tactics due to long-standing, ingrained practices

In a way, this comes back to risk aversion and politics — after all, legacy brands have a lot to lose. One particular manifestation I’ve often noticed in larger organizations is ongoing campaigns and tactics that haven’t been linked to improved rankings or revenue in years.

One conversation with a senior SEO at a major brand left me quite confused. I recall he said to me something along the lines of “we know this campaign isn’t right for us strategically, but we can’t get buy-in for anything else, so it’s this or lose the budget”. Fantastic.

This type of scenario can become commonplace when senior decision-makers don’t trust their staff — often, it’s a CMO, or similar executive leader, that hasn’t dipped their toe in SEO for a decade or more. When they do, they are unpleasantly surprised to discover that their SEO team isn’t buying any links this week and, actually, hasn’t for quite some time. Their reaction, then, is predictable: “No wonder the results are so poor!”

What can I do about this?

Unfortunately, you may have to humor this behavior in the short term. That doesn’t mean you should start (or continue) buying links, but it might be a good idea to ensure there’s similar-sounding activity in your strategy while you work on proving the ROI of your projects.

Medium-term, if you can get senior stakeholders out to conferences (I highly recommend SearchLove, though I may be biased), softly share articles and content “they may find interesting”, and drown them in news of the success of whatever other programs you’ve managed to get headway with, you can start to move them in the right direction.

Reason 4: Race to the bottom

It’s fair to say that, over time, it’s only become easier to launch an online business with a reasonably well-sorted site. I’ve observed in the past that new entrants don’t necessarily have to match tenured juggernauts like-for-like on factors like Domain Authority to hit the top spots.

As a result, it’s become common-place to see plucky, younger businesses rising quickly, and, at the very least, increasing the apparent level of choice where historically a legacy business might have had a monopoly on basic competence.

This is even more complicated when price is involved. Most SEOs agree that SERP behavior factors into rankings, so it’s easy to imagine legacy businesses, which disproportionately have a premium angle, struggling for clicks vs. attractively priced competitors. Google does not understand or care that you have a premium proposition — they’ll throw you in with the businesses competing purely on price all the same.

What can I do about this?

As I see it, there are two main approaches. One is abusing your size to crowd out smaller players (for instance, disproportionately targeting the keywords where they’ve managed to find a gap in your armor), and the second is, essentially, Conversion Rate Optimization.

Simple tactics like sorting a landing page by default by price (ascending), having clicky titles with a value-focused USP (e.g. free delivery), or well targeted (and not overdone) post-sales retention emails — all go a long way to mitigating the temptation of a cheaper or hackier competitor.

Reason 5: Super-aggregators (Amazon, Google)

In a lot of verticals, the pie is getting smaller, so it stands to reason the dominant players will be facing a diminishing slice.

A few obvious examples:

  • Local packs eroding local landing pages
  • Google Flights, Google Jobs, etc. eroding specialist sites
  • Amazon taking a huge chunk of e-commerce search

What can I do about this?

Again, there are two separate angles here, and one is a lot harder than the other. The first is similar to some of what I’ve mentioned above — move further up the funnel and lock in business before this ever comes to your prospective client Googling your head term and seeing Amazon and/or Google above you. This is only a mitigating tactic, however.

The second, which will be impossible for many or most businesses, is to jump into bed with the devil. If you ever do have the opportunity to be a data partner behind a Google or Amazon product, you may do well to swallow your pride and take it. You may be the only one of your competitors left in a few years, and if you don’t, it’ll be someone else.

Wrapping up

While a lot of the issues relate to complacency, and a lot of my suggested solutions relate to reinvesting as if you weren’t a dominant brand that might win by accident, I do think it’s worth exploring the mechanisms by which this translates into poorer performance.

This topic is unavoidably very tinted by my own experiences and opinions, so I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. Similarly, I’m conscious that any one of my five reasons could have been a post in its own right — which ones would you like to see more fleshed out?

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Email Marketing: Why phishing emails (unfortunately) work … and what marketers can learn from them

Phishing emails are just plain thievery. While phishing emails don’t ultimately deliver value, they do communicate value. Not to everyone, but to a specific audience. And that is why some people act on them.
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Don’t Be Fooled by Data: 4 Data Analysis Pitfalls & How to Avoid Them

Posted by Tom.Capper

Digital marketing is a proudly data-driven field. Yet, as SEOs especially, we often have such incomplete or questionable data to work with, that we end up jumping to the wrong conclusions in our attempts to substantiate our arguments or quantify our issues and opportunities.

In this post, I’m going to outline 4 data analysis pitfalls that are endemic in our industry, and how to avoid them.

1. Jumping to conclusions

Earlier this year, I conducted a ranking factor study around brand awareness, and I posted this caveat:

“…the fact that Domain Authority (or branded search volume, or anything else) is positively correlated with rankings could indicate that any or all of the following is likely:

  • Links cause sites to rank well
  • Ranking well causes sites to get links
  • Some third factor (e.g. reputation or age of site) causes sites to get both links and rankings”
    ~ Me

However, I want to go into this in a bit more depth and give you a framework for analyzing these yourself, because it still comes up a lot. Take, for example, this recent study by Stone Temple, which you may have seen in the Moz Top 10 or Rand’s tweets, or this excellent article discussing SEMRush’s recent direct traffic findings. To be absolutely clear, I’m not criticizing either of the studies, but I do want to draw attention to how we might interpret them.

Firstly, we do tend to suffer a little confirmation bias — we’re all too eager to call out the cliché “correlation vs. causation” distinction when we see successful sites that are keyword-stuffed, but all too approving when we see studies doing the same with something we think is or was effective, like links.

Secondly, we fail to critically analyze the potential mechanisms. The options aren’t just causation or coincidence.

Before you jump to a conclusion based on a correlation, you’re obliged to consider various possibilities:

  • Complete coincidence
  • Reverse causation
  • Joint causation
  • Linearity
  • Broad applicability

If those don’t make any sense, then that’s fair enough — they’re jargon. Let’s go through an example:

Before I warn you not to eat cheese because you may die in your bedsheets, I’m obliged to check that it isn’t any of the following:

  • Complete coincidence - Is it possible that so many datasets were compared, that some were bound to be similar? Why, that’s exactly what Tyler Vigen did! Yes, this is possible.
  • Reverse causation - Is it possible that we have this the wrong way around? For example, perhaps your relatives, in mourning for your bedsheet-related death, eat cheese in large quantities to comfort themselves? This seems pretty unlikely, so let’s give it a pass. No, this is very unlikely.
  • Joint causation - Is it possible that some third factor is behind both of these? Maybe increasing affluence makes you healthier (so you don’t die of things like malnutrition), and also causes you to eat more cheese? This seems very plausible. Yes, this is possible.
  • Linearity - Are we comparing two linear trends? A linear trend is a steady rate of growth or decline. Any two statistics which are both roughly linear over time will be very well correlated. In the graph above, both our statistics are trending linearly upwards. If the graph was drawn with different scales, they might look completely unrelated, like this, but because they both have a steady rate, they’d still be very well correlated. Yes, this looks likely.
  • Broad applicability - Is it possible that this relationship only exists in certain niche scenarios, or, at least, not in my niche scenario? Perhaps, for example, cheese does this to some people, and that’s been enough to create this correlation, because there are so few bedsheet-tangling fatalities otherwise? Yes, this seems possible.

So we have 4 “Yes” answers and one “No” answer from those 5 checks.

If your example doesn’t get 5 “No” answers from those 5 checks, it’s a fail, and you don’t get to say that the study has established either a ranking factor or a fatal side effect of cheese consumption.

A similar process should apply to case studies, which are another form of correlation — the correlation between you making a change, and something good (or bad!) happening. For example, ask:

  • Have I ruled out other factors (e.g. external demand, seasonality, competitors making mistakes)?
  • Did I increase traffic by doing the thing I tried to do, or did I accidentally improve some other factor at the same time?
  • Did this work because of the unique circumstance of the particular client/project?

This is particularly challenging for SEOs, because we rarely have data of this quality, but I’d suggest an additional pair of questions to help you navigate this minefield:

  • If I were Google, would I do this?
  • If I were Google, could I do this?

Direct traffic as a ranking factor passes the “could” test, but only barely — Google could use data from Chrome, Android, or ISPs, but it’d be sketchy. It doesn’t really pass the “would” test, though — it’d be far easier for Google to use branded search traffic, which would answer the same questions you might try to answer by comparing direct traffic levels (e.g. how popular is this website?).

2. Missing the context

If I told you that my traffic was up 20% week on week today, what would you say? Congratulations?

What if it was up 20% this time last year?

What if I told you it had been up 20% year on year, up until recently?

It’s funny how a little context can completely change this. This is another problem with case studies and their evil inverted twin, traffic drop analyses.

If we really want to understand whether to be surprised at something, positively or negatively, we need to compare it to our expectations, and then figure out what deviation from our expectations is “normal.” If this is starting to sound like statistics, that’s because it is statistics — indeed, I wrote about a statistical approach to measuring change way back in 2015.

If you want to be lazy, though, a good rule of thumb is to zoom out, and add in those previous years. And if someone shows you data that is suspiciously zoomed in, you might want to take it with a pinch of salt.

3. Trusting our tools

Would you make a multi-million dollar business decision based on a number that your competitor could manipulate at will? Well, chances are you do, and the number can be found in Google Analytics. I’ve covered this extensively in other places, but there are some major problems with most analytics platforms around:

  • How easy they are to manipulate externally
  • How arbitrarily they group hits into sessions
  • How vulnerable they are to ad blockers
  • How they perform under sampling, and how obvious they make this

For example, did you know that the Google Analytics API v3 can heavily sample data whilst telling you that the data is unsampled, above a certain amount of traffic (~500,000 within date range)? Neither did I, until we ran into it whilst building Distilled ODN.

Similar problems exist with many “Search Analytics” tools. My colleague Sam Nemzer has written a bunch about this — did you know that most rank tracking platforms report completely different rankings? Or how about the fact that the keywords grouped by Google (and thus tools like SEMRush and STAT, too) are not equivalent, and don’t necessarily have the volumes quoted?

It’s important to understand the strengths and weaknesses of tools that we use, so that we can at least know when they’re directionally accurate (as in, their insights guide you in the right direction), even if not perfectly accurate. All I can really recommend here is that skilling up in SEO (or any other digital channel) necessarily means understanding the mechanics behind your measurement platforms — which is why all new starts at Distilled end up learning how to do analytics audits.

One of the most common solutions to the root problem is combining multiple data sources, but…

4. Combining data sources

There are numerous platforms out there that will “defeat (not provided)” by bringing together data from two or more of:

  • Analytics
  • Search Console
  • AdWords
  • Rank tracking

The problems here are that, firstly, these platforms do not have equivalent definitions, and secondly, ironically, (not provided) tends to break them.

Let’s deal with definitions first, with an example — let’s look at a landing page with a channel:

  • In Search Console, these are reported as clicks, and can be vulnerable to heavy, invisible sampling when multiple dimensions (e.g. keyword and page) or filters are combined.
  • In Google Analytics, these are reported using last non-direct click, meaning that your organic traffic includes a bunch of direct sessions, time-outs that resumed mid-session, etc. That’s without getting into dark traffic, ad blockers, etc.
  • In AdWords, most reporting uses last AdWords click, and conversions may be defined differently. In addition, keyword volumes are bundled, as referenced above.
  • Rank tracking is location specific, and inconsistent, as referenced above.

Fine, though — it may not be precise, but you can at least get to some directionally useful data given these limitations. However, about that “(not provided)”…

Most of your landing pages get traffic from more than one keyword. It’s very likely that some of these keywords convert better than others, particularly if they are branded, meaning that even the most thorough click-through rate model isn’t going to help you. So how do you know which keywords are valuable?

The best answer is to generalize from AdWords data for those keywords, but it’s very unlikely that you have analytics data for all those combinations of keyword and landing page. Essentially, the tools that report on this make the very bold assumption that a given page converts identically for all keywords. Some are more transparent about this than others.

Again, this isn’t to say that those tools aren’t valuable — they just need to be understood carefully. The only way you could reliably fill in these blanks created by “not provided” would be to spend a ton on paid search to get decent volume, conversion rate, and bounce rate estimates for all your keywords, and even then, you’ve not fixed the inconsistent definitions issues.

Bonus peeve: Average rank

I still see this way too often. Three questions:

  1. Do you care more about losing rankings for ten very low volume queries (10 searches a month or less) than for one high volume query (millions plus)? If the answer isn’t “yes, I absolutely care more about the ten low-volume queries”, then this metric isn’t for you, and you should consider a visibility metric based on click through rate estimates.
  2. When you start ranking at 100 for a keyword you didn’t rank for before, does this make you unhappy? If the answer isn’t “yes, I hate ranking for new keywords,” then this metric isn’t for you — because that will lower your average rank. You could of course treat all non-ranking keywords as position 100, as some tools allow, but is a drop of 2 average rank positions really the best way to express that 1/50 of your landing pages have been de-indexed? Again, use a visibility metric, please.
  3. Do you like comparing your performance with your competitors? If the answer isn’t “no, of course not,” then this metric isn’t for you — your competitors may have more or fewer branded keywords or long-tail rankings, and these will skew the comparison. Again, use a visibility metric.

Conclusion

Hopefully, you’ve found this useful. To summarize the main takeaways:

  • Critically analyse correlations & case studies by seeing if you can explain them as coincidences, as reverse causation, as joint causation, through reference to a third mutually relevant factor, or through niche applicability.
  • Don’t look at changes in traffic without looking at the context — what would you have forecasted for this period, and with what margin of error?
  • Remember that the tools we use have limitations, and do your research on how that impacts the numbers they show. “How has this number been produced?” is an important component in “What does this number mean?”
  • If you end up combining data from multiple tools, remember to work out the relationship between them — treat this information as directional rather than precise.

Let me know what data analysis fallacies bug you, in the comments below.

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Law firms spamming Google My Business: Don’t trust your money or your life to them!

Many local businesses are guilty of violating Google My Business guidelines to game the system, and columnist Joy Hawkins has observed rampant problems within the law vertical.

The post Law firms spamming Google My Business: Don’t trust your money or your life to them! appeared first on…



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Nofollow links are not useless: Earning them Is central to good SEO

Some SEOs discount nofollow links, but contributor Pratik Dholakiya argues such an approach could result in many missed opportunities.

The post Nofollow links are not useless: Earning them Is central to good SEO appeared first on Search Engine Land.



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45 Local SEO Pitfalls & How to Avoid Them

Posted by MiriamEllis

localseopitfallfinal.jpg

The classic 1982 Activision game, Pitfall!, was so challenging that most players believed you could only win by running out the 20-minute clock. The real point of this adventure, however, was to gather up all of the treasures before the clock ran out on you.

Isn’t that just like business?

You’ve opened the doors of your local enterprise in hopes of gathering up enough revenue before it’s time to retire, and you’re determined to make enough of a success to secure some dignity in your golden years.

I’m not a professional economist, but I’ve read their statistics on how half of US businesses don’t make it past their 5th year. I’m a local SEO, and what I’ve learned is that to be agile enough to beat the odds, local business owners have to swing over the obvious pitfalls that less savvy competitors are doomed to become mired in. A plumbing company fakes a string of locations by using their siblings’ houses to build citations, a dentist hires a notorious marketing agency to pay global workers for fictitious reviews, an auto dealership takes a quick link building shortcut and ends up with a long-term search engine penalty. Missteps like these can force a local business to bog down, coping with cleaning up mess instead of making a beeline towards lasting success.

I’m a local business fan, and I don’t want to see you fail. So hang on tight to that vine in your local jungle. This is your guide to riding high, right over those bottomless pits.


Business plan

This is all about starting out on the right foot, long before opening day. Avoid these common mistakes before they become deep-seated liabilities.

1. Indistinct name

Consumers need to be able find you via a branded search, looking your business up by name after they hear it mentioned. If you name your men’s clothing shop “Yacht Club,” don’t be surprised if Google shows searchers local marinas instead of a branded result for your business. You can plan to build the kind of authority that lets Google know that people looking up “Banana Republic” are searching for clothing and not a political science lesson, but in your early days, a vague name could slow the growth of your brand recognition and rankings.

2. Limiting name

If your business plan includes growth into other service offerings or other geographic markets, don’t tie yourself to a name that limits you. For example, a new lawn care business in Plano hopes to one day offer full landscaping services and open a second office in Dallas. They’ll find this harder to do if they’ve named their business “Plano Lawn Care.” Be sure your name can encompass future growth. While it’s very smart to use core keywords in your business name, be sure they won’t hold you back in the future.

3. Ineligible location

Don’t make the mistake of believing you can fully market a local business with a PO box or unstaffed virtual office as your public address. Both of these will render your company ineligible to create local business listings, severely limiting your Internet visibility. If you don’t yet have a real office, use your home address and list yourself on only those directories that allow you to hide your address if you have privacy concerns.

4. Undesirable location

You will likely only rank in Google’s local packs for the city in which you’re physically located. If you’re opening a location beyond the borders of a big city you’re hoping to serve, don’t expect to rank locally for big-city searchers. If the success of your business depends on serving a major nearby city, then having an office in that locale is a must. To see Google’s concept of any city’s borders, look it up in Google Maps. Anything outside the red boundary is likely to be out of the running.

5. Filter-sensitive location

In the past, it was considered a best practice to locate your business next to other businesses in the same industry (think of doctors parks and auto rows). Being near this “industry centroid” was believed to be beneficial for rankings. However, since Google’s Possum update rolled out in 2016, a new business located within the same building or block as its competitors may find itself filtered out of the local results. Because of this, you may want to base your business some distance from others in your geo-industry, if possible. Depending on your city or town’s layout, this may or may not be possible to do.

6. Lack of policies

Without clear staff training documentation or customer service policies, you’re likely to earn more negative reviews. A lack of a user-generated content policy for your website may end up in spammy or abusive use of your blog/forum comments or onsite testimonials.

7. Unrealistic expectations

Don’t expect to open your doors on day one and unseat all of your established online competitors on day two. Don’t let any agency persuade you that it will be easy to dominate the local or local-organic results. Your competitors have likely worked long and hard to get where they are, and you’ll need to do the same. Have a realistic plan for financial survival until you reach the point where a good portion of your traffic and transactions are stemming from your web presence. Be prepared to invest in PPC if you want early traffic.

8. Lack of demand

Even the best local SEO in the world isn’t going to be able to make up for a business idea that’s a non-starter. Does your city have need for another laundromat with 5 already available in your neighborhood, another book store with Amazon in the mix, a vegan restaurant when less than 1% of the local population dines that way? Maybe yes, maybe no. Maybe you’ll be able to create the demand with exceptional service and marketing, but don’t expect your local SEO marketer to be able to do it for you. Business research comes first, SEO second.

9. Lack of clarity

If you can’t clearly communicate the value proposition of your business in a few powerful words, you can’t expect your customers or marketers to. Every day, agencies hear from business owners who are unable to verbalize what their business offers that’s valuable to the public. While good marketers can often help a company hone its message for maximum impact, the local business owner must first research their own geo-industry to hit on the realization of what makes their company a desirable community resource. Maybe their service is the fastest in town, their clients’ white teeth cost less, their rooms are the only pet-friendly stays in the city. Whatever the unique selling point is, the business owner needs to be able to say what it is before the consumer or marketer can interpret it for further use.


Website


If you can get your website right the first time around, you’ll avoid the hassle of having to undergo a complete overhaul of your most valuable online asset a year or two down the road.

10. Limiting URL

As with the business name, don’t limit yourself with a domain name that only features one facet of your business if you have plans for future expansion of services or geography. For example, don’t choose a URL like sugarlandmuffler.com if you hope one day to open full-service auto repair garages in Dallas and Houston as well. Choose your domain name with an eye to the future.

11. Strange URL

Know that .com extensions are still the most recognized type of domain name. If you want consumers to easily remember and easily find your website, get a .com whenever possible. When not possible, watch this Whiteboard Friday on choosing domain names for other options.

12. Long URL

Long domain names are harder to type, harder to speak out loud, and may get shortened on social media. Local businesses should aim for a delicate balance between brevity, branding, and keyword usage in choosing a domain name, weighing which factors will ultimately have the most positive impact on the business.

13. Limiting provider

Don’t sign up for any hosting or marketing service that a) limits the size or SEO opportunities of the website you build, or b) results in your business assets being held hostage by a particular provider. For example, a website-builder-type offer that restricts you to having a 10-page website or only 300 words on a page will stifle growth. Similarly, an agency that threatens to undo any work you’ve paid for if you choose to end your contract in future is an undesirable choice. Be sure you are in direct control of your domain, hosting, and website, and that no service you sign up for limits your growth.

14. Limiting technology

Any website development technology that prevents your website from being discovered, crawled or indexed by Google represents a waste of investment. For example, websites built entirely in Flash present technical problems to both search engines and users and should be avoided. Similarly, any website development approach that fails to serve users on all devices (laptop, tablet, mobile, ambient) guarantees a loss of marketing opportunity.

On another note, should you choose to use unusual or unpopular technology to develop your website, future agencies you want to hire may not want to work with you. For example, a site built on Wix might be difficult to fully optimize, and an SEO agency may require you to switch to something like WordPress in order to accept you as a client. Read more about the basics of SEO friendly design.

15. Multi-site approach

The practice of building multiple websites to represent different locations or different services of a business is particularly prevalent in local commerce. This approach often stems from a desire to rank more broadly on the basis of exact match domains, but there are many reasons why this strategy isn’t commonly endorsed by experts, including:

  1. Marketing efforts being spread too thin, divided up across multiple sites instead of concentrated into building a single brand.
  2. Thin or duplicate content resulting from lack of resources needed to manage more than one site.
  3. Possible NAP confusion leading to local ranking problems if the same name, address, or phone number appear on more than one website.
  4. A fundamental dishonesty in which a single business attempts to fool consumers into thinking it’s multiple companies


With rare exceptions, it’s better to pour all your efforts into building a single, powerful local brand on a single, powerful website.

16. Poor content strategy

Local businesses don’t benefit by publishing website content that is insufficient, cursory, unedited, duplicative, or developed solely for the purpose of feeding keywords to search engine bots. At a minimum, each local business should create the basic pages (home, about, contact, testimonials) + a page for each main service they offer and each of their physical locations. Service-area businesses (like plumbers) should develop a page for each of their main service cities. Each page that is built should feature original, thorough, intelligently optimized copy that serves a specific goal.

Beyond the basic pages, each local business should have a plan for ongoing content publication that’s proportional to its level of local/industry competition and consumer demand. This could include on-site blogging, off-site social sharing, and other strategies.

For more on local content development, read:

17. Poor architecture

If the size, complexity, or navigational options of your website are preventing consumers from getting to the pages you’ve built for their use, you’re actively losing opportunities. The larger your site, the more likely it is that you’ll have to research solutions like siloing to maximize discovery of your content by the right users and resultant conversions.

18. Lack of contact info

At minimum, your name, address, and phone number (NAP) should be published on every page of your website, either in its masthead or footer, and you should have a “Contact Us” page highly featured in your main navigation menu. Be sure your complete NAP are the first things presented on the contact page. Phone numbers should be click-to-call enabled for mobile users. Don’t forget thorough driving directions and a map. For larger enterprises, contact information should include options for live chat and after-hours support.


Finally, beware of inconsistencies and typos. Audit the entire text of your website and all of its design elements to catch NAP irregularities. Don’t be “Green Tree Consulting” in your logo and “Green Tree Consultants” on your About page. Your website remains the most authoritative source of information about your business, both in the eyes of consumers and search engines.

19. Lack of CTAs

A page without a call-to-action is a page without a point. A website exists to support the desires of consumers, while simultaneously supporting the objectives of the business. Don’t leave it up to chance that people will intuit which actions you’re hoping they’ll take; tell them in plain, bold language that you’d like them to click for further reading, to make a call, to fill out a form, to attend an event, or to take advantage of a special. Every page of your website, from homepage to landing page to contact page, should feature a totally obvious call to action.

20. Link building shortcuts

Every local business wants to earn links that boost their visibility and ranking strength, but because of the extreme value search engines continue to place on links as a measure of relevance, the temptation to take shortcuts is irresistible to some business owners. A local business might intentionally or accidentally get mixed up in a link farm or get caught buying links. Before you take a risky step that might result in a horrendously costly Google penalty, read our beginner’s guide to good and bad linking practices.

21. Mishandling changes

When fundamental business changes occur, like a rebrand or a move to a new website, failure to adhere to specific best practices can result in a massive loss of rankings, traffic, and transactions. For example, a chiropractor hopes to maintain as much of their Internet visibility as possible while transitioning from their old domain, mychiro.net, to a new one, joneschiropractic.com, but they fail to set up permanent 301 redirects between the two sites and lose all of the former authority they’d built up. When a foundational aspect of your business changes, research proper technical procedures for managing the transition in a way that helps (instead of hurts) your SEO and marketing. Our Moz Q&A forum is an excellent place to search for current best practices, or to ask your own question if you’re a Moz Pro member.


Local business listings


They’re highly visible, highly interactive, and can drive major traffic to your website and your business, but if managed incorrectly, local business listings can end up undermining your entire operation. Take maximum control of your citations to avoid these prevalent problems.

22. Guideline non-compliance

Failure to adhere to a local business platform’s guidelines can result in suspensions and/or public shaming. Guideline violations can be detected both algorithmically and manually, and can be reported to platforms by the public, competitors, and marketers. Google can read street-level signage and can tell if your businesses are located in a series of legitimate commercial offices or in a string of your friends’ houses. Before you list yourself on any platform, know its policies and be sure you stick to them to avoid negative outcomes.

23. NAP inconsistency

Consistency of your listings on the primary data sources is considered the fifth most important local search ranking factor. This means that your name, address, phone number, and website must be accurate and consistent on the majors (Acxiom, Factual, Localeze, and Ingroup) as well as on powerful platforms like Google My Business, Facebook, Apple Maps, Foursquare, Yelp, and Bing. Inconsistencies not only weaken search engines’ trust in the validity of your data, but also misdirect your potential customers. While Google doesn’t look at suite numbers and doesn’t care about differences of abbreviation (st. vs. street), conflicting versions of your NAP must be discovered and corrected ASAP. Try our free Check Listing tool for an instant consistency check.

24. Listing incompleteness

A complete local business listing can feature your name, address, phone number, website, email address, hours of operation, driving directions, images, social media links, videos or video links, additional phone numbers, fax number, attributes, reviews, owner responses, and links to other media like menus. Whether you manage your listings manually or use software like Moz Local to automate distribution of your location data at scale, make sure you fill out as many available fields as possible. This ensures that a customer is given every chance to connect with your business in a variety of ways. Missing data = missed opportunities.

25. Duplicate listings

At their worst, duplicate listings can misdirect consumers, violate guidelines, and divide your ranking strength and reviews among multiple entities. For each physical location you operate, you should have just one listing per platform, unless you qualify for multi-practitioner or multi-department listings. Discovering and resolving duplicates is one of the core tasks of local SEO, and because duplicates can originate from a variety of scenarios (accidental creation, automated creation, business moves, mergers/acquisitions, rebrands, etc.) every business must be on the lookout. Not sure if you have duplicates? Enter your name and zip in the Moz Check Listing tool to begin your search.

26. Wrong focus

Local business listings are critical infrastructure for nearly every local enterprise, but it’s possible to overdo it or to put focus on the wrong platforms. Rule of thumb: Get accurately listed on the major sites that serve all industries and then hand-select a few additional platforms that are authoritative for your industry and geography. Don’t waste effort getting listed on dozens or hundreds of low-level directories that receive little human use or don’t rank for your core terms.


Once you’ve built your core set of listings, have a plan for monitoring them on an ongoing basis, make edits to them as needed, post updates to them where appropriate, and respond to your reviews. Once that’s done, attend to other tasks. If you and your direct competitors each have about 50 citations, you getting another 25 of them from low-quality directories isn’t going to move the ranking, traffic, or conversion needle. Shift focus to something that will.

27. Poor photos

It’s been reported that good photos on your GMB listing will earn you 35% more clicks-to-website and 42% more clicks-for-driving directions. Given that it’s increasingly speculated that user actions influence local rankings, these statistics alone encourage you to select high-quality local business listing photos. Moreover, because many platforms take a crowd-sourcing approach to the imagery that represents your business, it’s important to monitor your listing photos to catch anything that’s inappropriate.

You might choose to hire a Google Trusted Photographer, or, you can use some pro tips like these to go solo in creating the best possible imagery for your business.

28. Map marker misplaced

Google has been known to place map markers in the middle of oceans. If something this peculiar happens to you, your best bet is to report it in their support forum as it could stem from a bug. However, strange map marker locations can also stem from an error on your part, or the placement of your marker in the center of a bunch of zip codes you’ve entered in the GMB dashboard. If the normal process of moving the pin inside your GMB dashboard doesn’t result in a fix, definitely reach out to the forum for support, fully documenting your issue. A misplaced pin can equal totally lost customers.

29. Driving directions wrong

If your map marker is misplaced, your driving directions will be inaccurate, but bad driving directions can result from other scenarios, too. Bad or incomplete mapping on Google’s part has lead to tragic accidents and litigation, but even where no physical peril is involved, incorrect directions should be reported to Google’s forum or via this process to prevent customer inconvenience and loss.

30. Lack of monitoring

Because of the way local data flows across the ecosystem and the way in which many listings are subject to public editing, citations aren’t a one-and-done task. Ongoing monitoring is essential to catch inaccurate data appearing, as well as the appearance of new duplicate listings and the ongoing influx of consumer sentiment in the form of reviews.


The need for ongoing monitoring has led to the development of automated programs like Moz Local which will alert you if core NAP on your Google My Business listing changes, if a new duplicate arises, or if you receive a new review. For larger enterprises and multi-location businesses, the ability to scale monitoring is a major time-saver.

31. Mishandling changes

Rebrands, mergers/acquisitions, moves, change of phone number or website, opening or closing branches, bringing new practitioners aboard… there are many changes the average local business may face, and for each one, there’s a set of correct steps to follow to defend your local rankings. Mishandling changes can result in lost visibility, lost transactions, lost reviews, and more. When your business goes through a transition, big or small, be sure you’ve researched best practices for handling the technical side of it well. Here’s a good place to get started when it comes to your Google My Business listing.


Reviews


Reviews aren’t opt-in. Your customers are telling the story of your business whether you create a profile or not. Reviews impact rankings and can have an incredible effect on the success or failure of your local business… so choose success, with the right strategy.

32. Too few

A business without reviews is like a job applicant without references. 84% of people trust reviews as much as a personal recommendation, and if too few people are recommending your business, a critical piece of your marketing is missing. This looks particularly unappealing when your competitors have earned a good body of positive sentiment. At the same time, Google-based reviews are believed to impact local pack rankings, mainly by sheer numbers but also with a growing emphasis on sentiment. Again, a shortage of reviews = a missing piece of your ranking strategy.

33. Too fast

You need a review acquisition plan, but avoid any tactic that results in a large number of reviews coming in all at once on a single platform — they may be filtered out due to suspicious velocity. Aim for a steady trickle of incoming sentiment instead of a flood.

34. Guideline non-compliance

Each review platform has its own guidelines, and knowing them can make the difference between a healthy online reputation and public shaming. It’s important to know the unique guidelines of the various sites, as some are more stringent than others. Yelp, for example, forbids business owners from asking for reviews, while Google allows it. Across the board, review sites prohibit paying for reviews and conflicts of interest, but if you’re about to launch a new campaign requesting reviews on specific platforms, be sure your strategy won’t lead to review takedowns or being called out by the public or the platform.

35. Lack of acquisition plan

Studies show that 91% of consumers read online reviews, that 82% of people visit a review site because they intend to make a purchase, and that 7/10 customers will leave a review if asked to. And yet, it’s startlingly clear looking at the neglected review profiles of countless local businesses that no plan has been put into place to earn these highly influential assets. While Yelp specifically forbids direct asks for Yelp reviews, most other platforms are fine with it, and each company should try a variety of techniques (time-of-service, email, print, social, etc) for acquiring reviews to find out what works best for them. Without an acquisition plan, the business is opting to forego all of the traffic and transactions that reviews could yield.

36. Lack of monitoring

No big brand would want to face a 33% decline in revenue or the closure of 13% of its stores, but outcomes like these can arise when a business ignores trending consumer sentiment citing problems that require urgent fixes. Reviews provide free quality control data to businesses large and small, and it’s only by monitoring this sentiment on an ongoing basis you can quickly identify emerging problems and step in with solutions that could save the brand. For example, a restaurant chain could notice from reviews that a particular location is suddenly being cited for broken fixtures or long wait times, signaling a need for intervention at that branch.


At minimum, brands large and small must either manually monitor their profiles on a schedule proportional to the daily or weekly volume of reviews they typically receive, or automate the process with software like Moz Local that tracks incoming reviews on the majors.

37. Lack of owner responses

The owner response function offered by many review platforms signifies direct reputation management, free marketing, free advertising, damage control, and quality control all in one feature. And yet, countless local businesses forego the immense power of this capability, allowing the public to have a totally one-sided conversation about their brands with zero company input. It would be impossible to count the number of review profiles out there heaping praise and blame on brands that sit unanswered, without thanks, without apologies or rectification. If your local business prides itself on customer service, it’s essential to integrate reviews and owner responses in your concept of what modern consumer relations look like.


You’d never advocate ignoring an in-store customer who congratulated you or voiced a complaint, but if your business is overlooking owner responses, this is precisely what you’re doing.

38. Poor owner responses

Kudos to every business owner who actively engages with their customer base via owner responses… unless those responses make things worse. Hallmarks of a poor response include lack of apology, lack of accountability, rude language, blame shifting and dishonesty. Here’s a real-world example of an unfortunate owner response that made a bad situation worse, with tips for how a better reply could have saved the day.

One of the most helpful things to remember in crafting owner responses is that as few as 4% of customers may take the time to complain about a problem they encountered with your business. Complaints give you the chance to act, but silence leaves you in the dark about your company’s true satisfaction rating. Complaints, including negative reviews, are invaluable. Treat complainers very, very well.

39. Poor staff training

One revealing survey discovered that 57% of customer complaints relate to poor/absent service and poor employee behavior. The fault here is obvious and lies squarely on the shoulders of the any owner who hasn’t done their due diligence in creating clear customer support documentation, detailed employee guidelines, and regular staff training sessions. Owners must hire people who can be taught to represent the brand well to the public. The viability of your business is in the hands of your staff — hire, train, and support them with this in mind.

40. Review kiosks

Whether it’s okay to set up a device in your shop to ask customers for reviews at the time of service continues to be a local marketing forum FAQ. Google is partly to blame for this, because they’ve changed their position on this practice radically over time. Their current guidelines specifically prohibit review kiosks, and sentiment received in this manner is likely to be filtered out. In fact, there’s anecdotal evidence to support reviews getting removed when left by customers using in-store Wi-Fi, even on their own devices. While you can’t prevent that scenario, formal kiosks shouldn’t be part of your marketing plan. Better to collect emails at the time of service and write to the customer within a few days.


Social media


Consumers expect to be able to contact you via social media with their requests for help, their complaints, and their suggestions. Modern customer service must include social media listening and responsiveness, but take notes from the mistakes other brands have made so that you can avoid them.

41. Poor social skills

Anyone tasked with representing your brand on Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, etc. should be familiar with infamous social media “fails” and have the skills to avoid them. Sadly, there have been numerous cases like that of a major auto brand whose marketing agency insulted the city of Detroit with a profane tweet suggesting that locals don’t know how to drive. Your social media expert must constantly guard against typos, poor wording that can be misconstrued, poor timing, and anything that reveals any type of insensitivity to any audience.

42. Guideline non-compliance

Each social platform has its own rules which, if broken, can result in removal of specific content or suspension of your profile. For example, if your local business decides to run a promotion, Facebook forbids the use of personal timelines and friend connections for the event. Failure to familiarize your company and social staff with each platform’s guidelines can result in wasted investments and public embarrassment.

43. Wrong platform

Different social media platforms tend to serve different demographics, and while it’s good to experiment with a variety of communities, knowing usage statistics can be helpful in picking the best places to connect with the most relevant audience. For example, if your business want to publicize a senior discount day it hosts once a week, you’ll likely reach more interested customers on Facebook (used by 36% of US citizens 65+) than on Instagram (used by only 5% of this age group). Similarly, certain industries tend to be natural matches for different platforms, like Twitter for tech-related companies, or Pinterest for businesses with a strong visual component. Be prepared to explore your options so that you’re not wasting efforts on the wrong platform for your specific geo-industry.

44. Neglect

Social media platforms have become a component of customer service, as they are viewed by consumers as a convenient way to contact your business. If you set up a profile on a site where your local community is active, don’t neglect it. Regularly monitor the account for questions and complaints and respond quickly.

45. Selling vs. sharing

If you’re new to social media, the first lesson to learn is that while being helpful, generous, entertaining, and empathetic can win your brand a loyal following, the hard sell is better placed elsewhere. Yes, you can promote your products and specials as part of your social media campaigns, but a business that does nothing but “sell” isn’t going to engage any social community.


Social media, managed properly, can be an immensely powerful environment for local businesses to connect with customers, to learn about their preferences, to become household words in local consumers’ daily lives because of the way the business integrates itself as a go-to resource for a particular type of experience on Facebook, Snapchat, Google Posts, or Twitter. Experimentation and regular practice can point the way to a winning mix of sharing vs. selling over time.


Success ahead!

Marketers know that one of the most important things they teach clients is what not to do. Local search marketing, with its mirror connection to the real world and its real-time pace, is particularly riddled with potential pitfalls. Being human, business owners are entitled to make a few mistakes. It’s okay! Particularly if you recover from them with some grace, good humor, and a determination not to repeat them. But it’s my hope that this article is one you’ll share with clients and team members so that no one gets tangled up in errors that are easy to avoid with a little quiet thought and a great deal of good planning.


By knowing what not to do, your adventure is more than half-won. Wishing you all the treasures and success ahead!

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6 CRO Mistakes You Might Be Making (And How to Fix Them)

Posted by lkolowich

You just ran what you thought was a really promising conversion test. In an effort to raise the number of visitors that convert into demo requests on your product pages, you test an attractive new redesign on one of your pages using a good ol’ A/B test. Half of the people who visit that page see the original product page design, and half see the new, attractive design.

You run the test for an entire month, and as you expected, conversions are up — from 2% to 10%. Boy, do you feel great! You take these results to your boss and advise that, based on your findings, all product pages should be moved over to your redesign. She gives you the go-ahead.

But when you roll out the new design, you notice the number of demo requests goes down. You wonder if it’s seasonality, so you wait a few more months. That’s when you start to notice MRR is decreasing, too. What gives?

Turns out, you didn’t test that page long enough for results to be statistically significant. Because that product page only saw 50 views per day, you would’ve needed to wait until over 150,000 people viewed the page before you could achieve a 95% confidence level — which would take over eight years to accomplish. Because you failed to calculate those numbers correctly, your company is losing business.

A risky business

Miscalculating sample size is just one of the many CRO mistakes marketers make in the CRO space. It’s easy for marketers to trick themselves into thinking they’re improving their marketing, when in fact, they’re leading their business down a dangerous path by basing tests on incomplete research, small sample sizes, and so on.

But remember: The primary goal of CRO is to find the truth. Basing a critical decision on faulty assumptions and tests lacking statistical significance won’t get you there.

To help save you time and overcome that steep learning curve, here are some of the most common mistakes marketers make with conversion rate optimization. As you test and tweak and fine-tune your marketing, keep these mistakes in mind, and keep learning.


6 CRO mistakes you might be making

1) You think of CRO as mostly A/B testing.

Equating A/B testing with CRO is like calling a square a rectangle. While A/B testing is a type of CRO, it’s just one tool of many. A/B testing only covers testing a single variable against another to see which performs better, while CRO includes all manner of testing methodologies, all with the goal of leading your website visitors to take a desired action.

If you think you’re “doing CRO” just by A/B testing everything, you’re not being very smart about your testing. There are plenty of occasions where A/B testing isn’t helpful at all — for example, if your sample size isn’t large enough to collect the proper amount of data. Does the webpage you want to test get only a few hundred visits per month? Then it could take months to round up enough traffic to achieve statistical significance.

If you A/B test a page with low traffic and then decide six weeks down the line that you want to stop the test, then that’s your prerogative — but your test results won’t be based on anything scientific.

A/B testing is a great place to start with your CRO education, but it’s important to educate yourself on many different testing methodologies so you aren’t restricting yourself. For example, if you want to see a major lift in conversions on a webpage in only a few weeks, try making multiple, radical changes instead of testing one variable at a time. Take Weather.com, for example: They changed many different variables on one of their landing pages all at once, including the page design, headline, navigation, and more. The result? A whopping 225% increase in conversions.

2) You don’t provide context for your conversion rates.

When you read that line about the 225% lift in conversions on Weather.com, did you wonder what I meant by “conversions?”

If you did, then you’re thinking like a CRO.

Conversion rates can measure any number of things: purchases, leads, prospects, subscribers, users — it all depends on the goal of the page. Just saying “we saw a huge increase in conversions” doesn’t mean much if you don’t provide people with what the conversion means. In the case of Weather.com, I was referring specifically to trial subscriptions: Weather.com saw a 225% increase in trial subscriptions on that page. Now the meaning of that conversion rate increase is a lot more clear.

But even stating the metric isn’t telling the whole story. When exactly was that test run? Different days of the week and of the month can yield very different conversion rates.

conversion-rate-fluctuation.png

For that reason, even if your test achieves 98% significance after three days, you still need to run that test for the rest of the full week because of how different conversion rate can be on different days. Same goes for months: Don’t run a test during the holiday-heavy month of December and expect the results to be the same as if you’d run it for the month of March. Seasonality will affect your conversion rate.

Other things that can have a major impact on conversion rate? Device type is one. Visitors might be willing to fill out that longer form on desktop, but are mobile visitors converting at the same rate? Better investigate. Channel is another: Be wary of reporting “average” conversion rates. If some channels have much higher conversion rates than others, you should consider treating the channels differently.

Finally, remember that conversion rate isn’t the most important metric for your business. It’s important that your conversions are leading to revenue for the company. If you made your product free, I’ll bet your conversion rates would skyrocket — but you wouldn’t be making any money, would you? Conversion rate doesn’t always tell you whether your business is doing better than it was. Be careful that you aren’t thinking of conversions in a vacuum so you don’t steer off-course.

3) You don’t really understand the statistics.

One of the biggest mistakes I made when I first started learning CRO was thinking I could rely on what I remembered from my college statistics courses to run conversion tests. Just because you’re running experiments does not make you a scientist.

Statistics is the backbone of CRO, and if you don’t understand it inside and out, then you won’t be able to run proper tests and could seriously derail your marketing efforts.

What if you stop your test too early because you didn’t wait to achieve 98% statistical significance? After all, isn’t 90% good enough?

No, and here’s why: Think of statistical significance like placing a bet. Are you really willing to bet on 90% odds on your test results? Running a test to 90% significance and then declaring a winner is like saying, “I’m 90% sure this is the right design and I’m willing to bet everything on it.” It’s just not good enough.

If you’re in need of a statistics refresh, don’t panic. It’ll take discipline and practice, but it’ll make you into a much better marketer — and it’ll make your testing methodology much, much tighter. Start by reading this Moz post by Craig Bradford, which covers sample size, statistical significance, confidence intervals, and percentage change.

4) You don’t experiment on pages or campaigns that are already doing well.

Just because something is doing well doesn’t mean you should just leave it be. Often, it’s these marketing assets that have the highest potential to perform even better when optimized. Some of our biggest CRO wins here at HubSpot have come from assets that were already performing well.

I’ll give you two examples.

The first comes from a project run by Pam Vaughan on HubSpot’s web strategy team, called “historical optimization.” The project involved updating and republishing old blog posts to generate more traffic and leads.

But this didn’t mean updating just any old blog posts; it meant updating the blog posts that were already the most influential in generating traffic and leads. In her attribution analysis, Pam made two surprising discoveries:

  • 76% of our monthly blog views came from “old” posts (in other words, posts published prior to that month).
  • 92% of our monthly blog leads also came from “old” posts.

Why? Because these were the blog posts that had slowly built up search authority and were ranking on search engines like Google. They were generating a ton of organic traffic month after month after month.

The goal of the project, then, was to figure out: a) how to get more leads from our high-traffic but low-converting blog posts; and b) how to get more traffic to our high-converting posts. By optimizing these already high-performing posts for traffic and conversions, we more than doubled the number of monthly leads generated by the old posts we’ve optimized.

hubspot-conversion-increase-chart.jpg

Another example? In the last few weeks, Nick Barrasso from our marketing acquisition team did a leads audit of our blog. He discovered that some of our best-performing blog posts for traffic were actually leading readers to some of our worst-performing offers.

To give a lead conversion lift to 50 of these high-traffic, low-converting posts, Nick conducted a test in which he replaced each post’s primary call-to-action with a call-to-action leading visitors to an offer that was most tightly aligned with the post’s topic and had the highest submission rate. After one week, these posts generated 100% more leads than average.

The bottom line is this: Don’t focus solely on optimizing marketing assets that need the most work. Many times, you’ll find that the lowest-hanging fruit are pages that are already performing well for traffic and/or leads and, when optimized even further, can result in much bigger lifts.

5) You base your CRO tests on tactics instead of research.

When it comes to CRO, process is everything. Remove your ego and assumptions from the equation, stop relying on individual tactics to optimize your marketing, and instead take a systematic approach to CRO.

Your CRO process should always start with research. In fact, conducting research should be the step you spend the most time on. Why? Because the research and analysis you do in this step will lead you to the problems — and it’s only when you know where the problems lie that you can come up with a hypothesis for overcoming them.

Remember that test I just talked about that doubled leads for 50 top HubSpot blog posts in a week? Nick didn’t just wake up one day and realize our high-traffic blog posts might be leading to low-performing offers. He discovered this only by doing hours and hours of research into our lead gen strategy from the blog.

Paddy Moogan wrote a great post on Moz on where to look for data in the research stage. What does your sales process look like, for example? Have you ever reviewed the full funnel? “Try to find where the most common drop-off points are and take a deeper dive into why,” he suggests.

Here’s an (oversimplified) overview of what a CRO process should look like:

  • Step 1: Do your research.
  • Step 2: Form and validate your hypothesis.
  • Step 3: Establish your control, and create a treatment.
  • Step 4: Conduct the experiment.
  • Step 5: Analyze your experiment data.
  • Step 6: Conduct a follow-up experiment.

As you go through these steps, be sure you’re recording your hypothesis, test methodology, success criteria, and analysis in a replicable way. My team at HubSpot uses the template below, which was inspired by content from Brian Balfour’s online Reforge Growth programs. We’ve created an editable version in Google Sheets here that you can copy and customize yourself.

hubspot-experiment-template.png

Don’t forget the last step in the process: Conduct a follow-up experiment. What can you refine for your next test? How can you make improvements?

6) You give up after a “failed” test.

One of the most important pieces of advice I’ve ever gotten around CRO is this: “A test doesn’t ‘fail’ unless something breaks. You either get the result you want, or you learned something.”

It came from Sam Woods, a growth marketer, CRO, and copywriter at HubSpot, after I used the word “fail” a few too many times after months of unsuccessful tests on a single landing page.

test-doesnt-fail.png

What he taught me was a major part of the CRO mindset: Don’t give up after the first test. (Or the second, or the third.) Instead, approach every test systematically and objectively, putting aside your previous assumptions and any hope that the results would swing one way or the other.

As Peep Laja said, “Genuine CROs are always willing to change their minds.” Learn from tests that didn’t go the way you expected, use them to tweak your hypothesis, and then iterate, iterate, iterate.

I hope this list has inspired you to double down on your CRO skills and take a more systematic approach to your experiments. Mastering conversion rate optimization comes with a steep learning curve — and there’s really no cutting corners. You can save a whole lot of time (and money) by avoiding the mistakes I outlined above.

Have you ever made any of these CRO mistakes? Do you have any CRO mistakes to add to the list? Tell us about your experiences and ideas in the comments.

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How to Build SEO Strategies Effectively (and Make Them Last)

Posted by Bill.Sebald

“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”

I read The Art of War in college, written by the Chinese general Sun Tzu (author of the quote above). While his actual existence is debated, his work is often considered as brilliant military strategy and philosophy. Thus, The Art of War is often co-opted into business for obvious reasons. Throughout the book, you’ll realize tactics and strategy are not interchangeable terms.

strat·e·gyˈ
stradəjē/

- A method or plan chosen to bring about a desired future, such as achievement of a goal or solution to a problem.
- A plan of action or policy designed to achieve an overall aim.
- The art and science of planning and marshaling resources for their most efficient and effective use.
Source

These definitions vary slightly, but the essence is the same. A strategy is not constrained by size or application but promoted by planning and effectiveness. Let’s be honest, the word “strategy” is a term that isn’t always used the same way in the English lexicon (or our industry).

On the other hand, tactics can be isolated or serve as components in your strategy. They are actions you would impart as a step in the plan, or used as a stand-alone, typically with limited resources.

For some this is straightforward, but for others new to marketing or traditionally focused on tactical work, a strategy can be a difficult concept that requires practice. Perhaps understanding the purpose is key to dividing these terms. Let’s try this:

“The purpose of a strategy is to identify goals and build a plan of attack towards achieving those goals. The purpose of tactics are for smaller goals that could feed something bigger.”

Before you read on, please note: this is not an article devaluing tactics over strategy (despite the Sun Tzu quote). My goal is to inspire thought that can help you be more effective as a modern SEO, and possibly consider a strategy where you haven’t before.

A military analogy

I find analogies go a long way in describing lofty concepts. I could easily go with a football or legal example, but a military example might be the most comparable to what we do in marketing. And because I know my audience, I decided to go with Star Wars.

The Galactic Empire thought they could take over the galaxy with fear and brute force. They developed plans for a space station with firepower strong enough to destroy a planet. Under the command of Governor Tarkin, the Death Star was created. They tested the completed Death Star on Princess Leia’s home planet of Alderaan, which gave Obi Wan Kenobi shivers.

However, the Rebels put together a counter-strategy. Piecing together intelligence about a deliberate design flaw, and developing a plan featuring waves of small battalions, the Rebel ships would take passes at the target. They would work together in designed waves to equally defend and attack during this campaign.

As basic as that scene was at the end of Star Wars, it’s a strategy nonetheless (albeit a small one).

Confusion of strategies versus tactics — a real-world example

To make this a bit more relevant to SEO, here’s an email shared with me by a prospective client. They were looking for a new agency after they received this from their current agency:

I object to several things written here. Guest posting is a tactic, not a strategy. There is no plan here, just an action. A measurable or attainable goal is never made clear.

We need to do better. *desk flip*

Selling the SEO strategy

Whether you’re an agency, consultant, or in-house at a company, getting buy-in for an SEO strategy can be challenging. SEOs tend to rely on the support of several different departments (e.g. developers, copywriters, business managers, etc.), usually with their own predetermined goals. Enter the SEO to add more complexity.

There’s often a top-down marketing strategy already baked before you get to pitch your SEO work, to which you may find opportunity on a battlefield where access is not granted. It’s reckless to assume you can go into any established company and lob a strategy onto their laps, expecting them to follow it with disregard to their existing plans, politics, and red tape. Candidly, this may be the quickest way to get fired and show you’re not aligned with the existing business goals.

Instead, you need to find your areas of opportunity that work with the company’s business goals, not against them. Effective marketers don’t try to be a square peg in a round hole. Get to know the players, the existing playbooks, the silos, and the available gaps.

It’s not about being a yes-man; it’s about best playing the hand you’re dealt. You simply can’t successfully sell a strategy until you know where your strategy will fit and support the current business goals.

Before you begin mapping out the strategy

If I’ve done my job, you’re eager to put pen to paper, but you still have digging to do. Get your shovel.

Some people are better suited to design plans in a non-linear fashion. If I’m writing anything, be it an article or a piece of music, I’m bouncing back and forth throughout the piece as inspiration strikes. But for others who are more straight-minded and less frenetic, a reference of considerations and characteristics might be helpful.

Enter the mind map. Simply stated, a mind map is a visual representation of concepts and connections. As defined here, it is a visual thinking tool that helps to structure information, helping you to better analyze, comprehend, synthesize, recall, and generate new ideas.

It’s your sketch pad. Jot down all the ideas, concepts, and relationships you can possibly think of.

(Developed using a trial of https://www.mindmeister.com.)

Think of this document as a living communication between you and your client or boss. It is a document you should refer to often. It keeps all parties on the same page and aligned. I recommend sharing it in a collaborative platform so updates are shared between all viewers without having to constantly send out new copies (nothing sucks the life out of efficiency faster than “versioning” issues).

There’s no shortage of things to consider in your mind map. Here are a few common items from my experience:

  • Timeline details
  • Details about the industry or different channels
  • Other marketing learnings
  • Customer/visitor details
    • Demographics and psychographics
    • Details about the customer journey
  • Competitive details
  • Product demand details
  • Current search visibility

My fellow marketers, this is not an exhaustive list by any means. Gather all the information that is meaningful to you.

Drafting the strategy

At this stage, your initial gathering is complete, so now you’re on to development. Hopefully you’ve had some visibility and buy-in by your clients or boss to date, so it’s crucial to keep that momentum going. Don’t build a strategy in a silo.

Remember, a strategy is a plan. A plan has steps, dependencies, and future considerations throughout. I think it’s very important for your team and the client to “see” the strategy in a visual format, and not just conceptually. Use a spreadsheet, slides, or Word document — whichever tickles your fancy. At Greenlane, we’ve been using Google Sheets:

For demonstration purposes, flesh yours out as you see fit. Click for larger image.

If you work in an agile framework, the strategy is going to change. Everyone should be able to see revisions to the strategy with an indication of what’s been changed and why. That’s a benefit to documenting every important detail.

Earlier you put together a mind map to put preliminary ideas on the table. You considered things that you’ll now need to thoroughly scrutinize. Here is a list of considerations to hold your SEO strategy against. Make sure your final draft of the SEO strategy can clearly speak to each of these.

And since we’re on a Star Wars kick already, I present my dusty childhood toys (recently found in my mother’s basement).

Consideration 1 – Understand the client

Each business is an entity. Each entity has characteristics. You need to know these characteristics if you’re going to build anything for the company. So, make sure you know the answers to these questions:

  • What’s your company vision? A great vision statement can inspire great things, including an SEO strategy. And why not? If properly developed and executed, the company has already set you up for a better chance of success.
  • What are the company’s core values? Every company can only be so many things to so many people. A well-branded company knows exactly what they are and what they aren’t. Use these core values in your campaign, as they should serve as your campaign perimeter.
  • What is the leadership like? What kind of culture do they cultivate? In smaller companies, the leaders tend to influence the culture. In larger companies, unfortunately, this can get lost. But if you have access to the leadership, spend some time learning about their vision. It should match up to the company’s core values, but sometimes there are more gems locked in their minds.
  • What are the pain points? What things drive the members of this organization to drink? From the customer support to the higher-ups, there are things that knock the company down. How do they get back up? Why are the pains they’re looking to work around? It may not be realistic to interview the whole company, but ideally you can get a representative to answer these.

Let’s pause for a moment.

If you’re at this part of the article, and you’re thinking, “Whoa — why the hell would I do all this to get a few rankings?” then you’re not thinking strategic yet. True, it’s possible these bullets aren’t all relevant to what you’re building, but the bigger your strategy needs to go, the more you need to know your client.

Consideration 2 – Understand the goals

If we’re going to be creating goal-oriented plans, it make sense to start with a smart goal or two. And by smart, I mean SMART. For those who aren’t familiar with SMART goals, it stands for the following:

Specific: This is for the “why” and “how” of your goal. What exactly are you trying to do, and why? If you were a retailer who sells a little of everything, you might have a statement like this:

“At the end of February, we noticed our customers begin researching lawn and patio furniture. Customers are favoring items that look more elegant and can resist weather.”

Measurable: Be very detailed. Are we trying to make money, or are we trying to make five hundred dollars? Are we trying to draw traffic, or are we trying to bring 500 new visits that engage with our website?

A retailer might have a statement like:

“Our goal is to increase organic conversions of the Lawn and Patio section by 15% YOY in Q2 and Q3, with lawn chairs driving 75% of those sales. Target revenue $ 500,000 in Q2, and $ 300,000 in Q3.”

Achievable: Make sure you’re grounding your goal in reality. Sure, you can’t control a massive Google update, but using the history of your sales and competitive data, you can make some inferences. You also need to make sure you have agreed-upon goals. Get buy-in before you set the goal in stone, leveraging the thoughts from the leaders, merchandisers, analysts, and anyone who might be able to provide insight into the likelihood of hitting your goal.

Realistic: (There is some blend between realistic and achievable.) Do you have the appropriate resources in place? Does your client have the flexibility to make the necessary changes within the proposed timeline?

A statement to help framing could be:

“We are going to rely on resources including copywriters, researchers, merchandisers, and developers to make on-page changes within the time frame of this plan. We expect to need 40 hours of time from copywriters, 50 hours from web development.”

Time-bound: We will need deadlines for dependencies. Assign due dates to each step of the plan, and keep the players accountable. Make sure you have an appropriate start-to-finish date.

Consideration 3 – Understand the audience

This is critical. If you don’t know what your searchers are looking for, you’re guessing. That’s a bad idea. Especially today, where we have troves of data.

But it’s important to find the stories in-between the numbers. With that said, your audience can’t be measured solely by the 0s and 1s that comes into analytics platforms. I’ve written about this in The Down Side of Analytics in Marketing.

But I’ve recently heard some chatter voicing the polar opposite. I’ve heard the sentiment to wholly ignore certain data points because they don’t represent the real person. To me, that’s bad advice — directional data is better than the romantic notion of success based on your “gut” feel. Estimated search volume, clicks, and even impressions give credence not only to a keyword, but a bigger theme. This starts to create direction and an understanding of need, which leads to your next few rounds of audience recognition.

Using the available data helps a marketer understand which dollars are more effective than others, and how to identify different audience groups within the buying cycle.

With the demographics and site usage details from GA, different types of users (researchers, comparers, buyers, customers) can be grouped and classified, and the marketing dollars and messaging appropriately tailored.

AdWords and Facebook are further vehicles for reaching the appropriate audiences with more refined messaging. I think it’s important to create personas for your current visitors and the type of visitors you want to attract. It might be valuable to create personas of those you don’t want to attract, to keep in the back of your mind as your content and advertising calendar is being built following the delivery of your overall strategy.

Consideration 4 – Understand the competitive landscape

Without knowing the landscape, you really don’t know what opportunity lies ahead. Understanding your competition’s success allows you to learn from their wins (and mistakes). Reinventing the wheel burns unnecessary minutes.

There are a few competitive tools we tend to gravitate towards in our industry. SEMrush is a fantastic tool allowing anyone to look up a website and get an estimated search visibility and traffic share. Drilling in shows how well pages perform independently. Gleaning through exports can quickly reveal what topics are driving traffic, to which you might replicate or improve your own version.

Backlinks can actually serve as a proxy for interest. In Google’s vision of a democratic web, they considered links to function like votes. Google wants editorial votes to influence their algorithm. So, if we assume all links are potentially editorial, then looking up backlink data can illustrate content that’s truly beloved. Grab your favorite backlink data provider (hey — Moz has one!) and pull a report on a competitor’s domain. Take a look at the linked pages, and with a little filtering, you’ll see top linked pages emerge. Dive into those pages and develop some theories on why they’re popular link targets.

Social media — it’s more than cat memes. Generally, non-marketing folks share content that resonates with them. Buzzsumo offers an easy interface for digging through the depths of social media. Have a general topic you’d like to pursue? Enter it into Buzzsumo and see what you get.

Let the creative juices flow. Look for topics you can improve under your own roof. Even the nichiest of niches can have representation in Buzzsumo.

Maybe this feels a bit too scattershot for you. Buzzsumo also allows you to find and observe influencers. What are they sharing? By clicking the “view links shared” button, you’ll get a display of all the unique pages shared. Sometimes “influencers” share all types of varying content crossing many topics. But sometimes, they’re pretty specfic in the themes they share. Look for the latter in this competitive research stage.

Consideration 5 – Understand the roadblocks

Every company has obstacles. Each one has built its own labyrinth. Don’t try to blanket an existing labyrinth with your ill-prepared strategy; instead, work within the existing inroads.

Reality bites. You could draft up an amazing strategy, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, to which you’re rebuilding an entire category structure of one of the website’s most lucrative lines… only to find out there’s a ticket queue for the necessary resources that’s more than 6 months long. Despite your brilliant idea, you’re going to look bad when the client calls you out on not understanding their business.

The best way to avoid this is proactively asking the right questions. Ask about resource support. Ask about historic roadblocks. Ask to be introduced to other players who otherwise hide behind an email here and there. Ask about the company’s temperature regarding a bigger SEO strategy vs. short, quick-hit campaigns. Don’t be your own biggest obstacle — I’ve never heard of anyone getting angry about over-communication unless it paralyzes progress.

A few final thoughts (from my experience)

It’s time for my Jerry Springer moment.

Not all strategies have to be big. Sometimes your window is small, and you’re forced to build for a distinct — or tiny — opportunity. Maybe you don’t have time for a proper large-scale strategy at all; a tactic or two might be all you can do to carry in a win. Just make that very clear with your boss or client. Don’t misrepresent what you’re trying to build as an SEO campaign.

I understand that some SEO agencies and departments are not built for the big SEO campaigns. Strategic work takes time, and speeding (or scaling) through the development stage will likely do more harm than good. It’s like cramming for a test — you’re going to miss information that’s necessary for a good grade. It would be my pleasure if this post inspired some change in your departments.

Lastly, it’s important to remember that paralysis by over-thinking is a real issue some struggle with. There’s no pill for it (yet). Predicting perfection is a fool’s errand. Get as close as you can within a reasonable timeframe, and prepare for future iteration. If you’re traveling through your plan and determine a soft spot at any time, simply pivot. It’s many hours of upfront work to get your strategy built, but it’s not too hard to tweak as you go.

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Quality Over Quantity: Repurpose Your Best Ideas and Distribute Them Far and Wide

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

I hate to be the one to break this to you, but …

Your audience does not need your ideas.

Sorry to disappoint you.

It’s true though.

Your audience is exposed to plenty of ideas. Everywhere they turn online and offline, they are bombarded with ideas. Ideas, ideas, ideas. Mostly filler and fluff.

Think about yourself. Do you need any more ideas to consume and consider?

No.

What you need are someone’s best ideas. And what your audience needs — in fact, all that your audience needs — are your best ideas.

  • The ideas that cut through the crap and clutter to make a difference
  • The ideas you’ve thought through, spent time with, and sculpted
  • The ideas that are closer to finished products than initial impressions

And you should invest more time distributing these premium ideas further and wider, in different ways and in different places. You shouldn’t simply hit Publish and then run to the next idea.

This way you can meet more of your current audience members where they are and you increase the likelihood of reaching potential audience members with your best work.

Let me show you an example of how I’m doing this on one of my sites …

It all starts with a blog post

Given my responsibilities here at Rainmaker Digital, and being a new dad, I don’t have a ton of extra capacity for side projects.

So when I do have an idea worth sharing over at The Assembly Call, I want to maximize the impact and distribution of that good idea. I can’t afford to spin my wheels.

In the immortal words of Sweet Brown:

“Ain’t nobody got time for that.”

This is why I’ve shifted my strategy and begun taking one well-thought-out idea and repurposing it into several different types of content, distributed in many different places.

The idea is given birth in a blog post. Why? Because I do my best thinking when I’m writing.

Writing forces me to clarify my thoughts in a way that I’m never able to by simply ruminating, or even talking.

I need to sit down, think, write, edit, think a little more, edit a little more, and chisel the idea from rough stone into something smooth and polished.

A lot of the fluff, filler, clutter, and crap gets removed, and then I feel much more comfortable turning the idea loose in the world.

(This process also makes me more prepared to speak extemporaneously about the topic in the future — a very useful side benefit for a project that involves a podcast and radio show.)

You may be different. You may thrive working it all out in your head. You may find that you clarify your ideas best by talking them out. I urge you to learn what works best for you and follow it.

But for me, it starts with writing. Hence why I began a blogging series titled “3-Point Shot” — where, basically, I take a topic of interest to IU basketball fans and come up with three useful observations about it. Simple. Consistent. Repeatable.

Sometimes I know what the observations will be before I start writing. But usually the process of conducting basic research, and then synthesizing it into three clearly articulated ideas, reveals new insights that are useful to me and, in turn, to my audience.

I write the first draft. Sometimes I rewrite or rearrange parts. Then I edit and proofread. Soon thereafter I hit Publish. The entire process usually takes 60–75 minutes.

Now I have a blog post, usually in the 1,000–1,250 word vicinity, that I can distribute via social media, use to attract search traffic, and send to our email list.

One piece. One format. A few distribution channels.

All done? Hardly. I’m actually just getting started.

The beautiful part of this strategy is that the most difficult and time-intensive part is now done. I developed a high-quality idea — it’s not just something I slapped together in 15 minutes as a cheap traffic grab.

Next, it’s time to leverage this fully-formed idea into a blitzkrieg of distribution.

The blog post becomes a podcast episode (and video!)

Keep in mind as we go through this example that the specific steps and channels that work for me over at The Assembly Call may not necessarily be the steps that you need to take.

That site is built around a podcast, and we’re also trying to grow our YouTube audience. Therefore, getting content out to our podcast audience and publishing more content to our YouTube channel are priorities. That might not be true for you.

But the big idea that I’m describing here — combining the power of quality over quantity with repurposing and smart, widespread distribution — will work for you. Just take the basic principles and apply them to your situation.

The next basic principle for me is this: turn the blog post into a podcast episode … and there just so happens to be a way that I can do that while simultaneously creating a video version too. Score!

When time is of the essence (and when isn’t it?), you have to take any chance you can to work smarter, not harder.

So here’s what I do:

  • Double-check my microphone cables and settings, and do a test recording. (Always, always, always do a test recording!)
  • Open up my Assembly Call episode template in GarageBand, so I can record locally.
  • Create a YouTube Live Event to broadcast the recording live.
  • Open up the blog post in a web browser, so I have it ready for reference.
  • Tweet out the link to the YouTube Live Event, so anyone who is interested can watch the live recording. (For what it’s worth, I’ve never had fewer than 16 people watch live online, and occasionally that number is up in the 50s and 60s.)
  • Hit Record in GarageBand, hit Start Broadcast on the YouTube Live Event, welcome the audience, and start reading the blog post.

From time to time while reading, I’ll interject something extra — the kind of comment that might have been a footnote to the written piece. But for the most part I just read the blog post verbatim, trying to sound as casual and conversational as I can.

I was worried when I first starting doing this that our podcast and YouTube audiences wouldn’t be too enthused about this content since it’s just me (without my co-hosts) and I’m basically just reading something they could get on the blog.

My worries proved to be unfounded. The response has been unequivocally positive.

I’ve received numerous tweets and emails thanking me for finding a way to deliver this written content in the preferred consumption medium for podcast listeners, which make up the majority of our audience. These folks would never get to see or hear the content otherwise.

And it is so easy to do. The entire time investment to record and post the podcast is about 30–35 minutes:

  • 5 minutes to set up
  • 15–20 minutes to record
  • 10 minutes to publish the podcast (the YouTube Live Event is automatically archived on our YouTube channel for on-demand viewing)

Furthermore, while our blog posts only publish in one place — our blog — we are set up to distribute our podcast episodes far and wide, with only a few button clicks required.

Every episode goes to:

  • iTunes
  • Google Play
  • TuneIn Radio
  • Stitcher
  • iHeartRadio
  • Spreaker
  • SoundCloud

This doesn’t even account for the many individual podcast apps that scrape places like iTunes for podcast feeds. (For example, I use Podcast Addict on my Android device, and The Assembly Call is available there even though I never signed up or submitted it there.)

And here’s a fun, little side benefit …

One of my favorite bonuses about tweeting out links to podcast episodes over blog posts is that people can consume the content right there in their Twitter feed.

Look at this tweet. All someone has to do is hit the play button, and the episode will play right there in the Twitter feed. Less friction, less distance between my audience being intrigued and then actually consuming my content.

Turn one quality blog post into a traffic and attention engine

So if you’re scoring at home, we’ve now gone from one blog post, one distribution channel, and a few traffic sources to:

  • A blog post
  • A podcast episode
  • A video
  • At least 11 different distribution channels
  • Countless traffic sources

And here’s the crazy thing … it could be more.

I could:

  • Repurpose the blog post someplace like Medium, or as a guest post
  • Create a slide presentation for SlideShare
  • Find additional video channels besides YouTube
  • Extract clips of the audio for a service like Clammr
  • Make clips or GIFs from the video to post in visual channels like Instagram

And on and on.

The main reasons I don’t do those are a) time and b) because I’d get diminishing returns.

I’ve tried to be strategic about investing the limited time and effort resources I have for this project into the channels that will deliver the best and most immediate returns. SlideShare, for example, isn’t going to do much for a sports audience, but it may be a great option for you.

What’s been the impact of all this? It’s only been a month, but already:

  • I added 400 new email subscribers
  • We doubled our YouTube subscribers (in just a month!)
  • Traffic to our blog increased by 31.91 percent
  • Podcast downloads in just March of 2017 (the majority of which was during the off-season, when attention is usually lower) were nearly equal to the combined total of January and February

What you should do next

Ask yourself if you’re maximizing the distribution of your best ideas.

Not your best blog posts, but your best ideas.

Because if you have an idea that’s a winner, but it’s only distributed via text as a blog post, then you’re missing out on a wide range of additional attraction options.

Can you turn your blog post into an audio recording? Can you then turn that audio recording into a video — even if you just use a fixed image rather than filming yourself (like I do here)?

Or, if you have a great podcast episode, can you go the other way and turn it into a blog post? If you already create transcripts for your podcast episodes, this is incredibly simple to do.

The bottom line is that rather than focusing on the quantity of the content you publish, you should invest more time in creating fewer, higher quality pieces of content … and then find efficient, scalable ways to distribute these high-quality pieces to as many nooks and crannies of the web as you can.

You’ll reach more people with your best ideas in the way they’re most comfortable consuming content.

And there’s no better way to build an audience and authority, brick by brick, than that.

The post Quality Over Quantity: Repurpose Your Best Ideas and Distribute Them Far and Wide appeared first on Copyblogger.


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Two Vital Elements that Might Be Missing from Your Content (and Precisely Where to Add Them)

"We all dream of making such an impact on people that they share our ideas far and wide." – Kelly Exeter

It’s taken you more than 10 hours to write a blog post.

You’ve researched the topic to the nth degree. You’ve edited it to within an inch of its life.

Now it’s time to get it out into the world!

You excitedly press Publish, and … even days later … crickets.

Heartbreaking, right?

We all like to think that the amount of effort we invest in creating a piece of content directly correlates to how deeply it resonates with readers. But, experience has repeatedly shown this is not the case.

So, what’s the deciding factor if it’s not effort?

Luck? Timing? Skill?

Yes, the factors above do play a part. But, more often than not, it comes down to these two elements:

  1. If your content doesn’t hook readers in the first few sentences, it doesn’t matter how good the rest of it is, you’ve lost them.
  2. If you don’t clearly communicate your idea, readers may lose interest after your introduction because they don’t have an incentive to keep reading.

So, how do we write both a strong hook and a strong idea? That’s what I’m going to break down for you today.

What’s a hook?

A hook is a narrative technique that operates exactly as it sounds.

It’s information so interesting that it hooks the reader’s attention, and they feel compelled to see what comes next. So, they keep reading.

The hook works in tandem with the headline; the headline delivers the reader to the first lines of an article, and then the hook in those first few lines launches the reader deeper into the piece of content.

What’s the idea?

The dictionary definition of an “idea” is:

“A thought or suggestion as to a possible course of action.”

That neatly sums up what we’re trying to do when we write anything. We want to share a thought, make a suggestion and/or inspire people to take a certain action.

Why is your content’s idea so crucial?

Because your idea drives the payoff the reader will get from continuing to read your article.

That payoff can be:

  • Laughing from your humor
  • Learning new information
  • Taking meaningful action that will help them reach their goals

The idea forms the backbone of your article that leads to a positive outcome for both you and your readers.

We all dream of making such an impact on people that they share our ideas far and wide.

If the people reading your words aren’t inspired to share them with their friends, there’s a ceiling on the number of people you can reach.

Where things can go wrong for your idea

It might be easy to think of an idea for a piece of content, but when we actually sit down to write:

  1. We discover we don’t have as much to say about the idea as we first thought.
  2. We start writing about one idea, but then introduce another halfway through.

In both of these situations, if we publish that content, the reader may be left feeling either bewildered or cheated at the end. Not ideal.

How do you get super clear on your idea?

My favorite technique is to initially write a very literal headline.

Why?

Because it forces you to identify the exact promise you’re making to the reader.

If you can’t identify your promise, then you’re not going to be able to deliver a payoff.

Once you’ve written your literal headline and confirmed you know the exact idea you want to communicate, you’ll use that to:

  • Determine whether you actually have enough material to deliver a payoff for the reader.
  • Edit tightly to ensure you do so.

Here are three examples of literal headlines that sum up the article’s payoff.

When you click through to each of the posts above, you’ll see the actual headline is different from the literal headline I’ve identified.

That’s because your headline needs to hook the reader’s interest without giving away the payoff. If you deliver the payoff in the headline, there’s generally no need for someone to read the whole article.

Struggling to write a literal headline? That means you don’t have a good handle on the idea you’re trying to communicate.

Here are three examples of categories that can help you craft a strong idea … and then we’ll get into writing your hook.

1. Counterintuitive

This is where you take conventional wisdom and turn it upside down.

We all know a balanced diet made up of a variety of foods is ideal, so when someone tells us they ate nothing but potatoes for a year and lost a large amount of weight along the way, that gets our attention.

2. Practical and actionable

Telling people “If you’re organized, your life will be so much easier” is yawn-worthy. Everyone knows that.

Showing them the way you organize your life so that they can learn your tips? That’s far more powerful.

3. Contrarian

When everyone’s telling us not to do a certain thing, having someone tell us we should is incredibly refreshing.

It’s also the kind of thing we tend to share because it’s “ammunition” that justifies our choice to take a path less travelled.

How to write a great hook

One of the most common things I do as an editor is delete the first two paragraphs of articles sent to me.

Introductions are difficult to write, but:

If you’ve written 400+ words of an introduction, there’s a solid chance there’s a decent hook sitting somewhere around the 200-word mark.

Remember, your hook doesn’t need to be the most interesting thing anyone’s ever read; it just needs to be interesting enough to keep the person reading.

Here are five of my favorite hook techniques, with examples:

Hook #1: Ask a question

Humans are drawn to questions for a few reasons. One reason is that we’re inherently competitive.

When someone asks us a question, we’re compelled to first answer it and then find out if our answer is correct. If you don’t have an answer to a question, but someone suggests they do, that’s an even stronger hook.

Here’s an example of Sonia Simone leveraging this:

Headline: The #1 Conversion Killer in Your Copy (and How to Beat It)

Hook: What makes people almost buy? What makes them get most of the way there and then drop out of your shopping cart at the last second?

If you have a website with a shopping cart, I defy you to stop reading the article after those first two lines.

Hook #2: Focus on the reader

This is probably the easiest hook to create. By using the words “You,” “You’re” or “Your” in your introduction, you directly address the reader.

Take this example from Alexandra Franzen:

Headline: This one’s for you

Hook: Your inbox is full of ego-rattling rejection emails, but you’re emailing 10 more literary agents today. … Your podcast has exactly three fans (and two are your parents), but you’re posting a new episode every single week, nonetheless.

The reason this hook works so well is because the reader now feels they’re part of the article’s story. This creates a strong need to know how that story ends.

Hook #3: Add dialogue

Who likes listening in on other people’s conversations?

We all do. We can’t help it. When an article starts with dialogue, we’re quickly hooked because we’re getting all the pleasure of eavesdropping, without the guilt.

Here’s an example from Jerod Morris:

Headline: Why Your Greatest Asset May Be Slowly Eroding (and How You Can Rebuild It)

Hook: “Why are we sending this email to this list again?” Kim asked. I was incredulous. “Umm, because we never sent it a first time,” I thought to myself. Still, before responding, I decided to check. Glad I did.

This hook combines both spoken and inner dialogue. The latter of which is next-level intriguing because it gives the reader access to the writer’s inner thoughts.

Why was Jerod “glad he checked?” We have to know.

Hook #4: Make a big statement

This is where a writer makes a “big call” — usually in both their headline and their opening line. It’s effective because it makes people think, “Really? What have you got to back that up?”

It’s a favorite technique of Penelope Trunk:

Headline: Living up to your potential is BS

Hook: The idea that we somehow have a certain amount of potential that we must live up to is a complete crock.

The reason this hook is so effective is because it captures the attention of people from both sides of the argument.

People who agree with the sentiment want to find out why they’re “right” in thinking so. People who disagree? They read on because they want to rebut.

Big statements are not for the faint-hearted. If you don’t want to engage in robust conversation about the ideas you’ve expressed in a post, stay away from this one.

Hook #5: Tell a story

If you present information in a story format, people immediately pay attention. Using a story as a hook, however, is a pro skill.

You can’t kick off with just any story; it has to be relevant. For an ongoing master class in this technique, simply follow Bernadette Jiwa.

Here’s a recent example from her blog:

Headline: The Unchanging Nature Of Business

Hook: It’s a cool November day in 2014, and a young couple pause on a suburban street to snap a selfie with an iPhone 5C.

Why does the above statement hook you? Because you want to discover the link between the headline and a young couple taking a selfie.

Let’s recap

I’ve covered a bit of ground, so let’s touch on the key points again.

  1. If you don’t hook readers at the beginning of your article, they’re more likely to move on to a different piece of content.
  2. If you can’t summarize the idea of your article in a “literal” headline, then you don’t have a firm grasp of what you’re trying to communicate — and you’ll fail to deliver a payoff for the reader.

Where to go from here?

A simple exercise I urge you to do regularly is: pay attention to the articles that you read all the way to the end and share.

Study them by identifying:

  • The hooks the author used to get you reading.
  • The hooks the author used to keep you reading. (For example, subheadings also function as hooks.)
  • The underlying ideas. (Write literal headlines once you’ve identified those ideas.)
  • What moved you to share those articles?

When you understand the writing techniques that work well on you, you can use them in your own writing to ensure that if you put a lot of time and energy into creating a piece of content, then it will get the attention it deserves.

The post Two Vital Elements that Might Be Missing from Your Content (and Precisely Where to Add Them) appeared first on Copyblogger.


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