Tag Archive | "Traffic"

Declining Organic Traffic? How to Tell if it’s a Tracking or Optimization Issue

Posted by andrewchoco

Picture this scenario. You’re a new employee that has just been brought in to a struggling marketing department (or an agency brought on to help recover lost numbers). You get access to Google Analytics, and see something like this:

(Actual screenshot of the client I audited)

This can generate two types of emotional response: excitement or fear (or both). The steady decline in organic traffic excites you because you have so many tactics and ideas that you think can save this company from spiraling downward out of control. But there’s also the fear that these tactics wont be enough to correct the course.

Regardless of whether these new tactics would work or not, it’s important to understand the history of the account and determine not only what is happening, but why.

The company may have an idea of why the traffic is declining (i.e. competitors have come in and made ranking for keywords much harder, or they did a website redesign and have never recovered).

Essentially, this boils down to two things: 1) either you’re struggling with organic optimization, or 2) something was off with your tracking in Google Analytics, has since been corrected, and hasn’t been caught.

In this article, I’ll go over an audit I did for one of my clients to help determine if the decline we saw in organic traffic was due to actual poor SEO performance, an influx in competitors, tracking issues, or a combination of these things.

I’ll be breaking it down into five different areas of investigation:

  1. Keyword ranking differences from 2015–2017
    1. Did the keywords we were ranking for in 2015 change drastically in 2017? Did we lose rankings and therefore lose organic traffic?
  2. Top organic landing pages from 2015–2017
    1. Are the top ranking organic landing pages the same currently as they were in 2015? Are we missing any pages due to a website redesign?
  3. On-page metric
    1. Did something happen to the site speed / bounce rate / page views etc.
  4. SEMrush/Moz keyword, traffic, and domain authority data
    1. Looking at the SEMrush organic traffic cost metric as well as Moz metrics like Domain Authority and competitors.
  5. Goal completions
    1. Did our conversion numbers stay consistent throughout the traffic drop? Or did the conversions drop in correlation with the traffic drop?

By the end of this post, my goal is that you’ll be able to replicate this audit to determine exactly what’s causing your organic traffic decline and how to get back on the right track.

Let’s dive in!

Keyword ranking differences from 2015–2017

This was my initial starting point for my audit. I started with this specifically because the most obvious answer, for a decline in traffic is a decline in keyword rankings.

I wanted to look at what keywords we were ranking for in 2015 to see if we significantly dropped in the rankings or if the search volume had dropped. If the company you’re auditing has had a long-running Moz account, start by looking at the keyword rankings from the initial start of the decline, compared to current keyword rankings.

I exported keyword data from both SEMrush and Moz, and looked specifically at the ranking changes of core keywords.

March was a particularly strong month across the board, so I narrowed it down and exported the keyword rankings in:

  • March 2015
  • March 2016
  • March 2017
  • December 2017 (so I could get the most current rankings)

Once the keywords were exported, I went in and highlighted in red the keywords that we were ranking for in 2015 (and driving traffic from) that we were no longer ranking for in 2017. I also highlighted in yellow the keywords we were ranking for in 2015 that were still ranking in 2017.

2015 keywords:

2017 keywords:

(Brand-related queries and URLs are blurred out for anonymity)

One thing that immediately stood out: in 2015, this company was ranking for five keywords, including the word “free.” They have since changed their offering, so it made sense that in 2017, we weren’t ranking for those keywords.

After removing the free queries, we pulled the “core” keywords to look at their differences.

March 2015 core keywords:

  • Appointment scheduling software: position 9
  • Online appointment scheduling: position 11
  • Online appointment scheduling: position 9
  • Online scheduling software: position 9
  • Online scheduler: position 9
  • Online scheduling: position 13

December 2017 core keywords:

  • Appointment scheduler: position 11
  • Appointment scheduling software: position 10
  • Online schedule: position 6
  • Online appointment scheduler: position 11
  • Online appointment scheduling: position 12
  • Online scheduling software: position 12
  • Online scheduling tool: position 10
  • Online scheduling: position 15
  • SaaS appointment scheduling: position 2

There were no particular red flags here. While some of the keywords have moved down 1–2 spots, we had new ones jump up. These small changes in movement didn’t explain the nearly 30–40% drop in organic traffic. I checked this off my list and moved on to organic landing pages.

Top organic landing page changes

Since the dive into keyword rankings didn’t provide the answer for the decline in traffic, the next thing I looked at were the organic landing pages. I knew this client had switched over CMS systems in early 2017, and had done a few small redesign projects the past three years.

After exporting our organic landing pages for 2015, 2016, and 2017, we compared the top ten (by organic sessions) and got the following results.

2015 top organic landing pages:

2016 top organic landing pages:

2017 top organic landing pages:

Because of their redesign, you can see that the subfolders changed between 2015/2016 to 2017. What really got my attention, however, is the /get-started page. In 2015/2016, the Get Started page accounted for nearly 16% of all organic traffic. In 2017, the Get Started page was nowhere to be found.

If you run into this problem and notice there are pages missing from your current top organic pages, a great way to uncover why is to use the Wayback Machine. It’s a great tool that allows you to see what a web page looked like in the past.

When we looked at the /get-started URL in the Wayback Machine, we noticed something pretty interesting:

In 2015, their /get-started page also acted as their login page. When people were searching on Google for “[Company Name] login,” this page was ranking, bringing in a significant amount of organic traffic.

Their current setup sends logins to a subdomain that doesn’t have a GA code (as it’s strictly used as a portal to the actual application).

That helped explain some of the organic traffic loss, but knowing that this client had gone through a few website redesigns, I wanted to make sure that all redirects were done properly. Regardless of whether or not your traffic has changed, if you’ve recently done a website redesign where you’re changing URLs, it’s smart to look at your top organic landing pages from before the redesign and double check to make sure they’re redirecting to the correct pages.

While this helped explain some of the traffic loss, the next thing we looked at was the on-page metrics to see if we could spot any obvious tracking issues.

Comparing on-page engagement metrics

Looking at the keyword rankings and organic landing pages provided a little bit of insight into the organic traffic loss, but it was nothing definitive. Because of this, I moved to the on-page metrics for further clarity. As a disclaimer, when I talk about on-page metrics, I’m talking about bounce rate, page views, average page views per session, and time on site.

Looking at the same top organic pages, I compared the on-page engagement metrics.

2015 on-page metrics:

2016 on-page metrics:

2017 on-page metrics:

While the overall engagement metrics changed slightly, the biggest and most interesting discrepancy I saw was in the bounce rates for the home page and Get Started page.

According to a number of different studies (like this one, this one, or even this one), the average bounce rate for a B2B site is around 40–60%. Seeing the home page with a bounce rate under 20% was definitely a red flag.

This led me to look into some other metrics as well. I compared key metrics between 2015 and 2017, and was utterly confused by the findings:

Looking at the organic sessions (overall), we saw a decrease of around 80,000 sessions, or 27.93%.

Looking at the organic users (overall) we saw a similar number, with a decrease of around 38,000 users, or 25%.

When we looked at page views, however, we saw a much more drastic drop:

For the entire site, we saw a 50% decrease in pageviews, or a decrease of nearly 400,000 page views.

This didn’t make much sense, because even if we had those extra 38,000 users, and each user averaged roughly 2.49 pages per session (looking above), that would only account for, at most, 100,000 more page views. This left 300,000 page views unaccounted for.

This led me to believe that there was definitely some sort of tracking issue. The high number of page views and low bounce rate made me suspect that some users were being double counted.

However, to confirm these assumptions, I took a look at some external data sources.

Using SEMrush and Moz data to exclude user error

If you have a feeling that your tracking was messed up in previous years, a good way to confirm or deny this hypothesis is to check external sources like Moz and SEMrush.

Unfortunately, this particular client was fairly new, so as a result, their Moz campaign data wasn’t around during the high organic traffic times in 2015. However, if it was, a good place to start would be looking at the search visibility metric (as long as the primary keywords have stayed the same). If this metric has changed drastically over the years, it’s a good indicator that your organic rankings have slipped quite a bit.

Another good thing to look at is domain authority and core page authority. If your site has had a few redesigns, moved URLs, or anything like that, it’s important to make sure that the domain authority has carried over. It’s also important to look at the page authorities of your core pages. If these are much lower than when they were before the organic traffic slide, there’s a good chance your redirects weren’t done properly, and the page authority isn’t being carried over through those new domains.

If, like me, you don’t have Moz data that dates back far enough, a good thing to check is the organic traffic cost in SEMrush.

Organic traffic cost can change because of a few reasons:

  1. Your site is ranking for more valuable keywords, making the organic traffic cost rise.
  2. More competitors have entered the space, making the keywords you were ranking for more expensive to bid on.

Usually it’s a combination of both of these.

If our organic traffic really was steadily decreasing for the past 2 years, we’d likely see a similar trendline looking at our organic traffic cost. However, that’s not what we saw.

In March of 2015, the organic traffic cost of my client’s site was $ 14,300.

In March of 2016, the organic traffic cost was $ 22,200

In December of 2017, the organic traffic cost spiked all the way up to $ 69,200. According to SEMrush, we also saw increases in keywords and traffic.

Looking at all of this external data re-affirmed the assumption that something must have been off with our tracking.

However, as a final check, I went back to internal metrics to see if the conversion data had decreased at a similar rate as the organic traffic.

Analyzing and comparing conversion metrics

This seemed like a natural final step into uncovering the mystery in this traffic drop. After all, it’s not organic traffic that’s going to profit your business (although it’s a key component). The big revenue driver is goal completions and form fills.

This was a fairly simple procedure. I went into Google Analytics to compare goal completion numbers and goal completion conversion rates over the past three years.

If your company is like my client’s, there’s a good chance you’re taking advantage of the maximum 20 goal completions that can be simultaneously tracked in Analytics. However, to make things easier and more consistent (since goal completions can change), I looked at only buyer intent conversions. In this case it was Enterprise, Business, and Personal edition form fills, as well as Contact Us form fills.

If you’re doing this on your own site, I would recommend doing the same thing. Gated content goal completions usually have a natural shelf life, and this natural slowdown in goal completions can skew the data. I’d look at the most important conversion on your site (usually a contact us or a demo form) and go strictly off those numbers.

For my client, you can see those goal completion numbers below:

Goal completion name




Contact Us




Individual Edition




Business Edition




Enterprise Edition








Conversion rates:

Goal completion name




Contact Us




Individual Edition




Business Edition




Enterprise Edition








This was pretty interesting. Although there was clearly fluctuation in the goal completions and conversion rates, there were no differences that made sense with our nearly 40,000 user drop from 2015 to 2016 to 2017.

All of these findings further confirmed that we were chasing an inaccurate goal. In fact, we spent the first three months working together to try and get back a 40% loss that, quite frankly, was never even there in the first place.

Tying everything together and final thoughts

For this particular case, we had to go down all five of these roads in order to reach the conclusion that we did: Our tracking was off in the past.

However, this may not be the case for your company or your clients. You may start by looking at keyword rankings, and realize that you’re no longer ranking on the first page for ten of your core keywords. If that’s the case, you quickly discovered your issue, and your game plan should be investing in your core pages to help get them ranking again for these core keywords.

If your goal completions are way down (by a similar percentage as your traffic), that’s also a good clue that your declining traffic numbers are correct.

If you’ve looked at all of these metrics and still can’t seem to figure out the reasoning for the decrease and you’re blindly trying tactics and struggling to crawl your way back up, this is a great checklist to go through to confirm the ominous question of tracking issue or optimization issue.

If you’re having a similar issue as me, I’m hoping this post helps you get to the root of the problem quickly, and gets you one step closer to create realistic organic traffic goals for the future!

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How to Diagnose SEO Traffic Drops: 11 Questions to Answer

Posted by Daniel_Marks

Almost every consultant or in-house SEO will be asked at some point to investigate an organic traffic drop. I’ve investigated quite a few, so I thought I’d share some steps I’ve found helpful when doing so.

Is it just normal noise?

Before you sound the alarm and get lost down a rabbit hole, you should make sure that the drop you’re seeing is actually real. This involves answering two questions:

A.) Do you trust the data?

This might seem trivial, but at least a quarter of the traffic drops I’ve seen were simply due to data problems.

The best way to check on this is to sense-check other metrics that might be impacted by data problems. Does anything else look funky? If you have a data engineering team, are they aware of any data issues? Are you flat-out missing data for certain days or page types or devices, etc.? Thankfully, data problems will usually make themselves pretty obvious once you start turning over a few rocks.

One of the more common sources of data issues is simply missing data for a day.

B.) Is this just normal variance?

Metrics go up and down all the time for no discernible reason. One way to quantify this is to use your historical standard deviation for SEO traffic.

For example, you could plot your weekly SEO traffic for the past 12 months and calculate the standard deviation (using the STDEV function on Google Sheets or Excel makes this very easy) to figure out if a drop in weekly traffic is abnormal. You’d expect about 16% of weeks to be one standard deviation below your weekly average just by sheer luck. You could therefore set a one-standard-deviation threshold before investigating traffic drops, for example (but you should adjust this threshold to whatever is appropriate for your business). You can also look at the standard deviation for your year-over-year or week-over-week SEO traffic if that’s where you’re seeing the drop (i.e. plot your % change in YoY SEO traffic by week for the past 12 months and calculate the standard deviation).

SEO traffic is usually pretty noisy, especially on a short time frame like a week.

Let’s assume you’ve decided this is indeed a real traffic drop. Now what? I’d recommend trying to answer the eleven questions below, at least one of them will usually identify the culprit.

Questions to ask yourself when facing an organic traffic drop

1. Was there a recent Google algorithm update?

MozCast, Search Engine Land, and Moz’s algorithm history are all good resources here.

Expedia seems to have been penalized by a Penguin-related update.

If there was an algorithm update, do you have any reason to suspect you’d be impacted? It can sometimes be difficult to understand the exact nature of a Google update, but it’s worth tracking down any information you can to make sure your site isn’t at risk of being hit.

2. Is the drop specific to any segment?

One of the more useful practices whenever you’re looking at aggregated data (such as a site’s overall search traffic) is to segment the data until you find something interesting. In this case, we’d be looking for a segment that has dropped in traffic much more than any other. This is often the first step in tracking down the root cause of the issue. The two segments I’ve found most useful in diagnosing SEO traffic drops specifically:

  • Device type (mobile vs. desktop vs. tablet)
  • Page type (product pages vs. category pages vs. blog posts vs. homepage etc.)

But there will likely be plenty of other segments that might make sense to look at for your business (for example, product category).

3. Are you being penalized?

This is unlikely, but it’s also usually pretty quick to disprove. Look at Search Console for any messages related to penalties and search for your brand name on Google. If you’re not showing up, then you might be penalized.

Rap Genius (now Genius) was penalized for their link building tactics and didn’t show up for their own brand name on Google.

4. Did the drop coincide with a major site change?

This can take a thousand different forms (did you migrate a bunch of URLs, move to a different JavaScript framework, update all your title tags, remove your navigation menu, etc?). If this is the case, and you have a reasonable hypothesis for how this could impact SEO traffic, you might have found your culprit.

Hulu.com saw a pretty big drop in SEO traffic after changing their JavaScript framework.

5. Did you lose ranking share to a competitor?

There are a bunch of tools that can tell you if you’ve lost rankings to a competitor:

If you’ve lost rankings, it’s worth investigating the specific keywords that you’ve lost and figuring out if there’s a trend. Did your competitors launch a new page type? Did they add content to their pages? Do they have more internal links pointing to these pages than you do?

GetStat’s Share of Voice report lets you quickly see whether a competitor is usurping your rankings

It could also just be a new competitor that’s entered the scene.

6. Did it coincide with a rise in direct or dark traffic?

If so, make sure you haven’t changed how you’re classifying this traffic on your end. Otherwise, you might simply be re-classifying organic traffic as direct or dark traffic.

7. Has there been a change to the search engine results pages you care about?

You can either use Moz’s SERP features report, or manually look at the SERPs you care about to figure out if their design has materially changed. It’s possible that Google is now answering many of your relevant queries directly in search results, put an image carousel on them, added a local pack, etc. — all of which would likely decrease your organic search traffic.

Celebritynetworth.com lost most of its SEO traffic because of rich snippets like the one above.

8. Is the drop specific to branded or unbranded traffic?

If you have historical Search Console data, you can look at number of branded clicks vs. unbranded clicks over time. You could also look at this data through AdWords if you spend on paid search. Another simple proxy to branded traffic is homepage traffic (for most sites, the majority of homepage traffic will be branded). If the drop is specific to branded search then it’s probably a brand problem, not an SEO problem.

9. Did a bunch of pages drop out of the index?

Search Console’s Index Status Report will make it clear if you suddenly have way fewer URLs being indexed. If this is the case, you might be accidentally disallowing or noindexing URLs (through robots.txt, meta tags on the page, or HTTP headers).

Search Console’s Index Status Report is a quick way to make sure you’re not accidentally noindexing or disallowing large portions of your site.

10. Did your number of referring domains and/or links drop?

It’s possible that a large number of your backlinks have been removed or are no longer accessible for whatever reason.

Ahrefs can be a quick way to determine if you’ve lost backlinks and also offers very handy reports for your lost backlinks or referring domains that will allow you to identify why you might have lost these links.

A sudden drop in backlinks could be the reason you’re seeing a traffic drop.

11. Is SEM cannibalizing SEO traffic?

It’s possible that your paid search team has recently ramped up their spend and that this is eating into your SEO traffic. You should be able to check on this pretty quickly by plotting your SEM vs. SEO traffic. If it’s not obvious after doing this whether it’s a factor, then it can be worth pausing your SEM campaigns for specific landing pages and seeing if SEO traffic rebounds for those pages.

To be clear, some level of cannibalization between SEM and SEO is inevitable, but it’s still worth understanding how much of your traffic is being cannibalized and whether the incremental clicks your SEM campaigns are driving outweigh the loss in SEO traffic (in my experience they usually do outweigh the loss in SEO traffic, but still worth checking!).

If your SEM vs. SEO traffic graph looks similar to the (slightly extreme) one above, then SEM campaigns might be cannibalizing your SEO traffic.

That’s all I’ve got — hopefully at least one of these questions will lead you to the root cause of an organic search traffic drop. Are there any other questions that you’ve found particularly helpful for diagnosing traffic drops? Let me know in the comments.

Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!

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Get More Traffic, More Confidence, and More Work Done

Good to see you again! With the Monday Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, this was a short week on Copyblogger. On Tuesday, Kelton Reid kicked things off with a thoughtful look at impostor syndrome — with clues on how to approach it from different sources, including the famous Turing Test. And on Wednesday, I talked
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A ‘Big Blog’ Strategy Anyone Can Use for More (and Better) Traffic

Do you get all the traffic you’d like for your site? Do visitors just keep pouring in, letting you meet all of your business goals with ease? Yeah, don’t worry, no one actually says Yes to that question. Getting new people to your site can be tricky, and changes in Google and Facebook algorithms don’t
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The post A ‘Big Blog’ Strategy Anyone Can Use for More (and Better) Traffic appeared first on Copyblogger.


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The Complete Guide to Direct Traffic in Google Analytics

Posted by tombennet

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

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

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

What is direct traffic?

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

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

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

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

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

What causes direct traffic?

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

1. Manual address entry and bookmarks

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

Simple as that.


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

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

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

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

3. Missing or broken tracking code

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

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

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

4. Improper redirection

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

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

5. Non-web documents

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

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

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


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

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

6. “Dark social”

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

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

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

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

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

Checklist: Minimizing direct traffic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading!

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How to Optimize for Google’s Featured Snippets to Build More Traffic

Posted by AnnSmarty

Have you noticed it’s getting harder and harder to build referral traffic from Google?

And it’s not just that the competition has got tougher (which it certainly has!).

It’s also that Google has moved past its ten blue links and its organic search results are no longer generating as much traffic they used to.

How do you adapt? This article teaches you to optimize your content to one of Google’s more recent changes: featured snippets.

What are featured snippets?

Featured snippets are selected search results that are featured on top of Google’s organic results below the ads in a box.

Featured snippets aim at answering the user’s question right away (hence their other well-known name, “answer boxes”). Being featured means getting additional brand exposure in search results.

Here are two studies confirming the claim:

  • Ben Goodsell reports that the click-through rate (CTR) on a featured page increased from two percent to eight percent once it’s placed in an answer box, with revenue from organic traffic increasing by 677%.
  • Eric Enge highlights a 20–30% increase in traffic for ConfluentForms.com while they held the featured snippet for the query.

Types of featured snippets

There are three major types of featured snippets:

  • Paragraph (an answer is given in text). It can be a box with text inside or a box with both text and an image inside.
  • List (an answer is given in a form of a list)
  • Table (an answer is given in a table)

Here’s an example of paragraph snippet with an image:

paragraph snippet image

According to Getstat, the most popular featured snippet is “paragraph” type:


Featured snippets or answer boxes?

Since we’re dealing with a pretty new phenomenon, the terminology is pretty loose. Many people (including myself) are inclined to refer to featured snippets as “answer boxes,” obviously because there’s an answer presented in a box.

While there’s nothing wrong with this terminology, it creates a certain confusion because Google often gives a “quick answer” (a definition, an estimate, etc.) on top without linking to the source:

Answer box

To avoid confusion, let’s stick to the “featured snippet” term whenever there’s a URL featured in the box, because these present an extra exposure to the linked site (hence they’re important for content publishers):

Featured snippet

Do I have a chance to get featured?

According to research by Ahrefs, 99.58% of featured pages already rank in top 10 of Google. So if you are already ranking high for related search queries, you have very good chances to get featured.

On the other hand, Getstat claims that 70% of snippets came from sites outside of the first organic position. So it’s required that the page is ranked in top 10, but it’s not required to be #1 to be featured.

Unsurprisingly, the most featured site is Wikipedia.org. If there’s Wikipedia featured for your search query, it may be extremely hard to beat that — but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try.

Finally, according to the analysis performed in a study, the following types of search queries get featured results most often:

  • DIY processes
  • Health
  • Financial
  • Mathematical
  • Requirements
  • Status
  • Transitional

Ahrefs’ study expands the list of popular topics with their most frequently words that appear in featured snippets:

words trigger featured snippets

The following types of search queries usually don’t have answer boxes:

  • Images and videos
  • Local
  • Shopping

To sum up the above studies:

  • You have chances to get featured for the terms your pages are already ranking in top 10. Thus, a big part of being featured is to improve your overall rankings (especially for long-tail informational queries, which are your lower-hanging fruit)
  • If your niche is DIY, health or finance, you have the highest probability of getting featured

Identify all kinds of opportunities to be featured

Start with good old keyword research

Multiple studies confirm that the majority of featured snippets are triggered by long-tail keywords. In fact, the more words that are typed into a search box, the higher the probability there will be a featured snippet.

It’s always a good idea to start with researching your keywords. This case study gives a good step by step keyword research strategy for a blogger, and this one lists major keyword research tools as suggested by experts.

When performing keyword research with featured snippets in mind, note that:

  • Start with question-type search queries (those containing question words, like “what,” “why,” “how,” etc.) because these are the easiest to identify, but don’t stop there…
  • Target informational intent, not just questions. While featured snippets aim at answering the user’s question immediately, question-type queries are not the only types that trigger those featured results. According to the aforementioned Ahrefs study, the vast majority of keywords that trigger featured snippets were long-tail queries with no question words in them.

It helps if you use a keyword research tool that shows immediately whether a query triggers featured results. I use Serpstat for my keyword research because it combines keyword research with featured snippet research and lets me see which of my keywords trigger answer boxes:

Serpstat featured snippet

You can run your competitor in Serpstat and then filter their best-performing queries by the presence of answer boxes:

Serpstat competitor research

This is a great overview of your future competition, enabling you to see your competitors’ strengths and weaknesses.

Browse Google for more questions

To further explore the topic, be sure to browse Google’s own “People also ask” sections whenever you see one in the search results. It provides a huge insight into which questions Google deems related to each topic.

People also ask section

Once you start expanding the questions to see the answers, more and more questions will be added to the bottom of the box:

More questions

Identify search queries where you already rank high

Your lowest-hanging fruit is to identify which phrases you already rank highly for. These will be the easiest to get featured for after you optimize for answer boxes (more on this below).

Google Search Console shows which search queries send you clicks. To find that report, click “Search Traffic” and then “Search Analytics.”

Check the box to show the position your pages hold for each one and you’ll have the ability to see which queries are your top-performing ones:

Google Search Console

You can then use the filters to find some question-type queries among those:

Search console filter

Go beyond traditional keyword research tools: Ask people

All the above methods (albeit great) tackle already discovered opportunities: those for which you or your competitors are already ranking high. But how about venturing beyond that? Ask your readers, customers, and followers how they search and which questions they ask.

MyBlogU: Ask people outside your immediate reach

Move away from your target audience and ask random people what questions they have on a specific topic and what would be their concerns. Looking out of the box can always give a fresh perspective.

MyBlogU (disclaimer: I am the founder) is a great way to do that. Just post a new project in the “Brainstorm” section and ask members to contribute their thoughts.

MyBlogU concept

Seed Keywords: Ask your friends and followers

Seed Keywords is a simple tool that allows you to discover related keywords with help from your friends and followers. Simply create a search scenario, share it on social media, and ask your followers to type in the keywords they would use to solve it.

Try not to be too leading with your search scenario. Avoid guiding people to the search phrase you think they should be using.

Here’s an example of a scenario:


And here are the suggestions from real people:

Seed Keywords

Obviously, you can create similar surveys with SurveyMonkey or Google Forms, too.

Monitor questions people ask on Twitter

Another way to discover untapped opportunities is to monitor questions on Twitter. Its search supports the ? search operator that will filter results to those containing a question. Just make sure to put a space between your search term and ?.

Twitter questions

I use Cyfe to monitor and archive Twitter results because it provides a minimal dashboard which I can use to monitor an unlimited number of Twitter searches.

Cyfe questions

Once you lack article ideas, simply log in to Cyfe to view the archive and then proceed to the above keyword research tools to expand on any idea.

I use spreadsheets to organize questions and keyword phrases I discover (see more on this below). Some of these questions may become a whole piece of content, while others will be subsections of broader articles:

  • I don’t try to analyze search volume to decide whether any of those questions deserve to be covered in a separate article or a subsection. (Based on the Ahrefs research and my own observations, there is no direct correlation between the popularity of the term and whether it will trigger a featured snippet).
  • Instead, I use my best judgement (based on my niche knowledge and research) as to how much I will be able to tell to answer each particular question. If it’s a lot, I’ll probably turn into a separate article and use keyword research to identify subsections of the future piece.

Optimizing for featured snippets

Start with on-page SEO

There is no magic button or special markup which will make sure your site gets featured. Of course, it’s a good idea to start with non-specific SEO best practices, simply because being featured is only possible when you rank high for the query.

Randy Milanovic did a good overview of tactics of making your content findable. Eric Brantner over at Coschedule has put together a very useful SEO checklist, and of course never forget to go through Moz’s SEO guide.

How about structured markup?

Many people would suggest using Schema.org (simply because it’s been a “thing” to recommend adding schema for anything and everything) but the aforementioned Ahrefs study shows that there’s no correlation between featured results and structured markup.

That being said, the best way to get featured is to provide a better answer. Here are a few actionable tips:

1. Aim at answering each question concisely

My own observation of answer boxes has led me to think that Google prefers to feature an answer which was given within one paragraph.

The study by AJ Ghergich cites that the average length of a paragraph snippet is 45 words (the maximum is 97 words), so let it be your guideline as to how long each answer should be in order to get featured:

Optimal featured snippet lengths

This doesn’t mean your articles need to be one paragraph long. On the contrary, these days Google seems to give preference to long-form content (also known as “cornerstone content,” which is obviously a better way to describe it because it’s not just about length) that’s broken into logical subsections and features attention-grabbing images. Even if you don’t believe that cornerstone content receives any special treatment in SERPs, focusing on long articles will help you to cover more related questions within one piece (more on that below).

All you need to do is to adjust your blogging style just a bit:

  • Ask the question in your article (that may be a subheading)
  • Immediately follow the question with a one-paragraph answer
  • Elaborate further in the article

This tactic may also result in higher user retention because it makes any article better structured and thus a much easier read. To quote AJ Ghergich,

When you use data to fuel topic ideation, content creation becomes more about resources and less about brainstorming.

2. Be factual and organize well

Google loves numbers, steps and lists. We’ve seen this again and again: More often than not, answer boxes will list the actual ingredients, number of steps, time to cook, year and city of birth, etc.

In your paragraph introducing the answer to the question, make sure to list useful numbers and names. Get very factual.

In fact, the aforementioned study by AJ Ghergich concluded that comparison charts and lists are an easier way to get featured because Google loves structured content. In fact, even for branded queries (where a user is obviously researching a particular brand), Google would pick up a table from another site (not the answer from the brand itself) if that other site has a table:

Be factual

This only shows how much Google loves well-structured, factual, and number-driven content.

There’s no specific markup to structure your content. Google seems to pick up <table>, <ol>, and <ul> well and doesn’t need any other pointers.

3. Make sure one article answers many similar questions

In their research of featured snippets, Ahrefs found that once a page gets featured, it’s likely to get featured in lots of similar queries. This means it should be structured and worded the way it addresses a lot of related questions.

Google is very good at determining synonymic and closely related questions, so should be you. There’s no point in creating a separate page answering each specific question.

Related question

Creating one solid article addressing many related questions is a much smarter strategy if you aim at getting featured in answer boxes. This leads us to the next tactic:

4. Organize your questions properly

To combine many closely related questions in one article, you need to organize your queries properly. This will also help you structure your content well.

I have a multi-level keyword organization strategy that can be applied here as well:

  • A generic keyword makes a section or a category of the blog
  • A more specific search query becomes the title of the article
  • Even more specific queries determine the subheadings of the article and thus define its structure
    • There will be multiple queries that are so closely related that they will all go under a single subheading

For example:


Serpstat helps me a lot when it comes to both discovering an article idea and then breaking it into subtopics. Check out its “Questions” section. It will provide hundreds of questions containing your core term and then generate a tag cloud of other popular terms that come up in those questions:

Questions tag cloud

Clicking any word in the tag cloud will filter results down to those questions that only have that word in them. These are subsections for your article:

Serpstat subheadings

Here’s a good example of how related questions can help you structure the article:


5. Make sure to use eye-grabbing images

Paragraph featured snippets with images are ridiculously eye-catching, even more so than regular featured featured snippets. Honestly, I wasn’t able to identify how to add an image so that it’s featured. I tried naming it differently and I tried marking it as “featured” in the WordPress editor. Google seems to pick up a random image from the page without me being able to point it to a better version.

That being said, the only way to influence that is to make sure ALL your in-article images are eye-catching, branded, and annotated well, so that no matter which one Google ends up featuring, it will look nice. Here’s a great selection of WordPress plugins that will allow you to easily visualize your content (put together graphs, tables, charts, etc.) while working on a piece.

You can use Bannersnack to create eye-catching branded images; I love their image editing functionality. You can quickly create graphics there, then resize them to reuse as banners and social media images and organize all your creatives in folders:

banner maker bannersnack

6. Update and re-upload the images (WordPress)

WordPress adds dates to image URLs, so even if you update an article with newer information the images can be considered kind of old. I managed to snatch a couple of paragraph featured snippets with images once I started updating my images, too:


7. Monitor how you are doing

Ahrefs lets you monitor which queries your domain is featured for, so keep an eye on these as they grow and new ones appear:

Monitor where you are being featured


It takes a lot of research and planning and you cannot be sure when you’ll see the results (especially if you don’t have too many top 10 rankings just yet) but think about this way: Being featured in Google search results is your incentive to work harder on your content. You’ll achieve other important goals on your way there:

  • You’ll discover hundreds of new content ideas (and thus will rank for a wider variety of various long-tail keywords)
  • You’ll learn to research each topic more thoroughly (and thus will build more incoming links because people tend to link to indepth articles)
  • You’ll learn to structure your articles better (and thus achieve a lower bounce rate because it will be easier to read your articles)

Have you been featured in Google search results yet? Please share your tips and tricks in the comments below!

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

Posted by Tom.Capper

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

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

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

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

1. Conquer neighboring territories

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Welcome the intimidated

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

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

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

Guaranteed compatible!

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

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

3. Whip up some fervor

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Tell people your vertical exists

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

What about you, though?

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

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7 ‹Title Tag› Hacks for Increased Rankings + Traffic – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by Cyrus-Shepard

You may find yourself wondering whether the humble title tag still matters in modern SEO. When it comes to your click-through rate, the answer is a resounding yes! In today’s Whiteboard Friday, we welcome back our good friend Cyrus Shepard to talk about 7 ways you can revamp your title tags to increase your site traffic and rankings.

Title tag hacks for increased rankings and traffics

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

Video Transcription

Howdy, Moz fans. Welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. I’m very excited to be here today. My name is Cyrus. I’m a Moz associate. Today I want to talk you about title tags, specifically title tag hacks to increase your traffic and rankings.

Now, you may be asking yourself, “Are title tags even still important today in SEO?” You bet they are. We’ve done a lot of correlation studies in the past. Those correlation studies have shown different things sort of decreasing in the past years. But we’ve also seen a lot of experiments recently where people have changed their title tag and seen a significant, measurable increase in their rankings.

Now, the other aspect of title tags that people sometimes forget about is the click-through rate that you get, which can measurably increase your traffic if you get the title tag right. Now, what’s neat about increasing your traffic through click-through rate is we’ve seen a lot of experiments, Rand has experimented a lot, that if you can increase this, you can measurably increase this.

Traffic through increased clicks can seem to increase your rankings under certain circumstances. So you get the dual benefit. So that’s what I want to talk to you about today — increasing those rankings, increasing that traffic by changing the first thing that your visitor is going to see in the SERPs.

So the important thing to remember is that these are things to experiment with. Not all of these hacks are going to work for you. SEO is founded in best practices, but true success is founded when you experiment and try different things. So try some of these out and these will give you an idea of where to get started in some of your title tag experiments.

1. Numbers

Numbers kind of pop out at you. These are examples: “5 Signs of a Zombie Apocalypse” or “How Mutants Can Save 22% on Car Insurance.”

  • Cognitive Bias – Standout specific – When you see these in SERPs, they tend to get a slightly higher click-through rate sometimes. This works because of a cognitive bias. Our brains are trained to find things that stand out and are specific. When you’re scanning search results, that’s a lot of information. So your brain is going to try to find some things that it can grasp on to, and numbers are the ultimate things that are both specific and they stand out. So sometimes, in certain circumstances, you can get a higher click-through rate by using numbers in your title tags.

2. Dates

Rand did an excellent Whiteboard Friday a few weeks ago, we’ll link to it below. These are things like “Best Actress Oscar Nominee 2017″ or even more specific, you can get the month in there, “Top NFL Fantasy Draft Picks September 2017.”

Now, Rand talks about this a lot. He talks about ways of finding dates in your keyword research. The key in that research is when you’re using tools like Keyword Explorer or Google AdWords or SEMrush, you have to look for previous years. So if I was searching for this year’s, we don’t have enough data yet for 2017, so I would look for “Best Actress Oscar Nominee 2016.”

  • Leverage your CMS – If you use WordPress, if you use Yoast plugin, you can actually have your title tags update automatically year-to-year or even month-to-month leveraging that. It’s not right for all circumstances, but for certain keyword queries it works pretty well.

3. Length

This is one of the most controversial, something that causes the most angst in SEO is when we’re doing audits or looking at title tags. Inevitably, when you’re doing an SEO audit, you find two things. You find title tags that are way too short, “Pantsuit,” or title tags that are way, way, way too long because they just want to stuff every keyword in there, “Tahiti ASL Red Pantsuit with Line Color, Midrise Belt, Hook-eye Zipper, Herringbone Knit at Macy’s.”

Now, these two, they’re great title tags, but there are two problems with this. This is way too broad. “Pantsuit” could be anything. This title tag is way too diluted. It’s hard to really know what that is about. You’re trying to scan it. You’re trying to read it. Search engines are going to look at it the same way. Is this about a pantsuit? Is it about herringbone knit? It’s kind of hard.

  • Etsy study – So Etsy recently did a study where Etsy measured hundreds of thousands of URLs and they shortened their title tags, because, more often than not, the longer title tag is a problem. Shorter title tags, not so much. You see longer title tags in the wild more often. When they shortened the title tags, they saw a measurable increase in rankings.
  • 50–60 Characters – This is one of those things where best practices usually is the best way to go because the optimal length is usually 50 to 60 characters.
  • Use top keywords – When you’re deciding what keywords to put it when you’re shortening this, that’s where you want to use your keyword research and find the keywords that your visitors are actually using.

So if I go into my Analytics or Google Search Console, I can see that people are actually searching for “pantsuit,” “Macy’s,” and maybe something like that. I can come up with a title tag that fits within those parameters, “Tahiti ASL Red Pantsuit,” “pantsuits” the category, “Macy’s.” That’s going to be your winning title tag and you’ll probably see an increase in rankings.

4. Synonyms and variants

Now, you’ll notice in this last title tag, the category was a plural of pantsuit. That can actually help in some circumstances. But it’s important to realize that how you think your searchers are searching may not be how they’re actually searching.

Let’s say you do your keyword research and your top keywords are “cheap taxis.” You want to optimize for cheap taxis. Well, people may be looking for that in different ways. They may be looking for “affordable cabs” or “low cost” or “cheap Ubers,” things like that.

So you want to use those variants, find out what the synonyms and variants are and incorporate those into your title tag. So my title tag might be “Fast Affordable Cabs, Quick Taxi, Your Cheap Ride.” That’s optimized for like three different things within that 50 to 60 word limit, and it’s going to hit all those variants and you can actually rank a little higher for using that.

  • Use SERPs/keyword tools – The way you find these synonyms and variants, you can certainly look in the SERPs. Type your keyword into the SERPs, into Google and see what they highlight bold in the search results. That will often give you the variants that people are looking for, that people also ask at the bottom of the page. Your favorite keyword tool, such as Keyword Explorer or SEMrush or whatever you choose and also your Analytics. Google Search Console is a great source of information for these synonyms and variants.

5. Call to action

Now, you won’t often find the call-to-action words in your keyword research, but they really help people click. These are action verbs.

  • Action wordsbuy, find download, search, listen, watch, learn, and access. When you use these, they give a little bit more excitement because they indicate that the user will be able to do something beyond the keyword. So they’re not necessarily typing it in the search box. When they see it in results, it can create, “Oh wow, I get to download something.” It provides a little something extra, and you can increase your click-through rates that way.

6. Top referring keywords

This is a little overlooked, and it’s sort of an advanced concept. Oftentimes we optimize our page for one set of keywords, but the traffic that comes to it is another set of keywords. But what’s very powerful is when people type their words into the search box and they see those exact same words in the title tags, that’s going to increase your click-through rate.

For an example, I went into the analytics here at Moz and I looked at Followerwonk. I found the top referring keywords in Google Search Console are “Twitter search,” “search Twitter bios,” and “Twitter analytics.” Those are how people or what people are looking for right before they click on the Followerwonk listing in Google.

So using that information, I might write a title tag like “Search Twitter Bios with Followerwonk, the Twitter Analytics Tool.” That’s a pretty good title tag. I’m kind of proud of that. But you can see it hits all my major keywords that people are using. So when I type in “Twitter analytics” into the search box and I see “The Twitter Analytics Tool,” I’m more likely to click on that.

So I’ve written about this before, but it’s very important to optimize your page, not only for the traffic you’re trying to get, but the traffic you’re actually receiving. When you can marry those two, you can be stronger in all aspects.

7. Questions

Questions are great tools to use in your title tags. These are things like, “Where Do Butterflies Migrate?” Maybe your keyword is just “butterflies migrate.” But by asking a question, you create a curiosity gap, and you give people an incentive to click. Or “What is PageRank?” That’s something we do here at Moz. So you get the curiosity gap.

But oftentimes, by asking a question, you get the bonus of winning a featured snippet. Britney Muller wrote an awesome, awesome post about this a while back about questions people also ask, how to find those in your keyword research and claim those featured snippets and claim “people also ask” boxes. It’s a great, great way to increase your traffic.

So these are seven tips. Let us know your tips for title tags in the comments below. If you like this video, I’d appreciate a thumbs up. Share it with your friends on social media. I’ll see you next time. Thanks, everybody.

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A Surefire Way to Get Constant Traffic to Your Content

"Not all aspects of your audience are equal." – Brian Clark

Two weeks ago, my side project Further had one of its highest traffic days ever.

If you’re not familiar, Further is a personal development email newsletter in which I curate content from around the web. It’s basically whatever I find useful and interesting related to health, wealth, wisdom, and travel.

So what sparked the traffic? After all, the newsletter’s primary function is to send traffic to other websites.

  • Was it a significant social share from a relevant influencer?
  • Did I spend a fortune on a pay-per-click advertising campaign?
  • Had I caught a link in another personal growth newsletter?

It was indeed a link from a personal growth newsletter. Only thing is, the link was from me, in the Further newsletter itself.

Here’s what happened.

After adding the category of travel to the topics I curate for the newsletter, I also decided to test including original travel articles on Further.net to see what the response would be.

Long story short, I met a travel writer at a conference in Austin, which resulted in The French Riviera for the Rest of Us, an article that shoots down the myth that la Côte d’Azur is only for wealthy movie stars and international men of mystery.

I first built an email-based audience with curated content, so that when I moved to original content, it would get guaranteed traffic. In fact, that article got tons of clicks, because after two years of serving the audience, I knew it would be a hit with my subscribers.

Let me give you another example. After more than a decade, Copyblogger gets massive amounts of organic traffic every single day from search, social, and 150,000 RSS subscribers.

But when is our biggest traffic day each week?

It’s Thursdays, when we publish the Copyblogger Weekly email digest to more than 222,000 people. You’re getting the idea.

Audience means email

What we teach here at Copyblogger is simple — build an audience with valuable content before you start selling. And in some cases, before you even have a product or service to sell.

Now, the audience of an online publisher has multiple components — social platforms, search engines, YouTube channels, podcast subscriptions, RSS, and email. But not all aspects of your audience are equal.

Email is far and above the most valuable audience channel. Some people have known that all along, and others have made email a priority even though they have big crowds on other platforms.

And yet, social and search get all the attention. It’s completely lopsided.

I have 185,000 Twitter followers. A tweet of Further content will get me around 20 clicks. Twenty bucks on a boosted Facebook post of the same content to 5,165 people who like the Further page gets even less.

But a link in my newsletter? More than 2,000 clicks from an email list of less than 7,500.

And sure, high search rankings are gold, Jerry. But as we recently discussed, if that traffic leaves without joining your real audience (i.e., email), what was it really worth?

Which brings us to the next big point. Email sells.

Email still converts best

When it comes to content distribution, email seems to be the forgotten hero. The focus is all on going viral on social and hitting that top ranking in Google.

But you may be better off just intently focusing on building the right list of email subscribers. Yes, those steady traffic blasts to your content can help with social and search, but they also drive what you’re really after — sales.

No matter how effective your social media and SEO efforts are, the place where prospects convert to customers and clients is still email.

Consider these stats:

  • Email marketing drives more conversions than any other marketing channel, including search and social. – Monetate
  • Email is 40 times more effective at acquiring new customers than Facebook or Twitter. – McKinsey
  • When it comes to purchases made as a result of receiving a marketing message, email has the highest conversion rate (66%), when compared to social, direct mail, and more. – DMA

You know you need to build an email list. And search and social are indispensable for accomplishing that. But it’s also important not to chase traffic for traffic’s sake.

You only want traffic so you can sell more of your stuff.

Why content leads to the sale

You’re not going to build an email list of valuable prospects without the promise of valuable content. But once you get them on the list with your promise, why not just spam the hell out of them with your offers?

That approach seems to be back in vogue among the get-rich-quick crowd. But today’s savvy prospect is more likely to unsubscribe as soon as the pitches start, and then say ugly things about you on social.

The reason you continue to deliver valuable content beyond your initial promise is simple. You’re training people to open your emails and click on your links by being consistently amazing.

My esteemed colleague Sonia Simone thinks of this as treating your prospects like dogs (but only in the nicest way).

I’ve always been a bit squeamish about the dog analogy, but you get the idea. You want your emails to be not only opened, but anticipated.

Trust me, when the occasional offer comes, it will be viewed with a much more accepting frame of mind than otherwise. And that’s what you want.

The internet moves pretty fast. But email — the original “killer app” — persists as the backbone of it all.

In an upcoming article, I’ll walk you through how to approach building your email list. You’ll see that when it comes down to it, a smart content marketing strategy is primarily an email marketing strategy.

Image source: Frank Köhntopp via Unsplash.

The post A Surefire Way to Get Constant Traffic to Your Content appeared first on Copyblogger.


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Organic traffic & link building for small businesses

Link building is often one of the most challenging digital marketing tasks for small businesses. In this helpful how-to, columnist Marcus Miller explores how link building works today and what small businesses can do to get started.

The post Organic traffic & link building for small businesses…

Please visit Search Engine Land for the full article.

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