What I learned from improving a website’s header navigation: the road to page 1

This post is a short case study on an in-house initiative I began with my new team in January implementing recommendations from our agency to increase the number of URLs in our header navigation. I’m fortunate, as the acting SEO Manager, to benefit from the previous SEOs who have overseen the site and laid the foundation for growth.

For additional context, below are a few business stats:

  • The business does about $1M in revenue and there are roughly 2 million product SKUs (and growing) in the appliance parts vertical.
  • The Clicks & Impressions trend (over 6 months between Oct-March) is approximately 9M Clicks and 140M Impressions.
  • Even though it’s an e-commerce site, peak seasonality is more closely aligned to the spring and summer months as opposed to the typical Q4 retail holiday season. In any case, I’ll keep this one short because it’s more about sharing the findings and observations in the 3 months since implementation.

I can’t take full credit for this; in my current in-house role I’m working with a very strong technical SEO agency, Merkle, and this project had been part of their recommendations for our site. I will, however, take credit for shepherding the initiative and driving the implementation and launch with our cross functional teams. This project was one of the early stage technical initiatives on our SEO Roadmap because it’s the kind of SEO investment that has early stage results and pays off in the long run.

It’s the best of both worlds and I’m excited to be able to share the early results.

SEO product feature statement:

The issue was there were no links in the header for Googlebot and users to easily discover our best pages.
If we increase the number of links from 32 to 140,
then, we will increase the number of unique target links to pages with a high Search Volume making them more visibly accessible to our users and discoverable for Googlebot.

Implementation timeline

Sorry to disappoint, but I’m going to skip over how many sprints it took to implement the updated header nav across devices because, in reality, each team and its respective resources is different. Suffice it to say things always tend to take a bit longer than you’d like, so plan accordingly and communicate often to leadership as well. Pro tip, try not to release any big feature going into the weekend (especially a long holiday weekend); release it on your typical cadence (ideally mid-week) because that allows you to have the core team available during the work week to revert any changes or fixes that were missed and slipped through the QA cracks.

Ok, let’s FF (fast forward) to the results.

Early Results & KPIs


We did it! Now what?

This is what I like to call the “the hurry up and wait” part of SEO. In this scenario, we launched the feature in late January. Our SEO project KPIs were to…

  1. Increase the URL Rankings of these pages.
  2. Increase Traffic (Visits) to the site.
  3. And yes, as an e-com business, also impact Conversions (Sales).

SEO Rankings

As a best practice, the industry standard is to allow at least 90 days before seeing SEO results because you need to allow for Googlebot to come back to your site to crawl and index your site to discover (and subsequently begin to rank your pages) after the changes. As of April, we’re about 70 days in and here’s what we’re seeing:

You’ll notice in the charts below it was pretty exciting to see within the first few weeks the anchor text keywords and associated URLs began gaining rankings on page 1 of the Google SERP.

I’m most excited about this chart since it tracks the progress of our top selling products:

Check out the fluctuation the week of March 1st! Phantom gains?!

This chart highlights the top brand names we carry (based on demand AKA Search Volume):

This section fluctuated the most: the pages themselves resemble a collection of products for a category like “cookware.” In this group there were roughly 9 URLs that just never gained traction.

SEO Traffic

In terms of traffic (Visits) to the site, typically I like to should show a pre/post level of Traffic on each URL so that we can compare apples to apples. But in this scenario, I can share the Traffic results as such:

Post launch, roughly 70 days until now (the early part of April), the new URLs in the header nav are contributing 35% of site Visits. This excludes items that existed in our header nav that we intend to maintain (staple links like “Your Account” and “Orders”). None of the new URLs were previously in the header nav so that’s an additional 35% of traffic on top of the URLs that were contributing, on their own, roughly 56% of Visits. Not a bad return.

What didn’t work

As mentioned earlier there were 9 URLS within a general accessories type of category that seemingly never picked up any traction in terms of rankings. Internally, we drew up a few ideas and hypotheses about what might be occurring but in the end it came down to a business decision to remove the links due to the upcoming seasonality.

In any other scenario where those pages were valuable to the business but were underperforming, I’d recommend a test and learn approach. Especially if those pages drive some amount of business revenue. In our case, the business cycles in and out of its seasonally relevant products.

Conclusion

Because it takes time to realize and see SEO results, it’s important to prioritize the foundational improvements that can have the biggest impact (improving things like site architecture, internal linking etc). You’ll need those early wins to build credibility with internal teams and within the organization to demonstrate that Natural Search traffic, among the other marketing channels, is a viable contributor to the business bottom line.

It reminds me of a line from the movie Moneyball between characters played by Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill. In one scene, Hill says, “your goal should be to buy wins.” Well, fellow digital marketers, we cannot buy the SEO equivalent of wins which one could argue are page 1 rankings, but we can invest in doing the right things, consistently. In the movie, the duo hedge their bets on building a team of players that “get[s] on base.”

That, my dear marketer, is why I wrote this small snapshot of our project as an SEO case study. To show you that you can “get on base.”

A small professional confession

I had some pretty bad imposter syndrome writing this and deciding whether or not to publish it because there are some very smart and talented SEOs that could probably get a better or faster outcome than I did. But here’s the thing, (“you know nothing, John Snow.”) every team and company or client has its own dependencies from internal resources, tech stack, legacy site issues, internal process & communication, to technical implementation etc.

Under my watch, I’m proud to say we launched it and we’re seeing early positive results that will inform future iterations of this project.

Now over to you: What are your thoughts or what have you done differently that produced different results? Tweet me or leave a comment below.

The opinions, thoughts and perspective expressed in this post are my own. While I am a representative of the company, these are not necessarily the views of my employer.

How to win friends and influence people online

3 Tips to not shoot your brand in the foot doing Influencer Outreach

I don’t need or want to spend too much time on this but I began noticing a pattern of bad influencer outreach emails and wanted to give my perspective to brands on how not to mess up your outreach.

Tip #1: Don’t automate outreach emails

I received an email inquiring about a sponsorship collaboration with an international e-comm brand. It wasn’t something I was interested in at the time but this was their subsequent reply:

It made me wonder who I could have been doing business with. So I took a quick look at their website. In particular, their company return and refund policy. Wow.

I’m pretty sure someone copy/pasted this from another website. I don’t know many e-comm brands that sell VHS tapes but it’s a safe bet this one does not and will not make a profit from VHS tapes.

Tip #2 Have a reasonable, upfront return policy

Why? Let’s get some data in here to illustrate.

A study by eMarketer found the reason why 60% of internet users hesitate when shopping online: poor customer service.

“Nearly 3 in 5 internet users worldwide are concerned with bad customer service when deciding to make an online purchase from a brand,” that’s a lot of opportunity to show the customer their business is valuable to your brand.

Tip #3: Establish a clear influencer FAQ page or affiliate program

We can’t all be Amazon but we can take a page from their Associates page. Your brand should take the time to outline clear expectations and compensation terms for participation as an online influencer, ambassador or affiliate. Ground rules are always appreciated.

When Googling “instagram influencer template” you’ll find the SERP is full of outreach templates, obviously, but my point here is, templated “collaborations” are an oversaturated approach to growing your brand.

If a brand wants to build a meaningful group of real people who in-turn deliver real revenue and growth to the brand the approach needs to be authentic.

Otherwise, in the words of Julia Roberts in “Pretty Woman,” brands are making a “big mistake. Big. Huge.”


The opinions, thoughts and perspective expressed in this post are my own. While I am a representative of the company, these are not necessarily the views of my employer.

Introduce Yourself (Example Post)

This is an example post, originally published as part of Blogging University. Enroll in one of our ten programs, and start your blog right.

You’re going to publish a post today. Don’t worry about how your blog looks. Don’t worry if you haven’t given it a name yet, or you’re feeling overwhelmed. Just click the “New Post” button, and tell us why you’re here.

Why do this?

  • Because it gives new readers context. What are you about? Why should they read your blog?
  • Because it will help you focus your own ideas about your blog and what you’d like to do with it.

The post can be short or long, a personal intro to your life or a bloggy mission statement, a manifesto for the future or a simple outline of your the types of things you hope to publish.

To help you get started, here are a few questions:

  • Why are you blogging publicly, rather than keeping a personal journal?
  • What topics do you think you’ll write about?
  • Who would you love to connect with via your blog?
  • If you blog successfully throughout the next year, what would you hope to have accomplished?

You’re not locked into any of this; one of the wonderful things about blogs is how they constantly evolve as we learn, grow, and interact with one another — but it’s good to know where and why you started, and articulating your goals may just give you a few other post ideas.

Can’t think how to get started? Just write the first thing that pops into your head. Anne Lamott, author of a book on writing we love, says that you need to give yourself permission to write a “crappy first draft”. Anne makes a great point — just start writing, and worry about editing it later.

When you’re ready to publish, give your post three to five tags that describe your blog’s focus — writing, photography, fiction, parenting, food, cars, movies, sports, whatever. These tags will help others who care about your topics find you in the Reader. Make sure one of the tags is “zerotohero,” so other new bloggers can find you, too.

Introduce Yourself (Example Post)

This is an example post, originally published as part of Blogging University. Enroll in one of our ten programs, and start your blog right.

You’re going to publish a post today. Don’t worry about how your blog looks. Don’t worry if you haven’t given it a name yet, or you’re feeling overwhelmed. Just click the “New Post” button, and tell us why you’re here.

Why do this?

  • Because it gives new readers context. What are you about? Why should they read your blog?
  • Because it will help you focus your own ideas about your blog and what you’d like to do with it.

The post can be short or long, a personal intro to your life or a bloggy mission statement, a manifesto for the future or a simple outline of your the types of things you hope to publish.

To help you get started, here are a few questions:

  • Why are you blogging publicly, rather than keeping a personal journal?
  • What topics do you think you’ll write about?
  • Who would you love to connect with via your blog?
  • If you blog successfully throughout the next year, what would you hope to have accomplished?

You’re not locked into any of this; one of the wonderful things about blogs is how they constantly evolve as we learn, grow, and interact with one another — but it’s good to know where and why you started, and articulating your goals may just give you a few other post ideas.

Can’t think how to get started? Just write the first thing that pops into your head. Anne Lamott, author of a book on writing we love, says that you need to give yourself permission to write a “crappy first draft”. Anne makes a great point — just start writing, and worry about editing it later.

When you’re ready to publish, give your post three to five tags that describe your blog’s focus — writing, photography, fiction, parenting, food, cars, movies, sports, whatever. These tags will help others who care about your topics find you in the Reader. Make sure one of the tags is “zerotohero,” so other new bloggers can find you, too.

Introduce Yourself (Example Post)

This is an example post, originally published as part of Blogging University. Enroll in one of our ten programs, and start your blog right.

You’re going to publish a post today. Don’t worry about how your blog looks. Don’t worry if you haven’t given it a name yet, or you’re feeling overwhelmed. Just click the “New Post” button, and tell us why you’re here.

Why do this?

  • Because it gives new readers context. What are you about? Why should they read your blog?
  • Because it will help you focus your own ideas about your blog and what you’d like to do with it.

The post can be short or long, a personal intro to your life or a bloggy mission statement, a manifesto for the future or a simple outline of your the types of things you hope to publish.

To help you get started, here are a few questions:

  • Why are you blogging publicly, rather than keeping a personal journal?
  • What topics do you think you’ll write about?
  • Who would you love to connect with via your blog?
  • If you blog successfully throughout the next year, what would you hope to have accomplished?

You’re not locked into any of this; one of the wonderful things about blogs is how they constantly evolve as we learn, grow, and interact with one another — but it’s good to know where and why you started, and articulating your goals may just give you a few other post ideas.

Can’t think how to get started? Just write the first thing that pops into your head. Anne Lamott, author of a book on writing we love, says that you need to give yourself permission to write a “crappy first draft”. Anne makes a great point — just start writing, and worry about editing it later.

When you’re ready to publish, give your post three to five tags that describe your blog’s focus — writing, photography, fiction, parenting, food, cars, movies, sports, whatever. These tags will help others who care about your topics find you in the Reader. Make sure one of the tags is “zerotohero,” so other new bloggers can find you, too.

Women In Product 2019 – Conference Recap

This is the second product conference I’ve been able to attend this year. In particular, the Women In Product conference (WIP) is unique because it brings together women in leadership positions across many different verticals who are doing or leading product initiatives and provides a relatable perspective to other females navigating their career as product leaders.

I feel it’s important to have a conference that’s focused on females in product management because not many young girls think about becoming a leader when they’re young. They’re much more prone to thinking about how to fit in.

Women In Product conference sponsored by Intuit and Macy's

Snapshot of Women In Product 2019 

This one-day conference was primarily for females whose jobs title is product manager. Though there were a few male attendees as well. What follows are insights, tips and inspiration that will help any individual in a product manager role.

Who: Women In Product (Twitter: @womenpm)
What: More than 2,000 product leaders gathered to celebrate the role and contributions of women product managers in the field.
Where: Hilton Union Square
When: Tuesday November 12, 2019

Why: it was an opportunity to connect with other female product leaders, learn from and inspire each other.
How: the day was structured around morning keynote speakers, afternoon breakout sessions and concluded with an evening mixer. Food and beverages were provided throughout the day.

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Product Manager Skills – Top 10 Tactics & Wisdom

  1. Speak up for yourself & ask for what you need for your You may not always get what you want but you will start an important conversation.
  2. Think about the customer journey. Always keep in mind the end-to-end journey you’re solving for. It will help you solve for the right things. Ask yourself: Is there a simpler way?
  3. We’re builders who can change the world; use what “sucks” about a situation you personally have experienced once to inform how to make things better.
  4. Have empathy for the non-normal user; in their world, the small things that drive you crazy can really add up.
  5. Diversity in teams & companies is essential because there is value in having different perspectives that reflect the unique makeup of markets and cultures across the globe.
  6. The concept of giving people honest feedback (straight talk) should come from a place of good intention and caring about their professional development.
    1. Even if it’s a difficult conversation, we owe it to those we lead to give context and feedback that can help make someone better.
  7. Everyone has a super power. Step 1: find yours. Step 2: Tap into it.
    1. “Often, the thing that’s yours is what’s easiest for you.” Lucinda Newcomb Walmart VP of Discovery.
    2. She suggested you can find out what it is by asking other people.
  8. “You can adapt your roadmap to reality. You cannot adapt reality to your roadmap.” Lucinda Newcomb, Walmart VP of Discovery.
  9. A good PM knows the market, the goal of your users, defines target user, defines what needs to be built to achieve company goals (Amanda Richardson, EIR at Goodwater Capital).
  10. Career advancement: leading product like a GM is great experience for becoming a CEO (Jennifer Tejada, CEO of PagerDuty).
    1. Think on behalf of the company. Get in front of what customers need from your product; think about where their world is going?

Becoming a Product Manager – These were some of the best stories

Theme #1: Let’s own our power & use it well

The fireside chat was with fashion designer and creator of the wrap dress, Dianne Von Furstenberg.

What I found interesting about her success was that it was accidental, but all the right ingredients came together. “When I created the wrap dress, all I wanted was to be a woman in charge” she said. “It’s almost always about function: ‘what if I had that? Or that?’” Essentially, her product was very practical and easy.

In spite of success, she remained humble. “Every successful person should feel like a loser at least twice a week. Only losers don’t feel like losers.” But this is a careful tightrope to walk. She also advised against berating yourself too much, “If I doubt my power, I give power to my doubts.”

When asked “who do you design for?” DVF said, “I design for the woman in charge.” She went on to elaborate on her manifesto of being #InCharge.

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She also generously offered attendees an EMAIL to send her ideas and feedback inCharge@dvf.com.

By sharing her own insecurities and challenges with things like imposter syndrome, DVF motivated us with her commitment to the 4 pillars of her manifesto: Connect, Expand, Inspire and Advocate.

“The only thing you have 100% control of is your character. You can lose your health, family, money, freedom, but you can always own your character. That is the core of your strength.” DVF

In “Advocate” she tapped into the essence of the super power within us all saying, “We all have a magic wand. The more you use your wand the more magical it becomes.” For Dianne, it means using her connections. She makes the first two emails of her morning about connecting two people.

Theme #2: Let’s turn our super power (of launching products) on ourselves

My second favorite story was from Jimena Almendares, VP Global Expansion at Intuit. She combined her insights from conversations with various mentees into a practical application of running our own lives as product roadmaps.

She published her talk “Run Your Live Like A Product Roadmap” on LinkedIn Pulse

While the titles of PM’s vary from company to company, what is consistent is the skill of planning and getting things done. Her basic premise, “if it works for the products you launch, it will work for you”.

Her three takeaways:

  1. Life roadmaps don’t follow linear development.
  2. Just like in business, your True North is what matters.
  3. It’s ok to launch, fail, learn and pivot.

 

Psychology of Product

Kristen Berman, co-founder of Irrational Labs, spoke on the concept of behavioral design. She laid out a simple illustration of what customers say one thing and do another. Some companies have over 90% of employees saving for retirement. How did they achieve this? The secret is the form employees fill out when they first get hired; they’re enrolled by default.

There are three types of questions org’s ask: The past, future and why.

  • People tend to underreport things done in the past. Why? We want to give socially acceptable answers. And, we just forget.
  • The future (what will you do): they’re imagining they’re ideal self.
  • Why: tend to be the most misleading questions (why do you save for retirement? b/c I want to save for my future. Reality: auto enroll)

If you can’t trust what people say, trust their actions.

Top Tactics for Product Managers

As a product manager, the role often sits at the intersection of business, technology and design and involves coordinating the efforts of teams across the organization in order to bring a product into the marketplace.

For most product managers, their background is varied. The path to becoming a product manager is developed and attained over time based on other skill sets acquired.

The most difficult part of the job can be deciding which idea to pursue out of a sea of great ideas. What’s needed is the skill of creating business cases and rigorous product review cycles to surface financially viable opportunities.

What follows is the tactical and practical applications to try. Requires understanding the exact environment and how a person could react. Put yourself in your customer’s shoes.

5 Areas to address in a product review

Anytime you get to talk about your product: do it. It’s good for your product & for your professional advancement. Below are the top 5 areas any product review should cover:

  1. Vision – describe the vision & the features
  2. Problem – address the problem we’re solving (use real customer examples that demonstrate the problem)
  3. Goals – what does winning mean or look like? What are the KPIs?
  4. Roadmap – identify what’s critical to execute first (list the MVP features delivered). Roadmaps need to be in partnership with tech delivery teams. Do not develop them in isolation.
  5. Input – be direct & clear with your manager about where you want feedback.

Lastly, here’s a practical exercise for getting perspective and seeing what you might be missing in the product you’re trying to bring to market: grab a trusted partner and actively try to disprove that we’re right. Often we’re so close to something that we don’t see the “gotchas” so actively taking time to figure out what you could be missing is a helpful exercise.

Working the booth

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I spent the first part of the day (ahem 7:30AM-9AM) on the exhibit hall floor at the Macy’s booth.  I really enjoyed the opportunity to represent the Product team and educate attendees about what “Macy’s tech” (the digital arm of macys.com) does operating out of the corporate digital offices in San Francisco.

 

The opinions, thoughts and perspective expressed in this post are my own. While I am a representative of the company, these are not necessarily the views of my employer.

One day at Google: Webmaster Product Summit

On Monday, November 4th, around 50 or so SEO’s descended upon the Googleplex campus in Mountain View, California to attend an invitation only one-day Product Summit.

There was much of this…

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See what I mean? SEO’s love Twitter btw. There are tons of insights under the event hashtag #GWCPS. I highly recommend combing through it when you have time.
Thanks in advance to Martin MacDonald for being my model. Your check is in the mail 😉

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They let us ask A LOT of questions tossing around a tiny speaker box…

IMG_1825.jpg I think for the most part, everyone had a great time, felt herd and both sides enjoyed the chance to learn something from each other.

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I had a fabulous time catching up with friends. Talk about #MondayMotivation!

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And throughly enjoyed the opportunity to meet more industry pro’s in person. Yup, that’s me trying to keep my cool talking SEO shop with Glenn Gabe 😛 I’m a big fan of his digital marketing blog and really enjoyed chatting with him in person.

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Did I mention there were snacks? And breakfast AND lunch?! Their food team is amazing to support feeding their day-to-day staff and accommodate our special event that day.

IMG_1743.jpg and gift bags?! The Google Webmaster team really took care of us.

IMG_1272.jpg I’m incredibly grateful to have been a part of this event.

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Tips & Trends from the Google Webmaster Conference

Ok, let’s get down to brass tacks. What were my takeaways?

Snapshot of the agenda & event

What: Google Webmaster Product Summit
When: Monday November 4, 2019
Where: The Googleplex in Mountain View, CA
Who: hosted by Google, in attendance were many well-known speakers, consultants & SEO practitioners alike.

These are just a handful of Search folks I recognized & got to mingle with: Micah Fisher-Kirshner, Denis Yevseyev, Martin MacDonald, Loren Baker, Michael King, Jennifer Sleg, Jackie Chu, Glenn Gabe, Barry Schwartz, Sung N., Elliot Mellichamp.

Why: The origin of this event was conceptualized as a “meet the ecosystem” initiative, a two-way street where webmasters and the core search Product Management teams could interact.

How: Google really does think about webmasters and content providers. The day’s events were organized to include brief talks from product leads and an open forum Q&A led by former SEO veteran, Danny Sullivan (@dannysullivan).

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In return (for basically providing food and free WiFi), Google asked attendees to refrain from revealing specific individuals in discussions involving this event.

Industry SEO’s Published Event Recaps

There were a handful of fantastic recaps that surfaced immediately following the event. These were:

Takeaways: Google Webmaster Conference Product Summit by Barry Schwartz, on SEO Roundtable provided great oversight into the technical SEO aspects discussed.

and his second article, 5 Tips and Trends from the Google Webmaster Conference on SEL. 

Plus a great, play-by-play recap by Jackie Chu (who was writin’ up a storm from our row!) published her notes from the Product Summit on her blog.

I can’t forget the numerous folks live Tweeting insights throughout the day. You can find the thread under the event hashtag: #GWCPS.

Insights from Product Fair  

The afternoon session featured a section called “Product fair” where all of the attendees could meander around the room speaking with the various product leads of Search. Much like a Science Fair, each product manager stood by their product board to answer questions. I think a lot of large, enterprise-level companies could benefit from trying something like this within their respective product teams.

These were the three products I visited:

  • Google Images
  • Organizing information on Search
  • Cameos on Google (Video & Influencers)

In my opinion, this was one of the best parts of the day because it gave me a different perspective about Search as a product Google has operating in the market. In speaking with the product leads, I realized they have a completely different perspective about their product than I have as a marketer and SEO professional.

Obviously, the product leads could not divulge on any specific ranking tactics (I also tried to be respectful and not ask those types of pointed questions) but what I found interesting was that they were each very much focused on their own product area and didn’t have much knowledge, if at all, about Google’s illusive algorithm. I think what you’ll find interesting below in the product cards are the areas of the product’s improvement, goals and impact they are focused on.

Screen Shot 2019-11-10 at 4.42.17 PM.png

 

Product Card: Google Images

As a product manager at Macy’s, I found the image optimization best practices (below) to be particularly relevant for our PDP pages. Namely:

  • Use descriptive titles, captions and filenames.
  • Use high quality images as well as beautiful inspirational images.

The insight from the product lead I picked up on was about user behavior; it seems Google is noticing users are coming to the Image Search tab to find web pages. Which means it’s likely that websites can garner organic traffic by following these optimizing tips and using great images.

Here’s part of the Twitter thread on this topic:

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Product Card: Organizing the SERP (Search Engine Results Page) 

To me this product is particularly interesting because it speaks to how elements get ranked in the SERP, ostensibly how the algorithm surfaces the most relevant results and of the highest quality.

In speaking with the product owner, I noticed he didn’t quite seem to understand my questions about “as a product owner, how do you determine which element is first, second etc.?” Ok so maybe I was getting too close to the secret ranking sauce 😉

I think the operative word on the product card is “organize” and the emphasis is on “organize the search page by intent”. That’s VERY user-focused. Instead of operating from the POV of “which web page best matches the search query?” it focuses on laying out information based on intention. To that end, I was fascinated to see these product impacts:

  • Increase page utility
  • Improved page scannability

So much of SEO is focused on securing placement above the fold. Rightfully so, because that’s largely where the majority of clicks come from. However, from a product perspective, it seems Google is much more zoomed out on the problem of how to organize information; their focus is holistically arranging the mobile page so that the experience creates better usability, scannability and reduces friction. We tend to think users don’t scroll but the product lead specifically mentioned scrolling is an inherent user behavior on mobile devices. Here’s hoping more users start clicking on results that might be at the bottom of the page.

In my opinion, the Highlights section should have mentioned the recent addition to the algorithm known as BERT (Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers) a state-of-the-art language model used on Natural Language Processing. It’s now being used for 10% of searches to get better context and understand more ambiguous searches. Metaphorically speaking, the distinguished engineer who spoke about how Google understands synonyms referred to it as the rising tide that lifts all ships.

Further reading: BERT explained

Screen Shot 2019-11-10 at 5.00.23 PM.png

 

Product Card: Cameos

This is a new video and influencer-focused product Google is developing called Cameos. It’s an app that can be downloaded. Google is currently beta testing this feature with celebrities and influencers.

How it works: “Experts record video answers to top-searched questions about themselves, their work, and the topics they’re knowledgeable about (e.g. cooking, fitness) …”

I can see this being a great and useful product for recognizable personalities. It made me begin to wonder if they could expand the sphere of expertise to include the self-proclaimed influencers that might not be movie star celebrities but who have expertise and experience. I wondered how Google might go about determining E-A-T (Expertise, Authority, Trustworthy) in this new product.

Screen Shot 2019-11-10 at 5.07.23 PM.png

 

Improving Search over the Years

 A distinguished engineer spoke on this topic, primarily on synonyms and natural language. Search has evolved largely because of how people search for things in text (queries) and how they speak questions into a smart device (voice search).

Screen Shot 2019-11-09 at 7.15.16 PM.png

I took this picture because the last bullet on this slide intrigued me: “Google’s Synonyms System: One of Google Search’s most important ranking components”. Why is this important? In my opinion, it means the algorithm really does factor in relevance against each query.

A few highlights from his talk:

  • Using BERT for 10% of search. It can solve some language related tasks better than most. Helps disambiguate on longer queries
  • How do you decide which words are synonyms for each other? It comes down to G’s evaluation process: A/B testing and search raters.
  • Compositional brand terms – determined by user traffic. G thinks of those as strings & watches to see what users do next.
  • People use emoji all the time. But often don’t know what they mean.
  • We treat all characters we see in links as full characters (first class citizens), even emoji’s

In summary, he encouraged webmasters to write naturally and write for humans.

 

Conclusion

What was the most important thing you learned and how will you implement it?

This question came from the feedback form Google sent out. My answer:

Learning that every change (i.e. algo adjustment) has wins & losses gave me a new perspective and made me more empathetic to search as a product. I’m going to try to help evangelize to SEOs & marketers to write for humans not what they think the search engine will reward.

The good news is, the Google Webmaster team aims to create more venues like this one for feedback in the future. I hope more folks get to experience what I did that day.

 

The opinions, thoughts and perspective expressed in this post are my own. While I am a representative of the company, these are not necessarily the views of my employer.

I Counted 27 Super Bowl Ads Yesterday That Had Celebrities

It’s the day after the biggest advertising day of the year, the Super Bowl. Here are a few advertising stats on the 2019 event:

  • Host network CBS charged a record $5.25 million for a 30-second ad during this year’s game.
  • A total of 54 advertisers shelled out $5.25 million for 30 seconds of screen time during the Super Bowl this year, adding up to 93 ads in total.

Today is largely “national hangover day” since it’s the Monday after the Super Bowl. It’s hard for most of us to remember much of anything about Sunday’s game, especially that brand of cleaning solution whose ad aired in the third quarter.

Alcohol brands and automobiles have arguably the largest budgets when it comes to allocating it towards media buys, creative, production, and paying a celebrity for their time and involvement endorsing said product. But even a great commercial must be something Joe sitting on the couch at home can remember.

The competition for attention is incredibly steep; every advertiser in the program lineup has paid top dollar to put their best foot forward with their 15-30 seconds designed to capture their viewer’s attention.  Traditionally, TV commercials have largely been about brand awareness (as opposed to ROI).  Which is why the Super Bowl is the most advantageous day for well-known brands to continue to solidify the position they occupy in the consumer’s mind.

Are Super Bowl ads worth it?

Everyone has their opinion on which commercials were great and which weren’t.  But I thought instead it would be more interesting to evaluate how many ads enlisted the help of a familiar face in the form of a celebrity.

My hypothesis is that commercials are more memorable when it involves someone you recognize. Therefore, I predict this year, more advertisers will use celebrities.  It begs the question: are Super Bowl Ads worth it?  In my opinion, it’s worth it if the ad causes the audience to remember your brand or it reinforces your existing branding.

I kept track of every commercial break noting the brand name and if any famous people were involved in the commercial as a main actor or cameo. For this experiment, I considered a celebrity to be anyone who was in a TV show, a famous athlete, an actor in a movie, or a musical artist.  I didn’t count any promos for a CBS TV show because it goes without saying, any network would have aired their TV lineup if it had been their turn to host the broadcast on their network. I wanted to get the purest count of paying advertisers during the broadcast who used celebrities.

Let’s see how many ads leveraged the power of a familiar face by incorporating celebrities into their ad. I’ll bet it’s more than you think.


Notes & General disclaimers:

*Please excuse any typos in my spreadsheet below; this was mostly for fun and I was also slightly more concerned about not dropping spinach artichoke dip on my MacBook Pro. 😀

*To clarify: animals can be celebrities too. There were a handful of ads that leveraged well known animals; the GOT dragon in BudLight, the Dalmatian and Clydesdale horses in the Anheuser- Busch commercial, and Mercedes mentioned Lassie.

*Every space denotes when the commercial break started/ended. Brand names that advertised within that quarter are listed in the first column.

*Celeb = 1 means there was one or more celebrities present in the ad. 0 means no celeb was used.


Brand name Q1 Celebrity/ General observations Celeb
Bon viv sparkling water no celeb 0
m n m celeb bud I couldn’t place her quickly enough 1
hulu handmaden tail – celebs 1
bumble ad serina williams – don’t wait to make first move 1
Hyundai car – jason bateman 1
Turkish airlines The Journey – ridley scott film 0
Survivor TV bump 0
OLAY sarah michele gellar- spoof horor movie scene; face unlock 1
Doritoz backstreet /insync 1
weather tech
pet comfort
goldent retreiver dog 0
Pepsi half time show TV bump 0
Marvel captain marvel. Lindsey lohan 1
Bud Light new version of thei rperiod ads. Returning Corn syrup – whole idea is it’s not brewed w/ corn syrup 0
fast and furious producers:   Hobs & Shaw movie trailer – the rock, handsome rob 1
Expensify rap video; need receipts for the is video – guy from parks and rec 1
CBS show: FBI 0
Pepsi Steve Carell , Cardi B , lil john 1
Simpli Safe robots doing our jobs 0
T mobile giant long text message 0
Audi grandpa & son, – choaking on cashew nut. Surprise but not memorable 0
Brand name Q2 Celebrity/ General observations
Bud Light GOT season finalie (HBO) 1
avocados from mexico dog show 0
CBS show bump Worlds Best 0
Pringles 0
Google translate most translated words: hello, thank you, I love you 0
Showtime 0
Mercedes lassi get help; if only everything In life listened to you 1
pro clean deep clean. Waste of money 0
Tmobile she drives me crazy song   w/ taco bell 0
Toyota toni harris female athlete – Rav 4 hybrid 1
Planters peanuts Charlie Sheen, A rod. 1
CBS TV bump 0
mint mobile wireless 0
Norwegean cruse line 0
CBS bump – Star Treck tv spin off on spock 0
CBS twilight zone bump 0
Turbo tax robo child; all CPA’s are live people. You’ll never be emotionally complex for the job 0
Stella Artoi Terry Bradshaw, the Dude, XX Man cameo – ” the dude abides” 1
Sprint Bo Jackson (good for guys but I didn’t know who he was) 1
CBS bump 0
CBS bump bionic arm violinist 0
CBS bump young sheldon 0
CBS bump God friended me 0
Showtime bump 0
Yellowtale wine 0
Xfinity (too safe) the future of awesome 0
Draper University 0
Oakers.com 0
(right before half time)
NFL 100 year football fumble off cake, branding play at a dinner party and football is loose 1
Pepsi half time hsow IBM watson drone “love”   “one” 0
Big Boi – outkast ; I love the way you move
Toyota subra it’s back. Sports car 0
ADT home security; home flipping twins / celebs 1
Grammys TV bump – Alisha Keys 0
Toyota college grad buyatoyota.com 0
CBS sports bump 0
DCU checking 0
Celebrity cruise line 0
(replay) Mass Mutual 0
Comcast Internet 0
DCU who is this?Local ad? 0
(halftime commentary)
KIA 0
Bubly Michael Buble – sparkling water 1
NCIS bumper TV bump 0
Brand name Q3 Celebrity/ General observations
Tmobile free lyft ride 0
Wix karkie ross (redone) 1
Netflix One Planet – animals. looks awesome 0
Michelob beer it’s only worth it if you can enjoy it – robot 0
Verizon it’s our job to make sure they get the call; nfll coach 1
Devour frozen foods 0
Grammys Alisha keys hosts 0
Google “jobs for veterans J225” 0
Colgate 0
CBS bump SWAT 0
Amazon prime original content Hanna 1
Sketchers 0
Bud Light driving home not made w corn syrup 0
CBS bump for their show 0
CBS bump The Neighborhood 0
CBS grammys bump 0
Chevvy a little but country a bit rock and roll 0
Hennesy 0
Dietz Nuts celeb – craig robinson. Funny 1
Brand name Q4 Celebrity/ General observations
Microsoft playing video games. They teased it online prior to superbowl 0
WeatherTech cup phone 0
BudLight not made with corn syrup 0
Verizon first responders; shorter version 0
BurgerKing #eatlikeandy 0
Budwieser dalmation; brewed with wind power 1
CBS big bang theory – last season Thursday 0
amazon forest whitker, harrison ford, great one – 1
Scary stories 0
Michelob beer organic form – hawaii ASMR zoe kravitz 1
Late show promo 0
T mobile texting conversation 0
The Washington Post knowing empowers us 0
The Grammys
Patriots win!
Amazon bit more of the same commercial – what does it mean: not every one makes the cut? 1
Total 27

Observations: half of the Super Bowl ads featured a known person or animal

Out of 54 advertisers, I counted 27 ads that ran during the game that used a celebrity or well-known animal personality. That’s about half. Which means half of the ads on the biggest advertising day of the year leveraged some type of recognizable person with which to associate their brand.

I think this is a growing trend because when it comes to advertising — yes, it’s expensive — which is why brands need to tap into the immediate effects of facial recognition and positive association with people who are funny/ cool/ cute/ and inspirational.

So, are Super Bowl ads effective?

Celebrity endorsements are nothing new. But the prominence of how many advertisers built their creative spots around this tactic so that their ad would have the greatest impact during the time when their audience has the shortest attention span confirms the effectiveness of this strategy.

When it comes to Super Bowl Sunday the audience is always going to be incredibly distracted whether they’re watching at home and using their mobile phone or at a loud bar or house party. Brands have two options to make their game day ads count: make us remember you OR remind us who you are.

The most familiar face in football: Tom Brady. Congrats on your 6th win, Patriots!

These are a few of my favorite things about Content Marketing

I get lots of questions about content marketing and how it can be improved using SEO (Search Engine Optimization). I thought I would take a moment to capture the advice I give for the questions I get asked most often on this topic.

Since there are a lot of questions that are tangentially related, I broke this post up into three main sections:

  1. Process & Strategy: Structure, Style, Tone and Keyword Research
  2. Measurement: Success Metrics, Performance Reports, Quality
  3. The million dollar question – How does Google rank content?

Grab a cup of hot chocolate, Holly’s advice starts now. 🙂

 

Process & Strategy: Structure, Style, Tone and Keyword Research

Q: How do you determine the style and tone of voice for a piece of content?

Q: Which tone or style have you seen to be most successful in past projects?

It might sound obvious but a conversational style and tone where correct grammar and punctuation are used (obviously) without sounding like a robot or where the author is writing just to obtain search engine rankings really does resonate with human beings.

In terms of what’s most effective, I’ve found educational, helpful content that solves the user’s problem is the best approach.

It takes a bit of testing and iterating but after researching what people search for that’s related to a the main topic (i.e. “weight loss” or “home entertainment system”),  answering the questions that are being asked is the most effective way to provide useful, relevant and informative content.

Solve real problems. Build trust. Sales will ensue.

Q: How do you decide which content topics to focus on and what format that content should take?

Since I always advocate a customer-focused approach, the smartest thing to do is to start by listening to what consumers in your market want. You do this by getting an understanding of the kinds of content that’s already ranking in Google when you search for your core topic. According to Google, that’s what consumers want to see.

The other variables that help you decide what to focus on are: keyword seasonality, average monthly search volume. You want to align these to your business priorities in terms of the resources you have to optimize existing content versus spending all your time creating new content. It’s faster and easier to improve upon content you already have.

For format, think about how you can make your branded content the most relevant to what consumers are seeking (this is called matching search intent). Does that mean providing a video? Maybe listing steps in a guide? This takes research and examination of the landscape digesting what’s ranking and using that information to improve your contributions.

More on format, it’s helpful to bucket content into two main types so the intent of your pages is clear:

  1. Informational (educational in nature and intent)
  2.  Transactional (which is more product focused)

In this way, your page is designed to either capture rankings for organic searches (i.e. “best queen mattresses”) when consumers are in an awareness and consideration stage. Or it could be to gain rankings for product pages focused on transaction-based searches (i.e. brand+mattress: “Serta mattress”).

Many brands try to create content that gives shopping tips & ideas.  Start by performing keyword research to see the data that’s available on a term especially the estimated monthly search volume. If you pay for an enterprise SEO tool, you can easily get this type of data. Alternatively, one of the best “free” tools available is to sign up for a Google Adwords account. This will require you to enter some form of credit card information but you don’t have to buy ads; you’re there to do research. Just be aware that your cc info is on file.

Some enterprise tools also show Seasonality data (i.e for a fluid term like “flowers” it’s at its peek in January/February due to the Valentines day holiday). This is helpful to know because it indicates the time of year of when your content is going to be the most relevant to someone searching for it online.

It also indicates when teams should begin refreshing content for upcoming seasonally relevant searches. Especially helpful if you manage an internal content team or external writers as part of your content resource.

Here are a few quick ideas of the places I check when I’m researching the landscape and brainstorming the kind of content that will be most effective.  The process involves researching metrics using several free & paid tools:

  • Identify missing topics and search intent using tools like AnswerThePublic.com and Moz Insights.
  • Check the Google SERP to see what questions appear in People Also Ask boxes.
  • Identify the first 20 short head terms related to the topic which have a significant search volume (no lower than 1K) and a second list of another 20 terms which are long tail terms. Prioritize these as tier 1 and 2.
  • Check Buzzsumo for trending topics related to the category page for opportunities to provide content competitors are not covering.

Ideally, your research and methodology needs a combination of qualitative and quantitative data. You’ll be manually evaluating the quality of your competitor’s content and using data to improve your own pages.

Q: What is a good process for proofreading?

Q: Can you describe a process for creating and updating style and copy guidelines?

My process is largely based on ensuring the content meets the user’s intent and provides value: it solves a problem with information or provides a solution that solves the problem a human is experiencing.  Bottom line, if the content is not useful the searcher will go elsewhere. There is so much “noise” online so the most effective content must deliver value.

A good process for creating or updating style and copy guidelines is similar to a gap analysis (what’s missing from our competitor pages that you can talk about) is to reference the Google Quality Rater Guidelines. Google began publishing this information in 2013 so that more webmasters would have a blueprint for what Google considers to be quality. One of the key elements is a component called E-A-T. Online content should demonstrate Expertise, Authority, and Trustworthiness.  It’s worth downloading a copy of the PDF and looking through it on a Sunday afternoon building the insights into your style guide to share with broader teams and writers.

Q: How would you structure a content calendar to compete with a brand’s main vertical competitors?

Q: What is the process of a competitive analysis to identify gaps and content opportunities?

Broadly speaking, every business has three main types of competitors that they compete with for consumer attention. It’s helpful to think of classifying these as:

  • direct
  • indirect
  • informational

Here is a framework for you so you can begin to group the brand names and think about a mini business SWOT analysis against your main vertical competitors:

Direct Competitors Indirect Competitors Informational Competitors
(physical retailers who offer similar products to your store’s main categories) (vertical retailers who sell similar categories your brand also sells, some may be online-only) (these are websites that publish content from a non-retail source on how to buy things your brand sells)
brand name 1

brand name 2

brand name 1…etc. brand name 1… etc.

The process for structuring a content calendar to compete with your brand’s vertical competitors takes time. Quite honestly, it’s a topic for another post. At a high level, though, it starts with research to establish a baseline of these components:

  • keyword topics
  • a gap analysis of competitor pages on a URL-to-URL level basis to determine the type of content that will be most effective against competitive pages and holds value to searchers.
  • prioritizing internal and external resources and identifying where your brand wants to invest in building out value-based content that inspires customers.
  • determine baseline performance KPIs you want to see from the published content. This will inform where and how you make future optimizations on underperforming pages.
  • building measurement dashboards using a combination of KPIs that account for user engagement and rankings.

The key to this strategy is to prioritize improving existing content so that it delivers a ton of value instead of pumping out a bunch of new content that first has to get crawled and indexed and might not give enough value. An editorial calendar designed around quality and location based searches is a unique advantage against competitors that think the answer is quantity and volume.

Onto the second question of addressing the process of a competitive analysis to identify gaps and content opportunities.  In a nutshell, here are the high level components:

  • identify your main topic keywords; the pillar content your site wants to rank for.
  • include several long tail search terms
  • assess the search intent by analyzing the top 10 organic results (5 if you have less time): are people seeking guides? how to pages? Are tips and lists surfacing most? The goal is to get a sense for the format that people want to consume content.
  • manually access how difficult it would be to rank via on page factors; what content does your page need to outperform the one that’s ranking?

I will say this, trying to rank for high search volume terms (i.e. 20K+) is largely a waste of time. For most brands, it’s better to adopt a keyword strategy that lets you create content around core terms, long tail searches that drive specific intent, and questions your brand can answer succinctly (hint: b/c Featured Snippets & Answer Boxes are as good as Position 1 of a paid search ad but you obtain them organically – $free.99, people).

 

Measurement: Success Metrics, Performance Reports, Quality

Strap in. These are some of the more hard-to-define questions.

Q: What makes content/copy “successful”?

Q: How do you know if content has performed well or not?

Q: What are the types of measurement for success analytics?

It depends 🙂

Content success metrics can be defined in many different ways. That’s the good news. The bad news is, there are many metrics to choose from.

Like any goal, the best ones clearly define when success has been achieved. They’re SMART – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound.

Content is successful it’s when measured against the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) you develop as your guideposts for what you want the content to achieve based on what’s important to your business and within a designated timeframe. For e-commerce sites especially, this is a balance of improving on-page content to generate revenue and improving organic rankings.

Simply put, that could mean “these 20 product pages that receive the most organic traffic in a given month will be successful if 3 out of 5 visitors makes a transaction.” Or, “these four category pages that each have a total of 10 non-brand keywords will ideally rank for upwards of 200 terms after we make the on-page optimizations over these next four weeks.”

See how the SMART framework gives a bit more definition to the term “successful” by making things measurable?

Here’s a small framework for thinking about and identifying qualitative, vanity metrics and quantitative, data-driven ones. Aim to have three total using a combination of these two types:

Vanity Metrics SEO Metrics
(These are more indicators of quality but are hard to measure b/c they don’t directly translate to contributing to a goal like sales) (These are data points are quantifiable b/c they have a number)
  • Positive or negative sentiment in blog or social comments
  • Content is so good it earns a ranking as a Direct Answer box or Featured Snippet.
  • New users acquired to the brand’s social media accounts after the content was published or revamped.
  • Engagement on Social:
    • Likes or other emoji faces
    • Re-tweets
    • Shares across social platforms
  • Mentions and backlinks from a reputable source that are generating X amount of referral traffic to the page.
  • Improving page rank (getting it onto page 1 or within striking distance of moving onto the 1st page)
  • Increasing the number of organic keywords ranking on the page. Think non-brand, generic search terms that a human being would type into Google.
  • Number of page 1 ranking URLs your brand has compared to competitors.

I know, it’s a lot. It’s helpful to determine your success metrics using a balance of qualitative input and quantitative data.

Q: After you have published your content, how would you promote it?

One of my favorite examples is from GaryVee: How to Grow and Distribute Your Brand’s Social Media Content.  It’s is a reverse pyramid where one piece of long form “pillar content” (like a video, infographic, powerful keynote or interview) is created and then repurposed by social teams into smaller pieces of content and distributed across the primary social media platforms: Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Quora in a way that’s contextually relevant to users on each platform.

Seriously, re-read that last part. Contextually relevant is key to getting attention and engagement in social. No one wants to see the same message across all their platforms, that’s when your brand starts to get tuned out because your message looks like a mass media advertisement.

It’s important to continually test and evaluate which pieces of short-form content are resonating best on each of the platforms. Story features are different from IG to IGTV to FB. Keep testing in order to get the best headline that resonates with your audience.

The Million Dollar Question – How Does Google Rank Content?

Q: How does Google rank content?

Without a doubt, that is the million-dollar question.

Google has upwards of 200+ ranking factors that it uses to evaluate which 8-10 organic links get to appear on page 1. If everyone knew how Google ranked content, they’d be doing it. That’s why we have to stay curious and be aware of the clues in the data we have and structure of the SERPs.

The search engine giant doesn’t make a habit of announcing when and how it updates its algorithm but when it does, it’s usually around improving the quality of content in order to continue providing the best user experience.

There are specific content guidelines published in the Quality Rater Guidelines. Google is especially critical of websites whose business is to help people make decisions that impact their health and finances; Your-Money-or-Your-Life content (YMYL). It’s also scrutinizing what constitutes “quality” where websites are a known online authority for having topic Expertise, Authority and Trustworthiness (E-A-T) in their field.

Now, quality is even harder to measure than “successful content” because there are many factors involved. But if you’re like me and always looking for some kind of baseline, I have heard other SEO’s comment that it’s measured in links and mentions. Basically, what other authoritative websites say about your brand.

Q: What are Google’s primary algorithms relevant to content/copy writing?

Q: What doesn’t Google like in regard to content? What types of bad content practices could lead to removal or suppression in search results?

Q: Alternatively, what does Google like in content/copy, which makes it rank well in search results? What are a couple of best practices for excellent SEO and optimization for users?

Q: What tools are used for finding keywords, content opportunities and topic analysis to enhance SEO?

There are a few things to unpack here. The primary algorithms related to content are Panda and I would also name the more recent the quality updates in March, April and August (confirmed by Google) as part of their broad core update. Seems Google was busy in 2018.

Google’s Panda update was first released in February 2011. The change targeted “low-quality sites” or “sites with thin content” pushing them farther down in search results page. In particular, “content farms” lost rankings and higher-quality sites became visible near the top of the search results.

Second to making money, Google’s goal is to provide the best user experience. Pages that rank on page 1 are there because they’re considered to be relevant to the query and meet the user’s search intent.

Google does not reward pages with content that misleads users. This is what’s known as “black hat” tactics that are designed to lure people to your website. These are some of the bad tactics that lead to getting a manual penalty from Google:

  • publishing malicious, offensive or inappropriate content
  • phishing scams
  • having too many advertisements on the page
  • having intrusive pop-ups that cover the main content and are especially annoying on smaller, mobile screens
  • thin or low quality content
  • keyword stuffing on pages

This can all be avoided by creating high quality sites in line with demonstrating Expertise, Authority and Trustworthiness relevant to the industry you’re in. Karma exists online too, folks. Do right by each other.

What other kinds of content does Google like to rank?  Images! In fact, according to a recent study by Spark Toro, “Google Images accounts for more than 20% of all queries American performed in 2018.” Demand for images in the SERP is huge and that’s where Google is putting them (instead of under the “Images” tab).

Lastly, in regard to tools, there are some great enterprise SEO tools on the market. The big three are BrightEdge, Conductor and Searchmetrics. Other paid tools I use regularly for topic analysis and data on search volumes are Buzzsumo, SEMRush, Moz, STAT Analytics.  I also love referencing free the website Answerthepublic.com to get a sense of how questions are being asked.

Don’t forget, the Google SERP itself is a fantastic place to identify trending content and opportunities: People Also Ask (PAA) boxes, Related Searches, and predictive searches all provide a great resource for writing content based on what. people. search. for.

The bots are going to think I’m keyword stuffing, I say it so much 😉

Q: What are some good ways to get other people to link to your content?

It sounds really simple but the key is to invest the time to make YOUR content great and worthy of being shared. Great content is memorable, helpful, insightful, inspiring, funny – it resonates with your audience. It can be hard to quantify but if you research the questions people are asking and see what information competitors are putting out there, you can fill the content gap with your content that’s better than anything else out there.

The second side of this coin are the tactics you deploy to promote your great content. This is a combination of leveraging off-site channels like as micro influencers on social media, drumming up authentic PR, and creating email marketing campaigns.

Last tip: Make sure your most fabulous content lives on your domain (.com); there’s nothing worse than driving traffic and eyeballs to a place that’s not owned and managed by your brand.

Q: Can you briefly describe best practices for internal linking and benefits for SEO?

Links are votes of confidence on the web. Internal links help visitors find content that’s related to the reason why they’re reading your blog or browsing your site.

Best practices for internal linking gets into taxonomy and site hierarchy.  A few top level things to include are:

  • submitting XML and HTML sitemaps to GSC so crawlers have a roadmap of all your site pages
  • evaluating and creating unique anchor text enhances the link value
  • running crawls on the site to evaluate which pages are strongest and should therefore link out to other internal “weaker” pages.

The benefit of having a clean, internal linking structure is an SEO benefit in two ways. Firstly, it helps search engines to crawl and index the most important pages of your website (very important when you have thousands of pages). Secondly, it contributes to a good user experience because it means humans can easily navigate your site finding and consuming content they’re interested in.

In conclusion, I now need more hot chocolate.

If you’re still reading, I love you. You deserve a cookie. Definitely a good stretch after consuming so much (great!) content. 🙂

Now it’s over to you: What did I miss? What is your $0.02 and feedback for me? How would you answer these questions differently? What was helpful or sparked some ideas for how you’re navigating SEO and content production?

Comment below and let me know.

 

Diagnosing A Drop In Traffic: 6 Data Sources to Check & Why

It’s a common scenario for an SEO Manager. You come into the office one morning, open up your SEO dashboards and notice a large drop in traffic to a core product page for your main software product.  It seemed to happen almost over night.

How do you go about diagnosing the issue?

What are some possible hypotheses for what could have caused the drop?

Before we get too far into the details. Let’s set the stage for context. Let’s suppose you do SEO for an enterprise software company that has a suite of products for developers and content managers. Your company services over 130,000 customers worldwide.  There are teams similar to yours all over the world in your primary market (English speaking) countries, i.e., Canada, Germany and Australia.

The US market represents the largest of your target markets and the .com site is ideally the one you want ranking in search engines. The size of the website on the same level as the IBM, Microsoft and Salesforce’s of the SaaS world. 

You’re an experienced SEO, and after some digging, you realize that several teams in different countries have published content that is stealing traffic away from the core US product page and this practice could also impact the rankings and performance of other products in the future.

What do you need to do to course correct with cross functional teams?

How do you go about educating teams on how to avoid this kind of issue in the future?

There is a lot to think about here. And you’ve only just finished your first cup of coffee.

Where to start looking  

First things first, diagnosing a drop in traffic means looking at a handful of data sources and formulating a hypothesis. Here are 6 areas where SEO’s should begin looking for clues, what to look for and why it’s relevant to SEO: 

  1. Google Analytics
    • Look for: Which type of traffic declined: organic, direct or referral? Did other, similar pages on the site loose rankings within this same timeframe or is this an isolated incident? 
    • SEO relevance: Knowing which type of traffic source has declined means you’ll be able to back track to the source of the issue. A decline in Referral traffic, for example, may mean some links have been broken on referral websites. A decline in Organic traffic is harder to diagnose but it largely means the source is less visibility of URLs in the SERP. 
  2. Google Search Console 
    • Look for:  Changes to the page in the Performance section. Look at data on Pages, Position, and Search Appearance. Are there any new warnings for this page that Google is flagging for you?
    • SEO relevance: This is largely where webmasters can  “communicate” with Google about their website performance so making sure primary elements like an HTML Sitemap are still visible and up to date are important to double check. 
  3. Development teams & Robots.txt
    • Look for: Ask internal dev teams when the page was last updated or scheduled to be updated (whether that’s tracking pixels, HTML code or on-page content). What was the last team that made updates to the page? Additionally, speak with the dev team leads to confirm nothing changed with the Robots.txt.
    • SEO relevance: Webmasters use the Robots.txt command to communicate crawl instructions to web robots. Bots are either allowed or disallowed from crawling the various folders of the site.  If the page accidentally were disallowed from being crawled, that’s a factor that would impact its rankings.   
  4. Enterprise SEO software tools (Searchmetrics, Conductor, BrightEdge)
    • Look for: Indications of other URLs that have begun ranking for the same term(s) that were previously ranking on your page that lost rankings. Areas like: 
    • Winner/Loser Keywords: what terms were ranking on the page before and after it lost rankings? It could be that a new, better page is in the index that Google is favoring.
    • Overall Content Relevance (E-A-T):  Some tools can measure how relevant the content is against multiple, similar pages in Google’s index. If there were any on-page content changes made recently, it’s worth investigating since it’s possible the changes were ultimately not helpful to users and the page is now underperforming. 
    • URL Rankings: Are there similar pages on the website (even other versions by country) that are cannibalizing rankings of this page? This happens frequently with large, enterprise sites. 
    • Crawl data & log files: Run a crawl to get an idea of what Google is seeing (or not seeing) on the page. Inspect log files for additional insights if available.  Also, check the backlink profile of the page. It’s possible the URL is suffering from spam and/or malicious backlinks dragging down page authority. 
  5. Competitor site performance
    • Look for: Have similar pages on your competitor sites lost rankings too? It could mean aspects of an algorithm update are affecting your industry vertical or that Google decided the page was no longer relevant for certain search queries. 
    • SEO relevance: The search intent of users changes over time. That’s why it’s important to update content to be relevant to the nature of what people are searching for and to continue improving upon existing content.  
  6. Search Engine Results Page (SERP)
    • Look for: Do a manual check to see if there new features in the mobile and/or desktop SERP (whichever device you care about getting traffic from). New elements like a carousel, more images can cause organic listings to be pushed further down the first page. 
    • SEO relevance: Simply put, Google is always looking to surface results that are based on what users want; “Google Images accounts for more than 20% of all queries Americans performed in 2018, and that’s down from a high of nearly 30% three years ago.” Research from SparkToro on 2018 search market share.

Hypothesis – Why the drop happened 

What are some possible hypothesis for the drop in traffic? 

On the whole, there are basically two sources where rankings are affected: internal and external. 

Some of the most common reasons drops in organic traffic occur are the result of external changes such as an algorithm update or the SERP landscape changing (i.e images are prioritized).  Competitor pages can steal rankings if they begin occupying better (higher) positions on the first page. Lastly, a page or site can drop if Google suspects questionable ways of gaining rankings (black or gray hat SEO tactics) are being used (this is called a Manual Penalty).

Conversely, rankings can be affected by internal factors like manual changes made to the page by different product, development or content teams. Internal page cannibalization can occur where other, existing web pages within the same domain outperform the page you want to be ranking. 

Both internal and external factors should be considered and evaluated in order to identify the source and best solution.

It’s common for enterprise level organizations to have many teams interacting with the website at any given time. Which is why it’s important for SEO leads to have open lines of communication and relationships with all teams to quickly address any imbalances.

How to prevent future drops in traffic

In this scenario, the drop was caused by internal teams where different country pages were cannibalizing rankings of the US .com page.  

How can an SEO lead go about educating cross functional, global, teams in the future to avoid this issue?

One approach is for those in SEO leadership roles to would work with internal team leads on creating an outline as a shared resource document that is referenced (almost like a checklist) by various product, content, design etc. teams when updating and publishing important core pages. The reference sheet should include any important, on-page elements that contribute to rankings and list technical SEO requirements that need to be adhered to. Things like:

  • KWs & Relevant content: listing the primary and secondary keywords/ topics for core pages which contribute to rankings. Identify region-specific content or questions that should be addressed so that the page is relevant to local searches and therefore not competitive with other URLs.
  • Technical SEO: In this case, hreflang tags should be applied to each regional page to distinguish the content meant for each region. 

It’s an ongoing combination of maintaining SEO guideline documents in a shared location, using dashboards to monitor ranking fluctuations, and educating the broader internal organization on SEO best practices to help them become more aware of the things that negatively impact rankings. 

Now, it’s back to scanning the horizon for Pandas and Penguins. 

Over to you, fellow SEOs!

Have you had to navigate a similar experience in your org? What other data sets have you used that helped you diagnose and resolve a traffic loss issue? Or, what did I miss in my list that can be added here?  Let me know by commenting below.