Archives 2019

Seer Solves It: PPC & SEO Analysis Leads to $43K in Savings

AMResorts® (AMR) is North America’s fastest growing luxury leisure resort company. It is part of the brand portfolio for Apple Leisure Group, North America’s only vertically-integrated travel, hospitality, and leisure management group. AMR provides sales, marketing and brand management services to its collection of resorts, which offer high-quality Endless Privileges®, Unlimited-Luxury® and Unlimited-Fun® vacations to the luxury leisure market.

Through restructuring campaigns and performing a PPC & SEO analysis, we were able to identify significant savings on branded terms that were then re-allocated to non-brand terms. This was AMResorts first introduction to looking at search holistically. As a result, working collaboratively between the PPC and SEO division has enhanced our analyses and lead to improved performance.

Observation: Spending 99% of Paid Search Budget on Branded Terms

Dreams Resorts & Spa, a brand in the AMResorts portfolio, was spending 99% of their paid search budget on branded terms before the Seer PPC & SEO teams came on board. As a luxury leisure resort company, there is a lot of opportunity to expand into the non-brand space in order to increase awareness and remain competitive.

The AMR team wanted to increase non-brand presence without sacrificing conversion volume. With the same budget, we needed to develop a strategy to cut back on brand in order to effectively and efficiently re-allocate budget to non-branded terms.

Hypothesis: A Phased Approach to Restructure Campaigns

After on boarding in January, we analyzed the existing account and strategized our restructured approach. We broke out the campaigns by city, adding nine additional campaigns with 1,039 incremental keywords. We launched the campaigns in phases, most of which were limited by budget. We then pulled Paid Search Query Reports from Google and Organic Search Rankings from Ahrefs in order to better understand the search intent, where we are ranking, and potential saving opportunities using Power Bi.

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Action: Where Have We Spent Money Where it Hasn’t Converted?

Our first step was to look at all search terms where we’ve spent money, but have not converted in Paid. A major flag was the term ‘excursion’ which was coming through on our broad match modifier variation of our brand term. Consumers who had already booked a vacation were looking for excursions that they could potentially book while they were there. In fact, our client actually uses a third party to book excursions, so this term was spending money with no return.

Upon further digging, the ‘amenities & transportation’ theme was our highest spend, non-converting bucket. These terms do not make sense for Paid to bid on, but are absolutely relevant for SEO. We spent about $1.6k per month on these terms over the past six months, equating to over $18k per year of wasted spend. Of these keywords, 96% were already ranking organically in positions 1 – 5, with 60% of these terms in position one. This is an area where we negated Paid and allowed SEO to capture the search, as we still wanted to maintain visibility on the SERP. Brand questions is another example, in which converters were inquiring about resort-specific details (how many stars are dreams resorts, what is the best time to go to dreams, etc.) While relevant to Organic, we’re only ranking 27% in positions 1 – 10. This is a huge area of opportunity for our SEO team to expand our content.

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Findings & Impact: $43K in Savings & Increased Non-Brand Presence

Not only have we identified $43k in savings to re-allocate towards non-brand, we have already started seeing success in the reallocation. With 183x higher click volume YoY, we’ve experienced a 9.4k% increase in Check Availability, one of our main KPIs, and 5 additional transactions.

“Our team recognized an opportunity for us to more efficiently maximize our PPC investment by taking a more holistic approach to search. Given the highly competitive landscape in the travel industry as it pertains to search, it was historically difficult for our team to remain competitive in the non-branded keyword space. Working with the Seer team to supplement branded PPC spend with equivalent organic SERP (while continuing to mature and optimize both our PPC campaigns and organic search strategy) will allow us to get more creative and focused with those funds.” – Rob Giannone Digital Analytics Manager

Want to Drive Sales With a More Competitive Site? Let Us Help!

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SEO is a team sport: How brands and agencies organize work

The importance of teamwork and workflow is often missing from discussions of SEO success.

So I interviewed 31 people, with titles ranging from Content Specialist to SEO Director, to CEO, and asked them about how teamwork and workflow affect their SEO operations and success.

Why did I do this? Because we can all learn from the experience of others. By understanding what works for others, we can hopefully avoid making their early mistakes.

Costs of poor coordination are traffic, conversions, working relationships

These costs are very real. Websites can suffer from less organic traffic and/or decreased conversions.

In the same way that people who run relay races practice how they hand the baton from runner to runner, the various team members working on a website need to work on how they interact and hand off work to each other.

Sometimes the technical SEO suffers, sometimes the design aesthetics suffer, sometimes the user experience suffers. Sometimes tradeoffs between the three need to be made. Something’s gotta give, and you don’t want these discussions to erode team cohesion.

How do agencies and brands coordinate SEO tasks effectively?

While there is almost universal agreement about what matters, there are interesting similarities and differences in how teams prioritize what matters. To use the relay race analogy again, there are differences in how people define a “smooth handoff”.

Can we learn something from each other in taking a high-level look at how we organize our SEO and content work? I think so. This belief is the basis of this article.

This article describes similarities and differences in SEO operations

When I started interviewing people for this article, I wasn’t sure what shape it would take. After several interviews, I realized people organize their teams around certain guiding principles. There seem to be a limited number of these guiding principles, and the order of importance varies from team to team.

As stated earlier, I interviewed 31 people, and the interviews uncovered seven guiding principles. Every guiding principle matters to everyone, but there are differences in opinion about which are most important.

There is also sometimes a need to make tradeoffs. For example, in order to properly use H2, H3, headers, they must appear on the page. For some pages, the designers may feel they don’t fit. So, it sometimes happens that to improve the page design aesthetics, you give a little in on-page SEO, and vice versa.

How conflicting priorities are managed also differs from team to team, and stems from which guiding principles are considered to be most important.

Disclaimer: A small data sample leads to some fuzziness in thinking

My data sample was only 31 people, and each organization was represented by one person. If I were to interview many more people, the distribution of the most important guiding principles might be different, and I might have uncovered more. If I had spoken to a different person within the organization, my understanding of their most important guiding principles might have been different.

Of the 31 people interviewed, 21 worked for agencies, and 10 worked for brands.

I believe there is something we can learn from each other through a high-level examination of how content and SEO teams organize their work and manage conflicting priorities.

The seven guiding principles around which people organized their SEO work

Below are the seven guiding principles, along with the number of people who considered each one to be most important. There is a brief description of each in which I explain how it’s different from guiding principles to which it seems similar.

Again, I wish to emphasize that everyone places importance on all seven. What’s different is the relative order of importance. Saying that six people are listed under “project management”  means that six people felt project management was most important, not that any of the others are unimportant.

1. Project management: A primary focus on objections, milestones, and tasks

This is the tried-and-true project management we’re all familiar with. Objectives, milestones, tasks, and more. Six people spoke of this as being their most important guiding principle. That makes it the second most popular guiding principle, tied with context (see below).

2. Collaboration: Working together well is considered to be the most important

Collaboration is different from project management as the focus is more on working together, rather than on the structure in which the work is managed. This feels to me to be more fluid and to involve more give and take.

Of course, there is a project structure in which the work is done. It’s that the emphasis is collaboration first, then project management structure second. Four people spoke of this as their most important guiding principle.

3. Client management: An interesting way some agencies focus their internal staff

As you can imagine, this was exclusively the concern of agencies. The idea here is:

1. The internal team honors what the client has agreed to, and what the client has agreed to is spelled out in detail so as to provide guidance to the internal teams and any outside contractors they manage

2. By spelling this out in detail for the clients, the clients are educated about SEO. Two people spoke of this as their most important guiding principle.

4. Priorities: Where managing relative priorities take center stage

The focus here is on managing relative priorities. The core idea is a very structured way of determining how tradeoffs are made, which is central to how these people run projects.

In the spirit of full disclosure, this is how I have been known to run projects, and this method has worked very well for me. Three people spoke of this as their most important guiding principle.

5. Education and knowledge: An interesting concept of a marketplace of ideas

The main focus here is that it’s not enough for people to tell other people what’s important, they must also explain and persuade as to why that point of view is important. Within these teams, team members “sell” each other on ideas to help streamline work.

SEOs teach designers why headers matter. Designers teach SEOs why templates matter.

Some of these teams also keep a shared knowledge base that everyone contributes to, which allows new team members to come up to speed faster.

This was THE most popular guiding principle around which people organized work, having been spoken of by seven people (five agencies and two brands).

6. Context: One of my personal favorites where everything is context-dependent

These last two are my personal favorites. The six people for whom context is the main guiding principle all work at agencies.

The concept could be applied in a more limited way for brands, but only agency people brought it up all, let alone described it as their main guiding principle.

The idea is that what matters most is context-dependent.

Are you working with a client who already has a lot of organic traffic and wants to increase conversion rates? Are you working with a blog post whose job is to attract readers and hand them off to a landing page, or a landing page whose job is to get the reader to download an eBook?

The context within a specific project, or set of tasks within a project, determines what matters most.

7. Experimentation: Or in other words, show me the data

Three companies, all brands, stressed the importance of experimentation as their main guiding principle.

It’s the standard methodology taught in the books: The Lean Startup and Running Lean

For those of you who haven’t read those books, the main ideas are:

1. Write down your assumptions

2. Translate those assumptions into a testable hypothesis

3. Structure experiments with which to test those hypotheses

4. Analyze the results of the experiments

If an experiment proves a hypothesis to be true, do more of that. If it proves a hypothesis to be false, stop doing that.

What is left out of the short descriptions above

It’s not the case that each team organized their work around only one guiding principle. That idea showed up in none of the interviews. That every team assigned different importance, or weight, to the different guiding principles IS the difference in how they organized their work.

Everyone settled into their patterns over time. Everyone had, at times in the past, experienced frustrations when work was coordinated and/or handed off poorly and/or simply done poorly.

As they encountered issues, they talked about how to solve them and made changes to how they worked. The guiding principles that came to be most important to them seem to be a result of the specific problems they needed to fix.

Who was interviewed and what did they say?

This section is divided into groups by guiding principles. It identifies who contributed which ideas and provides more about their thinking.

Front and center are principles of project management

The people for whom project management is the main guiding principle are:

  • Dean Cacioppo, Founder, OneClickSEO (agency)
  • Hamna Amjad, Content Marketing Executive, GigWorker (brand)
  • Juan Reyes, Digital Marketing Manager, Monkee Boy (agency)
  • Luke Wester, Digital Marketing Analyst, Miva (brand)
  • Mark Bruneman, Principle Digital Marketing Strategist, David-Kenneth Group (brand)
  • Thomas Pickett, Onpage SEO and Digital Design Specialist, FitSmallBusiness (brand)

Two of the companies above (GigWorker and FitSmallBusiness) make money through affiliate sales. As such, their websites are very large; their business objective is to attract a very high number of readers, some of whom make purchases that pay commissions.

Their websites and website teams are large. In both cases, most of the company is involved in web publishing in some way. They both have adopted rigorous publishing processes, as a result of the scale of their publishing efforts.

The other four companies (two brands and two agencies) find a strong process focus clarifies requirements upfront and prevents rework.

Dean expressed that scaling is achieved through task specialization, and fitting the various specialized tasks together requires a system.

Mark stated that everything done on the website starts with a team meeting, even creating and publishing a single blog post. These meetings can last up to two hours. Mark expressed that this greatly reduced rework as everyone understood what everyone else needed, before starting work on their part.

Juan expressed how their exacting process orientation is both their greatest strength and simultaneously keeping their processes updated to reflect industry changes is a significant challenge.

Luke expressed that every project starts with SEO requirements, around which everyone else organizes their work.

For whom collaboration matters most

The people for whom collaboration is the main guiding principle are:

  • Bryan Pattman, SEO Analyst, 9Sail (agency)
  • Nikki Bisel, Owner and Founder, Seafoam Media (agency)
  • Phil Mackie, Senior Digital Analyst and Owner, Top Sail Digital (agency)
  • Stephen Jeske, Senior Content Strategist, MarketMuse (brand)

To reiterate, collaboration differs from project management in terms of emphasis. Here, working well together can cause the project management structure to “give” a little when needed.

Bryan’s main points are 1) They work as an extension of their clients’ marketing department, so being close to their customers is critical, and 2) Clients need to understand SEO as they have some responsibility for their SEO effort.

Nikki has an interesting concept of a monthly cadence with each client, which consists of multiple touchpoints throughout the month.

Phil expressed that tradeoffs that must be made between technical SEO and design aesthetics are very nuanced, requiring close collaboration.

Stephen stated their focus on collaboration is less intentional due to the stage of their company. He implied that as they grow, the way they organize work will likely shift.

This group most values client management

The people for whom client management is the main guiding principle are:

Again, client management is where requirements are spelled out in detail for the client, which serves two purposes; 1) educates clients about SEO, and 2) informs the team as to what the client expects in detail.

David described how there is a “translator” between the client and the internal team, the client advisor. This client interface person enables others to focus on their specialized tasks, which improves the quality of what they deliver.

Lee took this idea further and stated: “It’s all about managing clients”. This is critical to them as some of their clients are so big, there are silos within marketing at the client firm, and the folks at TK101 Global have to manage conflicting requirements from different people at the same customer.

This group most values the managing of relative priorities

The people for whom managing relative priorities is the main guiding principle are:

The managing of relative priorities has always been a bit of a sacred cow for me personally. While this is one of the most uncompromising guiding principles, in my opinion, it provides a solid framework for managing resources, whether that resource is a design template or the time of the people involved.

David stated the user experience is the new holy grail and relevancy is a critically important ranking factor.

Markelle expressed that the buyer (their client’s customer) is the anchor around which they build everything, and their priorities come from that.

Stacy strictly applies a prioritization of UX first, technical SEO second, and design third.

This group most values education and knowledge

The people for education and knowledge are the main guiding principles are:

This is where telling others what matters is not enough, you must also provide evidence as to why those things matter.

Greg said everyone on his team is cross-trained. SEO’s learn the basics of design, and designers learn the basics of technical SEO. This builds empathy, making team decisions much easier when it comes to collaboration and priorities.

Kevin expressed the same idea in different words. He said creative teams need to be educated on technical SEO basics and SEOs need to be educated on the importance of design templates.

Matt has a saying he uses to help people focus: “It’s not personal. It’s SEO”. This starts a conversation about why the things that matter, matter.

Michelle considers that part of her mandate is to make sure everyone has a basic knowledge of technical SEO.

Quincy has worked to ensure technical SEO is taken into consideration when design templates are created and requires SEOs and designers to provide supporting backup when explaining to each other why something matters.

Shelby starts with detailed analytics of successful websites (of clients’ competitors and others) and uses that as a starting point to discuss how and why those websites are successful, and what their clients must do to compete.

Steve said something to the effect of “It’s all about education”, then expanded on the importance of SEOs and designers teaching each other.

This group embraces the idea that everything is context

The people for context this is the main guiding principle are:

Context refers to people who believe what is most important is very context-dependent. There were a lot of similarities in how people spoke of this – a lot.

Amine focused on the importance of the competitiveness of the industry and the relative values the client places on traffic versus conversion.

Chronis spoke about how they prioritize with their client after examining the top-ranking sites within a niche.

Joe provided the interesting statement of “the client provides the catalyst,” then expanded upon how their clients business situations determine the focus of their efforts.

Justin said something similar, that their client sets the criteria by which they make tradeoffs, and stated they sometimes feel the need to push back and make a case for what they see as a better set of priorities and tradeoffs.

Steve stated that how priorities are set and managed starts with their client, and they structure their work from that.

Tony provided what I consider to be an interesting way of thinking about this. A very high-level rigorous structure provides the framework for free-flowing creativity at a more granular level.

These folks are not from Missouri (the show me state), but they want to see the data

The people for whom experimentation is the main guiding principle are:

There are few, but interesting, differences in the way these people spoke about the importance of running experiments.

Apu made the interesting observation that short term ROI wins help fund longer-term efforts.

Chris stated that when their technical SEO people and their designers disagree, they don’t argue, they experiment.

Nadya and Chris both expressed the importance of how structured experiments based on testable hypotheses eliminate personal bias from these discussions.

The key take away for me, after talking with thirty-one people

SEO, like life, involves an endless series of trade-offs, and this is demonstrated by something as basic as how people prioritize the seven guiding principles uncovered through these interviews.

Not everything can be equally important, so you must decide which organizing principles are most important to you and your team, and how important they are relative to each other.

I recognize that as a “relative priorities” guy, the prior sentence reveals a personal bias of mine, but I don’t know a better way to describe the idea.

Success requires consistency, consistency requires some level of stability, and stability requires that the rules aren’t arbitrary and frequently changing.

So you need to know which organizing principles are most important to you and your team and organize the way you do your SEO work, around the principles most important to you.

The post SEO is a team sport: How brands and agencies organize work appeared first on Search Engine Watch.


How to change your favicon in WordPress: a step-by-step guide

Have you seen that icon in the search results in front of your website’s URL? It’s visible for most people in mobile results now. So, no excuses, your site needs a good favicon. Luckily, setting a favicon in WordPress is very easy. Here we’ll explain how to change the favicon of your WordPress site!

Yoast’s favicon shows when you search for our brand on mobile.

We’ve been writing about favicons for years. This article about favicons and branding will tell you what you need to think about in that regard. Read it, and make sure your favicon is good and stands out.

Spoiler alert! Next week, when Yoast SEO 12.1 is out, you’ll be able to see your favicon in Yoast SEO’s mobile snippet preview too, so stay tuned for our next release!

Now let’s give you a simple step-by-step guide on how to change your favicon in WordPress:

Time needed: 5 minutes.

The favicon is called a site icon in WordPress and can be added in the customize theme section.

  1. Log in to your WordPress website.

    When you’re logged in, you’ll be in your ‘Dashboard’:WordPress Dashboard

  2. Click on ‘Appearance’.

    On the left-hand side, you’ll see a menu. In that menu, click on ‘Appearance’.appearance in wordpress

  3. Click on ‘Customize’.

    The ‘Appearance’ settings will expand providing you additional options. Click on ‘Customize’.customize in WordPress

  4. Click on ‘Site Identity’.

    Here you can define your site name, tagline, logo, and icon. The image you set under “Site Icon” will be used as your site’s favicon:

That was easy, wasn’t it? So, no more excuses, get to it. Change that favicon on your WordPress site!

Read more: Favicons and your online brand »

The post How to change your favicon in WordPress: a step-by-step guide appeared first on Yoast.


Grey hat CRO and experience optimization — Joe Sinkwitz // Digital Heretix

Episode Overview

When viewed through the right lens, hyper-personalization, user testing and conversion rate optimization are tactics that savvy SEO’s can use to boost performance. Learn how with Joe Sinkwitz from Digital Heretix.

Topics covered include:

  • How clever user testing design that can boost SEO results
  • The good, the bad and the ugly of hyper-personalization

Episode Transcript

Ben:                 Welcome Gray Hat Week on the Voices of Search Podcast. I’m your host, Benjamin Shapiro, and this week we’re going to discuss the balance of ranking optimization and risking your domain’s reputation.

Joining us for Gray Hat SEO week is Joe Sinkwitz, who is the principal at Digital Heretix, which is a brand reputation management agency. Joe is also the co-owner of the Advanced Search Summit and a co-founder and CEO of Intellifluence, which is a SaaS tool that helps brands discover the right influencers for their products, pitch them, and get honest reviews. He’s got a wide variety of experiences related to SEO, content optimization, and helping brands get out of trouble. And today Joe and I are going to talk about Gray Hat strategies related to misleading users using cloaking and JavaScript.

But before we hear from Joe, I want to remind you that this podcast is brought to you by the marketing team at Searchmetrics. We are an SEO and content marketing platform that helps enterprise-scale businesses monitor their online presence and make data-driven decisions. To support you, our loyal podcast listeners, we’re offering a complimentary digital diagnostic where a member of our digital strategies group will provide you with a consultation that reviews how your website, content, and SEO strategies can all be optimized. To schedule your free digital diagnostic, go to searchmetrics.com/diagnostic.

Okay. On with the show. Here’s my conversation with Joe Sinkwitz, principal at Digital Heritix. Joe, welcome back to Gray Hat SEO Week on the Voices of Search Podcast.

Joe:                  Thank you for having me back.

Ben:                 We’re covering a lot of ground this week. We’ve talked about what Gray Hat SEO is, some of the different categories, how people are using SEO, including backlinks and their content strategies. And today we’re going to talk about a topic that’s probably more black hat than it is Gray Hat, which is misleading users.

I think there’s a lot of nuance to what you’re saying your content represents in Google and then what you actually deliver on the page. Talk to me about the practice of actually showing users what they expect to get and where SEO is getting in trouble by misrepresenting what they’re having shown in Google.

Joe:                  Sure. So I’m actually a big proponent of trying to align the landing page experience to the expected experience on click. So there was a period of time, let’s go back like a decade and even more than a decade ago, where you could rank for Disney princess and send them to a porn site. Now, it sounds kind of funny in retrospect, but what was their sales on this? Like did they get a great amount of sales with that misleading clicking into something completely irrelevant?

Ben:                 They were selling on a CPM basis. They just wanted the impressions.

Joe:                  Yeah. Yeah, so there’s that, yes. Nowadays it’s not quite as solid. The problem was they would have made more money ranking for Disney princess and sending them to a Disney princess store landing page. In terms of like a CPA basis. I still do believe, I’ve tried to be cultivating this belief for a while, that the closer you align the expectation to the delivery, the experience, the more money you’re going to make.

Now, I do see a lot of dynamic results where it’s essentially the same page, it’s just swapped out based on variables. And what you might see a little bit more on AdWords or Bing Ads where you’re changing out elements on the landing page similar to what we talked about the other day with regards to an influencer coming in and seeing that psychological trigger of, “Hey, it’s just like me, I’m coming from YouTube. You have a YouTube embed on your site.”

In this particular case, they might swap out different elements based on where they think a person is on a buying cycle or where they think the person is based on usage interests. If I click on an iPhone landing page versus an Android, I’m sorry, an Android query versus an iPhone query, and I click on an iPhone one, it would make sense to show me more content related to the iPhone.

Now some of this can be considered cloaking, because you could have a very deep page about cellular phones and you could be trying to hide information on the DOM, a shadow DOM, with regards to all the breakouts, different types of phones. Now for the user experience, did they find that misleading, though? You’re really only technically misleading Google.

Does the user find it misleading that they clicked on something iPhone-related, landed on the iPhone landing page, and maybe they’re purchasing a product related to your iPhone. I would argue that it’s not misleading to the user. You’re just essentially sidestepping what Google probably wants to see because not everything is visible content.

Ben:                 Yeah. I think this really runs in the area of conversion rate optimization. And I’m surprised that more brands haven’t had trouble using tools like Optemizely and VWO and all of the CRO and experience optimization tools. Where you have a page that’s submitted and it’s constantly evolving and constantly changing. How’s Google evaluating those pages? I’m surprised there hasn’t been more pushback in the search community for how those pages are dynamic and what’s being optimized.

Joe:                  Well, I think maybe some of the pushback from the SEO community is the difficulty working with the dev community. In a lot of cases, they should be working hand in hand, but sometimes it becomes an adversarial relationship where if an SEO comes in and says, “Hey, we’re going to completely overhaul this entire experience. Here’s how it’s all going to be dynamically-driven.” And the developer looks at and says, “It’s working just fine. What are you trying to do?” That comes up all the time.

I had a request from a developer at a client that said, “Hey, we want to take out this text that’s plain text and we just want to make it the same as the backroom text.” I said, “Don’t do that, please.” There’s a give and take that happens with SEO and dev, and you know some SEOs are really not that technical and some devs are not that marketing-centric. So there can be kind of a disconnect there.

You mentioned Optimizely. One of the tools I use is userinsights.com, and so they do simple user testing. And we did essentially a test on having people go through Google and to click on certain results. And then jumble around the site, make them do a little user video of them navigating the site and say like, “what was your favorite word on the page?” They come back and they say a phrase or whatever it might be. And the whole point of pushing them through these tests is you’re manipulating the user signals. Because you basically just got a branded query, a click, some decent dwell, they’re scrolling around the site, and then they took an action for you. That doesn’t necessarily relate so much to cloaking and user experiencing the delivery. I just thought it was funny little hack people do.

Ben:                 So, are you using the user testing to basically boost the performance of a page to drive the signal up through Google?

Joe:                  Yes.

Ben:                 Oh, so Gray Hat, Joe. So Gray Hat.

Joe:                  Whenever possible, I like to work in multiple dimensions if I can. And so we actually needed to use user testing to test out some conversion issues. And so we thought well while we’re doing it, we might as well have them start in Google to get to the page we needed to work on. So it just happened to have that dual benefit.

Ben:                 Well, let’s just keep that one a secret between you and me. I’m sure Google would probably frown on that practice. Well now that everybody knows about it, it’s going from Gray Hat to black hat. I guess the cat’s out of the bag.

So when it comes to misleading the users and talking about the user experience, you’re a big advocate of trying to replicate what the pre-search experience is or the pre-click experience is on the page, right? Understanding the context of what drove somebody to the page and then changing the page to be able to reflect that. Making a cohesive message last across the entire buying journey.

Joe:                  Absolutely.

Ben:                 What are some of the ways where that is, obviously, effective? But what are some of the ways where you’ve seen that get people into trouble when they’re modifying the page too much?

Joe:                  Yeah, so like I’ve seen it, and I know it’s going to be part of a presentation coming up in a couple of weeks. Simon is going to be talking about this. And where we’ve seen it go off the rails is if you’re always using dynamic text, and someone puts in really garbage information as part of their query, and you create a page, you could end up creating a landing page about Ben Shapiro naked in the bathtub. And unfortunately that person’s going to see a landing page that keeps mentioning this phrase in various places. And yes, it’s very relevant to the query. But that’s like a bad query for the domain to be relevant to.

Ben:                 Trust me folks, it’s a bad query. Don’t search it.

Joe:                  So that’s where like the over-automation and dynamic experience is bad. But I thought of something else, too. There is a time when you want the landing page to not be aligned. And that’s if your entire goal is to get them to click out of that landing page somewhere else.

In the early days of AdSense, you would want a really crappy design so you could have an ad block and just have them to click the ad block to leave your page. Now that’s not something that happens too much because you end up getting your AdSense funds rescinded. But that strategy worked pretty well. And it also worked in like the last click style, I’m trying to think of the phrase, like Outbrain and those guys. Like they would have those juicy-looking images and headline of you won’t believe what they did next on real garbage articles. Because people would skip the garbage articles and go to the clickbait instead.

So there is a time when you’d want to not have it aligned. It’s just, I think those days are ending pretty fast and I think it’s going to be more closer to you need them aligned but don’t automate for automation’s sake. And be careful about what you swap out. Maybe you need to have a specific list of here’s the type of elements we’ll swap out. Here’s the degree to which we’ll personalize this page. To prevent over personalization in a direction that is going to get you into hot water.

Ben:                 So how do you evaluate what is appropriate personalization? Obviously you’re looking at your throughput for your webpage, but how do you figure out what is, from a search perspective, too much personalization? What’s actually hurting your domain?

Joe:                  Yeah, I think it’s a case-by-case basis. So you might have like a list of stop words where if you see these particular phrases you do not swap out an element. Maybe you ignore it. And you could also do it in like a bucket situation. Where search the phrases, if they exist within the query when it comes in through the referrer, that you’ll swap out, it’s like I’ll show cash advance because they mentioned cash somewhere in the query.

But I’m not going to put it in cash advance near me, I need meth now. No, I don’t think we want to go to quite that level. I think cash advance is going to be sufficient here. So you can do it where you trim down the amount of personalization. That’s probably going to be the best strategy. And if you’re working on something that’s just overly-broad. Like you mentioned, like if I put an office chair [inaudible 00:11:35] cash advance page, I probably don’t want it to change. I’d question why they landed on that page to begin with. But c’est la vie. I think just trimming down how those elements get swapped out and creating almost like a safe list is probably the better method.

Ben:                 I think anything that has the term “need meth now” should probably be blacklisted. Just general rule of thumb. As you think about the evolution of user expectations and how Google has thought about personalization, what do you think is the future? Where are people going to be optimizing their pages and how is that going to affect the domain authority?

Joe:                  Well, that’s a good question. Because I think some of that domain authority might shift if they go into like the hyper personalization of singular landing page, right? And they have very, very few pages. They can kind of hoard that overall authority on that page-level basis. If they decide to not go on the hyper personalization end up having quite a few landing pages that they could spread out.

Now I think part of my concern with the hyper personalization is, because it can go off the rails, a guy like me might approach it saying, “Okay, let’s make this go off the rails for my client.” That’s my concern. I see still that this is a way bigger issue in paid traffic than organic traffic. But even still, the way that Google’s been making their changes with how ad targeting even works, sometimes the personalization’s simply breaking down. Where you might even have your negatives associated where you say, “Hey, I don’t want any phrases that mentioned Ben Shapiro,” but for whatever reason it’s still getting through because of some sort of broad entity match associated with Martech Podcast as a query that it shows the Ben Shapiro query instead.

Ben:                 I’d be happy if the keyword “Ben Shapiro” was related to The Martech Podcast as opposed to the political commentator.

Joe:                  Yeah, I guess ultimately no one really knows where the personalization game is going to end. And how that’s going to impact, I think, the overall size of sites. I think we might be in an accordion where we might see it expand, contract, expand, contract for a period of time.

Ben:                 Interesting thoughts. And that wraps up this episode of the Voices of Search Podcast. Thanks for listening to my conversation with Joe Sinkwitz, the founder of Digital Heretix. We’d love to continue this conversation with you. So if you’re interested in contacting Joe, you can find a link to his LinkedIn profile in our show notes.

You can contact him on Twitter. His handle is CygnusSEO, C-Y-G-N-U-S-S-E-O. Or you can visit his company’s website, which is digitalheretix.com, D-I-G-I-T-A-L H-E-R-E-T-I-X dot com. If you have general marketing questions, or if you’d like to be a guest on this podcast, you can find my contact information in our show notes. Or you can send me a tweet @BenJShap, B-E-N-J-S-H-A-P.

If you’re interested in learning more about how to use search data to boost your organic traffic online visibility, or to gain competitive insights, head over to searchmetrics.com/diagnostic for your complimentary advisory session with our digital strategies team.

If you like this podcast and you want a regular stream of SEO and content marketing insights in your podcast feed, hit the subscribe button in your podcast app, and we’ll be back in your feed tomorrow morning to discuss what are some of the penalties for using Gray Hat and black hat SEO practices.

Okay, that’s it for today, but until next time, remember, the answers are always in the data.


How Automated Rules Can Help Prevent a Client Nightmare

Have you ever received an email from a client or POC with “URGENT” in the subject line and your heart skips a beat or two?

Or, have you ever managed a Google Ads Account account where conversion tracking drops off all of a sudden?

Well, I know I sure have.

Naturally, in agency life or simply managing your company’s Google Ads account, things are bound to break at some point. The key here is making sure we prevent those fires from occurring, or put them out as soon as possible. And a solution that works great within Google Ads is Automated Rules.

So, what are automated rules?

By definition, automated rules as Google describes, “let you make changes in your account automatically, based on settings and conditions you choose.” In other words, you give Google certain conditions and, once those conditions are met, Google takes an action on your behalf, such as:

  • Alerting you via email
  • Pausing a campaign
  • Enabling a campaign
  • Adjusting bids or budgets

It’s as easy as that! You simply give Google criteria so they can act on your behalf in the account.

Need some real-life examples of automated rules?

As alluded to earlier, one of our Account Managers here at Seer, Jane Brady, noticed a potentially massive problem within the first 24 hours of this arising.

One morning, Jane received an email alert from her automated rules that told her within the past 24 hours every campaign generated less than 5 conversions. This was an immediate red flag, as these local campaigns generally drive a bunch of traffic. So what did Jane do? She immediately looked to troubleshoot! 😲

This meant taking a deep dive into Google Ads account, Google Analytics, checking conversion tracking, checking the news, Google Trends, and every other way possible to see why there was such a major fluctuation. Well, it ultimately turned out that the client made updates to Google Tag Manager which caused conversion tracking to break.

I’m sure we’ve all experienced working with clients who tend to make updates to their website without communicating that to you, or their dev team makes a change without alerting your POC either. Automated rules can help provide that buffer with updates to websites.

If this was not caught immediately, this could have led to days or weeks without proper tracking in place, and we all know how important that is! Thankfully, Jane had automated rules set in place and caught this right away. 😁

Here are a few other ways you can become an expert using automated rules:

Idea #1: Campaign Launches

This one is really good for e-commerce clients, but applies to other verticals as well.

Chris Evans, our e-comm guru, works with a bunch of e-comm clients and we all know how big online shopping is nowadays, especially during the holiday season! With so many promotions running and an influx of traffic, it can be hard to manage everything at once. To help mitigate stress and manage all the moving holiday parts, Chris utilizes automated rules to launch new campaigns. This way if you’re eating dinner with Grandma, you can have peace of mind that those campaigns are still launching without manually doing it yourself!

This also can be a phenomenal way of building trust with your client of POC, and why is that?

It’s because this type of set-up takes planning! If you speak with your POC and ask them months in advance what their promotions are, you’re going to help them be as prepared for the holidays as well. This encourages both sides to have plans in place, that way ad copy and extensions can all be built and QA’d so you’re never scrambling putting together new campaigns or promotions.

Idea #2: Promotions

This idea is more of the opposite of the first, but same concept, saving you time.

I currently work with a client in the hospitality industry that runs a lot of promotions. They’re always up to date with new promotions, and they generally perform really well for us, so it’s a win-win.

But, these promotions can get complicated. There are constantly new ones launching and old promotions fading away. The last thing you’d want to do as a marketer is let promotions that are over and done to continue running — not a good look.

Therefore, you can set up automated rules to pause at the ad group or campaign level. This ensures that off the start of the promotion you are giving it an end date and will not have to worry about keeping up with all of those moving dates.

Idea #3: Performance Alerts

A lot of the time our clients have hard goals and KPIs that we benchmark to. More specifically, we often see clients concerned about their Cost Per Acquisition (CPA) or Return on Ad Spend (ROAS), and understandably so. If you’re spendin’ my money, I wanna know what’s up!

Therefore, a great automated rule you can set up is at the campaign level is “IF cost / conv (CPA) > $200 for the last 7 days, email me”.

The point here is that you can use automated rules to tie to your KPIs. If anything in your account is a potential red flag that would prevent you from meeting those targets, you have the ability to know right away (before it’s time for that shotty monthly report).

How do I set up automated rules in my account?

Here’s a step by step guide on how to set up Automated Rules:

Step #1

At the top of the page in Google Ads, you will see the tool icon labeled “Tools & Settings”. Once the drop-down appears, select “Rules” under the “Bulk Actions” column:

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Step #2

From here select the blue +, which will give you a range of options to choose from:

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Step #3

This is the fun part — pick which one you’d like to start testing with!

For the sake of this post, I will continue with the set-up as if we were trying to catch conversion tracking breaks.

Select “Campaign rules” in this dropdown. Once selected we can tell Google to email us (depending on your “Type of rule” selection) when any enabled campaign receives less than 5 conversions from the previous day at a specified time:

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Conclusion

If you want to reduce client nightmares, launch campaigns while eating holiday dinner with Grandma, or try to get a better understanding of which keywords are driving up CPAs, I highly recommend implementing automated rules into your account!

There are a bunch of possibilities in terms of rules to set up, so don’t feel overwhelmed! Play around and see which rules would potentially make the most sense for you and your account, as each one is different.

If you’d like to speak more in-depth about automated rules or have any questions, reach out!


Prepare For Battle: A Paid Search Competitive Guide

One of the top questions we get as PPC marketers is, “what are our competitors doing?” It’s an important question, but one that can be difficult to answer.

There is no sneak peek into a competitor’s AdWords account, no unblinded benchmarks, or quick plug-in formulas. However, paid search experts do love a challenge. We like to uncover all the data we can and piece together the clues. We know that researching and discovering your competitors is an essential step in better understanding the industry, the trends, and ultimately shaping your own paid search strategy.

We’ve compiled our tricks, tips, and best practices for uncovering the competitive advantage.

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.” – Sun Tzu

Know Thine Self

Hidden within your Google and Bing accounts is a plethora of competitive data. Although we can’t see competitor’s account set-ups or exact budgets, search engines share data that show your performance in relation to your competitors.

Auction Insights

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Located at the campaign, ad group, or keyword level in the Google interface, the auction insights tab is an easy way to see where you stand against advertisers who entered the same auction as you.  That’s right, Google gives you names! In addition, Google offers six metrics to dig into: impression share, overlap rate, position above rate, top of page rate, abs. Top of page rate, outranking share. For full descriptions about these metrics, check out this resource, but for now let’s dive into one of our favorites.

Search Impression Share

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This KPI shows the performance of your ads in comparison to your competitors. It’s calculated as the number of impressions your ads received, divided by the total number of impressions your ad was eligible to receive, expressed in a percentage.The lower your percentage, the more opportunity you have to compete. We like this one because it can be directly impacted by factors other than increasing budget. Eligibility is factored by your targeting settings, bids, and quality score. There are a ton of optimizations you can make here to increase quality score and your chance of showing for more auctions –  writing relevant ad copy, testing the best landing pages, adding customized extensions. Google will reward you for creating the best possible user experience.

Dig in even deeper by segmenting by time and device. Did a competitor suddenly start outranking you in a certain month? Is a competitor eating up mobile impression share over desktop? These types of questions can help determine strategic decisions for your own account. There are also scripts that can help you track this data over time.

What’s a good way to get ideas in improving your customer experience? Put yourself in your target audiences’ shoes and do research to see what your competitors are doing.

Know Thine Enemy

What’s a great way to better understand your competitors? Straight up stalking!

Determine your list of competitors, slip into incognito, and start Googling. Take note of your most valuable key head terms. Who else is showing up? What does their ad copy look like? Click through to the landing page?  What do they do well and how does that compare to your own landing pages?

This research is more qualitative, but a picture is worth a thousand words. We’ve been able to get buy-in for testing or movement on much needed projects by simply showing our clients screenshots of competitor ad copy and landing pages. They weren’t interested in our data points or case studies. They could see the eye-catching ad copy or streamlined landing page. It’s an effective starting off point for future initiatives; we highly recommend it.

Set up google alerts for your competitors, sign up for their newsletters, and follow them on social media. It can be a great way to monitor your competitors over time.

There are a ton of tools that share competitive research. We like SEM Rush, SpyFU, and Moat. With these tools you can dig into research like competitor paid keyword lists, organic rankings, display creative, etc. However, no tool is perfect and we’d suggest utilizing this data in a broader sense as we’ve found it can be inaccurate. For instance, use it to see if there are keywords you should be bidding on, but don’t use it to set your advertising budget based on what your competitors are reported as spending.

Know Thine Enemy

Now that we know where we stand and what we’re up against, our more aggressive folks can take it a step further. The real question is to bid or not to bid – on our competitor’s brand keywords that is.  Some caveats here, with this strategy you should expect lower quality scores, higher bids, and a hungry budget. This is because Google rewards keywords that are most relevant to the searcher.

Example: Our target audience is searching for Target, and you’re Walmart. Although you sell the same products, a person searching for Target likely wants to go to Target’s website. However, Walmart has an opportunity to get this person’s attention. If Walmart offers a promotion, coupon code, or perhaps shows some visually appealing products, it’s fair game if the person visit’s Walmart’s site vs. their originally intended Target destination.

We don’t always recommend this strategy. You need to consider your priorities, budget, and goals, but we think it’s a worthwhile test. Our test recommendations? Create separate competitor campaigns so you can control budget. Customize your ad copy to call out your unique selling propositions and instill strong brand messaging. Carefully consider your landing page to improve time on site and encourage conversion. Monitor performance very closely.

Don’t forget about upper funnel strategic plays. If your searchers are in the research phase, it’s likely they are learning about your competitors. It can be the ideal time to build brand awareness.  Create custom intent audience for Display and YouTube. Learn more here.

Victory

Improve paid search performance and push innovation by keeping up with your competitors. In an ever changing SERP landscape you’ll need the edge to fight for space, and in an ever shifting search behavior, you’ll need to keep your target audience’s attention.

We hope we’ve given you ideas to rally up the troops. If you have any questions or feedback, drop us a line!  If you’re interested in learning more about the Seer’s competitive battle plans, reach us here.


How to write landing page copy that converts like crazy

Businesses that use 10 to 15 landing pages experience up to 55% more leads. However, it isn’t as easy as slapping a landing page up and watching the money come in. You need amazing copy to experience that.

Copywriting is the art of using words to convince customers to purchase a product. Furthermore, landing pages are bare-bones sales pages with one goal – to sell something.

That means landing pages need to have a crisp copy that gets the customer excited or they’ll leave in a snap of a finger. This is also why we’re going to be covering seven landing page copywriting techniques that boost conversion rates today if you keep reading.

Let’s dive in.

Effective landing page copywriting strategies

These are some of the best copywriting strategies you can use throughout a landing page. Try them out in headlines, subheadings, and within the body. Use them in different combinations and see the results for yourself.

1. Include plenty of calls to action

Calls to action are phrases and words which tell the customers to do something. This typically involves helping them to take the next action in a sales funnel. Common CTAs that work well include:

  • Buy now
  • Shop now
  • Add to cart
  • Order today
  • Don’t wait

They are subtle but extremely powerful. In fact, it’s been found that 90% of visitors who will read your headline read the call to action copy, too. That means if you wheel them in with a great headline, you’re increasing the chances of customers converting by adding a CTA afterward.

Check out this landing page for QuickSprout where they use the prompt “Start Now” in the text field for free website analysis.

Example of Quicksprout's landing page copy for ctas

Note how the headline “Grow your business, faster.” gets the reader’s attention while the CTA seals the deal.

2. Agitate the customer’s pain points

Why do customers purchase a product? To solve a problem. Reminding them of this issue and the related experiences bring out emotions that can help improve the chances of a sale.

You have to remember that the purchasing process is very emotional. As a matter of fact, a Harvard University professor argues that it’s roughly 95% emotional. By making the customer feel emotions associated with the product and solution, you’re aligning with this consumer behavior.

Look how this customer success company uses this strategy on their website:

 

Landing page copy that agitates pain points

The copy on this ebook’s landing page mentions the pain point of customer churn multiple times, reminding anyone losing customers of their problem. Stating how this book can remedy this experience via bullet points is the icing on the cake.

3. Use storytelling to relate to your audience

Everyone loves a good story. In fact, it’s how we communicated through means like cave art centuries before modern language. It should be no surprise that testimonials, which are just a variant of storytelling, are proven to boost conversions on landing pages.

This is why no landing page is complete without some great customer stories. You will need to ensure that you ask previous customers for permission before using their feedback and possibly their image, too.

Furthermore, storytelling can be executed by telling a personal tale of how you once too were in the customer’s shoes. Explain your situation as it relates to theirs and how they succeeded thanks to your product or service.

4. Create a slippery slope

Joseph Sugarman, one of the world’s greatest copywriters, coined the term slippery slope in one of his famous books, ‘The Adweek Copywriters Handbook’. This is the strategy of organizing copy in a way that helps customers flow through it effortlessly, ultimately getting to the end sale sooner.

You can achieve this on your own landing page by first ensuring that the copy is organized in a logical sequence. This normally looks like:

  • A captivating headline that grabs the reader’s attention
  • An introduction to the offer, its features, and benefits
  • Pricing and justification for the investment
  • Testimonials that act as social proof
  • Answers to questions and objections customers may have
  • Call to action for purchasing the product

See how that order flows in a natural way? Furthermore, a slippery slope is created by using short and snappy sentences. This makes copy easier to read and less intimidating.

Taking this approach along with the other copywriting strategies we’re teaching you today will produce a landing page customers can’t wait to finish.

5. Keep the language simple and digestible

Roughly 32 million adults in the United States read at a basic level. That means if you use complex vocabulary and technical jargon, you’re filtering out a large group of people reading a landing page.

Instead, you should opt to use a simple and casual language that sounds like a friend speaking to a friend. This is much more digestible, fun to read, and personable.

You should also aim to write as you speak. So, don’t be afraid to break some grammar rules to sound natural and human-like because it can pay off big time.

6. Ask questions that get the customer answering with a “yes”

The more you get the customer thinking “yes” all along the landing page, the more likely they will be able to say that towards the sale. How do you do this? By asking questions they are thinking.

These don’t have to be extremely complex, either. In fact, the simpler the better. You should have a good idea of your customer’s interests, feelings, values, and more. Use this to add questions you’re confident are on their mind to get them relating to your copy more and more.

Look how this marketing publication used this strategy in one of their resource compilations for SEO:

Example of landing page copy headlines

Anyone struggling to perform SEO effectively will read the headline and instantly be more intrigued since they can relate.

7. Use urgency to entice quicker action

Think about it from the customer’s perspective. They see that there’s only a limited time to take advantage of an offer. How would they feel? Urgent to take action. This is precisely why you need to mix in urgent copywriting into landing pages.

Urgency can be created in many ways, as well. The first of which is to frame your offer as “only available for a limited time”. Look how the telephone company Telus pulls this off one of their sales pages:

Telus landing page

Customers will feel more enticed to shop now as they’ll miss out on a great deal. We also call this fear of missing out or FOMO for short. It’s a common aspect of human psychology you can tug on as a copywriter.

Wrapping up landing page copy with key takeaways

Great copy can make or break a landing page. That’s why you need to take the time to craft an epic copy that gets customers itching to buy from you. This can be achieved by applying the main takeaways of today’s article:

  1. Use calls to action for pushing customers along the sales funnel
  2. Bring up pain points customers are experiencing to create emotion
  3. Take advantage of testimonials and storytelling for social proof
  4. Short paragraphs, snappy sentences, and a logical sequence create a slippery slope
  5. Simple language is more easily readable and less intimidating
  6. Ask questions that relate to the customer’s experience
  7. Use urgency and scarcity to make customers feel they need to take immediate action

Got some more tips for landing page copy? Share them in the comments.

Carmine Mastropierro is Founder of Mastro Commerce.

The post How to write landing page copy that converts like crazy appeared first on Search Engine Watch.


Grey Hat keyword and content strategies — SRP flooding, stolen content — Joe Sinkwitz // Digital Heretix

Episode Overview

We’re joined again by Joe Sinkwitz, principal of Digtial Heretix and CEO and co-founder of Intellifluence. Listen in as Ben and Joe dig into grey hat strategies for key word stuffing and content hacks as well as slipping into the dark side with content stripping and republishing.

Topics covered include:

  • Spinning using Markov chain swaps and the extent to which the practice fluctuates between grey and black hat SEO.
  • How to ensure that your content has utility and won’t run afoul of Google
  • The roll of Online Reputation Management

Episode Transcript

Ben:                 Welcome to Gray Hat Week on the Voices of Search podcast. I’m your host Benjamin Shapiro and this week we’re going to discuss the balance of ranking optimization and risking your domain’s reputation. Joining us for Gray Hat SEO Week is Joe Sinkwitz, who is the Principal at Digital Heretix, which is a brand reputation management agency. Joe was also the co-owner of the Advanced Search Summit and a co-founder and CEO of Intellifluence, which is a SAS tool that helps brands discover the right influencers for their products, pitch them and get honest reviews. He’s had a wide variety of experiences related to SEO, content optimization and helping brands get out of trouble.

Ben:                 Today Joe and I are going to talk about grey hat strategies for keyword stuffing and content hacks, but before we hear from Joe, I want to remind you that this podcast is brought to you by the marketing team at Searchmetrics. We are an SEO and content marketing platform that helps enterprise scale businesses monitor their online presence and make data-driven decisions. To support you, our loyal podcast listeners, we’re offering a complimentary digital diagnostic where a member of our digital strategies group will provide you with a consultation that reviews how your website, content and SEO strategies can all be optimized. To schedule your free digital diagnostic, go to Searchmetrics.com/diagnostic. Okay, on with the show. Here’s my conversation with Joe Sinkwitz, Principal at Digital Heretix. Joe, happy Wednesday. Welcome back to the Voices of Search podcast.

Joe:                  Great to talk to you again.

Ben:                 Great to connect. We’ve been going through some of the different tactics and strategies that are gray hat, something that you maybe contest and find a performance boost, but also that potentially could get you into some trouble. Today we’re going to talk about content hacks, keyword stuffing, flooding SERPs, even stolen content. Talk to me about some of the ways that you are seeing people use various content strategies to push the boundaries for what Google’s terms of services say is acceptable and where are people actually getting themselves in trouble?

Joe:                  Sure. My favorite thing right now is something called Keyword Juicer and it’s actually a private product by CopyPress. The reason I like this is they figured out a way to automate what my manual process is. When I’m building like a content strategy, I tend to look at a couple of things. I look at HREFs data for not just the domain in question, but all the potential competitors that I see. Then I’ll go to SpyFu and I’ll look at the paid search data associated with those same type of phrases to get a sense of what the actual competition looks like, how does the content breakout, what are they actually trying to buy traffic for?

Joe:                  Then from there you’re able to do an analysis to determine where your gaps are in your strategy. You could say like, “Oh, we need to create content around this section.” They figured out how to automate that and I know they’re pulling in a ton of data to do that. That’s on the white hat side of things, because all you’re really doing is you’re trying to figure out where are your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. You’re doing a SWOT analysis.

Joe:                  On the gray side of things, I see people that will say, “Okay, my goal is to get a more authoritative domain. Done. I’m going to start with that. It doesn’t matter what the industry is. Then I’m going to find people that are ranking significantly worse than I am, but they’re posting content. I’m just going to take that content, push it through a spinner and have it go live on my site. Because I have a more authoritative domain, chances are it’s going to be associated with me before it’s associated with them.” This could be all scripted so that a page might go live on my site within a couple of seconds at the longest, then it goes live on the site that we’re taking it from.

Joe:                  Now I would actually put this in black more than gray, but I still see it happen. It’s something where Google still has too much an affinity for overall authoritative domain versus the actual creator of the content. Otherwise we’d see nobody domains ranking for really deep pieces of content. That’s just not the case. Usually we end up seeing that shift towards the macro parasite of a very authoritative domain that has sections in a whole bunch of different niches that happens to rank for something that’s kind of lower quality. Well, why is it ranking? Why is it not pulling in that deep piece of content? That’s up to Google, but those very authoritative domains can effectively steal, in an automated fashion, spin and then post content. That’s what I see a lot of.

Ben:                 The interesting thing to me here is the notion of the spinning, where you can pull in a piece of content and change it around to be something that’s your own. Walk me through the dynamics of how the spinners work.

Joe:                  Sure. The really old ones were like RSSGM. Those guys, they would just swap out a couple of words based on a source, and then as the spinners themselves got more sophisticated, tried to make it more like natural English reading and so it would swap out phrases. Some of it is pretty cool how like the mathematics of it is pretty neat. Back in the day we tried to create something, we called it the Veronikov. It was based on like a Markov chain and I think our content manager was named Veronica back then, so we called it the Veronikov Method. Now, I mean stuff has gotten so much further than simple Markov chain swaps. Now they’re looking at far beyond key redundancy. They’re looking far beyond other expected phrases to exist on the page. If you’re doing payday loans, you probably need to talk about APR. You probably need to talk about payback methods, so like those type of phrases.

Joe:                  It’s like that stuff still all exists, but in some cases,  you can’t quite tell that it’s been spun. It’s gotten that decent. Then beyond that, for those that are operating on extremely authoritative domains, talking like an About.com sort of setup, they could go through this process and then they could farm it out into like a feeder system for low end editors that are paid in a similar fashion, so like a cyber setup, where it just goes into a queue and they do quick edits and post locks. That would basically break, I think, a lot of niches.

Ben:                 It’s funny, I’ve done a similar SEO strategy before. I mentioned in a previous podcast, my guitar lesson website, DrumSchool.com, and one of our SEO strategies was we scraped the biggest dictionary of guitar terms and we just started not necessarily copying the content, but I would hand the description of a specific guitar term to an editor and say, “Rewrite this in your own words.” Essentially that’s what technology is doing is just taking a piece of content, spinning it around, just modifying a few phrases and then republishing it in real time.

Joe:                  The biggest place to see this happening a lot is monitor any news queries. Look for it in breaking news and you’ll see in some cases where the news that ranks is kind of thin looking. It doesn’t have a ton of detail, but it ranks. Then you start looking at where are they actually linking to if they cite sources and it’ll often be the big deep piece of content that they took it from.

Ben:                 Interesting. Okay. The first thing that we’re talking about here with keyword stuffing is you’re just honestly stealing content and making it look like it is not duplicate content. Talk to me about some of the … You mentioned before that there are keyword strategies where some brands are just going into too much depth and that’s getting them into trouble, creating content that is superficial. Walk me through some of the strategies in terms of creating your keyword targets and what is too much and what is Google starting to penalize?

Joe:                  Sure. That’s a good question. I’d say that they go on too much breadth more than depth.

Ben:                 Right.

Joe:                  What happens here is if you look at early Panda, one of the ways that we started fixing Panda was to look at every piece of content. We’d ask ourselves, “Does this page answer a question that’s answered elsewhere on the domain?” It starts very simply like that. If so, then we need to ask ourselves, which one is the better answer? If we can’t make that distinction, then we need to combine the pieces of content and set up a re-direct. If this page is not that great and the other page is better, we need to say, “Okay, we’re going to either redirect it if it makes sense to do so, or we’re going to 410 it. We’re going to basically remove it from search.”

Joe:                  It really comes down to that level of simplicity. When sites went too crazy, we were creating the most ridiculous content, how to go skiing on a payday loan, how to take your best vacation on a payday loan, like just really ridiculous stuff that no one ever really cared about, but for that period of time leading up to Panda, you could get away with it. You could have a domain that has a ridiculous amount of authority and it’s spreading that authority to 50,000 different pages, all that are all unique technically, but they happen to be about a specific phrase, a long tail phrase. That’s how people got in trouble. They kept driving the strategy, and I still see it too much where some brands are blogging for the sake of blogging. They’re just putting out a lot of content that doesn’t actually have any use.

Joe:                  Current day Panda, if you’re putting up stuff where a user’s not going to go to it and they’re balancing out quickly, if the user signals start to look pretty bad where the content is not useful and not answering a specific query, chances are you’re going to start coming up to that line and potentially crossing that line. The fix of that is be judicious about the type of content you’re putting out. If you’re a new site, then yeah, you can get away with having a bunch of stuff doing that because in new sites, they tend to cannibalize and kill off all the bad stuff. There’s certain practice to that. A lot of brands that get in trouble, they don’t recognize the benefit of calling pages. They just keep spitting them out there.

Ben:                 There’s another topic related to keyword stuffing, which is how much are actually feeding into Google’s index? Where are you seeing people try to not just produce the content but essentially flood the index with pages? Even if it is genuinely unique content, your search results pages or other pages that are not necessarily meant to be crawled, how do you figure out not only what to create but then what to share with Google?

Joe:                  Sure. This gets into the realm of ORM for me.

Ben:                 Sorry, the realm of what?

Joe:                  Reputation management.

Ben:                 Okay.

Joe:                  Because what happens is if you have a negative article that exists on a domain and you could take a deep look at this site, you’re looking at the robots, robots.txt, and you say, “Huh, this is interesting. It looks like it is blocking this particular sub-directory from Google, but it will still deliver a response if I create a random query in here. Then what you could do is you could start injecting pages that don’t even exist into Google by linking to all this stuff. Well, there’s reasons why you might do that, in order to temporarily get Google to either flip which page that they’re going to show for a specific query, or you might get it to basically not trust the pages that are in there. If it’s a weak enough domain, you might be trying to trigger an adult filter.

Joe:                  There’s reasons behind it, but a lot of finding those weaknesses can come from just looking at whether or not a site is correctly canonicalling pages. Are they opening themselves up to duplicate content by slapping in a query string and putting in who knows what? Are they having problems with that directory structure? I mentioned the robots.txt. Do they have problems, just a really weird CMS setup where you’re just able to just garble stuff in? It really depends. I have yet to see a really clean CMS that protects everything out of the box. It doesn’t matter what plugin you use. There’s going to be a problem somewhere because it’s all tradeoffs in terms of how they got there.

Ben:                 Let me make sure I understand. You’re talking about when somebody submits a page that potentially opens them up to risk, right? If you have a negative page, then that can be highlighted, which essentially then can get flagged by Google. That’s really competitive SEO more than anything else.

Joe:                  Yeah, and it happens quite a bit. If you think about any news publication, if you think about any like gossip rag, if you start looking at their traffic stats, start looking at their link stats, you’ll see where people are trying to take out specific pages or trying to take out specific category pages where they’re just trying to harm the domain, but Google does take measures and they try to ignore certain tactics, but over time it’s like the overall algorithm is so much more complex than any of us fully appreciate. Whenever something’s added, something’s kind of either taken out or it’s demoted in terms of relevance. When that occurs, it opens up these little holes. If they go crazy about, “We need to really highlight more content from weak domains, Joe’s right,” well then that opens up a new attack strategy in terms of how you might go about flooding the net with junk web 2.0 pages.

Joe:                  What I say today may not even be valid until next week because something might have changed or there might be a better way to inject content, like open comments. Never have open comments. That’s probably the worst thing you do on a blog, but like so many people still have it open and so many people still have a ton of content that’s jammed in there. If it’s like an old CMS, you could do like frame breaking essentially to create stuffed pages that exist due to having injected a comment on something. The web, unfortunately, is a mess when it comes to that stuff.

Ben:                 It’s really interesting to me that not only do you need to evaluate your keyword and your content strategy from a perspective of how it ranks, but also what it exposes you in terms of risk for other people being able to take your content and manipulate your brand. What are some of the ways that you evaluate your content strategy to not only understand how it’s helping you benefit and helping you achieve your goals, but also how it’s opening you up to risk?

Joe:                  That’s a nuanced question there. I mean, I would still approach the content strategy the same way because every time I’m creating a content strategy, there is a corresponding promotional strategy associated with it. The reason that that promotional strategy exists is twofold. One, yes, we want to be able to rank, and then in the world that we live in, it takes the content plus the link started to rank. The other thing that getting those links helps to do is to help you set apart slightly from someone that’s creating that similar content but doesn’t have the links associated with it. One of the risk mitigating factors is creating a strong domain. Another mitigating factor is to continually have strong usage data associated with your site.

Joe:                  One way that I like to do that is actually with an email list. Intellifluence, one of the coolest things I get to do every day, or actually every week, is we have weekly emails that go out to all our influencers. 60,000 people, they get this email. It has a really high open rate. They take action. That action usually involves them clicking through, going in through Chrome browser, logging into the site and goofing around on the site to do their work. Sometimes, it still amuses me, they don’t click the link to log in, but instead they’ll go to Google and they’ll look for the domain or they’ll look for the login page there and then log in through there. By utilizing this list of people that we have over email, we’re driving all this positive usage signal. Positive usage signals, I think, are going to be viewed as more important the further along we go, simply because of all the tentacles that Google has with Chrome, Android, et cetera, and their own search engine. With that, that’s one mitigating thing.

Joe:                  The other thing I think that you have to do is you just simply have to be on top of security updates. If you have WordPress, you need to have that automatic security updates on. If you’re on WordPress, you also need to make sure that you’re blocking robots on queue and query. You need to make sure that you don’t have search results showing up. Each CMS has it a little bit different in how you have to go about it. It becomes like a laundry list of, “I just need to do these basic things to cross off to make sure I don’t get slapped pretty hard by a competitor.”

Joe:                  It’s kind of sad. It’s a lot like walking down the street in New York City with a purse. You’re not just going to like dangle it on your elbow. You’re going to strap it across your body. You see those old ladies like that. No one’s taking that purse because you’re basically telling the world like, “I’m not a target.” That’s what you’re trying to do with your site within Google if you know you’re in competitive industry. You’re just taking one factor away at a time for you to be attacked. Nothing is ever attack-proof. You just want to make it more difficult, more expensive for them to take you out.

Ben:                 Any last thoughts on some of the ways that keyword strategies and content hacks are changing>? What’s gray hat today that might be black hat tomorrow?

Joe:                  I think it’s still going to be in the realm of how much content is being produced and for which queries. I think we’re still not at that proper line in terms of having only one page to answer one question. It’s still way too easy to get carried away talking about phrases that really don’t sound like they’re very similar but they’re answering with the same core root question. That’s going to trip more filters in the future, just because we’re all producing a ton of content and we’re not slowing down, it seems like. We just keep producing more and more. Until they pull it back, it’ll happen.

Ben:                 If anything, that might make the SEO’s job and life a little easier knowing that you don’t have to produce the same content 57 times with 57 different keywords. I don’t know why I said 57, first number that came into my mind, but if you can answer a question once and you can do it well, hopefully Google will prioritize that and that’ll allow us to refocus on producing the right content as opposed to the right volume of content.

Joe:                  Right. If they start focusing more on those user signals, I think you’ll see that happen because then they could just prioritize that single piece of content based on, “Hey, people found this useful.”

Ben:                 Okay. I think that’s a great place for us to land the plane today. That wraps up this episode of the Voices of Search podcast. Thanks for listening to my conversation with Joe Sinkwitz, the founder of Digital Heretix. We’d love to continue this conversation with you so if you’re interested in contacting Joe, you can find a link to his LinkedIn profile in our show notes. You can contact him on Twitter. His handle is CygnusSEO, C-Y-G-N-U-S-S-E-O, or you can visit his company’s website, which is DigitalHeretix.com, D-I-G-I-T-A-L-H-E-R-E-T-I-X.com. If you have general marketing questions or if you’d like to be a guest on this podcast, you can find my contact information in our show notes, or you can send me a tweet @BenJShap, B-E-N-J-S-H-A-P.

Ben:                 If you’re interested in learning more about how to use search data to boost your organic traffic, online visibility, or to gain competitive insights, head over to Searchmetrics.com/diagnostic for your complimentary advisory session with our digital strategies team. If you liked this podcast and you want a regular stream of SEO and content marketing insights in your podcast feed, hit the subscribe button in your podcast app and we’ll be back in your feed tomorrow morning to discuss gray hat strategies related to misleading users including cloaking and JavaScript. Okay, that’s it for today, but until next time, remember, the answers are always in the data.


Holistic SEO: Improve every aspect of your website

At Yoast, we try to combat the notion that SEO is just a trick. While tricks might get you ranked quickly, they usually don’t work in the long run, and they might even backfire. Permanently ranking well in Google demands an extensive SEO strategy focused on every aspect of your website; the technical stuff, the user experience, the content on your website and the security of your website all need to be in order. So, to keep ranking well in Google, you should develop a holistic SEO approach. Let me explain what that is, here.

What is holistic SEO?

Holistic SEO (search engine optimization) refers to improving all important aspects of a website to make it rank higher in the search engines. The ultimate goal is to make a website fulfill its users’ needs on all levels. Not only by providing the right information at the right time, but also by being easy and safe to use. To reach this goal, website owners should, at least, focus on the following aspects of their site:

Why a holistic SEO approach?

Google’s mission is to build the perfect search engine that helps people find what they are looking for, whether that’s the answer to “Where is Wijchen?”, a recipe for apple pie or the best toaster. Making your website and your marketing strategy fit this goal is the way to go. (Which doesn’t mean that if Google says jump, you ask, how high?).

While Google has changed its algorithm numerous times, most of our advice has remained the same ever since we started. This advice is simple (which doesn’t mean it’s easy though!): you have to make sure your site is exceptionally good. Having a website with high-quality content, offering a great user experience and up to date security will not instantly improve your ranking. In the long run, though, it will definitely have a positive effect on your SEO!

Great websites tend to get more links from other websites and will also receive more social media attention. On top of that, people behave differently on a website which they like, compared to a website they don’t understand. Google uses these kinds of user signals to find out how people experience your site.

Awesome websites will also result in higher conversions. If your audience likes and understands your website, the chance of them buying your products or returning to your website is, of course, much higher.

Learn SEO, the holistic way

Sure, you say, but where to start? We understand you might feel overwhelmed by this advice. Fortunately, there are many ways to improve your knowledge about the above-mentioned topics.

For starters, we offer a free SEO for beginners course, a great starting point to learn how SEO works. If you really want to put this knowledge to practice, consider trying our All-around SEO training, you’ll get lots of hands-on tips to start improving many aspects of your own site. Just want to read? Check out these beginners’ guides to help you get started!

Read more: Link building from a holistic SEO perspective »

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