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Mobilize Your SEO: Making the Most Out of the Mobile Search Opportunity

Posted by aleyda

Last week, I had the opportunity to give a Mozinar on the different steps and activities involved in a Mobile SEO process, from the initial research, analysis, and decision making, to the development, optimization, and measurement. I outlined the following phases:

Mobile SEO LifeCycle

The Mozinar covers the different phases of the Mobile SEO process, along with the different aspects and criteria to consider to make the best decision according to your own online characteristics and capacity, from a business, audience, content, and technical perspective. If you didn’t attend, you can watch the recorded Mozinar or take a look at the slides below.

Audience Q&A

As a supplement to the Mozinar, I tried to answer as many audience questions as possible. Enjoy!

1. Does ranking well on desktop SEO translate or help with ranking well on mobile SEO?

Yes, if the desktop site also takes the most important aspects that you need to prioritize in mobile search into consideration. For example, a site that’s already featuring a responsive web design approach, not necessarily because of mobile reasons and without an “active” mobile SEO process.

Nonetheless, you might also have a situation where a highly authoritative desktop site doesn’t feature the specific keywords that are used by its mobile search audience. For example, the site might end up not ranking so well and losing the opportunity to maximize its mobile search presence, traffic, and conversions.

2. How does one optimize mobile search keywords with multiple locations on a mobile site?

You will need to enable an internal mobile site architecture that specifically targets these type of keywords, with internal pages that would be the ones to be optimized to rank for them. 

3. Do you still need link building for a parallel mobile site?

For a parallel mobile site approach, Google specifies the following when describing the importance of rel=alternate/canonical attributes

“When you use different URLs to serve the same content in different formats, the annotation tells Google’s algorithms that those two URLs have equivalent content and should be treated as one entity instead of two entities. If they are treated separately, both desktop and mobile URLs are shown in desktop search results, and their positions may be lower than they would otherwise be.”

This means that you won’t “need” to build links additionally to the specific mobile URLs since they will be considered as one entity along their desktop versions. Nonetheless, since you might also have mobile URLs that don’t refer to desktop ones, you might also want to “promote” them to earn popularity by their own. 

4. Can a mobile emulator be used to see HTTP redirects?

You can use a web sniffer using the desired user agent to verify HTTP redirects.  

5. Why you shouldn’t block CSS and JS in a Responsive Web Design Approach?

Google needs to crawl pages assets (CSS, Javascript, images) as specified here to be able to identify that a site is using responsive web design approach.  

6. If I’ve implemented redirects to keep mobile users out of my desktop-ready site, but then I offer mobile users a link to view my full site, how can I keep them from being redirected back to the mobile version?

You need to use cookies when you link to the alternative URL version. For example, link to your desktop version from a mobile URL by adding a cookie informing that the desktop is the preferred version for that user. 

7. Common practices with responsive web design involve hiding page elements or changing them depending on screen resolution using CSS/JS. What is the prevailing consensus on doing that with respect to SEO? 

As Google explains here, they’re able to detect if a responsive web design approach is followed by a site and the reason behind hiding some elements from users. Responsive web design is, in fact, Google’s recommended configuration for smartphone-optimized websites.  

8. How does Google feel about serving different content based on user agent? 

As long as you correctly detect user agents and serve the same content to both devices and Googlebot (for example, the same content to both mobile users and Googlebot mobile), it shouldn’t be a problem as it’s specified by Google here and here. The issue comes when you don’t correctly detect and might end up doing cloaking, showing different content to users and search bots.  

9. Is there a character limit to mobile titles? 

The limit before titles are truncated in mobile search results are around 45 characters. Nonetheless, it’s best to verify directly how your own specific website titles are shown, as described from slides 50 to 53 in the presentation. 

10. Is it necessary to use “m” subdomain for a mobile site? What are advantages of using “m”?

Is not “necessary,” but from my experience, it is the “cleanest” approach from a URL structure perspective. It keeps it short, user-friendly, and easier to refer to desktop URLs versions, and you can easily track the specific mobile site activity by filtering the subdomain traffic. This can be trickier with an /m/ subdirectory, besides the fact that you’re adding an unnecessary extra level of depth to the URL.   

11. How do you incorporate your app into your SEO mobile strategy? When someone arrives to your landing page, should you pop up to use app instead?

It’s not recommended to implement “App Interstitials” as John Mueller explains here, since you might likely also be blocking Googlebot. A relevant and also non-intrusive approach is to “suggest” users to download or open their app, as Airbnb and Yelp do: 

Mobile App Links

12. What is the best tool to use for using mobile searches on desktop for reviewing and testing? 

For Firefox, I recommend the User Agent Switcher add-on, and the Ultimate User Agent Switcher extension for Chrome. 

13. If your mobile site use a separate URL versions do you need to have a separate Google Analytics tracking code installed on the mobile version?

You can still using your present Google Analytics code but configure it to show the full hostname (as described in slides 159 and 160) and create a specific profile for the Mobile subdomain to follow-up more easily.  


The Question Guide to My Mobile SEO Presentation

As a guide to the presentation, I’ve outlined a list of all the audience questions I received, organized by topic. Hopefully this allows you to get the most out of the Mozinar possible, and answers your questions about the mobile SEO process!

A Mobile Search Industry Overview  

  1. Why is mobile search Important? Slides 2-3
  2. How Google targets mobile search? Slides 4-5 
  3. Why is mobile optimization needed? Slides 6-8
  4. Which are the Google recommendations to develop mobile optimized websites? Slides 9-10
  5. Why you need mobile SEO recommendations? Slide 11

Mobile Research and Analysis 

  1. What’s your current mobile traffic and conversions volume and trend? Slides 20-22
  2. What’s the volume and trend of your mobile traffic and conversions compared to your mobile organic, desktop, and desktop organic traffic and conversions? Slide 23
  3. Which mobile devices are used by your visitors? Slides 24-25
  4. What’s the volume and trend of the mobile devices used by your mobile visitors compared to your mobile organic, desktop, and desktop organic visitors? Slide 26
  5. Which are the keywords and pages used by your organic mobile visitors? Slides 27-28 
  6. How do your mobile keywords and pages perform compared to those used by your organic desktop visitors? Slide 29
  7. How is your site displayed in mobile devices? Slides 31-34
  8. Which are the queries and pages giving mobile search visibility to your present site? Slides 36-39 
  9. How do your mobile search queries and pages perform compared to your desktop ones? Slide 40
  10. Is Google having issues to crawl your site for mobile? Slides 41-42
  11. How does Googlebot mobile fetch your pages? Slides 43-44
  12. How does Googlebot mobile crawls your site? Slides 45-49
  13. How are your pages shown in mobile and tablet search results? Slides 50-52
  14. How do your pages titles, descriptions, URLs, and competitors in mobile and tablet search results, compared to your pages in desktop search results? Slide 53
  15. What are the authority and links of your mobile ranking pages? Slides 54-56
  16. How are your domain and page authority and links compared to your mobile ranking competitors? Slides 57-61
  17. Which are volumes and trends of the keywords used by your organic mobile search audience? Slides 65-68
  18. What’s the mobile organic search volume potential of the keywords used by your present mobile visitors? Slide 69
  19. What’s the mobile organic search volume potential for your site? Slides 71-74

Develop your Mobile Web 

  1. Which are the different mobile architecture alternatives? Slide 78
  2. Which is the most suitable mobile architecture in your situation? Slides 79-80

General Mobile SEO Recommendations

  1. How can you optimize your mobile website speed? Slides 83-85
  2. Why is speed important for your mobile site? Slide 86
  3. Which are the Google recommendations for mobile speed optimization? Slides 87-88
  4. How should you optimize your mobile content? Slides 89-90
  5. Which are the structural elements of your Mobile site you need to optimize? Slides 91-93
  6. Which elements should I validate in the mobile search results? Slide 94
  7. How can you increase your mobile search visibility with rich snippets? Slides 95-96
  8. How can you increase your mobile search visibility if you’re a local business? Slides 97-98
  9. Which aspects you need to take into consideration to optimize your mobile Interface? Slides 99-100

Mobile SEO with Responsive Web Design  

  1. What’s responsive web design? Slides 103-105
  2. How to verify if a site is responsive? Slide 106
  3. How Google recommends responsive web design for smartphone optimized sites? Slide 108
  4. Which are the recommendations that Google gives for responsive web design? Slides 109-110
  5. Which are the responsive web design pros and cons towards mobile SEO? Slide 111 
  6. In which situation responsive web design is recommended for your mobile site? Slide 112
  7. How can you more easily implement responsive web design? Slides 113-116
  8. Which elements you should not block so Google can identify a web is responsive? Slide 118
  9. How Google recommends to use Javascript for responsive web design? Slides 119-120
  10. Why is speed and visualization additionally important for responsive mobile sites? Slides 121-122
  11. Which websites are using responsive web design for a mobile approach? Slides 123-124

Mobile SEO with Dynamic Serving

  1. What’s dynamic serving? Slides 127-129
  2. How to verify if a site is dynamically serving its content? Slides 129-130
  3. Which are the dynamic serving pros and cons towards mobile SEO? Slide 131
  4. In which situation responsive dynamic serving is recommended for your mobile site? Slide 132
  5. How should you do user agent detection for dynamic serving? Slides 133-134
  6. How do you avoid doing cloaking in a dynamic serving environment? Slides 135-136
  7. Which websites are using dynamic serving for a mobile approach? Slides 137-138

Mobile SEO with Parallel Mobile Sites

  1. What’s a parallel mobile site? Slides 141-143
  2. How to verify if a site is effectively implementing a parallel mobile approach? Slides 144-146
  3. Which are the parallel mobile sites pros and cons towards mobile SEO? Slide 147
  4. In which situation parallel mobile sites are recommended? Slide 148
  5. How should you structure the URLs of your parallel mobile site? Slides 149-151
  6. How do you implement redirects in a parallel mobile site? Slides 152-153
  7. Which annotations should you include to refer a parallel mobile pages to their desktop version and vice versa? Slides 154-155
  8. Which annotations should you include in your desktop sitemap to refer to its parallel mobile version? Slides 156-157 
  9. How do you allow your users to browse between the mobile and desktop versions? Slide 158
  10. How do you effectively track the analytics activity of your parallel mobile site? Slides 159-160
  11. Which websites are using a parallel mobile site? Slides 161-162

Measure and Evolve Your Mobile SEO Process

  1. How can you reclaim your lost iOS 6 Safari search traffic mobile ? Slides 165-166 
  2. Which metrics should you follow up from your mobile SEO traffic? Slide 167
  3. How to identify if your mobile SEO process is successful? Slide 168
  4. When is the time to go for a mobile app? Slides 169-174

If you’re interested in following up with more mobile SEO news, you can also follow MobileMoxie in Twitter, read Bryson Meunier’s Mobile column in Search Engine Land, and join the Google+ Mobile SEO community

Is there any other mobile SEO related question that’s not targeted here? Let me know in the comments! 

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

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How to Identify an Online Community for Your Business

Posted by Mackenzie Fogelson

If you own a business and are just getting started with social media, have a presence but not quite sure how to grow it, or are working on behalf of a client in this situation, you’re probably wondering how other businesses got here:

Ballard Farmers Market

Or here:

Ballard Farmer's Market

From a starting point like this:

Accent Branding Solutions

Or even this:

Accent Branding on Twitter

When you’re getting started with building a community around your business, you aren’t really starting from nothing. You can leverage the people, blogs, knowledge sources, and communities that already exist and that are relevant to your business and your industry.

Start with what’s already been built and go from there.

Once you’ve gone through this process, you’ll have a manageable list of quality knowledge sources (mainly blogs and people) that you will read, follow on social media, and engage with in order to actually build your community.

Before you begin your journey of identifying community, there’s a few things you might want to know:

  1. If you’re looking to build a quality following, it does in fact take a lot of time and effort
  2. It’s not all about the numbers
  3. It’s an ongoing process (a more manual, human-type process)

So, where the heck do you start?

Who are you and what do you want to build?

Before you even get started doing the work to identify your online community, get very clear about why you’re even in business in the first place. Why do you matter? What are your values? What do you have to offer? How are you unique? Why should your customers care?

You’re going to build online community by being a great brand and providing something of value. But you’re also going to build community by identifying and attracting the right group of people.

Ask yourself what type of community you want to build. Who do you want in your audience?

Ideally, your community will be an audience of people who have chosen to be part of what you’re doing. Whether you’re acting as an individual or a brand, when you’re building followers, you’re building relationships. It’s not that every member of your community needs to engage or participate regularly (they won’t) but you want this group of people to care about what you do and what you stand for. You need to have some common ground.

In my experience, communities that thrive aren’t just in it for themselves. They don’t just self-promote and talk at their customers all day long. In real life, nobody wants to be around those people and that doesn’t change just because you’re hanging out online.

What kind of people do you want to be around in the real world? People who provide valuable and relevant information. People who welcome feedback (good and bad). People who listen. When you’re building a community (whether virtual or otherwise), you’re looking for live humans who, in some sense of the word, contribute to the conversation and the process. Thriving communities are full of people who want and who choose to be there. You can’t just gather a bunch of numbers to make up a ginormous group of followers and call it a community.

As in real life, you may not be able to hand-select every single person who belongs to your community. That said, you most certainly can be very clear about what you stand for so that your community is a match for your values. That way, as you build a community around your brand, it is a direct reflection of who you are and what you believe as a company.

Don’t just focus on the numbers

When identifying a community, it is important to focus on quality and not just quantity. Identifying a community is the start of building relationships with people who will support and help you grow your company. It starts with just a few key people and places (blogs and forums). If you’ve done your job to qualify these well, and do the hard work of generating and sharing value and being an authentic person (and company), then naturally, over time, your community (and your business) will grow.

This process I’m about to guide you through is not a circle-and-friend-and-follow-everyone-you-possibly-can-on-Google+-Facebook-and-Twitter-so-that-you’ll-have-a-humungo-community-kind of a thing. I’m advocating quality in quantity.

Your goal in identifying community is to come out of this with a list of people, companies, and knowledge sources that will serve as your roadmap for growing your online community. It’s a lot like outreach. Once you’ve identified your base, you will foster these relationships, build value in your business (i.e. meaningful content and resources that your customers need), and from there you will be led to additional people and places where you will discover even more pockets of opportunity.

Get clear on your business goals

Keep in mind that social media is a vehicle, not a strategy. Ideally, you want to determine exactly what it is you’re trying to accomplish in your business, and then you can figure out if it’s social media, SEO, content marketing, email marketing, PPC, or even a combination of a whole lot of other things that will actually get you there.

Are you working to increase brand awareness? Humanize your company? Help your support guys spend less time on the phone?

Whatever it is, if you’re clear on what it is you’re trying to accomplish for your company as a whole, it makes it a whole lot easier to identify and determine the online community you’d like to build. Over time, and as your community grows, you can evolve these objectives and really make it work for your business.

Once you have clarity on who you are as a company, what you have to offer, what you’d like to accomplish, and you’re ready to put in the work to grow your business online, start by identifying your community.

Start with some seeds

There are a few different ways to get your seeds in this process of identifying community. You can answer some simple questions, do some social media digging, sift through blogs, and also use search strings. Let’s start with the simple questions.

If you’re working on identifying community for your own company, then you will already have the answers to these questions. If you’re working on behalf of a client, put together a data collection document and ask them to answer the questions for you:

  1. Who is your target demographic?
  2. What specific industries do you cater to?
  3. Who are your partners and colleagues?
  4. Who are your competitors?
  5. Who do you respect in the industry (people and companies)?
  6. What organizations are you a part of?
  7. What industry blogs do you currently read?
  8. Who do you follow on social media (people, companies)?
  9. What events do you attend?

Identify community with social media


You’ll want to determine where your target audience lives online so that you know exactly where to look your community. There are certainly any number of starting points for the hunt: Facebook, Google+, or any other social media outlet that’s appropriate for your customers. But just so that we have an example to work with, we’re going to use a company called Accent Branding Solutions (who is, of course, just getting started out building their online community), and we’re going to start with Twitter.

  1. Go to Followerwonk 

    Visit https://followerwonk.com/ and click on Search Twitter Bios.


     

  2. Enter in your search words
    
In the search field, enter the words that describe just one of your target audiences. For Accent, they’re targeting groups like the directors of marketing departments, admins of organizations or universities, associations, and marketing agencies. We’ll start with the group [marketing director] and, to narrow it down a bit, also specify their home town location of [Colorado].

    Followerwonk search

  3. Do some filtering

    You’re going to want to filter a bit initially as you go, and then once more when get down to your final picks of people who you think may be good to follow and cultivate as possible community members, influencers, or just great knowledge sources.



    Search Followerwonk

    You can see that I don’t have too many people to sift through since I limited my search location to Colorado. If I don’t get a ton of prospects, I may considering removing that qualifier (though these look pretty decent at first glance).

    

When filtering at a high level, I’d recommend looking at number of followers and number of tweets. Number of followers shows that they have some sort of a community built around themselves already and quantity of tweets shows their activity level.

 Once you’ve qualified at the high level and you want to start checking through individuals on the list, consider:


    1. Frequency and activity
      
What is the frequency of their posts? Are they on social media enough to even bother? Or do they post, like, every 6 months?

       
    2. Quality and relevance

      What kinds of stuff do they post about? Is it valuable? Relevant? Or do they just talk about themselves all day long? Are they sharing things that would be relevant for your customers (or your client’s customers)?

       
    3. Gut check
      
It all comes down to the human element. Is this person a fit for your company’s purpose, goals, and what you’re trying to accomplish with your community? You don’t have to be super picky, but don’t just put them on the follow list because you need warm bodies. This is definitely an ongoing process (you’re going to need to take these people for a test drive, evaluate, and then revise), but take the time for quality now. 

       
    4. Following and followers

      For the people who are looking like pretty good prospects, who are they following? Who’s on their list of followers? 

       
    5. A mix of the little and the big guys

      When it’s all said and done, you’re looking for a mix of people who are both obtainable (the little guys) and out of reach (the thought leaders). You want people who have a lot of followers and have some influence on them, but who would also notice when you share their content or interact with them (that’s the next step). 

If you look at the first page of Accent’s results on Followerwonk, you can see that even the top guy only has 1,700 followers.

      Search Detail Followerwonk
      If I click through and check out his profile on Twitter I can see that he’s pretty active (averages a few tweets a day) and has some decent stuff to share. If I click through to his first post, he’s leading an active user group on LinkedIn so I can see that there may be a few easy ways to eventually make a connection with him.

      Twitter Profile Sample

      On the other hand, if I take the [Colorado] location qualifier off of my search in Followerwonk, I get a much larger set of results for [marketing director] who have a much larger following (which isn’t always a good thing; sometimes it’s just more).

      Larger following on Followerwonk
      Certainly we would need to do a lot more qualifying for Accent on this group of results, but let’s say they wanted to target Lil B (assuming, as the first rapper ever to write and publish a book at 19, that he’s part of our target group). He has 622,220 followers. If Accent wanted to get in front of this guy, we’d have our work cut out for us. Not to say that Lil B doesn’t have value to offer and that Accent may want to follow him as a knowledge source, but the chances of attracting Lil B to their community may be a little bit far reaching at this stage in the game.



      Basically – and especially when you’re just starting to build your community – you want to look for a mix of both the little guys and the big guys. Focus on people who you could possibly talk to in person at trade shows, meetups, or at conferences. People who have the time to get to know you and would appreciate the value you’re going to share or the contributions that you’re making to the industry. Not to say that influencers and thought leaders don’t care about what you’re doing, it’s just that they have less time to take notice. So make sure you shoot for the big guys but that you also combine that with some peeps who have less on their plate.
       

    6. Organize

      Using what we call a Super Fancy Spreadsheet (where we track all the things), organize and keep track of all the good stuff you’re discovering. As you identify prospects that you think would be good to include in your community, enter their data. We like to track things like: name, type (person, company, affiliation, association, competitor), twitter handle, blog URL, website URL, domain authority, target audience, industry, level of activity, and notes. You can customize this for what you want to know as you’re identifying community.

      Super Fancy Spreadsheet
       

    7. Set aside blogs

      As you’re prospecting in the social media realm, you’re going to find blogs that look decent and that may be a good fit. As you discover those, set them aside (maybe even pull it over into a new window and keep stacking them up there). We’ll get to those next.

Identify Community with Blogs


Once you’ve got a pretty good list of social media seeds going, move on to blogs. In general, you’re looking for blogs that can serve as knowledge sources, places to engage, or reveal possibilities of new people to connect with and possibly attract into your own community.

While you’re filtering blogs, you’ll probably also find more people you’re going to want to check out on social media. Go back and add them to your Super Fancy Spreadsheet as necessary.



Also, you can certainly filter the blogs you’re looking at at a high level (and at quick glance) by using domain authority (more on this below), but ideally you’ll want to hand check these suckers.

Again, using your Super Fancy Spreadsheet, you’re going to:

  1. Set aside blogs discovered during the social media hunt
    Check and see if the people you’ve qualified so far on social media have blogs. If so, set them aside.

     
  2. Check out other blogs

    Look back at the seed questions that you or your client have answered. Look up competitors, partners, distributors, associations, or anyone else in their industry who may have blogs. If you find some, set those aside.

     
  3. Use search strings
    
A lot of times we feel like we’ve exhausted all of the above and still don’t have any solid blog recommendations to make. So we go to search strings like [service/product offering/or target audience intitle:blog] or [service/product offering/or target audience inurl:blog].

    Search strings

Hopefully by now you’ve got a list of a few blogs or so, go ahead and filter through them:

  1. Domain authority

    Use the SEOmoz toolbar to get a quick look at DA. Keep in mind that there are some very good blogs out there that don’t yet have a strong DA but would be an ideal community fit. Always look for potential and quality in addition to authority.

 More often than not, if a blog has a low DA (say, less than 10), it’s probably not very active. However, there are some blogs that have great knowledge to share but don’t quite have the outreach thing down. Those are perfect opportunities for joining forces and figuring out how you can partner to bring awareness to the strong content and value they’re providing.

     
  2. Quality and relevance

    Is the content worth reading? Would you share this stuff? Would your customers (or your client’s customers) want to read this? Would you want to engage on this blog? Does it spark your (or your client’s customers’) interest? 

     
  3. Activity and engagement

    Are people sharing the posts on social media? Who is sharing these posts (those could be prospects as well) and how often? Are there any comments?

    

We’re kind of spoiled in that most of the blogs we’re used to in the marketing industry have strong DA, a ton of social activity, and lots of engagement. Most of the blogs in more detailed niches or specialty industries won’t have any engagement at all. If the blog you’re considering has solid content and posts new stuff fairly frequently, it has potential. Blogs like this are a great place to engage because they’re listening. They would probably be pretty excited to have someone to engage with. Once you start sharing their stuff and become an active member of their community, they’re going to take notice and probably join yours as well.

Now what? Surrendering to the process

Just like building community, identifying community never really ends. As you continue to grow, you will continue to identify people and places that you may want to be a part of, and vice-versa. This is a more manual process, but it’s one that we have found to deliver quality results.

After all of this, if you were fortunate enough to come up with a ton of great people and places to start, you’ll probably want to prioritize and just pick five or ten relevant blogs, and also a group of about 5-10 people that you’re eventually (in the next stage of building community) going to commit to following and engaging with. You’ll want to start slow. This is a lot of (consistent) effort and you don’t want to burn out too quickly.



Whether you’ve identified community for your business or you’re working with a client, make sure you understand that this initial qualified list is just a start. Keep in mind that some of these seeds are going to suck (even when you thought they were going to be a gold mine). Yet even the bad seed can lead you to new places, people, and niches that will help to expand the base of the community that you’re building.

Okay, one more thing. If you’re working with a client, once they start working with their list, encourage open communication about how it’s going. Make sure that you’re consistently touching base about whether what you’ve delivered is a fit for them. If they provide you negative feedback about a specific blog, ask them what they don’t like about it. What’s not a match? Maybe the contrast will help them to better identify what they are looking for and then you can help them find it.

A few (more) things to remember

As if this post isn’t long enough (have you met me?), there’s just a few more things for you to remember:

This is just the first step
Identifying community (i.e. prospective knowledge sources and people to follow) is just the first step in building an online community. To do this right, you’ll want to develop a strategy that will guide this and your other online marketing efforts.

This will (eventually) help your rankings
Building a community is a supplement to search. Remember that all of this building community stuff has to do with helping you bring more value to your customers and more visibility to your business. All of the efforts that you make when growing a community will not only build value in your business, it will help your rankings.

The benefit of going this route is that it’s sustainable. If you understand by now that it’s important that you’re not just chasing algorithms and want to invest in something that will weather the changes, this is probably a pretty good way to go.

I call BS on boring (or non-existing) niches

Communities don’t build themselves. Even the big brands had to start somewhere. But complaining about the fact that there is nothing there is just an excuse for not doing the work.

We work with all kinds of clients who start from scratch which means, when they begin, there is (wait for it) nothing. All that means is that you’ve got some hard work to do and one stellar opportunity in front of you. So hunker down and get to it.

Using this process of identifying community has helped our clients to get over their misconceptions about social media and discover niches and verticals that they didn’t realize existed to help them grow their business. The possibility is there, but you’ve got to do the work and quit making excuses.

Don’t give up
Like anything that’s worth having, the reward is worth the wait. There isn’t a magic pill. It just takes time and consistent effort. A lot of it. For a while you’re going to feel like, ‘what’s the point?’ But remember that this is just a stage.
 

Don't give up- Rand Fishkin

After you’ve identified your community, you’re ready to start building it. The one thing that I want you to remember going forward is this: your purpose is providing value, not making it all about you. Be the kind of community member you’re looking for: generous, knowledgeable, and engaged. And, while your community should support and foster your business, it is primarily a means to provide better service, knowledge, and support to your customers.

As always, give it a shot, and let me know how it goes.

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

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Meaningful SEO Metrics

Posted by willcritchlow

This is a post of two halves. The first half runs through my thoughts on what makes for good metrics, while the second half focuses on a specific process for building appropriate reporting metrics for your individual situation.

Now, I’m a very numbers-driven person. I studied math(s) and once thought I was going to be an inventor until I realised that inventing = engineering, and I needed to be good at partial differential equations.

I find, however, that I’m often on the side of less measurement and quantitative decision-making. I like using editorial discretion in our conference programming and often “disagree” with the audience feedback(*). I like running split tests, but spend a lot of time aiming for the big wins (that are easy to spot with the most rudimentary measurement) over small percentage gains gleaned from detailed analysis.

(*) it’s interesting for me to think about what I mean by “disagreeing” with quantitative data from large groups of people. I think this may be called arrogance but at least I’m in good company.

My typical way of working is to spend a lot of energy thinking about hard problems – often in the abstract and often diving deep into whatever data I have to hand – before making the best decision I can in the messy real world. I am not as good as I should be at looping back around on my decisions afterwards and sense-checking them against the resulting outcomes.

I once asked a management consultant friend of mine if his company ever went back and checked their revenue/cost forecasts for companies that they did due diligence on. He looked at me as if I’d reordered his PowerPoint slides. When he got over the shock, he asked me what the point of that would be?

Taking that charitably, I think he was saying “the value is in the planning, not the plans.”

This all leads me into the first half of my post (note that, throughout, I’m going to use Distilled examples because I can be more transparent with our numbers than with those of any of our clients):


1. My views on good metrics

There is no one metric to rule them all

Of course, at a business level, cash rules everything. Run out of cash and you die. But as a marketer, you are so far removed from cash collection or burn rates (in most businesses) that this is not helpful.

Understanding the correct metric to use in any given situation is a large part of the skill of a consultant or marketer. I constantly find myself recommending different metrics in different situations.

The best metrics guide behaviour

People like investors and boards care about KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) that demonstrate the health of a company at a glance. These high-level metrics are good for busy executives and remote investors because they guide behaviour for those people:

  • A healthy KPI means “all is fine – go work on something else”
  • A sickly KPI means “this is where your focus should be”

An example of a company-level KPI for a profitable, growing company like Distilled that doesn’t have a bankroll of investor cash is a (conservative) projection of minimum cash levels over the coming months. Growing a company is cash-intensive, and one of the trickiest parts is funding growth out of operational cashflow. As long as the cash situation looks good, management time should be spent growing the company, but if the cash situation were ever to be poor, there would be nothing more important than resolving that situation.

When we get down into individual marketing campaigns, however, the kind of KPIs beloved of executives become useless. While an executive will focus on whether total online revenue is on-budget (which feeds into the operating model and cashflow mentioned above), knowing that we are above or below budget doesn’t change the day-to-day activities carried out by the marketing team.

Two things go wrong in marketing projects:

  • We don’t get as much done as we wanted to (blog posts shipped, contacts made, pages updated, development tickets completed).
  • Our efforts are less effective than we predicted they would be (not enough people read our posts, too many people ignore our emails, updated pages don’t drive the traffic or conversions we hoped, bug fixes don’t move the needle like they should).

So, for ourselves, I always advocate measuring activity and outcomes. Add some KPIs into the mix to communicate effectively with the execs and you are well on your way to an effective reporting pack.

But, connect to the money

The reason these metrics guide behaviour is that they are ultimately connected to the company’s financial objectives. It’s important that you can see the path from your metrics to those company-wide goals even if there are a bunch of assumptions needed to get there.

At Distilled, we recently started working with an experienced finance guy – his last gig was CFO at a public company – and had a very interesting few days connecting together our various financial reporting. At the end of it, we had a model that connected top-line revenue and costs in the P&L through non-cash balance sheet movements to cashflow. Of course, it bakes in a variety of assumptions (some of which have a critical impact on the outcome – like debtor days).

Even taking into consideration the importance of those key assumptions, it has revolutionised our management accounting to be able to see our financial data all connected together. Of course, we can then both run scenarios on the key assumptions and calibrate them against the real world.

The equivalent assumptions in online marketing are things like conversion rate and churn rate. Of course, in some projects these aren’t assumptions but rather variables – if you are directly seeking to change user behaviour – I’ll talk about this in a little more detail below.

Measure something even when you can’t measure what you’d like to

As the usercycle guys put it, “what happens here?”:

What happens here

The Lean Startup is a methodology designed (as the name implies) for startups, but there are a lot of analogies to marketing campaigns that rely on earned media. Typically, there is a long period of time during which a lot of action generates precious little in the way of end results before (hopefully) the curve starts trending upwards and ultimately (again, hopefully) surpasses any of the ways you could buy new customers.

Eric Ries talks about innovation accounting as a way of defining, measuring, and communicating progress during these long, lonely months. If you are going to succeed as an online marketer, you are going to have to master a similar set of skills.

Our goal during this phase is best described as “learning” – we want to find the things we should be doubling down on, the things to kill before they cost too much money and give ourselves enough evidence to quieten both our own inner demons and those hard-to-convince bosses and clients.

For startups, I’m a big fan of Dave McClure’s pirate metrics – so named after the acronym AARRR:

  • Acquisition
  • Activation
  • Retention
  • Referral
  • Revenue

He argues that your metrics should carefully measure each of these stages in the lifecycle of a customer and, importantly, that you should track them over cohorts of users (we use two-week long cohorts for DistilledU).

During the phase where you only have leading indicators, you may get executive pressure to forecast numbers. My approach here is to plug them into some simple assumptions that are easy to highlight and understand as being currently guess-work (“if these pages accrue search traffic at 80% of the average of similar pages, we will grow traffic X% year on year”).

Only worry about costs when it matters

Cost per acquisition (CPA) is a critical metric for paid marketing channels where the costs scale linearly (or super-linearly) with conversions. In particular, it passes the “actionability” test I described above. If your CPA is too high you can reduce bids, increase conversion rates or increase customer spend.

When we are considering channels with non-linear relationships between cost and conversions, it’s not easy to work out actions from average CPAs. It could be that you need to do more of what you were doing to benefit from flywheels and economies of scale. It could be that you need to throw away the plan and do something different because there is fundamentally no path from here to a profitable campaign.

Much of the artistry present in search and other earned marketing channels comes from the difficulties of working with this uncertainty.

Some tips that I’ve found useful in practice:

Look at the biggest picture you can

Look at the biggest picture you can – earned channels perform best over longer horizons, when multi-touch conversion is considered and lifetime value is counted appropriately. I would far rather be working out whether a five or six figure spend brought a big enough total uplift than deciding if an individual blog post (or even bigger piece of creative) has earned its keep.

Make sure you are considering the profit margin of an incremental sale

It is tempting to think about the marginal profit of a single conversion as:

  • Total profit (for this product) / number of sales

This is misleading any time you have fixed costs involved. Let’s take an extreme example from our business illustrate this:

  • We can easily imagine a situation of a conference that just beat breaking even with (say) 110 paying delegates paying £500 per head and fixed costs of (say) £50,000.
  • How much are another 10 delegates worth?
  • If we have valued incremental delegates as average profit, we think each delegate is worth £45 [((110 * 500) - 50,000) / 110] and so 10 more are worth £450.
  • In fact, in our example with only fixed costs, an extra 10 delegates would bring us additional profits of £5,000 – more than 10x more.

In our own business, I tell anyone working with marketing to consider our whole business as 100% gross margin:

  • In DistilledU, there are (essentially) no variable costs and so 100% gross margin is actually reasonable
  • In conferences, variable costs are dwarfed by the fixed costs and there is a hard-to-quantify benefit to having more people at a conference (in lifetime value, in network effects, in “noise” the conference makes on Twitter etc)
  • The way our consulting works – based almost entirely on full time permanent staff (many of whom have grown up with our business) – we either have no capacity to take on new work (hence no conversions) or there is little marginal cost to doing so

In reality, what I’m doing here is conflating two hard-to-measure things – the marginal cost of an incremental sale and the lifetime value of a sale above and beyond the first transaction.


2. Putting it all into practice

Here’s a step-by-step process to follow:

Understand how the business makes money

In order of increasing complexity:

  • Sells (near-)100% gross margin products online (including pageviews)
  • Sells fixed margin products online
  • Sells variable margin products online (this includes many subscription products where LTV depends directly on churn rate)
  • Micro-converts website visitors onto an easily-valued asset (e.g. an email list that sells advertising)
  • Generates leads online that are converted into sales offline
  • Micro-converts website visitors onto a less-easily-valued asset (e.g. an email list designed to generate consulting leads)

My favourite approach here is to make some simplifying assumptions that we can return to later to sense-check. Let’s think about some assumptions we can make in the most complex situation of building an email list for a consulting business:

  • Fixed micro-conversion rates over time (i.e. if I increase the number of visitors to a conversion page, sign-ups will go up in lockstep)
  • List growth will continue to turn into leads at the same rate as the past
  • The sales team will continue to close leads at the same rate and to the same size contracts as in the past

The goal of all of this work is to come up with KPIs at the micro-conversion level that correlate with the bigger-picture business goals. You need to trade off “small” (benefits = easier to influence, quicker to change, quicker to measure) against “close to the money” (benefits = speaking the language of management, real business benefits).

In the complex situations, I typically find that the sweet-spot is somewhere between visitor growth (to appropriate pages from a good channel) and micro-conversion growth (i.e. email list growth or contact form submissions).

In the simpler businesses, you can typically get closer to the real business metrics and simply work directly with revenue growth.

Build a simple model

This step is probably overkill in many client engagements but it’s important for in-house teams (and those in-house teams should be sharing their models with external teams in my opinion).

The output should be the simplest Excel model you can think of that captures the important business drivers. The important part here is really the planning process rather than the specific plans that come out of it.

Here’s the majority of the inputs I created when I was building the DistilledU business model before it had launched to the public (i.e. while it was still in private beta):

DistilledU model inputs

In our case, I pulled a bunch of numbers from Rand’s exceptionally transparent funding post and used them to benchmark against our visitor numbers and conversion rates.

The output was a single sheet Excel model that forecast revenue growth (most of which was to be driven by inbound means):

DistilledU model

In truth, pretty much every single assumption in my model is wrong – many of them by quite some distance (including our ability to generate conversions from paid advertising which has been even worse than we forecast). But the planning process was the valuable part, and although the real world is never as neat and tidy, we have ended up not a million miles away:

DistilledU model plus actuals

And now we know where the levers are that we need to pull to get the business results we want (one of which is conversion rate – we’ve already had one successful A/B test that nearly doubled conversion rate thanks to Optimizely – my favourite testing platform – but that’s a story for another day).

Estimate LTV, model CPA

Any serious discussion of measurement in marketing needs to understand the lifetime value (LTV) of a conversion. As discussed above, it can be hard enough to work out the immediate value of a micro-conversion, never mind the lifetime value.

Here are some techniques I have used to get to workable LTV numbers:

Assume static churn rates

If you are working with a subscription business, you can estimate LTV as:

monthly average revenue per user (ARPU) / monthly churn

So if you make $35/month / user on average and have a churn rate of 9%/month you can estimate LTV as $389

Make the numbers work with first purchase only

If you have an efficient enough marketing engine, you may get to beyond break-even on average on first purchase. In this case, you can build a reporting pack based on first purchase (sometimes with some hard-to-estimate factors in the other direction such as the variable margins mentioned above) and include notes of additional uplift available from subsequent / repeat purchases. This is the approach I’ve taken with big ticket / b2b services with long lead and delivery times – even if there are repeat purchases, they come so far in the future that they are irrelevant on the short-term planning horizon.

Average everything together – assuming all users are similar

If you have access to the right data, you can bucket together large sets of users and their purchases over some large time horizon (12-24 months is sensible for many online businesses), discount appropriately and get to a very rough average LTV. This misses many subtleties and variation in underlying LTV. It’s probably most effective with small-to-mid-ticket basket sizes that aren’t skewed by large repeat purchases in the way that, say, consulting services would be.

I’ve even used this approach to bucket together the “LTV” of email subscribers – many of whom purchase nothing. Doing some back-of-the-envelope calculations led me to a rough value of $6 per email subscriber per year for Distilled, for example. If I were to rely on this for paid marketing, I would need to keep a very close eye on the trends in this value as I artificially added subscribers from a different channel mix than that which grew the list to its current size.

Build a simple model

For mid-ticket purchases where basket sizes (and repeat purchasing behaviour) can vary over a wide range, I’ve found it best to build an explicit model based on a simple “propensity to convert again” in each time period after initial purchase.

For those working through this at home, you end up modelling a simple Poisson Process but you can get 80+% of the way there with a simple “x% of prior customers buy again in the subsequent quarter and y% in the quarter after that”. I tend to move towards longer time-periods when modelling this kind of process as purchases that fall close together might as well be counted simply as a larger basket.

Measure a combination of KPIs and lean metrics

So you now have access to a bunch of (estimates / modelled versions of) metrics like LTV, churn rate, CPA and have picked AARRR metrics that correlate with future success. Finally (we’re nearly there, I promise) you need to put this together. I suggest that you think about building two different reporting packs:

  • KPI pack with high level “total success” metrics that demonstrates the value of the work you are doing (this will need to contain leading indicators and extrapolations in the early days)
  • Project steering pack with actionable metrics that helps you, your team and your immediate point of contact / boss build a more effective campaign

KPI pack – most likely updated and reviewed quarterly

Brings together big numbers over long time periods – for example, it might contain:

  • Total LTV generated through your channels

    • % growth for new products
  • YoY traffic and revenue growth
  • 2+ year projections

You want to show graphs like this one (revenue from organic search to deep pages within DistilledU):

DistilledU organic revenue growth

Project steering pack – most likely reviewed monthly

Based on time-boxed or cohort-based data, focusses on metrics that give you deep insight into what you need to change to do even better in each of the key activities you are undertaking. This is likely to be highly custom to your specific business and marketing campaigns but here are some examples from campaigns I’ve been involved with recently:

Conversion rate optimisation:

  • Number of tests run
  • Total traffic to each variation
  • Conversions for each variation
  • Number of successful tests run
  • Total improvement in conversion rate

Outreach:

  • Total new contacts made
  • Responses (segmented by approach / type of contact)
  • Successful outcomes

User satisfaction:

  • % of new sign-ups who subsequently upgrade to paid
  • % of new paying members who engage with the service
  • churn rates

The table below shows (a section of) our cohort analysis for DistilledU and the bump in conversion rates to paying and engaging with the content when we announced that we were including all of our conference videos within DistilledU subscriptions:

DistilledU cohorts

This was a test – and initially one that we marketed only to our existing community. It wasn’t without its costs (we estimated that it would reduce video sales by $50-100k / year) but the success led to (a) keeping it in place and (b) a successful landing page A/B test that we’re going to write up on our own site soon.


I hope this meander through meaningful metrics has been useful to you. I’d love to hear your experiences in the comments and any thoughts you have on how I can improve any part of my approach.

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How Do I Find a Good SEO?

Posted by randfish

Finding a decent SEO is hard work, and the recommendations you get for selecting your perfect fit will vary as much as the people providing them.

Whether you’re looking for a consultant or an agency, you don’t need to feel alone in your search! In this week’s Whiteboard Friday, Rand walks you through his tips for finding an SEO that will be the cheese to your macaroni.

Do you have any other tips you’ve used to find an SEO that we haven’t covered? Leave them in the comments below!

 

Video Transcription

“Howdy SEOmoz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week I wanted to actually take a question from one of our users in the community and that question was:  “How do I find a good SEO?” They were hoping I would do a Whiteboard Friday on it. So here it is.

I recommend a lot of things when people ask me for SEO assistance, consultants, agencies, that kind of thing, and I do it all the time. But I have a benefit of being in the industry for a long time and knowing a lot of people and usually knowing pretty well the people that I’m talking to or asking them a few questions to get those probing, in-depth answers that can let me know who I should recommend them to. This process is not particularly scalable, and certainly I can’t have everyone just emailing me and ask. So please everyone who needs an SEO, don’t email and ask me.

But if you’re looking for somebody, I would recommend a process similar to this. I would start with your network, meaning check out LinkedIn, check out people that you might know on Twitter and Facebook who have SEO or have SEO experience in their profile. You could even post something on these sites saying, “Hey, does anyone have someone that they’d strongly recommend?” I’m not saying that you go directly from this process to hiring someone, just that you can start with it, any of the web communities where you participate, your friends and family, business colleagues.

Even local meet-ups, if you see that there is an SEO meet-up in your area, that might not be a terrible idea to actually go, meet some people, get friendly, especially if you find some folks in that community who don’t necessarily offer SEO services – maybe they are in-house SEOs, they work for software companies, those kinds of things – but they will often have very good recommendations about who’d they suggest that you use. That’s a great process, find sort of a neutral third party whose only interest is in helping you, but who knows the field well. That’s what I’d be looking for here, more so than a direct consultant right away.

Second thing, check out SEOs on the major marketing communities. If you don’t have anyone in your network, you might try going to places like SEO blogs. I think SEO.alltop.com actually has a very good list of sort of all the popular and major sites in SEO, blogs in SEO. The SEOmoz Q&A certainly is a great place. This is actually one of my favorite features of Q&A now. There have been lots of people who have found their consultants and lots of consultants who have gotten work through Q&A. So I love that.

Quora is actually a good place to participate. You can see lots of people both asking and answering SEO questions there. I think the people who tend to give really good answers on Quora also tend to be pretty darn good folks. I see Ian Lurie, for example, from Portent Interactive, which is a great company here in Seattle, giving a lot of good answers there.

Some of those SEO forums, as well, if you see someone who not only the content of their answers, but the style of those answers. They are not reflexive or offensive. They don’t get into arguments all the time. They’re very open. They’re empathetic. That’s great. When you find people in these types of communities, that can be a good resource. Again, don’t just think to yourself, “Oh, well they don’t do consulting, or they’re out of my price range.” That can be a good thing. You can reach out to them and get a recommendation. These are the kind of people you want to find to get that recommendation.

Next, I want you to build a smart consideration set of the traits that matter to you, and this is certainly not exhaustive, these six, but these are traits that a lot of people have. So that could be I want someone who is very experienced, or I want someone who is relatively early in their career. I want someone whose background is they’ve been to college before, they’ve worked for several agencies, or I’m looking for an agency that has the background of having worked with several people in my field, or the opposite. A lot of times when they’re seeking SEO consultants, they want someone who has no conflicting clients who are also in that field so that the links they build, the content they build, that work will all be for them exclusively and it won’t be partnered out to several different folks.

Geography and location can matter a lot. I would be cautious about thinking about this one. Just because someone is not in your geography doesn’t mean that you necessarily can’t get together with them in person. If they’re willing to fly out to your location or those kinds of things, I would still put them in your consideration set. I think that at least one or two meetings in person is a great thing if you can accomplish it. But geography tends not to be super important for doing SEO kinds of work, other than being able to connect up in person and sort of shake each other’s hand and that sort of thing.

The agency consultancy size. Maybe you’re looking for a one man operation or one woman operation. Maybe you’re looking for a large agency that’s inside a broader ad firm so they can serve lots of needs, that kind of thing.

Price, obviously, is a consideration for a lot of people. And timing and availability. Can they start their work right now? How many people do they have available? All those kinds of things.

You should add other things in this consideration set that matter to you. So, for example, values of the person might be really important. It might be very important to you that the person fits some particular criteria around what they’ve accomplished in the past or that they’re very focused, they have a lot of skills on the content side as opposed to the linking side, or on the technical SEO side and the HTML and development side versus social media side. Whatever it is that matters to you, make sure to put that in your consideration set and consider people equally as you look through there.

Then I’d go and I’d create a short list of SEOs from the recommendations that you got. I would also do it, even if you’re sure, absolutely 100% sure. You’re like “You know what? This is the person for me. I just know that they’re going to be the right one.” At least talk to a couple of others. The perspectives that you’ll get and the process of that interview is going to be very, very useful for you going forward and judging the work. You could find maybe you had your heart set on this person, but they turned out not to be right, and there was some reason. Just go through this process of at least vetting a couple of vendors.

So I would ask them some things like some project specific questions, related to specifically what we’re trying to accomplish here at our company and the rankings we’re trying to achieve, the visibility we’re trying to get, the people we’re trying to draw in, the intent of the marketing that we’re doing. Great, ask them project specific questions, but also ask them generic SEO knowledge questions. There is actually a great resource that Joel linked to in the blog post of sort of a ten question litmus test that I wrote for professional SEOs a couple years ago now, but I think can still be quite valuable.

Get a reference or three, but be very careful in the references that you get. This is my experience, time and again, when reference checking vendors. You ask for a reference upfront, and you get people who they know will give a good reference. So really all you’re saying is, “Do you have two or three people who will always say nice things about you?” That’s not really a great reference check.

This is what I would do. When you start talking to them, don’t ask for references. Ask, “What companies have you worked with? Who have been some of your clients over time?” Make sure to write down that list, and you can prompt them. If they give you a couple, you can say, “Oh, are there any others? Did you work with anyone in travel, anyone with a big site?” Whatever the criteria you have. Then write those all down and go back to LinkedIn or your personal network, see if you know people at those companies. Reach out to them independent of getting the reference and ask, “Hey, did you work with so and so? Were you happy with that experience?” Going that direct route is much better.

Then, I’ll add this important caveat, very important caveat, which it’s okay to get a couple of references that are not great. It really is. If you get one good reference from them and one of the people that you go back through your network says really good things about them, and you like them, and one other person that you’ve gone through your network says, “Ah, we were not happy,” that’s okay. It’s okay to have a couple of people. There is no way that you’re going to do SEO consulting or agency work, any kind of consulting or agency work or services work and not have a few unhappy people in the past. I think that 100% happiness ratio is extremely rare, and even if they were happy at the time, oftentimes people become dissatisfied over time with things, and that could be not the agency’s fault, the consultant’s fault. So I wouldn’t dismiss these, but I would consider them very carefully, balance them on the whole, and make sure that you know all the things that are going on. Oftentimes, in any type of a services organization, it’s not one person’s fault or always the agency or the service provider’s fault. Oftentimes, fault lies somewhere in between the company and the agency.

Then I would check out some online contributions too, places where they’ve contributed – blogs, social media, comments, those types of things. It tends to be the case that if you have people from the consultancy or the agency who’ve done stuff on the web that you can observe, you’re seeing them in a little bit more of their natural setting, and you can see what I would call kind of behind the curtain of the polish that they present to you directly. That can be extremely valuable. So I love looking at sort of oh, I met someone at a conference and I thought they did a good job speaking, let go me check out some of their other presentations. Then I’ll check out some of the stuff that they’ve done online. Boy, I get the sense that this person is kind of mean and rude on the Internet. I’m not sure that they’re actually a match. That kind of information can be really interesting and really useful to you.

You’ll also get a sense for how knowledgeable they are. They can seem very knowledgeable in person, and then you go on the web and you sort of get this sense of, oh, actually this person seems to be giving bad advice or asking questions that don’t seem like they know what they’re doing. Unfortunately, because the SEO field is so easy to enter, you do have a lot of folks who just got started in the industry, maybe are looking for their first clients still, or folks who have been operating who may not necessarily be SEO experts, maybe they’re great at other parts of web agency work but not SEO.

Finally, my last piece of advice on this process, be very careful about choosing exclusively on price or experience. Now, price is an obvious one. You sort of go, “Yeah. I’ll get what I pay for and choosing the lowest price vendor might not be a great idea,” and those kind of things. That’s true. But experience is a dangerous one also. I see a lot of folks saying, “Ah, you worked with our big competitor,” or “You worked with someone else in the field that we respect and admire, therefore, we’re picking you.” We lose track of all the other important traits and criteria. Just be cautious about that. I think that there is something to, whether you’re hiring someone onto your team, we do a lot of hiring here, and one of the things that I see is relevant experience does not always trump sort of that excited newcomer. As long as they have the chops to do the work, sometimes that passion and that lack of experience can actually open up a lot of opportunity for you. So be careful about choosing on those alone, and hopefully this process will work for you.

I would love if you’re an agency or a consultant or someone who has found SEOs in the past and you have additional things that you’d like to add to a process like this, please include them in the comments below. I would love to see those.

All right. Thanks everyone. Take care. We’ll see you again next week for another edition of Whiteboard Friday.”

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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Secrets of the 7-Result SERP

Posted by Dr. Pete

Secrets of the 7-result SERP (pulp sci-fi cover)In August of 2012, Google launched 7-result SERPs, transforming page-one results. MozCast data initially showed that as many as 18% of the queries we tracked were affected. We’ve been collecting data on the phenomenon ever since, and putting some of the most common theories to the test. This is the story of the 7-result SERP as we understand it today (image created with PULP-O-MIZER).

I. 7-Result SERPs in The Wild

By now, you’ve probably seen a few 7-result SERPs in the “wild”, but I think it’s still useful to start at the beginning. Here are a few examples (with screenshots) of the various forms the 7-result SERP takes these days. I apologize in advance for the large images, but I think it’s sometimes important to see the full-length SERP.

(1) The “Classic” 7-Result SERP

The classic 7-result SERP usually appears as a #1 listing with expanded site-links (more on that later), plus six more organic listings. Here’s a screenshot from a search for “some ecards”, a navigational query:

Classic 7-result SERP

(2) The 7 + 7 with Local Results

It’s also possible to see 7-result SERPs blended with other types of results, including local “pack” results. Here’s the result of a search with local intent – “williamsburg prime outlets”:

7-result SERP with 7 local

(3) The 6 + Image Mega-Pack

It’s not just organic results that can appear in the #1 spot of a 7-result SERP, though. There’s a rare exception when a “mega-pack” of images appears at the top of a SERP. Here’s a “7-result” SERP with one image pack and six organic listings – the search is “pictures of cats”:

7-result SERP with image mega-pack

II. Some 7-Result SERP Stats

Our original data set showed 7-result page-one SERPs across about 18% of the queries we tracked. That number has varied over time, dropping as low as 13%. Recently, we’ve been experimenting with a larger data set (10,000 keywords). Over the 10 days from 1/13-1/22 (the data for this post was collected around 1/23), that data set tracked 7-result SERPs in the range of 18.1% – 18.5%. While this isn’t necessarily representative of the entire internet, it does show that 7-result SERPs continue to be a significant presence on Google.

These percentages are calculated by unique queries. We can also looking at query volume. Using Google’s “global” volume (exact-match), the percentage of queries by volume with 7-result SERPs for 1/22 was 19.5%. This compares to 18.5% by unique queries. Factoring in volume, that’s almost a fifth of all queries we track.

Here are the 7-result SERP percentages across 20 industry categories (500 queries per category) for 1/22:

 CATEGORY  7-SERPS
 Apparel  23.6% 
 Arts & Entertainment  16.8% 
 Beauty & Personal Care  12.6% 
 Computers & Consumer Electronics  16.8% 
 Dining & Nightlife  27.2% 
 Family & Community  13.2% 
 Finance  19.2% 
 Food & Groceries  13.4% 
 Health  3.8% 
 Hobbies & Leisure  11.0% 
 Home & Garden  20.0% 
 Internet & Telecom  12.6% 
 Jobs & Education  21.4% 
 Law & Government  16.2% 
 Occasions & Gifts  7.8% 
 Real Estate  13.2% 
 Retailers & General Merchandise  29.6% 
 Sports & Fitness  28.6% 
 Travel & Tourism  36.2% 
 Vehicles  26.0% 

These categories were all borrowed from the Google AdWords keyword research tool. The most impacted vertical is “Travel & Tourism”, at 36.2%, with “Health” being the least impacted.  At only 500 queries/category, it’s easy to over-interpret this data, but I think it’s interesting to see how much the impact varies.

III. The Site-Link Connection

Many people have hypothesized a link between expanded site-links and 7-result SERPs. We’ve seen a lot of anecdotal evidence, but I thought I’d put it to the test on a large scale, so we collected site-link data (presence and count) for the 10,000 keywords in this study.

Of the 1,846 queries (18.5%) in our data set that had 7-result SERPs on the morning of 1/22, 100% of them had expanded site-links for the #1 position. There were 45 queries that had expanded site-links, but did not show a 7-result count, but those were all anomalies based on how we count local results (we include blended local and packs in the MozCast count, whereas Google may not). There is nearly a perfect, positive correlation between 7-result SERPs and expanded site-links. Whatever engine is driving one also very likely drives the other.

The only minor exception is the image blocks mentioned above. In those cases, the image “mega-pack” seems to be the equivalent of expanded site-links. Internally, we count those as 6-result SERPs, but I believe Google sees them as a 7-result variant.

While most (roughly 80%) of 7-result SERPs have six expanded site-links, there doesn’t seem to be any rule about that. We’re tracking 7-result SERPs with anywhere from one to six expanded site-links. It doesn’t take a full set of site-links to trigger a 7-result SERP. In some cases, it seems to just be the case that the domain only has a limited number of query-relevant pages.

IV. 7-Result Query Stability

Originally, I assumed that once a query was deemed “worthy” of site-links and a 7-result SERP, that query would continue to have 7 results until Google made a major change to the algorithm. The data suggests that this is far from true – many queries have flipped back and forth from 7 to 10 and vise-versa since the 7-result SERP roll-out.

While our MozCast Top-View Metrics track major changes to the average result count, the real story is a bit more complicated. On any given day, a fairly large number of keywords flip from 7s to 10s and 10s to 7s. From 1/21 to 1/22, for example, 61 (0.61%) went from 10 to 7 results and 56 (0.56%) went from 7 to 10 results. A total of 117 “flips” happened in a 24-hour period – that’s just over 1% of queries, and that seems to be typical.

Some keywords have flipped many times – for example, the query “pga national” has flipped from 7-to-10 and back 27 times (measured once/day) since the original roll-out of 7-result SERPs. This appears to be entirely algorithmic – some threshold (whether it’s authority, relevance, brand signals, etc.) determines if a #1 result deserves site-links, probably in real-time, and when that switch flips, you get a 7-result SERP.

V. The Diversity Connection

I also originally assumed that a 7-result SERP was just a 10-result SERP with site-links added and results #8-#10 removed. Over time, I developed a strong suspicion this was not the case, but tracking down solid evidence has been tricky. The simple problem is that, once we track a 7-result SERP, we can’t see what the SERP would’ve looked like with 10 results.

This is where query stability comes in – while it’s not a perfect solution (results naturally change over time), we can look at queries that flip and see how the 7-result SERP on one day compares to the 10-result SERP on the next. Let’s look at our flipper example, “pga national” – here are the sub-domains for a 7-result SERP recorded on 1/19:

  1. www.pgaresort.com
  2. www.pganational.com
  3. en.wikipedia.org
  4. www.jeffrealty.com
  5. www.tripadvisor.com
  6. www.pga.com
  7. www.pgamembersclub.com

The previous day (1/18), that same query recorded a 10-result SERP. Here are the sub-domains for those 10 results:

  1. www.pgaresort.com
  2. www.pgaresort.com
  3. www.pgaresort.com
  4. www.pgaresort.com
  5. www.pganational.com
  6. en.wikipedia.org
  7. www.tripadvisor.com
  8. www.pga.com
  9. www.jeffrealty.com
  10. www.bocaexecutiverealty.com

The 10-result SERP allows multiple listings for the top domain, whereas the 7-result SERP collapses the top domain to one listing plus expanded site-links. There is a relationship between listings #2-#4 in the 10-result SERP and the expanded site-links in the 7-result SERP, but it’s not one-to-one.

Recently, I happened across another way to compare. Google partners with other search engines to provide data, and one partner with fairly similar results is EarthLink. What’s interesting is that Google partners don’t show expanded site-links or 7-result SERPs – at least not in any case I’ve found (if you know an exception, please let me know). Here’s a search for “pga national” on EarthLink on 1/25:

  1. www.pgaresort.com
  2. www.pgaresort.com
  3. www.pgaresort.com
  4. www.pganational.com
  5. en.wikipedia.org
  6. www.tripadvisor.com
  7. www.jeffrealty.com
  8. www.pga.com
  9. www.bocaexecutiverealty.com
  10. www.devonshirepga.com

Again, the #1 domain is repeated. Looking across multiple SERPs, the pattern varies a bit, and it’s tough to pin it down to just one rule for moving from 7 results to 10 results. In general, though, the diversity pattern holds. When a query shifts from a 10-result SERP to a 7-result SERP, the domain in the #1 spot gets site-links but can’t occupy spots #2-#7.

Unfortunately, the domain diversity pattern has been hard to detect at large-scale.  We track domain diversity (percentage of unique sub-domains across the Top 10) in MozCast, but over the 2-3 days that 7-results SERPs rolled out, overall diversity only increased from 55.1% to 55.8%.

Part of the problem is that our broad view of diversity groups all sub-domains, meaning that the lack of diversity in the 10-result SERPs could overpower the 7-result SERPs. So, what if we separate them? Across the core MozCast data (1K queries), domain diversity on 1/22 was 53.4%. Looking at just 7-result SERPs, though, domain diversity was 62.2% (vs. 54.2% for 10-result SERPs). That’s not a massive difference, but it’s certainly evidence to support the diversity connection.

Of course, causality is tough to piece together. Just because 7-result SERPs are more diverse, that doesn’t mean that Google is using domain crowding as a signal to generate expanded site-links. It could simply mean that the same signals that cause a result to get expanded site-links also cause it to get multiple spots in a 10-result SERP.

VI. The Big Brand Connection

So, what drives 7-result SERPs? Many people have speculated that it’s a brand signal – at a glance, there are many branded (or at least navigational) queries in the mix. Many of these are relatively small brands, though, so it’s not a classic picture of big-brand dominance. There are also some 7-result queries that don’t seem branded at all, such as:

  1. “tracking santa”
  2. “cool math games for kids”
  3. “unemployment claim weeks”
  4. “cell signaling”
  5. “irs transcript”

Granted, these are exceptions to the rule, and some of these are brand-like, for lack of a better phrase. The query “irs transcript” does pull up the IRS website in the top spot – the full phrase may not signal a brand, but there’s a clear dominant match for the search. Likewise, “tracking santa” is clearly NORAD’s domain, even if they don’t have a domain or brand called “tracking santa”, and even if they’re actually matching on “tracks santa”.

In some cases, there does seem to be a brand (or entity) bias. Take a search for “reef”, which pulls up Reef.com in the #1 spot with four site-links:

Google #1 result for Reef.com

Not to pick on Reef.com, but I don’t think of them as a household name. Are they a more relevant match to “reef” than any particular reef (like the Great Barrier Reef) or the concept of a reef in general? It could be a question of authority (DA = 66) or of the Exact-Match Domain in play – unfortunately, we throw around the term “brand” a lot, but we don’t often dig into how that translates into practical ranking signals.

I pulled authority metrics (DA and PA) for a subset of these queries, and there seems to be virtually no correlation between authority (as we measure it) and the presence of site-links. An interesting example is Wikipedia. It occupies over 11% of the #1 results (yeah, it’s not your imagination), but only seven of those 1,119 queries have 7-result SERPs. This is a site with a Domain Authority of 100 (out of 100).

VII. The “Entity” Connection

One emerging school of thought is that named entities are getting more ranking power these days. A named entity doesn’t have to be a big brand, just a clear match to a user’s intent. For example, if I searched for “sam’s barber shop”, SamsBarberShop.com would much more likely match my intent than results for barbers who happened to be named Sam. Sam’s Barber Shop is an entity, regardless of its Domain Authority or other ranking signals. This goes beyond just an exact-match domain (EMD) connection, too.

I think that 7-result SERPs and other updates like Knowledge Graph do signal a push toward classifying entities and generally making search reflect the real world. It’s not going to be enough in five years simply to use keywords well in your content or inbound anchor links. Google is going to want to want to return rich objects that represent “real-world” concepts that people understand, even if those concepts exist primarily online. This fits well into the idea of the dominant interpretation, too (as outlined in Google’s rater guidelines and other documents). Whether I search for “Microsoft” or “Sam’s Barber Shop”, the dominant interpretation model suggests that the entity’s website is the best match, regardless of other ranking factors or the strength of their SEO.

There’s only one problem with the entity explanation. Generally speaking, I’d expect an entity to be stable – once a query was classified as an entity and acquired expanded sitelinks, I’d expect it to stay that way. As mentioned, though, the data is fairly unstable. This could indicate that entity detection is dynamic – based on some combination of on-page/link/social/user signals.

VIII. The Secret Sauce is Ketchup

Ok, maybe “secrets” was a bit of an exaggeration. The question of what actually triggers a 7-result SERP is definitely complicated, especially as Google expands into Knowledge Graph and advanced forms of entity association. I’m sure the broader question on everyone’s mind is “How do I get (or stop getting) a 7-result SERP?” I’m not sure there’s any simple answer, and there’s definitely no simple on-page SEO trick. The data suggests that even a strong link profile (i.e. authority) may not be enough. Ultimately, query intent and complex associations are going to start to matter more, and your money keywords will be the ones where you can provide a strong match to intent. Pay attention not only to the 7-result SERPs in your own keyword mix, but to queries that trigger Knowledge Graph and other rich data – I expect many more changes in the coming year.

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Social Authority: Our Measure of Twitter Influence

Posted by @petebray

[This blog post is co-authored by Matt Peters, our Data Scientist.]

Today, we’re excited to announce the release of Social Authority, our metric of Twitter users’ influence. There are plenty of vanity metrics out there, but Social Authority offers something compellingly different.

Social Authority Helps Marketers

Social Authority is not about bragging rights or merchant discounts. Nor is it something that you check once and then forget about. Our metric is immediately, reliably useful. You can order all active Twitter users by influence, dissect your social graph, or find new followers who are most important — right now.

But it’s more than just exploring your own followers (or those of a competitor): Social Authority is ultimately a measure of influential activity. As such, it highlights content that is successful on Twitter. When you find users with high Social Authority, you’re finding great marketing strategies to analyze and mimic. And we think that this will help you be more successful with Twitter.

Finally, Social Authority is transparent. We could use all sorts of fuzzy words to explain how we compute our score, but we recognize that marketers need to see the “man behind the curtain.” Without insight into how we value influence, you can’t personally validate what makes us special, nor can you trust that our score is backed by deep research and thought.

Social Authority is Based on Retweets

Quite simply, our score includes three components:

  • The retweet rate of a few hundred of the measured user’s last non-@mention tweets
  • A time decay to favor recent activity versus ancient history
  • Other data for each user (such as follower count, friend count, and so on) that are optimized via a regression model trained to retweet rate

We’ll discuss why we’re focusing on retweets in a moment. For now, let’s consider the latter two items.

First, social media is very much a “what have you done for me lately” medium. In fact, the half-life of a tweet is a mere 18 minutes.

For this reason, we aggressively discount scores for users who haven’t tweeted lately.

Second, our regression model is a powerful addition to Social Authority. In part, it helps smooth the occasionally jumpy retweet rates of users. But, more than that, it accounts for the fact that retweets are a scarce commodity. For example, an average user needs 10,000 followers before 25% of their tweets are retweeted. Indeed, it’s only very popular users who get a large percentage of their tweets retweeted.

Our regression model helps fill in the blanks for the large majority of users with a spotty history of retweets.

Retweets are the Currency of Social

So, why retweets?

Well, whether you call them “shares” (Facebook), “repins” (Pinterest), or retweets, circulating someone else’s content to your network is a remarkable activity — and pretty much universal across all social networks. It demonstrates a significant commitment to the originating content.

Moreover, retweets are a great proxy for other important data.

For example, as you might expect, the number of retweets a user gets correlates strongly with the number of @mentions that user receives, with a correlation of ~0.8.

Even more excitingly, a higher retweet rate is associated with more traffic to tweeted URLs. In fact, the retweet rate is a stronger predictor of clicks than follower count! The correlations are ~0.7 and ~0.45, respectively.

This comparison is perhaps not entirely fair: Twitter-originating traffic counts are hard to obtain in large quantities. So, we limit ourselves only to users who use bit.ly shortened links: perhaps not a totally representative sample. We also apply the same time discount to our traffic rate as we do to our retweet rate; this may heighten the correlation.

Still, it’s exciting to see that retweets are a great measure of traffic potential.

You might ask, “Why not just use traffic as the basis for Social Authority?” Well, while clicks might be your ultimate goal, that isn’t the same for everyone. Indeed, retweets represent a native measure of social success. That is, for many accounts, traffic isn’t the goal. Rather, the focus is on increased engagement and resonance of one’s social content. Retweets are a better social-specific metric.

(By the way, a good rule of thumb: consider a 10:1 ratio when it comes to clicks and retweets. That is, if a tweet gets 10 retweets, it’s probably garnering about 100 clicks. We’ll delve into this in a future blog post.)

What Does Social Authority Mean in Practice?

Do we add value beyond what’s already out there? That’s a good question. After all, follower count by itself is a great measure of influence. And it’s the challenge of any metric creator to offer something appreciably better.

Here, for example, we see that Klout scores correlate strongly with follower counts.

We aren’t picking on Klout. Social Authority has a similar relationship to follower count. Quite simply, people with lots of followers are generally more influential!

But we believe it’s the subtle re-ranking of a users that reveals the value of Social Authority versus follower count (or other metrics out there).

First, behold the most followed accounts on Twitter….

Now, we’re going to use Followerwonk to sort all active Twitter users and show you those with the highest Social Authority.

Yes, we also put Bieber on top! (Who doesn’t!?)

We’ve highlighted a number of accounts in red. Take a close look at these. We were initially surprised to see these accounts with high Social Authority so we went back and checked the data. Sure enough, these accounts get retweeted a lot. For example, @autocorrects is retweeted 7% more than @BarackObama, yet has 14 times fewer followers!

As you can see, Social Authority surfaces a completely different set of top users: those that are extremely effective in engaging their followers. Perhaps jump onto Twitter and look at their content. Expand their tweets: that’s where the magic is. Those in red often have a similar content strategy: short, pithy, often humorous, and targeted well to their audience.

This isn’t content that we necessarily like — often, quite the opposite! Rather, these accounts have found the secret sauce: retweet bait. They’ve discovered content that gets their audiences’ attention, whether we like it or not, and prompts action in terms of retweets and traffic.

To us, at least, this is a revelation. We’ve always assumed that success on Twitter was largely about careful engagement, timely replies, and, sure, the occasional pithy remark. And that indeed may be a great strategy. But from the perspective of retweets (and clicks), engagement doesn’t matter at all.  Many of these accounts never @mention anyone.

Social Authority is focused on content, versus users. When computing our metric, we don’t directly care how many followers a user has. Instead, our interest is in the content that she creates, and how it resonates with her audience. This is what sets Social Authority apart as a metric.

Let’s take a look at how you can leverage Social Authority right now.

Social Authority Use Case: Refining Your Engagement Strategy

One of the most effective uses of Twitter is to reach out to other people. That is, you want to leverage other people to retweet your content and spread your message to their audience.

Social Authority and the engagement metrics we released in December can help.

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Simply, you want to find that sweet spot of users who are both influential, and also likely to respond to any engagement that you direct at them.

Step 1. Go to Followerwonk and do a bio search for keywords related to your industry.  Limit the search to your followers. (Here’s an example.)

Step 2. Sort by Social Authority.

Step 3. Mouse over each user and find those with a high engagement rate. This will reveal possible candidates for direct engagement (DMs, @contacts, or even RTs of their content).

Here, for example, are the most influential followers of @followerwonk with “SEO” in their bio.

On mouse-over, I see that Rand has a really high engagement rate. Over 60% of his tweets are @mentions of other people! Notice that we have a bidirectional relationship (the little arrows): that is, he follows us, and we follow him. He’d be a great one to contact (if we weren’t already seeing him in the office pretty much everyday)!

Social Authority Use Case: Content Insights

Let’s say you’re thinking of opening a restaurant in the Bay Area. How can you use Twitter, and Social Authority, to help?

We can start by doing a comparison of the followers of three restaurant owners or Food writers.

In this report, we see that there are ~400 who follow all of them. We can pop this list of users open and sort by Social Authority.

As we mouse-over each user, we discover their engagement rates. Note that @chefsymon, with the highest Social Authority in this list, has a rocking 86% engagement rate! Compare this to, say, Zagats with a mere 6.5% rate.

Which is the better choice to @engage in an attempt to attract their attention (and retweets)?

But there’s more we can do with this list then find potential brand amplifiers. Notice, for example, that @Francis_Lam, with a “mere” 34,000 followers has a great Social Authority score. It’s worth jumping into his tweet stream and looking carefully at his content.

What is it about his style that generates so many retweets? His frequent tweeting? His food-related one-liners?

While we will discuss content strategies in a later blog post, we believe that, to some extent, there are different content strategies for each industry. What works well for one audience, won’t work for others. So, carefully examining high Social Authority users — particularly those who are outliers in terms of having relatively few followers — is a great way to discover the content that ignites your audience.

We can take this one step further still.  We can analyze @Francis_Lam’s followers.

Then, we can hone in those high Social Authority users local to us. Perhaps a special invite to a soft opening?

Bottom line

One of our core values at SEOmoz is transparency. As such, we’re against “mystery meat” metrics. We believe that metrics are only enhanced when you have real insight into what goes into them.

Social Authority is a tool for marketers to find key relationships and great content strategies. It’s backed by serious research and development.

We welcome your feedback, and look forward to seeing how you’ll take advantage of our score.

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February Mozscape Index is Live

Posted by carinoverturf

The latest Mozscape index is now live – just two and a half weeks after our last January index release! The team continues to improve the frequency of our release dates as we move closer toward consistent 2 week release cycles. All Mozscape data has been refreshed across all our applications so you can see the latest data in Open Site Explorer, the MozbarPRO campaigns, and the Mozscape API.

Over the past few months, the Mozscape processing team has put a lot of work into removing the unpredictable variables that led to several missed release dates in 2012. Switching to the large super computing reserved instances on AWS has led to much smoother processing cycles and less machine failures to recover from. The team has also been able to isolate several steps in our processing software that could benefit from some optimization. These updates have led to a significant amount of time saved during processing due to fewer disruptions and more efficiently running software.

As a result of all these changes the team has implemented over the past few months, four of the last five indexes have been released within 3 weeks or less of each other – which means fresher and more frequent data for you!

You can see from the metrics below, there is still a significant increase in the number of subdomains crawled in this index. The increase of subdomains is due to our crawlers discovering a small number of root domains that have a substantial number of subdomains associated with them. These subdomains have very low authority, so they won’t affect the metrics in the index, however, the numbers of subdomains has increased again. 

Here are the metrics for this latest index:

  • 77,093,101,764 (77 billion) URLs
  • 4,263,496,373 (4.2 billion) Subdomains
  • 160,052,583 (160 million) Root Domains
  • 840,437,839,728 (840 billion) Links
  • Followed vs. Nofollowed

    • 2.26% of all links found were nofollowed
    • 56.49% of nofollowed links are internal
    • 43.51% are external
  • Rel Canonical – 15.05% of all pages now employ a rel=canonical tag
  • The average page has 73 links on it

    • 62.66 internal links on average
    • 10.27 external links on average

And the following correlations with Google’s US search results:

  • Page Authority – 0.36
  • Domain Authority – 0.19
  • MozRank – 0.24
  • Linking Root Domains – 0.30
  • Total Links – 0.25
  • External Links – 0.29

Crawl histogram for the February Mozscape Index

This index took a total of 11 days to complete processing so a fairly large portion of the data was crawled in the second half of January. The oldest crawl data will be from late December, but the bulk of this index was crawled after January 15th.  

We always love to hear your thoughts! And remember, if you’re ever curious about when Mozscape is updating, you can check the calendar here. We also maintain a list of previous index updates with metrics here.

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Stop Clicking Here! 7 Superior SEO Alternatives to Generic Links

Posted by Cyrus Shepard

Ove the past year, we’ve seen a strange trend develop in the world of SEO: the rise of the “generic link.”

Generic links are bland phrases that avoid using keywords that search engines use to determine the context of what you are linking to. These include links like:

  • “Visit website”
  • “Read more”
  • “Useful site”
  • And, of course, “click here”

Google’s official SEO Starter Guide actually discourages webmasters from using generic links.

Google SEO Starter Guide

Google published this guide in 2010. Is it still relevant today?

Why some SEOs use generic links

After Google rolled out their Penguin update and over-optimization penalties in 2012, many SEOs discovered that too much exact-match anchor text was now a bad thing. Research suggests that successful backlink profiles actually contained a wide variety of anchor text including exact match, partial match, URL links, and even nofollow links.

To compensate for over-optimized backlink profiles, SEOs started to “balance” their link profiles with generic anchors like “click here.” For some, the trick seemed to work, a little.

Recently, my wife’s site was attacked by a black hat spambot. Take a look at the bot’s link distribution:

Anchor Text

The profile was exactly 30% generic links!

Yes, it’s a huge improvement on using all keyword-rich anchors, but this also creates obvious patterns that any search engine could easily sniff out. It’s also evident these links were produced at scale in a non-editorial way.

As a result, these bots must build 1,000s of links to only rank a few days at a time.

We can do better

Aside from issues of usability, the reason Google advises folks to use descriptive words when linking is because this passes relevancy signals to the page you link to. If you link to this page with the phrase “SEO“, search engines may determine this page is about SEO, and rank it higher in search results for that term.

In fact, there’s evidence through various patent filings, and the experience of countless webmasters, that links using generic or off-topic anchor text pass potentially much less value than descriptive links.


- Bill Slawski, 10 Most Important SEO Patents, Part 5

Let’s be clear: Google does likely devalue over-optimized anchor text, but there is no evidence anywhere of Google penalizing a website for not having enough generic “click here” links.

Instead, we should seek out links that enhance context and usability for not only our readers, but search engines as well. The best links are the ones where you don’t control the anchor text, but in cases where you do control the anchor text, strive for variety.

1. Related text and Co-occurrence links

Instead of requiring exact match anchor text to achieve rankings, Google has proposed many methods of passing value through anchor text that don’t require the exact keyword at all. One of these methods uses the idea of co-occurrence, documented here by Bill Slawski.

Put simply, search engines may judge relevance not only on the anchor phrase, but also on the “related phrases” found in both documents.

In Google’s own patent example, the anchor phrase “Australian Shepard” is related to several other words:

Related Text

Even though the second URL doesn’t contain the words “Australian Shepard,” it may still rank for this term if there are enough related phrases present. This helps closely related pages to pass more ranking relevance, while weakening unrelated anchor text (coincidentally, a lack of related phrases is how search engines fight Google Bombs).

2. Party at Synonym City

Search for “funny pics” and search engines return results for “funny photos” and “funny pictures” instead. This gives us several possible alternatives to exact-match links.

One great way to find synonyms is through using Google’s tilde (~) operator. The tilde tells Google to “search for pages that are synonyms or similar to the term that follows.”

tilde operator

When combined with other operators, such as the negative (-), this gives you a powerful keyword research tool. In the example above, the search query “~inexpensive -inexpensive” returns “low cost”, “cheap,” and “affordable.” All are synonyms for inexpensive.

Use synonyms in your anchor text for greater meaning.

3. Partial match – Variation for the reader

A partial match anchor uses at least one of your main keywords, without using the whole phrase. Matt Cutts gives a hilariously bad example of how not to construct text. In short, what he describes is…

Link Spam

Consider this anchor text: “Best Car Accident Law Firm Fort Worth.” If we saw this on a page, we would cringe in embarrassment for the SEO.

Natural anchor text is not stuffed with keywords, but is instead useful for the reader while accurately describing what the text links to.

Better, more appropriate partial match anchors might include:

Like anything else, partial match anchors can be abused quickly. Use with care.

4. Company names and brands

Company and branded names make great links when called up. People can link to SEOmoz, Molly Moon’s Ice Cream, or Lava Lamp all day long!

However, be careful when your business name matches highly commercial anchor text, such as “Los Angeles Flowers,” for example. In this case, there’s almost no line between branded anchor text and over-optimized, exact-match anchor text. This might send confusing mixed signals to search engines – as if you’re trying to game the system.

If you’re a smaller company without much branded visibility, it might be best to stick to other methods until you can build your brand credibility.

5. Get personal with names

Dan Shure provides the next tip from his NoBoard SEO series: link to people.

People’s names (like your CEO, for instance) are rarely overused. Dan suggests attracting named-based links by creating strong “about” and profile pages for people in your company.

Dan’s best quote: “People like to link to people.”

6. URL links

In general, URLs are NOT ideal anchor texts. They’re non-descriptive, clumsy to write, and pass very few relevancy signals to search engines.

That said, it’s possible to use URLs for perfectly normal reasons, such as when you describe changing a website address, i.e. “The new URL is http://www.seomoz.org.” URL links don’t always include the full address:

  • www.seomoz.org
  • seomoz.org/blog/top-tips
  • seomoz.org

Although they don’t pass few relevancy signals, URL links do offer marginally more value than generic anchors, so are offered here as a measure of last resort.

7. Link for the most important person – The reader

This post offers a number of linking examples, but for the most part the links flow as a natural part of the text, without artificial manipulation. The #1 priority of good content is not trying to outsmart the search engines, but creating usefulness and usability.

Shortcuts taken by scaling and repeating the same anchors over and over – even when they’re partial match or otherwise – are bound to get you in trouble.

Instead, craft each and every link you write to be as unique as the content holding it.

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Use Google Docs to Manage your Digital Projects, from Freelance to Large Agency

Posted by Alex Moss

This post was originally in YouMoz, and was promoted to the main blog because it provides great value and interest to our community. The author’s views are entirely his or her own and may not reflect the views of SEOmoz, Inc.

In July 2012 I launched 3 Door Digital alongside my three co-founders. The launch was part of a merging process between two existing companies (Pleer, based in Manchester, UK and Matan Media based in Tel Aviv, Israel). Along with the merger came some potential operational hazards that we had to make sure we were on top of prior and post launch. Part of my responsibility was to find and apply the best project and time management process for our campaigns moving forward.

In the past few years I have used numerous task management tools and decided to put a few to the test to see which one would work for us. In the end we found that Google Docs was actually the best platform for us to use. This may seem like an uncommon choice but with the correct setup it has proved to be extremely successful.

I’m going to share how we manage to stay on top of over 30 client projects at any one time whilst making sure we don’t miss tasks or lose track of the hours we’ve spent.

Before covering all this, there was a second choice…

In the end we had a decision between two platforms – Basecamp and Google Drive (formerly Google Docs). Basecamp was great for us but there was something missing (which I’m sure will eventually be added at some point) – the ability to quickly browse tasks, task owners and time management all in one easy-to-read page. This is where Google Docs won. Don’t get me wrong – Basecamp is a fantastic choice for some companies – it just wasn’t the best solution for us.

So, there were a few reasons why we chose Google Docs and I’ll go through why, feature by feature. As well as this I’ll share a template document that you can copy as your own to tweak as you wish.

Google Docs Spreadsheets FTW

Before 3 Door Digital was born, I had two concurrent jobs: the Head of SEO at a search agency in Manchester and another running my own company with my wife and business partner. Because, at the time, there were only two of us it was quite easy to keep track of each other’s work using an Excel document within a Dropbox shared folder. Once 3 Door Digital started trading, it became obvious that this wasn’t going to be the best solution.

To start, I simply uploaded the spreadsheet template I’d been using for Pleer into Google Documents and added the additional clients from Matan Media into the new 3 Door Digital template. Simple!

“Simple” I thought – it wasn’t so simple. Although I was well aware that I was now planning out 20+ retainer clients, 10+ one-off clients as well as other internal tasks. It was time to roll out the “super template” that would make it easy to navigate these 30+ clients whilst being easy to read for all consultants, account managers and directors. Most of all, it had to be workable so that tasks were not missed out (the main personal downfall of mine for Basecamp’s GUI).

The Super Template

Marc and I took a day out to create this super template by discussing how both teams work between offices in two countries on various tasks. Each row would represent a different task, no matter how small. What we needed to do is select columns. For each task, we covered the following:

  1. Client Name
  2. Platform Name (because some clients have various sites and platforms, some of which may have different account managers)
  3. Account Manager
  4. Task Name
  5. Owner (if not the account manager)
  6. Deadline
  7. Budgets
  8. Actual Hours Undertaken
  9. Completed (this uses a tick, exclamation point or cross – more on this later)
  10. Notes

Project Management Google Doc

The “Summary Row”

Each client and platform is split by a few empty rows and a total time allowance is provided within a chosen “Summary” row. In this row we can use equations to calculate total hours spent on a platform and time left for the month. Scripts for time management are then applied in order to enable email notifications (covered later in this post).

Google Doc Summary Row

 

Using other Tools to Compliment Google Docs

Even after all this, we were well aware that more information was needed dependent on the task. There is some information that you simply can’t illustrate well in a spreadsheet. Because more information is sometimes needed, or at least you need a separate area to work with for a specific task, we used other online collaborative tools and resources to help us with specific tasks – using the notes column as the point of reference.

Before Going Elsewhere, use the Comment function

This feature is easy to use. Right click a cell and you can add a comment. You can tag a user of the doc with the @ or + sign, and they will be notified by the email and directed straight to the comment itself. Once commented, a small orange label appears in the top right of the cell. Hovering over that cell shows the comments as a popup.

Google Spreadsheet Comment Popup

You will also notice a “Resolve” button at the top right of the popup. Clicking this, tags the comment thread as resolved, removes the orange marker, and hides the comments from the cell itself. If you want to access all comments within the document you can access them by clicking the Comments button at the top right of the screen (next to the Share button):

Google Docs Comment Threads

Use other Google Docs

Sometimes the commenting feature is never going to cover everything that needs to be covered. Some projects may need a separate document or spreadsheet or have more dialogue with more limited access. Let’s say for example that this whole task document is viewable to the whole company but one task only the Account Manager and one Director want to see details of this specific task. Here, we would create a new document and only give the Account Manager and Director access rights. In the task sheet you simply link to that separate document.

For Even Larger Tasks that Require a Folder Structure

Sometimes a task or project needs its own file and folder structure consisting of a lot of different types of files. Within the company we use Dropbox for collaborative filesharing. We used the share option within Dropbox to link to the specific folder or noted down the folder location for anyone to access. Here’s an example of where an image is entered within the notes column for other people to click and view:

Share a file to Dropbox

Dropbox image preview

Dropbox URL from spreadsheet

Tasks that Require a More Visually friendly UI

One example of this could be a web build. We use Trello – a fantastic task management tool that I have been personally using for years and can’t recommend enough. I don’t want to talk about Trello in this post, however, sign up (it’s free), and get to know it well – and be comforted in the knowledge that they have an iPhone, Android and Windows 8 app and are currently developing their iPad app.

Trello Google Docs
 

Trello Board

Paddy Moogan of Distilled wrote a great post about using Trello to Manage Projects for SEO – go and check it out.

Conditional Formatting FTW

I’ve never been at a level with spreadsheet production that I would call myself advanced, but when I learn something new in it I realise how versatile it is and how it can display information. One thing I’m a fan of is colour coding as I like to see the status of multiple tasks without always reading each row in any detail. To achieve this, I used conditional formatting in two columns:

Completed

Google Docs Conditional FormattingFor completed tasks I knew that there were only three options that we would need to choose:

  1. Incomplete
  2. Hurdle
  3. Complete

The “Hurdle” option is when something outside our control is stopping us from completing the task. When this happens, we add notes into the notes column where we can make efforts to complete the task as soon as we can. Using conditional formatting I have made the three different statuses with three different backgrounds for us to easily identify. As well as this, we used the Data Validation option to ensure that only these three option can be selected by a dropdown. This is set by right clicking the column/cells and selecting Data Validation. We used the following configuration for status:

Google Docs Data Validation

This then allowed us to select an option rather than type the words manually. This is done when you select the cell and you will notice a dropdown option that opens a popup for you to make the relevant selection:

Originally in Microsoft Excel, I used a different system whereby each task is set to 0 by default for incomplete, 1 for hurdle and 2 for completed. In Microsoft Excel (version 2010 or newer) you can use conditional formatting using the tick/exclamation/cross Icon Set, which is what I use when not using Google Docs (if you work for Google and you’re reading this please forward that as a feature request ;)). This is the specific conditional formatting we used for the Status Column:

Google Docs Conditional Formatting with Data Validation

Deadline

This column used more sophisticated conditional formatting. We wanted to have different colour coding dependent on how many weeks or days there were to the task’s deadline. These were as follows:

  • If more than a week away, we’re good
  • If within the next week, turn orange
  • If within the next 2 days, turn red
  • If in the next 24 hours, turn even deeper red
  • If deadline has passed, turn black

Timeline Conditional Formatting

This conditional formatting is somewhat limited in Google Docs when it comes to timescales (another feature request :P) so we used the conditions above, the setup of which looks like this:

Date conditional formatting setup

Keeping the Document Tidy

After a while you may find that the document becomes crowded. To eliminate this, you could hide rows where the tasks are confirmed as completed. Hiding a row (different than deleting a row) means that all data is still stored for future reference; as well as it keeping other formula data such as time management.

Hiding rows

We choose not to hide rows, as we personally like to see all tasks regardless of its completion. Instead, we split our tasks into worksheets separated by month. At the end of each month, we copy the existing month’s worksheet as a new worksheet and delete all completed rows. This then leaves us with only incomplete tasks, which are then added to as the month progresses. If we want to refer to a previous month, we simply refer to the relevant month’s worksheet. This way we can easily see every task over the course of the whole year.

Duplicate worksheet

Getting More Technical with Time Management Scripts

One thing I found that Basecamp lacked apart from its UI was the lack of time management connectivity. Relevant Managers want to be notified via email if a client is running out of management time for that month. Within the email we can include information from anywhere else in the spreadsheet. In our example, we have used the Client Name and the amount of hours left.

If this method isn’t your cup of tea, other online tools such as Toggl and Harvest will help you with time management.

Managing Account Hours

To begin, let’s use a sample client. This client has three platforms and has a number of tasks within each platform. Each platform therefore has its own set time allowance for the month. We now have the following time data:

  • Total allowance for the month
  • Total estimated time for each incomplete task (if you want to be that detailed)
  • Actual Hours Undertaken

We use this data to perform the following equation to find how many hours left there are for a platform:

Time left=SUM(Allowance-(SUM of all actual hours undertaken))

Here’s one example:

Google Docs Time Formulas

Column I, the number of hours left, is updated as the document is edited and is the number we need in order to see how many hours are left for the month. What we needed was a way to be emailed once this approached a low number.

Creating Scripts

David Sottimano of Distilled shared a script with me that emailed a chosen recipient if the number of a specific cell reached a specific number. From here, I took that script and integrated it into our Task Document.

The script runs every time the document is edited (or opened, depending on how you configure it) and is triggered if the “Time Left” figure for the platform reaches 2 or less than 2 (i.e. 2 hours). Once triggered, the script collects the Platform name and emails the person responsible for receiving the alerts with an email that the platform has run out of account hours. To install the script you will need to configure

  • The column that contains the Platform name
  • The column that contains the “Time Left” formula
  • An integer that triggers the alert (we chose 2)
  • The email(s) to send the alert to
  • The column to set the notification integer (otherwise you’ll get a LOT of emails :P)

To include the script, you can use the script manager tool and set the trigger in there:

Script Editor


And here is the script itself (highlighting the five variables you can configure above):

function notifyManagement() {
// Update & Edit values below ###############

var testing = false; // false = Live emails … true = Browser popup…

// The Column for the task name
var taskColumn = “
B“;

// The Column for Time Remaining
var timeLeftColumn = “
I“;

// Number of Hours (less than X) that you want to be notified
var HourTrigger = “
3“;

// Column for notifications
var managementNotifiedColumn = “
O“;

// Emails addresses in array format ['','','']
var managementEmails = ["
joe@bloggs.com","someone@else.com"];

// Stop Editing values here ##################

var sheet = SpreadsheetApp.getActiveSheet();
var lastRow = SpreadsheetApp.getActiveSheet().getMaxRows();
var row = 0;

 // loop through the timeleft column
for(row=1; row < lastRow; row++){
   var cell = timeLeftColumn + row;
   var managementCell = managementNotifiedColumn + row;
   var taskCell = taskColumn + row;

   // let us get all the values ready for checking
   var timeLeft = sheet.getRange(cell).getValue();
   var notified = sheet.getRange(managementCell).getValue();
   var taskName = sheet.getRange(taskCell).getValue();

       //check to see if we should send an email
   if ((timeLeft < HourTrigger) && (!notified) && (isInt(timeLeft))) {  
     // Set the notified cell
     sheet.getRange(managementCell).setValue(“1″);
     // email management
     for (var i = 0; i < managementEmails.length; i++) {
       if (testing) { Browser.msgBox(“Email to ” + managementEmails[i] + “\n” + taskName + ” time managementccccss warning!”); }
       else {
          MailApp.sendEmail(managementEmails[i], taskName + ” time managementccccss warning!”, taskName + ” has ” + timeLeft + ” hours remaining”);
       } // end testing check
     } // end of send emails loop
   } // end of checking if we should notify
} // end of for loop of all rows
} // end of mailMe function

function isInt(n) {
  return typeof n === ‘number’ && n % 1 == 0;

}

Internally, we also created a similar function to email us when budgets were too low using the same template as above and changing the variables at the beginning to focus elsewhere in the document.

Triggering the Script

Once you’ve created your script you can set triggers for each one. To do this, select the “Current script’s triggers…” within the script editor:

Script Trigger option

Here, we have decided to trigger the scripts on edit so we have live notifications sent to us and not just when the next person opens the document:

Google Doc Script Triggers

Too Much for You? No Problem!

This post either may be too technical for you, or will take you too long to implement. That’s fine – I’m a nice guy. I’m a guy who’d be kind enough to share a canvas template for you with the script installed, conditional formatting set up, scripts running (with a fake email) and even included some sample data :)

Digital Management Google Doc

Known Bugs

Sometimes we have found when adding rows or editing the doc with new information, some of the rows or columns begin to look messed up. A simple refresh of the document usually fixes this and your updates should be all good!

An Added Note

This is an awesome document and works for us better than anything else we’ve used, but this may not be for you or your agency. We all have our own preferences, although I am pretty sure at some point we may need to invest in our custom management toolset.

This doc isn’t the only thing I use to manage my own time – I also have my own personal Trello board and can’t live without the traditional email inbox to keep me from going insane.

I’d love to know what other tools and resources you use for your own project management…

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

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When Responsive Design is Not an Option: a Checklist for Optimizing Your Mobile Site

Posted by bridget.randolph

Kristina Kledzik recently wrote a post here on the SEOmoz blog about responsive design and why it’s often the best option when creating a mobile-friendly online experience. She discussed its advantages in dealing with usability issues, duplicate content, mobile search rankings, and link building. Google recommends using a responsive website design where this makes sense from a user perspective, and Bing encourages a “one URL per content item” approach.

Kristina makes a compelling case for responsive design. However, responsive sites can be tricky to develop, especially if the original desktop version has lots of content and/or navigation options. If you have a business or a client whose site has hundreds of thousands, or even millions of pages, it may be difficult to redesign the entire site with a responsive design. A separate mobile site, however, can start with fewer pages, and you can add more as you have time. For some businesses, responsive design is simply not the best option because their mobile visitors’ needs are so different from desktop users, and thus require drastically different content. So we can’t always rely on the advice that responsive design is the preferred solution.

Aleyda Solis recently created this flowchart to illustrate the decision-making process for choosing a mobile-friendly option. Below, I’ve highlighted the “separate URL versions” option, which Aleyda recommends for when ‘you cannot implement’ a single URL/responsive design.

If your site (or your client’s) falls in this “separate URL versions” category, you’re in good company. Among the UK’s top 20 retailers, only 14 have mobile-friendly sites, and 13 of them have separate mobile sites. The pattern is similar in the US, with MongooseMetrics reporting that 73% of websites ranked in the Quantcast Top 100,000 sites used URL redirects to a mobile specific URL.

Here are a few examples of major retailers’ different approaches to mobile:

      

Apple doesn’t have any type of mobile site; Ebay uses a separate URL mobile site; Currys uses a responsive design.

The good news is that mobile sites, when done correctly, are certainly able to handle these same issues of usability, duplicate content, mobile search ranking, and link building.

So, how do you optimize a mobile site to work as well as implementing a responsive design? You must ask yourself a few questions before reaching your final goal.

Information Architecture

When you’re just starting out, the first thing you need to think about is information architecture. One benefit of a mobile site (over a purely responsive design) is that you can provide the user with a drastically different experience from the desktop version. First, you need to ask some questions:

1. Does your mobile site reflect mobile users’ intent?

When structuring a mobile site, one of the first things to ask is whether mobile visitors are interacting with your site differently than desktop users. If so, your mobile site design needs to reflect this.

If you’re not sure how your users are interacting with your site, have a look at your analytics and segment out the mobile traffic. Google Analytics already has “advanced segments” for mobile and tablet traffic. The mobile segment includes traffic from tablets, though, so you may need to create a custom segment in order to view only non-tablet mobile traffic.

This can be slightly tricky, as you’ll need to use a regular expression (‘RegEx’). The setup I’m using is:

  • Name: ‘Mobile – no tablets
  • Include: ‘Mobile (Including Tablet)’ containing ‘Yes’ AND
  • Exclude: ‘Screen Resolution’ Matching RegExp (1\d|[7-9])\d\d+x.*

What this regular expression means is that this custom segment should include traffic from mobile devices but exclude traffic from devices with a screen resolution of 700+ by anything. You may decide to tweak the RegEx depending on how large (or small) a device you want to include. (Some of the larger smartphones also fall in this range, but then again, maybe these should be seeing the desktop version, as well.)

Once you have the data, focus on landing pages (are people entering your site in the right place?), conversion rate, and where people leave the conversion funnel (where are they getting stuck?); bounce rate (are people not finding what they’re looking for?); and, if possible, site search and organic search keywords (what are people looking for to begin with?). If you have analytics set up for your mobile site, you should use that data in order to see which mobile site pages are performing above or below average. For a detailed overview of what to look for, see Section 3.1: Your Mobile Users in this great article by Aleyda Solis.

2. Have you designed for the user?

Once you understand your users’ goals, you should design your site to reflect the most common reasons for visiting the site on a mobile device. An obvious example of this is using a mobile phone to find a store location near you. This feature might be less prominent on the desktop site, but for a mobile user, it should be very easy to find on the homepage.

You can also take advantage of mobile-specific features to improve the user experience. Using the same example, you could offer the option of store lookup by postcode, but also by geolocation (“use current location”). When the “nearest store” results come up, include a phone number that is click-to-call.

(Screenshots from m.primelocation.com)

3. What about tablet users?

The current recommendation from Google is to serve tablets the desktop site, rather than the mobile site. This is because user browsing patterns and screen size on a regular-sized tablet like the iPad more closely resemble desktop browsing than smartphone browsing. Also, a site that looks great on a small smartphone browser will appear too big and annoyingly grainy on the much larger tablet screen. Be sure to test the touch screen capabilities of your desktop site.

An exception to the current guideline would be if you want to provide a tablet-specific online experience, in which case you might decide to use a third subdomain (t.domain.com). As tablet sizes become more varied, this guidance may change.

Let’s check out some examples of tablet-specific domains:

Example one: Colbert Nation is the official site for Comedy Central show, The Colbert Report.

Example two: Mail Tribune is a news publisher.

It’s important to make sure your mobile visitors are being served the correct version of your website. My best advice is to use redirects based on user agent. If you’re not redirecting based on user agent, you should set up redirects based on user agent detection, so that when someone visits the desktop site on a mobile, they are redirected to the mobile version. If possible, use server-side redirects (301s or 302s) rather than Javascript redirects; JS causes a lag in the load time (because the page has to load and then parse the JS), and a page with a Javascript redirect is less likely to be cached. Also, make sure that if someone on a desktop PC clicks a mobile link, they will be redirected to the desktop version.

A few quick tips for handling redirects to mobile site:

  • Google’s most recent guidance states that either a 301 or 302 may be used.
  • When using user agent detection, be careful of cloaking.
  • Don’t redirect all desktop pages to the mobile homepage; instead, use a mobile page which is relevant to the original. If you don’t have a relevant mobile page, consider creating a page which explains this and offers the option to view the desktop version of the desired page and/or alternate pages on the mobile site.
  • Be sure to include a link to “view desktop version” on your mobile site (and vice versa). Use cookies to ensure that if a user clicks on this option the user agent detection will be overridden and they will not be redirected again (unless they choose to switch back via the “view mobile version” option).
  • Try to use ‘mirrored’ URL structures (so that www.domain.com/hello redirects to m.domain.com/hello, not m.domain.com/xi3l3kxd. This may not be possible, however, if there’s not a one-to-one relationship between desktop and mobile pages.
  • For more information on mobile site redirects, see Cindy Krum’s article on ‘generating mobile redirects properly.
  • To avoid the appearance of duplicate content, you should use a special mobile rel=’canonical’ tag. This will be covered in more detail later.

Google Analytics

Once you’re happy with the structure of your site, you need to be able to track its usage. Jeff Tirey at Mongoose Metrics recently wrote about their fantastic study which found that on 37% of websites that are a) using Google Analytics, and b) also have separate mobile versions of their site, the mobile version is not being tracked! This is craziness. And it’s simple to fix.

1. Is your tracking code implemented properly?

If you simply haven’t added the tracking code to your mobile site, go do it now. If you aren’t sure whether to use the special non-Javascript version, keep in mind that you should be able to ignore the special “tracking a mobile site” option. Instead, you should use the same Javascript code that you use on your desktop site.

The (rare) exception to this would be if you have a disproportionately high amount of traffic from feature phone (non-smartphone) users that you need to track. Feature phones don’t support Javascript, so the normal tracking code can’t track these visits. However, this is an unlikely situation, as most websites don’t see much traffic from these types of phones. If you are worried about it, you can check the site’s server logs for visits from feature phone user agents.

2. Is your mobile site data being tracked through your primary domain?

You should track your mobile site on the same web property (i.e., using the same UA-XXXXX-Y account number) as your desktop site. This requires a simple tweak in the code on both versions in order to indicate to GA that your m.domain.com site is a subdomain of your main site. You should also set up a special profile exclusively for traffic to m.domain.com. To learn more, check out these tips from Google:

Technical SEO

1. Do you have a mobile XML sitemap?

Even if you have a mobile HTML sitemap, it is best practice to create an XML sitemap for your mobile site, and submit it to Google and Bing. To learn more about how to create a mobile sitemap, check out this these instructions from the Google Webmaster Tools blog.

2. How will Google know it’s a mobile site and not duplicate content?

To make sure Google know’s your mobile site is a separate entity from your main site, it’s best to implement the special mobile rel=canonical tag. In order to indicate to Google that your mobile site isn’t just duplicate content, you can use a special version of the rel=canonical tag. On the desktop page, add the rel=alternate tag:

< <link rel=”alternate” media=”only screen and (max-width: 640px)” href=”http://m.example.com/page-1″ >

This tag will point to the mobile version.

On the mobile page, add the rel=canonical tag:

<link rel=”canonical” href=”http://www.example.com/page-1″ >

This tag will point to the desktop version. Simple as that!

3. Make sure you’re not blocking the ‘Smartphone-Googlebot’ from your desktop version in robots.txt, and don’t block regular Googlebot from the mobile version.

Bing is a bit more ambiguous in their advice (from March 2012):

“Occasionally, it may make sense to keep some URLs targeted at specific clients (e.g. mobile devices), which you can opt to block from us via the usual methods (robots.txt, webmaster tools) or not.” (The emphasis is mine.)

Since the guidance is unclear, I would recommend the less drastic approach. My advice is to allow Bing to crawl your mobile and desktop sites. You can opt to follow my recommendation…or not.

On-page Optimization

1. Are your meta tags mobile-friendly?

Since mobile screens are smaller, there are fewer characters displayed in the SERPs. To adapt to the smaller screen size, it’s important that your meta tags be formatted in a mobile-friendly style.  

For the best results, your title tags should be kept within 40-60 characters. Similarly, meta descriptions should be kept within 90 characters.

2. Are you targeting mobile-friendly keywords?

It’s becoming increasingly important to do your keyword research specifically for mobile traffic. Mobile visitors will likely be looking for different results than desktop visitors, so you must lay the groundwork properly.

Optimizing the content on your mobile site for mobile keywords is also a great way to rank highly in the mobile SERPs (this may or may not be necessary, depending on whether they’re different from your desktop site).

3. Is your site load time too slow?

The goal for your site load time should be around 2-3 seconds. After waiting five seconds for a page to load, 74% of mobile users bounce.

You can check your page load time in Google Analytics. Use your mobile site profile (often the desktop load time is vastly different, which will mess up the averages). If you don’t yet have the data in a separate mobile site profile, you can also check this using your custom segment for non-tablet mobile devices.

Another way to increase you site load speed is to compress large images. Be sure to check other on-page elements, such as Javascript and videos, with a mobile emulator like Google’s Gomometer. Remember that certain formats, such as Flash, aren’t displayed on most mobile phones, so be conginzant of what works and what doesnt.  Also, remember to be careful with Javascript  in order to use the correct approach for your design.

Extras 

I’ve thrown in a few extra pieces of advice for those of you who made it this far. Keep on reading!

1. Are you missing out on easy eCommerce wins (if applicable)?

To keep your conversion rate optimization on track, here are a few points to consider:

  • Ensure the checkout/shopping baskets on your site sync across all platforms.
  • Implement larger on-site buttons so that visitors don’t have trouble clicking the correct one on their device.
  • Feature a “find-a-store” option.
  • Use click-to-call for any phone numbers listed on your site.
  • Ensure an easy, ideally 1-click checkout for customers to complete their orders.

2. Where appropriate, are you using structured data markup?

Where it makes sense, use appropriate markup on your desktop and mobile sites. This should allow rich snippets to appear in mobile SERPs.

3. Is your mobile site optimised for local search?

Approximately 40% of mobile search is local. There are two big ways to take advantage of this fact:

4. Is your video content optimised for mobile viewing?

Video is one of the most common things people do on their mobile devices. To make the process as easy as possible, consider the following:


Well there you have it, folks! Hopefully this list will come in handy for those who want to optimize a mobile site.

Did you find this information helpful? What kinds of experiences have you had in this area? What other tips and tools would you add to this list? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

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