Google Search Console Reliability: Webmaster Tools on Trial

Posted by rjonesx.

There are a handful of data sources relied upon by nearly every search engine optimizer. Google Search Console (formerly Google Webmaster Tools) has perhaps become the most ubiquitous. There are simply some things you can do with GSC, like disavowing links, that cannot be accomplished anywhere else, so we are in some ways forced to rely upon it. But, like all sources of knowledge, we must put it to the test to determine its trustworthiness — can we stake our craft on its recommendations? Let’s see if we can pull back the curtain on GSC data and determine, once and for all, how skeptical we should be of the data it provides.

Testing data sources

Before we dive in, I think it is worth having a quick discussion about how we might address this problem. There are basically two concepts that I want to introduce for the sake of this analysis: internal validity and external validity.

Internal validity refers to whether the data accurately represents what Google knows about your site.

External validity refers to whether the data accurately represents the web.

These two concepts are extremely important for our discussion. Depending upon the problem we are addressing as SEOs, we may care more about one or another. For example, let’s assume that page speed was an incredibly important ranking factor and we wanted to help a customer. We would likely be concerned with the internal validity of GSC’s “time spent downloading a page” metric because, regardless of what happens to a real user, if Google thinks the page is slow, we will lose rankings. We would rely on this metric insofar as we were confident it represented what Google believes about the customer’s site. On the other hand, if we are trying to prevent Google from finding bad links, we would be concerned about the external validity of the “links to your site” section because, while Google might already know about some bad links, we want to make sure there aren’t any others that Google could stumble upon. Thus, depending on how well GSC’s sample links comprehensively describe the links across the web, we might reject that metric and use a combination of other sources (like Open Site Explorer, Majestic, and Ahrefs) which will give us greater coverage.

The point of this exercise is simply to say that we can judge GSC’s data from multiple perspectives, and it is important to tease these out so we know when it is reasonable to rely upon GSC.

GSC Section 1: HTML Improvements

Of the many useful features in GSC, Google provides a list of some common HTML errors it discovered in the course of crawling your site. This section, located at Search Appearance > HTML Improvements, lists off several potential errors including Duplicate Titles, Duplicate Descriptions, and other actionable recommendations. Fortunately, this first example gives us an opportunity to outline methods for testing both the internal and external validity of the data. As you can see in the screenshot below, GSC has found duplicate meta descriptions because a website has case insensitive URLs and no canonical tag or redirect to fix it. Essentially, you can reach the page from either /Page.aspx or /page.aspx, and this is apparent as Googlebot had found the URL both with and without capitalization. Let’s test Google’s recommendation to see if it is externally and internally valid.

External Validity: In this case, the external validity is simply whether the data accurately reflects pages as they appear on the Internet. As one can imagine, the list of HTML improvements can be woefully out of date dependent upon the crawl rate of your site. In this case, the site had previously repaired the issue with a 301 redirect.

This really isn’t terribly surprising. Google shouldn’t be expected to update this section of GSC every time you apply a correction to your website. However, it does illustrate a common problem with GSC. Many of the issues GSC alerts you to may have already been fixed by you or your web developer. I don’t think this is a fault with GSC by any stretch of the imagination, just a limitation that can only be addressed by more frequent, deliberate crawls like Moz Pro’s Crawl Audit or a standalone tool like Screaming Frog.

Internal Validity: This is where things start to get interesting. While it is unsurprising that Google doesn’t crawl your site so frequently as to capture updates to your site in real-time, it is reasonable to expect that what Google has crawled would be reflected accurately in GSC. This doesn’t appear to be the case.

By executing an info:http://concerning-url query in Google with upper-case letters, we can determine some information about what Google knows about the URL. Google returns results for the lower-case version of the URL! This indicates that Google both knows about the 301 redirect correcting the problem and has corrected it in their search index. As you can imagine, this presents us with quite a problem. HTML Improvement recommendations in GSC not only may not reflect changes you made to your site, it might not even reflect corrections Google is already aware of. Given this difference, it almost always makes sense to crawl your site for these types of issues in addition to using GSC.

GSC Section 2: Index Status

The next metric we are going to tackle is Google’s Index Status, which is supposed to provide you with an accurate number of pages Google has indexed from your site. This section is located at Google Index > Index Status. This particular metric can only be tested for internal validity since it is specifically providing us with information about Google itself. There are a couple of ways we could address this…

  1. We could compare the number provided in GSC to site: commands
  2. We could compare the number provided in GSC to the number of internal links to the homepage in the internal links section (assuming 1 link to homepage from every page on the site)

We opted for both. The biggest problem with this particular metric is being certain what it is measuring. Because GSC allows you to authorize the http, https, www, and non-www version of your site independently, it can be confusing as to what is included in the Index Status metric.

We found that when carefully applied to ensure no crossover of varying types (https vs http, www vs non-www), the Index Status metric seemed to be quite well correlated with the query in Google, especially on smaller sites. The larger the site, the more fluctuation we saw in these numbers, but this could be accounted for by approximations performed by the site: command.

We found the link count method to be difficult to use, though. Consider the graphic above. The site in question has 1,587 pages indexed according to GSC, but the home page to that site has 7,080 internal links. This seems highly unrealistic, as we were unable to find a single page, much less the majority of pages, with 4 or more links back to the home page. However, given the consistency with the site: command and GSC’s Index Status, I believe this is more of a problem with the way internal links are represented than with the Index Status metric.

I think it is safe to conclude that the Index Status metric is probably the most reliable one available to us in regards to the number of pages actually included in Google’s index.

GSC Section 3: Internal Links

The Internal Links section found under Search Traffic > Internal Links seems to be rarely used, but can be quite insightful. If External Links tells Google what others think is important on your site, then Internal Links tell Google what you think is important on your site. This section once again serves as a useful example of knowing the difference between what Google believes about your site and what is actually true of your site.

Testing this metric was fairly straightforward. We took the internal links numbers provided by GSC and compared them to full site crawls. We could then determine whether Google’s crawl was fairly representative of the actual site.

Generally speaking, the two were modestly correlated with some fairly significant deviation. As an SEO, I find this incredibly important. Google does not start at your home page and crawl your site in the same way that your standard site crawlers do (like the one included in Moz Pro). Googlebot approaches your site via a combination of external links, internal links, sitemaps, redirects, etc. that can give a very different picture. In fact, we found several examples where a full site crawl unearthed hundreds of internal links that Googlebot had missed. Navigational pages, like category pages in the blog, were crawled less frequently, so certain pages didn’t accumulate nearly as many links in GSC as one would have expected having looked only at a traditional crawl.

As search marketers, in this case we must be concerned with internal validity, or what Google believes about our site. I highly recommend comparing Google’s numbers to your own site crawl to determine if there is important content which Google determines you have ignored in your internal linking.

GSC Section 4: Links to Your Site

Link data is always one of the most sought-after metrics in our industry, and rightly so. External links continue to be the strongest predictive factor for rankings and Google has admitted as much time and time again. So how does GSC’s link data measure up?

In this analysis, we compared the links presented to us by GSC to those presented by Ahrefs, Majestic, and Moz for whether those links are still live. To be fair to GSC, which provides only a sampling of links, we only used sites that had fewer than 1,000 total backlinks, increasing the likelihood that we get a full picture (or at least close to it) from GSC. The results are startling. GSC’s lists, both “sample links” and “latest links,” were the lowest-performing in terms of “live links” for every site we tested, never once beating out Moz, Majestic, or Ahrefs.

I do want to be clear and upfront about Moz’s performance in this particular test. Because Moz has a smaller total index, it is likely we only surface higher-quality, long-lasting links. Our out-performing Majestic and Ahrefs by just a couple of percentage points is likely a side effect of index size and not reflective of a substantial difference. However, the several percentage points which separate GSC from all 3 link indexes cannot be ignored. In terms of external validity — that is to say, how well this data reflects what is actually happening on the web — GSC is out-performed by third-party indexes.

But what about internal validity? Does GSC give us a fresh look at Google’s actual backlink index? It does appear that the two are consistent insofar as rarely reporting links that Google is already aware are no longer in the index. We randomly selected hundreds of URLs which were “no longer found” according to our test to determine if Googlebot still had old versions cached and, uniformly, that was the case. While we can’t be certain that it shows a complete set of Google’s link index relative to your site, we can be confident that Google tends to show only results that are in accord with their latest data.

GSC Section 5: Search Analytics

Search Analytics is probably the most important and heavily utilized feature within Google Search Console, as it gives us some insight into the data lost with Google’s “Not Provided” updates to Google Analytics. Many have rightfully questioned the accuracy of the data, so we decided to take a closer look.

Experimental analysis

The Search Analytics section gave us a unique opportunity to utilize an experimental design to determine the reliability of the data. Unlike some of the other metrics we tested, we could control reality by delivering clicks under certain circumstances to individual pages on a site. We developed a study that worked something like this:

  1. Create a series of nonsensical text pages.
  2. Link to them from internal sources to encourage indexation.
  3. Use volunteers to perform searches for the nonsensical terms, which inevitably reveal the exact-match nonsensical content we created.
  4. Vary the circumstances under which those volunteers search to determine if GSC tracks clicks and impressions only in certain environments.
  5. Use volunteers to click on those results.
  6. Record their actions.
  7. Compare to the data provided by GSC.

We decided to check 5 different environments for their reliability:

  1. User performs search logged into Google in Chrome
  2. User performs search logged out, incognito in Chrome
  3. User performs search from mobile
  4. User performs search logged out in Firefox
  5. User performs the same search 5 times over the course of a day

We hoped these variants would answer specific questions about the methods Google used to collect data for GSC. We were sorely and uniformly disappointed.

Experimental results

Method Delivered GSC Impressions GSC Clicks
Logged In Chrome 11 0 0
Incognito 11 0 0
Mobile 11 0 0
Logged Out Firefox 11 0 0
5 Searches Each 40 2 0

GSC recorded only 2 impressions out of 84, and absolutely 0 clicks. Given these results, I was immediately concerned about the experimental design. Perhaps Google wasn’t recording data for these pages? Perhaps we didn’t hit a minimum number necessary for recording data, only barely eclipsing that in the last study of 5 searches per person?

Unfortunately, neither of those explanations made much sense. In fact, several of the test pages picked up impressions by the hundreds for bizarre, low-ranking keywords that just happened to occur at random in the nonsensical tests. Moreover, many pages on the site recorded very low impressions and clicks, and when compared with Google Analytics data, did indeed have very few clicks. It is quite evident that GSC cannot be relied upon, regardless of user circumstance, for lightly searched terms. It is, by this account, not externally valid — that is to say, impressions and clicks in GSC do not reliably reflect impressions and clicks performed on Google.

As you can imagine, I was not satisfied with this result. Perhaps the experimental design had some unforeseen limitations which a standard comparative analysis would uncover.

Comparative analysis

The next step I undertook was comparing GSC data to other sources to see if we could find some relationship between the data presented and secondary measurements which might shed light on why the initial GSC experiment had reflected so poorly on the quality of data. The most straightforward comparison was that of GSC to Google Analytics. In theory, GSC’s reporting of clicks should mirror Google Analytics’s recording of organic clicks from Google, if not identically, at least proportionally. Because of concerns related to the scale of the experimental project, I decided to first try a set of larger sites.

Unfortunately, the results were wildly different. The first example site received around 6,000 clicks per day from Google Organic Search according to GA. Dozens of pages with hundreds of organic clicks per month, according to GA, received 0 clicks according to GSC. But, in this case, I was able to uncover a culprit, and it has to do with the way clicks are tracked.

GSC tracks a click based on the URL in the search results (let’s say you click on /pageA.html). However, let’s assume that /pageA.html redirects to /pagea.html because you were smart and decided to fix the casing issue discussed at the top of the page. If Googlebot hasn’t picked up that fix, then Google Search will still have the old URL, but the click will be recorded in Google Analytics on the corrected URL, since that is the page where GA’s code fires. It just so happened that enough cleanup had taken place recently on the first site I tested that GA and GSC had a correlation coefficient of just .52!

So, I went in search of other properties that might provide a clearer picture. After analyzing several properties without similar problems as the first, we identified a range of approximately .94 to .99 correlation between GSC and Google Analytics reporting on organic landing pages. This seems pretty strong.

Finally, we did one more type of comparative analytics to determine the trustworthiness of GSC’s ranking data. In general, the number of clicks received by a site should be a function of the number of impressions it received and at what position in the SERP. While this is obviously an incomplete view of all the factors, it seems fair to say that we could compare the quality of two ranking sets if we know the number of impressions and the number of clicks. In theory, the rank tracking method which better predicts the clicks given the impressions is the better of the two.

Call me unsurprised, but this wasn’t even close. Standard rank tracking methods performed far better at predicting the actual number of clicks than the rank as presented in Google Search Console. We know that GSC’s rank data is an average position which almost certainly presents a false picture. There are many scenarios where this is true, but let me just explain one. Imagine you add new content and your keyword starts at position 80, then moves to 70, then 60, and eventually to #1. Now, imagine you create a different piece of content and it sits at position 40, never wavering. GSC will report both as having an average position of 40. The first, though, will receive considerable traffic for the time that it is in position 1, and the latter will never receive any. GSC’s averaging method based on impression data obscures the underlying features too much to provide relevant projections. Until something changes explicitly in Google’s method for collecting rank data for GSC, it will not be sufficient for getting at the truth of your site’s current position.


So, how do we reconcile the experimental results with the comparative results, both the positives and negatives of GSC Search Analytics? Well, I think there are a couple of clear takeaways.

  1. Impression data is misleading at best, and simply false at worst: We can be certain that all impressions are not captured and are not accurately reflected in the GSC data.
  2. Click data is proportionally accurate: Clicks can be trusted as a proportional metric (ie: correlates with reality) but not as a specific data point.
  3. Click data is useful for telling you what URLs rank, but not what pages they actually land on.

Understanding this reconciliation can be quite valuable. For example, if you find your click data in GSC is not proportional to your Google Analytics data, there is a high probability that your site is utilizing redirects in a way that Googlebot has not yet discovered or applied. This could be indicative of an underlying problem which needs to be addressed.

Final thoughts

Google Search Console provides a great deal of invaluable data which smart webmasters rely upon to make data-driven marketing decisions. However, we should remain skeptical of this data, like any data source, and continue to test it for both internal and external validity. We should also pay careful attention to the appropriate manners in which we use the data, so as not to draw conclusions that are unsafe or unreliable where the data is weak. Perhaps most importantly: verify, verify, verify. If you have the means, use different tools and services to verify the data you find in Google Search Console, ensuring you and your team are working with reliable data. Also, there are lots of folks to thank here –Michael Cottam,
Everett Sizemore,
Marshall Simmonds,
David Sottimano,
Britney Muller,
Rand Fishkin, Dr. Pete and so many more. If I forgot you, let me know!

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Why You Should Steal My Daughter’s Playbook for Effective Email Outreach

Posted by ronell-smith

During the holidays, my youngest daughter apparently had cabin fever after being in the house for a couple of days. While exiting the bedroom, my wife found the note below on the floor, after the former had slyly slid it under the door.

Though tired and not really feeling like leaving the house, we had to reward the youngster for her industriousness. And her charm.

Her effective “outreach” earned plaudits from my wife.

“At least she did it the right way,” she remarked. “She cleaned her room, washed dishes, and read books all day, obviously part of an attempt to make it hard for us to say no. After all she did, though, she earned it.”


She earned it.

Can you say as much about your outreach?

We’re missing out on a great opportunity

Over the last few months, I’ve been thinking a lot about outreach, specifically email outreach.

It initially got my attention because I see it so badly handled, even by savvy marketers.

But I didn’t fully appreciate the significance of the problem until I started thinking about the resulting impact of bad outreach, particularly since it remains one of the best, most viable means of garnering attention, traffic, and links to our websites.

What I see most commonly is a disregard of the needs of the person on the other end of the email.

Too often, it’s all about the “heavy ask” as opposed to the warm touch.

  • Heavy ask: “Hi Ronell … We haven’t met. … Could you share my article?”
  • Warm touch: “Hi Ronell … I enjoyed your Moz post. … We’re employing similar tactics at my brand.”

That’s it.

You’re likely saying to yourself, “But Ronell, the second person didn’t get anything in return.”

I beg to differ. The first person likely lost me, or whomever else they reach out to to using similar tactics; the second person will remain on my radar.

Outreach is too important to be left to chance or poor etiquette. A few tweaks here and there can help our teams perform optimally.

#1: Build rapport: Be there in a personal way before you need them

The first no-no of effective outreach comes right out of PR 101: Don’t let the first time I learn of you or your brand be when you need me. If the brand you hope to attain a link from is worthwhile, you should be on their radar well in advance of the ask.

Do your research to find out who the relevant parties are at the brand, then make it your business to learn about them, via social media and any shared contacts you might have.

Then reach out to them… to say hello. Nothing more.

This isn’t the time to ask for anything. You’re simply making yourself known, relevant, and potentially valuable down the road.

Notice how, in the example below, the person emailing me NEVER asks for anything?

The author did three things that played big. She…

  • Mentioned my work, which means she’d done her homework
  • Highlighted work she’d done to create a post
  • Didn’t assume I would be interested in her content (we’ll discuss in greater detail below)

Hiring managers like to say, “A person should never be surprised at getting fired,” meaning they should have some prior warning.

Similarly, for outreach to be most effective, the person you’re asking for a link from should know of you/your brand in advance.

Bonuses: Always, always, always use “thank you” instead of “thanks.” The former is far more thoughtful and sincere, while the latter can seem too casual and unfeeling.

#2: Be brief, be bold, be gone

One of my favorite lines from the Greek tragedy Antigone, by Sophocles, is “Tell me briefly — not in some lengthy speech.”

If your pitch is more than three paragraphs, go back to the drawing board.

You’re trying to pique their interest, to give them enough to comfortably go on, not bore them with every detail.

The best outreach messages steal a page from the PR playbook:

  • They respect the person’s time
  • They show a knowledge of the person’s brand, content, and interests with regard to coverage
  • They make the person’s job easier (i.e., something the person would deem useful but not necessarily easily accessible)

We must do the same.

  • Be brief in highlighting the usefulness of what you offer and how it helps them in some meaningful way
  • Be bold in declaring your willingness to help their brand as much as your own
  • Be gone by exiting without spilling every single needless detail

Bonus: Be personal by using the person’s name at least once in the text since it fosters a greatest level of personalization and thoughtfulness (most people enjoy hearing their names):

“I read your blog frequently, Jennifer.”

#3: Understand that it’s not about you

During my time as a newspaper business reporter and book reviewer, nothing irked me more than having people assume that because they valued what their brand offered, I must feel the same way.

They were wrong 99 percent of the time.

Outreach in our industry is rife with this if-it’s-good-for-me-it’s-good-for-you logic.

Instead of approaching a potential link opportunity from the perspective of “How do I influence this party to grant me a link,” a better approach is to consider “What’s obviously in it for them?”

(I emphasize “obviously” because we often pretend the benefit is obvious when it’s typically anything but.)

Step back and consider all the things that’ll be in play as they consider a link from you:

  • Relationship – Do they they know you/know of you?
  • Brand – Is your brand reputable?
  • Content – Does your company create and share quality content?
  • This content – Is the content you’re hoping for a link for high-quality and relevant?

In the best case scenario, you should pass this test with flying colors. But at the very least you should be able tp successfully counter any of these potential objections.

#4: Don’t assume anything

Things never go well when an outreach email begins “I knew you’d be interested in this.”

Odds suggest you aren’t prescient, which can only mean you’re wrong.

What’s more, if you did know I was interested in it, I should not be learning about the content after it was created. You should involved me from the beginning.

Therefore, instead of assuming I’ll find your content valuable, ensure that you’re correct by enlisting their help during the content creation process:

  • Topic – Find out what they’re working on or see as the biggest issues that deserve attention
  • Contribution Ask if they’d like to be part of the content you create
  • Ask about others – Enlist their help to find other potential influencers for your content. Doing so gives your content and your outreach legs (we discuss in greater detail below)

#5: Build a network

Michael Michalowicz, via his 2012 book The Pumpkin Plan, shared an outreach tactic I’ve been using for years in my own work. Instead of asking customers to recommend other customers for a computer service company he formerly owned, he asked his customers to recommend other non-competing vendors.


Whereas a customer is likely to recommend another customer or two, a vendor is likely able to recommend many dozens of customers who could use his service.

This is instructive for outreach.

Rather than asking the person you’re outreaching to for recommendations of other marketers who could be involved in the project, a better idea might be to ask them “What are some of the other publications or blogs you’ve worked with?”

You could then conduct a site search, peruse the content the former has been a part of, then use this information as a future guide for the types and quality of content you should be producing to get on the radar for influencers and brands.

After all, for outreach to be sustainable and most effective, it must be scalable in an easy-to-replicate (by the internal team, at least) fashion.

Bonus: Optimally, your outreach should not be scalable — for anyone but you/your team. That is, it’s best to have a unique-to-your-brand process that’s tough to achieve or acquire, which means it’s far less likely others will know about, copy or use it or one like it.

Awaken your inner child, er, PR person

Elements of the five tips shared above have been, singularly, on my mind for the better part of two years. However, they only coalesced after I read the note my daughter shared, primarily because her message delivered on each point so effectively.

She didn’t wait until she needed something to get on our radar; never over-sold the message; was selfless in realizing we all likely needed to get out the house; didn’t assume we were on the same page; and activated her network by first sharing the note with her sister first, and, through her mom, me.

Now, the question we must all ask ourselves is if the methods we employ as effective?

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Easy Marketing Investments to Improve Your E-Commerce Store

Posted by KaneJamison

At least once or twice per month, I talk to a small e-commerce store owner who wants to invest in content marketing. Often times, I have to break it to them that they’re not ready for content marketing.

You see, before you spend a bunch of time generating traffic from your target audience, it’s important to make sure those visitors get the best experience possible while browsing your store.

So, in this post, I want to give store owners and e-commerce newbies a clear idea of where they can invest their time before investing in more paid and organic traffic to their sites. Many of these can be accomplished for less than $1,000 or a few hours of your time.

With a few small-scale investments you can help drive performance on conversions, SEO, and more.

So what are they?

  1. Rewrite Your Weak Product Descriptions
  2. Take Better Product Photography
  3. Build Lookbooks & Product Collections
  4. Start Adding Product Videos
  5. Upgrade Your Review Software & Process

Let’s look at these opportunities in detail, and better yet, show you some actual examples of what your site could look like.

Rewrite your weak product descriptions

From product details to features and benefits, product descriptions must pack a lot of information in a short format. You may have overlooked some missed opportunities.

If you answer “yes” to any of the following questions, consider investing in improved product descriptions.

1 – Does your current product page copy speak only to your ideal customer?

If you’ve built buyer personas for your brand, make sure the copy addresses the appropriate persona’s unique pain points and concerns. Bland descriptions meant to appeal to everyone — or just bots — aren’t as effective.

This high chair example from focuses on the three things that matter to their audience: single-handed adjustments, spilt-food prevention, and easy cleanup.

2 – Does your copy focus on benefits rather than features?

You can list features all day long, but customers really want to know how your product will make their life better.

The Amazon Echo sales page does a great job of focusing less on the technical features of the product, and more on the cool things you can do with it.

3 – Are you describing your product with the same words that your customers use?

Using the same language that your customers do will help you better communicate with your target audience in a way that sounds natural for them and touches on their pain points.

A simple way to find these words is to do some reverse engineering. Start by looking at customer reviews and feedback you’ve collected (and those of your main competitors as well) to pick out common words and phrases that satisfied customers are using. From here, you can tie that customer language back into your own descriptions.

I was shopping for a new tent last week and saw this awesome reviewer on Amazon drive home a point that the copywriters had missed. If you read that entire review, the phrase “family tent” is mentioned about 13 times.

But if you read the product description, “family tent” only shows up once. The description fails to mention many of the benefits covered by the reviewer: lots of pockets, sleeping arrangements, ability to catch a breeze but keep the doors closed, etc.

There’s an opportunity here for a competitor in the tent or outdoor space to improve their own product descriptions for the same tent (or even put together a larger guide to family tents).

4 – Are you telling your product’s story?

The folks over at Rogue Brewing understand that the people buying gifts from their website are probably passionate about well-made products, not just well-made beer. Here’s a great example from their site that tells the story of their 28-year search for a decent beer shucker (bottle opener):

Take better product photography

Photography matters. Research from BigCommerce suggests that 67% of consumers consider image quality “very important” when making a purchase online.

Good product photos do more than just show shoppers what you’re selling — they provide context and help customers visualize using your products. Plus, high-quality photos will reduce product returns that happen due to misleading images.

So what can you do to upgrade your product photos?

Smartphones aren’t going to cut it

Use a DSLR camera, not your smartphone. Although modern smartphone cameras can take higher resolution photos than ever before, you’ll get better results from a DSLR. Lower-end models start at around $500 — try finding a used body online and spending more money on a better & cost-effective fixed lens that can handle video, too.

Build a cheap lightbox

Create a lightbox for well-lit photos with a solid white background. For less than $10, you can build your own lightbox that will vastly improve the quality of your product images.

Use creative angles

Shoot products from multiple angles. Be sure to include several images on every product page. The more perspectives and viewpoints you have, the better customers will be able to judge your product.

It’s OK to tweak & process your images to make them pop

Process your images with filters that enhance color and overall image quality. Photo filters resolve poor lighting or color issues and vastly improve your product photos. Just try not to get carried away with dramatic filters that distort the color of your products, as this can be misleading for the buyer. Here’s a good example from showing the difference before and after image edits:

If you don’t have time or the inclination to take your own photography, outsource it to a professional. No matter what route you go, know that upgrading your product page photography is well worth the investment.

Build lookbooks & product collections

You can also provide more context for your products through lookbooks, which showcase your products in use. The term “lookbook” is mostly common in the fashion industry, but the concept can be extended to a variety of industries.

The photos in the lookbook for Fitbit’s Alta model of fitness tracker help shoppers envision themselves wearing them. Fitbit’s lookbook also establishes a brand lifestyle promise — impossible with product photos alone. Even better? The various photos are clickable and take you to the product page for that color/style of wristband:

Product collections are another great variation on this strategy. In this “Mediterranean Collection” page on, shoppers get an opportunity to shop by “style,” and to see examples of the glasses on actual faces instead of just a white background:

As I alluded to before, this isn’t just an opportunity for fashion sites. The trick is to make sure you’re showing your products in action.

Plenty of other retailers have an opportunity to show off their product in use, like these photos from the Klipsch website showing off their soundbars in various settings:

Car accessories? Same thing.

Heck, even office furniture is easier to purchase when you see how it looks in a workspace.

Start adding product videos

Adding video to product pages is another relatively low-budget improvement you can make, yet it has extreme value for shoppers and your bottom line.

Why? Because video’s ability to quickly educate shoppers is a powerful conversion tool. Eyeview Digital reported that including video on landing pages can improve conversions by as much as 80%, and ComScore indicated that online shoppers are 64% more likely to buy after watching a video.

So how can you put video to work on your product pages?

Whether you’re demonstrating a how-to or simply showcasing a product and outlining product details, adding video on your product pages provides a whole new experience for online shoppers that helps overcome purchase objections and answers their questions.

Video also allows you to give shoppers a more complete overview of the product and to go beyond static pictures with a story element. These engaging visuals can help shoppers envision themselves using your products in a way that photography alone simply can’t.

Zappos is well known for including videos on what seems like every listing, but what’s more impressive to me is how much personality and brand voice they show off. While shopping for boots recently, I have to say Joe was my favorite video personality:

Click image to open product video in a new window.

If you’re up for taking this on with a DIY approach, it’s reasonably easy to create your own product videos at home with the right equipment. Or, outsource this project to a local professional or videographer for hire.

Upgrade your customer reviews software & process

In the current e-commerce landscape, competition is fierce — and there’s always someone willing to deliver cheaper and faster.

That’s why social proof is more important than ever before. Research from eConsultancy shows that 61% of consumers indicate they look to product reviews before making a purchase, and that product reviews are 12x more trusted than product descriptions from companies.

Customer reviews make your product pages more effective, allowing shoppers to evaluate the product based on real customer opinions — and can help you spot product issues.

I’m listing a few common platforms here, but you should really check out Everett Sizemore’s guide to product review software, which has some great insights on the performance of the entire marketplace of product review software options, including technical SEO concerns:

Traditional product reviews may not be right for all stores…

The best option for you will depend on the tool’s ability to integrate with your store, your preferred functionality, and your budget. Sometimes, traditional product reviews won’t be the best choice for your product or store.

In this example from ThinkGeek, they’ve opted to just let people leave Facebook comments rather than any product reviews at all. Which makes sense, because they’re Star Trek garden gnomes, and it’s not like you need to tell people whether they were the right size or not. Even better than Facebook comments, they also solicit product photos via social media on their #geekfamous hashtag.

Here’s another example where my favorite wallet company, SlimFold, simply highlights great product reviews that they received from press and customer emails. While it makes it harder for them to solicit new reviews, they only have a handful of products, and this format allows them to put more emphasis on specific reviews.

There are many different tools that will allow you to showcase elements of social proof like ratings and reviews, so take your time carefully reviewing different options to see which is the best fit for your needs and budget, and if normal product reviews aren’t the right fit, feel free to take a different approach.

Make enough of these small investments and you should see big improvements over the long term.

Tackling these small investments — as your schedule and budget allows — will dramatically improve the overall user experience and the effectiveness of your e-commerce store.

Consider which aspects are the most important to complete first, and then start doing your research and put together a strategy for how you’ll prioritize these site upgrades. With a well-thought-out plan of action, you can focus on the projects that will drive the best results for your business, rather than trying too many different tactics all at once.

Looking for more ideas? Take a look at our guides on product page optimization, category page optimization, and conversion rate improvements for e-commerce.

This is by no means the complete guide to investing in your e-commerce store, so in the discussion below, I’d like to hear from you. What creative ways have you improved your e-commerce site content in the past that boosted conversions or organic search?

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How to Create Authentic Hyperlocal Content At Scale

Posted by mahannay

The “why” and “how” of sourcing local talent from national HQ

A recent report on national-to-local marketers mentions that, with the exception of email marketing, “enterprise brands are struggling to make digital as effective as traditional tactics and media” for local branches’ ad dollars. With locally focused email newsletters, it’s generally easier to automate locally targeted sales or events. On the other hand, local content is much more essential for local SEO and social media engagement, and this is where enterprise brands have not yet fully conquered the local space.

For national brands, accumulating content that resonates with locals in each individual market is an excruciating task. Not even the best of researchers or the slyest of copywriters can match the value of a local’s knowledge base. Meanwhile, local partners may not have the time or the storytelling know-how to create quality local content.

Content without topic knowledge is generic; content without storytelling chops is ineffective. Herein lies the problem for local: How do you plan quality, shareable articles, videos, and digital media with a local focus at a national scale?

The answer: Find locals to create content about their region.

As Ronell Smith recently wrote, SMBs have the content creation advantage when it comes to local know-how, but I respectfully disagree with Ronell on his preference for local brands topping local content SERPs. Generally, I’d prefer the best local content to top my searches, and many national startups are disrupting local habits for the better (think Uber v. your local cab company). National, online brands will never be able to replace the helpful salesperson down the street, and franchises will never be the first choice for dinner with friends from out-of-town, but there is a space in the market for enterprises, especially if they’re willing to take the time to mingle with local creatives.

The three methods in this post have varying SEO side effects, depending on the tactics used. While local content is a boon to local rank, a “sponsored post” on a local news source won’t have the same effect on your rankings. But while SEO is a factor to consider in content creation, it’s not the only reason in town. Good ‘local’ marketing doesn’t always mean scaling standardized national content and messaging to every market; rather, this post posits that ‘scaling local’ means developing targeted resources that resonate in each market.

1. Patronize local media

PR is not the only way to work with journalists anymore. Many media publications both large and small are adding content creation services to their revenue stream. Sometimes this means sponsored content, where a piece is commissioned (and labelled as such) by a for-profit partner. In other cases, journalists are working with brands to bring their talent for story to commercials, website content, or other branded media.

According to a 2014 Pew Research report, “the largest component of the growing digital news world is the smaller news site. A large majority of them are less than a decade old, about half are nonprofits, most have staffs of five or fewer and many also rely on volunteer and citizen contributors. Their greatest area of focus is local news coverage.”

One such example at the local scale is Bit & Grain, a North Carolina-focused long-form publication, whose pieces are supported by its founders’ storytelling productions for brands and nonprofits. I spoke with the weekly publication’s three cofounders on their revenue generation experiences, 18 months post-launch.

Cofounder Ryan Stancil explained that they’re still experimenting with revenue generation models, but that content production and creation is their most successful funding tool so far.

“People need help telling their story,” Stancil said. He added that their work-for-hire is both very different and very similar to the pieces they create for Bit & Grain. It’s different in that it’s commissioned storytelling, but it’s the same level of quality they bring to their weekly pieces.

A sampling of Bit & Grain’s local fare.

Stancil brought up their recent sponsored piece on a local restaurant as an example. While clearly labelled as “sponsored content,” the piece received the same aesthetic care and storytelling craft as any article in the publication. Stancil’s cofounder, Baxter Miller, echoed a similar sentiment in their sponsored content process.

“If anyone came to us about doing a sponsored content piece, we would vet them as much as anything we put on our editorial calendar,” she said “And really the process is much the same.”

I also spoke with Shawn Krest, the managing editor of local publication Raleigh & Company, which began as a fun side project/playground for Raleigh, NC-area journalists and has evolved into a blog-like online publication. The site was acquired by Capitol Broadcasting Company in August of 2015.

While Raleigh & Company covers the same region as Bit & Grain, the publications’ similarities end there. Raleigh & Company’s subject matter is more irreverent, with pieces poking fun at Presidential candidates, and others interviewing NFL recruits who will never see game day. Plus, Raleigh & Company’s copyeditors have no qualms about the first person appearing in its columns.

“We’ve had pieces where writers really open up and talk about issues they’re dealing with,” Krest said. “Addictions, things like that. I feel like when Raleigh & Company is at its best, you see the writer sort of bleeding on the keyboard as they’re writing.”

Local journalism is going niche in a way that daily newspapers couldn’t. For brands, this is another potential win, as you’re able to zero-in on a narrow audience in your city of choice.

Like Bit & Grain, Raleigh & Company is open to sponsored posts, but Krest is not willing to lose the tenor of the publication to satisfy a sponsor, as he explained when the blog was acquired by Capitol Broadcasting Company.

“We said at that first meeting, ‘we use the F-word and we’re not going to stop,’ and they were fine with that,” he said. “The first time they wanted us to look more like the local news, it would not work.”

While as different as Eastern and Western NC barbecue, Bit & Grain and Raleigh & Company have similar limitations to their branded content philosophies. This shouldn’t be a problem for companies seeking true neighborhood flavor in their local content. For brands who want a bit more control, a collaborative approach with an influencer may be a better option.

Finding local journalists

Local media is transforming. For some, this is a frightening prospect; for others, it’s a moment of opportunity. During the recent Sustain Local Journalism conference, which I attended, a few local writers and publishers gathered in Montclair, NJ to discuss the biggest issue currently haunting their industry: how to keep funds flowing. While some local news sites, such as Philadelphia’s Billy Penn, have found success through events, many at the conference agreed that revenue diversification was the only way forward. Not every local writer will want to craft a piece for a brand, but others are willing to work with the enterprise in order to support their own local efforts.

Here are a couple online lists of local media sites:

Though both lists fall short of the total, as neither has Bit & Co. or Raleigh & Company among their publications.

2. Capture the photographer next door: Partner with local influencers

Influencer marketing is nothing new, but it is under-utilized for local campaigns. Whether they’re Insta-famous or a YouTube personality, every influencer calls somewhere home. And for local content creation, audience size is a secondary metric. The biggest offering local bloggers or vloggers provide is a local perspective and content creation experience.

My favorite rule of thumb when approaching bloggers (credit to a presentation by Molly McKinley of Adwerx): Give before you ask.

And “gifts” don’t have to be free products. They don’t even have to be physical items. Can you invite local bloggers to an upcoming company event? Do local offices receive event tickets in exchange for local sponsorships? Maybe you could allocate a budget to sponsor their existing local interests. For enterprise-size brands, links and shares of smaller bloggers can offer a big boost to their SEO and/or social media accounts. At ZipSprout, we’ve developed locally focused content by interviewing bloggers about their favorite area restaurants and day trips.

Local bloggers have both neighborhood and content creation know-how. While your competitors chase the influencers with the biggest following, consider first seeking the voice that matches your brand.

Finding local influencers

Bloggers and influencers are typically organized categorically, so I have to go back to some of the prospecting lessons I learned from my cofounder, link builder Garrett French, to find influencers based on location.

I find success using phrases a local would have on their blog, such as:

"here in philadelphia" intitle:"blog"

From which I found:

Sometimes it helps to get a bit more specific, since many bloggers don’t have the word “blog” on every page. So I tried:

"here in philadelphia" intitle:"my dog"

From which I found:

Want a local photographer? Try:

"here in philly" inurl:""

Photo by @bkerollis, a Philadelphia-based blogger and choreographer, on Instagram.

Of course, you can search for #Philadelphia on Instagram, but Google conveniently sorts (somewhat) by post popularity.

3. Brand Y x City Z = Local data

It’s not just “the top 10 cities for” — find local data in context with national trends. Good narratives find the context and connection to bigger stories. What does your data from City X say about how that area stands out from the crowd?

At ZipSprout, we’ve reported on the top corporate sponsors in a particular geographic region, finding that local news and tech companies, followed by national banks, are the most widespread donors to local nonprofits and events in Raleigh/Durham, North Carolina. We also visualized the most frequently used words in local organization’s “about” pages. Thanks to our data, we can write a similar article, but with very different results, for cities all over the U.S.

It can take some developer time, but local data can be automated on city pages. What’s the most popular Starbucks order in Omaha, Nebraska? What’s the most frequently rented Hertz car from the Dallas/Fort Worth airport? What are the most and least popular times to ride a Lyft in NYC?

Locally focused blog posts and landing pages can be fun. Showing customers we know they’re unique says a lot about a brand’s local presence, without saying anything at all.

Conclusion: Write local, right

If you really want to have hyperlocal visibility, in the SERPs and in local publications, you need hyperlocal content, at scale.

The Woodward and Bernstein-style newsroom may soon be old fashioned, but we’re also in an age that appreciates authentic, quality storytelling, and local branches often don’t have the personnel or resources to develop local content. Neighborhood know-how can’t be fudged, so why not partner people who can tell your brand’s story with a local accent?

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Moz Local Brightens Map Maker Shutdown Blues with Google NAP Change Alerts

Posted by MiriamEllis

“Why, there’s a change in the weather, there’s a change in the sea
So from now on, there’ll be a change in me.”
Ethel Waters – There’ll Be Some Changes Made

Change happens fast! Recently, I came across a local retail store that was violating Google’s naming guidelines on the company’s Google My Business listing. As a tiny experiment, I used a Google account I had never used before for any Maps tasks, recommending that Google correct the name. It took 48 hours for my suggestion to be implemented and for me to receive a thank-you email from Google. Just like that.

I like this particular business and didn’t want them to get in trouble with Google, but you can’t count on all your neighbors (or their marketers) to have the same civic-minded motivations. Negative SEO in the form of nefarious local listing edits to your name, address, and phone number (NAP) is a genuine threat to traffic, leads, and sales, requiring due vigilance.

Google makes changes and we adapt. Google plays Pomp and Circumstance for its announced “graduation” of Google Map Maker to Google Maps and respected Local SEOs like Joy Hawkins and Phil Rozek take a minute to sing the blues and then look around for solutions to the changes.

Your competitors can edit your listings without leaving a paper trail

High on the local SEO industry’s list of concerns surrounding the March shutdown of Google Map Maker is that it cements trackless negative editing. Map Maker formerly allowed us to connect the negative edit history of Google My Business listings to a specific Google user. This info might help us realize that our data’s assailant was a competitor, a disgruntled past employee, or a non-customer, enabling us to report the edits as obvious violations. Google’s sunsetting of Map Maker means all third-party edits (both positive and negative) will now go through Maps’ suggest an edit feature, leaving no traces behind them.

So, this most recent change is certainly a problem, and unfortunately, not one I can offer to solve for you today — but I can solve the bigger issue underlying this whole negative SEO scenario: I can help you make sure no one ever edits your Google My Business listings without you knowing about it right away.

Moz Local will alert you if anyone edits your Google My Business NAP

Unless you operate a famous brand with an active following ready to instantly alert you via social media if your listing data has changed, you’re more or less on your own when it comes to monitoring your GMB listings.

Whether you’re an overworked small business owner or the marketer of a franchise with 300 locations, it can be a tiresome challenge trying to police your listing data on a continuous basis. Of this task, Hawkins says,

“…unless the business wants to check their information daily, there is currently no way that they will know about changes.”

Making time for these manual checks, particularly if you’re short on resources or long on total number of listings you have to manage, is enough to give anyone the blues. Fortunately, Moz Local customers can whistle a happier tune, knowing that should unscrupulous persons edit their GMB name, address or phone number, an email alert like this will swiftly appear in their inbox:


This convenient alert system, already at work for all Moz Local customers, not only removes needless worry and the obligation of tiresome vigilance, it could very well prevent significant damage to your traffic and revenue.

Just how negative can competitive edits be?

Imagine a family-owned carpet cleaning company in a competitive market with one very unethical competitor who successfully swaps his phone number for the victim’s. Call volume suddenly tanks and the carpet cleaner begins to entertain a variety of stressful hypotheses for the cause. Is this drop something seasonal? Is he just too small to maintain profit in a crowded market? Are past customers unhappy with his service? Has a new enterprise come to town, edging him out with better pricing?

Days, weeks, or months of reduced call volumes could go by before the anxious owner connects the drop to his Google My Business listing having been maliciously edited. It can be hard for any small business to absorb a single day’s lost business, let alone weeks of it!

Doubt this would happen? I might have, too, until I went through the famous florist listing hijacking of ‘08 (the same year Google released Map Maker, coincidentally), resulting in tears, revenue loss, and staff layoffs at devastated businesses. We’ve seen phone numbers edited en masse to direct to call centers. We’ve seen thuggish demands for a piece of the action while listings were held hostage. We’ve seen lawsuits and sentencing.

So, yes, this form of negative SEO is a very real problem, and the truth is that dyed-in-the-wool spammers are already well aware of the trackless edits they can make via Google Maps. And in some ways, the shutdown of Map Maker may only further encourage them to continue their sneaky work… but not undetected.

While Moz Local can’t individually identify these spammers for you the way Map Maker has for the past eight years, it does take the major scare out of malicious edits by ensuring you’re alerted to them right away and can act to rectify them. It’s my sincere hope that knowing this provides welcome peace of mind for our customers who work so hard to achieve visibility in Google’s product.

It’s a new year and we’re all gearing up to meet and master whatever changes Local SEO will bring our way in 2017. Not familiar with Moz Local? Get to know us this Q1 via our free Check Listing tool.

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What Links Can You Get That Comply with Google’s Guidelines? – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by MarieHaynes

If you’ve ever been the victim of a Google penalty, you know how painful it can be to identify the problem and recover from the hit. Even if you’ve been penalty-free thus far, the threat of getting penalized is a source of worry. But how can you avoid it, when it seems like unnatural links lurk around every corner?

In today’s Whiteboard Friday, we’re overjoyed to have Google penalty and unnatural link expert Marie Haynes share how to earn links that do comply with Google’s guidelines, that will keep your site out of trouble, and that can make a real impact.

Links that comply with Google

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

Video Transcription

Hey everybody. My name’s Marie Haynes, and today we’re going to talk all about links. If you know anything about me, you know that I’ve done a lot of work with unnatural links. I’ve done a lot of work helping people with Penguin problems and unnatural link penalties. But today we’re going to talk about natural links. I’m going to give you some tips about the types of links that you can get that comply with Google’s guidelines. These links are sometimes much harder to get than unnatural links, but they’re the type of link that Google expects to see and they’re the type of link that can really help improve your rankings.

I. Ask

Number one is to ask people. Now some people might say, “Wait, that’s not a natural link because I actually had to ask somebody to get it.” But if somebody is willing to vouch for your website, to link to your website, and you’re not giving them anything as an incentive in return, then that actually is a good link. So you can ask family members and friends and even better is employees. You can say, “Hey, if you have a blog, could you mention that you work for us and link to us?” Now, if they have to hide the link somewhere to make it actually happen, then that may not be the best link. But if they legitimately are happy to mention you and link to your company, then that’s a good natural link that Google will appreciate.

II. Directories

People are probably freaking out saying, “Directories are not natural links. They’re self-made links.” I’m not talking about and other types of spammy directories where anybody in the world could create a link. I’m talking about directories that have a barrier to entry, a directory that you would expect that your business would be listed there, and a directory perhaps that people are actually using. A good place to get listed in these directories where you expect to see businesses is Moz Local. Moz Local can really help with the types of directories that you would expect to see your site listed in.

There are sometimes also, though, niche directories that perhaps you have to do a little bit of searching for. For example, let’s say that you’re a wedding photographer. You might want to be listed in a local city directory that tells people where to find musicians for their wedding and venues for the wedding and also wedding photographers. That can be a really good link, and it’s the type of link that would bring you traffic as well, which is another indicator of a good link. A good way to find these opportunities is to search for your competitors’ phone number. You can do a search for the phone number minus their site, and that should give you a list of directories that Google actually thinks are good examples of links to your site. You can approach those directories and see if you can get a link to your site.

III. Industry connections

Most businesses have connections with suppliers, with vendors, with clients, and with partners. These are places where you would expect to see that your business is listed. If you can get listed on these types of lists, then that’s a good thing. A good way to find these is to find out what lists are your competitors on, take a look at their link profiles, and see if there’s anything there where you should be listed as well.

IV. Unclaimed brand/name mentions

This is a place where somebody has mentioned your business, mentioned your website, perhaps mentioned your name, but they haven’t linked to you. It’s perfectly okay to reach out to those people and say, “Hey, thank you for mentioning us. Could you possibly link to us as well?” A lot of the time that can result in a link. You can find these opportunities by using Moz Fresh Web Explorer. Also, I think every business should have set up Google Alerts to tell you when somebody has mentioned your business.

However, even with these set up, sometimes some things get missed, and so I recommend every month that you go and you do a search for your brand name and subtract out your website. You might want to also subtract out sites like YouTube or Facebook if you have a lot of those listings as well. Then, set the date back for one month and see what new mentions have happened in that last month. You may be able to reach out to some of those businesses to get links.

V. Reclaim broken links

A way that you can find broken links to your website is to go to Google Search Console and look at the crawl errors. What I’m talking about here is a place where somebody has linked to your website but perhaps they’ve misspelled the URL. What you can do, there are two ways that you can reclaim these. One is to reach out to the site and say, “Hey, thanks for linking to us. Could you maybe fix the typo?” Number two is to create a redirect that goes from the misspelled URL to the properly spelled URL. When you do this, you lose a tiny little bit of link equity through the redirect, but still it’s much better than having a link that goes to a broken page, because a link that goes to a 404 page is one that doesn’t count for PageRank matters.

VI. Be awesome

Journalists are always looking for stuff to write about. If you can do something with your business that is newsworthy, then that’s fantastic. Something you can do is create an event or perhaps do something for charity, and journalists love to write about that kind of thing.

A good way to find opportunities to do things like this is to do a Google search for local and your profession. Let’s say you were a hair salon. You could do a Google search for local hair salon and then click on news. You’ll see all sorts of news stories that journalists have written about. Perhaps a local hair salon has offered free haircuts for veterans. That gives you an idea of something that you can do as well. That also gives you a list of the journalists that are writing these types of stories. You can reach out to those journalists and say, “Hey, our business is doing this awesome thing. Would you consider writing a story about us?” Generally, that would include a link back to your website.

VII. Get press? Get more!

If you’re getting press, do things to get more of that press. I have a story about a client who had a product who went viral. What he ended up doing was contacting all of those people who had linked to him and offering himself as a source for an interview. We also contacted people who mentioned the product but didn’t link to him and said, “Hey, could you possibly link to us? We’d be happy to do an interview. We’d be happy to provide a new angle to the story.” So if you’re doing something that is going viral, that is getting a lot of press, often that means that people are super interested in this aspect of your business, and you can usually, with a little bit of work, get more links out of that process.


…Which stands for Help A Reporter Out. HARO is an email list that connects journalists with businesses, with professionals as well. These journalists are looking for a source. For example, if you’re a dentist, there might be a journalist who’s doing a story about teeth whitening. That journalist might want to use you as a source and then link to you. A tip that I can offer is, if you’re using Gmail, is to set up filters in Gmail so that you only see the HARO requests that contain your keyword or your business. Otherwise, you can get up to three of these emails a day, and it can be a little bit overwhelming and fill up your inbox.

IX. What content is already getting links?

A good way to do this is to go to Google Search Console, Links to your site, Most linked content, and click on More. This is going to give you a list of the URLs on your site and the number of domains that are linking to those URLs. If you download the list, you’ll also be able to see the exact URLs where the links are coming from. If you have content on your site that actually is already attracting links, then this is the type of content that you want to promote to other people to get more links. You can also contact the people who did link to you and say, “Thank you so much for linking to me. Is there something else that we could produce that would be useful for your customers, for your readers?” Often that can give you good ideas for creating new content, and the links are right there if those people are willing to give you ideas to write about.

X. 10X Content

This is creating content that’s 10 times better than anything that’s out there on the web. This doesn’t have to be expensive. It can just be a matter of answering the questions that people have about your product or your business. One thing that I like to do is go to Yahoo Answers and search for my product, for my profession, and see what kind of questions people are asking about this profession or product, because if people are asking the question on Yahoo Answers, it often means that the answer is not easily available on a Google search. You can create content that’s the best of its kind, that answers any questions that people might have, and you can reach out and ask for links. If this is really, truly 10X content, it is the type of content that should attract links naturally as well.

So these are 10 ways that you can get links that will comply with Google’s guidelines and really should make a difference in your rankings. These are going to be harder than just going to a free link directory or using some spammy techniques to make links, but if you can do this type of thing, it’s the type of thing that really moves the needle. You don’t need to be worried about the Web Spam Team. You can be proud of the types of links that you’re getting.

Thanks for watching. I’d be interested in seeing what types of links you have gotten by creating great things, by doing things that Google would expect businesses to do. Leave a comment below, and I’m sure we’ll have a great discussion about how to get links that comply with Google’s guidelines.

For more educational content and Google news from Marie, be sure to sign up for her newsletter or one of her new course offerings on SEO.

Video transcription by

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How to Identify Your E-commerce Product Page Keywords Using MozBar

Posted by BrianChilds

A common challenge when doing SEO for e-commerce sites is deciding how to choose keywords for product pages. When it comes to e-commerce in particular, there’s always that question on a page-by-page basis of “Which keyword is right for this page?” Especially for existing sites that need an SEO update, finding time to do page-specific keyword research can be burdensome. But product pages deserve every ounce of SEO they can get. Today, I’ll show you a way to make your e-commerce product page keyword research a lot easier.

My secret weapon?


By the end of this post, you’ll discover how you can easily:

  • Look at the results for keywords related to your topic and get a sense of which words deliver the most similar results
  • Get a sense for how search engines might see your term versus others
  • Find related topics that deliver similar results, note those words, and then use them on your page
  • Save time identifying what represents a good keyword and whether the results match your expectations

Let me show you how.

What makes a good SEO e-commerce keyword?

Since e-commerce pages often have direct competition from other websites, you need to go above and beyond when it comes to optimization. You’ll want to make sure you take into consideration not only the search intent of your desired customer, but also verify that the keyword you choose is actually delivering similar results in the SERP. When people search for products, you want to measure how narrow you have to go before a search result page starts displaying products similar to what you have.

For this example, I’ll use an e-commerce site that sells macbook and car decals. Think of all the different variants of those two broad search terms. There are 12 different subcategories of car decals alone.

One category is family decals, which allows a person to pick and choose amongst individual icons to create a customized family to display on the back of your minivan.

For this family decal segment, there are dozens of different individual product pages, so the goal is to make sure we optimize not just for a broad term like “car decal” but for a more nuanced term like “family car decal.” And then for the products themselves, dig into modifying terms relevant to the features.

Use MozBar to save time researching SEO e-commerce keywords

A common way to figure out what’s showing up for a search term is to just run a search query. But when you have thousands of pages, this can take forever.

This is where the MozBar Page Optimization feature really helps you get the job done. It allows you to stay on the website to do analysis without jumping between tabs to run search queries.

Let’s go through the steps.

1. First, of course, download the MozBar extension for Google Chrome (I’ll wait).

2. Next, go to your product page and activate your MozBar extension by selecting the icon until it turns blue (there are three statuses, FYI — on, DA mode, and off).


3. Then, select the Page Optimization icon near the top-left of your browser window. The icon looks like a little page with a circle in the corner:

4. A small text box window will appear. You’ll want to have a list of terms ready to go, so if you haven’t done your keyword research yet, head over to Keyword Explorer and use the “Suggestions” tool to get some preliminary ideas. I usually enter a broad category-level keyword, then select “Optimize”:


In addition to all the normal great stuff that MozBar provides, such as Domain Authority and Page Authority, the Page Optimization tool also gives you a quick overview of how well this individual page is optimized for the term you’re researching. This is similar to the information you’d get in the Moz Pro Campaign tools, but here you can see it for any page without having to have Moz open in another tab.

5. Once you’ve entered your search term, select the “On-Page Content Suggestions” tab:

The On-Page Content Suggestions tab shows you a list of keywords that the search engines typically associate with the term you entered. Think of this as other planets in the same constellation as the keyword you entered. You can use these generally to understand what additional words to put on your page, but you can also use them to identify the target keyword for the page overall.

Here’s where this gets awesome. Prepare to shave minutes off of your normal workflow.

Aligning search intent with e-commerce keywords

Starting with your highest-value products, navigate to the product page, open up MozBar, enter in your broad target keyword for the associated category, and then select the On-Page Content Suggestions tab.

Then, look for the keywords from the list that appear most aligned with your specific product. In this example, we’re looking at a family car decal product that exists in a broader category of car decals.

The question to ask is: Which keyword displays products that are most similar to your product?

If you can find results that align closely with your product, then you can understand something about how search engines are interpreting the term and have a higher chance of optimizing for the right keywords.

To see which pages are ranking for a given suggested keyword, simply select the “See top ranking URLs” dropdown. It will display the URL and rank position of sites delivering content similar to your initial target search term:


Using this example, you can interpret that “family stickers” definitely delivers results closely aligned with this product. Note that this correlates to the blue “Relevance” bar associated with that suggested keyword.

Make a note of the terms that are providing highly aligned search results pages, and then move onto the next product page. Once you have your list compiled, you’ll be able to be more selective and informed with your page optimization choices.

I hope you find this e-commerce keyword trick helpful. Let me know in the comments section of this article!

Bonus tip for making your life easy:

When doing this kind of research, I recommend saving yourself some time down the road by copying the URLs that show up in the On-Page Content Suggestions tab into a new spreadsheet or document. You can compile and research these URLs later using Open Site Explorer.

When it comes time to think about building links to my optimized pages, you’ll have a ready list of competitors to analyze. Look at their Inbound Links, Top Pages, and Anchor Text in Open Site Explorer in order to create a list of potential linking sites and content ideas.

Get started with MozBar for Chrome

If you’re interested in more keyword research strategies, consider signing up for a Keyword Research Workshop in the Moz Training site. For a deeper dive on MozBar, sign up for our January 24 webinar!

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MozBar Revived! How We Rebuilt MozBar to be More Robust Than Ever—Plus a Brand-New Feature

Posted by Roxana_Nelson

2016 was quite a year for MozBar…

I’m so pleased to announce that we’ve completely rebuilt the foundation for MozBar, making it more robust and reliable, and we’ve launched a new MozBar Premium feature: On-Page Content Suggestions!

Download MozBar for Chrome

But before we get into the fun, new feature stuff, I want to be completely transparent about some of the challenges we faced early last year:

So what the heck exactly happened in the first half of 2016?

We had a roadmap of features that we wanted to release in 2016, but soon realized MozBar hadn’t been built to support the growth we had planned for it going forward. We wanted to continue to innovate but it just wasn’t scalable.

For the longest time, all MozBar projects were shipped by a small, self-contained team consisting of a product manager (yours truly), a designer, and our contract developer. In May, our rockstar contract developer left to pursue his own projects. We had big dreams for MozBar but now found ourselves without a developer, without a process, and with big scalability issues on the horizon.

In the midst of all this, we found a major vulnerability to our API via MozBar. It was putting too much pressure on our servers and negatively affecting data for our users. To address this, we urgently needed to add in security layers, such as requiring a login and a CAPTCHA. This ended up being a really complicated process. As we attempted to roll out fixes, one new fix seemed to inevitably break something else. It was no fault of anyone person, just a symptom of the mounting technical debt we had accrued. Avid MozBar users quickly noticed the problems we were having. It was making their jobs harder — the antithesis of what MozBar was created for. We could not let this go on.

We knew what we needed to do.

We created a dedicated MozBar team to work all-hands-on-deck to rebuild MozBar from the ground up to make it fast, reliable, and ready to launch a new feature by the end of the year. And I’m happy to say, we did it! We made stabilizing MozBar our number-one priority and were able to build a new backend service that would resolve the data issues that plagued MozBar throughout all of summer 2016. This brand-new foundation would also give us a solid ground to launch innovative new features in a smart, sustainable way. After we stabilized MozBar, our first order of business was to revamp the Page Optimization feature of MozBar Premium (exclusive to Moz Pro customers) and add On-Page Content Suggestions!

How can On-Page Content Suggestions help you?

Content Suggestions helps you easily find ideas for the page you are optimizing to help build your topical authority. These suggestions are topics that are influencing the SERP for the keyword you’re optimizing for. Use these content suggestions to beef up any thin content on your page and become the expert on your topic. As a bonus, you can even use content suggestions as a keyword list to help round out keywords you’re already researching.

How does it work? We take the top results for the keyword you’re optimizing for, extract the most popular topics, then order them by frequency. Sound familiar? This feature also lives in Moz Pro.

The benefit of having this feature in MozBar as well is that you now have the flexibility to analyze any page and keyword combination, not just ones you are tracking in your campaigns. And it’s super easy to use! Just enter a keyword you would like to optimize a page for, hit enter, and all of your page optimization factors and on-page content suggestions are surfaced in one view:

Be sure to check out an upcoming MozBar tutorial post from Brian, Moz’s very own product trainer, and sign up for the first-ever MozBar webinar he’ll be hosting next week. Also keep an eye out for Rand’s deep-dive post on how to get the biggest bang for your buck with On-Page Content Suggestions. You will not want to miss these.

I am so incredibly proud of the MozBar team and all of the contributions they’ve made to the toolbar in the past year. We know we still have room to improve and grow; believe me, there’s a long list of things to do. There’s also a long list of exciting new features that we have planned for you, too!

Ready to check it out?

And most importantly, we are so appreciative of all of you who’ve stuck with us, have been vocal about issues as they pop up, and worked directly with us to troubleshoot issues that you’ve encountered. If it weren’t for your feedback, support, and patience, we’d be in the dark, so thank you.

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What We Learned From Analyzing 1.4 Million Featured Snippets

Posted by Ghergich

What you should know about featured snippets

Recently my agency Ghergich & Co. teamed up with SEMrush to conduct an in-depth study on featured snippets. SEMrush generously compiled and shared 1,400,000 featured snippets from their database for us to analyze.

What makes this study different?

Our study focused on 30 questions, prepositions, and comparison search phrases instead of a random set of keywords.

Anecdotally, many other SEOs and I saw that pages that answer questions — such as who, what, when, where, and how — tend to be great at earning featured snippets.

Our goal was to see if our “gut feelings” were backed by data. In most cases they were, but with a few surprising caveats. Let’s dive into the findings.

Featured snippet questions

Featured snippet questions: who, what, where, when, are, will, etc.

Group findings

  • The questions group as a whole is fantastic at earning featured snippets, especially paragraph snippets.
  • “How” (46.91%) and “Have” (17.71%) significantly outperformed the other questions when it came to earning lists.
  • “Which” (16.20%) was the top performer by a wide margin for earning tables.

Breakdown of featured snippet questions:

Breakdown of featured snippet questions: what percentage earned paragraph, table, or list snippets?

Featured snippet prepositions

Featured snippet prepositions: For, like, to, with, without

Group findings

  • The prepositions group, as a whole, earned lists at the highest rate of any group.
  • “For” (11.38%) was best at earning table snippets.
  • “Like” (94.09%) was the best at earning paragraph snippets.

Breakdown of featured snippet prepositions

Breakdown of featured snippet prepositions: what percentage earned tables, lists, or paragraphs?

Featured snippet comparisons

Featured snippet comparisons: compare, comparison, compared, comparing, price, pricing, priced, versus, vs

Group findings

  • The comparison group as a whole excelled at earning tables.
  • “Price” (38.56%) keywords earned tables at more than double the rate any other keyword in the group.
  • Our “SEO gut” told us “vs” and “versus” keywords would rock at earning tables. Our gut was wrong. Instead, they were fantastic at earning paragraph snippets (99%).

Breakdown of featured snippet comparisons

Breakdown of featured snippet comparisons: what earned the highest percentage of tables, lists, and paragraphs?

Featured snippets overall breakdown

Featured snippets overall breakdown: did questions, prepositions, or comparisons earn the most lists, tables, or paragraphs?

I find it interesting that each group of keywords had a very telling overall pattern.

The comparison group earning 11.72% tables seems like a low number. Remember, though, that the content has to exist in the top 10 search results and be in a proper table format.

In my opinion, there are many cases where Google simply does not have a good table to show, so it defaults to an easier format, like paragraphs.

Optimal featured snippet lengths

Optimal featured snippet lengths

Key findings: Featured snippet paragraph lengths

The optimal length of a featured snippet paragraph is roughly 40 to 50 words, or around 300 characters. An earlier study by SEMrush also showed 40 to 50 words to be sweet spot for paragraphs, so I feel confident in this number.

Optimal featured snippet lengths chart

Key findings: Featured snippet list lengths

The average number of items in a list was four, but that number is not what we should focus on. Instead, focus on the maximum number of items in the list. Here’s why that matters:

Screenshot: SERP & snippet for "benefits of link building"

When creating a list, it’s a good idea to make it longer than the eight-item maximum (when possible). This prompts Google to display the “More Items…” text, which can lead to better engagement.

For that same reason, make each bulleted item have enough words in it so Google truncates each item. This can also be helpful if your list is shorter than eight items.

Key findings: Featured snippet table lengths

Like with lists, focus on the fact that Google is going to show a maximum of three columns and up to nine rows per table.

Screenshot: SERP & snippet for denny's menu prices

A few things are going on here:

  • You can see Google is showing “143 more rows,” just like it does with lists.
  • However, the website Restaurant Meal Prices is actually outranking the best source for this information: Denny’s themselves.
  • The problem is that Denny’s does not have their data formatted the way Google wants to display it — in a table.
  • Google used to show “more columns,” but seems to have dropped that support and now just picks the most relevant 3 rows.
  • Clearly my new low-carb diet is not affecting my search behavior.

Practical application #1: Snatch featured snippets from competitors

Here’s how:

  1. Review your top 10 rankings for keywords that show featured snippets, but that someone else is ranking for.
  2. Check to see if your content matches the format of the featured snippet.
  3. If you have a format issue, fix it. If the format is correct, tweak your answer to better match search intent.
  4. Once you upload your new content, use Search Console to force Google to quickly re-crawl that page.
  5. You may earn the snippet within 30 minutes, but it will most likely take a few days.
  6. If more than a week goes by, repeat steps three and four.


I ran steps one and two on Moz’s The Beginner’s Guide to SEO, which is a great example of what foundational SEO content should look like. Let’s look at some low-hanging fruit.

Keyword: “How search engines work”

Screenshot: SERP & snippet for "how do search engines work"

Moz ranks #1, but Google believes that is doing a better job of answering the search’s intent.

Keyword: “What is link building”

Screenshot: SERP & snippet for "what is link building"

Again, Moz’s guide is ranking #1, but it isn’t earning the featured snippet. These are just two examples out of many I was able to quickly find for The Beginners Guide to SEO.

I believe Moz could snatch featured snippets like these with simple text or format tweaks. The same opportunities are likely there for your site as well.

Bonus: Once you are in a good place with this process, expand it to featured snippet keywords you rank 11th through 20th on. Typically, with a content refresh and some internal linking or promotion, you can move those to at least the 10th position in Google. Once you do that, you can earn the snippet.

Practical application #2: Earn featured snippets during content production

It’s easier to snatch snippets than to earn them from scratch, so start there. However, you are constantly creating new content, right? …Right?

When you craft new content, tailor it to earn featured snippets right out of the gate.

Here’s how:

  1. Compile a list of keywords in your niche that show snippets you don’t rank in the top 20 for.
  2. Create new content optimized for the format Google uses to display the snippet.
  3. Start with content that reaches people in the bottom of the funnel, like comparisons.. The volume is low, but the conversions can be high.
  4. Rinse and repeat.

Using this technique will give your editorial team a break. I’ve had the pleasure of presenting with Chris Bennett several times. To paraphrase one of his key points about content creation: When you use data to fuel topic ideation, content creation becomes more about resources and less about brainstorming.

Bonus: Once you’re in a groove with new content production, you can branch out to keywords you think Google would show a featured snippet for if the optimized content existed.

Keyword: “How to choose keywords”

Screenshot: SERP & snippet for "how to choose keywords"

Moz ranks second. To earn a featured snippet, it could incorporate a list format on this page or encourage a contributor to create a new post formatted specifically for this topic.

Remember, you don’t have to create an ordered list. For example, consider the following:

Fine, but not necessary:

  1. Collect Underpants
  2. ???
  3. Profit!

This format works, too:

  1. Collect Underpants: The collecting of underpants is a proven way to 10x…
  2. ???: This second step has been shrouded in mystery. However, if you RT this post, give me your email and five of your richest and most gullible friends’ emails, I will show you exactly how to…
  3. Profit!: I know what you’re thinking: Wow! This is too good to be true! But it’s not! Simply input your credit card number to unlock my automated underpants-collection and profit-making system. Believe me!

Closing thoughts

Do your site a favor. Conduct a featured snippet audit and start snatching, earning, and creating data-driven content targeted toward featured snippets.

Do yourself a favor. Follow people like Dr. Pete, Rob Bucci, Eric Enge, Cyrus Shepard, and Glenn Gabe on Twitter. They all share studies, insights, and presentations on featured snippets (among other things). I plan to share a lot more snippets as well, so feel free to follow me, too: @SEO (shameless plug).

Lastly, be sure to snag the raw numbers in this Google Doc.

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!

Programmatic Delivery: The Future of Content Marketing and Promotion?

Posted by SimonPenson

Content promotion is hard. Disparate audiences and an ever-growing proliferation of channels to reach them through has made the life of a content marketer incredibly tough.

What would you say, however, if there was a single solution to reaching EXACTLY the right people at exactly the right time, across any and every channel in real time?

It may sound like a pie-in-the-sky opportunity but the reality is such an option is actually very, very close. In fact, for some it already exists.

That option is ‘programmatic.’

Although still in its infancy from a content perspective, the technology and methodology behind it offers massive potential for the world of content marketing, and even SEO.

So, what is programmatic?

For those not fluent in the often complex and seemingly inaccessible world of programmatic and its associated buzzwords and acronyms, let’s go back to the basics for a second.

Programmatic is a term used to describe the buying of advertising using software and algorithms.

It’s something that is currently lighting up the world of advertising as it takes out the ponderous and inefficient human element, allowing advertisers to reach the right people when they are in exactly the right place.

We can see below just how fast the uptake is expected to grow over the next couple of years:

There’s no escaping its grasp, so we ought to find out how it works, right?

In the simplest terms here’s what it looks like.

At one end of the ‘system’ you have what is called a Demand-Side Platform: a place where all advertisers queue up and share what kinds of people they want to reach.

On the other side we have the Supply-Side Platform: an inventory library where media owners, publishers, and so on tell the ‘machine’ what they have available to sell.

So far, so simple!

In the center lies the Ad Exchange, into which those publishers pour their available impressions and buyers use the tech in the Demand-Side Platforms to pick what they want to buy. This is usually done via an interface that allows you to target based on anything from demographics to recent purchase behavior and interests, and even intent.

The process of buying and selling then happens REALLY fast, in the time it takes to load the page(s) being bid on. During that split second, an auction takes place, with the highest bid winning the right to show inventory in that spot.

This is called Real-Time Bidding and is what many rightly believe is the future of programmatic and advertising in general. The platform we use to ‘play’ in this space is called Cadreon, but there are a plethora of different routes to market, either directly as a client or via an agency solution.

Before we move on and talk about why this matters to marketers, it’s worth mentioning that there is another version of programmatic known as Advanced Programmatic (or Programmatic Direct), where larger agencies pre-buy inventory at scale in order to obtain discounted pricing for buying in bulk or to secure premium and in-demand inventory. They can then use that ‘space’ as they wish, deploying it via the same system to take advantages of the audience targeting opportunity.

To get a more detailed overview of programmatic, we’ve created this free guide as part of a ‘beginners guide pack’:

So this is for advertising, right?

By now you may well be thinking that I’ve lost my mind and gone all ‘advertising’ on you. But this is entirely the point.

The world sees this as a pure-play advertising opportunity, but the reality could be quite different.

Yes, it reinvents advertising. But if you think about those adverts as simply ‘holes in the Internet,’ then we can begin to bring content into the conversation.

Holes in the Internet

At risk of stating the obvious, advertising creative is not ‘content.’ At its worst it shouts to gain our attention, and at best it still tries too hard to connect directly to a brand, or direct response opportunity.

Imagine, then, if we used those spaces to highlight an amazing piece of review content, like this fantastic ‘Which Macbook Should I Buy?’ guide by Wirecutter. Using programmatic, we could target that at people that have visited a retail store that stocks Apple within the last two weeks and have also been to the Apple site.

Another example: a great video review like this by a prominent UK automotive media brand of the best sports car to buy to someone that has just test-driven an Audi R8.

The opportunities are endless.

Native advertising

Some might say this is the natural extension of the currently rudimentary opportunities presented by the ‘native advertising’ world through platforms such as Outbrain and Taboola.

This is, however, like comparing use of the Google Display network for ad creative distribution with using real-time programmatic: a walled garden restricted to just Google publisher websites versus a programmatic play that could reach out to almost every site on the web and across some really exciting other areas like TV, radio, and out-of-home, to boot. We’ll come to how they fit in shortly.

While native advertising helps us position the opportunity in our heads (using space traditionally seen as for adverts for content), it is important to understand how much more powerful programmatic reach is.

There is one really interesting player starting to make waves in this space, and that is a Florida-based company called Triple Lift.

The model offered allows brands to buy native inventory using programmatic tech, offering advertisers a way into those ‘walled garden’ spots within content areas. This is grade-A real estate for content marketers as we look to blend the line between advertising and content further.

Interestingly, however, and probably due to the tech only being sold into advertisers as opposed to content marketers, the examples show ad-based creative as opposed to engaging content. Below, however, we can see how an article looks placed through the platform on Digg:

Adding in other channels

While traditional digital advertising is either based on keyword targeting (Adwords, for example) or is more audience-focused but limited to a single network or small pot of ‘networks’ (see Google Display Network or Facebook Audience Network), the best programmatic platforms reach much, much further.

Any good system will give you options across the following, for example:

  • Doubleclick Bid Manager for access to the Google stack
  • Amazon
  • Tube Mogul for video solutions across the web, including Facebook and Instagram
  • AOL, including Microsoft and Yahoo properties
  • Private large site marketplaces such as Pubmatic and Rubicon Project, proving access to the likes of Time Warner, Zoopla, and The Times
  • Radio channels
  • Out-of-home inventory – digital billboards, etc.
  • TV advertising

There are then a number of intermediaries whose job it is to specialize in connecting media opportunities together such as Drawbridge and Tapad for cross-device targeting. A quick overview guide of the players in the ecosystem can be seen below and should be explored as part of any strategy:

The benefit of this whole-of-market approach was summed up brilliantly in an article for Marketing Week by Jonathan McCauley-Oliver, the online sales manager at National Rail Enquiries in the UK.

They use programmatic to ensure that ads against the millions of page impressions its website receives each month are served smoothly and to their target audiences.

He explained:

“If I go to a marketer and say that I can deliver your message to the one person who is likely to buy your product, that is worth a lot. If I can do that in five seconds to 8 million users, they’ll bite my hand off. This one-to-one relationship is afforded by these advancements in technology.”

Imagine this as a central tool in your content distribution arsenal…

How could this work in the wild?

With a ‘full stack’ of Supply-Side options at your disposal, the world looks very, very exciting, especially when you start to think about how you can follow and interact with your audience, almost irrespective of where you are.

The process starts with an understanding of where your audience can be found elsewhere on the web. We can use a number of tools and platforms that you may already be well aware of as part of the wider audience understanding work you do across marketing to do this.

Audience understanding

Before you start any campaign, you MUST have a clear idea of where your target consumers are. To do this, I follow a basic process:

1. At Zazzle we have access to a great tool called Global Web Index. It’s something I’ve written and spoken about several times recently, as it’s becoming a core cog in the overall strategic wheel. In this process we use it to tell us which channels our audience uses regularly, such as in the example below.

Here we see three similar brands compared to the UK average (purple). It is clearly telling us that they use search and consumer review sites. This provides validation that our targeting will work.

2. Next, we want to get more granular. To do this, we start with Comscore and Hitwise, a leading supplier of audience insight data. From within it we can extract information on everything from which sites our audiences go to before and after ours, as well as a broader view of interests and visit behavior. You can see below an example of what an upstream report looks like for the BBC website in the UK:

Using these two tools, you can quickly build up an accurate picture of where your audience is hanging out, either by analyzing your own site or those of your competitors or industry leaders.

For those that can’t stretch to such enterprise tools, Alexa and Similarweb can give you similar information, albeit from smaller data sets.

3. We can also layer over a multitude of other data here. These are usually segmented into the following pots:

In reality, you would rarely need to worry about individual data providers. However, many of the programmatic platforms aggregate this into their systems to give you a one-stop solution to target correctly (we talk about example platforms a little later).


In creating this guide we are assuming that you already have the process of creating the right kind of content nailed. I’ve written previously about how to design content strategies and campaigns to maximize impact if there are any question marks over your approach, but the beauty of this delivery mechanism is that it’s just as effective for articles and guides as it is for major campaigns.

To understand what I mean, let’s look at a couple of theoretical examples and how that could play out:

Example 1: Video review content for a person buying a sports car

Imagine the scene: You’ve been thinking about buying a new car for several months and finally, after several attempts, you’ve got a weekend free to test out that car of your dreams.

On Saturday you test three rival brand options and go away more confused than ever, as the car you thought you wanted wasn’t the best to drive.

That night, as you ponder that decision, those brands want to be front-of-mind. The smartest of the three has deployed a programmatic ad content strategy. By collating geo-location data alongside information from its own test drive database and by looking at Google searches, YouTube viewership, etc, the brand can work out which cars are in the frame.

This presents a unique opportunity.

Rather than deliver a display banner, all the data within the setup could provide us the opportunity to deliver a richer content experience. If we know that a user lives in Brighton, currently drives a sports car that is 3 years old, and has been researching new cars, we could tailor his brand experience accordingly (e.g. content could provide local Brighton dealerships, knowing user already has sports car and lease could be expiring soon).

Or, even smarter than that, it could serve up a YouTube-hosted video favorably comparing their car with that of the rivals.

A call-to-action could then take that person to the brand site and onto a dynamically personalized page that presents the strongest argument for buying their car.

I don’t know about you, but I would be pretty impressed by that experience.

Example 2: A person buying a laptop

It’s a similar story for businesses in the retail sector. Let’s say you run an ecommerce business and want to help add value at the critical point of the purchase funnel: when a potential customer is making their final decision on which product to buy.

This could play out in any purchase process, but for the sake of this second example, let’s imagine it is for laptops.

The decision is down to the last two options (Macbook Air and the Surface Pro). We know this as search behavior has included reading reviews and looking at comparisons.

Imagine if we could place our own review slap-bang into the middle of that process, in real time. As they trawl the Internet for info, our in-depth comparison review follows them. The likelihood of interaction is huge and we can even include dynamic call-to-action creative within it, offering a personalized discount or incentive to ‘buy now’ and from our site.

So how do I get involved?

By this point, you should be thinking about how you may go about adding to your 2017 strategy but wondering where on earth to start.

The choices, as explained earlier in the piece, are still relatively limited simply due to the relative immaturity of the market and tech. Things are changing fast, however.

If your budgets are larger, then chances are you’re already using the approach as part of your paid media mix. In this situation, the challenge is to reimagine the strategy with greater emphasis on content as opposed to commercial ad messaging. Think of it as softening the message and attempting to add value more. Talk to your agency or team and challenge them to test it.

I’ll almost guarantee they’re not thinking about the distribution method as a platform for anything other than advertising message, so make it your mission to push them and help them understand that it may be more powerful as a delivery mechanism for value-adding articles, videos, and interactive assets.

This switch in thinking represents a huge opportunity for those that are willing and able to try it first, and the good news is there are a number of easy-to-use tools out there allowing you to give it a go.

Programmatic for smaller business

If, like the majority, you are in charge of smaller budgets and don’t have the ability to onboard a global network agency with in-house proprietary tech like Cadreon, don’t think you’re out of luck. There is an ever-growing pack of platforms designed specifically for this market.

A personal favorite is Admedo, an easy-to-use system for those with little or no programmatic experience. With its own DSP (Demand-Side Platform), you can customize to your heart’s content. We have seen some brilliant results from it.

Others worth considering include:

  • Zypmedia – Great for local advertising campaign work and for businesses where geo-location is critical.
  • Pocketmath – Another great option for the small business owner wanting full control of targeting, creative, and delivery.
  • Brandzooka – A good choice for those looking to focus campaigns on video creative.

Next steps

So, fancy giving programmatic a go? If you do, spend ten minutes reading our Simple Guide to Programmatic, available for free by clicking the button below. You can also download our Programmatic Planning Template to help make the planning process as easy as possible. Good luck!

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