How to Make Money with SEO in 2019 – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by randfish

Making money with SEO today is nowhere near the same practice it was in 2009. Sketchy, manipulative practices and simple, straightforward tweaks no longer do the job — to be successful in 2019, you need to be smart, strategic, and in tune with what searchers want. Rand Fishkin outlines three steps you need to have down if your goal is to improve your bottom line with the help of SEO.

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Video Transcription

Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week we are talking about how to make money with SEO. Now, for many of you who might be watching this video because perhaps you have googled or searched on YouTube about how to make money with SEO, well, what I want to do is talk about how that practice has changed dramatically in the last 10 years.

In 2009, if you were searching for how to make money with SEO, there were a lot of sketchy and manipulative and actually relatively simplistic, straightforward things that you could do to make money online with SEO, and that has changed. That is not the case anymore, and I think this is why you see so many people who are in worlds like affiliate marketing and the worlds of creating small websites and many networks of small websites and trying to sell relatively simplistic, unbranded products or services or advertising revenue, that a lot of those sites have disappeared. Certainly part of that is because the margins on many of those products has gone way down. Some of it is big competition from many new entrants, including big companies like Amazon, but many others as well.

A big part of this is the way that you think about making money online and how you might be able to use SEO to do that. Now if you are not one of those folks who’s trying to do that and you are instead a professional marketer, I still think this video is going to be very valuable for you because there are a few key sources of change that have been brought to our industry by what Google has done and what websites have done and how users behave that shift a lot of this thinking. So stick with me.

Step 1: Find (or create!) a business/website that fits important criteria

If you want to make money online in the SEO world in 2019, your general step one is to either find and buy or create a new business or a website that fits some important criteria or to modify a website you’ve already got to fit these important criteria. 

A) Produces a relatively high amount of gross margin per search visitor

The first one is you want a relatively high amount of gross margin per search visit. This is fundamentally different from the past. In the past, I knew plenty of people who built their living in the SEO world with, “A visitor is worth a penny to me. A visitor is worth a hundredth of a penny to me, but it doesn’t matter because I can make up for it in volume.” But today, earning search visitors is so much more challenging than in the past, especially for a new website or an emerging one or a startup, that I believe you need this high gross margin to be able to do that.

So you want to find people who are searching for a variety of things. I want this thing. Do a search. Come to your site. Take an action of some kind. That could be sign up for an email list. It could be view some advertising. It could be actually buy a physical product or buy a software product, whatever it is. You make revenue that is significantly more than the cost of serving that customer, the cost to you of maintaining the website, doing the marketing, your time and hours and whoever else you employ, keeping the lights on, paying the bills and the taxes, and the product itself, whatever you’re shipping or whatever you’re creating and serving, software, advertising, etc.

B.) Inspires/incentivizes users to amplify their experience and your brand

Then it inspires and incentivizes users to amplify their experience and as a result your brand. You might say like, “Well, why do I need that? Why do I need someone who’s going to go and share?” Not every visitor, but you need a certain percent of people to go and say, “Gosh, their site is great. I am going to post about it on my social media. I’m going to link to it. I’m going to talk to my friends about it. When people see this thing that I’ve made, I’m going to say, ‘Oh, it came from such and such place.'” You need that because these types of online and offline word of mouth and amplification is core to a business’ survival on the web, and that is fundamentally different than 10 years ago.

Ten years ago you could do a lot of sketchy, spammy, manipulative stuff to earn links and to earn rankings. Google has removed almost all of that ability for 99% of websites, especially in the English language world. If you are operating in other languages, especially where Google’s Web Spam Team has not done as well, there’s still some more of those opportunities. But generally speaking, this is crucial. You need people who are going to link to you and amplify you.

C.) Over time, creates branded demand rather than generic search behavior

You need a business that fits the criteria of over time it creates branded demand rather than generic search behavior. Why? Because otherwise you do not create a competitive advantage that is sustainable with time, and other people who do will certainly recognize that and enter your field and compete with you and put you out of business.

“I want this thing” is a fine search phrase to target for your SEO. But you know what’s way easier? “I want” When you have people searching for your brand and your branded products or the keywords that they were searching for generically plus your brand as a word in there, what they’re saying is, “Google, don’t serve me up just any result. Take me to that website.” That is a competitive advantage, a barrier to entry that has huge amounts of protection for you as a business owner.

Step 2: Design a unique value prop/strategy that resonates with searcher intent & produces search-optimized content that people want to link to

All right, step two. You’ve found a business that fits these criteria or you’ve created one or you’ve modified your business such that it does this. Great. Now you need to design a unique value prop and a strategy that does a couple of things. It’s got to resonate with searcher intent, meaning you are serving what searchers actually want rather than just serving searchers with what you want them to do but that does not actually serve them. This is because Google has gotten too sophisticated about being able to match searcher intent with the keyword phrases and rank the sites that solve the searcher’s problem.

Ten years ago, that was not the case. Ten years ago, in 2009, someone could search for “best pasta,” and you could serve them up a site that tried to sell them a certain kind of pasta as opposed to comparing a bunch of different brands and varieties and trying to truly serve the searcher’s intent. That’s almost impossible today. There are a few exceptions, but those gaps are closing rapidly.

It also needs to produce search-optimized content that people and publications want to link to. Totally different from 2009, when you could manipulate the link graph, acquire links in ways that searchers didn’t necessarily love, but Google would put you on top anyway and you could sort of take advantage of that for a while. Not the case. Now you need people to want to link to you, to have a reason to link to you. Otherwise, you will not be able to get those top ranking positions.

A.) Build a keyword research list

So first, build a keyword research list. You can use Moz’s Keyword Explorer, which is what I personally use. But there are many keyword research tools out there on the web. You can type in phrases. I love Italian food, so I’m using examples like that, so “best pancetta,” “3-year aged parmigiano,” “Rustichella d’Abruzzo,” which is like this pasta variety that I personally think is the best one out there. There’s search volume, there’s difficulty, and there’s click-through rate percentages. So I’m building this list. You can go check out the videos on keyword research if you want to dive deeper on this. 

Start your keyword research list

B.) Answer 3 questions

But essentially I want this list because I want to be able to answer some questions about the search phrases and terms that I’m targeting with my business.

1. What will I create to be 10X better than what’s currently ranking on page one?

First, what will I create to be 10 times better than what’s already ranking on page one for these terms? If I search for “best pancetta” and I cannot come up with a way that I think I could outperform, have a better web page than what everyone else has got there, what’s my competitive advantage? How am I going to take that over? You better come up with those things. I need those answers for the crucial terms and phrases that I’m going after, that are going to bring me the gross margin dollars that I need for my product, my services, my advertising, what have you.

2. Who will help amplify/link to this and why?

Second, when I produce that content, who will help amplify or link to this and why? Who will help amplify this and why? If you don’t have a great answer to that question, don’t publish the piece. Wait until you do. Find that great answer, because you need that amplification in order to perform, especially in the earliest stages. Once you have lots of links, high domain authority, lots of visibility in Google, you can put a lot of things out there on the web and basically coast on your brand’s strength and the fact that Google already likes your domain and is going to bias toward you. But in the early stages, when you have a new business, not the case.

3. How will I build a moat that can protect against Google’s own incursion into these results?

Third, how will I build a moat around this business that can protect from potential incursions by Google themselves? If you look at the search results today versus 2009, you will see a dramatic difference, which is that Google’s results, from Google Maps to Google’s own instant answers to their featured snippets to their tabs and systems where they try and answer a query fully with their own stuff, Google Travel, Google Flights, Google Hotels, the list goes on and on and on and on, they are taking away a lot of that opportunity, and you need to have a way to protect yourself from that. One of those ways is certainly branded search. Another way is to make sure that the words and phrases that you’re going after, especially early on, are not ones where you have to compete with Google themselves.

Step 3: Find what customers do before they search for high-competition keywords/around your topics

Step three, finally, find what customers do before they search for these high-value keywords to you, high competition keywords around your topics. What do they search for before they get to that? What do they search for around that stuff? How can I capture this customer prior to that money search? Then I can create a new keyword research list and a new set of content that I’m going to create to target those people, which will be vastly easier to capture them earlier in their buying cycle, earlier in their potential funnel.

Exposure keywords

So exposure keywords would be things like “carbonara recipe.” Someone’s going to search for carbonara and how to make it before they ever look up, “Now, where do I get pancetta?” This one potentially is easier to rank for than this one. This may be an imperfect example. But “types of parmesan” — first off the English American spelling — versus “3-year aged parmigiano,” this is a transactional keyword. I know what I want. This is an “I’m still learning about this” thing. You’re going to need content in both of those worlds.

“Pasta brands,” I’m learning. “Rustichella d’Abruzzo,” I know what I want. Got to serve both.

Influencer-targeted content

Finally, as part of step three, you want to find what link-likely sources are willing to cover. What is going to be the thing that gets you the amplification? Sometimes it’s not the same thing as the exposure keywords or the money keywords. So you need content that is going to affect influential publications and people, things like, “Okay, we’re going to produce a piece. It doesn’t necessarily serve a lot of searchers, but we know we can get links to it. We know people will tweet about it. We know they’ll post to their Facebook page. We know they might talk about it on Instagram.”

“The best American cities for Italian food,” ooh, competition between American cities, whoever it is, whatever, Philadelphia, we put them low in the rankings. New York, we put them high in the rankings. They’re going to fight about it relentlessly. Tons of people are going to talk about it. The “New York Post” is going to write about it. “The Philadelphia Inquirer” is going to be all pissed about it. Great.

“Where to visit in Italy if you’re really just there for the meals.” Hmm, that’s the kind of thing someone would cover. “Cooking pasta in cold water isn’t madness. It’s better.” What? I actually do this, by the way. I do recommend starting pasta in cold water. We’ll talk about that in another episode when I have my cooking set up here. But regardless, the idea behind this is that I have influencer and publication targeted content in addition to exposure keywords and money keywords.

This sort of strategic thinking is how you can make money with a new business, a new website in 2019, and it is vastly different from what you saw 10 years ago.

All right, everyone. I hope you’ve enjoyed this. Look forward to your comments. We’ll see you again next week for another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Take care.

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Is Google’s Redesign Good for Ads or Brands?

Posted by Dr-Pete

At the end of last week, Google announced a major design change for mobile search results. Minor design tests and changes happen frequently, but this roll-out included two major changes. First, the green [Ads] indicator was replaced with black, bolded text …

Below is the new ad format in a local pack result. Note that I’ve removed the surrounding design elements (including rounded boxes) to focus on the elements that have changed …

Reactions from the marketing community were swift and often sarcastic, but one reaction clearly missing was surprise. Google has been moving to make ads look more like organic results for years.

Has Google finally gone too far?

Does this latest change do too much to blend ads and organic results? If we just go back one iteration, it doesn’t seem like a huge shift. The most recent version, shown below, also matched the color of the “Ad” marker to the display URL, substituting a thin rounded rectangle for the newer, bolded text …

Compare both 2019 versions to a desktop ad from 2017 …

The mismatched color and white-on-yellow block stand out quite a bit more than the two most recent treatments. If we go back to 2013, the evolution is much more obvious …

For years, Google ads were displayed in a single block, clearly separate from organic results and with a distinct background color. While that color changed over the years, even this subtle background tied the ads together and separated them clearly from other result types.

What about organic results?

Unlike some previous ad redesigns, this change arrived with a redesign of organic results. Here’s what an organic result for Moz’s Algorithm History looked like on most mobile devices last week …

While fonts and sizing and the surrounding UI have changed over the past couple of years, the core placement has been the same: (1) display title, (2) display URL or breadcrumb, and (3) snippet. Like the new ad format, the new organic format flips lines (1) and (2) …

The new format also adds a small version of the site’s favicon. Google seems to also be shifting toward showing the brand name, when available, versus the site’s root domain, but this is another change that Google has moved gradually toward over the recent past.

When do the lines blur?

While Google isn’t using the exact icon we’d prefer at Moz, the square, color-filled logo representation is clearly pretty different from Google’s black “Ad” marker. Some brands aren’t so lucky. Consider these two results for …

The Adidas logo doesn’t render well at this size, and ends up looking like a black triangle, which may be hard to distinguish from the “Ad” text at a glance. Associated Press has a similar problem …

At this size and resolution, “AP” could arguably be mistaken for “AD”. For well-known brands, this may not pose a problem (the AP logo is fairly recognizable), but it could impact click-through rates on smaller brands.

These are extreme examples, of course, but in the previous iteration (the green “Ad” text in a rounded rectangle) there was no analogous text or shape for organic results. The addition of a favicon to organic results adds an element that could mirror the “Ad” text in paid results, creating potential confusion.

Should I update my favicon?

Marketers were quick to brainstorm ideas and more than a little mischief over the weekend. That may be fun for a while, but Google has already pushed back on manipulating favicons and posted their guidelines. Long story short, manipulative, inappropriate, or constantly changing favicons are probably going to be removed.

If you don’t have a favicon, Google will serve up a default. Here’s an example from my personal site:

The default icon isn’t terrible, but if you don’t currently have a favicon, it’s worth putting one together that matches your branding. Google currently recommends providing a favicon at 48X48 pixels (or a multiple of 48). There are many free tools on the web to convert standard graphics formats to a favicon (.ico) file.

I created a new favicon on Tuesday, May 28, and resubmitted the home-page to Google Search Console. The updated favicon appeared the morning of Thursday, May 30 (just under two days) …

Anecdotally, most people are reporting favicons being updated in a day or less. My personal site has some mobile-friendly errors, which could have caused delays, but there are currently no errors or updates within GSC to tell you when to expect your favicon to appear in search results.

Is Google’s future brand-first?

It’s easy to get hung up on the ad changes, but by moving the brand or domain to the first line and adding a favicon, this design reflects a brand-first approach, an emphasis of brand and site over specific content. Reading between the lines of Google’s announcement, this design shift makes it clearer that everything in the “card” (the search result container, essentially) belongs to a single brand. Consider the Moz blog, for example:

The wrapper makes the card a bit more apparent, but by leading with the brand, the new design makes it clearer that all of these elements — the organic result, site-links, and blog posts — are tied to a single source. Taking a brand-first approach may also be a part of Google’s larger strategy to combat false information and help searchers attribute content to its source.

Of course, like all changes, we don’t know how long this one will last. Like most major design shifts, we can assume that Google has been testing this one for some time, but if favicons are manipulated or abused to the point that automation can’t handle the problem, they may have to change course.

For now, I’d make sure your favicon accurately reflects your brand and doesn’t look too similar to the black “Ad” text. Ultimately, you want your organic listings to positively represent your brand and drive relevant clicks. While these changes are unlikely to impact rankings, I would recommend monitoring your click-through rates (CTRs) on both major organic pages and paid results. It may be some time before we fully understand the impact of these changes.

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The Case For Pin-point Local Tracking

Posted by TheMozTeam

Not so long ago, tracking a “United States” SERP could give you an accurate depiction of what a searcher would see, regardless of where in the country they were. Now, unless a searcher is actively hiding their whereabouts, Google always knows where they are and serves results that are heavily influenced by their precise surroundings.

In other words, the “national” or “market” level SERP is dead. Long live the “precise location” SERP.

Of course, even though we know this to be true, we wouldn’t be us if we didn’t validate with a little (a lot of) data — when it comes time to set up your keyword tracking strategy, we want you to care as much about location as Google does.

Setting up the SERP comparisons

Since proper keyword segmentation is essential to making sense of your SERP data (and more than one data point is always preferable when proving points), we divvied up our queries into two different categories:

  1. General intent keywords. These are searches that could be satisfied without ever having to leave the house, unless you don’t want to pay for shipping — like [mountain bike], [laptop speakers], and [FIFA 19 PS4].
  2. Local intent keywords. These are searches that clearly require physical locations — like [best mechanic], [vegan restaurants], and [24 hour gym].

Then came the tracking. We took each group of keywords, stuffed them into STAT, and tracked them in the centre of specific Portland and New York City ZIP codes, as well as in the US, English-speaking market as a whole. So, for example, one SERP is located to “10038 New York, NY” and the other is only located as far as “US-en.”

Once we’d gathered all our SERPs (just over 600,000 of them), we did a bunch of side-by-side comparisons. We went keyword by keyword and looked at whether search results were present on both the ZIP code and market-level SERPs, and then if they appeared in the same order — is it here? Is it there? Are they both in rank four?

The answer to all of the above is: Yes, yes, and yes, okay, similar.

But the biggest question on our minds: Are market-level SERPs accurate enough to trust?

General intent keywords

Diving into our general intent keywords first, we were surprised to find a somewhat high similarity between ZIP code and market-level SERPs.

For starters, they shared 83 percent of their top 20 organic URLs. Of course, while this is higher than we expected, it still means that if we track our keywords without putting a searcher somewhere on the map, we kiss 17 percent of real-life search results goodbye, which is a lot.

What important insights might we lose out on — are we ranking and don’t know it? Are we letting a competitor sneak up on us?

Result type Similarity: NYC vs. no location Similarity: Portland vs. no location
Organic    83.11% 83.14%
SERP features 73.69% 67.02%

Looking at whether or not any of those results showed up in the same spot from one SERP to the next, things got even more concerning. Only 28 percent of organic results appeared in the same ranking position on both the local and national SERPs. So, even if we decide that doing without 17 percent of the results that our searchers see is fine by us, we can’t depend on the rank of the results to be accurate.

Moving our attention over to SERP features, we found that only 70 percent appeared on both ZIP code and market-level SERPs, which is less than the organic results. Local packs are a good example of just how much you can miss. 31 percent of Portland’s SERPs and 27 percent of NYC’s returned a local pack, whereas only 12 percent of national SERPs produced one. So, even though these keywords don’t necessarily require a physical location, when Google knows that there’s a real searcher standing in a real spot, it will err on the side of local intent and adjust its results accordingly.

As for the similarity of SERP feature rankings, they were only marginally more consistent than organic results with 33 percent appearing in the same position from SERP to SERP — hardly enough to make up for the increase in incorrect results.

Local intent keywords

Next, it was time to look at our keywords with explicit local intent — how were they faring?

The answer was: worse. Much, much worse. Remember how we could count on about 83 percent similarity for our general intent keywords? Here, national and ZIP code SERPs were only 32 percent similar when we compared the organic results on each.

Result type Similarity: NYC vs. no location Similarity: Portland vs. no location
Organic    33.35% 29.94%
SERP features 23.46% 20.09%

So, if we only track at the national level for queries that are searching for local businesses, we get a SERP where 68 percent of its results are different from what a searcher actually sees. Things took another dramatic turn when we compared ranking positions: only four percent of organic results had the same rank.

And just like before, similarity took a big hit when it comes to SERP features. Market and ZIP code-level SERPs only share around 22 percent of SERP features, and just over nine percent showed up in the same rank.

Think about something like the jobs result type from Google’s perspective, which is very specifically meant for hyper-local audiences. If you type [jobs] into Google (because this SEO business is just too much) and it doesn’t know where you are, what’s a search engine to do?

Not give you accurate local job listings, that’s what.

Tracked location % of SERP appearances
97204 Portland 0.09%
10038 New York 0.10%
US-en market 0.01%

As you can see above, only 0.01 percent of our market-level SERPs returned a jobs result type compared with 0.09 percent of our Portland SERPs and 0.10 percent of our New York SERPs.

Key findings and takeaways

So, what does all of this mean?

  • Keyword intent is the biggest factor to consider when setting up your tracking. If you only care about whether you’re seeing roughly the same URLs as your searchers, you could get away with tracking more general intent keywords at the national level. Keywords with hyper-local intent that are tracked at the market level produce such disparate SERPs from the real world that you just shouldn’t do it.
  • Ranking order cannot be trusted on market-level SERPs. Regardless of your keyword intent, if knowing where you and your competitors rank on a SERP is important to you, location tracking is the only way to go.
  • SERP features are more subject to a searcher’s location than organic results. For both keyword sets, localized SERPs share less features in common with their market-level counterparts. So, if SERP features are on your agenda, these highly personalized features are best tracked from a highly-specific location. Especially if local packs are your jam.

To sum: you need to track hyper-locally if you want to nab accurate results. After all, one SERP that searchers actually see in the hand is worth two make-believe market-level SERPs in the bush.

Want a detailed walkthrough of STAT? Say hello (don’t be shy) and request a demo.

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Uncover How You Stack Up in The Local Search Landscape

Posted by TheMozTeam

This blog post was originally published on the STAT blog.

With local search as competitive as it is, it’s no longer a question of whether or not you should optimize for local — it’s how soon. And when your goal is to get your online customers to visit your location IRL, your strategy needs to be the real deal.

That’s exactly why we asked Christina Miazgowicz, the Senior SEO Account Manager at Seer Interactive, to give us her tried and true guide to local optimization. Christina is a local search wizard who spoke at City Crawl Austin and blew us all away with her insight.

Get the competitive edge with a local strategy 

It goes without saying (but we’re saying it anyway) that search engines deliver relevant, location-based results for a business’ products or services. It’s how the searcher finds results that are, well, local.

We already know that Google leverages factors such as name, address, and phone number to surface local businesses. But it’s also a good idea if a website is crawlable, has a decent collection of citations, and has a steady stream of backlinks. Does your site have proper categorization? It should. Bonus points if there are ads in place.

If that sounds like a lot, fear not — you have an expert on your side. Thanks to Christina’s buffet of takeaways, you’ll learn how to collect local search data, how to analyze your insights to uncover where you stand in the search landscape, and how to carve out a local search strategy that works for you and your data.

1. Know before you go 

While it might be a no-brainer, you’d be surprised by how many people skip uncovering where they sit in all the noise before executing a strategy.

As Christina says, “Knowing where you stand in the local search landscape isn’t just a good step — it’s crucial to a concrete local search strategy.”

Local pack strategy

For instance, do you know if you’re showing up in a local pack? Who’s competing with you in it? Is your Google My Business (GMB) listing complete (and accurate)?

Christina and her team conduct a local content audit to help answer these questions. They take a look at the GMB listing, website and landing pages, citations, and ads — the whole nine yards — to help reveal all kinds of goodies, like:

  • Organic search competitors.
  • Google ranking factors.
  • What your searchers are looking for.
  • Where you’re showing up on the SERP.

Once an audit is complete, they are one step closer to implementing a comprehensive strategy.

But first: it’s data time. And when they need to get the full local picture, Christina and her team turn to STAT.

How Seer uses STAT for local SEO

Let’s say Christina has a client who’s in the business of designing luxury dog collars (someone is clearly living their best life). They own a storefront boutique that gets a decent amount of web traffic that they’d like to convert into foot traffic.

How does Christina make sure their searchers can find them on the SERPs — and then, get them through the door to buy designer dog collars?

With a slew of well-researched keywords tracking in STAT, Christina gets fresh, daily insights that she can combine with the knowledge she’s acquired from her local audit. With that in hand, she can tell exactly what trees her clients’ searchers are barking up.

Christina notes: “With STAT we get a really drilled down look. We can see how our clients’ URLs are performing rank-wise and if keywords are surfacing SERP features — what type, if they own any of those, and what the competition owns. We can use that data to help surface keywords that matter most in specific zip codes or cities for each client.”

In one of our handiest reports, you get all the details hiding in a local pack. Having business names, URLs, ranking positions, Google ratings, counts of ratings, and ads at your fingertips make measuring your local SEO efforts infinitely easier.

Christina recommends organizing your top 20 results to keep things neat and tidy — it’s much easier to visualize the landscape. Her tip: “Sort by location, regional monthly search volume, result type (organic, shopping box, local pack), and ranking URL to see all that data at a quick glance.”

2. Visualize and analyze all that data 

For one of her clients in the banking industry, Christina looked at keywords in 582 zip codes in 49 locations in STAT. And free to export that mountain of data out of STAT, Christina was able to get creative with her analysis and uncover major insights.

For instance, she found that 94 percent of listings in the local pack contained the tracked keyword “bank” in the business name. She also determined that for organic page one results, a business’ homepage isn’t as important as the business’ location page, which dominated first page results by 91 percent.

Other golden nuggets she discovered in the data:

  • 37 percent of local packs were owned by two competitors.
  • 85 percent of listings were verified.
  • 99 percent of listings had a website.
  • 97 percent of categories were the same as the keyword.

Having this detailed level of analysis helps Christina’s clients get a clear understanding of where, realistically, they’re showing up, how they’re performing, who their competition is, and why they may be outranking them.

Christina can even provide insight into what searchers are looking for. And when she knows what their intent is, she can help guide optimization efforts to get eyes on her clients — whether they’re in the banking industry or the designer dog collar business.

3. Put together a strategy

Now that Christina knows where her client is showing up and what opportunities are up for grabs, it’s finally time to throw down a strategy. Here are the steps she takes to get her clients showing up at the right moment for searchers.

Optimize GMB like there’s no tomorrow

First things first, says Christina, take a look at your current GMB listing and fill in the gaps to up your organic ranking game:

“Make sure your GMB listing matches what’s showing up on your site, with information that’s specific to your business — so your business name, address, and phone number, as well as different content around what’s being searched. Don’t forget photos, reviews, a business category, and any special features.”

If it’s a local pack you’re after, the addition of your business address and phone number will up your chances of snagging one. That’s because Google gives ranking strength in local packs to proximity, often more so than to website links, citations, and reviews.

Turn up the dial on content

Next, Christina suggests optimizing local content to improve your businesses recognition, reviews, and potential reach. Again, think location, hours, and your business name, but also consider creating new content that gives your searchers the inside scoop of your storefront’s community.

Seer has an incredibly handy survey tool to help generate new content. You can also apply this to any landing page optimization efforts.

Make sure you are present in industry sites that appear in organic results, such as Yelp, which contain a heckin’ ton of backlinks. This is also where you can build up your citation game to gain even more traffic.

Pay attention to paid

Once your organic strategy is in a good place, shift your focus to paid. Local ads enhance your businesses visibility and showcase what you do and where you are to give you the best chance of appearing in front of potential customers at the right moment.

Ready? Go! 

When you have the full picture of the local landscape, you not only have a realistic understanding of where you’re sitting (and where you can show up), you have the power and precision to make informed decisions — before diving into a strategy.

Curious how STAT can help you with your local search endeavors? Say hello and request a demo!

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!

Analyzing Google’s New Desktop “People Also Search For” Box

Posted by TheMozTeam

This blog post was originally published on the STAT blog.

The “People also search for” result isn’t new to desktop SERPs, but the rejigging it received in February last year turned it into an entirely different box worth investigating.

And since we know you’re wondering what’s inside, we played the Somerset to your Mills and took a look for you.

What we found was an amped up, URL-centric version of the original PASF box, the “People also ask” box, and the “Searches related to” you see at the bottom of the SERP — it’s a keyword goldmine and chock-full of content ideas, straight from the horse’s mouth (Google).

We’ll take you through how the PASF has changed over the years and how you can take advantage of everything it has to offer — even the odd things.

A brief history and the many faces of “People also search for” 

We first saw the words “People also search for” in 2012 with the introduction of knowledge graphs. Bringing up the rear of this right-side SERP feature, the PASF portion (which is still with us today) contains a handful of image thumbnails atop topically-related terms.

As part of the introduction, Google’s Amit Singhal had this to say about the PASF: “We can now sometimes help answer your next question before you’ve asked it because the facts we show are informed by what other people have searched for. For example, the information we show for Tom Cruise answers 37 percent of next queries that people ask about him.”

After that, we saw the “People also search for” act as an independent agent for a brief time, particularly for music-related queries. Divorced from the knowledge graph, the related topics (and images) were contained in their own box and placed at the bottom of the SERP.

When right above the list of “Searches related to,” it’s easier for us to see the kind of distinction Google is trying to make between these similar SERP features. One can take you down several topically-connected rabbit holes (the PASF); the other can help you refine or expand on your current query (the “Searches related to”).

"People also search for" box

In the example above for the query [can’t hold us], the PASF box thinks that given our taste in music, we may be interested in songs by the same artist or others that sound similar. The “Searches related to” section, on the other hand, is showing us different iterations of our same query.

But that was back in early 2016. On the current [can’t hold us] SERP, that independent “People also search for” box has popped back into the knowledge graph, leaving behind two boxes of related searches that both look and function the same but don’t bear the PASF name.

Example of "people also search for" box

This brings us to today and what you’re really here for — in the middle of February, Google started returning desktop “People also search for” results that look like this:

Updated "people also search for box"

Here, the thumbnail images have been abandoned, and the related topics now attach to an organic result. The topics also now seem to be a mix of the original PASF and “Searches related to.”

In our example above for the query [munchkin cat], “napoleon cat,” “skookum cat,” and “dwarf calico cat,” are definitely more like the OG PASF suggestions, while the other three are similar to what you’d find at the bottom of the SERP. This is likely because the PASF box, stuck to an organic results, returns topics that relate to the URL and not the query.

In order to surface this new version of the “People also search for,” you need to do a little pogo-sticking. The only way you’ll see it materialize is by clicking the organic search result and then navigating back to the SERP. It seems to be saying, “Didn’t find what you’re looking for? Try these instead.”

If it feels like you might be experiencing a touch of déjà vu, it’s because you are. We’ve seen this kind of PASF treatment on mobile devices since at least 2015.

Now, onto the research!

There are a lot of PASFs appearing on a lot of SERPs 

Digging into the data to see just how widespread this desktop rollout was, we found that the new “People also search for” result type appeared on 58.74 percent of the roughly 15,000 desktop SERPs we analyzed each day for a week.

This high of an amount, together with their established history on mobile SERPs (which they appear on 87.05 percent of), makes us fairly confident they’re more than just an experiment — they’re here to stay and likely going to increase in scope.

When looking at the number of PASFs that appear for a single keyword, we saw an average of 8.77 boxes per SERP, but SERPs with 10 PASFs occurred most frequently. We also found that the vast, vast majority of organic results with a PASF rank in positions 1–10.

Parsing the 100-result SERP means that it’s not always easy for us to know where one page ends and another begins, but because of the rank clustering we see, we’re fairly positive the “People also search for” box is in an exclusive relationship with the first page.

Also, since this result is currently married to organic results, our SERPs without a few PASFs are more likely due to the presence of SERP features than organic results that simply don’t produce them — though we have seen of few instances of that.

You get six related topics per “people also search for” 

For reasons that remain somewhat unclear but we’ll take a stab at anyway, desktop “People also search for” boxes contain two fewer related topics than PASFs chillin’ on mobile SERPs.

95.47 percent of our mobile PASFs had eight, while 96.81 percent of desktop PASFs had six. And the rest of the desktop boxes were equally likely to contain anywhere from 2–5 topics (Google seems to understand that one is the loneliest number and has refrained from leaving a single topic all on its own).

Perhaps Google wanted to avoid creating a lengthy desktop SERP? Mobile PASFs employ carousel-like behavior, which means they can fit eight terms without creating an impossibly long SERP.

We could also chalk the difference up to these being relatively early days of a rollout, so we’ll definitely be keeping an eye on whether this changes, and we’re gladly taking alternate explanations in the meantime.

Duplicate PASF topics make research doable 

Much like the “also asked” questions in a PAA, there is a lot of duplication in the topics that live in a PASF. Depending on your strategy, you can slice related topics by URL or query to help focus your research and keep it from scaling out of control.

Taking the URL approach helps you see how many topics (and what kind) relate to those specific pages. For example, URLs that appeared more than once in our data set saw an average of 3.02 distinct topics per SERP.

From a query perspective, we found that with an average of 54.46 related topics per SERP, 31.58 percent appeared more than once. If we’re rounding to the nearest whole topic, this means that one query can give us 37 unique related topics to explore.

At first blush, this would create an impossibly large number of new topics to tackle the more keywords you track. But worry not! When we take our entire query space into consideration, our data set returned only 47 unique topics over the course of seven days — a much more manageable number.

After looking at the mobile side of things, it seems Google is intentionally keeping the scope of related topics narrow. Nearly half — 46.35 percent — of all terms in mobile “People also search for” boxes are duplicates, which is even more duplication than our desktop PASFs. With up to 20 extra spots available per SERP, it’s unlikely that Google simply couldn’t think up new topics to slot in. Instead, it appears they’ve determined that the best, most relevant topics are already in play.

To sum this up: the duplication is weird but good. It means that you don’t need a lot of SERPs to get a fairly complete picture of topics associated with you, your competitors, or your queries.

Sidestep tricky competitors by targeting the SERPs of PASF topics 

When clicked, topics in the “People also search for” box becomes the search queries of whole new SERPs. Naturally, we wanted to see what stories those SERPs could tell.

To do this, we gathered a day’s worth of PASF topics, stuffed them into STAT to track, and then did some comparing. And what we found was a somewhat puzzling relationship between domains on the subsequent SERP and those on the original.

For starters, when you click a PASF topic that appears under a domain, 78.87 percent of the time that domain doesn’t rank anywhere in the top 20 of the new SERP. We take this to mean that either: Google knows better than to show you the same site you just left; or even though the site is topically-related, it’s not relevant enough for the new SERP.

In the 21.13 percent of the time that the domain does appear in the top 20 of the subsequent SERP, the lower it ranked on the initial SERP, the higher it’s likely to be ranked on the new one. Huh.

And, of those domains that did appear on the subsequent SERP and ranked in first place, 49.54 percent did so as a featured snippet (though we feel compelled to let you know that our sample size had been whittled down by quite a bit at this point).

So, how’s an SEO to take advantage of all this oddity? Well, if you’re struggling to rank higher, or rank at all, against your current query’s competitors, it may be worth investigating the SERPs of PASF topics as alternate avenues.

Combine PASF with PAA and start to conquer the SERP 

Once you’ve got your paws on all the “People also search for” topics, collect everything in the “People also ask” boxes and then round up each of the “Searches related to.”

Use these gifts from Google to map your query space, grow your keyword lists, and build out content that can hit multiple topics.

Want to see how you can do this all in STAT? Book your personalized walkthrough, below!

Book a demo!

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What Your Google Tag Manager Container Should Contain – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by DiTomaso

Agencies, are you set up for ongoing Google Tag Manager success? GTM isn’t the easiest tool in the world to work with, but if you know how to use it, it can make your life much easier. Make your future self happier and more productive by setting up your GTM containers the right way today. Dana DiTomaso shares more tips and hints in this edition of Whiteboard Friday.

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

Video Transcription

Hi, Moz fans. My name is Dana DiTomaso. I am President and partner at Kick Point, which is a digital marketing agency based in Edmonton, Alberta. Today I’m going to be talking to you about Google Tag Manager and what your default container in Google Tag Manager should contain. I think if you’re in SEO, there are certainly a lot of things Google Tag Manager can do for you.

But if you’ve kind of said to yourself, “You know, Google Tag Manager is not the easiest thing to work with,” which is fair, it is not, and it used to be a lot worse, but the newer versions are pretty good, then you might have been a little intimidated by going in there and doing stuff. But I really recommend that you include these things by default because later you is going to be really happy that current you put this stuff in. So I’m going to go through what’s in Kick Point’s default Google Tag Manager container, and then hopefully you can take some of this and apply it to your own stuff.

Agencies, if you are watching, you are going to want to create a default container and use it again and again, trust me. 


So we’re going to start with how this stuff is laid out. So what we have are tags and then triggers. The way that this works is the tag is sort of the thing that’s going to happen when a trigger occurs. 

Conversion linker

So tags that we have in our default container are the conversion linker, which is used to help conversions with Safari.

If you don’t know a lot about this, I recommend looking up some of the restrictions with Safari tracking and ITP. I think they’re at 2.2 at the time I’m recording this. So I recommend checking that out. But this conversion linker will help you get around that. It’s a default tag in Tag Manager, so you just add the conversion linker. There’s a nice article on Google about what it does and how it all works. 


Then we need to track a number of events. You can certainly track these things as custom dimensions or custom metrics if that floats your boat. I mean that’s up to you. If you are familiar with using custom dimensions and custom metrics, then I assume you probably know how to do this. But if you’re just getting started with Tag Manager, just start with events and then you can roll your way up to being an expert after a while. 

External links

So under events, we always track external links, so anything that points out to a domain that isn’t yours.

The way that we track this is we’re looking at every single link that’s clicked and if it does not contain our client’s domain name, then we record it as an external link, and that’s an event that we record. Now remember, and I’ve seen accidents with this where someone doesn’t put in your client’s domain and then it tracks every single click to a different page on your client’s website as an external link. That’s bad.

When you transfer from HTTP to HTTPS, if you don’t update Google Tag Manager, it will start recording links incorrectly. Also bad. But what this is really useful for are things like when you link out to other websites, as you should when you’re writing articles, telling people to find out more information. Or you can track clicks out to your different social properties and see if people are actually clicking on that Facebook icon that you stuck in the header of your website. 

PDF downloads

The next thing to track are PDF downloads.

Now there’s a limitation to this, of course, in that if people google something and your PDF comes out and then they click on it directly from Google, of course that’s not going to show up in your Analytics. That can show up in Search Console, but you’re not going to get it in Analytics. So just keep that in mind. This is if someone clicks to your PDF from a specific page on your website. Again, you’re decorating the link to say if this link contains a PDF, then I want to have this.

Scroll tracking

Then we also track scroll tracking. Now scroll tracking is when people scroll down the site, you can track and fire an event at say 25%, 50%, 75%, and 100% of the way down the page. Now the thing is with this is that your mileage is going to vary. You will probably pick different percentages. By default, in all of our containers we put 25%, 50%, 75%, and 100%. Based on the client, we might change this.

An advanced, sort of level up tactic would be to pick specific elements and then when they enter the viewport, then you can fire an event. So let’s say, for example, you have a really important call to action and because different devices are different sizes, it’s going to be a different percentage of the way down the page when it shows up, but you want to see if people got to that main CTA. Then you would want to add an event that would show whether or not that CTA was shown in the viewport.

If you google Google Tag Manager and tracking things in the viewport, there are some great articles out there on how to do it. It’s not that difficult to set up. 

Form submits

Then also form submits. Of course, you’re going to want to customize this. But by default put form submits in your container, because I guarantee that when someone is making your container let’s say for a brand-new website, they will forget about tracking form submits unless you put it in your default container and they look at it and say, “Oh, right, I have to edit that.” So always put form submits in there. 

Tel: & mailto: links

Of course you want to track telephone links and mailto: links. Telephone links should always, always be tappable, and that’s something that I see a lot of mistakes. Particularly in local SEO, when we’re dealing with really small business websites, they don’t make the telephone links tappable. It’s probably because people don’t know how. In case you don’t know how, you just telephone and then a colon and then the telephone number.

<a href="tel:+5555555555">(555) 555-5555</a>

That’s it. That’s all you need to do. Just like a link, except rather than going out to an HTTPS://, you’re going out to a telephone number. That is going to make your visitors’ lives so much easier, particularly on mobile devices. You always want to have those be tappable. So then you can track the number of people who tap on telephone links and people who tap on mailto: links exactly the same way. Now something that I do have to say, though, is that if you are using a call tracking provider, like CallRail for example, which is one that we use, then you’re going to want to shut this off, because then you could end up in double counting.

Particularly if you’re tracking every call made out from your website, then CallRail would have an Analytics integration, and then you would be tracking taps and you might also be tracking telephone clicks. So you can track it if you want to see how many people tap versus picking up the phone and calling the old-fashioned way with landlines. You can also do that, but that’s entirely up to you. But just keep that in mind if you are going to track telephone links.

All pages tracking

Then, of course, all pages tracking. Make sure you’re tracking all of the pages on your website through Google Analytics. So those are the tags. 


Next up are the triggers. So I have a tag of external links. Then I need a trigger for external links. The trigger says when somebody clicks an external link, then I want this event to happen.


So the event is where you structure the category and then the action and the label. 

External links

The way that we would structure external links, for example, we would say that the category for it is an external link, the action is click, and then the label is the actual link that was clicked for example. You can see you can go through each of these and see where this is happening.

Form submits

Then on things like form submit, for example, our label could be the specific form. 

Tel: & mailto:

On telephone and mailto:, we might track the phone number. 


On other things, like PDFs, we might track like the page that this happened on. 

Page scroll

For scroll tracking, for example, we would want to track the page that someone scrolled down on. What I recommend when you’re setting up the event tracking for page scroll, the category should be page scroll, the action should be the percentage of which people scroll down, and then the label should be the URL.

Really think of it in terms of events, where you’ve got the category, which is what happened, the action, which is what did the person do, and the label is telling me more information about this. So actions are typically things like scroll, click, and tap if you’re going to be fancy and track mobile versus desktop. It could be things like form submit, for example, or just submit. Just really basic stuff. So really the two things that are going to tell you the difference are things like categories and labels, and the action is just the action that happened.

I’m really pedantic when it comes to setting up events, but I think in the long term, again, future you is going to thank you if you set this stuff up properly from the beginning. So you can really see that the tag goes to this trigger. Tag to trigger, tag to trigger, etc. So really think about making sure that every one of your tags has a corresponding trigger if it makes sense. So now we’re going to leave you with some tips on how to set up your Tag Manager account.


1. Use a Google Analytics ID variable

So the first tip is use a Google Analytics ID variable. It’s one of the built-in variables. When you go into Tag Manager and you click on Variables, it’s one of the built-in variables in there. I really recommend using that, because if you hardcode in the GA ID and something happens and you have to change it in the future or you copy that for someone else or whatever it might be, you’re going to forget.

I guarantee you you will forget. So you’re going to want to put that variable in there so you change it once and it’s everywhere. You’re saving yourself so much time and suffering. Just use a Google Analytics ID variable. If you have a really old container, maybe the variable wasn’t a thing when you first set it up. So one of the things I would recommend is go check and make sure you’re using a variable. If you’re not, then make a to-do for yourself to rip out all the hardcoded instances of your GA ID and instead replace it with a variable.

It will save you so much headaches. 

2. Create a default container to import

So the next thing — agencies, this is for you — create a default container to import. Obviously, if you’re working in-house, you’re probably not making Google Tag Manager containers all that often, unless you work at say a homebuilder and you’re making microsites for every new home development. Then you might want to create a default container for yourself. But agency side for sure, you want have a default container that you make so every cool idea that you think of, you think, oh, we need to track this, just put it all in your default container, and then when you’re grabbing it to make one for a client, you can decide, oh, we don’t need this, or yes, we need this.

It’s going to save you a ton of time when you’re setting up containers, because I find that that’s the most labor-intensive part of working with a new Tag Manager container is thinking about, “What is all the stuff I want to include?” So you want to make sure that your default container has all your little tips and tricks that you’ve accumulated over the years in there and documented of course, and then decide on a client-by-client basis what you’re going to leave and what you’re going to keep.

3. Use a naming scheme and folders

Also use a naming scheme and folders, again because you may not be working there forever, and somebody in the future is going to want to look at this and think, “Why did they set it up like this? What does this word mean? Why is this variable called foo?” You know, things that have annoyed me about developers for years and years and years, developers I love you, but please stop naming things foo. It makes no sense to anyone other than you. So our naming scheme, and you can totally steal this if you want, is we go product, result, and then what.

So, for example, we would have our tag for Google Analytics page download. So it would say Google Analytics. This is the product that the thing is going to go to. Event is what is the result of this thing existing. Then what is the PDF download. Then it’s really clear, okay, I need to fix this thing with PDF download. Something is wrong.

It’s kind of weird. Now I know exactly where to go. Again, with folders as well, so let’s say you’ve implemented something such as content consumption, which is a Google Tag Manager recipe that you can grab on our website at, and I’ll make sure to link to it in the transcript. Let’s say you grab that. Then you’re going to want to take all the different tags and triggers that come along with content consumption and toss that into its own folder and then separate it out from all of your basic stuff.

Even if you have everything to start in a folder called Basics or Events or Analytics versus Call Tracking versus any of the other billion different tracking pixels that you have on your website, it’s a good idea to just keep it all organized. I know it’s two minutes now. It is saving you a lifetime of suffering in the future, and the future you, whether it’s you working there or somebody who ends up taking your job five years from now, just make it easier on them.

Especially too, when you think back to say Google Analytics has been around for a long time now. When I go back and look at some of my very, very first analytics that I set up, I might look at it and think, “Why was I doing that?” But if you have documentation, at least you’re going to know why you did that really weird thing back in 2008. Or when you’re looking at this in 2029 and you’re thinking, “Why did I do this thing in 2019?” you’re going to have documentation for it. So just really keep that in mind. 

4. Audit regularly!

Then the last thing is auditing regularly, and that means once every 3, 6, or 12 months. Pick a time period that makes sense for how often you’re going into the container. You go in and you take a look at every single tag, every single trigger, and every single variable. Simo Ahava has a really nice Google Tag Manager sort of auditing tool.

I’ll make sure to link to that in the transcript as well. You can use that to just go through your container and see what’s up. Let’s say you tested out some sort of screen recording, like you installed Hotjar six months ago and you ended up deciding on say another product instead, like FullStory, so then you want to make sure you remove the Hotjar. How many times have you found that you look at a new website and you’re like, “Why is this on here?”

No one at the client can tell you. They’re like, “I don’t know where that code came from.” So this is where auditing can be really handy, because remember, over time, each one of those funny little pixels that you tested out some product and then you ended up not going with it is weighing down your page and maybe it’s just a couple of microseconds, but that stuff adds up. So you really do want to go in and audit regularly and remove anything you’re not using anymore. Keep your Google Tag Manager container clean.

A lot of this is focused on obviously making future you very happy. Auditing will also make future you very happy. So hopefully, out of this, you can create a Google Tag Manager default container that’s going to work for you. I’m going to make sure as well, when the transcript is out for this, that I’m going to include some of the links that I talked about as well as a link to some more tips on how to add in things like conversion linker and make sure I’m updating it for when this video is published.

Thanks so much.

Video transcription by

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Rural Local SEO: A Marketing Package Strong on Education

Posted by MiriamEllis

Can your marketing agency make a profit working with low-budget clients in rural areas?

Could you be overlooking a source of referrals, publicity, and professional satisfaction if you’re mainly focused on landing larger clients in urban locales? Clients in least-populated areas need to capture every customer they can get to be viable, including locals, new neighbors, and passers-through. Basic Local SEO can go a long way toward helping with this, and even if package offerings aren’t your agency’s typical approach, a simple product that emphasizes education could be exactly what’s called for.

Today, I’d like to help you explore your opportunities of serving rural and very small town clients. I’ve pulled together a sample spreadsheet and a ton of other resources that I hope will empower you to develop a bare-bones but high-quality local search marketing package that will work for most and could significantly benefit your agency in some remarkable ways.

Everything in moderation

The linchpin fundamental to the rural client/agency relationship is that the needs of these businesses are so exceedingly moderate. The competitive bar is set so low in a small-town-and-country setting, that, with few exceptions, clients can make a strong local showing with a pared-down marketing plan.

Let’s be honest — many businesses in this scenario can squeak by on a website design package from some giant web hosting agency. A few minutes spent with Google’s non-urban local packs attest to this. But I’m personally dissatisfied by independent businesses ending up being treated like numbers because it’s so antithetical to the way they operate. The local hardware store doesn’t put you on hold for 45 minutes to answer a question. The local farm stand doesn’t route you overseas to buy heirloom tomatoes. Few small town institutions stay in business for 150 years by overpromising and under-delivering.

Let’s assume that many rural clients will have some kind of website. If they don’t, you can recommend some sort of freebie or cheapie solution. It will be enough to get them placed somewhere in Google’s results, but if they never move beyond this, the maximum conversions they need to stay in business could be missed.

I’ve come to believe that the small-to-medium local marketing agency is the best fit for the small-to-medium rural brand because of shared work ethics and a similar way of doing business. But both entities need to survive monetarily and that means playing a very smart game with a budget on both sides.

It’s a question of organizing an agency offering that delivers maximum value with a modest investment of your time and the client’s money.

Constructing a square deal

When you take on a substantial client in a large town or city, you pull out all the stops. You dive deeply into auditing the business, its market, its assets. You look at everything from technical errors to creative strengths before beginning to build a strategy or implement campaigns, and there may be many months or years of work ahead for you with these clients. This is all entirely appropriate for big, lucrative contracts.

For your rural roster, prepare to scale way back. Here is your working plan:

1. Schedule your first 15-minute phone call with the client

Avoid the whole issue of having to lollygag around waiting for a busy small business owner to fill out a form. Schedule an appointment and have the client be at their place of business in front of a computer at the time of the call. Confirm the following, ultra-basic data about the client.

  • Name
  • Address
  • Phone
  • URL
  • Business model (single location brick-and-mortar, SAB, etc.)
  • Category
  • Are there any other businesses at this address?
  • Main products/services offered
  • If SAB, list of cities served
  • Most obvious search phrase they want to rank for
  • Year established and year they first took the business online
  • Have they ever been aware of a penalty on their website or had Google tell them they were removing a listing?
  • Finally, have the client (who is in front of their computer at their place of business) search for the search term that’s the most obviously important and read off to you the names and URLs of the businesses ranking in the local pack and on the first page of the organic results.

And that’s it. If you pay yourself $100/hr, this quick session yields a charge of $25.

2. Make a one-time investment in writing a bare-bones guide to Local SEO

Spend less than one working day putting together a .pdf file or Google doc written in the least-technical language containing the following:

  • Your briefest, clearest definition of what local SEO is and how it brings customers to local businesses. Inspiration here.
  • An overview of 3 key business models: brick & mortar, SAB, and home-based so the client can easily identify which of these models is theirs.
  • A complete copy of the Guidelines for representing your business on Google with a link in it to the live guidelines.
  • Foolproof instructions for creating a Google account and creating and claiming a GMB listing. Show the process step-by-step so that anyone can understand it. Inspiration here.
  • A list of top general industry citation platforms with links to the forms for getting listed on them. Inspiration here and if the client can hit at least a few of these, they will be off to a good start.
  • An overview of the role of review acquisition and response, with a few simple tips for earning reviews and a list of the top general industry review platforms. Inspiration here and here.
  • An overview of the role of building offline relationships to earn a few online linktations. Inspiration here.
  • Links to the Google My Business forum and the main Google support platforms including their phone number (844.491.9665), Facebook, Twitter, and online chat. Tell the client this is where to go if they encounter a problem with their Google listing in the future.
  • Links to major independent business associations as a support vehicle for small and rural businesses like AMIBA, ILSR, and Small Business Saturday. Inspiration here.
  • Your agency’s complete contact information so that the business can remember who you are and engage you for further consulting down the road, if ever necessary.

If you pay yourself $100 an hour, investing in creating this guide will cost you less than $1000.00. That’s a modest amount that you can quickly earn back from clients. Hopefully, the inspirational links I’ve included will give you a big head start. Avoid covering anything trendy (like some brand new Google feature) so that the only time you should have to update the guide in the near future will be if Google makes some major changes to their guidelines or dashboard.

Deliver this asset to every rural client as their basic training in the bare essentials of local marketing.

3. Create a competitive audit spreadsheet once and fill it out ad infinitum

What you want here is something that lets you swiftly fill in the blanks.

For the competitive audit, you’ll be stacking up your client’s metrics against the metrics of the business they told you was ranking at the top of the local pack when they searched from their location. You can come up with your own metrics, or you can make a copy of this template I’ve created for you and add to it/subtract from it as you like.

Make a copy of the ultra-basic competitive local audit template — you can do so right here.

You’ll notice that my sample sheet does not delve deeply into some of the more technical or creative areas you might explore for clients in tougher markets. With few exceptions, rural clients just don’t need that level of insight to compete.

Give yourself 45 focused minutes filling in the data in the spreadsheet. You’ve now invested 1 hour of time with the client. So let’s give that a value of $100.

4. Transfer the findings of your audit into a custom report

Here’s another one-time investment. Spend no more than one workday creating a .pdf or Google Docs template that takes the fields of your audit and presents them in a readable format for the client. I’m going to leave exact formatting up to you, but here are the sections I would recommend structuring the report around:

  • A side-by-side comparison of the client vs. competitor metrics, bucketed by topic (Website, GMB, Reputation, Links, Citations, etc)
  • A very basic explanation of what those metrics mean
  • A clear recommendation of what the client should do to improve their metrics

For example, your section on reputation might look like this:

The beauty of this is that, once you have the template, all you have to do is fill it out and then spend an hour making intelligent observations based on your findings.

Constructing the template should take you less than one workday; so, a one-time investment of less than $1,000 if you are paying yourself $100/hr.

Transferring the findings of your audit from the spreadsheet to the report for each client should take about 1 hour. So, we’re now up to two total hours of effort for a unique client.

5. Excelling at value

So, you’ve now had a 15-minute conversation with a client, given them an introductory guide to the basics of local search marketing, and delivered a customized report filled with your observations and their to-dos. Many agencies might call it a day and leave the client to interpret the report on their own.

But you won’t do that, because you don’t want to waste an incredible opportunity to build a firm relationship with a business. Instead, spend one more hour on the phone with the owner, going over the report with them page by page and allowing a few minutes for any of their questions. This is where you have the chance to deliver exceptional value to the client, telling them exactly what you think will be most helpful for them to know in a true teaching moment.

At the end of this, you will have become a memorable ally, someone they trust, and someone to whom they will have confidence in referring their colleagues, family members, and neighbors.

You’ve made an overall investment of less than $2,000 to create your rural/small town marketing program.

Packaging up the guide, the report and the 1:1 phone consulting, you have a base price of $300 for the product if you pay yourself $100/hour.

However, I’m going to suggest that, based on the level of local SEO expertise you bring to the scenario, you create a price point somewhere between $300–$500 for the package. If you are still relatively green at local SEO, $300 could be a fair price for three hours of consulting. If you’re an industry adept, scale it up a bit because, because you bring a rare level of insight to every client interaction, even if you’re sticking to the absolute basics. Begin selling several of these packages in a week, and it will start totaling up to a good monthly revenue stream.

As a marketer, I’ve generally shied away from packages because whenever you dig deeply into a client’s scenario, nuances end up requiring so much custom research and communication. But, for the very smallest clients in this least competitive markets, packages can hit the spot.

Considerable benefits for your agency

The client is going to walk away from the relationship with a good deal … and likely a lot to do. If they follow your recommendations, it will typically be just what they needed to establish themselves on the web to the extent that neighbors and travelers can easily find them and choose them for transactions. Good job!

But you’re going to walk away with some amazing benefits, too, some of which you might not have considered before. To wit:

1. Relationships and the ripple effect

A client you’ve treated very well on the phone is a client who is likely to remember you for future needs and recommend you. I’ve had businesses send me lovely gifts on top of my consulting fee because I’ve taken the time to really listen and answer questions. SEO agencies are always looking for ways to build authentic relationships. Don’t overlook the small client as a centroid of referrals throughout a tight-knit community and beyond it to their urban colleagues, friends, and family.

2. Big data for insights and bragging rights

If your package becomes popular, a ton of data is going to start passing through your hands. The more of these audits you do, the more time you’re spending actively observing Google’s handling of the localized SERPs. Imagine the blog posts your agency can begin publishing by anonymizing and aggregating this data, pulling insights of value to our industry. There is no end to the potential for you to grow your knowledge.

Apart from case studies, think of the way this package can both build up your proud client roster and serve as a source of client reviews. The friendly relationship you’ve built with that 1:1 time can now become a font of very positive portfolio content and testimonials for you to publish on your website.

3. Agency pride from helping rebuild rural America

Have you noticed the recent spate of hit TV shows that hinge on rebuilding dilapidated American towns? Industry consolidation is most often cited as the root of rural collapse, with small farmers and independent businesses no longer able to create a tax base to support basic community needs like hospitals, fire departments, and schools. Few of us rejoice at the idea of Main Streets — long-cherished hallmarks not just of Americana but of shared American identity — becoming ghost towns.

But if you look for it, you can see signs of brilliant small entrepreneurs uniting to buck this trend. Check out initiatives like Locavesting and Localstake. There’s a reason to hope in small farming co-ops, the Main Street movement, and individuals like these who can re-envision a crumbling building as an independent country store, a B&B, or a job training center with Internet access.

It can be a source of professional satisfaction for your marketing agency if you offer these brave and hard-working business owners a good deal and the necessary education they need to present themselves sufficiently on the web. I live in a rural area, and I know just how much a little, solid advice can help. I feel extra good if I know I’m contributing to America’s rural comeback story.

Promoting your rural local SEO package

Once you’ve got your guide and templates created, what next? Here are some simple tips:

  • Create a terrific landing page on your website specifically for this package and call it out on your homepage as well. Wherever appropriate, build internal links to it.
  • Promote on social media.
  • Blog about why you’ve created the package, aligning your agency as an ally to the rebuilding of rural communities.
  • If, like me, you live in a rural area, consider presenting at local community events that will put you in front of small business owners.
  • Don’t overlook old school media like community message boards at the local post office, or even fliers tacked to electric poles.
  • If you’re a city slicker, consider how far you’d have to travel to get to the nearest rural community to participate in events.
  • Advertising both off and online in rural papers can be quite economical. There is also a place of worship print bulletins, local school papers, and other publications that welcome sponsors. Give it a try.
  • And, of course, ask happy clients to refer you, telling them what it means to your business. You might even develop a referral program.

The truth is that your agency may not be able to live by rural clients, alone. You may still be targeting the bulk of your campaigns towards urban enterprises because just a few highly competitive clients can bring welcome security to your bank account.

But maybe this is a good day to start looking beyond the fast food franchise, the NY attorney and the LA dermatology group. The more one reads about rural entrepreneurs, the more one tends to empathize with them, and empathy is the best foundation I know of for building rewarding business relationships.

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Podcasts in SERPs: Is Audio SEO The Next Frontier?

Posted by Dr-Pete

One of the many bits of news from Google I/O 2019 was that Google would soon start displaying podcasts in search results. “Soon” turned out to be very soon, as we’re already seeing these results surface. Here’s one from a search for our own podcast, MozPod:

While the feature itself is interesting, and the fact that the main result goes to Apple while the episodes go to Google is entertaining, the talk out of I/O suggested something much more intriguing – that Google would soon be indexing podcast content and returning audio clips in search results.

Can Google transcribe audio content?

Is this currently possible? In a word: yes. We know that Google has offered a speech-to-text service as part of Google Cloud Platform since 2017, which has already undergone a few iterations and upgrades. Earlier this year, Android Police spotted source code changes which suggested that Google was proactively transcribing some podcasts on the Google Podcasts platform.

We see evidence of this capability in the broader Google ecosystem. For example, here’s an automatic transcript on my Google Pixel phone for a recent call …

We even see evidence of this capability in search results, but in a different medium. As early as April 2017, Google was testing suggested clips in YouTube videos. Here’s a current example from a search for “how to swim butterfly”:

Note the “Suggested clip” highlighted in the blue box, and starting at the 2:30 mark. What’s interesting is that variations on this search not only produce different videos in some cases, but different clips within the same video. Here’s the result I got back for “how to swim the butterfly” (adding only the definite article “the”):

Now, the suggested clip is 101 seconds long and starts at the 1:54 mark. It’s clear from some suggested clips that the feature is still in its infancy, but it’s difficult to imagine Google being able to implement this feature dynamically without create a transcript of the audio portion of these videos.

Why start with video? For Google, it just makes bottom-line sense. YouTube is a planetary system to the pleasant suburb of Google Podcasts and has an immensely powerful infrastructure backing it. If Google can return results based on the audio portion of a video, it’s only natural they can do the same for audio files.

How will audio surface in search?

The obvious starting points will be extensions of the podcast engine, including automatic transcription and full-text (full-audio) search – both of which already seem to be in the works. Once you can search within Google Podcasts, though, expect that search capability to broaden to general Google searches.

One big question is whether Google will return audio content directly or will use transcribed text. In some cases, returning audio clips may be a better match to searcher intent. If you’re searching for a movie clip or something you heard in a podcast, returning the original is a richer experience than returning plain text. The big advantage, though, will be to voice devices, such as Google Home. Returning audio would fill a content gap for voice devices and provide a direct bridge into full podcasts and other non-text content.

How many podcasts should I start?

We do seem to be in the midst of a minor podcast revival, and audio search may spark that revival. As always, though, expect Google to release changes gradually and test them for weeks or months. If you’re already producing a podcast and want to make it accessible to search, make sure you’re part of the Google Podcasts ecosystem and are entering and updating the currently available meta data.

Other than having clean audio in a format Google can process, there’s probably nothing specific you’ll have to do down the road to get that content transcribed. It may be worth thinking about how your audio content is structured. Completely free-form content, while it certainly has a place, may be harder for Google to evaluate. Is the theme of your podcast and each episode evident? Is there a structure where a machine could potentially parse questions and answers. Are there concise takeaways – maybe a summary at the end of each episode?

Ultimately, audio SEO will mean treating our audio content in a more structured and deliberate way. The broader evolution of Google across many devices also means that we need to be more aware of what type of content best fits our audience’s needs. Is the searcher looking for text, video, or audio? Each modality fits a different need and a different device (or set of devices) in the broader search ecosystem.

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7 Proven SEO Reporting Best Practices That Boost Client Retention

Posted by KameronJenkins

“Let’s hop on a call to go over this report.”

Did you hear that?

That was the collective sigh of SEOs everywhere.

If we’re being honest, most of us probably view reporting the same way we view taking out the trash or folding the laundry. It’s a chore that robs us of time we could have spent on more important or enjoyable things.

Adding to the frustration is the reality that many clients don’t even read their reports. That’s right. All that time you put into pulling together your data and the report might be forever resigned to the dusty corner of your client’s inbox.

In the words of Mama Boucher, reporting is the devil.

Hear me out though… have you ever thought of reporting as a client retention tool? While reporting is something that takes your time away from SEO work that moves the needle, reporting is also critical if you want to have a campaign to work on at all.

In other words, no reporting = no value communicated = no more client.

The good news is that the reverse is also true. When we do SEO reporting well, we communicate our value and keep more clients, which is something that every agency and consultant can agree is important.

That all sounds nice, but how can we do that? Throughout my six years at an SEO agency, I picked up some reporting tips that I hope you’ll be able to benefit from as well.

P.S. If you haven’t seen it already, Moz’s own Meghan Pahinui wrote an amazing post for the Moz blog on creating relevant and engaging SEO reports using Moz Pro Campaigns. Definitely check it out!

1. Report on what they care about

I’ve seen my share of reports that highlighted metrics that just didn’t reflect any of the client’s main objectives. Your clients are busy — the first sight of something irrelevant and they’ll lose interest, so make your reports count!

My process for determining what I should report on is fairly simple:

  1. Identify the business objective
  2. Create an SEO plan that will help achieve that goal
  3. Execute the plan
  4. Report on the metrics that best measure the work I did

In other words, choose appropriate KPIs to match their business objectives and your strategy, and stick to those for your reporting.

2. Set specific goals

You: “Good news! We got 4,000 organic visits last month.”

Client: “Why wasn’t it 5,000?”

If that’s ever happened to you before, you’re not alone.

This simple step is so easy to forget, but make sure your goals are specific and mutually agreed upon before you start! At the beginning of the month, tell your client what your goal is (ex: “We hope to be able to get 4,000 organic visits”). That way, when you review your report, you’ll be able to objectively say whether you missed/hit/exceeded your targets.

3. Eliminate jargon

Your clients are professionals in their own fields, not yours, so make sure to leave the shop-talking to Twitter. Before sending out a report, ask yourself:

  • Have I defined all potentially confusing metrics? I’ve seen some SEOs include a mini-glossary or analogies to explain some of their charts — I love this! It really helps disambiguate metrics that are easy to misunderstand.
  • Am I using words that aren’t used outside my own echo chamber? Some phrases become so ubiquitous in our immediate circles that we assume everyone uses them. In many cases, we’re using jargon without even realizing it!

Simply put, use clear language and layman’s terms in your client’s SEO reports. You won’t serve anyone by confusing them.

4. Visualize your data in meaningful ways

I once heard a client describe a report as “pretty, but useless.”


They had a point though. Their report was full of pie charts and line graphs that, while important-looking, conveyed no meaning to them.

Part of that “meaning” comes down to reporting on the metrics your client cares about (see #1), but the other half of that is choosing how you’ll display that information.

There are some great resources on Moz about data visualization such as Demystifying Data Visualization for Marketers, a video of Annie Cushing’s talk at MozCon 2014, and A Visualization Prescription for Impactful Data Storytelling, a Whiteboard Friday video by Lea Pica.

Resources like that will help you transform your data from metrics into a story that conveys meaning to your clients, so don’t skimp on this step!

5. Provide insights, not just metrics

I remember the first time someone explained to me the difference between metrics and insights. I was blown away.

It seems so simple now, but in my earliest days in digital marketing, I basically viewed “reporting” as synonymous with “data.” Raw, numeric, mind-numbing data.

The key to making your reports more meaningful to your clients is understanding that pure metrics don’t have intrinsic data. You have to unify the data in meaningful ways and pull out insights that help your client understand not just what the numbers are but why they matter.

I find it helpful to ask “so what?” when going through a report. Client’s ranking on page 1 for this list of keywords? That’s cool, but why should my client care about this? How is it contributing to their goals? Work on answering that question before you communicate your reports.

6. Connect SEO results to revenue

I’m going to be honest, this one is tricky.

First of all, SEO is a few layers removed from conversions. When it comes to “the big three” (as I like to refer to rankings, traffic, and conversions), SEOs can:

  • Most directly influence rankings
  • Influence organic traffic, but a little less directly than rankings. For example, organic traffic can go down despite sustained rankings due to things like seasonality.
  • Influence organic conversions, but even less directly than traffic. Everything from the website design to the product/service itself can affect that.

Second, it can be difficult to connect SEO to revenue especially on websites where the ultimate conversion happens offline (ex: lead gen). In order to tie organic traffic to revenue, you’ll want to set up goal conversions and add a value to those conversions in your analytics, but here’s where that gets difficult:

  • Clients often don’t know their average LCV (lifetime customer value)
  • Clients often don’t know their average close rate (the rough percentage of leads that they close)
  • Clients know, but they don’t want to share this information with you

Everyone has a different reporting methodology, but I personally tend to advocate for at least trying to connect SEO to revenue. I’ve been in enough situations where our client dropped us because they saw us as a cost-center rather than a profit-center to know that communicating your value in monetary terms can mean the difference between keeping your client or not.

Even though you can’t directly influence conversions and even if your client can only give you a rough ballpark figure for LCV and close rate, it’s better than nothing.

7. Be available to fill in the gaps

Not everything can be explained in a report. Even if you’re able to add text commentary to elaborate on your data, there’s still the risk that a key point will be lost on your client completely. Expect this!

I’ve seen plenty of client reporting calls go well over an hour. While no two situations are alike, I think starting with a report that contains clear insights on the KPIs your client cares about will do wonders for shortening that conversation.

Your clients will be able to understand those insights on their own, which frees you up to add context and answer any questions without getting bogged down with back-and-forth over “red herring” metrics that distract from the main point.

I want to hear from you!

What about you? Every SEO has their own reporting best practices, wins, and horror stories — I want to hear yours!

  • What reporting trick do you have up your sleeve that could help your fellow SEOs save time (& their sanity)?
  • What’s your biggest reporting struggle and how are you trying to solve it?
  • What’s an example of a time when reporting played a role in salvaging a client relationship?

We’re in this together — so let’s learn from each other!

And if you want more where this came from, please consider downloading our free whitepaper: High-Impact SEO Reporting for Agencies! It’s full of advice and helpful tips for using reports to communicate value to your clients.

Read the whitepaper

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4 Key Lessons Content Marketers Can Take From Data Journalists

Posted by matt_gillespie

There’s an oft-cited statistic in the world of technology professionals, from marketers to startup founders to data scientists: 90% of the world’s data has been created in the last two years.

This instantly-Tweetable snippet was referenced in Forbes in 2018, mentioned by MediaPost in 2016, and covered on Science Daily in 2013. A casual observer could be forgiven for asking: How could that be true in three different years?

At Fractl, the data makes perfect sense to us: The global amount of digital information is growing exponentially over time.

From Seagate

This means that the “90 percent of all data…” statistic was true in 2013, 2016, and 2018, and it will continue to be true for the foreseeable future. As our culture continues to become more internet-integrated and mobile, we continue to produce massive amounts of data year over year while also becoming more comfortable with understanding large quantities of information.

This is hugely important to anyone who creates content on the web: Stats about how much data we create are great, but the stories buried in that data are what really matter. In the opening manifesto for FiveThirtyEight, one of the first sites on the web specifically devoted to data journalism, Editor-in-Chief Nate Silver wrote:

“Almost everything from our sporting events to our love lives now leaves behind a data trail.” 

This type of data has always been of interest to marketers doing consumer research, but the rise of data journalism shows us that there is both consumer demand and almost infinite potential for great storytelling rooted in numbers.

In this post, I’ll highlight four key insights from data science and journalism and how content marketers can leverage them to create truly newsworthy content that stands out from the pack:

  • The numbers drive the narrative
  • Plotted points are more trustworthy than written words (especially by brands!)
  • Great data content is both beautiful and easy-to-interpret
  • Every company has a (data) story to tell

 By the time you’re done, you’ll have gleaned a better understanding of how data visualization, from simple charts to complex interactive graphics, can help them tell a story and achieve wide visibility for their clients.

The numbers drive the narrative

Try Googling “infographics are dead,” and your top hit will be a 2015 think piece asserting that the medium has been dead for years, followed by many responses that the medium isn’t anywhere close to “dead.” These more optimistic articles tend to focus on the key aspects of infographics that have transformed since their popularity initially grew:

  • Data visualization (and the public’s appetite for it) is evolving, and
  • A bad data viz in an oversaturated market won’t cut it with overloaded consumers.

For content marketers, the advent of infographics was a dream come true: Anyone with even basic skills in Excel and a good graphic designer could whip up some charts, beautify them, and use them to share stories. But Infographics 1.0 quickly fizzled because they failed to deliver anything interesting — they were just a different way to share the same boring stories.

Data journalists do something very different. Take the groundbreaking work from Reuters on the Rohingya Muslim refugee camps in southern Bangladesh, which was awarded the Global Editors Network Award for Best Data Visualization in 2018. This piece starts with a story—an enormous refugee crisis taking place far away from the West—and uses interactive maps, stacked bar charts, and simple statistics visualizations to contextualize and amplify a heartbreaking narrative.

The Reuters piece isn’t only effective because of its innovative data viz techniques; rather, the piece begins with an extremely newsworthy human story and uses numbers to make sure it’s told in the most emotionally resonant way possible. Content marketers, who are absolutely inundated with advice on how storytelling is essential to their work, need to see data journalism as a way to drive their narratives forward, rather than thinking of data visualization simply as a way to pique interest or enhance credibility.

Plotted points are more trustworthy than written words

This is especially true when it comes to brands.

In the era of #FakeNews, content marketers are struggling more than ever to make sure their content is seen as precise, newsworthy, and trustworthy. The job of a content marketer is to produce work for a brand that can go out and reasonably compete for visibility against nonprofits, think tanks, universities, and mainstream media outlets simultaneously. While some brands are quite trusted by Americans, content marketers may find themselves working with lesser-known clients seeking to build up both awareness and trust through great content.

One of the best ways to do both is to follow the lead of data journalists by letting visual data content convey your story for you.

“Numbers don’t lie” vs. brand trustworthiness

In the buildup to the 2012 election, Nate Silver’s previous iteration of FiveThirtyEight drew both massive traffic to the New York Times and criticism from traditional political pundits, who argued that no “computer” could possibly predict election outcomes better than traditional journalists who had worked in politics for decades (an argument fairly similar to the one faced by the protagonists in Moneyball). In the end, Silver’s “computer” (actually a sophisticated model that FiveThirtyEight explains in great depth and open-sources) predicted every state correctly in 2012.

Silver and his team made the model broadly accessible to show off just how non-partisan it really was. It ingested a huge amount of historical election data, used probabilities and weights to figure out which knowledge was most important, and spit out a prediction as to what the most likely outcomes were. By showing how it all worked, Silver and FiveThirtyEight went a long way toward improving the public confidence in data—and, by extension, data journalism.

But the use of data to increase trustworthiness is nothing new. A less cynical take is simply that people are more likely to believe and endorse things when they’re spelled out visually. We know, famously, that users only read about 20-28 percent of the content on the page, and it’s also known that including images vastly increases likes and retweets on Twitter.

So, in the era of endless hot takes and the “everyone’s-a-journalist-now” mentality, content marketers looking to establish brand authority, credibility, and trust can learn an enormous amount from the proven success of data journalists — just stick to the numbers.

Find the nexus of simple and beautiful

Our team at Fractl has a tricky task on our hands: We root our content in data journalism with the ultimate goal of creating great stories that achieve wide visibility. But different stakeholders on our team (not to mention our clients) often want to achieve those ends by slightly different means.

Our creatives—the ones working with data—may want to build something enormously complex that crams as much data as possible into the smallest space they can. Our media relations team—experts in knowing the nuances of the press and what will or won’t appeal to journalists—may want something that communicates data simply and beautifully and can be summed up in one or two sentences, like the transcendent work of Mona Chalabi for the Guardian. A client, too, will often have specific expectations for how a piece should look and what should be included, and these factors need to be considered as well.

Striking the balance

With so many ways to present any given set of numbers, we at Fractl have found success by making data visualizations as complex as they need to be while always aiming for the nexus of simple and beautiful. In other words: Take raw numbers that will be interesting to people, think of a focused way to clearly visualize them, and then create designs that fit the overall sentiment of the piece.

On a campaign for, we asked 1,000 Americans several questions about food, focusing on things that were light and humorous conversation starters. For example, “Is a hot dog a sandwich?” and “What do you put on a hot dog?” As a native Chicagoan who believes there is only one way to make a hot dog, this is exactly the type of debate that would make me take notice and share the content with friends on social media.

In response to those two questions, we got numbers that looked like this:

Using Tableau Public, an open-source data reporting solution that is one of the go-to tools for rapid building at Fractl, the tables above were transformed into rough cuts of a final visualization:

With the building blocks in place, we then gave extensive notes to our design team on how to make something that’s just as simple but much, much more attractive. Given the fun nature of this campaign, a more lighthearted design made sense, and our graphics team delivered. The entire campaign is worth checking out for the project manager’s innovative and expert ability to use simple numbers in a way that is beautiful, easy-to-approach, and instantly compelling.

All three of the visualizations above are reporting the exact same data, but only one of them is instantly shareable and keeps a narrative in mind: by creatively showing the food items themselves, our team turned the simple table of percentages in the first figure into a visualization that could be shared on social media or used by a journalist covering the story.

In other cases, such as if the topic is more serious, simple visualizations can be used to devastating effect. In work for a brand in the addiction and recovery space, we did an extensive analysis of open data hosted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The dramatic increase in drug overdose deaths in the United States is an emotional story fraught with powerful statistics. In creating a piece on the rise in mortality rate, we wanted to make sure we preserved the gravity of the topic and allowed the numbers to speak for themselves:

A key part of this visualization was adding one additional layer of complexity—age brackets—to tell a more contextualized and human story. Rather than simply presenting a single statistic, our team chose to highlight the fact that the increase in overdose deaths is something affecting Americans across the entire lifespan, and the effect of plotting six different lines on a single chart makes the visual point that addiction is getting worse for all Americans.

Every brand’s data has a story to tell

Spotify has more than 200 million global users, nearly half of whom pay a monthly fee to use the service (the other half generate revenue by listening to intermittent ads). As an organization, Spotify has data on how a sizeable portion of the world listens to its music and the actual characteristics of that music.

Data like this is what makes Spotify such a valuable brand from a dollars and cents standpoint, but a team of data journalists at The New York Times also saw an incredible story about how American music taste has changed in the last 30 years buried in Spotify’s data. The resulting piece, Why Songs of Summer Sound the Same, is a landmark work of data-driven, interactive journalism, and one that should set a content marketer’s head spinning with ideas.

Of course, firms will always be protective of their data, whether it’s Netflix famously not releasing its ratings, Apple deciding to stop its reporting of unit sales, or Stanford University halting its reporting of admissions data. Add to the equation a public that is increasingly wary of data privacy and susceptibility to major data breaches, and clients are often justifiably nervous to share data for the purpose of content production.

Deciding when to share

That said, a firm’s data often is central to its story, and when properly anonymized and cleared of personal identifying information, or PII, the newsworthiness of a brand reporting insights from its own internal numbers can be massive. 

For example, GoodRx, a platform that reports pricing data from more than 70,000 U.S. pharmacies, released a white paper and blog post that compared its internal data on prescription fills with US Census data on income and poverty. While census data is free, only GoodRx had the particular dataset on pharmacy fills—it’s their own proprietary data set. Data like this is obviously key to their overall valuation, but the way in which it was reported here told a deeply interesting story about income and access to medication without giving away anything that could potentially cost the firm. The report was picked up by the New York Times, undoubtedly boosting GoodRx’s ratings for organic search.

The Times’ pieces on Spotify and GoodRx both highlight the fourth key insight on the effective use of data as content marketers: Every brand’s data has a story to tell. These pieces could only have come from their exact sources because only they had access to the data, making the particular findings singular and unique to that specific brand and presenting a key competitive advantage in the content landscape. While working with internal data comes with its own potential pitfalls and challenges, seeking to collaborate with a client to select meaningful internal data and directing its subsequent use for content and narrative should be at the forefront of a content marketer’s mind.

Blurring lines and breaking boundaries

A fascinating piece recently on Recode sought to slightly reframe the high-publicity challenges facing journalists, stating:

“The plight of journalists might not be that bad if you’re willing to consider a broader view of ‘journalism.’” 

The piece detailed that while job postings for journalists are off more than 10 percent since 2004, jobs broadly related to “content” have nearly quadrupled over the same time period. Creatives will always flock to the options that allow them to make what they love, and with organic search largely viewed as a meritocracy of content, the opportunities for brands and content marketers to utilize the data journalism toolkit have never been greater.

What’s more, much of the best data journalism out there typically only uses a handful of visualizations to get its point across. It was also reported recently that the median amount of data sources for pieces created by the New York Times and The Washington Post was two. It too is worth noting that more than 60 percent of data journalism stories in both the Times and Post during a recent time period (January-June, 2017) relied only on government data.

Ultimately, the ease of running large surveys via a platform like Prolific Research, Qualtrics, or Amazon Mechanical Turk, coupled with the ever-increasing number of free and open data sets provided by both the US Government or sites like Kaggle or means that there is no shortage of numbers out there for content marketers to dig into and use to drive storytelling. The trick is in using the right blend of hard data and more ethereal emotional appeal to create a narrative that is truly compelling.

Wrapping up

As brands increasingly invest in content as a means to propel organic search and educate the public, content marketers should seriously consider putting these key elements of data journalism into practice. In a world of endless spin and the increasing importance of showing your work, it’s best to remember the famous quote written by longtime Guardian editor C.P. Scott in 1921: “Comment is free, but facts are sacred.”

What do you think? How do you and your team leverage data journalism in your content marketing efforts?

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