PostHeaderIcon What Link Building Success Really Looks Like



Posted by mark-johnstone

A few weeks ago, a post was published entitled The SEO Myth of Going Viral. It referenced 8 pieces of content across 4 different sites that went viral and, most importantly for SEO, gained hundreds of linking root domains. I was the creative director on a lot of those campaigns while working as the VP of Creative at Distilled. Today, I’d like to add some important context and detail to the original post.

I actually agree with much of what it said. However, it’s based on the assumption that one big viral piece of content would result in a visible jump in rankings across the domain within about 3 months of the content being released. There are a few challenges with this as a basis for measuring success.

I wouldn’t advise setting your hopes on one big viral hit boosting your rankings across the domain. Not by itself. However, if that viral hit is part of ongoing link building efforts in which you build lots of links to lots of pieces of content, you can begin to see an upwards trend.

“Trend” is the important word here. If you’re looking for a dramatic step or jump as a direct result of one piece of viral content, this could cause you to overlook a positive trend in the right direction, and even tempt you to conclude that this form of content-based link building doesn’t work.

With regards to this type of link building and its impact on domain-wide rankings, I’d like to focus on the follow 4 points:

  1. How success really looks
  2. Why success looks like it does
  3. Other factors you need to consider
  4. How we can improve our approach

What successful link building really looks like

Simply Business was held up in the SEO myth post as an example of this kind of link building not working. I would argue the opposite, holding it up as an example of it working. So how can this be?

I believe it stems from a misunderstanding of what success looks like.

The post highlighted three of the most successful pieces of content Distilled created for Simply Business. However, focusing on those three pieces of content doesn’t provide the full picture. We didn’t make just three pieces of content; we made twenty-one. Here are the results of those pieces:

Note: Data missing for the first two pieces of content

That’s links from 1466 domains built to 19 pieces of content over a period of 3 years.

The myth in question is as follows:

Building lots of links to one piece of content will result in a jump in domain-wide rankings within a reasonable timeframe, e.g. 3 months.

Though this wasn’t the hypothesis explicitly stated at the start of the post, it was later clarified in a comment. However, that’s not necessarily how this works.

An accurate description of what works would be:

Building lots of links to lots of pieces of content sustainably, while taking other important factors into consideration, can result in an increase in domain-wide rankings over time.

To hold up, the myth required a directly attributable jump in rankings and organic traffic within approximately 3 months of the release of each piece of content. So where was the bump? The anticipated reward for all those links?

No. The movement we’re looking for is here:

Not a jump, but a general trend. Up and to the right.

Below is a SEMRush graph from the original post, showing estimated organic traffic to the Simply Business site:

At first glance, the graph between 2012 and 2014 might look unremarkable, but that’s because the four large spikes on the right-hand side push the rest of the chart down, creating a flattening effect. There’s actually a 170% rise in traffic from June 2012 to June 2014. To see that more clearly, here’s the same data (up to June 2014) on a different scale:

Paints quite a different picture, don’t you think?

Okay, but what did this do for the company? Did they see an increase in rankings for valuable terms, or just terms related to the content itself?

Over the duration of these link building campaigns, Simply Business saw their most important keywords (“professional indemnity insurance” and “public liability insurance”) move from positions 3 to 1 and 3 to 2, respectively. While writing this post, I contacted Jasper Martens, former Head of Marketing and Communications at Simply Business, now VP of Marketing at PensionBee. Jasper told me:

“A position change from 3 to 1 on our top keyword meant a 15% increase in sales.”

That translates to money. A serious amount of it!

Simply Business also saw ranking improvements for other commercial terms, too. Here’s a small sample:

Note: This data was taken from a third-party tool, Sistrix. Data from third-party tools, as used both in this post and the original post, should be taken with a grain of salt. They don’t provide a totally accurate picture, but they can give you some indication of the direction of movement.

I notice Simply Business still ranks #1 today for some of their top commercial keywords, such as “professional indemnity insurance.” That’s pretty incredible in a market filled with some seriously big players, household UK names with familiar TV ads and much bigger budgets.

Why success looks like it does

I remember the first time I was responsible for a piece of content going viral. The social shares, traffic, and links were rolling in. This was it! Link building nirvana! I was sitting back waiting for the rankings, organic traffic, and revenue to follow.

That day didn’t come.

I was gutted. I felt robbed!

I’ve come to terms with it now. But at the time, it was a blow.

I assume most SEOs know it doesn’t work that way. But maybe they don’t. Maybe there’s an assumption that one big burst in links will result in a jump in rankings, as discussed in the original post. That’s the myth it was seeking to dispel. I get it. I’ve been there, too.

It doesn’t necessarily work that way. And, actually, it makes sense that it doesn’t.

  • In two of the examples, the sites in question had one big viral hit, gaining hundreds of linking root domains, but this on its own didn’t result in a boost in domain-wide rankings. That’s true.
  • Google would have pretty volatile search results if every time someone had a viral hit, they jumped up in the rankings for all their head terms.
  • But if a site continues to build lots of links regularly over time, like Simply Business did, Google might want that site to be weighted more favorably and worthy of ranking higher.

The Google algorithm is an incredibly complex equation. It’s tempting to think that you put links in and you get rankings out, and a big jump in one will correspond to a big jump in the other. But the math involved is far more complicated than that. It’s not that linear.

Other factors to consider

Link building alone won’t improve your rankings.

There are a number of other influential factors at play. At a high level, these include:

  1. A variety of onsite (and technical) SEO factors
  2. Algorithmic updates and penalties
  3. Changes to the SERPs, like the knowledge box and position of paid results
  4. Competitor activity

I’m not going to go into great detail here, but I wanted to mention that you need to consider these factors and more when reviewing the impact of link building on a site’s rankings.

Below is the graph from SearchMetrics for Concert Hotels, also via the original post. This is another site to which Distilled built a high volume of links.

As you can possibly tell from the large drop before Distilled started working with Concert Hotels, the site was suffering from an algorithmic penalty. We proceeded under the hypothesis that building high-quality links, alongside other on-site activity, would be important in the site’s recovery.

However, after three or four large link building successes without any corresponding uplift, we recommended to the client that we stop building links and shift all resources to focus on other activities.

As you’ll see at the end of the chart, there appears to be some positive movement happening. If and when the site fully recovers, we’ll never be able to tell exactly what contribution, if any, link building made to the site’s eventual rankings.

You can’t take the above as proof that link building doesn’t work. You have to consider the other factors that might be affecting a site’s performance.

How can we improve our approach?

As I mentioned at the start of this post, I actually agree with a lot of the points raised in the original post. In particular, there were some strong points made about the topical relevance of the content you create and the way in which the content sits within the site architecture.

Ideally, the content you create to gain links would be:

  • Topically relevant to what you do
  • Integrated into the site architecture to distribute link equity
  • Valuable in its own right (even if it weren’t for links and SEO)

This can be a challenge, though, especially in certain industries, and you might not hit the sweet spot every time.

But let’s look at them in turn.

Topical relevance

If you can create a piece of content that gains links and is closely relevant to your product and what you do for customers, that’s great. That’s the ideal.

To give you an example of this, Distilled created a career aptitude test for Rasmussen, a career-focused college in America. This page earned links from 156 linking root domains (according to the Majestic Historic Index), and the site continues to rank well and drive relevant search traffic to the site.

Another example would be Moz’s own Search Engine Ranking Factors. Building lots of links to that page will certainly drive relevant and valuable traffic to the Moz site, as well as contributing to the overall strength of the domain.

However, your content doesn’t have to be about your product, as long as it’s relevant to your audience. In the case of Simply Business, the core audience (small business owners) doesn’t care about insurance as much as it cares about growing its businesses. That’s why we created several guides to small business marketing, which also gained lots of links.

As Jasper Martens explains:

“Before I left Simply Business, the guides we created attracted 15,000 unique visits a month with a healthy CTR to sign-up and sales. It was very effective to move prospects down the funnel and make them sales-ready. It also attracted a lot of small business owners not looking for insurance right now.”

Integrating the content into the site architecture

Distilled often places content outside the main architecture of the site. I’ll accept this isn’t optimal, but just for context, let me explain the reasons behind it:

  1. It creates a more immersive and compelling experience. Consider how impactful New York Times’ Snowfall would have been if it had to sit inside the normal page layout.
  2. It prevents conflicts between the site’s code and the interactive content’s code. This can be particularly useful for organizations that have restrictive development cycles, making live edits on the site difficult to negotiate. It also helps reduce the time, cost, and frustration on both the client-side and agency-side.
  3. It looks less branded. If a page looks too commercial, it can deter publishers from linking.

While it worked for Simply Business, it would make sense, where you can, to pull these things into the normal site architecture to help distribute link equity further.

Content that’s valuable in its own right (even if it weren’t for links and SEO)

Google is always changing. What’s working now and what’s worked in the past won’t necessarily continue to be the case. The most future-proof way you can build links to your site is via activity that’s valuable in its own right — activities like PR, branding, and growing your audience online.

So where do we go from here?

Link building via content marketing campaigns can still make a positive impact to domain-wide rankings. However, it’s important to enter any link building campaign with realistic expectations. The results might not be as direct and immediate as you might hope.

You need to be in it for the long haul, and build links to a number of pieces of content over time before you’ll really see results. When looking for results, focus on overall trends, not month-to-month movements.

Remember that link building alone won’t solve your SEO. You need to make sure you take other on-site, technical, and algorithmic factors into consideration.

It’s always worth refining the way you’re building links. The closer the topics are aligned with your product or core audience’s interests, the more the content is integrated into your site’s architecture, and the more the content you’re creating is valuable for reasons beyond SEO, the better.

It’s not easy to manage that every time, but if you can, you’ll be in a good position to sustainably build links and improve your site’s rankings over time.

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PostHeaderIcon Featured Snippets: A Dead-Simple Tactic for Making Them Stick



Posted by ronell-smith

Dr. Pete throwing down at MozCon 2015, flexin’ in his retro Flash t-shirt

At MozCon 2015, Dr. Pete delivered a gem that perked up my ears when he discussed Google’s featured snippets during his talk, “Surviving Google: SEO in 2020“:

“Let’s say you’re No. 5 in a competitive query, and you’re trying to get from No. 5 to No.1. That is incredibly difficult; that takes a lot of money, a lot of links, a lot of authority. You might be able to jump past No. 1 to No. 0 with this just by matching the question better. So it may actually be easier to get from No. 5 to No. 0 than it is to get from No. 5 to No. 1 … Be a better match. Be a better answer to the question. It’s good for users.”

Something about those 98 words perked my ears up, especially the last two sentences.

“Be a better answer to the question. It’s good for users.”

Those words rolled around in my head for months, though their impact wouldn’t be felt until even later, when I began to see how prevalent featured snippets had become.

More than a year later, I’m now more convinced than ever that most brands should be making the attainment of featured snippets a priority.

Why?

Try as they might, most sites don’t stand a chance of making it to the No.1 position in the SERPs. And today, with so much priority given to ads at the top of the page, above the organic results — not to mention the fact that most people don’t recognize ads from organic results — even those who do reach the coveted position have to feel as though they’ve secured a pyrrhic victory.

In the year-plus since the presentation, rich answers have grown significantly, as depicted by the graph below from Stone Temple Consulting:

And in the span, a number of teams and individuals have made it their charge to better decipher featured snippets, specifically regarding what seems to influence their presence for certain queries, what types of snippets there are, how to optimize your content to make it more likely that you receive one, and what Google is likely looking for when a snippet is ultimately featured.

(For in-depth background information on featured snippets, see the Related Content section at the bottom of the post.)

But not a whole lot has been written on how to keep featured snippets once your brand has one. This fact hit me like a ton of bricks during MozCon 2016, when I listened to Rob Bucci of GetStat during his presentation Taking the Top Spot: How to Earn More Featured Snippets.

This post, which is a wellspring of some comments Bucci shared near the end of his presentation, will be focused very narrowly on how to keep a Featured Snippet once your brand has been fortunate enough to receive one.

The fast five 5 Ws of featured snippets

Before we dive into that aspect, let’s briefly go over a few specifics, surrounding the nuts and bolts of featured snippets.

  • What are they and where do they come from? A featured snippet is the summation of an answer for a web searcher’s query, typically taken from a website and includes a link to the site, the page title and the URL, according to GetStat.
  • Why should you care? You shouldn’t, unless you care about being the top result on the page (snark for the win). Also, since the result can come from any brand on the first page, you have the potential to occupy two positions on page 1.
  • Who needs them? Any brand that desires organic reach, visibility, traffic and, yeah, uhm, conversions.
  • When do they show up? Any time a query is best answered in list, table, or graph form.

For your brand or any other, however, (a) featured snippets provide you with an easy opportunity to better compete against the competition, (b) can amount to a low-investment/high-reward opportunity, and (c) can give you a leg up on the competition.

Keeping your hard-earned featured snippet

One of the main reasons to attend conferences such as MozCon in person is the potential to hear a nugget of wisdom that would be missed in a recap blog, not properly conveyed in a tweet by an attendee, or glossed over when listening to the video after the event.

For example, Dr. Pete’s quote from MozCon 2015 rang clear as a bell when I heard it while sitting in the audience, but I’m not sure I would have noticed it so readily had I simply watched the videos.

During the Q&A that followed Bucci’s talk, he was asked about the real value of investing in featured snippets, a particular concern given that, in most cases, Google is serving up the content with very little benefit to the brand that houses it. (Unless the user clicks on the URL at the bottom of the content and visits the website.)

Bucci did far more than answer the question before him, however.

“Let’s say I was [trying to teach someone] how to make toast. The snippet is, like, step 1 put the bread in the toaster; step 2, toast the bread; step 3, eat it, right? If I added a fourth or fifth step so that it was truncated in the snippet, i.e., they didn’t get the full steps to make toast, people would be more likely to click on it to get the full results. Think about how you can optimize your snippets by making it so that you don’t give away the entire farm in your snippet. They have to go through your website to get the information.”

This tidbit got my attention for two reasons:

  • One of the biggest concerns brands have with regard to investing resources in trying to get a featured snippet is it does very little for the brand if the web searcher does not click on the URL and visit the site. Otherwise, the only entity that benefits to a significant degree is Google.
  • Churn, whereby brands earn and then lose a snippet, is a very real concern, too. Research by Stone Temple Consulting found that more than 55% of the queries that showed featured snippets in January 2016 “either didn’t show a featured snippet in July 2015, OR shows a different URL for the featured snippet than it did in July 2015.”

Image courtesy of Stone Temple Consulting, Google’s Featured Snippets: Automated Continuous Improvement

How to smartly invest in featured snippets

By applying the logic in Bucci’s quote, your brand can employ what I call next-level thinking.

Instead of simply thinking “How do I get a featured snippet?”, think “How do I keep a featured snippet?” This is especially important since, as has been reported by STC, Bucci, and others, Google is likely using engagement metrics (e.g., clicks on the URL) as a factor in determining churn.

“By crafting your snippet content in a way that encourages people to click through to your site for the full detail, you can raise your CTR on that SERP,” says Bucci. “That’s the key thing.”

As you can see from the result below, this result, drawn from the No.1 result on the page, is unlikely to warrant a click since all the needed information is right there for the taking.

However, in the result below, the web searcher will have to click the URL and visit the owner of the content’s website to see the full list.

The important point to delivering a result that’s churn-resistant, says Bucci, is to think strategically.

“The biggest recommendation I made that I think people are only now starting to pay attention to how to strategically use formatting to A) win snippets and B) create great user experiences on the SERP. People were just focused on getting any old snippet, but my advice was that they should look at the query space and measure the most common snippet formats. From there, they should optimize their snippets to match those formats, because Google is clearly indicating that they want to use those formats within the give.”

Bucci made a great point, highlighting how we should pay attention to the formatting and content types — not simply the queries — that consistently show up as featured snippets. This, he says, amounts to Google telling us what they’re looking to reward.

Don’t overthink it. Dive in.

It’s exciting to see brands jump into the fray, beginning to think seriously about featured snippets and how the organic elements can impact their brands.

Dr. Pete, who has remained a passionate advocate for brands taking a serious look at how to get and keep featured snippets, says it’s essential that brands build their attainment into their overall process, not use it as a one-off tactic.

“I think the first step is to think in terms of questions, and build part of your keyword research around that. In natural language search, questions are increasingly common. Which questions are part of your conversion path? Don’t discount them just because they’re early in the funnel or part of the research phase. Find out if those questions are showing snippets and then think about ways to use those snippets as a teaser to draw people into your content and, hopefully, your funnel. Once you’re ranking on page 1, it’s about shaping your content to better answer the question. I think it helps to take an ‘inverted pyramid’ approach — lead with your most compelling question and a summary of your content, and then dive into the details. This makes for better snippets and grabs short attention spans.”

One of the best ways to get started with featured snippets is by taking a step-by-step approach so that everyone on the team knows what you’re going after, why, and its likely impact to the brand.

The graphic below is as specific and as detailed as you need to be to get started.

Image source: Stone Temple Consulting

Remember, though, like all aspects of online marketing, the endeavor will be iterative. What you gain, you might lose. But the process is invaluable.

You’ve still created something worthwhile

Hopefully, I’ve shared at least one small tidbit of information that has you excited about adding the attainment of featured snippets to your content marketing strategy.

For those of you who might be on the fence, wondering if the potential reward warrants the expense, Dr. Pete’s words should nudge you in the right direction.

“I think content that answers questions is naturally compelling, which is what I like about optimizing for featured snippets … Content that answers questions succinctly provides real value and builds a base of value for your visitors, regardless of where they arrive from. Even if you lose the featured snippet, you’ve built something useful.”

It bears repeating:

“Even if you lose the featured snippet, you’ve built something useful.”

Dr. Pete continued:

“Think of featured snippets as much like organic ranking — they aren’t something Google awards you and then lets you keep until a new winner comes along. Featured snippets are generated by the algorithm in real time, just like organic rankings. You have to keep competing for them.”

Related reading:

Has your brand experimented with featured snippets? If so, what’s been the result?


Remember, Moz Pro will help you find and track featured snippets, as well as identify opportunities for acquiring them!

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PostHeaderIcon How to Beat Your Competitor’s Rankings with More *Comprehensive* Content – Whiteboard Friday



Posted by randfish

Longer, more thorough documents tend to do better in the search results. We know that’s true, but why? And is there a way we can use that knowledge to our advantage? In today’s Whiteboard Friday, Rand explains how Google may be weighting content comprehensiveness and outlines his three-step methodology for gaining an edge over your competitors when it comes to meeting searchers’ needs.

<img src="http://www.junkieyard.com/wp-content/plugins/wp-o-matic/cache/d02f729037_5824f40e8c1c82-25752839.jpg" rel="box-shadow: rgb(153, 153, 153) 0px 0px 10px 0px; border-radius: 20px;" >

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

Video Transcription

Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week we’re going to chat about, well, something I’ve noticed, something we’ve noticed here at Moz, which is that there seems to be this extra weight that Google is putting right now on what I’m going to call content comprehensiveness, the degree to which a piece of content answers all of a searcher’s potential questions. I think this is one of the reasons that we keep seeing statistics like word length and document length is well-correlated with higher rankings and why it tends to be the case that longer documents tend to do better in search results. I’m going to break this down.

Broad ranking inputs

On the broad ranking inputs, when Googlebot is over here and sort of considering like: Which URL should I rank? Someone searched for best time to apply for jobs, and what am I going to put in here? They tend to look at a bunch of stuff. Domain authority and page-level link authority and keyword targeting, for sure. Topic authority, the domain, and load speed and freshness and da, da, da.

But these four, all of which are sort of related:

  1. Searcher engagement and satisfaction, so the degree to which when people land on that page they have a good experience, they don’t bounce back to the search results and click another result.
  2. The diversity and uniqueness of that content compared to everything else in the results.
  3. The raw content quality, which I think Google has probably lots of things they use to measure content quality, including engagement and satisfaction, so these might overlap.
  4. And then comprehensiveness.

It’s sort of this right mix of these three things, like the depth, the trustworthiness, and the value that the content provides seems to really speak to this. It’s something we’ve been seeing like Google kind of overweighting right now, especially over the last 12 to 18 months. There seems to be this confluence of queries, where this very comprehensive content comes up in ranking positions that we wouldn’t ordinarily expect. It throws off things around link metrics and keyword targeting metrics, and sometimes SEOs go, “What is going on there?”

So, in particular, we see this happening with informational- and research-focused queries, with product and brand comparison type queries, like “best stereo” or “best noise cancelling headphones,” so those types of things. Broad questions, implicit or explicit questions that have complex or multifaceted answers to them. So probably, yes, you would see this type of very comprehensive content ranking better, and, in fact, I did some of these queries. So for things like “job application best practices,” “gender bias in hiring,” “résumé examples,” these are broad questions, informational/research focus, product comparison stuff.

Then, not so much, you would not see these in things like “job application for Walmart,” which literally just takes you to Walmart’s job application page, which is not a particularly comprehensive format. The comprehensive stuff ranks vastly below that. “Gender bias definition,” which takes you to a short page with the definition, and “résumé template Google Docs,” which takes you to Google Docs’ résumé template. These are almost more navigational or more short-format answer in what they’re doing. I didn’t actually mean to replace that.

How to be more comprehensive than the competition

So if you want to nail this, if you identify that your queries are not in this bucket, but they are in this bucket, you probably want to try and aim for some of this content comprehensiveness. To do that, I’ve got kind of a three-step methodology. It is not easy, it is hard, and it is going to take a lot of work. I don’t mean to oversimplify. But if you do this, you tend to be able to beat out even much more powerful websites for the queries you’re going after.

1. Identify ALL the questions inherent in the search query term/phrase:

First off, you need to identify all the questions that are inherent in the searcher’s query. Those could be explicit or implicit, meaning they’re implied or they’re obvious. They could be dependent on the person’s background, the searcher’s background, which means you need to identify: Who are all the types of people searching for this, and what differences do they have? We may need different types of content to serve different folks, and there needs to be some bifurcation or segmentation on the page to help them get there.

Same thing on their purpose. So some people who are searching for “job application best practices” may be employers. Some people may be job applicants. Some may be employees. Some may be people who are starting companies. Some may be HR directors. You need to provide that background for all of them.

One of the ways to do this, to get all the questions, truly all the questions is to survey. You can do that to your users or your community, or you can do it through some sort of third-party system. For example, Oli Gardner from Unbounce was very kind and did this for Moz recently, where he was asking about customer confusion and objections and issues. He used UsabilityHub’s tests. UsabilityHub, you can use this there as well. You can also use Q and A sites, things like Quora. You can use social media sites, like Twitter or LinkedIn or Facebook, if you’re trying to gather some of this data informally.

2. Gather information your competition cannot/would not get:

Once you have all these questions, you need to assemble the information that answers all of these types of questions, hopefully in a way that your competition cannot or would not get. So that means things like:

  • Proprietary data
  • Competitive landscape information, which many folks are only willing to talk about themselves and not how they relate to others.
  • It means industry and community opinions, which most folks are not willing to go out and get, especially if they’re bigger.
  • Aggregated or uniquely processed metrics, obviously one of the most salient recent examples from the election that’s just passed is sites like FiveThirtyEight or the Upshot or Huffington Post, who build these models based on other people’s data that they’ve aggregated and included.
  • It also could mean that you are putting together information in visual or audio or interactive mediums.

3. Assemble in formats others don’t/can’t/won’t use:

Now that you have this competitive advantage, in terms of the content, and you have all of the questions, you can assemble this stuff in formats that other people don’t or won’t create or use.

  • That could be things like guides that require extraordinary amounts of work. “The Beginners Guide to SEO” is a good example from Moz, but there are many, many others in all sorts of fields.
  • Highly customized formats that have these interactive or visual components that other people are generally unwilling to invest the effort in to create.
  • Free to download or access to reports and data that other people would charge for or they put behind pay walls.
  • Non-transactional or non-call-to-action-focused formats. For example, a lot of the times when you do stuff in this job search arena, you see folks who are trying to promote their service or their product, and therefore they want to have you input something before they give you anything back. If you do that for free, you can often overwhelm the comprehensiveness of what anyone else in the space is doing.

This process, like I said, not easy, but can be a true competitive advantage, especially if you’re willing to take on these individual key phrases and terms in a way that your competition just can’t or won’t.

I’d love to hear if you’ve got any examples of these, if you’ve tried it before. If you do use this process, please feel free to post the results in the comments. We’d love to check it out. We’ll see you again next week for another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Take care.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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