PostHeaderIcon How to Optimize for Competitors’ Branded Keywords



Posted by randfish

It’s probably crossed your mind before. Should you optimize for your competitors’ branded keywords? How would you even go about it effectively? Well, in today’s Whiteboard Friday, Rand explains some carefully strategic and smart ways to optimize for the keywords of a competitor — from determining their worthiness, to properly targeting your funnel, to using third-party hosted content for maximum amplification.

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Video Transcription

Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week we’re going to chat about optimizing for your competitors’ branded terms and phrases, the keywords that are your competitors’ product names or service names. This gets into a little bit of a dicey area. I think it’s challenging for a lot of SEO folks to do this and do it well, and so I’m going to take you through an approach that I’ve seen a lot of folks use with some success.

A strategic approach

So to start off with, let’s go to the strategy level. Is it actually the case — and sometimes it’s not, sometimes it is not the case — that branded keywords are driving high enough volume to actually be worth targeting? This is tough and frustrating, but basically one of the best thing that I can recommend in this case is to say, “Hey, if we are…”

I’m going to pretend for the purposes of this Whiteboard Friday that we’re all working together on the SEO campaigns for Wunderlist, which is a to-do app in the Google Play and iPhone app stores, bought by Microsoft I think a little while ago. Beautiful app, it looks really nice. One of their big competitors obviously is Evernote, certainly an indirect competitor but still.

Are branded keywords driving high enough volumes to be worthwhile?

Essentially what you might want to do here is actually go ahead and use AdWords to bid on some of these keywords and get a sense for how much traffic is really being driven. Can you draw any of that traffic away? Are people willing to consider alternatives? If there’s almost no willingness to consider alternatives — you can’t draw clicks here, you’re not getting any conversions, and it is the case that the volume is relatively low, not a lot of people are actually searching for Evernote, which is not the case, there are tons of people searching for Evernote and I’d probably tell Wunderlist they should go ahead. Evernote is actually bidding on Wunderlist’s terms, so turnabout is fair play. Bidding on AdWords can answer both of these questions. That can help them get us to:

What do you need to solve?

All right, now what is it that we need to solve? What are potential customers doing to compare our products or our services against these folks, and what are they interested in when they’re searching for these branded names? What makes them choose one versus another product?

Related searches can help us here, so too can normal forms of keyword research. So related searches is one form, but certainly I’d urge you to use search suggest, I’d urge you to check out Google’s AdWords Keyword Tool, if you like keywordtool.io or if you like Huballin or whatever it is that you think is a great keyword tool, check those out, go through those sources for your competitor’s keywords, see what’s coming up there, see what actually has some real volume. Obviously, your AdWords campaign where you bid on their branded terms can help tell you that too.

Then from there I’d go through the search results, and I’d see: What are people saying? What are the editorial reviews? For example, CNET did this Wunderlist review. What does their breakdown look like? What are people saying in forums? What are they saying on social media? What are they saying when they talk about this?

Ask the same questions of your competition

So if I’m seeing here’s what Wunderlist versus Evernote looks like, great. Now let me plug in Evernote and see what everyone’s saying about them. By the way, you don’t just have to use online research. You can go primary source on this stuff, too. Ask your customers or your audience directly through surveys. We’ve used here at Moz Google Custom Audience Surveys, and we’ve used SurveyMonkey Audience’s product. We like both of those.

Once you’ve got this down and you say, “Hey, you know what? We’ve got a strategic approach. We know what we need to talk about in terms of content. We know the keywords we’re targeting.” Great. Now you get to choose between two big options here — self-hosting some content that’s targeting these terms, or using third-party hosting.

Self-hosted content

With self-hosted content we’re going to try and go after those right terms and phrases. This is where I’ve seen some people get lost. They essentially go too high or too low in the funnel, not targeting that sweet spot right in the middle.

1. Target the right terms & phrases

So essentially, if someone’s searching for “Evernote review,” the intent there is that they’re trying to evaluate whether Evernote is good. Yeah, you know what? That’s right in the middle. That’s right in the sweet spot, I would say that is a good choice for you targeting your competitors’ keywords, anything around reviews.

“Evernote download,” however, that’s really at the bottom of the funnel. They’re trying to install at that point. I don’t think I’d tell you to go after those keywords. I don’t think I’d bid on them, and I don’t think I’d create content based on that. An Evernote download, that’s a very transactional, direct kind of search. I’d cross that one off my list. “How to use Evernote,” well, okay that’s post-installation probably, or maybe it’s pre-installation. But it’s really about learning. It’s about retaining and keeping people. I’d probably put that in the no bucket as well most of the time. “Evernote alternative,” obviously I’m targeting “Evernote alternative.” That is a great search phrase. That’s essentially asking me for my product. “What is Evernote,” well okay, that’s very top-of-funnel. Maybe I’d think about targeting some content like, “What do apps like Evernote, Todoist and Wunderlist do?” Okay. Yeah, maybe I’m capturing all three of those in there. So I’d put this as a maybe. Maybe I’d go after that.

Just be careful because if you go after the wrong keywords here, a lot of your efforts can fail just because you’re doing poor keyword targeting.

2. Craft content that delivers a superior user experience

Second is you need to craft that content that’s going to deliver a superior user experience. You’re essentially trying to pull someone away from the other search results and say, “Yeah, it was worth it to scroll down.

It was worth it to click and to do the research and to check out the review or check out the alternative.” Therefore, you need something that has a lot of editorial integrity. You need that editorial integrity. You can’t just be a, “Everything about them is bad. Everything about us is great. Check out why we kick their butt six ways from Sunday.” It’s just not going to be well-perceived.

You need to be credible to that audience. To do that, I think what’s smart is to make your approach the way you would approach it as if you were a third-party reviewer. In fact, it can even pay in some cases to get an external party to do the comparison review and write the content for you. Then you’re just doing the formatting. That way it becomes very fair. Like, “Hey, we at Wunderlist thought our product compared very well to Evernote’s. So we hired an outside expert in this space, who’s worked with a bunch of these programs, to review it and here’s his review. Here are his thoughts on the subject.”

Awesome. Now you’ve created some additional credibility in there. You’re hosting it on your site. It’s clearly promoting you, but it has some of that integrity.

I would do things like I’d think about key differentiators. I’d think about user and editorial review comparisons. So if you can go to the app stores and then collect all the user reviews or collect a bunch of user reviews and synchronize those for folks to compare, check out the editorial reviews — CNET has reviewed both of these. The Verge has reviewed both of these. A bunch of other sites have reviewed both of them. Awesome. Let’s do a comparison of the editorial reviews and the ratings that these products got.

“Choose X if you need…” This is where you essentially say, “If you’re doing this, well guess what? We don’t do it very well. We’d suggest you use Evernote instead. But if you’re doing this, you know what? Wunderlist is generally perceived to be better and here’s why.” That’s a great way to do it. Then you might want to have that full-feature comparison breakdown. Remember that with Google’s keyword targeting and with their algorithms today they’re looking for a lot of that deep content, and you can often rank better if you include a lot more of those terms and phrases about what’s inside the products.

3. Choose a hosted location that doesn’t compromise your existing funnel

This is rarely done, but sometimes folks will put it on their main homepage of their website or in their navigation. That’s probably not ideal. You probably want to keep it one step away from the primary navigation flow around your site.

You could conceivably host it in your blog. You could make it something where you say, “Hey, do you want to see comparisons? Or do you want to see product reviews?” Then we’re going to link to it from that page. But I wouldn’t put it in the primary funnel.

3rd-party hosted content

Third-party hosted content is another option, and I’ve seen some folks do this particularly well recently. Guest content is one way to do that. You could do that. You could pay someone else, that professional reviewer and say, “Hey, we want to pitch this professional reviewer comparing our product against someone else’s to these other outlets.”

Sometimes there are external reviewers who if you just ask them, if you just say, “Hey we have a new product or we have a competing product. We think it compares favorably. Would you do a review?” A lot of the time if you’re in the right kind of space, people will just say, “Yeah, you know what? I’ll put that on my schedule because I think that can send me some good traffic, and then we’ll let you know.” You kind of knock on wood and hope you get a favorable review there. You could contribute it to a discussion forum. Just be open and honest and transparent about who you are and what you’re doing there.

Native ads

Today you can do sponsored content or what’s called native ad content, where essentially you’re paying another site to host it. Usually, there’s a bunch of disclosure requirements around that, but it can work and sometimes that content can even rank well and earn links and all that kind of stuff.

Promotion & amplification

For promotion and amplification of this content, it’s a little trickier than it is with your average content because it’s so adversarial in nature. The first people I would always talk to are your rabid loyal fans. So if you know you’ve got a community of people who are absolutely super-passionate about this, you can say, “Hey, guess what? We released our comparison, or we released this extra review comparison of our product versus our competitor’s today. You can check it out here.”

You can pitch that to influencers and pundits in your space, definitely letting them know, “Hey, here’s this comparison. Tell us if you think we were honest. Tell us if you think this is accurate. Tell us if this reflects your experience.” Do the same thing with industry press. Your social audiences are certainly folks that you could talk to.

Give them a reason to come back

One of the key ones that I think gets too often ignored is if you have users who you know have gone through your signup flow or have used your product but then left, this is a great chance to try and earn their business back, to say, “Hey, we know that in the past you gave Wunderlist a try. You left for one reason or another. We want you to see how favorably we compare to our next biggest competitor in the space.” That can be a great way to bring those people back to the site.

Consult your legal team

Last thing, very important. Make sure, when you’re creating this type of content, that you talk to your legal professional. It is the case that sometimes using terms and phrases, trademarked words, branded words, has some legal implications. I am not a legal professional. You can’t ask me that question, but you can definitely ask your lawyer or your legal team, and they can advise you what you can and cannot do.

All right, everyone. Hope you’ve enjoyed this edition of Whiteboard Friday, and we will see you again next week. Take care.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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PostHeaderIcon Targeted Link Building in 2016 – Whiteboard Friday



Posted by randfish

SEO has much of its roots in the practice of targeted link building. And while it’s no longer the only core component involved, it’s still a hugely valuable factor when it comes to rank boosting. In this week’s Whiteboard Friday, Rand goes over why targeted link building is still relevant today and how to develop a process you can strategically follow to success.

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Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week we’re going to chat about four questions that kind of all go together around targeted link building.

Targeted link building is the practice of reaching out and trying to individually bring links to specific URLs or specific domains — usually individual pages, though — and trying to use those links to boost the rankings of those pages in search engine results. And look, for a long time, this was the core of SEO. This was how SEO was done. It was almost the start and the end.

Obviously, a lot of other practices have come into play in the industry, and I think there’s even been some skepticism from folks about whether targeted link building is still a valid practice. I think we can start with that question and then get on to some of these others.

When does it make sense?

In my opinion, targeted link building does make sense when you fulfill certain conditions. We know from our experimentation, from correlation data, from Google’s own statements, from lots of industry data that links still move the needle when it comes to rankings. If you have a page that’s ranking number 4, you point a bunch of new links to it from important pages and sites around the web, particularly if they contain the anchor text that you’re trying to rank for, and you will move up in the rankings.

It makes sense to do this if your page is already ranking somewhere in the, say, top 10 to 20, maybe even 30 results and/or if the page has measurable high impact on business metrics. That could be sales. It could be leads. It could be conversions. Even if it’s indirect, if you can observe both those things happening, it’s probably worthwhile.

It’s also okay if you say, “Hey, we’re not yet ranking in the top 20, but our paid search page is ranking on page 1. We know that we have high conversions here. We want to move from page 3, page 4 up to page 1, and then hopefully up into the top two, top three results. Then it is worth this targeted link building effort, because when you build up that visibility, when you grow those rankings, you can be assured that you are going to gain more visits, more traffic that will convert and send you these key business metrics and push those things up. So I do think targeted link building still makes sense when those conditions are fulfilled.

Is this form of link building worthwhile?

Is this something that can actually do the job it’s supposed to do? And the answer, yeah. Look, if rank boosting is your goal, links are one of the ways where if you already have a page that’s performing well from a conversion standpoint — from a user experience standpoint, pages per visit, your browse rate, things like time onsite, if you’re not seeing high bounce rate, if you have got a page that’s clearly accessible and well targeted and well optimized on the page itself — then links are going to be the most powerful, if not one of the most powerful, elements to moving your rankings. But you’ve got to have a scalable, repeatable process to build links.

You need the same thing that we look for broadly in our marketing practices, which is that flywheel. Yes, it’s going to be hard to get things started. But once we do, we can find a process that works for us again and again. Each successive link that we get and each successive page whose rankings we’re trying to move gets easier and easier because we’ve been there before, we’ve done it, we know what works and what doesn’t work, and we know the ins and outs of the practice. That’s what we’re searching for.

When it comes to finding that flywheel, there are sort of tactics that fit into three categories that still do work. I’m not going to get into the individual specific tactics themselves, but they fall into these three buckets. What we’ve found is that for each individual niche, for each industry, for each different website and for each link builder, each SEO, each one of you out there, there’s a process or combination of processes that works best. So I’m going to dictate to you which tactics works best, but you’ll generally find them in these three buckets

Buckets:

One: one-to-one outreach. This is you going out and sending usually an e-mail, but it could be a DM or a tweet, an at reply tweet. It could be a phone call. It could be — I literally got one of these today — a letter in the mail addressed to me, hand-addressed to me from someone who’d created a piece of content and wanted to know if I would be willing to cover it. It wasn’t exactly up my alley, so I’m not going to. But I thought that was an interesting form of one-to-one outreach.

It could be broadcast. Broadcast is things like social sharing, where we’re broadcasting out a message like, “Hey, we’ve produced this. It’s finally live. We launched it. Come check it out.” That could go through bulk e-mail. It could go through an e-mail subscription. It could go through a newsletter. It could go through press. It could go through a blog.

Then there’s paid amplification. That’s things like social ads, native ads, retargeting, display, all of these different formats. Typically, what you’re going to find is that one-to-one outreach is most effective when you can build up those relationships and when you have something that is highly targeted at a single site, single individual, single brand, single person.

Broadcast works well if, in your niche, certain types of content or tools or data gets regular coverage and you already reach that audience through one of your broadcast mediums.

Paid amplification tends to work best when you have an audience that you know is likely to pick those things up and potentially link to them, but you don’t already reach them through organic channels, or you need another shot at reaching them from organic and paid, both.

Building a good process for link acquisition

Let’s end here with the process for link acquisition. I think this is kind of the most important element here because it helps us get to that flywheel. When I’ve seen successful link builders do their work, they almost all have a process that looks something like this. It doesn’t have to be exactly this, but it almost always falls into this format. There’s a good tool I can talk about for this too.

But the idea being the first step is opportunity discovery, where we figure out where the link opportunities that we have are. Step 2 is building an acquisition spreadsheet of some kind so that we can prioritize which links we’re going to chase after and what tactics we’re going to use. Step 3 is the execution, learn, and iterate process that we always find with any sort of flywheel or experimentation.

Step 1: Reach out to relevant communities

We might find that it turns out for the links that we’re trying to get relevant communities are a great way to acquire those links. We reach out via forums or Slack chat rooms, or it could be something like a private chat, or it could be IRC. It could be a whole bunch of different things. It could be blog comments.

Maybe we’ve found that competitive links are a good way for us to discover some opportunities. Certainly, for most everyone, competitive links should be on your radar, where you go and you look and you say, “Hey, who’s linking to my competition? Who’s linking to the other people who are ranking for this keyword and ranking for related keywords? How are they getting those links? Why are those people linking to them? Who’s linking to them? What are they saying about them? Where are they coming from?”

It could be press and publications. There are industry publications that cover certain types of data or launches or announcements or progress or what have you. Perhaps that’s an opportunity.

Resource lists and linkers. So there’s still a ton of places on the web where people link out to. Here’s a good set of resources around customer on-boarding for software as a service companies. Oh, you know what? We have a great post about that. I’m going to reach out to the person who runs this list of resources, and I’m going to see if maybe they’ll cover it. Or we put together a great meteorology map looking at the last 50 winters in the northeast of the United States and showing a visual graphic overlay of that charted against global warming trends, and maybe I should share that with the Royal Meteorological Society of England. I’m going to go pitch their person at whatever.ac.uk it is.

Blog and social influencers. These are folks who tend to run, obviously, popular blogs or popular social accounts on Twitter or on Facebook or on LinkedIn, or what have you, Pinterest. It could be Instagram. Potentially worth reaching out to those kinds of folks.

Feature, focus, or intersection sources. This one’s a little more complex and convoluted, but the idea is to find something where you have an intersection of some element that you’re providing through the content of your page that you seem to get a link from and there is intersection with things that other organizations or people have interest in.

So, for example, on my meteorology example, perhaps you might say, “Lots of universities that run meteorology courses would probably love an animation like this. Let me reach out to professors.” “Or you know what? I know there’s a data graphing startup that often features interesting data graphing stuff, and it turns out we used one of their frameworks. So let’s go reach out to that startup, and we’ll check out the GitHub project, see who the author is, ping that person and see if maybe they would want to cover it or link to it or share it on social.” All those kinds of things. You found the intersections of overlapping interest.

The last one, biz devs and partnerships. This is certainly not a comprehensive list. There could be tons of other potential opportunity to discover mechanisms. This covers a lot of them and a lot of the ones that tend to work for link builders. But you can and should think of many other ways that you could potentially find new opportunities for links.

Step 2: Build a link acquisition spreadsheet

Gotta build that link acquisition spreadsheet. The spreadsheet almost always looks something like this. It’s not that dissimilar to how we do keyword research, except we’re prioritizing things based on: How important is this and how much do I feel like I could get that link? Do I have a process for it? Do I have someone to reach out to?

So what you want is either the URL or the domain from which you’re trying to get the link. The opportunity type — maybe it’s a partnership or a resource list or press. The approach you’re going to take, the contact information that you’ve got. If you don’t have it yet, that’s probably the first thing on your list is to try and go get that. Then the link metrics around this.

There’s a good startup called BuzzStream that does sort of a system, a mechanism like this where you can build those targeted link outreach lists. It can certainly be helpful. I know a lot of folks like using things like Open Site Explorer and Followerwonk, Ahrefs, Majestic to try and find and fill in a bunch of these data points.

Step 3: Execute, learn, and iterate

Once we’ve got our list and we’re going through the process of actually using these approaches and these opportunity types and this contact information to reach out to people, get the links that we’re hoping to get, now we want to execute, learn, and iterate. So we’re going to do some forms of one-to-one outreach where we e-mail folks and we get nothing. It just doesn’t work at all. What we want to do is try and figure out: Why was that? Why didn’t that resonate with those folks?

We’ll do some paid amplification that just reaches tens of thousands of people, low cost per click, no links. Just nothing, we didn’t get anything. Okay, why didn’t we get a response? Why didn’t we get people clicking on that? Why did the people who clicked on it seem to ignore it entirely? Why did we get no amplification from that?

We can have those ideas and hypotheses and use that to improve our processes. We want to learn from our mistakes. But to do that, just like investments in content and investments in social and other types of investments in SEO, we’ve got to give ourselves time. We have to talk to our bosses, our managers, our teams, our clients and say, “Hey, gang, this is an iterative learning process. We’re going to figure out what forms of link building we’re good at, and then we’re going to be able to boost rankings once we do. But if we give up because we don’t give ourselves time to learn, we’re never going to get these results.”

All right, look forward to your thoughts on tactical link building and targeted link building. We’ll see you again next week for another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Take care.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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