Archive for May, 2016

PostHeaderIcon How to Research the Path to Customer Purchase – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by randfish

Moving your customers down the funnel from awareness to conversion can make for a winding and treacherous road. Until you fully research and understand the buying process inside and out, it’s far too easy to make a misstep. In today’s Whiteboard Friday, Rand steps back to take a higher-level look at the path to customer purchase, recommending workflows and tools to help you forge your own way.

How to Research the Path to Customer Purchase Whiteboard

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 the path to customer purchase and how to research that path. The reason this is so critical is because we have to understand a few things like our content and conversion strategy around where do we need to be, what content we need to create, how to position ourselves, our product, our brand, and how to convert people. We can’t know this stuff until we truly understand the buying process.

We’ve done a lot of Whiteboard Fridays that involve very, very tactically specific items in one of the steps in these, like: how to understand the awareness funnel and how to build your social media audience; or how to get into the consideration process and understand how you compare against your competition; or how to convert people at the very end of the buying cycle on a landing page.

But I want to take a step back because, as I’ve talked to a lot of you out there and heard comments from you, I think that this bigger picture of, “How do I understand this research process,” is something we need to address.

Buyers: Who are they?

So let’s start with: How do we understand who our buyers actually are, and what’s the research process we can use for that? My general sense is that we need to start with interviews with a few people, with salespeople if you’re working with a team that has sales, with customer service, especially if you’re working with a team that has customer service folks who talk to lots of their audience, and potentially with your target demographic and psychographic audience. Demographic audience would be like: Where are they, what gender are they, and what age group are they? Psychographics would be things around their interest levels in certain things and what they consume and how they behave, all of that type of stuff.

For example, let’s say we’re going to go target Scotch whisky drinkers. Now, I am personally among that set of Scotch whisky drinkers. I’m big fan of a number of scotches, as are many Mozzers. In fact, I have a bottle of Ardbeg — I think it’s the Uigeadail — in my office here at Moz.

So I might go, “Well, let’s see. Let’s talk to the people who sell whisky at stores. Let’s talk to the people who sell it online. Let’s talk to the customer service folks. Let’s do interviews with people who are likely Scotch buyers, which are both male and female, perhaps slightly more demographically skewed male, tend to be in a slightly wealthier, maybe middle income and up income bracket, tend to be people who live in cities more than people who live in urban and rural areas, tend to also have interests around things like fashion and maybe automobiles and maybe beer and other forms of alcohol.” So we can figure out all that stuff and then we can do those interviews.

What we’re trying to get to is a customer profile or several customer profiles.

A lot of folks call this a “customer persona,” and they’ll name the persona. I think that’s a fine approach, but you can have a more abstract customer profile as well.

Then once you have that, you can use a tool like Facebook, through their advertising audience system, to research the quantity of people who have the particular attributes or affiliations that you’re seeking out. From there, you can expand again by using Facebook and Twitter. You could use Followerwonk, for example in Twitter specifically, to figure out: What are these people following? Who are their influencers? What are the brands they pay attention to? What are the media outlets? What are the individuals? What are the blogs or content creators that they follow?

You can also do this with a few other tools. For example, if you’re searching out just content in general, you might use Google Search. You could do this on Instagram or Pinterest or LinkedIn for additional networks.

There’s a very cool tool called FullContact, which has an API that essentially let’s you plug in let’s say you have a set of email addresses from your interview process. You can plug that into FullContact and you can see the profiles that all of those email addresses have across all these social networks.

Now I can start to do this type of work, and I can go plug things into Followerwonk. I can go plug them into Facebook, and I can actually see specifically who those groups follow. Now I can start to build a true idea of who these people are and who they follow.

What needs do they have?

Now that I’ve researched that, I need to know what needs those folks actually have. I understand my audience at least a little bit, but now I need to understand what they want. Again, I go back to that interview process. It’s very, very powerful. It is time-intensive. It will not be a time-saving activity. Interviews take a long time and a lot of effort and require a tremendous amount of resources, but you also get deep, deep empathy and understanding from an interview process.

Surveys are another good way to go, but you get much less deep information from them. You can however get good broad information, and I’ve really enjoyed those. If you don’t already have an audience, you can start with something like SurveyMonkey Audience or Google Surveys, which let you target a broad group, and both of those are reasonable if you’re targeting the right sorts of broad enough demographics or psychographics.

The other thing I want to do here is some awareness stage keyword research. I want to understand that this awareness phase. As people are just understanding they have a problem, what do they search for? Keyword research on this can start from the highest level.

So if I’m targeting Scotch, I might search for just Scotch by itself. If I plug that into a tool like Keyword Explorer or Keyword Planner or, I can see suggestions like, “What’s the best Scotch under $50?” When I see that, I start to gain an understanding of, “Oh, wait a minute. People are looking for quality. They also care about price.” Then I might see other things like, “Gosh, a lot of people search for ‘Islay versus Speyside.’ Oh, that’s interesting. They want to know which regions are different.” Or they search for “Japanese whisky versus Scotch whisky.” Aha, another interesting point at the awareness stage.

From there, I can determine the search terms that are getting used at awareness stage. I can go to consideration. I can go to comparison. I can go to conversion points. That really helps me understand the journey that searchers are taking down this path.

It’s not just search, though. Any time I have a search term or phase, I want to go plug that into places like Facebook. I want to plug it into something like Twitter search. I want to understand the influencers on the networks that I know my audience is in. That could be Instagram. It could be Pinterest. It could be LinkedIn. It could be any variety of networks. It could be Google News, maybe, if I’m seeing that they pay attention to a lot of media.

Then once I have these search terms and awareness through the funnel, now I’ve got to understand: How do they get to that conversation point?

Once I get there, what I’m really seeking out is: What are the reasons people bought? What are the things they considered? What are the objections that kept some of them from buying?

Creating a content & conversion strategy.

If I have this, what I essentially have now is the who and the what they’re seeking out at each phase of this journey. That’s an incredibly powerful thing that I can then go apply to…

Where do I need to be?

“Where do I need to be” means things like: What keywords do I need to target? What social platforms do I need to be on? Where do I need to be in media? Who do I need to influence who’s influencing my audience?

It tells me what content I need to create.

I know what articles or videos or visuals or podcasts or data my audience is interested in and what helps compel them further and further down that funnel.

It tells me a little bit about how to position myself in terms of things like style and UI/UX.

It also tells me about benefits versus features and some of the prototypical users. Who are the prototypical users? Who should I showcase? What kinds of testimonials are going to be valuable because people say, “Ah, this person, who is like me, liked this product and uses it. Therefore it must be a good product for me.”

Lastly, it tells me about how we can convert our target audience.

Then it also tells us lastly, finally, through those objections and the reasons people bought, the landing page content, the testimonials to feature and what should be in those. It tells me about the conversion path and how I should expect people to flow through that: whether they have to come back many times or they make the purchase right away. Who they’re going to compare me against in terms of competitors. And finally the purchase dynamics: How do I want to sell? Do I need a refund policy? Do I need to have things like free shipping? Should this be on a subscription basis? Should I have a high upfront payment or a low upfront payment with ballooning costs over time, and all that type of stuff?

This research process is not super simple. I certainly haven’t dived deep on every one of these aspects. But you can use this as a fundamental architecture to shape how you answer these questions in all of the web marketing channels you might pursue. Before you go pursue any one given channel, you might want to try and identify some of the holes you have in this.

If you have questions about how to do this, go through and do this research first. You’ll have far better results at the end.

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

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PostHeaderIcon On-Page SEO in 2016: The 8 Principles for Success – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by randfish

On-page SEO is no longer a simple matter of checking things off a list. There’s more complexity to this process in 2016 than ever before, and the idea of “optimization” both includes and builds upon traditional page elements. In this Whiteboard Friday, Rand explores the eight principles you’ll need for on-page SEO success going forward.

On-Page SEO in 2016: The 8 Principles for Success

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 on-page SEO, keyword targeting but beyond keyword targeting into all the realms of the things that we need to optimize on an individual URL in order to have the best chance of success in the search engines in 2016.

So what does that involve? Well look, we could spend a tremendous amount of time on any one of these, but I’m going to share eight principles that are behind all of the tactical work that you would put into optimizing that page for that keyword term, phrase, or set of phrases. Most likely, in 2016, it is a set of phrases that you’re targeting rather than just a single keyword term.

Piece of the whiteboard: illustration of a SERPs page

1. Fulfill the searcher’s goal and satisfy their intent

What we are trying to do is fulfill the searcher’s goal and satisfy their intent. So there’s an intent behind every search query. I’m seeking some information. I’m seeking to accomplish a task. Oftentimes, that initial intent is different from the final goal that someone might have.

I’ll give you an example. When someone searches for types of wedding formal wear, we might infer from that query that, right now, their specific intent behind this search is they want to see different kinds of potential formalwear that they could wear to a wedding, maybe as a guest or as a bride or a groom. But their ultimate goal is probably going to be to decide on one of those specific things and then potentially purchase that item or take something from their wardrobe and add it in there.

But this means that we need to try and serve both intents. It’s actually going to be really tough if we’re an ecommerce player to say, “Hey, you know what, I want a rank for types of wedding formal wear, and I want to rank for it with a page that tells people to buy this particular tuxedo.”

That’s tough for a bunch of reasons. You don’t know whether that formalwear is going to be necessarily black tie in the United States, which is tuxedo. You don’t know whether that person is a male or a female when they’re performing the search. A woman, well, they might buy a tuxedo but probably not, at least statistically speaking, they’re probably not going to. They’re probably going to buy a dress. You might have much more success with a piece of content like 20 suits and tuxes men look great in at a wedding. Especially if I’m targeting men or if this is types of men’s wedding formalwear, that’s probably going to be the piece of content that has a great chance of serving the searcher’s intent and fulfilling their goals, especially if we then take that content and link off to the places where you can buy or accessorize all those different pieces. So we’re trying to do both of these items in number one.

Piece of the whiteboard: A negatively-trending graph with User Satisfaction on the Y axis and Page Load Time on the X axis.

2. Speed, speed, & more speed

This is very simplistic, but the idea is really easy here. We know that user satisfaction is a signal that Google interprets in some ways directly and in many, many ways indirectly. We also know that abandonment rates are very high, even higher on mobile for longer-loading pages. We know that pages that have fast load times earn more links and amplification. We know that pages that earn more links earn more engagement on them. We know that all of these things including speed itself is positively correlated with rankings, and we know that Google has made page load speed a small, albeit small, but a ranking signal inside their algorithm directly. So critically important.

Piece of the whiteboard: an illustration of a SERP with questions about why it's ranking or not.

3. Create trust & engagement through UI, UX, and branding

Related to number two is number three, which is creating trust and engagement through UI, UX, and branding. Speed is certainly a big part of the user experience. This is also critical because these two both touch on being mobile friendly, having that multi-device friendliness so that it’s capable on any device. UI, UX, and branding though go into some different areas. So if I have my website, I’m really looking for a few different aspects of it from the SEO point of view.

This is frustrating because it touches on a lot of things that historically have been outside the control of search engine optimization professionals. Thankfully, as SEO becomes more multidisciplinary inside a marketing team, hopefully we have more ability to influence these things, stuff like:

  • Have people actually heard of your domain?
  • Do they know you, like you, and trust you?
  • Do you have UI and visual elements that make them perceive you as being trustworthy, even if this is the first time they’ve ever heard of you? That can be things like the images on the page. It can be the navigation. It can be the color scheme. It can be the UI library that you might be using or how you’ve done the visual layout of things. All of those pieces go into that “Do you look trustworthy?” That’s certainly a consideration that a lot of folks have when they’re looking at searches.
  • Are you intuitive to access? I mean intuitive both from a navigation standpoint and from the consumption of the content on the page as well.
  • Hopefully, you have some external validation signals to indicate that the content you have and the brand that you are is trustworthy. Those can be things like testimonials. They can also mean things like references or citations for the data or information that you’re providing or links out, all that kind of stuff.

Piece of the whiteboard: an illustration of a SERPs page with a sentence describing pogo sticking.

4. Avoid elements that dissuade visitors

You want to avoid elements that distract searchers or dissuade them from visiting you either at this time or in the future. The most common ones of these that we like to talk about a lot are ones that interfere with the content consumption experience. That’s things like overlays. “Do you want to stay married? If so, download our guide.” Then you have to say, “Yes, of course I want to stay married,” or “No, I’m a terrible person and I will not click on your popup,” and then another popup will come up.

Those types of overlays obviously have negative impacts, and you can see them in your user and usage data, your engagement data. You can determine how much of a sacrifice you’re willing to make in exchange for, “Well, we did get some email addresses out of this, or we got some conversion rate and so we’re willing to make that sacrifice,” versus “No, we’re not willing to make these sacrifices.” You have to choose what types of engagement-dissuading apparatuses you’re willing to put on your site.

But be aware, pogo sticking is a ranking signal. It’s something that they judge indirectly for sure and directly potentially as well. Pogo sticking meaning a searcher clicked on your listing in the results, they went to your site, and then they clicked the “Back” button and chose someone else from the results. Google interprets that and Bing interprets that very poorly for you.

A list of on-page elements described in detail in section 5.

5. Keyword targeting

Keyword targeting, classic on-page ranking signal, still true today. I know that many of us still see or are starting to see a lot more entrants into the search results that don’t do very particular keyword targeting, at least don’t do it the way we’ve historically perceived it, where it’s very keyword-driven. But it’s still incredibly smart to do this if and when you can. You just need to balance it out with all these other aspects.

Title element

Places that I would start. In fact, this is basically in order of importance. Title element, I would place the keyword term or phrase, the most important term or phrase that you’re targeting in the title element in the headline of the page. That can be the H1 tag, but it doesn’t need to be it. It could be just the bold, big headline at the top. That should match the page title generally speaking or be very close, because what you don’t want is you don’t want a searcher who clicked on one title element and then landed on a page that had a different headline and they perceived that mismatch, and so they clicked the “Back” button. That’s dangerous.

Page content, external anchor links, alt attributes, and URL

You want it obviously in the page content. If you can, when you can control it, you want it in external anchor links to the page. So if, for example, I have my home page about weddings and I am interviewed for something, I might put in my bio something about the wedding styles website that I own and control, and I would link back to that in that external anchor text. I want it potentially in the alt attribute of any images or photos or visuals that I’ve got on the page. I want it in the URL. Again, if I can control it and the URL is less important, so we’re going in decreasing order of importance here.

Image file name

I want it in the image name. Especially if I’m trying to rank in Google image search, image name, the file name of the actual image does matter and is important.

Internal links

Finally, I want it in internal links to the degree that it’s intelligent and balanced and doesn’t look spammy.

Do all these items, you’ve got your keyword targeting down. But this is not like the past, where just nailing keyword targeting is going to take my rankings to where they need to be. I’ve got to do all these other seven things too, including number six, related topics targeting.

An illustration of related topics targeting on a SERP.

6. Related topics targeting

So related topics is basically this concept that Google has a huge graph of lexical combinations and semantic analysis. They can essentially say, “Hey, when we see wedding formalwear, we often also see these terms and phrases, terms like tuxedo, tux, wedding dress, bowtie, vest.” In the United Kingdom, almost certainly we would see waistcoat, which is what we call a vest here in the United States, or a wedding suit, which is what is traditionally worn in weddings in the U.K. versus a tuxedo here in the United States.

Now, given that Google sees these terms and phrases very commonly associated with this one, they’ve essentially started to build up this graph between these, and so these topics they would say are very important to this search term. If someone’s looking for wedding formalwear, it’s unusual for them to find a page that has high relevance for users that doesn’t also include these types of words and phrases.

Therefore, as a search marketer, as a content creator, we need to think about: What are those terms and phrases that are related here, and how do I make sure to include them in my content? If I don’t, my ranking opportunity may decrease compared to my competitors who’ve intelligently used those terms and phrases.

A piece of the whiteboard: check boxes next to all the on-page elements necessary.

7. Snippet optimization

With a page, we’re not just trying to drive the ranking. We’re also trying to drive the click. So ranking number four and earning a 6% click-through rate, that might not be great, especially if the average is more like 11%. Then we’re earning half the average for our ranking position. That seems a little funny. Those percentages are not precise, but you get the idea.

We want to have the best-optimized snippet that we possibly can in the SERP. So you can see here I’ve got this, “what to wear to a formal wedding,” “a guide from” and it’s mobile-friendly. It’s published on May 10, 2016. Then it has this nice meta description, the snippet there. This is essentially my advertisement to searchers saying, “Please click on my link. I want your click.”

On-page elements

Bunch of elements that go into this: the title, obviously, the meta description. The URL format, this, very simple on home pages, gets much more complex when we have pages that are internal because Google starts to assign categories if you have messy URL parameters or inconsistent categories, tagging systems that can get nasty.

Publication date

Publication date matters quite a bit, especially for searches that have a fresh component. So if people are searching for types of wedding formalwear, well, you might not need to worry too much. But what if lots of people who search for this search for types of wedding formalwear 2016? Well, now you really need that fresh publication date. In fact, if Google sees lots of people search for that, they might actually take it as an intent signal that types of wedding formalwear alone deserves that date in there and that they should be ranking fresher content higher up because lots of people are looking for more recent, modern stuff.

Use of schema

Whenever there’s an opportunity, for example, if you’re in the recipe space, there are schema markups specifically for recipes. If you’re in the news space, there are opportunities for news. If you do video, Google doesn’t really obey it very much, except with YouTube, but there are video opportunities for schema markup. There are all sorts of other kinds depending on what you’re in, certainly local and maps and a bunch of other ones.

Domain name

That is something to consider. In fact, when you’re registering a domain name and building out a site, you should be thinking about how people want to click on it, the brandability, the snippet optimization, all that.

Content format

Content format is particularly important because Google, especially when there’s a more question-based search query, they’ve started showing those longer meta descriptions. So if you can encapsulate what you know is essentially the critical piece of content that answers the user’s question, chances are you might be able to get that larger space, vertical space in the SERP, and that might mean that you can draw more clicks in as well.

This works really well with lists. It works nicely with forums and discussions, threads. It works nicely with elements where you have a bunch of specific how-to, step-by-step process, those types of things. Same story with instant answer possibilities that you want to appear at the top of that Google SERP with an instant answer if you can. We know that that actually doesn’t take away click-through rate. It actually drives more of it. In fact, the real estate there means that you often get more clicks than organic position one, which is pretty great. Of course, all the different kinds of SERP feature opportunities like we talked about — images, maps, local, news, what have you.

Piece of the whiteboard: A positively trending graph with quality of content on the Y axis and difficulty of ranking on the X axis.

8. Unique value + amplification

This is the final piece of things that we’re thinking about as we do on-page optimization in 2016. That is I need to be thinking about: What bar do I need to reach in order to have a chance to rank, rank well, and rank consistently?

This is tough. So if the difficulty of ranking is very easy, the bar that I need to cross is probably somewhere between classic, good, unique content, like this content is good, it’s unique, and it exists. That’s all it needs. That’s a very, very low bar. Even for easy rankings, I would not suggest making that your bar.

I’d put it somewhere between there and twice as good as anyone else in the competition, but essentially targeting the same types of things. You’re doing the same kind of content. You just feel like you’re better than anything else in the top 10. That might be a reasonable enough bar for an easy ranking.

If it gets moderate, if it gets tough, I need to go up to uniquely valuable. Uniquely valuable, by that, we’ve had a whole Whiteboard Friday on it, which we can refer to, but uniquely valuable being this idea that I provide a value that no one else in the search results provides. So it’s not simply that I’m doing a better job. I’m also doing a unique job of providing information or data or visuals, whatever it is that is more and different value than anybody else.

Then finally, what we’ve called 10x content. If you have an insane difficulty of ranking, that might be the minimum bar that you need to hit, and we’ll link over the 10x video as well.

Basically, the questions that I’m asking when I’m talking about providing unique value and being worthy of amplification, which is something that our content needs to consider too, is: What makes this better than what already ranks? Do you have a great answer to that question? If you don’t, you should probably get one before you try targeting those keywords and producing that content.

Why will this be difficult or impossible for others to replicate? What’s the barrier to entry that your content provides, that all the other content providers can’t just look and go, “Oh, well I see that Rand’s done a very nice job ranking there. I’ll just take that and do it. That should be easy.” You need a barrier to entry. What value does this page provide that no other page in the SERPs provides? That goes to our unique value question.

The last one, who. Who will help amplify this piece of content and why? If you don’t have a great answer to who and why, it’s going to be incredibly difficult to get that amplification. If you can’t get the amplification, it’s going to be really, really hard to rank, because as much as on-page optimization does matte — and all of these eight principles matter for rankings — SEO in 2016 is not merely about on-page but about off-page as well, just as it’s been the last decade, 15 years. So, as we’re creating content, we need to think about that amplification process too.

All right everyone, look forward to your thoughts, and we’ll see you again next week for another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Take care.

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