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​Feast Your Eyes on the MozCon 2017 Initial Agenda

Posted by ronell-smith

According to our calculations, MozCon 2017 is a mere 158,000 minutes away. (But who’s counting, right?) As you might have guessed, we’re quite excited about our latest event, in large part because we have some new tricks up our sleeves. (More on that at a later date. We promise.)

Aside from a few tweaks here and there, though, the next MozCon won’t be much different from those in years past.

That is, it'll be unique and awesome in equal amounts.

MozCon 2017: July 17–19 in Seattle

You can still expect world-class speakers sharing original information in a one-of-a-kind, charged atmosphere. Plus great food, plenty of snacks, and conversations that’ll have your mind humming for days.

And for you last-minuters who haven’t grabbed your ticket yet, now’s the time to... um... grab that ticket you’ll be crying over if you wait too long:

Grab your tickets now

We've kept you waiting long enough, so take a look at some of what's in store for you at MozCon 2017.


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Local SEO Spam Tactics Are Working: How You Can Fight Back

Posted by Casey_Meraz

For years, I've been saying that if you have a problem with spammers in local results, you can just wait it out. I mean, if Google cared about removing spam and punishing those who are regular spammers we'd see them removed fast and often, right?

While there are instances where spam has been removed, it seems these are not fast fixes, permanent fixes, or even very common. In fact, they seem few and far between. So today I’m changing my tune a bit to call more attention to the spam issues people employ that violate Google My Business terms and yet continue to win in the SERPs.

The problems are rampant and blatant. I've heard and seen many instances of legitimate businesses changing their names just to rank better and faster for their keywords.

Another problem is that Google is shutting down MapMaker at the end of March. Edits will still be allowed, but they'll need to be made through Google Maps.

(image)

If Google is serious about rewarding brands in local search, they need to encourage it through their local search algorithms.

For some people, it’s gotten so bad that they’re actually suing Google. On January 13, 2017, for instance, a group of fourteen locksmiths sued Google, Yahoo, and Bing over fake spam listings, as reported by Joy Hawkins.

While some changes — like the Possum update — seemed to have a positive impact overall, root problems (such as multiple business listings) and many other issues still exist in the local search ecosystem.

And there are other technically non-spammy ways that users are also manipulating Google results. Let's look at a couple of these examples.

It's not all spam. Businesses are going to great lengths to stay within the GMB guidelines & manipulate results.

Let’s look at an example of a personal injury attorney in the Denver market. Recently, I came across these results when doing a search for trial attorneys:

(image)

Look at the #2 result listing, entitled "Denver Trial Lawyers." I originally thought this was spam and wanted to report it, but I had to do my due diligence first.

To start, I needed to verify that the listing was actually spam by looking at the official business name. I pulled up their website and, to my surprise, the business name in the logo is actually "Denver Trial Lawyers."

(image)

This intrigued me, so I decided to see if they were using a deceptive logo to advertise the business name or if this was the actual business name.

I checked out the Colorado Secretary of State’s website and did a little digging around. After a few minutes I found the legally registered trade name through their online search portal. The formation date of this entity was 7/31/2008, so they appear to have been planning on using the name for some time.

(image)

I also reviewed their MapMaker listing history to see when this change was made and whether it reflected the trade name registration. I saw that on October 10, 2016 the business updated their MapMaker listing to reflect the new business name.

(image)

After all of this, I decided to take this one step further and called the business. When I did, the auto-attendant answered with "Thank you for calling Denver Trial Lawyers," indicating that this is their legitimate business name.

I guess that, according to the Google My Business Guidelines, this can be considered OK. They state:

"Your name should reflect your business’ real-world name, as used consistently on your storefront, website, stationery, and as known to customers. Accurately representing your business name helps customers find your business online."

But what does that mean for everyone else?

Recently, Gyi Tsakalakis also shared this beautiful screenshot on Twitter of a SERP with three businesses using their keywords in the business name:

(image)

It seems they're becoming more and more prominent because people see they're working.

To play devil's advocate, there are also businesses that legitimately sport less-than-creative names, so where do you draw the line? (Note: I've been following some of above businesses for years; I can confirm they've changed their business names to include keywords).

Here's another example

If you look closely, you'll find more keyword- and location-stuffed business names popping up every day.

Here's an interesting case of a business (also located in Denver) that might have been trying to take advantage of Near Me searches, as pointed out by Matt Lacuesta:

(image)

Do you think this business wanted to rank for Near Me searches in Denver? Maybe it's just a coincidence. It's funny, nonetheless.

How are people actively manipulating local results?

While there are many ways to manipulate a Google My Business result, today we’re going to focus on several tactics and identify the steps you can take to help fight back.

Tactic #1: Spammy business names

Probably the biggest problem in Google’s algorithm is the amount of weight they put into a business name. At a high level, it makes sense that they would treat this with a lot of authority. After all, if I’m looking for a brand name, I want to find that specific brand when I'm doing a search.

The problem is that people quickly figured out that Google gives a massive priority to businesses with keywords or locations in their business names.

In the example below, I did a search for "Fresno Personal Injury Lawyers" and was given an exact match result, as you can see in the #2 position:

(image)

However, when I clicked through to the website, I found it was for a firm with a different name. In this case, they blatantly spammed their listing and have been floating by with nice rankings for quite some time.

I reported their listing a couple of times and nothing was done until I was able to escalate this. It’s important to note that the account I used to edit this listing didn't have a lot of authority. Once an authoritative account approved my edit, it went live.

The spam listing below has the keyword and location in the business name.

(image)

We reported this listing using the process outlined below, but sadly the business owner noticed and changed it back within hours.

How can you fight back against spammy business names?

Figuring out how to fight back against people manipulating results is now your job as an SEO. In the past, some in the industry have given the acronym "SEO" a bad name due to the manipulative practices they performed. Now it’s our job to give us a better name by helping to police these issues.

Since Google MapMaker is now disappearing, you'll need to make edits in Google Maps directly. This is also a bit of a problem, as there's no room to leave comments for evidence.

Here are the steps you should take to report a listing with incorrect information:

  1. Make sure you’re signed into Google
  2. Locate the business on maps.google.com
  3. Once the business is located, open it up and look for the “Suggest an edit” option:

    (image)
  4. Once you select it, you'll be able to choose the field you want to change:
    (image)
  5. Make the necessary change and then hit submit! (Don't worry — I didn't make the change above.)

Now, don’t expect anything to happen right away. It can take time for changes to take place. Also, the trust level of your profile seems to play a big role in how Google evaluates these changes. Getting the approval by someone with a high level of trust can make your edits go live quickly.

Make sure you check out all of these great tips from Joy Hawkins on The Ultimate Guide to Fighting Spam on Google Maps, as well.

Tactic #2: Fake business listings

Another issue that we see commonly with maps spam is fake business listings. These listings are completely false businesses that black-hat SEOs build just to rank and get more leads.

Typically we see a lot of these in the locksmith niche — it’s full of people creating fake listings. This is one of the reasons Google started doing advanced verification for locksmiths and plumbers. You can read more about that on Mike Blumenthal's blog.

Joy Hawkins pointed out a handy tip for identifying these listings on her blog, saying:

"Many spammers who create tons of fake listings answer their phone with something generic like 'Hello, locksmith' or 'Hello, service.'"

I did a quick search in Denver for a plumber and it wasn’t long before I found a listing with an exact match name. Using Joy’s tips, I called the number and it was disconnected. This seemed like an illegitimate listing to me.

Thankfully, in this case, the business wasn't ranking highly in the search results:

(image)

When you run into these types of listings, you'll want to take a similar approach as we did above and report the issue.

Tactic #3: Review spam

Review spam can come in many different forms. It’s clear that Google's putting a lot of attention into reviews by adding sorting features and making stars more prominent. I think Google knows they can do a better job with their reviews overall, and I hope we see them take it a little bit more seriously.

Let’s look at a few different ways that review spam appears in search results.

Self-reviews & competitor shaming

Pretty much every business knows they need reviews, but they have trouble getting them. One way people get them is to leave them on their own business.

Recently, we saw a pretty blatant example where someone left a positive five-star review for a law firm and then five other one-star reviews for all of their competitors. You can see this below:

(image)

Although it’s very unethical for these types of reviews to show up, it happens everyday. According to Google’s review and photo policies, they want to:

“Make sure that the reviews and photos on your business listing, or those that you leave at a business you’ve visited, are honest representations of the customer experience. Those that aren’t may be removed.”

While I'd say that this does violate the policies, figuring out which rule applies best is a little tricky. It appears to be a conflict of interest, as defined by Google’s review guidelines below:

(image)

In this particular case, a member of our staff, Dillon Brickhouse, reached out to Google to see what they would say.

Unfortunately, Google told Dillon that since there was no text in the review, nothing could be done. They refused to edit the review.

And, of course, this is not an isolated case. Tim Capper recently wrote an article — “Are Google My Business Guidelines & Spam Algos Working?” — in which he identified similar situations and nothing had been done.

How can you fight against review stars?

Although there will still be cases where spammy reviews are ignored until Google steps up their game, there is something you can try to remove bad reviews. In fact, Google published the exact steps on their review guidelines page here.

You can view the steps and flag a review for removal using the method below:

(image)

What can you do if the basics don't work?

There are a ton of different ways to spam local listings. What can you do if you've reported the issue and nothing changes?

While edits may take up to six weeks to go live, the next step involves you getting more public about the issue. The key to the success of this approach is documentation. Take screenshots, record dates, and keep a file for each issue you're fighting. That way you can address it head-on when you finally get the appropriate exposure.

Depending on whether or not the listing is verified, you'll want to try posting in different forums:

Verified listings

If the listing you're having trouble with is a verified listing, you'll want to make a public post about it in the Google My Business Community forum. When posting, make sure to provide all corresponding evidence, screenshots, etc. to make the case very clear to the moderators. There's a Spam and Policy section on the forum where you can do this.

Unverified listings

However, some spam listings are not verified listings. In these cases ,Joy Hawkins recommends that you engage with the Local Guides Connect Forum here.

Key takeaways

Sadly, there's not a lot we can do outside of the basics of reporting results, but hopefully being more proactive about it and making some noise will encourage Google to take steps in the right direction.

  1. Start being more proactive about reporting listings and reviews that are ignoring the guidelines. Be sure to record the screenshots and take evidence.
  2. If the listings still aren't being fixed after some time, escalate them to the Google My Business Community forum.
  3. Read Joy Hawkins' post from start to finish on The Ultimate Guide to Fighting Spam in Google Maps
  4. Don’t spam local results. Seriously. It’s annoying. Continually follow and stay up-to-date on the Google My Business guidelines.
  5. Lastly, don’t think the edit you made is the final say or that it'll stay around forever. The reality is that they could come back. During testing for this post, the listing for "Doug Allen Personal Injury Attorney Colorado Springs" came back within hours based on an owner edit.

In the future, I’m personally looking forward to seeing some major changes from Google with regards to how they rank local results and how they monitor reviews. I would love to see local penalties become as serious as manual penalties.

How do you think Google can fight this better? What are your suggestions? Let me know in the comments below.


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!

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Are you keeping up with the increasing demands of content marketing today?

Content demands have risen exponentially, driven primarily by changes in consumer tech adoption. Mobile has changed how marketers communicate with their audiences. What’s different with mobile compared to older mediums is the frequency and mindset of consumers. People are in discovery mode on...

Please visit Search Engine Land for the full article.

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Content Attribution: Identifying content that converts

Content may be a critical part of your marketing toolkit, but do you know how it performs against your business goals? Join our digital marketing and data science experts from Cardinal Path and Intel as they demonstrate how to use content attribution – both practically and strategically – as a...

Please visit Search Engine Land for the full article.

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Search in Pics: Google aquarium bathtub room, hanging bubbles & sports court

In this week’s Search In Pictures, here are the latest images culled from the web, showing what people eat at the search engine companies, how they play, who they meet, where they speak, what toys they have and more. Google has a aquarium/bathtub room: Source: Twitter Google hanging bubble...

Please visit Search Engine Land for the full article.

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How to Make Sure Your Digital Marketing Strategy is Results-Driven

Posted by Alex-T

To measure, or not to measure?

When it comes to outlining potential metrics in digital marketing, I always ask myself a question: “Can I measure this?”

For the most crucial elements of your strategy, the answer will likely be yes. But digital marketing involves tons of metrics that we must track on a daily basis. The majority of the data we gather gives us a general understanding of what’s going on, yet keeps us too far away from reaching our business goals. For instance, Google Analytics alone has more than 75 standard reports and each of them can be modified, providing us with even more data. Trust me, it’s hard to stick to your goal if you delve too deep into analytics. So, yes, the struggle is real.

I'm not going to reinvent the wheel here. In this article I'll break down the most important steps you need to take when you are at the crossroads of defining your company’s short- or long-term digital marketing objectives. What if things go south, you ask? How do I fulfill my boss’ expectations? Will I ever be able to get over a failure? OK, let’s not get overly dramatic here. Read on to learn why I believe in the power of KPIs, reasons why you shouldn’t be afraid to experiment, the importance of stepping out of your comfort zone, how to properly set up your “plan, act, measure, improve” routine, and which metrics can be deemed reliable when you work with digital marketing channels (and how to not get misguided by them).

Selecting the right goals

One question that you really don’t want to spend more than a few seconds answering is: “Was it worth it?” To ensure that the effort, time, and money you put into your marketing journey aren’t wasted, you need to have a clear vision of where you're headed.

So how do you know which goals are right for you?

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Your best bet would be to split your goals into two separate groups that are focused on:

  1. Business objectives
  2. Tracking your own internal progress

Now, let’s see what these goals are all about, and what achieving them entails.

Business goals

Bertie Charles Forbes once said, “If you don’t drive your business, you will be driven out of business.”

Steering any type of business in the right direction is never a piece of cake. And no one ever called finding a roadmap for how to get there a no-brainer.

Goals are the essence of expectations — the expectations of your boss, your clients, the CEO of your company, or anyone else whose opinion should be taken into consideration when it comes to your business strategy. Will there be any room left for a compromise? It’s up to you to decide, since these goals aren’t "one-size-fits-all."

But what I can tell you for sure is that you have to “keep it real” and ensure that your business goals are attainable and realistic. Setting them requires determination, hard work, and perseverance. Here are a couple of handy tips for you:

  1. Do some research and find out what the major current trends in your industry are. Is your industry growing rapidly? Numbers don’t lie. Look into the matter and find the percentage of growth.
  • Use Statista.com to can learn about your general industry trends. Statista is particularly useful when it comes to digital markets.
  • Another great place to learn about industry trends is SimilarWeb. They have a solid list of industries that should give you an insight about what traffic sources are the most advantageous and why.
  • Remember the past, live in the present, and think about the future. Gather as much historical data as possible. Historical data is vital — it helps predict the future of a company and a market.

    The results here should be delivered based on internal data gathered from Google Analytics and Google Tag Manager, with an emphasis on the number and type of transactions and information about your clients. In order for the results to be accurate, this data has to be gathered for at least a few months. It's essential to detect a trend because you need to understand the following issues:
    • Whether your business is affected by seasonality. For instance, the B2B SaaS industry normally experiences a recession close to the middle of July, and enters a ramp-up mode at the beginning of September. But without having YOY comparison at hand, you can't say whether it’s a trend or not. Besides that, seasonality should also be taken into serious consideration if you’re planning to grow your conversions.
    • Trends will help you identify which channels have performed better. Sometimes you can see that an overall sessions’ trend in Google Analytics is rising on a monthly basis, but it could be due to paid channels boosting your traffic flow. In this case, something could be wrong with organic traffic. Analyzing trends allows you to see how various digital marketing channels differ from one another, what tactics you need to bear in mind, and what specific aspects to focus on.

    Are you looking to increase your bottom line? Willing to pump up your sales? Rome wasn’t built in a day. Think of a smaller goal that can be expanded upon rather than being apologetic at the end of the quarter. But don’t get too comfortable. Goals must challenge you. That’s how great things happen!

    And whenever you're measuring your business goals, money is the most accurate indicator. The more, the merrier. What’s the point of all the hard work you put in if it doesn’t maximize the bang for your buck?

    Tracking your internal progress

    Previously, I mentioned that we get bombarded by all kinds of digital marketing data flowing from various channels or tools. This data will remain fruitless unless it correlates with your business goals, but this is where Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) become highly relevant. A KPI is a measurement that demonstrates how effectively a company is achieving its key business objectives.

    If you lock down the right KPIs to track, you’ll insure yourself against making uneducated marketing decisions. Each company has unique needs. So when faced with choosing your KPIs, obviously you should go for those that will assist you in reaching your business goals, not obstruct you.

    Here I’d like to accentuate those KPIs that don't assist you in accomplishing your business goals.

    Based on my past experiences, here’s what I’ve come to realize:

    1. In event marketing, it's a common practice to use the number of leads gathered during an event as an indicator of success: the more, the merrier. The problem, however, is that this metric doesn't really speak for the sales activity. You try to score as many leads as you can, desperately scan each and every badge, including those folks at the booth nearby, so that you can impress your boss with a big number. In the end, you may have a lot of leads, but most of them are going to be useless. What’s the point in having heaps of leads if your dominant KPI is sales? You could have had only two successful sales meetings but still reach your quota.
    2. Another metric that I think email marketers shouldn’t sweat at all is keeping your unsubscribe rate as low as it could possibly be.

      It makes no sense if what you’re after here is sales. No doubt, you should keep an eye on your unsubscribe rate, but it's not a key metric here. Users who have unsubscribed aren't interested in your services, so get over those clients and focus on the ones who are interacting with your messages. Try to increase the amount of these users. You need less people that have accidentally subscribed to your list, and more people that will open, click, and then purchase. Simple as that!

    Let’s say you want to set goals for your SEO strategy. The business goal here would be to increase your revenue streams from organic traffic. You also need to define an exact number to aim for in both the short and long term. However, in order to implement these tactics, you need to consider internal processes like:

    • Site visibility (rankings, content, backlinks)
    • On-page user behavior (bounce/exit rates, usability, session duration)
    • Technical considerations (site speed, redirects, accessibility, site structure)

    These groups are generic and will almost surely be different for every site out there, depending on which processes you focus on the most. The good thing is, once determined accurately, these internal metrics should help you understand whether your business goals are attainable early in the development stage.

    The power of experimentation

    When it comes to any business process, you should be open to experimentation. Data can give us clues about users’ past behavior, not about how they will respond to daring future changes — that is, if your process and your number of users allows for it. There’s no point in such a trivial exercise as an A/B test if you only have 100 users on a daily basis. Luckily there are plenty of other things that you can work on, such as operating within channels that allow you to see results in a short-term perspective. And where SEO is concerned, that definitely includes analyzing traffic, so that you can see whether getting a link from a particular site was worth the trouble.

    According to Jim Manzi, founder of Applied Predictive Technologies, and Stefan Thomke, a Harvard Business School professor, the process of experimentation is easier said than done, owing to a myriad of organizational and technical challenges.

    The authors of the article conclude that companies need to ask themselves several crucial, yet painfully obvious questions: Does the experiment have a clear purpose? Is the experiment doable? How can we ensure reliable results? Have we gotten the most value out of the experiment?

    Take a moment and think if you can answer any of these.

    Plan, act, measure, improve

    I see digital marketing as a combination of facts and judgement. There’s no one analytic approach that can ultimately tell you you’re on the right track, give you a pat on the back, and say, “Great job, pal! Way to go!” That’s why I feel like the atmosphere within the digital marketing industry is filled with hesitation, uncertainty, and doubt.

    Some marketers think that the answer to sharpening their judgement in this perpetually changing environment is data (you don’t say!), and some companies are gearing up with intricate analytical tools.

    Yet, it’s next to impossible to integrate all of this information and make it serve answers that you can trust unconditionally. We get stoked by the prospects that “big data” and advanced analytics create — no doubt about that. But data continues to be only as valuable as the expertise you’ve nurtured, and good judgment will continue to be a hallmark of the best marketers.

    However, if you create a process for planning, acting, measuring, and improving right off the bat, then you’ll be able to fully accomplish your business goals.

    But before you try to make it happen, I want you to consider the following:

    1. Your processes should be measurable (otherwise, there’s no room for improvement).

    If you want to analyze the performance of your “Buy Now” button, then you need to make sure that you have everything to do that. I prefer to work with Google Tag Manager because it allows you to add new goals and see a user’s activity without bugging your developer to update scripts and things like that. It gives you the freedom to act, and that’s exactly what you need.

    Note: Don’t forget to personally verify that all triggers are working properly and that you have all stats registered in your system.

    Here’s a couple of great resource to help you understand and master Google Tag Manager:

    2. You're very likely to fail at your first attempt at choosing the right metrics (which is a part of the process; no one is insured against that).

    You live, you learn — whether you’re the last one to know about the latest trend, or you’re too busy struggling to get this one thing right. Whichever your case, I feel your pain and I can assure you it’s absolutely normal.

    Here’s my example: For a while, I considered the number of registered users to be the main metric for my own online event (and I still rely on this metric). However, I’ve learned that I can’t fully rely on this metric since the number of subscribers doesn’t really affect the number of actual live listeners. Recorded videos aren’t very popular among my audience, either; I suspect the reason for that is because my users want to consume content right when they're becoming my subscribed users. And because it’s free of charge, there’s not enough incentive to come back for more. Human psychology is indeed an intricate thing.

    3. Either your approach needs a slight adjustment, or it has to be replaced with a completely different tactic.

    I think the best example here is a social media arena where experts have their sleeves rolled up, tweeting their day away, too busy to slow down and... analyze. There, I said it! You can go ahead and hate me now.

    (image)

    But that’s the reality. Some well-known companies publish works that say we need to post more, especially on Twitter, if we want to increase clicks, retweets, or shares. However, if you apply a little bit of common sense and dare to doubt such research, you’ll see that there’s no correlation between the number of posts and the level of engagement or number of clicks.

    With that being said, the best approach here is to concentrate on conversions, rather than impressions — a metric that can be helpful when trying to increase brand awareness, but doesn’t generate clicks or retweets. The more time you spend improving conversions, the better results you’ll have in the end.

    Take a look at SocialBakers’ report, which investigates the matter of tweeting frequency:

    (image)

    In order to shed some light on an everlasting problem, SocialBakers compared the Total Engagement Rate with the Average Engagement Rate of over 11,000 tweets between May 25th and June 25th back in 2013.

    One of their major findings: you must figure out how to balance things and avoid “extremes,” and that three tweets a day will keep the decline of your engagement rate away.

    Putting theory into practice

    Moving on, I’d like to present you with some statistics from the Digital Olympus Twitter account:

    November

    December

    January

    Tweets Per Day

    3.8

    15.16

    4.61

    Avg Impressions Per Day

    3,700

    5,100

    4,500

    Engagement Rate

    0.80%

    0.50%

    0.80%

    Clicks

    158

    248

    241

    Retweets

    211

    239

    224

    Likes

    302

    409

    345

    As you can see, in January we were able to improve our retweet/like and click activity. We experimented with different tactics. Our final goal was to get as many clicks as possible and a satisfying engagement rate. Back in December 2016, we were tweeting much more than we normally did, and it never affected our click rate. In January we decided to take it easy and started tweeting less, which was, in turn, more cost-effective. As you can see, the results were pretty good.

    However, we did lose some traffic, which means we need to generate more than 4.6 tweets per day.

    (image)

    And as I’ve already mentioned, currently my main business metric is our number of subscribers, which has decreased slightly lately. (image)

    The graph above also tells me that even with fewer tweets, we're still able to attract the right type of audience and to convert our registrants (in our case, the conversion is registration).

    Wrap-up

    Metrics aren’t always perfectly revealing. Nevertheless, the volume of data accessible nowadays should make analytics doable. In this article I offered you insight into my way of defining business goals, managing internal processes, and dealing with such prosaic activities as measuring, which should never be underestimated. Provide yourself with everything you might possibly need to measure accurately, and don’t be afraid to fail. It’s all part of the process, believe me.

    We’ve learned that setting your business goals requires some legwork, like collecting historical data and researching current industry trends. And once you're certain about your KPIs, you should always keep them on your radar because they demonstrate how fruitful your efforts are on the way to accomplishing your business objectives.

    Never stop experimenting with your business ideas, set goals that will challenge you and your team, and don’t go overboard with dubious practices. In this case, less is more.

    Now, off to reaching new heights, guys!


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    Structuring URLs for Easy Data Gathering and Maximum Efficiency

    Posted by Dom-Woodman

    Imagine you work for an e-commerce company.

    Wouldn't it be useful to know the total organic sessions and conversions to all of your products? Every week?

    If you have access to some analytics for an e-commerce company, try and generate that report now. Give it 5 minutes.

    Done?

    Or did that quick question turn out to be deceptively complicated? Did you fall into a rabbit hole of scraping and estimations?

    Not being able to easily answer that question — and others like it — is costing you thousands every year.

    Let’s jump back a step

    Every online business, whether it’s a property portal or an e-commerce store, will likely have spent hours and hours agonizing over decisions about how their website should look, feel, and be constructed.

    The biggest decision is usually this: What will we build our website with? And from there, there are hundreds of decisions, all the way down to what categories should we have on our blog?

    Each of these decisions will generate future costs and opportunities, shaping how the business operates.

    Somewhere in this process, a URL structure will be decided on. Hopefully it will be logical, but the context in which it’s created is different from how it ends up being used.

    As a business grows, the desire for more information and better analytics grows. We hire data analysts and pay agencies thousands of dollars to go out, gather this data, and wrangle it into a useful format so that smart business decisions can be made.

    It’s too late. You’ve already wasted £1000s a year.

    It’s already too late; by this point, you’ve already created hours and hours of extra work for the people who have to analyze your data and thousands will be wasted.

    All because no one structured the URLs with data gathering in mind.

    How about an example?

    Let’s go back to the problem we talked about at the start, but go through the whole story. An e-commerce company goes to an agency and asks them to get total organic sessions to all of their product pages. They want to measure performance over time.

    Now this company was very diligent when they made their site. They’d read Moz and hired an SEO agency when they designed their website and so they’d read this piece of advice: products need to sit at the root. (E.g. mysite.com/white-t-shirt.)

    Apparently a lot of websites read this piece of advice, because with minimal searching you can find plenty of sites whose product pages that rank do sit at the root: Appleyard Flowers, Game, Tesco Direct.

    At one level it makes sense: a product might be in multiple categories (LCD & 42” TVs, for example), so you want to avoid duplicate content. Plus, if you changed the categories, you wouldn’t want to have to redirect all the products.

    But from a data gathering point of view, this is awful. Why? There is now no way in Google Analytics to select all the products unless we had the foresight to set up something earlier, like a custom dimension or content grouping. There is nothing that separates the product URLs from any other URL we might have at the root.

    How could our hypothetical data analyst get the data at this point?

    They might have to crawl all the pages on the site so they can pick them out with an HTML footprint (a particular piece of HTML on a page that identifies the template), or get an internal list from whoever owns the data in the organization. Once they've got all the product URLs, they’ll then have to match this data to the Google Analytics in Excel, probably with a VLOOKUP or, if the data set is too large, a database.

    Shoot. This is starting to sound quite expensive.

    And of course, if you want to do this analysis regularly, that list will constantly change. The range of products being sold will change. So it will need to be a scheduled scrape or automated report. If we go the scraping route, we could do this, but crawling regularly isn’t possible with Screaming Frog. Now we're either spending regular time on Screaming Frog or paying for a cloud crawler that you can schedule. If we go the other route, we could have a dev build us an internal automated report we can go to once we can get the resource internally.

    Wow, now this is really expensive: a couple days' worth of dev time, or a recurring job for your SEO consultant or data analyst each week.

    This could’ve been a couple of clicks on a default report.

    If we have the foresight to put all the products in a folder called /products/, this entire lengthy process becomes one step:

    Load the landing pages report in Google Analytics and filter for URLs beginning with /product/.

    Congratulations — you’ve just cut a couple days off your agency fee, saved valuable dev time, or gained the ability to fire your second data analyst because your first is now so damn efficient (sorry, second analysts).

    As a data analyst or SEO consultant, you continually bump into these kinds of issues, which suck up time and turn quick tasks into endless chores.

    What is unique about a URL?

    For most analytics services, it’s the main piece of information you can use to identify the page. Google Analytics, Google Search Console, log files, all of these only have access to the URL most of the time and in some cases that’s all you’ll get — you can never change this.

    The vast majority of site analyses requires working with templates and generalizing across groups of similar pages. You need to work with templates and you need to be able to do this by URL.

    It’s crucial.

    There’s a Jeff Bezos saying that’s appropriate here:

    “There are two types of decisions. Type 1 decisions are not reversible, and you have to be very careful making them. Type 2 decisions are like walking through a door — if you don't like the decision, you can always go back.”

    Setting URLs is very much a Type 1 decision. As anyone in SEO knows, you really don’t want to be constantly changing URLs; it causes a lot of problems, so when they’re being set up we need to take our time.

    How should you set up your URLs?

    How do you pick good URL patterns?

    First, let’s define a good pattern. A good pattern is something which we can use to easily select a template of URLs, ideally using contains rather than any complicated regex.

    This usually means we’re talking about adding folders because they’re easiest to find with just a contains filter, i.e. /products/, /blogs/, etc.

    We also want to keep things human-readable when possible, so we need to bear that in mind when choosing our folders.

    So where should we add folders to our URLs?

    I always ask the following two questions:

    • Will I need to group the pages in this template together?
      • If a set of pages needs grouping I need to put them in the same folder, so we can identify this by URL.
    • Are there crucial sub-groupings for this set of pages? If there are, are they mutually exclusive and how often might they change?
      • If there are common groupings I may want to make, then I should consider putting this in the URL, unless those data groupings are liable to change.

    Let’s look at a couple examples.

    Firstly, back to our product example: let’s suppose we’re setting up product URLs for a fashion e-commerce store.

    Will I need to group the products together? Yes, almost certainly. There clearly needs to be a way of grouping in the URL. We should put them in a /product/ folder.

    Within in this template, how might I need to group these URLs together? The most plausible grouping for products is the product category. Let’s take a black midi dress.

    What about putting "little black dress" or "midi" as a category? Well, are they mutually exclusive? Our dress could fit in the "little black dress" category and the "midi dress" category, so that’s probably not something we should add as a folder in the URL.

    What about moving up a level and using "dress" as a category? Now that is far more suitable, if we could reasonably split all our products into:

    • Dresses
    • Tops
    • Skirts
    • Trousers
    • Jeans

    And if we were happy with having jeans and trousers separate then this might indeed be an excellent fit that would allow us to easily measure the performance of each top-level category. These also seem relatively unlikely to change and, as long as we’re happy having this type of hierarchy at the top (as opposed to, say, "season," for example), it makes a lot of sense.

    What are some common URL patterns people should use?

    Product pages

    We’ve banged on about this enough and gone through the example above. Stick your products in a /products/ folder.

    Articles

    Applying the same rules we talked about to articles and two things jump out. The first is top-level categorization.

    For example, adding in the following folders would allow you to easily measure the top-level performance of articles:

    • Travel
    • Sports
    • News

    You should, of course, be keeping them all in a /blog/ or /guides/ etc. folder too, because you won’t want to group just by category.

    Here’s an example of all 3:

    • A bad blog article URL: example.com/this-is-an-article-name/
    • A better blog article URL: example.com/blog/this-is-an-article-name/
    • An even better blog article URL: example.com/blog/sports/this-is-an-article-name

    The second, which obeys all our rules, is author groupings, which may be well-suited for editorial sites with a large number of authors that they want performance stats on.

    Location grouping

    Many types of websites often have category pages per location. For example:

    • Cars for sale in Manchester - /for-sale/vehicles/manchester
    • Cars for sale in Birmingham. - /for-sale/vehicles/birmingham

    However, there are many different levels of location granularity. For example, here are 4 different URLs, each a more specific location in the one above it (sorry to all our non-UK readers — just run with me here).

    • Cars for sale in Suffolk - /for-sale/vehicles/suffolk
    • Cars for sale in Ipswich - /for-sale/vehicles/ipswich
    • Cars for sale in Ipswich center - /for-sale/vehicles/ipswich-center
    • Cars for sale on Lancaster road - /for-sale/vehicles/lancaster-road

    Obviously every site will have different levels of location granularity, but a grouping often missing here is providing the level of location granularity in the URL. For example:

    • Cars for sale in Suffolk - /for-sale/cars/county/suffolk
    • Cars for sale in Ipswich - /for-sale/vehicles/town/ipswich
    • Cars for sale in Ipswich center - /for-sale/vehicles/area/ipswich-center
    • Cars for sale on Lancaster road - /for-sale/vehicles/street/lancaster-road

    This could even just be numbers (although this is less ideal because it breaks our second rule):

    • Cars for sale in Suffolk - /for-sale/vehicles/04/suffolk
    • Cars for sale in Ipswich - /for-sale/vehicles/03/ipswich
    • Cars for sale in Ipswich center - /for-sale/vehicles/02/ipswich-center
    • Cars for sale on Lancaster road - /for-sale/vehicles/01/lancaster-road

    This makes it very easy to assess and measure the performance of each layer so you can understand if it's necessary, or if perhaps you've aggregated too much.

    What other good (or bad) examples of this has the community come across? Let’s here it!


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    The 6 Values (and 4 Benefits) of Agile Marketing - Whiteboard Friday

    Posted by AgileJim

    You've probably heard of agile processes in regards to software development. But did you know those same key values can have a huge impact if applied to marketing, as well? Being adaptive, collaborative, and iterative are necessary skills when we live in a world where Google can pull the rug out from under us at a moment's notice.

    In today's Whiteboard Friday, we welcome guest host Jim Ewel, founder of AgileMarketing.net, as he describes what's important in the agile marketing process and why incorporating it into your own work is beneficial.

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

    Video Transcription

    Hey, Moz fans, this is Jim Ewel. I'm the blogger behind AgileMarketing.net, the leading blog on agile marketing, and I'm here to talk to you today about agile marketing.

    Agile marketing is an approach to marketing that takes its inspiration from agile software development. Like agile software development, it has a set of values and it has a set of benefits, and we're going to talk about those values and benefits today.

    6 Values of Agile Marketing

    Value number one: Responding to change over following a plan.

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    It's not that we don't plan. It's just that we don't write 30- to 40-page marketing plans. Instead, every quarter, we write a one-page plan that specifies our goals, our aspirations to get everybody on the same page, and then every two to four weeks, we reset our priorities. We say, "This is what we're going to get done during this two- to four-week period."

    Value number two: Rapid iterations over "big bang" campaigns.

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    In traditional marketing, we get together in a room and we say, "We're going to run a campaign for three to six months to a year."

    We hash out the idea of what we're going to do for that campaign. Then we communicate to the agency. They come up with creative. They review it with us. We go back and forth, and eventually we'll run that campaign for three to six months. And you know what happens at the end of that campaign? We always declare victory because we've spent so much money and time on that campaign that every time we say, "It worked."

    Well, we take a very different approach in agile marketing. We take an iterative approach. We start out with a little strategy. We meet for half an hour or an hour to figure out what do we think might work. Then we figure out how to test it. We measure the results, and this is very important, we document the learning.

    If something doesn't work, we test it out and it doesn't work, it's okay because we've learned something. We've learned what doesn't work. So then we iterate again, and we try something else and we do that, we get that cycle going in a very effective way.

    Value number three: Testing and data over opinions and conventions

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    Here, again, the importance is that we're not following the highest-paid person's opinion. No HiPPOs. It's all about: "Did we test it? Do we have data? Do we have the right metrics?" It's important to select the right metrics and not vanity metrics, which make us feel good, but don't really result in an improvement to the business.

    Value number four: Many small experiments over a few big bets

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    And I like to talk about here the 70:20:10 rule. The idea behind the 70:20:10 rule is that we spend 70% of our budget and 50% of our time on the things that we know that work. We do it broadly across all our audiences.

    We then spend 20% of our budget and 25% of our time modifying the things that we know that work and trying to improve them. Maybe we distribute it in a little different way or we modify the content, we modify what the page looks like. But, anyways, we're trying to improve that content.

    And the last 10% of our budget and 25% of our time, we spend on wild ideas, things where we fully expect that only about 2 or 3 out of 10 ideas is really going to work, and we focus those things on those creative, wild ideas that are going to be the future 70% and 20%.

    Value number five: Individuals and interactions over one-size-fits-all

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    Now, I like to think about this in terms of one of the experiences that I have with SEO. I get a lot of requests for link building, and a lot of the requests that I get are form requests. They write me a little message that they're writing to hundreds of other people, and I don't pay any attention to those requests.

    I'm looking for somebody who really knows that I'm writing a blog about agile marketing, who's interacting with me, who maybe says something about a post that I put on Agile Marketing, and those people are the ones that I'm going to give my business to, in effect, and I'm going to do some link building with them. Same thing applies to all of our marketing.

    Value number six: Collaboration over hierarchy and silos

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    One of the key things in many marketing organizations is that different silos of the organization don't seem to talk to each other. Maybe marketing isn't talking to sales, or marketing hasn't got the ear of senior management.

    Well, one of the things we do in agile marketing is we put some processes in place to make sure that all of those groups are collaborating. They're setting the priorities together, and they're reviewing the results together.

    4 Benefits of Agile Marketing

    As a result of these six values, there are four important benefits to agile marketing.

    I. The first is that you can get more done

    I've taught a lot of teams agile marketing, and, as a whole, they tell me that they get about 30% to 40% more done with agile marketing. I had one team tell me they got 400% more done, but that's not typical. So they're getting more done, and they're getting more done because they're not doing rework and they're working on the right priorities.

    II. Getting the right things done

    Because you're working with sales, you're working with senior management to set the priorities, you're making sure with agile marketing that you're getting the right things done, and that's important.

    III. Adapting to change

    Part of our life today in marketing is that things change. We know that Google is going to change their PageRank algorithm in 2017. We don't know exactly how, but we know it's going to happen, and we need to be able to adapt to that change quickly and accurately, and we put processes in place in agile marketing to make sure that happens.

    IV. Improved communications

    Improved communications both within the marketing team and, probably even more important, outside the marketing team to sales and senior management.

    By representing what we're getting done on something like a Kanban board, everybody can see exactly what marketing is working on, where it's at, and what they're getting done.

    So that's agile marketing in a nutshell. I'd love to hear your comments, and thanks for watching.

    Video transcription by Speechpad.com


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