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179 reasons to attend MarTech San Francisco – rates increase next week!

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Will my organic rankings suffer if I don’t have a blog?

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How to Prioritize Your Link Building Efforts & Opportunities - Whiteboard Friday

Posted by randfish

We all know how effective link building efforts can be, but it can be an intimidating, frustrating process — and sometimes even a chore. In today's Whiteboard Friday, Rand builds out a framework you can start using today to streamline and simplify the link building process for you, your teammates, and yes, even your interns.

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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. As you can see, I'm missing my moustache, but never mind. We've got tons of important things to get through, and so we'll leave the facial hair to the inevitable comments.

I want to talk today about how to prioritize your link building efforts and opportunities. I think this comes as a big challenge for many marketers and SEOs because link building can just seem so daunting. So it's tough to know how to get started, and then it's tough to know once you've gotten into the practice of link building, how do you build up a consistent, useful system to do it? That's what I want to walk you through today.

Step 1: Tie your goals to the link's potential value

So first off, step one. What I'm going to ask you to do is tie your SEO goals to the reasons that you're building links. So you have some reason that you want links. It is almost certainly to accomplish one of these five things. There might be other things on the list too, but it's almost always one of these areas.

  • A) Rank higher for keyword X. You're trying to get links that point to a particular page on your site, that contain a particular anchor text, so that you can rank better for that. Makes total sense. There we go.
  • B) You want to grow the ranking authority of a particular domain, your website, or maybe a subdomain on your website, or a subfolder of that website. Google does sort of have some separate considerations for different folders and subdomains. So you might be trying to earn links to those different sections to help grow those. Pretty similar to (A), but not necessarily as much of a need to get the direct link to the exact URL.
  • C) Sending real high-value traffic from the ranking page. So maybe it's the case that this link you're going after is no followed or it doesn't pass ranking influence, for some reason — it's JavaScript or it's an advertising link or whatever it is — but it does pass real visitors who may buy from you, or amplify you, or be helpful to achieving your other business goals.
  • D) Growing topical authority. So this is essentially saying, "Hey, around this subject area or keyword area, I know that my website needs some more authority. I'm not very influential in this space yet, at least not from Google's perspective. If I can get some of these links, I can help to prove to Google and, potentially, to some of these visitors, as well, that I have some subject matter authority in this space."
  • E) I want to get some visibility to an amplification-likely or a high-value audience. So this would be things like a lot of social media sites, a lot of submission type sites, places like a Product Hunt or a Reddit, where you're trying to get in front of an audience, that then might come to your site and be likely to amplify it if they love what they see.

Okay. So these are our goals.

Step 2: Estimate the likelihood that the link target will influence that goal

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Second, I'm going to ask you to estimate the likelihood that the link target will pass value to the page or to the section of your site. This relies on a bunch of different judgments.

You can choose whether you want to wrap these all up in sort of a single number that you estimate, maybe like a 0 to 10, where 0 is not at all valuable, and 10 is super, super valuable. Or you could even take a bunch of these metrics and actually use them directly, so things like domain authority, or linking root domains to the URL, or page authority, the content relevance.

You could be asking:

  • Is this a nofollowed or a followed link?
  • Is it passing the anchor text that I'm looking for or anchor text that I control or influence at all?
  • Is it going to send me direct traffic?

If the answers to these are all positive, that's going to bump that up, and you might say, "Wow, this is high authority. It's passing great anchor text. It's sending me good traffic. It's a followed link. The relevance is high. I'm going to give this a 10."

Or that might not be the case. This might be low authority. Maybe it is followed, but the relevance is not quite there. You don't control the anchor text, and so anchor text is just the name of your brand, or it just says "site" or something like that. It's not going to send much traffic. Maybe that's more like a three.

Then you're going to ask a couple of questions about the page that they're linking to or your website.

  • Is that the right page on your site? If so, that's going to bump up this number. If it's not, it might bring it down a little bit.
  • Does it have high relevance? If not, you may need to make some modifications or change the link path.
  • Is there any link risk around this? So if this is a — let's put it delicately — potentially valuable, but also potentially risky page, you might want to reduce the value in there.

I'll leave it up to you to determine how much link risk you're willing to take in your link building profile. Personally, I'm willing to accept none at all.

Step 3: Build a prioritization spreadsheet

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Then step three, you build a prioritization spreadsheet that looks something like this. So you have which goal or goals are being accomplished by acquiring this link. You have the target and the page on your site. You've got your chance of earning that link. That's going to be something you estimate, and over time you'll get better and better at this estimation. Same with the value. We talked about using a number out of 10 over here. You can do that in this column, or you could just take a bunch of these metrics and shove them all into the spreadsheet if you prefer.

Then you have the tactic you're going to pursue. So this is direct outreach, this one's submit and hope that it does well, and who it's assigned to. Maybe it's only you because you're the only link builder, or maybe you have a number of people in your organization, or PR people who are going to do outreach, or someone, a founder or an executive who has a connection to some of these folks, and they're going to do the outreach, whatever the case.

Then you can start to prioritize. You can build that prioritization by doing one of a couple things. You could take some amalgamation of these numbers, so like a high chance of earning and a high estimated value. We'll do some simple multiplication, and we'll make that our prioritization. Or you might give different goals. Like you might say, "Hey, you know what? (A) is worth a lot more to me right now than (C). So, therefore, I'm going to rank the ones that are the (A) goal much higher up." That is a fine way to go about this as well. Then you can sort your spreadsheet in this fashion and go down the list. Start at the top, work your way down, and start checking off links as you get them or don't get them. That's a pretty high percentage, I'm doing real well here. But you get the idea.

This turns link building from this sort of questionable, frustrating, what should I do next, am I following the right path, into a simple process that not only can you follow, but you can train other people to follow. This is really important, because link building is an essential part of SEO, still a very valuable part of SEO, but it's also a slog. So, to the degree that you can leverage other help in your organization, hire an intern and help train them up, work with your PR teams and have them understand it, have multiple people in the organization all sharing this spreadsheet, all understanding what needs to be done next, that is a huge help.

I look forward to hearing about your link building prioritization, goals, what you've seen work well, what metrics you've used. We will see you again next week for another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Take care.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com


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How We Increased Our Email Response Rate from ~8% to 34%

Posted by STMartin

It's no secret that reply rate is the golden metric of email campaigns.

The reason is obvious. As opposed to open and click rate, reply rate tracks how many recipients were interested (or annoyed) enough to actually write you back. For guest blogging and email outreach, your reply rate will determine your campaign's success.

We still believe that guest blogging is a great opportunity to improve your site’s link profile and brand exposure. However, the time-investment needed in prospecting/email outreach can leave you questioning its ROI.

It doesn't often make sense to spend 3 hours prospecting and emailing different opportunities to get only 3 replies.

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So how do you make all your prospecting and emailing worth your while?

Simple: Boost your reply rate to generate more "opportunities won" in the same timeframe.

The pain point: Time

At Directive Consulting, we rely on guest posting for our most valuable backlinks. ;) With that said, four months ago our email outreach was still struggling at around an 8% reply rate.

This is actually around the industry standard; guest blogger outreach emails might expect a reply rate in the 5–15% range.

With the below template, we were sending out 20–50 emails a week and receiving no more than 2–4 positive replies.

Part 1:

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Part 2:

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Part 3:

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To make the system more time-efficient, we had to get our reply rate at least into the double digits.

The hypothesis: Value

To boost our reply rate, we asked ourselves: What makes the best online content so engaging?

The answer: The best online content speaks to the user in terms of value. More specifically, the user's personal values.

So, what are these user values that we need to target? Well, to look at that we need to understand today's average user.

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Image source

As opposed to their predecessors, today's savvy post-digital users value personalization, customization, and participation.

Our hypothesis was as follows: If we can craft an email user experience that improves upon these three values, our reply rate will spike.

The results: Too hot to handle

3 successful tests later, our reply rate has gone from 8% all the way up to 34%.

And our guest blog content queue is piling up faster than the lines at the mall the night before Black Friday.

In three tests we addressed those three values: personalization, customization, and participation. Each new test brought a spike in reply rate.

How did we do it? Don't worry, I'll tell you how.

3 reply rate tests (& a mini test) and what we learned

We started by stepping into the user’s shoes. Everyone knows that receiving random outreach emails from strangers can be jarring. Even if you're in the industry, it can at least be annoying.

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So how do you solve that problem? The only way you can: delight.

How we approached creating a more delightful and comfortable email experience took testing. This is what we learned.

Test #1 - The personalized introduction (8%–16%)

The first feature of our email we tackled was the introduction. This included the subject line of the email, as well as how we introduced ourselves and the company.

Here's what it looked like:

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As you can see, while the subject line packs some serious authority, it's not very personable. And if you look at the in-email introduction, you'd see a similar problem.

Plenty of professional context, but hardly a personalized first impression. This user-experience screams BLOGGER TRYING TO GET GUEST BLOG OPPORTUNITY.

Now let's look at the variant we tested:

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Big difference, huh?

While all the same authoritative references are still there, this is already far more personal.

A few noteworthy differences in user-experience:

  • Subject line: Natural, single sentence (almost seems like the email could have been forwarded by a co-worker).
  • Name and title: The letterhead not only replaces a useless sentence, it supplies a smiling face the user can match the name/title with.
  • Creative/disruptive branding: The creative letterhead is a real disrupter when you compare it to any old email. It also gets our logo above the fold in the email, and actually saves space all together.

Packing all the context of the email into a single, creative, and delightful image for the user was a huge step.

In fact, this first test alone saw our biggest jump in reply rate.

The results? Our reply rate doubled, jumping all the way from 8% to 16% — above the industry benchmark!

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Mini test: The psychology behind "Because" (16%–20%)

If that wasn't a big enough jump to please us, we added on one more addition after the initial test.

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If you don't know who Brian Dean is, I'll leave his bio for you to read another time. For now, all you need to know is that his "because" tactic for increasing reply rates works.

Trust me. He tested it. We tested it. It works.

The tactic is simple:

  1. Provide the exact context for your email in a single sentence.
  2. Use the phrasing "I am emailing you because..." in that sentence.
  3. Isolate that sentence as it's own paragraph as early in the email as possible.

...

That's it.

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And this little change bumped our reply rate another 4% — all the way up to 20%. And this was before we even ran test #2!

Test #2 - Customizing/segmenting the offer (20%–28%)

Test #2 focused on customization. We had nailed the personalized first impression.

Now we needed to customize our offer to each individual recipient. Again, let's take a look at where we started:

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As far as customization goes, this isn't half bad. There are plenty of prospective topics that the editor or blogger could choose from. But there's always room for improvement.

Customization is a fancy word for segmentation, which is our industry's fancy word for breaking lists into smaller lists.

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So why not segment the topics we send to which editors? We can customize our email's offer to be more relevant to the specific recipient, which should increase our chances of a positive reply.

Instead of a single list of prospective topics, we built 8.

Each list was targeted to a different niche industry where we wanted to guest post. Each list had 10 unique topics all specified to that blog's niche.

Now, instead of 10 topics for the umbrella category "digital marketing," we had 10 topics for:

  1. Pay-per-click advertising blogs
  2. Content marketing blogs
  3. Social media management blogs
  4. Software as a service (SaaS) blogs
  5. Interactive design blogs
  6. Search engine optimization blogs
  7. Agency management blogs
  8. E-commerce optimization blogs

Not only did the potential topics change, we also changed the email copy to better target each niche.

This test took a bit of time on its own. It's not easy to build a list of 80 different targeted, niche, high-quality topics based on keyword research. But in the end, the juice was definitely worth the squeeze.

And what was the juice? Another spike in our reply rate — this time from 20% up to 28%!

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Test #3 - Participating in topic selection (28%–34%)

We were already pretty pleased with ourselves at this point, but true link builders are never satisfied. So we kept on testing.

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We had already addressed the personalization and customization issues. Now we wanted to take a crack at participation. But how do you encourage participation in an email?

That's a tricky question.

We answered it by trying to provide the most adaptive offer as possible.

In our email copy, we emphasized our flexibility to the editor's timeline/content calendar. We also provided a "open to any other options you may have" option in our list of topics. But the biggest change to our offer was this:

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As opposed to a list of potential topics, we went one step further. By providing options for either long or short pieces (primary and focalized) we give them something to think about. They can choose from different options we are offering them.

This change did increase our reply rate. But what was surprising was that the replies were not immediately positive responses. More often than not, they were questions about the two different types of guest posts we could write.

This is where the participation finally kicked in.

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(Chasing your first reply like Leo’s first oscar….)

We were no longer cold-emailing strangers for one-time guest posts. We were conversing and building relationships with industry bloggers and editors.

And they were no longer responding to a random email. They were actively participating in the topic selection of their next blog post.

Once they started replying with questions, we knew they were interested. Then all we had to do was close them with fast responses and helpful answers.

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This tiny change (all we did was split the targeted list we already had into two different sizes) brought big results. Test #3 brought the final jump in our reply rate — from 28% up to the magic 34%.

After we had proved that our new format worked, then we got to have some real fun — taking this killer system we built and scaling it up!

But that's a post for another day.

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Takeaways

So what have our reply rate tests taught us? The more personal you are and the more segmented your approach, the more success you'll see.

2017 is going to be the year of relationship building.

This means that for each market interaction, you need to remember that the user's experience is the top priority. Provide as much delight and value to your user as possible. Every blog post. Every email. Every market interaction.

That’s how you triple reply rates. And that’s how you triple success.


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Branding Success: How to Use PPC to Amplify Your Brand

Posted by purna_v

Here’s a question for you:

Do you think a brand can influence your behavior outside of purchase preference? Put another way, will seeing the North Face logo make you want to take up hiking in the snow?

A few years ago, researchers at Duke University conducted an experiment with 341 students. Their goal? Studying what makes a brand powerful and how we’re influenced by brands. As part of this study, the students were asked to complete what they were told was a visual acuity test.

During this test, either an Apple logo or IBM logo flashed on the screen for a second, so quickly that the students were unaware they had been exposed to the logo. The participants then completed a task designed to evaluate how creative they were, listing all the uses they could think of for a brick.

Are you surprised that students exposed to the Apple logo came up with not just more uses, but more creative uses? The experiment was also done using the Disney Channel logo and the E! logo – and the students were tested on their degree of honesty and dishonesty. Which logo exposure led to more honesty? If you thought Disney, you’re right.

This is evidence that subliminal brand exposure can cause people to act in specific ways. Branding matters.

For those of us who work in paid search, this whole “branding” thing, with its unintuitive KPIs, can seem nebulous and not something for us to worry about. We PPC-ers have specific goals and KPIs, and it’s easy for us to be seen as only a bottom-funnel channel. But we’re far more powerful than that.

Here’s the truth: Brand advertising via PPC does impact the bottom line.

I’ll share three key ways to build a framework for branding:

  1. Make choosing you easier.
  2. Show your customers you care.
  3. Make it easy to be a loyal customer.

Chances are you’re taking some of these steps already, which is fantastic. This framework can guide you to ensure you’re covering all the steps of the funnel. Let’s break down how PPC can support all three of these key points.

1. Make choosing you easier

Top brands understand their audiences really well. And what’s true of pretty much every audience right now is that we’re all looking for the fast fix. So if a brand can make it easy for us to find what we need, to get something done – that brand is going to win our hearts.

Which is why getting your ad messaging right is critical.

Something I notice repeatedly is that we’re so focused on that next advanced tactic or the newest feature that we neglect the simple basics. And that is how we get cracks in our foundation.

Most accounts I look at perform brilliantly with the complex, but routinely make avoidable errors with the basics.

Ad copy

Ads are one of those places where the cracks aren’t just visible, they’re also costly. Let’s look at a few examples of ads with sitelink extensions.

Example 1: What not to do

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What do you think of this ad?

It’s a decent ad. It’s just not great. What’s hurting the ad is that the sitelinks are a broad – even random – mix of different paths and actions a person can take. We have a mix of product, social media, and spokesperson content. This is not likely to make anyone’s life easier.

Even if I had been interested in the makeup, I might be distracted by the opportunity to meet Carrie Underwood, reducing the odds of a conversion. In trying to please too many different audiences, this ad doesn’t do a particularly strong job of pleasing anyone.

Example 2: Sitelinks organized according to stage of interest

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Why not organize your sitelinks according to your customer’s stage of interest instead, like Clinique did here? This is brilliant.

Clinique is acknowledging that some shoppers are here just to buy the makeup they always order – so “Shop Makeup” is the first sitelink offered. But other visitors have come to see what’s new, or to do research on the quality of Clinique skincare, and probably everyone is looking for that discount.

Organizing sitelinks by your customer’s stage of interest also boosts brand by showing your customer that you care. We’ll talk more about that piece later.

Example 3: Sitelinks organized according to customer’s need

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Here’s something smart: Organizing sitelinks according to what you already know your customers need.

Harley Davidson knows that a potential customer coming to their website wants more than pretty pictures of the bike. They’re ready to schedule a test ride or even estimate payments, so these options are right at the top.

They also understand that Harley Davidson is an aspirational product. I may want to estimate a payment or find information about my local dealer even before I know how to ride a bike. It’s part of the dream of joining the Harley lifestyle. They know this and make their customers’ lives easier by sharing links to learn-to-ride classes.

Example 4: Give them multiple ways to choose you

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For brands targeting by geography and who have a local presence, including call extensions and location extensions is a must.

As searches move from desktop to mobile, we know that local searches take the lead – and conversions on a local search happen within five hours of the search (source: Microsoft Internal research). Including call and location extensions helps shorten that conversion cycle.

What I especially love about this ad is that they give you two different buying options. You can visit the store at the physical address, or if that is deemed out-of-the-way by the searcher, the ad entices them to shop Sephora with a discount code for an online purchase. This increases the odds that the shopper will choose Sephora as opposed to visiting a more conveniently located competitor.

Indirect brand terms

When people are looking for your service but not necessarily your brand, you can still make their lives easier by sharing answers to questions they may have.

Of course, you’re already showing up for branded searches or searches directly asking for your product. But what about being helpful to your customers by answering their questions with helpful information? Bidding on these keywords is good for your brand.

For example, Neutrogena is doing a great job at showing up for longer-tail keywords, and they’re also working to build the association between gentle makeup removers for sensitive skin and their brand.

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And here, Crest is doing a fantastic job in using their ad copy to make themselves stand out as experts. If anyone has questions about teeth whitening, they’re showing that they’re ready to answer them:

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This also helps you show up for long-tail queries, which are another increasingly critical aspect of voice search.

2. Show your customers you care

If you can anticipate issues and show up when your customers are venting, you win.

Professor Andrew Ehrenberg of South Bank Business School says that people trust strong brands more. They forgive your mistakes more easily. They believe you will put things right.

And what better way to show your customers you care than by anticipating their issues?

Be there when they want to complain

Where’s the first place you go when you want to look something up? Most likely a search engine. Showing up well in the SERPs can make a big difference.

Let’s look at an example. I did a search for complaints related to Disney, a brand with a strong positive sentiment.

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Surprisingly, the SERPs were filled with complaint sites. What could have helped Disney here would be if they ran ads on these keywords, with the message that they were keen to make things right, and here’s the best number to call and chat.

Wouldn’t that diffuse the situation? Best of all, keywords like this would be very low-cost to bid on.

What about showing up when potential customers are complaining about the competition? You could consider running ads for keywords related to complaints about your competition.

I’d advise you to be careful with this approach since you want to come across as being helpful, not gloating. This strategy also may not lead to very many conversions – since the searcher is looking to complain and not to find alternative businesses – but given the low cost, it may be worth testing.

Cross-channel wins

As PPCs, we’re more powerful than even we give ourselves credit for. Our work can greatly help the PR and SEO teams. Here’s how.

PR:

As noted earlier, the search engine is the first place we go when we want to look up something.

This is so very impactful that, as reported in the New York Times, Microsoft scientists were able to analyze large samples of search engine queries that could in some cases identify Internet users who were suffering from pancreatic cancer, even before they have received a diagnosis of the disease.

This all goes to show the power of search. We can also harness that power for reputation management.

Broad-match bidding can help PR with brand protection. Looking through broad-match search term reports, a.k.a search query reports (SQRs), can help to spot trends like recalls or a rise in negative sentiment.

PPCs can send the PR folks a branded SQR on a regular basis for them to scrub through to spot any concerning trends. This can help PPC stand out as a channel that protects and monitors brand sentiment.

SEO:

Content marketing is a key way for brands to build loyalty, and PPC is an excellent way to get the content to the audience. Serving ads on key terms that support the content you have allows you to give your audience the info they really want.

For example, if your SEO teams built a mortgage calculator as value-add content, then you could serve ads for queries such as “How much house can I afford?”:

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Taking this concept a step further, you can use high-value content to show up with ads that match the research stage of the customer’s interest. As PPCs, we’re often keen to simply show an ad that gets people to convert. But what if they’re not ready? Why should we either ignore them or show up with something that doesn’t match their goal?

Take a look at these ads that show up for a research-stage query:

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The first ad from Sears – while very compelling – seems mismatched to the search query.

Now look at the third ad in the list, offering 50 kitchen idea photos. This is a much better match to the query. If it were me searching, this is the ad I would have chosen to click on.

What happens to the conversion?

Well, the landing page of the “50 ideas” ad could feature some type of offer, say like what the Sears ad has to offer, and here it would be much more welcome. In this way, we could use higher-funnel ads as lead gen, with KPIs such as content impressions, lead form fills, and micro-conversions.

This is such a win-win-win strategy:

  • You’ve shown your customers you care for them and will be there for them
  • You’ve helped your colleagues get more exposure for their hard work
  • You’ve earned yourself cost-effective new leads and conversions.

Boss move.

Want more ideas? Wil Reynolds has some fantastic tips on how SEOs can use PPC to hit their goals.

3. Make it easy to be a loyal customer

Growing customer lifetime value is one of the most worthwhile things a brand can do. There are two clever ways to do this.

Smarter remarketing

You liked us enough to buy once – how would you like to buy again? Show your customers more of what they like over time and they’ll be more attuned to choosing your brand, provided you’ve served them well.

What about remarketing based on how long it’s been since the purchase of a product?

This tactic can be seen as helpful as opposed to overtly sales-y, building brand loyalty. Think of how Amazon does it with their emails suggesting other products or deals we may be interested in. As a result, we just keep going back to Amazon. Even if they don’t have the lowest price.

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For example, what if a sports nutrition company knew that most customers took three months to finish their box of protein shake powder? Then around the middle of month two, the company could run an ad like this to their list of buyers. It features an offer and shows up just at the right time.

The customer will probably think they’ve lucked out to find a special offer just at the right time. We know that it’s not luck, it’s just smarter remarketing.

Want more ideas? Check out Sam Noble’s Whiteboard Friday on how paid media can help drive loyalty and advocacy.

Show up for the competition

Remember when the iPhone 6s launched? Samsung ran very clever PPC ads during the launch of the iPhone 6s, and again when Apple was in the news about the phones bending.

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Samsung used humor – which, importantly, wasn’t mean-spirited – and got a lot of attention and goodwill, not to mention a ton of PR and social media attention. Great for their brand at the time!

You can use the same tactic to run ads on competitors’ brand names with ads that showcase your USP. This works especially well for remarketing in paid search (or RLSA) campaigns.

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Here, Chevy capitalized on the Tesla Model 3 announcement-related search volume spike. They ran ads that reminded users that their cars were available in late 2016, with the unstated message that it’s much sooner than when the Tesla Model 3 cars are expected to arrive.

Give back

Engaging with the customer is the best way to make it easy for them to be loyal to your brand. Enhance that by showing them you care about what they care about for added impact.

Here’s one way to give back to your customer, and this particular effort is also a huge branding opportunity.

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I love how L’Oréal is associating themselves with empowering women – and most of their customers will like this as well. They’re giving back to their customers by honoring the women they care about. To create loyal customers, the best brands give back in meaningful ways.

Wrapping up

One of my favorite Seth Godin quotes is, “Marketing is no longer about the stuff that you make, but about the stories that you tell.”

PPC is a wonderful channel to shape and create stories that will engage and delight your customers.

And now we come full circle, to that place where we started, wondering how in the world PPC can impact brand. Your paid search campaigns are a chapter in your brand’s story, and you have an unlimited number of ways to write that chapter, and to contribute to the brand.

Branding isn’t just for the birds. Have you found a way to use PPC to help grow your brand? I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments below.


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You’ll love the SMX West speaker lineup

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Please visit Search Engine Land for the full article.

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Accelerate Your SEO Knowledge: New SEO Bootcamps and In-House Training from Moz

Posted by BrianChilds

SEO training classes provide a smart, accessible way to accelerate your knowledge of our industry's best practices, tools, and processes. For several months we've offered three workshops on our SEO Training page that focused on core SEO capabilities like keyword research, competitor research, and site audits.

Starting now in February 2017, we're expanding these classes to include more topics and more opportunities to help your team deliver value faster.

See upcoming classes

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What's changed about our SEO training classes?

There are two major changes we’ve made to our SEO training solutions that you can see today:

  1. We've redesigned, renamed, and expanded our workshops
  2. We now offer custom in-house SEO training

Workshops = SEO bootcamps

Previously, our workshops were focused on a few essential topics that every online marketer could benefit from. We're now expanding these into a six-part series of classes that cover not only essential topics, but also the process of implementing a search engine optimization strategy. Each SEO bootcamp can be taken separately or together as a series, and are geared for beginner to intermediate marketers.

The topics we’re starting with are as follows:

  1. Intro to SEO
  2. Keyword and competitor research
  3. How to conduct an SEO site audit
  4. On-page optimization best practices
  5. Off-page optimization best practices
  6. How to report on SEO performance

What is in-house SEO training, exactly?

I used to be the VP of a marketing agency and like many agencies, we were pulled into the world of SEO by our clients. Many web designers are asked by their clients to provide SEO and subsequently need to learn how to scale up their capability fast. In-house SEO training is a way to help agencies and marketing services firms add SEO to their portfolio quickly to meet the needs of their proposal commitments.

Another common use case for custom in-house SEO training: those in-house marketing teams that want to grow their online marketing capability. In-house training can help advance your new team members' knowledge, so they can start delivering value to your organization right off the bat. Interactive SEO training solutions allow businesses to quickly accelerate their skills.

Different learning options for different learning styles

The main thing that will remain unchanged is our commitment to helping you do better SEO. We recognize that people have different learning styles and different time commitments. I'm a great example of someone who learns by doing and values the ability to ask questions during class from a professional instructor. When I was training to be a commercial pilot, I spent most of my time doing hands-on learning in a very structured class environment. That experience aligned well with my learning style.

Some people learn by reading. Some learn by videos alone. And others value live, interactive experiences. Here at Moz, we're building an ecosystem of learning solutions to meet every type of learning style.

Sign up for a class!

And this is just the beginning. We'll continue to invest in your skills. Check back often to the moz.com/training page to see new SEO classes as they launch!


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Strategic SEO Decisions to Make Before Website Design and Build

Posted by Maryna_Samokhina

The aim: This post highlights SEO areas that need to be addressed and decided on before the website brief is sent to designers and developers.

Imagine a scenario: a client asks what they should do to improve their organic rankings. After a diligent tech audit, market analysis, and a conversion funnel review, you have to deliver some tough recommendations:

“You have to redesign your site architecture,” or

“You have to migrate your site altogether,” or even

“You have to rethink your business model, because currently you are not providing any significant value.”

This can happen when SEO is only seriously considered after the site and business are up and running. As a marketing grad, I can tell you that SEO has not been on my syllabus amongst other classic components of the marketing mix. It’s not hard to imagine even mentored and supported businesses overlooking this area.

This post aims to highlight areas that need to be addressed along with your SWOT analysis and pricing models — the areas before you design and build your digital ‘place’:

  • Wider strategic areas
  • Technical areas to be discussed with developers.
  • Design areas to be discussed with designers.

Note: This post is not meant to be a pre-launch checklist (hence areas like robots.txt, analytics, social, & title tags are completely omitted), but rather a list of SEO-affecting areas that will be hard to change after the website is built.

Wider strategic questions that should be answered:

1. How do we communicate our mission statement online?

After you identify your classic marketing ‘value proposition,’ next comes working out how you communicate it online.

Are terms describing the customer problem/your solution being searched for? Your value proposition might not have many searches; in this case, you need to create a brand association with the problem-solving for specific customer needs. (Other ways of getting traffic are discussed in: “How to Do SEO for Sites and Products with No Search Demand”).

How competitive are these terms? You may find that space is too competitive and you will need to look into alternative or long-tail variations of your offering.

2. Do we understand our customer segments?

These are the questions that are a starting point in your research:

  • How large is our market? Is the potential audience growing or shrinking? (A tool to assist you: Google Trends.)
  • What are our key personas — their demographics, motivations, roles, and needs? (If you are short on time, Craig Bradford’s Persona Research in Under 5 Minutes shows how to draw insights using Twitter.)
  • How do they behave online and offline? What are their touch points beyond the site? (A detailed post on Content and the Marketing Funnel.)

This understanding will allow you to build your site architecture around the stages your customers need to go through before completing their goal. Rand offers a useful framework for how to build killer content by mapping keywords. Ideally, this process should be performed in advance of the site build, to guide which pages you should have to target specific intents and keywords that signify them.

3. Who are our digital competitors?

Knowing who you are competing against in the digital space should inform decisions like site architecture, user experience, and outreach. First, you want to identify who fall under three main types of competitors:

  • You search competitors: those who rank for the product/service you offer. They will compete for the same keywords as those you are targeting, but may cater to a completely different intent.
  • Your business competitors: those that are currently solving the customer problem you aim to solve.
  • Cross-industry competitors: those that solve your customer problem indirectly.

After you come up with the list of competitors, analyze where each stands and how much operational resource it will take to get where they are:

  • What are our competitors’ size and performance?
  • How do they differentiate themselves?
  • How strong is their brand?
  • What does their link profile look like?
  • Are they doing anything different/interesting with their site architecture?

Tools to assist you: Open Site Explorer, Majestic SEO, and Ahrefs for competitor link analysis, and SEM rush for identifying who is ranking for your targeted keywords.

Technical areas to consider in order to avoid future migration/rebuild

1. HTTP or HTTPS

Decide on whether you want to use HTTPS or HTTP. In most instances, the answer will be the former, considering that this is also one of the ranking factors by Google. The rule of thumb is that if you ever plan on accepting payments on your site, you need HTTPS on those pages at a minimum.

2. Decide on a canonical version of your URLs

Duplicate content issues may arise when Google can access the same piece of content via multiple URLs. Without one clear version, pages will compete with one another unnecessarily.

In developer’s eyes, a page is unique if it has a unique ID in the website’s database, while for search engines the URL is a unique identifier. A developer should be reminded that each piece of content should be accessed via only one URL.

3. Site speed

Developers are under pressure to deliver code on time and might neglect areas affecting page speed. Communicate the importance of page speed from the start and put in some time in the brief to optimize the site’s performance (A three-part Site Speed for Dummies Guide explains why we should care about this area.)

4. Languages and locations

If you are planning on targeting users from different countries, you need to decide whether your site would be multi-lingual, multi-regional, or both. Localized keyword research, hreflang considerations, and duplicate content are all issues better addressed before the site build.

Using separate country-level domains gives an advantage of being able to target a country or language more closely. This approach is, however, reliant upon you having the resources to build and maintain infrastructure, write unique content, and promote each domain.

If you plan to go down the route of multiple language/country combinations on a single site, typically the best approach is subfolders (e.g. example.com/uk, example.com/de). Subfolders can run from one platform/CMS, which means that development setup/maintenance is significantly lower.

5. Ease of editing and flexibility in a platform

Google tends to update their recommendations and requirements all the time. Your platform needs to be flexible enough to make quick changes at scale on your site.

Design areas to consider in order to avoid future redesign

1. Architecture and internal linking

An effective information architecture is critical if you want search engines to be able to find your content and serve it to users. If crawlers cannot access the content, they cannot rank it well. From a human point of view, information architecture is important so that users can easily find what they are looking for.

Where possible, you should look to create a flat site structure that will keep pages no deeper than 4 clicks from the homepage. That allows search engines and users to find content in as few clicks as possible.

Use keyword and competitor research to guide which pages you should have. However, the way pages should be grouped and connected should be user-focused. See how users map out relationships between your content using a card sorting technique — you don’t have to have website mockup or even products in order to do that. (This guide discusses in detail how to Improve Your Information Architecture With Card Sorting.)

2. Content-first design

Consider what types of content you will host. Will it be large guides/whitepapers, or a video library? Your content strategy needs to be mapped out at this point to understand what formats you will use and hence what kind of functionality this will require. Knowing what content type you will producing will help with designing page types and create a more consistent user interface.

3. Machine readability (Flash, JS, iFrame) and structured data

Your web pages might use a variety of technologies such as Javascript, Flash, and Ajax that can be hard for crawlers to understand. Although they may be necessary to provide a better user experience, you need to be aware of the issues these technologies can cause. In order to improve your site’s machine readability, mark up your pages with structured data as described in more detail in the post: “How to Audit a Site for Structured Data Opportunities”.

4. Responsive design

As we see more variation in devices and their requirements, along with shifting behavior patterns of mobile device use, ‘mobile’ is becoming less of a separate channel and instead is becoming an underlying technology for accessing the web. Therefore, the long-term goal should be to create a seamless and consistent user experience across all devices. In the interest of this goal, responsive design and dynamic serving methods can assist with creating device-specific experiences.

Closing thoughts

As a business owner/someone responsible for launching a site, you have a lot on your plate. It is probably not the best use of your time to go down the rabbit hole, reading about how to implement structured data and whether JSON-LD is better than Microdata. This post gives you important areas that you should keep in mind and address with those you are delegating them to — even if the scope of such delegation is doing research for you (“Give me pros and cons of HTTPS for my business” ) rather than complete implementation/handling.

I invite my fellow marketers to add other areas/issues you feel should be addressed at the initial planning stages 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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