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Getting Smarter with SERPs – Whiteboard Friday

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Posted by rjonesx.

Modern SERPs require modern understanding. National SERPs are a myth — these days, everything is local. And when we’re basing important decisions on SERPs and ranking, using the highest quality data is key. Russ Jones explores the problem with SERPs, data quality, and existing solutions in this edition of Whiteboard Friday.

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Video Transcription

Hey, folks, this is Russ Jones here again with another exciting edition of Whiteboard Friday. Exciting might be an exaggeration, but it really is important to me because today we’re going to talk about data quality. I know I harp on this a whole lot.

It’s just, as a data scientist, quality is really important to me. Here at Moz, we’ve made it a priority of the last several years, from improving the quality of our Domain Authority score, improving Spam Score, completely changing the way we identify the search volume in particular keywords. Quality is just part of our culture here.

Today I want to talk about a quality issue and probably the most important metric in search engine optimization, which are search rankings. Now I know there’s this contingent of SEOs who say you shouldn’t look at your search rankings. You should just focus on building better content and doing better outreach and just let it happen.

But for the vast majority of us, we look at our rankings for the purposes of determining how we’re performing, and we make decisions based on those rankings. If a site stops performing as well for a very important keyword, well, then we might spend some money to improve the content on that page or to do more outreach for it.

We make important decisions, budgetary decisions on what the SERPs say. But we’ve known for a while that there’s a pretty big problem with the SERPs, and that’s personalization. There just is no national search anymore, and there hasn’t been for a long time. We’ve known this, and we’ve tried different ways to fix it.

Today I want to talk about a way that Moz is going about this that I think is really exceptional and is frankly going to revolutionize the way in which all SERPs are collected in the future. 

What’s wrong with SERPs?

1. Geography is king

Let’s just take a step back and talk a little bit about what’s wrong with SERPs. Several years back I was a consultant and I was helping out a nonprofit organization that wanted to rank for the keyword “entrepreneurship.”

They offered grants and training and all sorts of stuff. They really deserved to rank for the term. Then one day I searched for the term, as SEOs do. Even though they rank track, they still check it themselves. I noticed that several local universities to where I live, the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill and Duke, had popped up into the search results because they were now offering entrepreneurship programs and Google had geolocated me to the Durham area.

Well, this wasn’t represented at all in the rank tracking that we were doing. You see, the nationalized search at that time was not picking up any kind of local signals because there weren’t any colleges or universities around the data center which we were using to collect the search results.

That was a big problem because that one day Google rolled out some sort of update that improved geolocation and ultimately ended up taking a lot of traffic away for that primary keyword because local sites were starting to rank all across the country. So as SEOs we decided to fight back, and the strategy we used was what I call centroid search.

2. Centroid search sucks

The idea is pretty simple. You take a town, a city, a state, or even a country. You find the latitude and longitude of the dead center of that location, and then you feed that to Google in the UULE parameter so that you get a search result from what would happen if you were standing right there in that specific latitude and longitude and perform the search.

Well, we know that that’s not really a good idea. The reason is pretty clear. Let me give an example. This would be a local example for a business that’s trying to perform well inside of a small city, a medium town or so. This is actually, despite the fact that it’s drawn poorly, the locations of several Italian restaurants in South Bend, Indiana.

So as you can see, each little red one identifies a different Italian restaurant, and the centroid of the city is right here, this little green star. Well, there’s a problem. If you were to collect a SERP this way, you would be influenced dramatically by this handful of Italian restaurants right there in the center of the city.

But the problem with that is that these blue circles that I’ve drawn actually represent areas of increased population density. You see most cities, they have a populous downtown, but they also have around the outside suburban areas which are just as population dense or close to as population dense.

At the same time, they don’t get represented because they’re not in the middle of the city. So what do we do? How do we get a better representation of what the average person in that city would see? 

3. Sampled search succeeds

Well, the answer is what we call sampled search. There are lots of ways to go about it.

Right now, the way we’re doing it in particular is looking at the centroids of clusters of zip codes that are overlapping inside a particular city. 

As an example, although not exactly what would happen inside of Local Market Analytics, each one of these purple stars would represent different latitudes and longitudes that we would select in order to grab a search engine result and then blend them together in a way based on things like population density or proximity issues, and give us back a result that is much more like the average searcher would see than what the one person standing in the center part of the city would see.

We know that this works better because it correlates more with local search traffic than does the centroid search. Of course, there are other ways we could go about this. For example, instead of using geography, we could use population density specifically, and we can do a lot better job in identifying exactly what the average searcher would see.

But this just isn’t a local problem. It isn’t just for companies that are in cities. It’s for any website that wants to rank anywhere in the United States, including those that just want to rank generically across the entire country. You see, right now, the way that national SERPs tend to be collected is by adding a UULE of the dead center of the United States of America.

Now I think pretty much everybody here can understand why that’s a very poor representation of what the average person in the United States would see. But if we must get into it, as you can imagine, the center part of the United States is not population-dense.

We find population areas throughout the coastlines for the most part that have a lot more people in them. It would make a lot better sense to sample search results from all sorts of different locations, both rural and urban, in order to identify what the average person in the United States would see.



Centroid search delivers you a myopic view of this very specific area. Whereas sampled search can give you this blended model that is much more like what the average American or in any country or county or city or even neighborhood would see. So I actually think that this is the model that SERPs in general will be moving to in the future, at least SERP collection.

The future of SERPs

If we continue to rely on this centroid method, we’re going to continue to deliver results to our customers that just aren’t accurate and simply aren’t valuable. But by using the sampled model, we’ll be able to deliver our customers a much more quality experience, a SERP that is blended in a way that it represents the traffic that they’re actually going to get, and in doing so, we’ll finally solve, to at least a certain degree, this problem of personalization.

Now I look forward to Moz implementing this across the board. Right now you can get in Local Market Analytics. I hope that other organizations follow suit, because this kind of quality improvement in SERP collection is the type of quality that is demanded of an industry that is using technology to improve businesses’ performance. Without quality, we might as well not be doing it at all.

Thanks for hearing me out. I’d like to hear what you have to say in the comments, and in the SERPs as well, and hopefully we’ll be able to talk through some more ideas on quality. Looking forward to it. Thanks again.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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Intro to Python – Whiteboard Friday

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Posted by BritneyMuller

Python is a programming language that can help you uncover incredible SEO insights and save you time by automating time-consuming tasks. But for those who haven’t explored this side of search, it can be intimidating. In this episode of Whiteboard Friday, Britney Muller and a true python expert named Pumpkin offer an intro into a helpful tool that’s worth your time to learn.

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Video Transcription

Hey, Moz fans. Welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Today we’re talking all about introduction to Python, which is why I have a special co-host here. She is a ball python herself, total expert. Her name is Pumpkin, and she’s the best. 

What is Python?

So what is Python? This has been in the industry a lot lately. There’s a lot of commotion that you should know how to use it or know how to talk about it. Python is an open source, object-oriented programming language that was created in 1991.

Simpler to use than R

Some fun facts about Python is it’s often compared to R, but it’s arguably more simple to use. The syntax just oftentimes feels more simple and common-sense, like when you’re new to programming. 

Big companies use it

Huge companies use it. NASA, Google, tons of companies out there use it because it’s widely supported.

It’s open source

It is open source. So pretty cool. While we’re going through this Whiteboard Friday, I would love it if we would do a little Python programming today. So I’m just going to ask that you also visit this in another tab, python.org/downloads. Download the version for your computer and we’ll get back to that. 

Why does Python matter?

So why should you care? 

Automates time-consuming tasks

Python is incredibly powerful because it helps you automate time-consuming tasks. It can do these things at scale so that you can free up your time to work on higher-level thinking, to work on more strategy. It’s really, really exciting where these things are going. 

Log file analysis

Some examples of that are things like log file analysis. Imagine if you could just set up an automated system with Python to alert you any time one of your primary pages wasn’t being crawled as frequently as it typically is. You can do all sorts of things. Let’s say Google crawls your robots.txt and it throws out a server error, which many of you know causes huge problems. It can alert you. You can set up scripts like that to do really comprehensive tasks. 

Internal link analysis

Some other examples, internal link analysis, it can do a really great job of that. 

Discover keyword opportunities

It can help you discover keyword opportunities by looking at bulk keyword data and identifying some really important indicators. 

Image optimization

It’s really great for things like image optimization. It can auto tag and alt text images. It can do really powerful things there. 

Scrape websites

It can also scrape the websites that you’re working with to do really high volume tasks. 

Google Search Console data analysis

It can also pull Google Search Console data and do analysis on those types of things.

I do have a list of all of the individuals within SEO who are currently doing really, really powerful things with Python. I highly suggest you check out some of Hamlet Batista’s recent scripts where he’s using Python to do all sorts of really cool SEO tasks. 

How do you run Python?

What does this even look like? So you’ve hopefully downloaded Python as a programming language on your computer. But now you need to run it somewhere. Where does that live? 

Set up a virtual environment using Terminal

So first you should be setting up a virtual environment. But for the purpose of these examples, I’m just going to ask that you pull up your terminal application.

It looks like this. You could also be running Python within something like Jupyter Notebook or Google Colab. But just pull up your terminal and let’s check and make sure that you’ve downloaded Python properly. 

Check to make sure you’ve downloaded Python properly

So the first thing that you do is you open up the terminal and just type in “python –version.” You should see a readout of the version that you downloaded for your computer. That’s awesome. 

Activate Python and perform basic tasks

So now we’re just going to activate Python and do some really basic tasks. So just type in “python” and hit Enter. You should hopefully see these three arrow things within your terminal. From here, you can do something like print (“Hello, World!”). So you enter it exactly like you see it here, hit Enter, and it will say “Hello, World!” which is pretty cool.



You can also do fun things like just basic math. You can add two numbers together using something like this. So these are individual lines. After you complete the print (sum), you’ll see the readout of the sum of those two numbers. You can randomly generate numbers. I realize these aren’t direct SEO applications, but these are the silly things that give you confidence to run programs like what Hamlet talks about.

Have fun — try creating a random number generator

So I highly suggest you just have fun, create a little random number generator, which is really cool. Mine is pulling random numbers from 0 to 100. You can do 0 to 10 or whatever you’d like. A fun fact, after you hit Enter and you see that random number, if you want to continue, using your up arrow will pull up the last command within your terminal.

It even goes back to these other ones. So that’s a really quick way to rerun something like a random number generator. You can just crank out a bunch of them if you want for some reason. 

Automating different tasks

This is where you can start to get into really cool scripts as well for pulling URLs using Requests HTML. Then you can pull unique information from web pages.

You can pull at bulk tens of thousands of title tags within a URL list. You can pull things like H1s, canonicals, all sorts of things, and this makes it incredibly easy to do it at scale. One of my favorite ways to pull things from URLs is using xpath within Python.

This is a lot easier than it looks. So this might be an xpath for some websites, but websites are marked up differently. So when you’re trying to pull something from a particular site, you can right-click into Chrome Developer Tools. Within Chrome Developer Tools, you can right-click what it is that you’re trying to scrape with Python.

You just select “Copy xpath,” and it will give you the exact xpath for that website, which is kind of a fun trick if you’re getting into some of this stuff. 

Libraries

What are libraries? How do we make this stuff more and more powerful? Python is really strong on its own, but what makes it even stronger are these libraries or packages which are add-ons that do incredible things.

This is just a small percentage of libraries that can do things like data collection, cleaning, visualization, processing, and deployment. One of my favorite ways to get some of the more popular packages is just to download Anaconda, because it comes with all of these commonly used, most popular packages.

So it’s kind of a nice way to get all of it in one spot or at least most of them. 

Learn more

So you’ve kind of dipped your toes and you kind of understand what Python is and what people are using it for. Where can you learn more? How can you start? Well, Codecademy has a really great Python course, as well as Google, Kaggle, and even the Python.org website have some really great resources that you can check out.

This is a list of individuals I really admire in the SEO space, who are doing incredible work with Python and have all inspired me in different ways. So definitely keep an eye on what they are up to:

But yeah, Pumpkin and I have really enjoyed this, and we hope you did too. So thank you so much for joining us for this special edition of Whiteboard Friday. We will see you soon. Bye, guys.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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!

Thank you for reading.

E-A-T and the Quality Raters’ Guidelines – Whiteboard Friday

This may be of some interest.

Posted by MarieHaynes

EAT — also known as Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness — is a big deal when it comes to Google’s algorithms. But what exactly does this acronym entail, and why does it matter to your everyday work? In this bite-sized version of her full MozCon 2019 presentation, Marie Haynes describes exactly what E-A-T means and how it could have a make-or-break effect on your site.

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Video Transcription

Hey, Moz fans. My name is Marie Haynes, from Marie Haynes Consulting, and I’m going to talk to you today about EAT and the Quality Raters’ Guidelines. By now, you’ve probably heard of EAT. It’s a bit of a buzzword in SEO. I’m going to share with you why EAT is a big part of Google’s algorithms, how we can take advantage of this news, and also why it’s really, really important to all of us.

The Quality Raters’ Guidelines

Let’s talk about the Quality Raters’ Guidelines. These guidelines are a document that Google has provided to this whole army of quality raters. There are apparently 16,000 quality raters, and what they do is they use this document, the Quality Raters’ Guidelines, to determine whether websites are high quality or not.

Now the quality raters do not have the power to put a penalty on your website. They actually have no direct bearing on rankings. But instead, what happens is they feed information back to Google’s engineers, and Google’s engineers can take that information and determine whether their algorithms are doing what they want them to do. Ben Gomes, the Vice President of Search at Google, he had a quote recently in an interview with CNBC, and he said that the quality raters, the information that’s in there is fundamentally what Google wants the algorithm to do.

“They fundamentally show us what the algorithm should do.”
– Ben Gomes, VP Search, Google

So we believe that if something is in the Quality Raters’ Guidelines, either Google is already measuring this algorithmically, or they want to be measuring it, and so we should be paying close attention to everything that is in there. 

How Google fights disinformation

There was a guide that was produced by Google earlier, in February of 2019, and it was a whole guide on how they fight disinformation, how they fight fake news, how they make it so that high-quality results are appearing in the search results.

There were a couple of things in here that were really interesting. 

1. Information from the quality raters allows them to build algorithms

The guide talked about the fact that they take the information from the quality raters and that allows them to build algorithms. So we know that it’s really important that the things that the quality raters are assessing are things that we probably should be paying attention to as well. 

2. Ranking systems are designed to ID sites with high expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness

The thing that was the most important to me or the most interesting, at least, is this line that said our ranking systems are designed to identify sites with a high indicia of EAT, of expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness.

So whether or not we want to argue whether EAT is a ranking factor, I think that’s semantics. What the word “ranking factor” means, what we really need to know is that EAT is really important in Google’s algorithms. We believe that if you’re trying to rank for any term that really matters to people, “your money or your life” really means if it’s a page that is helping people make a decision in their lives or helping people part with money, then you need to pay attention to EAT, because Google doesn’t want to rank websites that are for important queries if they’re lacking EAT.

The three parts of E-A-T

So it’s important to know that EAT has three parts, and a lot of people get hung up on just expertise. I see a lot of people come to me and say, “But I’m a doctor, and I don’t rank well.” Well, there are more parts to EAT than just expertise, and so we’re going to talk about that. 

1. Expertise

But expertise is very important. In the Quality Raters’ Guidelines, which each of you, if you have not read it yet, you really, really should read this document.

It’s a little bit long, but it’s full of so much good information. The raters are given examples of websites, and they’re told, “This is a high-quality website. This is a low-quality website because of this.” One of the things that they say for one of the posts is this particular page is to be considered low quality because the expertise of the author is not clearly communicated.

Add author bios

So the first clue we can gather from this is that for all of our authors we should have an author bio. Perhaps if you are a nationally recognized brand, then you may not need author bios. But for the rest of us, we really should be putting an author bio that says here’s who wrote this post, and here’s why they’re qualified to do so.

Another example in the Quality Raters’ Guidelines talks about was a post about the flu. What the quality raters were told is that there’s no evidence that this author has medical expertise. So this tells us, and there are other examples where there’s no evidence of financial expertise, and legal expertise is another one. Think about it.

If you were diagnosed with a medical condition, would you want to be reading an article that’s written by a content writer who’s done good research? It might be very well written. Or would you rather see an article that is written by somebody who has been practicing in this area for decades and has seen every type of side effect that you can have from medications and things like that?

Hire experts to fact-check your content

Obviously, the doctor is who you want to read. Now I don’t expect us all to go and hire doctors to write all of our content, because there are very few doctors that have time to do that and also the other experts in any other YMYL profession. But what you can do is hire these people to fact check your posts. We’ve had some clients that have seen really nice results from having content writers write the posts in a very well researched and referenced way, and then they’ve hired physicians to say this post was medically fact checked by Dr. So-and-so. So this is really, really important for any type of site that wants to rank for a YMYL query. 

One of the things that we started noticing, in February of 2017, we had a number of sites that came to us with traffic drops. That’s mostly what we do. We deal with sites that were hit by Google algorithm updates. What we were noticing is a weird thing was happening.

Prior to that, sites that were hit, they tended to have all sorts of technical issues, and we could say, “Yes, there’s a really strong reason why this site is not ranking well.” These sites were all ones that were technically, for the most part, sound. But what we noticed is that, in every instance, the posts that were now stealing the rankings they used to have were ones that were written by people with real-life expertise.

This is not something that you want to ignore. 

2. Authoritativeness

We’ll move on to authoritativeness. Authoritativeness is really very, very important, and in my opinion this is the most important part of EAT. Authoritativeness, there’s another reference in the Quality Raters’ Guidelines about a good post, and it says, “The author of this blog post has been known as an expert on parenting issues.”

So it’s one thing to actually be an expert. It’s another thing to be recognized online as an expert, and this should be what we’re all working on is to have other people online recognize us or our clients as experts in their subject matter. That sounds a lot like link building, right? We want to get links from authoritative sites.

The guide to this information actually tells us that PageRank and EAT are closely connected. So this is very, very important. I personally believe — I can’t prove this just yet — but I believe that Google does not want to pass PageRank through sites that do not have EAT, at least for YMYL queries. This could explain why Google feels really comfortable that they can ignore spam links from negative SEO attacks, because those links would come from sites that don’t have EAT.

Get recommendations from experts

So how do we do this? It’s all about getting recommendations from experts. The Quality Raters’ Guidelines say in several places the raters are instructed to determine what do other experts say about this website, about this author, about this brand. It’s very, very important that we can get recommendations from experts. I want to challenge you right now to look at the last few links that you have gotten for your website and look at them and say, “Are these truly recommendations from other people in the industry that I’m working in? Or are they ones that we made?”

In the past, pretty much every link that we could make would have the potential to help boost our rankings. Now, the links that Google wants to count are ones that truly are people recommending your content, your business, your author. So I did a Whiteboard Friday a couple of years ago that talked about the types of links that Google might want to value, and that’s probably a good reference to find how can we find these recommendations from experts.

How can we do link building in a way that boosts our authoritativeness in the eyes of Google? 

3. Trustworthiness

The last part, which a lot of people ignore, is trustworthiness. People would say, “Well, how could Google ever measure whether a website is trustworthy?” I think it’s definitely possible. Google has a patent. Now we know if there’s a patent, that they’re not necessarily doing this.

Reputation via reviews, blog posts, & other online content

But they do have a patent that talks about how they can gather information about a brand, about an individual, about a website from looking at a corpus of reviews, blog posts, and other things that are online. What this patent talks about is looking at the sentiment of these blog posts. Now some people would argue that maybe sentiment is not a part of Google’s algorithms.

I do think it’s a part of how they determine trustworthiness. So what we’re looking for here is if a business really has a bad reputation, if you have a reputation where people online are saying, “Look, I got scammed by this company.” Or, “I couldn’t get a refund.” Or, “I was treated really poorly in terms of customer service.” If there is a general sentiment about this online, that can affect your ability to rank well, and that’s very important. So all of these things are important in terms of trustworthiness.

Credible, clear contact info on website

You really should have very credible and clear contact information on your website. That’s outlined in the Quality Raters’ Guidelines. 

Indexable, easy-to-find info on refund policies

You should have information on your refund policy, assuming that you sell products, and it should be easy for people to find. All of this information I believe should be visible in Google’s index.

We shouldn’t be no indexing these posts. Don’t worry about the fact that they might be kind of thin or irrelevant or perhaps even duplicate content. Google wants to see this, and so we want that to be in their algorithms. 

Scientific references & scientific consensus

Other things too, if you have a medical site or any type of site that can be supported with scientific references, it’s very important that you do that.

One of the things that we’ve been seeing with recent updates is a lot of medical sites are dropping when they’re not really in line with scientific consensus. This is a big one. If you run a site that has to do with natural medicine, this is probably a rough time for you, because Google has been demoting sites that talk about a lot of natural medicine treatments, and the reason for this, I think, is because a lot of these are not in line with the general scientific consensus.

Now, I know a lot of people would say, “Well, who is Google to determine whether essential oils are helpful or not, because I believe a lot of these natural treatments really do help people?” The problem though is that there are a lot of websites that are scamming people. So Google may even err on the side of caution in saying, “Look, we think this website could potentially impact the safety of users.”

You may have trouble ranking well. So if you have posts on natural medicine, on any type of thing that’s outside of the generally accepted scientific consensus, then one thing you can do is try to show both sides of the story, try to talk about how actually traditional physicians would treat this condition.

That can be tricky. 

Ad experience

The other thing that can speak to trust is your ad experience. I think this is something that’s not actually in the algorithms just yet. I think it’s going to come. Perhaps it is. But the Quality Raters’ Guidelines talk a lot about if you have ads that are distracting, that are disruptive, that block the readers from seeing content, then that can be a sign of low trustworthiness.

“If any of Expertise, Authoritativeness, or Trustworthiness is lacking, use the ‘low’ rating.”

I want to leave you with this last quote, again from the Quality Raters’ Guidelines, and this is significant. The raters are instructed that if any one of expertise, authoritativeness, or trustworthiness is lacking, then they are to rate a website as low quality. Again, that’s not going to penalize that website. But it’s going to tell the Google engineers, “Wait a second. We have these low-quality websites that are ranking for these terms.How can we tweak the algorithm so that that doesn’t happen?”



But the important thing here is that if any one of these three things, the E, the A, or the T are lacking, it can impact your ability to rank well. So hopefully this has been helpful. I really hope that this helps you improve the quality of your websites. I would encourage you to leave a comment or a question below. I’m going to be hanging out in the comments section and answering all of your questions.

I have more information on these subjects at mariehaynes.com/eat and also /trust if you’re interested in these trust issues. So with that, I want to thank you. I really wish you the best of luck with your rankings, and please do leave a question for me below.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com


Feeling like you need a better understanding of E-A-T and the Quality Raters’ Guidelines? You can get even more info from Marie’s full MozCon 2019 talk in our newly released video bundle. Go even more in-depth on what drives rankings, plus access 26 additional future-focused SEO topics from our top-notch speakers:

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The One-Hour Guide to SEO, Part 1: SEO Strategy – Whiteboard Friday

This may be of some interest.

Posted by randfish

Can you learn SEO in an hour? Surprisingly, the answer is yes, at least when it comes to the fundamentals! 

With this edition of Whiteboard Friday, we’re kicking off something special: a six-part series of roughly ten-minute-long videos designed to deliver core SEO concepts efficiently and effectively. It’s our hope that this will serve as a helpful resource for a wide range of people:

  • Beginner SEOs looking to get acquainted with the field concisely & comprehensively
  • Clients, bosses, and stakeholders who would benefit from an enhanced understanding of your work
  • New team members who need quick and easy onboarding
  • Colleagues with SEO-adjacent roles, such as web developers and software engineers

Today we’ll be covering Part 1: SEO Strategy with the man who wrote the original guide on SEO, our friend Rand. Settle in, and stay tuned next Friday for our second video covering keyword research!

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

Video Transcription

Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to a special edition of the Whiteboard Friday series. I’m Rand Fishkin, the founder and former CEO of Moz, and I’m here with you today because I’m going to deliver a one-hour guide to SEO, front and back, so that you can learn in just an hour the fundamentals of the practice and be smarter at choosing a great SEO firm to work with, hiring SEO people. 

A handy SEO resource for your clients, team, and colleagues

If you are already in SEO, you might pick up some tips and tactics that you didn’t otherwise know or hadn’t previously considered. I want to ask those of you who are sort of intermediate level and advanced level SEOs — and I know there are many of you who have historically watched me on Whiteboard Friday and I really appreciate that — to give this video a chance even though it is at the beginner level, because my hope is that it will be valuable to you to send to your clients, your potential customers, people who join your team and work with you, developers or software engineers or web devs who you are working with and whose help you need but you want them to understand the fundamentals of SEO.

If those are the people that you’re talking to, excellent. This series is for you. We’re going to begin with SEO strategy. That is our first part. Then we’ll get into things like keyword research and technical SEO and link building and all of that good stuff as well. 

The essentials: What is SEO, and what does it do?

So first off, SEO is search engine optimization. It is essentially the practice of influencing or being able to control some of the results that Google shows when someone types in or speaks a query to their system.

I say Google. You can influence other search engines, like Bing and DuckDuckGo and Yahoo and Seznam if you’re in the Czech Republic or Baidu. But we are primarily focused on Google because Google has more than a 90% market share in the United States and, in fact, in North America and South America, in most of Europe, Asia, and the Middle East with a few exceptions.

Start with business goals

So SEO is a tactic. It’s a way to control things. It is not a business goal. No one forms a new company or sits down with their division and says, “Okay, we need to rank for all of these keywords.” Instead what you should be saying, what hopefully is happening in your teams is, “We have these business goals.”

Example: “Grow our online soccer jersey sales to a web-savvy, custom heavy audience.”

Let’s say we’re an online e-commerce shop and we sell customized soccer jerseys, well, football for those of you outside of the United States. So we want to grow our online soccer jersey sales. Great, that is a true business goal. We’re trying to build a bigger audience. We want to sell more of these jerseys. In order to do that, we have marketing goals that we want to achieve, things like we want to build brand awareness.

Next, marketing goals

Build brand awareness

We want more people to know who we are, to have heard of our particular brand, because people who have heard of us are going to be more likely to buy from us. The first time you hear about someone, very unlikely to buy. The seventh time you’ve heard about someone, much more likely to buy from them. So that is a good marketing goal, and SEO can help with that. We’ll talk about that in a sec.

Grow top-of-funnel traffic

You might want to grow top-of-funnel traffic. We want more people coming to the site overall so that we can do a better job of figuring out who is the right audience for us and converting some of those people, retargeting some of those people, capturing emails from some of those people, all those good things. 

Attract ready-to-buy fans

We want to attract ready-to-buy fans, people who are chomping at the bit to buy our soccer jerseys, customize them and get them shipped.

SEO, as a strategy, is essentially a set of tactics, things that you will do in the SEO world to rank for different keywords in the search engines or control and influence what already ranks in there so that you can achieve your marketing goals so that you can achieve your business goals.

Don’t get this backwards. Don’t start from a place of SEO. Especially if you are an SEO specialist or a practitioner or you’re joining a consulting firm, you should always have an excellent idea of what these are and why the SEO tactics that you are undertaking fit into them. If you don’t, you should be asking those questions before you begin any SEO work.

Otherwise you’re going to accomplish things and do things that don’t have the impact or don’t tie directly to the impact that the business owners care about, and that’s going to mean probably you won’t get picked up for another contract or you won’t accomplish the goals that mean you’re valuable to the team or you do things that people don’t necessarily need and want in the business and therefore you are seen as a less valuable part of it.

Finally, move into SEO strategy

But if you’re accomplishing things that can clearly tie to these, the opposite. People will really value what you do. 

Rank for low-demand, high-conversion keywords

So SEO can do things like rank for low demand, things that don’t have a lot of searches per month but they are high conversion likely keywords, keywords like “I am looking for a customized Seattle Sounders soccer jersey that’s in the away colors.” Well, there’s not a lot of search demand for that exact phrase. But if you’re searching for it, you’re very likely to convert. 

Earn traffic from high-demand, low-competition, less commerce-focused keywords

You could try and earn traffic from high-demand, low competition keywords that are less focused directly on e-commerce. So it could be things like “Seattle Sounders news” or “Seattle Sounders stats” or a comparison of “Portland Timbers versus Seattle Sounders.” These are two soccer or football clubs in the Pacific Northwest. 

Build content that attracts links and influencer engagement

Or you might be trying to do things like building content that attracts links and influencer engagement so that in the future you can rank for more competitive keywords. We’ll talk about that in a sec. SEO can do some amazing things, but there are also things that it cannot do.

What SEO can do:

If you put things in here, if you as an SEO pitch to your marketing team or your business owners that SEO can do things that it can’t, you’re going to be in trouble. So when we compose an SEO strategy, a set of tactics that tries to accomplish marketing goals that tie to business goals, SEO can do things like:

  • Attract searchers that are seeking your content.
  • Control how your brand is seen in search results when someone searches for your particular name. 
  • Nudge searchers toward queries by influencing what gets suggested in the auto suggest or by suggesting related searches or people also ask boxes. 

Anything that shows up in the search results, nearly anything can be influenced by what we as SEOs can do.

What SEO cannot do:

Grow or create search demand on its own

But SEO cannot grow or create search demand by itself. So if someone says, “Hey, I want us to get more traffic for this specific keyword,” if you’re already ranking number one and you have some videos showing in the results and you’re also in the image results and you’ve got maybe a secondary page that links off to you from the results, you might say, “Hey, there’s just not more demand,” and SEO by itself can’t create that additional demand.

Build brand (by itself)

SEO also can’t build brand, at least not by itself. It can certainly be a helpful part of that structure. But if someone says, “Hey, I want us to be better known among this audience,”you can say, “Well, SEO can help a little, but it can’t build a brand on its own, and it certainly can’t build brand perception on its own.” People are going to go and visit your website. They’re going to go and experience, have an interaction with what you’ve created on the web. That is going to be far more of a brand builder, a brand indicator than just what appears in the search results. So SEO can’t do that alone. 

Directly convert customers

It also can’t directly convert customers. A lot of the time what we find is that someone will do a great job of ranking, but when you actually reach the website, when visitors reach the website, they are unsatisfied by the search, which by the way is one of the reasons why this one-hour guide is going to include a section on searcher satisfaction.

When Google sees over time that searchers are unsatisfied by a result, they will push that result down in the rankings and find someone who does a great job of satisfying searchers, and they will rank them instead. So the website has to do this. It is part of SEO. It’s certainly part of the equation, but SEO can’t influence it or control it on its own.

WORK OVERNIGHT!

Finally, last but not least, SEO cannot work overnight. It just won’t happen. SEO is a long-term investment. It is very different from paid search ads, PPC, also called SEM sometimes, buying from Google ads or from Bing ads and appearing in the sponsored results. That is a tactic where you can pour money in and optimize and get results out in 24 hours. SEO is more like a 24-month long process. 

The SEO Growth Path

I’ve tried to show that here. The fundamental concept is when you have a new website, you need to earn these things — links and engagement and historical performance in the rankings.

As you earn those things, other people are linking to you from around the web, people are talking about you, people are engaging with your pages and your brand, people start searching for your brand specifically, people are clicking you more in the search results and then having good experiences on your website, as all those great things happen, you will grow your historical engagement and links and ranking factors, all these things that we sort of put into the bucket of the authority and influence of a website.

3–6 months: Begin to rank for things in the long tail of search demand

As that grows, you will be able to first, over time, this might be three to six months down here, you might be able to rank for a few keywords in the long tail of search demand. 

6–9 months: Begin to rank for more and more competitive keywords

After six to nine months, if you’re very good at this, you may be able to rank for more and more competitive keywords.

12–18 months: Compete for tougher keywords

As you truly grow a brand that is well-known and well thought of on the internet and by search engines, 12 to 18 months in, maybe longer, you may be able to compete for tougher and tougher keywords. When I started the Moz website, back in the early days of Google, it took me years, literally two or three years before I was ranking for anything in Google, anything in the search engines, and that is because I had to first earn that brand equity, that trust, that relationship with the search engines, those links and that engagement.

Today this is more true than ever because Google is so good at estimating these things. All right. I look forward to hearing all about the amazing strategies and structures that you’ve got probably in the comments down below. I’m sure it will be a great thread. We’ll move on to the second part of our one-hour guide next time — keyword research. Take care.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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