Patent Reveals Insight into How Google Generates Answer Boxes via Content Scores

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Patent Reveals Insight into How Google Generates Answer Boxes via Content Scores was originally published on, home of expert search engine optimization tips.

Optimizing a page in hopes of capturing an answer box is a trending SEO specialty. A newly filed patent suggests insights into how Google approaches answer boxes. (Thanks to Google patent expert Bill Slawski for surfacing the document.)

The U.S. patent application filed by Google on Jan. 12 gives search marketers a look into the search engine’s plans for answer boxes. The patent application titled “Generating Elements of Answer-Seeking Queries and Elements of Answers” covers a lot of technical ground. For digital marketers engaged in SEO for answer boxes, two key insights and one question emerge:

  1. Content will receive a score, and the content with the highest score earns the answer box.
  2. Search queries will not need to use question words to generate an answer box.
  3. Could answer boxes be comprised from multiple sources?

Read on to discover more about each of these coming developments.

What is an answer box? Answer boxes are direct answers to queries that appear above the search results. Answer boxes are displayed for queries that Google algorithmically determines are “answer-seeking.” The content inside an answer box is pulled from one of the top ten results on a  search engine results page (SERP) and appears in a light grey box at the top of the SERP. Why does this matter? “Ranking zero” with an answer box can drive more traffic to your site than a No. 1 ranking.

Here’s how Google describes the process of displaying an answer box, straight from the patent: “When the search system receives a query having elements that are characteristic of an answer-seeking query, the search system can identify a corresponding answer that has characteristic elements of an answer to an answer-seeking query. The search system can then generate a presentation that prominently displays an answer to the answer-seeking query.”

Answer boxes are sometimes referred to as featured snippets, direct answers, and zero rankings, among other terms.

Answer Box Scores

The patent outlines the process of generating the answer box, and includes this step:

“(Compute) a respective score for each of one or more passages of text occurring in each document identified by the search results, wherein the score for each passage of text is based on how many of the one or more answer types match the passage of text.”

Earlier in the patent, an answer type was defined as “a group of answer elements that collectively represent the characteristics of a proper answer to an answer-seeking query.”

What does this mean for digital marketers optimizing content for answer boxes? The patent begs the question: does content with more answer types win the answer box?

For example, if Page A has a chart, two respective text paragraphs, an image and a bullet list that all qualify as answer elements, does that page receive a higher score than Page B that has text paragraphs alone? Even if the text of Page B have higher scores than the text paragraphs in Page A?

In other words, does a page with more answer types fare better than a page with equal or greater relevance of content and a single answer type? Based on the patent alone, this seems to be a logical conclusion.

When it comes to optimizing for answer boxes, then, the new content publishing process involves production of multiple answer types to answer the targeted question.

The patent goes on to state that all scores must meet a threshold to be considered for inclusion in an answer box, indicating that even if your content is the best of the possible answer boxes, it still must reach a certain level of quality to be considered.

Search Queries Will Be Identified as Answer-Seeking without Use of Question Words

No need for the searcher to include “who,” “what,” “when,” “were,” “how” or “why” in a query to trigger an answer box. Google wants to identify queries as “answer-seeking” regardless of inclusion of question words. Here’s what Google had to say, straight from the patent (emphasis ours):

“A search system may consider a query to be an answer-seeking query because its terms match a predetermined question type. However, the query need not be expressed in the form of a question, and the query need not include a question word, e.g., ‘how,’ ‘why,’ etc.’

Google provides this example of how it should work:

Figure 1 from Google patent application “Generating Elements of Answer-Seeking Queries and Elements of Answers.” This figure shows how queries need not include question words to be classified as “answer-seeking.” As the patent states, “In this example, the search system provides the answer box in response to the query even though the query is not phrased as a question and even though the query does not include a question word.”

Google also notes: “In this example the answer box is identified as a good answer to the query even though the answer does not include the term ‘cooking,’ which occurred in the query and even though the answer does not occur in a document referenced by a highest-ranked search result. Rather, the answer in the answer box is identified as a good answer because the search system has determined that the question type matching the query is often associated with an answer type that matches text of the document referenced by the search result.”

That’s another key insight: Your content does not have to rank No. 1 to earn the answer box. That’s something answer box researchers already knew, but it’s always good to have statements directly from Google that support the current understanding how the search engine is working.

While you do not have to rank No. 1, you do need to rank in the top ten results. Our own research at Bruce Clay, Inc., as well as research by other SEO agencies, points to the fact that you must be in the top ten if you want a chance to rank zero.

Could Answer Boxes Be Comprised from Multiple Sources?

The patent explains that after “determining that the one or more passages of text have respective scores that satisfy a threshold” the search engine will select “one or more passages of text having respective scores that satisfy the threshold for inclusion in the presentation.”

Let’s say Page A has the highest scoring paragraph for a query. Page B has the highest scoring image that answers that same query. Page C has the highest scoring table, and Page D has the highest scoring video. Is there any reason that, in the future, answer boxes could be comprised from multiple web pages? In reading the patent, we don’t see any reason why not; Google’s statement that “one or more passages of text” will be included does not describe those passages as being on the same page.

What Next Steps Should SEOs Take When Optimizing for Answer Boxes?

Given that the document is a patent application, we can’t take the statements in it to be fact. There is a good chance, of course, that answer box scores will become a reality. In fact, they could already be a reality or in beta at this moment. This patent application, nonetheless, provides valuable insight into how Google is thinking about answer boxes and what answer boxes might look like in the future.

As digital marketers, we always seek to stay several steps ahead — anticipating the coming algorithm and search feature changes so that we’re prepared when they happen. Patent applications take us behind the Google curtain and can help us understand what’s down the pike.

Want more ways to stay ahead of the search curve? If you’re obsessed with winning at web traffic, you don’t want to miss Bruce Clay’s Advanced SEO Workshop at Search Marketing Expo (SMX) West in San Jose on March 20.

This full day of master SEO training will equip you with cutting-edge SEO techniques. Bruce will tackle answer boxes, RankBrain, voice search, AMP and more. Learn how to help raise your rankings and visibility in search engines. Save 10% with our exclusive discount code: BRUCECLAYSMXW17.

February 23rd 2017 SEO

The QuickStart Guide to Using Google Search Console to Increase SEO Visibility

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There are many powerful SEO tools in today’s marketing world. Most SEO tools can be highly beneficial, but often come with a cost associated with it. However, there are some tools that smart marketers can leverage to assist with the variety of tasks needed on a given day.

One tool that smart marketers can leverage for SEO is Google Search Console. This free tool provided by Google is a great way to gain insights about your site in one main platform. Google Search Console is often underutilized by search marketing teams. To help you get the most benefit from Google Search Console, we outlined the four main areas within the tool to help you reach your search marketing objectives. Before we get into the four main areas within Google Search Console, let’s discuss what the tool even is.

What is Google Search Console?

Google Search Console (formerly Google Webmaster Tools) is a free web-based SEO tool for webmasters to track both the indexing and crawling stats from Googlebot while also providing metrics to help optimize a website for organic visibility. This SEO tool is useful to monitor metrics and discover new insights to help increase your organic footprint.

Google states that anyone with a website should use Google Search Console. One great thing about Google Search Console is that it is easy to use for whoever has access to the property.

Google Search Console Setup and Verification

The first step to using Google Search Console is the setup and verification process. You will want to create a Google Search Console property for each version of your site including:

  • Any other subdomains

You will get the complete view by setting up all the versions of your domain. Besides setting up properties for each version, you can also setup properties for an individual subfolder on your site. By setting up a property for a subfolder, you will be able to see metrics for a specific section of your site, which can be beneficial for large sites.


After you created your property, you will need to verify the site. There are multiple ways to verify your property within Google Search Console, including:

  • HTML file upload – Upload an HTML file to your site
  • HTML tag – Add a meta tag to your site’s home page
  • Domain name provider – Sign in to your domain name provider
  • Google Analytics – Use your Google Analytics account
  • Google Tag Manager – Use your Google Tag Manager account

We recommend the verification method that would be the easiest and most efficient for your site. The most common verification methods we recommend are either via Google Analytics or Google Tag Manager. Otherwise, we typically recommend adding the HMTL tag to the site’s header.

Search Appearance

One of the first main sections of Google Search Console is the “Search Appearance” section. This section is important for webmasters to understand how their website is currently setup and how it may potentially show up on a Search Engine Results Page (SERP). Within the search appearance section is information regarding structured markup, rich cards, HTML improvements (metadata information), and Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) setup.


Each area within this section is important to track monthly, but the HTML improvements area provides insights that is helpful when optimizing a website. This area can surface insights regarding duplicate meta descriptions and title tags. It also states when content is non-indexable, which can make a significant difference when prioritizing your optimization efforts.

Search Traffic

The next section in Google Search Console is the “Search Traffic” section. This section provides insights regarding the keywords your site is showing up for, linking metrics from external and internal sources, any manual actions, international targeting metrics, and the mobile usability of your website.

Each area within the Search Traffic section is important, but the majority of your time will most likely be found analyzing the Search Analytics tab. The Search Analytics tab shows the keywords that your site is showing up for. You can break down the tab into multiple subsections between clicks, impressions, CTR, and position. If that isn’t enough for you already, you can then dive deeper into the metrics by individual pages, keywords, countries, devices (desktop, mobile, tablet), search type (web, images, videos), search appearance (AMP or rich snippets), and the date range (within 90 days).

The search analytics tab is a very powerful SEO tool. You can analyze your site for keyword opportunities on a page or a section of your site. You can also drill down into how your mobile keywords are performing compared to your desktop keywords. At TopRank Marketing, we use this tab to identify SEO strategies to help increase organic visibility by re-optimizing content that has multiple keywords ranking on the bottom of page one or the top of page two. We also use the tab to guide the creation of our content plans for different SEO campaigns.

The second tab you should spend more time on is the mobile usability tab. This tab outlines if your website is mobile friendly or not. It is important to stay on top of any mobile usability issues so that your site renders correctly for all types of devices, especially with Google moving to the mobile-first index.

Google Index

The third section in Google Search Console is the “Google Index” section. This section is useful to understand how many pages are included Google’s index and if there are any blocked resources on your site. The index status tab is useful when analyzing if Google is indexing all the pages you want included in the SERPs. It is good to check the pattern of the index status of your website so that the number of pages is growing consistently or not dropping off quickly randomly.


The blocked resources tab is a great way to easily identify if certain pages are blocked from Googlebot. Make sure you check this tab to optimize the crawling of the pages/resources that you want being crawled by Googlebot.

You can also remove URLs temporarily from the Google index with the remove URLs tab. This tab is useful when you need to remove a page quickly. As a note, the tab only removes the page temporarily (around 90 days) and you still will need to update your site to permanently remove the page.


The last main section of Google Search Console is the “Crawl” section. This section provides smart marketers information regarding broken pages or files on the website, crawl stats from Googlebot, and URL parameter information. The section also provides tools to submit your content to Google, test your robots.txt file and submit your sitemap to Google.

The crawl errors tab is one of the more important areas within Google Search Console. This tab shows the URLs that might be broken from both internal and external sources. At TopRank Marketing, we often recommend implementing 301 redirects for the crawl errors that actually were pages at some point. It is important to audit the list to make sure you are not implementing redirects that are not needed.

Another useful tab is the sitemaps area, because you can submit your sitemap to Google to make it easier for your site to be crawled and indexed. Similarly, you can also submit individual pages to Google with the fetch as Google tool. The fetch as Google tool is a great way to get your updated content indexed quickly.


Use Google Search Console to Help Increase Your Organic Visibility

Google Search Console is a very powerful SEO tool for multiple reasons. We recommend using Google Search Console when running SEO campaigns to maximize your visibility and to plan the overall strategy. To increase your organic visibility for other search engines, make sure you use Bing Webmaster Tools as well to gain more insights.

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February 23rd 2017 Online Marketing, SEO

How to Hire an SEO – in Google’s Words

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How to Hire an SEO – in Google’s Words was originally published on, home of expert search engine optimization tips.

As a digital marketing agency, we know a lot about the importance of SEO consulting. But it’s hard for us to tell you how to hire an SEO without sounding self-serving.

But when a search engine like Google gives that kind of advice? That’s a more unbiased source you can really listen to and learn from.

As it happens, there’s a new video on Google Webmaster Help’s YouTube channel called “How to hire an SEO,” and we think it’s excellent. So we’re putting it up on our blog to help it spread far and wide.

If you’re shopping for an SEO consultant, or even if you ARE one, this 11-minute video is a must-see.

“SEO is not black magic.”

Maile Ohye, a developer programs tech lead with Google, opens by myth-busting some ideas about search engine optimization — it’s not magic and it doesn’t work overnight.

If someone is promising you instant rankings as if by magic, look elsewhere! It’s critical to avoid a “bad” SEO — someone who produces no results or, worse, implements shady practices on your website that hurt your visibility in search.

For long-term success, there are no quick fixes that will immediately rocket your site to rank No. 1. A good SEO helps improve the site itself so it can put its best foot forward and rank appropriately.

An SEO’s potential is only as high as the quality of your business or website. –Maile Ohye

I’d like to have that engraved for our lobby.

“SEO looks to improve the entire searcher experience.”

The scope of optimizing a website — the SEO’s purview — is broad. It requires looking at the entire journey a searcher may take, from seeing and clicking your search result, to arriving at your website and potentially converting.

Accordingly, an SEO looks at straightforward improvements like writing descriptive tags all the way to complex issues such as implementing language tags for an international site. Along with increasing the organic traffic to the site, the SEO has to ensure that your site provides a good, helpful experience for visitors no matter what device they’re using.

How long will it take to see results from SEO?

Google says SEO takes 4-12 months

Four months to a year is a realistic estimate of how long it takes to reap results. Since many prospective clients expect to see results much faster, we’re so glad Google set the record straight.

With our own SEO services clients, we first lay the groundwork — analyzing the site, researching competitors, compiling an assessment and making initial recommendations. Then the timeline greatly depends on the client’s ability to implement. We work with the client’s in-house SEO or technical staff to help move the project along as we further refine and expand our recommendations.

Certain fixes can produce nearly instant results. For instance, if something is truly broken on the site, such as a robots.txt file that’s blocking the search engines, a correction can make an impact. However, in most cases, four months to a year sounds about right.

Get corroboration for recommendations.

Ohye’s “strongest advice” is to request that SEOs support their recommendations with a documented statement from Google. Ask to see an article, video or Googler response that includes the issue that needs to be improved and the approach being prescribed.

Oh, and never buy links for ranking purposes. Ever.

If your site has some “technical debt” (not being mobile friendly, or having an antiquated CMS, for example), you may need to invest in improving your infrastructure as part of your SEO project. If you’re a local business owner, you can get started bringing your local business online using this Google video series:

In a majority of cases, doing what’s good for SEO is also doing what’s good for your online customers. –Maile Ohye

Steps in the SEO Hiring Process

Here’s what Google outlines as the “General SEO hiring process”:

General SEO hiring process

Step 1: Conduct a two-way interview

We can’t agree more that you want to find a consultant who’s sincerely interested in you, your business, your customers and your goals. After all, you want someone who feels like an extension of your team.

Ohye advises that if the person doesn’t show interest by asking exploratory questions (check the video for a suggested list), then don’t do business with them.

Step 2: Check references

Talk to past clients about their experience. Ask them how effectively the SEO worked with their various staff and vendors, and what kind of guidance he or she provided.

You want to hire someone who will help educate you, not just implement short-term solutions.

A good SEO should be someone you can work with, learn from, experiment with, and who genuinely cares about you and your business. –Maile Ohye

Step 3. Request an audit

For smaller businesses, Ohye suggests asking for “a prioritized list of what they think should be improved for SEO.”

For larger businesses, she suggests doing this with multiple SEO consulting candidates. Then, compare their audits. Here’s the audit structure Google recommends:

Audit structure per Google's 'How to Hire an SEO'

You’ll need to give the SEO restricted-view access to your Google Search Console and Google Analytics accounts (not full or write access) so they’ll have the data needed to perform the audit. You should also let the consultant talk with your developers to understand any technical constraints.

Maile Ohye

Google’s very helpful Maile Ohye

Right up front, Ohye notes that you’ll probably have to pay for the audit. We agree.

This level of custom technical and search auditing requires a considerable amount of time spent by a trained, experienced SEO analyst. If a prospective consultant is offering you a “free audit,” more than likely he or she plans to just run your site through a tool to produce an automated report.

A good SEO will try to prioritize what ideas can bring your business the most improvement for the least investment, and what improvements may take more time, but help growth in the long term. –Maile Ohye

Step 4. Decide if you want to hire

When you’re ready to engage an SEO consultant, make sure your whole organization is on board. Without internal cooperation, you may not see any search improvements at all, no matter whom you hire.

One of the biggest holdups to improving a website isn’t [the SEO’s] recommendation, but it’s the business making time to implement their ideas. –Maile Ohye

Want to talk about your business and how SEO might help you? Fill out our request form and we’ll contact you.



February 18th 2017 Google, SEO

Does Your Website Pass the Mobile Test?

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It is hard to argue that the adoption of mobile devices hasn’t exploded with popularity. Most searches are being performed on mobile devices, with more searches expected to continue on mobile.

Mobile is not only important for organic performance but for conversions from all types of traffic including email and paid channels. It is important to understand your mobile traffic to focus on the channels that convert the most on those devices. For some websites, mobile devices might bring in the majority of your traffic but the conversions might not be as high as desktop searches, because of less focus on the mobile experience.

Today, most websites are built with a responsive design to help make it mobile friendly, but that doesn’t mean marketers should stop there. Instead, marketers should optimize the entire mobile experience to enhance conversions and overall performance. To help you out, we built a list of actionable tips to make sure your site is mobile friendly from three categories: SEO for mobile devices, mobile content, and mobile conversions.

Mobile SEO Tactics

#1 – Choosing the right mobile website setup

When choosing your website setup, make sure you understand what mobile design you want. There are three main types of mobile sites including:

  • Responsive design
  • Dynamic site
  • Mobile only site (

Google recommends using a responsive design for your website to help make sure it is mobile friendly, but any option works when done correctly.

TopRank Marketing tip: Analyze your audience to understand what the best option is for your site. Not all sites need to have a responsive design, considering a mobile only site can be tailored to your mobile audience easier in some cases.


#2 – Test your site for mobile friendliness

There are multiple ways to test if your site is mobile friendly including the Google Usability Test, Google Search Console report, and Chrome Developer tools. Use multiple tools to be sure that your mobile site is rendering correctly instead of assuming that your site is mobile friendly.

TopRank Marketing tip: Use the Chrome Developer Tools to get a better idea of how your website looks like on certain devices by selecting the “inspect” element. Then in the bottom left-hand corner, select the button that looks like a mobile device (see below).

The screenshot below shows the look on a mobile device. You can choose between a responsive site by pixel size or actual mobile phones by selecting the drop down at the top of the screen.


#3 – Optimize your metadata

Mobile SERPs (search engine results page) have less real estate for organic listings than desktop SERPs. It is important to understand the search landscape and SERP space available to market yourself over your competitors.

TopRank Marketing tip: Keep your title tags shorter and more concise to avoid your title tags being cut off in the SERP. It is best practice to keep your title tags under, at least, 70 characters for your title tags.


#4 – Optimize for mobile keywords

Have you ever conducted a search with a “near me” signifier attached to it? Near me searches are increasing and doubled in 2015 for all types of users, but especially for mobile users. Mobile keywords can also include more voice queries that people conduct with their phones.

TopRank Marketing tip: Make sure you conduct keyword research for mobile users and target mobile keywords. The search intent of a keyword query can vary based on the device people use so optimizing for all types of keywords will help increase your visibility.


#5 – Content for mobile devices

There are multiple types of content that should be considered when creating content for mobile users and your audience. Most marketers are already considering the type of content to write for their website on the attract, engage, convert model, but there sometimes is a lack of focus on mobile consumption habits. Mobile consumption habits can change depending on the industry, so it is important to consider how your audience interacts with your website.

TopRank Marketing tip: If you are are sending email campaigns, consider your audience’s mobile consumption habits. Most emails are consumed on mobile devices (see below). Create all your content that you are promoting via your email or social media channels to be mobile friendly.


Image via:


#6 – Geotargeting on your mobile app

If you have a larger audience that uses your mobile app, you might want to consider geotargeting the users when they are close to a storefront, event, or at a specific location. Geotargeting is a great way to encourage action from your audience when they are located in the right areas at the right time.

TopRank Marketing tip: Consider using different imagery and messaging for users in different locations when they are using your app or website. Also, consider sending notifications to mobile app users to entice action when they are at a physical location.


Mobile Content Creation

#1 – Consider the content length and types

Consider the length and type of content you are creating for your audience, both on mobile and desktop. As we already covered, there typically is a difference in search intent for users on mobile devices compared to desktop computers. With that in mind, you need to be customer-focused and analyze where your audience is within the funnel for your content assets.

TopRank Marketing tip: Develop audience personas to understand the way your audience searches online. Personas can be a powerful tool when creating content for your website.


#2 – Make sure to communicate the value quickly

It is important to communicate your value clearly and quickly to mobile users. Often, banners sometimes push the value proportion below the fold, which may increase the amount of bounces on the page and confuse users where they are on your website.

TopRank Marketing tip: Reduce the amount of unnecessary space or elements on your mobile device to only include what is needed. Less is often more when you are dealing with the limited amount of space on a mobile device.


#3 – App optimization

Mobile websites are a must for your online strategy, but apps can provide even a better user experience. Not all companies need to develop and create a mobile app, but for the ones that do, you need to optimize those experiences. Apps should be tailored to solving the user’s problem or creating an unique experience.

TopRank Marketing tip: Optimize your app for the user experience to solve your audience’s problem. After you create your app, make sure you optimize your App store listing to increase your visibility on other channels.


#4 – QR codes

QR codes are another solid tactic to add to the dedicated mobile experience. When used correctly, you can push users directly to a location easily with QR codes on psychical flyers or other traditional marketing materials.

TopRank Marketing tip: Test using QR codes on physical marketing materials to push people to a section online with their mobile phones that offers an experience dedicated to them.


#5 – SMS messaging

SMS messaging is a way to help you get in front of more of your audience via messaging apps. SMS messaging can be a powerful tool to send notifications to your audience that opted in to encourage specific actions or enhance customer experience.

TopRank Marketing tip: Make your messages personal to help encourage action. Also, make sure to include a clear CTA within the message to see the most value out of your campaign.


Mobile Conversions

#1 – Manually audit your layout on your responsive design

Your site might not be mobile friendly even though it might have a responsive design. A responsive site is typically better than a non-mobile site but sometimes issues can still arise. Some issues we typically see are videos not formatted to the correct screen size, the layout pushes the content below the fold, or the font size is too small.

There could be a vast majority of other issues with a responsive design, so make sure you optimize the layout of each page type.

TopRank Marketing tip: Look at what screen size is being utilized the most on your website within Google Analytics. Navigate in your Google Analytics dashboard to go to Audience ? Mobile ? Overview ? Screen Size to quickly analyze what screen size to optimize for first.


#2 – Consider your thumb reach

Make sure you consider the thumb reach to encourage action on your mobile design. Making your users reach and work out their thumb can create friction and a low-quality user experience.

TopRank Marketing tip: Make your CTAs within a thumbs reach to improve conversions. Also, consider using sticky headers to help mobile users navigate quickly through your site.


#3 – Site speed

Site speed has become more important as a ranking factor for search engines, and rightly so. A fast loading site helps provide a solid user experience and can help increase the crawl rate of the site by search engines. All marketers should be focusing on site speed as a priority item. Below are some tools to test your site speed:

TopRank Marketing tip: Test your mobile site with multiple different tools to get a holistic view on site speed aspects. Prioritize the site speed items to get the most ROI from the work instead of optimizing for every site speed item.


#4 – Image optimization

Similarly to site speed, optimizing images will help site speed and user experience. A responsive site often uses the same image that is not probably sized for each device screen.

TopRank Marketing tip: Use different image sizes that can be used at different viewports to pull in images that are the correct size for the device.


#5 – Form Optimization

Congratulations! Someone has decided to start filling out a form on your site. That is a great goal to accomplish, but nothing is more disappointing than losing that user after they choose to abandon the form. Optimizing your forms for mobile users is a great way to increase conversions.

TopRank Marketing tip: Adjust the type of the keyboard for mobile users to use the right one for the form fields. For example, use the keyword field to show numbers for phone number fields and a different keyboard for email fields.


Your Optimized Mobile Experience

Above are some actionable tactics that you might want to optimize for your mobile website. There are even more areas and opportunities to optimize on your mobile website than listed above. If you’d like to find out if your website passes the mobile test, contact us today to receive a mobile optimization audit.

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February 16th 2017 Online Marketing, SEO

Google Mobilegeddon 2: Is This One Too Big to Ignore?

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Google Mobilegeddon 2: Is This One Too Big to Ignore? was originally published on, home of expert search engine optimization tips.

In February 2011, I had a meeting with a Google account representative who shared a presentation deck titled “Grow Your Business With Mobile.” The agenda had four topics:

  1. Why Mobile Matters NOW
  2. How to Think about Search on Mobile
  3. What You Can Start Doing Today
  4. What Is Your Mobile Opportunity?

Oh, how I loved that deck. It had this awesome chart showing the releases of mobile phones from major brands like Apple, Android, Blackberry, Palm, HTC, Moto and Sprint. The chart mapped the release date of each mobile device on the X-axis and the number of mobile queries on the Y-axis for these devices from 2007 through 2010. Google did not display the actual number of mobile queries; instead they elected to normalize the data.

The headline on the chart read “Too Big to Ignore: 30x Growth in 3 Years.” It showed how in several key markets, searches from mobile devices were growing faster relative to desktop searches.

mobile is too big to ignore

Disclaimer: This is a reproduction, not the real chart.

Following that meeting, I contacted all my SEO agency clients that did not have a good (or any) mobile experience to tell them how the growth of mobile internet use was going to change their business. Some listened and proceeded to implement mobile SEO recommendations, from mobile landing pages to mobile websites.

I’m not sure if “responsive web design” was common vernacular at that time for SEOs, SEMs or developers. Creating mobile experiences designed specifically for search was painstaking, yet most clients who made the investment yielded a huge windfall as early adopters.

Not only did we grab early organic search traffic, but also we bought as much paid search advertising as we could. SEM clients found that click-through rates increased 40%, 50%, 60% and even 70% over desktop experiences, which boosted Quality Scores and drove down the cost per click. Our conversion rates increased often well over 100% (really), and the cost per acquisition (leads or sales) nose-dived.

success stats of mobilegeddon early adopters

In fact, I recall one client who was the ONLY advertiser in their market vertical for almost 6 months. Imagine owning 100% of the mobile market for 6 months? Wow, how the first-mover advantage paid-off for this business!

For the next several years, I helped clients leverage search demand from their mobile devices. I worked with those who had lots of locations (e.g., franchises) to use paid search advertising for hyperlocal mobile-only campaigns that drove calls to these places using local extensions.

For lots of clients, we implemented click-to-call ads, and for those clients with mobile apps, click-to-download ads to drive app adoption. The brands with apps are really loving this investment now. These brands can communicate directly to customers, completely bypassing the expense of search advertising and emails that may or may not get delivered or opened.

For SEO clients, we integrated maps into their desktop and mobile experiences and in Google Places (the precursor to Google My Business). This improved organic listings and helped drive foot traffic. I especially loved monthly reporting for local SEO clients, where I could show how many people viewed and engaged with their Google Places listing.

Since this was the heyday of tablets, we leveraged the searches where conversion rates often exceeded the desktop experience. The best part of targeting those expensive iPad owners was that purchases often had a higher average order value (AOV).


Fast forward almost 4 years to the day, February 26, 2015. Google announced on its blog post “Finding more mobile-friendly search results” that mobile-friendliness would be a ranking signal. Here’s the follow-up post when the change went live:

Along with mobile-friendliness as a mobile search ranking factor, Google had more news to announce. Now apps would be returned in search results, both for users who are signed-in to Google and for those who have an app installed. Suddenly, for a couple clients, app indexing was the hottest ticket in town after “50 Shades of Grey.”

For many search engine marketers, this update was rightly called “Mobilegeddon.” Several SEO agencies and analytics firms reported up to a 20% reduction in search rankings or traffic to “non-mobile friendly sites.” In contrast, SEM firms and digital marketing agencies also reported up to a 40% increase in clicks on mobile search ads during the same period.

At Bruce Clay, we experienced the impact from Google’s Mobilegeddon 2015 ranking algorithm update for our clients, as well. Here is a typical result from a client that elected to focus on SEO for both desktop and mobile devices.

In the summer of 2015, Bruce Clay wrapped up an SEO campaign for a national retailer with franchises across the United States and Canada. We increased their desktop traffic 89% in spite of numerous Panda, Pigeon, Penguin and Pirate algorithm effects. While certainly impressive, that was not the really cool part. We worked with the client to optimize their mobile experience, and they experienced a 270% increase in mobile traffic, which helped contribute to a 148% increase in scheduled appointments. Although already a North American market leader, they saw a dramatic change to their revenue composite with a growth in organic search traffic and local mobile traffic.

Mobile-First Indexing

On Friday, November 11, 2016, Google published the “Mobile-first Indexing” announcement on its Webmaster Central Blog.

In it, Google said:

“… our algorithms will eventually primarily use the mobile version of a site’s content to rank pages from that site.”

Will this update become Mobilegeddon 2? The truth is, we don’t really know until it happens. However, I am reminded of the meeting agenda with my Google account representative sharing these four topics:

  1. Why Mobile Matters NOW
  2. How to Think about Search on Mobile
  3. What You Can Start Doing Today
  4. What Is Your Mobile Opportunity?

While financial representatives are legally obligated to state that past experience is not a predictor of the future, it seems certain that Mobilegeddon 2 will be a disrupter.

At Bruce Clay, we are advising clients about the importance of mobile, even if they don’t get a lot of mobile traffic today. The good news is that most clients have responsive sites, making this transition to mobile-first indexing much easier. These clients are now working on improving organic ranking of their mobile user experiences and subsequently conversion rate optimization (mobile-to-lead or mobile-to-sale).

We also have a number of clients that have mobile-friendly sites. These scenarios are a bit complex, as we’ve found several situations where these mobile experiences don’t have the same exact content as their desktop equivalent.

These clients are potentially at revenue risk, and here’s why.

At this writing, Google is ranking their business using the desktop user experience. For ease of math, let’s assume their desktop site has 100 pages of content, yet their mobile-friendly site has just 50 pages of content.

When Google officially pulls the trigger on its mobile-first index and replaces desktop rankings with mobile, how will this website rank?

Will it retain 50% of its rankings and lose 50%?


If so, which rankings will it retain and which rankings will it lose?

How will this impact the traffic, leads and revenue from the organic search channel?

How will this impact site behavior and the infamous Google Analytics “Not Provided”?

We don’t know.

How will the client website rank if all its top competitors have responsive websites?

Will the competitors’ responsive websites essentially take traffic away from the client website that has only 50% of its desktop content?

If so, how will this impact the traffic, leads and revenue from the organic search channel?

Again, we don’t know.

The businesses most at risk are those that have no mobile user experience at all. And yes, we do have a couple, and these are B2B clients.

How will these desktop-only websites be impacted?

If a business does not have any mobile experience, yet most of their competitors have either responsive websites or mobile-friendly websites, how much traffic will the business lose?

How will this change impact their revenue that originates from SEO?

Again, we don’t know for sure.

What we are fairly confident about is that with SEO, and especially mobile SEO, everything is going to be different in 2017.

As an agency, the Bruce Clay team of SEOs works with clients to prepare for Mobilegeddon 2, as they know the update will be coming to our mobile phones sometime in 2017. Our analysts are asking these business questions and working through numerous what-if scenarios and action plans.

We are even asking ourselves what-if questions about PageRank. For example, how will that silly Google PageRank be changed, if at all, for mobile-first indexing? This question came up recently because of an off-the-cuff tweet from a Google employee.

On February 9, Google Webmaster Trends Analyst Gary Illyes stated that after 18 years, Google is still using PageRank and hundreds of other signals in ranking.

Unfortunately, Google is still using PageRank even though it is an easily manipulated concept. I am concerned that people from Google make public comments like this after the company has told us repeatedly not to focus on PageRank for SEO.

Second-guessing ranking factors like PageRank — these are the kinds of questions we are asking among technical SEO agencies today to predict the unpredictable ranking changes that will come following the switch to the mobile-first index.

Need Help? Have Questions?

If you are managing your marketing and you have questions about organic search traffic and mobile for your business, let’s chat.

Use our contact form and let me know your big questions. We can even sign an NDA and take a deep dive into your data to identify potentially unknown vulnerabilities or worse, outright risks.

Let us help your business not only survive Mobilegeddon 2, but also thrive!


February 15th 2017 SEO

Which Is More Important: Technical SEO or Reputation Management?

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by Jayson DeMers

There are many moving pieces in an SEO campaign, but only a handful of broad categories of tactics to use regularly. For example, most people intuitively group tactics into the categories of on-site optimization and off-site optimization, which are clearly defined by whether a given tactic takes place on your site or somewhere else. But there are different dimensions to consider as well–for example, you can think of a split between technical SEO and reputation management tactics.

Which of these are more important to the success of your overall campaign?

Reputation Management

Reputation management, as the name suggests, is all about building up your brand’s image online. This could involve a number of tactics, including the publication of valuable content on other websites, the promotion of your brand name and image, and the establishment of personal relationships with your customers.

For example, MediaOne suggests optimizers create LinkedIn Groups and post regularly to enhance their reputation; not only will you gain more social followers, you’ll also earn backlinks and establish ground for publishing content in the future.

There are a number of benefits to these tactics:

  • Brand visibility and recognition. Obviously, your reputation will grow with reputation management tactics. More people will see your brand, you’ll rank higher for branded searches (and see more of them), and the visitors you attract will be more acquainted with your business. That means higher click-throughs for all your rankings, and more conversions when they get to your site.
  • Backlinks. Reputation building is also a good way to earn more inbound links. If people read your content and value it, they’ll be more likely to link to you as a credible source, which will boost your domain authority.
  • Guest posting and future potential. Building your reputation also opens the door to bigger and more authoritative publishers for guest posting opportunities. These give you immediate benefits of brand visibility and inbound links, but also a path to even better opportunities in the future.

Technical SEO

Technical SEO, on the other hand, is all about making precise adjustments to your site to improve its visibility in search engines. Here, you could update your site’s code to be cleaner and easier to crawl, target specific keywords and include them in your page titles and meta descriptions, and even rebuild different areas of your site.

For example, QuickSprout notes the importance of user retention, and encourages optimizers to make tweaks to their websites so they load faster and preserve a worthwhile user experience.

There are several benefits here:

  • Real search visibility. Google can’t rank your site if its search engine bots can’t see it. Your biggest priority with technical SEO is making sure that search engines are able to process your site to index and display it accurately.
  • Precise targeting. Technical SEO also gives you the ability to make and reach for precise targets. You’ll have the opportunity to research various keywords and keyword phrases, and reorganize your site to rank for them.
  • Troubleshooting. If something goes wrong with your site, technical SEO will give you the tools to analyze the problem and eventually correct it.

The Problems With One Over Another

After reading this far, you may intrinsically favor one over the other. However, there’s a problem with identifying one set of tactics as “better” or “more important.” If you focus exclusively on technical SEO, you won’t have the opportunity to develop your brand reputation; you may slowly climb the ranks for a handful of specific keyword terms, but your visitors will be apathetic to your brand, and you won’t grow nearly as quickly without reputation management.

On the other hand, if you ignore technical SEO and focus only on reputation management, you could overlook a key fixture that’s necessary for search engine visibility. For example, you might update your robots.txt file incorrectly or accidentally make your site uncrawlable. You’ll get a respectable volume of customers from other areas, but your direct rankings in SERPs will tank.

The truth is, no SEO campaign can survive while only pursuing one of these sets of tactics. You’ll need both if you want to establish a wider presence. Technical SEO is necessary to be seen and properly “understood” by search engines, but reputation management is necessary if you want to reach people and grow at a reasonable pace.

Be sure and visit our small business news site.

SEO Checklist for Content Marketers: 21 Common Mistakes to Avoid

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SEO Checklist to Avoid Mistakes

With so much content being created, published and promoted online every second—as well as consumers becoming increasingly self-directed in their quest for answers—competition to capture your audience’s attention has never been more fierce.

As a result, quality and strategic SEO has probably never been more important for helping you be the best answer whenever and wherever your audience is searching.

But as seasoned marketers know, SEO has gone through a tremendous evolution since its early days of keyword-focused content. With more than 2 trillion searches happening on Google every year, today’s SEO is about finding the perfect balance between user-centric content and convincing search engine crawlers that your content is supreme.

Of course, on the journey to creating the perfect content for both humans and search, you may make some mistakes. But the good news is that may are easily avoidable.

Below we dive into some of the most common SEO mistakes, as well as tips for helping you avoid or remedy them.

#1 – Optimizing content around one keyword.

In the “old days” of SEO, it was common practice to optimize web pages with a specific keyword that you wanted to rank for. Today, that practice not only provides a poor user experience for your audience, but it’s simply ineffective since search engines are becoming increasingly better at determining search intent.

Tip: Simply put: Do not optimize any pages for just one keyword. Instead, think bigger about the need your content can fill and hone in on keyword topics that include a variety of relevant and related search terms.

Think bigger about the need your #content can fill and hone in on keyword topics. @CaitlinMBurgess #SEO
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#2 – Neglecting dated content.

Let’s face it. You’ve probably created a ton of content in the last couple years that you haven’t touched since it first published. But you could be leaving opportunity on the table if you’re not regularly looking for ways to refresh it and keep it relevant for searchers.

Tip: Dig into your analytics to find your top and worst performing pages and blog posts, paying special attention to evergreen topics. Then conduct some keyword research to discover new opportunities for updating that existing content to continue or improve ranking momentum.

#3 – Forgetting mobile users.

Whether you’re a B2C or B2B brand, much of your audience is likely using a mobile device to find good content. If your content isn’t mobile friendly, the user experience will be negatively impacted.

Tip: Take steps to ensure that your website and its content is mobile friendly and responsive. Also, focus on creating content for users that would typically use a mobile device.

#4 – Not optimizing for site speed.

This one is pretty simple. Faster sites have a better crawl rate and provide a better user experience.

Tip: Use site speed tools like Google PageSpeed Insights, Pingdom, or WebPageTest to analyze your site speed score. Some of the most helpful tips to improve site speed include leveraging browser caching, optimizing images and minifying JavaScript.

#5 – Failing to include relevant and helpful internal links.

If you’ve attracted people to your content, you have a captive audience that’s interested and probably looking for more. As a result, internal links are critical to keeping people engaged and signaling that you have more to offer.

Tip: Always be on the lookout for opportunities to link to other content on your website. In addition, use keyword variations for anchor text to expand visibility for the keyword topic that content represents.

Be on the lookout for opportunities to link to other #content on your website. @CaitlinMBurgess #SEO
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#6 – Failing to include relevant and helpful external links.

Just like internal links, external links have the ability to provide your users with more helpful and relevant content. In addition, quality external sources can also signal credibility to search engines and users.

Tip: Make sure that all external links open in new windows to allow users to venture to other content, but also make it easy for them to go back and stay engaged with your content.

#7 – Serving up hard-to-read blocks of content.

Users are often looking to find and absorb content quickly, and move on if they are unable to easily see the value in the content they’ve clicked on. In addition, studies show that people read online content in an “F” pattern. As a result, large blocks of text can be a big turn-off for many, especially those using mobile devices.

Tip: Utilize headline tags to break up content. This will not only make it easy for users to scan content, but also send a positive signal to search engines.

8. Forgetting about image optimization.

The images on your website or blog add an important visual element that can positively impact user experience. But they can also help you tell your story to search engines.

Tip: Cover all your bases by making sure image filenames and alt text contain relevant keywords. Also, to ensure your page loads quickly, optimize the image size for each screen size and/or lazy load the images.

9. Not having unique content.

While it can be tempting to reuse some of that great content you’ve already created, be careful. Search engines will not be fooled, and you could be penalized if you duplicate content across pages.

Tip: Don’t publish duplicate or similar content to your site, including title tags and meta descriptions. When it comes to the technical stuff such as title tags and meta descriptions, just take the little bit of extra time it takes to create something unique. When it comes to full pages of content, if you have existing content that fits, take a repurposing approach to make it personalized and different.

10. Focusing on quantity over quality.

In today’s competitive world of content, it can be tempting to try to out-create your competition. But publishing more content than the next guy doesn’t guarantee results, especially if that content isn’t a quality piece that actually helps your audience.

Tip: Create a content strategy that includes audience and keyword topic research. In addition, study the other content that is already out there and look at what your competitors are doing. This will allow you to identify content gaps and help you create content that fills them. In addition, shoot for writing longer pieces (600 to 1,000+ words), that are optimized for scanability and include visual elements.

11. Not optimizing URLs or site structure.

Many marketers leave the title of the page or the post as the URL, which can lead to long URLs that do nothing to help your search rankings.

Tip: Keep URLs short, concise and optimized with keywords. In addition, make sure that your URL structure is consistent throughout your site to make it easier to crawl.

Make sure that your URL structure is consistent throughout your site to make it easier to crawl. #SEO
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12. Neglecting broken or redirecting links.

During our technical crawls and site evaluations, TopRank Marketing often finds that many sites have broken links or links that redirect instead of linking directly to the target page.

Tip: Conduct a technical audit to identify all broken links and internal links that redirect to a different page. Then update with links that connect directly to a target page. This will help search engines crawl your site more efficiently.

13. Not auditing the redirect rules for a site.

For websites with multiple redirect rules, there’s an opportunity to remove redirect chains and errors that make it more difficult for search engines to crawl.

Tip: Audit the redirect rules to make sure you’re properly using 301 or 302 redirects and remove any redirect chains you might have.

14. Focusing on meta keywords.

Meta keywords are not used by Google and can be a sign of spam from Bing.

Tip: There typically isn’t a reason to add meta keywords to your site. If you choose to utilize the meta keywords field, make sure you limit the amount of keywords to less than five.

15. Forgetting analytics or misusing metrics.

Data is an incredible tool to not only measure the impact of our marketing efforts, but also help inform those efforts. So, neglecting our analytics reports outright or not using the right metrics can have a costly impact.

Tip: Use the right metrics to inform your content and SEO strategy, and decrease the importance you put on vanity metrics. In addition, leverage Google Search Console or Bing Webmaster Tools to get a better understanding of what people are actually searching for.

16. Not allowing your site to be crawled

This one is pretty obvious. If you’re site is blocking search engines, your content will not be found in search results.

Tip: It’s simple. Don’t block your site from search engines in your robots.txt file or a “noindex” meta tag.

17. Not taking advantage of Local SEO.

All businesses have an opportunity to take advantage of local SEO and visibility. At the very least, your business should claim and optimize your Google My Business listing.

Tip: At the very least, focus on getting local citations by using tools like Moz Local or Whitespark.

18. Incorporating too many PDFs.

While PDFs are a great way to provide users with information that can be easily downloaded, it’s not ideal for search. First of all, most websites don’t track PDF views in Google Analytics, making it difficult to see if that content is having an impact on users. In addition, PDFs don’t allow you to create a custom experience for users easily.

Tip: Change PDFs to HTML format to be able to create a consistent experience and get the most search benefit from each content asset on your site.

19. Not optimizing for other search engines.

While Google is pretty much the King of Search, other search engines—including those within social media channels—deserve your attention, too.

Tip: Take steps to optimize your content for other search engines such as Bing and Yahoo. In addition, optimize the content you’re putting out on social media sites such as LinkedIn and YouTube.

Optimize the #content you’re putting out on #socialmedia sites such as LinkedIn and YouTube. #SEO
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20. Not focusing on getting quality backlinks.

While link building and link earning gets a bad rap sometimes, the number of quality backlinks a website has is still an important ranking factor for search engines and links deliver interested users to your content.

Tip: Conduct outreach to relevant influencers and websites to earn quality links back to your quality content.

21. Having too many blog categories or tags.

When you create a blog category or tag, you’re essentially creating a new page on your website that can be indexed by crawl bots. However, if those categories or tags don’t have a decent amount of content associated with them, you could be signaling thin content to search engines and it could potentially hurt your crawl budget.

Tip: Remove categories or tags that contain orphaned content, and retag or recategorize that content within a relevant and more robust category.

How do you find the perfect balance between quality, user-centric content and optimizing for search? Share your tips in the comments section below!

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February 7th 2017 Search Engine Optimization, SEO

35 White Hat Link Earning Ideas

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35 White Hat Link Earning Ideas was originally published on, home of expert search engine optimization tips.

35 creative link earning ideas

High-quality backlinks are a website’s friend; they help establish a positive reputation about your brand and business to customers and search engines.

When you have organic inbound links pointing to your website from another website, search engines will bump up the E-A-T factor (Expertise, Authority, Trust) and ranking gains will follow.

Of course, this is barring a variety of possible negative consequences of paid or manipulative links that can hold a site back. (If you know the pain of Google penalties, you might find SEO penalty services of use.)

The problem is that not all backlinks are the result of real business relationships. But that’s also the key!

Search engines value backlinks only when they’re the authentic results of your marketing strategies and not because you opened your wallet and bought them. To cover this base, do not buy links. In any form. If you’re still interested in more traditional methods and the “dos and don’ts,” check out our link building tutorial for more information.

Think of links as the natural byproduct of happy customers and impressed industry affiliations that are attracted to the efforts or achievements of an individual or organization. We use the term “link magnet” to describe a campaign to attract links as a result of doing something outstanding or offering something exceptional. Like metal attracted to a magnet, people will naturally share and link back to your content or campaign by sheer power of its attraction factor.

Below is a list of 35 natural and safe (white hat) link earning ideas that have the potential to produce quality backlinks that support a healthy website and are an honest reflection of your reputable brand.

Reward Loyalty

Brand loyalty is a powerful emotion to capitalize on. Any kind of giveaway or discount for repeat or long-term customers is going to have a positive impact.

If you have a customer that repeatedly buys a product from you, then you have a loyal customer who might write about you. Maintaining loyalty is where the work is.

One way to build loyalty is to reward a loyal customer with a discount on something that they regularly purchase or is related to something they’ve purchased.

Send them a free T-shirt, which sounds basic and boring, but it’s free advertising for you and the customer feels appreciated. At the very least he/she will think the company is trying to be nice, even if it is a simple gift like a key chain or a sticker with a handwritten note.

man with box

A T-shirt or key chain can go a long way toward inspiring a customer to make a public shout out.

Non-Profit Partnership

If you give a small percentage of your profits to a charity or host a fundraiser in the name of a charity, you automatically become a “good guy” in the public eye.

This is a pretty basic concept and it’s great for building brand awareness/opinion. It can also be the tipping point on the scale when a potential customer is choosing between two products.

If your competitor isn’t making the same charitable contributions and the customer is aware of your good will, they’re more likely to choose your product or service because of the positive intent of the company.

At the same time, people love to read “nice guy” stories and many forms of charitable work, are likely to draw in some visitors and links.

Other online publications will want to suck up a bit of the potential traffic too, which will lead them to create content that highlights the partnership or fundraiser in order to drive traffic on their own site.

Be authentic with this approach, however, as consumers can smell a scam a mile away. Choose a charity carefully and one that reflects your consumers wishes. Maybe even ask your consumers to tell you which charity to support each year.

Publish Research

Solving a problem or proposing a solution to an industry-wide problem is a little easier said than done, but it’s sure to have a large impact and can be approached in terms of conducting research. Conducting research doesn’t have to be an overly complicated process; often times it onlyl requires a small investment in terms of time or money.

After funding research or producing a survey, the information may be best presented in an infographic or video. The intended results of this strategy can affect both sides of the equation because it can relate to customers and competitors alike, even if the competitor is a much larger player.

Larger companies talk about new information because it drives traffic and if it’s your information they reference, then some of that traffic will inevitably lead to you and help you establish authority in the industry.

The information you present could also be the deciding factor for an undecided customer.

Event Swag

Specific products or giveaways that can only be obtained at or during an event is sometimes called swag (stuff we all get). Event swag builds hype around a seemingly limited product.

Similar to the exclusivity tactic, people like to have something that’s considered limited or a collectible within the industry. This can be accomplished by simply modifying an existing product or you can take it a step further and design a whole new product that fits the event exclusively.

people in chairs

Be the one giving away the coolest stuff at a live event. People will tweet about it.

Referral Rewards

This strategy is just as useful today as it has been in the past. If someone recommends a friend buy from you, you kick them back a percentage of the proceeds (or something to that effect).

The idea is to entice a customer or visitor to influence others in the hopes that they will get a small prize, which could be a discount on a product, reduced rate on a subscription, etc.

The motivation of this tactic revolves around the ‘prize’ aspect, and the mere fact that a visitor could receive something for very little effort will generate some buzz with a variety of online publications.

This all depends on how generous you are, so keep in mind that giving someone a 1% discount isn’t going to go very far.

Web Tools

Designing and creating a useful web tool is easier said than done, but the end results can be bright green grassy hills full of positive content, enthusiastic social media, and consistent traffic.

There are two factors to keep in mind when contemplating whether you have a golden idea or not: 1) Will this tool be used more than once by a single users/website and 2) How long does it take to function in comparison to other similar web tools.

Industry Standards

This tactic can be very useful for inserting your company brand into a larger conversation and it’s a two-part strategy.

The first part revolves around developing an objective way to measure or judge a product, service, company or experience.

Then, you can publish content that shares your findings after the tests have been completed.

The idea is that by creating a standard measure that your industry adopts as indisputably useful, you’ll connect your brand to an industry standard for performance and/or quality. You might also generate content that is based off of the comparisons and conclusions you can draw from the standard in action. One example of an industry standard is the SEO Code of Ethics that Bruce Clay developed for a nascent SEO industry in 2000.

Industry Recognized Metric or Score

Creating a score or metric for measuring an aspect of your industry or style of business can be a very useful tool to have. Examples are Majestic’s Trust Flow and Citation Flow scores, or Moz’s Domain Authority score.

These are two metrics that are used across the search engine optimization industry and the brand names are built in.

It really doesn’t get much better than that when it comes to building brand awareness, content development, and everyday exposure.

Live Talks

Going on stage isn’t easy for most people, but public speakers that know their craft can leave a lasting impact on others, much like how a good movie can leave you thinking well after you’ve left the theater.

Many people who attend speeches or conferences like to liveblog, share bits of information on social media, etc., and all of this can help build up your brand and spread the word about your business or a topic that is exclusive to your business, product, or service.


Jump in the spotlight from time to time. Your public speaking presentation can net online coverage.

Articles & Blog Posts

Correctly utilizing your established base should be the first place you start when you try to earn links or build a link magnet, so target your current audience. You can probably assume they’re interested in what you have to say or sell because they’re already on your site.

Leveraging your strengths is key unless you have a lot of time or money to waste, which most people don’t.

Publishing insightful articles or blog posts that prove a point, highlight a useful service, or provide real actionable content are one of the more effective ways to generate links to your site.

Exclusive Promotions

Everyone wants to be part of a group and that’s your advantage. Any marketing strategy that lends itself to a visitor’s inner curiosity will draw in that visitor.

An example would be a service/group/product that requires an invite, similar to the way a test group works for a video game or product in early development. The exclusivity factor is what kick starts the other websites to start creating and sharing content.

Other online magazines and blogs will use this same insight to their advantage to generate content and most likely link back to you for their visitors.

Social Media Interactions

Social media is a generally misunderstood tool for companies. In order to establish a worthwhile social media presence, you have a put in the work of providing excellent customer service and otherwise entertaining and delighting followers. The resulting benefit is marketing momentum.

Social media platforms are a tool that provide a direct line for personal interactions, but they won’t do the interactions for you; give AI and chat bots a few more years.

A brand known for being friendly and helpful has invested a great deal in positive interactions with visitors or customers. The best case scenario is a positive experience that goes viral. Yes, viral-level popularity is challenging, but don’t let that stop you from aiming high. Content goes viral as a result of a combination of offer, statement, audience, timing and more.

Of course, if it were easy, everyone would repeat the steps to make a viral hit over and over at will. Instead, you have to think outside of the box with your approach. Don’t be afraid to give something away. People love to share good experiences or things they’ve received.

smiling woman

Commit to giving your followers a warm and fuzzy feeling through your social media.

Comparison Articles/Blog Posts/Studies

Writing an article or blog post that compares and contrasts your company with other companies in the same context can be a useful way to insert yourself into a larger conversation. This is a great tactic for increasing brand authority, or at the very least for increasing awareness of your brand.

If the content is compelling and makes a valid argument or sheds light on a specific point, the companies mentioned in the article or blog post are more likely to respond or mention you in similar content they publish.

Publish Surveys

Similar to publishing research, publishing a survey is a good way to provide insight and useful data for your visitors.

This can also help build a conversation that your competitors will jump in on, ideally larger, more authoritative competitors.

The main goal of the survey is to produce information that is actionable and not just something that makes you think for a second.

If you can produce a survey that steers a customer one way or the other, you can be sure your competitors will notice, and may even syndicate that same information; at the very least the news sources of that industry will pick it up.

Limited-Time Offers

Offer a product or service for a limited time or to a finite number of customers. The objective here is to take advantage of the scarcity principle; if a product or service is only around for a limited time it becomes a must-have item in many people’s minds, regardless of the actual need.

You can find countless examples of this in a wide variety of industries from selling cars and mattresses, to fast-food eateries and online retail.

laptop with countdown time

An offer available for a limited time has added value worth sharing.

Seasonal Products

Seasonal products fall into the same realm as limited-time offers, but there are a couple of other variables that are key.

Most people love to be part of a group or system and making them feel like they’re part of the holiday season is no different.

Designing seasonal products or offerings are great way to stir up a conversation that surrounds your brand.


Offering a scholarship to a person(s) is a great way to build a conversation around your brand. The size of the scholarship doesn’t necessarily matter, it’s the intent and thought behind it.

Your company is giving away money to someone who could put it toward an educational use. So just like partnering with a charity, your good will could be the deciding factor for a potential customer. Not to mention the possible content that will be built around it on competitors websites, which is just another bonus for your brand authority.

Let’s be honest here, however: offering something meaningful will carry more weight than offering something paltry. It’s a balance between your budget and expected returns. When playing in this space, don’t be cheap, as that can hurt your brand.

Sponsorships and Donations

Sponsoring a program, product, event, contest, club, etc., is a great way to get your brand’s name on the board and insert yourself into a larger conversation.

Similar to a sponsorship or charity partnership, donations can be a one-time payout that kick-starts a conversation.

The key here is to target the right charity at the right time. What we mean by that is, if it’s during the holiday season and you make a large donation to a foundation, odds are you’re not the only one. However, if you make the donation in the “off-season,” you’re more likely to draw attention to your brand by being one of the only companies making donations at the time.

The charity or foundation you donate to can play a big role, too, but be careful not to choose one that has had some bad press in its recent past. Make sure you do your homework here so you’re not donating to a charity with some negative baggage.

Look for trending opportunities, such as new charities with lots of buzz or those with social media support from celebrities and the general population. Then determine if attaching yourself to that charity will resonate with your customer base.

teddy bear and girl

Sponsoring or donating to a good cause gains positive attention that your customers will remember.

Branded Contests

Contests can be an easy and affordable way to stir up some chatter in your industry or local community and having your brand attached to that chatter is usually a good thing.

The central idea is hosting a contest that gets people talking and gives back to someone in community that’s involved. This is likely to generate content when other websites advertise your contest (to build their own traffic, not sponsored ads about the contest) and the story of the contest and winner will generate it’s own content, too.

People love to share information or things they think other people don’t have. The more scenarios you generate that follow this model, the more content will be produced online and it’ll all focus around your brand or business (links included).

A perfect example of this is a Facebook Contest. You can ask that participants write a bit of content or submit a photo that revolves around some contest framework. Make the rules of entry something simple enough that anyone can get involved, but require enough creativity that entry presents an initial investment by the participant and drives them to get involved.


Internships aren’t typically a great marketing strategy, but you can shape the end-game of an internship so it’s more enticing, thus building a larger conversation around the position.

A full-time job, one-time involvement, part-time job, etc., anything that drives more interest to the opportunity, will help drive content that points to your website, company or product.


Not too long ago, infographics were all the rage in the marketing and content community, and while their use has died off, their usefulness hasn’t.

Infographics still remain one of the best ways to digest large amounts of data in a clear and concise manner. Using colorful, high-contrast, attractive imagery and themes, and legitimately interesting data can still lead to a spike in traffic, sales and brand awareness.

No shortcuts here, though, as the goal is to be genuinely useful. Shortcuts on data, or confusion when reading an infographic can lead to this tactic backfiring.

Influencer Interviews

Interviewing big players in your industry is a great way to drive some new visitors to your website.

Anyone who makes a point to follow your big-name competitor, for example, is going to want to read what they have to say during an interview.

It’s a good assumption that those same users will more than likely wind up reading or listening to such interview content on your website.

microphone and mix board

It’s easier than ever to interview celebrities and influencers thanks to the internet.


This isn’t always the easiest strategy to implement, but when a conference is hosted correctly it sticks in the collective mind of the community like going to a good party would. Sponsoring a successful conference is almost as good for building brand recognition/awareness and authority.

Any company that hosts or sponsors a well-received conference will come off as a major player in the industry and a trustworthy brand, not to mention the word-of-mouth conversations and blog posts that will be written shortly after it concludes.


An online seminar is arguably a better use of a company’s marketing budget and resources due to the lack of travel, overhead costs, etc. for the people attending. This means more people can attend via a web presence and you have the same potential for building brand awareness and kick starting content development.

Similar to a conference, however, a well-produced webinar can result in a lot of follow-on blog posts and conversations.


Hosting an awards ceremony or simply giving an award out yourself is a great way to build an ever-growing presence.

Any recognized award tends to be the hallmark of someone’s career, or at the very least, is a great talking point, and if your brand name is attached to that award … enough said.

dog with bowtie

Celebrate your industry at its best with an award. Award recipients and industry colleagues will share.


Publishing a whitepaper can be a time-consuming task given the detail and research they usually go into. However, they can be just as popular as infographics and they don’t require any graphic design skills.

Simply producing factual content with granular details can be more than enough to entice an industry expert to talk about it and share it.

Local Directories

Getting listed on a local directory is still something every website is going to want to accomplish.

Websites like Yext, Yelp, Yellowpages, etc., are still considered trusted sites with good reputations.

Directory spam is still nothing you want to even dip your toes into, but legitimate local directories are a safe bet for getting your name out there and building up some brand awareness.

In this same camp, look to local Chambers of Commerce and Better Business Bureau listings.

Evergreen Content

Developing and publishing evergreen content is an old strategy and remains just as effective as ever.

Any form of content that can provide a copious amount of valuable information for a topic that doesn’t change very often, will most likely be considered good evergreen content (until someone else out does it).

This form of content is considered some of the best you can develop, specifically because evergreen content is known to stick around for a while in the SERPs. So it stands to reason that the longer your content is visible to users, the more it will be read, shared, referenced, etc.

evergreen forest

Evergreen content stands the test of time and proves to be your most trafficked content over the years.


Anyone can build a wiki-page, but the key purpose of these pages are purely informational. Any form of marketing or linking to transactional pages is considered spam in a wiki site.

The best way to take advantage of this strategy is to create a contextual link that relates to the founder of the company or website or to use a URL from your site as a reference link.

Video Tutorials & Reviews

Any kind of how-to, video walk-through, or product review is a great source for driving content and generating traffic. However, the real payout here is building an engaged following that does the all the sharing and syndication for you.

For example, if you run a blog around iPhones and the newest IOS is released with a bug and you’re aware of a quick fix that hasn’t hit the public yet, then sharing that quick fix could start a following full of people that will turn to you when another similar problem arises.

This theory is true for reviews as well. If you’re known to go into great detail and really dive into a product or service’s ins and outs you’ll most likely become a trusted source of information over time.

This will only cause potential customers to be more likely to buy something from you, provided it relates to the topic in which you’re a perceived expert.


A regular newsletter is still a valuable method for marketing or starting up a conversation. The problem most companies have is, just as in social media, they don’t remember to follow up with their readers.

Unless your newsletter is meant to sell a product (which is just an ad) you’re going to be presenting information and anyone who wants to interact with the company about said information, will more than likely search for some form of response.

It’s always a good idea to have an actual person to talk to rather than a FAQ page. How often do you hear stories of great interactions people had on the Frequently Asked Questions pages they encounter?

newspaper and briefcase

People subscribed to newsletters have agreed to ongoing communications with a company they value.

User Experience Attraction (Web 2.0)

Using user experience to your advantage has become an increasingly common route for many companies and it’s proven to be quite successful.

A catchy logo or theme that draws more attention than your competitor (in a good way and all things being relatively equal) will make visitors more likely to return to your website, as well as share positive opinions about your brand.

You can improve a user’s experience by choosing correct colors, contrasts and sleek designs, logos, buttons, etc., that don’t confuse people. All of this will help to influence a user when they land on your website.

AMA or Live Online Q&A

Providing a live experience (like an Ask Me Anything AMA session) is one of the best ways to start a conversation and build brand trust in your industry.

Being able to talk to people and answer spontaneous questions in front of an audience (this could be just one person) will give your visitors some perspective on you and your company.

People have an uncanny knack for being able to tell when others are lying or don’t know what they’re talking about, which is why any live event or presentation can be disastrous.

However, if you do know what you’re talking about and you’re able to impress your audience, then the likelihood of them using your service, buying your product, or signing up for your subscription goes up significantly.


Just like a white paper, an e-book tends to be a static form of material that is easy to share and is usually considered a more detailed and in-depth version of a blog post or article.

E-books have a benefit of requiring less maintenance and upkeep, such as responses to comments and answers to questions in blog comments. E-books have the desired effect of building brand name, enticing visitors to share content, visit (or return to) your website, and lead to possible sales.

"do more" on computer screen

Present in-depth research and unique analysis in an easy-to-share e-book format.

Crowdfund Support

Promoting a crowd funded event, product, idea, etc., helps to establish good will among your visitors and potential customers.

Crowdfunding isn’t thought of as a traditional form of marketing, but supporting a crowdfunded effort is like supporting a community fundraiser and can be surprisingly effective when it comes to building brand trust and content development/sharing.

The more positive signals you’re able to build and publically connect with, the more likely customers are to remain loyal and share the content your company produces.

By supporting a crowdfunded effort, you show a commitment to giving back to the community, and your customers will feel better about giving to you.

The Benefits of Link Magnets

In an effort to gain quality links, websites often lose sight of the bigger picture: backlinks are byproducts of real connections and relationships.

Without compromising search engine guidelines, take the time to implement smart, and strategic link earning ideas that will naturally attract quality links to your site.

Get started with link building by choosing a few of the ideas above and prioritizing them and scheduling them for production. Then have fun getting creative.

If you’re hungry for more SEO how-to posts like this one, subscribe for updates to the Bruce Clay Blog. Get digital marketing strategy delivered to your inbox for free.

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February 1st 2017 SEO

How Voice Search Is Changing (and Why Your SEO Strategy Needs to Adapt)

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by Jayson DeMers

Voice search has been around for longer than most people realize. It feels like the technology has only been around for a couple of years, but in reality, Google voice search first came out in 2002. We think of it as a recent development because only recently have algorithms begun to solve the biggest problems with voice search, including accurately detecting spoken syllables, generating results in an intuitive way, and of course, encouraging mass user adoption.

Now that voice search is popular with a much wider user base and its technological sophistication is accelerating, we’re going to see some major evolutions in the next few years. If you want to get ahead of the competition and reap the rewards for your brand, now’s the time to start adapting your SEO strategy accordingly.

What Changes to Expect

So how is voice search about to evolve?

1. Better semantic recognition and filtering.

First up, voice search algorithms are going to get better at detecting what people are saying, and translating user intent into a query that yields them the results they want. For example, if a user mispronounces something, uses slang terms, users local vernacular, or otherwise distorts a query with these tiny quirks, a better voice search algorithm could infer what they’re trying to search for and give them recommended results accordingly. This will facilitate even more widespread adoption and help centralize searches around keyword phrases. Google RankBrain already does this, to some extent, for typed searches, so voice search is the next logical jump.

2. Emotional inflection detection.

According to Dialpad, one reason the human voice is so powerful is because of its ability to carry emotional inflection. This is why it’s easier to tell when someone’s joking in conversation than it is through text or email. The next generation of voice search software may be able to pick up on a person’s emotional inflection to provide them with better results. For example, a sense of urgency may route someone to faster, more immediate service providers, or a sense of apprehension could connect a user with anonymous service or results for newcomers to a given subject.

3. More personalized results.

In any case, all technologies are becoming more individualized and personalized, and voice-based search results are no exception. Most voice search programs are tied to personal digital assistants, which are already getting better at analyzing individuals’ needs. Expect more intuitive adjustments for personal search preferences, search histories, and immediate factors, like a person’s location.

4. More display and interface options.

One problem with voice search is the lack of an easy interface on which to view results. Most people use voice search on mobile devices, which have limited screen space, so one innovation to come could be a broader range of interface options. Since it’s unlikely that one solution will work best for everyone, it’s more likely that different providers will generate different possibilities, which means a host of potential SERP scenarios to prepare for.

5. Integration with other tech.

According to Morgan Stanley, half of America’s jobs will be replaced by robots and AI programs within the next 20 years. AI and smart home technology are going to take over consumers’ lives, and most of these options will need some mechanism to drive their operations. In this way, voice search–and voice commands–will likely become more tightly integrated into our world, which could extend search optimization to even more practical, physical areas.

How to Prepare

Make sure your strategy is prepared for the future of voice search by adopting these strategies (if you haven’t already):

  • Use more conversational language. If people search more with casual conversation, it pays to use conversational language in your writing. Develop more answers to common consumer questions, and don’t shy away from using vernacular and informal language unless it hurts your brand in some way.
  • Optimize for long-tail phrases. In a similar vein, you should also optimize for more long-tail phrases than head keywords, since few people use voice search for truncated terms. Plus, according to Wordstream, long-tail keywords generate far less competition, which means you’ll have an easier time ranking.
  • Dig deeper into consumer emotions and intent. If you want to think even more forwardly, start optimizing different segments of your strategy for different modes of user intent. This could reflect different stages of the buying cycle or even different consumer emotions.
  • Get ready for a SERP shakeup. It’s hard to tell exactly how interfaces will change, but it’s a near certainty. Stay on your toes here.

The better prepared you are, the more likely your strategy will be to survive and succeed. As usual in the SEO world, you don’t have to be the best to reap the rewards–you just have to be a step ahead of the competition or find a competitive edge. Voice search is unlikely to go away or stop improving anytime soon, so funnel your investments in this area if you want to be equipped for the future.

Be sure and visit our small business news site.

January 28th 2017 Search Engine Optimization, SEO

How to Create Best Answer Content: 6 Inspiring Examples

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Undoubtedly you’ve heard the expression “content shock,” coined by marketing expert Mark Schaefer.

With immense respect, I have to admit: I don’t believe in it.

The idea that there’s so much content out there, people are tired of content altogether? That no one’s giving new content a chance? That it’s too hard to get new content seen?

Not buying it.

I think what’s happening is simply this: People don’t want “content.”

They want answers to questions. They want a few minutes of entertainment. They want to learn something new. They want what they were searching for in the first place.

To reach our audience, we need to stop creating content and start producing the best answer to their queries.  Companies that adopt this content marketing strategy tend to top search engine rankings (Top…rankings…there’s an agency name in there somewhere, I can feel it).

It’s easy to find examples of what Lee Odden refers to as “best answer content.” Just go to your friendly neighborhood search engine, enter a query, and browse the first few results. With few exceptions, you will see content that is:

  1. Addressed to a Specific Audience
  2. Addressed to a Specific Query
  3. Substantial
  4. Comprehensive, Addressing Complimentary Queries and Crosslinking
  5. Not Blatantly Promotional

At TopRank Marketing, we call this type of content a “Power Page.” It’s designed to not only top the rankings, but inspire longer time-on-page, lower bounce rates, and direct readers deeper into the site with solid next steps.

Here are a few of my favorite Power Pages. Some are from our clients, some I found at the top of my search results.

#1: A Beginner’s Guide to Email Marketing

Graph of Email Opens Over Time

Nobody beats Neil Patel and his crew at KISSmetrics for sheer volume of best-answer content. This 2,000+ word monster is ranked in the top three on Google for “How to Do Email Marketing.”

It’s easy to see why. Author Nathan Hangen walks the reader through every aspect of creating an email marketing campaign, including tangential topics like how to put together a newsletter and how to write a compelling CTA.

This piece’s search engine ranking is a clear indication that great content is its own SEO. There’s no keyword stuffing in the first paragraph, no awkwardly-shoehorned-in links. It’s just great, valuable, thorough content.

To my eye, the only thing lacking here is a navigational element. A sidebar with links to the headers would make it even easier for people to find what they’re looking for.

#2: 7 Questions Every B2B Content Marketing Strategy Should Answer

B2B Marketing Questions

This page from client LinkedIn Marketing Solutions looks like a mild-mannered blog post, but it’s secretly an organic search powerhouse. Most blog content has a limited life span for search potential. Blog posts generally get shared in the first 2-3 days, then the Internet’s collective consciousness moves on to the next new thing.

By contrast, this post was designed to be evergreen. It addresses crucial concerns marketers have about B2B content marketing strategy, thoroughly answering each and including links to further reading. Many of these links are next-steps to gated content, which add value while also capturing leads.

#3: 100 Best Paleo Diet Recipes of All Time

100 Best Paleo Recipes Graphic

Not every Power Page has to be a 2,000 word original piece of content created from scratch. This page from Paleo Grubs ranks highly for “best paleo recipes,” and is at heart, a roundup of the site’s previously-published recipes, with a few external links for good measure. A little repurposing, a little curation, a little new content for the blurb on each recipe, and voila: An evergreen resource.

This page not only has immediate value for a reader, it has lasting value. They’re bound to spend several minutes browsing, then bookmark the page for future reference.

Notice the CTA at the top left, and the continued offers throughout as you scroll. They’re never intrusive, but they’re highly visible just the same.

#4: The Future of Diagnostic Imaging

This Power Page from McKesson’s Medical Imaging Talk Blog is another permutation of what best-answer content can be. It serves as a topics page, rounding up blogs on medical imaging in several different categories. But it also features commentary on each of the categories, a live Twitter feed, polls and links to gated content.

The result is a dynamic page worth bookmarking, where content is continually refreshed while the anchor page remains the same. A Power Page like this can be a portal to the rest of your blog, selecting out a sub-audience by topic and showing them only your most relevant content.

#5: The Best Hiking Boots for Men

 Row of Hiking Boots in the Snow

Everything about this page from Outdoor Gear Lab is above and beyond the call of duty. There’s no wonder it ranks consistently at the top for “Best hiking boots.” Notice how it starts with “What is the best men’s hiking boot?” What a great way to pull in a likely keyword query. That little SEO flourish is genius, but it’s this page’s comprehensive content that makes it unbeatable.

Note the navigational tabs on the top—you can immediately see there’s a great deal of content here and that it’s well-organized. That kind of information right up front is likely to keep readers on the page exploring. Not only that, the ability to jump right into the information they’re looking for will keep bounce rates low.

This page is packed with valuable information for a prospective hiker, presented in a simple but attractive format. Bonus points for the extensive use of home-grown visuals—there’s not a stock photo in sight.

6. Account Based Marketing Resources: Definitions, Tactics, Tips & Strategy

Archer Taking Aim

Predictive marketing platform Everstring sought to create a one-stop shop for account based marketing with this Power Page. They began with one of the most-searched queries for this relatively new term: “What Is Account-Based Marketing (ABM)?” That query is the start of a deep dive into every relevant aspect of ABM, from getting started to refining tactics.

The organization of this page is exceptional; it’s definitely optimized for ease of reading. Big, bold headers lead to short paragraphs with bulleted points of interest. And it includes rich media in the form of embedded SlideShares, which add value, visual interest, and can increase time on page.

Don’t Be The Ocean. Be the Lighthouse.

Nobody wants more “content.” Your audience is looking for a guiding light, not another drop in the bucket. Create best answer content—data-based, comprehensive, valuable—and let it be a beacon to lead weary sailors to your shore.

To learn more about how TopRank Marketing creates exceptional content, check out our content marketing service page.

Disclosure: LinkedIn, Everstring and McKesson are TopRank Marketing clients. 

The post How to Create Best Answer Content: 6 Inspiring Examples appeared first on Online Marketing Blog – TopRank®.

January 25th 2017 Online Marketing, SEO