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PAGES Issue #6 | Now Available

PAGES Issue #6 | Now Available

Welcome back folks! We’re excited to be announcing Issue #6 of PAGES.

In this issue, we’ve featured a variety of articles on some pretty interesting topics in search. We explore subjects like international SEO, bias in Google’s results, and several features focused on getting the most you can from your search initiatives.

Let’s get to know the contributors from Issue #6!

Our Contributors to Issue #6 of PAGES

Charles TaylorCharles Taylor

Charles Taylor is a regular PAGES contributor and is currently the SEO Manager for Verizon’s Fios division. Charles loves testing SEO theories to find truths that lead to better digital marketing outcomes. He’s always looking for ways to help new and established companies solve their SEO challenges.

 

 

This time, Charles tests a myth about political bias in search results. Check out his piece to learn what he found!

Twitter | LinkedIn

 

David SchulhofDavid Schulhof

David is the CEO of U.K.-based search marketing agency Red Hot Penny, practiced digital marketer, and a guest lecturer at the University of Surrey. David is passionate about digital marketing and sharing his knowledge of the field.

 

 

We sat down with David to talk about his work to get search marketing on the lesson plan for post-grad marketing students in this issue. Stay tuned for the recorded version of his interview, coming up on Between the Pages.

Twitter | LinkedIn | Website

 

Ronell SmithRonell Smith

Ronell is a digital content strategist and branding consultant for B2B and B2C businesses. He’s an expert content marketer, strategist, blogger, and SMB coach who’s helped many brands get their online marketing in order.

 

 

Ronell shares a method for applying search intent insights, to help marketers build content that ranks, in this issue of PAGES.

Twitter | LinkedIn | Website | Medium

 

Britney MullerBritney Muller

Britney is Senior SEO Strategist at Moz. She’s passionate about data-driven marketing, dabbles in machine learning, and often shares what she knows on stage at digital marketing conferences. Britney is also the founder of boutique medical marketing agency Pryde Marketing.

 

 

Britney outlines a process to help you prioritize SEO tasks to maximize investments in her article in our sixth issue.

LinkedIn | Twitter | Website

 

Julia McCoyJulia McCoy

Julia is founder and CEO of content marketing agency Express Writers. She’s written two books on content writing, teaches courses on content marketing, and hosts The Write Podcast, which focuses on stories, lessons, and strategies in the content marketing field.

 

 

Julia lends an expert’s perspective on building solid content marketing strategies in this issue of PAGES.

Twitter | LinkedIn | Website

 

Tania LoboTania Lobo

Tania is a content specialist at multi-lingual marketing agency Digital Crew. She and the Digital Crew team help companies with international presence expand their influence and make an impact in new markets.

 

 

In this issue of PAGES, she gives readers an introduction to SEO for Baidu, the Chinese search engine.

Twitter | LinkedIn | Website

If you’re not already subscribed to PAGES, you can visit here to get signed up. Subscribing is free and you’ll get PAGES delivered straight to your mailbox.

Subscribe to PAGES

News About PAGES Magazine

We’re also very excited to announce a change that we’ve made in the interest of our readers — subscribers can now download the current issue of PAGES in our archive, as well as having access to all back issues.

Don’t forget to share your thoughts on Issue #6 on one of our social media channels using the tag #pagesSEOmagazine, or to share PAGES with your friends who could benefit from it. We love hearing what you think!

You can also give us a follow to stay up-to-date with the release of fresh articles here on our blog.

Twitter | LinkedIn | Facebook | Instagram

Don’t forget to tune in to Between the Pages as well — we’ll be featuring some exciting conversations with new guests from this issue in the coming weeks. Listen and get updates on new episodes here.

We’re also very excited to announce that we’ve partnered with Moz as a sponsor of MozCon this year! It’s bound to be a great show. If you’ll be there, please plan to stop by the PAGES booth to say hi to the crew. We love talking about the PAGES mission and sharing ways to get involved, and can’t wait to spend some time with our readers and former, current, and upcoming contributors!

As always, thank you for supporting and reading PAGES. We can’t wait to hear what you think of the stories featured in Issue #6.

Sloan Roseberry on LinkedinSloan Roseberry on Twitter
Sloan Roseberry
Sloan Roseberry
Sloan Roseberry is managing editor of PAGES magazine, and part of the content marketing team at Page One Power. You can follow her for the occasional tweet or connect with her on LinkedIn.
The Undeniable Importance of “Quick Wins” In SEO

The Undeniable Importance of “Quick Wins” In SEO

Sometimes, marketing can feel like you’re putting in a ton of effort for fleeting results.

For example: you publish the perfect blog post. It took you forever — the research, the analysis, the storytelling. Fast-forward a week, and you have no results to show for it besides a small, temporary spike in website traffic that day.

Then you work hard at scheduling original, witty tweets and Instagram posts for the week. They get a handful of “likes” during that time, then they get buried in people’s feeds.

How do you know that these types of actions are producing sustainable value to your business? A lot of times, you don’t.

But SEO is different. SEO is all about doing the analysis to figure out exactly what your audience is searching for online, and then creating the types of pages and content that will serve their needs. It’s specifically targeted to your audience, and when executed successfully, results in a sustained flow of new people to your website, month after month.

This is why SEO is one of the best ways to grow your business online in a sustainable, tangible way.

So what’s the catch? The catch is that it can take months for an SEO program to start showing substantial results.

Not only do you have to do the hard work to create the type of content that Google will see as something worth including as a top search result — you also have to prove to Google that your site is an authority worth including in search results in general. They’re not going to rush their validation process — especially if your site is new, or you haven’t published much on that topic in the past. The reputation of Google’s service depends on surfacing the most authoritative and useful content.

Makes intuitive sense, right? If you’re less familiar with SEO, not always.

If you’re used to the instant-gratification of “likes” and pay-per-click advertising, it can be a difficult transition to recognize that appearing in highly-trafficked Google search results can take time…and this is why producing a couple “quick wins” can be powerful in SEO.

Quick Wins” to Keep Your Team Invested in SEO, While You Work on The “Big Wins

You will need buy-in for SEO from your team if you want to really create the type of content that can move the needle for your business…for years.

Whether you’re a marketer pitching your boss for more SEO budget, or a contractor trying to persuade your client to sign a longer retainer agreement — you’re going to want to know a handful of ways you can show some results quickly to get your team invested & excited. Here’s two strategies to keep in mind.

Quick Win #1: Optimize Page Titles

If a page on your website is a book, then the page title is the cover of that book. It’s the text that shows on your browser tab.

Here’s a common problem: sometimes the title of the book can misrepresent the content of the book, and as a result, people searching for that content never find it. The same concept applies to web pages. Page titles (often referred to as “title tags”) are a strong signal to Google, and searchers, as to what the page is about.

In Action:

A site selling necklaces has several pages dedicated to military-style jewelry in the shape of dog tags. One page is titled “military shields,” and the other is titled “occupational tags.” Neither of these pages are earning much traffic — or visits from prospective customers.

Some quick keyword research reveals that no one is searching for those phrases, but in comparison, hundreds of people a month are searching for the phrase “dog tag necklace.” The jewelry site decides to combine the two existing pages into one, and title the page “dog tag necklaces.”

Sure enough, traffic to that page multiplied within weeks. And more importantly, sales of the product line improved. This is the result of both people and search engines now finding and understanding the content on the page.

Quick Win #2: Build Internal Links

Internal links are just what they sound like: links from pages on your site that point to other pages on your site.

These types of links are important for two reasons. First, links are the main way Google navigates through your site. If you link to one page much more frequently and prominently than others, you are sending a signal to Google that that page is an important one. Second, the anchor text (the words used in the hyperlink) provides a signal to Google as to what the page is about, and in turn, what type of Google search results the page is most suited to surface on.

Why is this important? Because you can use internal linking to highlight the importance and relevance of your pages to Google.

In Action:

A site that sells wholesale, custom promotional items has a “reusable bags” page that represents its best-selling, most profitable product line. There are hundreds of people searching for a “reusable bags” offering, and as a result, the page is earning a substantial amount of organic traffic.

People on the company’s site that want to navigate to this “reusable bags” page can use the top navigation menu to click a link to the page, with the anchor text “Make Your Bag.”

A quick look at the page’s performance in Google Search Console confirms that the organic traffic going to the page is being driven by people searching for the term “reusable bags,” rather than “make your bag.” This inspires the company to update the text on the navigation menu to match the title of the page, and most relevant keyword, “reusable bags.”

They also add several links from blog posts that explain the value of reusable bags as promotional items, linking back to the same page with that same text (reusable bags).

Within weeks, the page is ranking higher in search results for “reusable bags,” and is earning more valuable traffic to their site. And most importantly, more potential customers are inquiring about the offering.

The Takeaway? Treat “Quick Wins” Like A Stepping Stone Towards Your Bigger Goal

As you can see, even in the long-game of SEO there can be “quick wins” that produce some results in weeks, rather than months.

These wins are exciting. There’s nothing like seeing that blue line in Google Analytics move a little bit up (and stay there), then see the impact that has on your business.

But never lose sight of the purpose “quick wins” serve. Quick wins are important to show value quickly, in order to get buy-in for the bigger SEO initiatives you have planned. Good luck pitching your team on that 3,500 word guide, or that blog buildout, or even hiring an additional writer, if you haven’t already earned some SEO credibility.

Like everything in life, bigger investments are what it’s going to take to produce the bigger results. That level of investment in your site’s presence and authority will help Google understand the value of your content, and give them the peace of mind to serve it to their valuable users.

Matt Vazquez on LinkedinMatt Vazquez on TwitterMatt Vazquez on Wordpress
Matt Vazquez
Matt Vazquez
Matt Vazquez is a growth marketing consultant, specializing in technical SEO and content marketing. Matt is also an alumni of Drift, a hyper-growth SaaS company, along with award-winning agencies Stone Temple Consulting and KoMarketing.
How I Got Content Marketing and SEO on the Same Team

How I Got Content Marketing and SEO on the Same Team

In every great marketing organization, there is always the same debate: “Where does SEO fit into a content marketing strategy?”

And you know what I say to that? Grab two chairs, put them right next to one another at the table, and get cozy. There is no way for a marketing team to succeed without organic content strategy, because what is the point of writing about something no one will read? More importantly, what’s the point if it’s never going to drive revenue for your business?

I started my career as an “SEO Content Writer.” In my interview, I admitted I had no idea what SEO meant. This was a long time ago, and no one really knew what it meant. We were still stuffing “3-5 bolded exact match” keyword phrases into sentences.

I knew I wanted to write, and I had a really expensive business degree — but I didn’t understand how fascinated I’d become with figuring out how to drive revenue with content marketing strategy…and using SEO to do that.

Fast forward to now: over the last four years, I have been managing the content marketing strategy at Upserve. During that time, that has meant various things in terms of content strategy and execution, depending who was leading the marketing organization and what our goals were. But one thing remained the same for me — I was going after organic keywords with our content strategy.

I was focused on search rankings. I was maniacally targeting rich snippets. I was obsessed with metadata, anchor URLs, and backlinks. And I was telling the entire content team how to replicate my madness.

When we went “editorial,” and our content was supposed to be journalistic and newsroom-style, I was still using SEO best practices and intensive keyword research to drive content strategy, from top of funnel all the way down to the bottom. And it worked.

The content team would ask: “Why are the articles your strategy is focusing on consistently outranking, outperforming, and driving more marketing leads?”

One answer: because you’ve got to think like a writer, but strategize like an SEO.

What do I mean by that? Well, let’s talk about restaurant licenses and permits, shall we?

At the time I am writing this, an article I wrote on this topic is currently responsible for around 4% of the total traffic to our website. It ranks third in our landing pages, right after the homepage and pricing page. For a long time, it was the featured snippet on Google for a wide array of long tail search phrases.

I don’t have a deep passion for restaurant licensing laws. I didn’t wake up one night in a cold sweat, struck with inspiration, thinking, “My god, I have to write about food handlers’ permits right now!”

Here’s what happened instead: I was building out our editorial calendar for the month from top to bottom of the funnel. I was thinking about new restaurant openings, a topic that’s relevant to our audience, and an eBook I had that was converting well on the topic of opening a restaurant. How could I drive more organic traffic to that page, and our site?

I started doing some keyword research on questions about starting a restaurant, and discovered that questions surrounding licensing were common. Easy enough — I write a post, optimize it with the right H-tags, keyword phrases, metadata and then secure backlinks.

Fast forward a few months: the organic marketing managers are in a meeting, and we’re strategizing about leads. We’re getting traffic, but it’s not converting. My SEO Manager thinks we should target more core product search phrases, and put demo forms on those content pages. But what if we just optimize where the traffic already lives?

You always have to think about your audience. The content that drives the most traffic to your website is often the things that are keeping them up at night. They landed on those blog posts because they helped them answer a question.

When I draft a blog post, I frame the content in a way that keeps the user’s attention span in mind. I bullet lists. I add tons of images. I talk to my video team about a quick explainer video. Why not a GIF? I optimize for time on page. I look into related questions — am I answering them all? I build in relevant CTAs on the page. I really hone in on the writer side of my brain.

But what we were missing was the lead generation component — so naturally, we made it an eBook. My SEO Manager came back to me with an entire Ahrefs report of all of the possible related search phrases, questions, long tail and semantic keywords in the known universe around licensing, laws, and the like. Liquor laws, state-specific laws, food handler’s permits, sign permits. I built an entire pillar post strategy and staggered the publishing out, ungated, on our site. Our designer put together a comprehensive guide. We pulled a landing page together and built an email program.

I went line by line with my SEO Manager and tweaked the meta data on every single blog post, and we optimized the H-tags together. We agreed to disagree…a lot. We had 110 AQLs in the first 30-days.

Nowadays, I repeat this process every day. Everything I write, and every strategy I come up with for demand generation, starts at the top with organic search and I pull the thread down.

On that example article, I have exit modals and CTAs set up, driving traffic to relevant eBooks and demos. I built internal links that naturally send people through our site. When I saw the traffic skyrocket, I built an entire pillar post strategy and eBook on the topic that I directed all the traffic to. Within 30-days, we had 110 organic AQLs from that eBook.

A writer’s job is to tell compelling stories. An SEO’s job is to get the company found. The problem is, if both of those people are not working together, they’re working against one another.

My job is to get us found. My job is to drive marketing leads once I get us found. Without SEO driving the top, my job is impossible.

But not every individual can do that alone, which is why you need them on the same team. More recently, our successes in organic marketing and content marketing allowed us to expand our goals even higher. On our marketing team, our core goals are simple: get found and drive AQLs.

And our SEO Manager sits directly across from the content team. We have bi-weekly meetings. We have monthly strategic planning meetings. I rely on my SEO Manager to tell me where our traffic is coming from. What keywords are ripe for opportunity? What content are our competitors outperforming us on? What content should we refresh in hopes of moving the needle and converting more traffic? He’s got the data and intel I need, and I’ve got the awareness of our audience, user experience, and writing to execute.

If I had to summarize, I’d say a perfect 10-step integrated content creation process would look like this:

  1. SEO Manager reviews 30-day website traffic and performance
  2. SEO Manager reviews keyword rankings and opportunities
  3. SEO Manager reviews competitor keyword rankings and opportunities
  4. Content Team reviews editorial calendar and content landscape
  5. Content Team reviews content performance
  6. SEO and Content meet and discuss their findings
  7. SEO Manager makes recommendations on focus area for next 30-days
  8. Content Team and SEO have collaboration and debate
  9. Plan is agreed upon and executed
  10. Rinse and repeat!  

We Slack 52 times a day. I shout things like “… if I edit this URL structure will I break the site?!” across my desk. Our quarterly goals are aligned. He thinks about rank, analysis of traffic, technical SEO properties, and backlinks. I challenge him when he tells me we don’t need to write a 2,000 word blog post because our audience won’t read past 700 words but, “…I swear I’ll get the right on-page metrics in, and we can review in 30 days when we see time on site is high.”

At the end of the day, I could say that we’ve worked together holding hands singing campfire songs, and together have compiled a very long list of position 0 ranking keywords. But I’d be lying…about the campfire songs.

All I will say for certain is this: if you put SEO and content marketing on the same team, you will win.

Theresa Navarra on LinkedinTheresa Navarra on Twitter
Theresa Navarra
Theresa Navarra
Theresa is an energetic marketing leader and content creator with 10 years of experience crafting content marketing that is focused on organic traffic, SEO, and demand generation. In addition to that, she’s also an experienced copywriter and avid blogger. She is the Director of Content at UiPath.
The Payoff of Audience Research

The Payoff of Audience Research

While SEO is best categorized as a marketing discipline, most SEOs don’t think of sitting down and actually talking with their client’s customers. After all, most simply put, our job is to improve search engine visibility and rankings while increasing conversions. But can we really do our jobs if we assume we understand what search engine users are looking for, without having those conversations?

We have a different approach at Seer Interactive. Although we do want to increase search visibility, we want to make sure that we are drawing the right customers to our client’s websites and solving their problems. One of the best ways to understand customers is to give them your time: sit down and talk with them.

Why Should You Do Audience Research?

Keyword research is a great way to see what people are searching for and how they try to find it. Google even provides us with “People Also Ask” and “Related Searches,” which are both great resources for finding what people are searching for and identifying intent. But do you want to know the greatest resource for understanding what people are searching for?

People. Once people tell you what they want to find, what they couldn’t find, things they loved and things they hated, then it’s time to perform your keyword research and craft your content strategy. In the field of new product development, gathering this data is the standard best practice — and it works! Why wouldn’t we bring these practices into digital marketing.

Investing in Audience Research

There are two types of investment to keep in mind when proposing audience research (whether internally, or to a client): time investment and financial investment.

Time & Financial Investments for Audience Interviews

As digital marketers, our clients pay us for our time, expertise, and direction. When you pitch interviewing your client’s customers, you may receive some pushback regarding time and money. That makes sense. However, understanding exactly what the audience is searching for and providing it to them yields big returns.

Because it takes time to complete the interviews, compile your findings, then make sense of the interview responses, it costs money. Before you even start the interviews, you need permissions to record phone calls and screen shares. Then, you’ll need to get a panel together (if applicable). After the interviews are finished, you’ll need to distill down the interviews into a set of findings.

In my experience, interviewing can take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour per person, so if you want to interview 15 people, that’s 7-15 extra hours of work to account for. And that doesn’t include listening for a second time, re-watching the videos, and making sense of your findings.

As SEOs, do we really want to spend our time and our client’s money interviewing people, analyzing our notes and comments, and then doing the research that goes into creating content? Is interviewing people going to help you reach that goal of increasing organic conversions by X%?

Absolutely we do. After all, these are the people that are searching and ultimately converting for our clients and determining our success as SEOs. So why wouldn’t you want to hear from them?

The Process Of Conducting Audience Research

The Interviews

To kick things off, you’ll need to compile questions that will help you reach the goal of your research, followed by a list of individuals from your client (or your customers, if you are in-house) and start scheduling those interviews. It’s often tough to take notes, be a good listener, and think of follow-up questions simultaneously, so I recommend getting permission to record the audio from the interviews and going back later to take notes.

It’s important to avoid leading questions. We ask our clients’ customers why they started searching, with the aim of identifying the initial pain point, what was going on in their lives at the time, who else was involved in the decision, and other important contextual details.

From that point, we hop on a screen share and have the interviewee walks us through their journey; we have them perform multiple searches and watch them as they go through the SERPs. We ask them what they were trying to find, what would have made the content they clicked on more trustworthy or more useful, what they do and don’t like about the sites they found, and what those sites were missing. We also listen for comments like, “I wish the client site would have told me this,” or “I was frustrated when I couldn’t find…” and other responses that let us know something is missing. When content is “missing” for the searchers, you’ve found the golden ticket (assuming that it’s a recurring issue, and not from only one interviewee). You’ll want to understand why they type what they do, why they click on the results they choose, what makes them stay on the page, or why they bounce.

Making Sense Of the Interview Data

When you begin looking at your notes from the interview responses, keep track of common themes you find. It’s also a good idea to get a colleague to go through the responses as well and pull out any themes they notice. Focus on identifying the major pain points, what’s missing that would help the customer through their journey, and even their post-purchase needs. Really dig in to identify what they are looking for, where they try to find it, and how you can get in front of them.

The Results

From my experiences, what is learned from audience interviews can completely change your SEO strategy, and sometimes even the business strategy for your company or your clients. The best way I can share the impact of audience interviews is with a personal story:

Recently at Seer, a colleague and I went through this process for our client. Using this process, we identified seven new content opportunities that we would not have found through a content gap analysis.

The interviewees explained to us what they were looking for, but couldn’t find any information about on the internet.  Something that we noticed with this particular client was that searchers couldn’t seem to find answers to some pretty low funnel questions. We then created content related to these topics, which resulted in 4 new pages. These 4 low-funnel pages, after only being live for 2 months, have increased traffic year-over-year by over 9%, which is great! But we expect these numbers to climb as these pages are live for a longer period of time and begin to gain more authority.

We also made updates to existing pages that, as a result, have seen tremendous growth. The 10 pages that we made adjustments to have seen a combined total of 86% growth year-over-year and have sourced over 80% more new users year-over-year. We have also seen an increase in average ranking position from 21 down to 9.6, meaning that we are appearing more frequently on the first page of SERPs.

Our client was able to walk away from our research understanding their audience’s pain points and how they are searching to better serve them via other channels such as PPC, Social, and more.

The Takeaways

Although conducting audience interviews has associated costs, the payoff is well worth the time and money. After completing audience interviews, you will know your audience better than they know themselves. You will know what kind of content they are looking for, what would make them convert, and how they actually complete their search process. To those of us at Seer, that’s priceless.

Or at least until we see an increase in transactions, revenue, or assisted conversions — then we can assign a monetary value to the process.

Zaine Clark on LinkedinZaine Clark on Twitter
Zaine Clark
Zaine Clark
Zaine is a Senior SEO Associate at Seer Interactive, where he helps to craft SEO strategies using audience insights and big data to inform decisions. Through understanding the audience and using cross-divisional data, he helps his clients increase their organic visibility and drive revenue. Zaine and the Seer team understand that behind every search is a person.
The Return on Sharing Knowledge

The Return on Sharing Knowledge

Measurability is an oft-repeated buzzword in digital marketing. The ability to discreetly measure the impact and success of our work, and even ROI, is the differentiator we love to tout over our more traditional marketing brethren.

Everything can and should be measured. Right?

In SEO this takes many forms: tracking website changes, links built, keyword rankings, position fluctuations, clicks, impressions, CTR, organic pageviews, sessions, users. Time on page, pages per session, scroll depth, goal completions…and on and on the list goes.

The truth is, this much data can be more noise than signal. Data overload leads to short term and short-sighted decisions. It becomes a race to make the data move in the way we predict and want, with goals and KPIs chased fervently instead of investing in long-term, business-impacting change.

I love data-backed decisions just as much as everyone else in the industry, but often times the most optimal changes within a business won’t be the ones that effect KPIs the fastest.

The work I love the most, the work that brings me the most personal satisfaction and joy, is affecting meaningful change within an organization.

As an agency — often perceived as a partner at best, or a vendor at worst — change is rarely done through the work we execute ourselves. It’s achieved through great communication, clear consultation, well-documented work, and ongoing education. My goal is always to help a client internally achieve meaningful, institutional growth and empower them to succeed in search on their own, without oversight.

This is one such story.

The Background

In October 2017, the strategy department of Page One Power was retained by a client who had launched six months prior in the finance niche and was struggling to find a foothold.

We were helping build links back to their site, but they were struggling to see the results they expected and needed.

The client had identified organic search as a primary channel for growth and audience development, yet were only somewhat successful in creating content that stuck within a SERP. After analysis, it was clear success was haphazard and a result of quality work accidentally targeting a SERP well, as opposed to strategically targeting specific SERPs with good work. They were producing 50 pages per month, with roughly 250 pages already published. Despite this, virtually all organic search traffic went to a handful of pages, ranking for terms only somewhat-relevant to their goals.

The client had thorough — really, really thorough — audience research with a primary topic of focus, complete with well-developed personas across multiple demographics to ensure audience value in every piece they created. And the content was quality. Nothing was thin, off-topic, or lacking in audience value.

The issue was that the content was broad and generalized, with little research to identify keyword themes, searcher intent, ranking competitors, or any of the other typical work that goes into creating optimized content to rank for a desired SERP.

Disclaimer: I often say “rank for a desired SERP”, but what I really mean is an entire category of keywords, both long tail and head term, with the most competitive SERP representing the entire category of keywords. Basically, if you can rank for the most competitive head term, you should rank well for the rest of the keyword variations and themes with decent on-page optimization.

After interviewing the client and reviewing goals, expectations, and work-to-date, the partnership proved promising: they had the budget for a long-term campaign, belief in search as a channel, and a willingness to invest in quality content.

Despite this, long-term success wasn’t certain.

The financial space is extremely, extremely competitive. And not just for the obvious terms surrounding credit cards, personal loans, mortgage calculators, debt consolidation, financial planning, etc. Even outside these head terms, there are many different sites and organizations invested in creating quality content at scale, with the intent to answer nearly any question a person might have. And these are large, established, and dominant brands such as The Balance, NerdWallet, Investopedia, Credit Karma, and more.

The client was aware of the inherent challenge within the niche, and willing to invest the time, energy, and resources necessary. Expectations were reasonable, but they needed a clear strategy to find a foothold in search. Specifically, they needed to demonstrate an ability to rank in relevant SERPs and grow traffic month-over-month, or continued investment would be at risk. The runway to success wasn’t forever.

Their mistake was simple: they failed to consider how the pages they were creating would be found within search, and had only focused on their personas and audience. They needed to  better understand searcher behavior, and identify winnable SERPs where existing content ranking for relevant searches could be displaced.

This was the institutional change I sought to affect.

The Change

Page One Power specializes in link building through manual promotion and content creation. We also offer keyword research, technical SEO, and content audits. The client contracted Page One Power with two specific goals:

  1. Improve their content strategy to more consistently create pages that would rank for meaningful keywords and drive traffic.
  2. Create a systematic approach to identify which pages were best suited for link building and which pages were most likely to need links in order to earn rankings and traffic.

Content quality wasn’t the issue; they were struggling to produce content that targeted a specific keyword and query with a realistic chance to rank.

I see it often in my work with clients: a team of savvy content creators lack the SEO insight to successfully create content that ranks. The mistake is the level of detail and granularity of the content — it’s overgeneralized, with the expectation that “understanding an audience” means you simply add a keyword, and you then have content that will rank.

The truth is, search content requires research before creation. It’s important to identify a top-level keyword to target, the natural variation and themes involved, which domains currently rank, how the pages are formatted, the overall quality of the information, what topics they cover, whether or not they miss a piece of searcher intent, and how many links are involved. Basically, the goal is to find a gap in terms of information offered to searchers, create a better page than currently exists, and determine how many links are needed to reasonably expect to rank.

For example, the client had consistently plugged [credit score] into their Yoast SEO plugin, even though they knew it was beyond their means, but hadn’t looked at more granular and modified versions. They were aiming each page at the same head term, rather than answering distinct and exact-match queries.

Despite the validity of the topic, they had no reasonable opportunity to rank for [credit score] in the short term, nor did it make sense to create multiple (20 or so) pages that all theoretically target the head term [credit score]. Sure, in practice they were targeting variations and modified versions of the term — but to them, their page was most relevant to the head term [credit score].

My plan was straightforward:

  1. Perform a content audit to analyze existing content.
  2. Present the content audit to the client’s head of content (HoC) and train him on SEO and keyword research.
  3. Optimize existing pages using the content audit with the HoC.
  4. Work personally with the HoC on the next wave of content planning to identify winnable SERPs.
  5. Continue to run a monthly content audit (maintenance) and work with HoC to ensure continued success and education.
  6. Occasionally research and hand-deliver opportunities to ensure continued growth and education.

The first step was simple: I performed a content audit and worked with the client to analyze which pages were successful, which pages missed the mark, and which pages were close, but used the wrong keywords. I presented the analysis so they understood why certain pages were successful, why others were not, and how to optimize existing pages to improve.

Next, I helped the head of content work through revisions of existing content, with the intent to improve their targeting and optimization for terms they were almost ranking on page one. Although the revisions were only somewhat successful, it was an extremely valuable moment in helping their head of content truly understand keyword research and its role in content designed for search.

I worked through the plan and documentation with the head of content, but I wanted the client to be invested and understand why we were making specific changes so everyone could better understand the difference between targeted, optimized content and well-written, unoptimized content.

They went back through and performed the keyword research necessary to optimize the pages for the correct keyword themes and variations.

Lastly, I put the content audit in maintenance mode, meaning I continued to pull data for content performance month-over-month for new and existing pages, meeting with the head of content to review performance once per month. Within the process I would occasionally uncover an opportunity myself (digging through Search Console and competitor content), and I delivered those opportunities in our monthly meeting.

The Results

The client went from struggling in search to consistently making search-focused content able to rank very well for their intended keywords.

Within two months, they evolved from performing the barest of keyword research that grasped at unattainable head terms, to performing deep keyword research which identified topical clusters and gaps in SERPs. Their content consistently answered granular questions immediately and provided deeper, additional context below.

They’ve been a tremendous partner and I’m exceedingly humbled to see their continued growth. We’re working on a new phase of strategy now, and without a doubt the most pride I take isn’t the ROI of our services, the keywords they rank well for, or even the up-and-to-the-right organic traffic growth on the website.

I’m most proud of the internal growth and improvement their own organization attained, and the fact that if I were to walk away now they could easily carry on creating content that drives organic traffic. I’ve done more than deliver excellent work: I’ve helped them create an excellent system to achieve repeatable success.

Optimization is at my very heart, and it’s much more optimal to teach others than to do the work for them. That’s how true growth is achieved.

The organic traffic is fun to look at, though.

Organic Traffic Chart

Cory Collins on LinkedinCory Collins on Twitter
Cory Collins
Cory Collins
Cory Collins works in strategy development at Page One Power. Cory is a writer, runner, SEO strategist, beer brewer, and lives with his wife and dogs in Boise, Idaho. Cory's super power is eternal curiosity.
How to Measure SEO Results and ROI

How to Measure SEO Results and ROI

Measuring SEO ROI is more difficult than most people understand.

It sounds simple; just tag your pages properly with analytics code, make sure you’re tracking conversions and can associate a dollar value with those conversions, and you’re done, right? Not so fast! There is much more to the challenge of SEO ROI than that.

To illustrate the point, I’m first going to explain how it works with PPC. Here is a simple breakdown:

Calculating PPC ROI

On any given day, the amount of money I spend in paid search has a one-to-one correspondence to clicks to my website, and some of those clicks result in revenue-generating transactions (or “contact us” requests, or some other desirable action). To a large degree, paid search is a direct response medium.

To be fair, there is definitely the concept of deferred conversions that result from paid search too. Someone clicks on an ad and goes to your site, doesn’t convert in that session, but comes back at some later time — perhaps by some other means than clicking on an ad — and converts. In PPC terms, we refer to that as an “assisted conversion.”

That said, a large part of the realizable revenue comes from those initial clicks, and the cost of the campaign scales in a linear way in relationship to the clicks received. The key deliverable from your PPC spend is clicks from users.

Now, let’s look at SEO. To set the tone, let me share how I often explain what an SEO sales pitch is like: “I don’t know what I’m going to do for you yet, I don’t know how fast you’re going to get results, and I don’t know how big those results are going to be. $10,000 per month, sign here.” Of course, I’m joking when I put it that way, but there is a real element of truth to that being what an SEO pitch sounds like.

The reason the typical pitch sounds so obscure is that the key deliverable from SEO campaigns is increases in organic search rankings. These gains in rankings then deliver clicks from users on an ongoing basis, often for an extended period of time.

It’s like a gift that keeps on giving — but that’s not how most businesses look at ROI from SEO revenue. For example, if I invest $1M in SEO this year, and we get $4M in SEO-related sales, which reflects a lift from $2M the prior year, what do I calculate as the ROI? Here is the way many organizations look at it:

One Model for Calculating SEO ROI

Is it ($2M – $1M) / $1M = 100%, because that’s how much my SEO revenue grew (as opposed to my total SEO revenue) in the same year? I’d argue that this isn’t a good way to look at it at all. Why? Well, one reason is that if I invest nothing in SEO at all, the $2M I got in SEO revenue last year will likely be less in this year, yielding a chart more like this for SEO revenue:

SEO Results With No Investment

Continue with no SEO revenue for multiple years, and you’ll see that number plummet down to near zero. Why? Because your competition is investing in SEO while you’re not. Their SEO gains will become your SEO losses. Part of what you’re accomplishing with your SEO investment is defending your current levels of SEO revenue.

But there is also a forward-looking part to this story too! Let’s go back to my original scenario, where I invested $1M in SEO in the current year and saw SEO revenue go up from $2M to $4M. Now, let’s imagine that I shut off my SEO investment in the next year. What happens in that year?

You guessed it: SEO revenue does not instantly drop back to $2M. In fact, over time, the yield on that $1M SEO investment might look like this:

SEO investments impact revenue

That’s one heck of a different picture of SEO ROI, is it not? Oh, and don’t forget the fact that in the current year, the one where SEO revenue went from $2M to $4M, I would have lost $500K of SEO revenue if I hadn’t made any investment at all. Now your real SEO ROI looks something like this:

A More Refined Look at SEO ROI

Now that we’ve established some basic concepts, let’s look at a couple of models for SEO campaigns and the ROI you might get.

Model 1: The Self-Defense SEO ROI

Let’s say you have that $2M per year revenue from SEO run rate coming into a year. You know that you could see large-scale growth if you could invest $1M in SEO, but you just can’t — the budget you can afford is only $250K. Let’s say it turns out that $250K is enough SEO investment that your revenue for the year will turn out to be $2M, i.e. no growth.

You did enough to keep from losing ground to your competition. They were doing the best they could to take some of your market share, but failed. Now let’s say you would have lost $500K in revenue if you hadn’t invested the $250K. Your actual ROI in this scenario would be:

SEO Self Defense ROI

Note that this is the story if you look at this on a one-year basis only. Let’s say you invest $250K per year, over two years, and you manage to keep the SEO revenue at $2M for both years. Using the numbers I shared above on the “no SEO investment overall multiple years” model, I will have defended $500K of revenue in year one and $1M of revenue in year two. The picture of this ROI scenario looks like this:

SEO self defense ROI 2 year view

Now you’re getting a reasonable model to estimate the SEO investment results when you invest only enough to preserve your revenue, but show no growth.

Model 2: Growth Mode SEO ROI

Earlier in this article I laid out a model that suggested ROI over a five-year period was 375%. Should I walk into a pitch and tell a client we’re going to get 375% ROI? Frankly, that would make for a challenging conversation.

If you’re an executive, you likely have little interest in a five-year ROI model; what you’re able to achieve in this year is probably most important. You may even have bonus compensation programs based on the ROI you can get with your budget in the current year.

However, I also believe that educating yourself and your team on how it works with SEO is important. If you’re interested in the business for the long haul, then how it will perform next year should be of interest to you — and your team too, even if it’s a secondary interest. Everyone should want to be part of a growing business, not a shrinking one.

For that reason, I’d show a two-year view similar to this one:

Growth Mode SEO ROI

This at least gives you and your management team a view of the bigger picture of how SEO ROI works.

Approaching the Budget Conversation

If your business is like most businesses, the focus on the current year is natural. In larger companies, the executive staff has current year goals, and compensation is often tied to those goals. But, if the executive staff are forward-looking, the long-term health of the business is arguably of great interest too.

Learn the mindset of who you are going to be presenting the budget to, whether you’re part of the executive team, or just building a plan to present to them. This includes understanding the overall organizational budget and margin goals, and adjusting your budget proposal accordingly. Start the conversation by making sure that your team understands the difference in the deliverables between PPC and SEO. Here is a simple visualization of it:

PPC vs SEO ROI

Once this concept is clear in everyone’s mind, the rest of the story becomes quite a bit easier to tell. From here, you can lay out the various ROI models using two, three or even five-year time horizons to show the broader strategic picture, and the one-year ROI to outline the impact on company performance in the current year.

Summary

The first step in understanding how to measure ROI is to understand a proper definition for the impact of your investment. As you have seen, this is not easily done in the world of SEO.

In other articles on this blog, you’ll see a lot of invaluable information on how to achieve and measure results. But, along the way, remember the enduring aspects of the benefits of an SEO investment. It’s not contained to a single year in the same simple way as PPC and other types of advertising campaigns.

The more you and your team understand how SEO ROI differs from other mediums, the better, as it will help your organization have the right perspective on the role that SEO investments should play in your overall marketing mix.

Eric Enge on Twitter
Eric Enge
Eric Enge
Eric Enge is General Manager of Perficient Digital, a full-service, award-winning digital agency. Previously Eric was the founder and CEO of Stone Temple, also an award-winning digital marketing agency, which was acquired by Perficient in July 2018. He is the lead co-author of The Art of SEO, a 900+ page book that’s known in the industry as “the bible of SEO.” He is a prolific writer, researcher, teacher and a sought-after keynote speaker and panelist at major industry conferences.